Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

 

Title: Album Leaf (The Spider in the Cup)
Author: Marjorie Bowen (writing as Joseph Shearing)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1401141h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Mar 2014
Most recent update: Mar 2014

This eBook was produced by Colin Choat.

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE


Album Leaf
(The Spider in the Cup)

by

Marjorie Bowen
Writing as Joseph Shearing

Cover Image

First published by William Heinemann, London, 1933

Later published as The Spider in the Cup



There may be in the cup
A spider steep'd and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected; but if one present
The abhorred ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides
With violent hefts. I have drunk and seen the spider.

—The Winter's Tale.



TABLE OF CONTENTS



ONE. THE PHOTOGRAPH IS TAKEN

"She flicked the foul flies from seat, cushions, and dirty window; this action mingled with Lavinia's blurred recollection of her uneasy dream; she felt sick, and wished that she could have a glass of sherry, like that she had tasted, for the first time, on the steam packet."


"FULL of flaws and corruptions," muttered the old man sadly, "very difficult to understand."

"Grandfather, will you please leave your work for a moment? I have received an offer of marriage which I intend to accept."

The keen young face and the bewildered old face were close together in the light of the small lamp on the desk untidy with books, for Lavinia had sunk on to a light stool she had drawn close to her grandfather's chair. She knew that it would be quite a long time before she would be able to make the absorbed scholar fully understand what she had to tell him; she waited patiently, tenaciously, for his attention.

"Flaws and corruptions, very difficult," he sighed, looking at the fair young woman in her cheaply-made but elegant ball-dress, but with his mind on the Greek and Coptic manuscripts under his tired hand. "Flaws and corruptions."

Lavinia smiled secretively; these absent-minded words described much besides the dubious material among which Dr. Pierrepoint worked—described herself, no doubt—she checked her wilful, straying thoughts.

"Lieutenant Tassart asked me to marry him—he is coming to see you to-morrow."

"Eh?" The old man peered through his spectacles, suddenly aware of her, suddenly startled. "Why, Lavvy, it is very late, is it not? Surely you ought to go to bed?"

"I went to the ball at the Assembly Rooms with Mrs. Trainer, Grandfather—and there Lieutenant Tassart proposed to me. It is past two o'clock in the morning, but I wanted to tell you."

"A proposal of marriage, my dear? Lieutenant Tassart—do I remember him?"

"He came to tea here twice. I have met him several times, with the other officers at different houses."

"Well, well," said the old man mildly, "I suppose it is very natural—how old are you, Lavvy? Eighteen, isn't it?"

"Nineteen next June, Grandfather."

"And so you've fallen in love. Eh, my dear?"

"Oh, love," repeated the young girl flatly; she leaned forward slightly from her stool; the lamplight was on her face, which was clear, lovely and pale in colouring, on the white silk dress showing beneath the ugly blue velvet dolman; beyond this bright figure shadows filled the shabby room with darkness.

Dr. Pierrepoint stared at her stupidly; he always felt exhausted when he had finished his work; the labour itself upheld him; when he ceased his toil, it was like letting go of a support and slipping helpless to the ground. He longed to go to bed, to fall quickly asleep. He always felt inadequate towards this girl, who was the sole other occupant, save the housekeeper, of his small establishment; he was sorry that he had always thought of her as an alien, an interloper. When she had been at school he had dreaded the vacations; when she had left school a constant uneasiness had filled him whenever he had thought of the creature who had been in his entire charge for nearly ten years. He was greatly relieved at the prospect of her most unexpected marriage, but he winced at all the tedious business that must precede it. It would be, of course, his duty to interview this young man, to protect Lavvy's interests—a difficult business, for which he was quite unsuited.

"I hope that you will be very happy, my dear," he said feebly. "Of course, I must talk to this gentleman, but I'm sure it will be all right, suitable, I mean—a good match—"

Lavinia smiled; probably her grandfather was the only person in Maybridge who did not know what a "good match" William Tassart was, and how she had pursued him, with dignity and determination, since his regiment had come to the garrison in the town where she was forced to reside.

"William's parents are dead, Grandfather. His brother has the title and estates."

"Title and estates, my dear!"

"Yes. A baronetcy and about three thousand a year. But William has nothing beyond his pay, and he is not on good terms with his brother, who is to be married this summer."

"Then I do not see that this would be such a satisfactory marriage," sighed Dr. Pierrepoint, with increasing weariness. "We will talk about it in the morning."

"You must accept the offer, please, Grandfather. William has friends and prospects; his brother must do something for him, and his aunt, Lady Coign, is very wealthy—for me, who have nothing, this is a good marriage."

"I daresay, my dear, I daresay. We must go into all in the morning."

The tired old man locked away slowly the more precious of his manuscripts and notes, then rose stiffly. The young girl watched him.

"Mrs. Liptrott stayed up for me, but I sent her to bed. There is some milk on the hob in the kitchen, shall I fetch it for you?"

"No, my dear, no. I always have my little nightcap before I get into bed—Mrs. Liptrott never forgets to leave it for me."

"You sit up too late, Grandfather—why do you tire yourself so about something which doesn't really matter at all?" As she rose she softened the contempt of this: "I mean, it doesn't matter whether you do it to-day or to-morrow."

"I like to work," he answered simply. "I do not notice how the time passes."

Lavinia gathered the narrow blue dolman over her slight bosom; the April night was cold, the fire Mrs. Liptrott had replenished when she had disturbed her master for the last time that day had long ago sunk out on the hearth.

"Well, then, good night, Grandfather—"

"Till to-morrow, Lavvy dear."

"It really is 'to-morrow' now; we ought to say 'good morning'—shall I help you upstairs, Grandfather?"

"No, no, my dear—I'm only a little stiff from sitting so long—the room is chilly, too—like winter still, eh?"

"It is a lovely night outside," Lavinia paused by the door which she had approached with soft steps—she was shadowy among the shadows. "Grandfather, there is nothing that I don't know—about my parents?"

Dr. Pierrepoint held his small lamp in a hand that was not very steady. The yellow flame that was dying from lack of oil showed his ascetic face, outlined the bony structure with heavy shadow, and gleamed on the silver-rimmed spectacles.

"What do you mean, Lavinia?" He endeavoured to speak with dignity and conviction. "Of course you know all there is to know—what should there be mysterious about either your father or your mother?"

"I want William to be told everything—his relatives are sure to make enquiries. You see, he has so many people belonging to him And I have no one save yourself."

"That is unfortunate, indeed. I have often thought so, no one but myself—"

"Unfortunate for you, Grandfather, too," she replied gently. "I have been a burden."

"Why, of course not—but this lamp is beginning to flicker—we shall be in the dark soon—we really must finish this discussion in the morning."

"Yes—only one thing more. I have nothing at all? No dowry?" Her voice was wistful, poignant: "No jewels, nothing that belonged to my mother?"

The old man was startled and vexed.

"Nothing at all. I should have told you."

"Not a few trinkets? Some trifle that you were keeping until I came of age? It is usual, after all, for well-born people to have something—"

"Your mother was an expensive woman, your father was very careless. When they died I had considerable expenses to meet. Why bring up this painful subject?"

"It is natural for a woman to have some pride in such matters. William may overlook everything, but his people will not."

Dr. Pierrepoint, cherishing his dying light, groped his way towards the door.

"There is nothing to be ashamed of," he said, tartly. "Nothing to overlook—"

"I have neither dowry nor relatives, nor as much as a brooch nor a piece of lace that once belonged to my mother."

Her tone was so bitter that the uneasy dislike of his granddaughter, which the old man usually repressed so scrupulously, broke out in peevishness.

"It is not my fault that your father ran away with an irresponsible woman—I have done my best to remedy his mistake."

"I know, I ought to be grateful." But her tone had not softened; she opened the door and went out into the passage, where a tiny lamp burnt on a wall-bracket; her grandfather's voice came after her: "To-morrow—we will talk of all this to-morrow."

Lavinia Pierrepoint took no heed of these feeble words; her problem required immediate consideration; rest and sleep, so necessary to the old man, she thought of with contempt.

Yet, underneath the tranquil cold air that was natural to her, she was shaken by excitement; all her faculties were alert.

She went into the small, neat kitchen, took her warm milk from the hob, drank it slowly, thinking the while of what had happened that evening at the Assembly Rooms, of what had happened to her on all the other days of her short life.

The kitchen clock struck the three strokes of the hour and roused her from her deep egotistical brooding. With movements neat and precise, she put the milk-stained saucepan and glass in the sink, took up the bedroom lamp, which stood ready for her on the carefully-scrubbed table, and went upstairs to her bedroom.

The house was silent and dark, save for the little watch light on the stairs. Lavinia thought with impatience of the old man, already, no doubt, heavily asleep, and with disdain of Mrs. Liptrott, the stupid housekeeper who had been nodding in her chair when the carriage drawing up without had roused her and sent her, red-eyed, yawning and reproachful, to the front door. She had done her duty, warmed the milk, lit the lamps, sat up to welcome her young lady; she was efficient enough in such matters, but beyond that she had no interests, or so it seemed to the proud young girl with whom she had never become familiar during an acquaintanceship of nearly ten years.

Lavinia closed the door of her small bedroom and set the lamp on the dressing-table. Then she drew the curtains of the window which looked on to the narrow moonlit street.

She was so intensely concerned with herself that she felt hostile towards the indifference of the sleeping town; she despised all these people, now quietly in their beds, for being so sunk in their petty habits, for being satisfied to live for ever in a small, dull provincial town like Maybridge. She recalled tales of lovers walking beneath their mistresses' windows in the spring moonlight, and she peered down the silver street. It was, as she had expected it to be, empty.

No doubt William Tassart was also asleep by now—how without emotion he had seemed when he had asked her to be his wife! His proposal had been made as if it were the result of a deliberate choice, as if he had weighed up her virtues and attractions and decided to secure them, since they might be had easily and were likely to do honour to himself.

From their first meeting, six months ago, when she had first met him, she had challenged him to take her, in every glance she gave him saying: "Do you not see that I am an exceptional creature, worthy of a man like yourself?"

The curtain dropped from her hand, she sighed and took off the blue velvet dolman, made for this especial occasion by the cheapest dressmaker in Maybridge. She looked with pleasure at her beautiful shape, which, slightly too developed for the maidenly gown of white silk, was reflected in the modest square of mirror, which was as much as she was allowed of vanity.

Her outline was pure, her colouring of a brilliancy that nothing could dim, her hair was of so pale a gold that even in the shadow it was bright. Attired according to the standards of Maybridge decorum for a young girl, she looked like an angel on an Easter card, pink, white, golden, pale-robed and stately—she only lacked a sheaf of lilies and wings. Her expression, however, was not angelic, but brooding and frowning as she stood before the dressing-table covered with white spotted muslin and rose-coloured sateen, all action arrested by the profundity of her reflections.

The humble room expressed nothing of her personality. Mrs. Liptrott had bought the rosebud chintz for bed and chairs that were so suitable for a young girl; Mrs. Liptrott had anxiously chosen a well-wearing drugget for the floor and hung in place the framed texts, "God is Love" and "I am the Way," in gilt letters, flower wreathed between two prints of Her Majesty and the Prince Consort.

There was a little shelf of books by the dimity-covered bed, but Lavinia had not chosen one of them; those which were not school prizes had been given her by her grandfather on her birthdays; all were simple, pious, pleasant and unread by their owner.

Lavinia took the pins out of her chignon and the smooth yellow locks slipped on to her smooth shoulders; she did not notice that the room was chill nor the dimness of the light given by the small lamp.

As she opened, absently, the drawer where she kept her brush and comb she noted a folded piece of newspaper which she had put there that morning. She smiled as she opened this out and re-read once again a blue-pencilled item in the advertisement column.


Young gentlewoman, exceptional references given and required, desires post as companion or governess. Excellent French, music, drawing, embroidery, elements of Latin, mathematics, all English subjects. Willing to go abroad.—Apply, Box XYZ 88.


This advertisement had been inserted by Dr. Pierrepoint more than a fortnight ago—the date on the sheet of the Morning Post was April 30th, 1861—and so far there had been no answer.

Lavinia, never sanguine, had hardly expected one, there were so many advertisements that read exactly like her own; the world seemed full of young ladies with elegant accomplishments who wished to dispose of their services, who offered and expected exceptional references.

Now it did not matter that no one was in need of the companionship of Miss Lavinia Pierrepoint, that no one required her to instruct their children in the rudiments of polite education.

William Tassart had saved her from facing, day after day, her grandfather's disappointment when the post brought no letters re-addressed from Box XYZ 88.

How eager the old man was to be rid of her! From the day she had left school a year before, he had been trying, in his ineffectual, intermittent fashion, to find her a post, through his friends, through her former schoolmistress—the advertisement had been his last and desperate resource.

She had been thinking of it when she had told him that William Tassart wanted to marry her; no doubt it had been in his mind also, but they were always very civil to one another.

Lavinia took up the paper which she had kept in scornful self-contempt; every day and night, whenever she had opened her toilet drawer she had seen the reminder of what was before her if she did not marry William Tassart.

Now she tore it up and cast the fragments under the table; as she did so the echo of the first words that she had ever heard from her grandfather were in her ears: "I shall do what I can for you, but as soon as you are old enough you must earn your own living."

She turned out the lamp and sat alert in the dark; without self-pity she looked back at herself, the orphaned child of nine years old arraigned before the old man in his study, which had changed in nothing since then. She could see herself standing, dry-eyed, erect, fatigued from the long railway journey wearing a plaid frock and a green tippet, very frightened, very proud.

Early that same morning she had been taken in to a darkened, dismantled room to say "good-bye" to her mother in her coffin.

Someone had said: "Now you've neither father nor mother, poor dear!" And another voice had added: "But mind you're a good girl, for they're both watching you from Heaven."

The fat woman who smelt of gin and who had brought her to Maybridge, had cried over her a little and, before she went to sleep in a corner of the railway carriage, had told her that, "Your father was a hero who had died fighting for his country, and your mother broke her heart at the news, and don't you ever forget that, my lamb."

Lavinia had neither forgotten that nor many other things which no one had ever mentioned to her since she had come to Maybridge.

* * * * *

The girl sat on the edge of her bed and watched the chill light of dawn slip through the muslin curtains, outlining the dressing-table, the crossed ends of the text frames, the shelf of books, the wardrobe, the blue dolman folded over a chair.

She had not taken off the white silk dress; her shoulders were covered by a pale woollen shawl that Mrs. Liptrott had knitted for her last Christmas, her heavy hair hung down to the honeycomb-patterned bed quilt.

After the peaceful night an orderly day was beginning, on the surface everything seemed precise, unchanging and happy.

Lavinia knew exactly how the hours would pass, one after the other, in her own home and in Maybridge; everything would be methodical and cheerful, everything would be as it had been since she had arrived at Dr. Pierrepoint's house over the chemist's shop nearly ten years ago; even the old people looked very little older and those who had died had slipped away quietly leaving no gap behind. The children who had been born had made no difference to anything, they at once seemed part of the staid, unalterable scheme of existence.

Lavinia knew that uneventful calm was deceptive, that life was not like that, but, in reality, torn and baffled, full of amazements, disappointments, nauseas and intolerable nostalgia.

From her earliest years she had been schooled, taught the rules, by conscientious hypocrites; she knew that these rules were important and that they made up this false serenity that masked the truth. She also knew that there was much in life that no rule, no convention, platitude or pretence could disguise; her straying, vivid memories of her parents taught her this, these memories and the acute self-knowledge which her wit, ice-cold and steel-sharp, enabled her to achieve. During that short April night that she had sat, chilled, forgetful of her body in the stiff silk gown and the clumsy shawl, she had been so self-detached and yet so self-absorbed that it had seemed to her that she had stood apart from the brooding creature seated on the bed and had studied her dispassionately.

There were sounds on the streets, in the house; they roused Lavinia; it was almost broad day, soon Mrs. Liptrott would come in with a jug of hot water. Lavinia undressed. Again conscious of her body she regarded it with admiration; there were few pleasures in her life, few interests, but her body, when she was aware of it, gave her an austere delight. Distasteful work would be softened for her by the sight of her slim hands, so exquisitely fashioned, a tedious walk with her grandfather would be redeemed by the sensation of ease and grace that came from her long, slender limbs, so perfectly poised on the high arched feet, and many a dull duty visit had she whiled away with the help of glances at herself in some chance mirror. Yet she was not vain; she appraised herself justly and knew all her defects. Her colouring, she was well aware, was too insipid, a candystick pink and white, the hues of a sugar fairy; she had placed the ends of her hair beside a sovereign and knew that her locks were not golden, but rather the tint of a pale yellow crocus when it first breaks the ground. Her eyes were slightly prominent and her forehead was too high; these flaws were all emphasised by the clumsy provincial clothes that she was obliged to wear; every garment she put on went to stress decorum, innocence, the reserves of a shy girlhood.

Lavinia was sure that many a woman with less pretences to perfection had been acclaimed a great beauty; she was completely inexperienced and ignorant of much but she had read widely, observed her own narrow world shrewdly, I and pondered deeply over every scrap of knowledge, first or second-hand, that had come her way.

The daylight was clear in the small room; Lavinia folded away her clothes and, with instinctive duplicity, removed all traces of her sleepless night. She drew down the holland blinds over the muslin curtains, braided her hair, shuddered into her cold calico nightgown, into the cold linen sheets, and composed herself to wait for Mrs. Liptrott.

As she lay hidden in her chill bed, trying to warm her hands in her soft bosom, she thought, for the first time that night, of William Tassart, the person who was the key to all her commotion of soul and speculation of mind. But she soon dismissed the image of this enigmatical figure from her musings; she knew nothing of him and she was sure that he knew nothing of her; useless to ponder over him until she had his better acquaintance. The problem of his surrender to her mute and austere charm, was one beyond her present knowledge to solve. Her proud guess was that she was superior to any other woman whom he might have had, and that he had secured her, as a shrewd, fastidious passer-by might secure a pearl seen dimly through the dirty glass of a pawnshop window—an object not greatly desired, but lovely in itself, seen in an unexpected place, and to be had very cheaply.

* * * * *

Mrs. Liptrott, with her brass can of hot water, entered the room cautiously; she was sure that the young lady, after being up so uncommonly late, would wish to lie abed beyond her usual time. Dr. Pierrepoint neither entertained nor went to entertainments and the dance at the Assembly Rooms was a great event in his small household. Mrs. Liptrott glanced, with a certain stirring of excitement, at the outline of Miss Lavinia under the honeycomb coverlet.

The housekeeper had thought that the young lady had looked very beautiful in her white silk dress and blue velvet mantle, and it had been very romantic to see her handed out of the carriage by Lieutenant Tassart, who was, in the opinion of most of the females of Maybridge, the handsomest officer in the garrison.

Mrs. Liptrott deposited her can of hot water in the heavy basin on the ponderous washing-stand of mahogany and marble and placed over it two folded towels. As she hesitated as to whether she should pull up the holland blind and admit daylight, Miss Lavinia spoke from the pillow.

"Mrs. Liptrott, do you think you could bring me up a cup of coffee in bed? I don't want to get up just yet."

"Why, of course, miss. I didn't think that you would be awake. It must have been two o'clock before you were asleep last night."

Miss Lavinia smiled with civil indifference. She had never concerned herself to make a friend or confidante of Mrs. Liptrott, who would very willingly have been her affectionate champion and ally.

"I hope you enjoyed yourself at the ball, Miss Lavinia. I expect it was a very splendid affair."

"Splendid for Maybridge," replied the girl, sitting up in bed. "Will you hand me my shawl, please, Mrs. Liptrott?—that nice shawl you made me last Christmas." She wrapped it over her slender shoulders and bosom when the gratified housekeeper gave it to her, and then added: "Would you mind staying a little while, Mrs. Liptrott, there are one or two things I should like to ask you?"

The housekeeper, very flattered, waited by the bottom of the bed.

"Why, I'm sure, miss, anything that I can tell you—"

Miss Lavinia smiled again; her manner was quite impersonal. Mrs. Liptrott was nothing to her and never would be, but it had occurred to her that she might have a passing use.

"I went to sleep even later than you think, Mrs. Liptrott, last night, for after I came in and you were in bed I went into my grandfather's study and he was still working."

"Yes, he will do that, miss," replied the housekeeper, rather troubled, for she thought it was on the erratic habits of Dr. Pierrepoint her young mistress wished to speak to her, "and there's no stopping him, not when he gets into his books. He won't be interfered with. I daren't go in—no, not as much as to make the fire up."

"That wasn't what I wanted to speak to you about," smiled Lavinia. "I don't think it would be in the least use interfering with Grandfather's habits, and they seem to suit him very well. He is quite a healthy old man—seventy-eight, is he not?"

"I think so, miss, on his next birthday, somewhere in the autumn. He's never a gentleman to talk about himself. I thought you were worried about him, miss; going in to see him so late last night."

"No, I wasn't worried about him, I had to tell him something about myself. You see, Mrs. Liptrott, I am going to marry Lieutenant Tassart."

At this piece of news, so casually given, the housekeeper was considerably startled, and was not able to command more than a few broken ejaculations of pleasure and surprise. Lavinia continued smoothly:

"I daresay you find it rather strange; we have not been seen much together. But we understood each other, I think, from the first. Thank you for saying how pleased you are, Mrs. Liptrott I think it will be a good thing for me."

"I'm very glad indeed, I am sure, miss. It always seemed to me an unnatural life for a young lady like you, living here with a gentleman like Dr. Pierrepoint, with no thought beyond his work and who, I daresay, has forgotten long ago what it is like to be young."

"I should not have stayed in Maybridge, Mrs. Liptrott, even if I had not become affianced to Lieutenant Tassart. I intended, as you know, to seek a position as governess or companion."

"Yes, miss, I know. But that's a chancy sort of business, as you might say, not the kind of life that's really suited for a young lady, though you might have been very happy."

"Very happy!" Lavinia caught up the last two words. "No, I don't think that, Mrs. Liptrott, it's not easy to be very happy. I might have been passably contented in somebody else's establishment. I should like to have gone abroad and seen a little of the world and different people. I might have had some amusing experiences. It would have been pleasant to have earned a little money of my own, to have spent it as I liked. But I think," she added, as coolly as if she were discussing an entirely business proposition, "that it is better for me to get married."

The housekeeper was a little disappointed that the young lady said nothing of love and that she spoke in such an indifferent fashion of her romantic engagement. She began to murmur in a rather awkward fashion—for she never was quite at her ease with Lavinia—conventional praises of the bridegroom—his good looks and his air of fine breeding and how well he appeared on horseback. She could not say that he was greatly liked, for the truth was that he was extremely unpopular in Maybridge, for he had never been known, since he had joined the garrison, to indulge in any amiable follies nor to be concerned in any of those good-humoured escapades which are so much admired in young gentlemen and almost expected of cavalry officers.

Mrs. Liptrott had heard a good deal of Lieutenant Tassart; she knew that his haughty airs, his aloof reserve, his gravity, and his disdain towards his inferiors, were much resented by all who came in contact with him. But good-looking and well-bred he certainly was. Mrs. Liptrott stressed these points as she stood at the end of Lavinia Pierrepoint's bed and tried to stammer out her conventional congratulations.

The girl drew the white shawl close up under her chin; her smooth hair was parted in the middle and looped over her ears, long plaits fell down either side on the snowy wool. Her eyes were slightly heavy-lidded and reddened from lack of sleep, she was rather pale and her full lower lip quivered. Mrs. Liptrott was sorry for her—the orphaned creature, who had led so cheerless and repressed a life. She would liked to have caressed her, laughed and cried with her over the approaching wedding, gossiped with her over the future; but Lavinia had never encouraged such confidences, and Mrs. Liptrott dared not approach her with them now, even in this moment, which should have been one of joy and emotion, but which somehow was not.

"You see," said Lavinia smoothly, "the regiment is going to India in, I think, three months' time. Lieutenant Tassart will have to go too, unless he could get a transfer, which I do not think is likely. Therefore, I suppose we shall be married first and I shall go to India with him."

Mrs. Liptrott's mind flew over all the possibilities of a wedding from Dr. Pierrepoint's pinched establishment.

"I suppose you would hire the 'Maybridge Arms,'" she murmured.

"I suppose so," said Lavinia, without enthusiasm. "What I wanted to ask you, Mrs. Liptrott, was if you remember anything about me or my parents, anything that I don't know myself, or that my grandfather has not told me?"

The housekeeper was startled by this unexpected request, the more so as Lavinia, ever since she had come to live with her grandfather, had never evinced the slightest curiosity as to anything concerning herself or her family Indeed, she had always been so reticent and so proud that Mrs. Liptrott was almost shocked at this sudden familiarity. Lavinia saw her embarrassed surprise and smiled; she was just as proud as Mrs. Liptrott thought she was, but her pride consisted in not endeavouring to disguise what she was aware everyone must know. The housekeeper herself, respectful and suave as she seemed, affectionate and motherly as she was ready to be, no doubt had in her time gossiped over every aspect of the coming of the child to Dr. Pierrepoint's rooms, and related again and again, rolling all piquant details zestfully on her tongue, all that she knew of the child's history and parentage.

Lavinia's challenge, therefore, came with a certain arrogance.

"I suppose," she added, "there is nothing odd or mysterious about any of it. My grandfather has often told me so, but then I can see be does not like to discuss the subject, and he is nearly eighty years old and forgetful and quite absorbed in another world. You have noticed, of course, Mrs. Liptrott, that I am singularly without relatives or friends! It has not mattered until now, but I should like to know all there is to know about myself before I am married."

Mrs. Liptrott averted her kind grey eyes; she thought: "I wonder you haven't asked before."

"I don't know that I can tell you anything, miss. Dr. Pierrepoint's not a man to talk, as you know yourself. I remember his saying to me, ten years ago it must be or near it, 'There's a little girl coming here to live, Mrs. Liptrott, my granddaughter, my son's only child. He's been killed out in India, fighting, and his wife's just died suddenly in London, and there's no one else to take the child.' I can recall that quite clearly, miss, and I said I'd do my best, for he'd always been good to me and it was a comfortable place. And I must say I thought a bit of young life about the house wouldn't be amiss," added the woman with a wistful glance at the girl, who remained impassive, holding her white shawl to her pale face, the pallid linen pillows her background. "But he, the doctor, said I wasn't to concern myself, as you'd be away at school until you were old enough to look after yourself."

"To earn my living, I suppose he said, as he said to me, Mrs. Liptrott?"

"Well, yes, miss, he put it like that. He said that it mightn't be easy for a young lady; that your father had left nothing but debts and that he had very little himself. He's always fair and honest about that, Miss Lavinia. When I first came to him, and that's not ten but twenty years ago, he said: 'There won't be much at the end, Mrs. Liptrott, if you were to stay as long. I've only got a small life annuity and some savings.' He told me then what he had. Two hundred a year, it was, miss, and that he meant to spend a good deal on books."

"He hasn't spent so much," said Lavinia, "since I've been here. I know, I felt that, he gave me a good education; there's been my clothes, too."

"Well, you've always been a very careful young lady, miss, nobody would call you expensive nor complaining either."

"I've tried to manage on as little as possible; still, I've cost grandfather something. I was very disappointed, Mrs. Liptrott, that there was no answer to my advertisement in the Morning Post."

"Well, what did that matter, miss, if you were intending to marry Mr. Tassart?"

"I was not sure of that till last night, but I mustn't keep you here too long. Please tell me anything you know, it will help me and do you no harm."

But the housekeeper stood mute, and Lavinia, adroit and patient as she was, realised that the woman would not speak easily, and that if she wished to get anything out of her it must be by means of question and answer. So she asked quietly:

"Who brought me here? I can't quite remember. Did you go to London to fetch me?"

"No, miss, it was a Mrs. Maisley, with whom your mother was lodging, who brought you. A large stoutish woman she was, kindly, as I thought." As she spoke the housekeeper's face was wrinkled with pity for that forlorn figure of the child who had arrived in the twilight, led by a strange woman to a strange man and a strange home.

"My father was killed in India," said Lavinia, "one of those sudden risings that preceded the breaking out of the mutiny. He behaved very well, I believe. My mother—why was my mother not out there with him? She had been there before, I believe."

Mrs. Liptrott did not answer. She stood awkwardly, her hands folded on her stiff starched apron. Lavinia, with the air of one who has little time to lose, even on a matter of importance, added:

"They quarrelled, they were not happy! I can remember that. You see, they always kept me at school from the time that I was very young, but there were the holidays, they had to have me with them sometimes, and I can remember how they used to quarrel."

"Well, miss, since you know so much," said the housekeeper, relieved at Lavinia's knowledge of her parents' failings, "I always heard it was that, not that your grandfather ever said anything. This Mrs. Maisley, she'd come a long way and she was upset, very naturally, and she stayed here for a night, and though I didn't encourage her to talk, she did say a thing or two. I think the poor lady had quarrelled with her husband and wouldn't go out with him, and that's a desperate sort of thing for a woman to do, miss, to stay away from her husband, deliberate like; one knows what it's going to end in."

"And what did it end in?" asked Lavinia. "What did she die of?"

"Why, some sudden illness, as I suppose, miss; there's plenty about."

"I can remember some of it," said Lavinia. She put her slender fingers in front of her tired eyes. "We were in lodgings—they were rather poor lodgings, too. In Kennington, were they not?"

"Yes, miss, I think so. Quite a respectable place, and this Mrs. Maisley a decent sort of woman."

"We were very poor," continued Lavinia, in her implacable tone. "I suppose my father didn't send us any money?"

"I think that was one of the troubles, miss. No doubt he had his own expenses. But Dr. Pierrepoint used to help."

"Yes, I suppose he did. He must have been in touch with my mother. There must have been the address. And the end—there was another man who used to come—I remember him, a tall, very fair man."

"I shouldn't think of that if I were you, Miss Lavinia, you should be concerned with your own marriage."

"But you see, it's rather important for me, Mrs. Liptrott. I want to know all there is to know before I marry Lieutenant Tassart. It won't be so easy to explain afterwards."

"Why should he want to know anything?" inquired Mrs. Liptrott in some indignation. "You come of a good family on either side. You're very well educated and a beautiful young lady, and that ought to be enough for any man. There's Dr. Pierrepoint to answer for you, and he quite famous for his learning. If it comes to that, miss, your father, Captain Pierrepoint, died like a hero, as they say." And she repeated in a tone of defiance: "It ought to be enough for any gentleman."

"I think it will be enough for Lieutenant Tassart," smiled Lavinia, "but there's his relatives, you know. You see, he has no money at all himself, except his pay, and his expenses are high; it's a smart regiment, where a man can't save. And you see, Mrs. Liptrott, we couldn't get married unless his brother, or his aunts, or some of his relations gave him an allowance, and they wouldn't give him it, would they, unless they approved of me?" Then in her tone of cold logic she added: "And they wouldn't approve of me if there were any scandal or trouble that they could find out."

"I don't think there's any scandal or trouble, miss, or anything anyone could find out after all these years."

"Only ten years ago, Mrs. Liptrott, and, of course, my grandfather knows everything and he might be forced to speak. You see," she added with a smile, "I have sufficient drawbacks as it is. I have no dowry whatsoever. I asked my grandfather last night; I thought perhaps he was keeping something from me; if it were only a necklace or a bracelet. You're quite sure you never saw or heard anything of the kind, Mrs. Liptrott?"

"I'm afraid, miss, everything like that went long ago. The poor lady had to dispose of everything."

"Well, you see," smiled Lavinia, "anything like that is almost a disgrace in the eyes of a family like that of Lieutenant Tassart, and if there's anything else—"

"Why should there be anything else?" said Mrs. Liptrott uneasily. "Don't get it into your head that there is. Don't think about it."

"But I must think about it. I really knew that my mother had left my father, that she was meaning to run away with another man, or perhaps was even living with him. She was desperately poor. And then something happened—either the other man went away too or they came to the end of their money: she had me to look after and Grandfather wouldn't give her any more help, nor even receive her. Perhaps she came here and he turned her away, he had always been against the marriage. He would think of her as quite disgraced—she was lost, abandoned. She went out to the chemist's shop—there was one almost next door—she bought some poison, took it, and died within a few hours."

The housekeeper turned brusquely away and twitched the holland blinds. As they snapped into place and the acorns from the cords clinked upon the panes, Lavinia added:

"I remember how strange I thought it that Grandfather should live above a chemist's shop. My mother didn't take me in when she bought the poison, she left me outside, and I can remember seeing the dried poppy-heads in the window and the big blue jars, and how the light caught the gold lettering on them—"

* * * * *

Mrs. Liptrott was too shocked to reply immediately. The story that Miss Lavinia had just briefly recited was exactly the story that Mrs. Maisley, the Kennington landlady, had told her in hushed whispers the night that she had brought the orphan to Maybridge and Mrs. Liptrott had prided herself on her virtuous repression, on her considered kindness, which had not allowed her to breathe a word of this sordid and disgraceful tragedy; she was most surprised to find that the child, snatched all innocent from such a dreadful misfortune, nevertheless had impressed on its soul, like an ugly wound, this hideous knowledge.

"They took me to see her in her coffin," said Lavinia's cool voice, "the fat woman, Mrs. Maisley it was, I suppose, with another."

"That would be the nurse," put in Mrs. Liptrott, much disturbed, "but don't think about it, it's all over and done with. She was a lady born, anyway, and a beautiful woman, as I've always heard. Maybe it wasn't her fault."

"And maybe it was," said Lavinia, "fault of heart or mind. I think one must he a fool to come to such disaster."

Something in Mrs. Liptrott was profoundly dismayed and shocked at hearing this pronouncement of a daughter on her mother. She pinched her lips together and said:

"I'll bring up the coffee and more water, that must be cold now. I can't tell you anything, miss, even if I knew something it would he my duty to be silent. I'm in Dr. Pierrepoint's employment, and I'm sure he wouldn't wish me to be gossiping, and it's nothing but gossip that I know, Miss Lavinia."

She paused by the marble washstand, and, hardly knowing what she was doing, took the brass can from under the warm towels.

"You're going to be married soon, yourself, miss. I shouldn't have bitter thoughts if I were you of your mother or your father. I suppose they paid, I expect they were horribly unhappy. I don't like to think of it myself."

"I've got to think of what makes such a difference to me. It has done so from the first, and always will."

"It doesn't do to be hard," said Mrs. Liptrott uneasily. She remembered Lavinia as a cheerless child, white-faced, reserved. "It is the shock," the blubbering landlady had said when Mrs. Liptrott had wished the child would weep, would respond to some of her impulsive and sincere tenderness. But then, as now, Lavinia had been a self-contained personality.

"Hard," she said, dropping back on the pillows, "I suppose one is according to one's nature. Perhaps if I hadn't been very hard I might have died of it." She considered: "Am I hard? I don't know!"

"You feel sorry for them, don't you?" pleaded Mrs. Liptrott.

"I don't know that either," smiled Lavinia. "I can only remember them quarrelling and just the end—she shouldn't have let me see that—she should have sent me away. I don't suppose they wanted me to be born; they weren't sorry for me."

This was very shocking to Mrs. Liptrott, and struck at all her instincts and fundamental beliefs. She was a loving mother herself. It was to help two sons in the Navy that she continued in service. And she remembered with a soft tenderness her own husband, who was never dead to her affectionate heart.

"I shouldn't think of these things, miss, not with your own marriage at hand. It's for you to be happy and wipe out, as it were, the other unhappiness. These things don't often happen, we've got to forget them when they do."

She glanced at the texts on the wall.

"God will put it all right one day," she added, and the tears lay in her eyes. Much moved, she hurried out of the room, the water, with the haste of her movements, splashing out of the spout of the brass can on to her starched frock. There was something comic in her pursed-up face and bustling step. Lavinia glanced after her and laughed.

* * * * *

Dr. Pierrepoint was relieved when Mrs. Liptrott, upon bringing his late breakfast into his study, told him that Miss Lavinia was still in bed—tired after her late night. Relieved because he wished for plenty of time to think over what she had told him before he saw her again. Her sudden news had been as disturbing as it was, in a way, gratifying. He felt inadequate and bewildered, and glancing at Mrs. Liptrott through his thick glasses as she poured out the coffee, he thought he detected the expression of the like emotions on her usually placid face, so he ventured, half-timidly:

"Did Miss Lavinia tell you her news, Mrs. Liptrott?"

"Indeed she did, sir," replied the housekeeper, with forced cheerfulness, "and a happy thing it ought to be, I am sure."

"Ought to be, Mrs. Liptrott, ought to be?" And the old man, straying into the past as was more and more frequently his custom of late, added: "I thought as much when my son, Arthur, came to tell me he wanted to get married, but the end was very different."

"Well, really, sir, there's a thing to be saying, and on occasion like this." Mrs. Liptrott's voice trembled, with agitation her master thought: "You shouldn't think of it, sir, it isn't fair to Miss Lavinia."

"No, no, no, I suppose not. But I've never mentioned it to her, I've never said a word. She asked me about it last night, Mrs. Liptrott."

"Naturally, she's got her memories, she was nine years old at the time, and a child remembers more than you expect," said the housekeeper, setting out the toast and the marmalade.

"She can't have happy recollections of them," cried Dr. Pierrepoint. "Poor girl! But we've done our best for her, Mrs. Liptrott, we can say that. Nobody could have done more, nobody, I mean, of my age and tastes and my poor means. She's a beautiful girl, isn't she, Mrs. Liptrott?" he added doubtfully, with the hesitancy of one venturing on a subject quite unfamiliar to him "You understand these things better than I do, you notice all the young ladies. You'd call Miss Lavvy a beautiful young lady, wouldn't you?"

"Indeed I should, sir!" Here the housekeeper was able to speak with hearty sincerity. "A very beautiful young lady, indeed! The kind of young lady that people turn to look at in the street. And modest and well-behaved, too, and always neatly dressed. She's very clever with her needle, is Miss Lavvy. There's no one," added the housekeeper, with pride, "could ever say that she wasn't a beautiful young lady and a well-behaved young lady, and one that always looked like a young lady."

"Breed," said the Doctor absent-mindedly, and without a touch of self-consciousness, "it always tells. Old families, both sides, perhaps too old. Well, well, if the young man's all right, this ought to be a happy ending, after all. I daresay she'll be glad to get away from Maybridge."

"You couldn't blame her for that, sir, it's a dullish life for a young lady. If it wasn't for the garrison, there'd be nothing going on at all," she added rather lamely, for she had not meant Maybridge, but the Doctor's house, and so he, without offence, understood her.

"Yes, that's why I kept her at school as long as I could. I always felt, Mrs. Liptrott, that, kind as you were and interested as I tried to be, this establishment was not one for a lively young woman. And she doesn't make friends either, does she, Mrs. Liptrott?"

"Not what you might call friends, sir, plenty of acquaintances; but Miss Lavinia's not a young lady what another young lady would get very intimate with, if you know what I mean."

"She never brought any friends from school," said the Doctor, munching his toast and sipping his coffee. "I was rather disappointed—I thought she'd meet people who would give her invitations—but she was always reserved and solitary, poor Lavvy!"

"I expect it was her childhood. The ways you've learnt up to nine years old aren't so easily got out of, sir. But we oughtn't to be thinking of that, but rather what a fine young gentleman this Lieutenant Tassart is, and how fortunate he is that Miss Lavvy should have taken a liking to him, and how happy they're going to be together," added the housekeeper stoutly. "She told you, sir, that she wants to get married and go with the regiment to India?"

"No! She didn't!" replied the Doctor, startled. "At least, I don't know quite what she did say last night. I was very tired—you know what I am, Mrs. Liptrott, when I stop working, and I was on a difficult passage—'Flaws and corruptions'—yes, I remember, very difficult! And the lamp was going out and the room was rather cold, and I hadn't expected her. But no, I don't think she told me anything about going to India. Well, well, it would be a shock in a way, and a wrench. She's only nineteen, you know, Mrs. Liptrott; you couldn't call her flighty or irresponsible or foolish, now, could you?" he asked, peering through his glasses in sharp anxiety and thinking of Lavinia's mother.

"No, sir, that you couldn't," said Mrs. Liptrott warmly. "Miss Lavinia's a lady that would always command respect, always be looked up to, and always be prudent and sensible and careful."

"Yes, yes. I think she's quite fit to be married, and I only hope there'll be no hitch or trouble. I can't give her any dowry, you know, Mrs. Liptrott. I should have," he added simply, "to sell out something to pay for the wedding. I should like to do that handsomely, but a settlement is out of the question." He sank back in the warm leather chair and gazed at a stray shaft of sunlight which fell between the dark curtains on the gleaming silver coffee-pot.

"To sell out!" That had a familiar sound! He remembered years before how often he had "sold out" to pay his son's debts, gradually diminishing a handsome fortune until he had been reduced to a genteel poverty—the little estates sold, land sold, Consols sold, even family treasures, silver and pictures sold. Where did Arthur get that bad, bad blood?

* * * * *

Lavinia had come into her grandfather's study, and with her usual tact had made no reference to the night before, beyond saying, as she kissed him on the forehead, that William Tassart would call to see him that afternoon about three o'clock, and that she hoped that interview would be very satisfactory. With no more than that she was gone, in her pretty blue dress which, with her brilliant complexion and bright hair, had made a light in the dingy room.

The old man sat sunk in the vague and strange musings of old age. He had not to-day touched his learned books, his manuscripts in Greek and Coptic, the volumes of commentators, the notes and annotations, problems proposed, propounded, and sometimes solved that occupied most of his time. He had not even looked at what was his "holiday task," as he termed it—the lighter labour of turning the Odes of Pindar into modern English.

On the cumbrous, untidy desk was for once a pile of papers that had nothing to do with these learned labours—the school reports of Lavinia, letters from her mistress at the academy she had attended from the day she had first come to Maybridge until a year ago. Dr. Pierrepoint had conscientiously sought out a very elegant, well-spoken-of establishment for young ladies, one far better than anything Maybridge could afford, in Clapham, one of the elegant suburbs of London. There Lavinia had received an excellent education. He turned over her reports one by one, peered at them with his failing eyesight and read them over with considerable satisfaction.

His experiment had succeeded, his money had not been wasted. The sacrifice he had had to make to send Lavinia to this expensive academy had been rewarded. The letters and the reports contained nothing but praise. "Diligent, dutiful, pious," said one line. "A brilliant musician, an exquisite needle-woman. Her drawings far surpass any of the performances by the other young ladies. Her knowledge of languages is extraordinary for a female. She has a fine taste. She puts energy and patience into all she undertakes, and is most careful in the performance of all her duties."

The final letter written by the head mistress when Lavinia left the school was what the Doctor termed to himself "a glowing eulogy." Miss Merton had no fault to find with the girl, none, or at least, no fault tangible enough to be put on paper to the girl's guardian. Her letter was all praise; Lavinia might be termed a model young gentlewoman. But, at the bottom of all these commendations was a sentence that perhaps to some people might have nullified much that had gone before.


From what I know of dear Lavinia, wrote Miss Merton, I must confess she is rather reserved, and it is possible that in some points I may, even after this long acquaintance, have misjudged or misunderstood her character. She is, for one so young, singularly reticent and self-contained, what I might venture to call a strong character and one uncommon in a girl.


Dr. Pierrepoint paid no attention to these words. He knew, by his own experience, that Lavinia was not demonstrative nor affectionate, but this did not surprise him since he had not had the strength nor the desire to make her close acquaintance. There were too many years between them; she was too closely associated in his mind with the trouble, anguish, and disappointment that he had suffered through his only son. They were, in everything, alien, and he would have been only sorely embarrassed if she had tried to induce an affectionate relationship between them. Sunk in his own habits, he had not noticed the coldness of the young girl nor been troubled by it as had Mrs. Liptrott. He was merely half-unconsciously thankful that she was always civil and kind.

Lately he had uneasily and vaguely noticed, in the brilliant blooming of her uncommon beauty, a likeness to her mother. Then he had thanked God, secretly and keenly, that she was not also like her mother in a capacity for emotional scenes.

He folded up the letters and reports from Miss Merton, the praises of dancing-master, music-master, drawing-master, and replaced them in one of his drawers. His mind was at ease. The girl, despite her unfortunate early history, was a prize for any man. He could, on his conscience, as one gentleman to another, assure William Tassart that he had a treasure in Lavinia Pierrepoint.

* * * * *

Lavinia came down to dinner at two o'clock. It was the only meal that she shared with her grandfather, who took his other light repasts in his study.

The two floors in the chemist's shop in the side street formed a very comfortable lodging, which was distinguished by some of Dr. Pierrepoint's possessions rescued from larger establishments of more opulent days. There was still some fine crested silver plate on the table, still some good Persian rugs to lay on the floor and one or two pieces of Sheraton furniture not over-large for these small but dignified panelled rooms. There were portraits also, miniatures, silhouettes, and water-colours that did not appear too cumbrous to hang above the charming pieces of Chelsea and Crown Derby Lavinia kept gracefully filled with seasonable flowers.

The housekeeper and Janet, the daily woman, kept all polished and shining.

Lavinia included among her gifts a meticulous sense of method and cleanliness. Without the least fuss or ostentation she could keep everything in its place. For her the real horror of her unhappy childhood was not so much the knowledge of the tragedy of her father and mother, of their anger, despair, and suffering, but the squalid lodging-houses which she could remember so poignantly; the greasy serving-maids, ill-cooked unpunctual, tepid meals, the dirty rooms, the coarse bed linen; a life of shifts, disorders, confusions, late goings to bed, late rising, irregular meals, drinking and smoking at all hours. It was this which she remembered with such resentful dislike. She had early resolved that she would never deteriorate to such a level.

With the fastidious and dainty old man she lived a life of genteel poverty perhaps, but of considerable elegance. She took good care that there was nothing in her surroundings which offended, that there was, even, much which pleased. She disliked living over a chemist's shop not only because of that queer association with the past, but because nearly all of the gentry in Maybridge had their own houses. But the street was pleasant, narrow, quiet, and without any other shops, and her cool, practical common sense had at once admitted, when Dr. Pierrepoint had told her that he paid but twenty pounds a year for the lodgings, that better could not have been found at the price.

She took the head of the small polished table and served her grandfather with her usual tactful kindness, making no reference to William Tassart, as if that subject might have proved embarrassing to both of them. Mrs. Liptrott, she was amused to notice, treated her with an extra solicitude and deference as if she had suddenly become more important and worthy of respect.

"And perhaps, indeed, I have," thought the girl.

There was a letter on a silver salver by her place; she glanced at it once and then away again, for she feared that it was from one of her school friends, and though she had "got on very well" with all the girls at Miss Merton's establishment, there was not one of them whose friendship she thought worth while to continue. They all moved self-contained in their own spheres. Lavinia Pierrepoint was set apart by the circumstances of her life from all of them, and she did not care enough for any of them to try to break down this barrier. A pretence at friendship, a desultory correspondence was merely boring, but when her grandfather asked her what her letter was, for it was rare for her to receive one, she dutifully opened it, and, as she glanced over the contents, her brooding expression, for her mind had been fixed on the coming interview that afternoon, changed, and she became animated and interested.

"Oh, Grandfather, it is an answer at last to our advertisement in the Morning Post. I should not have thought after all this while—" she broke off, her attention completely absorbed in the letter.

"Well, well, my dear," said the old man good-naturedly, "it is too late now, is it not? There'll be no need for you to trouble yourself about it. I'd have spared my pains putting it in, Lavvy, if I'd known your good news," and he looked at her half-wistfully as if he thought she might have let him into her confidence earlier and said: "Don't waste your guinea on that insertion, Grandfather, I'm sure I'm going to marry one of the officers."

"She must have known," he mused, "I'll never believe the young man took her by surprise last night."

Indeed, no one would ever have believed that anything would easily surprise Lavinia.

"This letter is from an agency in London, Grandfather. They want me to go and see them; they think they have the very post that I should like—it is in France, in Provence." She looked up and be was really amazed to see that her eyes were sparkling with excitement, and when she was very animated they seemed to change colour, and the rather insipid hazel-blue took on a transient greenish hue. "They say that it is an exceptional chance, and if I were to suit I might demand a very high salary."

"Too many good things at once," smiled Dr. Pierrepoint, "eh? Well, you'll have to write and tell them that you're no longer in need of even an exceptional chance, my dear. What do they offer?" he asked curiously, for he had very little idea of this or any other kind of business, but always relied on Mr. Elphinstone, his London lawyer, for advice in all his modest affairs.

It was Mr. Elphinstone who had found Miss Merton's establishment for Lavinia, and Mr. Elphinstone who had suggested and drawn up the advertisement.

"They don't say," replied Lavinia in a tone of disappointment. "They want me to go up to London and see them. They say they can explain everything in an interview. The post is with some titled people at a château near Marseilles. The country is very beautiful, is it not, Grandfather?—I have read so much about it—almost like Italy." She refused the sweet which Mrs. Liptrott offered, and added absently: "I wonder if I should have suited them."

"Well, my dear, it all sounds very pleasant and romantic—a château in Provence, and a good salary! But there may be drawbacks, you know. I should have thought," he added, "that if it had been a really good substantial post they could have found somebody for it without answering an odd advertisement like ours."

Lavinia darted him a shrewd glance.

"That's very true," she said, "it makes me the more anxious to investigate."

She folded the letter up and placed it inside her tight-buttoned blue wrist-band.

"I shall write and ask for further particulars," she added. "After all, there might be a delay in my marriage. You see, if William's relatives were not agreeable, I should have to wait, and I couldn't wait here being a burden—I should have to find some post."

These sentiments were very proper and even laudable, but Mrs. Liptrott, who was returning the sweet to the sideboard and selecting the cheese and biscuits for the Doctor, thought it sounded singularly ugly on the lips of a young lady who had accepted a proposal of marriage but the night before.

Where was the romance, the blushes, the heart-beats, where the pretty confusions and trembling trepidation? It was, Mrs. Liptrott thought, all wrong for a young woman, and a pretty young woman, to regard her marriage in such a business-like fashion.

"It doesn't seem human," thought the housekeeper uneasily, and as she handed the cheese she stole a furtive glance at the young woman in the blue frock who spoke so coolly and casually of her most intimate affairs, and yet who was, Mrs. Liptrott was sure, by no means easily to be understood.

April sunshine fell through the spotless muslin blind on to the pure profile of Lavinia Pierrepoint, on to her parted, banded, pale hair, the full-lidded eyes, the short nose, the deeply curved mouth, the rounded chin, the long throat. Even Mrs. Liptrott, who knew the face so well and bad not a very sensitive perception, was almost startled at a certain revelation of loveliness, of that strangeness which some say alone is worthy to be called beauty.

Lavinia's next remark further irritated Mrs. Liptrott.

"I shall write to Mr. Elphinstone and find out from him if these agents are trustworthy people."

"And she to have such thoughts in her head just now," thought the housekeeper to herself, and her furtive look at the girl became half-alarmed. Knowing what she did of her history, it seemed to the simple woman as if this pretty creature had been born without either a heart or a soul.

* * * * *

With much trepidation Dr. Pierrepoint received the suitor for his granddaughter's hand in his study, which the housekeeper had tidied for the occasion. It was the first, and, as he supposed, would certainly be the last occasion in his life in which he would find himself in such a predicament, for so he named his situation to himself.

He felt the young man who hesitated on his threshold to be a formal personage, and it was with some timidity that he bade him enter, greeted him, and offered him a seat. Then he peered, first over, then through his spectacles, at William Tassart as if he gazed at the inhabitant of another world.

The young officer was very dark and handsome, in well-tailored civilian clothes. He was tall and unusually well-proportioned. His features were good and regular, his complexion clear and pale, his hair, harsh and thickly curling, was of a dark chestnut colour, and his reddish-brown eyes were rendered extremely attractive, or slightly sinister as the taste of the spectator might go, by a pronounced cast in one of them. Conscious perhaps of this defect, he kept his eyes half closed. His extremely well-cut face was rather expressionless, whether from lack of intelligence or extreme self-control it was quite beyond the good Doctor to determine, but, little used as he was to coming into contact with, much less judging his fellows, he did think that this good-looking face, despite its air of pride and manly calm, despite the full whiskers coming on to the cheek-bones, was very far from being mature or that of a man of the world. Indeed, the old scholar was not very favourably impressed by the young soldier, and thought him slightly wooden without warmth, and cold, too much like Lavinia herself, he thought. "Well, I suppose that's the bond between them."

Without the least embarrassment, using all the conventional phrases of courtesy and self-depreciation, yet showing unmistakably that he valued his own person and attentions very highly, the young man put forward his suit for the hand of Lavinia Pierrepoint.

He was well spoken and his breeding was unquestionable; there was no definite fault that the old man could find with him, yet he knew that if he had really loved Lavinia he would have hesitated to give her to this gentleman.

"My prospects," explained Lieutenant Tassart, "are those of a younger son. My small portion went in purchasing my commission, in my education and training and in an equipment that had to be, under the circumstances, handsome. I have, then, nothing but my pay; until I am promoted that will not be sufficient for me to support a wife."

"Your request for the hand of Lavinia is, then, a little premature?" put in the Doctor pleasantly.

"By no means! I hope to persuade my brother, Sir Henry Tassart, to give me an allowance, as he may well do, for the estate is very handsome, and I do not conceal from you, sir," added the young officer, with more warmth than he had yet shown, "that I consider it my brother's duty to in some way supplement my meagre pay. It would be only fitting that he should give me an allowance. We are not, as I have explained to Lavinia, on the best of terms."

"That is unfortunate," said the Doctor dryly. "Might I ask the reason for this estrangement?"

"I took leave," replied the young officer, without a gleam of humour, "to disapprove of my brother's mode of life. I was much concerned by certain ways of his in London. He resented my interference greatly. He is engaged to marry a lady next June. I am forced to say I do not regard with equanimity the prospect of this lady as a sister-in-law. Here again there was high feeling between us."

The Doctor looked down at the floor in silence. He was thinking: "I don't wonder, you confounded pragmatical prig!"

The young officer continued without hesitation or awkwardness, and though his sentiments were so stiff, and his words, the Doctor thought, continually ill-chosen, yet it must be admitted that his voice was manly and pleasant.

"But, in these changed circumstances, Dr. Pierrepoint, I hope that my brother will be reasonable. Should he allow me but five hundred a year, and were I able to obtain the like from my godmother and aunt, Lady Coign, I believe that I might venture on matrimony."

"Venture, the devil!" the old Doctor thought, and then was instantly repentant. Had he not suffered enough from wild, reckless, charming rakes, impulsive and affectionate, but good-for-nothing? His son, Arthur! He'd had his lesson there. He ought to be thankful that Lavinia had chosen this quiet, prudent, sensible fellow. So he said, forcing warmth into his voice:

"I assure you, Lieutenant Tassart, that my granddaughter will be very happy to marry you, even on the smallest allowance on which it is possible for her to live with some show of comfort and dignity. She has not been brought up to luxury, as you may observe for yourself. I, with some early misfortunes, lost most of the money my father left me." He hesitated, then added: "Perhaps you know, at least you should know, that Lavinia's father, Captain Pierrepoint, was a very extravagant man. I had to pay his debts several times, but he died in India, killed in action."

"It is a very old family," said Lieutenant Tassart, slightly inclining his head, "an honourable name, Dr. Pierrepoint."

"An old family—yes," said the old man meekly, "old enough. We are connected with the Dukes of Kingsford, a title now extinct, as you know, but what there is Lavinia will have. But it amounts to very, very little," he added hastily, "a few pieces of plate, a few bits of furniture, a few hundreds in Consols—nothing else, I am afraid."

"And Lavinia's mother?" asked the young officer.

This question seemed to Dr. Pierrepoint in the worst of taste. The painful flush of old age crept into his sallow face, but he answered as patiently as he could.

"Lavinia's mother also came from a very good family. She was a Miss Levine, an only daughter, and her parents were dead. I fear on that side there are none but very indifferent connections from whom Lavinia has long been separated, who scarcely, perhaps, know of her existence. I will not disguise from you, sir, that it was a match of which I did not greatly approve. My daughter-in-law was a beautiful and expensive woman."

He paused; the young man was sitting silent, alert, waiting for him to continue. Dr. Pierrepoint forced himself to add:

"She had some slight illness which caused her husband to leave her behind him in London the last time he was ordered out to India. He had been there already in his youth. She rather dreaded the climate; she was preparing to join him. It was a very severe winter; she caught a chill and died of pneumonia very suddenly, and I have looked after Lavinia ever since."

"It is a very sad history, sir," said Lieutenant Tassart, without a trace of feeling in his pleasant voice.

"I have tried," said the old man, with dignity, "to see that it is not a sad history for Lavinia. She has had all the happiness which I could procure for her. The rest of her life is to be in your hands, sir; I hope you will approach the task as sincerely, as whole-heartedly, as I have done."

Then, most unexpectedly, Lieutenant Tassart asked:

"Is that a rebuke, sir?"

Dr. Pierrepoint laughed.

"A rebuke? I don't know! We're setting about it rather cold-bloodedly, are we not? I am not a business man; Lavinia has no dowry, so there is nothing to discuss. I intended, whatever happened, to leave her choice in her own hands."

The old man leant back wearily in his chair; he gave a longing, sideways glance at his books and manuscripts, at the quill-pens neatly sharpened and the pewter inkwells newly polished.

"I know nothing of you, Lieutenant Tassart, but, of course, I have nothing against you. Your family and prospects seem the best that Lavinia could expect. I hope," he said, with genuine feeling, "that there is that affection between you which will make everything easy."

Again the young man bent his stately head, neither agreeing to nor denying this sentiment.

"I have your consent then, sir, for the marriage of Lavinia before the regiment departs to India? She is willing to accompany me."

"You have my full consent if you can obtain from your relatives that provision which I unfortunately cannot promise you."

The young man rose and bowed. He had conducted the interview without hesitation and without undue or embarrassing delays, nor had he, either out of delicacy or stupidity, touched on any awkward subjects, and the Doctor, as he got stiffly to his feet, was grateful. Yet the old man looked at the young man with curiosity, a fine figure, a splendid figure, but how mysterious another human being could be! He knew nothing of this man who wanted to marry Lavinia, he was a complete stranger; his conversation, his manner, had revealed nothing of his own thoughts. Why did he want him to marry Lavinia? Why did Lavinia want to marry him?

Then the young man showed the only hesitancy he had displayed during the interview. He said something which showed Dr. Pierrepoint that he was not by any means a fool, nor yet without feeling. Pausing on the threshold, with his hand already on the door-knob, he said, with an obvious effort over reserve, pride, and custom, yet with a certain manly determination to override these obstacles:

"Do you think, sir—you must know her, living with her always, I think she is solitary and has not many friends or acquaintances—do you think that Lavinia really cares for me?"

Dr. Pierrepoint was much moved at this request coming from one who had seemed so insensitive himself. The answer that came instantly to his lips was: "I do not think that Lavinia really cares for either you or anyone else," but he checked this instantly as both disloyal, unkind, and probably untrue, so he replied in a rather vain evasion of the issue:

"I'm an old man, nearly eighty, sir, and Lavinia's a very young girl, not nineteen yet; I don't know much about her. She only told me this last night. You see, I live in a world of my own, that of books, and she's only been home a year."

Lieutenant Tassart smiled. This altered his face considerably and gave him a rather wistful charm. Dr. Pierrepoint believed that he was, after all, under his stiff airs and conventional manners, perhaps a warm-hearted, even a simple-minded, man.

