Providence had nothing to do

Joan was less surprised than a better informed lady when no word of
the sick man’s progress came to hand. Aksakoff was presumably at
Havre, and Askew, having missed the fiacre, and called uselessly at a
chemist’s shop indicated by Helfmann, clamoured for information.
Unacquainted with the address of Demetrius, no information could be
given by Lady Jim; but she proffered a suggestion to keep the budding
philanthropist quiet.

“He might be in an hospital.”

“He might! Ill go the round.”

“Do!” she assented cordially, and quite easy in her mind about this
needle-in-a-haystack search.

So Askew, wisely acting immediately on an impulse that could not last,
set forth on his quest, only to drift across the path of an old
shipmate. The meeting led to cocktails at the American Bar, and the
consumption of these involved the calling-up of a past, which made
the ex-navy man long to nose the out-trail once more. That his friend
who did business in great waters should know of a clean-built
schooner-yacht for sale at a ridiculously low price was natural. And
equally natural was Askew’s determination to cross the Channel that
very day, lest the desirable vessel should be snapped up. Thus it came
about that he presented himself to Leah, prior to an immediate
departure, without recurring to the quest. Lady Jim, however, could
not forbear a taunt.

“And your philanthropic search?” she inquired.

Askew coloured, laughed, and shrugged.

“Demetrius is no kith or kin of mine,” was his excuse, “and wouldn’t
do as much for me, I doubt. ‘Sides, he’s probably on his legs by now,
and will come skipping along to see you.”

“If he does I shall advise him of your charity.”

“No, don’t,” urged the youth, coolly. “He’ll be giving me a
testimonial.”

Leah laughed good-humouredly. “Well, good-bye,” and she shook hands.
“Thanks for your company. Joan has enjoyed it immensely.”

“And you?”

“Ah!” with a sigh and a twinkle, “think what I have lost.”

“Meaning me?”

“Meaning you, man of lightning moods. Philanthropy, love–ten minutes
of each. Shall I see you in London?”

“Oh–er–yes. But if I can annex this schooner at a fair price, I’m
thinking of a cruise.”

“In Pacific waters?”

He grew red and uneasy, shifting from one foot to the other. “I
might.”

“That means, you will. H’m! The first case I ever knew of a man being
off with the new love and on with the old. But”–she held up a
finger–“I claim a visit before you go.”

Askew seized her hand. “I promise!” Then, coaxingly: “We are friends!”

“Parting friends, and I have already shaken hands with you twice. _Au
revoir_, till Curzon Street,” and nodding him God-speed, she retired
to consider possibilities of preventing a speedy departure. Poor
woman! No sooner had she cleared away one obstacle than another bulked
in the path. And these, unfortunately, she could not leap over or go
round. They had to be removed by toilsome pick-and-shovel work.

“What a mercy Demetrius is disposed of!” said Lady Jim, to her mirror.
“Two new wrinkles. I shan’t give that silly boy the chance of adding a
third.”

On the morning of departure from Paris Leah received a letter from
Demetrius, which she showed to Joan, almost as soon as the train
steamed out of the Gard du Nord. A week of talk in Paris, and five
years’ study in England, had instructed Miss Tallentire insufficiently
in the French tongue; therefore did she wilt away at the sight of the
epistle. Lady Jim translated.

“He is still ill in some hotel”–she was careful not to give the
address–“but better, much better. Later he proposes to go to Russia.”

“I thought he was an exile,” said Joan, doubtfully.

“He is. I think the folly of risking his liberty in St. Petersburg is
apparent. But he hopes to cajole the Czar into granting his pardon.
M’m!” Leah packed away the letter in her dressing-bag. “I daresay we
shall hear of him next in Siberia.”

Joan opened a pair of horrified eyes. “Lady James!”

“Oh, it’s a charming place, they say, and not at all so disagreeable
as people make out. The climate is much more delightful than our own,
dear, and the society really intellectual. The Russians send all their
clever people there, you know. I am sure Dr. Demetrius will be very
comfortable.”

“Exile to Siberia! It sounds horrible.”

“Yes–sounds, but isn’t. You have been reading Tolstoy and seeing
melodramas, my dear.”

“I thought Dr. Demetrius loved you,” said Joan, suddenly.

“Oh, he did; the man was a perfect nuisance. But, you see, I did not
love him.”

