Certainly

Two hundred pounds. Lady Jim rapidly ran over in her mind such of the
most pressing liabilities as she could recollect, and shuddered at a
total of two thousand. They owed that, and many other debts which, for
the moment, escaped her memory. So far as she could see, nothing
remained but a compulsory journey through the court. Not that she
really minded bankruptcy. Plenty of people, accepted as immaculate by
society, made use of that desirable institution to get a receipt for
past extravagances, on the plea of having lived beyond their incomes.
She and Jim could make the same excuse with perfect truth, and would
doubtless be enabled to make a fresh start. And if a few tradesmen
were ruined, what did it matter? They always overcharged, and it might
be a lesson to them not to worry customers.

No; the bankruptcy court matters very little, but the want of ready
cash mattered a great deal. Leah cared nothing about paying the bills,
but ardently desired to have a re-filled purse and no bother about
such vulgar things as pounds, shillings, and pence. It was perfectly
idiotic of the Duke to be so stingy. If he had come down with a
thousand, she and Jim could have enjoyed themselves abroad for a
couple of months, and meanwhile, he could have paid these troublesome
tradesmen. But two hundred pounds! Did the old fool take them for the
respectable middle-class couple, living in slate-roofed houses, to
which she had alluded? Without Jim’s assistance she could get rid of
that trifle in a fortnight.

“I believe your father’s brain is softening,” she complained crossly.

“I’m not responsible for his crazy arithmetic,” retorted Jim, with the
helpful addition of a few adjectives.

But, beyond swearing as much as he dared in her presence, Jim could
offer no assistance, and Leah concluded that, after all, it might be
necessary to trust Demetrius. Her husband, having gained some faint
idea of the novel, had ended in declining to turn fiction into fact.
His remarks were not without shrewdness.

“The chap who writes the story knows what’s goin’ to happen,” said
Jim, when pressed for his opinion, “an’ can invent circumstances to
dodge results. But if we start a yarn of this kind on our own, we
don’t know what the end ‘ull be.”

“Oh yes!” protested Leah, very patiently, considering she disagreed
entirely; “you’ll disappear, and I shall become a widow with my share
of the twenty thousand.”

“An’ how long will your share last?” asked Jim, derisively.

“That depends upon my mood. Some time, I expect, seeing that your
death will force me into retirement, and crape is not so very
expensive. And when you get through your lot, Jim, what will you do?”

“That’s what I’m askin’ you,” said Jim, evasively; and continued
hurriedly, lest she should insist upon a disagreeable explanation,
“‘Sides, there’s my father to be considered.”

“Since when have you taken him to your heart?”

“Oh, it’s all very well talkin’. But your father’s your father, when
all’s said an’ done. The Duke doesn’t think me a saint, but he’d be
sorry to see me die.”

“No one wants you to die,” she said impatiently.

“That’s bunkum, an’–an’–what’s the word?”

“Might I suggest ‘sophistry’?” said Lady Jim, quite aware that her
reasoning was fallacious.

“Oh, you’ll suggest anythin’ to get your own way. But what I mean is
that, though I do die, I don’t really die.”

“How clearly you put things, Jim. Please yourself. We must go back to
town with this money, to be whitewashed”; and eyeing the cheque
contemptuously, she saw that it was unfortunately made payable to Jim.
Her husband stretched for the cheque and slipped it into his waistcoat
pocket.

“I’m goin’ to see the Duke m’self,” he announced, “an’ tell him
everythin’.”

“What, about the money we’ve raised on the income?”

“Every blessed thing,” said Kaimes, doggedly; “he’s my father, an’
it’s his duty to square things.”

“He mightn’t follow your reasoning,” murmured Leah, with one hand on
the mantelpiece and the other holding up her skirts to warm one foot.
“But you can’t make a much worse mess of it than Lionel has made. Two
hundred pounds–he must have thought he was asking money for some old
woman. Shall I come with you, Jim?”

