It was the cry

Were a purblind generation convinced of the invaluable blessings of
sorrow, trouble would be robbed of its sting. Ignorance and fear make
the unenlightened bemoan their burdens, or shirk bearing them, as they
should be borne, with the strength of hope. Chastening is the gift of
the eternal love, and those happy few who know this submit with joy to
the improving rod. But worrying is not submission, nor is grumbling a
recognition of curative effects. To be manful, to be daring, to be so
entirely wise from the learning of the lesson as to extract the sweet
from the bitter, thus do we prove ourselves worthy of that suffering
which God bestows in mercy and in pity. Troubles, if rightly
understood, deepen the most shallow character, purify the most soiled
soul. They begin in woe but they end in joy. When the lesson is
learned, then comes the holiday–or more precisely, the holy-day–of
peace and gladness.

Jim, in his simple way, understood that out of apparent evil great
good had come to himself and Leah. Never before had they understood
each other so well; never before had they forgathered with less
friction. The Duke’s reformation was as genuine as his embryonic soul
was capable of making it. He felt desperately ashamed of himself at
the communion table, and shame of self, provided the physical ego be
not considered, is the beginning of repentance, which leads to hope,
which brings pardon and solace to the uneasy, sinful heart. Jim did
not become a saint by any manner of means, but he tried by fits and
starts to be a better man, and so, with true though faltering zeal,
advanced towards the light. And it was much gained that so once
self-satisfied a man should acknowledge himself to be at all in need
of improvement. The recalled code of schoolboy honour helped him to
amend the less drastic rules of the society man. Could Jim have only
gone still farther back, and remembered helpful nursery prayers and
childish faith, he might have seen even more clearly how to utilise
his mistakes. But he was yet a spirit in embryo, and his receptive
powers were not great.

Leah did not keep pace with her husband on the upward path. When the
danger was brought to naught, and her nerves became more normal, she
forgot everything with the alacrity of a hardened heart. The wind of
the Spirit had but troubled the surface of her nature; its depths
remained undisturbed. Within a fortnight her dear devil of egotism
returned, and she tore out of her book of life the disagreeable page,
which she declined to read for the second time. Certainly she retained
so much grace and memory as not to laugh at Jim’s efforts to be good,
and she was less ready than of yore to see and comment upon his
obvious failings. But she secretly wondered that he should try to be
pious, when there was no worldly advantage to be gained by such
dullness. Besides, Jim, with the zeal of the newly converted, began to
preach in a stammering, shamefaced way about the duties they owed to
themselves in particular and to society at large. He even looked up
_Noblesse oblige_ at the tail-end of the dictionary, and quoted the
platitude to Leah. On that occasion she had laughed consumedly; but,
truth to say, Jim’s sermons bored her immensely. She preferred those
of Lionel, who, as a professional guide to glory, knew his business,
whereas poor dear Jim was hopelessly muddled.

Therefore, while the Duke laboriously tried to be good, and succeeded
but doubtfully, Leah was coquetting deliriously with the world, the
flesh, and the many agreeable devils of her acquaintance. She improved
her former extravagances into something worse, and revenged herself
for being agreeable to Jim by letting both friends and enemies have
the full benefit of her witty, cruel tongue. The few who did not come
under its lash were in ecstasies at her sparkling conversation, and
the many who did made themselves pronouncedly pleasant out of mortal
fear. Leah danced and sang through the season with the insolent glee
of a woman who knows her position to be unassailable. Jim wondered at
her short memory, and tried to refresh it; but that she would not
endure, and declined even to hear the name of Demetrius. Moreover, as
M. Aksakoff had been translated to Copenhagen, there was no need to
smooth matters over between him and the Duke. Everything was safe,
everything was ripping, and she felt that her latest _pas de seul_ was
being executed on firm ground. She had skipped in the very nick of
time from that dangerous old mount which had erupted so feebly.

And no one could say but what she did her best to be amiable. Late in
the season she met and congratulated Mr. and Mrs. Askew; she told Lady
Richardson how she admired her courage–underlined–in marrying that
handsome pauper, Captain Lake; and forgivingly did she condole with
Mrs. Penworthy, when the unexpected death of Freddy, from overwork,
left that evergreen hack a widow whom no admirer wished to marry. Lady
Canvey was most tenderly considered, and Wallace, the globe-trotting
cynic, on Leah’s introduction, amused the stay-at-home old lady by
special command. The sedate Hengists thought even more of the Duchess
than they had done of Lady Jim, and she was often asked to bore
herself in their protective company. She gave Sir Billy Richardson a
smiling time at one of the ducal seats, and invited Joan Kaimes to
Curzon Street for a week of shopping and frivolity. Also bazaars and
charity concerts, and meetings about the unemployed aristocracy, took
up her attention. The fashionable congregation of an exclusive church
beheld her regularly in its midst, and heard the audible admission
that she was a miserable sinner–a most touching confession for a
truly good Duchess to make. Then she befriended a bishop, who was not
too straight-laced, and induced him to preach a scientific sermon in
Lionel’s church, of which Lionel, very nastily, did not approve. Oh,
it was a merry time, when the grapes were ripe and the first-fruits of
her ducal harvest were being gathered in. The Duchess of Pentland won
golden opinions even from the censorious. Things could not have been
better managed by the discarded fetish, and Leah admitted that in this
respectable orgy the birthday of her life had come.

