YOU LIE!

‘MORLEY’S HOTEL, _Sunday Evening_.

‘Dear Mr Ferrier,–You were so full of Russia yesterday afternoon that
you made me forget to say to you what might have saved you the trouble
of answering this by post. Will you and your brother dine with us
(papa says) to-morrow evening at seven? I hope you enjoyed yourselves
last night. I am sure I should have done if I had been there. With
papa’s and my kind regards to you and Mr Roland,–I am, dear Mr
Ferrier, yours very truly,

‘CLARE STANLEY.

‘_P.S._–Count Litvinoff, your interesting Russian friend, will be
here.’

Miss Stanley smiled to herself rather wickedly as she folded this note.
She had noticed that her interest in the Russian acquaintance did not
seem to enhance theirs, and she thought to herself that whatever the
dinner might be at which those three assisted, it certainly would not
be dull for her.

In Derbyshire, where her amusements were very limited, she would have
thought twice before permitting herself to risk offending the masters
of Thornsett, but here that risk only seemed to offer a new form of
amusement. But experimenting on the feelings of these gentlemen was
an entertainment which was somehow not quite so enthralling as it had
been, and she now longed, not for a fresh world to conquer–here was
one ready to her hand–but for the power to conquer it. She would have
given something to be able to believe that she had anything like the
same power over this hero of romance, whom fate had thrown in her way,
as she had over the excellent but commonplace admirers with whom she
had amused herself for the last year.

Litvinoff had distinctly told her that the goddess of his idolatry, the
one mistress of his heart, was Liberty, and though this statement was
modified in her mind by her recollection of certain glances cast at
herself, she yet believed in it enough to feel a not unnatural desire
to enter into competition with that goddess. Her classical studies
taught her that women had competed successfully with such rivals, and
she was not morbidly self-distrustful, especially when a looking-glass
was near her.

With the letter in her hand she glanced at the mirror over the
mantelpiece, and the fair vision of dark-brown lashes, gold-brown
waving hair, delicate oval face, and well-shaped if rather large
mouth, might have reassured her had she felt any doubts of her own
attractions. But the glance she cast at herself over her shoulder was
one of saucy triumph, and the smile with which she sealed her letter
one of conscious power.

Would she have been gratified if she could have seen the effect of her
note? It was not at all with the sort of expression you would expect
to see on the face of a man who had just received a dinner invitation
transmitted through the lady of his heart from that lady’s papa, that
Richard Ferrier passed the note over to his brother next morning.

‘Here you are,’ he said. ‘_Bouquet de Nihilist_, trebly distilled.’

‘Well, don’t let’s go, then.’

‘Why, I thought you were so fond of the Count. I wonder you don’t jump
at it. I thought it would please you.’

‘So I do like him–he’s a splendid speaker; but I didn’t come to London
to spend all my days and nights with him, any more than you did.
Besides, I’m engaged for to-night.’

‘Oh, are you? Well, I think I shall go.’

‘You’d better leave it alone. You won’t stand much chance beside a man
with such a moustache as that. Besides, he sings, don’t you know? and
with all your solid and admirable qualities, Richard, you’re not a
nightingale.’

‘Nor yet a runaway rebel.’

‘I say, you’d better look a little bit after your epithets. Litvinoff
doesn’t look much of the running-away sort. According to what I heard
last night, he can use a revolver with effect on occasion. By the way,
Richard,’ he went on, more seriously, ‘I believe I saw a face at that
club I knew, but it was only for a minute, and I lost sight of it, and
I couldn’t be sure.’

‘Who did you think it was?’

‘Little Alice.’

‘Think–you think!’ said his brother, turning fiercely on him. ‘Do you
mean to say you didn’t _know_?’

‘Know? Of course not, or I should say so. What the deuce do you mean?’

‘I should like to ask you what the deuce you mean by even debating
whether or no to accept that invitation when you know you’ve no earthly
right to go near Miss Stanley–‘

‘You’d better mention your ideas to Mr Stanley. I don’t in the least
know what you’re driving at–and I don’t care; but since you choose to
bring _her_ name in, I shall throw over my other engagement and go to
Morley’s to-night.’

‘You can go to the devil if you choose!’ said Dick, who seemed to have
entirely lost his self-control, and he flung out, slamming the door
behind him.

