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weekly papers informed me, "for many years a close friend of the late Godfrey Clandon, and whose health has been somewhat injured by her close attendance on him during his fatal illness, has gone to Sicily with Miss Clandon, the great novelist's sister, for a long stay. It is the wish of her many friends," etc.
Now, the episode to which I have alluded, and which I have called, "The Episode of the Clandon Letters," did not come to pass until seven years after Clandon's death. During those seven years, I saw, for several reasons, rather less of Mrs. Herraday than heretofore.
For one thing, I had in the interim married, and my wife and she had taken to each other one of those inexplicable dislikes any attempt to uproot which can cause only disaster to him who makes it.
My wife, who is shrewd, at once declared that Mrs. Herraday was a humbug, and this naturally I resented. It was not the right word.
"She knows nothing about books," Maud declared, firmly; "and you know it, Bill Marchington."
This much I was willing to admit.
"And yet to hear her go on about "The Valletorts" the other night-one would have thought she 'd written the book herself."
This, alas, I could not deny. My friend's pretensions to literary knowledge, through the friendship with Clandon, had not escaped me.
"She has so often discussed his books with him," I said, feebly.
"Fiddlesticks! She thought Gambetta had been a friend of Cavour's and worn a red shirt! He never told her that!"
This lamentable mixing up of two eminent men, I had not observed, but Maud is truthful, even when angry.
"And the way she went on about his unpublished poetry--why it was perfectly ridiculous! I call her pretentious and false -battening on a dead man's reputation." "Battening," as a word, has always impressed me, just as "deleterious" does,and some others. I said no more, and we did not invite Mrs. Herraday to meet Sir William Kershaw, the new president of the R.A., Maud's uncle. There was never an open quarrel, it must be understood. I still went occasionally to the
charming house in Queen Anne's Gate, and more seldom Mrs. Herraday partook of one of our grandest dinners, or we, in exchange, of one of hers.
But the old intimacy was painlessly dying when the episode to which I have so often alluded, and to which I have, I fear, been so needlessly slow in approaching, at length occurred.
It was in May, and rumors had for some time been rife that a Life of Godfrey Clandon was about to be published. I knew that Vincent Cave was writing it, but my knowledge went no further. Cave was, of course, the man to whom the work should have been intrusted, and besides his skill in biography, he was further equipped by what appeared to be a fairly comprehensive personal acquaintance with Clandon.
They had been at Cambridge together, and on the occasion of the Spanish visit (so valuable as the origin of "Paola"), Cave had been with the novelist.
The book was reported to be nearly finished, then to be in the publishers' hands, then came a crushing report that Cave was at a standstill, owing to a sudden hiatus in his material.
I was very busy at the time, but I heard the rumors, and wondered. Then one day I met Cave in a motor 'bus, and asked him about his work.
"To tell you the truth," he said, "I am at a standstill. I have come across a mystery."
"Dear me! But how excellent! What could be better? I should have said, from the little I knew of Clandon, that exactly the lack of mystery would prove to be your stumbling-block."
mean to say,
"H'm. Well, so did I. I that 's what I used to think. But we are wrong. Have you ever heard that he had a love-story, Marchington?"
I had not, and said so.
Cave stared ahead of him, his eyes vague, in the peculiar way of eyes that see more than other people's.
"Exactly. And yet he had. I have found a bundle of letters-his own letters -written to some woman—that are about the finest things I have ever read."
"But what, then," I cried, "what could be better? You will publish them, of course. Any woman would be proud— that is to say, of course, unless—"
Cave laughed. "Oh, no, it seems to have been all right in that way. A most respectable, legitimate love, one would say. They must have been engaged at the time-there's no date- But the deuce is, we can't find out to whom they were written!"
"Paper old?" I asked. "Ink faded?" "No. It's thick, rough paper, quite unyellowed, and the ink is not faded at all. The letters contain no reference to current events, or even to his work. That makes me think that he must have been very deeply in love."
It looked so to me, and I went my way when we parted, nearly as interested as Cave.
Suddenly-it was in the Strand, I remember-I thought of Wilmot Herraday. She might know. It was highly probable that Clandon had confided in her. was just the type of woman in whom men do confide.
I wrote a note to Vincent Cave that evening and told him of my great idea. He sent me a line of thanks-type-written -and I thought no more of the matter for several days.
