Read CHAPTER XV of The Woman With The Fan, free online book, by Robert Hichens, on ReadCentral.com.

THE Charity Concert was to be given in Manchester House, one of the private palaces of London, and as Royalty had promised to be present, all the tickets were quickly sold.  Among those who bought them were most of the guests who had been present at the Holmes’ dinner-party when Lady Holme lost her temper and was consoled by Robin Pierce.  Robin of course was in Rome, but Lady Cardington, Lady Manby, Mrs. Wolfstein, Sir Donald, Mr. Bry took seats.  Rupert Carey also bought a ticket.  He was not invited to great houses any more, but on this public occasion no one with a guinea to spend was unwelcome.  To Lady Holme’s surprise the day before the concert Fritz informed her that he was going too.

“You, Fritz!” she exclaimed.  “But it’s in the afternoon.”

“What o’ that?”

“You’ll be bored to death.  You’ll go to sleep.  Probably you’ll snore.”

“Not I.”

He straddled his legs and looked attentively at the toes of his boots.  Lady Holme wondered why he was going.  Had Miss Schley made a point of it?  She longed to know.  The cruel curiosity which the angel was ever trying to beat down rose up in her powerfully.

“I say-”

Her husband was speaking with some hesitation.

“Well?”

“Let’s have a squint at the programme, will you?”

“Here it is.”

She gave it to him and watched him narrowly as he looked quickly over it.

“Hulloa!” he said.

“What’s the matter?”

“Some Imitations,” he said.  “What’s that mean?”

“Didn’t you know Miss Schley was a mimic?”

“A mimic-not I!  She’s an actress.”

“Yes-now.”

“Now?  When was she anythin’ else?”

“When she began in America.  She was a mimic in the music-halls.”

“The deuce she was!”

He stood looking very grave and puzzled for a minute, then he stared hard at his wife.

“What did she mimic?”

“I don’t know-people.”

Again there was a silence.  Then he said-

“I say, I don’t know that I want you to sing at that affair to-morrow.”

“But I must.  Why not?”

He hesitated, shifting from one foot to the other almost like a great boy.

“I don’t know what she’s up to,” he answered at last.

“Miss Schley?”

“Ah!”

Lady Holme felt her heart beat faster.  Was her husband going to open up a discussion of the thing that had been turning her life to gall during these last weeks-his flirtation, his liaison-if it were a liaison; she did not know-with the American?  The woman who had begun to idealise Fritz and the woman who was desperately jealous of him both seemed to be quivering within her.

“Do you mean ?” she began.

She stopped, then spoke again in a quiet voice.

“Do you mean that you think Miss Schley is going to do something unusual at the concert tomorrow?”

“I dunno.  She’s the devil.”

There was a reluctant admiration in his voice, as there always is in the voice of a man when he describes a woman as gifted with infernal attributes, and this sound stung Lady Holme.  It seemed to set that angel upon whom she was calling in the dust, to make of that angel a puppet, an impotent, even a contemptible thing.

“My dear Fritz,” she said in a rather loud, clear voice, like the voice of one speaking to a child, “my dear Fritz, you’re surely aware that I have been the subject of Miss Schley’s talent ever since she arrived in London?”

“You!  What d’you mean?”

“You surely can’t be so blind as not to have seen what all London has seen?”

“What’s all London seen?’

“Why, that Miss Schley’s been mimicking me!”

“Mimickin’ you!”

The brown of his large cheeks was invaded by red.

“But you have noticed it.  I remember your speaking about it.”

“Not I!” he exclaimed with energy.

“Yes.  You spoke of the likeness between us, in expression, in ways of looking and moving.”

“That-I thought it was natural.”

“You thought it was natural?”

There was a profound, if very bitter, compassion in her voice.

“Poor old boy!” she added.

Lord Holme looked desperately uncomfortable.  His legs were in a most violent, even a most pathetic commotion, and he tugged his moustache with the fingers of both hands.

“Damned cheek!” he muttered.  “Damned cheek!”

He turned suddenly as if he were going to stride about the room.

“Don’t get angry,” said his wife.  “I never did.”

He swung round and faced her.

“D’you mean you’ve always known she was mimickin’ you?”

“Of course.  From the very start.”

His face got redder.

“I’ll teach her to let my wife alone,” he muttered.  “To dare-my wife!”

“I’m afraid it’s a little late in the day to begin now,” Lady Holme said.  “Society’s been laughing over it, and your apparent appreciation of it, the best part of the season.”

“My what?”

“Your apparent enjoyment of the performance.”

And then she went quietly out of the room and shut the door gently behind her.  But directly the door was shut she became another woman.  Her mouth was distorted, her eyes shone, she rushed upstairs to her bedroom, locked herself in, threw herself down on the bed and pressed her face furiously against the coverlet.

