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Gertrude went on her way with a considerable sinking of the heart. She
had no difficulty in finding Sussex Place; indeed, she had often
remarked it; the white curve of houses with the columns, the cupolas,
and the railed-in space of garden which fronted the Park.

Lord Watergate's house was situated about midway in the terrace.
Gertrude, on arriving, was shown into a large dining-room, darkened by
blinds, and decorated in each gloomy corner by greenish figures of a
pseudo-classical nature, which served the purpose of supports to the
gas-globes.

At least a quarter of an hour elapsed before the appearance of the
housekeeper, who ushered her up the darkened stairs to a large room on
the second storey.

Here the blinds had been raised, and for a moment Gertrude was too
dazzled to be aware with any clearness of her surroundings.

As her eyes grew accustomed to the light, she perceived herself to be
standing in a daintily-furnished sleeping apartment, whose open windows
afforded glimpses of an unbroken prospect of wood, and lawn, and water.

Drawn forward to the middle of the room, well within the light from the
windows, was a small, open bedstead of wrought brass. A woman lay, to
all appearance, sleeping there, the bright October sunlight falling full
on the upturned face, on the spread and shining masses of matchless
golden hair. A woman no longer in her first youth; haggard with
sickness, pale with the last strange pallor, but beautiful withal,
exquisitely, astonishingly beautiful.

Another figure, that of a man, was seated by the window, in a pose as
fixed, as motionless, as that of the dead woman herself.

Gertrude, as she silently made preparations for her strange task,
instinctively refrained from glancing in the direction of this second
figure; and had only the vaguest impression of a dark, bowed head, and a
bearded, averted face.

She delivered a few necessary directions to the housekeeper, in the
lowest audible voice, then, her faculties stimulated to curious
accuracy, set to work with camera and slides.

As she stood, her apparatus gathered up, on the point of departure, the
man by the window rose suddenly, and for the first time seemed aware of
her presence.

For one brief, but vivid moment, her eyes encountered the glance of two
miserable grey eyes, looking out with a sort of dazed wonder from a pale
and sunken face. The broad forehead, projecting over the eyes; the fine,
but rough-hewn features; the brown hair and beard; the tall, stooping,
sinewy figure: these together formed a picture which imprinted itself as
by a flash on Gertrude's overwrought consciousness, and was destined not
to fade for many days to come.

* * * * *

"They are some of the best work you have ever done, Gerty," cried
Phyllis, peering over her sister's shoulder. The habits of this young
person, as we know, resembled those of the lilies of the field; but she
chose to pervade the studio when nothing better offered itself, and in
moments of boredom even to occupy herself with some of the more pleasant
work.

Gertrude looked thoughtfully at the prints in her hand. They represented
a woman lying dead or asleep, with her hair spread out on the pillow.

"Yes," she said, slowly, "they have succeeded better than I expected. Of
course the light was not all that could be wished."

"Poor thing," said Phyllis; "what perfect features she has. Mrs. Maryon
told us she was wicked, didn't she? But I don't know that it matters
about being good when you are as beautiful as all that."

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER VI.

TO THE RESCUE.

_We studied hard in our styles,
Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,
For air, looked out on the tiles,
For fun, watched each other's windows._
R. BROWNING.


"Mr. Frederick Devonshire, I positively refuse to minister any longer to
such gross egotism! You've been cabinetted, vignetted, and carte de
visited. You've been taken in a snowstorm; you've been taken looking out
of window, drinking afternoon tea, and doing I don't know what else. If
your vanity still remains unsatisfied, you must get another firm to
gorge it for you."

"You're a nice woman of business, you are! Turning money away from the
doors like this," chuckled Fred. Lucy's simple badinage appealed to him
as the raciest witticisms would probably have failed to do; it seemed to
him almost on a par with the brilliant verbal coruscations of his
cherished _Sporting Times_.

"Our business," answered Lucy demurely, "is conducted on the strictest
principles. We always let a gentleman know when he has had as much as is
good for him."

"Oh, I say!" Fred appeared to be completely bowled over by what he would
have denominated as this "side-splitter," and gave vent to an unearthly
howl of merriment.

"Whatever is the matter?" cried his sister, entering the sitting-room.
She and Gertrude had just come up together from the studio, where Conny
had been pouring out her soul as to the hollowness of the world, a fact
she was in the habit periodically of discovering. "Fred, what a shocking
noise!"

