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by those at home who don't have to face it. Personally we were lucky in
finding a nice place for Philip and Grace till they were old enough to
go to school, but then the holidays were always on my mind; relations
are sometimes so injudicious. Fortunately the children had character,
both of them, and as my husband rose in the service I was able to come
home more frequently to see them. Dear Philip was such a clever boy!"

"He is a very clever man!" quoth Miss Baker emphatically, "and how well
he has got on!"

"He was always ambitious; he mapped out his own career from the very
first - got a scholarship for his public school and again at Oxford, and
passed very high for the Civil Service. He could have stayed at home,
but he preferred to take India, and his father and I were very glad.
Life in an office would not have suited him; he was a sportsman at heart
as well as a student."

"No wonder you are proud of him - - "

Lady Flint dropped her fan; Miss Baker picked it up, deferentially, and
as she restored it Lady Flint thought the girl's hair very pretty,
though it was a pity, in her opinion, that she wore it cut short. A
possibility crept into her mind that was not altogether distasteful: was
there likely to be "anything" between Miss Baker and her beloved son?
Though Miss Baker had no connection with India beyond her brief visit to
the country, she seemed a warm-hearted, sensible child, and certainly
she appreciated Philip! Lady Flint was aware that Lord Redgate was a
very rich man, which might be a barrier; if not of course it would be
nice to feel that Philip and his wife need never be worried over money
matters; in the case of Grace's marriage that had been a satisfactory
element, who could deny it? - though she would not have had either of her
children influenced in the least degree by worldly advantages.

She felt her way gently. "How would you like to live in India?" she
inquired, and she saw the girl flush as she answered decidedly: "I
should simply love it!"

"Perhaps your father will take you there again for a visit some day?"

"I went alone, you know - that time. And if I ever go again it will not
be on a visit; I shall go to stay."

Lady Flint looked a little puzzled. "But what would your father say to
that?"

"My father never interferes with anything I want to do."

"Dear me!" said Lady Flint.

The door opened and the men came into the room. Philip made straight for
his mother and Miss Baker, who whispered hurriedly: "Lady Flint, may I
come and see you?"

"Do, my dear, I am always at home on Sundays. I shall be very pleased to
see you. Come next Sunday if you can." And she made a mental note to
keep Philip at home next Sunday afternoon. If the two young people were
mutually attracted she would help on the courtship to the best of her
powers; but she rather wished Miss Baker were not a rich man's daughter,
and not an Honourable - it would mean that Philip, like Grace, might be
absorbed into a world she did not understand.

"I have been hearing all about you!" exclaimed Dorothy, looking up at
Philip as he stood beside them. "How tiresome and naughty you were, and
how you wouldn't work, and gave such a lot of trouble after you grew
up!"

They all laughed, and Philip glanced affectionately at his mother, a
glance that endeared him the more to the long-limbed girl in the green
gown....

Then a well-known pianist who was of the party consented to play, and
silence was enforced on the audience. Once at the piano the musician
continued to give unlimited samples of his own compositions, and Philip,
though he thought the fellow made an unconscionable noise, welcomed the
respite from conversation. Again he felt depressed, inert, unreasonably
impatient with the well-fed, well-dressed throng that had met together
merely to eat and drink and to impress each other with their own
importance. They were all so self-satisfied in their several ways! He
made up his mind that he would get away from London as soon as he could
do so without hurting his parents' feelings; go somewhere to fish by
himself; he had no use for crowds like this.

"You will come and see us?" repeated Miss Baker when at last farewells
became general. "Come and dine quite quietly, just ourselves. When will
you come?"

He could hardly plead a press of engagements, yet he was seized with the
reluctance to tie himself that so often attacks the newly returned
Anglo-Indian; everyone was in such a hurry at home, he wanted to feel
free, but evasion was impossible, and a near date was decided upon.

Going home with his father and mother in the hired brougham he said: "I
wonder how Grace can stick that kind of life!"

"So do I," agreed the General.

"But her friends are all so clever," protested Lady Flint; she had never
before felt so well disposed towards Grace's world; "and most of them do
something."

"Nothing that really matters, except the doctor lot," growled Sir
Philip, puffing at one of his son-in-law's excellent cigars. "Upon my
word, I felt thankful I was a bit deaf when that music master, or
whatever he calls himself, began hammering on the piano. And as for that
fellow Redgate - all I can say is that if he made himself, as he boasts,
he made a mistake."

