"The Angel of the Revolution," "The Rose of Judah," "The Destined Maid," "The Justice of Revenge," "Brothers of the Chain," "Captain Ishmael," etc., etc.
London F. V. WHITE & CO., LTD. 14, Bedford Street, Strand, W.C. 1902
PRINTED BY KELLY'S DIRECTORIES LIMITED, LONDON AND KINGSTON.
CHAPTER I. 4
CHAPTER II. 22
CHAPTER III. 31
CHAPTER IV. 48
CHAPTER V. 67
CHAPTER VI. 86
CHAPTER VII. 96
CHAPTER VIII. 106
CHAPTER IX. 115
CHAPTER X. 125
CHAPTER XI. 134
CHAPTER XII. 144
CHAPTER XIII. 156
CHAPTER XIV. 167
CHAPTER XV. 177
CHAPTER XVI. 188
CHAPTER XVII. 202
CHAPTER XVIII. 214
CHAPTER XIX. 222
CHAPTER XX. 230
CHAPTER XXI. 238
CHAPTER XXII. 249
CHAPTER XXIII. 260
CHAPTER XXIV. 276
CHAPTER XXV. 289
"Well, you needn't be angry, Vane. I kissed you this morning, you know."
"That's no reason why you should kiss that chap, too! You're my sweetheart."
"Is she? Well, she won't be much longer, because I'm going to have her."
"Are you? Shut up, or I'll punch your head."
"You can't—and, anyhow, you daren't."
It was a good swinging blow with the open hand across the cheek, and it left a vivid flush behind it on the somewhat sallow skin.
"Oh, if you're going to fight I shall go away, and I shan't be friends with either of you."
But as the two lads closed, the blue-eyed, golden-haired little beauty only shrank back a little nearer to the after-wheelhouse of the homeward bound P. and O. liner whose deck was the scene of this first act of the tragedy of three lives. A bright flush came into her cheeks, and a new light began to dance in her eyes as the first look of fright died out of them. The breath came and went more quickly between the half-opened lips with a low sibilant sound. They were pretty, well-cut lips, the upper short and exquisitely curved, and the lower full with the promise of a sensuous maturity.
She was only seven, but she was woman enough already to know that these two lads were fighting for her—for the favour of her smiles and the right to her kisses—and so she stayed.
She had heard in India how the tigers fought for their mates, and, with the precocity of the Anglo-Indian child, she recognised now the likeness between tigers and men—and boys. She was being fought for. These two lads, albeit they had neither of them seen their eleventh birthday, were using all their strength against each other, hammering each other's faces with their fists, wrestling and writhing, now upstanding and now on the deck at her feet, were not unlike the tigers she had heard her father tell her mother about.
She saw the hatred in their eyes, red and swollen by the impact of well-planted blows. She watched the gleam of their teeth between their cut and bleeding lips. They hated each other because they loved her—or, in their boyish way, most firmly believed they did. Their lips were cut and bleeding because she had kissed them.
The fascination of the fight grew upon her. The hot young blood began to dance in her veins. She found herself encouraging now one and then the other—always the one who was getting the worst of it for the time being—and when at last the younger and slighter but more wiry and active of them, the one who had caught the other kissing her, took adroit advantage of a roll of the ship and pitched his antagonist backwards so heavily against the wheelhouse that he dropped half-stunned to the deck, she looked proudly at the panting, bleeding victor, and gasped:
"Oh, Vane, I'm so glad you've won. You haven't quite killed him, have you? I suppose the captain would hang you if you did. I'm so sorry it was all about me. I'll never let any one else but you kiss me again. Really I won't. You may kiss me now if you like. Take my handkerchief. Oh, I don't mind the cuts. You did it for me. There! It was brave of you, for he's bigger than you. Poor Reggie, let's help him up. I suppose you'll both have to go to the doctor."
"We shall both get a jolly good licking more likely. Still, I don't care as long as you won't let him kiss you again."
"No, Vane, indeed I won't, nor anyone else for ever and ever if you'll only forgive me this time."
And then, for the first time since the fight began, her big bright blue eyes filled and grew dim with tears.
It was the evening of Boat-race day, and as usual that province of Vanity Fair whose centre is Piccadilly Circus was more or less completely given over to joyously boisterous troops of undergraduates and 'Varsity men of all academic ranks whom the great event of the year had brought together from all parts of the kingdom, and even from lands beyond the sea.
The mild saturnalia which London annually permits in honour of the historic struggle between the rival blues was at its height. The music halls were crowded to their utmost capacity, and lusty-voiced undergraduates joined enthusiastically, if not altogether tunefully, in the choruses of the songs; but the enthusiasm was perhaps highest and the crowd the greatest at the Palace, where start and race and the magnificent finish with which the struggle had ended were being shown by the American Biograph.
As the series of pictures followed each other on the screen, the cries which a few hours before had been roaring along the two banks of the river from Putney to Mortlake burst out anew from pit and gallery, circles and stalls and boxes. Cambridge had won for once after a long series of defeats, but the Oxford boys and men were cheering just as lustily and yelling themselves just as hoarse as the others, for they were all Englishmen and therefore good sportsmen.
The crush in the First Circle was terrific, but for the moment Vane Maxwell was conscious neither of the heat nor the crowding. His whole soul was in his eyes as he watched the weirdly silent and yet life-like phantoms flitting across the screen. It was only when the finish had faded into swift darkness and the thunders of applause had begun to die down that he became aware of the fact that someone was standing on one of his feet, and that just behind him someone else had got hold of his arm and was holding it with a convulsive sort of clutch.
Just then there was a lull in the applause, and he caught a faintly murmured "Oh, dear" in a feminine voice. He wrenched his foot free, and turned round just in time to slip his arm round the waist of a fainting girl and save her from falling.
The crush was loosening now, for the great attraction of the evening had passed, and a general move was being made towards the bars.
"If you please there, this young lady's fainting. Give her as much room as you can, please," he said loudly enough to be heard for some little distance round.
A number of undergraduates of both Universities managed to immediately clear a space about them, and one of his own college chums at Balliol who had come in with him said, "Take her to the bar, Maxwell, and give her a drop of brandy. Now, move up there, you fellows. Room for beauty in distress—come along!"
A couple of the stalwart attendants had also arrived on the scene by this time, and so a lane was easily made to the nearest bar. The girl opened her eyes again, looked about her for a moment, and then murmured:
"Oh, thank you so much, I think I can walk. I am getting all right now. It was the crowd and the heat. Please don't trouble. It's very good of you."
"It's no trouble at all," said Maxwell. "Come and let me give you a drop of brandy. That'll put you all right."
As they went into the bar they were followed by not a few curious glances. Men and lads looked at each other and smiled, and women looked at them and each other, also smiling, but with plainer meaning, and one or two expressed themselves openly as to the neatness with which the whole affair had been managed.
Crowded as the bar was, Maxwell had no difficulty in getting a couple of brandies and a split soda for himself and his companion. Two men sitting at one of the tables had got up to let her sit down. One of them held out his hand to Maxwell and said:
"Why, Vane, old man, is it you? In luck, as usual, I see." He said this with a glance towards the girl which brought the blood to Maxwell's cheeks. Still, he took the other's hand, and said good-humouredly:
"Good evening, Garthorne. Up for the race, I suppose? Fine fight, wasn't it? I'm glad you won, it was getting a bit monotonous. Thanks for letting us have the table. This young lady is not very well, felt a bit faint in the crowd."
"I see," said Garthorne, with another look at her which Maxwell did not altogether like. "Well, good night, old man. Be as good as you can."
As the two moved away Maxwell's memory went back to a scene which had occurred behind the wheelhouse of a P. and O. liner about ten years before, and, without exactly knowing why, he felt as if it would give him a certain amount of satisfaction to repeat it. Then he turned to the girl and said:
"I beg your pardon; I hope you haven't been waiting. You should have taken a drink at once."
"Oh, thanks, that's all right. I'm a lot better now," she said, taking up the tumbler and smiling over it at him. "Well, here's luck! It was awfully good of you to get me out of that crowd. I believe I should have fallen down if it hadn't been for you."
"Oh, please don't mention that," he said; "only too happy—I mean I was very glad I was there to do it. Here's to your complete recovery."
As he drank their eyes met over the glasses. Until now he had not really looked at her; things had been happening rather too rapidly for that. But now, as he put his glass down and began to scrutinize the half-saucy, half-demure, and altogether charming face on the other side of the table, it suddenly dawned upon him that it was exceedingly like his own.
The nut-brown hair was almost the same shade as his, but it had a gleam of gold in it which his lacked. The dark hazel eyes were bigger and softer, and were shaded by longer and darker lashes than his, but their colour and expression were very similar. The rest of the face, too, was very similar, only while his nose was almost perfectly straight, nearly pure Greek in fact, hers was just the merest trifle retrousse.
The mouths and chins were almost identical save for the fact that firmness and strength in his were replaced by softness and sweetness in hers. Not that hers were lacking in firmness, for a skilled physiognomist would have put her down at the first glance as a young lady of very decided character; but the outlines were softer, the lips were more delicate and more mobile, and, young as he was, there was a gravity in his smile which was replaced in hers by a suspicion of defiant recklessness which was not without its mournful meaning for those who had eyes to see.
"That's done me a lot of good," she said, as she finished her brandy and soda. "Now, I mustn't keep you from your friends any longer. I'm very much obliged to you indeed. Good night!"
