We have been playing

The sledge occupied by this well-matched couple might have been used
by Pompadour, in the days when the finances of France were melting in
the furnace of Versailles. The basketwork body of a swan, gilded and
painted and elegantly fragile, rested delicately on slim steel
runners, and glided over the frozen snow in the rear of two spirited
black ponies. These, harnessed in the Russian fashion, with a paucity
of trappings and many tiny silver bells, sprang forward, under Lady
Jim’s skilful guidance, as though they were rioting in a spring
meadow. She and her companion were snugly wrapped in an opossum rug,
which Leah, rather vulgarly, despised as a cheap article. Her mink
cloak, with the snowy ermine scarf drawn through the shoulder cape in
the latest fashion, had cost nearly ten times the amount, and Leah
wore it with the proud consciousness that she owed no money for it. It
was an early-winter present from Lady Frith, and she had accepted it
on the generous ground that its cut and rich brown colour became her
better than they would have suited the dowdy, insignificant
Marchioness. But the little woman never knew that Lady Jim’s
good-nature had prevailed to this extent. She had thought to give
Leah pleasure.

Demetrius, muffled in Muscovite sables, sat contentedly by this Tauric
Diana, wondering why he had been graciously invited to drive with the
goddess, after a hurried luncheon. The two were tête-à-tête, for the
groom had been dispensed with as out of keeping with the novel
vehicle. The excuse was artistic. Nevertheless, Demetrius suspected
other reasons for the absence of an eavesdropping servant. What these
might be he hoped to hear from Lady Jim.

But as yet she showed no disposition to speak frankly, for the
Russian, in Jim’s picturesque speech, was a gentleman to be handled
“with the gloves on.” Jim himself had impressed this on Leah, before
he sat down to spell out _The Woman in White_. Needless to say, this
unusual effort to improve what Jim was pleased to term his mind bored
him extremely. “Not a word about racin’,” grumbled Jim, skipping page
after page. Still, as Leah pointed out the necessity of poaching on
the domain of fiction, Jim sat at his lesson like a good little boy,
and his wife drove out with her proposed victim. That the irony of
fate might change the victim into a possible tyrant did not occur to
Leah at the moment.

All the same, she was careful not to commit herself too hastily, and
for two miles talked society-journal paragraphs with an assiduity at
once boring and perplexing to Demetrius. Even when the sledge slipped,
silent and ghost-like, over an Arctic waste, and they were alone to
babble secrets to a frosty sky, Leah showed no disposition to come to
the point. She wished Demetrius to question her, and then, by seeing
into his mind, she could be guided as to the most selfishly-successful
way of making up her own. But the doctor guessed her reason for this
diplomatic silence, and knowing what a shameless capacity she had for
word-twisting and for slipping out of untenable positions, he gave her
no opportunity to overlook his hand. It was certainly, as he
reflected, a game of skill, but what the precise style of game might
be Demetrius could not guess. However, one thing was certain; this
game, like all others, was being played for money. On Lady Jim’s part,
that is. Demetrius shuffled his cards for the stake of love, and so,
having Leah Kaimes for an antagonist, lost at the outset. A game
between a man and a woman, on amatory grounds, is always unequal. The
one in earnest invariably loses.

“Does this remind you of the steppes?” asked Leah, waving her whip
towards a desert of snow and ice. The polite conversation was still
much in evidence.

“Somewhat, madame; but I cannot remember sledging across any steppe in
such charming company.”

“Ah! You have never driven Mademoiselle Aksakoff, then?”

“It is a pleasure yet to come.”

“In Russia?”

“Why not? She may induce her father to make my peace with the Czar.”

“You would be pleased?”

Demetrius shrugged his spare shoulders, and replied in the evasive
manner which characterised this conversation on the part of both.

“I am well content with England,” he remarked calmly. “Many people are
pleasant, and all agreeable. Also, the Duke pays me well–too well,
considering he is my solitary patient.”

“I never knew a physician to quarrel with his fees before,” laughed
Lady Jim, flicking the ponies lightly; “and you have another patient,
I understand–Mr. Kaimes said something about it.”

“The young priest–ah, yes. He was at the gates with that most
adorable young lady, whom I presume he will marry. Your Anglican
priests, like our Greek popes, have that freedom, have they not?”

“You do not answer my question.”

“Ah, pardon, madame,” said the doctor, with an apologetic smile and
his hands palm to palm. “Yes–it is so. I have another patient, a
peasant–one Harold Garth,” he pronounced the name uncommonly clearly.

“How well you speak English, Monsieur Demetrius! So many foreigners
over-emphasise their ‘h’s’, and slur their ‘r’s.'”

“We Russians have a capacity for tongues. I know five languages.”

