Jim would have

There are periods in the growth of a tree when the sap, unable to
circulate freely, coagulates into knots and protuberances. Leah had
heard some empirical dabbler in science say as much, and recognised it
as a truthful symbol of her existence for the twelve months following
Jim’s return. There was certainly a knot in her life, for somehow, in
an unaccountable way, things seemed to be at a standstill. Before
intermeddling with criminal matters she had indulged her senses in
every possible way, and now that she had receded within the legal
limits of action, she was prepared to indulge them again. To her
surprise, they did not respond, and she discovered that the nursery
stage of enjoyment had been passed. That intermezzo of fierce
endeavour, of scheming and fighting, of dancing on the edge of a
precipice, and of wandering in perilous ways, had ruined her for
untroubled days and comfortable nights. While battling with desperate
fortunes she had detested the storm and necessary stress of the
encounter; now she longed to set her forces in array once more and
dare the worst. The salt had lost its savour, and her vitiated palate
demanded pepper–red pepper, hot and biting–to flavour the good
things ready for her eating at life’s banquet.

But Leah found, as many had done before her, that desire is better
than success, that there is more zest in striving than in attaining.
She had longed for ample funds, and since she possessed full control
of the Pentland income this longing was almost, but not quite,
satisfied. Nevertheless, her soul was hungry still. She bought
everything she fancied, and scarcely cast a look on her most costly
and attractive purchases. She travelled with the luxurious
surroundings of a queen, and only felt bored; she stopped at home, and
yawned incessantly twice round the clock. She would have willingly
remunerated the inventor of a new pleasure, but like Xerxes, she could
not find so imaginative a man. It was truly lamentable to think that
she should possess the moon she had cried for, only to find it was but
a used-up world.

Jim, on the contrary, flourished healthily under his strawberry
leaves, and this best-of-all-possible-world satisfaction added to his
wife’s exasperation. Daily he grew stouter and more plethoric, daily
he made the same stupid observations, and daily he indulged in the
gross material pleasures dear to his infinitesimal soul, which was
being smothered in superabundant flesh.

“You are like a pig removed into a new sty,” his wife scornfully
informed him.

“Not a bad sty,” answered the Duke, looking round the room.

“Good enough for middle-class people, but not for us, Jim. We are
desperately poor as Duke and Duchess.”

“That’s so, Leah; but you spend most of the income.”

“I have a right to. Don’t forget what I have done for you.”

“You give me no chance,” said her husband, bitterly. “Every time we
have a row you mention things that needn’t be mentioned. And after
all, Leah, you got me back for your own convenience.”

“I am not so sure of that. I wish now that I had kept the thirty
thousand which we had to pay back, and had let you remain where you
were.”

“On board Strange’s odd-job steamer? It wasn’t so bad, though I was
chained by the leg. I learnt a lot about engines there; used to watch
’em when she was bumping through hurricanes. They were triple
expansion, too. It was fun to watch the old Scotch engineer with his
hand on the throttle-valve, and hear him curse when the screw leaped
sky-high to race like a motor. I’ve had worse times–much worse.”

He spoke with more animation than usual, and Leah sympathised with his
enthusiasm. She also would have enjoyed herself on a rotten hulk with
doubtful engines and an hourly chance of going down into the great
green seas; the excitement would have been intense, and the death a
clean one. Perhaps Jim had forgotten the softer emotions of man when
the tramp stormed north with every rivet in her hull straining for
dispersion. She wondered. “I suppose you missed Señorita Fajardo
then?”

“No; curiously enough, I didn’t. There was too much fun in thinkin’
what would come next to bother about her. I’m a bit of a philosopher,
Leah, an’ when I can’t get cake I chew bread. Now I’ve got the cake
I’m enjoyin’ it.”

“And eating too much of it. Look how stout yon are getting.”

“Respectable men always get stout when they grow old.”

“You are not old.”

“I’m a bit elderly. Somehow I don’t enjoy larks so much as I used to,”
mused Jim, thoughtfully–“sign of age, I suppose. But I daresay I’ll
get some sort of fun out of life, an’ maybe will need old Jarvey
Peel’s money at sixty. It’ll be more than thirty thousand by then.”

“Less the six thousand you paid Strange,” said his Duchess, cruelly.

