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Winding Paths
by Gertrude Page
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Winding Paths.

By Gertrude Page.

"So many gods, so many creeds, So many paths that wind and wind, And just the art of being kind Is all the sad world needs."



WINDING PATHS

CHAPTER I

There were several interesting points about Hal Pritchard and Lorraine Vivian, but perhaps the most striking was their friendship for each other. From two wide-apart extremes they had somehow gravitated together, and commenced at boarding-school a friendship which only deepened and strengthened after their exit from the wise supervision of the Misses Walton, and their entrance as "finished" young women into the wide area of the world at large.

Lorraine went first. She was six years older than Hal, and under ordinary circumstances would hardly have been at school with her at all. As it was, she went at nineteen because she was not very strong, and sea air was considered good for her. She was a short of parlour-boarder, sent to study languages and accomplishments while she inhaled the sea air of Eastgate. Why, among all the scholars, who for the most part regarded her as a resplendent, beautifully dressed being outside their sphere, she should have quickly developed an ardent affection for Hal, the rough-and-ready tomboy, remained a mystery; but far from being a passing fancy, it ripened steadily into a deep and lasting attachment.

When Hal was fifteen, Lorraine left; and it has to be admitted that the anxious, motherly hearts of the Misses Walton drew a deep breath of relief, and hoped the friendship would now cease, unfed by daily contact and daily mutual interests. But there they under-estimated the depth of affection already in the hearts of the girls, and their natural loyalty, which scorned a mere question of separation, and entered into one another's interests just as eagerly as when they were together.

Not that they, the Misses Walton, had anything actually against Lorraine, beyond the fact that she promised a degree of beauty likely, they felt, coupled as it was with a charming wit and a fascinating personality, to open out some striking career for her, and possibly become a snare and a temptation.

On the other hand, Hal was just a homely, nondescript, untidy, riotous type of schoolgirl, with a very strong capacity for affection, and an unmanageable predilection for scrapes and adventures, that made her more likely to fall under the sway of Lorraine, should it promise any chance of excitement.

And one had only to view Lorraine among the other "young ladies" of the seminary to fear the worst. Miss Emily Walton would never have admitted it; but even she, fondly clinging to the old tradition that the terms "girls" or "women" are less impressive than "young ladies", felt somehow that the orthodox nomenclature did not successfully fit her two most remarkable pupils. Of course they were ladies by birth and education, else they would certainly not have been admitted to so select a seminary; but whereas the rest of the pupils might be said more or less to study, and improve, and have their being in a milk and biscuit atmosphere, Hal and Lorraine were quite uncomfortably more like champagne and good, honest, frothing beer.

No amount of prunes and prism advice and surroundings seemed to dull the sparkle in Lorraine, nor daunt nor suppress fearless, outspoken, unmanageable Hal. In separate camps, with a nice little following each, to keep an even balance, they might merely have livened the free hours; but as a combination it soon became apparent they would waken up the embryo young ladies quite alarmingly, and initiate a new atmosphere of gaiety that might become beyond the restraining, select influence even of the Misses Walton.

The first scare came with the new French mistress, who had a perfect Parisian accent, but knew very little English. Of course Lorraine easily divined this, and, being something of a French scholar already, she soon won Mademoiselle's confidence by one or two charmingly expressed, lucid French explanations.

Then came the translation lesson, and choosing a fable that would specially lend itself, she started the class off translating it into an English fabrication that convulsed both pupils and mistress. Hal, of course, followed suit, and the merriment grew fast and furious after a few positively rowdy lessons.

Mademoiselle herself gave the fun away at the governesses' dinner, a very precise and formal meal, which took place at seven o'clock, to be followed at eight by the pupils' supper of bread-and-butter with occasional sardines. She related in broken English what an amusing book they had to read, repeating a few slang terms, that would certainly not, under anu circumstances, have been allowed to pass the lips of the young ladies.

After that it was deemed advisable Lorraine should translate French alone, and Hal be severely admonished.

Then there was the dreadful affair of the Boys' College. It was not unusual for them to walk past the school on Sunday afternoons; but it was only after Lorraine came that a system was instituted by which, if the four front boys all blew their noses as they passed, it was a signal that a note, or possibly several, had been slipped under the loose brick at the school entrance.

Further, it was only Lorraine who could have sent the answers, because none of the other girls had an uncle often running down for a breath of sea air, when, of course, he needed his dear niece's company. He was certainly a very attentive uncle, and a very generous one too, judging by the Buszard's cakes and De Brei's chocolates, and Miss Walton could not help eyeing him a little askance.

But then, as Miss Emily said, he was such a very striking, distinguished-looking gentleman, people had already been interested to learn he had a niece at the Misses Walton's seminary. Besides, one could not reasonably object to a relative calling, and he had seemed so devoted to Lorraine's handsome mother when they had together brought her to school.

But of course, after the disgraceful episode of the notes that blew into the road, the windows had to be dulled at once, so that no one could see the boys pass. It was a mercy the thing had been discovered so soon.

Then shortly after came the breaking-up dances, one for the governesses, when the masters from the college were invited, and one the next night for the girls, when the remains of the same supper did duty again, and with reference to which Miss Walton gently told them she had not been able to ask any of the boys from the school, as she was afraid their parents would not approve; she hoped they were not disappointed, and that the big girls would dance with the little ones, as it pleased them so.

Lorraine immediately replied sweetly that none of them cared about dancing with boys, and some of the children would be much more amusing. She made herself spokeswoman, because Miss Walton had half-unconsciously glanced at her at the mere mention of the word boys, fondly believing that the other well-brought-up pupils would prefer their room to their company, whereas Lorraine might think the party very tame. Her answer was a pleasant surprise.

But then, who was to know that the night of the governesses' dance she had bribed the three girls in the small dormitory to silence, and after some half-dozen of them had gone to bed with their night-gowns over their dresses, had given the signal to arise directly the dance was in full swing. After that they adjourned to the small dormitory and spread out a repast of sweets and cakes, to which such of the younger masters as were brave enough to risk detection slipped away up the school staircase at intervals, to be more than rewarded by Lorraine's inimitable mimicry.

"There will be no boys for you to dance with, dear girls," she told them gently, "as your parents might not approve," then added, with roguish lights in her splendid eyes: "No boys, dear girls, only a few masters to supper in the small dormitory."

Hal's misdemeanours were of a less subtle kind. Neither boys nor masters interested her particularly as yet; but there were a thousand-and-one other ways of livening things up, and she tried them all, sometimes getting off scot free, and sometimes finding herself uncomfortably pilloried before the rest of the school, to be cross-questioned and severely admonished at great lenght before being "sent to Coventry" for a stated period.

But, had she only known it, there were many chicken-hearted girls who envied her even her disgrace, for the sake of the dauntless, shining spirit of her that nothing ever crushed. And as for being "sent to Coventry", well, Hal and Lorraine easily coped with that through the twopennyworth system.

If an offender was sent to Coventry, any other girl who spoke to her had to pay a fine of twopence, and if either of these two glay spirits found themselves doomed to silence, they persuaded such of the others as were "game" enough, to have occasional "twopennyworths".

Of the two, Hal was far the greater favourite; she was in fact the popular idol; for though the girls were full of admiration for Lorraine, and not a little proud of her, they were also a little afraid of a wit that could be sharp-edged, and perhaps resentful too of that nameless something about her striking personality that made them feel their inferiority.

Hal was quite different, and her unfailing spirits, her vigorous championing of the oppressed, or scathing denunciation of anything sneaky and mean, made them all look up to her, and love her, whether she knew or not.

Even the governess felt her compelling attraction, and would often, by a timely word, save her from the consequences of some forgetful moment. At the same time, the one who warned Miss Walton against the possible ill results of the girl's growing love for Lorraine little understood the nature she had to deal with.

When Hal found herself in the private sanctum, being gently admonished concerning a friendship that was thought to be growing too strong, she was quick instantly to resent the slur on her chum. She had been sent for immediately after "evening prep.," and having, as usual, inked her fingers generously, and rubbed an ink-smudge across her face, to say nothing of really disgracefully tumbled hair, she looked a comical enough object standing before the impressive presence of the head mistress.

"Really, Hal," Miss Walton remonstrated, "can't you even keep tidy for an hour in the evening?"

"Not when it's German night," answered outspoken Hal; "where to put the verbs, and how to split them, makes my hair stand on end, and the ink squirm out of the pot."

Miss Walton tried to look severe, remarking: "Don't be frivolous here, my dear"; but, as Hal described it later, "she looked as if having so often to be sedate was beginning to make her tired."

But when she proceeded to explain to Hal that neither she nor her sister were easy in their minds about her growing devotion to Lorraine, Hal's expressive mouth began to look rather stern, and neither the ink-smudges nor the tousled hair could rob her of a certain nave dignity as she asked, "Are you implying anything against Lorraine?"

