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Title: So Evil My Love (For Her to See)
Author: Marjorie Bowen
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Language: English
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So Evil My Love
(For Her to See)

by

Marjorie Bowen

Cover Image

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS FROM THE FILM

First US edition: Harper & Brothers, New York, 1947
First UK edition: Hutchinson & Co, London, 1947
as For Her to See



PRODUCTION NOTE

There were no chapter or section headings in the paper book from which this ebook was made. A line of capitalised text marked the beginning of each "section." Numbers have been added to this ebook, at the point of each line of capitalised text, to aid in navigation. The capitalised text has been replaced with appropriate upper and lower case text.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

§ 1
§ 2
§ 3
§ 4
§ 5
§ 6
§ 7
§ 8
§ 9
§ 10
§ 11
§ 12
§ 13
§ 14
§ 15
§ 16
§ 17
§ 18
§ 19
§ 20
§ 21
§ 22
§ 23
§ 24
§ 25
§ 26
§ 27
§ 28
§ 29
§ 30
§ 31
§ 32
§ 33
§ 34
§ 35
§ 36
§ 37
§ 38
§ 39
§ 40
§ 41
§ 42
§ 43
§ 44
§ 45
§ 46
§ 47
§ 48
§ 49
§ 50
§ 51
§ 52
§ 53
§ 54
§ 55
§ 56
§ 57
§ 58
§ 59
§ 60
§ 61


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



Cover Image Cover Image

"So Evil My Love"—First edition book cover and poster for 1948 film



§ 1

There was very little for her to see as Mrs. Sacret closed the mean door, on her empty home. There was no one in the street of small, ugly houses, the sky was a fleckless and pallid blue, the highroad that closed the vista showed cheap shops that were shuttered against the bleak Sunday, wisps of straw and paper lay in the gutter.

Mrs. Sacret paused and contemplated her surroundings with resentment that was the more acute as she realized that she was not more attractive than her neighborhood. A slight woman, thirty years of age, with ordinary features, hazel-colored hair and eyes and a subdued bearing, her graceful figure and feet were hidden under the shabby bombazine of a widow's mourning. Wrinkled cotton gloves concealed her hands; a black straw bonnet was tied by black ribbons under her chin and a crape veil concealed her face; she wore a silver brooch from which hung a cross twisted with a spray of ivy. Her pretty feet were deformed by trodden-over boots, their elastic sides were revealed as she bunched up her long skirts, awkwardly full in the gathers, under her mantle; her clothes had been made in meek and resigned imitation of the fashions worn by gentlewomen.

Mrs. Sacret had passed a dull day in considering her future, a subject that she could not hope anyone was interested in, besides herself. The widow of a missionary whose life and death were obscure, who had bequeathed her but a few hundred pounds and the little house before which she now hesitated, she had, since her return to England three months ago, been seeking a livelihood with daily increasing eagerness.

At first she had felt sure that some mission or society concerned with the spreading of the gospel message or the lot of the industrious poor would have secured her services as secretary or manageress, as matron or sister, and she was familiar with many who were ably directing the labors of those hard-working men and women employed in converting heathens abroad, or rescuing paupers at home. Mrs. Sacret had not only failed to obtain any such post; she had been made to realize the social disadvantages attaching to Dissent. In Jamaica these had not been obvious; if the Sacrets' humble mission was ignored by the Church of England chaplains, it was also respected by the Nonconformists among the sugar planters, and looked up to with awe by the Negroes who transformed all brands of Christianity into melody and color. In London Mrs. Sacret found the dividing line had become a wall—"only a Dissenter" was a usual term that dismissed as beneath notice the followers of a movement that had once overturned the country.

Thus forced back on the organizations run by sects of her late husband's beliefs, or near them, she had found them poor, largely run by volunteers, and indifferent to her plight. Frederick Sacret had not been in any way distinguished from his fellows save by certain good looks and attractions discernible only by his wife, and by her forgotten long before his death from yellow fever in a Kingstown hospital.

Nor was she, the daughter of a medical man and an Anglican, without a stiff gentility that made her slightly ungracious even when asking for a favor, and posts such as she wanted were, as she soon discovered, largely given as favors.

Still pausing in the empty street, her situation confronted her once more in the inner chamber of her mind where her alarmed wits sat in council.

Her parents had died when she, an only child, was a girl. Such relatives as she had were remote strangers; she was sure they would repudiate her and her misfortunes. An attempt to approach them on her marriage had led to rebuffs. Her father, who had never been more than the least popular doctor at Ball's Pond, Islington, was supposed by his family to have lowered his class, that of small Kent squires, by marrying the daughter of a local haberdasher, and Olivia, his child, had certainly descended again, by choosing a Dissenter and a missionary for her husband. The friends she had made at the Clapham School where she had been educated through the exertions and privations of her parents were scattered. She was never noticed either by mistresses or scholars and she had been at the select establishment only a year, for when her father died it was no longer possible to pay the fees.


Illustration

Ray Milland and Ann Todd in "So Evil My Love"


One girl had been kind, generous, even a little loving to the austere, plain and poor Olivia Gladwin, the pretty creature who had been Susan Freeman, then Susan Dasent, and who was now Susan Rue. Mrs. Sacret thought of Susan as she walked slowly along Minton Street toward drab High Street. She had last seen her former schoolfellow three years ago, when she, the amiable Susan, had been herself a widow, the wealthy Mrs. Dasent; then Olivia Sacret had sought her out and the two women had been very friendly. The episode stood out clearly in Mrs. Sacret's memory, as an exciting space of time, filled with a variety of interesting events, a short interlude in a monotonous life, for the Sacrets had gone to Jamaica a few months after the revival of the schoolgirl intimacy. Their correspondence, at first expansive, had soon ceased, for Susan Dasent could not write more than a scrawl, as Mrs. Sacret, who had so often done her lessons for her at the Clapham School, well knew, and was too lazy to continue even to send scrawls to the woman, who, in every sense of the word, had left her world.

A printed card with a penciled greeting had informed Mrs. Sacret of Susan's second marriage, a year ago. The address was that of a hired home at Clapham. She had not replied and when she had returned to London she had not known where Susan lived; they had no common friend nor acquaintance, the circles in which they moved did not touch anywhere. Though by birth at least equal, for Susan's father was a city tea merchant, and Dr. Gladwin would have considered him his inferior, the delicate intricacies of London society, as finely balanced as a precise work of art, sharply divided the dissenting missionary's widow from the wife of the prosperous and well-placed banker, Martin Rue.

Mrs. Sacret, however, on this dull Sunday afternoon, was resolved to attempt the renewal of the lost friendship. She used that word, firmly, in her mind; yes, she affirmed, it had been friendship between herself and Susan, who had been so lucky with her inherited fortune and her two opulent marriages. Susan who had always been so indulged and flattered, not only because of her wealth, but because she was pretty, easy and soft, good natured, with charming flattering manners. Even if Susan Rue had been in the place of Olivia Sacret, she would have done much better for herself than the missionary's widow could do. She was so gentle, affectionate and helpless that someone would have been sure to rescue her from any distress, while no one ever felt much compassion for Olivia Sacret, with her independent air and the hint of irony in her intelligent glance.

The lonely woman turned into High Street, then proceeded along it to the right; she had some way to walk; the omnibuses were infrequent and she avoided them whenever possible, as an affront to her gentility. She felt some satisfaction in her health. She had always been strong, the climate of Jamaica had not affected her native vigor, and she was well able to undertake the two miles or so to her destination, which was the Old Priory, Tintern Road, Clapham. Yesterday she had seen this address in the Morning Post that she had purchased in order to read the column headed SITUATIONS VACANT.

Nothing had been on offer that she did not shrink from applying for, and it had been with a listless sigh that she had turned over the journal and stared absently at COURT AND SOCIETY. There she had seen the announcement of the return of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Rue from Florence to their new house in Clapham. So Susan, after hotels and hired homes, had now "a place of her own."

At first Mrs. Sacret, lonely in her tiny parlor, had smiled sarcastically. Susan was being ostentatious, she did not come of a class that considered its movements of public interest, nor was her present position, solid as it was, comparable to the least of those remotely connected with the court. She had wasted her guineas to pay for this insertion at the bottom of a gazette to which her husband's wealth just permitted her an entrance.

Then another thought had entered the keen brain of Mrs. Sacret and she had stared at the print as if something extremely useful had been put into her hand, a purse of gold, a weapon of defense and assault, or a rope with which to haul herself from the misfortunes that threatened to suck her down from her precarious comfort and respectability. Here was the address of a friend, she emphasized the word, who would, in many ways, help her, despite the difference in their positions and the length of time since they had met. She was proud with the pride that is the only possible defense against the humiliations inflicted on genteel poverty, with the pride nourished jealously by the woman, chaste as maid, wife and widow, in a society where this virtue is no passport to ease or pleasure, with the pride of the Christian missionary who has been in spiritual domination over the heathen, and proud with the aggressive pride of a Dissenter, secretly ashamed of having left the ranks of a church that the Nonconformists might consider in serious, even damnable, error, but that English society held in unshakeable esteem.

Moreover, she believed in God, she knew herself for a righteous, self-sacrificing woman who desired nothing from life save a decent position where she could maintain her genteel pretensions and expend her energies in good works. The little house in Minton Street, and a daily maidservant, some place of consideration among her fellows and she believed she would be contented. The poverty of her childhood, her humble marriage, a dread of sinking to menial labor, unavowed fears of loneliness and the passive scorn or apathy of strangers who glanced at her once and never again, all made her cautious, unambitious, anxious for security.

Three months ago she had not wanted to know Susan's address; she had even hoped that chance would not bring them together, their characters and fortunes were so ill-adjusted. Mrs. Sacret knew that she herself was intelligent, well informed, industrious and resolute, while Susan was stupid, ignorant, idle and weak. Even their names jarred on their circumstances; the ambitious haberdasher's daughter who had married above her class had christened her child the romantic Olivia, from the heroines of an old play and an old novel, while the wealthy, prosaic parents of Susan had chosen the unpretentious name of an equally wealthy aunt who had been godmother to their heiress.

Mrs. Sacret had persuaded herself that she no longer wished to have any concern in the frivolous useless existence of Susan Rue. She had nearly destroyed the packet of foolish letters her friend had written to her during that brief return of their school days' intimacy, three years ago, when Susan had been so excited over her own affairs and so eager to confide in Olivia, who had been her stay and comfort at Miss Mitchell's Establishment for the Daughters of Gentlemen.

But now, the withering of her hopes, the pressure of her loneliness, the curiosity and envy engendered by solitary brooding, overcame her pride, compounded of such varying emotions, and she walked steadily toward the Old Priory, Clapham.

She was not sure that she wished to meet Susan, to risk finding her among smart, fashionable friends, but to look at the Rues' house, to learn the measure of their affluence—she considered that worth while. At the least it made a point to the empty Sunday afternoon, it would be an excuse for not attending the chapel in Gervase Square for the evening service.—"I went to see an old friend"—No one would miss her at that comfortable gathering, for she always kept herself apart, obviously superior to her company. As she steadily walked along High Street, between the shuttered shops, she thought of the gray chapel with distaste; if the Dissenters did not soon find work for her, she would return to the Church. An Evangelical clergyman would accept her without much demur. She had been brought up in those orthodox tenets, therefore it had been very easy to visit the Ball's Pond Chapel now and then when the preacher was of a particular repute, and there she had met Frederick Sacret. She liked his name, one letter altered and it would be "Secret"; life was only tolerable because of secrets hidden within her mind, guarded, seldom considered, never revealed.

She crossed the wide river by the ponderous modern bridge. A breeze blowing from the left, from the sea, disarranged her clumsy garments, the turned and ironed ribbons on her bonnet; her mourning looked rusty in the pale light. She felt discomfort from the wind and from being suspended above the flowing water, alone and beaten upon by the cold air, but neither the mud flats behind her, reaching to terraces before straight brick houses, nor the leafless trees and featureless huts of the market gardens on the shore before her, depressed her. The Thames and the prospects of gray river, gray shores blank of human beings, and blurred by a blister-colored mist, were not gloomy to the woman who carried her mood with her, and who was self-centered enough to have found the smooth tints, vivid sun and soft airs of Jamaica ineffective because she was unhappy.

She reached the farther shore, skirted the vegetable frontages showing cabbage stalks and untidy chicken runs and took her way along a poor street that led into a better neighborhood, then on to a small open common round which, at gracious intervals, were large suburban mansions standing in gardens overcrowded with shrubs and trees. The scene resembled a village green transformed by the spell of a vulgar magic. Where the noble Norman church should have stood was an ostentatious building of Portland stone, with a heavy spire, shut off by coarse railings and gate from the road. Where the homely inn with the ancient sign should have stood was a large public house, of bright brick and corrugated yellow plaster, with the absurd statue of a black bull on the parapet above the porch. Instead of cottages with flowers in front and orchards behind, there were these solid residences, in varying styles of hybrid architecture, with turrets, towers, conservatories, balconies so unrelated as to appear like the edifices put together at random by an impatient child from a medley of crude models. These ugly mansions, as yet unstained by the soot that rendered dingy the church and the public house, were fronted by stiff double drives, heavy double gates, dark foreign trees and ponderous shrubs with dark, dirt-laden foliage, and backed by the empty sky. Instead of the homely and cheerful gathering of the village green, carriages were driven slowly around and around by stout and ruddy coachmen accompanied by silent grooms. The immobility of these people, who, in their parts as servants, had almost ceased to exist as human beings, the steady sound of the slow moving horses and wheels, added to the somber ugliness of the scene that meant nothing save that money, without taste or tradition to control it, had been used lavishly for comfort, luxury and display.

Mrs. Sacret understood perfectly what she saw. It was Sunday and these cosy folk were visiting one another for tea; the carriages had come from another part of Clapham, or from another suburb. These mansions were not the most expensive in the neighborhood, farther on there would he others, where the inhabitants would not have to endure the old established if recently rebuilt public house, people who could afford two menservants. Her shrewd glance appraised the carriages; they belonged, she was sure, to families even more wealthy than those that surrounded this little common.

She went on slowly, beginning to feel fatigue; the liveried servants ignored her as she ignored them, though she was aware of the curiosity in their sharp eyes, and they were aware that she was a stranger and out of place in this select neighborhood. She wished to ask the way to Tintern Road, but it did not even occur to her that she could question these menservants; she went on as if they did not exist, knowing they were staring after her, hearing the sound of slow wheels and hoofs on the placid air. She passed the large common, crossing a corner of the harsh, urban grass; the faded black of her clothes blended nicely with the neutral tints of her background, English half tones, smudged with a still mist, as a painting is smudged with varnish. She was solitary and weary, conscious that she was on strange ground. Never had she lived in such a luxurious neighborhood as this, nor had any connection with the people who inhabited it. Once she had visited Susan, when they were girls, but the Freemans' house at Wandsworth had not been as imposing as these houses before her now, though far too imposing for her ease of mind; she had never repeated the experience though Susan's parents had been kindly.

She knew that if she ever did reside in such a wealthy suburb as this, it would be as a dependent, a companion, since she had not the qualifications for the post of governess, or as a housekeeper, very little more considered than the rigid servants on the carriage boxes she had just passed. She decided that she would not call on Susan. They were completely out of touch, only embarrassment could result to both of them from her unexpected and almost certainly inopportune visit. Better, she thought, to go back, cross the river and return to the mean decorum of Minton Street where, at least, she felt equal to her surroundings. But as she hesitated on the turn of her steps, she noticed a high wall, at right angles to the common, on which was painted in bold black letters, TINTERN ROAD, very plain for her to see.

It would be poor spirited, she reflected, to return without even looking at Susan's house, so she walked along the empty road that was bordered by the stout walls that concealed mansions and gardens of grandiose proportions. At generous intervals these were broken by gates leading to trim gravel drives, flanked by laurel, privet and lilac borders. On the second of these gates was painted, also plain for her to see, THE OLD PRIORY.

Mrs. Sacret could observe the house when she peered between the iron uprights of the gate, though it stood well back and was partly concealed by laburnum and acacia trees that grew in clusters behind the border of the drive. It was a building in the style of the Gothic revival, feebly copied, with castellated roof below the chimney pots, a tower with pinnacles, arched hooded windows, a Norman porch and wide steps with plaster dogs sitting at attention on the balusters. Mrs. Sacret could see, between the dirty boughs, a glitter of shining glass, the shape of outbuildings, a conservatory and stables.

"A great deal of money," she muttered; then she opened the gates cautiously, intending no more than a closer inspection of Susan's home, and her shabby dark figure, gloomy with the crape-edged mantle and skirt, the black bonnet, the widow's veil, approached the house, steadily, with delicate tread.

Mrs. Sacret was observant and well informed within her limited scope. She had natural taste, never yet expressed, and an ironic cast of mind, so she smiled at the ostentatious house before her, that she knew to be a sham in all the pretensions it implied.

There had never been a monastic establishment here; the name had been given vaguely, because of the supposed character of the architecture that had probably been chosen because of the name of the road by someone who could recall the ruins of Tintern, but not that it was an abbey.

Susan, thought Mrs. Sacret; it was built for her, it is quite new—or she renamed it.

And this reflection on Susan's clumsy stupidity strengthened Mrs. Sacret's self-confidence; she asked herself why she should be afraid of a foolish woman, however wealthy. The knowledge that she could have used money to better purpose than Susan had used it in this ugly place, consoled her for her poverty, her fatigue, and her dim prospects.

The place was truly ugly, even the shrubs and trees were clipped, overcrowded or badly planted, so that they seemed unreal, and they were an unnatural hue from dust; the mist hung in dark soiled drops from the harsh leaves of the mottled laurels, the grass border was without freshness. The house, of large ungainly proportions, was ill set, the stucco painted a drab yellow incongruous with the turreting, the Gothic intention, the chimney stacks, belching slow-rising smoke, were absurd, the monkey puzzle trees behind, crooked and twisted, the Venetian blinds at the windows another evidence of lack of taste. Mrs. Sacret could reasonably smile. Her own mean home was more seemly and pleasing for it was without affectation. But the Old Priory displayed impressive signs of wealth that Mrs. Sacret quickly noted; it was as neat as it was grandiose and the outbuildings, the glittering panes of the domed conservatory, the gardener's cottage in a rustic design, the speckless drive and steps, the shining windows, all showed the patient care of many humble hands.

"I might as well see Susan," reflected Mrs. Sacret and rang the iron chain bell that hung inside the porch. An elderly maid in a street gray poplin uniform opened the door immediately and stared with surprise at the dark figure of the widow smiling through the meshes of her crape veil.

"Can I see Mrs. Rue? Will you please tell her that a friend, Mrs. Sacret, has called—has come a long way to visit her."

The lady was gratified to observe that her genteel manner served her; the maid, though startled, asked her into the hall, and went in search of her mistress.

"So Susan is at home—is it lucky or unlucky that we shall meet?"

Mrs. Sacret glanced about her; the floor was tiled, the staircase marble, a window at the back filled with colored glass, blue, crimson and yellow, the walls were wood paneled and a large ornate iron lamp hung from the ceiling. It was very ugly, it was also very costly and well kept. Mrs. Rue would see Mrs. Sacret and the two friends met in the large room at the back of the house that gave onto the garden; a room luxurious, comfortable, cheerful. There was a grand pianoforte, a brilliant fire, and pots of forced flowers. The furniture was handsome, the chairs were softly cushioned, the tables displayed gold and silver trifles, the pearl-tinted wallpaper set off water colors of romantic scenery in wide mounts and gilt frames. Everything that Mrs. Sacret had ever associated with ease and luxury, if not with elegance and good taste, was present in Susan's surroundings, while she herself was dressed in a rose-hued taffeta, ruffled with blond lace, that was a sharp contrast indeed to the widow's dowdy black garments.

Susan was effusive, in the charming, breathless and rather foolish manner that Mrs. Sacret remembered so well. She ordered tea and pressed her friend with quick questions, the most often repeated of which was—"Where have you been? Why have you not written? I did not know where you were!"

"How should you," replied Mrs. Sacret. "My address is not ever in the Morning Post, that was where I saw yours."

"We must have some sherry!" cried Mrs. Rue, starting up, and with quick pretty movements she had soon brought out a fine cut glass decanter and heavy, glittering glasses from a Sheraton cabinet and poured out the tawny-colored wine, Bristol milk, nearly as strong as an old port.

"Oh, I don't take it," said Mrs. Sacret, "and not before tea."

"Do drink it, I expect you have come a long way."

"Yes, indeed, and not in a carriage either. I live in my little house in Minton Street that you may remember."

"Of course I remember it." Mrs. Rue drank her sherry then poured herself another glassful. "I did not know you were in London—when you wrote to me from Jamaica, after your—I mean—" She was confused, sighed and pulled out her handkerchief. "Oh, dear, you will have thought me so heartless; you wrote of your sad loss and I did answer, but you replied that your plans were unsettled and I never wrote again; do forgive me."

"My plans were unsettled," agreed Mrs. Sacret gently. "And I did not expect you to write, nor any explanations. Indeed, I hardly expected to see you again, Susan."

"Oh, why ever not!" exclaimed Mrs. Rue nervously.

"Our positions are so different. I came to London to look for work—and I haven't found any. It was only a chance made me come here, just the chance of seeing your address yesterday."

Mrs. Rue had drunk her second glass of sherry, she was flushed and restless. Mrs. Sacret thought she had been sleeping by the bright fire, sunk in the easy chair, in the room scented with the hothouse flowers, when her unexpected visitor had been announced.

"I'm afraid I startled you, Susan, coming like this—in my mourning. I am so sorry. I should have written; it was just an impulse. I really only intended to look at your house and go away again; then, somehow, I thought I would like to see you. I daresay that was ill advised." Mrs. Sacret sighed, her pleasant voice fell to a whisper. "I've been lonely and poor, and idle, for awhile now, and living so one gets things out of proportion."

"But, of course, I want to see you. I think of you so often," protested Mrs. Rue. "Oh, here comes the tea. Are you sure that you won't have a glass of wine first? It is so refreshing."

"No, just the tea, thank you, Susan, just that and a little talk about the past."

She glanced at the handsome tea equipage with the inevitable curiosity of the poor for the appointments of the rich—heavy silver, Worcester china, extravagant dainties, forced peaches and a pineapple were arranged on Brussels lace.

"We have pineries," chattered Mrs. Rue quickly fidgeting with cups and plates. "Martin is interested in seeing what we can grow. Do you like the house? Martin bought it last year—I altered the name to the Old Priory—because of Tintern Road."

"So I supposed. I know your romantic taste, Susan. No, not any cream, I am not used to rich food; indeed I live very plainly."

"Oh, yes, on principle—as a Christian missionary."

"And because I cannot afford anything but the cheapest fare."

As she ate her sponge finger and sipped her China tea she regarded Susan critically. In her soft pink dress the pretty plump young woman was much like a rose herself, a loosened summer rose, soft, warm, luxuriant; she glowed, with her sanguine complexion, her bright brown hair, her blue-gray eyes, her white teeth, into one radiance that slipped into the pearls around her throat and the diamond bracelets at her wrists. Everything about her was expensive and Mrs. Sacret was surprised that she should be sitting alone on this Sunday afternoon; surely she had any number of friends; but questioned, Susan Rue replied, no, she was not expecting anyone, and Martin was away, spending the Sunday with his mother at Blackheath. "And what was the little talk about the past you wanted, Olivia?"

"Oh, our school days and then, three years ago, when you used to come to Minton Street, after Captain Dasent's death."

"Yes, you were very kind to me then, Olivia; of course I shall never forget it. I don't know what you thought of me, I mean, I was so foolish, feather headed, as you used to say, and you were such a comfort, allowing me to write to you and pour out all my troubles."

"They are over," smiled Mrs. Sacret. "I haven't come to remind you of them. I'd forgotten them until I came upon some letters of yours in an old box."

"Some letters of mine! I suppose you burned them—as rubbish?"

"No, I didn't. I can't think why. I suppose I felt a little tenderly about them—about the days when we were such intimate friends."

"It doesn't matter—they are safe with you."

"Why, Susan, you speak as if there was mischief in your letters—or harm. You know if there had been I should never have been your confidante." Mrs. Sacret smiled charmingly. "And now you are so happy—"

"I don't suppose that you approve of second marriages," interrupted Susan Rue uneasily. "But I was very young—and sad—and not fit to manage my business, and in a conspicuous position—a widow with money.

"Pray don't explain to me, dear," murmured Mrs. Sacret. "Of course you were right to do as your heart bid you—"

"My heart," muttered Mrs. Rue, staring at her untouched cup of tea.

"And you are lucky, also. Two rich husbands—no, I don't mean that in a vulgar sense, but you were just born to be petted and a little pampered, Susan, and to have someone to look after you. I am very glad, indeed, to see you so handsomely established."

Susan Rue sighed. She seemed much disturbed by this sudden appearance of a figure from the past, and her facile, impulsive nature was without defenses against the serene skill with which Olivia Sacret probed into her simple affairs. After a further short conversation the missionary's widow learned that her rich, lovely and indulged young friend was as lonely as she was herself, lonely and a little frightened. Her second marriage was not very successful. Martin was jealous, censorious and mean—yes, that was it, he was mean; though she had two fortunes to dispose of, he watched all her expenditures and begrudged her the comforts to which she was entitled. Why, as Olivia must have noticed, she had not even menservants, and then he disliked her going about, or entertaining, and she led a very solitary life. Martin was always at his office, or with his mother, or worrying about his health. Why, when they were in Florence, where she had expected to be gay, they had hardly left their hired villa and met no one. It was only on his glasshouses that Martin was prepared to spend money, on the pineries, the conservatories. And she, Susan, was tired of the tasteless forced fruit, the pallid forced flowers and the delicate ferns over which Martin fussed so continually—as if they were human. Olivia Sacret listened to this ingenuous confession with a sense of power; at a step she had regained her old ascendancy over this weak nature. Susan felt an obvious relief in pouring out her frivolous, futile complaints to this girlhood's friend, and Olivia slid easily into her old position of confidante.

"You should have waited, dear," she said sympathetically. "And married Sir John Curle. I saw that his wife is still—an invalid."

At this Susan showed a startling agitation.

"Oh, please, Olivia! Don't ever mention that name, now please don't. Martin is so jealous."

"What does he know about it? That name?"

Susan began suddenly to weep. "We were seen together—and talked of—a little—you know—he was married, though Lady Curle had been separated from him so long—and was weak-minded, and someone, of course—I think it was his mother—told him—and he is always casting it up at me."

"Casting what up?"

Susan sobbed speechlessly.

"Why, I never came here, after all this time, to distress you," cried Mrs. Sacret rising. "I never thought—I supposed you were happy—there now, do dry your eyes, before the maid comes, or what will she think I have done to you?"

Susan made a childish effort at control.

"I never see him, now, never," she murmured. "It is all past—and I can trust him—"

"Of course. I don't see why you disturb yourself. I'm sorry I mentioned the letters—"

"The letters, please, please, burn them, Olivia."

"Certainly, if you wish. Only—"

"I know what you want to say. I ought to have thought of it before—to have looked you up—to have done something for you."

"What do you mean, dear?" asked Mrs. Sacret softly, bending over the voluptuous figure of her friend in the soft scented silks and laces. Susan Rue glanced up with wet, frightened eyes.

"You said you had not found a post—and that you were poor."

"Yes—hut I know what to do."

Susan shrank from the serene gray eyes whose gaze was fixed on her so steadily. "Of course," she whispered. "I understand. Will you come and live with me? I need a companion."

"I did not think of that position," replied Mrs. Sacret, concealing her intense surprise, "in anyone's house."

"Oh, I mean as a friend—as if you were a sister, everything as I have it—and—and—pocket money."

"Pocket money?" repeated Mrs. Sacret.

"What do you want?" asked Susan Rue wildly. "I can only give you half of what I have myself—by pocket money I meant a salary—say two hundred a year—and presents—and nothing for you to do."

"How extravagantly you talk," said Mrs. Sacret, withdrawing across the hearth. "I never came here to ask for anything."

"I know why you came. I've often expected you'd come. But I thought you were in the West Indies—you were always a good friend to me," added Susan rising. "And I have no one," she dabbed her eyes, "to talk to—and I'm sure I'm not offering you too much. I'm very tiresome to live with."

The maid entered to fetch the tea equipage and Mrs. Sacret skillfully turned the conversation to an easy commonplace, under cover of which she took her leave, kissing Susan's hot cheek kindly and promising "to think over" what had been said and to "write soon."


§ 2

The missionary's widow found her little house mean and even bleak after the luxury and comfort of the Old Priory. It was easy to smile at Susan's ignorance and poor taste, but the interior of her pretentious dwelling was, Olivia Sacret considered, desirable. She had not before noticed how agreeable money could make life. When she had last seen Susan she had herself been absorbed in her own affairs, her marriage and her work; both had then seemed exciting, now, in retrospect, dull. She noticed the drafts under the ill-fitting doors, the rubbed drugget, the sagging chairs. She had never tried to make her home pleasant, believing vaguely, that to do so would be frivolous, even wrong. She sat long beside her scanty fire, in the light of the oil lamp with the opal globe, thinking of Susan, and then, with a start, of God. She should pray for Susan, so worldly and so selfish, and she was surprised that she had forgotten to advise her friend to pray, to question her on her religious duties that she had never faithfully fulfilled. Mrs. Sacret could not understand how it happened that she had so lost, not only her professional manner but her professional attitude of mind, when with Susan. Usually she was suavely ready to offer spiritual consolation to the distressed. She supposed it had really been astonishment that had so shaken her out of her mental routine. Astonishment at Susan's confusion, her confession of an unsatisfactory marriage, her dismay over the letters, and her extraordinary offer to Olivia—an offer beyond even Susan's reckless generous nature to make.

"She was frightened." The three words almost formed themselves on Mrs. Sacret's pretty lips; a stir of impatience made her rise and, taking the lamp, go into the basement kitchen. She prepared herself a tidy supper of cold ham and cocoa, while she pondered: Frightened of what?—and ate it, sitting at the scrubbed table and staring at the cold black-leaded grate.

The letters. So she thought of them now, as if they were the only letters in the world. Susan had wildly hoped that they were "safe," had asked that they might be destroyed, but Olivia Sacret remembered them as harmless, ill-written chatter, silly accounts of her flirtations with Sir John Curle, and her regrets as to his hopeless marriage. Mr. Sacret had not liked Susan's behavior, he had said she was being "talked about," though she was always prudently chaperoned by relatives or paid companions, and had wished his wife to discountenance the lovely widow. But Mrs. Sacret had continued to receive the confidence of her friend and to allow her to visit the house in Minton Street, not only out of sympathy with one who was so gentle and kind, but because, secretly, she liked the romance—there was no other word—that Susan's unfortunate love affair provided. Neither could she see anything wrong in the situation. Susan had behaved very well; her tone had been, from the first, one of renunciation. She had visited Lady Curle in her sad retreat, tried to make friends with her, and had, together with Olivia, prayed for her recovery to normal health. Nor was Sir John less noble; his attachment to Susan, though sudden and violent, had never, she had promised Olivia, been more than whispered. And soon after the Sacrets had gone to Jamaica, he had left England. Nothing could have been more proper, though Olivia had considered the second marriage regrettable. Susan should have remained a widow, but she was so weak!

Susan was so weak. Mrs. Sacret shivered. The kitchen was cold. It was stupid to be wasting the fire in the parlor; she left her soiled dishes on the table, took up her lamp again and ascended the short steep flight of mean stairs; in the narrow passage she paused. The letters were in her bedroom, in the bottom of a hair trunk; she wanted to read them again for she had forgotten all of them save their general trend. She had never even read them carefully, as she had never listened carefully to Susan's gushing talk. But it would be mean to read the letters with a curious, prying eye. They must be burned, as Susan wished, and burned unread, that would be the honorable action.

Olivia sat again between the lamp and the fire that she mended with a frugal hand. Thoughts had been aroused in her that were not easily dispelled. Surmises and questions raised not lightly parried or answered.

She again forgot God and the prayers she should have put up for Susan, so unhappy and bewildered.

The missionary's widow drooped in her hard chair, her graceful body taking on lines of unconscious elegance. She considered the sharp difference between her fate and that of Susan's. For her, next to nothing, and soon, nothing at all, but the position of an upper servant, scarcely higher than that of the gross, servile men she had seen today behind the fat horses, lazing away the barren Sunday afternoon. For Susan, everything that most women desired. But Susan was not happy. An intense curiosity stirred in Olivia Sacret. She tried to puzzle out the reason for the other woman's trouble. Susan had always been gay and careless, her only grief had been her hopeless affection for Sir John Curie, but surely that had never been very deep, or she would not so soon have married Martin Rue? Olivia had expected to find Susan, in her usual shallow way, cheerfully content and the center of admiring friends. But she had been alone. And unhappy. I should like to see Martin Rue, reflected Olivia, but checked herself with a false piety, horn of long habit. But I must not be prying, I must be very sorry for Susan and try to help her. Tonight I shall pray for her, and tomorrow I shall burn the letters and write to Susan to tell her that I have done so.

She began to compose the sentences, wise, kind and well turned, that she would send her friend. She would offer her excellent advice about "turning to God," and she would conclude by suggesting that they had better not meet again, as their lives were so different. The room darkened about her; she startled to find the lamp going out with a nasty smell of paraffin oil. She had forgotten to fill it. She had neglected her house in order to undertake that useless walk to Clapham. Olivia Sacret had been trained to feel guilty on the least excuse and "to take the blame" in the part of permanent scapegoat for any daily misadventure. She had always considered that this attitude gave her an air of becoming meekness, until her husband, in the irritable tones of an invalid, had once told her that her ready assumption of guilt covered a secret and unshaken self-satisfaction. Then she had lost her zest for this form of abnegation, but the habit remained. Now she began to think of her afternoon's adventure as not only senseless but sinful.

She turned out the lamp, lit a candle and went upstairs to her chilly bedroom, with the white dimity curtains, white honeycomb quilt on the narrow bed, the framed texts on the cheaply papered walls, the yellow varnished furniture. She looked at once toward the trunk that contained all her intimate possessions; tomorrow she would burn the letters unread. Again she dwelt on the lines that would renounce this unsuitable, perhaps dangerous, friendship. Yes, perhaps dangerous, for it might arouse in her feelings of envy, of regret, a sense of power.

"Our lives are so different," she had resolved to write to Susan, but as she put out her candle and shuddered into the cold bed, her thought was—but Susan offered to share her life with me, and that thought remained with her throughout a sleepless night.


§ 3

The morning after brought Mrs. Sacret a distasteful post, a refusal to consider her application for the secretaryship of a tract society, small bills from small tradespeople, a letter from the doctor who had attended her husband in Jamaica, "enclosing my account, distressed to send it, but I am not a rich man."

Nor am I a rich woman, thought Mrs. Sacret. This old debt nagged her; she would, now and then, pay a few pounds off, but it still remained, a heavy sum for her poor means. The little daily maid was sullen, the mood in which she usually returned to work on Monday. Mrs. Sacret suspected her of being on the point of "giving notice." The missionary's widow was acutely aware that she was not popular as a mistress; even incompetent servants could "better themselves" in the houses of rich people. It was not so much the low wage that irked as the poverty of the establishment. The hired "helps" loathed having to account for every stick of firewood and pinch of tea; they scorned empty cupboards and all the shifts of genteel penury. "I can manage by myself, of course," Mrs. Sacret told herself as she had told herself before. But she never did so manage, for long. Not only did she secretly dislike housework, she dreaded the loneliness. Another woman who brought in some neighborly gossip was at least some company, someone to talk to, if only in a tone of distant patronage and reproof.

Mrs. Sacret put down her irritating correspondence and rose.

"That is what I have come to—someone to talk to—I really am without friends, or even acquaintances." She was frightened, but added resolutely, "It is the Lord's will." She fetched Susan's letters; they lay beside a few of her husband's books, his spectacles in a worn leather case, some linen bags of cowrie shells and red and black seeds and a papier-mâché box that had belonged to her mother. The letters had been kept out of friendship for Susan and for no other possible reason, Mrs. Sacret was sure of that. She took them downstairs and the fire was burning brightly in the high narrow grate; it would have been simple to have laid them on top of the glowing coals but she hesitated.

Now that this friendship that had meant so much to her, that had been really the most exciting, the brightest episode in her life, was ending, it seemed harsh to destroy these letters without glancing at them again and recollecting the warmth and the pleasure of those few weeks when she had received Susan's wholehearted confidence. She did not glance at the packed lines of Susan's crooked words, she read them carefully, intently, as she had never read them before, read them by the light of Susan's fear and distress and extravagant offer. Then she folded them up carefully and the blood showed in her face, making her appear younger, more comely.

The letters were harmless, of course. Perhaps a little ambiguous. Susan expressed herself so poorly. Some of the sentences might mean what Mrs. Sacret until now had never for a second supposed they could mean, and that, of course, they could not mean.

The gilt-edged sheets were returned to their envelopes and put aside resolutely, as if they had been a temptation. Still with that brilliant glow on her cheeks, Mrs. Sacret picked up the Morning Post and tried to read the column under SITUATIONS VACANT. But her glance strayed from the tedious familiar "wants" that she had never been able to satisfy. She felt a thrill of panic as the deadly fear touched her that possibly she would never be able to qualify even for the more humble posts. She had no impressive housekeeping experience, no talents as a companion, she was not much liked anywhere, had never been needed by anyone. She saw herself being interviewed by a prospective employer and sent away as "unsuitable," she saw herself entering her name on the books of a domestic agency—qualifications? A little amateur sick-nursing, a little meager housekeeping, a Dissenting background, no friends, no "references." I shall not come to that, she resolved, at once, but what is to prevent me—?

She turned over and put down the paper and looked at the letters. She intended to burn them, but while they existed she felt important, even powerful, and she desired to prolong this sensation, even though she knew it was absurd. When the letters were destroyed she would, she was sure, feel unprotected, defenseless, of no consequence to anyone, even Susan. I suppose Susan would give me a reference, she thought. I could ask her for that, even if we were no longer friends. Mrs. Sacret stared at the folded sheet of newspaper. One word heading a paragraph took her eye.

Blackmail.

She hardly knew what it meant at first, then she knew, clearly. Taking up the paper she read the case.

The journalist commented that "this horrible crime was rarely brought to light because social ruin awaited the victim who, at last, in f his desperation, appealed to the law, after having been bled of thousands of pounds for years. Many, in this terrible position, preferred suicide to exposure."

Mrs. Sacret was fascinated by the prospect of unknown and terrible strata of life presented to her by these sentences; for the first time she stared over the edge of her own narrow world, for the first time realized how narrow it was. Crime. She never read even the rare and decorous reports of evil in the newspaper she only bought recently because of the SITUATIONS VACANT column. The Dissenting periodicals and pamphlets, the instructive and enlightening books published by Anglican societies filled her time and her mind.

The reported case was gloomy and pitiful. A man, in his youth, had served a short sentence for petty theft. He had prospered under another name, and one who had known him in prison had blackmailed him for half a lifetime. "Commonplace," the judge had remarked, "and of a fiendish cruelty."

Mrs. Sacret reflected on that. She was in the midst of crime and cruelty in this vast city that she had always considered in terms of her modest, respectable home, the school that was beyond her father's means, the Dissenting chapel set, the wealthy set where Susan belonged, Minton Street, and High Street with the dingy shops and dingy people hastening or loitering along.

Perhaps some of those passers-by were criminals. "Commonplace," the judge had said. People like myself, she thought. I'm commonplace. Perhaps they look as I look.

Blackmail.

She had an impulse to thrust the letters into the center of the fire, between the bars, but was stayed by a sound uncommon in Minton Street, that of a carriage and horses.

It was but a step to the window, and she was soon staring out of it. Susan was without, in an elegant barouche, behind a pair of spruce chestnuts, a footman was coming to the mean door, but his mistress, leaning forward, saw Olivia and waved to her with an anxious smile. So, there are menservants, if not in the house, reflected Mrs. Sacret. No moment to be filling the room with the smell of burning paper.

She turned and thrust the letters behind the worn books of piety on the narrow shelf by the fireside. She felt excited because Susan had come to see her so soon and with such pomp. I certainly have an influence over her, and I must use it to her advantage. This reflection covered her real feelings that were confused, and unacknowledged, even to herself.

The footman brought a request for Mrs. Sacret to join his lady for a drive in the park, but Susan followed him before her friend could answer.

"The dear little room!" she exclaimed, glancing around the parlor nervously. "How well I remember it and how happy I am to be here!"

She was prettily dressed in a mignonette green silk, with dark red roses in her bonnet, but she looked, to Mrs. Sacret's sharp gaze, tired and agitated.

"You will come for a drive, won't you, Olivia? There is sunshine. Have you considered my proposal?"

Mrs. Sacret felt so keen a sense of power over this eager anxious creature that she could not resist using it.

"I have not had time, Susan. It is such an important matter. It would quite alter my way of life if I were to accept. I am not a very young woman." She crept behind the prosy tones and dreary platitudes of her husband's profession. "I am a widow. Frederick would have wished me to continue his work."

"You are going abroad again, as a missionary! You did not tell me that!"

Mrs. Sacret was vexed at this interruption, given in a note of relief.

"Really, Susan, you need not be so anxious to be rid of me! I shall not cross your path. I was about to write to you stating this. I did not suppose that you would call so soon."

"Then you won't accept my offer?" asked Susan, stepping nearer, her bright clothes, hair and face making the room seem very dingy.

"I said I had to think it over—really, I still don't understand it—so extravagant—"

"I have the money, my own money that Martin can't touch."

"I know." Mrs. Sacret thought dryly of Susan's two fortunes, apart from her share in the Rue income. "But your suggestion was so unexpected. I have not even met your husband. He might not care for a third person in his house."

"Oh, Martin often says, when I am moping, or cross, why don't you get a companion!"

Susan was glancing around the room again, her gaze resting at last on the fire.

"Did you burn the letters?"

"I don't understand why you worry so over those letters, Susan. Of course they are harmless, or I should not have kept them so long. I was reading them again—"

"Reading them again?"

"Of course. I wanted to remind myself of those days when Frederick was alive, and we were all happy."

"I was not happy. I nearly went out of my mind."

Mrs. Sacret scorned this confession of what she did not understand, passion. She considered Susan hysterical.

"You soon married again, dear," she remarked softly.

Susan pulled out her handkerchief.

"I do want you to live with me, Olivia. You have always helped me—from our school days—I am quite wretched—"

"Why?" asked Mrs. Sacret kindly. "You have so much."

Susan gave three reasons for discontent; Martin was dominated by his mother, an odious old creature who lived at Blackheath; he was always fussing over his health and doctoring himself; and according to his own morose habits he kept his wife shut away from the life to which she was used.

"How should I help you?" asked Olivia Sacret. "I am not entertaining. I know no one save some dull chapel people. I am outside London society."

"So am I," said Susan. "The Rues are so eccentric they never have moved in any circles—and yet they won't know Father's friends, because he was a merchant, so I am really isolated. No one likes Martin very much."

And you, thought Mrs. Sacret, have not the spirit to create your own life.

"I know you are very religious," continued Susan ingenuously. "And Martin would not allow me to go to chapel. But I could attend church regularly."

"Don't you now smiled Mrs. Sacret.

"Oh, I get such headaches! But that is because I am so moped. There is nothing to do all day."

"It is ridiculous." Olivia Sacret spoke more to herself than to the other. "I must not think of such a thing! It is just a whim on your part, Susan, because you are out of humor."

"Indeed, indeed, it is not—but if you don't like my silly frivolous life, I daresay it would be very boring to you—then I won't tease you—if you'll destroy the letters."

"And if I don't destroy the letters?"

"How can you be so cruel!"

"Really, Susan! There is nothing in those letters—anyone might not see."

Susan sighed deeply and twisted her hands in the pearl-colored gloves. "What do you want?" she whispered.

Mrs. Sacret was startled at her own thrill of triumph. It was as if Fortune had knocked at her door, with both hands full of gifts.

"I don't know," she said slowly. "It is rather late for me to be wanting anything."

"Oh, no," replied Susan eagerly. "You have never had a chance—you were always so bright and clever—"

"But poor, Susan, and plain."

"Oh, no! You have such pretty coloring—your eyes and hair are just the tint of a ripe hazelnut—but those dreary clothes—Oh, I'm sorry, you are still in mourning—but I should like to see you handsomely dressed."

"Would you? You are very generous."

"Only burn those silly letters."

"Of course. But—Susan—supposing I was to burn them, here—in this grate—now—would you still want me to live with you and to see me in fine clothes?"

"Certainly—what do you mean, dear?" But the faltering tone, the quick flush, the averted glance betrayed Susan.

The simpleton! thought Mrs. Sacret scornfully. She doesn't care for me in the least; she is frightened.

Aloud she suggested that the horses had waited long enough; she would like the drive after walking the pavements so long, and she went swiftly upstairs to put on her bonnet and mantle.

Halfway up she recalled that she had left Susan alone with the letters, and paused sharply. But what did it matter? I meant to burn them; besides, she will never think of looking behind the books.

When she returned to the parlor she took the precaution of approaching and glancing at the fireside shelves. Behind the shabby volumes, the letters were still there. Susan was by the window, tapping her foot nervously.


§ 4

The luxurious drive was a keener pleasure than Mrs. Sacret had believed it could be; not only did she enjoy the comfort and the distinction of her position, she felt as if at last she was in her rightful place and that the social aspirations of the haberdasher's daughter and the squire's son, frustrated in themselves, had now been realized in her. This was what she really was, a lady, not a missionary's widow. Her marriage, the chapel, Jamaica, seemed now not to matter, even never to have happened.

But her present elevation was a delusion; soon she would return to Minton Street and the search for a "situation."

Susan chattered, but with a certain shrewdness, arising, Mrs. Sacret thought, from desperation.

She tried to discover her friend's prospects and hopes of employment and was not easy to mislead on these subjects.

"It must be very difficult for you, Olivia," she insisted. "It will be hard for you to find a position you like—you have been searching for months, haven't you? And though you are so clever, you haven't those horrid, dull qualifications needed for a good post."

"Why do you think I am clever?" asked Mrs. Sacret sweetly. "I haven't been very fortunate, have I? Not done much with myself!"

"I don't think," replied Susan, with one of those uncomfortable flashes of insight that even stupid people will show, "that you ever bothered enough with yourself. You were always rather tired and just did the easiest things."

Yes, that was it, Mrs. Sacret agreed. She had always lacked enterprise, boldness; she had never made anything of herself. Oppressed by poverty and the frustration it brought, she had slipped into the only marriage that was offered, done her duty in an insipid way, tried to earn a living in a timid fashion, yet she had always felt a surge of rebellion, a potential daring. I must have been, truly, as Susan says, tired.

"Yes," she agreed aloud. "I have been lacking in—much. And I am rather weary." Suddenly she disclosed herself. "I have been walking about London for months, looking for work, always disappointed."

"Oh!" exclaimed Susan, grasping her friend's hand affectionately. "You must come with me and rest—even if only for a short time."

"I might, dear," agreed Mrs. Sacret, as the horses turned out of the park, toward Minton Street. "That would not commit either of us to anything, would it?"


§ 5

Mrs. Sacret prayed to god when she first entered the Old Priory that she might be enabled to help her friend, and she used those words when explaining herself to her Dissenting acquaintances. "I am trying to help a friend, who is lonely and not very happy. I do not know how long I shall stay with her."

No one was interested, she had always been too aloof from the chapel, save when she mentioned her future address, then she saw a gleam of surprise and envy on several dull faces.

They have to admit, she thought, that I have good connections and that I am what I always claimed to be, a gentlewoman.

She resolved to take no money from Olivia; this was to be a visit, no business arrangement. She would stay three months at the Old Priory, then look for a situation, this time from a comfortable background, with more confidence, and among Anglican institutions. Dissent dropped from her easily; she found no difficulty in returning to a church that she had never really left. It would be so much more convenient and improve her standing in her new position. After all, she would not need to change her God or her prayers. "I do really intend to be of service to poor Susan," she assured this Deity and herself.

It was gratifying to be able to pity Susan. A few days at the Old Priory showed Mrs. Sacret, trained in observation of her husband's flocks, her friend's commonplace troubles. Martin Rue had the appearance of a robust young man, blond, comely, a stolid Anglo-Saxon. But his temperament was that of a middle-aged invalid; an expensive education had left him incompetent in everything except perhaps his business of which Mrs. Sacret knew nothing, with no interests beyond his own ailments, his medicine chest and his hothouses.

He was away frequently, either at the city offices of the bank—St. Child's—of which he was a partner, at his club, or with his mother. Although he received Mrs. Sacret civilly he warned her not to encourage Susan in "frivolity" and hinted that she was inclined to make acquaintances of which he could not approve, and that he had had "to drop" most of the people she had known when he married her, including her first husband's family, the Dasents, who belonged to a "fast military set." Mrs. Sacret with her landed gentry descent and her impeccable character was an exception to these strictures, but she felt a common dislike between herself and the master of the Old Priory.

The idleness of the couple interested the guest, used to an ordered existence full of insistent, if futile, duties. Ever since her return to London her search for work had kept her occupied and fatigued. At the Old Priory there was nothing to do when the short daily routine was over.

Susan was a fair if disinterested housekeeper. The servants were adequate, the house comfortable, her husband managed the menservants and the stables and grounds were as orthodox as the mansion; if there was no sign of taste in either, there was none of disorder. Mrs. Sacret suspected waste and extravagance on Susan's part, but these were well hidden. She had her own money as well as her allowance to make good any insufficiencies.

After she had seen the cook and given her orders she had the empty hours on her hands. A visit to the shops, to the dressmaker, to the lending library, a call on some woman she hardly knew, or a visit from some such acquaintance, a drive in the park, such were Susan's days. She had no accomplishments and could not even play croquet or whist, tat or embroider, the only books she read were love stories. When she talked to her new found friend it was always of the past.

The long heavy breakfasts were eaten in silence as Mr. Rue sat behind the Times; the long heavy dinners accompanied dragging conversations Mrs. Sacret found more tedious than silence. The master of the house had the dyspeptic's complaints of his food, the mistress of the house the nervous defense of the woman bored by both the man and his meals. After dinner Mr. Rue would go to his smoking room and Susan and Mrs. Sacret to the pleasant garden boudoir, as it was termed, and there while away the evening, Susan vaguely admiring her friend's active fingers, for Mrs. Sacret could not sit quite idle and would sew or embroider diligently. Once old Mrs. Rue came on a visit; her son was the only child of a late and brief marriage and she doted on him. A large, colorless, expensively dressed woman, she took on life and even brilliancy through emotion when she regarded her daughter-in-law. At once she was frankly menacing to Mrs. Sacret whom she asked into the luxurious bedroom always reserved for her at the Old Priory.

"A queer idea for Susan to have a companion."

"I'm not a companion. A friend."

"Oh! It has been a long visit. A mistake to interfere between husband and wife."

"I never interfere."

"A third person in the house is awkward."

"Not for Susan. She was so much alone."

"I knew she had been complaining. She could find plenty to do if she looked after my son. Before he left home it took all my time to take care of him. He is very delicate."

"This is his home now, isn't it? And I'm sure he doses himself too much; he should see a doctor, instead of making up his own medicines."

The two women exchanged level looks of dislike.

"You would hardly know anything about that, Mrs. Sacret."

"I do. I used to keep a dispensary and learned something of drugs."

"You were a missionary, Mrs. Sacret. Church of England?"

"My husband and I worked as Christians, Mrs. Rue. We never thought in terms of denominations."

"I see, Dissenters," said the elder lady. "My son is High Church. You have a very pretty dress on, Mrs. Sacret—very fashionable for mourning.

"Susan gave it to me," smiled Mrs. Sacret. "She has bought me a wardrobe. I had nothing fit for this house. She has her own money and it pleased her to spend it like this."

Mrs. Rue flushed at this cool defiance, and her faded eyes glanced contemptuously at the other woman's plain, well-fitted cashmere gown, with the delicate cambric collar and cuffs, and the ruffles and buttons of black velvet. Mrs. Sacret's hazel-colored hair was brushed to a pale shimmer and hung in a black chenille net. She wore jet earrings that set off her fine complexion.

"You have discarded your widow's cap," said Mrs. Rue, with a shudder that shook her own starched and crape erection. "And before your year's mourning is over."

"Does that matter to you?" asked Mrs. Sacret sweetly.

The elder woman trembled, her fat fingers pulled at the glossy silk stretched over her fat knees.

"This is my son's home. Susan should think of him—"

"She does. Too much. Too often. She is afraid of him."

"What do you mean! Martin is the kindest of men!"

"And Susan the meekest of women. Perhaps you're glad to have it confirmed, Mrs. Rue—for you must have known it, that Susan lives in fear of your son—of his grumbling, his bad temper, his snubs."

"And she called you in to protect her, I suppose?"

"Perhaps."

"This is very insolent. I shall speak to Susan and you must go. You are making mischief, I can see that. You suddenly appear—"

Mrs. Sacret interrupted.

"No, I was at school with Susan. I've always been in her confidence. I shall not leave unless I wish. Only Susan could make me."

"She shall," declared Mrs. Rue, rising, shaking out her weeds; the two widows faced one another. "I shall desire her to do so."

"Susan will never send me away. I told you she was very meek. Timid. She is afraid of me—also."

"Why?" demanded Mrs. Rue, with an eager, pouncing look. "Because I am the stronger character."

"You spoke as if you had a hold over her—"

"A hold?" Mrs. Sacret smiled haughtily.

"I always thought Susan might have something to conceal—"

"Did you? How uncharitable of you!"

The elder woman, intent on her own line of thought, ignored this and continued.

"I suppose you knew her when she was making herself conspicuous with Sir John Curle, a married man."

"I told you, I've known her since we were children."

"Bah!" exclaimed Mrs. Rue, throwing all civility aside. "I understand you very well. You have everything to gain from Susan, you mean to stay here, in idleness, in my son's house—"

"On Susan's money—"

"She ought to hand it over to her husband."

"So she has. Nearly all of it. Like a fool. But she has kept enough—"

"For what you want. I quite understand."

"And so do I, Mrs. Rue."

The elder woman suddenly lowered her panting voice.

"It was a most unsuitable marriage for my son. A chance meeting at the house of a new acquaintance—and he became infatué with this—stranger. She was being talked about—a silly, common, frivolous creature." Mrs. Rue labored with her venom. "Of course my son soon found out his mistake." She paused, her gasp for breath was a sigh, she approached Mrs. Sacret and spoke confidentially. "If you know anything," she whispered, "it is your duty to tell my son—"

"What could I know?" asked Mrs. Sacret sweetly.

"I thought—usually—it's letters—indiscreet letters. If you had any—"

Mrs. Sacret slightly flinched and the other staring woman perceived this.

"You ought, as a Christian woman, to show them to my son." She cast down her eyes and added, "He would be a good friend to you. He has influence—a position, whatever you want. He is, really, I repeat, the kindest of men."

Mrs. Sacret hesitated on the verge of extreme plain speaking but controlled herself, said "good afternoon" and left the room.


§ 6

This blunt interview had been exhilarating to Olivia Sacret. She so seldom spoke frankly and there had been a minimum of hypocrisy about Mrs. Rue, who had as good as admitted that she suspected Susan of having an uncomfortable secret and her friend of using this as a "hold" over her. Moreover, the stout widow had practically offered to buy this secret, in order to ruin her daughter-in-law at a higher price than Susan could pay.

Olivia Sacret was not shocked or alarmed; she was, however, extremely interested and her sense of power increased. Now she was important to Mrs. Rue as well as to Susan, she who had been so insignificant, even so slighted.

This was the first time the letters had been mentioned since she had come to the Old Priory, but they were constantly in her mind and she kept them locked in a cashbox she had bought for this purpose, in the bottom of her chest of drawers, which was also locked. She admired Mrs. Rue's shrewd guess. How notable that both she and Susan had at once attached such importance to the letters! Indiscreet? No, they were quite harmless. Mrs. Rue had only surmised their existence, she would suppose them much more compromising than they were. Mrs. Sacret paused in her reflections at this word "compromising"—that was the word people used when they meant that indiscretion caused a doubt to be cast on a woman's reputation.

She threw off the muffling sentence she had mechanically formed. Mrs. Rue wanted to ruin Susan, to be rid of the hated interloper, to regain her son. Therefore Mrs. Rue was prepared to deal with the stranger she had found unexpectedly at the Old Priory and whose presence she could only account for by—blackmail.

Mrs. Sacret used the word boldly to herself; she flushed, not with shame, but excitement. She was too sure of herself and her own motives to feel in the least abashed at the position in which she found herself. Susan felt embarrassed, if not guilty of—indiscretion. Mrs. George Rue had revealed herself as an odious person, mean, jealous, backbiting. Martin Rue cut a poor figure between his overbearing mother and his cowed wife. I must pray for all of them, reflected Mrs. Sacret. I must try to bring peace and good will to these unhappy people. Perhaps God sent me here just for that.

She thought that possibly the consciousness of the worthiness of her intentions was giving her this stimulated energy; she felt more vital than ever before, her old existence shriveled away and she flexed her hand as if pulling strings. It was astonishing to her that she had spoken so sharply to old Mrs. Rue. She had never faltered before the sharp assaults of a woman so much older and better placed than herself; indeed, she had enjoyed her own forceful handling of the interview.

Mrs. George Rue had spitefully remarked on her elegant dress. Remembrance of this 'made Olivia Sacret look more earnestly than usual into her mirror. She was nearly a pretty woman, perhaps could easily be a pretty woman. A strange reflection, this in Susan's handsome cheval glass: the missionary's widow, in her mourning, the woman who had, years ago, parted with all expectations, all hopes of anything save a drab routine leading to the chapel burying ground.

She smiled at herself. I'm still young. Of course, it is the rest, the good food, the good clothes. She did not add even in her thoughts, that it was also something else that flushed her smooth cheek and brightened her clear hazel eyes, the knowledge that she possessed power over other people.


§ 7

Susan, who had been confused and silly during dinner began to weep as soon as she was alone in the garden room with Mrs. Sacret. "You see how detestable Mrs. George Rue is?" she complained. "She only comes here to torment me! You heard how she sneered and showed me up! And Martin supported her!"

"Yes," agreed Mrs. Sacret. "And I don't understand how you endure it. Why don't you display some spirit? You have some of your own money—and you could make your husband give you what he invested for you—"

"I should never dare to ask him!" sobbed Susan.

"Instruct your lawyer, dear."

"Oh, that would mean a shocking quarrel!"

"As for that—isn't it a quarrel, now?"

"Oh, not like that would be! Martin doesn't scold so when his mother stays away and when he hasn't just seen her—"

Mrs. Sacret reflected that she did not know the whole of the story of Susan and her husband; they spent hours together in the large formal bedroom and dressing room upstairs—perhaps they were not entirely estranged, nor Susan entirely open with her friend. Perhaps there was something in her marriage that Susan wished to keep. To Mrs. Sacret's taste Martin did not seem worth contending for, she found him slightly repulsive in spite of his youth and good looks that accorded so unpleasantly with his nervous nagging and intense concern with his health, a habit formed and encouraged by his possessive, ignorant mother. She was always able to get hold of him, reflected Mrs. Sacret, by fussing over his chest or his headaches—she made a coward of him for her own ends.

"I wish I had had children," sighed Susan, pulling the long bell rope.

Mrs. Sacret rallied to this new topic that Susan had never touched on before.

"I am glad I did not," she replied. "The responsibility would have been too great. They might have inherited Frederick's poor constitution. The Lord knows best."

"Oh, dear, we both married invalids!" exclaimed Susan, wiping her eyes on her long lace handkerchief.

"I don't think Mr. Rue is an invalid, he has been cosseted by his mother; he doesn't take any exercise, either, and then, those medicines he makes up himself—"

"I'm sure you are right," murmured Susan. "What can I do? I have no influence, and, as you say, dear, his mother encourages him in all his whims."

"You had him alone in Florence. I wonder you persuaded him to go abroad."

"I didn't. He thought the climate would be good for his chest. We had the dullest time! Martin sat on the veranda all day."

"He should have been cured."

"No—he caught a chill, the sun drops suddenly and the nights are bitter; really our room was like a vault at night and only a pan of charcoal with which to heat it."

The maid entered and Susan ordered a bottle of sherry and some glasses to be brought.

Mrs. Sacret turned to her own affairs.

"I have an applicant for my little house, Susan. I told you I put a card in the window? I found a letter on the mat, when I went there yesterday. From one Mark Bellis, a painter. I wrote to make an appointment with him."

"I hope that means you are staying here indefinitely, dear."

"Why, no. I thought I would let the house for three months, then I shall have rested and be able to go back. I can't afford to allow it to remain empty."

"I wish you would permit me to give you—a—stipend," said Susan hurriedly and timidly.

"You pay for my clothes, dear."

"But—pocket money—"

"No. I could not. I have no expenses. I don't even pay anyone to look after the house. I do that myself. I have sufficient money. I'm here to help you, Susan. Not to make a profit for myself. I've to pay poor Frederick's doctor's account."

Susan glanced at her swiftly.

"Have you burned the letters, Olivia?"

The servant brought in the sherry and two glasses. Mrs. Sacret waited until she had gone before replying.

"I had forgotten all about them, Susan. They are so unimportant."

"Yes, of course. Where do you keep them?"

"I believe they are in the bottom of my little trinket box," said Mrs. Sacret carelessly. "With some other dear souvenirs. Really I shall dislike to destroy your handwriting, reminding me of those happy days."

She believed that she spoke sincerely, and she looked in a kindly fashion at Susan. But behind the kindness was curiosity. Susan drank two glasses of sherry in silence and her friend bent over her gossamer needlework.