During this meteoric career it surprised every one that she should
choose to retire suddenly. Fashion clamoured at her closed doors;
society journals wondered and lamented; individual friends expressed
themselves puzzled; and in print and conversation the freak of a
Duchess who chose to disappear was freely discussed. It was as
though the noonday sun should set unexpectedly. Leah’s radiant orb had
blazed triumphantly for a few months, paling the lesser stars of
society, and then–had vanished. The Duke, when applied to for an
explanation, stated that she had gone abroad, because her health
was–hum–hum–hum. She crossed the Channel alone, too, which looked
odd. People began to talk and to invent reasons to explain the
inexplicable. But not even the most daring hinted at a connubial
disagreement. Jim would have stopped any such rumour at once with high
words. Not that it could arise, seeing that he thanked God publicly
every Sunday for possessing a wife whose price was far above rubies.
But whatever had happened, whatever might be the reason, it was
indisputable that the beautiful and wealthy and clever and popular
Duchess of Pentland had retired from the world in her heyday of social
success.

Lionel was the first to hear of her when she returned unexpectedly to
Firmingham, after a month’s sojourn on the Continent. One day in the
chilly grey autumn weather he received a note asking him to call at
four o’clock, and went unthinkingly to pass through what he afterwards
remembered as the most painful hour of his life. He fancied, when
setting out, that Leah merely wished to see him about the Duke. It
might be that Jim, with the Old Adam leaven still working within, had
broken out again, and that Lionel was summoned to call the sinner a
second time to repentance. But the Duke, as he gathered from old
Colley, was vegetating at Hengist Castle. It was impossible that the
Old Adam could emerge from his penitential cell in so respectable and
moral a neighbourhood.

Leah received her cousin in the sitting-room of her Lady Jim days,
where they had twice talked seriously. Later on it appeared that she
had a special reason for selecting an apartment sanctified by the
vicar’s endeavour to improve her into a moderately presentable angel.
It was a charming and tastefully decorated room, and the Duchess was
as tastefully decorated and as charming as her surroundings. She sat
in a deep chair by a brisk fire, dressed with that perfect choice of
colour and material which always distinguished her. The delicate blue
of her frock, and a selection of certain filigree silver ornaments,
matched marvellously with her splendid red hair and sapphire eyes.
Lionel noted an unusual pallor, but thought that he had never seen,
her look more lovely. Apparently she had been reading, for she dropped
her handkerchief over an open book on the small table at her elbow
when she rose to shake hands. He mechanically wondered at the trivial
action, and learned its significance later.

“So very kind of you to come, Lionel,” said the Duchess, pressing his
hand cordially. “I know how busy you are with your parishioners.”

“You are one of them,” smiled the clergyman.

“At odd moments, certainly; but we globe-trot for our places of
worship nowadays. Sit down”; she indicated a convenient chair opposite
her own. “Now tell me the news of your small world. Is Joan quite
well?”

“Could not be better, considering the circumstances.”

“I am so glad; when do you expect the happy event?”

“In a month, please God.”

Leah looked pensively into the fire. “I hope it will be a boy.”

“I shall be more than content with a girl. Why a boy particularly?”

“Why not, when an heir is so important? You succeed Jim, and a new
Marquis of Frith—-”

“My dear Duchess, you and the Duke are young. There is little chance
of my succeeding. I may be congratulating you some day.”

“No,” cried Leah, almost fiercely; “such a thing can never be, thank
God.”

Lionel stared. “Why ‘thank God’?”

“Oh–er–I hardly know; of course, I should hate to be pestered with
children. The nursery is an obsolete institution here, and will remain
so, unless”–she hesitated–“unless Jim marries again.”

“Duchess!”

“Why not Leah?”

“If it will please you. But why talk of Jim’s marrying again, when you
are in the best of health and spirits?”

She shrugged indifferently. “One never knows, I might go first.”

“I sincerely trust not.”

“Does that imply that you wish me to be a real widow, after posing as
a sham one?”

“Of course not; but you talk so strangely.”

“And so honestly. Remember, I have always paid you the compliment of
being plain even to rudeness.”

Lionel tried to read her face, but in vain, and could not arrive at
the meaning of her apparently aimless conversation. The slanting rays
of sunset made a radiant glory round her as she half sat, half
reclined in the chair, and her beauty could bear even that merciless
test. Youth, health, money, charm, loveliness–with these desirable
blessings at her command, what else could she want?

“I do not quite understand,” said the perplexed man.

“Understand what?” she asked absently; then became more alive to his
question. “Oh, my chatter. You will, before we part. I am no sphinx to
propose riddles.”

“Every woman is a sphinx.”

“Without a secret; that is why you men find us so difficult to
comprehend.”

“I confess to the difficulty at this moment.”

“What a complex mind I must have! Yet I am a very ordinary butterfly
of fashion; something with wings, at all events, though not entirely
an angel.”

Her visitor laughed. “Am I to pay you a compliment, or rebuke you for
frivolity?”

“You can do both or either; the sweet first will counterbalance the
bitter last. But I sicken of compliments.”

“Even when genuine?”

“They never are. Men say things they don’t mean to women out of
traditional reverence for the exploded idea of the weaker vessel. When
you meet a child your first thought is to give it sweets; when you
talk with us the same thought is translated into polite lies. And we
never believe you–never,” Leah assured him. “Plain or beautiful, vain
or humble, we price the words directly. In no case have I found them
to be of value.”

“You make us out to be fools.”

“One must be truthful at times. Of course, I always except you,
Lionel, as you are more man than parson.”

