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Title: The Honour of his House
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Honour of his House
Author: Fred M White

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 8 September, 1920.

* * *



CHAPTER I.--A LORD OF ACRES.

The mists rolled back discreetly, the pearly curtain lifted demurely, as
if conscious of the splendour that it concealed, then the turrets of
Borne Abbey raised their carved pinnacles into the blue of the summer
morning. The long white mantle folded itself slowly backward, and the
house stood in view like some perfect picture with the great sweep of
its famous beech trees behind. Where a moment before there had been
nothing visible but the thin grey envelope of the mist and dew, stood
now a long, low house, a miracle of cunning architecture, stained to a
fine red-brown by the deft hand of the passing centuries. For this you
cannot buy or manufacture, for it comes only with the passage of the
years, and many a storm and many a shine goes to the exquisite making of
it.

And there is nothing finer or more beautiful on the English countryside
than Borne Abbey. It has all the strength and weight of a cathedral,
with the grace and finish given it by such masters of the art of
building as Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones and Pugin. Add to this the
poetry in stonework of a Grinling Gibbons, and there stands out the
faint picture of what Borne Abbey is like.

Indeed, the place had an atmosphere of its own. It lay there in the
sunshine, glistening in the early moisture like some mythological
beauty, fresh from a bath of sea spray, the sky bent, blue and grey and
opalescent, behind the wondrous carvings and the quaint beauties of the
twisted chimney stacks. For a whole three hundred feet the south front
stretched itself along its flank of velvet lawns where the flowers were
rioting in their beds, and beyond all this, the park extended almost to
the sea. It looked like what it was, a cradle of heroes and men who have
left their mark upon the blood-stained pages of history.

For nearly four hundred years the Cranwallis family had lived here,
lords of broad acres and suzerain of a many goodly manors. Here was a
house, at least, where the modern millionaire came not, and the
plutocrat gave no trouble. It would never have occurred to Egbert
Cranwallis, eighth Earl of Sherringborne, that such a possibility or
such a contingency might arise. He knew that certain peers of his,
drifting along the tide of modern democracy, had come under the glamour
of the cheque book, but then, in their cases, poor men, it was oft-times
a matter of sheer necessity. So far as he was concerned he had his rent
roll, he could afford to play the part of the grand seigneur, and, to do
him justice, he played it exceedingly well. It was no acting on his
part, it was a clear dispensation of Providence, and he would know how
to give an account of his stewardship when his time came to answer the
roll-call.

The Cranwallises had always been men of affairs, and the present head of
the family was no exception to the rule. He had no particular affection
for politics; au contraire, he rather disliked them. He would infinitely
have preferred to pass his time at Borne Abbey, but he had a profound
respect for his responsibilities, and that was why he found himself at
fifty-five a Cabinet Minister, holding the portfolio of Foreign Affairs.
As Lord Palmerston said with regard to the Garter, there was no d....d
merit about it, but if Sherringborne was not brilliant, he was sound and
he was safe.

For the rest, he was a widower with one son and one daughter; the
latter, Lady Edna, who kept his house and reigned over the Abbey with a
despotism no less despotic because the little hand was sheathed so
carefully in the velvet glove.

Lady Edna had all the good looks of the Cranwallises. She was tall and
slight and dark, a little too haughty, perhaps, but then, what would
anyone have in a daughter of a semi-regal house like that? Perhaps it
was the shortness of her upper lip, and the slight aquiline curve of her
nose which endowed her features with that faint suggestion of hauteur
that a good many people found repellent, not to say awe-inspiring. But
these, for the most part, were strangers--there was not a man or woman
or child on those broad acres who did not worship the ground that Lady
Edna trod on.

It was perhaps not altogether the girl's own fault, since this sort of
thing had been her native air. From the very beginning she had been
taught unconsciously that the human race consisted of men and women and
Cranwallises. There were just a few others, perhaps, whose names were to
be found in the fascinating works of Debrett and Burke, but these were
few and far between; thus Lady Edna led a comparatively secluded life,
indeed. Baron Rupert de la Croisa was wont to say that there was a
distinct flavour of the cloister about her. But then the Baron was a
privileged individual, a licensed old friend with a terrible tongue, and
his declaration that Lady Edna would some day marry entirely outside her
own station was a thing that he kept to himself. We shall come to Baron
de la Croisa presently.

But, after all said and done, it was a great position and a great
responsibility for a girl who had barely attained her twenty-first year.
But, be that as it might, Lady Edna had entertained Royalty at Borne
Abbey, she was pleasantly familiar with Ambassadors, and she treated
Cabinet Ministers with a serene contempt that most of them undoubtedly
merited. She floated on the crest of the wave serenely, a marvel of
capacity; she would cheerfully have undertaken to share the
responsibilities of a kingdom, and, beyond question, she would have done
it well.

She came out in the garden now, from under the shadow of the great
Norman archway, with the storied device of the Cranwallises cut deep in
the stone over her glossy head. She stood there, chin up, inhaling the
sweetness and fragrance of the morning, filled with the joy and vigour
of life, and wondering vaguely why she felt so happy and uplifted. Then
she passed across the lawns by the busy gardeners and returned presently
with her arms filled with blooms all wet with the dew of the morning.
McKillop, the Scotch gardener, sighed impotently as he contemplated this
desecration of his peculiar province. He had tried once to induce Lady
Edna to a proper sense of her position, but that had been four years
ago, when he had first come. He had showed fight, of course, for he came
from a race that always did. The combat had been a short and decisive
one, and now McKillop could only sigh and bend his head before a force
that had ruthlessly trodden down all the traditions of his ancient
craft. It would, perhaps, have surprised the wilful beauty of the
household had she known that McKillop regarded her as a dangerous
radical with designs upon the fabric of society. And now he stood and
pretended to enjoy it when Lady Edna congratulated him upon his roses.

"They are very fine, McKillop," she said. "But I have seen better. The
Baron's, for instance."

McKillop, being a Scotchman and an honest man, admitted the charge with
an inward groan. One of the crosses he had to bear lay in the fact that
Baron de la Croisa could grow better roses than his own. And this man
was a mere foreigner, forsooth, a sort of Spaniard who had come into the
neighbourhood from somewhere on the Spanish Main, and, when he and
McKillop had first met, the upstart's knowledge of roses had been nil.

Lady Edna turned from the discomfited McKillop and made her way down the
long beech avenue till she stopped at the lodge gates and exchanged a
word or two with the old woman who lived there. Then for a moment,
attracted by something she saw in the road, she passed beyond the big
hammered-iron gates that Quentin Matays himself had forged, and stood
there looking across to the sea. Early as it was, a touring car came
hurling down the road and pulled up almost at Lady Edna's feet. A dark,
flashing, handsome face, lighted up by a pair of mischievous eyes,
looked out of the window and accosted Lady Edna in a voice that had
nothing lacking in audacity about it.

"Am I on my way to Lamport?" the visitor said. "My man is not quite
sure, and I am a stranger here."

Lady Edna recoiled slightly. She knew well enough who was the beautiful
woman speaking to her. She had met Senora Garrados once in a London
drawing-room when that light of the stage was giving a charity
performance under the roof of a duchess. She had been shocked and
scandalised at the abandon of the performance, but then Lady Edna made
no secret of her old-fashioned views on this point though she had frozen
into herself later on when this dancing creature had had the audacity to
address her in tones of absolute familiarity, and, strangely enough, the
duchess and her entourage had seen nothing strange in the proceeding.
But Lady Edna's manner had been marked enough, and the woman in the car
had not forgotten it.

The two recognised one another with that instant hostility that only
women possess. Lady Edna stood there, cold and statuesque in her classic
beauty, and perhaps quite misunderstanding the humorous twinkle in the
dancer's eyes.

"You are on the right road," she said haughtily. "It is impossible to
make a mistake."

"I think we have met before," Ninon Garrados threw herself back in her
seat and said.

"I think not," Lady Edna said icily. "Indeed, I hope not. You must be
mistaken."

With that the car moved on. Ninon Garrados threw herself back in her
seat and laughed whole-heartedly to her companion.

"Now, what do you think of that, Coralie?" she said. "What your Tennyson
calls Lady Vere de Vere. But some day she will wake up, and then, if the
right man comes along, ah, well, then we shall see things. She is a
great lady, but she is not born yet. I have seen them before."

"But have you met her?" the girl called Coralie asked.

"Oh, I have met her, yes. In Society, bien entend. She seems to think I
am just a circus girl. But that, of course, my dear Coralie, is the
fault of her bringing up. I should not wonder, some day if Lady Edna
Cranwallis and myself became good friends. But she will have to be born
first, oh, yes. She could not believe, of course, that Ninon Garrados,
the dancing girl, could be the daughter of a Spanish grandee. Ah, she
has yet much to learn. But a splendid woman, my dear Coralie, a splendid
woman when the right man comes along."

"She was very rude," Coralie smiled.

The dazzling Spaniard showed her teeth in a gleam which the great world
had learned to know so well.

"Not rude, mia cara," she said. "So great a lady could never be rude. I
wonder what she would say if she knew that, by the raising of my little
finger, I could be her sister-in-law. Is she aware, think you, that Lord
Shorland, her brother, is one of my little Pomeranians? I wonder if it
would be worth while. It's a great title, and Borne Abbey is a fine
historic estate. I might do worse, Coralie, I might do worse. And with
me to train him, Shorland has distinct possibilities. It would make
quite a play, my child."

"With you for the heroine," Coralie said. "I should like to be there to
see the third act."

CHAPTER II.--THE NEW ORDER.

Lord Sherringborne had dispatched his bacon with a due regard to the
traditional surrounding toast and marmalade. He had finished his coffee
and, with a cigarette, was disposed to talk. For the most part, he
enjoyed his week-ends more than those days when the calls of State
summoned him to London. He did not see the necessity for an overworked
legislature to be sitting in July, and was inclined to criticise the
Premier who was mainly responsible for this condition of things.

"You had better tell Sir James Pallisser so yourself," Lady Edna smiled.
"I don't see why you should choose me as medium for your criticism. But
as Sir James is coming down here this evening for the week-end, can't
you try and persuade him yourself of the necessity for a holiday?"

Lord Sherringborne wiped his white moustache thoughtfully. He looked
just a little uneasy and disturbed, and he was not meeting his
daughter's direct gaze quite so steadily as usual.

"Well--er--the fact is, things are not quite what they should be," he
said. "Of course, I can't enter into details, I tell you too many
Cabinet secrets as it is. But the Premier isn't coming down here at all
to-day. There has been some breakdown in connection with stupid trouble
in Tortina, and it looks as if America and Japan might come to
loggerheads with regard to those Islands off the coast of Tortina.
Nothing like a rupture, of course, but it's rather a complicated
business, and I really ought to be in town looking after it. But
Pallisser prefers to handle it himself, and that's why he's kept in
town. But you can read his letter if you like."

"Then we shall be entirely alone this week-end," Lady Edna cried. "How
jolly--I mean, how nice. I haven't had you entirely to myself since
Easter."

It was a pretty enough compliment in its way, but for once Lord
Sherringborne did not seem to appreciate it.

"Well, not exactly," he said with some hesitation. "You see, I have
telegraphed to young Saltburn to come down. I don't think you have met
Philip Saltburn."

Lady Edna partly rose from the table. The smile had died out of those
glorious eyes of hers, and her face had suddenly grown hard and cold.

"Is this a joke, father?" she asked.

"Is it a Joke; my dear, why a joke? I am not given to what Shorland
calls 'leg pullin.' Of course, in my peculiar position, I have--er--to
make myself agreeable to many people--"

"In London," Lady Edna corrected. "Yes, but this is an entirely
different matter. None of that class have ever been down here before.
Besides, what possible connection can there be between us and these
Saltburns? Oh, I know all about the father. I know that forty years ago
he started in life selling glue or tin-tacks, or something equally
revolting and necessary. I know that he is a great financier, with
offices in every capital in Europe--sort of Rothschilds--Lady
Marchborough says. But it is not very complimentary to the Rothschilds
to mention them in the same breath. But really, my dear father, the
audacity of these people is getting beyond all bearing."

"Unfortunately," Sherringborne sighed, "unfortunately, we can't do
without them."

"Fortunately we can do without them here," Lady Edna said, with some
austerity. "Oh, I quite recognise their power and importance. Baron de
la Croisa said the other night that a handful of capitalists over a
plate of filberts and a bottle of port could change the map of Europe if
they liked. But with all their power none of them has yet succeeded in
getting an invitation to Borne Abbey, and I am rather surprised--"

Sherringborne shuffled uneasily in his chair.

"My dear, you have no sympathy with modern thought. It is absolutely
necessary for the Government to keep on the right side of Saltburn. He's
got that Tortina business in the hollow of his hand, and really his son
is quite a decent young fellow. Oxford and Eton, a really first-class
shot, and a straight rider to hounds. I shouldn't be at all surprised if
Saltburn decides to buy 'The Chantrey'--"

Lady Edna passed her hand across her face as if she were suffering from
a particularly hideous form of nightmare. In a faint, small voice she
asked Sherringborne if she heard him correctly. Was she to understand
that 'The Chantrey' was actually in the market? She refrained from
asking her father why he had dared to contemplate such a step without
consulting her, but that was what her tone inferred, and the fact was
not lost upon his Majesty's Minister for Foreign Affairs.

"What was the good of it?" he asked. He spread out his hands as if he
were addressing a hostile gathering in the House of Lords.

"I ask you as a sensible girl what we make per annum out of 'The
Chantrey'? It's a beautiful old house, and, of course, it has been the
family dower-house for centuries. Look at the land there, what poor
stuff it is. Nothing but gorse and heather--seven or eight thousand
acres for a few sheep to starve on. If I sell the place to Saltburn we
shan't even know that he's there. And I understand he is prepared to pay
quite a fancy price for it."

"A fancy price," Lady Edna echoed scornfully. "My dear father, where do
you pick up your expressions? It sounds like a ticket on a ready-made
mantle in a Bond-street shop. If we are in need of money, which we are
not--"

"Then we are exceedingly fortunate, my dear," Sherringborne said in his
mildest manner. "I suppose you don't realise what an expensive luxury
Shorland is?"

"I suppose Teddy is extravagant," Lady Edna admitted with the air of a
sovereign asking Parliament for a grant for some pampered prince. "I
shouldn't so much mind if he were a little more careful with his
acquaintances. But then those society papers exaggerate so. I read a
ridiculous story a few days ago about Shorland and that South American
dancer. Something idiotic about a diamond necklace. By the way, I saw
her this morning. Her car pulled up, and she asked me the way. A common,
flaunting creature."

"Ah, there you are a little prejudiced," Sherringborne said. "I thought
she was--er--I mean, believe she is quite well connected."

"And leads that sort of life?"

"Well, why not, my dear. It can be quite respectable, and it means quite
a fabulous income, so far as I know. Ninon Garrados goes everywhere."

"Yes, I suppose she does. But she doesn't come here, and, of course,
that story of the diamond necklace is a fable."

Sherringborne smiled a little guiltily as he lighted a fresh cigarette.
It was not for him to say that he had the bill for those diamonds in his
pocket at the very moment. He was almost ashamed to tell Lady Edna how
frank the old family solicitor had been on the subject of Shorland's
extravagance. But this was not likely to affect his daughter much, for
she had regarded the Cranwallis exchequer to be as limitless as the sea.
Where mere money was concerned her contempt was wholehearted, not to say
picturesque.

"Does Teddy owe so much?" she asked carelessly.

"Over thirty thousand pounds," Sherringborne said. "And this is by no
means the first time. Even our exchequer cannot stand it. My dear Edna,
I really don't know where the money is coming from. The lawyers tell me
that I can't cut down any more timber."

"You can't, you can't. Why?"

"Oh, it's all very well to talk like that, but the estate is not mine to
do what I like with. I am merely what the law calls a tenant for life.
And so, you see, this money must be paid. It would never do for a man in
my position to have Shorland's debts thrown in my face. And that is why
I have made up my mind to sell 'The Chantrey.'"

Sherringborne spoke with a resolution that he was far from feeling, and
had Lady Edna been less wrapped up in her contemplation of the family
dignity she would have seen how hard and grey her father's face had
grown. She would see that there was something here beyond financial
worries.

"Saltburn has offered me at least four times the value of the place," he
went on. "Indeed, I don't understand why he wants to buy it at all. And
I shall be glad, my dear, if you won't say any more about it. You will,
of course, make Mr. Philip Saltburn's brief stay here as pleasant as
possible."

Lady Edna inclined her head graciously. She was a loyal and dutiful
daughter enough, but she was not pleased, and as the day wore on she
began to be conscious of an uneasy feeling that something was going to
happen, that her father was concealing material facts from her. The day
slipped on decorously, as it always did at Borne Abbey, luncheon was a
thing of the past, and Lady Edna was sitting down to tea quite alone in
the great hall waiting for Sherringborne, who was out somewhere on the
estate. She sat there in the cool brown silence, with the little flecks
of light cast here and there from the armour round the walls, waiting,
half-unconsciously, for the coming visitor. She had gone off into a
day-dream of her own when she became aware of the fact that a footman
was standing behind her with a young man by his side. He was a tall,
well-knit young man with a face bronzed almost to the hue of mahogany,
with the tinge of health showing beneath it like the rosy side of a
winter apple. A masterful man, too, for his lips were close set and his
grey eyes steadfast.

"I am Philip Saltburn," he said, respectfully enough, though his tone
was easy and self-reliant. "It is a great pleasure to make your
acquaintance, Lady Edna."

Philip Saltburn held out his hand with a frank suggestion of equality
that touched Lady Edna's pride at once. Seeing that this young man was
her guest, there was nothing for it but to yield her hand with what
grace she could. And with it all she caught herself thinking what a firm
grip Saltburn had, and what a deal of conscious power lay in those brown
fingers of his.

Not a handsome man, Lady Edna decided, but his features were good and
regular. He looked so wonderfully healthy and wholesome, and, strangely
enough, quite like one to the manner born. Positively, there were no
points in this young man's armour to pick holes in. His flannel suit was
well-cut and quiet in texture, his grey silk tie was knotted with the
careful carelessness that usually goes with a well-dressed man who is
not even aware of the fact that he is well dressed.

With those few words he dropped into one of the great carved Cromwellian
chairs and began to talk quite easily and naturally. He appeared to have
travelled far and wide, he seemed to have studied most things that
mattered to advantage. And though Edna had been steeping in an
atmosphere of art from her childhood, her own knowledge of the great
English masters around her was nothing like so wide and comprehensive as
that of her guest. He put her right upon a minor point or two quite
without a suggestion of superiority.

Clearly it was impossible to patronise this young man. He absolutely
refused to see any line of social demarcation between himself and his
beautiful hostess. He would probably have dismissed the suggestion with
a smile.

"I have travelled a great deal," he said. "You see, I was born in
Australia. My father emigrated there nearly fifty years ago. When I was
old enough for school I divided my time between Eton and Heidelburg,
finishing up at Oxford. It has been a pleasant life but I have never
known what it is to have a home; still, I have had dreams of a place
like this, and that is why I am so anxious to get 'The Chantrey.' I
happened to see it some time ago, and fell in love with the place, and
my father is buying it to please me."

Lady Edna sat there, looking thoughtfully into the flower-decked
fireplace. Possibly this young man meant nothing offensive, but the time
had come to show him that matters were going too far.

"I am afraid I am not concerned with that," she said haughtily. "The
Earl was telling me something about it at breakfast time, but I am very
much afraid, Mr. Saltburn, that I could not possibly give my consent."

"Indeed," Saltburn said with twinkling eyes. "Then I am afraid we shall
have to do without it."

CHAPTER III.--"THESE THINGS TO HEAR--"

There was no antagonism in Philip Saltburn's clear eyes. He lay back in
his chair, crossing his legs, and smilingly contemplating the cut of his
neat brown shoe. Obviously a difficult man to anger, and still more
difficult to turn from his point. Lady Edna regarded him with
smouldering eyes. She would not lose her temper, of course, but really
this young man must be made to understand.

"I beg your pardon," she said coldly.

"And I beg yours," Saltburn said. "But, you see, the thing is as good as
done. Of course, I should like to have your approval, but if you
withhold it, then I can only deplore your point of view. What a charming
old hall this is. There is nothing that shows pictures off so well as
warm, brown old oak. And may I trouble you for another cup of this
delicious tea. We are great tea drinkers in Australia, but we never get
any like this. I expect that beautiful Queen Anne silver makes the
difference."

Lady Edna murmured something vague in reply. She had an uneasy feeling
that there was something wrong in her attack, and she was uneasily
conscious that she had come in contact with a force. Clearly this young
man was not going to be routed by the feudal method. Perhaps he was a
radical, but, in that case, he would have had no sympathy with old oak
and Queen Anne silver and the works of the great English masters.
Clearly it was useless to try and snub him, to open his eyes to the
awful gulf that lay between a Cranwallis and a Saltburn. Perhaps it
might be possible to let him down gently, to send him away with a clear
impression that money was not everything, and that a Cranwallis was as
far above him as the misty star is beyond the flight of the moth.

She would not, perhaps, have been so tranquil beneath the armour of her
exclusiveness could she have looked into Saltburn's mind, for over the
edge of his Sevres cup he was studying her with the calm critical
approval of a polished man of the world.

For Saltburn was acquainted with foreign courts. As the only son of that
great financial magnate, William Saltburn, he found all houses were open
to him, he had basked in the smiles of royalty itself. And he was not
dazzled, he was too serene and level-headed for that. He had his own
ideals, he knew exactly the type of woman whom some day he hoped would
rule over the dainty and refined home which he saw late at night behind
the blue drift of his cigarette smoke.

And here it seemed to him that he had found the very thing that he was
looking for. Phil Saltburn was no snob, it was no exhilaration, to him
to find himself mixing with the great ones of the earth; his critical
faculty was too keen and clear for that.

But he had never yet seen anyone who set his pulses beating and moved
him to such a warm regard as Lady Edna was doing. He liked her pose, he
liked the haughty stamp of her beauty, the curve of her lips, and the
aquiline chiselling of her nose. She might have been one of Tennyson's
heroines, and Saltburn had always had a weakness for the women of that
great Victorian. As he sat there, balancing his tea cup, he was drifting
to the conclusion that there was no occasion to go any farther, but
there was no hurry, and, as far as he knew, there was no one in the way.

He came down to dinner in the same frame of mind, where he sat with
Sherringborne and his daughter in the Rubens dining-room to a meal which
was none the less elaborate because it was so exceedingly simple. Half a
dozen servants in the Cranwallis livery moved noiselessly about the
room; the shaded lamps under the quaint pictures picked out the
exuberant flesh colourings of the great Flemish artists. Silver and
glass were priceless in their way, and it seemed to Saltburn that he had
never seen such peaches and grapes before. Not that he was in the least
impressed. He stood in no awe even of the magnificent family butler,
who, before now, had impressed a Cabinet Minister.

Lady Edna sat there, dressed almost severely in black, her arms and
shoulders shining like ivory in the shaded lights. There was just one
diamond flashing in her hair, an old ring or two on her slim fingers.
From under her half-closed lashes she surveyed her guest. She was a
little disappointed, perhaps, that she could find no flaw in his social
exterior. Even the trying act of peeling and eating one of the
Cranwallis peaches gave her no loophole for criticism.

"This is a wonderful old place of yours," Saltburn said. "I have been
wandering about the grounds and admiring them, but what strikes me most
forcibly are those amazing old yew hedges of yours."

"Yes, we pride ourselves on our hedges," Sherringborne said. "They were
planted in the reign of Elizabeth, mostly by Sir Walter Raleigh, I
believe. They have been useful for the purposes of defence more than
once. Nothing could get through them. They are impregnable."

"It would certainly be a matter of time," Saltburn observed. "I think I
could manage it if I wanted to. It would be a matter of breaking one
branch after another just as John Halifax suggested when the question
was put to him by Phineas Fletcher. Do you remember the incident, Lady
Edna?"

Lady Edna looked up from her peach languidly.

"I recall it," she said. "But I never cared much for that class of
literature. In spite of his many virtues, John Halifax was essentially a
middle-class man. The story of his successful career might have appealed
to Samuel Smiles, but it certainly does not to me."

"There you are wrong," Saltburn said. "It is astonishing what little
interest people in your position take in the middle classes. You ought
really to read more good English literature. It is clearly a duty that
you owe us."

Lady Edna smiled faintly. Really, Philip Saltburn was an amusing young
man. A little later on, perhaps, she would be able to show him that
there was another point of view.

"I am sorry you think my education has been neglected," she said. "And
you do, don't you?"

"I am perfectly certain of it," Saltburn said in a tone that had no
possible suggestion of offence in it. "It is not good for anyone to lead
an aloof life in these days. Of course, yours is an ideal existence
here, but none of us ever knows what change time may bring. For
instance, it would never have occurred to you a month ago that you would
be entertaining the son of a man who started life scaring crows from an
English wheatfield."

This was so true, such a thrust in the chink of her cold armour that
Lady Edna rose and swept from the room as nearly on the verge of
rudeness as ever she had been in her life. Saltburn watched her with a
strange gleam in his eyes. Then Sherringborne rose somewhat wearily from
the table.

"I will get you to excuse me for an hour or two," he said. "I have to
see a friend on a little matter of business. You can finish your duel
with Lady Edna meanwhile."

CHAPTER IV.--THE SILVER CANDLESTICKS.

The brilliant primrose of the summer twilight had not yet faded in the
west as Sherringborne stepped out on to the terrace and made his way
along one of the trim avenues that led across the park. He looked a
little older and less jaunty now, his head was bowed, and a mass of
little wrinkles were netted around his eyes. He passed under those
ancestral elms and beeches, he saw the deer creeping through the bracken
in shadowy procession.

So far as he could see, he was suzerain of all the broad acres around
him. There were farms and homesteads and cottages where every man called
him overlord, and made him homage. And what reigning house in Europe
could say more than that?

And yet Sherringborne looked as little like a happy man as needs be as
he walked on his own soil that evening. He came presently to a little
path, running between wide belts of shrubs, then he opened a wicket gate
which gave upon a very beautiful and charming old world garden. It lay
there secluded by the big forest trees; everywhere were well-kept grass
paths between wide beds of roses. There were roses everywhere in the
full panoply of their summer beauty. Up the slope stood a tiny
creeper-clad cottage with latticed windows.

The place itself was a perfect embodiment of peace and quietness. One
could imagine an artist or a poet living there secluded from the world
and by the world forgotten. The door of the cottage stood invitingly
open, and, bending over a few choice specimens of potted roses, two men
appeared to be engaged in a heated argument. One of them stood up as
Sherringborne approached and extended his hand.

"Now we will leave his lordship to arbitrate," he said. "Francois says
this is nothing less than a Dijon rose, I contend that it is exceedingly
impertinent on his part to contradict an expert so distinguished as
myself."

"Francois is an impertinent scoundrel," Sherringborne smiled.
"Incidentally, he is the only man I know who is not really afraid of
Baron de la Croisa."

"Ah," the other said. "The hero and his valet over again. True now as
ever it was."

With that the Baron threw back his head and laughed with the heartiness
of a boy. He made a distinguished figure as he stood there in his plain
evening dress, a little knot of ribbon striking a crimson note against
the lapel of his coat. He was not a tall man, but he made the most of
his inches; his thin, ascetic face might have belonged to a
distinguished statesman or scholar. His shrewd brown eyes twinkled with
humour, a thick thatch of white hair on his head resembled nothing so
much as a doormat. In his left eye he wore a glass with a tortoise shell
rim. He retained it with the manner of a man who is thoroughly
accustomed to the use of the monocle.

A little old man with a ridiculously fierce grey moustache stood by--the
type of man who has old soldier written on him in the plainest possible
words. And Francois was a character in his way. He was cook and house
keeper and eke laundress, too, to Baron de la Croisa; he worshipped his
master with an almost dog-like devotion, though his criticisms of that
distinguished individual never lacked anything on the score of
frankness.

"Francois, you may retire," the Baron said. "The debate is adjourned for
the present. Do you know, Sherringborne, that there are times when I am
almost sorry Francois saved my life. He seems to think I belong to him
ever since. To this day, I am sure it is a lasting wonder to Francois
that my beloved Tortina once entrusted her destinies to my hands. But
come in, my dear old friend, come in. You look worried and anxious. I am
sure you have come here to consult me about something."

So saying, the Baron led the way into the cottage. It was a tiny affair
with but one living room, and a kitchen on the other side of the door
which was Francois' own private property. There were but two bedrooms
and a bathroom overhead, and the sitting-room itself was furnished with
almost Spartan simplicity. But there was a Persian carpet on the stone
floor, the inglenook was priceless in its way, and on the bare deal
table, scrubbed to a snowy whiteness, were a pair of carved branch
candlesticks unmistakably the work of Cellini himself.

Along the ledge over the fireplace were china ornaments in black and
gold, rare bits of the Ming Dynasty. There were pictures, too, on the
whitewashed walls, a Corot, a Masonnier, and over the fireplace an
exquisite Rembrandt. The Baron formed part of the picture, too, despite
the correct severity of his evening dress. Anyone else would have been
grotesquely out of place there, but de la Croisa struck the right note.

"Sit down," the Baron said hospitably. "Sit down and tell me all about
it. Positively I have not seen a civilised being for over a week. Oh,
I'm not grumbling, honestly, I am much more happy than I should be if I
were back in the arena again. Providence never intended me for politics.
I am too sensitive--what you call too thin-skinned. Ah, my friend, you
did a great kindness to me when you placed this cottage at the disposal
of a disappointed man. Perhaps I was fortunate to have escaped from
Tortina with an income just sufficient for my modest wants and a few
things like these to satisfy my artistic instincts."

He waved his white hand airily towards the pictures on the wall, his
glance at the candlesticks was almost affectionate.

"You ought to have stayed on," Sherringborne said. "If you had remained
in Tortina, Santa Anna and the present man, Altheos, would never have
dared to do what they have just done. You would have beaten them, my
friend, you would have beaten them, and had you done so you would have
saved me a vast amount of trouble and anxiety. Because, if you were at
the head of affairs there now we should never have had all this bother
with Japan over those concessions." The Baron looked up swiftly.

"Ah," he cried, "There is trouble, then?"

"More than enough, my dear fellow. It's a thing I never anticipated. The
whole crisis came on the Foreign Office like a bombshell. There was not
a single cloud on the horizon. Those concessions of mine that I paid so
much for looked like proving a gold mine. You see, though I am Foreign
Minister, I thought I could handle them, for apparently Tortina was
quite beyond our sphere of influence. And I am afraid I plunged rather
heavily, and that I did more or less acting on William Saltburn's
advice."

Again the Baron looked up suddenly.

"That man is a wolf," he said. "That man is out for himself. He thinks
of nothing but money, and, mark you, it is all the same to him where it
comes from. And so that long, greedy hand of his has reached as far as
Tortina, has it? Well, many a hand has been burnt there, and why not
Saltburn's? But go on, my friend, I interrupt you. I understand you are
interested in Tortina concessions."

"Deeply interested," Sherringborne murmured. "So deeply that my
financial future is in peril. And that is not the worst of it, Baron. I
am a Minister of the Crown. I hold an almost sacred office and there has
been no slur on the fair fame of an English Cabinet Minister since the
days of Walpole. What would people say if they knew that the Foreign
Minister had an interest in Tortina concessions? My enemies might say
that I had used exclusive diplomatic information to put money in my
pocket. And yet, three months ago, who could have blamed me for what I
did? But now it is different. Japan has interfered because she claims a
voice in the administration of those islands off the coast of Tortina,
and Washington is alarmed. There are only two things before me. One is
to cut my loss, which would mean leaving Borne Abbey, and the other to
put myself in the hands of the Premier."

"Sir James Pallisser doesn't know of this?" the Baron asked.

"Not yet," Sherringborne went on. "But I must tell him. You understand,
I have done nothing wrong, and even yet the trouble may be averted.
There can be no question of armed strife between Japan and America, but
if Washington is obstinate, then my speculation in Tortina concessions
must be made public. It would be disastrous for me, Baron. I should lose
practically all I have, at a moment when my boy has placed a load of
debt round my neck. Disgraceful debts, some of them, which must either
be paid or I must leave the Ministry."

It was a long time before the Baron replied. Then he looked into the
face of his friend and his words came dropping like little bits of ice.

"And Saltburn?" he said. "Will Saltburn allow you to drop him? Remember
the man you have to deal with. It is evident that he has been using you
as a pawn in the game and if you come between him and his prey he will
break you, Sherringborne, like a butterfly. I know that man. I knew him
when I was president of the Tortina Republic, and I know that it was his
money which was behind the revolution that drove me out of the country
that I, a Spaniard, had practically made."

Sherringborne rose to his feet. He paced up and down the little
sitting-room, his face white and wet.

"My God," he cried. "De la Croisa, I never thought of that. And here I
have his son under my very roof at the present moment. And what about
our old friend, El Murid? Surely he can save the situation? He remains
in Tortina still, and in memory of the days when we were at Eton
together he will do what he can for me. Because, you see, he knows the
truth. He has the documents that would save my political reputation.
Can't you get in touch with him? Can't you tell him the facts? Is it
possible to persuade him to come to England? Because there is no great
hurry. These negotiations may take a long time, and I may save both my
fortune and my name yet."

"Then you haven't heard," the Baron said slowly, "You don't know that El
Murid is dead?"

"Dead," Sherringborne cried. "El Murid dead?"

He dropped into a chair, all white and shaking, and a fine bead of
moisture stood on his forehead.

"I only heard this afternoon," the Baron went on. "It came to me in an
underground way, as these things often do. Our dear old friend is not
only dead; it is worse than that. El Murid committed suicide two days
ago."

"Ah, then, it is even worse than I feared," Sherringborne cried. "He was
a brave man, always reckless of his own life, and always deficient in
moral courage. He was just the same at Eton. I knew him well, Baron, we
were the very best of friends. Can't you see what a terrible thing it is
for me? It cuts the last prop from under my feet. Nothing can be gained
now by disguising the truth. What can we do?"

"Only wait," the Baron said. "Only wait, and hope for the best. If we
could get hold of El Murid's papers, then it is just possible that--I
wonder--"

For a moment or two the Baron paced the floor in deep thought, while
Sherringborne watched him with anxious eyes.

"Yes," the Baron said thoughtfully. "There is just a chance. But I can
tell you nothing yet."

"Ruin," Sherringborne murmured. "Absolute ruin."

CHAPTER V.--NOBLESSE OBLIGE.

De La Croisa closed the door softly and lighted the candles in the great
silver branches. As the crocus flames grow up one by one, so did the
expression on Sherringborne's face stand out all the more white and
ghastly. After all, it seemed to de la Croisa that his was the better
part and the more noble portion. He had lost all, or nearly all, that
men in his class value. His ambition lay buried underneath the roots of
his beloved roses. Yet, all the same, his sympathy for Sherringborne was
deep and sincere. His voice trembled a little as he laid his hand upon
his friend's shoulder.

"This is very bad, my dear old comrade," he said. "Tell me all about it.
How did it happen?"

Sherringborne spread out his hands helplessly. There was no sign of the
lord of the manor here now, no suggestion of the smooth, strong man, who
held, to a certain extent, the fate of England in his hands. For the
nonce, he was an old man, with the red sword of a great trouble hanging
over his head.

"I don't know," he replied. "It would be difficult to say. I am all
misty and confused. I don't seem to be able to think coherently. I
suppose it was Shorland's extravagance that started it. You see, I had
paid over sixty thousand pounds for him already, and my expenses appear
to be enormous. Not but what I should have had enough if it had not been
for that wretched boy of mine. I began to feel alarmed. It was about the
time that I first met Saltburn. In a way I rather like the man. He is so
strong--so self-reliant--I never met a man who reminded me so much of
Cecil Rhodes. It was he who first hinted of the possibilities of Tortina
Concessions. And, after all, one must have one's money somewhere. I
bought largely. I suppose I must have invested something like a hundred
and fifty thousand pounds. I believed all that Saltburn said. I began to
see my way towards clearing half a million.

"And now?" de la Croisa asked significantly. "And now I look like losing
two hundred thousand. But that isn't the worst. There is going to be a
big scandal over this, Baron. One or two of the financiers will be
accused of fomenting this trouble for their own benefit--"

"They won't mind that," the Baron murmured. "In the present singular
condition of society a thing of that sort is regarded with a certain
amount of admiration--I mean admiration of the financier, of course. But
the world says hard things of public men who dabble in these kind of
adventures. They will say especially hard things about a Cabinet
Minister who lends himself to this class of financing. They will say--"

"Oh, I know what they will say," Sherringborne exclaimed. "They will say
I have been using my position to make money. They will point out me as
the only man in the English Administration who has done this disgraceful
thing since the days of Walpole. And the worst of the whole thing is
that it is true. If everything had gone well, no one would have been any
the wiser, no one would have cared. But as it is--"

Sherringborne paused as if unable to go any further. There was no
blinking facts, there was no sophistry to varnish such a terrible
indiscretion. And yet it had all seemed so safe, so sure, and certain.
Even a distinguished nobleman occupying a great public position must do
something with his money. Sherringborne had a reputation for hard
common-sense, but, as a matter of fact, in business matters he was a
perfect child. He thought moodily now of another great nobleman who had
been recently dragged through the mud at the heels of an unscrupulous
financier, but then, the nobleman in question had kept clear of
politics.

He would have to resign his position, he would have to make a clean
breast of the whole transaction to Sir James Pallisser, the Premier. The
Opposition Press would get hold of this thing, they would not fail to
make the most of it. In his mind's eye he could see the headlines of the
posters staring him in the face, he could hear the yelp of the whole
Opposition pack in the House of Commons. And yet he had gone into this
simply as clean business, and never dreaming for a moment that the whole
thing was to be elevated so soon into an international problem.

"Can't you suggest something?" he said. The Baron shook his head
sorrowfully. There was nothing to suggest. They could only sit there,
discussing the matter in all its bearings, and the more the vexed
question was threshed out the blacker and more repulsive it seemed.

"I must be getting back home," Sherringborne said wearily. "I'll come
over again to-morrow afternoon when my head is a bit clearer.
Good-night, my dear old Baron."

It was not yet quite dark as Sherringborne retraced his footsteps
through the park. He could hear the wind rustling amongst the beeches,
he saw the pheasants scuttling across the drive: a covey of partridges
rose from under his feet and went drumming away over the bracken. A
belated labourer passed him, touching his hat in humble homage. It was
all his, so far as he could see, even the beasts of the field and the
birds of the air seemed to come under his sway.

A great possession, no doubt, a fine possession, but just at that moment
he had it in his heart to change places with the humblest hind on his
estate. He had an uneasy feeling that he was being made a puppet in the
great game of financial chess which Saltburn was playing, but the
reflection brought no consolation to him. He could see now how foolish
he had been; he could see no palliation for his conduct.

Just for one moment trees and sky and earth and air seemed blended in
one whirling mist, then his brain cleared again and he crept on,
trembling strangely in every limb. A nausea gripped him, a kind of
physical sickness that he had never felt before.

He put all these painful thoughts away from him with an effort. There
was something like a smile on his face as he walked into the
drawing-room where Lady Edna and Philip Saltburn were seated. A clock
somewhere was chiming the hour of eleven with the sound of silver bells.
Lady Edna more or less successfully concealed a yawn beneath her hand.

"You are very late," she said. "We have been wondering what had become
of you. I am quite sure that Mr. Saltburn is getting tired of my
society."

"You don't really mean that," Saltburn replied. "In any case, one would
be a long time before one tired of a place like Borne Abbey."

Lady Edna hesitated a minute, then she held out her hand as she said
good night to Saltburn. He rose, in his turn, and asked his host to
excuse him.

"Late hours do not agree with me," he said. "You won't think me rude if
I go to bed, will you? No, thank you, I won't take anything. I make it a
rule to touch nothing after dinner. I think you said breakfast at
half-past eight."

Sherringborne murmured his regrets politely. At the same time he was
relieved that there was no necessity to sit there opposite his young
guest making conversation. He wanted to be alone now. He longed for the
seclusion of the library where he could think matters out. There were
details in connection with the lamentable suicide of El Murid which he
was aching to hear. It might be possible at this late hour to get some
information from London.

He walked over restlessly in the direction of the telephone, he would
call up Sir James Pallisser and see if the Premier knew anything. As he
stood there with his listless hand upon the receiver, the bell of the
telephone purred rapidly and so startlingly and unexpectedly that
Sherringborne fell back. He could hardly recognise his own voice as he
asked the usual question. Then there came above the humming of the wires
the soft, smooth utterance of Sir James Pallisser himself.

"Is that you, Sherringborne?" he asked. "Oh, it is. I am very glad to
have got you. Are you doing anything particular to-morrow? You are not.
Oh, very well. I beg your pardon. Oh, yes. Well, I want to see you
pretty badly, and I should like to bring Grant and Featherstone with me.
I got my secretary to send a note round to the papers saying that we are
spending the week-end at Borne Abbey. I suppose you can put us all up?"

"Delighted," Sherringborne said huskily.

"Yes, I thought you wouldn't mind. After all, there is nothing
significant in the fact that two or three of us are spending a week-end
with you. We'll motor down early to-morrow."

"Is there anything seriously wrong?" Sherringborne asked.

"Seriously, do you say? Oh, yes, I am afraid so. I suppose you haven't
heard that El Murid is dead--committed suicide, poor fellow. Oh, you
know it, do you? Who told you? De la Croisa? Very strange how the Baron
gets hold of everything. I suppose he didn't happen to know any of the
circumstances of the case. I am afraid it is a bad business altogether.
If there was one honest man connected with Tortina it was El Murid. And
I am very much afraid he has been speculating deeply with public money."

"Never," Sherringborne whispered. "Never."

"Ah, well," the voice at the other end of the 'phone said. "You knew the
man intimately. Far better than I did. But can't you see this is a most
unpleasant business for us?"

Still Sherringborne said nothing. He might have spoken then and saved
himself many a sleepless hour, but he could not unburden himself over
the wire.

