It was the close of the season:
many people had left town, but festivities were still
on. To a stranger the season might have seemed
at its height. The Armours were giving a large
party in Cavendish Square before going back again
to Greyhope, where, for the sake of Lali and her child,
they intended to remain during the rest of the summer,
in preference to going on the Continent or to Scotland.
The only unsatisfactory feature of Lali’s season
was the absence of her husband. Naturally there
were those who said strange things regarding Frank
Armour’s stay in America; but it was pretty generally
known that he was engaged in land speculations, and
his club friends, who perhaps took the pleasantest
view of the matter, said that he was very wise indeed,
if a little cowardly, in staying abroad until his
wife was educated and ready to take her position in
society. There was one thing on which they were
all agreed: Mrs. Frank Armour either had a mind
superior to the charms of their sex, or was incapable
of that vanity which hath many suitors, and says:
“So far shalt thou go, and ”
The fact is, Mrs. Frank Armour’s mind was superior.
She had only one object to triumph over
her husband grandly, as a woman righteously might.
She had vanity, of course, but it was not ignoble.
She kept one thing in view; she lived for it.
Her translation had been successful.
There were times when she remembered her father, the
wild days on the prairies, the buffalo-hunt, tracking
the deer, tribal battles, the long silent hours of
the winter, and the warm summer nights when she slept
in the prairie grass or camped with her people in
the trough of a great landwave. Sometimes the
hunger for its freedom, and its idleness, and its
sport, came to her greatly; but she thought of her
child, and she put it from her. She was ambitious
for him; she was keen to prove her worth as a wife
against her husband’s unworthiness. This
perhaps saved her. She might have lost had her
life been without this motive.
The very morning of this notable reception,
General Armour had received a note from Frank Armour’s
solicitor, saying that his son was likely to arrive
in London from America that day or the next. Frank
had written to his people no word of his coming; to
his wife, as we have said, he had not written for
months; and before he started back he would not write,
because he wished to make what amends he could in person.
He expected to find her improved, of course, but still
he could only think of her as an Indian, showing her
common prairie origin. His knowledge of her before
their marriage had been particularly brief; she was
little more in his eyes than a thousand other Indian
women, save that she was better-looking, was whiter
than most, and had finer features. He could not
very clearly remember the tones of her voice, because
after marriage, and before he had sent her to England,
he had seen little or nothing of her.
When General Armour received the news
of Frank’s return he told his wife and Marion,
and they consulted together whether it were good to
let Lali know at once. He might arrive that evening.
If so, the position would be awkward, because it was
impossible to tell how it might affect her. If
they did tell her, and Frank happened not to arrive,
it might unnerve her so as to make her appearance
in the evening doubtful. Richard, the wiseacre,
the inexhaustible Richard, was caring for his cottagers
and cutting the leaves of new books his
chiefest pleasure at Greyhope. They
felt it was a matter they ought to be able to decide
for themselves, but still it was the last evening
of Lali’s stay in town, and they did not care
to take any risk. Strange to say, they had come
to take pride in their son’s wife; for even General
and Mrs. Armour, high-minded and of serene social
status as they were, seemed not quite insensible to
the pleasure of being an axle on which a system of
social notoriety revolved.
At the opportune moment Captain Vidall
was announced, and, because he and Marion were soon
to carry but one name between them, he was called
into family consultation. It is somewhat singular
that in this case the women were quite wrong and the
men were quite right. For General Armour and
Captain Vidall were for silence until Frank came, if
he came that day, or for telling her the following
morning, when the function was over. And the
Marion was much excited all day; she
had given orders that Frank’s room should be
made ready, but for whom she gave no information.
While Lali was dressing for the evening, something
excited and nervous, she entered her room. They
were now the best of friends. The years had seen
many shifting scenes in their companionship; they
had been as often at war as at peace; but they had
respected each other, each after her own fashion;
and now they had a real and mutual regard. Lali’s
was a slim, lithe figure, wearing its fashionable
robes with an air of possession; and the face above
it, if not entirely beautiful, had a strange, warm
fascination. The girl had not been a chieftainess
for nothing. A look of quiet command was there,
but also a far-away expression which gave a faint
look of sadness even when a smile was at the lips.