Jim winced. “Bit of a pull, that–hey! Nice fancy price I’ve had to
pay for your fun, Leah.”

“It was to bring you back.”

“To make you a Duchess, you mean.”

“One would think you were middle class to hear you talk of titles in
that respectful way. Who bothers about such things nowadays? I have
been bored to death since Strange’s blackmail turned you into a pauper
Duke.”

Her husband made a grimace at this very plain speaking. “I wish you
wouldn’t talk like that, Leah. Hang it, I thought you really loved me
when you fainted on my return.”

“All acting, my good man,” she assured him, annoyed by his recalling
that twelve-month-old weakness. “I had to impress the family somehow.”

“Then you don’t love me?” said Jim, slowly.

“What a question to ask after nearly seven years of married life.”

“But I’m respectable now,” urged Jim, setting forth the contents of
the new page he had turned over. “I don’t race or bet overmuch, an’
never look at a pretty woman. I go to church, an’ sit in the Lords,
an’ take the chair at charity dinners, an’—-”

“You do that last because you love eating. All the charity funds are
spent on the victuals, and the poor get about a penny in the collected
pounds. Oh, you are quite a model, Jim, and so dull.”

This is but a sample of the few conversations the ducal pair allowed
themselves, for they did not foregather with any enthusiasm. For
propriety’s sake the Duke and Duchess of Pentland were seen together
at the few functions they could attend during the months of mourning;
their home life was outwardly harmonious, and the crying down of a
grass-widow which had been heard during those weeks of suspense
following Strange’s arrest had changed to crying up, when it was seen
how very correctly the new Duchess behaved. Therefore they saw one
another only officially, save on rare occasions. Leah found Jim dull,
as she had frankly told him, and he winced always at his wife’s
tongue, which had lost none of its cutting power. Even his stupid
brain grasped the fact that she was changed, though in what way he
could not exactly say. She was certainly restless, and his bovine
contentment with things-as-they-are could not understand this phase.
Also she was dissatisfied, although she had secured all she had wanted
by almost a miracle.

“Rum creatures, women,” soliloquised the philosopher, sauntering to
his club. “If you gave ’em the solar system to play with they’d howl
for the universe,” which was a high flight for Jim to take in the way
of metaphor.

Leah sometimes thought that the long period of mourning might have
darkened her outlook on life. She and Jim were forced by a
ridiculously particular world to live quietly, and she could not
indulge herself to the full. A constant succession of black dresses
palled on one fond of colours, and custom forbade her filling the
various ducal residences with amusing people, who in any case were
almost impossible to find. Then, as Leah stated, they were really
poor, considering the title. What with regiments of servants and the
stately mansions which housed them, the horses and carriages, and
motors, and rents and taxes, and unnecessary personal expenditure, and
equally unnecessary charities, it was truly difficult to make two
aristocratic ends meet. The Duchess of Pentland had to contrive and
arrange almost as much as had Lady Jim. From two thousand a year to
twenty-five times that amount seems a large jump, but the title
nullified the value of the estates. Leah ardently prayed that the
fetish would increase the incoming and decrease the outgoing, but her
Baal seemed to think that it had done enough, even for so devout a
woman. “Am I never going to have a good time?” wailed Leah. Later she
found that the wail was unnecessary, for the fetish pitied his
worshipper and granted her prayer. Coal of the best quality was found
on a Welsh property of the Kaimes family, and Hall prophesied that in
a year or two the ducal income would be doubled. Leah took heart at
this sign of grace, as one really could manage pretty well on one
hundred thousand a year. But a pound a minute was Leah’s idea of a
moderate income, and then she would have grumbled that each hour only
brought her in sixty sovereigns. However, she decided to spend what
she had and what was coming along from the coal to the last farthing,
and arranged when the year of sorrow was ended–as it now was–to take
her place in the very gayest of society. She would be presented again
this season according to custom, and then would see about exhausting
the most advanced pleasures of a civilisation that could not do enough
for one of her greedy appetite. This she told to Lady Canvey.

“That is a mistake,” rejoined the sagacious octogenarian, who was a
year older in body and a year younger in brain. “If you exhaust
everything in this world, nothing will be left for you but to try the
next. And I don’t think you are quite prepared for that, my dear.”

