A sociable undertaker, lacking the indispensable humour of his
brethren, bitterly complained that he rarely inquired after a friend’s
health without being suspected of business motives. Ex-lieutenant
Harry Askew found himself in a similar predicament, since his desire
to marry a widow precluded him from offering sympathy. That he should
personally, or by letter, deplore the necessity of crape caps, would
suggest waning affection; while a congratulatory address laid him open
to the charge–which this especial widow would certainly make–of
unseemly dancing on a newly-made grave. With laboured wisdom Askew
dropped between the horns of this dilemma. Paying no visit, writing no
letter, he compromised by leaving a card. In this dexterous avoidance
of impalement Lady Jim read the untold story of his perplexity, and
smiled at the diplomatic evasion.
There being an exception to every rule, the absence which should have
made the Askew heart grow fonder produced an opposite effect. Debarred
from the temple of his goddess, he began to ask himself why he
worshipped, and thereby dug the grave of illicit passion. That such
was now permissible, and even praiseworthy, considering its
consolatory results, only made him a more ardent sexton. The votaries
of Eros can begarland themselves with roses, but Hymen’s celebrants
wear chains of approved legal pattern. Was the cultus of the
matrimonial god worth such encumbrances? Thus Askew inquired of his
own pampered self, and, not knowing exactly what his selfishness
desired, obtained but a doubtful response. What else could he expect?
Two-faced Janus is the true god of oracles.
Lady Jim was witty, beautiful, chaste and brilliant–admirable
qualities in a woman, but in a wife, unless informed with love, rather
unattractive. Askew doubted if a composite mate of this glittering,
unwarmed sort would satisfy his somewhat exacting requirements.
Accepting too readily the world’s definition, what he and it called
love was actually selfishness, masquerading. He fancied, and with much
reason, that Leah, openly devoted to herself, would not show devotion
to him: that is, she being selfish, and he ditto, genuine happiness
would not and could not spring from this union of like and like.
Moreover, he ignorantly loved–in the world’s sense–through his eyes,
and with his lower nature; so it was probable that the legal
possession of irresponsive beauty would pall. To limit a butterfly to
one rose would bore the butterfly, and if the rose were sentient, she
also might feel weary. In this way, and from surface feelings, argued
Askew; but natural limitations prevented comprehension of the true
reason which disinclined him to prosecute his now legal and therefore
He was a better man than he knew, and this he would have known, had he
paid heed to the intimations of his higher self, when it occasionally
overcame the lower. When the god within overtopped the brute, he had
beheld not so clearly the body as the soul of Lola Fajardo, and had,
for one swift moment, recognised that conjunction with the spirit
would best promote his happiness. A genuine marriage must be
spiritual, and it is the souls, whom God hath joined, which man is
forbidden to put asunder. Askew’s introspective self knew that his
allotted wife on this physical plane was Lola, and that to her alone
should love be given. But the lust of the eye demanded Leah Kaimes’
beauty, and feigned a spurious passion to gain possession. Absence
from Lady Jim made him aware that he did not actually love her, and a
feeble struggle of the soul bound in chains of selfishness revealed
that he would do well to seek Lola once more. Hence came the war
between light and darkness, wherein the light so far triumphed that
the young man sought Curzon Street with more self-control than was
desirable in an admitted lover–one, be it known, of the worldly,
material type only. And may all such, for the well-being of the race,
be anathema maranatha!
“I took you to be more original,” said Leah, when he entered.
“To the extent of defying conventionality by calling before the
“Needed consolation. You declined to console.”
“I come now.”
“At the eleventh and less necessary hour. Besides—-” She looked
meaningly towards the window-seat, where a flushed and smiling Katinka
adored with timid conversation and eloquent eyes a rather sour
Demetrius. “Will you have a cup of tea?”
“Thank you,” and they moved towards the bamboo table, whence she had
risen to whisper her greeting at the door.
Advisedly it would seem, since she cast a rapid and satisfied glance
at the doctor’s lowering face. The set mouth, the narrowing eyes, hard
as jade, betokened jealous rebuke of Leah’s condescending to meet the
newcomer as royalty should be met. Reading this index of a mind ill
at ease, Lady Jim resumed her seat, tacitly pleased. She had an end to
gain, and this over-attention to Askew meant the beginning of plots.
It was over a month since the supposed Jim Kaimes had been packed away
in the family vault, and his widow enjoyed the fruits of her labours.
