THE EXPLANATION

A maid opened the door leading from a bedroom to a salon of the “royal
suite” at Harridge’s Hotel. Dusk had fallen, and entering, she
switched on the electricity. The room, with its almost Louis Seize
decorations, was suddenly flooded with light; and to her surprise the
Frenchwoman saw a slim black figure nestled deep among cushions on a
sofa before the fire. A small white face, with a frame of terra-cotta
hair crushed under a mourning toque, turned a pair of big black eyes
upon her.

“Miladi West!” exclaimed the maid. (She pronounced it “Vest”) “Pardon,
Madame, I did not know that any one was here.”

She spoke in French, with an accent which told that her first language
had been Italian, learned in the south of France; though in looks she
was the chic Parisienne. Her English was quite good, but when she used
that tongue, her accent was of New York. She preferred French,
however, was proud of being French, and had Frenchified her
Nicois-Italian name of Simonetta Amaranti to Simone Amaranthe. All
Juliet Phayre’s friends had to be polite to Simone.

“Mr. Phayre’s man let me in,” said the red-haired lady in widow’s
weeds. “After I’d had a look at the wedding presents, I was so dazzled
that I switched off the lights.” She laughed, and then cried, “Leave
the lights now! I suppose Mademoiselle won’t be forever?”

Simone shrugged her thin shoulders just perceptibly. “Mademoiselle
sent me out on an errand, Miladi. I have not long returned, with the
perfume she wanted. It was for the _coiffeur_ who is here to wash the
hair of Mademoiselle. She would not have the stuff he brought, so the
man was obliged to wait. I am afraid the drying, even with the hot-air
machine, will take some time. Miladi knows what a quantity of the
hairs there are on the pretty head of Mademoiselle, and how she is
exacting of the way everything is done!”

The red-haired lady guessed from the Frenchwoman’s tone that Simone
considered the introduction of a _coiffeur_ a slight to her own skill.
“Why, yes,” she agreed. “Mademoiselle is exacting. But what would
you? She is a spoiled child. The least crumple in a rose-leaf–by the
way, Simone” (she stopped for a little throaty chuckle), “is it true
about the _carpet_ in this suite?”

“The carpet, Miladi?” Simone flushed faintly through her dark skin,
and “Miladi” made a second guess. Of course Juliet trusted Simone, and
depended upon her blindly; but she–Emmy West–had often wondered how
certain spicy little items concerning the Phayre family reached the
gossip columns of “society papers.”

“I read such an amusing paragraph in _Modern Ways_ this morning,” she
explained. “It was _apropos_ of the wedding, of course. _Modern Ways_
loves a chance for a ‘dig’ at us Americans who marry well-known
Englishmen! It said that when Miss Juliet Phayre and her Uncle Henry
came over from Paris the other day, and took this royal suite which Mr.
Phayre had engaged, Miss Phayre sent for the manager before she’d been
in the hotel half an hour. ‘There’s a spot of ink on the carpet,’ she
complained (according to the paper). ‘I must have another carpet at
once.’ Now do tell me, Simone (I’m very discreet!) did that really
happen?”

“It did, Madame,” the maid admitted. “Though how it got to these
sacred journalists—-”

“And did the manager say to Mademoiselle, ‘We have had half the kings
of Europe in this suite since that spot appeared, Miss Phayre, and not
one of them mentioned it!'”

“His words were to that effect, Miladi, so far as I remember. But—-”

“Oh, then you _were_ in the room? What fun! You can tell me if
Juliet–if Mademoiselle replied that a spotted carpet might be good
enough for a king; it wasn’t good enough for a Phayre.”

Simone flung out her hands, palm upward. They were beautifully
manicured hands, as carefully tended as her mistress’s. And as she
smiled her teeth showed very white. When her face was grave, she
looked somewhat sullen, and might be thirty-five; but the smile was
rejuvenating. It put her back to twenty-eight, and made her almost
handsome as well as _chic_. “Miladi has known Mademoiselle since her
schooldays, is it not?” she hedged. “Miladi will be able to judge as
well as if I told her whether Mademoiselle would have made that answer.”

“I thought it rang true when I read it!” laughed Lady West. “But
Simone, when you say I have ‘known Mademoiselle since her schooldays’,
you make me sound awfully antique. We were at Madame de Sain’s
together. I came over to England the year I left, and married poor Sir
Algy only three months after I was presented.” She thought it best to
hammer these details into Simone’s head, in case the woman really _was_
in touch with those back-door, kitchen-stairs reporters. Then, to give
an air of carelessness to her words, she turned the subject. “Perhaps
you might let Mademoiselle know I’ve come. Parker told me that she was
lying down–that she’d promised her uncle to rest till tea time. So I
wouldn’t have her disturbed. But if her hair is being washed, she
might let me in.”

“I will ask Miladi,” said Simone. “I came to the salon to see if the
curtains were drawn. If Madame permits!” She tripped with her short,
high-heeled step first to one window, then the other, and closed the
draperies of old-rose brocade. Having done this, she pattered out of
the room.

Emmy West’s eyes followed the thin but graceful figure in black silk.
“Simone is a character!” she thought. And she wondered what the maid’s
secret opinion was of this marriage which would take place next day;
the richest American heiress with the poorest British duke!