“Can you tell the truth in any one of them?” asked Lady Jim, rather
rudely; but then she wished to make him lose his temper, in the hope
of breaking down his reserve. But love had not yet blinded Demetrius,
and he became offensively gentle.

“To you, madame, I always speak the truth.”

“I take you at your word,” said Lady Jim, smartly. “Why did you leave
Russia, Monsieur Demetrius?”

“Madame, I come of a princely family, but for the sake of humanity I
practised my profession in Moscow. A dear friend of mine foolishly
joined the Anarchists, and an order was issued for his arrest.
Fortunately, the official who signed the warrant was my patient, and I
chanced to be with him when the paper was brought for his signature.
He laid it aside for the moment, and I saw my friend’s name. I
therefore gave my patient a drug, which made him sleep for twenty-four
hours, so that he could not sign. Meanwhile, my friend escaped–it
matters not how–but he escaped, with my help. Through a rival doctor,
my use of the drug to aid my friend became known, and I was accused of
conspiring also. The governor of Moscow was enraged, and ordered my
arrest in my friend’s place. The prospect of Siberia was not pleasant,
so I crossed the frontier after many delightful adventures, with the
recital of which I shall not trouble you. Behold me, therefore, in
your free country, madame, no longer a subject of the Czar, but your
devoted slave.”

He told the story, without preamble or excuse, in an unemotional and
level voice, though all the time he wondered why Lady Jim desired to
hear it. She gave him no explanation. “And if you go back to Russia?”
she asked carelessly.

“I fear I shall never go back, madame.”

“Who knows? Mademoiselle Aksakoff might—-”

“Precisely, madame. She might, and, with small encouragement, she
would. But her gaining of my pardon would assuredly lead to a marriage
of gratitude.”

“That would be no sacrifice.”

“To many–no. To myself–madame, it is impossible!”

“Can you not make your peace without her influence?”

“Alas, no, madame. The Grand Duke was furious at my share in my
friend’s escape. He would give much to capture me, and should I set
foot on the Continent”–he shrugged his shoulders significantly; “but
the Third Section has no power in your land of liberty.”

“The Third Section?”

“If it pleases madame better, the secret police. No; unless I marry
Mademoiselle Aksakoff, of whom I admit my unworthiness, I must remain
in exile–but it has many compensations,” he added, bowing his head
courteously to Lady Jim’s profile.

“Quite so,” she assented, scarcely heeding the compliment; then added
thoughtfully, “You are a daring man, Monsieur Demetrius.”

“Daring, when necessary, madame. But I confess to a love of ease.”

Leah swung her ponies round a curve with careless dexterity. “It is
not probable that any one will invite you to leave your lotus-eating,
monsieur. Thank you for the story.”

“It is at your service, madame.”

Lady Jim hesitated. “You do not ask me why I requested you to relate
it,” she said at last.

“Your wish is a command. A command is never questioned.”

“I might wish you to do something that you might question.”

“Ah, no–believe me!”

“Don’t jump in the dark,” said Leah, with a hard little laugh; “by the
way, this woman, for whom you ventured so much—-”

“It was a man, madame.”

“David and Jonathan in Crim Tartary, I suppose. They say,” she gave a
conscious laugh, “that a man would venture farther for a woman than
for one of his own sex. You, I resume, are an exception.”

“Madame, one does some things for friendship, but all things for
love.”

Leah glanced at the pale face beside her with a smile, and saw that
the dark eyes were full of fire, “You are romantic.”

“As is every man, when he loves, madame.”

“I understand–Mademoiselle Aksakoff.”

“You penetrate my thoughts admirably.”

Lady Jim relieved her feelings by using the whip on the obedient
ponies. Demetrius was clever and suspicious; also, as his story
assured her, he was daring, clear-headed, and might be dangerous. If
she gave this man a hold over her, he might be, and probably would be,
unscrupulous enough to use his power. Moreover, Lionel had not yet
asked the Duke, and there was always the chance that the money could
be obtained without the necessity of plotting. Leah had taken the
doctor for this delightful drive with the intention of speaking
plainly; but his skilful use of words made her cautious. She was too
clever a woman to build her tower without reckoning the expense.

Demetrius watched her with keen, questioning eyes and a perfectly
impassive face, but he learned nothing. Lady Jim was quite as Oriental
as himself in masking her emotions. Nevertheless, he guessed that the
interest displayed in his past involved more than the satisfying of an
idle curiosity. She wanted money–he was certain of that. But unless
she intended to sell him to the Third Section, he could not conceive
why she had forced his confidence. The enigma irritated him, though he
paid a silent tribute to the diplomatic powers of this charming
Englishwoman. But, cool and cautious as he was, her next speech nearly
reduced him to the necessity of speaking plainly, although he regarded
candour as a greater sin than making love to another man’s wife.

