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self-consciousness.

Lord Watergate leaned forward, regarding her earnestly.

"There has been news," he said, slowly, "of poor young Jermyn."

Gertrude started.

"You mean," she said, "that they have found him - that there is no
doubt."

"On the contrary; there is every doubt."

She looked at him bewildered.

"Miss Lorimer, there is, I am afraid, much cruel suspense in store for
you, and possibly to no purpose. I came here to-day to prepare you for
what you will hear soon enough. I chanced to learn from official
quarters what will be in every paper in England to-morrow. There is a
rumour that Jermyn has been seen alive."

"Lord Watergate!" Gertrude sprang to her feet, trembling in every limb.

He rose also, and continued, his eyes resting on her face meanwhile: -

"Native messengers have arrived at head-quarters from the interior,
giving an account of two Englishmen, who, they say, are living as
prisoners in one of the hostile towns. The descriptions of these
prisoners correspond to those of Steele and Jermyn."

"Lucy!" came faintly from Gertrude's lips.

"It is chiefly for your sister's sake that I have come here. The rumour
will be all over the town to-morrow. Had you not better prepare her for
this, at the same time impressing on her the extreme probability of its
baselessness?"

"I wish it could be kept from her altogether."

"Perhaps even that might be managed until further confirmation arrives.
I cannot conceal from you that at present I attach little value to it.
It was in the nature of things that such a rumour should arise; neither
of the poor fellows having actually been seen dead."

"What steps will be taken?" asked Gertrude, after a pause. She had not
the slightest belief that Frank would ever be among them again; she and
Lucy had gone over for ever to the great majority of the unfortunate.

"A rescue-party is to be organised at once. The war being practically at
an end, it would probably resolve itself into a case of ransom, if there
were any truth in the whole thing. I may be in possession of further
news a little before the newspapers. Needless to say that I shall bring
it here at once."

He took up his hat and stood a moment looking down at her.

"Lord Watergate, we do not even attempt to thank you for your kindness."

"I have been able, unfortunately, to do so little for you. I wish to-day
that I had come to you as the bringer of good tidings; I am destined, it
seems, to be your bird of ill-omen."

He dropped his eyes suddenly, and Gertrude turned away her face. A pause
fell between them; then she said -

"Will it be long before news of any reliability can reach us?"

"I cannot tell; it may be a matter of days, of weeks, or even months."

"I fear it will be impossible to keep the rumour from my poor Lucy."

"I am afraid so. I trust to you to save her from false hopes."

"So I am to be Cassandra," thought Gertrude, a little wistfully. She was
always having some hideous _rôle_ or other thrust upon her.

Lord Watergate moved towards the door.

A sudden revulsion of feeling came over her.

"Perhaps," she said, "it is true."

He caught her mood. "Perhaps it is."

They stood smiling at one another like two children.

Constance Devonshire coming upstairs a few minutes later found Gertrude
standing alone in the middle of the room, a vague smile playing about
her face. A suspicion that was not new gathered force in Conny's mind.
Going up to her friend she said, with meaning -

"Gerty, what has Lord Watergate been saying to you?"

"Conny, Conny, can you keep a secret?"

And then Gertrude told her of the new hope, vague and sweet and
perilous, which Lord Watergate had brought with him.

"But it is true, Gerty; it really is," Conny said, while the tears
poured down her cheeks; "I have always known that the other thing was
not possible. Oh, Gerty, just to see him, just to know he is alive - will
not that be enough to last one all the days of one's life?"

But this mood of impersonal exaltation faded a little when Constance
went back to Queen's Gate, where everything was in a state of readiness
for the projected flitting. She lay awake sobbing with mingled feelings
half through the night.

"Even Gerty," she thought; "I am going to lose her too." For she
remembered the smile in Gertrude's eyes that afternoon when she had
found her standing alone after Lord Watergate's visit; a smile to which
she chose to attach meanings which concerned the happiness of neither
Frank nor Lucy.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XXIII.

A DISMISSAL.