Left alone again, Emmy wriggled up from her nest of cushions, and
beguiled the time in examining the wedding gifts once more. This did
not take long, as the marriage had been suddenly hurried on by special
license, and friends of Juliet Phayre and the Duke of Claremanagh had
had only a few days to send in their offerings. Emmy had made this
uninvited visit with the object of admiring a certain one of Juliet’s
presents, but she had already informed herself that it was not on show
with the rest. Unless the bride-elect refused to see her, she did not
intend to leave Harridge’s without a glimpse–or anyhow, news–of it.

When she had wandered languidly round the three or four tables on which
jewel cases, gold, silver, china, and tortoise-shell things were
spread, she propped her own black-edged card conspicuously in front of
a Sevres-framed mirror, and bent down for a hasty peep at her face in
its oval. She wondered if her hair were a tiny touch too red. She
liked it, herself, and thought the heart-shaped white face, with its
wide-apart black eyes set in that copper halo, a siren face. In the
weeds of a war-widow it seemed to her that she was almost irresistible,
but she could not help realizing that there were people who did resist
her. The Duke was one. And an attractive cousin of Juliet’s, John
Manners, was another. She was vaguely aware that her own taste was
decidedly vivid. Perhaps the hair _was_ rather red! She had had it
“bobbed” since Juliet came to London, because it worried her that
Juliet should look years younger than she. No one would take Lady West
for twenty-seven, but she had been an “old girl” and Juliet a “new
girl,” the year they met at school. Juliet was twenty-three now, and
she, Emmy, had gone back to twenty-five. One had to be that, if one
had married before the war!

Quickly she dusted on a little powder from her vanity box, and
accentuated the cupid’s bow of her lips with a stick of red salve, for
it was possible that Claremanagh might “breeze in.” It would be like
him! This thought was still in her mind when a door behind her opened.
She turned nervously, tucking the lip-salve into her gold mesh bag, for
just now the Duke was having a craze for baby complexions without
make-up. But it was not the Duke. It was a girl, standing in the
doorway between bedroom and salon.

“Hello, Emmy!” she said.

“Hello, Juliet!” said Emmy. And suddenly she felt years older than she
had felt a moment ago. Juliet Phayre was such a big baby!

The girl wore a pale pink chiffon thing which she probably considered a
dressing gown. It was embroidered with wild roses and banded with
swansdown, and no practical person would have dreamed of keeping it on
for a shampoo. Juliet, however, thought herself sufficiently protected
with a towel over her shoulders–a silvery damask towel under which her
bare, girlish arms hung down. Over the towel streamed masses of hair
in long, wet strands, which must be bright golden-brown when dry.
These fell–weighted with water–nearly to her knees, and from their
curly ends drops poured like unstrung pearls. She was so tall and
slender, and brilliant rose-and-white, that she would have looked to a
poet like Undine just out of her fountain.

“You extravagant thing,” Lady West scolded, “to spoil a lovely boudoir
gown like that!”

“Simone gets it to-morrow as a perquisite, with all my old things,”
Juliet dismissed the subject. “She said you’d been here an age, so I
thought I’d better come in. I’ll dry my hair before the fire,
presently we’ll have tea.”

So saying, she sat down tailor-fashion on a long, fat velvet cushion
which lay in front of the low fender.

“Evidently you’re not expecting the Duke,” laughed Lady West.

“No-o,” said the girl. “But I’m expecting a letter from him–or
something.”

“You haven’t got the pearls on show with your other presents, I see,”
remarked her friend. “I don’t blame you! Of course, Parker is doing
the watch-dog act outside; and only your _bestest_ pals come up.
Still, the pearls are frightfully valuable. And you can never tell!
But do, _do_ let me see them. I’m dying to!”

“I haven’t got them yet,” Juliet confessed.

“Not got them?” gasped the elder woman. “You’re joking. Why”–and she
laughed with great gaiety–“one _marries_ Claremanagh for his pearls!”

“Does one?” Juliet took her up. “I know whole populations of females
who’d give _their_ pearls to marry him, for–himself!”

This told Emmy West that the bride-to-be knew she had been scratched,
and was ready to scratch back. For an instant Emmy hesitated whether
to be sweet or sharp, and decided to compromise. “By Jove, you _are_
in love, aren’t you?” she said.

“I am,” Juliet admitted. “I don’t care a rap about being a duchess.
That sort of thing seems–somehow old-fashioned since the war. And I
don’t think I ever was a snob, thank goodness.”

Emmy wondered if this were another “dig.” She had been a Chicago girl,
and only a “tuppenny half-penny” heiress, compared to Juliet Phayre;
but she had wanted a title, and had paid all she could afford for a
mere baronet, such as her few hundred thousand dollars would buy. On
the sofa once more facing her low-seated hostess, she looked Juliet
full in the eyes; but Juliet’s were innocent, even dreamy. “I’d have
snapped at my Boy if he’d been just a Tommy when I met him Over There,
instead of a perfectly gorgeous Guardsman,” the girl went on. “But, of
course, I _do_ want the pearls! I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t;
everyone talks about them so much, even my Cousin Jack Manners, and
says they’re so marvellous. I expect they are what Pat is sending
around this evening.”