The fact that she had spoken at last to her husband of the insult she had been silently enduring, the insult he had made so far more bitter than it need have been by his conduct, had broken down something within her, some wall of pride behind which had long been gathering a flood of feeling.  She cried now frantically, with a sort of despairing rage, cried and crushed herself against the bed, beating the pillows with her hands, grinding her teeth.

What was the use of it all?  What was the use of being beautiful, of being young, rich?  What was the use of having married a man she had loved?  What was the use?  What was the use?

“What’s the use?” she sobbed the words out again and again.

For the man was a fool, Fritz was a fool.  She thought of him at that moment as half-witted.  For he saw nothing, nothing.  He was a blind man led by his animal passions, and when at last he was forced to see, when she came and, as it were, lifted his eyelids with her fingers, and said to him, “Look!  Look at what has been done to me!” he could only be angry for himself, because the insult had attained him, because she happened to be his wife.  It seemed to her, while she was crying there, that stupidity combined with egoism must have the power to kill even that vital, enduring thing, a woman’s love.  She had begun to idealise Fritz, but how could she go on idealising him?  And she began for the first time really to understand-or to begin to understand-that there actually was something within her which was hungry, unsatisfied, something which was not animal but mental, or was it spiritual?-something not sensual, not cerebral, which cried aloud for sustenance.  And this something did not, could never, cry to Fritz.  It knew he could not give it what it wanted.  Then to whom did it cry?  She did not know.

Presently she grew calmer and sat upon the bed, looking straight before her.  Her mind returned upon itself.  She seemed to go back to that point of time, just before Lady Cardington called, when she had the programme in her hand and thought of the gossamer threads that were as iron in her life, and in such lives as hers; then to move on to that other point of time when she laid down the programme, sighed, and was conscious of a violent desire for release, for something to come and lift a powerful hand and brush away the spider’s web.

But now, returning to this further moment in her life, she asked herself what would be left to her if the spider’s web were gone?  The believers in the angel?  Perhaps she no longer included Fritz among them.  The impotence of his mind seemed to her an impotence of heart just then.  He was to her like a numbed creature, incapable of movement, incapable of thought, incapable of belief.  Credulity-yes, but not belief.  And so, when she looked at the believers, she saw but a few people:  Robin Pierce, Sir Donald-whom else?

And then she heard, as if far off, the song she would sing on the morrow at Manchester House.

  “Torna in fior di giovinezza
       Isaotta Blanzesmano,
       Dice:  Tutto al mondo a vano
   Nell’amore ogni dolcezza.”

And then she cried again, but no longer frantically; quietly, with a sort of childish despair and confusion.  In her heart there had opened a dark space, a gulf.  She peered into it and heard, deep down in it, hollow echoes resounding, and she recoiled from a vision of emptiness.

On the following day Fritz drove her himself to Manchester House in a new motor he had recently bought.  All the morning he had stayed at home and fidgeted about the house.  It was obvious to his wife that he was in an unusually distracted frame of mind.  He wanted to tell her something, yet could not do so.  She saw that plainly, and she felt almost certain that since their interview of the previous day he had seen Miss Schley.  She fancied that there had been a scene of some kind between them, and she guessed that Fritz had been hopelessly worsted in it and was very sorry for himself.  There was a beaten look in his face, a very different look from that which had startled her when he came into her room after thrashing Leo Ulford.  This time, however, her curiosity was not awake, and the fact that it was not awake marked a change in her.  She felt to-day as if she did not care what Fritz had been doing or was going to do.  She had suffered, she had concealed her suffering, she had tried vulgarly to pay Fritz out, she had failed.  At the critical moment she had played the woman after he had played the man.  He had thrashed the intruder whom she was using as a weapon, and she had bathed his wounds, made much of him, idealised him.  She had done what any uneducated street woman would have done for “her man.”  And now she had suddenly come to feel as if there had always been an emptiness in her life, as if Fritz never had, never could fill it.  The abruptness of the onset of this new feeling confused her.  She did not know that a woman could be subject to a change of this kind.  She did not understand it, realise what it portended, what would result from it.  But she felt that, for the moment, at any rate, she could not get up any excitement about Fritz, his feelings, his doings.  Whenever she thought of him she thought of his blundering stupidity, his blindness, sensuality and egoism.  No doubt she loved him.  Only, to-day, she did not feel as if she loved him or anyone.  Yet she did not feel dull.  On the contrary, she was highly strung, unusually sensitive.  What she was most acutely conscious of was a sensation of lonely excitement, of solitary expectation.  Fritz fidgeted about the house, and the fact that he did so gave her no more concern than if a little dog had been running to and fro.  She did not want him to tell her what was the matter.  On the other hand, she did want him not to tell her.  Simply she did not care.

He said nothing.  Perhaps something in her look, her manner, kept him dumb.