"Well, dear, his daughter seems a very nice girl. You think she is
nice, don't you, Philip?"

Philip answered casually: "Oh, she's all right, as long as she gets her
own way."

Lady Flint ventured to announce that Miss Baker was probably coming to
tea on Sunday, and Sir Philip said he hoped her father was not coming
too. "If he is," he added truculently, "I shall go out."

How tiresome they both were, thought poor Lady Flint; perhaps the dinner
had something to do with it, certainly it had been very rich, and far
too much of it. The General was sure to have eaten all the things that
he knew disagreed with him, and of course Philip was not accustomed to
such elaborate feasts.




CHAPTER X


Philip did not carry out his intention of leaving London as soon as
escape could be accomplished without hurt to his parents' feelings. He
felt as though helpless in the grip of some mysterious conspiracy that
from day to day left him with hardly an hour that he could call his own.

"London is an awful place," he complained to his mother; "the smallest
errand runs away with the best part of a day, buying socks and shirts
for example, not to speak of boots and the tailor! Trades-people seem to
take a delight in obstructing one at every turn. If you wish to buy a
pair of gloves in comfort you have to be prepared to spend hours over
it, what with going and coming and hunting about for what you really
want!"

"Dearest boy, how you do exaggerate!" argued Lady Flint, fondly. "But I
know what you mean. I always felt the same for the first month after I
got home from India. Life is so different out there; plenty of space and
no trouble over trifles, though one hardly calls setting oneself up in
necessaries exactly a trifle anywhere. You ought to go to the dentist,
too, and see a doctor, and have your eyes tested. Don't leave all that
to the end of your leave, or the last month will be worse than the
first. And your father thinks you ought to attend a levee."

"My teeth are all right, I'm not ill, and I can see perfectly well;
also I am not going to attend a levee," he assured her firmly; he could
not have explained his condition of mind to his mother even had he
desired to do so; he could hardly account for it to himself. He felt
restless and listless at the same time; he hated the crowds in the
streets and the shops, the appointments to see relations that his mother
cajoled him into making, the little luncheons and teas with aunts and
cousins who were all so much more delighted to see him than he was to
see them; and Grace was a nuisance; she dragged him hither and thither,
tied him down to engagements without his permission, told him, when he
protested, that he wanted "waking up." Miss Baker, to his surprise, was
ever ready to aid and abet Grace in making up theatre and supper
parties - always something - Sandown, Ranelagh, the Park, endless
"tamashas"; Miss Baker appeared to have forgotten all her unworldly
theories, and to be as keen on gaiety as the rest of them; and wherever
they went he found himself at her side. Philip began to suspect his
sister of match-making; the suspicion became a certainty one evening
when he had accompanied her unwillingly to a great "crush" in Carlton
House Terrace, which, to him, was just a kaleidoscope of colour and
jewels, and a pushing, chattering throng.

The blaze of light, the crowd, and the scents, and the closeness of the
atmosphere, despite blocks of ice and electric fans, confused and
depressed him; he stood moody and resentful as Grace greeted her
friends, kept introducing him: "My brother from India," and he had to
listen and reply to vapid remarks about heat and snakes, and how
interesting it must be to live in India, and so on; till at length, in
desperation, he interrupted a conversation his sister was holding with a
being whose coat-front was bespattered with orders, to tell her he meant
to go home.

"This is more than I can stand," he said with suppressed impatience;
"I'm off!"

"Oh, Philip, do wait; Dorothy is sure to be here presently, and then
you'll be all right." Her eyes roved round the brilliant scene. "She was
to meet us here, you know. You can't disappoint her."

"She won't be disappointed."

"Of course she will be. Philip," she added, with serious intention,
"don't be a fool!"

"What do you mean?" he began hotly, but just then they were swept
asunder by new arrivals, and as he turned to flee he encountered Miss
Baker at the head of the stairs. He felt that a web was being woven
around him; now he understood what they were all driving at - Grace, and
his mother, and yes, Dorothy herself! - for as he met her eyes shining
with welcome he realised that she, with everyone else, awaited but one
outcome of their friendship. How blind he had been; he cursed his own
denseness.