“Sending around!” repeated the other. “You talk as if–as if they were
a box of chocolates! Claremanagh is the careless-est creature on
earth, I know. And he has been–er–very careless with the pearls.
But I don’t think even he would be as bad as that.”

“Why not?” asked the girl to whom most jewels meant little. “If he
sent them by Old Nick, that dear, quaint man of his, they’d be safer
than if he brought them himself. I never knew before that he was
superstitious. But he is. It’s bad luck for a Claremanagh to see his
bride the day before the wedding. _Creepy_ things have happened, it
seems, according to an old story! So he said he wasn’t running risks.
For some reason, he couldn’t give me his present before to-day. So
that’s why the thing is to come by messenger, you see.”

“I see,” echoed Emmy. “And you’re sure the present _will_ be the
pearls?”

This was rather an impudent question to ask, especially for one who
knew the Duke’s circumstances; but, for a wonder, Juliet did not seem
to mind. She answered quite easily, “Oh, I suppose so. Don’t the
Claremanagh men always give them to their brides?”

“I believe they have dutifully handed them over _so far_–for several
generations, since the pearls came into their family in that exciting
way,” said Lady West. “But you know, Peter–I mean Claremanagh–is
very independent, and quite–er–a law unto himself.”

“Why do you call him ‘Peter’?” the girl branched off from the subject.
“He has about a dozen names, I know, but I hadn’t heard that ‘Peter’
was one. My selection from the lot is Pat!”

“Oh, ‘Peter’ was only a silly nickname I made up for him. ‘Peter Pan’,
because he just isn’t the sort who ever grows up!” Emmy explained
elaborately. “Of course he was a lot with Algy and me the first year I
married–before the war spoilt everything for everyone. And then, when
I took up Red Cross work in France, after poor Algy—”

“I know,” Juliet ruthlessly interrupted. “That was where and when _I_
came on the scene.”

“It was,” agreed Emmy, in a flat voice. “You came, you saw, you
conquered. But we were talking of the Tsarina pearls. I do hope the
Duke _is_ ‘delivering the goods’, as we say in our country. I don’t
mind confessing to you, my angel child, I dropped in hoping for a
private view.”

“Oh, I guessed _that_ the minute Simone told me you were here, and
determined to wait!” Juliet laughed like a naughty child who dares a
“grown-up” to slap it. Emmy’s ears tingled. The girl’s tone, though
intimate and friendly, told her how unimportant she was in the future
Duchess’s scheme of things. She had always envied Juliet, and had an
old grudge against the heiress for refusing her brother, Bill Lowndes.
Now she suddenly hated her. Instead of inflicting a kittenish scratch
or two, she wanted to strike at Juliet Phayre’s heart.

“Well,” she excused herself, “I never saw the pearls, except–er–at a
_distance_.”

“You have seen them, then?” Juliet exclaimed. “How was that? Pat’s
mother died years before you knew him, and only the Duchess is supposed
to wear the pearls, isn’t she?”

“Only the Duchess is _supposed_ to wear them.”

Juliet sat up straight on the velvet cushion. Her hair was drying
beautifully now. The red background of fireglow lit it to flame, so
that Lady West saw the slight figure surrounded by a nimbus. “Ever
since Pat and I were engaged, you’ve been hinting at something queer,
or _secret_, about that rope of pearls, Emmy,” the girl blazed. “Now,
_out_ with it, please! Tell me what you mean.”

The elder woman was taken aback. “Don’t you _know_ what I mean?” she
temporized.

“No, I don’t,” snapped Juliet. “But I’m sure it’s something
unpleasant.”

“At least, I had no intention of telling you,” Lady West snapped back.
“I wouldn’t distress you for worlds, dear, especially on your _wedding
eve_.”

“Wedding eve be–‘jizzled!'” inelegantly remarked the bride-elect.
“You sound quite early Edwardian! If you don’t tell me, I shall think
the thing worse than it is.”

“You had better ask Claremanagh, or Jack Manners, who is a pal of his,”
said Emmy.

“I can’t, till I have an idea what to ask them about.”

“Ask whether Lyda Pavoya ever–no, I won’t say it!”

“Whether she ever wore the pearls? That’s what you were going to say!”

“So you _did_ know?”

“I didn’t. And I don’t now. I only know what you have in your mind.
I don’t believe she was allowed to wear the pearls.”

“Why should you believe it? And even if she did, it was before you
knew Peter–the Duke. Or anyhow, it was before you were _engaged_. It
was when she was dancing for the Polish Relief Fund in Paris, that I
saw—-”

“You saw what?”

“Saw–her.”

“Emmy! You _didn’t_ see her wearing the Tsarina pearls? It’s not
possible.”

“Why, of course you must be right, dear. Even though they are _blue_,
they’d be like any other pearls, wouldn’t they, _to see at a distance_.”

“That’s just what you said about Pat’s pearls five minutes ago: that
you’d seen them only ‘at a distance.'”

Lady West did not reply. She put on a stricken, trapped expression,
which went well with her widow’s weeds. The two gazed into each
other’s eyes, each waiting for the other to speak. Neither heard a
sound at the door until a respectable voice–such a voice as is never
possessed save by a British butler or valet–announced “His Grace the
Duke of Claremanagh.”