“No, no! Of course you would not. I never meant that. As poor dear
Lord James’s wife you could not.”

“And as poor dear Lord James’s widow, I can, only I don’t.”

Miss Tallentire was still confused. “You must think me dreadfully
rude–oh, dreadfully,” she murmured, regretting an unintentional
insinuation.

“I think you dreadfully innocent, and dreadfully sweet,” said Leah,
kissing the flushed face. “I’m talking like that horrid Mulrady girl.
Where do these Americans pick up their adjectives?”

Even while chatting, and while the train tore through a bleak
landscape almost blotted out with rain, Leah wondered who had written
the letter. Not Demetrius, certainly, although the calligraphy would
have caused an expert to commit perjury. Aksakoff was more clever with
tongue than pen, so Leah fell back on Helfmann as a possible forger.
Assuredly she did not believe that he was a medical man, and his
fortunate presence at the needed hour argued a carefully laid plot.
The fiacre probably drove to St. Lazare, and thence Helfmann had no
doubt personally conducted his patient to Havre to be shipped on board
the Petrovitch yacht. Now the boat was kicking her way through the
grey northern seas, and Demetrius, in possession of his senses, was
looking forward to a forced passage across the Urals. An unpleasant
journey at this time of the year, but needful for men who wanted more
than was good for them. And, thank God, this particular man was out of
her life for ever. While offering up the hasty prayer Lady Jim touched
the peacock’s feather, tucked away in her pocket, and felt that life
really was worth living, when one knew how to dispose of disagreeable
people.

Perhaps the prayer addressed to a Deity other than the fetish made the
domestic god sulky, but he, or it, certainly did not expedite Leah’s
journey to Curzon Street. For two weary days wind and rain, stormy
waves and over-cautious officials, detained the travellers in Calais.
A hurricane that would have done credit to the South Seas made the
Channel impassible, and the waves that Britannia is supposed to rule
rebelled furiously against her white cliffs. Leah, inconceivably
bored, watched the gusty hours through streaming panes, and wondered
if the gale extended to the Mediterranean. If so, the ducal yacht with
Frith and his father on board must be having a pitch-and-toss time
of the worst. The Duke was no hardened mariner, and uncomfortable
motions prolonged to excess might make a man of his age so ill that he
would—- Here Leah’s vivid imagination produced a shudder. She did
not wish the kindly old Duke to die of exhaustion; not that she cared
overmuch for him, but Frith succeeding to unlimited money-bags would
be less easy to manage in the important matter of occasional cheques.
The insurance money would not last for ever with one of her tastes,
and after all–since this greedy Captain Strange would insist upon his
dues–she had only twenty-nine thousand pounds. Then Jim would want
ready money, and his demands–she knew him of old–would probably be
shameless. Of course, seeing that, on the face of it, he was involved
deeper than she was in a shady conspiracy, he could be told to mind
his own business and marry Señorita Fajardo, if desirous of being kept
like a gentleman. But to avoid unnecessary trouble it was probable
that she would have to send him a trifle. How dreadful it was to think
that a single shilling of that hardly-earned money should slip through
her fingers; but the harpies had to be appeased or driven away. She
could not achieve the last, therefore her purse-strings would have to
be unloosened. Already the pockets of Strange gaped hungrily, and it
was her hard fate to fill them.

“So absurd!” grumbled Lady Jim, as the wind whimpered and the rain
lashed the glass, “in the middle ages one could have hired a nice
bravo to put him out of the way, and there would not have been even
funeral expenses. I must pay, I suppose, but I’ll see if the beast
will not take the money by instalments. There is always the chance
that he might be drowned between payments–and I hope he will be,” she
ended devoutly.

In this amiable frame of mind she arrived at Curzon Street, after
sending Joan, brimful of Continental experiences, to the less
fashionable district of Lambeth. The house looked cosy, the servants
were attentive, the insurance money swelled her bank account, and,
best of all, Demetrius was posting towards Siberia. On the whole
things were tolerable–it was not Leah’s custom to indulge in
superlatives–so she decided to remain for a week or two in London,
prior to being bored at Firmingham, where the Marchioness awaited the
home-coming of the yachting party. After her late efforts in the cause
of politics Lady Jim felt that she really could not stand Hilda’s
artificial childishness without an intermezzo of amusement.