“Cannot I be both?”

“Oh, yes, when miracles occur. Lately I heard of a parson who laboured
solitary and freezing amongst the snows of Labrador for a poor eighty
pounds a year. He was emphatically a man.”

“And a parson,” supplemented the vicar; “so, you see, miracles do
occur.”

A warm colour crept into Leah’s cheeks, and she looked piercingly at
her companion. “Do they? Nowadays, I mean. I am not using a mere
phrase, believe me. Honestly now, could those Gospel miracles occur in
this twentieth century?”

Lionel mused, and considered a careful reply. “Our Master was given
the Spirit without measure as a man because He was the Son of the Most
High; by that wisdom did He work His marvels. But the Apostles, in His
power, also prevailed over the apparently natural, showing signs and
wonders to the glory of the Risen Lord and His Father. ‘With faith ye
can do all things,’ said the blessed Jesus Himself. Yes, Leah, I
reverently believe that with purity, faith, and a humble trust in the
Father by the merits of the Son, and by the power of the Holy Ghost,
miracles could take place to-day.”

“Then why don’t they?” she asked abruptly.

The vicar, sighing, dropped into the high-pitched sing-song of the
pulpit. “A faithless and perverse generation—-”

“A scientific generation, you mean. I don’t believe–I can’t
believe–and I won’t believe. Prove the power of your Master. You have
faith; you are good; you—-”

“No, no! You go too fast. I assuredly try to be good, but I am sadly
wanting in many ways. I have faith, but how weak, how faltering. Who
am I, to claim that the Lord should select me to reveal His strength
unto men? I can work no miracle, Leah. Would to God that I could, if
only to convince you!”

“Would to God that you could!” she echoed with something like a groan,
and the faint flush disappeared, like the dying out of a hope.

“Why do you, a sceptic, ask about these things?”

Leah, possessed by the spirit of the perverse, laughed maliciously.
“Jim is trying to be good; why should not I try also, since a wife is
bound to follow her husband, according to St. Paul, who by the way was
a bachelor? But,” her mood shifted, “Jim has a tin-pot sort of faith
which is better than nothing. I have not, and so, like your
unbelieving Jews, require a sign.”

Lionel became professionally interested, descrying intimations of a
changed heart. “I believe that you will yet find the Kingdom,” he said
hopefully.

“Don’t you make any such mistake,” she retorted. “I have not yet set
out to find it, and never will, unless I see some of those wonders
about which you talk so glibly.”

“But, believe me—-”

“I do, though not to the extent of Bible magic. You hypnotise yourself
into crediting the impossible. I wish you could hypnotise me. Oh, I
wish–I wish–I wish!” she ended passionately.

“Faith is not hypnotism,” argued Lionel; the word grated on his ear.

“It is–it is–it is!” Leah was vehement in her denial. “Science can
explain everything. Why do you come here to prate of miracles, when
you know in your own heart that such things never were and never can
be?”

“They were and they can be and they will be, while Christ reigneth,”
asserted the vicar, firmly; “nothing is impossible to God.”

“Then call upon Him, and work your marvel.”

“I am not worthy.”

“You are not able, rather,” and she taunted him as did Elijah the
priests of Baal, their god.

Kaimes wondered at her restless moods, and wondered still more when
she abruptly left the serious subject they were discussing–and on her
own initiative–to talk most frivolously.

“I have heard you preach,” went on this weathercock, “and I am no more
to be persuaded than was Agrippa. You and your shadows”–she whiffed
these away. “Pouf! Let us talk of real things”; and a toss of her head
dismissed the spiritual for the purely temporal. “I had such a ripping
time this season,” rattled on the nature set upon pomps and vanities.

“Leah, Leah! How can you?”

“Change so rapidly? Oh, my good man, I am a twirl-ma-gee woman, ever
seeking variety. Religious conversation is neither amusing nor
convincing. It’s much more fun to talk of one’s friends and abuse
their failings.”

“I decline to join in,” said Lionel, dryly, and feeling nonplussed.

“Because you have no sense of humour. What a dull time of it Joan must
have, poor child!”

“She does not complain,” he objected stiffly.

“Oh, Lord, what is the use of complaining! I never whimper about Jim,
though his goodness is even duller than his badness. ‘I have tried
George drunk, I have tried George sober'”–she was quoting an epigram
of Charles II.–“‘and there is nothing in George.'”

“You are unnecessarily personal,” rebuked Kaimes, annoyed.

“That’s right. Tramp on your little corns and you howl.”

He intimated that he desired to leave. “My time is valuable.”

“Oh, I know yon are a millionaire of seconds and hours. How
disagreeable you are, when I want to be amused!”

“You have just informed me that I am dull,” he reminded her pointedly.

“So you are; all honest men are dull. Why, I don’t know, unless it is
that honesty and wit match as ill as beauty and brains. Now don’t look
at your watch again. I have something to tell you that will make your
clerical hair stand on end.”

What could one do with such a whirlwind woman? The vicar replaced his
watch and shrugged resignedly. She was what she had always been,
freakish and uncertain; but on this occasion more so than usual. An
April lady, whimsical and irresponsible, decidedly rude, and
aggravatingly amusing. But Kaimes instinctively felt that at the back
of these volleying drifts of smalltalk lurked something serious, which
she feared to handle. Hoping that in time it might be manifested to
his intelligence, he waited patiently, while Leah scrambled on
verbosely in her gabble of nothings.