He rose as she did, and took the neatly-gloved little hand that she held out to him over the table.
"I don't see why we should say good night just yet unless you particularly wish it," he said. "I only came here with a lot of our fellows to see the Biograph, and I shan't stop now that's over. I'm getting jolly hungry, too. If you have no other engagement suppose we were to go and have a bit of supper somewhere?"
For some reason or other which she was quite unable to define, these words, although they were spoken with perfect politeness, and although she had heard them scores of times before without offence, now almost offended her. And yet there was no real reason why they should.
She had been out to supper with pretty nearly all sorts and conditions of men. Why should she not go with this well-groomed, athletic-looking young fellow who had already done her a considerable service, who was obviously a gentleman, and whose face and expression had now begun to strike her as so curiously like her own?
She really had no other engagement for the evening, and to refuse would be, to say the least of it, ungracious; so, after a moment's hesitation, she took her hand away and said with a quick upward glance of her eyes:
"Very well, I was just beginning to think about supper myself when I turned up out there in that absurd way, so we may as well have it together. Where were you thinking of going? Suppose we were to try the grill-room at the Troc. Of course everywhere will be pretty crowded to-night, but we have as good a chance of getting a table there as anywhere else. Besides, I know one or two of the waiters. I often go there to lunch."
"Very well," he said; "come along." And in a few minutes more they were rolling along in a hansom down Shaftesbury Avenue.
Vane Maxwell was in very good humour that night with himself and all the world. He had taken a double first in Mods., in History and Classics, after crowning a brilliant career at Eton with a Balliol Scholarship. He was stroke of his college boat, and had worked her four places up the river. In another year he might be in the 'Varsity Eight itself, and help to avenge the defeat which the Dark Blues had just suffered. The sweetheart he had won in that Homeric little battle behind the wheelhouse had been faithful to him ever since. He had an abundance of pocket money and the prospect of a fair fortune, and altogether the world appeared to be a very pleasant place indeed to live in.
When they got into the cab the girl half expected that he would slip his arm round her as others were wont to do when they had the chance, but he didn't, and she liked him all the better for it. He did, however, put his hand through her arm and draw her just a little closer to him. Then he leant back in the cab, and, as the light from a big gin palace lamp flashed on to her face, he said:
"Well, this is jolly. I'm so glad you came. I feel just in the humour for a good supper in pleasant society."
"Thank you," she said, with a little toss of her head; "but how do you know my society is going to be pleasant?"
"Oh, it couldn't be anything else," he laughed. "You are far too pretty not to be nice."
"Thanks," she said gravely. "Are all the pretty girls you know nice? Don't you find some of them horribly conceited and dull? Lots of fellows I know say so."
"Lots of fellows!" he echoed. "Then you have a pretty extensive acquaintance——"
"Why, of course I have," she interrupted, cutting him short almost roughly. Then she went on with a swift change of tone, "Don't you see that a—a girl like me has got to know plenty of fellows? It's—well, it's business, and that's the brutal truth of it."
She turned her head away and looked out of the cab window as though she didn't want him to see the expression that came over her face as she said the last few words.
But though he did not see the change in her face, the change in her voice struck him like a jarring note in a harmony that he was beginning to find very pleasant. He felt a sort of momentary resentment. He knew, of course, that it was the "brutal truth," but just then he disliked being reminded of it—especially by her. She seemed a great deal too nice for that to be true of her. There was a little pause, rather an awkward one, during which he tried to think of the proper thing to say. Of course he didn't succeed, so he just blurted out:
"Oh, never mind about brutal truths just now, little girl."
There was another pause, during which she still kept her head turned away. Then he went on with a happy inconsequence:
"By the way, has it struck you yet that we're rather like each other?"
"Is that a compliment to me or to yourself?" she said, half gravely, and yet with a belying gleam of mischief in her eyes.
"Oh, a likeness like that could only be a compliment to me, of course," he replied, and before the conversation could proceed any farther the cab stopped at the entrance to the Trocadero.
By great good luck they procured one of the little side tables in the inner room just as another couple were leaving it. One of the waiters had recognised her as she came in, and, with the astute alacrity of his kind, had taken possession of them and pre-empted the table before anyone else could get near it. There were, in fact, others waiting who had a prior right, but the gentleman in the plum coat and gold buttons made it impossible for the superintendent of the room to interfere by saying to Maxwell in his blandest tone:
"Good evening, sir; it's all right, sir. This is the table you engaged."
"He's a smart youth, that Fritz," said the girl as they sat down. "These fellows here know which side their bread's buttered on, and they look after their own customers."
"Yes, he seems to know his business," said Maxwell, "and now I suppose the question is, what are we going to have?"
Fritz had come back, and was swiftly and rapidly removing the debris left behind by their predecessors. The girl looked up at him with an air of familiarity which Maxwell didn't altogether like, and said:
"What's good for supper, Fritz? I am hungry."
"A few oysters, miss, grilled sole, and a nice little porterhouse steak between two. How's that, miss?"
She looked across at Maxwell and nodded, and he said, "Yes, I think that will do very nicely. Let's have the oysters at once, and some brown bread and butter."
"Yes, sir, certainly. Any wine, sir?"
The list was presented, opened, of course, at the champagne page.
"You'll have something fizzy, won't you?" he said, looking up from the list.
"I suppose we may as well," she said, "only I don't want you to think me too extravagant."
"Nonsense," he laughed, and then he told the waiter to bring a bottle of Kock Fils '89.
When the man had gone on his errand Maxwell said somewhat diffidently:
"By the way, we seem to be getting to know each other pretty well, but we've not exactly been introduced. I mean we don't know each other's names yet."
"Oh, introductions are not much in fashion in the world that I live in," she said with a little flush. "Of course you don't need telling which half of the world that is."
For the moment he felt an unreasonable resentment, either at the words or the half defiant way in which she spoke them. He was quite old enough both in years and the ways of the world to know exactly what she meant, and he was perfectly well aware that she would not have accepted his invitation to supper any more than she would have been in the promenade of a music hall unescorted if she had been what is conventionally termed respectable. Yet somehow he wanted to forget the fact and treat her with the respect he would have paid to any ordinary acquaintance in his own social sphere.
This feeling was probably due both to an innate chivalry and to the fact that one of his father's favourite precepts was, "My boy, whatever company you're in, never forget that you're a gentleman." Mingled with it there may also have been a dash of masculine vanity. The more he looked at the girl the more striking did her likeness to himself appear. Really, if he had had a sister she could not have been more like him, but he knew that he was an only child, and, besides, that thought was altogether unthinkable.
After a little pause, during which their eyes met and their cheeks flushed in a somewhat boy-and-girlish fashion, he laughed a trifle awkwardly and said:
"Well, then, we shall have to introduce ourselves, I suppose. My name is Maxwell—Vane Maxwell."
"Vane!" she echoed, "how funny! My name is Vane too—Carol Vane. It's not a sham one either, such as a lot of girls like me take. It's my own—at least, I have always been called Carol, and Vane was my mother's name."
"I see," said Maxwell, after another little pause, during which the oysters came and the waiter opened the wine. When he had filled the two glasses and vanished, Maxwell lifted his and said:
"Well, Miss Carol, it is rather curious that we should both have the same names, and also, if I may say so without flattering myself too much, be so much like each other. At any rate I shall venture to hope that your little accident at the Palace has enabled me to make a very charming acquaintance."
"That's very prettily put, Mr. Vane Maxwell," she said, nodding and smiling at him over her glass. "And now that we've been introduced in a sort of way, as we haven't got any more interesting subject to talk about, suppose we talk about ourselves. Which are you, Oxford or Cambridge?"
The conversation thus started rattled merrily along for over an hour. Without thinking any disloyalty to his own Enid, who was now a fair and stately maiden of eighteen, he found it quite impossible to resist the strange charm of Miss Carol's manner. She was obviously a lady by instinct, and she had also been educated after a sort. She had read widely if not altogether wisely, and she seemed just as familiar with the literature, or, at any rate, with the fiction of France and Italy as she was with that of England.
This she explained was due to the fact that until she was about twelve, that is to say some seven years ago, she had been constantly living and wandering about in these two countries with her mother and sometimes also with a gentleman who, as she put it, was pretty probably her father. She explained further that at the mature age of thirteen she had run away from a French school in which she had been placed by some unknown agency and joined a wandering English circus-troop with which she had travelled half over Europe, leading a more or less miserable existence for some five years. She had then terminated her connection with the Ring by going into housekeeping with an English art-student in Paris. Meanwhile she had lost all trace of her mother, and had come to the conclusion that she had by this time drunk herself to death.
"I scarcely ever knew her to be quite sober," she said pathetically, and then she changed the subject.
It was not a very cheerful story, as story, but Miss Carol told it with such a quaint humour and such a vivacity of expression and gesture that, despite the under-note of tragedy, Maxwell thought it the most interesting story he had ever heard in his life.
As the courses disappeared and the empty bottle of wine was succeeded by a half bottle "just for the last," as Maxwell said, the conversation grew gayer and perhaps also a trifle freer, although Miss Carol never permitted herself any of those freedoms of expression with which too many of the so-called Daughters of Delight vulgarise themselves so hopelessly. When the half bottle was finished Maxwell wanted another, and to this Miss Carol promptly and firmly objected.