Then I had another letter from himwritten, this one, by his own nervous hand. "The most wonderful thing has happened! I was on the point of going to see Mrs. Herraday when I found two notes from her, sent to him some time ago. They were on indifferent subjects, but in one she said, 'But I fear I am not at all like the lovely princess Fleur Blanche!' Marchington! Fleur Blanche is the only name he ever used in the mad, delightful, wonderful love-letters! So it is quite established that the letters were written to her."
This was news indeed. So after all, Clandon had loved her. And, after all, why not? She was even now beautiful, and nine years before, her beauty had been marvelous. I wondered why she had not married him. However, it was no business of mine.
A few days later, I called and found her alone. She was now about forty, and there were streaks of white in her glossy dark hair and certain lines on her face, but her beauty had not faded; it had, as great beauty has the immeasurable advantage of doing, only changed a little in character.
that in its sober splendor became her well, and it was pleasant to see that she made no effort to combat the coming of middleage. A beautiful dignified woman, full of a certain restful charm.
"I am very glad to see you," she said, taking my hand kindly in hers. "It has been long-"
I sat down and in the pleasant flowerscented dusk, we began to talk.
"Mr. Cave has written me that you had advised him to come to me," she said, after a while.
"Yes. You did not mind?"
"No. He is coming to-morrow. So you know what he wants, March?" "Yes."
"It is about some letters. They are," she added, "very beautiful. He calls them the letters of Fleur Blanche."
"I know. It is a beautiful name." "I remember," she said, "when he wrote the first one. I was at Margate, with Flossie's poor little girl, you remember. And I read it on the sands. That sounds very crowded, but it was n't, for it was in February, and besides, every one but me was at dinner. I can remember-" she hesitated for a minute and then went on, one would have said almost reverently-"just how the sky looked and the It was the most wonderful letter I had ever read. I think I once mentioned them to you, did n't I, March?"
"The Fleur Blanche letters. Oh, no, it was Edmond Greer I read one to
I stared. It sounded very cold-blooded. "But why show it to Edmond Greer?"
"Because he was so interested in—well, there's no harm in my telling you now, poor fellow, that he wanted to marry me, and I could n't convince him that I did n't wish to. He nearly drove me mad, until I told him about Mr. Clandon-of course, no one in my position could think of marrying poor Edmond-"
"Quite so," I agreed promptly. "Well, may I, as an old friend, ask, are you going to do as Cave wishes?"
She smiled. "But I don't yet know what he does wish!"
So far as I can remember I am transcribing our conversation word for word. The reader is begged to note this.
"You must be able to make a pretty
She was dressed in deep purple, a color good guess."
"You mean he wants to publish the letters? And tell the whole story? Well -why not? I am extremely proud of it." "Then why," I asked, "did you not do it?"
She rose, and stood looking down at me, a little line between her eyebrows. "I-I tried, but-I simply was n't up to it. Oh, how I tried!"
I always try to admire humility, and I always fail. "Bosh!" I said, rudely, when I was quite clear that in this instance I had failed as usual.
"No, it was n't bosh, March. When he first proposed it, I thought I could. Naturally I was hugely flattered-and then, as time went on, I found I simply could n't. Oh, believe me, even he came to see that my efforts were-grotesque."
I began to make some reply when we were interrupted by another caller, and chances were such that I did not see her again for months.
But Vincent Cave I saw the following week, and he gave me a very circumstantial account of their interview.
"I began in the middle," he said; "it 's the only way. 'Mrs. Herraday,' I said, 'I have found a bundle of letters written by Clandon to some lady. They are magnificent letters, and they were sent to you.'
"'Yes. I will do anything I can,' she answered.
"Then I went on without making any more bones about it, 'May I publish these letters?'
"She stood looking at me for a moment, and at last said, slowly, 'Yes, I don't see why they should n't be published.'
"Then you embraced her, knocked over the piano as you passed, and ran bareheaded back to South Kensington to your study," I interjected.
"No, I did n't. I simply struck while the iron was hot. I said, 'I am very glad that you are capable of realizing the importance of the letters-that such things belong to the world, not only to one woman.' She did say that they belonged to her, but that was, of course, natural.