_O thou of little faith, what hast thou done?_


Lucy has always since maintained that the days which followed Lord
Watergate's communication were the very worst that she ever went
through. The fluctuations of hope and fear, the delays, the prolonged
strain of uncertainty coming upon her afresh, after all that had already
been endured, could be nothing less than torture even to a person of her
well-balanced and well-regulated temperament.

"To have to bear it all for the second time," thought poor Gertrude,
whose efforts to spare her sister could not, in the nature of things, be
very successful.

A terrible fear that Lucy would break down altogether and slip from her
grasp, haunted her night and day. The world seemed to her peopled with
shadows, which she could do nothing more than clutch at as they passed
by, she herself the only creature of any permanence of them all. But
gradually the tremulous, flickering flame of hope grew brighter and
steadier; then changed into a glad certainty. And one wonderful day,
towards the end of March, Frank was with them once more: Frank, thinner
and browner perhaps, but in no respect the worse for his experiences;
Frank, as they had always known him - kind and cheery and sympathetic;
with the old charming confidence in being cared for.

"And I was not there," he cried, regretful, self-reproachful, when Lucy
had told him the details of their sad story.

"I thought always, 'If Frank were here!'"

"I think I should have killed him," said Frank, in all sincerity; and
Lucy drew closer to him, grateful for the non-fulfilment of her wish.

They were standing together in the studio. It was the day after Jermyn's
return, and Gertrude was sitting listlessly upstairs, her busy hands
for once idle in her lap. In a few days April would have come round
again for the second time since their father's death.

What a lifetime of experience had been compressed into those two years,
she thought, her apathetic eyes mechanically following the green garment
of the High School mistress, as she whisked past down the street.

She knew that it is often so in human life - a rapid succession of
events; a vivid concentration of every sort of experience in a brief
space; then long, grey stretches of eventless calm. She knew also how it
is when events, for good or evil, rain down thus on any group of
persons. - The majority are borne to new spheres, for them the face of
things has changed completely. But nearly always there is one, at least,
who, after the storm is over, finds himself stranded and desolate, no
further advanced on his journey than before.

The lightning has not smitten him, nor the waters drowned him, nor has
any stranger vessel borne him to other shores. He is only battered, and
shattered, and weary with the struggle; has lost, perhaps, all he cared
for, and is permanently disabled for further travelling. Gertrude smiled
to herself as she pursued the little metaphor, then, rising, walked
across the room to the mirror which hung above the mantelpiece. As her
eye fell on her own reflection she remembered Lucy Snowe's words -

"I saw myself in the glass, in my mourning dress, a faded, hollow-eyed
vision. Yet I thought little of the wan spectacle.... I still felt life
at life's sources."

That was the worst of it; one was so terribly vital. Inconceivable as it
seemed, she knew that one day she would be up again, fighting the old
fight, not only for existence, but for happiness itself. She was only
twenty-five when all was said; much lay, indeed, behind her, but there
was still the greater part of her life to be lived.

She started a little as the handle of the door turned, and Mrs. Maryon
announced Lord Watergate. She gave him her hand with a little smile:
"Have you been in the studio?" she said, as they both seated themselves.

"Yes; Jermyn opened the door himself, and insisted on my coming in,
though, to tell you the truth, I should have hesitated about entering
had I had any choice in the matter - which I hadn't."

"Lucy has picked up wonderfully, hasn't she?"

"She looks her old self already. Jermyn tells me they are to be married
almost immediately."

"Yes. I suppose they told you also that Lucy is going to carry on the
business afterwards."

"In the old place?"

"No. We have got rid of the rest of the lease, and they propose moving
into some place where studios for both of them can be arranged."

"And you?"

"It is uncertain. I think Lucy will want me for the photography."

"Miss Lorimer, first of all you must do something to get well. You will
break down altogether if you don't."

Something in the tone of the blunt words startled her; she turned away,
a nameless terror taking possession of her.

"Oh, I shall be all right after a little holiday."

"You have been looking after everybody else; doing everybody's work,
bearing everybody's troubles." He stopped short suddenly, and added,
with less earnestness, "_Quis custodet custodiem?_ Do you know any
Latin, Miss Lorimer?"