"If you will excuse me saying so to a new acquaintance," she said, "I wouldn't if I were you. We have both of us had enough of this stuff, nice and all as it is—at least, I have, and I think I'm more used to it than you. A coffee and liqueur if you like. That won't hurt us—in fact, it'll do us good; but I can see something in your eyes that shouldn't be there."
"What do you mean?" said Maxwell, a trifle offended. "Surely you're not going to accuse me of the unpardonable crime of getting drunk in the company of a lady."
"Thank you!" she said simply, and yet with a decided dignity. "No, I don't mean that. It's a funny thing, you know," she went on, leaning her elbows on the table and staring straight into his eyes, "but there's a queer kind of light coming into your eyes, a sort of dancing, jumping yellow flame that makes them look almost red. Well, your eyes are almost exactly like mine, and mine are like my mother's, and whenever she'd got so far on with drink that she couldn't stop I used to see that light in her eyes. Of course I don't say that it means anything; still, there it is. I used to call it the danger signal, and keep away from her as much as I could till it was over, and I had to nurse her back to something like life."
"That's rather approaching the creepy," said Maxwell, with an almost imperceptible shrug of his shoulders. He had no feeling of offence now. She looked so pretty and she spoke so earnestly that it was impossible to be offended with her. Moreover, although he was far from even getting drunk, he felt a dreamy sensation stealing over him which seemed to be sapping his self-restraint and making him utterly careless of what he did or what happened to him so long as it was only pleasant.
"Really, it is decidedly curious," he went on. "I hope I haven't got the makings of a dipsomaniac in me. But I feel quite curiously happy, and I believe I could just go on drinking and getting happier and happier until I landed in Paradise with you standing just inside the gates to welcome me."
"Don't!" she said almost sharply. "For goodness sake don't begin to talk like that. That's just how my mother used to feel, just how she used to talk, and she did go on—of course, there was no one to stop her. You should have seen her a couple of days after—a savage, an animal, a wild beast, only wild beasts don't get drunk. It's not a nice thing to say of your mother, even such a mother as mine was, but it's true, and I'm telling you because I like you, and it may do you some good."
"Thank you, Miss Carol! After that I shall certainly take your advice," he said, pouring his cognac into his coffee. "This is the last drink to-night, and that reminds me; it's getting rather late. How about going home?"
"I think it's about time," she said. "They close at twelve to-night, you know. Which way do you go?"
"Which way do you go?" he said, as he beckoned to the waiter for the bill. "By the way, I was going to ask you—I hope you have never seen that light, that danger signal, in your own eyes?"
She ignored his first question in toto, and replied:
"Yes, I saw it once when I got home after a pretty wild supper. It frightened me so that I went 'T.T.' for nearly a month, and just now I wouldn't drink another glass of that champagne if you gave me a thousand pounds to drink it."
"Well, I'm sure I shan't ask you after what you've said," he laughed, as he threw a couple of shillings on the plate which the waiter presented, and took up his bill. Then he got up and helped her on with her cloak, and as she shook her shapely shoulders into it he went on:
"But you haven't answered my question yet."
"Which question?" she said, turning sharply round.
"Which way do you go—or do you intend to stop out a bit later?" he replied rather haltingly. "I thought perhaps I might have the pleasure——"
"Of seeing me home?" she said, raising her eyes to his and flushing hotly. "I'm afraid that's impossible. But go and get your coat and hat, and let's go outside. It's horribly close in here."
He paid his bill at the pay-box near the door, and when they got out into the street he took her by the arm and said, as they turned down towards the Circus:
"And may I ask why it is impossible, Miss Carol. I thought just now you said that you liked me a bit."
"So I do," she replied, with a little thrill in her voice; "and that's just why, or partly why—and besides, we're too much alike. Why, we might be brother and sister——"
"That is quite out of the question," he interrupted quickly; "I never had a sister. I am an only child, and my mother died soon after I was born. She died in India nearly twenty years ago."
"I can't help it," she said, almost passionately. "Of course we can't possibly be any relation, the idea's absurd; but still, it's no use—I couldn't, I daren't. Besides, have you forgotten what you were telling me about your fight on the steamer with that man we met at the Palace? Aren't you in love with the girl still? I quite understood you were engaged to her."
"Yes," said Maxwell frankly, "I am, and perhaps I ought to be ashamed of myself. That is two lessons you've taught me to-night, Miss Carol, and I shan't forget either them or you. Still, I don't see why we shouldn't be friends. Honestly, I like you very much, and you've said you like me—why shouldn't we?"
"Yes, that's true; I like you all right," she replied with almost embarrassing frankness; "but for all that it's something very different from love at first sight. It's funny, but do you know, Vane—I suppose if we're going to be friends I may call you Vane—although I think I could get to like you very much in one way, however different things were, I don't believe I could ever fall in love with you. But if you only mean friends, just real pals, as we say in my half of the world, I am there, always supposing that the friendship of such an entirely improper young person as I am doesn't do you any harm."
"Harm, nonsense!" he said. "Why should it? Well, that's a bargain, and now perhaps you won't object to tell me where you live."
"Oh, no, not now," she said. "I live at 15, Melville Gardens, Brook Green, with a very nice girl that you may also be friends with if you're good."
"Brook Green! Why, that's off the Hammersmith Road. We, that is to say dad and myself, live in Warwick Gardens, a bit this side of Addison Bridge, so if you really mean to go home we may as well get a hansom, and you can drop me at Warwick Gardens and go on."
"Of course I mean to go home, and I think that would be a very good arrangement."
They had crossed over to the pavement in front of the Criterion as she said this. It was on the tip of Maxwell's tongue to ask her to come in and have another drink. He certainly felt a greater craving for alcohol than he had ever done in his life before, and if he had been alone he might have yielded to it; but he was ashamed to do so after what he had just said to her, so he hailed an empty cab that was just coming up to the kerb. As he was handing his companion in, the door of the buffet swung open, and Reginald Garthorne came out with two other Cambridge men. They were all a trifle fresh, and as Garthorne recognised him he called out:
"By-by, Maxwell. Don't forget to say your prayers."
Maxwell turned round angrily with his foot on the step. If he had had that other drink that he wanted there would have been a row, but, as it was, a word and a gesture from Miss Carol brought him into the cab. There was an angry flush on her cheeks and a wicked light in her eyes, but she said very quietly, "Do you know, I am glad you thrashed that fellow once. He ought to be ashamed of himself shouting a thing like that out here. I suppose he thinks himself a gentleman, too."
"Oh, that's all right," said Vane. "Garthorne's a bit screwed, that's all. Everyone is to-night. But he's not at all a bad fellow. His father was a soldier in India, and did some very good service. He has a staff appointment at home. He's a baronet too—one of the old ones. His mother comes of a good stock as well. We've been very good chums since that first row. Fellows who fight as boys generally are."
"Oh, I daresay he's all right, but I didn't like it," said Miss Carol, leaning back in the cab. "And now suppose you tell me something more about yourself."
When the cab pulled up at the corner of Warwick Gardens and he said good-night, he asked her for a kiss. She blushed like a fourteen-year-old school girl as she replied:
"That's a great compliment, Vane, for I know how you mean it. But if you don't mind I really think I'd rather not, at least not just yet. You see, after all we've only known each other two or three hours. Wait until you know me at least a little better before you ask again, and then perhaps we'll see."
"Well, I daresay you're right, Miss Modesty," he laughed, as he got out. "In fact, you always seem to be right. Good-night, Carol."
"Good-night, Vane." As he stepped backwards from the cab she leant forward and smiled and waved her hand. A gentleman walking quickly from the direction of the bridge looked up and saw her pretty laughing face as the light of a lamp fell upon it. He stopped almost as suddenly as though he had run up against some invisible obstacle, and passed his hand across his eyes. Then the cab doors closed, the face vanished back into the shadow of the interior, and, to his utter amazement, Maxwell heard his father's voice say:
"God bless my soul. What a marvellous likeness!"
"May I ask who that young lady in the cab with you was?"
Vane saw at once that he was in for it, and even if he had wished for any concealment, it was impossible under the circumstances. As a matter of fact, however, he had already made up his mind to tell his father the whole story of his little adventure, and so he said very gravely and deliberately:
"That, dad, is a young lady whose acquaintance I made to-night at the Palace. She nearly fainted in the crush just after the Biograph was over. She happened to be close behind me, and so of course she held on to me. I took her into one of the bars and gave her a brandy and soda. Then we noticed mutually how curiously like each other we were, and then—well, then I asked her to supper and she came. We have just driven here from the Trocadero. She has gone on to where she lives in Melville Gardens, Brook Green. I can tell you a lot more about her afterwards, if you like."
Sir Arthur Maxwell, Bart., K.C.B., K.C.S.I., looked keenly into his son's face while he was giving this rapid summary of his evening's adventure. There was and always had been the most absolute confidence between them. Ever since Vane had been old enough they had been companions and chums, rather than father and son, and so Sir Arthur had not the slightest doubt but that Vane was telling the absolute truth. He was only looking to see whether the telling of the truth embarrassed him or not, and he was well pleased to see that it did not.
"Quite an interesting experience, I must say," he said, a little gruffly. "Well, I'm glad to see, at any rate, that you didn't accompany the young lady home. I presume you were invited."
"On the contrary, dad," replied Vane, this time with a little hesitation in his tone, "to tell you the honest truth——"
"That was a needless opening, Vane. My son could not tell anything else. Go on."
"Well, the fact is, dad, it was the other way about. I suggested it, and she refused point blank. I'm afraid I'd had rather too much fizz on top of too many brandies and sodas before supper."