Dr. Demetrius, looking upon the thirty thousand pounds as purchase
money, wished to possess the woman he had thus bought, and objected to
other customers eying his bargain. Hence his jealousy discerned a
rival in Askew, and Lady Jim–aware of this clear-sightedness–was
content that he should so discern. She could neither cajole nor reason
Demetrius into trusting himself in Paris: but the desired result might
be brought about by utilising green-eyed jealousy. The unexpected
meeting of the rivals afforded her an eagerly seized chance of putting
fire to powder. The possible explosion, she hoped, would blow
Demetrius into Siberian wilds. Thus, playing with amorous fire, she
hastened to heap on lavish fuel.
“I am seeing a few friends now,” said Lady Jim, ministering to her
visitors’ five-o’clock wants. “Mademoiselle Aksakoff and Dr.
Demetrius–you know both, I believe. Lady Richardson may look in
later; also—-” Here she checked her tongue. Aksakoff was due in half
an hour; but it would not do to advise Demetrius of that. The chances
were that Katinka, aware of the intended visit, would carry off the
doctor early. Lady Jim devoutly wished that she would. Her
drawing-room was no stage for melodrama.
“Also?” queried the newly arrived.
“Also her son, Sir Billy. Have you met him? Of course! Monte Carlo! I
remember. Isn’t he charming–a D’Orsay of the cradle, Brummel in
embryo? I have a mind to marry him, as a pocket-husband.”
“Am I to wish you joy?”
Leah looked at him suddenly and understood. This man had risen from
his knees, and the chances were–going by experience–that he would
stroll away. She did not intend to permit that, since he was necessary
to her schemes. Until Demetrius was safely bestowed in Siberia he
would have to be flattered and coerced and ensnared into remaining.
Then he could go and welcome. With freedom and money she wanted no
encumbrances. And it vexes a woman to have a man more earnest than
herself hanging round her skirts. However, this was not the time for
plain speaking, and she answered in this Thalian vein.
“Of course you must wish me joy–in a whisper.”
The smiles of Leah, the attitude of Askew, the sibilant indistinct
voices of both, goaded Demetrius. He all but interrupted the tea-table
conference. But since Lady Jim wished to be a princess–she had
conveyed that idea clearly–and as Katinka’s aid was necessary to the
recovering of his birthright, he dared not to offend the girl. Jealous
himself, Demetrius knew how easy it would be to arouse the doubts of
another–especially of a woman. He therefore remained seated and
waited developments, while Katinka chatted earnestly.
“I really wish you would be reconciled with my father,” said she.
“M. Aksakoff is less willing for such a consummation than I,
She disagreed, hurriedly. “You are wrong. My father is willing, but
your enemies are not.”
“And my enemies are his enemies?” he inquired dryly.
“Assuredly. But one enemy–Paul Petrovitch–is my friend.”
Katinka nodded and proceeded with explanations. “He has, as you know,
much influence with the Czar.”
That would be used on your behalf, if—-” She paused, coloured, and
cast down her eyes.
“If I agreed to marry him.”
Thin ice indeed, but Demetrius skated extremely well. “Mademoiselle,”
said he, gravely, “I cut myself off from my princely family, and
surrendered wealth that I might work in the cause of humanity. To
assist a brother worker did I risk exile, with the result you behold.
Why, then, should I demand a sacrifice on your part, to restore that
which I personally do not regret?”
“Believe me, my friend, it would mean no sacrifice. You hinted when
last we met that you were prepared to consider the proposition of
resuming your rank.”
“I did–contingent on certain events happening,” replied Demetrius,
thinking that if Lady Jim insisted upon being a princess of the
drawing-rooms, he would be forced to yield; “but we can talk of this
in a–well, in a few months. There is no hurry!” recalling the
necessary period of mourning. “No, there is no hurry!” He paused, then
questioned suddenly, “You love Paul Petrovitch?”
“No, no! Ah, no!”
“It would, then, certainly be a sacrifice for you to marry him.”
“I would never do that.”
“How, then, could you persuade him to use his influence?”
“It is a case of diamond cut diamond,” explained Katinka, with the
indifference of a woman to all other honour, save that of the man she
loves. “Paul Petrovitch wishes to marry me. If I agree, he will induce
the Czar to reinstate you in your possessions. When you have made your
peace at St. Petersburg, I could refuse to—- Oh!” she broke off with
a confused laugh, “do not look shocked, M. Demetrius. I but trick him,
as he is prepared to trick me.”
“I am far from being shocked,” denied the liberal-minded doctor; “to
prevent being bitten, we must bite. But the possible sacrifice—-”
“Lies in lending myself to such a trick. I make it for you–for you;
yes, do you not understand?”