She rose involuntarily; then stood rather helplessly before him. It was
ridiculous that these two clever people should be so shy and awkward;
those others down below in the studio had never undergone any such
uncomfortable experience; but then neither had had to graft the new
happiness on an old sorrow; for neither had the shadow of memory
darkened hope.

Gertrude went over to the mantelshelf, and began mechanically arranging
some flowers in a vase. For once, she found Lord Watergate's presence
disturbing and distressing; she was confused, unhappy, distrustful of
herself; she wished when she turned her head that she would find him
gone. But he was standing near her, a look of perplexity, of trouble, in
his face.

"Miss Lorimer," he said, and there was no mistaking the note in his
voice, "have I come too soon? Is it too soon for me to speak?"

She was overwhelmed, astonished, infinitely agitated. Her soul shrank
back afraid. What had the closer human relations ever brought her but
sorrow unutterable, unending? Some blind instinct within her prompted
her words, as she said, lifting her head, with the attitude of one who
would avert an impending blow -

"Oh, it is too soon, too soon."

He stood a moment looking at her with his deep eyes.

"I shall come back," he said.

"No, oh, no!"

She hid her face in her hands, and bent her head to the marble. What he
offered was not for her; for other women, for happier women, for better
women, perhaps, but not for her.

When she raised her head he was gone.

The momentary, unreasonable agitation passed away from her, leaving her
cold as a stone, and she knew what she had done. By a lightning flash
her own heart stood revealed to her. How incredible it seemed, but she
knew that it was true: all this dreary time, when the personal thought
had seemed so far away from her, her greatest personal experience had
been silently growing up - no gourd of a night, but a tree to last
through the ages. She, who had been so strong for others, had failed
miserably for herself.

Love and happiness had come to her open-handed, and she had sent them
away. Love and happiness? Oh, those will o' the wisps had danced ere
this before her cheated sight. Love and happiness? Say rather, pity and
a mild peace. It is not love that lets himself be so easily denied.

Happiness? That was not for such as she; but peace, it would have come
in time; now it was possible that it would never come at all.

All the springs of her being had seemed for so long to be frozen at
their source; now, in this one brief moment of exaltation, half-rapture,
half-despair, the ice melted, and her heart was flooded with the stream.

Covering her face with her hands, she knelt by his empty chair, and a
great cry rose up from her soul: - the human cry for happiness - the
woman's cry for love.


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XXIV.

AT LAST.

_We sat when shadows darken,
And let the shadows be;
Each was a soul to hearken,
Devoid of eyes to see.

You came at dusk to find me;
I knew you well enough....
Oh, Lights that dazzle and blind me -
It is no friend, but Love!_
A. MARY F. ROBINSON.


_Hotel Prince de Galles, Cannes, April 27th._

My dearest Gerty, - You shall have a letter to-day, though it is
more than you deserve. Why do you never write to me? Now that you
have safely married your young people, you have positively no
excuse. By the by, the poor innocent mater read the announcement of
the wedding out loud at breakfast to-day. - Fred got crimson and
choked in his coffee, and I had a silent fit of laughter. However,
he is all right by now, playing tennis with a mature lady with
yellow hair, whom he much affects, and whom papa scornfully
denominates a "hotel hack."

All this, let me tell you, is preliminary. I have a piece of news
for you, but somehow it won't come out. Not that it is anything to
be ashamed of. The fact is, Gerty, I am going the way of all flesh,
and am about to be married. Believe me, it is the most sensible
course for a woman to take. I hope you will follow my good example.

Do you remember Sapho's words: "J'ai tant aimé; j'ai besoin d'être
aimée"? Do not let the quotation shock you; neither take it too
seriously, I think Mr. Graham - you know Lawrence Graham? - does care
as caring goes and as men go. He came out here, on purpose, a
fortnight ago, and yesterday we settled it between us....


Gertrude read no further; the thin, closely-written sheet fell from her
hand; she sat staring vaguely before her.

Conny's letter, with its cheerfulness, partly real, partly affected,
hurt her taste, and depressed her rather unreasonably.

This was the hardest feature of her lot: for the people she loved, the
people who had looked up to her, she had been able to do nothing at all.