Clare’s note was bearing more fruit than she desired or anticipated
in setting the brothers not so much against Litvinoff as against each
other, for what but her letter could have stirred Dick’s temper to
this sudden and unpremeditated outbreak? What but her note and Dick’s
comments thereon could have ruffled Roland’s ordinarily even nature in
this way? It is always a mistake to play with fire; but people, girls
especially, will not believe this until they have burned their own
fingers, and, _en passant_, more of other people’s valuables than they
can ever estimate.

* * * * *

‘I wish I had spoken to that girl yesterday,’ said Count Litvinoff to
himself; ‘it would have saved my turning out this vile afternoon. If
fate has given England freedom, she has taken care to accompany the
gift with a fair share of fog. I wish I could help worrying about other
people’s troubles. It is very absurd, but I can’t get on with my work
for thinking of that poor tired little face. Hard up, she looked, too.
Ah, well! so shall I be very soon, unless something very unexpected
turns up. I’ll go now, and earn an easy conscience for this evening.’

He threw down his pen and rose. The article on the Ethics of Revolution
on which he was engaged had made but small progress that afternoon. He
had felt ever since lunch that go out he must sooner or later, and the
prospect was dispiriting. He glanced out of his window as he put on his
fur-lined coat. From the windows of Morley’s Hotel the view on a fine
day is about as cheerful as any that London can present–though one
may have one’s private sentiments respecting the pepper-boxes which
emphasise the bald ugliness of the National Gallery, and though one
may sometimes wish that the slave of the lamp would bring St George’s
Hall from Liverpool and drop it on that splendid site. But this was not
a fine day. It was a gloomy, damp, foggy, depressing, suicidal day.
The fog had, with its usual adroitness, managed to hide the beauties
of everything, and to magnify the uglinesses. Nelson was absolutely
invisible, and the lions looked like half-drowned cats. Litvinoff
shuddered as he lighted a large cigar and pulled his gloves on.

‘This is a detestable climate,’ he said, as he drew the first whiffs;
‘but London is about the only place I know where good cigars can be had
at a price to fit the pocket of an exile. I suppose I shall soon have
to leave this palatial residence, and become one of the out-at-elbows
gentlemen who make life hideous in Leicester Square and Soho.’




Like many men who have lived lonely lives, Michael Litvinoff had an
inveterate habit of soliloquy. It had been strengthened by his life at
the ancestral mansion on the Litvinoff estate, and had not grown less
in his years of solitary wanderings.

His walk to-day was not a pleasant one, and more than once he felt
inclined to turn back. But he persevered, and when he reached the house
which he had seen her enter he asked a woman on the ground floor if
Miss Hatfield lived there.

‘There’s a young person named Hatfield in the front attic,’ was the
reply, as the informant stared with all her eyes at the Count, who was
certainly an unusual sort of apparition in Spray’s Buildings.

As he strode up the dirty, rotten stairs, stumbling more than once, he
thought to himself, as Dick had done, that Alice did not make her new
life profitable, whatever it was.

‘Poor girl!’ he thought; ‘if she’s of the same mind now as she was when
I saw her last, I suppose I must find an opportunity of doing good by
stealth.’

The house, though poor enough, did not seem to be one of those
overcrowded dens of which we have heard so much lately, and which a
Royal Commission is to set right, as a Royal Commission always does
set everything right. Or perhaps the lodgers were birds of prey, who
only came home to roost at uncertain hours; or beasts of burden, who
were only stabled at midnight to be harnessed again at sunrise. At
anyrate, the Count saw no one on the stairs, and he saw no one in the
front attic either. Not only no one, but no thing. The door and window
were both open. The room appeared to have been swept and garnished,
but was absolutely empty of everything but fog. There was another door
opposite, but it was closed and locked.

‘She’s evidently not here. We’ll try lower down.’ But before he had
time to turn he heard a foot on the stairs, coming up with the light
and springy tread which is the result of good and well-fitting boots,
and which does not mark those who walk through life, from the cradle to
the grave, shod in boots several sizes too large and several pounds too
heavy.

He glanced over the broken banisters, and recoiled hastily.

‘The gentle Roland, by all that’s mysterious!’ he said, ‘Now, what on
earth can _he_ want here? At anyrate, he’d better not see _me_.’