But fun of any sort was hard to find, since her widowhood and the
emptiness of town precluded indulgence. Piccadilly and the Park, St.
James’s Street and Pall Mall, were as barren of pleasure and a
fashionable population as that Siberia towards which Demetrius
unwillingly journeyed. Even Lady Canvey had moved out of the Early
Victorian room into more modern surroundings at Nice. Askew certainly
paid his promised visit, but he proved to be dull, thinking more of
the yacht than the woman. The technical terms he employed in
describing his purchase made Lady Jim yawn, and she decided that, like
all men, he was unutterably selfish. However, she was sufficiently
kind-hearted–and diplomatic–to show him the pseudo letter, and
translate it for his benefit.

“Told you so,” said he, when in possession of misleading facts: “the
beggar’s all right–be on his legs in a jiffy.”

“Thanks to your care.”

“Don’t rub it into a fellow, Lady Jim!”

“Lady James!”

“Lady James it is, though it seems to me that we are to be merely
acquaintances.”

“Most of my friends are acquaintances.”

“But I want this acquaintance to be a friend.”

“What an exacting nature! Well”–with a sigh–“I suppose as you have
loved and I have lost, we can be friends till you marry.”

“Why not after?”

“Dear Mr. Askew, a bachelor selects his own friends, a wife chooses
those of her husband. Meantime, you are a nice boy, if somewhat
fickle, and I like you sufficiently to let you go. When does this ship
of yours go south?”

“Schooner, Lady Jim–schooner-yacht; two hundred tons Lloyd’s
measurement and—-”

“You explained that before.”

“Did I? Yes, of course. Well, she is a beauty.”

“Ah! The same term was applied to me once and by a man who said that
he would love me for ever.”

“I don’t believe I was ever so crude,” retorted Askew, bluntly; “you
don’t tell a lady that she is a beauty, though you might say it to a
shopgirl.”

“Really! I don’t know any people of that class. You do, apparently.”

The young man grew red and wriggled like a speared eel, thinking how
very like a woman she was. She did not want him, and she did want him;
she told him to go, and wished him to stop; she pardoned his
fickleness, yet kept it in mind. “Ah, you bundle of contradictions!”

“Why not say a woman? One word explains your three.”

“I like to be verbose,” said Askew, sulkily.

“You always are–first about me, and then about this ship thing. I
suppose the Fajardo woman will be the next.”

“Don’t speak of her like that.”

“Why not? She is my rival. I should be more than mortal if I forgave
her, and less than a woman if I did not say nasty things about her.”

“Say them about me, then.”

“I have been doing my best, and really, you take a ragging very well.
There, poor boy”–she patted his cheek–“I shan’t tease you any more.
When do you sail?”

“In three weeks.”

“For Buenos Ayres?”

“Of course.”

“Oh true and eager lover! Dine with me next Thursday, and we can talk
about her.”

“You’ll be nasty.”

“About the ship? Oh, no!”

“I thought you meant Lola.”

“Perhaps I did; both ship and woman are ‘hers,’ you know. Next
Thursday?”

“I shall be delighted.”

“You look it. Do try and conceal your emotions better.”

Askew laughed, and took up his hat. She was more like a mosquito than
a human being, and he made for the door, weary of being stung. “I
would rather be your friend than your husband, Lady Jim,” he said
coolly.

“What a compliment, seeing what husbands are! I ought to know.”

“Oh, pardon me–I forgot,” he stuttered, much confused.

She shook her head at him gravely. “What a child in arms you are!”

To this last piece of impertinence Askew would have replied rather
sharply, thereby proving the truth of her remark, but that the door
was blocked by a tall lean man.

“M. Aksakoff!” announced the footman, behind the newcomer.

“Good-day, Lady James. Good-day, M. Aksakoff, and good-bye.”

Leah, when alone with the diplomatist, felt her heart leap at the
solemnity of his looks. She fancied that he might have come to tell
her of the doctor’s escape. In reality, Aksakoff was wondering how he
could pay her two thousand pounds without turning the arranged comedy
into a drama. Feeling his way, he allowed her the first word.

“You will stop to luncheon,” said Lady Jim, amiably.

“I trespass too much on your hospitality, dear madame. You must have
had enough of me at our last luncheon in Paris.”

“Oh, I have forgotten all about Paris”; and she gave him a look which
intimated that he also should feign forgetfulness.

“Ah, no; but pardon me, I came to inquire about M. Demetrius.”