The smile itself did not come quickly, it grew; but
above it all was hair of perfect brown, most rare, setting
off her face as a plume does a helmet. She showed
no surprise when Marion entered. She welcomed
her with a smile and outstretched hand, but said nothing.
“Lali,” said Marion somewhat
abruptly, she scarcely knew why she said
it, “are you happy?”
It was strange how the Indian girl
had taken on those little manners of society which
convey so much by inflection. She lifted her eyebrows
at Marion, and said presently, in a soft, deliberate
voice, “Come, Marion, we will go and see little
Richard; then I shall be happy.”
She linked her arm through Marion’s.
Marion drummed her fingers lightly on the beautiful
arm, and then fell to wondering what she should say
next. They passed into the room where the child
lay sleeping; they went to his little bed, and Lali
stretched out her hand gently, touching the curls
of the child. Running a finger through one delicately,
she said, with a still softer tone than before:
“Why should not one be happy?”
Marion looked up slowly into her eyes,
let a hand fall on her shoulder gently, and replied:
“Lali, do you never wish Frank to come?”
Lali’s fingers came from the
child, the colour mounted slowly to her forehead,
and she drew the girl away again into the other room.
Then she turned and faced Marion, a deep fire in her
eyes, and said, in a whisper almost hoarse in its
intensity: “Yes; I wish he would come to-night.”
She looked harder yet at Marion; then,
with a flash of pride and her hands clasping before
her, she drew herself up, and added: “Am
I not worthy to be his wife now? Am I not beautiful for
There was no common vanity in the
action. It had a noble kind of wistfulness, and
a serenity that entirely redeemed it. Marion dated
her own happiness from the time when Lali met her accident,
for in the evening of that disastrous day she issued
to Captain Hume Vidall a commission which he could
never wished never to resign.
Since then she had been at her best, we
are all more or less selfish creatures, and
had grown gentler, curbing the delicate imperiousness
of her nature, and frankly, and without the least
pique, taken a secondary position of interest in the
household, occasioned by Lali’s popularity.
She looked Lali up and down with a glance in which
many feelings met, and then, catching her hands warmly,
she lifted them, put them on her own shoulders, and
said: “My dear beautiful savage, you are
fit and worthy to be Queen of England; and Frank,
when he comes ”
“Hush!” said the other
dreamily, and put a finger on Marion’s lips.
“I know what you are going to say, but I do
not wish to hear it. He did not love me then.
He used me ” She shuddered, put her
hands to her eyes with a pained, trembling motion,
then threw her head back with a quick sigh. “But
I will not speak of it. Come, we are for the dance,
Marion. It is the last, to-night. To-morrow ”
She paused, looking straight before her, lost in thought.
“Yes, to-morrow, Lali?”
“I do not know about to-morrow,”
was the reply. “Strange things come to
Marion longed to tell her then and
there the great news, but she was afraid to do so,
and was, moreover, withheld by the remembrance that
it had been agreed she should not be told. She
At eleven o’clock the rooms
were filled. For the fag end of the season, people
seemed unusually brilliant. The evening itself
was not so hot as common, and there was an extra array
of distinguished guests. Marion was nervous all
the evening, though she showed little of it, being
most prettily employed in making people pleased with
themselves. Mrs. Armour also was not free from
apprehension. In reply to inquiries concerning
her son she said, as she had often said during the
season, that he might be back at any time now.
Lali had answered always in the same fashion, and
had shown no sign that his continued absence was singular.
As the evening wore on, the probability of Frank’s
appearance seemed less; and the Armours began to breathe
Frank had, however, arrived.
He had driven straight from Euston to Cavendish Square,
but, seeing the house lighted up, and guests arriving,
he had a sudden feeling of uncertainty. He ordered
the cabman to take him to his club. There he
put himself in evening-dress, and drove back again
to the house. He entered quietly. At the
moment the hall was almost deserted; people were mostly
in the ballroom and supper-room. He paused a
moment, biting his moustache as if in perplexity.
A strange timidity came on him. All his old dash
and self-possession seemed to have forsaken him.
Presently, seeing a number of people entering the
hall, he made for the staircase, and went hastily up.
