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THE HALO

[Illustration: BRIGIT]


The

HALO


BY

BETTINA von HUTTEN

_Author of "PAM," "PAM DECIDES," ETC._


_WITH FRONTISPIECE_

By B. MARTIN JUSTICE

NEW YORK, DODD, MEAD

AND COMPANY, MCMVII


Copyright, 1907 By Bettina von Hutten

Published October, 1907


TO THE MEMORY OF

A DEAR LOST FRIEND

I DEDICATE THIS BOOK

Bettina von Hutten

Thun, Switzerland, _September 5, 1907_




PROLOGUE


A straight stretch of dusty Norman road dappled with grotesque shadows
of the ancient apple-trees that, bent as if in patient endurance of the
weight of their thick-set scarlet fruit, edged it on both sides.

Under one of the trees, his back against its gnarled trunk, sat an old
man playing a cracked fiddle.

He played horribly, wrenching discords from the poor instrument,
grinning with a kind of vacant malice as it shrieked aloud in agony, and
rolling in their scarred sockets his long-blind eyes.

Beside him, his tongue hanging out, his head bent, sat a yellow dog with
a lead to his collar. Far and wide there was to be seen no other living
thing, and in the apple-scented heat the screeching of the violin was
like the resentful cries of some invisible creature being tortured.

"Papillon, _mon ami_," said the old man, ceasing playing for a moment,
"we are wasting time; the shadows are coming. See the baby shadow
apple-trees creeping across the road."

The yellow dog cocked an ear and said nothing.

"Time should never be lost, _petit chien jaune_ - never be lost."

Then with a shrill laugh he ground his bow deep into the roughened
strings, and the painful music began again.

The yellow dog closed his eyes....

Suddenly far down the road appeared a low cloud of white dust, advancing
rapidly, and until it was nearly abreast of the fiddler, noiselessly,
and then, with the cessation of a quick padding sound of bare feet,
appeared a small, black-smocked boy, his sabots under his arm, his face
white with anger.

"Stop it!" he cried, "stop it!"

The old man turned. "Stop what, little seigneur," he asked with surly
amusement. "Does the high road belong to you?"

"You must stop it, I say, I cannot bear it."

The fiddler rose and danced about scraping more hideously than before.
"Ho, ho," he laughed, "ho, ho, ho, ho!"

The child threw his arms over his head in a gesture of unconscious
melodrama. "I cannot bear it - you are hurting it - I - I will kill you if
you do not stop." And he flew at his enemy, using his close-cropped
bullet-head as a battering ram.

For some seconds the absurd battle continued, and then, as unexpectedly
as he had begun it, the boy gave it up, and as the fiddler laughed
harshly, and the fiddle screeched, threw himself on the warm, dusty
grass and cried aloud.

There was a pause, after which, in silence, the old man groped his way
to the boy and knelt by him. "Hush, _mon petit_," he beseeched, "old
Luc-Ange is a monster to tease you. Do not cry, do not cry."

A curious apple, leaning over to listen, fell from its bough and dropped
with a thud into the grass.

The little Norman sat up. "I am not crying," he declared, turning a
brown, pugnacious face towards his late foe, "see, there are no tears."

The man touched his cheeks and eyelids delicately with his dirty
fingers. "True - no tears. But - why, why did you - - "

"I was screaming because that noise was so horrible."

"And - that noise gave you pain?"

Bullet-Head frowned. Like all Normans, he resented his mental privacy
being intruded on by questions.

"Not pain; it gives me a horrible, hollow feeling in my inside," he
admitted grudgingly, "just under the belt."

After a moment he added, his dark eyes fixed angrily on the violin, "I
hate violins; they are dreadful things. M. Chalumeau had one. I broke
it."

The blind man laughed gratingly. "Because it made such a horrible
noise?"

"Yes."

Another pause, and then the man's expression of vacant malice turned to
one pitiful to see, one of indistinct yearning. "Give it to me," he
muttered, "they say I am half mad, and perhaps I am, but - I think I
could play once - - " The yellow dog snapped at a fly, and his master
turned towards him, adding, "Before your time, Papillon, long before."

The bow touched the strings once or twice gently and ineffectively, and
then, his lips twitching, his eyelids as much closed as the scars on
their lids allowed them to be, he began to play.

