It will ease my mind

Even the skilful find it no easy matter to drive a kicking, squealing
team. The off-horse must be flicked into decorum, the near leader
soothed, the wheelers, bearing the heat and burden of the day,
encouraged into pulling with a will. Then, a deft hand on tugging
reins, a quick eye for the deviations of the road, some knowledge of
mouths, tender and hard, and manifestations of that will which makes
of vehicle and quadrupeds a coherent whole–these things must be
attributes of the god in the car. Likewise of the “Dea ex machina,”
although Lady Jim was in and not out of the vehicle. Enthroned with
whip and ribbons, she drove a team of five. And in the odd number lay
the difficulty of bringing the car of Destiny to the selected stables.

For by this time, rejecting an overruling Providence other than the
fetish, who was a domestic god and biased, Leah looked upon herself as
her own omnipotent and triumphing Destiny. She would, so she decided,
expunge Jim, utilise Askew and Katinka, obliterate Demetrius, and
assist Muscovite politics through Aksakoff. This team, in harness, and
rendered obedient by blinkers, she controlled with considerable
judgment, and made, single-hearted, for her goal. That the actual
Destiny, whose rôle she affected to play, might upset her
smoothly-running chariot by a judiciously placed and unlooked-for
stone, she never paused to consider. So far as she could see, the
course was clear to the prize–a money-bag, which she would seize as a
victorious widow of the wrong sort.

Askew was the odd animal of the team, the fifth wheel on her chariot,
though he was less like a horse than a troublesome and over-faithful
dog. Notwithstanding her prohibition, he invaded San Remo, played a
most exasperating Patience on a monument along the promenade, and
dodged her angry eyes round convenient street-corners. She could not
go abroad but what he turned up in unexpected quarters, nor could she
remain at home without his appearing, to excuse, on frivolous
pretexts, a wholly unnecessary visit. Luckily, the Hengists approved
of his frank looks and modest manners, else she might have been
compromised. Even in easy-going Italy such cicisbeism was annoying.

Later, Lady Jim returned to London, for that season invented by man,
and left him to kick his heels in cross isolation. But, even before
the Curzon Street house could be warmed, he rang the bell, and
presented himself in the character of a martyr. For the sake of the
future Leah kept him in the team, but she gave him more of the whip
than he liked, and also–ironically–a marked almanack, limiting his
visits. But that she had some liking for him, and much use, she would
have bundled him into the arms of the fixture, with strict orders to
give those same arms a legal right to embrace him for ever. But Askew
himself put an end to that chance of being safely bestowed.

“What will Marjory say if you make my house your hotel?” she asked,
when he appeared on the fifth day of the week for the eighth time, and
at afternoon tea, too, when she, with a hard day’s pleasure behind
her, was recruiting for the night’s fatigue.

“Nothing,” he asserted, sulkily and guiltily; “she has no right to
control my actions.”

“That depends upon your feelings towards your future wife.”

“She is not my–I mean, we have broken it off.”

“What!” Lady Jim was frankly exasperated. She as a married woman, and
he as an engaged man, could platonise to any extent; but he free, and
she shortly to be a widow–what then? She would no more make him her
husband than she would allow Demetrius to lead her to the altar. And
here he was, selfishly placing himself in an eligible position for the
very matrimony she declined to contemplate.

“Marjory and I decided we were not suited,” he explained, but timidly,
because her eyes flashed. “She takes half the income, and marries that
fox-hunting ass. I am free with the rest of the money”; he waited for
congratulations which never came. “I thought you would be pleased,” he
blundered.

“And pray why should I be pleased?”

“I believed–I fancied–you–you liked me,” he stuttered, growing red.

“Tolerably–as an engaged man.”

“Then you’ve been playing with me?” he cried; “you don’t love me?”

“Did I ever tell you so?”

“No; but I thought—-”

“Your vanity thought! Go on.”

“Oh, Leah—-”

“Kaimes–which is my married name.”

Askew gasped. Her amazing impudence reduced him to staring silence.
She had lured him to her feet with sweet looks and significant smiles
and cooing words, till he had been deceived into thinking that her
passion was as strong and as true as his own. Now she reminded him
that she was–married. “Oh!” he gasped again, and Lady Jim laughed
shortly. Her cat-nature was enjoying this mouse-play.

Visitors had come and gone, and they were alone in the dainty
drawing-room, with an untidy tea-table. Askew, having escorted her
home from Ranelagh, had waited for an hour with stubborn patience for
this solitude of two. His end had been gained, and now–he looked
helplessly round, as though seeking for some third person to explain
if his charmer were a demon or a woman. “Oh!” he said, once more.

“Nearly six,” said Leah, consulting her bracelet. “How long do you
intend to stand there saying ‘Oh!’?” and she mimicked him.

“Leah!”

“Lady James Kaimes!”