Mechanically he went to his own room, and found it
lighted. Flowers were set about, and everything
was made ready as for a guest. He sat down, not
thinking, but dazed.
Glancing up, he saw his face in a
mirror. It was bronzed, but it looked rather
old and careworn. He shrugged a shoulder at that.
Then, in the mirror, he saw also something else.
It startled him so that he sat perfectly still for
a moment looking at it. It was some one laughing
at him over his shoulder a child!
He got to his feet and turned round. On the table
was a very large photograph of a smiling child with
his eyes, his face. He caught the chair-arm,
and stood looking at it a little wildly. Then
he laughed a strange laugh, and the tears leaped to
his eyes. He caught the picture in his hands,
and kissed it, very foolishly, men not
fathers might think, and read the name beneath,
Richard Joseph Armour; and again, beneath that, the
date of birth. He then put it back on the table
and sat looking at it-looking, and forgetting, and
Presently, the door opened, and some
one entered. It was Marion. She had seen
him pass through the hall; she had then gone and told
her father and mother, to prepare them, and had followed
him upstairs. He did not hear her. She stepped
softly forwards. “Frank!” she said “Frank!”
and laid a hand on his shoulder. He started up
and turned his face on her.
Then he caught her hands and kissed
her. “Marion!” he said, and he could
say no more. But presently he pointed towards
She nodded her head. “Yes,
it is your child, Frank. Though, of course, you
don’t deserve it.... Frank dear,”
she added, “I am glad we shall all
be glad-to have you back; but you are a wicked man.”
She felt she must say that.
Now he only nodded, and still looked
at the portrait. “Where is my
wife?” he added presently.
“She is in the ballroom.”
Marion was wondering what was best to do.
He caught his thumb-nail in his teeth.
He winced in spite of himself. “I will
go to her,” he said, “and then the
“I am glad,” she replied,
“that you have so much sense of justice left,
Frank: the wife first, the baby afterwards.
But do you think you deserve either?”
He became moody, and made an impatient
gesture. “Lady Agnes Martling is here,
and also Lady Haldwell,” she persisted cruelly.
She did not mind, because she knew he would have enough
to compensate him afterwards.
“Marion,” he said, “say
it all, and let me have it over. Say what you
like, and I’ll not whimper. I’ll face
it. But I want to see my child.”
She was sorry for him. She had
really wanted to see how much he was capable of feeling
in the matter.
“Wait here, Frank,” she
said. “That will be best; and I will bring
your wife to you.”
He said nothing, but assented with
a motion of the hand, and she left him where he was.
He braced himself for the interview. Assuredly
a man loses something of natural courage and self-confidence
when he has done a thing of which he should be, and
It seemed a long time (it was in reality
but a couple of minutes) before the door opened again,
and Marion said: “Frank, your wife!”
and then retreated.
The door closed, leaving a stately
figure standing just inside it. The figure did
not move forwards, but stood there, full of life and
fine excitement, but very still also.
Frank Armour was confounded.
He came forwards slowly, looking hard. Was this
distinguished, handsome, reproachful woman his wife Lali,
the Indian girl, whom he had married in a fit of pique
and brandy? He could hardly believe his eyes;
and yet hers looked out at him with something that
he remembered too, together with something which he
did not remember, making him uneasy. Clearly,
his great mistake had turned from ashes into fruit.
“Lali!” he said, and held out his hand.
She reached out hers courteously,
but her fingers gave him no response.
“We have many things to say
to each other,” she said, “but they cannot
be said now. I shall be missed from the ballroom.”
“Missed from the ballroom!”
He almost laughed to think how strange this sounded
in his ears. As if interpreting his thought, she
added: “You see, it is our last affair
of the season, and we are all anxious to do our duty
perfectly. Will you go down with me? We can
Her continued self-possession utterly
confused him. She had utterly confused Marion
also, when told that her husband was in the house.
She had had presentiments, and, besides, she had been
schooling herself for this hour for a long time.
She turned towards the door.
“But,” he asked, like
a supplicant, “our child! I want to see
She lifted her eyebrows, then, seeing
the photograph of the baby on the table, understood
how he knew. “Come with me, then,”
she said, with a little more feeling.