Only that stupid animal, a sheep, could have refused comprehension.
“I am not worthy,” shuffled Demetrius, hurriedly.
“_I_ think you are,” she breathed tenderly. “Will you not permit me to
prove my belief?”
“I shall be honoured, if–in a few months–the time is scarcely ripe
for me to move; and you will understand. In short, when things are
different–your noble offer–we can discuss it later. Believe me”–he
thrilled her with a light touch–“I comprehend the nobility of your
nature. Ah, my friend, do not press me to take advantage of so
glorious a sacrifice.”
So stammered Demetrius, his confusion being worse confounded, and
wrapping up refusal in evasive words, meaningless if sugared. Katinka
sighed. Always she pressed her mediatory offer, and always she
declined acceptance. Angry that the proffered gift should be flung
back in her face, she suddenly felt a sense of outrage at his
persistent quibbling. This man must see that she loved him; yet he
trifled with her too obvious passion. There was Lady Jim, of course,
in spite of Lady Jim’s readjustment of the situation at Monte Carlo.
Yet, could he, could any man, love this chilly, self-centered
Englishwoman? No! As she knew, Demetrius demanded love for love,
and he certainly would not give all to Lady Jim without receiving
back in kind. Therefore he did not love the woman; therefore he was
heart-whole; and being so, why should he not yield to one who was
ready to suffer all for his sake? She could not understand; but
this she knew–that her self-respect rebelled.
And at the moment, that feeling, swallowing up all others, impelled
her to walk away, without even a backward glance. But she remained
where she was, since her adoration for this unresponsive god
amounted to monomania. She hated to cringe, to cast down her womanly
dignity; but she was forced to do so. Passion proved stronger than
self-respect, than natural shame, than maiden pride. Enthralled by
Venus, as had been Helen of Troy, she was forced to grovel at the feet
of this–as she suspected–ignoble Paris. Would he never smile? Would
he never unbend? She could not say; she did not know. All she felt was
pure unhappiness, and she could have cursed the power which trammelled
her in these nets of undesired love. The gods were sporting, and
Olympus shook with laughter at her mortal sorrow.
“Come–when you need me,” said she, and rose.
Demetrius was self-seeking, yet possessed human feelings, and of these
shame was uppermost. The vein of divinity which streaked his clay made
him acknowledge that he was using hardly this flouted worshipper.
Outwardly at least, and with an impetuosity alien to his calculating
character, he wished to make amends.
“Let me come also.”
“There is no need,” she replied coldly, and crossed to the tea-table.
“You will excuse my departure, Lady James. I have an engagement, Mr.
Askew!” She bowed, and then went silently out of the room.
“Do you follow, doctor?” asked Lady Jim, stepping with him to the
scarcely closed door.
He did not reply directly, but glanced across her shoulder towards the
yawning lieutenant. “Remember,” he breathed significantly, and in his
Leah wondered that the feelings which had evoked the word should not
have kept him watchful of her pretty play, and confessed herself
puzzled by his abrupt following of Katinka’s trail. But having, as she
knew, aroused his jealousy, there was no need to consider meanings
which would not affect her schemes. Aksakoff was due, and before he
appeared it was necessary to teach Askew the rôle of cat’s-paw. He was
to decoy Demetrius to Paris, but of course, she did not mean him to be
aware of his ignoble duties. She returned to rebuke him for yawning
and to propose a remedy.
“What you need is change of scene, if not of society. Now there is
Paris, which you probably know well.”
“I do not know it at all,” he confessed.
“What a neglected education! I must teach you Paris. Will you be ready
for your first lesson early next week?”
“I do not quite understand.”
Lady Jim nodded laughingly. “Which proves that ‘our future’ is now
split into ‘your future’ and ‘my future.'”
“I am more in the dark than ever,” said the amazed listener.
Lady Jim curled her lip contemptuously. “You men need so much
explanation,” said she; then, meaningly, “I can still retain you as a
friend, I hope.”
“What do you–that is–on what grounds—-? You do not comprehend!” He
stuttered, grew red, and writhed over the fire on which she was
grilling him, with much enjoyment to herself.
“Ah, but I do comprehend–very clearly, too. When did the change
“Of heart, if you wish me to enter into details.”
“There is no change in me,” he denied, still red and flurried.
“And no truth either, when you make such a statement!” With a light
laugh she recalled his fierce wooing: “you would not attempt to break
my wrists now.”
“I am very, very sorry, that I was rough with yon.”
“Quite so, and cannot you see that such sorrow explains everything?”