“No.” He halted at the door to deliver himself of the remark, “You’re
like a red rag to a bull.”

“Oh, very well. I only thought you’d like me to translate your talk
into something resembling English.”

“Don’t you fret yourself, I’ll make him understand. An’ if I do get
things squared,” cried Jim, warming at the thought of his heroism in
facing an angry parent, “you’ll have to drop spending money, an’ live
as other women do.”

“Yes, dear James, and you’ll live as other men do, won’t you?”

“I’ll do what I jolly well please. An’ why James?”

“There never was a St. Jim, that I ever heard of,” mused Leah, turning
pensive eyes on her exasperated husband, “and as you wish to canonise
yourself, of course you must change your name. Yes, James”–she moved
swiftly towards him, and detained him gently by the lapels of his
coat–“from this time forth we’ll live in holy matrimony, and pig it
on what’s left of the income. Curzon Street given up, Bayswater
remains, and there, James darling, we’ll live a life of extremely
plain living and high thinking.”

“Don’t talk bosh,” growled Jim, trying to escape; but she held on.

“No, James, I won’t, if you will only raise my intellect to the level
of your own. And think what a delightful existence it will be, James.
A cheap Bayswater dungeon, with three servants and the shopping done
at Whiteley’s. I’ll turn my dresses and trim my hats and you’ll give
up your clubs, to curse in a stuffy drawing-room while you play
bezique with your dear wife, till we go to bed at ten. No more betting
on Podaskas, James; no more whist-drives, or bridge, or any such
expensive naughtinesses. And how nice it will be for you, James, to
flirt with those earnestly-fashionable suburban girls, who are just
half an hour behind the times, and who—-” Here Jim rent his garments
from Leah’s grasp, and departed in haste with an impolite word. His
wife’s humour did not appeal to him in the least, and he banged the
door unnecessarily hard.

Leah returned to warm her toes and laugh till she cried. There was
something excessively amusing in the idea of Jim setting up for a
plaster saint. For once in his dull life he displayed a sense of
humour, and she picked up the discarded novel with a fresh burst of
laughter at the picture of the Bayswater ménage, as drawn by her
fertile fancy. Jim as a middle-class Philistine tickled her even more
than Jim in a stained-glass attitude, with an artificial halo
misfitting his empty head.

But a remembrance of the cheque–payable to Jim–and of her husband’s
possible position at the moment, telling clumsy truths to an aggrieved
father, made her serious. Certainly the Duke, pleased to hear his son
speak honestly for once in a life of consistent fibbing, might shed
tears over a hastily-produced cheque-book. Jim’s falsehoods, in times
of pressing need, were almost inspired, and it was not impossible that
he might return with the loot. Then, the tradespeople being paid, Leah
decided that she could run up fresh bills to any amount: they would be
all the more eager to give her unlimited credit when they knew that
the Duke was in the background. Decidedly the prospect was not so bad,
and, after all, it might be dangerous to make real-life experiments in
sensational fiction.

These common-sense reflections led Lady Jim to thank the watchful
fetish for governing her tongue during the afternoon. Demetrius could
be nasty when he liked. She was certain of that, and it was just as
well to give him no chance. Some people carried tyranny to a
ridiculous excess, and liked to hear their victims squeal unmeaningly.
Leah did not belong to the squealing species, and vowed a vow that
Demetrius should never have an opportunity of provoking such futile
outcries. As a gleam of good sense warned her of possible danger, she
decided to avoid the Russian, or only to flirt sufficiently to make
him miserable and Jim cross.