"I see, sir, that you know nothing about it. It was weakness for me to ask."

"She has consented to be your wife," said Dr. Pierrepoint encouragingly. And at this Lieutenant Tassart's smile deepened with such meaning and his voice as he repeated Dr. Pierrepoint's words took on such an inflexion that the old man perceived he was very far indeed from being a fool or even a man who was easily hoodwinked.

"Ah, yes, she has consented to be my wife," he agreed, "but that is quite another matter. However, it is my own affair, and I must settle it myself. I shall not disturb you further, sir; it was merely your formal consent I required."

He closed the door and left the old scholar to shake gradually from his disturbed mind all remembrance of Lavinia and her future, and to immerse himself in those antique studies which to him were as refreshing as the winds and waters of Paradise, some immortal world in which his spirit dwelt with perfect contentment.

* * * * *

As Lieutenant Tassart left the house he glanced round in the hope that Lavinia might appear at some doorway, but she was not to be seen. It was Mrs. Liptrott who had answered the ring on the Doctor's bell and who decorously showed him down the few stairs which led to the passage at the side of the chemist's shop.

The young man came out into the sunny afternoon street, which was very quiet and empty, save for a milkwoman passing along with her pails hanging from her scrubbed yoke. Lieutenant Tassart did not feel as happy, as elated as a newly-accepted lover should feel. As he turned towards the officers' quarters at the other end of the town he wondered with some self-contempt why he wished to marry Lavinia Pierrepoint, and if the perverse emotion which he felt for this uncommon creature were really half love or complete love or some aspect of love or half-veiled desire or a deep and restless curiosity.

The nearest solution he could get to his own, rather unhappy state of mind was that he wanted her not for what she was, but for what he slightly uneasily surmised she might be. He suspected that she was a rarity, which he must at any cost save and keep for himself.

* * * * *

Before Lavinia and her grandfather went out for their daily walk of half an hour or so, the only exercise the old man took, she wrote to Mr. Elphinstone, the family lawyer in Bedford Row, asking him as to the credentials of the firm that had answered her advertisement in the Morning Post, and, as the two took their accustomed stroll down the sunny cobbled High Street, with her own hands she put the letter in the box at the post-office.

It was a day of warm, sweet winds and clear blue air and some clouds very high overhead. As the strong young woman tactfully accommodated her swift step to the slow progress of the old man, he asked her to whom was the letter, and when she told him he smiled and said:

"What a cautious girl you are, Lavvy! Why, surely, everything is settled now with William Tassart?"

"He has not yet seen his brother and Lady Coign," she remarked quietly.

They passed the familiar shops; where the tradespeople happened to be in the windows or in the entrance they bowed respectfully. Dr. Pierrepoint and his granddaughter were very well thought of in Maybridge.

"You haven't seen him since he came to interview me?" asked the old man rather wistfully. He was, like Mrs. Liptrott, searching out for something warm, reassuring and human in what seemed to him a very coldly arranged love-affair, if love-affair it could be termed.

"No, I haven't seen him, Grandfather, but he has written to me. He has got leave at the end of this week for two days, and he is going up to London to see his brother and Lady Coign. I shall then know at once if we can be married before he goes to India, or no."

"You must tell me as soon as possible, my dear," said the old man. "There'll be a great many preparations to make and a great many things to buy."

She detected a note of anxiety in his voice, and she replied in a tone where deference masked pride.

"You must not think that I am going to be any burden to you, Grandfather. Everything will be very simple; William expects nothing."

"But some things you must have, my dear. I do not want a hole-and-corner affair. I have lived too solitary, I am afraid. There are people who ought to know of this—your mother's cousins and her aunt by marriage, who, I believe, is still living, Mrs. Robert Levine—"

Lavinia interrupted as they turned round the corner of the High Street and stood at the top of the steep hill which sloped down to the meadows.

"They've had nothing to do with me all these years, Grandfather, and I do not want them told of this now. William does not expect an array of relations."

"Very well, my dear, just as you please. But I want everything done properly."

"Will you go any further, Grandfather, or shall we turn back now? The hill is too steep for you to return this way, and round by the fields is rather far."

"But it is a lovely day, and I think I would like to go for a walk. I shall be able to work better for the fresh air."

So the two of them, the tall girl and the bent old man, carefully descended the hill, past the gardens filled with peonies and wallflowers and early roses, out to the lane where the hawthorn was white and green in the hedges and the fields beyond gleamed with glossy buttercups.

At first they tried to make a little conversation, to talk of small affairs of mutual interest as was their usual custom, but after a while each fell silent, for their thoughts were far away from the present scene.

* * * * *

Dr. Pierrepoint's mind was for once not with his books nor his studies. He went back over the years to a youth that seemed very remote—a carefree youth spent in opulent surroundings which he, austere, severe, and cold-blooded, had hardly valued at all. He remembered, with a dim yet poignant pleasure, the days of his study at school and college, the peace and the grateful mental effort and the winning of honours one by one.

He remembered, too—and this was yet an even more remote memory—the figure of his young wife who had died in the first year of their marriage, leaving him with Arthur. The smell of the hawthorns, sickly, faint, came to his nostrils and reminded him of rotting lilies—so the last garland he had ever given her had smelt when he had visited her grave a few days after her burial. He remembered the mound of broken earth waiting, the mason said—"to settle" before a headstone could be placed.

He wondered why he had married her; he wondered from whom Arthur had got his wild, bad blood. It was strange that this was Arthur's daughter, erect, reserved in her blue gown, walking beside him. What would Arthur have said to this marriage? The old man felt uneasy. Like most people who have a keen sense of duty, he was always tormented by the feeling that some duty had been left undone. To work from a code instead of from the emotions is never satisfying.

Dr. Pierrepoint thought, something troubled: "If I had loved Lilian or Arthur or this girl, perhaps everything would have been different. It is true I did all I could, and have really ruined myself for them one after another. I remember how much I had to spend on her in that one year—there was really no end to her whims. But I never loved any of them."

And he looked up wistfully at the pure profile of Lavinia outlined against the pearly-white of the clustered blossoms on the sharp blackthorn. He wished, and did not know why he wished, that everything had been different. Perhaps, after all, Lavinia ought to know something more about her parents, but he decided at once that it would be impossible to take her into his confidence.

* * * * *

They turned round by the meadows and approached the high- placed town from another direction which would lead them home through a gentle sloping street that would pass the barracks and the officers' quarters. The old man had asked Lavinia if she would not care for him to make a call on a few acquaintances, say the vicar's wife, or the doctor's lady, and tell them her news.

But Lavinia had said no—it was not worth the fatigue. She knew that he detested such formal calls, and for her they held no interest. She was not concerned at being a cause of wonder and comment in Maybridge. She knew that to some women the announcement of such an engagement in such circumstances would have been a matter of no small triumph, but she was truly indifferent to the good or bad opinion of anyone in Maybridge; she thought them all her inferiors. She was on civil terms with everybody, but she had no friends. Some of the women in genuine compassion, mingled perhaps with a little curiosity, had tried to mother and befriend her, but she had early and distinctly kept them at a distance.

Some of the girls had wished to get on terms of sentimental intimacy with her, but this, too, had been checked, tactfully, and without giving offence, but not without leaving the impression behind that Miss Lavinia Pierrepoint was a stand-offish, proud creature. She was aware that many of the young women in the garrison town would very gladly have married Lieutenant Tassart with his good looks, his impressive airs, and his fine connections. But the petty triumph of having secured him had no attraction.

As, walking slowly beside the old man, she circled the red town, crowned by the grey church, in the blue day, her thoughts were far away from Maybridge. She saw her past life, a series of flitting pictures; she saw the future as vague as these, more pictures, disconnected, shuffled together—herself and William Tassart at the altar of the old church which now rose above her with crenellated walls and glittering vane.

She raised her eyes to this. It would be, no doubt, a pretty wedding, everyone would be kind, she would get a great many simple presents, perhaps the brother, the baronet, would come and Lady Coign and aunt and godmother. The Vicar would officiate, he would be fatherly and give her much good advice and afterwards—? She knew so little; William was a stranger to her. She would have to learn all about him, his desires, his tastes, his attitude to herself. Everything would be in his hands. She would have to follow his fortunes and accept his money; the only way in which she could procure any power or liberty for herself would be through his tolerance, possibly through his infatuation. She would have to gain an influence over him; perhaps it would not be easy, he was so reserved. The knowledge of what lay behind her own reticence made her suspicious of anybody else's tranquillity.

They reached the town again, they passed underneath the red brick walls of the barracks. She saw some of the soldiers in the handsome Huzzah dress with the short, braided cape, a dashing and distinctive uniform that became William Tassart vastly.

They came into the town again and passed several acquaintances. Lavinia nodded and smiled; she never encouraged anyone to stop and talk to her. The most loquacious and garrulous now passed her by with no more than a greeting. Shadows, thin and transparent, lay in the narrow streets; above, the racing of the white clouds across the empty blue gave an six of swiftness to a scene that in itself was motionless. Even the exact lines of the houses, the roofs, the chimney-pots, the pilasters, pediments and porches rigid in their red bricks and white stone, seemed fused and softened into something impalpable by the brightness of the air and the quivering shadows and the clouds that crossed and re-crossed them.

They reached the house above the chemist's neat premises. The old man went up the stairs, but Lavinia turned into the shop. She had several purchases to make; the shop fascinated her, she entered it whenever she could find an excuse. It had bow windows with diamond-panes, either side three worn steps. In one window were three large dull lavender-jars on which, in gold, were figures of the god of medicine and the god of strength, Aesculapius and Hercules, either side the coat-of-arms of the Apothecaries. In the other window were bunches of dried poppy-heads, a large sponge stuck with shells under a glass case, and some spotless bars of white Castile soap.

Lavinia Pierrepoint entered the shop, which was always in shadow. It was not the best chemist's in Maybridge, yet an old-established and most respectable business. One counter ran the whole length of the shop to the right as you entered and behind it were shelves on which were jars, some in the lavender blue and some in Italian majolica, containing all manner of drugs, powders, dried plants such as senna-pods and cinnamon leaf, and many things that Mrs. Liptrott used in her cooking such as nutmeg, aniseed, caraway, cocoa-beans and cardamam seeds. On the top shelf above these jars were glass bottles containing different-coloured fluids. All were neatly labelled with their Latin names in faded letters.

The other side of the shop was occupied by a large cabinet with a great number of drawers, also labelled with the names of different medicines and drugs, and at the back of the shop was a small distillery and dispensary where all the various articles were compounded into medicines, perfumes, syrups, unguents, and washes for the complexion and the hair.

Mr. Mayhew himself was seldom in the shop; a young assistant, pale, sandy-haired and always wearing a spotless holland overall, served the customers.

Lavinia Pierrepoint seated herself on the stool, and folded her hands on the counter beneath the small, exquisitely-balanced gleaming pair of scales, and asked for some rose-water, some cloves, cinnamon and another bottle of the mixture that Dr. Morel had ordered for her grandfather's cough.

While the young man was carefully making up this order, Lavinia's eyes, which in the shadow took on a dark hue, roved round under the broad white lids at all the drawers, bottles, and jars. She was speculating as to their contents; the door was open into the dispensary. She looked through; she could see the pestle and mortar and the marble slab at which some ointments were being mixed. Curious thick mingled perfumes made the air heavy. She mused on what power of life and death lay harmless in the little shop—drugs to heal, drugs to please, opiates to soothe and poisons to slay. As the taciturn young man laid her purchases before her and as she counted out the money for them—for she never ran accounts—she was thinking to herself: "I wonder what my mother took? I know she got it quite easily. How well I remember waiting at the door. There were poppy-heads in the window like there are here—she was not inside more than a moment or two. How easy it must be! Arsenic, I suppose, or prussic acid, but the suffering is atrocious, and it cannot be concealed from anyone."

She stepped out of the little shop into the daylight and passed into the door at the side of the diamond-paned window.

"Why do I have these infamous thoughts? What sort of legacy is this hidden within me?"

She wished that she could go into the shop some night when no one was there and look, out of sheer curiosity, at all these raw materials and curious compounds which the sallow young man weighed out so indifferently all day long.

* * * * *

That evening, after supper, William Tassart came to see her. She was almost surprised at this visit; she had scarcely realised she had a lover; he was not in any way part of her life, though he might be part of her schemes.

The Doctor was closed in his study; Mrs. Liptrott brought in the coffee. Lavinia thought she wanted to be felicitous and motherly, and repelled her with a cold look. The lamp with the opal globe was set upon the shining table; the soft, milky light became diffused into the long, spring twilight.

Lavinia still wore the bright blue dress, pretty in colour but clumsy in make, that she so much disliked; but while she had to have her clothes made in Maybridge, it was useless for her to give them a thought, so she wore this, as she wore other ugly garments, with supreme indifference.

She was surprised to see that the young man appeared much moved. She had not troubled to give any consideration as to his aspect of the matter; from the first moment of their betrothal she had decided it was useless to speculate about him until she knew him better.

"Lavinia, wish me luck! To-morrow I am going up to London."

"I know," she replied, demure and smiling, hoping inwardly that he was not going to be tedious and stupid.

"I have written both to my brother and Lady Coign, apprising them of my visit—there is not time for me to receive an answer."

Lavinia turned down the wick of the lamp, which was smoking a little. She wondered if she dared be sincere with him; so far, life, to her, had been a continuous acting of a part, she had never found it wise to be herself with those who were either too stupid or too self-absorbed to take any real interest in her. She wondered if this man who had asked her to be his wife might be confided in, so she ventured in a tone that she kept purposelessly colourless:

"Are you much concerned in this, William? Do you very much want to marry me before you go to India?"

"Why should you think otherwise?"

To her secret vexation his tone was as non-committal as was her own.

"I don't know, but I thought we had better be frank with one another. You see, we have only a short acquaintance, and I suppose, even if you could get an allowance from your people, you would find a wife a burden. I don't want to be a burden, William, to anyone. It has gone against the grain for me to accept what I have had to accept from my grandfather."

"That is capricious," he replied, as if he were offended. "How can a wife be a burden on her husband? I only desire a means to keep you according to my rank."

His rank, not hers! She marked that. And it flashed over her so forcibly they would be talking very differently if they were really in love one with another, and this despite her lack of knowledge of love, that she said:

"I cannot think why you want to marry me, William, nor why I said 'Yes."

He seemed pleased by this, flattered in his pride and gratified at her ignorance. She saw that she had struck the correct attitude for an innocent young girl and, venturing almost to caricature her own effect, so sure was she of his stupidity, she murmured:

"I am so unworthy of your attentions."

He smiled, took her pretty hand where it rested on the table, and pressed it with his own firm fingers.

"Thus it is," thought Lavinia, astonished, "one must flatter him. Nothing is to gross. He really thinks I am his inferior; I shall have to continue to let him think so."

She moved over to the window, under pretence of drawing the curtains over the paling daylight. She was afraid he would see her amazement and her scorn in her face.

"We shall not be rich, Lavinia," he was saying in his quiet, pleasant voice. "There will be many things that the other officers' ladies have that I shall not be able to give you. But I hope for a rapid promotion; I am not without influence. My brother, if he would, could do a good deal for me. You could help too, Lavinia. I shall be very proud of my wife."

She still stood with her back to him, pretending to occupy herself with the curtains. She could understand and sympathise with his last sentiments. No doubt she would be very useful to him—a social asset. There was no one in Maybridge who was worth her trouble, but once among her equals or her superiors she knew that she could be a triumphant success. She felt sure that there was no one, man or woman, who would be able to resist her wiles. She was conscious, without vanity, of an immense power in herself.

On these grounds she and her husband might be very good friends, his success would be her success, she would help him loyally. She saw herself as a general's lady, perhaps the wife of a governor or a viceroy...She hoped he had some talent; she knew he had all the virtues and a capacity for hard work.

These practical musings were broken by his speaking again, and in a totally changed voice:

"You do not show much tenderness towards me, Lavinia. Have you already repented?"

She looked at him over her shoulder. He sat beyond the lamplight and his face was pale above the black cravat and white cambric collar. He looked fatigued, emotionally exhausted, she thought. It was a handsome face; she was vexed with herself that she could not feel any romantic warmth towards this smart soldier who had all the outward trappings, all the elegance and distinction of person supposed to appeal to young women. But she could not make him more to her than the linchpin of her schemes for the future. She thought, however, that she knew already how to manage him.

She came to the table, took the chair beside him, shading her eyes with her hand, and said faintly:

"It has all happened so suddenly; I have led a very lonely life. I feel quite overwhelmed—and then the thought of going away to such a far country—"

She had not been wrong, he was gratified by this confusion, this timidity. He took her hand again:

"I do love you, Lavinia!"

She was quick enough to hear, by the manner in which he said these words, that he was seeking to reassure his own doubts more than her hesitancies.

"I hope you love me?" he continued, with an even more difficult effort. "You know it is for all our lives, Lavinia, until death. I could not endure an unhappy marriage or any scandal—separation or divorce."

"What makes you think of such things?" she asked, without looking up. She feared he was dwelling on her family history. What had her grandfather told him?

"They happen every day," he replied, with a touching simplicity. "I could not endure, however, that they should happen to me. I want, above all things, Lavinia, a peaceful, contented life. I want a woman who will help me, who will be my companion and friend, always. I have had that ideal since I was a child."

"And yet you chose me upon so short an acquaintance?" murmured Miss Pierrepoint. "I am not yet nineteen years old, you know. I only left school a year ago."

She said this to draw him on; she wanted to know his mind. It was not in the least her intention to relinquish him from his engagement, she desired merely to probe the utmost of his rigid ideals, that she might, outwardly at least, conform to them.

"I know you," he replied, "I can judge you. I see that you are different from any other woman I have ever met. You have character, intelligence—" he began to fumble with his words, to lose his ingrained formality. The sight of her drooping, turned aside head—she had averted her face to hide the smile twitching at her lips—moved him "Oh, my dear," he added, "that seems as if I have chosen you with my mind, not my heart! We are both of us, perhaps, Lavinia, rather solitary and strange people; but God helping me, I will make you happy."

Lavinia turned towards him her lovely face, on which there was now no trace of a smile, but rather a beautiful solemnity.

"I shall not fail you, William, I will do my best to help you in everything. From now on my destiny is yours."

She meant what she said. Since she had no other prospects in the world, she thought that it was her best policy to put all her energy, all her gifts into this marriage.

* * * * *

Lavinia received a reply from Mr. Elphinstone on the day that Lieutenant Tassart went up to London to interview his brother and Lady Coign.

The lawyer wrote that the agents who had sent her the answer to her advertisement were eminently respectable people, and that she might rest assured that anyone whom they recommended would be of impeccable credentials. And he added, knowing nothing, of course, of her recent engagement to the young soldier, that he would most strongly advise her to accept, if she possibly could, the post in Provence. He himself would take up the question of references; she need be under no uneasiness on that point.

Lavinia felt a slight sense of disappointment, because it was now useless for her to go to London and interview these agents, and make further enquiries as to the position offered in the château in the South of France. She had never left her own country, and the idea of this exotic land, as it seemed to her imagination, with its wealth of flowers and rich architecture and stainless skies and fragrant breezes, appealed to her strongly. Her fancy played round the possible people who required an Englishwoman. As a governess?—that would have been disappointing. She did not care for children. As companion?—she liked foreigners, or believed she did. The French mistress at Miss Merton's establishment had been the one creature with whom she had got on almost intimate terms.

She believed that life in France would suit her...of course, she would have preferred Paris, but then the life in these country châteaux could not be termed, she was sure, provincial, not in the sense that Maybridge was provincial.

There would be a garrison, of course, in Aix or in Marseilles. There would be quite a society, easily accessible. She might make a success among these elegant foreigners. She was sure that they would understand and value her more than did the people of Maybridge. Why, half her accomplishments which she had learnt so diligently and so eagerly, thinking they would be some use to her in the world, were wasted here. Who cared what languages she could speak? How well she could play the piano? How elegantly she could dance? How tunefully she could sing? All wasted!

But among aristocrats, among cultured people—

She checked her roving fancy, which she never allowed to beguile her for long. It was stupid to be thinking over these things. She was going to marry William Tassart and go to India. She would need all her wits to feel her way through that new world, to acquit herself with credit under circumstances so strange. There, among much that was difficult, her father would, for the first time, be of some service to her. It would be quite agreeable to refer to Captain Pierrepoint, who had died courageously in a frontier skirmish—nothing to be hidden—nothing to be ashamed of there! Even if there were those still alive who remembered his character and some of his exploits, everyone would have to admit that he had been a gentleman and had died like a British officer.

So she put the letter from Mr. Elphinstone, and the train of associations it brought with it, resolutely out of her mind, and instead, sat quietly in her room and made a list of the gowns she would require, silks, muslins, cambrics, shawls...Many to be bought out there, no doubt, but a certain amount, for her credit's sake, to be taken from England. She had said she would not be a burden on her grandfather, and she conscientiously strove to bring down her list of expenses to the minimum.

"For it will be the last I shall cost him," she told herself, "and I shall try and pay it back out of my housekeeping allowance. It is hateful to realise that he may have to go pinched for a year to pay for my wedding."

There was now no longer any need for her to think of the possibility of the position in Provence as a reserve means of escape from Maybridge, because William Tassart had been quite confident that, if not his brother, at least his aunt, would allow him three or four hundred a year for the next five or six years.

Lavinia Pierrepoint, therefore, passed the day agreeably, with a pleasant anticipation of the evening, for he had promised to send her a telegram announcing the success of the interviews. She knew that he would keep his word. It was too far from London for him to be able to return that same evening, but on the morrow, at tea-time, he would call on her, he had said, and give her the details of what news he would send in the telegram.

She was seated at supper with her grandfather when this arrived. Mrs. Liptrott, who was not in her confidence, rushed in with a look of terror. It was the first telegram that had come to the house above the chemist's shop since that which. Mrs. Maisley, the Kennington landlady, had sent off in such horror and fear nearly ten years ago. Dr. Pierrepoint himself looked up with amaze, not unmingled with alarm. His granddaughter had begged his company on that evening; waiting for news was a little fraying, even to her equable nerves. So he had sat patiently with his cup of milk and his morsel of fish, while he had made a pretence of eating.

"It is from William," she said, taking the telegram from the salver that Mrs. Liptrott offered, "there will be no answer."

"Eh, eh, not bad news, I hope!"

"Why should a telegram always be bad news, Grandfather? He will not be able to return till to-morrow, and I wanted to know how he had succeeded."

She drew the flimsy piece of paper out of the thin envelope. There was a certain excitement in the action; she had never received a telegram before. It seemed to her as if she were entering the world of action, where things worth while happened.

The message she read contained the worst possible news. Preserving his prudence and his dignity, even in the anguish of acute disappointment, William Tassart had written:


IMPOSSIBLE TO SECURE DESIRED RESULT. DEEPLY DISTRESSED.


Then he had added, with a chivalry which she was not in any mood to appreciate:


SENT OUT NOTICES OF OUR ENGAGEMENT. WITH ETERNAL DEVOTION. WILLIAM.


Afterwards, when she was alone in her bedroom and she had, with the self-command which had already become almost second nature to her, overcome her devastating chagrin, Lavinia gave the man credit for the generosity with which he had assured her that the blighting of his prospects made no difference to his obligations towards herself.

"He must, in some curious way, care for me, love me, or value me," she thought. "He wishes to marry me after all, but, good heavens, what a delay! The regiment will be in India at least three years—am I to be left behind? I shall be nearly twenty-two years old. Three years of Maybridge! Why did they refuse him those few hundreds? Was it because of me?"

Her pride was easily stung; she could well believe that she had been judged and rejected. A proud family did not wish to accept her as one of their members. The story of her parents must have got about. Perhaps it was even more disgraceful than she guessed.

She sat with her blind up and the muslin curtains drawn, the moonlight making the room bluish. It was as if all the horrors which she had guessed, suspected, and fought away, were suddenly confirmed and brought under her notice. She was different, set apart, in a manner, ostracised. It did make a difference in the eyes of people like the Tassarts and Lady Coign that she had no credentials, no dowry, no relatives.

The old spectres of her father and mother seemed to enter the room and sit with her. She looked at the long bed, black and white in the moonlight, and seemed to see her mother's coffin lying on it, and her mother within, her face covered with a handkerchief that had a brownish-mauve stain at one corner, her hands rising stiff, fingers rigid and erect, as if they were carved out of wood, on her breast. Then her mother was beside her, too, a lamenting figure in her dishevelled dress, with her hair hanging down and her eyes ringed with red.

There was her father; she could see him, tall and handsome, but incredibly bloated and ruined, foul words on his lips, his hand raised as if to strike. How many such scenes had these figures enacted before her? Perhaps only one or two, yet in her mind, fed by the gossip and hints of servants and landladies, multiplied a thousand times.

Better face it—they were disgraced—both of them.

"I am the daughter of a drunkard and a wanton—I suppose everybody knows it. I have got what they call bad blood."

She opened the window and leant on the sill and watched her hands, folded there in the moonlight—such beautiful, capable hands. She was sorry for them, for herself, this carefully-trained, ambitious, ardent, and elegant creature, whom nobody wanted. But her courage rose with her misfortunes; no one should guess that she was wounded, no one should see that she was frustrated. She was going to make the engagement public. She already rehearsed in her mind how she would carry it off, what tale she would present to the people of Maybridge.

She was very young, and a long engagement perhaps would be considered more prudent, more decorous, than a hasty marriage, than an instant departure for India. Three years! She believed that when that time had passed she would have completely forgotten him Could she wait for him in Maybridge? She felt trapped, and her mind turned to the loophole offered by the letter from the London agency, which spoke of the possibility of her obtaining a place in Provence.

* * * * *

It was as she had anticipated, but perhaps worse...Lieutenant Tassart came to see her immediately on his return to Maybridge. He was deeply angered, as stung as she, but far more disappointed. That, to a point, consoled her pride. It was something to be the cause of another human being's strong emotion. He had lost much of his formality and precise manners; it was not difficult for her to draw from him, though he tried to be reserved and tactful, the truth about those two interviews.

His brother had refused flatly to help him by a single shilling. He had told him he was a fool to marry a penniless girl; he had declared frankly that his own future wife, a fashionable woman and the widow of a wealthy man, would not receive a provincial miss as her sister-in-law. If William was resolute to marry Miss Lavinia Pierrepoint, he could keep her to himself.

That was the sum of the interview with the baronet.

There had been even a deeper humiliation with Lady Coign. By some ugly chance she was, it seemed, acquainted with Mrs. Levine and her daughters, the relations of Lavinia's mother, and through them Lady Coign had long known the lamentable history of Margaret Pierrepoint, which Mrs. Levine had often confided to her with tears and indignation. There could be no gloss, no excuse here; Lady Coign knew, or thought she knew, the truth. It had been given her; of course, in confidence, and she prided herself that she had never divulged it to a soul, but it had been a dreadful story, and one that had only just escaped an open scandal. She refused completely her consent to her nephew and godson marrying the daughter of Margaret Pierrepoint. She would not give him a penny to help him to any such disaster. She told him, roused by his stubborn refusal to listen to her advice, a little of what she knew of Lavinia's parents.

There had been a lamentable scene. William Tassart thought that he was not likely to see his aunt again nor ever to receive from her the least help.

"I have involved you in my misfortunes," stammered Lavinia. This was all worse than her worst imaginings; never had she suspected such an ugly coincidence as this. Then, with the last risings of a stabbed pride, she added:

"It is not true! It is all exaggerated! You know how old women gossip."

"It does not matter what she said," replied the young soldier. "I did not listen."

This was true. He had remained staunch to his own rigid ideals. What angry Lady Coign had thrown out about Margaret Pierrepoint he had tried not to hear. Of course, to his inner consciousness the story was clear, but he refused to accept it. His loyalty to Lavinia was the same as if she were already his wife. He had sent to all the fashionable papers a notice of their engagement; the only obstacle, in his mind, to their immediate union was lack of money. But he had this much of generous nobility about him that he did not resent on her the fact that she had been the cause of the first humiliation of his life, but rather felt moved to a quixotic championship of one against whom the whole world seemed arrayed.

"Besides, the misfortune of your parents was not your fault," he added; "we will not talk of it again. You shall not get a single word from me, Lavinia, as to what passed at these two interviews. I had to tell you and now it is over."

The agitation of these words caused her to look at him keenly. She had been so absorbed in her own aspect of the affair that this was the first time she had thought of how horrible it must be for him. She was surprised at his fidelity and loyalty; she would have been quite prepared for him to desert her, for she never expected very much from anyone. When she had told herself that he had all the virtues, she had not known how near the truth she came in her half-scornful estimate.

"Surely he doesn't love me!" she thought, with amazement. She turned over what love might mean. Why was the man thinking of her and not of himself? Why did he take her hand and say in this anxious way: "Lavinia, my dear, what are we going to do? Will you wait for me? At the end of three years I shall surely have saved something, or my brother will have changed his mind, or something will have happened."

"Do you care to be tied to me all this long time, William? Is it worth while? You see, now, how people regard me."

He stopped her at once; she knew that he would.

"Don't talk like that, Lavinia. I care for you; I have asked you to be my wife. I ask you now to wait for me; there is nothing else that I can do. Three years is not so long—you are very young. We are true to one another, and determined."

"Wait here!" she said, and her fingers moved convulsively in his firm clasp. "I shall take a post somewhere."

She thought of the letter from the London agents.

"I might go abroad. You wouldn't mind, would you? Then I, too, might make my economies; I might save. Some of these posts are very well paid."

"I don't care to think that you should be earning money, and for our future home," he said; "that is the last humiliation."

"But so many gentlewomen do that now, William. I need not even let my name be known. I can take another."

"No, no, that is worse!"

He seemed horrified at the suggestion. She bit her lip; it was so difficult always to be aware in advance of his prejudices.

"Well, then, my own name, for it is an uncommon one, and—"

"But—"

"There is nothing about the suggestion that need offend you, William. I would only go in a very good family, where I should be treated as an equal."

"I don't like the suggestion," he said stubbornly, "I would rather you remained here with Dr. Pierrepoint."

"There is nothing for me when Grandfather dies but these few things you see in this house, William, and perhaps his poor savings. And he would wish to leave Mrs. Liptrott something. His books are all to go to his old college, and even if he were to leave them to me they are not worth much."

"I cannot calculate on such things," replied the young soldier, with his aloof air of cold nobility. "I don't want a dead man's shoes or an old man's savings. I don't want a woman's economies."

"But we can't have what we want, William," she said sadly, "one has to make use of all means to an end."

She saw that she was soothing him by her courage and serenity. He pressed her hand convulsively and appeared, she was gratified to note, to listen to her respectfully, as if he recognised her good sense and judgment. She told him of the answer to her advertisement; she said that she would at least go to London and see these agents and make further enquiries. What would it matter to him, when he was in India, whether she were in Maybridge or Provence? She might be very well paid; she had heard that sometimes Englishwomen were. She knew that she was unusually accomplished. At the end of the three years he might have had promotion, the regiment would be again in England; then it would be less expensive living than in India, and she and he between them might have saved enough to get married on.

The young man, distracted and overwhelmed by this most unlooked-for misfortune, agreed to allow her at least to make further enquiries as to the desirability of this possible post. But, though he was for the moment overborne, he did not intend in the least to consent to his future wife becoming a companion or a governess in anyone else's establishment. That would be for his brother and Lady Coign to triumph and declare that he was, indeed, marrying a creature without pride or distinction.

Nor was Lavinia very sincere in asking his consent. Whatever he had said she intended to investigate this chance for herself. Three years!—it seemed to loom like three centuries in her imagination. At the end of that time she might possibly want still to marry William Tassart; on the other hand, she thought it very likely that some other chance would have come her way. She was now assured that he would be obstinately faithful, and, counting over her chances, she saw him among them, something stable in the background if nothing better occurred.

She looked at the small bloodstone, heavily set in gold, that he had shyly slipped on her finger. "My mother's—an earnest until—"

* * * * *

Accompanied by Mrs. Liptrott Lavinia Pierrepoint went to London on a beautiful day in May to interview the agent who had answered her advertisement in the Morning Post. Both Dr. Pierrepoint and Lieutenant Tassart had insisted that the housekeeper should be her constant companion throughout the day.

Lavinia had agreed, but when they had reached the railway station she had left the protective Mrs. Liptrott in the hotel, ordered tea for five o'clock, and told the housekeeper to await her there. Then she had gone out with a strange feeling of exhilaration and excitement, not at all warranted by her circumstances, into the London streets.

She had never been there before, but she had careful directions from Mr. Elphinstone, and her grandfather had insisted on her taking a purseful of money, so she felt both safe and content. When she came out of Paddington Station she took a hansom-cab and gave the man the number, in Regent Street, of the agency.

She had dressed herself very carefully for this interview, endeavouring to make herself look older than she was. The day had been showery when she had left Maybridge, so she wore a clumsy waterproof of drab colour over her green taffeta frock. Her uncommon hair was brushed away under her black straw bonnet, which was tied by a dark green ribbon under her round white chin. She had cotton gloves, elastic-sided boots, she carried a small leather bag and Dr. Pierrepoint's umbrella, which he had insisted on her taking at the last moment.

She was quite aware that her appearance was inelegant; she was quite satisfied that it should be so. She wished to make the impression of someone implacably respectable, stolidly virtuous and quite indifferent as to appearances, and she was too sure of herself to be the least embarrassed by the disadvantages of her attire.

She found the agency had its office in rooms above the arcade at the end of Regent Street. In a grimly furnished room a bleak-faced woman received her with respect. Lavinia, in their brief correspondence, had not failed to bring forward Mr. Elphinstone and Dr. Pierrepoint. Her claims to respectability were, she knew, well-founded. She had also sent, in advance, copies of some of Miss Merton's eulogies, and a list of the various prizes she had received while at that lady's establishment.

Miss Hilton, the secretary for the agency, sat at a desk piled with papers, and in a flat voice answered Lavinia's questions. The slow questions and answers, cautious and prudent and slightly suspicious on each side, might have been summarised thus:

The place in Provence was, admittedly, difficult to fill, but it was, without question, beyond reproach, and the salary offered was high. A great many applicants had been interviewed, but all had proved either unsatisfactory in themselves, or, when acceptable, had refused to go so far from home.

"The place is lonely, I must admit that, Miss Pierrepoint. It is a large château standing on its own grounds, about thirty miles from the nearest town—Aix. Of course, there is every comfort and even luxury, but no company—a widowed lady and her daughter, you understand, neither in very good health, who live entirely alone. The elder lady because of mourning, the younger, I understand, because of some slight defect which makes her sensitive to society."

"The position, then," interrupted Lavinia, "is not that of a governess, there are no children?"

"Oh, no! Oh, dear no! What is required is an English lady, an English gentlewoman such as yourself, Miss Pierrepoint, thoroughly accomplished, domesticated, of a quiet personality, who will read to the elder lady in English, German and Italian, and keep a certain amount of company for the younger lady, walk and ride with her, share her embroidery, and whatever diversions she may have."

"It does not sound a difficult post."

"It is lonely," said Miss Hilton candidly. "English girls do not care to go so far; it is shut away from young society. Madame does not entertain at all, there are only the servants and themselves. I believe there is an occasional visit to Paris, perhaps once a year. There is the question of religion," she went on with mechanical suaveness. "Madame is not a bigot. She has her own chapel and chaplain and is, of course, an orthodox Roman Catholic, but she is quite prepared to take a Protestant young lady. There is an English Church and chaplain at Marseilles."

"What salary is offered?"

"A very high one. In English money a hundred pounds a year; a servant, a chamberwoman, would be allowed for your own personal use. You would have a suite of rooms, two—" She looked at the paper by her side,—"or is it three? Everything, of course, would be found. You would live like the ladies themselves, that is to say, in considerable luxury."

"It ought to be possible to save," said Lavinia, thoughtfully. "Certainly, Miss Pierrepoint, it ought to be possible to save almost the whole of the salary."

Lavinia did not answer. What was a hundred pounds at the end of three years—three hundred pounds! Enough to buy her trousseau, but not enough to enable her and William Tassart to get married. Miss Hilton stared at her silently, and then in an expressionless voice added:

"The salary is not the only inducement. Madame is so anxious to get a companion that I think to anyone who pleased her she would make a very handsome present, say on departure or marriage, or, if she became attached to the person, she would probably leave her something on her death, which I understand might not be, unfortunately, so very far distant, owing to the extremely bad state of her health."

Lavinia raised her fair eyebrows.

"Then one really goes to nurse an invalid?" she said dryly.

"You see, Miss Pierrepoint, I am not disguising anything disagreeable in the situation. That is the case. It is the reason why many other young ladies refused the post. It is possible that one might be asked to assist at the final illness of Madame. On the other hand, she might live for years. A doctor, of course, constantly visits the château; one would never be alone in any emergency. But it is admitted, of course, that it would be very unpleasant for a timid, superstitious, or susceptible young lady. You, for instance, have had no experience of nursing?"

"No," said Lavinia, "but I do not think it would give me any trouble. It is all a matter of keeping one's head and common sense. How am I to know," she added, "supposing I were to accept this situation, whether I should be suitable or not? One could not go as far as Provence on a speculation!"

"Why, of course not, Miss Pierrepoint. It is left, in the first instance, to our discretion. If we can find a young lady whom we believe would be acceptable, we are to ask her to be good enough to interview the lady of the French Ambassador, who is an intimate friend of Madame's." Miss Hilton gave a sharp glance to see the effect of this, and Lavinia Pierrepoint was by no means unimpressed. "The family, of course," continued Miss Hilton severely, "is unexceptionable—one of the best families in France. There is no need to mention the name unless you decide to interview Her Excellency. Of course, the very highest references will be required, but I understand you can supply those."

She glanced over the papers raised at her side, and muttered over Miss Pierrepoint's accomplishments:

"Music, I see, and languages. Fine sewing, embroidery, the pianoforte, singing—it all seems very satisfactory and I see your late mistresses and masters speak of you most highly, Miss Pierrepoint. One does not wish, of course, to introduce the personal note, but I should think for a young lady in your situation this is a most uncommon chance."

"I am engaged to be married," said Lavinia, thinking how strange the words sounded in her own ears. "My future husband has to go to India for three years. I wish to find a distraction in the interval, and to earn a little money."

"We have nothing better to offer than this," said Miss Hilton with a half-frozen smile. "Provence is a most beautiful country, as you know."

Lavinia, who remembered what she had read in geography books, thought she did know.

"It is a very healthy climate," said Miss Hilton, rising. "Perhaps you will let me know, in the course of a day or two, your decision?"

"To-morrow," said Lavinia, deliberately setting that limit to her own hesitation.

She returned at once to the station hotel and ate a good tea with the agitated Mrs. Liptrott for company.

* * * * *

Dr. Pierrepoint had nothing to say about the attitude of the Tassart family towards his granddaughter. This was a blow that caused him to shrink into himself. He remained, as usual, closed in his study; but he did not work as much as usual. One of his reasons for remaining so shut away from the world in such a small provincial place as Maybridge, had been because he feared the verdict and comments of the world, and these, after all, had found him out.

Lavinia understood his attitude. She felt that they shared a common misfortune. She did not blame him; she did not see how he could have handled the situation better. She broke through his reserve to say:

"William and I will be married when he returns from India, Grandfather. That is three years to wait, and I think of taking this place in Provence."

The old man had no strength to offer objections or to make counter plans. His protests were feeble, as if he knew himself that they would be unheeded. He said foolishly:

"Your mother would not have cared for this. I am sure when she was your age, she had never been out alone, and now you want to travel to the South of France by yourself." Lavinia replied quietly:

"None of that helped my mother, did it? I mean, the end came just the same."

He looked down at his papers without answering, and in smooth, careful tones she told him how far the negotiations had got with regard to this post in Provence. The lady, whose name was now divulged as Madame de Montpaon, had, on receiving advices from the agents in London, shown herself very eager to engage the services of Miss Pierrepoint. It was admittedly a very difficult place to fill, and Lavinia's references were so exceptional! Eager, cordial, flattering letters had come from the Frenchwoman.

Mr. Elphinstone, making investigations on his side, had assured Dr. Pierrepoint that no possible objection could be taken to Madame Montpaon or her daughter. Both ladies were of spotless reputation and belonging to the higher ranks of French nobility, who had chosen, through misfortune, to leave the capital and live this life of retreat in the Château Boismarin.

On receipt of an earnest request from this lady the wife of the French Ambassador had written to Dr. Pierrepoint, begging for the pleasure of an interview with his granddaughter. She said that Madame de Montpaon had been her girlhood friend, and she was very anxious to secure for her such a companion as Lavinia Pierrepoint appeared to be. It was this letter that brought the waiting, the hesitancy, the debates of several days to a head.

"I must go to London again," Lavinia had declared to her grandfather. "I must see this lady. It is an exceptional chance. I think I can get them to pay more than a hundred a year, and Madame de Montpaon has said that I may buy in Paris at her expense all the clothes I shall require. Why do you hesitate?" she added, with that slight hurry in her tones which was the only indication she ever gave of impatience. "You were prepared for me to go to a place as governess or companion. You trained me for that. Did you not say to me, Grandfather, in this very room nearly ten years ago: 'I will do what I can for you, but, when the time comes, you must earn your living'?"

"Yes, yes, my dear, I know. But this question of your engagement troubles me. That has altered everything." He felt, though he could not bring himself to say so, that Lavinia Pierrepoint was, in a way, tarnished by the refusal of the Tassart family to accept her, and that, to relinquish this marriage and take the post of a paid dependant in a stranger's house was an indignity, the acceptance of an insult.

She read his thoughts and smiled. She knew how impractical such niceties were.

"I have induced William to agree. He does not care about it at all, of course, but there is no other way."

"I suppose," said the old man, sensitively and dubiously, "you could not marry him and contrive on his pay? I might, perhaps, give you a hundred a year."

"No, Grandfather: do you think I want your economies after all you have done for me? Besides, it would not be enough; I should be under such a disadvantage. I intend to marry William and prove to his relatives that he has not made a mistake, but I cannot do that, hampered by poverty."

"But, my dear child, even in three years what will you have earned which will alter the situation for you and Lieutenant Tassart?"

"A great deal may happen in three years, Grandfather. His relatives might change their mind. There is a distant cousin from whom he has some prospects of money. He might, through influence, be promoted. I might make myself very useful and agreeable to this Madame Montpaon; she might be inclined to give me a handsome present."

"And I should not be inclined to take it if I were you," said Dr. Pierrepoint. "After all, one must remember one's position in society—"

"And one's misfortunes," finished Lavinia with a hard smile.

* * * * *

Lavinia had not found it so easy to persuade William Tassart to her way of thinking as she had made out to her grandfather. The young man had been strangely sullen and obdurate. She guessed now that obstinacy was one of his salient characteristics. She thought, with that clear-eyed self-scorn in which she so readily indulged: "Perhaps it is only obstinacy which is making him keep his engagement to me."

The young soldier tried hard to persuade his future wife to remain in Maybridge. He considered that a secluded life in attendance on the old man an ideal existence for a modest gentlewoman. No doubt her accomplishments, her graces, her beauty would be wasting, but he was jealous of all these, he would have them hidden until they were his and might be shown abroad as belonging to his wife.

This disagreement produced a certain coldness between them.

"I perceive," thought Lavinia, "that if I ever marry him he intends to be the master. I shall have to always pretend that he is getting his own way."

Every day, either in the pleasant parlour above the chemist's shop or walking in the lanes beyond the town, everyone who saw them smiled at them agreeably and compassionately—their engagement was known, and his family's opposition to the penniless and romantic marriage. They were considered a charming pair of lovers, and everyone was willing to give them sympathy, advice, encouragement, but each severally rejected all these advances. Without ever putting the sentiment into words, they prided themselves on their difference from other people and their superiority to these dull provincials among which chance had placed them. Neither of them, after all, really belonged to Maybridge.

She still considered the handsome estates her grandfather had had to sell to pay his son's debts as her true home, and William Tassart considered as his rightful setting the opulent county mansion in which he had been brought up, and which now belonged to his brother.

These several secret prides held them very close together underneath their furtive disagreement.

It was the young woman who had the clearer perception of the two. It was she who said to herself: "If we were really in love with each other we could not separate like this—three years!" For his austere and cold-blooded affection was as yet without any stir of the senses. He set dignity, decorum, the behaviour proper to his caste, above passion.

They walked between fields heavy with June flowers; the meadowsweet cast a sugary perfume into the soft air, garlands of young bryony hung on the full-blossoming hedges, where the pearl-like petals of the dog-roses unfolded among their brilliant leaves. The summer dust whitened his highly-polished boots and the hem of her bright blue dress. She told him that the final arrangements had been made. To-morrow, accompanied as before by Mrs. Liptrott, who would be, though she did not add this, left as before at the station, Lavinia was to interview Her Excellency in Belgrave Square.

"You should really be flattered, William." She stole a glance at his sullen profile. "So many young ladies have applied for this post and been rejected. Mr. Elphinstone said that Madame Montpaon was insistent on having what she termed a member of the English nobility."

As be did not respond to this bait, she added with a slur in her voice which meant contained anger:

"At least, my dear, you must admit that destiny drives us.' There is nothing else that we could do."

They further slackened their slow pacing and paused by a five-barred gate which shut off a field closed for hay.

Ox-eyed daisies, white and golden, and the orange-vermilion spikes of sorrel grew amid the erect, untouched flowering grasses. It was no longer the season for the birds to sing, the blue air was void with silence, save for the distant tumble of water turning an old mill behind a group of elms beyond the fields.

Lavinia pulled off her cotton gloves and laid her hands along the hot wood of the gate.

"Tell me," she said, "what did Lady Coign say of my mother?"

He was, as she knew he would be, profoundly shocked.

"You must never speak to me of that," he said, and glancing at him she saw that he had flushed deeply. She stared in front of her and mechanically noted how the slight breeze set the plumy tops of the grasses waving.

"You must not think that I am ashamed of anything," she said. "Perhaps you know more than I do." Lying without hesitation or compunction, she added: "I remember nothing, except that my mother did not seem very happy."

He believed her and responded warmly:

"My aunt was intolerable. Of course, I believed none of these tales."

She looked down at her lovely hand resting on top of the gate and thought it strange that this young man, who had cared enough for her to single her out and ask her to be his wife, did not notice that loveliness. How he took her for granted!—all her beauties! She thought: "If we are married for fifty years we shall never understand one another nor be sincere one with the other."

Standing thus by the gate in the pastoral loveliness of the simple English scene they seemed a perfect pair of lovers matched in youth, beauty, health, and tenderness. But their souls, their hearts, and their thoughts were far apart and much divided and only a subtle perversity, a common grudge against the world, a mutual pride, bound them together.

* * * * *

Like an eager, intelligent actress who has long rehearsed but never played a big part, Lavinia Pierrepoint interviewed the wife of the French Ambassador in the Belgrave palace. She was, of course, a little too perfect in her rôle, and the shrewd experienced Frenchwoman found that this provincial girl who had lived all her life with her scholarly grandfather, was a little too much the great lady, slightly too stately, decorous, and dignified.

Her Excellency found it unnatural that so young a girl should be so composed and so correct in demeanour, but she reminded herself, while cold Lavinia Pierrepoint in academic French and respectful tones gave satisfactory answers to all her questions, that this strange type of English "miss" was the very one most in demand on the Continent. No other nation could supply these daughters of clergymen, doctors, professors, intelligent, well-trained, dignified, of implacable respectability, cold as ice, entirely reliable, their formal beauty deliberately ruined by clumsy dressing, their schoolgirl manners edged by an impassive propriety, with their outlook so rigidly narrow that it seemed as if nothing existed in their world that was not always of perfect decorum.

"It is a type," thought the Frenchwoman, and she agreed in her heart that it was exactly the type that her poor friend, Madame de Montpaon, had asked for so eagerly.

Lavinia had put forward a touching and very English story. The penniless betrothal, the deferred marriage, the desire not to be a burden on her grandfather, and to earn a few pounds towards her dowry. the icy and haughty fidelity to one absent so long and distant so far made up an idyll quite incomprehensible to the Frenchwoman, but one which she was bound to respect.

She concluded her courteous investigation into Lavinia's affairs by warmly assuring her she thought that Madame Montpaon would be delighted to receive her as her companion. But Lavinia on her side had some questions to ask and Her Excellency, though obviously a little surprised at being questioned, frankly confirmed the agency's account of the drawbacks of the position at the Château Boismarin.

To begin with, the place was certainly lonely, and Madame Montpaon had forsaken all the gaieties of Paris. She never entertained; she was failing in health.

"You will understand, mademoiselle, that she has never recovered, my poor friend, from the death of her husband. And with the daughter, Louise, there was also a misfortune. Her engagement was broken off. She will, of course, recover in time, but solitude was judged best. Of course, there is every help, a doctor, a priest, and nurses close at hand. You are not much more than an easy train journey from Aix—Salon is a little town. Madame Montpaon is the kindest of women; she will do all she can to make you happy. I must admit many young ladies would find it very dull, but for one like yourself, mademoiselle, with the English taste, the quiet upbringing you have had, and the prospect before you of your marriage, I should think it would not be beyond your fortitude to endure," and Her Excellency smiled very pleasantly upon the young woman whom she respected and admired and did not like at all.

She thought to herself, with a little compunction towards the absent friend who had entrusted her with this delicate task: "Will poor Clothilde really like this cold, impassive creature? But then, it was for just such a one she asked me; she does not need anybody emotional or easily upset."

Lavinia Pierrepoint sat silent for a while. The Ambassadress had received her in the formal drawing-room, which was all red plush and silk and mirrors that rose to the lofty ceiling, and heavy vases of pink Sèvres standing on the gleaming parquet, a room very different from any room that Lavinia had entered before, and yet, even in her clumsy provincial clothes, she did not look out of place amidst this formal and rather forbidding splendour. She had, indeed, the air of conferring rather than accepting a favour, and Her Excellency, suddenly startled by this silence, looked at her sharply and thought: "She is, indeed, a treasure—a pearl. At any cost I must procure her for poor Clothilde."

"I hope you do not hesitate, mademoiselle. If it is a question of salary, I am authorised to offer more, even up to a hundred and fifty a year."

"I do not know," replied Lavinia, smiling, "whether I be worth so large a sum to Madame Montpaon, but I do not think I could undertake the position for less."

* * * * *

So it was settled, and a few weeks before Lieutenant Tassart's regiment was to sail for India, Lavinia Pierrepoint was packing her one trunk for the journey to Provence. The young soldier had made his own enquiries about Madame de Montpaon and his pride had been satisfied by the results. He was able to persuade himself that his future wife was more honoured than degraded by accepting this uncommon post. Everything had been arranged with the greatest decorum, "only her ill-health," Madame de Montpaon had written, "prevented her from herself coming to London to escort her young companion to Provence."

She insisted, moreover, on sending her trusted maid, a middle-aged woman of much experience, to accompany and protect the young girl on the long and tedious journey. This woman was also instructed, Madame de Montpaon said with the greatest delicacy, to stop in Paris and purchase for Mademoiselle Pierrepoint whatever she might require in the way of a trousseau for the southern climate, at Madame's expense and at Madame's dressmakers.

William Tassart's common sense at last overcame vanity.

"Don't you think, Lavinia," he said, a day or so before her departure, "that they are making too much of a to-do? They seem to me too eager, paying so highly, and giving you all this attention. After all, there must have been many young women who would have been glad of such a position."

"Not one who was suitable. The agency told me they had been looking for months and had had great difficulty—there are many people, you know, William, who would not go so far and live so solitary a life—but that will suit me exactly! I shall think of you and the future all day long."

But he did not reply. Now that the time for their parting had come so near he realised, with a sense of alarm, how closely she had grown into his life. He did not know if it were love, or affection, or the dawn of an uneasy passion, but she seemed part of his existence. Though he had known her for so short a while, he thought that to lose her would be like cutting off his right arm. But he was incapable of giving any expression to these feelings; when at last he spoke it was, as usual, to utter a banality:

"I want your photograph before you go away, Lavinia, for my album. Maxton, in the High Street, is very good."

"Could we not be taken together?" she acquiesced. "Then I could have a copy for my album also."

He agreed with a glance. She saw that he was more than pleased, and she was flattered at this evidence of her growing influence over him and his increasing need of her approval. She continued smoothly:

"Then you can look at it in India, and I will look at it in Provence. That will bring us nearer together."

* * * * *

The photograph was taken a week before Lavinia left Maybridge. It was quite successful and though on the carte de visite the faces were very small, they were clear, and the likenesses were excellent. Lavinia, in her Sunday gown of pale grey taffeta with the deep lace bertha, her hair smoothly banded, sat at a table covered with a chenille cloth with a deep fringe on which was a fern in an ornamental pot, and the young officer in his effective uniform, frogged and braided with the short cape, stood behind. A light curtain looped across a drop-cloth on which was a painted balustrade was the background.

The lovers each took a copy of this photograph. He placed his in a pigskin wallet which he kept (and vowed to keep it so for ever) in his breast-pocket. She put hers in her album of smooth morocco, which her grandfather had given her on her fourteenth birthday. This was an imposing book with heavy gilt-edged leaves and a handsome brass clasp and corners, but there was nothing much in it as yet—a photograph of her grandfather, taken as a middle-aged man, one of herself in a stiff light skirt with graduated bands of black velvet and a hard black velvet hat, which had been taken soon after her arrival in Maybridge, one or two likenesses of her schoolfellows, which she regarded with complete indifference, some of their work, drawings in water-colour and chalk, a few bars of music, some sickly verse, and a faded daguerreotype of her father in his uniform, which she must have brought with her, she supposed, with her scanty belongings from London. She did not know who had preserved for her this relic nor who had placed it in her album—her grandfather, of course, it must have been, or Mrs. Liptrott. It had always been there; she had never asked anything about it. When, on her birthday, she had first opened the album, she had seen this picture looking up at her and underneath the name "Arthur Pierrepoint, Captain in the —— Dragoons," and the date and details of his death in India.

She had often thought about it, imagining that it must have belonged to her mother—perhaps it had been taken out of her mother's dead hand; she was a sentimental woman...of her mother herself she had no likeness, only memories.

* * * * *

On the evening before Lavinia's departure for London, where she was to meet Madame de Montpaon's maid at Mr. Elphinstone's office, Dr. Pierrepoint was seized by an asthmatic attack. He rang his bell violently and the two women, running into the study, found him collapsed in his chair coughing, choking.

Lavinia at once sent Mrs. Liptrott for the doctor, and the good woman came panting back to say that Dr. Morel had been called into the country. She had heard the sound of the departing gig as she had turned into his drive. He would be gone for hours.

"There is no cause for alarm, Mrs. Liptrott," said Lavinia kindly. "See, Dr. Pierrepoint is already recovering. He has had these attacks before. Where are his drops? I cannot find them anywhere, and he has not been able as yet to tell me where they are."

Mrs. Liptrott then confessed that the chemist, that stupid, sallow-faced assistant, had not sent up the remedy that he had promised that afternoon. Dr. Pierrepoint was without either them or the cough mixture which the doctor had prescribed.

Lavinia looked down at the old man, who, half-unconscious, sat huddled together in the high-backed, worn leather chair. She felt a strange compassion for him, a strange feeling which was as if, had she been another woman, she would have felt deeply sorry for him, but being Lavinia Pierrepoint she was not, but only vaguely regretful.

"It is the mind and not the body," she thought. "He has been very distressed by all this business; my engagement, the delay, and my taking this place. He does not like the thought of my leaving him to-morrow; he thinks we shall never meet again, which is probably true."

The old man's cravat and collar were unfastened and his thin, ash-coloured features dripped from the water that she had dashed on to them. He glanced up at her and smiled, and tried to pat the hand which she rested on the arm of the chair, as if to reassure her. She bent down to catch what he said and heard that he was asking for his drops.

"You should go to bed, Grandfather," she smiled, but the old man gave a piteous glance towards the manuscripts and books piled on the desk before him, as if there lay his only hope, his only refuge, his only joy.

"If we could only get those drops," said Mrs. Liptrott, in acute distress.

"They are probably in the shop," replied Lavinia. "I daresay our keys will fit. Give me a light, I will go down and search. He is much better now, Mrs. Liptrott; his pulse is stronger and, see, the colour is coming back into his face. I think you should give him a little more brandy. I am fetching your drops, Grandfather, and the doctor will soon be here. We left an urgent message."

Mrs. Liptrott slipped after Lavinia into the passage and asked nervously "if some neighbouring lady should not be asked to come in. You can't leave to-morrow if he's as ill as this, miss."

"He isn't ill, Mrs. Liptrott; it is only one of his usual attacks, and he will soon be better. The train does not leave till ten, and everything is ready—" Lavinia was always so glad of her own punctuality, her own methodical ways, which saved her so much fatigue and anxiety. Everything was indeed ready; she had hours of leisure before her. She could, if need be, sit up with the old man all night.

She took the small lamp and the keys from the housekeeper and told her to go back and sit with Dr. Pierrepoint. As she descended the stairs and watched her shadow fluttering before her from the tiny lamp she held, she thought how strange it was that she should, on her last day in Maybridge, be visiting the chemist's shop which had always fascinated her, for by so doing she was satisfying a long and secret desire.

She came out into the street and softly closed the front door. It was pleasant to do something so strange and to stand in the dark street in the warm summer evening without bonnet or cape and holding a lantern; a queer, somehow vital, action. Her little light flickered in the diamond panes of the two bow windows and showed the lavender jars with the gilt lettering, the poppy-heads and the sponge hard as stone stuck with ancient shells under the glass case.

She looked up and down the street; squares of light showed in the flat fronts of the houses, some in parlours where people sat and talked over their evening occupations, some in upper windows where children were being put to bed. Above the irregular lines of the chimneys the stars were very bright in a purple heaven.

Lavinia mounted the two worn steps and tried her own key in the door of the chemist's shop. It fitted. She entered and found herself alone with all the boxes, jars, and vases on which her lantern cast an intermittent and wavering light as she moved it up and down. For a moment she forgot her errand and the old man's needs. Her mind was back nearly ten years when, a small, shy, and inquisitive child, she had stood outside just such a shop while her mother bought poison within.

She had never been deceived by the apparent orderliness and placidity of existence and now, as she stood in this strange place at this strange hour she reflected on all the deadly and horrible circumstances that lie beneath the conventions of life. She thought: "How unutterably unlike our real selves are the masks that I and William Tassart present one to the other! I may a little guess at him, but he does not understand me at all."

She passed into the dispensary at the back of the shop and holding her lantern above her smooth, fair head glanced up at a drawer which was labelled "Poisons."

* * * * *

"What purchase did my mother make? What tale did she give the chemist? How is it he did not notice how agitated she was? What look could she have given me, waiting outside, when she came out with her package in her purse or her bosom?"

Lavinia Pierrepoint checked her errant thoughts. The past was no matter of hers. It was dangerous to speculate what legacy the distraught woman had left her. But she stood in the little dispensary looking at the labelled vases, bottles and jars, and thinking of the power that humanity always had to put an end to everything—a pinch of powder, an inch of steel—

"Miserable as life is, I wonder so many of us resist the temptation. And yet, I suppose—" she considered the placid people of Maybridge, "very few of them think of it at all."