"That will do, Vane," said his father, a little stiffly. "At any rate, thank God you are not drunk or anything like it. But this is hardly the sort of thing to discuss in the street. We'll go into the Den and have a chat and a smoke before we go to bed. You know I'm not squeamish about these things. I know that a lad of twenty is made of flesh and blood just as a man of thirty or forty is, and although I consider what is called sowing wild oats foolish as well as a most ungentlemanly pastime, still, I equally don't believe in the innocence of ignorance, at least not for a man."
"You seem to forget, dad," replied Vane, answering him in something very like his own tone, "just as I'm sorry to say I forgot for a minute or two to-night that I am engaged to Enid."
"Quite right, boy," said his father as they went in at the gate. "I didn't forget it though, and I'm glad you remembered it."
"Only I ought to have said that it was the girl who reminded me of it," said Vane, as he put his latch-key into the door.
When they got into the Den, which was a sort of combination room, partly a library and partly study and smoking-room with a quaint suggestion of Oriental fantasy about it, Sir Arthur, according to his wont at that time of night, unlocked the spirit case, and mixed himself a whiskey and soda. As he did so, Vane found his eyes fixed on one of the bright cut-glass bottles which contained brandy. He would have given anything to be able to mix a brandy and soda for himself and drink it without believing, or at any rate fearing, that after all there might be something in Miss Carol's warning.
As Sir Arthur lit his cigar, he said in a rather forced tone:
"I suppose after what you've said it's no use asking you to have a nightcap, Vane?"
There was a little pause, during which Vane looked hard at the spirit-case. Then, with the gesture of one under strong emotion, he got up from his chair and said in a voice whose tone made his father look quickly towards him:
"I don't think I've ever knowingly disobeyed you in my life, dad, but if you were to order me to drink a drop of spirit to-night, I shouldn't do it."
"Why not, Vane?"
"Just look into my eyes, dad, and tell me if you see anything strange about them."
"What on earth do you mean, boy—there's nothing the matter with your eyes, is there?" said Sir Arthur, looking up with a visible start, "what has put that idea into your head?"
"I'll tell you afterwards, dad, meanwhile, just have a look," replied Vane, coming and standing under the light.
He felt his father's hands tremble as he laid them on his shoulder, and as he looked into his eyes a tinge of greyness seemed to steal underneath the sun-bronze of his skin. In the clear depths of the lad's hazel eyes he saw a faint, nickering, wavering light, which gave a yellow tinge to them.
A reflection from the flames of hell itself could not have had a more awful meaning for him than that faint little yellow glimmer, but Arthur Maxwell was a strong man, a man who had fought plague and famine, storm and flood, treachery and revolt in the service of his Queen, and after a moment or two he was able to say quite quietly:
"Well, what's the matter, Vane? They look, perhaps, a little brighter than usual; but I don't suppose that's anything more than the excitement of the evening."
"Don't you see something like a little yellow flame in them?"
"Well, yes, I do," said Sir Arthur, looking away, "a reflection from the gaslight, probably. But come, Vane, what is all this about? Sit down and tell me. And, by the way, I want to hear the story of this new acquaintance of yours. Take a cigar; that won't hurt you."
Vane took a cheroot and lit it and sat down in an easy chair opposite his father, his eyes still wandering as though of their own accord towards the spirit-case. Then he began somewhat inconsequentially:
"Dad, what do you think that girl's name is?"
"Naturally, I haven't the remotest notion," replied his father. "I only know that she is exceedingly good looking, and I must say that from the glimpse I had of her, she seems very like yourself."
"Is that what you meant, dad, when you said, 'Bless my soul what a likeness,' or something like that when the cab stopped?"
Sir Arthur did not reply at once. His eyes were gazing vacantly up at a wreath of blue smoke from his cigar, then he replied suddenly:
"Eh? Oh, well, probably. You see, my boy, I was just a bit startled at seeing you get out, and when I saw your two faces in the lamplight, I confess that I was decidedly struck by the likeness."
Vane did not find this reply entirely convincing, for he remembered that as he got out of the cab his back was towards his father, and that Carol's face was no longer visible when he turned round and faced him. Still, he was far too well bred to put his father through anything like a cross-examination, and so he went on.
"Well, as I told you, I met this young lady—for although she is what respectable Society in its mercy call 'an unfortunate'—I am certain she is a lady—at the Palace, and we went and had supper in the Grill Room at the Trocadero, and there, as we had no one to introduce us, we introduced ourselves."
"The usual thing under such circumstances, I believe," said Sir Arthur, taking a sip at his whiskey. "Well?"
"I told her that my name was Vane Maxwell, and she said, 'Now that's curious, my name's Vane, too.'"
"What is that—her name!" said Sir Arthur with a start that nearly made him drop his glass. "Vane is not a girl's name."
"No, that's her surname. Her whole name is Carol Vane. Pretty, isn't it? Vane, she says, was her mother's name, and a nice sort of person she seems to have been. Poor Carol herself must have had a terrible time of it. There was no possibility of doubting a word of her story, she told it all so simply and so naturally, and yet it was tragedy all through.
"Well, we'd had a large bottle of fizz and a small one between us, and I'm afraid I was getting a bit on, for I wanted another. I wasn't drunk, you know, or anything like it. It didn't seem as though I could get drunk; only more and more gorgeously happy, and when I told Miss Carol, she put her elbows on the table and stared into my eyes and told me that they were just like her mother's, and that there was a light coming into them which she always used to see in hers when she was starting on one of her drinking bouts.
"Then she told me point blank that I'd had enough and said that she wouldn't drink another glass of fizz for a thousand pounds. We wound up with a coffee and liqueur, and afterwards when we came out I felt an almost irresistible craving for a brandy and soda, but I also felt convinced that if I took one I should go on all night.
"Still, somehow, what Miss Carol had been saying, although it hadn't exactly frightened me, certainly stopped me going into the Criterion and having one; besides, she was with me still, and I knew if I asked her she'd say 'No,' and somehow I daren't leave her and go in by myself. So as she lives out Brook Green way, we got into a cab and drove home. And, would you believe it, she wouldn't even give me a kiss when we said good-night. She is a most extraordinary girl, I can quite imagine any fellow falling really and honestly in love with her."
While Vane was telling his story, his father had sat motionless, staring hard into the fireplace. He had apparently taken not the slightest interest in what he was saying. He had never once looked up, but as the story went on his face had grown greyer and greyer, and the lines in it harder and deeper, and every now and then the hand on which his cheek was leaning had trembled a little.
When Vane stopped speaking he looked up with a start, like a man waking out of an evil dream, and said in a husky, unsteady voice, which was quite strange to Vane:
"It is quite possible, my boy, that this girl, whatever else she may be, was really your guardian angel to-night. At your age, a craving for drink is a very terrible thing, and you must exert the whole strength of your nature to conquer it. You must fight against it and pray against it as you would against the worst of sins. You have a splendid career before you, but drink would ruin it and you. Still, we won't talk any more about this to-night. I am not feeling particularly well. I went round to dine with Raleigh, in Addison Gardens, to-night—by the way, Enid's coming back in a few days—and perhaps I caught a little chill walking home. I think I'd better turn in."
As he said this he took up the whiskey and soda and drained it, and Vane heard his teeth clink against the edge of the glass.
"And I think it's time I went, too," said Vane. "You certainly don't look very fit to-night, dad. Hope I haven't made you uncomfortable by what I've been saying. You needn't be afraid though. I don't think I shall forget the lesson I've had to-night."
"No, no, I don't think you will, Vane. Well, good-night. Put the spirits and cigars away, will you?"
"Good-night, dad! I hope you'll be all right in the morning."
As the door closed behind his father, Vane went to the table on which the open spirit-stand stood. His father had forgotten to replace the stopper in the whiskey decanter, and the aroma of the ripe old spirit rose to his nostrils. Instantly a subtle fire seemed to spread through his veins and mount up to his brain. The mad craving that he had felt outside the Criterion came back upon him with tenfold force. He raised the decanter to his nostrils and inhaled a long breath of the subtle, vaporous poison. He looked around the room with burning eyes.
He was alone. There was no guardian angel near him now. Moved by some impulse other than his own will, he took his father's glass and poured out half a tumblerful of whiskey, filled it with soda water from the syphon, and drank it down with quick feverish gulps. Then he set the glass on the table and went and looked at himself in an Indian mirror over the mantel-piece. The pupils of his eyes seemed twice their size, and in each a yellow flame was leaping and dancing.
His face seemed transfigured. It was rather that of a handsome satyr than of an English lad of twenty. The lips were curled in a scornful sneer, the nostrils were dilated and the eyebrows arched. He laughed at himself—a laugh that startled him, even then. He went back to the table and poured out more whiskey, smelt it and drank it down raw.
His blood was liquid flame by this time. He was no longer in the room. The walls and ceiling had vanished, and all round him vivid pictures were flitting, pictures of things that he had seen during the day, flickering and flashing like those of the Biograph; but Carol's face and soft brown eyes seemed somehow to be in the middle of all of them.
He dropped into a chair and felt about half blindly for the decanter. When he got hold of it he emptied it partly into the glass and partly over the table-cloth. He lifted the glass to his lips with both hands, drained it half chokingly, and then the pictures stopped moving and grew dim. A black pall of darkness seemed to come down and crush him to the earth. He lurched out of the chair on to the hearth-rug, rolled on to his back, and lay there motionless with arms outstretched.
An hour later the door opened and Sir Arthur came in in his dressing gown. A glance at the empty decanter and the prostrate figure on the hearth-rug, showed him the calamity that had fallen upon his house. He staggered forward and dropped on his knees beside Vane, crying in a weak, broken voice:
"My boy, my boy! Good God! what have I done? Why didn't I tell him at once?"
Vane was utterly insensible either to voice or touch. His father knelt over him and loosened his tie and collar, for his breath was coming hard and irregularly. Then he rose to his feet, looked down at him for a few moments, and went away to summon Koda Bux, his old Pathan bearer, to help him to take him up to bed. He knew that he could trust him not to gossip, and he would not for worlds have had it said about the house the next day that Master Vane had been carried to bed drunk.
Koda Bux was awake the moment his master touched his shoulder. He rose at once and followed him. When they reached the library Sir Arthur pointed without a word to where Vane lay. He looked at him and then at the decanters, and said, without moving a feature save his lips:
"Truly, Huzur, the young sahib is exceeding drunk, and he must sleep. To-morrow the fires of hell will be burning in his brain and in his blood. It is a thing that no others should know of. He shall sleep in his bed, and thy servant shall watch by him until he is well, and neither man nor woman shall come near him."
"That is my wish, Koda," said Sir Arthur. "Now I will help you to take him upstairs."
"There is no need that thou, O protector of the poor, shouldst trouble thyself. This is but one man's work."
With that he stooped down, got his arms under Vane's knees and shoulders, and lifted him up as easily as if he had been a lad of ten. Sir Arthur took up the candle which he had brought down with him, and went in front to his son's room.
Koda laid him on the bed, and at once went to work with the deft rapidity of a practised hand to remove his clothes. He saw that he could do no more good, so, after laying his hand for a moment on Vane's wet, cold brow, he turned away towards the door with a deep sigh, which was not lost on Koda.
"Trust him to me and sleep in peace, Huzur," he said. "I know how to fight the devil that is in him and throw him out. To-morrow Vane Sahib shall be as well as ever."
"Do your best for him, Koda. This is the first time, and I hope the last. Good-night."
"Good-night, friend of the friendless," replied the Pathan, standing up and stretching out his hands palms downwards. "Fear nothing. May your sleep be as the repose of Nirvana."
But there was neither rest nor sleep for Sir Arthur Maxwell that night. That vision of the girl's face looking out of the cab had been to him a vision half of heaven and half of hell. It was the face of the girl he had wooed and worked for and won nearly thirty years before—a girl whose hands for a brief space had opened the gates of Paradise to him. But it was also the face of a woman who had brought into his life something worse than the bitterness of death.
As he paced up and down his bedroom through the still, lonely hours of the night, he asked himself again and again what inscrutable fate had brought this girl, the fresh, bright, living image of the woman who was worse than dead, and his son Vane, the idol of his heart, and the hope of his life, together.
Why had this girl, this outcast bearing the name which he both loved and hated, been the first to see in his son's eyes that fatal sign which he knew so well, a sign which he had himself seen in eyes into which he had once looked as a lad of twenty-four with anxious adoration to read his fate in them. For years that flickering, wavering light had been to him like the reflected glare from the flames of hell, and now this girl had seen it as he had seen it, mocking and devilish in the eyes of his only son.
It would have been better—he saw that now—to have braced himself to the task of telling Vane the whole of the miserable, pitiful story at once, as soon, indeed, as Vane's own story had convinced him that he had not escaped the curse which some dead and gone ancestor of his mother's had transmitted to his unborn posterity.
But it was a hard thing for a father to tell his son of his mother's shame. As hard, surely, as it had been for Jephtha to keep his rash vow and drive the steel into his daughter's breast. He had hoped that the resolves which Vane had taken, enforced by a serious and friendly talk the next day, would have been enough to avert the danger.
He did not know, as he knew now, that the demon of inherited alcoholism laughs at such poor precautions as this. Measures infinitely more drastic would be needed, and they must be employed at no matter what cost either to himself or Vane.
And yet it was an awful thing to do. Year after year he had shrunk from it, hoping that it would never be necessary; but now the necessity had come at last. There could be no doubt of that. He had left his son sane and strong, with brave, wise words on his lips. An hour after he had gone back and found him a senseless thing, human only in shape. There could be no hesitation after that. It must be done.
Like many men of his kind, men whose lives have been passed in wrestling with the barbarisms, the ignorance and the superstitions of lower races, as well as with the blind forces of nature and the scourges of pestilence and famine in distant lands, Arthur Maxwell was a man of deep though mostly silent religious convictions, and if ever there was a time when such a man could find strength and guidance in prayer surely this was such a time, and yet he had walked up and down his room, which since he had entered it had been his Gethsemane, for hours before he knelt down by his bedside and lifted up his heart, if not his voice, in prayer.
He rose from his knees with clearer sight and greater strength to see and face the terrible task which lay before him. It was quite plain to him now that the task must be faced and carried through, and he was more strongly determined than ever that before the next day was over Vane should know everything that he could tell him. Still, there was no rest for him yet, and for hours longer he walked up and down the room thinking of the past and the future; but most of the past.
About seven sheer physical fatigue compelled him to lie down on his bed, and in a few minutes he fell off into an uneasy sleep. Just about this time Vane woke—his mouth parched, his brain burning and throbbing, and every nerve in his body tingling. As soon as he opened his eyes he saw Koda Bux standing by his bedside.
"What on earth's the matter, Koda?" he said in a voice that was half a groan. "Great Scott, what a head I've got! Ah, I remember now. It was that infernal whiskey. What the devil made me drink it?"
"You are right, Vane Sahib," said Koda sententiously; "it was the whiskey, which surely is distilled from fruits that grow only on the shores of the Sea of Sorrow. Now your head is wracked with the torments of hell, and your mouth is like a cave in the desert; but you shall be cured and sleep, and when you wake you shall be as though you had never tasted the drink that is both fire and water."
He went away to the dressing-table, shook some pink powder out of a little bottle into a glass, and came back to the bedside with the glass in one hand and the water-bottle in the other. Then he poured the water on to the powder and said:
"Drink, sahib, and sleep! When you wake you will be well."
The water seemed to turn into something like pink champagne as the powder dissolved. Vane seized the glass eagerly, and took a long, delicious drink. He had scarcely time to hand the glass back to Koda and thank him before his burning brain grew cool, his nerves ceased to thrill, a delightful languor stole over him, and he sank back on the pillow and was asleep in a moment. The Pathan looked at him half sternly and half sorrowfully for a few moments, then he laid his brown hand upon his brow. It was already moist and cool.
He turned away, and set to work to put the room in order and get out Vane's clothes and clean linen for the day. Then he went downstairs and brewed Sir Arthur's morning coffee as usual. This was always the first of his daily tasks. When he took it up he found Sir Arthur still fully dressed, lying on the bed, moving uneasily in his sleep.
"The follies of the young are the sorrows of the old!" he murmured. "He has not slept all night; still, this is a sleep which rests not nor refreshes. His coffee will do him more good, and then he can bathe and rest."
He laid his hand lightly on Sir Arthur's shoulder. He woke at once and drank his coffee. Then he asked how Vane was, and when he knew that he was sleeping again, and would not wake for some hours, he got up, undressed, and had a bath and dressed again.
Then, after a not very successful attempt at breakfast, he went out and turned into the Hammersmith Road in the direction of Brook Green. He remembered the address that Miss Carol had given Vane just as he remembered every other word of the conversation. He had determined to call upon her, and to make as sure as possible that his dreadful suspicions were correct before he told Vane the truth.
He found No. 15, Melville Gardens, one of a row of neat little detached houses; not much more than cottages, but cosy and comfortable-looking, each with a tiny little plot of ground in front and behind, and with a row of trees down each side of the road which seemed to stand in apologetic justification of the title of gardens.
The door was opened by a neatly-dressed, motherly-looking woman of about forty instead of by the dishevelled, smutty-faced maid-of-all-work that he half expected to find.
"Does Miss Carol Vane live here?" he asked, with a curious feeling of nervousness.
"Yes, sir, she and Miss Murray are just finishing breakfast. Will you come in and sit down, sir? Miss Vane won't be long."
"Thank you, yes," he said, going in. "I wish to see her rather particularly."
"What name shall I say, sir?" said the woman, as she showed him into a prettily-furnished little sitting-room opening out into the back garden with French windows.
"Sir Arthur Maxwell," he replied. "If you will give my compliments to Miss Vane, and tell her that she will do me a great service by giving me about half-an-hour's conversation, I shall be much obliged to you."
The housekeeper made something like a little curtsey as she left the room. She was distinctly impressed by the stately presence and old-world courtesy of this bronzed, white-haired gentleman. He was so very different from the general run of visitors at No. 15; but she had half guessed his errand before she knocked at the door of the front room in which Miss Carol and her friend and house-mate, Dora Murray, were finishing their last cup of tea.
"Well, Mrs. Ford," said Miss Carol, looking up from the letter she was reading, "who might that be? This is pretty early for a morning call."
"The gentleman's name is Sir Arthur Maxwell, Miss."
"What!" said Miss Carol, colouring up and rising quickly from her chair. "Sir Arthur Maxwell. What on earth does he want?"
"He said, miss, that he'd be very much obliged to you if you could give him the pleasure of half-an-hour's conversation."