A perfectly charming young man came in–a young man so delightful to
look at that it seemed almost too much that he should be a duke. With
that merry brown face (the war had left a scar across cheek and
temple), those Celtic grey eyes, that jet-black hair, that “figure for
a fencer,” and above all that engaging grin of his, the merest Nobody
might hope to make his mark as Somebody.

“Breezing in” (as Emmy had put it), he smiled his nice smile that
brought a dimple like a cut line into each thin, tanned cheek. The
smile was for Juliet, whose velvet throne was opposite the door, and
for her he waved aloft a small, sealed white parcel. Then he saw Lady
West, and his expression changed. As the saying is, his “face fell,”
but in half a second he had controlled his features.

“How do you do?” he enquired. His voice was as pleasant as his grin,
but there was a slight stiffness in his tone for the red-haired
war-widow.

“I’m going strong, thanks! Going in every sense of the word,” Emmy
assured him. “I should have taken myself off before now, only Juliet
pretended not to be expecting you. Of course, the day before the
wedding _is_ supposed by old-fashioned folk to be close time for
brides, where their loving bridegrooms are concerned, and so—-”

“I’m not old-fashioned,” said Claremanagh.

“Rather not! I’ve every reason for knowing that. We all have. But
Juliet had some story about a ‘bad luck’ superstition. I thought you
were the last man to be superstitious, Irish as you are, but it didn’t
sound like a joke—-”

“It wasn’t a joke. I’m as superstitious as the deuce about one or two
things,” the man confessed. “Juliet wasn’t ‘pretending’ but”–and he
turned to the girl–“I had to come. There was something I didn’t want
to explain in a letter, and–hang ‘bad luck!’ It’s a cross dog that
would dare bite us.”

As Emmy West saw the look he gave Juliet, she felt as though her heart
had been sharply pinched between a thumb and a finger. She had
believed till now that his “superstition” was an excuse for spending
his time with someone whose society he preferred to the bride’s. Yet
here he was, bouncing in like a bomb, with that eager light in his
eyes, and in his hand a packet which _might_ be the pearls!

When Juliet explained that there “was a reason” why Claremanagh
“couldn’t give his present till to-day,” an exciting thought had
tumbled into Emmy’s head: What if Lyda Pavoya had refused to return the
pearls he’d been teased into lending her, and had taken them to New
York, where she was now dancing? Emmy visioned the poor Duke
frantically cabling, the moment he had secured the American heiress; or
perhaps engaging a lawyer to frighten the Polish siren. Lyda wouldn’t
be easy to frighten, Emmy imagined, admiringly. (She, in fact, admired
the dancer so sincerely, that her own attempts at sirenhood were copied
from Pavoya.) Even if Lyda had disgorged the booty, would there have
been time for it to arrive from across the Atlantic? Only the opening
of that little parcel would show, and Emmy’s jealous pain was
complicated by curiosity.

Still, she decided, it would be useless to wear out her welcome by
lingering. The chances were that Claremanagh wouldn’t break those
thrilling seals till she had gone. Besides, Juliet was in a state of
suppressed fury, and was capable in that mood of banishing her with
rudeness. In some moods, the girl was capable of _anything_! So Lady
West “kissed air” in the neighbourhood of Miss Phayre’s burning cheeks,
and accepted defeat with one sole satisfaction: If the pearls had
come–or if they ever came!–she had pretty well spoiled them for the
future Duchess.

“_Au revoir_, dearest child,” she said. “I shall be in church
to-morrow, of course. _Au revoir_, Peter, and good luck in spite of
the Claremanagh curse. I do hope it won’t put on seven-league boots
and follow you to New York.”

“Leather’s too dear since the war for superannuated old curses to buy
seven-league boots,” replied the Duke, unflatteringly prompt in opening
the door.

The pretty lady went to it with wormlike meekness, but turned on the
threshold. “If I meet the Curse, I’ll tell it to mind its business,”
she laughed. “The Claremanaghs have had enough bad luck. You’ll
create a new record, working out your democratic notions in a new
country, with one or two _old friends_ there to applaud them.”

With this exit speech she put herself in charge of Parker, who would
ring up the lift for her. The Duke shut the salon door, and turned to
the girl. He didn’t even say “Thank goodness, the woman’s gone!” He
seemed to have forgotten her existence.

“Heavens, what hair you have!” he exclaimed. “I knew it must be
gorgeous, but I didn’t dream of _this_. To-night I _shall_ dream of
it! By rights, I oughtn’t to have seen this show till to-morrow night,
ought I? But I’m glad I have. All your beauties bursting upon me at
once would be too much for my brain.”

“Don’t make fun of me,” Juliet laughed, with a wistfulness rather
pathetic in so pretty and so rich a girl.

“Make fun of you!” Claremanagh snatched her up from the low seat, and
crushed the yielding, thinly clad young body in his arms. On the
sweet-scented, damp hair he rained kisses. “Am I a wooden man? Take
that–and that, to punish you! Mavourneen–if it were _to-morrow_!”

Between warm joy and chilling doubt Juliet Phayre shivered. If only
she could believe him–believe that he cared for her, and not for the
money! She almost had believed–before Emmy West came.