Her grandfather's prescription stood on the table, left there by the careless young apothecary who had probably hurried away on some business of his own. Lavinia took up the small phial of drops and the large bottle of mixture. All the druggist's paraphernalia pleased and fascinated her; she liked the acrid yet fragrant odour in her nostrils; she liked the look of the distilled fluids, so varying in colour and density, and she thought it would be very interesting to experiment with such things instead of for ever knitting or sewing or reading some dull book.

She passed out of the shop, light as a mouse over the polished boards, and into the warm street, then up again into her own home, where her grandfather seemed to have recovered and sat serenely turning over the yellow crackling pages of the manuscript he had been endeavouring to decipher. He smiled and nodded at her and pressed her hand in grateful thanks for her diligent service. He dutifully took the drops, in which he did not believe at all, and told her, that she was not to concern herself further, but to go to bed that she might not be fatigued for her journey on the morrow.

"I am going away for three years, Grandfather; would you not like me to stay with you a little while?"

A slight convulsion passed over the old man's fatigued face. He wished then that they had loved each other, though if they had it would have made the parting much more painful, but at the same time something worth while, too. It was this sense of vacancy, of frustration, that he, so near the end of everything, most abhorred. He replied with conventional kindness:

"No, no, my dear, I am very well, you know how Mrs. Liptrott looks after me. But perhaps they will allow you a little holiday now and then."

"I am afraid I shall not be able to come from Provence if they do, Grandfather; it is too far and too expensive."

She thought as she spoke that it would be a happy thing if she might believe that she never would see Maybridge again. Nor Clapham where she had been at school, nor Kennington where she had lived with her mother, nor any place that she had ever known; only the strange and the utterly different from all familiar things would solace her secretly wounded spirit.

"But of course, if you were ill," she added conventionally, "I would come and nurse you if need be."

"Three years is a long time at my age, my dear," he replied, "but don't let that disturb you."

"You mustn't sit up late to-night, Grandfather, you really mustn't. And you mustn't get up early either, to see me off. I will come and say 'good-bye' to you before I go."

The old man made an effort over his inertia, his fatigue, his sense of futility and loss:

"All your arrangements are made?" He endeavoured to do his duty. "This—this lady's maid is coming to meet you at Mr. Elphinstone's? He is giving you some luncheon and seeing you on the train?"

"Yes, yes, Grandfather, you are not to think of any of it. All is arranged."

"And Mr. Tassart? You have said 'good-bye' to him?"

"He will come in the morning. Don't think of any of it, Grandfather."

She kissed him on the forehead and left the room, cutting short the painful attempt on his part to act an affection which was not there, but which he felt should have been.

* * * * *

The doctor came early next morning; he had gone before Lavinia left the house. The old man had insisted on rising early. In his neat black clothes and close skull-cap, clean and shaven as usual, though a razor-cut on his face showed his trembling hand, with his silver-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose, he said solemnly "Good-bye" to the young girl and gave her his blessing.

He then put in her hand a black silk purse containing five sovereigns. She tried to refuse this.

"You know, Grandfather, they are supplying everything. Why should I be at any expense? Indeed, I don't want you to go short for me."

She meant what she said, and was at once touched and vexed by his futile generosity. But he insisted with dignity that she should keep the money, so she put it in her reticule. She felt this parting to be at once ridiculous and pitiful; she shuddered with relief as she left the house. William Tassart had come to take her to the station. She refused to enter the carriage that took her luggage, but walked beside the young soldier through the fresh, clean streets out to the railway station, which was some distance beyond the town. They had allowed plenty of time, and they lingered a little in their walk; all summer was about them in one rich perfume, the early morning was unblemished.

Lavinia wished that they could be made articulate one to the other, but she knew that this wish was hopeless. They waited on the bare little platform, the porter eyeing them curiously. Even he had heard of this wan and thwarted romance.

Lavinia knew that she might have had many friends and acquaintances to see her off and wish her Godspeed if she had desired them at all. Only Mrs. Liptrott arrived with the luggage, one old, substantial lock trunk, the rugs, the umbrellas, the carpet bag, all the clumsy paraphernalia that showed an anxious foreboding of a long, uncomfortable, and perhaps perilous voyage.

"Three years!" muttered William Tassart.

It now seemed to him that he had undertaken something beyond his capacity to endure. He touched his breast where her photograph lay. He asked her, in a muttered undertone, to keep his picture always.

"I promise everything," she said earnestly, putting her hand in his with an air of surrender and looking steadfastly into his pale face.

Mrs. Liptrott wished her "good-bye," half-timid, half-weeping.

"Look after grandfather," said Lavinia Pierrepoint. "But it is ridiculous for me to say that, is it not? You have looked after him so long. Give me his news, even the things that he will not write himself."

She entered the dirty, third-class carriage.

"You ought to let me come with you as far as London," whimpered Mrs. Liptrott anxiously.

Lavinia closed her eyes in her corner, her bundles and packages on the rack above her, on the seat beside her, sandwiches and home-made cakes, and a huge bunch of pinks and roses that the doctor's wife had sent at the last minute. "This childish solicitude from these stupid people, how it stifled one!" Lavinia closed her eyes for a moment, the train began to move. She jerked herself into a correct attitude of heart-broken farewell and leaned from the window. William Tassart was standing on the platform, his hat under his arm. He had the air of one stricken by a mortal grief. Mrs. Liptrott, respectfully behind him, was openly weeping.

"Yet I don't believe that either of them love me," mused the girl, sinking back on to her seat.

* * * * *

It seemed to Lavinia that she had passed into another world as she sat in Mr. Elphinstone's office in Bedford Row. She was for a short while, she felt, quite free. It was a liberty between two servitudes, perhaps, but it was, while it lasted, liberty.

The French maid, Matilde Lejean, had proved punctual to her appointment. She was a middle-aged, hard-faced, dark-featured, capable person, perfectly trained, respectful without being servile, plain and yet smart, a person of whom Lavinia instantly approved.

She had travelled all round the world, Matilde said, with her different ladies, and the journey to the Château Boismarin presented no difficulties to her. She took charge at once of Lavinia's luggage and passport; she had already procured her ticket. They were to take the night boat from Dover.

"If you will not be too tired," said Mr. Elphinstone, a little anxiously. He had some pretty timid daughters of his own, and this expedition to a far corner of a distant country seemed to him rather a dreadful and tedious one for a girl so young as this Lavinia Pierrepoint to undertake. "I could arrange for you and Miss Matilde to stay the night at the station hotel."

But Lavinia shook her head. She would be away at once on the adventure. She only begged leave of the lawyer to write two letters, one to Mr. Tassart and one to her grandfather.

They were model letters, such as she had learnt to write at Miss Merton's establishment, full of correct sentiments exquisitely expressed. That done, she put both these men out of her mind.

Mr. Elphinstone guarded her as if she were something precious in a fashion that made her smile, for she thought to herself ironically: "I am not really of any value to anyone. It is only a convention these people are following." He gave her a dinner at the station hotel in the big, gaunt, pillared dining-room, and afterwards saw her and the Frenchwoman into the train. It was first-class now, for everything was at Madame de Montpaon's expense.

The Frenchwoman was most efficient; she understood Lavinia's academic, stiff French perfectly, but she was also reticent and made no effort to inform her charge as to what she might expect when she reached her destination.

* * * * *

Lavinia had her moment of exhilaration when she stepped from the close dingy train on to the quay swept by summer winds, and felt rather than saw the dark seas ahead. She could not to herself account for her sensation of relief nor explain the delight it gave her to be on board the ship, to feel that this was moving beneath her away from England, her grandfather, William Tassart, and the house above the chemist's shop, and Mrs. Liptrott, all of whom seemed already very far away like little figures seen through the wrong end of a telescope, soon to be for ever obscured.

The dark-faced Matilde was very attentive. She brought Lavinia a glass of sherry and a biscuit. Lavinia accepted it gratefully; she had eaten little that day. Mrs. Liptrott's homemade sandwiches and cakes had gone out of the railway-carriage window with the crude bouquet of homely flowers as soon as she was out of sight of Maybridge station. And she had been, under her quiet demeanour, too excited to accept much of Mr. Elphinstone's kind hospitality.

As she sipped the wine (the unaccustomed flavour was dreadful on her dry lips and tongue) she smiled at the Frenchwoman.

"Sit down, Matilde." They were alone together in the lady's cabin that had been reserved; the Frenchwoman obeyed with her air of respect, which was quite impersonal and heartless. "I shan't be able to sleep to-night, it is all too strange. Won't you please tell me something about Provence and the Château Boismarin and possibly Madame Montpaon?"

The woman's dark eyes were blank in expression, she had, perhaps, a slightly sullen air.

"There is nothing to tell Mademoiselle except what she knows already that the Château is lonely and Madame lives very retired and Mademoiselle Louise is not very well."

"Oh, it is Mademoiselle Louise who is not very well! I thought it was the mother who was ailing."

"Neither of the ladies," said the maid, with an air of finality as if the subject were done with, "enjoy very good health."

"And is it really very lonely, Matilde?"

"There is Monsieur le Curé, who comes in now and then to hold a service in the chapel and to confess the ladies, and M. l'Intendant and the doctor."

"Yes, yes, of course, but I mean, it is near Aix or Marseilles—there are garrisons there."

Matilde interrupted, still with great deference, but her air even more detached:

"Madame does not entertain officers of either of the garrisons. No doubt Mademoiselle will find it dull. But I understand that Mademoiselle herself was from the provinces?"

"Yes," agreed Lavinia, smiling, "from the provinces, but I have always lived in a town where I have known everybody. You need not be afraid to tell me that this place is very lonely; I am prepared for that."

"There are consolations," replied Matilde, with a stately shrug of her shoulders. "Mademoiselle will find books and magazines, musical instruments, dogs, birds, beautiful walks, and a horse to ride," and with the faintest hint of insolence, she added: "And everyone is very well paid. Madame does not expect people to serve her for nothing. Oh no, indeed!"

"She knows," thought Lavinia, "how extravagantly I am being fee'd."

She finished her sherry, dismissed the lady's maid with as much ease as if she had been in her own employ and stretched herself out on the warm, soft, ugly rugs that Mrs. Liptrott's anxious care had provided.

"I really believe," she thought, "that there is something strange and mysterious behind all this. I hope it is nothing disagreeable. But why do these women lead so lonely a life? Three years! I daresay I shall not be there three months, but it may be a stepping-stone to something else. It ought to be more amusing than Maybridge."

* * * * *

Mademoiselle Matilde conducted her young charge to a discreet hotel, the Hôtel de Douvres, in a short, select street near to the rue de la Paix.

"Everything here is as English ladies like it," she said, and Lavinia found it indeed too much in the taste to which she was accustomed. The furnishings, the food, the service, were all blamelessly English, as was the proprietress who welcomed her in a discreet effusion.

"This is a hotel for respectable women travelling alone with their maids," thought Lavinia, and her spirits fell. Her sense of liberty had vanished; she felt that Matilde was watching her, maybe sending a report on her behaviour to Madame de Montpaon. It was impossible, therefore, to indulge in even the mildest adventures, but how much she would have liked to have gone out alone in the Paris streets! They had looked, in the glance she had had from the cab coming from the station, entrancing. They were to be there two days, but she was to have no chance to do anything she really wanted to do, only to go with Matilde from one great establishment to another to be measured for her linen, for her muslin frocks, for her shoes and gloves, and her hats and capes.

She thought it rather strange that Madame de Montpaon should be thus lavish. Matilde seemed to divine her half-suspicious thoughts, for she said:

"Madame, of course, could not expect that an English young lady would have all the equipment necessary for a residence in the South of France."

"No," smiled Lavinia, "and Madame could not expect that a young lady who would be willing to go as paid companion could have the money to buy a trousseau like this."

She smiled directly and understandingly into Matilde's impassive face.

* * * * *

Some ready-made clothes were purchased for the journey south. It was certainly a pleasant experience to be rid of the clumsy garments made in Maybridge. It was a physical relief too, for Paris was very hot, with a fierce quality in the sunlight. Lavinia felt slightly dizzy after a morning passing up and down the boulevards, from one magasin to another.

The French clothes were cool and light and suited her very well. She was surprised and almost alarmed at the picture the narrow hotel mirror showed her as she stood before it in the striped black and white cambric, with the big falling collar of eyelet-hole embroidery and the wide hat of Leghorn straw with the black ribbon.

"William would not like me like this," she thought. She had sent him another of her copy-book letters; save for a few moments when she had been penning this he had not been much in her mind. She had also received two letters from him, but they were of the most formal description, cold and dutiful. He was already becoming very faint in her mind; his image could not have impressed her very deeply to be thus soon effaced.

She liked Paris, it was a pity she could not have found a position there; it was so gay and light-hearted, she thought, this city of palaces and gardens, with the great river running between the noble embankments, she would have liked to talk of the lovely Empress and the lewd Court at the Tuileries. Ah, what a pity she could not have attached herself to one of the Empress's ladies! That was too high fortune to think of, yet at least, perhaps in time—! What baskets of flowers there were in the streets! When she was told they came from the south she was glad that she was going to Provence.

* * * * *

They were taking an early train from the Gare de Lyon; everything was ready, Matilde was in all matters methodical, yet when she came up to Lavinia's room and knocked on the door, Lavinia blamed her for undue haste.

"Surely," she remarked as the maid entered, "it is too early yet! I thought there was another two hours before the train started. I got up so soon on purpose to have this little time to myself."

Matilde listened with a wooden air of attaching no importance to what she heard. Her face was more than usually inscrutable. When the English girl had finished, she said:

"There is Monsieur de Saint Paulle below, who wishes to speak to Mademoiselle."

"Who is he? I never heard the name before."

"The name would not be familiar to Mademoiselle. Monsieur de Saint Paulle is the nephew of Madame de Montpaon."

"And why does he want to see me?"

"Doubtless Madame de Montpaon has said that Mademoiselle is crossing Paris and has asked Monsieur to wait upon her."

"I should have thought it was the straining of a courtesy. Surely such attention to a companion is uncommon?"

Matilde had no reply to this. She merely repeated that Monsieur de Saint Paulle, the nephew of Madame de Montpaon, was in the salon and would like to see Mademoiselle.

So Lavinia Pierrepoint, in her black and white striped cambric, holding her broad hat by the black strings, went down to the salon to meet Monsieur de Saint Paulle.

* * * * *

Venetian blinds hung over the long windows of the Hôtel de Douvres's salon, which was exposed to the full afternoon sun. Through the slats of these a subdued light penetrated the seldom used room where everything was rigidly arranged, spotless and repellent. A crimson silk chair was stiffly set either side of the bleak bare hearth and empty grate; on the marble mantelpiece stood a gilt clock silent long since. There was nothing in the room to break the atmosphere of tedium and boredom. The only sign of human occupation was a high hat, a pair of gloves, and a walking-stick over one of the marble-topped, gilt-legged consoles that stood against the bare, panelled walls.

Between the two crimson silk chairs stood M. de Saint Paulle. Lavinia looked at him and said, rather disagreeably, for she over-stressed her determination to maintain her dignity:

"Well, Monsieur, and what can you want with me?"

He did not at once reply, and though his silence was perfectly courteous, she was immediately and rather uncomfortably aware that she was the object of his careful appraisal and his keen scrutiny. She tried to, in her turn, subject him to inquisitive glances, but she found that it was not easy to meet his eyes. He was by far the most formidable personage whom she had ever met, and her spirit sank. He offered her a chair and she seated herself in it, for the first time in her life completely at a loss before a stranger.

"Madame de Montpaon informed me that you were in Paris and asked me to give myself the pleasure of waiting on you to see if I could be of any service."

"I am grateful, Monsieur," said Lavinia, irritated at the slight tremble in her voice, her lack of her usual facility with words in this foreign language, "but surely it is an unusual, an unnecessary courtesy? I am going to the Château Boismarin as Madame's paid companion."

"She is very lucky, Mademoiselle." His casual air made the compliment formal indeed. "I hope that you will consider yourself equally fortunate."

"Monsieur, I am not in a position to be fastidious over details."

She was aware that he was for some reason intensely interested in her. Angry at his prolonged scrutiny, she forced herself to ask:

"Do you, Monsieur, reside at the Château Boismarin?"

She immediately felt that she had said something foolish, for the smile with which he replied seemed to accuse her of a gaffe, and she blushed angrily.

"Sometimes I stay with my aunt, but not often. The life she lives is too solitary for my taste. I have been trying to induce her to return to Paris. I think grief and disappointment, Mademoiselle, are better forgotten in a crowd than in solitude."

She was betrayed by this into showing something of her own mind.

"Indeed, it would be more agreeable in Paris. If I could help persuade, Madame—"

"She is not so easily persuaded, Mademoiselle. But you, too, then, would like to live in Paris?"

She was on her guard, and replied dryly:

"I have informed Monsieur that I have no choice. It is not for me to interfere in the affairs of Madame de Montpaon and her daughter."

"Still," he insisted, "you would think that Provence would be a little dull for them, for Louise, my pretty cousin, especially?"

He was still looking at her, not as if he were surprised at and valuing her beauty (Lavinia was used to and utterly ignored that meaning in a masculine glance), but rather as if he were deeply considering her, her character, her purpose, her wishes. Lavinia was baffled and a little troubled. She asked herself: "Why is this man interested in me?" And then, with an added touch of panic: "Why am I interested in him?" for he did both interest and excite her inexperience. She could not look at him, but kept her glance on the pattern of roses and the ribbon on the brightly coloured carpet.

"Mademoiselle Louise Montpaon was at one time betrothed to me. I have not seen her since the breaking of the engagement."

Lavinia glanced at him with an air of polite interest. Indeed, she could think of nothing to say.

"Perhaps," remarked M. de Saint Paulle indifferently, "I shall soon be visiting the Château Boismarin. And I could be of no service to you in Paris, Mademoiselle?"

He had done with her, evidently, and was asking for his dismissal. Her pride brought her to her feet; she gave herself every inch she possessed, but that still left her half a head shorter than he was. She looked him full in the face and said:

"None, I thank you, Monsieur."

He was quite different from any man she had seen before; sophisticated, exquisite, a dandy, but well-made and powerful under the fine, light summer clothes. His features were regular and florid, his hair something the colour of her own, but brighter in hue, he was more blond than most Englishmen, and in every way different from her childish idea of what a Frenchman should be. She thought him attractive. He looked at her and smiled, as if he could see, she thought, enraged, to the bottom of her heart.

"I think you will do very well, Mademoiselle."

"That is for Madame de Montpaon to decide," she reminded him coldly. "It is not Monsieur who is engaging me."

He continued to smile as if she were a rude child, and he were excusing, even admiring, her sharp temper; she felt humbled and foolish. She tried to console herself by thinking of William Tassart, her champion, but the figure of this distant lover was shadowy in her mind.

M. de Saint Paulle took up his hat, cane, and gloves; she noted the jewels in his wrist-bands. With some conventional compliments he left. His last words were that he would probably see her before long at the Château Boismarin.

* * * * *

When Lavinia Pierrepoint drove with Matilde to the Gare de Lyon, she tried to discover something about M. de Saint Paulle, but the Frenchwoman was, as usual, taciturn. M. de Saint Paulle was the nephew of Madame de Montpaon, the son of her husband's sister; there was nothing more to be had from her than that scanty information.

"He came to inspect me," insisted Lavinia, who knew when to be frank and when to be reserved. "There is no question of that—he was looking me up and down. Yet I suppose it could be nothing to him who was his aunt's companion. But I had the impression that he was very anxious to ascertain what sort of person I was. He decided at last to pass me, but I thought at one moment he would not have done so."

A faint smile softened Matilde's grim mouth.

"Mademoiselle is very shrewd. I think Monsieur was a little anxious, he is devoted to Madame his aunt. He knew that she had engaged Mademoiselle without seeing her, and he wished to make sure that Mademoiselle was in every way suitable."

But Lavinia was not satisfied, she felt that Matilde was being evasive.

"There is more in it than that," she thought, but she saw that it would be useless to endeavour to make the Frenchwoman speak on any subject about which she wished to be reserved.

The journey was very tedious; the air was hot and harsh with grit and dust, the glare of the sun outside prevented Lavinia from seeing the details of the landscape through which they passed; she began to have a headache, her eyes smarted, and she thought with apprehension of the end of her journey. How foolish it had been of her to suppose that by leaving Maybridge she would escape from all that made life dull and stupid!

She already detested Matilde, with her shrewd, even cunning, servant's face, with eyes as hard as pebbles and an expression trained to an odious impassivity—an ugly, high-cheek-boned face with a tight jaw and a rough sallow skin.

"Where do you come from, Matilde? I mean, what part of France?"

"Dauphiné, Mademoiselle."

Mentally Lavinia saw this name in the geography-books that she had only ceased to study a year ago; she had received two prizes in this subject.

"Dauphiné, that is near Savoy and Italy—very far south—"

"Not so far south as Provence, Mademoiselle; the orange trees do not grow in the ground, only in tubs."

The maid closed her eyes, and with an air of resignation, settled herself in her corner; Lavinia forbore any further attempts at conversation.

How the train swung and jolted! What was it that was so detestable about railways and railway stations? Perhaps the old distaste of that dreadful journey to Maybridge nine—nearly ten—years ago was what was nauseating her now? She endeavoured to sleep, and as she closed her eyes she was at once a child again, travelling with the fat woman who cried over her and offered her Balmoral biscuits that were stale and made a quantity of crumbs on the harsh, dirty cover of the carriage seat. Those crumbs were an intense irritation to Lavinia, dark blue flies were crawling over them...The lamp in the roof gave a coarse and dim light, she believed that her parents would be waiting for her when the train at length drew in to the huge dingy station—her mother in a Paisley shawl, waving a handkerchief with a faint mauve stain, her father with a monstrous bloated face and the uniform of the —— Dragoons.

Then both of these figures were effaced by that of M. de Saint Paulle, who came forward to welcome her—to what?

Lavinia awoke violently, as people do when their dreams touch a pitch of unendurable horror.

Matilde was asleep, prim even in repose, but the lines of her relaxed face were sullen and ugly. Lavinia, tainted by her dream, wanted to escape from the railway-carriage, from her journey; she rose with an impulse of panic and opened the window; as the heavy glass and strap sank down a cloud of dust and flies blew into the carriage.

The noise of the dropping window roused Matilde; with the end of her black shawl she beat the insects out into the hot air, darkened by smoke from the engine.

"You must never do that, Mademoiselle! Some of these insects are dangerous! A bite on the lip—and so! In a few hours you are dead!"

Lavinia smiled so incredulously that the maid added sharply:

"Do you not know that?"

She flicked the foul flies from seat, cushions and dirty windows; this action mingled with Lavinia's blurred recollection of her uneasy dreams; she felt sick, and wished that she could have a glass of sherry, like that she had tasted for the first time on the steam packet.


TWO. THE PHOTOGRAPH IS LOST

"There was some delay in obtaining a fiacre, and Lavinia experienced the most terrifying impatience. She was profoundly humiliated by her desire to escape. At last the shabby carriage drew up at the formal gateway of the courtyard of the Hôtel de Montpaon. Lavinia entered, gave the name of the 'Hôtel de Douvres,' and was driven away into the brilliant twilight."


WHEN Lavinia Pierrepoint at last arrived in the south, she felt that all her ardent expectations were revived and exceeded. The incandescent air was luminous with gold and glorified everything; the flowers, large, opulent, and opened wide to the sun, were clear-cut as jewels in this shimmering, universal gold laurier-roses, red, white, new to her, and delicious.

Everything was bright and pure, the heat made everybody move slowly and languorously. Lavinia felt the sunshine through her thin frock like a gracious weight on her limbs, her nostrils were filled by the sharp aromatic odour of plants. She felt sleepy and prepared to surrender to an enchantment; she left everything to Matilde.

A handsome carriage met them at the station at La Roque, on the branch line on to which they had changed at Arles; she had an impression of a white town, blue shadows on the walls, pale ornate houses and grey twisted olive trees, each a different shape, growing on bistre-coloured rocks.

As Lavinia drove out of the town she began to sense something enervating and alien in the sweetness of the scene. It all had that vague and slightly unpleasant familiarity of something remembered in a dream from a dream; the ochre-fronted villas, the gardens in which grew the figs, oleanders and the continuous olives, the golden haze deepening to purple as the brief summer twilight approached, still had an air of enchantment, but not an agreeable one. Even the vehicle in which she travelled was strange to her, as alien as the hard-faced Frenchwoman sitting opposite, holding on her knees, as if it contained great treasure, Lavinia's humble dressing-case.

This carriage was painted dark green and bore a coat of arms, over-flamboyant to Lavinia's English taste, on the door-panel. It was well cushioned and well sprung, the men were in a handsome livery, and the horses were a fine pair of bays.

Lavinia sank back in her corner and dropped her lids, but not from fatigue, she was too excited to feel any exhaustion, but in an endeavour to escape from the strangeness of her surroundings.

"Mademoiselle finds it a long drive!" came the cold tones of the Frenchwoman, and Lavinia, fearful of being detected in some sign of hesitancy or weakness, opened her eyes and made some conventionally cheerful remark about the beauty of the landscape.

"But where the Château Boismarin stands it is not so beautiful," smiled Matilde. "There are marshes, you know, in Provence, though I suppose many English people do not know that,—Boismarin—that means the wood near the sea, but the woods are mostly cut down now, and the sea has receded."

"But the Château would not be in the marshes, surely!"

"Oh no, Mademoiselle, but it is near the marsh country—Aigues-Mortes, Camargue, Bouches-du-Rhône, there is a very old city with an ancient fortress. Mademoiselle will be interested to make a visit there."

As Lavinia was silent, Matilde explained:

"The marshes are on the sea, there is an old canal there. The railway goes to Istres, there is a causeway across the morass. It is not very healthy there, but it is curious, especially for foreigners. We are now," she added, "on the road through the woods of Boismarin."

The twilight fell suddenly, and with it came a sense of desolation; Lavinia, looking from the carriage window, thought she could detect the miasma from the marshes in the suddenly cooler air. She had an impression of an immense solitude, and for the first time felt a touch of nostalgia for Maybridge, for Dr. Pierrepoint, for William Tassart, for all the familiar, orderly, homely people and events of the past. And then, while she still looked from the polished pane and felt herself to be in a complete solitude, the horses turned out of the forest of pines and through a large gate which seemed to rise out of the dusk as if it were in the middle of a plain and had no walls either side.

"That, of course, must be an hallucination."

She continued to peer into the twilight, which, in the space of a few moments, had changed to an almost complete dark. By the rustling overhead she believed they were passing down an avenue of trees. The gates, of which she had caught just just an outline, had loomed large, black, and magnificent, heavy stone piers with some armorial bearings and huge heraldic animals showed in the dusk, which was clear though dark; there was no trace of mist.

"We are nearly there now," remarked Matilde. "Mademoiselle will be tired! Mademoiselle," she added, with what Lavinia thought was the slightest touch of insolence—she had detected such a note before, she thought, in the chamber-woman's careful tones—"will find it all—different, eh?"

"I do not find it at all peculiar," said Lavinia, with her rigid air of an English miss.

She refused to be daunted by the slender circumstance of the moment, which, however impressive, really meant but little.

The carriage drew up in front of a flight of steps. The lamp, which the footman had just lit, cast a circle of yellow light over grey bistre masonry. The door was opened and Lavinia alighted. She tried to see what she could in the glow of the carriage lantern, but this was little; she had the impression that an enormous shape before her blotted out the stars, which had with sudden brilliance scattered the heavens.

"It is a fortress," she murmured, sighing with fatigue.

"It was a fortress once," said Matilde, following her with the case and the rugs. "If Mademoiselle will be pleased to enter!"

The great door at the top of the stairs was set wide ahead of her and showed a hall full of light. The night air blew soft and, she suspected, damp on her face. She could detect no perfume of flowers or of late blossoming shrubs. Where was that South, so like Italy, of which she had dreamt? An illusion, after all!

She entered the Château de Boismarin and, prepared as she had been for a certain splendour and determined as she was not to show surprise at whatever might occur, she was a little overwhelmed by the size of the noble hall, which at once encompassed her insignificance; it appeared to be a portion of some medieval castle and bore but little traces of modernisation; Matilde was quickly by her side.

"If Mademoiselle will come upstairs, Madame la Comtesse will be waiting."

* * * * *

Lavinia Pierrepoint lost all sense of the design of the château as she followed the neat chambermaid from one corridor to another, from one ante-room to another. The building was very vast and, also, no doubt, had been added to from one generation to another, as was the fashion with all great houses. She noted the sumptuous pieces of ornate, useless furniture, pale, crinkled, pearl-pink tapestries and princely pictures, the like of which she had only seen hitherto in museums.

The apartment that she entered finally was cosily lit by silver lamps and furnished in a modern style; Eastern bric-à-brac, rugs, screens and vases of exotic blooms.

Two women were sitting languidly together on a draped sofa; one was affecting to read a novel aloud, and the other pretending to listen, but their attitudes expressed disinterest and languor. Lavinia's quick and keenly interested glance saw that both were slender and elegantly dressed. The younger wore, very unbecomingly, a thick white gauze veil twisted round her throat and the lower part of her face. The elder rose and began, to the English girl's surprise, a stammering, timid welcome, as if she had been the dependant and Lavinia the châtelaine of this imposing residence.

"Mademoiselle Pierrepoint," she stumbled over the awkward English name, "I am very glad to see you, but I hope you are not fatigued, that the journey was not too tiresome, too tedious, and Matilde did all you asked of her! She is careful, she is good—but I hope everything was to your liking?"

Lavinia was much put at her ease by these incoherencies; there was nothing formidable whatever about Madame de Montpaon. She was a woman of about fifty years of age, one of those creatures that have an odd air of having once been beautiful, but having quickly burnt their beauty away in some distress or passion; nothing remained to her of former graces but the elegance of her shape and her large chestnut-coloured eyes, which had still loveliness, though they were half ruined by fatigue or tears and shone with a watchful, apprehensive expression. Her heavy hair, that ugly harsh grey to which black locks fade, was arranged without art in a chenille net. She wore no ornaments, save a large sardonyx cameo at the bosom of her tight-fitting dark bodice. Lavinia could have conceived no figure more utterly unlike her conception of a great French lady.

As she recited over her formal courtesies and thanks, she had the impression that Madame de Montpaon was pleading with her, placating her, endeavouring even to flatter her...

"She is afraid," thought Lavinia, "that I shall not stay." And a sense of power already showed in the Englishwoman's look and tone.

"This is my daughter, Louise," sighed Madame de Montpaon, after a sudden pause in her nervous chatter, and with a timid gesture she indicated the motionless figure on the rep sofa.

The girl bowed her head without moving; her enormous eyes, brilliant above the thick folds of white gauze, shot a glance, which had the same odd quality of supplication as showed in her mother's looks, at Lavinia. She did not speak, but seemed cowed and inert. The Englishwoman thought: "What miserable creatures!"

Madame de Montpaon was holding out her thin, brown hand.

"I hope," she pleaded in a pretty, soft, heart-broken voice, "that you will be able to stay here. I was frank with you, was I not? I said that it was lonely and that we were two solitary women. But we will try to make you happy if only you will stay."

"Perhaps, Madame, on a closer acquaintance, you will not desire me to stay. I am a complete stranger to you."

"But I can see," replied the Comtesse hastily, "that you are just the sort of person we want. Above all things we wished for an English lady." She nervously patted the cool firm hand she held in her own dry fingers. "I remember when I was a child I had an English governess. I must practise my English with you, Mademoiselle. You are so cool, so practical, so composed, so—" she paused for a second and peered closer into Lavinia's face, "—so fearless, afraid of nothing, eh?"

"I suppose, Madame," smiled Lavinia, "that there is nothing to be afraid of here?"

"Afraid of! Oh, no! Of course not! But the place is old, and you have seen nothing of it now. It was a fortress once."

"I had that impression, but, of course, I have seen nothing."

"The situation is very solitary, my husband never lived here. It was always in Paris—Nice—Dieppe—and then there are other estates—" She paused, seemed confused in her thoughts and to sense an incoherency in her own speech. She relinquished the stranger's hand and with a sigh returned to her place on the sofa beside her daughter. "Matilde will see to you to-night, Mademoiselle. A supper will be served in your room. We will not concern you with anything. You must have your repose after your long journey; to-morrow we will arrange everything."

Lavinia took her leave of the two ladies with a considerable sense of satisfaction. Already she felt the power that a strong nature must always exercise over weak natures. She believed that she would be able to do whatever she wished with Madame de Montpaon and her daughter, but the question was whether it would be worth her while to use any influence over these two forlorn-seeming creatures.

She followed Matilde to the apartment set aside for her use. Her mind was running on the probable wealth of these two silly women. Perhaps if she made herself indispensable to them, it might be very much worth her while to stay, to please and to flatter—

* * * * *

Lavinia found the three rooms allotted to her very pleasant and cheerfully furnished. They were in that portion of the castle which dated from the eighteenth century; there was nothing medieval nor gloomy in their structure.

Matilde brought her supper, unpacked her new clothes, prepared the bedchamber and left her with a respectful but completely indifferent "Good night."

Left alone, Lavinia locked her door—the keys of the apartment had been placed on the small painted table by her bed—and examined carefully her new domain. Into the spacious salon, which she had been told was entirely for her own use, the whole of Dr. Pierrepoint's small chambers above the chemist's shop in Maybridge would have easily gone. Going round from one piece of furniture to another with her lamp in her hand, Lavinia examined everything. All was handsome, substantial, in good taste. There was a harp, a pianoforte, a portfolio of drawings, couches, easy chairs, screens, all the paraphernalia of an idle and luxurious life, pleasant watercolours and pastels on the walls, which were covered with tightly-drawn, straw-coloured silk, all the evidences of a rather trivial and commonplace luxury.

But Lavinia did not care for idleness, and the room seemed to hold a promise of tedium and boredom that to her would be more difficult to endure than any amount of hard work. Those two sickly women and this great establishment circling round their futilities—it was not a pleasant prospect to one of her energy, ambition, and enterprise.

She smiled, as she re-entered the bedroom, at the contrast between this apartment and the one she had left in Maybridge. Everything here was of silk, of gilt, of lace, far too fine for a dependant. This easy luxury irked her, filled her with contempt. Her severe, puritanical upbringing had made on her more impression than she had realised.

"Why do they live here? What is the sense of such an existence? Will it be worth while putting up with it for the sake of what I may obtain from them?"

She thought again of William Tassart and tried to focus him in her mind; it was strange how dim his image had become, she could scarcely recall the details of his features. Every time she tried to evoke his figure she saw instead that of M. de Saint Paulle who had so strangely called on her in the Hotel de Douvres; she liked his name; it reminded her of that of one of the heroes of some stiff romance she had once read, which had at first given her sensuous pleasure and soon bored her completely.

She did not feel inclined to sleep and the night was unpleasantly warm and close. Matilde's talk of the marshes and canals so near haunted her fancy; she imagined the sluggish, creeping waters close under her window. It was strange to sleep in a new house and not know what was outside...a park, no doubt; she opened the window and looked out, there was nothing visible but the stars, which seemed to hang very low over a blackness which might have been that of a pit.

"I am over-tired, I suppose."

She took up her keys again and walked through the three rooms, trying to satisfy her restless curiosity. But there was nothing interesting to see in them, nothing unusual nor strange, only the pretty, over-decorated furniture, the graceful pale pictures, and dainty hangings of muslin and honey-hued brocade. There was no evidence of any particular taste; it was as if a fashionable upholsterer had been called in and told to fit up the rooms without regard to cost.

As Lavinia decided at least to lie down on the bed, though she did not intend to put out the lamp, for she did not think she would be able to sleep, she observed a small door in the corner of her bedchamber, so carefully fitted into the panelling and furnished only with a small crystal handle, that it might easily have passed unobserved.

She instantly tried this and found it turned uselessly, but one of the keys left with her fitted the lock. She took up her lamp and entered a room that was obviously in a far older portion of the building, for it was circular and the walls were rough stone. It was unfurnished, save for book-shelves full of old volumes, and a chair and table. From an opening in the floor some steps descended into darkness.

"I suppose this is meant to be part of my suite. I will see of what it consists."

She descended the open wooden stairs rapidly and found herself in another room exactly the same size as that above. Here she did pause, considerably startled, and the lamp she held aloft shook in her hand, so that the light wavered up and down the walls, showing her what she by no means expected nor wished to see. For the small circular chamber was fitted up like a laboratory, like a chemist's shop. There were the jars, vases, and pots of Italian majolica, of lavender pottery with gilt lettering, there were the bunches of poppy-heads and dried herbs, there were the drawers with names of medicines in Latin printed on them in gilt. And underneath the one narrow lancet-shaped and heavily-barred window was a table with a marble top, on which stood phials, bottles, and saucers, while in a corner a small furnace showed under a hooded chimney opening; it was cold; she could see the ashes, grey beside the bellows. The faint smell of drugs, to her so spiritually familiar, pervaded the enclosed air.

"Somebody is interested in chemical experiments."

She returned to the upper chamber and flashed her lantern round the rows of books. They all dealt with medical subjects, they were in Latin, French, German, Italian, and English. She put her lamp on the table and examined the title of one after another. Two or three of them she took down and opened; these were all laborious and erudite treatises on poisons, venoms, and the deadly properties of shrubs, plants, and mineral substances; various branches of toxicology.

Lavinia returned to her bedchamber and locked the door on these two rooms. She made no comment on them, even to herself. There was, she knew, nothing unusual in her discovery; probably the late M. de Montpaon had amused himself with chemistry. That the theories and discoveries of savants like M. Pasteur were interesting many enthusiastic amateurs she knew from her newspaper-reading.

* * * * *

Lavinia woke early and looked at once from the silk- shrouded window. She saw, as she had expected to see, a park; there was no trace of any marshes; pine trees shut in the horizon, making a pattern against a sky already vividly blue. Although it was so early, she felt at once as if the day hung hot and heavy on her hands; energetic herself, she was affected by the languor of her surroundings: "This landscape will colour my moods, perhaps my actions, all the time that I am here."

Matilde brought in her breakfast. The two women exchanged a shrewd glance, each had long since given up trying to get behind the other's guard. Twelve o'clock was the hour the Countess had appointed to receive her new companion. An unutterable tedium descended on the spirit of Lavinia. How to pass the hours until midday!

She curbed her sense of boredom, and as Matilde was leaving the room she asked coolly:

"Those two rooms that lead from this, in a tower as I suppose, are they for any use?"

"Madame bade me leave Mademoiselle the keys in case she was interested. English ladies are taught chemistry, are they not?"

"I learnt a little at school, next to nothing. Does Madame or her daughter amuse herself with experiments?"

"No, Mademoiselle, it is M. de Saint Paulle, when he comes here. He finds the days very long and he is interested in such things. He was a pupil of M. Pasteur, he helped him find some antitoxin, some serum, I do not know! Mademoiselle perhaps will understand. M. Pasteur's work is very wonderful, a benefit to mankind."

"I have heard of it. It is becoming a usual hobby for a gentleman. M. de Saint Paulle comes often, then, to the château?"

"Not very frequently, Mademoiselle, now and then." The taciturn maid left the room.

"I should not have thought," mused Lavinia Pierrepoint, "that M. de Saint Paulle was a man who would give up much of his time in an endeavour to benefit humanity."

She thought of him continuously, and wondered in what lay his seductive quality; he had dark blue eyes, such as she had never seen in anyone before, and an air, to her, of incredible ease. Who was he? What was his occupation? She fumbled in a society strange to her, and this vexed her intensely.

* * * * *

The Englishwoman employed the interval before she had to meet Madame de Montpaon in making a survey of the Château Boismarin.

It was, as she had expected, a massive, medieval castle, which had been in parts demolished, in parts rebuilt, and from one generation to another added to, so that in its present state it was a cumbersome and irregular mass of buildings rising out of a deep fosse, which had been drained and was now grass-lined. The old flower, herb, and kitchen gardens had been preserved, and were very well kept. There were also several very large greenhouses, in which bloomed exotic flowers, too delicate even for this southern clime: these were locked; she peered through the glass at orchids and luscious creepers.

Then there was what was named the park, though it was not in the least like an English park; it seemed to stretch for miles, the handsome avenue of tall plane trees, that which she had driven through last night, led straight to the impressive main entrance.

There seemed to be a great number of servants, indoor and out, all working quietly and diligently, as if under the hand of some methodical direction; there were noble-shaped stone jars, in which grew citrons and oranges; that gave her pleasure.

The greater part of the château was unoccupied, though not unfurnished. She discovered that the portion of the château inhabited by Madame de Montpaon was self-contained. There was no need to enter it by the grand staircase, as she had done last night. No doubt that had been rather a naïve gesture to do her honour; the eighteenth-century mansion was complete in itself, and had its own entrance, though it was attached to the old buildings.

Lavinia discovered that she could, by passing through the two round turret chambers, enter by a side door into the garden, and so into the park without anyone knowing of it, unless some servant chanced to see her. It did not seem at present that this liberty was likely to be of much use to her, but it was, all the same, rather agreeable to contemplate, and she resolved to affect an interest in chemistry, in order that she might be allowed the use of the two rooms and the private door into the grounds.

* * * * *

When Lavinia waited on Madame de Montpaon she found that that lady appeared to have been lately weeping; she sat with her damp handkerchief in her restless hand and made scarcely an effort, the cold Englishwoman thought with contempt:—"to disguise her emotion"...

"Sit down, Mademoiselle, I have decided to tell you everything. I thought that it would be much more kind, more fair. Do you mind if I speak in English? I learnt it as a girl, though it is a little awkward for me now."

"I should be very pleased, Madame."

Madame de Montpaon looked wistfully at the tall fair young Englishwoman, who seemed to her an embodiment of strength, purity and fortitude. The brilliant sunshine was full in the charming room, which was overcrowded with pretty, delicate objects. Madame de Montpaon, in her stiff widow's dress of crêpe over a horsehair crinoline, with her harsh grey hair and grief-worn face, seemed out of harmony with the languorous southern day, with the delicate furnishings of her large apartment.

"I have heard such good reports of you, Mademoiselle. I think I am most lucky in securing your services. It was kind of you to come so far to take a post so lonely, to resign yourself to living with two solitary women like my daughter and myself."

"But, Madame, the arrangements suit me too; the salary you offer is very generous, and I have three years of waiting before me."

"Yes, I know, I know. You are going to marry a young English officer, is it not so? I congratulate you. I hope you will be very happy, as happy as I was, Mademoiselle."

These conventional words were spoken with real feeling. Lavinia waited with downcast eyes.

"My husband died two years ago, Mademoiselle—Pierrepoint. But that is a difficult name, is it not? Do you mind if I call you—Lavine?"

"I should be very flattered, Madame. Lavvy, they call me at home—that is easy on a French tongue, I think."

"Very well, then, I will call you Mademoiselle Lavie, that is smooth indeed. And do you mind if I give that name also to the servants? I do not think anyone here will be able to say Pierrepoint, at least, not in any way that you would recognise."

"I shall be pleased."

Lavinia was genuinely gratified at this suggestion. It suited her very well and she knew that it would flatter William Tassart that her name should not become known as that of a paid companion, and it might, in the uncertain future, still be desirable to flatter William Tassart.

This point settled, Madame de Montpaon hurried on.

"Two years ago I lost my husband and that changed everything for me. I had nothing then but my daughter, Louise—you saw her last night."

"Yes, Madame."

"And we were—we are, as you may imagine, tenderly attached. In her future lay my sole interest. She was betrothed, as seemed most natural, to her cousin, M. de Saint Paulle. That was my husband's wish too—but, Mademoiselle, I want you to understand this story, for I want to evoke all your consideration, all your tenderness for Louise. I am very much afraid she has fallen into a most melancholy condition. I have even"—and here Madame de Montpaon lowered her voice—"feared for her mind. You understand, the misfortune was so sudden, so terrible!"

"I am listening, Madame, with all sympathy and respect."

"It is someone like you whom she needs, someone in herself happy, settled, strong, brave."

Lavinia was inclined to smile at this hyperbole, but she kept her face smooth.

"Louise does not care for her cousin," added Madame de Montpaon in a trembling voice. "Poor girl! She was wilful, she made a most regrettable attachment, there is no need for me to burden you with his name, but it was a young officer—I reasoned with her, I argued with her, but—useless! Her affection for this young man, who was in no way suitable, was only equal to her aversion from her fiancé. It became impossible for me to conceal this miserable situation. It was a few days before the wedding—Enough! I need not enter into details. M. de Saint Paulle's jealousy was aroused and the marriage was broken off; there was almost, mon Dieu! an open scandal."

"Was it not possible for your daughter to marry the other gentleman?"

"Ah! that is the English point of view. I expected you to say that. No! The Saint Paulle marriage was my husband's wish—Louis-Hyacinthe is the only son of my husband's sister—this marriage was left to me as a sacred obligation—besides, it is in every way suitable."

Madame de Montpaon continued, as if appealing for sympathy before some invisible tribunal; there was a touch of fury in her voice and gesture that was almost amusing to the repressed Englishwoman.

"Anyone could see that it was a match that was meant to take place! There was only the obstinacy of Louise. It combined a title and a fortune. My husband always felt it unfair that Louis-Hyacinthe, the only child of his sister, should not have had any of the money." She paused nervously: "But, of course, these family affairs will not interest you, Mademoiselle, only I thought I ought to tell you for the sake of Louise! You are to be her constant companion, for a while, I hope."

Lavinia inclined her smooth head, reserving judgment. Madame de Montpaon's voice sank; her tones were wavering and uncertain, and only just broke above a whisper.

"You see, it came about when there was this open—almost—trouble. She, poor child!—I hardly like to tell you, but you ought to know—she tried to take poison, Mademoiselle."

"I ought never to have come to this place," thought Lavinia, in sudden panic. She calmed herself at once. "But why not? What is there to be frightened about?" She sat immobile when Madame de Montpaon hurried on.

"Of course, there was nothing criminal about it—the poor child did not mean it, it was just a moment's impulse. An over-dose of laudanum, you understand, to still her suffering—and I have been so frightened ever since, I have hardly allowed her out of my sight. And then you see, Mademoiselle, something dreadful happened. She was interrupted, and there was a spirit lamp burning on the toilet table—it caught her dress and flared up! Her face, her poor pretty face"—and here Madame de Montpaon openly wept in the crumpled handkerchief—"is very scarred. I am afraid it will be so for months, that is why we have come here to this seclusion to allow the wounds to heal—the wound on her face and that in her heart, you understand, Mademoiselle?"

"I am much honoured by this confidence, which I fear is very painful for you to make to a stranger, Madame."

"You will think that we ought to have had our friends with us," replied the lady from behind the black-edged handkerchief she held to her eyes. "That is all very well, but there are so few who are sympathetic, and I did not want a professional help, you will understand—"

She broke off abruptly and Lavinia thought: "I hope I am not here as a nurse or a keeper. How odd that I should have come so far to meet an incident like this, so similar to one that I remember too well!"

Madame de Montpaon continued with low pleading incoherencies to put forward the case for her daughter. Lavinia did not listen to the words, she had her own image of the tragic, stupid affair, as clearly as she had always her own image of that other tragic, stupid affair, which had happened when she was a child, before she had come to Maybridge—these silly women and their cowardly attempts at escape from their own follies!

"That poor creature whom I saw muffled on the sofa last night did not look capable of passion."

Yet Lavinia could see her in the handsome Paris bedchamber, perhaps in bridal finery, disappointed of her lover, rejected by the betrothed husband whom she disliked; loathed, ashamed, snatching at oblivion, pouring greedily the laudanum into a glass and being interrupted by a frantic mother or screaming maid, the lamp set there to curl her ringlets going over, and the flare of the fine flame on the thin crisp muslin crinoline. Other shrieks then, those of torment now, insensibility and pain and a slow, reluctant recovery with a swathed, tortured face...

Lavinia forced herself back to the present moment; at least, she understood the situation now. It seemed she was to be the constant companion of a creature quite heartbroken, almost insane from misery. She was a little angry at the duplicity which had entirely concealed from her this aspect of the post which had seemed, from a distance, so glittering.

"I might have known from the bribes they offered that there was something like this behind it," she thought grimly. How careful the Ambassadress had been to say nothing whatever of the accident or of the broken engagement! The agency had not breathed a word of these drawbacks either; but then perhaps they had really not known.

"Mademoiselle, you see I have confided in you," came Madame de Montpaon's hoarse, wavering voice. "You will not betray my trust; you are exactly the type of young lady whom I hoped to see."

"Have you any directions for me, any definite instructions?" asked Lavinia, who always, whenever it was possible, brought things to a practical issue.

"None," replied the Countess vaguely. "I am sure your own good sense, your careful training, will guide you how to act with Louise, only I want you never to allow her to talk of this gentleman, this officer, for whom she has such a foolish fancy! He has been sent to Algiers—we have friends and some influence—she will, probably, never see him again. We still hope," added Madame de Montpaon hurriedly, rising as she spoke, "for the marriage with M. de Saint Paulle."

"It was very kind of you, Madame, very gracious," remarked Lavinia, rising also, "to send your nephew to wait on me in Paris. I had not expected such a civility."

There was no mistaking that the Countess's start of surprise was genuine; Lavinia was, therefore, also surprised and on the alert.

"But I did not! It never occurred to me," said Madame de Montpaon frankly. "I mean, I should not have thought it would have been anything but an inconvenience to yourself, Mademoiselle," she stammered. Then, with what seemed a sharp anxiety: "He called on you! My nephew, Louis-Hyacinthe!"

Lavinia related briefly the interview in the Hôtel de Douvres.

"He must have heard of you through some friend of mine. It has been mentioned in Paris that I was seeking for an English lady, but I am rather puzzled how he knew of your arrival."

"I suppose it was natural he should be interested in his aunt's companion," replied Lavinia. But this explanation did not satisfy her herself; she was baffled by much in the Countess's story.

"My daughter is on the terrace," pleaded Madame de Montpaon with a piteous look. "If you would be so kind as to join her there, I will leave you alone to make friends. Mademoiselle, out of your own happiness, your sure hopes of your own secure marriage, I know you will use all tact and tenderness towards one who is far from happy, who has, indeed, I fear, no prospects of happiness."

These words seemed to Lavinia to have the accents of melodrama, they grated on all her instincts. At the door, with the knob in her fingers, she said respectfully:

"Madame, I must thank you for my very handsome suite of rooms. Everything, indeed, is more luxurious than I could have expected, almost than I wish. I was brought up very plainly. The keys to the little turret were left there, too," she added with emphasis, "two rooms fitted up as a medical library and a laboratory. Am Ito have the use of those?"

"If you please," replied the Countess without interest. "It was my nephew, Louis-Hyacinthe, who worked there in one of his visits some years ago—my husband lent him the château once, when he wished to leave Paris suddenly. I am afraid he found the days here rather dull, and those sort of studies have always fascinated him."

"But do you, Madame, think it altogether wise for Mademoiselle Louise to know there is such a place in the château?"

The Countess looked surprised, startled—then she understood Lavinia's meaning and flushed.

"Oh, indeed, there is nothing of that kind to be feared! She would never endeavour to do anything so dreadful again!"

"But you warned me, Madame, to watch her, that you feared even for her mind. Well, I think it would be better to lock up those rooms and throw away the keys."

"My nephew would not like that," replied Madame de Montpaon, in what seemed an absurd distress. "And, of course, there are no—no poisons there. He is a pupil, or was, of M. Pasteur, and they search for serums, for remedies, for antitoxins—it is work of humanity, of mercy; you know how they have found that everything is a germ, a microbe. Louise was quite interested in it at one time; she does not associate it at all with—with what you think, Mademoiselle. Indeed," she added hurriedly, "I have my nephew's assurance that there is nothing dangerous whatever in those laboratories. He practises only with harmless drugs, test-tubes and such things," added the lady ignorantly.

Lavinia could say no more. She had uttered the warning which she thought prudence indicated, after that it was not her responsibility.

She went slowly to the terrace with the jars of citron trees, which she had seen earlier that morning, where she supposed the girl who was to be her companion and, in a way, her charge, would be waiting. She was endeavouring with all the force of her strong spirit to keep at bay a miasma of loneliness and nostalgia. She seemed already infected by the idleness, futility, and the despair of these two women—the widow, whose life at little more than middle-age seemed over and who existed only for her daughter; the girl, whose heart and spirit seemed to have been broken in her early youth—both hiding their misery in this useless luxury, in this desolate seclusion. The beautiful orange and citron trees in the jars that the sun caused to gleam like pearls of light, no longer pleased her fancy.

"It is like an imprisonment, Maybridge and grandfather's house were cheerful in comparison."

The air was warm and langourous, but not, she thought, either pure or sweet. The shrubs, mastic, arbutus and olive, that grew near the winged staircase were unknown to her, and did not seem to her as fresh and wholesome as English oak and elm. Though at home it would have been the full opulence of summer, here it was already autumn and strange rich flowers bursting open on seeding hearts, hard glowing fruits showed amid the stiff agaves and palms growing in deeply sculptured vases set along the balustrade. There seemed to be a fog or slight mist over the distant woods, barely perceptible to the eye, yet cloying to the subtler senses of taste and smell. At least Lavinia thought she felt it in her nostrils and on her lips.

At the end of the terrace was a delicate stone pavilion, handsomely pillared, with a richly-adorned cupola, a stately piece of Renaissance work. Golden shadow like wine in a cup lay within it, and in the heart of the shadow sat Mademoiselle Louise, with the gauze scarf round her disfigured face, her hands clasped in her lap; her skirts, stiffened by whalebone, were of cherry-coloured silk.

"She must be a fool," mused Lavinia; it would be difficult to feign sympathy for one whom she so despised. Surely, with her rank and wealth and a doting mother, the Countess Louise could have contrived to marry the man of her choice, or, more sensibly still, contrived to put up with her cousin, who was, Lavinia thought, attractive enough to suit the most fastidious of women. Louis-Hyacinthe de Saint Paulle, a pleasing name—what were the titles to which Madame de Montpaon had referred?

She approached the summer-house without embarrassment; her tact and intelligence made up for her lack of compassion.

"Mademoiselle, Madame your mother thought that you might like a little company, but if I trouble you, tell me so and I shall go away. Please remember I am here to be at your service, you must tell me what is agreeable to you."

The French girl stared at Lavinia; she seemed as helpless, as timid as a dove, fluttering in a cage from which it cannot escape, enduring a stranger's scrutiny.

Lavinia sat down on the warm stone bench. She felt unutterably bored; the tedium of the long day was heavy, like an actual weight in her hand. How was she, so full of energy and ambition, her mind busy with a hundred schemes for work, amusement, advancement, to endure this long enforced idleness, practically a prisoner in this great house, which was in itself an anachronism that belonged to another age, to another order of living, and in which, Lavinia thought, no sane person would willingly reside! The inertia of the other girl oppressed her, but with an inner movement of self-scorn she tried to shake off this vicarious burden.

"Mademoiselle, I am sure it would be good for you to take a little walk. Would you not care to show me some of your exquisite gardens?"

Mademoiselle Louise answered from behind the folds of the gauzy white scarf, on which were large tinsel spots.

"The air is very heavy here, I do not think it is very healthy, we are too near the marshes."

"Well, as we cannot see them, there's no need to think about them."

"But it is always," complained Louise, "as if I had a touch of fever. You know why I am here?" she added nervously. "My mother told you?"

"Yes," replied the Englishwoman frankly. "But if I were you, Mademoiselle, I would not live so secluded."

"Wouldn't you?"

"No," smiled Lavinia, with the rising hope of influencing these two inert, brooding women, who seemed to her sick with self-pity, to leave this dull life and go perhaps to Paris or at least to Aix or Arles.

"But I must wait until my face heals," confided Louise in a whisper. "I am quite badly scarred, you know, and it will be months before my complexion is smooth again."

"You must not think about it; if you forget it other people will do so. I am sure it is quite a slight defect."

"Do you think so?"

The French girl unwound the veil from her face as she spoke and Lavinia had to accept the challenge and look at the scar. It was with difficulty that she restrained herself from wincing, for she saw, with a sense of shock and disgust, that Louise de Montpaon was disfigured for life. A surge of flame had caught the delicate skin from jaw to eye and, in healing, the great wound had puckered together the tissues, and slightly, but most horribly, distorted the corner of the mouth, the edges of the nostrils, and the outer lines of the eye, so that when the girl's face was fully uncovered, she seemed to be, in a grotesque fashion, grinning, showing her lilac gums and mended teeth.

At present the wound was fresh and red, but Lavinia knew that it would recover a normal colour and something perhaps of a normal texture, but the repulsive scar would remain—always. How could Louise and her mother be so self-deceived as to think otherwise! She could now understand the girl's despair, the retirement to this desolate place, the departure of the lover to Algiers.

But Lavinia did not betray herself, her second's shock was soon mastered. She had been, all her short life, telling herself she must be ready for an emergency, as there was no other way to succeed in the world, so she was able to say, in an unchanged tone:

"The scar is nothing very much, Mademoiselle, it will soon completely disappear."

"My mother has taken away all the mirrors," replied the young girl mournfully, "but with my finger-tips I can feel—"

"You must forget it," urged Lavinia. "You have everything else, Mademoiselle, you must think of that."

"Everything else! Mademoiselle, has my mother told you my story?"

Lavinia thought with contempt: "How self-absorbed they are! How they brood over this 'story,' as they call it! This dreadful scar, which is a real misfortune, was only the result of hysteria and folly. What a pity there is no one to look after them! What a lot of money they must be squandering!"

She longed to repeat to the neurotic young Frenchwoman, who had been, no doubt, spoilt and pampered all her life, and who had gone to pieces morally and physically on her first disappointment, some of the precepts which had been given to her by Miss Merton, such as: "Control yourself! Never let anyone see when you are hurt." "Don't talk about yourself or your troubles and grievances. Try to think of those of other people." "Remember there is always an appearance to be kept up." But she was aware that her part was not as that of monitress, but of paid companion and sympathiser.

* * * * *

The tale which Lavinia was forced to listen to in the honey- coloured pavilion was the same as that which she had already heard from Madame de Montpaon. But she gained from the recital of Mademoiselle Louise some points of interest. Some of these came out in the girl's rambling narrative, which was full of self-pity, and were told in the accents of a genuine heartbreak, and some Lavinia elicited by dint of tactful questioning.

For one matter, she learned that M. de Saint Paulle was Louis Hyacinthe Gabriel Honoré de Delambre, holding many titles, the principal of which was that of Duc de Saint Paulle, He was the son of the late Comte de Montpaon's sister, and his father had been a notorious gambler and a man of pleasure who had contrived to dissipate all his estates, leaving his only son nothing but debts, as far as his portion was concerned, although he had inherited a considerable fortune from his mother. When this lady had died M. de Montpaon, himself without a son, had taken the liveliest, most paternal interest in his nephew. He had, evidently, helped him again and again both with advice and money (of this he had had plenty, made during the corrupt reign of Louis Philippe) and had completed his good offices by arranging this marriage between his own daughter, a considerable heiress, and the impoverished and extravagant young peer, of whom nothing good (in William Tassart's sense of the word) had ever been known.

