COUNT LITVINOFF IS SYMPATHETIC

At the moment when Mrs Fludger’s sense of propriety was being outraged
by what she termed, in a subsequent recital of her wrongs to her
first-floor front, ‘that shindy on the stairs,’ Miss Stanley was lying
on the sofa in the sitting-room at Morley’s Hotel, reading the novel
that had taken the last season by storm, and pushed everything else out
of sight on the bookstalls. But even the thrilling interest of this
work did not keep her from falling fast asleep in the middle of the
fourth chapter; and she passed the next half hour in a dreamland more
pleasant than Morley’s Hotel; for that hostelry, especially when her
father was, as usual, in the City, seemed to her to be deadly dull. She
had just come back to the world of solid furniture and characterless
window curtains; her first waking thought was that some tea would be
worth anything to her just then–except the trouble of getting up
to ring for it–and she wished dreamily that waiters could know by
intuition when they were wanted. It almost seemed as if they did, for a
tap came at the door, and she had to stop her reflections to say,–
‘Come in.’
‘Mr Richard Ferrier,’ said the waiter who appeared. ‘Are you at home,
ma’am?’
‘Oh, yes; show him up,’ she said; and to herself, wonderingly,
‘How funny of him to come at this time.’ Then, as he entered, ‘Good
afternoon, Mr Ferrier. What a dreadful day! Papa has not come home yet.’
‘I am very sorry to say,’ said Richard, as he took her offered hand,
‘that I shall not be able to come this evening.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ she said, cheerfully. ‘I hope there’s nothing
wrong. Can’t your brother come, either?’
‘I don’t know, Miss Stanley,’ he answered, leaning one arm on the
mantelpiece, and looking down, but not at her, though she had seated
herself in a low chair near the fire, and was quite within easy visual
range. ‘I am not likely to know much more about my brother.’
‘Not know much more about your brother, Mr Richard?’ she said, opening
her eyes very wide. ‘What can you mean? Surely you haven’t quarrelled?’
‘I suppose we have quarrelled. At anyrate, my brother told me half an
hour ago never to speak to him again on this side of the grave.’
Clare felt that this promised to be several degrees more interesting
even than her book. She couldn’t help wondering what they had
quarrelled about. Was it perhaps–
‘What did you say to him?’
‘I said nothing–he went away, and I came here.’ He spoke in that
particularly even and monotonous voice which, with some people, is
always the token of suppressed agitation.
‘I mean what had you said to make him say that?’
‘I told him the truth.’
‘But perhaps you said the truth too sharply, and, besides, you ought to
make it up with him–especially as you’re the eldest. It’s so terrible
for brothers to quarrel.’ She ended with a little didactic air which
became her very well.
‘I am afraid this is one of the quarrels that can’t be made up. I can’t
alter facts; neither can he, unfortunately.’
‘Is it so very serious?’ she asked. ‘Oh–papa will be so sorry. But
you’ll feel differently when you have had time to think it over.’
‘Circumstances don’t change by being thought over.’
‘No, but our view of them does.’
‘Well, I can say this, Miss Stanley; if ever I could change my opinion
of my brother’s conduct I should be only too glad, and I should be the
first to make advances towards reconciliation.’
‘Why, surely, Mr Roland’s done nothing wrong?’
‘You may be sure he has, in my opinion at least, or I should not have
spoken to him as I did; knowing, too, all that it involved,’ he added
in a lower voice.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Clare in quite an awestruck tone–all that her father
had told her about old Mr Ferrier’s will coming into her mind with a
rush. ‘Why, I had forgotten that.’
‘Yes,’ said Richard, looking straight at her for the first time that
afternoon, ‘I shall lose my living, and more, the hope of my life; but
at anyrate, thank God, I keep my honour, and he has lost even that.’
Clare returned his gaze steadily.
‘You have no right to say that, unless you are quite, quite, quite
sure,’ she said rather haughtily.
She had no motive for that little speech, save a natural love for fair
play, but he read in it a desire to champion his brother against his
attack, and he was goaded to the point of indiscretion.