The girl burned to tell “Pat” what Emmy had said and hinted. If he
could reassure her, it would be balm on a wound never quite healed.
But–_if he couldn’t_. If questioning should make bad things worse?
Then she would wish in vain that she’d “let sleeping dogs lie,” because
she loved the man too much to give him up. She had wanted him as a
child wants the moon, ever since the day she, a gilt-edged Red Cross
nurse, had met him, a soldier on leave, in Paris. Now she had got
him–or almost–and the future _might_ be so wonderful!

He had promised her uncle, Henry Phayre, to live for at least half of
each year in America, there to work as other men worked (Phayre would
supply the employment), and Juliet had looked forward to being proud of
her adorable husband, happy with him; a living proof–the pair of
them–that an American girl can marry a duke for himself, not for his
title; that a duke can make an American heiress his wife for love. But
now, Emmy had raked up those old rags of gossip, nearly forgotten. And
Juliet had read in the paper only a few days ago about Pavoya’s first
night in New York; the furore her “wild eastern dancing and strange,
Slavic fascination” had created. The girl felt sick at heart as she
asked herself if Pat’s pleasure in the thought of “seeing New York” had
any connection with Pavoya’s presence there.

It was all she could do not to purr out her complaints of “that _cat_,
Emmy West,” but native prudence prevailed over hot impulse. She
enjoyed as much as Emmy permitted Pat’s praise of her glorious hair
(surely Pavoya’s wasn’t as long or thick, and probably its “rusty red”
was due to dye), and then she reminded him of the parcel.

“Is it my present from you?” she asked, almost shyly, nodding toward
the table where Pat had thrown the neat white square.

Instantly he let her go, and took the little parcel again in his hand.

“Yes, sweet, it _is_ my present for you,” he said. “But _not_ the
present I wanted to give you. That’s why I risked the ‘curse’ and came
to explain.”

“Oh!” was the girl’s noncommittal answer. Her heart sank. The pearls
were not in the packet, she knew now, but her disappointment was not so
much in missing them as in the thought that Emmy could say “I told you
so!”

“Before you open these silly seals, and see what I’ve brought,” the
Duke went on, “I want to make my explanation, and be sure you
understand the whole business. Come and sit by me on the sofa, will
you?”

He drew her down beside him, and gathered her close.

“Of course, you know all about our pearls, the one ewe lamb of ancient
glory left to us poor Claremanaghs,” he said.

“I don’t know _all_ about them,” amended Juliet, her heart missing a
beat.

“Tell me just what you do know, and then I shan’t bore you with
repetitions.”

“Oh, people have told me things,” she hedged. “Didn’t a Tsarina of
Russia sell the pearls to some old ancestor of yours?”

“Good lord, no!” he chuckled. “Never was a Claremanagh so stony broke
as yours truly; yet never was there one since the days of pterodactyls
who could run to the price of a Tsarina’s pearls; that is, in _lucre_.
My great-great-grandfather bought them with kisses. But joking apart,
it’s rather a romantic tale. He was a soldier and offered his services
to Russia because he’d seen a portrait of the Tsarina, which the Prince
of Wales had, and fell in love with it. Well, she fell in love with
him, too, at sight. He wasn’t bad to look at, judging from his
portrait—-”

“Was he like you?” cut in Juliet.

Pat laughed. “They say so. When we can get those Pill people out of
Castle Claremanagh (their lease has a year to run) you shall tell me if
you find a likeness. There was an ‘affair’ between the two; and
great-great-grandfather Pat (he was Patrick, too, like all the eldest
sons) had it politely intimated to him, through his friend Wales, that
he’d better come home–a marriage had been arranged for him. He’d not
have stirred a foot if it hadn’t been for his Love. She begged him to
go. There was a plot to murder him, it seems, and as for her, she’d
ceased to be very popular with the Tsar, her husband. She made her
sweetheart promise to marry the English girl, and she gave him the rope
of pearls which since then have been called after her–the ‘Tsarina’s
pearls.’ They were for his wife, as a gift from her, so the girl
shouldn’t hate the thought of their love.”

“_I_ should have hated it all the more!” cried Juliet. “I wouldn’t
have _worn_ the things if I’d been his bride.”

“Well, as _my_ bride I hope you will wear them often. They’ll be
dashed becoming to your blondness, for the things are unique in one
way: they’re _blue_; a hundred and eighty immense and perfectly matched
blue pearls. Never has anything been seen like them, the expert
johnnies say.”

“Was the Tsarina a blonde?” the girl wanted to know.

“A copper-headed blonde. You shall see her miniature.”

Juliet said nothing. But she thought of Lyda Pavoya’s head. She had
never seen the Polish dancer, but she had heard her described: the
traditional “siren-green” eyes, white face, and red hair. And she knew
that Emmy West modelled herself, so far as Nature permitted, on Pavoya.

“In the ordinary sense of the word, the Tsarina pearls aren’t an
heirloom in our family,” Claremanagh continued. “But the first bride
who received them passed on the gift to her eldest son’s bride. So it
has gone on ever since. The thing falls to the heir, or his wife; and
it’s tacitly understood that neither the rope as a whole, nor even one
of the pearls, shall be sold. Well, I came into the inheritance (if
you can call it that) seven years ago, when I was twenty-one. I’m
afraid I’d have sold the bally thing more than once if I could have
done it in common decency. But I couldn’t. So there you _are_!”