“Not even Lady Jim,” he said, clenching his brown hands. “Oh,
you–you—-” His voice became inarticulate with sheer anger.

“Pray consider that you are in my house,” she reminded him coldly.

“I’ll never come here again.”

“That is as you choose.”

“But I can’t live without you.”

“How flattering!”

“And I won’t”; he came a step nearer the low chair in which she sat,
but her derisive laugh made him pause. “Leah–I–I–love you!” His
voice broke, and he stretched out his arms.

“I saw that ages ago.”

“Then why did you—-did you?” He stopped, and looked at her with
imploring eyes. “I thought you loved me,” he murmured, choking.

“Oh, you thought!” said she, ironically.

“Is it not true? Have I been deceived? No!” he flung out a beseeching
hand; “don’t speak–I cannot bear to hear the truth. Let me go–let me
go,” he stumbled towards the door, blindly. “You have broken my heart;
but I’ll go away–far away–to South America, and–and–oh, my God!”
he leaned against the wall and covered his face with his hands.

Lady Jim might have been in the stalls of a theatre for all the
personal feeling she had hitherto shown. But his last words brought
self uppermost. If he went to South America, he would certainly see
Lola Fajardo, and, possibly, might come face to face with Jim.
Recognition of an admitted corpse would spoil Jim’s game and her own.
Askew, for she put herself in his place, would certainly make things
unpleasant, and she did not wish to provide a scandal in high life for
circulating extra editions of newspapers during the silly season.
Besides, he was really a nice boy, and she would miss his good looks
and canine attentions. Both circumstances and inclinations demanded
that she should keep him under her eye. An explanation came to her
while he sobbed at the door–looking very ridiculous, she thought–and
she made use of it, to soothe his sorrow and save herself.

“You silly boy,” she began, and the beginning produced an effect she
was far from foreseeing.

“Silly! Yes, I am silly,” he admitted between his teeth, and flinging
back his head to regard her with fierce, wet eyes. “I am silly to have
believed in you and in your false affection”; before she could protest
against this language–she had risen to do so–he hurled himself
across the room, and gripped her wrists so tightly that she could have
screamed with pain. “You shan’t treat me in this way–do you hear, you
shan’t. I’m not going to be whistled to your feet like a dog and then
kicked aside. Married! Yes, you are married, as you were when you
whistled. But hang your husband and damn your husband–he has no claim
on you, other than a legal one. Mine you are, and mine you shall be. I
tell you, Leah”–he shook her in his anger–“that you must leave this
man, and come with me. You must–you must!”–he dragged her hands to
his breast–“you shall!”

“Harry!” She gasped his name in sheer surprise.

“Yes. Harry–the fool, if you will; the man, as you shall find.”

“How–how dare you?”

“Because I do dare, and I shall dare more, if you play football with
my heart. Why couldn’t you leave me alone? Why couldn’t you stick to
the man whose name you bear? Don’t struggle, for you shan’t be free
till I have had my say out. You made me love you–now I shall make you
love me. You and your society rubbish, and gimcrack rules, and polite
lies, and make-believe of truth! You with–ah-r-r-r!” he shook her
again–“you over-civilised coquette, you Circe-of-many-wiles, you ruin
of honest men! Do you think that I, who am flesh and blood, care for
your lady and gentleman humbug? No, no! I am a man, you a woman, and
we are one; you hear–one. If not, I’ll put a bullet in your head and
another through my own. You have fooled many, you shan’t fool me.
There!” ha flung her roughly from him; “now you can ring for your
servants, to put me to the door.”

With bruised wrists and wide-open eyes Leah stood dumfoundered. Jim,
at his worst, had never been like this. If he had been she would have
truly loved him. At the moment she very nearly loved Askew,
recognising in his outburst that masterful nature which every woman
adores and succumbs to. In spite of her dexterity in playing with
amorous fire, it really seemed as though she was burning her fingers
on this occasion. Naturally, she enjoyed the experience. This
reversion to cave-life thrilled her pulses. Had Leah been capable of
loving anything with a beard she would have then and there fallen at
Askew’s feet and implored him to trample on her. But her absolute
ignorance of the strongest of passions, save self-love, snatched the
victory in–what would have been to an ordinary woman–the hour of
defeat.

“Well,” she said, admiration struggling with anger, “you are a brute!”

The man, still panting from conflicting passions, acted strangely and
foolishly, as men do at crucial moments. He smoothed his hair,
arranged his tie, and pulled down his waistcoat, not looking at her
but into a near mirror. Yet he saw her astonished face at second hand,
and smiled grimly.

“I can be a brute,” said he, ominously quiet; “but you haven’t seen me
at my worst yet.”