When they were in the motor on the way to Manchester House, he said: 

“I bet you’ll cut out everybody.”

“Oh, there are all sorts of stars.”

“Well, mind you put ’em all out.”

It was evident to her that for some reason or other he was particularly anxious she should shine that afternoon.  She meant to.  She knew she was going to.  But she had no desire to shine in order to gratify Fritz’s egoism.  Probably he had just had a quarrel with Miss Schley and wanted to punish her through his wife.  The idea was not a pretty one.  Unfortunately that circumstance did not ensure its not being a true one.

“Mind you do, eh?” reiterated her husband, giving the steering wheel a twist and turning the car up Hamilton Place.

“I shall try to sing well, naturally,” she replied coldly.  “I always do.”

“Of course-I know.”

There was something almost servile in his manner, an anxiety which was quite foreign to it as a rule.

“That’s a stunnin’ dress,” he added.  “Keep your cloak well over it.”

She said nothing.

“What’s the row?” he asked.  “Anythin’ up?”

“I’m thinking over my songs.”

“Oh, I see.”

She had silenced him for the moment.

Very soon they were in a long line of carriages and motors moving slowly towards Manchester House.

“Goin’ to be a deuce of a crowd,” said Fritz.

“Naturally.”

“Wonder who’ll be there?”

“Everybody who’s still in town.”

She bowed to a man in a hansom.

“Who’s that?”

“Plancon.  He’s singing.”

“How long’ll it be before you come on?”

“Quite an hour, I think.”

“Better than bein’ first, isn’t it?”

“Of course.”

“What are you goin’ to sing?”

“Oh-”

She was about to say something impatient about his not knowing one tune from another, but she checked herself, and answered quietly: 

“An Italian song and a French song.”

“What about?”

“Take care of that carriage in front-love.”

He looked at her sideways.

“You’re the one to sing about that,” he said.

She felt that he was admiring her beauty as if it were new to him.  She did not care.

At last they reached Manchester House.  Fritz’s place was taken by his chauffeur, and they got out.  The crowd was enormous.  Many people recognised Lady Holme and greeted her.  Others, who did not know her personally, looked at her with open curiosity.  A powdered footman came to show her to the improvised artists’ room.  Fritz prepared to follow.

“Aren’t you going into the concert-room?” she said.

“Presently.”

“But-”

“I’ll take you up first.”

“Very well,” she said.  “But it isn’t the least necessary.”

He only stuck out his under jaw.  She realised that Miss Schley would be in the artists’ room and said nothing more.  They made their way very slowly to the great landing on the first floor of the house, from which a maze of reception rooms opened.  Mr. and Mrs. Ongrin, the immensely rich Australians who were the owners of the house, were standing there ready to receive the two Royal Princesses who were expected, and Mr. Ongrin took from a basket on a table beside him a great bouquet of honey-coloured roses, and offered it to Lady Holme with a hearty word of thanks to her for singing.

She took the roses with a look of pleasure.

“How sweet of you!  They suit my song,” she said.

She was thinking of the Italian song.

Mr. Ongrin, who was a large, loose-limbed man, with straw-coloured hair turning grey, and a broken nose, looked genial and confused, and she went on, still closely followed by Fritz.

“This is the room for the performers, my lady,” said the footman, showing them into a large, green drawing-room, with folding doors at one end shut off by an immense screen.

“Is the platform behind the screen?” Lady Holme asked.

“Yes, my lady.  The ladies’ cloak-room is on the left-that door, my lady.”

There were already several people in the room, standing about and looking tentative.  Lady Holme knew most of them.  One was a French actor who was going to give a monologue; very short, very stout, very intelligent-looking, with a face that seemed almost too flexible to be human.  Two or three were singers from the Opera House.  Another was an aristocratic amateur, an intimate friend of Lady Holme’s, who had a beautiful contralto voice.  Several of the committee were there too, making themselves agreeable to the artists.  Lady Holme began to speak to the French actor.  Fritz stood by.  He scarcely understood a word of French, and always looked rather contemptuous when it was talked in his presence.  The French actor appealed to him on some point in the conversation.  He straddled his legs, uttered a loud, “Oh, wee!  Oh, wee! wee!” and laughed.

“Lord Holme est tout a fait de mon avis!” cried the comedian.

Évidemment,” she answered, wishing Fritz would go.  Miss Schley had not come yet.  She was certain to be effectively late, as she had been at Mrs. Wolfstein’s lunch-party.  Lady Holme did not feel as if she cared whether she came early or late, whether she were there or not.  She was still companioned by her curious sensation of the morning, a sensation of odd loneliness and detachment, combined with excitement-but an excitement which had nothing to do with the present.  It seemed to her as if she were a person leaning out of a window and looking eagerly along a road.  People were in the room behind her, voices were speaking, things were happening there, but they had nothing to do with her.  That which had to do with her was coming down the road.  She could not see yet what it was, but she could hear the faint sound of its approach.