“You need a London month to pull you together. Dull country, dull man;
dull man, awful bore. Get a parish in the West End; you’ll have
howling larks converting Dives and Jezebel of the drawing-room.”

“I do not look upon conversion as a lark.”

“I do, especially with Jim. Oh, Lord, to think that he of all people
should turn goody-goody. You are pleased, of course; the sight of the
lost black sheep trotting home to fodder to the fold is—-”

“I really cannot listen to this talk,” said Lionel, rising quickly.

“Yes, you can. I’ll shock you more before I’ve done.”

Kaimes resumed his seat blankly. “But your reason?”

Leah jumped up as her visitor sat down, and addressed nothing in
particular.

“He asks for reason, and from a woman,” she exclaimed. “So like that
lame Lord Esbrook; he always asks what he should not and what he is
never likely to get.”

“Reason from women?”

“And from men, who have still less to spare. But that’s his way. Have
you met Lord Esbrook? Such a funny walk as he has. Dot and carry
one–wooden leg, you know; dot and carry one–just like this only much
worse”; and Leah limped the length of the room, mimicking an
extraordinary gait so cleverly that Lionel laughed openly.

“Though you shouldn’t mock at people’s infirmities,” he coughed.

“Why not? Esbrook’s a holy show, and with the spite of the cripple, he
spares no one’s feelings. He’s the cracked black pot snarling at the
kettles he can never hope to be, with his dot and carry one, dot and
carry one”; and back she came swinging and grunting with provoking
cleverness.

In her gyrations–it seemed from her imitations that Lord Esbrook
gyrated–she overturned the table upon which rested the covered book.
Leah pounced to pick up the volume, as did Kaimes, out of courtesy.
When he had set the table on its legs he could scarcely refrain from
glancing casually at the book. It’s exterior was familiar.

“The Bible!” exclaimed an amazed man.

Leah flung herself into the chair, laughing noisily. “Oh, what a
face!” she mocked, pointing a jeering finger. “Look at yourself, do.”

“Were–you–reading the Bible?” asked the vicar, too astonished to
note the poor attempt she made to force humour.

“Why not?” said she, defiantly, but with flushes and quick breaths.

“You only mock.”

“The opportunity is so alluring,” was her reply. “There’s such an
awful lot of rot in that history of the Jews. And hundreds of
impossibilities. Here!” She seized the Bible and rapidly swept the
pages. “What was I reading when you entered?” The thin leaves flew and
flickered beneath her fingers. “Oh yes! Something quite too absurd in
Matthew.”

“St. Matthew.”

“Mister St. Matthew, if you will. There”; she presented the book; “you
read so beautifully–really you do, without flattery.”

“I will not read for you to mock.”

Her face flashed into crude anger. “Read,” she commanded harshly.

The vicar would have declined again, but that his eye fell on the
verses she had indicated. A memory of their earlier conversation,
coupled with her unnecessary vehemence, made him obey without further
hesitation. It might be that here was the key to the problem of her
jerky speech. His mellow voice rose like the music of a solemn bell,
and the glorious words rolled majestically through the room.

“_When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed
Him. And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped Him, saying, Lord,
if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth His hand,
and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his
leprosy was cleansed_.”

“And immediately his leprosy was cleansed,” breathed the Duchess,
gripping the arms of her chair to lean forward. “Why not ‘her’
leprosy?”

Lionel laid down the sacred volume. “It was a man who came to ask
mercy of our Lord,” said he, obtusely.

Leah threw herself back in the chair with the pettish cry of a
misunderstood child. “Oh, you fool!”

Something in her voice startled him; yet he was far from gathering her
meaning. “What is it?” he demanded, entirely bewildered.

There was no light in her eyes now; from luminous sapphires they had
become pebbles, dull orbs of lapis-lazuli. When she spoke her voice
creaked and wheezed “If your Master lived to-day, I would go to
Palestine!” she said, looking very directly at him.

“What on earth for?” he asked blankly.

“Can you not understand?”

Her look was that of Medusa, and flickering lights came and went in
her half-lifeless eyes. Their glare, rather than the toneless notes of
her voice, made him faintly understand. The chosen passage out of St.
Matthew, taken in conjunction with her earlier chatter of miracles,
and her late reference to Palestine, engendered in his brain a
horrible, a terrible, an impossible thought. And yet—-

“What are you talking about?” he asked harshly.

The cry of a soul on fire broke on his ears. “You brute, when I suffer
so! Does it need words?”

“Does what need words?”

She dashed her hand on the open page of the Bible. “This–this!”

“Augh!” He rose and sat down, with cold hands and a white face. The
meaning of what she meant crashed like the blow of a bludgeon, and his
brain spun to the shock “Leah!” he heard himself say, in a far-away
voice like a telephone whisper. Then he stopped to stare at the quiet
woman who sat upright, with rigid features and tightly clasped hands.
“Leah,” he muttered again, and some indefinable feeling made his hair
crisp at the roots.

“Yes!” That was all she said, and her lips hardly moved in the saying.

Kaimes looked aimlessly round the room, and noted the pattern of the
window-curtains. Only the whistling of the coals, spouting smoke and
jetting flame, broke the stillness. His eyes returned to her face,
fair and stainless. “Impos–s–sible!” he jerked, his voice entirely
beyond control. “Im—-” then his nerves vibrated and his skin crept.

“Three doctors in London, five doctors abroad, assured me that it is
not impossible–unfortunately.”

