The business was serious enough

Leah welcomed the New Year at Firmingham, with the fervent hope that
its bounty would bestow the insurance money, and rid her of an
official husband. It really seemed as though Providence, or the
fetish, was in a benign mood, for Jim caught the worst of colds while
skating. Being confined to an undesired bed, and fed with food
tasteless to a cultivated palate, he lost both flesh and temper.
Demetrius talked gravely of weak lungs, and hinted at inherited
consumption. The Duke was anxious, but scarcely surprised, and
recalled similar cases of a grandmother, two ancestors, and a rackety
uncle. Lady Jim encouraged these pulmonary recollections for obvious
reasons. She and Demetrius winked privately at one another like the
celebrated augurs, when they heard the old man’s lamentations. Nature
was acting strictly on the lines of the Russian’s proposed medicine,
and there was no need to dose Jim into a sickly likeness of Garth. Day
by day he grew as white-faced, as haggard, and as lean, until he
became alarmed at the anxiety of Providence to forward the schemes of
himself and Leah.

But there was no end to the kindness of an overruling fate. Jim’s
illness afforded his wife the opportunity of posing as a sister of
mercy, and she fussed round the patient so ostentatiously, that the
Duke was quite touched. He began to think that Leah was a true
ministering angel, and not the money-wasting doll he had considered
her to be. Jim grinned as Leah measured medicine, and fed him with
gruel, and read him interesting bits from the sporting journals.

“I believe I’m goin’ to get well,” he chuckled.

“Why so, dear?” asked his wife, who was profuse of adjectives in
private, so that they might slip out the more easily in public.

“You look so uncommon dismal.”

“It is necessary to keep up appearances,” Leah assured him. “Besides,
this will be the last chance of my doing anything for you. In future,
Lola will soothe your weary pillow”; after which and similar passages
of arms, Jim would curse himself to sleep, and wake up to accuse his
wife of wishing to poison him.

This fortunate illness kept Lady Jim at Firmingham when the
house-party disintegrated. But as the Duke was a twaddling old ass,
and Jim the most trying of patients, Leah looked upon her ten days’
boredom as a kind of Lenten penance. Besides, she had frequent
confabulations with Demetrius, to settle details of the plot. Already
the doctor had explained to the Duke that Garth would die easier in
the tropics, and Funchal had been selected as the most agreeable place
for his demise.

“And then?” asked Lady Jim.

“Your husband must go to Jamaica, to wait events.”

“What events?”

“Those which I propose to bring about,” retorted Demetrius, who had
his reasons for not explaining himself too fully.

Leah did not question him closely. With a selfish regard for her own
safety, in case anything might leak out, she preferred that the doctor
should arrange matters in his own way. But she obeyed instructions to
the extent of hinting to the Duke that Kingston was the very best
place for dear Jim’s weak lungs.

“Will you go with him?” asked Pentland, anxiously.

“Oh no,” said Lady Jim, sweetly; “we mustn’t make too much fuss over
him, else he’ll think he’s going to die.”

“He might,” sighed the Duke. “I had an uncle—-” and he described the
sufferings of old Lord George for the tenth time.

Leah comforted him after the manner of one Bildad, a Shuhite. “Oh,
Kingston will do Jim no end of good, my dear Duke. It won’t cure one
lung, but it may patch up the other. And then, you know, if he gets
worse, I can always reach him in fourteen days.”

“Does Demetrius think he will die?” asked the Duke, piteously.

“He doesn’t think poor Jim will ever be so strong as he was,” said
Leah, gravely; “but he’ll hang on, with care.”

“Just like my grandmother,” muttered the Duke, and then detailed the
sufferings of a dowager duchess, who couldn’t be kept alive beyond the
age of sixty.

“If Jim lives till that age, I shall be content,” said Leah.

“Are you thinking of the insurance money?” demanded Pentland, with
sudden anger.

“What insurance money? Oh yes, I think Jim did mention something about
an insurance.”