Nor had this bargain, Lavinia divined, been without a certain self-interest. M. de Montpaon had been anxious to procure for his daughter this very ancient and lustrous title, together with the handsome and historic, mortgaged, but not irredeemable, property that went with it. He had died before these arrangements could be completed, and left it to his widow as a sacred charge to see that the marriage, so long contemplated, was not much longer deferred.

"Then," whimpered Louise from out the folds of silver-spangled gauze which she had muffled again over her face, and with what seemed a certain zest in her own disaster, "I met M. de Saint Césaire. I would willingly have given all the estates to my cousin to be allowed to marry him. It was true he had no money, but we were made for one another." And the neurotic girl, without restraint or reserve, broke into a long hysteric lament over her thwarted love, which Lavinia was ill able to endure with patience.

"Well, Mademoiselle," she put in at last when the fit of sobbing to which Louise had worked herself up had made her silent, "it seems this is all past remedy for the moment. M. de Saint Césaire is in Algiers, you do not even know if he is faithful to you; and your mother, whose whole life is wrapped up in you, is still anxious for you to marry your cousin."

Mademoiselle Louise checked her sobs; she was very plain when disfigured by tears.

"But Mamma does not really like him. You must not think that—she hates him as much as I do," she said unexpectedly. "It is only that she feels an obligation to him and that we are to a certain extent in his power; he makes scenes, mon Dieu! But I could never marry him—Mamma understands that in her heart. I think I shall go into a nunnery. We will leave him all the money, all the estates, and then perhaps he will allow us to be in peace."

"You think that he only wants the money?" asked Lavinia, to whom this seemed a very likely supposition.

"Of course," replied Louise simply. "He never cared for me. I think he dislikes me almost as much as I dislike him. And now—who could look at me without aversion?"

She began again to discuss her face. The doctor who had recommended that she should have a companion, somebody who would be paid to listen to her lamentations, had not been wrong in his suspicion of her needs. She was indeed full of her own disastrous troubles and poured them out with the relief of an hysterical penitent at the confessional.

And Lavinia listened as she was paid to listen, but her spirit was far away—over her was an inertia, a languor. It was all so unfamiliar; she had been prepared for strangeness, but not quite for this...The very air was different, it was odd to see a bright lizard pass like a dart of blue flame over the warm stones of the terrace, it was odd to see the roughly-cut shape of the fig-leaves and agaves beyond the shadowed pillars. And always there was that sense of miasma from the marshes not far away. There were sweet, sour odours as of the over-ripeness of decay in the air. On the portion of the château which she could see were masks, smiling, and yet sad; the sky was a colour that she had never seen before, azure, incandescent. All was intensely alien.

She felt herself ill at ease, she could not understand why she thought with a little pang of horror of those dainty, delicately-furnished apartments given to her for her own use and of the two round chambers in the turret where M. de Saint Paulle conducted his humanitarian experiments.

"What do they, any of them, think I can do for them?" she thought, with lassitude. "Where are they all drifting, and what possible end is there? The girl will mope herself into a decline, probably, and then the mother, whose heart is not strong, will die of a stroke—or they will both go into convents. I am sure they have not the energy to make or alter their own destiny. And how can I help them? How can I instill any spirit or wit into this poor distracted creature? It is true, too, that she is hopelessly scarred and never with decency could mingle with society again. Yet that man would marry her for the sake of the money! I wonder what the other man is like who has gone to Algiers? I wonder what William is doing now? Is it not time that I had a letter from him?"

The energy of her mind forced her spirit out of these languors. She tried to give a little attention to what Louise was saying, and when a pause came in that soft lamenting chatter, she said:

"Mademoiselle, does your lover in Algiers ever write to you?"

"I don't suppose he remembers me at all; that is why he was transferred to that distant regiment, to make him forget."

"You mustn't think like that!" Lavinia forced herself to express a sentiment in which she did not believe. "True love, you know, Mademoiselle, would make nothing of your misfortunes, the slight mark on your face. Why, I have a lover at home—I will show you his photograph in my album presently, and you shall show me yours—and I am quite sure if anything happened to me he would still be faithful."

"How can one be sure, Mademoiselle, of the fidelity of anyone? And it is useless for you to talk to me of M. de Saint Césaire. That is over now; it was my great misfortune. I shall never see him again. And I have not got his photograph."

"A spiritless fool," thought Lavinia, with deepening impatience. Aloud she said, for she knew that this was the advice she was paid to give:

"Well, then, Mademoiselle, if you feel like that, that that is over, why do you not reconcile yourself to marrying your cousin and then everyone will be happy?"

The girl glanced at her swiftly, as if for the first time she was aware that this was not a mere paid confidante, but another woman with opinions and ideas of her own.

"You have no suspicion," she stammered. She seemed to be about to add much more, for she was very voluble, but she checked herself and merely repeated with a dismal accent: "You have no suspicion—"

* * * * *

In the afternoon Lavinia went out into the garden while the rest of the household was closed away, sleeping during the heat; an intolerably lazy custom, she considered.

She went to the greenhouses, which were very lofty and well kept—"but how unnecessary in this climate when almost tropical plants grow in the open air!"

Through the thick glass, blurred by moisture, she could discern the shapes of fleshy leaves, huge, brilliant flowers, and the twisted tendrils of creepers. A stout young man was inside hosing this prodigal luxury of green, scarlet, and yellow, which, seen through the steaming glass, appeared to be under water.

Lavinia tried the door, it was unlocked, and she entered; the damp heat startled her, it was almost suffocating. The gardener looked round, he was robust and had dark hair; where his thin shirt hung open she could see the sweat on his chest.

"No one is allowed in here, Mademoiselle."

"Who are you?"

"Jacques, the gardener, who attends to these glasshouses, some of the finest in the south—"

"Well, Madame de Montpaon said I might go where I pleased. I am the English companion to Mlle. Louise."

The fellow gave her a sullen glance, to which she was quite indifferent. The intense heat amused and excited her enforced idleness; ferns on shelves, plants in tubs, succulent-looking climbers and creepers that seemed more infested than adorned by bright, livid blooms, all shone with the water that the heat was rapidly changing into steam.

In the centre was a pond, full of lush, tasselled lilies and fish glittering like metal.

"Mademoiselle will find it very hot."

"Yes. How strange to have this place here! What are these plants? Who is interested in them?"

"M. le Comte de Montpaon's father made the collection—he went to South America, to Africa; he was one of the first to bring home such things; some are very rare, very precious."

"But that must be a long time ago, and Madame has never lived here before—"

"There has always been money to keep up the estate," replied the young man, with covert insolence. "When M. le Duc came here he was pleased to be interested—some of these plants are the liane, they bloom very seldom—"

"They are ugly." Lavinia glanced up at the tangle of thick, juicy stems and vivid leaves. "It is a strange taste."

"When one is grand seigneur one has these tastes." The sulky fellow continued to spray the water over the streaming floor; where the jet fell on the hot-water-pipes it changed at once into steam.

Lavinia could no longer endure the heat; she left the greenhouse, noting with amusement the insolence of Jacques.

"I suppose I shall receive rudeness from all the servants. I am sure that Matilde hates me as much as I dislike her—"

* * * * *

That evening M. de Saint Paulle appeared at the Château Boismarin. Lavinia reflected quickly that he must have followed her closely—taken almost the next train south.

He arrived at twilight; the door of the salon where the lamps had just been lit and where the three women were seated languidly playing cards was softly opened and he was there, in his elegant travelling clothes, which were lightly powdered with dust.

Madame de Montpaon stammered: "I did not expect you, Louis."

She seemed as startled as if one had come back from the dead, yet quickly recovered herself.

"But you know you are always welcome," she added. "Louise is not very well, you must excuse her, she was just retiring to her room. Mademoiselle Lavie, will you please take Louise to her chamber?"

Lavinia at once and perfectly understood her part. She rose, and dropping the cards from her hand, put her arm round the waist of the young girl, who did indeed seem near swooning, and who gave her smiling cousin no greeting whatsoever.

He held the door open for the two women to go out, and Lavinia, with her burden resting heavily on her arm, had to pass him quite close. She looked at him; a strange glance of understanding passed between them. She wondered why—they had no secret. He was, of course, much more interesting than either of these two stupid women; she wished she could help him to whatever he wanted—

How seductive was that lively, short-featured face, that noble head—like a coin of the young Alexander she had seen on her grandfather's desk—and how delightful and stimulating it was to be glanced at like that, as if one were a human being with intelligence and feeling—but without any sickly, childish sentiment! His eyes were really blue, dark and full of humour.

She saw no more of him that evening. She had to sit in Louise's room, offer the dainty supper that the sick girl scarcely touched, and read to her afterwards from a pious book—a volume of sensuous prayers.

Lavinia, suppressing yawns, tasted at last the unpleasantness of servitude; despite the almost fawning attitude of the two women and the easeful sloth of her life, she was the paid companion who must do as she was told. How life was wasted, however you looked at it, wherever you went!

* * * * *

When at length Mademoiselle Louise was half asleep (having taken a draught which her maid, Hélène, gave her and which she said was the doctor's prescription) Lavinia, restless in her pretty room, had a headache and longed for the fresh air.

But there seemed to be none in the Château Boismarin. It was not, after all, this drowsy landscape, this heavy atmosphere, what she had dreamed the south, Provence, would be; but then, she had seen nothing! Ah, why was she impatient! Only one day had passed!

She thought with pleasure of her little way of escape; she could pass down through the turret rooms into the grounds, perhaps wander in the grounds; was there a village, a town, near?

Before she took her taste of pretended liberty, she wrote to William Tassart. She tried to put a little fervour into her words, but he was so far away, his image was so dim. She mused: "Why, in three years' time I shall scarcely know him—"

* * * * *

Lavinia stepped into the garden; she had crept through the two twilit rooms of the turret and noted with a sidelong glance the jars and vases which were so familiar to her memory and her fancy. She paused on the threshold, uncertain where to go, for the place was unfamiliar to her and the light seemed retreating rapidly, as if it fled at her approach. She knew from her brief experience of this foreign country that it would soon be completely dark and there would be only the stars to dazzle, not to light. The air blew thick and sweet upon her face, she could not rid herself of the impression that it came from the morass of Aigues-Mortes, from the sluggish, disused canal, from the broken lakes which dotted the soaked land stretching to the sullen sea. Yet, for all she knew, this was far away and there was no possibility of any of the miasma from the morass creeping round the Château Boismarin.

She made her way cautiously along the narrow gravel walks of the formal gardens below the turrets, and she looked back now and then over her shoulder at the lamp she had left burning in her bedroom—this was at once a signal and some company. She thought of Maybridge—it would now still be light in England. Mrs. Liptrott would be going into the old man's study to replenish his fire, to see that he was still well, that he had not fallen asleep over his work. Presently she would draw the blinds and light the cosy lamp. How much warmer and more familiar seemed the little town to her memory than it had seemed when she had lived in it and it had appeared nothing but dreary emptiness!

She tried to think of William Tassart, but he was too far away and her ideas of the country where he was were too vague. She imagined high white walls, cloudless blue sky, sand and palms, an East composed of illustrations to a Bible she had once seen, and the crude drawings to an old book of travel. In this moment of fatigue, of solitude, her ambition, her energy, her longing for the strange and adventurous were all quenched; she realised the anguish of the exile, the prick of a poignant nostalgia. She wished that she had remained in Maybridge. The old man, the house above the chemist's shop, the solicitude of Mrs. Liptrott, they had all combined to form an anchorage that held her to the normal, the strong, the safe; here she was loose, a rudderless barque. What had she to support her? Religion she despised; the formal and dull teachings of a cold Protestantism had only been to her food for mockery and secret amusement. She believed that all who professed these icy tenets must be hypocrites, and as such dismissed them from her consideration.

She knew that outwardly she seemed one whose principles were founded on a rock, whose honour was unassailable; but she knew also that these same principles and this same honour were to her matters of expediency; she had no great belief in the rewards of virtue. She knew the rules and believed in keeping them. Constantly before her mind was her parents' example, a proof of the ruin that folly could create. But what were the rules here?—she would have to divine them, judge them for herself. The rules? How vehemently she had refused wine at dinner—it had seemed as if her father's hand offered it...

With slow, cautious steps she proceeded along the garden, she could just see the tops of the pine trees rustling against the stars, one pattern over another, the branches, the stars, two veils between her and eternity.

"Why am I here? What am I searching for? Why do I pretend to myself that I am waiting for that man so far away? He might, in some circumstances, be a refuge, but I have no real need of him, since he cannot offer me the only things I wanted: powers, opportunity, position and money."

She felt as if she were being engulfed in some chill void where it would be impossible to know what direction to take.

"How can I endure the company of these two women, their narrow prejudices, their stupid laziness, the peevishness and self-pity of the girl, the weak self-reproaches of the woman? All here is futility and frustration. What do they intend to do with their lives? They are rotting here in this ugly confusion, nailed to their own tragedy."

She felt as if all the people in the Château Boismarin were dead automatons, that she alone was alive and palpitating. How dull and vacant were all the faces, even those of the servants! Efficiently as they went about their work, they had seemed to have no energy nor ardour in them. How wide and melancholy was that great avenue leading from the sumptuous gates to the imposing main entrance of the château! She had shuddered when she had first caught a glimpse of it...She remembered that when she had driven up it in the dark yesterday, with Matilde's impassive face before her in the half-light of the carriage, she had felt a most horrible melancholy.

She looked up at the stars that seemed larger and nearer to the earth than they had appeared in England. Then she looked back again at the light in her window, she feared she had lost her way. It would not do to wander long alone in these gardens, she might suddenly be called, Mademoiselle Louise might need her, the silly, helpless creature! And she was paid to attend to her, paid to be the butt of their whims, caprices and distresses.

She turned, her stiff skirt, her flowing shawl catching on some shrub; she was aware that someone was walking close behind her in the warm silent darkness—someone with a cautious footfall. She knew who it was. Perhaps from the moment she had left the little postern door of the turret she had known that she would meet him. The alien night suddenly focused to this point of interest, of speculation; the thick air, the rustling trees, the monstrous stars became suddenly acceptable to her mood. She paused and let the man approach her, and when he stood close beside her she could just discern his outline.

"I have come out for a little air, Monsieur. I find this climate very oppressive."

"You have come a good way from the château," replied M. de Saint Paulle, "the paths are involved here; one has to be very familiar with them to find one's way. You had better follow me."

"Why, I can scarcely see you."

"You can see me well enough to accept me as a guide, I think, Mademoiselle. I suppose you came out by the door in the little turret?"

She said: "Yes," then, remembering her duties and her pose of efficiency, she added: "I do not think I shall be needed any more to-night. I was several hours with Mademoiselle Louise in her chamber. A sick room, you understand! It unsettles and depresses the spirit!"

"Mademoiselle Louise is not ill, it is all nonsense, nerves, and idleness. It does not do her any good to be humoured and pampered."

"But I," said Lavinia out of the darkness (their voices were low, unconsciously suited to the hush of the scene), "but I am paid to humour and pamper her."

"Do you think you will remain here?"

"I could not tell you; how can one answer for what follies one may commit?"

They were nearing the château, the bulk of it loomed ahead as if it were bearing down on them. She could trace the outline of the masonry by the stars which sparkled above towers and turrets.

"You have seen nothing of the place yet; you do not know if you like it. No doubt you have already a shrewd idea of the characters of my aunt and cousin."

"It is not for me to make any comment."

They had reached the door in the turret which she had left open. He pushed it wide and they entered the lower room. Here she would, with cold reserve, have bidden him "Good night" and taken her away up the stairs to her own apartment, but he had quickly lit a lamp (she marked how he knew how to find this and the matches in the dark), and placing it on the table begged her to stay a while, as he had a few words that he wished to say to her, if she would listen.

Nothing could have pleased Lavinia Pierrepoint better. She dreaded the solitude, the inaction of her large, lonely rooms, of the close night. But she affected a rigid surprise at his demand, and stood at the foot of the open staircase with an air almost hostile, waiting for him to explain himself. She kept her glance on the young man, yet she was acutely aware of all that paraphernalia which had such a strange meaning to her—the shelves, the vases, the jars, and the cold furnace in the corner, the scales on the alabaster slab.

M. de Saint Paulle stood at the centre table and regarded her with an expression that was gentle, almost drowsy, and, as she believed, completely deceptive. He said unexpectedly:

"Perhaps you ought to understand, Mademoiselle, that I control all my aunt's affairs. That is why I came to see you in Paris. Had I not approved of you, you would never have come to Provence."

Lavinia at once entrenched herself behind her usual defences—formality.

"Nothing whatever of this was said in England. I was engaged by Madame de Montpaon; I regard her and her only as my employer."

"That does not alter the fact, Mademoiselle, that if I were to request my aunt to do so, she would dismiss you to-morrow, as she has already dismissed even the thought of several young ladies of whom I have not approved."

Changing her ground, Lavinia replied, with an insolence that it gave her great pleasure to use:

"It would not be difficult for anyone to influence a woman so unsettled and weak-minded as Madame de Montpaon. It does not seem to me, Monsieur, that your power is anything of which to boast."

"I am merely warning you. It seems to me essential that we should from the first understand one another."

Her look in reply to this was as much as to say: "You will not find it so easy to understand me."

Ignoring her defiance and her challenge, he continued:

"I daresay my aunt and my cousin have told you their stories?"

"I supposed that I was brought here to listen to their stories. It was also understood, no doubt, that I am not to discuss them. Please to remember, Monsieur, that I am in the position of a paid dependant."

"I think you will find your place, Mademoiselle, very monotonous. You do not look to me one who could easily endure trivialities, the stupidities of the Château Boismarin."

"That is for me to decide." She had pleasure in announcing a future for herself that till then had been vague in her own mind, but which became, as she announced it, solid and permanent. "If it suits me to remain here, I have the courage to do so. I came prepared for many disagreeables; I did not suppose the life, which, after all, is little better than that of a servant's, would be full of pleasure."

She deliberately brought out William Tassart and made a character, a personage, of him, and placed him between herself and the Frenchman.

"My fiancé is in India, we cannot be married until I have earned a little money for my dowry, or until he has been promoted. There are three years of waiting before us. This arrangement was made between us when he found that his relatives would not give him an allowance on which to marry. You see, I have an object, a good reason for what I do! I am not yet nineteen, Monsieur; there is plenty of time ahead of me, and I have the fortitude which my fiancé expects of me, to do my duty under circumstances which may be distasteful."

He laughed in her face and asked:

"Where did you learn to talk like that?"

"It is a pity," replied Lavinia Pierrepoint in a tone of the deepest rebuke, "that Monsieur also has not learned decorum and self-control." But, secretly, she was laughing also.

She began to mount the open staircase.

"One moment! You might as well listen to me, I don't mean you any harm!"

"Why should you?" She smiled down over the wooden stair-rail. "I cannot see that we are either of us likely to concern one another in the least." She smiled, despite herself, as she spoke, smiled in pure pleasure, for the man standing by the table and looking up at her seemed the most attractive creature she had ever seen. There was surely some profound affinity between them, such as she had never experienced with any human being before; she envied him his life, his freedom, his experiences, his vices, his authority; she had never met a man of this rank before; in comparison with him William Tassart was provincial, middle class.

He also smiled. His expression was habitually good-humoured and indolent, only the vivacity of his eyes betrayed the ardour of his spirit; his face was exquisitely shaped and modelled, again she thought of the Greek coin.

"Please understand, Mademoiselle, that you are only here as long as I choose to have it so—. I still consider myself affianced to my cousin Louise," he added, with such a smile that Lavinia laughed outright.

"I am sure that is a great happiness for her, Monsieur."

"You must do all you can, Mademoiselle, to persuade her so."

She mounted another couple of steps. She was near the little library where the shelves were full of books on venoms, poisons, the curious properties of plants, drugs, and minerals. She bent down to ask:

"Why did you allow me to come to Provence, M. de Saint Paulle? Did you consider that I am the sort of person who would not, in any way, interfere with you? Someone who would be always discreet—never in the way? The paid companion must be so tedious, very often!"

"You speak bitterly!"

"I am, perhaps, a little fatigued."

"It is difficult so to arrange life that one is not either fatigued or bored. That is why I have spent so many months in the laboratories of M. Pasteur, working as the humblest of his assistants—"

"I am not free to choose either my work or my pleasure."

"English women receive a peculiar education, Mademoiselle. In time you may cast aside many prejudices."

"And so become free?" Her longing sharpened her voice.

"Free! The Devil only knows what freedom is—and you, of course, know nothing at all—"

"What is it that Monsieur would like to teach me? Chemistry? You have everything here, I see."

She was deeply vexed with herself for being so pleased, so excited by this interview, and therefore spoke harshly.

Looking up at her with the light of the lamp in front of him outlining him from the dark background through which the glass and metal of the medicine-jars gleamed here and there, he replied:

"Here there is nothing! Only a few primitive experiments with perfumes are possible."

"I know nothing about such matters," replied Lavinia, peering down out of the shadows. "Does Monsieur make a long stay in the Château Boismarin?"

"I shall be here as long as suits my convenience."

She stepped into the library; it was so dark that she stumbled, the light below sent up only a timid glow. She found the door into her own room, passed in, and locked it. Chill and unfamiliar looked the elegant bedroom which showed in the greenish glow of the little nightlamp on the marble chimney-piece.

"He is an adventurer, and, I believe, a rogue. He is here to persuade and perhaps menace these two women for a marriage—for the fortune. And he thinks that I shall help him. He allowed me to come here; he was so sure I should be an ally."

This was a curious reflection. It was the first time in her brief life that she had been read completely and at once—for, of course, she was absolutely at his service.

* * * * *

She opened the window and leaned into the night, making the warm dark her confidant and her protector. She realised herself through this stranger, she saw herself as he had seen her, thrusting on his consciousness with disturbing beauty. No one else had ever thought her beautiful, or, at least, had never allowed her to guess at any understanding admiration. She could recall some schoolfellow's sigh—"But you're so pretty, Lavvy!" And Mrs. Liptrott had also thought her pretty, but pretty was what she had never been; her pink and white, sugar-candy, Easter Angel colouring set off by clumsy provincial clothes had made her grace, her noble outline of no value. Then she had seldom really cared, among the mediocre people who surrounded her, to assert her beauty.

She had challenged William Tassart with austere lures which proclaimed: "Do you not see that I am an uncommon creature?" But she was not even sure if he thought her beautiful, or if he were capable of ever thinking any woman beautiful. She remembered her hands crossed on the top of the warm gate and how lovely, warm, and pale they had looked in the mellow sunshine, but William Tassart had not observed anything; absorbed in his own honourable egotism he had stared vacantly across the insipid English meadows. What, to her, was the value of his chivalrous loyalty, the delicacy of his courtship, compared to this intrinsic coldness, this stupid lack of any comprehension of the kind of creature she was?

This stranger, this foreigner, whose life and experience must be, in all, so totally different from her own, he understood her at once, knew all her defects, her faults, was neither surprised nor shocked at what his own quick penetration revealed, and he had found her beautiful—as she had found the dish of filigree silver filled with peaches and roses at supper last night beautiful, or the branch of tuberoses in an onyx vase that had stood near Madame de Montpaon's place. In all the handsome room, among all the trivial, useless objects, only the salver of delicate fruit stuck with the wine-red damask blooms and the unfamiliar flowers in the polished dark stone vase had held the quality of beauty.

So, she knew, had he selected her from a world of commonplace.

Lavinia closed the windows; these reflections were dangerous. She tried to fix her thoughts upon her immediate situation, to consider the positions of the silly widow and her hysteric daughter and that of the young man who, for gain, was willing to marry a miserable creature who detested him; but she was not interested in these people nor their several passions and perplexities, save only as these directly concerned herself.

She was aware that she knew very little of the truth about any person in the Château Boismarin, only what it was intended she should know had been told her; all these strangers moved like figures on a stage, drawing the curtain across their actions whenever they wished.

"It does not concern me; my object must be to know myself, to wait and see what effect this peculiar landscape, this alien establishment, these foreigners, have on me. I am so ignorant of everything, that I must be very prudent."

She paused by her draped bed, which was full of shadows in the dim light of the vielleuse; she had been taught to say her prayers every night and habit nearly brought her to her knees, but she resisted the impulse with pleasure. There had always seemed to her something base in this subjection to the God of the majority to which she did not belong.

* * * * *

Custom claimed her; she became part of the routine of the establishment; as she was so discreet, so careful not to offend, she filled a difficult position with success and, by complete self-abnegation, obtained a daily increasing ascendancy over the feeble spirits and distracted minds of the two women who had employed her to be the recipient of their confidence. She was aware that the servants regarded her with intense dislike as "the English hypocrite," and she sensed that neither the doctor nor the priest who came so frequently to the château from Salon liked her cold, prudish mask, but this troubled her very little.

Very few visitors came to the château, those who did so were turned away with, "Madame does not receive at Boismarin."

Lavinia had ample leisure in which to observe the servants, who were well in hand under a housekeeper, Madame Morin, a colourless, disagreeable woman; all of them seemed characterless to the English girl, save Jacques, who tended the greenhouses, Matilde, and Lambert, the elegant valet de chambre of M. de Saint Paulle.

She discovered that all these were from Dauphiné, and that the people of that province had a reputation for a hard cunning and a grasping avarice. She learned also that M. de Saint Paulle's estates were in Dauphiné and drew her own conclusions from this fact.

"He has procured these two, Jacques and Matilde, their positions, and they are spying for him It was Matilde who told him to call at the Hôtel de Douvres."

Nothing escaped her observation, but there was so little to observe that only her intense interest in M. de Saint Paulle preserved her from complete boredom. But he kept himself so much apart, was away so continually, and she had so often to be shut into one or another of the apartments of the two ladies, nursing them through attacks of megrims and nerves, that she saw very little of the young man.

Nor could she learn much about him; Louise de Montpaon would not mention her cousin, and the Countess, in the midst of all her almost hysterical confidences, preserved a reticence on this subject. When Lavinia ventured on a few discreet words of sympathy about the broken marriage contract which involved some censure on her nephew, Madame de Montpaon always said hastily:

"But, of course, there is nothing against Louis. It is he who has been wronged! It was the fault of Louise and also mine for not guarding her better. And then M. de Saint Césaire played such a contemptible part! No, one must admit that it is very generous, very magnanimous of Louis to wish to forget everything." And on a note that was half challenge, half appeal, she added: "Is it not very chivalrous in him to wish to marry Louise now she is scarred, poor angel, and the other man has left her?"

Lavinia Pierrepoint might have thought so had she believed in chivalry.

* * * * *

The luscious days shortened into autumn. All the trees and plants round the Château Boismarin were in heavy fruitage, the waxing moon rose at night through veils of yellow mist, a faint perfume of rotting sweetness came from herb and fruit gardens, vivid flowers of purple and scarlet unfurled in the well-kept parterres.

M. de Saint Paulle lingered in the château. Lavinia Pierrepoint thought that his motives for this stay must be very powerful; it could be no light penance for a young, fashionable man of social and expensive tastes to remain in this gloomy solitude in the company of these two sad, alarmed, and petulant women. She often came upon them quarrelling; though in her presence they were civil enough, she would sometimes open a door or step through the long windows on to the terrace and come upon them, Madame de Montpaon and her nephew, or Mademoiselle Louise and her cousin, arguing together, the women shrill and emotional, the young man speaking in low tones.

If he were persuading or menacing she could not discover; he never asked her help in any of his schemes, whatever these might be, and yet she was ready to employ any stratagems on his behalf. He seldom gave her the look or the word for which she waited with such proud patience, and her pride was secretly bruised. She had thought that they were to be, almost at once, intimate friends.

She began to dislike the women with whom she was shut up. The Countess she despised; Louise, she had discovered, was spiteful and untruthful, petty-minded and unbalanced with injured vanity.

Then she had discovered that Matilde, the cunning Dauphiné maid of whom she was forced to see so much, was the lover of Jacques. She had come upon them in the sudden twilight close embraced outside the hothouses and she had felt revolted. There was, to her, something incredibly gross in the loves of peasants, in the hypocrisies of servants.

* * * * *

As the southern autumn deepened and glowed to harvest, Lavinia's domination over the two women became complete. She was "My dear," "Ma chérie," "My darling," "Mignonne," and "Lavie" to both of them. They seemed to find her company indispensable; she was consulted on every subject and always listened to with respect.

With infinite tact and delicacy, with immense care and prudence, she contrived to consolidate her influence over both mother and daughter and to keep them separately in her regard, doing nothing so crude as to side secretly first with one and then with the other, but so adjusting herself that she seemed to be the champion of each, of the daughter who delayed the dreaded marriage, of the mother who urged it forward. She did not, as yet, clearly see her advantage in acting thus, but it served as an occupation for what otherwise would have been an intolerable dullness.

* * * * *

M. de Saint Paulle returned to Paris.

Lavinia mused over him continually; she endeavoured to find out in what his attraction for her lay. She knew no more of him than she knew of William Tassart, nay, much less, for she was sure that in the simple young soldier there lay no mystery. Her mind travelled over the probable actions of the young Frenchman in the capital. How little she knew of the world he inhabited, how much she would like to know about it! She felt herself peculiarly suited to take her place among sophisticated, cultured, elegant, wealthy people—such a world as she knew was her rightful place, and she felt exiled, not from Maybridge, but from Paris or London or Vienna.

Her grandfather's letters, supplemented by dutiful notes from Mrs. Liptrott, came to her like echoes heard in a dream. There was so little news for the old scholar to send from the quiet provincial town. There was a different regiment in the garrison now, the doctor had a new partner who had recommended some different drops for his, Dr. Pierrepoint's, asthmatic attacks. He wrote nothing of his own work, understanding too well her complete lack of interest in that, but she saw him in her imagination, sitting always curved over his books and papers with his inkstand and pen, the lamp lit on the bureau shelf above, Mrs. Liptrott coming in to see about the fire—yes, they were beginning fires again now, the old man was chilly-blooded, and there were very few days in the year when a flame did not burn upon his modest hearth. And underneath, the chemist's shop, with the jars of lavender-coloured pottery, poppy-heads, and vases with gold lettering in the window and the Arms of the Apothecaries with the serpent and the figures of the heathen gods. And outside, the little narrow rough-paved street in which the shadows would lie thickly almost all day and night; and above, the misty English sky, vague blue by day, vague grey at night and the infinite melancholy of the moon, which always seemed to struggle above surging masses of ash-coloured clouds like the encroaching waves of some fathomless sea.

In leaving Maybridge, which she had so despised and disliked, she had not put it out of her life. The immediate circumstances of every day were vaguer than her recollection of the town where she had lived for nearly ten years. Her featureless schooldays, consisting of nothing but hard work, were wiped out of her mind, but her coming to Maybridge and her holidays there were clear, in spite of all her efforts to forget. What was unreal to her was the daily life at the Château Boismarin, the lazy, unpunctual habits, accommodated to the whims and weaknesses of invalid and idle women, the brief walks in the grounds or short drives beyond the grounds, the reading, the embroidery, the piano-playing, the late mornings (nobody astir till near midday), the early evenings, everyone in bed by ten o'clock unless Louise had a nervous or hysteric fit and would keep her sitting up to listen to the confidences which were now so unutterably stale and tedious.

There were vineyards beyond the park towards the Rhône. These were a curiosity to Lavinia; she stared, as she drove past on some of her duty carriage drives with the sick girl, at the women working in the burnt-looking fields gathering the black grapes into baskets, at the tawny leaves tangled on the crisping vines. This sight was somehow displeasing to her; it made her, to her own self-contempt, feel homesick.

"One does not," she thought, "escape winter by going to the south. Here, as the days shorten, is the same sense of weariness, of being abandoned, of going down into darkness and nothingness."

She could not imagine how the two women could contemplate passing the winter in the Château Boismarin. Surely they would move into a town, if it were only Aix or Arles...

The leaves were all off the avenue of plane trees that she had driven up on her arrival. At the end of this avenue was a grove of upright cypresses, trees associated with graveyards, in the mind of Lavinia. She had seldom seen them in England, and always with this funereal connection. But here they grew plentifully, black, upright, strange to the northern girl. She asked about the marshes at Aigues-Mortes. Madame de Montpaon told her that these were quite a distance away, perhaps forty or fifty kilometres.

Aigues-Mortes had quite an interesting castle for those who cared for such antiquities, and there was an old canal which St. Louis, the saintly king of France, had cut to take his troops down to the sea. But all was very neglected now, and the ague was endemic there. If she liked to go one day she might take the railway to Istres, and there hire a carriage, but it was a dreary place, the marshes of the Bouches-du-Rhône, and it would be better to wait until the spring...

"Ah, well, I shall wait," smiled the dutiful companion.

* * * * *

Lavinia Pierrepoint received, with a sense of shock, a letter from India, four pages of William Tassart's precise handwriting. Most of it was impersonal, but she understood from his formal sentences that he intended to remain faithful to his vows, or at least, as Lavinia put it to herself, that he intended to feign fidelity.

He wrote of the future. Some six months of the three years would have gone, incredible as that sounded, when she read his letter, and he hoped before a year had passed to get a transfer to another regiment. He told her that his brother's marriage had been broken off, so that he himself would remain, for some indefinite period, the heir presumptive to the title and the estates. He said that he disliked the life and the climate in India, that he was merely passing the time until their reunion in England, and he begged her, with what appeared sincere fervour, to give him every detail of her own circumstances and to assure him that she was safe and happy in the Château Boismarin. Then, in a postscript, he added that he had the Maybridge photograph always over his heart and begged her to let him know that she had the duplicate in safe custody.

This made Lavinia take down the album that she had not opened since she had left England and stare at the photograph of the writer in a desperate attempt to revisualise his person. She could remember him, every detail of features, his carriage, and his figure, for she was a shrewd observer and had a keen memory. But it was only a dead image that she could evoke, fiat and mask-like.

"I knew him so little, and he meant practically nothing to me, so I suppose that is why he escapes me now. But I am, after all, very glad of poor William. This has been a failure, I shall not be able to stay here very long, and I certainly shall not make much money, and I do not see any other prospects in France. It will always be the same thing, I shall always be the dependant in the houses of other people, paid to listen to their complaints and grievances. Caressed and flattered, perhaps, as I am now, but not living my own life. No, it would be better to be the wife of William Tassart, even in an India garrison. As for M. de Saint Paulle—he has gone away—"

As she stared at the photograph of her fiancé and herself in the album she re-lived the day when they had gone to the photographers in Maybridge and had been, she indifferent and he awkward, posed before the drop-cloth painted with the balustrade and the stiff varnished palms in the ornamental pot. The tiny faces on the carte de visite were certainly excellent likenesses; her own had been caught precisely, that was the countenance that looked at her every time she glanced in a mirror. But how hateful was the banded hair, the high collar, the ruffle under the ears! She looked at least ten years older than her age. In vexation she snapped the album-clasps together.

Then, for she never failed to perform a duty however unpleasant, she sat down at her desk and wrote a long letter to the young officer in India, in which she adroitly described the placid, pleasant life she lived with the widow lady and the delicate daughter, the unaccustomed splendours of the Château Boismarin, adding, as she had been taught at school, little pen pictures of the surroundings; the vineyards towards the Rhone, the abundance of olives and fig trees, the fruits, to her taste exotic and slightly disagreeable, over-ripe and too luscious in the perfume. Then she concluded with tender and pious hopes for the future.

She took her letter down to the hall. There was a box there which was emptied every day by the coachman, who used to drive to the railway station at La Roque with a letter-bag and fetch the mail and the parcels from Paris. There were a great many of these; some of them still stood unopened in the various rooms. One of the diversions of Louise, and to a smaller extent, one of the diversions of her mother, was reading over catalogues of the big firms in Paris and buying from them various novelties. Louise's wardrobe was full of gowns, stockings, gloves, parasols, fans she could not ever hope to use. Many of them, indeed, had never been lifted out of the silver-paper wrappings.

Lavinia, pausing in the hall, saw through a door standing ajar on her right M. de Saint Paulle, seated in an arm-chair and reading a newspaper. It was heavy twilight, and the standard lamp behind him had just been lit. Lavinia slipped her letter in the box; seldom did she have a free, spontaneous thought, her emotions were so contained, so overlaid by circumspection and prudence, but now her head was as nothing to the outcry of her heart. As she looked at him through the narrow space left by the half-open door she had nothing in her being but this:

"That is the man whom I love! Yes, I know now what love means."

She stood rigid, exulting in her triumph; she felt that, for the first time in her life, something grand and splendid had been put within her reach Stilling even the rustle of her stiff gown she studied him, having him, as she had never had him before, unaware, at her mercy. He was, surely, older than she had thought, the face was full, mature, slightly heavy about the mouth and chin, the expression was weary and brooding, his thick hair was falling over his forehead, she was sure that he was not reading the paper that he held before him, but pondering some distasteful memory or prospect.

Had, then, all his easy gaiety, his serene good humour been assumed?

With all the perversity of a headlong passion suddenly acknowledged Lavinia rejoiced in the flaws she saw, in the flaws she suspected, in the object of her love. Never could he do, or be anything, to disgust or estrange her; as she lightly crept away she said, half aloud: "Has he returned for me? For me?"

* * * * *

From that moment Lavinia Pierrepoint, who had been for so many weeks passive at the Château Boismarin, became active. There was no change in her outward demeanour, which remained smooth and respectful, but in her heart she had resolved to try to shape events to her own wish, to what ends she scarcely knew, but she had decided to use the influence she had over these two weak women at least to satisfy her own poignant curiosity.

She began to act at once.

Louise would not go down to dinner that evening because her cousin was present, and Lavinia readily agreed to bear her company in her chamber. But there was not this time any playing of melancholy melodies on the pianoforte or the harp (for Louise cherished this old-fashioned sentimental instrument), nor any reading of soft love-stories in French or Italian, nor any listening to the sick girl's lamentations as to her fate. The stronger mind took direction and kept it. Louise lay on the sofa in her boudoir, as she termed the large room, with the sea-green watered silk on the walls, which opened out to her bedchamber. She was covered with exceedingly valuable cashmere shawls of fine white wool with yellow and crimson borders. Her head was, as usual, swathed in white gauze veils and her long, slightly lank, undressed black hair broke from an untidy knot; she rested on piled-up cushions and held a handkerchief soaked in eau-de-Cologne to her eyes.

The lamps were carefully shaded with pink glass globes and a screen stood in front of the steady flames which leapt from the sweet olive wood on the open hearth.

Lavinia sat down by the invalid's couch.

"Tell me, Louise, what do you really think about your situation? I have been here some weeks now, and you are always asking me to help you, to advise you. Well, if you want me to do that you must be quite frank, you know."

The French girl looked startled; her companion had never used this tone before. She began to stammer out that she always had been frank, but Lavinia interrupted.

"No, you have not, Louise. You have told me just what you wanted me to know, haven't you? You are wasting time, you are wasting yourself. Don't you see that this sort of life is just a frustration and a futility?"

She frowned as she thought that this applied to her own existence as well as to that of Louise de Montpaon.

"You are in this peculiar—as you think, dreadful—situation," she added, "yet you will not make up your mind what to do."

"I want you to help me. I want you to advise me," moaned Louise, pressing her wet handkerchief to her eyes.

"I cannot do that until I know the truth."

Lavinia sat erect on the small stool by the couch, in every way a contrast to the other young woman, so neat was she in her close-buttoned bodice, plain cuffs and collar, banded hair and pure profile, so brilliant and cool in her colouring, so precise and steady in the low, careful tones of her cold voice.

A slight convulsion passed over the form of the prostrate girl; she writhed under the shawls.

"I am very ill. I must not be questioned."

"Very well, that is as you please. You must not expect me to be your friend," replied the Englishwoman frigidly. "I am not used to this kind of emotional collapse. We do not behave like this in England. There must be some way of adjusting your difficulties, your misery, as you think. Either you are going to marry your cousin or you are not."

"I will never marry Louis!"

"Very well, then, you ought to tell him so at once and for all."

"I have told him so. I have written to him, and Mamma, poor Mamma, she is frightened of him."

"I do not think that is quite true, Louise. Your mother seems perfectly friendly with your cousin. He has a great deal of power over her, he chooses her servants and regulates her household, she takes his advice about her money affairs. He comes here continually."

"Mamma has to," murmured the girl. "She is afraid of him, as I am."

"That is nonsense," said the Englishwoman sharply. "Stop crying, Louise, and stop holding that eau-de-Cologne handkerchief to your eyes. You will make them sore. The essence is too strong; you should, as I told you, have mixed it with water. Sit up, too, it's bad for you to be always lying down, you will make your spine weak."

As if she were a child the French girl obeyed, dropped the handkerchief and sat up on the couch. The scarf had been disarranged in her haste, and the scar, still fresh and livid on the delicate, olive-tinted flesh, showed hideously. Her large, inflamed eyes turned with an expression of fascinated terror towards Lavinia.

"You will not blame me," she murmured, "you will not be unkind! I have become so fond of you, Lavie, there is nobody else who understands!"

Lavinia stopped these affectionate babblings; to her they were a waste of time.

"Why should I blame you? You must never forget that I am in the position of your paid dependant. I am here to look after you, to help you, but I cannot do either unless you are candid with me, unless I am open with you and tell you that I think it is very bad for you to indulge in so much melancholy and grief. You should return to society."

At these words the girl winced, placed her fingers on her face.

"Like this?"

Lavinia hated the melodrama of that gesture.

"Of course! You must not think about that. Remember that your cousin Louis wishes to marry you. You will then be a duchess—" her broad lids drooped over her bright eyes—"you would have a very fine position in French society, I suppose. You would be able to be in attendance, perhaps, on the Empress in the Tuileries and Compiègne."

"Oh no," interrupted Louise, "the Court is so bourgeois. None of the old nobility has anything to do with it."

"Stupid little snob," thought Lavinia. But she flushed, for she felt herself rebuked. "It is true that shut away in this forsaken place I am not able to get the tone and feeling of French society—I ought to have known that without allowing her to remind me, of course, these people are the old Bourbon nobility."

To cover her mistake, she went on smoothly:

"You would be able to travel. You could go to Italy. You would soon forget your misfortunes. Do you not think, Louise, that it is very chivalrous of your cousin to still wish to marry you after all the trouble and scandal there was? Men of rank think a great deal of that sort of thing, you know." And in a tone that was almost one of command, she added: "It was an open scandal, was it not? You had better tell me the truth, Louise, I cannot help you if you do not."

"I thought Mamma had already told you," replied the girl feebly. "We were so imprudent! M. de Saint Césaire is only twenty-three years old; he was very inexperienced. We were discovered. Please don't despise me."

"Discovered! What do you mean? You had secret meetings?"

"You are too good," whimpered Louise, beginning to shed those copious tears that Lavinia disliked so much. "Do you not understand? I was his mistress, we were found together. I was wicked, I was stupid and shall pay for it for the rest of my life!"

She sank huddled on the sofa again, sobbing into the eau-de-Cologne-soaked handkerchief, and Lavinia, profoundly startled, turned round on the stool and stared into the fire-screen through which the leaping flames showed dimly. She was face to face with a new thought, with a new aspect of life. Never had she, even remotely, come near anything like this before. It stirred curious rebellions, desires, and curiosities in her own blood. This young Frenchwoman of high rank had confessed, without much shame or grief, with indeed hardly any reluctance or embarrassment, to something that Lavinia had been taught was a deadly sin more fearful than death, an unutterable disgrace, a profound degradation.

She tried to compare her own code and that of the other girl in her active mind, but a ridiculous thought obtruded itself and sent a smile across her serene lips.

"If Grandfather, if William knew this, they would want me to come home at once!"

* * * * *

Lavinia soon made her adjustments and regained her composure. She realised that it was very stupid to be shocked at any confession. She remained with her back to Louise, who was still sobbing into the cushions, and said gently:

"You were quite right to tell me everything. Of course you loved each other very much. But he, your lover, he ought to have stood by you, ought to have married you."

"It would not have been allowed. They tried to hush it up. He was sent to Algiers, he has not written since, but I am going to be faithful to him till the day I die."

"Your cousin, M. de Saint Paulle, knows—this—and is willing to marry you just the same? If you look at it in a reasonable way, Louise, you must admit it is very chivalrous of him, very generous. He is offering you his name and protection. He is overlooking the slight you put upon him. I have not much experience, but I do not think many men would do that. He is giving you back the position which, in a way, you have lost."

"Yes, we were disgraced! That is why Mamma got rid of nearly all the servants! They knew too much about it. That is why we came here, we were advised that people would forget in time. You see, in society, in Paris," added the sobbing girl naïvely, "there are so many scandals!"

"Then you made it worse," said Lavinia, turning round on her stool and looking with her blue eyes, which were then feverishly bright, at the inert figure of the creature whom she so profoundly despised. "You tried to take poison, did you not?"

Louise de Montpaon shuddered. She had never heard her actions put in those crude words before—it had never been directly referred to, but always glossed over, as the accident, the mistake...

"That is what I tried to do," she admitted. "It was not my fault that I was interrupted. The lamp was upset on my dress—that is how I got my scar."

"How did you obtain the poison?" asked Lavinia curiously.

"Oh, it was laudanum; you can buy it anywhere. It is so easy to take an over-dose—a simple death, too. I wish I had succeeded! I should not have known then what it was to be so wretched as I am now."

She sat up, wringing her thin brown hands.

"Well, now you know the truth, the whole truth! I suppose you're shocked! English people are at these sort of things, are they not? Mamma always said if I had an English companion that I wasn't to let her know."

"No, I am not shocked. I want to help you. What you have told me, of course, makes a difference. I don't think now that you ought to marry your cousin." An expression she had heard Mrs. Liptrott use of servant girls, use with reserve and pursed lips, came into her mind. She added, with an ironic smile: "M. de Saint Césaire ought to make an honest woman of you."

She rose and, still smiling, looked down at Louise. She now felt immeasurably her superior, for she knew, in the light of the French girl's confession, how greatly she valued her own immaculate and implacable respectability. How stupid, how even disgusting, to cheapen oneself like that! How humiliating to be for ever thus degraded! His mistress! Her mind darted to, then recoiled from, the physical fact behind that statement. How was it possible to anyone of taste and fastidiousness? It must have been under her mother's roof Lavinia felt the same sensation as when she had discovered Matilde and Jacques behind the greenhouses. The little beast!

She spoke not from her heart, but from the dictates of an obvious common sense.

"I do not think now, of course, that you ought to marry your cousin. You should try to persuade your mother, who, I am sure, loves you very much and is only anxious for your good, to allow you to marry M. de Saint Césaire."

* * * * *

In the morning it was the mother who poured out her confidences to Lavinia.

"My dear, I do not know what I should do without you! There is not a soul to whom I can turn, I feel so desolate, so bewildered! We were all so happy till my husband died. My nephew Louis is here again, I believe you saw him last night...He insists on the marriage taking place, and poor Louise will not listen to reason. What am Ito do?"

"Surely, Madame, your nephew cannot insist! You are the mistress of your own fortunes and your daughter's future."

"I know, I know!" replied Madame de Montpaon vaguely. "But he ought to be considered, he has been most just, most kind. It is true he had that one moment of fury, but then that is to be understood. He has done his best to make amends."

She looked appealingly at Lavinia as she spoke, but the girl rejected this supplication, and said gently:

"Madame, I am too inexperienced to give advice."

This calm concealed an extreme agitation; her spirit hovered between ecstasy and despair; she could make no plans until she knew what M. de Saint Paulle wanted of her—if he wanted anything at all! Of what use was her influence over those two fools, either to herself or to the man whom she so intensely wished to please?

She could not concern herself with the meaning of the situation between these three people, that was like thunder below the horizon to her; she longed to know what her part was to be in the coming spectacle that these combined lives would make. She thought of it as that—a spectacle in which she hoped to, in which she must, play a vital part.

* * * * *

Her effort at self-control deepened her reserve; she watched herself and outwardly became, more markedly than before, the rigid, cold English miss whom it was impossible to suspect of an indecorum or an impure thought.

She placed the English Bible and the Anglican Prayer Book that she had brought from Maybridge on the table by her bed; as she took these from their wrappings in the bottom of her drawer she came upon the little-worn goatskin case of sovereigns that her grandfather had given her and that she had no opportunity of spending. With this in her hand she realised that the past was becoming effaced; she was putting not only time, but events and emotions, between herself and Maybridge.

She savoured a curious kind of pleasure from this knowledge; the English money, the English books gave a note of grateful sharpness to the insipid triviality of the room that was no more her room than that prim bedchamber at Maybridge had been.

Whenever she could free herself from her attendance on her employers (tyrants, she named them to herself) she went out into the garden and the park and looked at the pattern the barren boughs of the plantains and the dense foliage of the cypress and pine made against a sky then bright and hard, like pale lacquer, like mother-of-pearl.

She would have liked to have gone often to the greenhouses, to have entered that artificial steaming heat and stood among the unblemished vivid green plants, stiff, erect with vitality, and beaded by moisture.

But she was afraid of meeting the sly Dauphiné peasants, Matilde and Jacques, kissing, embracing in the shadows of the coarse creepers or the gigantic fleshy-thorned leaves, of which she did not know the name. She dreaded anything little, base, or common, or what seemed so to her; that she had never been scrupulous in conventional honesties did not prevent her ideas from being tinged by a sombre grandeur.

For three days after the arrival of M. de Saint Paulle at Boismarin she avoided him; all this while the mistral blew and filled her with physical unrest.

One night when the wind from the Rhône valley had sunk a little she heard him moving in the turret rooms; she opened the door in her bedroom with great deliberation and looked into the little library; a faint light from the lower chamber showed up the open stairs. She descended these softly, holding together her stiff pink skirts; she had ready some excuse for her intrusion, but this was unnecessary; M. de Saint Paulle was seated by the lamp at the round table in the centre of the round room; he wore a dark olive-green coat and looked up as if he had been expecting her; outside was the invisible menace of the wind.

"Good evening, Mademoiselle."

She could not separate this moment from other moments spent in much the same surroundings—that long-ago moment when she had waited outside the chemist's shop and watched the poppy-heads in the great jars, while her mother made that dreadful purchase within, and the moment when she had gone down to the little dispensary at the back of the apothecary's shop, in Maybridge, and flashed her lamp up and down the rows of bottles. They looked at each other and he said, his fingers still in his book, but his attention all on her:

"How hideously you dress! Do you realise how you spoil yourself?—that high collar, that banded hair! Why are you here? It was so strange that I should meet anyone like you."

"I dress according to my station, Monsieur."

"Bah! What nonsense! You sometimes speak a very stupid jargon. You must find it very boring here. Is there anything you would care to do?"

"Yes. I should like to go and see the marshes and the old castle at Aigues-Mortes. But that, of course, is impossible."

"Why?"

"I must do as I am paid to do. It is tedious, but I have my fancies. Do you think that my dress is hideous? It came from Paris—when I was in England I had really ugly clothes—"

"Do you know that there is a world where women like you do exactly as they wish? You should make a tradition, not follow a fashion."

"Women like me—" she repeated, fascinated by this, as it seemed to her, exquisite compliment. "You think that I have some value then?"

"You know that. I should never have allowed you to come here if you had not interested me. For though it is necessary for these poor creatures to have a companion, I could not have endured anyone who was tiresome."

This insolence did not in the least offend her; she felt that his agile mockery was for himself as much as it was for her, and she admired the direct ease of his look and tone. It gave her a profound pleasure to deal with this character to whom vacillation and hesitation seemed unknown.

"Dressed as you are dressed now, Mademoiselle, you look like an Anglo-Saxon prude—you are a strange creature to arrive from the English provinces! And this life here—does it not vex, exasperate you?—such futility! Such waste!"

"I am paid to endure it," she replied maliciously. "But you, Monsieur?"

"I am not free either. Circumstances have forced me into an odious position—if one had not a sense of humour—! Is not my aunt the most hideous woman in the world, and my cousin the most miserable sinner in existence! One should be dead, the other in a nunnery."

This intense egotism, which had a quality of brilliant gaiety, was delightful to Lavinia. M. de Saint Paulle contrived to rid life of all that was dull, false, and pretentious. She realised, with a fierce passion, how she had always detested hypocrisy, the timid kind pretences of her grandfather and Mrs. Liptrott, the falsities of her school life, of Maybridge, the deep reserves, amounting to deceit, of William Tassart...

"One should be sorry for them—but one is not," she replied. "Compassion for such types is difficult when one is sane and healthy oneself." In her eagerness to be of help to him she added: "Mlle. Louise could easily be persuaded to enter a convent."

"Mlle. Louise must marry me."

At this simple declaration Lavinia frowned.

"That seems to you base?" he added quickly. "You are easily shocked?"

"No—but you—and that unfortunate creature, ruined as she—"

M. de Saint Paulle rose.

"If I do not marry her, I also shall be ruined. So, you wish to go to Aigues-Mortes? Why not, such experiences are often precious. We will go—any day that you wish."

"Madame de Montpaon would not consent."

"Yes, if I wished it."

"I don't want to be conspicuous, I don't want to do anything stupid."

She was scarcely aware that she was speaking to this stranger more frankly than she had ever spoken to anyone before; she was very excited and spoke earnestly. She wondered if this noble, this charming creature was going, after all, to make her a friend, an ally.

"If you wish to come I can arrange it."

Lavinia retreated towards the stairs; the lamplight detached him from his background of shelves, of bottles, jars and boxes in porcelain and glass; the wind rushed past outside like restless hate.

"Good night, Monsieur!"

"Good night."

With the swiftness of one escaping she regained her own room, locked the door, and standing close behind it, listened to his light football, already familiar to her, below.

* * * * *

No objection was raised to the dreary expedition she had suggested; M. de Saint Paulle had said that her grandfather was "savant" and desired a description of the ancient fortress of Saint Louis; Madame de Montpaon had acquiesced—"as if I were old and ugly," thought Lavinia, stung by this indifferent trust.

* * * * *

They took the train to Istres and from there a hired carriage brought them across the causeway over the marshes to Aigues-Mortes. The fierce Rhône winds, which had bent low the olive and cypress trees and scattered the last leaves of the despoiled vines, had ceased; the mist hung over the dried grey spikes of wild lavender and thyme and the harsh thorns of withered gorse and the scattered stones that soon gave place to broken marshlands.

M. de Saint Paulle told his silent companion that in the spring all this desolation was covered by a multitude of small wild flowers and that as far out as Beaucaire the almond trees bloomed.

Lavinia shivered; the air was chilly and her spirits sank at the impersonal attitude of her companion; the landscape was distasteful, it seemed to be the sinister place that she had always sensed from the Château Boismarin; she did not know why M. de Saint Paulle had suggested this journey nor why she had accepted his invitation; perhaps he would soon return to Paris, and she would never see him again. The waste, the futility of life and the inescapability of destiny were on her like a weight.

The silting Rhône had formed four coastlines along the tideless sea; for seven hundred years the water had been soaking into the soil; the old canal was choked up at the mouth, the road had to change and wind many times before Aigues-Mortes, the city of dead waters, was reached.

This gloomy and forsaken fortress rose rigidly, a dark pile, solid in the dank wavering ague mists. The shabby hired carriage with the hired horse wound past the Tour de Constance.

"Prisoners were kept there," smiled M. de Saint Paulle, "dying of loneliness and disease until within thirty or forty years ago."

"Why did we come here?" asked Lavinia, shuddering into her English jacket of gray cloth.

"Because it is different from any other place. Because nowhere else could you have the circumstance of every day more lifted from your mind."

A ray of autumnal sunshine pierced the mist and fell on the aged yellow towers of the mighty castle. Lavinia glanced back along the causeway which they had just crossed through the marshes; the mist brought the horizon very near; the solitude was intense—a heron rose and disappeared. She looked at her companion as they sat close together in the shabby carriage. He appeared serene and indifferent, and she had an impulse to weep from sheer loneliness. They seemed so far apart, and when they had planned this journey to the dead city they had seemed so intimate in mind and spirit.

"If there is never anything more than this? If he goes away without any understanding between us, shall I be able to endure it?"

* * * * *

Aigues-Mortes was a cluster of shabby, forlorn streets of squalid, commonplace houses. Most of the poverty-stricken people were withered by fever and shivering with ague. In the small, dirty hotel a poor meal was poorly served.

Lavinia, for the second time in her life, drank a glass of wine—Côtes-du-Rhône of poor quality. She had hitherto been proud of her self-conscious abstinence, refusing, even on special occasions, the small glasses of port or sherry that had been offered to her, disdaining to accept, even from Madame de Montpaon's hospitable hands, a glass of champagne or Sauterne. But now, in the company of this strange man in this squalid dirty room, she drank a glass of cheap red wine; and she recalled the glass of sherry that she had drunk in the cabin of the steam packet.

M. de Saint Paulle said very little and spoke only commonplaces, but she had lost the sense of disillusion, of disappointment that had assailed her on the marshes. She began to feel secure in her freedom—real freedom! There was, at last, an absence of anyone to chide, to comment, to claim attentions, to spy. She gloated over the remembrance of Maybridge—what would her grandfather, Mrs. Liptrott, William Tassart, think of her present adventure? No doubt they would be deeply shocked and fear that she was in considerable danger.

As Lavinia conversed on the subjects which had been supplied her by the newspapers that they had read in the train, she eagerly noted every detail of the young man, his features, his hands, his voice, and found no flaw in him; she wondered about the women who must be in love with him, but she felt neither envious nor jealous.

Suddenly she spoke of Italy.

"That has been a dream of mine—to go across the Alps—"

"My grandmother was a Roman lady, I often used to stay with her at Rocca di Papa—I go now sometimes to Fiesole to stay with my cousin, Dino, but he is very dull. I don't suppose that you would ever find your Italy."

"No—I suppose not. Hopes go awry—I've found that out already."

* * * * *

Afterwards they walked round the fortress on the old sentinel's path. All about them was monstrous, huge dead, an anachronism; in the useless harbours below, the waters lapped invisible through the mist. Above, the gigantic piles of masonry were lost in the sullen vapours.

"Here at least," said the young man, "one can think clearly, one is not troubled by pettinesses and commonplaces of every day. Tell me something about yourself."

She did not answer as she looked long and earnestly at his strange face (wondering wherein lay his attraction for her), but she knew that she would, for the first time in her life, presently open her heart, confide in this stranger and tell him all her secrets.

"Why did you come to Provence? Why did you take this place which no one else would have?" he insisted. "It is not true, of course, that you wished to save money for your marriage to this Englishman, as my good aunt thinks?"

She had no defences against him as they paced side by side through the mist.

"I have never belonged anywhere. I am not part of any family. I am one of those people who should never have been born."

"I, too, very likely"—he smiled above his upturned collar—"but one must, I suppose, make the best of it."

"That is what I tried to do. If I had stayed in Maybridge I think I should have gone slowly crazy. I have so much energy, ambition, yet I knew not where to direct it! The only way of escape I saw was through that young man, Lieutenant Tassart, but he had no money." She added thoughtfully: "I should have been quite a good wife to him, I should have helped him. But three years is a long time to wait."

M. de Saint Paulle gave her a sidelong look; they paused and stood motionless on the old sentinel's path along the ramparts. The mist lifted a little and they could see the silted harbours, one behind the other, the heavy damp masonry, and the huge iron rings set there for galleys long since fallen into the dust.

"You must find it very dull and monotonous at the Château Boismarin," remarked the young man.

"Yes, I undertook it as an adventure. You will understand, of course, that I had no experience, and I thought that to go abroad would be to change things. I know better now."

