‘The only good thing about life is that it’s interesting, but it’s
quite possible to have too much interest at once, and then it begins to
be irritating and depressing, and the best sedative is tobacco, and the
best stimulant is whisky.’
So said the Count when he returned to his room, and he accordingly
acted on his convictions. But both whisky and tobacco seemed to fail
of the effect expected of them. He sat looking broodingly at the fire
for a moment or two; then he got up, paced the length of the room, and,
turning sharply, stamped his foot on the ground, muttered a curse or
two, and flung his hands out with a vigorous gesture of annoyance.
‘So, these sons of the millowner–these playfellows of childhood, these
friends of innocence–are _men_, not ugly, not fools, and not better
than their fellows. This Richard is apparently so much interested as to
go nearly mad about her disappearance; and as for Roland, there must
have been pretty strong grounds before his brother would have started
that charming scene on the staircase. I wonder if conscience had as
much to do with her conduct as I believed. As a rule, when a woman
gives up the substantial goods of this life, it’s as well to look for
some more commonplace motive than conscientious scruples. Perhaps it
was only a yearning towards the old love. Pardieu, though,’ he added,
with something like a laugh; ‘the old love and conscience together
don’t provide very good quarters. It would be too much to believe that
that little rustic had actually humbugged me. But it’s not impossible,
young man,’ and he glanced mockingly at his reflection over the
mantelpiece; ‘and at present I should advise you to go to bed; you’ll
need all your senses about you to-morrow. The threads are lying loose
round, as the Yankees say, and you must gather them up.’
He finished his glass of grog.
‘I would have given a few hundred francs to have been present in spirit
at that interview which depressed la belle Clare and crushed the
unhappy Richard. But perhaps a little adroitness to-morrow will fill up
the blanks of to-day. And as for the other matter, the future is more
to me than the past–to conclude with a fine revolutionary sentiment.’
* * * * *
‘I’m sorry I shall have to be out all the morning again,’ said Mr
Stanley next morning at breakfast, as he opened his letters. ‘Would you
like to come with me?’
‘No, thanks, papa,’ said Clare. She had been into the City with him
before, and had a vivid recollection of draughty passages, steep
staircases, and impertinent glances from junior clerks.
‘What will you do with yourself all the time?’ asked her father. ‘You
can’t be always reading.’
‘I’ll run over to the National Gallery, I think, and spend an hour or
two there.’
‘Why, you’ve been there once with me.’
‘It’s no good going to a picture gallery _once_.’
‘I don’t know that it’s any _good_, my dear, but it’s quite enough
for me. However, please yourself–please yourself.’ To Mr Stanley’s
idea it was quite as safe to send a daughter alone to the National
Gallery as to send her to church on a week day. The two places seemed
to him to be the one as uninteresting as the other, and both of them as
absolutely free from possible snares and pitfalls as any convent in the
land. ‘I meant to have given you lunch at the “Ship and Turtle,”‘ he
went on.
‘My dear papa, I’m not greedy. I’m not an alderman.’
‘The aldermen of London are an essential–‘
‘An essential part of the British Constitution,’ she interrupted,
laughing. ‘Yes, I know, dear, and I’m not an essential part. That’s
just the difference.’
With which she smoothed his hair, arranged his tie, kissed him on both
cheeks, and watched him out of sight from the window. Then she went and
wrapped herself in a good deal of brown fur, and walked quickly across
the square to the hideous casket in which the nation cherishes its gems
of art.
She was wandering from one picture to another in a desultory sort of
way, and thinking, it must be confessed, more of her own affairs than
of the paintings, when she almost ran against Count Litvinoff, who was
standing, his hat off and his hands behind him, in rapt contemplation
of the Martyrdom of Saint Somebody.
He turned and bowed, with an air of pleased surprise. She had never
seen him look so little English–so very foreign.
‘Ah! this is good fortune,’ he said; ‘your father is with you?’
‘No,’ said Clare. ‘Papa doesn’t care about pictures, except pictures of
dead fish and game, and horses and fat cattle; and I don’t care about
the City–at least, not the parts of it that he goes to–and this is a
sort of paddock where I am allowed to run loose when he is away.’
‘I often spend an hour here; I find pictures help one to think. How do
you like this Claude?’
Then the conversation was all picture for a while, and at last they
sat down on one of the few seats provided by the munificence of a
thoughtful Administration for such lovers of art as care to stay in the
Gallery long enough to get tired.
They were silent for a little while.
‘Are you not well, Miss Stanley?’ he said presently.
‘Oh, dear me, yes; I’m very well. Do I look ill?’ she asked quite
frankly, looking at him with her eyebrows raised.
‘Ah, no; you look–‘ he hesitated, ‘as you always do,’ he ended, as
though that was not what he would have liked to say.
‘Why do you ask, then?’
‘Because I fancied last night that you were in some kind of pain, and I
have been uneasy ever since about it.’
‘Last night? You’re very kind: there wasn’t the least ground for your
‘I was not the only one who thought so.’
‘I am afraid the evening must have been very dull, then, if it gave two
people that impression.’
