The gates were opened

It was Jim’s custom to saunter into his wife’s bedroom, before
descending to make a hearty meal, and complain that he had rested
badly. This was a pleasing fiction, as he slept like a dormouse, and
snored steadily through the hours he allotted to sleep without even a
dream. But on entering for his morning grumble, he was so surprised to
find Leah in her dressing-gown before a brisk fire, with a breakfast
at her elbow and a book open on her lap, that he forgot his egotism.
Jim could scarcely believe his lazy eyes, for he knew well that Leah
was no student.

“What’s up?” he asked, after pausing at the door to say “By Jupiter!”
with every appearance of surprise. “Got a headache?”

“If I had, should I cure it with a novel?” asked his wife,
disdainfully.

“Don’t know, I’m sure,” replied Jim, with the matutinal good-humour of
a healthy animal. “Doctors recommend such rum things nowadays. But it
doesn’t matter. I’m off to feed.”

“Wait for ten minutes, Jim. I have something to say.”

“You’re not goin’ to read, are you? I can’t stand readin’ on a empty
stom–well, on nothin’.”

“Have you ever heard of _The Woman in White?_” asked Leah,
irrelevantly.

“No; who is she?”

“It’s a novel.”

“Don’t read ’em. Real life’s much more fun.”

Lady Jim looked at him steadily. “We might turn this”–she touched the
book lightly–“into real life.”

“Goin’ to make a play of it?” questioned Jim, obtusely.

“Well, you might call it a comedy,” she answered. “I certainly do not
want it to be a tragedy–though it might come to that,” she ended in a
lower tone.

Jim opened his puzzled blue eyes. “Want of breakfast, I s’pose,” he
ruminated, “but I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”

“I’ve passed a white night,” announced his wife, abruptly.

“What’s that?”

“The French expression for a wakeful night.”

“But you say it in English, and how can—-?”

“It’s useless wasting French on a man who understands only the argot
of the _trottoir_.”

“You’re wastin’ it now. A wakeful night–eh? Why didn’t you try that
new sedative Demetrius gave you?”

“I didn’t want to sleep. This book was too interesting. I wish you to
read it”; and she extended the novel to her husband.

“What!!!” If she had offered poison Jim could not have betrayed more
abhorrence. “Read? You–want–me–to–read?”

“Well, you know words of two syllables, don’t you?” she retorted
impatiently. “Take it.”

Jim handled the book as though it were a scorpion, turning over a
hundred leaves rapidly. “Love an’ diaries, and–oh, bosh!”

“Not at all, unless bosh is your word for common sense. I see a chance
of getting that money.”

“What money?”

Leah made an impatient movement. “How dense you are! The insurance
money, of course–the twenty thousand pounds. Suppose you died—-”

“Stop it. I told you I wouldn’t.”

“And you told me that you might pretend to die.”

“Oh, I was only talkin’. You don’t want me to be buried alive!”

“It wouldn’t be much good,” said his wife, with a shrug. “We must have
a genuine corpse–like you.”

An inkling of her meaning stole into Jim’s dull brain, and he sat down
suddenly. “Go on,” said he, hoarsely.

“Harold Garth is like you.”

“Where the–what the–you saw him?”

“In church yesterday. He’s ill with consumption, dying they say.
Demetrius attends him. Supposing–supposing”–her imagination made her
cheeks flush–“supposing–oh, you understand.”

The sluggish comprehension of the man grasped her hinted scheme
suddenly, and his eyes lighted up. “Supposing he died and was buried
in place of me, you mean?”

“You don’t suppose I mean murder, do you?” she cried, rising to the
height of her tall figure and speaking irritably.

“You would if there was money in it,” said Jim, grimly.

“It would be a natural death,” went on Leah, rapidly, and pacing the
room to relieve the strain on her nerves. “The poor fellow can’t live
long. If he died, and was buried as—-”

“No go,” contradicted Jim, rising in his turn. “Every one about here
knows of the likeness; for which,” he added slowly, “there’s a
reason.”

“So I learned yesterday from Mrs. Arthur.”

Jim was indignant. “Do you mean to tell me—-?”

“I mean to tell you that I gathered the truth from what she left
unsaid. You don’t suppose that I require words to explain things.”