It was the playing of one who had forgotten nearly everything of his
art, but it was sweet and true and strangely touching. To the boy it was
a miracle. He listened with the muscles of his face drawn tight in an
effort at self-control unusual in such a child, his square, brown hands
digging convulsively into the dry earth under the grass beside him. And
as the shadows of the trees crept over the road, and the oppressive heat
began to relent a little, the plaintive music went on and on, and scant,
painful tears stood on the player's face.

At last he stopped, and frowning in a puzzled way, said hoarsely, "What
is the matter, Papillon, where have we got to?"

The dog's tail stirred in answer, and at the same moment the other
listener burst into loud, emotional sobs, and the old man remembered.
"That's it, that's it. It's the boy who made me remember - '_Te rappelles
tu, te rappelles - tu, ma Toinon?_' Why do you cry, little boy? Why do
you cry?"

The boy dried his eyes on his smock sleeve.

"It - I am ten, too big to cry," he returned, with the evasion born in
him of his race, adding with the frankness peculiar to his own
personality, "but I did cry. It was beautiful."

The old man rose, and took up the dog's lead.

"Beautiful. Yes. There was a time - - " He paused for a second. "What is
your name, little one?"

"Victor-Marie Joyselle."

"_Eh b'en_, Victor-Marie Joyselle, listen to me. When you have learned
to play the violin - - " but Bullet-Head interrupted him.

"How do you know that I mean to learn to play the violin?" he queried,
drooping the outer corners of his eyelids in quick suspicion, "I did not
say so."

"I know. And when you have learned, remember me. And never let
anything - come here that I may put my hand on your head that you do not
forget - never let anything - duty, pleasure, money, or - or a
_woman_ - come between you and your music."

The boy stared seriously into the strange face bent over him, the face
from which so much that was bad seemed for the moment to have been swept
away by the luminousness of the idea that had come to the half-idiotic
brain.

"'Duty, pleasure, money or - '"

"Or a _woman_" cried the fiddler, his face contorting with anger. "God
curse them all!" Muttering and frowning he jerked at his dog. "Come,
Papillon, come; we must be getting on, it is late. _Petit chien jaune,
petit chien jaune._"

The dog trotting discreetly at the end of the taut lead, the old man
slouched up the road, brandishing his violin aimlessly and talking aloud
as he went.

"I ask myself," said the little Norman, "how he _knew_."

Then, for he was no longer in haste, he stepped into his green sabots
and started homeward, biting into the apple that had listened.




PART ONE




CHAPTER ONE


The Earl of Kingsmead lay flat on his stomach on the warm, short grass
by the carp-pond, and studied therein the ponderous manoeuvres of an
ancient fish, believed by the people thereabouts to be something over
two hundred years old. Carp had a great charm for Lord Kingsmead; so had
electricity; so had toads; so had buns, and stable-boys, and pianolas,
and armour, and curates, and chocolates.

Everything was full of interest to this interesting nobleman, and the
most beautiful part of it was that there was beyond Kingsmead and the
very restricted area of London that he had hitherto been allowed to
investigate, a whole world full of things strange, undreamed-of,
delightful, and, best of all, dangerous, to the study of which he meant
to dedicate every second of the time that spread between that moment as
he lay on the grass and the horrid hour when he should be carried to the
family vault surrounded by sobbing relations.

For Tommy Kingsmead was one of those most unusual persons who understand
the value of life as it dribbles through their fingers in seconds,
instead of, like most people, losing the vibrant present in a useless
(because invariably miscalculated) study of the future.

This morning he had devoted to a keen investigation of several matters
of palpitating interest.

Had Fledge, the butler, who had apparently been at Kingsmead since the
beginning of the world, any teeth, or did his flexible, long lips hide
only gums? Until that day the problem had never suggested itself to
Fledge's master, but when it did, it roused in him a passion of
curiosity that had to be satisfied, after the failure of a series of
diplomatic attempts by the putting of a plain question.

"I say, Fledge."

"My lord?"

" - You never _do_ really open your mouth, you know - except, I suppose,
when you eat - - "

"Yes, my lord."

"You just, well - fumble with your lips. So - I say, Fledge, _have_ you
any teeth?"

And Fledge, possibly because he was a man of principle, but probably
also because he suspected that his master's next words might take the
form of an order to open his mouth, told the truth. He had three teeth
only.

"And look here, Fledge, why do William's toes turn out at such a fearful
angle?"

Pledge's heart was in the plate-closet at that moment, but his patience
was monumental.

"I don't know, my lord - unless it's because 'e's only just left off
being knife-boy - they get used to standing at the sink a-washing up, my
lord, and William's feet is large, so I dessay he turned 'is toes out in
order to get near and not splash."