"What do you intend to do?"

"I do not know. Though my existence seems so orderly, I am really drifting."

"You are not going to wait three years for that man in India?"

"Again—I do not know. Three years is a long time, but then, I am not yet twenty, and if nothing better occurred, if he should get promotion or his relatives give him some money—"

She pulled together her thick jacket on her breast.

"That is what we both require—money. And my aunt has more than she knows what to do with. Is not that ridiculous?"

"She wastes it," replied Lavinia indifferently. "It is strange to stand aside and see it thrown away on sick whims, on stupid caprices. Why do they stay there? Why do they not return to Paris?"

"Because I do not choose so. They disgraced themselves and me. I suppose by now Louise has told you what she did. She has no reserve, no dignity. I lost my temper, and it was nearly an open scandal. It was, indeed, difficult to endure such an outrage."

"You did not care for her?" whispered Lavinia cautiously.

"Of course not. It was the insult, the disgrace. And the loss of fortune on which I counted, and which was, rightly, partly mine; my grandfather made it—this M. de Montpaon, who so admirably seized his chances when he was in power under Louis Philippe—"

"Why are you telling me all this? I must know! Why do you want my confidences?"

"Let us walk on a little, you will catch the ague from these mists. You liked me, did you not, when we met in that horrible salon in the Hôtel de Douvres?"

"Yes."

"Then all is said. I am not yet thirty years old, but I have had a good deal of experience—it is only money that I need—that gives me all the power I want. I do not require a religion, nor even a philosophy. If one has health and a good income—" He glanced up at the towers looming above them. "Perhaps I am of another epoch, like this castle, eh, well! There are some basenesses that should never be endured! We have become so careful, so cowardly, and so mean. My cousin Louise—that now!" He spoke hurriedly, in a low, slurred voice; Lavinia gave him her keenest sympathy.

"What," he insisted, "do you think of that—Louise and her lover?"

"It is very difficult for me to understand."

"It disgusts you?"

He had thrust his hands in the pockets of his heavy overcoat, the collar was pulled up to his ears, his hat over his eyes; his face thus in shadow, only the ardour and vitality of his eyes gave his countenance, at least to her, an air of brilliancy.

"Disgusts me?" repeated Lavinia. She had forgotten all her native duplicity in the company of this person, who was so entirely congenial. She tried to speak very scrupulously, very truthfully. "I don't know if it disgusts me. It seems stupid and melodramatic. I've only read about such things in silly old stories—The Knight Surprised in the Lady's Bower—they never seemed real, we were never allowed to think of them as real, everyone whom I knew would have been shocked—"

"Let us go back to the town; it is time we were returning. Her bower!—no, it was nothing like that! She used to pretend visits to the dentist and then they would meet in a little room behind his glove-maker's shop—a dirty little room, but expensive—as such places are. He had not much money to spend, you see, so he couldn't offer her anything but that dirty little room. So, it was squalid and commonplace, sly and cunning as well."

"I am disgusted, then, if it was like that. She is a fool, too."

They were taking the downward, sloping path from the ramparts; either side the massive walls seemed to crowd them together; they walked close, side by side; Lavinia was extremely agitated, she felt tainted by the disgrace of Louise, she felt ashamed at discussing anything at once so gross and pitiful.

"And yet you want to marry her!"

"There is nothing on which I am more firmly resolved-the world being as it is—"

She interrupted: "You accept the most emphatic affront!"

He did not reply and averted his face; she believed that he was extremely angry, but she would not relinquish her point of view.

"If I were you, I should hate both these women—"

"It is dangerous to talk of hatred," his voice came muffled from his collar. "Louise should have died—why did they not let her take the laudanum—or see that the flames did their work before they were quenched? We move amid such false values—we kill with delight a beautiful, noble, harmless creature in the chase, and we cherish with exquisite pains a base, vindictive, ugly human being."

"Again, please tell me why you want me to hear this? Remember how much sets us apart."

"Why should I? One never knows where happiness is to be found. One cannot plan for it, but sometimes one senses its approach—an affair with a woman who expected nothing, who had neither scruples, fears nor hypocrisies—who had never loved before, who was beautiful and strange—that would be worth some trouble."

She was silent, shivering with happiness. He laughed, and added in his quick, warm voice:

"Thank you for not asking—'Am I that woman?'"

* * * * *

They returned to the shabby hotel in the empty market- place. The expedition to the old fortress had taken less time than they had expected; there were two hours to wait before the carriage was due to take them across the marshes to the station at Istres.

They sat at a dirty table and she drank another glass of Côtes-du-Rhône and ate a sweet stale biscuit. In low, detached tones, they told each other more of themselves, of their continuous and secret rebellion against convention, tradition, of their hatred of weaklings and fools. She encouraged him to talk again of the hideous disappointment he had suffered through the licentious folly of Louise de Montpaon, and the treachery of that penniless scoundrel, M. de Saint Césaire. With his elbow on the dirty table and his chin in his fine hand M. de Saint Paulle mused in a low tone, staring at Lavinia:

"Of course, I ought to have killed him. It is a pity that all that is changed—a duel would merely have been ridiculous. People would have laughed at me. She, too, should have been punished. And the mother!—do you think she should have escaped? A hundred years ago these things would have been arranged differently—men had their rights then, now all is money, commerce, and industrialism. A woman of her rank, on the eve of marriage, an innocent girl not a year from the convent! Bah! one is nauseated!"

He spoke with a quiet fury that Lavinia could profoundly sympathise with. So she had felt, yes, towards her own parents; she had thought that they, the drunkard spendthrift, the hysterical wanton should have been punished. But they had escaped and left her to pay their account.

She gave confidence for confidence; she told him of memories she had never breathed to anyone. Those last days in the Kennington lodgings, her dead mother, the fat woman who had taken her to Maybridge, her grandfather looking up from his books and telling her: "I will do my best for you. As soon as you are able you will have to earn your living."

'Well, I am earning it,' she thought.

They looked at each other and smiled. The coarse, unaccustomed wine which she had found disagreeable to the palate, nevertheless gave her a certain exhilaration. She felt released from many restraints. She looked round the dreary parlour, and a torn, flaring poster near the door caught her eyes.

"Look! there is an entertainment here, in this place! Folies Aigues-Mortaises, as they call them! Is not that absurd!" She began to laugh. "Let us go and see them Even these wretched people, dying of ague here, try to be gay, you see!"

He called the landlord, paid the bill, and asked if the travelling troupe was performing that afternoon. The landlord answered "Yes," and told him where he could find the hall.

"It will not be correct for you, you know," smiled the young man, as they left the hotel. "It is sure to be vulgar and hideous."

"Sometimes one needs that. I should like to go."

* * * * *

The entertainment was held on the ground floor of an empty house; coarse black curtains had been nailed across the lofty windows of the long salon, benches were arranged for the audience and a rude stage had been set up for the performers. The payment of a few francs secured the best places for Lavinia and her escort. They sat immediately in front of the row of flaring oil lamps which served as footlights.

The place was three parts empty. This invitation to be gay teemed more dismal than the frank melancholy of the ramparts of the disused harbour. Lavinia wondered who were the few people whom she could dimly discern in the obscurity, apathetic, yellow-faced, the men smoking coarse cigars, the women curved in the lassitude of the idleness that comes after exhausting toil, all waiting dully for the wandering troupe of players to amuse them.

She glanced sideways at her companion. How strange that they should be together in such a place! Yet it was not really that which was strange, but everything that had gone before. This, which seemed the slender circumstance of an hour, was in reality the most important event that had ever happened to her. The thought of the present moment closed her in from every other moment, not like a veil, but like a shutter. She took off her gloves and glanced down at her lovely hands in her lap, and she turned about on her fingers the thin gold ring with the bloodstone which William Tassart had given her in Maybridge; the half-obscurity, the glow of the coarse wine in her blood excited her; she felt another hand over hers; M. de Saint Paulle had placed his fingers over the ring. It was the first time that he had touched her, and the moment was carefully chosen...

"He gave you that?" he whispered.

Lavinia nodded, and the young man added in pleasant casual tones:

"He must be a fool to think that that could keep you."

"It is worthless in itself—only a symbol."

"Of nothingness," smiled M. de Saint Paulle, looking at her sideways; he withdrew his hand, leaving her fingers trembling.

The tattered red curtains went up.

* * * * *

Lavinia surrendered herself to her emotions. She had noticed before that unless she concentrated keenly with her intelligence on what was happening about her, everything was likely to become vague and unsubstantial. It was so with her now. She surrendered herself to the sensation of the proximity of this man whom she loved, in her inexperience she could find no other name for the power he exercised over her senses.

The dimly-lit room with the apathetic people to right and left of her became blurred, the glare of the lamps dazzled in her eyes like so many stars. She stared at a stout, florid woman, who, painted, half-naked, banged a tambourine from which hung soiled ribbons and shouted out in a hoarse voice a ribald song of the Paris streets. This singer had perhaps returned near her native place, for her profile had a great beauty, though coarsened and spoilt like a profile on a coin of a debased period. She had the fine limbs of the women of Arles, but she had become fat and heavy, her hands and feet seemed ridiculously small compared with her forearms and calves. She was flaunting, coarse, repellent, yet in some way she attracted Lavinia. She seemed to dominate the drowsy, half-hallucination in which the girl sat. There was something vile about her, yet something also sublime; she shone with a lustre of good-humoured vitality.

Lavinia began to speculate about her life, her history. She tried to follow her through her sordid love affairs—love! how easily one used that convenient word! This figure in gay tatters banging the tambourine, shouting with a painted mouth, with black hair combed back from the heavy features brushed with rice powder, came to be one in the young girl's fancy with her own mother, with Louise de Montpaon, with all women who secretly and dangerously indulged their appetite, their sloth, their greed.

She saw her mother coming out of the chemist's shop, trim in Paisley shawl and bonnet, she saw Louise de Montpaon alighting at the respectable door of the dentist's, and she saw what was behind these actions. What had he said? the man at her side, whose fingers had so lately lingered over her own and William Tassart's ring: "You would not do that, but you might do worse things." What did he mean—"worse things?" Was it not, after all, possible to be respectable and decorous if one really wished to be so? There were women in the world like Miss Merton, like the woman who had spoken to her in the agency for governesses, like many others whom she knew in Maybridge who did live and die stainless. Yet perhaps even they had their secret rebellions, their tumultuous thoughts...

"And if they are content, I never could be with such a lot."

A man in a torn pierrot dress came on to the stage and began to sing to a guitar. The woman descended into the room and, still panting from her exertions, moved about heavily, holding out her tambourine for pence. As she paused by Lavinia the girl noted the sweat pearling beneath the grease and rice powder and smelt a whiff of alcohol and cheap scent. The woman's eyes were injected with blood, she seemed to leer at the young man and the young woman, a cynical invitation and a sympathetic comment in once, as she glanced from one to another of these two, so different from anyone else in the hall. As she smiled she showed discoloured and broken teeth behind the noble curve of her lips.

"Let us go," whispered Lavinia.

M. de Saint Paulle put some money in the tambourine, and they passed out into the streets of Aigues-Mortes. The waxing moon was rising above the mist, which had now changed to the colour of wood ash. The insidious damp seemed to creep to their very bones.

The shabby little carriage with the knock-kneed horse was waiting for them outside the hotel. They entered it without a word and were driven along the causeway with the solitary marshes either side.

Louis de Saint Paulle said:

"We shall be very late. You must tell my aunt that you have taken a great many notes about the old fortress."

She nodded. Neither of them spoke again until they were in the train, which they had caught at Istres. She sat by the window and looked out at the country moving past, blackish cypress, leafless, fruitless almond trees, the rocks and hills giving way to pasturage, the groves of olives and banks of laurel...He sat in the far corner of the railway carriage, his chin sunk on his breast, his arms folded, and he appeared to be asleep, but she knew that he was watching and considering her all the time.

As the train drew into La Roque, where Madame de Montpaon's carriage would be awaiting them, he asked, unexpectedly:

"How much do you think that foolish woman, my aunt, possesses?"

Lavinia, startled out of reflections very different from anything concerning the wealth of Madame de Montpaon, replied: "How should I know anything?"

"Read this!"

He changed places and sat down beside her and showed her a piece of paper, thin as an onion skin, which he had taken from his pocket-book. She glanced at it as the train passed under the gas lamps on the station. It was headed:

"The personal fortune of Madame de Montpaon, to which her daughter, Louise, is sole heiress."

Lavinia Pierrepoint could not quickly grasp the meaning of this paper. She frowned over the various items, which were most methodically set forth. She noted:

                                                  frs.

Château Boismarin, estates and dependencies:
                                       worth:  2,000,000
                                       Revenue:   60,000
Château of Belgarde                    worth:  1,500,000
                                       Revenue:   41,000
Hotel de la rue de St. Nicolas                   770,000
I Stocks, Shares, Government Interest          2,000,000
                                       Revenue:  122,000

The rest of the paper was covered in minute handwriting with like valuations; furniture of the Hotel in Paris, furniture of the two châteaux, stocks, and implements on the different farms, pictures, F50,000 worth of plate with the personal arms of Madame de Montpaon, carriages, horses, harness, and at the bottom a list of jewels divided as: "Jewels belonging to Madame," "Jewels belonging to Mademoiselle." The entire value was over three million francs. The most costly item was a rivière of diamonds, valued, as Lavinia saw, at thirty-five thousand francs.

M. de Saint Paulle pointed out this entry on the careful list.

"Have you seen Louise wear that? You should induce her to do so, it might raise her spirits. She used to be very vain before her accident, and I daresay could be persuaded to be so again."

Lavinia handed back the paper and M. de Saint Paulle folded away his list into his pocket-book as the train stopped with a jerk at the filthy platform.

Lavinia rose. She felt exhausted, not by the day's expedition, which had been tranquil enough, but by the thoughts which had passed through her mind since she had left the Château Boismarin.

"There is a fortune there of nearly seven million francs," said the young man quietly; "a revenue of over three hundred thousand francs a year, and I have not calculated everything. You may imagine," he added with a smile, tucking his chin into his collar as he offered his hand to Lavinia to descend from the train, "how pleased I am with the vices of the daughter and the follies of the mother, which has allowed this handsome fortune to escape from me!"

"Have you nothing?"

"Not what you would call 'nothing,' but everything I possess is mortgaged, and unless I am lucky"—with his hand under her arm he guided her through the pale-faced travellers, the weary loungers upon the station, to where the carriage waited—"the mortgages will be foreclosed by the end of next year."

"How do you mean, 'lucky'?" she asked languidly.

"I might persuade Louise to marry me. I might be fortunate at play. Yes, there is the carriage, the train was a little late, and the coachman will be vexed because we have kept the horse waiting in the chill evening air."

They did not speak again until they turned under the avenue of plane trees which led to the château. Lavinia had been thinking of all that immense sum of money shut up in the hands of two fools. What she could do with only a portion of it! And under these thoughts, as under a badly-written palimpsest, had shown the grinning, leering face of the painted dancing woman, which was at once the face of her own mother and Louise.

"They will wonder why we took the last train," she shivered; "we were expected earlier, surely?"

"They will wonder at nothing, they are too self-absorbed."

* * * * *

When Lavinia entered the dining-room she found her supper and Matilde waiting for her. Madame and Mademoiselle, more weary than usual of themselves and their own company, had gone early to bed.

"Mademoiselle," said Matilde, with a faint flavour of insolence in her tone, "will have made a great many sketches and taken a great many notes for Monsieur her grandfather, the antiquary."

"I have a portfolio full," said Lavinia. She returned the servant's glance coldly. "There is no wine on the table. I think to-night, Matilde, I would like a little wine—some sherry or Côtes-du-Rhône."

"Mademoiselle never drinks any, that is why it was not set."

"To-night I will have some."

She thought that Louis de Saint Paulle would perhaps join her at the great, handsomely-appointed table, but he did not appear. It was perhaps wise of him to leave the memories of that day intact, to let them end in the dark, under the bare boughs of the bare plane trees, when they had stepped together from the carriage.

She ate her supper slowly, deliberately, under the keen but respectful eyes of Matilde. She drank two glasses of wine, slowly, deliberately. Her musings became fantastic and had the power of hallucinations. She saw herself in an odious secret room such as Louise, such as her own mother had frequented.

She saw herself nude before the approving eyes of M. de Saint Paulle, the rivière of diamonds on her breast.

She had never touched a diamond in her life. Adamant and fire—impeccable beauty, high cost—how it would please her to wear diamonds! She longed to let him know how beautiful she could be.

* * * * *

Madame de Montpaon brought out her jewels after dinner one evening and displayed them to the admiration of her English companion, who guessed that her nephew must have made this suggestion.

She looked at the diamonds very greedily; they were hideously set in an old-fashioned necklace of the style of thirty years before. The festoons of the glittering stones were fastened by cameos set with emeralds.

"They chanced to be with me," explained Madame de Montpaon, "because I was going to have them reset for Louise's wedding, and then in the hurry of our sudden departure—" She broke off, and her nephew said:

"They are too valuable for you to keep here. The next time you go to Paris I should return them to the bank. Certainly they need resetting, do they not, Mademoiselle?" and he held the glittering cascade directly in front of Lavinia.

She touched the stones curiously. They were not, in themselves, very beautiful, she thought, but the fashion in which they gathered, then scattered the light, fascinated her. She decided that if they were hers she would not keep them, for she would much rather have their value in money. And yet there was a queer disappointment in the reflection that never, as far as she could see, would she have the opportunity of wearing diamonds.

"Put them on, Louise," said M. de Saint Paulle casually. "Let me see how they suit you. When I return to Paris I shall, if you like, get them designed for you, so that you may choose how you would have them reset."

Lavinia was startled by this piece of cruelty, but to her surprise Louise made no objection. She stood up, put aside the scarf from her face and clasped the heavy rivière over her light pink silk dress.

"Perhaps she is 'beginning to forget her scar," thought Lavinia, for this disfigurement was indeed becoming gradually less noticeable; it was fading in colour and less rough in texture. But it ruined the young girl's face and would do so for ever.

As she stood in the lamplight with the diamonds on her bosom she seemed to glance round for the mirror which was always withheld from her, and a wistful arrogance was apparent in her bearing.

"They become you very well," smiled Louis de Saint Paulle, as coolly as if he were praising some unblemished beauty, "even as they are. I shall have the cameos and the emeralds taken out and have them reset in a triple necklace. There should then be enough left over for diamond studs in the ears, and perhaps a ring."

Madame de Montpaon readily agreed, with that air of timidity she always used towards her nephew. Lavinia murmured admiration of the jewels on the young girl, and for a moment an uncommon look of satisfaction and happiness passed over the scarred face of Louise, as if she believed herself truly adorned and sincerely admired, as if she were thinking of happy days, not so long ago in point of time, when she had been neither disgraced nor disfigured.

* * * * *

M. de Saint Paulle returned to Paris and the inexpressible monotony of the solitary winter engulfed Lavinia. She often asked herself why she remained in this dismal solitude, in this mournful company. But the very monotony and melancholy was in itself like a drug; even her active spirit was veiled by inertia. It was impossible, even by a strong effort of will, to escape the lazy routine of each empty, idle day.

Then he would return—surely!

The letters from her grandfather, full of kind enquiries as to her welfare, the letters from William Tassart in India, left her unmoved. There was no support nor hope nor comfort there. To return to Maybridge was unthinkable, and almost unthinkable was her marriage to that stranger in India.

She wondered why he was still faithful to her. His letters expressed only, she thought in her bitterness, a dogged stupidity, an obstinate adherence to an engagement which meant nothing. His expressions of attachment seemed to her conventional and hollow. She knew that the only pleasure which kept her going throughout her profitless days was the thought of the man who never wrote at all and of whom she heard no news.

* * * * *

The monotony of the even days at Boismarin was broken by a visit from two gentlemen from Paris, who stayed only two nights in the château. Lavinia only had a glimpse of them, for they had their meals apart and remained closeted with Madame de Montpaon morning and afternoon.

"It is Maître Bertrand," Matilde slyly informed Lavinia, "and his clerk—of course, they have come about Madame's will—I hope that we shall all be remembered with nice fat legacies."

"Surely Madame has already arranged her affairs!" Lavinia spoke coldly, but she could not resist listening to what was to her very interesting gossip.

"Ah, yes—that was before Mademoiselle's wedding was postponed!" The servant's odious leer was met by Lavinia's stern glance, but the Englishwoman listened. "Then it was very simple, was it not? All the money to M. le Duc, as the husband of Mademoiselle! That would have settled everything!"

"It is no affair of ours, Matilde."

"Such a huge fortune, Mademoiselle! One of the largest in France—-"

Lavinia recalled the paper that M. de Saint Paulle had so maliciously shown her as the train steamed into the station at La Roque.

"Do you know, Mademoiselle, what I think? Madame would like to leave this money to her own nephew, M. de Borzano."

"Who is he?" Lavinia thought of "my Italian cousin," and could not restrain her curiosity, much as she disliked chattering with Matilde.

"He is the son of Madame's own sister; he lives in Italy and used to visit Madame in Paris—he is dévot, not at all like M. de Saint Paulle!"

"Really, Matilde, we ought not to discuss this—Madame must have good advice, whatever she does will be for the best, I'm sure. Mademoiselle will marry, of course—"

"M. de Saint Césaire?" smirked Matilde.

'Lavinia refused to reply. She thought, with some vexation—"that scandal is known to everyone, the servants must have discussed it threadbare! How can a man so proud, egotistical and violent, endure it?"

* * * * *

Matilde's surmises proved correct; the day after the departure of the lawyers, Madame de Montpaon took her cherished companion into her easy confidence.

"Oh, Lavinia, my darling, it is all settled at last and my mind is at rest. I have tried, I have struggled, I know I have acted against good advice, even, a little, against my conscience, but what could I do? Now perhaps we shall have a little repose!"

Then she told her companion, who listened eagerly, how she had endeavoured to make a compromise between the claims of her nephew, who had been so cruelly cheated of a wife and fortune, and her daughter, who had been so miserably hurt and humiliated, and who so obstinately refused the chivalrous offer of M. de Saint Paulle to accept her, tarnished as she was in reputation and ruined as she was in person, as his wife.

So Madame de Montpaon had left all her fortune, save a few legacies, the largest of which was to her favourite nephew, Dino di Borzano, to M. de Saint Paulle, after a life interest to be enjoyed by her daughter, Louise, who, in her turn, had left a will leaving all that she died possessed of to her cousin, Louis.

Lavinia understood that the two women had only signed these wills with great reluctance and misgivings, and even against their lawyer's advice, and she could believe, though the distracted woman did not admit as much, that Louis de Saint Paulle had brought every possible pressure to bear on her in order to secure his position as her heir.

"I hope that I have done right! I think that it is what my husband would have wished! He was quite infatuate with Louis, who really was a charming youth, and used to spoil him very much!—but poor Dino really needs the money and I am so fond of him and his sweet children!"

Lavinia spoke smoothly, with a soothing intonation.

"Why should you reproach yourself like this, Madame? I do not see what there can be wrong in leaving all your money to M. de Saint Paulle. There is no one else, I suppose, who has a greater claim on it? Louise will enjoy it during her lifetime, but—if she marries?"

"Louise will never marry!" replied the Countess nervously, pressing the English girl's hand. "What a comfort you are to me, my dear, you are always so serene, so composed! You take the right and just view of everything. No, there is, indeed, nothing wrong in what I do! Louis has been grossly injured and has behaved very honourably. He has been patient, too—it is nearly two years ago."

"Louise is not going to marry!" repeated Lavinia softly.

"No, poor child, she wishes to enter a religious order—she must have her way, I can't resist any longer. I could take rooms in the same establishment. There are plenty of such places in Paris—one can live very quietly and give oneself up to piety and good works! Of course, Louise would have to have a dowry, but it need not be very much—there is a great deal to be settled; we shall have to go to Paris! Yes," sighed the agitated woman, "there is no other way! Louise has actually been on her knees to me! Gracious God, such scenes! And Louis also—you know, he always had his own way, everything that he wanted. One cannot resist people like that!"

"She is afraid of him," thought Lavinia curiously. "What is the reason of such cowardice?"

"Well," sighed Madame de Montpaon, looking wistfully at the young woman, who seemed to her the embodiment of strength and purity, common sense and rectitude, "he will soon be satisfied. I don't suppose that I shall live very long! You know that I suffer from an aneurism of the heart—and I daresay, when I am gone, poor Louise will at once give him everything!" She smiled faintly and added, "Of course, there are one or two little legacies—you are not forgotten yourself, my dear!"

"Something for me, Madame! Indeed, I never expected that! I have not been with you quite a year!"

"But your services have been exceptional," said Madame de Montpaon, warmly pressing her companion's hand. "Very few young women would have come here, very few would have remained as long as you have! You have always been most reliable, the best of company, the kindest of friends, like a daughter or a young sister to me, my dear! I have left you sixty thousand francs, to be payable to you on the day of my death, and Louise, who has also had to make her will, has left you forty thousand."

A hundred thousand francs! That would make her free of them, of Maybridge, of William Tassart, free from any manner of servitude. She wondered if she had to thank M. de Saint Paulle for putting her name into the wills, which he had, evidently, by she knew not what means of persuasion, violence, tact, menace, wrung from these two timid women.

But she would have to wait—perhaps for years. The girl was younger than herself, and Madame de Montpaon, for all her talk of a weak heart and her excuse of poor health to cover her laziness, seemed healthy enough and probably had not got the tainted lungs that were such an easy excuse for idleness...

"I am very, very grateful to you, Madame de Montpaon. You should not have thought of me, I do not deserve it! But, anyhow, it will be many, many years before there will be any thought of my receiving the legacy. Of course, I shall go with you to Paris and stay with you as long as you like."

"That would be for ever, my dear!" smiled the lady, wiping her eyes on her delicate cambric handkerchief; "but it is only another two years now before your lover will be coming home. We must see, Louise and I, what we can do for a little wedding present for you!"

Lavinia reluctantly endured these damp kisses, the other woman's tears on her face. How trivial and stupid was Madame de Montpaon and what a little fool was Louise! Surely a convent, little as she knew of such places, would be the best retreat for both of them.

"But what for me?" she thought restlessly; "what for me?"

She had saved up nearly a year's salary, she had several expensive presents of clothes and trinkets which Louise had forced upon her. She had the prospect of these legacies, perhaps she could raise money on that. But what use were all these speculations? She had nothing in her life save a perverse passion for a man whom she profoundly distrusted and who, with the possession of the Montpaon money, was more than ever beyond her reach.

* * * * *

The spring days, so suddenly, so excitingly lovely, were passed in desultory, intermittent and half-hearted preparations for the return to Paris of Madame de Montpaon and her daughter. The news that M. de Saint Paulle was coming himself to escort his helpless relatives to the capital, alone kept Lavinia Pierrepoint in some semblance of serenity. Her duties were exacting, her leisure scanty, the atmosphere of dull luxury, of hysteric ill-health, of stupid idleness was most uncongenial to her. Louise had a religious mood, she was often closeted with the priest, often shut away in the oratory. Her air of a dying penitent was most distasteful to Lavinia; these tears, these fainting fits, these heart attacks, roused in her nothing but scorn.

How tedious was this irksome waiting—for what?

Not, surely, for a marriage with that young man in India!

Lavinia opened her album and again looked at the portrait of herself and William Tassart, taken in Maybridge nearly a year ago. It was only two days since she had received his last letter; it breathed a dogged fidelity. He seemed to have no great hopes for the future, but his patience was inexhaustible. She thought of him so far away, so tenacious, so inarticulate, and she remembered their cold courtship in Maybridge. She visualised the kind of marriage he expected for them; at the thought nausea enveloped her. She tore the leaf out of the album and threw it into the bottom drawer of a large painted bureau, in the corner of her room, which she seldom used. The album she returned to the table by the window; Louise had put a great many photographs of herself and her mother, little drawings and poems, into it, and often tried to distract her sickly idleness by turning over the pages. It would not do to raise comment by the disappearance of the volume, though Lavinia hated the sight of the red cover with the heavy clasp.

She disliked and despised William Tassart for not having discerned the springs of passion, the warm ambitions, the hot needs beneath her quiet exterior, and for having taken her for the insipid woman she was forced to appear, for not having understood her in the least. With pride and infinite satisfaction she dwelt on the fact that M. de Saint Paulle had understood her at once—completely. He could give her, who was so well able to live without affection or tenderness, all she required.

She turned the key on the drawer which held the torn album leaf, on which was pasted the insipid likeness of William Tassart, with herself, hypocritically smiling, smooth-haired, seated beside him, and round them the sentimental crayon drawings of flowers and doves, the halting couplets put there by Louise de Montpaon.

Lavinia wanted to forget this photograph; she hoped that she might never see it again.

* * * * *

Madame de Montpaon sat languidly by a large bowl of azaleas that flamed in the twilight; they had that day been brought in from the hothouse and were already faintly brown at the edges. Louise was on the sofa, the scar on her face was healing. She no longer wore a scarf round her neck, the disfigurement was carefully powdered and her curls brought forward so as partly to hide it. Seen in profile she was almost pretty.

Lavinia was at the pianoforte, softly playing a luscious song of the moment, to which Louise had taken a fancy—"Ma Prière," with the lithograph of a pretty young nun on the cover.

Madame de Montpaon had just recovered from an attack of dizziness; she had been, after so much hesitancy, making sudden eager preparations for a departure from Boismarin. Nothing seemed to satisfy her but an immediate journey to Paris, and this despite the heat. Lavinia guessed that some urgent letters had arrived from M. de Saint Paulle; she could not believe that he would leave these two women in peace until Louise was safely in a convent, beyond any possibility of a marriage that might, even yet, disappoint him of the Montpaon fortune.

The windows stood wide open on the terrace, but there was no fresh air in the large apartment, for the heat was intense.

Matilde brought in some iced champagne for her mistress, who was playing with some salts in a gilt vinaigrette.

Lavinia, erect at the pianoforte, noticed the slim bottle, the frail glass on the lacquer tray; she often felt a desire to still her nerves, to blur her senses by wine. But she had always rejected the temptation, and refused, with her austere English air, even a glass of sherry. The last wine she had drunk had been the Côtes-du-Rhône, after the visit to Aigues-Mortes.

Madame de Montpaon did not, after all, want the champagne; Matilde put it down on the table on which stood the azaleas, and then exclaimed in horror at the flies which were buzzing round the slightly-tarnished flowers, and began to flick them away with the corner of her muslin apron.

Lavinia ceased playing and stared over her shoulder; she was unpleasantly reminded of the maid's action in the railway carriage over a year ago, and she cried out sharply:

"Matilde! You disturb Madame! There are flies everywhere, they do no harm!"

"Mademoiselle is wrong! These horrible insects are dangerous! Last year a poor fellow at Salon was stung on the lip and died almost at once. M. le Duc, who understands such things, says that we must be very careful!"

Lavinia returned in silence to her piano-playing.

That evening M de Saint Paulle arrived at the Château Boismarin.

* * * * *

They were never alone together, but their intimacy increased by the looks and words they exchanged in the presence of others. His dominion over her was so complete that she only awaited a signal to do whatever he commanded.

Sometimes she saw herself, vaguely, as others would see her—"a stupid girl who thought she was so clever, and who, as soon as she was away from home, fell a victim to the first professional seducer whom she met"—but this changed neither her pleasure in the present nor her resolves for the future, which amounted to this, to do whatever he desired. What this might be, she could not image, nor what events would shape from this journey to Paris. She toyed with the fantastic thought that, his engagement to Mademoiselle de Montpaon now definitely broken off, he was free to marry her and she might soon—ah, how easily—be free also!

He overtook her one hot afternoon when she was walking languidly through the beat towards Salon, between aromatic plants, lavender, rosemary, gorse, and wilting wild pansies.

She had sunk down on the warm stones of a low broken wall and pulled up some of the acrid-smelling plants and crumbled them in her hand; a light wind that seemed of a golden colour, like the day, ran through the thin grasses.

She held open a yellow parasol, which had prevented her from seeing his approach until he was quite close to her; her deep joy prevented her from speaking. He asked her, casually, if she had any news to give him since he had been away.

"You know better than I what has happened in Boismarin. I only see the surface of things."

"And—on the surface—what?"

"Monotony! Mademoiselle Louise has been to the dentist in Aix once or twice."

"Poor Louise! She always had trouble with her teeth."

He ignored her deliberate malice and sat beside her on the low wall.

"Are you interested in hearing what I have been doing?"

"No," she replied sincerely, "that doesn't matter. I would rather know you just as you appear here—part of à—I don't know—an illusion, perhaps. All this—this country—these people is like that to me. I am sure I don't understand either—I don't want to—"

"You are lucky if you can accept the moment, any moment, for what it is worth, without prying into it. I see you still wear those miserable clothes and that paltry little heliotrope ring."

"What would you like me to wear?"

"Some day I shall show you."

He had taken off his hat and his stiffly-waving hair showed darkly bright in the sun.

"I like the heat! It can never be too hot for me—I am tired, too; stupid pleasures, imbecile friends, vexatious difficulties—all the while thinking of you."

"I might not have been here—waiting."

"I was sure that you would be—"

"You never asked me—to wait. You never sent a message, a sign!"

"There was no need."

"So sure of me!"

"So sure of myself. I knew that I had not made a mistake."

"Oh!" she cried, radiant, furling her parasol and welcoming the smile of the sun. "Tell me what you want me to do—"

"Throw away that stupid ring."

She obeyed at once. How foolishly the scrap of jasper sparkled through the luscious air and tinkled on the dry earth amid the vines! It would be trampled into the ground and no one would ever find it; she sighed with relief.

"Why did you continue to wear it?"

"They expected it—they were very sentimental over my pretty English love story."

"Do you wish to know anything of me, of my life, my world? I suppose that would be difficult for you to understand?"

"Tell me nothing! But if I asked—would you?"

"No." He smiled. "It is agreeable, though, to know that you have no curiosity."

"It is not that." She shivered from the effort of her painful sincerity. "Only—this one aspect of you—all that I have learnt, from these glimpses—is sufficient."

"What do you think is going to happen when we all arrive in Paris?"

"I don't know! Don't plan! Don't tell me! Leave to-day alone."

"You do not wish to know of my affairs, which have been so tiresome?"

"Perhaps I do know something. These women are very loose-tongued! You no longer desire to marry Louise."

"That would have been an easy way—but she resists! Let her, then, go."

He rose and smiled down on Lavinia, who, scarcely able to command herself, sat trembling on the low, broken wall.

"I was bred to marry a fortune—but I might, after all, please myself and marry you."

She did not, even in that moment, believe in this half-offer, yet it was made magnificently as if he were really indifferent to base issues.

"Of course," he continued, "marriage is stupid—but perhaps you and I—"

"You do not mean that!" She, too, rose. "I suppose you'll break my heart before we've parted, but not that way—false promises! A marriage between you and me! It would be considered an outrage, a scandal, that would be to betray everyone who has ever trusted either of us!"

"Would that matter?"

"I don't know—it is fantastic. I don't want to be deceived—to be kept quiet and docile by lies. Besides, I cannot pretend with you. I would do anything you wished."

She traced the end of her parasol in the dust; in that moment she was proud, brilliant, and more beautiful than she had ever been. He looked at her with deep admiration; she did not care that this glance was perhaps that of a connoisseur who has made an excellent purchase and applauds his own taste in contemplating his cheaply gained treasure.

She put up her parasol; the light falling through the yellow silk made her look as if she were softly carved from amber; she was stammering and biting her lips.

"Let us return. I don't want to be—asked for—I can't talk to you any longer now. The sun! It is really hot! And the air so dry!"

"Come out—through the turret, this evening."

"If I can—sometimes they will never be done! How hysterical they are! When you gave Madame de Montpaon those white roses this morning, she complained that she had scratched her fingers and that it made her feel quite sick—"

"Don't talk of them."

"I must speak of something else—besides ourselves—don't you see? I must chatter like a fool. Endure it! This evening I shall be different." She paused and stared at him with a simplicity touching in one of her duplicity and pride. "You see, I have never cared about anything or anyone before—it overwhelms!"

She walked forward in triumph, suddenly strong, rejoicing in the sunburnt landscape, in the violent azure of the sky, in the wilting swatches of wild pansies, in the green grapes among the curling leaves, in the grey spices, sticks of lavender and thyme, in everything that made this foreign landscape different from that pale, insipid English scene where she had walked with William Tassart.

* * * * *

After all, she need not have hurried back to Boismarin; Madame de Montpaon, though complaining of ill-health, had whimsically gone into Aix with her daughter to make some frivolous purchases of useless trifles.

Flowers, falling to pieces from their own delicacy, the transparent veins showing through the thick petals, adorned the opulent table. And about them, for all the care of the servants, buzzed the noisome flies.

"They are not dangerous," smiled Lavinia at the terror of the two women who shrank away whenever the insects came near them. She was dazzled by her own thoughts, so that she was glad of this commonplace as a shield for her secret joy.

"But they might be!" exclaimed Madame de Montpaon. "A man died last year at Salon—anthrax, is it not?"

"Very likely—but before one can get anthrax from a fly's sting, it must have fed on something foul—poisoned, a dead animal, for instance, that has swallowed venom," explained M. de Saint Paulle. "So the chance of injury is small."

Madame de Montpaon turned a feverish look on him; she was haggard and restless.

"Ah, your chemistry experiments, Louis! Do you still continue them?"

"I have had no time, I have been in Dauphiné."

"Ah, the chemistry of Louis," simpered Louise, "is a mere 'bluette de grand seigneur'!"

Both the women stared at the young man across the candles, the flowers, the crystal, and Lavinia thought: "They hate him as much as he hates them—"

"A poisoned animal, how horrible!" shivered Madame de Montpaon. "I thought that was a fable—"

"It is—but exact to truth also—a drop of blood from a poisoned bull, or a bear, even conveyed by a fly or injected in the blood—"

Louise gave her shrill laugh.

"That is really enough, Louis! As if one wanted to hear such disagreeable things!"

* * * * *

After supper Madame de Montpaon complained of the heat, and they moved out on to the terrace. Fireflies were still abroad, they gave Lavinia a sense of giddiness. She leant against the stone, still warm from the day's heat, and watched the moon rising behind the avenue of plane trees.

She felt herself in that moment to be only part of an illusion, to be at one in her energy and joy with both the glittering insects and the dark trees. The two women were like familiar shadows, of no more account to her than that...as she had come down to dinner she had thrown unread a letter from Dr. Pierrepoint into her inner desk. She could not endure to be reminded of him, nor of Maybridge, nor of William Tassart. She wished that the talk had not turned on chemistry at the table. As she paced up and down she was haunted by those pictures of the chemists' shops in Kennington and underneath her grandfather's rooms. Her mother and father were more real to her then than the two women who paced languidly beside her.

"After all, I am their daughter, part of them is alive in me now. Perhaps my mother once felt as I feel when she awaited her first lover; something of this same desire for an opiate, for forgetfulness, drove my father to become a drunkard...I have been well taught to be a hypocrite!"

She wondered bitterly, with ironic amusement, what these two women would think of her if they could know her as she was, how shallow and foolish they must be themselves to accept her at face value.

Madame de Montpaon leant on the arm of Lavinia and paced up and down the terrace discussing the move to Paris; Louise remained motionless by the balustrade, looking at the fireflies.

"No doubt," thought Lavinia, "she is thinking of that wretched young man in Algiers. I suppose she is always in torture. I ought to feel sorry—since I, too—"

Madame de Montpaon complained of fatigue, then of her finger which was bandaged; she soon had enough of any exercise.

"That ointment Matilde gave me did no good, Louis! She said you had suggested it—I hope that I have not been stung by one of those disgusting flies."

"Did you not say that it was a rose-thorn, Madame?" asked Lavinia.

"Oh, I don't really know what it was—it hurts—I must really go to bed at once. Come, Louise."

She went into the house, leaning on her daughter's arm. Lavinia and the young man lingered behind on the terrace for a moment. The fireflies were like displaced stars, they seemed to destroy the difference between the heavens and earth. As the moon rose they became fainter and seemed to be retreating into an abyss of darkness.

"Will you come out again to-night?" said Louis de Saint Paulle. "By the terrace door?" he repeated, "when everyone else is in bed."

Lavinia did not answer, their fingers crept together, touched, and fell apart in the dark that was riven by a shaft of light from drawing-room window, by the beams of the rising moon, by the glimmer of the fireflies.

* * * * *

The night was of a profound peace; never had the bedroom, with its high ceiling, seemed so strange nor the pieces of furniture so alien, nor the light of the handsome silver lamp so bleak and cheerless.

She opened the window and felt the breeze sweet as sugar on her lips. Her mind began to clear from the bewilderment of ecstasy, and she almost knew what she wanted. First, perhaps, to keep her pride intact, and second, to gain this man would leave her very little pride. How to reconcile the two passionate desires?

To see him again alone would mean a complete surrender to a part of herself that she had only just discovered existed—she would forfeit all she had been taught to cherish, all that she had most admired in herself. How was it, by what trick of sophistry could it be justified, that what seemed odious, disgusting, vile in another woman was in herself more desirable than chastity, more beautiful than purity?

She had been so careful—she thought of her mother, Louise, and the room behind the dentist's parlour, of the woman whom she had seen dancing in Aigues-Mortes.

"This may be the only lovely thing that will ever happen to me—I cannot, I dare not pause to reason, to calculate—"

* * * * *

Lavinia opened the door into the turret room; she had heard his light step and seen the gleam under the door. He smiled at her with a frank delight in her and in the moment that made her revulsion, doubts, and self-disgusts seem ridiculous.

He was standing near the brightly burning lamp which was on the small table in the centre of the turret room, beside which was a dish of nectarines, a pot of exotic flowers from the greenhouse, bottles of champagne and golden glasses.

He asked her to sit down at this table, and poured her out a glass of wine. She obeyed, she was no longer reluctant nor frightened. She had wrapped a white cashmere shawl over her thin dress, under it she shivered continuously; she thought of her cold bed at Maybridge, and the coarse white shawl that she had worn when she had told Mrs. Liptrott of her engagement to William.

"Drink this. Why do you always refuse wine?"

"I have not tasted any since that day at Aigues-Mortes."

"That miserable Côtes-du-Rhône—"

"I only had one glass before that—a little sherry on the packet boat."

"Why?"

She shuddered so that the champagne spilled over her fingers. "My father," she raised the glass as if she drank a toast, and repeated: "My father!"

She smiled into the shadows of the small room and drank the champagne eagerly; it seemed to her that it would be impossible to sustain herself without this stimulant. She glanced round the spines of the books on the shelves.

"These are all about poisons—why are you collecting such a hideous library?'

"To discover the antidotes. One must have some knowledge of the venom. These books are scientific works. Unless we know something of poisons we could not protect ourselves against the perils of every day."

He had his glass of champagne in his hand and smiled.

"In everything beneficial there is something of poison. Have you ever thought of that? Life and death—the breath drawn in! the breath given out! We make our way through a hundred pitfalls. The gas that lights our boulevards kills our trees and flowers, the people who are employed in our most important manufactures die constantly of the poison they inhale." He put his glass to his beautiful mouth, which she noticed was almost colourless. "Knowledge is power," he said, smiling at the books. "I found the study of chemistry one of great interest."

"I also," nodded Lavinia. She thought of her mother and the chemist's shop. Was one never to escape from that memory? "It is a powerful weapon in a feeble hand, it is a quick way of escape from what is intolerable!"

"But you know nothing about it?"

"No, nothing!"

She touched the brilliant flowers, spotted brown orchids and curling liane, which stood in the huge jar by her elbow.

"It lurks in the most unexpected places, in gorgeous blooms, in toads, snakes, spiders, in exquisite plants, in glittering minerals. How many travellers have risked their lives to discover the manufacture of curare, with which savages tip their arrows? A quarter of my library is on that subject—many claim to have discovered the recipe, but who shall say that he is right!"

"It is useless to know these things, surely?" said Lavinia, rising. "I think I shall walk in the garden, it is very hot here."

M. de Saint Paulle filled her glass again.

"We Westerns sentimentalise too much over human life, we attach too much importance to the end of the individual. To know when and how to slay used to be considered one of the fine arts."

"But now," sighed Lavinia, in an oppressed voice, "all our art goes to discover how to heal and save."

"Ah, yes, we have certainly changed our ideas. A future age may think we were wrong to keep alive the useless, the suffering, the unpleasant. But one must, of course stand by the ethics of one's own peculiar moment."

"Let us go down the stairs," she said, refusing to explain her conduct or her mood.

He took up the lamp and they descended to the lower room. She observed that the furnace had been lately lit, the ashes still glowed white within the grate. On the table were several hideous objects—a black scorpion in a cage, some yellow and green snakes in bottles, a bloated frog in an aquarium.

Lavinia made a movement of repulsion. The young man said coolly.

"These things also have their secrets and their uses. They are no more deadly than the flowers you admired upstairs. The scorpion is an interesting creature; when he is caught and cornered he commits suicide. Did you know that? Place him within a ring of burning material and he will kill himself with his own dart."

M. de Saint Paulle lowered the lamp as he spoke. As he leant over the flame she saw his face detached from the background. There was a look of silver over it, she thought again of a profile of a king on a fine and ancient rubbed metal like one of the Greek coins of Alexander.

"Do these things seem horrible to you?" he added, turning to her where she stood by the door. "They are not so, really; one should face Nature in all her aspects, one should be afraid of nothing. Power, the capability of making one's own life as one wishes it, that is the only thing to be desired, is it not?"

He took up on a shallow platter a small square of black substance that looked like dried and slightly crumbling wax, and placed it in a drawer which he locked.

"I have had no time for this study—there is much in life—"

"And in death?" asked Lavinia.

"There is no answer to that question, but I should never be afraid—"

"Of death?"

"If it were violent and sudden—and it is always in one's power to make it so."

They stepped out into the garden, and she noted by the faint lamp-rays which came from the open door the dead body of a large dog against the wall, and she recoiled.

"Ah, the poor fellow!" said M. de Saint Paulle. "Yes, I should have had him removed. I did order Jacques to bury him; he had a stroke of apoplexy—the heat, I suppose, and the servants will overfeed these animals."

"I have not seen him about the place before!"

The grinning muzzle of the dead beast, with the long fangs and glazed eyes, thrown back as if it were howling, looked, she thought, ghastly in the moonlight.

"It belonged to one of the gardeners, I think—"

They walked along the terrace. The fireflies had gone and the moon was almost directly overhead, the dark outline of the medieval portion of the fortress rose sombrely in the pellucid darkness of the lower air, the upper sky was vaporous silver. The more modern wing of the château with the straight façade, smiling masks, and wreaths of fruit was outlined in sharp shadows. The long rich tresses of plants in the vases on the balustrade quivered slightly in a faint breeze. Lavinia could see their colours, purple, scarlet, and the huge leaves of the arbutus in the great sculptured pots either side the double staircase, the blackish-crimson roses beyond trailing over the winged stairway. The potent wine quickened her senses, so that she felt all this beauty acutely, and weakened all her prudences which for long had been nothing but the remembrance of rules; she wished to drink again, deliberately to bemuse her wits and sharpen her senses.

"The moonlight is very clear on the terrace," she whispered; "should anyone be looking from the windows they would see us."

He made no reply, but touching her elbow lightly, guided her into the shadow at the side of the turret.

"Let us go to your room."

She made no demur, she did not shudder, though they had to pass again the dead dog, the room with the toad, snakes, and scorpion, the library of books on poison.

* * * * *

M. de Saint Paulle turned low the lamp on the table in the upper turret room; some of the heavy mauve and orange flowers had fallen out of the jar and lay flaccid and dying beside the elegant bottle of champagne. He returned them to the jar.

"These plants require a good deal of water."

Lavinia saw that some wine remained, a line of light behind the green glass; she poured it out and drank; the loosened white shawl fell from her shoulders, her prim gown was unlaced and her pale bosom, on which no one save herself had ever gazed before, was exposed. But he did not look at her, his glance was on the thick, unnatural-looking blooms that, with almost visible greed, sucked up the water.

"To my mother," whispered Lavinia, raising her glass to a ghost. Then to him: "How much you are teaching me that I ought never to have known! Or not in this fashion. I have never drunk wine with anyone before—only once, on the steam packet, and then, I think, I must have known that I was going to meet you."

"I only teach you to leave your deceits," he replied. "Have I not heard in church, sometime, that perfect love is without hypocrisy?"

Even that did not offend her; it seemed to her that everything was tolerable save the shames and pretences in which she had been educated; she saw him open her bedroom door, and she turned over in her mind the meaning of the word that he had just used—love.

"Is it not this pleasure of the senses, this emotion of the heart? What else? If there is more I shall never find it—why should I strive after the ideals, the chimeras of other people?"

M. de Saint Paulle, standing on the threshold of her room which was drowned in the greenish light of the veilleuse, said quietly:

"How tasteless this all is! I suppose this place will be mine some day—then I shall have everything altered. Come, Lavinia."

He smiled over his shoulder and she approached him; they entered the chamber together, and he at once went to the window and pulled apart the curtains of green silk, the curtains of muslin.

"Everything here is ugly, let us at least have the moon!"

She raised her eyes to the heavens, which showed luminous through the lofty window; in the upper air was the moon; it did not appear to be crossing the heavens, but rather to be dissolving in its own light, rising higher and higher and vanishing into immensity. The feeble glow of the night-lamp was quenched by this mournful light which, like an enchantment, changed even the commonplace pieces of furniture into mysterious objects; the confines of the room were lost in shadow.

Lavinia's bare breast was delicately touched by greenish shade, like the petals of a white rose, her hair, which she loosened with a shaking hand, was pallid as a lily leaf under water; he came and stood beside her where she sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her with an expression that she had never expected to see on his face—one of compassion and tenderness.

He touched her bare shoulders with his finger-tips, then lightly, as if he handled a flower, her long upstretched throat, her head was thrown back as she stared at the moon.

"This," he whispered, "is like a conte de fée, is not? I have often dreamed of some quite secret love—and no one even guesses this. You know you are like one of your English rose-thé, some of the petals are in your hair and some of the gold of the heart in your face. How well you played the icy Puritan!"

His laugh was stifled by the pressure of his lips against her neck. Lavinia felt as if she were fainting, as if she were dying; her pride gave a last cry of despair.

"I suppose to an amateur of pleasures I am a rarity—never before have you overcome a woman so stupid, so proud, and yet so easy!"

She stared at the moon, so far away, that had so often lit a scene as this, and as his arms went round her and clasped on her bosom she began to weep: "Oh, Mother! Mother!" She felt so small in his embrace, her bones so frail, her flesh so tender, herself, whatever she had of spirit or soul so effaced, that she was trembling with self-pity.

"Why this doubt, this trouble? Leave the moon, she is always there—look at me—"

He drew her to her feet, took her face in his hands that smelt faintly of citron and forced her to look at him She smiled, reassured, excited; his face, pale, stern in the enchanting light was beautiful, everything about him was beautiful.

"Speak," she whispered, asking this for the sharp pleasure of hearing his low, slightly hoarse tones; the pressure of his fingers on her face dried the tears shining on her cheeks; this was the first time that she had wept since she was a child. Everything was beautiful and with a beauty which transfigures; yet she heard herself say in a drowsy, sullen voice: "Mother—I've taken after you, and I don't forgive you—"

He spoke to her and she could not distinguish what he said, she could only hear the tone of his voice; her smile deepened.

They had felt so secret, so secure, but they were, after all, soon interrupted.

There came a tap at the door, and Matilde's harsh, well-trained voice demanding "Mademoiselle" that sent them apart with sudden violence.

Lavinia's profound start, like agony, revealed how completely she was off her guard; she stared at her companion, he was motionless, alert in the shadow; she sighed and fumbled for the white shawl; in a yawning voice she asked:

"What is it?"

Matilde rapped again impatiently. How the sound seemed to echo through the tall, greenish chamber! Lavinia, thrust so violently from passion to restraint, felt suddenly sick.

"Mademoiselle," came Matilde's rasping voice "Madame is ill, she has sent for you!"

Lavinia put on her chamber robe over her dishevelled dress; she hardly knew what to do, she felt light-headed, giddy. She stared at the young man, who said under his breath in the lowest of whispers: "So soon, eh! So soon!"

"What do you mean by that?" she whispered back. "So soon!"

"I mean, so soon you are yourself again, the very respectable Miss Lavinia Pierrepoint."

He opened the turret door and she followed him into the darkness of the little library. It was quite impossible to let him go so suddenly without a word. As they stood in the dark he took her hand; he was much moved, he pulled fiercely at the flowers in the damp jar by the lowered lamp.

"These interruptions are damnable! We live in a slavery! The usual difficulties—"

"If she were to have one of her long attacks of illness," sighed Lavinia, "I shall be chained to her bedside for days."

"You must refuse to be so enslaved. You must make an excuse to go to Aix, I shall meet you there."

"What excuse?"

"Do not you also sometimes need to visit the dentist's?"

She returned to her bedchamber and shut the door on him and the turret. She looked back and saw that there was no gleam of light under the door for Matilde's prying eyes to observe.

"Madame ill!" she cried, in well-feigned alarm, opening wide on Matilde; she leaned against the doorpost; she was ready to scream or to weep.

"How long you have been, Mademoiselle! I should have thought on an alarm like this you would have come immediately!"

"I had to dress," Lavinia justified herself. "Even now I am not ready."

The unusual humility of her tone was not lost upon Matilde, who glanced keenly at the disordered bodice beneath the long lilac dressing-gown, at the smooth hair twisted up with so hasty a hand, and smiled, not pleasantly.

"What is it?" asked Lavinia as they hastened down the corridor.

"The heat, I suppose, or her nerves again! It may be neither or both."

"But how do you know she is so ill, Matilde? What has happened? Tell me!"

"Madame rang for me in the middle of the night—"

"The middle of the night!" interrupted Lavinia stupidly. "I did not know it was so late as that. I must have slept longer than I thought."

"It struck three o'clock some time ago, before I came to rouse Mademoiselle. I have sent to Aix for the doctor—it is, of course, absurd for anyone in Madame's health to live so far from medical help."

"A doctor! Is she as bad as that? You know she usually recovers from these attacks very soon."

"She seems worse than usual. Her pulse is low and I can hardly feel her heart. She scratched her hand yesterday and it seemed to worry her, but then, when a person is in a state like that," Matilde interrupted herself, then added, with meaning: "You know how agitated she has been the last few days."

"She has been agitated ever since I have been here," replied Lavinia wearily.

They had come to the door of the sick woman and Lavinia entered with a peremptory energy, an air of taking command of the situation, which was always her manner when she had to deal with her employer or her employer's daughter; this outward activity helped her to control her emotion.

Madame de Montpaon's bed stood in an alcove in a corner of the large, handsome room, facing the two windows, both of which were set open wide, for the heat was intense and the sick woman had complained of a stifling sensation. Lavinia at once approached the bed and drew back the lace and muslin curtains.

"Oh, my dear, I am very ill," whispered Madame de Montpaon from the tumbled pillows. "Sit by my side and hold my hand until the doctor comes. I am sorry to have disturbed you," she added, in an even fainter voice, "but I could not endure being alone any longer." Then, as Lavinia sat down beside her and took her hot hand, came other words scarcely to be heard: "You are the only person whom I can trust."

Lavinia resigned herself to the weariness of a long vigil; she had had so many night-watches since she had come to the Château Boismarin, and they galled her almost intolerably. She did not believe Madame de Montpaon was seriously ill; it was, of course, nerves, hysteria, as the result of the continual mental and emotional conflicts in which she lived, the result, too, of her pampered idleness, her abnormal solitude, her morbid seclusion.

As if comforted by the presence of the English-woman, Madame de Montpaon appeared to fall into a light slumber; Matilde kept coming and going in the room, arranging the bottles of medicine, the glasses of milk, the orange-flower water, the sugared water, the brandy, the drops, all the paraphernalia Madame de Montpaon always had at hand.

Lavinia was glad, after all, to sit still and do nothing; she was panting, exhausted. She gently disengaged her fingers from those of the sick woman and looked at her curiously, with repulsion. How thin and sharp her face looked on the deep, down pillows, what an unbecoming tangle her lank dark hair lay on the brow pearled by sweat! She twisted in her sleep, and now and then muttered incoherently; Lavinia noted that the index-finger of her right hand was bandaged.

"Is that where she scratched herself, Matilde?" she whispered. "What was it really? I heard something about it."

"Oh, it was only on one of those large white roses with the big thorns, it was nothing! There was just a drop or two of blood—you know what she is—that was enough to upset her."

"Have you told Mademoiselle Louise?"

"No. She, too, seemed very excitable and sad. I thought I would wait until the doctor came."

"That was wise," said Lavinia.

The two women looked at each other with antipathy across the magnificent chamber. Lavinia wondered why they disliked each other so, there seemed absolutely no reason for it, neither had given offence to the other. But when she came to consider the matter, she believed she was slightly disliked by all the servants at the Château Boismarin. Well, it was only natural! She was in that position where she had either to be friendly with the servants or the mistresses, and she had chosen the mistresses. They knew she was quick to notice a fault and quick to report it; they were, no doubt, all jealous of her influence over the Countess.

"Perhaps they are expecting legacies or presents like I am myself," thought Lavinia, with self-contempt, "and suspected me of ousting them in the favour of these wealthy, foolish women. I shall have to be very careful. Supposing tonight—if she had come in!"

"Mademoiselle is quite well herself?" asked Matilde. "Her cheeks are so red, her eyes so bright! She has not a touch of fever?"

"I was in a deep sleep, it was being roused so suddenly."

She thought: "I must be quite changed." She put her fingers to her neck and cheeks as if she felt slyly for some mark his light touch had left there.

She felt drowsy from the wine, the reaction from the excitement of the night, she longed to be alone and asleep. But she did her duty and watched conscientiously by the sick woman until the local doctor came, having been brought back from Salon by Madame's carriage, which had returned in the lovely pure light of dawn—they could not wait for the man from Aix.

The doctor discovered nothing seriously amiss with Madame de Montpaon. He was used to her as a nervous, difficult, hysterical patient, he had often been summoned on these slight alarms. He smiled at the story of the prick from the rose. He was forced to approve of Madame's resolution to return to Paris, though this meant a loss to himself; he agreed with the English companion that this solitude was not good for one in the condition of the Countess. He prescribed quiet and the usual remedies and departed.

"A timid provincial who knows nothing," thought Lavinia. She went to the window and looked at the dawn; the sky was like rosy porcelain.

"If we had not been interrupted, would he have left me by now?"

* * * * *

Under the influence of the stimulant the doctor had prescribed, Madame de Montpaon woke and insisted on being propped up in her sumptuous bed. She seemed highly nervous and apprehensive, and to think herself, despite the doctor's cheerful assurances, in some grave danger.

She besought Lavinia not to leave her, to stay with her day and night, taking her meals in her room...

"I will recompense you," she promised in sunk, anxious tones. "Dear child, I know you will do it out of affection, but I will make it worth your while!"

"It is my bare duty," smiled Lavinia; "of course I will stay."

But in her heart she raged in hatred against the woman who had thus flung a chain round her when she most needed her liberty. How was it to be endured? There were limits to her self-control.

Louise came into her mother's room at midday; she was childishly alarmed at her mother's illness. She seemed near fainting as she sat down beside the invalid's beautiful bed.