‘I am so sure,’ he answered bitterly, ‘that sooner than touch hands in
friendship with him again, I am giving up all my chances in life, and
with them the hope of winning you. Don’t say anything,’ he went on,
seeing that she was about to speak. ‘I had no right to say that. I did
not mean to annoy you with any hint of my vain devotion, but I couldn’t
help saying it. Consider it unsaid if you like, but don’t be vexed
with me. There is one thing I must ask you. I should be untrue to my
love for you if I did not ask it. Do not let my brother win what his
fault forbids me to try for.’
She rose.
‘I have given you no right to talk in that way, nor to ask me any such
promise, and I will promise nothing since I know nothing,’ she said,
indignantly.
‘Then at least it shall not be my fault,’ said Richard with equal fire,
‘if you do not know what every woman he comes near ought to know. He is
not free to offer love to any woman. He owes all the love he is capable
of to a woman he has ruined and deserted.’
Miss Stanley looked at him coldly and contemptuously. He stood silent a
moment, and in that moment felt the utter falseness of the step he had
taken. She turned slightly away from him, and he knew that there were
no more words to be said on either side.
‘Good-bye,’ he said; ‘I shall not be at all likely to trouble you
again.’
‘Good afternoon,’ she said, without moving; and he went out. Now,
indeed, everything was over.
Clare, left to herself, sank down again in her low chair, and knitted
her brows in annoyed meditation. Quarrels, separations, and crushing
impertinent people with ‘dynamic glances’ were all very well in novels,
but in real life it was much nicer to have things go smoothly. She
could not quite foresee all the complications that this quarrel might
lead to, but she knew that it would make a great difference at Firth
Vale. Aspinshaw would be duller than ever. Would Roland come this
evening? Could what Dick had said be true? If it was, she thought, he
had no right to say it to her; and it was mean of him to say it to
anyone behind his brother’s back. Count Litvinoff would be sure to
come, at anyrate. ‘Let’s hope _he’ll_ be entertaining,’ she said to
herself.
When a woman is bored, or tired, or vexed, or perplexed, or worried,
after a quarrel, or before a journey, there is one resource to which
she always flies. Miss Stanley rang for tea.
The waiter who announced Mr Ferrier had quite settled in his own mind
that in so doing he was ushering in one of the chief characters in a
love scene, but when he caught sight of the young man’s face as he
came from Miss Stanley’s presence, he decided that the scene in which
Mr Ferrier had just played his part, had not had much love-sweetness
about it, at anyrate. Count Litvinoff, coming up the stairs a moment
afterwards, met Dick going down, and thought so too.
‘Ah! Mr Ferrier,’ he said genially; ‘we are to be fellow guests
to-night, I believe.’
‘I think not,’ said Dick, shaking hands; ‘I shall not be able to come.’
Litvinoff’s face fell, and he looked quite naturally grieved.
‘How unfortunate,’ he said.
‘I say,’ said Richard, after a minute’s pause, ‘were you in a place
called Spray’s Buildings, a turning out of Porson Street, about an hour
ago? You’ll think it strange of me to ask, but I have a particular
reason for wanting to know.’
‘Porson Street–Porson Street. I’ve heard the name somewhere, but I
certainly haven’t been there this afternoon.’
The Court of St Petersburg had evidently missed a good diplomatist in
Count Michael Litvinoff. The lie was admirably told.
‘No,’ said Richard, ‘I didn’t suppose you had, but I thought I’d just
set my mind at rest about it.’
‘May I ask,’ said Litvinoff, leaning on the banisters and idly swinging
his eyeglass by the guard, ‘why your mind was disturbed concerning my
incomings and outgoings?’
‘You are quite right. It is no business of mine; but I asked, in order
to verify or disprove a statement of my brother’s.’
‘So your brother, at anyrate, honours me with his interest, does he?’
‘You’d better ask him–good afternoon.’


