So she prayed

After that momentous interview Lady Jim realised the truth of
Strange’s scriptural quotation, although he had translated it into his
own lax vernacular. Unfortunately, hearing it after the event, she
could not take Isaiah’s advice, and had too hastily condemned the
fetish. She would have given much for the recovery of that precise
peacock’s feather, for, having freely thrown it away, it was doubtful
to her superstitious mind if the luck would hold. Certainly she had
arranged judiciously for Jim’s return to civilisation, and the
unscrupulous captain appeared willing to earn wages as a scapegoat;
but there was always the unforeseen to be reckoned with. A chance
word, a chance discovery, a too minute inquiry–these might wreck
the whole scheme, and she would reap a whirlwind, stormy enough
to sweep her out of a social paradise into the bleak desert of
Sinners-found-out. A most uncomfortable locality.

She did what she could, poor woman, to propitiate her Baal. A new
peacock’s feather was procured, and she apologised for her want of
faith. Also she experimented with the new symbol. Would a particular
costume arrive at a certain hour? Would some very doubtful stock which
she held turn honest? Would Captain Strange, after consulting a
lawyer, still hold to his nefarious bargain? The test proved
satisfactory, for her Baal, apparently amenable to apology, worked
excellently through the new semblance of his deity. The dress duly
arrived within the fixed time; the shares rose rapidly, and enabled
her to sell at a profit which she did not deserve; finally, a grubby
note from Strange assured her without detail that he was on his way to
Firmingham. It would seem that the prospect of picking oakum for a
livelihood appealed to him, at the agreed price.

Pending the explosion of the mine to which Strange was about to apply
a match, Leah possessed her soul in patience. Three days did she wait,
and they were days of purgatory. For obvious reasons she did not
return to Firmingham, but wrote to Lionel stating that she had
received a terrible shock–nature not mentioned–and intended to
consult the family solicitors about the same. She thus made herself
safe about the sailor’s visit, in case any one might wonder why he had
come to her in the first instance. And in the letter she told the
truth for once, since she paid a visit to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. An
explanation of her errand startled the suave head of a justly
celebrated legal firm. On recovering from pardonable amazement he gave
his client the full value of her six-and-eightpence.

“Kidnapping,” explained Mr. Hall, to a tearful listener–for Lady Jim
thought that the circumstances demanded emotion–“is not in itself a
serious offence, and really applies only to persons under fourteen
years of age. In the case of an adult like Lord James this sailor
would be punished with–er–maybe two years’ imprisonment. He might
even be let off with a heavy fine.”

Leah’s face fell considerably. She would have to pay that fine, and
did not relish parting with more money. “How interesting!” she
murmured vaguely, and waited for further information.

“Blackmail, however,” pursued the lawyer, emphatically, “is a very
grave offence, and can be punished with five years’ imprisonment,
involving penal servitude.”

“That would be better,” agreed Lady Jim, thinking that Strange at hard
labour would earn one thousand a year and have an extra thousand over
when his term was ended. A profitable imprisonment for him, truly, she
reflected, and extremely costly for her.

“Then again, Lady James, if the offence s committed by letter,
sentence for life can be passed.”

“Oh, he didn’t write,” she said hastily, and congratulated herself
that Strange had not done so, since, even for so many thousands, he
would not be inclined to remain a prisoner for ever; “but perhaps Mr.
Kaimes may receive a letter. The man hinted that he would try in that
quarter, seeing that I would not yield to his extortion.”

“You should have had him arrested.”

“I had not my wits about me. He would have shot me had I summoned the
servants.”

“Bless me, Lady James, had he a weapon?”

“A revolver,” she replied, unscrupulously; “so you can see how I–a
poor weak woman–was intimidated.”

“That will add to his sentence,” said Mr. Hall, upon which she wished
she had checked her imagination. It would be foolish to push Strange
into a corner, for as yet she could not reckon the exact power of his
greed. However, she could not unsay what she had said, and nothing
remained but to pray to the fetish and hope for the best.

“The Duke must be warned,” went on Mr. Hall.

“Who?” asked Leah, just as sharply as she had asked Colley.

“The new Duke–I beg your pardon, for, of course, if this story is
true, Lord James is the Duke of Pentland.”

“You doubt the story, then?”

Hall raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “I cannot give an opinion
until I have seen this man and sifted his statements.” He paused and
looked at her inquiringly. “I presume, Lady James, that this man
closely resembles your husband?”

“What man? Oh, Garth–yes. You may guess how closely, when the late
Duke, Lord Frith, and myself were all deceived. Certainly the likeness
was well known in Firmingham. There were reasons,” she added with
hesitation–“family reasons.”