“Not to me,” said Askew, desperately fervent.
Leah clapped her hands gaily. “How very badly you do it! Do not go on
the stage, I beg of you. Well!” she kissed her hand to him, “adieu! I
hope she will be happy.”
“Who will be happy?”
“The other woman.”
“There is no—-” He caught her derisive eyes, and broke down with an
uneasy laugh. “I suppose we have made a mistake.”
“_You_ have,” she replied, promptly emphasising the pronoun.
“Ah!” His pride was wounded by the implied indifference. “Then you
knew it would come to this?”
“Of course, because I did not choose that it should end otherwise. If
I had chosen, you would still have been—-” She glanced smilingly at
her slim feet, then handled the teapot with ostentatious liveliness.
“You can have some cold tea, if you like.”
As Askew had intended to drop her, the idea that she was dropping
him–and very readily, too–was wounding to his vanity. “You never
loved me,” he declared.
“Did I ever say that I did?”
“Well, no; all the same—-”
She clasped her hands over her knee, and smiled indulgently at his
mortified face. “All the same, you are unwise to explain, so we will
change the subject, Mr. Askew.”
“Ah! Not even Harry?”
“Not even Leah,” she mocked. “Still, you can call me Lady Jim.”
“Till you change the name.”
“Certainly not for that of Askew. Señorita Fajardo may think
differently, when you propose.”
“How do you know I shall?” he asked sulkily, for every word she
uttered fretted his uneasy vanity.
“Because you are a shuttle-cock between two battledores. She sent you
flying to me; I shall speed you back to her.”
The young man was almost too mortified to speak. “What a light, vain
fool you make me out to be!”
“No. You are merely a man in the hands of two women–clay in the hands
of accomplished potters. Now,” she laid a caressing hand on his arm,
“promise me to go back to Rosario at once.”
“No!” snapped Askew, wincing at the touch, and so gave her the very
answer she required.
Her motive in pelting him with hard sentences had been to arouse his
vanity to assert itself in aggressive contradiction; and for three
reasons. Firstly, she did not wish him to make an inconvenient third
in Mr. Berring’s wooing of the Spanish lady, lest he should learn much
that it was undesirable for him to know. Secondly, she required him as
her Parisian decoy-duck. And thirdly, it was out of the question that
he should dare to end the flirtation without her leave. A reflection
of these things led her to play skilfully on manly conceit, with the
aforesaid result. She was satisfied when he replied in the negative.
Askew also, since thereby, in his own estimation, he had vindicated
virility, and lacked the insight to see himself her puppet. Having
gained her end, Lady Jim apparently yielded to the lord-of-creation
“Well, then, come to Paris with me and Joan Tallentire. We go on
Monday to the Hotel Henri Trois, Champs Élysées. You can come on
“But I don’t think—-”
“I am quite sure you don’t. Perhaps Thursday will suit you better.”
“If you insist.”
“I do not, unless on common sense, of which you possess so little.”
“How you bully me!” he cried, much vexed by this badgering.
“Of course; we always bully those we love–as friends, that is. Ah,
here is M. Aksakoff. What a surprise!” She rose gracefully and sailed
forward with outstretched hand, “So kind of you to come! You know Mr.
Askew, I think.”
The diplomatist bowed, and seated himself near the table, whereat
Askew, devoured by a desire for further confidences, fumed, with
depressed eyebrows and twisted mouth. Lady Jim rang for fresh tea,
listening meanwhile to Aksakoff discussing the safe subject of the
weather. Occasionally she glanced with amusement at her victim, who by
this time did not know his own mind, and certainly was incapable of
analysing his very complicated feelings. She bewildered him; he was
not master of himself in her presence, and alternately quailed and
rebelled under her spells. Flight from Circe was his wisest plan.
“Must you?” inquired Lady Jim, winningly, at the first movement.
“Must what, please,” he asked sulkily, settling down again.
“Must you go? I see you must. So sorry. Good-bye.”
“I do not want to—-”
“To be bored. Naturally; a widow is but dull company. Please do not
leave us in the dark. The button is on the right-hand side of the
door. No; that is wrong!” She rose and switched on the light herself.
“That is better! Don’t you think it is? So good of you to come and
cheer me!” Then, dropping her voice, “Paris?”
“I shall cross on Wednesday,” he murmured; “then we can resume our
“What pleasure you promise me!” she retorted; and, closing the door,
came back to the waiting diplomatist, yawning daintily. “Excuse me, M.
Aksakoff: I have just ended a bad quarter of an hour.”