Martin Rue entered awkwardly on the privacy of the two quiet women, seated daintily in their satin and gilt chairs in the rosy glow of the silver lamp. He glanced at once toward the sherry bottle.

"You drank enough at dinner, Sue," he rebuked abruptly. "A pint of red wine, and more than enough sherry for a lady—and why two glasses? Mrs. Sacret always says she doesn't drink alcohol."

"Oh, but tonight I thought I would like a glass," smiled Mrs. Sacret coolly. "I often do—though I refuse it at table—drink a little sherry here with Susan. Do you object, Mr. Rue? Is the wine measured out?"

"I like to keep a check on it," he replied with hostility. "The weekly expenses are very heavy."

"I pay my own wine bills, Martin," whispered Susan, looking away from him. "You know that I have to have some to keep up my strength."

"For what, pray?" he interrupted rudely. "And I wish you would not order wine—nasty stuff from the stores, fit only for bad cooking."

"You always lock up yours," retorted Susan, flushing. "And please don't scold me so often, in front of Olivia, too."

"Oh, Madam here knows all your secrets, of course!" exclaimed Mr. Rue with temper. "My mother says—"

Mrs. Sacret swiftly interrupted.

"Does she, sir? Neither of us wish to hear what she says, do we, Susan?"

Emboldened by this defiance, Susan gulped her third glass of sherry and agreed. "No, we really don't. We are sick and tired of your mother, Martin."

"You dare to tell me that—with this—friend—of yours abetting you?"

Mr. Rue turned with a vulgar politeness to Mrs. Sacret. "Madam, I don't consider you a good influence on my wife. My mother supports me in asking that you bring your visit, your very long visit, to an end."

"I shall leave when Susan desires me to do so, Mr. Rue." Mrs. Sacret had no difficulty in maintaining her composure; she felt fully justified in what she did and not in the least afraid of this bullying man. "I am protecting poor Susan from these two disagreeable people," she told herself, as if she were two entities, one of which dictated to and advised the other. "It must be God's wish I should do so."

"Yes, it is my house as well as yours," declared Susan with forceful feebleness. "And I'm sure that Olivia is the only company and the only comfort I get. Why do you want her to go?" she added tearfully.

"Yes, why, Mr. Rue?" Olivia Sacret covered up this weakness on her friend's part. "I never interfere with you and I cost you nothing."

"That's as may be," he rejoined, with a full stare at her costly clothes, "but I like my house to myself."

The missionary's widow had some satisfaction in noting the crude defects in her opponent. She had met his type, considerably softened by austere training, in her chapel work. A mother's darling, a school bully, idle, stupid and vain, mean and ostentatious. He married Susan for her money without caring for her in the least, she thought. And now he would like to return to Blackheath and be pampered by that doting old woman again.

Her fingers hurried over her needlework with delicate precision and an implied rebuke at idleness, while the unhappy couple remained sunk in a sullen silence. Susan drooped in her chair, staring from reddened eyes at the two stained glasses from both of which she had drunk. Her husband stood gloomily by the hearth, his hands in his pockets, his dark clothes out of place in the frivolous dainty room and the pink lamplight.

Mrs. Sacret considered him in a flashed glance, enjoying her dislike as she enjoyed her sense of power, for all keen emotions were new to her and therefore stimulating. She wondered if he had heard his mother's quick guess as to "a hold" over Susan, and possible "letters." She did not think so, he would have been more disturbed than he was, had this been so. Besides, old Mrs. Rue would have been very cautious with what might prove a precious weapon with which to oust her daughter-in-law. She would consider long before making what might be a false step.

How ugly he is, she thought. His features are good, but his hair and complexion are tinged such a repulsive ginger yellow and his eyes are like gooseberries—such a hangdog expression, too. Yet I suppose he would be termed a fine-looking man.

Martin Rue terminated what was to him an intolerable silence by ringing the bell and when the maid carne bidding her take away the sherry. "Your mistress has had sufficient."

When the woman had gone, Susan broke into furious words. "Now you have insulted me before the servants! Everyone in the house will think I drink too much!"

"They know it already. I said—sufficient."

"Curtis knew what you meant. Oh, really I can't endure this life!" Susan moaned. "So dull, and you always scolding me! I am not to have a friend to stay with me, or even a glass of sherry! I must leave you—I really must—"

"Pray, do, if you please. I too find this sort of thing unendurable—I must consider my health—"

"Don't say a word!" cried Susan, heated, pretty and uncontrolled. "I'm sick of hearing of your health—and your nasty medicines! And that horrid Indian basket you keep in your room, full of disgusting drugs! I wish I could be divorced!"

"Such things can be arranged," said Mr. Rue bitterly.

Mrs Sacret rose.

"I cannot sit here, and listen to this," she protested, folding up her needlework. "Divorce—arranged! Is that your respect for Christian marriage, Mr. Rue? I'll not hear—"

"You need not have heard anything had you wished," he replied rudely. "You remained, listening for your own ends."

"I stayed to protect your wife," said Mrs. Sacret, lifting her clear, bright, hazel glance to her opponent's heavy face. "Susan, dear, why not go to bed?" She helped her friend to rise. Susan stumbled in her long, frilled, pink dress. Her eyes were slightly blurred and beads of sweat showed on her brow and lip. Martin Rue made a sound of theatrical disgust. "Bah!"

"Your wife!" cried Mrs. Sacret reprovingly. "And so pretty and gentle too! I don't know about such horrid matters, but surely she could get a divorce for your unkindness, Mr. Rue. And look at the state to which you are driving her. Yes, a divorce," she repeated, supporting Susan's florid beauty against her own firm shoulder, "and then you would have to return her all her money and she could live as she liked." Mrs. Sacret had said more than she had meant to say, but she did not check the flow of her quiet triumph. "Then I could see Florence and such places."

Mr. Rue took a crude revenge.

"I have my health to consider!" he shouted and flung out of the room, banging the door.

"It was kind of you," murmured Susan, "not to give me away about the two glasses. I always order two in case you care to drink a little sherry and then I forget and drink from both."

"Susan, that is an untruth. You know I never touch alcohol. And you use the two glasses deliberately to disguise how much you take. You really do exceed a little, dear. I know it is because you are so unhappy. And I won't tell anyone—though I fear they all know."

"Could you not drink at dinner? Just a glass?" pleaded Susan. "You see, I must have it."

"No. It would be wrong to do that. Why don't you try to get your money from Mr. Rue? Then you would be rich and could live as you pleased."

"I would not dare," wept Susan, "the lawyers—"

"If you are afraid of them, I daresay I could interview them for you. Now, you had better go to bed. I shall help you upstairs. You really have made yourself quite ill, one way and another."

At the door, leaning on her friend's arm, Susan whispered, "Why did you say—'Then I could see Florence and such places'?"

"So you heard! I was thinking out loud, I suppose. Foolishly! Only—if you did leave Mr. Rue I could go abroad with you for a short time."

"I don't want to leave him. I couldn't face being disgraced, stared at and cut. Why do you want to see Florence?"

"Susan, dear, you have drunk just a little too much wine. Do come upstairs, and lift up your dress and walk carefully."

"You've seen Jamaica. I haven't—why do you want to see Florence?" persisted Susan obstinately. "I don't want to see Jamaica."

"In Jamaica I was a missionary's wife, tied to an invalid—"

Susan interrupted. "I'm tied to an invalid—that is all he thinks of—his nasty medicines."

Mrs. Sacret hushed her, edged her up the stairs and to the door of her room; when the door opened she had a glimpse of that luxurious and forlorn apartment, formal, tasteless and chilly. The door to the dressing room was closed.

"Shall I send Curtis up?"

"No," mumbled Susan, walking unsteadily to the large double bed, glittering in red mahogany and inlaid brass.

Mrs. Sacret left her. "I daresay he often finds her like that in the morning, asleep in her clothes. What a fool she is! She will spoil her looks. She is still very pretty indeed, though. And with beauty and money and a good place in society—well—almost good society, she could not even find a gentleman to marry."

Yes, that was the case. Martin Rue, whatever his birth and education, was no more Mrs. Sacret's idea of a gentleman than her own husband had been. She thought, with secret pride, of her father and this made her feel even more superior to Susan than before.


§ 8

Mrs. Sacret met her prospective tenant by appointment at her house in Minton Street. He was the first applicant she had had, for there were many To LET notices in the dingy adjacent streets and there was no particular attraction about her property. She did not like the man's description of himself as "a painter"; the word to her represented unstability and ungodliness, but his letter had been well written though from an address that she knew to be humble and probably an apartment house in Pimlico. She had decided, if he had respectable references and seemed himself responsible, to accept him as a tenant and at a moderate rent. The rates were low, and any sum above those would be profit.

The house she had once felt proud to own looked very mean and shabby as she considered it with a critical eye, going from room to room and adjusting the worn furniture and shabby curtains. When she had come to dust and air the place she had hardly noticed it; now, in mental comparison with the Old Priory, she felt slightly ashamed of it and startled to realize that it was her home and that she would have to return to it—and from that background earn her living.

She sat down in the parlor, considering this intolerable prospect. Yes, suddenly intolerable. Why, this place was wretched, not even clean, compared to Susan's home where busy servants kept every inch of wood, stone and metal washed and shining.

The bell rang and she sprang up, nervous from her own thoughts, not from fear of the newcomer. He can have it, she decided, with a touch of panic, for almost any price.

She went to the front door, but a step from the tiny parlor across the narrow hall, and opened it wide.

A young man stood on the small flagstone, between the railings of the two areas. It seemed absurd that he should be there, and yet Mrs. Sacret did not know why.

"I am Mark Bellis," he said, raising his hat. "Mrs. Sacret?"

"Yes, please to enter, Mr. Bellis. This is the parlor."

She preceded him, feeling subdued, a little shaken; she rallied her spirits, however, and said:

"You know the exterior of the house. Shall I show you the rooms?"

"If you will be so good."

"As I said—the parlor—very modestly furnished, but all that is needful—a table, chairs, a bookcase, coal hod."

"Yes, all that is needful."

They were in the passage again. "A little room at the back that I—we—never used much." Gathering up her expensive mourning she went abruptly down the steep dark stairs to the basement. "A kitchen, a scullery—equipped—but I don't suppose that interests you."

She did not look at him, and hastened upstairs; she heard him behind her, a quiet, firm tread such as had not sounded in this house in her memory. She showed him the two bedrooms, each with a single bed with a white honeycomb quilt, washed muslin at the windows, squares of drugget, and yellow varnished tables, chests and washing stands.

"That is all." Still she did not look at him; she turned again and was quickly in the front parlor, that distinctive tread behind her; without facing him, she asked: "Does it suit you?"

"Very well. I live alone, but my present apartment is too small. I have much lumber to store. What, please, Mrs. Sacret, is the rent?" Gazing at the floor, she answered:

"Two pounds a week."

"I could not pay that. I am a painter, not known. I do not earn much. The rent of this house cannot be above fifteen pounds a year. Good day."

Mrs. Sacret was startled.

"Don't go. You think I ask a high figure. You see me well dressed; that is because I am companion to a rich woman. My husband left me nothing but this house. The rent of it represents my sole means."

"I am sorry, it is too much for me."

She looked as high as his hand on the doorknob.

"How much would you pay?"

"One pound a week. Far too high. But I don't wish to waste time looking farther—and it suits me, and since you make a point of the money—

"No more than you do!" she flashed, looking up, then down again. "This is half what I expected—but I am not used to bargaining."

"No? We have agreed, then?"

"I shall want references."

"I have none," he replied coolly. "I have been abroad, France, Italy. My friends are scattered—if I may think them friends. My present landlady will assure you that I have paid my rent for three months and been a quiet tenant."

"Pay me six months in advance, then," demanded Mrs. Sacret, staring at the floor boards as if she saw through them, deep into another world.

"I could not do that, Mrs. Sacret. I may be engaged to work for Mr. Fox Oldham at Lyndbridge House in Kent. If so—then I'll pay you for six months—"

"Portraits?" she asked.

"Mural decorations. For the home-coming of a bride."

"Then you would have to live there—in Kent?"

"Perhaps. None of it is certain yet. Will you let me this house, Mrs. Sacret?"

"Yes. I suppose so. You'll pay something?"

"I thought you were not used to bargaining. A sovereign. One week's rent from today."

Her eyes were again at the level of his hand. She saw it place the gold coin on the mean table where she and her husband, then she alone, had had their dreary, tasteless meals.

"Can you come here tomorrow, at the same time, to make an inventory of your possessions, Mrs. Sacret?"

"Yes."

"Good day, then. And bring a receipt for the sovereign."

He went. She heard two doors shut, then she raised her head and stared at the spot where he had stood.


§ 9

"I've let my little house, Susan."

"Oh! For how long?"

"It is not decided. I meet Mr. Bellis again tomorrow."

Susan tried to forget her own discomforts and to show an interest in her friend's affairs, for she was conscious that for once Mrs. Sacret wanted to talk about herself. Sewing industriously in the rosy light of the silver lamp she recounted her interview with her tenant. Susan thought it sounded very dull and wondered why Olivia seemed so interested, even excited and pleased.

"What was he like, Olivia?"

"I hardly know. I scarcely looked at him, or noticed. All I was thinking of was letting the house."

"Why were you in such a hurry, dear? And a painter, you say. A stranger, without references—who would not pay in advance! I'm sure I don't know much about business—but I thought you did," said Susan candidly.

"I liked him," admitted Mrs. Sacret, laying down her sewing. "He is different from anyone whom I have met before. He has traveled much, and knows much of people and things. He has some purpose in life—is bold and careless, yet sure and prudent. His presence makes life different. It would be impossible to be wearied in his company."

"Yet you scarcely saw him!" exclaimed Susan, startled.

"A glance was sufficient to tell me his—character—shall I say?—or his attraction?"

"Then you let him have your house, on his own terms, because he fascinated you! How queer! Do tell me what he is like, Olivia. Of course you noticed—"

"Yes. He is extremely elegant. A gentleman. You would not suppose him to be a painter—not that I ever met one. He looks as if he were well to do. Not in the least as if he came from Pimlico lodgings. That is why I asked a high rent. He is about thirty-five years old. Neither dark nor fair—a bright color, like gold under brown in his hair and eyes—his complexion very healthy, yes, he is a fine, robust, healthy man."

"How odd he wanted your house!"

"Yes. I could not let him go, he interested me. That, also, is odd."

Mrs. Sacret picked up her sewing and Susan sat in an uneasy silence. She felt, vaguely, that a new and hostile influence had entered her already troubled life. After a pause she probed her friend's intentions, looking with apprehension at the neat figure of Mrs. Sacret in the handsome mourning, her charming head with the hazel-colored braids bent so that her precise profile was edged by the rosy lamplight that struck dull gleams from her polished jet earrings and brooch.

"Are you—staying with me—for a long time, Olivia?"

"How frightened you sound! Do you wish to get rid of me, as your husband and his mother do? I want to stay and look after you, dear. You are so undecided about your own affairs. You won't stand up for yourself. I should like to see you in possession of your own fortune—and happy—"

"You'll never see that," replied Susan quickly. "Don't you understand yet—about John?"

Mrs. Sacret thought that she did understand, better than she had understood yesterday, what Susan felt. Passion, fascination, obsession—these words had new meanings to her now.

"Lady Curle is still alive," she said quietly. "You must not speak like that—"

"Then don't you speak of happiness," retorted Susan in a muffled desperate voice. "And pray do destroy those letters."

"The letters! Always the letters! Of course I shall—but they are of no matter—"

"Bring them down now."

"There is no fire." Mrs. Sacret glanced at the pretty satin-embroidered screen, a design of lilies and tulips, that concealed the grate.

"I can get some matches."

"And make a smell, and a mess—really you are silly, Susan!"

"You torment me—you don't mean to destroy them—"

"Hush." Mrs. Sacret raised her clear eyes and Susan cowered slightly into her silk cushions. "You must not accuse me of unkindness. I have told you again and again I shall destroy the letters. But I mean to keep them a little longer because you have done something wrong, Susan. I told you they were in my trinket box, and you went into my room and looked for them."

"How do you know!" cried Susan wildly.

"I arranged the things in a certain way and they were turned over. I don't suspect the maids. They have never touched anything of mine. But just after I told you about the letters the box was tampered with. How silly you are!" she added scornfully. "If I had had anything of value I should have locked the box—you ought to have thought of that."

"Of value—you do think those letters of value, then?"

"Of sentimental value. I told you."

"Were they ever there? Did you move them? Was it a trap?"

"Of course not. I chanced to move them. It is wrong of you to talk so recklessly—of traps."

"Olivia, I shall give you my new diamond bracelet if you'll destroy those letters!"

"Susan, please. I cannot wear diamonds. Do think. And that sounds like a bribe. It is quite insulting. The letters are worth nothing. I meant to tear them up, in front of you—as small as snowflakes—and throw them away from the carriage when we were driving, one day, in the park—"

"Oh, why didn't you!"

"Because you tried to steal them."

"A punishment! I suppose that was how you were brought up—to punish people."

"Yes. I was. And I was punished, too. At home, at school, as Frederick's wife. Not only for what I did, but for what I was. One pays for that, you know, Susan."

"You are harsh. Used to dealing with those wretched heathen."

"I'm your best friend, Susan."

Old Mrs. Rue entered, glancing with equal hostility at the flushed beauty of her son's wife and the nut brown elegancy of Mrs. Sacret. She stared ostentatiously at the low table with the painted porcelain top on which Susan usually had the bottle of sherry and the two glasses. Tonight it was empty and old Mrs. Rue raised her eyebrows.

"Tea," she remarked, seating herself heavily. "Could we have some tea—so much better for one than wine in the evening, don't you think?"

Susan rose and hastened out of the room.

"There!" exclaimed her mother-in-law, with a complacent shrug. "You see how nervous she is! The least word and she is off in a tantrum! I only asked for tea."

"You reminded her that Mr. Rue has forbidden the servants to serve wine except at table," replied Mrs. Sacret coldly. "You never have tea here. And seldom join us of an evening."

"Hoity-toity! You can't put me out," replied Mrs. Rue. "I understand you perfectly well. I've asked you to leave and my son has asked you to leave. And you are brazen enough to stay. For no good purpose, of course."

"To help Susan. I feel it my duty."

"Sunday school, Dissenting talk!"

"I was baptized into the Church of England. I attend church with Susan."

"More genteel, I suppose, than the chapel. Really, you have done very well for yourself, Mrs. Sacret—considering what you are."

"Perhaps I have, Mrs. Rue."

The elder lady leaned forward, there was a stir of the scent the chemists term "violet" from the rice powder on her sagging face and the mauve velvet ribbons on her lace cap. "Are you going to tell me about the letters?" she asked.

"I don't know what you mean, Mrs. Rue." Olivia Sacret rose. "Black mail."

Mrs. Sacret slightly winced. The word was familiar to her mind, and she had never forgotten the look of it in print, as she had seen it in the Morning Post. But this was the first time she had heard it spoken.

"You have a vulgar mind," she sneered.

"Susan doesn't really like you," retorted Mrs. Rue resolutely. "She wouldn't have you here if she wasn't afraid of you. And she wouldn't be afraid of you unless you had a hold over her. And it's likely to be letters. About that married man she got herself talked of with. She's silly enough to have sent some of his to you—for sympathy or advice—or perhaps you stole them." Mrs. Rue took a small tin box from her pocket and helped herself to mauve cachets. "Or she wrote to you, giving herself away."

"Would she be so frightened," asked Mrs. Sacret scornfully, "of what is past?"

"Susan is very timid—and could never face disgrace. And what disgrace ever is past?"

Mrs. Sacret knew that this was true. Susan could never endure any scandal. Though she seemed to have nothing to lose in her present life she clung to it desperately, because it was, in a way, safe and respectable. Her friend would not admit this to old Mrs. Rue. Once more she pointed out that Susan could demand all her money from her husband, and depart, a wealthy woman, for some fashionable Continental spa.

"That is your plan, I can see," replied old Mrs. Rue. "You want to fasten on her and take her away—to keep you in luxury. You won't succeed. Susan hasn't the courage."

"You are confused," retorted the other woman. "If you believe that I am—that I have a hold—over Susan—and she thinks so much of her—good name—then I could make her do as I wished."

The two widows, one so dowdy, one so elegant, stared at one another. The elder was taken aback, she scowled. If this wretched creature was blackmailing Susan it would be true that she could make that weak, foolish woman do as she pleased. Yet Susan could hardly leave her husband and go ahead without that slur on her reputation she so much dreaded. Old Mrs. Rue thought rapidly. It would suit her quite well to be rid of her daughter-in-law in this manner. Martin would return to her and all would be as it had been at Blackheath. But it would not suit her for Martin to return to Susan the large sums of money she had so foolishly given him. Old Mrs. Rue termed herself prudent and that it would be "a sin" to trust Susan with her large fortune that she would not know how to manage, and that this designing, wicked Mrs. Sacret would certainly get from her once she had separated her from her husband.

Olivia Sacret guessed what she was thinking. A mean old woman, close fisted as her son. It was strange they had not induced Susan to part legally with her money. Probably her father's and her first husband's lawyers looked after her affairs and what he could not obtain lawfully, Martin had had to wheedle out of Susan.

Old Mrs. Rue sighed, sucking her cachets. She had never had to deal with anything like this before, but she did not feel unequal to the situation. Ever since Martin had married the detestable Susan, his mother had been prepared for anything unpleasant, even Mrs. Sacret did not surprise her. Just what I should have expected of Susan, she reflected, to know a horrible woman like this and get into her clutches.

"I'll go to bed," remarked Mrs. Sacret; her soft, pretty voice held no note of malice or exasperation. She shook out the folds of her fine black silk dress with the crape borders.

"We've settled nothing," protested old Mrs. Rue, "the letters—"

"I never admitted there were any compromising letters. For that is what you mean, Mrs. Rue. And there is nothing to settle—or that we ever shall settle," she added in an even softer tone.

The elder widow, looking at her malignantly, thought, Why, she's pretty—as pretty as Susan, in a different style. Younger than I thought, also. And hated her the more vehemently. But controlled her hatred. She had now decided that she would prefer her son to keep Susan and her money, sooner than part with both. But whatever "hold" Mrs. Sacret had over Susan must be transferred to her, Amelia Rue, so that she, and she alone, could keep Susan cowed and obedient. She did not doubt that she would have to pay heavily for this odious intruder's secret—and she began her bidding.

"I, as well as Susan, could give you what you want—say, a visit abroad. Isn't that what you desire?"

Mrs. Sacret laughed and the other woman was startled. She had never heard Mrs. Sacret laugh before, or a sound like that, so cool, heartless and amused.

With no more than that laugh, Mrs. Sacret went upstairs. In her own room she stood thoughtfully regarding a sovereign that she took out of the drawer of her dressing table where she had hidden it under a pile of lawn handkerchiefs.

What, she wondered, had he been thinking of, when he had offered her that piece of gold, after their rapid and sordid bargaining? Did he recognize the falsehoods her statements about herself implied? That she had tried to cheat him over the rent because it had seemed easy to do so? Probably he had lied also. No references. An adventurer. What did he want with her mean little house, he in his smart broadcloth and fine linen, with his freshly shaved cheek and glossy hair?

It has nothing to do with me, as long as he pays his rent. Her thoughts turned, as they had turned on the occasion of her reading the paragraph on the blackmail case, to that vague, wide world about her, filled with people of whose lives and means of existence she knew nothing, of whose sins and follies she could only guess at random. A world that might be extremely exciting, that aroused unsuspected curiosity in her ignorance, as her duel with old Mrs. Rue and her sense of power over Susan had aroused unsuspected passions, as her meeting with the unplaced stranger had aroused an unaccountable stir of fascination such as she had never known before. Her past life, viewed from her present vantage point, seemed incredibly dull, like a waterless, featureless plain glanced at, backwards, from a mountain side. How had she endured her barren childhood, the humiliations of her poverty-blighted school days, her marriage to a Dissenting, invalid missionary, those years in Jamaica where she had been cut off from everyone save a handful of fellow zealots and Negroes, to her unsympathetic and aloof temperament, as degraded as slaves.

She checked her thoughts, reminding herself, without conscious hypocrisy, that she must, in all things, do the will of God, that she must try to protect and reform Susan. She had already been a good influence over that wayward creature. Susan was drinking less wine lately. Sherry would never be served in the garden room again, not only because Mr. Rue had forbidden this, but because Olivia Sacret had said, "Susan, if you really need a little sherry wine, for your health, I shall buy a bottle and keep it in my room. And so you can sometimes have a little, a very little, without annoying your husband or being talked about by the servants."

Susan had been grateful for this suggestion and Mrs. Sacret now reminded herself that she must buy the sherry tomorrow when she visited Minton Street and bring it to the Old Priory in the small carpetbag that had belonged to Frederick.


Illustration

"So Evil My Love" — A Scene from the Film


She weighed and turned the gold piece in her hand as if it had been something unusual and precious. She reflected that she had never possessed a jewel nor any ornaments beyond the few silver brooches and bracelets engraved with ferns and ivy leaves given her by her mother on her birthdays, and the simple cross she always wore that had been her husband's wedding gift. She found pleasure in the delicate lawn as she replaced the coin. Until she had come to the Old Priory her handkerchiefs had been cotton. She had not realized that pleasure could be found in luxury because both pleasure and luxury had been so outside her experience. She trembled, turning toward the bed with the satin coverlet where she would kneel "to say her prayers" as the pat phrase ran mechanically in her mind. Her thoughts were not heavenwards. Susan had offered her a diamond bracelet. Absurd, indecent for a poor missionary's widow in heavy mourning. But for the first time in her life Mrs. Sacret reflected that her wrist was white and slender, her arm round and well shaped and that she would like to experience the odd sensation of seeing diamonds clasp the firm flesh, never yet adorned, always hidden.


§ 10

Mrs. Sacret arrived early at her house. Some of her neighbors coming along the narrow streets with baskets of spring greens and onions stopped to speak to her. She regarded these women as very inferior beings and never gossiped with them, but today she listened to their inquisitive comments on her departure from Minton Street and her new tenant. Apart and agreeable in manner, she told them nothing and went into her cramped parlor to wait for the painter. The place seemed intolerably lonely. Under her prim disguise, of a woman in mourning, intent on sober business, was an increasing excitement and enthusiasm, a rising recklessness, ready to gush out and overwhelm her staid conventionality. An organ-grinder was playing at the corner; as she opened the window the luscious Italian melody fell on her expectant ears with a pleasure she had not known before from any music. She took off her widow's bonnet and veil and passed her pretty hand through her pretty hair, loosening the plain braids so that slender tendrils fell over her small ears and jet earrings. She felt, suddenly, that life would be unbearable if he did not come, if his taking of the house should prove to be a mere whim or jest.

Then, on this pang of emotion she saw him, coming around the corner, moving swiftly between the dinner hour loungers in fustian, coat and sealskin cap.

She admitted him at once, invited him into the front room and began to speak, without looking at him.

"My friends—with whom I live—advise me against you. You have stirred the curiosity of my neighbors. They tell me you have asked about several houses around here and made inquiries of me before you wrote to me."

"I also wanted references." She knew, without seeing him, that he smiled.

"Why? I let the house—"

He interrupted, but civilly.

"I wished to know if Mrs. Sacret was old, tedious and foolish—I could have no dealings with such. A missionary's widow—that was very different." His tone was subtly mocking.

"Shall we take the inventory?" she asked. "Do you really think it worth while? A beetle trap in the kitchen, a hassock here, a straw beehive chair, drugget in place of carpet—"

"I have noticed these details for myself, Mrs. Sacret."

"This is not a street where painters—artists—men like you live. There is no studio here."

"There is all I require."

"We bargained yesterday, did we not? If you don't need an inventory, and I don't, I only have to give you these." She took the key of the house and a receipt for a sovereign from her pocket and laid them on the stained rosewood side table where yesterday he had put down the gold piece. "You can send your rent to the address from which I wrote."

She paused, feeling the moment wholly in his power.

"Will you allow me to sketch your portrait?" he asked.

"I was expecting that," she returned swiftly. "One of these women warned me. They are shrewd, these common people. 'He's up to no good,' she said. 'He thinks you've come into money and will try to get around you. He's been asking about the neighborhood and has heard about you.' That is what my neighbors think themselves, that I have come into money."

"Yes, I suppose they would," he replied coolly and left her to continue her explanation.

"Because I was very poor and looking for a post, and suddenly left Minton Street in a carriage and pair, and am well dressed. But I am as poor as I ever was. I have nothing."

"Does that concern me?" he asked. "And why should you in your fearless innocence trouble what the gossips say of one who is, obviously, an adventurer?"

"You admit that?"

"Yes. Are not we all adventurers, who leave rigid conventionalities behind us? Your husband was one when he went abroad as a missionary. You were another when you went to the Old Priory."

"No doubt." His words pleased her; she felt protected by "fearless innocence" and raised her head as if guardian angels shielded her. "I had to help a friend in trouble. God guided me."

"Perhaps a divine cicerone brought me to Minton Street, Mrs. Sacret. May I sketch your portrait?"

Her cheeks tingled; she covered her shock at his near blasphemy by replying quickly, "Do you want to prove to me you really are a painter?"

"By no means. I doubt if I could. You are probably too ignorant to judge my capacity from my work."

"I have some taste. This house is drab, almost squalid. Poverty and discouragement, Mr. Bellis. But I have taste."

"I perceive it in your costume. You have contrived to make the grotesque weeds you wear becoming."

"Yes, becoming to a missionary's widow. These are the first fine clothes I have ever had," she said, thinking, and the first flattery. "You'll come? Say, the day after tomorrow, at eleven o'clock?"

"I'll come." She caught back the words—"you know it," and picked up her bonnet, adjusting it without a glance at either the man or the mirror, and left the house, taking with her the carpetbag in which she meant to conceal the bottle of sherry from the local wineshop.


§ 11

The volatile Susan was in high spirits. Old Mrs. Rue had returned to Blackheath; she had her own dependents and affairs she could not leave long untroubled, and though she would undoubtedly soon return to her son's house, Susan was never inclined to think of the future. The hag has gone, reflected Mrs. Sacret, to consider her next move.

She rejoiced with Susan and gave her a light account of the new tenant—"an eccentric fellow, who traveled about—a kind of journeyman painter, who wants a place to keep his canvases and paints. We are taking an inventory of my things—a tedious task. I shall go over every morning for an hour or so."

"Oh, I can take you in the carriage, on my way to the park."

"No—I'll walk over. I have several little affairs to settle in the neighborhood."

"Walk, all that way!" Susan was disturbed, her fine eyes cast an appealing glance at her friend.

"And I can do some errands for you," said Mrs. Sacret firmly. "Match your silks. Make inquiries for the goldfish you wanted. And the aeolian harp for your window—and see Miss Sermoine for you. And there is the sherry to fetch. I think it would be an excellent plan for Miss Sermoine to come and help you with your music," she added sweetly.

"I don't care about music, really," sighed Susan, with a desolate glance at the grand pianoforte, draped with a pale, yellow silk shawl that twisted around a bowl of hothouse orchids, chocolate and green patched.

"It is an employment for you, Susan. You are so idle. I cannot be with you always. And when I am not with you, you sit and mope, or read silly novelettes."

"You know that Martin doesn't want me to see company, save his friends, and they are so dull and seem to spy on me, and I don't care about it—but pianoforte playing doesn't attract me. Perhaps I might have a little dog—a spaniel?"

"Perhaps. Though they are such noisy, nasty creatures. The goldfish are better as pets."

"They, too, are dull," protested Susan timidly.

"What do you want, dear? I can't give my whole time to amusing you." Mrs. Sacret smiled up, gently, from her sewing.

"You said that before—do you want to leave me, Olivia?"

"No. I came to help you. At first I gave you all my time. Now, I've some affairs of my own to attend to—the chapel people—"

"But you are Church of England, now."

"Yes. But I had friends at the chapel. Then there are members of Frederick's flock in London."

"Bring them here. It would be a diversion."

"Oh, no! That would never do. They would consider it very strange to see me here, in this luxury. And idleness. For I could not explain what I do for you, Susan. And you would find them dull. That is quite a favorite word of yours, is it not?"

"I daresay." Susan sighed listlessly. "At least that horrid old woman has gone and I felt in better spirits."

"Why have they fallen again? What do you want, Susan?"

Challenged a second time, Susan turned her lovely, flushed face toward her friend and replied with childish abandon. "I want to go away—with someone I love—and be true to myself and have a proper home. Sometimes I wish I had been a wicked woman and run away with John. Away—away!"

"Fie, that is a shocking thing to say. You have such loose principles, Susan. No wonder Mr. Rue is so watchful and jealous—and his mother, too."

"Yes, they are, Olivia. And you've admitted it. Pray do give me those letters—I don't care what I pay! Just suppose Martin or that detestable old woman should get hold of them!"

"Hush, Susan, you must not get so excited. The letters were written in—fearless innocence—you must not think of them as if they were something evil. Nor insult me by talking of buying them. They are safe with me."

"For pity's sake destroy them!"

"Why, so I shall, as I've promised you a dozen times. But I'm not going to do anything theatrical or silly as if these harmless letters were important. When you have forgotten about them, then I shall quietly tear them up. So don't tease me about them, Susan."


§ 12

Mrs. Sacret approved of the litter in her once neat parlor; the painting stand with the shallow drawers, the deal table laden with portfolios, crayons, sketchbooks and pans of color, the light easel and the large chair with the horsehair cushion, placed in the corner, firmly on a stout wooden box, with brass corners and padlock.

Mr. Bellis said that this room was suitable for sketches and drawings to be made in a plain or garden light, after the manner of a map or heraldic design. Upstairs he had stored his oils and canvases.

"You want to know who I am," he added with his cool smile. "And I think you are the only person in London who cares. So I'll tell you. But you must look at me, please. I can't draw you with your eyes always downcast."

She raised her brilliant hazel glance and trembled as she mounted, under his direction, the raised chair. It was as if she had dreaded to find him repulsive and had not dared to face some suspected and dreaded horror. But forced to look at him, she found he was attractive, fascinating, as she had known he was, and the haze of horror that had clouded her mental image of him and her visions—for every night since she had first met him she had dreamed of him—vanished. "I don't belong to this labyrinth of London," he said gravely. "The houses and streets, miles of them, the stench and the fog, the smoke and the dirt. When it comes to telling you where I've been all my life—I don't know that I can."

He was older than she had thought at first, but robust and healthy with the quick, neat movements of an athlete; his clothes were precise and his linen fresh.

"I had a good education," he continued, "ran away from college and was disowned. I went aboard ship as a youth. And did a number of things. I've searched for gold in California, caught wild horses on the Pampas, driven cattle in Mexico, stayed in large cities and learned to paint. Made money by that. I always wanted to draw. I see in pictures more easily than words. They are clearer and safer."

"Did you find gold?"

"Yes. But not in California." He selected a sheet of paper and a crayon. "Now I'm neither rich nor poor. Neither tramping, or settled down. Will you please sit with your head so, three-quarters to me, your bonnet in your hand—so—"

"This yellow shawl? I shall remove it She recalled the other yellow shawl on Susan's pianoforte.

"Inappropriate, you think? I shall not show the color. I need the line."

"Have you no more to relate of yourself?"

"Too much. That is all there is for you, Mrs. Sacret. You will see that I have preserved a respectable appearance despite my wanderings."

He did not indeed look like a man who had lived roughly for years; there was no trace of vice or weakness in his face, and Mrs. Sacret was able to recognize both from the countenances of passers-by on the city pavements.

"I neither drink to excess, gamble at all, nor smoke," he remarked. "So my wits are fairly sharp and my hand fairly steady."

"Have you been long in England? Have you visited your family?"

"Three months. I have no family—no one who cares if I am alive or dead." He smiled cheerfully, pinned the paper to a board and set in on the easel. As he began to draw he began to question Mrs. Sacret.

At first she defended herself. "I've nothing to tell. Nothing." She gave a flat outline of her life. "That is all."

"What are you doing in Mr. Rue's house?" he asked quietly, coming to the very center of the very heart of her secret, with the directness of one following a guiding thread through a maze.

"I told you. Mrs. Rue is unhappy—"

He interrupted.

"Tell me more. Why not? If you have not come into a fortune as the gossips think—you have had some good fortune lately, after a hard existence and a long waiting. You have nothing you say, Mrs. Sacret, except—?"

His quiet voice and brilliant look that stared a little, as if he forced his lids up, were so compelling that she almost replied "the letters" and flushed at her own weakness.

"Pray don't pinch your lips so, I am drawing them. Why not tell me—your affairs? As you have nothing to give I cannot beg or steal anything. I may be gone—in a few days, if I don't get that work in Kent. Perhaps you need a little advice or comfort. You seem as lonely as I am myself. And you are a very pretty woman to be so unprotected."

These words, not spoken in a flattering tone, stirred in Mrs. Sacret an emotion unknown to her, one so delightful that it absorbed her whole being, almost to the extent of stifling her native shrewdness.

"There," continued the painter, stepping back from the easel, "that is sufficient for today—you are beginning to lose the pose." He did not offer to assist her from her raised chair; she descended carefully, crossed the floor and stood behind him. There was her likeness, for her to see.

Olivia Sacret he had scrawled across the bottom of the paper. The study was in red, black and white crayons; every curve of face and limb, sweepingly accentuated, the gloss of the hair, the brightness of the eyes, the grace of throat and hands indicated in clear lines, the elegance of the mourning gown lightly touched in. So the missionary's widow was revealed to herself. She changed as she gazed. "You're clever," she said.

"Yes. I have had to live by my wits. So far they have not failed me."

"You have finished?" she asked. "I thought you would take days—"

"You must come again," he replied, answering her thought. "You do not need the excuse of the portrait—or if you do," he added carelessly, "say, I still require you to pose for me."

She was irked because he was so sure of her, but this was a slight blemish on her increasing excitement. "What do you want?" she asked.

"Money. Not to hoard. To spend. I live roughly for years, then I think of luxury, and somehow find the means for luxury."

"Through your painting?"

"No. I told you—this is a livelihood—not luxury. I hope to be employed at Lyndbridge House, as I told you. I met Mr. Fox Oldham in Paris where I exhibited a picture. He was on his way to Switzerland with his bride who is not strong—as they say." He faced her suddenly, standing so close that their arms almost touched. "You think that you can look after yourself, Mrs. Sacret, but really you are quite helpless. You know nothing about life at all. Other people have always decided everything for you."

This was, Mrs. Sacret reflected, true, though she had never admitted as much before. Her existence had followed the pattern set by her parents, then that set by her husband. When she had been left alone, she had gone on, mechanically trying to obtain a position that would mean a continuation of the life she had led with Frederick Sacret. Her only original action had been to introduce herself into the Rue household and then she had been hesitant, ineffective, not really knowing what to do, what she wanted, at least not confessing so much to herself. She thought of the three people she was engaged in dealing with and confusion blurred their outlines and her own motives. Nor had she really faced the problem of the letters.

"You are puzzled," remarked the painter, observing her closely.

"And not least by you," she replied with a flash of spirit. "I have never met anyone like you before—never had—a chance acquaintance." She glanced meaningly at his well-shaped, well-kept hand, resting on the easel. "I don't think I believe your tales of a rough wandering—gold prospecting—wild horse taming—"

"Whereas I," he interrupted, "believe every word you tell me of yourself—"

"Rut I have told you nothing—save a bare outline—and there is little to tell. I am a simple woman who tries to do the Lord's will."

She expected a laugh or a sneer, but he was gravely silent. "Good-by," she added, leaving everything in his hands.

"Perhaps Mrs. Rue would care for me to sketch her likeness," he suggested. "Will you recommend me?"

"No," she replied at once, though instantly thinking how Susan would snatch at such a diversion.

"Then I may sketch you again? Or call on you at your friend's house?"

"No—I don't want you at the Old Priory."

"I can produce credentials," he smiled. "I should not play the vagabond before this respectable family."

Mrs. Sacret flushed. She knew this stranger was probably better born and certainly better bred than the Rues, than anyone she had known, save her own father. Indeed, she could persuade herself that she felt a keen class affinity with the painter, as if they were two aristocrats among vulgar people.

"I'll confide in you," she said in a low hurried voice. "It is true that I am oddly alone. Most women have someone—Susan Rue is really my only friend—I am staying with her as a—companion—but I don't take money, of course—only a few presents. Her husband is not kind to her—he wants me to leave—so does his mother. I don't quite know what to do."

"Please sit down." He brought forward one of her own shabby chairs.

"No—I shall go in a moment. It is an—unpleasant position—but I have no resources. I thought if—Susan left her husband—we might go abroad together. She is very rich. Her husband holds most of her money. I want her to get it back."

She ventured to glance at the painter. He was looking at her from his dark eyes against which the lashes shone thick gold. There was a quality in his agreeable face she had never seen in a human countenance before; she could not name it; to her it was a fascination not to be resisted, as if delights hitherto unknown were suddenly and richly offered to her. He smiled.

"Does Mrs. Rue wish you to stay?"

"I suppose so. She offered me two hundred pounds a year. Of course I could not take it."

"You are dealing," he replied at once, "with a woman not only very foolish, but very frightened."

Mrs. Sacret knew that she was being forced faster and farther than she wished. But she could not resist. "I have some old letters of hers. Quite harmless, I assure you. I never placed any importance on them. I kept them for sentiment."

"I understand perfectly. Mrs. Rue wants you to destroy them?"

"Yes. Of course I shall do so. I only kept them to show her—how trifling they are."

"But safely? Locked up?"

"Yes—with other things."

"Mr. Rue suspects nothing?"

"No. But his mother does. A shot in the dark. She is a horrid woman. She tried to bribe me to give up—letters. I admitted nothing."

"She—dislikes—her daughter-in-law?"

"Loathes her—out of pure jealousy and spite. She does not know what to do. She doesn't want a separation as that would mean returning Susan's money."

"How tedious all this is for you, Mrs. Sacret," said Mark Bellis in a tone so quiet as to be touched by tenderness. "You must allow me to help you. With advice—"

"I only want to protect Susan. She is so afraid of Mr. Rue.

"Why?"

Mrs. Sacret, rapidly and looking down, recounted her friend's simple history.

The painter showed a courteous interest: He might have been a cousin privileged to offer good advice to a gentlewoman in distress. He said that he would think the matter over and give Mrs. Sacret the result of his reflections—in a few days' time—if she could call for a retouching of her sketch.

When she found herself walking toward the Old Priory again Mrs. Sacret realized that she had agreed to everything he had said and revealed all her secrets to him. Her intelligence was ashamed, even alarmed, but her heart had surrendered without terms.


§ 13

Susan was aroused from the mental discomforts of her drifting days by reading in the Morning Post of the death of Lady Curle. Mrs. Sacret had to exert her full authority to curb her friend's outburst. Casting off her sometimes heavy, sometimes frivolous apathy, the desperate young woman declared she must and would have a divorce and marry "the only man I ever loved." Mrs. Sacret only soothed this dangerous fury by promising all possible help in the future—"If only you will be a little reasonable now, Susan."

"But he may marry again. He doesn't know that I still care. Oh, why was I so hasty! I should have waited. The doctors told me that Elizabeth Curle might live for years! And we were being talked of. The only way to silence people seemed to get married again."

"I don't understand thinking so much of respectability if one—is in love," said Mrs. Sacret unguardedly.

"I was a fool!" cried Susan, with unusual and unexpected vehemence. "Now I don't care—I'd run away with him tomorrow—and end all this pretense and dreadful fear. Yes, and then I shouldn't care about the letters."

Mrs. Sacret felt her world dwindle about her, everything to which she had become used in the last six months fade and vanish and she standing in her old drab and shabby mourning in the mean little house in Minton Street, searching the newspaper for SITUATIONS VACANT. Her brilliant hazel eyes sparkled with excitement. She took Susan by the shoulders and shook her until her pretty gold trinkets rattled.

"Do be sensible. Why have a horrid scandal and be cut by everyone? Besides it would be wicked. And Sir John wouldn't like it. Men don't. Mr. Rue might never divorce you—out of spite."

Under the force of these rapid arguments and her friend's vivid glance, Susan controlled herself—and looked with a wild hope at the elder woman.

"Are you going to suggest something, Olivia?"

"Yes." Mrs. Sacret relaxed her hold on Susan, who dropped into the shining satin chair by the bed. "Of course. A number of things. But be prudent. Give me time. That nasty old woman will also see this death announced—and you must be so careful—"

"I'm weary of being careful," protested Susan. "I shall speak frankly to Martin. He was fond of me once. He might let me divorce him. It can be done, I think, arranged—"

"Yes, I'm sure it can. But you must not suggest it to Mr. Rue—not yet. Why, he would be furious! He would see at once that it was because of Lady Curle's death—"

"That is what I want to tell him."

"It would be lunatic—do, pray, be advised by me."

Susan's lovely eyes gazed anxiously into her friend's intent face. "I wish I could be sure of you, Olivia. You are so different from what you were. Like a changeling," she murmured earnestly. "And those letters—"

"Oh, don't mention those again! I thought you had forgotten them!"

"Have you destroyed them?"

"Yes. I think so. I don't really remember. They are of no importance. And why are you afraid of a few harmless letters, Susan, when you say you are ready to leave your husband and run away with a man whose wife is just dead?"

Susan wavered, then began to weep. Mrs. Sacret pressed her advantage.

"Do leave it to me. I'll see Sir John for you, if you wish, and sound his mind. That would he much wiser than writing any more letters. I could communicate with him from Minton Street. My tenant is very obliging."

As this rapid plan was unfolded, Susan calmed herself and submitted to the superior wisdom and resource of her friend, and soon her simple mind, sanguine despite her misfortunes, foresaw a quiet severance of her tie to Martin Rue and a departure for some vaguely distant land with the man who had been an obsession with her for so long.

Mrs. Sacret, with an emphasis that was almost fierce, impressed on her the complete need for decorum and prudence and hastened away to seek the advice of Mark Bellis. Their relationship was still formal, but their unspoken intimacy was perfect. They had understood one another, Olivia Sacret believed, since they had first met, and this though he knew all her story and she knew little of his, and that little secretly disbelieved. She did not see him very frequently, as he was engaged on mural paintings in Lyndbridge House, and stayed in Kent for several days at a time, but she had kept a key to her house, and frequently went there in his absence to look at the crayon sketch of herself, always left for her to see. In this charming portrait she could read his opinion of her, the flattery and caresses implicit in his manner toward her, whenever he spoke to her or listened to her whispered account of her affairs. She had not had much to tell him since they had first met a month ago. He conveyed to her, more by bright and searching looks and overtones to his speech than by direct words, his advice that she should do nothing save wait on events and ingratiate herself as much as possible with Susan Rue—for her own sake, of course. Old Mrs. Rue was also holding her hand; she remained at Blackheath where her son visited her frequently, and Susan, relieved to be rid of her, was satisfied. But Mrs. Sacret never forgot her wary enemy.

In her pearl-colored costume of half mourning, elegantly flounced, Olivia Sacret was leaving the Old Priory, when the maid hastened after her, and said that Mr. Rue requested her presence in the library. She was vexed, as a delay would make a visit to Minton Street impossible. She could not call on the painter at a late hour, the neighbors gaped as it was; not that Mrs. Sacret was vexed by this unmannerly curiosity, but Mr. Bellis had gently advised her to maintain a complete discretion.

A recollection of this advice sent her to the back of the house where the master of the Old Priory sat gloomily before the heavy cases of books in fine sets of standard authors that no member of his family had ever read.

In this dull, precise room, furnished with the cold taste of an upholsterer, was a door that led to bright beauty, the glasshouse that was Martin's chief pleasure.

Olivia Sacret, sniffing the tobacco fumes in the close air, looked at once at the vista of leaves and flowers, all filled with light and color that showed through the glass doors. Though she had become used to the rich plants that adorned the sumptuous, ugly rooms of the Old Priory, never before had she been in the library, usually locked, and never visited the conservatories, nor seen the rarest of the flowers that bloomed there.

Now these showed—an intricate design of blended bud, blossom and foliage—behind the fair head of Martin Rue, who sat in a leather armchair beside the empty black-leaded grate and cumbersome, glaring white marble mantelpiece that supported two bronze Arab horsemen and a brass clock above a figure of old "Father Time" pointing to the dial.

Mr. Rue rose, stubbed out his cigar and stiffly placed a chair for Mrs. Sacret.

"I have an appointment," she murmured, spreading out the frills of the expensive gown Susan had paid for.

"I'm sorry. I won't detain you long, Mrs. Sacret."

She looked up sharply at his tone. It was conciliatory, almost pleading.

"Why, what can you have to say to me, Mr. Rue?" Her mischievous sense of power prompted her to add, "Do you wish to show me your flowers?"

"No—but—are you interested?" He became animated and the sullen expression she so disliked vanished from his heavy face.

"Oh, yes; you have been honored with several medals, I believe?"

"I have. The last from the Ghent Salon d'Hiver. I should like to go to the next display given by the horticultural society of that city—a delightful place. My mother and I used to go there every year. The citizens are so fond of flowers they commonly wear a bloom to church. Many of these plants are but mechanic's flowers now. But I prize them for their beauty." He nervously indicated the glowing pageant through the glass doors. "You see only orchids there, Chinese and eastern varieties—some with medicinal properties, beyond in a more moderate heat I grow native flowers—only in lustrous perfection—sweet rocket, or dame's violet, for example, and the old red rose pink that a severe winter some years ago nearly rendered extinct." Then recalling the purpose of this interview, he said hurriedly, "Mrs. Sacret, if I ever said anything to offend you, I regret it and ask your pardon."

"Why, you never did, I'm sure, Mr. Rue. Only I knew you rather dislike having me here—in the Old Priory."

"That is what I wanted to talk to you about," he answered hurriedly. "I want to say that I understand your kind intentions toward Susan. No doubt I've given her some cause for complaint. I'm a plain fellow, with wretched health—we quarrel a good deal, as you've seen for yourself. But underneath, I'm very fond of Susan."

"Yes?" She would not give him any encouragement, she enjoyed his discomfiture and wished to prolong it.

"And if we could be left alone—we'd be happy yet, Mrs. Sacret."

His sincerity gave some gloss of dignity to his commonplace words, the flush in his cheeks softened his usual slightly livid color, he did not look disagreeable as he pleaded with Olivia Sacret. She compared him, curiously, with the painter of Minton Street. And greatly to his disadvantage.

"Your mother, Mr. Rue," she remarked, "interferes far too much between you and Susan—speak to her—not to me."

"My mother is not very often here, Mrs. Sacret; if I request it, she will remain away altogether. My wish is to take Susan abroad with me."

He had accepted so much impertinence from her that she ventured on further insolence.

"Susan will have to look after an invalid?" she questioned ironically.

"If I were a little happier, I should be better in health," he replied. Mrs. Sacret thought mechanically, It is my duty to help in the reconciliation of husband and wife. But is it fair to Susan to force her back on to this man?

"I entreat you," he added, peering at her downcast face. "Leave us. I respect your motives in remaining here, your friendship for Susan—but you are ruining our chances of happiness."

"They had gone before I came, Mr. Rue."

"No," he replied vehemently, "that is not so." He rose and began to walk up and down the thickly carpeted floor. "You have shut Susan away from me. Sometimes it seems as if you had some hold over her—"

The word his mother had used—but this was not even a random shot. Martin Rue was completely unsuspicious, jealous as he might be, of the existence of the letters at the bottom of Mrs. Sacret's locked drawer. She knew that, at once.

"I am aware," he continued with an effort, "that Susan had an attachment to a married man whose wife has lately died. This has disturbed her very much. I don't want to lose her. Won't you help me, by persuading her to come abroad with me?"

Again Mrs. Sacret saw all her usurped splendors stripped from her, the world she had come, so easily and so rapidly, to look upon as her own, sailing away, leaving her poor, unwanted, obscure. She recalled the painter of Minton Street and his talk of luxury, the need he felt for what money alone could procure. And here was her one chance of money—Susan—to be snatched from her suddenly.

Martin Rue guessed some of her thoughts; he said, with a clumsy hesitation, "I should like to compensate you for any inconvenience—"

"You could not compensate me," she replied truthfully, "for the loss of Susan's friendship."

"Why do you want to remain here?" he asked directly, staring at her, his greenish yellow eyes narrowed under the sandy lashes. "You must have had some sort of a life before you came here, by chance, as it seemed. Have you no existence of your own? No other interests, nor friends?"

Mrs. Sacret ignored these questions. She rose. Her head was beginning to ache. The air of the room was close as if some of the heated air from the greenhouse seeped through the glass doors.

"It rests with Susan to keep me or to send me away."

"You know that is not true. You have some power over her, if it is only the power of a strong nature over a weak one." He paused, then added with deep feeling, "I have a foreboding that some dreadful evil will come of it if you stay here—some evil for all of us."

"How could it possibly!" Olivia Sacret laughed pleasantly. "Sick fancies, Mr. Rue."

"I still ask you to leave the Old Priory."

She lowered her graceful head.

"I must do as my conscience bids me," she murmured and turned to leave the room. The young man seemed to take these words as, at least, a concession. He quickly opened the door of the conservatory and brought out a small plant in a clean pot. "The cardinal flower, Mrs. Sacret—observe the elegant shape and the brilliant puce and scarlet. It is the splendid or shining lobelia. Most distinctive of blooms. It reminds me of you though you are in mourning. Please accept it for your room."

Mrs. Sacret was startled by this flash of—perception? imagination? She might have expected that Mark Bellis would compare her to the vivid bloom—never Martin Rue. He took her raised color and faltering thanks for his gift as a sign of kindness and pressing the hand into which he had placed the pot, he added, in a tone of nervous eagerness, "And, pray, Mrs. Sacret, don't give Susan, poor, dear Susan, chemical champagne, or grocer's sherry, in your room; indeed, it is bad for her—and useless to control her wine at table if she gets it secretly."

Olivia Sacret was profoundly shocked, not only by hearing something she considered disgusting put into words, but by the realization that her trick—she saw it herself as that, a mean servant's trick—had been discovered. The lobelia trembled in her hand.

"I don't know what you mean." She blushed more deeply as she gave the routine lie, and wondered bitterly which of the housemaids had spied on and betrayed her. Martin Rue resolved this doubt by saying:

"Susan told me herself. Susan tells me everything in time, Mrs. Sacret."

Not about the letters, she thought, regaining her self-possession and saying aloud, "Oh, how oddly you talk! I have just a little medicinal wine in my room! I suffer from the megrims and facial neuralgia, as you do, Mr. Rue. Why shouldn't I dose myself, as you do?"

The pale young man did not take offense.

"It is my nerves," he said, as if in self-excuse.

Mrs. Sacret escaped, hearing behind her his low, slightly harsh, insistent voice, bidding her "consider his request."


§ 14

The missionary's widow, excited and distracted, placed the potted lobelia on her dressing table and hastened away to Minton Street, becoming hot and flushed from rapid walking through the June afternoon.

The painter was in Kent, executing the wall painting at Lyndbridge House, but Mrs. Sacret felt that she would gain some comfort in her dilemma from gazing at the crayon portrait that showed her as the woman she would like to be. She could not resolve the problem before her. Should she leave the Old Priory and, rested and strengthened as she was, try to make some life of her own, no doubt with the help of a handsome present from Susan; or should she defy Martin Rue and use her hold over his wife to remain in his house? And if she did, on what terms? And how was she to deal with that watchful enemy, old Mrs. Rue? And was she to use her influence over Susan to persuade her to leave her husband or to stay with him, and correspond with, and possibly meet, Sir John Curie?

Mrs. Sacret faced that compromise with her own rigid conscience. She knew that Susan was desperate with the reckless despair of a feeble creature, and that now that Elizabeth Curie was dead, nothing would keep her quiet but some contact with the only person in the world for whom she cared. Mrs. Sacret acknowledged Susan's passion as she would not have acknowledged it a short while before; she knew that it was not a silly woman's whim, but something powerful, to be reckoned with. She recalled that she had even promised to seek out and speak with Sir John Curle, and in her recently enhanced sense of power she did not feel afraid to do this. She even enjoyed the prospect of facing this, to her, important person, with his secrets in her possession. Would he, also, be frightened at the knowledge that she held Susan's harmless letters?

Mrs. Sacret entered the little house to find that Mark Bellis was in the front parlor, lighting a candle, in front of which he had placed a bowl of water. The first dusk obscured the ugliness of the room. Mrs. Sacret, breathing quickly, stood on the threshold and lifted her veil.

"I did not know you were here, Mr. Bellis."

His pleasant voice mocked her formality.

"I returned unexpectedly, Mrs. Sacret. I have received a commission to paint a miniature of Mrs. Fox Oldham. She fades and may never see Lyndbridge House."

Olivia Sacret was not affected by this remote tragedy. Never had she felt so full of life. The illness of a stranger was nothing to her. Without preamble she related to the painter her interview with Martin Rue, and looked at him, like a pupil looking at a master.

He seemed to accept this position naturally and remarked:

"Certainly you must not leave the Old Priory. Your influence over this foolish woman is your greatest asset. What else have you The question was put gently, but had a brutal edge.

"Nothing, indeed," she replied cynically; then her former disguises clung and she added, "But I stay out of friendship for Susan—who is in a cruel position."

The painter put down his fine brushes and adjusted the bowl of water so that the soft candlelight, with no glare, fell on a square of ivory; beside it was a faint crayon sketch of a feeble, pretty woman in a frilled white gown.

"Give me something worth while to do, Mrs. Sacret," he remarked, "and I shall stay in England. If not, I'll be away again as soon as this wall painting is finished. What is the fee? Very little. But sufficient to pay my passage to South America."

Olivia Sacret felt her spirits sink as they had sunk, with a sickening qualm, when Susan had wildly spoken of casting off her power and running away with Sir John Curie, as she had felt when Martin Rue had begged her to effect a reconciliation with his wife. She saw herself utterly forlorn, without an interest in life. Watching her, he laughed pleasantly.

"I've met you, Mrs. Sacret, as I've met many another odd acquaintance. We might be useful to one another—for a while. But you are very inexperienced and must take my advice."

"I shall do so—thankfully."

He held out his hand.

"Give me those keys."

She obeyed in silence.

"I rent the house," he said in an agreeable tone, "and must be the master. I did not know that you kept keys. Do you often come here?"

"Once or twice—only to look at my portrait—never beyond this room."

The painter pocketed the keys.

"The situation at the Old Priory interests me," he remarked. "A jealous husband, an erring wife—"

"Oh, I did not say that of Susan! Not erring!"

"The ingredients of a tenth-rate farce," he smiled. "What does it matter? Our point is your power over this foolish woman."

Mrs. Sacret sank into the beehive chair by the model's throne. "Our point," he said; did that mean that he would stay and be friendly with her? She could not care for much else.

"You are entitled to some of her fortune," he continued. "Do not hesitate to take what you can—something more than a comfortable home."

"Entitled?"

"Yes. You have good looks—wits—elegance. Our social system is very elastic, my dear Mrs. Sacret. It allows a good deal of scope for genteel adventurers, like you and me. It has no room and no pity for the weakling and the coward. Fortune, good or ill, befalls you," he added lightly, "according to what you are. People are happy—or unhappy—because of what they are," he emphasized. "Have you ever thought of that? People even get murdered because of what they are."

Mrs. Sacret laughed. "I was not thinking of crime—"

"There is a heavy sentence for blackmail."

That jarred. She flushed and tossed her head.

"Oh, if you think that I—"

"Will you allow me to read those letters?" he interrupted. "Not that their contents matter much, as long as she is afraid of them."

"You promised your advice; what is it

"Consider your own interest. You have nothing to gain from this spiteful old woman and her sickly son. You must work for a divorce. Once your friend is married to a rich baronet—and with your help—they will both be grateful and look after you. And that will be safer than blackmail."

"I agree. But Martin Rue has appealed to me not to do just that. In his way, I think he is truly fond of Susan. He doesn't want to let her go."

"You must work on him until he does. Perhaps show him the letters—if they are compromising enough to disgust him with her—"

"Of course not. They are harmless or I should not have kept them."

"As you cannot persuade her to elope with her lover, persuade her husband to a divorce," suggested Mark Bellis, bending his handsome head toward the bowl of water, so that his clear features were outlined in soft light and the ripples of his thick, coarse hair were edged with dark gold. "First, get all you can from her—you have a right to all she can give. Reflect that she will owe her entire happiness to you."

"Do you know anything of Sir John Curle?"

"A shrewd question. I made inquiries about him when you first mentioned him. He is a baronet, rich, with a fine estate in Devonshire and a house in Belgrave Square—forty years old, or so. Not a man of any distinction, or merit—a country squire of good family. A wretched marriage—no children—"

"Perhaps he has forgotten Susan—or tired of her—"

"You must find out. Has she not asked you to call on him? You can do so. And gain his good will by mentioning that you have some indiscreet letters that you refuse to show to Mr. Rue or his mother."

"The letters are not indiscreet. And Sir John Curie will think I should destroy them if I care for Susan."

"You must show him that you have power and your price," replied the painter. "You cannot come out of this affair with entire credit."

This was too frank for Olivia Sacret; hypocrisy was almost as deep as life itself with her; she protested, rose and appeared to be departing, when he stayed her with a brusque remark.

"Time is too short for us to fence indefinitely. Either you must satisfy your Nonconformist conscience by returning the letters to Mrs. Rue and leaving her house and taking your place among other decent widows looking for work; or you must use the chance of comfort—luxury—that has come your way, without any pretense—at least to me."

She still struggled against his influence.

"Susan would help me—as a friend—she needs me."

"Without knowing Mrs. Rue I can assure you that you arc wrong. Your only hold on her is fear—once she had the letters she would never wish to see you again."

Mrs. Sacret knew that this was true. Evading that issue, she asked:

"What do you mean—I am to have no pretense with you? And why that word 'hold'—they all say that—and I have no 'hold' over Susan. The letters are quite harmless." She always used the same adjective about the letters.