The comedian spoke to someone else.  She went into the cloak-room and took off her motor cloak.  As she glanced into a mirror to see if all the details of her gown were perfect, she was struck by the expression on her face, as if she had seen it on the face of a stranger.  For a moment she looked at herself as at a stranger, seeing her beauty with a curious detachment, and admiring it without personal vanity or egoism, or any small, triumphant feeling.  Yet it was not her beauty which fascinated her eyes, but an imaginative look in them and in the whole face.  For the first time she fully realised why she had a curious, an evocative, influence on certain people, why she called the hidden children of the secret places of their souls, why those children heard, and stretched out their hands, and lifted their eyes and opened their lips.

There was a summoning, and yet a distant expression in her eyes.  She saw it herself.  They were like eyes that had looked on magic, that would look on magic again.

A maid came to help her.  In a moment she had picked up her bouquet of roses and her music-case, and was back in the green drawing-room.

There were more people in it now.  Fritz was still hovering about looking remarkably out of place and strangely ill at ease.  To-day his usual imperturbable self-confidence had certainly deserted him.  He spoke to people but his eyes were on the door.  Lady Holme knew that he was waiting for Miss Schley.  She felt a sort of vague pity for his uneasiness.  It was time for the concert to begin, but the Princesses had not yet arrived.  A murmur of many voices came from the hidden room beyond the screen where the audience was assembled.  Several of the performers began to look rather strung up.  They smiled and talked with slightly more vivacity than was quite natural in them.  One or two of the singers glanced over their songs, and pointed out certain effects they meant to make to the principal accompanist, an abnormally thin boy with thick dark hair and flushed cheeks.  He expressed comprehension, emphasising it by finger-taps on the music and a continual, “I see!  I see!” Two or three of the members of the committee looked at their watches, and the murmur of conversation in the hidden concert-room rose into a dull roar.

Lady Holme sat down on a sofa.  Sometimes when she was going to sing she felt nervous.  There are very few really accomplished artists who do not.  But to-day she was not at all nervous.  She knew she was going to do well-as well as when she sang to Lady Cardington, even better.  She felt almost as if she were made of music, as if music were part of her, ran in her veins like blood, shone in her eyes like light, beat in her heart like the pulse of life.  But she felt also as if she were still at a window, looking down a road, and listening to the sound of an approach.

“Did you see him?”

A lady near her was speaking to a friend.

“Yes.  Doesn’t he look shocking?  Such an alteration!”

“Poor fellow!  I wonder he cares to go about.”

“And he’s so clever.  He helped me in a concert once-the Gordon boys, you know-and I assure you-”

She did not catch anything more, but she felt a conviction that they were speaking of Rupert Carey, and that he must be in the concert-room.  Poor Carey!  She thought of the Arkell House ball, but only for a moment.  Then someone spoke to her.  A moment later Miss Schley came slowly into the room, accompanied by a very small, wiry-looking old woman, dreadfully dressed, and by Leo Ulford, who was carrying a bouquet of red carnations.  The kind care of Mr. Ongrin had provided a bouquet for each lady who was performing.

As Leo came in he looked round swiftly, furtively.  He saw Fritz, and a flush went over his face.  Then Lady Holme saw him look at her with a scowl, exactly like the scowl of an evil-tempered schoolboy.  She bowed to him slightly.  He ignored the recognition, and spoke to Miss Schley with a heavy assumption of ignominious devotion and intimacy.  Lady Holme could scarcely help smiling.  She read the little story very plainly-the little common story of Leo’s desire to take a revenge for his thrashing fitting in with some similar desire of Miss Schley’s; on her part probably a wish to punish Fritz for having ventured to say something about her impudent mimicry of his wife.  Easy to read it was, common-minded, common-hearted humanity in full sail to petty triumph, petty revenge.  But all this was taking place in the room behind Lady Holme, and she was leaning from the window watching the white road.  But Fritz?  She glanced round the drawing-room and saw that he was moved by the story as they had meant him to be moved.  The angry jealousy of the primitive, sensual man was aflame, His possessive sense, one of the strongest, if not the strongest, of such a man’s senses, was outraged.  And he showed it.

He was standing with a middle-aged lady, one of the committee, but he had ceased from talking to her, and was staring at Miss Schley and Leo with the peculiar inflated look on his face that was characteristic of him when his passions were fully roused.  Every feature seemed to swell and become bloated, as if under the influence of a disease or physical seizure.  The middle-aged lady looked at him with obvious astonishment, then turned away and spoke to the French actor.

Miss Schley moved slowly into the middle of the room.  She did not seem to see Fritz.  Two or three people came to speak to her.  She smiled but did not say much.  The little wiry-looking old lady, her mother from Susanville, stood by her in an effaced manner, and Leo, holding the bouquet, remained close beside her, standing over her in his impudent fashion like a privileged guardian and lover.