“What _did_ you do with it?” Juliet ventured, half dreading the answer.
Her head was pressed close to Pat’s shoulder. She could not look up at
his face, but she thought a muscle jumped in the arm that held her, and
that there was a sudden change in his tone.

“Do with it?” he echoed. “Why, what should I do but keep it in the
bank waiting for the Lady of my Dreams? I couldn’t wear it round my
neck, you know! But, well, I did get it out of the bank now and then,
to show to beautiful beings who begged to see it. Once it was in a
Loan Exhibition for the benefit of something or other, I forget what.
The confession I have to make, though, is this: only two months before
I met the dearest girl on earth I was so hard up I’d have had to grind
a monkey-organ in the streets if I hadn’t been engaged in fighting for
King and Country. I’d had some beastly bad luck with a speculation an
alleged pal had let me in for, and honest Injun, I didn’t know which
way to turn, until a chap I know offered me two hundred thousand francs
on the security of the pearls.”

“_Francs?_” echoed Juliet.

“Yes. The man’s a Frenchman. And the business was done in France.
He’s a dashed good fellow in his way. But it’s a queer way. He’s a
kind of gilded, super money-lender. His transactions are only with his
friends, and the interest he takes is fair and square: twenty per cent.
instead of sixty or so, as the sharks do–to my bitter knowledge. With
what I got from Louis Mayen I paid my debts, and hung onto a bit, a few
thousands. Then, two months later, I met you–and the fat was in the
fire!”

“How, in the fire?”

“Why, I made up my mind at first sight to grab you if I could—-”

Juliet broke out laughing like a child, forgetful of her secret burden.
“_Did_ you–really? So did I you!”

“Bold hussy!” He kissed her with passion. “But it was worse for me
than you. I’d just lost my chance of giving you your legitimate
wedding present–if you’d have me. The day you said ‘Yes’, instead of
walking on air I could have thrown myself in the sea, I felt such a
fool.”

“Silly boy!” cried the girl. “Any real money-lender, or even your
super, gilded one, would have let you have all you wanted if you’d said
you were marrying Silas Phayre’s heiress. I mayn’t know much about
business, but I know that!”

“And I mayn’t be a saint, but I’m not a cad,” Claremanagh capped her.
“I wouldn’t go to a money-lender on the strength of being engaged to
you. I don’t say that if Louis Mayen had been in France then I’d not
have wheedled the pearls back from him, on the mere strength of
friendship, and an I.O.U., or some such arrangement. He’d have trusted
me,” Pat laughed; “anyhow, in the circumstances! But you and I were
engaged a fortnight after the Armistice, you remember. Just a week
before our own Great Day (yours and mine) Mayen went to Russia with a
lot of important Frenchmen of Hebrew blood, on a diplomatic mission.
He had a bad time in Petrograd. He and his lot were stuck into the
prison of St. Peter and St. Paul, by the Bolchies. I didn’t know where
the pearls were and couldn’t find out. That was two months ago. But
after six weeks in a cell, Mayen was released by order of Lenine; and
it was expected in Paris that he and the rest would be back in France
by now.

“We were there ourselves–you and your uncle in Paris, and I at G.H.Q.
you know, till just ten days ago–though it seems longer. And I was
hoping against hope that Mayen might turn up. I wouldn’t say a word to
you, for I didn’t want you to be disappointed. And even as late as
last night I wouldn’t quite give up. Your Cousin Jack Manners, who is
the best fellow on earth, has been watching things for me in Paris.
He’d heard that Mayen had quietly sneaked back, and hadn’t let any one
know, in order to get a good rest cure. But this turns out to be a
_canard_. Now you see why I had to go out and find you a ‘fairing’ as
the Scots say. I couldn’t afford anything worth while unless I
borrowed; so I thought things over, and decided that you’d prefer a
little remembrance of our wedding, bought with my own ‘pocket-money,’
and supplemented by a souvenir of my mother. Am I right?”

“Absolutely! Whatever you give me, I shall love it,” said Juliet. “I
wouldn’t care if it cost sixpence. It’s from _you_; that makes the
value for me. But, Pat, I can’t bear to think of your being poor! You
won’t be after to-morrow. I haven’t liked to talk of such things, but
I told Uncle Henry I wanted a million dollars settled on you, to use as
you pleased. Surely he did what I—-”

“He did, my child. But I ‘wasn’t taking any’. I meant to tell you
this myself when we were old married people–a week after the wedding,
let’s say! But since you’ve brought up the subject, we might as well
have it out. Your money is going to restore Claremanagh, and the jolly
old London house in Queen Anne’s gate that my great-grandfather bought.
I don’t so much mind that. You’ll enjoy the places. And it won’t be
till the tenants there turn out. I’m to have a screw from your uncle
for pretending to work in the S. P. Phayre Bank: a hundred dollars a
week to begin with (he offered more, but I wouldn’t have it), about a
fiftieth part of which I’ll really earn. But even that will bring me
nearly a hundred pounds a month, so I shan’t disgrace my wife by
wearing paper collars or elastic-sided boots, or not getting my hair
cut. Then, as my earning power increases, so will my pay. Besides,
your noble guardian wants to buy my place at Maidenhead, when it’s
free, next spring. He’ll give sixty thousand pounds, which will leave
me fifty when the mortgage is paid off; and Mr. Phayre will advise me
about investments. So you see, you’re not marrying a pauper after all,
my good girl! As for the pearls, it’s only a delay–an annoying delay.
When Mayen really does get back to Paris, he’ll find a letter from me
containing a post-dated cheque for the two hundred thousand francs, and
interest. That will come out of the fifty thousand pounds, and still
leave me a decent pile. Mayen will at once take steps to get the
pearls to me.”