"Oh, shut up, Con, and let a fellow alone," grumbled Fred, subsiding
into a chair. "Conny's been dancing every night this week - making me
take her, too, by Jove! - and now, if you please, she's got hot
coppers."

Miss Devonshire deigned no reply to these remarks, and Phyllis, who,
like all of them, was accustomed to occasional sparring between the
brother and sister, threw herself into the breach.

"You're the very creature I want, Conny," she cried. "Come over here;
perhaps you can enlighten me about the person who interests me more than
any one in the world."

"Phyllis!" protested Fan, who understood the allusion.

"It's your man opposite," went on Phyllis, unabashed; "Lucy and I are
longing to know all about him. There he is on the doorstep; why, he only
went out half an hour ago!"

"That fellow," said Fred, with unutterable contempt; "that
foreign-looking chap whom Conny dances half the night with?"

"Foreign-looking," said Phyllis, "I should just think he was! Why, he
might have stepped straight out of a Venetian portrait; a Tintoretto, a
Bordone, any one of those _mellow_ people."

"Only as regards colouring," put in Lucy, whose interest in the subject
appeared to be comparatively mild. "I don't believe those old Venetian
nobles dashed about in that headlong fashion. I often wonder what his
business can be that keeps him running in and out all day."

Fortunately for Constance, the fading light of the December afternoon
concealed the fact that she was blushing furiously, as she replied
coolly enough, "Oh, Frank Jermyn? he's an artist; works chiefly in black
and white for the illustrated papers, I think. He and another man have a
studio in York Place together."

"Is he an Englishman?"

"Yes; his people are Cornish clergymen."

"All of them? 'What, all his pretty ones?'" cried Phyllis; "but you are
very interesting, Conny, to-day. Poor fellow, he looks a little lonely
sometimes; although he has a great many oddly-assorted pals."

"By the bye," went on Conny, still maintaining her severely neutral
tone, "he mentioned the photographic studio, and wanted to know all
about 'G. and L. Lorimer.'"

"Did you tell him," answered Phyllis, "that if you lived opposite four
beautiful, fallen princesses, who kept a photographer's shop, you would
at least call and be photographed."

"It is so much nicer of him that he does not," said Lucy, with decision.

Phyllis struck an attitude:


"It might have been, once only,
We lodged in a street together ..."


she began, then stopped short suddenly.

"What a thundering row!" said Fred.

A curious, scuffling sound, coming from the room below, was distinctly
audible.

"Mdlle. Stéphanie appears to be giving an afternoon dance," said Lucy.

"I will go and see if anything is the matter," remarked Gertrude,
rising.

As a matter of fact she snatched eagerly at this opportunity for
separating herself from this group of idle chatterers. She was tired,
dispirited, beset with a hundred anxieties; weighed down by a cruel
sense of responsibility.

How was it all to end? she asked herself, as, oblivious of Mdlle.
Stéphanie's performance, she lingered on the little dusky landing. That
first wave of business, born of the good-natured impulse of their
friends and acquaintance, had spent itself, and matters were looking
very serious indeed for the firm of G. and L. Lorimer.

"We couldn't go on taking Fred's guineas for ever," she thought, a
strange laugh rising in her throat. "Perhaps, though, it was wrong of me
to refuse to be interviewed by _The Waterloo Place Gazette_. But we are
photographers, not mountebanks!" she added, in self-justification.

In a few minutes she had succeeded in suppressing all outward marks of
her troubles, and had rejoined the people in the sitting-room.

"Mrs. Maryon says there is nothing the matter," she cried, with her
delightful smile, "and that there is no accounting for these
foreigners."

Laughter greeted her words, then Conny, rising and shaking out her
splendid skirts, declared that it was time to go.

"Aren't you ever coming to see us?" she said, giving Gertrude a great
hug. "Mama is positively offended, and as for papa - disconsolate is not
the word."

"You must make them understand how really difficult it is for any of us
to come," answered Gertrude, who had a natural dislike to entering on
explanations in which such sordid matters as shabby clothes and the
comparative dearness of railway tickets would have had to figure
largely. "But we are coming one day, of course."

"I'll tell you what it is," cried Fred, as they emerged into the street,
and stood looking round for a hansom; "Gertrude may be the cleverest,
and Phyllis the prettiest, but Lucy is far and away the nicest of the
Lorimer girls."