“Now we’ll drive home,” said Leah, briskly.

“Ah, but no, madame. This is charming.”

“And chilly. I am not a Russian, to revel in snow and ice.”

“Madame, the fire in our veins prevents our feeling the disagreeables
of nature. I am no phlegmatic Englishman.”

“How interesting,” said Leah, indifferently. “I wonder if the cattle
will face this snowstorm.”

They were driving straight into a chaos of eddying flakes, and meeting
the sting of bitter sleet dashed in their blinking eyes by the wind.
Demetrius bit his lips, and suppressed his fiery nature with an effort
due to years of training. He could have killed this woman with her
contemptuous indifference and impregnable self-possession. As the
ponies plunged, with tossing heads and jingling bells, into that
Arctic hurricane, he wished that the sledge would overturn, so that he
might extort a word of gratitude by saving her life. But Leah’s
courage was as high as his own, and her strength greater, so it was
quite probable that she would be able to look after herself. All he
could do was to unflinchingly face the volleying snow, while Lady Jim
dashed through the hostile elements like Semiramis in her war-chariot.
With a turn of her wrist she prevented the frightened ponies dashing
into a thorny hedge, with another turn swung the light vehicle away
from a dangerous ditch, and then lashed the animals into a headlong
gallop, which ended only when they trembled, with smoking flanks and
drooping heads, before the Firmingham porch. And throughout that
furious, rocking, blinding drive Demetrius sat grimly silent. Lady Jim
was disappointed. It would have been more courageous and amusing had
he made love to her in the jaws of death.

“Quite a Russian adventure,” she said, tossing the reins to a groom,
and jumped out, all colour and animation. “I hope you were not afraid,
Monsieur Demetrius,” she added unjustly.

“For you,” he replied significantly.

With a rosy face and a display of white teeth, Leah faced him on the
steps. “There was no need, I assure you. I can look after myself in
every way.”

“I can believe that, madame.”

“Then why talk nonsense?”

“To amuse you.”

“My good man, I don’t want amusement, but help.”

Demetrius started forward, impulsively. “Command me.”

Lady Jim flung her wraps, her whip, her mink cape, and her gloves into
his arms. “Thanks,” she said carelessly, and turned towards the
library, leaving her illegal admirer pale with rage.

She stopped laughing at the remembrance of his wrath when she saw
Lionel studying a book near the window. “Well?” she asked, coming
lightly towards him: “any news?”

“Yes; I have seen the Duke!”

“And he–and he—-” her voice died away under stress of emotion.

“He will help you!”

Leah’s first feeling was one of relief, and she was almost on the
point of expressing gratitude, but a sudden remembrance that aid from
the Duke meant the retention of Jim as a most undesirable husband,
cooled the warm impulse. She recovered her self-command, and was about
to go into figures, when Mrs. Penworthy with a noisy party bustled
into the room, looking rather tousled and flushed.

“We have been playing ‘Hunt the Slipper,'” she announced, in her high,
thin voice, “and Algy found mine three times.”

Lady Jim, annoyed at the irruption, glanced at Mrs. Penworthy’s feet,
which could scarcely have worn the slippers of Cinderella. “I can
quite believe that,” she said sweetly, and left the room smiling.

“What does she mean?” asked Algy, obtusely.

Mrs. Penworthy knew perfectly well what was meant, but was too
feminine to explain, save in a way calculated to mislead her courtier.
This could be done by arousing his egotism.

“She means that you are clever to play the game so well,” was her
explanation. “I rather think Lady Jim admires you, Algy.”

The youth fondled what he called a moustache. “Rippin’ woman, Lady
Jim,” said he, taking the speech literally.

“Go and tell her so,” snapped Mrs. Penworthy, colouring angrily.

“You wouldn’t like it.”

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure,” remarked the lady, fervently
hating him for his stupidity, “than to see her dancing on you, as she
does on all men who are foolish enough to make themselves carpets.”

“I’m not a carpet.”

“No! You’re a tame cat.”

“Then come and play Puss in the Corner,” urged Algy, gaily, and Mrs.
Penworthy consented, as this game had nothing to do with abnormal
slippers.

Leah, pleased at having snubbed Mrs. Penworthy, whom she considered
quite an improper person, went to look for Jim in his room. He was
there, sure enough, lying on the sofa with the novel tossed carelessly
on the floor, and a black pipe between his lips. Evidently he had not
heard the good news.

“Jim,” cried Leah, breathlessly, “the Duke will part.”

“He has parted,” growled Jim, swinging his long legs on to the floor
and producing a cheque. “Look at that.”

Lady Jim did. It was for two hundred pounds. “Oh!” She crushed it in
her two hands, as though she were throttling his Grace. “What an
insult!”