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Title: The Curious Quest
Author: E Phillips Oppenheim
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202641.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: July 2012
Date most recently updated: July 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Curious Quest
Author: E Phillips Oppenheim


*


THE CURIOUS QUEST
BY
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY
F. VAUX WILSON

BOSTON
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
1919





CHAPTER I

Mr. Ernest Bliss descended from the eighty-horsepower motor-car which
had been the pride of a recent exhibition and languidly rang the bell of
a large house in. Harley Street, which was the professional residence of
Sir James Aldroyd, M.D. He was admitted almost at once by a
solemn-visaged butler, and was escorted into the waiting room in which
three other people were already seated. He turned to the servant with a
frown.

"I wrote to Sir James for an appointment at eleven o'clock," he said.
"My name is Bliss--Mr. Ernest Bliss. Please let Sir James know I am
here."

"I am sorry, sir, but Sir James sees his patients strictly in the order
of their arrival," the man replied regretfully. "I don't think that he
will be very long this morning."

"Do you mean that I have to wait my turn?"

"I am afraid there is no other way of seeing Sir James," the servant
confessed.

Bliss seated himself disconsolately in an easy-chair and resigned
himself to wait with an ill grace which he took no particular pains to
conceal. He was a very spoilt young man, and he was inclined to resent
this treatment from a physician whom he was proposing to honour by his
patronage. Each time the butler entered the room he half rose, expecting
to hear his name called--and each time he was disappointed. It was not
until his turn arrived that he was shown into the presence of the
physician.

Sir James Aldroyd was seated before the writing table, making some notes
in a diary concerning the patient who had just left him. Bliss crossed
the room and, without waiting for an invitation, sank into the chair
which he rightly conceived to be the resting place of the doctor's
patients.

"My name is Bliss," he began. "I wrote you--"

"Wait just a moment, please," the physician interrupted brusquely.

Bliss stared at him with his mouth still open. He was not in the habit
of giving way to his emotions, but he was beginning to be conscious of a
distinct sense of annoyance. He made no protest, however; the
physician's personality was, in its way, overpowering. He sat still and
waited. Presently Sir James finished writing in his diary and drew an
open letter towards him. He glanced it through without any marked
indication of interest. His new patient's symptoms apparently failed to
move him.

"Mr. Ernest Bliss?" he remarked, swinging round on his chair and taking
up a stethoscope. "You wish me to examine you? Very well. Stand up and
take off your coat and waistcoat, please."

Bliss obeyed at once and submitted himself to the usual routine. Ten
minutes later, he sank back into his chair with ruffled hair and a
general sense of having been subjected to many personal ignominies. He
slowly buttoned up his waistcoat and watched the physician's face.

"What made you come to me?" the latter asked.

"Can't say, exactly," was the listless reply. "Felt out of sorts and
thought I had better see some one. I heard Dicky Senn talking about you
one day."

"Are you alluding to Mr. Richard Senn of the Shaftesbury Theatre?"

"Chap who does the ragtime dance in the second act," the young man
assented. "He was cracking you up all over the shop. Said you were the
only doctor in England who combined a certain amount of skill in his
profession with a reasonable leaven of common sense. Not trying to
butter you up, you know, but these were Dicky's own words, and Dicky
knows things."

Sir James Aldroyd laid down his stethoscope and, leaning back in his
chair', looked steadfastly at his visitor. His hard, clean-cut face,
with its massive forehead and strenuous lips, was not in any way an
expressive one, but it was obvious that he was regarding his new patient
with a certain amount of disfavour. His eyes were cold and critical, his
tone distant.

"Let me see, what did you say your name was?" he asked.

"Ernest Bliss."

"How old are you?"

"Twenty-five."

"What is your profession?"

"Profession? I haven't one," the young man replied.

"Your occupation, then," the physician continued impatiently. "You do
something, I suppose?"

Bliss shook his head and glanced toward his questioner, as though
doubtful concerning the effect of his next words.

"No necessity," he replied. "My father was Bliss, the ship owner. He
left me three quarters of a million. Since then, my uncle has left me
best part of another million."

Sir James played with his pencil for a moment and looked down at the
table. As a matter of self-discipline, he was anxious to keep a certain
expression from his face.

"So you do nothing because you are wealthy?" he remarked. "What are your
tastes? Are you a sportsman?"

"I don't know whether I can exactly call myself that," the young man
replied; "I have done the usual grind, of course. I have eight thousand
acres of shooting in Norfolk, and a grouse moor in Scotland. Then I went
out to Abyssinia last year with some fellows after big game. I've a
hunting box at Melton Mowbray. Can't say I'm very keen about it."

"Not one of these--er--occupations affords you any particular interest
at the present moment, then?" Mr. Ernest Bliss shook his head.

"Fed up with them all," he declared. "I do a bit of motoring, but I'm
off that at present."

"Married?"

"No."

"You keep late hours?"

"Always. It doesn't seem worth while getting up till dinner time. Every
one's grumpy till the evening, and there isn't a thing to do in the
daytime."

"And you have no appetite, you say?"

"None at all," the patient assented. "I seem to have lost all taste for
ordinary food. To keep myself going at all, I have to hunt around for
something outrageous. My breakfast yesterday was caviare and a brandy
and soda. I dined off bacon and eggs at the Ritz, and had a kippered
herring for supper at the Savoy."

The physician leaned a little further back in his chair and regarded his
visitor thoughtfully. The young man's appearance was not altogether
unprepossessing. He was short--if anything below medium height, and
inclined to be thin. His fashionable clothes concealed his shoulders if
he had any. His carriage was indifferent, and although his head was not
ill shaped, his features were marred by a certain vagueness of outline
and expression. His complexion was grey and unwholesome; the hand which
rested upon the table was trembling slightly. His eyes, however, were
good, and there was some suggestion of undeveloped humour about the
lines of his mouth.

"You are suffering," the physician pronounced quietly, "from dyspepsia,
nervous indigestion, and from what my fashionable friend in the next
street would call neurasthenia. You are suffering in the same way, from
an entirely different cause, as the man who comes to me broken down with
work. Of the two, yours is the more difficult case to deal with. So much
for the medical side."

"Just so," the young man murmured. "Now for the common sense. What am I
to do?"

"Your cure," Sir James said, "is in your own hands. No one else can help
you. If you wish to enjoy good health, you must completely change your
manner of living for a time, and wear the sackcloth and ashes of the
sanitary penitent. You have had unlimited opportunities of gratifying
every whim in life, and you have used--or rather misused--them. Now you
have got to pay."

Mr. Ernest Bliss sat a little more erect in his chair. Something in his
companion's tone, perfectly controlled though it was, seemed to have
roused him.

"There is nothing really the matter with me, then? I have told you what
I feel like; nervous, giddy, absolutely faint sometimes in the morning.
Seemed to me my heart must be dicky."

"There's nothing whatever the matter with your heart," the doctor
assured him. "You have a fair constitution which you are doing your best
to ruin at the present moment. You are sound enough. You will have good
health or not for the rest of your life according to how you treat
yourself. Go on living in your present manner, and you will be a poor
sort of creature in ten years' time. Strike out a new line--drink beer
instead of champagne, and water instead of beer occasionally; take real
exercise, do some honest work, and you will soon lose those symptoms you
were speaking of."

"Is that all the advice you can give me?"

"I can give you a prescription, but the medicine won't do you any good,"
the physician replied. "Drugs are no good to people in your condition
except to drag them down a little sooner."

"It's all very well," Bliss remarked discontentedly, "but I hoped you
might be able to give me more definite advice. There's no work I can do,
and beer disagrees with me horribly. I might ride in the mornings, but
I'm not keen on the idea. You can't imagine, Sir James, how bored I
really am with life. Not a soul I care about, not a thing I could take
any interest in doing. When I wake in the morning, I feel as though I'd
just as soon be going to bed. Rotten, isn't it?"

"Very," Sir James replied drily. "You want more definite advice, did you
say?"

"That's what I'm here for," Bliss admitted.

"You shall have it, then," Sir James continued. "You say there is not a
single thing in your present life which you find attractive. I gather
that you have no real friends, that there is no one with whom you care
to spend your time. Break away from it, then. Disappear. Let it be known
amongst your acquaintances that you have gone abroad for a time. Get
into the City or some country town and earn your own living. Earn a
pound a week, if you can find any one who thinks you worth as much, and
live on it. A very interesting experiment and one which would certainly
better your physical condition."

Mr. Ernest Bliss rose slowly to his feet.

"So that is your common sense, is it, Doctor?" he remarked.

"It is the soundest common sense you ever heard in your life," the
physician answered briskly. "Of course you won't appreciate it. You are
the fourth or fifth young man who has been to see me during the last few
days, practically in your condition."

Bliss held out his hand.

"Not at all sure," he remarked languidly, "that I won't take your advice
some day. Good morning."

Sir James was in a rather irritable mood, and he had conceived a most
unprofessional dislike for his patient. It was seldom he gave way to his
prejudices. For once in his life, he did. He looked at Bliss' hand and,
taking up his notebook, ignored it.

"Good morning," he said shortly.

The young man's cheeks were suddenly flushed. His outstretched hand fell
back to his side. It was the first time in his life he had met with such
treatment. Nevertheless, he stood his ground.

"You don't seem to like me, Doctor," he remarked.

"To be perfectly frank with you, I do not," Sir James answered
brusquely. "I will go a little further and tell you that you are not the
sort of patient I care to encourage or waste my time over."

"Why not?" Bliss demanded.

"Because the world is full of genuine suffering," the physician replied,
"of men and women who drift into ill health through no fault of their
own, sometimes from overwork, sometimes from want of the necessaries of
life, sometimes from their too great devotion to others. These are the
sort of patients I desire to cultivate, to whose relief I like to
dedicate my skill. As for you," he continued, a note of contempt
creeping into his voice, "you have no moral stamina. You might practise
self-denial for a week--that would be about your limit. Young men of
your type have not learned how to persevere. They make a half-hearted
effort to do something and relapse before they know where they are into
their old ways.--Will you shut the door after you as you go out,
please?"

Bliss remained motionless. His lips had come together in a manner which
seemed to give a new expression to his face.

"So that is what you think about me, is it?" he said, with a curious new
virility in his tone. "Very well, then. Now that you have had your say,
perhaps you will listen to me. Dicky Senn tells me that you used to be a
bit of a sportsman at Oxford. I'll make a bet with you. You are the boss
at St. James' Hospital, aren't you?"

"I am chairman of the governing board of that institution," Sir James
replied stiffly.

"It was your name I saw at the bottom of a circular the other day,"
Bliss continued. "You're cadging for a new wing and general laboratory,
aren't you? It's twenty-five thousand pounds you want, isn't it? Now
listen to me. I'll lay that twenty-five thousand to a shake of the hand
and an honest apology from you that I start out to-day with a five-pound
note and live for a year on what I earn. Do you hear that?"

"I hear it," the physician remarked, with unmoved face. "A very
interesting suggestion."

"Don't you believe I am in earnest?" Bliss demanded.

"You may possibly be," was the calm reply. "Your name and wealth are
probably well known in certain circles. I can imagine that your
bookmaker, or your wine merchant, or even your tobacconist would be very
glad indeed to make use of your valuable services for twelve months at a
suitable remuneration."

The young man was thoroughly angry, and it was a state which seemed to
agree with him. His eyes had lost their leaden look, and there was a
distinct flush of colour in his cheeks.

"I am not such a rotter as you seem to think me," he said excitedly. "I
undertake that I will not derive the slightest benefit from my wealth,
my name, or my Present position, and that if, during that time, I draw a
cheque or touch my own money, it shall be one of the conditions that I
personally, directly or indirectly, shall not profit by it. Don't let's
have any mistake about this. I'll take no post except as Bliss, the
out-of-work. If my identity is discovered or even suspected while I am in
any one's employ, I will leave immediately. If I touch my own money at
all any time during the next twelve months, for my own advantage, the
bet is lost. Are you on?"

Sir James bowed a little sarcastically. His interest in his patient
remained almost negligible.

"Certainly the hospital could do with twenty-five thousand pounds very
nicely," he murmured.

"You understand the terms of the bet?"

"Perfectly."

Bliss, as he prepared to depart, produced an envelope from his pocket.
Sir James pushed it away a little wearily.

"I cannot take money for such advice as I have given you," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because my advice is valueless. The odds are about a thousand to one
against your taking it."

"So much the better for you if I don't," Bliss reminded him. "You'll get
the twenty-five thousand for your hospital."

The physician rose to his feet impatiently and struck a bell by his
side. He turned towards his visitor with an almost discourteous gesture
of dismissal. For once he dropped the mask. The expression on his face
was one of contemptuous disbelief.

"Perhaps," he said.

Bliss found himself filled to the brim now with unexpected and unusual
emotions. The anger which the physician's attitude had kindled in him
kept him for a moment silent. Then he clenched his fist and struck the
table with what, for a weakling, was a very creditable blow.

"Thirty seconds ago," he declared, "it was just possible that your
hospital stood a very fair chance of getting the money. Now I'm damned
if you will ever see a penny of it."

"The bet, then, is off?" the physician enquired with a cynical smile.

"The bet is on," Bliss replied vigorously, "and I am going to win it."



CHAPTER II

The metamorphosed Ernest Bliss stepped out on to the pavement with a
very grim look upon his face. He managed to outstrip the butler in the
hall by a few yards and deliberately slammed the door, a fact which
seemed to afford him a queer sense of satisfaction. He turned out the
chauffeur from his seat and, to the man's intense surprise, took the
wheel himself and drove the car very skillfully through the difficult
thoroughfares, until he arrived at a gloomy suite of lawyers' offices in
Lincoln's Inn Fields.

"One of those cylinders is inclined to miss fire, Hayes," he said to the
chauffeur as he descended. "I shall be here for about five minutes; just
have a look at it."

"Certainly, sir," the man replied. "It's a drop of oil on one of the
plugs. I'll have it all right, sir, by the time you come out."

The mention of his name to a youthful representative of the firm of
Crawley and Crawley, Solicitors, procured for Bliss at once a very
different reception from the one he had just encountered at the
physician's, and should have done much to reestablish his self-esteem.
The office boy was superseded by the managing clerk, who conducted him
without delay, in a manner almost obsequious, to the august presence of
Mr. William Crawley, senior partner of the firm, whose smile of welcome
and cheery greeting were of the order reserved for his most
distinguished clients.

"My dear Mr. Bliss," he exclaimed, rising to his feet and holding out
his hand, "this is indeed a pleasure! Take that easy-chair, won't you,
and shall I send for some cigarettes? Do, please, make yourself
comfortable."

"That's all right," Bliss replied, dragging up a high-backed chair to
the lawyer's table. "I don't want an easy-chair, thanks, and I won't
smoke. I have come on a very important matter of business."

"Dear me!" Mr. Crawley murmured. "The Hanover Street mortgages, perhaps.
I have received an advice this morning--"

"Bother the Hanover Street mortgages," Bliss interrupted. "You know very
well that I don't interfere in the matter of my investments. For the
next twelve months they aren't going to interest me very much."

The lawyer adopted a waiting attitude. He leaned back in his chair with
the tips of his fingers pressed very lightly together.

"Look here," Bliss continued. "What is it you fellows do when a client
hops it out to Africa or somewhere for a year, and can't be heard of? He
signs some document or other and you run the whole show."

"A power of attorney?" Mr. Crawley suggested gently.

"That's it," Bliss agreed. "Just draft me one out at once, will you?"

Mr. Crawley had the air of one who is being hurried along a little too
fast. He coughed and leaned a little forward.

"Mr. Bliss," he said, "have you any idea as to the immense significance
of such a document?"

"What I take it to mean," Bliss replied, "is that you will be able to
sign cheques and transfers, and manage my affairs for me until I revoke
it."

"Precisely," Mr. Crawley assented. "The responsibilities connected with
such powers are enormous. In your case, Mr. Bliss, they would be
stupendous. It would mean entire control of a fortune which to-day
exceeds the sum of a million and a quarter sterling."

"Well, that's your job, isn't it, to take on responsibilities?" Bliss
remarked coolly. "I should like to sign that power of attorney before I
leave this office."

Mr. Crawley rose from his seat, rang the bell, and gave a few
instructions to the clerk who answered the summons. Then he returned to
his seat and once more addressed his client.

"Do I understand, then, Mr. Bliss, that you are thinking of going
abroad?" he asked.

"It is very doubtful," Bliss replied, "whether I shall leave London."

"But then why--" Mr. Crawley began.

Bliss leaned a little forward and tapped the table firmly. There was a
new directness in his manner, and a new ring in his tone.

"Look here, Mr. Crawley," he interrupted, "you're a sound lawyer, I
know. You understand, I am sure, the first principles of your
profession."

"My dear Mr. Bliss!" the lawyer murmured reproachfully.

"At six o'clock this evening, perhaps before," Bliss went on, "I am
going to disappear for exactly a year."

"To--er--disappear?"

"Precisely. You are not to ask me why; you are not to ask me for any
further explanation. You need not know whether I am in London, on the
continent, or in another hemisphere. Wipe me off the map for twelve
months from to-day. You will probably hear from me now and then," Bliss
continued, looking the lawyer straight in the face. "You may, or you may
not. But if you want to keep my business, understand this; whatever may
happen, I forbid you to make the slightest effort, under any
circumstances, to ascertain my whereabouts."

Mr. Crawley had lost that air of suave yet firm composure which he
flattered himself that nothing was able to disturb. His eyes, likewise
his mouth, were very wide open. His expression, as he gazed at his
client, was one of simple and unaffected astonishment.

"You take my breath away," he confessed. "Surely you don't realise the
magnitude of your financial affairs. The Scotch mortgages will all be
paid off during the next few months, and nothing has been settled yet
about the reinvestment."

"What on earth do I know about reinvestments? I should leave it to you
and the stock brokers, anyhow. Can't you understand this? You must treat
me as though I were a ward in Chancery, and you a trustee fixed by the
court to deal with my investments according to the best of your
judgment. You understand?"

"The responsibility will be a very grave one, but since you insist, I
must, of course, assume it."

"Then, that's all right," Bliss declared with a sigh of relief, as he
rose to his feet and took up his hat.

"One moment, Mr. Bliss," the lawyer begged. "There is the power of
attorney to sign."

Bliss laid down his hat again and waited while Mr. Crawley telephoned
through to the clerk's office. In a few minutes the documents were
spread out before him. With his finger upon the seal, Bliss took up a
pen and signed his name. The lawyer glanced at the signature with
fascinated eyes.

"Mr. Bliss," he said, his tone shaking with something suspiciously like
emotion, "do you realise that you have made over to the control of one
man, a million pounds' worth of stocks and shares and negotiable
property?"

"You won't play skittles with it," Bliss asserted confidently.

"I have not sought this responsibility, but since you have forced it
upon me, I can assure you that I shall use my very best efforts on your
behalf. At the risk of offending you, however, I should be shirking my
duty if I did not beg of you once more, before you leave this office, to
give me some idea of the nature of this enterprise upon which you are
about to enter."

"Can't be done," Bliss replied firmly. "It's nothing dangerous, I can
assure you of that, nothing where I am likely to come to any harm."

"But what am I to reply to the enquiries I shall receive?"

"Nothing," Bliss insisted. "You have no information to give. That is all
you need say, and it is the truth. I shall post you a list of the
salaries you will have to pay, and, with luck," he added, glancing at
the calendar which hung upon the wall, "we shall meet again in twelve
months from to-day."

Bliss departed from Lincoln's Inn Fields leaving, with both Mr. Crawley
and those others with whom he had spoken, an impression of something
altogether strange. Once more he took the wheel of his car, and turning
westward, arrived in about a quarter of an hour before a handsome
grey-stone block of flats in Arleton Street. Before alighting, he
stopped the engine and turned to the chauffeur who was seated by his
side.

"Hayes," he asked, "how long have you been in my service?"

"Two years, sir," the man replied, a little startled.

"I'm not going to send you away," Bliss reassured him, "but I am going
to give you a pretty tough job."

"If it is anything in the driving line, sir," the man began hopefully,--

"It is not," Bliss interrupted. "You have got to do nothing for twelve
months, that's all."

The man grinned.

"I am thirty-one years old, sir, and I started work when I was eight.
Never had a day's holiday to speak of. Think I could do with a year's
rest, all right."

"All the same, I don't think you'll like it," Bliss warned him. "Listen.
You need not call for orders till you receive word from Mr. Crawley. You
can go to his office for your wages every Saturday. You will take the
tyres off the cars and sling them up. If you like to get a job at one of
the garages, I shall not object. That's your own affair."

The man looked distinctly puzzled.

"If I might take the liberty, sir," he began,--

"If you ask a single question," Bliss interrupted, "I shall sack you.
Make the most of your year's rest. I shall work you hard enough when I
come back. Here's good luck to you."

Bliss descended from the car, leaving the man with a five-pound note in
his hand and a general expression of stupefaction upon his visage. He
entered the lift and, ascending to the third floor, let himself into his
own very handsome suite of apartments. His valet came hurrying into the
hall to take his hat.

"Clowes," Bliss directed, "put me out a plain blue serge suit and a
flannel shirt and collar. Then pack me a bag with some changes of linen
and underclothes; no evening clothes, or anything of that sort."

The man preserved with an obvious effort his accustomed immutability of
expression.

"You are changing at once, sir?" he asked.

"At once," Bliss replied. "You had better help me off with these things
first."

In half an hour's time the bag was packed, and Bliss surveyed himself in
the glass with qualified approval. For once, he had found his wardrobe
inadequate to the demands made upon it. There were clothes for every
sporting or social function which he might be called upon to attend. Its
limitations, however, seemed reached by Bliss' present requirements. He
had attired himself as simply as possible. His tie was inconspicuous,
his shoes thicker than usual, and he had never made a habit of wearing a
flannel collar when in town. Nevertheless, there was still an air of
dilettantism about his appearance.

"Best job I can make of it, anyway," he muttered to himself as he turned
away. "Now then, Clowes--" The man hurried forward. He was beginning to
feel a little disturbed. His master's unusual attitude, as well as his
sartorial requirements, struck him as eccentric, and eccentricity was
not a quality of which he approved.

"Nothing further I can do, sir?" he asked deferentially. "It's past one
o'clock. May I make you an _apéritif?"_

"Ah, you may do that," Bliss assented, "and in the meantime, listen to
me."

The man moved towards the sideboard and busied himself with several
bottles and a silver shaker. Bliss puffed at a cigarette as he watched
him.

"Clowes," he said, as he finally accepted the frosted glass, "I am going
away this morning, and I am going to leave you a hard task."

"Yes, sir?" the man asked eagerly. "Would you like a shade more of the
bitters?"

Bliss shook his head.

"Excellent," he pronounced. "Now listen carefully. People say that the
hardest task in the whole world for a man used to regular employment is
to do nothing. That is the job you've got to tackle. I am leaving here
in a minute or two for twelve months."

The man started. He looked with almost horror at the suit-case which he
had just packed.

"But you haven't any clothes, sir!" he protested. "Am I to pack your
trunks and send them on?"

"I have all that I require," Bliss told him firmly. "So far as you are
concerned, all that you will have to do is to take the letters each
morning to Mr. Crawley, keep the place aired and comfortable, and ask no
questions and answer none. All bills, taxes, and charges of any sort
Will be paid by Mr. Crawley on presentation, and of the rest you know
nothing. I may be in Timbuctoo, or I may be in the next street. It is
not your business to know, and you don't know. Get that well into your
head."

"I understand perfectly, sir," the man replied, looking more puzzled
than ever. "You will forgive my mentioning it, but you are scarcely used
to travelling without a servant. I hope you will reconsider the question
of leaving me behind."

"There is no reconsideration possible," Bliss assured him "I shall not
require a servant. All that you have to do is to sit tight and wait for
my return. I am sire that I can place every trust in you. You will be
paid your full salary, and I hope you will use your spare time sensibly
and not get into bad habits or anything of that sort. Look for me back
again twelve months from to-day."

The man was, for a moment, incapable of speech. Bliss was busy going
over all his pockets and collecting his money. When he had finished,
there was a little pile of gold and notes upon the table.

"Thirty-four pounds, seven and ninepence," he announced, counting it
out. "Now, Clowes, you dressed me, you are my witness that I have no
more money in any of my pockets."

"Certainly not, sir," the man admitted.

"Take that five-pound note," Bliss went on, "fold it up, and place it in
my pocket. I have no more money upon me, have I?"

The man's expression was almost pathetic. Insanity seemed to be the only
possible explanation of his master's conduct.

"No, sir, no more money, certainly not."

"Very well then," Bliss said. "You can take what's left for yourself,
Christmas boxes, tips, and that sort of thing. Now carry my bag
down-stairs, and put it on a taxi."

The man obeyed. He had the air, as he followed his master into the lift
and down the court, of a man walking in a dream. Bliss, on the contrary,
was more alert than he had been for many days. He carried himself almost
briskly. A curious, unwonted thrill stirred him as he awaited the taxi.

"Where to, sir?" Clowes asked, as he deposited the dressing-case by the
side of the driver and turned towards his master.

The question took Bliss a little aback. He hesitated for a moment. Then
an inspiration seized him. "Towards the City," he ordered firmly.



CHAPTER III

"So you're after the job, eh?" Mr. Masters asked, tilting his office
chair back to a dangerous angle and eyeing his visitor keenly. "Dash my
buttons! I thought you were a customer when you came in."

Mr. Ernest Bliss also leaned back in his chair, which, by-the-by, he had
taken uninvited. He was still wearing the exceedingly well-cut blue
serge suit in which he had started out upon his pilgrimage. The trousers
were, however, mud-splashed, and his boots already showed signs of wear.
His expensive malacca cane reposed across his knees. He was slowly
withdrawing his reindeer gloves from his fingers.

"Sorry if I disappointed you," he observed. "I have called in answer to
your advertisement. I wish to sell--er--the Alpha Cooking Stoves, I
believe you call them."

Mr. Masters looked his visitor up and down and failed to recognise the
type.

"Want to sell our stoves," he murmured dubiously.

"I read your advertisement in _The Daily Telegraph_ in the public
library this morning," Bliss continued. "You say that you want a man,
young, able, and pushing. I possess all three of these qualities."

"Ever been on the road?" Mr. Masters enquired. The young man hesitated.
The technicality of the question for a moment defeated him. He
temporised. "What I may lack in experience," he ventured, "I certainly
make up in the quality you call push, and in sheer undoubted ability."

The young lady who was typing in a corner of the room looked up at these
words and surveyed him curiously. A broad grin spread itself over the
round, good-natured features of the stove manufacturer.

"A trifle modest, eh?" he remarked.

"Not now," Bliss replied. "I started that way when I began to look for a
job a fortnight ago. At present I am trying to realise my own worth. It
seems to be the only way to impress it upon other people."

Mr. Masters' expression changed. A prodigious frown spread over his
features. This time, not the flicker of a smile escaped him. He was a
very formidable person indeed.

"Don't believe you ever sold a soap dish in your life," he growled.

"Who has," his visitor asked blandly. "What have soap dishes to do with
the subject of our conversation? You, I take it, are the manufacturer of
the Alpha Cooking Stove. I am the man whom Providence has selected for
you to sell that particular article at, I think you said, two pounds a
week salary, all out of pocket expenses and five per cent. commission on
sales."

Mr. Masters brought his chair forward with a bang. "Steady, young
fellow. I haven't engaged you yet," he interrupted.

"But you will," Bliss declared confidently. "I'm sure you will, and I
should be awfully obliged if you would hurry up and settle it. I want to
begin work." Mr. Masters stared at this somewhat unusual applicant. He
was a large man, with broad features and a ruddy complexion. He had the
anxious look and the wandering eyes of an inventor. It seemed to be his
continual aim in life to be regarded as a man of forbidding appearance,
an aspiration with which his own kind heart was continually contending.

"Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed vigorously. "Here, Miss Clayton."

The young lady, a plainly dressed, brown-haired girl of quiet but
attractive appearance, ceased her performance upon a typewriter and
turned round.

"Yes, Mr. Masters?"

"Just bring me the applications for the job, will you?" he ordered.
"You'll find them all on top of the safe."

The young lady promptly disappeared. Bliss pulled up his trousers a
little higher, displaying an alluring vision of Bond Street socks.

"Waste of time going through those, rather, isn't," it he suggested
pleasantly. "There are always crowds of people out of a job who answer
any advertisement. Now I," he added slowly and emphatically, "have never
before been out of a job in my life."

Mr. Masters, although he made an effort to conceal the fact, was visibly
impressed.

"You've been jolly lucky, then," he declared. "Jolly lucky, young man. I
couldn't have said the same at your age. Never out of a job, eh?"

"Not once," Bliss assured him.

The young lady, who had just returned with a pile of letters in her
hand, looked him up and down. There was a vague disfavour in her eyes.

"Have you ever had one?" she asked sarcastically.

Bliss was speechless. The suddenness of the attack had unnerved him. Mr.
Masters, however, saved the situation.

"What do you think of that, my young sir?" he exclaimed triumphantly as
he pointed to the stack of letters. "One hundred and twenty applications
from commercial travellers of experience,--men who know their job and
simply want the privilege of selling the Alpha Cooking Stove. Will you
tell me exactly why you expect I am going to chuck all these in your
favour? Eh?"

Bliss looked at his questioner steadfastly. Mr. Masters' bushy eyebrows
were drawn together in what was meant to be a terrifying frown, but
underneath his blue eyes were shining with furtive kindliness.

"Because this is my thirteenth application for a job, Mr. Masters, and
thirteen is my lucky number. If you want another reason, here it is. I
am done to the world, and if I don't get it, I shall either have to
starve, or go back to--er--what I was doing before."

"And what might that be Mr. Masters demanded suspiciously.

"Nothing dishonest," Bliss declared, "but nothing very reputable. I want
to raise myself, not sink back. You are a good-natured fellow, Mr.
Masters; you don't want to see a man--"

The stove manufacturer struck the desk with his fist.

"Stop," he thundered.

Bliss obeyed promptly. Mr. Masters was frowning more ponderously than
ever. The brown-haired typist too had ceased rattling the keys of her
machine, and was looking up.

"Don't get giving yourself away, young man," Mr. Masters expostulated.
"There are some things it is better to keep to yourself. Now answer me
one question. Is this reference of yours from these lawyer chaps bona
fide, or isn't it?"

"It is absolutely bona fide," Bliss declared fervently.

Mr. Masters moved towards the door.

"We'll go and have a look at the stove, anyway," he said. "A child could
sell it, but you may as well look it over. Wait here one moment."

He passed hastily out into the warehouse to interview a loiterer who was
gazing at the model of the stove. Bliss was left alone with the
brown-haired typist.

"Do you think I'm going to get this job?" he asked her.

She raised her head for a moment and looked at him. He perceived then
that he had underrated her attractions. She was tall and a little thin
Her eyes were large and soft, her complexion clear, and her mouth showed
character. Bliss recognised in her from that first moment some quality
which placed her in another world from all the women with whom he had
been used to associate.

"I am afraid you are," she replied.

"Afraid?" he repeated, a little staggered.

She nodded.

"'Afraid' is the word I used. Mr. Masters is far too kind-hearted. He
can't say no to any one. That is why I added to the advertisement that
all applications must be made in writing. You are the first one who has
disregarded it."

"But tell me why you don't want me to have the job?" he begged. "I don't
see why I shouldn't be able to sell stoves as well as anybody else."

She looked him over critically. There was the suspicion of a smile upon
her lips which vaguely irritated him. Her eyes rested for a moment on
his cane.

"Are you going to take that about with you," she asked.

He coloured a little.

"Of course not," he answered. "The fact is, I brought it out with me to
take to the pawnshop, but when I started walking, I got so frightfully
keen on coming here that I couldn't spare the time."

She turned back to her work.

"Well, it isn't my business," she sighed. "Sometimes I almost wish it
were. Mr. Masters is a clever inventor, but he hasn't the least idea how
to make money or organise things. If he had happened to hit upon a
really first-class traveller who took an interest in the stove and knew
how to place it on the market, it might have been our salvation, that's
all."

Bliss rose slowly to his feet. He was conscious of a feeling of almost
absurd disappointment. The memory of the past fortnight rose up like a
nightmare before him.

"Very well, then," he decided a little doggedly, "I'll go."

He moved towards the door. She stopped him.

"Come back," she ordered. "That's very nice of you if you mean it, but
it's too late. Mr. Masters is one of the most obstinate men in the
world. That is why I said nothing. Now that he has made up his mind to
engage you, you must be engaged."

"I'll go away if you say so," he persisted.

"No use! He would never rest until he had found you again."

"You wish me luck, anyhow," he begged.

Her lips relaxed a little.

"I wish you luck with your sales," she said. "We need orders badly."

"You shall have them," he promised.

"What's that? What's that?" Mr. Masters demanded, as he pushed his noisy
way through the door.

"I have just been assuring this young lady," Bliss explained, "that if I
get the job, I am going to bring you plenty of orders."

Mr. Masters patted him on the shoulder.

"Then get to work, young man," he said. "The job is yours."



CHAPTER IV

Bliss, in his first unsuccessful efforts to sell the Alpha Cooking
Stove, wore out a pair of shoes and spent twenty-six of the most
miserable days of his life. He, who had been the spoilt darling of
servile commissionaires, of theatrical door-keepers, restaurant pages,
and obsequious _maitres d'hôtel,_ was snubbed vigorously by small boys
who looked at him through half-opened wicket holes and kept waiting for
hours in draughty passages by inattentive clerks, only to have his card
brought back from the buyer of some furnishing department, with a
message more or less covertly insolent. He was at divers times informed,
when he got a hearing at all, that his particular stove was the worst,
the dearest, and the most out-of-date of all stoves that ever cumbered
the ground. His face grew a little harder day by day. Distaste of this
new career upon which he had entered, half in a spirit of bravado and
half with a real though fleeting enthusiasm, deepened with his lack of
success. His knees began to tremble, no longer from nervousness, but
from actual weakness. He slept in a cheap lodging on the topmost floor
of a house in a dingy neighbourhood, and he ate cheap food. He lived
on his weekly two pounds, which he accepted after his fruitless labours
with a groan; and each evening when he returned to the little warehouse
in Fore Street to make his report, he went through a sort of purgatory.
The moment his foot crossed the threshold, it began. The warehouseman,
who was generally-engaged in polishing the model stove, stopped his work
and looked at him expectantly. Mr. Masters always met him at the office
door. His stereotyped question was delivered with an eagerness which it
had become daily more hard to conceal.

"Any luck to-day, Bliss?"

The brown-haired girl, too, ceased her work and looked at him. Each time
he had to make the same answer. It was becoming unbearable. On the
twenty-sixth day he limped painfully in to face his ordeal. He had
walked from Islington and was giddy. He spoke even before he could open
the door, spoke with half-closed eyes. He felt that to-day he was
bringing with him the culminating disappointment. He had been to keep an
appointment upon which Mr. Masters had placed great hopes.

"No luck," he announced. "Not the ghost of an order! Bembers wouldn't
even see me. Their clerk told me that they had placed a large contract
for an American stove five per cent. cheaper than ours."

The girl's face was suddenly averted. Mr. Masters, with a muttered word,
rose and went out into the warehouse. Bliss sank into his vacant chair
and covered his face with his hands. The girl looked across the room at
him and sighed.

"You seem tired," she said. "Shall I make some tea?"

The note of compassion in her voice was the most pleasant thing he had
heard that day. He looked up at her gratefully.

"If you would," he replied. "I do feel pretty well done. I suppose I am
a mug," he went on bitterly, "but I don't believe the Archangel Gabriel
could sell those stoves."

"I am afraid," she sighed, as she crossed the floor with a cup of tea in
her hand, "that the broker's man will have to."

He looked up at her quickly.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "I thought that we could not get them fast
enough; that they were all being shipped for export."

"Bluff," she assured him. "All bluff! I don't suppose there's any harm
in telling you now. Mr. Masters bought the whole bankrupt stock of an
iron-founder in Sheffield. It was a great speculation for him, but you
know how sanguine he is. He has nearly five hundred stoves made and not
twenty sold. The first bill for the material was paid last week, and the
next is due on Tuesday. We cannot meet it. We can only just pay the
wages on Saturday. By next Tuesday we shall have five hundred stoves in
stock, and not a penny in the bank."

Bliss could say nothing. He only sat and stared.

"I feel so sorry for Mr. Masters," she went on softly. "He was only a
working man, and he saved the few hundred pounds he started with, week
by week. He is so proud of his name and character. I think that it will
break his heart if he has to fail, and there is no help for it that I
can see."

"Five hundred stoves in stock," Bliss murmured, "at fourteen guineas.
Why doesn't he sell some at a little less, just enough to pay this
bill?"

She nodded.

"He has tried to do that, although he hated it because he did not think
it was fair business. He offered two hundred to-day at actual cost to a
firm, just to pay next week's bill. They declined. He is almost
desperate about it."

"Great Csesar!" Bliss muttered. "And I have been kicking myself because
I couldn't sell them at fourteen."

"That's a different thing altogether. You have been calling mostly upon
retail people, and fourteen guineas is a very fair price. To tell you
the truth, I am surprised that you haven't sold any," she added, a
little unfeelingly. "You seemed so very confident when you started."

He set his teeth. There was a look in his face which would have
astonished Sir James Aldroyd.

"There are two days left," he reminded her grimly.

The door was thrown open, and Mr. Masters bustled in with his accustomed
air of exuberant energy. He was humming a tune to himself, but his
affected cheerfulness was a little overdone. "Ah! there you are, Bliss,"
he exclaimed. "Afraid I must remind you that your time is up on
Saturday. A month's trial, that was it, wasn't it?"

Bliss rose heavily to his feet.

"Sorry I've been such a failure, sir," he said slowly. "I have got two
more days, however, and it's occurred to me--well, I have had an idea as
I sat here. Perhaps it isn't worth much, but I want to make one more
effort to-morrow."

Mr. Masters was mildly curious.

"Going to try a new district?" he enquired. "You've got the whole field
to yourself, you know, and the finest stove in the world to sell. It's
just a question of getting at the right people."

"That's exactly what I feel myself, sir," Bliss asserted thoughtfully.
"By-the-by, if I wanted a stove to show a customer--"

"There's one in the packing case outside," Mr. Masters interrupted
eagerly. "Tim hasn't gone yet. He can take it wherever you like. He
hasn't had a stroke of work to do all day. Shall I tell him to put it on
a truck?"

Bliss burnt his boats.

"If you please," he answered valiantly.

Mr. Masters hurried out, shouting for the warehouseman. Already his step
was more buoyant. The girl looked at Bliss almost reproachfully.

"Do you think it's quite fair to give him false hopes like that?" she
demanded.

"There's no false hope about it," Bliss replied, taking up his hat. "I'm
going to sell that stove and a dozen more like it before this time
to-morrow night."

She looked at him searchingly. She was forced to admit that the Ernest
Bliss of to-day was somehow a very different being from the young man
who had sat in that chair a month ago, and in whom, at that time, she
had felt no confidence whatever. There was a new ring in his voice. His
mouth seemed to have become tenser, and his manner more determined. A
little thrill of hope crept into her reply.

"Oh, if you only can!"

Her eyes glowed. He was suddenly conscious of the birth of new powers
within him. He felt like a Samson.

"I shall," he asserted. "And what then?"

It was amazing to him that he had not realised her charm before. She
flashed a wonderful smile upon him and sat down before her machine.

"Well, we'll see!"



CHAPTER V

Bliss, committed to an enterprise only the barest details of which he had
as yet conceived, went off down the street with Tim and the packing case
following close behind. He walked rapidly at first, and without any
precise idea of his destination. Tim, who had grown used to inactivity,
was beginning to feel somewhat aggrieved.

"How far might you be going, sir?" he cried out presently, pausing to
wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Bliss stopped short upon the
pavement.

"Sorry, I'd forgotten all about you," he said. "I have one or two calls
to pay before I want the stove. No need for you to come with me. Look
here! Do you know St. James' Street?"

"Do you mean St. James' Street right up the West End?" Tim demanded
ruefully.

"That's the one. Can you find your way there without me? You can take
your own time and wait for me outside Number Thirty-seven--name of
Broadbent, house agents. I shall be there in less than an hour."

Tim wiped his forehead, and with a surprising lack of delicacy referred
to the impossibility of getting to St. James' Street without
refreshment. With a sigh Bliss thrust his hand into his trousers pocket
and glanced at the contents. He was possessed of two shillings and
ninepence halfpenny, with nothing more to come until Saturday morning.
He handed the ninepence halfpenny to the porter.

"Mind you're there," he enjoined. "It's important."

From the first, Bliss proceeded on his new campaign with a total and
almost contemptuous disregard of difficulties. When he arrived at his
banker's an hour after closing time, he simply rang the bell at the side
door until he was admitted. The mention of his name made the rest easy.
When the young man at the estate agents in St. James' Street scoffed at
the idea of letting an empty shop in Regent Street for anything under a
term of years, Bliss brushed him out of the way, and, with a handful of
bank notes, arranged the matter promptly with the head of the firm. A
few minutes later, accompanied by the clerk carrying the keys, and
followed by Tim wheeling the truck, he made his way to the lower part of
Regent Street and took temporary possession of the new premises he had
selected. The packing case was deposited on the boarded space in front
of the plate-glass window. The young man, after showing them the
whereabouts of the electric lights and other small details, departed.
Bliss closed the door after him and returned to Tim.

"Look here, Tim, you understand these stoves, don't you?" he asked.

"I understand them all right," Tim replied, "but what the mischief's our
little game here?"

"You'll see fast enough to-morrow morning," Bliss told him. "What I want
you to do now is to unpack the cooking stove, fix it well in front of
the window, and get ready to start it going at eight o'clock to-morrow
morning. You leave the rest to me."

Tim scratched his head dubiously.

"There's a bit of fuel and some oil and polishing needed," he remarked,
"to do it justice."

From his right-hand pocket Bliss produced a couple of sovereigns.

"Take these, Tim," he directed, "and buy anything you want to keep the
thing going. And listen I I don't want you to return to the City until I
give the word. We'll see if we can make this a go first. I shall be here
at eight o'clock in the morning, too."

Tim departed wonderingly, and Bliss followed him a few moments later. In
his right-hand pocket he had three hundred and fifty pounds in bank
notes, and a little loose gold, the property of Ernest Bliss, Esquire,
millionaire; in his left-hand pocket he had exactly two shillings, the
sum which represented every penny in the world possessed by Mr. Ernest
Bliss, town traveller to the firm of Masters and Company, Cooking-stove
Patentees and Manufacturers. It was just the hour when the streets of
the great city are most attractive, both to the foreigner and to the
born Londoner of Bliss' type and habits. Around him flared the soft
lights which he had once found so irresistible. The subtle charm of the
West End, which no human being has yet exactly defined, with its
restaurants de luxe, its music, its gaily dressed women, stole into his
blood. He was full of poignant reminiscences. Six weeks' privations were
suddenly forgotten. He stood between the entrances of two famous
restaurants. After all, just one dinner might go down to the expenses of
launching the Alpha Cooking Stove. It was foolish to be so quixotic. And
even then, while he hesitated, he was suddenly clutched by the arm. He
was conscious of the perfume of violets and the soft touch of furs, the
flash of a pair of dark eyes close to his, and a very familiar voice.

"If it isn't Ernest--Ernest Bliss! You little wretch! Where have you
been to for the last month? Hilda, just look here!"

The two girls who had just alighted from a taxi almost held him captive.

"Not once at the theatre," the little lady who had spoken to him first
continued reproachfully, "not once in the café at the Milan, not once,
even, have you sent the car for us. Come and have some dinner at Oddy's
and tell us what has happened."

For a moment he hesitated. They were almost upon the threshold of the
restaurant. The commissionaire, who had already recognised him, was
standing bareheaded. He felt hungry for the warmth, the lights, the
delicate food and wine, all the luxuries which he had so strenuously
denied himself during the last six weeks. The girl who had taken
possession of him was leaning on his arm.

"You can't get away," she laughed. "Come in and tell us all about it,
and why you are wearing such queer clothes."

There was one more fateful moment of hesitation. Then a working girl,
with pale cheeks and a tired walk, passed them with her head turned
towards the skies. Bliss was suddenly conscious of a wave of
reminiscence, an added strength of purpose; something which rang in his
tone and gave his voice a new quality.

"Sorry, girls," he said firmly, "but all those things are off for me at
the present moment. Look here, we are old friends. You won't be
offended, Kitty, I know."

He thrust two or three notes from his right-hand trousers pocket into
the girl's hand.

"There," he concluded. "Run along and have your dinner and buy
yourselves some flowers. I've some business I must look after."

The girl looked at him wonderingly. She had known a somewhat dissipated
boy, she was suddenly conscious that she was talking to a man.

"Come and have dinner with us, at least," she begged. "You can run away
'afterwards."

He shook his head. He had already drawn himself free.

"I am dining elsewhere," he declared with a grim smile, as he thought of
the two shillings which reposed in his left-hand pocket. "So long,
girls!"

He hurried off, breathing quickly like a man who has had a merciful
escape from some misfortune. He dined for tenpence in Soho, and a
little later he let himself into his flat in Arleton Street, with a
curious sense of unfamiliarity in his surroundings. Clowes came forward
at the sound of the key and saluted his master without the least sign of
surprise.

"Have you dined, sir?" was his only question. Bliss nodded.

"Come into my dressing room at once," he directed. "I want to change
into some morning clothes."

"There are three baskets full of letters that I have not known what to
do with, sir, which Mr. Crawley has sent back here. Private letters and
invitations."

"They must wait," Bliss replied shortly. "I am not ready to deal with
them yet."