"It is nothing, Mademoiselle," said the English companion, "you really must calm yourself. The atmosphere becomes impossible with all this tension, this emotion, these misgivings!"

"But I am frightened!" moaned Louise, pressing her fingers together. "Indeed, dear darling Lavie, I am frightened! If you only knew, if we could only make you understand—"

"Frightened of what?" demanded the Englishwoman coldly, angry with her own pain. "You have every luxury, every comfort, every protection, and if you could, dear Louise, only forget yourself and your trouble for a little while—"

The sick woman's voice broke in unexpectedly on these sensible protests.

"Louise, you will be going out to-day, a little drive in the carriage. You will go as far as Salon and post this letter for me? Take it yourself to the post-office, don't trust it to anyone."

"I will take it," said Lavinia, trying not to show her eagerness. "Louise would like to stay with you, dear Madame, no doubt."

Madame de Montpaon shook her feeble head.

"No, I would rather that you stayed with me, poor Louise is no protection."

"Against what?" asked Lavinia sharply.

"My nephew—Louis. He might want to see me, he might force his way in here."

"You greatly exaggerate, I am sure, Madame," smiled Lavinia, and she spoke with sincerity. "I cannot imagine that he would do such a thing. I cannot conceive him performing a violent or an uncivil action."

"You do not know him," replied Madame de Montpaon simply. "I want Louise to take the letter."

The girl did so, and Lavinia endeavoured in vain to get a glimpse of the superscription. She was curious, although she felt that this did not concern her at all, as to whom Madame de Montpaon, who felt so unwell and so depressed, could be writing so urgently.

Louise went out of the room with the letter and Madame de Montpaon continued to use up her frail strength by half lamentations against her nephew, whose presence in the house seemed to have become suddenly unbearable to her sick fancy.

"Surely, Madame, if you think so ill of him it is a mistake to leave him your entire fortune?"

The wild, dark eyes of the Countess shone brilliantly; she was surely feverish and hardly knew what she said—

"Yes, I think it was wrong, I think it was very wrong. Dino and his wife should have had the money! They have not very much, as I have told you, and there are children. Louis-Hyacinthe will only squander it; you have no idea of his extravagance, the life he lives! You have only seen him here, only one aspect of him—"

Lavinia felt the blood burn in her face—that was a strange sensation, she so seldom blushed. She put her hand to her hot cheeks. Madame de Montpaon was not looking at her as she continued in a babbling, stupid tone.

"Yes, I was wrong! He over-persuaded me!" She paused, struggling for breath, and then seemed about to continue on the same subject, but Lavinia checked her.

"If it troubles you, Madame, I should not think of it, but turn your mind to something pleasanter Think of the new life you will have in Paris."

"In Paris!" murmured the poor woman, falling back on the pillows. "You know, I dread to return to Paris. Louise, after all, seems terrified of going into a convent. I think we shall be happier here; I shrink from any change, from any movement."

"But once you are there, you will enjoy at least some quiet," said Lavinia in her soft, soothing voice.

"Peace and quiet," muttered Madame de Montpaon, "I should like that—peace and quiet—if only Louis-Hyacinthe would go away. Why does he stay, hasn't he got everything?"

She turned over on her side. Lavinia took some fine crochet from the little bag at her waist and began to work a narrow lace edging. She saw monotonous hours of this imprisonment in the sick chamber before her—hushed voices, hushed steps, drawn blinds, doctor's visits, medicines, an endless part of nurse, comforter, confidante, with all her spirit in bitter rebellion straining after the man whose name she must scarcely mention, in whom she dare not, under the continual scrutiny of Matilde, show the slightest interest.

She looked at the sleeping woman and wondered if she knew of the experiments which were being made in her house, if she was aware of the hideous inhabitants of the little laboratory—the black scorpion, the yellow toad, the dreadful bottled snakes. No doubt, as a woman who always seemed anxious for the good of her kind, she would approve of these humanitarian labours. But considering the fate of Louise—"It was the attempted suicide of my cousin," M. de Saint Paulle once told her, "which first turned my attention to these matters. In her case, they used a stomach pump, which is a most repulsive instrument; now, an antidote is so much more pleasant."

Lavinia tried to shake herself free of these reflections. Madame de Montpaon awoke complaining of her finger, it pained her considerably.

This sensation must have been, Lavinia decided, pure hysteria, for on unbinding the finger she found nothing but a scarcely perceptible scratch. The day wore away—nothing from him! How could there have been? But the waiting was intolerable.

Matilde put up a camp-bed at the foot of Madame de Montpaon's lit de parade. She was, then, to sleep there, and indefinitely. She felt trapped and ridiculous; she shuddered at the sight of the array of wines and spirits awaiting the invalid's pleasure, she dared not touch any, but she longed for an opiate.

"What devil gave us these appetites?"

* * * * *

At the end of three days of this life her resistance broke, her rebellion flared up; she was quite sick, trembling, and nervous.

She told Madame de Montpaon and Matilde that she must go into the dentist's, the man at Aix to whom Louise had been some months before.

"I have been in pain for some time, but I have not liked to say so before."

The Countess made no objection.

"It is indeed very reasonable that you should go, though I miss you so much. You must not hurry back. Perhaps there are one or two purchases you would like to make."

"I shall return, of course, as quickly as I can, the trains fit in very well. I ought to be home by eight o'clock."

"Eight! That is a long time!" said the Countess, with an apprehensive look. "Could you not go to Salon? There is a dentist there, and it is much nearer."

Lavinia shook her head, her patience was becoming exhausted. She would not be cheated of that liberty which was necessary, she felt, to her being able to continue this existence.

"No, I do not care to go to a stranger, and I made the acquaintance of a man at Aix. Besides, Madame, Louise and Matilde will stay with you all day. Would you not care to have a professional nurse? The doctor suggested it, you know," she added, snatching at some excuse to absolve herself from this perpetual attendance on a sick woman.

Madame de Montpaon shook her head.

"No, no, I could not endure to have a stranger about me. You know how nervous I am. I feel more so every day—and so weak! I dare not tell you all the fancies I have, you would say I was so foolish—hallucinations, I think they are—I must have had a little fever, although the doctor denied it."

She stared appealingly at Lavinia.

"Tell them before you go that I will not see my nephew, Louis. He is not to come in to me while you are away."

"Why, of course not. I daresay he is very concerned about you, but he would not dream of intruding here without your invitation, of that I am sure."

Madame de Montpaon caught hold of the girl with her hot, thin fingers and pulled her down and kissed her shrinking cheek.

"My poor darling, this is all very dull for you, but remember, you have a long, happy life before you! You will not, I am sure, in the future, regret your kindness to an unhappy creature like myself."

Lavinia escaped very early in the morning, but one of the servants had, through Matilde, evidently had news of the English companion's departure to the dentist's, for M. de Saint Paulle was waiting in the pleasant, sunny hall.

She greeted him severely, as if a hundred strangers watched them; she contrived this by looking past him, by feigning to herself that he was not there.

"I am going into Aix to-day, Monsieur, my visit to the dentist's can be no longer delayed. Madame your aunt seem's a little better to-day. She is full, of course, of nervous whims and hysterical fancies, and begs that you will not disturb her."

He answered her by the smile which assured her he understood everything, all her skilful manoeuvre. He asked, in conventional tones, details of his aunt's illness.

"It is the usual malaise, she still complains of the scratch on her finger, but indeed I can see nothing but the merest puncture."

"Sometimes," he replied, "when one is very nervous, these things are painful. I will give you a little ointment for that. You must, before you leave, smear it on a piece of linen and bind it tightly round the finger. The stuff is not very powerful, merely a soothing, slightly narcotic cream, but if you tell her that it is going to cure her finger, you will find that, nervous as she is, she will, by the time you return, be persuaded that it is better. I have been keeping this till I saw you."

She took the little pot of pomade he brought from his pocket.

"Do not say it is from me," he added. "Since she has taken this sick dislike to me, tell her it is something of your own you brought from England, and that you can answer for its efficacy. What train are you taking for Aix?"

"I shall be there about one o'clock."

"I advise you," he smiled, "to take luncheon at the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne."

* * * * *

Lavinia ran upstairs to say "Good-bye" to Madame de Montpaon, who was seated in bed with religious books on one side of the coverlet, and a pile of newspapers and magazines on the other.

"I have brought you some wonderful ointment, Madame, which I had with me from London. It might cure your throbbing finger."

She opened the pomade-pot as she spoke, and was surprised to find that it was almost empty, there was the merest speck of dark grease in one corner. Madame de Montpaon smiled at her languidly as she put this ointment on the clean strip of linen and bound it over the scratch made by the rose-thorn. Then, escaping all endearments and farewells, she ran into her own room, put on her discreet gown of grey merino and her black straw hat. M. de Saint Paulle would, of course, be at the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne at lunch-time; she looked anxiously at herself in the mirror—was she, without the moonlight, beautiful enough?

* * * * *

Lavinia Pierrepoint really went to the dentist's at Aix. She was not the woman to give a handle to detractors by so foolish an imprudence as not visiting the place which was supposed to be the object of her visit.

The dentist could not give her an appointment until the afternoon. This suited her admirably; she had then hours of freedom. She wondered as she hurried down the hot street what he would say when he found her teeth were perfect. She, too, would have to plead nerves, fancies, follies.

Aix was sweet and shadowy with fountains, trees, and brilliant flowers; she found that the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne was not one of the principal inns of the place, but a poor establishment that stood in a side street, and her pride began to prick and stir; the place looked sordid; after all, one needs some enchantment—

"But if one wants forbidden fruit, one is a fool to flaunt the eating of it."

She reflected that she also had better pay a tribute to the day's deception, so she entered the most humble-looking haberdasher's shop she could find and purchased a coarse white veil, which she tied unbecomingly over the black hat. Such voiles were fashionable that year, and this was not too obvious a disguise.

There was a considerable time to wait before the hour of her appointment, and this delay horribly irked Lavinia. She would not enter the hotel to be an object of stupid curiosity, but she soon became fatigued walking the streets, which seemed full of staring strangers.

She turned into a church which impressed her, even in her self-absorbed, excited mood, by its gracious beauty and, moving quickly behind a large pillar, to which was fastened high up the image of a saint garlanded by lit candles, she sank on her knees on a rush-bottomed prie-dieu. It was the first time she had been in a church since she had left Maybridge. Whenever Madame de Montpaon and Louise had driven into Mass at Salon she had declared that she had satisfied herself by reading her own Prayer Book and Bible in her own room. The truth was that no religion, no creed, no ethics meant anything to her; this place was merely a refuge for her hot impatience. Finding herself alone save for a priest pacing before the distant altar who took no heed of her at all, she took out William Tassart's last letter from her reticule and read it, kneeling in the attitude of prayer, the paper folded in the palm of her gloved hand.

He still appeared faithful, hopeful for the future. She despised him for these insipid beggarly virtues, this barren fidelity. If he cared enough for her to cherish for so long and at such a distance the thought of their ultimate union, why had he left her, why had not his passion leaped all petty objections, why had he not insisted on their immediate marriage? He had not understood her, he had merely seen some prettiness in her that she did not possess. He had been deceived by her carefully trained expression, by her circumspect words.

"Does he really think that I am brooding over him day and night? I have almost forgotten what he is like—it is a year and several months since I saw him."

And yet the thought of him produced a rising conflict in her soul, and, against her will, into the scented atmosphere of the foreign church came the scent of the sickly perfume of the pearly hawthorn and the lacy meadow-sweet which she had savoured when walking with him round the lanes of Maybridge.

She thrust the absent lover's letter into the bosom of her gown, which was cut heart-shape over a lace vest. It would give her a queer, perhaps a wicked, pleasure to know it was there while she was with Louis de Saint Paulle.

Her long, fine hands crossed on the top of the prie-dieu, her chin on her hands, she watched broodingly the figure of the priest as he passed to and fro in front of the altar, head bent on his breast, his rosary swinging at his girdle, his hands in his sleeves.

"Surely the time has passed now!"

She rose and went slowly into the sunny street, which was dappled all over with the shadow of moving leaves. There was the sound of fountains running in her ears and overhead the sky was bright blue, a colour that seemed heavy, like a weight, on the white houses.

Slowly she returned to the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne, ventured into the passage and glanced sideways through the first open door. He was there, waiting in the parlour, which was full of small tables covered by coarse white cloths, each of which held a basket of fruit, a flask of cheap wine, a mill of coarse black pepper and a rough glass salt-cellar.

He came to meet her, smiling easily. He jested at the poor hospitality he always offered her.

"This is not much better than Aigues-Mortes! I have ordered something a little cleaner upstairs."

She followed him into an upper room which looked on the back of the house. The windows were guarded by rough lace curtains drawn tight; there was a shabby sofa, shabby chairs covered in green cloth with brass nails, a dingy chocolate-hued paper on the walls, a chimney-piece on which was a clock, the brass dial held by a marble Venus reposing against a marble cushion. Behind this was a mirror in which all the objects in the room were reflected with a slight distortion. No sunshine seemed ever to enter this chamber, which was, even on this brilliant day, full of a bleak and colourless light.

Lavinia took off her white veil, her black straw hat. It seemed intolerable to think that she would ever have to return to the Château Boismarin and be at the beck and call of a silly sick woman's whims, and yet, the moment was not enchanted; she knew too much and she had experienced too little.

On the road by the vineyards, with the aromatic plants about her and the hot, dry sparkle of the air dazzling her eyes, in her bedroom, with the moonlight transforming all that was commonplace, with the moon herself to gaze at, there was the beauty, the strangeness that glorified everything. But here—the shrouded window, the worn couch, the shabby screen, the table set with common crockery, with cheap knives and forks, with expensive wine—she knew the meaning of all this, and that meaning quelled instead of exalting the passion that had brought her there.

Something spontaneous, sudden and natural had made their last, secret, interrupted meeting exquisite, but this seemed the result of a deliberate, malignant stratagem on his part, of a gross acquiescence on her part.

She sat sullenly near the door while the waiter, flat-footed, with a humble, resigned face, came to and fro on his anxious service.

M. de Saint Paulle stood by the window—he seemed absorbed in the newspaper that he was reading. Lavinia stole a resentful glance at him.

"He ought to have known better than to bring me here—does he think I am so in love with him as to endure any degradation?"

She began to consider him carefully, with hostile intent; if there had been anything about him to revolt her alert senses she would have walked out of "La Reine Jeanne" without a word of explanation. But there was nothing to offend in this attractive creature who appeared so charming, so graceful and noble, whose attire was faultless and whose manner seemed that of a man incapable of giving offence.

The cold light falling through the tight-drawn muslin curtain (there was a blank wall close outside the window) gave his blond hair, his pale face, his dark olive-coloured coat, a look of silver. He raised his glance from the paper and smiled candidly at her intent scrutiny; she never observed his face without being surprised and pleased that anyone should have eyes of that colour, dark blue with no hue of hazel or green like most English eyes, like those of William Tassart. She no longer thought of leaving the hotel, but she was not quite reassured. She wished that she had not thought of William Tassart. He was now a stranger to her, but she knew that if he were to come into this room now he would have to kill that other man.

When she had been a very young girl she had imagined that it would be splendid to have two men fighting for her, but now she knew that for these two who wished, in their different ways, to be her lovers, to fight for her would be infinitely horrible and degrading; she put her hand to her bosom and felt the crackle of the last letter from India. She thought of her grandfather, of Mrs. Liptrott, of all who had tried to train her, to help her since she had come to Maybridge—she was subtly betraying all these people by her presence in "La Reine Jeanne."

But what did that matter? She owed them nothing and they would never know anything that she did not wish them to know.

They ate their meal to the accompaniment of casual talk—it mattered little to her what he said, his voice was sufficient lure; but she resented the worn carpet, the waiter with his greasy suit, the shameful couch, screen, and close-drawn muslin curtain.

She could not eat, but she drank the wine her companion poured out for her—Côtes-du-Rhône, but of a different quality from that which she had drunk at Aigues-Mortes; she needed that as the flowers he had returned to the jar the other night had needed the water.

The waiter took away the dishes, brought the coffee, left them; M. de Saint Paulle rose and locked the door.

"Why did you bring me here?" demanded Lavinia instantly. "I saw too much of this when I was a child, cheap hotels, cheap lodgings—I don't know why I came, it was only the monotony of that sick room—"

"And the thought of how we left each other?" he smiled. "It is difficult here—to behave with this perfect discretion—in Paris now!"

"That Matilde, is she fee'd by you? Does she spy on me or not?" asked Lavinia sullenly. "She and Jacques, who looks after the greenhouses, are intriguing together."

"One uses such creatures, but one cannot rely on them."

"She must have told you that I am going into Aix to-day. I don't want to be put in the power of a wretch like that—"

"What does it matter? We shall soon be in Paris, and there we shall be quite free."

"Paris! What is to become of me there? When these two are in their convent, what for me? It is now impossible," she said, as if to herself, "for me to return to England."

"Last time we spoke together you begged me not to speak of the future—now you become practical!"

"But were you not anxious about your own affairs?" she insisted. "It is true that the Montpaon fortune is secured to you—but you will have to wait—Louise is younger than you are—"

"What a stupid discussion to start when we have so little time! Neither of these ladies is likely to live long, and I can raise all I need on my expectations—why are you so thoughtful and frowning?"

"I don't know." Lavinia rose, as if shaking off a burden. "It is no affair of mine. It is true that there are those legacies for me. But I shall have to wait a long time. It is an odious thought—but really how convenient the death of these two miserable women would be—"

He came and stood behind her chair.

"Why think of them at all? Take the pins out of your hair and I shall show you how you should arrange it."

Lavinia loosened her chignon; the thick pale locks fell over her prim dress.

"It is an insipid colour!" she cried, enraged with herself. "I am pink and white, like sugar-candy—"

"When you have lived with me a little while you will look what you are, a beautiful woman."

"Lived with you?"

"We could go to Italy when Madame de Montpaon is in her retreat—who is there to consider? We should be happy, for a little time at least."

"I am worth more than that," muttered Lavinia bitterly.

"I might marry you, Lavinia, for it seems as if you would become necessary to me," he said earnestly. "But—there are many difficulties—and I am not sure of you—"

"You are not sure of me!" This statement of his truly amazed her, for never had she considered their affair from his point of view.

"Could you be faithful? Do you really understand me? No doubt you have heard nothing good of me—those two women hate me because they have wronged me. But I—I have my desires, my wishes, my hopes. I believe that they might centre in a woman like you—"

"Why do you hesitate? Haven't I proved what I—what I—feel for you? Even by being here? What is it that you doubt, that you dislike in me?"

"Too much the English hypocrite, perhaps," he smiled, "thinking too much of appearances—I don't know—but at least we please each other a little for a while."

Lavinia leaned against the cheap mantelpiece and stared at herself in the blurred glass behind the gaudy clock. What was wrong with her? In the man who honoured her she had evoked no passion, in the man who desired her, who understood her, she had inspired no trust—he had made it plain that she was to be but his casual mistress, on trial, as it were, to be rewarded according to the desirable qualities that he discovered in her; what these desirable qualities might be, she did not know. She stared at the marble Venus upholding the clock; she felt deeply humiliated, for she believed that if he had, as he said, "trusted her," he would, bold, reckless, and self-indulgent as she knew him to be, have really married her; she was weary of this conflict, weary of speculation. But it was too late to play at a chaste virtue with one who understood her so well.

"What do you want of me?"

He told her to twist up her hair on the crown of her head; when she had done this she looked quite a different woman.

He came behind her and put his arms round her; she made her last resistance with: "You should not have brought me to this ugly place—"

He kissed her neck, the side of her cheek.

"It is no longer a question of the beauty or ugliness of the place where we are—"

* * * * *

When Lavinia arrived at the station at La Roque there was no carriage to meet her, and it was some time before she could obtain a hired vehicle to take her to the Château Boismarin. When she arrived there she saw at once that something unusual had occurred.

The carriage of the doctor from Salon stood outside the entrance to the modern wing; there were lights in almost every room. A horrid sense of apprehension smote her. She reminded herself that whatever had happened could have nothing to do with her—with what she was now, with the back room in La Reine Jeanne.

She saw the steward and two strange men going up the stairs as she entered the hall.

She ran up to Madame de Montpaon's room, but on the threshold her way was barred by Matilde.

"Madame has just died! We sent a telegram to you at the dentist's in Aix," said Matilde quickly, under her breath, "but you had gone. You must have stayed a very little while."

Even in that moment of shock and alarm and confusion, Lavinia blessed her own discretion. Supposing she had not been to the dentist's, true to her appointment, that afternoon at three o'clock!

"He found that it was neuralgia, and there was nothing to do," she stammered. "I went and sat in a church for the rest of the afternoon as the pain continued. But this about Madame—it is terrible! It is shocking! How was it possible? Please let me enter. May I not see her, Matilde?"

The Frenchwoman dropped her arm from the door and Lavinia Pierrepoint entered the chamber, where she had often watched by Madame de Montpaon, and where she never would be required to watch again.

"Perhaps you would like to help me make her toilette?" asked the servant.

She lifted back the muslin curtains which had been dropped round the bed on which lay the corpse, and the two women stared down at Madame de Montpaon.

"What happened? It was most sudden, most unexpected!" whispered Lavinia.

Matilde, who did not seem much concerned by the death of her mistress, lifted her shoulders.

"She did not suffer much—her heart was always weak—the heat, perhaps! The doctor talks of a syncope, an aneurism—he says that it really might have been expected any minute, but he never liked to alarm her."

"She did not suffer," repeated Lavinia, looking down into the blank features of the slightly twisted dead face.

"No. She seemed to fall into a coma almost as soon as you had gone. I did not like the look of it, it didn't seem a natural sleep. Of course, we soon sent for the doctor and M. le Curé. She seemed to recover a little, but to be half paralysed—he gave her stimulants, injections, and so on. She died about twenty minutes ago."

"And Mademoiselle Louise?"

"She, of course, is in a wretched state. The doctor has given her a sleeping-draught, two maids are sitting up with her."

Lavinia stood erect and averted her face from the bed.

"One must be practical, one must face these emergencies," she said to herself. "After all, it is quite a natural thing, one that is very likely to happen. It made no difference to her that I was away to-day, I have done my duty perfectly."

"You had better take a glass of wine, Mademoiselle," said Matilde, not unkindly, "you are swaying on your feet. It is, of course, a great shock after the fatigue of your day's journey."

Lavinia took off the black straw hat, her light gloves, and laid them on a chair beside the reticule in which was the thick white veil she had worn in Aix.

"No, I will help you," she said firmly. "She seemed to be fond of me, I think she would like me to do this for her."

She remembered, with a queer sort of pang, the legacy—sixty thousand francs! How much was that in English money?

"The funeral will be in Paris, of course, in the Madeleine," said Matilde, "a very grand affair. The doctor is waiting to see M. le Duc. He will have to make all the arrangements. There is a notary from Aix, I think, here, and the steward."

"Yes," said Lavinia, "I saw them down below."

The Frenchwoman looked at her curiously.

"You seem very cool, Mademoiselle, yet this must be a new experience for you! You don't feel frightened, or shocked, or disgusted—you would really like to help me?"

"Yes."

"Well, fetch me one of her new night-gowns—that thin white silk which she has never worn. It was not unpacked, I think. Hélène is bringing some hot water. There will be masses of flowers ready for cutting in the hothouse."

* * * * *

Lavinia locked herself into her own room that night. She turned the key firmly in the doors, the main one and that leading to the turret. Whatever hour Louis de Saint Paulle returned, she did not wish to see him She wanted what Clothilde de Montpaon had moaned for only that morning and which she now undoubtedly enjoyed—peace and quiet. Her head was aching and she feared she would not sleep. When she had left the death-chamber and bathed her hands and face eagerly and feverishly in cologne and water she had gone downstairs to the great dining-room and been served with a cold meal, which she could not eat.

The house seemed full of strangers. The intendant was trying to take control of affairs; someone seemed already making an inventory of the furniture and pictures, sealing up the rooms. Lavinia closed the door on all this turmoil. She tried to think steadily.

What difference did this death make to her beyond the sixty thousand francs? How did it alter her prospects, colour her future?

She did not know.

Louise was now the undisputed possessor of all this great wealth. Would her cousin permit her to go into a convent? Would he not, after all, revive the project of a marriage with the weak, foolish, and now totally unprotected girl?

"Whatever he does, I now, surely, have some claim on him—but that is absurd. I have none, none! I am his secret mistress. It makes a difference to me, but little to him Now I know myself, what I want, what I must have. He will not, he shall not, get tired of me yet. He saw that I know how to love—"

Lavinia, turning away in disgust from the food on the table, moved to the sideboard, where there were various kinds of wine standing, the bottles uncorked, half-empty, as they had been left during the day by those who had come, poured themselves out a hasty glass, and gone away.

She thought of the young soldier in Algiers. Louise was free to marry him now, surely, without her mother's disapproval to fear, with all that money and her own power. All that money!

"I wish I were in her place—free—with that money!"

She looked at the bottles and decanters of wine, one after another. She did not know the names nor distinguish the aromas. She tried the taste of several—a mere sip in a glass. She found one that pleased her; she took the decanter and glass upstairs to her bedroom, unnoticed by anyone, and there, shut into her room, the locked doors either side of her, she drank glass after glass in the endeavour to stop her active mind, to blur actuality, to still her senses, so fully roused at last. All her niceties, her scruples, had gone, nothing mattered but: "When shall we meet again?"

She thought of her father. How often had he done the same thing, drunk to still desire, remorse, fear...She thought of her mother—how often had she behaved as her daughter had behaved to-day in Aix in the room with the green furniture and the brass buttons, with the mirror in front of which was the marble Venus holding the brass clock which had stopped for ever at midnight; the mirror where she had been herself half-naked, the letter from India falling from her open chemise.

She put out her light with a trembling hand; her body was swaying, her senses confused. She thought of Madame de Montpaon, whom she had just arranged for her coffin. How like she looked to that memory of her own mother...How hideous death was, how inescapably loathsome, however one decked it with lights and flowers and prayers...

She began to undress in the dark, and when her clothes had all fallen to her feet she heard him knock at the turret door. She set her teeth and would not answer and then came his delightful hushed voice:

"I do not expect you to see me. I have to go to Paris early in the morning to make arrangements, do you understand? I shall see you there in the hôtel in the rue de St. Nicholas."

She did not answer. The moon was rising behind the avenue of plane trees; the light was penetrating into the greenish bedroom which she had always disliked. His voice came again through the crack in the door:

"You must not grieve over this affair. My aunt has come to the end of her misery. Nothing more fortunate could have happened."

Lavinia pressed her bare body against the satin coverlet of the bed. She heard him say "good night" on what seemed half a sigh.

She replied: "Good night!" Then she rose and ran to the door: "I can't open now—do you understand? But afterwards—whenever you want me—"

* * * * *

Lavinia slept late in the morning, no one disturbed her. When she awoke she saw with a stab of shame the empty decanter and stained glass standing on the elegant gilt and green bureau.

"My God! Was I drunk last night? Am I beginning to drink secretly? Is this how it happens? I had never tasted it until I came here."

She dressed hurriedly, without regard for her appearance, putting on the first clothes that came, then unlocked the turret door, and with a movement of disgust put the glass and decanter on the table in the middle of the little library. She noted that this had been tidied. Evidently M. de Saint Paulle wished to leave no evidence of his work behind him to cause a complaint from the servants. There was nothing on the table—the vase of exotic flowers had gone, so had the empty champagne bottle and the soiled glasses.

A portion of the shelves was empty; some of the books had been removed.

She went downstairs, and there all was neat and bare. The furnace was cold, there were no reptiles nor insects in cases or bottles. There was scarcely any evidence that the place had been used as a laboratory.

She stepped into the fragrant, pure blue air, and there was no trace of the dead dog which had offended her a few nights before; only Jacques, the gardener, was raking over the parterres beneath the heavy walls of the old fortress.

"What a fool I was to send him away last night; as if anything mattered but that—what was I afraid of?"

* * * * *

Louise de Montpaon revealed an astonishing vitality in this crisis. She seemed able to resist successfully the shocking tragedy of her mother's sudden death. Even in the few unnatural days of strain, tension, and ugly preparation which went on before the departure to Paris, she showed a hectic gaiety, a feverish liveliness which astonished Lavinia.

Then the tender girl, who to the Englishwoman looked almost like a corpse herself in her pallor and heavy mourning, revealed the cause of her secret happiness.

M. de Saint Césaire, unknown to her, had been for the last few months in Paris. On reading of her mother's death in the newspapers he had sent her a message of condolence. Yes, among the many telegrams which had come to the Château Boismarin on the occasion of the death of the châtelaine, was one from Louise's faithful lover, as she insisted on believing M. de Saint Césaire to be. She had realised that she was now mistress of a large fortune.

"And what," she demanded in deep agitation, "is now to prevent us coming together if he could overlook my disfigurement?"

"Yes, you must be very wealthy now," said Lavinia quietly. "There seems no reason at all why you and M. de Saint Césaire should not come together. I always told you that it was the best, in fact, the only thing which you ought to do. You have all your mother's money, Louise?"

"Yes, dear Lavinia, expect the few legacies. You know there is sixty thousand francs for you. I think the agitation and trouble of that will helped to make Mamma so terribly ill. But we must not think of it now—everything will be altered if I am happily married, will it not, dear Lavinia?"

The English companion sympathised, agreed, praised, flattered. She believed that M. de Saint Paulle would have something to say about this proposed match with the man whom he must regard with such an intense contempt and hatred—a match which would once more put outside his reach the fortune which Lavinia Pierrepoint believed he so desperately needed.

Whether Louise had told her cousin or no of her project, Lavinia could not tell. The young man was in Paris. Louise wrote a great many letters which she did not show to her friend.

"One must wait," thought Lavinia; "one must wait! Surely he cannot do without me?"

She packed her belongings—she had so much more now than when she had come to the Château Boismarin—negligently, leaving indeed much behind, for Louise had declared that after the funeral it was her intention to return to the château...There was so much that she must put in order, there were so many things that she must see the intendant about, "the things that lawyers can't do," she said; she begged Lavinia to accompany her on this return visit, and Lavinia promised.

She was in considerable doubt and some trepidation as to her own future. She had to move on day by day, seeing only a step ahead; consoling herself by memories and secret glasses of sherry and Côtes-du-Rhône.

* * * * *

The two women, in heavy mourning, black crêpe, black silk, white bands (for Lavinia declared that she could not endure to wear colours when accompanying the body of so kind a friend on its last journey), Matilde and the two maids, Hélène and Marthe, travelled by the express train to Paris to which the coach was attached which bore the mortal remains of Clothilde de Montpaon.

Lavinia tried to force her thoughts into other channels, but a weight and a depression were over her spirit. She found Paris disagreeable, very disagreeable, very different from the city which she had glimpsed with such joy on her first visit there. How to endure anything till she saw him again?

The Hôtel de Montpaon, in the rue de St. Nicholas, which had been hastily opened and where the covers were still over some of the furniture and the muslins over the chandeliers, impressed her as being gloomy, heavy, and tastelessly furnished. She did her best, however, to make Louise comfortable, to assert herself as the efficient, cool Englishwoman.

The funeral furnishers and upholsterers seemed in possession of the place. One of the rooms had already been changed into a chapelle ardente, hung with black, lit by candles, adorned by the silver escutcheon of Clothilde de Montpaon's family and that of her husband.

Despite these lugubrious arrangements for a costly and showy funeral, Louise de Montpaon, whom Lavinia had supposed would be closeted in her chamber hysterical with grief, showed feverish high spirits. The lawyers made all the necessary arrangements for the immediate necessities and for the funeral, and there were few friends to trouble her; Lavinia found that the young French girl was in much her own position—oddly isolated. Louis de Saint Paulle seemed her only near relative.

So, bereft suddenly of her mother, the girl had at last plenty of liberty as well as plenty of leisure. She began to show an active interest in the world from which she seemed to have so completely withdrawn. There was no longer any talk of convents, of penitence, of abnegation and sacrifice. She discarded the simple black which had been bought in Aix, and employed a fashionable dressmaker to make her, in a few hours, lavish costumes of crêpe, silks, worn over skirts of horse-hair, and a multitude of thick petticoats to give the effect of the crinolines which had suddenly become so fashionable but would be unsuitable for such deep mourning.

She read the newspapers, seemed greedily to plunge into all the details of the doings of the fashionable world, bought piles of fashion magazines, insisted on driving out with Lavinia, under the excuse that her health was suffering from the confinement; the English companion understood the reason of all this emotional upset—M. de Saint Césaire was not only in Paris, but Louise had written to him and he had replied. The French girl admitted to Lavinia that they intended to be married as soon as possible; quietly, of course, without anything to remind society of the scandal of two years ago.

People would, no doubt, call him a fortune-hunter and her a fool to marry a penniless man, but she did not care about any such tittle-tattle! She intended, she told Lavinia defiantly, to be happy.

The Englishwoman could see, when they drove abroad in the mourning carriage, the girl's dark eyes flash behind her black-bordered veil as she gazed at the out-of-season gaiety of the boulevards, and the shops displaying the rich shawls, tinsel embroidery, and braided gowns then in the fashion. The Court was at Compiègne, but there were still several smart equipages with powdered lackeys to be seen, still a few elegant Amazons riding in the Bois and in front of the cafés at the little metal tables sat provocative beauties, their gowns opened heart-shape on their bosoms, their painted faces smiling under their piled-up curls and falling fringes and tilted hats, their heavily-braided looped skirts drawn back to show red stockings and high polished black boots with silver laces.

Everything was theatrical, vulgar, and in bad taste. Lavinia, a shrewd observer, could discern the degree of licence that was permitted to society, the vulgar flaunting standard of enjoyment set by the Court, the tasteless extravagance, the low standard of morals and manners.

This pleased her. After her long seclusion in Boismarin she liked to breathe this air of liberty and licence. Her eyes narrowed and glittered as she marked the flaunting glares of the huge gas-lit cafés, with their marble interiors, their throng of loud-laughing men and women, whose only object seemed to be to amuse themselves.

Where was he? When was he coming for her?

Louise spoke of hunting and the opera, which had been favourite amusements of hers when she was a girl. She began to plan her future, even to her clothes, the way she would dress her hair, the width she would have her crinolines—she was enamoured of that new fashion—the gorgeous balls, courts, and dancing parties she would give! She looked forward to attending the races again; M. de Saint Césaire, of course, would sell out of the army. They would lead, after their long suffering, a life of ease and splendour.

"Dear Louise, your mother is not buried yet," said Lavinia gently, "and does your cousin Louis—M. de Saint Paulle—approve of this marriage of yours?"

"Mamma would wish me to be happy," said Louise, and the ready tears sprang to her large eyes, already half-ruined by too much secret weeping, "and I do not need to ask my cousin Louis's consent—the fortune is all mine Dear Lavinia, as soon as the funeral is over we will go away—to the sea—to Dieppe, Trouville, or Plombières. You will come with me, of course."

Lavinia was astonished at the girl's happiness. She seemed to have forgotten the past and to have forgotten the scar she carried on her face.

"What does any of it matter—if only he would send for me?"

* * * * *

M. de Saint Césaire, the young officer who had been the cause of Louise's tragedy, and now, it seemed, was to be the cause of her happiness, called at the Hôtel de Montpaon in the rue de St. Nicholas.

This, perhaps, might have passed as a visit of condolence, since he and his parents had been friends of the family of Madame de Montpaon for many years, but, under the circumstances, it might also be, if noted by an envious or curious eye, considered a scandal. Lavinia thought:

"She might wait till her mother is buried!"

The funeral was fixed for the next day, and this haste seemed to her indecent; she had no sympathy with the lovers' impatience although she could hardly control her own irritated nerves because Louis de Saint Paulle had not sought her out since she had come to Paris...he had been to the house, she knew, but on purely business matters; he had not asked for her and she had not seen him. Yet she relied on their common passion; he had not taken her lightly in the room at Aix, he had been overwhelmed both by her beauty and by her emotion; he also must be waiting, perhaps suffering while he waited, for a renewal of that experience.

Louise sent for her and presented her to the young officer; a lean, dark, clever-looking young man wearing glasses, in a smart uniform of the —— Chasseurs, who greeted Lavinia with effusion as the friend, comfort, and support of his betrothed through so many difficult and trying months. Louise, as if she were his wife (perhaps she deemed herself such before Heaven), rested against his shoulder, her scarred face hidden against his epaulettes and sighed:

"I am not going to see him again, Lavinia, not for weeks, but we had to meet, just to make sure that everything was all right between us. But I am going to do my duty. After poor Mamma is buried I am going into retreat. André has promised not to see me, not to write to me! That will be easy now, for there is not very long to wait. In the autumn we shall be married."

Lavinia murmured her polite and conventional congratulations. She wondered: "Is he so delighted because a huge fortune has fallen into his fingers? Does he really, as they say, love her? Has he forgotten about M. de Saint Paulle?"

The young officer seemed to divine a certain stiffness and lack of sympathy in Lavinia Pierrepoint, of whom Louise had spoken in such affectionate and grateful terms. He drew himself from the embrace of his betrothed and began to apologise for his premature appearance in the rue de St. Nicholas. He did not add that he had only come on the insistent appeal of Louise.

"Eh, Monsieur," said the Englishwoman, with a pleasant smile and manner which took away any possible hint of asperity from her words, "I am not in any way the guardian of Mademoiselle! Indeed, I hardly know my position. I was employed by Madame de Montpaon, to whom I was much attached, and I only remain with her daughter because she has asked me to do so. I have not yet been able to make my own plans."

"You must stay with me, dear Lavinia, you would not think of going!" sighed Louise. She clasped her friend's hand in her own hot fingers. "You are coming away with me to the seaside! We must have rest and quietness."

"What more have we had," thought Lavinia dryly, "for the last year in Boismarin!"

"I can decide nothing," she said smilingly; "I must write home to my grandfather and to India."

"Yes, yes, dear Lavinia. Perhaps he, your fiancé, will be home in the autumn and then we could both be married together. You would not mind being married in Paris, would you? That would be splendid, would it not?"

"Charming, indeed! But we must hardly speak of such things yet—"

Lavinia left the two lovers, now so full of hope and joy, to take their farewells.

M. de Saint Césaire soon afterwards left the hotel, which was again abandoned, after this gleam of cheerfulness, to the lawyers, the undertakers, the upholsterers, the priests, and nuns.

* * * * *

That evening Louise, who seemed after her interview with her lover a little light-headed, had what Lavinia considered an astounding whim.

She insisted on having brought into the little boudoir that was attached to the large bedroom in which she slept in the rue de St. Nicholas, all the jewels and trinkets there were in the house.

"You must not think it heartless, dear Lavinia, Mamma would wish it, I am sure. She would not like me to fall into a melancholy mood thinking of her! She is being watched by the nuns, and is quite happy in heaven, I am sure."

Lavinia made no objection, it required all her fortitude to remain calm; she also found a light distraction in turning over all the trinkets which Louise, after the mountebank fashion of the moment, had worn before she retired to Boismarin—richly-embroidered scarves, Arab burnouses clasped with diamonds, muslin veils with gold and silver laces had been flung out of drawers and boxes on to the table, and in the folds of the rich, creased materials lay lockets, crosses, brooches, necklets, pendants, bracelets, chains and girdles, all too gaudy and in execrable taste, but most of them of gold, silver, and set with valuable jewels. Among this medley of theatrical-looking trifles was the diamond necklace set with the cameos and emeralds, the revière which Madame de Montpaon had displayed in the Château Boismarin.

Louise passed the bracelets up her thin arms, the rings on to her wasted fingers. She was no longer afraid to look in a glass; a large mirror stood in the corner of the room and she glanced into it continually. If M. de Saint Césaire had not noticed her scar she cared little who did, and really it was much effaced, hardly visible, through clever hairdressing and a liquid powder...

"Do not blame me for being happy," she laughed up at Lavinia, "I have been miserable so long! Do you like any of these toys, do some of these trifles please you? I want you to have them for your own—anything you choose."

Lavinia was never one to refuse a good offer, and though none of these gaudy trinkets pleased her, she thought at once how she could have them reset and the gold melted down. She also had been starved of pleasure, of magnificence, and her cool, blue-green eyes shone under the fair lashes as she picked up and handled gold chains and bracelets clasped with sapphires, white gauze sashes with silver stars and fringed with beads, brooches of rubies to which were attached the soiled and faded colours of some fashionable racing stable.

On to this scene, on which the gas in the opal globes of the heavy chandelier shone clearly, M. de Saint Paulle entered, quick on the servant who announced him. Louise frowned; she seemed for a moment confused, and even upset, but she soon recovered her feverish gaiety. Here in Paris, with her lover at hand, her future stretching smooth before her, the hysterical girl was no longer afraid of her cousin Indeed, she spoke with what seemed to Lavinia a ludicrous air of bravado, and extending her hand which, loaded with the ugly jewellery, was in grotesque contrast to her mourning attire, said:

"Good evening, Louis. I must tell you my news myself. I have settled my future; I am to marry André de Saint Césaire in the autumn."

"I expected no other news. My congratulations, Louise."

As if she were relieved by this cool acceptance of the news which she feared perhaps might provoke a storm of passionate reproach, Louise sank down on a low chair, her stiff black skirts billowing round her, and began to laugh hysterically. Over her head Lavinia glanced at the young man, but there was nothing to be learnt from his face, which appeared serene and candid. In the garish, extravagant, vulgar furnishings of the room his figure detached itself with a cool elegance from his surroundings.

He was well dressed, without any attempt to copy the crazy and odd fashions of the moment. Her admiration and passion for him made Lavinia tremble, and she sat down by the huge marble mantelpiece, overloaded with gilt ornaments, and clasped her hands tightly into her thin, black silk skirts. Louis de Saint Paulle was talking gently to his cousin, whose burst of laughter had ended in a fit of weeping. She was leaning forward on the table covered with glittering gew-gaws, weeping into a handkerchief which had a three-inch border of black.

"The past is the past, Louise, and as you seem upset, we will not dwell on it. Everything works out to its proper conclusion, although all appears to be tangled on the surface. But you may be quite sure your future is what you deserve. You have been unhappy long enough. Come, do not weep, your mother would have been delighted to think you were so happy, and, in fact, I cannot imagine," he added, "why you did not come to this resolution before."

At this the girl raised astonished eyes.

"But, Louis," she stammered, "you always wanted to marry me yourself. You made every obstacle possible—"

"Hush! hush! that also belongs to the past," smiled the young man "Whatever my behaviour was, there was no reason why you and your mother should not have overridden all my objections! Come, let us talk of something else. I must tell you what I have done to-day to help you."

And he told her, courteously and sympathetically, all he had done to make it easy for her in this unexpected and tragic crisis. She in return gratefully unfolded to him her plans for going to Biarritz or Plombières with Lavinia Pierrepoint until the autumn. She could not, of course, be seen in Society until she was out of mourning for her mother.

His equanimity astonished Lavinia. He must be, surely, mad with fury.

'What about his own difficulties? He told me he would be ruined within a month or so if he did not receive the Montpaon fortunes. Is all to slip into the hands of the man he hates?'

Some such thought must have entered into Louise's self-absorbed and foolish mind, for she asked, timidly:

"Louis, this makes a difference to you? I have not seen my mother's will, but the notary tells me that everything is left to me and my children."

He picked up a gauze scarf with currant-coloured spots and twisted it round his hand.

"I know! Is not that the will I saw your mother sign in Boismarin?"

"Yes, Louis, as you know," said the girl, suddenly embarrassed and timid. "But then the idea, the promise even, was that I should go into a convent and that you were to have everything after my death."

"That was a mere formality," he said, "you must not trouble your head with it. What difference could it possibly make to me? You are likely to live a hundred years in a convent and I, I think, not half so long."

Reassured by his kindness, Louise de Montpaon smiled again, and began turning over the baubles which reminded her of happy days past and happier days to come.

"You are not really in any great difficulty, are you, Louis? I mean, if you required anything, my fortune is, of course, at your service."

"My affairs are not very prosperous, cousin, but they are not so desperate that I should require your help. A little luck at cards and on the race-course and I might be a wealthy man again. But do not let us talk of that."

Seeing that she still looked baffled, unconvinced and slightly ill at ease, he added in a dignified tone:

"You must understand, Louise, that if I wished to marry you it was for the honour of the family, to avoid a scandal."

"Chivalry!" murmured Lavinia in the background, into her handkerchief, but M. de Saint Paulle took no notice of this interruption. He had found a large brooch of twisted gold coils, in the centre of which was a diamond of considerable value. It was pretentious and ugly, but he began to praise it.

"This is very handsome, Louise, it would look well on an Indian shawl. See how the red gold catches the light. You should wear this."

"You have such good taste, Louis," said the girl, simpering, as if she wondered why she had ever been afraid of him, ever regarded him with horror and aversion.

"There is an inscription on the gold, is there not?" asked M. de Saint Paulle, examining the brooch closely.

He rose and took it to a corner of the room, where a gas lamp burnt on an ornate bracket.

"No, it is only the marker's mark," he said, returning it. "Come, let me try to put it on your dress. It is really a most unusual design."

He approached the girl and placed the brooch delicately against her bodice of black heavy corded surah silk. Lavinia looked away, and she thought of the dead woman lying in another part of the large, gloomy house; when would all this nonsense be over and they alone together? She heard Louise give a little exclamation, and her cousin say in a tone of solicitude:

"Did I hurt you?"

"Oh, no, but the brooch was heavy and cold. Yes, it looks very handsome. I forget who gave it to me, or when I bought it. If you recommend it I will certainly wear it, Louis."

The young man then began to take leave of the two ladies. He said he had promised to meet his friends at the Jockey Club, and though he was in mourning for his aunt he could not endure entirely to retire from all his usual diversions.

Louise pulled the green bell-cord. It was Matilde who answered it, for the hôtel was understaffed; they had only the three servants whom they had brought up with them from Boismarin. Louise ordered iced champagne. Her manner was unpleasantly gay, she laughed and cried together. She stammered gratitude to her cousin, she embraced Lavinia. When Matilde, after some delay, brought the wine, she told the chamberwoman of her future happiness and bade her drink to her marriage in the autumn with M. de Saint Césaire.

Lavinia was glad of the champagne, she drank three glasses, one after the other. She saw that she had been, for all the hot summer night, very cold, and when M. de Saint Paulle left the room she, without apology or excuse, followed him and they faced each other in the passage.

"What are you going to do? When am I to see you again?" she demanded; she was trembling and panting, at the end of her nervous resistance.

"We must get all this over, the funeral, all this stupid pomp. After to-morrow things will be different—"

"I can't wait much longer," whispered Lavinia, leaning against the closed door, the knob of which was in her fingers.

He looked at her sharply. She fancied that he was pleased to see her fortitude, her reserve broken down.

"It is difficult for me, too. Come to this place to-morrow. I have forgotten nothing—"

He gave her a card from his breast-pocket.

"I shall be there about three o'clock. Did I not take it very well just now?—the news of her marriage to that scoundrel Of course, I expected as much."

"I think you leave the most difficult part to me," she stammered. "You ought to know—you should understand what—"

He caught her from the door and embraced her closely, anxiously, as if he would impress upon her body, her heart, her soul, the impact of his personality.

"Don't kiss me," whispered Lavinia; "not here—"

"We, too, will have our happiness," he whispered; "there is a future for us also."

Silently she withdrew; the wine had caused the colour to burn in her cheeks, a lustre to sparkle in her eyes, an emotion that had nothing to do with the wine held her rigidly silent. She turned unsteadily into the boudoir where Louise, as if suddenly tired after her exhausting day, had sunk back in the green satin chair by the table, on which the gas lamps cast down an unshaded light that gleamed among the ugly, vulgar jewels and the huge rivière of diamonds.

* * * * *

Lavinia did not sleep that night. She had to keep at bay many wild and impossible fancies, burning desires. In the alien bedroom, a chamber even more foreign to her than that in which she had lived uneasily for over a year in the Château Boismarin, some of her possessions were unpacked and scattered over the floor. There was a packet of her grandfather's letters—she turned these over. The last had been a mere line of good wishes from him and a note from Mrs. Liptrott to say the old man "was not so well," and that it would be a good thing if she could contrive a visit home that summer—nay, that autumn, for summer was nearly spent. There were letters from William Tassart, one so like the other that she could only differentiate them by the date.

She had shown the last to Louis de Saint Paulle, in the room at Aix, boasting of this pure fidelity, but he had replied:

"Bah! The man has a mistress!"

"It is not so easy in India."

"Another man's wife or some creature of the bazaars. Can you, with your good sense, be deceived by this hypocrisy?"

She pondered then, with the packet of letters in her hand, whether her lover had been right or no. It mattered very little—in the future which she dared to foresee for herself, of what account would be the morals of William Tassart?

How early the dawn came!—first light, then shape, then colour growing gradually into complete harmony of day. She opened her shutter and looked out on to Paris.

There was a knock at her door and Matilde, precise and neat as ever, with a tray with coffee, roll, and pat of butter and tiny jar of honey, entered.

"You are very early, Matilde, the sun is hardly above the houses."

"I have been up all night," said the chamberwoman in an expressionless tone, "Mademoiselle Louise has been ill."

"Ill! Why did you not call me?"

"There was nothing anybody could do. She was restless and complained of pain. I gave her the sleeping-draught, but it did not seem to have much effect. She was sick and became very excited, and after a while she did fall asleep. But it does not seem to me to be a natural kind of slumber, and I have sent for a doctor."

"It is only to be expected," said Lavinia, pouring out the coffee, "she was very much excited and overwrought yesterday. It was a very foolish thing for her to see M. de Saint Césaire, but then, there is nobody to control her now. She must do as she likes, must she not, Matilde?" added the English companion coolly. "There is nobody with her save hired dependants like you and me."

"Yes, she must do as she likes," replied the other; "and if she kills herself it is nobody's fault."

"Kills herself, Matilde? Of course, it is not likely to be as serious as that. To-day is the day of the funeral. I think we ought to be careful, Matilde, not to let anyone know of Mademoiselle's illness. We do not want any more panic or sensation in this house; certainly we do not want that young officer rushing round here and making perhaps a scene. She must be kept quiet."

"Yes, certainly," said Matilde, "that was my thought also. And the instructions of M. de Saint Paulle," she added in an abstracted tone.

"His instructions! Does he know Louise is ill? Has he been round here already?'

"Yes, he came round very early, as was natural. He had to give the final instructions for the funeral, to see that all the draperies were in place, that everything was as it ought to be. He is very diligent, M. le Duc, in matters of duty."

"Oh, Matilde," said Lavinia, sipping her coffee, "what about those jewels last night? Did you put them away? There were those valuable diamonds—the rivière there, you know. Mademoiselle Louise was so long deciding to go to bed that I went first, for I was very tired. She said she would put the jewels away herself, but as she is not well, perhaps we had better see to them."

"They were not there this morning," replied the chamber-woman, "both the diamonds and the trinkets had been put away. Mademoiselle has her key, of course, in her reticule."

"Then that is all right," said Lavinia, "we have no more responsibility."

* * * * *

The sumptuous funeral took place without any hitch in the elaborate arrangements. The sombre cortège, with the hearse hung with black and silver, the plumed horses, the multitude of escutcheons, passed slowly from the hôtel in the rue de St. Nicholas to the Church of the Madeleine and so to Père Lachaise.

Lavinia gave a sigh of relief when all was over. There was no need now to think of Clothilde de Montpaon again. How hateful some moments in life could be! Everything seemed suspended in blackness while the dead woman was in the hôtel, but now she must endeavour to free herself from the last vestige of this gloom, to go through with fortitude what was necessary still to endure, to place her reliance on the future.

They were gone—all the formal mourners, the undertakers, the notaries, the doctor, the few friends and distant relations. Lavinia asked Matilde to open wide all the windows. The upholsterers were already taking down the carefully-arranged black cloths with silver fringes which had hung over the gateway into the balcony; Hélène and Marthe were sweeping up the waxy petals of the hothouse flowers which had fallen off the funeral wreaths. Louise, in a deep, half-drugged sleep, lay enclosed in her chamber.

The doctor had not taken a serious view of her case; this collapse, he said, was only to have been expected after the fatigue and excitement, the distresses of the last few days. He much recommended a change of air. The poor young lady should go, as she had herself suggested, to Dieppe or Biarritz, as soon as she was fit to be moved.

At two o'clock Lavinia went upstairs to her room and took off her mourning and put on the thin grey taffeta which she had worn so frequently at Boismarin, almost the dress of a servant, of a dependant. It was impossible for her to leave the house without the servants seeing her, so, as usual, she confronted the difficulty, called Matilde, and said that an English friend was passing through Paris on her way to Switzerland, and that she was meeting her at the Gare du Nord. It would be very alarming for this girl, she said, if she were to arrive in a full suit of mourning, so she had returned to her ordinary attire.

* * * * *

It was delicious to wander through the streets and endeavour to forget her identity. To other eyes the capital might have looked dirty and tawdry in these last days of summer, but to her, after the solitude of Boismarin, the city was gay, full of normal people going about cheerful duties or reckless pleasures, with no trouble on their minds, with no weight on their hearts, happy histories behind them and happy futures before them. She envied even the beggars whining and limping in the gutters, and she asked herself "Why?" It was because she was so weary of her memories, the peculiar flavour and atmosphere of her life from which she had tried to escape, which was not changed in the least, though she had come to a foreign country and was among strange people. It was now as it had been in Maybridge, as it had been before Maybridge, in the lodgings at Kennington...

As she walked under the drying leaves of the plane trees on the boulevards, the sunshine warm on her flesh through the light dress and fine shawl, she felt as if her mother's cold fingers had just slipped from hers in the last clasp, as if the lounger in the café doorway, with his cigar and newspaper, had the flushed, distended, red-veined face of her father.

"How foolish to think one can ever escape! Yet no one could deny that I have been very well behaved."

She asked herself what she intended to do now? Marriage with Louis de Saint Paulle!—not for a moment did she believe in that! He was not the man to make a mésalliance which would cause his world to exclaim, stare, and turn him the cold shoulder; he was not the man to burden himself with a penniless governess, with a paid companion, just in the midst of his financial difficulties. Unless!—unless—

Her mind wavered and stopped. She put her gloved hand to her mouth. She would not continue that train of speculation.

She found the street which was pencilled on the card he had given her and she walked up and down a little while, for it was early for her appointment. She thought of their two other secret meetings—in her chamber at Boismarin, when Matilde knocked at the door and said Madame de Montpaon was ill; in the room with the green rep-covered furniture and the brass buttons in the hotel at Aix, and she recalled the marble Venus holding the gilt dial of the brass clock.

Why did one remember so many trivial details? Why was the mind overloaded with so much that was poignant and useless?

"What have I to reproach myself with—what have I to fear?"

Yet she glanced in a sidelong fashion at each passer-by as if she thought that they would surprise in her some poignant secret, shout aloud the kind of woman she was, the kind of appointment to which she went...

The number on the card was that of a little door beside a haberdasher's shop. There was a chemist's shop, too, in the street, but there was nothing peculiar in that: there was a chemist's shop in most streets this length. But Lavinia Pierrepoint must linger by it and look at the dried poppy-heads, the vases of brownish leaves, the jars of coloured water.

The door of No. 8—a swing door—was open. Lavinia went up the dark narrow stairs. She tapped at the upper door and he opened to her. They were together in a small room, neatly furnished with bric-à-brac. Though it was such a short time since he had been at the funeral of Madame de Montpaon he had managed to change his mourning clothes. Both of them had been careful to efface all hint of death from their attire.

He had been writing, and he folded up the letter while she put down her gloves, her reticule, her shawl. Their demeanour was quiet, sedate. She felt as entirely in his hands as if she were drifting on a wave that was carrying her against her own volition out to sea.

The sunshine, deepening in colour with the fall of the year, was a murky gold in the ugly little room. It made a burnish on his bright, stiffly-brushed hair, on the brass buttons of his blue coat.

"An extraordinary thing happened," he said, "at the funeral. We happened to pass a troop of soldiers. M. de Saint Césaire was leading them—they were going to the dépot, I suppose. They had to stop for the funeral cortège to pass; he must have recognised the arms."

"But there is nothing very unusual in that, is there?" said Lavinia, wondering why he should speak of this when everything of the most supreme importance was to be settled between them.

"No, only it was extraordinary—he was quite overcome. In fact as he waited for the funeral to pass he fell from his horse; I saw his orderly run up and catch him Of course, I could not stop to make enquiries then, and afterwards I had to come straight here."

Lavinia sat rigid, silent, and then she began to stammer "I don't see—I don't understand!—"

She checked herself and said steadily:

"I suppose he, like Louise, felt the fatigue and excitement of yesterday."

"I saw him this morning," said M. de Saint Paulle; "I called on him at his rooms."

She looked at him, opened her lips as if about to speak, to protest, but was silent, and sat with her elbow on the table and her hand shading her eyes.

"He did not seem to me very well then. He had malaria in the East, he told me, he often had aguish fits and that his heart had been left weak. How is Louise?"

"The same," said Lavinia. "The doctor does not think that anything much is the matter with her. She seems in a state of exhaustion, half asleep all the time. But enough of them," she added with a rush of impatience that nearly throttled her:

"What are we going to do?"

Tormented by the sudden refusal of overwhelming love to be any longer quelled, she began to cry. From the brilliant eyes that had looked so coolly on so many misfortunes tears ran down her smooth cheeks. The young man said, most tenderly:

"You must be happy. I shall see to it that you are happy. Don't cry, it is always like this—a tangle. Only fools even pretend that anything is ever successful."

She pulled out her handkerchief and put it to her eyes. Though she had changed everything else she had forgotten to change that. The deep black border filled her with disgust. He offered her his handkerchief with delicacy and she put her hot eyes into the folds of the scented linen.

"It was so unexpected," she said, "not in the least what I intended to happen. I never knew myself, you see, what I could endure, what I really wanted."

"Will you come to Italy with me when I get the money?"

"When you get the money!" She peered at him over his handkerchief.

"Oh, yes! I am not entirely without resources. I shall have some money, quite a large amount, soon. You do not know anything about me, do you, Lavinia?"

"I don't want to know." She bit into the handkerchief, she felt a wave of hysteria rising within her. She felt as if she were going to scream, as if she could not hold back a scream. "I do not want to know you, or anything about you—we are strangers, after all."

"But you will come with me to Italy?"

"I suppose so," she muttered sullenly, "I suppose so. You know I can't escape."

"Why are you so frightened?" he asked curiously. "One thing I cannot understand is fear. I thought that you were the same."

"If I knew!" she sobbed; "if I were quite sure!"

"But we never know anything, we are never quite sure," he replied quickly.

He put his hand into the vest-pocket of his coat and drew out a piece of silver paper. He unwound this and showed a diamond drop, composed of the stones which Lavinia at once recognised was the pendant from the ugly rivière which had been lying on the table among the gaudy trinkets last night.

"Poor Louise sent this to you."

"Louise! You have seen her then! How is it possible?"

"Not this morning—last night. After you had gone to bed I returned. She seemed so forlorn alone there, and so excited. I came to speak to Matilde, to see that she was looked after properly, but she was still sitting up like a child—well, really, like an idiot—playing with all those toys. She showed me the rivière was broken, and asked me if I could get it mended for her. I said I would call for it some time after the funeral, and she gave me this diamond and told me to give it to you."