"You need my advice," replied Mark Bellis earnestly. "You are quite inexperienced, though you have natural talents—that is why you must be frank with me. You have no other protector or friend. As for the letters, of course they are not harmless—and you know it."

"Indeed I do not!" exclaimed Mrs. Sacret.

"Why is she frightened? Probably she was Sir John Curle's mistress."

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Olivia' Sacret, shocked, truthful and flushed.

"Assume as much when you meet the noble baronet," advised the painter, unmoved. "And see if he does not betray himself. Do not charge her outright, you might drive the silly creature frantic. Say nothing to old Mrs. Rue, she cannot pay high enough for this secret—"

Olivia sprang up, walked up and down the boards and drugget, protesting again, blushing, stammering, in conflict with herself. All this man suggested was an outrage to her conventions, his direct methods an affront to her own slow, cautious, hypocritical ways of dealing with Susan and Susan's husband. But she liked the man and he was offering her a partnership that she already felt she could not endure to lose. He coolly touched in the outlines of the miniature, working carefully on the ivory that he viewed through the bowl of water. When she paused, breathless and shivering, by the model's chair on the trunk, he gently asked her what she wanted from life. And when she was silent, he added, "I suppose you have never dared to ask yourself that question. You've been cheated from the first."

"Cheated?" she asked, fascinated.

He turned toward her, leaving his work, and spoke forcefully, in his melodious and insinuating voice; she saw herself in his words as she had seen herself in his portrait. By then he had drawn from her all her story and he sketched this skillfully, as if he was using a sable brush on ivory. Mrs. Sacret listened to herself revealed as a lovely, gifted creature sacrificed to misfortune and the selfishness of others. Enthralled, the missionary's widow listened to this tale of a beautiful girl born to a shiftless father who had married beneath him, deprived of her birthright, humiliated by poverty, sent to a school where she was the drudge of wealthy fools like Susan, married to a miserable invalid Dissenter before she knew her own value—before she knew anything—sent out to Jamaica to toil among Negroes, to nurse a peevish dying man, to risk her own health in a dangerous climate, to return home, Widowed, penniless, friendless, to face a degrading struggle for mere existence.

This narrative threw a light on the past that Olivia Sacret had not seen before, but now she did not deny the facts thus revealed. Her father must have been incompetent, he could have placed her among his own class. He certainly was a failure and probably drank too much whisky—she was sure she could remember that now the painter hinted as much. Her mother had been a fool, too, common and vain, jealous, of course, of her daughter. Her parents should have done better for her. She felt now as if she could never forgive them. It had been disgraceful, too, sending her to a good school, then taking her away because of an inability to pay the fees. She had been the most brilliant pupil but despised because she was so shabby and penniless and ashamed of her home. Her marriage, too, she should never have been allowed to make. Her cheeks glowed, her downcast eyes sparkled, she felt as if she had been greatly wronged, frustrated—as the painter had declared with such emphasis—"cheated."

When he softly ended his talk, and returned to his work she glanced at the portrait of herself—there it was for her to see the sort of woman who had been so ruthlessly sacrificed to the dim jealousies, stupidities, failures of those who should have seen that she had her chances. "Only one life that we are sure of," remarked the painter without glancing up. "And you are no longer a girl."

"You mean there isn't much time?"

"Precisely," he smiled, looking as full at her as it seemed in his power to look at anyone, for his handsome eyes had a slightly upward, staring gaze as if fixed on some point above the usual range of those who face their fellows. "You have been lucky. You can be well paid for doing a service to a friend. Help Mrs. Rue to get her divorce. When she is Lady Curle you will be rewarded."

"Then she will not need to reward me," said Mrs. Sacret, too fascinated to notice that this was a conspirators' conversation, or to resent the blunt words "well paid" and "rewarded."

"She will always need you," he answered. "For a timid conventional woman like Susan Rue will never dare to face exposure—even after her—especially after—her third marriage. You must always keep the letters and your livelihood will be assured. You are dealing with wealthy people. It is only fair that this pampered silly creature should pay well for keeping her place in society. One that she would lose if the letters were made public. Surely you, who have never had anything, do not scruple to take some of her superfluity from a woman who has always had everything?"

"No, I do not," replied Mrs. Sacret aggressively. "Tell me what I must do."

He at once gave her her instructions. She listened dutifully. There did not appear to her to be anything wrong in what he proposed. He had shown her what was owing to her, she wanted to snatch it with both hands. She glanced at the feeble sketch of the fading bride, not with pity but with horror. That woman might not live to enjoy the mansion being prepared for her—neither might she, Olivia Sacret, unless she was quick and careful, live to know anything but poverty and failure. The mean little room was dignified by the shadows, the confining walls were not visible, the candle softly glowing through the bowl of water might have been a star shining in immensity. The painter took her hand and gently urged her to return to the Old Priory. "It is getting late and you must do nothing unusual."

She felt eager to obey his will, satisfied with his implied admiration, unaware that he had promised her nothing and told her nothing more of himself, oblivious that she had not believed what he had told her. "Bring me the letters," he said and she agreed, trusting him as a master. They left the house and walked to the corner of Minton Street together. The gas lamp cast a haloed light into the air and a circle of light onto the pavement. They paused to say "good night."

Smiling as if to himself at a pleasant thought, Mark Bellis said: "Remember that the husband is another sick man—you know how to humor them. Gain his confidence by little attentions, such as an interest in his medicines—you know how much that means to these sickly creatures."

"Oh, I know!" replied Mrs. Sacret in a low voice. "I am so tired of nursing, but I shall do what I can for poor Mr. Rue. It won't be for long—"

"Not for long," he assured her, raised his hand to his dark bright hair and turned away along the poor little street.


§ 15

"How well you look!" exclaimed Susan. "It seems absurd for you to wear even half mourning. You are a different person since you came here."

"I was leading a very dull existence—there was nothing in it all," murmured the widow. "I don't know how I endured it—I was really dying, I think—in my mind and spirit."

"It was the life you chose," said Mrs. Rue curiously.

"Chose! I never had a chance! I simply did not know what was in the world!" Olivia Sacret laughed. "But we must consider your affairs, not mine. I want to help you. I've been thinking it all over and I feel sure you ought to have a divorce and marry Sir John Curle."

Susan colored beautifully, golden and rosy she smiled on her friend. The two ladies were walking in the garden at the back of the ponderous ugly house. The crowded trees, straggling through dusty bushes to the light, shaded them, the newly raked gravel crunched beneath their thin slippers.

"Will Martin consent?" sighed Susan. "Sometimes I think he is still fond of me—and I have not the heart—"

Olivia Sacret remembered Mr. Rue's formal appeal—he could ask me what he did ask and never tell his wife he is "still fond" of her, she thought contemptuously; aloud she declared, "You must not be so sentimental, Susan. Mr. Rue would be delighted to return to Blackheath—especially if you allowed him to keep some of your money."

"Oh, I would do that. John is a wealthy man."

"You seem sure of him," whispered Mrs. Sacret. "Shall I see him for you?"

"There is no need," answered her friend simply. "I wrote to him—and he replied at once—and we are sure of one another."

Mrs. Sacret felt angry. A foolish woman like Susan, with the direct action of passion, had forestalled her intrigues—even the clever painter had not thought of this.

"Do be careful," she advised sharply. "You are so reckless and careless. I suppose you have not seen him?"

"No."

"And has he any suggestion to make?"

"He will do anything I wish. And it must be, as you say, dearest, a divorce. But oh, I am sorry for Martin and afraid of him, and dare not speak!"

"I shall do that for you, Susan. But do, pray, be a little prudent. Of course you are not seeing Sir John?"

"No—I don't know what to do. I could not face any disgrace. A divorce is a horrid thing. But there are ways, you said so yourself. Martin could give me a divorce—with sharp lawyers—"

"Yes, one can cheat and let the man have the blame," agreed Mrs. Sacret sweetly. "I don't really know the details, I've never talked of such matters. Mr. Rue would know. I'll speak to him—since you are afraid."

"Would you?" asked Susan eagerly. "Then you are truly my friend." She sighed, as if eased of a burden. "Then, the letters won't matter," she added ingenuously. "As you will do this for me you must be my friend and you will give them to me—now. You have punished me enough for trying to take them."

"How you tease about the letters! They never did matter. What will you care when you are Lady Curle?"

Susan shrank from this coarseness of which the widow seemed unaware. She replied hurriedly:

"I know I shan't be well thought of—I couldn't go to court, or anything like that—but I should be respected—not disgraced; we should go abroad and then live in the country, and the talk would blow over—but as long as the letters were there I should be afraid."

Mark Bellis was right, Mrs. Sacret thought triumphantly. They will be a hold over her—all her life.

Slipping her arm affectionately through that of Susan's, she said, with a smile in her hazel eyes and on her pretty lips, "You must trust me. And—I was thinking, Susan. I believe I ought to have the regular salary you suggested. I can't be shabby and without a penny and I don't like to ask you for everything."

"You are staying?" asked Susan, pausing in her walk.

"For the present. You want me, don't you? To speak to your husband—to manage old Mrs. Rue—to be a companion—There can't be any gossip about you while you have a respectable missionary's widow in your house. Shall we say two hundred and fifty pounds a year?"

"Of course—if you wish—"

"Then—that diamond bracelet you offered me. I am leaving off mourning next week and could wear it."


§ 16

Mrs. Sacret saw her instructions as clear and her task as easy. She had to persuade Martin Rue to allow his wife to divorce him in order that she might, after a decorous interval, marry Sir John Curle, and for this service she would demand a lifetime's support, countenance and friendship from two wealthy people. She might also obtain a handsome gift from old Mrs. Rue for helping her son to his release and perhaps even from Mr. Rue himself for her delicate offices in this distressing affair. Whatever she gained she would share with the painter—this was as much as she knew as regards her master.

The missionary's widow no longer thought of God, hardly of the upbringing that had hitherto formed her. The impact of a powerful personality—for so she thought of the painter—had shocked her out of what were very superficial habits of mind, of spirit and even of body, for she no longer kept her charming eyes downcast, her hands either occupied or in her lap. Her steps were free, her gestures easy, her hazel-colored hair flowed loosely in a fine net, without a widow's cap to disguise the pretty curls.

Mr. Rue's chronic ill-health came to a crisis. He was in bed for a few days and his usual physician, Dr. Virtue, called, declared his ailment was "a nervous complaint," prescribed soothing medicines and rest.

"I can't see him," declared Susan with unconscious cruelty. "He f 71 is always so yellow and cross when he is like this—but you talk to him, Olivia. We can't go on living as we do now—everything in suspension."

"No, we can't," agreed Mrs. Sacret, thinking of the painter. If she did not soon at least begin the task he had set her, that strange man might disappear from her life as abruptly as he had come into it and that she could not endure to contemplate. "I'll speak to Mr. Rue for you."

"Oh, please do, Olivia—and I shall be grateful to you all my life."

"I'm sure you will," smiled Mrs. Sacret gently.


§ 17

Martin Rue again received his wife's companion in the library. The vista of light, warmth and pure color showed behind the glass doors. The young man was shrunken, slightly bowed, and moved in a crippled manner, complaining of pains in his legs. On the desk was a woven grass Indian basket full of bottles and phials, beside it a medicine glass, a bottle of water, and a box of cigars; but he had not been smoking. Her loathing of illness and her long delayed but now forceful resentment at having had to nurse a sick man during a slow malady, came on her with a touch of fury. How thankful I shall be when I can be free of this house, with this stupid woman and this man with his imaginary disease. The young banker's greenish eyes were turned toward her delicate wrist.

"I see you wear my wife's diamonds, Mrs. Sacret."

"Susan insisted on giving them to me, Mr. Rue. They arc not so large or so valuable that I felt obliged to refuse them."

"And you wear them, though only just out of mourning, Mrs. Sacret? I always thought you a very conventional person."

"I am. So much so that I cannot forbear enjoying the only pretty ornament I have ever possessed." She smiled on him, clasping her hands on her dove-colored silk dress, watching the flash in the stones as the subdued light ran in and out of the facets. "But what I am going to say to you is not at all conventional."

"I don't suppose so," he retorted suspiciously. "You mean to interfere between me and Susan. After I asked you to leave my house. After I warned you—"

"I am bound to interfere, Mr. Rue. Susan has become completely dependent on me. And I must tell you straightly that she is set on a divorce."

"Mrs. Sacret, I implore you to leave this matter—this most vital matter—between my wife and myself." He looked at her with dignity, half rising, then sinking back into his chair with a whisper of pain. "This is affecting my health."

"You dose yourself too much and smoke too much," she replied with sympathy. "I have had experience with illness—I know of some West Indian medicines very steadying to the nerves—"

"I know my own constitution," replied Martin Rue briefly. "My mother knew how to look after me. These drugs are mostly her compounding, they suit me."

"Your mother should be nursing you back to health," urged Olivia Sacret smoothly. "Come, Mr. Rue, I know I play a part that seems odious, but really I am acting as a friend to both of you. You will never be happy with Susan—she is determined to be free. Believe me, I know her mind."

"I do not doubt you do—how weak it is, how easily influenced," he replied warmly. She noted a slight constriction pass over his features and the sweat on his forehead under the damp yellow red hair. She thought of Frederick Sacret, he had often appeared as this man appeared and his illness had been supposed to be largely "nerves." But he had died. She touched, curiously, on the reflection that possibly Martin Rue might die. How easy that would make everything for Susan. But her husband would not die, he was young and strong, despite the ravages made by anxiety, frustration, an idle pointless life and continual drugging.

She spoke, even while these thoughts were forming, and spoke with conviction.

"It is not her mind I speak of but her heart—that is aroused. She loves this man and is determined to go to him."

"She would not do so," he answered sternly, "even under your influence, unless I set her free. Susan is very much afraid of—non being respectable."

"Most women are," said Mrs. Sacret primly, annoyed that he understood his wife so well. "Do, pray, come to plain issues: Will you set her free? She is prepared to renounce a large portion of her fortune—"

"What are you being paid for this insolence?" he asked.

"Useless to insult me, Mr. Rue. You know that your wife will not even see you save when I am present."

The young man groaned and sank his head in his hands.

"Someone is behind you," he declared. "You have not changed like this without some influence behind you—such self-assurance is not natural. You are passionately interested in separating me and my wife—I do not understand why."

Olivia Sacret shivered. For anyone to come near to her connection with the painter of Minton Street was as if she felt probing near a hidden wound.

"I act for the good of my friend," she replied quickly. "You don't seem to realize how fond I am of Susan—she was the one happiness of my girlhood. You are ruining her life—her marriage to you was a mistake. If you don't set her free, perhaps she won't have the courage to elope with Sir John Curle—but she will die of a broken heart."

Martin Rue glanced up, baffled; deeply as he disliked and distrusted this interloper, what she said seemed reasonable enough.

"You are a Christian woman," he whispered slowly, "and spoke much of piety when you first came to my house. Yet you wish to break up my marriage."

"No, no, it is already broken. It never meant anything. Do understand. I must risk being indelicate. Susan wants a happy home, children. She will never live with you as your wife again."

Martin Rue shook some drops from a bottle he took from the hempen basket into the glass, filled it with water and drank it; a dusky color crept into his sallow face.

"Aconite," he explained. "A stimulant that agrees with me. As for a divorce, it is out of the question. I shall not divorce Susan—even if she were to elope—and I shall not give her cause to divorce me."

"Why?" asked Mrs. Sacret, inwardly shaken by his unexpected firmness, his unmistakable air of finality.

"I am a Christian, if you are not," he sneered. "I believe in the sanctity of marriage." Falling to a sigh, he added, "We are both young. I have hopes for the future. You are no true friend to Susan if you do not try to bring us together. Her feeling for this other man is a fancy—a passing fancy—"

"You are gravely mistaken. This is the only man she has ever cared for—surely you can do this for poor Susan, let her go without a scandal—"

"Do you realize what you ask?" he demanded, suddenly angry. "Not only am Ito pass as an unfaithful husband, I am to strike her—offer physical violence to her before the witness. I will not do it—"

"Is that the law?"

"It is, and you should have known it before you came meddling."

Mrs. Sacret rallied her forces; she was beginning to feel exhausted; inexperienced before a stronger opposition than she had expected, she began to feel the difference between dealing with Susan and dealing with her husband.

"Nothing of this makes any difference, Mr. Rue. You have lost Susan—to refuse her freedom will only lead to tragedy."

"Tragedy! You use that word lightly!"

Mrs. Sacret rose; the bright hues of the flowers beyond the glass, shut into their quiet heat, dazzled her eyes. Her head ached.

"I mean what I say," she declared with an effort at finality.

"And I mean what I say." He also rose and spoke with a heat and temper, only just controlled below a shout. "You are a mischievous, perhaps a wicked, woman."

The missionary's widow realized that she faced an enemy; she had felt too much contempt for Martin Rue to have considered him as dangerous before, now she felt that he might be dangerous indeed, not only to her, but to her adviser, hidden in Minton Street.

Yes, a powerful, a dangerous opponent. If he would not release Susan, that poor-spirited creature would certainly die. And what use then would the letters be? And without the letters what use would she be to Mark Bellis? He, she was deadly certain, would have no interest in a poverty-bitten widow, with no prospects of any kind. She made her decision suddenly, not altogether sure of herself, but aware that it was needful to act quickly.

"You cannot be so sluggish as to wish to keep Susan—I think you do not realize how little she is yours—"

He interrupted her swiftly.

"I told you once that sooner or later Susan tells me everything; her weakness is double edged, Mrs. Sacret. It is not true that she never sees me alone. She has sworn to me that only two letters have been exchanged between her and Sir John Curie since his wife died."

The missionary's widow flushed at what she felt to be treachery on the part of her friend.

"Since his wife died!" she exclaimed. "Indeed that is true, but Susan does not tell you everything—unless you know of the letters she wrote to Sir John before his wife died, letters that are in my possession."

He understood her with what she felt to be abominable quickness, using the words she so strongly resented.

"So—blackmail is the secret of your hold over her—"

Olivia Sacret was shocked, not only to hear once again "blackmail" and "hold," not only by this sharp revelation of what she appeared in the eyes of others, the moment she mentioned the letters, but by a sense of her own mistake. She began to protest most vehemently that she had no letters, that she had meant to say "supposing" there were such letters, casting a slur, a taint, on Susan to see if he would not cast her off; but no, now she realized that this was a wrong thing to have suggested. He cut into her speech and the two of them were speaking together, hoarsely, with an air of exhaustion. Through their two voices she heard his declaration, coming with the force and power of a third voice.

"No action of Susan's before her marriage to me is any concern of mine. Nothing you could say or show me, nothing she could say or show me would make me believe anything disgraceful of Susan. If you have any letters I swear they are no more than indiscreet."

The missionary's widow agreed with him silently. She realized her secret power over Susan as the falsity it was, the letters were harmless and only a timid fool like Susan would have been afraid of them.

"There are no letters," she said sullenly. "I only spoke to test you. Of course I am only a silly woman. I am merely trying to help Susan, who is very unhappy."

"You are frightening her," he answered furiously. "I understand it all now. That is why you are here. Now you shall go—and at once. Susan and I shall understand one another when we are alone again."

"You are ill," said Mrs. Sacret and indeed a slight spasm had contracted his face and he dabbed at his lips with his handkerchief.

"I shall not go."

"You will—and at once—"

"Do you think that if I do leave your house, it will bring your wife back to you?"

"I do so believe."

"You forget Sir John Curie."

He had no immediate answer to that and she left the room, no longer feeling able to sustain the interview. Yet it was necessary for her to see Susan immediately, and she hastened upstairs, shaken and fatigued as she was, to the large bedroom where her friend spent so much of her time alone, tearfully idling and moping.


§ 18

"You have not been very true to me, Susan. You frequently say you are quite estranged from your husband, yet you, as he claims—tell him everything—even to the letters you have just exchanged with Sir John Curle."

"I like to be as honest as I can," pleaded Susan ingenuously. "I feel so sorry for Martin—though he is unkind to me and I wish I had never married him. But never mind about that, Olivia; what did he say about the divorce? You look so tired and pale!"

"Mr. Rue is a most difficult man," said Mrs. Sacret, carefully concealing any hint of the failure she believed to be decisive, for she was convinced that the young banker would not divorce his wife nor give her cause to divorce him. "I shall have to be careful. But I have good hopes that he will be reasonable in the end."

"In the end! How long am I to wait!"

Mrs. Sacret glanced at the locked door that led to the dressing room where Martin Rue had slept for some time.

"You really must be patient, Susan. I am, as you see, quite worn out with your affairs. A divorce is not something easily arranged. And, listen, Susan." She leaned forward and clasped her friend's wrist, trying not to notice the shrinking at her touch. "Your husband wants to send me away. He thinks I am making mischief here. That is not true. And you must say that it is not true."

"It is not true," murmured Susan obediently.

"He thinks I am frightening you. Absurd, is it not?"

"Yes, indeed, absurd."

"He even guessed I might have—letters."

"Oh, how dreadful!"

"Of course I denied this. And you must do so likewise. If he says anything to you about letters, you must declare that there are none. That you never wrote any—save harmless ones. And that would be quite true. Your mother-in-law had the same wicked thought. She accused me—of blackmail—yes, that is the horrid word they both used."

"You did not tell her you had these—letters?" whispered Susan.

"Of course not. I denied it to both of them—and so must you."

"Make it true, Olivia—give them to me."

"Why, so I shall. It is the trouble of looking them up. And as they really are harmless, why concern yourself?"

"Harmless or not—if either of them were to see them I should kill myself," sobbed Susan wildly; "or if they were to be made public—that is why I would not care about eloping with Sir John, for then I should be disgraced, once and for all, and the letters would not matter."

Mrs. Sacret sighed with fatigue. Again she saw her one possession, her power over Susan, vanishing. Susan, with no reputation to lose, would be no use to her. Hurriedly she said, "You must not say such wrong things. I shall persuade your husband into a divorce. Do you stand firm by me. He will try to get rid of me. He will tell you lies of me. You must never let me go. Promise, Susan, never let me go."

"I promise," assented Susan feebly.

Mrs. Sacret looked at her with deep exasperation. Lovely, yet a little spoiled by weeping, the unhappy young woman was crouched in a striped blue satin chair by the window, her blurred eyes glancing furtively over the tops of the swaying trees in the garden as if she were peering from a prison. She wore a loose rose-colored boudoir gown, edged with swan's-down, an expensive and insipid garment that the missionary's widow, in her dress of pearl-gray color shot with lilac and azure tones, despised.

Susan had everything save character and taste. Mrs. Sacret corrected herself. Susan had lost her lover, and was certainly pining. "You'll ruin your looks and your health, Susan—do be reasonable."

"There is no sense in being reasonable," complained Susan passionately. Mrs. Sacret tapped her foot with impatience at anyone who made so foolish a lament. She felt harassed, driven for time. She wanted to ask advice of the painter of Minton Street. Taking a key from her reticule she hastened to her room and quickly returned with a flask and a small glass.

"Do drink this and compose yourself," she urged. She knew now just how much wine to give Susan in order to make her drowsy and neither violent nor sick; the secreted wine was of good quality now for Mark Bellis bought it. The disordered young woman drank greedily, and Mrs. Sacret, still promising "to bring around" Martin Rue, induced her to lie on her bed. She was soon asleep and the widow, covering her up carefully in a costly eider-down cover, tiptoed away.

In her own room she pondered on her affairs, eying thoughtfully the salvia that bloomed vigorously, with what seemed an almost vicious vitality.

She was trembling slightly, not sure of herself. She felt entangled in this intrigue that she had undertaken, perhaps, too lightly. Almost she wished she could shrink back into the old, obscure, safe ways. Yet the eager wish for this one chance of ease, luxury, the friendship of an extraordinary man, urged her on. Yet again she doubted her skill, she was not as cool and clever as she had thought she was; she felt capable of making blunders, perhaps had made one already in telling Martin Rue of the letters. Her position in the Old Priory was very precarious. If the master of the house insisted on her departure, would Susan be strong enough to resist him? Mrs. Sacret had no allies in the establishment. The servants all hated her. They had betrayed her about the hidden wine, they would betray her about anything they could spy out. Nor could she trust Susan. Even now she dreaded leaving that foolish woman lest her husband should "get hold of her" (on these terms, Mrs. Sacret thought) and force her confidence. It seemed true that she told him everything. He might even win her around to a reconciliation and then Mrs. Sacret would be obliged to return to Minton Street. Mark Bellis would disappear and she would have to search for some humble employment. She dreaded the painter's displeasure at her actions, yet longed to see him, and, much as she disliked leaving Susan, even heavily asleep and fatigued, she resolved to seek her lodger's advice and instructions. But her plans were abruptly disarranged.

The young banker was seized with illness in the night; his wife was stupid and heavy from drinking the contents of her friend's flask and the servants alarmed and confused. It was the missionary's widow who took charge of the situation, and with the skill of experience nursed Martin Rue during his fits of rigor and fever, soothing him with some medicine she had used with good effect for her husband's distresses. The early morning brought Dr. Virtue, fetched by one of the grooms. He found the patient on the mend and still declared that all the symptoms were entirely nervous while commending the judicious nursing of Mrs. Sacret. She was much pleased by this praise and by some graceful words from the patient who seemed surprised and moved by her attentions.

Her sense of power had returned. She accompanied the physician to the hall, exhausted but well at ease, and was deeply delighted with his confidence as he praised and spoke to her in low intimate tones.

"You are a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Rue?"

"Yes, indeed. Mrs. Rue's school friend—perhaps her closest—"

"You did both a good service tonight. The poor lady is hardly capable of looking after her affairs. You've guessed the trouble, of course?"

"I know they are not suited—not happy—" she murmured.

"His illness is precisely that—he is fretting himself to death."

"Would not—a separation?" suggested Mrs. Sacret tentatively.

"By no means. Martin Rue is really devoted to his wife. She is frivolous, but good at heart. Use your kind influence, Mrs. Sacret, to persuade them to go abroad."

"They went last winter—the trip was not a success."

"I know. He should shake off his invalidism. Let them go to some cheerful place, say Paris, and see company. If they had a little nursery, all the trouble would be over. Let old Mrs. Rue keep away—she began all this hysteria."

"Susan is hysterical?"

"No, her husband is," smiled Dr. Virtue, "but don't think that unmanly or a sham. It is an illness—and can be cured, but only by ease of mind."

"But his pains? His fevers?"

"They are real enough—unhappiness causes them."

"Does he not dose himself too freely?"

"Probably. But he has nothing very harmful. I have seen his basket of nostrums. The old lady again! Let him start a happy, normal life and he'll forget the medicine bottles."

Dr. Virtue held out his hand. Mrs. Sacret wondered if she should mention Sir John Curle and the real crisis between the wretched couple. She compromised.

"Susan," she whispered, with a wan glance over her shoulder along the overfurnished hall, "is indiscreet. This is her second marriage, you know. And when she was a widow, she was talked of—"

The physician's manner changed at once.

"Was she?" he remarked dryly. "Most pretty women with generous dispositions are, I suppose. And I am sure that Martin Rue would never remember any old, silly gossip now."

Mrs. Sacret realized that she had made a mistake.

"Old Mrs. Rue brings it up," she whispered quickly. "She makes mischief."

"But surely he never takes that sort of tittle-tattle seriously?"

"I don't know—I can't say," replied Mrs. Sacret truthfully, for she was at a loss.

"Another reason for sending them away," replied the physician. "Persuade them to it, Mrs. Sacret."

She watched his glossy brougham sweep along the newly raked carriage drive and put her hands to her head. She was bewildered, wondering how she could turn all the domestic events of this household to her advantage. She went into the dining room and rang the bell. Curtis, the parlormaid, stiff in her gray uniform, appeared.

"I shall not be in for luncheon," said Mrs. Sacret. "I have to meet a friend in town. Your mistress is lying down. Tell her when she wakes."

"Very good, madam."

The missionary's widow was irritated by the hostility of the servant. She had hoped that she had earned a little good will by her attendance on the invalid.

"I am very fatigued—being up all night," she remarked. "Master and Mistress ought to go away together—by themselves," replied Curtis coldly.

"That will do. You forget yourself," rebuked the missionary's widow.

The maid left the room and Mrs. Sacret felt even more deeply resentful. How stupid of them all to harp on this "going away together" as if they had not recently been abroad and returned bored and discontented. And why did they all turn to her, almost appeal to her, as if it had anything to do with her, or she could be of any use or benefit to them? A pair of spoiled, peevish fools.

Mrs. Sacret resisted the temptation to sustain herself by a glass of the excellent sherry she kept locked in her cupboard, and set out resolutely for Minton Street. When she reached the mean house she was trembling, not only from fatigue, but from fear that she would not find her friend, it was likely enough that he would be in Kent, but r 81 he opened the door at once on her hesitating ring. He must have been watching her from the window at which she had not dared to glance. "I expected you yesterday," he said with a hint of impatience behind his serenity. "I have been waiting."

"I longed to come," replied Mrs. Sacret humbly, as she followed him into the parlor. She sat in the beehive chair, gazed at her portrait on the easel and told him her story, feeling weak and inadequate. As she spoke she pulled off her long gray silk gloves and rolled them into a ball in her lap. When she came to an end, the painter, who had been listening attentively, stepped up to her and lifted her right hand. She shuddered at his touch, believing that he was going to kiss her palm. But he unclasped Susan's bracelet and examined the stones.

"Not very valuable," he remarked, "but I can get something for it."

Olivia Sacret sighed; she recalled the sordid bargaining of their first meeting. He had never paid any rent beyond the gold piece she still treasured and she had given him all the money she could save from her needful expenses.

"I don't know what you spend it on," she remarked, unconscious of the banality of her complaint. To the painter it was, however, very familiar and he ignored it, merely remarking, as he slipped the diamonds into his pocket: "That wine I buy for you is not cheap."

Desperately she asked: "How much do you want? I mean, to be of any use."

"A few hundreds. Say a thousand pounds, when I have finished with Lyndbridge House. Then I could take a holiday—live en prince. For awhile."

"Where?"

"I know a number of places. Paris, perhaps, or Vienna."

Mrs. Sacret thought with a dreadful pang, He does not even suggest that I go with him. Of course the gossips were right, he is a mere adventurer.

"But the way you are behaving," he added pleasantly, "we shall never have a thousand pounds."

Encouraged by this, she asked quickly, "Have I done wrong?"

"Yes. I doubt if you are fitted for intrigue. You began well, managing the business of the letters very cleverly. Nov you have made several mistakes. You may have ruined everything."

"Oh, no! How could that be?"

"You have put this man on his guard. He saw you merely as a mischief-maker, now he sees you as a blackmailer—he will certainly force you out of his house."

"But he seemed grateful for my nursing—"

"He will still want to send you away as soon as he recovers a little. He loves his wife, as you should have perceived, and will listen to nothing against her."

"I felt it was a mistake," confessed Mrs. Sacret miserably, "as soon as I had spoken."

"You made another. You betrayed yourself to the doctor as spiteful, in casting a slur on Susan Rue. Did you bring the letters?"

She took them from her reticule. They were meant to propitiate his possible ill-humor.

"They are all here?"

"All, I should not try to cheat you."

"I suppose not," he smiled at her tenderly, running his fine fingers over the edges of the expensive notepaper. "You must follow my advice very carefully. We must act quickly—for I am certain you will be turned out of the Old Priory. Mr. Rue, backed by his mother, the doctor, and all his friends, will override his wife's fear of you."

"What of her passion for Sir John Curle? I know that is powerful."

"Possibly. But she will probably curb it for the moment—later she may become desperate and leave her husband; that, however, will be in the future and of no use to us."

"Oh, what am I to do!" cried Olivia Sacret. "I am so fatigued! I cannot continue nursing, if this man is to be ill. I am so weary of sickness."

"You can always leave the Old Priory and give the letters back. You can return here soon. If this comes to nothing I shall go abroad as soon as I have had my wretched fee from Fox Oldham."

Mrs. Sacret was shaken by jealousy and longing, her only relief lay in the fact that his handsome eyes were regarding her keenly, as if she were important to him. He must really need money and have no means of getting it besides herself. "I expect you have a wife somewhere," she said sadly.

"I have never spoken of marriage or of any woman to you," he smiled, "and never shall. I supposed you a good companion. Come, don't spoil that impression with these banalities. You've too much spirit and beauty to be saying such trash."

"I've too much spirit to work for you for nothing," she forced herself to retort.

"You'll share, Mrs. Sacret, in whatever we get," he assured her. "Indeed, I admire you. I shall delight in showing you how to enjoy yourself—good food—wine—elegant clothes—the theater—riding lessons—a few other accomplishments. Yes, it would be interesting to teach one so frustrated as yourself, a Puritan against your will, what there is in life. But one must have money for the most modest experiment along those lines."

The missionary's widow was vaguely aware that this talk was crude, adapted to a woman the speaker considered immature, almost childish. She made a feeble effort to maintain her falling defenses, as she rose.

"I shall go to the dairy and get a glass of milk and a sponge cake. Then I'll return here and we must decide just what we are going to do."

"Excellent. As I have already told you, we are pressed for time. I'll take these letters to my chophouse. Give me two hours and I'll have the plans thought out."

He escorted her from the house. Tired as she was, she did not dare to suggest that she wait there for him, knowing that she would be refused.


§ 19

Mrs. Sacret had a good deal of time TO put in before she could venture to return to Minton Street. Her refreshment was soon taken and she turned down one of the streets of small purple brick houses to the river. It was low tide and the mud flats were exposed; on the farther bank the trees, in midsummer leafage, were dense as light green hills. The sun blinds were drawn over doors and windows, no one was abroad; there was to the lonely woman an almost intolerable sense of meanness and emptiness under the trembling shade of the tall planes that shaded the flat mansions that overlooked the Thames. At one time, from the drabness of Minton Street, she had envied the residents of this superior terrace; now she detested it. Indeed she recognized her plight: She detested every prospect save that of being in the constant company of the painter.

She was still afraid to look ahead; she even shrank from formulating any wish or desire for love or marriage, but she knew she could not let him go if, by any means in her power, she could keep him. Let him go? What had she of him? After an association of several months they still addressed one another with formality and she was not sure that she had any interest for him beyond a mercenary one. She leaned on the low wall that divided the terrace from the wet reaches and gazed unseeingly down below at the mud larks in their rags, playing among the moored boats and tackle.

Her common sense, dying hard, showed her the man, the episode as they would certainly appear to others. She knew nothing of him beyond what he had told her himself and that she did not believe. What was he but a journeyman painter who, while grinding colors in a fashionable studio, had learned to exploit his natural personal advantages and to ape the manners of his betters? His talent and craft, though dazzling to her, were, no doubt, too ordinary for success, and he had become what used to be named in the little anecdotes she had to translate into French at school, a chevalier d'industrie. Queer how the long-forgotten term came into her mind. His romantic name was assumed, of course. Probably many women had been victims of his graceful address, his indirect flatteries, his peculiar upward gazing eyes, his thick stiff dark hair, flushed with a gold tint only visible in a strong light. What did he want—what did he really mean, when he spoke of luxury, of money?

Then as she dwelt on the image of the painter, she began to embellish it, prudence and shrewdness vanished from her mind, her overcharged fancy took control.

He was undoubtedly of noble birth. High spirited and willful, he had resented tyrannical authority, very likely he had been wronged. He had escaped to sea, to the New World, laying aside the restrictions t of his rank. She saw him as a tamer of wild horses, as a seeker after gold, galloping on the trail of red Indians, casting down the cards and dice in reckless gallantry, adored by lovely women such as she could never hope to rival, using his talent to earn a living when more manly occupations failed.

As she dwelt on him his fascination for her increased. It would be impossible to feel dull in his company. He was always doing something that to her was new. The bowl of water with the candle behind it, what a strange light it had shed in her dingy room, transforming all the threadbare meanness into something odd and fantastic. So, meeting him had transformed her gloomy hopeless existence into a rainbow glitter.

How ordinary, how tedious, compared to him were all the other men she knew: Martin Rue, Dr. Virtue, the few male visitors to the Old Priory. Her memories of the chapel people and of her own husband, the missionaries in Jamaica, became odious. Only in the recollection of her father did she find anyone comparable to the painter and of her father she thought with resentment—had he not cheated her, depriving her of all she ought to have had? She was startled out of her absorption in her daydreams by the subject of her deep reverie approaching her gaily. As he raised his hat the sun glinted on his brave, rich hair and the day ceased to be melancholy.

"This is a dismal spot," he smiled. "Are you not fatigued?"

"No," she answered truthfully, for her musing on a possible golden future had invigorated her. "I have no guide to the time—have two hours passed? Shall we return to Minton Street?"

"Not yet. Let us take a stroll. Do you know this neighborhood?"

"Very well."

"Yet I dare swear you have missed some points of interest. Do you ever think of the famous heroes and their ladies who once lived here? Of the strange happenings that took place here?"

"I have no interest in the past."

"You make a mistake. There is much to be learned from these old stories. Wherever I go I make a point of learning them. How fantastic and grotesque they are!"

"I would rather consider our concerns."

"Why, so you shall," he assured her. "I have read the letters and keep them safely."

"You found them harmless?"

"I'll tell you, later. Now, our stroll. We begin here, on this terrace." He took her arm in a friendly fashion and pointed between the trees. "Do you see that house, there—with the high wall, and the light iron and glass-covered way across the garden to the front door, and the date, 1752, on the keystone above?"

"I am familiar with it—two elderly ladies who keep poodles reside there."

"They did not always. Do you recall that I told you that things happen to people because of what they are? Even murder?"

They were walking slowly, as if they had been lovers lingering over a few snatched moments together. He kept his hand respectfully under her arm.

"A notable Frenchman lived there with his wife. He was a secret agent, who frequently changed sides. She had been an actress and was much the elder of the two. They had an Italian servant. This terrace was then in the country. They kept a cabriolet with which to drive to town. One day, this count—for that was his rank—was assisting his wife into this cabriolet when the valet rushed out, shot them both, and then himself. They lay dead on that path, now protected from the rain."

"What was the reason for this crime?"

"I told you—they were murdered because of what they were—dangerous people, playing a double game. The details are still a mystery. Who was the Italian? Why the suicide? A courier came from Downing Street to seal the house, and then a cabinet minister, who shut himself up there all night, burning papers."

Mrs. Sacret felt a touch of dismay at the knowledge that this brutal scene had taken place before a dull neat house which she knew very well; but this was transient. She had too much concern in her own affairs to feel any for other people—and those long dead.

"What does it matter now?" she asked.

He looked at her keenly.

"It does not shock you? The violence? The murders?"

"Oh, no! Why should it? I daresay they deserved it—spies and doubtless wicked people."

"That is the sensible point of view," the painter agreed. "Taken so, these ancient tales have their interest. People are murdered because they are rogues—or fools. And usually hanged for the same reasons. Now, before we discuss our business, I want to show you two other houses."

She came obediently, grateful to leave everything in his hands and confident that he had already decided on a wise and brilliant course of action.

After a short walk he turned along a pleasant wide street where the houses were not more than fifty years old. This led into a small square in the center of which grew some high plane trees.

"Keston Square, Pimlico," remarked the painter. "This was the scene of a curious affair—only ten years ago—you do not recall it?"

"Oh, no—I never read the newspapers. I never do now—only once I used to look at them for the advertisements."

"And nothing else?"

She recalled the report of the blackmail case that had struck so unpleasantly on her eye, but did not mention this. Mark Bellis paused in front of No. 25. It had, in common with many other houses in the square, a To LET board lashed to the area railings.

"That affair gave the neighborhood a bad name," remarked the painter, peering up at the large blank and dirty panes of the bow window on the ground floor. "This property belonged to an old clergyman—a miser. He had no living but was chaplain at the old Fulham Cemetery. He resided, with a sour old housekeeper, in a house near by that we shall visit presently."

"How dark this square is!"

"The trees cast a dense shade, they are older than the houses. This used to be the park of a manor house. Can you see the old miser visiting here—with a To LET board on it then, as now. Keeping an appointment with a workman he had employed on some repairs?"

"I can think of it," replied the missionary's widow. "It is an ordinary episode. The house looks very neglected, gloomy and dismal."

"It has been empty for ten years. The old miser had advertised in the local paper for cheap casual labor. He knew nothing of the young man who answered—and who worked very well. The clergyman hoped to get a good rent, but he grudged every penny spent on the place. One week he paid the workman in gold and confessed that he kept all his money in his house in sovereigns as he did not trust the bank. So the workman struck him on the head with a hammer from behind, and thrust his body into a culvert in the garden. That is what he got for being a fool."

"I don't suppose he was missed," remarked Mrs. Sacret, leaning on her companion's arm, smiling up at his charming, animated face. In the dark, lonely square that yet was so far from the busy highway and the busy river, they seemed to be as private as if enclosed in a room.

"Not for a long time," said Mark Bellis, drawing her away and out onto the Thames side again. "The murderer went at once to St. Helen's Square—here it is, the very next turning—and to No. 15, where the clergyman lived. He rang the bell, and the housekeeper admitted him at once, for she knew him well, only grumbling at him because of his muddy boots, for it was October and a wet day. He had been glad of that to wash away stains worse than mud on those boots—a few dead leaves stuck to them. He soon silenced her. And he soon found the gold. More of it than he had ever seen in his life before—boxes of it. He put the old woman's body in a trunk and corded her up. Then he lived in the house and spent the money. With a companion."

They had now reached the house, No. 15 St. Helen's Square, of which the painter had spoken. It was an ordinary brick residence with a TO LET bill posted in the window and a black cat asleep on the dusty sill of the ground floor window. The missionary's widow looked at it with a fleeting curiosity. She longed to return to her own affairs and receive advice as to what she was to do. Even while delighting in the painter's company, she felt uneasy as to what might be happening in the Old Priory. Martin Rue might have recovered from his nervous attack and be playing on his wife's compassion in order to effect a reconciliation. Old Mrs. Rue might have come on the scene. The servants might be gossiping about the interloper...

"You are not listening," remarked the painter. "Yet consider this drab little house, exactly like thousands of others, built by a cheap contractor in a flimsy fashion, yet the scene of this crime. Here the young man dwelt with his—companion—spending the miser's money. Then he had to get rid of the housekeeper's body. He had found, among the old clergyman's effects, the title deeds of his other property. There was a house at Fulham, also to let, and he thought of taking the corpse there and burying it in the garden."

"It is a sordid case," said Mrs. Sacret indifferently. "I hope this wretch was hanged."

"He moved the body from the trunk and put it in a packing case, and engaged a van and driver to take it to the Fulham property. All went off very well, save that the driver of the van complained of the weight of the box and said it was corded in an amateur fashion. However, he drove off. And the young man watched him drive away—along this street—thought the situation over and decided to bolt. After all, the money was nearly spent. He had changed some of it into diamonds, useful anywhere. So he never kept his appointment with the driver of the hired van, but slipped off to Liverpool."

"Why does this interest you asked Mrs. Sacret.

"As an artist human material must interest me. I might have to draw a murderer or his victim. I must assimilate their characters. This young man was never seen again—he was a stranger in Pimlico and impossible to trace. The driver asked a passer-by to help him with the case and they found it stained, like brown paint, at the joints—so the affair came to light. He had not packed it very adroitly, I suppose."

"How do you know so much about it? All this could not have been in the newspaper reports."

"Much of it was—for the rest, I re-created it in my imagination. I thought of those two worthless people, cleanly disposed of, and how the hoarded gold was, no doubt, well spent."

"It was a horrid crime," said Olivia Sacret indifferently. "'What did the murderer look like?"

"The police notices stated that he was slim, with a fair beard. He had given the name of Allen Drawn. Come, let us return to Minton Street and discuss our own affairs."

The missionary's widow gladly assented. She had felt no more repulsion at the painter's tales than she had felt at the stories of cruelty and crime that had come to her ears remotely, at third and fourth hand, in the West Indies. There was a transient flicker of curiosity at this glance into the vast and intricate world of London that was all about her, and of which she knew nothing, but her own dilemma remained absorbing. She clung to the painter's arm and really felt the need of his support.

"Come," he smiled. "You will not be able to sustain your part if you do not show more spirit. Have I sickened you with my old stories?"

"Oh, no," she replied impatiently. "I am not so queasy as that. They have nothing to do with me and I have already forgotten them. I am tired from a sleepless night."

"We will take a turn in the fresh air."

They walked away from Pimlico. The last rustic lanes and fields were boarded up and displayed boards—"THIS LAND TO BE LET ON BUILDING LEASES—and the new suburb spread into the old village, the old parks and meadows, the rows of brick houses with slate roofs and more pretentious villas, some half built, rising among the one-story cottages of the wharfingers and the trim terraces of houses of the last century, still standing in pleasant gardens.

"This is tawdry and desolate," remarked Mr. Bellis. "Would you not like a glimpse of the real country?"

"Indeed I should—but how?"

"You could come for the day to Lyndbridge—and see my painting. That could easily be arranged."

She flushed with pleasure. Never had she hoped for as great a favor as this.

"But the people in the Old Priory—am I to leave them alone for a whole day?"

"Yes—I shall tell you what you must do."


Illustration

"So Evil My Love" — Ann Todd and Ray Milland


In the parlor at Minton Street the missionary's widow received her instructions. The painter gave her a glass of excellent champagne, a salad and some oysters, well served on the corner of the table on which lay his brushes, some playing cards, playbills, paint palettes and paper knives and various pencils and chalks. He had bought and prepared this meal while she had been waiting on the dreary terrace by the river and she smiled in gratitude, forgetting even her anxieties about the Old Priory, both in the joy of the present moment and in anticipation of the visit to Lyndbridge. Susan and her husband, the entire affairs of those dull people, now seemed to her insufferable; she wished that she never had to hear of them again. But she must have money. She reminded herself of that sharply.

Mark Bellis seemed to sense her thought. He remarked with an emphasis of his agreeable, soothing smile and courteous manner: "There will be very little for you to do. And certainly you will not remain much longer at the Old Priory. Mr. Rue will insist on your departure—it is merely a case of what you can accomplish before you go. You might try to persuade your friend to leave with you. Then—when she is free of her husband—you might bring her into touch with Sir John Curle and do your best to make them elope. They seem to be in love, so this should not be difficult."

"But it will be impossible—Susan is so timid and so respectable," protested Mrs. Sacret in alarm at the task before her.

The painter wrinkled his brow into a frown, at the same time smiling.

"Come, you must not make difficulties. You have the letters to hold over her. Still, it might be it would be impossible."

Olivia Sacret drank her champagne. She wished that this intrigue was behind her and that she was enjoying her reward. Yet she did not even know what that might be.

"I hope I can manage," she murmured. "I feel so alone in that great house—everyone is hostile, even the servants."

"That is regrettable. Servants always hate genteel dependents. You should have tried to make them like you. Of course, however, you will do very well. You have but to push an infatuated woman along the path she desires to go. And you must try to induce her to visit her lawyers and demand her fortune from her husband. I wish I knew the details of that—you must discover them."

"What must I aim to get from Susan?" asked the missionary's widow directly.

Mark Bellis was pleased at this candor.

"Susan will owe you so much that she will gladly pension you for the rest of your life, besides making you presents. You should ask her also, as soon as she is free of her husband, for a thousand pounds—say—to set you up in a modest millinery establishment."

"But will Susan leave her husband? Remember she is expecting me to persuade her husband into a divorce."

"He will not give it to her."

"No, I do not think so. What are we to do—if she will not leave him without the divorce?"

The painter stood thoughtfully silent, his sensitive face and fine hand holding the champagne glass were outlined in the warm sunshine that fell aslant through the small window. "Mr. Rue is in the way," he remarked at length. "Were he to die—his widow would be entirely in your hands."

"Oh, he won't die," answered Mrs. Sacret. "He is young and strong—only coddled and wretched, always worrying about his nerves—and then dosing himself."

"What was this medicine you told me you gave him?"

"A simple draught the Negroes used to compound from some plant—I have forgotten the name. A powder one mixes with hot water. I brought some boxes of it home, it eases headache," replied Mrs. Sacret. "It suited Martin Rue better than his favorite drops—but why talk of this? I am so weary of sickness and dollops and draughts and pasters."

"Nevertheless you must continue to nurse Mr. Rue and to gain his confidence. Represent yourself to everyone—particularly the doctor—as the family friend who is working for the reconciliation of the couple."

"I could not keep that up for long."

"I know—did I not tell you you would not long be allowed to remain there? But while the master of the house is ill, he will not be able to contend with you."

"He may recover—suddenly. As there is nothing really wrong with him he is often well within a few hours of an attack."

"This time he might not recover so quickly."

Mrs. Sacret shrugged her elegant shoulders. A pity, she thought, that they had to spend their short time together in discussing such tiresome subjects, commonplace old crimes and Susan's tedious affairs. She wanted to ask him about his travels, his adventures, to probe him as to his intentions as to the future that she was keeping blank and empty for him.

"I shall not give you another glass of champagne," he said. "And pray do not drink while you are at the Old Priory."

"Oh, I never do—to excess—I know what you mean."

She stared at him, endeavoring to penetrate and withstand his fascination for her and once more her native shrewdness reflected, He knows all your poor tale, and you know nothing of him. He must be useless to everyone—he has no friends—no set—he moves alone, existing on the stupidity of people like myself. But this flash of prudence was soon gone. When her prim disguises—her rigid conventionalities—were discarded, she was, she realized, of the same mental outlook and tastes as this stranger. What she did not yet know was if he was of the same emotional capacity. Was he able to feel for anyone what she felt for him?

"I really am not equal to what you wish me to do," she said rapidly. "I began this—this—this play with Susan, teasing her with the letters—without purpose or direction. Even now I can't follow it all—how it will work out, I mean. But I shall do as you direct."

"You'll get the money—somehow. And with credit to yourself and without involving me. You have not mentioned me?" He smiled too long and too steadily; it gave the impression of a fixed grimace; he glanced up as if he saw some arresting sight in the corner of the ceiling.

"No, indeed. But Mr. Rue suspected I had someone behind me. He said I had changed lately. And I suppose that is true enough."

"You have developed. You are only what you always might have been. If you had never had this chance of—development—you would have gone crazy and died of frustration."

She gazed at him, startled. She saw herself as she would have been had she not visited Susan, had she not met him, and she saw a shriveled figure, daily withering, bent over a desk in a dim office, kneeling in a dim chapel, walking streets thronged with strangers, going home one dull evening and cutting her throat with the bread knife.

She put aside her glass in which the wine still showed clear and picked up her long gray silk gloves.

"When am Ito come to Lyndbridge?"

"The day after tomorrow—Thursday—take the 10.15 from Charing Cross. I shall be at Lyndbridge Station to meet you. A small village, but the mansion is not unpleasant." He smiled at her brilliantly and opened the door.

"You are tired," he remarked. "Next time you come here make Mrs. Rue send the carriage for you."

"The servants would gossip."

"They do that now. I need not be seen. It is natural that you should sometimes visit your property. Ask to be driven to the station tomorrow."

He was in the passage and had the front door open. She passed out into the street, the dusk, and walked toward the river, the bridge, the Old Priory, with the slow step of fatigue. She remembered suddenly that she had left the letters with the painter and came to a standstill of dismay, so greatly did she dislike to have this, her one weapon, out of her hands. But she did not dare to return to Minton Street to reclaim them.


Martin Rue quickly recovered from his nervous attack, mainly, Dr. Virtue declared to Mrs. Sacret privately, because his wife had been frightened into a show of concern and even tenderness for him. He soon found occasion to remark to Susan's companion, "I am much obliged to you for your careful nursing, and for the Indian medicine. I should be grateful for the recipe, but I still must insist that you leave my house—suitably compensated."

"Pray, don't disturb yourself, sir," replied Mrs. Sacret. "I hope to depart very soon."

"There must be no delay, no shifts." The young banker, though still yellow faced and feeble, spoke with force. "I want to leave this house—it has never been lucky for us, it is too large and expensive. Susan can't manage an establishment of this size. There is always waste somewhere."

Mrs. Sacret was contemptuously silent. She despised this meanness, this preoccupation with domestic economy in a man who was both rich and young. Regardless of her sharp glance he continued firmly:

"You are not wearing Susan's diamonds."

"You yourself remarked, Mr. Rue, that they were not suitable to my mourning."

"I don't suppose you would pay any heed to any strictures of mine," he sneered. "And you are to have the horses tomorrow for the station—where are you going, pray?"

"Why should I not have friends?"

"There might be many reasons for that, Mrs. Sacret. I have often remarked on your extreme isolation."

"I have friends—in Kent—I intend to spend the day there."

"And the diamonds?"

"Are they not my property?"

"I do not consider them so—I believe that you obtained them from Susan by threats."

Olivia Sacret was quick to seize this chance.

"I swear by God—on the Bible if you will—that I have no letters of Susan's in my possession."

Martin Rue seemed impressed by that vehemence; she saw that he did not consider that this was an oath that the missionary's widow would lightly have sworn; nor was it; even as she spoke she reminded herself that the letters were at Minton Street in the charge of the painter.

"I am inclined to believe that you would not perjure yourself," he admitted grudgingly. "Also that it is not in Susan's character to have a secret that anyone could menace her with; but what you said was a very vulgar lie—about my wife—the most upright of women."

Mrs. Sacret flushed with rage. She resented not only his rudeness to her, but his faith in Susan. Yet she could think of no answer that would be in accordance with the instructions that Mark Bellis had given her. Placing these before her mind, she said in a low voice:

"I really wish to be a true friend to both of you. I am very fond of Susan."

"Then persuade her to be fond of me," he interrupted quickly. "For she will never he happy with any man save her husband."

Mrs. Sacret knew that this was true. It was also ambiguous. "Let her divorce you," she urged, "and be happy with a man she loves and can marry."

"That subject is forbidden," he replied angrily, the furious red flushing into his cheeks.

"Still, I give you good advice." She remembered what the painter had said of herself, and added, "If you do not let her go, she will go crazy and die of frustration."

"If only you would leave my house!" he exclaimed and she, steadfast to her policy of pacification, replied:

"Very well, I shall be going soon. I am only sorry that I have not been of more use to Susan."

"My mother is coming to stay here," he said. "She will see that you neither frighten nor persuade Susan. She is arriving on Saturday, though she is a very busy woman. She does so much for charities, you know."

"Perhaps she can obtain me a post with one of them," smiled Mrs. Sacret. "I shall have to find work when I leave the Old Priory."

The young banker ignored that impertinence and with a change of tone asked the missionary's widow if she could give him the recipe for the Indian sedative.

"I wonder that you care to be obliged to me," she retorted. "But I shall look it up among dear Frederick's papers, though I doubt if any English chemist could make it up—it is, as I told you, a native medicine. I got a Kingstown apothecary to write it down, I don't know if the drugs are to be obtained here."

"Pray, then, give me your supply."

"Oh, it is nearly exhausted, and I like to keep some for my neuralgia, but I shall see what I can do."

She left the sumptuous drawing room, weary of the tedious conversation and of the idle air of the young man who lolled in an easy chair, the day's newspapers on the floor where they had dropped from his hand. Though Susan objected to the smell of tobacco he wore his smoking jacket and he was not freshly shaven. His self-pity, his imaginary illness (so she considered it, whatever Dr. Virtue might say), his obstinacy as regards his wife, his dependence on his mother, all disgusted Olivia Sacret. She contrasted him with the painter who was always alert, always full of plans and energy. Though so quiet and self-controlled, he was never at a loss, easily master of any situation. But then what a different life he had had, so full of adventure, peril and experience, while Martin had never left his mother's apron strings until an unexpected infatuation for a pretty widow had thrown trim into a foolish marriage. How different also was the birth of the two men—Martin Rue was middle class, really not a gentleman, while she was sure that "Mark Bellis" was the disguise for a noble name. Probably the painter came of a famous family and owned titles and honors that he scorned to claim.

Mrs. Sacret escaped from the husband only to be detained by the wife. Susan was waiting for her on the landing outside her bedroom. Her friend, who had at first had a room on the floor above, now slept next door; it was into this handsomely furnished chamber that Susan, flushed and tearful, drew the missionary's widow. She had heard that old Mrs. Rue was to visit the Old Priory and remain there, perhaps for months—"Watching me, Olivia! Setting me down—making mischief; indeed, I cannot endure it! Why do you not persuade Martin to give me a divorce! You promised!"

"He is difficult," answered Mrs. Sacret with deep vexation. How difficult, she thought bitterly. Why would he not accept the inevitable, give Susan her freedom, and allow her, Olivia Sacret, to take the credit for this, so that Sir John and Lady Curle would be her indebted friends for the rest of their lives and she would be able to share their bounties with the painter—how simple that would be! All of them would be contented. She was startled by hearing her own hovering desire expressed passionately by Susan. "I am driven to wish that Martin were gravely ill. That he would not recover—"

"That is very wicked," protested Mrs. Sacret mechanically, but she thought, Yes, that would be a delightful solution of the problem.

"But it is only nerves, he is not really sick at all," cried Susan, sobbing into her damp lace and mull handkerchief.

And if he were to die, thought Mrs. Sacret, Susan would not be indebted to me—though I suppose she would still be frightened of the letters. Besides, he won't die, he is quite healthy, as she says, and I must work for a divorce.

With an effort at showing a sympathy she did not feel, Olivia Sacret tried to clasp her friend to her bosom, but Susan evaded her, murmuring, with her face turned aside, "Where are you going tomorrow?"

"To see some friends in Kent," replied Mrs. Sacret, sharply because of the rebuff. "I must have a little time to myself; I give up most of it to you." Recollecting her instructions she added sweetly, "Don't he pettish, dear. I really am your protector. I am sure that I am bringing your husband around to give you a divorce. And I shall protect you from that horrible old woman. I am more than a match for her, I assure you."

"The letters—" whispered Susan fearfully, peering over her handkerchief.

"I declare you anger me! Such a lack of trust!" She recalled her trick with Martin Rue and repeated it. "I am a religious woman, as you know, and I swear by God I don't even know where the letters are—in what place, J mean." She added to herself, I don't—he may have them in a drawer or a box or even, at this very moment, in his hands.

Susan was as impressed as her husband had been. She gazed searchingly at her friend and Olivia smiled kindly with hazel eyes and pretty lips.

"Well, Olivia, do find them and give them to me. And quickly. And if you don't mean me any harm—and I can't believe that you do—please, please persuade Martin, at once, to let me go—before his mother comes, for you see, however much I want to keep you I shan't be able to much longer. Martin is determined that you leave and he will be supported by his mother and I shall not be able to withstand them both."

"Supposing I can't persuade him, why not leave with me?"

"Oh, no, I should not like to live with you! That would never do!"

"I did not mean live with me. I meant I would help you to elope with Sir John Curle."

"You know I have not the courage."

Mrs. Sacret walked up and down the soft blue carpet. She was exasperated, fatigued with the whole affair. How tedious it was, how tiresome Susan was, with her obstinate passion and her feeble will. How she detested Martin Rue and his mother, and how enmeshed and confused she was becoming with these intrigues. Despite the careful instructions of the painter, she began to feel bewildered, as if she had a mass of threads entangled in her hands, and did not know the pattern she had to work with them. She tried to fix her mind on the goal of all this business. What did she really want? It all came to money. That was what the painter wanted, too. She threw out her hands as if to cast off an invisible cluster of knots. "Will you give me a thousand pounds, Susan?"

The younger woman looked amazed, frightened.

"I have not got so much money."

"Oh, yes you have—your lawyers could get it for you, and you have jewelry that you could sell. Come, give me that amount and you may have the letters."

Susan spoke hurriedly and with more gravity than was usual with her. "My lawyers would ask questions. Martin watches my jewelry. He was very angry about the diamond bracelet—I couldn't find so large a sum."

"Do try. I want to be away. Of course you owe me far more than that—but I should be satisfied. It would be just a loan between friends and I should repay it someday. And as those silly letters worry you I would give them to you."

"So, there is a price on them," said Susan unsteadily, "and always has been. You came here with that intention—blackmail they call it—I knew it from the first. That is why I asked you to live with me, not out of any friendship for you—but because I was afraid of you. And now I can't get the money—I have difficulty in giving you what I do without arousing Martin's suspicions."

"What nonsense," interrupted Mrs. Sacret sharply, angry with herself for her mistake that she now perceived to be gross. "You are really very fanciful and nervous, Susan! Is it not a common jest to long for a fortune! Pray do not give it another thought, but rely on me to persuade your selfish husband to divorce you. Now, good night, my love."

She bent gracefully to kiss her friend, but Susan raised her arm to ward her off, and stared up at her fearfully. "I'll not be shamed. John would never forgive me if I were disgraced and his part made public. He would never forgive me for writing so freely to such a woman as you—for being so easily deceived by your sham piety and meekness."

"Why, what is in the letters?" asked Mrs. Sacret curiously, bending over the crouching woman.

"You know. And that I am afraid. I married Martin to cover it up, because I was afraid. And I never remembered what I had written to you."

Oh, thought Mrs. Sacret with a flash of insight into Susan's terror. That is it, she never remembered—she does not know what she wrote!

"Do not lean over me—go away," said Susan. "I used to like you, to admire and trust you—but since you have lived here—I have—"

"Hush! Don't say it! I am truly your friend, Susan, though you don't deserve it. I am a woman beyond reproach, the widow of a missionary—while your reputation rests on very little. Why, if the truth were known—"

Susan made a crouching, sideways movement that freed her from the presence of Mrs. Sacret bending over her, and leaned against the rail of the richly furnished bed that she had provided for Mrs. Sacret.