“I don’t see how it’s to be managed,” said Kaimes, reflectively.

“If it could be, would you surrender everything and—-?”

“Yes, I would, for a quarter of the money. Then I’d go out of your
life an’ to Lima—-”

“Lima,” said Lady Jim, stopping suddenly. “Why to Lima? You’ve been
there three times since we married.”

“No end of a place, Lima,” muttered Jim, feebly.

His wife looked at his colouring face attentively, and laughed in a
short, rasping manner. An idea had occurred to her which she did not
think it necessary to impart to Jim. “When you’re legally dead,” she
said sharply, “I shall have no control over your life or movements.
All I want to know is, if this business can be managed, will you do
your share by disappearing?”

“Yes; but I don’t see how—-”

“Read that book, Jim, and you’ll understand better. It gave me the
idea, though our plot will be different in many ways.”

“Well,” said Jim, tucking the novel under his arm, “I’ll dip into it.”

“Don’t let any one see you reading, and replace it in the library
without any one knowing.”

“Why should I?”

“You fool,” snarled Leah, viciously; “if this thing is to be carried
through safely, no suspicion must rest on either of us. Do you suppose
that I have spoken to this double of yours, or have let any one know
that I have read the book? I don’t think it really matters much, as
people are too stupid to see things; but it is just as well to be on
the safe side.”

“But I don’t see how—-” began Kaimes again, and again she cut him
short.

“I do–I do. Demetrius attends this young fellow.”

“Oh, and he–Demetrius, I mean—-”

“Leave me to deal with him,” she said confidently.

Jim flung the book on the floor, and looked at her with clenched
hands. “What is this Demetrius to you?” he asked violently.

“A puppet I can pull the strings of,” she retorted; “and be good
enough to remember that you are not in a training-stable.”

“If that beastly little Tartar—-”

“My dear Jim,” said his wife coolly, “if you ask me about Demetrius, I
shall certainly ask you about Lima.”

Kaimes was taken aback. “Lima,” he stammered, flushing to the roots of
his fair hair. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that you can trust me to ask no questions, if you will mind
your own business.”

“As you are my wife, Demetrius is my business.”

“Think of me as your widow then,” she mocked, “and that I can’t be
without the aid of Demetrius.”

“Why can’t you speak plainly?”

“I might ask you the same question, but”–she picked up the novel and
thrust it into Jim’s unwilling hands–“I fancy you and I understand
one another pretty well.”

“I won’t have any man making love to you.”

“Very good,” said Leah, calmly; “then you must remain a pauper, and my
husband. I’m not going to all this trouble to share you with—-”

“Well, with whom?–out with it!”

“I think you can answer that question best, Jim.”

“Upon my honour—-”

“Pah!” she said with disgust. “Hadn’t we better leave honour out of
this shady business we are about to embark in?”

“You really mean to—-”

“I really mean to get that twenty thousand pounds!”

“You’ll lose me,” Jim reminded her uneasily.

Leah made a grimace. “My loss is another’s gain,” she said
significantly. “Now go away, Jim. I have to dress in my best frock in
order to fascinate Demetrius”; and she vanished into her dressing-room
with a provoking laugh.

Lord Jim said something about Demetrius that involved the use of
unprintable language. Then he slipped the book into the pocket of his
shooting-jacket and lumbered downstairs. In spite of his squabbling
with Leah, and the existence of some one in Lima, he was furiously
jealous of Demetrius, and scowled at the Russian when they met.
Demetrius rather liked that scowl, as he guessed the reason, and took
it as a tribute to his fascinations. If he had known Lady Jim’s real
intentions, and that she intended to convert English rather than
French fiction into everyday facts, he might not have smiled so
victoriously over his coffee. But Demetrius made the fatal mistake of
so many clever men: he knew he was clever, and thereby was not what he
fancied himself to be. The true secret of success lies, not in knowing
how clever oneself is, but how stupid other people are.

While Jim was growling over his provender, Miss Tallentire, who had
finished her breakfast, slipped out of the room. She felt strange in
the company of the frumps and fashionables which formed the
house-party. Certainly the frumps were eating in private, and would
not appear till the world was well-aired, and they had been “made-up”
sufficiently well to prevent the younger generation being shocked. But
the fashionable people came to breakfast in public, and Joan found the
talk far above her comprehension. These languid creatures, who ate so
little and talked so much, were like inhabitants of a strange planet,
and it was with great relief that the girl found herself passed over.
Of course, nobody thought of noticing Cinderella in her rags.