As a matter of course she attached herself to him. "Where shall we go?
It's too early for supper, and I don't feel inclined to sit and listen
to music. Let's find some comfortable corner where we can talk in
peace."

"I am making for a comfortable corner farther away," he said
petulantly; "I'm going home!"

"Oh!" her dismay was patent, "and when I've only just come? I've got
something to tell you, something thrilling! Look here, I know this house
well. Come along, follow me!"

What else could he do? Morosely he followed her, feeling rather as if he
were walking in his sleep, through a door, along a passage, up a few
steps, and they were alone in a pretty boudoir that was cool and quiet,
fragrant with flowers, away from the crowd and the noise.

"Now we are safe! Give me a cigarette." Dorothy settled herself in a
deep chair; the gleam of her hair against a pile of purple cushions, her
long white arms and slender outline presented a striking picture, as
Philip could not but note as he stood before her on the hearthrug. Had
it not been for the disturbing idea that had taken definite shape in his
mind this evening he would have felt soothed, contented, very much at
home with her. As it was, he began to distrust his own powers of
resistance. Either he must get out of London at once, or he would be
forced seriously to consider the question of asking Lord Redgate's
daughter to be his wife. If, as he could not help assuming, she expected
him to propose to her sooner or later, opposition from her father was
not to be anticipated. Dorothy would have her own way - given the chance.
The fact that he was now actually contemplating the possibility startled
him. What a mean brute he must be! He could never love the girl as a man
should love the woman he married; if it became necessary he must tell
her the truth, and put an end to all thought of anything but
friendship....

"You are very glum to-night," she remarked, gazing at him through a
cloud of smoke. "What is the matter?"

"Probably the usual curse of the Anglo-Indian - liver!" he replied, with
an effort to speak lightly. "I've been eating and drinking too much ever
since I got home. It's time I went in for the simple life, somewhere out
of all this. It doesn't suit my peculiar constitution!"

"It doesn't suit me either," she said reflectively.

"You seem to thrive on it, anyway!"

"Oh! I am one of those chameleon people who can adapt themselves to any
surroundings. I could be happy anywhere, on a desert island, in the
Indian jungle - more particularly in the Indian jungle, provided - - "

She paused and flicked some cigarette ash on to the carpet.

He took a little china saucer from the mantelpiece and placed it on a
table beside her. "You must learn to be tidy wherever you are!" he said
with mock severity, and added: "What was it you had to tell me?"

"A secret! Such a nice one, though soon it will be a secret no longer."

"Oh! Are you going to be married in spite of your contempt for my sex?"

She drew in her breath sharply, as though something had hurt her. "Why
do you remind me of my silly ideas? Don't you think I have the sense to
see when I have been wrong?"

He evaded reply to the question. "Well, out with this wonderful secret.
Don't keep me in suspense."

"It's this - you are to have the C.S.I.!" she told him triumphantly. "The
Star of India! Doesn't it sound splendid - glittering, glorious, grand!"

He stared at her stupidly, stammered: "How - how do you know?"

"Pater told me to-night, just as I was starting to come here," and she
added na√ѓvely: "to come and meet _you_. Good old Pater, he is arranging
it all. Now, what do you say to that for a piece of news?"

"It is extremely kind of him, but I don't want it, I don't deserve it!"
he cried in desperation. "You must tell him - it must be stopped - - "

"What on earth are you talking about? If you don't deserve it, who does?
Anyway, it's to be yours, whether you feel you deserve it or not, and I
can't tell you how proud I feel that in a kind of way you will have got
it through _me_!"

Through her! and through her, if he chose to say the word, he could have
all that, to the world, would appear to make life well worth the living.
For the moment the temptation was strong, almost overwhelming. Here, for
the asking, was the devotion of a clever, capable girl who had the
makings of a true comrade, who would revive his ambitions, enter
wholeheartedly into his career; he saw himself honoured, successful,
beyond his dreams; a power in the country that he loved to serve, with
every advantage, officially and socially, in his grasp. Why should he
hesitate? Here was his chance! he stood at the turning-point of his
existence that meant "fortune" without struggle or delay if he went
boldly forward....