“Why from me? I know nothing. Wait–I do know something. He wrote me a
letter saying he was better and intended to go to Russia.”

“Probably to see Petrovitch about his pardon. I wish I had seen him
before he left Paris”; and the diplomatist smiled when the letter was
mentioned.

“Did you not see him?”

Aksakoff raised his eyebrows. “But it was impossible, madame,” he
explained, without even a wink. “Dr. Helfmann took him away in the
fiacre and I departed for Havre. I did not return to Paris.”

“I see; your business at Havre detained you.”

“Longer than I expected,” said the diplomatist, taking his cue. “You
see, madame, I was forced to repeat my conversation with M. Demetrius
to my cousin the Count. I expect that he wrote to Paris, and told M.
Demetrius to come to Havre for a conversation.”

“Without knowing his address? How clever!”

Aksakoff laughed. “You have me there, madame.”

“I really don’t know what you mean. How is Katinka?”

“She is at Brussels. In good health, I believe.”

“Does she know that M. Demetrius has gone to St. Petersburg?”

“Possibly. He had to write announcing his engagement to you.”

If he expected Lady Jim to be taken aback by this abrupt speech, he
was mistaken in the woman, whose aplomb he should have known. She
merely laughed and dropped out a ready lie with slow amusement. “Ah,
my dear M. Aksakoff, clever linguists as you Russians are, your
comprehension of the English language is limited–very, very limited.
M. Demetrius should have known, that in our tongue, one word may have
several meanings. See–a diocese. See–to perceive by the eye.”

“Your illustration is felicitous, madame. I understand, then, that M.
Demetrius translated ‘No’ as ‘Yes’!”

“Oh, he was by no means so stupid as that. The man bothered me with
attentions for months, and was quite a nuisance. I nearly spoke to
poor dear Jim about his smirking, grinning compliments. He talked of
me in clubs and followed everywhere, sighing like a furnace–if a
furnace ever does sigh. I speak on Shakespeare’s authority. To
keep the creature quiet I said something which he apparently
misconstrued–a sop to Cerberus, a cake to a child. You understand.”

“I think so. There was no engagement.”

“None at all. How impertinent of him to suggest such a thing, when my
husband is scarcely cold in his grave! But I pardon him on account of
his ignorance of our language, which undoubtedly led him into error.
When I see him again I shall explain myself in a way which he will
probably find disagreeable.”

Aksakoff smiled imperceptibly. “M. Demetrius is much to blame, madame,
for not having given more attention to your English grammar. I go to
St. Petersburg myself in a week. Perhaps you will give me some message
to him.”

“No! The man is a fool, and I never wish to hear about him again.”

“Your command shall be obeyed. From this moment his name shall never
be mentioned by me”; and he mentally admired the clever way in which
she had wriggled out of an untenable situation. But the object of his
visit had still to be approached, and at this moment an inspiration
how to approach it came opportunely. The mention of poor dear Jim
suggested lines upon which he might proceed with safety. “I come on a
serious errand, madame,” said he, softly.

“Yes!” she did not know what he meant, and under the circumstances did
not intend to inquire. To advance under the guns of masked batteries
was never Leah’s mode of campaigning.

“Your husband–pardon, your late husband–played bridge,” said the
diplomatist, so crudely as to render himself unworthy of the name.

“I believe he did.”

“Assuredly; and with me on occasions. Twelve months ago we were a
party of five at Torquay.”

“I believe Jim did go there sometimes. Go on.”

“It is hard to go on, madame,” said Aksakoff, with feigned
nervousness, “as I have a confession to make.”

“I grant you absolution beforehand.”

“You are too good. Then I can repay you by handing over the money.”

“What money?”

“My losses at bridge. Yes; with your husband and others I played a
great deal–unfortunately for my pockets.”

She noticed the misused plural and smiled. “Most people made that
remark grammatically, when they played with Jim. So you lost?”

“Two thousand pounds.”

The exact sum he had mentioned at Monte Carlo. At once she saw that he
wished to pay wages on a sufficiently plausible pretext. The money
would have been useful to pay Strange and Jim, so that she could keep
her thirty thousand pounds intact; but, strangely enough in so
unscrupulous a woman, she could not make up her mind to finger such
dirty gold.

“Death pays all debts,” she said quietly.

“On the part of the corpse, assuredly. But those who live have to
reckon with the executors.”