"No, no, my dear, certainly not," Miss Walton replied, feeling slightly at a loss to express herself, "but I have never encouraged a violent friendship between two girls that is apt to make them hold aloof from the others, and be continually in one another's society. And in this instance, Lorraine being so much older than you, and of a temperament hardly likely to appeal to your brother, as a desirable one in your great friend -"

"I am not asking Dudley to make her his great friend -"

"Don't interrupt me, dear. I am only speaking of what I am perfectly aware are your brother's feeling concerning you; and seeing you have neither father nor mother, I feel my responsibility and his the greater."

"But what is the matter with Lorraine?" Hal cried, growing a little exasperated. "She is not nearly so frivolous as I am, and works far harder."

Miss Walton hesitated a little. "We feel she is naturally rather worldly-minded and ambitious, whereas you -" She paused.

"Whereas I am a simpleton," suggested Hal, with a mischievous light in her eyes. "Well, then, dear Miss Walton, how fortunate for me that some one clever and briljant is willing to give me her friendship and help to lift me out of my slough of simpletondom!"

Miss Walton looked up with a reproof on her lips, but it died away, and a new expression came into her eyes as she seemed to see something in this unruly pupil she had not before suspected. Hal still looked as if a smothered sense of injustice might presently explode into hot words; but in the meantime the air of dignity stood its ground in spite of smudges and untidiness.

Neither spoke for a moment, and then Miss Walton remarked: "You do not mean to be guided by me in this matter?"

"Lorraine is my friend," Hal answered. "I cannot let myself listen to anything that suggests a slur upon her."

"Not even if your brother expressed a wish on the subject?"

"I do not ask Dudley to let me choose his friends."

"That is quite a different matter. He is fifteen years your senior."

Hal was silent. She stood with her hands behind her, and her head held high, and her clear eyes very straight to the front; well-knit, well-built, with a promise of that vague something which is so much stronger a factor in the world than mere beauty.

Miss Walton, who necessarily saw much of the mediocre and commonplace in her life-work of turning growing girls into presentable young women, felt her feelings undergo a further change. She also had the tact to see an appeal would go farther than mere advice.

"I was only thinking of you, Hal," she said, a trifle tiredly. "I have nothing against Lorraine, except that she is dangerously attractive if she likes, and her love of admiration and excitement does not make her a very wise friend for a girl of your age. You are different, and your paths are likely to lead far apart in the future. It did not seem to me desirable you should grow too fond of each other."

Even as she spoke she found herself wondering what Hal would say, and in an unlooked-for way interested.

Hal answered promptly :

"I do not think our lives will lie apart. Both of us will have to be breadwinners at any rate, and that will be a bond."

Her mobile face seemed to change. "Miss Walton, I'm devoted to Lorraine. I always shall be. But you needn't be anxious. The stronger influence is not where you think. I can bend Lorraine's will, but she cannot bend mine. It will always be so. And nothing that you nor any one can say will make me change to her."

They said little more, but when she was alone the head mistress stood silently for some minutes looking into the dying embers of her fire. Then she uttered to herself an enigmatical sentence:

"Beauty will give to Lorraine the great career; but the greater woman will be Hal."

Shortly after that Lorraine departed, and about a year later embarked in the theatrical world.

No one was surprised, but very adverse opinions were expressed among the girls concerning her success or otherwise; those who were jealous, or who had felt slighted during her short reign as school beauty, condemning any possible likelihood of a hit.

Hal said very little. She was already reaching out tentacles to the wider world, where schoolgirl criticisms would be mere prattle; and it was far more serious to her to wonder what Brother Dudley would think of her having an actress for her greatest friend.

She foresaw rocks ahead, but smiled humorously to herself in spite of them.

"What a tussle there'll be!" was her thought, "and how in the world am I to convince Dudley that Lorraine does not represent a receptacle for all the deadly sins? Heigho! The mere fact of my disagreeing will persuade him I am already contaminated, and he will see us both heading, like fire-engines, for the nethermost hell."



CHAPTER II

If Dudley Pritchard's imagination did not actually picture the lurid and violent descent Hal suggested, it certainly did view with the utmost alarm his lively young sister's friendship with a fully fledged actress.

As a matter of fact, Miss Walton's prognostications concerning his attitude to Lorraine Vivian, even as a schoolgirl, had been instantly confirmed upon their first meeting.

For no particular reason he disapproved of her. That was rather typical of Dudley. He disapproved of a good many things without quite knowing why, or being at any particular pains to find out.

Not that it made him bigoted. He could in fact be fairly tolerant; but as Hal affectionately observed, Dudley was so apt to pat himself on the back for his toleration towards things that it would never have occured to most persons needed tolerating.

She knew perfectly well that he considered himself very tolerant towards much that was to be deprecated in her, but, far from resenting his attitude, she shaw chiefly the humorous side, and managed to glean a good deal of quiet amusement from it.

Considering the fifteen years' difference in their ages, and the fact that Dudley was a hard-working architect in London, seeing life on all sides, while Hal was still a hoydenish schoolgirl, it was really remarkable how thoroughly she grasped and understood his character, and a great deal concerning the world in general, while he seemed to remain at his first decisions concerning her and most things.

It was just perhaps the difference between the book-student and the life-student. Dudley had always had a passion for books and for his profession. His clever brain was a well of knowledge concerning ancient architectures and relics of antiquity. He studied them because he loved them, and, before all things else, to him they seemed worth while.

He loved his sister also - he loved her better than any one, but it would never have occured to him that she should be studied, or that there was anything in her to study. To him she was quite an ordinary girl, rather nice-looking when she was neat, but with a most unfortunate lack of the sedate dignity and discretion that he considered essential to the typically admirable woman.

That there might be other traits in their place, equally admirable, did not occur to him. They ware not at any rate the traits he most admired.

Hal, on the other hand, was different in every respect. She loated books, and learning, and what she called "dead old bones and rubbish." But she loved human nature, and studied in in every phase she could.

Left at a very tender age to Dudley's sole care and protection, she had to grow up without the enfolding, sympathetic love of a mother, or the gay companionship of brothers and sisters. Not in the least depressed, she started off at an early age in quest of adventure to see what the world was like outside the four walls of their home.

Brought back, sometimes by a policeman, with whom she had already become on the friendliest terms, sometimes in a cab in which some one else had placed her, sometimes by a kindly stranger, she would yet slip away again on the first opportunity, into the crush of mankind. Punishment and expostulation were alike useless; Hal was just as fascinated with people as Dudley was with books, and where her nature called she fearlessly followed.

Through this roving trait she picked up an amount of commonplace, everyday knowledge that would have dumbfoundered the clever young architect, had he been in the least able to comprehend it. But while he dipped enthusiastically into bygone ages, and won letters and honours in his profession, she asked questions about life in the present, and grappled with the problem of everyday existence and the peculiarities of human nature, in a way that made her largely his superior, despite his letters and honours.

And best of all was her complete understanding of him. Dudley fondly imagined he was fulfilling to the best possible endeavours his obligations of love and guardianship to his young sister. The young sister, with her tender, quizzical understanding, regarded him as a mere child, with a deliciously humorous way of always taking himself very seriously; a brilliant brain, an irritating fund of superiority, and something altogether apart that made him dearer than heaven and earth and all things therein to her.

Hal might be dearer than all else to Dudley, without finding herself loved in any way out of the ordinary, seeing how little he cared much about except his profession; but to be the beloved of all, to an eager, passionate, intense nature like hers, meant that in her heart she had placed him upon a pedestal, and, while fondly having her little smile over his shortcomings, yet loved him with an all-embracing love. He did not suspect it, and he would not have understood it if he had; being rather of the opinion that, considering all he had tried to be to her, she might have loved him enough in return to make a greater effort to please him.

Her obdurate resistance during the first stage of his disapproval of Lorraine Vivian increased this feeling considerably. He felt that if she really cared for him she should be willing to be guided by his judgment; and while perceiving, just as Miss Walton had done, that she meant to have her own way, he had less perspicacity to perceive also that nameless trait which, for want of a better word, we sometimes call grit, and which dimly proclaimed she might be trusted to follow her own strenght of character.

When, later, his attitude of displeasure increased a thousandfold.

He was not told of it just at first. Hal was then in the throes of convincing him that her particular talents lay in the direction of secretarial work and journalism, rather than governessing or idleness, and persuading him to make arrangements at once for her to learn shorthand and typewriting with a view to becoming the private secretary of a well-known editor of one of the leading newspapers.

The editor in question was a distant connection, and quite willing to take her if she proved herself capable, recognising, through his skill at reading character, that she might eventually prove invaluable in other ways than mere letter-writing.

