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"but Julian let it go wrong quite by himself, and I think it must come right, if it comes right at all, in the same way. If it did n't, he would distrust it. I should n't-should be perfectly happy just to see him; but, then, you see, I know it's all right. Julian does n't. Seeing me would n't make it so; it would simply make him give in, and go on distrusting. We could n't live like that. You see, I don't know what has happened; but I do know what he wants, so I think I must do it."
"But you don't think this state of things is what he wants, do you?" Lady Verny demanded. "I may, of course, be mistaken, but up till now I have been able to judge fairly well what a man wanted of a woman when he could n't take his eyes off her face."
"He wants me more than that," said Stella, proudly. "I think he wants me very nearly-not quite as much as I want him. That's why I could n't make him take less than he wanted. To take me and not trust me would be to take less. If we leave him quite alone for six months or a year, perhaps, he'll have stopped shutting his mind up against his feelings. It might be safer then to make an appeal to him; but I should n't like to appeal to him. Still, I don't say I won't do anything you think right, dear Lady Verny, if you want me to, to make him happier; only I must be sure that it will make him happier first. I know now that it would n't."
"You 're the most extraordinary creature!" said Lady Verny. "Of course I always knew you were, but it's something to be so justified of one's instincts. I'm not sure that I sha'n't do precisely what you say-for quite different reasons. Julian will count on one of us disobeying his injunctions, and he 'll be perfectly exasperated not to have news of you. Well, exasperation is n't going to do any man any harm; it 'll end by jerking him into some common-sense question."
Stella smiled, but she shook her head. "Please don't hope," she said under her breath.
"There's one thing," Lady Verny said after a short pause, "that I do ask you to be sensible about. I can't take you abroad, as there hardly seems at the present time any abroad to take you to, but I want you to come and live with me. I think, after all this, I really rather need a companion."
Stella hid her face in Lady Verny's lap. "I can't," she whispered. "You 're
too like him.”
Lady Verny said nothing at all for a moment; she looked about the room. It was clean; for a London room it was quite clean, and Stella thought she had hidden all the holes in the carpet. Lady Verny's ruthless, practised eye took the faded, shabby little room to pieces and reconstructed the rest of the dingy makeshift home from it. She knew that Stella's room would be the worst of all.
"My dear," she said at last, "you are so very nearly a member of my family that I think I may appeal to you about its honor. Are you going to live like this and not let me help you? You are not strong enough to work, and this folly of poor Julian's won't make you any stronger. Since you can't live with me, won't you accept a little of what is really yours?"
"Money?" asked Stella, looking up into Lady Verny's face. "I would if you were n't his mother, because I love you; but I can't now. You see, Julian 's taken his honor away from me; he 's left me only my own. I know he 'll think me cruel, and I'll never return what I did take. He'll think perhaps I would use it if I needed it, and that may make him happier; but I must n't take any more. I must be cruel."
"Yes, you 're very cruel," said Lady Verny, kissing her. "Well, I sha'n't bully you, for I would n't do it myself. It'll only make my heart ache in a new way, and really, I'm so used to its aching that I ought n't to grumble at any fresh manifestation. As to Julian's heart, he 's been so extraordinarily silly that only the fact that folly is a sign of love induces me to believe he's got one." She rose to her feet, with her arms still about Stella.
"I'm simply not to mention you at all?" she asked.
Stella shook her head. She clung to Lady Verny speechlessly.
“And when I see him next," Lady Verny asked a little dryly,-"and, presumably, he'll send for me in about a fortnight, he 'll say, 'Well, did she take the money?' What am I to answer to
"Say," whispered Stella, "that she would have liked to take it, but she could n't."
"I could make up something a great deal crueller to say than that," said Lady Verny, grimly. "However, I dare say you 're right; it sounds so precisely like you that it's bound to hurt him more than any gibe."
Stella burst into tears.
"Oh, don't! don't!" she sobbed. "You must-you must be kind to him! I don't want anything in the world to hurt him."
"I know you don't," said Lady Verny, gently. "You little silly, I only wanted to make you cry. It'll be easier if you cry a little."
Stella cried more than ever then, because Lady Verny was so terribly like Julian.
It was the hour of the day that Julian liked least. Until four o'clock in the afternoon his mind was protected by blinkers; he saw the road ahead of him, but the unmerciful vastness of the world was hidden from him. He was thankful that he could not see it, because it was possessed by Stella.
He could keep her out of his work; but there was no other subject she left untouched, no prospect that was not penetrated with her presence, no moment of his consciousness that she did not ruthlessly share.
He knew when he left her that he must be prepared for a sharp wrench and an unforgetable loss; what he had not foreseen was that the wrench would be continuous, and that he would be confronted by her presence at every turn.
Women's faces had haunted him before, and he had known what it was to be maddened by the sudden cessation of an intense relationship; but that was different. He could not remember Stella's face; he had no visual impression of her physical presence; he had simply lost the center of his thoughts. He felt as if he were living in a nightmare in which one tries to cross the ocean without a ticket.
He was perpetually starting lines of thought which were not destined to arrive. For the first few weeks it was almost easier; he felt the immediate relief which comes from all decisive action, and he was able to believe that he was angry with Stella. She had obeyed him implicitly by not writing, and his mother never mentioned her except for that worst moment of all when she gave him Stella's words, without comment. "She would like to take the money, but she cannot do it." This fed his anger.
"If I'd been that fellow Travers, I suppose she 'd have taken it right enough," he said to himself, bitterly, and without the slightest conviction. He said nothing at all to his mother. Julian knew why Stella had not taken the money. It was because she had not consented to what he had done; he had forced her will. Of all her remembered words, the ones that remained most steadily in his mind were: "You are not only sacrificing yourself; you are sacrificing me. I give you no such right."
That was her infernal woman's casuistry. uistry. He had a perfect right to save her. He was doing what a man of honor ought to do, freeing a woman he loved from an incalculable burden. It was no use Stella's saying she ought to have a choice,-pity had loaded her dice, and it was sheer nonsense to accuse him of pride. He had n't any. He'd consented to take her till he found she had a decent marriage at her feet. He could n't have done anything else then but give her up. The greatest scoundrel unhung would n't have. done anything else. It relieved Julian to compare himself to this illusory and selfrighteous personage.
As to facing Stella with it, which he supposed was her fantastic claim, it only showed what a child she was and how little Stella knew about the world or men. There were things you could n't tell a woman. Stella was too confoundedly innocent.
Why should he put them both to a scene of absolute torture? Surely he had endured enough. He was n't a coward, but to meet her eyes and go against her was rather more than he could undertake, knocked about as he was by every kind of beastly helplessness. He fell back upon self-pity as upon an ally; it helped him to obscure Stella's point of view. She ought to have realized what it would make him suffer; and she did n't, or she would have taken the money. He did well, he assured himself, to be angry; everything in life had failed him. Stella had failed him. But at this point his prevailing sanity shook him into laughter. He could still laugh at the idea of Stella's having failed him.
You do not fail people because you refuse to release them from acting up to the standard you had expected of them; you fail them when you expect less of them than they can give you. When Julian had faced this fact squarely he ceased to beat about the bush of his vanity. He confessed to himself that he was a coward not to have had it out with Stella. But he acquiesced in this spiritual defeat; he assured himself that there were situations in life when for the sake of what you loved had to be a coward. Of course it was for Stella's sake; a man, he argued, does n't lie down on a rack because he likes it.
He wished he could have gone on being angry with Stella, because when he stopped being angry he became frightened.
He was haunted by the fear of Stella's poverty. He did n't know anything about poverty except that it was disagreeable and a long way off. He had a general theory that people who were very poor were either used to it or might have helped it; but this general theory broke like a bubble at the touch of a special instance.
The worst of it was that Stella had not really told him anything about her life. He knew that her father was a wellknown Egyptologist, that her mother had various odd ethical beliefs, and he knew all that he wanted to know about Eurydice. But of Stella's actual life, of its burdens and its cares, what had she told him? That there were n't any bells in the house and that clocks did n't go.
This showed bad management and explained her unpunctuality, but it explained nothing more. It did not tell Julian how poor she was, or if she was properly looked after when she came home from work.
If she married Travers, she would have about nine hundred a year. Julian had made investigations into the income of metropolitan town clerks.
He supposed that people could just manage on this restricted sum, with economy; but there seemed no reliable statistics about the incomes of famous Egyptologists. Why had n't he asked Stella? She ought to have told him without being asked. He tried being angry with her for her secretiveness, but it hurt him, so he gave it up. He knew she would have told him if he had asked her.
Julian made himself a nuisance at the office for which he worked on the subject of pay for women clerks. It relieved him a little, but not much.
Logically he ought to have felt only his own pain, which he could have stood; he had made Stella safe by it. But he had deserted her; he could n't get this out of his head. He kept saying to himself, "If she 's in any trouble, why does n't she go to Travers?" But he could n't believe that Stella would ever go to Travers.
The lighting restrictions-it was November, and the evening thoroughfares were as dark as tunnels-unnerved him. Stella might get run over; she was certain to be hopelessly absent-minded in traffic, and would always be the last person to get on to a crowded bus.
It was six months since he had broken
off their engagement. Julian did not
think it could possibly remind Stella of him if he sent her, addressed by a shop assistant, a flash-light lamp for carrying about the streets. She would n't send back a thing as small as a torch-lamp, even if she did dislike anonymous presents. He was justified in this conjecture. Stella kept the lamp, but she never had a moment's doubt as to whom it came from; if it had had “Julian" engraved on it she could n't have been surer.
Julian always drove to his club at four o'clock, so that he did n't have to take his tea alone. He did n't wish to talk to anybody, but he liked being disturbed. Then he played bridge till dinner, dined at the club, and went back to his rooms, where he worked till midnight. This made everything quite possible except when he could n't sleep.
He sat in an alcove, by a large, polished window of the club. It was still light enough to see the faces of the passersby, to watch the motor-busses lurching through the traffic like steam tugs on a river, and the shadows creeping up from Westminster till they filled the green park with the chill gravity of evening.