This elucidation appeared plausible as well as interesting to
Kingsmead, and he felt that in learning something of the habits of the
genus knife-boy he had added to his stock of human information, which he
undoubtedly had.

Then at lunch there had been the little matter of Bicky's dressmaker's
bill. The mater had been her crossest, and Bicky her silentest, and the
bill, discussed in French, a disgusting and superfluous language, the
acquirement of which Kingsmead had used much skill in evading, lay on
the table. It lay there, forgotten, after the two ladies had left the
room, but Kingsmead was a gentleman. So, later he had sought out his
sister and coaxed her into telling him the hair-raising sum to which
amounted the "two or three frocks" she had had that summer.

He had also learned that Mr. Yelverton, the Carrons, the Newlyns, and
Théo Joyselle were coming that afternoon, and what the _real_ reason was
that had made the Frenshaws wire they could not come. It had not at all
surprised him to hear that the reason given in the wire was utterly
false, for, like other people, Kingsmead was bound by his horizon.

On the whole, his day had been a busy one, and the valuable acquisitions
of knowledge that I have mentioned, together with a few scraps of
information on stable and garage matters, had brought him quite
comfortably up to four o'clock, when, as he idled across the lawn, that
rum old carp had caught, and held, his eye.

It was a very warm day in October, a day most unusual in its mellow
beauty; soft sunshine lay on the lawn and lent splendour to the not very
large Tudor house off to the left.

The air of gentle, self-satisfied decrepitude worn by the old place was
for the moment lost, and it looked new, clean-cut and almost gaudy, as
it must have done in the distant days when it was young. It was a
becoming day for the ancient building, as candle-light is becoming to an
old beauty and brings back a fleeting and pathetic air of youth to her
still lovely features.

Above, the sky was very blue, and the ruminating silence was broken only
by the honk-honk of a distant motor. The carp, impeded in his lethargic
progress by the thick stem of a water-lily, had stood still (if a fish
can be said to stand) for a century - nearly five minutes - his silly old
nose pointing stubbornly at the obstacle.

"_It_ won't move, so you'll have to," observed Kingsmead, wriggling a
little nearer, "Oh, I say _do_ buck up, or you'll never get there - - "

And the carp, quite as if he understood, did buck up, and slid away into
the shadow of the rhododendrons.

Kingsmead rose slowly and picked up his cap. What should he do next? The
puppies weren't bad, nor the new under-gardener who swore so awfully at
his inferior, nor - -

"Hello, Tommy."

"Hello, Bicky."

Brigit Mead wore a short blue skirt, brown shoes, a pink wash-silk
blouse made like a man's shirt, and a green felt hat that obviously
belonged to someone else. She was dressed like thousands of English
girls, and she looked as though the blood in her might be any in the
world but English. Hers was an enigmatic, narrow, high-bred face,
crowned by masses of dry black hair, and distinguished from any other
face most people had ever seen by the curved line of her little nose and
the colourless darkness of her very long, half-closed, heavily lashed
eyes. She looked sulky, disagreeable, and secretive, but she was
strangely and undeniably beautiful. Her long, thin-lipped mouth was too
close shut, but it was of an exquisite satin texture, scarlet in colour,
and when she said "Hello, Tommy," it melted into the most enchanting and
indescribable curves, showing just a glimpse of pointed white teeth.

Kingsmead studied her gravely for a moment.

"Been crying?"

"Yes."

"That bill?"

"Yes, that bill, you horrid little boy. There's a long worm in your
hair."

Kingsmead removed the worm.

"Mater been nasty?"

"Beastly."

"_H'm_. I say, Bick, I saw Ponty yesterday."

Brigit, who had turned and was gazing across the lawn, looked at him
without moving her head, a trick which is not at all English.

"Did you, now?"

"I did. He is dining here, he says. He is also sending you some flowers.
I told him," added the boy dreamily, "that we had lots ourselves."

After a moment, as she did not speak, he went on, "Poor old thing, why
did you poggle him so awfully, Bicky? You really _are_ a horrid girl,
you know."

"I didn't poggle him."

She did not turn, she did not smile, and the sombreness that was the
dominant expression of her face was strange to see in a girl of her age.

"Well - - " Kingsmead's small countenance, so different from hers in its
look of palpitating interest and curiosity, suddenly flushed a deep and
a beautiful red. "I say, old girl," he broke out, "_are_ you going to?"