As Lady Canvey was being rehabilitated by a skilful maid, and would
not be seen as the world knew her for at least two hours, Joan had
this time to herself. The brightness of the day tempted her to assume
hat and jacket for a morning walk, and she was shortly tripping over
the crisp snow of the avenue. The glorious sunshine, the keen air, the
dazzling whiteness of the snow, and the generally invigorating
influence of this ideal winter morning stirred the current of her
blood to nimbleness. Joan began to sing softly, and could hardly keep
from dancing, so rapidly did her spirits mount skyward. At length, the
place being solitary and she being recklessly young, a sudden impulse
sent her flying like an arrow between the grim firs. Near the gates
she shot directly into the arms of a man, and uttered an ejaculation.
This was hardly to be wondered at, seeing that the arms closed tightly
round her, and a pair of warm lips deepened the colour which exercise
had brought to her cheeks.

“Lionel!” cried Joan; and “Darling!” replied Lionel, which
sufficiently explains the feeling which existed between Lady Canvey’s
companion and Lady Canvey’s pet.

These two babies, as the old lady called them, had been engaged for
six months, but the fact was not generally known. The clerical parent
of Joan had given his consent, on the understanding that Lionel was to
possess a better income and the best vicarage obtainable before he
made Joan Mrs. Kaimes. The young man had agreed readily enough, as he
did not want to inflict his comparative penury, and poor lodgings, on
the girl he so dearly loved. Joan and he had decided to wait for two
years, and during that time Lionel was to reform Lambeth. He was
attempting to do this with all the vigour of his energetic nature, and
between times made love to Joan. Lady Canvey knew of the engagement,
and would have had the couple married at once, since she could easily
have given Lionel a living, and wished to do so. But the curate was
anxious to become the vicar of Firmingham. The present incumbent was
seriously ill, and in the event of death the Duke had promised that
Lionel should fill the pulpit.

Therefore the lovers waited very happily, and if Firmingham did not
come to them within the decreed two years, they were quite prepared to
marry on the bread and cheese of a hard London life. Meantime, Joan
was seeing a trifle of West End life under Lady Canvey’s wing, and her
earnings, as Lady Canvey’s companion, were most acceptable to the
hard-worked Mr. Tallentire and his wife. Thus it was that Joan
returned Lionel’s kiss, and only released herself from his loving arms
when she remembered they were within sight of the lodge.

“Lionel, how can you?” she said, setting her hat straight.

“How can’t I, you mean,” he replied, smiling; “do you think I am as
cold as the snow?”

“I don’t know if you’re as nice,” pouted Joan, “or you would have
asked me to walk with you this morning.”

“No, dear,” he said, gravely: “I could not have taken you to see
Harold Garth. The poor fellow is too ill. But we can walk now. I have
nothing to do, and–Joan, where are you going?”

“Back to the house. I won’t be taken for a walk on nothing-to-do
terms.”

“You silly child!”

“You cruel boy!”

Then they kissed and made it up in full view of a red-breast, who
cocked his head on one side and wondered why these human beings looked
so pleased. Joan said “Shoo!” and he flew away to tell his wife, while
the couple walked sedately through the gates, and into a world which
their love created for themselves alone.

All the same, their conversation was a trifle prosaic. They read a
letter which Joan had received from her mother about trouble over the
Christmas gifts to the poor of the parish, and discussed this old
woman who lived in a chilly garret, and that old man who dwelt like a
troglodyte in a damp cellar, till the conversation became as sober as
the looks of the village sexton whom they met. And he was a
teetotaller.

But however enthusiastic human nature may be in the talking and doing
of good works, love after all takes precedence of philanthropy, and
shortly they began discussing themselves and their happiness. What
they said does not matter much. Although foolish, it was sweet to
them, and Joan’s eyes sparkled like the icicles on the bleak
hedge-rows at the looks her lover gave her. They walked in the
pleasant Land of Tenderness, and down the by-lane of First Love. Joan
had never seen the old French chart of that country, with its quaint
names and odd geography, but neither Lionel nor herself needed its
guidance. They had skimmed through the country before, and knew the
lie of it extremely well.