"Yet I am your friend—though I know what you are," repeated Olivia Sacret. "Don't say anything hasty or foolish. I daresay you think—as you once suggested—that if you eloped with Sir John it wouldn't matter about the letters being known. But that would disgrace you even more. What a triumph it would be for old Mrs. Rue! You could not protest that your husband's cruelty—and hers—had driven you to run away—for it could be proved how you had behaved when you were a widow and Sir John was married—and how you snatched—as you yourself said just now—at Martin Rue's name to cover it up—to save your reputation."

Susan put her hand to her mouth and cried weakly, her flash of spirit soon gone. Sickened at such feebleness Mrs. Sacret hunched her shoulders and left the room. How weary she was of Susan's troubles! If only that stupid woman would have produced the thousand pounds—as she could have produced it if she had had any wit—she, Olivia Sacret, would have been relieved to have left the Old Priory forever, and even to have given up the letters.

A thousand pounds was the sum that the painter had mentioned and surely he would welcome her if she came to him with that gift, and let her know how it was to be spent—together? Yet she did not know what "together" might mean. She had never thought of him as lover or husband, only as a companion and a master.


§ 20

The weather was fine for Mrs. Sacret's journey into Kent. She was resolved to enjoy this, and resolutely put the affairs of the Old Priory out of her mind. She would not, she told herself, worry over what might be happening in that disordered household while she was away, but have this day clear for pleasure. She hoped that Mark Bettis would not talk about the Rues' affairs, but that, in this fresh atmosphere, against this fresh background, he would disclose something of his mind, of his plans for the future. Surely such must have been his intention when he asked her so far away from the mean little room in Minton Street and the riverside streets that so far had been their only surroundings. She had taken great care with her appearance; there was no hint of mourning in her expensive walking dress and mantle of dark lilac-colored cloth, her leaf-green bonnet with white roses and amber ribbons. She had been stared at in the train, she was stared at on the platform of the small country station, and she felt uneasy, knowing that her appearance was not quiet and ladylike and that she should not be traveling alone, but when the painter joined her, all her self-confidence returned. She was grateful then to know that she was a pretty, charming woman, and that he admired her. She felt that she had, at last, become like the portrait of her he had painted so soon after they had met.

He offered her his arm and they turned along a path where the lush weeds of early autumn showed their berries and seeds against quickset hedges.

Lyndbridge House was only a short walk from the station. The painter explained that a fair was being held at the neighboring town and that all the servants had gone there. "We shall be alone in that large mansion save for an old woman and her dog in the basement and some men in the stables, and they will not trouble us. I think it agreeable to be alone in a large house, do you not?"

"I have never had that experience," she replied humbly. "I have always been in small houses, and often alone. Indeed, I know nothing. Why have you brought me here today?" she added, afraid of her own happiness at being alone with him in these peaceful ways.

"I'll show you," he smiled.

They entered large open gates; the tall stone piers supported lions grasping shields, the worn quarterings outlined with moss. The drive and the park were well kept, between the trunks of the chestnut trees, now in crinkled yellow leaf and smooth green fruit, showing the clipped turf sloping to rich woodland; before them was the frontage of Lyndbridge House, a Palladian façade before an older building, cool, pale, deserted in the late morning light.

"Lower your veil," ordered the painter. "We are not likely to meet anyone—but of course you were seen at the station. It is impossible to disguise the fact that a woman came here, though no one need know who she was."

"Does it matter? The harmless excursion of a lover of art!"

"You must avoid scandal."

Mrs. Sacret thought that scandal, once so fearful a thing to her, was no longer frightening—for she was out of touch with anyone who might have been shocked at any indecorum on her part. Indeed she was sure that she had already lost her character with her neighbors of Minton Street, who now never spoke to her, but nodded with half awe, half scorn, when she visited her tenant, and she cared nothing for their opinion. The painter conducted her to an unlocked side door and up a spiral staircase to a long gallery, paneled in waxed oak that still retained the golden-yellow color of the young wood. There were a few pictures of piled fruits and stately flowers of all colors, shapes and seasons, in marble vases, set on Persian tapestries, and ships at sea in tones of cold blue and green, the canvases blowing out beneath stormy clouds. The deep-set windows, of a noble height, looked onto formal gardens, box and yew hedges and stiff parterres of flowers, arranged in a pattern like lace, to be looked at from above. The sunbeams fell aslant into the silent gallery and the moths danced in them. Olivia Sacret at once felt a part of this gracious habitation and wondered how she had ever been able to endure the Old Priory and Susan's vulgar taste. She moved lightly, with a proud carriage, feeling that it was her right to be in a palace.

The painter, observing her closely, with what seemed to be a whimsical kindness, led the way to the suite of rooms at the end of the enfilade.

These were in exquisite order, being with deep pink damask and furnished with delicate French pieces; the last room was circular, being adapted from an ancient tower. A glass door led to an outer stair, and at either side were windows, giving onto a rose garden, this also being appointed in an elegant feminine style. Here Mark Bellis had been working. The low modern ceiling he had already painted with pearl-like clouds on an azure sky, against which amorini floated scattering petals of summer flowers. This painting seemed to Mrs. Sacret to be very skillfully done, but her companion directed her attention to the walls on which he had, on stretched canvas, depicted a charming classic landscape that was done in several sections: on either side the window was a temple in a grove of tall trees, with mountains beyond; on the wall to the right a rolling campaign, with a river and bridge; on the left a lake with boats on the foreshore; and on the wall facing the windows, a valley and rocks crowned by a castle. All of it was painted in pale half tones, and adorned with delightful details of figures of shepherds and their flocks, dogs, nymphs, ladies, cavaliers, flying birds and horsemen, yet all so blended in line and color as to soothe and not fatigue the eye.

Mrs. Sacret sat on a chair of padded yellow satin and stared at the empty rose garden where the sunlight fell on the termini of yellow-gray stone, with horned heads and vacant smiles. She then glanced at the glass-topped table beside her; on blue quilted satin was laid out ladies' needlework equipment, thimble, needle-case, pincushion, scissors, bobbins in ivory and gold. She stared around the room, so new, so luxurious, prepared for another woman. Once she had never even thought of such splendors, now she felt as if she could not do without them.

"You have a right to such a costly background," he assured her. "It becomes you—here you are beautiful indeed—no longer the missionary's widow."

"I have already forgotten that part of my life," she replied harshly. "This is what I am suited for—the Old Priory is detestable."

"This is where you belong."

She accepted this flattery. It did not really seem to her that her father, third son of a modest squire, had come from such surroundings as these and that she had been cheated out of her birthright. She flamed with anger against destiny. "I would rather not have seen this place than have to leave it in a few hours," she declared passionately.

"You might achieve something of the kind—if you had art enough," he said, pulling the sheet off a table in the middle of the room and showing his colors, brushes and palette. "I know an old castle on Lake Como one could hire for very little and have a few weeks of luxury there—music, the chestnut woods, a boat on the lake," he indicated, with a quick sweep of his arm, his wall paintings, as if he had embodied his dreams in these imaginary landscapes. Looking at her straightly he added, "I care enough for you to think it would be luxury there with you, and afterwards—Vienna—Paris—"

"I know what you mean, I am to get the money, but I have no faith in my powers—I know I cannot persuade that fool to divorce his wife." She was trembling with vexation, with disappointment. "Have you no resources?" she entreated.

"None. All were exhausted long ago. The mean price paid for the work here won't do any service for me—save to pay my fare, say to America, where I could try my luck again."

"I understand that you threatened me," she admitted mournfully. "You know that you have become necessary to me—this is the first time you have said that you care for me—what does that mean?"

"I'll marry you, if you wish."

Many images flickered before her mind. She felt overwhelmed by them, many voices sounded in her ears, some of them with a warning note. Yet her prevailing emotion was one of humble fog.

"Will you tell me something of yourself?" she asked, but it was the woman she had been who spoke and she did not greatly care about the answer. His offer had been too sudden, too nicely judged, he knew that she would like a ceremony, even a sham one, and she was aware of this.

"A waste of time," he answered. "And we have so little. We could be married in Paris, at the English Church. But there is much to do first."

The offer was more than she had expected. It made the future clear, certain. Yet he was still a stranger to her and did not approach a step nearer to where she sat.

"Here are Susan Rue's letters," he said, taking them from his pocket and putting them on the table. "They are most compromising and should mean a life's income for you from your obliged friend."

"I did not think so—harmless," the familiar word came easily to her lips. "Surely they are harmless?"

"Come here," he commanded gently.

Mrs. Sacret went to the table and he told her to take the uppermost letter and read it. She did so, with mounting astonishment, until she came to the signature—"your guilty but ever loving friend," then she glanced back over the sheet and her quick hazel eyes picked out such phrases as—"if it's ever known I should be ruined"—"while I was still an innocent wife"—"guard my guilty secret, I implore you"; then she looked up at the painter who was quietly watching her. "I don't remember this letter, why if I had ever had anything as definite as that in my possession everything could have been different—"

"Yet it is her hand, is it not, her paper, all exact? You could swear to it in a court of law?"

"I suppose so—yes."

"And she could not deny it?"

"I don't think so. She doesn't remember what she wrote, that is why she is so frightened—"

"Then put it with the others and keep it carefully as your most valuable possession. She was a married man's mistress and if she wishes to preserve her reputation she should pay for it."

"Of course—you are clever with the pen," said Mrs. Sacret smiling. "Well, I see no harm, there is no confession here of more than she is guilty of—if she had not been so sly, she would have been frank with me before. I never suspected!"

"It is clear that you have a very pure mind, sweetheart!"

She flushed at his first direct endearment.

"I had. Never did it occur to me that Susan was not a good woman! If Frederick had known he would not have allowed me even to speak her name." She put the letters, tied together by a piece of twine, into her reticule, silently vowing that they should never go out of her possession again. She felt a tinge of her former sense of power, as if Susan, for all her wealth and good fortune, were helpless in her unyielding grasp, yet she had a sense of baffled vexation because her triumph seemed still postponed.

"What are we to do?" she demanded earnestly.

"I shall show you."

He took a brushful of paint and lightly sketched on the landscape facing the window a row of figures of widows in heavy mourning and veils. In one Olivia Sacret, standing close beside him, recognized herself in her cheap cumbrous black. But this he at once effaced, and traced, in white and gray, the elegant outline of a fashionable lady. "Olivia Sacret becomes Olivia Bellis," he smiled.

"The other?"

"Your friend—the fair Mrs. Dasent, in full crape—then, see, I rub her out, with the touch of a rag, and replace her with Mrs. Martin Rue—then she is in crape again—"

"But Susan is not again a widow—"

"—and here she is," he continued, not heeding this interruption, "decked out for her third marriage—a titled lady now. And how grateful she is to her friend Mrs. Mark Bellis for her good fortune, and what handsome presents she makes her! Her third husband is very obliged also, he has a position to keep up and desires old scandals hidden."

"It has not happened," sighed Mrs. Sacret.

"I shall show you how it is going to happen."

He took his palette, thinned his colors with turpentine and quickly drew in little scenes on the dry painted foreground of the rocky landscape.

First there was a man in bed, a group of figures standing by, then the women, one giving the other a small bottle, then a woman, painted large, pouring the contents of the bottle into a glass, then the man in bed again, receiving a glass from his nurse, then a shrouded corpse, and a funeral.

The little figures, often indicated by no more than a stroke or two of white or bright paint, had life and animation. Their story was clearly told.

"Ask him once more to divorce his wife," advised the painter, in a low tone, "then—well—it will be his own fault—"

Then her instructions were already painted, for her to see.

"There will be no danger?" she whispered.

"None. Your West Indian medicine is known to be harmless."

"But if some suspicion should be aroused?"

The painter wiped away his little figures with his large soft rag, firmly applied. The classic landscape showed serenely.

"None will be. Have you not often heard that people who are unhappy take their own lives? Had you not better warn Dr. Virtue that his patient has made such threats?"

"Yes, I suppose so. I trust you—"

"It is the only way."

"Where did—the woman in your sketch—find—what she put in the bottle?"

"In an envelope between some letters in a package tied with twine." He sketched some stables, horses in their stalls, a bottle on a shelf labeled POISON, then wiped all away.

"She was—capable of doing this?"

"She had to be, it was her one chance of pleasing the only person she wished to please. She was about to be turned out of a comfortable home, to lose all opportunity of everything she wanted—"

"Oh, I understand—" interrupted Mrs. Sacret.

"Yes, it was all there for you to see. No dangerous word spoken. You can always swear that—and keep your Noncomformist conscience."

"Susan might be suspicious. She does not trust me."

"You have the means of silencing her in that letter. And in the final resort that letter would incriminate her—she, not you, would have the motive. I leave to you the details. Something left in her room, perhaps, in case?"

He turned his back on the painted wall, as if he had done with the subject.

"It rests with you," he remarked. "I can so easily slip away, leaving no trace behind."

Olivia Sacret returned to the window and stared at the last roses, crimson, yellow, white, falling apart on their golden hearts. She felt a bitter envy of the woman to whom these delights so easily belonged, who did not have to work or intrigue for them. She was sure that she would have adorned a noble home like this far better than the feeble-looking creature whose miniature she had seen behind the globe of water.

The painter read her thought as he usually did.

"Catherine Fox Oldham will probably never live to return here," he remarked. "She fades daily. This suite of rooms will be shut up, the furniture will be covered, my paintings will crack and stain—in a few years the place will be as dismal as those houses in the Pimlico squares—

"Never that," she retorted. "Here it will always be noble and elegant, even in decay."

"Still—envy no one," he advised. "If you have wit and courage good fortune is within your own reach."

Olivia Sacret felt tired. What she had to do seemed impossible, not because she dreaded it or disliked it, but because it seemed one of those things that did not happen. She could not realize it. She intended to obey her instructions but she could not feel that they would produce any results. The pattern of her life seemed fixed. She saw herself forever in thrall to this man who remained a stranger, Martin Rue always peevish and ailing, Susan always weeping and desperate—but nothing definite ever happening. Even the painter's cool talk of marriage had not seemed real. She hardly wanted it to be real, she could not imagine him as a lover, as a husband, only as a master, and a stranger.

It was hateful to have to leave the beautiful room, the long gallery, the noble house, but the painter advised her that it was "getting late."

She shivered before the words—and did not move. As he opened a basket and served her a cold luncheon, she hardly ate or drank, even of the wine he sparingly offered her. She hardly answered when he asked her if she had a good supply of sherry and champagne for Susan Rue—"better to keep her quite bemused."

Mrs. Sacret knew that. She would be relieved when the whole episode was over and they could go away together "and I can discover what kind of man you really are."

She caressed her velvet reticule. She was glad she had that wonderful sedative for Martin Rue and now another medicine in the packet just given her that would further help him; she disliked to see anyone stiffer. What a wretched life he had! And how happy Susan would be if she got her freedom, either by divorce or—

She jerked her thoughts together, regarding the painter timidly. Their connection, even their acquaintance, seemed fantastic. And it seemed fantastic also that she had ever been married to a missionary in Jamaica. As the recollection of what she had suffered came over her, she felt indignant, exasperated, aggressive and her clasp tightened on the velvet bag.

"You resemble a little cat with claws in its prey," his pleasant voice remarked. "Come, we must be leaving."

"What will you do with me, when we are together always?"

"I shall tell you—then," he replied tenderly. "There is so much, so many simple things of which you have been deprived—until our affair at the Old Priory is over—I have asked you to marry me."

"Yes, but I can't believe it. It doesn't seem possible and I don't want to think about it. I suppose I don't really credit that you mean it—let it go."

"As you wish," but he did not speak flippantly, but in a tone of concern that gave her a strong thrill of nameless emotion. A realization of all she had missed overcame her—and of what she had missed most of all, someone to think well of her, to prize her, to admire and praise her. She flushed as he approached her and lifted his hand to his heart.

"You are a rare woman, a beauty. I have never met anyone like you. We shall be happy. Do you understand how rare happiness is?"

"I never dared to think of it," she whispered.

She drew away, afraid of her brilliant fortune—that yet had to be earned.

It was like breaking from a strong enchantment to leave the house, the grounds, to face the return to the Old Priory and her disagreeable tasks that did not yet have much meaning for her. But she had to go. An old gardener with a scythe turned to look at them as they passed along the avenue.

"He is too far away to recognize you," remarked the painter.

The gates were open, but a young woman, who perhaps had heard of the arrival of the painter's visitor, stared curiously from the little flower garden of the lodge. The painter motioned to Mrs. Sacret to go ahead. She heard him say, as she obeyed: "My sister—married to a Frenchman—Madame Dupont on a short visit to England." Olivia Sacret remembered Madame Dupont, the stock wife and mother of the French lesson books. The recollection came grotesquely to her agitated mind, with scenes in Miss Mitchell's school and Susan bringing her her translation to be done for her—and the invincible boredom of the sterile days for herself.

"Have you often been seen in that costume?" he asked.

"No, it is new—I put it on today, for the first time."

"Don't wear it again—it is charming, but conspicuous—let it be put away."

"How careful you are of my reputation! And I have forgotten that I ever had any."

He told her that he was not returning to town, but staying for the night at the village inn, the Lyndbridge Arms, in the morning he intended to finish the paintings at Lyndbridge House.

He left her at the station, a few moments before the train came in and pressed into her hand, with a graceful gesture, a small garnet ring. Forgetting the diamonds she flushed vividly with intense pleasure.


§ 21

Martin Rue looked a very sick man as he once more told Mrs. Sacret that she must leave his house and the widow told Susan this when repeating these commands.

"Your husband is ill, and I think his mind is unsettled—are you not afraid he may do himself a mischief?"

"Oh, how horrible! What do you mean?"

"He is in a sad state. You should warn Dr. Virtue. His nerves are all to pieces. And he is quite resolved that I should leave the house."

"Can't you sighed Susan, trembling.

"Of course, I mean to go. But I don't want to leave you like this—alone and wretched. And you would have to give me some money—"

"I don't know if I could get any—enough—"

Mrs. Sacret scorned this display of cowardice—Susan "lost her head" to a really contemptible degree.

"You certainly could—your bank manager, or your lawyer would give you some and there must be some jewels you could sell—"

"I don't know how to do these things."

"You must get a little more courage and sense, dear—my affairs are in a bad way through spending so long here looking after you, and before I go I must have some money to put them straight. Say, a thousand pounds."

"A thousand pounds!"

"It is such a foolish habit, Susan, to echo words. You used to be reproved for it at Miss Mitchell's—you could easily get a thousand pounds."

Susan began to weep and Mrs. Sacret paced up and down the costly, ugly bedroom as she continued to admonish her friend.

"Do try to control yourself. You are so eager for me to leave you—but I don't know what you would do without me—"

"I should be much better without you," declared Susan, sobbing miserably. "Martin dislikes you—you cannot, as you promised, persuade him to divorce me—I cannot persist in keeping you here against his wishes. Oh, please go, and leave me alone with him!"

"What, have you given up Sir John?"

"I don't know!" wailed Susan. "I cannot elope when Martin is so ill—and ill because of me—and if I were alone with him I might induce him to let me go."

Olivia Sacret felt a surge of almost desperate anger against this weak capricious creature, useless as a straw in the wind. She paused before her, as she crouched in the easy chair.

"I shall have to leave the house, I can see that," she said softly. "But I must have the money. Please understand that. No doubt Sir John would give it to you."

"Oh, I could not! And why should I ask him!"

"Don't be so shocked—as if you were a prude. You have a good claim on Sir John. I've been looking at your letters again—really, I was so innocent myself, I took no particular heed of them, but your behavior has been so odd, I read them carefully."

"What is there in them—directly compromising?" whispered Susan, shrinking away from the erect figure that stood between her and the light.

"How can you ask! You signed one—'your guilty but loving friend'—you wrote 'guard my guilty secret, I implore you'—'if it were known, I should be ruined'—'when I was still an innocent wife'—don't you recall those words?"

"No—I don't remember what I wrote," stammered Susan. "My brain was on fire—I trusted you—"

"You never told me Sir John was your lover," reproached Mrs. Sacret severely. "I should never have tolerated that."

"But you say I wrote that I was."

"I've only just grasped the meaning of that letter. I read it hastily. I, of course, thought you referred to some new indiscretion."

"What made you think it was anything more?"

"Your fright about the letters," replied Mrs. Sacret truthfully. "That and the huge bribe you offered me—the sincere one."

"What a fool I have been!" sighed Susan with futile frantic gestures of her unsteady hands.

"You were always that. So you confess—he was your lover."

"You know—yes—"

"Still is, perhaps?"

"I have not seen him since my marriage. I have always loved him. I always shall—"

"Don't get hysterical. Does he know you wrote these foolish letters?"

"Of course not—Oh, he would be vexed! The scandal would ruin him!"

"Then he would advise you to find the money."

"I daresay. Oh, I suppose I can get it—I have some jewels. I gave you a valuable bracelet."

"Oh, that! It was worth very little. I offered it to be sold for the benefit of a missionary society. I wonder you cast up a present at me!"

Susan rose, it was as if she struggled to her feet against a pulling magnet at her feet and flounces.

"Are you selling me those letters, Olivia?"

"Of course not!" exclaimed Mrs. Sacret in cold anger. "I am weary of you and your affairs. I came to stay with you because you asked me, to support you against your odious husband and his detestable mother. I tried to get a divorce for you, but Mr. Rue is impossible, a malade imaginaire, a nervous wreck. I think if he knew you are—a wicked woman—he would go out of his mind and kill himself."

"It would be cruel to tell him!"

"I think it is cruel to deceive him—but I want to be rid of your muddles. I want to leave the Old Priory, really I loathe the place and your way of life, so dull, so stupid—"

"Why, I believed you liked it—and surely it is better than Minton Street!" cried Susan amazed.

"One changes. I want to go abroad—to Italy, to Paris, to Como. Yes, to a villa, a castle, on the shores of Lake Como—"

"I wish you could. I shall try to find the money—I have some emeralds at the bank that Captain Dasent gave me. Martin doesn't care to see them—then my lawyers—"

Mrs. Sacret broke in on this almost incoherent speech.

"Of course you can get the money. Say you want it urgently—for private reasons. Never mention my name, that might lead them to thinking I knew something. Old Mrs. Rue was very quick to guess that—but I lied to save you. Your husband, too—"

"I don't think that he would believe anything against me."

Vexed that Susan had chanced on this truth, Mrs. Sacret shook her swaying friend by the shoulder, and whispered energetically: "He would have to believe the letters, wouldn't he? Come, I have had a week's notice from your husband—I give you two days in which to find this money."

Susan recoiled and withdrew from the other's touch, making an effort over her exhaustion, her despair.

"Very well, I shall get it," she said. "Today is Tuesday, is it not? Well then—Thursday I shall get it, and you can leave on Friday—"

"I'll tell Mr. Rue," smiled Olivia. "Don't fail. A thousand pounds—and perhaps some jewelry. I shall go and pack."

She left the room quietly.


§ 22

Methodically and taking pleasure in her task, the missionary's widow prepared to leave the Old Priory. She had told the servants and Dr. Virtue that she had to visit an uncle in Jamaica, who was failing in years, and that she expected to take up missionary work again in that remote island. To Mr. Rue she merely announced that she was "going abroad as companion to the widow of a Church of England clergyman." She did not expect him to be interested, or even to credit this statement. She accepted demurely his relieved gratitude. He offered her a handsome money present that she accepted serenely. "As a proof of your trust in me," she remarked.

Two bank notes for fifty pounds each in a purse of knitted orange silk—such was the price that Martin Rue had gladly paid for her departure. She had other plunder. Her new trunks were full of handsome clothes, ornaments and fripperies, the result of Susan's fears. Mrs. Sacret was surprised herself at the extent of her own extravagance and Susan's weakness, as she emptied drawers and cupboards of furs, satins, laces, kid slippers, lawn underwear and doeskin gloves.

She had visited Minton Street since her bargain with Susan, and the painter had praised her direct attack on her victim and had agreed that if they could so easily get the thousand pounds in cash, they could go ahead with that, and leave Martin Rue and his wife alone for a while until the money ran out "when the letters would he useful."

So Olivia Sacret felt easy and even proud, as she lay on her bed on that Thursday afternoon; her trunks were already locked and most of them, directed to Minton Street, were in the hall. Mark Bellis had left her house, but had promised to call there every day to learn her news. Once the money was secured, they would in a few hours leave for Dover; neither had any affairs to arrange. The little house was already on the books of an estate agent in High Street.

Yes, she assured herself, she had managed very well, there was no need for her to recall the sketches in diluted paint Mark Bellis had traced on the wall at Lyndbridge House—they could be wiped from her memory as he had wiped them away with his soft rag.

It was only surprising that she had not brought off this "coup" and simply forced Susan to give her the money before. What had given her that sudden energy that had bent the other woman to her will? Perhaps the knowledge that now she held, among those "harmless" letters, one that was really damning; perhaps her sense of the painter's impatience, what he had depicted for her to see, showed he was resolved at any cost on a climax to their fortunes. Then, perhaps also, a shrinking from the means he had indicated, a secret, heavy, cold dread of the consequences. Certainly what he had suggested appeared absolutely safe—but better this way.

Of course—she assured herself, using, even in her thoughts, evasive feminine phrases, dictated by her native duplicity and her long training in hypocrisy—there was nothing in what Mark showed me—merely a suggestion that I use my sleeping draught, my sleeping medicine, that did poor Frederick such good, for Mr. Rue. But it will be much better if I can get away without interfering with Susan's stupid affairs at all. What a fool she is! She never questioned that letter—I suppose that she thinks she remembers writing it—no doubt she hopes that I shall return it when I get the money. Naturally I shall not give it up. I wonder if she will elope with Sir John? Even if she does her stupid husband won't divorce her. And in that case the letter won't have much value. A pity that Martin Rue was so obdurate—if I could have induced him to divorce her I should have earned her gratitude that way. But no, she will never run away. She is too timid and respectable. And she will always be afraid of her husband and his mother and Sir John—so I shall always be able to get money out of her. She will wish, I mean, always to see me comfortable. I shall be married to Mark and he will be famous—we shall have a smart house in Kensington or Bayswater.

Her reflections had faded into daydreams, then these had abruptly vanished. She could not foresee any future clearly enough even to dream about it. The painter had said nothing more about marriage, nor was she concerned with that matter; as soon as they left London they would be among strangers and she would term herself "Mrs. Mark Bellis"—she already had a wedding ring. That would satisfy her. She stirred on her bed, the day was hot, the dust of a long draft had filled the air with particles of grit. Mrs. Sacret longed for the cool galleries, the long enfilade of Lyndbridge House, the empty rose garden, the round room, the chestnut tree avenue—how tawdry and vulgar the Old Priory was! Even this bedchamber that she had had altered to suit her own taste was displeasing, because of the heavy dark pieces of furniture, the brilliant carpet, the large trellis pattern on the wallpaper—how glad she would be when she was away from all this painful pretense! The glasshouses, the livery, the melon pits, the vinery, the stables—none really first class, all a show, a sham, compared to Lyndbridge House and Mark's descriptions of Paris and-Como. How ridiculous, too, Martin Rue's efforts at horsemanship; he kept two saddle horses, yet whenever he took a canter on the common he complained of stiffness for days, and last week he had been thrown and came home limping. What a misery the man was, one way and another! It was really a pity that he had ever met silly Susan and allowed her—a widow intriguing with a married man—to save her name at his expense. How much happier he would have been if he had stayed with his horrid old mother who doted on him, and cosseted him into his imaginary illnesses!

Well, it would soon be over. Susan had been out nearly all day yesterday, at her bankers and lawyers, she had whispered at luncheon, when she had briefly appeared, wretched and sighing; she had, in a stammer, promised to hand over the money after dinner, when the two ladies were alone in the pretty garden room where they had first met after their long separation.

Everything would be very ladylike and genteel, and the missionary's widow could make a very dignified and decorous exit.

She had, however, left nothing to chance; though so successful in her own plan, she had done everything possible to further that of Mark Bellis, even while not supposing that this would ever be used.

In the short time she had she had spread abroad hints of Mr. Rue's mental condition, fears of his nervous stability and doubts as to his desire to live. She was not sure how far she believed these herself, she put a glaze on the matter and found it easy to credit her own tales.

Now, as she moved restlessly on the silken eider-down and feather bed, she recalled the important actor in Susan's drama who had not yet entered the scene, though so much had been heard of him, and she wondered if she could not, before she left England, make some use of Sir John Curie.

She had felt a hankering to use her power over him before, and now she was more sure of herself. Because of the damaging letter the painter had added to her packet, because of Susan's confession, and because she was soon to leave the country, it would not matter what anyone thought of her. Besides, here was another quarter in which she could sow her doubts as to Martin Rue's mental stability, another person she could involve in her schemes, with profit to herself. Sir John Curle, this rich, idle man, owed her something, no doubt he would pay well to have his secret kept. Mark Bellis had "found out" a good deal about him; he was religious, on the board of several charities, played the benevolent, pious squire on his prosperous estate. It would be as well to let him know that she, Olivia Sacret, would have to be reckoned with, if not now, at least in the future.

Recalling the painter's advice and her teasing glimpse of the Lyndbridge splendor, she felt aggressive toward this rich, fortunate man who was, she persuaded herself, no better born than her own father and who enjoyed so much that was hers by right. Contrasting his lot with her own, she felt a stinging jealousy of him and of Susan, who had behaved so disgracefully—Susan with her two husbands and her illicit lover, all wealthy men who had pampered her in her self-indulgence. How useless Susan was! And how grasping! She had the effrontery to hope to be rid of Martin Rue in order that she might gain a title, a county position, and live luxuriously at ease on the proceeds of three fortunes! What was a thousand pounds to her, whether she gained her divorce or not? Mrs. Sacret pulled the bell rope and when Curtis came ordered the landau—Susan had the brougham, a one-horse vehicle she no doubt considered inconspicuous for her furtive errand to raise the money—and in gold, as her friend had insisted. The widow was obeyed quickly; the servants were very civil, she saw the relief in their faces, they hardly disguised how glad they were that this was her last day in the Old Priory. She met Martin Rue in the hall, he was limping and complaining of "the nasty brute" that had again thrown him. "It is no use for Dr. Virtue to order horseback riding for my liver unless I can find a quiet mount," he complained, adding "You are going to town?"

"Yes—shopping in Bond Street," she smiled. "You know this is my last day of luxury—I shan't fatigue your horses."

"I'm agreeable—as it is the last day," he replied rudely. The carriage was open for the early afternoon was hot and the sunshine clear from a pure blue sky. Mrs. Sacret, who had concealed at the bottom of one of her trunks the brilliant costume she had worn to Lyndbridge, was dressed becomingly in heavy gray silk and carried a fringed parasol. Her expedition was an adventure. She was acting without orders, her master might not approve—but after her success in extorting the money from Susan without recourse to dubious tactics, she felt confident of her own powers. It would be a lucky chance if she found Sir John at home, and willing to see her, but the hazard was worth the throw. She dismissed the landau at the end of Bond Street, bidding the man exercise his horses in the park for an hour and a half, then meet her at the same place. She felt a thrill of pride when she recalled that this same fat, sulky fellow was like one of the overfed servants she had seen idling on their boxes that Sunday she had first called on Susan—then they had represented a remote luxury, now she gave her orders to one of them.

She knew, from Susan, Sir John's address—York Chambers, a private arcade, aristocratic and quiet, where the houses, enclosed by gates at either end, were let as expensive gentlemen's chambers. Her luck served. The elderly manservant who opened the door looked, as had the butler who had admitted her, slightly alarmed and suspicious. Ladies did not, at least unaccompanied, call at these bachelor establishments.

But the widow's impeccable air, her genteel appearance, her soft speech and the nature of her errand—matters concerning a certain famous charity with which Sir John Curle's name was honorably associated—secured her admission to a waiting room, and then to the presence of the man about whom she knew so much, who was so important to her, but who was, as far as she knew, unaware of her existence. She considered him with lively curiosity. She judged him nearer forty than thirty years of age and no more than pleasant in appearance. Had he not possessed the self-assurance and appointments of a gentleman he would have been insignificant. How surprising to know that this was Susan's secret lover, the man who was causing her such passionate distress!

Mrs. Sacret played with him awhile by telling him fart of the truth—that she was a missionary's widow, and acquainted with the work of various religious societies, with several of whom she had tried to find a post.

He listened courteously, impressed in her favor by her quiet, almost sad manner and her pretty voice, and she noted the conventional but costly furnishing of the room, his expensive clothes, his heavy gold watch chain, seals and ring, the lustrous pearl in his cravat. Then she struck delicately.

"I am staying with Mrs. Martin Rue—as a companion."

He winced, flushed and stammered, made a poor recovery and congratulated her on her friendship with the banker's charming wife, watching her the while with his kind gray eyes suddenly anxious.

"She has confided in me," said Mrs. Sacret. "I thought I should make your acquaintance and tell you that—"

"Indeed—and why?" asked Sir John, now with a show of spirit. "It should make you easy to know that Mrs. Rue—Susan—has a true confidante constantly at her side."

"How can that concern me, madam? Beyond the pleasure I have in hearing that an old friend—though one I have not seen since her second marriage—has so desirable a companion as yourself?"

"She has told me her story," smiled the widow. "I tried to help her—to persuade Mr. Rue into a divorce."

"I know nothing of this."

"Oh, pray, Sir John! I am astonished that Susan has not told you of me and my services to her—"

"I know nothing of Mrs. Rue's affairs."

"You have written to her since Lady Curie's death—she has told me so. And I have letters she wrote to me before her marriage, letters that prove the nature of your friendship."

The widow enjoyed seeing the ill-concealed confusion and alarm on the agreeable features of this man who, save for her connection with Susan she would never have met, was now in her power.

"Did Susan not mention me? Mrs. Sacret, of Minton Street?" she pressed, leaning forward delicately.

"Perhaps—I don't know. Indeed you have me at a loss."

"Pray reassure yourself, Sir John. Though far, very far from condoning Susan's behavior—so against my principles and my training—I shall never betray her. I have done my utmost to forward her happiness by urging Mr. Rue to set her free. They are very miserable."

"And he—what does he say?"

"He is obstinate—heartless. He is aware that Susan's affections, her hopes, lie elsewhere, but he will not let her go. A sickly, peevish man, nervous and unstable."

"Why do you come to me, Mrs. Sacret?" Sir John rose and paced the Turkey carpet. "Mrs. Rue is very indiscreet, reckless, poor girl—but I assure you there was nothing between us."

"Oh, you speak as a gentleman must! But I have her letters—a letter—that is explicit. Besides she confessed."

The harassed man paused, confounded, before his demure tormentor.

"She—Susan—did that?"

"Yes, but you must not be afraid. I hope that you and Susan will be happy yet, and then I'm sure you'll remember the good friend I have been—"

"How—happy?—if her husband is obdurate?"

"He might change his mind. He might die—his health is wretched and he insists on dosing himself with his own concoctions."

"Did you return these foolish letters to Susan?"

"I still have them," she smiled. "They are safe with me."

"Why do you not destroy them?" he demanded harshly.

"They are precious souvenirs of Susan's friendship."

"What do you want, Mrs. Sacret?"

"Only to tell you that you can count on me," she replied, rising. "Mr. Rue has ordered me to leave the Old Priory and I am going abroad—for Susan's sake—not to cause yet more dissension between her and her husband."

"Taking the letters with you

"Yes," she looked at him steadily and watched the dark flush mount under his skin.

"You are in need, perhaps, of money, Mrs. Sacret?"

"I may be."

"Write to me—I mean if I can help."

She could see that his predominant emotion was still bewilderment. He was as amazed as if a poisonous snake had crept into his sedate room from the trim geraniums in his tiled window box. Though he was making a gallant attempt to keep his head, he was far from being able to do so, and flushed and stammered, repeating "write to me—if you are in need—money."

How easily he has given himself away, she thought contemptuously. I might have been merely tricking him, acting on gossip—everything I said might have been false—he betrayed himself at once, as she did, guilt has no courage.

She stood thoughtfully, slowly buttoning and unbuttoning her pale gray glove. Better not take any money now, though it was a temptation to do so. Better establish herself as a disinterested friend with a hint of menace, perhaps when the thousand pounds she would receive from Susan was spent—and she knew nothing of how far such a sum would go, lavished in a foreign country on luxuries—it would be useful to be able to apply to Sir John Curle, as well as to Susan herself, for further funds.

And she was almost sure, now that she had seen the object of Susan's errant passion, that there would be no elopement. The man matched Susan in social timidity, in conventionality. Mrs. Sacret could hardly see him facing a divorce suit, let alone a scandal that would close society—even England—to him, cut him off from legitimate children, from all his respectable interests.

How curious, she reflected, was the emotion that had cast these two ordinary, simple people together—strong enough to induce them to break the laws they really revered and to risk the forfeit of so much that they prized, but not strong enough to enable them to defy the world and find their happiness solely with one another.

As Mrs. Sacret had sometimes considered how little she knew of the intricate and gigantic city in which she lived, so now she considered how little she knew of the men and women she encountered daily in that city and who were, on the surface, so orthodox. Who could have guessed that the silly, idle, selfish Susan was capable of a tenacious passion? Or who would have suspected that Sir John Curle could' be a fervent lover? Or that either of them could manage a secret intrigue, with all the lies, deceptions and subterfuges that must have been necessary! It was true that they had been "talked about," but nothing definite had been discovered, and each had preserved social position and reputation.

Mrs. Sacret wondered how it had been done, where they had met, who had been bribed, who knew...

She smiled brilliantly but did not risk holding out her hand. "Trust in my friendship for Susan," she repeated emphatically.

Sir John hurriedly approached her and seized the hand she had feared he might refuse to touch.

"You have mine, if I may offer it," he replied eagerly. "Poor, poor girl, poor dear soul. She is so good—as you, knowing her, must he aware—I am wholly at her service—pray assure her of that. Stand by her, Mrs. Sacret—and I—we—I mean our gratitude will be unbounded."

"Alas, I am turned out of the house, but I shall do what I can."

He dropped her hand, but still appeared, she thought, to trust her yet there was a touch of doubt, perhaps of horror, in his glance as he gazed at her uncertainly.

"I shall write to you," she assured him, moving gracefully toward the door. "And do not be distressed about Susan, she keeps up her spirit wonderfully."

Without waiting for a reply, she let herself out and thoughtfully descended the dark stairs and traversed the empty arcade. Her last remark, she thought, had been wise, for it would upset her plans if after all Sir John, driven frantic by fears for Susan, were to go to the Old Priory and create a scandal—then the letters would be worthless.

As she drove—for the last time she supposed—to the Old Priory, her parasol tilted against the sun, she reflected ironically on Sir John's love for Susan; for she believed that the commonplace man did love the commonplace woman—how tenderly he had spoken of Susan, who was so useless, spoiled and stupid! Love—it was strange indeed. Was love her feeling for the painter, the explanation of the complete mastery he had over her? She did not know. It was pleasant to drive in the cushioned carriage, she hoped she would be able to have this luxury when abroad—she would like to learn to ride. Would this be possible in Paris—in Italy? She thought of France, of Madame Dupont, from the lesson books at Miss Mitchell's, of the words she had used about Martin Rue—malade imaginaire from the same book, a scene from a French play, yes, it was odd how the words had come into her mind, because of the association with Madame Dupont, she supposed. Just as now, thinking of horses, she recalled the painter's sketch of stables, the open drawer and the bottle, but she refused to recall the word he had drawn on the label, as she refused to recall the word that had impressed her—how long ago that seemed!—when she had been searching the SITUATIONS VACANT column in the morning newspaper.

Instead she would think of love. Did Mark Bellis love her as Sir John Curle loved Susan? He had not suggested any amorous intrigue and they had had opportunities such as rarely came the way of eager lovers—eager—no, he was not that, he had not even kissed her. He had staidly proposed marriage and called her, once, "sweetheart." He had, however, made golden promises for a golden future, and that was sufficient. The fascination he had for her was not, she believed, of the same quality as that which Sir John Curie had for Susan. Hers must be a far colder temperament for she had no desire for embraces, for any manifestation of passion—indeed, she would have been shy and awkward had he shown any—perhaps he understood that. But one day, when they had ease, when they had escaped from all that reminded her of her former life, then she would allow him, would expect him to teach her to love him.


§ 23

As Mrs. Sacret entered the hall at the Old Priory, the dinner bell rang and Susan came hurriedly out of the dining room. "Don't change—as you are leaving tomorrow—that dress is very pretty—where have you been?" she exclaimed all in a breath; she looked worn and untidy in an expensive taffeta gown carelessly put on, her abundant blond curls falling carelessly from the crooked combs.

"Making use of the landau for the last time," smiled Mrs. Sacret. "Making a few purchases." She held up some elegant packages as Martin Rue came along the passage, and her eyes asked a question that Susan answered in a nervous whisper—"I haven't got the money—but—"

The young man drew his wife away toward the dining room. For all his friendly smile, the action was an insult that the widow felt furiously. And Susan had not got the money, delays, excuses—she might have known. She took off her tilted hat and seated herself carefully in her place. She felt humiliated, cheated, that it would be unendurable to postpone her departure from England even for a day—intolerable to go to Minton Street tomorrow and confess that she had failed. Perhaps Susan was getting the money tomorrow, she had said—"but—" as her husband had drawn her away. That means I must stay here longer, if I leave the house without the money, I shall never get it. She asked for sherry and, regardless of Martin Rue's frown, filled her own glass and Susan's several times.

"You should take some, Mr. Rue, it would help your stiffness."

"Oh, I am better. I was out in the paddock this afternoon. I had a warm bath with mustard just now, and I had Curtis save the water and shall take another in the morning."

There was Marsala and Burgundy on the table. Mrs. Sacret had asked for the wine in order to vex her host and he had not refused her. "Your last dinner, Mrs. Sacret," he remarked pointedly, but he protested several times at Susan's drinking of sherry. She responded tearfully, and declared, as the savory was placed on the table, that she had a headache and would go to bed early.

That is to avoid an explanation with me, thought Mrs. Sacret bitterly. She intends to keep her room until I am gone tomorrow. She turned to Martin Rue and asked, "Would it inconvenience you if I were to stay a few days longer?"

His face became livid, the loathing he had been repressing for so long embittered his voice as he replied: "You must leave tomorrow, early—as arranged. I insist."

How ugly and hateful he is! she thought furiously, that sand-colored hair—those yellow-green eyes! And a complexion like bad fat—perhaps they have plotted this between them—to cheat me out of my money—to turn me out.

"I insist," he repeated, leaning across the table.

"Of course," said Susan fearfully. "Olivia is going—all her luggage is in the hall."

Mrs. Sacret was silent. She could not command her rage. She believed that they had made some kind of temporary pact in order to be rid of her. Martin Rue had boasted of his influence over his wife, he had shown that he would not believe any evil of her, perhaps she had even confessed that her friend was wringing money from her, and about the letter, and he had offered to protect her.

In that case, I have lost—I shall not get the money. It is true I could sell that letter to old Mrs. Rue—or to Sir John—but that would mean delays—I can't wait—Mark would not wait.

Susan rose, with looks of fright. "I shan't go to the garden room," she murmured. "I really must rest."

Her husband got to his feet, he was flushed from three glasses of Burgundy, and opened the door. Again Mrs. Sacret was suspicious of an understanding between them. She also left the room, and in her own bedchamber, now stripped of all her personal possessions, paused, uncertain what to do, then went to the window and threw it up on the autumn dusk. On the sill was the withered stick that had once been the vivid salvia that Martin Rue had given her. She recalled that his glasshouses had seemed much neglected lately and few flowers from them were seen in the house. She closed the window and her hand closed over the black velvet reticule that hung from her waist by a silver chain; the letters were in the bottom of one of her trunks, but she had a little packet safely in the purse. She heard voices outside on the stairway and crept to her door, setting it ajar. Susan was asking the housemaid to bring her up a bottle of Marsala to her bedroom, repeating her orders in a confused fashion. Mrs. Sacret glanced up at her as she stood on the staircase, a brass can of hot water in her hand. Her husband came out into the passage below, then up the stairs.

"You have sent down for more wine," he whispered reproachfully. "You had too much at dinner."

"I want it to make me sleep," Susan muttered.

"I wish sleep were so easily obtained," he replied bitterly. "I have not been able to sleep for weeks."

Mrs. Sacret came out onto the landing.

"Let me give you some of poor Frederick's medicine," she suggested. "I meant to leave the recipe, as you say it does you so much good. Then I'll say good night and good-by—as I shall be leaving early in the morning." She saw, even in the uncertain light of the stairway lamp, his face clear with relief at that, and he accepted the medicine, more, she thought, from good will at her concession than a desire for it, though it had always given him easy slumbers.

She quickly returned with a tumbler and offered it modestly to Susan, who was still waiting sullenly for her wine.

"Do you give it to your husband, Susan, when he is ready for bed." Susan took the tumbler indifferently.

"Perhaps I should take some," she suggested.

"Oh, no, that would be too strong for you. I only take a few drops—a man can have more—I mixed that for Mr. Rue."

She watched them go upstairs. On the landing above, Mr. Rue, saying he would "be glad to get some sleep," accepted the glass from his wife and went into his dressing room. Mrs. Sacret thought that he would have lingered and spoken with Susan had he been alone with her.

I could go up now and ask her about the money, but she is resolved to evade me—here is the maid with the wine—and now she goes in and shuts her door.

Mrs. Sacret retreated into her own room and, without lighting her lamp, returned to the window and leaned out, her elbows on the dusty sill, beside the dead plant.


§ 24

She wondered what would happen, perhaps nothing. How intolerable this waiting was! She wished that she were free of it all, away across the sea, or in that enchanted landscape that the painter had evoked for her, that he had painted on the walls of the round room in Lyndbridge House ... always this waiting. Would it look better to undress? Probably, though the hour was still early; she began, standing in the dark, to unbutton her light gray bodice.

Then she thought that she should light the lamp lest it would look odd, and had hardly set the small flame in the rosy crystal globe when there was an urgent knock at her door. Mrs. Sacret stood silent and Curtis entered, evidently frightened from her grim face.

"Oh, ma'am, the master is taken very ill!"

"One of his usual attacks, I suppose," murmured the widow.

"I don't rightly know, ma'am—he is fearfully bad—ringing of his bell and when I went up, he was collapsed on the floor, calling for hot water. Did you not hear?"

"No. I was at the window. Have you fetched your mistress?"

"She's asleep—already—" replied the maid reproachfully, "it's that last glass of wine—as the master always said, she shouldn't take so much. I can't arouse her, and he keeps on calling for her."

"Mind what you say, pray do," rebuked Mrs. Sacret sharply, refastening her bodice. "I know a good deal about nursing—I was able to help your master before, I shall come at once."

"Perhaps some of that medicine you gave him before?" suggested Curtis.

"I have none left. I took the last myself, sometime ago—besides I saw Mrs. Rue give him a draught in a tumbler, on the stairs just now, one must not mix the doses. Why don't you go upstairs and attend to your master?"

"I dare not—he is so ill."

"Fie—it is probably only one of his nervous attacks—but you had better send one of the grooms for Dr. Virtue."

"The men will be abed."

"You must arouse them, if it is a matter of emergency." Mrs. Sacret went firmly past the agitated maid and to the dressing room beside the main bedroom that opened also directly onto the stairs.


§ 25

When Dr. Virtue arrived, two hours later, he found his patient unconscious on the bed that occupied one wall of the dressing room, while Mrs. Sacret was rubbing his chest with mustard and water. Susan, fully dressed, disheveled and dazed, was sitting uselessly on a chair by the curtained window. The housemaids were coming to and fro with cans and basins; the room smelled pungently of eau de cologne and lavender water.

"Oh, doctor!" moaned Susan. "What is the matter? He looks like death! When I came in he was insensible on the floor."

"Hush," put in Mrs. Sacret. "Of course it is most distressing, but it is only one of his usual nervous seizures." Briskly she told the doctor now examining Martin Rue of the sudden collapse and her own attempts to assist the sick man. Strong smelling salts and an emetic had relieved him, he had recovered his senses sufficiently to struggle onto the bed, then fainted again. "It is, of course, nerves," she repeated firmly.

"No," announced the physician, looking up from the prone, partly undressed man, whose drink he still held. "Mr. Rue seems to be poisoned."

"One of his nasty medicines," replied Mrs. Sacret calmly. "He will dose himself."

"I mean a deadly poison—what are there in the house?"

"None!" cried Susan, rising impulsively and coming to the bed unsteadily. "This is terrible—what do you mean?"

"There are poisons in the house," corrected Mrs. Sacret coolly. "Mr. Rue possesses laudanum, chloroform—and camphor—that is a poison, is it not? Besides the gardeners would have arsenic."

"This is not, I think, either laudanum or chloroform," said Dr. Virtue, gravely, "but some corrosive poison—his pulse is very feeble."

"He has been vomiting violently," said Mrs. Sacret. "Even when half unconscious—he seemed in great pain, also—but I never thought of anything but his nerves."

"I should like another opinion, can you send Rogers for Dr. Lemoine? I can give an injection of brandy—"

Susan began to weep, frantically asking "if there was any hope?"

"How strange to be so desperate!" exclaimed the widow in reproof of this despair, but the physician said that "it would be well to prepare for the worst."

At this Mrs. Sacret expressed herself as incredulous and enlarged on the suddenness of the attack and its similarity to others Mr. Rue had suffered. Dr. Virtue, having given his injection, searched the room, and in a small cabinet found the patient's Indian wicker basket of medicines, among which were the drugs Mrs. Sacret had mentioned. The bottles were almost full.

"He had hardly time to mix himself anything," moaned Susan. "I was aroused before I had undressed—it was only a few moments since I had parted from him."

"You are wrong," corrected Mrs. Sacret sharply. "You were very heavily asleep—it must have been half an hour before you came in. I was here much sooner, but there could have been time for him to have dosed himself."

"You had better go to your room, Mrs. Rue," advised the physician. "Mrs. Sacret is an admirable nurse, and you have not the strength for what you might have to witness if you stayed," and he looked at her with the inevitable exasperation of a medical man for a woman who loses her self-control in a crisis.

But Susan would not go. Shaking her head and weeping, she returned to the chair by the window.


§ 26

"Mrs. Sacret did what had to be done for the sick man while Dr. Virtue waited downstairs for Dr. Lemoine. She carried out his directions scrupulously. The room was clean, perfumed, the linen fresh, the fomentations constantly renewed, the maids dutifully at the orders of one so capable. But uneasy reflections were spinning in Mrs. Sacret's mind as she went about her duties. She had been extremely startled when the physician had spoken so immediately and so confidently of poison. She had expected this illness to pass as the others had passed—as a nervous seizure. The medical opinion altered her plans considerably. There was much she could not dwell on—there was much she must carefully resolve. It was still dark when Dr. Lemoine arrived. Mrs. Sacret heard his carriage wheels and, going to the window and pulling the curtains apart, saw his carriage lights.


Illustration

"On the Set of "So Evil My Love" — Ann Todd and the Make-up Artist


"Do collect yourself," she whispered tartly to Susan, "this is a serious situation."

Susan gave her a wild glance.

"But you won't make it an excuse to stay, will you? I can manage, I shall get a nurse."

"Of course I shall stay, as you can't get the money."

"It is coming—a messenger is bringing it—and the jewels, about midday."

"You fool! Why didn't you tell me!"

"I was going to, but Martin pulled me away."

Mrs. Sacret controlled herself with a strong effort.

"Do watch out and be careful, Susan," she whispered, "and mind you give me that money, secretly, the moment it comes and then I shall leave the house."

With this she hastened downstairs and arrived in the hall as Curtis was admitting Dr. Lemoine. Snatching at his sleeve she said, with the accent and look of terror: "Oh, I am sure he has taken poison! Chloroform!"

Dr. Virtue came out of the dining room and overheard. "That is a grave statement, Mrs. Sacret—it amounts to a charge of attempted suicide—you did not say anything of this to me."

"I did not like to mention it, I supposed he would recover—now he seems worse, and I must speak. When I first ran in to him he moaned—lying on the floor in agony—'I have taken poison for Curle.'"

"Pray be prudent!" exclaimed Dr. Virtue, startled.

"Oh, you have no idea what this household is like—how jealous he was and what cause she gave!" sobbed the widow.

The two physicians went upstairs, sent the distracted wife out of the room and made their examination together. The two friends waited in Susan's bedroom, where a pink shaded lamp was burning and, at Mrs. Sacret's orders, a small fire had been lit.

"I wonder you take on so, Susan. Remember—if this illness should be fatal, it would be a happy solution to your problem."

"I don't understand—it is absolutely horrible—I never saw anyone so ill before—he is so yellow and shrunken."

"Bah! All sickness is disgusting. I had enough with Frederick and hope to see no more of it. But you need not stay in the room. You are quite useless, and I am doing everything. I feel exhausted and nauseated—I dealt with that horrible vomiting."

"Don't—I feel sick myself."

"Ask for some wine, Curtis won't refuse you now. I have no more in my room—you drank the last yesterday. Do keep your spirits up a little. You will have to take in that money and sign a receipt for it, if you wish to get rid of me."

Susan took this advice, which was also that of the physicians when they returned from the dressing room; the wretched wife was unfit to remain on her feet, and though she refused to undress, lay on her bed, covered by an eider down, after swallowing a glass of Marsala.

Mrs. Sacret returned to the sickroom and assumed charge of the household. She listened gravely to the medical opinion—"dying of a powerful irritant poison"—and suggested that a specialist should be sent for, and mentioned a distant cousin of Martin Rue's she had heard of, the well-known Sir Charles Collier, of Harley Street, and senior physician of King's College Hospital. Drs. Virtue and Lemoine readily agreed, they were obviously at a loss and glad to share their authority. They also suggested that old Mrs. Rue should be sent for, and the widow was obliged to agree without being able to reflect whether this would suit her plans or not.

So, about five o'clock in the morning the brougham was sent to fetch Sir Charles, and the landau to fetch the patient's mother.

Shortly afterwards Martin Rue recovered consciousness and Dr. Virtue at once began to question him. "What have you been dosing yourself with? Are you clear in your mind? Do you know me and understand what I am saying?"

"Quite well." The hoarse voice coming with difficulty from the swollen lips made the attentive widow start a little. It was almost as if she had heard the dead speak, the sick man seemed to have been silent so long—yes, the sleepless night had been very long. She trembled where she stood, feeling greatly fatigued.

"Then, my dear fellow, what have you been taking?"

"I rubbed my face with a little laudanum for neuralgia and I may have swallowed some," came the difficult whisper.

"Laudanum won't explain your symptoms," said Dr. Virtue, to which the sick man replied wearily, "I have taken nothing else—no, if it wasn't that, I don't know what it was."

"You spoke of having taken poison to Mrs. Sacret," put in Dr. Lemoine. "What was it and why did you take it?"

"I don't remember saying that—I was suddenly ill, and called out for Susan."

Mrs. Sacret drew Dr. Virtue aside and whispered.

"It is true—I should have told you—he said, 'I have swallowed poison but don't tell Susan.'"

"Did you not demand what poison?"

"No—I was too alarmed—I rushed for an emetic that I gave. He was soon unconscious."

Returning to the bedside, Dr. Virtue repeated his question.

"Did you not take poison?"

"No—nothing but the laudanum."

"Is there any poison in the house?"

"The laudanum and chloroform in my medicine basket, and rat poison in the stable."

The doctors drew apart, bewildered and uneasy. Mrs. Sacret came forward and took up her station, relieving as she could the paroxysms of the sick man, that again began to shake him with agony.


§ 27

When Sir Charles Collier arrived at the Old Priory, the daylight was flowing into the sickroom, and the patient was partially unconscious. All Mrs. Sacret's experience and care had not availed to rid the room of disorder, disagreeable odors and the unpleasant litter attendant on a serious illness; 'she, also, looked pale and slightly disheveled. Both the attendant physicians spoke warmly of her skillful and energetic nursing.

Martin Rue glared from his pillows with sunken, red and angry eyes. Questioned yet again by Sir Charles Collier as to what he had taken he replied with weak anger—"If I knew I should not have sent for you—what the devil do I want three doctors for if I know what is wrong with me?"

"Disease won't account for your state," said Sir Charles gravely. "You are poisoned and must know, tell us how you came by it."

"I have said all I know."

"Have you nothing on your mind? You are in grave danger."

"I should like my wife to come. I have left her everything—she is my sole executrix. I have not led a religious life."

"Fetch Mrs. Rue," said Sir Charles.

Dr. Virtue left the room. The sick man turned about in a spasm of pain.

"Has the vomiting ceased?" asked Sir Charles, turning to the self-appointed nurse.

"About an hour ago—he seems too weak now."

"Nothing was kept?"

"Oh, no of course not. I had to see that the room was fresh."

The sick man seemed to overhear this and muttered: "What a fuss. I hope I'm buried quietly. Such a fuss. Where is Susan?"

"Dr. Virtue has gone to fetch her, she has been resting. Now think again, Martin, you have taken much more than laudanum. If you can tell us what it is it may help us to find an antidote," urged Sir Charles, bending over the piled pillows where Martin Rue lay slackly.

"Before God, I took only laudanum."

"If you die without telling us," said Dr. Lemoine, "someone may be suspected of having poisoned you."

"I know, but I can tell you nothing more."

Dr. Virtue returned, supporting Susan, who appeared little refreshed by her few hours' rest. Curtis had helped her to change her dress, and she wore a loose dressing gown with pale yellow lace flounces. At sight of her, the sick man tried to struggle up in bed and gasped, "What a bother I am to you, Susie, do forgive me."

This was the first time that the widow had heard the use of this pet name. It angered her to see how blind was Martin Rue's faith in his wife—how strange that he did not suspect her! How stupid of him to feel this loving confidence, and to have reaffirmed his will that left her everything! She would be a rich woman indeed, and with no one to oversee her expenditure. That thousand pounds would be but a small advance.

Mrs. Sacret took the chair by the window place where Susan had sat the day before and watched the scene taking place around the bed that she had so frequently attended to during the past tedious hours, rearranging, changing soiled linen, smoothing pillows and coverlet.

The physicians were men of elegant and distinguished appearance. Despite the hasty summons after they had retired to bed, they were formally dressed, and each had an air of serene, detached authority that contrasted sharply with the dreadful aspect of the dying man, and the haggard misery of his wife. Sir Charles, in particular, had a handsome appearance. With the confident aspect of early success and a gravely responsible post, he looked with a piercing earnestness from his patient to the weeping woman who drooped over him, wailing incoherently, and frowned in the absolute concentration of his attention. Slightly behind him were the other two doctors, silent and watchful.

Mrs. Sacret triumphantly compared them all with the painter, to their disadvantage.

Martin Rue, in contrast to the dark and heavy attire of the physicians, wore only a nightshirt that he had torn open on his chest that was covered, like his chin, with light-colored hairs.

"Oh, Martin, Martin! Who would have thought it would have come to this," moaned Susan, and the sick man seemed to glow with pleasure at her distress on his behalf, even in the throes of his own deadly pain.

"There, there, Susie—I shall be all right."

"Martin—" interrupted Sir Charles gravely. "You must consider your situation and all you say and do. I can give you no hope."

"I know that—I know I am going to appear before my Maker—I have spoken the truth—I have told them all that I have taken nothing hut laudanum."

"I must accept that," replied the physician, and turning to his colleagues he bade them bear witness to what the dying man had said, adding that he believed him to be fully conscious and in complete possession of his senses.

"Is there really no hope for me?" whispered Martin Rue, fumbling for his wife's limp hand on his pillow. "Now—if Susie really cares a little, I'd like to have another chance—"

"There is hardly any life in you, I fear," answered Sir Charles. "Do, pray, consider that."

"Can I have something to relieve this infernal pain?"

Mrs. Sacret came forward.

"I am sure the mustard poultices help him," she urged.

"No, no," replied Sir Charles. "He has been tormented enough already."

"Then some doses of arsenicum—he has it in his medicine chest."

"I ordered that before," explained Dr. Virtue. "It relieved the sickness, but now that is over—"

As if soothed by his wife's close presence, the patient fell into a slumber or stupor, and Susan withdrew silently and quickly.

Sir Charles advised both the ladies to take some refreshment and repose. There was nothing more that anyone could do for Martin Rue.


§ 28

Olivia Sacret waked from a light sleep to find that it was past midday by the blue enamel traveling clock on her bedside table. She rose, adjusted her hair and dress and went lightly through the hushed house to Susan's room.

"How punctual you are!"

The widow looked keenly at her friend who was pacing about restlessly, still wearing her dressing gown.

"Yes, I have just wakened. Have you the money? Was the messenger punctual, also? How is your husband?"

"Yes, the bank messenger came, at the stroke. No one noticed him—there are so many people in the house now, five doctors, old Mrs. Rue and her maid—and no one thinks of anything else save Martin. I was able to watch out and go to the door myself. I signed the receipt—here is the gold."

Susan spoke rapidly, almost incoherently, in a slurred tone; the widow noticed glasses marked by milk and wine on the dressing table. She began to feel a pang of hunger herself.

"Five doctors!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, I sent for two others before Sir Charles came—and old Mrs. Rue brought her own. Martin is the same, asleep or in a swoon. Here is the money, packets of sovereigns, as you asked—two chamois leather bags and a case—here are the emeralds, too. Now will you give me the letters—and go?"

"How bulky and heavy—I never thought it would be so—never mind, I wanted it in gold. Yes, I am going, and you shall have the letters. I shall fetch them."

"Do be quick and secret," implored Susan. "Mrs. Rue is desperate. I don't know what she thinks or what I think. Oh, where can Martin have got this horrible stuff! His mother is watching me, but would not leave him so I was able to slip away to the door!"

"He took it himself," whispered Mrs. Sacret. "He told me so—and do control yourself—it is well known what terms you were on and this emotion will seem overacted."