Lavinia put the stone in her reticule.

"She might have given it me herself," she muttered; then, in a heavy voice, every word in her sentence seeming to be forced, she added: "Louise, you know, wants me to go to Dieppe or Biarritz—I don't know, some seaside place with her. But I couldn't—I couldn't endure it, I had enough of the Château Boismarin. One thinks one has so much courage, but when it comes to it—"

She looked up, and now the tears were streaming unheeded down her unprotected face.

"When it comes to it you can't live without me. There is no need, we will go away together. It will be better for me to leave Paris and leave those two young fools together. I don't wants the old scandal revived in any way, I am best at a distance, you understand? I have a little house at Saint Cloud, will you come there at the end of the week, when everything is over and forgotten? This room is ugly—uglier than that at Aix! Does it matter to you?"

"No, no!"

"Kiss me, then!"

* * * * *

Mademoiselle de Montpaon became worse during that evening, and Sister Célestine, who came from the Convent of St. Luc and who had but lately left the hôtel, was recalled to pray at the foot of the girl's bed. At midnight the doctor, who had been watching the invalid for two hours, took his leave, saying he did not expect any change before the morning. He still foresaw no danger, though, of course, there was always a certain peril in anyone of so delicate a constitution—but he believed that it was nothing more than a collapse following excitement, distress, and fatigue. The priest came and went, the nun prayed in the sick chamber.

Lavinia sent all the servants to bed and said that she and this nun would watch during the night alone in the great bedchamber. The grey sister was motionless, kneeling by a small table on which was a watch lamp, and reading in a book of prayer. Her sunk profile was always held downcast over the book, her thin lips moved monotonously over the words of supplication, of penitence, of entreaty. Lavinia, restless beyond endurance, almost at the end of her courage, came and went in the chamber, upstairs, downstairs, in and out of her own room. The mansion seemed to her still full of the perfume of the flowers of the funeral wreaths, of the smoke from the wax candles, the incense which had been burnt round the coffin of the dead woman.

If Louise were to die also! How fortunate—how appallingly fortunate for the heir—

She dare not, must not think in that theme. Why had she brought that Bible from Boismarin? Half in derision, half in awe, she opened it—the sentence under her thumb read: "The flies in the ointment of the apothecary cause it to stink."

She shut the book; those poisonous flies in Provence, the ointment that she had put on Madame de Montpaon's fingers, the chemical experiments—

"What nonsense! I am losing my wits!"

She returned to the sick chamber; the girl lay unconscious, sunk in the deep pillows; the nun did not glance up from her book.

"What a superb lover he is—what matters but those hours with him!—I must not think of that either, only how this waiting is to be endured."

How disgusting was this mournful room, this odour of sickness—"when one is in love—like this—nothing should interfere."

She approached the nun.

"Have you everything that you wish for, my sister?"

The nun inclined her head without answering; her dim eyes turned reproachfully on Lavinia—"as if she saw the marks of his kisses on my face."

She returned to the bedside—"If I am too restless they will notice it."

She forced herself to stillness.

All through the hot summer night there was no change in the condition of Louise. With the dawn Matilde came into the chamber, endeavouring to put straight what was already in complete order. Again Lavinia asked the nun if she had need of anything, but the praying woman shook her head.

Towards six o'clock, Matilde, who had been arranging the bed, began to cry, she appeared about to have a nervous crisis and Lavinia pushed her violently into a chair and harshly bade her be silent. The woman pointed to the bed.

"She is dying! Mademoiselle Louise is dying! Send for a doctor, send for a priest!"

"You go," said Lavinia, "I will stay with her."

The nun prayed in louder tones; her voice sounded harsh and rasped like a sob.

"What nonsense," said Lavinia; "of course she is all right," but as she pulled aside the muslin curtains and looked down at Louise de Montpaon, she knew that she was dead.

* * * * *

Lavinia received a letter from Maybridge the day of the funeral of Louise de Montpaon. She had not given anyone her Paris address, but the letters had been forwarded from the Château Boismarin. They were under cover to Madame de Montpaon, like all her correspondence, but someone, Lavinia did not know who, had opened the packet and sent her up this familiar-looking letter from Dr. Pierrepoint.

She opened it in an attempt to detach herself from her intense preoccupation. The effect of one funeral following another so soon, the black draperies being put in place again, the costly wax candles being again lit, the hearse with the sable and silver trappings again at the door, had on her exactly the effect of a recurrent nightmare. It was like dreaming an ugly dream, waiting for a little while and when the night came again, dreaming it once more; and always, with difficulty held at bay, were the forbidden thoughts.

She had remained closed in her room, only leaving it for hastily-snatched meals, since the death of the young girl. There was now no longer any excuse for her to be in this mansion, but she had for the moment nowhere else to go. She was waiting for her interview with M. de Saint Paulle, at Saint Cloud, to-morrow—he had said to-morrow—and also to receive her legacies, which she knew were to be paid immediately on the several deaths of the two women.

A hundred thousand francs! That was something—a solid fact.

It seemed, that large sum of money, the only solid fact among the shadows shifting close one upon another in which she walked.

She had stood concealed at her window, and between the folds of the carefully-drawn curtains saw the funeral cortège pass down the sunny street. It was curious, of course, to realise that all that was mortal, as the saying went, of Louise de Montpaon, all that disgrace, frustration, temper, affection, was enclosed behind those black mohair silver-fringed curtains on the sumptuous hearse.

"All that was mortal," repeated Lavinia to herself. "How do we know that anything is immortal?"

This abnormal life enclosed amidst the confusion and disorder of the great household suddenly disarrayed, was fast becoming more than she could endure.

Why did Louis de Saint Paulle, if he really loved her, keep her so long in suspense?

Well she could guess the quality of that love, but surely some small modicum of affection must gild it! Could he not understand that she was suffering? As far as she knew he came and went in the house; he must, as the next heir, be taking direction of affairs...the next heir!

Her mind dwelt for a second, then flicked away from the subject of his enormous wealth. He was now free to marry her if he would. The two spies had been removed from their path; two people who might have reproached, expressed surprise, protests, disgust, and anger, were now no longer able to express anything...Better not think of that—the flies that made the ointment stink; Lavinia felt a void around her. She opened her letter.

Dr. Pierrepoint had the first news to give that he had ever sent in all the dutiful though rather frigid letters she had received from him since she had left England.

William Tassart's brother was dead; he had been caught in a sudden squall on a Scottish lake, and though he had contrived to swim ashore, he had contracted a chill which had led to a pleurisy that had brought about his death.

For a moment Lavinia, stupidly, did not think what this news meant to her or, at least, what it might or would have meant. She read over her grandfather's words several times with blank eyes.


Lieutenant Tassart, of course, has the title now and the estates, which I always understood were considerable. This disaster is nothing less than a piece of good fortune for you, my dear child. For your sake I am pleased.

Lieutenant Tassart will, naturally, be leaving the army, or, at least, I suppose so, and returning immediately to England. I hope that you will also come home as soon as possible, you have been away long enough.


But what did it matter? This good fortune had come too late, she no longer had any desire to take advantage of it, it seemed, indeed, paltry, unendurable in fact, compared to that other prospect at which she was so greedily grasping—Italy, with Louis de Saint Paulle!

He might not be prepared to marry her, but she was sufficiently sure of herself to be certain that if she were for long his mistress she would end by becoming his wife. Perhaps, even, she would be able to make him marry her immediately. How meagre, how provincial and even plebeian compared to this hope seemed the English baronetcy and the estates where Sir William would, no doubt, live the life of a gentleman farmer, expecting her, of course, to live in the country also, except, perhaps, for some months or so each year in London...

She could see herself consulting with the vicar's wife about school and choir treats, about the decoration of the church at harvest time and Christmas. She could see herself cutting the lilies for the altar at Easter, standing godmother for the babies born on the estate—She broke off her contemptuous thoughts.

"How desperate I must have been when I snatched at even the prospect of such a life!"

Of course, this news would hasten her own actions and decisions. Most likely, as her grandfather suggested, William Tassart would return immediately to England, he would send for her, he would urge an immediate marriage. She began to compose in her mind the decorous letter she would write him, in which she would inform him, so delicately and with such regret, that she had mistaken her heart and discovered her real lover in the young Frenchman whom she had met in the Château Boismarin, a man of rank, too, and of wealth.

Her mind, always clear and acute in a moment of crisis, passed rapidly over the impossibility of William Tassart ever finding out what she did not wish him to know. It was very unlikely that he would ever discover M. de Saint Paulle had ever been the promised husband of Louise de Montpaon, and if he did so—well, there was no disgrace in that! The details of the life in the Château Boismarin, the secret of the two women, and the means by which the will of Madame de Montpaon had left her nephew her sole heir had been obtained—how could he, the Englishman, ever discover if there was nobody to tell him—none!

Even if she had been watched and spied upon, as she half suspected she had, people were not likely to be ever able to tell their tales to William Tassart, to whom, when their engagement was broken, she would be nothing but a stranger. He would never hear of the visit to the dentist's in Aix, the journey to Aigues-Mortes to obtain the notes and sketches of one of the old fortresses, which Dr. Pierrepoint had never received.

"If it suited me," she thought, "I could, with a clear conscience, marry him. He will never hear of any of this. And as it is that I do not intend to marry him there is no one likely to inform him of anything that might damage my reputation."

She slightly smiled at herself for this; it was rather strange that though she felt herself on the verge of an abyss she was still so careful of that same reputation...M. de Saint Paulle might not, after all, marry her, then she would have to go with him to Italy as his mistress, and there would be no chance of any disguise.

She destroyed her grandfather's letter, tearing it into small pieces, which she then burnt on the marble hearth. She would pretend that she had not received it, or not till much later received it. That would be easy, as it had been sent in the first place to the Château Boismarin and might, in the confusion of the two deaths, easily not have been forwarded to her. She did not want to write either to Dr. Pierrepoint or to William Tassart until the way was a little clear before her...

When she came down to supper Matilde was, as usual, waiting. Many of the servants seemed to have left, Lavinia had almost the impression that she and Matilde were alone in the house. This was curious—that the others should have been paid off and sent away so soon! She did not know, nor greatly care, who had done it nor who even was in charge of the large establishment. Soon she would be free of all of it. After to-morrow—to-morrow, when she had seen Louis de Saint Paulle at Saint Cloud.

She drank the champagne which was now always set for her at her meals, and Matilde, setting a filigree dish of fruit on the wide shining table, informed her that M. de Saint Césaire was ill; he had had some kind of attack after he had fallen from his horse at the funeral of Madame. He had, probably, not yet learnt of the death of Louise.

Lavinia drank another glass of champagne as she looked steadily into the small brown eyes of the Frenchwoman, which were fixed on her with a keen expression.

"That is really tragic, is it not?" she said, carefully choosing her words. "And yet, I suppose it is very romantic too Think of it—they were re-united after so long, they were going to be so happy, and then they might both die in a few hours one of the other."

"Why, yes, Mademoiselle is right. It is very strange how things happen. But perhaps M. de Saint Césaire won't die."

Lavinia looked down at the soup before her; she knew that she could not swallow it, nothing but wine would go down her strained, dry throat—if she had not prided herself so on never losing her head she would have broken down; she was conscious that the smile was becoming fixed on her lips, but she could not alter it, she said what it was perhaps dangerous to say, and yet the words escaped her almost without her own volition:

"It will make a sensation it will be a scandal, will it not—so curious a coincidence—if M de Saint Césaire dies!"

Matilde shrugged her broad shoulders.

"Oh, I don't know that. You see, the matter was kept very, very secret, Mademoiselle. I don't suppose many people are aware why Mademoiselle Louise's marriage with her cousin was broken off. M. de Saint Césaire's name was kept out of it, it was all arranged quite cleverly, as these things are in Society. He was supposed to be transferred to Algiers because he had lost a lot of money, gambling. That was arranged. And then, you see, Paris is empty now, and the Montpaons had so few relations, and M. de Saint Césaire was a nobody, so I don't suppose, Mademoiselle, there will be much of a sensation."

"If the papers get hold of it!" stammered Lavinia; "there is such a fashion now for reporting everything."

"Why should the papers get hold of it?" said the chambermaid with a hard smile, "there is no one to make any connection between the death of Mademoiselle de Montpaon and the illness of M. de Saint Césaire! I daresay it was the agitation of the interview the other day," she added, "which caused his sickness. He has had malaria, you know, and was not at all strong. So many gentlemen come back from the East quite ruined in health. Mademoiselle is not going to drink her soup?"

"No, not to-night. I will have another glass of wine and a little fruit. It really is so hot. I had no idea that it was as hot as this in Paris."

"Yes. Of course, it is ridiculous to be in Paris this time of the year. It is most unfortunate that Madame de Montpaon did not decide to remain a little longer in Provence, it was absurd to think of coming to Paris in the middle of the heat. It was all those stupid preparations for the journey which upset her. Mademoiselle will take a peach, perhaps, or a few grapes?"

"What," asked Lavinia, "did the doctor say that Mademoiselle Louise died of? No, don't light the gas yet, Matilde, it is quite pleasant to have twilight coming in through the curtains. I did not know it was so late."

"Mademoiselle asked what Dr. Robert said Mademoiselle Louise died of? Well, I don't think there was any trouble about that."

"How should there be trouble?" interrupted Lavinia. Again Matilde shrugged.

"Well, one never knows with doctors and a sudden death. He might have wanted an autopsy, you know."

Lavinia began to peel her peach, she watched the rough, pink skin slide round the blunt silver knife.

"What a beautiful perfume these fruits have, Matilde! Well, I suppose poor Louise just died of exhaustion and collapse."

"That was it, Mademoiselle. The doctor thought her heart was a bit strained; the girl was excited at the loss of her mother. She was consumptive, too, you know, and she never really recovered the shock of the burn."

"Where are all the other servants?" said Lavinia.

She relaxed a little in her chair; the dusk was spreading in the great room, she felt it like a veil over her face.

"They have been dismissed, given their wages and sent off. The notary says there are no legacies for any of them."

"Dismissed! By whom?"

Matilde did not know, and she seemed indifferent.

M. le Duc, perhaps, or the notary, how could she tell, no one told her anything.

"And what are you going to do, Matilde?" asked Lavinia.

The chambermaid looked over her shoulder.

"I am staying—I remain with Mademoiselle; that is understood, is it not?"

"Is it?" asked Lavinia. "Did M. le Duc say so?"

"No, Mademoiselle, it is I who say so. I hope that Mademoiselle has noticed that I have a certain attachment to her interests, and I shall be a very good and faithful maid. Mademoiselle thinks perhaps of going abroad? To Switzerland, to Italy, to the seaside! Mademoiselle will have a very handsome legacy, there will no longer be any need for Mademoiselle to remain as companion to anyone."

And with a slur of odious innuendo in her voice, the woman added:

"Mademoiselle might not be so fortunate next time. Every lady does not make so generous and easy a mistress as poor Madame de Montpaon; God rest her soul!"

Lavinia squared her shoulders against the back of the chair a second before she answered.

"I don't know, Matilde, what my plans may be, I am quite uncertain. This has all been so sudden, so terrible, it takes one a little time to make up one's mind what to do."

"Why, certainly, Mademoiselle, yet one's mind must be made up just the same sooner or later."

Some deep instinct of pride and defiance made Lavinia Pierrepoint set up the woman she had been to protect the woman she had become.

"Why should I not return to England, Matilde? That would be the most reasonable thing to do, would it not? I had a letter from my grandfather only to-day, and he is sickly, he wants me to return. And the gentleman to whom I am engaged, in marriage, you understand, Matilde, in marriage—" she felt her voice getting out of control and lowered it suddenly—"he is returning from India where he is stationed. He has come into a title and a fortune, there is no obstacle against our being married at once."

"Mademoiselle is fiancée with an English gentleman?" smiled Matilde. "But, all the same, Mademoiselle might have changed her mind, eh? Mademoiselle might go to Italy!"

Lavinia rose.

"You can light the gas now, Matilde. As soon as I know what I am going to do I will tell you. And, of course, if you care to stay in my service, I shall be delighted, that is if I can afford so expensive a maid as you are."

"Mademoiselle, you will find that there are some things you will have to afford. Sometimes a good maid is not a luxury. And we can neither of us stay here in the rue de St. Nicholas much longer. I hope Mademoiselle will soon make up her mind."

Lavinia did not answer. She walked out of the room with a sweeping step, her outward bearing haughty, but this bravado only endured until she reached the great dark stairway. There she caught at the smooth baluster for support; the enclosed air still seemed heavy with the smoke from the wax candles, and the incense which had been burnt in front of the temporary altar, the sickly perfume of the hot-house flowers with the faint odour of death and corruption behind all these heavy scents.

Terror raised the image of the dead before her—she thought she saw Louise de Montpaon holding her hand to her scarred face, her bare arms loaded with gaudy gold trinkets, her wide skirts of black mourning trailing behind her, hastening away up the stairs; in her ears she thought she could detect the low, husky murmur of Madame de Montpaon's caressing voice—"Cherie!" "Darling!" "Dearest!" "Lavie, my child!" "My poor dear!"

"Of course," she said to herself, breathing hard, "so many deaths, one after another—three; it is true he was a stranger to me, that brother of William, but even that—all deaths, all affecting me!"

She ran up the stairs and down the long corridor which led to her door. Her lips shaped again and again the word "Death! Death!" When she reached her door she beat on it for a moment, forgetting to turn the handle, like something trapped and losing all sense in the horror of the moment of capture.

When her fingers at last grasped the door-knob she turned it and entered her room, and though she controlled her lips, in her soul she shrieked "Death!" It was the figure of her mother that symbolised death to her; that coffined shape that she had stared at by the light of the flickering gas-jet in the Kennington lodging effaced Madame de Montpaon's sumptuous obsequies and the piteous corpse of her daughter.

By what was she trapped?

Never had she been so free, and death did not matter, it was as commonplace, as trivial as life; one had, after all, so little time. She would go to Louis de Saint Paulle, she would follow him, on any terms. Her clear brain told her that she knew nothing of him, that she probably beheld him, through the eyes of sensuous passion, as an illusion, a creature that she had almost created herself.

That did not matter either, and it was useless to make a problem of the fact that when she was with him she was happy (and happiness was much more real, tremendous, and splendid than she had ever dreamed it could be), some deep, secret principle of her life was in harmony with him; it was as if their beings kept step together to a steady rhythm.

That was enough, one must not pry further; but one must be careful that little things did not impinge on this intense, secret, satisfying emotion. Little memories, the insipid perfume of foam-coloured flowers in English fields, a man's embarrassed courtesy while he placed a valueless ring on her finger, a schoolgirl's shining bedroom with texts on the wall, a chemist's shop with poppy-heads in the window.

* * * * *

Lavinia discarded her mourning.

Not only was it abhorrent to her to wear the heavy black stuff in the heat of the Parisian summer, but she felt it was bad taste and affectation, and she wished to offend no one; besides, it would, of course, be far too conspicuous for her to go on her little expedition to Saint Cloud in gleaming bombazine and a bonnet with crêpe veils. She therefore put on her dress of grey alpaca, her fine white cashmere shawl, took up her gloves and her reticule and the parasol with the long fringe, for she meant to go by steamboat, and it was sure to be very hot on the river. With much regret she brushed her hair into plain bands and hid it under a large plain straw bonnet. Now she had realised how differently she looked when it was piled on top of her head in the fashion which her lover had shown her, she much regretted this permanent disguise. It was one, however, she assured herself, which she would soon be able to fling aside; when they were in Italy, when they returned to Paris, not even the Empress would excel her in the splendour of her toilettes; it was the French word she used in her thoughts; she did not intend ever to return to England.

There was a tap at her door as she was looking in her reticule to see that she had everything—her money, her handkerchief, her bottle of salts, and the diamond pendant; her most precious possession which she kept always with her. She had taken some of her savings to spend on herself, she who had never touched more than a pound or two at a time in her life, and that always with the knowledge of how it must be spent, would soon have a hundred thousand francs on her own account, and even supposing that he proved generous and spent on her lavishly, she would have a large sum of money sufficient to adorn herself before she went to him.

She hesitated over the English sovereigns—should she change them?

That tap on the door, how hateful! Her nerves were beginning to wince at the rap of those knuckles. She knew it was Matilde tapping, and it took her back to that day in the Château Boismarin, when there had come the knock and the whisper: "Madame is ill! Madame wants you!" and she had been standing there silent beside her concealed lover.

It was Matilde, and she had a message. The notary, M. Gimont, wished to see her.

"At once!"

She suspected that she was going to be asked how long she she would remain in the hôtel, what her plans were...She was possibly going to be paid her legacy.

"Can he not wait until I return? I am going out. I have been in the house for days, my head feels as if it were bursting, I must have some fresh air."

Matilde replied that the matter was important, so Lavinia, always subservient when rebellion would cause trouble, went downstairs with her lightest step and haughtiest bearing, and entered the large, handsomely furnished, tasteless room on the ground-floor where, the chambermaid said, Maître Gimont was waiting.

She saw him at once, a rotund little man with a bilious complexion, whom she greatly disliked, standing on the wide marble hearth before the monstrous splendour of the massive chimney-piece.

There was someone else in the room, a tall gentleman in a travelling coat who was frowning and seemed both angry and agitated. Maître Gimont said immediately and brusquely, with the air of a man who announces the result of a long conference:

"Mademoiselle, this is M. di Borzano, who arrived this morning from Florence, and I have had the honour of telling him exactly how affairs stand."

"It is the other nephew," thought Lavinia, as her lips curved in a smile of formal welcome. "Perhaps he has a legacy."

She stood demure, remembering well her place; the English companion of impeccable respectability.

"I should add at once, Mademoiselle," continued the notary, "that M. di Borzano is the sole heir of Madame de Montpaon. There are a few legatees, of whom you are one. With those exceptions, everything that Madame de Montpaon died possessed of goes to M. di Borzano."

She was aware that they were both looking at her severely, but even this knowledge could scarcely give her sufficient control to endure the news without a sign of emotion and confusion. She admired her own courage when she heard herself say:

"Ah, well, Monsieur, that has nothing to do with me, though I understood that M. de Saint Paulle was the heir. I thought I heard as much from Madame in Boismarin."

"Madame de Montpaon," replied the notary dryly, considering her through his glasses, "did make a will in which she left everything to M. de Saint Paulle, but a few days before her death she went into Aix, visited a notary, M. Laval, there, and altered her will, giving him full instructions to communicate with me. This will was duly witnessed by the notary's two clerks. When she was, unfortunate lady, practically on her deathbed, she sent a letter, posted at Aix, to me, advising me of the change she had made in the disposition of her property."

Lavinia remembered the letter the sick woman had given to her daughter, the address of which she had not been able to read.

"Everything," she repeated in a strained voice, looking at the stranger, "everything to you, Monsieur?"

"M. di Borzano sent for you, Mademoiselle, to inform you that your presence is now unnecessary in this establishment. Death has annulled your contract, there is nothing whatever for you to do, the servants are going to be dismissed, the house shut up. M. di Borzano resides in Italy, but he may come to Paris in the autumn, in which case he will entirely refurnish and redecorate this house. I regret, Mademoiselle, for the moment there is no accommodation for you here."

"These explanations," said Lavinia, "mean nothing to me, nor are they necessary. I thought that everything was in the hands of M. de Saint Paulle, and I was waiting—" she faltered slightly, but not so slightly but that she was aware they noticed it, "I was awaiting his or your instructions."

She rallied and turned her large, cold, blue-green eyes on the notary.

"My legacy, you see—I think there is a hundred thousand francs for me."

"Precisely, Mademoiselle; you shall be paid at once-this evening—my clerk will come and await the receipt. I have communicated," he added, "with M. de Saint Paulle. I have informed him that his cousin is here, that he, therefore, need not concern himself any longer with the affairs of the late Madame de Montpaon."

"There is nothing for him?" asked Lavinia, aware of the indiscretion of the demand, but unable to resist making it; she felt as if she were facing two enemies.

"Nothing, Mademoiselle."

M. di Borzano turned, and standing in the window place stared out into the street with his back to Lavinia.

"Very well, Monsieur," said the Englishwoman quietly. "Of course, I quite understand the situation. This has been a great shock to me, or I should have left before. I must confess, too, that I was unprovided with means."

Maître Gimont waved aside these excuses.

"Precisely, Mademoiselle. Your legacy, your arrears of salary, whatever they may be, shall be paid to you to-night. To-morrow you can at your leisure remove to a hôtel where you will be far more comfortable than in this desolate mansion."

"I have left some things, some of my property, at the Château Boismarin—"

"Obviously, Mademoiselle, it is not worth while for you to go all that long way to fetch them. The château, I believe, has been sealed for an inventory to be made of the property. All personal objects found in your room will in due course be forwarded to any address that you may give."

His manner was final, and still more final was the back of the gentleman staring out of the window. Lavinia was dismissed in every circumstance of humiliation, without a word of thanks, gratitude, or respect. Never in her life had she felt so degraded. She was amazed also, for she thought she had been so discreet. What had they against her? Her outward pride was unabated; she swept to the door with the air of a queen leaving an audience. The notary opened it for her, and as he did so detained her by saying:

"By the way, Mademoiselle, you are mentioned in the will as 'My dear companion, the English young lady, Mademoiselle Lavie'—that is your name, is it not?" And he spelt it out: "L-a-v-i-e."

"That is my name."

* * * * *

She sat in the stuffy, ugly little cabin of the steamboat going to Saint Cloud and stared out of the small window at the sparkles of sun on the water.

A hundred and fifty thousand francs to offer to a man who expected six million!

"What will he do? Will he want me just the same? Of course, it really won't make any difference to me—only to be with him, to be away from all this. Surely he has some money to to enable us to get away to Italy together? What does anything else matter? I expect even now he has as much as William. I could never go back to that life, never, never! Oh, my God, my God, my God, who would have accused her of such duplicity! If only I could have got that letter into my hands! She suspected us both then—perhaps all the time she was afraid. What did she suspect—of what was she afraid? She acted behind our backs; it is as if she had reached a hand out of her grave to rob us both. How I hated her from the first! What is the use of all one's intelligence if one is defeated by fools like this? How will he take the news? How shall I venture to tell him? Can I make him forget this misfortune? It will be a test, I shall find out quite what I mean to him!"

These broken thoughts flowed through her mind, overtones above other thoughts which she suppressed with terrified strength. There were some things she would not think about, would not consider.

It was too hot to go on deck, the sun blazed out of a clear sky. The tall poplars that rose from either bank seemed parched, their leaves were dry and rustling. When she stood on deck for a moment before the disembarkment at Saint Cloud, she felt the heat smite the side of her face like fire, and she thought of the burn and the scar on Louise's cheek.

She went ashore feeling that she traversed a strange world; all was more than unfamiliar, it was grotesque. A park of golden trees was before her, a cluster of houses, a steep street, a cheap café with a striped awning outside and metal tables where people were drinking syrups and beer. He would not, of course, receive the notary's message, which would be sent to his apartments in Paris, so she would be the first to bring him this news. Was that good or bad? Why had they dared to behave to her like that? Of what could she possibly be suspected? Her head was tired of all these problems.

She walked along the cobbled streets and looked blankly into the poor shops, and could not have told what any of them sold.

"Suppose I don't tell him Suppose I let him make all arrangements just as if this hadn't happened, would not that be better? Why should I be associated in his mind as a messenger of ill-fortune? Of course, he will find out afterwards, but will that matter? Why should I spoil this meeting, the first we have had when we have been completely free? After all, what does the money matter?"

She slyly opened her bag and peeped into the bottom of it as if looking for her handkerchief—the diamond was there. It was consoling, somehow, to think of that splendid, beautiful, and costly jewel close and hidden in her possession.

She followed his directions and found the place he had told her of; it was a small, pleasant house looking on the park, secluded in a by-street. The door was opened to her by Jacques, the under-gardener at the Château Boismarin.

This gave her an unpleasant shock, and she moistened her lips and looked down as she asked for M. de Saint Paulle. Yet, after all, it was quite natural that he should have taken this man into his service. Was he not from the estate in Dauphiné? Perhaps he had intended, had he come into the property, to have kept on all his aunt's servants...

"I must keep my head clear! Shall I tell him, shall I not? If only I knew what they suspected me of—"

She followed the man, who was decently dressed and very civil, into a small room that looked on to the garden; beyond which was the park of the royal Château of Saint Cloud.

Lavinia sank down into a faded chair by the window. She could see no sky at all, only trees beyond trees, yellow, dry, and rustling. The heat was really frightful, she felt almost too languid to move. She put her hand to her face, even in those few moments disembarking from the boat, she was sunburned, licked by the fire.

He came in quickly, with his impetuous, ardent movements; she was at once in his arms, and almost in sheer relief and weakness had blurted out all she did not want to say. He felt that she was as cold and inert in his embrace as if she were senseless, and he put her away from him and looked at her in quick alarm.

"Why, what is the matter—so upset, so ill! What is it, what has happened?"

She shook her head. From the moment she had seen him she had resolved that she would not be the bearer of bad news.

"It hasn't been very agreeable, shut up in that great house, the two funerals within so short a time, surely you understand, Louis! I am moving to-morrow to a hotel, the Hôtel de Douvres, where I stayed when I first came to Paris, I suppose; I don't know another. My mind is confused, too. Let me go, don't hold me, don't kiss me again. I've got to think, we must get this clear."

"It is quite clear, I see no confusions," he replied firmly. "It must be of yourself that you are not sure."

She took again her seat by the window and looked with dry eyes at the dry trees without.

"M. de Saint Césaire is ill," she remarked.

"I know, poor fellow! Suppose they were 'united in the grave,' as the poets say! Quite a charming love-story after all. But what makes you mention that? He was a stranger to you. You can only have seen him once."

"But you hated him."

"I! Well, if I did, all hates are satisfied now, I suppose."

"Yes! Everyone whom you hated is unfortunate, Louis—your aunt and your cousin and that young officer so suddenly ill—"

She forced herself to look at him, but she saw no discomposure whatever in his handsome face. With an incredible easiness he said:

"Why do you go to a hotel? Why not stay here, you will be perfectly safe? For whose sake must you keep up appearances now? You see, I have taken Jacques into my employ—he is a good fellow, I thought he would come with us to Italy."

"Matilde also wants to come," said Lavinia. "She spoke to me about it yesterday. She seemed to expect it, to think it was her right. She is this man's—mistress."

"Well, as she is a good servant you cannot do better, I am sure. I have found them both useful."

Lavinia drew off her gloves; if only she dare be frank with him, ask his advice...but she was afraid...

"You know, Louis, I had a letter from my grandfather. Do you remember the young Englishman—his ring, that I threw into the vineyards—well, his brother is dead, and he has the title and the estate."

"Does that make any difference to you?"

"I suppose not! I have gone too far now, have I not? I couldn't return to England; it would be impossible."

"You are, instead, coming with me to Italy. We will go next week; will that suit you, will that give you time to get all you want?"

Lavinia neither moved nor replied. She stared through the window at the bright, faded leaves of the enormous trees in the Park of the Château of Saint Cloud which seemed to shut her in like a wall.

"I haven't been sleeping well," she said, "I think of so many things."

"Of what things?"

"Well, of those two rooms in the turret. You know the flowers you had, lianes, those queer, fixed, creeping plants, and that yellow toad, the spider, and black scorpion, and those books. You took some of them away, didn't you, Louis, and cleared it all up before you left?"

"Well, naturally, they were not very pleasant objects to leave about. I became sick of the study, too, it was rather disgusting."

"And that dead dog, Louis—do you remember that, the night we went out into the moonlight?"

"Of course I remember it, perfectly. The creature died of a stroke of apoplexy in the heat."

"And I remember how many things you said, too, Louis—they seem to have a different meaning now, yet I daresay I understood them from the first."

"What are you saying, Lavinia, what are you trying to convey?"

"I don't know. They died so suddenly, did they not, both of them? But the doctors were quite satisfied! You remember the rose-prick and brooch—I suppose it would have been easy."

Again she forced herself to look at him; he was gazing at her calmly, with compassion, she thought.

"What do you mean? What is in your mind?—some very foolish fancy, I think! Cannot you forget it now I am here, now we are together? Why do you want to return at all to Paris, why not remain here with me? This house is equipped with everything."

'I suppose,' she thought, 'you have had many other women here. Probably those who were more costly and fastidious than I. Why won't you confide in me?'

"Why not stay, Lavinia, it is so secluded and quiet! No one will know—we shall be to ourselves," he urged kindly.

"It would look rather strange if I left the hotel in the rue de St. Nicolas like that. I must go and fetch my things. There is the legacy, too—they promised to pay me to-night."

"What does the legacy matter, Lavinia, when I have everything? You shall have all the money you want."

He approached her with great tenderness.

"You are not well, Lavinia, this has been too much for you—the strain, the shock. Stay with me."

She allowed him to take her hand and put his arm round her; she looked up into his face, at the bright brown hair that seemed to have a lustre like silver, the eyes that had a silvery look also, the high cheek-bones, the clear line of the chin, the thin nostrils. Her will weakened under his; if only this were all...

"Why are you so unhappy? Why are you still baffled, confused, reserved with me? Is it not all at last quite clear and easy? Why do you any longer want to think of anything? Those who would have mocked us, reproached us, made things difficult, are dead."

"Dead!" she repeated. "Do not use that word."

Then, thinking of nothing but escape, yet wondering why she wished to escape, she said:

"I will stay. Can Jacques make me some coffee? I could eat something, too. I will go out into the town and buy a few things—a brush, a comb—I don't know."

"You will find everything here."

"I want to go out," said Lavinia, controlling the senseless panic in her voice. "I want to buy some things for myself. I will bring some cakes if you like—I noticed a good pastry-cook's as I came up."

"What is the matter with you? I did not know that you had moods—"

"I don't like this place."

"We can return to Paris to-morrow if you like. I have an apartment in the rue de Popinot—would you like to go there to-night? I could follow you—No. 18bis, Rue de Popinot—"

"You don't seem to think much of my reputation—you are, after all, treating me—as of no value at all—"

"I don't see that your reputation will endure a visit to Italy with me," he smiled; he seemed sad, sorry for her distress. "I didn't know that you wanted to make bargains."

"I don't! I don't quite know what I am saying. You see, I was brought up so differently, you don't understand. Do you think that they could have died of anthrax?"

M. de Saint Paulle was startled by this shrill change of subject.

"What do you mean?"

"It was so sudden! If the dog had been poisoned—a fly can carry the infection, a prick—it might so easily have happened—"

"No doubt. But the dog died a natural death. What nonsense to think of such things! I suppose we may leave such matters to the doctors."

"Yes, yes, of course. There was something in the paper this morning about that young officer. It said how strange it was that he should have fainted as he met the funeral procession of Madame—there was a hint about the old scandal, the broken engagement, her accident—"

"We cannot help that. His name was linked with hers for all our care. We cannot help that."

"Louis—you saw him that morning, you told me that—did you?"

"Yes, I saw him at the dépôt on the Quai Malesherbes; what has that to do with us?"

"I suppose you quarrelled?"

"My God, no! I informed him that if he married my cousin I should dispute his right to dispose of her fortune. He was quite agreeable, willing to make terms. But now—"

He looked at her with authority, there was a glint of temper in his dark blue eyes.

"This is all tiresome, Lavinia; what makes your mind run on such matters?"

"It is my childhood, I suppose," she muttered. "I've always been haunted."

"You seem frightened, and I thought that you had so much courage," he approached her, and turned her by the shoulder, not gently, so that she was forced to face him. "What is the matter, eh?"

"I don't dare to say it—"

"Don't dare to think it—if you should prove stupid, just like any other woman!"

"No, no!" His proximity made her fear nothing but losing him. "It's only fancies—I shall be very well, now I'm away; it was so detestable in the rue de St. Nicolas—"

He touched her hair; she seized his fingers and pressed them to her hot mouth, to her throbbing eyes.

"You'll stay here, Lavinia? I can easily send for Matilde and your things."

"Yes, yes, I'll stay—I'll go out now, just to buy a few trifles—can I have the coffee when I come back? Not five minutes!"

She was out of the parlour, in the little passage, and in the garden, a large magnolia tree against the wall to the left with curled brown leaves like polished leather, over her head; then she was out of the house, of the garden, in the secluded by-street, and back again in the small town. She called herself a fool for this moment of panic, she already longed to return; that man had all of her, she did not believe that without him she could exist.

How stupid she was becoming! How full of uncertainties and hesitancies! She must control her nerves, her senses, her imagination—she must become, under this man's tuition, a different woman, or rather, allow the hidden woman within her to develop completely. There must be no more of this shy, demure, hypocritical foolishness, no more of Miss Merton's prize pupil and Dr. Pierrepoint's docile granddaughter, no more of the prudish betrothed of the priggish William Tassart.

"I shall anger him if I go on like this. I must be careful. It was my secret, of course—knowing he hadn't a penny of that fortune, that upset me. I must see that we are close allies, close friends, close lovers, beyond every possibility of our falling apart before he knows."

She entered the little pastrycook's shop and bought some babas au rhum that she had seen in the window.

The man behind the counter was reading a newspaper; he put it down beside a pile of floury loaves while he fetched the cakes for Lavinia. Her glance caught a headline:


"YOUNG POISONER ARRESTED AT BRUSSELS"


Her glance travelled hastily down the crowded lines of bad print and caught a leading word here or there in a résumé of the case:


"Not satisfied as to causes of death...autopsy...heart in good condition...sudden seizure...poison...evidence of servants...money the motive...arrested with accomplice, a pretty young girl—"


"Here are the babas au rhum, Mademoiselle."

Lavinia put down the money, took up the change and walked out of the shop with the bag in her hand. She could see below her the river flowing wide and shining under the handsome bridge, and the little steamer still at the quay waiting for the return to Paris.

Her limbs felt quite cold and rigid, yet she was conscious of the sun horribly hot, like a lick of flame, on her face. She walked down to the steamer and asked a man lounging there what time it went back to Paris. The service was every hour, the return would be immediately—people were already on board sitting under the slight awning or with sunshades and umbrellas up, or climbing down into the cabin.

Lavinia bought a ticket and stepped on board, she was hardly conscious of what she did. She seemed to see herself, a young woman in a grey dress and a white cashmere shawl, holding a bag of cakes and a reticule, standing there in the wide prospect, in the airless day, the sun over the large park, the withered trees and the colourless, gleaming river.

These things are discovered, then! They exhumed people and found out—servants gave evidence. What had those two men suspected when they had so contemptuously turned her out of the Hôtel de Motpaon? His accomplice! He was in full flight, and his accomplice, a pretty young girl, was with him...she repeated the word "accomplice" to herself, until it no longer had any meaning.

If only she could have a glass of water!

She went down into the cabin and sat down by one of the round portholes. She heard a stranger's voice say:

"Mademoiselle feels sick? It is the heat, and perhaps the motion of the boat!"

She did not know if she answered. She looked down and saw the babas au rhum melting through the paper bag, the sticky stain coming on to her fine grey dress. There was a shriek from the siren and the small steamer turned out into mid-stream towards Paris. A freckled child was stumbling about the cabin, lurching here and there with the throbbing movements of the boat.

"Would you like these cakes?" asked Lavinia.

The boy took them with a shy, questioning look. Lavinia closed her eyes, but opened them at once, for as soon as she had shut them she had been standing, she thought, in a chemist's shop, in a small laboratory, looking round at the jars and vases. Or was it waiting outside?—a small child peering at the poppy-heads while her mother made a certain purchase within...

* * * * *

Lavinia was packing in the Hôtel de Montpaon. All she wanted would go in one small valise. The heavy bombazine mourning, the skirts stiffened by horsehair, she did not touch; they hung, black and dismal, in the dark cupboards.

Matilde interrupted her with that atrocious knocking on the door. This intolerable spying!

"The servant's evidence—"

The chambermaid seemed more agitated, less reserved than Lavinia had ever known her to be before.

"What has happened? Why is M. di Borzano here?" she said, as if she spoke to an equal. "Why are you packing? Where is M. le Duc?"

'She has not been told of the disposal of the money.'

So Lavinia thought; aloud she said, with what courage and coolness she could muster in this moment of despair and exasperation:

"I know nothing at all about any of it, Matilde. I am packing because I cannot very well remain here any longer. I suppose," she lied, "M. di Borzano has a small legacy. Who could tell; what is it to us?"

Lavinia swiftly studied the servant's face.

'She does not know yet,' she thought, 'to whom the fortune has been left. She is only disturbed because she finds me packing.'

"You understand, Matilde, don't you, why I cannot remain?"

"M. di Borzano told Mademoiselle to leave?"

"Well, it almost amounted to that. But you and I need not lose touch, Matilde. I shall be at the Hôtel de Douvres, where you first met me. You see, I know no other in Paris," she added, with an assumption of ignorance and helplessness.

"Mademoiselle has received her legacy?"

"Yes, I have it all. I found the clerk waiting when I returned—"

The woman still hesitated, and Lavinia, again making an effort to creep into her old self, to put on the mask of Miss Lavinia Pierrepoint, of Maybridge, said:

"I must write to my grandfather, I have had important news."

"But Mademoiselle is not going to England, but to Italy!" And with indescribable impertinence under her suave manner, the servant added: "Mademoiselle is perhaps going to marry M. le Duc?"

"I must not challenge her," thought Lavinia. "I must not find out all that she knows."

"I cannot talk of anything like that now, Matilde, it is too soon after the death of Madame...These shocking tragedies—"

"These shocking tragedies, Mademoiselle, have nothing to do with you or me."

"I know, Matilde. Wherever I go, and I suppose it will be Italy, you must come with me. You will find me in the morning at the Hôtel de Douvres—you remember it?"

"Of course, I know it quite well."

The servant came forward and deftly strapped Lavinia's valise.

"Mademoiselle has received her legacy," she remarked diffidently, "but for me there has been nothing."

Lavinia pulled open her reticule.

"You have been very devoted to me, Matilde. You have made my position, sometimes a difficult one, pleasant. I want you to take this. Of course, you shall go with me," she repeated, "wherever I happen to be. Take this—you may require some little things for yourself," and taking out a thousand-franc note, her fingers, which were not quite steady, dragged out a black-bordered handkerchief and the diamond pendant; Matilde's sharp glance snapped at this greedily.

"Ah! Mademoiselle has a valuable jewel there, Mademoiselle had better be careful of thieves if she is travelling alone!"

"Oh, the diamonds!" said Lavinia steadily. "Yes, it is a present from poor Mademoiselle Louise, part of her rivière, you know."

Her courage, which had been much worn by the events of the day, faltered under the twinkling gaze of the servant's small eyes. She had not before believed that it was possible to be as afraid as she had been during the last few hours.

She wondered what had become of the ardent woman in the back room of La Reine Jeanne—a creature who had thought of nothing but passion. She could not even regret what she might have been enjoying now, the extraordinary pleasure of his company, the delight of his caress; she could think of nothing but safety.

"If M. le Duc calls and asks for Mademoiselle, what am Ito tell him?"

"I shall be at the Hôtel de Douvres."

"How Mademoiselle is shivering! And it is so hot!"

"Is it? I thought it was hot on the steamer—"

"The steamer! Mademoiselle has been on the river?"

"Yes—to find some air, but there wasn't any."

Why couldn't the woman go? What did she suspect or know? What did anyone suspect or know? It was stupid to bribe people, but sometimes necessary.

Lavinia took the diamond pendant from her reticule and snapped the delicate loop of gold that held the larger to the smaller stone.

"Take this, too, Matilde." She handed it to her, and felt as she did so that this action gave her a momentary power over the other woman. The servant, greedily stammering over the jewel, seemed no longer formidable, but merely base.

Lavinia picked up her valise and hastened out of the room. A lackey who was a stranger to her and who had probably come with M. di Borzano from Italy, was in the hall, and she begged him to call her a fiacre and to see that her luggage was fetched from her room—she had only the one small trunk. The man seemed hostile, disinclined to take her orders, courteously as they were given. She put a gold napoléon into his palm; he seemed astonished, a little contemptuous, but he went upstairs and fetched the trunk.

There was some delay in finding a fiacre, and Lavinia experienced the most terrifying impatience. She was profoundly humiliated by her desire to escape. At last the shabby carriage drew up at the formal gateway of the courtyard of the Hôtel de Montpaon. Lavinia entered, gave the name of the Hôtel de Douvres, and was driven away into the brilliant twilight.


THREE. THE PHOTOGRAPH IS FOUND

"She watched him go, then turned and stared into the fire which the young man had neglected in the agony of his vigil so that it was now a heap of spent coal and ashes, and faced her future, which seemed at once inscrutable, inescapable, and darkly clear."


A BUZZ of voices, well bred, kindly, came to her ears; she could not distinguish a sentence of the decorous murmur, but she knew so well what they were saying that she bitterly amused herself by putting it into words.

"She certainly is very charming, William I want to be quite frank about my feelings. You are the head of the family now, and, of course, must do as you please. You have both of you kept the same mind for over two years, and certainly I don't want to make any more opposition to the marriage. I hope you don't think me unkind that I never did so, but it did seem, certainly, a very unsuitable match."

"I am glad that you approve of Lavinia."

"You should have let me see her before, William, then I should have been converted immediately. I did not expect anything like that. She is obviously well bred, well educated. When are you getting married?"

"As soon as possible. We do not wish anything very formal or fashionable because of my mourning, but at the same time, situated as she is—You will understand," he broke off, "she does not care to return to her grandfather's house in Maybridge. He is getting old and very invalid now, and more and more absorbed in his studies. Besides, the place is so very much out of the way."

"Pray say no more about it, William. Lavinia is more than welcome in my house. I am overjoyed at having her company."

And then the masculine voice, drawling on in easy tones, with a touch of pity, saying, no doubt:

"Lavinia has been through rather a distressing experience. It was exceedingly dull in that château in Provence—one may imagine, shut up with two invalids! And then the sudden death of both these ladies, and that hurried journey to Paris, her assistance at the two funerals, and having to return home unexpectedly and stay at a strange hotel."

How they loved to discuss her! In kindly fashion, no doubt, but with unction, as if they praised their own sympathetic understanding of her case!

Lady Coign was unutterably tedious, and two years in India had not improved William Tassart from Lavinia's point of view. How they talked in that hideous little room which the silly old woman named her boudoir! Had they not anything to do, either of them?

Then the murmuring voices died down; William had, of course, tiptoed away and Lady Coign had settled herself to sleep in her deep, cosy chair by the large coal fire. Lavinia lay in the little inner room that had been given to her, crouched on a sofa under shawls and pretended to have the migraine, as an excuse to get away from that kind chatter, that intrusive friendliness of the brainless old woman, from the dutiful courtesy, the dictatorial interest of William Tassart, who looked at her, she thought, as if he was continually saying: "Here am I, a man of title and substance, keeping the promise I made two years ago to this penniless girl."

Lavinia Pierrepoint stared out at the English winter, which fell like a grey shutter beyond the tall window. She tried to think clearly about her present position and the future. It was difficult, she had always found, to think clearly without emotion or panic, to apply the methods of logic to her own character and her own plight, but it would be better if it were done—she must know where she was! Implacable dullness encased her—she was forced every hour of the day, except those short periods when she could be alone, to play a part. But, to set against this, she was safe. She was like someone who, on a rock high above the possibility of danger, had willingly plunged into a black and tumultuous sea; then, as it was about to swallow her for ever, by some supreme effort had returned to the rock again, scrambled up once more, to safety, panting, shaken, her ears full of the noise of the waves, her eyes darkened by the blackness of the water, but—secure.

Everything that she had been trained to value was about her again, everything that she had been forced to respect combined to shield her. She was Miss Lavinia Pierrepoint, daughter of a brave soldier who had been killed in India, the granddaughter of a famous scholar, betrothed to Sir William Tassart, a baronet of an old family, and a comfortable income; and she was living under the protection of his aunt, a woman who combined all the respectabilities into one impregnable whole. There was no mystery, no doubt, no disgrace in the past of Lavinia Pierrepoint, who had been for over two years the companion of a French lady of impeccable character and position; had she not fulfilled her onerous duties so satisfactorily that she had been remembered in her employer's will for a substantial amount? She had only left her post on the sudden death of her mistress. If she had not, immediately on her return to England, gone to Maybridge, there was nothing strange in that.

It was quite reasonable that she should wish to remain in London to await the arrival of her lover from India. It was more than reasonable that on Lady Coign's invitation she should move to her house.

* * * * *

She had been so careful. Every place she had stayed in had been of an unblemished respectability; every move she had taken had been above-board. She had been so frightened that every movement, all her looks and gestures had been carefully planned, she had given no offence, no cause of suspicion to anyone. In a few weeks' time she would be the wife of William Tassart, Lavinia Pierrepoint would be forgotten. She would see to it that, if possible, she never went to France again, and she certainly would see to it that she never went to Provence.

In the light of her experience of the last few months her future husband seemed impossibly stupid, wooden, and conventional. She could see beneath the handsome exterior and discover there a personality in everything alien to her own. She believed herself immensely his superior because she was able to deceive him in everything. That, she knew, would be her one salvation in the future—her capacity to hoodwink him on every point connected with herself.

He would have to believe her the woman he had first thought her when he had met her in Maybridge, the woman that she was not and never would be. It was almost an intolerable life which stretched before her, but it was safe.

Now that she had secured safety, perhaps, as time went on, she would be able to secure other things. While outwardly the dutiful wife, the tender mother, she might contrive to lead some secret existence in which she could be herself. If not, if he was, despite his denseness, too vigilant, if he kept her short of money, of liberty, if he developed, as she well believed he might develop, into a tyrant, then at least she would have some consolation, the pleasures that she cared for very much—ease and comfort. She could live softly, she would see that she was well waited on, that she had handsome clothes and good food, that she came to London for several months each year and went to the theatre or the opera, concerts and balls. She would buy books and perhaps pictures, statuary; she would drive in a carriage and pair with a coat of arms on the panel and men in livery on the box.

She would have a circle of friends, all of whom would admire her, she would be known in time as the beautiful, the brilliant Lady Tassart.

She was, after all, very young, not yet twenty-one. Perhaps in time, without giving too much scandal, without losing her position or her reputation, she might contrive to shake free of Sir William. She might possibly, though she feared this would be difficult, manoeuvre some infidelity on his part towards her, and then, posing as the wronged wife, regain her liberty and marry a man more worthy of her, someone with a more splendid title, someone perhaps in politics, in the Government. She liked power.

In ten, fifteen years' time she would he still beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than she was now, certainly more clever, more accomplished, more sophisticated and much more experienced, and it might be quite possible for her to do this. But if it were not, if she and William Tassart were really bound together till one of them died, well then, even so, she believed that she might, despite the handicap of this stupid husband, achieve a certain position, open a salon, welcome the wits and beauties of the day about her, be envied, praised, flattered...

She rose from her sofa and looked at herself in the long cheval glass in the corner of the room. She recalled how she had dressed her hair in the bedroom at Aix, the curls piled on top of her head, bare neck and shoulders, bare bosom...

"My God! what a fool William is! He really thinks I ought to be quite flattered at being his chosen wife. He knows nothing about me; though I now can understand him very well, he is not able to understand me in the least. He thinks that I ought really to be grateful because he is going to marry me just the same now he has got the title and the money, and he thinks that I shall go humbly to his lonely country house and be his housekeeper and bear his children, and listen to his dull, pompous talk, put up with his criticisms, say 'Yes' to all his theories and arguments, and pretend to know nothing about all the subjects about which he is ignorant, flatter him to his face and praise him behind his back! All that for years and years! Well, I have different plans!"

So far logic and reason, so far her clear thoughts, her definite conclusion, her firm resolve predicted for the future. But a profound emotion disturbed her heart and blurred all these careful considerations, all these prudent forecasts. Her secret soul was lacerated by a passion which she struggled with day by day, which she hoped from hour to hour would lessen, but which throbbed day and night like a festering wound in the flesh. Not all her strength of mind, not all her panic fear, not all her deep relief at her safety could ease her from that longing for the man whom she had left in the little house at Saint Cloud, whom she had neither seen nor heard of since, whom she was most unlikely ever to see or even to hear of again. She had, deliberately, and following her own self-interest, cut herself off from him. She had forsaken him, abandoned him because she had found that her association with him had almost brought her to inconceivable horror and disaster.

And yet her need of him so preyed upon her that all about her seemed but the dust and driftings of trivial circumstance.

* * * * *

Lavinia heard her lover's step on the stair. The gas had just been lit and the red plush curtains drawn in the stately, rather formal drawing-room of Lady Coign's mansion.

Lavinia, who had, as she usually did when alone, sunk into a desperate and terrible reverie, roused herself and forced on to her face the smooth smile with which she knew Sir William expected to be greeted. But, for the first time since she had known him, she saw immediately that he was in no mood to appreciate her smiles or even to notice if she wore them or not.

He was obviously in some considerable trouble which he had not been at the trouble to conceal. She waited alert, fearful of making a false step.

"Lady Coign is out, William. Shall we have tea together?"

"I don't want anything. There is something here I think you ought to see."

Now she could see he had a newspaper in his hand; he unfolded it as he spoke, and without more ado handed it to her, pointing out a paragraph at the top of the page. She guessed something of what was before her, though she could not tell what form it would take. To gain time she said:

"Something in the paper! What can that have to do with you or I?"

"Read it!"

He turned away and leant against the tall marble chimney-piece which was pleasantly flushed by the large fire burning in the wide grate. Lavinia's lips were compressed, she drew a deep breath through her wide nostrils. Slowly she read the paragraph which was under the heading "News from Paris."


"The newspapers here reveal something of an affair which, if fully investigated, promises to be of a highly sensational nature.

"Prince Dino di Borzano recently inherited a considerable French property from his aunt, Madame de Montpaon. When he arrived from Italy to take possession of the Parisian hotel of the deceased lady, seals had been placed by the notary on all the rooms, but a certain confusion reigned in the establishment by reason of the recent death not only of Madame de Montpaon, but of her only daughter, who had died suddenly soon after her mother's funeral.

"Prince Borzano, however, believed everything to be in order, but when an inventory came to be taken of the possession of his aunt, he discovered that a handsome rivière of diamonds valued at sixty-five thousand francs was missing.

"Suspicion fell, we know not on what grounds, on some of the servants, all of whom the Prince had, rather rashly, dismissed as soon as he arrived in Paris. One of these, the confidential lady's maid, a certain Matilde Lejean, was traced and arrested. A large diamond, identified by the jewellers and the bankers, both of whom had recently seen the rivière, as belonging to that ornament, was found in her possession and she was charged with the theft.

"So far the affair seems commonplace, and would not have been worth the reporting had not, during the examination of the prisoner, the following facts come to light: The woman Lejean proclaimed her innocence violently, but the examining magistrate, becoming very suspicious both as to the woman's character and to certain events which had taken place while she was in her mistress's service, ordered her to be detained in custody while extensive inquiries were made.

"Two other female servants. Hélène Lemaître and Marthe Dubois, were also arrested and accused of complicity in the theft.

"There appears to have been no incriminating evidence against these two, but in their alarm, they were very ready to accuse their fellow-servant, the woman Lejean. Among their charges was that she was masquerading under a false name, that she was the mistress of a young man in Madame de Montpaon's employ as a gardener employed in the glasshouse, whom they knew only by the name of Jacques."


Lavinia dropped the paper.

"Must I read all this? What has this to do with me?"

"Read it! Right to the end! I don't want to say anything until you have done so."

Lavinia, on a panic-stricken impulse, was about to refuse, but her fascinated interest was too strong for her, even caused her to forget the necessity for playing a part. She read eagerly, avidly:


"This Jacques is not to be found, nor is another personage who is now required by the police. This, it seems, is a young Englishwoman who was for nearly two years companion to Madame de Montpaon and her daughter. The woman Lejean says that this lady was known as Mademoiselle La Vie, a curious name for an Englishwoman She accuses her deliberately of the theft of the diamond, accounting for the stone in her own possession by saying that the Englishwoman gave it her the night before she left Paris, which she did, very suddenly, on the arrival of the Prince Borzano from Italy, as soon as she had received the quite considerable legacy left her by her late employers. The woman Lejean's evidence against this mysterious person is so malicious and violent that one might conceive it had been invented to conceal her own guilt, had not both the notary in charge of Madame de Montpaon's affairs and the Prince Borzano seen this lady in the Hôtel de Montpaon from which she disappeared with a most extraordinary suddenness, not going to the address which she had given and leaving no means behind by which she could be traced. All her letters were sent under cover to Madame de Montpaon, and it is impossible for the police to discover where this lady found her companion and if she was going under an assumed name or her own."


Lavinia dropped the paper.

"I cannot go on reading," she muttered, "I really cannot. This is a most terrible affair, some horrible miunderstanding—the vindictive lies of that woman!"

The young man turned from the mantelpiece and took the newspaper from the chair where it had fallen.

"I will read it to you. It is you whom they mean, Lavinia. It is, as you say, indeed terrible."

"I don't want to hear, I can't hear."

"Cowardice won't help either of us," he replied. "Listen, and then I shall hear your explanation."

"Why should I listen? Why do you trouble with it?"

Without taking any heed of these protests, the young man read:


"This affair of the Montpaon rivière recalls a society sensation of some few years ago, when the marriage of Mademoiselle Louise de Montpaon was suddenly broken off in consequence of an accident which left her disfigured and sent her and her mother into retreat in an isolated château in Provence—"


"We know all that, William; why should you trouble with it?—"

"Listen:


"On the occasion of the funeral of Madame de Montpaon, a young officer of the Chasseurs à Cheval, M. de Saint Césaire, who chanced to meet this cortège as he proceeded with his troop to the dépôt in the Quai Malesherbes, fell from his horse and was for a long time seriously ill. There were not wanting enterprising journalists who hinted that this young officer was the cause of the breaking of Mademoiselle Louise's engagement—"


"Yes, yes, William, that was so! Of course, the papers would get hold of it—"

Inexorable, the young man continued to read aloud; she clenched her hands in the exasperation caused by his expressionless voice:


"The painfully sudden death of this young lady, following so soon on that of her mother, caused a profound impression among her relatives and friends. M. de Saint Césaire was tormented by the journalists, but, of course, he can say nothing as to the possible romance."


"What does that mean? It is all jargon!"


"Meanwhile, the affaire Montpaon continues to occupy the more enterprising journals who find it a convenient subject on which to hang their gossip of several noble families. They accuse the police of being dilatory and stupid in their search for the mysterious Englishwoman, and are undertaking investigation on their own—"


"Do stop, William, I can't bear any more, I really cannot—"

"Read, then, for yourself—the last paragraph." Lavinia read:


"And who is our fair countrywoman whose identity so interests the gossips of Paris? According to the evidence of those who saw her at the Château Boismarin and in Paris, she is of considerable personal attractions, but was liked by no one save the Countess and her daughter, over whom she had an extraordinary influence. All describe her as cold, sly, 'an English hypocrite,' haughty and designing. In addition, the woman Lejean declares that she was the very good friend of a certain relative of Madame de Montpaon, who used to stay frequently at Boismarin; this gentleman's name is so far being kept out of the case, but it is Pulchinello's secret to most Parisians."


Lavinia dropped the paper and sat silent.

"It is for you whom they are searching, Lavinia; you."