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‘A sweet disposition that,’ observed Litvinoff, when, having watched
the other out of sight, he turned towards his room. ‘They ought to
teach politeness at Cambridge, and put it down among the extras. By
the way, there may be something to be got out of our brother. Things
are getting too mixed to be pleasant. Wonder whether he’ll turn up
to-night?’
He did turn up, in such a state of depression as to promise to be a
thorough wet blanket on all the fires of social gaiety. In fact, none
of the little party which assembled round Mr Stanley’s dinner-table
were in a state of mind to make them what is called good company.
Roland was thoroughly unhinged by the events of the afternoon, which to
him had been so utterly unexpected, and were so completely unexplained.
It needed a determined effort on his part to listen to Mr Stanley’s
commonplaces instead of thinking out some means of compassing a
reconciliation with his brother. He felt sure that their quarrel hinged
on a mistake, but what that mistake was, or what its subject was, he
was at a loss to conjecture.
Clare was listless and _distraite_. She was intensely annoyed by the
remembrance of that little episode with Richard, and, though she
told herself that she did not believe a word he had said, she found
it hard to forget it and to treat Roland as usual. She had not had a
chance of telling her father anything about Richard, for Litvinoff had
been punctual, and Mr Stanley had come back from the City late, and
cross as well as late; and the old gentleman’s continued references
to the absentee, and his regrets for the ‘sudden business’ which had
prevented him from being present, made matters several degrees more
uncomfortable than they would otherwise have been.
Litvinoff had his own reasons for not feeling very joyous on this
occasion, but he had not had three years of wandering in exile among
all sorts and conditions of men for nothing, and he was able to put his
own personal feelings on one side, and to do what was exacted by the
proprieties. No one could have told from his manner that he had a care
in the world. More than this, he succeeded after a while in inspiring
the others with some of his own powers of self-repression; and though
they did not perhaps feel more festive, they made a successful effort
to seem so, in order to be not out of harmony with what seemed to them
to be his gaiety and light-heartedness.
During the earlier part of the evening he devoted himself entirely
to Mr Stanley, a real act of self-abnegation in any young man, when
Mr Stanley’s daughter was in the room. But Mr Stanley was interested
in the financial condition of United States railways, and Count
Litvinoff–odd thing in an exile–knew absolutely everything that was
to be known about the financial condition of United States railways,
and, what was better, he had a friend who knew even more than that,
and whose knowledge was quite at Mr Stanley’s service. If during the
long conference on these entrancing topics he cast occasional glances
across the room to where Clare and young Ferrier sat talking, they were
certainly not envious ones, for ‘the gentle Roland’ did not seem to be
having a good time of it. Litvinoff took pity on him presently, and
came to the rescue.
‘Are we to have no music, Miss Stanley?’ he asked, when the subject of
the financial condition of the United States railways was exhausted for
the time being, and his host showed decided symptoms of a desire to
descant on the beauties of ‘our great Conservative institutions, sir,’
and ‘the glorious Constitution which,’ etc.
Miss Stanley felt that singing to three people would be better than
talking to one, and in the intervals between the songs that followed
she and Litvinoff seemed to conspire to keep the conversation general.
‘Penny Napoleon,’ so often a refuge of the bored and the uncongenial,
helped the long evening to its end, and though the last state of it was
better than the first, everyone was glad to say good-night to everyone
else.
The two young men, by the way, did not say good-night to each other
when they left the Stanleys.
‘Come and have a cigar,’ said Litvinoff, precisely as he had done on
the last occasion of their meeting there. And Roland, nothing loth
to defer the moment of being alone again with his own perplexities,
consented.
But even in the Count’s comfortable little sitting-room his
perplexities pursued him, and in more objectionable shape, too. For the
first words his companion uttered, after he had supplied his guest with
one of his special cigars and a tumbler of something unexceptionable,
with lemon, hot, were–
‘Your brother tells me you’re taking an interest in my movements, Mr
Ferrier.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘I had the felicity to meet him to-day, and he asked me–rather
bluntly, perhaps–if I had been this afternoon in some street, the
name of which escapes me at the moment–Morford Street, was it? I told
him no, and begged to know the reason of his question. He then said he
wished to verify (I think those were his exact words) a statement of
yours. I asked him, did you take an interest in my movements? He then
said, in a manner _tant soit peu_ abrupt, ‘You’d better ask him,’ and
vanished into the Ewigkeit. _Voilà_, I _have_ asked you.’