"I shall see you to-morrow," he said. "And then we shall be able to go
into the matter, thoroughly."

"You are right there," the Premier replied.

"Between ourselves, I believe that Saltburn is at the bottom of the
whole business. Oh, may I bring him with me to-morrow?"

"By all means," Sherringborne said, and hoped that his voice conveyed
nothing to his listener.

CHAPTER VI.--"THE TENTH TRANSMITTER OF A FOOLISH FACE."

Lady Edna protested against the whole thing indignantly. There was
reproach even in the way she handed her father his breakfast coffee.
Sherringborne had passed a restless night, and, in consequence, made no
appearance at the breakfast table until the others had finished. Already
Philip Saltburn had set out to explore the park, so that father and
daughter were alone.

"I think it is great presumption on Sir James's part," Lady Edna said
coldly. "Of course, one is always glad to see him and Mr. Grant and Mr.
Featherstone. But, really, Sir James had no right to ask that other man
down. It is not fair to me. Fancy expecting me to entertain Mr.
Saltburn."

"There are worse catastrophes," Sherringborne said wearily.

"My dear father, this isn't a catastrophe, it's an outrage. It has
always been our boast that no people of that sort have ever entered the
doors of Borne Abbey--at least, I don't mean it is exactly a boast,
because the Cranwallises are not given to that kind of thing. We have
simply ignored people of Mr. Saltburn's type."

"You don't understand," Sherringborne said with an air of one who is
addressing an intelligent child. "There is a serious crisis which may
have an effect on the Government itself. There is trouble in Tortina and
El Murid, the only man we could trust there, has committed suicide."

"Oh, I am grieved," Lady Edna said. "Such a nice man, too. And quite an
Englishman in his way. The last time he was here he was telling me of
some boyish adventures you and he had together when you were at Eton. He
was such a splendid shot, too. But why do you look at me like that?
Surely there is nothing really wrong?"

"I am afraid so," Sherringborne murmured.

"It looks to me very like a big disgrace. Murid was bold and over
sanguine--just the sort of man who would deliberately take his chances
and reckon on his revolver in the case of failure. He was a fatalist,
too. I am afraid, Edna, there is going to be a great deal of trouble
over this. Of course, you don't understand business, but there are many
millions of English money in Tortina securities which most people will
now regard as hopelessly lost. It is a hopeless tangle, and I can't
explain to you how this new bother between the United States and Japan
is likely to seriously affect many innocent people in England. I suppose
that is why Pallisser is bringing Saltburn down here. For the most part
we are perfect children in such matters, and I expect Saltburn is going
to explain."

Lady Edna was silent, if not convinced. After all said and done, her
father occupied a great public position, and it was no more than his
duty to see that these poor people were not robbed; but, on the other
hand, the more thought of William Saltburn's presence there was an
outrage on her dignity and self respect.

She had seen the man once in a London drawing-room, she had been
repelled by his strong, heavy face, and the boom of his voice. He had
seemed to dominate everybody there, he had held the whole room with a
magnetism of a strong, and, so Edna thought, brutal nature. He had been
a new type to this haughty young aristocrat, a repellant, fascinating
kind, in form something between a shark and a tiger. She had wondered
why one born to the purple like the Duchess of Cantyre could possibly
have tolerated such a creature as Saltburn. And now he was actually
coming down here, to Borne Abbey, above all places in the world.

"Very well, father," she said with proud humility. "Of course, I will do
my best to make myself civil to the man. It will only be for a few hours
at the outside. It is very fortunate that there are no women guests
here, so that there will be no necessity for me to come in to dinner. As
the dinner will be more or less political, you won't want me."

Sherringborne accepted the compromise eagerly enough. His career as a
statesman had taught him the value of the compromise, and he was in no
mood then for anything in the nature of a fight.

It was past the luncheon hour; indeed, it was nearly tea-time before two
motor cars drew up under the great archway of the Abbey and the expected
guests alighted. Lady Edna stood in the hall to receive them, smiling
and gracious, so far as Pallisser and his colleagues were concerned. She
swept Saltburn a frigid bow, and did not appear to see his outstretched
hand. But she noticed the blunt, thick fingers clearly enough, she saw
the coarse nails that had been bitten to the quick, and the fact was not
lost upon her that Saltburn's palm was none too clean.

But if he felt anything he gave no sign, but stood there, a short square
figure, with a hard red face and grim mouth, smiling with a certain
cynical approval that had something of the auctioneer about it.

"Nice place you've got here, Sherringborne," he said. "Ah, Phil, how are
you? Enjoying yourself, my lad? After all said and done, there's nothing
like a fine old English home. I should like to wash my hands,
Sherringborne, I suppose I can."

Lady Edna shivered. A wave of crimson swept over her face. She set her
little teeth together with her eyes on Philip Saltburn. She noticed he
was smiling to himself as if something amused him. She made a gesture in
the direction of the bell.

"Oh, don't ring on my account, missie," Saltburn said. "I can find my
way. There is a lavatory at the back of the great staircase, isn't
there?"

"How do you know that," Sherringborne asked. "You've never been here
before."

Just for a moment Saltburn showed signs of confusion.

"Oh, I must have read about it, I suppose," he said. "Once show me a
house, and I could go over it blindfold a year after-wards. Come along
with me, Phil, and give me a lead in case I make a mistake."

Philip Saltburn followed obediently enough. He stood while Saltburn
stripped off his coat and bared a pair of arms that would have done
justice to a navvy. He plunged his red face into the marble basin, and
scrubbed himself until that coarse skin of his shone again. Then he
turned to his son with a certain unmistakable pride and affection. He
was proud of Philip, proud of his style and his manner, and of the
friends that he made. But it was characteristic of the man that he never
said so.

"Well, how are you getting on?" he asked. "Topping place this, isn't it?
Handsome gel, too. That's the type of woman you want, old chap; that's
the class you've got to marry into. Get hold of one of the first flight
and settle down and found a family. You needn't worry about money--I'll
see to that. You'll find her devilish stand-offish, of course, but I
like that sort--dash it, there is an atmosphere about the whole place
you can't buy. No change whatever in the last fifty years, except the
electric light, and that is an improvement."

Philip looked inquiringly at his father.

"But you've never been here before," he said.

"Oh, haven't I?" the financier said. "It's a dead secret, my boy, but
you had to know it sooner or later, and that's one of the reasons why I
came down here to-day. Fifty years ago I was in the kitchen here. I
cleaned the boots, my son. I used to regard the butler in those days as
a much bigger man than Sherringborne. But that's all between you and me,
and need never go any further. Look here, Phil, when I was a boy here I
was a bit of a poacher. Only a rabbit or two, for the sport of the
thing, but they got hold of me, and they gave me six months. That turned
me against the whole tribe. When I came out I swore I'd be even with
them some day, and, by the Lord Harry! it's coming true. I've got
Sherringborne and Borne Abbey in the hollow of my hands. I can smash 'em
like an eggshell if I like. But that's not my game. When you were born I
swore that you should some day marry the present man's daughter, and, by
Heaven, you shall. When I saw you and Lady Edna side by side just now
that old dream came back. We'll humble her pride, my boy, we'll show her
what a power William Saltburn is. Bring her nose down to the grindstone
and make her grateful to know that a fine young chap like Philip
Saltburn is ready to pick her up again. But, of course, if you've got
your eye on somebody else--"

Philip Saltburn smiled.

"That's just like you," he said. "You think that you and your money can
do everything."

"By Gad, you're right there," the financier cried. He worried his thick
mat of hair with a pair of brushes; his coarse features shone as if they
had been varnished. "You can do anything with money. But what do you
think of the young woman? Is it good enough? Will she do?"

"My dear father," Philip protested. "You speak as if I was going to buy
a horse."

"Well, it's much the same thing, isn't it? You'll have to put it on a
business footing or the girl won't look at you. Oh, I know these swells.
It'll have to be a bargain, my boy, and one she can't possibly wriggle
out of. That's the way we do things in the city."

Philip listened with disgust and a feeling of despair. He knew it was
almost impossible to bring his father round to his own view, but, at any
rate, he must try, unless the ruins of his hopes were to lie about his
feet.

"Lady Edna is charming," he said. "It isn't only her beauty that
attracts me, it's her mind as well. She's a class apart, a survival, if
you like, but an exquisite survival, and if I am fortunate enough to win
her for my wife I shall regard myself as one of the luckiest of men."

William showed his strong teeth in a grin. "Then, dash it all, you shall
marry her," he said. "Never mind what she says, I shall come in at the
proper time."

CHAPTER VII.--FLINT AND STEEL.

Philip Saltburn fairly winced. He was fond enough of his father, he
admired his many sterling qualities, but that brutal bluntness jarred
him terribly now. There were many ways of arriving at the definite issue
without that crudeness of speech which was almost a vice, as far as the
capitalist was concerned.

He had been a successful man all his life, he was used to giving and
taking blows, and he loved to fight for the pure joy of it. With him
finesse and diplomacy were mere symbolic, and, because of this, he had
gone direct to the point.

And, with it all, he had an almost boundless ambition. No man knew
better the value of money, and money to him meant power, and nothing
else. Personally, his habits were the simplest, and he could work for
fourteen hours at a stretch on a biscuit and a cup of tea. He could
smoke the best of cigars if they were offered him, but, if there was no
tobacco to be had, it was all the same to him. Nothing mattered except
money and good health, and the ability to lay out his millions to the
best advantage.

He knew perfectly well that kings were powerless without it, and that an
army might be paralysed for the need of it. By the side of a great
capitalist a statesman or a general was a mere child. Money, money was
everything. The time would come when he and others of his clan would be
masters of the world, and they were showing it now in the way in which
they were engineering that embroglio in Tortina. And Saltburn was
perfectly frank in his aim--he talked of it in the hall at tea-time, he
discussed it until the dinner bell rang. It was nothing to him that Lady
Edna sat regarding him with a certain contemptuous disdain. The long
purple lash swept her cheek as she listened, merely tolerating this
crude specimen of humanity, and Philip writhed uneasily as he saw what
was passing through her mind. He was a shrewd young man enough in his
way, he knew the great world and its traditions far better than his
father, and he was not blind to the fact that the noisy capitalist was
doing his cause more harm than good.

For William Saltburn, from Lady Edna's point of view, would have been a
terrible and monstrous affliction in the way of a father-in-law. It
seemed to Philip that he could see these thoughts in the sleepy droop of
her eyelids, and the slightly disdainful curve of her lips as she
listened. He was glad enough when the first dinner bell rang and that
big voice ceased to magnetise Saltburn's fellow guests.

Sir James Pallisser seemed to be frankly amused. Sherringborne was
absorbed in a reverie, and the other two Government members listened
with a boredom that they were at no pains to conceal. Occasionally
Saltburn's keen eye flashed over them. His mode of address was
contemptuously familiar and his opinion of them too thinly veiled. Lady
Edna rose and Philip followed to open the door for her.

"I will get you to excuse me," she said. "It will be better, perhaps, if
I do not come down to dinner. You are going to talk politics, and
politics always give me a headache. They seem to lead to nothing but
argument."

Sherringborne came out of his reverie.

"There will be seven of us altogether," he said. "I have asked de la
Croisa to come over, Pallisser."

"I am glad to hear it," the Premier said heartily. "I always enjoy a
chat with the Baron. Do you happen to know him, Mr. Saltburn? A most
charming and entertaining companion."

"I met him once," Saltburn said abruptly. "Old-fashioned, exploded type
of politician, sort of dancing master statesman. A man who would argue
with scrupulous politeness and call you out if you disputed his facts
after-wards. He's the man that made such a mess of Tortina. But for him
we shouldn't have had all this trouble between Japan and the States.
Plenty of brains, but too impulsive."

The last dinner bell rang out through the great house presently--the one
note of noise in that peaceful place where everything seemed to run on
oiled wheels, and where trouble and care had apparently no rest for the
sole of its foot. Saltburn took it all in as he came down the great
marble staircase, he saw the legendary pictures on the walls, the flesh
pink statuary, and the glowing cabinets, wrought by master hands. He saw
the servants in their resplendent liveries moving about the house
silently and discreetly like an army of soldiers in a fortress where
discipline is the watchword of it all.

Yet, the air of it all, the nameless something which is so impressive,
had no effect upon him. He liked it, he admired it, he would have given
a good round sum of his beloved money to catch such an atmosphere in a
home of his own. But he could afford to leave all that presently to
Philip and his future daughter-in-law, Lady Edna Cranwallis. It was
characteristic of the man that he should regard this business as good as
settled. He was in one of his most amiable moods when the footman pushed
up the big oak chair behind him, and he unfolded his napkin.

Dinner was served in the great oak dining room, the walls of which were
hung with a Beauvais tapestry which had a history of its own. The shaded
lights twinkled in the fretted roof. There were points here and there in
the darkness where art treasures obtruded themselves with a certain
discreetness which was an art in itself. The table was decorated with
gold and silver and flowers, loose and moist and feathery. The
well-trained servants moved silently, there was no sound except the
murmuring conversation round the dinner table. There was an air and an
environment here, a certain brooding of the spirit of the centuries,
which gave the entertainment a singular charm in the eyes of Philip
Saltburn.

He was interested in all the men about him, but most of all he was
interested in de la Croisa. The Baron was wearing the colour of an order
round his neck, the ribbon across his breast gleamed dully red. He knew
something about this man, of course, knew what de la Croisa might have
been had he chosen to be supple and court popular opinion. He knew that
he was listening to a man now, whose conversation was witty to a degree
and whose converse sparkled with epigrams. And he felt, too, that behind
all the light some laughter de la Croisa was watching all that was going
on with the keen, discriminating eye of a hawk.

So far as Philip could see, most of the conversation at the dinner table
was being monopolised by the Baron and his father. It was the same
presently when the long elaborate meal drew to a close and cigars were
lighted. It was the same again when a move was made to the drawing-room.

"We must not altogether forget our charming hostess," Sir James said.
"Sherringborne, if you don't mind, I should prefer to have my coffee in
the drawing-room."

Sherringborne did not appear to hear. The suggestion was repeated twice
before it conveyed itself to his intelligence.

"By all means, my dear fellow," he murmured. "What do you other people
say? Then come along."

Lady Edna looked up with a smile from the book she was reading. She sat
in a remote corner near a window, the curtains of which were not yet
drawn, the fading primrose light of the July evening fell upon her face.
Philip Saltburn crossed over to her. Sooth to say, he was just a little
tired of the rasping boom of his father's voice. It seemed to him that
that dominating personality was singularly out of place here. The room
was large enough to get away almost outside the region of Saltburn's
environment. Philip could see now that Lady Edna was regarding his
father somewhat as if she were a naturalist with a new specimen on the
plate of a microscope.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

"An autobiography," Lady Edna explained. "It is the life story of a
successful man, a man who made his way from the ranks--that is, a
capitalist. I always had a weakness for natural history."

"The type is new to you?" Philip asked quietly.

Lady Edna smiled as her eyes were turned in William Saltburn's
direction.

"It was," she said demurely.

CHAPTER VIII.--AFTER THE COFFEE.

The room was faintly tinged with the fragrance of coffee. Then it seemed
to Philip that Lady Edna was paying scant attention to what he was
saying. She was listening, and yet not listening, to what was going on
at the other end of the room. De la Croisa was speaking now, he lay back
in an arm-chair, his legs crossed, his long, thin finger-tips pressed
together. Once more the talk had drifted into a duel between de la
Croisa and Saltburn.

"You are not altogether a fool," Saltburn said approvingly.

"Ah, I thank you," the Baron responded. "Quite so, my friend. According
to this shrewd judge, I am not the fool he took me for. Behold, it is a
great compliment to the poor old failure who has to take refuge in
growing roses. It takes brains to grow roses. But that is a mere detail.
And now, my friend Saltburn, with your permission, I will ask you a
question. You say that the Tortina Islands business should be left to
the financiers?"

"Only an idiot could suggest anything else," Saltburn said bluntly.

"Meaning yourself, perhaps?" the Baron asked blandly.

"With Van Troop of New York, we could settle it in a day. It's largely a
question of bluff after all. These things always are. But we shall have
to be trusted."

De la Croisa twinkled like a child.

"And Japan?" he asked. "The innocent Jap? Ah, you would not take
advantage of those children at Tokio, and all the cards would be on the
table, of course?"

De la Croisa spoke lightly, almost flippantly, yet the eyes which he
turned upon Saltburn had a challenge in them. Saltburn's red face turned
a shade crimson. He mopped his huge forehead.

"That is a clever shot," he said.

"No, my friend, it was no shot at all. You go soon to Tokio to see the
Emperor, you will have to explain to him how it is that South America
has seized this opportunity to make trouble. It is very unfortunate for
us that poor El Murid is out of the way because he might have thrown a
lurid light upon this complication. The Emperor will be annoyed, he will
probably scent a breach of faith. It is possible that he may say that
you have brought this about for your own purposes. He may remark that
Santa Anna is a poor man or that he was a poor man till a comparatively
recent date, in fact, there is no end to the things the Emperor may say
to you. But on these things it will be possible to speak more plainly
when we have seen El Murid's private papers. You made a bad debt there,
Mr. Saltburn."

"Put it plainly," Saltburn said. "You might just as well accuse me
openly--"

"Ah, a thousand pardons," de la Croisa said in tones of exquisite
politeness. "You mistake me. I am grieved, I am desolated. Let me hasten
to say that I make no accusation against anybody. I merely stated that
our late friend El Murid was deeply in your debt, and that it was
impossible to get to the bottom of it until his papers came to be
overhauled. Then we shall see many things. I--the poor broken-down
public servant with nothing but my roses and my cottage--tell you so.
And there is going to be trouble in Washington. There is going to be
trouble everywhere. Now, Mr. Saltburn, here is the chance to show your
power. If I were a great capitalist, do you know what I should do? I
should say to him--"

Saltburn was leaning eagerly forward to listen now. His wide lips were
parted, there was a fine perspiration on his forehead. Then de la Croisa
broke into a gay laugh.

"Well, go on," Saltburn said impatiently, "I am listening. I don't often
pay anyone the compliment of doing that."

"Ah, no," de la Croisa exclaimed. "Possibly I have already said too
much. But if I had those papers--"

"Ah, El Murid's, eh? I don't mind telling you I have seen to that. A
friend of yours, wasn't he?"

"He was at Eton with our host and myself," de la Croisa explained. "An
honest, straightforward man, and a capital sportsman. Isn't that so
Sherringborne?"

But Sherringborne did not appear to be listening. There was a strangely
vacant look in his eyes, his lips were twitching. De la Croisa asked the
question twice before Sherringborne's eyes were turned in his direction.

"Oh, yes," he said. His voice was strained and hard, yet with a peculiar
tremble in it that caused Sir James Pallisser to turn in his direction.
"Oh, yes," he went on, "it was a chaffinch's nest with three eggs in it.
Now, don't you think it is a singular fact that a chaffinch should build
a nest in a candlestick? But you can see for yourselves there it is! A
nest made of moss and horsehair, right under one of those branches."

"Good heavens! Sherringborne," Sir James exclaimed. "What's the matter?
What are you talking about? Here, hold up."

But Sherringborne had fallen forward, his head hanging on his breast.
All the light of life and reason seemed to have gone out of his eyes
now. He was an old, old man, suddenly senile and broken.

"Can't you see it for yourself?" he asked petulantly. "It is there
yonder, on the candlestick, and it is full of El Murid's papers. You
must get those papers for me, Pallisser, take them out of the nest when
the bird is not looking. If I don't get them I am ruined. I shall be
disgraced."

He lifted his head suddenly, his eyes shining now with a new and
restless fire.

"You must listen to me, my lords," he said. "I desire to crave your
indulgence for a minute. For the last twenty years I have sat in your
lordship's house. I have played a prominent part in the Councils of the
Nation, and I must confess that this accusation has taken me entirely by
surprise. Because I am not guilty my lords. For five hundred years there
have been Cranwallises at Borne Abbey, and until the present moment--"

He broke off again, half-conscious of the horrified looks of those
around him. They stood, one or another, as if to shield him from the
eyes of his daughter. Lady Edna lay back in her chair talking quietly to
Philip Saltburn, utterly unconscious of the ghastly tragedy which was
being played only a few feet away.

"Pull them out, I say," Sherringborne said, querulously. "Pull the
papers out of the chaffinch's nest. Do you hear, Pallisser? I shall be
ruined, and the Government will be disgraced, and all
because--because--El Murid's letters--the letters I wrote to him."

There was a silence, long and slow and painful. In the recess by the
window Lady Edna sat chatting with Philip. The murmur of his voice
reached the others, it seemed strangely inconsequent, so hideously out
of place. It was as well, perhaps, that most of the lights there were
shaded, that it was only possible for those close to him to see the
ghastly, twitching greyness of Sherringborne's face. In the presence of
a tragedy like this the little group standing round it seemed to be
paralysed. Even William Saltburn had no suggestion to make, he could
only regard his host with an expression of mingled pity and contempt.

"What is it?" Pallisser whispered to de la Croisa. "Do you know
anything, Baron? Can you think of the cause of this dreadful business?
What had we better do?"

De la Croisa shook his head. He could explain, no doubt, but in the
presence of Saltburn he was silent.

"It is only conjecture, my dear Sir James," he said. "So far as I can
see there is only one thing to be done, and that is to send for a doctor
without delay. There is some serious brain trouble here--the result of a
mental shock, I should say."

"What were we talking about?" Sherringborne went on in the same curious
shrill treble. "What was the subject under discussion? I can't think of
anything. Oh, yes, El Murid and those papers, and the nest--the nest."

He said no more, for suddenly the left side of his face drew up with a
hideous contortion, his left hand hung limply by his side. Then, very
slowly, he dropped to his knees, and lay on the carpet. He was breathing
stentoriously now, the ghastly pallor on his cheeks had given place to a
dull mottled redness.

"By heavens, he is dead," Featherstone cried. "What fools we are to
stand gaping like this. Lady Edna!"

She had heard, for, on the spur of the moment Featherstone had called
out the words with a hoarse horror; they rang from one end of the saloon
to the other. Lady Edna's book slipped from her fingers, and went
crashing to the floor. She came across the room now swiftly, her dress
trailing behind her, her face all soft and tender and apprehensive. She
took in at a glance what had happened; there was no occasion to ask any
questions.

Just for the moment her brain moved half-unconsciously, for she was not
used to trouble, and it had come upon her all too swiftly.

She was trying to tell herself that her father had been suddenly
stricken down, and that for the first time in her life she was face to
face with death. She knelt there all heedless of her dress, she raised
the limp, grey head, and rested it on her knee. There were tears in her
eyes now, her lips were trembling as she glanced up at the little group
standing round her.

"How did it happen?" she murmured. "But why do I waste time asking
questions? Sir James, will you ring the bell and ask them to send for a
doctor at once; and don't you think it would be as well to lift my poor
father on to a sofa? Shorland ought to be sent for, too."

"We will hope," Pallisser murmured, "we will hope, Lady Edna, that it is
not so serious as all that."

"Oh, but it is. You know that it is--I can see that by the expression of
your face. Please ring the bell."

CHAPTER IX.--"BUT YET A WOMAN."

The household was all in commotion now. It was as if the oiled wheels
had left the track, as if the whole perfect machinery had fallen out of
gear. There were sounds of voices in the house, a confused murmur of
servants as they hurried from room to room, and, above it all, the sharp
incongruous note of the telephone bell.

They had the stricken man upstairs now. He was lying partially undressed
on his bed, still breathing stentoriously. The mottled red on his face
had struck a deeper purple hue. Downstairs in the drawing-room, William
Saltburn stood by the fireplace, his hands behind his back, reckoning up
his chances. He was the only one there who did not seem in the least
impressed by the tragedy. By his side stood Philip, tugging irresolutely
at his moustache. So far as he was concerned he was profoundly shocked
and impressed. He was recalling other conversations which had led up to
the distressing scene which he had lately witnessed. He had more than an
uneasy impression that his father was at the bottom of the whole ghastly
business.

"What do you think of it?" William Saltburn asked.

"I don't know," Philip murmured. "It is all so unutterably sad. It seems
an awful thing for the master of all this to be fighting for this life
upstairs like an ordinary human being."

"Common lot," Saltburn exclaimed. "Got to come to us all sooner or
later. What has become of the Baron? Has he gone home? Do you know I
should like to get hold of that chap--just the sort of man I could make
use of. Poor, isn't he? They tell me he lives in a little cottage here
on about a pound a week. Funny idea for a man of his ability. But those
Latins are rum chaps when their vanity is touched. Anyway, I'd give a
hundred thousand pounds if I could get de la Croisa to place his
services at my disposal. And you can tell him so if you like. You get on
better with that class of old swell than I do."

"I should be sorry to," Phillip murmured. "I should expect the Baron to
run me through the body. But, look here, father, is there really
anything in this Tortina business? I don't want to be personal, but if
our host is in trouble through dabbling in some scheme of yours, why--"

"You mind your own business," Saltburn growled. "Don't you come meddling
in things you don't understand. Your game is to play pretty and make
yourself agreeable to the ladies."

Philip stood there, profoundly dissatisfied. He might have said more,
only the door opened at that moment, and de la Croisa came in.

"I think he is a bit better now," he said in answer to Philip's inquiry.
"The doctor has come, and the first thing he did was to turn us all out
of the room. Lady Edna would like to speak to you, Mr. Philip. You will
find her in the library."

Philip needed no second bidding. He closed the door quietly behind him,
leaving the Baron and his father confronting each other. Saltburn's red,
aggressive face was strongly combative now. The Baron was regarding him
through narrowed eyelids, his glance appeared to sparkle like steel.

"Well, are you satisfied?" he asked. "My dear Mr. Saltburn, there are
times when it is necessary to sink the method of diplomacy and give
nature a chance. It would be foolish on my part to close my eyes to what
has taken place to-night. Tell me, why you should go out of your way to
make all this trouble with my old friend Sherringborne. Surely he has
done you no harm?"

"That is not the question," Saltburn responded.

"Perhaps not. But it is important from my point of view. This, I
presume, is what you call business. There are people like myself who
could give it quite another name. Fifty or sixty years ago when
gentlemen settled their differences in a proper and orthodox manner I
should have been compelled to call you out for this. I should have had
infinite satisfaction in running you through the body and subsequently
repairing to my cottage with a clear conscience. But now it is the
fashion to employ lawyers to do these things for one. Still, it is an
easy negotiation after all. You have only to revert to your original
scheme with regard to the finances of my friend Santa Anna. Do you
follow me?"

"Oh, I'm all there," Saltburn said bluntly. "I am ready to answer to the
crack of the whip if you can find it. But can you find it? In the hands
of Japan--"

"My dear friend," the Baron said softly, his eyes were half-closed now,
he appeared to be examining the painted ceiling with critical approval,
"my dear friend, is there not a Scotch poet who sings that there are
hills beyond Pentland and seas beyond Firth? It is precisely the same
with international politics. It is well for you to shield yourself
behind that plea that this new policy on Japan's part calls for
reconsideration of your position. But it is just possible that there are
forces which may induce the Mikado to take another view of the matter.
Now, in all your travels, have you ever been as far as Japan?"

Saltburn looked frankly puzzled. He was phenomenally quick at grasping a
point, but palpably he was at sea here. And he did not like the cynical
superiority of the Baron's smile.

"No, I haven't," he said. "I believe it is a beautiful country all the
same. And certain to go ever farther than it has."

"Aye, and that before long, too," the Baron said with a sudden change of
voice. "I suppose you have heard of the Prince Ito? He is at present in
London, and--now, my dear friend, do you want me to say more?"

Something like an oath broke from Saltburn's lips. He began to
understand now the power and significance of the force which was arrayed
against him.

"I haven't thought of that," he muttered. "Strange as it may seem. Ito
had never entered my calculations for a moment. And I have never met the
Prince. Have you?"

"He is a friend of mine, of course. They are all friends of mine, Mr.
Saltburn. Ah, the old man tending his roses in his country garden is not
entirely forgotten yet. I don't want to interfere with your plans, but,
I think, I really think, my friend, that this sad business will be
settled on an amicable basis yet. A true patriot like yourself--"

"Patriotism be hanged," Saltburn broke out furiously. "It's only the
fool and the socialist who prates of patriotism. And you may be assured
of one thing--whatever happens--"

Saltburn's strident voice died away in a growl as the door opened, and
Pallisser, accompanied by the others, came in. De la Croisa lifted his
eyebrows interrogatively.

"Very bad," the Premier said. "Very bad indeed. The symptoms are
exceedingly grave, and fresh complications may supervene at any moment.
On the other hand, it is just possible that Sherringborne may be
comparatively himself within a week. But it would be criminal to be too
sanguine. Featherstone, I wonder if you would lend Lady Edna your car?
She has taken it into her head that she would like to fetch Shorland
herself."

"What, alone?" Featherstone asked significantly. "Of course she can have
the car with pleasure, but it would be far more advisable for one of us
to go. You see, Shorland is not the kind of man to put himself out for
other people's convenience. I don't suppose Lady Edna will approve of
some of his associates if he happens to be giving a supper-party or
something of that kind, which is exceedingly likely. I don't
think--well, you know what I mean, Sir James. Between ourselves,
Shorland is a vicious young scamp, and as heartless and selfish as they
make them."

The Premier shook his head doubtfully. He had heard many of these
stories, which are usually the last to come to the ears of those most
concerned. Lord Sherringborne was aware that his son was reckless and
extravagant. But of the kind of life that he was leading Lady Edna knew
nothing. She was entirely outside a world of that kind. As the little
group of men stood there debating the point, Lady Edna came in.

"My father appears to be quieter now," she explained. "The doctor has
asked me to keep away as much as possible. He has managed to get hold of
two nurses who have just arrived. But, really, Shorland ought to know,
he would be terribly distressed and hurt if he thought that we were
keeping him in the dark." The others exchanged glances. "Of course, I
know he is very wild and foolish, but with all his faults he is devoted
to his father and to me. I must do something, Sir James, I really can't
stay here. This inaction is positively maddening. Do lend me your car,
Lord Featherstone. I can be back again in two or three hours at the
outside."

Featherstone hesitated. He ventured to suggest that he should go
himself.

"It would be far better," he said, "for a man to undertake this thing."

But Lady Edna would have none of it, nothing would please her except
that she should undertake the journey personally. She was still pressing
the point home when Philip Saltburn came in. He was already dressed for
a journey, he was wearing a big motor-coat over his dress clothes. He
seemed to have taken the whole matter into his own hands as if it were
the most natural thing in the world.

"I have taken the liberty of borrowing your car, Featherstone," he said.
"I have managed to get Lord Shorland's address in London, and with any
luck I shall be back here by midnight. I understand that Lady Edna wants
to go, but, of course, that is out of the question. It is impossible."

Lady Edna flashed a challenge from moist eyes.

"I shall be glad of your assistance," she said, "but, all the same,
understand that I am going with you."

CHAPTER X.--THE GLADES OF PLEASURE.

There was no more to be said or done, for Lady Edna's voice had in it
the final accent.

Standing there, regarding her with a glance not altogether of approval,
Philip Saltburn was trying to persuade himself that this decision had
not filled him with pleasure. He had taken the whole thing into his
hands in his strong, capable way; it never occurred to him that Lady
Edna might be anxious to dispense with his services.

But she said nothing further; she hurried out of the room, only to
return a moment or two later equipped for the journey. It was a fine,
still night, with the moon riding high in the heavens; there was no
occasion for anything extraordinary in the way of warm clothing.

They were slipping along the country lanes presently, the great car
moving noiselessly at something over 30 miles an hour. The clear, white
light of the moon shone on Lady Edna's face, and Philip could see how
soft and tender it looked now. From the first he had admitted Lady
Edna's beauty, but now there was an added womanliness to it which gave
her a new charm in his eyes. It was gratifying to him to find that she
had these moods, that, after all, she was nothing more than a woman with
all a woman's weakness and charm.

"You are bearing it bravely," he murmured.

"I hope so," Lady Edna replied. There was no note of scorn in her voice
now, she did not resent the pity, which at any other time would have
called for contempt. "You see, it is so new to me. I have never had a
great trouble before, and my mother died before I was old enough to
understand things."

"You don't remember her?" Saltburn asked. "Very little. She was quiet
and self-contained--so very different to Shorland and myself. I think
that was my father's only trouble, too--till this one."

Philip seemed to understand. He had heard of Lord Sherringborne's
marriage--that it had been merely a matter of family convenience, and
that the death of his wife was no more than a source of profound regret
to him. All his life had been arranged for him, everything had gone
smoothly, and that was why, perhaps, he had gone down before the first
great catastrophe which had come so unexpectedly into the sphere of his
well ordered existence.

There are some natures to whom trouble is insupportable, and apparently
Sherringborne's was one of these. Philip wondered to himself if Lady
Edna guessed how deep the wound was, and how sore the trouble was likely
to be. He wondered if she had contemplated even for a moment the
suggestion of disgrace to the noble house of Cranwallis for the shadow
of a sinister catastrophe to smirch its proud escutcheon. But though
Lady Edna's face was sad and the tears welled into her fine eyes, there
was no suggestion of this upon her features. She seemed to be wrapped up
entirely in her consideration for her father. She spoke as to the way in
which the news was to be broken to Shorland, she pictured him as helping
her to sustain her trouble.

In spite of the depth of his sincerity, Philip smiled grimly. He knew
something of the kind of life that Shorland was leading. He had heard
the various stories. He was acquainted by sight at any rate, with some
of Shorland's choice associates. He only hoped that to-night might prove
an exception to the rule, and that Lord Sherringborne's heir might be
found in comparatively respectable company. It was, at best, but a
remote contingency, and when at length the lights of London began to
twinkle in sight Philip began to regret that he had not come on his
errand alone.

The mere fact of it being Sunday night was in Shorland's disfavour.
London was comparatively empty, too, most of the great houses in the
West were closed, so that Shorland would be more or less compelled to
seek his recreation in the half-world which appears to hold so strange a
fascination for the guilded youth of his kin.

It was exactly as Philip feared. The discreet man-servant at Shorland's
rooms confessed an utter ignorance as to his master's movements. A few
words from Philip, direct and to the point seemed to refresh his memory.
He thought but he was not quite sure, that his lordship was supping with
a few friends at the "Caversham." Philip groaned in spirit.

"I wish you would stay here, Lady Edna, and let me go to the 'Caversham'
alone," he said. "It is not exactly the place where you would feel at
ease. Oh, I don't mean to say that it isn't well conducted. But you will
understand what I mean."

It was apparent from the inquiring look in Lady Edna's eyes that she
didn't. Of this phase of existence she knew nothing. The glades of
pleasure were but a name to her, her only impression of them was derived
from society novels, of a certain class, and even these Lady Edna had
been pleased to regard as a gross libel on her set. She shook her head
resolutely.

"I am sure my brother, would not frequent any place I could not go to,"
she said. "You have been very kind and thoughtful so far, Mr. Saltburn.
Surely you are not going--"

Philip set his teeth together. After all, he had made his protest, and
perhaps it would be no great disadvantage in the long run for Lady Edna
to learn something about the ways of her brother and his mode of living.
He climbed back in the car again and gave orders to be driven straight
to the "Caversham."

London might have been empty as it pleased the great world to believe,
but there was no sign of any slackness of business either outside or
inside the "Caversham." The big dining-rooms were filled with people
resplendent in evening dress, there were women so daringly gowned that
Lady Edna shrank back, half ashamed, and wholly disdainful.

There were men here, the like of which she had not seen before,
red-faced, loudly-spoken men displaying a large amount of white shirt,
and an overplus of jewellery. The scene looked gay enough, the glades of
pleasure appeared to possess an attraction of their own, but with it all
the gaiety was forced, there was something that rang hollow in the
laughter of the women and the mirth of the men.

"I think you are right," Lady Edna faltered. "I ought to have allowed
you to come here alone. Still, now I am here--"

Philip asked to see the manager. He had a few words in private with that
functionary, then he came back with a grave air and a face stern and
disapproving.

"You had better go back to the car, Lady Edna," he said. "Your brother
is upstairs with a party that consists mainly, I understand, of ladies
connected with a theatrical company in which he is interested. There is
also, I understand, a Spanish woman--a wonderful dancer--"

"Oh, I know," Lady Edna murmured. She flushed crimson to the roots of
her hair. "I--I have already heard of this woman, Ninon Garrados. But it
is no time to be particular, Mr. Saltburn. I am coming with you."

She swept up the crimson-carpeted stairs along the corridors which
seemed hot almost to the point of suffocation. It appeared quiet and
decorous enough here except when a door a little way off opened suddenly
and a wild cackle of laughter broke out and then stopped again as the
door closed as if a lid had been shut down on it.

Lady Edna shuddered. She half-hesitated for a moment, then went on with
a new courage and resolution. A waiter flung the door back and displayed
a room where half-a-score of people were supping. The lights on the
table were somewhat obscured by cigarette smoke, the flowers were
already fading, and across the white tablecloth was a splash of crimson
where somebody had overturned a decanter of wine.

It seemed to Lady Edna to be a panorama, a kind of dissolving view of
smoke and flowers and lights with a few vacuous, foolish, yet refined
faces of men peeping out here and there, and behind it the women,
preening in all the colours of the rainbow, a mass of gleaming necks and
throats and shoulders, and with it all that cackle of laughter that
sounded too false and hollow, in a word, theatrical. Saltburn strode
resolutely into the room and grasped Shorland by the shoulder. The
latter's handsome face flushed with annoyance. His weak mouth shaped
itself into a forced defiance. His eyes were slightly blurred, he swayed
just a little as he rose to his feet.

"Now, don't make a scene," Saltburn said curtly. "Your sister is with
me. She insisted upon coming. Your father has had a paralytic stroke and
he may be dead at the present moment. We have a motor outside. Now come
along."

The words seemed to cut through the thick atmosphere, the shrill scream
of laughter died away. A dazzlingly pretty woman with a mass or dark
hair rose from her seat and stood beside Shorland. Saltburn knew who she
was perfectly well. More than once he had seen Ninon Garrados, the
dancer, who had made so great an impression upon London. She was dainty
and fascinating enough in her way, but just then her eyes were a trifle
hard. She smiled in Saltburn's face.

"What is it Teddy?" she asked. "Oh, your father. Poor old gentleman. Had
I better come?"

Lady Edna's face flamed.

"Is the woman mad?" she said. "Don't you understand? Oh, to think that I
should ever have to stoop--"

"Drop that," Shorland stammered. "Dreadful shock to me, don't you know.
But you mustn't talk like that Edna, you must be more civil to this
lady. Perhaps I had better introduce you properly. Lady Edna
Cranwallis--Lady Shorland. Mr. Saltburn, let me present you to my wife!"

CHAPTER XI.--RUST AND MOTH.

The scarlet flame on Lady Edna's face ebbed to a deadly whiteness. It
seemed as if some one had struck her an unexpected blow. All her pride
seemed to have left her for the moment. She stood there looking
helplessly through the blue wreaths of cigarette smoke at the gaudy
butterflies collected round the table. But, be that as it might, they
were behaving decorously enough now. One or two of them had risen, and
with murmured regrets were making their way towards the door. It seemed
as if Lord Shorland had not yet grasped the full meaning of Saltburn's
words. And, apparently, Lady Edna had forgotten it in the face of that
tremendous statement of her brother's.

"This is an ill time to jest," she said.

"Who's jesting?" Shorland asked. He spoke with all the truculent
fierceness that is born of alcohol. "Do you mean to insult this lady?"

Lady Edna turned helplessly to Saltburn.

"I don't understand," she said. "I don't know what my brother means. And
now all those people have gone, perhaps you will try and get him to
explain."

The room was quite empty by this time, except for the four people
interested. The others had faded away and for their consideration
Saltburn felt grateful.

"Your sister has asked you a question," he said.

"Who--who the devil are you?" Shorland asked abruptly. "And what have
you got to do with it. Some one I seem to have met before. One of my
creditors, I expect."

With a sudden spurt of rage Saltburn brought his hand down on Shorland's
shoulder. He could have strangled him cheerfully at that moment. But
that he was not altogether sober was no excuse in Saltburn's eyes. It
seemed almost incredible to believe that this weak and vacuous-looking
youth with weak irresolute face was the future Lord Sherringborne. It
seemed strange that a race of feudal lords like the Cranwallises with
their long, honourable record of soldier, priest and statesman should
have produced a decadant like this. He seemed to fit in well enough with
this artificial atmosphere of wine and exotic flowers and the acrid
pungency of cigarettes.

He fairly winced now under Saltburn's grip.

"Pull yourself together man," the latter said. "Your father has had a
dangerous seizure and you must come at once if you wish to see him
alive."

"Is that so?" Shorland asked. "Why didn't you say so before. And I know
who you are now. You are the Convict!"

"We will let it pass at that if you like," Saltburn said quietly. "You
must come at once. We have a car outside, and we can get back to Borne
Abbey by daylight."

Shorland raised no objection. He did not express the least regret or
sorrow, indeed, as yet, he was still obviously annoyed at this
interruption of his pleasure. He turned to the woman by his side more or
less eagerly.

"You can come along, Ninon?" he said. Lady Edna seemed to freeze again.

"Is not this jest carried far enough?" she asked.

The famous dancer smiled. It seemed to Saltburn that she was enjoying
the situation. She was perfectly self-possessed.

"It is no jest," Shorland said with a dignity that would have been
comical under any other circumstances. "I tell you that this lady is my
wife. We were married yesterday morning. You'll see it for yourself in
all the papers to-morrow. Ninon, let me introduce you to my sister, Lady
Edna. Edna, this is Lady Shorland."

There was a certain weak dignity about it all which was sufficiently
amusing. Lady Edna stood there as if trying to get a grasp on the
situation. She was very white, there was a certain horror and disgust in
her eyes, so frank and undisguised that it brought a faint tinge of
colour into the face of the woman opposite. She could read Lady Edna
like an open book, she knew exactly what was passing in her mind. And
she was not blind, either, to the knowledge that she was mistress of the
situation. She bowed and smiled, but she made no attempt to extend her
hand.