“Perhaps not. I never set up for being a saint.”

“No. That is a pleasure you have not yet exhausted. Why not try it?”

“Because I am no hypocrite. What is the use of pretending to be
goody-goody, when you are not?”

“Saints are holy, not goody-goody.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“It might be with you, certainly. But you are not the sort to be
canonised.”

“Well, I don’t know. A sinner is the raw material out of which a saint
is manufactured. You can’t be really good, unless you have been really
very bad.”

“That is useful information,” said Lady Canvey, dryly; “and very
encouraging to people like yourself. You might make an attempt at
being Saint Leah or Saint Jezebel.”

“Lady Canvey!”

“Oh,” the old dame chuckled, “then you do know something of
Scripture.”

“Yes, but I don’t quote it to annoy other people.”

“Your tongue is quite clever enough to do without such aid, my dear.
And don’t lose your temper–I am only talking for your good.”

“Disagreeable conversations are always prefaced by that remark. Yes?”

“I was thinking you might begin on your saintly career by endowing a
church with this coal money. They build churches very cheap nowadays.
You can have one of red brick, and—-”

“There are too many churches, and too few worshippers,” interrupted
the Duchess, with a shrug; “besides, I propose to endow myself with
the coal money. I daresay I shall give fifty pounds or so to Lionel
for his paupers.”

“You must not ruin yourself, my dear,” said Lady Canvey, with
affectionate spite. “I thought that Lionel, as a married man, and the
Vicar of Firmingham, had nothing to do with paupers. There are none in
the parish there–at least, there were none in Pentland’s time,” she
ended with emphasis.

“I suppose you mean to hint that Jim is stopping his charities and
putting on the screw. Don’t distress yourself, godmother; everything
is as it was, save that our tenants and villagers are more gorged and
much more impudent. Lionel doesn’t appreciate the godliness of his
heritage, because his parishioners pay their rents regularly and come
to church without the whip. They are so pious that his occupation is
gone.”

“That would not suit an energetic Christian like Lionel.”

“It doesn’t. He and Joan take pleasure trips into the Lambeth slums
and ask seedy ruffians to stay with them in the country. What with
converted burglars and wives who assure you they haven’t been beaten
for weeks, the place is quite a Whitechapel Paradise. Lionel preaches
to the ruffians, and Joan listens to the wives with whole skins. I
believe they join forces to wash the children. Oh, they have
rollicking times at Firmingham Vicarage, I assure you.”

“Very meritorious times,” said Lady Canvey, reprovingly–“quite like
the primitive Christian Church.”

“Less clean, I fancy, and more ungrammatical,” murmured Leah.

“Don’t mock, my dear. Lionel is a noble man.”

“I quite agree with you, and without mockery. Jim is also a noble man,
in a different sense, if you will forgive the pun.”

“It is unworthy of your wit.”

“I cannot always be pyrotechnical. You need flint and steel to strike
fire, and I find no flints amongst the idiots I have to entertain. Do
you know, godmother,”–Leah stared into the fire–“I often wish that
Lionel had remained the Duke.”

“And your husband had been really a corpse? How like you!”

“Well,” said the Duchess, cheerfully. “Jim might have been of some use
if his,–what do you call those things?–oh, yes,–if his vortices had
combined with other elements to grow into plants and sheep and cows,
and generally do the sort of things which vortices are supposed to do.
But as a Duke he is a failure.”

“I don’t exactly know what you mean by your heathen talk of vortices,”
snapped Lady Canvey. “Dust we are, and unto dust shall we return.”

“Not Jim,” protested Leah: “he would return to mud. He just looks as
though he were made of sticky, clayey, stodgy mud.”

“It is not original to abuse your husband.”

“I know that; but you are too old-fashioned to admire originality.”

Lady Canvey thumped with her stick vigorously. “Do not be so
desperately sharp, Leah; you make my head ache. By the way, I have
news for you about that nice boy you treated so badly.”

“I have treated so many nice boys badly. Billy Richardson, Algy
Turner, Harry Askew—-”

“The last. He is to be married.”

“I knew that a year ago. He left before Jim came home to make some
Spanish creature his wife.”

“Miss Mamie Mulrady does not sound like a Spanish name.”