Dudley, seeing no farther than the fact of the City office, set his face resolutely against it as long as he could; but, of course, in the end Hal carried the day. Then came the shock of the knowledge that Lorraine had gone on the stage; and if, as had been said before, he did not actually picture the lurid exit to the lower regions Hal gave him credit for, he was sufficiently upset to have wakeful nights and many anxious, worried hours.

And to make it worse, Hal would not even be serious.

"Oh, don't look like that, Dudley!" she cried; "we really are not in any immediate danger of selling our souls to the Prince of Darkness. You dear old solemnsides! Just because Lorraine is going on the stage, I believe you already see me in spangles, jumping through a hoop. Or rather 'trying to', because it is a dead cert. I should miss the hoop, and do a sort of double somersault over the horse's tail."

Dudley shut his firm lips a little more tightly, and looked hard at his boots, without vouchsafing a reply.

"As a matter of fact," continued the incorrigible, "you ought to perceive how beautifully life balances things, by giving a dangerously attractive person like Lorraine a matter-of-fact, commonplace pal like myself to restrain her, and at the same time ward of possible dangers from various unoffending humans, who might fall hurtfully under her spell."

"It is only the danger to you that I have anything to do with."

"Oh fie, Dudley! as if I mattered half as much as Humanity with a capital H."

"To me, personally, you matter far more in this particular case."

"And yet, really, the chief danger to me is that I might unconsciously catch some reflection of Lorraine's charm and become dangerously attractive myself, instead of just an outspoken hobbledehoy no one takes seriously."

"I am not afraid of that," he said, evoking a peal of laughter of which he could not even see the point; "but since you are quite determined to go into the City as a secretary, instead of procuring a nice comfortable home as a companion, or staying quietly here to improve your mind, I naturally feel you will encounter quite enough dangers without getting mixed up in a theatrical set. Though, really," in a grumbling voice, "I can't see why you don't stay at home like any sensible girl. If I am not rich, I have at least enough for two."

"But if I stayed at home, and lived on you, Dudley, I should feel I had to improve my mind by way of making you some return; and you can't think how dreadfully my mind hates the idea of being improved. And if I went to some dear old lady as companion, she would be sure to die in an apoplectic fit in a month, and I should be charged with manslaughter. And I can't teach, because I don't know anything. The only serious danger I shall run as Mr. Elliott's secretary will be putting an occasional addition of my own to his letters, in a fit of exasperation, or driving his sub-editor mad; and he seems willing to risk that."

"You are likely to run greater dangers than that if you allow yourself to be drawn into a theatrical circle."

"What sort of dangers?... Oh, my dear, saintly episcopal architect, what foundations of darkness are you building upon now, out of a little old-fashioned, out-of-date prejudice which you might have dug up from some of your studies in antiquity books? There are just as many dangers outside the theatrical world as in it, for the sort of woman dangers are attractive to; and little Sunday-school teachers have come to grief, while famous actresses have won through unscathed."

Dudley's face expressed both surprise and distaste.

"I wonder what you know about it anyway. I think you are talking at random. Certainly no dangers would come near you if you listened to my wishes and settled down quietly at home. If you don't care about living in Bloomsbury, I will take a small house in the suburbs, and you can amuse yourself with the housekeeping, and tennis, and that sort of thing."

"And when you want to marry?"

"I shall not want to marry. I am wedded to my profession."

"O Dudley!... Dudley!..." She slipped off the table where she had been jauntily seated, and came and stood beside him, passing her arm through his. "Can't you see I'd just die of a little house in the suburbs, looking after the housekeeping: it's the most dreadful and awful thing on the face of the earth. I'm not a bit sorry for slaves, and prisoners, and shipwrecked sailors, and East-end starvelings; every bit of sympathy I've got is used up for the girls who've got to stay in hundrum homes, and be nothing, and do nothing, but just finished young ladies. Work is the finest thing in the world. It's just splendid to have something real to do, and be paid for it. Why, they can't even go to prison, or be hungry, or anything except possible wives for possible men who may or may not happen to want them."

"Of course you are talking arrant nonsense," Dudley replied frigidly. "I don't know where in the world you get all your queer ideas. Woman's sphere is most decidedly the home; you seem to -" but a small hand was clapped vigorously over his mouth, and eyes of feigned horror searching his.

"Do you know, I'm half afraid you've lived in your musty old books so long, Dudley," with mock seriousness, "that you've lost all count of time. It is about a thousand years since sane and sensible men believed all that drivel about women's only sphere being the home, and since women were content to be mere chattels, stuck in with the rest of the furniture, to look after the children. Nowadays the jolly, sensible woman that a man likes for wife or pal, is very often a busy worker."

"Let her work busily at home, then!"

"Why, you'll want me to crochet antimacassars next, or cross-stitch a sampler! Just imagine the thing if I tried! It would have dreadful results, because I should be sure to use bad language - I couldn't help it; and the article I should concoct would make people faint, or turn cross-eyed or colour-blind. I shan't do nearly so much harm in the end as a City secretary with an actress pal."

"One thing is quite certain: you mean, as usual, to have your own way, and my feelings go for nothing at all."

He turned away from her, and took up his hat to go out.

"Your protestations of affection, Hal, are apt to seem both insincere and out of place."

The tears came swiftly to her eyes, and she took a quick step towards him, but he had gone, and closed the door after him before she could speak. She watched his retreating figure, with the tears still lingering, and then suddenly she smiled.

"Anyhow, I haven't got to besweet and gentle and housekeepy," was her comforting reflection. "I'm going to be a real worker, earning real money, and have Lorraine for my pal as well. Some day Dudley will see it is all right, and I'm only about half as black as he supposes, and that I love him better than anything else at heart. In the meantime, as I'm likely to get a biggish dose of dignified disapproval over this theatre business, I'd better ask Dick to come out to tea this afternoon to buck me up for what lies ahead. Goodness! what a boon a jolly cousin is when you happen to have been mated with your great-aunt for a brother."



CHAPTER III



For a few years after that particular disagreement nothing of special note happened. Hal got quickly through her course of shorthand and typewriting and became Mr. Elliott's private secretary and general factotum, which last included an occasional flight into journalism as a reporter. Naturally, since this sometimes took her to out-of-the-way places, and brought her in contact with human oddities, she loved it beyond all things, and was ever ready for a jaunt, no matter whither it took her.

Brother Dudley was discreetly left a little in the dark about it, because nothing in the world would ever have persuaded him that a girl of Hal's age could run promiscuously about London unmolested. Hal knew better. She was perfectly well able to acquire a stony stare that baffled the most dauntless of impertinent intruders; and se had, moreover, an upright, grenadier-like carriage, and an air of business-like energy that were safeguards in themselves.

A great deal of persuasive tact was necessary, however, to win Dudley's consent to a year in America, whither Mr. Elliott had to go on business; but on Mrs. Elliott calling upon him herself to explain that she also was going, and would take care of Hal, he reluctantly consented.

Curiously enough, it was that year in a great measure that changed the current of Lorraine's life. She came to the cross-roads, and took the wrong turn.

Perhaps Miss Walton, with her knowledge of girls, could have foretold it. She might have said, in that enigmatical way of hers, "If Lorraine comes to the cross-roads, where life offers a short cut to fame, instead of a long, wearisome drudgery, she will probably take it. Hal will score off her own bat, or not at all. Lorraine will only care about gaining her end."

Anyhow the cross-roads came, and Hal, the stronger, was not there. As a matter of fact, for some little time the two had not seen much of each other. Lorraine was touring in the provinces, and rarely had time to come to London. Hal was tied by her work, and could not spare the time to go to Lorraine.

There was for a little while a cessation of intercourse. Neither was the least bit less fond, but circumstances kept them apart, and they could only wait until opportunity brought them together again. Both were too busy for lengthy correspondence, and only wrote short letters occasionally, just to assure each other the friendship held firm, and absence made no real difference.

Then Hal went off to America, and while she was away Lorraine came to her cross-roads.

It is hardly necessary to review in detail what her life had been since she joined the theatrical profession. It is mostly hard work and disillusion and disappointment for all in the beginning, and only a very small percentage ever win through to the forefront.

But for Lorraine, on the top of all the rest, was a mercenary, unscrupulous, intriguing mother, who added tenfold to what must inevitably have been a heavy burden and strain - a mother who taxed her utmost powers of endurance, and brought her shame as well as endless worry; and yet to whom, let it be noted down now, to her everlasting credit, no matter in what other way she may have erred, she never turned a deaf ear nor treated with the smallest unkindness.

It would be impossible to gauge just what Lorraine had to go through in her first few years on the stage. She seemed to make no headway at all, and at the end of the third year she felt herself as far as ever from getting her chance.