Lady Holme was watching Fritz.  The necessary suppression of his anger at such a moment, and in such surroundings, suppression of any demonstration of it at least, was evidently torturing him.  Someone-a man-spoke to him.  His wife saw that he seemed to choke something down before he could get out a word in reply.  Directly he had answered he moved away from the man towards Miss Schley, but he did not go up to her.  He did not trust himself to do that.  He stood still again, staring.  Leo bent protectively over the American.  She smiled at him demurely beneath lowered eyelids.  The little old lady shook out her rusty black dress and assumed an absurd air of social sprightliness, making a mouth bunched up like an old-fashioned purse sharply drawn together by a string.

There was a sudden lull in the roar of conversation from the concert-room, succeeded by a wide rustling noise.  The Princesses had at length arrived, and the audience was standing up as they came in and took their seats.  After a brief silence the rustling noise was renewed as the audience sat down again.  Then the pianist hurried up to a grave-looking girl who was tenderly holding a violin, took her hand and led her away behind the screen.  A moment later the opening bars of a duet were audible.

The people in the artists’ room began to sit down with a slight air of resignation.  The French actor looked at the very pointed toes of his varnished boots and composed his india-rubber features into a solemn, almost priestly, expression.  Lady Holme went over to a sofa near the screen and listened attentively to the duet, but from time to time she glanced towards the middle of the room where Miss Schley was still calmly standing up with Leo holding the bouquet.  The mother from Susanville had subsided on a small chair with gilt legs, spread out her meagre gown, and assumed the aspect of a roosting bird at twilight.  Fritz stood up with his back against the wall, staring at Miss Schley.  His face still looked bloated.  Presently Miss Schley glanced at him, as if by accident, looked surprised at seeing him there, and nodded demurely.  He made a movement forward from the wall, but she immediately began to whisper to Leo Ulford, and after remaining for a moment in an attitude of angry hesitation he moved backward again.  His face flushed scarlet.

Lady Holme realised that he was making a fool of himself.  She saw several pairs of eyes turned towards him, slight smiles appearing on several faces.  The French actor had begun to watch him with an expression of close criticism, as a stage manager watches an actor at rehearsal.  But she did not feel as if she cared what Fritz was doing.  The sound of the violin had emphasised her odd sensation of having nothing to do with what was going on in the room.  Just for one hour Fritz’s conduct could not affect her.

Very soon people began to whisper round her.  Artists find it very difficult to listen to other artists on these occasions.  In a minute or two almost everybody was speaking with an air of mystery.  Miss Schley put her lips to Leo Ulford’s ear.  Evidently she had a great deal to say to him.  He began to pout his lips in smiles.  They both looked across at Lord Holme.  Then Miss Schley went on murmuring words into Leo’s ear and Leo began to shake with silent laughter.  Lord Holme clenched his hands at his sides.  The French actor, still watching him closely, put up a fat forefinger and meditatively traced the outline of his own profile, pushing out his large flexible lips when the finger was drawing near to them.  The whole room was full of the tickling noise of half-whispered conversation.

Presently the music stopped.  Instantly the tickling noise stopped too.  There was languid applause-the applause of smart people on a summer afternoon-from beyond the screen.  Then the grave girl reappeared, looking graver and hot.  Those who had been busily talking while she was playing gathered round her to express their delight in her kind accompaniment.  The pianist hurried up to a stout man with a low, turned-down collar and a white satin tie, whose double chin, and general air of rather fatuous prosperity, proclaimed him the possessor of a tenor voice, and Miss Schley walked quietly, but with determination, up to where Lady Holme was sitting and took a seat beside her.

“Glad to meet you again,” she drawled.

She called Leo Ulford with a sharp nod.  He hesitated, and began to look supremely uncomfortable, twisting the bouquet of carnations round and round in nervous hands.

“I’ve been simply expiring all season to hear you sing,” Miss Schley continued.

“How sweet of you!”

“That is so.  Mr. Ulford, please bring my flowers.”

Leo had no alternative but to obey.  He came slowly towards the sofa, while the tenor and the pianist vanished behind the screen.  That he was sufficiently sensitive to be conscious of the awkwardness of the situation Miss Schley had pleasantly contrived was very apparent.  He glowered upon Lady Holme, forcing his boyish face to assume a coarsely-determined and indifferent expression.  But somehow the body, which she knew her husband had thrashed, looked all the time as if it were being thrashed again.

The voice of the hidden tenor rose in “Celeste Aida!” and Lady Holme listened with an air of definite attention, taking no notice of Leo.  The music gave her a perfect excuse for ignoring him.  But Miss Schley did not intend to be interfered with by anything so easily trampled upon as an art.  Speaking in her most clear and choir-boyish tones, she said to Leo Ulford: 

“Sit down, Mr. Ulford.  You fidget me standing.”