"Oh, dear, I suppose he was the gentleman who stopped at the corner last night just when my new acquaintance got out. His father, of course. I suppose he's come to row me about making friends with his son and heir last night."
"One of the penalties of your fascinations, dear," said Dora, with a smile which parted a pair of eminently kissable lips and showed a very pretty set of teeth behind them.
Dora was nearly a couple of inches taller than Miss Carol, and some three years older. She had soft, lightish-brown hair, brown eyebrows, a trifle browner, perhaps, than nature had painted them, and dark blue eyes, which made a very pretty contrast.
"Well," she went on, "I suppose there's nothing for you but to go and interview the irate papa. But whatever did young hopeful want to go and tell him all about it for, and even give him your address!"
"If you'll excuse me, Miss," said the housekeeper, "I don't think that's it. The gentleman isn't at all angry. He was as polite and nice to me as ever could be. Such a nice gentleman."
"Dear me, Mrs. Ford, you seem quite impressed," said Miss Carol, gathering up her correspondence. "Well, I'd better go and have it over, whatever it is. I don't suppose I shall be very long. Meanwhile, Dora, you may as well make yourself useful and dust the bikes. The old gentleman won't eat me, I suppose. In fact, if Master Vane told him everything, he ought to be very much obliged to me for my virtuous reserve."
And then, with a saucy smile at her own reflection in the glass as she passed the mantelpiece, she walked towards the door.
Carol, being a young lady of many and various experiences, did not often find herself in a situation, however awkward it might be, which gave her much cause for embarrassment. There were not many circumstances under which she did not feel capable of taking perfect care of herself. Still, she confessed to Dora afterwards that when she went into the little sitting-room and faced the stately old gentleman who was waiting for her she felt distinctly nervous—in short, "in something very like a tremble," as she put it later on.
The moment she looked at his face she could see his likeness to Vane, and therefore in a measure to herself. She had, of course, nothing to be afraid of, and therefore there was no cause for fear, but for some reason or other she felt less at ease than she had done in many more difficult situations.
The same was almost equally true of Sir Arthur. In fact, when the door opened and Miss Carol, looking exquisitely neat and pretty in a dainty, grey, tailor-made cycling costume, walked into the room, he was unable to restrain a very visible start. It was, indeed, as much as he could do to keep himself from uttering an exclamation of astonishment.
As he looked at her, more than thirty years vanished in a second, and he saw himself a lad of twenty-four with his brand new Oxford degree, and his first place on the Indian Civil Service list only just published, walking down a country lane by the side of a girl, who, but for the difference in costume, might have been this very girl standing before him.
"Good morning! Our housekeeper tells me that you wish to speak to me."
Yes, the voice was the same, too, and so were the expression, the intonation, the attitude, everything. But the words brought him back to the present, and to the recollection of all that had happened since that walk in the country lane.
"Yes, Miss Vane," he heard himself saying, "I have taken the liberty of calling to ask you if you would have any objection to a little conversation with me. I won't detain you more than half an hour."
"With pleasure," she said; "but won't you sit down?" she went on, seating herself on the sofa. "I suppose I am right in thinking that you are Mr. Vane Maxwell's father, and I suppose, too, you are the gentleman who was at the corner of Warwick Gardens when he got out of the cab? I'm afraid you were a good bit shocked," she continued, smiling rather faintly.
"I was not by any means so much shocked as astonished," Sir Arthur replied gravely, "and, to avoid any misunderstanding, I had better say at once that, though I was naturally a little bit startled, I was infinitely more astonished, by the marvellous likeness——"
"What, to him!" said Miss Carol, interrupting him with a pretty little gesture of deprecation. "Yes, of course, I can quite understand that a gentleman like you would be a bit disgusted to find a likeness between your son and a girl like me, for I suppose he told you all about me? I mean, you know the sort of disreputable person that I am?"
Miss Carol said this with a distinct note of defiance in her voice. A note which seemed to say, "I know what I am, and so do you, and if you don't want to talk to me any longer you needn't." But she was considerably astonished when Sir Arthur, leaning forward in his chair and speaking very gravely, said:
"My dear child—you are younger than Vane, you know, and I may call you that without offence—I do know what you are, or perhaps it would be more just to say what circumstances have made you. I don't want you to think that I have come here to preach at you. That is no business of mine. Still, I am deeply grieved, though I daresay you have no notion why—I mean no notion of the real reason. I am afraid I am expressing myself very awkwardly, but just now I don't quite seem to be able to keep my thoughts in order."
There was something in the gentle gravity of his tone and manner which inspired Miss Carol with an unaccountable desire to go away and cry. She didn't exactly know why, but she was certainly experiencing a very uncomfortable feeling which was more like apprehension than anything else. She couldn't think of anything else to say at the moment, and so she said simply:
"I don't know why you should be grieved, I mean in particular about me. There are plenty of others like me, you know, a good many thousands in London alone, I believe, and I suppose you would feel sorry for any of them. There are lots worse off than I am, I can tell you. But why should you be sorry for me particularly?"
As she said this she crossed her legs and folded her hands over her knee, leaning forward slightly and looking keenly at him.
"Because," he replied, with a little quaver in his voice, but looking steadily into her eyes, "because you are the living image of the woman who was once my wife. A little over thirty years ago—by the way, may I ask how old you are?"
"I was eighteen last September," she said, "that is to say, I am getting on for nineteen."
"And your birthday?" he said. "You will forgive me asking you so many questions, I know, when I tell you why I ask them; but of course, you needn't answer them unless you choose."
"There is no reason why I shouldn't," she said, "as far as I know. I was born on the twentieth of September. What were you going to say?"
"I was going to say that if my wife, I mean I should rather say the woman who was my wife, could be put beside you now as she was thirty years ago, dressed as you are now, it would be almost impossible to tell the difference between you. You told my son, I think, that you take your name Vane from your mother."
"Yes," replied Miss Carol, "she told me that that was her name. I don't know whether I was ever really christened or not, but an English musician in Dresden, one of my mother's friends, called me Carol when I was quite a little mite of a thing because I was always singing, and as that was as good a name as any other, I suppose it stuck to me."
"Do you know whether your mother was ever married?"
"She had been, because she used to talk about it and about all she had lost and all that sort of thing, you know, when she was drunk," replied Miss Carol with a simple directness which went straight to Sir Arthur's heart. "Of course, that was when I was quite a little thing, about eight or nine. Then I was sent to a sort of boarding-school, half a school and half a convent, and I didn't like that, so I ran away from it, as I told your son last night."
"I went home and found the house shut up. The concierge told me that my mother had gone away in a carriage with two gentlemen—he said one looked like a police agent—nearly a month before. He didn't know where she'd gone to, and from that day to this I've never heard anything more of her. I told your son the rest of it and I daresay he has told you, so there's no need for me to go over it again."
"Yes," said Sir Arthur, nodding slowly, "Vane told me, so if you please I will ask you one or two more questions, and then I won't detain you any longer."
"I am in no hurry," she replied. "Please ask me any number you like."
Her manner was now one of deep interest, for a suspicion was already forming in her mind that this bronzed, grave-faced man had once been her own mother's husband.
"Thank you," he said. "I should like to ask you first whether you happen to have any photograph of your mother?"
Miss Carol shook her head decisively, and said:
"No. I had one once in a locket, but when I went home and found she'd gone away and left me all alone in Paris—that's where we were then—I was so angry that I took it out and tore it up. I daresay it was very wrong of me, but I couldn't help it, and to tell you the honest truth, I can't say that I ever was as fond of her as a daughter should have been."
"I don't wonder at it," said Sir Arthur, with a sigh.
Miss Carol looked up wonderingly as he said this, but he took no notice and said:
"But I suppose you would recognise a photograph of her if you saw one?"
"Yes, if it was taken anywhere about the time that I knew her."
"Quite so," said Sir Arthur, taking a leather letter-case out of his pocket. "This was taken quite twenty years ago, a year or two after we were married, in short. It is, or was, my wife."
As he took out the photograph he got up, crossed the room, and held it out to her. Miss Carol got up too, and as she took it she saw that his hand was trembling. She took the old-fashioned, faded photograph and looked at it. He saw that her face flushed as she did so. She gave it back to him and said simply:
"Yes, that is my mother."
As he took the photograph from her he looked at her with sad, grave eyes across the gulf of sin and shame in which the one great love of his life had been lost. She was the daughter of his wife, and yet she was not his daughter—and she was an outcast. The sting of the old shame came back very keenly. The old wound was already open and bleeding again. All the pride and hope and love of his life were centred now on his brilliant son. A few hours before he had learnt that his mother had transmitted to him the terrible, perhaps the fatal taint of inherited alcoholism; and now he had just proved beyond doubt that Vane's half-sister—for she was that in blood if not in law—was what she had just so frankly, so defiantly even, admitted herself to be.
And yet, how sweet and dainty she looked as she stood there before him, a bright flush on her cheeks and a soft, regretful expression in those big hazel eyes which were so wonderfully like hers! No one seeing her and Vane together could possibly take them for anything but brother and sister—and but for this marvellous likeness; but for the subtle instinct of kindred blood which had spoken in this outcast's heart the night before, would not a still deeper depth have opened in the hell of that old infamy? There was at least that to be thankful for.
"I suppose you don't know where she is now—and don't care, most likely?" Carol added, raising her eyes almost timidly to his.