“He gets it if he lives till sixty.”

“Really! I don’t quite understand, Duke, but I’m sure it’s all right.”

“I hope so, my dear. Has he made his will?”

“No. Why should he?”

“Because, in the event of his dying, the insurance money should be
left to you. No will means trouble.”

Leah had never thought of a will, as it seemed natural that the money
should come to her without the necessity of paying lawyers’ bills. But
her quick brain seized the chance of smoothing the way to acquiring
the fortune with as little trouble as possible, and she promptly
cornered the Duke. “_You_ speak to him,” she suggested.

And this the Duke did, with the result that a will leaving the money
to Leah was drawn up and signed, after some opposition, by Jim. He did
not at all relish the carrying out of this necessary step. It was too
like preparing a death certificate to please Jim.

However, as a reward for his obedience, Demetrius set him on his legs,
and Jim went to Torquay with the devoted Leah. But when he was settled
in a comfortable hotel as an interesting invalid, and with a
superfluity of pretty girls to soothe him with sympathy, Lady Jim left
him for a round of visits to various country-houses. Now that the Duke
was out of sight, Jim’s connubial comforts were out of mind; but Leah
left strict injunctions that he was not to put on flesh. Within the
month, she was to see him start for Jamaica, and impressed upon him
the necessity of looking quite ready to depart for a place where Jim
had no desire to go.

“I don’t see why you want to make a holy show of me,” grumbled Jim.

“We must make your death appear as plausible as possible.”

“But I don’t want to look like a livin’ skeleton.”

“Oh, I don’t think Lola will mind,” said Leah, cruelly, and started
out to enjoy herself in the best of spirits.

While at Lord Sargon’s seat in Shropshire, she met Askew in the
company of the fixture. The young man’s betrothed was extremely like a
dairy-maid, and her frocks set Lady Jim’s teeth on edge. If she could
combine colours that did not match, she always did so, and her
character was as colourless as her wardrobe was gaudy. Marjory was the
creature’s name, and her conversation was the “Pa-pa!” “Mam-ma!” of a
squeaking doll.

“How much are you paying for her?” asked Leah, after satisfying
herself that the young lady was really a woman.

“Five thousand a year,” replied the lieutenant, sulkily.

“What a bargain!”

“Don’t laugh at me,” he implored; “you know there is but one woman in
the world for me.”

“So you told me. Lola–what’s her name?”

“Some one nearer and dearer than her!” he murmured, with what the
Americans call “goo-goo” eyes, whereat Lady Jim laughed, and allowed
him to fetch and carry, and sit on his hind legs and bark prettily,
like a well-trained lap-dog. It amused her, and kept him on
tenterhooks. The only annoying thing was, that Marjory seemed to care
little for this annexation of her lover. She much preferred a
fox-hunting squire, who talked “stables,” and glowered on Askew for
not appreciating the dairy-maid.

In this capture of another woman’s man, Leah combined pleasure with
business. She did not wish to spoil Jim’s little game with the Spanish
lady, and it would never do for Askew to detail Mr. Berring’s past in
a quarter where such betrayal would lead to trouble. By this time the
amorous sailor was the slave of beauty, so Lady Jim was sufficiently
mistress of his will to limit his correspondence. This she did one
evening after dinner, while admiring Marjory’s new frock.

“Yellow and green,” murmured Leah, when she and Askew filled up a
corner, and watched frantic people playing bridge; “poached egg on
spinach. If you design her gowns, Mr. Askew, I should advise a less
lavish use of primary colours.”

“She means well,” he muttered, apologetically.

“People who need excuses for existing always do,” retorted Lady Jim;
“but she is really a sweetly simple girl, with two ideas, neither of
which includes you, my dear boy. I am sure you will be very happy
together, doing cake-walks.”

“Doing cake-walks?”

“That sort of dress always makes me think of South Carolina and the
‘old Kentucky home,’ you know. They invented cake-walks there, I
believe. But I forgot–you prefer places below the equator.”