Then turning again to Lady Holme she continued: 

“Mr. Ulford’s been so lovely and kind.  He came up all the way from Hertfordshire just to take care of marmar and me to-day.  Marmar’s fair and crazy about him.  She says he’s the most lovely feller in Europe.”

Leo twisted the bouquet.  He was sitting now on the edge of a chair, and shooting furtive glances in the direction of Lord Holme, who had begun to look extremely stupid, overwhelmed by the cool impudence of the American.

“Your husband looks as if he were perched around on a keg of rattlesnakes,” continued Miss Schley, her clear voice mingling with the passionate tenor cry, “Celeste Aida!” “Ain’t he feeling well to-day?”

“I believe he is perfectly well,” said Lady Holme, in a very low voice.

It was odd, perhaps, but she did not feel at all angry, embarrassed, or even slightly annoyed, by Miss Schley’s very deliberate attempt to distress her.  Of course she understood perfectly what had happened and was happening.  Fritz had spoken to the actress about her mimicry of his wife, had probably spoken blunderingly, angrily.  Miss Schley was secretly furious at his having found out what she had been doing, still more furious at his having dared to criticise any proceeding of hers.  To revenge herself at one stroke on both Lord and Lady Holme she had turned to Leo Ulford, whose destiny it evidently was to be used as a weapon against others.  Long ago Lady Holme had distracted Leo’s wandering glances from the American and fixed them on herself.  With the instinct to be common of an utterly common nature Miss Schley had resolved to awake a double jealousy-of husband and wife-by exhibiting Leo Ulford as her ami intime, perhaps as the latest victim to her fascination.  It was the vulgar action of a vulgar woman, but it failed of its effect in one direction.  Lord Holme was stirred, but Lady Holme was utterly indifferent.  Miss Schley’s quick instinct told her so and she was puzzled.  She did not understand Lady Holme.  That was scarcely strange, for to-day Lady Holme did not understand herself.  The curious mental detachment of which she had been conscious for some time had increased until it began surely to link itself with something physical, something sympathetic in the body that replied to it.  She asked herself whether the angel were spreading her wings at last.  All the small, sordid details of which lives lived in society, lives such as hers, are full, details which assume often an extraordinary importance, a significance like that of molecules seen through a magnifying glass, had suddenly become to her as nothing.  A profound indifference had softly invaded her towards the petty side of life.  Miss Schley, Leo Ulford, even Fritz in his suppressed rage and jealousy of a male animal openly trampled upon, had nothing to do with her, could have no effect on her at this moment.  She remembered that she had once sighed for release.  Well, it seemed to her as if release were at hand.

The tenor finished his romance.  Again the muffled applause sounded.  As the singer came from behind the screen, wiping beads of perspiration from his self-satisfied face, Lady Holme got up and congratulated him.  Then she crossed over to her husband.

“Why don’t you go into the concert-room, Fritz?  You’re missing everything, and you’re only in the way here.”

She did not speak unkindly.  He said nothing, only cleared his throat.

“Go in,” she said.  “I should like to have you there while I am singing.”

He cleared his throat again.

“Right you are.”

He stared into her eyes with a sort of savage admiration.

“Cut her out,” he said.  “Cut her out!  You can, and-damn her!-she deserves it.”

Then he turned and went out.

Lady Holme felt rather sick for a moment.  She knew she was going to sing well, she wished to sing well-but not in order to punish Miss Schley for having punished Fritz.  Was everything she did to accomplish some sordid result?  Was even her singing-the one thing in which Robin Pierce and some other divined a hidden truth that was beautiful-was even that to play its contemptible part in the social drama in which she was so inextricably entangled?  Those gossamer threads were iron strands indeed.

Someone else was singing-her friend with the contralto voice.

She sat down alone in a corner.  Presently the French actor began to give one of his famous monologues.  She heard his wonderfully varied elocution, his voice-intelligence made audible and dashed with flying lights of humour rising and falling subtly, yet always with a curious sound of inevitable simplicity.  She heard gentle titterings from the concealed audience, then a definite laugh, then a peal of laughter quite gloriously indiscreet.  The people were waking up.  And she felt as if they were being prepared for her.  But why had Fritz looked like that, spoken like that?  It seemed to spoil everything.  To-day she felt too far away from-too far beyond, that was the truth-Miss Schley to want to enter into any rivalry with her.  She wished very much that she had been placed first on the programme.  Then there could have been no question of her cutting out the American.

As she was thinking this Miss Schley slowly crossed the room and came up to her.

“Lady Holme,” she said, “I come next.”

“Do you?”

“I do.  And then you follow after.”

“Well?”

“Say, would you mind changing it?  It don’t do to have two recitations one after the other.  There ought to be something different in between.”