That she was brilliantly clever and brilliantly attractive had not so far weighed the balance to her side. There were many others also clever and attractive. She felt she had practically everything except the one thing needed - influence.

Thus her spirits were at a very low ebb. She was still touring the provinces, and heartily sick of all the discomfort involved. Dingy lodgings, hurried train journeys, much bickering and jealousy in the company with which she was acting, and a great deal of domestic worry over that handsome, extravagant mother, who had once taken her, in company with the so-called uncle, to the select seminary of the Misses Walton.

How her mother managed to live and dress as if she were rich had puzzled Lorraine many times in those days; but when she left the shelter of those narrow, restricting walls, where windows were whitewashed so that even boys might not be seen passing by, she learnt many things all too quickly.

She learnt something about the uncles too. One of them was at great pains to try and teach her, but with hideous shapes and suggestions trying to crowd her mind, the thought of Hal's freshness still acted as a sort of protection and kept her untainted.

A little later, after she had commenced to earn a salary, she found that directly the family purse was empty, and creditors objectionably insistent, she herself had to come to the rescue.

There were some miserable days then. It was useless to upbraid her mother. She always posed as the injured one, and could not see that in robbing her child of a real home she was strewing her path with dangers as well, by placing her in an ambiguous, comfortless position, from which any relief seemed worth while.

Then at last came the welcome news that Mrs. Vivian had procured a post as lady-housekeeper to a rich stockbroker in Kensington, who had also a large interest in a West-end theatre.

Lorraine read the glowing terms in which her mother described her new home and employer with a deep sense of relief, seeing in the new venture a probable escape for herself from those relentless demands upon her own scanty purse. A month later came the paragraph, in a voluminous epistle:

"Mr. Raynor says you are to make his house your home whenever you are free. He insists upon giving you a floor all to yourself, like a little flat, where you can receive your friends undisturbed, and feel you have a little home of your own. I am quite certain also that he will try to help you in your career through his interest in the Greenway Theatre."

If Lorraine wondered at all concerning this unknown man's interest in her welfare she kept it to herself.

A home instead of the dingy lodgings she had grown to hate, and the prospect of influential help, were sufficiently alluring to drown all other reflections.

When the tour was over she went direct to Kensington, to make her home with her mother until her next engagement. She was already too much a woman of the world not to notice at once that her mother and her host's relations seemed scarcely those of employee and employer, and there was a little passage of arms between herself and Mrs. Vivian the next morning.

In reply to a long harangue, in which that lady set forth the advantages Lorraine was to gain from her mother's perspicacity in obtaining such a post, she asked rather shortly:

"And why in the world should Mr. Raynor do all this for me, simply because you are his housekeeper?"

A red spot burned in Mrs. Vivian's cheek as she replied: "He does it because he wants me to stay; and I have told him I cannot do so unless he makes it possible for me to give you a comfortable, happy home here."

Lorraine's lips curled with a scorn she did not attempt to conceal, but she only stood silently gazing across the Park.

She had already decided to make the best of her mother's deficiencies, seeing she was almost the only relative she possessed, but she had a natural loathing of hypocrisy, and wished she would leave facts alone instead of attempting to gloss them over. Ever since she left school she had been obliged to live in lodgings, because her mother would not take the trouble to try and provide anything more of a home.

It was a little too much, therefore, that she should now allude to her maternal solicitude because it happened to suit her purpose. She felt herself growing hard and callous and bitter under the strain of the early struggle to succeed, handicapped as she was; and because of one or two ugly experiences that came in the path of such a warfare. She was losing heart also, and feeling bitterly the stinging whip of circumstances. As she stood gazing across the Park, some girls about her own age rode past, returning from their morning gallop, talking and laughing gaily together.

Lorraine found herself wondering what life would be like with her beauty and talent if there were no vulgarly extravagant, unprincipled mother in the background, no insistent need to earn money, no gnawing ambition for a fame she already began to feel might prove an empty joy.

She had not seen Hal for a year, and she felt an ache for her. In the shifting, unreliable, soul-numbing atmosphere of her stage career, she still looked upon Hal as a City of Refuge; and when she had not seen her for some time she felt herself drifting towards unknown shoals and quicksands.

And, unfortunately, Hal was away in America, with the editor to whom she was secretary and typist, and not very likely to be back for three months.

No; there was nothing for it but to make te best of her mother's explanation and the comfortable home at her feet.

As for Mr. Raynor himself, though he seemed to Lorraine vulgarly proud of his self-made position, vulgarly ostentatious of his wealth, and vulgarly familiar with both herself and her mother, she could not actually lay any offence to his charge. And in any case, he undoubtedly could help her, if he chose, to procure at last the coveted part in a London theatre. With this end in view, she laid herself out to please him and to make the most of her opportunity.

And in this way she came to chose cross-roads which had to decide her future.

Before she had been a week in the house, Frank Raynor deserted his housekeeper altogether, and fell in love with the housekeeper's daughter. Within a fortnight he had laid all his possessions a Lorraine's feet, promising her not only wealth and devotion, but the brilliant career she so coveted.

The man was generous, but he was no saint. Give him herself, and she would have the world at her feet if he could bring it there. Give any less, and he would have no more to say to her whatsoever.

It was the cross-roads.

Lorrain struggled manfully for a month. She hated the idea of marrying a man better suited in every way to her mother. She dreaded and hated the thought of what had perhaps been between them; yet she was afraid to ask any question that might corroborate her worst fears.

All that was best in her of delicate and refined sensitiveness surged upward, and she longed to run away to some remote island far removed from the harsh realities of life.

Yet, how could she? Without money, without influence, without rich friends, what did the world at large hold for her?

How much easier to go with the tide - seize her opportunity - and dare Fate to do her worst.

At the last there was a bitter scene between mother and daughter.

"If you refuse Frank Raynor now, you ruin the two of us," was Mrs. Vivian's angry indictment. "What can we expect from him any more? How are you ever going to get another such chance to make a hit?"

"And what if it ruins my life to marry him?" Lorraine asked.

"Such nonsense! The man can give you everything. What in the world more do you want? He is good enough looking; he could pass as a gentleman, and he is rich."

A sudden nauseous spasm at all the ugliness of life shook Lorraine. She turned on her mother swiftly, scarcely knowing what she said, and asked:

"You are anxious enough to sell me to him. What is he to you anyway? What has he ever been to you?"

Mrs. Vivian blanched before the suddenness of the attack, but she held her ground.

"You absurd child, what in the world could he be to me? It is easy enough to see he has no eyes for any one but you."

"And before I came?"

Lorraine took a step forward, and for a moment the two women faced each other squarely. The eyes of each were a little hard, the expressions a little flinty; but behind the older woman's was a scornful, unscrupulous indifference to any moral aspect; behind the younger's a hunted, rather pitiful hopelessness. The ugly things of life had caught the one in their talons and held her there for good and all, more or less a willing slave, the soul of the younger was still alive, still conscious, still capable of distinguishing the good and desiring it.

The mother turned away at last with a little harsh laugh.

"Before you came he was nothing to me. He never has been anything."

Without waiting for Lorraine to speak, she turned again, and added:

"If you weren't a fool, you would perceive he is treating you better than ninety-nine men in a hundred. He has suggested marriage. The others might not have done."

"Oh! I'm not a fool in that way," came the bitter reply, "but I've wondered once or twice what your attitude would have been, supposing - er - he had been one of the ninety-nine!"

Mrs. Vivian was saved replying by the unexpected appearance of Frank Raynor himself. Entering the room with a quick step, he suddenly stopped short and looked from one to the other. Something in their expressions told him what had transpired. He turned sharply on the mother.

"You've been speaking to Lorraine about me. I told you I wouldn't have it. I know your bullying ways, and I said she was to be left to decide for herself."

Lorraine saw an angry retort on her mother's lips, and hurriedly left the room. She put on her hat and slipped away into the Park. What was she to do?... where, oh where was Hal!

Within three months the short cut was taken. Lorraine was engaged to play a leading part at the Greenway Theatre, and she was the wife of Frank Raynor.



CHAPTER IV

When Hal came back from America and heard about Lorraine's marriage, it was a great shock to her. At first she could hardly bring herself to believe it at all. Nothing thoroughly convinced her until she stood in the pretty Kensington house and beheld Mrs. Vivian's pronounced air of triumph, and Lorraine's somewhat forced attempts at joyousness.

It was one of the few occasions in her life when Lorraine was nervous. She did not want Hal to know the sordid facts; and she did not believe she would be able to hide them from her.

When Hal, from a mass of somewhat jerky, contradictory information, had gleaned that the new leading part at the London theatre had been gained through the middle-aged bridegroom's influence, her comment was sufficiently direct.

"Oh, that's why you did it, is it? Well, I only hope you don't hate the sight of him already."