They were like two pale ghosts sitting in the shadows. Said one ghost
to the other: “But have you–are you a—-?” His tongue refused to
form either terrible word.

Leah unexpectedly flung up her arms with a scream, then brought two
shaking hands across her mouth to stifle that wild note of human pain.
Right and left, up and down, did she look, as though to be certain
that no one was within earshot but the vicar. “It will never do to let
the servants hear,” said the rapid action. Lionel’s benumbed brain
could not yet take in wholly the appalling truth–if truth it was. The
leper dropped her hands and looked at him heavily.

“You lying devil,” said Leah, slowly.

“What? what? what?” babbled Kaimes, incoherently.

She groaned and rocked with hands palm to palm between her knee. “I
will, be thou clean; I will, be thou clean.” Over and over again did
she moan the words, till they bored into the listener’s brain.

“God have mercy!” murmured the man, trying to be a man. The creeping
paralysis of the horror almost struck him dumb. But he managed by a
violent effort to wet his lips with a stiff tongue, and made it form
certain words: “Are you sure of this?”

“Three doctors,” went on the Duchess, rocking and droning as Demetrius
did aforetime–“three doctors, five doctors, eight doctors in all.
They said the same thing–ugh!–such a beastly thing! It was the
truth, though. Doctors never lie like parsons. And that Book with its
falsehoods–that—-” She lunged forward without rising, and grabbing
the Bible pitched it into the fire. Lionel snatched it from the
flames; Leah struck it from his hands; and then ensued a silent
struggle, uncanny, savage, in which some leaves were torn. All at once
she relaxed her grip and lay back crying quietly. “It’s a shame, a
shame!” she wept softly; “just when everything was going on so well.
And it can’t be cured; all the money in the world can’t cure me. I
must die–in bits”; her voice soared shrilly, and she crouched, as
though being beaten. “Ugh! That kiss, that beastly kiss!”

“Leah, how did you get this disease?”

The woman took no notice, but sprang up, as though moved by springs,
flinging wide her arms, and looking upward in wild rebellion. “I
won’t die–I won’t. I refuse to give in–I refuse”; she tore up and
down the room, speaking in angry undertones, as one always mindful of
possible listeners. “I have always had my own way!” was her whispered
argument–“always–always; why can’t I have it now? There can be
nothing up there; no, no–there can’t be. If He does exist He would
not have let me go so long on my own. I am strong–I have never met
any one stronger. I must win–I have always won. I will win!” her
voice rose tyrannically. “I am myself; who can be stronger than
myself? And yet this thing”–a strong shudder shook her into
weakness–“this vile–vile—- Ugh! ugh! I believe there must be
Something. Can you tell me, you–you who assume to know the secrets of
the stars?”

She lurched forward in a frenzy of deadly fear, cannoned against
Lionel, and dragged him down into his chair, clasping his knees, and
knocking her forehead against them. “Where is your Master?” she
whimpered. “Tell Him I’m sorry–really I am sorry. He may cure me
then, as He cured that man long ago. Gentle Jesus–the children call
Him so; He can’t be cruel to me–to me. He can’t be cruel to any one,
so they say–ah, they say, they say; but how do I know? It’s not true,
it isn’t true, and yet if it was–if it—- Lionel—-” She broke off
with the squall of a terrified child, hiding her eyes pitifully. “I’ll
be good–I’ll be good, if only–only He will do this! It’s a little
thing–oh, a very little thing. And you said that He could–that He,
your Master, I mean. Oh! oh! oh!” With sobbing breath she unwound her
arms and fell back beating the carpet with open palms. Murmurings went
rhythmically with the padding sound. “I want to be clean; I want to be
clean; I want to be clean.”

Kaimes tried to lift her. “Let me summon help.”

With a bound she was on her feet, pushing him back. “Do that and I
kill you,” she panted, clenching her hands and facing him furiously.
“No one knows but these doctors–yes, and Katinka, and that fiend
Demetrius. Strange also. If I had Strange here”– she hammered with
closed fists on the vicar’s shoulders–“I would cut him into bits; I
would blind him somehow; I would–I would–oh, what would I not do?
Why couldn’t he leave that infected beast to die in Siberia? Oh,
the–the–the—-” She poured forth a torrent of words, which made the
listener grow hot and cold with shame. Then again she collapsed as the
chill of a deadly fear struck at her heart. “I don’t want to die–I
don’t want to die!” and against the wall she rocked with arms held
crosswise over her eyes, swinging, ever swinging.

The scene was like a nightmare; but by this time Lionel had the grip
of his emotions. “Leah,” he said firmly, and advancing close to the
writhing creature, “you must tell your husband; you must—-”

Out came her arms with a circular swing, and struck him fair across
the eyes. “Jim doesn’t know; Jim must never know.”

He was almost blinded, but persisted. “Leah, something must be done.”

Her voice sank, and with it her rage. “Something must be done,” said
she, faintly–“something shall be done, and–soon.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, half under his breath, and half catching
at her intention.

She took no notice. “Sit down, please!” said Leah, quietly, and Kaimes
obeyed, since to summon assistance would only be to precipitate a
still more dreadful scene. The Duchess looked into the mirror and
arranged her hair; also she dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, and
smoothed her wrist-cuffs. When she did speak it was in the smooth
voice of a society hostess asking a visitor if he took sugar in his
tea. “I have made a fool of myself, Lionel. But you must admit that I
am rather severely tried just now.”

“Oh, you poor soul!” His tone and look were pitiful.