Lady Holme looked at her quite eagerly, almost with gratitude.

“I’ll sing next,” she said quickly.

“Much obliged to you, I’m sure.  You’re perfectly sweet.”

Lady Holme saw again a faint look of surprise on the American’s white face, succeeded instantly by an expression of satisfaction.  She realised that Miss Schley had some hidden disagreeable reason for her request.  She even guessed what it was.  But she only felt glad that, whatever happened, no one could accuse her of trying to efface any effect made by Miss Schley upon the audience.  As she sang before the “imitations,” if any effect were to be effaced it must be her own.  The voice of the French actor ceased, almost drowned in a ripple of laughter, a burst of quite warm applause.  He reappeared looking calm and magisterial.  The applause continued, and he had to go back and bow his thanks.  The tenor, who had not been recalled, looked cross and made a movement of his double chin that suggested bridling.

“Now, Miss Schley!” said the pianist.  “You come now!”

“Lady Holme has very kindly consented to go first,” she replied.

Then she turned to the French actor and, in atrocious but very self-possessed French, began to congratulate him on his performance.

“Oh, well-” the pianist hurried up to Lady Holme.  “You have really-very well then-these are the songs!  Which do you sing first?  Very hot, isn’t it?”

He wiped his long fingers with a silk pocket-handkerchief and took the music she offered to him.

“The Princesses seem very pleased,” he added.  “Marteau-charming composer, yes-very pleased indeed.  Which one? ‘C’est toi’?  Certainly, certainly.”

He wiped his hands again and held out one to lead Lady Holme to the platform.  But she ignored it gently and went on alone.  He followed, carrying the music and perspiring.  As they disappeared Miss Schley got up and moved to a chair close by the screen that hid the platform.  She beckoned to Leo Ulford and he followed her.

As Lady Holme stepped on to the low platform, edged with a bank of flowers, it seemed to her as if with one glance she saw everyone in the crowded room, and felt at least something swiftly of each one’s feeling.

The two Princesses sat together looking kind and serious.  As she curtseyed to them they bowed to her and smiled.  Behind them she saw a compact mass of acquaintances:  Lady Cardington sitting with Sir Donald and looking terribly sad, even self-conscious, yet eager; Mrs. Wolfstein with Mr. Laycock; Mr. Bry, his eyeglass fixed, a white carnation in his coat; Lady Manby laughing with a fat old man who wore a fez, and many others.  At the back she saw Fritz, standing up and staring at her with eyes that seemed almost to cry, “Cut her out!” And in the fourth row she saw a dreary, even a horrible, sight-Rupert Carey’s face, disfigured by the vice which was surely destroying him, red, bloated, dreadfully coarsened, spotted.  From the midst of the wreckage of the flesh his strange eyes looked out with a vivid expression of hopelessness.  Yet in them burned fires, and in fire there is an essence of fierce purity.  The soul in those eyes seemed longing to burn up the corruption of his body, longing to destroy the ruined temple, longing to speak and say, “I am in prison, but do not judge of the prisoner by examining the filthiness of his cell.”

As Lady Holme took in the audience with a glance there was a rustle of paper.  Almost everyone was looking to see if the programme had been altered.  Lady Holme saw that suddenly Fritz had realised the change that had been made, and what it meant.  An expression of anger came into his face.

She felt that she saw more swiftly, and saw into more profoundly to-day than ever before in her life; that she had a strangely clear vision of minds as well as of faces, that she was vivid, penetrating.  And she had time, before she began to sing, for an odd thought of the person drowning who flashes back over the ways of his past, who is, as it were, allowed one instant of exceptional life before he is handed over to death.  This thought was clear, clean cut in her mind for a moment, and she put herself in the sounding arms of the sea.

Then the pianist began his prelude, and she moved a step forward to the flowers and opened her lips to sing.

She sang by heart the little story drawn from the writing of Jalalu’d dinu’r Rumí.  The poet who had taken it had made a charming poem of it, delicate, fragile, and yet dramatic and touched with fervour, porcelain with firelight gleaming on it here and there.  Lady Holme had usually a power of identifying herself thoroughly with what she was singing, of concentrating herself with ease upon it, and so compelling her hearers to be concentrated upon her subject and upon her.  To-day she was deeper down in words and music, in the little drama of them, than ever before.  She was the man who knocked at the door, the loved one who cried from within the house.  She gave the reply, “C’est moi!” with the eagerness of that most eager of all things-Hope.  Then, as she sang gravely, with tender rebuke, “This house cannot shelter us both together,” she was in the heart of love, that place of understanding.  Afterwards, as one carried by Fate through the sky, she was the man set down in a desert place, fasting, praying, educating himself to be more worthy of love.  Then came the return, the question, “Qui est la?” the reply;-reply of the solitary place, the denied desire, the longing to mount, the educated heart-“C’est toi!” the swiftly-opening door, the rush of feet that were welcome, of outstretched arms for which waited a great possession.

