AUTHOR OF "PHILLIDA," "THE CHOICE OF THEODORA,"
"THE ANGER OF OLIVIA," ETC.
MILLS & BOON, LIMITED
49 RUPERT STREET
MY BEST OF FRIENDS.
I LATE FOR DINNER II MARK EXPLAINS III BRIDGET IV BRIDGET AT GRANDISON SQUARE V COLONEL FAVERSHAM VI CONCERNING BIRTHDAYS VII THE EXCURSION VIII A PROPOSAL IX MARK RETURNS X CONFIDENCES XI MARK REPORTS PROGRESS XII SYBIL XIII A WALK ABROAD XIV THE WOOING O'T XV MARK MAKES A BEGINNING XVI BUYING A CARPET—AND AFTER XVII HASTY WORDS XVIII HOW IT HAPPENED XIX AN APPOINTMENT XX IN SIGHT OF PORT XXI JIMMY SETS TO WORK XXII INCRIMINATING HIMSELF XXIII HAVING IT OUT XXIV A HOT SCENT XXV OPEN CONFESSION XXVI LAWRENCE SUMS IT UP XXVII "MRS. JIMMY" XXVIII EXEUNT OMNES
LATE FOR DINNER
Concerning Bridget there was from the outset considerable difference of opinion. Mark Driver, for instance, always showed a tendency to something more than tolerance, and even Carrissima Faversham, in spite of a manifestly unfavourable bias, strove to hold the balance even. It was her brother Lawrence who took the most adverse view; insisting that Miss Rosser was neither more nor less than an adventuress—"a pretty woman on the make" was his expression, uttered, it is true, before he had an opportunity of seeing her face.
Her entrance on the scene was heralded by Mark Driver one evening towards the end of March, when he had accepted an invitation to dine with his sister and Lawrence in Charteris Street, S.W.
Carrissima's maid found her so exacting that evening, that she might have been going to an important party, instead of merely to a quiet dinner with her brother and his wife; but then, expecting Mark to make a fourth, she wished to look her very best, and flattered herself she had succeeded.
Although she sometimes longed for the power to add a few inches to her stature, she realized that she had already much to be thankful for. Suppose, for example, that her eyebrows had been as fair as her hair, or even worse, her eyelashes, which as it happened were satisfactorily black.
Mr. Lawrence Faversham, barrister-at-law, was thirty-two years of age, and rather short, although he always held his head in the air as if he were doing his best to appear taller. Hearing the street door bell ring, Mrs. Lawrence Faversham waylaid Carrissima on the stairs and insisted on taking her to gaze at little Victor, aged two, peacefully sleeping in the nursery.
"Mark's late as usual," exclaimed Lawrence, as his sister presently sailed into the drawing-room. "Ten minutes past eight," he added, taking her hand.
He had fair hair, a long narrow face and sloping shoulders. Whether he was sitting down or standing up, there always seemed to be something stiff, self-important and formal about him.
"Mark wasn't due at King's Cross until tea-time," said Phoebe, a pretty brunette, several inches taller than her husband and seven years younger. "I wanted him to sleep here to-night, and really I cannot imagine why he refused."
"Not very complimentary to us," answered Lawrence, "to prefer to go to an hotel!"
"And," Phoebe explained, "he is off to Paris to-morrow morning."
"Well, I wish to goodness he would come soon if he's coming at all," grumbled Lawrence.
"Oh, of course, he's certain to be here," urged Phoebe, not liking to begin dinner without her brother, who might provokingly arrive as soon as they sat down; while on the other hand, her three years' experience of married life had taught her that it was undesirable to keep Lawrence waiting. When half-past eight struck, however, she could restrain his impatience no longer; the three went to the dining-room, and Carrissima, with a sense of profound disappointment, sat down at the round table opposite the empty chair.
Although Phoebe did her utmost to spin out the meal by eating with tantalizing and hygienic slowness, it ended without any sign of the absentee, and at last she felt bound to return to the drawing-room, where she was followed ten minutes later by Lawrence, who had stayed to smoke a cigarette.
"The worst of it is," he said, standing before the fire, "you never know quite where you are with Mark."
"I suppose," suggested Carrissima, "the simple fact of the matter is that he missed his train."
"In that case," returned her brother, "surely he might have run to sixpence for a telegram. For a steady-going fellow Mark is about as erratic as they're made."
"How extremely inconsistent!" exclaimed Carrissima.
"Not at all!" said Lawrence, frowning, as he took a chair. "A man may drive crookedly without exceeding the limit. Although there are things you can swear Mark would never dream of doing, you never know what folly he will be up to next."
As Lawrence was speaking in his rather pompous manner, the door opened and Mark Driver entered the room: tall, broad-shouldered, with a handsome, alert, shaven face and an obvious appearance of haste.
On leaving Cambridge he had gone to Saint Bartholomew's, and having completed his course there, taken a post as House Surgeon at Saint Josephine's, a small hospital in a southeastern suburb. Mark remained there two years and left at Christmas; after spending a few weeks idly in London he went to take charge of Doctor Bunbury's practice in Yorkshire, principally for the sake of being near to his own people, and having passed two months, more occupied by sport than patients, returned this afternoon.
"Why didn't you come in time for dinner?" demanded Phoebe, as he kissed her cheek.
"Upon my word, I am most awfully sorry," he replied, and turned at once to Carrissima, who was striving to hide her satisfaction on seeing his face again. Never, perhaps, during their long acquaintance, had they been so many months apart; but while Mark was in London between Christmas and his departure for the North of England, Carrissima had been on a long visit to Devonshire.
"I didn't expect to meet you this evening," said Mark. "Phoebe told me in her letter last week that you were staying in Shropshire with Colonel Faversham."
"So I was," returned Carrissima. "But I never had the least intention to live there for the remainder of my life."
"She took us all completely by surprise," explained Phoebe, "by coming home the day before yesterday."
"I really cannot understand even now," said Lawrence, "why in the world you couldn't stay to return with father!"
"Oh well, it's an ill-wind that blows no one any good," cried Mark, while Carrissima sat with her eyes averted, hoping that nobody would suspect her actual object.
But she had known of his intention to depart for Paris the next morning, to spend a month with his old friend Wentworth before finally settling down in London. If she had waited for Colonel Faversham's return to Grandison Square she must, obviously, have missed Mark Driver again. One of the chief purposes of Carrissima's life seemed to be the disguise of motives, concerning which she scarcely knew whether she ought to feel ashamed or not.
"Well," suggested Lawrence, "we haven't heard why you didn't turn up in time."
"I hope I didn't keep you waiting," said Mark, at last shaking hands with his brother-in-law.
"You see," Mark explained, "I dined at Belloni's."
"Good gracious!" answered Lawrence, with evident annoyance, "if you could go to Belloni's, why in the world couldn't you come here as you promised?"
"I meant to come," said Mark, looking somewhat embarrassed, as he glanced at Carrissima. "You see, I went to Duffield's Hotel in Craven Street direct from the station. I thought I would just potter about and smoke a pipe or so till it was time to change."
"But you haven't changed!" exclaimed Lawrence, with a disapproving frown at Mark's blue serge jacket. It no doubt suited his long, athletic figure admirably; but, nevertheless, was very much out of place in present circumstances.
"No, of course not," said Mark. "The fact is I altered my mind. Instead of hanging about at Duffield's, I thought I would go to Golfney Place."
"What on earth for?"
"Oh well, to see Bridget, you know," answered Mark, and once more he glanced at Carrissima, whose eyes met his own.
"Who is Bridget?" asked Phoebe, whereupon Mark swung round to face her, his hands thrust deep in his jacket pockets, his face slightly flushed.
"Miss Rosser," he said. "You remember Bridget Rosser, Phoebe! When we stayed at Crowborough four years ago."
"Five," suggested Lawrence, with his usual meticulous exactitude.
"You were not there," said Mark.
"But still," answered Lawrence, "I remember going down with father to look at the house before he made up his mind to take it."
"I recollect Bridget perfectly well," said Carrissima in her most cheerful tone. "Her father was David Rosser the novelist."
"He died in Paris about ten months ago," explained Mark, "and Bridget was his only daughter."
"A rather nice-looking girl, with reddish hair!" said Phoebe.
"The most wonderful hair!" exclaimed Mark. "I have never seen anything like it. Oh, she's wonderful altogether!"
"Where did you come across Miss Rosser again?" inquired Lawrence, while Carrissima wished that her cheeks would not tingle so uncomfortably.
"At the Old Masters' about three months ago—just after Christmas," replied Mark. "I had lately left Saint Josephine's, you know. I should never have recognized her, but she happened to drop her purse; I naturally picked it up, and then she asked whether my name wasn't Driver."
"Isn't Golfney Place chiefly lodging-houses?" asked Carrissima.
"Number Five is one, anyhow."
"Does Miss Rosser live with her mother?" suggested Phoebe.
"Mrs. Rosser died shortly after we left Crowborough," was the answer. "Then the house was given up. Bridget wandered about Europe with her father until his own death a little less than a year ago."
"Then," demanded Lawrence, "whom does she live with?"
"Oh, she's quite on her own."
"What is her age, for goodness' sake?"
"Upon my word, I don't know for certain," said Mark. "I couldn't very well inquire. I should say she's about the same age as Carrissima."
"As a matter of prosaic fact," answered Carrissima, forcing a smile, although she did not feel very cheerful at the moment, "she is a few months older."
"Well," Lawrence persisted, "after picking up the purse at the Old Masters', what was the next move in the game?"
Phoebe was beginning to look rather anxious. She realized that Mark was growing impatient under Lawrence's cross-examination—he was supposed to be a skilful cross-examiner. It was occasionally a little difficult to keep the peace between these two men, who were her dearest; with the exception, perhaps, of the little man up-stairs.