"Gerty is worth ten of her, _I_ think," answered Conny, crossly. She was
absorbed in furtive contemplation of a light that glimmered in a window
above the auctioneer's shop opposite.

As the girls were sitting at supper, later on, they were startled by the
renewal of those sounds below which had disturbed them in the afternoon.

They waited a few minutes, attentive; but this time, instead of dying
away, the noise rapidly gathered volume, and in addition to the
scuffling, their ears were assailed by the sound of shrill cries, and
what appeared to be a perfect volley of objurgations. Evidently a
contest was going on in which other weapons than vocal or verbal ones
were employed, for the floor and windows of the little sitting-room
shook and rattled in a most alarming manner.

Suddenly, to the general horror, Fanny burst into tears.

"Girls," she cried, rushing wildly to the window, "you may say what you
like; but I am not going to stay and see us all murdered without lifting
a hand. Help! Murder!" she shrieked, leaning half her body over the
window-sill.

"For goodness' sake, Fanny, stop that!" cried Lucy, in dismay, trying to
draw her back into the room. But her protest was drowned by a series of
ear-piercing yells issuing from the room below.

"I will go and see what is the matter," said Gertrude, pale herself to
the lips; for the whole thing was sufficiently blood-curdling.

"You'd better stay where you are," answered Lucy, in her most
matter-of-fact tones, as she led the terrified Fan to an arm-chair.

Phyllis stood among them silent, gazing from one to the other, with that
strange, bright look in her eyes, which with her betokened excitement;
the unimpassioned, impersonal excitement of a spectator at a thrilling
play.

"Certainly I shall go," said Gertrude, as a door banged violently
below, to the accompaniment of a volley of polyglot curses.

"I will not stay in this awful house another hour," panted Fanny, from
her arm-chair. "Gertrude, Gertrude, if you leave this room I shall die!"

With a sickening of the heart, for she knew not what horror she was
about to encounter, Gertrude made her way downstairs, the cries and
sounds of struggling growing louder at each step. At the bottom of the
first flight she paused.

"Go back, Phyllis."

"It's no good, Gerty, I'm not going back."

"I am going to the shop; and if the Maryons are not there we must call a
policeman."

Swiftly they went down the next flight, past the horrible doors, on the
other side of which the battle was raging, still downwards, till they
reached the little narrow hall. Here they drew up suddenly before a
figure which barred the way.

Long afterwards Gertrude could recall the moment when she first saw
Frank Jermyn under their roof; could remember distinctly - though all at
the time seemed chaos - the sudden sensation of security that came over
her at the sight of the kind, eager young face, the brilliant, steadfast
eyes; at the sound of the manly, cheery voice.

There were no explanations; no apologies.

"There seems to be a shocking row going on," he said, lifting his hat;
"I only hope that it does not concern any of you ladies."

In a few hurried words Gertrude told him what she knew of the state of
affairs. Meanwhile the noise had in some degree subsided.

"Great heavens!" cried Frank; "there may be murder going on at this
instant." And in less time than it takes to tell he had sprung past her,
and was hammering with all his might at the closed door.

The girls followed timidly, and were in time to see the door fly open in
response to the well-directed blows, and Mrs. Maryon herself come
forward, pale but calm. Within the room all was now dark and silent.

Mrs. Maryon and the new comer exchanged a few hurried words, and the
latter turned to the girls, who clung together a few paces off.

"There is no cause for alarm," he said. "Pray do not wait here. I will
explain everything in a few minutes, if I may."

"Now please, Miss Lorimer, go back upstairs; there's nothing to be
frightened at," chimed in Mrs. Maryon, with some asperity.

A few minutes afterwards Frank Jermyn knocked at the door of the
Lorimers' sitting-room, and on being admitted, found himself well within
the fire of four questioning pairs of feminine eyes.

"Pray sit down, sir," said Fan, who had been prepared for his arrival.
"How are we ever to thank you?"

"There is nothing to thank me for, as your sisters can tell you," he
said, bluntly. He looked a modest, pleasant little person enough as he
sat there in his light overcoat and dress clothes, all the fierceness
gone out of him. "I have merely come to tell you that nothing terrible
has happened. It seems that the poor Frenchwoman below has been in money
difficulties, and has been trying to put an end to herself. The Maryons
discovered this in time, and it has been as much as they could do to
prevent her from carrying out her plan. Hence these tears," he added,
with a smile.