And she, silent and unresponsive as she was, could not avoid answering
him.

"Well, Tommy dear - I don't know, but I suppose I shall."

"I don't like him, poor thing, and I wish you - mustn't."

"That's exactly the word. I fear I must." Her eyes nearly closed as she
refused to frown. "This kind of thing can't go on for ever."

"You mean the mater. Well, look here, Bicky, she'll be better when
Carron is here - she always is."

"Oh, Tommy - - "

"But she _is_. She obeys him rather, don't you think? I suppose because
he was a friend of father's. Is she really very bad to-day?"

"Yes."

"Well, why don't you ask him to tell her to chuck it? I say, dear old
thing, I wish I were nine years older!"

"If you were, I should be thirty-four!"

"I meant about the beastly money."

She laughed. "Funny little kiddie! _You_ aren't going to have any money
either. If we lived within our means we'd be enjoying life in a villa in
some horrible suburb. We are hideously poor, Kingsmead."

She so rarely called him by his name that the boy felt alarmed.
Pontefract, with his red neck and his short legs, seemed suddenly very
near.

"Isn't there anyone else?" he blurted out, as she led the way towards
the house. "I mean, any other chap with money?"

"No one with as much. And then, he isn't so very bad, Tommy. He's
good-natured. Think of Clandon, or - Negroponte!" Her shudder was
perfectly genuine.

"But Pontefract is so thundering old!"

She made no reply, and after a minute he went on: "What about Théo
Joyselle?"

"My dear child, he is three years younger than I, even counting in bare
years! And in reality I am twenty years too old for him. Silly little
boy, don't bother about me." And her face, as she smiled down at her
brother, was very pleasant as well as very beautiful.

"But he has money - - "

She nodded.

"And - - "

"How did you know that, imp?"

"Having eyes to see, I saw. And I'd like to be an In-law to Victor
Joyselle. I'd make him play to me all day. I say, I suppose she wouldn't
let us run up to hear him to-morrow?"

"Not she."

He sighed, and it was a grown-up sigh issuing from a child's throat, for
he loved music and had read the programme.

"How glorious the last one was! Upon my word, if I were you, I'd marry
Théo just to be that man's daughter-in-law."

Again she laughed and laid her hand on his head.

"Good old Thomas. He's a Norman peasant, remember - probably eats with
his knife. Oh, here's a motor - and it is Théo himself."

"Yes, speak of an angel and you hear his horn."

"Shall I tell him of your plan?" she teased as the motor slowed up.

But Tommy had disappeared, and in his place, small, freckled, and
untidy, it is true, but a gentlemanly host welcoming his mother's guest,
stood Lord Kingsmead.




CHAPTER TWO


Lady Kingsmead was one of those piteous beings, a middle-aged young
woman. She was forty-six, but across a considerably-lighted room looked
thirty-six. The shock, when one approached her, was so much the greater.
Her plentiful, grey-streaked hair dwelt in disgrace behind a glossy
transformation, and her face had, from constant massage and make-up, a
curious air of not belonging to her any more than did the wavy hair
above it.

The lines that the mercifully deliberate on-coming of age draws on all
of us were, it is true, nearly obliterated, but in their place was a
certain blankness that was very unbeautiful indeed.

However, she liked herself as she made herself, and most people thought
her wonderfully young-looking.

The question of age, real and apparent, is a curious one that gives
furiously to think, as the French say. No one on earth could consider it
an advantage for a child of twelve to wear the facial aspect of a baby
of two, nor for a girl of twenty to look like a child of ten, but later
on this equation apparently fails to hold good, and Lady Kingsmead in
appearing (at a little distance) nearly ten years her own junior, was as
vastly pleased with herself as, considering the time and the care she
devoted to the subject, she deserved to be.

As she came downstairs the evening of the day of her daughter's
unusually confidential conversation with her son, Brigit joined her.

"Ugh, mother, you have too much scent," observed the girl, curling her
upper lip rather unpleasantly. "It's horrid."

"Never mind, ducky, I've only just put it on; it will go off after a
bit. It's the very newest thing in Paris. Gerald brought it to
me - _Souvenir de Jeunesse_."

Brigit looked at her for a moment, but said nothing.

Lady Kingsmead's unconsciousness was, as it always was when she was in a
good humour, both amusing and disarming. So the two women descended the
dark, panelled staircase in silence, crossed the hall and went into the
drawing-room. A man sat over the fire, his long, white hands held up to
the blaze.

"H'are you, Brigit?"