The landing on which he stood was very dark, and there was a heap of
lumber, old boxes, a hopelessly broken chair, a tub, and some boards.
Litvinoff crept behind them, and in his black coat and the obscurity
of the dusky landing and the dark afternoon he felt himself secure. He
had hardly taken up this position when Roland Ferrier’s head appeared
above the top stair, to be followed cautiously by the rest of him. He
cast a puzzled look round the empty attic, tried the closed door, and,
turning, went downstairs again.

Litvinoff was just coming out of his not over savoury lurking-place
when he heard a voice on the landing below, which was not Roland’s.

‘Parbleu!’ he said to himself; ‘it rains Ferriers here this afternoon.
Here’s the engaging Richard, and evidently not in the best of tempers.’

He evidently was not–if one might judge by his voice, which was icy
with contempt as he said sneeringly, ‘So this was the engagement you
were going to put off, was it?’

‘Yes, it was. At least I am here to put off an engagement; but I don’t
know what you know about it,’ said Roland, ‘and I don’t know what you
mean by following me about like this. What business have _you_ here?
This isn’t Aspinshaw, that you need dog my footsteps.’

‘I came here to try and find out whether my father’s son was a
scoundrel or not, and you’ve answered the question for me by being
here.’

‘Upon my word,’ said Roland’s voice, ‘I think you must be out of your
mind.’

It isn’t often that the thought which would restrain comes into one’s
mind at the moment when restraint is most needed; but just then Dick
_did_ think of his father and his dying wishes, and the remembrance
helped him to speak more calmly than he would otherwise have done.

‘Once for all, then, will you tell me why you are here, Roland?’

‘Yes, I will, though I don’t acknowledge your right to question me. I
had an appointment, with that Frenchman we met last night, for this
evening, but I’ve lost his address. I knew it was in this court, and I
was walking about on the chance of finding him, when I’m almost sure I
saw Litvinoff come in here. I made after him, feeling sure he was going
to the same place as I was.’

‘And where _is_ Litvinoff?’

‘He seems to have disappeared, or else I was mistaken. Now, what have
you got to say?’

‘This. You lie!’

It sounded hardly like Richard’s voice, so hoarse and choked with
passion was it; and so full of insult and scorn that Roland at last
lost control of himself.

‘Stand back, you raving maniac,’ he said, ‘and let me pass! The same
roof mustn’t cover us two any longer, and don’t speak again to me this
side of the grave.’

The listener, leaning forward eagerly to catch every word, heard
Roland’s foot dash down the staircase. There was a moment of perfect
silence, and then came a long-drawn sigh from Richard Ferrier.

‘Now then, young man, what’s all this to-do about? I should like to
know what you mean by quarrelling in places that don’t belong to you,
and terrifying respectable married women out of their seven senses.’ It
was a shrill woman’s voice that spoke, and a door opened on the landing
where young Ferrier stood.

‘I’m very sorry, madam,’ said Richard, in tones calm enough now. ‘I
didn’t intend to disturb anyone. Will you kindly tell me if anyone
lives here named Hatfield?’

‘There was a young woman of that name in the front attic, but she left
sudden this morning.’

‘Do you know where she’s gone?’

‘No, I don’t.’

‘Does anyone in the house know?’

‘No. I’m the landlady, and she’d have told me if she told anyone.’

‘Thank you,’ he said, and turned to pass down the staircase.

‘Stay, though,’ he said; ‘have you any Frenchmen lodging here?’

‘I don’t want no dratted furriners here, and I haven’t got none, thank
God!’

‘Of course not,’ said Ferrier to himself, and strode downstairs.

‘No foreigners here? Don’t be too sure, my good woman,’ Litvinoff
muttered to himself, as he heard the landlady’s door close to a
continued accompaniment of reiterated objections in that lady’s shrill
treble. ‘I’d better get out of this house of mystery at once. I trust
that the outraged female proprietor of this staircase will not demand
my blood. Well, whatever happens, I suppose we shall not see the
amiable brothers to-night, and that will mean a _tête-à-tête_,’ he
added, as he came out from his dusty retirement, and carefully removed
all traces of the same from his clothes. When he found himself once
more in the chill, foggy, outside air, he looked up and down the court,
and smiled.

‘The situation becomes interesting,’ he said to himself, ‘and demands
another of these very excellent cigars.’