"Bridget asked me to call," said Mark, "or I asked whether I might. I forget which, and what in the world does it matter?"
"Anyhow, you went!"
"Why, of course," was the answer.
"Is Miss Rosser—is she hard up, by any chance?" asked Lawrence.
"Good Lord, no!" exclaimed Mark. "My dear fellow, you've got quite a wrong impression. Hard up! You've only to see her."
"No doubt," suggested Lawrence, "you have had numerous opportunities."
"Oh well," said Mark, with a shrug, "she was on her lonesome and so was I at the time. It was just before I went to Yorkshire, you know. Carrissima was in Devonshire and I was kicking my heels in idleness at Duffield's."
"It really was rather too bad," remarked Phoebe, "to go there this evening, considering that you were engaged to dine with us. Wasn't it, Carrissima?"
"Oh, it was shameful of you, Mark!" cried Carrissima, with a laugh.
"You understand how it was," he explained, taking a chair by her side. "I didn't mean to stay ten minutes. I thought I could get there and back comfortably in a taxi, and so I should, but——"
"The temptation proved too strong for you," suggested Lawrence.
"I don't know what you mean by 'temptation,'" retorted Mark, while Phoebe tried to catch her husband's eye. "Bridget was most awfully pleased to see me. She had a fit of the blues for some reason or other."
"Is she liable to that sort of thing?" asked Lawrence.
"Not a bit of it," said Mark enthusiastically. "She's just about the brightest girl you have ever seen in your life. That was what made it the more upsetting. I felt I must do something to cheer her up."
"So you took her to Belloni's!" said Lawrence. "They do you uncommonly well at Belloni's."
"Anyhow," Mark admitted, "they gave us some ripping Burgundy. I got away directly we finished dinner," he continued, "and I knew Phoebe wouldn't mind."
"Well," said Lawrence, in response to her warning frown, "now you're here, suppose we have a game at bridge."
To put the matter plainly, Carrissima was jealous.
It was half-past eleven when she reached her father's house at Number 13, Grandison Square, S.W., and she felt pleased to find that the fire was still alight in the drawing-room. Having told the butler that he need not sit up any longer, she threw off her long cloak, leaned back in an easy-chair right in front of the grate, crossed her feet on the fender, and clasped her miniature waist.
Remembering Bridget Rosser, with her vivid chestnut-coloured hair, her somewhat pale skin, her wonderful eyes (as Mark quite justifiably described them), her face, which was extraordinarily attractive, although it might not contain one perfect feature, Carrissima could not help feeling that there might be serious cause for jealousy.
Of course, it was evident that Mark had not expected to find her at Charteris Street; he had believed she was still at Church Stretton with Colonel Faversham, and perhaps, if he had been aware of her presence in London, Lawrence might not have had to wait for his dinner. Moreover, Mark Driver was precisely the kind of man who would go out of his way to do any woman a good turn—pretty or plain; but still, after making every allowance, the fact remained that Carrissima was jealous.
It had for long been an open question (in her own mind at least) whether he cared for her or not. If he did, she would have liked to know why he had waited so long before putting his fate to the touch, although the matter was again complicated by the sensitiveness of Mark's disposition.
Carrissima's modest fortune (derived from her mother), which would have proved a temptation to many men, might be an obstacle where he was concerned. The fact that it was just what he required at the beginning of his career might easily be conceived as holding him back. Not that she imagined that, in favourable circumstances, it would be regarded as a perpetual barrier; only Mark might prefer to wait until he had settled down to the more serious practice of the profession, about which no man could be keener. The truth was that Carrissima was prone to search for a variety of explanations for his backwardness, all more or less fantastic.
The immediate question was: Should she take any notice of Bridget Rosser, or leave her to her own devices?
In the ordinary course of things, Carrissima would scarcely have hesitated. If she had been told by anybody else that Bridget was living alone in London, doubtless she would have lost very little time in finding her way to Number 5, Golfney Place. She invariably strove to act in every particular as if she were entirely disinterested, although she was far from being so. She knew that her life's happiness depended solely on Mark!
Five years ago Bridget had been barely eighteen; she had looked even younger than Carrissima: a slim, graceful girl, apparently just fresh from the school-room. She lived in a delightful, old-fashioned house with a rambling garden, situated about a quarter of a mile from that which Colonel Faversham had rented furnished for the summer because of its proximity to the golf-course.
His wife had died twelve months earlier, and Carrissima, in her eighteenth year, proved an inexperienced hostess to the relays of visitors, who included, amongst others, Mark Driver (at that time a medical student), his sister Phoebe and Miss Sybil Clynesworth. At the club-house Colonel Faversham met David Rosser and Mrs. Rosser, already an invalid, having been wheeled over in her bath-chair to make Carrissima's acquaintance; there were henceforth frequent journeyings on bicycles between the two houses, until the time arrived for the Favershams' return to London.
One or two letters had been exchanged between Carrissima and Bridget, who was invited to stay in Grandison Square; but the visit was prevented by Mrs. Rosser's increasing illness, and so the intercourse between the two families fell off.
Carrissima had not seen Bridget since their parting at the railway station five years ago. Ought she to go and see her now? If she refrained, might not people suspect some hidden motive? Her brother Lawrence, for instance, who was apt to search for mysterious springs of action, and who must not on any account be allowed to hit upon the true one.
No doubt Carrissima was sensitive and self-conscious; moreover, she was jealous. She was, however, extremely curious also—curious to see for herself how Bridget had developed—and in the end she made up her mind to go to Golfney Place. She looked very small and bright when, a few days later, she set forth, wearing the new set of furs, which were certainly her most becoming apparel. She had hesitated whether the March afternoon was really cold enough to justify their use, and before reaching her destination came to the conclusion that it was not.
But, regarding Bridget as possibly a rival, she wished to make her bravest show. With her dark, wide-brimmed hat, her remarkably fair hair, her fresh, clear complexion and her diminutive but piquantly womanly figure, she assuredly need not fear any ordinary comparison.
Golfney Place is a secluded thoroughfare, containing a few intensely respectable-looking shops, an estate-agent's office, a church and some superior lodging-houses. These, like the church, were all painted white, and, indeed, some of them were at present receiving their fresh spring coats.
The door of Number 5 was opened by a middle-aged man, Mr. Miller, the proprietor of the house, and indistinguishable in appearance from an ordinary butler.
"Miss Rosser?" said Carrissima, and, taking her up-stairs, he stopped to ask her name on the first landing.
"Miss Faversham," he announced, as she walked into the drawing-room, a large, lofty room with three windows, rather ornately furnished, and reminding Carrissima of various scenes on the stage. Before the fireplace stood a sofa covered with cretonne of a florid pattern, and from the middle of this Bridget rose.
She was obviously formed to play havoc with the hearts of men, and although she could scarcely be described as beautiful, she was no doubt marvellously seductive. If her features were not regular, the ensemble was delightful, even in the estimation of one who felt disposed to criticize. Her face would have run to a point at the chin if this had not been blunted by an entrancing dimple. Bridget's vivid chestnut-coloured hair grew low over a somewhat wide forehead, while her eyes were dark and curiously expressive.
Without being conspicuously tall, she had the advantage of her guest by several inches, although her figure might be less developed, or perhaps it looked smaller because of her additional inches. She obviously employed an excellent dressmaker, and if she had hitherto been compelled to hide her light under a bushel, she had surely only to be seen to conquer. The important question was: Had she already succeeded in conquering Mark Driver?
For an instant she stood gazing at Carrissima as if unable to believe either her ears or her eyes; then with a slow, gliding movement, in contrast with the other's more rapid, impulsive manner, she came forward holding out both hands.
"Why, it's Carrissima, after all these many, many years!" she exclaimed, and without a moment's hesitation kissed her cheek, just as she had done at parting that long time ago. "How nice of you to come," she continued, still retaining one of her guest's hands, and leading her to the sofa. "I suppose it was Mark who asked you," she said, as they both sat down.
"He didn't exactly ask me," returned Carrissima. "Of course I shouldn't have known you were in London but for him. I met him at my brother's the other evening."
"Ah, that was the night he arrived so late for dinner," said Bridget. "Did he get into the most dreadful scrape?"
"Anyhow," was the answer, "I suppose he was able to start to Paris the next morning, as I haven't heard to the contrary."
"Oh yes," cried Bridget, "if he hadn't gone I should have seen him here. Isn't it tiresome of him!"
"What?" asked Carrissima.
"No sooner coming back to London than off he must go the very next day. He came to see me directly he returned from Yorkshire," Bridget explained, "and—well, I happened to have a fit of the miserables. I assure you I am not often taken that way. Mark was tremendously nice—he always is, isn't he? He insisted that I should go out to dinner and what could I do?"
"Why, nothing but go," replied Carrissima, with the utmost cheerfulness.
"Still," said Bridget, "he seemed quite worried about his brother-in-law. I mustn't tell tales out of school, and Mr. Faversham is your brother, isn't he? Won't you unfasten those furs," she suggested. "You must find them rather warm to-day, although I'm certain I should have put them on in spite of the temperature if they were mine. Perfectly lovely! Do let me help you!"
She turned on the wide sofa to face Carrissima and deftly unhooked the furs, taking the end of the stole in her hands and pressing it against her cheek. When the butler brought in the tea-tray, Bridget asked him to move a small table on to the hearthrug, and as soon as he left the room again she began to talk while pouring out the tea.
"How often," she cried, "I have wondered whether I should ever see you again during this earthly pilgrimage. Sugar?" she asked. "You remember our dear old house and the delightful garden! Of course my darling mother's illness had begun before you came to Crowborough. Poor father was never really the same after her death."
She paused, holding a cup and saucer in her hand, but turning her eyes towards the window. Carrissima saw that they were moist when Bridget began again.
"We gave up the house because he couldn't rest long in any one place, and yet he could never write at his best moving about. You know, Carrissima, it was really a tragedy. He took such pains—writing and re-writing, especially after he and I were left alone; but he knew he wasn't reaching his own standard. He never said a word, but of course I saw he was worrying himself to death. I have copies of all his novels; they are over on that shelf," she said, turning towards a pair of hanging shelves at the farther end of the room. "And there are portfolios full of press cuttings. I used to cut them out and paste them in for him. It seems like a dream to look back. You know I used to think of you as ever so much older than myself, because you seemed to be the mistress of the house."
"Well," answered Carrissima, "I am not many months younger."
"Ah! but now I regard you as quite a child in comparison."
"That doesn't prevent me from being twenty-two," said Carrissima.
"No, of course not, but the actual years are nothing. It's all that's crowded into them—oh dear! I have had such experiences! During the last few months of poor father's life we lived in an appartement in Paris, and afterwards I didn't know what to do or where to go, so I kept it on for myself. I used to go to Ronseau's studio—you've heard of Ronseau?—till he convinced me it wasn't of the slightest use to persevere. Then I came to London and soon began to wish I hadn't. Because I did know ever so many people in Paris, but over here I can't tell you how deadly dull it was until I met Mark."
"You must come and see me as soon as you can," suggested Carrissima.
"Oh dear, yes," said Bridget. "Do let me fasten your furs!" she added, as Carrissima rose from the sofa. "I shall return your visit as early as if you were a royal personage. I shall love to come."
"Number 13, Grandison Square," said Carrissima. "It is not very far, and I am quite alone just now. I don't know whether you remember my father——"
"Very indistinctly," answered Bridget.
"He is away at Church Stretton playing golf."
"Then you are in the same unprotected condition as I am," suggested Bridget.
"Oh well, I have the advantage of a peculiarly attentive brother. Lawrence has the firm and unalterable opinion that no woman under forty is capable of looking after herself. During my father's absence he generally pays me a visit once every twenty-four hours, either on his way home from the Temple or after dinner. I shall expect you before many days," said Carrissima, and Bridget insisted on accompanying her down to the hall.
BRIDGET AT GRANDISON SQUARE
Carrissima walked back to Grandison Square, feeling not a whit less jealous than she had set out. There seemed, it is true, something about Bridget Rosser to which she was scarcely accustomed in her own personal friends; something difficult to describe. It might be due to an innate ingenuousness, or, in part, to the quasi-Bohemian life she had probably lived during the last few years abroad.
There seemed to be an absence of reticence; a kind of natural freedom which assuredly had a charm of its own, although some persons might not approve of it—Lawrence, for one!
He came to Grandison Square the same evening, entering the drawing-room still wearing his heavy overcoat.
"A bitter wind has sprung up," he said, standing close to the fire.
"What a pity you took the trouble to turn out in it," suggested Carrissima, always rather inclined to resent his superintendence.
"What have you been doing all day?" he asked. "You haven't given Phoebe a look in."
"I went to Golfney Place this afternoon," was the answer.
"To renew my acquaintance with Bridget," said Carrissima.
"Quite unnecessary!" retorted Lawrence.
"Far better if you had stayed away."
"Why?" demanded Carrissima.
"Phoebe suggested going," said Lawrence; "but I wouldn't allow it for a moment."
"It's certain," cried Carrissima, "that she is a standing example of the way not to treat a husband. How ridiculous to form a prejudice against any one you have never even seen."
"If she had been the sort of woman I should like my wife to call upon," said Lawrence, "she wouldn't have allowed Mark to see her so often. A woman who lives alone! Why on earth couldn't you leave her to stew in her own juice? I don't wish to see my brother-in-law make an idiot of himself."
"Anyhow," returned Carrissima, "it can't have been Mark's account that set you against her."
"Oh, of course," exclaimed Lawrence, "Mark would swallow anything."
"It is his business in life," said Carrissima, with a laugh, "to make other people swallow things, isn't it, Lawrence?"
He went away dissatisfied, and the following Monday afternoon Bridget Rosser paid her first visit to Number 13, Grandison Square. Although her movements were even and unhurried, her appearance in her out-of-door garments was conspicuous. The brim of her hat struck Carrissima as being a shade wider than that of any one else, her dress closer about the ankles, while yet she wore it without a trace of anything that could be called vulgarity.
"I should have come even earlier," she said, taking Carrissima's hand; "but I only got back from Sandbay this morning. I have been staying since Saturday with my aunts; the dearest little Dresden china aunts in the world. They are my mother's sisters and they give me no peace. You see, they are terribly Early Victorian. You were saying that your brother insisted that no woman under forty is capable of looking after herself. Well, Aunt Jane and Aunt Frances think honestly that I am going to perdition as fast as I can."
"I suppose," suggested Carrissima, "they would like you to live with them?"
"Oh dear! they are quite mad about it. You know everybody is mad about something! They write every week, but I positively couldn't endure it. Of course my father did his best to put me off, although I believe his chief objection was that they had a hatred of tobacco."
"Still," said Carrissima, "I don't suppose you are a confirmed smoker and they might be good for you. I don't think I am Early Victorian, but still——"
"Oh, I know!" cried Bridget; "but fancy wasting any little sweetness one may possess on the desert air of Sandbay. I should simply go mad—stark, staring mad. Carrissima," she continued, "I suppose you know heaps and heaps of people. So did I when my father was alive—people who do things, whose names you read in the papers, who think for themselves and make others follow their lead. Oh, I long to be in the movement!"
Rising slowly from her chair, and with perfect coolness, she took a framed cabinet photograph from a table between the windows.
"Is this Colonel Faversham?" she asked. "I remember him now quite distinctly."
The portrait showed a man of middle height, rather taller than Lawrence, with much broader shoulders. His face had an almost dissipated expression, and he wore a large, pointed moustache. His hair was still plentiful, although it had been grey when Bridget last saw him; his eyes were somewhat prominent, and he held himself unusually erect.
"How old is your father?" asked Bridget.
"Sixty-five," was the answer.
"He doesn't look so old!"
"Nothing would give him greater pleasure than to hear you say that!" cried Carrissima. "But the photograph was taken some years ago."
"Have you only one brother?" asked Bridget.
"Only one living. I had another brother and a sister. They came between me and Lawrence, and died a long time ago."
"I love looking at photographs," said Bridget, putting that of Colonel Faversham back in its place. "I hope you don't mind—whose is this?" she inquired, taking up another frame.
"Oh, that is Jimmy!" cried Carrissima.
"Why do you laugh?" said Bridget.
"I really don't quite know. There's nothing very comical in his appearance, is there? Only somehow one does laugh about him."
"I think," said Bridget, "he is one of the pleasantest-looking men I have ever seen."
"Yes, Jimmy has a nice face," returned Carrissima.
"Of course," Bridget continued, with her eyes still on the photograph, "it isn't so distinctly handsome as Mark's."
"Perhaps not," was the answer; "I thought you had seen him while we were at Crowborough. Mr. Clynesworth. Although his name is Rupert everybody has called him Jimmy since his school days."
"I remember Miss Clynesworth," suggested Bridget.
"His sister—or, rather, his half-sister. She might be his mother by the way she tries to look after him."
"Does he require a lot of looking after?" asked Bridget.
"Oh, I don't know," said Carrissima. "He is one of those men who somehow give you the impression they could do wonderful things, and if they would. He is immensely rich and nice-looking, as you say, and people do their best to spoil him. I won't insist that they have succeeded. Anyhow, he is immensely good to Sybil. Her father was a physician, and she lost her mother when she was a small child. When she was about ten Doctor Clynesworth married again. His second wife was very wealthy, and, to judge by her portrait at Upper Grosvenor Street, she must have been a beautiful woman. All her money went to her only son—Jimmy, but Doctor Clynesworth had very little to leave to Sybil. Jimmy insisted that she should continue to live at the house in which her father had practised, and he is immensely fond of her although they are about as different as any two persons can possibly be. Should you," asked Carrissima, "like me to ask her to come and see you?"
"Do you think she would?" said Bridget, returning the photograph to the table.
"I am certain she would be delighted, especially if I explain that you have no one to chaperon you," replied Carrissima, whereupon Bridget smiled as if she were quite convinced of her ability to take care of herself. On saying "Good-bye" Carrissima made a point of urging her to come to Grandison Square as often as she felt inclined, and from that time forth she regarded Miss Rosser with curiously mingled sensations.
While it proved difficult to refrain from liking the girl, with her frank joyousness, her youthful zest in life, the possession of such qualities furnished an additional excuse for that jealousy which still dominated Carrissima's waking thoughts. Without forming any definite design, the idea certainly occurred to her that Mark might come to occupy a smaller space in Bridget's sphere of things, if only she knew a few more of his kind.
The following afternoon Carrissima, according to her promise, went to Upper Grosvenor Street, where lived Sybil Clynesworth and, when he pleased, Jimmy. He had, however, a country house at Atlinghurst, and when he stayed in London sometimes preferred a room at one of his clubs, to that which his sister always kept in readiness.
On reaching the house Carrissima was disappointed to hear that Sybil had gone away the previous morning.
"When do you expect her back?" asked Carrissima.
"I have no idea," said the butler; "but Mr. Clynesworth might know."
"Mr. Clynesworth is in London then?" cried Carrissima, and in fact, he came out of the dining-room on the left of the hall the next moment.
The Favershams, the Drivers and the Clynesworths were old friends. They had known each other from their earliest years, and the three boys had gone to the same preparatory school at Brighton. Sybil, considerably the oldest of the group, tried still to hope that Jimmy would marry Carrissima, although for that matter, she would have rejoiced to see him the husband of any woman whom she could love.
Jimmy Clynesworth was about thirty years of age; a little younger than Lawrence Faversham, a little older than Mark Driver. In height he was between them, a little above the average; not a tall man, certainly not short, well built, but not noticeably broad-shouldered, and wearing this afternoon a rough, darkish tweed suit, fitting him rather loosely. In fact, you could not imagine Jimmy tightly buttoned up or putting on an uncomfortably high collar, or doing anything solely for the sake of appearances.
He had a somewhat round face, with straight dark hair and an almost downy-looking moustache, which barely hid his lips, although it was not brushed upwards in the mode of the moment. His eyes were rather far apart and he was characterized by an appearance of perfect health and equability of temperament.
"Hullo, Carrissima!" he exclaimed, coming forward to the door with his hand outstretched, "what a stroke of luck!"
"I wanted to see Sybil," she explained.
"She has gone to the Ramsbottoms," said Jimmy. "Old Lady Ramsbottom was taken ill. She sent for Sybil yesterday, as people do when they're seedy, you know. Won't you come in?" he added.
"No, thank you, Jimmy. I mustn't stay," returned Carrissima.
"Now, that's sheer conventionality," he insisted. "You would really like to come in and have a talk, but for the melancholy reason that I'm alone, you're afraid."
"Oh, wise young judge!" said Carrissima.
"Well, if you're obstinate I'll walk back with you," he suggested, taking a bowler hat from the stand, while the butler handed his gloves and cane. "I've nothing in the world to do," he added, as they walked away from the house.
"You never have, Jimmy!"
"No, I'm the most dreadful waster," he admitted. "I've just been reading a penny pamphlet—by one of the labour members, and upon my word, it made me squirm like one o'clock. Did you want to see Sybil about anything of cosmic importance?" Jimmy asked.
"Oh dear, no," said Carrissima, as they crossed the park. "Only to ask her to call on a girl she met when we were staying at Crowborough some years ago."
"What's she like—pretty, by any chance?"
"Very pretty," answered Carrissima.
"Then I'm your man. I can go instead if you give me the address, and there's no time like the present."
"Jimmy, you must try not to be ridiculous," said Carrissima. "For some reason you can't have seen her during the few days you stayed with us."
"What is her name?"
"Bridget Rosser. Her father was a novelist——"
"Oh!" cried Jimmy, "you mean David Rosser. I remember that the colonel introduced me; besides, I happened to run up against him again a few months later. A man who never got his due. David Rosser had a style, you know: a little precious, perhaps, if that's a drawback. So you know his daughter! I will see that Sybil goes to see Miss Rosser. Then," said Jimmy, "I shall have a look in."
Colonel Faversham came home on Wednesday evening, the day after Carrissima's visit to Upper Grosvenor Street. She was sitting alone in the drawing-room, doubtful as to the precise date of his return, when she suddenly became aware of his presence in the house.
Colonel Faversham was apt to be noisy and blusterous. He had a loud voice, a rather demonstrative cough, he walked with a heavy tread, and, in fact, was generally assertive. Carrissima, not wishing to fail in her filial duty, went down-stairs to meet him in the hall, as the butler was helping him off with his thick overcoat.
"Ah, Carrissima!" he exclaimed at the top of his voice, "I'm sorry I didn't wire; but, to tell you the truth, I forgot all about it. Well, how are you—quite well? Glad to see me back again, eh?"
"Very glad indeed," was the dutiful answer.
"That's all right. I've had dinner—if you can call it dining in the train. Where's the best fire to be found?"
"You may as well come to the drawing-room," said Carrissima.
"Good!" replied the colonel, and then turned to the butler. "Knight, I'll have some soda and whisky."
He accompanied Carrissima up-stairs, blowing out his red cheeks and beating his cold hands together with considerable energy. Going to the fire, he stood on the hearthrug warming his palms and making perfunctory inquiries after Lawrence and Phoebe and their child.
"How do you think I'm looking?" he demanded, suddenly facing Carrissima.
"Splendid," she answered. "I don't think I have ever seen you looking better."
"Well, I never felt better," he exclaimed, putting back his shoulders and puffing out his chest. "Never in the whole course of my life. Nobody at the hotel would believe I was anything like my age—fifty or fifty-five at the outside. Upon my soul, I can scarcely believe it myself. I can give a start to a good many youngsters yet. Not too much soda-water, Knight," he added, when the whisky and the syphon were brought in. "What's been happening while I've been away?" he asked, alone again with Carrissima.
"I wonder," she suggested, "whether you remember our holiday at Crowborough some years ago?"
"Remember it—of course I remember it. Do you think I'm in my dotage. You make an immense mistake. My memory was never better. I will back it against yours any day."
"Then you haven't forgotten Mr. Rosser——"
"Rosser!" cried Colonel Faversham. "A shortish man with a red beard and an invalid wife: wrote twaddling novels. I tried to read one of them—couldn't get through it. He played a devilish good game all the same. What about him?"
"I have met his daughter," said Carrissima, and, in reply to her father's demand for further information, she told him all she knew about Bridget; how that she had made Mark Driver late for dinner; how that, after some dubitation, a visit had been paid to Golfney Place, and duly returned.
On learning that Bridget was good to look upon and only a few months older that Carrissima, Colonel Faversham blinked his eyes and fingered his large grey moustache. He took a cigar from his case by and by, Carrissima trying to stifle her yawns while he talked about golf and described some of his hands at bridge. To illustrate his skill, he made her bring some cards, and, sweeping clear a space on the table, kept her up until past midnight.
Colonel Faversham always came to breakfast with brisk and almost aggressive robustness. He had an enormous appetite, and when this was at last satisfied, it was his custom to retire with the newspaper to his smoking-room until eleven o'clock. The morning was so bright that he began to regret his return to London, although it was true that he could reach his favourite golf-course in three-quarters of an hour in a taxi-cab. There, indeed, Colonel Faversham spent the most of his waking hours, usually finishing up with a couple of hours' bridge before returning by rail to Grandison Square in time for dinner. Then he was occasionally irritable, and although he would never admit that he felt tired, Carrissima had her own opinion.
On the Saturday after his return from Church Stretton, however, he stayed at home, and as he sat smoking after an excellent luncheon, Carrissima came in wearing her hat and jacket.
"I'm going to see Phoebe," she explained, in the act of fastening her gloves. "I don't suppose I shall be home to tea unless you want me."
"Want you!" was the answer. "Good heavens, no! Why in the world should I want you. Do you imagine I can't feed myself? Thank goodness, I'm not in my second childhood yet. Besides, I shall most likely have tea at the club. What a day, Carrissima! What a day!"
Having finished his cigar about a quarter of an hour later, Colonel Faversham went to his dressing-room, where he spent a few minutes brushing his hair with great vigour and twisting his moustache to a point. On going down to the hall again, he noticed that the street door stood open, and that Knight was talking to some one on the threshold. As the colonel took his top hat from the table, he saw that the visitor was a young lady who looked admirably in harmony with the spring season. She wore a lightish grey cloth frock and a wide-brimmed hat, beneath which a vast quantity of chestnut-coloured hair conspicuously appeared.
He reached the open door as she was on the point of turning away, but, seeing him, she hesitated.
"Miss Rosser, colonel," said Knight, standing between the pair.
"Good-afternoon, Miss Rosser," cried Colonel Faversham. "Pray come in! You wish to see Carrissima! I assure you she will be immensely disappointed if you refuse to wait. I may mention that I had the pleasure of knowing your father."
"Oh, I remember you perfectly," she replied. "As well as if it were yesterday."
"Come this way, come this way," he insisted, replacing his hat on the table as she entered the hall. "Carrissima would never forgive me. She was talking about you before I had been in the house ten minutes——"
"But you were just going out," she expostulated. "You mustn't let me take you up-stairs again."
"Stairs are nothing to me," he said. "I could climb a mountain. I have climbed many a one before to-day, and I hope I shall again. What delightful weather!" he continued, as they reached the drawing-room. "It makes one feel quite—quite capable of anything."
She sat down, while the colonel talked about Crowborough and David Rosser; remembering whose vocation, he realized the desirability of giving the conversation a bookish turn. While he was remarking upon some of the most recent publications—quoted from advertisements, for he seldom opened a book—Knight and a small footman brought in the tea equipage. Colonel Faversham invited Bridget to officiate, and told himself how delectable she looked as, half-shyly, she passed his cup and saucer.
"You know, Colonel Faversham," she said, "I cannot help feeling immensely guilty."
"A libel," he protested. "I have never seen a more transparently innocent face in the whole course of my life."
"Still, I am certain I have kept you from going to your club or somewhere. Of course I am duly grateful. Carrissima said I might come here whenever I felt too lonely."
"My dear Miss Rosser," said Colonel Faversham, "I am afraid it must be a rather dull life you're leading. But it will be entirely your own fault if ever you find yourself bored in future. Carrissima has no end of friends, and hers shall be yours. Then there's my daughter-in-law! As for books, my library was left to me by an uncle who had nothing better to do than to read from morning till night. You must allow me to send you a suitable selection."
When Carrissima came home, a little later, she raised her eyebrows on seeing Bridget Rosser presiding at the tea-table, with Colonel Faversham seated rather close by her side. As he began to explain his good fortune in meeting the visitor at the door, Carrissima told herself that she knew exactly how things would turn out!
The truth was that Colonel Faversham had always been somewhat dangerously susceptible. Lawrence could never feel certain that his father was too old to think of marrying again. Carrissima knew that for the next few days he would talk of nobody but Bridget; that he would lend her books, and perhaps even express a wish to invite her to dine. He would on every opportunity pay her extravagant compliments and make himself generally ridiculous; then he would begin to forget her existence and fall back into his ordinary routine of bridge and golf until another attractive face arrested his attention.
Although he sang Miss Rosser's praises loudly that Saturday afternoon, and spoke of her frequently on Sunday and during the next few evenings, Carrissima scarcely suspected that the colonel had met Bridget since her visit to Grandison Square. She was certainly astounded when, going to see her small nephew one afternoon a week or so later, she found that she had run her head into a hornets' nest.
"You have done a fine thing!" said Lawrence. "That is the worst of you."
"Oh, do please tell me what is the best, or at least the medium, for a change," was the answer.
"My dear Carrie——"
"If you call me Carrie you will drive me mad," said Carrissima.
"I fancy you must be," exclaimed her brother, standing on the hearthrug and looking as solemn as the judge he hoped some day to become. One hand was thrust between the buttons of his morning coat, the other clasped its lapelle, his head was flung back, and one foot rested on the fender. "An immense pity," he added, "that you can never mind your own business."
Carrissima skilfully mimicked his attitude.
"May it please you, m'lud, and gentlemen of the jury," she said, causing Lawrence hastily to change his pose, and Phoebe to look a little scandalized.
"There's a time for everything," he insisted, with a blush. "Let me tell you this is no laughing matter."
"You should not make yourself look so ridiculous," said Carrissima. "Why should you everlastingly be retained for the prosecution?"
"You would certainly require a clever defence," returned Lawrence. "A fine thing you have done by your unnecessary interference."
"But what am I accused of?" she demanded. "What is all the fuss about?"
"As I was walking home on Saturday," he explained, "I turned up the Haymarket. The people were just going in to the matinee——"
"I mustn't forget I want to go to the Haymarket," said Carrissima.
"Do, for goodness' sake," he expostulated, "try to fix your mind on one thing at a time."
"It depends on its nature," said Carrissima.
"Whom should I see getting out of a taxi," cried Lawrence, "but the colonel and some woman."
"My dear Lawrence," was the answer, "knowing father as well as you pretend to know everybody, surely you cannot imagine there's anything very unusual about that."
"Carrissima," interposed Phoebe, "I really think from Lawrence's description that she must have been Bridget Rosser."
"Oh, but surely not!"
"I think it was," Phoebe insisted.
"He has only seen her once," said Carrissima. "That was on Saturday week. She would scarcely——"
"Let me ask you one question!" cried Lawrence.
"Oh, a dozen," said Carrissima.
"How do you know that was the only time he saw the woman?"
"Of course, I can't say that I know for certain," she admitted.
"There you are! You don't know. You don't even believe. You simply jump to a conclusion. You have no means of knowing. Depend upon it, he has been at Golfney Place over and over again. We shall be fortunate if he doesn't end by marrying her."
"Who is jumping to a conclusion now?" said Carrissima.
"Lawrence dear," suggested Phoebe, quite humbly, "I understood you were afraid she might marry Mark. After all, she can't very well make victims of both him and your father."
"No, but she may like to have two strings to her bow. She may prefer a bird in the hand, and if he should escape, there's Mark to fall back upon."
"After all," said Carrissima, "you have not even seen Bridget. You don't know she has the slightest desire to marry anybody."
"She is simply an adventuress," was the answer. "A pretty woman on the make."
Although Carrissima had little reason to be prejudiced in Miss Rosser's favour, she was the possessor of an elementary sense of justice, and, moreover, it was always a satisfaction to contradict her brother.
"I don't admit you have any right to say that," she protested. "I saw a great deal of her at Crowborough——"
"Five years ago!"
"From what I have seen since," Carrissima continued, "I believe you have found a mare's nest. You seem to forget that father is sixty-five."
"Ah, yes, but he doesn't begin to realize the fact," said Lawrence. "He thinks he is quite capable of acting like an ordinary man of half his age. If you had tried to provide your friend with an easy prey, you couldn't have gone a surer way to work."
Carrissima, however, remained still unconvinced. She walked home to Grandison Square with the inclination to scoff at her brother's fears, although it was true that she was beginning to wish that Bridget had never crossed Colonel Faversham's path.
"Carrissima!" said Colonel Faversham, as he rose from the breakfast-table a day or two after her conversation with Lawrence and Phoebe.
"Yes, father," she answered.
"I have been thinking that it is high time we asked Miss Rosser to dine with us."
He was standing by the window holding the morning paper in his hands, and as he spoke he raised it so that Carrissima could not see his face.
"Oh, but do you really think that is necessary?" she answered, and crushing the paper into a shapeless mass, the colonel turned upon his daughter quite fiercely.
Of course he was convinced that there could be nothing in the least ridiculous in his behaviour! A man, as they say, is as old as he feels, and especially during the last fortnight Colonel Faversham had felt almost a boy again. The spring was in his blood! Moreover, he flattered himself that he had not begun to look old! Still, he was sensitive lest Carrissima should fancy he was making an ass of himself, and, as usual at such times, he began to bluster.
"Necessary!" he shouted, growing dangerously red in the face. "If it comes to that it isn't necessary we should dine at all. Most of us eat a great deal too much. Anyhow, it is very desirable that Miss Rosser should be treated with common courtesy. Besides, I wish it. That, I imagine, ought to be enough! We don't want a crowd or anything elaborate. No infernal fuss or ceremony. Just a family party: just Lawrence and his wife. They have never seen Miss Rosser!"
"Oh yes," said Carrissima. "Lawrence has seen her."
"She told me only the other day that she hadn't met him. I wondered why on earth you hadn't introduced her to Phoebe!"
"Lawrence," Carrissima explained, "saw Bridget going into the Haymarket Theatre with you the other afternoon."
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Colonel Faversham, stamping about the room, "it has come to this! I mustn't go to the play without begging my children's permission. I haven't a scrap of individuality of my own left! I am compelled to ask Lawrence before I move a step!"
"Not at all," said Carrissima. "Only I seem to recollect your telling me you were going to play at bridge at the club that Saturday afternoon."
"And mayn't a man change his mind, I should like to know!"
"In time to book seats," suggested Carrissima.
"No sarcasm, if you please," was the answer. "I won't allow it. I simply won't allow it in my house," he added, clenching his fist and bringing it down heavily on the breakfast-table so that the cups and saucers rattled.
"Oh well, father," said Carrissima, "there's not the least use in getting angry, you know."
"I am not angry," cried Colonel Faversham, rubbing the side of his hand.
"I don't know what you would call it!"
"I may have been a little vehement," he replied. "No wonder. I make a simple suggestion, and surely I have a right to expect my daughter to adopt it."
"If Bridget is to be asked to dine," said Carrissima, with a sigh, "I think we ought to invite some one outside our own family."
"Am I the master here, or am I not?" demanded Colonel Faversham. "Very well! You will write to Phoebe to-day. Get her and Lawrence to fix an evening—this week if possible—and then ask Miss Rosser."
"Lawrence is not likely to come," suggested Carrissima.
"Anyhow, he refused to allow Phoebe to go to Golfney Place!"
"You will kindly do as I tell you," said the colonel. "Lawrence has more sense than you give him credit for."
Carrissima was compelled to admit that her father had a right to act as he pleased. She wrote to Phoebe the same morning, and Lawrence, reading the letter on his return from the Temple, at once declared that nothing on earth should induce him to go and meet "that woman"!
Having dined, however, and smoked a cigarette, he began to take a more tolerant view of the situation. Colonel Faversham had money to bequeath! As Lawrence told Phoebe, it might be their duty to pocket their feelings and consider Victor's future.
Colonel Faversham had the satisfaction of hearing from Bridget's own lips that she should be delighted to dine at his house. He seemed to live only for Bridget during these days. His golf was neglected, and he had come near to a quarrel with one of his oldest friends for revoking twice in one evening's bridge.
Whatever he did, wherever he went, his thoughts insisted on wandering to Golfney Place. Although he longed to shower expensive gifts upon Bridget, he durst not at present go beyond flowers, and it was only after much persuasion that she consented to let him take her to the Haymarket Theatre. Whilst he revelled in her society and his hope of being permitted to enjoy it uninterruptedly for the remainder of his days ran high, he dreaded to imagine what Lawrence would have to say on the subject.
Colonel Faversham felt confident that his son would prove "nasty," and even Carrissima could scarcely be expected to feel pleased by the prospect of a step-mother only a few months older than herself. The colonel found himself between two fires: longing on the one hand for the time to come when he might discreetly ask Bridget to be his wife, and fearing, on the other hand, the announcement of his good news!
It is true that the rose was not entirely free from thorns. In his less cheerful moods he could not regard Mark Driver as other than a possibly disturbing factor. Bridget made no secret of the frequency and gratification of his former visits to Golfney Place, with the result that Colonel Faversham wondered occasionally whether she looked upon himself rather too paternally. He would then puff out his chest, tug his moustache and make various other efforts to convince her that he was still in the prime of life.
Nevertheless there hung persistently in the background the tragedy of his years! He might upon occasion strike one as a comic figure, and of course he saw no reason why he should not live to be a hundred. An exceptional age, no doubt, but then he was an exceptional man, as perhaps every man appears to himself. But Colonel Faversham was not already without warnings which he would not admit for the world. In his desire to convince himself that he was as robust as ever, he continued to take the same amount of exercise as he had enjoyed twenty years earlier. No one knew how weary the evenings found him, and, besides, there was that increasing stiffness of his joints.
He was particularly eager that Bridget should create a favourable impression on Lawrence, as indeed she could scarcely fail to do. Carrissima, notwithstanding a lamentable sense of inhospitality, when the evening arrived found it on the whole rather amusing. Her brother entered the drawing-room at Grandison Square with his head higher in the air than ever, while Phoebe looked as usual serenely pretty and contented. There was Bridget Rosser with her beautiful shoulders bare, with her piquant face, her glorious hair, obviously bent upon enjoyment.
Lawrence took her in to dinner, and Phoebe certainly thought that she had deliberately set herself to captivate him. So did the colonel, but Carrissima made a valiant effort to do her guest justice. It really seemed too paltry to be critical because Mark admired her. In Carrissima's opinion Bridget was not exerting herself to make a favourable impression either on Lawrence or his father. No such effort was necessary! Nature had anticipated any endeavours of her own. With her face and figure it must be positively difficult not to please any man with eyes in his head. Her curiously childlike ingenuousness was too perfect to be counterfeited. Bridget charmed because she must.
When she referred to the report of a recent lawsuit in which Lawrence had admittedly increased his already growing reputation, Carrissima smiled to see him unbend, although she might feel inclined to frown when she noticed that Colonel Faversham's eyes scarcely left Bridget's face until she rose from her chair to follow her hostess up-stairs.
In the drawing-room, while the men were smoking, she inquired after Phoebe's boy. She declared she was "so fond of children" in a tone which compelled credence. She wished to know the colour of Victor's eyes and hair; she listened to Phoebe's marvellous stories of his precocity without the slightest sign of scepticism or boredom.
"He is going to have a party of his own next week," said his mother.
"Beginning early," returned Bridget, as the door opened and Lawrence and the colonel came in.
"What's that, what's that?" demanded Colonel Faversham, crossing the room to Bridget's side.
"I was telling Miss Rosser," Phoebe explained, "that Victor is going to have a party. Eight children all under three."
"Good heavens!" said the colonel.
"I was wondering whether you would care to come and see them," suggested Phoebe, and she would have liked to invite the sympathetic Bridget, only that she felt certain Lawrence would disapprove.
"No, thank you, Phoebe, no, thank you," was the prompt reply. "Still, you needn't be afraid. I shall not forget his birthday. You'll see!"
"Oh, then it is Victor's birthday!" cried Bridget.
"On Tuesday," said Phoebe.
"How old will he be?"
"Two," returned his delighted mother, and Bridget leaned back in her chair with a profound sigh.
"Oh dear," she murmured, "and I shall actually be twenty-three on Wednesday!"
"Now what are you going to do to celebrate the occasion?" demanded Colonel Faversham.
"Let me see," said Bridget; "I shall breakfast alone, have lunch alone, tea alone and dinner in the same delightful company. How different it used to be when we lived at Crowborough! The day was a kind of festival. Before I was grown up we always had a primrose party."
Carrissima could not refrain from looking at her sympathetically. Although her lips were smiling, her eyes seemed not a little pitiful. It was impossible not to like the girl, and, moreover, if it were granted that she was (as Lawrence insisted) manoeuvring for Colonel Faversham, it seemed to follow that there must be less fear for Mark! Perhaps, in some occult, subconscious way, this unbidden idea may have quickened Carrissima's regard, and in any case she deprecated the lonely birthday, forming a small benevolent scheme of her own for its celebration. In the first place, she determined to send Bridget a present, and then she would go to Golfney Place during the afternoon and take her out to tea. A modest programme, but still better than nothing.
On Tuesday afternoon Carrissima was, naturally, bound to Phoebe and Victor, but during the morning she made her way to Donaldson's, the jeweller's, in Old Bond Street, where her family had dealt for many years. Lawrence went there for presents for his wife; Colonel Faversham (who, to do him justice, was generous in this respect) never went anywhere else at Christmas time or on Carrissima's birthday.
She had not by any means made up her mind what to buy, and, indeed, in Carrissima's eyes shopping was always an elaborate rite. She stood for a few minutes gazing in at the tempting window, and entering presently, began to inspect various trays of rings and brooches, although she had no intention to purchase anything of the kind. During the process Mr. Donaldson, who had known her from childhood, came to the assistance of the salesman and talked about the weather. At last a silver card-case was selected.
"I wonder," said Carrissima, "whether it would be possible to have it engraved by to-morrow morning."
"I think that can be managed," returned Mr. Donaldson.
"You might send it to Golfney Place with my card," suggested Carrissima, taking one from her case.
"It shall be there quite early, madam," said the salesman, making a note in a long, slim book.
At the moment Carrissima scarcely noticed the significance of the fact that he appeared already to know the name of the recipient and the number of her house. He had certainly written "Miss Rosser, 5——" before Carrissima had time to give him the address!
"The initials are B——"
But he had scribbled "B. R." in his book while yet the sentence was incomplete.
"How did you know?" she demanded eagerly.
"I beg your pardon, madam!" said the salesman, whilst Mr. Donaldson drew watchfully nearer.
"You wrote down the initials before I told you what they were!" she exclaimed.
"I think not," said Mr. Donaldson hastily. "I think you are making a mistake!"
She knew she had done nothing of the kind. She knew that Colonel Faversham must have been at the jeweller's before her this morning; that he had selected something to commemorate Bridget's birthday; something upon which also her initials were to be engraved.
"After all," she said, "I think you shall send the card-case to Grandison Square to-morrow morning."
Carrissima paid the bill, but in the reaction of her feelings she doubted whether she should give Bridget a present after all. It began to look as if there were some justification for Lawrence's suspicions, and for the first time she experienced serious fears for the future.
Carrissima could not make up her mind. When she set forth to Charteris Street to help in the entertainment of Phoebe's extremely juvenile guests, she was determined not to go near Golfney Place the following day. Seeing her amongst the children no one would have imagined that she had a sorrow in the world; she was the life and soul of the youthful party, and finally returned to Grandison Square in a becomingly dishevelled condition in time for dinner.
The following morning Colonel Faversham went to the hall at eleven o'clock, wearing a flower in his buttonhole. Carrissima accompanying him dutifully to the door, remarked that he had a new top hat.
"Do you think it suits me?" he asked, turning to face her. "Not too much brim, Carrissima?"
"It looks a trifle small," she answered.
"Small—nonsense! A man doesn't want a hat to come down over his eyes. I'm not a fogy yet, I hope."
"Why, of course not," she exclaimed. "Still, you will have to hold it on in the wind."
"Anyhow, that's better than using infernal pins that are a danger to the community," said Colonel Faversham. "I'll tell you what: next time I choose a hat I'll get you to come with me."
"I suppose you will be home to lunch," she suggested, telling herself she was shamefully cunning. But she could not help suspecting that he was off on some jaunt with Bridget, and no doubt she felt a little bitter about it.
"Shall I?" he answered, with a laugh. "Don't take too much for granted. I may get a snack at the club. Anyhow, you had better not wait."
She understood that he did not intend to return and wondered how she should dispose of her silver card-case. In no event would she go near Golfney Place that day! At about noon, however, it arrived from Donaldson's in a cardboard box, and really seemed too pretty to be wasted. There, too, were Bridget's initials, neatly engraved on its face, and, perhaps, after all, Colonel Faversham was reckoning without his guest. Miss Rosser might refuse to accept his present, whatever it might be—Carrissima felt very curious to know! She might decline to go out with him, and then her birthday would be spent in utter loneliness. Carrissima pictured her with melancholy reminiscences of her father and mother. Because whatever the girl's faults might be, she was certainly not lacking in natural affection. Surely some allowances ought to be made for the circumstances of the case. Carrissima was excellent at making allowances for people! She was one of those tiresome, inconsistent young women who remain blind to the teachings of reason and experience, and ever find some remnants of good in the rag-bags of humanity.
Bridget had lost her mother when she was eighteen! She had knocked about with her father for several years since. Of course she ought not to have encouraged Mark's visits night after night, as doubtless she had done; but, then, she may have had the intelligence to see that Mark was a man in a thousand—in a thousand! Mark was a man in a million!
In the end Carrissima left Grandison Square at a few minutes before four o'clock that afternoon, and having rung the bell at Number 5, Golfney Place, she was crushed to hear from Miller that Bridget had been out since a quarter to twelve.
"Oh!" said Carrissima, ashamed of her own artfulness, "I suppose she went with Colonel Faversham?"
"Yes," returned Miller.
"Do you know where they have gone?" asked Carrissima.
"Colonel Faversham told the chauffeur to drive to Richmond."
"To Richmond—thank you," said Carrissima. "I will come another day." Then she turned away with the card-case still in her hand and a heavier weight at her heart. She wished she had never gone to Crowborough that summer five years ago! Very devoutly she wished that Mark Driver had not visited the Old Masters' Exhibition. She had not walked far on her way home when she saw Jimmy Clynesworth coming towards her, and thought it rather early in the year for him to be wearing a straw hat in London.
Of course he stopped to speak. Jimmy was not the man to allow any one he knew to pass by, although for once in a way Carrissima would sooner have avoided the encounter.
"Have you heard from Sybil lately?" she asked.
"Oh yes, she's still with old Lady Ramsbottom—enjoying herself to the top of her bent, no doubt! You may be certain Sybil's having a rattling good time! She always revels in illness. Goodness knows when I shall see her again. Where are you bound for?" asked Jimmy, as Carrissima showed signs of impatience.
"For home and tea," was the answer.
"Let me give you some," he urged, walking on by her side.
"No, thank you, Jimmy!"
"Carrissima," he said, with a glance at her profile, "what in the world's the matter?"
"Why, nothing, of course!"
"Oh yes, there's something," he insisted. "I flatter myself I'm good at reading faces, you know, and yours is always interesting—one never has to read between the lines."
"Does that mean I wear my heart on my sleeve?" she demanded.
"Naturally you fancy you're inscrutable," said Jimmy, with a laugh. "We all do. Come now, suppose you tell me what it is!"
"What would be the use—if there were anything?"
"You might enable me to do you a good turn! If I couldn't cure your woe I could possibly make you forget it. Besides, people do tell me things. You would be astonished to hear what confidences are poured into my ears."
"Is that because you're sympathetic, or simply because you're rich?" suggested Carrissima.
"What's that you're carrying?" he asked, with a shrug.
"A card-case," she replied.
"May I look?" he said, holding out his hand. After a momentary hesitation she let him take it, whereupon he had no scruple about opening the box. "Hullo! who is B. R.?" he demanded.
"Nobody you know, Jimmy!"
"Bridget Rosser!" he exclaimed. "You see what a memory I have. Is to-day any special occasion?"
"Her birthday," said Carrissima.
"How old is she?"
"What a delectable age! The same as your own. But if you're taking Miss Rosser a present," he added, "how is it you are on the way home?"
"Jimmy, you make me tired," said Carrissima. "I wish you wouldn't ask so many questions."
"I can't help it," he replied. "An inquiring turn of mind, you know. I haven't forgotten that Sybil is to pay your friend a visit directly she gets back."
"Indeed, there is not the slightest necessity," said Carrissima.
"Hullo! so you've changed your mind?"
"I suppose that is allowable."
"Where does she live?" Jimmy persisted.
"Wild horses wouldn't drag her address from me!" cried Carrissima, laughing quite cheerfully, "and kindly give me back the card-case."
He came to a standstill close to Colonel Faversham's house as he put it back in her hand.
"Now, I'm off," he said. "That's all I was waiting for."
"What?" asked Carrissima.
"To hear you laugh again."
"Jimmy," she said, "I sometimes wonder whether your inveterate cheerfulness is the sign of a shallow mind!"
"Oh well, you see, it's one of the few useful things I can do," he answered. "To swing a light about."
"Still, it isn't always safe to go full speed ahead," she suggested.
"Oh dear, no," said Jimmy. "We all have to put the brakes hard on now and then; but the fact remains that a coward dies a hundred deaths, you know."
Carrissima entered the house a moment after he walked away, and going to the drawing-room sat down to tea just as she was in her hat and jacket.
Could it be possible that her father seriously thought of marriage? In that event, the whole course of her life would be altered! She could never consent to stay at home if Bridget ruled the roast! Looking at her watch, presently, Carrissima saw that it was about the time when Lawrence could usually be found in the bosom of his family, and going down-stairs again she let herself out of the house. On reaching Charteris Street she saw him with Victor on his knees, whilst Phoebe on hers looked at the boy with anxious eyes.
He looked pale and fretful in consequence of yesterday's party, and when his nurse had carried him out of the room to an accompaniment of noisy expostulations, Carrissima turned to her brother—
"Lawrence," she said, "I am really in the most dreadful state of mind. I am beginning to wonder whether you could possibly have been right, after all."
"Thank you," answered Lawrence stiffly. "But, of course, a prophet is not without honour——"
"Yes, I know," Carrissima interrupted. "It's about Bridget."
"What has she been doing?" asked Phoebe.
"You remember she told us that to-day would be her birthday?"
"The most barefaced hint I ever heard in my life," said Lawrence.
"Well, I thought I would take her a small present——"
"A pity you can't hold yourself in a little more," was the answer. "You must gush!"
"Anyhow," Carrissima continued quite humbly, "I went to Donaldson's—Phoebe, I saw the duckiest little opal brooch. I was half tempted——"
"For goodness' sake get along with the story!" cried Lawrence fretfully.
"I bought a card-case—silver," said Carrissima.
"Gun metal would have done just as well," suggested Lawrence.
"When I asked the man to engrave Bridget's initials on it," said Carrissima, "he knew what they were without being told. He knew her number in Golfney Place too!"
"Ah, then father had been there before you!" exclaimed Lawrence.
"Yes," answered Carrissima, "and he has taken her to Richmond to lunch!"
"What did I tell you?" said Lawrence.
"Oh, please don't tell me again," entreated Carrissima. "What is the use?"
"A pity you didn't think of all this," he persisted, "before you took the woman up. I knew what she was. I told Phoebe."
"What nonsense," said Carrissima. "As if any human being could have imagined she would dream of marrying father that night Mark told us he had met her again."
"Well," cried Lawrence in his most weighty tone, "we may see something when Mark comes back from Paris. Odd that he hasn't written to Phoebe once since he went away—his only sister! Mark may upset the apple cart yet. It's certain he was pretty far gone, and I don't suppose she cares whom she marries, as long as he has a decent income. It's true she would naturally prefer a husband who is not likely to live many years."
"Oh, Lawrence!" expostulated Phoebe. "How can you talk like that. He doesn't mean what he says, Carrissima."
"Indeed I do," he answered. "I am a man of the world."
"Still," said Carrissima, "you needn't be a man of the flesh and the devil!"
"Anyhow," returned Lawrence, "we shall see what happens when Mark comes back."
"One thing is certain," said Carrissima, "nothing on earth would induce me to live at home if father were to marry Bridget."
"As if you could live anywhere else. Where could you go?"
"I shouldn't stay there!" said Carrissima.
"The idea of a girl of your age setting up on her own is ridiculous," was the reply. "As bad as the other woman! You have made your bed and you will have to lie on it."
"Ah, well!" said Carrissima, "it won't be at Number 13, Grandison Square."
"Has Colonel Faversham returned?" asked Carrissima when Knight opened the door.
"The colonel is in the smoking-room," was the answer, and she went there at once. He was leaning back in an easy-chair, with his feet on the fender, a cigar between his lips, and an unusually benignant expression on his face.
"Well, Carrissima," he inquired amicably, "where have you sprung from?"
"I went to Charteris Street," she returned. "What have you been doing since eleven?"
"What have I been doing?" said Colonel Faversham, rubbing his palms violently together. "Well, now, to tell you the truth, I've been out on the spree! Such a glorious day! I couldn't resist the temptation. A man at the club—I don't think you know him—Comberbatch—asked me to share a taxi and run down to Richmond to lunch. Delightful in the park. And the view from the Terrace! It made me long to go on the river again."
"Why—why didn't you?" Carrissima faltered.
"Come, come, what are you dreaming of?" said Colonel Faversham, with one of his boisterous laughs. "Picture my rowing in these clothes: a frock coat!"
"Oh well," she returned, "I scarcely imagined you would row yourself."
"Not row myself!" he exclaimed. "Why shouldn't I, in the name of goodness? Let me tell you I can pull a good oar still. If only I had had my flannels! You seem to think I'm fit for nothing."
Colonel Faversham astonished Carrissima by rising from his chair and taking off his coat. Removing the links from his shirt-cuff, he solemnly turned back the sleeve, then clenching his fist, slowly raised his forearm, looking the while so red in the face that she grew quite alarmed.
"Feel that!" he said.
"I will take your word for it——"
"Kindly do as I ask you," he insisted, with his arm still bent. "I can't stand like this all day."
Carrissima accordingly felt his biceps with her thumb and forefinger.
"As hard as wood," she said.
"Ah!" he answered, with a smile of relief and satisfaction, as he turned down his shirtsleeve again; "I thought that would astonish you. Not row myself!"
He was obviously in the highest spirits, and indeed he was still under the influence of the intoxicating pleasures of the earlier part of the day. Not that this had passed without some drawbacks. The present which he had bought at Donaldson's had been the cause of considerable cogitation. He was hampered by the fear that Bridget might regard what he would like to bestow upon her as too significant, and in the end had selected a handsome and costly crocodile-hide dressing-bag. It would prove suitable for her honeymoon, and it was with not a little regret that he felt bound to order the initials "B. R." to be engraved on the gold stoppers of the bottles, instead of "B. F." The alteration could, however, no doubt be made in due season.
Not wishing to open Carrissima's eyes unnecessarily soon, Colonel Faversham gave instructions for the bag to be sent to Number 5, Golfney Place, before half-past ten on Wednesday morning, and he felt deeply disappointed when Bridget gently but firmly refused to accept it.
Incongruously enough, she was persuaded nevertheless to accompany him to Richmond, and the drive at close quarters in the taxi-cab, the tete-a-tete meal, the bottle of champagne which Bridget scarcely tasted, had, collectively and separately, inflamed Colonel Faversham to the sticking-point. When they reached Golfney Place at half-past five, another disappointment lay in store for him, inasmuch as she refused to allow him to enter the house—she felt too tired after the drive! He could come to-morrow, and, meantime, he might send for the dressing-bag.
She could be so tantalizing now and then, that it was easy to believe she was scoffing at him. During the day she had more than once dragged Mark's name into the conversation, and even Carrissima did not feel more curious respecting their precise relationship than her father.
Notwithstanding his anxiety concerning the critic on his hearth, and the more exacerbating one in Charteris Street, Colonel Faversham had reached the end of his tether. This delightful girl, with her charming ingenuousness, her high spirits, might actually become his wife in the course of a few months.
A few months! She might be prevailed upon to marry him within the next few weeks. What cause could there possibly be for delay? Surely he was entitled to please himself! Absurd to imagine that a man of his age must regulate his life to please a slip of a girl like Carrissima, or a solemn young puritan like Lawrence!
When Colonel Faversham arrived at Golfney Place on Thursday morning, Bridget was wearing a new frock; quite light, almost white, in fact, and setting off her slender figure to the most admirable advantage. How many new frocks he had seen her wearing, Colonel Faversham found it difficult to count. The crocodile-hide dressing-bag stood ominously on the table, and, by way of a greeting, she reminded him that he had been asked to send for it.
"Confound the bag!" he retorted. "If you won't keep the thing, pitch it in the dusthole. Bridget," he continued, standing close by her side, "I want you to accept all I have in the world and myself into the bargain. I am not going to blow my own trumpet. Thank goodness I was never that sort of man! I wish I were a boy just because you're a girl, but if you'll take me as I am, you'll make me the happiest man in the world, and I'll do my best to see you never regret it."
"I shan't pretend that you've taken me entirely by surprise," said Bridget.
"Surprise!" exclaimed Colonel Faversham. "No one could have shown much more plainly what he wanted. There's not much shilly-shally about me. For that matter, I made up my mind long ago——"
"Oh, but you really haven't known me very long," she suggested. "It can't be more than a month since Mark went to Paris."
"I wish," said the colonel, "he had gone to Hades!"
"I know you are horridly jealous," she continued, "because you always change the subject when I mention his name. I like Mark Driver immensely!"
"Anyhow, I want to hear you say you like me better," said Colonel Faversham.
She stood looking at him critically—and very tantalizingly—with her head slightly on one side; and while he devoured her with his eyes, Bridget slowly took a chair.
"But why should you try to make me say what isn't true?" she demanded.
"I hope it would be," urged Colonel Faversham.
"I am not at all certain," she said quietly. "It's a vastly important question. It requires time for consideration."
"How long, for goodness' sake?"
"I really couldn't possibly tell you offhand. I shouldn't care to bind myself."
"I am desperately impatient to bind you, though," answered Colonel Faversham. "I would see to it we had a good time. There's no wish of yours that shouldn't be gratified—in reason, you know."
"Haven't you discovered by this time how unreasonable I am?" she asked.
"Bridget, come now, be a good girl!" he murmured.
"That shows how little you know me," she returned, "because I'm not in the least good."
"Well, well, call yourself what you please! Only have a little love for me, and I don't care what the devil you are!" exclaimed Colonel Faversham, and at that moment he meant precisely what he said.
"I am not certain I have," she cried, with a laugh. "You see that whatever I may be I am candid. I don't think I have a particle of what I suppose you mean by 'love' for any living being. Perhaps there's something wanting in my constitution. I don't believe I shall ever be capable of 'loving' anybody as long as I live."
"Good gracious," was the answer, "don't tantalize me. Why do you keep me on tenterhooks? Say you will marry me, and we'll leave everything else."
"I can't say so this morning," she insisted. "I can say that I won't if you like."
"For heaven's sake, don't do that!" Colonel Faversham quite humbly entreated.
"Then please don't bother me for an answer," she said, and, with all her lightness, he realized that she had a will of her own. His only consolation was that, if her word could be accepted, she had not given her heart to Mark or any one else. Whether she was to be believed or not, however, his infatuation remained unaffected. He had reached a condition in which he longed for possession upon any terms whatsoever, but since it was obvious that she did not intend to pledge herself this morning, there was no help for it! He must be as little discontented as possible to leave the question open for the present.
"Well, then," he suggested, "if I manage to bottle up my feelings for a week or so, will you try to think favourably of me in the meantime?"
"Why, yes, of course I will," she answered. "But it must be distinctly understood. I am as free as the wind! I have not promised anything."
Beyond this she could not be prevailed upon to go, but before he left Golfney Place, she gratified him by consenting to keep the dressing-bag. She thanked him, indeed, very charmingly; so that, notwithstanding his rebuff, Colonel Faversham left the house disappointed, it is true, but even more her slave than ever.
It was one afternoon towards the end of April, and Carrissima congratulated herself that she had made up her mind to spend it indoors, although the trees in the parks were in fresh green leaf, and London was looking its brightest and best. There had been, however, a few showers at luncheon-time, and Colonel Faversham had set out through one afterwards "to his club."
Carrissima, of course, knew very well that he was bound for Golfney Place, and for her own part, she determined to stay at home until tea-time, with the consequence that she saw Mark about half-past four.
He entered the room looking as handsome, as alert and energetic as ever; a man, you felt certain, who would succeed in making his way in the world, as indeed he fully intended to do.
"When did you get back?" asked Carrissima, remembering that her welcome must not be too cordial.
"Late yesterday afternoon," he answered.
"Have you had a good time?"
"Oh, ripping!" he continued. "Old Wentworth knows his Paris, and we didn't waste many hours."
Six months ago it would not have been in the least surprising that he should pay her a visit directly he returned, but now she was wondering whether he had already seen Bridget Rosser.
"You're not staying in Charteris Street?" she asked.
"Not a bit of it. I'm at Duffield's Hotel again for the present. But I thought I ought to give Phoebe a look up last night. I went there after dinner. She tells me you have seen Bridget?" said Mark, leaning forward rather eagerly in his chair.
"Oh yes, it seemed quite the natural thing to do," answered Carrissima, unable to repress a sigh as she remembered the train of circumstances which had followed her visit to Golfney Place.
"That sounds as if you wish you hadn't done it!" he suggested.
"Have you seen her yet?" asked Carrissima, perceiving her opportunity.
"No," said Mark; "but I've listened to a good deal about her. Lawrence is great on the subject. By Jove! according to him she might be the complete adventuress. He insists she has been trying her hand on the colonel—not without success!"
"Does the suggestion strike you as being inconceivable?" demanded Carrissima.
"Oh well, you forget that I have been away for more than a month. I have no means of forming an opinion——"
"Your previous experiences!" said Carrissima; and Mark stared at the carpet.
His previous experiences of Bridget had, no doubt, proved entirely agreeable. During Carrissima's absence from London in the weeks after Christmas, when he had no occupation for his idle hands, he had certainly spent many enjoyable hours at Number 5, Golfney Place, and it had been necessary on more than one occasion to remind himself that discretion was the better part of valour.
If it had not been for Carrissima, the temptation to meet Bridget's apparently "coming-on disposition" half way would have become more acute, and without any idea of a closer relationship, he might perchance have gone farther over night than he would have thought desirable the next morning.
Without being a coxcomb, Mark Driver, during those evening interviews, had been inclined to think that this was precisely what Bridget desired; but then again, he reasoned himself into the opinion that she must be entirely innocent of any such idea, which was due, rather, to his own less well-ordered imagination. And, besides, there was Carrissima!
"Goodness knows," he answered at last. "I came here this afternoon to check Lawrence's opinion by your own."
Now it was Carrissima's turn to hesitate. She wished to play the game and not for the world would she attempt to belittle Bridget if Mark desired to exalt her. On the other hand any reluctance to express a candid opinion might appear suspicious in his eyes!
"Oh well," she said, "there are certain facts which can't be disputed. You must draw your own conclusions. Bridget lets father take her to the play; to all sorts of places; she receives him every day in the week, and he buys her presents. On the few occasions when I have seen them together," Carrissima added, "he has made himself—well, I, if it were not for my filial respect, I should say ridiculous."
"Of course," answered Mark, "it's easy enough to believe that the colonel admires her. Any man must! All I can say is that if Lawrence has any justification I am immensely sorry."
For what? Carrissima wondered. Was he sorry for her sake, or for his own? Because Colonel Faversham was by way of winning Bridget, or because he himself had consequently lost her?
"So am I," murmured Carrissima.
"I can't help seeing," Mark continued, "that I am responsible in a way. If I hadn't mentioned her name at Phoebe's that evening I was late for dinner you would never have gone to Golfney Place, and Bridget would never have crossed Colonel Faversham's path."
"How devoutly I wish she hadn't," said Carrissima. "But what can anybody do? It is a day after the fair. She has the game in her hands if she cares to play it. The astonishing thing is that she has waited so long."
"I wonder," exclaimed Mark, "whether I should find her at home."
"If so she is scarcely likely to be alone. The only way to make certain of catching her without father is to go soon after breakfast or after dinner."
"I will go this evening," said Mark.
"What for?" asked Carrissima.
"You see," he answered, "I'm a bad hand at sitting still with my hands in my pockets. I suppose surgery makes one think something can always be attempted."
"Still," suggested Carrissima, with a smile, "you can scarcely dream of going to Golfney Place and asking Bridget's intentions!"
"The Lord knows!" said Mark. "I shall see how the cat jumps. Anyhow, I am bound to have a look in."
"I shall feel curious to hear how you get along," answered Carrissima. "And now suppose we banish the topic. Can't we talk about something more agreeable? I am afraid I have been making my poor father a little uncomfortable at home. Mark, I am developing into a little beast."
On the contrary, he thought she had never looked more charming. It is probable that their recent separation caused him to regard Carrissima more favourably than when he used to meet her, as a matter of course, once or twice every week. He had not seen her face for longer than a month, then only once after two or three months' separation. She came upon him now as a kind of revelation, the more because of her obvious anxiety on account of Colonel Faversham. For years he had ever found her bright and equable; the best of good comrades, but this afternoon their intercourse seemed for the first time to be touched by emotion.
"Tell me about your plans for the future—if you have made any," Carrissima urged.
"Oh, I'm always making plans," he returned, and began to explain his intention to lookout for rooms in the neighbourhood of Harley Street—that medical bazaar.
While still at Saint Josephine's Hospital he had made the acquaintance of Mr. Randolph Messeter, a man considerably older than himself; an eminent surgeon, who had more than once invited Mark to dinner. Randolph Messeter frequently came to Saint Josephine's to operate, and on such occasions Mark always administered the anaesthetic. Messeter had more than hinted that he might be able to put some work in Mark's way, and the intention was that he should specialize as an anaesthetist, at the same time waiting for ordinary patients. Carrissima listened with the deepest interest, knowing, however, that his resources would be taxed to the utmost for some time to come. That he would make his way before very long she did not doubt for an instant, but how convenient he would in the meantime find her own income of eight hundred pounds a year!
How willingly, too, would she place it at his service! When he rose to go away she wished that it were possible to keep him out of Bridget's reach, because she could not fail to recollect Lawrence's plainly expressed opinion.
Could it be possible, she wondered, after Mark had left the house, that Bridget had two strings to her bow? Was she holding Colonel Faversham on and off until Mark's return to London? Did she intend to make a last bid for the younger man, and if he eluded her to fall back on the older one?
For this supposition, however, there was only Lawrence's word, and for her own part Carrissima would have been sorry if the world were quite the rabbit warren which, in spite of his own remarkable domestic felicity, her brother appeared to think it.
Mark Driver, having dined at Duffield's Hotel, set out, with a cigar between his lips, to Golfney Place. In the Strand he hailed a taxi-cab, and his arrival obviously took Bridget completely by surprise. She had always an alluring, seductive way with her, and now, unaware of his return from Paris, she rose almost impulsively from her chair, and came to meet him with such an air of abandon that he thought for the moment she intended to fling herself incontinently into his arms.