“Oh–er–quite so.” Mr. Hall, who knew something of the Adamite side
of his late Grace, coughed away a laugh. “I can see how the mistake
arose, Lady James. Natural enough–oh, dear me–natural enough.”

“Why do you not give me my proper title?” she asked haughtily.

“Pardon me, but the truth of this man’s wild story has yet to be
proved. May I ask a few needful questions?”

A wave of her hand signified that he might, and she submitted to a
tolerably stiff examination. Being prepared with artless answers to
every question, she emerged triumphantly from the ordeal, and when in
possession of _her_ facts, Mr. Hall subscribed to the wickedness of
Demetrius and Strange. “A pair of villains, my dear lady. The one
sinned for love and the other from avarice; astonishing whither those
passions lead us–astonishing. Well, well, we must hope. I trust, for
your ladyship’s sake, that the story is true.”

“So do I,” wept Leah, producing her handkerchief. “Not for the
sake of the title or the money, dear Mr. Hall, but because my poor
husband—- Oh—-” here she skilfully broke down, for want of
something to say.

“Pray calm yourself, Lady James. Let us hope that in a few days I
shall be able to address you as the Duchess of Pentland.”

“Give me back my husband–I ask no more,” was her magnanimous reply.

And while driving to Curzon Street she reflected how very magnanimous
it really was, seeing that she had no wish for Jim’s company. To be
tied to that log again was scarcely worth the income. Besides, Jim,
who had no sense of decency, would assuredly laugh his loudest at the
thought of her unnecessary trouble. He would not even thank her for
giving him his rights, although he must know that it was sorely
against the grain for her to put up with his boring society. But in
spite of Jim’s probable ingratitude, she would behave as his wife–as
the lenient woman she felt herself to be. Certainly her common sense
recognised that he was returning from his sham grave with gifts in his
hands, but of those she was the giver. And, seeing that she could
betray his share in the conspiracy without inculpating herself, Leah
foresaw the possession of limitless power to enforce obedience. That
power she resolved to utilise for the purpose of getting her own
unfettered way, and all the money she required for contemplated
extravagances. Also, she intended to stop Jim’s illicit flirtations.
Now that he was a peer of the realm he would have “to purge and live
cleanly,” after the fashion of one Sir John Falstaff, Knight.

“We owe that much to society,” thought Leah, virtuously, and
considered the rumoured doings of black sheep who would be cast out of
the Mayfair fold were their housetops removed. That the shifting of
the Curzon Street mansion tiles might also be attended with danger she
did not pause to consider.

On the ensuing afternoon Askew arrived to say farewell; but, as
circumstances were too embarrassing to permit of her taking any
interest in other people’s affairs, she declined to see him.
Nevertheless, he urged a personal interview, on the plea that he would
be absent for months. She yielded very unwillingly, as her nerves
clamoured for some outward sign of emotion, which by the rules of
society she would be obliged to suppress.

“I know I shall be horribly rude,” murmured Lady Jim, when the footman
left the room to introduce the visitor; “but he has brought it on
himself”–which excuse she considered ample for ensuing impoliteness.

Askew, with mistaken consideration, entered the drawing-room almost on
tiptoe, and proceeded forthwith to condole with her in stage whispers.
She soon put a stop to this artificial sympathy. Further reference to
life beyond the grave she could not and would not stand, as she told
him crisply.

“Don’t talk funeral, unless you wish to see me wreck the room. I have
had months of crying and crape and condoling.”

“But the sad circumstances—-”

“Are such that I did not wish to see you,” she retorted, finishing his
sentences for him as usual, after her old fashion. “I feel so scratchy
that I declined your visit out of sheer pity. But you would insist, so
don’t blame me if I am disagreeable.”

“You can never be disagreeable,” said Askew, soothingly.

“Can’t I? You wait ten minutes and see.”

“I think I had better go, Lady Jim.”

“For your own sake, I think you had. Good-bye.”

Askew still kept his seat. “I only wish to say that I am very–very
sorry for your terrible loss.”

“Lady Frith’s terrible loss, you mean. Go and see her, if you want to
play the hired mourner.”

“Ah, poor Lady Frith—-”

“Now don’t begin about her,” snapped Leah, viciously.

“But you must be sorry—-”

“I am–for myself. I have been dosed with the post-mortem virtues
of those three Kaimes men until I feel that only wicked people are
truly agreeable. I regret the Duke, who was a nice old sinner turned
saint, and I lament Lord Frith for his goodness and sweetness of
disposition–there.”

“I never heard that Lord Frith had a sweet disposition.”

“He hadn’t; but I’m only saying the kind of things you expect me to
say.”

“Oh!” Askew looked shocked. “Have the–er–bodies been found?”

“I don’t think so; but you can ask the executors who look after these
things. Any more questions?”