"How d'you do, Gerald?"

Carron turned without rising, and stared thoughtfully at the girl. He
was a big, bony man who had once been very handsome, and the conquering
air had remained true to him long after the desertion of his beauty.
This, too, "gives to think," and is a warning to all people who have
made their worldly successes solely by force of looks, and these are
many. Carron pulled his moustache and narrowed his tired-looking blue
eyes in a way that had been very fetching fifteen years before.

"You look pretty fit," he observed after a pause, as she gazed absently
over his head at the carvings of the mantelpiece.

"I'm - ripping, thanks," she answered with a bored air.

"You'll have to look out, Tony," he went on, frowning as he caught the
expression in Lady Kingsmead's eyes, "she is confoundly good-looking.
Beauties' daughters ought always to be plain."

Lady Kingsmead flushed angrily, and was about to speak, when her
daughter interrupted in a perfunctory voice: "Oh, don't, Gerald, you
know she loathes being teased. Besides, your praise doesn't in the least
interest me."

His smile was not good to see. "I think, my dear Brigit, that you are
about the handsomest woman I ever saw - that is, the handsomest _dark_
woman; but you look so damned ill-tempered that you will be hideous in
ten years' time."

The girl drew a deep sigh of indifference, and turning, walked slowly
away. She wore a rather shabby frock of tomato-coloured chiffon, and as
she went down the room one of her greatest charms appeared to striking
advantage - the lazy, muscular grace of her movements. She walked like an
American Indian youth of some superior tribe, and every curve of her
body indicated remarkable physical strength and endurance.

Gerald Carron watched her, his face paling, and as Lady Kingsmead
studied him, her own slowly reddened under its mask of paint and powder.
The situation was an old one - a woman, too late reciprocating the
passion which she had toyed with for many years, suddenly brought face
to face with the realisation that this love had been transferred to a
younger woman, and that woman her own daughter. The little scene enacted
so quietly in the pretty, conventional drawing-room, with its pale walls
and beflowered furniture, was of great tenseness.

Before anyone had spoken the door opened and the Newlyns and Pat
Yelverton came in, Mrs. Newlyn hastily clasping the last of the myriad
bracelets that were so peculiarly unbecoming to her thin red arms. She
and her husband both were bird-like in eye and gesture, and their
nicknames among their intimates were, though neither of them knew it,
the Cassowary and the Sparrow, she being the Cassowary. Besides being
bird-like, they were both bores of the deepest dye.

Pat Yelverton was a blond giant with a very bad reputation, a genius for
Bridge, and the softest, most caressing voice that ever issued from a
man's throat.

Meeting the new-comers at the door, Brigit shook hands with them and
returned, with an aimless air peculiar to her, to the fire.

She knew them all so well, and they all bored her to tears, except
Carron, whom she strongly hated. Everybody bored her, and everything.
With the utmost sincerity she wondered for the thousandth time why she
had ever been born.

As the others chattered, she went to a window and stood looking out
over the moonlit lawn.

"Lady Brigit!"

She turned, and seeing the smile of delight on the boyish face before
her, smiled back. "Monsieur Joyselle!"

Théo, who was twenty-two, and who adored her, flushed to the roots of
his curly hair - and who was it who decided that blushes stop there, and
do not continue up over the skull, down the back and out at one's heels?

"Yes, yes," he cried, holding her hand tightly in his. "Let us speak
French, I - I love to speak my own tongue to you."

He himself had a delightful little fault in his speech, being quite
incapable of pronouncing the English "r," rolling it in his throat in a
way that always amused Brigit.

As he talked, her smile deepened in character, and from one of mere
friendly greeting became one of real affection. He was nice, this boy;
she liked his honest dark eyes and the expression of his handsome young
mouth.

"Tell me," she began presently, "how is your father?"

"He is well, my father, but very nervous. Poor mother!"

"Poor _mother_?"

"But yes. The concert is to be to-morrow, and he is always in a furious
state of nerves before he plays. He has been terrific all day."

Brigit sat down. "How curious. One would think that he of all people
would be used to playing in public by now," she commented, observing
with a tinge of impatience the effect on him of her head outlined
against the pale moonlight.

He stood for a moment, unconsciously and irresistibly admiring her.
Then, with a little shake of his head, answered her remark. "No, no, he
is most nervous always. It is your amateur who knows no stage-fright.
Papa," he went on, using the name that to English ears sounds so
strangely on grown-up lips, "says he invariably feels as though the


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