"You are naturally surprised," she said. "And perhaps somewhat
disappointed. Well, that is quite simple under the circumstances. Lady
Edna, I am not apologising, you understand. And I am sorry to hear this
bad news of Lord Sherringborne. I think in the circumstances, Ted, that
I had better stay where I am."

"You're coming along," Shorland said mulishly.

"I think not," Lady Shorland said. "Do please be reasonable. I shall be
glad enough to come down to Borne Abbey latter on, but just now I should
be decidedly in the way. I wish you good night, Lady Edna. Mr. Saltburn,
do you mind calling a cab for me?"

It was not at all badly done, as Saltburn was bound to admit. From his
point of view, she was no more than a brilliant insect that is bred on a
dustheap, but he was to change his opinion presently. Just now she shone
in comparison with Shorland, there was no denying the fact that she was
behaving rather well. At any rate, she was out of the way now, and
Saltburn was able to return to his companions. Shorland's mood appeared
to have changed for he welcomed Saltburn with a friendly smile.

"I thought I recognised you," he said. "I felt quite sure that you were
the Convict. Edna, Saltburn and myself were at Oxford together. We
weren't in the same set--"

"I hadn't that honour," Saltburn said quietly.

"Yes, we were a bit too rapid for you," Shorland said inanely. "Still,
the Convict isn't a bad sort. He got me out of a tight place once. By
Jove, it's a funny thing that you, above all men, should be here with my
sister. Shows how times change, doesn't it? And for myself, I don't care
a rap about the class distinction. If I find a chap or a woman who is
amusin', I don't care a hang where they are born. But hadn't we better
get on?"

Saltburn was nothing loth. It was no easy matter for him to disguise the
contempt which he was feeling for this chattering popinjay who seemed to
realise nothing of the trouble which had fallen on his house. It was a
relief presently when Shorland went to sleep in the car and they heard
no more from him during the rest of the journey. Lady Edna sat there,
pale and silent. It was a long time before she spoke.

"You have been very good to me," she said. "I hardly know how to thank
you. I thought I had had trouble enough already. But I never expected a
shameful disclosure like this. I didn't know, either, that you had met
my brother before. I am afraid he was very rude to you."

"I don't think he intended to be," Saltburn said. "After all, he only
called me by the nickname by which I was known to my friends, and if you
ask me what that name means, I am afraid I can't tell you. I have an
idea, of course, but for the sake of my own peace of mind I have never
inquired into the name too closely."

With this Lady Edna had to be content. She was afraid in the same way
that the subject was distasteful to Saltburn and she felt sorry that she
had alluded to it. She was thankful enough presently when the wide, grey
front of Borne Abbey loomed out in the morning mists and the car pulled
up at length.

Lord Sherringborne was no better and no worse. A couple of nurses were
in attendance upon him now, and the great specialist who had been
hastily summoned had passed his opinion. No doubt Lord Sherringborne had
had a shock of some kind, perhaps he was a little overworked. But on the
other hand, his constitution and the care he had taken of himself were
in his favour, and if no complications arose, there was no reason why he
should not recover. But it would be a long process, and, meanwhile, it
was essential that he should be kept quite quiet.

All these details Lady Edna derived from the Baron who had remained at
Borne Abbey pending her return. De la Croisa had slipped home for a bath
and change, and he looked now as fresh and alert as if he had had a
sound night's sleep.

He was full of kindly sympathy. He was only too ready and willing to do
anything that he could. And ever since Lady Edna could remember, de la
Croisa had been more or less like a second father to her. She allowed
him to take everything into his hands now, she concealed nothing from
him. It was a matter of deepest pain to her that Shorland should have
accepted the situation with such easy philosophy. He had expressed no
regret, he had shown no feeling. On the contrary, he had merely remarked
that he was devilish tired, and that he would be good for nothing till
he had been to bed.

"I could have put up with the one trouble," Lady Edna said. "Trouble is
bound to come to us all sooner or later, dear Baron. But this disgrace
is terrible."

Baron de la Croisa started. Just for a moment he was afraid that Lady
Edna was referring to her father's trouble.

"Oh, I had quite forgotten," he said. "Saltburn told me. And so Shorland
has succeeded at last in crowning his folly. Saltburn tells me that he
has actually married the Spanish dancer. It is a queer world, my dear
child, and you will be surprised to hear that scores of well-bred young
men will be disposed to regard Shorland as what they term 'a devilish
lucky chap.' He will be quite a hero in his own set for some time. And,
after all, it isn't a new thing. Our aristocracy to-day is considerably
embellished by recruits from the music-hall stage. And the singular part
of it is that these women make quite good wives. Now, honestly speaking,
don't you think that any woman is good enough for Shorland?"

"But a dancer!" Lady Edna gasped. "A woman who displays her limbs to
vulgar people for so much a week. Oh! I don't deny that she is pretty
and fascinating, and I don't deny that she behaved quite well last
night. She might have come here with Shorland, and, though the
temptation must have been great, she declined. I suppose there are worse
specimens of her class than Ninon Garrados."

The Baron pricked up his ears.

"Oh. Ninon Garrados," he exclaimed. "I knew that there was a Spanish
dancer, of course, but, I wasn't aware that she was the Garrados. Our
dear Shorland his secured a greater prize than I thought. He has covered
the family with glory. Really, this is not so bad as it looked. There
are several houses in England, and quite great houses, too, where Ninon
Garrados is a welcome guest."

Lady Edna lifted her shoulders scornfully.

"I suppose that is possible," she said. "I have read of such things. You
mean the houses where they entertain new millionaires--dreadful
creatures who do atrocious things at the table and are quite
unacquainted to the use of the fork. But those sort of people never come
here. It's all very well of you, my dear Baron, to take this cynical
view of of it, but then, unfortunately for me, I don't possess your
sense of humour. I thought we had gone too far when Mr. Saltburn was
allowed to come here."

"Now, don't you say a word against him," the Baron said. "My dear Edna,
Philip Saltburn is a fine young fellow. And you have already told me
yourself how well he behaved last night. I understand that it is
necessary for him to stay in their neighbourhood a little longer,
because he is negotiating in your father's absence with your lawyers as
to the sale of 'The Chantrey.'"

"I had forgotten that," Lady Edna said. "Indeed, I had hoped that my
father had changed his mind."

"Well, you see," the Baron said deliberately, "it is a matter of
business after all. And even people in the Earl of Sherringborne's
position need money to pay their debts. And I happen to know that our
dear Shorland's little amusements have been a great source of expense of
late. Besides, your father won't be able to think of business for months
to come. And that being so, where do you suppose the thousand or so a
week to keep this place up is coming from? I know it seems incredible
that a girl in your position should need money, but there it is. And
that is why we are so anxious to get this matter of 'The Chantrey'
pushed through."

Lady Edna listened with an uneasy feeling that something had gone wrong
in the scheme of creation. She was learning her lesson rapidly enough
now, but these distracting elements, coming so swiftly on the top of one
another, disturbed her mental balance and left her for the first time in
her life anxious and uneasy.

"As you will," she said. "I suppose you mean that Mr. Saltburn had
better stay here?"

"No," de la Croisa said. "I don't suppose he would if you asked him. In
fact, he has already made arrangements to put up at the hotel. He is
worth making a friend of, Edna. I have a high opinion of that young
man--despite his father."

CHAPTER XII.--HEREDITY.

It seemed to Shorland that he had a distinct grievance with the decrees
of Providence. In the first place, he hated the country, and could see
no beauty in Borne Abbey beyond its rent-roll and as a source of income
for his rapid and unwholesome pleasures. So long as the Earl remained in
the present critical condition it was imperative that Shorland should
remain where he was.

It came as a shock to him, too, to find that at present, at any rate, it
was impossible for him to obtain any money. The first interview he had
with the family solicitor convinced him of that. The lawyer in question
was somewhat of an autocrat in his way, he belonged to the heredity of
family attorneys, and he possessed, moreover, an unpleasant habit of
speaking his mind.

"It is utterly impossible my lord," he said. "I couldn't possibly go to
the length of guaranteeing you any further funds at present. I may
remind you that his lordship has twice within the last two years freed
you at a cost of nearly 40,000 pounds. Lord Sherringborne is not a
careful man, and your conduct is seriously embarrassing. You have your
own way of raising money."

"Not another penny," Shorland said. "The Jews are fighting shy of me
just now. I suppose I shall have to put up with it. But you really must
let me have a couple of thousand, Gascoigne."

"I can't do it," Gascoigne said firmly.

"But, my dear fellow, you must. If I don't get it within a week I shall
be in a devil of a mess. It's worse than a debt of honour."

But Gascoigne was polite but firm. He had done all he could, and he was
not prepared to do any more.

"Then I shall ask some of my pals down here," Shorland said. "There are
one or two who would give their ears to get an invitation down to Borne
Abbey. They'd fork out the money cheerfully enough to be able to read in
the 'Morning Post' that they were the guests of the Earl of
Sherringborne. They wouldn't do for you, Gascoigne, and I expect that
Lady Edna would kick up no end of a fuss. But so long as my father is
laid up I am master of the house, and, by gad, I'll do as I like. I'll
get my wife, and some of the right sort down here, and we'll show the
natives a thing or two. Now, what will you have, Gascoigne? Brandy and
soda, or a glass of champagne?"

Gascoigne packed up his papers and departed without even taking the
trouble to acknowledge this hospitable invitation. There was trouble in
Borne Abbey later on when Shorland announced his intention to Lady Edna
at lunch time. He had fortified himself freely, and his intellect was
none too clear. When he made the announcement Lady Edna listened in cold
horror.

"You can do as you like as regards your wife," she said. "I suppose we
shall have to make the best of this unhappy business. The only
consolation is that it might have been worse. But I decline to receive
any of your men friends here. The Baron has been telling me of one or
two of them. You quite understand that?"

"I shall do just as I like," Shorland said obstinately. "And if you
don't choose to meet them you can go somewhere else. In fact, the thing
is already done. They will all be here on Friday night in time for
dinner. Good lord, anyone would think you were royalty the way you talk.
Besides, I am bound to get money from somewhere. It's the only way I can
see."

"I think I begin to understand," Lady Edna said coldly. "You are going
to blackmail these dreadful creatures. They won't lend you money in the
ordinary way, but in return for an invitation here they are willing to
accommodate you."

Shorland let it pass easily enough. As he was fond of boasting, there
was no false pride about him. But even he was stung presently into a
certain noisy explosive anger by the cold cutting contempt which Lady
Edna poured out upon him. He raised his voice shrilly, it seemed to Lady
Edna that he was disgustingly vulgar. And to this quarrel, quite
inadvertently, Philip Saltburn came upon the scene.

He would have withdrawn with an apology for his intrusion, but it was
too late now. And just for the moment Lady Edna was stripped of every
rag of her family pride and dignity. She was prepared to go to any
length to prevent this outrage. It seemed to her that here was disgrace
to a noble name which would presently be discussed, from one end of
England to another. And she was willing now, to grasp at any stray straw
which would keep her floating on the muddy torrent.

"Don't go away, Mr. Saltburn," she said. "I am in great distress, and
possibly you could help me. My brother insists upon inviting various
people here--"

"Yes, and I'm going to," Shorland interrupted. "Saltburn knows one or
two, by reputation, at any rate."

"Possibly," Saltburn said. "But if I may be allowed to give a little
advice, I don't think--"

"What the deuce has it go to do with you?" Shorland demanded. "This is a
pretty nice thing, to come from a man of your type in my own house.
Fancy the Convict talking to me like this. Fancy Saltburn dictating to
anybody. Let me tell you that you are devilishly lucky to be at Borne
Abbey at all. Oh, I know what I am talking about. Why, fifty years ago
Saltburn's father helped to wash the dishes in the kitchen here. Oh,
it's true enough. I was told that long ago by one of the old chaps who
used to help in the stables. And old Saltburn got into trouble over a
poaching affair and they transported him. And now he comes back with his
pocket full of money as if the whole place belonged to him. And here is
his son, a pal of my own sister's, actually telling me whom I shan't
invite to Borne Abbey. And before you say anything else about my
friends, Edna, perhaps you will be a bit more careful of your own."

Shorland screamed this all out in the shrill, angry, tone of the weak
man, emboldened by the stimulant of the moment. Saltburn stood there
without so much as moving a muscle. There was nothing to show that he
was feeling the sting of this outrageous insult except a certain quiver
of his eyelids.

The whole thing was so uncalled for, and so bitterly unjust, that
Saltburn would have been quite within his right to resent it physically.
Yet it seemed to Edna that he was behaving very well indeed. She was
beginning to understand now the difference between blood and manhood.

"Oh, this is shameful," she cried. "It is unpardonable. It would be
worse if it were true, of course."

"It's quite true," Saltburn said quietly. "I didn't know that anybody
here remembered my father. I suppose when he began to make his
reputation certain of the older servants here would recollect. And he
did not change his name because, after all, he had done nothing really
to be ashamed of. To-day it would merely amuse a bench of magistrates.
But, of course, we don't proclaim this thing on the housetops; why
should we?"

"But the unwarrantable insult remains the same," Lady Edna said. "I
decline to stay here and hear a guest of mine outraged in this way.
Shorland, you must apologise."

But that was not Shorland's way. He shook his head obstinately. It was
only when Lady Edna flounced indignantly from the room that Shorland
began to realise that he had gone too far. Perhaps there was something
in Saltburn's expression that disturbed him.

"You brought that on yourself," he muttered. "And, after all, it's no
business of yours."

"That I am prepared to admit," Saltburn said quietly. "But Lady Edna
asked me a plain question, and I had to answer it. Now, look here,
Shorland, I don't choose to mix with the sweeps that you are fond of,
but I know a good deal about them, and I know a good deal about you.
You're going to ask Lionel Marx and some of that lot down here so that
you can borrow money off them on the strength of their being your
guests. I know you want money badly, and that's why you are going to
insult your sister in this way, Now, for her sake, and to save her from
this unspeakable disgrace I am prepared to make a bargain with you. How
much do you want?"

"Oh, a couple of thousand pounds," Shorland said. "I say, you're a good
chap, after all. Upon my word, I'm sorry I made such a fool of myself.
You'll let me have the cash, and Marx and his lot can go to the devil so
far as I'm concerned. Of course, I don't really want these bounders down
here. I'll write and tell my wife to put them off. Of course she's a
different matter."

"Precisely," Saltburn said in the same cold way. "I have nothing
whatever to say as regards Lady Shorland. If you write her ladyship, as
you suggest, I'll let you have a cheque in the course of the day. But
only on that condition."

Shorland protested in his florid way that Saltburn was one of the best.
He wanted to shake hands, he was profuse in his expressions of
friendship, and exceedingly anxious that Shorland should partake of
something of a spirituous nature. He escorted his guest down the drive
as if they had been bosom friends. It was with an uneasy feeling that
Lady Edna met her brother on his return.

"So Mr. Saltburn accepted your apology," she asked.

"Oh, that's all right," Shorland said carelessly, "I was an ass to talk
to him like that. And he's a real good chap."

Lady Edna suddenly froze again.

"He persuaded you, then," she said. "You mean to say that those people
aren't coming?"

"Just as well they shouldn't," Shorland said jauntily.

"Ah, I begin to see. Mr. Saltburn made a bargain with you. To save this
great disgrace he lent you the money you want; you don't need to trouble
to deny it. Well, I suppose I shall get used to these humiliations in
time. At any rate, I can't blind myself to the fact that I owe Mr.
Saltburn a debt I shall find it difficult to repay. And yet, it seemed
to me a little time ago--"

Lady Edna turned away as if unable to say more. She was beginning to
realise now how utterly impossible it is for even the great ones of the
earth to get beyond their environment.

And she was beginning to realise, too, what de la Croisa had meant when
he had more than once spoken of Saltburn as one of the salt of the
earth. At any rate, Saltburn had saved her from the crowning shame, and
by comparison the burden of receiving Lady Shorland was an easy one.

She came on the Friday afternoon, beautifully dressed, marvellously
self-possessed, and prepared to enjoy the novelty of the situation. She
was clever enough to make no offer of friendship as far as Lady Edna was
concerned, and the haughty young chatelaine of the Abbey was bound to
confess that there was nothing the matter with her manners.

She had behaved herself as if to the manor born through the long and
trying dinner; she might have been accustomed to being waited on by a
retinue of servants from her cradle. She could sing very well, and play
brilliantly, so that de la Croisa, coming along the terrace, and looking
through the windows, applauded softly.

"I have come to pay homage to the future Lady Sherringborne," he said.
"She seems to be quite at home here, I--"

The Baron broke off suddenly. Then he examined the brilliant figure at
the piano through his eyeglass. There was a peculiar smile on his
eyeglass as he walked into the drawing-room.

CHAPTER XIII.--IN THE PURPLE.

It was only just for a moment that de la Croisa stood there taking in
the figure of the woman, then he came into the room with his old easy
way, and that charming suggestion of his being absolutely at home. They
all looked happy and comfortable enough, and outwardly, at any rate
there was but little sign of the shadow of the great tragedy that lay
over the house of Cranwallis.

Here were all the shaded lights, the banks of artistically arranged
flowers, the palms and the pictures and the statuary which made up the
smooth and harmonious whole which gave the Pink Drawing-room at Borne
Abbey its nameless charm. It was not yet quite dark, so that from the
windows it was possible to see the wide sweep of the park and the
spreading landscape beyond. It was the kind of thing to recall
Tennyson's "haunts of ancient peace," and "immemorial elms."

There was nothing, either, to indicate that the woman sitting at the
piano was not part and parcel of the picture. At any rate, she looked
dainty enough in her simple black lace dress, she wore none of the
jewellery with which the pink paragraphists usually credited her. She
was sensible enough to know that no diamonds were needed, and indeed,
she was playing her part very well.

She had chosen a song which suited her voice--a charming little fragment
which she sang in the purest French. Even Lady Edna seemed to be
pleased, for she sat there listening attentively. In a distant corner of
the room Shorland lounged over a pile of sporting papers. There was a
cigarette in his mouth, and a long glass of amber-coloured fluid stood
by his side. He appeared to be the only discordant note in the harmony.
Palpably he was bored by the whole thing. There was just a flicker of
contempt in de la Croisa's eyes as he regarded Shorland.

"Quite a charming domestic interior," he said to Saltburn. "You seem to
have settled down very comfortably. I shouldn't wonder if Lady Shorland
were a success."

"She sings very nicely," Saltburn said.

"Yes, and very correctly, too," de la Croisa replied. "Honestly now,
doesn't she look as if she were born in the purple? And after all, my
dear fellow, what does it matter? At any rate, she is far too good for
Shorland, and I shouldn't be at all surprised if, in the course of time,
our little singer doesn't become a very great lady indeed. There is only
one thing which puzzles me."

"And what is that?" Saltburn asked. "Well, why she married Shorland, to
be sure. Do you suppose she cares a rap about him? Do you suppose she
doesn't know that he is a weak fool without a single redeeming quality?
And there's a woman who might have married a Grand Duke; it would have
only been a morganatic marriage, of course, but still, that has its
advantages. And as the Grand Duchess Alexis, for example, our
fascinating Ninon might have gone a long way."

"You know something about her then?"

"Oh, yes, I know something about her, my dear fellow. There are few
prominent people of whom I am in ignorance. When I was in the world of
politics I found it greatly to my advantage to cultivate the Ninons of
my acquaintance. I will go over and speak to her presently. I wonder if
she's altogether forgotten me."

"You know her personally then?" Saltburn asked.

"I think I may say so. It is quite ten years since we met, and she was a
child of fifteen then. It was not long before I left the world and came
down here to devote myself to my beloved roses. But I never forgot a
face, and you must admit that Lady Shorland's is a striking one."

The song came to an end here, and the singer rose from the piano. She
came across in the direction of the windows, then she pulled up and
regarded de la Croisa with a puzzled expression. Obviously she was
asking herself where she had met him before. She was wondering where
this neat little man with the white hair and the speck of ribbon in his
buttonhole had last come in contact with her. Then it seemed to Saltburn
that Lady Shorland's face grew just a little anxious and frightened.

"Will you introduce me?" de la Croisa said.

"I came over from the cottage this evening only to have the pleasure of
making the acquaintance of Lady Shorland."

Saltburn made the introduction formally enough. He could see quite
plainly that de la Croisa was not adverse to being left alone with his
fair companion. Saltburn turned his head and moved across to the little
table where Lady Edna was seated. At the same time de la Croisa
indicated the wide stretch of country outside the long French windows.

"That is a charming prospect," he said. "I am glad to think that your
introduction to a typical English landscape should have been made here.
And don't you think it rather a pity to stay indoors on a night like
this?"

"Do you want to speak to me?" Lady Shorland said.

"It would be a great happiness," the Baron murmured. "It would be a
singular favour for an old man like myself."

Lady Shorland tossed her head slightly. She swept along in front of de
la Croisa who made way for her to pass. It was mild enough out on the
terrace so that there was no occasion for a wrap.

It was still and peaceful, too, with a thousand fragrant scents upon the
summer air. As they paced side by side up and down the terrace the
subdued yellow gleam of the shaded lamps glistened on Lady Shorland's
hair and gave her skin an opalescent hue like warm ivory.

"Now then," she said. "Please go on."

"But why speak to me like that?" de la Croisa asked. "I came to-night
with an olive branch, not a sword. You will think that perhaps I was
surprised when I saw you here this evening, but I am not. I have lived
too long and seen too many strange things to believe in what you call
coincidences. Coincidences are the everyday things in life. It is the
commonplace which is so startling. But it is too perfect a night to talk
philosophy. Now tell me, why is it that you married Shorland?"

"Have you any right to ask?" Lady Shorland replied.

"Well, no; but you see, I am an old man, and consequently privileged.
And, besides, I knew your mother quite well, to say nothing of your
father, who was one of my greatest friends. But still, I am bound to say
that I did not expect to find my old friend's daughter in the person of
Ninon Garrados."

"Oh, I remember you," Lady Shorland said. "And you are connected with
certain early episodes of my life. It was good of you, of course, to try
and heal the differences between my father and my mother. I was only a
child at the time, but I was old enough to think then as I think
now--that my mother was never meant to be the wife of a statesman--if
you can call my father a statesman. I know you think that he was one of
the best of men. But he never understood me, and that is why, when my
mother died, I chose to follow a stage career. And now my father is dead
it is useless to rake up those scandals."

"You know how he died?" de la Croisa asked. "Oh, yes, he took his own
life. If I were an ordinary daughter, perhaps--but then, we never were
friends. Don't think me heartless or unkind, Baron--"

She broke off abruptly, and de la Croisa could see that her lips were
trembling.

"Oh, I felt it," she went on. "It was a shock when I read the story in
the papers. Perhaps, if I had understood my father better--"

"But you value his good name?" the baron urged. "It was a great one in
Spain once. But I was rude enough to ask you just now why you married
Shorland."

Lady Shorland shrugged her shoulders carelessly.

"What can it possibly matter?" she asked.

"Well, as it happens, it matters a great deal. You may be surprised to
hear that your father's fortunes and those of the house of Cranwallis
are bound up in the most amazing fashion. But again I will come to this
presently. I want to help you and I want to help my friend Sherringborne
at the same time, and you could be of the greatest assistance."

Lady Shorland was interested in spite of herself.

"Is that really so?" she asked, "Well, a clever man like yourself ought
to know. I remember years ago hearing my father say that you were the
most brilliant statesman he had ever met."

"That will possibly be the verdict of history," de la Croisa said. "But
I am too old to be touched by the compliments of even a pretty woman
like yourself. My great task now is to save the good name and reputation
of Egbert Cranwallis, whom you know as the Earl of Sherringborne. And
that brings me to the point again. Why did you marry Shorland?"

"I hardly know," Lady Shorland said indifferently. "One does these
things on the spur of the moment. And you have it in mind that I might
have married a Grand Duke. Well, I had my choice even in that exalted
sphere But, you see, I wanted to be the wife of an English nobleman.
There is something almost unique about a position like that. And fancy
being mistress of a house like Borne Abbey. You mustn't forget, Baron,
that I am an artist to my finger tips. I have only been here a few
hours, but I love this place. There are things here which bring the
tears to my eyes. Just look at its artistic beauty, look at the romance
and refinement of it all. Ah, it is worth even a greater sacrifice than
that of being tied to a fool like Shorland. And I shall make a man of
him yet. At any rate, I shall be mistress of a great historic house, I
shall have a great fortune behind me. You see, I am quite candid with
you. And you must admit that it is not an ignoble ambition. These people
here may despise me at present, but it won't be for long. And that is
why I deliberately chose Shorland instead of a picturesque Grand Duke
who could never have given me a home like this."

"I am glad you have spoken plainly," de la Croisa said. "So you think
that everything is smooth here. You think that before very long you will
be Lady Sherringborne and one of the powers of the land. Well, I have no
doubt you will be a brilliant success. But, my dear Ninon, there are
lions in the path. How would you like it presently to find it was
necessary to let Borne Abbey and the other two places of the family and
to live in dingy lodgings somewhere for a number of years till all the
family debts were paid, and the estates unencumbered? You have resided
in England quite long enough to know that a score of our great families
are suffering from this financial blight. My dear, I am not painting a
fancy picture."

"It isn't true," Lady Shorland exclaimed.

"Oh, but it is. I never spoke a truer word in my life. Now, mind, I am
trusting you. I am betraying the confidence of the best friend I ever
had. And I am doing all this because some day you will be Lady
Sherringborne, and I feel sure you will help me in every way that lies
in your power. There is not a financial disaster, but absolute disgrace.
Yet, bad as the outlook is, it can be saved, and you, by a strange trick
of fate, are the only woman who can do it. I know you will help me,
because you have ambition and courage, and because you will not sit
quietly down and allow these great advantages to slip through your
fingers."

Lady Shorland was interested enough now. She stood beside her companion
with dilated eyes and parted lips.

"You are a man of honour," she said. "And I know you would not deceive
me. You must tell me more, please."

"Not much more," de la Croisa said. "I have given you an outline of the
position. You know that Sherringborne is a politician as well as a great
nobleman, and politicians, occasionally do very foolish things. Besides,
people are beginning to talk already. Sherringborne has certain enemies
who do not hesitate to say that he has been using official information
for Stock Exchange purposes."

"Ah," Lady Shorland said breathlessly. "Ah! Go on."

"Now, you are woman of the world enough to know what that means. It
isn't true, of course, Sherringborne has been rash and--well, I needn't
go any further. He has an unscrupulous enemy who is one of our greatest
financiers and when the pinch comes this financier will not hesitate to
use any weapon that comes to hand."

"I know. William Saltburn. Yes?"

"And now I am going to surprise you," de la Croisa went on. "There were
two people in this mad venture of Sherringborne's--himself and your
father. Unfortunately your father is dead. It is well, perhaps, for my
scheme, that nobody knows that you are the daughter of the man who was
called El Murid."

"Go on," Lady Shorland said. "That secret has been well kept at any
rate, and now, what do you want me to do? I see that you have some
proposition to make."

De la Croisa lowered his voice impressively.

"I want you to go to Tortina," he whispered. "I want you to go there
with proofs of your identity and put in a claim for all your father's
belongings. I will see that the path is made smooth for you. You must
lay your hands on all his papers without delay. If you fail to do so
certain documents will be made public, and Lord Sherringborne will be
ruined. And then you will have to face the dingy lodgings for many a
long day to come. Now, take your time, don't answer hurriedly. Are you
going to be Lady Sherringborne in effect as well as name, or are you
going to let the matter drift entirely? Only I must know to-night."

CHAPTER XIV.--A MATTER OF DIPLOMACY.

Lady Shorland stood there for a long time, taking in thoughtfully all
that de la Croisa had to say. She was luminous-minded enough to see that
he was speaking the truth. And she could see plainly enough, too, that
all the advantages for which she had made so great a sacrifice would
slip through her fingers unless she made an effort to retain them.

She had thought the whole matter out carefully. She had made up her mind
that her darling ambition should be to preside over some great English
house and attach herself to some great territorial title. She recognised
that the chances were few and far between, and therefore she decided to
sweep Shorland into her net almost the very day in which she came into
contact with him, and all the more because of Lady Edna's open contempt
for her.

She would know how to behave with Shorland when the time came. He had a
glittering coronet to offer her, one of the most famous ones in the
history of her adopted country. Nobody stood higher than the
Cranwallises, no name was more deeply inscribed in the pages of history.
There was great wealth, too, which was a great asset of considerable
importance in the eyes of Ninon Garrados. She would have preferred, of
course, to have been married at Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and
circumstance, but that was out of the question. Still, she was married,
and almost in the first blush of her ambition, it looked as if the whole
glittering structure was crumbling at her feet.

"Let us plainly understand one another," she said. "You say that my
father and Lord Sherringborne were mixed up in some debatable business
which means ruin if the matter becomes public. All this is set out in
certain papers, belonging to my father which it is of the utmost
importance that I should recover. Very well, I will try to do what you
suggest. It won't be a difficult matter for me to get to St. Lucia
without arousing suspicion, I have sung and danced in the capital of
Tortina, the capital where I was born, and none of them guessed that I
was the daughter of a one-time President of the Tortina Republic."

It was half an hour later that de la Croisa turned his face thoughtfully
in the direction of his cottage. The famous silver candlesticks were
lighted on the table, and the faithful Francois was seated there waiting
to see if his master needed anything else before retiring for the night.
De la Croisa's eyes were gleaming and there was a certain reckless,
youthful gaiety about him which aroused all the old soldier's
suspicions.

"What is it now, my master?" he asked. "What are you going to do? I have
not seen that look on your face since that night in St. Lucia twelve
years ago--"

"It matters nothing," the Baron cried gaily. "Francois, I am going out
into the world again. I am going to wear my armour once more, and try a
fall with a foe who is worthy of my steel. We go out, my good friend, to
fight for the honour of a noble house that stands in dire peril from the
machination of its foundings. To-morrow I go to London."

Francois crossed himself piously.

"Then heaven have mercy on us," he said. "If you say it will be done, it
will be done. I come with you, of course?"

"No, Francois. On this occasion I go alone. You will have to stay and
look after the roses. I don't know when I shall be back, indeed, I may
have to go as far as St. Lucia itself. But for the moment that is on the
knees of the gods. You will pack my portmanteau, just a few simple
things. Now, don't stop to ask any further questions."

It seemed to be strange to the Baron to find himself in the rush and the
whirl of the world again. It seemed strange to him to be passing through
the public thoroughfares that he had known so well in his earlier days
and to feel that no soul hurrying by should recognise him. For here, to
a certain extent, was a new generation, to whom the name of de la Croisa
was no more than a shadow.

But the Baron had enough to occupy his mind without brooding over these
things. He dined later on, alone, at his hotel, then he made his way on
foot to one of the streets leading off Grosvenor-square. Here he stopped
at a certain house and sent in his card. There came to him presently a
little man, in evening dress, which contrasted so curiously with the
oriental type of his features, and the strange droop in the corners of
his eyelids. He came forward with a smile and shook de la Croisa's hand
with every appearance of cordiality and friendship.

"You are surprised to see me?" the Baron asked.

"Well, not quite that," the other said. "You see, we Japanese are
surprised at nothing. But, at the same time, it is an unexpected
pleasure. The last time we met was in Paris, when I was representing my
country there. And to you I owed a debt of gratitude which I shall never
be able to repay."

"And that, my dear Prince Ito, is why I am here this evening. Now, I
think you can trust me. And I think, when I ask you certain pertinent
questions, you will be disposed to answer me. For instance, how long
will it be before your Tortina islands policy is really disclosed?"

Prince Ito smiled significantly.

"Sit down, my dear friend, sit down," he said. "Permit me to offer you a
cup of coffee and a cigarette. Ah, Tortina could have done with a few
more statesmen like you. And I have not forgotten the many lessons that
you taught me. I was no more than a raw boy when I came to you, and
there were others, too, in various capitals, learning the great game.
But we benefited by our lessons, and--"

The speaker broke off and elevated his shoulders.

"But I am talking secrets," he resumed. "I know I can trust you, of
course. And now, my dear Baron, what can I do to help you in that little
matter between your friend Sherringborne and the man who is called
William Saltburn?"

"Delightful," the Baron murmured. "My dear Prince, I always said you
were the most remarkable man of my acquaintance. It is a great pleasure
to me to know that you are an old pupil of mine in the great game of
diplomacy. I knew that when you found yourself at the head of the
Japanese Intelligence Department you would be controlling one of the
most stupendous machines in the world. So you know all about poor
Sherringborne and the terrible mistake he made in connection with the
Tortina Concessions?"

"Yes, I know that," Prince Ito said, as if he were mentioning the most
casual thing in the world. "I may say that for some time past I have
been following the career of Mr. Saltburn with interest. In the world of
finance that man is a Napoleon. He will aspire some day to control the
capitals of Europe. His ambition is to be able to prevent a war, or fan
one into flame just to suit his purpose. And, some day, he will produce
a capital big enough to do it. At the same time, my dear Baron, you will
doubtless see what a dangerous man this would be. There is one mistake
he makes, that he is disposed to underrate the intelligence of his
opponents. In the great building up of an Empire like ours, we have to
foresee all contingencies. And amongst them we have certainly foreseen a
man like William Saltburn. You know, for example, that at the present
time he is practically controlling the finances of--"

"That is no secret to me," de la Croisa murmured.

"On the other hand, it is to the interests of this country, and to the
interests of Lord Sherringborne in particular, to prevent any
complications just now between Japan and America. On the other hand,
that's exactly what Saltburn wants to bring about. And so it happens
that, though quite friendly on the surface, Sherringborne and Saltburn
are at daggers drawn, and there is the bitterest enmity between them. It
is personal to a certain extent, too. Perhaps you are not aware of the
fact that before Saltburn was transported for poaching nearly 50 years
ago he was a boy in the kitchen at Borne Abbey. Amongst his other plans
he wants to marry his son to Lady Edna Cranwallis."

"Now that," de la Croisa cried, "is charming. What a race you are. And
to what a marvellous pitch have you brought your intelligence. But then
I always said that Japan would control the East one day. And the strange
part of the whole thing is this--Saltburn is not taking you into his
calculations at all. It seems amazing that so clever a man should be
guilty of such oversight."

Prince Ito shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "Napoleon had his Moscow,"
he said. "And we are but human after all. We make less mistakes because
we divide our responsibilities, but Saltburn trusts nobody; it is his
boast that he manages entirely by himself. Still, we can put him on one
side for the moment. I know all about El Murid and those letters of his.
I can quite see why you are so anxious to regain possession of them.
And, by the way, how did you manage to get hold of El Murid's daughter?
I mean the dancer who married Lord Shorland the other day. She's the one
to help you."

"That is already arranged," de la Croisa explained. "She will be on her
way to Tortina in a day or two. But that is not exactly what I came here
to talk to you about. I think I have got a pretty good idea of your
policy. If you can keep Japan and America on good terms, then
Sherringborne is saved. Out of sheer self-defence, Saltburn will have to
reconsider his position."

Prince Ito bent forward and laid his hand upon de la Croisa's knee. His
face was quivering with excitement now, his voice had sunk to a husky
whisper.

"It is the old game of bully and brag," he said. "America thinks we are
afraid of her, that we are born enemies. Ah, that is where they are
wrong, Baron. I am telling you this, and I am placing my good name in
your hands."

"It is safe with me," the Baron said. "Then there will be no trouble
over the Tortina Islands? In which case Saltburn--"

"Will be powerless," the Prince murmured. "And perhaps ruined."

De la Croisa smiled. He had heard enough.

CHAPTER XV.--THE PRIDE OF RACE.

To the great relief of Francois, de la Croisa returned to the cottage a
day or two later as if nothing had happened, and as if he had merely
been away on a little holiday. He gave no suggestion that he had been
back to the great world again, and that he had been taking a hand once
more in high politics. He had all the gaiety and carelessness of a
child, he could speak of nothing but the roses, which he said had been
neglected by Francois in his absence.

"Green fly, green fly," he said gaily. "Actually I can detect evidences
of green fly on the trees which we got from Nice last year. It is a most
extraordinary thing that I can trust nobody. What have you been doing,
Francois? I hope you are not contemplating matrimony?"

The old soldier shook his head solemnly. He was too overjoyed to see his
master back again to defend himself against so unwarrantable a charge.
He hoped that the Baron had not been getting into mischief. And
Francois's fears began to vanish presently when he saw the Baron in his
shirt sleeves wandering from one rose bush to another examining the
fragrant petals through a pocket microscope. Not till after lunch time
did the Baron betray any interest in outside matters. After the meal was
over he made his way to Borne Abbey in search of the latest news of
Sherringborne. One of the nurses came down to see him.

"His lordship is much better," she said. "He has taken a decided turn.
He is still very ill, and we have some difficulty in making him
understand what we are saying. At the same time he has intervals of an
hour or so when he is quite himself."

"Does he see the newspapers?" de la Croisa asked.

"Oh, sir, the doctor said it wouldn't much matter. But it was a great
mistake, because on Monday morning he happened to see a paragraph
relating to the marriage of Lord Shorland."

"Oh, indeed," the Baron exclaimed. "That was very unfortunate. I hope he
is none the worse for it."

"I don't think so," the nurse said. "His lordship seemed to be somewhat
blunted in his perceptions, but he understood perfectly well, and he
expressed a desire to see his son. In fact, he has seen both Lord
Shorland and her ladyship. And he is most anxious to meet you, Baron. I
was coming across to fetch you."

De la Croisa smiled with the air of a man who is not altogether
displeased. He found Lord Sherringborne sitting up in bed, near the open
window, where he could command a fine prospect of the park. On the whole
his illness had left less effects upon him than de la Croisa had
expected. He was weak and shaky enough, and there was a peculiar nervous
affection on the left side of the face, but Sherringborne's eyes were
clear, and he welcomed the Baron effusively.

"Oh, I think I am better," he said. "They are making a good deal too
much fuss, de la Croisa. They don't seem to realise how necessary it is
that I should know exactly what is going on. I shall be far better and
easier in my mind if you will be good enough to tell me the worst."

"Oh, there is no worst," the Baron said. "For the moment things stand
just where they were. And, if it is any consolation to you, you have the
sympathy of the whole nation. And meanwhile I have not been idle. I have
had an interview with Ito and one or two of the others, and with a fair
amount of good fortune we shall be able to get the best of Saltburn
yet."

Sherringborne clutched convulsively at the bed-clothes.

"That's right," he whispered. "Strangle the scoundrel. Take him by the
throat and choke him. I tell you, men like that belong to the worst type
of criminals. They would sacrifice everything to their ambition. For the
sake of power and money they would see their country ruined, they would
watch innocent women and children die of starvation."

"Steady, steady," the Baron whispered softly. "My dear fellow, this is
not the way to get well. Now you know perfectly well that you can
entrust your affairs in my hands."

"Implicitly," Sherringborne said gratefully. "With my knowledge of
international affairs I can get the best of a mere financier like
Saltburn. And Ito is on my side, too. He knows all about it, my friend.
That is the most brilliant intellect in international politics to-day.
When I called upon Ito he knew exactly what I had come for. He knows how
you stand as regards Saltburn and the Tortina Concessions. My dear
Sherringborne, you really have no cause to fear. My lips are sealed,
because I promised Ito I would say nothing. Ah, you are getting excited
again."

Sherringborne controlled himself with an effort.

"Go on," he said. "I see what you mean. In that case, Saltburn's scheme
would be checked. Japan would no longer have any use for him if her
hands were full, then we should be able to lay our hands upon the
Tortina finances, and rearrange them as Cromer rearranged the monetary
conditions of Egypt. You see what that means, Baron? Instead of being
disgraced, I shall be looked upon as one of the greatest benefactors
this country has ever had. But there is always the danger of those
papers of poor El Murid's."

"Ah, you are better than I thought," de la Croisa said. "That's exactly
what I wanted to speak to you about. Directly I came here the other
night and recognised your new daughter-in-law as El Murid's daughter, I
began to see my way. And Ito saw it, too. If this is not a direct
intervention of Providence, then I am greatly mistaken. Of course, it is
rather a blow to you, but then our dear Shorland might have done worse."

"He might," Sherringborne said with a sour smile. "In fact, I have been
dreading some terrible faux pas for the last year or two. Of course, I
have known for some time, that this marvellous dancer was the daughter
of our friend El Murid. And directly my brain got sufficiently clear I
began to see my way. That's why I sent for my daughter-in-law with a
view to seeing what she was like. And, on the whole, I was agreeably
disappointed. That woman would adapt herself, Baron. She will find her
place and, before very long, she will take a very high position indeed.
She is just the kind of fascinating, audacious creature to find favour
even with royalty. And she has the courage, too. Now don't you think it
would be just as well to take her into our confidence and send her as
far--"

"My dear Sherringborne, you are paying me a dubious compliment," de la
Croisa interrupted. "Do you suppose I have been idle all this time? Now,
I have had a chat with Lady Shorland. She's all you describe her, and a
little more. I asked her a series of questions. I put her a conundrum
which I thought she might have had some difficulty in answering. Without
wishing to hurt your parental feelings, I wanted to know why so
brilliant a creature and beautiful a woman married a man like Shorland.
She might have married a Grand Duke, you know. But she had an ambition
to be the head of some great British historic family. It seemed to me to
show nice discrimination."

"Go on," Sherringborne said quietly. "Well, I applauded her sentiments.
Then I ventured to point out to her that there was a strong possibility
of the little programme falling to the ground. It was a desperate
remedy, I know, but I had to tell her pretty well everything. She saw
the point in the twinkling of an eye. And she volunteered to go out to
St. Lucia and get possession of her father's papers. And she'll do it,
too. You see, no one will suspect that she is thinking of anything but
her professional engagements. And she will come back with those papers,
and the situation will be saved. Then we shall be able to dictate terms
to Saltburn. Does the idea amuse you?"