"What an atrocious situation, I feel quite ill! How can they listen to that odious woman?"

"The diamond which you gave me to be set as a ring?"

"It was given me, as I told you, by Mademoiselle de Montpaon shortly before she died. As to what became of the rivière, how do I know? They were very careless with their jewels. It is quite likely that this detestable woman, Matilde, or one of the other servants stole it. I last saw it flung down most carelessly on a table together with a number of cheap trinkets."

"It is a frightful accusation—and in all the papers," stammered the young man; his face was livid and convulsed. She thought that if she had come upon him suddenly she would not have recognised him; but her mind was mostly occupied by that common opinion of herself that she had just read; she had thought that she had been so prudent, so discreet and yet everyone had disliked her, thought her cold, a hypocrite...She had thought that she had been so careful and all the while she had been watched and judged. "Painfully sudden death"—what did that mean?

"They don't know my name—La Vie, that is Lavinia—Lavvy, you know. The other was never used, it was too difficult."

"But they will find out. Once the police begin to investigate seriously—"

"What can they find out?" she muttered, with a movement as if she drew a cloak about her. "They need never know."

"Don't be a fool!"

The expression and the tone startled her, even in that moment of misery. He was not, then, quite the man she had thought him, she had been a little mistaken in dismissing him as an infatuate dull creature.

"Don't be a fool," he repeated. "There are many people in England who know where you went—the agency, your grandfather, Mrs. Liptrott, myself, even Lady Coign, and it has been mentioned among others. They will soon find out."

"I don't see how they can. You ought to see that they don't, William; you ought to spare me. This is too, too frightful. The French police must be incredibly stupid."

But Sir William did not respond to this faint appeal. He asked, like one intent on his own point of view:

"Who is this man who is referred to here? You never told me of any relative of Madame de Montpaon who visited the Château Boismarin!"

"Why should I have told you? It was of no importance. There was a young man who came there occasionally. He had once been engaged to Mademoiselle Louise, I always understood that they were going to marry some day, after all. But she was in such a state of hysterics—the scar and the broken marriage—"

"Yes, yes, I don't want to hear any of that. How is it that his name was associated with yours?"

"Because the servant lied," said Lavinia steadily, raising her eyes to his. "What do you suppose a woman like that would do when she was cornered? Naturally, she would try to escape by accusing someone else. I was a foreigner and friendless—the servants did not much care for me, because they were a lazy, overpaid, overfed insolent crowd, and I took their mistress's part."

"But this young man! Who was he?"

Lavinia could not bring the name of Louis de Saint Paulle across her lips.

"I don't want to answer you when you speak to me in that tone, William. None of this has anything whatever to do with me."

"Is it true, Lavinia, that you gave this woman the diamond?"

"No! Why should I do such a thing? No doubt it is part of the necklace which she stole."

"And this tale of your leaving the Hôtel de Montpaon so hurriedly and not going to the address that you gave? Why was that?—it looks like flight, like secrecy!"

"How could I stay?" demanded Lavinia. "The stranger, M. di Borzano, was in possession of everything. Except for this Matilde, whom I loathed, there was hardly another woman in the house. All was in confusion, it was not fit for me to stay there. They paid me my money at once without question. I tried to go to the Hôtel de Douvres, but it was full and they told me of another—the Hôtel de Grenoble. If anybody wanted to find me they could easily have done so."

Angered by his total lack of sympathy, Lavinia endeavoured frantically to pull herself out of the despair into which she was sinking.

"William, you don't seem to realise what this means to me? Why did you show it me so suddenly? Why, it is terrible, appalling; you should have given me a little preparation, a little warning!"

"Forgive me," he muttered, "it was a complete surprise, a terrible shock!"

"And yet, after all, what is it?" she insisted, "what is it, William? A lot of nonsense in the paper! I always suspected this woman was a vile character. What did I know about any of it? It was a badly-run household, there was nobody properly in authority, and then those two sudden deaths and a stranger taking possession—why, I was shut in my room the greater part of the time. There were nuns there, praying at the foot of the bed, they used to take turns. And then the priests, the doctor, the notary—"

"There is no need to go into all that, Lavinia. There is the paper. Why, France must be full of the affair, and this is the first we have heard of it!"

"I tell you I don't see how they are to trace me if only I keep quiet. I am innocent, why should I concern myself like this in something so disgusting?"

"You will have to go, Lavinia. It says there that they're looking for you as a witness."

"Yes, it says so there; but I'm not bound to take any notice of that. Let them find me, let them send for me. Why, surely you could not expect me to undergo so frightful an ordeal!"

"It would only be," he said slowly, "to answer a few questions put by the French police. You might be able to throw some light on the matter. Of course, the woman must be lying to save herself. I've no doubt she is the thief. I wish, Lavinia, though, that you had confided in me from the first."

"Confided in you! What is there to confide?"

"I don't know," he admitted, with an air of stupidity, "I don't know. Only this man—this wretched woman dares to associate your name with his. Oh, you ought never to have gone to this place. We were all mad to allow you to do so, I was always against it, but I was overruled."

"What are you going to do?" she asked sharply. "What are you going to do? You don't want to force me to go back to Paris, do you?"

"I must think what to do, I must get it all clear—this—this young officer who was taken ill in the street, he is not the man whom you—I mean not the man who stayed at Boismarin?"

"Oh, no, I only saw him once."

"Oh, you did see him?"

She was silent for a second, wondering if that involuntary admission had been a mistake or no, then she hurried on on a sigh:

"Yes, yes. He came to the hôtel to see Louise, I was in the room, the diamonds were on the table. I thought they intended to marry, you see, all the money had been left to her, and she was free."

She was intensely irritated by what she most unreasonably (she knew) must consider as his slowness, his stupidity, his bewildered air of doubt and hesitancy; why did he want to pry and investigate into what was, after all, wholly her affair? Why couldn't he tear up the paper and tell her to think no more about anything so grotesque?

"How was that legacy paid you, Lavinia? Through a bank?"

"No—in thousand-franc notes and napoléons."

"You signed a receipt, I suppose—in what name?"

A violent movement of anger shook her bowed figure. She thrust her fingers into her chin, her elbows into her knees—was she already in the witness-box—in the dock?

"I signed, 'Marie La Vie'—"

"Surely that was a very extraordinary thing for you to do?"

"Was it? I didn't think! There was such a hurry, I wanted to get away, I thought there would be such an explanation to go into—you see, Madame de Montpaon named me—La Vie in her will, and Marie was the first name that came into my head!" She continued to talk hurriedly to cover up his hostile silence. "It was so unpleasant—and you always wanted my name kept quiet when I went out as a paid companion."

"I didn't want any sort of deception. This false signature puts you in a—wrong position. And why should it have been so unpleasant? Was not this Italian civil? Why should he not have been?"

"I don't know. I suppose that he could not understand quite who I was—it was all so sudden, there was the notary there, too—don't you see, William," her voice rose on a half-scream, "that I couldn't stay?"

"You don't mean, Lavinia, that they practically turned you out—as if you were some adventuress?"

Lavinia sprang to her feet.

"How can you keep on questioning me! What has any of this to do with the theft of those wretched diamonds?"

"I'm sorry to upset you, Lavinia, but I can't help you until I know everything. But I won't trouble you now, I'll go and see Merrydew, he's the best lawyer that I know."

She caught his sleeve as he was turning away.

"Don't leave me like that! Don't behave as if I had done something wrong. Haven't you got any comfort, any sympathy for me?"

"Why, of course! My poor child! It is shocking for you! I can't understand how such a situation could have arisen; it is all incomprehensible to me. These newspapers!—of course, they will twist up anything."

He spoke incoherently, vaguely; he patted Lavinia's hand as it clutched at his coat-cuff, but he made no effort to embrace or caress her, and his face was most unpleasantly distorted.

"Of course, I shall do all I can. We will have the best advice, the best lawyers."

"Lawyers! There is no question of lawyers—I am not accused of anything. Even if they do want me it is only as a witness."

"I know, I know! We will go into it."

He was making an effort to be just and kind, but he was not tender.

"If only we had been married. He ought to marry me now. If he were half as chivalrous as he pretends to be he ought to marry me immediately."

* * * * *

As soon as she was alone, Lavinia went out into the dirty streets and walked rapidly through the dun-coloured London fog, without caring in the least where she went.

Only by this action could she a little still her mind.

This blow! When she had felt so secure! A vulgar theft, the lying vindictiveness of a wretch like Matilde to upset all her plans, to ruin perhaps her hopes of peace and security!

Of course, the sly servant had stolen the rivière, and, of course, she would try to put her crime on the foreigner whom everyone disliked, and who had disappeared so suddenly.

"She was vindictive because I evaded her by giving that false address, because I didn't take her to Italy—and I suppose that he, not getting the money, did not bribe her any more, and now she is spiteful towards him—O God! O God! what does she know?"

Lavinia had reached a dingy little park, in which were a few seats under the sodden trees; a soiled rain fell through the foul mist, and in the mud were crushed the dead corrupting leaves that had been green when she had stood in the sunshine of Provence, last year, last year.

She sank on to one of the wet seats and stared at her ringless hands; she had forgotten to bring her gloves; William Tassart had given her an emerald to replace the heliotrope that she had lost in the Château Boismarin—it was being altered, reset, at her desire, with the diamond from the rivière. How casually he had taken the tale of the loss of his sentimental gift! But why think of that now, there were other lies she must tell him—how careful one must be with lies!

"O God! what will Matilde say? What does she know? What can she prove?"

Lavinia's cold fingers gripped the wet iron of the seat—"the servant's evidence." She had not looked at a newspaper since that day at Saint Cloud, for she had been terrified of reading the conclusion of the case of the young clerk arrested at Brussels with his accomplice. How the words that had caused her such panic terror appeared confused before her mental vision: "Doctors not satisfied...autopsy...beneficiary under the will—searched for by the police...arrested, arrested."

She put her wet hand to her face, leaving a sooty mark on the pallid skin.

"But that has not been hinted at, no one, perhaps, suspects—I must keep my head. Who can prove anything if I lie and lie?"

She rose, allowing her long skirts, already an inch in mud at the hem, to trail on the soaked gravel.

"Where is he?" she dare not name him even to herself; an unutterable loneliness assailed her; how could she have brought herself to forsake him—even on the spur of that intolerable fear?

A tramp, with his foul bundles on his back, was limping towards the seat. Lavinia darted away into the fog, counting over the people, all hitherto shadows to her, who might have been watching her, suspecting her—the doctor, the curé, the priests, the dentist, the hotel-keeper at Aix—supposing someone got hold of the waiter with the resigned face who had served them in that shameful room in La Reine Jeanne?

She was out in the street again and was walking blankly ahead when she suddenly swerved and turned up a dark side-street; she had seen before her the coloured lights of a chemist's shop window stream across the fog.

* * * * *

They had argued until fatigue and exasperation were over them like a net.

"Yes, of course. But, William, I've been thinking it over, I've been thinking of nothing else since you left me yesterday, and it seems to me we were very foolish to make so much of it. After all, what is it? it really doesn't affect me, you know; that one of Madame de Montpaon's servants should rob her after she was dead! I was quite a stranger in the establishment, and even if I were called as a witness, I could tell them nothing. I lived, as it were, just a detached kind of life, just waiting on the two women, putting up with their whims, and doing what I could to make them comfortable."

"Yes, of course, Lavinia; but we must go to Paris, I suppose, immediately, and everything must be investigated to the bottom. I went to Merrydew's last night—he's the best lawyer I know, and he's sending a man over at once. He's getting me all the information that he can; all the newspapers, every word that appears."

"Do you mean that you are going to make a scandal?—Force me to come forward; let everyone know that I was the woman against whom these atrocious accusations are made!"

"There's no other way. You can't hide, as if there was something to be ashamed of. Don't you understand, Lavinia?"

She was so angry that she had the crude impulse to strike him; she realised that she had always rather disliked him. What insolence thus to interfere in her life! She twisted her hands together in her lap and he repeated, staring down at her:

"Don't you understand, Lavinia?"

"Oh yes, it is the code of an Englishman, and an officer and a gentleman," she said. She could scarcely keep the sneer from her voice. "I suppose I'm to be dragged through all this, William, to satisfy your nicety."

"What do you mean, 'dragged through,' Lavinia? It will be easy to satisfy the French police that you are perfectly innocent. This miserable woman is an outrageous liar; you will be able to explain how you came in possession of the diamond. You must, of course, give a perfectly candid account of everything that happened while you were the companion of Madame de Montpaon."

The argument went on in circles, she thought, as he tried to wear down her resistance.

"It seems extraordinary that one disreputable, dishonest servant could cause all this trouble. What does it matter what the woman says?"

"If she says it to the police, I am afraid it does matter, Lavinia. There is this man—this relative of the Montpaon's—who was he? Surely he, too, will come forward to defend himself!"

"I did not see all the visitors who came to the Château Boismarin."

"All the visitors, Lavinia? I thought you led a life of complete isolation, that nobody came there at all?"

"Well, practically nobody; but during two years there were a few. I know nothing."

"Surely, Lavinia, you must have been fairly intimate with them, and they must have been fairly pleased with you to leave you these two considerable legacies! I always understood that you had become very friendly with both of them—almost necessary to Madame de Montpaon. So your talk gave me to understand; yet now you say you know nothing of anything, and lived with them as a stranger!"

"This tone is intolerable. It is one of cross-examination, almost of suspicion and doubt!"

"No—no," he replied quickly, with a deeply-troubled air, and yet with no great sign, as she noted bitterly, of regret or remorse; "only if I am to help, Lavinia, and I do not see who else there is to help you—it is useless even to broach the matter to your grandfather, old and ill and self-absorbed as he is—I must know everything; it is no use for you to keep me in the dark about even the most trivial incident."

Lavinia sat silent; she could not force her strength to any more words.

He looked at her keenly. She thought that he seemed baffled; she saw also that he was most profoundly moved. He was neither so dull nor so unfeeling as she had thought. Beneath the rigid demeanour that he carefully maintained, and the correct behaviour that he had been so diligently taught, was both an average intelligence and an average capacity for emotion.

What did he suspect? Perhaps he really thought that she was a thief! He had brought her the emerald ring without the diamond. He had said: "I wish you hadn't taken such a valuable present; I wish that you hadn't accepted such an extravagant legacy."

"William, I can't talk any more, I must go and lie down."

* * * * *

His behaviour was really admirable; he was in all the solicitous, the anxious protector; before Lady Coign, who guessed nothing of this sudden and terrible trouble, he was marvellously at ease.

Only by one remark did he vex her; when her glass at dinner had been filled two or three times he said:

"You have learnt to drink wine in France, Lavinia? You never used, I remember, touch as much as a thimbleful of sherry."

"Everyone drinks in France," she replied negligently, "even the children and the young girls. It is a very light wine, of course."

Through her taut mind flashed: "I suppose he is thinking of my father. How odious, how horrible is this dictatorial tone! After all, it does not yet matter to him what I do."

"Côtes-du-Rhône I used to drink," she smiled at him over her glass, "Côtes-du-Rhône."

* * * * *

Sir William came straight into the drawing-room in his overcoat and his gloves. A glance at his face made Lavinia brace herself to face the worst possible news; she glanced at herself sideways in one of the tall mirrors; her old expedient of giving herself consolation in moments of boredom or agitation by a contemplation of her elegant beauties. She found no fault with herself in the tight-fitting, olive-green dress flowing out over the horse-hair-stiffened skirt, with the fair smooth face that fear had not yet marked.

But when she looked again at the young man she saw that he was even more deeply exasperated than he had been during the last few days. She could see that he was taking no notice of her whatever; it did not seem to matter to him if she were beautiful; her personality seemed to have been effaced from his mind. He had, of course, never appreciated her, never realised what she really was worth.

"Merrydew," he said in a difficult voice, as if his throat were swollen, "can't get to the bottom of the affair. He said that Paris is full of it, because the papers have taken it up; they accuse the police of following the wrong scents—they even hint that there is bribery, powerful influence at work—"

Lavinia again looked at herself in the mirror.

"—this man mentioned by the woman Lejean is M. de Saint Paulle. She is from his estates in Dauphiné, and he kept her in his aunt's house to watch his interests. You remember the name, M. de Duc de Saint Paulle?"

"Yes, I do—just—remember that name."

"You must have seen him."

"I suppose so; I don't remember."

"Well, this woman, Lejean, accuses the Englishwoman of being his accomplice!"

"Accomplice! Accomplice!"

"Yes, it is, indeed, horrible!"

"Accomplice in—what?"

"In influencing Madame de Montpaon to leave her fortune to her nephew—they were—this is the scandalous lie, Lavinia—they were lovers—"

"Lovers, who?"

"M. de Saint Paulle and the Englishwoman. A will was made in his favour, but revoked secretly."

"The doctors—don't—say anything?"

"Doctors! What has it to do with them? Your attention must be wandering! Lavinia, listen—the police have arrested, in Dauphiné, one Jacques, a gardener, who looked after the glasshouses at Boismarin. He is the lover and the accomplice of the woman Lejean, they think—"

"Always this word accomplice!"

"—They must be a couple of rogues in a plot together. He too says that—she—the companion that everyone knew was the—that she and this young blackguard—"

"Don't, William, don't! It is too absurd—"

"That isn't absurd. He is a blackguard, a scoundrel, capable of anything—he ought to have come forward—but he has gone to Switzerland. Lavinia, such lies! This woman, Lejean, says that—almost openly in Aix, at squalid hotels, in her bedroom—the wretch Jacques declared that she came to his master's—maison du plaisir, as they call it—at Saint Cloud—"

"I don't even know where Saint Cloud is!"

"He had a laboratory at Boismarin—she used to help him in his work."

"No, no! There was no such place."

"The police have gone to Provence and sealed up the apartment she used."

"They will find nothing."

"They found this."

He took a single sheet of newspaper from his pocket and showed it to her.

"It is in all the cheaper journals."

She looked at the paper and saw a coarse reproduction of her own portrait and that of William Tassart, taken in Maybridge.

"They say, Lavinia, that they found this in a drawer. It is a leaf out of an album with this portrait on it—yours and mine."

"We left in such a hurry—" she stammered, "Madame, you understand, was dead in a few days—it was a question of taking her body to Paris; there was no time for anything. There's a great many things of mine in the Château Boismarin, clothes and some trinkets—even—"

"This was forgotten? Lost? Like my ring was forgotten and lost? Why did you tear it out of the album?"

"I wanted to get it framed; it was the only photograph of you I had. I meant to take it into Aix to see if I could get it framed. I put it aside in the drawer for that purpose. And then, as I say, in the confusion it was forgotten."

"It was an ugly chance, Lavinia, that put it in the hands of the police. It is very unpleasant to see it there. Look what is written over the top."

Lavinia read under the print:


"DO YOU KNOW HER?
MYSTERIOUS ENGLISHWOMAN CONCERNED
IN THE MONTPAON AFFAIR OF ROBBERY!"


She stared at the picture of herself—prim frock and banded hair—seated decorously, the palms and the painted balustrade drop-cloth behind her, and the young man in his neat uniform standing by her chair.

"I forgot all about it," she muttered, "I forgot all about it."

"I know!"

He folded away the picture.

"There is no great harm," she added defiantly, "nothing wrong."

"Perhaps not, Lavinia. I don't wish to blame you for anything. We must go to Paris," he added harshly. "You understand that, do you not? Immediately! I have told Lady Coign something. She is all sympathy, she will come with us. Immediately! To Paris! You understand, Lavinia?"

* * * * *

When they were next alone together he turned on her with a passion of tenderness.

"Lavinia, I have been thinking too much of myself—this is shocking for you—tell me that I help you a little! I was so happy, dear, I counted on this, all those tedious months in India."

"Did you? Do you really care for me? I've often wondered."

"Don't speak so coldly."

"I feel stunned."

"My poor darling, my sweet girl."

He put his arms round her, and she felt as if she were freezing; she closed her eyes, and her tormented fancy brought before her the flowery English fields round Maybridge, the nauseating scents of the hawthorn and the meadowsweet.

"How little they understand me, these stupid people, with their vile accusations! If I had been the kind of woman to behave like that—I shouldn't be here now, should I?"

She held away from him and smiled unsteadily.

"What do you mean, Lavinia?"

"Why, that kind of woman—couldn't bear—this—life—and you—she would find it too—dull."

The young man's reply was most unexpected, and made her change the subject with the violent start of one who finds herself on the edge of an abyss.

"They suppose that she was frightened and ran for safety with her plunder."

* * * * *

So, there was nothing for it; she must go to Paris and be a witness in the affair of the Montpaon diamonds. She had heard something of the methods of the French police, the dossiers they made. By now everyone connected with her stay in the Château Boismarin would have been examined—from Prince Dino to the railway porters at Aix. She must lie and lie—after all, she was not on trial for her virtue—she must try to blast the character of Matilde, who was, undoubtedly, the thief. William need not know what was in those dossiers, he was bound, by his own code of honour, to believe in her innocence. And Louis de Saint Paulle?

She dared at last to pronounce this name in her heart, to ask this question of herself. A blackguard, a scoundrel, William had named him. Perhaps he had discovered much that she did not know, perhaps that was what this creature, so noble and charming in appearance, really was.

"What sort of case will they build up against him? What is in his dossier? What defence has he got? Is he in hiding? Oh, God! God! don't let me think of any of this, I must save myself. I don't dare to think of anything but of saving myself."

* * * * *

As she signed her name beneath the deposition she had made before the examining magistrate she felt that she had triumphed. The ordeal had been, after all, comparatively easy—only a question of denying everything, of opposing, to the frantic and hysterical denunciations of the two prisoners and the paltry witnesses, her English calm and phlegm, her dignified disdain, her cold contempt of such gross and stupid accusations.

She took advantage of her forced appearance in Paris to give herself an air of virtue. Had she not hastened to come forward at once, as soon as she had heard that she was wanted, when she could have so easily remained hidden so long, perhaps for ever? That made a good impression, no doubt. Then, her position, her reputation, her engagement to a man like Sir William Tassart, the company of a woman like Lady Coign, everything about her above suspicion! Her appearance, too, so correct, so genteel; her silent scorn of all the newspaper gossip!

In this atmosphere of immaculate virtue she had given her evidence, keeping it carefully negative. She knew nothing, she had done nothing; she had merely been a paid companion in the Montpaon household.

"You did not see M. de Saint Paulle except formally?"

"No, Monsieur."

"You never went with him on expeditions to Aigues-Mortes or to Aix?"

"Never, Monsieur."

"Were you aware of the existence of this chemist's cabinet, this laboratory in the château? Did you meet M. le Duc there, secretly?"

"Never, Monsieur. I opened the little door leading from my room once and saw a small library, of no interest to me. Since then the door was kept locked."

"You had the key?"

"Yes, Monsieur, but never on any occasion did I use it."

"M. le Duc came to the château for several long visits, yet you saw nothing of him, knew nothing of his character, his movements, his tastes, his expectations?"

"Nothing whatever, Monsieur. When Madame de Montpaon entertained visitors I remained alone in my own apartments."

"It must, Mademoiselle," said the examining magistrate with a smile, "have been a dreary existence."

"Very likely, Monsieur, but I had to earn my own living, and knew no other way."

"This diamond in your possession, and which is undoubtedly belonging to the rivière which is stolen?"

"It was given me by Mademoiselle de Montpaon shortly before her death. She put it in my hand, making a request for me to wear it for her sake."

"You did not think it strange that she would suddenly give you so valuable a gift?"

"No, Monsieur, I had just received news that my fiancé, Sir William Tassart, had come into the title and estates and was returning to England. I was looking forward to a marriage in the near future. I took this as a gift from Mademoiselle de Montpaon—a marriage gift."

"Did you know anything of the contents of the will of Madame de Montpaon or the will of Mademoiselle Louise de Montpaon?"

"Nothing whatever, Monsieur."

"What did you know of the younger lady's projects—whether she intended to go into a convent, whether she intended, as is suggested by some, to marry M. de Saint Césaire?"

"Nothing whatever."

"Did you know that she had been engaged to her cousin, M. le Duc de Saint Paulle?"

"I had heard it mentioned once or twice."

"Why did you, Mademoiselle, pass under an assumed name in this establishment?"

"I did not do so, Monsieur. My name was considered awkward and ugly. I soon became on affectionate terms with the two ladies, and they called me 'Lavie,' for Lavinia, and it became Mademoiselle La Vie to the servants. I thought nothing of it. You will observe, Monsieur, that the moment I knew I was required by the French police I returned to Paris; there was no attempt at concealment."

"It was not a flight when you left the Hôtel de Montpaon so suddenly? The servants say you gave an address to which you did not go."

"I found that the Hôtel de Douvres, the only one I knew of in Paris, was full, and I was forced to go to another—the Hôtel de Grenoble."

"Inquiries have been made at the Hôtel de Douvres, Mademoiselle, and they say that no lady asked there for rooms on that day."

"They must have forgotten," replied Lavinia contemptuously.

Then the magistrate said something that nearly shook her from her carefully acquired, her fiercely maintained serenity.

"Grenoble is the capital of Dauphiné, where M. le Duc de Saint Paulle has his estates."

"I did not know!" Her voice was very flat.

"Ah! And Mademoiselle is so clever, so cultured, and she does not know that! It was only a curious chance, then, that made her choose his hôtel—and not because she was thinking of a lover?—"

"Monsieur! I beg! These insinuations—"

"All is here." The magistrate's carefully kept hand rested for a second on the thick portfolio at his side. "Mademoiselle would, perhaps, be surprised could she see these depositions. Dozens of them, taken at Aix and Paris—there is, even, one of a certain Armande Legros—"

"Armande Legros?" Lavinia smiled in perfect security; she had never heard the name before.

"She kept a haberdasher's shop in Aix. Last summer she sold an English lady a thick white veil."

"How did she know—an English lady!"

"Mademoiselle speaks perfectly! But always there is an accent. There is also the deposition of Paul Mounier, known as Brother Clément, who that same day observed an English lady in this church, and that of Pierre Lajoie, who keeps the Hôtel de la Reine Jeanne, an establishment of a certain reputation—"

"Monsieur, I implore you!" With real courage and pride Lavinia added: "Is any of this to do with the theft of the rivière?"

The magistrate had leant back in his chair and looked at her shrewdly.

"Mademoiselle need not fear that what is in the dossiers of the police will ever be known to the public."

"I have already been pilloried in your Press! I dare not open the papers—"

"Ah, Mademoiselle understands that no one can help that! Her sudden flight, the assumed name—so unfortunate! We ourselves have been the subject of the comments of the Press."

"It is terrible for my fiancé, for Sir William Tassart."

"Certainly. But such gossip is inevitable. M. le Duc is very attractive in his person, and has the reputation of one successful with the fair sex—Bah! what does it matter! Mademoiselle will return to England and think no more about it." He paused, smiled, and added: "Mademoiselle can think of nothing that would throw any light on the disappearance of the diamonds?"

"Nothing! I have related all that I know."

"Then, if Mademoiselle will sign here—"

Lavinia took the pen with a shudder of relief; what did it matter what was in the dossiers in the thick portfolios if she were safe? But before she signed the magistrate said something that made her hand shake so that she blotted her signature.

"Mademoiselle has no idea of the manner of experiments that M. le Duc made in his little laboratory?"

She forced her expression to a stare of startled candour.

"No."

"If Mademoiselle will sign again—so!"

Then she was free; the agony was over; she might consider that she had triumphed.

* * * * *

She sat between Sir William Tassart and Mr. Merrydew in the handsome carriage that the young baronet had hired for her comfort; under the rug he held her hand in a tight grip of relief; he also had triumphed; he had forced her, forced himself to do a very difficult, hateful thing, because he believed it his duty and his honesty and his courage had been successful. The odious slanders had been rejected, the hideous libels silenced, he had vindicated his future wife. Everyone now admired and applauded where they had reviled and condemned.

As he sat silent beside Lavinia, who was too exhausted to speak, Mr. Merrydew told the pale young woman what he had just been allowed to learn, namely, that even before she had been examined, the magistrate had been in possession of facts which had gone far to establish her complete innocence of any complicity in the theft of the rivière.

First, they had discovered that the woman Matilde Lejean was, like her lover the gardener Jacques, passing under an assumed name; she was really one Brigitte Lemoine, who had already served two terms of imprisonment for petty larceny, and was wanted by the police. Her character, therefore, was completely blasted, and no reliance could be placed on anything she might say.

Then, the diamonds had been discovered. The male prisoner, under pressure, had confessed where they were hidden—under the floor of the lodging which he had taken for himself and his mistress. The night that Mademoiselle Louise had succumbed to her last illness the woman Lejean had found these lying on the table among a great many other trinkets of varying value. It had been quite easy for her to secrete them and afterwards pass them to her lover.

"And you can return to England, my dear Miss Pierrepoint, and forget all about a very disagreeable experience."

"How curious," commented Sir William, "that a woman in the position of Madame de Montpaon should have two such characters in her employment—thieves, blackmailers, liars!"

"They both came from the estates of her nephew, M. de Saint Paulle—there seems no doubt that he paid them to watch his interests. Of course, it is all hushed up, but there seems no doubt that he was using every means to obtain this fortune that he lost through the sudden breaking off of his marriage—"

Lavinia felt the young man's hand nervously tighten on her cold fingers and heard him say, bitterly:

"He must be a contemptible scoundrel."

"Very likely!" laughed Mr. Merrydew. "Grand seigneur, as they say, these people have their own code—he lost the money at the end, anyhow—I believe a great many people are sorry—"

"His creditors, I suppose?"

"No, I believe that Prince Dino di Borzano helped him there—he has a great number of friends, and is really very charming and intelligent."

"Where is he now? Switzerland?"

"Oh, no. He returned to Paris and put all his knowledge at the disposal of the police—he is in his rooms in the rue de Popinot. It is in the papers to-night. He braves it out."

* * * * *

"William, I feel quite ill, as if I were going to faint. Could you get me a small glass of cognac?"

"Would it not be better for you to take some sal volatile and then lie down, or go immediately to bed? Shall I call a doctor, Lavinia?"

"No, no, I just want the cognac."

As he ordered it she noted, amidst her rebellious misery, his disapproval. Salts would be more ladylike, of course, for the future Lady Tassart, but she had had an insatiable craving for the spirit. She would not go to bed, but sat up for the formal little dinner in the hotel's silent dining-room. She asked for some champagne, and again she sensed his disapproval as she drank glass after glass, though good-humoured Lady Coign declared that no doubt she required it after that day's ordeal—how odious to be cross-examined by that hateful Frenchman! How stupid the French police were! It was really most unfair that Lavinia should have been dragged through all this distress and fatigue because of the dishonesty of a couple of servants! Lady Coign's championship was warm; once having received Lavinia as her nephew's future wife, she treated her as beyond suspicion. But although there was no flaw in the well-bred woman's loyalty, Lavinia did not believe that Lady Coign really trusted or liked her:

"Surely she is thinking—'this is what comes of William's insistence on marrying an outsider, a girl who goes out as a paid companion and then gets into a stupid business like this—and though, of course, there can't be anything in those vile scandals, still, girls who are looked after properly don't have those things said about them. If she had stayed at home she would never even have met that insolent young Frenchman.'—"

So, Lavinia was sure, Lady Coign was really thinking behind her quiet, courteous, motherly manner, and probably even adding to herself: "Of course, she is a nobody, and then that dreadful history of her father and mother—"

Lavinia frowned at them both over her champagne glass, then glanced at her reflection in the long mirror at the end of the dreary, correct private dining-room that she shared with Lady Coign in the Hôtel d'Angleterre.

She had been made to understand that she ought to wear some sort of mourning for Sir William's brother (Lady Coign, of course, was in heaviest black) and she had tactfully acquiesced with inward rebellion. Her grey dress, however, was not so decorous in cut as had been that which she had worn at the Château Boismarin. It showed her voluptuous yet slender shape, the skirt was unstiffened and flowed gracefully round her long limbs, the bodice was cut low and heart-shaped, like those of the little ladies with the polished boots with silver tassels and red stockings, who smoked their cigarettes at the round iron tables outside the cafés on the boulevard. It was true that Lavinia had filled in this low corsage with a chemisette, but one of an almost transparent mull, and the delicate pearl colour of her gown and the unblemished whiteness of her flesh were set off by the narrow rows of black velvet braiding.

So she was not displeased at the image that smiled at her from the tall, decorous mirror. How flower-like was the hand that lightly grasped the flat champagne cup! With what exquisite tints of primrose and gold was her hair shaded—"like a rose-thé," as he had said.

Aunt and nephew talked together in low tones; they thought that she was overwrought, tired; they were leaving her alone to recover. If they only knew of what she was thinking! She gave them a sidelong glance. Good God, how clumsy the young man looked in his decorous black—half his attraction, then, had lain in the uniform that he would never wear again—that cast in his eye was detestable, and he had most exasperating mannerisms...

How far away was the one person in the world in whom she felt the remotest interest! Had they tracked him down, hunted him, brought him back? Was he cornered? Number 18bis rue de Popinot might be, for all she knew, only a few yards away. How could she tell what the police had against him, what evidence they had collected in the dossiers they had been diligently compiling over the last few months? The dossiers that had been in the portfolio which had lain under the well-kept hand of the magistrate...what did he think of her? No doubt, that she was indifferent, treacherous, and cruel.

Tears of self-pity lay in her large eyes at the thought of what she had, in her fanciful panic, denied herself—she might have been in Italy with him, he might have married her! Good God, what a fool she had been!

She cast a malignant glance at her two companions.

Sir William had behaved exceedingly well, of course, she owed much to his countenance and his advice. Lady Coign had been everything that was sympathetic and understanding; but how she detested both of them, their propriety, their dullness, their narrow code of correct behaviour, their refusal to visualise as possible any act, thought, idea or passion which did not fit into their pre-conceived plan of life! How contemptuously the two Englishmen had spoken of M. de 'Saint Paulle as they came from the conciergerie in the hired carriage! He who was in everything so superior to both of them!

So she sat sullenly over her meal, scarcely eating anything, merely playing with the food on her plate, drinking the champagne greedily, as a thirsty man might lap water. She had forsaken him, in a way, betrayed him, while he had obviously been loyal to her. She was entirely without means of knowing his attitude, his defence, his defiance, what he had said or done, but at least she knew that he could not have involved her. He must have lied as she had lied about their relationship. He bore, then, no resentment for her cowardly flight from Saint Cloud.

Lady Coign and her nephew continued to murmur together in low, decorous tones across the dining table. They had come to a tacit agreement, she could see, to ignore her silence, her sullenness, her drinking of the champagne; they had combined to maintain their correct behaviour; they were, in their minds, accusing her, apologising for her, deploring her want of restraint.

Again and again, in a kind tone, Lady Coign urged her to take some salts and go to bed.

"As if I were a child," thought Lavinia, with intense bitterness; "as if it were as easy as that! A little sleep to set right all that is wrong with me!"

They talked of England—it was as if they wished to ignore France, even while they were forced to remain there. Their conversation effaced their surroundings. Their speech was all of their homes, their friends, the placid comfortable life from which they had been, through Lavinia Pierrepoint, so unpleasantly removed, and to which they would now return, to forget all that had not been according to routine. She heard them discussing the journey, the hotel in Calais where they should pass the night, and the thought of being shut up alone with these two during those long hours of tedious travelling brought Lavinia's scarcely-contained rebellion to a panic point. The brandy and the wine had loosened her control.

She rose up suddenly, scarcely conscious of what she did, but obeying an impulse not to be restrained.

"I must go out," she said, "I have some business to attend to before we leave Paris."

Sir William was instantly on his feet. He seemed as if he had been waiting for this...

"Whatever your business is, Lavinia, you had better leave it to me or to Mr. Merrydew."

"How you mistake me," she muttered thickly; "don't you see that I must have some liberty; there are some things that I cannot stand—interferences."

"You are overwrought," said Lady Coign quickly, bustling up to her. "My dear child, you really must go to bed. How hot your hand is; I believe you have a temperature! William, we really ought to have a doctor. Is there an English doctor somewhere here?"

Lavinia shook off the kind woman with a gesture of repulsion.

"I'm not a prisoner. I suppose I can do what I like, even if it's for the last time. I won't be forced."

Lady Coign tried to draw her to the door, but she resisted, holding on to the back of the chair; her lovely face had a stupid, malicious expression.

"I have some authority, I suppose," said the young man harshly. "In some matters you must listen to me."

"Don't speak to her now, William."

"I must. Lavinia, we are leaving to-morrow, and before we go I want you to sign a letter that Mr. Merrydew has written for me. It is for Prince Borzano."

"Why should I write to him?"

"I want you to return the legacy and the diamond to the Montpaon estate. Merrydew agrees with me that we ought to do that. If Prince Borzano refuses to accept, we shall send the money and the price of the jewel to some French charity."

Lavinia's cheeks burned with bright blood, as if she had been insulted.

"It is my money! The only money I have ever had—and the stone. I value that!"

"I can give you all the money you want and another diamond, Lavinia."

"As if any diamond could be the same—and it is my own money, to do what I like with—"

"Lavinia, you must see—"

"William, do leave it till the morning, the poor child hardly knows what she is doing—"

"So I see. That is another thing that I must ask, that I must command, Lavinia. You must not take any more wine. Not ever again."

She began to laugh; his face, so pinched, stern, and livid, staring at her across the table, seemed to distend and bloat into the lewd drunken countenance of her father; the distressed kind face of Lady Coign changed into the pale, sinister mask of her mother, with a violet stain on her shrunken lips.

"I have endured a good deal," came the young man's voice, "perhaps too much—"

"What horrible fancies," muttered Lavinia, brushing her hands across her eyes. "What do you think I've endured?"

"I don't know. Perhaps you had better tell me—before we go any further."

Her last shred of restraint broke under this; she flared into an impatience that was as violent as if she shook off bonds. "What a fool you are!" She broke out into an expression that had lain in her mind since she had heard her father use it many years ago, but which she had never yet taken on her lips: "What a damned fool—blast you for a damned fool!"

With these words a thousand pretences vanished between them; everything was, at last, of a devastating clarity. Lavinia laughed in relief.

"I'm going out—"

The voice of the woman whom she had forgotten, pleaded: "Please wait, please think."

But the young man, in a voice of harsh authority, said:

"Let her go, Aunt Mary, let her do what she wants to do."

Lavinia paused and stood hesitant, looking sidelong at the young man. Her movements were unsteady, her face was flushed.

"I don't want your help," she muttered at last, "I don't want anybody's help. I'm able to look after myself."

She heard Lady Coign protesting, lamenting, saying that "this was dreadful, impossible, it couldn't be happening, that the poor girl couldn't be well, that William ought to leave the room and not listen—"

"You know nothing," said Lavinia harshly.

She heard the masculine voice, strained and colourless: "Let her go! Let her do what she wishes to!"

Lavinia moved towards the door; the room seemed blurred and unreal; partly the room in which she had first stayed when she had come to Paris, partly the room in La Reine Jeanne, at Aix. How she hated hotel rooms! Never, it seemed, would she have a home of her own, loved and familiar pieces about her...She fumbled for the door-knob, and though she had her back to the room, she was conscious that both the people whom she had just left were standing and staring after her; she muttered over her shoulder:

"You have suspected me from the first, you never believed in me for a single instant. You only stood by me for the sake of your sense of duty; you were thinking of yourself and your own correct behaviour, not of me."

She went out into the corridor, then upstairs into her room. For a moment or two she fumbled in her wardrobe, not knowing what she did, then she took down a thick mackintosh, put that on and the travelling hat that she had worn coming from England, a hard round, felt shape that she pulled over her soft fair hair. Money—she would need that...the legacy was in an English bank, but in her trinket-case was the diamond and the English sovereigns that her grandfather had given her on her leaving Maybridge. She found these and put them into her reticule, muttering to herself, and so went downstairs again, having been, she thought, perceived by no one; certainly she was not interrupted. She swayed for a second towards the door which hid the two English people.

How she hated them. She hoped that she would never see either of them again.

* * * * *

The cool air of the street cleared her mind; she was able, as she walked along, to realise what she had done, and what she must do—go to him, of course. If he were in danger she would share it; if he were safe he would take her away.

How thankful she was that, when she had forgotten so much, she could remember the address that he had given her that day at Saint Cloud—No. 18bis, rue de Popinot.

What had the magistrate meant by his last remark? She must try to tell him that, to make everything clear.

An east wind blew keenly, and a slight fog was rising from the Seine. She sighed and walked along aimlessly until a wandering fiacre overtook her. She hailed it and told the man to drive to No. 18bis, rue de Popinot.

The street was, as she had suspected, close to the Hôtel d'Angleterre. It was curious how she had had that sense of his close proximity.

It was an elegant house. The light of the gas-lamps in the street nearby fell full upon the handsome door of metal scroll-work over glass. A passer-by had thrown his cigar end into the wet gutter; she watched the red ember flame and glow. It was strange how alive she was to some details, trivial, commonplace things, and how, in much, her consciousness was dimmed, leaving only that one urge to get to him, by any means, at any cost.

She paid her fare and stood leaning against the stone framework of the door, while the shabby carriage moved slowly away up the deserted street. It was a bleak, bitter night, and there were few people abroad. Through the dun river mist a fine sleet was falling.

Lavinia rang the bell. The concierge did not deny that M. le Duc was above, but he seemed hesitant in his manner, and reluctant to admit visitors. She took out one of the English sovereigns.

"He is expecting me; I have an important message—that is gold."

The man seemed astonished at the bribe; he looked at her suspiciously.

"Second étage," he muttered, without civility.

The house was well kept and very quiet, but it was ordinary, not luxurious; she wished that he had been at his own hôtel; she knew that he had a splendid mansion somewhere in Paris—"Always," she thought discontentedly, "these clandestine meetings in secretive places."

It was M. de Saint Paulle who, after a considerable delay, opened the door to her ring. He wore a blue cashmere dressing-gown and a black foulard knotted round his throat.

"See, I have come!"

She pushed into the hall and stood leaning against the wall, He had the air of a man whom nothing can surprise. He received her sudden appearance with equanimity.

"After all these months!—a little late, is it not?"

Yet, for all his composure she had the impression that he had been expecting someone else—an enemy, perhaps?

She went ahead of him and entered the first door she came to; it stood open on light and warmth. She saw a room austerely furnished in pale dead tones, on a desk of ashwood was an alabaster torso of rosy colour, which she noted with great pleasure—"William would not have had that."

M. de Saint Paulle had followed her, and was considering her with interest; he seemed amused; his blue eyes, that she noted again with a shock of pleasure, were narrowed under the bright lashes, as if he studied something at a distance.

"You must go away again, there is nothing for you here, nothing for you to do, to say, to receive." He smiled, as if in his own despite, as he added: "You know, you were very wise when you left me at Saint Cloud. It was a most sensible thing for you not to come back, but now you are behaving like a fool."

"No! For the first time in my life, not like a fool."

She caught a reflection of herself in a mirror above the desk.

"How hideous I look in this waterproof!"

She took it off and flung it over one of the delicate, dark wooden chairs.

"You must not stay, you know, Lavinia. You must not be quite so stupid as that. Besides, I have no need of you."

"Don't say that! Don't speak so! I have given up everything for you! I have left them—"

With his hands in his pockets and his charming head slightly on one side he asked:

"Why?"

"You know! Don't play with me!"

"Is it I who play? Why did you run away at Saint Cloud? Had you suddenly heard that, after all, I had lost that damnable money?"

"No! No! I knew that before I came! I didn't want to tell you for fear it should spoil—everything. It was something else. I couldn't explain."

"You are, then, capricious! You went before the magistrate to-day? That foolish affair is finished?"

"Yes, yes, finished."

"You are free, then, Lavinia? You are able to return to England with your respectable fiancé, with your immaculate duenna."

"They are returning to-morrow, I believe, or the day after, but I—"

"You will go with them. Why have you been prudent for so long to he foolish now?"

"I had to come to you."

"It is too late," he smiled, "really, too late, Lavinia."

"No, I can stay with you whatever happens."

"If you do stay, even another five minutes, they will find out that you were here to-night, and everything will be confirmed. All those tales—"

"I don't care." She seated herself by the desk and looked round the room, which was, she thought, in every detail beautiful. "I've done with them—I let them see me as I am to-night—"

"After taking such incredible trouble to keep up appearances, you throw everything away—like this!"

"What does that matter?" she cried impatiently. "What is in those dossiers, what do they suspect?"

"I don't know what you mean. You are decidedly upset."

"You can trust me," she said hurriedly, "don't try to play with me. I—well, perhaps I guessed from the first, perhaps I really am an accomplice?"

"An accomplice?"

"I don't deny it. It would have been so easy—such a way out, for both of us—but the police! What do they know? How horrible it is to stand in front of that man and be examined! It seems impossible that one can be deceiving him, that he is not seeing, written on the air, as it were, all the pictures, thoughts, and memories that come into your own mind!"

"You are hysterical. I suppose it was the strain of this same examination."

He approached her, took her hand, and she gave a long shudder. He stared down into her flushed face.

"You have had a little too much wine, I think—perhaps on an empty stomach, eh? That is dangerous."

"You," she retorted violently, "taught me to drink. That glass of port in that filthy hotel at Aigues-Mortes, that was the first time."

"And what will the last time be, my poor Lavinia? Come, you must not stay here. Do you wish to lose everything for this one moment of hysterical breakdown? Return at once, before your Englishman suspects where you are."

Lavinia shook her head. She had taken off her hat; her thick curls hung down on to the heart-shaped bosom of her pale, dark dress.

"I couldn't go back to them! I can't tell you what it is like to be with them! I thought I could do it; believed I wanted safety; but I found out that I can't bear it. I've got a little money, a few thousand pounds; it seems a great deal to me, after the way I've been used to managing on pence, couldn't we go away to Italy after all, just you and I? You wanted me once, you know!"

"Yes." He smiled with a sad, cold tenderness. "From the first moment I saw you. I thought that you had everything I admire. At one moment I could have married you. But you ran away—"

"I thought—I thought—oh, for God's sake, tell me if anything is—suspected."

"You are certainly ill, my poor Lavinia! What is this chatter of suspicion? Of what can anyone be suspected? How you become so unnerved merely because a wretched slut steals some jewels!"

"You gave me one of them!"

"As my cousin asked me."

"Is it true? You didn't yourself—"

"What mistakes you make! How little you understand me. You are, after all, a schoolgirl."

She was both startled and sobered by his incredible calm; she shuddered with relief; he dropped her hand and said sternly:

"You have been frightening yourself with fancies. You must control yourself. There are some things that you must not think, or say—not even after drinking champagne."

"I suppose—it was my childhood—I shouldn't have thought—except for that. You are right, I must have been—a little mad."

She began to weep, humbling herself before him.

"And I was afraid, so afraid."

"You need not have been afraid for me. You know nothing of me. Did you think that you did? You are so ready to blast yourself for me now; why were you afraid that day at Saint Cloud?"

"I don't know. I've found out what matters most to me, I suppose. Those moments in the dust, in the heat by the vineyard, in my room, at Aix even, at Aigues-Mortes, they were beautiful to me, don't you understand? Beautiful!—I can't lose everything—you did like me!"

"I like you now. But you—one could never be sure. It is unfortunate to be an exception to the rules, Lavinia; you are neither what you were born nor what you, were trained to be—don't weep—this time next year it will all be forgotten—"

"Never—forgotten, never! Take me back. I was really insane that day at Saint Cloud—couldn't you forgive? Couldn't we go to Italy after all?"

"What is there to forgive in the caprices of a pretty woman? I have been to Italy and returned."

"But your affairs—you were in difficulties?"

"My cousin, Dino, has helped me. These people really do act to their codes at moments of crisis—like your Englishman. To-morrow I shall go to Dauphin."

She stared at herself in the glass and saw herself behind the torso of pink alabaster; she really was pretty in that becoming tight grey frock, the hues of honey, of a loosened white rose of cyclamen buds mingled in her flushed, palpitating face, hair, neck, and bosom—she pulled away the thin muslin chemisette—leaving her breast bare, yet was aware that he scarcely thought of her at all. Again, and negligently, like one who performed an indifferent duty, he said:

"You really are ruining yourself by staying here—try to understand that. Go away at once! I have kept you out of it, and your Englishman has stood by you; you are lucky. Don't spoil it all by mere stupidity."

He moved towards an inner door, and she threw herself after him, bitterly stung by that last word.

"Stupidity! Is that the only name you have for it? You didn't talk about stupidity in Provence!"

She saw that she had interested him, he paused with the half-open door in his hand.

"So! Reckless, eh? Well, it's a pity—but never mind, you are very pretty—"

She leaned against his shoulders in an access of relief.

"I could be pretty for you. Don't send me away. I've made up my mind now—"

Her thoughts flashed to the future—she would, as mistress of M. de Saint Paulle, hold her own with reckless insolence just as successfully as hitherto she had held it by tiresome respectability! He kissed lightly her thick hair, and she shuddered for joy, tightening her fingers on his shoulders.

He drew her across the threshold of the room; for one second she was happy.

There was a couch behind grey silk curtains in an alcove in the corner; before this, over a gilt cane chair, hung a woman's petticoats—as Lavinia's petticoats had hung over a dingy chair in the shabby room at Aix—and in front stood a pair of elegant varnished boots with silver tassels such as Lavinia had noticed worn by the little ladies of the boulevards who smoked their cigarettes at the iron tables outside the cafés.

Lavinia stared at him, he seemed really amused.

"She has gone out—to fetch some babas au rhum, perhaps—if you like, I can send her away when she returns."

"And afterwards—to-morrow?"

"To-morrow I shall go to Dauphiné."

"And I? Could I—come to Dauphiné?"

"Decidedly—not."

"Oh—then I—to-morrow?—"

"You would be free. I could, if you wanted it, give you some money."

"Money?" She felt quite stupefied and leaned against the wall.

"One pays! You will get used to it."

She turned back into the inner room, which seemed out of focus, broken in pieces that did not join properly; she took up the ugly mackintosh, the felt hat, the reticule; she wanted to say, "William called you a blackguard," but the words would not come. She again saw herself in the mirror, and beyond her own reflection, that of the young man leaning against the frame of the inner doorway, looking at her with ironic understanding. Everything was distorted, like the reflections in water when a stone has been cast in; all her pride of carriage was gone, it was in an ungainly fashion that she left the room, traversed the corridor and, leaving the apartment slowly, clumsily, went downstairs.

She was so long fumbling with the heavy front door that the concierge came out and looked at her suspiciously.

"Perhaps he knows me, my photograph has been in all the papers."

She was out on the street; the soiled rain drove through the fog on to her bare bosom, for the mackintosh hung open; she pulled together the lawn chemisette. The cigar-stump was lying in the gutter, the spark of fire now extinct in the mud. Lavinia stared at this and tried to put up her soft hair, which had fallen down under the stiff hat—"like a rose-thé"—a cheap flower after all, one could buy basketfuls on the quay, handfuls for a few sous, often had she seen them, scarcely faded, cast down on the pavements. They were bought, used, thrown away.

She walked aimlessly and paused, at length, beneath a street lamp; she stood there so long, with such an air of passivity, the rain drifting on to her, her long skirts in the dirt, that a policeman asked her, seeing that she was a foreigner, if she were lost.

Lavinia nodded.

"The Hôtel d'Angleterre," she muttered.

"The Hôtel d'Angleterre! Why, that is just round the corner! Mademoiselle is a stranger to Paris?"

"Yes. I couldn't find my way, thank you—"

The man accompanied her officiously to the corner of the street and pointed out the lit porch of the hotel.

Lavinia entered the building; she felt sick. Time seemed to revolve about her like a wheel that had lost its linch-pin; she could place nothing, think of nothing.

The first door that she came to was that of her private dining-room. She opened it, and William Tassart was waiting for her inside, he seemed scarcely to have moved since she had left the room over two hours before.

He rose at once on her entry and said, with the air of one who delivers a long-prepared speech:

"Lady Coign has gone to another hotel, and I shall be leaving Paris to-morrow. Do you require any money?"

"Money! Why do you offer me money?"

She moved slowly, cautiously, towards the fire and sat down in front of it with her back towards him.

"Were you expecting me to return?" she asked.

"I don't know. I resolved to wait here—all night, if need be, in case you did come back."

"Do you want to know where I've been?"

"No. The account is paid here."

She understood that he was trying, in an awkward fashion, to tell her of the precautions he had taken that appearances might be saved before the people in the hotel, and she interrupted roughly:

"What does any of that matter now—what people think? What do they say?"

"I suppose that—it doesn't matter."

"Well, why don't you go?"

She stared at him over her shoulder; his face was grey, dark round the mouth and chin from constant shaving, and damp on the forehead; his expression was the same as that of the man whom she had just left—that was strange, for they were so different that they did not seem to belong to the same world; yet they appeared to have reached a common opinion of her; she had her flash of insight as a little before she had had her flash of happiness.

"If we had any one of us cared—one for the other—how different! These are not the—adjustments—of—love."

"I suppose—you take out of it—what you put into it, Lavinia."

"I don't know. Are you sorry? No, I think you are glad that it is over—"

"I don't know." He rose stiffly. "I feel most horribly tired. Good night. Good-bye!"

She watched him go, then she turned and stared into the fire, which the young man had neglected in the agony of his vigil, so that it was now a heap of spent coal and ashes, and faced her future, which seemed at once inscrutable, inescapable, and darkly clear.


FOUR. THE LEAF IS RETURNED TO THE ALBUM

"Never mind, she had enough to last her until she returned to London, and there she would be quite free and unspied upon, there no one would care what she did, nor what she became."


"YOU can stay to-night, miss," protested Mrs. Liptrott, trembling but resolute. "I won't say that I'd turn you away, but you'll understand that your grandfather mustn't know that you're here. You couldn't stay—not after to-morrow."

"Very well," said Lavinia quietly, "let me remain just for to-night. I don't want to go to a hotel in Maybridge. I can't tell you how tired I am of hotels, Mrs. Liptrott. I have been to so many since I was here before, the rooms are so ugly and unfriendly. Let me stay here just for to-night," she repeated, with her cold smile. "I have left almost all my luggage in London; I have with me just this valise."

"I can't think why you came back, miss," sighed Mrs. Liptrott, deeply troubled. "Everyone's been at such pains to keep everything from Dr. Pierrepoint. He's old and ill, but quite happy, and it would be a pity—"

"Yes, yes," interrupted Lavinia, "I quite understand. But I had an impulse to come, it is the only kind of home I've ever known, you see. Of course, I can't stay, I don't want to stay. I have been very unfortunate, Mrs. Liptrott. I've been involved in that unpleasant affair in Paris—it got into the papers, too. Of course, it was no fault of my own, and I was quite innocent, even of an indiscretion—"

Mrs. Liptrott did not reply to this. She had brought in the lamp and set it in the prim, pleasant parlour in which Lavinia Pierrepoint had passed so many hours of her barren girlhood.

"I understand, miss," remarked the housekeeper uneasily. "You've got a bit of money now, haven't you? You'll be able to be independent, as it were!"

"Yes, I've got a little money. Grandfather didn't see the papers that announced my engagement was broken off?"

"No, miss. I had a deal of trouble to keep that away from him. He's regular for his Morning Post. But with one thing and another and him dozing so much and the doctor helping me—"

"Oh yes, I suppose everybody would help you to keep him from knowing anything about me. But I am not disgraced nor slighted, you know, Mrs. Liptrott, absolutely nothing has happened, only Sir William and I decided we didn't suit each other. I couldn't lead his kind of life, you know."

"I suppose you'll be going abroad again, miss," said Mrs. Liptrott, edging away from her.

"I suppose so. I haven't really thought it out."

"But you'll be leaving Maybridge to-morrow—you'll be leaving this house in a few hours?" urged Mrs. Liptrott from the door.

"Yes, yes, I promise you! I don't want any sensation—any scandal."

As soon as the woman had left her she went upstairs to her bedroom. Everything was exactly the same, clean, cold, shining; the bed with the honeycomb coverlet, the texts on the wall: "God is Love," "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light," the thin muslin curtains at the window.

She sat down and unstrapped her valise, after having lit a cold candle which gave a trembling and reluctant light.

The French police had returned her all her possessions which they had found in her sealed rooms at the Château Boismarin. Among them was the leaf she had torn from her album which contained the photograph of herself and William Tassart. She had that with her, replaced in the album, and she looked at it now, staring carefully where she had fastened it, gumming it exactly where it had been torn.

Why had she troubled about that detail? She asked herself the question with contempt as she flung the album among the old school prizes on the shelf. How far away was the moment when it had been taken!—She had forgotten the smell of hawthorn, of meadowsweet.

They did not want her here, she would be turned out; if she tried to remain, Mrs. Liptrott would call the doctor and clergyman, or one or two of Dr. Pierrepoint's old friends, and they would put her out of the little house as she had been put out of the Hôtel de Montpaon.

She thought of the chemist's shop beneath, of the poppy-heads, the lavender vases and majolica jars, and again she became that wistful, curious child waiting outside—Not that, yet! Though, no doubt, it would come to it in the end...

How old had her mother been? Forty, perhaps!—yes, a woman could go on as long as that. She had a little money to start with, she might earn more one way and another—"One pays! In time you will get used to it!"—As long as one was young, healthy, and had one's wits there were places in Italy, on the Riviera...She shuddered in the cold room. They might have given her a fire, she had become used to luxury.

"I never have had a chance," she murmured, with a surge of self-pity. "I saw too much when I was a child. Love? Will it be at all beautiful—the second time? I wonder if I was right—about the laboratory!"

She looked for her travelling-flask, and found it was empty, and her beautiful lips curled with vexation. She rose, picked up the candle and anxiously looked at herself in the glass. Not twenty-two years old and beautiful; her bloom was not tarnished, nothing of what had happened showed in her face. It would not show for many years. One could run a long credit with Nature, and now she knew how to set off that full bosom, that tapering waist, those long limbs, the brilliant complexion.

Just one night, and she must not see the old man; well, she was stupid to have returned, a crazy touch of homesickness—when she had no home.

She put out the candle and went downstairs, out into the quiet street. She passed one or two acquaintances in the twilight, who did not appear to see her, nor did she trouble about them, she was intent on her destination—the wine and spirit merchant, where her grandfather had a modest account.

The bow-fronted shop was about to close; the man in the door remarked to a passer-by that "Spring was in the air."

"Ah, Mr. Ashbridge," smiled Lavinia, "I am so glad I am in time. Dr. Pierrepoint is slightly weaker this evening, he wants some brandy, some really good cognac. I've just come home for a day or two—I'll pay for it, please, don't put it on the account. It's a little present."

The man, rather shy and reserved, served her. She paid with the last of the sovereigns she had taken away from Maybridge. Still smiling, she stepped into the street; it was as if she now possessed an ally, a friend. She hastened home through the sweet evening and passed the chemist's shop with a nod and a smile.

"Not yet, not yet!"

How foolish she had been to come here where no one understood or appreciated her! But it would be endurable now that she had the brandy. She must be careful that Mrs. Liptrott did not see it; how difficult it was to obtain in a place like this—old Ashbridge had known her since she had first come to Maybridge, and yet how suspiciously he had looked at her Never mind, she had enough to last her until she returned to London, and there she would be quite free and unspied upon, there no one would care what she did, nor what she became.


THE END

This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia