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There was a check, though not to say a chill.
The public scene was not altogether what it should
be. The war dragged on, the government still cried
for more men, and the occasional obligation of
mourning left the whole scheme of gaiety at the
mercy of the accidents of a guerrilla campaign.

With this came matter of still more serious con-
cern in the illness of the sovereign. It was nothing ;
yet, at her age, anything might give cause for anx-
iety. There was a consequent damping down of the
fires of excitement, no more. A house-party is not
easily robbed of its rights.


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"Guess what we 've been doing all this after-
noon," said Mary Liddicot to Arthur Gooding, who
was taking her in to dinner.

"Making mittens for the soldiers."
"Don't be absurd. Playing bridge."
"Don't take a mean advantage: I daren't echo
the reproof."

"Where 's the absurdity? Everybody does it.
Lady Felicia Rawton is simply mad about it."
"And a matron of four-and- twenty fie!"
"She and Di and Twiggy Penstone had a com-
partment to themselves, and played all the way
down in the train."

"We seem to want a foot-note about 'Di,' " said
the youth.

"Oh, Di, from 'Diamond cut diamond.' Muriel
Paryngton 's so sharp. Haven't you that sort of
thing among men? They used to call Tom "
"And may I trouble you for 'Twiggy'?"
"Never mind all that. It 's a most fascinating
game. ' '

"Mind you don't win all their money. But I
suppose you only play for hair-pins."
"What do you take us for babies?"
"Not all of you, upon my sacred honor."
"Real coin of the realm, if you please. Sixpenny
points sometimes. ' '

"Sorry for somebody don't know for which one
just yet, some of you look so clever at the game. ' '

"Nonsense: it 's nearly all luck and what 's your
funny American word for it? bluff: being cheeky,


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you know, not being afraid. And as for excitement,
well whist with your blood running cold."

"No wonder I couldn't find you after luncheon."

"Can you keep a secret?"

"Can the grave?"

"It was a girls' party in Lady Felicia's room.
She chaperons Di and Twiggy. She 's not my
chaperon, you know; I belong to Augusta. But
don't you dare say a word to her."

"And they offered to take you in. I see."

"I wonder if you mean anything ill-natured.
Anyhow, I 'm going to drop the subject. What a
fine day for the time of year!"

He took the rebuke in good part, and, on his re-
turn to the drawing-room, discreetly avoided not
only the topic but Mary herself. In fact, he sought
the shelter of a tropical plant, and sat idly toying
with an album of views of Allonby, and sometimes
surveying the party over the edge of the cover.

Lady Felicia found him out, for all that. She
was a handsome young woman, a sort of creature
of polished steel, all compact, in physique and in
manner, a mighty huntress, but showing traces of
the abuse of violent exercise in an unnatural flush
of cheek and fire of eye; for the rest, as cold and
hard as a bar of Bessemer.

"The oracle in his cave," she said, with a smile.

"No ; only the hermit, at worst."

"What 's wrong with Lake Shore?" she said ab-
ruptly. "They seem to have a fit of the jumps."

Arthur found it hard to avoid these questions

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now that his reputation was established as the agent
of a trust. He was supposed to know all about every-
thing in the way of getting rich.

"I 'm afraid they 're out of my line," he said.

"I know what that means: 'Don't bother me to-
night. ' Never mind ; perhaps you '11 be more com-
passionate to-morrow."

She returned to the lounge on which she had left
her two charges. One of these, Muriel Paryngton,
Lord Paryngton 's daughter, a girl as tall and well
knit as her protectress, had an extraordinary repose
of bearing, an effect of nature not unassisted by art.
The other, Ethel Penstone, was a little creature
whose dark eyes and languorous vivacity of manner
gave her an exotic charm.

Mary joined them presently, and, after chatting
awhile, they withdrew, one by one, as though to their

' ' They 're going to play fridge with that chicken, ' '
said Arthur to himself; "and I think I 'm going to
sit up till they leave off."

The four were in Lady Felicia's sitting-room now.
The maids were dismissed for the night, all but
Felicia's, a discreet hand of middle age whom noth-
ing could scare. Then, almost without a word wasted
on small talk, the game began. The luck of the cut
paired Mary with the hostess, and Twiggy with
Muriel, for the first game.

"Penny points?" said Felicia, with a cold smile
to her partner. ' ' You 're no novice now. ' '

At the end of half an hour Mary was the richer


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by a couple of pounds. It was a new experience
for her, the winning of money worth the count, and
it had a fascination of its own. Her father had been
almost her only antagonist at cards, and her con-
tests with him had rarely left her the better or worse
by more than a florin. But forty shillings ! It was
like a beginning of income. First earnings always
mark a new epoch in life.

"Look at it!" she laughed.

"Millionaire soon, at this rate," said Muriel.

Then there were ups and downs ; and Polly blun-
dered, and Di for they became all nicknames now
bit her lip, and "Fliss" laughingly said, "Better
luck next time," and Twiggy, whose mother owned
mines in Bilbao, alone seemed unaware that any-
thing had happened either way.

Finally, with a serious change in the luck, poor
Polly lost all her winnings and something more in a
single deal.

"I think I '11 go to bed now," she said.

"Try a change of partners and sixpenny points,"
said Lady Felicia, dryly. ' * It may change the luck.
We can book it, you know, Polly. Di 's the clearing-
house ; and we '11 settle up at the end. ' '

"Change packs, too, while we 're about it," said
Muriel. She swept the two in play to the floor,
where they lay like so much wreckage of the woods,
and drew fresh ones from a neat morocco box
stamped with her monogram. Whatever else was
not in that honorable young person's luggage, this
was never left behind. It was an object of even
greater anxiety to her maid than the jewel-case.


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Mary mated with Ethel Penstone this time, Muriel
as dealer, and sixpenny points.

Ethel shuffled. It was a pretty sight. Her effort-
less fingers simply shed the cards ; and it was really
difficult to regard these as the devil's playthings
while they dropped so gracefully from the direction
of the sky. The very rhythm in their slight rustle
over the polished surfaces was music of a kind. The
bared white arm was quite motionless ; only the wrist
moved, and that almost imperceptibly but for a
point of light in her diamond bracelet that rose and
fell with an even beat.

They examined their cards, their brows, smooth or
troubled, marking degrees of proficiency in the game.
Mary pursued her studies with a frown.

Muriel, as dealer, had the right to decide on
the trump suit; but she passed it on to Lady Fe-
licia, with the formula: "Partner, I '11 leave it to

Felicia having made her choice, the initiative in
raising the value of the stakes came to Ethel as
leader. She decided to double, so the points became
shilling ones at a stroke. Mary checked herself in
futile dissent with a gasp. The next moment she
was all aglow with the gambler's everlasting hope
of a miracle.

The charm of this delightful game is that the
stake, big or little, has the illusory nature of all
matter in the best philosophic systems. It is a single
grain of sand at one moment ; at another, by doubling
and redoubling at the will of individual players,
it becomes a whole Sahara.


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Ethel led, with an engaging indifference to re-
sults which marked her proceedings from first to last.
Felicia, becoming ex-officio dummy as partner of the
dealer, exposed her hand on the table and simply
watched the game. If Mary had been able to look
up, she might have found a sort of terror in the
steely eyes. The watcher's interests, however, were
in excellent keeping, for dummy's hand was played
by Muriel.

It was a scene of strange contrasts, the old and
the new. The players, with their charm of age and
sex and evening toilets, sat in a turret-chamber with
walls a yard thick, glowing in the electric light.
The middle ages had blinked and shivered here in
the glare of pine torches stuck in the wall, in the
fitful warmth of log fires with the open casement for
their chimney, and in breezes that sometimes inflated
the tapestry like a balloon. There was tapestry still,
but it was only part of a decorative scheme, of which
innumerable curios in the precious metals, and trifles
of every imaginable description in hardly less pre-
cious fancy leather, with bronzes, water-colors, sofas,
rugs, skins of the chase, and a heavy Persian carpet
as a welcome substitute for green rushes, formed the

But the strangest contrast was in the young
women themselves. The stern game unsexed them,
and they became as hard as men in the like condi-
tion. They were playing for money, playing for
an income, in the case of Muriel, and they took
on the fierce, relentless manner of all who are fight-


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ing for life. The environment is everything. Put
Milton's Eve at the pit mouth, to which so many
of her daughters have drifted, and softness and
sweet attractive grace will no longer be her distin-
guishing charm. Give the Dorothea of Cervantes
a tough hand to play for her bread and butter, or at
any rate for her pins, and she will have the char-
acteristics, if not exactly the manners, of the betting-
ring. They were hard and curt in question and an-
swer, with scant consideration for one another 's little
weaknesses and little ways. Man, the idealizer, might
have been troubled had he heard and seen. Arthur
Gooding kept the chamber under observation from
his window in a rectangular wing. It was lucky
that nothing more reached him than a ray of light
from the chink of a curtain imperfectly closed.