§ 29

The widow did not return to her friend's bedroom, but left the house with her luggage, including the letters, safely at the bottom of a trunk and the gold and jewels in a bulky hand valise; she had not had time to do more than take a glance at the emeralds in the green leather case but she had seen that a splendid treasure was set in the white velvet lining. Rogers fetched a cab for her, as both the carriages had been out that night, and helped carry her considerable baggage, but Curtis ran up to her in the hall and expressed dismay at her departure. "Surely, ma'am, you won't leave the poor mistress, now!"

"I thought you would be glad to see me go," smiled Mrs. Sacret. "You've never been very civil, Curtis. You would never do my hair. Never mind, I learned to do it myself. I really don't know if I can return or not. I have my own affairs to attend to—no doubt Mr. Rue, who has his wife and mother with him, will soon recover."


§ 30

The painter was waiting for Mrs. Sacret at Minton Street, and assisted the cabman, under the quizzical gaze of the neighbors, on doorsteps and at windows, to take her trunks into the house.

As soon as the parlor door was shut on them, the widow gave the valise to Mark Bellis and told her story. When she had finished she felt exhausted and was trembling. She could not judge from his expression if he was pleased with her conduct.

"You lack sleep and food," he remarked kindly. "You must keep your nerve."

"When do we leave London?" she interrupted. "I am well enough—let us get away."

"You must return to the Old Priori!"

"No. I really cannot—you have no idea what it is like there—this horrible illness."

"It is not your fault or mine," replied the painter. "If this melancholy fellow chooses to poison himself—as you say he has done. But you must be with your friend."

"You have the money—and the jewels," she protested. "What more do you want?"

"Pray control yourself." The warning she had given Susan sounded bitter, she rose and sat down again from weakness.

"The illness was needless, as it seems," he smiled, "a pity, perhaps, that you did not understand that the money was coming this morning. Since you were so successful with this expedient it would have been better had you carried it through, then we could have gone ahead together as we had planned."

"But—the other—was your—plan—"

"What other?" He gave her a cold look that silenced her at once and added, "You must return to the Old Priory and stand by your friend. If Mr. Rue dies, I suppose there will be an inquest—these doctors are sharper than one might have supposed. And five of them! Who would have imagined such anxiety on the part of a truant wife! However, it may be for the best. She will be free, and Lady Curle, I suppose—if the affair is carried off decorously—and you will be her good friend to whom she will be very generous. Yes, both she and Sir John will be extremely obliged to you—they will never forget those letters."

"But I do not want to go back. I don't feel as if I could endure it. I don't want to see any of them again, do let us go away, as you promised."

"Of course," he agreed readily. "Tomorrow, perhaps, or the day after. I can easily get the tickets altered. You are fatigued now, and must rest here on the sofa, but you must return to the Old Priory—if only to make inquiries about Mr. Rue—it would look so odd if you didn't."

"Would it matter if it did look odd? We shall be gone—never to have anything to do with them again."

"We might be traced," he replied. "There is an extradition treaty now with every country save Spain—France—Italy. Not easy to hide there—especially for your sort of woman."

"What sort of woman am I?" she exclaimed.

"Inexperienced—very delightful, someday soon I'll tell you." He smiled, took her hand and caressed it delicately, while she, seated in the beehive chair, looked up at him beseechingly. His expression was thoughtful. She noted the slight elegant hollows of his cheeks and jaws, the winglike sweep of his eyebrows that almost met above his clear-cut nose, his gray eyes, clear and vivid, that shifted and stared aside, as if intent on some ever-moving object invisible to her vision.

"Tell me who you are and what you propose to do with me."

"What nonsense—you know—I have told you."

"I don't believe anything you said." She thought of the romantic tale she had invented for him, the noble family, the haughty revolt against convention, the heroic life of bold adventure. None of this fitted with his actions since she had met him, but his appearance was very apt to the part she had assigned him in her fantasy. She sighed because her own self-deception was beginning to be insufficient to sustain her; she gazed round the room, very untidy, even dirty, with a litter of painter's rubbish, cigars, wine bottles and oyster shells on the table and her portrait turned face to the wall.

"Do you have people here?" she asked with the sudden sensation that someone else had been in her home.

"Of course not. I sit here alone and dream of you. I don't even have a woman in to clean up, as you can see. How strange your smart luggage looks here in contrast to my own poor trunk! Do you remember when you sat on it as a model's throne?"

"You showed me what I wanted to be—in that picture, a beauty, a fine lady—I'm not either."

"I'll show you what you are, one of these days."

"Do you love me?" she asked curiously.

"Didn't I ask you to marry me?"

"Yes, too easily. As if it didn't matter."

"You are so shrewd," he smiled, "that I wonder that you make so many mistakes."

"What mistakes have I made?"

"Not making sure about the money last night—not wanting to return to the Old Priory. Others, perhaps. And what do you know about love that you are so critical? You are cold, you know, and a prude."

"But you? I have watched Susan—there is love there and passion. I saw this in Sir John, also—they loved, loved these two—imagine, respectable as they are, they went to all the risk and trouble of an illicit affair. How they contrived it I don't know, while you—with all your opportunities have hardly—touched me."

"I have taught you something, at least; you would not have made that speech when we first met. If I didn't make love to you it was because it wasn't necessary."

"You mean that you were the master without that?"

"You know I don't. I intend to marry you. We have youth a long time before us. You are not a cheap creature like Susan Rue for a hole and corner affair."

She was intensely flattered and smiled, more to herself than to him, as if she congratulated herself on a triumph. Not so many women would have come out of this intrigue as unblemished as she was; she felt invigorated and able to put through further tedium at the Old Priory. On the impulse of her pleasure she took Martin Rue's parting gift from her hand valise and offered it to the painter. He accepted it gravely, declaring that he would keep it for her to spend in Paris. "You shall have the most charming dresses, furs and laces. I know the places to take you."

She had forgotten that he had recently objected to visiting France or Italy, and asked him if he had been paid for the wall paintings at Lyndbridge House.

"Yes—a miserable sum! Mrs. Fox Oldham is dead in Lausanne—lucky for us."

"Why?"

"The mansion will be shut up, no one will go there, no one will hear of your visit, there won't be any questions asked about me. I was rather counting on this when I took you."

"I don't suppose it would matter if it were known—you wiped off the sketches you made for me to see."

"You are confused. I made no sketches for you. Come, will you rest here awhile?"

"No—I feel energetic now. I can go to bed early tonight. It won't do to stay here too long. I am supposed to be seeing you about the tenancy of the house only."

"Very well—whatever happens, come here again tomorrow, about ten o'clock. I don't see why we shouldn't leave then—or the next day. We can go separately to the station."

The widow felt slightly giddy as she rose, but soon steadied herself. Grasping his hands in hers, she offered her smooth face for his kiss, deliberately and with some wonder.

He touched her forehead with his lips and she heard him laugh, as if he also was astonished.

With an air of respect, almost of deference, he escorted her from the house and to High Street where he soon found her a hackney cab.


§ 31

When Mrs. Sacret returned to the Old Priory, she saw at once that the holland blinds were down. Curtis, weeping, met her in the hall. Martin Rue had died about an hour ago, Curtis had been in the room, helping, as the mistress was quite useless, and the old lady seemed "turned to stone." The master had begged her "to be kind to poor Susan, who has been the best of wives to me," and his mother had muttered that she was "always kind to everyone."

"It is very sad," agreed Mrs. Sacret. "You must be quite worn out. I declare I am. I hurried back—not even settling my business. Can I do anything?"

"I'm sure it is very good of you, ma'am," said the humbled Curtis. "The mistress isn't fit for anything—and the old lady has shut herself into her own room—she's at the back—and there is not one of the doctors will give a death certificate."

"That means an inquest, doesn't it?"

"Yes, ma'am. Dr. Virtue thought you might take charge for the mistress."

"I shall see to it at once."

After a brief interview with the physician, Mrs. Sacret sent a note to the coroner's office.

THE OLD PRIORY, CLAPHAM
September 25, 1865

Mrs. Martin Rue desires the inquest to be held at the Old Priory where she will have refreshments prepared for the jury.

In her able hands the household, so sadly disrupted, resumed a routine, skillfully altered for the dismal occasion. With both the ladies overcome by emotion and unable to leave their beds the widow had everything to attend to; the inquest was fixed for three days ahead and she would be an important witness. It was therefore impossible for her to hope to leave London until this solemn affair was over, she could only do so by a flight that would be, she was aware, extremely imprudent. Nor was she able to keep her appointment with the painter, but sent instead the gardener's boy with a formal letter to her tenant, regretting that she was prevented from visiting the house to settle matters appertaining to the end of his tenancy. With Susan's example ever before her mind she was very careful how she committed herself on paper.

Her first pang of disappointment, her first horror of the Old Priory now it was a house of mourning, soon passed with a sense of her own importance and power. She played the lady of the mansion very well; the servants respected if they did not like her, there was no disorder, no confusion; a sedate decorum was maintained, together with comfort for everyone. With Dr. Virtue's help she arranged for the funeral, the flowers, the food and drink, the adaptation of the dining room into a coroner's court and the garden room into a mortuary chapel. She also ordered the mourning for everyone, including herself, and answered the notes of condolence, besides acknowledging the floral wreaths and crosses that arrived from the friends and acquaintances of the young man so suddenly and so shockingly dead.

On the second day, old Mrs. Rue made her appearance at the breakfast table; she had not needed to change her attire, being permanently in crape. She shot the younger widow a malevolent glance. Anger more than grief seemed to possess her, and only the presence of Dr. Virtue who was staying in the Old Priory seemed to restrain her from violent speech. Even as it was she commented bitterly on her son's will, in which no one was even mentioned besides his wife, remarking that he would "never have made it if he was in his right mind."

"That won't hold, madam," said Dr. Virtue, who did not like her. "Your son was perfectly clear in his senses, I can testify to that, and the will is reasonable enough, since he had no near relations save yourself who are well provided for."

"At least," put in Mrs. Sacret from behind the silver tea urn, "no outsider has received anything—there is not as much as a legacy to one of the servants."

"Mr. Rue knew that his wife would see to that," said the doctor. "It is agreeable to observe how loyal and devoted everyone is—though the contents of the will is known."

When he had left the two ladies alone, old Mrs. Rue spoke bluntly.

"Why are you in my daughter-in-law's place?"

"Dr. Virtue asked me to help, poor Susan is ill." Mrs. Sacret smiled, adding: "You must admit that I am quite disinterested—I have not been left a penny, and as soon as the inquest is over, I am going abroad."

"There is something I don't understand. I am sure of that—and that you have a hold over that wretched woman."

Mrs. Sacret rose with dignity.

"Please don't allow your spite to run away with you at this dreadful, dreadful time, with your son lying dead upstairs."

The old woman moved convulsively. A stale odor of violet cachet stirred from her bombazine and worsted dress, her mottled face twisted and her eyes, ringed by the first horny circles of cataract, filmed with the difficult tears of age. "My son, my son," she repeated, then made an effort of surprising energy. "Yes, you are right, brutal and insolent as you are. I shall have to allow this farce to continue and wait my chance."

The younger widow left the room, she did not concern herself at all about the dead man's mother whom she would probably never see again. She was enjoying the ease and authority her position gave her while anticipating in her thoughts the very different future she would have with Mark Bellis, when this tedious and sordid episode was over, and buried and forgotten with Martin Rue. Curtis asked her to visit Susan and she found the newly made widow in a chair by the fire, disfigured from weeping and bending forward to warm her hands at the flames that scorched her swollen face.

"I thought you would return, Olivia," she muttered, "though you promised not to do so. Still you have been useful—thank you."

"I have done everything for you," smiled Mrs. Sacret, seating herself opposite. "I only returned for that, and for the look of the thing—I am going abroad immediately after the inquest."

"How could poor Martin have done it!" whimpered Susan. "Such suffering! I cannot bear to think of it!"

"You must leave it all to the jury, dear. Pray don't upset yourself. And be discreet."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, don't write to—anyone in York Chambers—"

"I have not so much as thought of him!"

"I suppose that you will, in time. Nov, I think it would be better if we didn't talk of this—is there anything else you want to say?"

Susan began to weep, then sobbed: "That odious old woman and her doctor—Dr. Balance—she brought him with her—she came to see me about it, when I couldn't hold my head up—"

"What do you mean, Susan? This is quite incoherent."

"I don't know myself. She seemed to threaten, and said she wasn't satisfied and swore to get at the bottom of it—"

"Let her try," replied Mrs. Sacret composedly.

"Oh, do advise me! I don't understand any of it! What did Martin take?"

"The post-mortem will reveal that, I suppose. Of course, it is all very revolting. But it will soon be over, and then you will be a wealthy woman, and free."

"I want to get away—I shall take Curtis and go away to the seaside, Brighton perhaps."

Mrs. Sacret felt very contemptuous of this weakness and stupidity

How rich her own future appeared compared to Susan's silly plans!

She would he very rich, with a wealthy titled lover waiting for her, and Susan could think of nothing better than going to Brighton with a servant! And meanwhile she was quite ruining that florid beauty that the three men who had been drawn to her had probably found her sole attraction. Would not even the infatuated Sir John think Susan a bore without her fresh good looks?

Olivia Sacret glanced with satisfaction in the Venetian glass framed mirror above the alabaster mantelpiece, and admired her own precise features that no tears had ever smeared. She would have more sense than ever to risk losing Mark Bellis by these foolish, unbecoming emotional displays.

"Do go to bed," she advised curtly, "and do be careful what you say. You can't come to any harm if you are prudent—don't concern yourself about that old hag or her insolent doctor."

She hastened away, really thankful that Susan was too distracted to pester her as usual about the letters.

The bedroom, now impersonal, and with none of her possessions about—she had brought only a suitcase with her—did not depress her; her mind was so set on the future that she had ceased to notice the Old Priory's ugly and dreary atmosphere. She did not even see, as she drew down her blind that she had raised a few inches during the day, the dry and poor sticks in a sooty pot on her window sill that had once been the gorgeous salvia that Martin Rue had given her. She slept well that night from physical exhaustion, not disturbed by any dreams, nor by the presence of the dead under the same roof.

The morning brought a letter from the painter; he had received her note, he wrote, and understood that he could not hope to see her until after the inquest. He would expect her at Minton Street at 10:00 A.M. the day following that event.

Mrs. Sacret's spirits rose with increasing expectancy of happiness to come. She was prepared to enjoy the little drama—as it appeared to her—of this routine inquiry, where she was such a sympathetic and admired figure, the brave capable woman, who had, without any reward, stood by her friend in such a horrid crisis and taken all material burdens off her shoulders.

Everyone, save old Mrs. Rue and Dr. Balance, who kept themselves apart, tacitly agreed that the verdict would be felo-de-se and Mrs. Sacret thought comfortably of the painter's needless doubts as to the wisdom of traveling to Paris or Italy. He had regretfully remarked that the physicians had proved shrewder than might have been expected. Though dealing with a man continually ill and dosing himself with, no doubt, dangerous drugs, they had not diagnosed either nerves or an excess of laudanum or chloroform, but all had agreed, at once, on a corrosive poison as the cause of this fatal malady.

If this attitude had been vexatious, both to Mrs. Sacret and the painter, the acceptance of the suicide theory was grateful. He seemed to be appreciative of her efforts in this direction for he had written—"so much will depend on your evidence at the inquest."

Yes, he understood quite well the part that she had undertaken and that she would play very well to the end.


§ 32

The day of the inquest Mrs. Sacret entered the glasshouses from the garden door. It was agreeable to leave the autumn damp for the close warm air. The plants hung neglected in the wire baskets, the yellow, sapless leaves clinging to the flaccid stems of creepers unknown to the curious woman, some pots on the shelves showing crinkled blooms, others curling in contentive luxuriance. The widow wondered what would become of the conservatory—what, indeed, of the Old Priory? Probably it would be sold—Sir John Curle would surely never tolerate this hideous place. Pausing to breathe the genial atmosphere Mrs. Sacret considered the changed situation. Susan was free. Without scandal or trouble she could, after a decent interval, marry her wealthy baronet and gracefully take up a new existence as lady of the village, a position so irreproachable that no one would venture to recall that she had ever been "talked of" with the important gentleman who was now her third husband.

What sort of a "hold" (the expression was ineffaceable from Mrs. Sacret's mind) would the letters be over Lady Curle? Quite a firm hold, the widow considered. It was certain that neither the baronet nor his wife would desire any reminder of their early and indiscreet friendship during the lifetime of the first Lady Curle.

The widow approached the glass door that gave into the dull little library where Martin Rue had interviewed her on several occasions; it was curious to be looking out of the conservatory, instead of looking in. She peered into partial darkness, for the yellow holland blinds were drawn and the only light came from the glass doors and that she herself largely blocked. But she could see the outlines of the formal crosses and wreaths, blank white flowers, stiffly arranged, piled precisely about the smooth oak coffin with the glittering brass handles, the duller white of the black-edged cards. She reflected on the swiftness of the services connected with death—how soon Martin Rue had been disposed of! How soon they had all been clothed in mourning! The fashionable dressmaker had crape garments ready for sudden bereavements, she had discovered, and with a few stitches made them fit any figure. Mrs. Sacret fingered the glossy silk of her own billowing skirts, sumptuously flounced over a bustle in the latest mode, and she smiled on the reflection of how much more costly was this mourning than the shabby weeds in which she had first come to the Old Priory. But she would be relieved when she could put off this somber black, and again wear the rich and fanciful garments that the painter had told her to put aside and that now lay in the bottom of one of the trunks waiting at Minton Street.

She retreated through the glasshouses that she had entered only through a whim, because she liked to feel free to enter a place hitherto forbidden to her, and passed around the back of the house, along the well-raked garden path, flanked by overcrowded shrubbery and gaunt straggling trees. Three people were slowly pacing ahead of her, old Mrs. Rue, her physician, Dr. Balance, and another of the medical men Susan had so frantically called in, Dr. Mallard. Both men were young for their positions, the first fair, with an air of uncommon vigor, the second dark and sedate; all were discoursing earnestly together and gave the merest gesture of recognition as Mrs. Sacret passed them. She thought it impertinent of them to be so constantly "about the house" since Dr. Balance had never been asked by Susan to attend her husband, but had been brought by old Mrs. Rue—and Dr. Mallard was younger than the other physicians who had the case in hand. Indeed, they had had little to do with the sick man—and had not been desired to assist in the post-mortem—and she doubted if they would give evidence at the inquest.

As she passed these three people, the old woman raised her voice and said in firm, thin tones: "My son never took his own life."


§ 33

Mrs. Sacret was surprised to find the inquest so quiet, even humdrum; there was nothing exciting or lively about this judicial inquiry into what was a most unexpected and violent death coming to a young and harmless man in his own home.

Dr. Virtue opened with routine statements as to the fatal illness of Mr. Martin Rue, then Mrs. Sacret, graceful in her expensive silk with the crape flounces, cambric collar and cuffs, and goffered bonnet, stood up before the long dining table behind which the jury were seated and serenely gave her evidence as to the illness of Martin Rue, her nursing of him, and his confession that he had taken poison and her repetition of this to Dr. Lemoine and Dr. Virtue. She did not now state, however, that the sick man had declared, "I do this for Curle."

The coroner, who was a neighbor of the Rues', and was concerned to spare this unfortunate family all possible distress, was sympathetic with this gentle witness. His courteous questions were directed toward drawing out from the witness all evidence that would prove suicide.

The servants were called next, but had nothing to add to Mrs. Sacret's statements. A business colleague testified to the dead man's recent low spirits and fits of gloom, and Dr. Virtue, recalled, stated that he had had Mr. Rue under his care for some months for vague nervous trouble. Dr. Lemoine gave the findings of the post-mortem. Despite the previous evidence, deceased had been healthy, there was no trace of disease. Portions of the organs having been sent to an analyst his report was read. Poison had been found—antimony, taken in the form of tartar emetic. The physicians and servants being recalled to comment on this all agreed that Martin Rue had been "dosing himself" for years and might well have kept antimony in the form of tartar emetic in his Indian medicine basket, though none had been found there. It was an almost colorless fluid, bluish white, and tasteless. None of the remains of the food and drink consumed by the dead man had been kept, nor any of the matter he had rejected during his illness. No one had given any thought to this until Mrs. Sacret had several times cleaned the room linen and all the vessels used.

All the physicians declared that the sick man had repeatedly and solemnly denied having taken anything dangerous save a few drops of laudanum.

The deceased's mother, Drs. Balance and Mallard wished to give evidence, but the coroner refused to call them; he did not require, either, the evidence of the widow, who was not even present.

Closing the inquiry, the coroner directed the jury to bring in a verdict of felo-de-se.

The men seated, rather awkwardly, on the ornate chairs behind the dining table, did not respond to this lead. Without leaving their places they returned an open verdict—"The deceased died from the effects of antimony poisoning, but there is not sufficient evidence to show how it came into his body."


§ 34

Mrs. Sacret took this news to Susan who was lying on her bed in a darkened room, pale and ravaged in her stiff new mourning, her bright hair tumbled into knots on the top of her head.

"Now that is over," said Mrs. Sacret gently. "Your poor husband will be buried tomorrow and you need never think of him again!"

"Oh, I shall always think of him!" wept the widow, hiding her face in the pillow.

"Really? Have you always thought of Captain Dasent?"

Susan only sobbed the louder at this cruelty.

"It is the way he died—to know that he took his own life, in that horrible, horrible manner, and, because of me—the unkindness there was between us!"

"All this trouble is ended. You are weak to lament so, pray consider how lucky you are—the verdict might have been much worse."

"Lucky? Worse? I don't understand!"

"Don't you? Never mind then. It is all over—the jury have been refreshed and have left. So have the doctors, and the servants all had wine and cake. Really the whole affair was a great deal of trouble and the bills will be heavy—I had to hire waiters, but it was worth it. All were in a good mood, except your mother-in-law, and no one takes any notice of an old woman's raving about her pampered son—

"But she is right!" moaned Susan, tossing on the disordered pillows. "She is accusing me of driving him to it, I suppose, and I did—with this urging for a divorce! I should never have done it! He was so kind to me, when he was in that dreadful, dreadful pain, and left me everything, and never, never blamed me—"

"A pity that you did not discover his worth sooner," said Mrs. Sacret tartly.

"His mother will not speak to me—I passed her downstairs and she drew away and turned aside her head."

"Then you should desire her to return to her home—this is your home now, Susan, do grasp that."

"I loathe this place. I do not want to live here. I am going away with Curtis to Brighton."

"Very well. But Dr. Virtue will not allow you to travel yet—he is coming to see you again this evening. And if you have any spirit at all you will ask him to send that horrid old woman about her own affairs. Why, at this very moment, she is in your drawing room gossiping with that impertinent Dr. Balance she brought with her and Dr. Mallard. I don't know why you called on him, Susan; he has a small practice in the back streets here."

The prostrate woman took no heed of these words that Mrs. Sacret delivered while standing in front of the mirror and curling tresses of her hazel hair around her fingers, except to murmur—"Her only son—Martin was her only son." The weakness was abhorrent to Mrs. Sacret who judged Susan's emotion to be extremely superficial. She will have forgotten him in a few weeks and be married again within the year.

Aloud she said:

"You haven't even thanked me for all the care I've taken—I assure you that things wouldn't have gone so well save for my management." Susan sat up suddenly and stared from swollen eyes.

"When are you going? Are you never to leave me?"

"Oh, pray don't upset yourself. I'm going at once—"

"I suppose," sighed Susan, shivering, "it is useless to ask you for the letters?"

"So you still think of those! How strange! I declare I had forgotten them, they must be in one of my trunks and I must send them. Good-by."

Mrs. Sacret left the room abruptly, closing the door with soft decorum. She was indeed fatigued, and now that the inquest was over and there was nothing for her to do—a distant cousin of Susan's, a Mrs. Findlay, was coming from Yorkshire to take charge of the establishment—her old distaste of the home revived and she longed to be away and on the first stage of her journey abroad.

Not until she had reached the hall, with her valise in her hand, intending to slip away unobserved, did she recall that she could hardly leave the house before the funeral, unless she wished to cause comment.

That, obviously, was old Mrs. Rue's excuse for remaining in the home of the woman she had insulted. Mrs. Sacret heard her talking in the front drawing room, her voice raised and mingled with those of men. The widow paused to listen by the crack of the door. Yes, Dr. Balance, Dr. Mallard, and the precise accents of Hugh Ferguson, who kept the smart bookshop on the common and who had been the foreman of the jury.

Olivia Sacret shrugged her elegant shoulders. What a miserable fool Susan was to allow this insolence in her own house! And how stupid of that malicious old woman to imagine that she could make trouble for anyone now that the verdict of felo-de-se had been brought in! Why, couldn't she understand that the case was closed! No doubt she was trying to blight her daughter-in-law's reputation by declaring that she had driven her husband to suicide. Well, even if she were believed, and she could make out quite a good case for her theory, and Susan's grief, so like remorse, would support it, it was no crime to ask for a divorce, and all the evidence had shown that Martin Rue had been a very tiresome, difficult husband with his imaginary illnesses and his petty jealousies.

Mrs. Sacret went once again to her bedroom in the Old Priory, and being fatigued, as well as calm in mind and healthy in body, ate a good meal from the supper brought up to her on a tray and afterwards went to bed early and slept peacefully.


§ 35

When the funeral procession had started for Norwood Cemetery and the blinds had been pulled up in the house that Martin Rue had left for the last time, Olivia Sacret, without troubling anyone, set off on foot, carrying her small valise, to Minton Street.

She had not expected to find the painter there, yet it was with a pang of disappointment that she entered the mean, empty room.

He had left, among the dirty litter on the table, a note, cautiously worded, informing her that he was "arranging the affair" and had "sent everything ahead" and would "wait on her soon after her return."

That will be any moment now, reflected Mrs. Sacret, glancing around with distaste. He must have informed himself of the date of the funeral. Oh, to be away!

The place was stripped of all the painter's paraphernalia and canvases; only the trunk on which he had stood the chair to serve as a model's throne remained of all his possessions. The widow's own meager furnishings looked wretched and she regretted even the ill-chosen comforts of the Old Priory, and lifted her handsome mourning fastidiously high as she went down the dirty stairs to the basement in search of food. How stupid she had been not to bring away some of the luxuries with which Susan's house overflowed!

She paid for this carelessness by being obliged to eat the bread and cheese that was all she found in the larder, but this was forgotten in the joy caused by the double knock on the front door that was the painter's signal. He seemed in high spirits, was fashionably dressed and took her gaily by the shoulders, kissed her brow and complimented her on her bloom.

"It was a verdict of felo-de-se?" he asked smiling.

"Yes," said Mrs. Sacret. "All were convinced of that and everything was made as easy as possible for the family."

She described rapidly all that had passed in the Old Priory since she had last seen him, and he listened attentively, caressing the hand that he lightly held.

He then told her of what he, on his side, had done, of the dates, altered on tickets, of luggage forwarded to Dover, of rooms engaged in a Parisian hotel, of letters written to "a man I know" in Como, to inquire about a certain villa on the shores of the lake that was likely to be to let. While he spoke, Olivia Sacret watched him with even deeper pleasure than she listened to him. Suddenly he ceased his light description of the pleasures before them to ask:

"You are sure about the verdict?"

Thus unexpectedly challenged, Olivia Sacret replied smiling: "Oh, yes, there was never any doubt of it, in anyone's mind."

"Very well, the widow will marry Sir John Curle, she will be extremely wealthy—what luck for her—she must share some of it with you."

"I have given you a thousand pounds—the purse of money, the emeralds."

"A token, on account. You must return to the Old Priory, say this afternoon, before that foolish woman goes to Brighton, and ask for more. Think of her latest fortune—and how she obtained it."

Mrs. Sacret protested with vehemence. "I don't want to go back there—I want to go away, as you promised—"

"Why so you shall, with no delay—we cannot leave before the boat train tomorrow. I mean you should pay a visit this afternoon. I shall return tonight and take you out to supper."

"We have enough—a thousand pounds—and more—the jewels, besides Susan will not have the money in the house."

"I don't suppose that she will, not much at least, but she must have other valuables. Perhaps you can take them without disturbing her? She would never dare to inquire after them. Before she missed them, you could write from Paris to say you have them. Come, you don't intend to be content with a mere thousand pounds?"

"No, of course not. But I thought that we could wait—perhaps after she is married—"

"Then, too. But why not go abroad well provided for? When you have this immensely wealthy friend. What jewels has she?"

"A large number. She was always pampered. Her father used to make her most costly presents—so did her first husband—but she didn't wear those. You have his emeralds. Then Martin Rue, mean as he was, never begrudged her expensive trinkets."

"Make no more ado about this," he said quietly. "It is a little thing just to return to Clapham and fetch a few parting gifts from your friend."

And a little thing it seemed to Mrs. Sacret as he spoke. After all what was the ugly house to her? To the man who had died there she was already as indifferent as if she had never met him. Tedious the place was, and the servants, now they no longer looked to her for leadership in a crisis, sullen; while old Mrs. Rue, who was probably still there, was hostile. But it would be easy to deal with the newcomer, Mrs. Findlay, and easier still to deal with Susan, and get something more from her with which to please Mark Bellis, something more to turn into money to spend ahead on golden pleasures.

"Aren't jewels dangerous?" she asked slyly. "Can't they be traced?"

He gave her a bright look of admiration.

"You're clever and smart. You've put this through amazingly well—but you must learn to trust me. I don't do dangerous things—at least, not that kind of dangerous think I know where to dispose of jewels. But the point is that Mrs. Rue will never say she has parted with them—or missed them as the case may be."

"Where is my portrait?" she asked, delighted by his praise.

"Rolled and packed—it goes with us."

"I'm glad. Am I more like that portrait than I used to be?"

"Indeed you are. I saw you as you are, under all your Puritan disguises."

"Nonconformist," she corrected him, and she thought obliquely, is he an educated man? I don't think so, for all his good address and accent. She felt bewildered by this undesired reflection. She had really no standard by which to judge him, he was so superior to all the other men she had ever met that he seemed a being apart. Yet, save for his skill in painting, there was nothing he said or did that showed he knew anything but the devices of a world she could only guess at, tricks and expedients she hardly understood. Was he really ignorant? She did not know, since her own education and breeding had been so narrow. She recalled her own father, always her only example of gentility, but she could not well remember him. Then there was Sir John Curle—stupid and ordinary, he was quite different from the painter. Confused, fatigued, yet excited and stimulated, she pressed his hand and promised to return from the Old Priory with something worth his acceptance. He bade her good-by and left her, begging her to take some repose. Olivia Sacret did not mention her wretched meal, she had no wish for food—he had promised "supper" that evening—where? She had no knowledge of what this might mean—was there anywhere he could take her, in full mourning? She had no other clothes with her; slowly she went upstairs, but viewed the narrow bed on which she had so often slept with distaste. Even the thought that Mark Bellis had lived here could not give any attraction to the dingy home, the miserable furnishings, after the luxurious comfort of the Old Priory. She preferred to return to the sitting room and to rest in the beehive chair. There with her gaze on the strip of drugget she tried to imagine what life ahead would be with the painter, to decide where and how they would live. But her imagination was feeble, all she could think of was his fascination, all she could feel was a desire to be with him always. Their background always fell away behind them—isolated and detached from the whole world, they moved, in her reverie, through nothingness. A knock on the front door startled her; she rose, hoping that this was not some neighbor or tradesman who would delay her return to the Old Priory. On the doorstep stood old Mrs. Rue. Mrs. Sacret was vexed, she saw her plans delayed. She asked curtly how her visitor had discovered her address.

The old woman replied that it was well known to everyone at the Old Priory.

"No doubt—I suppose I have been spied upon."

"How vulgar!" remarked Mrs. Rue. "No one whose affairs are aboveboard ever uses that expression—'spied upon.'"

"You had better come in," said Mrs. Sacret, feeling that she had the disagreeable situation well in hand, and she led the way into the front parlor, leaving the wooden chair for her visitor while she returned to the beehive seat.

"I know exactly why you have come." She began the battle that she intended to be brief with something of the sense of exhilaration with which she had before tackled this grim opponent who, at least, came directly to the point with a stimulating candor.

"I wonder," remarked Mrs. Rue. She gave a glance of malicious disgust at her surroundings. "So this is your home! I don't wonder that you struggled hard to remain at my son's house."

"I stayed there to help Susan—now, of my own free will I am leaving for the Continent. I could go to Brighton with Susan if I wished. Do pray tell me what you have come here for? This long way—and the weather so chill and damp!"

"I took a hackney, did you not hear it

"No—I was far away in a musing."

"Very likely."

Mrs. Rue had an immovable air, as if she was forever placed there, heavy, yet shrunken together, her permanent cumbrous mourning pressed about her; the woman and her draperies, even her widow's bonnet and veil, seemed cut out of dingy, black stone. She appeared ill, yet resolute, her expression was bold. For all her lead-colored complexion and the lilac tones of exhaustion around her lips and eyes, she had a fiery and bitter vitality.


Illustration

"So Evil My Love" — A Dramatic Film Poster


Olivia Sacret was suddenly resolved to put an end to this stupid intrusion.

"I know, I repeat why you are here—you intend to accuse me of helping to goad your son to suicide by supporting Susan in asking him for a divorce."

"No, I do not." Mrs. Rue spoke with a complacent triumph that caused the other woman to respond with cold impatience.

"Then it is some nonsense about that supposition of yours that I had some 'hold' over Susan. You hope I have some means of injuring her."

As she spoke Mrs. Sacret was wondering how far she should divulge the fact that she did possess a serious weapon with which to threaten Susan, but she quickly decided to say nothing of this at present. Her master must be consulted as to how far they could use the letters in this quarter.

"It is not that either."

"Do, please, tell me what you have to say. I have an appointment. I may have to return to the Old Priory, I believe I left my umbrella there."

"No, you won't return—the door would be shut in your face."

"Indeed! Susan would have something to say to that!"

"Would she? I don't think either she or you realize the position you are in—my son's death—"

"Oh, very tragic! But you have yourself to blame, Mrs. Rue, you coddled him into such a nervous state that he killed himself sooner than face a crisis." r "He did not do anything so wicked and weak."

Mrs. Sacret shrugged indifferently.

"Oh, if you care to disagree with the verdict at the inquest!"

"It was not a verdict of suicide, but what the lawyers call 'open'—"

Olivia Sacret was startled. Yes, of course, this was true, she had been misled by the conviction of everyone in the house—the coroner's summing up, her own evidence—into thinking that the jury had brought in felo-de-se. She had even repeated this term, strange to her, to herself on the stairs at the Old Priory and, in good faith, had told the painter, yes, twice, that this had been indeed the verdict.

"It was the same thing," she said, rallying under the older woman's cruel glance.

"Indeed it was not—the jury said my son died from antimony poisoning, in accordance with the medical evidence, and that there was no evidence to show how he took it."

"It was merely a different manner of saying suicide—everyone assumed suicide."

"Largely on your evidence. No one save you heard my son confess he had taken poison."

"I told the physicians at once. I was believed. Everyone was satisfied."

"I was not—I am not—neither is Dr. Balance nor Dr. Mallard."

"The coroner did not think it worth while to call you."

"He thought of nothing but putting a glaze over things—to save Susan's feelings."

Mrs. Sacret moistened her lips.

"You are trying to torment me with all this."

"Certainly I wish to make you feel uneasy—for as long as possible."

"You cannot do it," retorted the younger woman rising. "I am neither timid nor foolish."

"I realize that you are hard, cruel, and of a brazen assurance. But even this will be shaken—"

"What can you do?"

"It is out of my hands. There were no reporters at the inquest, but Dr. Balance has drawn up an account of this extremely lax inquiry that will he sent to the press. Dr. Mallard is writing an article on the case for the Lancet, with it will be published the post-mortem findings. Then Mr. Ferguson, the very sensible foreman of the jury, is asking the members to meet him to discuss the case—at my house—"

"A case already decided! This is absurd!"

"It was an open verdict," insisted Mrs. Rue calmly. "You seem quite alarmed—what is it to you?"

"You are acting out of malice," replied Mrs. Sacret. "This will merely distress Susan—for no purpose—"

"For a most important purpose—to discover the truth."

"You know it."

"I think I do." Mrs. Rue rose heavily.

"Suicide—"

"No."

"What else?" Mrs. Sacret forced herself to demand.

"You will learn in time. I tell you the jury were dissatisfied. They thought your evidence required cross-examination—they felt the coroner was leading them, almost even persuading them. Mr. Ferguson told me: 'I saw they wanted us to bring in suicide—but I would not be so complacent.'"

"I have nothing to do with your meddling," said Mrs. Sacret firmly, "I am going abroad."

"Are you? You might be brought back—as an important witness, if there is another inquest."

"There can't be—the case is settled."

"I'm not so sure. I am seeing my lawyer about it. I wanted him to be present at this inquiry, but the coroner would not permit it. Mr. Ferguson thinks the matter might be raised in the House of Commons. I shall try to have that done. I shall stop at nothing to come at the truth of my son's death."

"Please go away. I don't think you are quite sane."

Mrs. Rue departed, smiling sourly. It was as if she had left her shadow behind. The mean rooms seemed chilled by a dark malevolence.

Mrs. Sacret decided not to return to the Old Priory, but also not to permit a crazy old woman's spite to distress her on the verge of a brilliant future. Really no notice should be taken of what the bitter old creature had said; she was, of course, furious that Susan had inherited all the Martin money and wanted to make everything as difficult as possible for her. But what were these unexpected tactics? Surely, old Mrs. Rue's course should have been to discredit her daughter-in-law as an unfaithful wife who had driven her husband to suicide? But no, she was engaged on preparing some other menace. Mrs. Sacret did not care to consider what this might be, she assured herself that it would not be worth while, as the old woman's threats were quite harmless. Doubtless she had even invented all the talk of the discontented jury and the prying doctors.

But, for all her self-control, Mrs. Sacret was restless. She went out and bought herself sponge cakes and a glass of sherry at a confectioner's shop in High Street, then returned to her house to throw herself on the bed on which the painter had so often slept. This time she did not notice how uncomfortable it was and how dingy the room.

She tried to sleep, in order to be fresh for her journey tomorrow, but she was too wide awake and could not even induce drowsiness. For the first time since she had left Minton Street for Susan's home she was unable to compose herself to her usual untroubled slumbers. When dusk closed in, she rose, smoothed out her black dress, and set her long curls under the widow's cap with the crape ribbons. After tomorrow she would not wear this horrid mourning. It was absurd that she had been forced to return to it—Martin Rue was no relation of hers—only when everyone in the Old Priory had been fitted out with black, it would have been conspicuous if she, the widow's companion, had been the one exception.

When she heard the painter's double knock her heart beat uncommonly fast, she dreaded his displeasure when he should learn that she had not brought any jewels from Clapham, but she reassured herself by the reflection that surely he would understand that—in view of old Mrs. Rue's visit—her action had been wise. Surely he would feel, as she felt, that neither of them wished to be involved more deeply in the affairs of Susan, for the time at least, but wanted to get abroad away from it all. They could wait on events from the other side of the Channel—for she would write, very discreetly, to Susan and so obtain all her news.

With a smile of engaging welcome Mrs. Sacret opened to the painter, and, as soon as they were in the parlor behind the drawn blind, in the circle of light from the common oil lamp, she excused herself for being empty handed and told him of her disagreeable visitor. He listened intently, offering no comment until she had finished, then he half turned his back on her as if staring in the empty fireplace and remarked:

"You told me that the verdict was felo-de-se."

"I know—I have just explained that. I had it in my head, I don't know why—I really forgot."

"I said that, for a clever woman, you do very stupid things."

"But what does it matter? Where is the harm?"

She heard him draw his breath, she saw his shoulders heave, then he turned to her calmly and with a casual air began questioning her on what she had just told him.

"Raised in the House of Commons!" she exclaimed. "How absurd, is it not!"

"I don't know. I think it could be done. If there were sufficient grounds." He turned slowly, his eyes glancing along the circle of the lamp shadow. "I wish you had been more accurate—this alters everything—"

"Why?" she demanded sharply. "A stupid old woman—and two raw doctors—of no importance compared to the other three men—an ignorant tradesman—and that is allowing that what she said is true, which I don't believe—"

He did not speak more, and she drew nearer to him.

"You do not mean that you are angry because I did not return to the Old Priory?"

"I am not angry."

"You agree that it would have been unwise to have attracted attention to myself?"

"No," he smiled, took her hand and caressed it kindly, and she who had dreaded his anger shivered with relief. "I don't—I think you should return to the Old Priory—and stay with Susan Rue—she will be your best safeguard."

"What are you saying!" exclaimed Mrs. Sacret. "We were leaving England tomorrow!"

He looked at her with an accurate glance, in the warm shadows his eyes had a glint of smoky gold.

"Why, of course," he answered slowly. "You know I had forgotten that—none of this has anything to do with us—even if there is a second inquest we shall be far away."

"How could you have forgotten!" she gasped, not entirely reassured.

"I don't know," he admitted with an air of candor. "Because I'm tired, I suppose, excited—just as you forgot the real verdict—these have been disturbing days."

"Indeed," she agreed, "there has been much for you to do—everything is arranged?"

"Everything. I shall come with a hackney for you tomorrow—about nine o'clock. One day's traveling and our real life will begin. Now you must get some sleep."

"You said you would take me out to supper tonight, I have hardly had anything to eat all day."

"I forgot your mourning—it would be ludicrous in, say, the Argyll."

"Yes, I thought of that—I wish I had kept one trunk with me—I have only a few toilet articles in a little valise."

"There is not much to regret!" he assured her gaily. "This time tomorrow we shall be in Paris—unless you care to spend a short time in Calais."

Mrs. Sacret sighed, contented. She was tired, indeed, and now that she no longer dreaded his anger, she felt relaxed, drowsy and was willing that he should leave her for a few more hours only. But she was disappointed that he left so quickly, smiling, with a light step and hardly any farewells—a whispered "good-by"—a touch of his lips on her cheek and he was gone. Her mood changed, she felt lonely, old Mrs. Rue's shadow seemed to blot the dim lamplight. Oh, to be gone, to be away! She wanted air, freedom, the room was so small, so wretched, smelled so stale and dusty. After a restless half hour she threw on her mantle, tied on her bonnet and hastened out of the house. A fine rain was straightly falling. There was no breath of wind, a glare of light from above the frosted glass of the windows of the public house at the corner was reflected in the wet pavement, beyond was darkness save for the dull yellow circles on the pavement from the street lamps. Above was a murky sulphurous hued sky, night flushed with the dim glow of the city.

Mrs. Sacret had never been in the city after dark save on a direct errand, a modest hurrying from the chapel or a neighbor's house, and she felt at once at liberty and lost. It was odd for the genteel lady she had become in Susan's sheltered house to be alone in these mean side streets after nightfall, yet it suited both her mood and something in her nature to be unseen and freed from the restraint of having to watch her speech and her looks—as she had to watch them even with Mark Bellis. How relieved she would be when she was able to discard all restraint with him, when they had left behind all the tiresome, even awkward circumstances that had curbed their movements and their emotions! How soon they would forget England when safely in France or Italy!

As Olivia Sacret was thus walking aimlessly and musing in a manner vague yet passionate on the future that she saw as nothing but a long companionship between herself and Mark Bellis, she was frightened by a most unexpected experience. It was the first time in her life when she, bold by nature and unsuperstitious, had felt a pang of unreasoning fear.

She had passed the public house from which came the sounds of coarse laughter and tuneless singing, crossed High Street and was walking slowly along Heron Walk, a narrow turning opposite Minton Street, when she became aware of a woman some way ahead, proceeding at about her own pace. The outline of this figure in the shadows seemed confusingly familiar, then, as it passed into the circle of light thrown by the lamppost, Mrs. Sacret found that she was gazing at herself and the keen thrust of fear touched her nerves. She could not move, and, as she stood staring, her double passed forward into the shadows, but not before the terror-filled eves of Olivia Sacret had noticed every detail of costume, rose-trimmed hat, green mantle—all exactly like those she had worn on her visit to Lyndbridge House—a reproduction of the costume and appointments now packed by herself in one of her trunks that must by now be lying in the station at Dover. When at school she had heard idle stories of ghostly doubles and taken no heed of them, her mind had been occupied by practical matters and she had always considered fairy tales a waste of time.

Hardly knowing what she did she hastened forward. The other figure, as if disturbed by the falling rain, also quickened its steps—the smart, fantastic dress that Mrs. Sacret had designed entirely to her own whim was indeed unsuitable to this wet night, this empty side street.

As Mrs. Sacret followed she lost sight of what she felt must be a horrid phantom, paused, and closed her eyes in an effort to command herself. When she opened them she hurried on again as fast as the full heavy skirt she gathered up in an ungainly fashion would allow her to move. But she did not see the woman she was so strangely pursuing, either the creature—if creature it was—had turned into a doorway, slipped down a side street—for Mrs. Sacret had reached crossroads—or it was a hallucination. "But I am not nervous," she told herself, standing cold and still. "I have not had as much as an evil dream since I was a child—no, absurd, I saw that figure, but the dress, precisely like one I invented for myself—"

Her heart beat heavily, she was glad of the raindrops on her face. Pulling off her gloves, she touched her wet cheeks.

What to do? She was quite at a loss, and began to walk aimlessly, suddenly aware of the cold, of the damp pavement beneath her thin shoes, of the drip of the overflows from the gutters, of the dark houses she passed in what increased to a flight.

She was brought to a standstill by the sight of a policeman with his lantern that he turned, in a routine fashion, down each small, mean area.

"Have you seen anyone go past?" she asked nervously and to her own ears her voice whistled feebly. "I am looking for a friend," she added, on the man's glance of surprise.

"There's no friend of yours gone by here, madam," he replied indulgently. "Not many about on a wet evening."

"No?" she sighed. "I thought I saw—was there no one?"

"Only Kitty Feathers taking home a bottle of stout."

"Who is Kitty Feathers?"

"No one you could have mistaken for your friend," the policeman answered her with a civil glance at her heavy mourning, as if he put her eccentric conduct down to the disorder of grief. "She's not anyone at all, madam, you'd know about—a little Irish girl who sits to painters."

"No, it was not she I—saw—thought I saw." Mrs. Sacret turned away, the policeman cast the dim ray of his lantern on her pale, affrighted face that he peered at through a veil of rain and asked her if he should conduct her to her door.

Mrs. Sacret declined, stating that she knew her way quite well. She was exhausted now and walked slowly, out of breath, peering into every doorway she passed.

When she reached home she took the lamp from the parlor up to her bedroom, and lay awake for a long time, without taking her clothes off, flung on the miserable bed, considering what she had seen. Her strong common sense at once obliged her to dismiss the figure as the effect of an excited imagination and refused to allow that it could be anything save reality she had seen.

In this conflict she recalled the silly stories she had heard so long ago of people meeting their doubles. This apparition was supposed to foretell early and sudden death, but she was sure that in these cases the figure had always advanced toward its victim—she had, surely, never heard of a woman pursuing herself.

She tried to laugh, the sound of her forced mirth was not pleasant in her own ears in the quiet of the room, the house, the street. She rose resolutely, undressed, extinguished the fading lamp and shuddered between the cold sheets.

Somewhat comforted that no likeness of herself was traced on the darkness of the room, she composed herself by fixing her mind on the day so soon to dawn, and at last fell asleep.


§ 36

Mrs. Sacret woke early and made her few preparations for leaving her country, forever, as she half supposed, half hoped. She had only her small valise to pack, her frugal breakfast to eat—still the remnants of the painter's food in the dirty kitchen were all that she had—her heavy mourning to adjust. And then to wait. To wait—that was her portion, at first confidently, then hopefully, then in apprehension, then with a nervous restlessness touching despair. When the hour Mark Bellis had named as that of the departure of the boat train, ten o'clock, marked on the small traveling clock that had been one of her extortions from Susan, had passed, she could no longer endure her agony of suspense. She did not know where to find the painter, she had not concerned herself to ask where he stayed when he left Minton Street.

She hastened out into the colorless day without purpose, looking, in the drab street, like a blot of ink on a spread of soiled paper, so dense and heavy was the mourning. Then she regained some control of herself, hired the first hackney she saw and directed the man to the Pimlico lodgings where the painter had lived when he had first written to her. To reach this she had to pass the terrace and the square she had visited with him, she recalled the stories he had told her of the commonplace houses—a spy shot by his servant, long ago, a miser murdered for his hoard, part of the intricate city life of which she knew nothing. She was conscious, now, how she had always lived on the surface. Even when she had been giving her evidence at the inquest it had been as if she had been acting in a play, interested and amused by her fellow comedians but no more concerned with any of them than she was by those tales of ancient crimes—no, one was recent, but nothing to her—with which Mark Bellis had entertained her; there was a second square that the hackney lumbered past. Yes, she recalled that also, the house with the To LET board, where the old woman had been murdered, her body put in a boxa trunk or was it a case? She had to fix her mind on the story to keep it off her present wretched situation, which was painted by the unwilling recollection of the figure, the double of herself, she had seen walking ahead of her in the rainy dark last night.

The neglected house in a Pimlico side street with the pillared portico and the peeling stucco was in the charge of a pallid and shawled woman who declared that she had never let rooms to a Mr. Mark Bellis. Painters, yes, several of them, she could not describe them, nor "tell one from another," the only points on which she was clear was that she did not know the name and that there was no one resembling a dark-haired young man nor a painter, in the house at present, and she slammed the door in Olivia Sacret's face, as idle dirty children came curiously up the dark basement stairs to stare at the persistent stranger arguing on the broken doorstep.

Mrs. Sacret returned to the hackney, and, at first conquering distaste, then, in increasing anguish unaware of it, she went to all the public houses in the neighborhood in vain; no one who might have been Mark Bellis had ever lodged there, nor was the name known to anyone. She returned to Minton Street and knocked up her neighbors. Eager for the hint of scandal, the slatternly women assured her that they knew nothing whatever of her tenant's whereabouts.

"I am going abroad, and he has not paid his rent," explained Mrs. Sacret, thinking even at that moment that the last statement was true enough. Several voices at once reminded her that she had been warned that he was a scoundrel.

"There is some mistake, perhaps he has met with an accident," she faltered, aware she was the center of a gathering crowd. "It really is no matter."

She was informed that the painter had been watched taking away on a station fly not only his own paraphernalia but the smart new luggage that she, Mrs. Sacret, had been observed bringing to her house. "He promised to put my trunks on the train for me," said Mrs. Sacret, wishing she had not aroused this spiteful curiosity. "He has behaved very kindly to me, you know I am a widow and alone. He painted my portrait—"

"You're not the only one he's been kind to," smiled a stout woman wearing a man's moleskin cap, "he used to have a girl in the place."

"I daresay," interrupted Mrs. Sacret steadily. "He would have sitters, perhaps models. Can you tell me the names and addresses of any of them?"

But, reluctant as they were to let the matter alone, no one could tell her more than that, always in the dusk, a young woman had been seen—and that only recently—going and coming from Mrs. Sacret's house; no one, even among these keen-eyed gossips, had been able to see enough of this stranger, always veiled or muffled—and in the partial dark—to be able to identify her, perhaps it had not always been the same young woman.

"It is nothing," protested Mrs. Sacret, more to herself than to them—"a seamstress, a laundress. He will send my rent. I must catch a train, I must go to the station."

She told the driver of the hackney to take her to Charing Cross. Her mind was becoming overwhelmed by its own anxiety and she hardly noticed where she was going nor remembered that she had left her valise in Minton Street. "There has been a mistake," she repeated to herself. "He is waiting for me at the station."

When she arrived there, she entered the dark, dirty, glass-roofed shed, with the long platforms and rails stretching from under it into the dull blur of the misty day, and felt her senses confused at these perspectives vanishing with a swiftness like motion out of the shadows of the station into the faint light beyond. These grim vistas afflicted her with fright, she ran about in the echoing, crowded entrance hall, peering into the faces of the men sauntering or hastening about with their rugs and carpetbags, each intent on his own business and so giving the effect of a crowd at cross-purposes and so increasing her confusion.

He was not there.

A porter approached her and asked her if she had any luggage.

"Not here—at Dover," she replied, "but I fear I have missed the boat train."

He smiled with the spiteful pleasure of his small specialist's knowledge. "Past midday," he jerked his thumb at the clock above the refreshment room. "The boat train goes at eight o'clock."

"No—ten o'clock—I am sure of that."

"You're wrong," grinned the porter. "You'll see it chalked up—" he pointed now to a blackboard that announced that the train for Dover—Calais left Platform No. 3, every day, except Saturday, at eight o'clock, "as is well known," added the man contemputously.

Mrs. Sacret moved away. The station was hideous, dazzling to the sight, confounding to the hearing, offensive to the lungs. She felt dismal and distracted. Only one thought was clear in her mind. He intentionally deceived me. He never meant to take me—he lied last night, about the time of the train. How much else has he lied about?

She was hungry and moved wearily toward the refreshment room, then remembered the waiting cab and made her way slowly to the street.

The decayed vehicle and old tired horse, the driver wrapped in his rugs, waited patiently. Mrs. Sacret hung back from the dark interior, smelling of lamp oil and damp leather; it seemed intolerable to turn back; her disappointment was so heavy that she almost sobbed as she gave her wretched address to the old man on the box gathering up the worn reins. Practical anxieties quenched her universal misery as she opened her reticule to pay for her fruitless ride.

She had very little money. She had, indeed, nothing but the clothes she wore and her few pieces of broken furniture, the mean little house. Everything else that she possessed had been taken by the man she knew as Mark Bellis, to whose whereabouts she had no clue.


§ 37

Alone in her despised room, Olivia Sacret faced her situation. She had a few pounds in her reticule, a few pounds in the bank—this was all that was left of what she had earned and extorted during her stay at the Old Priory.

Money, the diamond bracelet, the set of emeralds, even her present from Martin Rue she had given to the painter; he had also her fine trunks, full of fine clothes, and the letters that constituted her only hold on Susan. She forced herself, with the cold courage that had supported her through the whole adventure, to consider her position; she had been duped from the first, and, in a way, had always been aware of this. She had not really believed anything he had told her, he had never given her the slightest proof of his good faith. She had wanted to be deceived, for she had supposed that he would continue to deceive her for a long while, because of her power to get money from Susan. She did not expect that he would so suddenly abandon her, and, concentrating desperately on the problem, she was convinced that this abandonment had not been his original intention. It would have paid him better to have carried out what was, surely, his first plan.

Only yesterday—and suddenly—had he decided on flight. The word was shocking. Why had he fled? Leaving no hint as to his whereabouts, without sending her a line of explanation? Painfully recalling every incident of the past day she remembered that there had been a subtle change in the painter's manner after she had told him of old Mrs. Rue's visit. He had seemed at first startled and angry, though he had had his back to her and she could not see his face; then when he had turned he had spoken of her return to the Old Priory and said words to the effect that she would be safer with Susan Rue.

Yes, that was the moment when he had decided on leaving London—perhaps the country—at once—without hampering himself with an ignorant woman who would be clamoring for Paris or Italy. Following this train of bitter thought, she recalled what he had once remarked about the extradition treaty, then she stopped herself to ask—what was he afraid of? She saw, in her mind, the sketches on the wall of the round chamber at Lyndbridge House, the bottle he had chosen, the word on the label. She saw some other things also and again stopped her thoughts. She dare not put plainly, even to herself, the case as she saw it. Far too implicitly had she, in her infatuation, trusted him. He had seemed so sure of himself, his plan for freeing Susan had seemed so skillful, so impossible to detect. What had gone wrong? The medical men had been unexpectedly sharp, they had discerned immediately the cause of the illness, though she, obeying his instructions, had removed everything the patient had rejected, keeping all vessels rinsed out. The autopsy had been unexpected, also. So had the finding of the jury. For herself she would have supposed the situation safe enough, but the painter's flight touched her with a chill, unreasoning fear, akin to that sort of horror she had felt last night when she had seen the figure that resembled herself walking ahead of her through the dark and the rain, a fear that eclipsed her passionate disappointment at her abandonment.

She was shrewd enough to be able to understand clearly her own forlorn state. Even if she sold the house at once and for the utmost price, she would have only a few hundred pounds in the world. Her chances of finding a post were more remote even than before and her dislike of menial work even greater than it had been. She realized she must understand that she had been plundered of everything she possessed. But there remained Susan, who need never know that Mrs. Sacret had lost her letters, Susan who had now no husband to urge her companion's dismissal. Susan, weak, dazed, who would be an easy prey, Susan who would be Lady Curie and very grateful to the friend who had stood by her so faithfully.

Besides there was the painter's advice, she would be safer with Susan, "Safeguard," that was the word he had used. She resolved to return to the Old Priory at once, without even pausing for food and rest. The ugly house, so recently the scene of violent death, now appeared like a refuge to her; she repacked her valise once more. In the midst of this mechanically performed task, the weight of her day overcame her with an excess of desolation; she dropped the case and its contents, fell on her knees, took her face in her hands and for the first time since she was a child, wept the spontaneous tears of profound sorrow.


§ 38

The two ladies lived very quietly at Brighton in a small house on the Parade that Susan had hired, with Curtis as personal maid, and three other servants from Clapham to run the modest establishment. Susan had shown no great surprise at Mrs. Sacret's return to the Old Priory; seemed to listen with much attention to her smooth excuses "that she really could not go abroad and leave her dear friend alone at such a sad time and therefore she had postponed her plans."

The young widow was melancholy and took little interest in anything. "I knew you would return," was all the comment she made on the swift reappearance of her companion. She even accepted without vexation Mrs. Sacret's story of having lost the luggage she had sent in advance to Dover and allowed her to replenish her clothes at her expense. She also put money into Mrs. Sacret's ready hand, without any talk of a settled wage or settled duties. Nor did she mention the letters. She seemed as resigned to her position as Mrs. Sacret was to hers, and uttered no word as to the future, nor any mention of Sir John Curle. Olivia Sacret was thankful for this lull; the removal to Brighton did cut off the old life sharply, and assuage some of the passionate grief she was obliged to keep secret. Although stunned by an appalling sense of loss she had not given up hope, and, as day after day went by and the death of Martin Rue fell farther into the past and there was no sign of anyone taking any more interest in it, she nourished the expectation that the painter, assured that he was safe, would seek her out. Their relationship had always had a dreamlike quality to this woman who had dreamed so seldom, and been so full of a rich and varied experience to this woman whose experience had been so pinched and commonplace, that she was, if not satisfied, at least quieted by the constant dwelling on Mark Bellis and his promises that was her main mental occupation. She was not able to resist a visit to Lyndbridge House, though this meant a tedious journey to London, and a night in the empty house in Minton Street.

This secret expedition was unavailing. The mansion was closed, the servants dismissed, no one was permitted to see the enclosed splendors of galleries and gardens; the master, newly bereaved of his bride, was not, at least for years, returning to England.

So the round apartment with the fairy landscapes painted on the walls, the long enfilade, the walled rosetree plots, became a hidden treasure to Mrs. Sacret, part of the fascination of her lost friend, something that she could visit only in her fancy—Oh, was that the word?

She stared through her veil and through the gates that the lodge keeper would not open, though she had plausibly represented herself as a foreigner who wished to see the famous pictures at Lyndbridge House. The avenue of bare chestnut trees had a terrifying likeness to the long perspective of railway lines vanishing rapidly into nothingness from under the glass-roofed sheds of the huge station. She asked t the inn, the Lyndbridge Arms, for news of the painter, affecting to be an acquaintance of his who chanced to be visiting this village. The excuse was poor, and she learned nothing of the man she sought day and night in her memories, save that at Lyndbridge he had been known as Robin Campion.


§ 39

The winter was sharp but fine at Brighton, and despite their sorrows the two ladies bloomed, Susan into a florid beauty, coquettishly at variance with her deep mourning, Mrs. Sacret into a clear precision of line and color well set off by the quiet yet fashionable dresses she affected, having discarded the crapes that had seemed fitting at the Old Priory. Their days were monotonous, since neither had any interests beyond some talking, embroidery or the reading of a novel from the circulating library. But this routine of good food, easy chairs, easier beds, fresh air, a carriage and pair, a maid to attend to their persons, was in itself soothing, and even Mrs. Sacret's trouble was held in check.

One sparkle of hope she had when she threshed over (yet once again) the story of the painter, and that was his possession of Susan's letters. Mrs. Sacret did not believe that he would allow these to lie forever useless in her trunk and when he began to remind Susan of their existence and the price he put on them, then Mrs. Sacret would have to come into contact with him again, then she would be, once more, of use to him in dealing with their common victim.

Meanwhile she resolved to keep her hand in by herself and began to offer hints as to the future to the resigned and feeble Susan, who was reduced by the shock of her husband's death to a state, in Mrs. Sacret's contemptuous opinion, approaching imbecility.

"Here is the spring again, Susan, though I declare it will be a long time coming in this bleak place, and you really must begin to take an interest in life."

"What interest could I have?"

"Oh, come now, do be sensible! There is no need to remain here, on show, in full mourning—you could go abroad."

"I have not the strength—the desire—for any plans—besides wherever I went you would, no doubt, accompany me."

"Of course, you ought to be glad of that. I am the only person who has stayed by you."

"I could have found other friends," replied Susan in a hopeless tone, "but what was the use? I knew that I should never get rid of you."

"Indeed you would," remarked Mrs. Sacret tartly, "soon be rid of me—as you call it—if my plans had not gone a little awry. I am waiting for a message from someone—then I shall go abroad. Do you suppose that I am enjoying myself here, in this dull watering place?" As she spoke she easily persuaded herself of the truth of what she said and lively images leaped before her mind—the painter preparing for her in his lakeside villa, a summons for her even now in the post.

"If you want money," said Susan unexpectedly, "I can give it to you—and you could go to—wherever you wish. I wrote to Mr. Atherton, my lawyer, and told him I should need a large sum, and he answered there should be no difficulty now. He is selling the Old Priory for me."