Then I went on: 'And, of course, I may publish your name, too?" "
He broke off speaking, adding, after a minute, "She has the most beautiful nuque I ever saw."
"Oh, bother her nuque! What did she say?"
Luckily She said
"I won't bother her nuque! looking down so I saw it well. she wore no collar. Oh, say? yes, that I might publish her name too. Quite simply, like that. A wonderful woman. No wonder Clandon loved her. I'd love her myself if I was n't so infernally busy."
I was surprised by his news. I had expected something different; I hardly knew what.
It was all very well to allow the letters to be published, although if she had been my sister, I should have felt her consent to imply a certain regrettable lack of delicacy; but that any woman could let her name come out in connection with such letters, shocked me very much.
Poor Clandon, how he would have hated it, I thought, when Cave had left me alone in my library. And then, rather sadly, for I had thought better things of her, I came to the conclusion that it was her old weakness for knowing worth-while people that was at the bottom of it all.
She would, of course, by her consent to having her name published, achieve a certain distinction as the woman Clandon loved. The book was certain to create an immense excitement in the literary world, and she, even while disapproved of by people of taste, would yet become an object of great curiosity.
"Through this poor great man's weakness for her," I thought, "she will become, in a way, famous. She will meet more 'worth-while people,' Heaven save the mark!"
And I thought unkind things of her. If she had not been ill that summer I might probably, for the sake of the old days, have attempted to make her see things in their true light, but some one told me shortly after my talk with Cave that she had typhoid fever and was in a nursing home. Where this nursing home. was, I could not find out, although, I am glad to say, I conscientiously tried.
Her house was closed, my letters remained unanswered, and by a curious fa
tality, her old doctor had died a month before, so that I did not know whither to turn for news.
When at last I saw in "The Onlooker" that Mrs. James Herraday, whom, rumor had it, Godfrey Clandon had wished to marry, was now at Bognor recovering from the effects of her recent severe illness, it was mid-August.
I went down one Sunday morning and found her comfortably installed at the Norfolk, and apparently in possession of a perfectly candid conscience.
She looked so delicate, so diaphanous after her long seclusion, that my heart
How could I scold her? If she did not see the strange indelicacy of what she was doing, could I make her? She was glad to see me, and told me about her illness with the pride of the recently-snatchedfrom-death.
I explained why I had made no sign; she forgave me, and then she said, suddenly: "I am so interested in the book! I am to see the galley proofs to-morrow. They came last week. Is n't it kind of Mr. Cave?"
I grunted something in return.
"I think," she went on, sniffing luxuriously at the flowers I had brought her, "that the day that book is published will be the proudest of my life."
I went to the window. The fact that her beautiful hair had been cropped close and was now coming in nearly quite white seemed to make my intended task more nearly impossible than ever.
"So you are proud of it," I said, clearing my throat.
She laughed. "I am. Is it very silly? Oh, March, remember how I always wanted to know worth-"
I interrupted her. "Oh, yes, I remember!"
"Well, and then when it came, think what it meant when I knew the best worth-while of all-and not only knew him but was-well, his best friend for his last four years! It is enough to make me proud."
I had simply no heart to scold her. After all, she had never been clever, or possessed of great understanding, and yet I had been very fond of her. I would still be fond of her, and as she was, not as I would wish to have her.
Her nurse's manner confirmed me in the wisdom of my resolve. The nurse gave her a glass of tonic wine and then felt her pulse, her serious eyes fixed on her watch. I could see that the woman was still taking care of my friend; that she still needed care.
So I said no more, and we parted very cordially.
The book was announced for November 1, and Clinton and Protheroe were advertising it very skilfully, whetting the appetite of the public with a clever, occasional paragraph hinting that the volume. contained hitherto unpublished facts about Clandon that would prove very interesting. People were really looking forward to the book, and Cave was in high feather.
Then one day in September, I met Mrs. Herraday in Bedford Street, Covent Garden. She looked desperately ill, and seemed in a great hurry. She was, she told me, on her way to Clinton and Protheroe's.
"I-it's about the book," she said, "I -I was n't able to read the proofs after all, until last week. And I have come up to town on purpose to see the publishers."
"Is anything wrong?" I asked.