"I do," he replied, slowly, "To tell you the truth, I was one of the men who took her away from the house in the Rue St. Jean——"
"You were!" she exclaimed, recoiling a little from him. "Then it was really you who turned me out homeless into the streets of Paris?"
"Yes, it was, I regret to say," he replied, almost humbly, "but I need hardly tell you that I did it in complete ignorance. My —— your mother was making my name, my son's name, a scandal throughout Europe. She was a hopeless dipsomaniac. I had, believe me, I had suffered for years all that an honourable man could endure rather than blast my son's prospects in life by taking proceedings for divorce, and so proclaiming to the world that he was the son of such a woman."
"Yes," said Carol, quietly, with a little catch in her voice, "I understand—such a woman as I suppose I shall be some day. Of course, it was very hard on you and your son. And I don't suppose it made much difference to me after all. She'd have sold me to someone as soon as I was old enough; and instead of that I had to sell myself. When women take to drink like that they don't care about anything. What did you do with her?"
"The man with me," replied Sir Arthur, "was an officer of the French Courts. He had a warrant authorising her detention in a home for chronic inebriates. She is there still, little better than an imbecile, I regret to say, and with no hope of recovery. The physicians I consulted told me that she must have had the germs of alcoholic insanity in her blood from her very birth. She told us that she had a daughter, and we traced you to the school, though she obstinately refused to tell us anything that would help us to find you. But we were too late; you had run away. We hunted all Paris over for you, but you were utterly lost."
"Well," said Carol, gently, "I wish I'd stopped now, or that you'd found me. Things might have been different; but, of course, it can't be helped now."
"It was a terrible pity," he began, "but still, even now perhaps, something may be done——"
"We won't talk about that now, if you please, sir," she interrupted, so decisively that he saw at once that there was no discussion of the subject possible.
"Pardon me," he said, quickly, "I fear I have annoyed you. Nothing, I assure you, could be farther from my intention. Now I have troubled you enough, and more than enough, and I am afraid I have recalled some very unpleasant memories——"
"Not anything like as bad for me as for you, sir," she said, as he paused for a moment. "If I have been of any service to you, I'm very glad, though it's a miserable business altogether."
"Yes, and worse than miserable," he replied, with a slow shake of his head. Then, glancing through the French windows he saw Dora rubbing one of two bicycles down with a cloth in the little back garden, and he went on: "But I see you are getting ready to go for a ride. I must not keep you any longer, I am deeply grateful to you, believe me, and I hope our acquaintance may not end here. And now, good-morning."
He held out his hand with the same grave courtesy with which he would have offered it to the noblest dame of his acquaintance. She looked up sharply as though to say, "Do you really mean to shake hands with me?" Then her eyes dropped, and the next moment her hand was lying, trembling a little, in his.
When he left Melville Gardens, Sir Arthur did not go straight home. He knew that Vane would not be awake for two or three hours yet, and after a few moments' hesitation he decided to go and call on his old friend, Godfrey Raleigh, with whom he had been dining the night before, and, if he found him at home, put the whole case frankly before him and ask his advice.
He had just retired with a well-earned K.C.S.I. from the Bench of the Supreme Court of Bengal, but he was one of those men on whom neither years nor climate seem to take any effect, and at sixty-five his body was as vigorous and his brain as active and clear as they had been at thirty-five. He had married rather late, and Enid, the Helen of that Iliad of the Wheelhouse, was his only child—and therefore naturally the very apple of his eye and the idol of his heart.
Her engagement to Vane had seemed to both the fathers and to her mother the most natural and the most desirable arrangement that could have been made. Vane would take a brilliant degree, he would enter the Diplomatic Service under the best of auspices, and when Enid had completed her education with a couple of years on the Continent they were to be married on her twentieth birthday. That was the promise of these two bright young lives. What would the fulfilment be?
Sir Godfrey was, as he believed, the only one of his acquaintance in England who knew the truth of the tragedy of his life. They had been chums at Eton and Oxford. They had gone out to India together, Sir Godfrey with a judicial appointment, and Sir Arthur as Political Agent to one of the minor Independent States, both of them juniors with many things to learn and many steps to climb before they took a really active and responsible part in the propulsion of that huge and complicated machine which is called the Indian Government.
The Fates had thrown them a good deal together, and they had got to know each other well, not quickly, because men who are men need a great deal of knowing; but as the months had grown into years, and the years into a decade or more, they had really learnt to know each other. They had gone home together on the same ship to marry the girls who had been waiting for them since their troths had been plighted during their university days. They had come back with their brides on the same ship to India; Godfrey Raleigh had been godfather to his friend's first-born son. Three years later, after the shadow had fallen upon his own life, he had performed the same office for his friend's daughter, the successor of a baby girl who had died during the Rains.
These two children were now the youth and maiden who, within the next two or three years were to be man and wife. But after the events of the last twelve hours or so, Sir Arthur felt that it would not be either loyal to his old friend, or just to him and his daughter not to go and tell him frankly what he had learnt, and to take, not only his opinion, but also his advice on the subject.
He found Sir Godfrey at home, and the judge quickly saw that he had not called upon any ordinary concern, so he asked him to come and smoke a pipe in his den, and there Sir Arthur, taking up the thread where it had been dropped years before, told him in a few straight, short sentences the rest of the story to the end of his interview with Miss Carol.
"Of course, you will understand, Raleigh," he said, when he had finished, "I have told you this because I thought it was only right to do so. My boy is engaged to marry your girl. It is quite plain, I am sorry to say, that this alcoholic taint is in him, and as I have told you this Miss Carol Vane, charming and all as I must confess her to be from what I have seen of her, is after all Vane's half-sister, and she is also what I told you she was."
"Well, my dear Maxwell, I must confess that that is a very difficult problem indeed for us to decide. Very difficult indeed," Sir Godfrey had replied.
"You see, to put it quite plainly, and, if as an old lawyer I may say so, from the judicial point of view, there are two courses open to us. First, we may or, I would rather say, we might adopt the strictly scientific view of the matter and say that, since the unfortunate woman who was once your wife has apparently transmitted the taint of alcoholism to your son, it would therefore be improper for him to marry Enid for fear that he should further transmit this taint to his own offspring.
"That, I suppose, is the way in which a coldblooded scientist would put it; but on the other hand I think the matter should also be considered from the purely human point of view, and here, I speak again as an old judge. When you married your wife you had no notion that she had inherited this taint of insanity, as we may well call it, from some unknown ancestor. Now the same thing might have happened with my wife, or in fact, with any other woman.
"It is perfectly well known that this poison, as one is obliged to call it, may lie latent for generations; may, in fact, die out altogether. On the other hand, what might have been only a vice in the grandfather or the father may develop as insanity in the grandson or the son. It is not for us to decide these things, at least, that is my view.
"You and I have more experience, more judgment; but I think that your son and my daughter will have more accurate instincts and keener intuitions. My own judgment I reserve entirely, and I advise you to do the same.
"Go home and tell Vane everything. Don't spare yourself or him, for in a case like this truth, the whole truth, is, after all, the greatest mercy. I will tell my wife the whole story this afternoon, and she will tell Enid when she gets back from Paris. Then I think the best that we can do will be to leave them to find a solution of the problem between them. Depend upon it that, whatever solution they do arrive at, it will be more accurate and will stand the test of time better than any arbitrary action which you or I might take."
And so ended the only false—utterly and hopelessly false—judgment which Sir Godfrey Raleigh had ever delivered.
Sir Arthur took it as gospel, it all seemed so clear and so logical, so fair to everybody; just the sort of judgment, in fact, which might have been expected from a man of such vast and varied experience. Both of them had the best of intentions, for were not the happiness, the earthly fates of their two only children bound up in it?
Under such circumstances, though the advice might be mistaken, it was absolutely impossible that it could be anything else but honest and sincere. It was not for them to see into the future, nor yet to solve those impossibly intricate problems of human passion, of human strength and weakness, which, in defiance of all laws human and divine, break through the traditions of ages, make a mockery of all commonplace laws, and finally solve themselves with an accuracy as pitiless as it is precise.
Sir Arthur left his friend's house with the firm conviction that the only thing to be done under the circumstances was to follow his advice. When he got back to his house in Warwick Gardens, the door was opened by Koda Bux, and the first thing he said to him was:
"Is Mr. Vane awake?"
"Sahib, he is, and well. He is even as though he had never drunk of the liquor of fire. He is in the library awaiting your return."
It was then getting on for one o'clock, the lunch-time of Sir Arthur's household, and the table was already laid in what was called the breakfast-room, that is to say a room looking out upon one of the long, back gardens which are attached to the houses in Warwick Gardens.
Vane was sitting in the library waiting, something in shame and something in fear, for his father's return. He more than half-expected that his father would come in and begin at once to haul him over the coals on account of what had happened the night before. He did not feel altogether satisfied about his adventure with Miss Carol, and he was very much ashamed of himself, indeed, for what had happened afterwards. But as yet, he had no suspicion of the terrible secret which in the almost immediate future was to decide his destiny in life. The dreadful fact of inherited alcoholism was yet to be revealed to him. He thought that his father was simply going to rate him for having exceeded the bounds of prudence during his night out, for coming home in a cab with such a person as Miss Carol, and then, worse than all, to tell him that he had made a beast of himself by beginning to drink whiskey when he was alone after having refused to take anything while his father was in the room. It was that that he was really afraid of.