“That young man, madame?”
“The same. He wants to marry me. Shocking, isn’t it, seeing that I
scarcely know how to pose as a widow?”
“But natural on his part, surely.”
“How nicely you pay compliments! By the way,” sliding away from the
subject, “your daughter was here. She has gone off somewhere with your
friend, M. Demetrius.”
Aksakoff frowned. “It is kind of you to enlarge my circle of
acquaintance, madame. I presume you desire to speak of this
Leah raised her eyebrows. “No; why should I?”
“Our conversation at Monte Carlo—-”
“Did we converse? So we did! Something about a sunset, wasn’t it?”
The diplomatist became unworthy of the name, through sheer irritation.
“Can we not drop our masks, madame?”
“I never knew that we wore such things,” said Lady Jim, lightly. “I am
sure I do not. Why should I?”
“But you sent for me.”
Leah placed her elbows on the table, and the tips of her fingers
together. “I did, to ask you for some letters to nice people in
“Ah!” His face lighted up. “You go to Paris?”
“My good friend, have I not said so? And the letters?”
“I shall be delighted”; Aksakoff was now beginning to understand the
necessity of reading between the remarks. “But are letters necessary?
I hope to be in Paris myself next week.”
“How delightful! You will be able to amuse me. Do not look shocked. I
assure you I only wish to drown my grief.”
“Of course,” assented Aksakoff, dryly; then added, with a significance
she ignored: “Do you go alone to Paris?”
“Oh, dear me, no. Miss Tallentire goes with me. A charming girl who is
engaged to my cousin, the Rev. Lionel Kaimes. We stay for a week at
the Hotel Henri Trois, Champs Élysées. Very quietly, you know, as I am
“As you are still in mourning,” corrected her visitor, politely.
“Certainly. You would not have me flaunting colours with poor dear Jim
just dead. I want to be cheered up, and I ask you and Mr. Askew to
“Oh! ah!” Aksakoff wrinkled his brow. “Mr. Askew goes to Paris, also?”
“He said something about it. Such a nuisance, seeing that he
thinks–well, I told you.”
“Madame, his thoughts are excusable. But M. Demetrius will be
“What do you mean?” demanded Lady Jim, imperiously.
Aksakoff’s patience was almost exhausted. “We spoke at Monte Carlo,”
he reminded her. “Surely we understand one another.”
“Possibly you may. I am quite in the dark. Why should you couple my
name with that of M. Demetrius?”
“Report says that he loves you.”
“Oh–report!” She laughed, frankly amused. “If you believe
reports—-” Here a shrug and a contemptuous laugh. “Why, reports
leave no one a shred of character. I quite expect that my
enemies–Mrs. Penworthy, for one–will say that Mr. Askew followed me
to Paris, for the purpose of marrying me at the British Embassy.”
Aksakoff admired her profoundly. Without committing herself in any way
or for a single instance, she was placing in his hands the thread of
the intrigue. Tacitly acknowledging a diplomatic superior, he followed
her lead. “I trust that Mrs. Penworthy, whom I have the honour to
know, will not spread such a report,” he said gravely.
“Oh, but she will. A horrid woman, and scarcely respectable. She has
called in Dr. Demetrius as her medical attendant, and if–as you
say–he admires me, she is sure to make mischief.”
“Well,” said Aksakoff, reflectively, “I am perfectly sure that if M.
Demetrius heard such gossip, he would—-”
“Forbid the banns,” finished Leah, hastily and derisively. “Pah! Do
you think, knowing his danger, he would trust himself in Paris? You
are entirely wrong, M. Aksakoff. Our mutual friend left me this very
afternoon to follow your daughter. Let him marry her–now do.”
“No,” said Aksakoff, setting down his cup. “Until he surrenders
Katinka he is safer in England.”
“In that case, please do not let Mrs. Penworthy gossip him into
crossing the Channel.”
“For your sake, I will not,” said Aksakoff, dryly, and with every
intention of aiding and abetting Mrs. Penworthy. “Will you give me
another cup of tea?”
She supplied him, and their conversation embraced a variety of
subjects. No further mention was made of Demetrius, or of Katinka, or
of Askew, or even of Paris. They quite understood one another, did
these two clever people. When the diplomatist departed he kissed Lady
Jim’s hand with courtly warmth.
“You are a charming woman, madame–a truly admirable woman; but”–he
straightened himself, and looked into her eyes–“I should not like to
have you for an enemy.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Lady Jim, artlessly.
“A compliment, madame–believe me, a very high compliment.”