“I never think of South America,” he protested.

“Of course not. The jewel is more attractive than the casket. When did
you last hear from Señorita Fajardo?”

“I never had a letter from her in my life.”

“She is cautious, it seems. Are you?”

“I don’t write to her, if that is what you mean. I did love
her—-”

“What a polite thing to say to me!”

“But I don’t any longer. You see, I thought that Berring–your—-”

“There’s nothing in that,” said Lady Jim, quickly. “There never really
was, and if you really love this estancia lady, why not marry her?”

“I am engaged already.”

“To me, or to that pretty, vivacious girl over there?”

As Marjory was looking particularly like a wooden Dutch doll at the
moment, Askew reddened.

“I wish you wouldn’t say these things, Lady Jim—-”

“Lady James!”

“Lady James, then. Marjory can’t help herself.”

“It seems to me she has–to that intelligent young man with the face
like a sheep and the manners of a costermonger.”

“They were boy and girl together.”

“And are still, from the infantile look of them. I quite expect to see
their nurse arrive. You know, it won’t do,” said Leah, gravely; “here
I am making fun of Marjory, and you aren’t man enough to stand up for
her.”

The young man coloured still deeper, and mumbled something about a
woman’s privilege. Shortly he made a lame excuse, and left Leah to
devote himself to Marjory, who was not grateful for the attention.
Leah did not mind. She had learned that Askew did not correspond with
Lola Fajardo, and had no intention of doing so; therefore there was
little likelihood that Jim’s fettered past would ever become known at
the Estancia, San Jago. Being really a good-natured woman with her
affections thoroughly under control, Leah half decided to loosen her
apron-strings and let Askew lead his bargain to the altar. But this
she did not do, for two obtrusive reasons, firstly, the fox-hunting
squire and Marjory were made for one another; and secondly, it would
be just as well to keep the sailor under her eye for the next year.
She did not wish him to hark back to Lima, for melodramatic purposes.

After a very pleasant visit, thanks to Askew’s infatuation, Lady Jim
returned to Curzon Street. There she found a letter from Demetrius
announcing that he and Garth had sailed for Madeira early in the
previous week, and that it would be as well if Lord James Kaimes
journeyed forthwith to Jamaica. Leah promptly sent an answer to her
accomplice at Funchal, a telegram to Jim, a paragraph to a society
paper, and a lengthy letter of sorrowful forebodings to the Duke. Then
she sat down to wait events, and, meanwhile, considered the situation.

Pentland was all right, thanks to her cajoling. Before she left
Firmingham he had arranged to free the income, to pay the debts, and
to allow her to occupy the Curzon Street house until such time as
Jamaica should kill or cure Jim. That interesting invalid had gone
halves over the cheque, and Leah’s purse still contained over fifty
pounds, which would do for the present. But she intended to get a few
hundreds from the Duke, by playing off Jim’s sickly looks and her own
lonely condition of grass-widowhood. It was really very satisfactory,
and she found it hard to look miserable, as in duty bound, when
Pentland arrived to see the last of Jim. Leah arranged that the
parting between father and son should be in town. She did not want to
have a bereaved father bothering at Southampton. The journey back to
town after Jim’s dispatch would be boring at the best, and her
consolatory powers were not great.

“You look disgustingly fit,” said Leah, when Jim was established on
the drawing-room sofa, with a rug and a few unnecessary medicine
bottles, and other sick-room paraphernalia.

“Sorry I can’t be more of a corpse,” growled the invalid; “but it’s
not easy to pretend you’re a goner, when y’ feel fit to jump over the
moon.”

“Try and cough louder,” suggested his wife.

“Shan’t! It hurts m’ throat. Hang it, I’ve lost three stone. I believe
you want me dead in real earnest.”

Lady Jim thought for a moment. “No, I don’t,” she said, truly enough.
“You haven’t treated me over well, and I should have been a different
woman, had you been a different man—-”

“Divorce court lingo,” said Jim, remembering what she had said at
Firmingham, and with a derisive laugh.