‘Oh, dulness was out of the question to _me_,’ he said, with an
eloquent look. ‘But I suppose we couldn’t expect Mr Roland to be very
cheerful, under the circumstances.’
‘What circumstances?’ questioned Clare, who was beginning to feel
rather uncomfortable.
‘He has had what I believe in England is termed a “row” with his
‘How do you know?’ she asked, quickly. ‘Oh, I beg your pardon.’
‘Never do that; but, indeed, had you not asked me, I was going to tell
you, for I am in a difficulty. Although I know your language well, I do
not so well know your social customs. Shall we see Mr Richard again, do
you think?’
The question was put so innocently, and the Count appeared so really
perplexed, that Miss Stanley stifled the evasive answer that first
occurred to her, and said simply,–
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Then a great part of my difficulty vanishes. I am ashamed to trouble
you about my dilemmas; but I have been wondering whether I ought to
know them _both_, since they have so quarrelled, or whether it is not
incumbent on me to take one side or the other.’
‘If you take sides at all,’ said Clare, ‘you should take the side you
think right.’

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‘I am here amongst Englishmen. Being in Rome I must do as Rome does,
and I do not know what is right and wrong to English people.’
‘Right is right all the world over,’ said Clare, adding, as a saving
clause, ‘if you can only see which is right. But you are not the only
one who is in a dilemma.’ Then, driven by an irresistible desire to
know how the quarrel struck him, she asked him directly,–
‘Which do you think is in the wrong?’
‘There are some things which brothers might pardon in each other, but
which to other men would be unpardonable.’
‘Do you think, then, that Roland Ferrier has done anything
unpardonable?’ She had felt intensely annoyed at the turn the
conversation had taken, but since it had taken this turn, she was
determined to learn as much from it as possible.
‘I don’t think he has done anything the world would not pardon, and we
must remember that the greater part of the fault lies in his bringing
up.’ He said this with a delicate air of chivalrously making the best
of a bad cause.
‘If the world pardons the unpardonable,’ said Clare, feeling that she
was skating on very thin ice, and not quite knowing how to get back to
the bank again, ‘so much the worse for the world.’
‘I knew you would say that.’
‘And,’ she went on, forgetting how little she had told her companion,
‘if I could only be sure that all Richard said was true, I would accept
no one’s ruling but my own on such a question.’
Litvinoff’s eyes gave one little flash at the admission contained in
this speech, but he said quite quietly,–
‘Well, no one can possibly know. I presume he must at least believe it.’
‘Yes, he certainly does. This quarrel, as you perhaps know, means ruin
to them both.’
‘Ruin!’ he cried; ‘then it must not go on.’
‘You are very good to take such an interest in the Ferriers.’
‘Ah,’ he said sadly, ‘I have known ruin, and it is hard if the innocent
one suffers with the guilty.’
He looked about as little like a ruined man as it was possible to be.
His dress was perfect, though it had a certain foreign air that was
not to be traced to that too great prominence of shirt collar and
prodigality of cuff, that shininess of hat and boot, that exuberant
floridity of necktie, which are the signet of the _flâneur_ of the
boulevards. Above all, his nails were unexceptionable.
‘Their father left it in his will,’ said Miss Stanley, bluntly, glad to
get away from the subject of Roland’s possible _lâches_, ‘that if they
quarrelled they lost all their money.’
‘They were ever given to quarrelling, then?’ asked Litvinoff.
‘No, I don’t think so; but Mr Ferrier was old and very funny.’
‘He seems to have been prophetic in this instance; or perhaps he knew
what they were likely to quarrel about.’
Clare stroked her muff with her kid-gloved hand, and wondered whether
the late Mr Ferrier had thought they were likely to quarrel about her.
‘This affair of the unfortunate girl Alice Hatfield–‘ he was
beginning, when Clare rose.
‘It is quite time I went back,’ she said chillingly, and she turned and
walked out. He followed her humbly. When they had passed down the steps
he said,–
‘I have offended you, but you must forgive me. I am ignorant of English
customs. You had talked to me of the misdeed, and it did not seem to
be wrong to name the victim. I ought to have recognised the gulf which
separates the personal from the impersonal.’
There was a suspicion of irony in his voice, and she did not answer,
only quickened her pace a little.
‘Forgive me,’ he said, in a tone low, and one more earnest than any she
had yet heard him use. ‘You must forgive me. I would not offend you for
all the world, not to gain every end I have ever fought for, to realise
every hope I have ever cherished.’
She turned and looked right into his eyes, and in them read nothing but
perfect honesty and sincerity.
‘I have nothing whatever to forgive, Count Litvinoff,’ she said. ‘Pray,
let us change the subject;’ but all the ice was gone from her voice,
and he at once plunged into a diatribe against the carelessness of
omnibus drivers.
He said good-bye to her outside the hotel. At the top of the steps she
turned and looked after him, and was not a little vexed with herself
for having done so, for he was looking after her with an expression in
his eyes which said, to her at least,–
‘Whatever the ends I have fought for, or the hopes I have cherished,
may have been in the past, the object of my every dream and aspiration
is now yourself, Clare Stanley.’