Having settled the question in this sensible way, Leah sought her room
to dress for the five o’clock muffin-scramble. She assumed the
prettiest tea-gown she possessed, for the truly feminine purpose of
irritating Demetrius into over-estimating what he had lost. Descending
like a Homeric deity in a cloud–of lace–she went at once to the
library, and restored to its place the text-book of her proposed
fraud. Fortunately, the room was empty, so no one would ever know that
the novel had been read with a view to plagiarism. Not that it
mattered much now, since Jim was proceeding on the lines of “Honesty
is the best policy.” Leah hoped fervently that he would succeed, but
felt more than a trifle doubtful. Jim was so new to this
straightforward method of gaining his ends.

The house-party was picnicking in the winter-garden, a delightful
Eden, where tropical plants flourished in defiance of the season. On
its glass roof the hail rattled like small shot, and through its glass
walls could be seen the bleak, wintry landscape, faintly white in the
deepening gloom. These glimpses of the unpleasant increased the sense
of comfort, and over-civilised humanity luxuriated in the warm
atmosphere, as independent of nature’s laws as the palm-trees under
which it ate and drank and talked scandal. The frumps nibbled dry
toast and sipped milk; the fashionables devoured dainty sandwiches and
enjoyed the strongest of tea, and both aided digestion with chatter
and laughter. It was the complacent contentment of animals, mumbling a
plentiful meal, and for the moment all spiritual instincts were
governed by material needs.

Mrs. Penworthy’s courtiers were feeding their queen, who had a large
appetite for so small a woman. After a full meal she was disposed to
be amiable, even to Freddy, had he been there; but she became
decidedly cross when some of the court deserted her for “that woman,”
as she termed Lady Jim. Leah was feminine enough to enjoy the fallen
expression on Mrs. Penworthy’s face, and accepted with marked pleasure
the attentions of those who crowded round her. The sight gave Mrs.
Penworthy a fit of indigestion, which prevented her enjoying a late
dinner. It was hard that her vanity had to content itself with the
banal compliments of the faithful Algy, who tried to be a host in
himself, and was snubbed for his ambition.

“May I present my nephew to you?” asked Lord Sargon, in his thin,
precise voice.

Leah intimated that she would be charmed, and found herself nodding to
a slim, dark young man, clean-shaven and alert. He looked more alive
than the languid youths around her, and she was not surprised when
Sargon explained that Mr. Askew was a naval officer, who had lately
returned from a five years’ cruise.

“I thought you hadn’t been wrapped up in cotton wool all your life,”
said Lady Jim, when Sargon had removed the attendant youths and the
lieutenant was making himself agreeable in a bluff, briny way.

“Do I look so uncivilised?” he asked, with laughing eyes.

“Highly. You are the nearest approach to pre-historic man I have yet
seen,” said she, and thus was unjust to Jim.

“I am sorry—-”

“Oh, there’s no need to apologise. I daresay Circe found Ulysses very
agreeable.”

“Homer says so,” answered Askew, who appeared to be well read; “but if
I am Ulysses, you must be Circe.”

“I accept the compliment!”

“Is it a compliment?” asked the pre-historic man, daringly.

“Unless meant for one it should not have been said.”

“Beg pardon. I’m several kinds of ass. But I did mean it civilly, you
know. Circe was a clever woman, whose magic turned men into outward
semblances of their real characters.”

Lady Jim smiled scornfully. “And if my magic could transform these,”
she glanced disparagingly round the place, “what a menagerie it would
be! Pigs, and snakes, and parrots, and—-”

“Dogs.”

“Of the mongrel kind, Mr. Askew. Do you speak of yourself?”

He nodded laughingly. “Dogs are so devoted!”

“That means you wish to attach yourself to me,” said Leah, gravely. “I
might take you at your word–I need a friend; but Ulysses deserted
Circe.”

Askew laughed, and gazed admiringly at her beautiful, pensive face.
“We talk parables, I think,” he said, with assumed lightness.

“Prehistoric man always did, I understand.”

“On the contrary, his speech was direct and blunt!”

“Mine will be now,” smiled Lady Jim. “This cup has been empty for five
minutes, and you never offered to—-”

The young man took the tiny cup hastily. “But for the publicity of the
place, I would ask you to tread upon my prostrate body.”