Half an hour later he left the flat with an only half-stifled sigh of
regret as he passed out from its warm, luxurious comfort into the
drizzling rain of the streets. He slept that night in the hard little
bed in his attic, and at eight o'clock the next morning he let Tim into
the shop in Regent Street. By ten o'clock a good many of his notes had
gone, but the stove was burning and a white-clad chef was busy cooking
upon it. An enormous stock of provisions was there in reserve, a carpet
was upon the floor, and Bliss himself was seated before a Derby desk, in
tail coat, dark grey trousers, and a silk hat, sucking a large cigar in
full view of the passers-by. In the window was a huge, hastily printed
placard:

FREE MEALS FOR THE HUNGRY
COOKED UPON
THE FAMOUS
ALPHA COOKING STOVE

In less than an hour's time, a commissionaire had to be engaged to look
after the door, and two policemen were on duty outside regulating the
crowd. The chef had to be relieved by an assistant. Constant streams of
provisions were arriving, and the long table set out at the back of the
shop by a furnishing firm was occupied all the time by a strange-looking
crowd of wayfarers. Bliss sat at his desk busily writing, apparently up
to his eyes in affairs, but secretly a little uneasy. So far, not a
single bona-fide enquiry had been made with regard to the stove. Towards
three o'clock, however, a young man who had driven up in a taxi touched
him on the shoulder.

"Are you in charge here?" he asked.

"I am," Bliss admitted.

"What's the price of your stove wholesale?" the young man enquired.

Bliss glanced at the card which the former handed to him. The name
printed upon it was that of Ellermans Limited, the largest wholesale
stores in the country.

"The price to you, wholesale, is thirteen and a half guineas," Bliss
said, "but I am not sure how far we can book Orders. We get a good deal
more from the retail people, and metal's going up, as you know, to say
nothing of the chances of a strike."

"We'll stock a score at thirteen and a half, ten off," the
representative of Ellermans Limited suggested.

Bliss sighed as he wrote out the order and received it back signed.

"We are not here for this sort of business," he remarked. "This was just
an idea of ours to strengthen the hands of our retail customers. We are
not in a position exactly to look for fresh business until our new works
are finished."

The buyer looked at him curiously.

"Pretty enterprising firm, yours!"

Bliss shrugged his shoulders.

"This sort of thing pays, nowadays. You will excuse me, won't you? There
are one or two other buyers waiting, although I'm sure I don't know what
I can say to them."

His visitor promptly buttonholed him.

"Wait a moment," he insisted. "Let's look over this stove together. Try
one of these cigars."

The young man went down on his knees and spent the next five minutes in
a minute examination of the stove. When he had finished he shook the
dust from his trousers and took Bliss by the arm.

"Look here," he said, "you know my people. A score's no use to us,
anyway. Is it any good my bringing my managing director down here to see
you?"

Bliss shook his head doubtfully.

"The fact is," he said, "you're too big for us. We don't want to sell
too many wholesale. Thirteen and a half guineas is a cut price."

"There's no object," the young man continued firmly, "in your dividing
up this business amongst half a dozen firms. We pay prompt cash, and I
think we can handle your stoves. There's a little patent arrangement at
the back--Masters' Patent, it's called, I believe--which I like. Make us
an offer of a thousand."

"You bring your managing director down, and we'll see," Bliss replied,
pinching his leg with the hand that was inside his trouser pocket, to
make sure that he was awake.

"I'll make the present order for a hundred if you like, in the
meantime," the young man suggested.

Bliss altered the figures with a sigh.

"I don't think we shall be able to go much farther than that at the
price," he declared.

"See you later, anyhow," Ellermans' young man replied.

Bliss closed his desk and took a taxi down to the City. There was a new
smile upon his face, a new sense of pleasure in his pulse, a new
alacrity in his manner as he entered the dingy little warehouse. Mr.
Masters, at the sound of the opening door, jumped up from his seat and
looked anxiously out of the office window. Miss Clayton, after her first
hopeful glance, stared at his attire in amazement. Bliss gave them no
time to ask questions.

"I want you both to come along with me," he exclaimed. "I have a taxicab
waiting."

Mr. Masters clapped on his hat and made for the door, his coat tails
flying behind him. Frances lingered only for a moment to arrange her hat
before a looking-glass. They drove up West and all the time they
bombarded him with questions. Bliss, however, was like a child with a
surprise in store.

"Just a little idea of mine," he kept on repeating. "Kind of 'last hope'
affair. It's coming off trumps, too!"

"Have you sold any stoves?" Frances asked, with practical directness.

"You'll know all about it in a minute or two," he promised.

They descended in Regent Street. Bliss paid for the taxi out of his
right-hand trousers pocket. The crowd in front of the shop was larger
than ever. Mr. Masters stood with his hat on the back of his head, and
with his mouth wide open, gazing at the stove, gazing at the busy chef,
gazing at the advertisement in the window. He was speechless. It seemed
as though he were being told for the first time in his life that the
Alpha Cooking Stove was the best in the world.

"Come inside," Bliss directed, "and I'll tell you all about it."

They pushed their way in. Bliss made Frances sit in his chair. Mr.
Masters was standing with his mouth still open, and his legs wide apart,
his eyes glued upon the stove and the two perspiring cooks.

"Just a little advertisement idea of mine," Bliss explained. "Nothing
like it in these days. They are talking about the Alpha Cooking Stove
all over London. Some of the papers are going to give us a free ad.
Ellermans' man has been here, and he has placed an order for a hundred
at thirteen and a half prompt cash, and they want a contract for a
thousand. Here's the order, look at it!"

"But where on earth," Mr. Masters demanded at last, as he held the slip
of paper between his shaking fingers, "did you get the coin from to run
a show like this? I've had some such thought in my mind for ages, but I
could never get hold of the money."

"I borrowed it from a silly ass I know who has more money than is good
for him," Bliss answered. "I borrowed five hundred. Here is the
balance."

He emptied the contents of his right-hand trousers pocket, a handful of
notes and gold, into Mr. Masters' hand.

"You'll have to repay him the amount and the interest," Bliss continued.
"But he's in no hurry for it, and he'll send you the bill. By-the-by,
allow me!"

He took two pounds from the heap of money and thrust it into his pocket.

"My to-morrow's salary," he explained. "I'm a trifle short. Here's
Ellermans' man. He's brought his managing director along with him Good
luck, and good-by."

Mr. Masters looked more astonished than ever. Frances, who had been
listening, rose quickly to her feet. He turned to both of them. There
were tears almost in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he said, "but I must go at once. I can't take my commission
on the stoves. All that I can accept is that two pounds which isn't
really due until to-morrow, and I've got to leave you without notice."

"You'll stay as my partner, you young idiot!" Mr. Masters thundered.
"Go, indeed! What do you think I'm made of? You've saved me from ruin.
God bless you!"

Bliss was conscious of a curious and most exhilarating sense of
pleasure. It was an absolutely new and extremely pleasant sensation.
He held out one hand to Mr. Masters and one to the girl. She, also, was
looking at him appealingly.

"You won't really leave us?" she begged. "Please don't."

"It isn't my choice," he assured them earnestly. "It's just a hard
necessity. It's part of a bargain I made and must keep; but I shan't
forget,--I shan't ever forget."

He wrenched his hand free. Mr. Masters turned after him. A portly
gentleman, however, blocked the way.

"Mr. Masters, I believe? My name is Burrell, managing director of
Ellermans Limited. I should like to have a business talk with you about
the stoves."

Mr. Masters drew a long breath. He was only human, and fortune was
knocking at his door.

"Take a seat, Mr. Burrell," he said. "Glad to meet you, sir."

Their heads grew close together as they talked, and Frances moved away
towards the window. Heedless of the crowds in front of the shop, she was
gazing with dim eyes along the pavement. Bliss, with his old clothes in
a brown paper parcel under his arm, a new dignity in his carriage, and
two pounds and fourpence in his left-hand trousers pocket, was walking
steadily away eastwards.



CHAPTER VI

Bliss stood before the window of his attic, gazing down upon one of the
busy streets in the neighbourhood of St. Pancras. Behind him, his
landlady was busy clearing away his meagre breakfast. Below, the
rain-soaked streets were thronged with an ever increasing stream of
people and a tangled chaos of uninspiring-looking vehicles. A stunted
row of smoke-blackened trees stood like dreary sentinels before a medley
of dejected-looking tenement houses. The horizon was grey and murky.
Perhaps, for the first time in his life, Bliss realised the intense
depression that comes from the contemplation of sheer ugliness.

"You'll excuse my reminding you, sir, but it's gone eight o'clock."

Bliss turned suddenly round. His landlady was standing with the tray in
her hands, preparing to leave the room. She was a small, thin woman. Her
face was sharpened with the stress of many anxieties. Her grey hair was
brushed uncompromisingly back from her forehead. Nevertheless, there was
kindliness in her tone, kindliness even in her sad eyes and tired mouth.
She looked at her lodger as though she almost dreaded to hear his reply.

"No hurry for me this morning, Mrs. Heath," Bliss said. "I have had to
leave that first job of mine."

She sighed as she rested the tray for a moment on the edge of the table.

"It's bad luck, sir," she said simply.

"Rotten," Bliss agreed.

"It's a wretched morning to go out looking for work," she went on. "You
haven't any idea of a post, I suppose?"

Bliss shook his head grimly.

"To tell you the truth, Mrs. Heath," he said, "it isn't very often I've
found myself in this position, and I am not sure that I go about the
business the right way. What do your lodgers do as a rule when they want
a job?"

"They try either a Labour Bureau or a Registry Office," Mrs. Heath told
him, "according to their means and the sort of job they want."

"I've a week's salary in my pocket, and I don't owe you anything, do I,
Mrs. Heath?"

"You know I'm not thinking about that, sir," she declared reproachfully.

"Anyway, I think it will run to a Registry Office," he decided. "Tell me
a good one, Mrs. Heath."

She paused for a moment to reflect.

"It depends a little on the sort of post you're looking for," she said.
"Now, what you want, sir, is something light and gentlemanly; any one
can see you weren't made for hard work. Besides, there is something
about your appearance. Why, when your clothes are brushed up, and you've
got a clean collar on, any one might take you for a gentleman. I should
try for something light, sir."

"If it comes," Bliss remarked thoughtfully, "to a contest between brain
and muscle, I am not really sure, in my case, which would win. Let me
give myself the benefit of the doubt and say brain."

"Then you try Smithson's, corner of Endell Street," Mrs. Heath
advised. "I know a young fellow got a job there, twenty-four shillings a
week, and kept it for two years."

Bliss took up his hat.

"Smithson's it shall be," he declared, "and here's luck, Mrs. Heath."

The luck came slowly. For four successive mornings Bliss spent the
greater part of his day either waiting about Smithson's, or making long
and purposeless tramps in search of a situation. On the fifth day the
crush at the office was greater than usual. He stood for half an hour in
a queue of men of all ages and conditions. Every now and then he moved a
few steps forward. In the end his turn came. He leaned across the
counter of the enquiry office and was confronted by an anaemic-looking
young man who wore spectacles and a general air of distraction.

"You back again?" he exclaimed, as he recognised Bliss. "Why, I have
given you a dozen names in the last four days."

"Done my best," Bliss answered promptly. "I was five minutes too late
for the last job."

The young man scribbled a name on a piece of paper, and handed it across
the counter.

"Look here," he said. "If you can't bring that off, you'd better try
another office. You've had your value out of this one."

"I've tried for every job you've given me," Bliss protested. "I've good
references, and I'm not particular about wages. It isn't my fault if
they are all filled up before I get there."

"Well, hop it now," the young man advised. "Don't show yourself here
unless you're prepared to plank down another fee."

Bliss marched out into the street, glanced at the piece of paper in his
hand, and set off steadily westwards. In something less than half an
hour he arrived at his destination. He paused outside a block of
buildings in King Street, and entering, mounted steadily to the topmost
flight of stairs. From the luxury of the first three floors he passed by
slow stages to a bare simplicity. The final stairs were uncarpeted, the
walls unpapered. The lift itself reached its terminus on the floor
below. A small brass plate adorned the panel of the only door upon the
landing, a brass plate upon which was inscribed the name which Bliss
bore upon the slip of paper he was carrying:

MR. W. COCKERILL

Bliss paused for a moment to recover his breath, then knocked at the
door. He turned the handle and entered. A shrill voice greeted him.

"Oh, you bad young man! Bad young man!"

Bliss dropped his hat and forgot to pick it up. Exactly opposite to him,
perched upon the mantelpiece, was a grey parrot, with its head on one
side and a knob of sugar in its claw. Five canaries shared a cage which
hung before one window, and two bullfinches a smaller one suspended from
the ceiling. A third bullfinch was hopping about the top of a Derby
desk, at which was seated an elderly gentleman, grey-haired, with pink
and white complexion, gold-rimmed spectacles, and a type of countenance
almost Cheeryblelike in its benevolence.

"Come in, sir, come in," Mr. Cockerill invited. "Don't mind my birds.
They're a little noisy, but they're very companionable."

"Now what can I do for you to-day?"

Bliss recovered his composure to some extent. He picked up his hat and
stood before the desk.

"I had your name from Smithson's Registry Office," he announced. "I
called about the situation of light porter."

Mr. Cockerill shook his head at once.

"Not a bit of good, my young friend," he declared, pleasantly but
firmly.

"Not a bit of good," the parrot screeched from the mantelpiece.

Bliss turned towards the door.

"Well, of course, if you both think so--" he began, with an angry glance
towards the bird.

"Stop a moment," Mr. Cockerill exclaimed. "A sense of humour, I
perceive. Most unusual. Come here and let me look at you--round this
side of the desk."

Bliss obeyed promptly. His blue serge suit was now showing considerable
signs of wear. His Bond Street socks were no longer in evidence. His
patent shoes, the triumph of a fashionable maker, had been replaced by
heavy ready-made boots. His cheeks were a little sunken, although his
eyes were bright. He wore a flannel collar, and his tie was still neat.
Mr. Cockerill looked him up and down and shook his head again slowly.

"No physique," he declared. "No physique at all. Not what I am looking
for, young man. Very sorry. Here's a shilling for your trouble."

"It isn't a shilling I want," Bliss replied desperately; "it's a job.
Why won't I do? They told me at the office you wanted a light porter. Is
there any heavy work?"

Mr. Cockerill stroked his chin.

"Not exactly heavy work," he admitted. "The duties would be to clean out
and feed the birds every morning--Tommy, by-the-by, is very particular
about his cold bath," he added, pointing to the bullfinch, which was
still hopping about on the top of the desk--"announce the visitors to
me, and go on errands."

"Well, you don't want a Sandow for that job," Bliss protested.

Mr. Cockerill sighed.

"My young friend," he said, "I will make a confession. I am an
exceedingly nervous person. As you may perceive from my surroundings, I
am a man of peace. I have never been trained in the art of self-defence.
My muscles are flabby. I have absolutely no physical strength. I am a
nervous man. Up here, I am, as it were, cut off from the rest of the
world. I sit here at my labours, and I am at the mercy of any chance
caller who might enter these rooms with burglarious or personally
vindictive feelings."

"I don't quite understand," Bliss confessed, a little puzzled. "Do you
get many visitors?"

"Not many," Mr. Cockerill replied. "But still, visitors do find their
way here. I have business which brings me callers, and I am reputed to
be wealthy. Another confession, young man," he added, dropping his voice
a little, "I read the Police News, and it always seems to me that I am
an ideal subject for a brutal assault. That is one reason why I desire
the services of a light porter. He sits outside, and if I have an
undesirable visitor, I summon him. He enters and protects me. There you
are."

"Why, I could do that," Bliss insisted. "I may not be very strong, but I
am no coward."

Mr. Cockerill rose to his feet. He was exceedingly well dressed in a
morning coat and dark grey trousers, broad-toed shoes wonderfully
polished, with white linen gaiters. A black ribbon fob hung from his
waist-coat, and from his neat tie sparkled a diamond pin.

"Even I," he remarked regretfully, "am taller than you. How could you
stop me if I tried to rush from the room?"

"Would you like me to show you?" Bliss asked. "You couldn't do it."

Bliss stretched out his arm, twisted a little on one side, and bent his
left knee. Mr. Cockerill struggled up from the carpet to a sitting
posture, and readjusted his spectacles. He was not in the least angry,
but he seemed very much impressed.

"How the devil did you do that?" he demanded. "Jujitsu," Bliss answered.

"Jujitsu," the parrot screamed, thrusting its head forward. "Oh, lord!"

"I know several more," Bliss continued. "Had some lessons once from a
Jap. There's one--"

"Never mind about the others," Mr. Cockerill interrupted, hastily
brushing the dust from his coat sleeve. "You are engaged. I'll give you
twenty-five shillings a week, half a dozen linen collars to start with,
and a respectable hat. Here's a book on birds. Go and sit outside and
read it. If I want anything, I'll call you. You understand?"

"Perfectly, sir, thank you."

"Read the article on bullfinches' diet," Mr. Cockerill concluded.
"You'll then be able to look out for the oddments they like."

Bliss sat down in his chair, laid his hat on the floor at his side, and
opened the book on birds. He was feeling a little dazed. On the other
side of the closed door he could hear the slow ticking of the typewriter
which stood on Mr. Cockerill's desk. The canaries were singing
vigorously, but the parrot had relapsed into silence. Every now and then
he could hear the rattle of the lift, and the hum of traffic from
Piccadilly was just audible. So passed the first half-hour in his new
situation. At one o'clock precisely a neatly dressed waiter climbed the
stone stairs, bearing luncheon on a tray. He stared at Bliss, and Bliss
stared at him.

"Who's that for?" Bliss asked.

"Your guv'nor," the waiter replied. "Is he there?" Bliss knocked at the
door and thrust in his head. "A waiter is here with luncheon, sir," he
announced. "He can enter," Mr. Cockerill directed.

The man arranged the tray upon a table at the side of the desk with the
air of one accustomed to the task.

"You can order from this young man," Mr. Cockerill said, "a chop or
steak or cut from the joint, with cheese and half a pint of beer, not
more. You must eat it in your chair outside, and you may not smoke."

Bliss gave his order promptly, ate his luncheon with astounding appetite,
and sat back in his chair afterwards with folded arms. He was beginning
to realise that this task of doing nothing was not, after all, so easy.
He read the chapter on the peculiar habits and dietetic predilections of
bullfinches with great care. He also laid in a store of knowledge as to
the domestic habits of canaries and the ailments likely to attack a
parrot. After which he became a little bored. He heard with positive
relief, at about four o'clock, the stoppage of the lift on the floor
below, and the sound of light footsteps ascending the final flight of
stairs.

The visitor was a lady, young, slim, and as far as one could tell under
her unusually thick veil, good-looking.

"You wish to see Mr. Cockerill, Madam?" Bliss enquired in his best
manner.

"At once, please," she assented.

"What name shall I say, Madam?"

"Mr. Cockerill is expecting me," she replied hastily.

Bliss knocked at the door and announced the visitor. Afterwards he
relapsed into his chair and dozed. It was, perhaps, twenty minutes
before the door reopened and the young lady passed out. He rose to his
feet. It was in his mind to precede her down the stairs and ring for the
lift. But she gave him no chance of carrying out his intention. For one
thing, she passed out far too quickly, and for another, he caught a
gleam of something in her eyes which held him for the moment spellbound.
She had seemed nervous when she had arrived; she seemed to depart in a
dream of terror. Bliss sank slowly back into his chair and pinched
himself to make sure that he was really awake. At half-past five
precisely Mr. Cockerill opened the door.

"I shall now," he said, "show you exactly how I like the cages cleaned.
Tommy, as you will discover, is very particular about sand, and my
little canary there, Jenny I call her, absolutely refuses to sleep in
the dark. We have to leave the curtain just a little open. Bring in some
water from the tap there."

For a quarter of an hour, Bliss was instructed in the art of looking
after the birds. At the end of that time, Mr. Cockerill took up an
immaculately brushed silk hat, and closing his desk, came out and locked
the door of his room.

"To-morrow morning," he announced, "we meet here at nine o'clock. If I
choose to be a little late, you will sit in your chair and wait for me.
You will find _The Times_ on the mat, which you will kindly not touch,
as I prefer to open it myself. Here is a sovereign. Buy yourself some
linen collars and a respectable hat, and account to me for the change,
or if it is any convenience to you, you can deduct it from your first
week's salary. I wish you good evening."

Bliss followed his employer down the stairs, a little bewildered. He
purchased the collars and the hat, and, after some hesitation, he
treated himself to a packet of cigarettes. Then he made his way
homewards. Mrs. Heath, whom he passed climbing the many stairs that led
to his room, looked at him a little anxiously.

"Any luck, sir?" she asked.

"It's all right, Mrs. Heath," he declared cheerily. "I've got a job
again. Light porter at twenty-five shillings a week. Smithson's came out
all right in the long run. I shall be able to pay my rent on Saturday."

"You know it wasn't the money I was thinking of so much, Mr. Bliss," she
said, with a pathetic smile, "but any one can see you have not been used
to these privations, and the breakfasts you've eaten these last few
mornings haven't been enough to keep a child alive, much less a young
man who is tramping about looking for work all day."

"Never was much of a breakfast eater," Bliss declared. "Don't you worry
about me, Mrs. Heath. I've had a jolly good dinner in the middle of the
day given in with the job. If you would send me up some tea, I'm going
to bed early."

"Tea you shall have this moment," Mrs. Heath promised.

Bliss climbed up to his attic and, almost against his will, found
himself drawn towards the window. The roar of the city was in his ears.
There was a dull red glow in the smoke-stained sky where the sun had
gone down. Already the lights were throwing their strange, artificial
halo over the western part of the city. In the streets below the people
still moved by in a ceaseless stream on their way from work,
white-faced, with shoulders a little bent, each with the air of having
some destination to reach in the shortest possible way and in the
shortest possible manner. He looked down at them and away again
westwards towards his own land. Already he was beginning to wonder.



CHAPTER VII

For three weeks Bliss held his post to his own content and to the
apparent satisfaction of his employer. He made friends with the birds,
and on rare occasions, Tommy, the itinerant bullfinch, would consent to
come and sit on the arm of his chair and share his luncheon. All the
time his curiosity concerning Mr. Cockerill's avocation, awakened on the
first day, became greater and greater. He summoned up his courage at
last and asked him a question.

"If it's not taking a liberty, sir, might I ask what your profession
is?"

There was a moment's silence. Mr. Cockerill, who seemed in no way
offended, was, nevertheless, regarding his employé with a new expression
on his face.

"Curious, eh, Bliss?"

"I'm afraid I am, sir. Bad habit, I know."

"Bad habit!" the parrot screamed, looking round from the bottom of the
waste-paper basket, where it was engaged in destroying some envelopes.

"Curiosity is one of the failings," Mr. Cockerill said benignly, "from
which you, Bliss, or any one who serves me, must be free. Nevertheless,
since you have asked me this question like a man, and have abstained
from all prying about and endeavours to satisfy your thirst for
information by illicit means, I will pander to some extent to your
weakness. Look here."

He touched with his forefinger a pile of typewritten sheets.

"I am writing a book connected with various phases of ornithology," Mr.
Cockerill continued. "I advertise in the papers for any original
anecdotes regarding certain species of birds. All manner of men and
women bring me their stories. If they are of value, I pay for them. If
they are not, I don't."

"If your visitors here all come upon such harmless errands, why are you
so afraid, then, of being assaulted, or of burglars?" Bliss asked.

Mr. Cockerill smiled. He took off his spectacles and rubbed the glasses
with his silk handkerchief.

"Most of the people who come here want money," he explained, "and no
person who wants money is altogether harmless. Besides, I'm afraid I
must confess I am a man of nervous temperament. Have I satisfied your
curiosity, Bliss?"

"Quite, sir, thank you."

For two days after that there were no visitors. On the third evening,
Bliss, on his way out, was accosted by a cheerful, red-faced little man,
who was standing on the ground floor, smoking a big cigar and studying
the register on the wall.

"Good evening," he said.

"Good evening," Bliss replied.

The little man produced a cigar case.

"Have one," he invited.

Bliss, who, a few months ago, had smoked nothing less expensive than
Murias or Coronas at a hundred and eighty shillings a hundred, accepted
a very dubious-looking cigar with gratitude. He paused to light it,
standing in the doorway.

"Queer fish, your guv'nor."

Bliss blew out the match and threw it away.

"Queerest I ever met," he admitted. "Good night."

The little man strolled along with him.

"What might his profession be?" he asked curiously. Bliss hesitated for
a moment.

"No secret about it that I know of. He's a bird fancier."

"A what?"

"A bird fancier," Bliss repeated. "He's got a parrot, several canaries,
and three bullfinches in his room, and he's writing a book on birds."

The little man looked sideways at his companion.

Bliss, however, was walking along quite unconsciously. "Gets a good many
visitors at times, doesn't he?"

"He pays for stories about birds," Bliss explained.

"People are all the time bringing him anecdotes. If he can make use of
them in his book, he pays for them."

The little man's lips twitched. He laughed softly to himself for some
moments, then he drew closer to his companion.

"I'm not blaming you," he declared. "I should do the same in your place,
only probably not so well. What about a ten-pound note?"

"Well, what about it?" Bliss repeated, a little bewildered.

His companion thrust his hand into his waistcoat pocket, produced a
ten-pound note which he displayed a little ostentatiously, and thrust
it back again.

"Have a drink?" he suggested, stopping short upon the pavement
opposite a public house.

"My turn!" Bliss answered, pushing open the swing door. "You stood the
cigar."

"On this occasion, I am in the chair," the little man persisted. "Mine's
whisky and soda. What's yours? We'll sit at this table."

"Mine's the same," Bliss replied. "You were saying something about a
ten-pound note."

The little man leaned across the table.

"My name's Johnson," he announced.

"Mine's Bliss. Pleased to meet you."

"We'll cut preliminaries and get to business," Mr. Johnson continued. "I
am in the employ of a private detective office. We are paying for
information as to the doings of Mr. Cockerill."

Bliss pushed away his tumbler.

"The whisky and soda cost you sixpence," he said, "and the cigar, I
should think, not more than threepence. You have made a bad debt of
ninepence. Good evening."

Bliss marched out of the place and made his way homewards. He saw no
more of the little man, but the affair, however, spoilt his night's
rest. The next morning he went to Mr. Cockerill.

"Can you spare a moment, sir?"

Mr. Cockerill looked up quickly. His first glance was towards the birds.

"Anything wrong with Tommy?" he demanded. "He seemed languid all
yesterday."

"The birds are quite all right," Bliss replied. "Tommy is on my chair
outside."

"What is it, then?"

"Fellow stopped me last night," Bliss went on. "Stood me a whisky and
soda, and a rotten bad cigar. Turned out he was a private detective, and
he wanted to know what your business was. Offered me a ten-pound note
for information."

Mr. Cockerill nodded benevolently. Nevertheless, from the corners of his
eyes and lips, little straight lines appeared which altered his
expression in a marvellous manner. He no longer resembled Mr. Cheeryble.

"What did you say?"

"I told him about the birds."

"Well?"

"He thought I was kidding. It was after that he offered me the ten-pound
note."

"And you?"

"I wished him good evening and came away."

Mr. Cockerill sat for several minutes without moving. He was surrounded
by sheets of manuscript, and a volume of "The Birds' Encyclopaedia" was
propped up before him. He leaned back in his chair.

"Thank you, Bliss," he said at last. "Anything else?"

"Nothing, sir."

"You're the servant I've been looking for," Mr. Cockerill declared. "I
shall raise your wages five shillings a week. Get along outside now,
please. I want to finish this chapter."

Mr. Cockerill was doomed that morning, however, to interruptions. In
half an hour, the first one arrived. A tall, rather good-looking man
came hastening up the steps two at a time. Bliss rose from his seat.
There was something rather ominous about the appearance of this visitor.

"Mr. Cockerill in?" the young man demanded.

"He is, sir," Bliss admitted. "What name?"

"Mr. Verner--Harry Verner. I want to see him at once," was the impetuous
reply.

Bliss opened the door and announced the young man by name. Mr. Cockerill
rose from his chair with his fingers still upon the keys of his
typewriter.

"I will not see Mr. Verner," he decided.

"Won't you?" the young man exclaimed fiercely.

He strode past Bliss into the room. Mr. Cockerill regarded him through
his gold-rimmed spectacles with mild indignation.

"Bliss," he said, "you heard my orders? I do not wish to see this young
man. Turn him out."

Bliss did his best. He picked himself up, a moment or two later, from a
spot on the landing about four yards from the door, and returned
valiantly to the charge. Mr. Cockerill, however, held up his hand. He
was sitting in his accustomed attitude, and the young man, although he
seemed to be angry, was silent.

"Never mind, Bliss," his employer said resignedly. "Since this young man
is here, I will listen to what he has to say. You can wait outside."

"Shall I fetch a policeman, sir?" Bliss suggested. Mr. Cockerill shook
his head.

"Thank you, Bliss, it will not be necessary. I have decided to grant
this young man an interview."

Bliss retired at once and closed the door. It was about a quarter of an
hour before the unwelcome visitor reappeared. He walked by Bliss with
unseeing eyes, like a man in a dream. All the truculence had gone out of
his manner. He had not in the least the look of a man who has been
telling anecdotes about birds. From inside the room came the slow
ticking of Mr. Cockerill's typewriter as he continued his chapter. Bliss
began to feel uncomfortable. He was more than ever conscious that there
was something mysterious, sinister, even, about his surroundings. The
appearance of this last visitor had altogether disturbed him.

"Anyhow, the money's good," he muttered to himself, "and I'm in my third
month."



CHAPTER VIII

That night something happened to Bliss which he had anticipated many
times in his dreams since the day when he had marched out of the shop in
Regent Street with his working clothes in a parcel under his arm, and a
queer and most unaccountable lump in his throat. He had taken his usual
respectful adieu of his employer and was walking rather aimlessly down
King Street, when he came face to face with two girls. The one nearest
to him was the young lady who had visited Mr. Cockerill on the first
afternoon of his engagement. The other he recognised with a thrill of
pleasure--a pleasure that came to him almost as a shock. It was Frances
Clayton.

"Mr. Bliss!" she exclaimed, stopping abruptly on the pavement before him.
"Why, whatever--How delightful to see you again!" she broke off with
quick tact.

He shook hands silently with an amazing sense of content. She was very
well dressed and an entirely different person from the rather sad-eyed
young woman who had resented his appointment as traveller to the firm of
Masters and Company. He was ridiculously glad to see her.

"Why did you behave so unkindly?" she went on reproachfully.

"Couldn't be helped," he assured her. "Tell me about the cooking stoves.
How are they going?"

"Going?" she repeated beamingly. "I wouldn't dare to tell you how many
thousands we have sold. Mr. Masters is down in the country now
negotiating for a new factory. And you--you ought to be there with him."

Bliss sighed.

"It was great sport selling those stoves," he remarked evasively.

She kept her hands in her muff, but she leaned a little towards him. Her
eyes challenged his.

"Before you move," she insisted, "you've got to tell me absolutely why
you behaved in such an extraordinary manner."

"Extraordinary manner?" he echoed feebly.

"You know quite well what I mean," she continued. "You saved Mr. Masters
from ruin. He has started upon a new lease of life. You laid the
foundations of his fortune, then, instead of taking a thing for
yourself, you disappeared."

"I couldn't help it," he protested.

His answer was baffling in its very simplicity. She looked him over. His
clothes were just respectable, but no more.

"What are you doing now she demanded.

"I have a situation in this street," he answered.

The other girl, who had been standing a little way off, suddenly gave a
cry. He knew then that he was recognised.

"Why, you are the young man who let me in to Mr. Cockerill's rooms the
other day!" she exclaimed. "Frances, come here a moment."

The two girls talked together earnestly. Presently they returned.

"Mr. Bliss," Frances said, "this is Miss Morrison, a friend of mine. She
has been telling me some rather extraordinary things about your
employer, Mr. Cockerill. How long have you been with him?"

"Just over three weeks."

Miss Morrison leaned a little forward and intervened. She lowered her
voice.

"Did you know anything about him before you went there?" she asked.

"Not a thing," he answered. "I just heard of the job through a Registry
Office. One does not require a reference from an employer when one wants
work."

"Where are you going now?" Frances broke in a little abruptly.

"Nowhere particular," Bliss replied. "I've just left work."

"Will you come and have some tea with us?" Miss Morrison begged. "I want
to talk to you for a few minutes, and I'm quite sure Frances does too.
She told me all about you long ago."

"With pleasure," Bliss agreed promptly. "Where shall we go?
Rumpelmayer's?"

They stared at him for a moment. Then Frances laughed.

"Absurd!' We'll go to a little place I know. It isn't far, and we can
talk in peace. This way."

They found a little tea-shop not far from Piccadilly Circus. There were
very few people in the place, and no one within half a dozen yards of
their corner table. Yet Miss Morrison lowered her voice when she spoke.
She leaned forward across the table with her head supported upon her
hands.

"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Bliss, that you have been with Mr.
Cockerill for nearly a month, and you haven't seen through that bird
business yet?"

"Seen through it?" Bliss repeated.

"He's a fraud, that's what the man is," she declared tremulously. "He
cares no more for birds than you or I. It's all a blind."

The girl pushed back her veil, and in the light of the incandescent gas
her face was almost ghastly in its earnestness.

"Frances swears that you are to be trusted, so I want you to listen, and
I will tell you all I know of him," she continued. "A month or so ago, I
received a letter from him asking me to call at his office in King
Street. The letter hinted quite vaguely at a certain episode in my life
which I had not imagined that any one save my lawyer and myself, and one
other person who is dead, knew anything of. I hesitated for some time.
Then I went. I had no idea why. I just wanted to ask for an explanation
of his letter. I can remember those awful minutes even now. The birds
were singing, that wretched parrot was sitting on his shoulder. He
leaned back in his chair, and he calmly reproduced the whole story
before me, detail by detail. He sat there with that good-natured smile
upon his lips, and he just--watched. When he had finished, he asked me
questions, and all the time I struggled to answer them, he still
watched. Then he told me word for word the contents of a letter I had
once written, a letter I would have given my life to have recalled. Do
you know that after I left his office I did not sleep for three nights."

"Do you mean to suggest that he is a blackmailer?" Bliss asked bluntly.

"Of course he is," the girl replied chokingly. "As yet, he hasn't
given himself away, simply because he wants to find out how much money I
can raise. He has made me go there three times on some pretext or other;
and each time he just talks that hideous affair over and watches me."

"He has just written to Miss Morrison asking her to go and see him again
next Monday," Frances intervened.

"And when I go," the girl faltered, "I know precisely what will happen.
He will make me tell my story all over again."

"And in the end he will want money," Frances broke in. "Any one can see
that."

"And I haven't got a penny," Miss Morrison exclaimed hopelessly. "I
haven't a penny."

Bliss sat back a little grimly in his chair. In a way, the girl's story
had been a shock to him.

"Tell me exactly what I can do in the matter?" he asked.

"Search his rooms," Frances answered promptly. "Spy upon him. Get some
evidence to prove that he is really a blackmailer."

Bliss sighed. Both the girls were almost hanging over him in their
excitement.

"Well, we'll see," he promised. "I will do what I can."

He paid for the tea bravely. No one would have guessed from his manner
that it was his last half-sovereign which he handed over the counter for
change. Frances scribbled upon a piece of paper and gave it to him.

"There's my address," she said. "When will you come and see me?"

He hesitated.

"I will answer my own question," she continued firmly. "You will come on
Sunday afternoon to tea."

He accepted cheerfully. Sunday had been, perhaps, the most miserable of
all those purgatorial days. "About four o'clock I will be there," he
promised.



CHAPTER IX

Mr. Cockerill, when he arrived at his office next morning, appeared to
be in an unusually good humour. He wore a bunch of violets in his
buttonhole, and his air of mediaeval distinction had never been more
noticeable. He nodded kindly to Bliss.

"I am a few minutes before my time," he remarked. "To tell you the
truth, I was a little anxious about Tommy last night. He refused his
seed."

Mr. Cockerill produced his key, and they entered the little room
together. There was the usual outburst of welcome from the birds. Tommy,
the bullfinch, alone was silent, and Tommy was obviously not well. Mr.
Cockerill hung up his hat hastily. His fingers trembled as he withdrew
his kid gloves.

"I shall want a little warm water and some warm milk, Bliss," he
announced. "You had better light the fire at once before you clean out
and feed the other birds."

"What a beastly shame!" the parrot screamed, ruffling its feathers.

Mr. Cockerill took no notice. He was busy arranging a little
flannel-lined basket for the bullfinch. For the rest of the day, he sat
with the bird by his side, continually pausing in his work to whistle
and talk to it. At five o'clock he reluctantly prepared to depart. He
called Bliss in.

"I'm afraid," he said, "that Tommy is no better. His condition, in
short, makes me very anxious."

Bliss looked at his employer curiously. There was not the slightest
doubt that he was telling the truth.

"I dare not take him away with me," the latter continued. "I am afraid
of the cold air. To-morrow, as you know, is Sunday. Can I trouble you,
Bliss, to attend here in the morning, see how he is, and come and let me
know? I will hand you the key of my room on my departure."

"I will come with pleasure," Bliss replied. "Where shall I find you,
sir?"

"I live at the Acropolis Club, Pall Mall," Mr. Cockerill told him,
drawing a card from his pocket and scribbling a line on the back of it.
"If you present that, you will be allowed to come up to my room. Kindly
arrange to be there about ten o'clock in the morning."

Bliss spent that night with the key of the office under his pillow. Long
before eight o'clock the next morning he climbed the stairs of the
building in King Street, and let himself into Mr. Cockerill's little
apartment. There was the usual shriek from the parrot and twitter from
the birds. He pulled up the blind. Tommy had left his basket and was
hopping about the mantelpiece. Bliss closed the door. He was now face to
face with a problem which had been before him all the night, a problem
which was rendered more acute by the fact that the Derby desk at which
Mr. Cockerill spent his days stood open. He considered the character and
the number of the callers. He recalled the agitation of Miss Morrison
and one or two others. In the end he set his teeth. He was justified. He
started with the desk and turned over a great pile of manuscript which
lay there. From beginning to end, it was exactly what it purported to
be. He opened each drawer and examined its contents. Every memorandum he
found referred to birds. Every scrap of paper he touched referred to
birds. He found photographs of birds; letters from learned men about
birds, in many languages. In the whole of the desk he did not find a
single line of writing which did not refer, directly or indirectly, to
birds. He left the desk exactly as it was, and he examined every inch of
the room. There was not a box nor a drawer nor any possible receptacle
there which he did not search. When he had finished, his cheeks were
scarlet. He almost kicked himself as he went out. Nevertheless, he
carried through his whole intention. He cut a small knot-hole in the
wall, which would allow him from the outside to see into the room.

At ten o'clock precisely, he presented himself at the portals of the
great Club in Pall Mall and encountered Mr. Cockerill in the hall. He
made his report, which his employer received with a sigh of deep relief.
Then he turned to go.

"You don't seem very well yourself this morning, Bliss," Mr. Cockerill
remarked kindly. "You must allow me, if you please, to offer you a
little trifle for this incursion into your day of rest. We will look
upon it as a thank-offering for Tommy's recovery."

Bliss waved the half-sovereign away a little incoherently.

"You'll forgive me, sir," he begged, "I couldn't possibly take
it--couldn't possibly. I'll be there in good time in the morning."

He hurried off and passed outside the club with an air of relief. He
wandered about the Park for a while, ate a very modest dinner at his
lodgings, and at four o'clock he travelled out to Hamstead and rang the
bell of a pleasant-looking little house in a neighbourhood which was
quite strange to him. Frances herself opened the door.

"Well?" she asked eagerly, as she showed him into a little sitting room.

Bliss put down his hat.

"Look here," he began, "don't think me unreasonable, but I feel inclined
to say confound your Miss Morrison! I've made a beast of myself, Miss
Clayton. I have been through the whole of Mr. Cockerill's papers. My
fingers itch with it. I have been kicking myself ever since."

"Well?" she repeated.

"There wasn't a scrap of writing anywhere," he declared, "which hadn't
to do with birds. I went through the manuscript of his book, even. There
was enough work there, recent work too, to have kept him busy every
moment of his time. There wasn't the slightest sign of any other
occupation or interest in life."

Frances had tact, and she contented herself with a little grimace.

"Never mind," she said. "You did what you thought was right, and motive
is everything. Now let us have some tea and talk."

Bliss spent an exceedingly pleasant although very unusual two hours.
Frances had improved with prosperity. In the daintily furnished little
room, and at tea while she ministered to his wants, she seemed very
graceful and very attractive to him. Her voice was low, her sense of
humour abundant. They laughed together many times at the memory of those
anxious weeks when Bliss was trying to sell stoves. Only once he made a
remark which seemed to cause her some embarrassment.

"Your room is almost like a conservatory," he declared, glancing at the
great bowl of violets in the middle of the table.

She changed colour a little.

"Mr. Masters sends me all these flowers," she explained. "Sometimes I
really wish he wouldn't."

"Is Mr. Masters married?" Bliss asked quickly.

"He is a widower," she replied. "He has been a widower for ten years."

"How old is he?"

"Fifty next birthday. Sometimes I think he looks older than that, and
sometimes younger. He has such wonderful spirits, such boundless
optimism. He is opening up agencies now for the Alpha Stove all over the
world."

Bliss was silent for a little time. Somehow or other, his keen sense of
enjoyment seemed to have gone. He kept on reminding himself that he was
a light porter earning thirty shillings a week. Nevertheless, the
question pumped itself out.

"Does Mr. Masters want you to marry him?"

She looked at him gravely. They were both standing now, for he had been
on the point of saying good-by.

"I think he does," she admitted. "Why do you ask?"

"Are you going to say 'Yes'?"

"I do not know. Tell me, what would you advise me to do?"

"My advice," he declared, a little hoarsely, "might not be quite
disinterested."

"Still, won't you give it?"

He set his teeth firmly together.

"I can't," he said. "You must decide for yourself."

She followed him out to the door. No other word passed between them till
their hands met, yet, somehow or other, he fancied that she had
understood.

"Will you come and see me next Sunday?" she asked.

"Thank you," he answered. "Of course I will."

He walked down the hill towards where the myriad lights of London flamed
up to the sky. A crowd of curious thoughts seemed to have taken
possession of him. He was conscious of a new, incomprehensible
exhilaration. How was it that in the old life there had never been time
to think? That the stars and the lights and the wind had meant so
little? That the world had seemed so humdrum a place? He laughed at
himself as he felt in his pockets to see whether he could afford a 'bus,
and thought of the bread and cheese which would be spread out on the
table before him when he returned to his lodgings. They would be dining
at the Savoy and the Carlton in an hour or so; crowds of his late
friends; little ladies of musical comedy so charmed to have him sit by
their side and whisper in their ear; so delighted to make up a party
afterwards at one of their flats, and sing, or dance, or flirt. There
was his French chef idle; his bathroom and wardrobe untouched; his
motor-cars; a hundred expedients of wealth waiting for a word from him.
Already he was beginning to find it hard to realise that other life. The
friends of whom he thought, who would welcome him back tonight, seemed
to belong to such a banal, such an artificial side of existence;
something built up with false lines and painted with crude colours. He
discovered an extra penny in his trousers pocket, and whistled with joy
as he clambered up to his seat on the top of an omnibus.

On the next morning things happened. A caller presented himself at the
little office in King Street at about eleven o'clock, whom Bliss
recognised with a little start of surprise as a very distinguished
solicitor, and whom he had met more than once in the old days. He, too,
had the same strained look upon his face as he presented his card and
asked to see Mr. Cockerill.

"Mr. Cockerill is in, sir," Bliss admitted. "I will let him know that
you are here."

Bliss took in the card, which Mr. Cockerill glanced at and sighed. It
was obvious that he did not contemplate any pleasure from the
forthcoming interview.

"You can show the gentleman in, Bliss," he said resignedly. "I am very
busy this morning, though. I can only give him a few minutes."

The newcomer was already in the room, and Bliss had time, before he
departed, to notice that the greeting between the two men was strained.
Bliss closed the door and stood for a moment hesitating. Then he
clenched his fists and applied his ear to the knothole.

"Pleased though I am at any time to see you, my dear Fenwick," Mr.
Cockerill was saying, "I look upon your present visit as indiscreet. I
receive here only my bird friends and two or three people who, thanks to
you, my dear fellow, help to make my life interesting."

There was a moment's pause. Then the visitor spoke. His voice was
shaking with passion.

"Cockerill," he said, "it's about those people I have come. You have got
to give it up. Indeed, believe me, it can't go on. Miss Morrison, Harry
Verner, Lady Martinghoe, have all been to me. They swear that I have
been their only confidant. You don't seem to understand the risk. There
are rumours flying about already of some great blackmailing scheme,
which is kept on its legs by leakages from the office of a famous firm
of solicitors. We have not had a new client for the last three weeks."

Mr. Cockerill tapped with his pencil upon the desk.

"Gently, gently, my friend," he exclaimed irritably. "That is a hateful
word, to which I much object. There is no blackmailing in it."

"There is," was the angry retort. "It may not be money you exact, but
it's money's kind; it is torture, sheer and purposeless brutality."

Mr. Cockerill sighed.

"How unreasonable you are this morning, my dear Fenwick! It is really
very unkind of you to come here in this frame of mind. You know very
well that I have only two interests in life: my birds, and the strange,
indescribable, but extraordinarily subtle pleasure I feel," Mr.
Cockerill went on, his voice growing more earnest, his eyes shining, "in
having people sit in that chair--just where you are sitting now, my dear
Fenwick--and watching their terror when they realise that a light is
streaming in upon some dark secret chamber of their lives, that they are
face to face with one who has a power over them, which is as the power
of life and death."

Something was flashing out of Mr. Cockerill's eyes which Bliss had never
seen there before. His tone, too, quivered as though with ecstasy.

"Pleasure or no pleasure," the other declared firmly, "I have come to
tell you it's finished. You can go to my partners to-morrow and tell
them the truth. Out with it whenever you like; from the house tops, or
in my clerk's office. Tell them all that I robbed the firm of a few
hundred pounds in the days when I was an articled clerk. You found it
out, and you've held it over me all these years. I've finished now! Not
another word do you get out of me. And, as for those unfortunate clients
whom you keep on tenterhooks, I am going to tell them the truth, and
they will understand how little they have to fear."