If Mrs. Sacret had had any clue as to where she might find the painter she would have accepted this offer and gone abroad to find him. But she dared not risk leaving England. Letters were forwarded from Minton Street and Clapham to Brighton and surely he would soon send for her to one of those addresses.

"I'll take a few pounds for my expenses," she said gently. "You haven't given me much since I came here—just odd sums. I don't know my plans yet, but there is no need for you to defer yours—have you not written to Sir John Curle?"

Susan shuddered at that name.

"How can you speak so, Olivia! Never, never mention him again."

"Has he not written to you?"

"Once. I destroyed the letter unopened."

Mrs. Sacret shrugged.

"Well, I suppose this modesty is a matter of form, and you can't do much but live retired until your year of mourning is up—but surely you had better keep in touch with him, he might become tired of waiting."

"Don't speak of it," implored Susan with a look of terror.

"How stupid you are!" sneered Mrs. Sacret, forgetting her sweet low tones. "Here you are free of a husband you detested—and very rich and able to marry a man you are pining for, who is very rich also, and titled—"

"You are vulgar and dull," interrupted Susan, and the other woman stared at her in strong amazement. "My husband—died—because I was not kind to him. His mother was right. I behaved like a wicked woman. I shall never recover from the remorse."

"You don't mean that." Mrs. Sacret stooped to put a billet of wood on the fire, in order to hide her astonishment.

"I do—I think you know I do. I have been most weak, wrong and foolish, but I did not detest—my husband—you are the only person I have ever hated."

She rose and withdrew from the circle of the lamp and firelight, adding quickly: "You have been an evil genius to me ever since you came to the Old Priory—as the evil genius in the old play we used to learn at school."

"How unjust! You were very unhappy when I found you."

"Nothing to what I was afterwards. You frightened me with disgrace because of those letters—I couldn't remember any harm in them—and then you forced me to confess I had been a wicked woman."

"Bah, you are flighty, hysterical—"

"I was, I am not now."

"Then don't talk of such things, think of the future."

"There is not one for me."

Mrs. Sacret was uneasy at this firm, somber tone. Have I pushed her too far? she wondered as she said aloud pleasantly:

"You should not live here, so isolated and brooding—"

"I am not fit company for anyone, save for you."

"You speak wildly—do pray consider that you were crazy with love for Sir John Curle."

"Crazy indeed. Do you suppose I could ever look at him again, or he at me? My husband's death has separated us forever."

Mrs. Sacret looked up and eyed her friend apprehensively. Susan did not behave with her usual partially incoherent foolishness, she seemed to mean what she said, to have come out of the long apathy that had followed her husband's death with some strength and purpose. Her beauty that had bloomed with the sea air and the care of the anxious Curtis now seemed, to her friend's envious glance, but a luster over an inner sickness: she was much thinner, her eyes were overlarge, her manner was grave and heavy, she was certainly changed from the pliable stupid creature that Mrs. Sacret had always contemptuously felt she completely dominated.

"Don't be alarmed," said Susan, as if she understood this appraising glance. "I am still afraid of you. I still could not endure to be disgraced. I don't any longer hope you will give up those letters. But I'll pay you, year by year, month by month, as you wish, to keep quiet about them. But you may as well leave me. You won't get any more out of me by living with me. And I shall be very poor company."

Mrs. Sacret recalled how the painter had told her, during one of their last interviews, that she was another woman from the missionary's meek widow with the sharp eye for money whom he had met to bargain over her house. Susan was altered also, and Mrs. Sacret had not reckoned on that. She had thought that her friend would always remain foolish, malleable, headlong in love with dull Sir John, she had not foreseen that one strong emotion might kill another and that Susan, under the impact of shock, might develop aspects of her character hitherto unknown even to herself.

"Martin suffered horribly, he was kind to me, he never even forgave me, he took it that there was nothing to forgive—he would never listen to anything against me, he begged his mother to help me. I can never forget it." Susan spoke steadily, as if voicing thoughts that were constantly in her mind.

"Where is your passion for Sir John?" asked Mrs. Sacret scornfully.

"I do not know." The simple words had much strength. Susan moved quietly into the shadows, saying: "He will understand perfectly, of course."

Mrs. Sacret wondered if she could ever be overwhelmed by any emotion that would cause her to lose her passion for Mark Bellis. She could not imagine one. Still amazed at Susan's revelation, and even against her own mocking, she believed in the sincerity of it, she asked incredulously:

"Do you really mean that you will give up everything? All the future? All you might have?"

"There is nothing to give up—it is all over, impossible. And do, pray, leave me. There is nothing to gain by staying with me, and I shall pay you what you wish."

Susan went quietly from the room, her mourning one with the shadows.


§ 40

Mrs. Sacret was considerably perturbed by Susan's attitude. For several days she tried to alter it by specious arguments, but the younger woman was immovable and Mrs. Sacret was forced to admit to herself that the obstinate creature had resolved to indulge her stupid remorse, or grief, and to have nothing to do with her former lover or her former life. Moreover, that she had determined not to have any pretenses in her relationship with her tormentor, to drop all pretenses of friendship with her and, though willing to buy her silence at a handsome price, she was no longer willing to disguise the brutal nature of the ugly transaction.

The situation galled Mrs. Sacret's pride. Susan did not abuse her, nor even express scorn, there was a blank indifference in her attitude to her companion that was worse than contempt. Certainly there was the money, almost unlimited money, to be had. But greedy as Mrs. Sacret vas, she felt that there was not much glitter about this sordid bargain. She would not be, as she had hoped, the trusted friend of Lady Curie, sharing her luxurious existence as an equal. She must either live a secluded life with a woman who made no disguise of her weary hatred or she must go into the world alone. Without the painter, how did she know where to go, how to spend her money? In everything she had depended on him, apart from him, no key to the golden world he had promised her. Desperately she wrote to him at Minton Street and the Pimlico lodgings. The last was returned to her through the post office, the second she found on the dirty mat in the mean hall when she went up to London to inquire for him. Though she humbled herself to ask questions of the neighbors, she could hear nothing of him. He had disappeared completely and she began to feel a reluctant despair, the dazzling dreams to which she clung so tenaciously began to vanish into a harsh and common light. And with her fierce disappointment was mingled wonder. Of what was he afraid? Why had he, with booty he had considered meager, abandoned an adventure which he had so eagerly undertaken? She searched over the house, now in a wretched condition from neglect, fouled by mice and black beetles, in the frantic hope of finding some trace of him—there was none.

Only one possession of his remained, the old wide trunk that had served as a model's throne when he had painted her portrait.

She opened it now, for the first time. It was empty, smelled unpleasantly and was smeared with dark brown stains. She supposed he had been using it to pack some of his paint materials in, and spilled some varnish. Then she supposed that he had, at one time, kept an animal, a pet clog, in it as a kennel, for there were coarse gray hairs stuck to the torn linen lining. She could not think of him as owning a dog, she disliked animals herself, and supposed that he did. She dropped the lid of the trunk and stood unutterably alone in the dismal little room.

When she had returned to Brighton she was forced to consider her future plans. Susan offered her five hundred pounds to leave England at once, and certainly it was very dull and very disagreeable to pass the lengthening days with Susan, silent and hostile, melancholy and withdrawn, Curtis barely civil and the other servants impertinent. She cast about in her active mind as to how she could use her supposed possession of the letters with old Mrs. Rue and Sir John Curle. She soon dismissed any idea of gaining any advantage from Martin Rue's mother. Eager as she would be to have proof of her daughter-in-law's wickedness in her hands, she would not be fooled, she would insist on seeing the letters that Mrs. Sacret no longer possessed. And while she was wondering what the baronet would give to suppress Susan's confession, she read in the Morning Post that he had gone to Rome for an indefinite period, shutting up his town chambers and putting his estate in the charge of a steward.

This was like a blow over the heart to Mrs. Sacret; it proved that Susan was seriously determined to remain a widow, that Sir John would make no effort to induce her to change her mind, and that she, Olivia Sacret, had lost any chance she might have had of extorting some advantage from him. It stung her bitterly that he, the opulent, lazy man, to whom travel was nothing, should have gone to Italy, the country chosen for her peculiar dreams. While she was hesitating as to her future course, and dragging on, from hour to hour, in the nervous hope of hearing, at last, from the painter, several events befell that distracted her from her confusions.

A copy of the Lancet was sent to Susan whose horror was so intense that she showed it to Mrs. Sacret. The journal contained a medical history of the death of Martin Rue written by Dr. Balance, with the analyst's report and that of the post-mortem. As there were comments Mrs. Sacret could not see any "harm," as she put it, in the article, though the details were, undoubtedly, horrid. But the widow of Martin Rue was thrown into an agony of distress at this revival of the case, after several months, and in so poignant a manner.

"It is your odious mother-in-law," said Mrs. Sacret. "She has been working in the dark. I daresay the jury did meet at the house—but what does it matter?"

This slightly uneasy question was soon answered.

While the two ladies were living so quietly at Brighton, someone certainly had been making efforts to have the death of Martin Rue more thoroughly investigated than had been done at the inquest held at the Old Priory.

The Morning Post reported that Sergeant Sir Peter Hill had raised the question of a further inquiry into "the Clapham Mystery," as the newspapers were already terming it, and the home secretary, Lord Milton, promised a private sitting by Mr. Plumpton, K.C., solicitor to the Treasury, for the purpose of sifting the evidence as to the cause of Martin Rue's violent death.

This startling news, equally distasteful to both the ladies, but for different reasons, was followed by a letter from Susan's solicitor, Mr. Atherton, informing her that he was aware that neither she nor Mrs. Sacret would be called before this august tribunal and advising her that he was offering, in her name, a reward of five hundred pounds to anyone bringing forward information as to the purchase of antimony by her late husband.

"He had it in his Indian basket," said Susan faintly. "What does Mr. Atherton mean?"

This question was also soon answered; the lawyer came to Brighton and advised both the ladies to send in writing the evidence that they had not been called upon to give before Dr. Plumpton.

Susan, at once, and without any of the vagueness usual to her, wrote down an account of MY HUSBAND'S SUICIDE, this contained nothing that she had not said before. Though she had not been a witness at the inquest, she had spoken without hesitation of the events of that horrible night, and now she had nothing to add, nothing to keep back.

Mrs. Sacret's description of the death of Martin Rue was succinct, but she put in one detail she had not given at the inquest, when she stated that when she had first rushed to his assistance the dying man had gasped—"I have taken poison for Curle, don't tell Susan."

Mr. Atherton scrupulously refused to read these statements that were sent under seals to the Treasury, both the ladies assuring him that what they had written contained nothing in the way of fresh evidence. A fortnight later, time that passed quickly for Mrs. Sacret and Susan for they had become uneasy friends, drawn together by a vague anxiety and spent their time in discussing what this reopening of the case might mean—what could it mean—they agreed, but that the malice of old Mrs. Rue was resolved to expose Susan's plans for divorce as the reason for her husband's suicide. The attorney general, Sir Mile Finch, made an application to the court of Queen's Bench to have the coroner's inquiry quashed and another inquest on Martin Rue held The complaints against the first inquiry were that neither Dr. Balance nor old Mrs. Rue had been allowed to give evidence, though both had desired to do so, and that both had since sworn on oath that they knew that the dead man had had no intention of taking his own life; also that Mrs. Sacret, in her statement to the Treasury, had introduced matter that she had withheld at the inquest, the dying man's confession of suicide. Mr. Atherton reproached Mrs. Sacret for not inform ing him of this addition to her sworn evidence. He wished to know why she had not at first made this statement and also why she had thought fit to make it now. Olivia Sacret affected the demure, un worldly missionary's widow, her spirits burned by the unusual situation in which she found herself. She told the lawyer that she had suppressed Sir John Curle's name at the inquest out of consideration for Susan and had mentioned it now because she was afraid to conceal anything, the case having obtained such alarming publicity.

"Not alarming, madam, my client has nothing to fear," frowned the lawyer. "The whole needless fuss and bother is owing to the malice of a meddling old woman, jealous of her daughter-in-law and infatuated with her son, even when he is dead. She has whipped it all up—with her doctors, lawyers and members of Parliament. It is true," he added in a grumble, "that the affair was badly managed, the coronet incompetent and three of the medical men too complacent. It would have been better to have called this Dr. Balance then, and the elder Mrs. Rue and get it over. And a pity that you, Mrs. Sacret, had to alter your evidence. What you have admitted now was probably just the final reason for ordering a reopening of the case."

"I never thought of that!" exclaimed Mrs. Sacret with a bitterness that Mr. Atherton thought was concern for Susan but which was really concern at her own clumsiness. How stupid her master would consider her if he ever got to know of her blunder! If she had stuck to her first evidence, perhaps neither the medical men nor old Mrs. Rue would have been able to have the case reopened.

"I told Dr. Virtue," she sighed.

"Yes, and he says he taxed the dying man with it, who declared positively he had never made such a confession, so the doctor did not feel obliged to mention this at the inquest."

"Mr. Rue was crazy with jealousy, for which he had not the least cause," said Mrs. Sacret. "He must have been out of his senses to commit suicide and so hardly knew what he said to me."

"Plausible, and yet all the doctors agree he was perfectly sane. No one has been known to poison himself with antimony before."

"He must have been mad," urged Mrs. Sacret.

"If you thought so, you need not have repeated what he said. There is no record in any chemist's shop in London of his purchase of antimony."

"He had it in that Indian basket."

"No trace of it, the doctors declare, and all his purchases have been gone into—the only dangerous drugs he had or was known to purchase were those he admitted to—laudanum and chloroform."

"He must have got it somewhere." Then Mrs. Sacret strengthened this feeble comment by a daring venture. "Is not antimony used for horses? Might there not have been some in the stables?"

"Uncommon knowledge for a lady," remarked the lawyer. "A shrewd comment."

"My father kept horses," said Mrs. Sacret, enlarging the overworked doctor's nag which drew the worn gig into a country gentleman's stables, and adding a quick lie. "He told me antimony was used as a drench for them—he used to warn me from interfering with anything in the stables."

"I cannot touch on any of this now," replied Mr. Atherton. "I advise you to engage a barrister to look after your interests. This second inquiry will make a deal of noise. It is very rare for the Crown to upset the findings of a coroner's court."

"Oh, it doesn't signify much how he got the poison, everyone knows he took it!" smiled Olivia Sacret. "It is merely a scandal for nothing, save to gratify old Mrs. Rue's spite. But even if she publishes to the world her opinion that her son was driven mad by jealousy of Susan, I shall be able to declare that he was unbalanced on this subject and that her affair with Sir John Curle was quite innocent."

"Don't, pray, term it an affair," commanded the lawyer sharply and this concern for the fair name of Susan, who had been a married man's secret mistress, angered the virtuous Mrs. Sacret who rejoined tartly, "They were much talked of, Susan was not at all prudent."

"You need not remember that, Mrs. Sacret."

"I must, if questioned on the subject. Everyone knows, so what will it matter? I daresay it will be distressing for Susan, but she will get over it, and making one's husband jealous isn't a crime."

"I don't think that you realize the seriousness of this case, Mrs. Sacret. The investigation will be most thorough, some of the most brilliant men in the legal profession will be briefed for it, the public interest is enormous."

"Why?" asked Mrs. Sacret steadily.

"Allow me," said Mr. Atherton, taking up his hat, "to repeat to you what was said by the lord chief justice in reply to the attorney general. This report is not, I believe, in the papers yet."

"I have not seen it—we live retired here."

"Lord Moore said—'In your view it is not a case of suicide?'—and Sir Miles Finch answered, 'Should it prove to be murder, as I suspect it is, I hope we shall elicit some facts which would justify a charge against someone.' I hope you will allow some importance to those two statements."

But Mrs. Sacret, with admirable courage, continued to reply—"How absurd! Who could, or would, have murdered Martin Rue!"

"That, unfortunately," frowned the lawyer, taking his leave, "is precisely what this second inquest intends to find out. Pray impart this news carefully to Mrs. Rue. I confess I shrink from doing so myself."


§ 41

Olivia Sacret was stung by a cold pang equal to that she had felt when she had seen her double hurrying before her up the rainy, lamplit street She soon reasoned this fear away, but the shadow of it remained with her, as the shadow of the fat woman in the crape and black bombazine had remained in the little room at Minton Street after her departure. What she had threatened then, she was now putting into practice; how long, patiently and carefully she must have worked in order to bring about this most unexpected result! Olivia Sacret winced before this demonstration of hatred, for she did not for a moment credit that old Mrs. Rue's motive was love for her lost son. Another reflection was extremely unpleasant to the alert and anxious missionary's widow, and that was the wise move the painter had made in disappearing so early from these complications and the unlikelihood of his return until the second inquest was over.

But soon after he will come back, if only for more money from Susan, for I am sure that this time there will be no doubt about the verdict.

She found this cheerful thought confirmed by Susan's reaction when she broke to her the news that Mr. Atherton had feared would prove so dreadful to Martin Rue's widow, for the sad young woman, though shuddering at the prospect of having her affairs discussed before a public tribunal, dismissed the suggestion of murder as grotesque, and failed to understand the comment of the attorney general before the court of Queen's Bench. Her remark was that made by Mrs. Sacret to Mr. Atherton.

"Who could have murdered poor Martin!" and she added sorrowfully, "He had no enemies."

"Of course it was suicide," answered Mrs. Sacret. "And though it will be horrid for you, you must admit that he was crazy with jealousy."

"It was true—I drove him to it. It will be part of my punishment to confess that—but oh, Olivia, I do wish Sir John's name could have been kept out of this!"

"It cannot. You made yourself so conspicuous."

"Martin never mentioned him, never reproached me, even when dying in those agonies—"

"He mentioned him to me, and I can't commit perjury even for you—but you need not fear—"

"—the letters?" put in Susan sharply. "I know you will spare my reputation, for if it is lost, you will not be able to blackmail me."

Mrs. Sacret was angry at anyone as stupid as Susan discovering the truth and she answered harshly: "What an ugly, vulgar word! But I won't be vexed. I am still your best friend. I shall be careful to emphasize that your friendship with Sir John Curle was highly respectable, that you have not seen him since your second marriage and that Mr. Rue was crazy with jealousy inflamed by his horrible mother."

"You can tell the truth, as you saw it at the Old Priory. I had nothing to conceal there."

"Oh, I am not so sure—better not state you were pressing for a divorce and being refused and avowing to me that you were deep, headlong deep in love with Sir John Curle."

"No need to bring in that name," agreed Susan faintly. "As for the rest—it will come out—my mother-in-law will tell all she can against me.

"She will overdo it and show her spite and prejudice herself—you must trust to me to do what I can for you. Mr. Atherton thought I should have a lawyer to represent me. And so I should, I suppose. But I have no money. You must undertake this expense for me!"

"Very well, but why do you need a lawyer? No one will have anything to charge you with. I shall be exposed as a heartless wife who drove her husband to suicide."

This innocence exasperated Mrs. Sacret. How dense Susan was, despite her occasional flashes of shrewdness and insight! In what a dull manner she was handling this affair and how stupid, almost imbecile, her life had been since her husband's death! Susan seemed to catch something of her companion's scorn, for she said hastily, putting back the heavy hair that had fallen over her eyes—"I don't understand any of this lawyers' work, I don't know what any of them mean—my mind, my heart, are fixed on what I did—causing Martin to destroy himself."

Mrs. Sacret wanted to allow this to pass, but could not resist saying: "Do you not understand what the attorney general claimed and the lord chief justice allowed, that this was a case of murder?"

"Ridiculous," said Susan sadly. "Why do they think of that when the horrid truth is so clear?"

"Supposing they were correct?" demanded Mrs. Sacret, goading herself as well as Susan.

Stung into recognizing the possibility of this monstrous thing, Susan flashed—"Then I hope any such wicked, wicked person is caught and hanged!"

"Oh, dear me, I never saw you so angry! And yet you wanted to be free of him! Well, of course it was suicide, as will be proved. You don't know anyone who had any grudge against poor Mr. Rue?"

"No, indeed, he was the kindest of men!" cried Susan warmly. "He lived retired, as you know, because of his health—and gave no offense to any, his business friends speak very highly of him."

"Some servants, perhaps?"

"What are you saying, Olivia! I think that you must be crazy, also."

"Oh, I didn't mean the women, I thought perhaps someone in the stables, you know how rough they are, and if one were under dismissal—"

"I don't know anything about them, and Martin didn't much—he hardly went into the stables."

"Didn't he blame anyone for being thrown—as he was, several times?"

"No, he knew that he was a poor rider. Thompson the head gardener was devoted to him, because of the conservatory—Oh, pray, don't talk of these things." Susan paused, then added desperately: "I think I must have a glass of wine tonight."

"Why not

"You know I have not taken any wine since I came to Brighton."

"Yes," agreed Mrs. Sacret indifferently. It was now no matter to her whether Susan drank too much wine or not. "I'm sure you're silly to keep yourself so low."

"I have been taking those sleeping pills that Dr. Virtue gave me, and I have not found it so difficult to give up the wine. You know why I do it—because he always tried to prevent me. I do it as a tribute to him."

"It is a mawkish kind of sacrifice," sneered Mrs. Sacret. "He was always so rude to you about this, insulting you before the servants."

"I deserved it—I did drink too much because I was so unhappy."

"Anyhow, you can take some to keep your spirits up. Wine was never one of my temptations, but I could do with a glass myself now and then, in this tedious place."

"Olivia," asked Susan, "what are your temptations? I have never understood you nor what you wanted—you never seemed to have anything or to care for anyone—you said just now you had no money. What have you done with that I gave you—the jewels?"

"I am saving for my old age," replied Mrs. Sacret with a horrid grin at being thus reminded how she had been plundered. "And as for not caring for anyone, what do you know of me?" Repenting this savage question, she quickly muttered, "It is true I have had no one to care for since Frederick died, you always misjudged me. I merely want to save a little toward—a cottage in the country."

Susan stared at her, then sank back into her easy chair, crying softly.

"Do try to collect yourself," said Mrs. Sacret, still flushed from anger. "Was there no one who might have done Mr. Rue a mischief?"

"No one. How can you make such shocking suggestions!"

"The lawyers have something up their sleeves no doubt. They will wonder why anyone should take antimony for suicide when laudanum and chloroform were at hand, they will suggest antimony was in the stables as a horse medicine."

"Oh, was it

"I'm sure I don't know, but it usually is. Now are you quite sure, Susan, that there was not someone among the stable men, who disliked your husband, someone who had been dismissed, perhaps?"

Mrs. Sacret was astonished at the change in Susan's face, as if that stupid woman had suddenly understood the purport of what her friend was trying to convey to her. Rising, alert and startled, the young widow exclaimed: "I had forgotten John Blair—he was dismissed—"

"Yes?" urged Mrs. Sacret eagerly.

"By Captain Dasent," continued Susan, "for some fault, I have forgotten—he appealed to me, and I found him a place with Sir John Curie, at the mews where he keeps his horses in London. Then I took Blair back when I married Martin—"

"And they quarreled?"

"Oh, no! Blair was very grieved when Martin died."

"He was not under notice?"

"No. Martin liked him, he was the only man I knew of in the stables."

Angered by this folly, Mrs. Sacret tried to keep cool.

"Why mention this trifle?"

"I don't know—you spoke the word, dismissed. I thought of Blair, of course it doesn't signify," said Susan flatly. "I don't know what I was thinking of—"

"Where is this man now?"

"He asked me for a letter to Sir John, giving him a good character. I did so. He may have returned to that service, as you know I am not aware of Sir John's movements, or even if he is in England or not."

Mrs. Sacret did not know what to make of this piece of information that she turned over quickly in her keen mind.

"Why were you so startled when you recalled the existence of this man, Susan?"

"I remembered the happy times—it was like a blow," murmured Susan. "When I was married to Captain Dasent—and he cared for me and respected me—Blair was turned off because one of the carriage horses was too frisky and he was afraid for me—"

"And you regret that?"

"Yes, to be safe, and respected."

"But you had not even met the man you love."

"That was why I was happy," replied Susan simply. "And it is over—loved, not love. No, I have no love any longer in my heart for anyone."

Mrs. Sacret considered a little, then said:

"You ought to try to shorten this horrid inquiry as much as possible, out of respect for the memory of poor Mr. Rue—and just in case anyone—some servant—was suspected of a crime, you ought to swear you are sure it was suicide."

"Yes, I shall do that," declared Susan readily. "I believe so—to declare it will be my first punishment."

"You ought to begin by writing to Mr. Atherton and saying that this is your conviction, and putting in every little thing you can remember that makes you so sure."

"Do you think so? Very well. I shall write tonight."

"And—Susan—what do you suppose—he—took the poison in?"

"I have often thought of that," whispered the young widow. "You know—ah, you would not know—but he always had a carafe of cold water by his bedside and drank a glass of it before going to bed. I think of him—oh, how horrible—going to his cupboard, taking the poison from the Indian basket and putting it in that glass of water."

"If you had mentioned that habit before, I should have kept the bottle and the tumbler—but everything was moved in the confusion."

"It doesn't matter. I wish I did not think of it so often. Was it that evening that you gave me a glass of your special medicine for him?"

"No—not that evening."

"I am so bewildered. Scenes—pictures—shift about in my head, sometimes upside down. I see you with a glass—"

"Salt and water. I rang for that at once. Now you must not think of these sad affairs. Perhaps you would care for a dose of that medicine of mine? It is only a mild sedative. It used to benefit poor Mr. Rue."

"No—I shall write to Mr. Atherton."


§ 42

When Mr. Atherton received that letter he summoned Mrs. Sacret to London, and in his stately offices at Lincoln's Inn rather sternly stated that he addressed himself to her as "the more intelligent of the two ladies. Mrs. Rue is as simple as a schoolgirl, for all her two marriages. At least so I suppose."

Mrs. Sacret agreed and listened quietly as this sedate, keen-faced man continued, in tones that were not without a note of warning, to impress on her the need of Susan and herself "telling the same tale. Obviously you will both be telling the exact truth. But it is easy even for two veracious accounts to jar on one another, even to confuse or contradict one another."

"Yes," agreed Mrs. Sacret, who had already decided to concert her evidence with Susan's—"but she is weak and obstinate and may be difficult to guide."

"Then you must frighten her, Mrs. Sacret. The Crown are determined to prove murder."

"Murder—"

"As I told you. The inquiry is to investigate how Martin Rue came to take the antimony, but nevertheless, the Prosecution is resolved on finding a murderer. They have a brilliant team of counsel—"

"It is absurd—the suggestion of murder, I mean."

"Precisely. You must, however, be very clear and positive in your evidence as to suicide, Mr. Rue's confession to you, his low spirits, his jealousy of his wife—any threats of self-destruction that he may have made. Mrs. Rue must agree with you. Both of you must be unshaken. Remember that the Crown will be looking for motive and opportunity."

"No one had either," smiled Mrs. Sacret, drawing on her gloves. She felt a thrill of almost joyous emotion, the sense of power that had come over her when she had contended with old Mrs. Rue and her son, defying them, holding to her own way, in the same fashion she would defy these lawyers of whom Mr. Atherton spoke with such respect, even fear. She saw herself meeting, watching all these men, marshaled by the malice of old Mrs. Rue, perfectly secure—for who would know what had been painted on the wall of Lyndbridge House?

She regretted that out of regard for decorum she must appear, if not in her original mourning, at least in half mourning, for she would have liked to have imagined herself as the dead man had, so oddly, seen her, brilliantly colored as the puce and scarlet salvia he had given her in his relief that she was leaving his house.

"Why are you smiling?" asked Mr. Atherton. "This is a serious matter."

But Mrs. Sacret was no longer secretly pleased with her thoughts. She had recalled that Martin Rue had foretold disaster if she did not depart from the Old Priory and she had also, in thinking over past finery and Lyndbridge, remembered her festive dress that she had last seen on the figure of her double hurrying through the rain and dark.

"Now you look alarmed," added the lawyer. "No need for that either. I want you to meet your counsel—Mr. Cyril Southey, Q.C. I have, as her legal adviser, briefed Sir Matthew Falkland for Mrs. Martin Rue."


§ 43

The interview with this famous barrister, whose fee would be paid by Susan, was a pleasure to Mrs. Sacret. She liked fooling this brilliant man, telling him a smooth tale smoothly, that was so near the truth as to deceive completely. The schoolgirl friendship, Susan's kindness in her early widowhood, her position as companion to an idle childless woman, unhappily married, was plausible to commonplace. Mrs. Sacret had only to omit what she knew Susan would never speak of the letters, the money paid over, the gift of the jewels, the hostility—and the story was as true as it was creditable.

Some of Mrs. Sacret's questions were admired by the lawyer who found them very pertinent.

She frankly asked on whom suspicion of a crime would fall. And Mr. Southey as frankly told her—"on the wife, she had the opportunity, and, probably, the motive."

"Where could she get the antimony?"

"The Crown may have evidence as to that," replied Mr. Southey cautiously. "It is not difficult to obtain. Unfortunately it was common knowledge in that household that Mrs. Rue was trying to obtain a divorce, that her husband was resisting this and extremely jealous."

"Those could be motives for suicide."

"Yes, but also for murder. We cannot evade that. The points for the Crown are—the oath Mrs. Rue took, again and again, that he had taken nothing dangerous, the lack of evidence as to threats of suicide, the evidence of Mrs. George Rue and three of the doctors that the dead man was not likely to take his life—the improbability of anyone swallowing—knowingly—antimony—"

Mrs. Sacret allowed him to talk, his words vanished into her thoughts for he was only saying what was, already, so familiar to her, and talking of matters to which she held the key and he did not. Nor did Mr. Southey consider that this important witness required much in the way of instruction, she seemed to understand her part very well, only, before she left, he warned her against self-contradiction. This had been one of the complaints of the first inquest—that might be accounted for by her plea that she had wished to avoid a scandal for Susan, but she had provoked that by her mention of Sir John Curie and would be expected to tell the whole truth. "A pity, Mrs. Sacret, that in your statement to the Treasury you brought in this man who was formerly a friend of Mrs. Martin Rue's."

"I did so to make Mr. Rue's confession convincing—that is what he really said."

"The name might well have been suppressed from kindness to Sir John and to Mrs. Rue."

"But I know and can swear that their friendship was entirely harmless."

"But the husband may not have thought so."

Mrs. Sacret caught him up.

"If Mrs. Rue had been Sir John's mistress, would that make the case against her stronger?"

The lawyer was surprised by the force and indelicacy of this remark; he fixed a penetrating and unfriendly eye on this intelligent and cold woman, to him extremely unattractive for all her soft hazel eyes and hair and gentle voice.

"Assuredly it would," he replied sternly. "There is no case against her, as you so rashly surmise, but if her moral character were blasted she would lose all sympathy from the jury, the press, the public, and it would provide a strong motive for crime. If a woman of Mrs. Rue's breeding and temperament can bring herself to break one commandment, she may the more easily bring herself to break another. Such a suggestion would ruin the lover also. He would at once appear as a possible accomplice. No hint of this unwarranted assumption, I pray, Mrs. Sacret."

"Indeed no, Susan's reputation is safe with me. I know that this friendship was harmless, why, I believe she hardly saw Sir John since her second marriage—"

"Hardly? She never saw him at all, or wrote to him—you as her constant companion must know that."

"Only her constant companion for the last year and a half, Mr. Southey. I was in Jamaica when she married. Sir John was frequently in London. I thought they met, in an ordinary social way, and wrote."

"No such thing. The connection was ended, very properly, on Mrs. Dasent's second marriage."

"Sad that Lady Curle did not die sooner, was it not? Though I must say Sir John is not romantic looking, though he has the air of a gentleman."

"You have seen him, then?"

"Yes—you must not ask me where. He doesn't move in my world, I know, so of course you are surprised. Perhaps I met him through Susan. I'll forget it."

"It need not come into your evidence," replied the lawyer coldly. "It will not be needful for you to volunteer statements, not germane to your testimony—the inquiry is as to how antimony came into the body of Mr. Martin Rue. It is most regrettable there has been no response to the reward of five hundred pounds offered for information as to Mr. Rue's purchase of this poison."

"He had it in his Indian basket, of course."

"I fear that we cannot prove that."

"I might have seen it."

"No—don't strain your imagination, Mrs. Sacret. You will only prejudice the value of your evidence that will testify to the likelihood of suicide."

In the train returning to Brighton Mrs. Sacret decided not to warn Susan of the position in which she stood. It would be useless to endeavor to plan a concerted story with her. Susan was too honest, too foolish, too overwhelmed by remorse to be able to arrange her tale, she would merely tell the truth, however she was prepared. And Mrs. Sacret believed that the young widow's simple-mindedness was so innocent, and her conviction of her husband's suicide so strong, that she would be unable to grasp the significance of the suspicion cast on her. This might even, Mrs. Sacret believed, have the effect of unsettling her wits, already painfully agitated by her long brooding in seclusion at Brighton. But Mrs. Sacret made one of those mistakes that she did not believe herself capable of making. Having refused to break gently the horrid news to Susan, this came to her in a pang of horror, through anonymous letters that she unwittingly opened, and in the expressionless tones of her counsel, Sir Matthew Falkland. He thought it prudent to advise the recluse of Brighton that she was being reviled, lampooned, and mocked everywhere idle tongues wagged, while the press, with no regard for the case being sub judice, contrived to supply their readers with piquant scandals relating to "The Clapham Mystery."

Mrs. Sacret was in error again as to her guess about Susan's probable behavior under this terrible ordeal. Far from collapsing, the unhappy young woman showed courage and that firmness of innocence that, to a trained observer, is very different from the callousness of guilt.

"It is quite incredible," she said and indeed she thought the charge so—"I have never been able to kill a fly and for anyone to think I could inflict such agonies—"

Sir Matthew was confident that the inquiry would vindicate his client, but he was puzzled by some of the features of the case and urged Mrs. Rue to say all that she in honesty could to emphasize the likelihood of suicide.

To her companion, in the quiet of her bedroom, Susan Rue spoke without hesitation.

"I have no fear whatever of this monstrous suspicion, Olivia—but my reputation is in your hands and you know that I value that more than life."

Mrs. Sacret could not sneer at these commonplace words, they were too passionately sincere.

"I have Sir John Curie to think of," continued Susan. "Oh, why did you have to mention him!" Then she said, as the lawyer had said—"He would be ruined." Looking at Mrs. Sacret straightly from beautiful eyes swollen by weeping, she added—"Strange that I can trust you, because you are my enemy. I daresay you would like to expose me publicly—but then I should not fear you—"

"You speak as if I were a wicked woman—"

"Well, aren't you?" asked Susan simply.

Mrs. Sacret turned away from the window. There were roses in the garden and she disliked seeing them, they reminded her of that last, treasured day at Lyndbridge House. How thankful she would be when all these sordid affairs were over and the painter, Mark Bellis (Robin Campion), returned to claim her, as he would return when all was safe.

Self-pity touched her as she considered how much inactive waiting, how much dull boredom she had put through during this intrigue that so far had not brought in much for her. Why, she had not even the diamond bracelet or the handsome clothes Susan had given her—she had lost even the letters, and, even though her victim might never discover that, this gave her a sense of insecurity.

"Wicked," she repeated, her gentle voice touched with reproach. "What have I done, a poor defenseless woman, but try Co look after myself?" She remembered the painter's comments on inequalities of fortune. "You always had everything, you really owed me something—"

"You've had it," interrupted Susan. "Or some of it—I suppose you will go on taking it all my life, but that won't be long."

"Oh, weak people always talk like that! You will live to a great old age and, of course, you will marry Sir John Curle, and I shall ask nothing but to be your friend."

Susan shook her beautiful head. She had the calm of one who dreads nothing because she fears nothing, yet Mrs. Sacret knew that she did fear very keenly what she termed "the loss of her reputation."

"She must be very sure of me, and she is right, it is certainly to my interest to defend her—and I shall be able to do so."


§ 44

The second inquiry into the manner of the death of Martin Rue was held in the Silver Lion, at the corner of Clapham Common, and in sight of the Old Priory. The magnificence of the setting was not lost on Mrs. Sacret who felt that here was a stage worthy of her abilities.

The setting was the large assembly room at the back of the house, with a raised dais on which the coroner, who had legal assistance, was seated. The array of counsel was formidable. The attorney general, Sir Miles Finch, appeared in person and he was aided by Mr. Frank Crompton, Q.C., and Mr. Philip Crighton, Q.C., Mr. Cyril Southey, Q.C., represented Mrs. Sacret and Sir Matthew Falkland, Q.C., the young widow of the man so mysteriously dead. Mr. Cecil Lampton, Q.C., watched the case for Mrs. George Rue and Mr. Quentin Dance, Q.C., for Sir John Curle.

And to think that I was once an insignificant person! This thought, effacing all others, flashed into the mind of the missionary's widow as she looked around the crowded room, filled with eager and excited people, and recalled that Mr. Southey had told her that the inquiry was likely to last a fortnight and to cost the parties concerned fifteen thousand pounds, while the expenses of the Crown would certainly be as high, if not higher.

Mrs. Sacret remembered when she had to jealously count her sixpences and the wretched house in Minton Street, her humiliating search for work and the dulling, degrading grind of poverty—and now she had been able to set in motion this remarkable spectacle, this mighty expenditure and to attract the attention of the entire nation!

She felt it a feat to be proud of, and wished the painter could be there, somewhere lost in that eager, pushing crowd, to see her masterpiece. She had precisely dressed for her part; good living and repose had made her appear young and handsome; the expectation of the renewal of her love story—after the very last had been heard of Martin Rue—gave a blue luster to her hazel eyes, a hint of a smile at the corners of her demure mouth. Her dress was fashionable, gris de perle, her hair in long roller curls, worn with an expensive black hat, for the rest she permitted herself to be unveiled, to wear gray gloves and the silver cross given her by her late husband. She realized that she made a far more striking figure than poor Susan, who was ruffled in costly but badly worn weeds, whose mantle did not fit, whose veil was so deeply bordered with crape as to hide her charming face, and who looked at least ten years more than her age. Mrs. Sacret recalled her as she had been, in her rosy taffetas and jewels, the first weeks of her stay at the Old Priory, and felt a thrill of triumph.

The third widow who had a part in this drama was unchanged, in her bombazine, crape, jet and cloth, all a dingy black, she sat heavily, as was her habit, her pale, mottled toad's face staring ahead with pale prominent eyes, as if she were alone. The sight of her was pleasant to Mrs. Sacret who considered her as an enemy who would soon be brought to confusion, and she gave an unflinching glance of malice.

When her turn came to give her evidence, she kept carefully to her statement sent to the Treasury, relating yet again the circumstances of the death of Martin Rue and her conviction that this was suicide due to unfounded jealousy of his wife, fomented—and here she felt that she dealt a master stroke—by the ill nature of his mother who continually interfered between the couple and made mischief. She repeated that when she rushed into the room, the dying man had said, "I have taken poison for Curle, don't tell Susan," and that after an interval she had told this to Dr. Virtue. She had not mentioned it to the other doctors or to anyone else as she did not wish to cause talk, and she knew that if Mr. Rue recovered he would be angry with her for repeating what he had said in his agony. She had given him an emetic, she had not kept any of the matters expelled by the patient, it had not occurred to her to do so. She knew that Susan Rue had been friendly with Sir John Curle and was sure this was "quite harmless." Mr. Rue was very nervous and continually dosing himself. He was not very happy with his wife, she had suggested a divorce, and he had threatened suicide. This was the gist of Mrs. Sacret's evidence, given with a modest hesitation, slowly and reluctantly, as if sorry to dwell on the miseries of this unhappy household. She sat, a graceful and demure figure, gazed on by an eager audience, with downcast glance and elegantly gloved hands clasped together. She made no errors, was not tricked into anything she did not wish to say—this was the impression she made—and the critical' listeners awarded her a rather grudging admiration.

On the other hand Mrs. Rue gave her evidence quickly, clearly, her veil thrown back, her face upturned. She confirmed most of what her companion said, but declared that she had never heard her husband threaten suicide. She knew nothing of the tragedy beyond what Mrs. Sacret knew. She could not explain why she was so heavily asleep so early and so had not heard her husband's cries. She knew nothing of any antimony in the house, nor of any purchase of it. She had suggested a divorce to her husband and he had been unwilling to agree. She had not seen Sir John Curie since her second marriage. It had been Lady Curle who had been her friend. She was convinced that her husband had taken poison out of jealousy.

The five doctors gave the medical evidence and repeated the dying man's constant assertion that he had taken nothing beyond laudanum. Dr. Virtue tried to make something of his patient's lack of surprise when told he was poisoned, but Dr. Balance and Dr. Lemoine stated their utter conviction that Martin Rue had been telling the truth and was in complete possession of his senses.

They received powerful corroboration from Mrs. George Rue, friends, acquaintances, servants. Martin Rue "fussed" over his health and "dosed" himself; he suffered from spasms and was not happy, but he had a dread of pain, a horror of death and had never mentioned suicide. Those in his confidence declared that he was deeply attached to his wife, and always hopeful of winning her affection again. His mother declared roundly that she was certain that he had been murdered, and, as it was owing to her energy that this second inquiry had been held, her remark was given a jealous respect.

John Blair, recently coachman at the Old Priory, swore to the presence of antimony on the premises. He used it for the horses, as prescribed in the Pocket Farrier, and kept it as a lotion, in a cabinet in the stables. It was labeled Poison. When he had left Clapham he had thrown away the contents of this bottle, he had not observed if any had been used since he had last looked. Medical evidence, recalled, stated that sufficient antimony to kill a man could be taken from the usual quantity made up for horses without this being noticeable.

Mrs. Sacret did not know whether to term this evidence ill or good luck. An unobserved visit to the stables at the Old Priory would have been so easy for her that the elaborately planned visit to Lyndbridge House seemed needless, yet that had put her in the mood to take the hint painted on the wall of the round chamber, while she would certainly have been shocked had plain instructions been given to her in Minton Street. Still this evidence, so unexpected to Olivia Sacret, would no doubt satisfy the jury as to where the antimony had been procured and as to why there had been no claimant for the five-hundred-pound reward the widow had offered for information as to where her husband had bought the poison. If he had intended this dreadful way of suicide, the means would have been to his hand.

Mrs. Sacret began to be confused, as day after day of the inquiry passed and the bewildered witnesses were subjected to the cross fire of so many learned counsel; the ground had shifted from how Mr. Rue had come to take the poison, the real motive of this second inquiry, into what person had a motive for wishing his death. The testimony against the likelihood of the young banker's taking his own life was strong. Despite his nervous ill-health and his unhappy marriage, his mother, his medical attendants, his friends, acquaintances and servants all deposed that he had never spoken of suicide, but indeed had shown an anxious care of his health and that he intended to make an indefinite struggle to keep his wife's affections, while there was the imposing fact that during a protracted death, Martin Rue had repeatedly sworn before many persons that he had taken nothing more dangerous than a little laudanum. His mother declared that he had always been of a timid disposition, dreaded pain, and had a horror of self-destruction, regarding it as a crime. There remained only Mrs. Sacret and the young widow who swore to their conviction that Martin Rue had committed suicide, a theory Mrs. Sacret supported by the dead man's confession that no one save herself had heard.

By the beginning of the tenth day of the inquiry Sir Matthew Falkland, Q.C., acting for Susan Rue, was engaged in eliciting from various witnesses the exact position of Mrs. Sacret in the Old Priory. She listened to a composite description of herself, mostly from the servants of the Clapham establishment, with a quickened interest.

She had known, but hardly realized, how greatly she had been disliked. Curtis said that Mrs. Rue had never needed a companion, that she had received Mrs. Sacret, who had been a poor, penniless missionary's widow, out of compassion, that Mrs. Sacret had taken cruel advantage of this generosity, got Mrs. Rue "under her thumb," been extravagantly paid, lodged and dressed, had made mischief between husband and wife and insulted Mrs. George Rue so that she would not visit her son's home. It was well known among his servants that Mr. Rue was always trying to get rid of this interloper. He declared that one way and another she cost about five hundred pounds a year for which she gave no return whatsoever. She was trying to persuade Mrs. Rue to withdraw her money from her husband's charge and then to leave him—Mrs. Rue had told Curtis as much when she was dressing her hair. The poor lady had been painfully distressed, she had been a changed woman since the arrival of Mrs. Sacret at the Old Priory, before that she had been reasonably happy.

How they spied, thought Olivia Sacret, listening bitterly to this recital, full of spite and bitterness. And how they lie. Susan was wretched when I first went to Clapham, and full of complaints of her husband.

She had to sit quietly while servant after servant described her as the source of all the trouble in the house, a nobody, not really "a lady," greedy, sly and meddling, under a demure "chapel manner" smug and complacent. At first she had frequently quoted pious axioms, insisted on prayers and grace and been easily "shocked," but under the influence of prosperity she had "soon dropped off that"—

Mrs. Sacret was startled to hear this. It reminded her how insidiously worldly influences had prevailed and how, in a short time, she had forgotten her "chapel ways."

Stupid, I suppose, she thought, stupid. I ought to have kept up appearances, I ought to have made friends with the servants, with old Mrs. Rue.

By the end of that day's hearing, Sir Matthew Falkland had established the fact that Mrs. Sacret had been dismissed, almost forcibly ejected from the Old Priory the very day on which Mr. Rue was taken ill; worst of all, the maids waiting at table that evening had heard her make a last plea to remain that was sternly refused by Martin Rue.

"Did he, by that refusal," demanded Mr. Cyril Southey, "provoke a terrible climax to the prolonged nuisance of this mischief-maker in his home?"

He proceeded to draw from the witnesses an account of Mrs. Sacret, the first to answer the stricken man's cry for help—"as if she had been waiting for it"—her reception of the suicide confession that she concealed, telling one doctor only—the family physician—some hours afterwards, and no one else, even when Martin Rue was swearing he had no hand in his own death, her assumption of authority in the sickroom—she, a companion under dismissal—her eagerness to clear away all glass vessels, medicines used by the patient—her remaining behind in the house for the special purpose of nursing this man with whom she was on the worst of terms, who had his own wife and mother, five doctors and a number of devoted servants to look after him.

Why did the outsider, already expelled from the household by the sick man, arrange this hasty inquest with luxurious refreshments for the jury, where she was the principal witness, where those against the suicide theory were not called—why, then, did she suppress the name of Sir John Curle, mentioned by her in her statement to the Treasury?

Why was not the anxious wife the first to fly to her husband's side at his shout of agony? Because her companion, who had already established such a hold on her, had, in defiance of the husband's wishes and orders, kept her supplied with wine. The unfortunate lady was easily influenced by alcohol and was heavily asleep from sherry administered by Mrs. Sacret, while that meddling woman was in complete charge of the establishment from which, at the end of his patience, the master had turned her away. And turned her away to what?

Mrs. Sacret had nothing save a house of a very poor kind, some broken furniture, the cheap wardrobe with which she had come begging to her rich friend, and under one hundred pounds in the bank, while she owed money in Jamaica for which she was being dunned. She had tried in vain to obtain work with various societies and she had no accomplishments whereby she could hope to earn a living. She had everything to lose by the loss of her place in the Old Priory.

And why had she kept this sinecure for so long, received handsome clothes, a diamond bracelet, had a carriage at her disposal and an absurdly high salary? Everyone hated her—it was clear that she remained because she had Mrs. Rue "under her thumb." And why? There was no proof of any affection between the two ladies, rather evidence that Mrs. Sacret had brought distress and terror into the Old Priory. Did not everything point to her having used some confidence to force a weak, trusting, ignorant woman into granting her demands? Mrs. Sacret had sworn that to her certain knowledge Mrs. Rue's friendship with Sir John Curle had been entirely innocent, so indeed everyone had taken it to be. It was Mrs. Sacret who had introduced this gentleman's name into the case. Might it not be that she had threatened Mrs. Rue, sensitive and delicate, with the public exposure of some harmless indiscretion, likely to vex her husband and his mother? Ladies were known to go to great lengths to guard the least smirch on their reputations. If this surmise was correct the missionary's widow was a heartless blackmailer—and where look for the author of a crime save in the person of a criminal? Such was the essence of the evidence elicited by the clever lawyer, but not clear to any but the experienced, so concealed was it in a mass of verbiage.


§ 45

This was, however, the story that SIR Matthew had contrived to present to the jury and the public and these the questions he had insinuated into their minds when Mrs. Sacret returned wearily to the Old Priory where she and Susan Rue lived in tacit truce. It gave cause for a mutter of ill-natured gossip that these ladies should choose to return to this scene of Martin Rue's death but the truth was that Susan was too helpless to try to find herself another residence and too remorseful to wish to spare herself the sight of the scene of her unhappy married life, while Mrs. Sacret cared nothing save for the comfort of the house and the proximity to her victim. The obliging cousin had left and the mansion—most of the rooms shut up—was run by Curtis and two of the maids who had returned to their mistress in her trouble; the house had been sold, the menservants discharged and the closed stables and neglected gardens added to the gloom of the pretentious estate.

"I wonder you can keep Curtis after all the slanderous things she has said of me, Susan," complained Mrs. Sacret, as they sat together in the charming, over-furnished room that Susan had once termed her "boudoir."

"None of the servants was respectful—they must have listened at keyholes and spied—they even spoke of you taking too much sherry."

Susan flushed, but answered calmly.

"They don't intend to say all those things, the lawyers get it out of them, besides they were true, servants see and hear everything. I wonder you are surprised, but then," added the wealthy woman, without a trace of malice, "you have never been used to servants."

"But you," retorted Mrs. Sacret with gentle spite, "you contrived to keep at least one secret from them."

"You mean the letters? That was largely your prudence—but you are right, a deadly secret one does contrive to keep, even from servants. But Sir Matthew was near the truth, Olivia."

"I don't wonder, the way you blabbed everything to Curtis—"

"I never told her anything of that—Sir Matthew merely guessed—"

Susan was behaving with a dignified self-control that was vexing to Mrs. Sacret who preferred to deal with someone utterly weak and foolish, pliable in her hands. Certainly Susan had shown more strength of character in this terrible crisis than Mrs. Sacret would have believed possible a short time before.

"It is part of my punishment, Olivia, to have my private life thus torn to pieces in public."

"If that isn't hypocrisy, it is silliness," said Mrs. Sacret. "Surely you are thinking a little of the future?"

"Yes, of saving my reputation. I know I shall have to pay you highly for that. Otherwise, I don't think that there is much to live for—I can't see ahead, I don't care about anything really, only I don't want my name blasted—for Sir John's sake and Martin's," she added unexpectedly. "It would be cruel if he were shown up now as deceived."

"How sentimental!" Mrs. Sacret sneered softly. "I wish this tedious inquiry were over, thousands of pounds wasted through that old woman's wicked spite—"

"No, I do think it must seem strange to her. If I did not know that it was suicide, I should not believe it myself."

"How do you know?"

"You said he confessed it—because of Sir John."

"Oh! You dislike me so much you might disbelieve me—there is no one's word save mine."

"I think you are a wicked woman," replied Susan gravely. "But you were brought up on religious principles and I do not credit that you would tell a lie and such a horrible lie, on oath."

Mrs. Sacret smiled uneasily.

"I am not so bad as you think. I have been a pretty good friend to you, and I shall be a better. I shall bring you and Sir John together, despite yourself, and you'll be happy and bless me. And all I shall ask is a little pension."

The thought darted through her mind as she spoke—will he come soon? Surely he will when this tiresome inquiry is over and he knows he is safe—to share that pension.

But Susan replied sternly:

"You shall have your pension, but I shall never willingly see Sir John again."

With that she left the room for the chamber where the faithful

Curtis awaited her; Mrs. Sacret would willingly also have gone to bed. She was tired and wished these tedious days to pass as quickly as possible, but her counsel, Mr. Cyril Southey, called to see her, and late as it was, she felt it wise to receive him which she did with her smiling grace, in the big front parlor where the chairs were in holland covers, and the ornaments and pictures had been removed. One pale lamp illumined the uncertain light of the fading summer day. Mrs. Sacret in her rich black dress, with her long smooth hazel curls, her serene expression and her low voice was an appealing figure as she advanced to greet the lawyer, but he seemed indifferent to her charms and asked roundly if she valued "the meaning of the day's evidence?"

"Why no, ladies don't understand such things," she smiled gently. "So many witnesses, so many lawyers, so much cross-examination! Do, pray, sit down."

"Thank you. I should have thought that you would have understood."

"I only understood," replied Mrs. Sacret, feeling she had scored a point over this unattractive man who she triumphantly compared with Mark Bellis, "that everyone's character was being traduced, mostly by spying servants—for no purpose at all—for nothing whatever was discovered."

As if he had not heard this Mr. Southey continued abruptly. "Suspicion is strong against two people, and two only. Mrs. Rue, because her husband refused a divorce and she wished to return to her former lover, you, because you were under dismissal from a post so excellent it is suggested you owed it to blackmail. Both had motive and opportunity. Either of you could have fetched the antimony from the stable."

The effect of these words on Mrs. Sacret was so swift and so terrible that for a shocking second Mr. Southey thought that he saw a dead woman sitting before him in the stiff horsehair chair. She felt herself plunged from serene security to horrible danger and the pang was almost unendurable. She rallied, however, to mutter—"Impossible—"

"Strange you did not see what Sir Matthew was doing—you clever women! For I supposed you clever—"

She tried feebly to turn her own fear to account.

"How could I suppose—an accusation of—murder."

"It is one of you—or both in a plot—Sir Matthew was trying to lead away from his client, Mrs. Martin Rue, and I must try to lead him back again."

"To Susan?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Southey, we are both innocent."

"I hope so. We must try for suicide. But you understand I must cast suspicion on Mrs. Rue in order to save you."

A faint color came into Mrs. Sacret's faded cheek, in a prospect that had been utterly blasted she saw a sparkle of hope.

"Of course Susan is innocent," she mumbled. "I don't want you to rake up evidence against her."

"You began to do that yourself when you mentioned Sir John Curie's name. Why did you do that?"

"I was on oath to tell the truth."

"Truth you suppressed at the first inquest, out of womanly kindness, no doubt. Is there anything else you have kept back you might—when it was a question of your life—divulge?"

"My life—"

"Sir Matthew Falkland's view is not shared by the attorney general—nor by Mr. Lampton watching the case for Mrs. George Rue. The Treasury is resolved to find the murderer but they think rather of the widow, perhaps with you as accomplice—but Sir Matthew is dangerous."

"There is no evidence—"

"There is a good deal. I assume your innocence, of course. I don't presume the guilt of Mrs. Rue, but can you, if I put you in the witness box again, say anything to divert suspicion from yourself? You have been in Mrs. Rue's confidence, you knew she was desperate for a divorce—did she never speak of eloping?"

"Yes, but she would not forfeit her good name."

"Ah, an excellent point. A desperate woman. She was much in love with Sir John Curie?"

"Yes."

"And detested her husband?"

"Yes."

"He humiliated her by mentioning her drinking habits before the servants?"

"Yes."

"Did she show anger?"

"She said again and again—I'll be avenged.'"

"Did she ever visit the stables?"

"Often—I don't know why, she didn't ride."

"She was friendly with Blair, who had been with Sir John Curle?"

"Very friendly—her husband resented this."

"Naturally. We have proof that Blair bought antimony on Sir John's account."

"Why—then!" Mrs. Sacret clapped her hand to her heart and was silent.

"He will say it was routine—he didn't change the chemist when he changed masters. He paid cash and it was charged to Sir John as he had a permit for poison. But it will be impressive. We have proof also that the day before her husband's death a large sum of money and some jewels were brought to her by special messenger. She had arranged for this herself, secretly. It is possible this money, arranged for without her husband's knowledge, was to enable her to go abroad immediately after his death—if this had passed unchallenged."

"It is possible," murmured Mrs. Sacret faintly.

"You visited Sir John in his chambers—that looks as if you were the go-between, you must explain that—"

"I can, I can—I went to implore Sir John to leave Susan in peace, I wanted to reconcile her to her husband and after the death of Lady Curie, Sir John was writing violent love letters to Susan—"

"That will do very well."

"I did not want to say it, because of the scandal."

"But now perhaps you must, we shall see."

"Yes—how was it known I visited Sir John?"

"Such things are easily found out, Mrs. Sacret."

She was silent in shuddering fear lest that other visit—to Lyndbridge House—bad also been discovered. A desperate cunning held her silent. She kept her hands very still for she longed to pull frantically at the fringes on her black skirt.

"One doesn't get up a case on air," observed Mr. Southey. "It's useful that you, as missionary's wife and widow, have led what is termed a blameless life. Your going to the Old Priory can be explained—not so easily the luxuries you obtained from your employer."

"My friend—my dearest, earliest friend."

"I shall not fail to emphasize that, nor the comfort that Mrs. Rue, so unhappily married, found in your support—but we must not dwell too much on that or a confederacy will be suspected. You must be prepared, Mrs. Sacret, to be questioned about your lodger—or tenant."

She did lift her hand's now, and felt them like lead weights on her arms, and dropped them again.

"There is nothing there," she whispered stiffly. "I let the house to a painter."

"Yes, the police have traced him to Liverpool, from where he sailed to Australia a few weeks ago—a good-for-nothing scamp. Mark Bellis, also Robert Campion, also John Andrews, also Gilbert Duchamps. A clever painter—why, you look ill, Mrs. Sacret!"

She gave a ghastly smile.

"Oh, no! But I am shocked—I thought him a most respectable man."

"I daresay he told you fairy stories. The police don't know everything about him—"

"Not—who he is

"With so many aliases—no. He came from Australia as a boy, they think. Probably some foundling or low fellow, with a clever brain and a criminal tendency, though there doesn't seem anything against him save petty frauds on women..I hope you got your rent."

"Yes. I thought him hard working. I commissioned a portrait. I suppose you have been told I used to go and see him." Conscious that she was defending herself against a charge that had not been made she checked and added dully: "This man has nothing to do with the case."

"No," agreed the lawyer, "but he might be brought in to damage your character. However there seems no evidence that he did more than deceive you."

"How—deceive me? You mean about his name?"

"That—and I suppose you didn't know he had rooms on the Embankment where he lived with—various unfortunates such as you must have come across in your chapel work."

"I don't understand."

"No—this scamp completely took you in. He rented your house evidently for a decent address and a room for painting, he did not reside there."

"But these—unfortunates, Mr. Southey?"

"Wretched women of no consequence. The last was a certain Jenny or Dolly Feathers—he spent a good deal of money on her, but deserted her suddenly and the police are satisfied she knows nothing about him."

"How disgusting," said Mrs. Sacret mechanically. "But I also know nothing about this man. He told me he was going abroad—he had finished some commission in the country—I thought no more of it."

"Quite so. As a widow—and one with some experience of the world through your missionary work—you would not be likely to be attracted by this rascal."

"How simple it sounds, quite a usual tale for the police, I suppose—"

"Quite, there is no mystery about these scoundrels, my dear Mrs. Sacret, they would not find any victims did not these prefer not to ask questions. Foolish, inexperienced women who, romantic or sentimental, are easily gulled are the only prey men like this painter can hope for. No doubt he tried no trick on you because he saw you were shrewd. He is of no importance as long as you are prepared to be cross-questioned about him." The lawyer paused. To Mrs. Sacret's maddened glance, he resembled, in a horrible fashion, the dead man, sandy red hair and whiskers, greenish eyes with straw-colored lashes. Rising, at last—the interview had seemed an eternity to Mrs. Sacret—he asked casually: "What did you do with the diamond bracelet Susan Rue gave you?"

"It was a gift for charity—to be sold for missionary work in Jamaica."

"You could prove that?"

"Yes, of course. Oh, I don't know! It was given privately to help a mission where my husband had been—"

"And the money—presents you received from Mrs. Rue?"

"Must I account for them? They have been greatly exaggerated. I was her almoner for various charities."

"I see." Mr. Southey looked down at his fingers. "Did you leave any property at Minton Street, besides the furniture—and clothes for instance?"

"I may have done so."

"Because the woman Feathers has shown the police a handsome dress given her by the man Andrews—that is probably his real name—that Curtis has identified as one of yours."

"Then he stole it. While he was away in the country I took a trunkful of things to Minton Street and left them in the upper room that I knew he never used. He gave permission—"

"You had a key?"

"Yes."

"Have you looked to see if the trunk is still there?"

"No—I have been too entirely absorbed in poor Susan's affairs; as you know, we went at once to Brighton."

"I understand, that will do. Pray be careful to remember all we have discussed."

"Yes," she said again as she rose and held onto the back of her chair, then she added: "Susan is paying you, is she not?"

Mr. Southey frowned.

"I believe that Mrs. Rue is responsible for your legal expenses."

Mrs. Sacret broke into a shocking burst of laughter, then was suddenly silent and left the room, leaving the lawyer to find his own way out of the Old Priory.


§ 46

Mrs. Sacret's mind was now actively in charge of her emotions, even of her most passionate emotion of fear; she was thinking clearly and cleverly of how to escape from the terrible position in which she so suddenly had found herself. She had not time even for contempt of her own past, even for hatred of Mark Bellis. That was a sordid episode. She had been fooled and robbed by a cheap adventurer, a mean criminal, and without the excuse of passion or love. He had merely fascinated her, played on her craving for comfort and luxury, flattered her, given her glimpses of a fairy tale life—bewitched her, yes that was the word, and all the time he had been living with one of those miserable creatures she had been taught to consider "fallen women." She recalled the gossip of the neighbors about girls going to Minton Street and the fool she had made of herself in thinking she had seen her double, when it had been this slut Feathers, wearing her stolen clothes, taken from the luggage she had entrusted to him.

But she must not think of that, but of her present jeopardy. It filled her with terror to realize what a stupid ignorant woman she was, when she had felt so sure of herself, had so complacently enjoyed her power over others. She had truly lived in a fool's paradise. Yes, a fool, and now she would have to use all her wits if she were not to meet the usual fate of folly.