“Reserve your sympathy till you hear what I have to say. But first
tell me honestly, can Christ cure me?”

“Yes–if it is His Will.”

“Then let Him.”

“You must have Faith.”

“Faith in what?”

“In His power and Will to heal.”

“How can I believe, when I do not believe?”

“He died for you on the Cross.”

“He did not. That was purely a political matter because the Jews
feared the Romans. I have read Strauss; I have read Renan; the four
Gospels also: you can’t puzzle me. He was a good man, a very good
man–quite a saint, if you will. But–the Son of God?” She shook her
head with a hard frown of disbelief.

Lionel was at his wit’s end. “Then you cannot be cured?”

“No”; she looked at him steadily, an awful smile curving the corners
of her mouth. “I thought you would fail me at the last.”

“But how can I—-?”

“You can’t, so there’s no more to be said.” She sat down with a little
sigh. “Dear me, how very hot this room is! Would you mind opening the
window?”

Kaimes did not move. “Leah, go to bed, and let me send for one of
those doctors you consulted.”

“Useless! useless!” She waved him aside calmly. “They have spoken. I
know the worst; I am prepared to face the worst. Are you? Hold your
tongue,” she added peremptorily, as he opened his mouth. “Listen!”

From beginning to end did she relate the whole fraud–the sham death,
the stolen money, the betrayal, and the punishment of the kiss. Her
voice was perfectly calm, her posture easy, and her self-control
admirable. The listener grew white and red, became nervous and angry,
quivered with disgust, recoiled with loathing, as she unfolded the
brutal tale of her sin and treachery. Leah spared him no detail,
however painful; she even made herself out to be worse than she really
was–if that were possible. From the buying of Demetrius by that
butterfly kiss in the picture-gallery, to the revenge of Demetrius in
that stuffy cabin, when she struggled in the arms of one who had been
what she now was, she related the whole without a blush, without a
tremor, in a quiet, level voice, unmoved, and utterly shameless. The
horror of her position seemed to remove her from the region of human
emotions and morals. It was the unveiling of original evil.

Lionel did not interrupt, but closed his eyes with a sick feeling as
she drew to the end.

“I first noticed that something was wrong when my hands burned as I
washed them. I thought nothing of it at the time; but the feeling
became so painful that I saw my doctor. He said–well, you can guess
what he said. I consulted another, and another: the same diagnosis. I
went abroad, but the doctors in Germany and France told me the same
thing. I knew it was true. I felt in my heart it was true. Ugh!” She
paused. “There is no cure–none, none.” Then she finished, with a
nervous titter, “Pleasant for me, isn’t it?”

“Don’t!” gasped the vicar, leaning his head on his hand, and much too
qualmish to speak.

“Oh, you needn’t look like that. I have to suffer, not you. I kept
wondering how I got the beastly thing, and although I fancied it might
be that kiss, I could not be quite sure. Katinka enlightened me–she
was always a good-natured girl. After the death of that little
reptile, she returned to England and watched me. Seeing that I went to
doctors–she must have watched very closely–and then abroad, she
wrote a letter–such a nasty, spiteful letter. But I always thought
Katinka was a cat. Would you like to—-?”

“No, no; I have heard enough.”

“And you call yourself a man–pooh! You must hear. I learned from the
letter that Demetrius contracted the–the–well, what he suffered
from, amongst the natives of Kamchatka. He intended first to show me
up; but when that horrid girl told him how she had hurt my mouth, he
knew that by a kiss he could–ahr-r-r! He was a doctor, you see, and
the skin being broken, it was easy for him, knowing what he did, to do
what he wanted–the brute! That was why he kissed so hard, and—-”

“Stop! stop!”

“It is beastly, isn’t it? That’s all, I think.”

She was examining her finger-nails when next Lionel stole a glance at
her. He scarcely knew what to say. Her treachery and the result of her
treachery were both abominable. That a beautiful woman, gently born
and bred, should sin so vilely seemed incredible. For beautiful she
was, sitting there calmly under the uplifted sword of Azrael, the
Angel of Death; and vile she confessed herself to be. Yet he could
hardly accept either the physical degradation or the moral turpitude.

“You may be mistaken, after all,” he stammered vaguely.

“Because I am not an object,” she replied, with a shrug. “How like a
child you are to require proof! I don’t intend to become an object, I
can tell you.”

“But if there is no cure—-”

“There is another way. Of course, it is disagreeable, but what is one
to do in such straits?”

The vicar guessed her meaning, and violently threw off the weakness
with which her story had infected his manhood. “I forbid you to heap
crime upon crime,” said he, firmly and insistently.

“I shall do what I like. Do not dictate to me, if you please.”

“But God—-”

“I don’t believe in God.”

“You do; you must. Does not this shameful punishment which has
overtaken you in the hour of triumph declare the anger of a great and
terrible God.”

“No!” Her expression was mulish.

“Woman! woman! Kneel and ask for mercy.”

“I won’t ask for mercy when I’m being treated so badly. Never! never!
Just when things were going so smoothly, too; the money coming in by
the bushel, and Demetrius out of the way. I call it a shame; it’s
mean, spiteful, cruel. I intended to have such a jolly time, and
now–now—-” Her voice faltered and broke.

She swung with a groan to one side of the chair, hiding her face and
breathing heavily. That deadly fear of the inevitable would grip her,
do what she would.

“Leah”–Kaimes’ voice shook a trifle–“God is very good to you.”

Her eyes stared at him bleakly. “Very good?”