Roland took two or three puffs at his cigar, and surrounded himself
with a little cloud of smoke. Then he rose and stood with his back to
the fire, and in that attitude he looked, Litvinoff thought, uncommonly
like his brother.
‘Look here,’ he said slowly, ‘according to the laws of etiquette and
all that sort of thing, I have known you far too short a time to think
of talking to you about my relations with my brother, but I am horribly
perplexed about him; and since he has let you know that there is
something wrong between us, I may as well tell you all I know about it.
I need hardly say that all I say to you is said in strict confidence.’
The Count bowed.
‘For some time we have not been upon the very best of terms; but that’s
neither here nor there. There was nothing seriously wrong between us.
This morning, without any apparent cause, he made a kind of veiled
accusation against me, which I could not understand, and even went so
far as to tell me I ought not to go near–‘
He hesitated. Litvinoff made an interrogatory movement, which prevented
his stopping short, as he seemed inclined to do.
‘Miss Stanley,’ he ended.
‘Ah, so?’ said the other, raising his eyebrows, and looking
sympathetically interested.
‘We had a sharp word; but I should not have thought much more of it if
it hadn’t been for what came later. This afternoon I was going to see
a man you introduced me to the other night, Lenoir, who, I thought, I
remembered lived in Porson Street.’
‘Ah, yes, it was Porson Street your brother named,’ interrupted
Litvinoff.
‘As I was looking about for him I fancied I caught sight of _you_, but
it was foggy, and when I followed the man into a house, it turned out
not to be you. At least, I suppose not.’
‘No, no; it certainly was not I.’
‘Well, as I was looking about, bewildered, on a staircase, I met my
brother, who, I suppose, had followed me. He asked me what I wanted
there. I told him. He said I was a scoundrel and a liar. Of course, I
couldn’t stand that, so I let out at him, and came away–and there the
matter stands. What do you make of it?’
‘Excuse me,’ said the other, ‘does your brother drink?’
‘Certainly not; he’s one of the most temperate men I know.’
‘Could he have done it because–But ah, no, that is quite impossible.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Is your brother in love with Miss Stanley?’ said Litvinoff, slowly and
directly.
‘I think he is. What made you think so?’
‘It was coming from her presence that I met him.’
‘By God! That may account for her manner to-night,’ said Roland in a
low tone, but not so low but that Litvinoff heard him, and read his
thought almost before he heard his word.
‘No, no, that is quite impossible; dismiss that from your mind. He
would never be so base as to traduce you to her. Besides, where is the
motive, unless he fears you? Is there perhaps some other lady in the
case?’
‘No.’
‘He told you you were not worthy to go near Miss Stanley,’ said the
other, lowering his voice deferentially at her name. ‘That can only
mean one thing.’
‘It may mean that he is mad, or–by Jove!–it may mean one other thing.
But of that other thing I am as innocent as you are.’
If he was as innocent as Count Litvinoff looked, he was innocent
indeed.
‘Perhaps it will arrange itself. Quarrels about ladies often adjust
themselves–or rather the lady usually adjusts them.’
‘This,’ said Roland, ‘is more serious than most quarrels for both of
us, and more serious than I can tell you; but I think I’ve troubled you
enough with our family affairs. I’ll say good-night.’
Litvinoff came down to the door with him, and helped him on with his
coat. As he did so, he said softly,–
‘If it is any comfort to you, your brother did not seem to have
prospered in his suit. He looked distressed, and, fancied, remorseful.
Good-night. Ah, what a lovely night. The fog has quite cleared up. How
lucky for you. _Au revoir!_’