"How absurd you are, Hal!... Of course I don't hate the sight of him. He's a dear. He gives me everything in the world I want, if he possibly can."

"How dull. It's much more fun getting a few things for oneself. And when the only thing in all the world you want is your freedom, do you imagine he'll give you that?"

Lorraine got up suddenly, thrusting her hands out before her, as if to ward off some vague fear.

"Hal, you are brutal to-day. What is the use of talking like that now?... Why did you go to America?... Perhaps if you hadn't gone _"

"Give me a cigarette," said Hal, with a little catch in her voice, "I want soothing. At the present moment you're a greater strain than Dudley talking down at me from a pyramid of worn-out prejudices. I don't know why my two Best-Belovds should both be cast in a mould to weigh so heavily on my shoulders."

Sitting on the table as usual, she puffed vigorously at her cigarette, blowing clouds of smoke, through which Lorraine could not see that her eyes were dim with tears. For Hal's unerring instinct told her that, at a critical moment, Lorraine had taken a wrong path.

Lorraine, however, was not looking in Hal's direction. She had moved to the window, and stood with her back to the room, gazing across the Park, hiding likewise misty, tell-tale eyes.

Suddenly, as Hal continued silent, she turned to her with a swift movement of half-expressed protest.

"Hal! you shan't condemn me, you shan't even judge me. Probably you can't understand, because your life is so different - always has been so different; but at least you can try to be the same. What difference has it made between you and me anyhow?... What difference need it make? I have got my chance now, and I am going to be a brilliant success, instead of a struggling beginner. What does the rest matter between you and me?"

"It doesn't matter between you and me. But it matters to you. I feel I'd give my right hand if you hadn't done it."

"How could I help doing it? Oh, I can't explain; it's no use. We all have to fight our own battles in the long run - friends or no friends. Only the friends worth having stick to one, even when it has been a nasty, unpleasant sort of battle."

That hard look, with the hopelessness behind it, was coming back into Lorraine's eyes. She was too loyal to tell even Hal what her mother had been like the last few months before the critical moment came, and at the critical moment itself. She could not explain just how many difficulties her marriage had seemed a way out from.

There had been other men who had not proposed marriage. There had been insistent creditors - her mother's as well as her own. There had been that deep hunger for something approaching a real home, and for a sense of security, in a life necessarily full of insecurities.

Obdurate, difficult theatre managers, powerful, jealous fellow-actresses, ill health, bad luck! Behind the glamour and the glitter of the stage, what a world of carking care, of littleness, meanness, jealousy, and intrigue she had found herself called upon to do battle with.

And now, if only her husband proved amenable, proved livable with, how different everything would be? But in any case Hal must be there. Somehow nothing of all this showed in her face as she fronted the smoker, still blowing clouds of smoke before her eyes.

"What has become of Rod?" Hal asked suddenly.

Lorraine winced a little, but held her ground steadily.

"Rod had to go. What could Rod and I have done with 500 a year?"

"My own" - from the blunt-speaking one - "it surely seems as if you might have thought of that before you allowed Rod to run all over the country after you, and get 'gated', and very nearly 'sent down', and spend a year or two's income ahead in trying to give you pleasure."

Lorraine flung herself down on the sofa with a callous air, and beat her foot on the ground impatiently. The parting with Rod was another thing she did not propose to describe to Hal. It had hurt too badly, for one thing.

"When you moralise, Hal, you are detestable. Besides, it's so cheap. Any one can sit on a table and hurl sarcasm about. I daresay in my place you would have married Rod, from a sense of duty or something, and ruined all the rest of his life. Or perhaps, after gently breaking the news, you'd have let him come dangling round to be 'mothered'. Well, I don't say I haven't been a bit of a brute to him; but anyhow I tried to do the square thing in the end. I cut the whole affair dead off. I told him I would not see him nor write to him again. I've since sent two letters back unopened, and though you mightn't think it, I was just eating my heart out for a sight of him. But what's the good! He's got to follow in the footsteps of whole centuries of highly respectable, complacent, fat old bankers. His father and mother would have a fit if he didn't develop into the traditional fat old banker himself, and beget another of the same ilk to follow on.

"I daresay with me he would have developed a little more soul, and a little less stomach - but what of it? -" with a graceful shrug. "For the good of his country it is written that he shall acquire weight and stolidity, instead of an ideal soul, and for the benefit of posterity I sentenced him to speedy rotundity, and dull respectability, and the begetting of future bankers. He will presently marry some one named Alice or Annie, and invite me to the first christening in a spirit of Christian forgiveness."

Hal smiled more soberly than was her wont.

"And what of you?"

"What of me?... Oh, I don't come into that sort of scheme. I never ought to have been there at all. Still, I'm glad I showed him he'd got something in himself beside the stale accumulations of many banker ancestors; if it's only for the sake of the next litte banker, who may want to lay claim to an individual soul."

"But it hurt, Lorraine?... don't tell me it didn't hurt after... after - "

"Oh yes, it hurt," with a low, bitter laugh; "but what of that eiter? It's generally the woman who gets hurt; but I suppose I knew I was riding for a fall."

"I don't suppose you are any more hurt than he is. You know he worshipped you."

"Yes; only presently it will be easy for him to get back into the old, orthodox groove with 'Alice', and persuade himself that I was only a youthful infatuation, whereas I - Oh, what does it matter, Hal! Come out of that 'great-aunt' mood, and let's be joly while we can. I'll ring for coffee and liqueurs, and then we'll make lots of ripping plans to see everything in England worth seeing - until I can find time to go abroad."

Hal sprang off het table.

"Oh, very well," she rejoined, "Let's get rowdy and sing the song 'Love may go hang.' When I've got it over with Dudley, we'll just go straight on, keeping a good look out for the next fence. You'd better tell me something abouth this paternal husband of yours, just to prepare me for our meeting. He doesn't put his knife in his mouth, and that sort of thing, does he?"

"No; not quite so bad. His worst offence at present, I think, is to call me 'wifey'."

"Wifey!" in accents of horror. "Lorraine, how awful!"

"Yes; but I'm breaking him of it by degrees: that and his fondness for a soft felt hat."

They sat on chatting together with apparent gayness, but Hal's heart was no lighter after she had duly been presented to the paternal husband, as she called him, and she journeyed solemnly home on a bus, feeling rather as if she had been to a funeral. She tried at first to hide her feelings from Dudley - no difficult matter at all, since he usually contributed little but a slightly absent "yes" and "no" to the conversation, and if the conversation languished he took small notice.

However, he had to be told, and Hal rarely troubled to do much beating about the bush, so, in order to rouse him speedily and thoroughly, just as he was settling down to his newspaper she hurled the news at his head without any preliminary preparation.

"What do you think Lorraine has done now? Been and gone and married a man old enough to be her father!"

"Married!... Lorraine Vivian married!"

Dudley's newspaper went down suddenly on to his knee.

Hal had squatted on the hearthrug, tailor fashion, before the fire, and she gave a little swaying movement backward and forward, to signify the affirmative. He looked at her a moment as if to make sure she was not joking, and then said, with sarcastic lips:

"A man old enough to be her father? ... then it isn't even Rod Burrell!"

"No; it isn't even Rod Burrell."

"Some one with more money and influence, I suppose? Well, I don't know that Burrell needs any one's condolences."

"He does, badly."

"He won't for long. The Burrells are a sensible lot, and no sensible man frets over a hearless woman."

"Lorraine is not a heartless woman. She has too much heart."

"She is certainly very generous with it."

"I don't know which is the more detestable, a sarcastic man or a sensible one." Hal shut her lips tightly, and stared at the fire.

"I imagine you hardly expect any sort of man to admire Miss Vivian's action."

"It doesn't matter in the least what 'any sort of man' thinks. I am only concerned with the possibility that she will weary of matrimony quickly and be miserable. I told you, because I wanted you to hear it from me instead of from a newspaper."

Dudley suddenly grew more serious, as he realised how it must in a measure affect Hal also.

"Who is he?

"He is a stockbroker, named Frank Raynor, aged fifty."

"And of course she married him for his money ?

"I suppose so. Also he partly owns the Greenway Theatre."

"Pshaw . . . it's a mere bargain."

Hal was silent. She had rested her chin on her hands, and was now gazing steadily at the embers.

"Of course if he is not a gentleman, you will have to leave off seeing so much of her."

"Not at all. She would need me all the more.

"That is quite possible," drily; "but you owe something to yourself and me."

"I couldn't owe failing a friend to any one. But he is a gentleman almost - a self-made one, and he doesn't let you forget it."

"Then you've seen him?"

"Yes, to-day." Her lips suddenly twitched with irresistible humour. "He called me 'Hal' and Lorraine 'wifey' We bore it bravely."

"What business had he to call you by your Christian name?"