He had no idea of what had happened since the time that he had fallen from his chair on to the hearth-rug, saving only the brief awakening in his bed with Koda Bux standing beside him, the drinking of the crimson-coloured effervescing liquid, and then the long, calm sleep which had spread itself like a gulf between the agony of the one awakening and the peace of the next.
He was sitting in one of the big arm-chairs in the library when his father came in. He got up and stood before him, something as a criminal might do before his judge, expecting to hear something like a sentence from his lips. He was very much ashamed of himself, and being so was perfectly prepared to take his punishment which would probably come in the shape of a few cold words of reproof, and a hard look in his father's eyes which he had seen before. But, instead of that, when he got up out of the arm-chair, and began somewhat falteringly:
"Dad, I'm awfully sorry——" his father stopped him, and said with a look at the clock on the mantel-piece: "I think it is about lunch time, isn't it? Yes, there is the gong. How's your appetite?"
"Well, better than I thought it would be," said Vane, "better, in fact, than it deserves to be. That stuff that Koda gave me this morning has worked wonders——"
"Very well, then," said Sir Arthur, cutting him short, "I think we may as well go and have some lunch."
The meal was eaten in a somewhat awkward silence, broken by odds and ends of talk which were obviously spoken and replied to, not for the purpose of conversation, but to fill up time. Both father and son were as unhappy as men could very well be, and yet the ancient custom which forbids the Anglo-Saxon race to talk about unpleasant things at meal-times, prevented Sir Arthur from saying what he had to say, and Vane from asking what he wanted to ask.
At last, when Koda came in and said that coffee was served in the Den they got up, both of them feeling a certain sense of relief, although both knew that the worst was yet to come.
When they got into the Den, Sir Arthur said to Koda in Urdu:
"The house is empty. There is no one here. The door is bolted. No one must enter, till I say so."
He opened the door, spread the palms of his hands outwards, inclined his head, and said in the same language: "Thou art obeyed, Huzur. It is already done." Then he backed out of the door and shut it.
Sir Arthur got up out of his chair, turned the key in the lock, and said to Vane in a tone whose calmness astonished him almost as much as the words did:
"Vane, why did you drink that whiskey last night? You know I asked you to have some, and you said that although you had never disobeyed me before, if I had ordered you to have some you would not have done it. And yet, after I had left the room you emptied the decanter. Why was that?"
Vane had expected anything but this, for his father had spoken as quietly as if he had been asking him about the most ordinary concern of their daily life. He remembered dimly those few dreadful minutes after the subtle aroma from the whiskey decanter had reached his nostrils, the swift intoxication, the brilliant series of visions which had passed before his eyes, and then the dead, black night which had fallen over his senses, and after that nothing more until he had awakened with parched mouth and burning brain, and Koda standing by his bedside.
"I'm afraid, dad, I was very drunk last night, but why, I don't know. I was sober enough when I came in, you know that yourself. But somehow, just when you had gone out of the room and told me to put the spirit case away, I took up the whiskey decanter and smelt it. There seemed to be some infernal influence in it which made me simply long to drink. I did not want to in the ordinary way, and as I had been having brandy and soda and champagne before, of course, whiskey was the very worst thing I could possibly have drunk. Yet it seemed somehow to get hold of me. I felt as though I had to drink. It didn't matter what it was so long as it was alcohol. It was the smell of it that intoxicated me first, and when I had once smelt it I went on, till I was dead drunk, and I suppose that is the way that you found me. That is all that I know about it. I am horribly ashamed of myself, and I can only promise you that, if I can help it, it will never occur again."
"Sit down, Vane, and let us talk this over," said Sir Arthur, seating himself in the arm-chair on the other side of the fire-place. "I suppose you thought when I came back that I was going to give you the usual sort of lecture that a father would give his son under the circumstances. Well, I am not going to do that. I am sorry to say that it is a great deal more serious than that."
"What do you mean, dad?" said Vane, getting up out of the arm-chair into which he had thrown himself, as though resigned to receive his sentence. "More serious than that? Surely it is bad enough for a fellow to come home as I did last night, and then get drunk on whiskey and have to be carried to bed. There can't be anything very much worse than that."
"There might have been," said Sir Arthur, "if you had not stopped the cab where you did. What would you say if I told you that that girl—you remember what you said to me about her likeness to yourself—what would you say if I were to tell you that that girl is your sister?"
"Good God! Dad, you don't mean that, do you? It can't be. I never had a sister. You have always told me that I am the only child. Mother died twenty years ago, didn't she? And that girl was only about nineteen. No, you can't mean it!"
"Yes," said Sir Arthur, in a tone which seemed very strange to his son. "I do mean it. When I told you that your mother had died a few months after you were born, I did not tell you the truth. She died to me and to you, but that was all. She is alive still. That girl that you drove up in the cab with last night was her daughter, but not mine."
No more terrible words than these could have Vane turned white to his lips as he heard them, and for a moment he looked into his father's grey stern face with a glance that had something of hate in it. His fists even clenched and his shoulders squared as though the impulse was on him to raise his hands against him. But there was such an infinite sadness in Sir Arthur's eyes and such an expression of unspeakable suffering on his hard-set features, that as he looked at him the anger died out of Vane's eyes and his hands fell limp and open by his side.
It was some time before he was able to command his voice sufficiently to shape coherent words, but at length he managed to say in a hard, half-choking tone:
"Of course it is impossible that you could tell me anything but the truth, dad. And so I am the son of a disgraced woman, am I? Poor Eny, what will she think of me now? Of course it will be all over between us?"
His instinct had spoken, as Sir Godfrey Raleigh had said it would, and spoken truly. But Sir Arthur said quickly:
"No; my boy. It is bad enough, God knows, but it may not be as bad as that. I have been to see Miss Vane this morning, and when I had satisfied myself of the relationship between you, I went on to Raleigh and told him the whole story, as I thought it was only right to do. He said, very properly I think, that it was a matter for you and Enid to decide between yourselves, for after all it is the happiness of your lives which is in question, and therefore the decision ought to rest with you."
"I don't see how there can be any decision but one," said Vane, who had sat down again, and, with his elbows on his knees and his face between his hands, was staring with blank eyes down at the carpet. "And so I am the son of that girl's mother, am I? Well, it couldn't be very much worse than that, and yet, God help us, she is my mother after all."
Then he threw himself back in his chair, let his hands fall limply over the arms and stared up at the ceiling.
"You may as well tell me the whole of the story, now dad," he went on, in a broken, miserable voice. "You had better tell me, and then I shall know where I am."
His father looked at him for a moment or two in silence, and then he said, with a note of reproof in his tone:
"That is a hasty judgment, Vane, but a natural one, I admit. When I have told you the story you will see what I mean. The mother who bore you was as good and pure a woman as ever lived when she became your mother, and this girl, from what I have seen of her this morning, I am perfectly certain is thoroughly good and honest in herself. I am satisfied that it is her fate that has made her what she is; not her fault."
"Yes," said Vane, "I was wrong. After all I have no right to judge my mother. I remember nothing about her, and as for Carol, she is a good girl whatever else she may be. Can't something be done for her, dad? I mean something to get her out of that horrible life. It is too awful to think of, isn't it? We must do something."
"That's just what I should have expected you to say, Vane," said his father, "and anything that I can do shall be done. But I'm afraid it won't be very easy. I did suggest something of the sort, of course, but she cut me short very quickly. She simply said that she could not discuss the subject then, and there was an end of it. I am quite certain that anything which had even a suggestion of charity about it would be quite out of the question."
"Of course it would," said Vane, almost angrily. "After all, she is my sister. However, that can wait. Now tell me what you were going to tell me. How did all this begin? Do you know who the man was, because if so I want to go and see him?"
"No, I don't, Vane," his father replied, slowly. "To tell you the truth, I never even attempted to find out. We were living at Simla at the time, and Simla is, as perhaps you know, not the most moral of places. You were nearly three years old, and for about a year your mother had shown signs of what doctors call now Alcoholic Insanity. I shall never forget the first time that I found her drunk——"
"Never mind that, dad," Vane interrupted, with a sharp catch in his voice, "I don't want to hear about it, it's bad enough already. Was Carol right about that light which she used to see in her eyes and which I suppose you saw in mine last night?"
"Yes, perfectly," replied Sir Arthur. "I used to think it beautiful once, before I knew what a dreadful meaning it had. When she had had a glass or so of champagne, her eyes—and they were just like yours and Carol's—used to light up marvellously. People used to speak of them as the most beautiful eyes in the East; but afterwards, that light in them began to burn brighter, and when at last she gave way completely, it became something horrible, although, somehow, it was still beautiful—damnably beautiful."
"Well, one night," Sir Arthur went on, leaning back in his chair and staring into vacancy, "she went out to spend the evening, as she told me, with a friend; as a matter of fact it was Raleigh's sister. She had been drinking a little during the afternoon, but I felt that she would be safe there, for both Raleigh and his sister knew of this miserable failing of hers. Unfortunately, I had a lot of work to do that evening, and I was unable to go with her. I went about eleven o'clock to bring her home. I found she had not been there at all. I went back and sat up the whole night, I needn't tell you Vane what my thoughts were. She didn't come. She never came.
"A month afterwards I got a letter from her written from Bombay. She confessed that for over a year she had been deceiving me; that another man had stolen her love from me; that she could never face me or look upon you again, and that was all. She gave no address, no sign that I could trace her by. If she had done I would have forgiven her and asked her to come back for your sake. But it was over ten years before I saw her again, and then it was in a house in a wretched street in Paris.