The pair soared pretty nearly to the gates of their transcendental
heaven, until the strain became too great for mere human effort, and
they folded their wings of thought to drop earthward. That unfailing
timepiece, the human interior, announced the hour of luncheon, and
with some haste they turned homeward.

“I _am_ hungry,” said Lionel, ogreishly.

“Don’t eat me,” laughed Miss Tallentire; “you look as though you
could!”

“You be Red Ridinghood and I the wolf,” suggested Lionel.

“No. Do be serious, Lionel! I want you to tell me about this poor man
you saw.”

“Garth? Ah, he’ll never see another Christmas. Consumption is wasting
him to a shadow. In another three or four months—-” Lionel broke off
with a sigh, “Poor man!”

“Can’t anything be done?” asked Joan, sympathetically.

“Everything possible is being done, Joan. The Duke is looking after
Garth in every way–you know how kind he is. He even sent Demetrius to
cure him, and if Demetrius can’t, no one else can.”

“But if he was taken to a warmer climate—-”

“The end would only be retarded for a few months,” interrupted the
curate. “Demetrius says there is no hope. And I don’t think the poor
fellow is sorry to go, Joan. He has no relatives, and few friends. I
fancy he has had a lonely life.”

The tears filled Joan’s brown eyes. “Poor fellow!” she echoed,
stealing one hand into that of her lover’s. “Fancy, if we—-”

“I can’t fancy it with you by my side. And what is more, I don’t
intend to fancy it,” said Lionel, hastily. “Please God, you and I have
many happy and useful years before us. How do you like the Firmingham
vicarage, Joan?”

“Oh, it’s lovely, and such a sweet church. But I fear it’s too good to
be true.”

“Perhaps it’s not what you want,” joked the curate. “If I were the
Duke, now!”

“Ah, that’s impossible,” she laughed, amused at the idea of being a
duchess; “the very idea frightens me.”

“It needn’t,” Lionel assured her: “you will never be called upon to
wear strawberry leaves, unless the Duke and Frith and Jim all go the
way poor Garth is taking. And then Frith’s wife may have a little Lord
Firmingham. I sincerely hope so, as it would never do for Jim to be
the Duke of Pentland.”

“You don’t like him?”

“Not passionately,” said the curate, dryly.

“His wife would make a splendid duchess.”

“In looks, I have no doubt. But with fifty thousand a year and a great
position, she and Jim would do good to neither God nor man.”

“Lady James Kaimes seems very kind,” observed Joan, timidly.

“It’s all seeming. Of real, true, self-sacrificing kindness she knows
absolutely nothing.”

“But she is so beautiful, Lionel.”

“So was Jezebel, I expect.”

“Oh, Lionel!”

“Oh, Joan!” he mimicked. “Don’t worry your head over Lady Jim. She
will always get on well in this world, though I am very doubtful about
her position in the next. Come,” he pointed down the incline of the
lane, “I’ll race you to the bottom.”

“We might meet some one.”

“I don’t care–I’m out for a holiday”; and away flew Lionel down the
snowy lane, with his clerical coattails fluttering in the wind.

Joan, girlish and simple and extremely young, sped after him, and with
rosy cheeks arrived at the goal before her lover.

“Come,” said the curate, wiping his heated brow, “considering I won
three flat races at the ‘varsity, that’s not bad, Joan.”

“You humbug, as if I didn’t see that you let me win.

“I’ll be a tyrant after marriage,” said Lionel, merrily. “Enjoy your
little day, my love!”

“I am enjoying this day,” said Joan, as they walked rapidly towards
the park gates; “but what will Lady Canvey say?”

“Pooh! What does it matter? She was young herself a century ago.”

“She’s a dear old woman.”

“No,” contradicted Lionel, critically; “she is old and clever, but I
should not call her a dear. That word suits some one else.”

“Me,” cried Joan, triumphantly.

“How clever of you to guess that! Hulloa, who is this?”

The gates were opened and a sledge issued, drawn by two black ponies.
In it sat Lady Jim, who was driving, and Dr. Constantine Demetrius.

“What is she up to now?” Lionel asked himself. He was intensely
distrustful of Lady Jim, but he did not explain this to Joan.