“All the same, I hope you’ll have a good time in South America.”

“Why not in Jamaica?”

“Because you’ve got to be thoroughly sick there. Demetrius will come
along later with Garth’s corpse, and—-”

“Ugh! Drop it! What about the money–my share?”

“I’ll get the cash, as soon as you are sent home.”

“Me? What for? Ain’t I goin’ to disappear?”

“Of course,” said Leah, impatiently; “but Demetrius has to embalm
your body and bring you home to the family vault.”

“I say, don’t,” cried Jim uneasily; “that’s the other Johnny you’re
talkin’ about. Leah,” he looked round cautiously, “I hope Demetrius
won’t polish off that poor fellow. He’s a sort of relative of mine, y’
know.”

“Don’t worry your head,” said Lady Jim, calmly. “Garth’s dying as fast
as he can; he may be dead by this time, for all we know. And don’t
think that I would allow Demetrius to be so wicked,” she cried, with
virtuous indignation. “I’m not a criminal.”

“Oh, Lord!” was all Jim could find to say, as he thought of what they
were doing, and conversation ended for the time being. Leah went to
the theatre and supper at the Savoy that evening, leaving Jim to
practise coughing amongst the useless medicine bottles.

Next day, both Pentland and his eldest son arrived at eleven, and were
informed by a sad-faced wife that her dear husband would travel to
Southampton by the afternoon train. At the sight of Leah’s dismal
looks and attentive care, Frith expressed his opinion that women were
protean.

“Never thought you cared so much for Jim,” he said bluntly.

“Oh, I don’t for a moment say that I think Jim is a good man,” was
Leah’s artistic reply; “and we’ve had our tiffs, like other married
people. But Jim’s my husband, after all. And he has his good points.”

“What are they?”

Lady Jim was not prepared with a catalogue of her husband’s
perfections. “Oh, I don’t know,” she murmured vaguely; “he drinks in
moderation, you know. That’s something.”

“There’s no virtue in resisting a non-existent temptation,” said the
Marquis, grimly. “Jim doesn’t come of a drinking family.”

“Of a consumptive one, I believe,” retorted Leah, softly.

Frith was nettled at the implied slight. “Not at all,” he said, with
unusual gruffness. “Look at me.”

“But that poor Garth—-”

“Oh, he–I don’t understand–and if you—-” Frith coloured as he met
her derisive eyes, and devoted himself to his brother.

Lady Jim left the affectionate trio together, lengthening out their
farewells, and retired, laughing, to her room. It was really amusing
to think that Jim, who was as healthy as a trout in a pond, should be
wept over, and coddled, and pitied, and generally elevated to a
sainthood. The business was serious enough, no doubt; but Leah could
not help seeing the humorous side. She felt unequal to keeping a grave
face while the comedy in the drawing-room was being played, and
therefore did not rejoin her husband till the principal comedians had
departed.

“We are a couple of rotters,” said Jim, gloomily, when she appeared.

“Speak for yourself, my dear,” she retorted coolly. “Well, and what
did they say?”

“Never you mind. You’d only snigger over a father takin’ leave of his
dyin’ son.”

“Oh! I did not know that the Duke had seen Harold Garth.”

“Leah,” cried her husband, fiercely, “you’re a–never mind. Whatever
you are, I’m another.”

“Did the Duke leave a cheque for me?” asked Leah, more business-like
than sympathetic.

Jim banged about among the medicine bottles. “Five hundred.”

“Dear man,” cried his wife, snatching the cheque from his very
reluctant hand. “I must go and dress for the journey.”

“Won’t you kiss me, Leah?” quavered Jim, really moved, and quite
forgetting the rascally plot in which he was taking so prominent a
part.

At the door she turned with an expression of withering scorn. “Keep
your kisses for your wife, Mr. Berring!” cried this too-previous
widow, and left him to digest the insult at his leisure.