“In that case you had better see the Marquis of Frith. He is poor
Jim’s executor.”

“Ah, no, madame; be kind. I should have paid this money before, but my
salary did not permit. What would M. le Marquis say if I confessed
that I delayed so long to pay a debt of honour?”

“What does it matter, so long as you do pay?”

“It matters much amongst men,” said Aksakoff, stiffly. “But you, a
woman, and a clever woman,” he added with emphasis, “will understand.
I pray you, madame, to take my cheque for the full amount, and permit
my mind to be at rest.”

Lady Jim, priding herself on performing a hard penance for her late
rascality, shook her head. “No,” said she, seriously; “I am quite sure
that Jim, who was often in a hole himself, would not have been hard on
you. Had he lived the money would have been a godsend to him–I admit
that; but I really cannot take payment of any gambling debts. It would
not be right,” she finished virtuously.

Aksakoff was less surprised than she anticipated. Her refusal of this
money assured him that the story of the engagement was true, and that
Leah had rid herself of an undesirable suitor, who had power to compel
completion of a forced contract. What power Demetrius had over her
Aksakoff could not guess, but the whole circumstances showed that her
desire had been for the obliteration of the man, and not to earn two
thousand pounds. But nothing of this appeared on his calm face.

“Pray take the cheque, madame,” he urged, and held it under her nose.

“No, no!” She pushed back her chair from that too alluring bait. “I
cannot take it, and I shall say nothing about it. Stay”–she took the
fluttering paper from his hand and rose. “You have paid me on Jim’s
behalf–is that not so?”

“Yes”; Aksakoff watched her, wondering at this right-about-face.

“Then”–she approached the fire and flung in the cheque–“the debt is
paid, and you are free.”

“Ah, but no.”

“I say, yes.” Lady Jim approached him with outstretched hands, and a
smile which had won her many things. “You are my friend and not my
debtor. Is it not so?”

He kissed those extended hands. “Madame, a hard-working and poor
official thanks you. My services now and ever are at your command.”

With the thought that Demetrius might return unexpectedly from
Siberia, she thanked him. “I may have to remind you of that some day.”

“When and where you will, madame!” His pale eyes lighted up with
enthusiastic fire. “Were you my wife, I should be an ambassador.”

“You may be some day. Madame Aksakoff has talents.”

“Madame Aksakoff is–Madame Aksakoff; and you, are—-”

“Well, what?” she demanded, smiling.

“An angel.”

“How weak!”

“All language is weak, when used to describe such a woman as you,
madame. I take my leave. Your servant!”

“And my friend?”

“To the death, madame!”

He went out as stiff and solemn as ever, with the conviction that he
had parted from Jezebel’s cousin-german. Nevertheless, he admired her
prodigiously, especially as he intended to put into his own pockets
the two thousand pounds she had so tactfully earned, and so foolishly
rejected. The bureaucracy would never hear of her folly, and it would
be a pity to return money which a poor official could bank against
evil days. Not that Aksakoff expected these. The capture of Demetrius,
without publicity, and so cleverly achieved, would gain him infinite
credit as an efficient servant of the Czar. “A charming and astute
woman,” he thought gratefully, when ruminating on certain advancement.
“But dangerous,” added Prudence.

Leah went about for the next seven days with her head in the air, and
with a contempt for those people who found renunciation difficult. She
could renounce, with ease: had she not refused a large sum of money
because she felt that it was wrong to take it? What self-denial! She
felt aggressively virtuous, and but for the circumstances would have
liked to trumpet her perfections in the street. That she did not do so
was further self-denial and a flattering conscience, with which
Providence had nothing to do, assured her that she was a pearl amongst
women. Now that Demetrius was out of sight she calmly put him out of
mind, and began to think how she could prevent Askew from spoiling
Jim’s nefarious courting of the Spanish lady. There was no way, so far
as she could see, since the sailor’s love had grown cold, and she had
no bonds in which to bind him. But she trusted to that luck which the
fetish always sent her way, and sure enough the luck came, but some
weeks later. Beforehand the fetish, still annoyed by her prayer to
another god, sent her a reminder that it could be disagreeable. A bolt
from the blue came in the shape of a telegram from Firmingham.

“Come to me at once,” wired the Marchioness. “Yacht lost off Brest.
Duke and Frith and most of crew drowned. Come.”

“She might have spared the last word,” said Leah, staring and stunned.