A taxi drew up opposite to the club, and a man got out of it. There was nothing particularly noticeable about the man. except that he was very neatly dressed. Julian took an instant and most unreasonable dislike to him. He said under his He said under his breath, "Why is n't the fellow in khaki?"
The man paid the driver what was presumably,, from the scowl he received in return, his exact fare. Then he prepared to enter the club. He did not look in the least like any of the men who belonged to Julian's club. A moment later the waiter brought to Julian a card with "Mr. Leslie Travers" engraved upon it.
"Confound his impudence!" was Julian's immediate thought. "Why on earth should I see the fellow?" Then he realized that he was being angry simply because Mr. Travers had probably seen Stella.
Julian instantly rejected the idea that Stella had sent Mr. Travers to see him; she would n't have done that. He was n't
in any way obliged to receive him; still, there was just the off chance that he might hear something about Stella if he did. Julian would rather have heard something about Stella from a condemned murderer; but as Providence had not provided him with this source of information, he decided to see the town clerk instead. You could say what you liked to a man if he happened to annoy you, and Julian rather hoped that Mr. Travers would give him this opportunity.
Mr. Travers entered briskly and without embarrassment. His official position had caused him to feel on rather more than an equality with the people he was likely to meet. He did not think that Sir Julian Verny was his equal.
Mr. Travers considered all members of the aristocracy loafers. Even when they worked, they did it, as it were, on their luck. They had none of the inconveniences and resulting competence of having climbed from the bottom of the ladder to the top by their own unaided efforts.
There were three or four other men in the room when he entered it, but Mr. Travers picked out Julian in an instant. Their eyes met, and neither of them looked away from the other. Sir Julian said stiffly:
"Sit down, won't you? What will you take-a whisky and soda?"
"Thanks," said Mr. Travers, drawing up a chair opposite Julian and placing his hat and gloves carefully on the floor beside him. "I do not drink alcohol in between meals, but I should like a little aërated water."
Julian stared at him fixedly. This was the man Eurydice had compared with Napoleon, to the latter's disadvantage.
Mr. Travers refused a cigar, and sat in an arm-chair as if there were a desk in front of him. It annoyed Julian.
"I have no doubt," said Mr. Travers, "that you're wondering why I ventured to ask you for this interview."
"I'm afraid I am, rather," Julian observed, with hostile politeness. "I know your name, of course."
"Exactly," said Mr. Travers, as if Julian had presented him with a valuable concession greatly to his advantage. "I had counted upon that fact to approach you directly and without correspondence. One should avoid black and white, I think, when it is possible, in dealing with personal matters."
"I am not aware," said Julian, coldly, "that there are any personal matters between us to discuss." "I dare say not," replied Mr. Travers, blandly, placing the tips of his fingers slowly together. "You may have observed, Sir Julian, that coincidences bring very unlikely people together at times. I admit that
Mr. Travers frowned. Town clerks are not as a rule ordered to go on. Even their mayors treat them with municipal hesitancy. Still, he went on. Julian's eyes held him as in a vise. "You have probably heard my name,' Mr. Travers began, "from the elder Miss Waring." Julian nodded. "She was for two years and a half my secretary. I may say that she was the most efficient secretary I have ever had. There have been, I think, few instances in any office where the work between a man and woman was more impersonal or more satisfactory. It is due to the elder Miss Waring that I should
"STELLA WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF IRONING THE
they have done so in CURTAINS WHEN SHE RECEIVED JULIAN'S LETTER" tell you this. It was this instance."
"What for?" asked Julian, succinctly. He found that he disliked Mr. Travers quite as much as he intended to dislike him, and he despised him more.
"An injustice has been brought to my notice," said Mr. Travers, slowly and impressively. He was not in the least flurried by Julian's hostile manner, which he considered was due to an insufficient business education; it only made him more careful as to his own. "I could not overlook it, and as it directly concerns you, Sir Julian, I am prepared to make a statement to you on the subject."
"I'm sure I'm much obliged to you," said Julian; "but I trust you will make the statement as short as possible."
"Speed," Mr. Travers said reprovingly, "is by no means an assistance in elucidating personal problems; and I may add, Sir Julian, that it is at least as painful for me. as for you to touch upon personal matters with a stranger."
"The fact remains," said Julian, impatiently, "that you 're doing it, and I'm not. Go on!”
in fact entirely due to
her, for I found myself unable to continue it. There was a lapse on my part. Miss Waring was consideration itself in her way of meeting this-er-lapse; but she unconditionally refused me."
Julian drew a quick breath, and turned his eyes away from Mr. Travers.
"At the same time," Mr. Travers continued, "she gave me to understand, in order, I fancy, to palliate my error of judgment, that her affections were engaged elsewhere."
Julian could not speak. His pride had him by the throat. He could not tell Mr. Travers to go on now, although he felt as if his life depended on it.
"There are one or two points which I put together at a later date," Mr. Travers continued, after a slight pause, "and by which I was able to connect Miss Waring's statement with her subsequent actions. She is, if I may say so, a woman who acts logically. You were the man upon whom her affections were placed, Sir Julian, and that was her only reason for accepting your proposal of marriage."