When once you had seen Frank Jermyn smile, you believed in him from
that moment.

The girls were full of horror and pity at the tale.

"We have had a great shock," said Fan, wiping her eyes, with dignity.
"Such a terrible noise. But you heard it for yourself."

A pause; the young fellow looked round rather wistfully, as though
doubtful of what footing he stood on among them.

"We must not keep you," went on Fan, whose tongue was loosened by
excitement; "no doubt (glancing at his clothes) you are going out to
dinner."

She spoke in the manner of a fallen queen who alludes to the ceremony of
coronation.

Frank rose.

"By the by," he said, looking down, "I have often wished - I have never
ventured" - then looking up and smiling brightly, "I have often wondered
if you included photographing at artists' studios in your work."

Lucy assured him that they did, and the young man asked permission to
call on them the next day at the studio. Then he added -

"My name is Jermyn, and I live at Number 19, opposite."

"I think," said Lucy, in the candid, friendly fashion which always set
people at their ease, "that we have an acquaintance in common, Miss
Devonshire."

Jermyn acknowledged that such was the case; a few remarks on the subject
were exchanged, then Frank went off to his dinner-party, having first
shaken hands with each of the girls in all cordiality and frankness.

Mrs. Maryon came up in the course of the evening, to express her regret
that the ladies had been frightened and disturbed; setting aside with
cynical good-humour their anxious expressions of pity and sympathy for
the heroine of the affair.

"It isn't for such as you to trouble yourselves about such as her," she
said, "although I'm sorry enough for Steffany myself - and never a penny
of last quarter's rent paid!"

"Poor woman," answered Lucy, "she must have been in a desperate
condition."

"You see, miss," said Mrs. Maryon circumstantially, "she had been going
on owing money for ever so long, though _we_ knew nothing about it; and
at last she was threatened with the bailiffs. Then what must she do but
go down to the shop and make off with some of Maryon's bottles while we
were at dinner. He found it out, and took one away from her this
afternoon when you complained of the noise. Later he missed the second
bottle, and went up to Steffany, who was uncorking it and sniffing it,
and making believe she wanted to do away with herself."

"How unutterably horrible!" Gertrude shuddered.

"You heard how she went on when he tried to take it from her. Such
strength as she has, too - it was as much as me and Maryon and the girl
could do between us to hold her down."

"Where has she gone to now?" said Lucy.

"Oh, she don't sleep here, you know, miss. She's gone home with Maryon
as meek as a lamb; took her bit of supper with us, quite cheerfully."

"What will she do, I wonder?"

"Ah," said Mrs. Maryon, thoughtfully; "there's no saying what she and
many other poor creatures like her have to do. There'd be no rest for
any of us if we was to think of that."

Gertrude lay awake that night for many hours; the events of the day had
curiously shaken her. The story of the miserable Frenchwoman, with its
element of grim humour, made her sick at heart.

Fenced in as she had hitherto been from the grosser realities of life,
she was only beginning to realise the meaning of life. Only a plank - a
plank between them and the pitiless, fathomless ocean on which they had
set out with such unknowing fearlessness; into whose boiling depths
hundreds sank daily and disappeared, never to rise again.

* * * * *

Mademoiselle Stéphanie actually put in an appearance the next morning,
and made quite a cheerful bustle over the business of setting her house
in order, preparatory to the final flitting.

Gertrude passed her on the stairs on her way to the studio, but feigned
not to notice the other's morning greeting, delivered with its usual
crispness. The woman's mincing, sallow face, with its unabashed smiles,
sickened her.

Phyllis, who was with her, laughed softly. "She does not seem in the
least put out by the little affair of yesterday," she said.

"Hush, Phyllis. Ah, there is the studio bell already. No doubt it is Mr.
Jermyn," and she unconsciously assumed her most business-like air.

A day or two later Mademoiselle Stéphanie vanished for ever; and not
long afterwards her place was occupied by a serious-looking
umbrella-maker, who displayed no hankering for Mr. Maryon's bottles.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER VII.

A NEW CUSTOMER.

_Stately is service accepted, but lovelier service rendered,
Interchange of service the law and condition of Beauty._
A. H. CLOUGH.