“But we’ll be in New York,” objected Juliet. “How can Monsieur Mayen
send them without danger of their being stolen?”

“Trust him to arrange that,” Claremanagh soothed her. “There must be
lots of ways. Besides, they’ll be insured for their full value, which
is supposed to be–intrinsic, not sentimental–one hundred thousand
pounds. What I hope is, they’ll be in time for you to make a show in
your box at the opera–Metropolitan Opera House, you call it, don’t
you? You see, I’ve been reading up a guide book to New York! And now
I’ve made all my explanations and excuses, my darling, you’d better
open the poor little box.”

His arm still round her, the girl broke the jeweller’s seals. Inside
the white paper was a white velvet case, and inside the white velvet
case was a string of white pearls. They were small, but good, and from
them depended an old-fashioned, open-faced locket containing an ivory
miniature of a beautiful boy.

“The pearls are from me,” Pat said. “The locket and miniature are from
my mother. She used always to wear the locket. And when she died,
eight years ago, one of the last things she did was to give it to me,
‘for my bride’.”

Juliet Phayre would not have been human if she had not forgotten, in
that moment, both Emmy West and Lyda Pavoya.

Mrs. Lowndes, Emmy West’s sister-in-law, was giving a luncheon for the
Duchess of Claremanagh; and the Duchess was late. Nine lovely ladies
(including the hostess) were waiting for her in the Futurist drawing
room of an apartment overlooking the Park. It was not to all tastes a
beautiful drawing room, but it was expensive for all purses. So was
the apartment; too expensive, Billy Lowndes’ friends said, for his. As
for the ladies, each one was beautiful, or her clothes were; for Nat
Lowndes had chosen her guests with the special view of impressing the
Duchess, whom Billy had tried to marry when she was Miss Phayre.

The invitations were for one-fifteen, and before one-thirty everyone
had arrived–except the Duchess. By twenty to two the nine voices were
chattering with almost abnormal gaiety, but ears and eyes were secretly
on the alert. Natalie Lowndes was not precisely in the Duchess’ “set”,
or if she was, moved on the chilled outer edge of it. These women who
chatted in her startling salon would have preferred other engagements,
if they had not been asked “to meet the Duchess of Claremanagh.” Most
of them knew that Billy had desperately wanted Juliet Phayre, and that
Juliet had been at school with his sister, Lady West, now in London.
Their private opinion was that the Duchess had accepted for Lady West’s
sake rather than Mrs. Lowndes’; and as the minutes lagged, they
wondered if the chief guest were purposely proving her slight esteem of
the circle.

This idea ruffled their vanity, and as they talked, glancing at wrist
watches, their irritation grew. Natalie who, like her husband, was
from the Middle West, felt the atmosphere of her overheated room fall
to zero. She began to feel sick at heart, and tears pricked her
eyelids. But she kept a brave front.

No one had spoken yet of the delay, nor of the lady who caused it; but
at a quarter to two it seemed better to be frank.

“I can’t think what can have happened to Juliet!” Natalie said. (Nat
was one of those women who always called her smartest acquaintances by
their Christian names–behind their backs.) “We’ll wait five minutes
more–not a moment longer. I’m sure she wouldn’t wish it.”

“Royalties are always so prompt,” said Mrs. Sam Selby-Saunders, who
knew the habits of kings and queens from the Sunday Supplements.
“Evidently dukes–or anyhow duchesses–don’t follow their example.”

“Something must be the matter,” Nat defended the absent. “At first
Juliet was afraid she couldn’t accept to-day. You know, there’s a
meeting this morning at Mrs. Van Esten’s, to arrange details of the
wonderful roof garden show in aid of the Armenians. Juliet had to be
present, as she’s on the committee. But at last she decided she could
get away in time. She must have been kept.”

Nobody spoke for a minute. If there had been only Ten First Families
in New York, Mrs. Van Esten would still have been high on the list.
She was the organizer of the proposed entertainment, the plans for
which were thrilling the town; and if this business were keeping the
Duchess, she was almost excusable. Anyhow, nobody’s feelings need be
hurt.

Suddenly, in the midst of the pause, Miss Solomon laughed. Her father
was as rich as Silas Phayre had been, and there was no reason why she
shouldn’t be a duchess, too, some day, when travel abroad became
easier. “I did hear the _loveliest_ thing!” she chuckled. “I wonder
if any of you have heard it? … That Mrs. Van Esten meant to propose
at the committee meeting to-day the name of Lyda Pavoya.”

“Good gracious, for _what_?” gasped Nat Lowndes.