“No; only I am sorry—-”

“You said that before. You are sorry, I am sorry, we are sorry. I
think that conjugation exhausts the subject. Let us talk of your
yacht, Mr. Askew.”

“She’s all right,” he murmured, confused. It was difficult to
comprehend this woman, who so lightly dropped a family sorrow to take
on a subject which he knew interested her but little.

“And when do you sail?”

“To-morrow or next day. I came to say good-bye.”

“Oh!” said Leah, carelessly. “I fancied you came to sympathise.
Well”–she rose and extended her hand–“good-bye.”

Askew clasped her hand coldly, wondering how he ever came to love so
heartless a woman. As Jim was returning in glory and had not seen
Señorita Fajardo since his reported death, Leah felt that she could
safely dismiss this boy, to go where he would. Besides, she was
beginning to find him a bore. He took things much too seriously, and
was by no means so good-looking as she had imagined. All the same,
after the manner of woman, who wants to have her pie and eat it, she
by no means approved of his readiness to depart.

“You don’t seem to care much,” she said reproachfully, and felt quite
ill-used.

Askew coloured boyishly. “I am not broken-hearted, certainly.”

“I do not believe that you have a heart.”

“You are right–it is at Rosario.”

“Then I advise you to go after it, lest it should get mixed up with
other men’s hearts.”

“Lola is no flirt,” cried Askew, loyally.

“Then she must be altogether too good for this world. Good-bye! Bring
Mrs. Askew to see me when you return.”

“I fear you would be bored with her,” said he, sore and sarcastic.

“Probably. Married women are not interesting, except to people like
you and Jim, who persistently break the tenth commandment.”

“I know one married woman who—-”

“Who has just said good-bye to you, and repeats it,” snapped Lady Jim,
seeing he was about to be rude.

“Oh, very well, then, good-bye,” said Askew, going out in a rage with
her and with himself. And so they parted.

Leah returned smiling to her seat, delighted that she made him lose
his temper, as by doing so she had recovered her own. It was so
satisfactory to a deserted woman to think that a man whose love had
cooled should go away uncomfortable. “And what a mercy he is gone,”
said Lady Jim, settling to read fashions. “I hope he’ll stop in
America with that Lola creature for the rest of his silly life. I
suppose he won’t turn over this page of his book of life, but tear it
out.” And in this she was perfectly right. He did.

Towards five o’clock Lionel arrived. Although she had no intimation of
his coming, she quite expected to see him, and was prepared to make
any necessary scene. The young clergyman looked white and excited,
entering the room so rapidly that the footman had hardly time to
announce the title that he was losing.

Lady Jim, recognising a crisis, came forward rapidly with studied
emotion. “You know all–all,” she said in a choking voice, and caught
his hands.

He was taken aback. “Yes, if you mean that your husband lives.”

“It is true, then–it is true”; she tottered to the sofa, and cast
herself down with passionate emotion. “Say that it is true!”

“I think so. But how do you know?”

Leah sat up with a puzzled look. “Did you not get my letter saying
that I had had a shock, and intended to consult Mr. Hall?”

“Yes; but you did not explain.”

“I could not, seeing the position it places you in.”

“Never mind me. If Jim is alive, he takes the title. So this man came
to you.”

“He did, and tried to extort money. Because I refused he hinted that
he would buy your silence. I never thought that he would dare to go to
Firmingham; but when you entered, a look told me all. But can you
believe this story–it seems incredible?”

“The police do not think so,” said Lionel, grimly.

Lady Jim dropped on to the sofa again. “The police!”

“Of course. This scoundrel came to Firmingham, and said that if I gave
him three thousand pounds he would keep Jim away from England so that
I could enjoy the title. I learned the truth about this conspiracy of
Dr. Demetrius, and then had Captain Strange arrested. To-day a
policeman brought him to London. He is in prison.”

“Serve him right, the brute. Did he not tell you how he threatened
me?”

“No; I never guessed that he had come to you.”

“But he did, and said that if I gave him two thousand pounds he would
bring Jim back. Failing me, he tried you at a higher price. I should
have had him arrested, Mr. Hall says, but I could not. I was
bewildered–quite bewildered. It seems incredible. Oh, Lionel,”–she
laid her hand imploringly on his sleeve–“surely Demetrius did not
behave so vilely!”

“I fear that he did. The man, as every one in London knows, was madly
in love with you.”

“I never encouraged him–really I didn’t.”

“No,” said Lionel, bluntly. “I do not think he was rich enough for you
to encourage.”

“How can you think so badly of me?”

“Because you are all self–you admitted that long ago. To do you
justice, I think you were a good wife to Jim.”

“I _am_ a good wife. Don’t make me out to be the widow I am not. Of
course, this story must be false,” she ended, helplessly.