Then, all at once, sweeping aside the temptation, the brilliant outlook,
came the thought of Stella, the true Star of his life and his heart; and
dimly he felt that to barter the memory of that other star, however far
from his reach, for tangible gain would be infamous, contemptible. The
shadow was more to him than the substance; he could not do this thing
and feel that his purpose was clean!

"I suppose you will think I am mad," he said slowly, with difficulty,
"but there is something - something that stands in the way - - "

The girl paled, dropped the end of her cigarette into the saucer, and he
saw her hands grip the arms of the chair. "Is it - is it because - - " she
lost her self-control. "Oh! don't look at me like that! Can't you
see - what does anything matter! Don't be so proud. Nothing can be too
good for you - Philip!"

She rose, held her hands out to him, firm, square hands; he took them
gently, reverently, and she swayed as she recognised the lack of passion
in his touch.

Haltingly, as best he could, he tried to tell her the truth, but it all
sounded so elusive, so unsubstantial, he felt he could hardly expect her
to comprehend. Silence fell between them; he turned from her in painful
regret.

She laid her hand on his shoulder. "Philip, don't you trust me? Do you
think I can't know how you feel? If I can't help you in one way I can in
another perhaps, by giving you all my sympathy and understanding. I hope
if I had been placed as you are that I should have done exactly the
same. I see - I realise - - " she faltered pitifully, "that as things are
you can't take the Star, you can't owe it to _me_ in the least degree. I
will explain somehow to my father; leave it to me, it isn't too late,
and some day you will have it - earn it yourself entirely - and - it may be
the other one too, I hope so, I do indeed! if she is worthy of you. But
oh! how could she, how could she leave your letter unanswered! There may
have been some mistake, it may come all right, don't give up hope. The
most wonderful things happen. And I - I shall always be your friend - - "

She stopped, breathing fast; she had spoken so rapidly, under such
stress of emotion. As he met her strained, wide-open eyes she looked
almost unreal. A mist clouded his vision; he felt choked as he tried to
answer, to thank her; speech seemed so futile; for him the whole thing
was beyond words; he knew he was failing hopelessly to express himself.

She gave a tremulous laugh that was half a sob. "It's all right, don't
say anything, don't try. We both _know_. Let's get back to the crowd,"
and moving to the door she turned out the lights. Quickly she went
before him, down the steps and along the narrow passage. He saw her
mingle with the throng, her head held high, talking and laughing, a
bright, conspicuous figure, a brave, noble-hearted girl! He wished
honestly that he could have loved her; wished it quite apart from the
solid advantages she could have brought him as his wife.




CHAPTER XI


A day or two later when Philip, preparatory to his departure from
London, was choosing a fishing-rod in a well-known shop devoted to the
requirements of anglers, a little lady dressed in the height of fashion
rustled over to him from the farther end of the showroom where she had
been standing in company with an elderly, distinguished-looking man.

"Is it Mr. Flint?" she inquired gaily; and as he looked at her in
puzzled politeness a vague memory returned to him of someone trigged out
in sequins and tinsel, with a tambourine....

"You don't remember me? This time I'm not pretending. We really have met
before! My name is Matthews - Maud Verrall, you know, Stella Crayfield's
friend. How history repeats itself. Fancy my having to introduce myself
again, and all among fishing-rods and tackle and things, instead of in a
ball-room full of dressed-up idiots in India!"

"Why, of course - of course, how are you?" he said, gathering his wits
together, battling with an impulse to attack her on the spot as to
Stella's whereabouts, to ask her all about her. If anyone knew it would
be this wonderfully garbed little person, who now proceeded to beckon to
her deserted companion.

"Here's another old friend of Stella's, Sir George Rolt; you saw him at
that horrible ball, if you remember - - "

The shop assistant stood by in patient resentment as the male customers
neglected their object, and the lady chattered of everything but
fishing-rods.

"I'm taking Sir George down with me to my old home in the country
to-morrow for a visit," she told Mr. Flint; "he and my husband are going
to fish from morning till night. So dull for me! but I shall have Stella
to talk to, and she will be thankful. She's at The Chestnuts, you know.
'Grandmamma and the Aunts'," she added with a mischievous "moue," then
she sighed "Poor Stella!" and she looked at him searchingly. "That was a
terrible business, wasn't it?"

Philip composed himself with an effort. "Her husband's death, you mean?
Yes, I suppose it was. I have heard nothing of her since it happened. I
hope she is well, have you seen her lately?"