“We are put into this world, not for the pampering of the flesh, but
that we may learn through trouble how to become more spiritual. Our
souls are of God, and to God they must return, rising through much
tribulation to His necessary perfection. Sorrows are sent for the
flesh to bear; not as punishments, but as lessons to be learned. Of
our vices, says St. Augustine, we can frame a ladder to ascend
heavenward, if we but tread them beneath our feet. This you have never
known.”

“And I do not know it now.”

“From your dreadful trouble will come the knowledge; in this way alone
can humility come. God, out of loving pity for your unbending pride,
which prevents the Holy Spirit from entering your heart, has beaten
you to your knees. On your knees, then, ask for mercy, for light, for
purification of your unclean soul. God’s staff, which He gives to all
in life’s pilgrimage, has changed into a rod. He gave you all things,
and you used His gifts to glorify the flesh. Now in His infinite love
has He sent trouble—-”

“I’ve brought that upon myself.”

“For your amendment it was permitted that you should do so. Out of
your pleasant vices have you made whips to lash yourself. The wages of
sin is death; you have sinned, and the wages–oh, Leah, Leah, bitterly
cruel as it may seem to you, I rejoice that the wages should be so
paid.”

“You are a Job’s comforter, I must say,” said the Duchess, sullenly.

“Because I can see how this tribulation of the flesh can save your
soul alive. God might have struck you dead in your wickedness, and
with justice, for your wilful sin. Instead of doing so, He has given
you a lingering disease, that you should be brought to acknowledge His
power and also have time to repent.”

“There is nothing to repent of.”

“Shame! shame! Even from a worldly point of view you have sinned
grossly; how much blacker, then, are your deeds in God’s sight! But
they can be made white; the past can be wiped out by sincere sorrow.”

Leah twisted her hands above her head with a cry of impotent rage.
“How can I repent, when I do not even feel sorry?”

“You will not ask Christ to help you. Repentance is a gift, as is
Faith. He will give both, and His undying Love, if you will but
confess your sin.”

“I have done so–to you.”

“Who am powerless. Confess it to Christ; weep as did Mary at His
wounded feet. Hard as is your heart, He will melt it; soiled as is
your soul, He will cleanse it. Now–now, when human aid is vain, now
is the appointed time. Repent and be saved!”

“If I try to, will He–will He cure met”

“That question I cannot, dare not answer. His mercy is infinite.”

“You say that to me, knowing what I suffer.”

“I say it to you who suffer. In no other way could the Spirit have
brought you to the mercy-seat.”

“He has not brought me now,” she persisted obstinately.

Lionel fell on his knees and caught her restless hands.

“Oh, your poor, sinful soul, for which Christ died!” he cried
passionately; “to whom can you go but to God? Doctors cannot cure you;
He can, if it be His will. He may even make your flesh clean.”

“Ah! And that question you declined to answer a minute or two back.
Besides, you denied that miracles could take place.”

“I did not. No one ever came in vain to our Blessed Lord, when He
walked the earth some two thousand years ago. As was His power then,
so is it now. He loved in those days, He loves now. Sitting on God’s
right hand, He is ready to succour the vilest. His arm is not
shortened, His pity is not exhausted. In mercy He may even cure you of
this dreadful disease, as He cured the afflicted man we read of. Only
acknowledge that God is mightier than you are; only bow to the rod,
only admit your sin, only cry for pardon.”

“If He will cure me—-” she began, wavering.

“That you must leave to His love and wisdom. Cure you He may; permit
you to suffer, He may see fit. But save your soul, He can. That much I
can swear to.”

“I want this horrible thing cured,” she cried passionately.

“To continue in your sins? To soil your soul anew?”

“No! no! If I repent—-”

“Repentance includes submission. God may not see fit to cure you; it
may be your punishment–and I think it is–to bear this woeful cross,
which if rightly borne may lead you to the light of lights. The flesh!
The flesh! You but think of the flesh, of the passing world, of the
vanities of life, of the enjoyment of the senses. From these things
God would lead you away to contemplate spiritual realities, and the
appointed path has been made known. Bear your cross–oh, my dear, bear
your cross, and endure to the end that you may be saved. Terrible as
it may seem, this evil, whence good will arise, has removed you from
temptation. If you live secluded—-”

“Dying piecemeal,” she cried, in a frenzy of anger, and wrenched away
her hands. “No, no; I will not live. I will die–die. At least I can
do that.”

“As did Judas! Leah, if you cannot bear your punishment in the flesh,
how will you endure it in the spirit? Live for Christ, and what
matters the world?”

“Everything! everything! I know what I am; I do not know what I may
be. Here–in this tangible world–we are safe–safe!”

“From God? Can you say that, when His hand has struck you down? I tell
you, poor sinner, that thus does He show His mercy. As is your crime,
so must be your punishment. But Christ can pardon your iniquities, and
Christ will, if you only plead for mercy and for grace.”

Leah rose, crimson with rage. “You’ll drive me mad. I don’t want your
spiritual life, your next world of shadows and moonshine. Give me
life–life–life!”

The cry of the flesh was so insistent, so futile, so blind in its
desire, that Lionel shuddered. Still on his knees, he began a fervent
prayer. The miserable woman walked rebelliously up and down the room,
fighting against the conviction now slowly being driven home to her
understanding, that He whom she had mocked and defied was indeed the
Most High God. But she still fought against a submission she knew well
would have to be made. Beg for mercy she would not: her heart could
not feel, her intelligence could not grasp. But, somehow, she knew. A
dreadful thing had reduced her to impotence, and the ego could not
battle against the Something it had hitherto flouted, but now
furiously admitted might exist.