Leah eyed his lithe, active figure as he went to the bamboo table
presided over by Lady Frith. He was really a delightful sailorman, she
reflected, and quicker than most of his sex to understand the
unspoken. It might be more amusing to drop Demetrius and flirt with
him. But then, his face was too honest, and he might object to being
made use of.

“Men of that kind are so dreadfully in earnest,” sighed Leah, with a
sense of irritation; “they think a woman always means what she says.”

Askew walked lightly over the mosaic floor with a fresh cup of tea and
a plate of hot cakes. Some man bustled in his way, and he stopped to
avoid an upset of his burden. At the moment, he glanced towards the
Moorish door which admitted triflers into the winter paradise. To Lady
Jim’s wonderment, he started, and a look of surprise overspread his
expressive face. Her eyes turned at once in the direction of the
entrance, and she beheld Jim blinking his eyes at the dazzle of light.
He looked heavy and sullen, which hinted that the interview with the
Duke had not been successful. But Leah forgot that momentous question
for the moment, as her quick brain was trying to understand Askew’s
look of surprise. Before she could ask herself what he could possibly
know about Jim, he approached with the tea.

“This is nice and hot,” he said, placing the plate on the table at her
elbow and offering the cup. “I hope you’ll forgive me for neglecting
you.”

“On one condition,” replied Leah, stirring her tea.

“Consider it fulfilled,” was the impetuous answer.

“Why did you look surprised when you saw that gentleman at the door?”

Leah pointedly suppressed the fact that Kaimes was her husband, as, if
there was anything, she would learn it the more easily by pretending
that Jim was a stranger. In fact, should Askew learn that the man who
had startled him was her lawful lord, he might decline to open his
lips. The lieutenant’s next words proved the wisdom of her
concealment.

“Oh, Berring,” he said, carelessly. “Well, I was surprised to see
Berring so unexpectedly.”

“Is his name Berring?” asked Lady Jim, guessing that she was about to
learn something connected with Jim’s very shady past.

“Yes; I met him in Lima.”

“Lima?”

“In Peru, and that’s in South America.”

Leah nodded. “I did learn geography at school,” she said, setting down
her empty cup; and when Askew coloured at the implied snub, softened
it by asking a friendly question: “You are surprised at meeting
Mr.–er–er–Berring, here?”

“Yes; I said so before. A nice sort of chap, but selfish.”

“What a reader of character you are, Mr. Askew!” He looked up eagerly.
“You know him, then.”

“A little. Why do you ask?”

The young man stared at the ground, and replied in muffled tones: “I
thought you might have met his wife.”

“Mrs. Berring?”

“Of course.”

Leah began to laugh. The idea that Jim might be a bigamist had never
struck her before. She had guessed that there was a woman connected
with those frequent journeys to Lima, but that Jim had adopted the
Mormon religion was news. Some women would have been angry, but Leah
had no amatory feelings likely to arouse jealousy, so she was frankly
amused at her husband’s duplicity. Also, she was sorry for Mrs.
Berring, who perhaps was silly enough to love Jim.

“Is she a nice woman?” was her next question.

“She’s an angel.”

“That means, you love her.”

“How do you—-?”

“Because you are a brick wall I can see through, Mr. Askew. No;
I have never met Mrs. Berring. Why did she throw you over and marry
Mr.–er–Berring?”

Askew looked quite alarmed. “I say you _are_ clever,” he remarked.

“Why not? You called me Circe, and I must live up to the name. Well?”

“Well!” echoed Askew, blankly, and their eyes met. He coloured. “No, I
can’t tell you,” he said quickly, for he guessed her desire.

“Yes, you can, and you will,” rejoined Leah, composedly.

Jim was bearing the artillery of Mrs. Penworthy’s eyes in his usual
indifferent way, and showed no disposition to seek out his wife.
Probably he would remain for the next hour in the clutches of the
little woman, who was the limpet to Jim’s rock. This being so, Leah
began to ask questions which Askew hesitated to answer.