“That girl! You don’t say so?” Leah looked genuinely surprised. “I
suppose Señorita Fajardo would not have him. Perhaps she is waiting
for Mr. Berring.”

“Who is he?”

“Oh–er–a friend of mine”; she put up her muff to hide a smile.

“I know that U.S.A. heiress–a nice girl if she did not affect the
Wild West of which she knows absolutely nothing. No doubt she thinks
it chic to let Europeans hear the American eagle scream in the
vernacular. Fancy!–and to Askew! A good match for him. I suppose he
will call pounds, shillings and pence collectively dollars now that he
is brother to George Washington.”

“I don’t think so. Mrs. Askew will probably be more English than the
English.”

“She might easily be that, since the English are mostly aliens
nowadays. Well, I must go. Good-bye. I have enjoyed my hour. I always
do with you, godmother. Such a clever tongue!”

“I am not leaving you any money, my dear.”

“Please don’t. Your grandson is finding that opera-dancer expensive.
Give Canvey your savings, and his lady-love will dance professionally
on your grave.”

“I am glad cats don’t talk,” said the old woman, addressing no one in
particular. “One is quite enough.”

“Ah, they do talk then,” laughed Leah, and having got the last word
slipped away before Lady Canvey could rally her forces.

The Duchess, well wrapped up in expensive furs, stepped into the
crisp air, thinking of Askew and his triple dip into the matrimonial
lucky-bag. Lola Fajardo, Marjory the fixture, and Mamie Mulrady, not
to speak of herself, whom he would have married had she cared to call
herself by his unpretentious name. Certainly he was a man unfettered
by prejudices in love affairs. Dark or fair, tall or short, and of any
nationality, he adored them all in an entirely respectable fashion
which included a ring and a parson.

“Though I don’t believe the silly boy knows what love is,” thought
Leah, passing into Piccadilly–she was walking for exercise towards
the Park; “but people of that ignorant sort always seem to land on
their feet, like the cats Lady Canvey spoke of. I have landed very
comfortably myself. I wonder why I can’t love any one. How is it that
no man can stir me into experience of the grand passion?”

Lately Leah had taken to analysing herself with fatal results. It
seemed to her that she was shallow, since nothing in the world made
any difference to her, or could make her feel. If Jim had dropped dead
of the apoplectic fit which was waiting for him, she would merely have
shrugged her shoulders; had the old Duke come back to claim the title,
she would have had small regret in surrendering it. Everything seemed
trivial and dull and vulgar. A remark made by Lionel occurred vividly
to her at this moment. “You will never be truly happy,” he had said,
“until you are truly sorrowful.” It was an unintentional epigram on
the vicar’s part, as he was dense, like all the Kaimes family; but it
was clever enough to be true. Only–and here was the hopelessness of
her life–she saw no chance of becoming sorrowful in any degree, since
her indifference nullified deep feelings of any sort.

“I suppose I shall have to run in this society circus till I die,” she
thought drearily. “What a clown’s destiny!”

The mention of one lover naturally recalled the name of another, and
by the time she passed Apsley House thoughts of Demetrius were running
in her head. Not a word had she heard of him since his enforced
journey to Siberia, via Paris, Havre, and Kronstadt. Katinka Aksakoff
might have supplied information, only that Katinka, for reasons which
Leah guessed rather than knew, had disappeared some nine months ago.
According to M. Aksakoff, she was ruralising on his Volga estates, and
her health forbade an exciting life. The Duchess did not quite believe
this smooth explanation; and yet, at times, she fancied that the
diplomatist might have taken her advice regarding the shepherding of
an infatuated child.

It was, then, by one of those curious coincidences perfectly
explicable to the psychological mind, that the man himself glided to
her side. He looked as tall and lean as ever, but his eyes were less
direct in their gaze, and he did not seem to exercise his former
self-control. Leah and he had met but rarely during the past year,
owing to her retirement consequent on mourning observances, and when
they did meet each had avoided mention of that memorable afternoon in
Paris. But when he crossed Leah’s path thus unexpectedly, and when her
head was filled with Demetrius and with the woman Demetrius did _not_
love, she resolved to learn the worst or the best. After greeting, she
began to speak with unconventional abruptness.