She was sitting alone in the dismantled studio on this last day of
April. To-morrow Lucy and Frank would have returned from Cornwall, and
have taken possession of the new home.

Her own plans for the present were vague.

One of her stories, after various journeys to editorial offices, had at
last come back to her in the form of proof, supplemented, moreover, by
what seemed to her a handsome cheque.

She had arranged, on the strength of this, to visit a friend in
Florence, for some months; after that period she would in all
probability take part with Lucy in the photography business.

There was no fire lighted, and the sun, which in the earlier part of the
day had warmed the room, had set. Most of the furniture and properties
had already gone to the new studio, but some yet remained, massed and
piled in the gloom.

The black sign-board, with its gold lettering, stood upright and forlorn
in a corner, as though conscious that its day was over for ever.
Gertrude had been busying herself with turning out a cupboard, but the
light had failed, and she had ceased from her work.

A very dark hour came to Gertrude, crouching there in the dusk and cold,
amid the dismantled workshop which seemed to symbolize her own life.

She who held unhappiness ignoble and cynicism a poor thing, had lost for
the moment all joy of living and all belief. The little erection of
philosophy, of hope, of self-reliance, which she had been at such pains
to build, seemed to be crumbling about her ears; all the struggles and
sacrifices of life looked vain things. What had life brought her, but
disillusion, bitterness, an added sense of weakness?

She rose at last and paced the room.

"This will pass," she said to herself; "I am out of sorts; and it is not
to be wondered at."

She sat down in the one empty chair the room contained, and leaning her
head on her hand, let her thoughts wander at will.

Her eyes roved about the little dusky room which was so full of memories
for her. Shadows peopled it; dream-voices filled it with sound.

Lucy and Phyllis and Frank moved hither and thither with jest and
laughter. Fanny was there too, tampering amiably with the apparatus; and
Darrell looked at her once with cold eyes, although, indeed, he had been
a rare visitor at the studio.

Then all these phantoms faded, and she seemed to see another in their
stead; a man, tall and strong, his face full of anger and sorrow - Lord
Watergate, as he had been on that never-forgotten night. Then the anger
and sorrow faded from his face, and she read there nothing but
love - love for herself shining from his eyes.

Then she hid her face, ashamed.

What must he think of her? Perhaps that she scorned his gift, did not
understand its value; had therefore withdrawn it in disdain.

Oh, if only she could tell him this: - that it was her very sense of the
greatness of what he offered that had made her tremble, turn away, and
reject it. One does not stretch out the hand eagerly for so great a
gift.

She had told him not to return and he had taken her at her word. She was
paying the penalty, which her sex always pays one way or another, for
her struggles for strength and independence. She was denied, she told
herself with a touch of rueful humour, the gracious feminine privilege
of changing her mind.

Lord Watergate might have loved her more if he had respected her less,
or at least allowed for a little feminine waywardness. Like the rest of
the world, he had failed to understand her, to see how weak she was, for
all her struggles to be strong.

She pushed back the hair from her forehead with the old resolute
gesture. Well, she must learn to be strong in earnest now; the thews and
sinews of the soul, the moral muscles, grow with practice, no less than
those of the body. She must not sit here brooding, but must rise and
fight the Fates.

Hitherto, perhaps, life had been nothing but failures, but mistakes. It
was quite possible that the future held nothing better in store for her.
That was not the question; all that concerned her was to fight the
fight.

She lit a solitary candle, and began sorting some papers and prints on
the table near.

"If he had cared," her thoughts ran on, "he would have come back in
spite of everything."

Doubtless it had been a mere passing impulse of compassion which had
prompted his words, and he had caught eagerly at her dismissal of him.
Or was it all a delusion on her part? That brief, rapid moment, when he
had spoken, had it ever existed save in her own imagination? Worst
thought of all, a thought which made her cheek burn scarlet in the
solitude, had she misinterpreted some simple expression of kindness,
some frank avowal of sympathy; had she indeed refused what had never
been offered?

She felt very lonely as she lingered there in the gloom, trying to
accustom herself in thought to the long years of solitude, of
dreariness, which she saw stretching out before her.