For Sherringborne was laughing quietly.

"It isn't that," he said. "Since I have been lying here you would be
astonished to know how my point of view has broadened. When a man is
born to the purple like myself, he is apt to get a notion that the
scheme of creation has been designed for his own particular benefit. A
month or two ago I should have been shocked at the mere idea of
welcoming a professional dancer under my roof. But what I was thinking
of was Edna's feelings. She is making the best of it, poor girl. She
thinks now that Lady Shorland will begin to realise the responsibilities
of her position. She believes that all the pride and glory of Borne
Abbey must make an impression, and what she will say when she hears
Shorland's wife is going ostensibly on a professional tour I tremble to
think."

"It is sad, isn't it?" de la Croisa said gravely. "But the thing is
inevitable. I came over here this morning as much to see Lady Shorland
as yourself. Everything is more or less ready, and now, as I think you
have talked long enough, I will go before the doctor comes and turns me
out. I will look in again to-night."

"Come and dine here," Sherringborne said. "I should like to hear,
after-wards, what has happened. And really, you have taken quite a
weight off my mind."

Lady Edna was out somewhere, and Shorland had gone off in his car to a
race meeting somewhere in the neighbourhood. De la Croisa found Lady
Shorland in a morning room, deeply engaged in her correspondence.

She welcomed the Baron with a smile. "I have been hoping to see you,"
she said. "I was beginning to think you had basely deserted me."

"On the contrary, I have been doing great things," the Baron said. "Up
to now, everything is going splendidly. The rest is more or less in your
hands. Now, have you made any arrangements?"

Lady Shorland pointed to two telegrams on the table.

"It is all settled," she said. "I've just had this wire from my agent,
but I inspired the contract. There are great doings at St. Lucia in a
fortnight's time. But then there are always great doings at St. Lucia.
But this is some big feast, and the President is entertaining largely.
He is delighted at the idea that Ninon Garrados should perform before
his guests, and I am assured of a great reception. That's very amusing,
isn't it? And he has not the slightest idea who I am."

De la Croisa chuckled.

"Only a day or two ago I was looking forward to the delights of a rural
life, and here am I back again in the limelight more prominently than
ever. Oh, I shall enjoy the adventure; in fact, I am looking forward to
it with the greatest possible pleasure. But what, my dear Baron, am I to
say to Lady Edna?"

Baron de la Croisa was frankly amused. Lady Edna would be displeased if
she could have seen her old friend at that moment. Possibly he was
looking forward to Lady Shorland's thunderbolt with cynical amusement.
But then, as he explained to his companion, he was an old man, and his
pleasures were few.

"What will Shorland say?" he asked.

"What does it matter what he says? I should say that he would be rather
glad. In the present state of his finances it's no bad thing to have a
wife who can lend him a hand financially. I expect that's the view he
will take of it. But our dear Edna will freeze me. She will pour a cold
cataract of contempt over me. Upon my word, I really dread telling her."

"Let me do it," the Baron said eagerly. "Don't deprive me of a new
sensation like this. I promised to dine here this evening and see
Sherringborne after-wards. Now, Lady Edna is one of the most delightful
creatures in the world. You have no idea what a noble woman she is. But
she has been clad in her splendid isolation too long. She has come to
regard the universe as a world of royalty, Cranwallises, and the rest of
the inhabitants of the globe. If we could only induce her to believe--"

"Can't Philip Saltburn do that," Lady Shorland said demurely. "He's just
the man for the job."

"Oh, so you've noticed that, too," de la Croisa said. "As a matter of
fact, it would be the best thing that could happen. Lady Edna doesn't
know that she would be a lucky girl if she became Philip Saltburn's
wife, but it's a fact all the same. Now you will let me tell Lady Edna
to-night, won't you?"

"It's a privilege which I cheerfully resign," Lady Shorland said. "You
shall make the announcement after dinner, and you shall break the news
your own way. What a comedy it would make! And how I should like to play
a part in it myself."

De la Croisa presently went off cheerfully enough in the direction of
his cottage. He felt that his morning had not been wasted. He had the
additional pleasure, too, of finding amongst his roses one which
appeared to be an entirely new species. For the next hour or two
Francois and himself discussed this treasure, to the exclusion of
everything else.

"It will make our reputation," Francois said. "You will be known to
posterity--"

"Greatness thrust upon me," the Baron laughed. "And to think that I have
been wasting my years in the muddy atmosphere of politics! But one lives
and learns, Francois."

CHAPTER XVI.--THE THUNDERBOLT.

The lamps were lighted in the dining-room, and the servants moved
silently and swiftly about, and dinner was at length drawing to a close.
Lady Edna sat in her father's accustomed place talking quietly with de
la Croisa, whilst Shorland was babbling to his wife as to the luck which
had attended his day's racing.

He had pushed his glass and dessert plate to one side, and moodily
lighted a cigarette. This was an innovation which found scant favour in
Lady Edna's eyes. At any other time she would have resented it as a
breach of tradition, but she had found herself allowing many things to
pass lately. She seemed to realise that her authority was waning now,
and that she no longer presided over the house as a goddess might have
done.

She was, perhaps, unconsciously grateful that Lady Shorland showed no
disposition whatever to usurp her authority. The latter obliterated
herself entirely; she was discreet enough to refer things to Lady Edna,
and to behave exactly as if she had been a guest in the house. Philip
Saltburn watched her, not without approval. He had a certain democratic
contempt for the pretensions which Lady Edna unconsciously claimed, and,
indeed, he could not see much to find fault with in the air and manner
of the new Lady Shorland.

De la Croisa turned to her presently, for she had said something about
roses, which immediately attracted the Baron's attention.

"By the way," he said, "you've not seen mine yet. Positively I've found
a new specimen. It will be at its best in about a week's time. Now,
suppose you come over next Thursday and give me the pleasure of lunching
with me."

Lady Shorland looked reproachfully at the speaker.

"Why do you make that suggestion?" she asked. "You know perfectly well I
shan't be here."

Lady Edna looked interested.

"Are you going away?" she asked. Lady Shorland made no reply, though she
glanced mischievously at the Baron. He had promised valiantly enough to
launch the thunderbolt, and his fellow-conspirator had not the slightest
intention of coming to his assistance.

"Ah," he said gaily. "It is not an easy matter to get out of
professional engagements." Lady Edna sat upright, she began to
understand what the Baron was saying. She turned in her most frigid way
to her sister-in-law.

"I am afraid I don't quite follow," she said.

"What does the Baron mean by 'professional engagements?' Surely you
don't contemplate the possibility of continuing--"

Words failed her for the moment. The mere suggestion of a Cranwallis by
marriage figuring on the stage was insupportable.

"This is supposed to be a democratic country," the Baron said. "There is
a popular delusion to the effect that it is the land of liberty. As a
matter of fact, it is nothing of the kind. And even in the case of the
most exalted it is impossible to break a contract. If one tried that the
law steps in with a threat of contempt of court. Now, contempt of court,
my dear Edna, means that if you refuse to carry out a contract you go to
gaol. And I am sure you would not like to see Lady Shorland in gaol,
languishing in a prison cell."

"Some way must be found," Lady Edna said calmly.

"No way can be found," Lady Shorland laughed. She was being stung into
opposition now, by the icy hostility of the other's manner. "And,
besides, I am not disposed to break my word. I am rather looking forward
to my trip. If I go to Tortina this week St. Lucia is waiting for me.
You would think nothing of it if I happened to be, Melba, for instance.
And what is the difference? Besides, my beloved Shorland and myself have
our living to get. I cannot argue it, Edna."

"The situation is impossible," Lady Edna cried.

"Oh; really? You will find it quite possible. And I always keep my
promise. A promise is as sacred to me as if I, too, had been born a
Cranwallis."

A warm reply trembled on Lady Edna's lips. She was on the verge of a
passionate outbreak. Then she turned coldly away and moved in the
direction of the door. Shorland looked up from his cigarette and laughed
in a feeble kind of way.

"There'll be some fun in the drawing-room presently," he said. "I expect
they'll make the fur fly. Edna's got a good pluck of her own, but she
won't find Ninon far round the corner when it comes to that sort of
thing. I say, let's follow and see the fun. I wouldn't miss it for
anything."

The response of the listeners was not enthusiastic, so that Shorland sat
there sulkily with the declaration that some men had no keenness where
sport was concerned. Meanwhile, Lady Edna was standing, haughty and
dignified, in the drawing-room waiting for a chance to speak her mind.
Lady Shorland dropped into a chair and fanned herself languidly.

"Very warm, don't you think?" she said.

"I had not noticed it," Lady Edna said. "And now I shall be glad of an
explanation. Why are you doing this thing? Why are you going out of your
way to bring disgrace upon us? You know perfectly well that you can
spare us the humiliation if you like. For my brother's sake I was
prepared to make the best of an intolerable situation--"

"Stop," Lady Shorland cried. "You are going too far. Do you think I am
going to submit to be spoken to like this by one who, as far as the ways
of the world go, is a mere child? Anybody would think that I was some
unspeakable creature whom Shorland had plucked out of the gutter. And if
Shorland cannot support me, I must support myself."

"We are not paupers," Lady Edna retorted.

"Aren't you? Well, I'm not sure of that. Shorland has no money and at
present no means of getting it. You don't suppose I am going to sit
quietly down and be a dependent in this house as if I came here by
favour? And I am not doing this thing entirely for my own benefit. Cold
and distant as you are, and unpleasant as you make things for me, I am
sorry for you."

"Sorry," Lady Edna, gasped. "Sorry for me?"

"Oh, I am speaking plainly enough. I mean every word I say. And I am
sorry for you because you are living in a fool's paradise. You think all
this splendour and display is real, you are proud to believe that Borne
Abbey is built on a solid foundation and that nothing can shake your
position. I tell you, you are quite wrong. The whole thing might
collapse at any moment like a house of cards. Ah, you little know how
near you are to ruin and disgrace which will be talked of from one end
of England to another. Everything has been kept from you. You are like a
child playing with a box of bricks in a house of mourning. Why, if I
liked, I--I could tell you--"

Lady Shorland broke off abruptly. She was suddenly conscious that her
outburst of anger was carrying her too far. She could see pain, as well
as anger, in Lady Edna's white, set face. And, looking round at all this
magnificence, at all the refined artistic splendour of the centuries, it
was hard to realise that the hand of shame and trouble was clutching for
it all.

Lady Edna was asking herself questions, too. Was it possible that she
was being treated as a child? Was it possible that certain truths were
being kept back from her? She began to see now that there might be
something horribly tangible behind her father's illness.

"Go on," she said. "Pray continue. I am all attention. It is humiliation
enough for me to feel that a comparative stranger like yourself should
have received confidences of which I appear to be unworthy. Go on, I am
learning my lesson."

"No," Lady Shorland said quietly. "I have already said too much. You
goaded me to it, but I ought to have been wise enough to have held my
tongue. But there is one thing which I may promise you--when I have
fulfilled my engagement at St. Lucia I will never take another. I am
going there not to please myself, but to do my best to remove disgrace
and humiliation which threaten you all. And now, don't worry yourself
any more about it. Look after the servants and your poor, and your
flowers, and don't interfere with things which you cannot understand,
for after all, you are no more than a child, and you don't know any
better."

Lady Edna stood there, utterly at loss for a reply. She stood there,
immersed in her own painful thoughts, and hardly conscious of the fact
that she was not alone. It was not an easy process to fit together the
pieces of this disjointed puzzle, but slowly and by degrees they began
to resolve themselves into their places.

A wild feeling of passionate rebellion which for a time had raged in the
girl's heart began to dissolve and fuse into a certain nameless fear.
There was anger in it, too, a certain reasonable revolt against the way
in which, she had been treated.

She went off presently up to her father's bedroom. It was just possible
that he was awake and that he might feel disposed to give her the
confidence which, up to now, he had withheld. She found him sitting
among the pillows reading a copy of the "Times." He looked brighter and
stronger than he had for some days past, and he welcomed Edna pleasantly
enough.

"Come in," he said. "My nurse has left me for a moment. Yes, I am
feeling a great deal better to-day. De la Croisa brought me some news
this morning which has cheered me up. Oh, you need not mind worrying me
if anything is troubling you."

"Well, I am greatly worried," Lady Edna admitted. "I have been talking
to my--to my sister-in-law. I quite thought that when she married
Shorland she would give up the stage. And now she actually tells me that
she has accepted an engagement in Tortina within a few weeks."

Sherringborne lifted his brows.

"And have you been interfering?" he asked. "You have been making
yourself unpleasant to her?"

"I certainly spoke my mind," Lady Edna admitted. "In fact, we both lost
our tempers. That woman had the audacity to hint that there was a great
disgrace hanging over our house, and that she was going to St. Lucia to
prevent it. I say nothing as to that absurd statement, as to my being
treated as a mere child, but of course I know I ought not to be worrying
you now, but at any cost this thing must be stopped. Promise me that you
will interfere."

Lady Edna glanced half imploringly at her father, but she was surprised
at the look of deep displeasure in his eyes.

"You're a fool," he said harshly. "You are a silly child, and don't know
what you are talking about. Who asked you to interfere? Do you suppose
the whole world was designed for your own special benefit? And you talk
about disgrace. Well, there is disgrace. And we shall both be fortunate
if we escape. Now unless you wish--but I'm not going to discuss the
matter. You must be civil to Shorland's wife; you must be civil to young
Saltburn, to everybody. Do you understand?"

No reply came from Lady Edna's lips. It seemed to her as if the whole
world were slipping under her feet. Disgrace! And the house of
Cranwallis! Oh, the thing was impossible!

CHAPTER XVII.--IN THE SHADOW.

Disgrace! It seemed almost impossible to identify such a word with Borne
Abbey. Lady Edna looked around her and saw nothing on every side except
the outward and visible greatness of the Cranwallises.

And yet she had heard the word from her father's own lips, and there was
nothing either in his manner to suggest that he was suffering from a
delusion. And he had never spoken to his daughter like this before. His
manner had been harsh and rude, and there was something furtive in the
way he spoke, as if he were a party to a mean and underhand thing of
which he was ashamed.

It seemed to Lady Edna that she had read something like this before. She
had a vague idea that she could remember a daughter who had had such a
father and how disappointed she had been in him.

And then, again, there was the suggestion that Ninon Garrados was in
some way necessary to the fortunes of the family. The idea was
grotesque, ridiculous. Why, there was nobody in the house who had heard
her name a fortnight ago. And now Edna had it on the authority of her
father that this woman was going off hot-foot to St Lucia, of all places
in the world, with a view to saving the family name.

It struck Edna for a moment that her father was wandering in his mind.
She was quite prepared to believe that he was suffering from some great
trouble which he had kept entirely to himself, and which was the cause
of his breakdown. But the rest were mere chimera, a mere figment of
disordered imagination.

But Lady Edna did not dare to ask any further questions. She could see
how excited the Earl was, and in any case the return of the nurse put an
end to further conversation. It was a restless night that Lady Edna
passed, but her gloomy thoughts were somewhat lightened by the morning.
For she could see no signs of trouble about the house. Everything seemed
to be progressing as usual, and the great establishment was running
easily on oiled wheels. Here was the big staff of servants with a small
army of gardeners, and in the suite of apartments given over to
Sherringborne's political affairs were the half-dozen or so of smart,
well-bred, well groomed secretaries.

And here, too, were the clerks and the busy rattle of the typewriters. A
constant stream of messages was running to and fro quite the same as
usual; and here, too, were the morning papers with their sympathetic
allusions to Sherringborne's illness and the hope that he would soon be
himself again. And here were Lady Edna's own private letters with
appeals to her charity and all the rest of it.

And here was the wide stretch of gardens and the park beyond and the
ancestral deer under the shadows of the beeches. Oh, it seemed
impossible to identify all this with trouble and disgrace of any kind.

And yet, at the same time, Lady Edna could not rid herself of the cloud
which hung over her, despite the fact that it was a glorious day and
that the sun was shining in a sea of liquid blue.

For the first time in her life Edna regretted the fact that she had no
intimate personal friends. She had always been self-contained, always a
little prone to take herself seriously, and always over-conscious of her
exalted position Now she regretted that she had nobody to confide in.
There was only one person she could talk freely to, and that was de la
Croisa.

It occurred to her in a fleeting sort of way, to make one more appeal to
Lady Shorland, but the latter had gone off soon after breakfast in her
rapid, headlong way, and had left an intimation at Borne Abbey that she
would not be back for some weeks at least.

So she had really gone! Well, after all, it did not much matter. All the
world knew now what Shorland had done, the papers had been full of it,
and his marriage had been the subject of a thousand racy paragraphs. And
St. Lucia was a long way off. On the whole, the best thing to do was to
go down to the cottage, and there talk matters over with the kindly old
Baron.

De la Croisa had looked forward to a quiet morning to himself. He sat in
the armchair outside the cottage door deeply engrossed in the "Times."
He looked very young and very jaunty in his white flannel suit. From
time to time he screwed his glass into his eye and gave certain
instructions to Francois, who was busy amongst the roses.

There had been a time when de la Croisa had sworn by all his gods he had
finished with politics for ever. In future he was only going to regard
them from the comfortable depths of an arm-chair in a strictly historic
and critical light. And here he was back again in the arena, fighting
with all his old shrewdness and audacity for the reputation of his
friend.

He tried to tell himself that he was doing this entirely on
Sherringborne's behalf, but at the same time he was enjoying the combat
for its own sake. It seemed hard to believe that this shrewd and dapper
little man seated at his cottage door was holding in his hands the
shaping destinies of Europe. For that is what it came to, and de la
Croisa was keenly proud of the fact.

He knew that he was struggling for something more than the desire to
save Sherringborne from his folly, and thwart the designs of an
unscrupulous financier. He began to see his way now to the possibilities
of breaking down Saltburn altogether.

And everything was going very well, too. De la Croisa could find a great
deal to give him satisfaction in the perusal of England's foremost daily
paper. The 'Times' special correspondent at Washington, and also his
colleague at Tokio, took a sufficiently gloomy view of the situation.
They were both under the impression that there would be serious trouble
between the States and Japan before long. And this being so, it was
difficult to see how England, with her Pacific interests, was going to
keep out of the squabble.

Out of the profound depths of his experience de la Croisa had a
good-natured contempt for newspaper correspondents. But on this occasion
he was inclined to agree. He smiled, too, to see that Sir James
Pallisser, the Prime Minister, had been disposed to take a sanguine view
of the situation in the House of Commons the day before. Certainly,
everything was going right from the Baron's point of view, and it seemed
to him that he could return to his roses with an easy mind. He had just
lighted his after-breakfast cigarette when Lady Edna came upon the
scene.

He was delighted to see her, of course; he was proud to show her round
his garden, and to prove to her that McKillop, the Borne Abbey gardener,
knew less about roses than he imagined. But for once, Lady Edna did not
appear to be interested. Her face was grave, and the serene look in her
eyes had given place to a certain cloudy anxiety.

"Oh, I dare say," she said, "but I am not in the mood to talk about
flowers this morning. I came to see you on a most important matter. I
suppose, being a girl my father does not think that I am worthy of his
confidence, but I know that you possess it.

"We have been friends for many years," the Baron murmured.

"Oh, I know that. And I believe that you two, between you have been
responsible for a good deal of history. But this is a personal matter. I
saw my father last night and I asked him a plain question."

"Oh, did you," the Baron said. "My dear Edna, if you have taken the
trouble to read history carefully, you must know that some of the most
promising of politicians have been ruined because there has been some
woman in the case. Now, I have an instance in my mind, where it was
absolutely necessary to employ a woman in the case. There was no help
for it."

"I understand," Lady Edna said. "You see, I am no diplomatist. You were
talking, of course, of Lady Shorland?"

"Precisely. You are rather cleverer than you imagine yourself to be. But
that is only what one could expect from your father's daughter. But
believe me, this candid fashion of yours of going straight to the point
is likely to occasionally play into the hands of the enemy. For
instance, you have as good as told me that Lady Shorland lost her temper
last night."

"We both did," Lady Edna admitted.

"Just what I thought. And you both said a good deal that you are likely
to be sorry for. For instance, you are furious with your brother's wife,
because she insisted on carrying out a certain engagement, and by way of
retaliation she let you know that she was doing this on behalf of the
family. Now, let me prophesy. My dear child, I know as much about that
conversation as if I had been there listening. And now you are uneasy in
your mind. You want to know what this trouble is, wherein an almost
total stranger could help you. And you went to your father last night
and he practically told you to mind your own business."

"You are certainly a most wonderful man," Lady Edna said with a
suspicion of a smile. "And you have stated the case exactly. I did not
care to say too much to my father, and besides, the nurse came and
turned me out. But I know that there is some deep trouble, and I don't
think I ought to be left in ignorance of it."

De la Croisa shook his head reprovingly.

"And that is why you come to ask me to betray your father's confidence,"
he said. "My dear child, I can't do that. Your father has been foolish.
Mind you, he has done nothing wrong willingly, but, at the same time, he
has been very unwise, and like many other great men he had bitter
political enemies."

"But my father is the soul of honour," Edna cried.

"Quite. But it is all part of the great game. Take my own case, for
instance. At one time I was supposed to have the destinies of South
America in my hands. And even my enemies gave me the credit for purely
patriotic motives. But that did not prevent them from scheming to get
rid of me. They did get rid of me, eventually, by one of the vilest
political ruses. Now, it those men had done the same in private life
they would have been hounded out of decent society. They would have had
to resign their clubs; they would not have been admitted into certain
houses. But as it was part of the game of politics they sit in high
places to-day, and I live without a cloth on my dining table, and only
my roses for consolation."

Lady Edna listened meekly.

"How many people in England know to-day that the man who calls himself
de la Croisa is really the Duc de--, but it does not matter," the baron
went on. "I am only giving you this as an object-lesson. That is the
position of your father to-day, and that is the cause of his breakdown.
I am going to save him--make no mistake about that. But I am going to do
it my own way, and with my own weapons. More than this I cannot tell
you. If you will have patience, everything will come right."

Lady Edna murmured her thanks somewhat grudgingly. Despite her exalted
position and the consciousness of her own brilliant orbit, it was
strange how she always felt like the merest child when she came to talk
seriously to de la Croisa.

"You must forgive me," she said. "You can imagine how helpless I feel,
and it is bad enough when I have to welcome Mr. Saltburn and his son at
Borne Abbey."

"You think it was derogatory?" the baron asked.

"I think so still," Lady Edna said.

"Ah, well, there you are wrong. I am not going to say anything so far as
William Saltburn is concerned, but Philip is a thoroughly good fellow.
It seems to me you owe him a good deal. For instance, you know how well
he behaved on the night of your father's sudden illness, and you have
told me yourself how you have to thank him for keeping Shorland from
filling up the house with his undesirable associates. And, mind you, he
did this after Shorland had insulted him most outrageously."

"You think highly of Philip Saltburn, then?"

"I think very highly of him, indeed," the baron said dryly, "and I think
that the girl who marries him will be lucky. Now, do you know what I
should like to do with you if you were my daughter? I should like to
send you out into the world for twelve months to get your own living. It
would be a perfect revelation to you. Oh, I don't mean it unkindly. And
now come round the garden with me, and I will show you the new rose."

Lady Edna went back to Borne Abbey presently a little easier in her
mind. She had the most implicit faith in de la Croisa's promise, but, at
the same time, she could not get rid of the feeling that she was being
treated like a child.

De la Croisa, in the midst of his roses, watched her with an amused
twinkle in his shrewd eyes. Then he dismissed Lady Edna from his
thoughts and proceeded to devote himself to his beloved flowers. It was
not for long that he was to be left alone, for presently Philip Saltburn
appeared.

"Behold the lover," de la Croisa murmured to himself. "I thought he
would not be far behind. Well, young man? And what can I do for you? Are
you any judge of roses?"

"Hang the roses," Philip Saltburn said.

"By no means," de la Croisa said gravely. "You must not speak
disrespectfully of my flowers. But you are not coming to worry me on a
lovely morning like this, are you?"

"I am afraid I am," Saltburn said. "I am very sorry, but it is quite
necessary. I want to talk to you about this business of your friend,
Lord Sherringborne."

CHAPTER XVIII.--IN THE HOUSE.

De la Croisa abandoned himself to the inevitable. Here was a young man
who was not going to be put off, and, in his heart of hearts he liked
him all the better for it. He placed another chair in the cottage porch
and invited Saltburn to sit down. Then he waited for him to speak.

"I know you are the only man to come to," Saltburn said. "You see, I
know exactly who you are, and I know that you are in Sherringborne's
confidence. For all I am not following my father's profession; I have
had a good business training, and I am interested in international
finance. Now, is it true or not that Sherringborne has got himself mixed
up in that Tortina business? Now, my dear Baron, I am not asking these
questions out of mere curiosity. This is not impertinence on my part."

"If it were," de la Croisa said quietly. "I should know how to get rid
of you. On the contrary, I know you want to help us. I feel quite sure
you will do that if only for Lady Edna's sake."

Philip Saltburn flushed slightly.

"We can leave her out of the question," he said.

"Well, for the present, perhaps we can. But she must crop up sooner or
later, my dear Saltburn. And since you seem to know so much, I am going
to pay the compliment of trusting you. What you say is absolutely
correct."

"Ah, I knew it," Saltburn exclaimed. "I felt quite certain of it. And I
know perfectly well, too, who is responsible for this."

"Your father has many irons in the fire," the Baron said.

"I am not in my father's confidence. It has always been a boast of his
that he never trusted a man in his life. But the thing which puzzles me
is this--if my father had not more or less backed those Tortina
Concessions, Sherringborne, and, indirectly, this country, would not
have been in them at all. And now, as far as I can gather, my father has
thrown the Tortina Government over altogether, and is backing his own
hand."

"And forgetting me," the Baron said softly.

"Well, it is a theory of mine that most high finance nowadays is merely
a form of crime. There is no punishment for it on the statute book, but
it is criminal all the same. However, we need not discuss that. All my
father's interest is behind his group now, and if he can induce Tortina
to force a quarrel on Washington, through Japan, thousands of innocent
English people, besides Sherringborne, will be ruined. But to your big
financier this is a mere incident in the game. Now, Baron, do you think
that trouble between Japan and the States is imminent?"

"Certain sections of the Press would have us believe so," de la Croisa
said. "But personally I should like to gamble against it. I know that if
I were head of the Government to-day I should ignore the possibility of
such a thing."

"And you would be right," Saltburn said with conviction. "There would be
no trouble between the two Pacific Powers because neither desires it."

"You are a clever young man," the Baron said sententiously. "Ah, if I
were only your age again!"

"I think I know what I am talking about," Philip said modestly. "You
see, I have been in Japan; I spent 18 months there. If hostilities break
out I take it that Lord Sherringborne will be ruined."

"You are indeed an observant young man," the Baron replied. "That is
precisely what ought to happen, and if it doesn't, then Mr. William
Saltburn will lose quite a lot of money, which means that your father
will not be the financial power of the future that he is to-day. I feel
convinced that he has staked everything upon that rascal Santa Anna
deliberately making for trouble."

"I agree," Philip said. "There's many a slip between the cup and the
lip. So you feel sure that if Santa Anna were representing Tortina as
obdurate, Sherringborne will be in a tight place indeed. Now, how much
would it take to set him straight and get him out of his trouble?"

"This is a very strenuous conversation," de la Croisa said. "It would be
more affectation on my part to stop when I see you know so much. Between
ourselves, you have not exaggerated Sherringborne's position in the
slightest. But if my plans materialise the world will be none the
wiser."

"But what about his position?" Philip insisted.

'"Well, Sherringborne can be saved as far as his finance and good name
are concerned by a quarter of a million. This money would all come back
again if the Tortina Concessions only have fair play, but if Santa Anna
is the traitor I take him to be, then it will be lost. At the present
moment it is what you call a toss-up either way. But why discuss the
matter? Who is the least likely to find the money?"

"I am," Philip said quietly.

The eyeglass fell from the baron's eyes.

"You are?" he exclaimed. "My dear fellow, I congratulate you. I had no
idea you were so rich."

"I am not," Philip said. "Still, I could find that money, and have a
little left besides. As a matter of fact, my mother had a considerable
holding in Australian mining shares, and these came to me. I am prepared
to run the risk if you think it will be of any real use to
Sherringborne."

"This is very magnificent," de la Croisa said dryly. "And quite
disinterested, of course?"

Once more Saltburn's features changed colour.

"Indeed it isn't," he said. "I am not playing the philanthropist in the
least. I want to save Sherringborne's good name, and, above all, to
shield his daughter from shadow and disgrace, and I don't want you to
allow Sherringborne to know where the money comes from. In any case,
Lady Edna must not hear a word of it. If I am to find favour in her eyes
I must do it on my own merits. I have no wish to buy a wife."

"So that's the way the wind blows?" the Baron asked.

"Quite right, my dear Baron. The first time I saw Lady Edna I made up my
mind. There's no accounting for these things. At any rate, I know that I
have met the one woman--you know what I mean."

"I think so," the Baron murmured.

"I dare say you regard her as cold and proud," Philip went on, "the sort
of girl--"

"You forget that I have known her for years," the Baron said. "Ah, the
man who married her--still she has the defects of her qualities, but I
take it that your father will have something to say on the subject?"

"On that point we happen to be agreed," Philip said. "Only his methods
are not mine."

"I can understand that," the Baron said dryly.

"Still, I hope that I can bring my father round to a proper appreciation
of the right thing to do. I shall have an opportunity of talking it over
with him to-night, when I am dining with him in the House of Commons. I
should have done so before, only he has been away in Paris."

An amused gleam came into the Baron's eyes. Quite unconsciously Saltburn
had given him a piece of valuable information. And although Saltburn
appeared to know a great deal, he did not know everything, and, indeed,
there was no reason why he should. Then the conversation became more
desultory, and Saltburn went off in the direction of his hotel.

He reached London late the same afternoon, and after dressing walked
down to the House of Commons. He had to wait some little time for his
father in the lobby of the House. The big room was filled with a more or
less excited crowd of outsiders and journalists, for a big debate was in
progress concerning the whole foreign policy of the Government. There
were various rumours afloat, and to these Saltburn listened with more or
less cynical amusement.

His father came out presently, big and noisy, and overpowering as usual.
He seemed conscious of his own importance.

"You'll have to wait a bit," he said. "I've got one or two little
matters which must be attended to, but there's a bit of debate on
to-night, and it may interest you. Perhaps you would like to go up in
the gallery until I've got a few minutes to spare."

The House of Commons was crowded as Saltburn took his seat. The green
benches below were filled with members, and a prominent supporter of the
Opposition was making a furious onslaught on the Government. It was a
bitter attack, and not a little personal. There were allusions, too, to
Sherringborne's mysterious illness, and an unmistakable hint to the
effect that the noble lord was keeping out of the way.

The speech came to an end presently, and then, looking down on the
House, Philip could see that the late speaker had disappeared behind the
Chair, in company with his own father. It was obvious enough to Philip
to see that the whole thing was prearranged. He knew well enough that
the member who had just sat down was, so to speak, in his father's
pocket. He knew that the man had been put up with the sole idea of
aiming a blow at Lord Sherringborne's reputation. A moment or two later
and William Saltburn himself came into the gallery.

"Now I can give you a little time," he said. "Come into one of the
dining-rooms with me. What is it you want?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, I want a good deal," Philip said. "At any
rate, I can't tell you anything here, but I certainly should like to
know why you are making this unworthy attempt to destroy Sherringborne.
As far as I know, he has done you no harm, and he has certainly been
most kind and courteous to me."

"That's my business," William Saltburn growled.

"Not altogether," Philip retorted. "I may be wrong, but I think you are
making a great mistake. You are altogether too sanguine in his matter."

William Saltburn broke into a roar of laughter.

"Rot, my dear boy, rot," he cried. "What does a boy like you know? Those
chaps at St. Lucia will do exactly as I tell them. Talk about things you
understand, Philip."

CHAPTER XIX.--FATHER AND SON.

Not a muscle of Philip's face changed. But he know that in those few
boastful words his father had given him the whole key to the situation.
Those people in St. Lucia would dance to William Saltburn's tune, in
other words, he had Santa Anna, the President of that disturbed
revolutionary State, in his pocket. It was as plain as possible that
Sherringborne had been deliberately betrayed. He had been carefully
shepherded into the trap of the great British capitalist, and,
undoubtedly, William Saltburn was at the bottom of the whole conspiracy.

He was to be ruined, he was to lose his money, and the concession which
had been granted to himself and his syndicate would be worthless--at any
rate, for a time at least. No doubt William Saltburn would see his way
to making those shares valuable again when Sherringborne and his friends
were out of the way, but that time had not come yet.

Then, when the mischief was all done, the shares would fall
automatically, and at his own price, into Saltburn's hands. All this was
clear to Philip as daylight. He knew now that if his father had only
kept out of the way the threatened trouble between Japan and the States
would never have arisen. And, in that case, Sherringborne's interests in
the concessions would have been regarded by the world as a more matter
of business, concerning only himself and certainly a commercial
transaction which would in no way have involved the honour of a Minister
of State. But the mere fact of his being Foreign Secretary when the
trouble began made all the difference in the world, and the knowledge
that Sherringborne had not conveyed this information to his colleagues
in the Cabinet made the thing look blacker still.

No doubt Saltburn had counted on all this, and, indeed, when Philip
looked into his father's hard, keen face, he had no further hesitation
on the point. It was clear enough that William Saltburn was going to
drive Sherringborne into a corner, and ultimately out of the Cabinet in
sheer dishonour and disgrace. Then, when the bottom had dropped out of
the Tortina Concessions, the capitalist would buy them at his own price,
and thus, not only gratify his feelings of revenge, but put a large sum
of money into his pocket at the same time.

It was a hateful business altogether, and just for a moment on Philip's
lips there trembled words that he might have been sorry for after-wards.
He was on the verge of a violent quarrel with his father, but he
restrained himself just in time. He could see that there was nothing to
be gained by such a course, in fact, everything to lose. Saltburn's idea
was to humiliate the Cranwallises and bring them down to such an extent
that Lady Edna would be only too glad to find herself the wife of a man
who could stand between her and dishonour, and also the wife of a man
who would some day be the master of Borne Abbey.

Doubtless William Saltburn was a great man in his way, but in this
respect he was a mere child, and no one knew it better than his own son.
Lady Edna would rather have died than accept such a way out, and Philip
knew it in his bones. He must keep his temper, he must hear all that his
father had to say, and fight that unscrupulous capitalist with his own
weapons. And that fight Philip resolved to carry through to the bitter
end, even if it cost him the last penny of his own private fortune.

"I think you are wrong," he said. "Perhaps I am a child in these
matters, but I shall never marry the woman that I hope to make my wife
by following on the lines that you have mentioned. You know nothing of
such people."

William Saltburn's big voice boomed out with a confidence of a
conqueror. He had a good deal to say, and he said it in his own
particularly offensive manner. But he had no time to argue. There was a
debate going on in the House in which he intended to take a part, and
that debate was in connection with the Foreign Office vote. If Philip
liked to hear it he could.

"I think I should," he said.

A few minutes later and he was seated in the Strangers' Gallery,
listening to what was going on on the floor of the House. The Speaker
was not in the Chair, because the House was sitting in Supply, with the
Chairman presiding, and presently William Saltburn rose from his seat on
the Opposition side of the House below the gangway, and began to address
the Chair.

He plunged into his subject at once, and moved the adjournment of the
committee in connection with certain Foreign Office allowances. From
this he glided dexterously into an attack on the Government in
connection with the Tortina concessions.

To the ordinary listener there was nothing in this, but Philip could see
clearly enough that every word was a hit at the Foreign Secretary. And
there were other men in the House who knew it too--the financial group
for the most part--and these were interested enough. And so Saltburn
went on for the best part of half-an-hour whilst Philip listened, almost
unconscious of the fact that a man there, seated by his side, was almost
as deeply interested as he was himself.

"Wonderful man, Saltburn," the stranger said. "A pity he's such an
unscrupulous rascal."

Philip turned sharply to the speaker, who had put into words the thought
that was uppermost in his mind. He saw a slim, well-dressed man, with
dark hair and eyes, evidently a man of Spanish or Italian descent.

"Do you know Saltburn?" Phillip asked guardedly.

"Well, I know all about him," the stranger said. "You see, I am a native
of Tortina myself, and I happen to know the story. Japan doesn't care
twopence about those concessions, neither does America for that matter.
Saltburn wanted those concessions himself, but Sherringborne's lot were
in front of him, and he has never forgotten it. If you are a student of
politics you must see that Sherringborne is being attacked. Ah! if El
Murid had only held on a little longer, this would never have happened."

"I don't quite follow," Phillip said.

"Well, perhaps I am saying too much," the other man responded. "Perhaps
I ought not to have mentioned Lord Sherringborne. You might know him."

"I do, indeed," Philip said. "He's my good friend, and I would do
anything to help him."

"I am glad to hear that," the other man said. "Because I think I can
assist you. It's like this. If Sherringborne can be dragged into
publicity over this business, then those concession shares will be
worthless. Saltburn can buy them at his own price. But if things develop
in another direction, then all that money will be saved, and Lord
Sherringborne will he cleared. He will make a fortune out of his
investments. Do you know anything about Tortina?"

"I've been to St. Lucia," Phillip said.

"Oh, you have. Then I suppose you know all about El Murid, and how he
was intrigued out of office by that traitorous rascal Santa Anna. That,
of course, was the beginning of El Murid's troubles. I suppose you know
why he committed suicide?"

"Indeed I don't," Philip said.

"Well, he killed himself because he feared that he could not keep faith
with his friends. He thought that he had ruined Sherringborne amongst
others, and the idea drove him to despair. If you could get hold of his
papers now, you could expose the whole conspiracy. I happen to know this
because I was one of El Murid's secretaries. In those papers is the
whole story, and I don't think that even Saltburn could face the world
if it came out. Of course, with his vast resources, he has stirred up
the yellow press in three capitals to make all this fuss. I tell you,
Japan doesn't care a scrap about those island concessions. All she wants
is for St. Lucia to be made a treaty port. What she fears is that St.
Lucia will be fortified and that America will expect to hold a brief for
Tortina through the Munro Doctrine."

Philip was beginning to see daylight.

"But what about the islands?" he asked.

"Oh, the islands," the other laughed. "The outlying group of islands
belong to Japan already, and, as to the rest, they are part of the Corel
Group. No fortifications could stand on them. A big tidal wave or an
earthquake, and they would be gone. Besides, have you ever thought of
San Toro?"

"San Toro?" Philip said. "That's the tiny republic lower down on the
coast."

"Yes, that is so, and there is the site of one of the finest harbours in
the world."

At that moment someone tapped Philip's loquacious acquaintance on the
shoulder and he vanished, leaving Saltburn to his own troubled thoughts.

Gradually, by degrees, his mind came back to what was going on beneath
him. His father was still speaking, and a moment later Philip heard San
Toro mentioned. William Saltburn was suggesting San Toro as a way out of
the difficulty. Why not, he said, allow the trouble over Tortina to
lapse into forgetfulness, and establish a big treaty port at San Toro?
And with that Philip knew beyond a doubt that it was in San Toro that
his father's chief interests lay. He was going to break up Sherringborne
and disgrace him, he was going to buy those Tortina Concessions at his
own price, and eventually get all his money back through the big new
scheme in connection with San Toro.

Philip sat just for a moment, turning this discovery over in his mind,
then he rose quietly and left the House, and turned into Palace Yard.
Outside he met the very man he was looking for, a member of the House on
his way home.

"Behold, thou art the man, Yardley," he said, "I suppose you wouldn't
mind taking up a little matter of business even at this late hour?"

"You're right there," Yardley replied. "Things are not so good on the
Stock Exchange at all that. Which way are you going? Why not come far as
my rooms? We can settle the whole matter over a cigar."

Philip turned and walked with his companion. They ware settled presently
in Yardley's luxurious chambers.

"I don't want this thing talked about," Philip said. "But I have a fancy
to have a flutter on a fairly big scale in those Tortina Concessions.
Can you get me forty thousand of them?"

Yardley whistled softly.

"A hundred and forty thousand if you like," he said. "I suppose you know
those things are an absolute drug on the market? You can get them at
practically your own price, and, besides, there will be heavy 'calls'
presently."

"I am quite prepared to risk all that," Philip said. "If I lose the
whole sum, there will be no harm done. The question is, will you buy
these things for me? I only make one stipulation, and that is that the
account is not opened before two o'clock to-morrow. I'll put it all down
on paper if you like, but I suppose my word is good enough."

"Your word is quite good enough for me," Yardley said. "And I will
undertake this business for you with pleasure of course. It seems to me
that I am the only one likely to make anything out of the deal. Still,
that is no business of mine."

It was nearly 1 o'clock when Philip strolled home-wards. Once there he
reached for the telephone directory, and looked up Sherringborne's
number at Borne Abbey. It was very late of course, but he knew that the
secretary's office at Borne Abbey was not likely to be closed for the
next hour or so. There would certainly be much business transacted
following on that night's debate in the House of Commons. Presently an
impatient voice spoke at the other end of the wire.

"Is that you, Hardy?" Philip asked. "It's Saltburn speaking to you. Oh,
yes. I want you to send over to Baron de la Croisa's cottage and ask him
to come and speak to me. Oh, yes, I know that it is very late, and that
the Baron has gone to bed, but this matter is of the greatest
importance. You can tell the Baron that I want him, and he will come at
once. I'm very sorry to trouble you, but the matter admits of no delay.
And besides, the business is as much Lord Sherringborne's as it is
mine."

There was a certain amount of grumbling and muttering at the other end
of the wire, but that did not trouble Saltburn in the least. He hung up
the receiver and waited patiently for an hour or so before the bell
rippled out again.

It was not a long conversation which Philip had with the Baron, but it
seemed to satisfy him, for he went to bed presently in the enviable
frame of mind with the consciousness that he had done a good evening's
work. He had scarcely finished his breakfast the next morning before de
la Croisa appeared.