“Good heavens!” This was undoubtedly a man–_the_ man–the dominating
male, the genuine lord of creation, whose animal honesty can rend the
cobweb entanglements of the female sex, and does rend them, when the
bandage of love inopportunely slips. Defiance would not lure him again
to his proper position at her feet; and she was half afraid of the
might her trickiness had evoked. But in woman’s weakness lies woman’s
strength, and Delilah pulled down the corners of her mouth to
subjugate Samson.

“My poor wrists!” she murmured.

Askew wheeled from the mirror, shied, and winced; but his mouth and
eyebrows were still three straight lines.

“My poor wrists!” reiterated the temptress, moving towards her
pre-historic man; “see–you have bruised them.”

He could see that he had; they were under his eyes, under his very
nose, but he threw aside his head, with the modern equivalent of a
word which a cave-man might have used in some such plight. Adam was
weakened into aggressive firmness.

Eve offered a more tempting apple. “If you really loved me”–tears
emphasised the murmur.

“Leah–darling!”

He was again in the toils, and kissing the bruised skin madly, with
feverish lips. “How could I be so cruel?” he mumbled, and slipped to
her victorious feet. “Oh! oh! oh!” in three distinct keys. “Forgive.”

“If you will promise not to leave me,” she whispered tenderly.

“Never! never! never! never!” a kiss on alternate hands for each word.

Circe’s magic having evoked the brute, she knew thoroughly the sort of
animal she had to deal with. Considering that she had no feeling of
love, or even pity, to create fervour, Leah acted admirably. Cooing
like a mother over her babe, and with a seraphic look, she bent above
the tame animal, less to caress him than to make sure that the halter
was round his neck.

“You foolish, hot-headed boy! Do get up and talk sensibly!”

The subjugated obeyed meekly, all the fire out of his veins, and sat
like a whipped schoolboy in a distant chair, which she indicated with
regal indignation. “For,” said Leah, as if she were announcing an
entirely new fact, “I am a married woman”; and she slipped behind the
tea-table to prevent further demonstrations.

“As if I didn’t know,” sighed Askew, disconsolately.

“Then why did you behave so badly, you wicked boy?”

“Because jewellers’ windows are tempting.”

“Jewellers’ windows?”

“You look into them, and see pretty things you can’t buy. Naturally, a
fellow wants to smash the glass and—-”

“I understand the parable. But a thief has to reckon with the law, and
so has a married woman. You would not like to see me divorced, Harry?”

“I would like to see you my wife,” he retorted, evasively and
stubbornly.

“Impossible! I am already a wife. If I eloped with you, what respect
could you have for me?

“I should have whatever you liked, including you.”

“Which I don’t like, and won’t give,” said Leah, indignantly. “In you
I looked to find a friend, and I find nothing but ungoverned passion,
that would drag the object of his adoration in the mud. Oh! oh!”–out
came the inevitable handkerchief–“how I have been deceived!”

By this time, the brute, with a penitent tail between its legs, was
beginning to believe itself entirely in the wrong. Lady Jim, seeing
this, became more than ever a tender woman. “I forgive you,” she
declared, plaintively, from behind a handkerchief mopping dry eyes;
“this scene will be as though it had never been.”

“But my feelings,” rebelled the cave-man, sulkily.

“Will always be those of sacred friendship for a much-tried woman.”

“How can they be, when—-?”

“When you have made such a fool of yourself? Ah, my poor Harry, forget
your folly. Remember only that I forgive you.”

“I don’t exactly mean that,” grumbled poor Harry, scenting
sophistry, but unable to prevent the war being carried into his camp.
“You–well—-you see Oh, hang it, Leah, you know that I love you.”

“Not with that true love which is at once tender and respectful.”

These sentiments were really noble, but somehow the bewildered man was
not in the mood for copy-book philosophy. “You offer me a stone and
call it a beautiful loaf,” said he, bitterly, and with heat.

“Another parable! How biblical you are becoming!” said Lady Jim,
desperately weary and with her eye on the clock. “I do not understand,
nor do you, my poor boy.”

“I understand that you have made a fool of me,” he snapped brusquely.

“Oh no! Nature has been beforehand there,” she retorted, beginning to
lose her temper with a man who would explain. “Don’t be silly, Harry!
Go home, and think of our future.”

“_Our_ future!” He leaped to his feet with a shining face.

Leah regretted the misused pronoun, and began to anticipate renewed
melodrama. But her little tin god, pitying a votary whose nerves were
jangled by stupid honesty, sent a seasonable visitor.

“His Grace the Duke of Pentland,” announced a grandiloquent footman,
flinging wide the door.

“Don’t look so disgusted!” Leah flung an angry whisper in Askew’s
lowering face as she sailed forward to meet her father-in-law. “How
are you, Duke? This is a surprise–a delightful one, of course. I
never expected so pleasant a visitor.”

The room was tolerably dim, and the Duke had not the keen sight of his
youth. “Mr.–Mr.—-!” hesitated His Grace.