"None. I suppose he just felt like it. He also alluded to my new hat as a bonnet. Also he used to be an office-boy or something. He seemed inordinately proud of it."

"I loathe a self-made man who is always cramming it down one's throat. I don't see how you can have much in common with either of them any more."

Hal got up, as if she did not want to pursue the subject.

"It won't make the smallest difference to Lorraine and me," she said.

Dudley knit his forehead in vexation and perplexity, remarking:

"Of course you mean to be obstinate about it."

"No," with a little laugh; "only firm."

She came round to his chair and leant over the back it.

"Dear old long-face, don't look so worried. None of the dreadful things have happened yet that you expected to come of my friendship with Lorraine. The nearest approach to them was the celebrated young author I interviewed, who asked me to go to Paris with him for a fortnight, and he was a clergyman's son who hadn't even heard of Lorraine. Next, I think, was the old gentleman who offered to take me to the White City. IL don't seem much the worse for either encounter, do I ? and it's silly to meet trouble half way.

She bent her head and kissed him on the forehead.

"Dudley," she finished mischievously, "what are you going to give Lorraine for a wedding-present?"

"I might buy her the book, 'Row to be Happy though Married,'" he said dilly, "or write her a new one and call it 'Words of Warning for Wifey.'"

"We'll give her something together," Hal exclaimed triumphantly, knowing that, as usual, she had won the day.

Then she went off to bed, feigning a light-heartedness she was far from feeling, and dreading, with vague misgivings, what the future might bring forth.



CHAPTER V

It was a little over two years later that the crash came. There was first a commonplace, sordid tale of bickering and quarrelling, with passionate jealousy on the part of the middle-aged husband, and callous, maddening indifference on the part of the now successful and brilliant actress

To do Lorraine justice, she was not actively at fault. Her sense of fair play made her try sincerely to make the best of what had all along been an inevitable fiasco. She did not sin in deed against the man to whom she had sold herself, but in thought it was hardly possible for her to give him anything but tolerance, or to feel much beyond the callous indifference she purposely cultivated, to make their life together endurable. The things that at first only irritated her grew almost unbearable afterwards.

Lorraine's father had been a gentleman by birth, breeding, and nature. If she inherited from her mother an ambitious, calculating spirit, she also inherited from her father refinement, and tone, and a certain fineness character, that showed itself chiefly in unorthodox ways, of for the simple reason that her life and conditions were entirely removed from a conventional atmosphere.

As a man she might merely have lived a double life, conforming to the conventions when advisable, and following her own ambitions and bent in secret, without ever apparently stepping over the line.

As a woman she could but cultivate callous indifference to a great deal, and satisfy her soul by "playing fair" according to her lights, in the path before her, but nothing could save her from a mental nausea of the things in her husband which belonged to his plebeian origin and nature, and which crossed with a shrivelling, searing touch her own inherent refinement and high-born spirit.

The objectionable friends he brought to the house she found it easier to bear than the things he said about them behind their backs; neither, again, was his addiction to drink so trying as his mental coarseness. A man who had drank too much could be avoided, but the lowness of Frank Raynor's mind seemed to follow and drag hers down.

Yet for two years she held bravely on, cultivating a hard spirit, and throwing herself heart and soul into the first delicious joy of success. This last surprised even her friends and admirers. A moderate hit was quite expected, but not a triumph which placed her almost in the first rank, and was due not merely to her acting, but to a bigness of spirit and comprehension she had never before had an opporturnty to reveal.

It was, indeed, the justification of Hal's devotion. Hal, by her very nature, could not love a small-minded woman. What she so unceasingly loved and admired in Lorraine was a hidden something she alone had had the perspicacity to perceive, and could so instinctively rely upon. It was the something which, given once a fair opening, carried her quickly through the company of the lesser successes, and placed her on that high plane which demands soul as well as skill.

Then came the dreadful climax. In a drunken, mad moment her husband hurled at her that he had been her mother's lover, and proposed to return to his old allegiance - had, in fact, already done so.

Lorraine immediately packed up her own special belongings and left his roof for ever.

Expostulations, promises, threats, passionate assurances that he had not been responsible for what he said failed alike to move her. She knew that whether responsible or not he had spoken the truth, and that everything else either he or her mother could say was false.

Finding her obdurate, he swore to ruin them both; but she told him she would sing for bread in the streets before she would go back to him; and he knew she meant it.

Fearing his influence against her and his sworn revenge, she went to Italy for a year, and hid in quiet villages until his passion should somewhat have died, finding herself in the dreadful position, not only of being betrayed by her mother, but quite unable to obtain any sort of freedom without revealing the black stain upon her only near relation.

She could not seek a divorce under the terrible circumstances, and she was far too proud and spirited to touch a farthing of her husband's money. It was like a dreadful chapter in her life, of which she could only turn down the page; never, never, obliterate nor escape from.

In the black days and weeks of despair which followed, she often felt she must have lost her reason without Hal, and even to her she could not tell the actual truth. Hal asked once, and then no more. Afterwards it was like a secret, unnamed horror between them, from which the curtain must not be raised.

For the rest there was the usual but intenser scene of remonstrance between Dudley and Hal with the usual resentful and obdurate termination. This time Dudley even got seriously angry, unable to see anything but a foolish, unprincipled woman reaping a just reward of her own sowing; and for nearly a week his displeasure was such that he addressed no single word to Hal if he could help it.

Hal, for once, was too wretched about everything to resent his attitude, and merely waited for the sun to shine again and the black, enveloping clouds to roll away.

She saw Lorraine everyday, in the apartments whence she had fled, and helped her to make the necessary arrangements to cancel the short remainder of an engagement and get away. She even had one interview with the irate husband, but no one ever knew what took place, except that Raynor sought no repetition, and seemed afterwards to have a respectful awe of Hal's name which spoke volumes.

Accustomed to intimidating women with a curse and an oath, he had found himself unexpectedly dealing with two who could scorch him with a scorn and contempt far more withering than a vulgar tirade of blasphemous language.

Finally the break was made complete. Lorraine got safely away to Italy, her mother retired to an English village, and Raynor departed to America for good.

For him it was merely a case of fresh pastures for fresh money-making and fresh intrigues.

For Mrs. Vivian only a passing exile from the gaieties and extravagance she loved.

For Lorraine it meant a hideous memory, a hideous, overwhelming catastrophe, and a hideous tie from which she could not hope to free herself.

She went away in a state of nervous prostration that was an illness, feeling the horror of it all in her very bones, and clinging with a silent hopelessness to Hal in a way that was more heart-rending than any hysterical outburst.

Yet that Hal was there was good indeed. Hal, who, though only twenty-one, could look out on an ugly world with those clear eyes of hers, and while seeing the ugliness undisguised, see always as it were beside it the ultimate good, the ultimate hope, the silver lining behind the blackest cloud. Hal, who could criticise unerringly, with direct, outspoken humour,and yet scorn to judge; who had learnt, by some strange instinct, the precious art of holding out a friendly hand and generous friendship, even to those condemned of the orthodox, sufferers probably through their own wild and foolish actions, without in any way becoming besmirched herself, or losing her own inherent freshness and purity.

It was not in the least surprising that a man as wedded to his books and profession as Dudley should fail to realise what was, in a measure, phenomenal. By the simple rule of A B C, he argued that ill necessarily contaminates, if the one to come in contact is of young and impression- able years. There might of course be exceptions, but hardly among those as frivolous and obstinate as Hal.

He worried himself almost ill about it all, until Lorraine was safely out of England, adding seriously to poor Hal's troubled mind, seeing she must stand by the one while longing to soothe and please the other, and fretting silently over his anxious expression. But once back in their old groove, he quickly recovered his spirits, and even tried to make up to Hal a little for what she had lost. Unfortunately, however, he hit upon an unhappy expedient.

He tried to persuade her to make a friend of a certain Doris Hayward, instead of Lorraine.

Doris's brother had been Dudley's great friend in the days when both were articled to the same profession, but a terrible accident had later lain him on an invalid couch for the rest of his life.

When clerk of the works of one of London's great buildings, a heavy crane had slipped and swung sideways, flinging him into the street below. He was picked up and carried into the nearest hospital, apparently dead, but he had presently come back, almost from the grave, to drag out a weary life as an incurable on an invalid sofa.

Soon afterwards his father died, leaving Basil and his two sisters the poor pittance of 50 a year between them.

Ethel, the elder, was already a Civil Service clerk at the General Post Office, earning 110 a year, and on these two sums they had to subsist as best they could.

Basil earned occasional guineas for copying work, when he was well enough to stand the strain, and Doris remained at home with him in the little Holloway flat, as nurse and housekeeper.