AST one o 'clock and a cloudy morn-
ing, and ten minutes for refresh-
ment. They rose, stretched them-
selves. Felicia sent for her dress-
ing-gown, and her maid, on re-
turning with it, noiselessly mended
the fire, so as to cause no scandal to a house at rest.
She then put cigarettes on the table, with tea, and
waters weak and strong the latter in the form of
cognac from her ladyship's dressing-case. They
chatted awhile, chiefly in slang and nicknames all
but Mary, who was now forty pounds to the bad.
She was ready to run for it in sheer terror, but she
was held back by two considerations the fear of
ridicule, the forlorn hope of recovering her losses.
Play resumed, but with no change of partners, the
victors having generously offered the others their
revenge. The house is fast asleep, save perhaps
for the distant smoking-room, where Tom Penni-
quicke and his cronies still take up their wondrous
tale of the shortcomings of their order. His subject
to-night is the scandal of the card-table in great
houses. The best and the worst of all talk is not
so much what is said as what is assumed. The thing
assumed here is the cancerous corruption of a section
of society the matron ready to pay in kind the


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gambling debts she is unable to pay in specie; the
girl held in pawn by the profligate with the dread
of exposure.

Mr. Gooding, no longer cheered, or rather tor-
mented, by the wandering ray, turns in, under the
delusive belief that the sitting is at an end. He is
much mistaken. They are at two-shilling points now.
Mary owes sixty pounds, and is ready for anything,
in her desperate desire to recover herself.

Has her chance come ? Muriel deals her a capital
hand in hearts king, jack, nine, and smaller fry,
with equally fair cards of other suits; and, at the
same time, declares hearts for the trump.

Ethel declines to double, but passes it on to her
partner. Now is the time for the manoeuver by
which Mary herself has been so heavily hit.

She doubles.

Muriel redoubles as calmly as if she were taking
a stroke at croquet.

Mary hopes that none may hear her heart beat
under the shock of surprise ; but it is all or nothing
now. She redoubles.

Then they close for the shock of battle.

Ethel, by way of great response to her partner's
suggestion of great strength in trumps, leads out her
single heart.

Alas! the strong man holdeth only on a well-
known condition. Muriel, by the sheer luck of the
deal, has a still better hand than Mary, and, with
ace, queen, ten, and other trumps at command, is
able promptly to put the lead into dummy's hand.

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It is the Sedan of poor Mary's plan of campaign,
not ill devised as it was on the ordinary calculation
of chances.

Dummy leads hearts, and Muriel is able to "sit
over" Mary every time.

When a conflict has reached this stage, the humane
spectator withdraws. No one cares to look on sheer

Mary makes no count in trumps, and finally loses
four tricks, counting sixty-four each, on a score al-
ready working out at something over a thousand.

Her total loss now stands at one hundred and fifty

The game is over; the dawn will be here soon.
They rise for leave-taking, but not so hurriedly as
to preclude a kiss all round.

Gamblers are rarely nice to look at after an all-
night sitting, and these young people are no ex-
ception to the rule. They are the mere wreckage
of the stately order in which they entered the arena
yesterday for their triumphs of the drawing-room.
Their hair is a tangle of shreds of coiffure; their
eyes are lusterless and rimmed with the stains of
fatigue; their lips are dry. Toilets that were stud-
ied compositions in the carelessness of art are now all
astray in the muddle of mere untidiness. Their un-
washed hands have sought brow and cheek in the
anguish of the struggle, and left their mark.

The room is even worse than its occupants. It is
the room that awaits the housemaid every morning
in all our houses, but aggravated in the grossness


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of its effects : rugs, table-covers, all awry, soda-water
bottles littering the floor, even a tumbler or two with
a sediment of stale drink, stumps of cigarettes,
cards crunched underfoot in a word, disgusting,
and more than ever so in its association with a sex
of which refinement of habit is the essential charm.
Yet the innermost misery of all is not in these things,
but in the fact that girlhood has, for the first time
in social history, been smirched with these revolt-
ing associations. Wicked old women have played
for gain in all ages. It has been reserved for ours
to admit young ones who ought to be innocent to
the partnership of such unholy rites.