“Where is your daughter, M. Aksakoff?”

“On my Volga estate,” he replied nervously; and from his averted eyes
she made sure he was lying badly.

“In Siberia, you mean.”

He turned with a start. “How do you know that?”

“I am right, then?”

Aksakoff clasped and unclasped two restless hands over the knob of
his cane. “I really cannot say. I do not know why you should make that
observation, after I have informed you of my daughter’s whereabouts.”

“I make it because I am a woman, and being such, I know that Katinka’s
love for that waxed-moustache creature will lead her–perhaps has led
her–even into Siberian wilds.”

Aksakoff stopped under the Achilles Statue and probed her mind with
his eyes. “Do you really think so?”

“I do. Does my thought confirm facts?”

He resumed his walk with a troubled face. “I will be frank with you,
madame, since we both know that Constantine Demetrius left Paris on
that afternoon _en route_ to Siberia.”

“I know nothing of the sort,” contradicted Leah, sharply.

“Yet you have just admitted that the man is in Siberia.”

The Duchess laughed carelessly. “All Russians go as naturally to
Siberia as cockneys to Margate. It’s a kind of Bank Holiday with them,
I suppose. Why not be frank with me?”

“Madame, I rather think that I should ask you that question.”
“I never answer questions,” said Leah, coolly; “it saves a lot of
trouble. But I make statements, and one is that Demetrius and the
woman who loves him are in Siberia.”

“Do you really think so?” said the diplomatist, repeating himself.

“I _do_ think so; but surely you know?”

Aksakoff shook his head. “Katinka refused to marry her cousin
Petrovitch, after the disappearance of Demetrius. She questioned me
continually about him, and showed me the letter and enclosure which
you had sent. A very diplomatic letter, if I may say so. I, of course,
denied that I knew anything. She appeared to be satisfied; yet nine
months ago she left my house–left this country—-”

“To rusticate on your Volga estates.”

“That was my excuse for her disappearance, and I beg of you, madame,
to accept that excuse in society, for the sake of her good name and
mine.” She nodded, and he went on gravely: “I confess to you, madame,
that I do not know where she is. You suggest Siberia; it is possible.”

“I fancy so, seeing she is infatuated with the man. But how could she
possibly learn that he was there?” Leah asked this question a trifle
nervously, for there seemed to be something menacing in this strange
behaviour of Katinka.

“Very easily. You sent her the letter supposed to have been written by
Constantine Demetrius in Paris.”

“What letter is that?” she asked obstinately.

The Russian’s eyes flashed. “You must know, madame, and you do know,
that the letter was forged for your safety.”

The Duchess stopped abruptly, and became as ice in manner and speech.
“You talk very strangely M. Aksakoff. My safety was never in danger,
so far as I know. Your anxiety makes you indiscreet, and thinking so,
I pardon the indiscretion.”

Aksakoff, knowing that she would continue to feign ignorance, even in
the face of aggressive facts, apologised with a bow, since it mattered
very little. “In that forged letter”–he was determined to stick to
the word–“was the name of Helfmann.”

“Dr. Helfmann,” she corrected.

“I gave him that degree, madame,” said Aksakoff, dryly. “Helfmann is
one of our secret police.”

“Then you had no business to introduce such a creature into my rooms,”
said Leah, angrily.

“Pardon, the crime is twelve months old. To proceed. Katinka knew the
real business of this man, and may have learned the truth, or enough
of it, to make her journey to Siberia. Tomsk–yes, Tomsk!” He leaned
his stick on the ground, his hands on the stick, and stared vaguely at
the leafless trees. “Assuredly Tomsk.”

“Is Dr. Demetrius there?”

Aksakoff nodded vaguely. “I wish you a good day, madame,” said he, and
turned away abruptly without raising his hat. The omission of a usual
courtesy either betrayed his absence of mind, or showed what he truly
thought of the Duchess of Pentland.

Leah, having a tender conscience, chose to assign the latter reason,
and resolved to cut the man if he should dare to speak to her again.
“But what can you expect from the Russian bear?” she said, resuming
her walk.