Something within her lived the song very fully and completely.  For once she did not think at all of what effect she was making.  She was not unconscious of the audience.  She was acutely conscious of the presence of people, and of individuals whom she knew; of Fritz, of Lady Cardington, Sir Donald, even of poor, horrible Rupert Carey.  But with the unusual consciousness was linked a strange indifference, a sense of complete detachment.  And this enabled her to live simultaneously two lives-Lady Holme’s and another’s.  Who was the other?  She did not ask, but she felt as if in that moment a prisoner within her was released.  And yet, directly the song was over and the eager applause broke out, a bitterness came into her heart.  Her sense, banished for the moment, of her own personality and circumstances returned upon her, and that “C’est toi!” of the educated heart seemed suddenly an irony as she looked at Fritz’s face.  Had any lover gone into the desert for her, fasted and prayed for her, learned for her sake the right answer to the ceaseless question that echoes in every woman’s heart?

The pianist modulated, struck the chord of a new key, paused, then broke into a languid, honey-sweet prelude.  Lady Holme sang the Italian song which had made Lady Cardington cry.

Afterwards, she often thought of her singing of that particular song on that particular occasion as people think of the frail bridges that span the gulfs between one fate and another.  And it seemed to her that while she was crossing this bridge, that was a song, she had a faint premonition of the land that lay before her on the far side of the gulf.  She did not see clearly any features of the landscape, but surely she saw that it was different from all that she had known.  Perhaps she deceived herself.  Perhaps she fancied that she had divined something that was in reality hidden from her.  One thing, however, is certain-that she made a very exceptional effect upon her audience.  Many of them, when later they heard of an incident that occurred within a very short time, felt almost awestricken for a moment.  It seemed to them that they had been visited by one of the messengers-the forerunners of destiny-that they had heard a whispering voice say, “Listen well!  This is the voice of the Future singing.”

Many people in London on the following day said, “We felt in her singing that something extraordinary must be going to happen to her.”  And some of them at any rate, probably spoke the exact truth.

Lady Holme herself, while she sang her second song, really felt this sensation-that it was her swan song.  If once we touch perfection we feel the black everlasting curtain being drawn round us.  We have done what we were meant to do and can do no more.  Let the race of men continue.  Our course is run out.  To strive beyond the goal is to offer oneself up to the derision of the gods.  In her song, Lady Holme felt that suddenly, and with great ease, she touched the perfection that it was possible for her to reach.  She felt that, and she saw what she had done-in the eyes of Lady Cardington that wept, in Sir Donald’s eyes, which had become young as the eyes of Spring, and in the eyes of that poor prisoner who was the real Rupert Carey.  When she sang the first refrain she knew.

  “Torna in fior di giovinezza
       Isaotta Blanzesmano,
       Dice:  Tutto al mondo e vano
   Nell’amore ogni dolcezza.”

She understood while she sang-she had never understood before, nor could conceive why she understood now-what love had been to the world, was being, would be so long as there was a world.  The sweetness of love did not merely present itself to her imagination, but penetrated her soul.  And that penetration, while it carried with it and infused through her whole being a delicate radiance, that was as the radiance of light in the midst of surrounding blackness-beams of the moon in a forest-carried with it also into her heart a frightful sense of individual isolation, of having missed the figure of Truth in the jostling crowd of shams.

Fritz stood there against the wall.  Yes-Fritz.  And he was savagely rejoicing in the effect she was making upon the audience, because he thought, hoped, that it would lessen the triumph of the woman who was punishing him.

She had missed the figure of Truth.  That was very certain.  And as she sang the refrain for the last time she seemed to herself to be searching for the form that must surely be very wonderful, searching for it in the many eyes that were fixed upon her.  She looked at Sir Donald: 

  “Dice:  Tutto al mondo e vano:” 

She looked at Rupert Carey: 

  “Nell’amore ogni dolcezza.”

She still looked at Carey, and the hideous wreckage of the flesh was no longer visible to her.  She saw only his burning eyes.

Directly she had finished singing she asked for her motor cloak.  While they were fetching it she had to go back twice to the platform to bow to the applause.

Miss Schley, who was looking angry, said to her: 

“You’re not going away before my show?”

“I want to go to the concert room, where I can hear better, and see,” she replied.

Miss Schley looked at her doubtfully, but had to go to the platform.  As she slowly disappeared behind the screen Lady Holme drew the cloak round her, pulled down her veil and went quickly away.

She wanted-more, she required-to be alone.

At the hall door she sent a footman to find the motor car.  When it came up she said to the chauffeur: 

“Take me home quickly and then come back for his lordship.”

She got in.

As the car went off swiftly she noticed that the streets were shining with wet.

“Has it been raining?” she asked.

“Raining hard, my lady.”