“I think not–it is too circumstantial. And moreover, this man, who
appears to be illiterate, could not invent such a tale. Plainly the
Russian, who seemed to be clever, conspired to get rid of Jim, so that
you might be induced to marry him.”

“As though I would ever do such a thing! I told you at Firmingham that
I had no intention of marrying. I daresay Jim and I will come together
again, and be very happy.”

“I hope so–I trust so,” said Lionel, with solemn emphasis. “Remember,
God is giving you another chance.”

“I made very good use of the last one,” she retorted sullenly. “Jim
was always to blame, and not I. I suppose this insurance money will
have to be given back.”

“Certainly. You can hardly complain of that, seeing the income you
will now receive.”

“Jim will, you mean. I expect he’ll turn out a screw now that he is
rich. Your spendthrifts are always old misers. And I don’t see why you
should be nasty. I’m sure I have had a miserable time.”

“You will have a happy one now,” he said, relenting.

“With Jim?” she cried derisively. “How optimistic you are!”

“Surely I have a right to be, when God is so good to you.”

“God,” she echoed, vaguely, and thinking of the obliging fetish. “Oh
yes, of course. I’m awfully thankful. The insurance money would not
have lasted for ever, and I might not have found so manageable a
husband as Jim. Things will be jolly now.”

Lionel groaned. “Is that as high as you can rise?” he asked,
rebukingly.

“Oh, Lord, what do you want me to say?” cried Leah, with the
causeless anger of the overwrought. “I can’t think of pious proverbs
when I am like this. What with supposed deaths and real deaths, and
nothing but funerals to amuse one, I don’t know if I am on my head or
my heels. There, that’s vulgar, and you needn’t look disgusted if it
is. I feel vulgar. I could run out and howl up and down Curzon
Street like a Whitechapel woman in a tantrum. And if you preach,–if
you–you—- Oh, what fools men are!”

She choked, rolled in her chair, ripped a handkerchief, and kicked
away a foot-stool.

The curate–as he was once more–saw how she tried to fight down the
hysteria, and wisely refrained from speech. A single word might cause
the primitive emotions to burst with volcanic force through the
imposed customs of civilisation. Considering the joyful news of Jim
Kaimes’ resurrection and the trouble of the attempted blackmail, it
was natural that she should suddenly betray feminine weakness. She was
but a woman when all was said and done. Leah would have repudiated
this conclusion with scorn, as she had small regard for her sex; but a
woman she was at the moment, unstrung, foolish, wild with dread that
the unforeseen might happen. Lionel moved silently to the door. In a
moment she was at his side, reaching him with the bound of a
pantheress.

“Don’t be angry,” she panted, laying her hand on his arm; “but you do
worry me so, and if you knew–if you really knew—-” She gasped and
bit her lip, to prevent an unguarded tongue blurting out the whole.

“There, there!” He patted her hand, and she could have slapped him for
the caress, which revealed his knowledge of her weakness. “It’s all
right–all right. Be calm! There, there!”

“Oh, Lord, what tact!” and so disgusted was she with the stupidity of
the man that her nerves relaxed “I say, Lionel,” with an artificial
laugh, “aren’t you sorry for yourself?”

“Not in the least,” he replied promptly. “I am no Jacob to usurp the
heritage of Esau. High or low, we can all serve God in our degrees.
Ask Jim to make me vicar of Firmingham.”

“I will, if you promise not to preach.”

“How would you have me earn my salary, then?” he asked humorously, and
glad that she appeared more composed. “Now I advise you to lie down.”

“Yes,” she assented submissively; “I will lie down. And you?”

“I go at once to see Mr. Hall, about getting Jim set free. Good-bye,
Duchess”; and in a moment he was gone, anxious to escape further
irresponsible speech.

“Duchess!” echoed Leah, staring at the closed door. “Duchess!”

It was all right then, so far as Lionel was concerned, seeing that he
gave her the title which Mr. Hall withheld. He at least believed in
the wonderful story of Strange. With Lionel on her side things would
be bound to come out all right. Still, although the trees were
thinning, she was not yet out of the wood. The green light of safety
had not yet been substituted for the red danger signal.

“I am aching all over,” said Leah, addressing her reflection in the
mirror; “there’s a twist of nerves between my eyes, and I could scream
the house down. But I shan’t!” She flung away from the glass, gripping
her courage with both hands. “I’ll be calm, and easy in my mind, till
Jim comes back. When the worst is over, I shall collapse–I know I
shall. Till then–till then–Oh, God”–the weakness she declined to
recognise broke forth in prayer–“give me grit and pluck to fight
through to the end.”

So she prayed, but not to the fetish. In this uplifted moment Leah
felt that Lionel’s Deity was not a myth, but a terrible reality.