"Quite lately; I've only been in town for a flying visit, just to get
clothes."

There was an awkward pause. Philip became aware that Sir George was
regarding him with particular attention. Was the man Stella's future
husband? The possibility filled him with helpless rage.

Mrs. Matthews coughed artificially and glanced from one man to the
other. "Sir George, dear," she said sweetly, "you'd better go back to
that kind gentleman who was giving you such good advice about
fishing-rods, or someone else will snap him up. I want to talk secrets
with Mr. Flint, if he's not in too great a hurry."

Sir George smiled and moved away compliantly. Mrs. Matthews apologised
to Philip's assistant. "I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I haven't seen
this friend of mine for such ages. Presently he will buy _heaps_ of
things, don't wait for him now if you are busy. I will see that he
doesn't run away!"

The young man succumbed to her blandishments, and Mrs. Matthews piloted
Philip to a corner of the shop where she annexed a couple of chairs.

"This is a funny place for a private conversation!" she remarked, "but
I'm not going to lose such a chance now I've got it. Fancy our meeting
like this; what a piece of luck! Now listen to me and answer my
questions." She scrutinised him closely. "You look struck all of a
heap!"

"I feel it," said Philip briefly.

"Why? because you want to hear news of Stella, or because you don't?"

"Because it's the one thing in the world I wish for," he answered, his
heart beating fast.

Her face cleared. "That's all right; one step forward! Now tell me - do
you know why Stella never answered your letter?"

"There could be only one reason. I told her in my letter that if I did
not hear from her I should understand." He fixed his eyes on a stuffed
salmon in a glass case, he could not bring himself to meet Mrs.
Matthews' inquisitive gaze.

"You silly fool!" said Stella's friend vigorously. "Couldn't you have
guessed that she must have had some desperate reason?"

"I thought - - "

"You thought everything that was wrong, of course. Men always do. Sir
George Rolt thinks he is devoted to me at present, dear old thing, and
that I am equally 'gone' on him, but he's mistaken, though it's great
fun for us both while it lasts. Can you stand a shock, Mr. Philip
Flint?"

"I can stand anything," said Philip doggedly, "except - - "

"I know what you were going to say - except to hear that Stella never
wants to see you again?"

"Exactly."

"Would it make any difference if you found her altered in another way?"

"How do you mean?" he asked, mystified.

Then Mrs. Matthews 'set to' as she would herself have expressed it, and
for the space of five minutes she talked breathlessly, uninterrupted by
Philip, who listened to her in greedy silence.

"There," she concluded at last. "Now, do you see?"

"Not altogether, I must confess. I don't see why Stella should have
concluded that her appearance would have made the smallest difference to
me, after my letter. It was very unfair to me!"

"Don't talk such trash. It was perfectly natural. She was too hideous
for words until she got home; we came home together, and I made her put
herself into the hands of an expert. Massage and treatment did wonders,
but, all the same, poor dear, she will never be beautiful again!"

"Good heavens, as if that would matter to me. Whatever she looks
like - - " he paused, overcome by his feelings.

"Well, I will believe you, though one never knows! Anyway she's not so
bad, it's only one side of her face."

"Mrs. Matthews, for goodness' sake don't talk like this; I can't bear
it. Just tell me, once for all - does Stella care for me still?"

"Yes, darling, she does; and the best thing you can do is to come down
with me and Sir George to-morrow, fishing-rods and all, to The Court,
and make her tell you so herself. Will you?"

"Will I?" he scoffed ecstatically. "Mrs. Matthews, you are an angel!"

"Not yet," she assured him. "I don't mean to die young."

* * * * * *

Philip Flint walked up the short drive to The Chestnuts. The air was
filled with the peace and the scent of the summer's evening; and as he
viewed the old house with its little paved terrace, the lawn sloping
down to the stream, the cedar tree, the red wall of the kitchen garden,
he felt that it was all familiar to him.

An old lady was seated on the terrace flags - that would be "Grandmamma";
and an austere-looking female emerged from one of the French windows to
speak to the old lady - was that Aunt Augusta, or Aunt Ellen? His heart
warmed towards them. And as he hesitated, hardly daring to go forward,
he caught sight of a form stretched on a long chair beneath the cedar


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