Dudley, with his usual lack of comprehension where women were concerned, evolved what seemed to him an admirable plan, in which Hal and Doris became great friends, thereby brightening poor Doris's dull existence, and weaning Hal from her allegiance to the unstatisfactory Lorraine.

His plans, however, quickly met with the discouragement and downfall inevitable from the beginning. At first he tried strategy, and Hal, in a good-tempered, careless way, merely listened, while easily avoiding any encounter.

Then Dudley went a step too far.

"I have to be out three evenings this week, so I asked Doris Hayward to come and keep you company, as I thought you might be dull."

"You asked Doris to come and keep me company!" repeated Hal, quite taken aback.

"Yes; why not? She is such a nice girl, and just your age. I can't think why you are not greater friends."

"It's pretty apparent," with a little curl of her lips.

"We haven't anything in common: that's all."

"But why haven't you? You can't possibly know if you never meet. She seems such a far more sensible friend for you than Lorraine Vivian," with a shade of irritation.

"Probably that is exactly why I don't want her friendship," with a light laugh.

"But you might try to be reasonable just once in a way. Try to be friendly to-morrow evening."

Hal, with her quick, light gracefulness, crossed to him, and playfully gave him a little shake.

"Dudley, you dear old idiot. I don't know about being reasonable, but I can certainly be honest; and it's honest I'm going to be now. I think it is almost a slur on Lorraine to mention a little, silly, dolly-faced, conceited creature like Doris in the same breath; and as for being friendly to her to-morrow evening, that's impossible, because I shall not be here. I'm going to the Denisons, and I don't intend to postpone it. You will have to write and tell her I am engaged."

Dudley's mouth quickly assumed the rigidity which denoted he was greatly displeased, and his voice was frigid as he replied:

"You are very injust to Doris. You scarcely know her, and yet you condemn her offhand: the fault you are always finding in me. As for any comparison between her and Miss Vivian, it is very certain she would not sell herself to a man, and then run away from him because things did not turn out as she wanted them."

Hal turned away, with a slight shrug and a humorous expression as of helplessness.

"We won't argue, mon frre, because, since you always read books instead of people, you are not very well up in the subject. To put it both candidly and vulgarly, I haven't any use for Doris Hayward at all. Ethel I admire tremendously, though I don't think she likes me; and Basil is a saint straight out of heaven, suffering martyrdom for no conceivable reason, but Doris is like a useless ornamental china shepherdess, which ought to be put on a hight shelf where it can't get itself nor any one else into trouble. I'm really dreadfully afraid if I had to spend a whole evening alone with her, I should drop her and break her to relieve my feelings."

"Well, you needn't worry" - moving coldly away. "I have far too much respect for Doris to allow her to come here just to be criticised by you. I will explain that you are unexpectedly engaged," and he openend a paper in a manner to close the conversation.

Hal made a little grimace at him behind it, and retired discreetly to prepare for her daily sojourn in the City.

It happened, however, when, a year later, Lorraine came back to take up her theatrical career again in England, there was some vague change in her that made Dudley less severe in his criticisms. Trouble had not hardened her, nor softened her, but it had made her a little less sure of herself, and a little more willing to please.

Hitherto she had taken rather a pleasure in shocking Dudley, under the impression that it would do him good and open his mind a little. Now she had a greater respect for his sterling side, and could smile kindly at his little foibles and fads. The result was that Dudley admitted, a trifle grudgingly, she had changed for the better, and rather looked forward to the occasional evenings she spent with Hal at their Bloomsbury apartments.

He also had to admit that success had in no wise spoilt her, that it probably never would. The year of absence, it was soon seen, had not injured her reputation in the least. She came back to the stage renewed and invigorated, and with still more of that depth of feeling and atmosphere of soul wich had so enriched her personations before.

She became, very speedily, without any question, one of the leading actressess of the day; and the veil of mystery that hung over the sudden termination of her short married life, if anything, enhanced her charm to a mystery-loving public. And all the time, as Dudley could not but see, she never changed to Hal.

From adulation and adoration, from triumphs that might easily turn any head she always came quickly back to the little Bloomsbury sitting-room when she could, to have one of their old gay gossips and merry laughs. She seemed in some way to find a rest there that she could not get elsewhere, in the company of people who expected her to live up to a recognised standard of individuality.

And the change in Lorraine was a change for the better in Hal too, who began now to tone down a little, and at the same time to strenghten and deepen in character.

They were, in fact, a pair it was good to see and good to know. In the first few years after the break-up of her home Lorraine was at her handsomest. Her dark, thick hair had a gloss on it that in some lights showed like a bronze glow, and she wore it in thick coils round her small head, free from any exaggerated fashion, and yet with a distinction all its own. Her dark eyes once more showed the roguish lights of her schooldays, and her alluring red mouth twitched mischievously when she was in a gay mood.

A little below the medium height, she was so perfectly built as to escape any appearance of shortness, and carried herself so well, she sometimes appeared almost tall.

Considering what her life had been, she looked strangely young for her years, seeming to combine most alluringly the knowledge and sympathy of a woman of thirty-five with the freshness and capacity for enjoyment of twenty-five. The irrevocable tie so far had not clashed with any new affection; her husband remained in America and made no sign; and her art was all-sufficing.

Hal was built on quite different lines. Tall, and slender, and well knit, she moved with the surging grace of the athlete, and looked out upon the world with a joyfulness and humorous kindliness that won her friends everywhere. She was not beautiful in any sense that could be compared with Lorraine, but she had pretty brown hair, and fine eyes, and a clear, warm skin that made up for other defects, and helped to produce a very attractive whole.

Lorraine had taught her how to dress - an art of far deeper significance than many women trouble to realise; and wherever Hal went, if she did not create a sensation, at least she carried a dinstinction and pleasingness that were rarely overlooked. Her daily sojourn in the City, among the bread-winners, had made her large-hearted and generously tolerant, without hurting in any degree her own innate womanliness and charm.

She showed in her every gesture and action how it was possible to be of those who must scramble for buses, and press for trams, and live daily in the midst of panting, struggling, working, grasping humans, without losing tone, or gentleness, or a radiant, fearless spritit.

At the office of the newspaper where she filled the post of secretary and typist, she was a sort of cheerful institution to smooth worried faces and call up a smile amidst the irritability and frowns.

Blunderers went to her with their troubles, and felt fairly secure if she would break the news of the blunder or mistake to the irritable and awe-inspiring chief. He, in his turn, would be irritable before her, but never with her; and it was a recognised fact among the staff that she was almost the only one who could make him laugh.

Thus a few intervening years passed happily enough, briging Lorraine to her thirty-first birthday and Hal to her twenty-fifth, without any further upheavals to strike a discordant note across the daily round, except such inevitable trials as Lorraine continued to meet through her mother, and Hal through her devotion to a non-comprehending brother. Only, while they had each other and their work, such difficulties were not hard to cope with; and life sang a gayer, happier song to them than she usually sings to the mere pleasure-seekers.

For work in a wide interesting sphere is a priceless boon, and the men who would condemn women solely to pleasure-seeking and the four walls of their home are showing the very acme of selfishness, in that they are endeavouring to keep solely and entirely for themselves one of the best things life has to give.



CHAPTER VI

It will be remembered, perhaps, that an occasion has already occured when Hal had cause to congratulate herself upon the possession of a cousin, named Dick, who acted as an antidote to a brother who sometimes resembled a great-aunt.

Dick, or to give him his full name, Richard Alastair Bruce, was indeed her best friend and boon companion next to Lorraine. He was her earliest playmate, and likewise her latest. For many months together they had been companions in the wildest of wild escapades as children, at Dick's country home; and now that they were both responsible members of the community, in the world's greatest city, they were equally attached.

If Hal was down on her luck, she telephoned Dick to come instantly to the rescue, and if it was humanly possible he came. If Dick wanted a sympathetic or gay companion, either to go out with him or to listen to his latest inspirations, he telephoned to Hal, and little short of an urgent, important engagement would delay her.

At the time he become of any importance in this narrative he was established in a flat in the Cromwell Road, as one of a trio sometimes known as the Three Graces. The other two were Harold St. Quintin and Alymer Hermon.

The appellation was first given to them when they were freshmen at New College, Oxford; partly because they were inseparable, partly because they were a particularly good-looking trio, and partly because they all three came up from Winchester with great cricket reputations. Within two years they were all playing for the 'Varsity' and one of them was made captain.

Three years from the term of their leaving, after each had gone his own way for a season, they gravitated together again, and finally became established in the Cromwell Road flat, once more on the old affectionate terms.

Dick Bruce was following a literary career, of a somewhat ambiguous nature. He wrote weird articles for weird papers, under weird pseudonyms, verses, under a woman's name, for women's papers, usually of the Home Dressmaker type; occasional lines to advertise some patent medicine or soap; one or two Salvation Army hymns of a particularly rousing nature: and sometimes a weighty, brilliant article for a first-class paper, duly signed in his own name.