"You are certainly a wonderful young man," the latter said. "And your
ideas are magnificent, too. You are a modern Sir Galahad. In the old
days you would have made an excellent Knight of the Round Table. And you
have a way, too, of scattering your money about which is truly regal. I
suppose you fully realise what you are undertaking?"

"I am undertaking nothing that I cannot meet," Philip said quietly. "And
I am going to lose nothing. On the contrary, I am going to gain a large
sum of money."

"And you stand to lose all you've got."

"That may be so of course, still, I am quite ready to back my own
opinion. I feel perfectly certain that there is going to be no trouble,
and that in less than a year's time Sherringborne's great scheme will be
established on a firm basis. And we shall have Japan to thank for that.
In fact, I shouldn't be at all surprised if that is not part of the
whole scheme. At any rate, I shall be able to save Lord Sherringborne. I
can relieve him of a terrible anxiety, and when the questions are asked
as to whether or not he has holdings in Tortina he will be quite
justified in saying that he hasn't. Now, do you think my policy is
sound?"

De la Croisa declined to say anything further. As a matter of fact, he
knew perfectly well that Philip's policy was a correct one. And he
suggested guardedly that Philip was quite old enough and wise enough to
exercise his own discretion.

"There is only one thing to be done now," the latter said. "And that is
to bring Lord Sherringborne's broker into contact with my man Yardley. I
want them to come together quite in a natural way, and as if they had
met promiscuously in the ordinary course of business. Your broker has a
large block to sell and mine wants to buy. There's the whole thing in a
nutshell. I am going to leave this entirely in your hands, because I am
quite sure it will be safe with you. Then you can let Lord Sherringborne
know later on in the day that he is relieved of his most pressing source
of anxiety. Once that is done, it won't be long before he is quite
himself again."

"And what are you going to do?" de la Croisa asked.

"Oh, I am going to pursue the policy of masterly inactivity," Philip
laughed. "I want to be out of the way where no awkward questions will be
asked and where I shall be incapable of doing any further mischief.
Besides, I am interested in all those repairs we are making at The
Chantrey. I suppose you will be back at Borne Abbey before night? If you
are, you might look in at my quarters and let me know if everything has
gone off satisfactorily."

"I will do that with pleasure," the Baron said. "I certainly think you
are wise in getting out of London as soon as possible. But quite between
ourselves, if your forecast turns out to be a shrewd one, it would be
awkward for your father."

"It will go a long way to ruining him," Philip said coolly. "But he is
bringing it upon himself. It is not a bad thing for a man to realise
that he is not infallible. But I think it will be safe to leave my
father to himself."

CHAPTER XX.--WHOSE HAND?

Undoubtedly Sherringborne was getting better. He was reaping the reward
now of a careful and well-preserved life. He was still very weak and
shaky; he had not altogether got rid of the nervous play of his muscles.
But he was up and dressed, and he had insisted upon coming down into one
of the drawing-rooms, where he was seated over certain papers after
lunch.

Lady Edna was busy writing there, so deeply engrossed indeed that she
did not notice the entrance of one of the assistant secretaries with a
letter which had just arrived by special messenger. The secretary
discreetly disappeared, and Sherringborne proceeded to open the letter
in his own deliberate way. As he read, the letter fluttered from his
fingers, and he staggered to his feet trembling with excitement from
head to foot. A queer cry came from his lips. Something between a laugh
and a groan. Lady Edna dropped her pen, and hurried to her father's side
in a state of agitation and alarm.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

Sherringborne appeared to recover himself with an effort.

"It is nothing," he said hoarsely. "Whatever you do, don't ring the
bell. I shall be quite right in a minute or two. I have had some good
news, which has been rather too much for me. I never dreamed of anything
like this. This letter is from de la Croisa. But, of course, you
wouldn't understand it if I told you. Help me into my chair, my dear.
And don't speak to me for a minute or two. This good news will do me
more good than all Harley-street put together."

Sherringborne leaned back in his chair for a minute or two with closed
eyes. He appeared to be unconscious as to what was going on around him.

But the colour was creeping back to his face, and Edna deemed it more
prudent to leave him to himself.

The letter lay face up-wards on the carpet, so that it was almost
impossible not to read the dozen lines or so, dashed off there in the
Baron's neat handwriting. Almost before Lady Edna was aware of the fact
she had read the whole letter.

She could not grasp it all, of course; she had not sufficient business
knowledge for that. But she had seen quite enough to realise what had
happened. To a great extent, the cloud of disgrace and shame had been
lifted from the house of Cranwallis, and for this she had to thank the
man whose father had once been the boot-boy in the scullery at Borne
Abbey.

A great wave of red dyed Lady Edna's face, but that flush was no flush
of shame. She ought to have been cast down and humiliated, she told
herself, and here, on the contrary, she was glad to know that Philip
Saltburn had done this thing. It was just like him, she admitted to
herself. There was no man of her acquaintance capable of an act like
this. Here was the class of man her brother ought to have been.

And now there was shame and humiliation in her mind as she contrasted
Shorland with Philip Saltburn. She picked up the letter and laid it on
the table; then Sherringborne opened his eyes.

He looked a different man already. A certain firmness had come back into
his lips, his eyes were eager and en-sanguined.

"Did I tell you what had happened?" he asked.

"Only the outline," Lady Edna said quietly. "But I have read it all for
myself. It lay at my feet and I couldn't help seeing it. And, besides,
it seems to me that I am directly concerned. Now will you please tell me
how exactly we stand. Will you tell me how it comes about that we are
beholden to a man who is the son of a convict? I am not using my own
expression--it is one of Shorland's elegant metaphors."

It was a long time before Edna began to understand. And there was
something halting in Sherringborne's explanation. There were a great
many technical and legal words, too, connected with the higher flights
of finance, but it seemed to Lady Edna that she had mastered them at
length. To a great extent this had been the opening of a new world to
her.

She had taken it for granted up to now that Sherringborne owed his
position entirely to his rank and his birth. She had always accepted it
as an axiom that the masses must be governed by the classes, even after
the war, and the power of the new democracy left her still cold and
uncomprehending.

She turned this over in her mind for the rest of the afternoon. And she
had quite a feminine curiosity now to see de la Croisa, whom she knew
would be far more candid than her father. De la Croisa failed to put in
an appearance, however; he did not even come in after dinner, as was his
invariable custom. And Lady Edna was surprised to find how eager and
impatient she was for further details.

She would have all the long evening to herself, for the doctor had been
arbitrary in his instructions that Sherringborne should retire early.

It was a perfect night, still and beautiful, so that Lady Edna was
tempted out on the terrace. It was no far cry either to the Baron's
cottage, and it would be some time yet before the daylight failed. But
for once in a way, it fell out that the Baron was not at home. He had
gone out to dinner, said the faithful Francois, without giving any idea
where he was going.

There was nothing for it but for Lady Edna to retrace her steps. She had
reached the park again when she came in contact with the man who was
uppermost in her mind. She intended to be gratefully polite and
gracious, but she could not keep the tinge of colour from her cheeks or
the smile from her eyes, and Philip Saltburn saw it too, and in some dim
way he realised that she knew everything. He would have passed her with
a few words had she not stopped and held out her hand.

"I was going to see de la Croisa, too," Philip explained. "But if he is
not at home it is no use my going further."

He turned and walked by Lady Edna's side. Just for a moment there was an
awkward silence between them. It was the girl who spoke first. She
turned to Saltburn with a clear gaze and proud, honest eyes, which he
admired so much.

"I am very glad I met you, Mr. Saltburn," she said, "because there are
certain things which I am bound to say to you. I don't know why you
should go out of your way to be so good to us as you are. I am sure you
owe us nothing, indeed, when I think of the way in which my unfortunate
brother--"

"Need we discuss him?" Saltburn asked.

"I am afraid so. I cannot forget the way in which Shorland insulted you,
and the manner in which you behaved. And now, I understand that you have
gone further. I understand that you have taken this terrible burden from
our shoulders and saddled yourself with the responsibility which is more
that one man ought to bear."

"I am sorry to hear it," Philip said.

"Oh, I know all about it, you see. I know that there was a kind of
conspiracy between the Baron and yourself, because I saw what he wrote
to my father this afternoon. Then I insisted upon being told
everything."

"Why?" Philip asked. "Why?"

"It seemed to me that I had a right to be told. And my father has been
good enough to give me a lesson in finance. I flatter myself that I am
an apt pupil. I am almost able to appreciate your subtle distinction
between honesty and business. I almost believe I should be able to pass
an examination in that extraordinary operation which is called 'rigging
the market.'"

There was a ring of almost passionate scorn in Lady Edna's voice. But
the haughtiness had left her face now, and Saltburn could see that her
lips were trembling.

"There is no occasion to speak that way," he said. "For, after all, it
is no fault of yours that humanity is so poor a thing. Neither is Lord
Sherringborne so much to blame. He is very indiscreet if you like, and
no public man has a right to dabble in these matters. Besides, it is not
fair to the other members of the Government. After all, I have done
nothing. I have risked a certain number of thousands of pounds which
will not cause me the loss of an hour's sleep if I lose them. There is
only one man who will be disappointed."

"And who is that?" Lady Edna asked.

"My father. He will be furious when he knows everything. But he has not
behaved very well. Oh, can't you see why I am so anxious to get away
from all connection with this modern business? Can't you see why I fell
in love with The Chantrey? And there are other reasons which I cannot
mention. I have only one great regret, and that is that you found all
this out. I didn't want you to know--I didn't even want Lord
Sherringborne to know."

"But why?" Lady Edna asked.

Philip laughed somewhat unsteadily.

"Some day, perhaps, I will tell you," he said. "But not yet. Still, this
affair has not been without its advantages. I think it has done you
good. I am sure it has broadened your outlook on things. It is not
altogether right that a girl like yourself should imagine that she is
made of superior clay to other people. Now, confess it, Lady Edna,
haven't you learnt something from your lesson?"

Lady Edna listened in a dreamy sort of way. It seemed impossible that
any ordinary man would be talking to her like that. She told herself
that she ought to have been furiously angry, she ought to be haughty and
dignified. She should have treated this presumptuous young man with
cold, cutting scorn.

But she was not in the least angry. On the contrary, she felt strangely
softened, she was conscious of a certain wild, unreasonable happiness
for which she would have been utterly at a loss to account.

And the man by her side, though so quiet, so strong, and reliable and
calm, was treating her as no man had ever treated her before. Her father
had always assumed her to be a girl almost incapable of understanding
the machinery of affairs, and yet here was Saltburn talking to her as if
she were on a level with himself, and she, instead of being annoyed, was
flustered and flattered.

She laughed somewhat unsteadily.

"I ought to be very angry with you," she said.

"I don't see why," Saltburn said. "Besides, it is quite true. But at the
same time I am sorry that you found this out, because it handicaps me.
You see, I had hopes--but what am I talking about? The beauty of the
evening is getting into my head."

"But I must thank you," Lady Edna exclaimed. "Really. I must. What
should we have done without you? Oh, I would give a great deal if my
brother were like you."

"That is a compliment, I suppose," Saltburn said. "Then you would like
me for a brother?"

"Indeed, I would," Lady Edna murmured.

"I am afraid that wouldn't satisfy me," Saltburn said audaciously. "Now,
if I could only hear you say that you would like to have--"

He paused, fearful that he had gone too far. And he could see from the
red that had flamed into Lady Edna's face that she understood. But she
did not break away from him indignantly, she did not turn upon him a
face of scorn. Her lips parted in a smile as she walked demurely by his
side.

CHAPTER XXI.--STEEL AND VELVET.

To quote one of his own pet phrases. William Saltburn constantly had his
finger on the pulse of the market. It was his business to watch the
fluctuations of stocks and shares as carefully as a mother watches her
child. It was the same labour of love to him and his unerring instinct
never led him far wrong.

It was not a difficult matter, therefore, for him to discover that some
audacious outsider, was interfering with his operations in Tortina
Concessions. It seemed almost incredible that any ordinary business man
should step deliberately into the path of a financial lion like William
Saltburn. And there were signs, too, that the thing had been done quite
deliberately.

Saltburn was not so much annoyed as curious. He was desirous of knowing
the name of the humble individual who had done this thing. In a way,
Saltburn was sorry enough. He was a good fighter himself, and therefore
a great admirer of courage in others. This was by no means the first
time that an opponent had put up a fight, but of recent years such
combativeness had been rare, and Saltburn was wont to deplore the fact
that the city did not display as much pluck as it used to.

Of course, it was absolutely necessary, and that at once, to break down
this audacious person. The thing had had to be done on occasions before,
and when it was over, Saltburn had sometimes extended a generously
contemptuous hand to the man he had ruined, quite in the ordinary way of
business. He gave his confidential secretary instructions now to find
out who this man was, and to adopt the ordinary means of getting rid of
him. At the end of a fortnight the secretary was bound to admit that he
could not find any trace of the foe, and that very reluctantly he had
been compelled to fall back upon his employer. Saltburn raved and
stormed in his usual way, and then he set out to get the news for
himself. But another fortnight elapsed before he stumbled on the truth,
and that, more or less, by accident.

Really, it was an excellent joke. To think that Philip, of all men in
the world, should be going out of his way to so worry his own father.
Saltburn sent for his son to dine with him, and the latter came
obediently enough.

"This is a nice way you are treating me," William Saltburn said. "Try
one of those cigars, my boy. Even the King can't get tobacco like that.
So you are anxious to get rid of your money as soon as possible. I
suppose you think that it doesn't matter, seeing that you will get
plenty from me some day?"

"I am not so sure of that, sir," Philip said quietly.

William Saltburn smiled pitifully.

"Ah, what it is to be young and sanguine," he said. "If people with no
money weren't sanguine, half the officers in the city would have to put
their shutters up. Oh, I begin to understand why you have done this
foolish thing. It's very magnificent, my boy, but I don't suppose it
will make the slightest difference to Lady Edna Cranwallis. She won't be
any more likely to marry you because you have succeeded in gambling away
a handsome fortune."

"We shall see," Philip smiled.

"My boy, aristocrats hold their noses very high, and profess to have a
great contempt for a mere business man, but they are not indifferent to
the value of money. Lord bless you, I know them. They despise me, they
shrug their shoulders when my name is mentioned, and speak of me as
quite an impossible man. But that don't prevent them from coming and
fawning and flattering on me, my boy."

"But that isn't friendship," Philip argued.

"That don't prevent them asking me to dinner. Lord bless your soul, I
could hang up my hat in half the ducal houses in England, and they would
be glad to see me. They are all on the make, Phil, just as well as most
people. And you may depend upon it, that Lady Edna has her eye-teeth cut
like the rest of 'em."

Philip writhed about uneasily in his chair. This was his father's mood,
when he hated most. William Saltburn sat there now with his thumbs in
his armholes, his red, strong face filled with complacent good-humoured
contempt. The protest which rose to Philip's lips died away again, for
what was the good of it? His father would not understand.

"If I lose my money," he said, "well then, I must. But the point is, I
don't think I shall. I know in these matters your judgment is much more
valuable than mine, but the greatest financier makes mistakes, and I
believe you are making one now. Napoleon, did so. In fact, he made more
than one mistake."

"Oh, Napoleon was a fool," Saltburn exclaimed.

"Very likely. Possibly because he was puffed up with conceit. If you are
right and I am wrong, then I lose a quarter of a million of money. If,
on the other hand, I am right, what do you lose?"

Just for a moment William Saltburn looked grave.

"Well, I should have to start again," he admitted. "I've got every penny
that I can scrape together in South America. If everything goes right I
can pretty well mould her future policy. By gad, I shall be the greatest
man in Europe."

"And if Japan stands firm?" Philip asked.

"Oh, why do you go harping on that string? Japan will go her own way. I
have told you so before. I know the Japs, and I know what they are
after. They cannot fool me."

"And the whole thing is merely a blind to hide a real live policy
elsewhere?" Philip suggested. "You see what I mean, I have profound
respect for Prince Ito, and--"

But William Saltburn declined to discuss this view. It seemed to him
that he was displaying an exemplary amount of patience with a headstrong
boy who was bent on ruining himself for purely quixotic motives. As a
matter of fact, Philip was telling his father more than he imagined.

William Saltburn chuckled to himself now because it seemed to him that
he knew perfectly well why Philip had plunged over the Tortina business.
For the time being he had saved the face of Lord Sherringborne, but from
William Saltburn's point of view all this could have been managed
without risk of losing any of his money.

"You've gone about it the wrong way, my lad," he said. "You should have
left it to me. I would have cleared the field for you all right. I could
have bent Sherringborne's proud neck and dragged his good name in the
mud. And I would have humbled the pride of her ladyship, too. Before she
had done with me, she would have been glad enough to marry any decent
fellow capable of giving her a comfortable home."

Philip smiled grimly.

"Of course, when matters have blown over, it would be nice for you to be
able to say you had married a Cranwallis. And, I daresay I should have
been able to have got hold of Borne Abbey for you. But you must needs
come blundering into it like this. You expect to find Lady Edna
grateful, don't you? But she won't even thank you, my boy. And when you
ask her to marry you, she will treat you like dirt."

It was absolutely impossible for Philip to argue with crass ignorance
like this. It seemed to him that he had never seen his father so
hopelessly vulgar before.

"Why do you want to wreck Sherringborne?" he asked.

William Saltburn's face flushed darkly.

"He's such an insolent beggar," he said. "He is so infernally polite,
and yet, at the back of it all, you can see that he thinks that he is
condescending. Break him up, root and branch, I say. Drag him down into
the mud. Let him know eventually that the boy who used to be in his
father's kitchen is now the master of his fortunes. Lord bless you, I've
got no personal animosity against the man. But, all the same, I am going
to bring his nose to the mud. And when I tell him who I am--"

"You are looking forward to that?" Philip asked quietly.

"That's the idea," William Saltburn said.

"Ah, well, in that case you will be disappointed. You may be surprised
to hear that Lord Sherringborne knows that already. You see, they had
some inkling of it even when I was at Oxford. It may perhaps be news to
you, but my friends up there used to call me 'the Convict.'"

"Called you what?" Saltburn shouted.

"It was all done in a good-natured way, of course, and it never made the
slightest difference to me, but the fact remains. It was Shorland who
first of all began to talk. He had it from some old stable help who used
to be hanging about the house when you were a boy at Borne Abbey.
Shorland, of course, is a bounder of the worst possible type, and he was
good enough to acquaint Lady Edna with your antecedents before my face."

"And what did you say?" Saltburn asked.

"Well, in most houses that would have been a very awkward moment,
indeed. It would be impossible for me to tell you how well Lady Edna
behaved. They are treating me just as if I were a guest in the house,
and, in addition to that, at any rate, till quite recently, neither
Sherringborne nor his daughter knew that I had gone out of my way to
help them. And these are the people you want to ruin."

William Saltburn pulled sulkily at his cigar. Just for the moment the
tobacco which the King could not get seemed to have lost its flavour. If
Philip were correct, then it seemed to William Saltburn that for once in
his life he had done a foolish thing. And highly successful men with a
firm belief in themselves do not care to make these confessions.

"Oh! nonsense," he said. "They are only civil to you because they are
afraid of you. Of course they are afraid of me, which comes to the same
thing. I am not saying that I have not made a mistake."

"That is very magnanimous of you," Philip said.

"Now, I don't want any of your impudence, my lad. Still, the thing is
done, and there's an end of it. You'll be humble enough before Christmas
comes. Of course, it's rather a staggerer for me to find that
Sherringborne knows all this. Still, my policy is my policy, and I
wouldn't alter it if Lady Edna came to me on her bended knees and asked
me to alter it."

"I wouldn't wait for that," Philip said dryly.

"You go your own way and I'll go mine. And when you've lost all your
money come along to your old dad, and he'll set you on your feet again.
The fact of the matter is, Philip, that these people have spoilt you.
You are a young man with very little knowledge of the world, and you are
flattered. I have seen the same thing often before."

Philip was content to let it go at that. He got away presently somewhat
relieved to find that he had emerged from the interview without the
suggestion of a quarrel.

He had expected to meet his father in one of the latter's most
aggressive moods. He had looked forward to dark threats, unless he got
out of his position without delay. On the other hand, he had been
treated very much like a spoilt child, who insists on eating something
that is not good for him. Therefore, on the whole, he went down again to
Borne Abbey on very good terms with himself.

He was glad to find Sherringborne so much better; he did not fail to
note the warmth of Lady Edna's smile, and the friendly pressure of the
handshake. De la Croisa was in good spirits, too, for the threatening
cloud seemed to be lifting, though as yet the Baron had had not definite
news from his envoy in St. Lucia.

The Baron was in the garden arguing, as usual, with McKillop as to the
latter's treatment of his roses. Sherringborne was there too, listening
to the quarrel with a smile of amusement on his face.

"You'll stay and lunch with us, Saltburn, of course," he said. "I am
rather expecting an important guest, but that will not make any
difference if you will excuse me directly after-wards, McKillop appears
to be getting the worst of it."

The gardener retreated presently, defeated but defiant, and the Baron
took Philip aside.

"I rather wanted to have a little chat with you," he said. "Do you know,
my dear young friend, you have behaved exceedingly well. In fact, a
great deal better than I knew of. The most satisfactory part is that
Lady Edna knows. I didn't tell her."

"And I can safely say the same thing," Philip replied. "My dear Baron,
you don't think for a moment--"

"Certainly not," de la Croisa smiled. "I am quite sure you would not
stoop to a subterfuge like that. Of course, you have your pride. When
you ask a girl to be your wife you would expect her to marry you for
yourself. Now, come along, and let's go in to lunch. McKillop is an
obstinate old man, and an argument with him always gives me an
appetite."

Luncheon was served in one of the smaller dining-rooms, and
Sherringborne stood on the terrace consulting his watch. A moment or two
later a car came up to the front, and a little dark man jumped out full
of apologies.

"Not at all, my dear Prince," Sherringborne said. "My daughter and the
Baron, you know, of course. This is Mr. Philip Saltburn--his Highness
Prince Ito."

CHAPTER XXII.--BREAD AND SALT.

Philip bowed gravely enough. He was quite sincere in saying that he was
glad to meet the distinguished Japanese statesman. He was an astute
young man enough, and it needed no outsider to tell him that this lunch
party was something more than mere conventional politeness on
Sherringborne's part.

"I happened to be staying in the neighbourhood," the Prince said. "And
as I have not seen Lord Sherringborne since his illness, I thought I
might take the liberty of inviting myself here to lunch. This is quite a
friendly visit. Indeed, it would be sacrilege almost to discuss politics
on such a heavenly day. Besides, I believe Lord Sherringborne has been
strictly forbidden to do any work for the present."

"That is so," Sherringborne said gravely.

"Then I will bow to the doctor's orders," the Prince said. "Mr.
Saltburn, I am pleased to meet you. I know all about your father, of
course. We have been antagonists on one or two occasions, and I am bound
to confess that I have not always had the best of it. But my time may
come."

All this was said easily enough, and in the best possible English.
Indeed, but for the sallowness of his skin and the Oriental slant of his
dark eyes, Prince Ito might have passed for a European gentleman of
leisure. He was dressed quite in the English style, and his brown
flannel suit fitted him to perfection.

At the same time, there was a certain half-amused gleam in his eyes as
he spoke of his tourneys with William Saltburn. He suggested to Philip
that the next time on which the diplomats and capitalists met on the
field, Saltburn was not likely to get the best of it.

It was an interesting luncheon, for the Prince spoke surprisingly well,
and Philip regretted when at length the meal came to an end. He went off
presently with de la Croisa and Lady Edna to see something out of the
common in the way of roses, leaving Sherringborne and his distinguished
guest to their cigars and coffee in the sunshine out on the terrace.

"You are looking far better than I expected," the Prince said. "I am
glad now that I took the liberty of coming over to see you. Now, when do
you expect to be in harness again? I am bound to admit, my dear lord,
that the question is not altogether a disinterested one. You see, I am
quite candid."

"Well, I am practically in harness now," Sherringborne explained. "It's
true, I haven't been in town, but I have transacted a lot of business.
You see, that's one of the advantages of being in the Upper House. If
there's anything wanting to be said to me, speak freely by all means."

Prince Ito hesitated for a moment.

"I was wondering," he said slowly, "if you had done anything with those
Tortinas. Of course, it is quite outside our province, but in certain
circumstances any action of yours might make a difference to us."

The Prince spoke with his eyes on the distant landscape. The expression
on his face was one of peace and contentment with the beauty of his
surroundings.

"My policy is plain enough," Sherringborne said. "I always believe in
playing with all my cards on the table. If I could carry out my scheme,
thousands of people would be saved from ruin, and Tortina would be in a
better position than ever. But, obviously, my dear Ito, it is the policy
of Saltburn to thwart me at every turn."

"Aided by certain other capitalists," Ito said. "By the way, I was
rather taken with that young man who was lunching here to-day. Of
course, I know who he is, but he seems to have been made from quite
different stuff from his father. And he is not operating on his father's
advice, either. Really, you ought to be proud to find a son of William
Saltburn's putting his money on the Secretary of Foreign Affairs."

The words dropped carelessly enough from Ito's lips; he appeared to be
given over to the enjoyment of his cigar. Sherringborne shot a keen
glance at him. He was wondering how much the Prince knew.

"Philip Saltburn is a fine young fellow," he said. "Of course, I know he
has been buying Tortinas on a big scale; the Baron told me this."

"So I understand," Ito said. "You see, it is my business to know all
these things. It struck me at the time how strange it was that we should
see the father on one side, and the son on the other. William Saltburn,
of course, is all for himself. He is one of the cleverest and, at the
same time, one of the most dangerous financiers in Europe, and, between
ourselves, my dear Sherringborne, I should not be sorry to see him
safely out of the way. There would be no possibility of a war between
Japan and America at the present moment if it were not for Saltburn and
the group of capitalists who always follow his lead. I think you agree
with me."

"Precisely so," Sherringborne replied. "But is there going to be war
between Japan and the States? If there is, then my political career is
at an end. I shall go down to posterity as a failure or something worse.
If, on the other hand, this crisis can be averted, then I shall probably
be hailed as a great public benefactor. But still, I have an idea that
you people won't fight. To be perfectly candid, my dear Prince, I was
rather hoping to see you stand up against America."

"Oh, you flatter us," the Prince smiled.

"Not at all, not at all. Any firm action with regard to the Tortina
question on your part is certain to command our thoughtful
consideration. And that Monroe Doctrine can be carried too far."

"Again you flatter me," the Prince said quietly. "It is a great triumph
for us to think that our English allies treat us so seriously. You don't
know how you encourage us. If you are speaking on behalf of his
Majesty's Government--"

"What more do you want?" Sherringborne asked. "In this matter I am his
Majesty's Government. At any rate, I have the Cabinet behind me, and I
have quite a free hand in dealing with matters within my department. Of
course, you can't expect me to take sides. Our alliance is not
altogether an offensive and defensive one. But as we made it, we needn't
go into that And there is one thing, my dear Prince, that you can rely
on. If, unfortunately, there should be a quarrel between America and
Japan, which we should all very much deplore--"

Sherringborne paused, and Prince Ito smiled.

"Yes, it would be dreadful, wouldn't it?" the latter said. "But, of
course, it is within the bounds of possibility. I must say we are more
or less prepared for it. And nobody can say we are not justified. We
must have room for expansion on the Pacific. We cannot sit quietly down
and see St. Lucia practically an armed port under American suzerainty. A
treaty port, if you like, with Japan, exercising a benevolent neutrality
on the outer islands. With a navy like ours--"

"America will choose her own time," Sherringborne said.

"Because of her geographical advantages. Well, that is the position we
stand in to-day, and, really, between ourselves, if I felt quite sure
that England would 'keep the ring' between America and Japan in case of
trouble, why--but really, I am talking at haphazard. The beauty of the
day has got into my head. I will say no more."

"As a matter of fact, we should," Sherringborne said. "We are only idly
speculating, of course. Without wishing to hurt your feelings, you are
bound to admit that a quarrel between America and Japan can only have
one issue."

"I quite agree with you," the Prince said dryly. "And so, whilst the
trouble is acute, we can rely upon England to stand by and act the part
of policeman."

Ito uttered the words quietly enough, but there was a certain suggestion
of gravity in his tone which Sherringborne perfectly understood.

"I will give my hand on that," he said. "And my solemn assurance that
such would be our policy. But, of course, you must guard against any
change of Government. I think we are good for another year or so, and
perhaps more. But don't, my dear Prince, allow yourself to take this
fact into consideration. Our foreign policy is fortunately practically
continuous, and my successor will probably take the same view."

"Then that is settled," Ito cried gaily. "Does it strike you, my dear
friend, that we may be making history at this particular moment? One of
the greatest fascinations in the career of a diplomatist is his
opportunity for making history."

"Well, keep it out of the papers," Sherringborne laughed. "The most
exciting history is that which never gets into print at all. It is
really very good of you to undertake this absolutely out of pure
friendship."

"I owe you more than you know," Ito said half gravely.

"My dear Prince, you wiped out the debt today, anyway," Sherringborne
said. "Directly you define your policy, you enable me to tackle Tortina
with a free hand."

Prince Ito showed his teeth in a smile.

"We quite understand one another," he said. "And we keep our
lightheartedness to ourselves. And now, my lord, I must really drag
myself away. It is very charming here, of course, but I have certain
matters to attend to which will not brook further delay. I hope you
don't mind my coming to see you in this unceremonious fashion. We have
so many formal interviews that an occasional unbending--"

The Prince was gone at last, and Sherringborne sat there gazing in front
of him, and quite lost to the fact that his cigar had gone out. Then
came de la Croisa, who dropped into the chair vacated by the Prince, and
glanced significantly at his companion. Sherringborne came to himself
with a start.

"Well?" de la Croisa asked. "Well?"

"It's practically settled," Sherringborne whispered. "I know I can trust
you. There will be no trouble between America and Japan over those
Tortina Concessions. We can defy William Saltburn now."

"Perhaps," the Baron murmured. "Perhaps."

CHAPTER XXIII.--AN AUTUMN SESSION.

London was very full for Parliament was sitting late that autumn and
Christmas was at hand and there was no sign as yet that overworked
legislators would be relieved of their duties.

Those who expected that Parliament would be prorogued to a later date
were disappointed, for both Houses were hard at it again before the end
of January. There was the usual amount of grumbling, of course. Members
professed that they could not see any reason for this unwonted display
of energy. There was nothing very startling before the country, and no
particular crises, indeed nothing but an excuse that business was
behindhand, and needed bringing up to date.

On the other hand, there were one or two thoughtful people who saw
trouble ahead.

Possibly the trouble might be averted. There was no knowing. Still in
case of emergencies, Parliament was sitting, and the King's Ministers
would know how to deal with anything that came along.

Meanwhile there was nothing to worry about, and the papers were
unusually quiet. One or two of them hinted darkly of impending troubles
in the East. They prophesied as to what was likely to happen when
America and Japan were at loggerheads, but very few people regarded this
as serious.

There was one man, however, who was by no means easy in his mind.
Saltburn had been so sure of his ground, so certain of his facts, that
he had not worried himself in the least. What mysterious hand was at
work in high politics between America and Japan over the Tortina affair?
What hindered progress? And yet the delay continued.

At any rate, if the little Far Eastern Power was bluffing, she was doing
it remarkably well. She was busy in other directions, too. It only
remained now to see how long the game was going to last. And if the
worst came about, America might make a concession and leave Japan
without any pretext for an appeal to arms. What then?

All the same, Saltburn was worried, and perhaps that was the reason why
he had taken no steps towards the crushing of Lord Sherringborne. And,
on the face of it, Sherringborne's position seemed to be stronger than
ever. He had played a strong hand with regard to Tortina financial
obligations, and people who, a few months ago, had been disposed to
regard him as a poor financier, now began to speak of him as a great
genius.

Saltburn had smiled to himself, because it seemed to him that he could
pull down this glittering structure at any moment he pleased. He had his
own agents in St Lucia, and when the time came they would know how to
act.

Meanwhile Sherringborne was up in town, giving his brilliant dinners and
receptions, and Lady Edna was apparently in her element as one of the
most charming and successful hostesses.

Sherringborne preferred to dispense his hospitality at his own town
house, and there was a big reception this evening, which was not likely
to be unduly prolonged as Ministers generally were due to take part in
the big debate. Saltburn had been asked; indeed it seemed to him that of
late Sherringborne had gone out of his way to make himself agreeable.

And this easy politeness and calm ignoring of past disagreeableness was
a thing which always puzzled and irritated Saltburn. He did not like the
method, he could not understand two people differing without being ready
to fly at one another's throats like a couple of dogs over a bone. All
his life he had fought for all he could get, he had had little or no
mercy for his opponent; indeed he had the primeval instinct uppermost.

He was going to the reception, of course. He came along to it presently,
elbowing his way with characteristic fashion through a glittering mob of
men and women until he had fought his way to the top of the great black
marble staircase, where Lady Edna stood receiving her father's guests.

She looked very stately, very dignified and beautiful, as she stood
there with a gracious smile for Saltburn. Indeed, he could not disguise
from himself that she was receiving him with the same lofty amiability
she had for a duchess. And there was no suggestion of any particular
desire to please him, which Saltburn was compelled to admit. From his
point of view, it seemed absurd to suppose that this gracious goddess
would consent to share Philip's lot unless she were first humiliated and
her pride brought low. Assuredly Philip was going to work in the wrong
way.

But Saltburn had other things to occupy his attention this evening. He
was anxious to see Van Hasvell, the diplomatist who had the American
affairs in hand in London just now. The regular Ambassador was away on
sick leave, and the brilliant and fascinating Hasvell had been
temporarily selected for the post.

Saltburn knew Hasvell well, he knew the latter to be no great
diplomatist, he was a great deal fonder of the theatre and the supper
party. Of late, it seemed to Saltburn that Van Hasvell was keeping out
of his way, and the time was coming when that elusive individual must be
shown that Saltburn meant to stand no nonsense.

Saltburn found him presently in the centre of an admiring group of
women, who seemed to be hanging on his lightest word. He was quite the
typical diplomatist of sensational fiction. His clothes fitted him to
perfection, not a single hair of his well-waxed moustache was out of
place. A certain contempt filled Saltburn and rose to his eyes. He
strolled into the little group of rustling silks and flashing diamonds,
and caught Van Hasvell by the elbow quite unceremoniously.

"Here," he said. "I want you."

The American's face flushed. All the same he turned to his fair
companion and murmured some excuse.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

"Oh, cut all that out," Saltburn said brusquely. "I'm not a society
butterfly, and you weren't when I first met you. And why have you been
keeping out of my way lately?"

"Is that so?" Van Hasvell smiled. "You forget, my dear Saltburn, I am a
man of affairs. I have so many calls on my time. And as to keeping out
of your way--well--you are too suspicious, my friend. Now, what do you
want?"

Saltburn thrust out his chin doggedly.

"I want you to tell me the truth," he said. "If you have fooled me, if
any of you have fooled me--but you know what I am, and you know what to
expect. When you came over here there was a perfect understanding
between us. But what I want to know is, how much longer is this going
on? I begin to see that I made a mistake."

"We all do," Van Hasvell said sententiously.

"Oh, do we? Well, then, let me tell you that when I make a mistake
thousands of people have got to suffer for it. Now, I've been getting
some information lately, and it rather startled me. Egad, I began to
think that the Japs are going to get their way after all."

Van Hasvell smiled almost superciliously.

"Oh, really," he said. "But I can't discuss it with you, Saltburn. Then,
you see, I was a mere business man; now I am a representative of my
country at St. James's. You see the difference?"

"The poacher turned gamekeeper," Saltburn said grimly. "What I want to
know is, how this thing is going to be settled."

"I am exceedingly sorry, my dear Saltburn," Van Hasvell said smoothly.
"I assure you I have done all I can. I have been your partner more than
once--but I was in Wall-street then, remember. You are not really
suggesting that, for the sake of old times, I should discuss Government
matters with you? Besides, you're astute enough to draw your own
conclusions. And I am not the American Ambassador, anyway."

"So that's how the land lies," Saltburn grumbled. "And I was a fool to
trust you as far as I have. Still, if you will only tell me--"

"I can tell you nothing," Van Hasvell said. "Sherringborne is a friend
of yours. Go and ask him, ask him if he believes there is any chance of
a war between America and Japan."

"He'd know, of course," Saltburn admitted sulkily.

At the same moment, Sherringborne walked smilingly by in animated
conversation with one of the secretaries from the American Embassy.
Saltburn began to wonder why the idea had not occurred to him before.
Assuredly Sherringborne knew whether there was a chance or not of an
outbreak of hostilities on the Pacific. Would it be possible, Saltburn
wondered, to force the truth from his host? For the moment the accident
of circumstance had saved Sherringborne, but the danger was by no means
over. There might be trouble arising from the direction of St Lucia yet.

Saltburn watched his host moodily from under his heavy eyebrows. Van
Hasvell, standing there, twisting his moustache, seemed to see what was
passing through the other's mind.

"You might be able to tap Sherringborne," he said. "By the way, what has
become of that erratic daughter-in-law of his? I haven't heard a word
about her for months. She went off with a great flourish of trumpets to
give a series of performances in Tortina, and there hasn't been a word
about her in the papers since."

Saltburn smiled grimly.

"She's not well, I believe," he said. "At any rate, I understand that
she has gone somewhere near San Francisco with a view to giving herself
a rest. It is a habit these spoilt actresses have got. At any rate,
Shorland seems to take it calmly enough. I was talking to him about his
wife a day or two ago, and he didn't seem to know any more about her
than I did. I suppose he has got tired of her. These sort of marriages
never last. Besides, Shorland is a vicious young fool that any woman's
too good for. I suppose there will be a flaming divorce there some day,
and then the present Lady Shorland will console herself with a Russian
grand duke. Not that it matters."

Saltburn turned away as if he were done with the subject, and Van
Hasvell discreetly disappeared. Meanwhile William Saltburn sat there,
amidst those uncongenial surroundings, revolving a scheme in his mind.
He wondered he had not thought of it before. He was still busy with his
project when Philip came along, obviously in search of somebody. A
certain sort of gratified pride filled Saltburn as he looked at his son.
At any rate, whatever his feelings were, Philip appeared to be perfectly
at home there. He came over to his father's side and sat down just far a
moment.

"I thought you weren't coming," he said.

"I changed my mind," Saltburn answered. "I wanted to have a little talk
with my young friend Van Hasvell, and I knew I should find him here."

"I hope you are satisfied with him," Philip said.

"Now, what the deuce do you mean by that?" Saltburn demanded. "As a
matter of fact, I am not a bit satisfied with him. I begin to believe
that those people have actually had the audacity to try and humbug me.
Humbug me; mind. But I think I showed Van Hasvell to-night that he's got
a man to deal with. And you will find that Japan dare not go too far.
You get out of it, my boy, as quickly as you can. Sell out, while you
have the chance."

Philip shook his head smilingly. There rose to his mind the face and
figure of Prince Ito as he had seen him on that eventful afternoon on
the terrace at Borne Abbey.

"I think I'll hold on," he said quietly,



CHAPTER XXIV.--A QUESTION IN THE HOUSE.

"Oh, very well, my boy, please yourself. You've got your lesson to
learn, and you might as well learn it now as years hence, when you have
a family to provide for and you can ill spare it."

"I'll go my own way," Philip said. "If I am wrong, then I shall be ready
to risk it. But I have a big prize to play for, and I must play
according to my own lights."

"Lady Edna," Saltburn scowled. "Lady Edna is--"

"Lady Edna. Pardon me, father, but there are some things that you don't
understand, and this is one of them."

"Oh, is it?" Saltburn sneered. "Made of different clay, and all that
sort of thing. If you take my advice--".

Philip smilingly refused to continue the discussion. Where his own point
of view was concerned he could be quite as obstinate as his father.

"I am not going to be frightened," he said. "I am going to stick to my
guns, and see the thing through to the end. As a matter of fact, I think
I shall increase my holding. Do you happen to be going down to the House
tonight? If you are I'll go with you. I want to see Yardley."

"Oh, I'm going to the House right enough," Saltburn said grimly. "I
ordered my car to be here at half-past 10."

The spacious rooms were rapidly emptying now. Most of the guests
connected with politics had disappeared, and there was nothing for it
but to follow them.

Saltburn left Philip in the lobby, where the latter had to wait until
the man he had come in search of was found. The great hall was filled
with a crowd of journalists and others waiting the issue of the debate,
which would be known presently. As Philip sat on the stone ledge of the
corridor he was accosted, to his surprise, by de la Croisa. The latter
had a soft hat pulled down over his brows. His coat-collar covered him
to the ears.

"This is a surprise," Philip said. "You are the last person I expected
to meet here, Baron. Are you afraid of being recognised by some older
member?"

De la Croisa smiled just a little sadly.

"There is no place that changes so swiftly," he said, "as a House of
Commons. Ten years here is equivalent to a generation. There aren't a
dozen men in the House to-day who would recognise me if I took a seat on
one of the front benches. And if you were to mention my name to
two-thirds of your legislators they wouldn't know whom you meant."

"But what are you doing here?" Philip asked.

"Oh, put it down to idle curiosity," the Baron said. "But it is not
quite that. I saw you come in with your father just now. Has he begun to
realise yet that he stands a good chance of finding himself a poor man
before many months are over his head?"

"That's what I tell him," Philip said. "But he seems quite sure of his
ground. He tells me there will be no trouble in South America. And my
father speaks with authority."

"Really," De la Croisa said. "And how long would these suggested
concessions satisfy the Japanese? And suppose the Japanese take matters
into their own hands? Suppose they refuse to be satisfied? It is
extremely unlikely, but it is well to be prepared."

"Oh, I quite follow you," Philip said. "But I have thought out my policy
and I am going to hold to it. I think my father is making a great
mistake. But I cannot permit him to spoil my prospects, not even if it
means his financial ruin."

De la Croisa, looked at Philip with frank admiration.

"That's exactly what I hoped you would do," he said. "Within a week we
shall have some important news from Washington. In my opinion there will
be a compromise."

"You have special knowledge?" Philip asked.

"Ah, my dear boy, that is not for me to say. I will trust you as far as
I can. You have behaved very well indeed in every way. And I know you
will do a great deal to help Lord Sherringborne, to say nothing of Lady
Edna. Some day or other, I hope to see you one of the family, and then
you will understand why I have found it necessary to interfere. By the
way, isn't that your friend Yardley coming in your direction? I wish you
would ask him to take me up in the Gallery. My man seems to have
forgotten me. You had better come along. We can talk matters over there,
and besides, it isn't so draughty."

Philip raised no objection. Decidedly it was more comfortable in the
Gallery, and it was possible to discuss matters there while the debate
below was dragging its weary length along. The Speaker himself did not
happen to be in the Chair, and his Deputy was ruling the House with a
lenient hand. Members were taking advantage of it accordingly.

It was one of those debates, too, which lend themselves to
discursiveness, so that matters were dragged in which appeared to have
no connection with the question.

There arose presently on the Opposition side one of those notorious
bores who inflicted himself on all occasions on a long-suffering House.
He was terribly in earnest, as bores always are; he appeared to be
imbued with a desire to draw the attention of the House to a matter
quite outside the scope of the debate. He flourished in his hand a copy
of an evening newspaper, from which he proceeded to read an extract.

"When I am on the subject, Sir," he said. "I should like to ask the
Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs a question which affects the country
at large and also the right honourable gentleman's chief as well. I am
quoting from the 'Evening Echo,' which I have every reason to regard as
reliable authority. Some time ago a certain nobleman married a lady
prominently connected with the stage. Honourable members will now know
whom I mean without my mentioning names. The mere fact that the lady is
by birth a foreign subject makes little or no difference to the
question. Now that she has become the wife of a nobleman, and
consequently one day will be the head of a great household, I claim that
she comes under the protection of the British Government. That this lady
should have chosen after her marriage to continue her profession is no
business of mine--"

Ironical cries and laughter broke out at this point. Philip could see
that de la Croisa was deeply interested.

"Don't you see whom he is talking about?" the Baron said. "The poor man
is alluding to Lady Shorland."

"Oh, members may laugh if they like," the speaker went on. "But it is a
most intolerable thing that an unprotected woman should be treated as if
she were a prisoner, and detained against her will in a foreign country,
simply because she claims what are, apparently, her rights. Personally,
I am not responsible for the statements. It is all set out in detail in
the 'Evening Echo' so that honourable members may read it for
themselves. It seems to me almost incredible that the relatives of this
unhappy lady have not seen their way to interfere. They are merely
relatives by marriage, it is true, but seeing that one of them is
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, this delay to me is all the more
amazing."

"What on earth is he talking about?" Philip asked.

"It's quite plain," the Baron said. "This is just one of those choice
bits of scandal which an ass like the speaker likes to get hold of. I
have no doubt that it is a beautiful story dished up by one of the
evening papers with a view to making a sensation. You can just hear in
that an element of truth which makes the lie all the more outrageous.
You see, Lady Shorland is in Tortina; she did go there to fulfill a
professional engagement, and she certainly has claims out there, which I
had hoped to have settled some time since. The plain fact is that Lady
Shorland has gone to St. Lucia on business that is entirely
professional. The idea of her being detained by the authorities is so
much preposterous nonsense. The whole thing is a put up job to cause
Sherringborne annoyance. I should not wonder if the speaker had been
inspired by--"

De la Croisa broke off abruptly.

"I think I see what you mean," Philip said quietly. "You would not be
surprised to find that my father is at the bottom of this. I hope not,
but--"

De la Croisa's silence was eloquent enough. He rose from his seat
presently and expressed a wish to see a copy of the "Evening Echo."

He waited long enough to hear the loquacious speaker very properly
snubbed by the Under-Secretary in a few words, then they passed through
the Lobby and out into the street. There were a score of newsboys
humming around, all of them crying their wares and calling attention to
the strange story of the missing actress.

There were other papers, too, by this time, who did not hesitate to
mention Lady Shorland by name. De la Croisa purchased a copy of each of
the sheets, and thrust them in his pocket.

"Now, find me some place where I can read these, if you please," he
said. "I don't want to go to the Club if I can help it. I might be
recognised."

"That's easily settled," Philip said. "We can do no better than go to my
own rooms. I shall be delighted to act as your host. Let me call a cab."

De la Croisa accepted the offer, together with a subsequent cigarette,
and something exceedingly mild in the way of whisky and soda. Then he
proceeded to read aloud an extract from one of the papers; Philip
listened, carefully.

"Further details are to hand concerning the mysterious disappearance of
a well-known actress, connected by marriage with one of our greatest
families, who recently went out to fulfil an engagement at Tortina.
According to reliable authority, the lady in question claims to be the
daughter of a distinguished statesman, who up to a short time ago
occupied a position of trust in the Tortina Government. We understand
that this statesman a few months ago rashly took his life, in
consequence of a certain unfortunate speculation which threatened to
ruin his career. Without mentioning names, we may say that the
individual in question was known in London as well as he was known in
St. Lucia. So far as education and training were concerned, he was as
much English as he was Spanish. The heroine of this romance naturally
enough claimed all her father's papers; and proceeded to take possession
of them without troubling the Government officials. But, for diplomatic
reasons, the Government sought to regain possession of the papers, and
as the fair owner resolutely declines to part with them, she is not
permitted for the moment to leave the country. Further details of this
strange story, will be awaited with the most lively interest."

"What do you think of that?" the Baron asked.

"I begin to understand," said Philip slowly, "that those papers are of
the utmost importance--"

"To Sherringborne," the Baron said. "Precisely."

CHAPTER XXV.--"AS THE TWIG IS BENT."

It seemed to Philip that his eyes were growing clearer now. The problem
began to straighten itself out before him, and he marvelled that he had
not seen it all before. He had before him a vivid vision of the ghastly
night at Borne Abbey when Sherringborne had collapsed and half his
secret had been spoken.

Beyond all question, it had been worse than Philip had anticipated. He
had guessed early on that Sherringborne had done a foolish thing, but
till now he had not been aware that the Foreign Secretary had troden
very closely on the heel of political indiscretion. It was no matter, of
course, for a society scandal, but still, if all the facts came to
light, not only would Sherringborne's political career be at an end, but
he would come in for a large measure of social condemnation as well, in
fact, just the thing that a certain section of the Press revels in.

"I think you follow me," de la Croisa said.

"I am sorry to say I do," Philip replied. "I begin to realise what El
Murid's cowardice means to Sherringborne. But I thought the danger was
averted. I had hoped that our noble friend was free. May I be quite
candid, Baron?"

"My dear boy, I want you to be candid. I should not be talking to you
like this if it were otherwise. And I seem to have made the mistake of
believing that you knew everything."

"Ah, that's just the delusion I was under," Philip said, "I didn't know
that Lady Shorland was the daughter of El Murid, and I didn't guess that
she has gone out to St. Lucia on purpose to get possession of her
father's papers. Are you afraid that they will contain compromising
details?"

"Well, not quite," de la Croisa replied. "I had better tell you
everything, Philip. Now, Sherringborne behaved very foolishly. He got
frightened and lost his head. There was no reason whatever why he
shouldn't invest his money in those Tortina Concessions."

"But as Foreign Secretary--"

"Ah. I see your point, my boy. Now a man like Sherringborne must invest
his money somewhere. There is no reason why a Foreign Secretary should
be debarred from speculating in any part of the world. And Sherringborne
was being hard pushed. Shorland was a great expense to him. And that's
why he jumped at the chance of making a big fortune in South America.
You must remember at that time there was no trouble between Japan and
America, and none likely. But there you are, there is the trouble, and
here is Sherringborne largely interested in the State of Tortina and
Foreign Secretary at the same time."

"I see what you mean," Philip said, "Roughly speaking, it's like a
criminal sitting on his own jury."

"Ah, there you have it," de la Croisa cried. "You have put your finger
on the spot. Mind you, Sherringborne could never have anticipated this,
and when it came home to him, it threw him clean off his mental balance.
Perhaps he ought to have made a clean breast of it to the Premier, but
he went on, hoping for the best, and I am afraid he was largely guided
by me in his policy of silence. I thought, and I think now, that the
whole trouble will blow over, in which case Sherringborne will get all
his money back, and your father will be the poorer of anything up to a
million. To be quite candid, Philip, your father and his group are
behaving very badly. I regard all international capitalists as more or
less criminals."

"I am afraid you are right," Philip said. "But what's all this got to do
with Lady Shorland?"

"Good boy," de la Croisa said approvingly. "You bring me back to the
point. Now, the whole business is a conspiracy between Santa Anna, the
President of the Tortina Republic, and William Saltburn. I guessed that
at once, and when I heard of El Murid's suicide I was certain of it.
Because, you see, it was El Murid who dragged his old friend
Sherringborne into the business. Then Sherringborne appealed to me as an
old President of Tortina, to save him. I was going there myself if
necessary; indeed, I might even go now, but when I met Lady Shorland and
recognised her as El Murid's daughter, then I began to see a better and
a safer way. No one in Tortina knows who Lady Shorland is, though she
was born in St. Lucia, and I decided to take her into my confidence. She
has gone out on purpose to get possession of her father's papers. If we
can find what we want, then we have Santa Anna in our grip. Because, my
dear Philip, I am convinced of the fact that my old friend El Murid did
not commit suicide at all."

"You think he was murdered?" Philip cried.

"Precisely. And at the instigation of Santa Anna. El Murid knew too
much, and therefore it was necessary to get him out of the way, and if
Lady Shorland, with that wonderful courage of hers, gets the evidence
she needs, then we shall hear no more of this dispute between Japan and
America, because we shall be able to remove Santa Anna and replace his
government with an honest one. You will see what that would mean."

"I am beginning to understand," Philip said, "Then you think that
Sherringborne has acted wisely in not taking the Premier into his
confidence?"

"I do," the Baron replied. "There will be plenty of time for that if the
worst comes to the worst. If Sherringborne adopts that course, then the
facts must be made public, which means the downfall of the Ministry. You
can understand why this should be postponed as long as possible. You go
your own way--I am confident it is the right one, and if I have to take
a little trip abroad, as I anticipate, I will see you before I go. I may
have to leave at any moment."

But things did not fall out quite in accordance with the baron's
programme. He breakfasted the following morning, and, having despatched
a telegram calling his faithful Francois to London, sat down with the
'Times' before him.

He found the papers particularly interesting, especially with regard to
the proceedings in the House of Commons the previous night. All the
morning journals were full of it; they all gave more or less interesting
details, friendly or otherwise to Sherringborne, according to their
political view.

Some of them were not at all pleasant reading, and the Baron smiled
grimly behind his eyeglass. He was still studying those paragraphs with
his intimate inner knowledge when a note from Lady Edna was brought to
him. Lady Edna would be glad if the Baron would come round and see her
before lunch. He found her at her coldest and most dignified, though
there was just a suspicion of anger and mortification in her eyes.

"I sent for you," Lady Edna said. "I thought perhaps you might be able
to give me an explanation. I asked my father, but he practically told me
to mind my own business. Just as if it were not my own business. I
suppose you have seen the papers?"

"I generally do," the Baron said mildly.

"Of course you have. But if you are going to treat me the same as
everybody else, I shall be sorry I sent for you. I am ashamed that we
should be mixed up in a scandal like this."

"But is it a scandal?" the Baron asked humbly.

"It is dreadful to think of the future Countess of Sherringborne spoken
of in this fashion. What does it all mean, Baron? What have we done to
be talked about like this? And why does my father treat me like a child?
Surely I am old enough to understand?"

"You would be in the ordinary way," de la Croisa said coolly. "But, to
be perfectly candid, my dear lady, you are a veritable child in these
matters. You have always lived in an atmosphere of your own. You have
always deluded yourself with the idea that the Cranwallises are under
the special protection of Providence. But, really, their great advantage
lies in the fact that their position and money have placed them outside
the ring of ordinary temptation. But, for my part, I would rather have
young Saltburn for a son than Shorland. Now, wouldn't you?"

Lady Edna flushed angrily.

"I have a very high opinion of Mr. Saltburn," she admitted. "I can never
forget that he has been instrumental in saving us from a great trouble,
and he did it in the nicest possible fashion. But that is not the point,
Baron de la Croisa."

"Ah, now, you are angry with me," the Baron said. "Be reasonable, my
child. Do you expect me to tell you diplomatic secrets that your father
declines to discuss? If you take my advice you will keep out of this
business altogether."

Lady Edna gave a scornful gesture.

"Oh, you may toss your head if you like," the Baron went on. "I don't
mind telling you that I am going to St. Lucia myself to put matters
right. And, if you only knew it, Lady Shorland is behaving exceedingly
well--how well you will know in time. You have much to be thankful for,
my dear child."

Strangely enough, Lady Edna did not seem to resent this air of
patronage; on the contrary, her face relaxed and her lips grew unsteady.
She turned to de la Croisa almost timidly.

"I hope you will forgive me," she murmured. "Ah, what a friend you are.
But does Mr. Saltburn know?"

"Which Mr. Saltburn?" the Baron asked blandly.

"Oh, you know perfectly well which one I meant."

"Very well, then, I do, and I should say he knows all about it. He is a
very fine young fellow, and if I had the happiness to possess a
daughter--like yourself, for instance--it would give me the profoundest
satisfaction to know that she was going to marry Philip Saltburn. And I
think, my dear child, that my ancestry is quite as illustrious as
yours."

Lady Edna listened almost meekly. She knew precisely what de la Croisa
meant. He was telling her in as many words that if she ever had the
opportunity of becoming Lady Edna Saltburn, she would be both silly and
ungracious if she let the golden chance slip.

And, indeed, de la Croisa was going even further than this. He was
telling her that she should be grateful for the opportunity. Here was a
nice thing to dare to say to the daughter of a hundred earls. It seemed
incredible that he should have had the audacity to advise her to hold
out her hand to a man whose father had started life in the scullery at
Borne Abbey.

She ought to have ordered the Baron out of her presence immediately, she
ought to have withered him with scorn, she should have let him know what
she thought of his outrageous temerity.

And yet she was not even faintly annoyed. She was conscious of the fact
that there was a warm red flush on her face, that she was contrasting
Philip, much to his advantage, with the average young man she knew.

And she was glad; for the life of her, she could not help feeling glad
that Philip Saltburn admired and looked up to her. Her lips were smiling
as she turned to de la Croisa.

"You are the most audacious man I know," she said.

"I don't think so," the Baron said critically. "You see, I am old
enough, and disinterested enough, to indulge in the luxury of the truth.
Take my advice, my dear girl. Don't let Philip Saltburn slip through
your fingers, and when he asks you to marry him, as he certainly will
some day, don't put him on probation. He's not the sort of young man to
stand it."

"Pray, proceed," Lady Edna murmured. "I am all attention."

"My child," the Baron said, "I have taken the keenest interest in you
ever since you sat on my knee and listened to my fairy tales. I know
you, perhaps, better than you know yourself. And now, good-bye, for I
really must be off."

The Baron took Lady Edna's hand into his; and placed it gallantly to his
lips, then he vanished in his light and airy way, leaving Lady Edna
wondering how much she had gained from the interview.

She tried to tell herself that the Baron had behaved with a great deal
of unnecessary flippancy, and that his allusions to Philip Saltburn were
almost vulgar. But, at the same time, the girl was honest to the core.
She knew perfectly well that what the Baron said had given her a certain
amount of genuine pleasure.

Meanwhile, the Baron was making his way back to his hotel, under the
impression that he had not wasted the last hour or so. He found
Francois, stiff and stern, awaiting him amongst a pile of luggage. It
was obvious that Francois was not pleased.

"What does this mean, Baron?" he asked.

"Oh, I feel I ought to apologise," the Baron said meekly. "But the fact
is, I am going for a trip abroad, and I ask for the honour of your
company. We are not going to get into mischief, Francois, we are too old
for that."

"Never," Francois said gloomily. "The Baron de la Croisa will never be
too old to get into mischief, and I am a fool, I am weak, I do not put
my foot down and say 'this thing shall not be.' Perhaps it is that I,
too, am old."

"But an affair of the heart, Francois," the Baron urged. "The good name
of an amiable and beautiful lady. Shall I have to appeal to my Francois
in a case like this?"

Francois conceded the point gracefully. Therefore, an hour or so later,
master and man were waiting for the Northern Express at Euston. As the
Baron stood on the platform the incoming train disgorged a seething mass
of humanity, and amongst those who bustled by was William Saltburn.

He looked harder and more grim than usual. His collar was none too
clean, and he was obviously in need of a razor. He nodded curtly to de
la Croisa, and would have passed by had not the latter detained him.

"Ah, that is the worst of you business men," the latter said. "You are
always in a hurry. It is not well, my dear Saltburn, to use the sword
too much. Why not take a holiday and come with me for a little trip
abroad? By the way, do you recollect me saying to you one night at Borne
Abbey that it would be well if you kept an eye on Prince Ito? I trust
you have done so."

CHAPTER XXVI.--THE TRUST IN PRINCES.

Saltburn growled something inarticulate and passed on without further
ceremony. From his point on view, the Baron's little joke came at a very
inopportune moment. For it was beginning to dawn upon Saltburn that he
was in the presence of forces that were altogether beyond his strength.

And in his rugged, resolute way, it had never occurred to him that
anyone would dare to challenge him in the heart of his own citadel. He
had always been so successful, he had always struck terror into the
hearts of his opponents, he had swept them out of his way without mercy,
and this rule of his applied equally to individuals and governments.

And everything had appeared so easy, too. A year or two ago he had seen
the value of those Tortina Concessions, and had earmarked them for his
own, intending to take them up when the time was ripe. But he was a man
who had many irons in the fire, and so the Tortina business had to wait.
This was at the time when El Murid was ruling over the destinies of
Tortina, and it had been no part of William Saltburn's policy to make
advances so long as El Murid was at the head of affairs. But this was
only a matter of months. The rascally Santa Anna was reaching for the
reins of power, and Saltburn's almost bottomless purse was behind him.
In other words, Saltburn, through his accredited agents, was engaged in
the business of a South American revolution. In this he could see almost
limitless opportunities for the making of money, provided, of course,
that the man behind the gun was as unscrupulous as himself. And he had
found the man behind the gun in Santa Anna. Once the revolution was an
accomplished fact, Santa Anna would be president, and the enlightened
and patriotic El Murid would be down and out for ever. It was only a
question of time, and in time it came.

But, unfortunately for Saltburn, before the pear was ripe El Murid had
interested certain persons in Europe in the Tortina Concessions, so that
when he was driven into captivity, and was compelled to fly into the
interior of the country to save his life, the mischief was done.

Saltburn was naturally furious. The revolution had cost him a fortune,
and he had no confidence whatever in the puppet that his gold had placed
at the head of the Government. Therefore it became necessary to look
round him and find some means of recovering his losses. It did not take
Saltburn long to discover whose money it was that lay behind those
concessions. The mere fact that it was Sherringborne's money only
increased Saltburn's feeling of bitterness, and, if he could only
manipulate the situation to his own advantage, then not only would he
recover all he had invested, but he could ruin the man he most hated in
the world at the same time.

It was a congenial task, and Saltburn set about it with a certain savage
pleasure. He had his agents all over the world; he had a servile section
of the Press in three capitals in his pay. And with this Press behind
him he set out to make trouble between Japan and America, and up to the
present moment he had succeeded almost beyond his wildest expectations.
If he could keep up the present pressure and bring about a conflict
between the two great Powers, then those Tortilla Concessions would be
worthless, and Sherringborne and his friends would lose all their money.

And up to a certain point everything had gone well. The papers were
still full of rumours of strife and prophesies concerning the
approaching crisis, and already the price of Tortina Concessions had
fallen to zero.

And yet, in the face of all this, someone was buying steadily. Already
Saltburn had contracted to sell more than he possessed, and if the
pressure was kept up then he was likely to find himself in a tight
corner. And the man who was buying all these shares was William
Saltburn's own son. Why? Saltburn wondered. And what did Philip know
about business? Still, he was on the terms of close friendship with
Sherringborne, and, what was more to the point, was intimately connected
with de la Croisa.

And if there was one man in the world that William Saltburn was afraid
of it was the Baron. They had crossed swords more than once in the past,
and almost invariably de la Croisa had come out with all the honours of
war.

And here was Sherringborne still in the Cabinet, apparently a trusted
figure in politics, carrying on with renewed strength and energy, as if
he had not a single anxiety in the world. And yet, if those Tortina
Concessions failed to materialise, Sherringborne would be stripped of
all he possessed, and the man who had brought all this ruin about would
be the humble individual who, half a century before, had been in the
scullery at Borne Abbey.

It was a beautiful vengeance, and one that Saltburn had hugged to his
soul for years. He had planned it all out in his mind, but he had not
really seen what it meant, until he had found himself under the roof of
Borne Abbey, again seated at the same table with Lady Edna opposite him,
and his own son by her side.

From Saltburn's point of view there was only one way of bringing about
what he desired, and that was to humble Sherringborne in the dust and
compel Lady Edna, almost with tears in her eyes, gratefully to accept
Philip as her husband.

And here was Philip opposing such a policy tooth and nail. Here was
Philip conspiring against his own father, to save the honour of the
house of Cranwallis, and after-wards, presumably, to go down on his
knees to Lady Edna and sue "in forma pauperis," so to speak, for the
privilege of going through life with her.

William Saltburn could not understand it at all. He did not know that in
these matters he was nothing more than a child, he did not know what
pride of race meant, and that, in his well-meant efforts to promote
Philip's happiness he was going the way to utterly and entirely destroy
it.

But that was not what was worrying Saltburn as he strode along the
platform in search of a taxi. His trouble was that, for once in his
life, he could not see his way clearly. Something was going on behind
the scenes that he could not get at, something had happened to save
Sherringborne from humiliation and disgrace, because here he was,
carrying on much the same as usual, when he ought to have been driven
out of the Cabinet. And here was Prince Ito, who spoke authoritatively
on the behalf of Japan, holding secret meetings with de la Croisa and
Sherringborne, meetings at which Saltburn knew that his son, Philip, had
been present. And in the face of all this Philip was buying every share
in Tortina Concessions that he could lay his hands upon.

And Philip was no fool. Saltburn knew that his son had inherited a good
deal of his shrewdness, and that he was not likely to sacrifice his own
fortune in a futile attempt to preserve the honour and glory of the
Cranwallis family. And again, what had de la Croisa meant when he hinted
so mysteriously at Prince Ito? What was there in the wind of which
Saltburn knew nothing? The mere fact that he did know nothing filled him
with cold fury. It was perfectly useless, he knew, for him to attempt to
learn anything from Prince Ito. He had tried that on before in his
bluffing way, and he had had a lesson which did not fail to penetrate
even his thick skin. Perhaps Van Hasvell might be able to throw some
light upon it.

Yes, that was the idea. With this upper most in his mind Saltburn went
to his hotel, where he bathed and shaved and immediately set out in
search of the man who had been his business partner in the days before
Van Hasvell had turned respectable and had gone into the political
arena.

Van Hasvell happened to be at home, and, moreover, quite ready to meet
Mr. Saltburn. He came into the library with a cigarette in his mouth,
and a jest on his lips, and altogether with the air of a man who is
quite sure of his ground.

"I want to have a bit of a talk with you," Saltburn said truculently.
"Got half an hour to spare?"

"My dear Saltburn, I've got all the afternoon to spare. If you desire
it," Van Hasvell drawled. "But please don't talk business to me. When I
made my pile in Wall-street--"

"Thanks to me," Saltburn growled.

"Precisely. I am glad you reminded me of the fact. But I think, my dear
fellow, that the benefit was mutual. However, all that is beside the
point. When I left Wall-street I cut business altogether. I invested all
I had in gilt-edged securities, and, on the interest, I am living a
simple life. I always have a taste for politics, and when my party came
into office, and they made me Chief Secretary of our Embassy in London,
I was most profoundly grateful. But don't talk business."

"Oh, that be hanged for a tale," Saltburn cried, in that big coarse
voice of his. "You've got to listen, yes, and you've got to help, too,
if I say the word."

Van Hasvell smiled almost sweetly.

"Well, you're my guest, I suppose," he said. "Go on. I don't think, my
dear friend, that you are likely to get much out of me. But you can
try."

"I am going to," Saltburn said doggedly. "Now, between one man and
another, what are your people going to do over this Tortina business?"

"Didn't I remind you once before that I am not the American Ambassador?
My dear fellow, I am as ignorant as you are. It's not the business of
the Secretary to know anything. He has to do precisely as he is told,
without asking any questions. And as to Tortina, time alone will show.
You seem to forget that there is now such a thing as a League of
Nations."

"League of Nations, be hanged," Saltburn cried. "How long is that likely
to last? And how long has the League of Nations abolished human nature?
Now, look here, Van Hasvell, I'm in a bit of a hole."

"Ah, that's better," Van Hasvell murmured softly. "You've got yourself
into a mess over that business and you can't see your way out. It's the
sort of thing that always happens when a man allows his private feelings
to interfere in business."

Saltburn was taken aback. He knew perfectly well what Van Hasvell was
driving at, but he was both disturbed and astonished to find that his
scheme for the ruin of Sherringborne was perfectly well known to this
old business colleague of his.

"Well, never mind about that," he growled. "What I want to know, what I
must know, is, whether there is going to be an open rupture between
America and Japan. No League of Nations will ever prevent it, when it
comes to a matter of international interest. And if you and Japan
quarrel, I don't see Europe coming into the ring with big armies to stop
the fun. Why, if they did, Japan and America would immediately join
hands and tell the Western Powers to go hang. The patriotic drum would
be beaten, and we should have the big European war all over again. But
never mind about that. Is there going to be live trouble?"

"If I could tell you I wouldn't," Van Hasvell said coolly. "It would be
a direct breach of faith. But one thing I can advise you to do, and that
is to drop the Tortina business altogether and get out with as little
loss as possible. You've burnt your fingers over that transaction, and
if you're a wise man, you'll climb out before the explosion comes,
and--well, I think I've told you quite enough. And don't you come here
again trying to bully me, because I won't have it. And that's all there
is to it."

Saltburn set his lips doggedly. He was not going to be beaten, he was
not going to turn back now. He would win through yet, and show these
people what it meant to come in the way of William Saltburn. Without a
word he turned his back upon Van Hasvell and went off moodily down the
street.

CHAPTER XXVII.--THE MAN WHO KNEW.

Saltburn stood there was a strange feeling that he was cut off from the
rest of the world and was alone in it, the only one of his tribe. And in
a certain sense it was true enough. He had always boasted that he had
never made a friend, and, indeed, he had never had the opportunity.

But now he felt as it were in a kind of dream and as if he needed
assistance. For the first time in his life he was conscious of a feeling
which he had never experienced before. It wasn't exactly fear nor
illness, and yet it was unpleasant, and Saltburn would have been glad to
be without it.

Then it flashed upon him what it was. He had heard people speak of this
thing, and hitherto he had put it down contemptuously enough to
weak-mindedness or mere fancy.

He was nervous, that was what was the matter with him. Nervous! He,
William Saltburn, who always boasted that he feared nothing, either in
this world or the next! At any rate, there it was. It was a most
unpleasant feeling, and one which set Saltburn's heart beating faster.
His lips were dry and there was a certain throbbing sensation in his
throat.

Perhaps he was overworked, Saltburn told himself. Hitherto he had always
laughed at an idea like that. It was his boast that he could toil twenty
hours a day, and he had proclaimed aggressively that four hours' sleep a
night were enough for anybody. Anybody who wanted more was not worth
troubling about.

Still, here it was. He was a little dizzy, a little unsteady, and he did
not like the way his heart was fluttering at all. He had the peculiar
fear which always comes to the physically strong man when, for the first
time in his life, he becomes conscious of his own bodily identity.

He tried to laugh his fears aside; he tried to force his thoughts into
another channel. He concentrated his attention upon his money, but there
was precious little consolation in that direction just now. He was going
to lose his money, at any rate, the greater part of it.

People would laugh at him. In the City they would say that William
Saltburn was a back number. They would sneer at him, and pity him, and
declare that he was old-fashioned and out of date. He knew this because
he had done the same about other people.

Why should this man Sherringborne escape all the consequences of his
folly? What had he done that he should find himself in his present
strong position? Sherringborne had no brains. He was just a pompous,
self-satisfied individual, who found himself in his present position
because he happened to be born to a great historic title, and into the
possession of large estates. He could never have attained Cabinet rank
at all but for the accident of fortune.

He made a fine figure-head, of course. He was very imposing and very
courtly, and he had a certain heavy eloquence which read well in the
papers. And yet, there he was, absolutely master of the situation. There
was no credit due to him. If there had been no such place as Borne
Abbey, Sherringborne would have left the Ministry in disgrace long ago.

The point wanted no arguing. And yet, here Sherringborne was, wrapped in
the purple, and with scores of people cleverer than himself waiting upon
his lightest word.

Saltburn was filled with a certain blind, unreasoning anger as he passed
Sherringborne's great house, blazing from top to bottom with lights. He
saw the stream of people moving up and down the steps, he could see the
gorgeous array of liveried servants in the hall. There were men in
demure black, obviously secretaries, crossing the lighted space, swiftly
bearing bundles of papers in their hands.

A Foreign Office messenger came up presently with a despatch-box. Near
the house on either side a policeman stood, so that it seemed to
Saltburn that here was a man whose position was semi-regal. The whole
thing was almost laughable.

And yet Saltburn didn't laugh. He was beginning to understand things. He
was beginning to ask himself questions. Was it possible, after all, that
Sherringborne was a great and more gifted man than most people believed
him to be? Hitherto Saltburn had held a poor enough opinion of the
politician.

He regarded him, and rightly, in most cases, as a frothy,
self-opinionated person whose only capital was his self-conceit and his
sublime audacity. There were exceptions, of course, and Saltburn had met
them. But he had never looked on Sherringborne as one of these.

At any rate, he was going to see for himself. Once he moved his foot in
the direction of the house all his nervousness and hesitation left him.
He was not in the least afraid of Sherringborne. He held the latter in
the hollow of his hand, and he would let him know it soon. He pushed his
way into the hall, and handed his card to one of the servants.

"Take that to your master," he said abruptly, "and tell him that I want
to see him at once."

The name on the card was not without its effect. But there was no
indecent haste on the part of the liveried servant. He passed the
pasteboard on to the hall porter, who, in turn, handed it on to somebody
else, and at the end of ten minutes an assistant secretary appeared,
full of polite regrets, and an intimation that his lordship was too busy
to see anybody.

"If you will make an appointment, sir," the secretary said.

Saltburn fumed inwardly. But he saw that it was not of the slightest use
to bluster. The secretary was perfectly polite, but he met Saltburn's
eyes squarely enough. There was nothing to gain by display of violence.
And, besides, Saltburn would see that he made himself felt presently.

"I am a busy man myself," he said. "And I know how valuable time is, but
really, I must ask Lord Sherringborne to be good enough to see me for a
minute or two."

The secretary bowed and vanished. He came back presently with the
request that Saltburn would follow him. He found himself presently in a
library lined with books, and at a large table Sherringborne was seated.

He smiled blandly enough at his visitor, but he made no attempt to rise,
neither did he hold out his hand. He appeared to be perfectly at his
ease; he had that large bland manner which generally goes with a man who
feels himself in the presence of an inferior.

"You wanted to see me?" he asked.

"Well, yes," Saltburn said. "I want you to give me a little information
if you will. Now as to this Japanese business--"

"I beg your pardon," Sherringborne said coldly. "I am afraid I don't
quite follow you."

Saltburn hesitated for a moment. Should he meet this man with his own
weapons, or should he take him by force, so to speak? Still, it did not
much matter either way. Saltburn was too sure of his ground to have any
doubts as to the result.

"I thought I spoke plainly," he said. "I am sweating about this trouble
in Tortina. I have just bought a paper, which says that Japan has
threatened hostilities, and that there has been a big naval
demonstration off St. Lucia. Of course, the suggestion that shots have
been exchanged is all nonsense."

"So I should imagine," Sherringborne said blandly.

It was quite evident that Saltburn was going to get no assistance here.
Sherringborne was absolutely patronising. His manner was scrupulously
correct, and exquisitely polite, but there was no mistaking the fact
that Sherringborne was speaking to a man whom he regarded as his
inferior, and he was taking no special pains to cloak his demeanour.

He lay back smilingly in his chair now, with the tips of his long white
fingers pressed together. He gave Saltburn the impression of the man who
is slightly bored, but who is far too much of a gentleman to say so.

"People who publish papers always magnify, you know, Mr. Saltburn," he
said. "It is their business to exaggerate these things. As a responsible
Minister of the Crown, nobody deplores these sensational reports more
than myself. It is a theory of mine that sooner or later one of these
irresponsible, cheap papers will embroil us into another Continental
war. But, fortunately for us, Mr. Saltburn, this is a free country. We
are not bound to believe what the papers say, you know."

All this with the most perfect sang-froid, and polished good-humour.
Saltburn was forced to smile, though he was inwardly raging. He began to
wonder if he had made a mistake. Was it possible, after all, that
Sherringborne was really the strong and brilliant man which the
Government Press made him out to be?

And yet Saltburn had seen him in very different circumstances to these.
And he might be a foeman worthy of anyone's steel. It might be that he
had all the advantages. At any rate, Saltburn told himself he was not
going to stand this sort of thing.

"That's all very well," he said bluntly. "I didn't come here to talk
about the morality of the cheap Press. I want to know if this thing's
true."

Sherringborne smiled irritatingly.

"My dear Mr. Saltburn, how can I tell?" he asked. "Are you asking me as
a Minister or a private individual?"

"I don't care a rap which it is, so long as I get the information,"
Saltburn said.

"Very well, then," Sherringborne said with the same smiling good humour.
"I will try and answer in both capacities. As a private individual, I
know just as much or as little as you do. In fact, I know less, because
I haven't seen the papers, and you have. As a Minister of the Crown, I
know nothing. You see, this is my private residence, and though
circumstances compel me to transact all sorts of business here at all
sorts of hours, I only work here for my own convenience."

"Meaning that I am an intruder?" Saltburn asked.

"Oh, I didn't mean it quite that way. I'm sorry I gave you that
impression. When the House meets to-night, we shall have nothing fresh
to disclose, and, up to the present moment I have not a single official
line from the seat of the trouble."

Saltburn gritted his teeth together. He would have given much to take
Sherringborne by the shoulders and shake his secret out of him.

That Sherringborne knew all about it, Saltburn never doubted for a
moment. He had not said that he knew nothing, he had only insisted upon
the fact that he had no official information. He was treating Saltburn
now as he would have treated a question from the Opposition in the House
of Lords.

"Oh, that isn't good enough for me," Saltburn said. "Come, my dear sir,
you know all about it. Do you mean to tell me that Prince Ito, who was
here this morning, didn't know? Do you mean to tell me that the
Government hasn't been expecting this for a week or more? I'm not quite
a fool as far as politics go. Why, Japan would not have dared to have
gone in for this business without, at any rate, the moral support of
England. And you might as well own up, Sherringborne. You might just as
well tell me that Ito came over just now to give you the latest
information."

Sherringborne smiled quite blandly. Probably he was bitterly annoyed,
but, at any rate, he did not show it.

"My friend, Prince Ito, has been here today," he said. "He came to
discuss a little matter of business, certainly, but you may be
surprised, to hear that Tortina was not so much as mentioned. I shall
have to get you to take my word for that, Mr. Saltburn. I am very sorry,
but there it is."

It was beginning to come home to Saltburn now that he had a man to deal
with. It was impossible, too, to carry the matter any further in this
direction without telling Sherringborne pretty plainly that he was
deliberately telling a lie. And there was nothing to gain by a course
like that.

It would probably result in Saltburn being politely kicked out of the
house with an intimation not to return again. Still, there were other
methods, and Saltburn would not hesitate to adopt them if necessary.

"Oh, I am not saying you are wrong," he said ungraciously. "But I am
here asking you more or less a favour. If this thing is true, it is a
serious business for me, and it will entail a loss of money. On the
other hand, if I know exactly how matters stand, then I shall be able to
act promptly in the matter. I am not asking you to betray official
secrets."

Once more Sherringborne smiled blandly.

"Of course not, Mr. Saltburn," he said. "You are too thoroughly a man of
the world for that. I am sure you would never suggest such a thing. And
that is why I am sorry that I can't help you. As I said just now, I have
no official information, and therefore, speaking as a Minister, I am as
much in the dark as you are. And don't let me detain you. I know how
busy you are. And, if at any time I can be of any service to you, don't
hesitate to let me know."

CHAPTER XXVIII.--THE MAN WHO DIDN'T.

There was no mistaking the meaning of Sherringborne's words. He rose
from his chair and held out his hand with the air of a man who is
regretfully parting with a pleasant acquaintance.

But Saltburn was not in a responsive mood. He stood doggedly there, his
legs planted wide apart, a figure of sullen resolution. He had made up
his mind at last. He knew now that he had been mistaken in
Sherringborne's character. He knew now that he had to deal with one
quite as clever, and a great deal more subtle than himself. But it was
not the slightest use trying to fight Sherringborne with a rapier! This
was when the broadsword called for free play. And as the challenge was
evidently on Sherringborne's side, then it was with Saltburn to choose
the lethal tool which suited his style of fight.

"Here, stop a moment," he said, "it is just as well that you and I
should understand each other. I came here asking for information, more
or less as a favour, and if you choose to withhold it, it isn't for me
to grumble. And now, putting all diplomacy aside, and speaking as one
man to another, I ask you if you know if this news is true or not."

Sherringborne smiled loftily.

"I always found," he said, "that an excellent way of obtaining
information is by asking questions. You have asked me one, and it is
only fair that I should return with another. What right have you to come
to me, above all people in the world, and want to know these things?
Don't you think it would be far better to wait till to-morrow and put
the question to the Under-Secretary from your place in the House of
Commons?"

"Oh, that's all very well in its way," Saltburn said. "I'll answer your
question when you've answered mine."

"I can tell you nothing," Sherringborne said.

"Oh, I think you can. Besides, if we begin this game of asking
questions, there are one or two I could put in the House of Commons
which you might not care about. For instance, I could ask you if it is a
fact that up to a little time ago the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was
a comparatively large holder in Tortina Concessions. I could ask if he
bought them at a low price on the expectation of their increasing in
value with a new financial scheme which was about to be enforced."

"Is that within your province?" Sherringborne asked.

"In fact, there are scores of questions on the point which I could ask,
and I am sure that they would be listened to with the greatest
attention. I think I can make a good rousing speech on the matter."

"I am sure you could," Sherringborne murmured.

"And, as you are aware, my lord, the English people have a rooted
objection to responsible Ministers who dabble in finance. I might even
go further, and suggest that England has been induced to back Japan in
this matter, and force the hands of America so as to save the Foreign
Secretary from a financial scandal, such as the country has not known
since the days of Walpole. I have no doubt that I could find a few
useful facts to back my assertions. It would be a very interesting
evening."

"I am quite sure it would," Sherringborne said amiably. "But don't you
think that those American methods in politics are a mistake? And it
would give a very great deal of trouble, too, and at a very busy time.
Really, I am sorry, Mr. Saltburn, that I cannot be of assistance to
you."

Saltburn had no reply for the moment. It seemed impossible to shake this
man from his balance, or move him to anger. If Saltburn had seen any
displeasure on his part, or any sign of emotion, he might have been
encouraged to proceed. But even his threats were received in the
blandest possible manner, and now Sherringborne was glancing at the
clock with the air of a man whose patience is getting exhausted.

"Then you decline to tell me?" Saltburn asked.

"I don't even go as far as that," Sherringborne said. "I really have
nothing to tell you. I have only to say that I have no official
information. And even if I had, look what a precedent this would be.
Why, if I allowed this to escape, I should have people of all kinds and
descriptions dropping in at all sorts of times, thirsting for
information, and on all sorts of topics. Now, don't be foolish, Mr.
Saltburn. Possess your soul in patience and get your information through
the legitimate channels. Ask the Undersecretary to-morrow night. And if
you want to involve me in a scandal, why, you are at perfect liberty to
do so. Now let us suppose that I am seeking information. You are greatly
interested in some sort of stock, and you are keeping the information to
yourself, seeing that it is worth millions to you. Now what would you
think of me if I came along in this innocent sort of way and asked you
to show me your methods? Supposing, again, that you have a horse which
you are keeping to win a certain race. What would you say to me if I
dropped you a line asking you which race it was that you were
particularly keen on winning. But, then, perhaps you are not keen on
racing?"

"I used to be at one time," the discomfited Saltburn said. "But that was
years ago, when I was a boy. Your father was a better sportsman than you
are."

"I suppose he was," Sherringborne said amiably. "I know his stud was
terribly expensive, and, indirectly, I am still paying for it. But I had
forgotten for the moment that you knew my father. I had no idea until
comparatively recently that you were so well acquainted with Borne
Abbey. In those days, people were unnecessarily harsh in small matters.
But still, your misfortune turned out a great blessing after all, didn't
it?"

Saltburn stared at the speaker. He was wondering how it was that
Sherringborne had so absolutely guessed what was passing in his mind. He
had been leading up to this, he was going to use it as a lever for
extracting the information he needed, and now Sherringborne was cutting
the ground from under his feet.

"I did no wrong," he said stubbornly. "And after all it was only the
matter of a rabbit. And it was more of a boy's escapade than anything
else."

"My dear sir, I am perfectly well aware of it," Sherringborne said. "I
have been looking up the case. It was, to say the least of it, a
monstrous miscarriage of justice. And you are quite right, all the same,
to keep this trouble in the background. You don't want people to say, of
course, that Mr. Saltburn, the great millionaire, is a returned convict.
Really, as a matter of fact, any man who has been convicted of an act of
felony, is debarred from a seat in the British House of Commons. It
seems a monstrous thing that poaching rabbits should be called a felony
but the law has never been repealed, and there it is. It really makes
one's blood boil to think that game-preserving magistrates of the old
days should have had such powers in their hands. I trust, Mr. Saltburn,
that you will understand that outside my family this matter will never
be mentioned."

Saltburn glared speechlessly.

"Still, just imagine if you carried out the playful suggestion you made
just now as to myself and certain imaginary bonds, how annoyed a section
of our followers in the House would be. They would not hesitate to make
use of the little personal matter of yours which we are now discussing,
which, of course, would be very awkward for you. As for myself, I think
nothing of it. It won't prevent me from being friends in the future, and
it won't prevent me being always ready to welcome that exceedingly nice
boy of yours at Borne Abbey. Really it is quite a romance in its way,
isn't it?"

Saltburn choked down a forcible reply. He could never recollect feeling
quite so small in his life before. There had been occasions, of course,
when he had had to acknowledge defeat, but never anything quite so
complete and absolute as this.

And the knowledge that he had been utterly wrong in his estimate of
Sherringborne's character was an added drop of gall in the cup of
humiliation. If he could only have aroused Sherringborne's anger
something would have been gained. But the gay smile was on the Foreign
Secretary's lips, and the amused twinkle still in his eye.

And yet, in his way, he had been quite as plain-spoken as Saltburn
himself. He had told the latter in the plainest possible way that he
meant to stand no nonsense, and that he had not the least intention of
taking it lying down. And, as far as Saltburn could see, it would be no
easy matter to bring this accusation home to Sherringborne. He had been
foiled in this matter, and the knowledge that he had been baffled by his
own son was merely an added cause of dissatisfaction.

And, on the other hand, Sherringborne had a very strong card indeed.
Without showing his hand at all, he could make things very awkward for
William Saltburn. And with all his bluntness and independence, and with
all his knowledge that he had been punished out of proportion with his
crime, Saltburn was not proud of the fact that he was a returned
convict. It was the one thing that he had kept in the background as
likely to injure him in his career.

And this was not the worst of it either. With a smile on his face, and a
joke on his lips, Sherringborne had dealt him a deadly blow. He had told
him quite plainly that he had no business whatever to be in the House of
Commons, and that if certain facts came to light, Saltburn's opponents
would make the latter vacate his seat in circumstances that savoured of
disgrace.

And Saltburn was bound to admit to himself that Sherringborne had done
this very nicely indeed. He could not but contrast the Foreign
Secretary's methods with his own, as they would have applied had the
situation been reversed.

Saltburn would have done it brutally and candidly, he would have brained
his opponent with a sledge-hammer. On the other hand, Sherringborne had
done the thing neatly and cleanly, with a dexterous thrust of his
polished blade which left no ugly outward wound behind it.

It had been an exceedingly neat and nice bit of surgery, and Saltburn
was bound to admit it. But the real sting lay in the fact that he had
been cruelly mauled by an opponent who at all points of the game had
displayed a science far more profound than his own. It was of no use
being jealous of Lord Sherringborne, it was no use to grudge him his
gifts, and wonder why the god of chance should throw the big battalions
on his side.

To do him justice, Saltburn was a man who always knew when he was
beaten. He moved to the door now with as good a grace as possible,
though he affected not to see the hand which Sherringborne held out to
him.

"I have made a mistake," he said. "I quite see now that I ought not to
have come here at all. But the news I had to-night rather upset me. It
threw me off my balance for a few minutes. And there is a good deal in
what you say."

"Oh, please don't apologise," Sherringborne said. "If there is any way
in which I can serve you--"

But Saltburn was no longer there. He went out, closing the door behind
him with a little more noise than was absolutely necessary.
Sherringborne lay back in his chair smiling softly to himself. On the
whole, he had enjoyed the interview. He had expected something of the
kind, and, so far as he could see, he had no cause to be dissatisfied.

"What a man," he mused. "And what crude methods! And to think that this
should be the father of Philip Saltburn. If it were otherwise, I might
have been disposed--but that's impossible."

CHAPTER XXIX.--IN STILL WATERS.

The weeks had drifted slowly along, the Houses of Parliament were up for
their Easter vacation, and Sherringborne and Lady Edna were back at
Borne Abbey. Nothing bad happened in the meantime, despite the wild
shrieking of the newspapers, and the sensational Press for once was
frankly puzzled.

And, meanwhile, down there at Borne Abbey, the daffodils were blooming
in the woods and already the first May buds were breaking in the hedges.
Philip Saltburn was down there too, glad to turn his back upon the
turmoil of town and get away to a little peace and quietness. He had
firmly established himself in 'The Chantrey' by this time, and this
perfect spring night was entertaining his neighbours from Borne Abbey to
dinner. He had taken over the Old Dower House, just as it stood, even to
the priceless old furniture, and only certain family portraits had been
moved. There had been certain alterations, of course, for instance, a
gloomy old dining-hall at the back had been transformed into a tropical
conservatory. The principal living rooms opened, one into the other, so
that when the old oak doors were thrown back, there was a perfect vista
of art and beauty, terminating in a glorious burst of bloom. Even Lady
Edna, with all her hatred of change, exclaimed with delight, when she
saw this.

She was graciously pleased, too, with the really clever way Philip had
introduced the electric light, in fact, her most fastidious taste could
find nothing to cavil at anywhere.

They were seated in the hall after dinner over coffee and cigarettes,
and admiring the pictures with which Philip had replaced the old family
portrait's, sitting there in the faint glory of a May night, and talking
as if they had been friends for years. Shorland was there too, a little
quiet and subdued, and unmistakably changed for the better. He had been
down at Borne Abbey most of the winter, at first owing to the fact that
his allowance had been woefully exceeded and now more or less reconciled
to a country life. He was an improved Shorland, a good deal steadier,
and only inclined at times to grumble at what he called his hard lot,
and kick over the traces. Philip had noticed this in his quiet way at
dinner time, and he had noticed too, that Shorland allowed the champagne
to go by oftener than he troubled to stop the servant behind him.

For Shorland was missing his wife. He was missing her more than he
thought he would. In the short time they had been together he had learnt
to depend upon her, and now that fatuous young man began to wonder if he
was ever going to see her again. He had made that remark more than once
during dinner, and Philip had smiled softly to himself, for he could
have told Shorland a good deal on that head had he liked. Also, he could
have told Sherringborne exactly what de la Croisa was doing, and where
the latter was to be found. So far, no word had come from either de la
Croisa or Lady Shorland, and, from Philip's point of view, this was all
to the good.

For he knew perfectly well that everything was going smoothly. For some
time now he had not seen his father, though he knew perfectly well what
William Saltburn was doing.

And he knew, beyond doubt, before long, that William Saltburn, the great
financier and ruler of men, would be down there almost on his knees,
asking his son to get him out of the mess that threatened to overpower
him. It had all come when the time was ripe.

Meanwhile, they sat there, in the hall of "The Chantrey," talking over
many things, whilst Lady Edna lay back in her chair, pleased and
gracious, and most intensely glad to notice that Philip had made no
change in this house, which had been the cradle of the clan of
Cranwallis. No doubt, some of these days, Philip Saltburn would bring a
wife here, and Lady Edna caught herself speculating as to what sort of a
wife she would be, and if she could make friends with her. She hoped
that she might, for her heart was full of gratitude towards the man who
had done so much to preserve the honour and glory of the house of
Cranwallis, and she told herself that she would have done almost
anything for him.

But that did not prevent her from being just a little jealous of this
nebulous woman, who, some time or another, would have the proud
privilege of calling herself mistress of "The Chantrey."

"You have done wonders here," she said to Philip. "The great fault of
the old house was its gloom. You seem to have banished all that without
altering a single feature of the place. You must be a magician, Mr.
Saltburn."

"Oh, I don't know," Philip smiled. "It's been a labour of love. I would
rather have 'The Chantrey' than any house in the kingdom. It was the
Dower House, wasn't it? Built, I understand, before Borne Abbey was even
planned."

"That's true enough," Shorland interposed. "Jolly old place, I call it.
Do you know, I've come to the conclusion that I could have been quite
happy here without Ninon. When you've made a bit of a fool of yourself
like I have, and you come to realise what a rotten business knocking
about town is--"

Shorland lapsed into silence, a little afraid of his own eloquence, and
rather at a loss to proceed.

"I think I know what Shorland means," Lady Edna said. "You will perhaps
be surprised to hear me say that I prefer 'The Chantry' to Borne Abbey.
It was built by the first Cranwallis, over six hundred years ago. Those
are the sort of things you can't forget. And I used to spend a lot of
time here when my grandmother was alive. Nobody knew more about the
family than she did. And a lot of history has been made here, too.
Stories of Queen Elizabeth and Charles II are told about many of the
rooms in the house, and I am quite sure, Mr. Saltburn, that you are
worthy of it all."

It was a great deal for Lady Edna to say, and Philip glowed with pride
and satisfaction. Looking into that calm beautiful face now he could see
an expression there that he had never noticed before. It was a face, no
longer proud and haughty, but the face of a very woman happy and
grateful, and addressing one whom she regarded absolutely in the light
of an equal. It was an invitation to a closer confidence, and all the
manhood in Philip's soul rose to it spontaneously.

Shorland strolled off along the corridor rooms, through the conservatory
into the garden beyond, and crossed the terrace with a spaniel of
Philip's that had taken a great fancy to him. For children and dogs
liked Shorland, which was surely an asset in that erratic youth's
favour. Sherringborne lay back with a cigar between his lips,
contemplating the painted ceiling thoughtfully.

He was his old self again almost, though there were moments now and then
when his face would look grey and old, and his speech dragged. He never
quite got over his attack of the summer before, and though he had met
William Saltburn resolutely enough when the time came to cross blades
with him, he had only risen to the occasion by sheer force of will and
the knowledge that he was a Cranwallis, and the man opposing him a
humble hind, born on his own estate. On that occasion he had been
carefully coached by de la Croisa, and he had done that master of fence
infinite credit. But for all his ease and aplomb, it had been a very
near thing had William Saltburn only known it.

He was not out of the wood yet. He had hung on all through these
troublesome months, knowing that his political reputation rested on a
single hair, but, so far, he had come through. He had told the Premier
nothing, and, in this policy of silence, he had been advised by de la
Croisa. There would be plenty of time, the Baron urged, to make full
confession to the head of the Government if things came to an extreme
between Japan and America, in which case the English Foreign Office
would probably be asked to arbitrate, and then Sherringborne, as head of
the department in question, would be bound, in common honour, to tell
the Premier that he was financially interested in Tortina, and ask to be
relieved of his seals of office.

And this might happen at any moment, as Philip well knew, so that he had
a fair idea of what Sherringborne was thinking about as he lay back in
his chair with a half-smoked cigar between his lips. It was a critical
moment, and anything might happen in the next few days.

Not that there was any sign of it in the peaceful atmosphere of 'The
Chantrey.' Trouble and strife seemed very far away in that beautiful old
hall, with its panelled walls, and the fading light streaming through
the painted windows. It was absurd to think of human strife and
chicanery in an atmosphere like that, presided over by a beautiful woman
in a simple black dress, which was utterly devoid of a single piece of
jewellery. And with Sherringborne in a world of his own, Philip and Lady
Edna sat there, talking in the most friendly fashion, and exchanging
confidences as if they had known each other all their lives. It was
impossible, just then, for Philip to think of all his plans for the
future, for he was quite content to bask in the happiness of the moment,
and leave to-morrow to fate.

It was with a feeling of something like annoyance that he noticed the
coming of a servant with what appeared to be a telegram on a salver.
With an apologetic glance to Lady Edna, he tore open the orange-coloured
envelope and ran his eyes quickly upon the somewhat long message it
contained. The contents were evidently disturbing, for Philip started
slightly, and his face changed colour.

Then he folded up the flimsy and dropped it carelessly into the pocket
of his dinner jacket.

"There's no answer, Barton," he said. "I think you were saying, Lady
Edna, that--"

"Pray don't let us keep you, if it's any thing important," Lady Edna
said. "I thought you were rather disturbed. But don't stand on ceremony
with us, please."

"That is very good of you," Philip said gratefully. "It's only a little
matter of business which will keep. Not bad news, quite the contrary, I
assure you. Isn't that Shorland calling? Excuse me a moment."

Lady Edna said nothing, but she was quite sure that Shorland, standing
on the terrace, had said nothing. Philip passed along quickly and joined
Shorland on the terrace.

"Look here, Shorland," he said. "I've got some important information. I
want to discuss it with your father at once. It's politics. I can't tell
you what, but great things are in the air, and there is no time to be
lost. Make some excuse and come back in two or three minutes and lure
your sister outside."

Five minutes later and Philip was alone with Sherringborne.

"I have something to say to you," he said, "something of the utmost
importance. I have just had a cable message from the Baron de la Croisa
at San Toro."

"Eh, what?" Sherringborne asked. "San Toro. What on earth is the Baron
doing there?"

"Ah, that I can't tell you," Philip said, "though I can make a pretty
shrewd guess. But the news is this: There has been a great earthquake
and most disastrous tidal wave off the coast of Tortina, and the other
islands have been totally destroyed. Not a vestige of them remains. I am
sure you will appreciate what this means."

Sherringborne gasped. Just for a moment he turned deadly pale and was
obviously on the verge of collapse. Then he rallied and rose to his feet
excitedly.

"Of course I appreciate it," he said. "Those outer islands belong to
Japan, that is why they claimed a sort of protectorate over Tortina.
They wanted to fortify those islands, which they had every right to do,
and thus they would have been a constant menace to the port of St. Lucia
in case of trouble. They could have dominated St. Lucia, and they could
have prevented any navy calling there except their own. But the thing
goes a great deal further than that, my dear Philip. If this amazing
news is true, then we can take it for granted that Japan will show no
further interest in Tortina. What they will want to do now is to make
arrangements with America for the joint development of San Toro as a
naval base on an international footing for the coaling of the navies of
the world. Philip, if this is true, then all my troubles are ended.
There is no occasion for me to care who knows about my holdings in
Tortina Concessions, because those become simply a commercial
speculation that any statesman might dabble in. But is it true?"

"I am perfectly certain it is," Philip said. "To begin with, the
cablegram is signed by de la Croisa, and, in the second place, I learnt,
quite by accident, in the gallery of the House of Commons some month ago
from a native of Tortina, that those Outer Islands were merely coral,
and that Japan dare not fortify them because the islands wouldn't carry
any weight of ordnance. I was told that the first earthquake would wash
them away. And on that priceless piece of information I gambled. Oh, the
thing is quite true, and I congratulate you from the bottom of my
heart."

But Sherringborne did not appear to be listening. His mind was evidently
far away. Gradually the strained look left his face and he smiled like a
man who is healthily and happily tired and in need of a good night's
sleep.

"Would you mind leaving me to myself for a few minutes, my boy?" he
asked. "I shall know how to thank you presently. It looks to me as if
you had saved the honour of my house."

CHAPTER XXX.--"IN FORMA PAUPERIS."

Meanwhile, Lady Edna stood there, on the terrace looking across the
lawns and deep old rose gardens in the direction of Borne Abbey. She was
alone, for Shorland had gone off in the direction of the stables in
search of the head coachman who was more or less a friend of his, for
horses and dogs had an irresistible fascination for the man who had been
brought up amongst them all his life, and, indeed, had he stuck to those
humble companions, it would have been better for him, and better for the
fortunes of his house. He had made some trivial excuse for calling Lady
Edna outside, and she had remained there, more or less fascinated by the
beauty of the evening.

In the hall she could hear Sherringborne and Philip talking with a
certain intimacy that prevented her joining them for the moment.

And it was beautiful out there, with the primrose light in the sky
throwing up Borne Abbey like some exquisite cameo and gradually fading
on the trees in the park. And this was her own home, the spot where she
had been born and bred, the fair corner of England that was endeared to
her by a thousand recollections.

And she was beginning to recognise now that all this had been preserved
to her by a man whom she had despised, even before she had seen him. She
was under a deep debt to the new owner of "The Chantrey," and, here she
was, standing under the shadow of his own threshold, almost at his good
pleasure.

There was something almost amazing about it, something that she was yet
trying to grasp, and bring in the right perspective. She stood there, on
the terrace, leaning her bare arms on the stone balustrade, and fighting
it all out in her mind. For perhaps the first time in her life she was
indulging in the pains and pleasures of self-analysis. She was
contrasting the Cranwallises with the rest of human nature, not
altogether to the advantage of that proud clan. She was coming to
realise, for the first time, that there were people in the world with
attributes and qualities that the house of Cranwallis had never
possessed. She was trying to think, too, that there was something
quixotic in the way in which Philip Saltburn had imperilled his own
fortune for the sake of people who, a few months ago, would only have
regarded him with tolerant contempt.

And Lady Edna had never admired Philip Saltburn quite as much as she did
at that moment. Still, she knew perfectly well that if the circumstances
had been reversed, she might have acted precisely as Saltburn was doing,
but then there was a vast difference between the family of Saltburn and
the great and distinguished house of Cranwallis.

But was there so much difference after all?

The question forced itself upon Lady Edna, and clamoured for a reply.
After all, dishonour and disgrace are relative terms, and only a matter
of comparison.

It seemed hard to stand there, on that wide spread of terrace with the
great medieval pile behind her, and associate it with disgrace. But, all
the same, disgrace had not been very far off, and Lady Edna could not
forget it. Even now it might be hanging over that distinguished clan.
And, at any rate, if it were averted, there was only one person that
they had to thank for it, and that was Philip Saltburn.

He had come forward in the crisis, he had staked everything he possessed
to save a set of people who were comparative strangers to him. And now
whilst they were once more basking in a blaze of prosperity, he was
still prepared to risk all he had. It was very generous, and very noble,
but, at the same time, Lady Edna asked herself if there were not some
other way out of it. She would have liked to have interfered, but she
could scarcely see how this was to be done. And whilst she was still
standing there, she heard a footstep on the path, and turned to see the
very man who was uppermost in her mind.

He looked grave and preoccupied, there was the sternness of seriousness
on his face that Lady Edna had never seen before. She extended her hand
to him and smiled a welcome. There was something very warm and
encouraging in her smile that might have astonished those people who
regarded her as cold and heartless. She did not suggest those drawbacks
at that moment.

"I was just thinking about you," she said.

"It's quite mutual," Saltburn replied. "I have been talking to your
father. Something has happened that has changed the whole position. Lord
Sherringborne has asked me to leave him for a time."

"He is not ill?" Lady Edna asked anxiously.

"Does good news ever hurt anyone?" Philip suggested. "And this is good
news indeed. It is all going our way at last, our way, mind you."

Lady Edna betrayed some signs of confusion.

"I spoke unthinkingly," she said. "But all the same, I am glad he came
here to-night. And I have been wondering, too, Mr. Saltburn, why are you
so interested in our unhappy affairs?"

"Can't you guess?" Philip asked. "Don't you understand? I came here
hoping to be your friend. I came here as a stranger hoping that you
would accept me for myself, and I think you would have done so had not
my father interfered. He does not understand--he doesn't understand
anything except money and how to make it."

"I am sorry to hear that," Lady Edna said, "true as it is. But money is
not everything."

"If you say you are sorry, I know you are speaking the truth. And, since
you know so much, I may tell you that things were very bad indeed. You
see, my father had been too successful. Everything has gone his way from
the start. I don't say he isn't a financial genius, because he is. And
he has courage and audacity and imagination. But, at the same time, he
has had all the luck without knowing it."

"Haven't we shared that sort of luck?" Lady Edna asked demurely.

"This good fortune he attributes entirely to his own abilities," Philip
went on. "He has a sort of idea that he is a cloud-compelling
providence. That was why, I suppose, he underrated the position of
Japan. Still, he might have won, but for certain forces over which he
had no control. I hope I am not boring you with these details."

"I am deeply interested," Lady Edna said.

"Well, then, so far as he is concerned, everything has gone by the
board. And tomorrow people in the city will be talking about it. The one
thing I have to do is to find some money with as little delay as
possible. If that is done my father might just manage to escape
shipwreck. I have helped to save your name, it is my duty to save
another's."

"It is not a certainty, then?"

"Oh, by no means. Still, it is worth trying, and I mean to risk the
experiment. And, after all, what does it matter? Suppose I lose
everything? I am young enough to begin again. And, what is more, I
should enjoy it."

"And all your ambitions?" Lady Edna asked.

"I am afraid they are not of much account," Philip laughed a little
unsteadily. "I never cared anything for politics, and modern business
has no attractions for me. Besides, it isn't clean enough for my taste.
My ambition was to settle down here as a country gentleman."

"But, surely," Lady Edna protested, "surely--"

"Oh, that isn't quite all," Saltburn went on. "I hoped some day to
marry. That dream will possibly be shattered, and that is the part which
hurts the most. I couldn't very well ask the woman I have in my mind to
come out yonder with me, and live in a log cabin. Even my audacity
shrinks from that."

"Ah, you are like most of the men," Lady Edna smiled. "You look at it
all from the masculine point of view. Don't you think you might pay the
lady the compliment of asking her?"

"You tempt me," Saltburn said. "And if I forget myself and go a step too
far--"

"One moment," Lady Edna cried hastily.

"Are you quite determined to make the sacrifice you speak of?"

"That is absolutely settled," Philip said. "We don't want to discuss the
point any further. I am just as keen to preserve my good name as you are
to keep yours."

"Yes, I like to hear you talk like that. And now I come to a point which
I cannot overlook. I have been kept in the dark as much as possible, and
I have discovered many things more by accident than anything else. I
know, for instance, that it was you who saved us. Oh, you needn't shake
your head; you need not try to deny it. If it hadn't been for you, a
great disaster would have overtaken us. My father would have lost his
right to stand prominently in the front rank of statesmen. And yet
to-day his reputation has never been so marked. And all this we owe to
you. Absolutely, we owe it all to your disinterested kindness. And yet
you had little encouragement. And you came here first when I didn't want
to see you. I should not even have received you had not my father
insisted on it. And how badly Shorland behaved to you. And yet it made
no difference. You went on just the same, and now it is impossible to
thank you for what you have done. But why did you do it? What claim have
we upon you?"

"One moment," Saltburn interrupted. "Isn't the question a bit
superfluous? You underrate your own intelligence, Lady Edna. Why does a
young man do these disinterested things?"

Saltburn turned a keen glance upon her. He laid his hand upon her arm as
it lay there, white and gleaming on the stone balustrade, and there was
a masterfulness in his grip that was not displeasing.

"Oh yes, you do," he said. "You know perfectly well. You don't suppose I
was blind when I came here. You don't suppose that I failed to see what
your feelings towards me were? Nobody could be more polite and gracious
than yourself. But in every word you said, in every glance and gesture,
you were marking your superiority over me. You let me know I was here on
sufferance. And to a certain extent I was amused. And then, well, then,
I had other feelings. And there is a good deal of my father's obstinacy
in my nature, and gradually the force of circumstances threw us a good
deal together. We had to be on the same side, and after a bit you began
to see that I might possibly be worthy of your friendship."

"Can there be any doubt of that," Lady Edna murmured.

"I thank you for that. I know you mean it sincerely. And we are good
friends, now, are we not?"

"You are the best and truest friend I ever had," Lady Edna murmured. "I
am thankful for the chance to tell you so."

She lifted her face to Saltburn's now. Her eyes were steady enough, but
they were swimming in a luminous moisture, and the pallid ivory of her
face was suffused with red. Saltburn's hand was still upon her arm as he
spoke.

"That was something gained, wasn't it?" he smiled. "And when I found
that I had gained it, I began to see my way to my ambition at last. I
had all that a man desires to make a woman happy, and up till quite
recently the way appeared to be quite clear. And, now, unfortunately, I
find there is something more than ambition and the gratification of
one's personal desires. I hope this doesn't all sound too much like the
maxims in one's old copy-books. But then, you see, I have put a certain
amount of restraint on my feelings, but I feel sure you know what I
mean. You said just now I was like the majority of men and only took the
masculine point of view. I am trying to show you now why it is
absolutely necessary that I should do so. Now, honestly, wouldn't you
suggest that a prospective pauper like myself should not come, say, to a
girl in your position and coolly ask her to become his wife. Now is it
logical?"

"It may not be logical," Lady Edna laughed unsteadily. "But I know if I
were a man I should do so."

It was a bold thing to say, and Lady Edna caught herself wondering how
she could have had the audacity to utter it. An hour or two before she
would have resented the mere suggestion of an understanding between
Philip Saltburn and herself.

And now, when it seemed to her that she was going to lose him, that he
was going to place everything before his love for her, then she knew
that she could not let him go. What did anything matter if there was to
be no Philip Saltburn by her side in the future?

"I have said too much," Saltburn muttered.

"Have you?" Lady Edna asked. "Oh, no. On the contrary, it seems to me
that you have left off at the most interesting part of the story. My
dear Philip, you are never going to force me--"

Saltburn stepped back. He was on the verge of a passionate outburst.
Then he heard the sound of footsteps, and William Saltburn stood behind
him, breathing hard, as if he had come a long way at full speed. He did
not see Lady Edna at all.

"I want you," he panted. "I have motored down on purpose to see you. It
is necessary that I should see Sherringborne at once. You must manage
this for me, Philip."

CHAPTER XXXI.--A MATTER OF NERVES.

Lady Edna drew back. It seemed no place for her. She bowed graciously to
Saltburn, though her aloofness was as marked as ever, and made a
suggestion.

"Perhaps you would like to be left alone with your father," she said.
"There is no occasion whatever to stand on ceremony. Lord Sherringborne
will understand. And we shall enjoy the walk back across the park this
perfect evening."

William Saltburn looked almost grateful, his face was hot and dirty, his
eyes bloodshot. Just for a moment Philip caught himself wondering as to
whether or not his father had committed a crime, and was looking for
someone to help him. Certainly Philip had never seen the older man in
circumstances like these before. He turned to speak to Lady Edna, but
she had vanished.

"I came down here at once," Saltburn said. "It's a pressing business,
Phil."

"One minute," Philip said. "I can't let my guests go like this. I must
speak to Sherringborne."

But Sherringborne and his family had already departed. Philip could see
them as they walked down the drive in the direction of the Abbey, he
could catch the expression in Lady Edna's face as she waved her hand to
him.

"That's the man that matters," Saltburn said hoarsely. "Sherringborne,
and nobody else. And I regarded him as little better than a fool. I
thought he was no more than a gilded popinjay. I was idiot enough to
believe he was like all the rest of them, and that he owed his office to
the fact that he was a Cranwallis."

"We all make mistakes," Philip murmured.

"I thought I should be able to do as I liked with him," Saltburn went
on. "I thought I should be able to twist him round my little finger and
make him dance like a doll at the end of a string, and that is where I
made the mistake, my boy; Sherringborne is a cleverer man than I."

"Hadn't you better explain?" Philip said.

"Well, it's pretty plain, isn't it? Sherringborne was in my way, he was
interfering with my plans, and it became a question of whether I
suffered or he did. Oh, I worked it out in my mind, and when I had got
that man beaten I was going to make my own terms."

Saltburn shook his fist at the receding Sherringborne.

"And he looked so easy, too. I never thought that he would be able to
stand up to me when the pinch came, but I was wrong. When the pinch did
come I found him to be a better man than myself. I don't believe I've
got the head I used to have. It never occurred to me that Sherringborne
would be able to use the whole of the Diplomatic force behind him to get
the better of me."

"He didn't," Philip said. "That's where you went wrong."

"But that's what he has done. If it hadn't been for my policy as regards
those Tortina concessions, there never would have been any trouble
between Japan and America at all."

Saltburn spoke in quick, jerky sentences, but the wild look was no
longer in his eye.

"You brought the trouble about deliberately?" Philip asked.

"Certainly I did. And why? So that I could ruin that proud old
aristocrat. Render his concessions worthless by stirring up Japan, and
buying them after at my own price. Then, when I had him bankrupt, you
had to step in, and Lady Edna would have only been too glad--"

Philip listened more in sorrow than in anger. "All this I saw quite
plainly," he said, "but, with the best intentions in the world you were
bent on ruining my chances with Lady Edna. She belongs to a class you
will never understand. She would rather die than consent--"

"Rubbish," Saltburn cried. "She couldn't live without all this. I tell
you, my boy--"

He waved his hand round comprehensively. The sad vexed expression was
still on Philip's face.

"It is quite hopeless to argue," he said. "When I want to marry, I want
a wife to take me, not my position. And Lady Edna will marry the man she
loves, even if she has to live in a hut. Only an hour ago she
practically told me so. But all this is beating the air. What do you
want me to do?"

"Get Sherringborne to see me in the morning. I have a proposal to make
that may save the situation yet. I suppose you have heard what has
happened in Tortina?"

"I have," Philip said. "We shall hear of no more trouble between the
States and Japan. And my Tortina speculation will come back a
hundredfold. You see, I was acting on a hint from Prince Ito. It was the
Port of San Toro that the people from Tokio were after all the time."

Saltburn burst out stormily, his big voice boomed to heaven.

"And you knew this all the time," he raved. "Knew it and never told me."

"Because I could not betray a confidence," Philip said. "My dear father,
the diplomacy of little Republics, and that of big Powers is a very
different matter. Toy States can be bought, as the international
financier knows, but a country like Japan!"

Sherringborne, approached next morning, had no objection to meeting his
old foe. He was gracious and debonair as usual.

"Why this mystery, Mr. Saltburn?" he asked. "Why didn't you write in the
ordinary way and make an appointment?"

"I prefer this way, if you don't mind," Saltburn said. "The last time I
was here the circumstances were very different."

There was a threat underlying the words, but, for the life of him,
Saltburn could not restrain the impulse. Obviously it was his policy to
come to this man, hat in hand, but just for the moment the old Adam was
uppermost.

He felt unreasonably angry, and he was writhing under the patent sense
of his own inferiority. The contrast was so great that he could not
restrain himself, and Sherringborne saw it quite clearly too, for,
despite his easy smile, there was a tinge of colour in his cheeks.

"That was not quite discreet of you," he murmured.

"It wasn't," Saltburn admitted bluntly. "But then, I have not been bred
up to diplomacy. The last time I was here was on the night of your
illness."

"Oh, yes," Sherringborne murmured. "Pray go on. You appear to be in
trouble, Mr. Saltburn. If I can help you, I shall be only too glad to do
so."

"I am up to my neck in it," Saltburn said. "I need not tell you how I am
situated, you know the position as well as I do. The whole world is
beginning to know it. They say that William Saltburn is on his last
legs, and, by gad, it's true. That earthquake business has finished me
off. I have backed the wrong horse, Sherringborne, and that's all there
is to it."

"I am really sorry," Sherringborne murmured. "Well, you're the man who
backed the winner. You are too clever for me, and that's the naked
truth. And a pretty bitter confession it is. But I should have worried
through had it not been for that earthquake in Tortina. Can't you manage
to take a hand, Sherringborne?"

"But how?" Sherringborne asked. "Surely you are not suggesting that I
should put pressure on Tortina, where Santa Anna, the President, is
ostensibly a friend of England? Come, Mr. Saltburn, that is not worthy
of a man of your ability."

"I don't want any soft soap," Saltburn said doggedly. "And who said
anything about putting pressure on Tortina? The Concession holders will
do that fast enough, and you're one of them. If you can give me an
introduction to Prince Ito and ask him to treat me as a friend of yours,
I think I can see a way out."

Sherringborne smiled good-humouredly.

"Your idea certainly has the merit of novelty," he said. "But you will
pardon me if I say it is utterly absurd. A little reflection will show
you this. Your business methods in Tortina have done mischief enough in
Tortina as it is, but I assure you that I am quite powerless in the
matter."

"You could have prevented the whole thing if you had liked," Saltburn
snarled. "Oh! I know when you put your money in Tortina the political
sky was quite clear, but if you had not invested in those concessions I
should never have had--"

"Seen your way to ruin me," Sherringborne said quietly. "I am not a very
wise man, Mr. Saltburn, but I have seen your policy quite clearly from
the first day you came here, and I learnt your--shall I say, without
offence?--early history."

"Oh, I know that I underrated your intellect," Saltburn said almost
brutally, "but--"

"There is no but about it," Sherringborne said. "You were going to drag
me in the mud through my public position. You meant to tell the House of
Commons that I had used my official knowledge in connection with my
Tortina investments, and that, when hostilities threatened, I suppressed
the fact so that I could benefit--"

"Not for my own sake entirely," Saltburn cried, off his guard. "I was
thinking more of my son and daughter--"

"Really," Sherringborne interrupted. "This is an extraordinary
conversation. I make every allowance for your feelings, but you are
putting a great strain on my patience."

"You can help me if you like," Saltburn growled.

"Possibly yes, I think it highly probable that Prince Ito would help you
if he had a suggestion from our Foreign Office. But he's not the least
likely to get it. My dear sir, if your nerves--"

"Oh, I am not the only nervous one," Saltburn said truculently. "I saw
that when I was here last. And you had good reason."

Saltburn had overstepped the mark at last. Sherringborne turned on him a
face clouded with anger.

"Since you take this attitude," he said. "I will ask you to speak a
little more plainly."

"I will," Saltburn said. "A few months ago you broke down badly, you
came precious near to bankruptcy and lost your reputation as well as
health. You had done an exceedingly foolish thing, and I knew it as well
as you did."

"Folly is not dishonesty," Sherringborne said.

"It's all carefully covered up now, but if it hadn't been for my son--my
son, of all people in the world--you would have had to leave Borne Abbey
and let it to strangers. And you're not safe, even yet. You will never
be safe till the mystery of El Murid's death is cleared up. It was bad
for you when he died, but it may be worse if his private papers fall
into certain hands. Now, supposing I can get hold of those papers? At
what price are you prepared to get them back? I don't mean in money."

Sherringborne had lost all his courtly dignity now. He showed neither
fear nor confusion, but Saltburn could see that he was making an
impression.

"I am not going to admit that any such papers exist," Sherringborne
said, "though El Murid was a great personal friend of mine, and I was in
regular communication with him. He was the one man in Tortina I could
trust, and when one writes to a man like that one naturally says a good
deal that is not intended for publication. Public policy, and that sort
of thing. Now, let us understand one another plainly, Mr. Saltburn. You
came here today to blackmail me."

"That's a lie," Saltburn cried. "Call it bargain if you like."

"And if I don't agree to the bargain then you threaten to ruin me by
disclosing letters which you hint have fallen into your hands, and which
were written by me to El Murid. Am I wrong? Because if I am I will
apologise for mistaking you for a contemptible scoundrel whom I ought to
have kicked out of my house."

"Then you mean to fight," Saltburn challenged.

"My dear sir, it is no question of fighting at all. Surely we can argue
this matter out without violent methods. If I misunderstood you I am
sorry, but you will quite see for yourself that it would be foolish on
my part--"

Sherringborne broke off abruptly as the door opened and a servant came
in. Then, behind the servant appeared the well-known figure of de la
Croisa.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," the Baron cried. "I thought you were alone. Ah,
surely this is our mutual friend, Mr. Saltburn. We are well met, sir."

CHAPTER XXXII.--"WHO IS ON MY SIDE?"

The situation was saved. Sherringborne knew that directly he glanced at
the easy, smiling face of de la Croisa. And Saltburn knew now that his
last plank was gone.

And the Baron, in his turn, summed up the situation in a look. He
glanced significantly at Sherringborne and tapped his breast-pocket.
Sherringborne was making play with his handkerchief now. He wiped his
heated face with an expression to the effect that the day was warm.

It had been touch and go with him, but now he could see that there was
no further use for fear. He could be gracious enough to Saltburn.
Indeed, there was nothing to gain by any other course.

"I have been having a rather unpleasant conversation with Mr. Saltburn,"
he said. "Really, those disturbances in Tortina are very disastrous for
British shareholders. Mr. Saltburn has taken the trouble to come all the
way from London in their interests, to suggest a course to me whereby
something, at any rate, can be saved from the wreck. Unhappily, it is a
course I cannot see my way to adopt."

Saltburn said nothing. He had utterly and irretrievably lost now. Broken
as he was and desperate, he could still find time to envy Sherringborne
his easy manner and the way in which he had turned all unpleasantness
aside. And it was not in Saltburn's nature, either, to make a dignified
exit.

"Well, I won't waste your time any longer," he said. "I wish you both
good day."

It was the best he could do in the circumstances. He turned on his heel
abruptly, and strode across the room through the French window on to the
terrace. De la Croisa threw himself into a chair and laughed softly.

"It seems to me, my dear friend," he said, "that I have arrived at what
the novelists call the psychological moment. Unless I am greatly
mistaken, our Berserk friend was threatening you when I came."

"Well, to be quite candid, he was," Sherringborne admitted. "To say he
was here on behalf of the English investors in Tortinas is a mere figure
of speech. As you can guess, he was here on behalf of William Saltburn."

"And the devil take the hindmost, eh!"

"He looks like losing what he has left owing to that disastrous
earthquake. He has contracted to sell thousands of Tortinas at
starvation prices, and he has no shares to deliver unless he buys them
at a fancy figure. I am sorry for the man, but I could not possibly do
as he asked. The situation is a bit too delicate for me to interfere.
And when I refused Saltburn threatened me with certain indiscreet
letters you know of. And, just for a moment I believed that he had
them."

"He was never within miles of them," de la Croisa smiled.

"And then you turned up, for all the world like the comedian at the end
of the third act. What a wonderful instinct you have for doing the right
thing. And, of course, those letters are in your breast-pocket at the
present moment. I could not be mistaken."

"Correct, as usual," the Baron cried gaily. "But I have had what you
call the very devil of a job. I've been in Tortina for weeks with no
little risk to myself, but I managed to smuggle the letters through
eventually. Still, I shouldn't have done it without Lady Shorland's
assistance."

"Ah," Sherringborne cried. "Then she got the letters for me after all."

"My dear fellow, she got the whole of her father's papers. She played
the part of a queen in a revolutionary comedy. She denounced Santa Anna
from the stage of the Union Theatre in St. Lucia, and told the audience
the truth with Santa Anna in a box. She denounced Santa Anna as her
father's murderer--for El Murid was murdered. She carried the whole
audience with her, and Santa Anna had to flee for his life. The old
constitution party is back in power again, and everything goes well.
They wanted me to stay and join the new administration. All this
happened nearly a month ago, but Santa Anna had cut the cables, and
consequently--"

"So it was Lady Shorland who can claim all the credit for the campaign?"
Sherringborne asked.

"She behaved splendidly. I tell you, that woman is a born diplomatist,
and she has a fine natural courage of her own as well. I think I can
congratulate you on your daughter-in-law. People may be disposed to
sneer at her, but she will be a great force some of these days. I
shouldn't be surprised if she made a man of Shorland yet."

"I will thank you later on," Sherringborne said quietly. "What an
extraordinary thing it is that this ill-assorted marriage of Shorland's
should have gone to save my political reputation."

"Oh, all the sympathy is on the side of the lady," de la Croisa laughed.
"Still, you can speak to her when you get the opportunity. We both came
back together this morning and are rather disappointed to find that the
fatted calf had not been killed for our reception. We sent a telegram
from Paris. Didn't you get it?"

"I haven't seen it," Sherringborne explained. "I suppose they are making
Lady Shorland comfortable?"

Lady Shorland had seen to that for herself. She had made herself quite
at home in the hall, where she was devouring tea and muffins with a fine
healthy appetite. It was still a mystery to Lady Edna how all this had
come about. She had received her sister-in-law with a certain cold
cordiality, which was not altogether unmixed with a sense of being out
in the cold. There was a neighbouring duchess calling at the time.

Of course, in time Lady Shorland would have to meet these people, but
not until she had been educated up to so trying an ordeal. It was not to
be expected that she would be able to live up to the rich cream of
society like this. But she seemed to fit naturally in her place and even
to take the lead. Lady Edna watched her with a certain sort of
satisfaction. But it was not till the end of the trying afternoon and
the great one of the earth had gone that Lady Edna was forced to admit
to herself that her sister-in-law had been an absolute social success.

Lady Shorland took it all cooly enough. She sat, after tea, on the
terrace smoking a cigarette and criticising the recent visitors.

"I'm glad I met them," she said. "It's just as well to take the top
first. Now, confess it, my dear child, weren't you terribly frightened
when I turned up to-day. You are a very candid girl, and very
transparent. It is a great fault of yours that you allow your face to
speak your mind too freely."

"I hope," Lady Edna began, "I hope, Ninon, that--"

"And yet I didn't shock you so terribly just now, did I? Now do you know
what the Duchess did when she went away? She has a big political
demonstration at the Castle early next month, and she has asked me to go
and stay with her for a fortnight and help to amuse the people. What do
you think of that?"

"And are you going?" Lady Edna asked.

"Going! Of course I am. I've got to meet these people sooner or later,
and I might just as well start in the right place. And I am not going to
be handicapped because I happened to marry a poor thing like Shorland.
And between ourselves, my dear, it's a precious good thing for the
Cranwallises that I did marry Shorland. Oh, I don't want any gratitude,
because I was thinking as much of myself as of you. And I suppose by
this time you know why I went to Tortina?"

A bright flush tinged Lady Edna's cheeks.

"I don't like to think of it," she murmured.

"Then don't think of it. You are never likely to hear me mention it
again. I was quite successful, though I ran risks and did things which
you would have shrunk from. If I were to put all my adventures into a
book a publisher would not look at it. He would say that the thing was
too improbable. But all the same, the dear old Baron and myself had a
grand time together, and I shouldn't mind having it all over again.
Still, it has turned out very well, all except one thing, and that gives
me a good deal of cause for regret."

"And what is that?" Lady Edna asked.

"Well, I am worried about Philip Saltburn. I have only met him a few
times, and I have formed a very high opinion of him. He wasn't much in
my old set, of course. That set consisted of Grand Dukes and gilded
fools and immensely wealthy capitalists, most of them of Hebrew
extraction. You would be surprised to know what a deal I know about
finance. I believe I should have been a big success in the city. And I
have got a great deal of information lately from the Baron. I know
exactly what Philip Saltburn has done, and it will be my business to see
that he gets the best results from his Christian action. There is not
the slightest reason why he should waste all his own fortune in trying
to bolster up his father's credit, but it can be done another way. And,
besides, how can the poor fellow get married when he has nothing to live
upon? That would be very hard on you."

"I don't quite follow you," Lady Edna said coldly.

"Oh, yes, you do, my dear. It is all very well to speak in that frigid
way, and hold your pretty head at that fascinating angle, but that can't
prevent the colour rising in your cheeks at the mention of Saltburn's
name. Why, you are head over heels in love with the man."

"Ninon, how dare you?" Lady Edna cried with flushed cheeks.

"Anyone who has eyes can see that when you are together. Oh, I know what
I am talking about. I have had my own little romance, though I have put
it aside for the sake of a man like Shorland. And if you only know it
you are a decidedly lucky girl. Marry him, you little idiot, marry him.
He is worth a waggon-load of the gilded noodles that one meets in
society. Of course, I don't want to interfere, but whatever your fate
is, you can't do more than marry a gentleman, and Philip Saltburn is
that if I ever saw one."

Lady Edna abandoned the unequal contest. It was perfectly impossible to
stave off a direct attack delivered in this uncompromising fashion. She
could only protest feebly.

"Mr. Saltburn is a poor man," she said shamefacedly.

"Oh, no, he isn't. At any rate, he won't be by the time I have done with
him. Now I'm not going to sit quietly by and see him playing ducks and
drakes with your happiness and his simply because he has a quixotic idea
that he ought to help that rascally father of his. I am going to take a
hand at this game."

"You would not dare," Lady Edna gasped.

"Oh, wouldn't I? You don't know me yet, my child. I've got a little
scheme of my own for the saving of the situation as far as William
Saltburn is concerned, and that without getting Philip to put his hand
in his pocket for a penny. I suppose I know nine out of every ten great
financiers in Europe. And I shall know how to handle this problem when
the time comes."

"Is Mr. Saltburn with it?" Lady Edna asked. "I am not doing this for the
sake of William Saltburn, my dear. I am doing it for yours. And the time
will come when you will be grateful. Indeed, I shouldn't wonder if the
time came when you were bound to admit that I did a very kindly thing
when I permitted Shorland to ally me with this illustrious family."

Lady Edna smiled in spite of herself. Indeed, she was almost ready to
admit that now. And she was really beginning to take a liking to this
pretty fascinating creature who had come into her life with dramatic
suddenness.

"I won't discuss the matter any further," Lady Shorland said. "By the
way, Shorland tells me that we are going over to 'The Chantrey' to lunch
with Philip Saltburn on Monday. Now, I wanted to ask him to get his
father there. Never mind why, you can leave that to me. Only see that it
is done, that's all. And then you will see what you will see. I am your
fairy godmother, my dear."

CHAPTER XXXIII.--IN HONOUR BOUND.

Though the miracle had happened, Philip Saltburn was feeling no easier
in his mind. True, he had saved the honour of the house of Cranwallis,
to say nothing of its financial integrity, but at what a cost?

His father was ruined, and Philip had deliberately brought that ruin
about. And yet it had been the only way, the only way to keep Phil's
reputation sweet in Lady Edna's eyes, and preserve her friendship. Had
William Saltburn had his say, then Phil's romance was so much Dead Sea
fruit.

The collapse of Santa Anna in Tortina, and the forces of nature
intervening on the Islands had blown Saltburn's scheme for humiliating
Sherringborne and his daughter to the winds. The Concessions now would
make Sherringborne a rich man again, rich in every sense of the word.

And Philip could share that prosperity. The political crisis was over,
and Sherringborne was saved. Japan would gain all she had been coveting
from the first--a treaty port at San Toro, and nothing more would be
heard about St. Lucia. And all this was due to Philip alone. He had won
Lady Edna's respect--more than that, he hoped--but at what a cost? To
prove that he was right he had been compelled to fight his own father
with weapons placed in his hands by Sherringborne, de la Croisa, and the
Japanese Prince Ito, with the result that his father stood on the verge
of ruin.

And this must not be, must not, even if Philip had to sell 'The
Chantrey' and start again in some distant part of the world. So far as
Philip could see, nobody grasped the fact but himself.

However, in this he was reckoning without Lady Shorland. The solution
was plain enough to her, with that nimble intellect of hers, to say
nothing that she had enjoyed for some weeks the full benefit of de la
Croisa's company and confidence. By the time she got back to Borne Abbey
she knew as much of the situation as the Baron.

With his trouble heavy upon him, Philip was as wax in her hands, and all
the more, perhaps, that he could see that she was only too eager to help
him.

"Then what are you going to do?" she asked.

"There is only one thing to do," Philip said. "My father must not
suffer. After all, he is my father; I must make good as far as I can."

Lady Shorland smiled.

"And 'The Chantrey'?" she asked. "The ambition to found a family? To say
nothing of love's young dream. My dear Philip, there is a better way
than yours."

"Lady Edna is lost to me now," Philip said gloomily.

"Not she. Send your father to me and don't worry. Trust El Murid's
daughter to find a way out. You have no idea what a good business woman
I am. And I have had some of the greatest financiers at my feet for
years. Your father's name shall be saved, and I shall wear a special
frock I have imported from Paris at your wedding."

Philip let it go at that. He wrote to his father the same evening, and
the elder man came down from London with none too good a grace.

"Anything more gone wrong?" he asked.

"Not so far as I know," Philip said. "All my arrangements are still
proceeding. But for some reason or another Lady Shorland wanted to see
you, in fact, she would take no refusal."

Saltburn broke into a strenuous laugh.

"Well, that's odd," he said. "What can that brilliant little
adventuress, want with me? She's never been what I call friendly, in
fact, she's been at no pains to disguise her feelings. Now I wonder what
bee she's got in her bonnet now."

"You're very complimentary," Philip said. "But I don't think it will be
so dull after all. You see, Lady Shorland thinks she can--well--get you
out of your difficulties."

William Saltburn remarked frankly enough that Lady Shorland was welcome
to try.

"She's well in with a lot of big people, I know," he said. "She's
pretty, she's fascinating, and she's got brains. And with all her
Bohemianism she's managed to keep her own record clean enough. At any
rate, she would make a fine ally for a financier working a big deal. But
you don't know anything at all about these things. If I wanted to bring
about a big financial amalgamation, I'd rather have Lady Shorland to
work it for me than any man on earth. And she's acquainted with all the
capitalists, both here and in America. Upon my word, I've a dashed good
mind to offer her a share in a partnership. I'm dead broke, but William
Saltburn's not done for yet."

Philip was content to let it go at that and presently Lady Shorland took
William Saltburn in hand. She seemed to enjoy his society, and talked in
a way which excited the financier's admiration. It was after luncheon
that she insisted upon taking him round the garden and pointing out its
manifold beauties to him.

"Yes, it's a pretty place enough," Saltburn said contemptuously. "All
very well to come down to at week-ends when one gets tired of London.
But I can't understand why Philip wants to settle down here. A young man
like that. He ought to have more ambition."

"Well, he's not likely to have the chance now," Lady Shorland said.
"Where does he get his ideas from, Mr. Saltburn?"

"What ideas?" Saltburn asked.

"Why, his extraordinary ideas about honour and duty. He doesn't inherit
them from you, surely?"

"Oh, I've got no fads," Saltburn said, without the slightest show of
resentment. "I think I know what you mean, though. You think Philip is
going to be fool enough to hand over all the money he has to put into my
business. Well, that's what he has offered."

"I'm perfectly sure he would," Lady Shorland said in her sweetest
manner. "But what's the good of it? It won't really help you. Nothing
less than a couple of millions, would put you straight."

"That's true," William Saltburn admitted.

"But then, like all the rest of the financial gamblers, you have a
sanguine temperament, and you are selfish into the bargain. You might,
at any rate, express a certain amount of regret at ruining your son's
prospects in this way."

"If Phil had taken my advice--"

"He would have ruined everything. He wanted to settle down here as a
country gentleman with money to found a family. He would be Lord
Sherringborne's son-in-law, and that itself would give him a standing.
And sooner or later, after the first glamour of marriage had passed off,
he would begin to take an interest in politics. He couldn't help doing
this, and I am perfectly certain he would go very far indeed. And he has
proved himself to be a great deal cleverer than you are."

"That's true," William Saltburn admitted, not without pride.

"Instead of this, you are going to send him off, sooner or later, to get
his living by the picturesque occupation of cow-punching if you are
selfish enough to accept his offer. They do call it cow-punching, don't
they?"

"I don't know," Saltburn said. "But, see here, Lady Shorland, what are
you driving at? I don't want to injure the boy if I can help it. He's
all I've got and I'm dashed proud of him, though I don't care about
telling people so. He's different to me--"

"Yes, I've noticed that," Lady Shorland smiled.

"Oh, you needn't laugh at me. You know what I mean. I expect Philip
takes after his mother. She was a lady, you know. Her people went out to
Australia nearly a century ago, and they belonged to the north country
Bradleys. People wondered why my wife ever came to marry me."

"Women do quaint things," Lady Shorland smiled. "It is one of their
charms in men's eyes."

"Well, at any rate, Philip's all right. Wherever he goes he is popular.
And I don't think it is for the sake of his money either. Look how thick
he is with the people in Borne Abbey. Why, he more or less lives there.
And they have known from the first that I used to be a boy in the
kitchen. One of my ambitions was to marry Philip to Lady Edna. I was
going to force her into it, more or less. And then I was going to tell
them who I was--but that's all knocked out now."

"Very strange," Lady Shorland said thoughtfully, "how an awfully clever
man in one thing can be a perfect fool in another. Now, that little
scheme of yours would never have answered. If you had ruined the whole
family it would have been just the same. Lady Edna would not have
married Philip even if she had been dying of love for him. Still, as you
so tersely put it, all that is knocked on the head now. And the strange
part is that you knocked it out yourself."

"I don't see that," Saltburn exclaimed.

"Oh, yes, you have. You would have ruined everything by that selfishness
of yours. Now Philip and Lady Edna are vary much in love with one
another, and the whole thing was going beautifully when you blundered
into it in the way you aggressive men have. It would have all come right
in the end. You don't expect a pauper, an your boy will be if he hands
everything over to you, to ask Lady Edna Cranwallis to share his lot
with him, do you? You can't imagine Lady Edna out in what you call the
'back blocks,' scouring her saucepans and cooking her own breakfast, can
you?"

"I begin to see that I have made a fool of myself," Saltburn muttered.

"True. My good, man, what's going to become of all this money of
Philip's when he insists upon giving it to you?"

"He'll have it all back, and more, in ten years' time," the capitalist
cried. "Ah, I've not come to grief altogether."

"There is no reason why you should come to grief altogether. There are
scores of great financiers in the world who would be only too glad to
have you as partner. Naturally, you wouldn't go in on your own terms
now. You would have to take a second place, though the world wouldn't
know it, of course. You would be a kind of glorified servant, with your
name over the shop door, so to speak, but you would be a servant all the
same."

"Show me the chance," Saltburn said doggedly.

"On the other hand, you could get rid of all your worries without losing
your reputation, and you would have more money than any one man would be
able to do with. And, again, you wouldn't be in a junior position for
long, you are too strong and masterful and unscrupulous for that."

"That's pretty plain speaking," Saltburn said.

"I brought you here for plain speaking. Do you know that I am a very
clever woman, Mr. Saltburn. If I hadn't been clever I shouldn't have
married Shorland. O, I knew what I wanted, and that, of course, was a
matter of time. And I shall make something of Shorland yet. And I am
very anxious to see Philip in the family. He would be exceedingly useful
to me later on. But it is obvious that Philip can't come into the family
if you persist in taking his money."

"I see that," Saltburn said grudgingly.

"Very well, then. In that case, it is your duty to do as I tell you. Why
don't you go to one of the big Americans and get him to come in with
you? Several of them would be only too glad to have the chance. And you
can make your own terms pretty well. I know half a dozen men who would
give an ear to have a partner like yourself on this side of the
Atlantic. There's van Ritter, for instance. I'm perfectly certain he'd
jump at the chance."

"But I don't know him," Saltburn said.

"Well, I do. And he is in London at the present moment. And he is a
solid man, he is rich simply because he can't help himself. But that
doesn't prevent him from having a desire to be richer still. He has a
scheme for controlling the markets here and in New York, and he was only
telling me last night what he could do if he had a partner after his own
heart. And to be perfectly candid with you, Mr. Saltburn, I mentioned
your name. Of course, I didn't tell van Ritter that I knew of your
position, because that would be giving the game away. I treated the
whole thing quite as a matter of business, and I get a commission if I
bring off a deal with you. Now, Mr. Saltburn, you are never going to be
hardhearted enough to prevent a poor creature like myself from earning
an honest penny? Besides, Shorland and myself are dreadfully hard up,
and I have a lot of heavy bills to meet. Still, if you don't like the
idea I can try somebody else."

But Saltburn did not appear to be listening. He rose from the seat where
he had been sitting and began to pace up and down excitedly between the
flower beds. His quick commercial mind grasped the possibilities of this
opening at once. By the time he had taken half a dozen turns he saw his
way clearly.

"I'll do it," he said. "I could double van Ritter's money in a few
years. And I suppose you've got nothing definite?"

Lady Shorland smiled innocently,

"Oh, yes, I have," she said. "I told van Ritter for his own protection
he ought to put it in writing, because, you see, people make such funny
mistakes, and then after-wards they go about and say that they've been
robbed, and all sorts of stupid things. So you see we drew up an
agreement, and when I showed it to my solicitor before I left London he
actually complimented me on it. Now, don't you think it was very clever
of an ignorant little woman like myself to get all that down right?"

"Oh, you're very ignorant," Saltburn said grimly. "Still, I owe you
something for this, and you shall get your commission. You bring van
Ritter and myself together. And so far as I am concerned, Philip is
quite free. I shan't want his money now. And as to you, well, you ought
to have been a man. And I can't pay you a higher compliment than that."

CHAPTER XXXIV.--THICKER THAN WATER.

Lady Edna stood by Philip's side with her beautiful eyes turned in
almost rapt attention on the facade of "The Chantrey."

"I have always been fond of the house," she said. "Indeed, in some
respects, I prefer it to Borne Abbey. The Abbey frightens me at times.
And I shall not be sorry later on to hand it over to Shorland and his
wife. I should not be surprised if she makes quite a good hostess in
time."

Philip was inclined to agree. Just for a moment his mind reverted to
that strange morning a few months back when Lady Edna and Lady Shorland
had met in such remarkable circumstances. Perhaps Lady Edna was thinking
of the same thing, too, for there was the suspicion of a smile on her
lips.

"That was a bad start, though," Philip said. "But, of course, we must
make allowances for the artistic temperament. A woman isn't necessarily
bad because she wears picturesque dresses and smokes cigarettes in
public. For my part I am bound to confess that I like Lady Shorland. I
should not be surprised if she does not make a man of your brother yet.
To a certain extent he is afraid of her, and I know she has stopped his
betting. When I saw him to-day, he looked more fit than I have ever seen
him."

"Ah, we are chastened in many ways," Lady Edna smiled. "But I really
think Lady Shorland is going to be a blessing in disguise. My education
in worldly matters has progressed at such a rate lately that I hardly
know myself....... What a happy idea it is to have removed those fir
trees, and placed a pergola along that bank. And don't you think it
would have been an improvement if you had pulled down the old wall as
well?"

"I did think of it," Philip said. "But it would be a sheer waste of
money now, I must leave that to my successor."

"Your successor?" Lady Edna exclaimed.

"Well, yes, I intended to tell you. You see, at the present moment, I
want all the money I can scrape together to help my father out of his
pressing difficulties. I am rather afraid it will be throwing good money
after bad, but still he is a wonderful man, and if he can't succeed,
well then there's no chance for anybody. And in a way his business is
his life. If he goes down now I don't think he will ever recover again.
Of course, from a practical point of view I am doing a foolish thing,
but I have no intention of going back from it. For the time being, of
course, I shall be almost penniless, and the money I shall get from
letting this house furnished will be enough to keep me. I've got a man
coming down in a day or two to look at this house, and I feel quite sure
from what he said that we shall be able to come to terms."

"What are you thinking of doing?" Lady Edna asked.

"Oh, I shall go abroad. I've got one or two friends out in Australia who
will be pleased enough to give me a start. But then things will come
right again, and then I shall come back. This isn't what I expected a
week or so ago, and I don't mind confessing to you that it has been a
hard struggle to make this sacrifice. I had been looking forward to a
happy life here. I had been looking forward to something else. But in
common honesty and fairness I could not mention that now. But, of course
that's all a dream. I couldn't ask the woman I love and admire more than
anybody to share my lot, could I?"

"Haven't we argued this out before?" Lady Edna asked. "And besides, it
all depends on the woman."

"I know that. And in this case it depends on the man, too. I couldn't do
it, Lady Edna. I couldn't do it indeed. Fancy my suggesting to a girl
brought up as you are, for instance, that she should come out with me to
Australia and rough it for the next few years. Why her relations would
not hear of it. And I would not make the suggestion. Still, if I could
only screw up my courage to ask her to wait for me.... I wonder if she
would."

"You had better ask her," Lady Edna said, "That's the only way I know of
getting information."

"Oh, I might do that," Philip said thoughtfully. "I'll think it over. I
believe I am coming to dine with you to-night. I understand that Lord
Sherringborne was running down here with Sir James Pallisser to dine and
sleep."

"That was the arrangement," Lady Edna said.

"Then I'll tell you more about it after dinner. I really have not the
courage to do it now, here in broad daylight. I think I might manage it
better on the terrace this evening. By the way, is Shorland staying on?"

"I think so," said Lady Edna. "As far as I can understand, he has been
away for the best part of three weeks without getting into any mischief
whatever. Really, I shouldn't wonder if he became a respectable member
of society after all. And that reminds me of something I had forgotten.
I have just recollected that Shorland is heavily in your debt. I suppose
he has not paid you, by some remote chance?"

Philip waved the suggestion aside.

"That is a small matter," he said. "Shorland will pay me as soon as he
can turn round. And I'm not quite so hard up as all that, Lady Edna."

It was at this point that Lady Shorland and Saltburn joined the other
two. Saltburn was a little more subdued in his manner than usual, his
mind appeared to be occupied with something to the exclusion of
everything else. But at the same he appeared to have lost a great deal
of his truculent expression, and the light of battle had died out of his
eyes.

It was an effort, perhaps, on his part, that he was actually making
himself agreeable to Lady Edna. Perhaps he, too, had learnt a lesson in
the last hour or two. Perhaps he, too, was beginning to understand that
there are more methods than one of attaining a desired end.

Hitherto, he had marched victoriously over the prostrate bodies of his
foes, he had asked and given no quarter, and probably he was all the
harder for the knowledge that hitherto he had found nothing to criticise
in his own methods.

And perhaps, on the other hand Lady Edna was just a little sorry for
this man who had come so near to the wrecking of a great career. She did
not know quite as much as the others. She did not know that the shadow
of disgrace which had loomed over the house of Cranwallis had been more
or less produced by William Saltburn himself.

She only saw before her a man of hard and resolute ambition who had, to
a certain extent, the merit of being Philip's father. This undoubtedly
was a point in his favour, and presently these two found themselves, to
their surprise, engaged in an almost amicable conversation. And plainly,
William Saltburn was trying to make himself agreeable.

"Philip is different to me," he said. "He seems to like a quiet country
life. If I had to live here always I should end by blowing my brains
out. I couldn't stand it."

"Your son is leaving here," Lady Edna said, William Saltburn laughed as
if something amused him.

"There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip," he exclaimed. "And Philip is a
rare good lad. I didn't realise how good he was till Lady Shorland
opened my eyes for me. Do you know, Lady Edna, though I pass for a hard,
practical man, I am a bit of a dreamer too. I suppose most capitalists
are. Pinero says that capitalists are pawnbrokers with imaginations.
And, upon my word, that's not far wrong. It takes a good many sorts of
people to make up a world, and I can't blame everybody because they
don't take the same view as I do. But don't you believe all you hear,
Lady Edna. Philip hasn't left 'The Chantrey' yet."

With this cryptic remark Saltburn turned away and asked if there were
any place hard by where he could get on to the telephone. There was an
instrument, it appeared, at the "Cranwallis Arms," and without further
ceremony William Saltburn turned and made off in that direction.

It was tea-time when Philip returned slowly and thoughtfully through the
woods. On the whole he was not particularly pleased with himself; it
seemed to him that he had acted somewhat in a cowardly way.

Lady Edna had given him the opportunity of speaking, indeed she had gone
out of her way to do so, and he had not spoken his mind. But he would
have to tell her.

He would have to explain fully the position of affairs to her, and leave
the decision in her hands. It wasn't for him to suggest anything in the
way of an engagement, but they might possibly come to something in the
way of an understanding whereby Lady Edna might wait.

Philip would not even ask for that. Indeed, it seemed to him that he had
no right to do so. He would leave it entirely to her. But even this
decision caused him no satisfaction. He wanted to be alone to think the
matter out and the sight of his father walking up and down the terrace
was positively distasteful to him.

The elder man appeared to be quite himself again. He carried his head
high, and the old light of battle was shining in his eyes.

"I wondered where you had got to," he said. "Come out here and smoke a
cigarette. Indoors doesn't seem to be big enough for me. I've been
talking to Lady Shorland about you. That is, about you and Lady Edna."

"That is very good of you," Philip said.

"Oh, you needn't be annoyed. It's all for your good, my boy. And so far
as I can see--"

"Is the matter worth discussing?" Philip asked quietly. "You know
exactly what my feelings towards Lady Edna are, but you must please
allow me to manage these things in my own way. If I had acted on your
suggestion I should have found myself forbidden the house long ago. But
what does it all matter? Lady Edna is as far away from me as the stars.
For the next few years I shall be a poor man, and poor men don't aspire
to marry a Cranwallis."

"Still, if the girl cared for you--"

"My dear father, that isn't the point at all. It is a matter of honour
entirely. I am not complaining, I am not going to make a martyr of
myself. I have promised to help you--"

William Saltburn burst into a hearty laugh.

"And you thought I was going to take your money," he cried. "Oh come, my
dear boy, I haven't reached that point yet, I admit that I was sorely
tempted. Keep the money you have, and the money you made in Tortina when
you saved Sherringborne, despite me. And, by heaven, you are right. You
heard me ask just now where I could get on to the telephone, didn't you?
Well I have been having a long conversation with a man who has been
making overtures to me for years."

The fiction was perhaps pardonable in the circumstances.

"I've settled the whole thing now, with van Ritter of New York, and in a
day or two the world will know all about it. It's going to be a case of
van Ritter and Saltburn against the rest of the world. And van Ritter
will do as I like and ask no questions. And in a year or two you will be
using 'The Chantrey' for your stables. Now don't worry yourself about me
at all. Go in and win, my boy. You've got it all your own way if I am
any judge."

CHAPTER XXXV.--COMPENSATION.

William Saltburn meant it beyond a doubt; he meant every word of it.
Just for a moment it occurred to Philip that his father was inventing
this for his own special benefit.

But it was impossible to look into William Saltburn's face and give him
credit for an elegant fiction of this kind. There was conviction, even
in the tone of his voice, in the way in which he carried his head and
glanced about him. He might have been some general who had turned what
appeared to be a crushing defeat into a brilliant and decisive victory.

"I ought to have done it before," William Saltburn said. "To tell you
the truth, Philip, I'm not quite the man I used to be. I've had one or
two attacks of nerves lately. I suppose I'm getting a bit past it. I
used to laugh at that kind of thing a year or two ago, but I don't now,
and I'm getting a little tired of the purely speculative business.
Still, there are a good many years of work in me yet. I shall enjoy this
new game. We shall be on the top before long, you see if we are not."

"Then you don't want Naboth's vineyard?" Philip asked.

"Eh, what? Oh, I see what you mean. Well, no, my boy. You can come in,
of course, if you like, and get cent. per cent. on your money, but
that's a matter for yourself. But I can't stop any longer, I've got a
dozen things to scheme out before to-morrow morning. I hope to meet Van
Ritter at luncheon."

William Saltburn strolled off in the direction of the house, leaving
Philip grateful for the chance of being alone. He could hardly realise
at first that he was free--free to do as he liked and to carry out the
golden programme which he had laid out for himself. He had done the fair
thing, he had offered to put down everything to save his father's good
name, and now the sacrifice was not necessary, neither had it been made
in vain.

Philip gazed about him with a curiously light heart, and with the
feeling that life was worth living. He began to take an interest again
in the plans which he had been making for many months, there were
alterations here and there which began to appeal to him once more. He
was going to have them carried out in exact accordance with Lady Edna's
suggestions. Everything must be done to please her, of course. And
perhaps a little later on, when all was finished, why--.

Philip smiled at himself for a visionary. Really, he was going too fast.
But when he came to ponder the thing quietly over, he could think of
actually nothing definite which Lady Edna had said to justify these
sanguine feelings. She had been very nice, and very friendly, of course,
and once, well, once he had stood with her on the terrace with his hand
on hers and she had not even murmured. The action had been a caress, in
fact, but still, you never know. And, after all, she was Lady Edna
Cranwallis, and he was the son of a discredited capitalist with a
conviction recorded against him.

Still, she had challenged him right enough. She had told him quite
plainly that it was a question as much for the woman as for the man.

She had told him that if she were a man she would not have hesitated for
a moment. And all this from that white, haughty, distant beauty who had
received him so coldly at Borne Abbey only a few months ago.

He had been inclined to laugh at her then, he had been sufficiently
amused with those distant airs because he was a young man with dazzling
fortunes, and even greater than Lady Edna had deigned to smile on him.
But he hadn't been amused for long. Very soon there was a feeling
entirely different. And then he had thrown himself heart and soul on the
side of the Cranwallises.

He had saved Sherringborne right enough, and he had helped Lady Edna
more than once, but she really had no idea how large a hand he had had
in averting the great catastrophe. No doubt it would have been a great
asset in his favour, but Philip had not the slightest intention of
playing the game in that way.

He thought the whole matter carefully over as he dressed for dinner. He
was a little more fastidious in his toilet than usual. And so far as he
could see, there was only one way. He would go straightforwardly to Lady
Edna and ask her to be his wife.

He would take advantage of no outside circumstances, and now that he had
made up his mind to this he felt less uneasy. When he reached Borne
Abbey there was no one in the drawing-room yet besides Sherringborne and
Sir James Pallisser.

"We were just talking about you," the latter said as he shook hands.
"Bartram has resigned his seat. I only knew it this afternoon, and I
have been discussing it with Sherringborne. Now that you have taken up
your residence in the country, I hope you will try your hand at
politics."

"There is nothing that would please me more," Sherringborne said. "But
I'm not quite sure that Saltburn is staying here. My daughter told me
something to the effect that he is letting the house and going abroad
for a time."

"Well, fortunately for me, that is no longer necessary," Philip said.
"You see, I was going to help my father, but it seems that he has
entered into a great financial alliance with van Ritter of New York.
After that, I hardly dared mention my poor little quarter of a million
or so. But, at any rate, Lord Sherringborne, I am going to stay here now
and settle down at 'The Chantrey.' And I think I should like a seat in
the House."

"Of course you would," de la Croisa explained. He had come into the room
just in time to hear the last words. "The air is full of strange
rumours, my dear fellow. I hear of schemes for the financial invasion of
England by an American army headed by your father and van Ritter. I hope
you are sufficiently an Englishman to keep out of that conglomeration."

"I wasn't asked to go in," Philip laughed. "And, in any case, I have had
quite enough of the money market. And now, Sir James and Lord
Sherringborne are trying to persuade me to try a hand at politics. Well,
I must confess that that is part of my programme, but I wasn't thinking
of it just yet. Still, Bartram's seat is a safe one, and if these kind
friends of mine here are willing, I am prepared to place myself in their
hands."

De la Croisa nodded approvingly. He took an early opportunity after
dinner of taking Sherringborne aside.

"You've done excellently to-night," he said. "In the course of a long
and distinguished career, I don't think you ever did anything better.
That young man will go far, Sherringborne. He has ability and modesty
and courage, and besides, he is exceedingly well off. Some day he will
be one of the richest men in the kingdom. His father has made a big
mistake this time, of course, but any moneymaker who acts upon the
assumption that William Saltburn is an extinct volcano will be likely to
suffer for it. In my opinion, he is putting up the biggest financial
combination in the world. Within the next twenty years Philip Saltburn
will be a power in the country. It is quite on the cards that he might
end up with a Premiership and a seat in the House of Lords. If he only
marries right that's a certainty."

"That's an important point," Sherringborne said thoughtfully. "I shall
look forward to that event."

De la Croisa screwed his glass in his eye. He looked his host up and
down with that easy audacity of his which, in most men, would have
savoured of gross impertinence.

"Of course you will, my dear fellow," he said. "It is, after all, the
most natural thing in the world that you should be interested in your
own son-in-law."

"My dear Baron," Sherringborne protested. "Well, and why not? He's a
splendid fellow. He is well enough connected, on his mother's side, at
any rate. He is rich, too, and--well to come to the point,
Sherringborne, you owe him a debt you would find it exceedingly
difficult to pay."

"That is so," Sherringborne said gravely. "But I give you my word of
honour that I hadn't the least idea that there was anything of this kind
going on between Saltburn and my daughter."

"Of course you hadn't. You have been too much wrapped up in your
politics for that."

"But I didn't think she cared for him. I know she was excessively
annoyed the first time I asked him to stay here. We had quite an
unpleasantness over it. Still, she has told me once or twice that she
has made a mistake. And, as you say, it would be very difficult indeed
to put my indebtedness to that young man into words. But surely you
don't mean to say--"

"Oh, no, I don't say anything. My dear Sherringborne, I am an old man,
and perhaps I take a little too much interest in my labours. But the
first time I saw those young people together I said to my self, 'Here is
an ideal couple.' Now, I am very fond of Edna; she has been a great
companion to me all these years, and I have watched her grow from a
charming child into a noble and beautiful woman. The only fault I could
see in her was that she was too proud, too full of class prejudices."

"I am afraid that was a family failing," Sherringborne murmured.

"What she wanted was to meet the right man. And in Philip Saltburn she's
done it, or I am greatly mistaken. Oh, I don't suppose he's said a word
to her yet, and I don't suppose she realises her own feelings. But now
that Philip Saltburn has put his trouble behind him, he won't allow the
grass to grow under his feet."

"You think she is fond of him then?"

"I honestly believe she is. And Lady Shorland is sure of it. I wouldn't
stand in the way, if I were you, Sherringborne. I feel sure that Lady
Edna could do a great deal worse."

"Oh, I'm not objecting," Sherringborne said. "Only the thing has come
rather as a surprise to me. These are democratic days."

De la Croisa pressed the point no further. It seemed to him that he had
accomplished his purpose, and that, as far as Sherringborne was
concerned, there would be no obstacle in the way of Philip's happiness.

It was fortunate, perhaps, for the Baron's diplomacy that Pallisser came
up at that moment. The windows of the drawing-room were open to the
terrace, and some of the others were taking their coffee outside. Lady
Shorland lay back in the depths of her big chair with a cigarette
between her lips. Shorland was close by, a little more noisy than he had
been of late. Apparently he had taken advantage of the relaxation of
discipline on his wife's part to imbibe a little more champagne than was
strictly in accordance with the usages of society. He was not a man who
drank with impunity. He was one of those weak heads to whom wine, in any
form, is fatal.

He appeared to be hilariously amused now. Lady Shorland lay back in her
chair and contemplated him as if he had been a sort of performing
parrot, and as if she were not quite pleased with the progress of the
bird's education.

"It is really beyond a joke," he said in his thin, shrill voice. "Oh,
hang it, my dear girl, we must draw the line somewhere, we really must."

"Well, you can't have a monopoly of that sort of thing, Teddy," Lady
Shorland said quietly. "I suppose you think that the family ought to
draw a line at me."

"Oh, I didn't say that," Shorland protested feebly.

"Well, at any rate, that's what it comes to. Now you are what's called a
'Lord of Creation.' It sounds like an exquisite joke in connection with
a man like you. You must marry a dancing girl and expect her to be taken
into the family with open arms and without a word of prejudice. And when
your sister wants to marry a man whose boots you are not worthy to
black, then you begin to talk about family dignity."

"I shall be the head of it some day," Shorland protested.

"And yet, there are a great many people, whose opinions are worth
having, who seem to think that I am much too good for you. Now, I am
quite enthusiastically of the opinion myself. And I am quite sure that
this sentiment will be echoed by Baron de la Croisa who is standing
behind me in the window listening in the meanest possible way to my
sweet confidences."

"There isn't the slightest doubt about it," the Baron said cheerfully.
"Without wishing to hurt dear Teddy's feelings for a moment, I should
say that any woman possessed of her faculties and not given to undue
partiality would be far too good for Shorland."

"I give it up," Shorland said feebly. "You people are too clever for me.
When you get talking like that, I don't know whether I am standing on my
head or my heels. But I ain't convinced, all the same. A man is
different. He can do as he likes. Of course, the Convict isn't a bad
chap, but when it comes to his aspiring to come into Borne Abbey and
hang his hat up as one of the family, well--there I draw the line."

CHAPTER XXXVI.--THE PROMISED LAND.

The Baron stood there listening with his head on one side, as if he were
following the rapt notes of a nightingale.

"Hear him talk," he murmured. "Listen to his burning eloquence. Isn't it
an inspiring sight to see Teddy Shorland posing as the guardian of the
family morality. Why, but for the grace of God and the clever little
lady by your side there would have been no family to guide by this time.
Ah, my boy, you're too big a fool to understand things, but some day,
when you are older and wiser, you will know what the Cranwallises have
to thank Lady Shorland and Philip Saltburn for."

Lady Shorland made a quick motion with her cigarette. From the depths of
her chair she could see that Lady Edna and Phil were coming down the
terrace in their direction. She was just too late, for Shorland broke
out with a sudden spurt of anger.

"I'll have nothing to do with it," he cried. "I'm going to have no
convict in my family. I don't say--"

De la Croisa caught the speaker savagely by the arm. From the bottom of
his heart he hoped that Lady Edna and Philip had not heard what was
said.

But the night was very still, and Shorland's voice had a certain
falsetto note in it which always carried far.

In the dim light that filtered through the window de la Croisa saw Lady
Edna pull up suddenly and the murmur of her voice died on her lips.
Undoubtedly Philip had heard it too, for he dropped his hands to his
sides, and came forward swiftly. Then he seemed to control himself and
waited for his companion to join him.

The Baron could see that Lady Edna's face was white and set; he could
see the anger blazing in her eyes. She wore no ornaments except a
shining thread of tiny brilliants round her throat, and these seemed to
rise and fall in uncertain light, like moonlight on the summer sea.

And then the Baron waited for the explosion which he knew as inevitable.
He was still young enough at heart to take a certain mischievous
enjoyment in the comedy. Besides, he told himself in his pleasantly
cynical fashion, that Shorland's opposition would precipitate matters.

"That is an unpleasantly penetrating voice of yours, Shorland," Lady
Edna said. "You really must learn to control it. I don't suppose that a
man of your position as prospective head of the family would so far
demean himself as to apologise to a girl like me, but you certainly owe
an apology to Mr. Saltburn."

Shorland shook his head obstinately. As a matter of fact, he was
terribly frightened. But he had all the perverseness of the weak, and
just enough sense to know that he had placed himself in a humiliating
position. What he lacked was the necessary sense and tact to get out of
it.

"Not me," he said. "I ain't going to apologise to the Convict. I don't
mean to be offensive, 'pon my word, I don't. But Saltburn will see for
himself that when it comes to a matter of Lady Edna Cranwallis and
himself--"

"Not another word," Lady Edna said. "This is unpardonable. It is
monstrous. And let me tell you this, Shorland, and I mean every word of
it from the bottom of my heart. The woman who marries Philip Saltburn
will be the luckiest creature in the world. And if it were I--"

The words were said beyond all recall. They had come, hot and
spontaneous, from Lady Edna's lips on the spur of the moment.

She was so entirely carried away by her feelings that she hardly
realised for the moment what she was saying. But that her heart was in
it was beyond all question.

Almost mechanically her hand outstretched and rested on Philip's, which
lay on the back of de la Croisa's chair. It was only the latter who, at
the moment, grasped the full meaning of the little gesture. He could see
clearly enough that Lady Edna meant it was a complete surrender. And
then at last it came home to Philip, too.

He turned to Lady Edna and met her eyes just for an instant, but that
instant was long enough. All the anger had died out of her face now. She
laughed unsteadily as she faced Shorland again.

He was learning something, too. Perhaps it occurred to him, in his
muddled way, that he had gone a bit too far.

"I'm sorry," he said. "And a chap can't say more than that he's sorry,
you know. No business of mine, really, when I come to think of it. There
are lots of chaps who would take--well you know what I mean. Awfully hot
night, isn't it?"

He wiped his heated face agitatedly. Then it occurred to him as a
brilliant suggestion that exhausted nature called for a whisky and soda.
And really, it was impossible for long to be angry with such a creature.

That, at any rate, was the liberal-minded view which Philip took of it.
It mattered nothing to him whether Shorland meant to be offensive or
not. He had certainly precipitated matters and told Philip what he had
been aching to know for the last hour or two. Lady Edna was laughing and
blushing now. She deemed to have cast aside all her haughtiness and
reserve.

"Don't let him have any more," she said. "I'm sure he's had quite enough
already."

"I think you can leave that to me," Lady Shorland said composedly. "When
I take Teddy in hand I shall do it effectually. You see, this is really
an exceptional occasion. These great things don't happen every night.
And now let me be one of the first to congratulate you, Mr. Saltburn."

"On what?" Philip asked.

"Well, really, I don't know where to begin first," Lady Shorland
laughed. "To begin with, I am glad to find that there is no chance of
your leaving the neighbourhood. Oh! I know a great deal more about these
matters than you are aware of. Why, it was I who brought your father and
van Ritter together. But I daresay your father has told you that.
Really, you've got nothing to thank me for."

"It seems to me that I have to thank everybody for everything," Philip
said joyfully. "It has made a great deal of difference to me. I don't
believe anybody realises how much difference it has made to me."

"Lady Edna does," Lady Shorland said demurely.

Lady Edna blushed to the roots of her hair, but she said nothing.
Strangely enough she seemed to be the most confused and uneasy of the
little party. It was de la Croisa, as usual, who came to the rescue.

"Everything has been arranged," he said gaily. "We are not going to lose
Saltburn; on the contrary, he is going to have a fresh stake in the
country. When Bartram resigns our young friend here is going to take his
place. Both Sherringborne and Sir James are of the same opinion as
myself, that we couldn't get a better man."

"Is that really so?" Lady Shorland asked. "Well, I am delighted to hear
it. If you don't mind I think I'll go in and see that Shorland isn't
getting into mischief."

She turned away, discreetly followed by the Baron. Lady Edna would have
followed too, only Philip held out an audacious hand and restrained her.
He was not feeling in the least nervous or doubtful now.

"Stop," he said. "We came here on purpose to talk of certain matters.
There is much I had to say. Now, on the contrary, there is very little I
have to say."

There was silence just for a moment. Lady Edna was the first to break
it. She turned to Philip almost passionately.

"What must you think of me?" she asked.

"Think of you, my dearest? Oh, surely you know what I have thought of
you from the very first?"

"But after to-night. After the way I spoke? I must have completely
forgotten myself."

"Oh, no, you didn't. You forgot your mantle of reserve and dignity, and
for once you were a natural woman. Surely I understand your feelings.
You were ablaze to see a guest insulted in that way. You would have done
the same for anyone. It was nice for me to hear you say that any woman
would be lucky who called herself Mrs. Philip Saltburn. And think how
lucky Philip Saltburn was to hear the only woman in the world he has
ever cared for speak like that in his hearing. Think how easy it makes
it for me. When I came here to-night I was almost afraid of what your
reply might be. But I am not afraid now. Why should I be?"

"Why indeed?" Lady Edna murmured softly. "Do you think it possible to be
two different women?"

"I think it possible to be half a dozen," Philip replied.

"Well, I don't quite mean that, Philip. I mean is it possible for a
woman to change utterly in a few months? What a hateful creature I must
have been when you first met me."

"You were nothing of the sort," Philip protested. "You were just as
sweet and charming then as you are now. Only, you see, your whole
existence was bound up in Borne Abbey and your father and the
contemplation of the family greatness. You didn't realise then how
purely human we all are, and how the greatest of us are likely to make,
mistakes at times. But if you could only have seen yourself to-night--"

"I don't want to think of it," Lady Edna whispered. "I want you to try
to forget it also."

"Forget it. Why should I forget it? Why, it will always be one of my
most cherished memories. A beautiful picture in a beautiful setting. And
the whole atmosphere faint with the smell of narcissus. Surely you don't
want the man you mean to marry to forget the moment when you stood
before the world and told everybody that you had found your happiness,
and crowned my own?"

Lady Edna smiled into the speaker's face. She had lost all her confusion
now, and her eyes were shining with happiness which she made no attempt
to conceal.

"I haven't said so," she whispered.

"Of course not, my darling. Mere words of that kind would spoil
everything. And so, after all, you are going to marry the son of a man
who started life in the kitchen of Borne Abbey. It is a terrible
comedown for a Cranwallis."

Lady Edna laid her hand upon his arm.

"I am going to do nothing of the kind," she said. "I know nothing of the
man who started life in the kitchen of Borne Abbey, and I care less. All
I know is that Philip Saltburn has asked me to be his wife, and I
believe I have been in love with him from the very day we first
met.......well, at any rate, I am quite sure I fell in love with him the
night that Shorland behaved so badly after he had come to our assistance
in keeping those wretched people out of the house. But, all the same,
that didn't prevent me from behaving very foolishly. Still--"

She held her hands out to Saltburn, who took them in his, and drew her
to his side. And with that the last drop of pride in her heart was fused
like a pearl.



THE END.



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