"Settling day to-morrow, dear, if you don't
mind," whispers Lady Felicia in Mary's ear.
"We 're leaving after luncheon."

It says much for Mary's innocence that she takes
no thought of her trinkets in this emergency, and,
in short, never once remembers that beyond an an-
gry father may be found a placid "uncle" at need.
It is but a stage, no doubt, in the experience of
modern girlhood, but it is most refreshing to the
beholder while it lasts.

So she gives only a feeble smile in response, rushes
to her room, and, with the most shocking terrors of
remorse, throws herself on her bed with ' ' Gambler !
gambler ! gambler ! ' ' singing in her ears.

Arthur Gooding might almost as well have made
a night of it, too, for all the comfort he had of his
couch. He rose after fitful slumbers, and drew his
curtains to look for dawn. It was almost broad day-

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light. A cloaked female figure paced the terrace
below at a rate that signified either a cold morning
or a troubled mind. A single glance at the figure
showed him that it was Mary, so he decided for
the troubled mind. He rose, and was soon by her

The poor creature was in torment. She had lost
what with her means and opportunities she could
never recover. Her debt of honor was even more
binding than any other, but how was it to be paid
at short notice? Her allowance, reduced as it had
voluntarily been on her part since the beginning
of her father's troubles, would never suffice. The
thought of the poor old man was maddening. Was
she, his mainstay in trouble, to be a second Tom?

But she was brave still, and she returned the
young man's greeting with composure.

"You are out early," she said. The hard, dry
voice, with all the youth gone out of it, told half her

"Looking for an appetite for breakfast. You
have n 't seen anything of the sort about ? ' '

"If I had," she returned in the same cheerless
tone, "I am afraid I should have appropriated it,
for I came first."

' ' I surrender my claims in any case. ' '

"Oh, I was not thinking of that at all," she said
impatiently, her self-command yielding a little, in
spite of her, to the appalling friction of the nerves
that was going on within.

"I daren't ask questions."

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She felt that she was betraying herself, and tried
to change her tone.

"Well, if you want to know, I was thinking of the
strangest thing in the world."

"Oh, please share the joke with a friend."

"It isn't a joke," she said, with a quickness that
went straight to his heart. "It was just this : I won-
der how women earn money when they happen to
want to do it, you know."

"Augusta could tell you."

' ' Oh, but I mean quick quick ! ' '

"They don't play bridge with old hands," re-
turned the youth, who saw that his moment had
come. "That 's the negative of the process, any-
way. ' '

"Who told you?" she said, almost fiercely.


' ' So you 've turned against me ! " she cried, with
trembling lip and the tears welling to her eyes.

It was unreasonable, but only the more flattering.
He thought of the bank-notes in his pocket-book,
and how easily, in other circumstances, a loan might
settle the whole business.

' ' How I wish you were a man ! " he said.

"Oh, say anything you like," said Mary. "I sup-
pose I deserve it. Tell me I am lowered in your
good opinion ; tell me you would never have thought
it of me. But remember I only began it out of
bravado, and, at any rate, I 'm no worse than ' '


"Your American girls."

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"I assure you, they are not half as brave as you

"You know they are."

"If some of them could hear you, they might say
'Do tell!'"

"I know what you are thinking of me."

"I wonder if you do."

"You made me do it."


"What you said about the hair-pins. I wasn't
going to show I was afraid before before a for-
eigner. If I had been an American girl, you would
have said it was all right."

"As in honor bound."

"You know they do just as they like."

"Perhaps. You see, there are so many things they
don't like."

Silent misery.

' ' I did n 't play for the money, whatever you think
of me. I began just to show I was n't afraid. Then
I went on to get back what I 'd lost. I 'd do that
again, if I could get another chance."

"That 's the spirit and there 's the breakfast-

Lady Felicia sought him out at the meal, after her
wont. "I hope you are in a kinder frame of mind
this morning."

"At peace with all mankind."

"And that includes womankind?"

' ' Unquestionably. ' '

"Then don't trifle; there's a good boy." She


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had the share-list in her hand, and followed one
of the entries with her pencil for pointer. ' ' They 've
dropped again."

"Just like them. It 's an uncertain game. Why
not stick to bridge, Lady Felicia?"