Physical sickness assailed her, she battled with a terrible fear of violent illness that would render her incapable of defending herself. There was no one to protect her, save Mr. Southey, paid by Susan whom he was trying to ruin and destroy.

The painter was in Australia now, lost under another name, spending her money with another woman. She must not dare to think of him, she did not regret him and his golden promises, she was too terrified, too absorbed in her own danger.

Reviewing this she saw that Susan was in even deeper peril. Everything pointed to Susan. Mr. Southey had said as much, and she had tried to help him—with lies. Could one save oneself with lies?

She went desperately over the case. The connection of Blair, the groom, with the poison and Sir John was fortunate after all. Lucky, too, that the large sum of ready money had been guessed to be for an elopement, Susan would never tell the truth there. She began to be grateful for Mr. Southey's discreet promptings—the affair of the painter, the bracelet, her influence over Susan. She knew now how to pass this all off very well.

No one—not even Curtis had mentioned the Indian drops she had given Martin Rue, for no one had attached any importance to one more draught among the many closings indulged in by the master of the Old Priory. If anyone did say anything, she was safe, she had carefully kept a little of the harmless medicine and she had the harmless recipe.

Susan had forgotten that last glass she had given her husband on the last night of his life, Susan had been bemused with wine, no danger there, Susan would never remember.

Mrs. Sacret, fully clothed, lay on her bed in the dark, shaken by long shudders. Should she warn Susan? Make an ally of her? Concoct with her a tale pointing to suicide? No, Susan was stupid, moral, willing to sacrifice herself—anything but her reputation—from remorse. Better leave her alone. She was drinking again, too, and her cool hard demeanor was often broken by fits of hysterical tears, she was not to be trusted! Consider how she had prattled to Curtis—yes, better be discreet with Susan. She could be relied on only to be quiet about the letters.

Mrs. Sacret remembered that the letters had been stolen from her—Well, they will be no use to him in Australia—then she shivered with rage as she considered how useless they were to her, also. Still Susan need never know that she had no longer got them—but the information that was in them?

Supposing that were given in open court, would it not almost decide the case against Susan?

But I won't give her away if I can help it—my hold on her is my only means of a living.


§ 47

Sir Matthew Falkland's efforts to direct suspicion onto the companion paled before the efforts of the attorney general, Mr. Southey, and Mr. Lampton, representing Mrs. George Rue, to put suspicion on the wife; with or without her companion as her accomplice. Susan, in her florid, rather childish beauty and her modest mourning, her obvious grief and sincerity, made a good personal impression. But her story was not such as was calculated to win her the sympathy of the jury or the public. She was rich, idle, pampered, she had had two husbands and been "talked of" with a married man. She was childless, useless, silly, she was a secret drinker, she had been under the influence of wine when her husband was dying.

Her excuses were poor, though given with dignity. She refused to say why she had suddenly raised a large sum of money and taken her emeralds out of the bank or what she had done with them, she had been a good mistress and Curtis was devoted to her, but none of her servants could disguise the wretchedness of her married life. It was clear that she had accepted Martin Rue merely to save herself from the scandal she had created with Sir John Curle, then, when her former lover was free, she had pressed for a divorce.

Her mother-in-law, speaking in a cold, almost casual fashion, gave her the worst of characters, and Mrs. George Rue was the sort of stern, well-placed, immaculate woman whose word carried weight with the majority. Then Sir John Curle, at his desire, carne into the witness box and Mrs. Sacret, sitting cold and terrified in the body of the court; learned that others besides herself could lie—and on oath.

Sir John, with a convincing air of quiet dignity, said that he had been honored by the friendship of Mrs. Susan Dasent, as she had been, and had advised her, a young widow, about her investments. She had been most kind to Lady Curle, who had taken a great liking to her and whom she used often to visit. There had been a small amount of spiteful gossip—simply because Mrs. Dasent was young, beautiful and vivacious. She had done nothing indiscreet. But because of this they had parted on her second marriage and not seen one another since. Mrs. Rue had written to him once only, a formal condolence on the death of his wife. Questioned as to the visit of Mrs. Sacret to his chambers, Sir John said she had come on behalf of some of the charities with which he was connected; he had been considerably surprised when he heard she was Mrs. Rue's companion. He had not known of her existence or seen or heard from her since. Questioned as to the man Blair and the purchase of poison, he said he knew nothing about the latter. Blair was a good servant and he had taken him back after Mr. Rue's death; it was likely that a groom wishing to purchase horse medicine would use the convenience of a former master's permit—his, Sir John's, name was known at the chemist's, who would readily give the poison and enter it in his book, when they might not have known the name of Rue.

Here Mr. Dance, representing Sir John, put in that this matter of Blair was entirely irrelevant, anyone could have found tartar emetic in any stable, the issue was being unfairly raised to connect the name of Sir John with the poison that had killed Martin Rue. The baronet descended from the witness box unshaken in his bearing and having made a favorable impression of a quiet, honest gentleman telling the truth and having come forward of his own accord to save a woman's name.

His unromantic appearance and manner helped belief in his statements. He did not look or sound the manner of man who would be, under any conditions, the ardent lover of a woman as young, beautiful and rich as Susan Rue.

The results of the trial were beginning to move in favor of the unhappy widow when her dignified calm was broken by an outburst in court that won her popular favor.

Goaded by the merciless cross-examination of Cecil Lampton, counsel for her worst enemy, Mrs. George Rue, as to her relations with Sir John Curle, she suddenly ceased her quiet measured replies and made a frantic appeal to the coroner for protection.

"I have not been a faithless wife," she declared passionately. "My husband and I would not agree on many subjects and I asked him to release me—there was no happiness for either of us, none—but that is not a crime—divorce is not a crime, it is allowed. It is true I had a dear friend in Sir John Curle, but I never approached him after my second marriage, never once. I am sure, from the evidence of Mrs. Sacret, that my husband poisoned himself with some of that stuff he got from the stables and I am bitterly remorseful, for I believe our quarrels led to this and so I have borne patiently this turning over of my private life in public. But what has all this raking over of a woman's affairs amounted to? My mother-in-law dislikes me for taking her only son from her—would to God I had not done so!—but can she find any crime to fasten on me? No. The worst you have forced out of my servants is that I drank too much sherry. It is true. Desperate people do take the easy way to forgetfulness, and I don't deny it, or even promise reform—considering what my life is likely to be after this, I'll have little to keep me from drink. But I do entreat, sir, you will keep these gentlemen from torturing me into a confession that I was an unfaithful wife, thus making Sir John the thief of another's peace, and my husband a deceived wretch—it is not fair to either of these men, and what is the object? To prove that I murdered my husband. I am on oath, I have sworn before God—before God I am innocent."

Susan delivered this speech more rapidly than the eager newspaper reporters could take it down, nor was she interrupted. The spectacle of this beautiful, rich young woman confessing she had been driven to drink through the misery of her married life, and her reference to her empty, blighted future, turned even the cynics in her favor; she spoke so sincerely, so modestly, with such anguish that there was none there who believed her either an adulteress or a murderess, the two most atrocious titles that a woman could be given. Then her youth, for despite her distress, her appearance was that of a girl, aroused compassion in all the men, and tolerance even among the women, less likely to be confused by feminine charm.

People asked themselves what sort of existence this wealthy, generous, lovely creature must have led with such a man as the evidence had revealed Martin Rue to have been, jealous, peevish, fault finding, dull, keeping his wife confined to the house or solitary drives, while he indulged in lonely hobbies, his greenhouse and his medicine chest. Besides there was his mother, respectable doubtless, her testimony carrying great weight—but she might have made things very hard for the bright, gay creature she disliked.

The coroner spoke to Mr. Southey, the attorney general and Mr. Lampton, after consultation with the legal assessor who sat with him, and advised them that the court was sitting not to inquire into the morals of Mrs. Martin Rue, but how the antimony got into her husband's body. Sir Matthew Falkland shot a glance of congratulation at Susan who did not even notice it, and, at the first opportunity, recalled John Blair. Further cross-examined the groom declared that never in his knowledge had Mrs. Martin Rue gone to the stables, she had no interest in the horses, she was kind to him, Blair, and to the other menservants, continually sending them and their wives gifts and money. Mr. Rue was a mean, censorious master; it was because he would not pay for the horse medicine nor open an account with a chemist, that Blair bought it from the shop he had formerly dealt with, Sir John Curle's, paying for it out of his own wages. Mrs. Rue's presents made that equal.

No, Mrs. Rue had not been aware of this purchase nor of anything to do with the stables. Yes, Mr. Rue did visit them, and on the day before his death, to complain about the mounts given him to ride, he was very unpleasant and complained of the cost of the stables; he was thrown because he was a bad rider, "one of those gentlemen who can't learn." He kept the stables because of his wife, before he married he used a hired cab and his mother a hired carriage. He did go alone into the empty stall where the medicine cupboard, harness and some gardening tools were; he went to complain, as Blair knew, so he slipped away and left him there, he might have been alone there five minutes—"poking about," when he carne out he grumbled at "the state the place was in."

Blair had never connected his master's death with the bottle of medicine in the stables. He had seen the bottle when he tidied the stables after Mr. Rue's complaint and had never thought of it again until he had found it when clearing up to leave and had thrown it away with other litter. He had used a good deal of it, no he could not tell if it had been tampered with. Sir Matthew Falkland had now established a picture of a generous mistress who never "interfered," of a man alone in the stables with a bottle labeled POISON staring at him, a man ignorant of farriery. Might he not, in his wretched state, have snatched at it, not knowing it was antimony and swallowed it in despair? By this time Sir Matthew seemed to have dropped his suspicion of Mrs. Sacret, but the attorney general asked Blair if the companion had ever been seen in the stables, and though the man said "no"—it was proved from his evidence that the stables were often empty and "anyone could have gone there."


§ 48

Mrs. Sacret asked to see Mr. Southey in one of the private rooms of the hotel.

"Everything is going in her favor. I thought that outburst so silly and ill bred!"

"Genuine feeling often sounds both to the cold heart, Mrs. Sacret, but she moved the court. I think she is innocent."

Olivia Sacret found this statement impossible to endure. Not only had she been forced to sit in court and hear Sir John Curle, with his effective air of an honorable gentleman, lying on oath, but had been forced to listen to Susan ranting for "protection" as if she were a good woman, then to the groom's evidence being twisted around so that Susan's character was cleared—and now her own lawyer, the man paid to defend her, was declaring the case was going in Susan's favor, and that he. Mrs. Sacret's man, believed her "innocent."

Merely because Susan had a pretty face, baby ways and money to throw about she always escaped even censure. Why, it looked as if she would leave this court almost in a blaze of glory.

Mrs. Sacret's hazel eyes shone dangerously beneath her lowered lids as she asked demurely: "Didn't you say, the less danger for her, the more for me?"

"Yes, I did, but the case has changed—you are not being brought in so much—"

"I should hope not!" exclaimed Mrs. Sacret indignantly. "But you said I was, and gave me a horrid fright, made me quite ill—I'm relieved you think it absurd. What reason had I, a poor widow keeping Mrs. Rue company, to do with the making away of Mr. Rue—compared to her motive, she persisting for a divorce and in love with another man?"

"Personality counts with a jury. Mrs. Rue is amiable, she doesn't seem in the least like a woman to inflict a horrible death on another."

"She might not have known the poison wasn't painless—"

"That would be true of Mrs. Rue, or anyone else," replied Mr.

Southey, giving his client a sharp look.

"She had the strongest motive of anyone, and I think it should be brought home to her—"

"Do you? I don't believe her guilty—"

"She is," broke in Mrs. Sacret. "I know it."

He was plainly startled behind his legal manner.

"Explain yourself," he said curtly. "You should have spoken before."

"I did not want to give her away, but I can't be expected to face a murder charge on her behalf—"

"Please tell me plainly what you know."

"She was Sir John's mistress."

"You have proof?"

"Letters—her confession, his confession."

"Witnesses to these confessions?"

"No."

"What are these letters?"

"She wrote them to me about three years ago—they gave an account of this—intrigue."

"Where are they now?"

"Safe enough."

"Don't evade me. Can you produce them?"

"No. I was so sorry for her I destroyed them."

"Then," said Mr. Southey quietly, "you have no proof of anything."

"No, but if Susan was questioned about these letters she would break down and give herself away."

"Sir Matthew would see to that. Three years old, you say? Then Mrs. Rue had not married a second time—she was a widow?"

"Yes."

"Have you any suspicion that this intrigue was carried on after the second marriage?"

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

"I think you do. I believe it could be proved that Sir John and Mrs. Rue never met."

"Even so," exclaimed Mrs. Sacret angrily, "would it not destroy her credit with the jury and point to her as the criminal, if it were proved that she and Sir John committed perjury and that they were lovers?"

"It certainly might, but it would be difficult to prove."

"There must be people who know, places where they stayed—servants, who are always spying and watching," said Mrs. Sacret vehemently. "And I know, she confessed to me, she won't deny it, and then I'll swear to the letters, I know them by heart."

"Better not," advised Mr. Southey dryly. "It will put you in a bad light. And it doesn't prove that she murdered her husband—you said you knew she was guilty, you don't, only that she was Sir John Curle's mistress between her marriages, and there is only your word for that."

"Certainly to look at him you'd never think it," she retorted sharply. "So ordinary!"

Mr. Southey smiled. "You don't know much of the world, Mrs. Sacret, you really have no experience at all, you might make a bad mistake some day, by being so complacently sure of yourself when you know nothing."

Mrs. Sacret smiled also, she could afford to treat this cocksure lawyer's advice with contempt.

"So much for her air of innocence, anyway."

"So much," repeated Mr. Southey. "She swore that she was not a faithless wife, I believe it is true—"

"Then I'll swear to what she was—"

"Not unless you want me to throw up your case. This is not a trial, the witnesses come and go as counsel please, and there are a large number of counsel. There will be no addresses to the jury and the coroner in his summing up cannot hope to compete with a judge. A great mass of detail that has nothing to do with the issue has been introduced, and the confusion is such I don't think that any jury would convict anyone—so you can spare your friend's reputation—and your own."

Mrs. Sacret, having vented her sense of injustice at her lawyer's praise of Susan, now recollected that if she could preserve her secret while securing her own safety it would be well for her as regards the future—when Mr. Southey remarked, "Will you allow me to see those letters?"

"I cannot do so—I destroyed them."

"I do not believe that, Mrs. Sacret, for it is clear that Sir Matthew was right in his hint—you obtained your footing in the Old Priory by means of those letters."

As she began to protest, he raised his hand with an air of authority. "Sir Matthew did not name the letters, he suggested blackmail. It is so obvious, after your confession."

"My confession! I spoke of Susan's confession—"

"Implicit in that was your own admission of blackmail. Only fear of a charge of murder forced you to wish to state the existence of these letters. You intended to hold them over Mrs. Rue in the future. She is so confident of that that she does not fear your revelation—that it is so much in your interest not to make. Therefore, Mrs. Sacret, I do not believe that you have destroyed these letters that must have been your most precious possession."

"I did—she begged me to do so, and I did."

At that moment Mrs. Sacret hated the painter and his tawdry deceptions, so ardently did she wish she could show Mr. Southey that packet of letters, not only from an instinctive, jealous wish to lower Susan from her false attitude of innocence, but because of her deep-seated fear for herself. She wanted to persuade Mr. Southey that Susan had every cause to murder her husband in her wish to return to the man of whom she had written so passionately. Mr. Southey changed his tactics. She was used to that from watching the legal fray at the inquiry, and ready for him.

"Did you tell Mr. Rue of these letters?"

"I hinted at something of the kind—I was trying to do Susan a service, I thought he might be so disgusted that he would give her the divorce."

"But he refused to believe anything against her?"

Mrs. Sacret was astonished and vexed.

"Oh, he did, yes—but I don't know how you guessed."

"Logical deduction, Mrs. Sacret. Here was a man devoted to his wife, keeping her against her will, he did not want any excuse for releasing her. He must have hated you."

"I don't think so," replied the wary young woman. "He was always civil—he gave me one of his precious flowers once—puce and scarlet, he said it was like me."

"All the same, he insisted on your dismissal. Nov Mrs. Sacret, pray let me see the letters. Remember you cannot persuade me you destroyed them."

"I did."

"Remember Mrs. Rue can be asked if she thinks these letters destroyed—if she does so think, why should she keep you? Obviously she doesn't like you."

Mrs. Sacret faltered and lied too quickly.

"Well, then—she doesn't know I've destroyed them—"

"Yet, it was done out of kindness to her? Come, now, Mrs. Sacret, this is too crude—"

"They were stolen—why do you torment me like this?"

"Where?"

She lied wildly. "I had them in a reticule and left it behind in a shop—I could never trace them—as Susan doesn't know, it doesn't matter. Do pray, recall you are my lawyer, and think of my affairs."

"I am briefed as counsel to watch your interests in this inquiry. I am doing that. I have only a few more questions to ask. Did Mrs. George Rue know of these letters?"

"She was vulgar enough to guess at something of the sort—but she got nothing from me."

"I see. Now the large sum of money and the emeralds Mrs. Rue raised so quickly and that were brought to her a few hours before her husband's death. Were they not for you?"

"No," said Mrs. Sacret at once. This was evidence against Susan that she could not afford to throw away. "It was just a little matter between Susan and myself—I used to tease her about the letters and she gave me little presents, nothing much. Of course that money was for her elopement." a "Absurd. Had she contemplated anything so mad as eloping so soon after her husband's violent death her lover would have supplied the money. Besides, as a wealthy woman she could have changed a check easily, anywhere."

"I did not have it," smiled Mrs. Sacret. She was relieved that he did not press this point nor go into her thin story about the loss of the letters, but he opened another hardly more welcome.

"Mrs. Dasent, as she was then, wrote to you, a missionary's wife, letters definitely stating she was the mistress of a married man, and you did nothing, you even continued the friendship?"

Mrs. Sacret's smile brightened. After all, the convenient truth would serve here.

"I was so innocent myself I thought the letters harmless, that was the word I always used. Then, three years after, when visiting Susan she showed such fright, she offered such bribes, I guessed—then she confessed."

"But not before witnesses, and if the letters are so ambiguous, she has nothing to be afraid of."

"But she is afraid. She is guilty. Tax her with it, tax Sir John."

"I've said—I do not think that would be wise, you might not be believed as you have no proof and you would lose sympathy. She might not break down, nor might he—such a thing can't be wrung out of a gentleman—"

"Even on oath?" sneered Mrs. Sacret.

"Even on oath," he repeated gravely, then he rapidly changed the subject. "The servants at the Old Priory say you had a very handsome wardrobe—but Curtis says that when you went to Brighton you had but the one gown and no luggage. Mrs. Rue bought you a second outfit—how do you account for that?"

"My clothes were stolen from Minton Street, you told me, Mr. Southey, and that horrid slut was wearing some of mine."

"Yes, I told you—but you did not know—"

"Oh, of course not! But I had packed all my luggage and had it sent to Minton Street—and it did not seem worth while sending for it, so Susan bought me new things."

Even to herself this sounded feeble, but Mr. Southey passed it, merely remarking: "Then your tenant, who must have kept a key, went back to your house and rifled your trunks?"

"I suppose so. It is dreadful—I must go and see what has happened—how much I have lost—"

"You have not been?"

"Is it likely! With all this horrible anxiety!"

"Some of your neighbors say you were seen there while living at Brighton."

"What nonsense! Those low gossips will say anything!"

Mr. Southey did not pursue any of these lines of inquiry and rose, as if he, not Mrs. Sacret, had sought the interview. She also was quickly on her feet, remarking:

"I wanted to give you a valuable piece of evidence but not only do you refuse to use it, you subject me to a long examination on trivial subjects—I do declare I don't think much of the legal mind."

What he next said made her think even less, for pausing at the door, he asked:

"You were annoyed at the thought of Sir John Curie in the role of a lover, what do you consider a romantic type of man?"

Mrs. Sacret concealed her contempt, no doubt this ugly lawyer was angling clumsily for a compliment.

"Not Sir John, nondescript and middle aged," she answered smoothly. "Not my poor husband, that was a marriage of high principles, we felt inspired to do God's work in Jamaica—not Mr. Rue."

She described him keenly, in the points where he resembled the lawyer. "Sand-colored hair, white lashes, gooseberry eyes, ugh! Not any man in court, I think—"

Mr. Southey smiled.

"It helps me in my profession to know the ladies' taste—you haven't mentioned a dark-haired, black-eyed or gray-eyed fellow, straight features, a little gold—not sand—over him, rather pale, but looks open air—elegant, tall, graceful manners—now would you consider that a romantic type?"

"Any woman would."

"Just so. That is what I thought, any woman would."

"But—what nonsense, when we were talking so seriously. I must remind you to keep my confidence—as I may not speak in court about the letters, I do not desire their existence to be known."

"You must rely on my discretion, Mrs. Sacret." He bowed and withdrew.


§ 49

Mrs. Sacret found Curtis in charge at the Old Priory, Susan was in bed, with Dr. Virtue and a nurse in attendance. "They've killed her, the poor soul," muttered the maid bitterly as she waited at Mrs. Sacret's elegant supper. "Those lawyers have no pity, no decency even, why not much sense either, why she wouldn't hurt a fly, as the saying is."

"I daresay," retorted Mrs. Sacret dryly, "but all the evidence points to her—she had the motive and the opportunity—and a great temptation."

"A good thing, wasn't it, ma'am, that the poor gentleman confessed to you it was suicide?"

"Yes—but he might have done it to shield her, he was that sort of fool." Mrs. Sacret felt mistress of herself again, more, mistress of other people, her appalling fright that had made her feel helpless and stupid had passed. Now that she no longer was in danger she resumed her quiet, smiling air of authority, acquired during her chapel work, and in particular in Jamaica where she had queened it over the Negroes. Her brush with Mr. Southey had stimulated her; it did not matter, she reflected as she sipped her Burgundy, that she had had to confess about the letters, the lawyer had made very little of that, and his advice to conceal the fact of their loss suited her very well, Of course he would tell no one about them—why should he? He was her lawyer and sworn to secrecy, besides he believed them destroyed—they were in Australia, almost the same thing. She felt that she had more than matched him, she had quite shaken him off about the painter, she had impressed him as a decorous, shrewd widow who would never be taken in by an adventurer. And meanwhile, she was wondering if she could obtain sufficient money from Susan for a visit to Australia. She thought of Susan with contempt—that vulgar outbreak in court—and now collapse! Of course she had been drinking again.

"Do you lock up the wine?" she asked Curtis severely, "Poor Mr. Rue would be very worried about this illness—you know quite well what it is."

"That's Dr. Virtue's business, ma'am. If the mistress do take a drop now and then—what's the wonder? Plagued day after day by those nasty lawyers—and then pretty well accused of murder!"

"Oh, she was not! It is the business of the counsel to try to get at the truth."

"Why don't they take your word?" interrupted Curtis rudely. "The master told you it was suicide, and a missionary's widow ought to be believed."

Mrs. Sacret felt comfortable, she moved to the easy chair by the window, the night air was sweet, and a few neglected roses and stocks gave out a faint perfume, the trees, ragged by day, were pleasing in outline against a moonlit sky, a summer warmth penetrated the gown of black mull that she wore. She looked at Curtis clearing away the elegant appointments of her rich meal, and said gently, like a cat patting a mouse, "You are very sure of your mistress' innocence, aren't you, Curtis?"

"Of course I am," the servant flared up. "She didn't poison him, and she wasn't unfaithful to him either. I'd have known if there'd been anything of that sort, but there wasn't—open as the day she was, never locked a box."

"Then you don't think she was planning to elope?"

"Of course not," retorted the servant again, with even deeper scorn, "If he'd have let her go, fair and square, she'd have gone and thankful, but she isn't the lady to do anything underhand, open and timid, and afraid of the neighbors' talk, and warmhearted. Too good for him, that's what she was, a nasty, mean fellow, always pretending to be sick and crying out for his horrid old mother."

"She shouldn't have married him."

"Oh, no! And he pester, pester, and she heartbroken because Sir John was married! As if she guessed the kind Mr. Rue was! She's the sort of lady who thinks every man's a gentleman."

"Well, then, Curtis, why do you suppose she raised that money so quickly—and secretly got the jewels from the bank?"

"She gave them to you," replied Curtis at once, "either because of some tale of ill luck you'd told her, or because of something you were holding over her, the poor dear."

"How absurd. And what do you imagine I could be holding over your virtuous mistress?"

"I don't know. But she's one as gives her confidence easy and careless, and trusting, and simple in a way. Look how she took to heart her husband's death—and he nothing but a plague to her."

"Kitchen gossip," smiled Mrs. Sacret, brushing aside a night moth that had fluttered in from the garden.

"No—but if it were, it's in the kitchen you'll hear the truth of most families. But here, and in all the situations I've been used to, we say the servants' hall, ma'am."

Mrs. Sacret was angry; she frequently made these small mistakes, though she tried to be so careful. Angrily she reminded herself of her father's good birth. Curtis did not allow her time to reply, standing erect by the baize-lined tray on which she had collected the silver in a white napkin she added: "I've lived close to you ever since you came to the Old Priory, and I know you pretty well, ma'am, and that you had a hold on the mistress, for she disliked you as much as it was in her nature to dislike anyone."

Mrs. Sacret had opened this conversation with the intention of rebuking Curtis and did not intend to be distracted. "You have been most insolent in court," she remarked coolly. "You are protected there, and I daresay that a servant relishes the chance of displaying vulgar spite, but your behavior will be remembered after this case is closed."

The maid's thin, worried face flushed. She moved out of the circle of lamplight, but answered firmly, "I took my Bible oath. And I answered all questions truthfully."

"You showed you had spied and sneaked—how came you to notice my green and crimson dress?"

"Anyone would. It was so overdone—and for your station."

"Need you have said it was mine when one of the lawyers, I suppose it was, showed it you?"

"It was the police, Detective Precious," said Curtis tartly. "I didn't know where he found the dress, but when he showed me that rig-out I knew it at once, and said so—I'm not going to monkey with the police."

"I suppose the police were called in because I had a robbery," replied Mrs. Sacret. "Anyhow it was no business of yours—and how prying you must have been to notice I had only one dress when I came to Brighton!"

"Anyone would have noticed—after seeing all those fine clothes the mistress bought for you, from her own dressmaker, and the toilet sets and gloves and shoes." Curtis drew an angry breath then continued, "and the handsome trunks—then you with nothing, and instead of sending for your things—wherever they were, you stayed on, month after month, at Brighton, letting my mistress buy you everything over again."

"I was robbed—that is what servants—uneducated people—do, make a mystery about nothing. You tried your best, Curtis, to make me appear an evil woman."

"If evil has been done, sooner you than the mistress," replied Curtis sullenly. "I don't pretend I like you. I'll tell you to your face what I said publicly—you're only ladylike, not a lady, you haven't been brought up as one, you haven't a lady's instincts—and there's ladies' instincts like there is gentlemen's."

"Quite a speech," smiled Mrs. Sacret, "and all it means is that poor, meek Mrs. Rue spoiled you very much and that you resented my noticing your waste and extravagance—and insolence. You're being rash, aren't you? You say that I have an influence over your mistress—well, I shall certainly use it to urge your dismissal."

"She would never part with me—for the little time she has," replied Curtis abruptly and left the room with the tray of silver.

"Sentimental fool," thought Mrs. Sacret. "Susan will live to be eighty—and marry again within the year, if not Sir John, then someone else."

Another maid came in to finish clearing the table and to trim the lamp, and Mrs. Sacret remained comfortable at the window. Her escape from danger was so recent she was not capable of reflecting on the wretched ending of her delicious friendship with the painter, she was too absorbed in realizing that the terrible peril that Mr. Southey had pointed out to her, a few days ago, was past.

She was slightly worried over the loss of her trunks; of course her neighbors had seen her bring them to Minton Street, and the painter fetch them away; that would pass very well, he had stolen them (this was the truth) but she could not recall the dates and feared they did not fit together. Surely—of course—the trunks had been taken before she left the Old Priory? She could cover all that up, but there was not likely to be any further inquiries over anything so trivial. This mention of the police had been startling, but, of course, police as well as lawyers were employed on a case like this. She wished that she knew more of the law. It seemed reasonable that the police should look into her antecedents—she was glad if they had done so, her record was so spotless—and so, of course, they would come on her tenant, and through him the horrible creature Feathers. But why had they shown the dress to Curtis? They must have been sure it was stolen property and guessed—when they found the man had left the country—that it was part of a haul from Minton Street, but why didn't they show it to her, instead of to the servant? Mrs. Sacret could not understand this, nor why the garments had not been returned to her, nor why the police had not made a hue and cry over the trunks. But she supposed they had let it all drop as the criminal had escaped and the whole business had nothing to do with the Rue case, certainly it had never been mentioned in court. Mrs. Sacret could only suppose that the police—this man, Precious—had guessed the dress belonged to her and had gone to Mr. Southey, her lawyer, and he had said she was not to be disturbed while the case was on. Yes, that was it, and it was only through the carelessness of Mr. Southey (she considered him a stupid man) and the spite of Curtis (she forgot she had questioned her) that this silly affair about the dress had come to her ears.


§ 50

The sensational second inquiry into the death of Martin Rue began to lose the public interest. There was nothing sensational about it after Susan Rue's outburst.

Mrs. Sacret did not need to save herself by revealing what she termed, privately and indignantly, Susan's "guilty secret."

The exasperated and bewildered jury did their best to keep level heads and open minds but, though convinced of foul play, and as incredulous of the suicide theory as the former jury had been credulous, they could not decide on the identity of the criminal. The verdict was "Murder by some person or persons unknown."


§ 51

Susan Rue had completed her packing, everything was ready for her departure from the home where her husband had died. It had already been sold for the value of the ground, for no one wished to reside in the expensive mansion that had been the scene of what still was known as "The Clapham Mystery."

Now that the excitement and the publicity of the second inquiry were over, Mrs. Sacret felt dull and flat, and filled with a burning rage against the painter, now definitely revealed as a commonplace, cheap criminal, well known to the police. Her deepest rage was for her money, her jewels, her clothes, they formed the tangible part of her charms. Her feelings toward the man and his promises were frozen. She saw him completely objectively as vulgar, trivial, not a gentleman. She could not understand why she had ever thought him superior to other men. She had always known that he had told her silly lies, he had really always been, to her, the type who would rob and run away. He had done worse than that—he had nearly put the rope round her neck.

She checked her thoughts violently—where did that coarse expression come from, and how meaningless it was! Of course Martin Rue had taken his own life.

Later she knew she would begin to count over the promises the painter had made and broken, the hopes he had raised and blasted, the low trick with the slut Feathers, and then she might feel hatred or a deadly regret, now she had the present to think of and she dwelt coldly on what good luck she still had. Her escape from the peril Mr. Southey had pointed out, her "hold" (she used that word herself) over Susan.

After all, Susan was free and very wealthy, they could go abroad, and maybe she, Olivia Sacret, could find someone as fascinating and more honest than the painter to admire her prim charms. Yet even while she indulged in these hopes, some inner essence of her being was in wild revolt, remembering that day at Lyndbridge House—all she had lost, lost.


§ 52

"Now this nasty affair is over," smiled Mrs. Sacret, "we must think of ourselves a little—it has been such a fatiguing time! Brighton won't do now—what about Como or Paris?"

"We are parting," replied Susan Rue, "I do not know where I shall go, but you shall not be with me—I want you to leave this house even before I do."

"All this anxiety has turned your head, Susan, you know that you cannot be rid of me."

"Mr. Southey told me that you had confessed you no longer had the letters," said Susan faintly.

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Sacret, startled into fury. "How could he be so false, and he feed to look after my interests!"

"So he was. But he found out that you are a wicked woman," murmured Susan with simplicity, "and he told me—for he realized how I was suffering—he said he did not believe that you had destroyed them as you declared you had, but that it must be out of your power to produce them, or you would have done so."

"You are a fool—I just said that to save you, to deceive Mr. Southey."

"Useless for you to lie—how would Mr. Southey have known of the letters? He conveyed to me that you were eager to save yourself at my expense," Susan sighed, without malice.

Mrs. Sacret could only stammer—"The letters are not destroyed."

"Mr. Southey is a clever man. He read you quite well. I shall believe what he said, and be at peace on that score."

Mrs. Sacret was startled and bewildered. She, who was so clever, had thought the lawyer stupid. Susan, so simple, had relied on his judgment.

"At peace," repeated Susan, "from you—not from my dreadful thoughts of how I drove him to it."

"The verdict said murder," Mrs. Sacret reminded her brutally.

"No one could have murdered him—he went into the stables and saw that bottle, or more likely it was something in the Indian basket—" Susan's words died away, she made an effort and added, "I am not afraid of you any longer. Please go away."

Terror succeeded rage in Mrs. Sacret's stormy heart. "Your best friend," she said, "after all I have done for you—how can you?"

"I don't wish to drive you to despair, I shall give you a little money. You have had a great deal, but Mr. Southey thinks that you have lost it all."

"How dare this cunning lawyer judge me!"

"They do judge people, Olivia, that is what they are trained to do."

"What do you mean by 'a little money'!" exclaimed Mrs. Sacret furiously. "You are very wealthy—

"I have returned all Martin's money to his mother, but it is true that I am rich. I shall give you what Mr. Southey advises."

"Always this wretched lawyer! Remember I could tell a good tale even without the letters, remember what you confessed to me—and Sir John also."

"Mr. Southey thinks no one would take any notice of you as you have no proof and that if you defamed me I could bring an action for libel."

To Mrs. Sacret, this was monstrous.

"Perjury is a crime. I know that you and Sir John lied on oath. All he swore about that interview with me was totally false."

"And so was what you swore, I don't doubt, and none of this will make any difference. Sir John and I will be believed and you won't."

"Why?"

"Because we are respectable people."

Mrs. Sacret laughed furiously, she felt entangled, stifled in a mesh of she knew not what, of the sins and failings of others. Her contempt for Susan and Susan's lover was sincere, so was her rage against the painter, her scorn against old Mrs. Rue, against the dead man. She felt herself to have been—to be—the one upright and intelligent person among a crowd of scoundrels and fools. Mr. Southey was included in her pervading wrath—he, who had been paid to defend her, had wormed her secrets out of her and then betrayed her to Susan, thus rendering her one weapon, the letters, useless.

Susan had escaped, Susan was no longer afraid of her. She must realize that hard fact, the central fact of her stripped existence now. Susan believed the lawyer, trusted his wit, his wisdom, would never give any credit to Olivia's hollow threats.

Generosity—a small pension—then what?

She thought of the portrait done in Minton Street—painted for her to see herself as she was—what was to become of that audacious, comely, well-dressed young woman now? What was to become of the dreamer who had sat in the aristocratic room in Lyndbridge House and longed for the Italian adventure?

"You are no worse off than when you came to the Old Priory," said Susan, observing her quietly. "While between then and now life has been ruined for me."

"Nonsense, how often have I reminded you how unhappy you were then!"

"How often have I replied that then I did not even know what unhappiness was."

Olivia Sacret struggled to keep to realities—her realities.

"How much money are you giving me?"

"The affair is in the hands of Mr. Southey—he spoke of a hundred a year. You have no claim to anything."

Mrs. Sacret thought of Australia, of getting the money for her passage, of searching for the painter there, yet she realized no action could be more desperate. She did not even know what name he might be using, nor in what part of that continent he might be.

"Go away now, please," said Susan. "This house is not mine. I must leave it myself in a few days' time."

Susan, no longer in terror of the letters, and no longer in hope of love, Susan bent on expiation, was very different from the weak creature who had bent before the missionary's widow. Olivia saw that she could not move her by threats or persuasion. There was nothing for her to do but to retire to her ghastly retreat at Minton Street, and there to think over her future plans.

She stared at Susan, opened her lips, but could not speak. She would have uttered a curse could she have done so, but her training had been too rigid; she bowed stiffly and left the room, closing the door with meticulous care, like a well-trained servant.


§ 53

Susan Rue, left to herself, returned to her constant preoccupation, brooding over her husband's suicide, to which she was convinced she had driven him by her thoughtless, as she termed it to herself, wicked behavior. She had returned to Mrs. George Rue all Martin's possessions as well as all his money—all his possessions save one, and that she could not have sent to the bereaved woman in Blackheath, for it was the hempen basket in which the dead man had kept his medicines. The contents had several times been examined by the physicians and declared harmless and it had finally been put at the back of one of the cupboards in the room where Susan now sat. She had never quite forgotten it, but never had it been in the forefront of her mind as it was now. For it must be disposed of soon, before she left the Old Priory. She knew he had died from antimony poisoning, yet she still associated his private medicine store with his death, and with some fatal compound he must have concocted for himself. She never really thought of him as going to the stable to steal away the horse medicine, but rather as brooding over the Indian basket with which she was so familiar and from which she had so often seen him mix his own peculiar medicines. Making an effort over inertia and exhaustion, Susan rose and walked slowly to the built-in cupboard and opened it. For awhile her eyes, inflamed by continual weeping, could see nothing but interlaced shadows that the last daylight, falling into the cupboard, cast from the medley of objects there—workboxes, tea chests, packs of cards in elastic bands, broken flower vases and lamps. She reflected wearily that there was still much work to do before the Old Priory was ready to be shut up in readiness for the purchasers and she wondered, with hardly any interest, where she should go, and what she should do, for the rest of her life. She had no plan beyond the project of returning to Brighton with Curtis, she hardly realized that she was relieved of the detestable burden of Mrs. Sacret's company. She saw the hempen basket and fetched it out with slack hands. "I must take it away and pour out the contents of these bottles—there is not much left in any of them, but I suppose these are dangerous—laudanum, chloroform."

She, hesitant, uncertain now in all her actions, placed the basket on a side table and went to the buffet. There was now no one to check her and she felt such a wave of melancholy that she eagerly poured herself three glasses of sherry and drank them, one after another. A sparkle of hope returned to her sad heart. Perhaps, in expiation, she might find some peace, some tranquillity. She recalled both that she was young and that her reputation was safe. Olivia Sacret did not possess those frightening letters. She, poor, silly Susan, who had already been cruelly exposed in the witness box as feeble, inconstant and unkind, had at least escaped open shame. She could still pass as a respectable woman, she thought; she need no longer bribe or tolerate Mrs. Sacret, the cold, dark widow.

Curtis entered, drew the curtains, set the lit lamp on the round table by the hempen basket and said, "Mrs. George Rue is here, madam, and so is a strange gentleman. They were on the steps together. Shall you see either, or both of them?"

"Old Mrs. Rue!" Susan was startled; her return of Martin's money to his mother had been a lawyer's affair and she had received a dry, legal acknowledgment of her action. Now she recalled that her mother-in-law had always hated her and spoken cruelly against her in the witness box at the second inquiry into the cause of the death of Martin Rue.

"I'll not see her, Curtis, she comes only to insult me. This gentleman, who is he?"

"He gives the name of Mr. Arrow, madam, Mr. David Arrow, and says he comes on business connected with the late Mr. Rue."

"He should go to the lawyers."

"I told him that, madam. He said it was a personal affair—for you only, and that the late Mr. Rue would have wished you to see him."

"Then I must, I suppose," replied Susan vaguely. "I daresay that it is something unpleasant, but I ought not to mind that! I can endure a good deal—is he really a gentleman?"

Curtis hesitated. "He is very soft spoken, rather like a foreigner, if you know what I mean, not at all rude or common, I am sure that he would never offend."

Susan did not observe that her question had been evaded. "I shall see him—but send old Mrs. Rue away—she must understand she has no right to come here."

Curtis was still ill at ease.

"It is your mother-in-law, madam, and this the home where her son died, if you will forgive me for saying so, and to turn her away, while you admit a stranger—" The well-trained voice ceased dutifully. Susan was unmoved by this plea for the proprieties.

"I've had enough of hatred," she answered. "Let her rest—give her a glass of wine, I suppose that she has come from Blackheath, but I'll not see her—"

Curtis did not find it easy to dismiss Mrs. George Rue, whom she had left in the front parlor, the stranger being in the hall.

"Tell her that it is most important, that I'll not be turned away," the old woman said, her usually arrogant tone most subdued. "I know that she doesn't think well of me and has good cause."

"She is resolved to see a gentleman who has come on pressing business."

"It can't be more pressing than mine—"

"But she is resolved—"

"Then I'll wait here—if it is a matter of affairs—and an odd time and place for that—it can't take long—I'll wait."

Curtis submitted. Not only was she unfitted to deal with one so much her superior, and from whom she had been used to receive orders, but she cherished the feeling that these two unhappy and bereaved women should not be kept apart. She even, without knowing why, attached some importance to this visit, at this late hour, of Mrs. George Rue to her dead son's home.

"Very well, then, madam, I'll speak to my mistress when this gentleman has gone. Meanwhile, I am to offer you a glass of wine."

"No, no, I thank you, I want nothing but to see her, Mrs. Martin Rue."

"Then you must wait, ma'am."

Curtis was firm this far and shut the door on the old woman in her heavy mourning, who sat heavy and silent again in the rosy light of the silver lamp that showed softly in the twilight.


§ 54

Mr. David Arrow presented himself carefully before Susan and spoke with an air of precision. That was her impression of this quiet man—care and precision; as she rose to meet him, holding out her hand vaguely, her senses, as was usual with her now, were clouded by the wine she had drunk. He appeared to her as the one definite, harsh outline in a room filled by interlacing shadows that, when she peered closer, seemed to shift into the forms of phantoms.

"I shall not detain you long, Mrs. Rue," said Mr. Arrow politely. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance, I have heard of you so often."

His voice was pleasant, but these commonplace words seemed to Susan to tingle with menace. She saw a slight, dark, clean-shaven man, who wore smoked glasses and a countryman's suit of homespun cloth.

"I don't know you, sir," she murmured, withdrawing.

"But I know you very well, Mrs. Rue. The truth is that I must come to the point quickly, for I am pressed, in every way pressed. I don't say that I haven't some skill in throwing them off the scent, and that I don't enjoy the game for its own sake. But I think it is time that I left the country."

"What has this to do with me?"

"I want money, and you must supply it—better for both of us if I am blunt. I was a partner with your friend, Olivia Sacret."

"My friend, friend, friend—"

"Our schemes were not successful, owing to her vanity and stupidity. But you have had some good luck. You are free of your odious husband and able to marry your noble baronet."

"Olivia Sacret sent you whispered Susan.

"No, nor are we likely to see one another again."

"Then who are you?"

"I've no time to answer. I intend to treat you kindly, gently You are a very wealthy woman, and all I require is a little sum of money now and then—now, urgently, I need a thousand pounds, that you can easily obtain as you obtained the last sum, by tomorrow evening. It may be in gold, or jewelry—not notes." He drew out a packet of letters from the deep pocket of his gray Quaker jacket and flipped over the contents. Susan recognized this at once and everything she ought to do became clear to her. The stranger saw her expression of resolve and applauded what he termed "her good sense."

"I won't deny," he remarked easily, "that I like adventure and whimsey now and then, for the fun of it, but sometimes one is pressed and harassed. Not that I don't always leave my line of retreat open."

"Tell me who you are—though it really doesn't matter," replied Susan calmly.

"I could strike a dramatic note on that—remembering this house and what took place here, remembering your prospects and how you came by them. I never had any classical learning, but I picked up a little here and there, and I might term myself the Messenger of Pisiphone, the third Fairy, who was the avenger of blood."

"I suppose you will never give me the letters—but hold them over me always—as she did?"

He returned the dog-eared bundle to his pocket.

"We'll see about that—perhaps Sir John and I will have a little talk about that. Clever of him to go abroad—but I suppose he will soon be returning and there will be a fashionable marriage? Or possibly a quiet one?"

Susan did not concern herself with contradicting this gibe, or even allow herself any longer to wonder as to who this man was, and how he came into the possession of her letters. She felt herself confronted by a just punishment for driving her husband to suicide. She was surprised now that she had ever supposed that she could evade this punishment. Everything, at last, appeared simple.

"You shall have the money tomorrow, of course," she said.

The stranger had expected this submission that he attributed to coward's fear; he believed her incapable of guile.

"Remember, Mrs. Rue, if you should be so foolish as to tell anyone of this visit—to mention in any way that I have spoken to you, even to hint that I have the letters—those indiscreet letters—I shall send them to your mother-in-law."

"I understand," Susan responded mechanically, without giving any attention.

"She is indeed a fool," he thought contemptuously. "I ought to have handled her directly, myself, before."

He had a card ready in his pocket on which was written an address in Highgate.

"You must go there, about five o'clock tomorrow, and bring the money and the jewels. Ask for Mr. David Arrow."

He felt sure of her; stupid as she might be, she would be quick, shrewd and prompt in the matter of saving her reputation, as she had been before. However simple she appeared, she was a woman who had carried on a clandestine intrigue with a married man and perjured herself in court without making a mistake.

"I can trust you, Mrs. Rue." It was more of an assertion than a question.

She repeated the word "trust" as she had repeated "friend," with an accent of curiosity and gravely bowed as the stranger, smiling, took his leave. When the door had closed on him, she picked up the hempen basket and went upstairs. She trod lightly, for dread of being seen, of being interrupted, and vanished lightly into her bedroom, only pausing to glance, for a second, with a look of wonder, at the door of the empty room where her husband had died.


§ 55

Mrs. George Rue pulled the bell rope by the hearth and when Curtis appeared asked if the strange visitor had not yet gone. "It is nearly three quarters of an hour that I have waited here."

"You would stay, ma'am," replied the servant. "If the gentleman had gone I'd have known. Mistress always rings for me to show visitors out—not that she has many now."

"No—too much scandal and trouble—people keep away. Well, I'm here. And I mean to stay until I see her."

"If it's to torment her, ma'am," began Curtis in a trembling defiance, but the elder woman interrupted fiercely, "It isn't—I feel I was mistaken in her, and that she needs a friend."

"That's true enough, there's only myself, a servant, and a few neighbors and acquaintances, who come out of curiosity, to my thinking."

"She must be much alone."

Curtis noted with surprise that the heavy woman, whom she had always regarded as malignant, appeared agitated, even troubled, and the widow observed this astonishment and added in a shamefaced tone:

"I daresay you think I hounded her. There, I can speak to you openly, you are her confidante, if anyone is—"

"She's no secrets to hide," interrupted Curtis, "and never had—"

"I daresay. I begin to see that now. She was a foolish creature and pampered and not the wife for my poor son, but I see I was mistaken in much, and I'd never be small minded and not say when I had been in error."

"And what has made you change your opinion, if I may ask?" inquired Curtis cautiously.

Mrs. George Rue lowered her voice, as one who speaks of very delicate affairs. She had for some time felt the desire to unburden herself on this matter and had not, until now, had anyone in whom she could confide. The impulse that had sent her to the Old Priory, an impulse that had sprung from a secret agony of deliberation, had been sharpened by her daughter-in-law's denial of her, and the long waiting in the parlor, already dismantled for the final clearance of her late son's goods and chattels.

"As I said, Curtis, I don't mind confiding in you, who have stood by and seen everything," she whispered hoarsely. "I've thought it all over and though there's no doubt that she was a silly, light thing—was, I say—I think she was no more. I think well of Sir John going abroad—a final parting it seems to be, and that makes me believe that she is a good woman and has some respect for my poor son's memory, after all."

"A pity you hadn't come to that opinion at the inquest and the inquiry, ma'am, when you hadn't a good word to say for her."

"Yes. I admit that."

"And I do think," added Curtis stoutly, "it is odd that you should have changed so."

"Susan—your mistress—returned to me all my son's money—without a scene, or wanting thanks, just formally, through the lawyers. That shows she isn't grasping."

The servant was silent. She found it hard to dismiss all her resentment against this unpleasant old woman, who had been so prejudiced, cruel and stupid, yet she felt obliged to credit her present sincerity and she realized how stern an effort this visit must have cost one naturally so harsh. More than that, her compassion and affection for her mistress weighed with her, the unfortunate lady was so alone, so sad and hopeless, so friendless. Was not this dubious kindness better than none?

"You ought to be a mother to her," she remarked thoughtfully.

"I could never be that, Curtis. I daresay that there would never be much sympathy between us. But I could stand by her, give her countenance—if she could forgive me," added the old woman with halting difficulty.

"She'd never bear malice to anyone—it isn't in her," said Curtis.

"So I think. I wish I had written to her, or come to see her before, it was a struggle and took a long time to decide, as matters do when you have to think them out alone."

The two women had drawn closer together, a common understanding encompassed them.

"It was that Mrs. Sacret," remarked Curtis. "She was all the trouble."

"I know it," agreed the other with a glinting look. "I soon had her measure. She had a hold on your mistress."

"I'd have supposed that—but Mrs. Martin Rue isn't a lady to have secrets."

"So I think now. I was misled. But everything seemed to indicate blackmail."

"That is a nasty word."

"A murderous kind of word. That missionary's widow, that chapel woman—she had something. Letters, I suppose. I don't believe that they were more than indiscreet, but Susan was frightened."

"She isn't now," put in Curtis rapidly. "Mrs. Sacret's going, never to come back. Mistress said the lawyer, Mr. Southey, had settled that—but she didn't say what that was."

"There!" exclaimed Mrs. George Rue triumphantly. "What you say shows I am right—it was some trifle Susan exaggerated and she is a good woman. I wish she had confided in me, I should have known how to have dealt with that sly, evil creature."

"You didn't encourage my mistress to confide in you," said Curtis with a touch of returning resentment.

"No. But now it shall be different. I shall persuade her to tell me everything and to help me to bring this wretched Dissenter to justice."

"My mistress won't want any more scandal."

"There are secret ways of justice, Curtis—I'll go to her now."

These last words broke the spell of the women's absorption in another woman's story. They had not observed the passage of time nor how the day was beginning to darken around them and the rosy light of the small silver lamp. They were startled by the twilight and the silence that surrounded that faint glow of artificial light.

"Yes, I must go to her," repeated Mrs George Rue hurriedly. "How the time has passed, talking, surely it is getting late. Oh, yes, getting late!"

"Yes, indeed, ma'am, I don't know what I was thinking of—late and dark—That little lamp just shows the shadows."

"Late and dark"—Curtis forced herself to regain a control that she felt, unaccountably, to be breaking. "I suppose it is what I have been through," she murmured. "My nerves are all gone."

"What did you say, Curtis, that your nerves are all gone?" Mrs. George Rue rose. "I suppose you mean that you are overtired, with all these horrors. I'm here now. I'll help you look after your mistress. We might all go away together."

"Yes, ma'am, all go away together—"

Again the two women were silent, listening to the silence, staring into the dusk that seemed to them to thicken rapidly.

The old woman, helping herself by her stick, crossed to the door and repeated her demand for more lamps.

"I'll light the gas in the hall," muttered Curtis. "Mistress always disliked it, you know. Lamps are more in keeping with the Old Priory, she always said. But so many of them have been put away, or sold—"

"She asked me," said Mrs. George Rue rapidly, "if I wanted my son's things out of this house, or the house itself, and I replied—no, indeed no—so she instructed her lawyers to sell it all—all the property—for my benefit."

"Yes, it is to be all sold—you see that there is nothing much left, only a chair or so, and the beds—"

"No one looked after my son's conservatory, I suppose?"

"The mistress—as much as she could—before she went to Brighton—then the gardener was dismissed and the stove wasn't looked to, and all the plants died."

"They would with neglect—my son had some fine specimens, he received a medal once. Ordinary flowers, some of them, but grown to great perfection. I hope that chapel woman never meddled with them."

"That's a queer thing to say, ma'am. I don't think she did. She was always well behaved, as those sham ladies are. What she did was underground. Master gave her a pot plant once, puce and scarlet. She was very proud of it, because he said it was like her, but she soon forgot it and put it out on her window sill, where he found it, quite withered."

The two women were now in the passage, and Curtis had lowered the ring of gas jets on its chain and lit these from a box of lucifer matches taken from her apron pocket; as the circle of heart-shaped flames, blue and yellow, was raised into place, shedding through opal globes an illumination cold and piercing along the hall and up the stairs, Mrs. George Rue whispered:

"We are making delays on purpose. Why doesn't your mistress ring for lights, or to have her visitor shown out? And what of her dinner hour?"

"She never takes meals in the old way," replied Curtis hurriedly. "Just something on a tray—and—"

"I know. Too many glasses of wine."

"Mrs. Sacret drove her to it, and kept her supplied, on the sly, nasty stuff, the master said it was—and then when she was openly shamed in court about sleeping through the master's illness, she felt it didn't matter any more."

The two women were whispering in so low a tone they could hardly hear one another's words.

"Where are they—your mistress and her visitor?"

"In the room opposite." Curtis had opened the door and nodded across the wide corridor. "I've only one maid and a cleaner to help me—they are both out now, so we're alone."

"Alone? But there is your mistress and her visitor."

Curtis crossed the passage and looked into the room where more than an hour previously she had shown in the man who had given the name of David Arrow.

It was empty, the side curtains were not drawn, the blind not lowered, the sash was raised and the steady breeze blew the short muslin curtain, a trail of white, into the shadows—where an empty chair was drawn up close to an empty settee.

"He must have gone very quietly," remarked Mrs. George Rue, still whispering low. "I never heard a step—even across the corridor there, and I was sitting quietly waiting."

"He was a soft-moving sort of man. My mistress couldn't have rung her bell."

"And she must have gone out—or gone upstairs noiselessly."

"She wouldn't go out, so late, without telling me of her intention, and no hat or mantle. She was timid without the carriage, and alone. I always went with her—so late, too," muttered Curtis, whose look had altered to one wild and livid beneath the small gaslight of the bracket lamp in the passage. Mrs. George Rue peered at her with purblind glance.

"I shall go up and find her, Curtis. I suppose she has the same bedroom?"

"Yes—next to the master's—she said that she couldn't expect to be spared that."

Curtis was in the empty room, closing the window, pulling down the blind, putting away the bottle of wine in the mahogany side-board, heavy and grim as the sarcophagus that filled one wall space.

With the soiled glass she had picked up in her hand, she returned to the corridor. Mrs. George Rue was halfway up the first flight of stairs.

She was walking with difficulty, clumsily trying to support herself on her stick and by holding onto the stout balusters. The air seemed dark and cold for all the summer season and the gaslight, and Curtis had some ill-timed thoughts she could not herself interpret as she stared at the unwieldy figure in the worn and lusterless crape and bombazine ascending the comfortable stairs as if she struggled against some formidable obstacle.

"I haven't had a tranquil mind, this long while," said Curtis, staring into the glass she held, in which lay a drop of tawny wine. She heard Mrs. George Rue calling to her in a croaking voice.

"I'd rather that you came up, too, Curtis, it is rash of me, going up like this, by myself, after what has been between us—she won't know I'm here—"

"She won't know that anyone is here."

"Do come. And don't pause. Here we are, listening and waiting again. I don't know why I waited so long."

"She had a cheerful nature, full of hope, and gay," said Curtis. "You'd wonder how things would go so wrong for one like that; kind, too."

"I'll do my best to make amends, only come up with me now, Curtis—I suppose there is no one else up there?"

"No one." She ascended the easy, shallow treads, holding the glass slackly, so that the drop of wine fell out and was lost in the thick carpet.

"I never thought that I'd come up these stairs again," whispered Mrs. George Rue, giving Curtis her stick and leaning on the servant's arm. "Not that I ever was here often—only in the visiting rooms, on the ground floor."

They paused on the first landing, in the angle before them were two doors, Curtis turned to that on the left and opened it carefully. They had only the light that came up the stairs in a flickering glow and into this the open door sent a dusky dimness, for Susan's bedroom was dark.

The two women waited on the threshold, listening, as if expecting a summons to enter.

"You speak, ma'am," whispered Curtis at last. "She'll be drowsy, or asleep."

The widow moved her twisted mouth unsteadily, the word "Susan" came as faint as an echo, in the half shadow her black figure was shapeless and blended with the dull gray of the servant's dress, broken by the hard white of apron, bib and cap.

"I don't know why we don't go in," added Mrs. George Rue. "It's not her fault if she's drunk too much. I don't object to seeing her like that; in fact, I'll sit with her while you make a little beef tea—yes, that is it, Curtis, a little beef tea. I suppose you have it in the house."

"We need a light," whispered the servant. "She always has lamps in these rooms. She doesn't like gas for the smell and the hissing."

"Lights, you keep talking of lights, why didn't you bring one up?"

"I've matches in my pocket."

"Strike one then."

"Come over the threshold, then."

The two women, who seemed one darker shadow among the shadows of the large room, moved together; they faced the window. The curtains were undrawn and a square of pale sky showed against what was the blurred outline of the ill-grown trees in the suburban garden.

"It's empty," muttered Mrs. George Rue. "This room is also empty. She must have gone away—"

Curtis, after some fumbling, struck a match, the flame darted up, showing, first, the reflection of the two women in the oval mirror on the muslin-draped dressing table, so that they stared at themselves, lit by flame—lined, drab and ugly faces seemed those two countenances, one under the widow's cap, one the servant's cap. Each thought the other ghastly and colorless, and each drew apart from her companion as the match flared out, and Curtis dropped the charred stick where she had, unknowing what she did, dropped the glass, by the side of the lone, unruffled bed, where the yellow satin quilt was spread neatly beneath the lace flounces that Curtis herself had set in order that morning.

Mrs. George Rue felt her way around the foot of the bed, holding onto the massive brass rails that shone in the gleam of the second match that Curtis struck.

"Here she is—on the floor—huddled up." The widow put her hand to her forehead, and peered around the room as if something had altered there. "Don't let the match go out, now don't—I saw a lamp. We must get her into bed."

"That's easy—she's so wasted that a child could lift her."

Curtis had lit the side table lamp, mechanically deft again at the routine work that had always been her care.

"If you'll please to allow me to come, ma'am, I'll know what to do—"

"But I want her to speak to me," stammered the widow, standing at the feet of the motionless, prostrate figure. "She must speak to me. I want to tell her that I know she is a good woman. I want her to forgive me—"

"Take your stick," commanded the servant, unhooking the crook from her arm—"a queer old stick it is—and leave go of the bedstead rails, ma'am, and allow me to come around."

Mrs. George Rue obeyed, stumbling over something on the floor. "It is the master's Indian basket," said Curtis. "I thought they had taken that away. And all the contents scattered about."

"Bottles—and a nasty, thick smell—"

"Hold the lamp, bring it nearer," Curtis was on her knees beside her mistress, "hold it nearer—lower, so. Yes, of course, I knew it awhile ago—when we stopped talking and the house was so silent. She's dead."


§ 56

Mrs. Sacret read of the death of Susan Rue in the Morning Post and felt a gnawing resentment against a fool who had cheated herself and cheated others of so many pleasant things. How many benefits it had been in her power to confer on Olivia Sacret, who had taken so much trouble with her dull and sordid affairs—the missionary's widow could but with dire difficulty contain her passion when she considered, as she could not evade considering, what she had missed. The case was an exasperating puzzle also. There had been an inquest and the verdict had been "death by misadventure," and this on the evidence of Dr. Virtue, Mrs. George Rue and Curtis, three people much disliked by Olivia Sacret.

The tale ran smoothly. After her shocking misfortunes Mrs. Martin Rue had been given a sleeping draught and one night, obviously afflicted by an access of sleeplessness, had taken an overdose having, by a fatal chance, found where the supply of the medicine, entrusted to her ever-constant maid, was kept, and thinking it to be a harmless tonic, which she also took. Dr. Virtue's opinion was against the theory of suicide. His patient was occupied with plans for the future, was young, healthy, not in the least melancholy and had made a surprising recovery from the tragedy of her husband's death; this evidence was supported by Mrs. George Rue, who had been in the house at the time of her daughter-in-law's death, by Curtis, by the other women employed in the Old Priory, by several acquaintances.

Public feeling had run strongly against Susan Rue, but now there was a general delicacy in dealing with her character that exasperated Mrs. Sacret. She did not understand the sentiment that had moved not only Dr. Virtue and Mrs. George Rue, but even the coroner and the jury, one of compassion toward a woman who, somehow, by some means, had been hunted to her death. Innocent or guilty, foolish or wise, she had, either deliberately or by mischance, passed from mortal judgment and even those who relished this sinister addition to what the evening papers still termed "The Clapham Mystery" spoke with reserve of Susan Rue, while among the many who had pressed into the crowd to see her shamed in the witness box were some who remembered that she was gentle and pretty.

But to Olivia Sacret she was, even in her grave, an object of contempt, and it was with a moody curiosity that the missionary's widow considered this dead fool. Susan had been too kindly treated, even by the coroner's verdict, for it was obvious, Mrs. Sacret thought contemptuously, that Martin Rue's widow had taken her own life, from motives of remorse and when fuddled with wine. She supposed that she drove him to self-destruction. Mrs. Sacret was in dim argument with herself, pursuing an intricate debate beneath the outward apathy imposed by her misfortune. A pity she did not know that she did murder him—how much unnecessary trouble I took over that—putting the glass into her hand, so careful, and she never remembered and the point was never raised—

Mrs. Sacret tried to get some consolation for herself out of the end of Susan. At least she, Olivia Sacret, was out of danger, that particular danger that had been so terrible, that now she could not recall the agony it had caused, only the lone fact that she had been in peril and that of the most horrible kind—peril of—she would not consider that. No one would now disturb the story of Martin Rue and his wife. Very few would even be concerned with doing so. There was Sir John, but he was abroad and the missionary's widow did not doubt that he would remain there, having so great a care for his reputation as to perjure himself on oath. Perhaps the death of Susan would even be a relief to him. Mrs. Sacret decided that she must dismiss this wealthy, stupid man from her schemes. She could no longer frighten him, even if she knew' where to find him. Her prospects were remote and doubtful, and these words, used in her icy brooding, lit their bleakness—"where to find him—" She had no clue as to the whereabouts of the painter, she did not know where to find him.