Frank Jermyn, whom we have left ringing at the bell, followed Gertrude
down the Virginia-cork passage into the waiting-room.

The curtains between this apartment and the studio were drawn aside,
displaying a charming picture - Lucy, in her black gown and holland
pinafore, her fair, smooth head bent over the re-touching frame;
Phyllis, at an ornamental table, engaged in trimming prints, with great
deftness and grace of manipulation.

Neither of the girls looked up from her work, and Frank took possession
of one of the red-legged chairs, duly impressed with the business-like
nature of the occasion; although, indeed, it must be confessed that his
glance strayed furtively now and then in the direction of the studio and
its pleasant prospect.

Gertrude explained that they were quite prepared to undertake studio
work. Frank briefly stated the precise nature of the work he had ready
for them, and then ensued a pause.

It was humiliating, it was ridiculous, but it was none the less true,
that neither of these business-like young people liked first to make a
definite suggestion for the inevitable visit to Frank's studio.

At last Gertrude said, "You would wish it done to-day?"

"Yes, please; if it be possible."

She reflected a moment. "It must be this morning. There is no relying on
the afternoon light. I cannot arrange to go myself, but my sister can, I
think. Lucy!"

Lucy came across to them, alert and serene.

"Lucy, would you take number three camera to Mr. Jermyn's studio in
York Place?"

"Yes, certainly."

"I have some studies of drapery I should wish to be photographed," added
Frank, with his air of steadfast modesty.

"I will come at once, if you like," answered Lucy, calmly.

"You will, of course, allow me to carry the apparatus, Miss Lorimer."

"Thank you," said Lucy, after the least possible hesitation.

Every one was immensely serious; and a few minutes afterwards Mrs.
Maryon, looking out from the dressmaker's window, saw a solemn young man
and a sober young woman emerge together from the house, laden with
tripod-stand and camera, and a box of slides, respectively.

"I wish I could have gone myself," said Gertrude, in a worried tone;
"but I promised Mrs. Staines to be in for her."

"Yes, he _is_ a nice young man," answered Phyllis, unblushingly, looking
up from her prints.

"Oh Phyllis, Phyllis, don't talk like a housemaid."

"I say, Gerty, all this is delightfully unchaperoned, isn't it?"

"Phyllis, how can you?" cried Gertrude, vexed.

The question of propriety was one which she always thought best left to
itself, which she hated, above all things, to discuss. Yet even her own
unconventional sense of fitness was a little shocked at seeing her
sister walk out of the house with an unknown young man, both of them
being bound for the studio of the latter.

She was quite relieved when, an hour later, Lucy appeared in the
waiting-room, fresh and radiant from her little walk.

"Mrs. Staines has been and gone," said Gertrude. "She worried
dreadfully. But what have you done with 'number three?'"

"Oh, I left the camera at York Place. I am going again to-morrow to do
some work for Mr. Oakley, who shares Mr. Jermyn's studio."

"Grist for our mill with a vengeance. But come here and talk seriously,
Lucy."

Phyllis, be it observed, who never remained long in the workshop, had
gone out for a walk with Fan.

"Well?" said Lucy, balancing herself against a five-barred gate, Fred
Devonshire's latest gift, aptly christened by Phyllis the White
Elephant. "Well, Miss Lorimer?"

"I'm going to say something unpleasant. Do you realise that this latest
development of our business is likely to excite remark?"

"'That people will talk,' as Fan says? Oh, yes, I realise that."

"Don't look so contemptuous, Lucy. It is unconventional, you know."

"Of course it is; and so are we. It is a little late in the day to
quarrel with our bread-and-butter on that ground."

"It is a mere matter of convention, is it not?" cried Gertrude, more
anxious to persuade herself than her sister. "Whether a man walks into
your studio and introduces himself, or whether your hostess introduces
him at a party, it comes to much the same thing. In both cases you must
use your judgment about him."

"And whether he walks down the street with you, or puts his arm round
your waist, and waltzes off with you to some distant conservatory, makes
very little difference. In either case the chances are one knows nothing
about him. I am sure half the men one met at dances might have been
haberdashers or professional thieves for all their hostesses knew. And,
as a matter of fact, we happen to know something about Mr. Jermyn."

"Oh, I have nothing to say against Mr. Jermyn, personally. I am sure he
is nice. It was rather that my vivid imagination saw vistas of


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