She laughed uneasily, and looked at him, still
smiling, but with a world of mischief in her eye.

"She 's told you."

"I've found out."

"Telling isn't the ethics of the game."

"Oh, the moment you bring ethics into it, where
are we? All sorts of questions may arise: players
of approved strength against weaklings ; a chaperon
with young girls in her charge; perhaps even the
obligations of guest to host in a strange house."

"It was all fair the luck of the game."

"Bridge is not a gamble, Lady Felicia; if it were,
that would only make the case worse."

"It is like the great game, life itself," she said:
' ' the best wins. ' '

"That 's just it: the best head. The deal is only
the accident of birth. With two such players as
Lady Felicia and Miss Paryngton, invocations to
Fortune would be all thrown away. ' '

"Muriel 's not such a wonder," she said; "it 's
only that Mary 's such a child."

"That 's just it again such a child."

' ' It will be a lesson for her. ' '

"I am afraid the duke would hardly like to think
of her receiving the lesson at Allonby."

"Is it a threat?"



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"By no means; only a warning."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Only to play the game, Lady Felicia."

This time her ladyship cowered beneath his gaze.

He saw nothing of Mary, or of any of them, till
luncheon, and then the whole scene had changed.
The girl was radiant.

"We 've been playing all the morning," she said,
"same partners. They would have me in,
wasn't it nice of them? and I 've won it all back
but twenty pounds."

"I should stop there," said the youth, "and put
up my votive tablet at once."

"Only too happy," she said. "But you were
wrong. I told you it was all luck. I seemed to win
hand over hand. Even Muriel was stupid; and I
never saw Felicia play so badly. Will you own you
were all wrong, and make it up?"

"I '11 own anything, now that you 're all right,"
he said.

Felicia winged a rankling shaft as she took her
leave. "Lucky Mary, with a friend who threatens
to tell ! ' ' she whispered with the parting kiss.

They were still at the hall door when a groom
came in sight. He was from Liddicot, and the bearer
of a scrawl from her father:

"For God's sake, Polly, come home at once!"

"What is it?" she faltered.

"News from Mr. Tom, miss. But don't you take
on; he 's only wounded."


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It was the last straw. With the strangest little
upward look and smile, as of deprecation of fresh
trouble, she fainted.

ANOTHER and a far more dreadful message of doom
was to come next day to Allonby, to all England, and
to all the Britains. The last of the Points were
leaving the castle, still on their endless round of
pleasure, when even they were startled by the thun-
derclap of the Queen's death. They seemed to fall
apart from one another under the shock, and to be
converted in a moment from a band of revelers in
full cry into a flying crowd of phantoms scattering
before the presence of a great reality. The flag fell
half-mast at the castle, and with sorrow in the house-
hold, sorrow in the state, the great bell tolled the
end of an epoch. For such it was, whatever else was
to come for the Queen's realm in the providence of

3 2 3


ONGr after her recovery of con-
sciousness, Mary remained in a
state of partial collapse. Her trials
had increased her tenderness for
both her kin, and her remorse for
her conduct to her father. The
escapade at the card-table had now adjusted itself
to conscience as a wanton betrayal of the old man.
She was going to bring down his gray hairs in sor-
row by increasing his embarrassments. In this state,
of course, she was ready to believe the worst against
herself. She was the wicked child. Poor Tom could
not help his extravagance : it was the Service. But
what excuse had she? Alas! for an ancient house
that must find its doom in the follies of a girl.

So what fitter than that the worst should fall on
her as a punishment? It was the hand of Provi-
dence: the very date of her brother's wound was
the very one on which she had first sat down to the
detested game. On the night of her vigil he was
perhaps groaning out his life on the veldt. For Tom
was going to die, and to be buried, far from all of
them, in a foreign grave. It was horrible to think
that at this very moment he might be lying under
the turf of a Boer farm, like a dead horse. Brought
up as she had been, Mary naturally cherished the

3 2 4

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proprieties of consecrated ground, British soil, and
the family sepulchre.

In all this she had taken Mr. Gooding into her
confidence. He was her strong man and keeper, and
she had gradually learned to look to him from the
men of her house. The sense of her debt to him for
deliverance from her late trouble had come upon
her in a flash as the hidden meaning of Lady Felicia's
parting sneer: "Luck Mary, with a friend who
threatens to tell !" what could it be but that he had

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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingThe yellow van → online text (page 18 of 21)