Australia, Africa, Asia—she considered the small manuals of geography she had learned her set lessons from at school, she remembered the colored maps, bound tightly into the text, and how she had, so often, done Susan's lessons for her. And then she thought of something else from a lesson book, the perfect housewife, Madame Dupont, who conversed in easy French about tables and chairs, luncheons and dinners, and how that name had been taken for her by the painter on the strange visit to the country when she had worn the green and crimson dress. That was needless, too, like giving Susan the glass of water—with the medicine—I wonder why he troubled? Why did he paint those figures for me to see?

She had been abandoned by all, even by hope, when this livid brightness had come her way. No, that was not so, first there had been Susan and the luxuries she had obtained from Susan and the sense of power she had employed over Susan and Susan's husband. And this reflection brought her to the letters. She rejoiced, as far as any manner of rejoicing was any longer possible to her, that the letters were now useless to the painter unless he ferreted out Sir John and obtained some hush money there.

The missionary's widow became exasperated in a blind, fumbling fashion as this possibility further darkened her cloudy musings.

He had robbed her—of money, of the diamond bracelet, of her trunks.

She could not outwardly raise a hue and cry after the first losses, but possibly she might do so about the trunks. Yes, there had been a definite theft, and one she could denounce to the police.

Yes, that was it, the detestable Curtis had declared that the police—she had even named one, Sergeant Precious—or had that been Mr. Southey?—had spoken of the trunks. At this bitter leaping into her mind of the name of the lawyer, Mrs. Sacret rose and paced her narrow room. How he had fooled her, with his pretense of stupidity—how treacherous he had been, taking a fee for defending her interests, then warning Susan about her so that Susan was no longer in dread of the letters.

However, she need not consider him any more, he had gone out of her life, as had a number of other hateful people, with the death of Susan.

She tried to steady her thoughts. What good would it do her, what use would it be to her, to lodge a complaint with the police that her tenant had stolen her trunks?

They knew that already and that the painter was a criminal who had escaped to Australia. They had even traced one of the dresses, once in the trunks, to a slum hussy of the neighborhood, the slut who had deceived Olivia Sacret, one rainy night, into fancying—she who was so little prone to fancy!—that she saw her own double, the phantom of Madame Dupont, the phantom of that happy day in the country, before her. Yes, the police had shown that fine, rare dress to Curtis, who had recognized it—why had they not come to her, the respectable missionary's widow, who was the lawful owner of it?

Perhaps they were waiting for her to claim it—and there were the other articles as well, all that Susan had given her, clothes, trinkets—valuable things, worth money. How was it, she asked herself fiercely, that she had not thought of this before?

Of course the police were waiting for her to claim her property. They must consider it odd that she had not yet done so. But she could tell a good tale to account for her delay. She had had so many agitations and then the dreadful death of her dearest friend, she could make that last use of Susan, yes, she could say that the sudden death of Susan had made her ill. And surely, when she had told her story, she would receive, delivered at her home in Minton Street, those handsome, hair-covered, brass-studded trunks that it had given her such pleasure to own.

Her spirits lighted a little at the prospect of opening these trunks and turning over the plunder that was all that she had left of the adventure that had begun with her visit to the Old Priory.

She paused to puzzle over how the police had traced and recovered her possessions—the painter must have absconded, leaving his plunder behind, and here was another acrid bewilderment, how had he contrived to sneak away? Certainly he had had her money—how merciless, in its power to torment, was that thought—but as the police had traced him as far as Liverpool, how was it that they had not traced him farther?

She was as ignorant of such criminal and legal matters as she had been when she had returned from Jamaica, speaking the idiom of a missionary's widow, seeking for pious work at a small wage. Her experiences at the Old Priory had not enlarged her experiences of mankind; all the people with whom she had dealt, while under the influence of a mind that had dominated her own, were no longer of any interest to her, they had all been so foolish and so little had she gained from any of them that they had vanished from her speculations. Only the painter still teased her baffled thoughts.

Meanwhile, even these mean daydreams were a luxury. She must find some livelihood and she must get away from Minton Street.

She considered putting an advertisement in the papers offering to go abroad, anywhere, as companion, as lady's maid—surely some of her one-time chapel acquaintances would give her testimonials? On the surface her life at the Old Priory appeared without reproach; she forgot the notoriety attaching to "the Clapham Mystery" and the terrible suspicion that had once been cast on her, if only in a passing, a glancing manner. She knew no one so was not aware of her reputation, her neighbors had always been curious and hostile and she, now, as always, ignored their stares, grins and muttered comments.

With a restless hope of finding some of what she termed her "stolen property," Olivia Sacret turned over the shabby contents of her shabby little house.

But the painter had left nothing behind except Frederick Sacret's poor furnishings, save the worn trunk that he had used as a model's throne.

Mrs. Sacret wished that she could have this removed, as it reminded her so unpleasantly of the smart, new luggage of which she had been robbed. She looked at the old trunk again. It was well made and still stout, but rubbed and dirty outside, and within lined with a cheap stained replacement of the original lining—wallpaper with pink roses and green birds on a blue trellis. She tore some of this soiled lining away to see if any object of value—some papers or little articles of jewelry—was beneath, and found nothing.

His story she now saw as sordid as she had once seen it brilliant—but she could not imagine either the squalor or the brilliancy; his figure had always stood out against darkness.

As she stood discontented and irresolute, a rap on the door startled her, and jostling fancies disturbed her puzzled, random thoughts. In a second of time she had pictured the painter, Susan, her late husband and Mr. Southey as tapping at her door. Her blank gaze turning to the window, she saw above the scrap of soiled muslin curtain a carriage stayed at the curb before her home. The rap was repeated and she had some intention of not answering this summons, yet went to open the door to Mrs. George Rue.

At sight of this adversary, her undefined fears vanished and her spirits were lifted. Here was someone whom she could easily master, on whom she could exercise her swelling malice.

With her pleasant voice lowered, she asked her visitor into the front parlor. The elder widow was helping herself awkwardly with her stick and sank clumsily, without an invitation, into the beehive chair by the empty hearth.

"Now, what can you and I have to say to one another?" asked Mrs. Sacret demurely.

"I suppose you think very little, and that not kind. But I come in a friendly way."

The missionary's widow stood silent, sly and suspicious, with folded hands and downcast lids.

"We met in a chance medley and never understood one another, I daresay. But I've come to see things differently—I was reconciled with poor, dear Susan before she died, and she told me what a good friend you had been to her."

So, thought Olivia Sacret, not changing her attitude, the fool was afraid of me—to the end. I suppose she was never sure if I had the letters or not.

"I made a mistake," continued Mrs. George Rue. "Susan was light and silly, but she was a good woman, and she died of a broken heart because of my poor boy—and I'm sorry if I seemed to dislike her—"

"If!" smiled Mrs. Sacret. "You were her worst enemy."

"Don't say that, now pray don't—and as for those two horrid inquests—who knew what was twisted out of them by those cunning lawyers. We ought to forget all that—as if it had never happened. It is a closed chapter—my poor boy and Susan."

Mrs. Sacret thought it wise to agree with this, and bowed her comely head in assent.

"But we're alive, Mrs. Sacret, and have to be accounted for—"

"By whom—accounted for

"That was an odd way of speaking, I know. I am not clever, like you. I'm old, also, an old woman, and quite bereaved and alone now. I've only one object left in life—to see justice done."

"Justice?"

"Yes. My mind has been tossed. But I do dwell on that and what I can do. I want to make some amends to poor Susan. I think of my son, too, of course. Well, Mrs. Sacret, you'll wonder how this comes to concern you. I have a proposal. I see you made nothing out of your residence at the Old Priory. I hear that you were even robbed of your luggage. I am sure that your health must have been undermined—have you any plans?"

"You know," replied Mrs. Sacret, "exactly my position and what my plans are likely to be."

"A very sensible answer. Very well, then. I propose that you come and live with me, at Blackheath, as a companion. It will be a retired existence, as I am in deep mourning—and always must be—but I shall see you provided for."

She had a leaden look on her swollen face and a hurry in her voice, a tremble in her sagging lips and in her shapeless hands that proved she struggled with a formidable emotion. Mrs. Sacret recognized this, though she could not understand this excess of feeling. She had respected Mrs. George Rue as a worthy enemy—was it possible that she was only another sentimental fool, that she really thought Susan a good woman and sorrowed over her? If she was not moved by that sentiment, what did oppress her?

"Come," urged the old woman. "I see you doubt me—and I don't wonder—"

"I must recall what you said to me—you thought I had a hold over Susan."

"A wicked thought," sighed Mrs. George Rue. "But don't make up your mind in a hurry. Curtis is in my service now. She is outside in the carriage—"

"Curtis was always insolent to me."

"She won't be any longer. She, too, sees things differently." The old woman continued to talk, pressing the missionary's widow to come and live with her—for awhile at least—

Mrs. Sacret despised-her and the servant. How much cleverer she was than either of them! Susan, frightened Susan, must have lied on her deathbed—the details of which were quite unknown to the missionary's widow—and her mother-in-law and the maid were really actuated by some sickly remorse: What other motive could be lurking in this surprising proposal?

Olivia could not see any reason to refuse the offer of a comfortable home, even with a detestable old woman in a dull household. It was a most unexpected chance to escape from Minton Street and to enjoy again the luxuries to which she had been accustomed at the Old Priory. It was also agreeable to have that impudent enemy Curtis, at what the missionary's widow termed to herself—"her beck and call."


She secretly scorned foolish old Mrs. Rue for taking into her service—evidently as a gesture of much belated remorse—this stiff, disagreeable servant, and considered Curtis herself with equal contempt for accepting what was, after all, a not very well-paid or desirable situation. For Curtis, who had become a confidential maid, even more, an actual confidante, at Clapham, was, Olivia soon found, no more than a buffer between servants and mistress at Blackheath. Indeed, Mrs.

George Rue had an adequate staff and a well-run establishment, and she had had "to make a place" for Curtis, to whose lot fell all the odds and ends of labor that the others evaded or disliked. Mrs. Sacret took good care to put as many tiresome jobs as possible on the woman whom she had never forgiven for her insolent and public outspokenness, and it gave her considerable pleasure to set the maid mending, ironing or running errands at some inconvenient time.

One warm, early autumn day when she noticed that Curtis, who had just brought a pile of hemstitched mull handkerchiefs to the room, looked haggard and flushed, Mrs. Sacret laughed in her face, remarking, "I wonder you stay here, with two mistresses to order you about—and both of them ladies you used to dislike."

"I can't choose," replied the gray servant sullenly.

"No, I suppose you can't—you're getting past your work, and can't have much of a character—even if Mrs. Martin Rue had lived to write you a testimonial, it wouldn't have been any use to you, coming from her—whose reputation had been so blown on. Indeed, I suppose you were lucky in getting into service here—it is quite comfortable—though as Mrs. George Rue has inherited all her son's money she might have some more luxuries and run things in a better style."

"I'm sure I don't know about that, ma'am," replied Curtis, smoothing the fine handkerchiefs into place.

"No, I don't suppose you do, or I either," mocked Mrs. Sacret, who spoke to the servant for sheer need of speaking to someone who had in any way shared her experiences. She was lonely, and though she tried not to be idle, she had no definite, important task to keep her from boredom. "A pity that your late mistress did not leave you something in her will—what a careless person she was—dying intestate, and all her fortune going to distant relations she had not even seen."

Curtis was silent. She never had anything to say when the missionary's widow goaded her on the subject of Susan's death.

"Oh, well!" Olivia Sacret affected a yawn. "It is really very odd that we three should be together in this dull way—after all the fuss and crying, crazy invalids, sudden deaths and inquests, illicit lovers and scenes of passion! And now we are all so very respectable and nothing ever happens that is in the least exciting."

"I don't want any more excitements like we had at the Old Priory, ma'am."

"Of course not. How stupid you are. You always tried to get above your station. Give me those handkerchiefs, they are not very well done, you might take more care—idle as you are."

"My sight isn't as good as it was. I must get stronger glasses."

"Yes, pray do." Mrs. Sacret yawned again and turned her back on the servant as she left the room.

Old Mrs. George Rue was really besotted, the missionary's widow mused, to take on both herself, as companion, who-hardly tried to be useful, and Curtis, a needless servant, who spent most of her time waiting on a dependent. How odd that such a firm seeming character should prove to be foolish and sentimental!

She gave Olivia Sacret a generous allowance and a great deal of freedom, as well as continually offering her quite valuable presents and showing some concern as to her future. She had promised to leave her "comfortably off," but constantly declared that she would like to see Susan's best—perhaps her only friend—"settled in life."

But Olivia Sacret, who had the excuse of her sacred grief, avoided her company. She felt very wary, very cautious; her cold, lazy and aggressive nature did not crave for homely joys. Certainly she did not intend to remain very long at the Cedars, Blackheath, but she considered remaining for the lifetime of Mrs. George Rue. The old lady's own physician, Dr. Balance, and Dr. Virtue—who had been taken into her confidence—had both remarked, in Olivia Sacret's hearing, that her heart was "not good," that she had suffered more than might have appeared from the shock of her son's death, and the rigorous part she had played in the two inquests, and that she "ought to be made comfortable and not worried."

Mrs. Sacret had learned from this that the old woman might die quite soon, and so it was worth her while to play a waiting game.

She had missed the small annuity that Susan had promised. Mr. Southey might have paid it, but Olivia Sacret thought it wiser to let him alone. She had not been successful in obtaining her trunks and the valuables they contained from the police, though Mrs. George Rue had helped her in this delicate matter, and Sergeant Precious had himself called at the Cedars.

The missionary's widow thought him a stupid man. He had such a slow manner of speaking, such a blank look and such a square, expressionless face that, from the first moment of glancing at him, she lost her hidden thrill of terror that he might ask perilous questions, and she said she was not sure of the dates in the matter of the removal of the trunks from Minton Street.

But Sergeant Precious had raised no difficulties. He had even commiserated with her on being deceived by the smooth-tongued rogue who had been her tenant and added that it was "no wonder," since the man, under various aliases, had been guilty of several most skillful frauds.

"I saw him very seldom," Olivia Sacret had considered it wise to say, and Sergeant Precious had answered that she was fortunate in having so little to do with so dangerous a rascal, adding—"not but a lady like yourself would have seen through him, it was only those poor, silly, common creatures he deceived."

"But you said he was clever at deception?"

"In a large way, yes—but I am thinking of the women, ma'am. He never did anything there with anyone of your class."

This had been comfortable hearing to Olivia Sacret, but had increased her contempt of the detective—how could such as he judge of the fascination of the painter? How dare he judge women? What they wanted, what they liked?

The police had proved incompetent, and not only in their estimate of the relations between Mrs. Sacret and her tenant. They had not been able to trace the man beyond Liverpool, where he had been shadowed to the quay, and there lost sight of, and they had not found the stolen luggage, nor any of the pretty things Susan had given to her friend. Mrs. Sacret could not but confess her relief to herself that this heavy curtain had fallen over her episode with the painter, but nevertheless she despised the police, and through them, the law. This contempt set her much at ease, it was as if she had been afraid—so miserably afraid—of what was not really terrible, but feeble and stupid. She had asked Sergeant Precious how it was that the police had been tracking her tenant before they knew of his theft of her goods, and the answer had been—because of another crime committed some time ago—"as we often do, Mrs. Sacret, long after the criminal thinks we have forgotten him. Indeed we sometimes give him a long rope—a sense of security, if you understand me—so that he shall betray himself in the end."

Olivia Sacret had thought this grandiose nonsense, spoken to cover up incompetency, and the sentence came back to her now, as she sat at the window, after her acrid interview with Curtis, looking at the sunset sky, the color of flame about the dark, alien trees that gave the house its name.

How she had longed to ask what had been the record of the painter, what the police knew of him, for what crime he was being pursued—and with what force this longing returned to her now, making her loneliness vivid!

Yet what did it matter? It was clear enough that he was a vulgar adventurer who had lived by frauds on women. He had marked her down as a simple chapel woman with a rich friend after, no doubt, minute inquiries at places of which she knew nothing—such as the local public houses, but where she and her neighbors and her affairs would be very well known. What luck it had been for him to discover that she owed her money to—blackmail.

Even now her thought checked at the word; it represented one of the things she would not admit, even in her secret thoughts.

No, she must forget the past and only remember what she had inherited from it, the silly, sentimental protection of an odious old woman who had been her severe enemy.

Her choice now lay between a lazy endurance of the comforts of this very easy establishment, waiting for Mrs. George Rue to die, and an adventuring into the world to see what she could do for herself from the vantage ground of the Cedars. She recognized how entirely she was without the spirit of adventure, she was inert with spiritual sloth, though she did not give it that name.

She had only gone to Jamaica because she was forced to accompany her husband where he could earn his living, she had made nothing of the experience and soon forgotten it; the bizarre influence of the painter had taken her out of herself as if she had been hypnotized. When that had been withdrawn, an instinct of self-preservation had made her alert, watchful, energetic. Now she was safe and comfortable, and had no desire to risk any peril or inconvenience.

She intended to go as companion or governess in some really well-placed family, or au pair and, well dressed, with plentiful pocket money and good introductions, she thought that she could easily enough marry some man who would support her in ease for the rest of her life in a gay, sunny, amusing city.

Mrs. George Rue had approved of her plan—but for the future—"You must stay with me until I die, Olivia"—and Mrs. George Rue would give her introductions both in France and Italy—"Como," Olivia Sacret had once said, "I should like to go to Como"—and then it appeared that the old woman knew the very best and most useful people in Lombardy.

It should not be so difficult to wait, and it would be so much wiser and safer to wait, until the last echoes of the "Clapham Mystery" had died away. Though the missionary's widow had never realized how notorious she had become through the press, she was aware that a lapse of time would be advisable before she tried to gain an entry into any society where she would be likely to find the kind of husband she desired. Yet how dull this life—this waiting—would the old woman die soon? How much would she leave her, Olivia Sacret, to make her "comfortable"?


"I have put in the paper—the Morning Post—that you are staying with me at the Cedars, dear. I thought that now all that horrid scandal is over, it would be nice for you—to have it known that you were staying with me."

"Oh, I suppose so. Thank you. Yes, it will be useful." Mrs. Sacret was indeed pleased by, if scornful of, this piece of foolishness. Certainly it should help her in the future to have been publicly proclaimed as the protégée of Mrs. George Rue.

"It is odd how little I understood you. I always thought of you as rather a hard sort of woman. I should never have guessed you would have had these sentiments."

"Sentiments?"

"I mean—taking me to live with you and bothering yourself with Curtis, who really looks after me more than anything else. We must, both of us, be an added expense to you—for nothing."

"I have poor Susan's money—and it isn't for nothing—"

"It was really your son's money, Mrs. Rue. I think you make too much of Susan's action—She was wealthy enough even after she had given up her second husband's fortune."

"Yes. But she need not have given that money to me," replied the old lady obstinately. "It shows she was a good woman."

It shows that you are senile, thought the other woman, to feel so, to allow your pity to overpower your judgment—and she longed to tell Mrs. George Rue that her earlier estimate of her daughter-in-law's character had been the correct one, and to recount the story of the letters and how Susan and Sir John had both committed perjury.

But she could not do this; not only would such a bald statement of the truth reveal herself as a blackmailer, it would mean the loss of the patronage of her employer and with it all she had of ease.

She could not entirely control a shade of irritation crossing her comely face and turned this off by remarking on the heat of the oppressive evening.

"Yes, indeed," agreed Mrs. George Rue. "I think it makes me worse. Dr. Balance tries to reassure me and Dr. Virtue is very kind, but I am sure that my heart is worse—sometimes I can hardly breathe. I expect I shall have to have a nurse at night."

"Are you as ill as that?" asked Olivia Sacret shrewdly and quickly.

"I've never recovered from my son's death and all the shocks and horrors. It could not be expected at my age. It killed poor Susan and it will kill me."

Looking aside across the comfortable room, the missionary's widow had the other woman's face before her mind, a leaden face, with lilac shadows around eyes and lips; a face already like the countenance of the dead; it was true, also, that the old woman's breathing was more labored, that she moved ever more clumsily, that she had lapses of memory and spoke in a very rambling fashion sometimes about the past, when Mrs. Sacret had not known her; it might well be that she was not going to live long. The missionary's widow felt cheerful at this prospect and was able to throw a warm, sympathetic note into her voice, as she expressed her concern as to her employer's health.

"You must not bother yourself about me, after my son's death I had nothing to live for—save to see justice done. I accomplished that when I took you and Curtis to live with me."

If you like to think so, the better for me, thought Mrs. Sacret contemptuously, while she smiled on the old woman, who laid her large, soft hand on her companion's knee.

"I want you to know, my dear, how I am looking after you—you'll have ten thousand pounds and all my jewelry."

The missionary's widow flushed with pleasure; she had never expected any such sum as ten thousand pounds.

"Don't thank me—I've talked too much, there—give me my drops—on the sideboard there—"

Mrs. Sacret found and administered the medicine to the old woman, who appeared to her to be sinking into a lethargy. Her heavy lace cap, crowned by bows of black ribbon, fell to one side, and the missionary's widow smiled at the ridiculous figure the stout, clumsy creature made. She herself felt superior, aggressive; rage and triumph mingled in her dark regard—these pampered rich people who had had everything and who were such fools—Susan and Susan's mother-in-law, and Susan's husband, all of them—fools.

"Your medicine doesn't seem to ease you much," she remarked when Mrs. George Rue had gasped down her dose.

"No—I wish I had some of the draughts my son used to make up," murmured the invalid faintly. "He was so clever at that. I suppose you never saw his hempen basket at the Old Priory—before the sale?"

"No, of course not. I think the police took it. I wonder that you care to mention it," replied Mrs. Sacret, "for it was from that Indian basket he must have got the fatal drink."

"Oh, no, antimony killed him—he must have taken that from the stables!" muttered Mrs. George Rue stupidly.

"Yes, of course, that was the medical evidence, though I don't think the doctors knew what they were talking about—" curiosity prompted Mrs. Sacret to add, what now seemed a safe question seeing how feeble and stupid her onetime enemy had become—"How do you really think your son came by his end—if Susan was a good woman?"

"Yes, of course she was a good woman, that is why I keep you and Curtis, out of respect to her memory," muttered the old woman, slightly swaying to and fro.

She is failing, thought the missionary's widow. No doubt she will die very suddenly. Ten thousand pounds! I wonder if I can be sure of that.

Mrs. George Rue continued her thick whispering. "She was foolish and he was jealous—that was all there was to it—but she was a good woman—"

With uncontrollable malice aroused by this senseless repetition "a good woman," Olivia Sacret interrupted:

"How do you know that she—this good woman—did not give him the poison herself? I did not wish to hear evidence against her, but I saw her—that night—offer him a glass of something that he drank and he was taken ill almost at once. How easy for her to pretend the sherry made her drowsy! She never told anyone of that last drink—'

"She told me." The old woman's indifferent admission, after a moment's silence, surprised Mrs. Sacret considerably. "But she made nothing of it. Oh, dear no, she often said, 'I remember giving him a posset,' yes, I think she said posset, 'and then I don't remember any more—and there couldn't have been any harm in the posset because it was just a sedative he had often had before, that Olivia had brought from Jamaica.'" Mrs. George Rue coughed and mumbled. "I remember you told me once about that sedative—your husband's favorite sleeping draught. Wasn't that right?"

"Yes, certainly," replied the missionary's widow coolly. "I often mixed it for Susan. I used it myself sometimes, but she could have added something to it—"

"Antimony—but she never went to the stables?" said Mrs. George Rue stupidly.

"It is a common horse medicine, to be found in any stables," smiled Olivia Sacret. "I suppose your good Susan could have spent a day in the country."

"A day in the country?"

"Yes—and slipped away to the stables—or someone, perhaps Sir John, might have given it to her in an envelope—" Mrs. Sacret checked herself, and then was ashamed of her own alarm, for the old woman was suddenly asleep. She had heard very little, it seemed, and understood nothing of this conversation. She irritated her companion by her stupidity, even though this senile dullness was so much to her, Olivia Sacret's, advantage. Mrs. Sacret moved slowly to the door and remarked over her shoulder, "She might have worn a green and crimson dress and named herself Madame Dupont from the schoolbooks—and taken a day in the country with a painter—"

She paused and glanced with contempt at the gross figure in the shawls and scarves, huddled in the winged chair, asleep and snoring, a clumsy outline against the screen of dull gold leather, then softly left the room and, at her leisure, pulled the drawing room bell and when the maid came, bade her send Curtis to her mistress.


§ 57

Mrs. George Rue showed Olivia Sacret her will. True it was, set out clearly—ten thousand pounds and my jewels to Olivia Sacret, the faithful companion of my dear son's late wife during the period of her undeserved misfortunes, and one thousand to Emma Curtis.

The missionary's widow considered it wise to accept this bounty meekly and gratefully. Though the tribute to Susan irked her, she let it pass. It was better, she felt, not to risk any further attempt to blast the dead woman's character. Mrs. George Rue was plainly dying and, as plainly, had hardly heard what her companion had said on the subject of her son's death and what she had heard had utterly forgotten. On this and other matters, she had but this one obsession—reparation to Susan through Olivia Sacret and Curtis. Dr. Balance, in frequent attendance at the Cedars, assured Mrs. Sacret that her employer's present state "could not last long," and the companion kept up a decorous attendance on the invalid, who now no longer left her bed, and whose one coherent action during days of wandering memory and aimless monologues was to send to her bank for some of her jewels. She had the shining leather cases unlocked and the rubies and diamonds laid out on her crimson bed quilt.

"They are far too fine for me," whispered Olivia Sacret with a flashing smile.

Mrs. George Rue muttered that the pieces were very old fashioned, but could be reset, and Curtis respectfully replaced the thick bracelets, heavy brooches and massive earrings on their pearl-gray silk linings. Olivia Sacret could not forbear a thrust at the servant who had once been her public enemy.

"I hardly know how a poor missionary's widow will dispose of such grand ornaments," she said, lowering her pleasant voice to a gentle softness.


The evening of the day she had been shown the jewels, Olivia Sacret's spirits were so high she could not endure the confinement of the Cedars, so silent, so stagnant, with the atmosphere of illness, for a nurse kept guard in Mrs. George Rue's chamber, and the domestic staff were shut away behind the stout baize-lined doors at the top of the kitchen stairs.

A heavy, dull house, though comfortable, not suited to her mood and her prospects; she had nowhere to go, no possible companion, she reflected that probably there was no one in London more isolated than she was, but her mood was cheerful.

She would soon get away, and have power, the power of money, and her own strong personality and tested charms. She was the woman of the portrait painted in the Minton Street house.

She stepped into the garden of the Cedars, then into the street, then onto the heath. The stars showed faintly in a paling sky. There was a chill in the air, she walked rapidly, the blood coming into her cheeks as she held her head high to the breeze.

At first she took no heed of the commonplace figure also enjoying the evening air, in the Quaker gray jacket and round hat, who walked some paces ahead of her on the rough town grass; then he had fallen into step beside her and whispered: "How long you have kept me waiting!"

Mrs. Sacret stood still and smiled. She assured herself that she had been really expecting this, she then glided into step beside him and he, with a touch on her arm, turned her steps in the direction in which he wished her to go.

"I thought you had left the country—sailed from Liverpool."

"I wanted—them—to think so. I doubled back and threw them off the scent. I've lain quiet for a long time."

She listened eagerly to this whispered explanation that told her nothing.

"Was it worth while—because of those wretched trunks? Why did you take them—and forsake me? Oh, that dreadful day at the railway station!"

"You cannot suppose that I meant to trick you? I fell in with a friend—became involved in his trouble—"

"News of the underworld, eh?"

"If you like, you always knew where I belonged. I was robbed of some of your property that I fetched from the depot for you."

"I saw the green and crimson dress—worn by a slut. She gave it to the police."

"But they are on a dead trail. I am quite safe, though I intend to leave the country soon, for Italy. And you, are you safe?"

Mrs. Sacret was surprised at this question. "Safe? Oh, everyone has forgotten about Martin Rue's death, and Susan's suicide. Besides, I never was in danger—or only for a breath—why should I be in danger?" She laughed and told him of Mrs. George Rue's expiation. "She is dying and will leave me ten thousand pounds and her jewelry—"

He sighed, "Why that spoils my plan—I have your property—all but the few articles stolen from me, and some other money and I have been following you—and waiting for this chance, to ask you to come to Como, or Florence, or Paris—after all."

He opened a narrow gate in a brick wall and she saw they had reached their destination, the disused burial ground of some obscure Christian sect. All the headstones were plainly shaped and set in rows, by the far wall stood some poplar trees, their upward reaching boughs, on which the leaves still fluttered, showed dark against a sunset sky of pale green light.

"I never knew of this," he murmured. "You'll think I did and came back for the money."

"You could not have known about the will. You knew Mrs. George Rue was protecting me."

He interrupted. "No, how could I be aware of that? I have been combing London for you. And sometimes hung about the heath thinking that you might be visiting the old woman. I saw you first, a fortnight or so ago, followed you and lost you. So seldom you are out alone in the evening. I have had to be very patient as well as watchful."

He spoke more humbly than she had ever known him to speak before and this fed her sense of power. She had triumphed not only over the fools, but over the clever rogue as well, if rogue and clever he was. She hardly cared now if he had robbed and tricked her or not. He had returned to her through no effort on her part and was, she considered, at her mercy; she might easily denounce him to the police for the theft of her trunks. Probably he was wanted for other crimes as well—but what did that matter? The little golden dream had returned to her, she toyed with it—Italy with this entrancing companion at her feet—or Italy, or any part of the world, with her own money and respectable introductions, and the search for a respectable husband. Meanwhile, she could not resist boasting. As they paced along between the graves in the lessening light, she told him, with zest, of how properly she had fooled the absurd old woman who had once been her enemy, and how another enemy, the once insolent Curtis, was now at her service.

"I am weary of hearing her speak of the wretched Susan as a good woman—I even suggested that Susan had given her husband the dose—as, of course, she did—and suggested she might have been given the stuff during a visit to the country when she was named, out of a whim, Madame Dupont!"

"That was rash."

"Oh, she is senile and understood nothing! And I could not resist the temptation to laugh a little—everything is so dull at the Cedars! Of course, I was alone with her—and I never repeated the jest. Madame Dupont, that old schoolbook name is so odd!"

He pressed her arm.

"It is certain that we shall not be disturbed here—no one comes here. These dead are truly forgotten forever. But you must not stay away too long from the old woman."

At these words Olivia Sacret felt a stab of terror at the prospect of returning to that dull, quiet house.

"May I know where to find you she asked, trembling.

"That would not be safe—nor possible. I am in a different place every night."

The missionary's widow sighed, as the chill autumn night breeze blew across her face. She would never understand this man, nor his life, nor his hiding places. He was a criminal who had robbed her, led her into danger and left her. She harshly pulled her arm away from his and began to reproach him harshly with mechanical terms of contempt.

"Very well," he replied quietly. "I shall go away. And this time it will be forever."

She was silent, considering these last words; he had remarked of the unknown dead about them that they were "truly forgotten, forever." And then nothing seemed to matter save that she should keep this precious companionship, at least for awhile, and on her own terms—and it would be on her own terms, since she had power over him, the power to bring him back to her when she had nothing to offer, for he could not have known of the good fortune of which she had so eagerly told him. Thus she reasoned, feebly, and soon reason was silenced altogether and the words "truly forgotten, forever" echoed in her empty mind, while she returned her arm to the crook of his elbow.

"I will meet you again, and you know it," she whispered. "Here?"

"No, never the same place twice."

"Then I don't know how I can manage to see you—I can't leave the house too often."

"Nor would it be wise to do so. But I want to leave the country soon, and you to come with me—"

"I've little, or nothing, till the old woman dies."

"Do you want to wait for that?"

Mrs. Sacret did not hesitate in her reply. Though his enchantment held her, she would not run the risk of being fooled twice.

"Yes, of course—do you think I can afford to lose that money? And I don't promise I'll come with you—I'll have to ponder over that. I might decide to remain respectable and make a good, steady match."

"You never will—"

"Oh, I don't know! You see, I am no longer afraid of you—I don't even know who you are and I am aware that the police are hunting you—but I like you, and I'm quite sure of myself, and I'll meet you, just to know more of you and what a strange creature you must be—or may be—"

"That is all I ask. We've a wonderful second chance. I can prove to you that I was quite loyal—and that I'm wanted for no trivial crime."

"Yes, that will be interesting," she smiled, glowing with the consciousness of power; she looked up at him, his face was hidden by the shadow of the round Quaker hat, and wondered why she had ever feared him. Why, she was like an empress among them all, even this strange creature, once so formidable, was under her domination.

"You must really care for me, love me, perhaps," she remarked coolly.

"I want you. I have never met anyone like you. I'll marry you, if you wish. I am free."

The missionary's widow, in her self-confidence, laughed that aside. "Oh, I've told you, I may be looking for a steadier husband than you would ever be! And this time I shall keep my own money."

"You shall, indeed you shall."

"I mean to—now I must return to the Cedars."

The painter agreed to this prudent resolve and together they left the bleak burial ground in the darkened street, after he had whispered to her directions as to when and where they should meet again, and how she was to communicate with him if she could not keep the appointment.


§ 58

It was hardly decorous for Mrs. Sacret to leave her employer, who lay in a state of insensibility from which. Dr. Balance said, she was not likely to recover, but she was resolved not to break her tryst with the painter. She would have liked to have written to him, but was too cautious to do so, or to show herself in the small toy and newspaper shop where, he had said, letters might be left for him under the name of James Prince. She was excited by the different names he used, as by the change in him—how humble, almost imploring he had been in the bare burial ground!

Certainly she was desirable, and her vanity, the cold vanity of an unemotional woman, was most agreeably soothed. She fetched out the portrait and looked at it long before she set out for the trysting place that was the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. There, he had told her, they would not be noticed amid the to-and-froing of the sight-seers and the worshipers. The time chosen was three o'clock in the afternoon and the day proved to be fair and still.

Mrs. Sacret dressed herself in her quietest suit of mourning and dropped a veil over her face. She told Curtis that she had an appointment with her late husband's lawyer over some property in the West Indies and might be late as Blackheath was so far from the city. It was a plausible lie, but she felt that Curtis did not believe her. The gray woman looked at her so sideways, with so clear and chilly a stare.

"The mistress may be dead before you return, ma'am."

"I'm sorry—I've explained to Dr. Balance. This is an important matter to me. Besides, I can do nothing—Mrs. George Rue doesn't even know me, and the nurse doesn't like me in the room—"

"Very well, ma'am, I wish you good luck on your journey—a long, tedious journey, as you say, ma'am," and Curtis smiled as if at some strange and secret thought. Mrs. Sacret smiled back.

"You need not be anxious lest she alter her will, eh? I know that is what you are thinking. Oh, she will die in her sleep and you are quite safe!"

"Yes, ma'am, I am quite safe."


§ 59

The missionary's widow regretted the days of the Old Priory; there was no chance of borrowing a carriage from the Cedars, though there were two in the stables. She had no "hold" over Mrs. George Rue—she recalled the letters, useless now, unless Sir John would pay to have them suppressed. Did the painter still possess them? The word "blackmail" slid into her mind, and she reflected on it with astonishment. What had it to do with her?

She traveled by omnibus, changing twice, before she reached the city at half-past two o'clock. She had seldom been there and the narrow streets with the heavy buildings seemed formidable, and she felt conspicuous as there were so few women about, and those few but cleaners or servants from pie shops. The press of hurrying men engulfed her and she was hideously reminded of the crowd at the railway station when she had run about in a panic looking for a man she knew she would not find.

But as she neared the monstrous cathedral she was less noticeable, as there were some women mounting the vast stone steps. She looked at them curiously, wondering what their errands might be.

She paused, looking about her cautiously from behind the black veil, moving slowly upwards, hesitating in the great portico, then slowly downwards again, so that she mingled with the crowd and was unnoticed, for there were other women, three in crape and bombazine, attending, she supposed, some service for the dead—or were they sight-seers who chanced to be in mourning? The idle question teased her, as she passed slowly up the steps. The weather-beaten façade, so high above her, the curve of the steps, affected her unpleasantly as had the long shining perspective of the railway lines disappearing from under the roof of the station. People had flowed in and out of the monstrous railway station as they flowed in and out of the monstrous cathedral.

In the station they had hurried, here they climbed the steps slowly, but in each case they seemed to have reached a destination, to be engulfed in crowds and lost. The word "terminus" came into her mind. A word she had but rarely used. Here all ends, or rather changes.

She carefully scanned those about her for the round hat and straight jacket of Quaker design. He might have chosen another disguise, but she knew his appearance so well that she was sure that she would have detected him in any clothes.

A man in a tweed cape, passing close to her, down the steps of the cathedral, did attract her attention. His face was turned from her and he was hastening away, but she thought she had seen Sergeant Precious. An odd meeting, if that were the policeman, but she made little of it—he no longer represented any danger to her, and he was a likely person to have met in any part of London. Standing beside one of the heavy pillars, she viewed the people leaving and entering the huge dark building, and considered them contemptuously.

She was sure that none of them had been as clever as she had been in making something worth while, exciting and important, out of a life that had been deprived of all its just rights. How easily everyone had been fooled—even now she was so easily deceiving old Mrs. Rue that it was almost tiresome. A fortune would fall into her lap from her enemy, already she felt the jewels she would inherit clasping her neck and wrists.

He was late, surely. She drew out the gold watch that she had forced Susan to give her and peered at the time; yes, nearly ten minutes late. The customs of her class were strong in her, it would never do for a lady alone to wait in a public place, even on the steps of a church. She lowered her veil and descended the steps; her thoughts flew wide. Old Mrs. Rue's talk of herself and Susan's confidence in her about the drink—Martin Rue's last drink. How strange that two women on such bad terms should have been so confidential—yet all could be accounted for by Susan's folly, she would confide anything, even to her enemy. It was lucky that neither of the stupid women attached any importance to the incident. Mrs. George Rue with her suspicions, her doctors and lawyers, her public denunciations, was almost feeble minded, and could not see an inch before her nose.

Mrs. Sacret passed to the left of the cathedral, along a narrow passage. To her right were some dark buildings. She thought they were a school, for boys were running in as if late, and there was a general jostle in which she felt oppressed, the alien idler. A hand fell on her arm; she looked up into the commonplace countenance of Sergeant Precious.

"I have something to say to you, Mrs. Sacret."

"Well, this is a strange place to choose!"

"I didn't want to make any kind of stir or trouble at the Cedars."

This seemed a sensible answer and it soothed Mrs. Sacret's faint suspicions.

"Of course not—but how did you find me?" It did not occur to her that she might have been followed; she was so easy in her mind and conscience. Sergeant Precious thought it sufficient to say: "No better place than a crowd—let us get clear of these young gentlemen—I know a little coffeehouse just on Cheapside."

"I never go to such places—and I am late already for an appointment."

"Still, you'll come with me," said Sergeant Precious with authority, and she thought it wise to follow him quietly.


§ 60

They sat facing one another, on either side of a stained table, in a wooden compartment. Mrs Sacret sipped some unpalatable coffee and thought of God and Sin, long absent from her calculations, for she had so often heard her husband and the chapel people speak with disgust of these drinking places. She could not see another woman in the place and became restive and indignant as Sergeant Precious drank his beer from the pewter tankard.

But his first words were admirably direct and at once held her attention.

"The police have been tracing a very clever criminal for a weary time. It would be to your interest to help them."

"Blackmail"—the word seemed written in the air between them—how much did the police know? Mrs. Sacret sent her mind racing after probabilities, possibilities—she had forgotten so much herself and, worse, had become confused.

"I don't know a criminal."

"Mark Bellis was the name he gave you. And there is no time—literally no time—for words. I'm giving you a warning. He's after you because of the money Mrs. Rue is leaving you."

"He did not know that—" she began, when Sergeant Precious gently interrupted her. "That gives you away, don't it, ma'am? It was in the paper—about a rich woman adopting you. He saw that. He is slippery, and may get away again. A number of confederates, also. Well, you deliver him to us, and we'll let you go—if you leave the country quickly—"

"I don't see—"

"It has all been there for you to see, all the time. He's a murderer, maybe insane. Very low kind of scoundrel, from the foundling home, then at sea. He killed an old man and his housekeeper for their savings and got away. Clever, plausible. We have got the story pretty well put together."

"Not my story—"

"Do keep your voice low, ma'am, whispering, like I do—I shan't be a minute. While he was being searched for in France and Italy—where he had been, mind you, he doubled back, under our noses in another disguise. He knows where the antimony came from and so do you. But that is over, if you choose."

"Nonsense," murmured Mrs. Sacret, pressing her clasped hands into her veiled face.

"Only if you choose Blackmail and murder if you like—accessory also to these other crimes, if you persist in concealing him now."

"You can't find him." She felt a sudden delight in the painter's cleverness, yet she had already decided to betray him to insure her own safety. She dared not now, in this public place, speculate on what the police knew.

"No. We traced him to meetings with you—twice—but he escaped—always a cab to jump into—he keeps several horses. A hundred years ago they would have said he had a familiar or was himself a limb of Satan."

"How did you begin to connect him with me

"The woman Feathers and the dress you wore when he took you to the country. A freakish thing to do; he wanted to fetch the stuff—but why do it that way Sergeant Precious touched his head as if to denote something deranged in the criminal's brain.

"He is cleverer than you," said Mrs. Sacret, putting her thoughts into words.

"And than you. Don't think he'll ever go abroad with you—he'll strip you and slip away."

"He has already done that—and now I'm—" she checked herself, laughed and added. "Yes, the second time. My life is so dull and no one ever cared for me, he was really interested. Can't you let us alone?"

"I told you he was a murderer."

"So you did. I don't suppose it is proved. The old, ugly, tedious people. He is a very clever painter." She rose. "Don't think I am going to meet him now, I came up to London on legal business and had a curiosity to visit the cathedral. I am Church of England again."

"Very interesting, ma'am." Sergeant Precious also rose, placing the money due on the table. "I think you meant to meet him and something scared him from coming. So seeing you waiting, I decided to talk to you. We've waited long enough."

"I am returning at once to the Cedars," said Mrs. Sacret, "in a fly."

"No doubt—but remember you must give him up. He is hidden, but you are not. No more grace, the case is complete."

"What am Ito do?"

"Play your part a little longer, then make a tryst with him—and inform us." He handed her a square of paper. "At that address. Otherwise the Martin Rue case will be reopened for the second time. Now, pray leave this place by yourself in case some of his spies are about, though I had everything well watched."

Fear for herself made her say—"I don't know where he lives—I have to wait until he communicates with me."

"He will, because of the money; now you've been there long enough, ma'am."

"Don't blame me if I fail." She slipped the pasteboard into her bosom, behind the crape ruffles—She must be careful it was not seen at the Cedars where she still had to play her part.


§ 61

Mrs. Sacret was extraordinarily tired, only the sense of her own cleverness kept her alert. The situation was, she felt, confusing. The police on their track after such a long period of security was an ugly fact difficult to realize. Yet she could not judge the extent of the knowledge held by Sergeant Precious and she was hardly down Ludgate Hill before the interview with him in the coffeehouse seemed as unreal as that visit to the country mansion where she had been Madame Dupont. She could nor find a hackney driver who would take her to Blackheath and she had lost the station. She wandered in a strange city where, with what seemed astonishing rapidity, darkness closed on the streets and the lamplighters made their rounds, jerking the gas jets into luminous globes.

She would have to obey the police and betray him. She settled the card more securely inside her stiff bodice, behind the whaleboned corsage. But his fascination for her was not altered. It had been a falsehood about the murders, of course, told merely to shock her into fearful submission. Murders? Her mind echoed the word and joined it with the death of Martin Rue, with the death of Susan, then jolted on again. She knew nothing of that, no one could prove anything. No one. Suicide in each case. The police offered no reward. Where would she be when she had delivered the painter to them? Free to leave the country—penniless and alone. She sighed bitterly, thinking how differently she had dreamed it all. But there was the dying old woman and her money; surely she, the brilliant, astute Olivia Sacret could continue to keep the police at bay until she secured that fortune. How stupid of them not to have put Mrs. George Rue on her guard against her and her blackmail that this former enemy had long ago suspected.

How little any of it had availed—so much violence, so many lies, such intricate scheming, and she was where she had been, a poor missionary's widow. It was all the fault of her parents, who had brought her up so poorly, who had cheated her so cruelly, who had never given her a chance.

She made her way home, using that word in her mind, with no sense of how grotesque it was in her case. She missed the direction several times, taking the wrong omnibus, and then the wrong train. Her extreme physical fatigue produced an exhilaration in her mind; she again saw hope. Old Mrs. Rue would die soon, and leave her all that money, how much had she said? Olivia could not remember, she was slightly light headed, but she was sure it was thousands and thousands of pounds. And jewels, too. This time there would be no one to rob her, as she had before been robbed of the bracelet, the clothes, the gold. Recalling that, she felt a surge of hatred against the painter. These seemed the worst of his crimes. A thousand pounds in gold, was it not? Or had Susan cheated? Surely that sum in gold would have been too heavy to carry. She had been cheated then, no doubt. Everyone had cheated her. Now she might have a little luck, just a little luck.

If she could get that fortune from the doting old woman she could go abroad after all—Paris, Como—what other place had he mentioned?

She would be alone, but she would be very shrewd and careful. No adventurer should get hold of her and deceive her again. She might take some respectable, grave woman with her, perhaps even the browbeaten Curtis who had once been so insolent but who now hastened humbly at her service. Yes, Curtis might do, to tyrannize over, she would be cheap, too, past her work, and glad to come for a pittance. She had to cross a corner of the heath, a darkling space, that reminded her of the common. For a second apprehension touched her, supposing he had followed her? Seen her with the detective? He or his spies? He must be skillful to be at large so long. There were solitary figures in the distance moving through the twilight, he might be one of them. He was wanted for murder. For murder.

Olivia hastened, yet she was not frightened for long. Her uppermost thought was for the money. That was like an obsession with her, to get away, with money. She had been near the docks today, ships were there, waiting to sail all over the world...

She knocked at the door of Mrs. George Rue's house, forgetting that she had a key. The façade rose like a dark rock against the faintly luminous sky. The windows were unlit, and each seemed gaping black holes onto an abyss.

Curtis opened the door, with her iron-colored dress and hair, with her sallow face, she was barely distinguishable from the darkness of the hall.

"Is she dead?" asked Olivia, speaking her thought aloud.

"Come in," said the servant softly, and, as Olivia crossed the threshold, she closed the door behind her, slowly, carefully she clicked the latch into place.

"Is who dead, ma'am?"

"Oh, I should not have put it like that. I have missed my way—so much trouble for nothing—"

"You'll get something for your—"

"What do you mean? I am very tired, I feel quite stupid. Is your mistress very ill? She must be—dying, I suppose."

"Come upstairs and see her—"

"How can I, in the dark. I tell you I am very tired."

Curtis pulled down the gas bracket, the metal chain clanked. The match flared and the acrid yellow flame spread fan shape in the opal globe that the servant returned to its place, shedding a ghastly light on the narrow hall, with the heavy umbrella stand and hatrack and the engraving of the "Stag at Bay" in the bird's-eye maple frame.

"Yes, you do look tired, really ill," remarked Curtis staring keenly at Olivia Sacret.

This was a return to her former manner, insolence touched with malice, but Mrs. Sacret was too tired to resent that. She leaned against the wall of shining brown paper with a hateful pattern of lilies in diamonds varnished darkly. A foolish image of herself as a salvia—had not he, the murdered man, no, not that, she must not use that word, the dead man—said she looked like a salvia, puce, scarlet, crimson? And then it had withered to a dry stick. Then the picture of herself as she had wanted to be, and the street girl walking away in her rich clothes. She suddenly remembered the trunk, with the gray hairs inside, and how twice she had searched it for some luxurious scrap. Now she knew what it had once contained. At last.

"Shall I help you upstairs?" asked Curtis. "She—the mistress—wants to see you. She has been quite anxious about you being away so long."

"I did not have sufficient food," murmured Mrs. Sacret. "That was it, just a cup of coffee and a morsel, yes, that was it, a morsel of something or other—" she paused, for she felt giddy and had difficulty with her speech. "But Mrs. Rue was unconscious when I left. I thought—"

"That she wouldn't recover? You've made a few mistakes, haven't you? Here, take my arm, you are poorly."

Olivia clutched at the stiff poplin sleeve offered to her. All this was disagreeable, but the senile old woman must be dying, and then there would be freedom and money—Como, Paris.

Curtis helped her up the stairs. As they were narrow the women trod on each other's skirts, mounting awkwardly, the servant supporting Olivia, up, into the darkness. In the same manner had Curtis gone up with Mrs. Rue to find Susan lying by her bed.

"Why was not the gas lit?" asked Olivia as they reached the first landing and were beyond the sickly glow of the hall lamp. "I suppose you have lights in the bedroom? Is a nurse with her?"

Without replying Curtis opened the door into the drawing room that was filled by the dull glow of an oil lamp, with a pink glass globe on which were engraved ferns. Mrs. George Rue sat in her usual armchair, carefully dressed in her widow's weeds, a box of mauve cachets in her hand.

She looked like a toad, Olivia's thought darted, frightened through confusion, a toad, toadflax, spotted, blotched, pale, with very lively eyes.

"I was beginning to fear you might not return, but you are too stupid to take a warning," remarked Mrs. Rue. "You returned, of course, hoping to find me dying or dead and the money yours—"

Olivia, pushed aside by Curtis, stumbled into a chair facing Mrs. Rue who sat with the large screen she used to protect her against drafts behind her. Olivia noticed that this was covered with scraps, children feeding rabbits, lambs in daisied fields, dogs with tartan bows, all varnished in place like the wallpaper in the hall.

"Yes, I do feel stupid," she murmured weakly. "I am tired—I'm glad you are feeling better—" she tried to smile.

"I was not ill. I've played a long waiting game. I've been in touch with the police for months."

"Why does Curtis stay? Standing in front of the door like that?"

"She wants to hear what I have to say. Curtis was behind the screen that day you spoke so rashly to me, about my son's medicine."

"I don't remember anything about that."

"It doesn't matter. You were easy to deceive. The police will get him sooner or later. For all his cunning, he was lured by that notice in the paper."

"I don't know what you mean," Olivia listened to the rain that in a burst of sound was drumming on the roof of the porch.

"I mean the murderer who is your accomplice. I suppose you didn't see him today?"

"No, no."

"But you saw Sergeant Precious. The police have been following you for days."

"What is that to you?" Olivia glanced from one to the other of the gray, sallow, vindictive faces. "Why are you doing this? You hated Susan—"

"Maybe I did. But you cheated me of the chance to tell her I was mistaken. She gave me back Martin's money—"

"Always the money," sneered Olivia, trying to rise but falling back.

"Yes, you have come back here, for the money now, haven't you? But there is nothing for you. Nothing."

"Nothing but your punishment," said Curtis.

"Why should I be punished?" Olivia contrived to rise and faced them, staring from one to the other.

"You believe in punishment, don't you? You talked much of God once, you and your chapel ways. Punishment, yes, and Hell, too."

"You ought to be dying! You ought to be dead!" cried Olivia. "This is all a cheat! Everyone cheats me! Everyone. Why did you pretend to be so ill?"

"Easy to trick you now, blindly greedy and stupid—"

"If I'd known you were deceiving me—" Olivia's lips widened into a convulsive grin.

"You'd have found some more poison?" put in Curtis sharply. "We thought of that and took good care."

"You were a fool not to know hatred when it was all about you," said Mrs. Rue, munching her mauve cachets slowly.

"What do you want to do with me?" asked Olivia. "I'm on the safe side of the law. I'm acting for the police," she touched her bosom. "I have the detective's card here—"

"I thought you would betray your accomplice. But it won't avail you.

"Yes, yes, it will. I shall get a reward. Of course, I never knew. I've only just put two and two together—the trunk—"

"Never mind the trunk. It is what you put in my son's drink that matters to me and the way you hounded Susan to her death, and she was a good woman, after all."

"Then you are a fool, stupid—she was a trollop—"

"What a low word to use!" smiled Mrs. Rue. "But of course I always knew you were not a lady."

Curtis had flushed darkly and advanced on Olivia.

"I'd stand hours in the rain—coming down like it is now—to see you on the gallows," she cried.

The three women, now close together, stared at one another in silent loathing, exhausted by the emotions behind this rapid conversation. Olivia writhed, as if in a trap, as if something was clinging to her skirts and bringing her down into a pit. A pit I dug for myself, she thought with incoherent memories of the chapel.

"Now you can go," said Mrs. Rue at length, with a sigh. "Now—as you stand, without food or drink or rest or respite, or money or even your luggage."

"I won't—This—this is monstrous."

"I am quite strong. With the help of Curtis I shall put you out. The house is lonely. And I don't suppose you will care to knock up the neighbors with your tale."

Seeing an inflexible hatred in the eyes of both mistress and maid, Olivia made an effort at dignity.

"Very well. I shall go to the police. I am under their protection. They may give me a reward."

"For betraying your accomplice?" remarked Mrs. Rue. "Not likely But you can try."

Olivia moistened her lips and glanced at Curtis who did not move from the door.

"What is your intention with me?" she asked. "What have you been planning for, working for, ever since you began to deceive me?'

"A waste of breath these questions. I suppose you are afraid to go where you sent my son and Susan?"

"Where was that?" whispered Olivia stupidly.

"You ought to know—with your missionary training." A spasm distorted the old woman's heavy face. "Into the dark, at least. It isn't so easy to believe in Heaven when those you want are gone and don't answer when you call."

"Why should you want to live?" whispered Curtis curiously, turning a frowning brow toward Olivia. "My mistress had cause—young, pretty, and good, no harm in her—but you—"

"I do want to live!" cried Mrs. Sacret. "Anyhow, anywhere—You said I might go—why don't you stand away from the door? I'll do what I can to help you, I'll go to the police station, I'll assist the detective, it was all his fault, the wicked man—I fell into the power of a rogue, yes, if you'll let me go, I'll run at once to the police station!"

"She thinks we are going to kill her," smiled Mrs. Rue nodding across the faintly lit gloom toward Curtis. "So you'll run at once to the police station? But it is the other side of the heath and a dark night, no moon and the rain coming down."

"I don't mind, only let me go—"

"Let her go, Curtis."

The gray servant moved from the door. Relief shot energy into Olivia's limbs that ached with fatigue. She steadied herself, mechanically adjusting her bonnet.

"You are very glad to escape, aren't you?" remarked Mrs. Rue. "Very thankful to leave Curtis and myself in this lonely house—all the other servants are out of the way, they always are on these occasions, you'll have noticed that—You are so thankful to escape that you don't notice that you are hungry and tired, and dizzy—yes, you're quite giddy, you know, and still don't understand very clearly."

Mrs. Sacret crept around along the wall to the door, supporting herself by outspread hands. How she had always detested this room, so dreary, such atrocious taste, like Susan's house, very different from the place she had meant to have in Como, Paris, where was it?

Curtis was standing aside to allow her to pass. This seemed incredible, for the two women in their intense quiet were murderous.

Surely fear eclipsed her hatred of them, she wanted to thank them, to cringe, to assure them that she meant no harm—"I was inexperienced and I had bad advice, I lacked a friend."

"The police station," repeated Mrs. Rue, "is on the other side of the heath."

Mrs. Sacret paused. Curtis had stretched her arm across the door.

"Your accomplice did not keep his appointment," added the old woman, "that was because he saw you with the detective. What do you suppose he felt, this criminal, at your betrayal?"

Mrs. Sacret remembered those half-seen figures in the twilight on the heath as she had made her way to the Cedars.

"I shall be safe at the police station," she murmured.

"You won't get there," smiled Mrs. Rue. "He'll be waiting for you."

"Oh, you think that he followed me!"

"I do. You are the decoy for the police now, they'll be watching wherever you are, to catch him, that is why they let you go today—"

"Then I am safe—I shall be protected."

"I have to risk that. Of course, the police have had you shadowed for a long time in the hopes of catching him, but he's been too clever. Now there is a chance he will be so inflamed by your treachery that he won't be so prudent—"

"He didn't follow me!" cried Olivia. "No one followed me! He did not follow me—"

"How do you know? It was nearly dark when you arrived, but too light for him to have attacked you. Open the door, Curtis."

The servant obeyed, the darkness of the stairs showed, with a glimpse of the gaslight in the hall.

Olivia drew back.

"I can't go. The rain. As if it would never stop," she muttered.

"That is what children say, 'as if it would never stop.' It will cease but perhaps you won't be there when the clouds break."

"I won't go. You can't do this. I know that he would kill me—"

"Of course, as he killed the others—" nodded old Mrs. Rue, her crape bonnet casting a wavering shadow on the screen.

"Come along," said Curtis taking Mrs. Sacret by the arm. "I want to shut the door, the mistress is in a draft."

From weakness and to avoid the servant's grip, Olivia fell clumsily to her knees. Curtis held her tightly, Mrs. Rue rose, lumbered over to her and took her other arm. Panic weakened her as she realized their strength; even the old woman was able to drag her up, to force her to the door, to tear her fingers away as she tried to cling to the handle.

"You'll only hurt yourself," said Mrs. Rue. "It wouldn't be any use to cry or to struggle. After all, you may get to the police station in time, your accomplice may not have followed you. What do you think, Curtis?"

"Oh, I think he followed her, I think that he is waiting out there in the rain—the heath is so lonely, isn't it?"

"I won't leave the garden," whimpered Olivia. "If you push me out of the house, I'll stay in the garden until it is light."

"But the garden is just where he would hide—so many low bushes—so very dark."

They led her downstairs slowly, Curtis forcing her along, Mrs. Rue heavily behind, pushing her, now with her hands, now with her stick. In the hall she was on her knees again, entreating them, only for a little respite now, a glass of water, yes, just that, or a chance to say her prayers.

Mrs. Rue, breathing heavily from her exertions, laughed at that. Her stolid, pallid features were unchanged, only her eyes shone with a fixed, ferocious gleam. Curtis was quite disfigured by a fearful contortion that gave her haggard face a look of mortal illness.

Between them they dragged the trembling Olivia to her feet again and Mrs. Rue held her by the umbrella stand, while Curtis opened the door. And the rain blew in with an eddy of wind.

"I'd better get away from them," thought Olivia in a crazy panic, "and try to run to the police station—perhaps he didn't follow me after all."

So she did not resist as Curtis pushed her over the threshold, she even felt a lift of her terror as the dark eclipsed those two faces full of hatred and the cool rain and the fresh breeze enveloped her in a veil of water and wind.

A blur of light fell across the two wet steps and onto the glistening leaves of the laurels, the slanting raindrops showed a hastening silver against the outer darkness.

"Look out!" cried Curtis, pulling Mrs. Rue back. "There is a man there—in the shrubs—" and she shut the door on Olivia Sacret.


Illustration

A Poster Advertising the French Version of "So Evil My Love"


Silence and solitary desolation surrounded her, black shadows, darker than the darkness, bore down on her, the rain had a stinging feel, a sighing sound that was not in nature, but demoniacal, like the night. She beat on the door and shrieked again and again. Her hands were soon bruised and her throat sore, her voice whistled vainly.

Pressed against the door she peered about. Where was he? Any of the bushes could have hidden him. Why were not the police there to help her. Something seemed to stir and swoop in the rustling laurels. Sobbing, she cast herself on the door. It seemed incredible to her that the lock could withstand her frantic pressure.

She heard a window open above, and stepped back to shriek for pity with a strength renewed from hope. He would not dare to touch her while those two looked on.

The window sash was raised, the curtains had been drawn, and a patch of dull light showed against which were the outlines, uncertain, dark, featureless, of the two women leaning out into the rain, the white cap of Curtis clear above the blank shadow of her face, Mrs. Rue one heavy smear of black. Her crape veil was blowing across her gloating eyes and pursed mouth, through the mesh of darkness she gazed down into darkness, tangled in her mourning, not heeding it.

"He is behind you!" cried Curtis. "Better make a dash for it!"

"Yes, I can see him," came the flat voice of Mrs. Rue. "Better say your prayers now if you can remember any—"

Olivia felt her senses recede, the patch of light that was the window, the patches of darkness that were the murderous women, staring down, the blackness that was the house, and all the shapes of bushes that seemed to crouch and creep, wheeled around her, as if she were the focus of all these terrors. She was conscious of the implacable, unyielding surface of the door against which she flung her weight again, hearing him approach, feeling his fingers around her throat. Then the rain was flung, a gush from a spout, onto her upturned face, blinding her, falling into her open, soundless mouth, and she was on her knees for the third time, and she heard Mrs. Rue's toneless voice, "You asked for some water," then the silence joined the darkness in oblivion for Olivia Sacret.

When she had been quiet for a long time, the widow and Susan's servant came down to look at her; they had been enjoying tea and scones, with raspberry jam and cream. Without comment they had sat down together, drawing the curtains across the rain. They were exhausted and ate and drank with avidity. What they had done had been partly the result of long planning and partly inspiration arising from the moment. Some power, they did not concern themselves with the name of it, had delivered their enemy into their hands and they had richly used their opportunity. Her body blocked the door, but Curtis soon had it pushed aside. Mrs. Rue held a lamp and lowered this to stare down at what lay across the steps.

"Feel her wrist and her heart, Curtis."

"No need, ma'am. I don't want to wet my dress. She's dead—look at her face."

"Yes, I see," said Mrs. Rue, lowering the lamp and peering. "What shall we say to the police?"

"The truth, that's always best, if one can—yet we needn't say anything. Knowing she'd betrayed him, she thought he was following her and died of fright. The doctor will find that—heart failure."

"And we didn't hear anything, Curtis?"

"We didn't hear anything. How should we?—with the rain coming down, and the wind, too—And who is to know she screamed?"


THE END

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