"Thoroughly unreasonable this morning, I see, my friend," Mr. Cockerill
sighed. "What with dear Tommy's indisposition and your unreasonableness,
I perceive I shall end the day with a bad headache."

"I don't care if you end it in hell!" Mr. Fenwick declared fiercely. "I
am here for one purpose, and for one purpose only. I am going to have
those documents you robbed me of and return them to my clients, or wring
your neck."

Mr. Cockerill sat back in his chair.

"No violence, if you please," he begged. "Help yourself, my dear friend.
The office and all it contains is at your disposal."

Fenwick commenced at once to search the place, opening drawers, throwing
around him the typewritten sheets of that wonderful treatise on birds,
glancing closely at every scrap of paper.

Mr. Cockerill sighed once more.

"Thoroughly unreasonable, I regret to see," he repeated. "You are making
a shocking mess!"

Mr. Fenwick resumed his seat.

"Until you hand over those documents," he said, "I shall stop here."

"In which case," Mr. Cockerill replied, drawing his typewriter towards
him, "I shall go on with my work."

Bliss stole down the stairs, called a taxi, and drove to the Acropolis
Club. He presented Mr. Cockerill's card, of which he had retained
possession, and was at once allowed access to his room. He was back
again in his place at the knot-hole within a quarter of an hour. He
peered into the room. Mr. Cockerill was banging away at his machine. Mr.
Fenwick was sitting a few yards off with folded arms. Then he slipped
from his place, knocked at the door, and entered the room with a
despatch box in his hand.

"You were enquiring about some documents," he said to Mr. Fenwick. "I
think you will find them in here."

Mr. Cockerill, for once, was discomposed. He stared blankly at Bliss.
Mr. Fenwick was speechless.

"You're a thief!" Mr. Cockerill gasped at last. "You have been to my
rooms--you have robbed me."

Bliss set down the box by Mr. Fenwick's side.

"A thief, perhaps," he assented, turning to his employer, "and you are a
blackmailer."

There was a moment's breathless silence. Mr. Cockerill was very white.

"If you want to give me in charge," Bliss went on slowly, "you can. I
told the hall porter as I came up that there might be a little trouble,
and that if I rang the lift bell, it would be for a policeman."

"I'll give the pair of you in charge!" Mr. Cockerill blustered, rising
to his feet. "That box contains my personal securities."

"I don't like to have to speak so plainly," Bliss replied, "but I
believe you are a liar. Anyway, you will have to trust Mr. Fenwick to
return them to you.--There is just one more little matter."

He held out his hand and pointed to the empty space in the window, and
the empty space over the mantelpiece. Mr. Cockerill seemed, if possible,
more agitated than ever.

"What have you done with the birds?" he cried quickly.

"They are out on the leads enjoying the sunshine," Bliss replied. "If
you are going to take this matter reasonably, they will be back again in
a few minutes; if you don't, I will wring their necks one by one, and
throw them out into the street."

Mr. Cockerill rose to his feet, reached for his silk hat, set it firmly
upon his head, and took his gloves and umbrella from the corner.

"I will accompany you to the office, Fenwick," he said meekly. "You can
go through the box and destroy anything you think fit. What I have there
that is personal property, you can restore to me."

"Is that satisfactory to you, sir?" Bliss asked of Mr. Fenwick.

"My God, yes!" the latter replied.

Bliss handed him the despatch box and ushered the two men out of the
room.

"You will look after the birds before you go?" Mr. Cockerill begged
humbly.

"I will bring them in at once, sir," Bliss promised.

"And, afterwards, you will come and see me," Mr. Fenwick invited,
holding out a card. "Here is my address."

"Thank you, sir," Bliss answered.

The two men left the place. Bliss brought in the birds, swept out the
offices, locked them behind him, and took the key round to the Acropolis
Club. Then he strolled into the Park and seated himself upon one of the
benches. He took out a calendar from his pocket and made a little
calculation. He was once more out of a job, and there remained nine
months, two weeks and a day of his great adventure.



CHAPTER X

Mrs. Heath looked at the little array of coins set out upon her lodger's
breakfast tray and took them almost reluctantly into her fingers.

"That's right, isn't it, Mrs. Heath?" Bliss asked, with an attempt at
cheerfulness,--"nineteen and sevenpence, and little enough for all
you've done for me."

She looked at him doubtfully.

"The amount's quite correct, sir," she said, "but, if you'll pardon my
making the remark, what about yourself? That ain't left you much in your
pocket for your dinner or such like!"

Bliss jingled three pennies and two halfpennies in his trousers pocket
with great effect.

"I've got enough for dinner, at any rate," he assured her, "and I've a
sort of feeling that I shall get a job to-day."

Mrs. Heath sighed as she took up the tray.

"If you'd like to leave a shilling or two out of the rent, sir--" she
began.

"Not on your life," Bliss interrupted. "It's Monday to-day, Mrs. Heath,
and Monday was always my lucky day."

"Shall you go round to Smithson's again, sir?" Mrs. Heath enquired.

Bliss left off jingling his money. The lowest fee payable at Smithson's
was half a crown.

"I'm not quite sure," he answered dubiously. "They send one off on a lot
of useless errands. I rather thought of strolling round and chancing my
luck."

"Never thought of trying one of them Labour Bureaus, I suppose, sir?"
Mrs. Heath enquired.

"Jolly good idea," Bliss replied, taking up his hat. "I'm sick of
Smithson's, anyway."

He went down the stairs whistling, though his footsteps dragged a little
as he turned into the street. It seemed to him that he had lived through
an eternity of ugly, cheerless days. His environment depressed him
continually. Curiously enough, much of his nervousness had departed, but
it had given place at times to a genuine weakness. The thought of that
long chain of days to come seemed sometimes intolerable. He presented
himself at the nearest labour bureau and started away from it, a few
minutes later, with an address upon a piece of paper and a rival
applicant in hot pursuit. The latter, however, became associated with a
street broil on the way and was delayed by the subsequent festivities.
Bliss, therefore, reached the small greengrocer's shop alone and was
interviewed by a bold, untidy looking female, the remnants of whose good
looks were painfully affected by the meagreness of her habiliments. She
paused in her task of opening a sack of potatoes as Bliss entered, a
little out of breath.

"Wot cher want?" she demanded.

"Are you Mrs. Mott?" Bliss asked eagerly. "I've come from the Labour
Bureau about the job."

The woman stood upright and, with her arms akimbo, eyed him up and down.

"I'm Mrs. Mott right enough," she admitted, "but I dunno as you'd suit.
You don't look as though you could lift a sack of feathers, much more a
sack of potatoes."

"I can lift as much as most men of my size and weight," Bliss assured
her. "I can drive a cart, too, which I understand is one of the
considerations."

The woman scrutinised him curiously. It was only a few days since he had
left the employ of Mr. Cockerill, and the attire which would have amazed
his friends in Piccadilly was distinctly neat in Poplar.

"Don't seem to me as though you'd be able to tackle the job," she
grumbled. "There's more to do than driving round to folks' houses and
flirting with the servants."

"I am afraid," Bliss confessed, "I cannot say I have held a similar
position, but if you will tell me what to do, I'll do my best. I can
promise you that I will not waste my time in the--er--manner you
suggest."

"Where was you last?" the lady asked, turning a little away and
completing the buttoning of her gown with an affectation of unconcern.

"I was light porter in the employ of a gentleman named Cockerill," Bliss
replied.

"Well, there's not much light portering about this job," Mrs. Mott
assured him. "Twice a week you've got to be with the cart in Covent
Garden at four o'clock in the morning."

"I have often been up at that hour," Bliss murmured, "even in Covent
Garden."

She looked at him thoughtfully, struggling all the time to conceal her
marked predisposition in his favour.

"P'raps you might do," she said doubtfully. "You see, I'm in a bit of a
'ole. My man's left me sudden like--gone off without a word, the beast!
And 'ere am I with the business on my 'ands, and no one to feed the pony
nor nothing."

"You must allow me to do that for you, whether you engage me or not,"
Bliss ventured.

"What sort of wages might you be wanting?" the woman enquired. Bliss
hesitated.

"What did you think of giving?" he asked.

"You get a bed in the loft at the back," she explained. "It's nothing
much of a place, but if the weather comes on colder, I dunno as you
couldn't sleep in the 'ouse. And yer dinner in the middle of the day. I
don't promise nothing else, but if there's a bit of a meal going in the
evening, and yer round, why yer welcome. And fifteen bob a week."

"I'll try it if you please," Bliss decided promptly, glancing over his
shoulder to be sure that his rival was not approaching. "It's a new sort
of job to me, but I'll do my best."

Mrs. Mott nodded.

"If you'll come this way," she said shortly, lifting the flap of the
counter, "I'll take you through to the back of the shed. Then you can
feed the pony. There's a load of these 'ere taters to take down to the
Mile End Road as soon as I've finished sorting 'em."

Bliss passed through a hideously untidy sitting room, on the table of
which were the remnants of a long-completed meal and a jug of beer three
parts empty. The woman hesitated.

"'Ave a sup?" she asked.

"Thank you very much," Bliss replied.

She divided the remainder of the beer into two glasses and was obviously
much impressed by the manner in which Bliss drank her health.

"I dunno," she said despondently, "as this job'll suit yer! They're
mostly a rough lot down here, and if yer don't get on with 'em up at
Covent Garden, they knocks yer about something frightful. I'm fair sick
of the rough doings, and I'm not saying as it isn't a treat to 'ave some
one round who don't look as though he'd be supping beer and wanting to
fight all day long. My old man was a fair terror right up to the end.
This way."

She led him past an appalling looking kitchen into a tiny back yard, at
the further end of which was a tumbledown shed.

"You'll find the pony there, and the food," she told him, "also the
harness and the trolley. If you'll just feed him I'll get on with the
sortin'."

Bliss spent the next half-hour feeding and grooming a dejected looking
pony. At the end of that time, he glanced round to find his employer
leaning in a conversational manner over the half-door.

"'Andier at yer work than I expected," she admitted tolerantly. "You'll
make the beast vain if you get combing 'im about like that!"

Bliss desisted from his labours.

"Wot cher looking for now?" she asked.

"I was looking for a tap and a bit of soap," Bliss replied, "any place
where I could get a wash."

"Wot cher want to wash in the middle of the day for she demanded
suspiciously."

Bliss remained speechless. The question seemed unanswerable. She drew a
little way from the door.

"There's a tap in the back kitchen," she said with mild sarcasm. "Come
on; I'll show it to yer. Be careful yer don't get your boots muddy in
the yard. Want to brush yer 'air too?"

Bliss laughed good-humouredly.

"I'll harness up the pony first," he decided. "After all, it doesn't
matter much, only, you see, the last job I was in, my employer was
rather particular."

"Makes a body feel quite uncomfortable," Mrs. Mott declared, feeling
about for any more stray buttons. "Bring you round the pony to the
front, and I'll help you load up."

Bliss obeyed her instructions. In about half an hour's time they had the
cart loaded. Mrs. Mott, a little breathless with her exertions, stepped
back upon the pavement and produced from some mysterious portion of her
attire a small leather purse.

"You'll get Bill Simons to sign the receipt you've got with you for them
taters, and you'll have to stand 'im a pint afterwards," she explained,
counting out four coppers and handing them to Bliss. "Only one pint,
mind. Don't stay about, 'cos there's another job or two to be done 'ere
afore dark."

Bliss raised his hat politely.

"I will be back promptly, madam," he promised as he drove off, leaving
her staring after him openmouthed.

Bliss carried out his instructions, and delivered the potatoes at an
establishment of similar character to Mrs. Mott's, but smaller. When the
last sack had been emptied and weighed, he was promptly conducted to an
adjacent public house by a malodorous individual, who, in the intervals
of assuaging his thirst, stared at his companion and muttered incoherent
expressions under his breath. On the return to the scene of his labours,
Bliss found Mrs. Mott entertaining a small company of neighbours, to
whom she was explaining the circumstances connected with Mr. Mott's
hurried disappearance. She introduced Bliss with a slightly
self-conscious air.

"This is the new young man," she announced. "I've 'ad to get in some
one, for I couldn't go up to market myself, or drive the pony round."

"Not to be thought of, my dear," murmured one of her sympathisers.

"Came to me from the Labour Bureau," Mrs. Mott continued a little
truculently, affecting not to notice a sly wink from her next-door
neighbour, "and a very civil-spoken and well-meaning young man he seems
to be. Anyway, I'm going to give 'im a trial."

Bliss, aware that he was the subject of some mirthful conversation,
hurried off into the yard. Mrs. Mott sought him out presently.

"They've got over me," she declared. "I'm going to change my things,
take a fish supper, and do a picture palace with them. It's not every
night as I makes so free, but it's lonesome sitting by one's self. If
you'd care," she went on, a little hesitatingly, "to come along--"

"If I am to be at Covent Garden at four o'clock with the notes you have
given me," he interrupted, "I'd like, if I may, to get a little sleep
early to-night. Besides, I shall have to go as far as St. Pancras and
explain to my landlady there that I shall not want the room any longer."

"And I'm not sure you ain't right," Mrs. Mott agreed. "We'll have an
evening to ourselves, if you're so minded, later on in the week. There's
yer room in the back there, and if you're cold or uncomfortable, why,
you shall come into the 'ouse, and that's all there is to say about it."

She gave him a few more instructions with regard to the morning and left
him. Bliss made the best of his way back to his lodgings and sought out
Mrs. Heath.

"Got a job," he announced triumphantly.

A rare smile lit up her wan face.

"I'm glad," she said simply.

"I've got to live in," Bliss explained, "but of course, I'll pay you a
full week's rent instead of notice. But I wanted to know whether I could
take my things away and bring you the money next Saturday or Sunday."

"There's no week's rent for you to pay, nor nothing of the sort," Mrs.
Heath declared warmly. "I can let your room in five minutes,
although--I'm sorry you're going, Mr. Bliss. Can I help you put your
things together, sir?"

"It isn't five minutes' job," Bliss assured her, holding out his hand.
"Good-by, Mrs. Heath. You've been quite a friend to me. I shan't forget!
Very likely I shall be back again before long."

"There's always your room, sir, when it's convenient," she promised.

Bliss packed his few belongings and returned to Poplar. The house and
shop were still in darkness. He climbed up into the loft where he was
supposed to sleep, and by the light of a candle looked around him. The
uninviting-looking bed, the absence of any washing utensils, the torn
and filthy piece of linoleum upon the floor, its only covering, sickened
him. He turned out again into the streets. For an hour or so he wandered
aimlessly about. He seemed just for that one evening, at any rate, to
have lost all consciousness of his own identity; to have become, indeed,
one of the waifs and toilers with whom he rubbed shoulders all the time.
He felt the attraction of the gaily lit public houses, with their
suggestion of warmth within. The boisterous chaff and shrill laughter of
the hooligan girls he met, walking arm in arm past the picture palaces,
even stirred in him some faint desire for adventure. He lost himself in
the crowded thoroughfares where he hardly heard a word of English; where
sallow-faced, stooping men passed by like yoke-bearing animals, talking
Yiddish or Russian; where the women leered at him from dark, mysterious
side streets, grimly fascinating in their suggestion of crime and
mystery. He felt the thrall of alien London; something of the terror of
it crept into his blood. He seemed to be amongst a race beaten in a
futile struggle towards humanity, beaten back into the semblance of the
animal. Even his miserable stable seemed like a refuge, when at last he
crept back to it and munched the food which he had bought. That night he
found no consolation, even, in the thought of the freedom which must
some day be his.


Overanxious not to be late, it was only a little after three o'clock
when Bliss, after that long drive through the emptying streets of
London, took up his appointed place in Covent Garden market. The
darkness was unbroken; the lamps of the city were still throwing their
lights on to the low-hanging clouds. Only once had Bliss smiled since
the wretched moment when he had struggled into his clothes and with blue
fingers harnessed the pony, and that was when, seated upon the trolley,
he had driven his strange-looking equipage down Gracechurch Street, past
the premises of his stock brokers, whose strong coffers were laden with
his securities; past the office of his solicitors, where black box after
black box, with his name upon it, lined the shelves. The depression of
last night, however, still lingered. The sense of adventure which had
sustained him at first had become curiously dormant. The sordidness of
poverty had caught him, for the nonce, in its toils.

He fastened the pony to a weight by one of the reins, and, crossing the
street, drank a cup of coffee at a stall. The coffee was hot and strong
and marvellously refreshing. Something like new life crept through his
frozen veins. He stopped to listen. From afar came the sound of music.

"There'll be some of them swells round presently," the stall keeper
remarked. "There's one or two of 'em never misses, ball nights, coming
to 'ave a cup of my corfee."

"Is it a fancy dress ball to-night?" Bliss asked. The man nodded.

"They've been going up by yonder in streams," he declared. "All at a
guinea a time, too. My word! There's money about if only one could get
'old of it."

Bliss wandered back to his stand. Some vans were unloading round his
trolley. One of the men, who recognised the pony, spoke to him.

"You'll be from old man Mott's," he remarked. "What's the good of coming
here at this hour?"

"Am I too early?" Bliss asked.

"Aye, a full hour," the man replied. "We ain't got the stuff off yet."

Bliss strolled away once more. He filled his latest purchase, a shilling
pipe, with the remnants of a pouch of tobacco, and, lighting it,
wandered through the shadowy streets and mysterious alleys, a region
which seemed always full of strange possibilities. With time on his
hands, and no money for amusements, it was amazing how his powers of
observation and general sensitiveness had developed. From under a
tarpaulin-covered cart he caught suddenly a delicious wave of perfume,
and he drew a little nearer to find it heaped with clusters of
pinky-mauve and white lilac. A little farther on, across the garbage of
the streets, from the recesses of the covered market, came the sweet but
almost overpowering odour of violets, an odour which reminded him for
the moment of a violet farm he had once seen at Hyeres. Then a drunken
man, whipping a tired horse, made the place hideous with his string of
oaths. Two hooligans, pelting each other with onions, closed abruptly in
a fiercer struggle. Bliss passed on into one of the quieter by-ways and
stood there, listening to the far-away tumult, watching the fading glow
pass away from the clouds. Suddenly he gave a little start. Round the
corner of the street a dark figure had come into sight, the figure,
apparently, of a youth, running with his head thrown back, his face
ghastly white under the lamp as he passed. His knees seemed to be
shaking. He threw up his arms as though about to fall. Then, with a
final effort, he zigzagged across the street and crept in under a pile
of tarpaulin covers which had been left near one of the stalls. He
disappeared there, barely a dozen yards away from the spot where Bliss
was standing. The tarpaulin was still quivering, indeed, when his
pursuers raced into sight. They came down the street, fleet-footed,
still fresh and strong. They pulled up short by Bliss. One was dressed
in the uniform of a commissionaire. The other two were in evening dress,
and with a little start Bliss recognised them both. One was a man about
town, an acquaintance of a short time ago, a man who had the reputation
of being an adventurer, but against whom nothing definite was known; his
companion, a wealthy brewer's son from the provinces, a frequenter of
the West-end bars and restaurants.

"Any one passed this way?" the commissionaire asked breathlessly.

Bliss shook his head.

"I have only just come round the corner myself."

"Which corner?"

Bliss pointed. They dashed across the street in the opposite direction.
He heard them shouting as they turned into the broader thoroughfare,
heard a growing tumult of voices, and the blowing of a police whistle.
The street was now empty. He crossed the road, and made his way towards
the pile of tarpaulin. As he approached, it quivered slightly. He looked
around to be sure that no one was watching. Then he pulled it on one
side.

"Get up," he said. "I have sent them the other way. Tell me, what is it
all about?"

His first impressions were only of the face, delicate and oval, ghastly
in its whiteness, and a pair of great brown eyes, staring, terrified,
terrifying. Then the figure slowly scrambled to its feet.

"My God!" Bliss exclaimed. "You're--you're a woman!"

She clutched at his hand. Although she was still crouching, he could see
that she was dressed in the black velvet doublet and black silk
stockings of a page. She had apparently been wearing a cloak, the silver
fastenings of which hung from her shoulders.

"Save me," she faltered.

"What have you done?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"Save me," she begged. "You will?"

He looked at her costume, absurdly conspicuous, but the frozen terror in
her face checked his further questioning.

"I'll do what I can," he replied shortly. "You can't move from here as
you are. Get underneath that tarpaulin again; there'll be no one round
these stalls until four o'clock. I'll go back and fetch my overcoat."

She crept back into her shelter. At the last moment she cast a timid
glance at him.

"You'll come back?" she moaned.

"Yes, I'll come back," he assured her.

He made his way to where his trolley was standing. It was still too
early for business, and the place was almost deserted. Every one seemed
to have followed a little crowd of people who had collected at the
corner of Bow Street.

"What's up?" he asked one of the porters who was unloading.

"Dunno," the man answered. "There were three chaps came past here,
bellowing as hard as they could. Quarrel up at the ball, I reckon. They
eats too much, them folks, and they drinks too much, and then they
quarrels. Serve 'em blooming well right."

Bliss took the nose-bag from his pony and mounted the seat of his
trolley.

"You orf?" the porter asked.

"I'm only going to drive round for a bit," he replied.

He walked the pony up the hill, and, by a roundabout way, reached the
heap of tarpaulin. One or two people were passing, so he waited for a
moment under pretext of lighting his pipe. Then he slipped softly to the
ground.

"Come," he said, "there's no one looking."

She crept out, and he threw his coat over her. Taking his cap from his
head he handed it to her.

"Throw that hat of yours away," he directed, "and pull this well over
your eyes. There's only one thing I can do for you. You can sit by my
side here in that overcoat, and I'll drive you anywhere you like that
won't take me more than twenty minutes. That's the best I can promise
you. I've got my job here to see to."

Her icy cold fingers clutched his hand.

"It won't take longer than that," she gasped. "Quickly, please."

Bliss took his place upon the driver's seat and helped her up. She was
trembling all over. He buttoned the overcoat up to her throat and pulled
the cap over her forehead.

"Which way?" he asked.

"Along the Strand," she begged.

He whipped up the unwilling pony and threaded his way through the maze
of farm wagons which were now arriving every few moments, down at last
into the Strand. She gave a little gulp of relief when they were clear
of the labyrinth.

"Straight on," she faltered.

She sat there, leaning a little forward, the overcoat buttoned up to her
throat, the cap pulled over her eyes, her face shrouded and invisible.
She motioned with her hand along Pall Mall and directed him up St.
James' Street. They crossed Piccadilly and turned into Berkeley Square.
Still she motioned him onwards.

"If it's much further," he remarked, "I'm afraid I shall be getting into
trouble."

They were at the corner of Grosvenor Square when she stopped him.

"Let me get down by that lamp-post," she directed. "You see?"

In the middle of the Square a little procession of motor-cars was
waiting. The lights were flashing from the house towards which she
pointed, and a striped canopy ran down to the edge of the pavement.

"Tell me your name," she whispered hoarsely. "Your name?"

"Bliss," he answered, "Ernest Bliss."

"And your address?" she continued quickly. "I shall remember it. Tell
me."

He hesitated for a moment.

"168, Crunmo Street, Poplar."

She nodded. Suddenly she gripped his hands. "Good-by," she faltered,
"but--thank you, oh, thank you!"



CHAPTER XI

There was a pink glow in the sky just at the back of St. Paul's
Cathedral when Bliss drove once more up the hill into Covent Garden. He
found the place which his trolley had occupied taken, and he had hard
work to push his way to the front. One by one, however, he somehow or
other managed to deliver his notes and collect his fruit and vegetables.

"Where's old Mott?" the first man asked him. "Don't know," Bliss
replied. "I was engaged by Mrs. Mott. I heard that Mr. Mott had gone
off."

"Gone off," the dealer muttered doubtfully. "The money's all right, I
suppose."

"I know nothing about that," Bliss answered. "I am a porter."

"We'll 'ave a pint, any'ow," the man invited. Bliss followed him into a
low, crowded room where men were drinking in the dim light.

"Fair old tartar, Mott," Bliss' new friend declared. "Never was such a
chap for spreeing round. Wonder 'is missis stands it. She's got the
brass, too. 'Ow long 'ave you been at this job, young man?"

"Not very long. This is my first visit here, at any rate."

"Ought to 'ave been 'ere about 'arf-'our ago," his companion remarked,
as he set down his tankard empty. "There's been reg'lar game of
'ide-and-seek all round the stalls. Some young chap got into trouble at
the ball yonder."

"Was any one seriously hurt?" Bliss asked.

"They've taken a bloke to the 'orspital--saw 'im go by in the
ambulance," the man replied carelessly. "Just you tell Mrs. Mott, young
man, that I'd be jolly glad of a cheque on Thursday. Accounts to
meet--you know."

He slipped a shilling into Bliss' hand and lurched off. Bliss drove back
to Poplar. It was now broad daylight, and the pavements were crowded
with men and women making their silent way to the scene of their daily
toil. Bliss was feeling sick and tired. It was all he could do to guide
the pony. He looked forward to his return to Crunmo Street and its
squalid surroundings with absolute loathing. A subtle wave of memory
assailed him. Only a short distance away were his warmed, luxurious
rooms; his large, comfortable bed; his servant waiting to prepare his
bath; the cheerful crackle of his fire; the delicious smell of hot
coffee. He set his teeth hard. For some reason or other, it was one of
his weakest moments. The vista of the months before him had never seemed
so hopeless. Then, amidst that cloud of memories, he suddenly saw the
face of the physician--the cold, contemptuous curl of his lips; the
steely, unsympathetic glitter of his eyes. He forgot his giddiness and
sat more squarely upon his seat.

A few minutes later he pulled up at the door of the shop. As he slowly
descended, a little stiff from the cold, Mrs. Mott's face appeared from
an up-stairs window. She was evidently not yet fully attired, a fact
which seemed to afford her no concern whatever.

"I've 'ad Mrs. Simpson's boy in to clean the shop," she called out. "You
just leave the cart where it is, take the pony into the stable, and come
round to the back room, and we'll 'ave some breakfast. We'll unload the
stuff later."

Bliss obeyed, and in due course made his way to the back room. Mrs. Mott
was already there, wearing a pink flannel dressing gown tied loosely
around her. Her hair was in curl papers. The rest of her attire was
negligible.

"You sit down 'ere and 'ave your bit o' breakfast along o' me," she
declared cordially. "They ain't been knocking you about, then?"

"On the contrary," Bliss replied, his fascinated eyes fixed upon her
coiffure, "one large man who sent his regards to you and said he should
like a cheque next Thursday, stood me a pint of beer and gave me a
shilling."

"You've no call to tell me about the shilling," she remarked. "And as
for Jim Avery's money, he'll get it all right, and that he knows. You
can begin, while I run up-stairs for a minute."

Bliss found himself eating with an appetite. Presently Mrs. Mott
reappeared. The curl papers had vanished, and a heavy fringe ornamented
her forehead. She was almost embarrassed as she sat down.

"Don't often do much prinking before later in the day," she explained
casually, "but you seem such a pertickler kind. 'Ave some more bacon,
do. It'll be a bit o' work to bring the stuff in. I 'ope they 'aven't
been passing off any old truck on you."

"I hope not," Bliss replied. "I did my best to watch everything that was
put on."

"They're rare thieves up there," Mrs. Mott continued. "Want watching all
the time. There's no two ways about it. A woman who is left with a nice
little business like this needs a smart young man to see that she ain't
robbed all the time."

Bliss caught the flash of her bold eyes across the table and set down
his cup hurriedly.

"My! but you are shy," she declared, moving her chair a little closer to
his. "And what's happened to yer coat and hat this morning? I seen you
drive 'ome all shivering."

"I lost them both up there," Bliss replied. "Laid them down for a
moment, and when I looked up again, they were gone."

"Yer not fit to be trusted amongst a pack o' thieves like that," Mrs.
Mott exclaimed, half-angrily, half-tenderly. "What you need, young man,
is some one to look after you."

The shop bell rang. Mrs. Mott rose, grumbling, to her feet.

"A thing I can't abear," she declared, "is them customers who come and
want their greengroceries afore you've 'ad yer breakfast or tidied up.
Don't you disturb yerself, Mr. Bliss. I'll be back in a jiffy."

Bliss hastily swallowed his coffee and stole softly to the back door.
Mrs. Mott's shrill voice, however, checked his retreat.

"Here's a gent brought back yer overcoat," she called out. "Wants a word
with yer."

Bliss turned towards the shop. He passed Mrs. Mott on her way back to
her unfinished breakfast.

"What the likes of 'im was doing in Covent Garden I dunno," she
remarked. "Looks like a toff."

Bliss passed through into the shop. In the midst of the untidy
desolation a young man was standing who amply justified Mrs. Mott's
description. He was holding Bliss' overcoat upon his left arm. A
motorcar was waiting at the door.

"Is your name Bliss?" he enquired. "I believe this is your overcoat."

Bliss nodded.

"I hope," he asked, dropping his voice a little, "that the lady got home
safely?"

The young man felt in his waistcoat pocket. He drew out a piece of
paper.

"We want you," he said quietly, "to just forget that hour altogether, if
you will. The young lady is awfully obliged to you and all that. Here's
a trifle she sent you."

Bliss threw the coat on a pile of onions and thrust his hands into his
pockets. The boy's tone had been kind, even pleasant, but he had spoken
from his world, which was a very exalted one indeed, to a greengrocer's
assistant.

"I am very much obliged," Bliss replied, "but I do not require payment."

The young man was, for a moment, speechless.

"My good fellow," he exclaimed, "you had to leave your work for quite
some time, and the young lady is most anxious that you should be
rewarded. You don't know, perhaps--it's a little matter of fifty
pounds."

Bliss, who had given that much as a tip to a favourite _maitre d'hôtel_
before now, remained unmoved.

"It was not a service," he reiterated quietly, "for which I require or
could accept payment. As a matter of fact, I was there too early for my
work, and I was delighted to be of assistance."

The boy thrust the note slowly back into his pocket. He stared at Bliss
from head to foot.

"There's no mistake, is there?" he asked. "Forgive me, but it is a
little hard to understand any one in your position refusing a
fifty-pound note. Perhaps you're afraid?" he went on quickly. "You
needn't be. There won't be any trouble about that little affair. You're
never likely to hear of it again."

"I'm not afraid of that," Bliss replied. "All the same, I require no
payment, nor shall I accept any. I am glad to hear that the young lady
is safely back with her friends."

The boy seemed to become suddenly older and a person of greater
understanding. He held out his hand.

"I still don't understand," he declared frankly, "why any one like you
is working as a grocer's porter. Will you let me do something for you? I
can find you, without doubt, a more suitable post."

Bliss shook his head.

"Thank you. I am quite satisfied."

The boy looked around him, still bewildered. "There must be something--"
he began.

"It would afford me some satisfaction," Bliss said quietly, "to be
assured that the matter in which I intervened was not--"

"I'll tell you all about it," the boy interrupted. "I'll tell you all
about it, with pleasure. My sister and I live in Grosvenor Square. She
is Lady Margaret Braydon, and I am Geoffrey Braydon. The mater was
giving a fancy-dress ball, and we were both bored to death. I'd wanted
to go to a Covent Garden ball and told Meg so, and she bothered me into
taking one of the motors and going there just for an hour. She wanted to
see what it was like. It was a mad thing to do, of course. While we were
there, three or four men followed Meg about, and directly I noticed it,
we made up our minds to leave. Just then there was an awful hubbub. Some
thief had stolen a bracelet from a woman near. She caught hold of Meg's
arm and accused her of having taken it. The bracelet was on the floor,
close to where Meg was standing, and it seemed to me we were in for
trouble. Two of the men laid hold of Meg. They were going to keep her
till a policeman arrived. I knocked one down and tripped the other, and
Meg bolted. We both got clear, but she went a different way, and I lost
her. Thanks to you, she got home, or there'd have been a devil of a row,
for one of those fellows half recognised her, I'm sure, and they say
he's a bit of a blackmailer, a regular wrong 'un. I hunted around for
Meg for over an hour, but I had to be jolly careful myself, for the man
I knocked down caught his head upon the railing and had to be taken to
the hospital. Then I telephoned home to one of the servants I could
trust, and found that Meg had been home for some time and gone to bed;
so I followed. That's the story. I saw her when I got home, and she told
me what you'd done for her. We'll both be thankful to you all our lives,
Mr. Bliss."

"That's all right," Bliss replied. "You won't mind if I say good-by now,
will you? I've a lot of work to do, and my mistress is a little
impatient."

"It's all silly rot," Lord Geoffrey declared. "You've got to come along
and let us help you out of this. I can get you a job down on our
Wiltshire estate, or--"

Bliss shook his head gently and pushed him towards the door.

"I'll see you again some day," he promised. "I'll know where to come if
I need a leg up. Good-by!"

"And a nice long time the young man was, too, leaving yer coat," Mrs.
Mott grumbled, as Bliss stepped back into the sitting room. "There's
everything cold here, but I've warmed up the last bit of bacon."

"Thank you, I've had plenty," Bliss assured her.

"You'll just sit where you are," Mrs. Mott insisted, "and you'll eat
that bit o' bacon--" thrusting it upon his plate--"and drink this cup o'
coffee. Then you and I together 'll see about bringing the stuff in the
shop, and I'll show you 'ow to do the sortin'. I don't see," she went
on, dropping an extra knob of sugar into his cup, "why we shouldn't get
one o' them louts as are always 'anging round to do the rough work
outside, and you might 'elp me more in the shop. It's not a bad little
business, you know, Mr. Bliss, properly looked after," she continued,
dropping her voice a little, "and it don't mean late hours neither. We
can generally be finished in time for a bit o' supper at seven o'clock,
and feel one's earned a bit, too, to spend. I'm all for a bit of
enjoyment after the day's work's done," she confided, "and to tell yer
the truth, I feel a lot more like it now I've got rid o' that man o'
mine. Always 'alf drunk, 'e was," she went on, "and if any woman came
along and smiled at 'im, even though she was as ugly as a barn door, so
long as it wasn't 'is own wife, 'e'd make a perfect fool of 'is self
about 'er. A good riddance, I say," she concluded firmly, "and if I
takes a fancy. Drat that shop bell!"

This time, however, there was no need for her to disturb herself. They
heard the sound of heavy footsteps crossing the shop, and the
communicating door was suddenly opened. Mrs. Mott sank back in her
chair. A blank expression spread itself over her face. A heavy,
sheepish-looking man stood in the doorway, with a straw in his mouth and
a half-awakened expression in his eyes. He looked from his wife to
Bliss.

"'Oos this?" he demanded truculently, indicating the latter with a
movement of his head.

Mrs. Mott rose to her feet.

"And where 'ave you been, if you please, sir?" she enquired with ominous
civility.

"I've 'ad a few days 'orliday," Mr. Mott replied, loosening his
neckcloth a little, "and if any one says I 'aven't the right to a few
days' 'orliday, then let 'em come outside and settle it with me."

"'Orliday, you lout!" Mrs. Mott cried, shaking with anger. "Yer can just
take yerself orf 'orliday-making. This is my shop and my business, and I
don't want no more o' you. 'I'm oil for good' was yer last words, and
I'll trouble yer to act up to 'em."

Mr. Mott scratched his chin for a moment and gazed towards Bliss.

"Fried bacon for breakfast," he murmured, "'ot corfee, and in the
sitting room and all. Cold bacon and a glass o' water out in the stable
was enough for the last boy."

"You 'old yer tongue, man," Mrs. Mott declared, breathing heavily. "If
once I starts on you--"

"Yer can save yer breath," Mr. Mott interrupted. "I'm back 'ere, and I'm
goin' to stay, even if it is your bit o' money as runs the business, and
even if you does do most of the work. The laws of this country recognise
that it's the man that's master, so let's 'ear no more o' yer rubbish.
And, as to that young man," he went on slowly, "'im and me'll 'ave a
little chat."

Mrs. Mott stepped between them. Her suppressed wrath broke bounds at
last. With her arms akimbo, and her feet firmly planted upon the ground,
she commenced to justify, actually and magnificently, her reputation.
Mr. Mott, dazed by the flow of words, remained doggedly still. Bliss
slipped quietly out by the back door. In the yard, and even in the
stable where he collected his few belongings, he could still hear the
voice of his late employer, ever rising in a shriller and more
triumphant crescendo. But when at last she emerged, flushed with the joy
of a transient victory, and looked around for Bliss, he had disappeared.
With his little bundle under his arm, fortified by a very good
breakfast, with very little money indeed in his pocket, but filled with
a vague sense of relief, he was trudging cheerfully along towards the
nearest labour bureau.



CHAPTER XII

"Get out of the way, stupid! Can't you see I'm wanted in the front?"

Bliss, with a rope in one hand, flattened himself against a wall of
canvas scenery whilst Miss Maisie Linden, after an angry glance at him,
tripped on to the stage to take a none too enthusiastic recall. She came
off, if possible, in a worse temper than ever, and stood talking for
several moments to a gentleman in dress clothes and with a silk hat on
the back of his head, who was loitering in the wings. With sinking
heart, Bliss noticed that she pointed him out. When the curtain fell,
the person in authority crossed the stage and beckoned to him.

"How long have you been on here?" he asked curtly.

"I'm on for a week's trial at half pay, sir," was the reply.

"You needn't turn up to-morrow," the manager said shortly. "You can get
what's owing to you at my office."

Bliss turned away a little wearily. It was a fortnight since he had
taken his abrupt leave of Mrs. Mott, and this was the first regular job
that had come in his way. Somehow or other, he had been unable to feel
any disappointment whatever at the strange termination of his career as
assistant in the greengrocer's establishment in Crunmo Street. He had
welcomed Mr. Mott's inopportune return, in fact; with something very
much like relief, and as soon as he had deposited his things with Mrs.
Heath, who had welcomed him back cordially, he had sallied cheerfully
out in search of another situation.

Day by day, however, the luck had been against him. He had earned a few
shillings, but not nearly enough to pay Mrs. Heath's modest bill. Only
yesterday he had seen the notice, "Stage hands wanted" posted outside
the Frivolity Theatre, and had taken his place in a line of applicants.
For once, his luck had seemed to be in. He was the last man engaged, and
the twenty-five shillings he was offered seemed almost wealth. And now,
on the first night, this tragedy I Dismissed! Even in the midst of his
despair, however, the irony of the situation brought a grim smile to his
lips. It was only a few months since it had given Miss Maisie Linden
great pleasure to be one of his guests at a supper party at the Savoy.
He could even recall her impressive looks and whispered asides, her
obvious efforts to please him. He remembered, too, how much he had
admired her that night. "The sweetest little thing in London," some one
had declared enthusiastically. It was quite a different young woman who
had just vented her spite upon a scene shifter.

Bliss made his way with a heavy heart to the back of the stage to be
ready for the resumption of his work. On the way he passed three or four
young ladies of the chorus, one of whom looked at him curiously. He
recognised her at once. She was a young lady who, although her dramatic
aspirations were limited, was very well known in Bohemian London. The
recognition was obviously mutual. She detached herself from the others
and came over to his side.

"Why, it's Ernie," she exclaimed. "It's Ernie Bliss."

He glanced around, frowning.

"Don't give me away," he begged quickly.

"But what are you doing here?" she demanded. "What does it mean?"

"I was a scene shifter here until three minutes ago," he told her. "I've
just got the sack. Miss Maisie Linden complained of my getting in her
way."

The girl seemed still half stupefied.

"But I don't understand," she protested. "They told me that you were so
immensely wealthy."

"So I was," he replied grimly, "once."

"Are you really broke, then?" she persisted.

"Look at me," he answered, touching the place where his collar should
have been, and pointing to the ragged ends of his trousers.

"Then all I can say," she declared indignantly, her eyes becoming
suspiciously bright, "is that your friends have behaved disgracefully.
Look here, we shall be called in a moment--we're in the opening chorus.
I have a friend whom they say is very clever, something in the City; Mr.
James Fancourt, his name is. He has chambers in Gerrard Street--Number 7.
Will you go and see him? I'll write and ask him to find you a job."

"Does he know anything about me?" Bliss enquired. "Not that I know of."

"Will you promise not to tell him my real name? I don't want to appeal
for any one's sympathy. I only want a job if I can earn the money.
Indeed, I won't accept it unless it is offered to me as a discharged
scene shifter from the Frivolity Theatre."

"I shan't tell him a word," she promised hastily. "Mind you go and see
him. I'll write to-night. I will say your name is Johnson."

She tripped away, and Bliss was tapped on the shoulder by his foreman.

"Here's your money," he was told curtly, "less two fines, eight and
fourpence. You can hook it straight away. We don't pay you to stand
about and talk to the ladies."

Bliss went out into the night, and, with his overcoat buttoned up to his
ears, paused at the corner of the Strand, shivering. Once more, for a
few minutes, he weakened. He was so near the one restaurant in London
where his word was law. He could imagine the zest with which they would
serve him, if he were only to stop a taxi, drive to his rooms, and
change. He could almost hear the little chorus of welcome, feel the
pleasant warmth of the place, smell the appetising odours. It seemed
impossible to believe that a few months ago he had found it hard to
select anything to tempt his appetite; had glanced indifferently at the
long list of vintage champagnes; had found his food tasteless and the
attentions of a host of friends boring. And above it all, as he stood
there, he seemed to hunger for a really kind word, for the look of some
one who was really glad to see him. Curiously enough, it was not one of
that army of fair women and well-placed young men who suddenly held his
thoughts, suddenly strengthened his wavering. He was looking northwards
instead of westwards.

"Next Sunday," he determined, "I will go and see her if I have to go in
rags."

The moment of weakness had passed. He bought his supper at a cook-shop
and drank a glass of beer without the slightest fear of indigestion.
Then he went back to his room and slept.

The next two days he spent in tramping about, making countless
applications for jobs, always with the same result. On the third day, he
made the best toilet he could and presented himself at the rooms of Mr.
James Fancourt. A man servant showed him into an apartment furnished
half as a study, half as an office. He recognised Mr. James Fancourt
with a start as an _habitué_ of most of the fashionable rendezvous about
town. Mr. Fancourt, however, showed no signs of sharing the recognition.
He was a distinguished-looking young man, with black, shiny hair
slightly waved in front, a long, clean-shaven face, and features good if
somewhat expressionless. His attire was perfection. He scrutinised Bliss
through an eyeglass with a certain kindly toleration.

"Your name's Johnson, isn't it?" he remarked. "Ernest Johnson," Bliss
assented.

For a moment James Fancourt looked at him, and during that moment, Bliss
felt as though a searchlight was being turned upon himself and his past.

"Sorry to hear you're down on your luck," the former continued smoothly.
"I don't want to know the particulars, of course, but were you at a
public school?"

"Eton," Bliss replied.

"'Varsity?"

"Magdalen. Need we talk about that?"

"Certainly not," Mr. Fancourt replied. "I only want to have some sort of
idea of the person I have to deal with. Miss Forrest tells me that you
want a job."

"I want one badly; I am willing to do almost anything," Bliss asserted.

Mr. Fancourt extracted a cigarette from the open box in front of him,
and passed them on to Bliss. "Have a smoke?"

Bliss accepted the offer without hesitation. As he lit the cigarette,
for a moment his eyes were half closed. It was his own special Turkish
tobacco, the tobacco he had always declared to be the finest in London.
He blew out a little whiff of the smoke with keen appreciation. Lately
he had been smoking shag. Mr. Fancourt smiled sympathetically.

"Sit down," he invited. "Now, Mr. Johnson, I am willing to help you if I
can. You want to earn a living. I can put you in the way of earning one.
The question is--are you particular how you earn it?"

Bliss looked at his cigarette and then up at the speaker.

"In a general way, Mr. Fancourt, I should say no," he replied slowly.
"My last job was scene shifting at the Frivolity Theatre. Before that I
drove a greengrocer's cart. I have also filled the post of light porter
and messenger boy. I have travelled in cooking stoves."

"A varied, but no doubt interesting career," Mr. Fancourt admitted.
"There is, however, to my way of thinking," he added, flicking the ash
from the end of his cigarette, "a certain sameness about all these
occupations."

"I can assure you--" Bliss began.

"Do not misunderstand me," Mr. Fancourt interrupted. "I mean a sameness
in one respect only. They were all of them unsuitable for a man in your
position. They were all, I presume, in the nature of honest toil. What I
propose to you isn't."

Bliss stared at him. Mr. Fancourt had the air of a kindly man who is
just a trifle bored by having to enter into tedious explanations.

"If, Mr. Johnson," he continued, "you adhere to the very delightful
standards of life advocated by what is known as the respectable part of
the community, I am afraid that you and I will find very little in
common, and that my assistance would be valueless to you. If, on the
other hand, you recognise the only real philosophy of life, the
philosophy that teaches us that, in accordance with the laws of nature,
the strong man must take from the weak, the clever must strip the fool;
that the man with brains and wit has a right to what he can take from
those less amply equipped; if, as I say, Mr. Johnson, you can bring
yourself into line with this modern train of thought, then it is
possible that you have reached the end of your troubles."

Bliss, for the life of him, could think of nothing to say. The man's
splendid reasonableness was unassailable.

"If I might venture to point this out without hurting your feelings, my
young friend," Mr. Fancourt went on, "might I suggest to you that, in
this eternal warfare, you, up to now, have been on the side of the
sheep? Let me propose to you that having served your apprenticeship in
one camp, you come over to the other? Permit me to offer you another
cigarette."

Bliss helped himself silently. He was feeling the curious fascination of
being addressed once more as an equal by a man whose personal charm of
manner was undeniable.

"I was once," Mr. Fancourt continued, "almost in your position. I am now
able to live in a civilised manner, to afford myself the luxuries of
life which, to men of our class and upbringing, are practically
necessities. The people who contribute towards my support are the
sheep."

"And how," Bliss enquired, "is the fleecing done?" Mr. Fancourt smiled
ever so slightly.

"My young friend," he said, "to-day we are what one might call laying
foundation stones. The whole scheme of my profession, which in its way
is, I think, unique, is a thing which you will only be able to grasp
month by month, perhaps year by year. The immediate question is how to
make use of you."

"It's up to you to point the finger," Bliss remarked cheerfully. "I'm on
for pretty nearly anything."

"Just so," Mr. Fancourt murmured. "At the same time, you can understand
that your admission into the little circle of, shall I say, my
disciples, must naturally be an affair conducted by degrees. We have to
place you, first of all, upon--er--probation. Now tell me, are there any
of the ordinary pleasure haunts of London which you feel you could
frequent without embarrassment?"

Bliss ruminated for a moment.

"I would particularly recommend, if possible," Mr. Fancourt suggested
gently, "the promenades at the popular music halls."

"Quite all right for me," Bliss declared.

Mr. Fancourt smiled.

"You were, I perceive," he remarked, "in touch with the modern idea
prevalent amongst young men of fashion."

Bliss nodded.

"Rotten form to be seen in the promenade of any of these places," he
admitted.

"Exactly," Mr. Fancourt agreed. "Now, as you are doubtless aware, it is
in these places that the sheep are gathered together. It is the young
men from the provinces we want. Their white waistcoats are appalling,
and their ties uncertain, but their money is good. They are usually
attracted, too, by the real article as the moth by a candle. One of my
little enterprises," Mr. Fancourt continued, leaning back in his chair,
"is a mixed bridge club. It opens at ten o'clock and provides a little
harmless diversion for these young men who are on the lookout to see
life."

"Let us," Bliss suggested, "cut the cackle."

Mr. Fancourt nodded affably. He was scribbling a line or two on a sheet
of paper by his side.

"You can take this to Poullet's, tailors in Southampton Row," he said.
"They will fit you out for the evening and the morning. Your hunting
ground for the present will be the promenade at the Empire. Here," he
added, "are a few pounds for incidental expenses. As regards the rest,
you can entertain any acquaintances you may find at Galer's restaurant
and sign the bill 'Fancourt', with two dots afterwards. The chief _maitre
d'hôtel_ there, Henri, shall have instructions from me to-day. Your
ultimate object will be to bring your acquaintances on to Sidley's
Bridge Club, Number 17, Folkestone Street."

"These sort of men don't all play bridge," Bliss remarked.

"Quite so," Mr. Fancourt assented drily. "I will not say exactly where,
but baccarat can be arranged for quite close at hand. Then you must
remember that it is a mixed bridge club of the highest standing. The
ordinary provincial has read about these places, but has never visited
one. You will find it easy to arouse a little curiosity."

"Am I to play?" Bliss asked.

"Not at present," Mr. Fancourt replied. "You will simply bring your
acquaintance in, order a drink for him, and introduce him either to me
or to Mrs. Fortescue, the secretary."

"Mrs. Fortescue?" Bliss objected. "I do not know the lady."

"She will know you," Fancourt assured him. "Shall we say au revoir for
the present?"

Bliss rose to his feet.

"I am starting you with the bridge club," Mr. Fancourt continued, "but
let me assure you that this institution is only the outside edge of the
enterprises in which I am concerned. I shall give you four pounds a week
to commence with, but if you prove trustworthy, you will shortly be put
in the way of earning any income you please, according to your skill and
courage. I am surrounded by young men in your position," Mr. Fancourt
concluded, after a slight hesitation, "but to tell you the truth, they
are most of them rotters or else too well known. They are simply anxious
to indulge their vices and keep their pockets full. They have neither
brains nor grit. I need a wan who has a fair share of both. It is
possible that you and I may get on together, Mr. Johnson."

Bliss made his way out into the street, a little dazed. Only one thing
was perfectly clear to him. Unsavoury and dangerous though the
encircling atmosphere might be, Mr. Fancourt was standing with both feet
in the land of adventures. Bliss, despite the sordidness of his own
proposed share in them, felt the thrill of coming events. To certain
lengths, at any rate, he was prepared to follow his new star.



CHAPTER XIII

Mrs. Heath almost dropped the tray which she was carrying.

"If I hadn't always believed, at the back of my head, that you was a
gent!" she exclaimed. "Real evening clothes and all, and you look as
though you'd been born in them."

Bliss turned round from the looking glass in-which he had been studying
the arrangement of his tie.

"You reassure me, Mrs. Heath," he said, smiling. "To tell you the truth,
I was not altogether happy about the set of this waistcoat. No cutter
who had any artistic instincts could have designed that curve."

Mrs. Heath set down the tray again. An expression of anxiety clouded her
face.

"You are feeling all right, sir?" she faltered. "A bit of luck hasn't
turned your brain, or nothing of that sort?"

Bliss laughed cheerfully.

"Not it," he replied. "As a matter of fact, Mrs. Heath, I am not so sure
about the luck. These aren't clothes I've got on; it's a livery."

"Got a job as a waiter, eh?" Mrs. Heath suggested hopefully. "I had a
young fellow here once, used to earn his two pounds a week regular at
Gatti's--Lawks!"

Bliss had produced a silk hat and a white muffler and was drawing on a
pair of white gloves.

"Where might you be going, sir, like that?" She asked.

"To look for adventures, Mrs. Heath," Bliss replied. "I'm going to
wander a little way into a world I know nothing about."

"Well, I wish you luck in the new job, sir, whatever it may be," Mrs.
Heath declared, finally preparing to depart. "If I'd known you'd been
going out like that, I'd have brought you something better than bread
and butter for your tea."

"If I have any luck, Mrs. Heath," Bliss told her, as he accompanied her
to the head of the stairs, "I am expecting to get a supper out of the
job."

Bliss found a motor omnibus which deposited him in the neighbourhood of
Leicester Square, and at a few minutes before nine o'clock he sauntered
into the promenade at the Empire. The place was fairly well filled, and
he found himself studying the faces of the passers-by with an entirely
new interest. He amused himself trying to classify them--sheep, goats,
and neutrals. Of the former, there was only one young man he found
himself able to accept without hesitation. He was tall, with a round
face and a high colour; a badly brushed silk hat; a shirt from which one
stud kept continually disappearing; a made-up black tie, and a dress
coat. He had red hands, and he wore no gloves. He carried himself badly,
and he was smoking Virginian cigarettes. Bliss tracked him down to the
cigar stall, where he found him negotiating the purchase of a shilling
cigar. Curiously enough, Fate made things easy. The young man was,
without doubt, clumsy, and in turning a little abruptly, he broke his
cigar upon Bliss' elbow.

"My fault entirely," Bliss declared. "You must let me replace that."

"Couldn't think of it," the young man protested.

"I must insist," Bliss continued, selecting one himself from the box.
"Unless you have any special favourite, I think you will like these.
Rather a dull ballet, isn't it?"

The young man was shy at first and seemed on the point of sheering off
after a few more amenities. Suddenly, however, he changed his mind.

"Like to sit down?" he asked. "I took a couple of stalls, but my friend
was not able to come."

Bliss accepted the invitation promptly. The young man produced a card
and became confidential. His name was Sturgess; his father was a hosiery
manufacturer in the Midlands; he had come up to London on business and
stayed to see the football match at the Crystal Palace. He knew nothing
about London, but was eager to learn. He accepted Bliss' invitation to
supper without hesitation and talked throughout that meal with the noisy
high spirits of young men of his class. He became dejected, however,
when the lights were lowered.

"Rotten place, London," he remarked. "Nothing to do after half-past
twelve. Have you ever been to Paris?"

"Once or twice," Bliss told him. "It's well enough, but London's only
dull if you don't know your way about."

"How the mischief is any one who only comes up once a month to find
their way about?" the young man whose name was Sturgess grumbled.

"Well, what would you like to do?" Bliss asked.

"Would you like to go to a mixed bridge club and see some beautiful
ladies play bridge? We can have a drink there, at any rate, even if you
don't play cards."

"Rather," the young man declared enthusiastically. "I've heard of those
places."

"Too easy," Bliss sighed, under his breath.

The bridge club was a surprise even to Bliss. A highly respectable
commissionaire received them at the door. A still more respectable major
domo, who, curiously enough, welcomed Bliss with all the respect of an
old acquaintance, insisted upon his companion's full name being written
in the visitors' book. The card room was quietly but handsomely
furnished. There were four tables of bridge going. A very
elegant-looking woman, dressed in severe black and wearing a big hat,
held out her hand as Bliss approached.

"Come and sit down and talk to me, dear Mr. Johnson," she said. "You may
introduce your friend."

Bliss, divining this was Mrs. Fortescue, did as he was told. Mr.
Sturgess was shy at first, but was very soon put at his ease. The lady
was particularly gracious to him.

"Would you like a rubber of bridge?" Bliss asked his new friend.

"I'm on for anything," Sturgess replied. "What about you?" he asked the
lady gallantly.

She smiled at him.

"I don't think I'm very keen to-night," she confessed. "I've been
racing, and Sandown always gives me a headache. Don't let me stop you,
though, if you really do want to play."

"Don't care what I do," the young man declared. "I'm all on for a
gamble."

"We don't play for high stakes here," the lady said with an amiable
smile, "and unless you're a remarkably good player, Mr. Sturgess, I
shouldn't advise you to play for anything more than the club points. The
people here are pretty good, and they all know one another's methods
perfectly."

Mr. Sturgess was a trifle dashed. He seemed, also, somewhat perplexed.

"I have been telling our friend, Mr. Johnson," he explained to the lady,
"that I don't know anything about the runs up here. I come from
Leicestershire. What I should really like, if such a thing were to be
had, would be a little mild gamble. All the papers tell us there's
plenty of it going on, but the difficulty for an outsider is to find
it."

The lady yawned slightly.

"I fancy that sort of thing," she said, "exists chiefly in the
imagination of the journalist.--Good evening, Jimmy, are you going to
make up a rubber?"

Mr. Fancourt, who had just strolled in, paused and nodded to Bliss.

"I'm not keen," he replied, glancing at Sturgess. "I'll make up if you
want me."

Bliss promptly introduced his friend from Leicestershire. Mr. Fancourt
was only moderately affable.

"I can't interest Mr. Sturgess very much in bridge," Bliss remarked. "He
wants a gamble."

Mr. Fancourt smiled.

"I expect your friend has been reading the trash in the dailies about
baccarat clubs and that sort of thing. Personally, I don't believe there
is such a thing in London. I think I go about as much as most men, and I
never seem to hear of them. There is one at Brighton, they say. If your
friend would like a rubber at auction--halfpenny points--"

"Good idea," Mr. Sturgess interrupted eagerly. "Anything to break the
monotony."

They took possession of a vacant table. Bliss cut with Mr. Fancourt, and
they lost a small rubber. They played one more and won. Mr. Sturgess,
who played his cards moderately well, seemed uneasy. He continually
glanced around the room.

"Don't any of these people play for higher stakes?" he asked.

Mr. Fancourt shook his head.

"A penny's about our limit," he replied. "We're none of us wealthy."

"A little game of poker?" Sturgess suggested. "Eh?"

Mr. Fancourt shook his head firmly.

"Couldn't be done; dead against the rules. Besides, I hate poker."

Mr. Sturgess relapsed into silence. Half an hour later he received three
and sixpence, the balance of his winnings, and prepared to depart.
Bliss, at a sign from Mr. Fancourt, remained.

"See you again sometime, I hope," Mr. Sturgess said. "If you're ever
down our way--"

"I'll look you up;" Bliss promised.

The door swung to, and Mr. Sturgess departed. Bliss strolled back to
where Mrs. Fortescue and Fan-court were seated side by side. Mr.
Fancourt motioned him to sit down on the settee.

"I'm not blaming you in the least, Ben," he said,--"you won't mind my
calling you Ben instead of Johnson, I'm sure--and I do hope that you
will not be discouraged, but your first young man from the country was
just a little mistake."

Bliss was puzzled.

"He was a bounder, of course--"

"Most detectives are," Mr. Fancourt interrupted. "His real name is
Richard Hales, and he is part of the Scotland Yard crusade against
modern gambling hells."

Bliss was staggered.

"I am so sorry," he muttered. "I don't see how I could possibly tell."

"I don't see how you could," Fancourt agreed soothingly. "The only weak
point about his get-up was that it was a trifle overdone. The
ill-fitting shirt was all right, but the heavy boots and the made-up tie
were exaggerations. The man we are looking for is struggling all the
time to conform to type, and only fails through innate clumsiness.
Hallo!" he added under his breath. "What vision of beauty is this?"

The door had suddenly opened. A young lady clad in superb sables was
coming quickly towards them, followed by the surprised major-domo.

"Maisie Linden, by Jove!" Fancourt ejaculated. "I wonder--my dear young
lady!" he continued, "what an agreeable surprise!"

Mrs. Fortescue raised her tortoise-shell monocle and regarded the
newcomer with that slight air of surprise which, in the hands of an
expert, is the last word in aristocratic impertinence. Maisie, however,
took no notice of her. She gripped Mr. Fancourt by the arm.

"Jim," she whispered, drawing him a little to one side, "I've got him."

"The nigger?" Fancourt asked quickly.

She nodded.

"He's in my car outside. Give me my hundred pounds, and I'll bring him
in."

Mr. Fancourt, from a crumpled heap of bank notes which he drew from his
trousers pocket, handed her five, which she counted carefully and placed
in the bag she was carrying.

"I'll fetch him up at once," she promised, turning away.

Fancourt remained standing. He had the air of a man who, after long
waiting, sees close at hand the accomplishment of his desires. His face
was expressionless, but there was a curious alertness about his bearing.
His forehead was a little wrinkled. He seemed to be thinking.

"She means the Prince of Hindore?" Mrs. Fortescue asked.

Fancourt nodded.

"I've tried for him hard," he said softly, "but that confounded
Englishman the Government told off to look after him had his knife in
me. He's given him the slip somehow, I suppose. They say he won eighty
thousand pounds in Monte Carlo, and lost most of it in one night at
baccarat in Paris without turning a hair. Who is there here to-night,
Esther?"

She mentioned a few names. Bliss rose to his feet. "Am Ito stay?"

Fancourt nodded.

"Don't leave until I see you," he ordered. "I shall want every one with
their wits about them, to-night."

The door swung open, and Miss Maisie Linden reappeared, followed this
time by a short, very dark young man, with shiny black hair, olive
complexion, and narrow black eyes.

"Hallo, Jim," Miss Maisie cried cheerfully. "We want a drink, and the
Prince wants to see a mixed bridge club. My friend, Mr. James
Fancourt--the Prince of Hindore."

"Delighted to meet you, Prince," Mr. Fancourt exclaimed, holding out his
hand. "I'm afraid it's rather a dull evening here--only two tables
going."

The Prince nodded affably.

"That does not matter," he said. "I like to see the ladies gamble. I
like to play myself. I am a great gambler. At Monte Carlo I broke two
banks. I find it very dull in London. Why is there not roulette or
baccarat?"

Mr. Fancourt smiled.

"There is plenty of baccarat."

"Where?" the young man demanded. "Where? I will play."

"Here," Mr. Fancourt answered boldly.

"Then let us play at once," the Prince suggested. "Let us make what you
call a night of it. I am very glad to have met you, Mr. Fancourt. I
think that we shall be friends."

"I am afraid," Mr. Fancourt said, "that our gambling will seem on a very
small scale to you, but I will give orders to have the room prepared,
and see if I can make up a little party."

Mr. Fancourt whispered for a few moments to the major-domo and
afterwards disappeared into the card room. When he came back, he was
followed by two women and three men, whom, with some ceremony, he
presented to the Prince. He then opened the door of a room nearly
opposite to them, on which was written, "SECRETARY'S OFFICE."

"If you will come this way," he invited, bowing to the Prince, "I think
we can get up a mild game, at any rate."

Mrs. Fortescue took the Prince with her. Mr. Fan-court held open the
door until they had all passed through. Then he turned to Bliss.

"Wait here until you hear from me," he ordered.

Bliss strolled to the door of the bridge room and looked through the
glass top. There was still one table of bridge going, the four players
at which appeared to him almost like performers in some dumb show. They
played their cards mechanically and with little change of countenance.
Not a word seemed to pass between them. Only once, as the door was
opened to allow a waiter to enter, Bliss heard one of the women speak.

"Jimmy was a perfect beast not to let me play Oomsie," she sighed.

The man opposite her, swarthy and heavy-lidded, raised his head for a
moment.

"I don't mind being left out of the Oomsie," he muttered, "but I do mind
being kept here just to give tone to the show."

Then the door closed. Bliss resumed his seat upon the settee. A moment
or two later, the door in front of him was opened suddenly and Fancourt
appeared. He came at once to Bliss.

"Johnson," he said, "you see that easy-chair just by the door?"

Bliss nodded.

"Come there with me quickly."

Bliss followed him down the corridor. Fancourt moved the chair a little
farther back and laid his finger upon a little protuberance underneath
the carpet.

"You see that? Now I want you to occupy that chair and to keep your heel
upon that little lump. What I am afraid of to-night is a semi-private
police raid. Remember you're sitting here waiting for your car, which
you've telephoned for. Order as many drinks as you like, and as many
cigarettes, but keep on the alert. If any one presents himself through
that door who is a stranger, and Parkins there stops to enquire their
name,--anybody who seems to you in the least suspicious,--just press
with your heel. You'll get your cue from Parkins. You understand?"

"I understand," Bliss assured him.

Mr. Fancourt turned away.

"It will be an all-night job," he warned Bliss, "but it will pay."

Once more Mr. Fancourt disappeared through the door. Bliss ordered a
large whisky and soda, a box of cigarettes, and the evening paper. Then
he composed himself to wait. One young man entered the club, who was
received with much respect by the major-domo, and who sauntered into the
bridge room and there remained. Then, about four o'clock, the swing door
was suddenly opened, and two men entered. They were correctly dressed in
evening clothes, but their official air was unmistakable. The major-domo
stepped quickly towards them, and Bliss' heel dug into the carpet.

"Whom do you wish to see, sir?" Parkins asked.

"Your manager," one of the men answered.

"There is no manager," the servant explained.

"Mrs. Fortescue, the secretary, is in the club, if you wish to speak to
her. The strangers' room is this way, please."

The man whom he had addressed pushed him on one side.

"We'll find the secretary for ourselves, thank you," he said. "Stay
where you are."

Parkins, however, still stood his ground.

"Strangers are not permitted in the club," he protested. "I cannot allow
you to pass."

The taller of the two newcomers laid his hand upon the servant's
shoulder.

"Look here," he declared. "We don't want any trouble. We are from
Scotland Yard, and we are here in the execution of our duty. If you
attempt to communicate with any one in the club, you will be arrested."

They passed on then along the corridor, after a glance at Bliss, who sat
all this time with his heel upon the bell. Parkins turned towards him.

"Can't think what they've got in their heads, sir," he remarked audibly.
"There's a police officer outside. I'm sure there's nothing wrong goes
on here."

Bliss rose and followed the two officers. They looked into the card
room, where the four people were still playing bridge. They examined the
other and smaller card room, which was empty. Then they opened the door
of the secretary's office, which was also empty. They stood for a
moment, whispering together.

"There must be a room beyond this," Bliss heard one of them say. "You
see where the wall ends."

They made their way to the further end of the apartment. The room was in
darkness, and they could see very little.

"Why don't you turn on the electric lights, Harrison?" the inspector
demanded.

"I've tried, sir," his subordinate replied, fingering the switch.

"The electric lights in this room are out of order, sir," Parkins
announced stiffly.

The inspector drew a little electric torch from his pocket. Immediately
on his left was a door shielded by a curtain. He drew back the latter
and turned the handle of the door, which opened at once. They all stood
upon the threshold, gazing in. The Prince, Mrs. Fortescue, Mr. Fancourt,
and one other of the ladies were seated at a table, apparently playing
bridge. Two of the men were lounging against the mantelpiece, talking to
another lady. Miss Maisie was sitting on the arm of the Prince's chair.
The inspector came a little further into the room, his eyes glued upon
the bridge table. The dummy's hand was upon the table, the scoring
blocks were filled with figures, the hand was apparently half-played.
Mr. Fancourt stared at the intruders.

"May I ask what this means?" he demanded.

The inspector was completing a tour of the room. There was nothing
whatever to indicate that the game of bridge which was now proceeding
had not been occupying the sole attention of the players.

"I am here in the execution of my duty, sir," the man replied. "I am
police inspector Stanhard. We have had certain information that baccarat
is being played in this club."

Mr. Fancourt shook his head sorrowfully.

"Oh, that certain information!" he sighed. "I think that the same thing
has been said about every bridge club in London where the stakes are
over half a crown a hundred. Never mind, Mr. Inspector, if you will ask
the waiter for a drink, I am sure he will be delighted to furnish
whatever you may require. You will excuse me if I finish this hand?"

The inspector turned away with stiff dignity. Once more he made a
somewhat protracted tour of the room. Then he moved towards the door.

"Sorry to have disturbed you, ladies and gentlemen," he said curtly.
"Good night."

The two men left the room. Bliss remained behind. They heard the door of
the outer room close. The Prince threw down his cards pettishly.

"Let us make ready again," he suggested.

Mr. Fancourt shook his head.

"You must excuse us, Prince," he said. "I don't think we dare risk it.
You shall have your revenge another night."

The Prince sat there, frowning heavily.

"And they call this a free country," he muttered, as he drew his
cheque-book from his pocket.

Bliss, who had, on the whole, rather enjoyed his evening, presented
himself at Mr. Fancourt's rooms the next morning with a somewhat
dejected air. The latter stared at him in mild surprise. His new
disciple had resumed the somewhat tattered habiliments in which he had
made his first appearance there.

"I am sorry," Bliss announced bluntly, "but I have made a discovery."

"A discovery?" Mr. Fancourt murmured.

Bliss nodded.

"I can't argue the matter out," he declared, "because, so far as last
night was concerned, at any rate, my sympathies were altogether on the
side of the goats. All the same, I can't stick it."

"Conscience, eh?"

Bliss assented.

"Hopelessly out of date, and all that," he admitted, "but it's kept me
awake all night. I've packed up the clothes and delivered them at
Poullet's. The money you gave me I think I earned."

"You certainly did," Mr. Fancourt agreed. "I'm beastly sorry!"

Mr. Fancourt sighed.

"I presume," he continued, "that we can at least rely on your
discretion?"

"Absolutely," Bliss promised.

Mr. Fancourt nodded amiably. He thrust his hand into his box of
cigarettes and filled Bliss' pockets.

"Conscience," he remarked, "survives most things--except hunger. Come
back again when you need me more."



CHAPTER XIV

Mrs. Heath, in a kindly sort of way, was beginning to lose patience with
her lodger. She took him up some breakfast which he had not ordered and
set it down firmly before him.

"I only wanted a cup of tea, Mrs. Heath," Bliss reminded her, looking
wistfully at the bacon.

"Never mind what you wanted, sir," she replied. "What I've brought you,
you've got to eat, and there's an end of it. Going out all day looking
for work with nothing solid inside you; indeed! You know," she went on,
in a manner more conversational than usual, "you do puzzle me, sir. I
can reckon up most of my lodgers, but there are times when you fair take
the wind out of my sails. Three or four days ago, there you were dressed
up to the nines and looking as near like a gent as can be. Now you have
not got a rag of those clothes left; not a sixpence in your pocket, and,
so as not to run into debt, there you are trying to live on nothing.
Such nonsense I You're a young man of the build that needs nourishment,
you are! Sit you down and get on with your breakfast."

Bliss obeyed without further hesitation.

"It's very good of you, Mrs. Heath," he declared, as he helped himself
hungrily to the bacon. "Some day--"

"Don't make any rash promises, young man," Mrs. Heath interrupted. "You
will do what you can, I know, but it's clear to see that you're not
brought up to earn your own living, and it's none too easy a job for
them as has to start unexpected like. There's a young man down-stairs,"
she went on, "just got a job at one of the motor places. I shouldn't
wonder if that wasn't worth trying, what with all these taxicabs and
such like running about the streets."

"Good idea, Mrs. Heath," Bliss cried. "I'll go round Long Acre way first
thing."

"And here's luck to you, sir," Mrs. Heath exclaimed heartily.

Bliss presented himself about an hour later at one of the large motor
establishments in Long Acre. The immaculate young gentleman to whom he
made his application, who was lounging about with a cigarette drooping
from his lips, and his hands in his trousers pockets, shook his head
decisively.

"No vacancy at all," he declared. "We've more cleaners than we want, and
the office is full up. The only, men we are looking for are drivers."

Bliss had already turned away when a startling recollection came to
him--he himself was a competent driver. He swung around.

"I can drive a car, sir," he announced. "Could you give me a job as
chauffeur?"

"Whom have you driven for?"

"Myself," Bliss answered humbly. "I owned a car once."

The young gentleman looked Bliss over from head to foot. Then he pointed
to a landaulette which stood in the centre of the immense garage on the
threshold of which they were standing.

"Start up the engine of that car," he directed, "and back her into
number seven space--between the omnibus and the big Napier there."

Bliss accomplished the feat somewhat to his own satisfaction. The young
gentleman blew a whistle. A foreman came hurrying out.

"Take this chap out and see if he can drive," he continued. "If he can,
arrange about his licence and put him on the staff."

The manager strolled nonchalantly away. Bliss, who had been struggling
with a sense of reminiscence, suddenly remembered the morning when he
had bought a thousand-pound car in the same place from this same young
gentleman.

"Whom have you driven for?" the foreman asked.

"No one lately," Bliss answered cautiously. "I think I can manage all
right, though. What are we going out on?"

The foreman, who was a tall, loosely built person with high cheek bones
and small, narrow eyes, selected a small landaulette and handed Bliss a
tin of petrol.

"Fill her up," he ordered, "have a look at the plugs, test the sparking,
and I'll be with you in ten minutes."

Bliss did as he was told. Presently the foreman reappeared, wearing a
coat and muffler.

"Climb up and take her out," he yawned. "We'll go down to Shepherd's
Bush. You know the way?"

Bliss nodded. He drove off, rather nervously at first, but still without
mishaps. At Shepherd's Bush, his passenger left him for a few moments
while he paid a call on his family. As they neared the garage on their
return journey, the foreman stroked his chin.

"What's this job worth to you, young man?" he asked.

Bliss was puzzled.

"It's worth a good deal to me," he replied. "I've been out of work for
some time, and I've scarcely a bob left."

"You'll get thirty shillings a week," the foreman continued. "Will you
agree to give me five shillings a week for a month, if I make a
favourable report? It's the usual thing."

Bliss sighed.

"If that's so," he consented, "I'll do it."

"Then just pull up at the pub yonder and we'll wet it," the foreman
declared. "You handle the car all right. A little more confidence is all
you want."

"I've not enough money," Bliss announced desperately, "for two drinks."

The foreman scratched his chin reflectively.

"That's a pity," he said. "Never mind, I'll lend you a shilling. You can
add it to the five shillings for the first week."

He produced the coin from a wash-leather bag. Bliss pocketed it with a
short laugh.

"Are you Welsh, Scotch, or Semitic?" he enquired, as they entered the
public house.

The foreman shook his head.

"I don't know whether you're getting at me, young man, but I'll take
sixpenn'orth of gin cold."

Bliss entered on his new occupation the same afternoon, and the first
ten days, passed not unpleasantly. The livery provided for him when he
was sent out to drive kept him warm, and although he had one or two
narrow escapes, he managed to get through his first few jobs without
misadventures. He even received with gratitude a tip of half a crown
from a physician whom he took on his rounds; a shilling from a spinster
lady whom he took from Hyde Park Square to a meeting at Richmond, and
back again; and five shillings from a young man of his acquaintance who
engaged him for the evening and kept him waiting for two hours outside
his own favourite restaurant. His new position provided him, beyond a
doubt, with more time for reflection than any of his previous essays
into industrial life. For hours together he watched the great human tide
of London sweep along her pavements. He saw the people who comprised it,
from their own point of view. Faces into which before he would never
have glanced for a moment awakened in him now a peculiar and real
sympathy. He felt himself curiously out of touch with the world he had
quitted. Though there were times when he longed almost hysterically for
the luxuries and comforts which he had left behind him, there were also
times when he thought with aversion of the daily routine of his past
life. On his evenings off, he turned deliberately towards the East End
for his amusement. He patronised the huge music halls in the outlying
districts of London. Often he walked the streets and open spaces where
the throngs were greatest. He made a few promiscuous acquaintances, none
of which, however, survived the first half-hour or so of conversation.
Yet all the time he was very lonely. One night, in Drury Lane, he came
face to face with Frances.

"At last!" he cried almost exultantly.

She gave him her hand.

"That's all very well," she said frankly, "but why haven't you been to
see me?"

"I came last Sunday," he replied. "The house was closed."

She nodded.

"You happened to come just when there was no one there, then," she
remarked. "I'd left my address for you. Where are you going to now?"

He realized with a sudden start that she was paler and not so well
dressed.

"It's my evening off," he declared. "I was just going to have something
to eat and try for the gallery at the Lyceum afterwards. What about
you?"

"I've just left work," she told him. "I was just going back to my new
rooms."

"Come with me and have some dinner," he begged. She shook her head
doubtfully.

"There's a little place in the next street where we can dine for
tenpence," he went on eagerly. "Let's go along there, and we can have a
talk. I can manage the theatre too, if you like; anyhow we can go to a
picture palace."

"If I may pay for my own dinner--" she stipulated.

He laughed, and they turned away together. He led her to the little
place he knew of--a tiny eating house in a back street, where, for some
reason or other, everything was clean and a window was sometimes opened.
They found a corner table and ordered their little repast with great
care.

"You see," she explained, setting down the menu, "I've left Mr. Masters,
and I didn't find another place till last week."

"You've left Mr. Masters?" he gasped.

She nodded.

"I couldn't help it," she said. "Perhaps I'll tell you all about it one
day."

They were both hungry, and they frankly abandoned conversation while
they ate their soup. Bliss was counting the coins in his trousers pocket
with the fingers of his right hand.

"Your dinner," he announced, "will cost you one and a penny. I have
reckoned it all out. I'll let you pay that, but I'm going to stand a
bottle of wine."

She shook her head at him.

"You are the most improvident person," she declared. "What do we want
wine for?"

Nevertheless he had his way. They sipped the Médoc, a bottle of which
cost eighteenpence, almost reverently.

"Mind, I consider it wickedly extravagant," she protested.

Caught by a wave of reminiscence, he laughed and closed his eyes. She
looked at him disapprovingly.

"I mean it," she insisted. "Now tell me, please, where are you employed,
and what are you earning?"

"I am supposed to be getting thirty shillings a week at the Sun Motor
Company," he informed her, "but a beast of a foreman there is deducting
five shillings for the first month, because he got me the job. Fellow
who gets four pounds ten a week himself, too."

"Pig!"

"However," he continued, "it's something to have a job at all, and a
roof over one's head."

"I wonder how it is that life is so difficult for some of us," she
sighed. "Sometimes it seems absolutely terrifying. There is so little
between one's daily wage and utter destitution. Do you know, I had seven
shillings in the world when I found this place?"

"But tell me why you left Mr. Masters?"

"He had made up his mind to marry me," she answered, "and I--I
couldn't."

"Why?" he asked hoarsely.

She turned her head, and their eyes met. A moment afterwards, under the
coarse tablecloth, their hands met too. The little eating house seemed
suddenly transformed. All the warmth and splendour of life were there.
It was, as a matter of fact, a very Bohemian little spot indeed. A man
who had finished his dinner at an adjoining table had taken a mandolin
from its case, and, leaning back, was making tinkling music. The people
by whom they were surrounded were nearly all snatching only a few
moments from their work--musicians, many of them on their way to take
their place in various orchestras; attendants at theatres; one of Bliss'
own fellow chauffeurs. There was none of the abandon of the diner-out.
The day was still strenuous with these people. Yet Bliss and Frances,
with their hands linked hidden under the tablecloth, looked out upon the
little room and found no fault with it.

"So you are a chauffeur now she exclaimed," suddenly leaning forward as
the waiter brought their next course. "I'm afraid you are a very rolling
stone--a commercial traveller, light porter to that shocking old
gentleman, Mr. Cockerill,--what else have you been, I wonder?"

"Greengrocer's assistant," he answered promptly. "Jolly well I was doing
at it, too, if only the man whose place I was taking hadn't turned up
unexpectedly."

She sighed.

"It seems to me that you are a very unpractical person!"

"Up to now," he admitted, "perhaps that is true. From this moment,
however, I'm going to turn over a new leaf."

"A young man of your education," she said severely, "should be doing
something better than occupying the position of a chauffeur at thirty
shillings a week."

"With tips," he reminded her hopefully. "I've made six shillings in tips
already this week."

"I don't consider," she declared, "that tips are dignified."

He was crestfallen for a moment.

"Quite a recognised thing in our profession," he assured her. "Kind of
thank-offering from my passengers, I think, for having reached the end
of their journey safely."

She laughed softly. Without any spoken word between them, they deemed to
have drifted into a closer intimacy and understanding.

"I want you," she said presently, "to tell me truthfully why, after you
had done that splendid stroke of business for Mr. Masters, you refused
to stay on with him. You could have had any post you liked and--and,"
she added disconsolately, "everything would have been so different."

He leaned a little closer towards her.

"I will tell you the truth. I borrowed the money to carry out that coup
from the greatest enemy I have in life, and his one proviso was that I
should not benefit from it in any shape myself."

"You borrowed it from your greatest enemy?" she repeated. "Why on earth
did he lend it to you?"

"He was under certain obligations to me," Bliss declared, "which he
could not evade. I can assure you that the five hundred pounds was no
more to him than a snap of the fingers. He could have given it as a tip
to a waiter and never missed it."

"Sometimes," she said, looking steadfastly into his eyes, "I think you
are a little mad."

"Generally," he replied, "I am sure of it. To-night, for instance, here
in this wretched little eating house, with a few shillings in my pocket,
nothing in the bank, and not a spare suit of clothes to my name, I feel
as though Paradise were dose at hand.--What's that?"

He turned sharply around. A young man in soiled overalls had approached
their table unseen. He leaned over and made his announcement in a hoarse
but confidential whisper.

"Guv'nor's very sorry, but two of the chaps are away ill, and George has
had to take a car up to Yorkshire. He wants you for an order that's just
come in."

Bliss nodded.

"I'll be there in five minutes," he promised.

The man departed with a grin which was meant to be sympathetic.

"I'll have to go," Bliss grumbled. "It's my evening off, but they don't
take any notice of that."

"Of course you must go," she agreed, drawing on her gloves.

"For one moment, please," he begged, "sit where you are. I want to look
at you."

The man who had been playing on the mandolin had gone, but another of a
company of musicians had drawn a violin from its case and was making
soft music at the other end of the room. The place was full. The odour
of many dinners hung heavily upon the smoke-laden air. It was in this
setting that Bliss looked for the first time appraisingly upon the woman
who had taught him a new emotion. Her dark grey, ready-made costume was
cut on prim lines and fitted her only moderately well, but the grace of
her young figure triumphed over its imperfections. Her neck was soft and
white; a stray wisp of hair had escaped from the thickly braided coils.
She was a little pale, perhaps, but her courageous mouth seemed to defy
the suggestion of ill health. Her eyes were very soft and sweet. Even as
she turned and met his searching gaze, little lines spread from them and
she laughed.

"How dare you look at me like that?" she protested.

"One moment longer," he pleaded.

His eyes rested on her hat--a plain black felt with a drooping brim,
decorated with a rather tired-looking little bunch of violets. He
glanced down at her many times mended gloves, which she had just
succeeded in buttoning. He even looked at the thick boots, one of which
was shamelessly patched. Her lips were parted now. Miss Maisie Linden
would have envied her her teeth.

"I won't sit here for another moment," she declared, rising.

He followed her example, rewarding the waiter with a sixpenny tip,
although he was conscious of the rank extravagance of the action.

"Forgive me," he begged. "I just wanted a little mind-picture of you,
something that couldn't easily be displaced."



CHAPTER XV

The same long-limbed and elegant young man who had first engaged Bliss
was waiting for him in the office when he arrived. He merely glanced up
to give his order.

"Take the six-cylinder 'Sun' and go to Number 7, Harley Street," he
ordered.

"Is it an all-night job?" Bliss asked.

"Can't tell," the young man replied. "It's to take a doctor out into the
country somewhere."

Bliss looked over the car, which, so far as he could see, was in perfect
order, and a few minutes later started on his errand. He was all the
time oppressed with a vague sense of familiarity about the address. When
he turned into Harley Street and glanced at the numbers, his vague
suspicions were suddenly confirmed.

He came to a standstill before Sir James Aldroyd's house. With a grim
smile he descended and rang the doorbell. The same man servant who had
admitted him on his previous visit opened the door.

"Brought a car from the Sun Motor Company," Bliss announced.

"Quite right, my man," the butler replied condescendingly. "Sir James
will be out in a moment. You needn't stop your engine. He's in rather a
hurry."

Bliss resumed his place in the driving seat, and pulled his cap well
over his eyes. A moment or two later Sir James appeared, carrying a
small black bag. With his fingers upon the handle of the door, he turned
towards Bliss.

"Drive me to Walton-on-Thames," he ordered. "Go as quickly as you can
without taking any risks. You understand?"

"Perfectly, sir," Bliss answered, bending over his wheel.

The doctor took his place in the car, and they started off. In an hour's
time, they were entering Walton. In accordance with instructions which
he received through the speaking-tube, Bliss turned in at the avenue of
a large house standing in its own grounds and drew up before the front
door. Every window was flaring with light. The door was opened before
they stopped.

"I shall probably be an hour," Sir James remarked, as he disappeared.

Bliss leaned back in his seat and waited. Once or twice he looked up at
the windows and shivered. Without a doubt, his sympathies had become
keener during these last few months. The sickness and sorrows of other
people had scarcely touched him in the days of his splendid prosperity.
Now he found himself wondering who the patient might be, hoping and
praying that the skill of the great physician might triumph,
sympathising with the people who must be waiting in such cruel anxiety.
Presently the door was opened softly, and a servant stepped out.

"Will you take anything?" he asked Bliss.

Bliss accepted a whisky and soda and a handful of cigarettes.

"Who is ill here?" he inquired.

"The mistress. Your governor's operating now." The man's hand was
shaking. Bliss smiled at him reassuringly, as he handed the tumbler
back.

"Sir James is an exceedingly clever surgeon," he said. "He has saved a
great many lives."

The time passed on. It was about an hour and a half before one or two of
the lights were extinguished. Then the door was opened. The doctor
reappeared. A tall, thin man came out with him. Bliss gave almost a
start as he heard Sir James talk. His tone was kind, his manner
sympathetic and earnest.

"I am only too happy to be able to assure you," he was saying, "that
your wife's condition is most favourable. I do not think there is the
slightest chance of any trouble whatever. I have never felt more
confident after an operation. You may sleep quite easily, Mr. Langdale."

Bliss saw the tears in the man's eyes as he wrung the doctor's hand, and
he was conscious of a thrill of sympathy as they turned back towards
London. Precisely at one o'clock they drew up before Number 7, Harley
Street. Sir James descended and turned towards Bliss.

"You can tell your people that everything was quite satisfactory," he
remarked. "Here is something for yourself."

Bliss removed his cap, looked at the half-sovereign, and placed it
carefully in his waistcoat pocket.

"Much obliged to you, Sir James," he said. "Hope you're getting your
hand in training for that shake."

Sir James, who had been turning towards the house, stared at him
blankly. Bliss slipped in his first speed.

"I'm doing very well, thank you," he continued. "Ah! I can see you
recognise me now."

"It is my young friend with the millions!" Sir James gasped.

Bliss held up his hand.

"Hush!" he whispered. "Don't give me away. I am Bliss, a chauffeur at
the Sun Motor Works--thirty shillings a week and tips. Much obliged to
you for this half-sovereign, Sir James. I'll drink your health. And good
night!"

The car glided off, leaving the physician standing in the middle of the
pavement. Bliss paused at the corner of the street to light a cigarette.

"The evening of my life," he murmured, as he started off again. "First
Frances, and then this old buffer. And now--"

He clapped on the brake and stopped the car. A man was standing in the
middle of the road with his arms outstretched, a man who seemed to have
appeared from nowhere, in evening dress, but without any hat or
overcoat.

"Hullo?" Bliss asked. "What's wrong?"

The man came round to the side of the car. He had the appearance of a
foreigner. His face was freckled but perfectly pallid, so that the
freckles looked like brown spots. The hand which gripped the front of
the car was shaking. He spoke to Bliss quickly, almost feverishly.

"Pull up here," he directed. "Pull up! I want to get in."

Bliss leaned a little over the side.

"Are you under the impression," he asked, "that this is your private
motor?"

The man, who had already wrenched the door open, stopped short.

"Are you not a taxicab?" he exclaimed.

"I am not!" Bliss assured him.

"But are you for hire?" the other continued eagerly. "I will pay you
double--treble price for one half-hour only. Come! I will give you five
pounds."

"The car is for hire in the ordinary way--" Bliss admitted.

"Then it is settled," the man interrupted. "You drive me quickly to
Number 9, Adam Street."

Bliss did as he was directed. The streets were almost empty now, and the
drive took only a few minutes. The house before which they stopped was
tall, smoke-begrimed, and gloomy. There was a light only in the topmost
window. The man jumped out quickly.

"You wait," he ordered.

He produced a latchkey and disappeared inside the building. Bliss,
glancing round a moment after his departure, noticed that the small
electric light inside the car had been turned out. He descended from his
seat, opened the door, and then for a moment stood paralysed. His hand,
in feeling for the switch, had fallen upon something soft, something
that felt like fur. He turned on the light quickly. A woman was leaning
back in the corner of the car remote from the pavement, a woman, wrapped
in a long fur coat and wearing a heavy veil. He could form no idea of
her age or looks. Her voice was soft but passionate.

"Turn out that light," she begged. "Oh, turn it out!"

"Look here," Bliss exclaimed, "how long have you been in the car?"

"Barely thirty seconds," she answered. "I was waiting on the other side
of the road there, in the passage. I slipped in just now."

"Any connection with the gentleman who's just gone in there?" Bliss
asked, with a jerk of the head.

A little foreign exclamation broke from her lips, at the nature of which
Bliss could only guess.

"He was going without me," she whispered. "Leave me here, please. Get
back to your place."

Bliss stared at the woman and then back at the house, from the topmost
window of which the light had now been extinguished.

"This is all very well," he grumbled, "but I have no business to go
mixing myself in elopements, or anything of that sort. I shall get the
sack."

"This is not an elopement," she murmured. "Wait! Ah, see," she added
swiftly, "the light has gone. He will be here directly. Go quickly."

Bliss climbed back to his driving seat reluctantly. Almost immediately
the door of the house was opened. The man who came out stepped quickly
towards Bliss.

"Listen to me--" he began.

Bliss stared at him in amazement.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "Who are you?"

The newcomer frowned impatiently.

"I am the man you took up in Harley Street," he answered sharply. "You
must recognise me. My face was splashed with mud then."

Bliss stared at him. Not only were the brown freckles gone from his
face, but the man's appearance was in every way changed. He wore a soft
black hat which came forward over his eyes. There was a suggestion of a
black moustache upon his upper lip, and black lines under his eyes.

"I am an actor, you idiot!" he proceeded. "What business is it of yours?
Do as you are bidden faithfully, and you are going to get a five-pound
note for yourself to-night. Is that not worth while?"

"Rather!" Bliss replied. "You mean as well as the five pounds for the
hire of the car?"

"Of course," the man assented. "Five pounds for the car, and five pounds
for your _pourboire._"

"Righto!" Bliss said. "Where to?"

"You will drive me," the man directed, "to the far corner of the High
Street, Houndsditch. You will leave me there, and you will forget all
about me. For taking me there--this!" he continued, handing a note to
Bliss. "For forgetting me--this!"

Bliss pocketed the two notes, a little dazed. The man turned away and
opened the door of the car. Bliss heard something like the growl of a
wild beast; then the woman's softer voice, pleading. The door was
slammed.

"Go on," the man called out.

Bliss drove slowly up the Strand. He turned eastward, but almost at once
he made a sudden turn to the left and climbed the hill leading to Bow
Street. The man rattled upon the window, but Bliss took no notice. He
drove straight to the door of the police station and beckoned to the
constable who stood in the doorway. As it chanced, he was talking to an
inspector, who also obeyed Bliss' summons.

"Look here," Bliss said, leaning towards them, "I may be making a fool
of myself, but I don't quite understand my fares inside. I took the man
up without a hat or coat in Harley Street. He thought I was driving a
taxi, and offered me five pounds for half an hour's job. I drove him to
Adam Street, and while he was at the top of a building there, a woman
sneaked in behind. When the man came down, he was disguised; wants me to
drive him to Hounds-ditch."

The inspector turned towards the door of the car. Bliss also dismounted.
As he glanced in, he gave a little cry of surprise. Its only occupant
was the woman. The inspector looked at Bliss questioningly.

"He was there a second ago," Bliss declared.

The woman remained silent. The official addressed her.

"Madam," he said, "the driver here tells me--" He was interrupted by her
little laugh.

"My dear friend--" she began.

The inspector took an electric torch from his pocket and flashed it into
her face. Almost immediately he blew a whistle. Two or three policemen
came running out.

"Search this neighbourhood at once," he ordered. "A man has escaped from
this car within the last few seconds. He is probably Peter Crazen.
Quick, driver, how was he dressed?"

Bliss explained as well as he could, and the policemen started off.
Then, in obedience to the inspector's commanding gesture, he followed
the lady into the building. The former led them past the charge room to
a small office.

"I come, Mr. Inspector," the woman said indifferently, "because I am
always so pleased to do as you ask. You have no charge against me, I
think?"

"None," the official replied. "Have you anything to say to me? It will
make things easier for you some day."

She laughed.

"Not a word."

The inspector took down Bliss' story, commended him for his action, and
dismissed him. Bliss returned to the garage, left his car, and as there
was no one there in authority to whom he could make a report, went back
to his room and to bed.

On the following morning, Bliss was sent for from the manager's office.
The same elaborate young man was there, seated upon the table, the usual
cigarette in the corner of his mouth, a brown canvas duster over his
otherwise irreproachable attire.

"You wanted to speak to me, sir?" Bliss inquired. The young man folded
up the newspaper he was reading and laid it down.

"You were out with the six-cylinder car last night, weren't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"You took Sir James Aldroyd to Walton and back?"

"Yes, sir."

"What did you do after your return?"

"Had quite an adventure, sir," Bliss answered. "I took a man up in
Harley Street who offered me five pounds for half an hour's job. Then--"

"Don't you know?" the young man interrupted, "that it is against the
rules for you to accept fares in that way? As soon as your errand was
completed, you should have returned here at once."

"I didn't think there was any harm in accepting a good job," Bliss
protested.

"There was a great deal of harm," the deputy manager replied coolly.
"You were made use of by a notorious thief and burglar. We do not care
to have our names mentioned in such a connection. Besides, you have
broken one of our first rules in taking up a promiscuous fare. They will
pay you your money in the office, Bliss. We shall not require your
services any longer. And, by-the-by--"

"Yes, sir?"

"If you should happen to have any more of those notes like the one you
handed in this morning for the car hire, take my advice and burn them."

"You mean that they are bad?" Bliss gasped.

"Very bad, indeed," was the grim reply. "Take my advice, my good fellow,
and don't attempt to pass them. You'll get your money in the office."

The young gentleman resumed the study of his newspaper. Bliss went
slowly out into the garage, changed his clothes, and drew his salary.
With thirty-five shillings and a bad five-pound note in his pocket, he
walked slowly away down Long Acre, to join, once more, the ranks of the
unemployed.



CHAPTER XVI

"I have come to the conclusion," Frances declared, "that you are an
unlucky person."

"Just at present," Bliss replied with a smile, "I am not prepared to
admit anything of the sort."

They were seated side by side, a few evenings later, in the little
restaurant near Drury Lane. Frances frowned upon her companion severely.

"I don't see how you can deny it," she insisted. "You could have had a
partnership with Mr. Masters but for your silly rich friend who would
only help you under such absurd conditions. Then you went and engaged
yourself to that cranky old lunatic, Mr. Cockerill, who, of course, sent
you away when you interfered with his amusements. Afterwards, you admit
yourself that you could have stayed on with the greengrocer lady down in
Poplar only that her husband came back unexpectedly. That's three
places, isn't it? And now you find another position with the Sun Motor
Company, which really ought to suit you, and you lose it, as I think,
most unjustly. I am going to give you one more chance."

She unfastened a little black pig from her bracelet and pushed it across
the tablecloth towards him.

"There," she said. "Keep that in some place where you can't lose it."

He stowed it away in his waistcoat pocket.

"That's enough about my affairs," he remarked.

"It seems to me that yours want looking into. You admit that you are not
very comfortable in your present situation, and you were treated like a
queen at Mr. Masters'."

"We all have our troubles, I suppose," she sighed. "No, I will not take
coffee to-night, thank you. You know very well that neither you nor I
can afford it."

He paid the bill resignedly, and they left the place.

"This," she declared, "is to be our last extravagant evening. Until you
get a post, I will not have you spend another penny upon me."

"The bill for our two dinners," he protested, "was two and fourpence."

"That isn't the point. How much have you left, exactly?"

He counted out his money as they strolled along. "Eleven and a penny and
my room is paid for up to next Saturday."

"Up to next Saturday, indeed!" she repeated indignantly. "Do you imagine
that you are going to walk into a situation just when you want it? I
think it is positively wicked of you never to have saved anything. Tell
me why you haven't?"

"I--I really don't know," he admitted. "I--you see I never had any
incentive."

"Under the circumstances," she said, "I don't think that we ought to
take that 'bus ride."

"Well, we are going to, anyway," he insisted. "You promised that when
you wouldn't let me order the bottle of Médoc for dinner. Along
Piccadilly, I think, where we can see the smart people; and a horse
'bus--we shall get more for our money. Come along, we can get on the
front seat of this one."

They climbed on to the top of an omnibus that was making its way
westward along the Strand. A late spring had suddenly transformed the
city, whose streets, only the week before, seemed to have been the
meeting place of winds from all quarters of the globe, winds which
brought with them long spells of cold and gusty rain. Now everything was
changed. The sky above was blue, flower sellers were at every street
corner. Light frocks and flower-adorned millinery, even a few straw hats
among the men, were like a presage of the coming summer. The air was
soft, almost languid. Down by the Park the trees seemed already to have
put forth their fullest and deepest green. Every now and then a little
wave of perfume came to them from the flower boxes. And above their
heads the stars were creeping into the sky. Frances' eyes were fixed a
little sadly upon the constant stream of vehicles, filled with men and
women in evening dress. They passed a brilliantly lit restaurant, where
they caught a momentary vista of little parties of men and women dining
together, surrounded by all the soft splendour of the modern restaurant
de luxe. She gripped suddenly at her companion's arm. Her face had
hardened.

"What have they done, these people, to deserve a life like that?" she
demanded almost fiercely.

The question took him a little aback. He looked at her curiously. It was
so seldom that she betrayed any such feelings.

"I suppose the women," he replied, "have married the right men, and the
men have chosen their fathers wisely, have bought the right stocks, or
backed the right horses. It is rather a lottery, life, isn't it?"

"It's worse than a lottery--it's a gamble!" she exclaimed passionately.
"The whole thing isn't fair. There isn't any justice about it. Look at
me!"

He nodded appreciatively.

"I like to," he assured her. "I don't believe there is any one better
worth looking at in all that restaurant."

Even the compliment failed to touch her. It seemed, indeed, to have
aroused a momentary indignation.

"You are absurd," she protested. "My clothes are ready-made and shoddy.
I trimmed my hat myself with cheap artificial flowers. My boots are
ugly. I have scarcely ever worn silk stockings in my life, and I love
them. I love all pretty things. I can't afford to feel nice or to look
nice, and yet I have worked hard all my life. And I have been good. Just
fancy, only one life and never able to do more than peer over the fence
into that world of luxury!"

"One can never tell," he declared cheerfully. "Strange things happen."

She smiled at him a little whimsically. The mood had passed.

"Please invent something," she begged, "something that will bring in a
great deal of money. I don't believe you are a bit practical, though."

"I wonder," he murmured. "It seems to me that I have changed in many
ways lately."

"There is one thing I do envy you," she sighed,--"your disposition."

"In what respect?"

"You can look on at all this luxury, all this easy living, and you
never seem to feel a single pang. Yet I should think that you were
better off, once, weren't you?"

"A great deal," he confessed. "I don't know, though, that I was ever
happier."

His hand had fallen upon hers. She made a little grimace.

"You are going to talk nonsense, I am sure," she exclaimed, smiling.

"I am going to tell you that you are the dearest girl I ever met in my
life, if that is nonsense!"

Bliss slept soundly that night, and he had scarcely finished his frugal
breakfast next morning before a note was brought up to him in Frances'
handwriting. He tore it open and read:

If you really want a place as chauffeur, I have just typed an
advertisement for one from my employer here. I hate to think of your
taking the place, but eleven shillings won't last long, will it? His
name is Mr. Montague. The offices are at 17 Norfolk Street. Perhaps you
had better call around and see him.

Bliss made a careful toilet and presented himself at the address given a
little before ten o'clock. In the outer office was a pert-looking boy.

"Mr. Montague is engaged with his secretary," he announced. "I expect
he'll be busy for some time. What's your name and business?"

Bliss wrote both on the back of a card and waited. The place was hung
around with play bills and theatrical notices. From various
announcements, he gathered that Messrs. Montague and Flibbert were
dramatic agents. They placed plays and sketches, and engaged artists for
vaudeville, pantomime, or the drama. Bliss saw a good many familiar
names there, and somehow or other conceived a dislike for Mr. Montague.
Suddenly the door was opened.

"Step this way, young man," the small boy directed. Bliss looked down at
him for a moment, then he sighed. "Certainly, sir."

The office boy glanced at him suspiciously, but Bliss' face was
immovable.

"I can't have all my appointments for the morning upset," the small boy
continued in a peremptory manner. "I have several important clients
coming within the next half-hour. Whatever your business with Mr.
Montague is, just rush it, there's a good fellow. This way."

He threw open the door and retreated. Bliss found himself in the
presence of his prospective employer, and noted with some disapproval
that Frances was seated by the side of his desk with an open notebook in
her hand. Mr. Montague conformed to type. He was fresh-coloured, with
black hair and eyebrows, and unmistakably Semitic. He was dressed with
great splendour and amazing accuracy of detail.

"So this is the young man, eh?" he observed affably, when Bliss entered.

Frances looked up and nodded to Bliss in friendly fashion.

"Mr. Bliss is the friend of whom I spoke to you," she assented, a little
stiffly.

Mr. Montague smiled and somehow seemed to show all his white teeth.

"A recommendation from Miss Clayton goes a long way, a very long way
indeed," he declared. "Still, there are other things. You think you can
drive a car properly, young man?"

"I have been in the habit of driving one," Bliss replied.

Mr. Montague composed himself in his chair.

"To my mind," he pronounced, "the chief enjoyment about motoring is to
go the greatest number of miles at the smallest cost. I shall engage you
on trial, Bliss, because of Miss Clayton's recommendation. You will find
me a good master, and your wages will be liberal. I shall give you two
pounds a week, but--remember this, I expect your accounts, kept down to
a halfpenny. I know exactly what it should cost to run a hundred miles,
and it is always interesting to me to try and do it a little cheaper.
Here is my card," he went on, scribbling on the back. "Go to Elliman's
garage in Ensdell Street, look over my car, and have it round here at
one o'clock. I shall not order you any livery at present, until I see
whether you suit. That's all right, eh, Miss Clayton?"

She smiled at Bliss and rose to her feet. Mr. Montague, however,
detained her.

"That will do now, young man," he said to Bliss. "You can occupy your
spare time until one o'clock by a little polishing. I like everything
about the car to shine."

He flicked a speck of dust from his patent boots with the corner of his
silk handkerchief.

"Don't leave, Miss Clayton," he added. "I have another letter for you
yet. And, Bliss, just remember, will you, that I am an exceedingly
punctual person. I like every one about me to be on time. Better have
your dinner before you bring the car round. You will take me out to
luncheon, and wait for me. One o'clock sharp, remember."



CHAPTER XVII

Bliss entered upon his new job and hated it. He was, furthermore,
afflicted by an entirely new sensation. Mr. Montague, a little
surfeited, perhaps, by the flamboyant charms of the multitude of his
lady friends, was obviously disposed to admire his typist, and seemed
quite unable to comprehend her avoidance of him. On one of his evenings
off, Bliss talked to Frances seriously.

"Look here, you know," he said, "when I came in this morning for orders,
that chap was trying to hold your hand."

She frowned.

"Girls who have to earn their own living," she remarked bitterly, "get
used to that sort of thing. We can see when it's coming. It's generally
easy enough to deal with."

She sighed, and Bliss' expression became more and more forbidding.

"Fellow's making a nuisance of himself, I'm sure of it," he muttered.

"He is persistent," Frances admitted, with a little gesture, half of
amusement, half of despair. "All my usual methods for keeping such a
person in his place seem wasted upon him. He has the skin of a
rhinoceros."

"That's the reason these sort of chaps make money,"

Bliss declared. "I'll tell you what, Frances, we shall have to chuck
it."

"That's all very well," she protested, "but there are a dozen girls
applying for every post in the city where one can earn enough to live
on, and remember, you weren't finding it too easy to get a place
yourself."

"Then I'll stay without one and starve," Bliss retorted. "But I'm not
going to stick that fellow trying to make love to you under my nose.
What was that about Brighton on Sunday?"

"Oh! He's asked me to go to Brighton every Sunday since I first came,"
she replied evasively.

"Brighton, indeed!" Bliss grunted. "You might start, but you'd never
reach there if I were driving. What about a picture palace?"

She shook her head.

"You can't afford it. Neither can I. With your moderate salary, and no
money saved at all, you ought to put by at least half of it, until you
have something in the bank. We'll go and sit in the Park."

They found a sheltered corner, for although it was now the end of May,
the weather had changed again, and the wind was chilly. They looked out
upon a little lake bordered with beds of hyacinths, sweet smelling but
withered with the east wind. Before them was Park Lane. Bliss closed his
eyes. For a moment he saw into the interior of that wonderfully
incongruous medley of houses. A reminiscent wave of luxury set him
longing. The seat was not very comfortable, they were neither of them
very warm, there was nothing very interesting upon which to feast their
eyes. Yet when that wave of memory carried him back to the old days, he
felt suddenly content. There was something new here with him. He took
Frances' hand and held it tightly. There were many people passing back
and forth. A little way in the distance, excited men were shouting
time-worn doctrines to wooden-faced groups of auditors. There were many
others in similar circumstances to themselves--servants and their young
men; shop girls and their beaux; a world which, a few months ago,
Bliss would have regarded without interest, almost with contempt. He
looked at his companion's worn clothes and tired face. He thought for a
moment of those theatrical young ladies of his acquaintance whom he had
honoured with his attentions, and the contrast was almost ludicrous.
Yet he admitted to himself with immense satisfaction that the answering
pressure of her fingers upon his stirred a feeling in him which he had
never before experienced, a feeling sweeter, more wonderful than
anything he had ever known.

"It's an odd world," he said abruptly.

"It's a cruel one," she replied.

"Why?"

"Everything's so hopeless," she sighed. "I came to London hoping to do
something for my sisters, but I can't, you know."

"Tell me about them," he begged. "I have never heard you talk of them.
What are their names?"

Her eyes were very soft.

"I can't talk about them very much," she said. "It all seems so sad.
When my mother died, there was about a pound a week between the three of
us. Ruth, she's the youngest, has a really wonderful voice, but we can't
afford to have it trained. If only she could go to Dresden for one
year--but there, it's no use talking about that. She earns a little
singing at concerts and giving lessons. Elsie is delicate and can't do
anything. We tried living together for a little time, but there was so
little I could do down there that I left them to do the best they could,
with the little money there was. I wanted to do so much for them. I
can't save money, though; it's impossible. Sometimes I think I was a
fool to have left Mr. Masters."

"Don't you believe it," he asserted cheerfully. "Very decent sort of
chap, but no husband for you." She laughed bitterly.

"Perhaps you'd like to point out the sort of husband I might indulge
in?"

"Me," he replied boldly. "Anyway I'm the only one you ever will have."

She was silent then. For a moment, perhaps, the wind seemed to have lost
its chilly touch, the perfume of the flowers to have become stronger.
The hubbub of the distant streets had softened into music. There was the
faintest smile upon her sad lips.

"What an optimist!" she murmured.

"Not a bit of it," he protested firmly. "Before this time next year we
shall be married and doing all sorts of things for your sisters."

"Cooking stoves or chauffeuring?" she asked. "You wait!"

She shrugged her shoulders and smiled at him a little wearily.

"Yes," she sighed. "I suppose I shall wait, like the rest of my foolish
sex--wait and see life go by me."

As they said good-by later on that evening, Frances broke a silence
which had lasted a long time.

"Mr. Bliss--" she began.

"Ernest," he corrected her.

"Well, Ernest, then. I have promised to go motoring with Mr. Montague
next Sunday."

He said nothing for a moment.

"I am not going to Brighton," she continued, "I hate having to go
anywhere. If I refuse altogether, however, I know quite well what will
happen. I shall lose my place. I don't want to lose it. I said that I
would start after luncheon and go into the country for tea."

"Very well," Bliss groaned. "I shall be there to look after you, anyway.
And Mr. Montague," he added belligerently, "had better not try any
tricks."



CHAPTER XVIII

At half-past two on the following Sunday afternoon, Bliss, according to
orders, picked up Mr. Montague at Princes' Restaurant. Mr. Montague,
having escaped with difficulty from the reproaches of the two ladies
with whom he appeared to have been lunching, settled himself in the
corner of the car. He had a large cigar in the corner of his mouth, a
tissue paper parcel in his hand, and a smile of anticipation, which
Bliss hated, upon his face.

"Drive," he directed, "to the corner of Wellington Street and the
Strand."

They found Frances waiting there. As they drove off again, Bliss heard
Mr. Montague's somewhat shocked remonstrances.

"But, my dear girl! Have you no better clothes than these--the clothes
you come to the office in every day?"

"I'm sorry, but just at present I haven't," Frances confessed. "You see,
I was out of a post for a little while. If you think I am not smart
enough to go out with you--"

"Hush, hush!" Mr. Montague interrupted. "Not a word of that, my dear.
Only we must see. Something must be done about it. A nice tailor gown,
eh?--something of that sort. Meanwhile, some flowers?"

He unwrapped the parcel he was carrying and disclosed a vision of wired
roses and maidenhair fern.

Then he drew down the front of the glass, and Bliss heard no more. The
car was a four-cylinder Napier, fairly old, but, as a rule, trustworthy.
Nevertheless, when they were forty or fifty miles from London, Bliss
began to have difficulty. Four times he made readjustments before he hit
upon the real trouble--a defect in the wiring. They were then at a small
inn in the heart of the New Forest, and it was past seven o'clock. Just
as he had, at last, set things to rights, Mr. Montague came strolling
out from the bar, with a freshly lit cigarette in his mouth.

"How are things looking now, Bliss?" he inquired.

"The trouble is over, sir," Bliss assured him. "I have just found out a
defect in the wiring and repaired it. She'll go like anything now. Get
you back to town in a couple of hours."

Mr. Montague did not seem as elated as he should have been. He glanced
around and drew Bliss a little way out into the deserted street.

"Look here, young man, do you want to earn a sovereign?"

Bliss' face expressed, or was meant to express, immense rapture. A
sovereign! An unheard-of sum! Mr. Montague nodded.

"It's a very large present," he continued with a sigh, "and very easily
earned. I want you not to be able to start the car again."

Bliss looked, for a moment, as he felt--puzzled. Mr. Montague solemnly
winked at him.

"The nearest station," he explained, dropping his voice into a hoarse
whisper, "is three miles away, and the last train goes in half an hour.
There isn't a car to be hired in the village. Go on with your work, or
seem to be going on with it, for another hour. Then come in and tell me
that you are very sorry you can't start off again without a spare part,
which you'll have to wire to London for."

Then Bliss understood. He looked away from Mr. Montague on to the
ground. He was shivering just a little, fighting hard for self-control.
Mr. Montague drew a gold coin from his sovereign purse.

"It's the easiest earned money," he went on, "you were ever offered.
Just attend carefully to what I say. In about an hour, come in and knock
at the door of the sitting room and bring your report. Meanwhile, I
shall go and order some dinner here, in case," he added, with a
portentous wink, "we should find ourselves unable to start."

He departed, and Bliss sat down to cool for a few minutes. Then, while
Mr. Montague was engaged on the other side with the landlady, he slipped
into the sitting room.

"Frances," he said firmly, "come out at once."

There was a new ring in his tone, and she obeyed without questioning.
She even, at his bidding, climbed up into the car by his side. He
started the engine and sprang to his place. They were gliding out of the
yard before Mr. Montague caught sight of them. He came tearing out, his
coat tails flying behind him.

"Hie!" he spluttered. "Hullo! What are you doing, Bliss? Bring back that
car, you young blackguard, do you hear?"

Bliss looked over his shoulder.

"You stay there and eat your dinner," he shouted, "or, if you run, you
may catch the last train from Woodford."

An incoherent stream of language only reached them in snatches. They had
turned into the London road now. Frances began to get frightened.

"Ernest!" she exclaimed. "What is it? Do you know what you are doing?"

"Quite well," he answered. "There are no trains away from here, and the
brute offered me a sovereign to hang up the car for the night. Serves me
right for letting you come with such a beast."

She drew a little breath. She was paler even than ever. Then her head
drooped forward. He held the wheel with his right hand and passed his
left arm round her waist.

"Little lady," he begged, "cheer up! Life isn't going to stop for us
altogether, even if we have to look for new posts. You came out for a
motor ride and some fresh air. Let's enjoy it."

The ring of his voice was inspiring. Something of her old bravery came
back to her. She laughed and settled herself down comfortably.

"I wonder," she murmured, "whether Mr. Montague will enjoy his dinner."

They sped on through the pearly twilight and through the soft darkness,
until the glow in the sky and the great carpet of twinkling lights
warned them that they were nearing London. He withdrew his arm then and
slackened speed a little. She shivered.

"Silly girl!" he whispered. "What is there about London to terrify you?"

"I don't know," she answered, "and yet, it does terrify me. It's so hard
and cruel and stony. It seems all the time to be crying out for more
victims; to be grudgingly doling out our daily bread with one hand and
holding up all the joy of life just out of our reach with the other."

"Then," Bliss declared confidently, "we must learn to climb."

They drove to the garage, where Bliss left a brief note for Mr. Montague
and enclosed the sovereign. Then they turned out into the street.

"I have my week's wages in my pocket," Bliss announced, "an immense
confidence, and an unconquerable appetite. Let me have my own way for
once. We have just time for dinner and a bottle of Médoc."

She laughed half happily, half in desperation. They turned towards Drury
Lane.



CHAPTER XIX

The lank young man, wearing a long brown linen coat over his untidy
clothes, his fingers smeared with grease, his hair considerably ruffled,
stood on the threshold of the little restaurant in Drury Lane, looking
around, obviously in search of some one. He nodded to Bliss
patronisingly.

"Chap from the Sun Motor Works," the latter remarked to his companion.
"Come to look for one of their drivers, I suppose."

"Hateful people!" Frances declared vigorously. "I should like to tell
their manager exactly what I think of him."

"Tom would take a message, no doubt," Bliss suggested with a smile.

"And I should like to hear it delivered," Frances continued firmly. "I
should like to deliver it myself. I wonder sometimes whether these
beasts who give a man or girl the sack for no just cause at all, but
simply because they are in a bad humour and feel like it, understand
what they are doing--whether they know what it means to be out of work.
They don't seem to feel any sense of responsibility towards other
people. It's self, self, self all the time!"

Bliss' hand rested for a moment upon hers. There was the look in her
eyes which had first made him understand the tragedy of such happenings.
He had seen plenty of suffering and plenty of privation during the last
few months, but these things found their way home to him with a new
significance when they became associated with Frances.

"Don't you begin to worry, dear," he begged earnestly. "You'll get
another post easily enough."

"Perhaps," she assented drearily. "And yet--it has all got to start over
again to-morrow morning--and I hate it so. I shall go about all day with
a lump in my throat, and I shall feel a queer pain every time some beast
of a man shakes his head. I am like a beggar pleading for work. I'll
have to pretend not to notice if a man shows that he thinks I am nice
looking. I'll have to be looked at critically--and--sometimes I can read
the thought in a man's mind as he looks at me with my testimonials in
his hand. Yes, I might do. And am I married, or have I a sweetheart--and
so on. What right have they to ask such questions? Ernest, I loathe men!
When to-morrow is over, I shall probably loathe myself."

"Look here," Bliss said firmly, "you've got to get out of this frame of
mind, Frances. You're undervaluing yourself. You are clever enough, you
have the full value to give for your wretched thirty shillings a week or
whatever it is, without smiling at any employer in the world. You're not
asking favours."

She sighed.

"That's what I tell myself, but if you only saw the stream of girls
outside every office where there is a vacancy!"

The lank young man, returning from his tour of the restaurant, paused in
front of their table.

"Got a job yet, Bliss?" he inquired.

Bliss shook his head.

"I've had one, but it's no good. Chucked it this evening."

The young man adopted a more confidential attitude. He stretched his
hands upon the table and leaned over towards Bliss.

"Look here," he continued, "we're fairly stuck for a driver at the yard.
The guv'nor has just hired out the old Wolseley racer to a young lady
who's paid cash down for it, and who's standing there now, waiting to
take the thing away, and we haven't a driver who can be spared. I've
been to all the pubs and two or three other places, but I couldn't find
a soul except Sam Johnson, and he's as drunk as a lord. You take my tip
and hurry round, and I shouldn't wonder if you didn't get the job."

Bliss rose briskly to his feet, called the waiter and paid the bill.

"If I am not back in a quarter of an hour, Frances," he said, "you won't
mind going home alone, will you?"

She pressed his fingers.

"Of course not t Good luck to you!"

Bliss found the same elaborate young man standing in the garage of the
Sun Motor Company. By his side was a woman, of whose appearance all that
he could gather was that she was tall, dressed in a brown tweed ulster,
a motor bonnet, and a very thick veil. Words were passing between the
two, and the young man was apparently getting the worst of it. He looked
up almost eagerly as Bliss approached. The lady was obviously annoyed.

"What is the use of showing me the car and telling me that it will be
ready to leave the garage in five minutes? You know I can't drive it.
Find me a chauffeur or give me back my money. I can't stand about any
longer."

The manager stepped on one side.

"Want a job?" he asked Bliss under his breath. Bliss' monosyllable was
sufficient. The young man breathed a sigh of relief.

"Here's your driver," he announced.

"And about time too," the lady declared, wheeling round and facing
Bliss. "Is he used to the car?"

"Certainly, madam," the young man assured her.

"He has had it out often, and he is one of our most expert drivers."

She climbed into the low seat and leaned back. "Bring enough petrol with
you for two hundred miles," she ordered.

Bliss was a little taken aback.

"Are we driving all night, madam?" he asked.

"We may be," his passenger replied. "I want to get to Newmarket as fast
as I can to start with, anyhow."

Bliss saw some tins of petrol handed into the back of the car and
clambered to his seat. A mechanic seized the starting handle.

"Stop," the young woman commanded. "Where's your overcoat, chauffeur?"

"I haven't one," Bliss explained. "I wasn't expecting to drive
to-night."

"Find him an overcoat," she directed, turning to the manager
imperiously. "The idea of letting your men go out to be frozen to
death!"

The young man plunged into his office and returned with a heavy motor
coat which he handed to Bliss.

"What are my orders exactly, sir?" the latter enquired. "I don't want to
make another mistake."

"You are at the entire disposal of the young lady," was the curt reply.
"Same wages as last. The lady will pay all expenses on the road."

"You wish to go to Newmarket, madam?" Bliss asked as he slipped in his
clutch.

"Yes, yes," she replied impatiently.

They reached Newmarket at one o'clock in the morning. Bliss slackened
down with a sigh of relief. It had been a long day for him, and the car
was not an easy one to drive.

"This is Newmarket, madam," he announced. "Go on to Swaffham," she
ordered.

The night was grey-black, with tangled masses of vaporous clouds spread
like a network across the lowering sky. Every now and then, during the
last two hours, a drizzling rain had fallen, and in places the road was
soft. Swaffham was thirty-two miles further on, and Bliss was by no
means sure of the way. He sank a little further back in his seat.

"To Swaffham, madam? Certainly!"

For the first time the woman turned her head and looked at him.

"Do you think you can keep awake so long?"

"I hope so," Bliss answered. "For both our sakes, it would be as well."

"Have you enough petrol and oil and things?"

"Just about."

They went on for a mile or two in silence. Then she turned once more
towards him.

"Couldn't you go faster?" she demanded impatiently.

"I could," Bliss admitted, "but I don't intend to. It wouldn't be safe
on these roads."

"Never mind whether it is safe or not," she retorted. "I insist upon it
that you drive faster."

Bliss made no reply. They had passed the outskirts of Newmarket now, and
were plunging once more into the dark world.

"Did you hear me?" she asked imperiously. Bliss' eyes were fixed on the
road ahead.

"I am driving quite as fast as is safe," he told her, "and I should be
very much obliged if you would not talk to me. I have the car and my own
safety to think of, and it is as much as I can do to keep her on the
road."

"Stop at once," she ordered.

Without undue haste he obeyed. She raised her veil and sat up in her
seat, leaning a little towards him. Her face, unnaturally pale though
she seemed in the ghostly light, still surprised him. She was
good-looking, even handsome, notwithstanding the discontented turn of
the lips. She looked at Bliss steadily.

"How long have you been a chauffeur?" she inquired.

"In my present situation," Bliss replied, "from the moment you saw me
enter the garage."

"The 'Sun' people engaged you, then, just to drive me?"

"Precisely," Bliss agreed. "I have been in their employ before, however,
but I did not give satisfaction."

She laughed.

"What were you dismissed for? Bad manners?"

"Bad judgment."

She nodded.

"You have plenty of both, no doubt," she observed. "You can go on now. I
wanted to have a look at you. You are the first man who has spoken to me
like that for a long time. Start up, please. If it interests you to know
it, we are not going to Swaffham at all. We are, in fact, very near the
end of our journey."

Bliss obeyed without another word. Presently they climbed on to a long
plateau, across which the road stretched in a perfectly straight line.
The country was wild and open, mostly heath, but in one spot on the
right, which they were rapidly approaching, it was black with trees.

"Slow down," she ordered.

Bliss obeyed.

"Now stop."

Bliss brought the car to a standstill within a few feet of the place
which she had indicated. The young lady rose to her feet.

"You will wait for me here," she directed.

Bliss looked at her in some surprise. On the left-hand side of the road
were rolling columns of grey, phantomlike mist; on the other, the
impenetrable blackness of the clustering trees. There was no sign of any
human habitation. The woman, in fact, seemed to take a couple of steps
and be swallowed up in the darkness. Suddenly, however, from the spot
where she had vanished, he heard the soft opening of a gate, heard the
latch lifted by cautious fingers. He realised then that somewhere back
amongst the belt of trees was a house. He stopped his engine and leaned
back against the cushions of the car. His lights were burning, and he
was on his proper side of the road. Such curiosity as he felt became
subordinate to an intense sleepiness. His eyelids were hot. The faint
sighing of the wind lulled his tired senses, and in a few minutes he was
asleep.



CHAPTER XX

He was awakened by the flash of a lantern on his face, and sat up,
blinking. A man to whom, even in those few moments of half-dazed
awakening, he took an instinctive dislike, was standing by the side of
the car. He was clean-shaven, with round face, small eyes, bull-necked,
and, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, he was still wearing
riding clothes. His whole appearance was curiously reminiscent of the
race course. In his hand he held a large tumbler filled with whisky and
soda.

"Wake up, young fellow," he enjoined. "You'll get rheumatism, sleeping
there a damp night like this."

"For me?" Bliss asked, stretching out his hand towards the glass.

"Whisky and soda," the man replied. "You look as though you could do
with it."

Bliss took a long drink, then he sat up in his seat. "What about my
young lady?"

"Going to spend the night here," the man said. "She sent you this," the
man added, producing a sovereign, "and you're to go on to
Crawley,--that's ten miles as straight as you can drive,--and put up
there at the Bull's Head."

"And what then?"

"She'll come on to-morrow afternoon--or rather this afternoon. Her
brother will drive her in, most likely."

"Does her brother live here?" Bliss enquired.

"He does," the other replied, "although I don't know what business it is
of yours."

Bliss rose in his place and stretched himself. Then he descended, turned
the handle of the car and re-seated himself. His fingers were upon the
change gear, his foot upon the clutch. It had not occurred to him to
doubt the authenticity of his instructions. Then, just as he was about
to start off, he happened to glance towards his companion to wish him
good night, and a new and most disturbing thought flashed into his mind.
The man's expression was astounding. The narrow eyes seemed to have
drawn closer together. His parted lips, disclosing two rows of yellow,
ill-shaped teeth, gave him the appearance of a criminal gloating over
some anticipated success. Bliss, thoroughly awake now, sat for a moment
in his seat hesitatingly. Finally, he thrust in his clutch.

"Good night," he said.

"Good night," the other replied. "Don't forget--the Bull's Head at
Crawley."

Bliss traveled for a mile along the level road. Then he turned back and
as silently as possible returned to his original position. He
extinguished the lights, and, descending, made his way to the gate,
opened it softly, and, taking care to keep on the grass border,
cautiously approached the house, which appeared to be about fifty yards
away, a low, unpretentious building, with a long line of outhouses in
the rear, which at first sight puzzled him. There was a single light
burning in one of the down-stairs windows, and towards this he made his
way. As he drew nearer, he could see the shadows of three persons. The
window was uncurtained and unshuttered. The house itself, he was
beginning to realise, had a deserted, almost a forsaken appearance. He
crossed a weed-grown drive, stepped upon an empty flower bed, and peered
into the room. The young lady was there, standing in the middle of the
hearthrug, with one hand resting upon the chimney-piece. The man who had
brought him the whisky and soda was listening to what she was saying,
with a scowl upon his unpleasant face. Lounging in an easy-chair a
little further away was a younger and darker man. Notwithstanding his
dissipated appearance and weak mouth, Bliss recognised at once his
likeness to the girl whom he had brought down. The young man raised his
head and began to speak. Bliss found, to his surprise, that every word
was audible. He looked up and discovered that the window was open at the
top.

"What I should like to know is what you are doing here, anyhow, Kate,"
the former exclaimed peevishly. "You leave me with scarcely a word of
excuse, without any sufficient reason--"

"Stop," the girl interrupted. "I had every reason. I left you because I
dislike your partner, Sam Brownley. There need be no concealment about
it. Our father trained horses here and made a name for himself. That
name, Jack, you might have kept, and could have done if you had been
content to run straight."

"And who says I'm not running straight?" the young man demanded.

"I say so," the girl replied boldly. "I say that if you had meant to run
straight, you would never have taken a partner like that."

She turned her back upon the other man in contemptuous disregard for
his voluble and profane remonstrances.

Her brother sprang to his feet.

"Look here, Kate," he expostulated, "I am sorry you and Brownley don't
hit it, but it's my business, and Brownley's the man I have chosen to
help me in it. Now will you kindly explain what the dickens you mean by
coming down here in the middle of the night? Cut it short and tell us
what you want, anyhow."

"I want to know," she announced firmly, "why you are running 'Mr.
Pontifex' for the Newmarket Cup to-morrow, and why you have both backed
him for more money than you have ever owned in your lives?"

There was a moment's silence. Brownley spoke up now. His voice was
hoarse, almost savage.

"Where did you get hold of this cock and bull story?" he demanded.

"Never mind how I heard it," the girl replied. "I know very well that
you've backed the horse for as much as you dared through the usual
channels, and you've backed it for a great deal more outside. You've
brought the price from a hundred to one, to a hundred to eight, and yet,
on paper, any one who knows anything about racing knows that the horse
cannot possibly have a chance."

"So you've come down here in the middle of the night to ask me this?"
her brother observed uneasily. "Well, my reply is simple enough. It
isn't your money I've backed the horse with, and it isn't your
business."

"It's my business," the girl insisted, "to see that you keep straight,
Jack, and there's something on my mind that I have got to get rid of.
I've come down here not only to ask this question, but I'm going to see
'Mr. Pontifex."'

"What the mischief do you want to see the horse for?" the young man
asked quickly.

"Never mind why I wish to see it. I am going to, so you may as well make
up your mind to it."

The two men exchanged glances.

"Better stay the night, and you can go round to the stables in the
morning," her brother suggested.

"Thank you," she answered, "nothing would induce me to spend a night
under this roof. You seem to forget the circumstances under which I left
it."

She threw a glance at Brownley, who laughed brutally.

"I don't want to lose my temper, Jack," she went on: "you are my
brother, and I mustn't forget it, although you seem to when you let that
brute insult me. However, are you going to show me 'Mr. Pontifex' or
not?"

The younger man rose to his feet, frowning. He drew Brownley on one
side. The girl watched them suspiciously. Then Brownley left the room,
and the brother and sister lowered their voices. Bliss moved a little
further back into the avenue. He was puzzled. The girl had distinctly
said that she had no idea of spending the night there. Yet his orders
had been to leave her. While he hesitated, he saw the three of them
emerge from the house by the side door, cross the strip of lawn
together, and pass through a gate into the courtyard in front of the
long line of stables. Almost immediately afterwards, he saw an electric
light flash out. He stood and watched. They disappeared into one of the
stalls and were absent for nearly twenty minutes. He heard Brownley's
hoarse voice as they passed near the bushes behind which he stood.

"For God's sake, muzzle the d--d fool!" he exclaimed excitedly. "I tell
you, Jack, if any one hears the rubbish she's talking, we're ruined,
man!"

"Ruined you most certainly will be," the girl said firmly, "if you try
on a game like this."

"Don't be a fool," her brother answered. "There isn't a living person
except you who can say that that horse you've just seen is not 'Mr.
Pontifex.' There isn't a soul who doesn't' believe that 'Prince George'
was shot. We had it done here, a vet was present, and it was in all the
papers. Why, even the vet, even Jecks, the stable lad, couldn't have
told the two horses apart, and they were the same age to a week. Don't
be an idiot, Kate. It's a clear thirty thousand pounds for us, and five
for you if you keep your mouth shut."

They passed into the house, all talking together. Bliss, with a little
shrug of the shoulders, turned back down the avenue and mounted once
more into the car. He had stumbled on to a conspiracy of some sort, and
there were certain features about it which made him a little uneasy. His
own weariness, however, made him almost callous as to what was
happening. Once more he dozed off. He awoke with a start. The morning
was breaking, and it seemed to him that it was colder than ever. Close
at hand, down the avenue he heard the girl's flying footsteps. Behind he
could distinguish the voice of her brother.

"Don't be a fool, Brownley. Keep your hands off her. She'll come back
when she finds the car gone."

"If she gets away," Brownley exclaimed, "we're done, I tell you! We must
keep her here, locked up. D--n it, I'll take care of her myself. I'll
see she tells no tales."

She suddenly turned the corner and gave a little cry of relief when she
saw Bliss, who was already starting the engine. She leapt into the car.

"Drive off," she begged. "Drive off! They told me that you had gone.
Thank God that you are here!"

Bliss sprang past her into his seat and they glided off. Just then the
two men appeared at the gate. They heard Brownley's roar of anger.

"That d--d chauffeur's come back!" he thundered. "They're off. You fool,
Jack! Why didn't you look after her?"

"Kate, Kate!" her brother shouted. "Come back! We'll talk it over with
you."

They were out of hearing almost directly, rushing across the heath. The
girl had lowered her veil. Bliss had an idea that she was crying. He
drove steadily on until he came to a turning to the left. Then he drew
up.

"Why are you stopping?" she asked.

He looked straight before him.

"I thought perhaps you would like to go back to Newmarket," he
suggested, "by the lower road."

She raised her veil.

"Why?"

"I have been playing the spy," he explained. "It was really in your
interests, though. The man Brownley, who I presume is your brother's
partner, came out with a whisky and soda for me and ordered me to go to
Crawley. Said that you wouldn't want me again. Something about the
fellow made me suspicious, I don't know why. I pretended to drive off,
and I returned."

She leaned a little forward. Her face was no longer hard, and her eyes
were full of gratitude.

"Thank heaven!" she murmured. "Go on, please."

"When I got back," he continued, "I didn't know what to do, so I came up
towards the house. I saw a light in that back room, and I crept quite
close. The window was open at the top, and I heard a great deal. I heard
you talk as you came back from the stable yard."

"How much do you know?" she asked.

"Well, I gathered," he went on, "that they've got a horse there supposed
to be worthless, but which really is 'Prince George.' 'Prince George'
was reported to have gone dead lame, and to have been shot last
February. It's a clever dodge. I remember it was tried some six years
ago, before my time. 'Prince George' is entered for the race to-morrow
as 'Mr. Pontifex', and of course he'll win."

"You've got the whole story," she admitted in a low tone. "Only when I
tried to plead with my brother,--he isn't really bad, but he has been
led away by that man,--he was more brutal than I could have believed.
The thought of the money has turned his brain. He left me alone with
Brownley. The man is a beast I got frightened. He tried to lock me up.
Then I ran away."

"And here we are," Bliss remarked.

She nodded.

"What are you going to do?" he enquired.

"I don't know," she replied. "I was so relieved at getting away. That
man--I am not a coward, but I was frightened to death. Jack had gone
and--"

Her hands suddenly went to her face. Bliss, though he was cold and
weary, felt a thrill of fierce anger.

"The blackguard!" he muttered.

She cried for a moment or two, quietly.

"I'll tell you what I should suggest," Bliss said. "We'd better go back
to Newmarket by this lower road. You'll be quite safe at the hotel
there. You can send a note up to your brother and say that you are going
to be at the races. Tell him that if 'Prince George' runs, you'll report
the matter to the stewards."

"It will ruin Jack," she sighed, "but I shall have to do it. Will you go
back to Newmarket, then, please?"

Her tone was almost humble, her manner had completely changed. Bliss
turned into the by-road, and they drove into Newmarket about five
o'clock.

"Good night, and thank you so much," she said, as she turned to follow a
chambermaid to her room. "I shall write that note before I go to bed.
The night porter will take you to your quarters. I hope you will sleep
well."

"What time shall you require me again, madam?" Bliss asked.

She hesitated.

"Will you be ready to take me up to the course, please, in time for the
first race?"

"Certainly, madam!"


At ten minutes to two on the following afternoon, Bliss and the young
lady who had become his temporary employer stood up side by side in the
car, with their eyes fixed upon the number board. There was a great
crowd, although for a moment a curious silence reigned. It seemed as
though every one were waiting for the hoisting of the numbers.

"They're going up," Bliss muttered.

Slowly the great black board with its white lettering was hoisted into
position. His companion gripped Bliss' arm.

"Number eight!" she gasped. "Number eight! Look for number eight."

"It isn't there," Bliss assured her. "It isn't. You can see for
yourself."

There was a murmur of voices, and then came the roar from the
bookmakers' enclosure. She suddenly sat down. A man who had been
standing by their side lowered his glasses.

"'Mr. Pontifex' isn't running, after all, I see," he remarked to a
bystander. "What the dickens he was ever backed for, I can't imagine. He
never had an earthly."

The girl glanced towards Bliss, and he understood. He turned the car
around, and they left the race course. "Where to, madam?" he asked.

"I don't know," she answered, leaning back. "Somewhere into the
country--somewhere a long way from here. I'll stop you presently."



CHAPTER XXI

Bliss, with some difficulty, disentangled the car from the crowd of
surrounding vehicles, and drove out on to the Newmarket Road. Then he
brought the car slowly to a standstill.

"If you could just give me an idea of where you would like to go--" he
ventured.

"I can't think yet. Suggest somewhere yourself!"

"Well, madam, there's Newmarket straight ahead, London behind us, and
Cambridge, I suppose, round to the left," Bliss said.

His passenger raised her veil and looked at him. "You can decide," she
announced.

Bliss was somewhat taken aback.

"Were you thinking of an hour or two's run?" he enquired.

"Don't be absurd! I am going to tour about the country for a week or
two."

Bliss was dumbfounded.

"Am I coming?"

"Of course you are! Who do you suppose is going to drive the car?"

Bliss looked disconsolately at the large steamer trunk strapped on
behind.

"I am not wishing to complain, madam, but I think some one might have
told me. I have no change of clothes and only an overcoat owing to your
thoughtfulness."

"Of course they ought to have told you," she admitted. "They didn't,
and I am afraid you must make the best of it. Are you married?"

"Not at present," Bliss confessed politely.

"Then you had better send a telegram to your home or lodgings for some
clothes, or if you need to buy anything, I will pay for it. In the
meantime, where shall we go? Why don't you smoke? I thought all
chauffeurs smoked."

"Not as a rule whilst they drive their employers, madam," Bliss
explained. "But if I have your permission--"

He produced a packet of cigarettes and lit one. The girl sat and watched
him.

"Well," she asked, "aren't you going to suggest anywhere?"

Bliss considered the problem gravely.

"I believe it is quite a pleasant run to Norwich," he said. "Fine old
cathedral city, good hotel--"

"Why couldn't you say so at first?" she interrupted. "We will go to
Norwich."

Bliss drove the car back through Newmarket and took the Norwich road.
She proposed stopping at a telegraph office on his account, but Bliss
shook his head.

"To tell you the truth, madam," he said, "I have so few clothes that it.
is not worth while sending for them. If you would kindly advance me a
portion of my week's salary, I will buy a few necessaries when we reach
Norwich."

"Just as you like, of course," she replied, eyeing him curiously. "Do
you mind if I talk?"

"Not so long as the roads are good," Bliss assured her.

"You must forgive me if I seemed rude last night. You were a little
peremptory, and I was all worked up. I am sorry! Tell me, what is your
name, and how long have you been with the Sun Motor Company?"

"My name is Ernest Bliss," he told her. "I had a job with the 'Sun'
people some months ago, and they turned me off, as I told you. I took up
a fare in the street, and he gave me a bad five-pound note for the job.
Then they couldn't find a driver last night--"

"Well, you are a very good one," she observed. "Have you been a
chauffeur long?"

"No. I used to drive myself--I mean, I was always interested in
motor-cars," he replied.

"We'll stop here for luncheon," she ordered suddenly.

Bliss swung in under the low archway of an old-fashioned inn.

"Order what you like, please," she said, as she descended from the car.
"I shall be ready to start again in an hour."

Bliss lunched in the kitchen with an exceedingly good appetite, wrote a
letter to Frances, and spent a few minutes going over the car.
Punctually at the expiration of the hour the young lady reappeared, and
they started off almost at once.

"Get your lunch all right?" she enquired.

"Quite all right, madam, thank you," Bliss answered. "Where did you have
it?"

"In the kitchen," Bliss told her, with a twinkle in his eye.

She leaned a little forward and looked into his face.

"Are you used to having your meals in the kitchen?"

"Get them wherever I can," Bliss replied cheerfully. "It really doesn't
matter if one is hungry. The great thing is to have the appetite."

"Are you one of those foolish young men," she asked, "who lose their
money racing and gambling, and then have to earn their own living?"

"Something like that," Bliss admitted. "Anyhow, it was betting that
placed me in my present position."

"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself," she said.

"Well, I'm not so sure," Bliss protested, with a smile at the corners of
his lips. "You see, you don't know the whole story."

"And I don't want to," the young lady replied. "You can smoke if you
care to. I'm going to sleep."

She kept her word, and they were almost at Norwich before she awoke.
Bliss drove to the "Maid's Head Hotel."

"Shall you require the car again to-day, madam?" he asked.

"Certainly not," she said. "Come for orders at half-past ten in the
morning. Here is some money for anything you may want." She handed him
two pounds which Bliss, after a moment's hesitation, accepted.

"Thank you very much, madam," he said. "I will be round at ten-thirty
sharp."

Bliss strolled out into the city, bought a few necessaries, went to bed
early, and took a long night's rest. Next morning, he was shown into the
coffee room where the young lady was finishing her breakfast. She
glanced at the clock as he entered. It was exactly half-past ten.

"You are very punctual," she said. "My box is packed, and I am quite
ready to start. You can bring the car round at once."

Bliss did as he was ordered, and a few moments later they glided out of
the courtyard of the inn.

"Where to now, madam?" Bliss asked.

"I wish you would think of somewhere! I have no plans," she answered.

"Do you like the sea?" he enquired, "or do you prefer another cathedral
city? There are Ely and Peterborough not so very far away, or if you
care for a seaside place, there's Cromer."

"We'll go to Cromer."

"Only an hour's run," Bliss remarked.

"Well, we can see what the place is like," she said, "and if I like it,
I will stay for a day or two. I hated Norwich."

"I am sorry, madam," Bliss regretted politely. They were silent for some
little time, then she turned abruptly towards him.

"I will tell you why I hated it," she explained. "I suppose people don't
understand a girl travelling about alone. Look at me! Do I look as
though I wanted adventures?"

Bliss turned his head. For the first time, he realised that his employer
was really a very handsome young woman. Her figure was good, her
features were strong although a little masculine. She had dark eyes
inclined to be a little narrow, but distinctly attractive. Bliss had a
curious feeling that she was trying to look her best.

"Not in the least," he assured her politely.

"I suppose people don't understand a woman going about unprotected," she
repeated. "I dress as quietly as possible, I look at no one, but the
same thing happens everywhere. At Norwich it was perfectly hateful. Two
men stared at me in the coffee room all the time and followed me out
into the street. Another enterprising person actually invited me to go
to a picture palace with him."

Bliss nodded sympathetically, not quite understanding the drift of her
remarks. He felt there was nothing he could say.

"I am sorry to intrude upon your spare time," she went on, "but I should
be glad if you would have dinner with me this evening, wherever we may
stay."

Bliss started.

"But, madam," he protested, "I have no evening clothes!"

"Wear what you have on," she replied.

Bliss looked down at himself doubtfully.

"If you think it suitable, madam--"

"The most suitable thing is to obey my orders," she declared tartly.



CHAPTER XXII

They reached Cromer about twelve o'clock. Bliss drove up to one of the
hotels near the sea, and they lunched together in the coffee room.
Afterwards, at her invitation, Bliss escorted his employer along the
cliffs until they came to a sheltered seat.

"Will you sit down, please?" she said. "I want to talk to you."

Bliss did so, although he was conscious of a growing feeling of
discomfort. There was something about his companion, her manner of life,
her unusual attitude towards him, and the general vagueness of their
proceedings, which he found it difficult to comprehend.

"I am going to talk about myself," she announced abruptly. "You seem
sympathetic. Perhaps you are not. Do you mind listening?"

"I am honoured, madam," he replied.

"I was born at that house at Newmarket," she began. "My father made a
great deal of money. Every one knew he was going to leave the business
to my brother and most of the money to me. Frankly, do you think I am
good-looking?"

Bliss fell into her mood and looked at her critically.

"Yes," he said, as though he had given the matter the most careful
consideration, "I should say you are most certainly good-looking."

"So all the men who came there used to think," she went on. "I came back
from boarding school when I was eighteen years old. There were always
men about my home; trainers, jockeys, owners--they all seemed the same
to me, all about the same type. I hated them all. I thought them simply
a lot of brutes. And the greatest brute of all, the man who has made me
hate his sex more than any one, is my brother's partner, Sam Brownley,
the man you saw. He has spoilt my brother, ruined him. I cannot live
there because he makes it impossible for me."

"That seems too bad," Bliss murmured sympathetically.

"I don't know where to live," she continued. "I have sixty thousand
pounds, and I don't know what to do with it. I have tried living with an
old aunt down at Salisbury. I suppose we shall end up our tour there.
It's hatefully dull. Nothing to do and not a soul to speak to. I haven't
a girl friend, and I should feel a perfect idiot if I took a paid
chaperon about with me. I have told you all this because I don't want
you to think I am quite mad. Do you mind my being a little unusual--my
making a rather unusual proposal--"

She stopped abruptly. The hardness had gone from her face, and her tone
had become more appealing. Bliss became more and more embarrassed.

"What I would like," she went on rather hurriedly, "is for you to allow
me to buy you whatever you want, and you to have your dinner with me
every evening and come out with me afterwards. I want a watchdog. I'm
sorry if you don't like the idea. It is quite unusual, but then, the
circumstances are unusual. Motoring is the only thing I care about, and
I love touring. You are the only person I have seen for a long time whom
I feel I could trust, who wouldn't be likely to misunderstand."

Bliss turned round and faced her.

"I am so sorry," he said rather regretfully, "but I could not let you
buy me clothes. If you wouldn't mind stopping at the smaller places
sometimes, I should be delighted to have dinner with you--and take you
where you wish afterwards."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Very well, then, we will try that," she assented, a little
ungraciously.

For the next few weeks, life became almost a holiday. Bliss, recalling
some of the hardships of his recent situations, enjoyed himself
thoroughly. They toured around the country, stopping mostly at small
places, and gradually the slight hardness and restraint wore away from
his companion's manner. Quite easily, they drifted into a pleasant
intimacy. By degrees, however, Bliss became conscious of a growing
feeling of uneasiness. His employer had become more lighthearted, and,
notwithstanding an entire absence of self-conceit, he could not help
perceiving that she was deriving a great deal of pleasure from the
expedition itself and from his companionship. She took his arm one night
when they stood on the bridge at Tewkesbury, and the next morning he
brought her a telegram sent by himself to himself.

"I'm so sorry," he announced, "I shall have to leave you this evening."

She had been in the act of stepping into the car. For a moment or two
she stood quite still. The colour went out of her cheeks, the hand which
grasped the rail trembled a little.

"Leave me?" she repeated. "What about the car? What can I do without
you?"

"I will telephone to the Sun Motor Company," he suggested, "and ask them
to send another driver down to wherever we stop to-night. Then I can go
back by train."

"Couldn't you stay one more day?" she begged. "Then you can leave me at
Salisbury and take the car back."

He hesitated. Perhaps he was deceived by the apparent carelessness of
her tone.

"I daresay I could manage that," he said, "if it would be more
convenient."

She stepped into the car then, and during the whole of the morning she
scarcely spoke a word. That evening, however, she seemed to recover her
spirits, although she was much quieter than usual. Bliss escaped from
the dining room early, and when she came out, prepared for their usual
walk, she found him dressed in overalls and with the bonnet of the car
off. She came over and stood by his side. Her manner had altogether lost
its note of masculinity. She seemed even a little nervous.

"Couldn't you do that in the morning?" she asked, without looking at
him. "They have just told me of such a pretty walk."

He shook his head, his eyes fixed upon the revealed machinery of the
car.

"It's almost half a day's job," he told her. "I shall have to work hard
all the evening to get her right as it is."

She still lingered by his side, although for a few moments she remained
silent. Bliss grasped an oil rag in his hand, and was suddenly immensely
interested in the float of the carburetor.

"We could start a little later in the morning," she said softly.

Bliss shook his head again.

"I must stick at it now I've begun it, and a job of this sort wants
doing straight away, or it gets worse."

She turned abruptly on her heel and left him. Bliss waited until she was
out of sight. Then he sat down on the step of the car and wiped the
perspiration from his forehead.

"Time I got back," he muttered. "Too bad to pull the poor old thing
about when she's going so well, but here goes!"

He worked upon some imaginary defect in the wiring and saw no more of
his employer until he brought the car round to the inn at nine o'clock
the following morning.

"To Salisbury, I suppose?" he asked. "I've looked up the route. Quite
good roads all the way."

She took her seat by his side without replying. She was more closely
veiled than usual, and she leaned back in her place as though tired.
They lunched together in the middle of the day almost in silence. Bliss,
as they reached their journey's end, became conscious of an immense
sense of relief.

"Expect I was making a fool of myself," he reflected, glancing towards
his companion. Perhaps, after all, she was simply thinking him
ungrateful. He turned to talk to her, but she answered him only in
monosyllables. Then at last he pointed to where the spire of Salisbury
Cathedral was dimly visible in the far distance.

"The end of our journey!" he exclaimed. "We shall be there in half an
hour."

"Stop," she ordered.

He pulled up the car at once. They were at the top of a hill, with a
long stretch of road, empty of any traffic, before them.

She deliberately raised her veil and looked at him. "So this is the end
of our little expedition," she said.

"I have enjoyed it very much," Bliss declared. "I shall never forget
your kindness."

"It has not been a matter of kindness at all," she assured him. "For the
first time since I was left alone, I have known what it is like not to
feel lonely. I am afraid--I hate to think it is all over."

"It has been ripping," Bliss admitted, looking steadfastly along the
road. "A real holiday for me, I can assure you!"

She leaned forward in her place and forced him to look at her.

"Need we finish?" she asked.

"I am afraid we must," he answered gravely. "The girl I am engaged to
will be getting impatient for me to return--and I want to see her, too."

She looked at him for a moment without flinching. Then she leaned back
once more, and her fingers trembled with her veil.

"Drive on, please," she said.



CHAPTER XXIII

At about five o'clock on the following afternoon, Bliss drove the car
into the garage of the Sun Motor Company. He was covered with dust and a
little tired after his long ride from Salisbury. Otherwise, he was in
excellent spirits. It was a month nearer to the end of his great
experiment, he had four weeks' wages to draw, and with reasonable luck,
he felt almost certain of being taken on again as a regular chauffeur.
He drove the car into a vacant space and stopped to look about him. The
garage seemed unusually empty, and there was an absence of any stir or
sign of business pressure. He made his way to the office. The youthful
manager was sitting there, smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper.
Two strangers were engaged upon the books at a neighbouring desk.

"Brought the Wolseley back, sir," Bliss announced.

The manager nodded.

"We had a cheque for the balance of the hire this morning," he remarked.
"The young lady," he added condescendingly, "seems very pleased with
your services."

"I did my best, sir," Bliss replied. "The car went very well all the
time. I am hoping you will give me a regular job now--for a matter of
six months, at any rate."

The young man shook his head.

"Bad luck, Bliss. Can't promise anything at the moment. Fact is," he
glanced towards the two men at the other end of the room, "the
governor's been speculating. We're in liquidation."

Bliss' heart sank. He had twopence in his pocket, and he was exceedingly
thirsty.

"Shall I get the balance of my four weeks' salary?" he enquired
anxiously.

"Yes, we'll see to that," the manager promised, rising and making his
way towards one of the men at the desk. "It's about all we can do for
you, though."

"Can't even give me a week's job while I look round, I suppose?" Bliss
asked wistfully.

"Can't be done," the other declared. "You weren't one of our regulars,
you know. Leave your address. If things go right, we'll do what we can
for you."

So Bliss left the place, once more one of the unemployed. He carried his
few belongings round to his old lodgings, arranged with Mrs. Heath, who
was genuinely glad to see him, to take his old room again, and
afterwards he hurried round to Frances' apartment. He met her on the
doorstep, and his heart sank as she turned to greet him. Even to the
mended gloves; she was wearing exactly the same clothes as when he had
left her last. Her mouth was a little harder. There were hollows in her
cheeks. Nevertheless, for the moment, her smile was transfiguring. She
held out both her hands.

"Ernest!" she exclaimed. "Oh, it is good to see you again!"

He gripped her hands and forgot to let them go. "You had my letters?" he
asked.

She nodded.

"I loved having them!" she admitted. "I didn't write to you as often as
I meant to, but it was so hard. There seemed to be nothing to say, and I
didn't want to depress you. When did you get back?"

"This afternoon," Bliss told her, "about half an hour ago. I have four
weeks' money in my pocket, less a small advance. I have been kept all
the time, and I've been saving like anything."

"I am not at all sure that I approve of your touring round the country
with a single young woman," Frances said.

Bliss laughed.

"Quite compromising, wasn't it? However,--there was always you! We had
one adventure up at Newmarket I must tell you about. The rest of the
time was pretty uneventful, but such a rest. I left the lady down at
Salisbury this morning with some relations and brought the car back to
the garage. Come and have some dinner."

She hesitated for a moment. Then she yielded. He had a horrible
suspicion that she was faint with hunger. They started off towards Drury
Lane.

"I suppose the 'Sun' people will keep you on now?" she asked.

"That's the dickens of it," he sighed. "I've got a fine testimonial, but
they've gone into liquidation." She laughed bitterly.

"Our luck isn't in, is it?" she remarked. "Do you know, that brute
Montague wouldn't give me a reference?"

"The hound!" Bliss muttered.

"I have others, of course," Frances went on, "but every one seems so
suspicious. They all want to know why I left my last place. I--I've had
nearly enough of it, Ernest. I've almost made up my mind, to go back to
Mr. Masters."

"Why not?" Bliss agreed, after a moment's thought. "He was a good chap.
He'd sooner you went back--"

"If I go back to Mr. Masters, I shall marry him," she interrupted. "I
have almost decided to. I was only waiting till you came back to tell
you."

"Marry him you never will," Bliss declared firmly. "Now let's chuck it
for a time. We are going to have dinner and enjoy ourselves, and we are
just going to remember that we are both young, with the future before
us, and that you are the girl who is going to be my wife, and whom I am
going to make very happy indeed. Only believe in me and have a little
more confidence."

"You're a brave dear," she sighed, "but facts are like hunger--stubborn,
stubborn as they can be."

"There's nothing stubborn about my hunger, anyway," Bliss assured her,
as they turned in at the little restaurant and took their places at a
table close to the wall. "I am going to make it yield, and yield
quickly. I feel, somehow or other, that we are nearer to fortune
to-night than we ever were."

He ordered dinner under her careful supervision and told her of his
adventures while they ate. By degrees she became interested. Her manner
became more animated, and the colour returned gradually to her cheeks.

"It's delightful to have you here again," she said. "I seem to lose that
lonely feeling that makes London so horrid. Do you know, I think I shall
sleep tonight?"

"Well, you're going to have a try, and that very soon," he answered. "I
shall take you to your rooms as soon as we have finished dinner, but
you've got to promise me one thing."

"I think I'll promise you anything," she murmured. "You've got to
promise me that you won't return to Mr. Masters without letting me
know."

She nodded.

"I'll promise that, but, Ernest--you may as well know the truth, I
haven't done a day's work since you went away, and--and I'm pretty
nearly penniless. I haven't sent anything to the girls for five weeks,
and I am beginning to owe my landlady money. No--not that!" she cried
sharply, as she saw Bliss' hand steal towards his pocket. "I won't
borrow from you. I won't!"

"Why not?" he pleaded. "No one else has the right to lend you money,
Frances. Besides, putting everything else on one side, aren't we pals
together, dear? Just at this moment you're a little harder up than I am.
It may be the other way in a few months' time. Be sensible, dear! I've
four golden sovereigns in my pocket, and I don't owe a copper. Halves,
please."

She pushed his hand gently away, but she sat for a moment in silence,
her eyes fixed upon the opposite wall.

"Please, Frances!" he begged. "I'm sure to get another job soon, and two
pounds will last me for a long time. Don't make me absolutely miserable
by refusing!"

Re saw her lips tremble. It was one of the bitterest moments of her
life.

"I will take a sovereign, Ernest," she whispered. "It will keep my
landlady quiet."

He slipped it into her hand. Her fingers, as she took it, shivered.

"The other," he said, "I will keep for you. Now, if you are ready, we
will go."

They walked slowly back to her rooms, and parted on the doorstep. Bliss,
too, went to bed early, He had a long day before him on the morrow. More
than ever he realised the necessity of finding work, and finding it
quickly.



CHAPTER XXIV

At ten o'clock on the following morning, Bliss was ushered without
announcement,--it cost him half a crown,--into Mr. Montague's private
office. Mr. Montague glanced up, and when he recognised his visitor,
showed his teeth.

"What do you want here?" he enquired.

Bliss produced a heavy leather whip from his inner pocket. That also had
cost him half a crown.

"Take up your pen and write what I tell you," he ordered.

"What the devil do you mean, coming into a gentleman's office and--"

Bliss struck the desk in front of him so that the papers rattled.

"Write," he insisted.

Mr. Montague took up his pen.

"Frances Clayton was in my employ--"

Mr. Montague dropped his pen, and a moment later howled with pain as the
leather thong struck his knuckles. He stretched out his hand for the
bell, but Bliss swiftly removed it from his reach.

"If you call for help," he said, ". or touch that telephone, you'll get
the thrashing you deserve. If you write what I tell you silently, you
may escape it."

Mr. Montague opened his lips and closed them.

"Frances Clayton was in my employ for some months," Bliss continued, "as
typist. I found her conscientious, capable, and intelligent. She left at
her own desire."

Mr. Montague wrote as he was bidden and signed his name. Bliss took the
sheet of paper from him and folded it up.

"Good morning, Mr. Montague!"

"You wait till I get my hand on you, young fellow," Mr. Montague
spluttered.

Bliss dangled the whip thoughtfully. He seemed to be still deliberating
as to its use.

"You deserve it, you know."

Mr. Montague shrank back. His high colour seemed to have become less
evident. Bliss, with a little laugh, turned away.

"It's a good whip," he remarked, "good honest leather. I won't spoil
it."

He walked out, borrowed an envelope from the young gentleman in charge
of the outer office, addressed the reference to Frances and posted it in
the nearest letter box. Then he made his way to a neighbouring labour
bureau and wrote down a list of likely places. He spent four hours
making applications for the various posts, only to find them either
filled, or that he himself was unsuitable. A taxicab driver, whom he met
in the waiting room of a motor engineer's workshop, gave him a few
useful hints.

"These labour bureaus," he explained, "are all right for odd jobs of the
very roughest sort, but they're no use to us. Take my tip and go to
Hollins' in Shaftesbury Avenue. Kind of a registry office, but they get
nearly all the chauffeurs' places. It'll cost you a bit, but it's worth
it."

Bliss thanked him and walked to Shaftesbury Avenue. By the time he had
parted with five shillings and discovered that no one wanted a
chauffeur, it was nearly seven o'clock. He went to his rooms, had a
wash, and started out to call for Frances. She came down the stairs,
reading the testimonial from Mr. Montague.

"Whatever's the meaning of this, I wonder?" she asked.

"I got it out of the little brute," Bliss grunted.

She pressed his arm as they walked down, the street. "How did you manage
it?"

He told her of his visit in a few sentences. She said very little, but
her eyes glowed as she listened.

"And now about yourself?" he went on, changing the subject abruptly.
"Any luck to-day?"

"I have to apply again to-morrow at ten o'clock, at Wolburn's," she
announced. "There seems a chance. They're Stock Exchange people, and
they're giving a girl who has been ill until to-morrow morning to come
back to work. If she is not there by ten o'clock, I am going to sit
right down and work--if I can bring a reference from my last employer,"
she added. "So you can't tell how much you have done for me. I was
almost going to write to Mr. Montague."

"I wonder what's wrong here," Bliss remarked, glancing towards a
motor-car drawn up to the edge of the road, and surrounded by a little
crowd. "Shall we go and see?"

They pushed their way to the front. There were no signs of an accident,
but something had evidently happened. The motor-car, a small grey coupé,
was drawn up at the side of the road. A smartly dressed young man who
had apparently just descended was standing rather helplessly on the
pavement.

"Can any of you fellows drive?" he asked. "My chauffeur's been taken
ill."

The group of onlookers had gathered around the taxicab in which the
chauffeur had been placed, and Bliss was almost the only one who heard
the young man's enquiry.

"I'll take you anywhere you like," he offered. "Little Panhard, isn't
it? I can manage that all right."

The young man gave a sigh of relief. Then he looked at Bliss for a
moment in a puzzled way.

"The devil!" he murmured softly.

Bliss feared at first that he was recognised. The young man, however,
made no further reference to the surprise which had evidently overtaken
him.

"I wish you'd drive me to Princes' Restaurant," he said. "I am late for
a dinner party there as it is."

"With pleasure, sir," Bliss assented.

"I must just find out what hospital they're taking my fellow to," the
young man continued. "I don't think there's much the matter with him,
but it's his first day out after an operation, and he's a bit weak."

Bliss started up the car, and in a few minutes the owner of it returned
and took his place.

"Lucky I found some one quickly," he remarked as they glided off. "I can
see you know all about ears. Been a chauffeur long?"

"Some little time, sir," Bliss replied. "I am just now out of a job,
owing to the Sun Motor Company going into liquidation."

Once more his companion looked hard at Bliss. For some reason or other,
he seemed immensely interested in his appearance.

"Good character?" he asked.

"I have excellent references, sir," Bliss assured him. "Would a
temporary place be of any use to you?"

"As chauffeur, sir?"

"To tell you the truth--well, we'd better talk about it to-morrow.
Here's five shillings, anyway, for bringing me here."

They stopped outside Princes' Restaurant. Bliss' prospective employer
prepared to descend.

"Where shall I go with the car, sir?" Bliss asked. "Just take her round
to the garage, Number 14 Bulow Street."

"Would you like me to meet you later on, sir? The young man shook his
head.

"Not to-night. You can come round and see me to-morrow."

"Certainly, sir."

"Number 27 Arleton Court, Arleton Street. Ask for Mr. Dorrington."

"What address did you say, sir?" Bliss asked, dumbfounded.

"Number 27 Arleton Court," Mr. Dorrington called over his shoulder.
"Don't be later than ten o'clock. I may be able to find you a job."

Bliss pulled himself together and took the car back to the garage. He
reached the restaurant in Drury Lane, where Frances was waiting for him,
in less than twenty minutes. He displayed the five shillings exultantly
and promptly ordered a bottle of wine.

"This is Al," he declared. "I go out and earn the price of our dinner
while you sit waiting for it."

She shook her head reproachfully.

"You silly boy! That five shillings ought to be going towards your
week's keep, and not our dinner."

"Rubbish!" he exclaimed gaily, as he took his place at the table. "We're
both getting too serious, Frances. We must endeavour to cultivate a
spirit of lighterheartedness, a more complete bohemianism, so to speak.
I have a conviction that everything is going to turn out all right for
us--and to-morrow morning--"

"Well, what about to-morrow morning?"

"To-morrow morning you are going to find an excellent situation, and I
am going to call upon the young gentleman who gave me the five
shillings--going to call upon him at the queerest place in the world."

"Do tell me where that is?" she asked.

"Number 27 Arleton Court."

"And why is it the queerest place in the world?"

"I'll tell you that some other day," he promised.



CHAPTER XXV

At a few minutes before ten on the following morning, Bliss entered the
spacious entrance hall of Arleton Court and rang the bell for the lift.
He had passed in unobserved by the hall porter, and, to his immense
relief, the lift man was a stranger. He ascended to the fourth floor and
with a certain amount of trepidation rang the bell of his own front
door. The summons was immediately answered by a strange man servant.

"Is Mr. Dorrington in?" Bliss enquired.

The servant, who was a very inferior person indeed compared with the
immaculate Clowes, motioned him to a seat and disappeared. In a few
minutes he returned. Bliss was leaning back in a carved oak chair which
he had bought at Christie's, appreciating ope of his own prints. The man
regarded him with the air of one inclined to resent this familiarity on
the part of a stranger.

"Mr. Dorrington will see you," he announced condescendingly. "Come this
way."

Bliss followed his conductor meekly down the hall and into the room
which he himself had used as a library. His friend of the night before
was seated there in an easy-chair, smoking. A box of very excellent
cigars stood upon the table. Bliss looked at them longingly, but his
anger against Clowes increased.

They were his own Partagas, 1894 crop, and irreplaceable.

"Glad you're punctual," Mr. Dorrington observed, motioning the servant
to leave the room. "Wait just one moment, will you?"

He concluded the perusal of a letter which he held in his hand, and
meanwhile Bliss glanced around him. He had slept badly the night before
on a particularly hard mattress, with little air in the room, and
nothing but a tin sponge bath and a scanty supply of water with which to
perform his ablutions. A sudden wave of longing seized him; an almost
indescribable desire for those small luxuries which had once seemed a
necessary and inevitable part of his life. In the background was a
half-opened door, leading into the white-tiled bathroom with its sunk
marble bath. The sitting room was pleasantly warmed. The pictures which
he loved greeted him from the walls. His favourite books seemed to lean
from the cases towards him. It was one of his worst mornings, this. His
ready-made boots had been wet and were pinching his feet. His carefully
brushed clothes were disfigured by a grease stain which nothing would
remove. He even felt some slight return of that overtired feeling which
had first taken him to the physician. His heart was weary for some of
those old luxuries--the delicate food, the choice wines, the tobacco.
The longing for them seemed to have swept in upon him with a curious and
insistent vehemence, a longing coupled, too, with a fit of genuine
indignation. Who was this man, living in his rooms, smoking his cigars,
enjoying all the things of which he was deprived? Where was Clowes?

Mr. Dorrington folded the letter which he had been reading and placed it
in his pocket. He was dressed in shirt and trousers and dressing-gown
only, and the remains of his breakfast were upon the table.

"Now," he began, leaning back in his chair, "I am ready to talk to you.
So you are out of a place, eh?"

"I am, sir," Bliss admitted.

"What is your name?"

"Ernest Brown, sir."

"What else have you done beside drive a car?"

"I have been a light porter," Bliss replied, "greengrocer's assistant,
and commercial traveller."

"Good character?"

"Pretty fair."

Mr. Dorrington looked at his visitor thoughtfully. "Do you know," he
enquired, "why I told you to call and see me this morning?"

Bliss shook his head.

"Not unless it was because you thought I might take the place of your
chauffeur until he was better. The car's a very easy one to drive, and I
could look after it quite well."

"That was only my excuse for getting you here," Mr. Dorrington
confessed. "There is a reason why, if we could come to terms, you might
be much more useful to me than any other person in similar
circumstances. Puzzled, eh?"

Bliss acknowledged the fact. Mr. Dorrington smiled.

"Sit down," he ordered condescendingly.

Bliss sat with becoming modesty upon the edge of one of his own morocco
chairs. Mr. Dorrington, after a moment's hesitation, pushed the cigar
box towards him.

"Try one of these," he invited. "Finest tobacco I ever smoked in my
life."

"They ought to be," Bliss sighed, looking a little ruefully at the
half-empty box.

Mr. Dorrington stared at him.

"Ought to be?"

"I mean," Bliss explained hastily, "that I understand something about
cigars. These are 1894 crop--very little of that tobacco left."

"Well, so long as I've offered you one, I em glad you can appreciate
it," Mr. Dorrington remarked. "Now, listen to me attentively. I've sized
you up in my mind, and I'm very seldom wrong. You're a young fellow
who's just a bit too good for his job, but who hasn't had any luck. You
weren't born a worker, and I should think you would be glad enough to
make a bit without overmuch manual labour?"

"I find driving a car very hard work at times," Bliss admitted.

Mr. Dorrington leaned forward. He was a thin young man of gentlemanly
appearance, fairly good-looking, but with eyes set a trifle too close
together.

"I can put you in the way," he confided, "of coming into a little scheme
of my own. There are risks in it, but if it comes off you'll make a
scoop, you'll be able to do without work for a year or two. If it fails,
you may find yourself in difficulties."

Bliss looked at the end of his cigar thoughtfully. "Do you mean," he
asked, "that there is anything illegal about it?"

"There is," Mr. Dorrington assented.

"Then why on earth," Bliss enquired, "if you will excuse my asking the
question, do you risk giving yourself away like this to a complete
stranger?"

"Sensible question," Mr. Dorrington observed approvingly. "The reason is
simple. It is because, as far as I can see, you are the one person in
the world who can carry this scheme of mine through to a successful
termination."

Bliss sighed.

"You'll have to explain," he suggested.

Mr. Dorrington moved towards the bathroom door and closed it. Then he
came back to his place.

"I am hard up," he said. "I won't bother you with my history. I am a
gentleman by birth, well educated and all that, but up against it. I
can't work. The consequence is I make what I can by my wits. Now I've
tumbled into a soft thing. You see these rooms? You know what sort of a
cigar you're smoking?"

"I do," Bliss assented drily.

"Don't know whether you understand anything about these things," Mr.
Dorrington proceeded, "but those prints upon the wall, this furniture,
the china, everything about this place means money. These are the rooms
of a very wealthy man. Needless to tell you they aren't my rooms. They
belong to a young fellow about town who has had to disappear for a time.
He had to disappear so suddenly that he had no time to make any
arrangements or do more than leave his valet in possession."

"Disappear?" Bliss repeated. "What had he done, then?"

Mr. Dorrington shook his head slowly.

"Nobody knows exactly. There was a mystery about the whole affair which
I suppose will be cleared up some day. The valet was honest for a couple
of months, but the thing got too much for him. He has let me the rooms
for a paltry five pounds a week."

"Dear me!" Bliss murmured, looking around.. "They certainly seem worth
more than that."

"Not only have I got the rooms," Mr. Dorrington continued, "but I am
smoking this fellow's--Bliss, his name is--smoking his cigars and
drinking his wine at half price all the time."

"You seem to be lucky," Bliss remarked, with a little catch of his
breath. "Is the--er--wine good?"

"There is some 1899 Veuve Clicquot and some '68 Port--"

"How much of the port have you drunk?" Bliss interrupted eagerly.

Mr. Dorrington stared at him.

"Not much," he replied. "Port doesn't agree with me. But the
champagne--well, I never drank anything like it."

"There never was anything like it," Bliss murmured under his breath.

"However," Mr. Dorrington went on, "I made a few enquiries about this
fellow Bliss, and I find there's not much chance of his turning up again
for the moment. He must have got into some trouble or other. There are
all sorts of stories about, but it seems certain that he's done
something which keeps him out of the way and will do so for some time.
Most of his letters seem to go to his lawyers, but every now and then
one gets delivered here. The other day a packet arrived. As I, for the
time, am Mr. Bliss, I opened it. I found it contained his passbook at
the London and Southampton Bank. Now tell me, my young friend, what sum
do you suppose this fellow Bliss, whoever he may be, has lying to his
credit on current account at that bank, eh?"

Bliss thought for a moment.

"No idea!" he replied. "A hundred and sixty thousand pounds?"

Mr. Dorrington started. He even went a little paler. He gazed at his
visitor incredulously.

"A hundred and sixty--how the devil--what the dickens made you guess
that?" he asked.

"Just the first amount that came into my head," Bliss assured him.

"The balance," Mr. Dorrington said impressively, "is one hundred and
fifty-eight thousand, seven hundred and thirty-two pounds, not to
mention a few shillings. All that money there, mind, doing nothing. What
do you think of it?"

"Prodigious!" Bliss murmured.

"And mind you," Mr. Dorrington continued, "this fellow Bliss has
scarcely drawn a cheque since the day he disappeared, which was in
December. That money's not doing anybody any good. It--or rather a
portion of it--would do me a great deal of good. A smaller portion would
also help you, eh?"

"No doubt about that," Bliss sighed.

Mr. Dorrington rose to his feet, crossed the room, and returned with a
photograph which he passed to Bliss.

"Anything strike you about that?" he enquired. Bliss gazed at his own
presentment.

"No, I don't know--except that it's rather like me," he added with
sudden intuition.

Mr. Dorrington smiled approvingly.

"That's just what I thought when you drove me to Princes' last night,"
he admitted. "That is why I asked you to call this morning. That is why
I am offering to make you a partner in my little scheme for relieving
this absentee millionaire of a portion of his superfluous belongings."

Bliss, for a moment, half closed his eyes. A gentle smile played upon
his lips. It was hard to believe that he was not dreaming.

"I have found several of his signatures," Mr. Dorrington continued, "and
after a great deal of practice, I flatter myself that I can imitate it
to perfection. My proposition is simple enough. A large cheque, however
clever the signature, might cause comment if presented by a stranger. If
presented by you in a suit of Mr. Bliss' discarded clothes--there's a
whole wardrobe of them here--it would probably be paid."

Bliss paused for a few moments to collect himself. "Do you really
think," he asked, "that I am sufficiently like this Mr. Bliss?"

"There are differences, of course," Mr. Dorrington acknowledged. "You're
a rougher looking chap, but you're quite near enough like him to carry
this off, especially if you go in at a busy time and wrap up as though
you were just recovering from an illness. My first idea was to write out
a cheque for two or three thousand pounds, and trust to their paying it
on the signature. Since I came across you, however, I've changed my
mind. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't go for the gloves. They
wouldn't pay a really big cheque to a stranger, of course, but if they
believe that it's really you, asking for your own money, they won't
hesitate. What I've made up my mind to do is to draw the cheque for
eighty thousand pounds, of which you shall have twenty and I sixty. If
they ask you what for, say that you need it to complete the purchase of
an estate."

"What is the penalty," Bliss enquired, "for forgery?"

"Anything up to fourteen years," Mr. Dorrington replied. "So far as
you're concerned you'd get off with half that. The thing is, is it worth
it? I don't mind telling you frankly that life isn't worth living to me
unless I can live it as a gentleman. I might as well be doing penal
servitude as living on the cheap; touting for a few shillings; drifting
away from my friends; having to give up my clubs. I've thought this over
pretty carefully, I can tell you, and I made up my mind long ago that if
the chance came my way, I'd go for one big coup and have done with it.
The chance has come my way. It came to me first through this fellow
Clowes offering me his master's rooms, and then through coming across
you last night."

"Whereabouts is he?" Bliss asked; "I mean the man Clowes?"

"Drinking."

"And Mr. Bliss? Is it certain that he is not likely to-turn up again at
any moment?"

"It doesn't seem likely," Mr. Dorrington answered. "They say he is in
hiding in America. No one knows what it's all about, but there are all
sorts of queer rumours. I have heard it said, too, that he has been seen
in London, dressed like a tramp. In any case, he's got into some
scrape, that's certain. He wouldn't keep out of the way for nothing, and
he wouldn't keep out of the way up till now, just to come back again the
moment we try our little game. What do you say, Brown? Are you disposed
to come in?"

Bliss stared hard at the carpet.

"It requires a little consideration," he said.

"If it's the risk you're thinking of--" Mr. Dorrington began.

"It isn't," Bliss interrupted. "I'm wondering--"

"Well?"

"It seems rather hard on this fellow, Bliss, doesn't it?"

"Rubbish!" Mr. Dorrington interjected. "The fellow's rolling in money.
He's a millionaire,--an idle young wastrel who never did an hour's work
in his life or a stroke of good to any one. It's wealth such as his that
makes socialists of men."

Bliss looked hard at his hands. His nails were broken, and there were
some very hard blisters on his fingers.

"I suppose you are right," he agreed. "When did you propose to try
this?"

"What's the good of putting it off?" Mr. Dorrington demanded. "I've got
the signature perfect now. I suppose you are ready? Why not to-day? I've
made my plans for getting away. I reckon that the affair will not be
discovered for some days. Anyhow, I am going to change my notes at once
and leave for a place I won't even tell you the name of. You must make
your own arrangements."

"Just so," Bliss murmured.

"Are you on or not?" Mr. Dorrington asked. "I'm on," Bliss decided.

"Then we won't have any more fooling about it," Mr. Dorrington declared,
a little glitter coming into his eyes. "I'll take you into the bathroom,
and you can help yourself to any of Mr. Bliss' clothes you like. I'll
have the cheque ready for you when you come out. You can take a taxi to
the bank, be back here by twelve o'clock, and then, by George, we'll
make our bolt. It's the one chance I've been waiting for all my life,
this! I've never been able to make up my mind to this sort of thing
before, but a young fool who leaves a hundred and sixty thousand pounds
in the bank and disappears deserves to lose it."

"I suppose you're right," Bliss sighed.

He suffered himself to be led into the bathroom and through into his own
dressing room. He looked with some dismay at his greatly diminished
stock of clothes. Then he opened the glass door of the wardrobe, glanced
at his rows of polished boots, contemplated his immense selection of
ties, and fingered one of his shirts.

"You seem handy at finding things," Mr. Dorrington remarked. Bliss
nodded.

"I shouldn't mind a job as valet. I'll take a bath first, if you don't
mind. There's plenty of time."

In three quarters of an hour he reappeared in the sitting room. Mr.
Dorrington glanced at him, impatiently at first, but afterwards with a
sort of reluctant admiration.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "You gave me quite a start. You do look the
part, and no mistake."

"Give me the cheque," Bliss begged. "I may as well get the thing over."

Mr. Dorrington pushed it across the table. Bliss scrutinized it
carefully. Then he thrust it into his waistcoat pocket.

"If anything should happen that there's trouble,"

Mr. Dorrington said, "telephone me if you can safely--1372 Mayfair.
You won't lose your nerve or anything?"

"I don't think so," Bliss answered.

"There's no mistake about it, you do look the part," Mr. Dorrington
assured him. "You're not quite so effeminate or so much of a dandy as
young Bliss, but except for that, you're as like him as two peas. I tell
you they'll never hesitate. I should not be surprised if it isn't weeks
before the thing's found out. Here, take this," he added, giving Bliss a
handful of silver. "That's for your taxies. And remember I shall be on
pins and needles until you come back."

Within a quarter of an hour Bliss walked into the bank, where his
appearance created a mild sensation. The manager came hurrying from his
office with outstretched hands.

"My dear Mr. Bliss!" he exclaimed. "So glad to see you. Come into the
parlour for a few minutes, do."

"I can't stop," Bliss replied. "How's my balance?"

"Much too large," the manager declared. "Mr. Crawley has been in and
invested for you two or three times, but the money comes in too fast.
We've nearly two hundred thousand pounds here."

Bliss produced the cheque and handed it over the counter. The manager
glanced at it, held it up and looked at it again.

"Handwriting hasn't changed, has it?" Bliss asked.

"Not exactly," the cashier to whom the manager passed the cheque replied
hesitatingly. "All the same, I think that if this were presented by a
stranger, I should want it verified."

Bliss shook the cashier by the hand, to the latter's astonishment.

"My congratulations," he said. "The cheque happens to be a forgery."

The two men looked at him dumbfounded.

"My dear Mr. Bliss," the manager gasped, "do you know what you are
saying?"

"Perfectly well," Bliss assented. "It's too long a story to enter into,
but the cheque's a forgery. I just wanted to see what chance it had of
being passed. I congratulate you both. Bring me the book, and I'll
change my signature."

The cashier obeyed him. Bliss signed his name with some slight
alterations, to which he called their attention.

"I can assure you, Mr. Bliss," the manager told him fervently, "that we
will use the utmost discretion in honouring your cheques, but, at the
same time, I feel bound to point out to you that, in the interests of
every one concerned, an attempted forgery of such a serious character
should be exposed. I trust that you intend to do so."

"Just so," Bliss agreed, folding up the cheque and placing it in his
waistcoat pocket. "I'll think it over."

Bliss found a taxicab outside the bank, and twenty minutes later he
walked boldly into the entrance of Arleton Court, received the
astonished bow of the hall porter, whom he met face to face, and
ascended to his rooms. Without the ceremony of ringing, he let himself
in with his own latchkey and made his way into the sitting room. Clowes
was standing there, talking with some apparent excitement to Mr.
Dorrington. At Bliss' entrance, they both turned around. Clowes' face
was transfigured. His jaw fell, his cheeks became ashen grey.

"My God," he faltered, "it's the guv'nor!" Mr. Dorrington smiled.

"A compliment, that, I think," he observed, turning to Bliss. "Be off
now, Clowes. I can't talk to you. Be off quickly. Well?"

Bliss stood with his hands behind his back, gazing at the speaker
blankly.

"Who the devil are you, sir, ordering my servant about in my rooms?" he
demanded.

"Capital!" Mr. Dorrington exclaimed. "But chuck it now, there's a good
fellow. Have you got the money?"

Bliss laid his silk hat upon the table.

"Clowes," he said, turning towards the valet, "will you explain to me at
once who this person is, and what he is doing in my rooms?"

Clowes collapsed. He had been drinking heavily of late, and the shock
was too much for him. He went down on his knees.

"I am sorry, sir," he sobbed. "I've been mad--a perfect fool. There was
nothing to do here, and day by day it got on my nerves. I began to bet a
bit, and I lost. Then, to make up, I let the rooms just as they were to
this gentleman. I thought he'd just keep them aired, and I meant to hand
the money back to you."

"You mean that you have allowed some one else to have the run of my
rooms?--Hired them out?" Bliss exclaimed, frowning. "Pull yourself
together, Clowes."

"It's the truth, sir," the man confessed. "I was never so ashamed of
myself in my life. I can't do more than say I am sorry, sir! I'll make
it up, sir, and I'm only praying that you've come back for good. It's
too hard a job to sit still and do nothing from morning till night. You
tried us all too hard, sir."

Mr. Dorrington crossed the room and stood within a few feet of Bliss. He
looked at him with almost fierce intentness.

"Will you tell me who the devil you are?" he demanded.

"Who I am?" Bliss repeated wonderingly. "My servant will tell you, if
you want to know. I am Ernest Bliss. I don't know that I can blame you
exactly for being here, if my servant's story is true, but I shall have
to ask you to turn out at once, if you please. If there's any rent
owing, you can keep it in lieu of notice."

"Give me back that cheque," Mr. Dorrington gasped.

Bliss frowned, as though he failed to understand.

"You haven't been turning my rooms into a lunatic asylum by any chance,
have you, Clowes?" he asked.

"Give me back that cheque," Mr. Dorrington repeated, moistening his lips
with his tongue. "Can't you hear what I say? What are you going to do
about it?"

Bliss was strolling around the room. He straightened an engraving here,
shook his head sorrowfully at the open box of cigars, and removed some
dust from a little statuette with the corner of his handkerchief. A
queer silence seemed to have fallen upon the two men. Bliss looked into
the bathroom and came back again.

"Really, you know," he said to Mr. Dorrington, "I don't wish to seem
discourteous or unreasonable, but would you mind--"

"Listen!" Mr. Dorrington interrupted, "aren't you the man who was here
an hour ago, who dressed in that room and left for the London and
Southampton Bank?"

Bliss laid down his cane and felt in his waistcoat pocket.

"I am," he admitted. "Our meeting last night, Mr. Dorrington, was a
lucky one for me."

He produced the cheque, tore it deliberately in two and threw the
fragments upon the table.

"There!" he said. "Take these away with you and clear out."

Mr. Dorrington snatched up the scraps of paper, and his relief was
obvious.

"You'd better be off as quickly as you can," Bliss concluded. "No, you
needn't be flurried. I'm not taking this affair seriously. I suppose
it's my own fault for being an idle millionaire. It's my money that
tempts people. Perhaps I left Clowes here too hard a task when I told
him to sit still and do nothing but keep honest. If you will kindly rout
out that fellow who opened the door to me, and all of you precede me, I
should be glad to lock up. You can go to Mr. Crawley's to-morrow,
Clowes. He will give you instructions. One moment, though. Help me to
change my clothes. We won't keep you, Mr. Dorrington."

Mr. Dorrington departed in great haste, accompanied by his own servant.
Bliss stepped back into the dressing room, and Clowes, with trembling
fingers, helped him to undress.

"You're not going to put on these miserable things again, sir?" he
protested, as he held up the discarded suit and the patched boots.

Bliss made a little grimace.

"I don't like them any better than you do, Clowes," he confessed, "but
they are the best I can afford. If only I dared help myself to half a
dozen of those shirts!"

"Your own shirts, sir?" Clowes exclaimed, bewildered. "These are all
your own clothes."

Bliss sighed. He was fully dressed now.

"Not mine, Clowes," he replied. "They belong to that other fellow."



CHAPTER XXVI

Bliss sat on a bench in the public gardens of Bermondsey, his hat on the
back of his head, the perspiration streaming down his face. On his knees
was a cheap little bag of shiny black leather, filled with imitation
leather heels and containing an order book which he had not yet opened.
In his pocket was the precise sum of three shillings and sevenpence
halfpenny. So far, his second essay as a commercial traveller had not
been distinguished by any great success. A man who had been watching him
from the opposite side of the walk got up and came over to his side.

"You theem tired, mister," he remarked.

Bliss glanced at the speaker. He was dark, corpulent and Semitic. He had
an amiable smile and an oily voice. He was very dirty.

"So would you be tired," Bliss replied, "if you had been trying for
three hours to sell something nobody wants to buy."

The newcomer shook his head.

"If you have anything cheap to thell, my friend," he said, "you can
alwath thell it. I ecthpect you want too much money. Vat have you got in
that bag?"

Bliss opened it readily.

"Heels! Do you want to buy any?"

The fat man looked at them in an intesested manner. "Now that ith very
queer!" he observed. "I am in the boot trade. I know all about heelth.
Vat are your prices, young man?"

Bliss drew out a list from his pocket.

"I'm fed up with it," he sighed. "Every heel has a gum label on with a
number. Here's a list of the numbers, with the price per pound attached.
Help yourself."

The fat man, with the list in one hand and the heels in the other,
looked them through. Then he shook his head.

"Very dear," he pronounced. "Elevenpenth a pound. Very dear, indeed!"

"I've heard that before," Bliss remarked. "It's getting quite familiar."

"Do you know anything about this bithneth, young man?"

"Not a d--d thing," Bliss replied, feeling the better for the expletive.

"Then why did you take it up?"

"I sat next to the man for whom I'm trying to sell the beastly things in
the tram coming up from Camberwell," Bliss explained. "We got talking,
and I told him I was out of work. He told me his name was Morgan, and
that he was a manufacturer of leather heels, and he offered me a
commission on all that I could sell for him. According to him, I had
only to show myself on a boot manufacturer's premises, and be would
throw his arms around my neck and pray for these heels. He gave me a
list of names. I have seen sixteen manufacturers this morning. Those who
found the heels the right shape, found them fifty per cent. too dear.
Those who found them reasonable value told me that the shape was
hopelessly out of date."

His new friend handled one of the heels thoughtfully.

"You'll never make a living at thith, young man," he declared.

"I know that," Bliss agreed. "At least, I have gathered as much this
morning."

"Vat are you going to do about it?"

"Take the things back and get another job," was the somewhat mournful
reply.

The fat man moved along the seat a little nearer to Bliss.

"Look here," he confided, "the man who makth these heelth's been trying
to take advantage of you. Now I tell you a way you and I can put our
headth together and pay him out, and we make a little for ourthelveth
too. I've got thome old billheads--'J. MARCUS, LEATHER DEALER.' I write
you an order for three hundredweight of these heelth. Your friend, Mr.
Morgan, he won't stop to make any enquirith. He'll only be too pleathed
to thell the heelth at his own prithe to any one. He'll bundle them
down. I shall be out. The porter will have to call back for the money.
We will thell the heelth. I know a man who will give thixpence a pound
for them--threepence each, eh?--Then you hurry off and try thome other
way of making a living."

Bliss packed up the heels, closed the bag with a snap, and looked at his
companion.

"It's quite a scheme," he observed.

"Come along with me," the other invited, "and I'll get the billhead and
write the order."

Bliss, from sheer want of anything else to do, followed the man. He led
the way to a house in a little row of miserable dwellings off Tanner
Street. At the bottom of the entry there was a small shed. The fat man
looked around with satisfaction.

"My warehouse," he announced. "I shall tell them to leave the thacks
outside, because the plathe ith full. Now I write the order."

He wrote it out with a stump of lead pencil.

"I don't like to put more than three hundredweight," he said
tentatively. "But I know a friend--he has a real shop, but he's no money
to part with--he would give an order, too."

"I think one at a time," Bliss suggested.

The man sighed regretfully.

"You get thothe heelth down here this afternoon," he said, "and I'll see
you at theven o'clock at the Goat's Head round the corner."

"That's all right," Bliss agreed.

Bliss made his way back to the tumble-down little factory in Finsbury.
He found his friend, the manufacturer of heels, sitting in what he was
pleased to call his office. Bliss banged the samples down on the desk.

"Thank you very much," he said. "I can't sell any of your beastly
heels."

"Get any offers?"

Bliss produced the order.

"There's a gentleman here," he announced, "a Mr. Marcus, willing to buy
three hundredweight, numbers sevens and fives, at elevenpence."

"Come, come, that's a start."

"He proposes," Bliss continued, "to dispose of them at sixpence
somewhere or other, and he and I divide the proceeds. That's the only
offer I've had. He's waiting down at his warehouse for the heels."

Mr. Amos Morgan grinned and regarded his new traveller with a little
more interest.

"Lots of that sort about," he remarked. "I'm not one of those mugs,
though, who deliver stuff without making proper enquiries."

"Anyway," Bliss concluded, "I am very much obliged to you for the
opportunity, but this job's no use to me. I wish you good morning."

Mr. Amos Morgan scratched his chin for a moment. He was a large,
untidy-looking man, coatless and collarless, with the sleeves of his
somewhat grimy flannel shirt rolled up to his elbows. He had spent some
years in the States, and betrayed traces of his transatlantic sojourn.

"Hold on a minute," he said. "Let's have a look at your list."

Bliss handed it to him. Mr. Morgan glanced it down.

"Prices a bit stiff," he remarked.

"So I gathered," Bliss agreed drily. "Rather a fool's job for me, wasn't
it?" he added, thinking of his weary feet and of the mortifications of
the morning.

"It's my way of testing a chap," Mr. Morgan asserted.

"I call it a beastly way," Bliss rejoined with emphasis.

"Maybe, and maybe not," was the reply. "However, if you haven't found
another job and you want to stick at this, you can quote twenty per
cent. off those prices, and I'll give you another list of names. Will
you take it on?"

Bliss hesitated. It was nearly half-past one, about the hour when six
months ago he would have taken an _apéritif_ and strolled into the
fashionable restaurant of the moment in London, to be welcomed by a
bowing _maitre d'hôtel_ and tempted with all the delicacies which the
man's ingenuity could suggest.

"If you'll advance me a shilling out of my commission to get some
dinner," he proposed, "I'll have another try."

Mr. Morgan received the suggestion without enthusiasm. His hand,
however, slowly dived into his trousers pocket.

"I'll be frank with you, young man," he said. "You're about at the end
of your tether, and so am I. I'll advance you your shilling, but you've
got to sell me some heels before Saturday. There's the wages to pay and
a leather bill."

"I'll do my best," Bliss promised, "but you must remember that I've had
no experience of this sort of thing. I don't know whether they're
pulling my leg or not when they tell me about prices."

"You don't need to know anything," Mr. Morgan declared. "You've got your
bottom prices now, and I want cash less five per cent. for the stuff.
Now, if you're ready, I'll come along and take a bite with you."

Bliss sat opposite to his employer at a small table in a neighbouring
restaurant. In the front window was a dejected looking ham, and a
decoration of sausages on a string. The interior of the place was
scarcely more inviting. The tables were nothing but boards laid
crossways on trestles. The menu was written on a slate and passed from
hand to hand. The tablecloth was coarse, inadequate and grimy. And yet,
curiously enough, neither these things nor his unwashed companion, whose
table manners were frankly nonexistent, affected Bliss' appetite, a
thing which had so often been ministered to in vain by the most
experienced chefs. He ate Irish stew, and he drank beer,--a beverage
which a short time ago he would have declared poison,--out of a tankard.
When he had finished, he made a cigarette from some fragments of
tobacco, and took up his bag.

"I'll see what I can do," he promised.

"You've got to sell some of those heels," his employer grunted. "Good
luck!"

Bliss spent an afternoon the memory of which in later days often made
him shiver. Once more he was snapped at by small boys through wicket
windows. He was obliged to wait in draughty lobbies, elbowed and pushed
about by workpeople coming and going all the time. He was exposed to all
manner of snubs and discourtesies from people who, from his point of
view, were unmentionable. Nevertheless, he felt a thrill of real
pleasure when a small manufacturer in the Bethnal Green Road, after
nearly half an hour's hesitation and fierce struggles to reduce the
price, at last wrote him out, with grudging fingers, a small order.

"My first order," Bliss told him as he held put his hand. "Much obliged
to you."

The manufacturer, whose name was Rosenthal and whose hands,
notwithstanding what seemed to be a diamond ring, were very dirty,
looked suspicious.

"What's the matter with the heels?" he asked quickly. "Mind, they must
be up to sample. I shall look at every one before I pay."

"The heels are all right," Bliss assured him. "It's a new job to me,
that's all--my first round."

Bliss met with one or two small successes and, on his return, found his
employer much impressed with his afternoon's work and the number of
calls he had made.

"Say," he remarked, "you're a worker, and no mistake,"

Bliss proceeded to enlarge upon one of his difficulties. "These
fellows," he explained, "can't all pay cash."

"It's the prompt payment that puts a lot of them off." Mr. Morgan shook
his head and sighed.

"Every cent I've got is in those darned machines, and then there's money
owing on them," he confessed. "I've got to have money to pay the wages,
or else enough to draw a bill. If you can bring me in orders like this
every day, I can get round the corner, but up to now I haven't found any
one who could cover the ground like you do. Will you have one?"

Bliss drank a glass of beer with his employer, made his way to the Tube,
and fell fast asleep on his journey homewards. He called for Frances,
and they sat for a time on a bench in one of the squares. The night was
hot, and the air lifeless. They neither of them felt inclined to talk
much. Bliss' legs ached, and Frances was more than usually weary. She
smiled now and then, however, at Bliss' account of his afternoon's
labours.

"Seven shillings' worth of commission," he told her. "I never worked so
hard for money in my life."

She looked at him almost pityingly.

"And yet you can talk of the future as though it were full of hope!" she
sighed.

"It is," he replied firmly. "Before many months are up, something is
going to happen."

She rose to her feet a few moments later. Her dejection was written in
her face.

"I think," she said, "that it is hotter out of doors to-night than in. I
am going to bed early. I have to be in the City at half-past eight in
the morning. I daren't be a minute late, as I am still only on
probation."

They walked slowly homewards along the dusty streets. The people from
the boarding houses were all sitting out upon the steps or leaning out
of the windows. Every one seemed to be struggling for a breath of the
tired, fetid air. Bliss glanced at his companion, and his heart ached.
The shabbiness of her clothes, unsuitable for the season, was becoming
almost pitiful. She had grown thinner within the last month. She had
even lost something of that erectness of carriage and free, swinging
walk. She was being broken on the wheel of poverty.

"Frances," he begged earnestly, as they reached her door, "don't lose
heart. Have a little faith in me. Do believe that our troubles won't
last for ever."

She shook her head sadly.

"To-night," she confessed, "I can't believe anything that's worth
believing."

"You won't do anything rash?"

She made a little gesture of acquiescence, but her farewell was
listless. She passed through the door and disappeared without once
glancing back towards him. Bliss turned away with a sigh.



CHAPTER XXVII

For nearly three months, Bliss persevered at what had seemed to him at
first so impossible a task. Morning and afternoon, with his little black
bag, he tramped the streets of Bethnal Green, Whitechapel and the East
End of London, making his daily round. He took his midday meal in all
sorts of places, and in all sorts of company. His average earnings were
about thirty shillings a week, but nearly half of that, notwithstanding
her pitiful protests, he had lent to Frances, who, through the return to
work of the girl whose place she had taken, was once more out of a
situation. His boots were worn through, and his clothes were shabby. He
was conscious of moments of almost sickening anxiety as he waited with
his pencil in his hand, hoping for an order from one of the small
manufacturers upon whom he called. Night after night, somewhere about
six o'clock, he returned to the little factory in Finsbury Place to make
his report, and on each occasion, whether he had been fortunate or
unfortunate, he was conducted by Mr. Morgan to the nearest public house
and regaled to the extent of one drink. It was curious how, for the last
hour of his labours, he found himself looking forward to the moment when
Mr. Morgan would take up his hat from the desk and jerk his thumb
towards the door. He was beginning to experience an almost friendly
feeling for this large, unwashed man who slaved throughout the day in a
cellar, getting twice as much out of his pet machine as any paid
operative could, and whom he began to realise was fighting a grim battle
against shortness of capital.

"We shall pull through, young fellow," he used often to say as they
raised their tankards. "You're the best chap I've had at selling heels,
and if I could only afford to give a bit of credit, we'd be roping it
in. Here's looking at you!"

One evening, however, Bliss pushed open the door of the office and stood
still upon the threshold, dumbfounded. His employer, coatless and
collarless as usual, was leaning forward upon his battered deal desk,
his head fallen upon his arms. By his side, her hand resting upon his
shoulder, was a middle-aged woman, plainly, even shabbily clothed, with
a pinched expression about the corners of her lips, which in these days
Bliss had begun to recognise. She glanced around as he entered.

"Hullo!" Bliss enquired. "Anything wrong?"

Mr. Morgan raised his head. His, in its way, was a coarse face,
generally covered with the beginnings of a stubbly beard, which were
only removed at odd times during the week. He, too, however, showed at
that moment the common capacity for suffering. His lips were trembling a
little. His shoulders had drooped. He seemed to have aged, to have lost
something of the coarse vitality which, with him, had meant strength. He
looked at Bliss dully for a moment.

"This is the young chap who sells the heels," he said to the woman.
"You've heard me speak of him. My missis, Bliss."

Bliss shook hands mechanically.

"No bad news, I hope?"

"It's a scandalous bit of bad news," the woman replied, patting her
husband on the shoulder, "but don't get knocked down by it, Amos. We'll
go and see these people together."

Bliss removed his hat and set down his bag.

"May I know what it's all about?" he enquired.

"No harm, as I can see, nor any secret about it," Mr. Morgan declared,
throwing a piece of paper towards Bliss. "You knew that the big
machine wasn't paid for. It's been all I could do lately to pay cash for
the leather, though I'm not saying that we're not making a nice little
profit on the heels. You see what the engineers say, though--they are
going to remove the machine to-morrow. I am only a fortnight behind, but
I've paid forty pounds on the thing, and the brutes collar that."

"Can they do it?" Bliss asked incredulously. Mr. Morgan nodded.

"They can," he replied. "I always knew that there was a risk if I got a
bit behind. Ninety-seven pounds it is. I'm broke, Bliss. Sorry, as we
were getting on so well together. I'm sorry, too, for the old woman's
sake," he sighed, patting her hand. "We've had the devil's own luck,
both over in the States and here, but this time it did seem as though we
might have won through. Six months more of the business I'm doing, and I
could have paid for the machine and put another in. There's no one
understands this trade as I do, and there's money in it."

"Is it any use going to see these people?" Bliss asked. "None," Mr.
Morgan answered gloomily. "The manager brought this notice round
himself."

"A beast of a man," the woman declared. "He listened to all Amos and I
had to say and just smiled. The money or the machine to-morrow at twelve
o'clock! Never mind, Amos," she went on, with an attempt at
cheerfulness, "you'll just have to make another start, and that's all
there is about it."

He looked lifelessly down at the desk.

"I'm too old," he muttered. "This time I'm broken, Harriet."

Bliss experienced a queer sensation which had sometimes stolen into his
consciousness during these last few months. Life was no longer a
procession of mirrored days. He felt himself breathing a real
atmosphere, his feet upon the earth, in intimate touch with the joys and
sorrows of live men and women. There was a little lump in his throat, a
hot feeling behind his eyes, and suddenly a wave of exquisite pleasure.

"Look here," he said, "I've got an idea, Mr. Morgan. If you'll just step
along with me as usual for a minute, we'll see what can be done."

Mr. Morgan shook his head.

"I guess beer would choke me to-night."

"You come right along," his wife insisted briskly, "and if I'm not in
the way, a glass of stout is just what I should like. We'll hear what
the young man has to say, Amos."

Mr. Morgan rose wearily to his feet. Bliss led the way to their
accustomed rendezvous. They sat before a marble-topped table in a
sweltering atmosphere, impregnated with the odour of past libations.
Bliss himself carried the three tankards to the table.

"Here's luck!" he said.

Mr. Morgan replied gloomily. Mrs. Morgan raised her veil and sipped from
her tankard. Her red hands were worn with toil. She watched Bliss all
the time anxiously. Perhaps she recognised in his confidence some
possible means of salvation.

"Look here," Bliss confided, "I know a young fellow--he's a perfect
fool, but he's a relative of mine. He won't do a thing for me,--never
done me anything but harm in his life,--but he's the sort of chap who's
rather fond of doing other people a good turn, and he's rolling in
money. I believe--in fact, I am pretty well sure," Bliss went on, "that
I can get him to lend you this bit."

Mr. Morgan sighed.

"It don't sound very likely," he declared bluntly. "If you knew a mug of
that description, it don't seem to me that you'd be selling heels at
thirty bob a week."

"That's just where you're wrong," Bliss assured him. "You leave this
matter to me and don't worry. You've found me pretty truthful, haven't
you?"

"I'm not denying it," Mr. Morgan admitted.

"Then let me tell you that I wouldn't deceive you in a case like this.
You say the money has to be paid by midday to-morrow. Very well. By
eleven o'clock or soon after, you shall have it. You may take my word
for it."

They were cheered but not wholly convinced. Bliss, however, fetched them
a second tankard from the bar.

"Your husband and I," he told Mrs. Morgan, "have had a drink here every
night after work, and only one. To-night, it's going to be two. I can
see that neither of you quite believe me, but I am going to keep my
word, so there's no use sitting there looking miserable. By eleven
o'clock to-morrow I am bringing the money."

"Then if you do," Mrs. Morgan declared, holding out her hand, and
struggling to hide the tears in her eyes, "all I can say is, we'll bless
you all our lives."


At precisely ten minutes past eleven on the following morning, Bliss
pushed open the door of the little office and entered. Mrs. Morgan was
standing at the window, watching the street. She turned eagerly towards
Bliss. He nodded, smiling.

"It's all right," he told her, producing a handful of notes. "I've got
it."

She rushed to the other door which led down to the cellar.

"Amos!" she called out. "Amos! The young man's here. He's got it!"

Mr. Morgan, fresh from his machine, came up the stairs at a pace which
seemed incredible. He wiped his hands upon his apron. His eyes seemed
glued on Bliss' face.

"It's all right," Bliss assured him. "I've got the money. Sit down and
we'll count it."

Mr. Morgan's under lip suddenly quivered.

"Got it?" he faltered.

"You've got the money?"

Bliss dangled the roll of notes.

"Of course I've got it," he replied. "Didn't I tell you so? Come on, sit
down, and I'll hand it over."

Mr. Morgan moved towards the desk like a man in a dream. Suddenly he
caught his wife's hand. Her arms went round his neck. He turned
awkwardly away towards the window, and they stood there together for a
moment.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" he said twice slowly.

Bliss made a great business of lighting a cigarette. When they turned
around he had pulled up his chair to the side of the desk and affected
not to notice them. He spoke in his most businesslike manner.

"This young fool of a chap," he went on, "was just in the right mood
when I tackled him. I explained the difficulty we had in selling our
heels because we had to insist upon cash, and he has made a proposition
which I hope you will agree to. Here's the hundred pounds to pay for the
machine outright,--Bank of England notes, you see,--and what this young
ass proposes is, that he should advance you five hundred pounds,--I've
got the notes here,--on your note of hand, interest to be paid at five
per cent. per annum. Is that agreeable to you, Mr. Morgan?"

"Is that what?" Mr. Morgan faltered unsteadily. "Agreeable! Will you
accept the money on those terms?" Bliss asked.

Mr. Morgan made no further pretence at concealing his emotion. He leaned
his head upon his arms and sobbed. His wife sat by his side and patted
his shoulder.

"Don't take any notice of him for a moment, Mr. Bliss," she said. "We've
had a real hard time, he and I, always struggling a little way up and
always being beaten back. There never was such a worker as Amos, either.
Nothing seemed to discourage him. I've seen him face ruin half a dozen
times, through no fault of his own, and not take on like this. But it'll
do him good. Seventeen years we've had and never more than two or three
pounds a week to draw, and bad luck coming along just as things got
going every time, and I expect this is a bit too much for him. But it's
there--the money's there, isn't it, young man? You're not taking it away
again?"

Bliss stuffed the notes carefully into Mr. Morgan's pocket.

"All you've got to do is to sign this," he said, "and then--we've never
done it in the morning before, but I think we might drop round the
corner for one moment. Mr. Morgan's a bit upset. And I have had a busy
morning myself."

Mr. Morgan lifted his head. He was himself again, rejuvenated, buoyant.
He read through the few lines which Bliss had written and signed them
joyfully. Then he transferred the notes to the inside pocket of his
coat, and buttoned it up. He held out both his hands to Bliss.

"Young fellow," he declared with beaming face, "it was the luckiest day
of my life when I boarded that tramcar from Camberwell. You've been the
best thing that's happened into the lives of two people who've worked
hard and done their best to live honest. That's all I can say. It ain't
much. I'm a worker, not a talker. Mother, take his other arm, and we'll
go and have that drink."

They marched down the stairs and into the street, Bliss between the two
of them. It was an ugly neighbourhood, the day was sulphurously hot, the
smell of the public house was more poignant than ever. Mrs. Morgan's arm
was linked through his on one side, his employer was gripping him
tightly on the other. Mrs. Morgan's bonnet was very much awry, one
string was hanging down, and she had forgotten her gloves. They both
held on to Bliss as though he were a lifelong friend.

There was not a single redeeming element in the situation. Yet Bliss
walked with his head thrown back, his heart beating with pleasure. The
memory of those weary months of toil and privation seemed to have fallen
away from him. It was one more real draught of the elixir of life.



CHAPTER XXVIII

"By Jove, if it isn't Ernest Bliss!"

Bliss, who was crossing the Strand on his way to the nearest labour
bureau, glanced up quickly. The thing which he had dreaded so long had
happened at last. He recognised the speaker with a sinking heart--Dick
Honerton, a very smart young man about town, one of his quondam
companions, a man whom every one seemed to know and no one knew anything
about. He was dressed, as usual, in the height of fashion, and, although
he grasped Bliss heartily by the hand, it was obvious that he was
struggling with an immense astonishment.

"My dear fellow!" he exclaimed. "Why, do you know that you are one of
the mysteries of London? Where have you been to? What's happened? What's
the meaning of it all?"

"I didn't know that there was any mystery about it," Bliss replied
evasively. "I thought that every one had heard of my misfortunes."

The young man coughed. He had too much tact, however, to be at a
complete loss.

"So it's true, is it, that you've lost all your tin, old chap?" he
remarked compassionately. "No reason why you should slip away and hide,
though! I'm quite certain that some of your old pals would like to have
a chance of doing something for you."

"Very kind, I'm sure," Bliss muttered. "All the same, I've a feeling
that now I have to earn my own living, I'd rather do it amongst a
different class of people."

"It's really as bad as that, is it?" Honerton observed, with polite
regret.

Bliss assented gloomily. Since the day when, in accordance with the
terms of his unwritten wager, he had been obliged, to their joint and
profound regret, to sever his connection with Mr. Amos Morgan, he had
spent the last' fortnight applying for situations an hour too late,
missing others because of some trifling disqualification. He was left at
that moment with less than a shilling in his pocket and the rent of his
room due on the following day. His clothes, too, had suffered. He had
torn his coat, and Mrs. Heath's attempts at repairing it were distinctly
amateurish. There was a hole in the sole of his boot, mercifully
concealed, but of which he was none the less acutely conscious. The
bottoms of his trousers were frayed. The nap had worn off his clothes
through too frequent brushings. The hand of poverty had him now closely
in its grip. His face was a little pinched. For two mornings he had been
obliged to deny himself the luxury of a shave. Worst of all, he had not
dared to go near Frances for more than a week. Not all his optimism
could have explained away his almost pitiful condition, and the one
thing he dreaded more than anything else in life was that she should
lose that little flame of hope which he had striven so desperately to
keep alight. So long as they did not meet, he was safe. He had her
promise that she would do nothing without giving him warning. So he
contented himself with sending her cheerful little notes and explaining
that he was too busy for a few days to snatch even an hour from his
work.

"It's as bad as it can be," he sighed. "I've had a job as chauffeur. I'm
looking for another now."

Dick Honerton was a young man who lived by his wits, an astute person
who prided himself that he had no heart and little conscience. He
immediately proceeded, however, to belie himself.

"Come and have a drink, old fellow," he invited.

Bliss looked down at his clothes. They were as neat as they could be
made, but they became his present station in life. He was painfully
conscious again of that hole in the sole of his boot. Honerton thrust an
understanding arm through his.

"Don't be a fool," he said. "We'll go across to Ransome's. You won't see
a soul there you know, and if you'll forgive my saying so, you look if
as a stiff whisky and soda would do you good."

"A very stiff one," Bliss admitted, "with a dry biscuit, would do me a
great deal of good."

They entered a popular bar in the locality and seated themselves before
a round table. Honerton at once ordered the drinks.

"You know," he declared, "this really takes the wind out of my sails,
Bliss. Why, it's only six or eight months ago that I asked you to lend
me a thousand pounds."

"I know," Bliss replied, "and I very nearly did it."

"As it wouldn't have made any difference to you, after all," Honerton
sighed, "I must say that I wish you had. I was rather tired of doing
nothing, and it would have given me a chance to buy a share in a wine
merchant's business. However, it's no good worrying about that. The
boot's on the other leg now, and we must see if we can't do something
for you. I haven't much 'oof, as you know, but I fancy that I have
brains, and I've helped one or two fellows out of a hole. We must see
about a job for you at once."

"I say, that's very kind of you," Bliss murmured.

"Chuck it," Honerton went on. "I'm not very flush, as I said, but you've
stood me a good many dinners and other pleasant times in your life, and
thank heaven I can still spare a fiver for a pal and never feel it," he
added, his hand stealing towards his breast pocket. "So, if you'll just
say the word--"

Bliss stretched out his hand and stopped him. Once more he was conscious
of a strange new sensation; a queer, warm feeling at his heart; the
sense of a real fellowship with others in the world, who, in the old
days, had seemed like puppets. Dick Honerton, too, for whom so few
people had a good word! What an amazing world it was, after all!

"It's awfully kind of you, Honerton, old chap," he said. "I know your
address, and if I come really dead up against it, I'll remind you of
this. But I'm not quite on my uppers yet, and I'm bound to get a job in
a few days."

Honerton withdrew his hand a little reluctantly, but not without some
indications of relief.

"Well, then," he continued, "we must see what we can do about that job.
Seems to me that you are not looking at this matter in the proper light,
Bliss. There are heaps of ways a fellow who has crowds of pals like
you've had can make a bit without taking to menial work."

"I don't call driving a car menial work," Bliss objected. Honerton
shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he remarked doubtfully, "that's how you like to look at it."

"It's honest work," Bliss persisted, "and I used to drive a car often
enough for pleasure. Why shouldn't I do it for a salary, now I've got to
earn my living some way or other?"

Mr. Honerton flicked a speck of dust from his patent shoes.

"Well, one thing against it," he pointed out, "is that you've got to
have a master. That can't be very pleasant for you. Now, I don't see why
you can't pick up a bit and keep independent. There's a chap I know in
the City,--he's a Jew but an awfully good sort,--who buys up cigarettes
and wine and cigars. He won't touch anything that isn't good stuff, but
he gets them cheap. He's always willing to allow a big commission to any
one who has a clientele and can sell them for him. Those large Cabanas I
sold you, Bliss,--two hundred bob a box you gave for them, and real
toppers they were,--came from him. You see, I'm not ashamed of earning a
bit for myself that way, if I can."

"It's awfully kind of you," Bliss said hesitatingly. "I am not sure,
though, whether I should care to show myself amongst my old pals."

"Oh! That's all bally nonsense," Mr. Honerton declared. "If you won't
have the loan I spoke of, I'll see to rigging you out. What's the good
of having had friends and having done them all jolly well when you had
the ready, if you don't make a bit of use of them now you're up a tree?"

Bliss shook his head.

"I'd rather emigrate."

Honerton passed his cigarette case to his companion, lit one himself,
and slipped the remainder of its contents into the former's pockets.

"I'd like your opinion of those," he explained hurriedly. "You can't
tell what they're like from one. Now here's another idea. If you don't
fancy you've got the gifts for selling, what about keeping your eyes
open for some of these young fellows about town with more 'oof than they
can do with, and bringing them into little Jacobs' for a quiet flutter
now and then? Chemie, you know, on the Q T. It's worth a fiver or even a
tenner, any night, if you can get hold of the right sort. And Jacobs
will initial your restaurant bills at two or three places in town."

Bliss shook his head more firmly than ever.

"I couldn't do it," he insisted frankly. "Don't you bother about me,
Honerton. I'll have to muddle through on my own."

Honerton finished his drink and sighed.

"Well," he observed, "you don't seem an easy chap to help!"

"I am not," Bliss confessed. "Never mind! If I really get on the beach,
I shall drop you a line. It's done me good to have met you this morning
and to have known that you weren't ashamed to stand me a drink, and you
may be sure that I shall enjoy the cigarettes. By-the-by, I suppose you
missed your chance of that partnership?"

"It's still open," Honerton replied a little wistfully, "but there's no
chance of my touching the 'oof. So long, Bliss. You're a queer fish, but
the fiver will be there for you any time you like to send for it."

"I shan't forget," Bliss assured him heartily.

Bliss made his way down the Strand to Charing Cross Station and
entered a telephone box. He parted with the twopence with a sigh and
rang up his lawyer. In a few minutes, Mr. Crawley himself came to the
telephone.

"Is that you, Crawley?"

"That's Mr. Bliss' voice!" the lawyer exclaimed excitedly. "For heaven's
sake--"

"Dry up!" Bliss interrupted. "Just listen to me for a moment. I've got
some instructions for you. There's a man named Honerton--Dick
Honerton--rooms, 110 Jermyn Street. You're to write him a line to-day and
say that a client who desires to be nameless is prepared to advance him
a thousand pounds for five years, free of interest, if he can use the
money profitably. You understand?"

"Certainly, Mr. Bliss. We'll attend to the matter this morning. And now
with regard to--"

"Good-by!" Bliss said pleasantly and rang off.


The labour bureau seemed more hopeless than usual. Enquiries
at the more august establishment where Bliss had paid his half
guinea were fruitless. He went back to his lodgings, tired out, and for
the first time omitted to pay Mrs. Heath her weekly bill. He threw
himself upon the bed for a few hours, and then, sometime before dawn,
rose again and made his way to Covent Garden. He was stiff and tired and
a little sick. Nevertheless, he made his way doggedly enough amongst the
market carts, looking out always for a job at loading or unloading. At
last it seemed to him that his chance had come. A dray, piled up with
flowers and vegetables, was just about to start when the driver, who had
been sitting for some minutes with the reins in his hands, beckoned to
him.

"Want a job as unloader?" he enquired. "I'm out Balham and Streatham
way. It's worth half a crown."

"I'm on," Bliss replied readily. "Shall I climb up behind?"

The former was on the point of assenting when two unsavoury-looking men
emerged from a public house a few yards away. One of them, red-faced,
truculent, the very type of the loafing bully, shook his fist at the
driver.

"Now you," he shouted, "chuck that! My pal Tim's coming along with you."

"All very well," the carter grumbled, "but I've just engaged another
chap. I've waited for your friend Tim long enough."

"My friend Tim," the other replied, "is going to have that job, or I'll
make mincemeat of you both."

The driver pointed with his whip to the broken-down, bleary-eyed loafer,
who was standing on one side, with his hands in his pockets, listening
to the conversation.

"Is that your pal?" he asked. .

"It is," the red-faced man assented, "and if any one's anything to say
against 'im, they'd better not say it in my presence, that's all. Up you
gets on the waggon, Tim!"

"I beg your pardon," Bliss intervened. "I am engaged for this job."

The red-faced man, his mouth open with a surprise which amounted to
stupefaction, turned around. It took him a moment or two to grasp the
situation. As soon as he did, however, he pulled off his coat with an
angry roar and threw it towards his friend.

"Now then," he wound up, after a stream of lurid abuse, "will you 'ook
it or will you take a hiding?"

"I don't want to fight," Bliss replied, "but this is my job, and unless
I am told to go by the man who engaged me, I shall stick to it."

The greengrocer maintained a discreet silence. The red-faced man came
on. He aimed a blow at Bliss which would have killed him if the latter
had not ducked. Then he over-balanced himself, recovered, and fetched
Bliss a blow on the chest which nearly carried him off his feet. Bliss,
who had very little idea of how to use his fists, struck out blindly,
and by chance caught the other man on the cheek. The greengrocer looked
around.

"Steady, young 'un," he counselled. "That's Butcher Bill you're up
against. He'll kill you if you don't mind! Perhaps you'd better sheer
off."

"I shan't," Bliss declared doggedly. "You offered me the job, and I want
it."

"It's only half a crown," the driver reminded him, "and you'll get your
head broken, and mine too, perhaps."

"Who's going to break it Bliss asked.

"I'll well show you!" the man called Butcher Bill roared.

He advanced more cautiously this time, but with all manner of evil
things shining out of his bleary eyes. Bliss clenched his teeth and his
fists. A sudden blind rage had seized him. The job was his. No one had
any right to interfere, more especially on behalf of such a loafing
vagabond. By good luck he escaped his opponent's onslaught. By good luck
again, although he struck his assailant but a feeble blow, the latter
slipped on a piece of orange peel and fell into the gutter. Bliss, whose
head was reeling, sprang at once on to the back of the cart.

"Drive off," he begged the man. "It'll take him a minute to get up."

They drove off, and for various reasons Butcher Bill declined to leave
his resting place. Bliss worked, unloading vegetables at different
fruiterers' shops, until he was almost dead with fatigue. When the
waggon was empty it was nine o'clock in the morning and he was out at
Streatham.

"Drive you back if you like," the carter suggested.

Bliss nodded and threw himself down on the dray, and with his head on a
pile of empty sacks, he slept till they reached once more the
neighborhood of Covent Garden.

"You look about done," the carter remarked, as they pulled up outside a
public house. "I'll stand you a pint."

Bliss, following his companion inside, was suddenly giddy. There was
some hot coffee being served, which he drank almost feverishly. Soon his
blood began to circulate once more. He bade his friend good morning.

"Give you a job any time I drop acres you," the latter promised, as he
handed him the half-crown. "If you'll take my advice, you'll keep nut of
Butcher Bill's way, though. He was three-parts drunk this morning, but
he can use his fists above a bit, and he's a fair brute. He'd kill a man
as soon as look at him. I haven't seed any one stand up to him for Lord
knows how long, and you'd have been done in all right: if you hadn't
been a bit dodgy on yer feet."

Bliss started wearily back towards his lodgings. A grey mist had fallen
like a shroud upon the London streets, a mist which was turning all the
time to moisture, wetting his clothes, chilling the life out of him. He
walked slowly and with heavy footsteps. He took no interest in the
passers-by. Yet, as he crossed one gloomy square, the houses of which
seemed to frown down upon him like barracks, he was conscious of a girl
who appeared suddenly upon the pavement only a few yards before him. She
glanced back at the house from which she had issued, and her expression
suddenly aroused his interest. She was terrified. She had the look of
one who had escaped from prison, but who is yet in dire fear of
recapture. Then she turned her head towards Bliss and approached him
swiftly. Her eyes shone with eager hope. She accosted him even when he
was still a few yards away.

"I don't know who you are," she exclaimed, "but help me, please! I have
escaped from that house. Don't ask me anything about it. Give me the
money for a taxicab quickly. I must get away."

She hailed a passing cab, and as it drew up at the kerbstone, she looked
once more appealingly at Bliss, her hand outstretched, her white face
still tremulous with terror. Bliss felt the half-crown in his waistcoat
pocket.

"You will never regret it all your life," she continued quickly. "Tell
me your name! Tell me where to send it to! Just half a crown, no more.
Oh, quickly, quickly, please! Some one will come out."

Bliss' fingers were slowly withdrawn from his waistcoat pocket. She
snatched at the half-crown and jumped into the taxicab. The vehicle
vanished in the mist. Bliss stood for a moment looking after it. Then he
looked up at the house, frowning. Almost as he did so, the front door
was opened. A man in a light tweed suit, with a bunch of violets in his
buttonhole, came out humming a tune. He looked up and down the street.
When he saw Bliss, he, too, approached him.

"Excuse me," he said pleasantly. "Have you seen a young lady?"

"I have," Bliss admitted.

"Can you tell me which way she has gone?"

"I can tell you nothing about her," Bliss replied grimly.

The man stared at him for a moment. His face suddenly lost its
good-humoured expression.

"I say," he exclaimed, "you don't mean to tell me that you've given her
half a crown?"

Bliss was startled. The mention of the precise sum puzzled him.

"If you want to know," he said slowly, "I have lent the young lady half
a crown to get away from the house which you have just left, and from
what she told me, I am half inclined to go in and make some enquiries."

The man took the cigarette from his mouth, leaned against the railings,
and laughed until the tears came into his eyes. Bliss looked at him in
astonishment.

"I've lost!" he remarked resignedly. "Have you many half-crowns, young
man, that you can throw them away so easily?"

"I have very few indeed," Bliss replied, "but--"

"I suppose she told you that she'd been insulted in that house and was
trying to escape from some one, eh?"

"What she said certainly left that impression," Bliss acknowledged, with
a sudden sinking of the heart.

The man had ceased to laugh. He was looking now a little annoyed.

"Well, you've cost me a fiver and put me in a very awkward position," he
declared. "The little girl's an actress; lives in that boarding house.
She's been bothering me to get her a job for the last two months. I told
her last night that she couldn't act. She bet me a five-pound note that
she could run out of this house, borrow half a crown from the first
perfect stranger she met, and get away with it. I was fool enough to
take the bet. Now I've lost, and I shall have to find her a job, too.
Confound you, sir!"

"If your story is a true one," Bliss said, "perhaps, as you know the
young lady, you wouldn't mind returning my half-crown. I have been
working all night for it."

"I'll see you hanged first!" the other replied irritably. "You've cost
me a fiver, as it is. If you can't take better care of your money, you
don't deserve to have any. Any person of reasonable intelligence ought
to have been able to see that the whole affair was only a joke."

"A joke!" Bliss repeated blankly, his voice trembling a little.

The theatrical gentleman, however, had walked off, swinging his cane.
Bliss looked after him for a moment wistfully. Then he turned up his
coat collar and plunged into the mist, which was fast changing into
rain.



CHAPTER XXIX

Bliss awoke, shivering, on the following morning, after a night of
fatigued and spasmodic slumber, and, having performed his ablutions with
the maximum of discomfort, sat down to await the arrival of his frugal
breakfast. It was a fortnight since he had earned more than an odd
shilling or two, and the fifty-one days which still remained before the
anniversary of his visit to the physician seemed like an unbridgeable
chasm of time. His limbs ached, his head felt hot. The thought of the
forthcoming weak tea and thick bread and butter was more than usually
distasteful. Amongst his dreary surroundings he sat for a moment or two
and dreamed of his empty flat in Arleton Court, the soft, luxurious
warmth of it, the thick carpets, the diligent care of a trained man
servant. He even fancied that he could smell his coffee. He thought of
the crisp hot rolls, the yellow butter and the dish of marmalade.
Fifty-one days more! It was for Frances as well as himself that he
suffered now. He had not ventured to go near her, and his task of
writing those cheerful little notes had become day by day more
difficult. He set his teeth and clenched his fists. Every impulse in his
body seemed drawing him towards the door, down the bare stairway into
the street, to throw himself into a taxicab, to go and call for Frances
and take her back with him into the life from which his own whim had
exiled him, to confess himself beaten, for her sake as well as his own.
Then he heard the sound of his own name, and unconsciously he listened.
It was his neighbour in the next room, the wife of a foreman printer,
talking to his landlady.

"If you can't let me have the other room, Mrs. Heath, you must take a
week's notice, so there What with baby and the other children, I haven't
a yard to turn round in, and Jim said to me only this morning he was
willing to pay for it, and if we couldn't get what we wanted here, we
must move. That young fellow, Bliss, or whatever his name is, can get a
room somewhere else all right. You'd better tell him how things are."

He heard his landlady's reply. Her quiet, tired voice came to him with a
new significance.

"I am sorry, Mrs. Mappin," she said. "If you'd let it be just for a week
or so! The young fellow's been out of work, and he's owing me a bit. I
don't like to turn him out on to the streets. He's been brought up
different,--any one can see that,--and my husband used always to say
that the young man who has once had to sleep out without a roof over his
head was never quite the same afterwards."

"I don't care what your husband used to say, my good woman," was the
shrill reply. "If I can't have that room, we leave on Saturday."

Mrs. Heath's reply was inaudible. Bliss rose to his feet. Immediately
afterwards, she entered with the breakfast tray.

"Good morning, Mrs. Heath," he said tentatively.

"Good morning," she replied, with her usual attempt at cheerfulness.
"Your breakfast, sir."

She turned towards the door a little wearily. In her face the signs of
her lifelong struggle were more than usually visible.

"Anything to say to me, Mrs. Heath?" Bliss asked.

She shook her head.

"Maybe you heard," she replied. "No, I've nothing to say."

"They're good tenants, aren't they?"

"The best I've got."

"I'll pay you what I owe you this morning," Bliss promised, "and you'd
better let them have my room. I can easily find a shelter somewhere
else."

"I'm not asking you to leave," she said quietly. "You stay where you
are."

"That's all right, Mrs. Heath," Bliss replied cheerfully. "I've
something in my mind for this morning."

"I'll be sorry to lose you, Mr. Bliss," she went on, "but--"

Her voice trembled for a moment. He nodded.

"I understand," he interrupted. "Very likely you'll be able to take me
back again sometime."

He stood quite still for a minute after she had left the room. Then he
sat down and ate as much as he could of his breakfast. Afterwards, he
dragged out his little bag, packed it with his spare suit and a few
other toilet articles he possessed, and walked downstairs with it in his
hand. He passed Mrs. Heath on the landing. She stood on one side to let
him pass.

"You're not afraid I'm going to bilk you then, Mrs. Heath?" he asked
with a smile.

"Not in the least, sir," she replied.

"How much do I owe you exactly?"

"Twenty-eight and sixpence," she told him, "and I don't care if I never
see a penny of it. I don't want you to go, neither, Mr. Bliss, but if I
lose the Mappins, I'll never be able to pay my rent. They're hard times,
sir," she wound up, with a little sob.

Bliss patted her hand and walked out without speech. He made his way to
the nearest pawnbrokers and sold everything he possessed except the
clothes he stood up in, for thirty shillings. Then he returned to his
lodgings.

"Eighteen-pence change, please, Mrs. Heath," he said, handing her the
money. "And, look here! Don't you worry if times are a little hard. I've
a sort of idea that the new year may bring you luck."

She smiled wanly as she counted out the eighteen pence.

"I've given up expecting that, sir," she replied drearily. "The best I
have to hope for is that I shall be able to hang on for a few years
longer until I can get the children started in something or other, and
then I think I shall be just too tired to bother much more about myself
or any one. I am sorry you're going, Mr. Bliss--I can't tell you how
sorry!"

"May come back again," Bliss promised, "if you've room for me! Very
likely I'll be able to afford one of your down-stair rooms some day!"

"What have you done with your things?" she asked, still fingering the
money doubtfully.

"Left them in the cloakroom," he lied quickly. "I'm after a job this
morning, and hadn't time to look for a room before I go. Good-by!"

He shook hands with her, went out, and walked down the street smiling.
He recognised within himself traces of a new disposition. He no longer
found his thoughts fixed upon the selfish joys of his coming release.
One of the greatest pleasures he could see before him was the
emancipation of Mrs. Heath from her financial troubles. He walked down
the street with that thought in his head, and he quite forgot that his
feet were weary and his head ached. Then he bethought himself of his
destination. He found himself face to face with the bald truth. He had
one and sixpence in his pocket, a few coppers and no place to sleep in.
He made his way to Covent Garden, but his luck was out. In every odd job
that was going he was forestalled. Then he tried the labour bureau and
spent an hour and a half in a fruitless walk to Bermondsey and back.
When night came, although he had eaten insufficiently, he had less than
a shilling left, and he was dog tired. He clenched his teeth and
presented himself at a public lodging house, paid his sixpence, took a
ticket and threw himself down upon one of the beds in it long, bare
room, a mere glance at which made him shudder--threw himself down,
hoping to sleep. For an hour or two he succeeded. Then he woke up and
looked about him. The atmosphere of the place was unbearable. With
trembling fingers he dressed and hurried out. The janitor looked at him
curiously.

"Off already?" he asked.

Bliss nodded silently and passed out. The first breath of the night air
seemed to him the sweetest thing he had ever tasted. Then the languor of
insufficient sleep crept over his jaded senses. He made his way
unconsciously down towards the Embankment and seated himself on the
first vacant seat. He turned his coat collar up and clasped his knees
with his hands, turning round with his back to the wind. He slept for a
few minutes and then woke up, numbed with the cold. A young fellow of
about his own age was seated at the other end of the bench. He was
adequately dressed and-had an air of prosperity which somehow or other
Bliss found himself resenting.

"Cold night for sleeping out," the newcomer remarked pleasantly.

"Beastly!" Bliss agreed.

The young man drew nearer to him.

"Don't be afraid," he said. "I am not going to offer you charity. I
suppose you're out of work. What is your trade?"

Bliss hesitated for a moment.

"Chauffeur," he replied.

"Why are you out of a place?" the man asked. "Have you a character? Have
you been in trouble?"

"I have never been in trouble," Bliss told him, "if by that you mean in
prison. I had to take to work unexpectedly, that's all. I got a job at
the Sun Motor Company, but they went into liquidation. Since then I've
only picked up odd jobs."

"You're the kind of man I've been looking for," the other declared
confidently. "You have had a little experience of the difficulty of
getting work over here. What about a fresh start in another country,
eh?"

"Another country?"

"Look here! I can see, of course, that you're an educated man. You've
come down in the world. I don't care how--that isn't our job. My name's
Miles. I belong to a society. The Canadian Employment Bureau, we call
it. Don't look upon it as a charitable affair, please, but there it is.
We've got funds, and we are on the lookout all the time for deserving
cases. We give them a small outfit, send them over to Canada, passage
paid; our agent meets them there, keeps a register of the vacant places
and finds them jobs. Now what do you say to it?"

"I say," Bliss replied, "that I should like to know more about the
society."

The young man handed him a pamphlet. Bliss thrust it into his pocket.

"Look here," he said, sitting up, "this is no good to me, but it sounds
like a thundering good thing, all the same. I have got to stay in
England, and the luck will change with me pretty soon. I know that. But
I will remember this. I'll drop in and see you sometime if I may. I
suppose I shall find the address of the office here?"

The other assented.

"You're a queer chap," he observed curiously. "Why are you so certain
that the luck is going to turn?"

"I'm quite sure of it!"

"You're not masquerading, are you? Journalism or anything of that sort?"

Bliss shook his head.

"I'm hard up against it all right," he admitted, "but only for a time. I
could anticipate the end of my troubles, but I won't. There! Now I see
it's getting light. I'm off for a walk."

The young man coughed.

"Nothing to do with the society," he began, "but if a trifling loan--"

"You can stand me a cup of coffee, if you like," Bliss interrupted.

"With pleasure," the other agreed. "I'll have one myself."

They stood at a stall in the street and drank two cups of the steaming
liquid. Then Bliss shook hands with his new friend.

"I am glad to have met you," he said warmly. "Thanks for the coffee.
I'll look you up some day."

Bliss walked away with a briskness that was half assumed. Mechanically
he made his way again to the labour bureau, and as he stood there a
youth thrust a fresh announcement on to the board. Bliss looked at it,
and his heart gave a little jump. Seven omnibus drivers wanted that
morning--applications to be made at the general offices. One man who had
been standing behind him swung round and started off at a run. Bliss
drew a long breath and followed him. There were five men before him when
he reached the office, breathless. The foreman looked him over, glanced
at his references and hesitated.

"Ever driven a 'bus?" he asked tersely.

"Never," Bliss admitted, with a sinking heart. "I've driven all sorts of
cars though. I can manage it all right."

The foreman wrote out a slip.

"That's for your test drive," he explained. "You'll find practice
omnibus Number 4 in the yard behind. Go to Golder's Green and back and
bring me the report."

Bliss obeyed. He found the 'bus and an amiable looking instructor. His
fingers trembled as he climbed on to the driver's seat.

"Don't be nervous, young chap," the man by his side said. "She's easier
to handle than she seems. Keep her steady, that's all."

Bliss glanced at him gratefully. The streets were still half empty, and
he drove to Golder's Green and back without mishap. The instructor
signed his ticket, and Bliss took it back to the foreman. At nine
o'clock his licence was checked, and he took out an omnibus. His route
was from Golder's Green to Waterloo, a distance which he accomplished
six times during the day without incident. When he climbed down after
his last journey, he felt almost exhilarated, although his eyes were
heavy, and his fingers numb. He made his way to the foreman.

"I forgot to ask what my wages were," he said. The man laughed.

"All the same," he replied. "Thirty-six bob. You'll see the fines posted
up."

"You couldn't advance me a few shillings out of my first week's salary,
could you?"

The foreman looked him up and down thoughtfully. Finally he thrust his
hand into his pocket.

"Here's five shillings for you, young fellow," he said. "I'll have to
lend you that myself. Against the company's rules to advance anything."

"I shan't forget it," Bliss promised gratefully.

Bliss found a small room at the top of a block of buildings off Oxford
Street, and that night he slept so well that he had to run all the way
to the yard to be in time to answer the roll next morning. Again he took
out the 'bus and gazed down on the London streets with new eyes. Towards
the middle of the day rain fell, and the asphalt roadway became
slippery. Once or twice he felt the great vehicle glide away from under
his control. At the end of the day the strain had told upon him. The
conductor looked at him curiously as they signed off.

"You look white, Ernie, my boy," he remarked. "Nothing to be scared
about. You've driven her proper all day."

"I've been in a regular funk about skidding," Bliss confessed.

"They all are at first," the conductor replied. "I'm going to stand you
one."

They had a drink together, and Bliss left for home, somehow a little
cheered by the other's sympathy. The next day, as he brought his omnibus
to a standstill at the corner of the Strand and Waterloo Bridge Road, he
saw a familiar figure staring up at him from the pavement, open-mouthed
and wondering. It was Mr. Crawley. Bliss kept an immovable countenance,
and Mr. Crawley, recovering from his stupefaction, made a plunge for the
'bus. At the next stopping place, Bliss heard his pained voice on the
pavement beside him.

"My dear Mr. Bliss!" he gasped. "My dear young sir! I am most shocked!
For Heaven's sake be reasonable!"

Bliss leaned towards him.

"Hullo, Crawley!" he exclaimed. "How are things?"

Mr. Crawley was bereft of words. He stretched across from the kerbstone
and laid his hand upon the other's shoulder.

"Yesterday," he announced in a hoarse whisper, "I invested thirty-eight
thousand pounds for you."

"I hope you remembered what I told you," Bliss observed, "and kept clear
of English Rails. South America and the Argentine are the countries I
fancy just now."

"I have remembered your instructions, sir," Mr. Crawley assured him. "I
only mention the matter of investment at all because the situation is so
absolutely absurd. I insist--"

"Look here," Bliss interrupted, "that's the bell, and I'm off. If you
say a word to me, except when we're standing still, why, you'll have to
leave my 'bus, that's all. Now, jump on behind, if you want to, and I'll
talk to you at the next stop."

They drove on for about a quarter of an hour. Then, as Bliss drew in to
the side of the street at one of his regular halting places, Mr. Crawley
appeared once more by his side.

"I am giving up," he said, "an important appointment in the city, in
order to reason with you. I insist upon an explanation. Where your 'bus
goes, I go!"

"Is that poetry?" Bliss murmured. "It sounds familiar."

Mr. Crawley reached over with his umbrella and tapped his client
vigorously upon the shoulder.

"Young man," he exclaimed, "you are a millionaire! Look at you! There
is--pardon my referring to it--a hole in your trousers."

"Where?" Bliss asked anxiously.

"Your hands are unmentionable," Mr. Crawley continued, "and your collar,
your tie--for Heaven's sake," he burst out, "what's it all mean? You
used to be one of the most carefully turned out young men in London.
Finicky we used to think you sometimes. And there you sit on a bit of
sacking, in positive rags, with your hands all over grease, a smut on
your nose, an omnibus driver and looking the part. What the devil--"

"In a matter of forty-nine days," Bliss interrupted, "I shall resume my
position as a sane member of society. Between ourselves," he went on
quietly, "I don't think I shall ever be quite the same Ernest Bliss whom
you used to know, but, apart from that, I promise you shall have nothing
to complain of. Until then, the less I see of you, the better."

Mr. Crawley bustled back to the rear. They were off again, and Bliss was
sitting forward with his eyes glued upon the road and his hands firmly
upon the wheel. It was ten minutes before a further opportunity for
conversation arose.

"Is there nothing whatever I can do?" Mr. Crawley asked, as he came
round once more to the front of the 'bus.

"There is," Bliss replied. "I'm glad you haven't gone. Memory as good
as ever?"

"I think so," Mr. Crawley rejoined.

"Go to 27 Overton Square, then. Enquire about a young lady, Miss Frances
Clayton. See whether she is in employment or not. Let me have all
particulars to-morrow. You'll find me doing this same stretch."

"I'll see to it with great pleasure," Mr. Crawley promised, scribbling
down the address. "Any commission that has a gleam of common sense about
it--"

"Got anything to smoke with you?" Bliss interrupted suddenly.

Mr. Crawley produced a morocco leather case. One side was filled with
cigars, the other with cigarettes. Bliss' eyes lit up as he transferred
the whole of its contents to his pockets and returned the case empty.

"You can get some more, you know," he said apologetically. "You'd better
hop it now. We've got a clear run before us to Golder's Green, and you
don't want to go there."

Mr. Crawley hailed a passing taxicab. Bliss and the conductor started on
the cigarettes.

"Rum old toff that was talking to you," the latter remarked. "My eye!
What smokes!"

"Used to be my lawyer before I blued it in," Bliss confided. "Queer old
bird, but he means well!"



CHAPTER XXX

On the next morning, almost at the same hour and place, Bliss picked up
Mr. Crawley. The latter reached his seat in a somewhat ruffled state. He
came around to see his eccentric client at the first stop.

"I do not approve of motor-'busses, Bliss," he pronounced, as he gazed
down at the crease in his trousers. "Most democratic institutions! And
your conductor who pulled me on to the step was, to say the least of it,
familiar. I gather that you divided the contents of my cigar case with
him."

"Jolly good chap," Bliss replied. "Well, what about it?"

Mr. Crawley coughed.

"The young lady," he announced, "is still without a permanent situation,
and I gather that she is owing her landlady money."

Bliss frowned a little.

"I've got to think over that," he said shortly. "Skip round behind now,
please. We're off."

At the next halt Mr. Crawley once more made his appearance.

"Have you any instructions to give?" he enquired, tapping his pocketbook
with his pencil.

Bliss nodded.

"You can send a thousand guineas to Mr. J. Miles, Canadian Employment
Bureau, 17 Queen Victoria Street," he directed. "Anonymous donation."

"Anything else?"

"A hundred pounds to William Jennings, 17 Pinter Street, Camberwell.
That's my mate on the 'bus. He has a child ill and wants to send her
away. Anonymous, mind!"

"Certainly," Mr. Crawley assented. "Anything else?"

"Fifty to Thomas Bride, foreman, head office of the Omnibus Company.
Then you'd better look up that chap who makes heels down in Finsbury,"
Bliss proceeded, "and see how he's getting on. If he wants any more
capital, let him have it. And now listen to what I have to say. Invest
five thousand pounds in the name of Mrs. Heath, and pay her the first
quarter's dividend in advance. Write and say that the sum has been
placed in your hands absolutely for her benefit. You know the address."

"You seem to have made a few friends," Mr. Crawley remarked. "What about
the young lady?"

Bliss' face darkened for a moment. He shook his head regretfully.

"I can't do anything for her," he said simply. "She's got to hang on for
forty-eight days."

Mr. Crawley put his book in his pocket.

"I'll take a ride with you another morning soon," he promised, "but you
might explain to your friend William, that a shove up behind, as he
calls it, is not exactly a dignified way of assisting a person of my age
and figure. What about some cigarettes?"

Bliss shook his head.

"Only ordinary perquisites are in order," he explained. "A handful of
cigarettes from a passenger is all right. Twice following wouldn't do."

"A small tip, I suppose--" Mr. Crawley ventured. Bliss was thoughtful
for a moment. Then his face lightened.

"You might," he suggested, "give sixpence to William. Be careful,
though," he added anxiously, "to explain that it is for him to treat the
driver as well as himself."

"I will do so with pleasure," Mr. Crawley agreed. "Don't forget to
mention the driver," Bliss called out after him, as he turned away.

The conductor made his way to the front at the next stopping-place.

"The old buffer's stood us a tanner, Ernie!" he exclaimed with glee.
"We'll wet it when we get to the end!"

Bliss smiled.

"He does chuck his money about, don't he?" he remarked.

On Saturday, Bliss received twenty-seven shillings and two hours off. He
repaid his loan of five shillings to the foreman and made his way at
once to Frances' lodgings. She met him at the door, already dressed for
the street. Her manner was listless, and even her smile seemed forced as
she gave him her hand.

"At last!" she murmured. "If I hadn't seen you to-day--"

"No threats, please," he interrupted. "I'll tell you the sober truth. I
didn't come before because I dared not."

"Then you were nit working?" she exclaimed.

"You must have been wanting the money you lent me all the time!"

"Nothing of the sort," he answered promptly. "I wasn't exactly working,
but I was always earning a bit. Now," he added proudly, "I've got a
regular job."

"What is it?" she asked, with a tired smile.

"I'm driving a 'bus," Bliss explained. "Queer sort of job, in a way, but
it's thirty-six bob a week."

"A 'bus!" she repeated.

"I've just been paid, and I'm starving," Bliss remarked, as he took her
arm. "Come along."

"I'm not going to have dinner with you," she declared.

"But you are," he insisted.

She shook herself free from him.

"It's no good, Ernest," she said. "I've lost my last place. My landlady
has given me notice. I've finished. I am going to write to Mr. Masters
to-night. If he wants me to go back, I'm going."

"Frances!" he cried anxiously.

"I can't help it," she went on. "I have struggled along, but it's the
same every time I take a situation. And there are my sisters to think
of. I am doing nothing for them, and there's so much that ought to be
done."

"But you don't care about this chap Masters," Bliss protested.

"Of course I don't," she replied. "You know quite well that you are the
only person I care about in that way, or ever could. But it isn't any
use. A 'bus driver at thirty-six shillings a week can't afford to keep a
wife and be saddled with the care of two of her sisters. You know that
as well as I do. That's why I don't want to see you any more. That's why
I don't want to have dinner with you to-night."

Bliss was silent for a moment. She glanced at his face, and her eyes
filled with tears.

"I'll change my mind," she declared suddenly. "I will come and have
dinner with you. We'll have our little table and even a bottle of Médoc,
if you like, and perhaps those men will play. I am so dull and tired.
And then, Ernest, we must say good-by."

"We'll see about that," he muttered. "Anyway, dinner first."

They made their way to the little restaurant, and as usual she pored
over the bill of fare with him, and struck out the more expensive items.
Somehow, she had never before seemed so desirable to him. Thin though
she was, she had never lost that curious grace of movement, a sort of
natural elasticity of frame and carriage which made her easily
distinguishable, notwithstanding her worn clothes and thick boots. Her
cheeks were paler, but her eyes seemed nearer the shade of violets, and
the brown in her hair was softer. A certain severity with which she had
sometimes kept him at arm's length deserted her that evening. She leaned
back in her chair and abandoned herself to the relaxation of the moment.
She was unusually provocative. She let her hand lie in his. He felt the
thrill of her presence as he had never felt it before. And when one of
the musicians, fingering his instrument, played softly to his companion
at a distant table, she listened with half-closed eyes. Her head and all
her body seemed to sway gently with the music. They sat in the place for
nearly two hours. Then Bliss suddenly glanced at the clock.

"Walk down with me to the yard," he begged. "I have to take out my 'bus
in a quarter of an hour."

She sat for a moment quite still. Then she burst into a peal of
laughter.

"Take your 'bus out!" she repeated. "Oh, you strange, strange boy! Yes,
I'll come!"

Bliss paid his bill. When they got outside he took her arm. She made no
effort to withdraw it. On the contrary, she drew closer to him.

"Dear," he said, "there are some things I cannot explain to you. You
think I am a fool, over-sanguine, an idiot, because where you see a
cul-de-sac, I see before us freedom and happiness. I want you to trust
me."

She sighed.

"You've spoken like this before, dear. If you have hopes of which you
have told me nothing, then you ought to share them with me. I don't like
mystery. This is the end of it, Ernest. I do love you, but there's no
hope for us, and I can't go through what I've been going through any
longer. I wore spectacles at my last place and did my hair--oh, what a
mess I made of it!" she laughed. "My employer coolly asked me if the
spectacles were necessary and then instructed me to remove them. That
was the day he asked me to go out to lunch for the third time."

"Have one more try," Bliss begged. "Surely you can find a place where
you would not be subjected to this sort of thing."

"Find it for me," she challenged. "I've tried everywhere. A woman who
earns her own living puts her pride in her pocket. She is supposed not
to understand what men mean when they make the stereotyped advances. I
have tried. I can't stand it, that's all. I'll hate it all my life, but
I'd sooner go through a little ceremony with Mr. Masters and call myself
his wife, and provide for my sisters and then--rest. That's what I want
to do more than anything in the world."

"You shall have plenty of rest," Bliss promised confidently, "but not
with Mr. Masters. Listen. These aren't idle words of mine. Trust me, and
I swear that before six weeks have passed, I shall be in a position to
marry you and help your sisters."

"Show me one atom of proof," she implored him.

"I can't," he confessed. "Trust me."

She shook her head.

"It's always the same, Ernest. If you had friends or a future, would you
have drifted almost to starvation all these weeks, and then jumped at
the chance of driving a 'bus?"

"I can't explain," he said doggedly.

"Then I can't wait," she retorted. "Why should I?"

"Because I love you," he answered simply, "because there is no other
future for you except to be my wife. Don't you understand that we belong
to each other? You wouldn't dare to do what you suggest. It wouldn't be
honest to Mr. Masters."

"I am tired of thinking about other people," she declared.

They were walking more slowly now. They were within a few yards of the
great omnibus yard. Bliss glanced at the clock.

"Dear," he pleaded, "trust me a little longer. The time is so short now.
Don't ruin both our lives."

She made a little grimace. There were two big tears in her eyes.

"I knew how it would be," she sighed, "if I went out with you at all."

"You promise?" he persisted.

"I promise," she answered. "I'll have another try!"



CHAPTER XXXI

It was nearly six weeks later when Bliss, who had been promoted to the
Piccadilly route, was suddenly hailed from the pavement. A tall,
exceedingly well-dressed young man had dropped his monocle and was
flourishing his cane.

"Hie!" he exclaimed. "Hie, there!"

Bliss brought the 'bus to a standstill. Honerton regarded him from the
pavement in blank amazement.

"Hello, Bliss!" he shouted.

"We go to Hammersmith and Barnes," Bliss said, politely. "Did I
understand you to hail the 'bus?"

"Well, I'm dashed!" was Honerton's first coherent exclamation.

"Come for a ride with me," Bliss begged. "It won't cost you more than
fourpence all the way, and you'll get lots of excitement for your money.
How are things?"

"A motor-'bus driver!" Honerton gasped.

"A healthy, not to say a sporting occupation," Bliss assured him. "Jump
up behind if you're coming along. Can't keep my 'bus standing here all
day."

They were badly blocked at Hyde Park Corner, and Honerton suddenly
appeared on the footboard. By this time he had collected himself.

"Ernest, old chap," he said, "I've been looking for you everywhere."

"Is that so?"

Honerton coughed. He seemed a little ill at ease.

"When can I see you for a few minutes under more reasonable
circumstances?" he asked, glancing with horror at an oil stain upon his
glove.

"Well, I haven't much time after work," Bliss explained doubtfully. "I
have to meet my girl directly I leave off."

"Your what?" Honerton gasped, with a visible effort at self-control.

"My girl," Bliss repeated. "Didn't I tell you I was engaged?"

"I don't think you mentioned it," Honerton mumbled.

"Anyway I am," Bliss continued. "She has a temporary job as typist, only
a couple of streets off our yard. This is my last journey to-night. I
get four hours off, so she'll be round to meet me. Couldn't you come on
to the next stopping place if you are not very busy?"

"Righto," Honerton agreed. "I'll come on a little further. See you again
later."

The 'bus started again and duly reached its destination. Bliss crossed
his legs and, turning around in his seat, found Honerton waiting on the
pavement.

"Now then," he invited.

Honerton rested one immaculately gloved hand upon a dry spot on the
front of the 'bus and the other upon the rail, and after a nervous
glance around to be sure that they were alone, he leaned over from the
kerbstone in a confidential manner.

"Look here, Bliss, old chap," he began, "when I left you in the Strand
that day, I had the hump for a time. One hates to think of a pal coming
a real cropper and not seeming to have the gift, you know, for pulling
himself together. You understand what I mean," he went on hastily. "Take
my case, now. I have been absolutely stoney broke, but do I look it?
Could any one ever guess it! That's because I've the knack of pulling
myself together and making the best of things. See?"

Bliss nodded.

"Oh, yes, I see," he assented.

"Well," Honerton continued, "I thought it all over, and finally I
discussed it with a few of our old pals. Now don't get skittish," he
exclaimed quickly, as Bliss started. "Listen to what I've got to say. I
made a little proposition to them," he proceeded, drawing a sheet of
paper from his pocket, "and they were all over it--all over it, Bliss, I
assure you. We never asked a single soul to subscribe. The 'oof simply
rolled in. There's Freddy Lancaster, never seemed to have a lot, you
know, and we used to chaff him about being stingy. He weighed in with a
pony before we could tell him the whole of the story, and I tell you, we
had the hardest job to keep the girls out of it. There was little Nellie
Powers, and Flo Graves, and half a dozen more of them wanted to give
half their salary for months. Freddy and I, though, put our foot down at
that. We knew how you'd feel, and we wouldn't take a penny from a girl."

"What's it all about, anyway?" Bliss asked, his voice shaking a little.

"Simply this, old chap," Honerton concluded. "Some of your old pals have
put their heads together, and they have decided to give you a dinner on
your own date, and at the close of the dinner they're going to hand you
a little cheque which, believe me, will be worth having, for you to go
out to Canada or America, or wherever you choose, and make a fresh
start, or make it here amongst us, if you like. Anyway, as Freddy
Lancaster said, it's just a little rebate upon all the hospitality and
kindness you've shown to lots of these fellows when they've been in a
hole, and just to--er--let you see that they don't want a pal to slip
down without stretching out a helping hand--er--and that sort of thing,"
Honerton wound up with a sigh of relief.

Bliss turned his head away. He was looking down the long vista of the
crowded street. Suddenly the vehicles seemed all tangled together, the
faces of the people blurred and indistinct. There was a lump in his
throat. He could scarcely trust himself to answer. Honerton was
tremendously busy with his cigarette case and had moved a little further
back to get a light.

"Well, old chap?" he asked presently.

"I can't say much to you," Bliss declared. "This has taken my breath
away. Will you just say that I'll dine with them all with pleasure, and
if it isn't too soon, I should like the date to be December 19th."

"That's fine," Honerton exclaimed. "We'll say eight o'clock, and it will
be at the Milan. We shall get the Venetian Room. If you don't mind, old
chap, I'll hop it now," he went on. "I dare say you're used to it, but
this 'bus shakes me up a bit. There's a taxi stand there, and I'll just
be getting back. So long! Don't forget. Venetian Room at the Milan,
eight o'clock, December 19th. And by-the-by," he added, "about
the--er--young lady!"

"There's my girl, of course," Bliss said. "May I bring her with me?"

"Of course you may," Honerton replied. "You bring her along, and we'll
give you both a good sendoff. So long, once more!"

"So long," Bliss echoed a little dazed.

Bliss was unusually silent that night as Frances and he made their way
towards the little restaurant.

"Nothing wrong, is there?" she enquired, with some anxiety. "You haven't
lost your place?"

"Not I," he assured her promptly. "I haven't even touched a fine yet.
Only I had rather a shock to-day. Some of the men I used to know when I
was better off want to give us a dinner and a start-off somewhere,
Frances. They've subscribed quite a decent sum. What do you think
about it?"

"Do you mean to go abroad?"

He nodded.

"That seems to be the idea."

She was thoughtful for a moment. Her eyes were soft, and he knew very
well what was in her mind.

"It's your sisters you're thinking about, isn't it?" he asked, as they
took their places in the restaurant. "Supposing there was enough to let
Ruth have some singing lessons and to send Elsie down to a quiet place
in the south somewhere?"

She held his hand under the table.

"I'll do just whatever you think best, dear," she said, "only you
mustn't try and do too much for them."

"These fellows want us to dine with them on December 19th," Bliss
announced.

She made a little grimace.

"Ernest," she expostulated, "how could I? You know my wardrobe pretty
well, and the nineteenth is next Thursday."

He sat quite still in his place. His eyes seemed to be looking through
the walls.

"Next Thursday!" he repeated wonderingly.



CHAPTER XXXII

Bliss awoke on the morning of the nineteenth of December with a curious
little throb of expectation. He lay with wide-open eyes, looking around
him. Now that the time had really come he could scarcely believe that
his year was over, his privations actually at an end. His thoughts dwelt
for only a moment or two upon the change that the day would bring him
personally. The wonderful part of it all was Frances. More wonderful
than anything was the fact that, at the end of these twelve long months
of hardship and suffering, it was of some one else he thought and not of
himself. He sprang out of bed, and washed and dressed as carefully as
possible. Then he counted his money. He had thirty-two shillings, and he
owed seven for his room. He paid his bill and at a little after eight
o'clock sallied out into the street. As he opened the front door, he
almost ran into a familiar little figure whose hand was upon the bell.

"Mrs. Heath!" he exclaimed. "Why, good morning."

It was a transfigured Mrs. Heath, a tremulous, beatific Mrs. Heath, with
a touch of heaven in her face, and all the joy of the world shining out
of her poor tired eyes. She clutched at Bliss' hand.

"It's you, sir! It's you that's done it!" she cried, holding his hands
tightly, devouring him with her eager gaze. "I've thought it out all
ways. It came anonymous last night with bank notes for sixty-five
pounds--and not a wink of sleep have I had all night, and I've changed
some of them, and they're real, and oh, sir! Oh, Mr. Bliss! The children
are safe, and I can send Hughie to school, and I--I know it's you, and I
can't say a word--my throat's full. May God bless you!"

The wonder of it all seized Bliss. He saw a new world--a new horizon.
The tired little woman from Fendon Street had lifted the curtain. He
felt strange tears in his own eyes as he thrust his arm protectingly
through hers.

"Dear Mrs. Heath," he said, "you were so kind to me, and you taught
me--so much! I sent you the money. I want you to be happy and free from
anxiety all your life. You've done your share of work, you know. And in
a few days I shall bring my wife to see you."

"You've plenty left for yourself, sir?" Mrs. Heath asked, with a very
human nervousness.

Bliss laughed gaily.

"I have more money, Mrs. Heath, than any man ought to have," he assured
her. "I've wasted a good deal of it--and a good deal of myself. We'll
come and tell you the story in a few days. I'm going back to my own."

"If there's a heaven, sir--" she began.

Bliss wrung her hand as he hurried off, but at the corner of the street
he turned to watch her for a moment. She was stepping briskly along
homewards, and her head was a little uplifted. With a sudden clearness
of vision he fancied that he could read her thoughts,--that he could
realise the crushing weight lifted from her poor overtired heart--the
sweetness of it all--the children safe and cared for--the warm,
luxurious peace of her finished struggle for existence. The little black
figure vanished almost jauntily in the crowd, and Bliss turned on his
way with a laugh that was almost a sob. Arrived at the offices of the
Omnibus Company, he made his way at once to the foreman's office.

"Brought you back my check, sir," he announced. "I couldn't find you
last night, and I was driving till past one o'clock."

"Going to leave us, Bliss?" the man asked. "I thought you were getting
on so well."

"I have come into a little piece of good fortune, sir," Bliss explained.
"I am going to give up driving for the present."

The man stared at him.

"Well, I'm hanged if yours ain't a lucky 'bus!" he declared. "Your mate,
Jennings, is going round the place as if he were stark mad. Some bloke
he never heard of has sent him a hundred pounds for his kids. Queer part
of it is I tumbled into fifty quid myself a few days ago. And now you're
in luck! Fair licks me--blowed if it don't."

He glanced a little suspiciously at Bliss, who made his escape as soon
as he could. He breakfasted at a coffee stall and set off for Frances'
lodgings. She was just leaving the house as he arrived. Her face fell.

"You haven't lost your place, Ernest?" she exclaimed anxiously.

He shook his head.

"I am taking a holiday," he said, "and I want you to take one, too."

"Holiday, indeed!" she echoed bitterly. "You know I can't do anything of
the sort."

"On the contrary, I know that you can and you will," he replied. "If I
ask nothing more of you in this world, dear, I am going to ask you to do
as I tell you to-day. Please telephone to your people and tell them that
you are unable to come to work. You might add that it will be
exceedingly doubtful if you ever return at all."

She looked at him, and her hands began to tremble. For a moment she did
not speak, and he found himself studying her for the last time in this
guise, with a rapt and curious interest. He saw the shiny places in her
worn black jacket, and the neat lace collar at her throat, grown
threadbare with frequent washings. He realised all the pathos of that
desperate struggle between her womanly instinct for neatness and the
hard hand of poverty; the faded band of ribbon carefully arranged round
her hat; the mended gloves; the shoes, both of them now with their
little patch. He guessed at the quality of her miserable breakfast.
There was something in her footsteps akin to the tired plod of the
countless multitudes thronging their way citywards. Nothing that he
himself had suffered seemed worth an instant's thought compared with the
joy of his present anticipations.

"Ernest," she gasped, "has anything really happened?"

He took her arm tightly and hailed a taxicab. "Nothing has happened,
dear, that is not good," he assured her. "Nothing is going to happen
that is not good for both of us. Now will you just sit still in this cab
while I go across to that telephone box and telephone to your people?"

She obeyed him, but when he came back he could see that she was still
distressed. He took her hand and held it firmly.

"Dear," he said, "you must please start the day by being a little brave.
You have a lot to go through before it is over, but I want you to try
and think of one thing and trust in me. Your troubles are over. Not only
your troubles, but the troubles of your two sisters are over. My
troubles are over. We have had a hard struggle, but to-day it has come
to an end."

"Don't tell me too much," she begged. "I'm afraid I cannot bear it. But
tell me a little."

"We shall neither of us ever know again what it means to be absolutely
poor," he said.

"Do you mean that you have a rise? A better situation?"

He smiled cheerfully.

"Something even better than that," he assured her. "Everything will be
made absolutely clear to you quite naturally if you will only trust me
and remember that I love you as I love nothing else on earth. Just sit
still and take things as they come and believe that what is coming is
good."

She pressed his hands with sudden fervour. All that she would have said
was in her eyes. Suddenly the taxicab stopped.

"Where on earth are we?" she asked.

He handed her out on to the pavement and paid the taxicab man.

"It's a church!" she gasped, looking at him in amazement.

He led her across the threshold. The church was in a busy neighbourhood,
and no one took any notice of them as they passed in. Bliss removed his
hat and stood still for a moment.

"Dearest," he said softly, "is this a great shock to you? Try and bear
it! We are going to be married."

She laughed a little hysterically, and then, before she could say
anything, she was suddenly conscious that he was leading her up the
aisle, and that the organ was playing soft music. There was scarcely any
one else in the building. The words of the service commenced almost as
soon as they reached the chancel. A pew-opener gave her away. Her
responses were almost mechanical. The clergyman summoned them afterwards
into the vestry, where they signed their names. Bliss laid a piece of
paper upon the table and whispered in the clergyman's ear.

"Don't look at that until after we have gone. It is a little
thank-offering. You can make what use of it you like."

The clergyman shook hands with them, they walked down the aisle and once
more out into the street. She caught at his arm.

"Ernest," she faltered, "do you realise what we have done?"

"Of course I do," he answered cheerfully. "I have been preparing for it
for a long time. Bless you, the banns have been up for nearly a month!"

"And you never told me!"

"I never told you," he replied, "for a reason which you will now
understand in a very short time. All I can say is, please still trust in
me."

"Another taxicab!" she exclaimed, as he held up his hand. "Ernest," she
added with a frown, "I'm afraid I shall have to begin lecturing you very
early. Even if you have a good place, you can't afford taxicabs all the
time."

He laughed as he gave the man the address. Then he sat by her side and
held her tightly to him.

"Dearest," he whispered fervently, "this is the most wonderful moment of
my life. You belong to me for always--you are my wife--do you realise
it? My wife!"

He kissed her, heedless of the passers-by. She looked at him
wonderingly. His lips were quivering as though with anticipation, his
eyes were bright. They drew up at last in Harley Street. He helped her
to alight, paid the man, and rang the bell of the familiar front door,
which was opened almost immediately by the same pompous servant.

"Is Sir James Aldroyd in?"

"What name, sir?"

"Just tell him a patient," Bliss replied. "I have come to see him
professionally."

"Have you an appointment, sir?" the man asked.

"I have," Bliss told him grimly. "I made it twelve months ago."

The servant stared at him for a moment in a puzzled manner.

Then he showed them both into a waiting room and left them. Frances
caught his arm.

"But, Ernest!" she exclaimed. "You are not ill? Don't tell me that you
are ill!"

"Never better in my life," he assured her cheerfully. "Just wait, that's
all, and remember what I told you. Everything is going to turn out
wonderfully for us. Think of all the things you want in life and imagine
that they are coming true. Then the shock won't be so great."

The servant reappeared.

"Sir James will see you, sir," he announced.

They were ushered into the same consulting room. Sir James looked up
from his table, and it was obvious that he failed to recognise his
visitor. It was obvious, too, that he was a little surprised by this
visit from a young couple who scarcely seemed to belong to the class of
patient whom he was accustomed to see in Harley Street. He turned around
in his chair.

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

Bliss came and stood by the table.

"You don't recognise me, Sir James?"

The physician looked at him curiously.

"I recollect you perfectly!" he exclaimed, with sudden interest. "Your
name is Bliss."

"Quite right," Bliss admitted.

Sir James leaned back in his chair and scrutinised his visitor. There
happened to be a mirror just behind, and Bliss caught a glimpse of his
own face. With a lightning-like effort of memory, he saw himself as he
had been on that memorable visit twelve months ago, dressed in
ultra-fashionable clothes, languid, pallid and heavy-eyed with the
effects of late hours and ill digestion, a young man about town, seeking
for his pleasures in the flowery ways of dissipation, without a single
aim in life or a serious thought. In the looking-glass opposite he saw
now a very different young man, unfashionably dressed, sturdier,
grimmer, with new lines about his mouth and a steady light in his eyes.
He drew a great sigh of relief. It seemed to him at that moment that he
realised, with a strange and wonderful thankfulness, all that had
happened to him.

"Have you brought me," the physician asked, "that twenty-five thousand
pounds?"

"I have not," Bliss answered steadfastly, "because you have lost your
bet. Twelve months ago I left your rooms, and a few hours later I walked
out into the street with a five-pound note in my pocket and only the
clothes I stood up in. From that day to this, I have lived entirely and
wholly on what I have earned. I have kept my word in the letter and in
the spirit. I have accepted alms from no one. I have gained no benefit,
direct or indirect, from my position or my means. In cases where, to
alleviate the distress of others, I have drawn from my resources, I have
cut myself away from those people at once, so that no advantage could
possibly come to me. I have been a chauffeur, a light porter, a
commercial traveller, and I wound up with driving an omnibus for nearly
two months. I left the company this morning with a good character."

The physician leaned back in his chair and looked at his patient
thoughtfully.

"And your health?" he enquired.

"Excellent."

"The giddiness and faintness you complained of?"

"Gone."

Sir James rose and held out his hand.

"My young friend," he declared solemnly, "I have never had a patient of
whom I am more proud. I shake your hand, not once, sir, but as many
times as you like."

Bliss was conscious of a curious thrill as he stood there, his hand
grasped by the strong, capable fingers of the older man. He thought once
more of that other day twelve months ago, when he had lounged in after a
late night, to receive the first blow which had struck beneath the
veneer of his self-confidence and self-esteem. He remembered the rush of
passionate shame which had given birth to his bet. He was conscious of
the new vigour in his life. The tears stood in his eyes.

"I have gained many things during my exile, Sir James," he said,
"amongst others--a wife."

Sir James turned and bowed to Frances.

"My wife," Bliss continued, smiling at the wonder in her face and
drawing her affectionately towards him, "was a typist. She did not even
call herself a young lady typist. She has earned her own living for the
last six years."

"I congratulate you both heartily," Sir James said. "Your husband, my
dear young lady," he added to Frances, "is a most wonderful person, for
whom I have a sincere admiration. He has done what very few young men in
his position and with his bringing up would have been capable of."

Frances was incapable of speech. Bliss patted her hand.

"We were only married this morning," he explained, "and she married me
as a poor man. I am trying to prepare her for the change gradually. And
in the meantime, if you will give me a dip of ink, Sir James, your
hospital shall not suffer from the fact that I have won my wager."

Bliss drew a brand-new cheque book from his pocket Once more he signed
his name at the foot of a cheque. Once more the sense of wealth and
power swept over him.

"Pay to Sir James Aldroyd or Order, the sum of Twenty-five thousand
pounds."

He read the words upon the cheque over to himself, and laughed softly.

"Doctor," he said, "I had twelve and sevenpence when I came in, and my
wife was reproaching me for extravagance because we have had two
taxicabs this morning."

The physician leaned over and saw the amount of the cheque. Once more he
grasped Bliss' hand.

"My young friend," he exclaimed, "if you could only realise the good
this is going to do!"

"Sir James," Bliss replied. "I can realise better now than I could have
done twelve months ago. Thanks to you, I have found a dozen ways in
which I can occupy my time and my money in the future."

"There is nothing I am so anxious to, hear," Sir James said, "as the
story of your adventures. Will you and your wife do me the honour of
dining with me any night next week? Shall we say Wednesday? I should
like to ask some of the directors of my hospital to meet you."

"It will give us great pleasure," Bliss assented. "You will excuse us
now? This has been our first visit."

The physician touched the bell. He gave them each a hand.

"I wish you both all the happiness you deserve," he said heartily. "I
don't think," he added, patting Bliss upon the shoulder, "that I have
ever had a patient who has done me greater credit."



CHAPTER XXXIII

A very handsome motor-car was drawn up outside the physician's door. The
chauffeur touched his hat and smiled as Bliss and his wife emerged. A
footman held open the door.

"Glad to see you again, Hayes," Bliss said pleasantly. "Car going all
right?

"Considering it's been slung up in the garage for twelve months, sir,
it's going very well."

"We'll soon get it in running order again," Bliss declared, as he handed
Frances in. "We shall be going down to the South of France in a few
weeks."

The door was closed, the man sprang to his place, and the car glided
off. Frances was looking now almost terrified.

"Don't tell me too much all at once," she implored, "but tell me, is
this car yours?"

"No, it's ours," Bliss replied. "Now listen to me, dear. It's time you
knew the truth. Twelve months ago I was feeling out of sorts. I was
rich, lazy and selfish. I was sitting up too late at night, eating too
much, drinking too much, smoking too much, with nothing to occupy my
thoughts or my mind but my own pleasure. My nerves gave out. I went to
see that man whom we have just left. I wasn't the sort of patient he
cared for. He told me just about as brutally as he could, exactly what
he thought of me and my manner of life, and he practically showed me the
door. When I held out my hand to say good morning, he refused to shake
hands. He wouldn't prescribe for me. The only advice he would give me
was to go out and earn my own living for twelve months. He added that he
believed me incapable of such an effort. I lost my temper. I bet him
that for twelve months I would earn my own living, without touching a
penny of my own money except a five-pound note. That twelve months is up
to-day, and I have won my bet. The bet was twenty-five thousand pounds
for his hospital, against a shake of the hand and an apology. And you
saw him, Frances? He paid. He paid like a man."

"And you?" she faltered. "All the time you were rich? You could have
paid the twenty-five thousand pounds?"

"I could have paid it many times over," Bliss admitted.. "In fact, I
have just given that sum to the hospital. I am afraid you will think me
a terrible fraud, but don't you see the position I was in? If ever I
touched my own money, I had to be careful that no benefit came to me. I
saw that nothing but capital could save Mr. Masters, so I got it and
pushed his cooking stoves, but after that I had to leave him. I saved
that heel manufacturer from bankruptcy, but directly I had advanced the
money, I had to go. You were my most severe problem. I was dying to save
you from distress and suffering, and on the other hand, I had one great
ambition, and that was to win you as a poor man, to have you marry me
knowing nothing, and then to try and make life as much like a fairy
story as I could."

She began to cry softly.

"Don't take any notice of me for a few moments," she begged. "Life has
been so hard lately, and I was beginning to lose even hope."

Presently they drew up at Arleton Court. The porter received Bliss with
a glance of astonishment at his attire but with marked deference. They
mounted to the fourth floor. Bliss touched the bell. A very subdued
Clowes opened the door. Mr. Crawley was waiting in the hall.

"Here we are! Here we are at last!" he exclaimed, holding out his hand
with an air of immense relief. "My dear Bliss, I am delighted to see
you. I have obeyed all your instructions to the letter, and have asked
no questions. May I be introduced?"

"This is Mr. Crawley, Frances," Bliss said, "my lawyer and very good
friend. I've driven him nearly mad during the last twelve months, but I
think that he will forgive me when he knows all about it."

"A very remarkable young man, your husband, my dear Mrs. Bliss," Mr.
Crawley declared, as he shook hands. "I must confess that at times his
exploits during the last year have caused me some anxiety. With one of
them, however, I am now thoroughly disposed to sympathise."

Frances, still a little shy, gave him her hand with a very sweet smile:

They passed on into the dining room, where the cloth was laid for lunch.
Mr. Crawley rang the bell.

"Mrs. Crawley," he said, "has engaged a maid for your wife, and the
suite has been got ready as well as possible. This way."

He escorted them to the door of a wonderful little boudoir, which,
opened into a bedroom. A neatly dressed maid came respectfully forward.
The bedroom was a wonderful sight. Every article of furniture in it was
piled with boxes.

"I don't think I have forgotten anything," Mr. Crawley went on, glancing
at his notebook. "Levillion's have sent up a dozen morning gowns and
half-a-dozen evening ones, and their fitter and dressmaker will be here
in an hour's time. The other things you wanted from Bond Street are all
here on approval."

"Will madame breakfast first, or would she like her bath prepared?" the
maid asked quietly.

Frances looked at Bliss. Her lips quivered. He passed his arm through
hers.

"You can prepare madame's bath in half an hour," he directed, "and make
a selection of clothes for the morning. Come along, dear, I think it is
time we drank one another's health in something better than the Médoc
you used to grudge me so. Open some champagne, Clowes," Bliss ordered,
as they passed back into the dining room. "Now, Mr. Crawley, if you
like, here's my story."

He told it in a few words. The lawyer listened silently to the end, and
when it was finished he wrung his client's hand.

"Mr. Bliss," he declared, "you have taken my breath away. All I can say
is that I wish you both the happiness you deserve."

"We'll drink to it," Bliss said, holding up his glass.

"I drink both your healths, my dear young people," the lawyer continued.
"Yours is a marriage which has begun in romance. You have both had your
share of life's hardships, you have both something to remember all your
days. And I," Mr. Crawley concluded, as he took up his hat, "shall never
forget how well your husband, my dear Mrs. Bliss, looked on the box seat
of a motor-omnibus."

He took his leave a few minutes later. For the first time they were
alone. Frances turned towards her husband.

"I can't believe it," she faltered. "I shall never get used to it all."

He laughed reassuringly. Then he drew her slowly towards him. She seemed
to have become curiously passive.

"Dearest," he said, "it's all quite true. You are rich--just as rich as
you want to be. You can send your sisters abroad whenever you want to.
You can give them a home. Ruth can go to Dresden for her singing
lessons, and Elsie can be sent wherever you like on the Riviera. We
might take her with us."

She was crying quietly, but underneath it all Bliss could see the
tremulous happiness in her face.

"It's too wonderful," she whispered, clinging passionately to him.

"The most wonderful thing of all," he whispered, "is our two
selves--that you are my wife, Frances, that I love you as I never
believed I could love any one."

Her arms tightened around his neck. For the moment she forgot everything
else. Then there came a discreet knock at the door. The maid entered.

"Everything is ready for madame," she announced.

Twenty-two exceedingly well-groomed young men were awaiting the arrival
of Bliss and his wife that evening in the Venetian room at the Milan
Restaurant.

Honerton, who was in charge of the proceedings, was a little nervous.

"You don't suppose there's any chance of his not turning up?" Freddy
Lancaster asked him.

"Not the slightest," Honerton declared. "He'll be here all right. But,
Freddy--I don't know whether you fellows all understand--I'm not sure
that he has even a suit of evening clothes to his name. He was looking
like nothing on earth when I saw him last."

The young man whom he was addressing smoothed out his tie complacently.

"Poor old Ernie!" he sighed. "Hooked up to a girl, too! I say, you
fellows, when do you think we ought to make the presentation?"

"As soon as possible, of course! Don't keep him in anxiety too long. I
should think he'd enjoy his dinner better if he knew there was a
thousand of the best waiting for him."

The door of the room was suddenly opened, and a servant announced Mr.
and Mrs. Bliss. The general feeling, when they appeared, was one of
surprise. Bliss was as well and carefully dressed as any of them. He was
looking a little thinner and older, perhaps, but he carried himself in a
more dignified and serious manner. Frances, too, was not what they
expected. She was dressed in a' simple but wonderfully made white
evening gown, and around her neck hung a string of pearls which looked
amazingly like real ones. After the first shock they all crowded around
him, and Bliss found himself shaking hands with an amazing number of his
quondam companions. The awkwardness which many of them had dreaded was
dispelled almost from the first by Bliss himself. He chatted gaily with
every one, and referred to past events without the slightest doleful
allusion to the catastrophe which was supposed to have overtaken him.
Presently dinner was announced. They all sat at a round table, and Bliss
laughingly refused to be parted from Frances. He told them all his
secret, that he had only been married that morning. In the midst of the
drinking of healths, which naturally followed the announcement, Honerton
arose.

"Ernest Bliss," he said, "and you fellows, just a word. I'm not much of
a hand at speech-making, but this is a gathering of one or two of your
old friends, Bliss, who are sorry to hear that the luck has gone, and
who have put their heads together, remembering the good times you used
to give us all, and want you to accept a little wedding present from us.
That's all,' old chap. We've only taken subscriptions from those who
insisted upon giving, and I've got to ask you to accept this little
cheque--and I hope for the sake of Mrs. Ernest, you won't refuse."

Honerton sat down with an air of immense self-satisfaction and some
relief. Bliss rose to his feet and faced them all. The cheque was passed
up and lay open before him. He was a little pale, but his voice was
wonderfully firm.

"Honerton," he began, "and you others, my dear friends, I stand before
you a guilty man. It is true that I have been in the direst poverty for
the last twelve months, that I have worked for my living in many strange
ways, but, nevertheless, I have a confession to make to you. The
position was entirely a voluntary one. I never lost a penny of my money.
I am richer to-day than I ever was--far richer," he added, touching
Frances' shoulder.

There was a little murmur of amazement, some ejaculations of wonder.

"You must let me explain," Bliss went on. "The fact is, I found out that
I had been living a thoroughly selfish, ill-regulated life, and I was
badly run down. Twelve months ago to-day, I went to Sir James Aldroyd
and explained my symptoms to him. He treated me very brusquely. He
wouldn't even trouble to prescribe for me. He told me as plainly as he
could that he had no sympathy with young men who lost their health
pleasure seeking. He said a few things which stung me to the quick. When
I turned to leave, he pretended not to see my hand. The only advice he
would give me was to earn my own living for twelve months, and he gave
me pretty clearly to understand that he did not think me capable of the
job. Well, I took him on. I laid him twenty-five thousand pounds for his
hospital to a shake of the hand and an apology that I went off that
morning with a five-pound note and earned my living for twelve months
entirely on my own. And I did it. That's the secret of my disappearance.
I was hard at it, earning enough to keep myself going. I did it somehow
or other. The twelve months are up to-day. I have been to see Aldroyd,
and he has paid up. Your money, my dear friends," Bliss went on, his
voice shaking a little, "you must please take back. But your dinner, and
your greetings to my wife and myself, are things which I shall never
forget. I thank heaven for the memory of this gathering, and that you
fellows have thought it worth while to do this, and I trust that for
many years in the future, on the anniversary of this night, you will all
consider yourselves my guests."

So the mystery of Bliss' disappearance was explained away at last. He
resumed his seat amidst loud cheers and general stupefaction. Honerton
himself was almost dazed.

"Jolly plucky thing I call it!" he kept on repeating. "Little Ernie
Bliss, too!"

They chaffed Honerton unmercifully.

"You're a nice discoverer of poverty-stricken pals," one of them
declared.

"No one's lost anything by it, that I know of," Honerton retorted.
"You'll get your money back, you've had a thundering good dinner, and I
know, now, where my windfall came from. Once more before we part, long
life and happiness to Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Bliss."

They passed out of the hotel, a short time later, down the carpeted
stairs, into the very luxurious motorcar which was waiting. They glided
off into the Strand and passed within a few yards of the spot where
Frances had turned to go down to Mr. Montague's office. She leaned back
amongst the cushions and looked out into the streets. Life was suddenly
new and wonderful. The dull weight of care had fallen away. She
remembered her many lectures on economy to Bliss, and she burst into a
happy little laugh.

"It is the same London, isn't it, Ernest?" she murmured. "The Drury Lane
Café is somewhere up there, and you came along here on your omnibus a
few hours ago?"

"It's the same London," he assured her, "only I hope that to both of us
it will always be a different place. Those fellows to-night have taught
me a lesson, Frances, those fellows and some of the people I've met
during the last twelve months. I want to try and do something for the
many thousands who are up against it as we were. To-morrow I have all
sorts of schemes. To-night--to-night," he added, leaning towards her and
taking her hand in his, "belongs to our two selves!"



THE END



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