It ended in Curzon Street. She and Jim rented the ducal residence to a
wealthy American, and retained the smaller mansion, on the plea that
their happiest days had been spent there. This excuse was, of course,
a lie, but every one believed it, and said how touching it was to see
that a Duke and a Duchess could be so human. And, after all, Leah
really did like the cot of her humble days. It was pleasant to think
that she had been “Lady Jim of Curzon Street,” and had taken her title
in that way, just like a peer in his own right. Sometimes she
regretted that she was simply a Duchess, and not Lady Jim as of old.
Then she had enjoyed life; now she found it excruciatingly dull. And
it was all the fault of Demetrius, who had taught her more exciting
methods of passing time than by killing it.

When in the drawing-room she recalled the conversation with Aksakoff,
and began to think that there were troublesome days ahead. If Katinka
had learned the truth through Helfmann, she was assuredly hovering
round Tomsk in the hope of aiding Demetrius to escape. Should she be
successful, as so determined girl might easily be, the man would
return to this Island of Refuge breathing out vengeance of the direst.
Leah had often contemplated a possible escape, followed by a certain
return, and the contemplation invariably produced a shudder. Now that
there seemed to be some ground that the man who knew all and would
tell all might come to England, she was conscious of rising spirits.
The feeling puzzled her.

“I ought to be shaking in my shoes,” she reflected, “but I feel rather
pleased than otherwise. I am spoilt for a life of cotton-wool and
policemen at every corner. Danger is the sole thing which amuses me.
That must be the explanation of my feeling jolly. I expect the heroes
and heroines of cheap novels feel the same when they settle to a dull
marriage after pages of hair-breadth escapes.”

She was perfectly right. Leah Pentland was a bad woman mainly because
she had been looked after too carefully. It required upheavals to
bring the possible best out of her. She had behaved unscrupulously and
basely in dealing with the insurance fraud, because that was the sole
adventure which had come her way. But had the adventure been heroic
and noble, she would have enjoyed it quite as much and would have
struggled quite as bravely. The reckless way in which she pulled the
whiskers of Death, when throned on her motor-car, was characteristic
of the woman. Given danger, and she blossomed into a heroine, good or
bad as circumstances served. At heart she was no vapid society woman,
and her fiery pursuit of aimless pleasures merely showed her restless
and masculine temperament. Danger braced her. At times, during her
first taste of it, she had certainly given way from overstrained
nerves; but now she was steeled to the worst that could happen,
blooded to the open trail, baptised in unholy fire. If Katinka and
Demetrius returned to London to give battle she was certain,
absolutely certain, that she could beat them single-handed. Katinka
she felt was the more dangerous of the two. Well, let her come, let
him come, and victory be to the self-confident. Leah was so sure of
her triumph that she did not even cast a thought to her hard-worked
fetish. All the same, she kept the peacock’s feather constantly in her
pocket.

“Jim,” said the Duchess that night, after a _tête-à-tête_ dinner, when
the pair reached the coffee stage, “let us sell up, drop our rank, and
go to Canada.”

The Duke stared, as well he might. “Good Lord!”

“Pooh! Why do you not say damn, as I feel inclined to do?”

Jim still stared with infantile blue eyes. “You say such queer
things,” he objected, fishing for a cigar.

“I should like to do them. Oh, why wasn’t I born a real live man. I
should have lived–lived–lived.”

“Well,” said Jim, stolidly clipping his weed, “you live now, don’t
you?”

“In a satin-lined, rose-wood jewel-box, if you call that living.”

“I see what you mean,” confessed the Duke, lighting up. “Same here. I
was ever so much jollier aboard that dirty tramp. I slugged one
of the crew–a Finn, he was–a hulking Finn, who thought I was a
world-crawler, an’ no man. They carried him away in bits,” finished
Jim, with the battle-light in his blue eyes.

Leah looked at him curiously. “Jim, I really believe that we might
understand one another. You and I are meant to be pals, and not a
conventional man and wife. If you were only a backwoodsman I should
adore you.”

“An’ do the washin’, an’ the scrubbing and the cookin’? I fancy I see
you puttin’ your back into that sort of work, Leah. Honey-pots are
more in your line.”

“I am as sick of honey-pots as you are. All this dressing and
undressing, and court functions, and paltry pigeon-shooting, and
skating at Prince’s on sham ice, and yachting at Cowes in a floating
hotel–oh, Lord, how it bores me!”