“We hardly know one another,” he murmured, embarrassed. “I daren’t
tell you, Lady James.”

“Ah! Then there’s something improper in the matter?”

Askew flushed through his bronzed skin. “Not at all,” he said in a
brusque tone. “Señorita Fajardo is all that is good and holy and
pure.”

“What bread and butter!” thought Leah, wondering if Jim had stumbled
upon a convent. But she was too wise to quote Byron to this young man,
who apparently was simple enough to regard love as something sacred.

“Fajardo,” she repeated. “A Spanish name.”

“And a Spanish lady,” he said, gloomily. “Lola Fajardo, of the
Estancia, San Jago, near Rosario.”

“I thought you said of Lima?”

“No; I met her there. She is in the habit of stopping at Lima with her
aunt. But her true home is at Rosario, in the Santa Fe province of the
Argentine republic. I wonder if Berring brought her to England. She
was madly in love with him.”

“She must have been, to marry him.”

“Oh, Berring’s a good-looking chap, and not bad,” said Askew, with the
innate chivalry of a man towards a successful rival. “I suppose they
_did_ marry.”

“Oh! Then you are not certain?”

“No; I never even knew if they were engaged. But when I joined my ship
again at Callao, every one said ‘marriage’–they were so uncommonly
thick. I must ask Berring.”

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted to afford you the information you seek,”
was Lady Jim’s ironical reply.

“Have you seen Mrs. Berring?” asked the young man, eagerly.

“No; I don’t think any Mrs. Berring is stopping here.”

“Then perhaps he did not marry Lola, after all,” cried Askew, rising
hastily, and with flashing eyes, “unless”–his voice fell–“she is
dead.”

Leah yawned. “Really, I don’t know,” she replied; “you had better ask
Mr. Berring. I see he is passing out of the garden with Mrs.
Penworthy.”

“In that case I can’t spoil sport,” laughed the lieutenant, with an
obvious effort; “but later on.”

“Later on, of course,” she said, rising. “Here comes your uncle.”

Lord Sargon advanced, and, with an apologetic look towards Leah, took
Askew’s arm. “I wish to present you to Lady Canvey,” he said.

The young man looked towards his charmer. “Will you permit me to leave
you for a time?”

“Certainly. You will find Lady Canvey delightful, and as pre-historic
as you can wish. We may meet after dinner,” and, with a nod, she left
the winter garden for the purpose of seeking solitude. She wanted to
think over Jim’s iniquities, and to consider what use might be made of
them for her own benefit.

Lady Canvey was delighted to receive Askew, as she liked handsome
young men, especially when they were deferential and attentive, as
this new acquaintance appeared to be. “Though I’m a bad substitute for
Lady Jim,” she remarked pleasantly. “Lady Jim?”

“That charming creature with whom you have been talking.”

“Yes, of course, Lady Canvey. She is indeed charming.”

“But private property. Her husband is the Duke’s second son, at
present in the clutches of that little harpy, Mrs. Penworthy. Don’t
you make love to Lady Jim, or you’ll burn your fingers. I mistrust
red-haired women, myself. But she and Jim match each other capitally.
Their marriage was made in heaven”; and Lady Canvey chuckled.

“Is her husband here?” asked Askew, looking round, anxious to see who
owned Circe-of-the-many-wiles.

“No; he went out with Mrs. Penworthy a quarter of an hour ago.”

Askew remembered how Lady Jim had drawn his attention to an outgoing
couple. “Didn’t the lady go out with a Mr. Berring?” he gasped.

“No; with Lord Jim Kaimes!”

“And she–his wife–the lady I—-” Askew stopped with a groan.

“Try an unmarried woman,” advised Lady Canvey, misunderstanding his
emotion. “It’s more proper, and less expensive.”