“Mr. Askew,” chimed in Lady Jim, glad that the mask of twilight was on
the younger man’s very cross face. “He’s just going. You know Mr.
Askew, of course, Duke. I met him at Firmingham. Must you really go,
Mr. Askew? So sorry! We may meet at Lady Quain’s to-night–I look in
there for half an hour. Good-bye for the present. So kind of you to
see me home from Ranelagh! Very dull, wasn’t it?” and, rattling on to
drown any too tender word he might let slip, she hustled him to the
door.

“Our future!” breathed the inconvenient third, opening the gate of
paradise most reluctantly.

“Even the brutes have instincts, if not sense,” snapped Lady Jim,
scathingly, and Adam, without Eve, took his solitary way down the
stairs, to be dismissed into a cheerless world by an indifferent
footman.

To prevent interruption, Leah closed the door herself, and switched on
the electrics, before she returned to her untimely visitor.

“Will you be long, Duke?” she asked, again consulting the clock. “I
have to dress for dinner. Mrs. Martin’s, you know: a stupid woman with
a bad cook. Such a bore!”

“I wonder you care to see people when Jim’s away,” said Pentland,
fretfully, and she noted suddenly his aged looks.

Lady Jim felt inclined to retort with the proverb of the absent cat
and the jubilant mice, but she really felt sorry for the old man’s
drooping mouth and additional wrinkles.

“I won’t see any one, if you like, Duke–I’m sure it’s no pleasure to
make conversation without ideas. Do let me ring for hot tea–you look
so tired. Sit down in this chair–and the cushion–there!” She made
him comfortable with genuine womanly sympathy, wondering, meanwhile,
what was ageing him.

“No tea, my dear. I can only wait for a few minutes; my carriage is
below. Tired? Yes, I am very tired; worried, also.”

“Nothing wrong, I hope,” murmured Leah, sympathetically.

“Jim, my dear–poor Jim! Have you heard about his health lately?”

“Oh yes! Last week I received a few lines, and he said that he felt
ever so much better. His cough is almost gone.”

“Ah,” said Pentland, sadly; “like all consumptives, he is too
hopeful.”

Leah became nervous and anxious. Had Jim been obliterated at last?
“What is it?” she demanded irritably. “Is he–is he?” her tongue could
not form the lying word.

“Worse–yes, much worse,” said the Duke, rubbing his forehead and
producing a letter. “This is from Demetrius. We may expect–oh, my
poor son!” and he almost broke down.

“I don’t trust these doctors,” remarked Lady Jim, skimming the letter
with a feeling that Demetrius was really too imaginative. “They always
shout wolf, when the animal is miles away. Don’t worry.”

“But you see, Demetrius says that poor Jim may go off at any
moment–and Demetrius is a clever man.”

“He may be mistaken. I have heard of surprising recoveries.”

Pentland shook his head, and groaned. “Not Jim. I had a conviction
that I should never see him again when we parted in this very room.”

“It’s absurd!” argued Leah, artfully. “Jim was quite well till he
caught that stupid cold at Firmingham. Why should he go off suddenly?”

“What they call galloping consumption is—-”

“I can’t believe it. Nothing would surprise me more than to hear of
Jim’s death”; and she soothed her conscience with the reflection that
this speech was perfectly true, considering Jim had the strength of a
bull and the appetite of a shark.

“If I lose him—-”

“You won’t lose him. I’ll send a cable to Demetrius, and if Jim is
really so sick, I’ll go out and nurse him.”

Pentland’s face lighted up, and he pressed her hand. “How good of you,
my dear! It will ease my mind; but–” he hesitated–“I never thought
you cared enough about Jim to inconvenience yourself.”

“Jim has given me very little reason to care for him,” said Leah, with
some bitterness. “If he had been a better husband, I should have been
a different woman”; she used the stale argument tactfully and
regretfully.

“Yes–er–I’m afraid that’s true,” said the Duke, recalling his son’s
peccability; “but he is so ill. Forgive and forget, Leah.”

“For your sake, if not for Jim’s,” she said gracefully. “I’ll send the
cable this very night.”

And she did. When Pentland, overflowing with outspoken approbation of
her correct conduct, took his leave, she went to her desk and hunted
out a cypher with which Demetrius had supplied her. It would not do to
let the postal authorities know of their schemes, and the cypher was a
particularly intricate one. Leah spent an hour in concocting her
cablegram, and was late for dinner in consequence. But she had a good
appetite, all the same, in spite of the bad food and the dull
conversation. For, on their way to Kingston, Jamaica, were a few lines
in cypher, a translation of which would have been of great interest to
the father-in-law, who thought her so womanly and good.

“Duke wants me to nurse Jim,” ran the cypher, when Demetrius used the
key. “Wire that there is no need.”

If Jim had really been dying, she would not have altered a single
word.