“You’re always bored,” grunted her husband, unsympathetically.
“Can you wonder at it, when I have to go round and round and round in
a decorated ring like a trick-pony? If I were a woman it would be
satisfactory, no doubt.”

“Well,” said Jim, obtusely, “ain’t you a woman?”

Leah sprang from her chair and flung out her arms with a deep chest
breath. “I am a man,” she announced, in resonant contralto tones. “I
feel like one, anyhow. Didn’t some one say there was no sense in this
grown-up business. Well, I am like that. Up to the time you went after
Lola Fajardo I did enjoy things all round, but somehow I feel as
though the bottom had dropped out of creation.”

“Drop Lola Fajardo also, then,” growled the Duke, colouring. “I never
went near her.”

“Because you couldn’t. The serpent in the bamboo–eh, Jim?”

“I don’t care anything for her now.”

Leah looked at him steadily. “I am glad of that, because you belong to
me–to me.”

“And much you think of me!”

“I think you are extremely selfish, and desperately weak with even
ugly women, and quite a brute when you don’t get your own pretty way,
and–in short, you are a man, a glorious lord of creation.”
“Oh, drop rottin’.”

“I am not rotting, as you delicately put it. Like myself, this sugary
civilisation has spoiled you. If you had to earn your bread I should
respect you, Jim. I might even love you. Yes”–she considered for a
moment–“I daresay it might come to that.”

Jim was growing bewildered. “What does all this mean?” was his very
natural interrogation.

His wife bewildered him still more by acting in a way which made him
gasp. She walked round the table, and, standing at his back, placed
her arms round his neck. “I’ll tell you, Jim. I have just found out by
my very own self that you and I are cave-people pitchforked into the
wrong century. We live ten thousand years too late–just think of
it–ten thousand years of life and death. Let us go back to the mud,
Jim, and take up the life where we left it when you were killed,
spearing that mammoth.”

“Leah!” His head was thrown back, and his eyes stared upward in alarm.

“I know what you think, but I am as sane as you are, and ten times
cleverer. No”; she loosened her arms from his neck and locked them
behind her. “Look at me, Jim. Am I a doll?”

The startled Duke wheeled his chair and stared at her brilliant eyes,
no longer hard and cold, at her stately figure, her splendid red hair,
her clearly cut face flushed and animated. “You’re a rippin’ fine
woman,” said he, his sluggish pulses stirred.

“So you think–so the world thinks. Yet I have to live in a wadded box
like a wax doll. I want to get out of that box–it stifles me, chokes
me. I am sick of the tents of Shem, and wish to house under those of
Esau. You and I will take the privilege of rank and be eccentric. As
pals we’ll get on much better than as a Mayfair man and wife of the
wrong sort, beyond the borders of this horrid civilisation that is.
Buy a yacht, Jim–a tramp hulk with those triple expansion engines you
told me about, and let us make for the South Seas. There’s a clear
path down Channel. Let us explore, let us venture into the Naked Lands
and exploit the fringes of the empire. I want to live–to live, you
understand. Oh,” she cried almost fiercely, “can’t you understand?”

“No,” said Jim, truthfully, and as stolid as ever; “you have your rank
to think of, and my name.”

The fire died out of Leah’s eyes, the colour from her face, the ring
from her voice; even her figure seemed to dwindle from that of a
tragedy queen into a conventional Belgravian wife. Then she laughed
shortly, and in a way which Jim did not approve of in his Duchess.

“I beg your pardon, Pentland,” said Leah, using his title to mark the
far recoil. “I took you for a man: you are nothing but a society
gramophone.”

Jim would have resented this contemptuous description, but that she
gave him no time to formulate an idea in his slow-thinking brain. With
swift steps she left the room and ascended to her boudoir; there,
after locking the door, with a strength which disordered the lock, she
flung herself face downward on the sofa, and cried quietly,
passionately, with that suppressed anger and grief and rage which
rends the body and brain so terribly. Jim could not, would not
understand. He was what he always had been–the sole Gadarene pig into
which a devilkin had not entered.

“Can I never put fire into that clay?” sobbed Leah, savagely.

Only God could have done that, and she did not believe in God. But the
fetish was in her pocket.