There remained but one thing to do, but one dark way to take. Do it
and take it she would. But Lionel more than suspected her intention.
Lionel would thwart her, and she would be compelled to live–live on,
an object of disgust and pity. “No! no!” was her inward cry, as the
imploring voice of the vicar rose and fell, and died away in a last
tremulous Amen. For the last time, therefore, did she set her wits to
plot for the ego.

“Lionel,” said she, hesitatingly, “will you send for Jim?”

The vicar’s face lighted up. He saw in this request what she meant him
to see, a sign of yielding. “You will let me tell him?”

Leah nodded. “There is a doctor in Vienna,” she whispered, inventing
recklessly with the cunning of one driven to bay; “he has found out a
cure, I hear. If Jim will take me over—-”

“I’ll telegraph to Hengist Castle at once,” cried Kaimes, making for
the door impetuously.

“And come back to dinner,” said she, following, “I can’t pass the
evening alone.”

“I shall come.”

“But you won’t frighten me any more with this religious talk?”

Lionel pressed her hand sadly. “I have done what I could, Leah. Only
the Holy Spirit can bring home conviction to your heart. Try and
pray.”

“Yes,” assented the Duchess, submissively; “it is all that is left.”

“Then the better part, which cannot be taken away, is left.”

He went away quite deceived, since she had suggested the Viennese
physician so calmly. He thought that she still hoped desperately, and
for all he knew the hope might be fulfilled, seeing the present-day
resources of science. Certainly he never dreamed how she had
hoodwinked him, and so sped on his errand of mercy, leaving behind him
a woman too broken to exult in the success of her final piece of
trickery.

It was all over. Man could do nothing; God would do nothing. As
Demetrius had been smitten for the crime she had induced him to
commit, so was she being punished for the evil she had called into
being. Lionel had talked nonsense, of course; but he left behind him a
feeling in her mind that the God he worshipped did exist. How the
belief had come into her heart, she could not say; but it was
certainly there. Try as she might, with all the strength of her
brilliant intellect, she knew that never again could she be an
atheist. God existed to her comprehension at last. But the
newly-conceived Deity was not the Father of love and light. Rather did
He appear an omnipotent tyrant, who had driven her to bad courses by
giving her tastes she was unable to satisfy, and who now punished her
for acting as the nature He had given her dictated. She was like a
mouse in the claws of a cat, and could no more escape than could the
tormented little beast. Only to the height of acknowledging that
Something much stronger than herself existed could she rise; and her
submission was as that of Caliban to Prospero. Wrenched violently from
the egotistic wrappings of her soul, she–the true self, the immortal
spirit–stood naked and shamed, yet defiant. She submitted, because
only submission was left. But all her flesh shouted furiously against
its victor.

Then, again, as the tormented soul strove to overcome the lower
material self, did she recall Lionel’s words. God was love, he
declared, and in love had God broken her shield of self, snapped her
sword of desire. Certainly, now that this world could do nothing for
her, she would be forced to seek the other. There she might learn how
to rise from darkness into light. That the spiritual existed she was
now reluctantly convinced; that a study of its meaning would bring her
peace she could not be certain. Of course, it was early days yet. She
had gained a great step by the admission that God reigned, even though
He had proved it to her so cruelly. It might be that by endless
striving she would learn something of His love before Death ended her
intolerable sufferings. God ordered her to fly; was it worth while to
trust to Him for wings?

The struggle of the soul wavering between hell and heaven might have
ended in the victory of the latter, and Leah might have consented with
bitter tears to bear the cross laid upon her shrinking shoulders. But
while wearily pacing the room a chance glance showed her in the mirror
that beauty of which she had been, and was, so proud. Leaning her arms
on the mantelpiece, she examined every detail lovingly and long. Could
she bear to see that gradually disappear? Could she accept life as a
Thing and not as a Being? Those blue eyes would grow dull and animal;
that glorious hair would drop off; that complexion of cream and roses
would–would—- Ugh! ugh!

“No! no! no!” The rebellious cry of the flesh ascended to the stars.
“It must never be–never.”

All that she knew herself to be revolted against the slow wasting
agony that would most surely come, to reduce that splendour of her
beautiful body to the dust, dishonoured and shamed. To save herself
from such infamy it but needed an overdose of chloral. Then in the
pride of her loveliness she would pass away painlessly, without
disfigurement, triumphant in a minor degree, at least. With all the
indomitable strength of a will that had been only thwarted by Him who
had created that will, did she resolve to snatch this one poor
laurel-leaf from the Almighty Victor. Turning from the mirror, she
felt that her mind was steeled, that Self was not entirely defeated.
After all, her unconquerable will would win.

“To-night,” she whispered to her shivering soul, “when I go to bed. An
overdose of chloral, and then, when I awaken—-” She stopped, with
the chills of death at her heart. “Oh,” was her despairing admission;
“You are the stronger!”

It was the cry of the flesh making sullen submission. In vain did the
soul piteously beg that its tabernacle might yet hold it a little
while, for the purging of its sin. The flesh would not hear. Beaten,
conquered, shamed, tormented, its petty triumph could yet be obtained
in this hour of defeat. And the terrified soul, sobbing unheeded,
waited for the rapidly approaching hour which would send it forth
disembodied–whither?