"No-yes-that is, I don't quite like the way some of it is done. One or two changes-"
A mood of pitilessness came over me. "My dear Wilmot," I said, walking on beside her; "it 's too late to back out now. It would cost a fortune to change the book. It's set up by this time. You should have reflected before, whether you wished poor Clandon's secret to be published-"
She turned and looked at me. "Oh, that's what you think!" she said, coldly. "I wonder you did n't tell me before!"
"My dear friend, you were ill—” "My dear Mr. Marchington, if you understood, I cannot think you have been a friend to me," she said, flushing. "I will go on alone, please."
I had no alternative but to turn down the street, to the corner of which we had come. She was behaving like an idiot, of course, but, after all, had I behaved quite like a friend?
IT was Cave who, meeting Mrs. Herraday by chance at the very door of Clin
ton and Protheroe's, brought her, as he said, to reason.
"I began at once-in the middle," he told me, "did n't let her talk at all. Told her that the book was in the press at that very moment and could be changed only at huge expense; reminded her how interested every one would be to know that it was she whom Clandon had loved; how many people she would meet when she was the celebrity she deserved to be; how beautifully clear the letters made the exact nature of his friendship-that she had, in short, rejected the greatest novelist of his century-in short toute la lyre!"
"You played on her feelings abominably," I grumbled. "I am ashamed of myself for not having made her see long ago how it was going to look."
"Rot!" Cave stood still for a moment in the failing sunshine as I hailed a cab, the practical modern look fading, as the sun faded from his face, leaving in its place its old expression of dreamy-far-seeingness. "You may say what you like, Marchington," he murmured, "it is a thing for any woman to be proud of-to have been loved-and like that-by Godfrey Clandon."
I next met her at a big dinner at the Willy Protheroes'—a dinner given, I gathered, in honor of the publication of the book. Cave was there; and Raynham with his wife; and Archer, R.A.; a very important Shaksperian actor; a duke and duchess, and several minor folk, all joined, or assumed to be joined, together by the bond of their admiration for Clandon. I had glanced through the book that day, and I must say I greatly admired Cave's work. Greater delicacy could hardly have been found than that with which he approached the subject of the great man's love. What he said hardly filled a page -he allowed the letters to tell their own story-but what he did say was more than clever, it was beautiful.
He had moreover indicated Mrs. Herraday by her initials only, referring to her as a lady esteemed as much for her mental and moral qualities as for her great beauty, and mentioning the drawing-room in her house in Queen Anne's Gate where Clandon had passed so many of the happiest hours of his lonely life.
Of course every one knew who she was, and her pictures, Cave told me, had with
difficulty been kept out of the illustrated papers; but, at the same time, I was obliged to admit that her publicity was of a delicate and rather beautiful kind.
She looked very well that evening. She wore black velvet, and her silvery hair, now clustering in close, soft curls all over her head, lent her a quaint look of travesty. Several people, my wife told me, thought it was powdered.
She treated me very coldly at first, hardly looking at me during dinner, but I watched her closely, and was forced to admit that she carried off the strange situation very gracefully. She reminded me, in fact, of a rare flower of some sort, to see which all these people had come. They talked and politely discussed her, but her serenity was undisturbed.
Some one toward the end of dinner made a rambling, not very tactful, speech, in which he referred to her, praising what he was pleased to call her public-spiritedness. When he had sat down, Willy Protheroe said to her: "That does n't seem to me to be the word, Mrs. Herraday."
She smiled at him. "No. 'Pride' would be better. I am very proud indeed, Mr. Protheroe."
And after all, in spite of my forebodings, no one seemed to take great exception to what she had done.
Her way of doing it, added to Cave's inexplicable gracefulness of style, may have been enough to disarm the criticism of most people, but whatever it was she was to my amazement freely forgiven even by those who had at first resented her act.
She was very beautiful, remember, and very simple. She had no irritating airs to set the women against her, and she was silent enough on most occasions to allow them the comfort of calling her dull.
However all these things may be, it is a fact that after the publication of the book her popularity was increased a hundredfold, and the "worth-while" of all London welcomed her to their houses.
I made my peace with her after a time by writing and saying just that I was sorry. She was glad, for she is fond of her old friends, and never even asked me what I was sorry for, but invited us to dine to meet a very particularly fine assortment of "worth-whiles" of all kinds. Throughout the winter she was very