The world, even when represented by her best friends, had labelled her a
strong-minded woman. By universal consent she had been cast for the
part, and perforce must go through with it.

She heard steps coming up the Virginia cork passage and concluded that
Mrs. Maryon was bringing her an expected postcard from Lucy.

"Come in," she said, not raising her head from the table.

The person who had come in was not, however, Mrs. Maryon.

He came up to the table with its solitary candle and faced her.

When she saw who it was her heart stood still; then in one brief moment
the face of the universe had changed for her for ever.

"Lord Watergate!"

"I said I would come again. I have come in spite of you. You will not
tell me that I come too soon, or in vain?"

"You must not think that I did not value what you offered me," she said
simply, though her voice shook; "that I did not think myself deeply
honoured. But I was afraid - I have suffered very much."

"And I.... Oh, Gertrude, my poor child, and I have left you all this
time."

For the light, flickering upwards, had shown him her weary, haggard
face; had shown him also the pathetic look of her eyes as they yearned
towards him in entreaty, in reliance, - in love.

He had taken her in his arms, without explanation or apology, holding
her to his breast as one holds a tired child.

And she, looking up into his face, into the lucid depths of his eyes,
felt all that was mean and petty and bitter in life fade away into
nothingness; while all that was good and great and beautiful gathered
new meaning and became the sole realities.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




EPILOGUE.


There is little more to tell of the people who have figured in this
story.

Fanny continues to flourish at Notting Hill, the absence of children
being the one drop in her cup and that of her husband.

"But, perhaps," as Lucy privately remarks, "it is as well; for I don't
think the Marshes would have understood how to bring up a child."

For Lucy, in common with all young matrons of the day, has decided views
on matters concerned with the mental, moral, and physical culture of the
young. Unlike many thinkers, she does not hesitate to put her theories
into practice, and the two small occupants of her nursery bear witness
to excellent training.

The photography, however, has not been crowded out by domestic duties;
and no infant with pretensions to fashion omits to present itself before
Mrs. Jermyn's lens. Lucy has succumbed to the modern practice of
specialising, and only the other day carried off a medal for photographs
of young children from an industrial exhibition. Her husband is no less
successful in his own line. Having permanently abandoned the paint-brush
for the needle, he bids fair to take a high place among the black and
white artists of the day.

The Watergates have also an addition to their household, in the shape of
a stout person with rosy cheeks and stiff white petticoats, who receives
a great deal of attention from his parents. Gertrude wonders if he will
prove to have inherited his father's scientific tastes, or the literary
tendencies of his mother. She devoutly hopes that it is the former.

Conny flourishes as a married woman no less than as a girl. She and the
Jermyns dine out now and then at one another's houses; her old affection
for Gertrude continues, in spite of the fact that their respective
husbands are quite unable (as she says) to hit it off.

Fred has not yet married; but there is no reason to believe him
inconsolable. It is rather the embarrassment of choice than any other
motive which keeps him single.

Aunt Caroline, having married all her daughters to her satisfaction,
continues to reign supreme in certain circles at Lancaster Gate. She
speaks with the greatest respect of her niece, Lady Watergate, though
she has been heard to comment unfavourably on the shabbiness of the
furniture in Sussex Place.

As for Darrell, shortly after Phyllis's death, he went to India at the
invitation of the Viceroy and remained there nearly two years.

It was only the other day that the Watergates came face to face with
him. It was at a big dinner, where the most distinguished
representatives of art and science and literature were met. Gertrude
turned pale when she saw him, losing the thread of her discourse, and
her appetite, despite her husband's reassuring glances down the table.

But Darrell went on eating his dinner and looking into his neighbour's
eyes, in apparent unconsciousness of, or unconcern at, the Watergates'
proximity.

The Maryons continue in the old premises, increasing their balance at
the banker's, and enlarging their experience of life.

The Photographic Studio is let to an enterprising young photographer,
who has enlarged and beautified it beyond recognition.

As for the rooms above the umbrella-maker's: the sitting-room facing the
street; the three-cornered kitchen behind; the three little bed-rooms
beyond; - when last I passed the house they were to let unfurnished, with
great fly-blown bills in the blank casements.


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