“To dance at the entertainment, of course. Mrs. Van E.’s maid and my
maid are cousins. So I should say it was true. You know Mrs. Van E.
is notorious for never listening to gossip. She prides herself on
‘being above it’. Very silly, _I_ think. Because one can make such
awful ‘gaffs’ if one doesn’t know the seamy side of things.”

“No wonder the Duchess is late!” cried Mrs. Sam. “She has probably had
to go home between the meeting and here to faint or have a fit.”

Nobody could help laughing, and nobody tried to help it. There was a
weekly paper in New York–a paper called the _Inner Circle_. This
publication one got one’s maid to buy and hide under a pile of books
until it could be read. The moment all its paragraphs had been
absorbed the paper was destroyed, thus making it possible to say, “the
_Inner Circle_! I wouldn’t give the wretched rag houseroom!” The
inside middle pages of the “rag” were headed “Let’s Whisper!” And at
the time of the Phayre-Claremanagh marriage, two months ago, the
choicest whispering had concerned the Duke’s flirtation with Lyda
Pavoya.

“It is easier to break off a flirtation than an engagement, because you
can’t be sued for breach of promise,” was one _mot_ of “The Whisperer,”
and it was intimated that the Duke had profited by this immunity when
he proposed to Miss Phayre. “But what about the pearls?” was a
question which no one had forgotten, and for which everyone wanted an
answer. Oh, yes, it would be a rich joke if Mrs. Van Esten proposed
Pavoya for a “star turn” at the Armenian charity entertainment!

“If it’s true,” said Nat, “Juliet couldn’t very well refuse her consent
to have Pavoya. That would make things worse. As it is, none of us
could help noticing how she has kept the Duke away from every single
opera where Pavoya has danced. Not once has he or she been in their
box on a Pavoya night. But—-”

The company hung on the word, as Nat drew in her breath, and paused for
effect. Never were they to know, however, what revelation was to
follow that “but,” for at this instant Mrs. Lowndes’ butler announced
“The Duchess of Claremanagh,” and left out the preface of “Her Grace.”

His omission upset the hostess so much that she stammered over her
greeting, and forgot what she had read in a book called “English
Etiquette” about introducing a duchess. Juliet Claremanagh was so
contrite for her own guilt, however, that she had no thought for
others’ shortcomings.

“Oh, I’m _dreadfully_ sorry to be late! Do forgive me, everyone!” she
cried, like a penitent schoolgirl. “I was kept so long at that
meeting, and then I had to dash home for a minute. My husband had made
me _promise_. You see, this is supposed to be a great day for me. The
pearls–perhaps you’ve heard of them?–are due at last!”

“Perhaps” they had heard of the pearls! The Duchess was forgiven at
once. Introductions were hastily made. As the party sat down, the
guest of honour pulling off her gloves, she went on with her excuses.
Evidently she was willing to talk of the pearls, so Nat ventured an
entering wedge.

“Emmy wrote me they had to be re-strung,” she said. “And that the most
skilled pearl-stringer in England wasn’t demobilized, or something; so
you had to wait.” What Emmy had really written was, “This is the story
they’re putting round.” But it would be exciting to get Juliet’s
answer, and watch Juliet’s face.

The Duchess was somewhat paler than Juliet Phayre had been, for she and
the Duke had made a huge success in New York, and were in such request
that they kept appalling hours. But she was rosier than she had ever
been as she replied that, yes, she had had to wait. But at last the
pearls had been sent. They were on the _Britannia_, in care of a
trusted person; and that person had “wirelessed” that he would be at
the house by half-past twelve. Unluckily, however, the _Britannia_ had
been delayed outside for a sister ship to leave the dock.
She–Juliet–had gone home from Mrs. Van Esten’s to receive the
messenger, with her husband. But the former and Pat’s trusted man,
sent to meet him, had not arrived. She had waited a few minutes, and
had then come on in the car to Mrs. Lowndes’. Of course, the auto had
been detained for ages, at two or three crossings! It was always like
that if one were late! And now she could not be at home when the
pearls appeared, for there were engagements, which couldn’t be broken,
for the whole of the afternoon.

After all, the luncheon was a great success. The Duchess atoned for
her sins by being “sweet” to everyone, much sweeter than she had
troubled herself to be, as a spoiled young girl, with strangers. She
was as pleased as a child with the delicious dishes ordered, almost
with prayer, by Nat; and when she was obliged to go, after coffee and
cigarettes, she left behind her a charming impression. Mrs.
Selby-Saunders and Miss Solomon and all the rest made up for their
sharp speeches by praising the bride’s beauty and exquisite clothes.

“She’s much prettier than she used to be,” generously said Nat (who had
never seen Juliet as Miss Phayre), “and the Duke must be a fool if he
likes Lyda Pavoya better. If he neglects his wife, she won’t have any
trouble finding someone else who won’t.”

“What about that cousin of hers, Jack Manners, who used to be in love
with her when she was almost a child?–a nephew of her mother’s,” asked
Mrs. Selby-Saunders. “An awfully nice fellow! She ought to have
married him. They say he volunteered before America joined the Allies,
because she refused him—-”

“He’s in France still,” Nat supplied the information eagerly. “My
sister-in-law, Lady West, met him there—-”

“I saw in some newspaper that he was to sail for home on the
_Britannia_” said Miss Solomon. “Perhaps _he_ is the messenger
bringing the pearls!”