Besides all this he visited a publisher's office most days, where he was supposed to be meditating the acquirement of a partnership. Hal was very apt at terse, concise definitions, and she was quite up to her best form when she described him as "the maddest of a mad clan run amok."

Harold St. Quintin, or Quin, as every one called him, was idealist, etherealist, and dreamer. His original intention had been to enter the Church, but having gone down into East London to give six months to slum work, he had remained two years without showing any inclination to give it up. Sometimes he lived at the flat, and sometimes he was lost for a week at a time somewhere east of St. Paul's, where one might as well have looked for him as for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Alymer Hermon, after a sojourn on the continent to study languages, was now established with a barrister, waiting, it must be confessed, without much concern, for his first brief.

Of the three he was the most striking. Dick Bruce was only ordinarily good-looking, with a very white skin, a fine forehead, and an arresting pair of eyes - eyes that were like an index to a brain that held volumes of original observations and whimsicalities, and revealed only just as much or little as the author chose.

Harold St. Quintin was small and rather delicate, with never-failing cheerfulness on his lips, and eyes that seemed always to have behind them the recollection of the pitiful scenes among which he voluntarily moved.

Alymer Hermon was Adonis returned to earth. He stood six foot five and a half inches in his socks, and was as perfectly proportioned as a man may be; with a head and face any sculptor might have been proud to copy line by line for a statue of masculine beauty.

When he was captain of the Oxford Eleven, people spoke of his beauty more than his cricket, although the latter was quite sufficiently striking in itself. There were others who had sweepstakes on his height, before the score he would make, or the men he would bowl.

The 'Varsity' was proud of him, as they had never been proud of a captain before, because he upheld every tradition of manliness and manhood at its best. And they only liked him the better that so far his attitude to his own comeliness was rather that of boredom than anything else. Certainly it weighed as nothing in the balance against the joy of scoring a century and achieving a good average with his bowling.

He was equally bored with the young girls who gazed at him in adoration, and the women who petted him, and it was a considerable source of worry to him that he might appear effeminate, because of his blue eyes and golden hair, and fresh, clear complexion, when in reality he was as manly as the plainest of hard-sinewed warriors, though the indulgence of a slightly aesthetic manner and way of speech, learnt at het University, increased rather than counteracted the suggestion of effeminacy.

But, taking all things into consideration, he was singularly unspoilt and unassuming; and sometimes blended with an old-fashioned, paternal air a boyishness and power of enjoyment that could not fail to charm.

The first time that Lorraine met the trio was when Hal took her to spend the evening at the flat one Sunday, by arrangement with her cousin. She herself knew all three well, having been to the flat many times, but it had taken some little persuasion to get Lorraine to go with her.

"Of course they are just boys," said grandiloquent twenty-five, "but they are quite amusing, and they will be proud of it all their lives if they can say they once had Lorraine Vivian at the flat as a guest."

"What do you call boys?" asked Lorraine, looking amused; "I thought you said they had all left college,"

"So they have, but that's nothing. Dick is only twenty-five, and the others are about twenty-four."

"A much more irritating age than mere boyhood as a rule."

"Decidedly; but they really are a little exceptional. Dick, of course, is quite mad - that's what makes him interesting. Alymer Hermon is a giant with a great cricket reputation, and Harold St. Quintin is a sort of modern Francis Assisi with a sense of humour."

"The giant sounds the dullest. I hope he doesn't want to talk cricket all the time, because I don't know anything about it, except that if a man stands before the wicket he is out, and if he stands behind it he is not in."

"Oh no; he doesn't talk cricket. He mostly talks drivel with Dick, and St. Quintin laughs."

"Dick sounds quite the best, in spite of his madness. A cricketer who talks drivel, and a future clergyman working in the East End, don't suggest anything that appeals to me in the least."

Nevertheless, when Lorraine, looking very lovely, entered the small sitting-room of her three hosts, her second glance, in spite of herself, strayed back to the young giant on the hearth-rug. He was looking at Hal sideways, with a quizzical air; and she heard him say:

"It may be new, but it's not the very latest fashion, because it doesn't stick out far enough at the back, and it doesn't cover up enough of your face."

"Oh well!" said Hal jauntily, "if I had as much time as you to study the fashions, I daresay I should know as much about them. But I have to work for my living," with satirical emphasis.

"What a nuisance for you," with a delightful smile. "I only pretend to work for mine."

"We all know that. You sit on a stool, and look nice, and wait for a brief to come along and beg to be taken up."

"It's a chair. I'm not one of the clerks. And I shouldn't get a brief any quicker if I went and shouted on the housetops that I wanted one."

"Besides, you don't want one. You know you wouldn't know what to do with it if you got it. Well, how's East London?... "and Hall crossed to the slum-worker, with a show of interest she evidently did not feel for the embryo barrister. Lorraine smiled at him, however, and he moved leisurely forward to take the vacant seat beside her on the sofa.

"Is Hal trying to sharpen her wit at your expense?" she asked him, in a friendly, natural way.

"Yes; but it's a very blunt weapon at the best. People who always think they are the only ones to work are very tiring; don't you think so?"

"Decidedly; and I don't suppose she does half s much as you and I in reality."

"Oh well, I could hardly belie myself so far as to assert that. You see, it takes a long time to make people understand what a good barrister you would be if you got the chance to prove it."

Hald could not resist a timely shot.

"Personally, I shoud advise you to try and prove it without the chance. The chance might undo the proving, you see."

"What a rotten, mixed-up, meaningless remark!" he retorted. "Is it because you find I am so dull, you still have to talk to me?"

"Quin is never dull, he is only depressing. Dick, do hurry up and begin supper. I always feel horribly hungry here, because I know Quin has just come away from some starving family or other, and I have to try and eat to forget."

Lorraine leant across to the dreamy-eyed first-class circketer, voluntarily giving his life to the slums.

"Why do you do it?" she asked with sudden interest. "It seems, somehow, unnatural in a ... " she hesitated, then finished a little lamely, "a man like you."

"Oh no, not at all," he hastened to assure her. "It's the most fascinating work in the world. It's full of novelty and surprises for one thing."

She shuddered a little.

"But the misery and want and starvation. The ... the... utter hopelessness of it all."

"But it isn't hopeless at all. Nothing is hopeless. And then, knowing the misery is there, and doing nothing, is far worse than seeing it and doing what one can."

"Oh no, because one can forget so often."

"Some can. I can't. Therefore I can only choose to go and wrestle with it."

"Of course it is heroic of you, but still! - "

Harold St. Quintin gave a gay laugh.

"It is not a bit more heroic than your work on the stage to give people pleasure. I get as much satisfaction in return as you do; and that is the main point. Slum humanity is seething with interest, and it is by no means all sad, nor all discouraging. There is probably more humour and heroism there per square mile than anywhere else."

"And no doubt more animal life also," put in Dick Bruce. "It's the superfluous things that put me off, not the want of anything."

"It's feeling such an ass puts me off," added Hermon; "they're all so busy and alert about one thing or another down there, they make me feel a mere cumberer of the earth. A woman manages a husband, and a family, and some sort of a home, and does the breadwinning as well. The children try to earn pennies in their playtime; and the men work at trying to get work.""

"Whereas you? ..." suggested Hal with a twinkle, "work at trying not to get work."

"Come to supper, and don't be so personal, Hal," said her cousin. "I wrote a poem on you last week, and called it 'Why Men Die Young.' It is in a rag called The Woman's Own Newspaper. It is also in The Youth's Journal, with the pronouns altered, and a different title; but I forget what."

"What a waste of time - writing such drivel," Hal flung at him. "Why don't you compose a masterpiece, and scale Olympus?"

"Too commonplace. Lots of men have done that. Very few are positive geniuses at writing drivel. I claim to be in the front rank."

They sat down to a lively repast, and Lorraine found herself, instead of an awe-inspiring, distinguished guest, treated with a frank camaraderie that was both amusing and refreshing. They all made a butt of Hal, who was quite equal to the three of them; and when the giant paraphrased one of her (Lorraine's) most tragic utterances on the stage into a serio-comic dissertation on a fruit salad they were eating, lacking in wine, she laughed as gaily as any, and felt she had known them of years.

Then Hal insisted upon playing a game she had that moment invented, which consisted of each one confessing his or her greatest failing, and the gaiety grew.

She led off by informing them that she found she always jumped eagerly at any excuse to avoid her morning bath. Dick Bruce followed it up with a confession that he found he was never satisfied with fewer than four "best girls", because he liked to compare notes between them, and write silly verses on his observations; while Harold St. Quintin owned to an objectionable fancy for bull's-eye peppermints and blowing eggs.

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