She led the way along the landing,
and paused at her door. “Remember that
we have to appear amongst the guests directly,”
she said, as though to warn him against any demonstration.
Then they entered. She went over to the cot and
drew back the fleecy curtain from over the sleeping
boy’s head. His fingers hungered to take
his child to his arms. “He is magnificent magnificent!”
he said, with a great pride. “Why did you
never let me know of it?”
“How could I tell what you would
do?” she calmly replied. “You married
me wickedly, and used me wickedly afterwards;
and I loved the child.”
“You loved the child,”
he repeated after her. “Lali,” he
added, “I don’t deserve it, but forgive
me, if you can for the child’s sake.”
“We had better go below,”
she calmly replied. “We have both duties
to do. You will of course appear with
me before them?”
The slight irony in the tone cut him
horribly. He offered his arm in silence.
They passed on to the staircase.
“It is necessary,” she
said, “to appear cheerful before one’s
She had him at an advantage at every
point. “We will be cheerful, then,”
was his reply, spoken with a grim kind of humour.
“You have learned it all, haven’t you?”
They were just entering the ballroom.
“Yes, with your kind help and absence,”
The surprise of the guests was somewhat
diminished by the fact that Marion, telling General
Armour and his wife first of Frank’s return,
industriously sent the news buzzing about the room.
The two went straight to Frank’s
father and mother. Their parts were all excellently
played. Then Frank mingled among the guests, being
very heartily greeted, and heard congratulations on
all sides. Old club friends rallied him as a
deserter, and new acquaintances flocked about him;
and presently he awakened to the fact that his Indian
wife had been an interest of the season, was not the
least admired person present. It was altogether
too good luck for him; but he had an uncomfortable
conviction that he had a long path of penance to walk
before he could hope to enjoy it.
All at once he met Lady Haldwell,
who, in spite of all, still accepted invitations to
General Armour’s house the strange
scene between Lali and herself never having been disclosed
to the family. He had nothing but bitterness
in his heart for her, but he spoke a few smooth words,
and she languidly congratulated him on his bronzed
appearance. He asked for a dance, but she had
not one to give him. As she was leaving, she
suddenly turned as though she had forgotten something,
and looking at him, said: “I forgot to
congratulate you on your marriage. I hope it is
not too late?”
He bowed. “Your congratulations
are so sincere,” he said, “that they would
be a propos late or early.” When he stood
with his wife whilst the guests were leaving, and
saw with what manner she carried it all off, as
though she had been born in the good land of good breeding, he
was moved alternately with wonder and shame shame
that he had intended this noble creature as a sacrifice
to his ugly temper and spite.
When all the guests were gone and
the family stood alone in the drawing-room, a silence
suddenly fell amongst them. Presently Marion
said to her mother in a half-whisper, “I wish
Richard were here.”
They all felt the extreme awkwardness
of the situation, especially when Lali bade General
Armour, Mrs. Armour, and Marion good-night, and then,
turning to her husband, said, “Good-night” she
did not even speak his name. “Perhaps you
would care to ride to-morrow morning? I always
go to the Park at ten, and this will be my last ride
of the season.”
Had she written out an elaborate proclamation
of her intended attitude towards her husband, it could
not have more clearly conveyed her mind than this
little speech, delivered as to a most friendly acquaintance.
General Armour pulled his moustache fiercely, and,
it is possible, enjoyed the situation, despite its
peril. Mrs. Armour turned to the mantel and seemed
tremulously engaged in arranging some bric-a-brac.
Marion, however, with a fine instinct, slid her arm
through that of Lali, and gently said: “Yes,
of course Frank will be glad of a ride in the Park.
He used to ride with me every morning. But let
us go, us three, and kiss the baby good-night ’good-night
till we meet in the morning.’”
She linked her arm now through Frank’s,
and as she did so he replied to Lali: “I
shall be glad to ride in the morning, but ”
“But we can arrange it at breakfast,”
said his wife hurriedly. At the same time she
allowed herself to be drawn away to the hall with her
He was very angry, but he knew he
had no right to be so. He choked back his wrath
and moved on amiably enough, and suddenly the fashion
in which the tables had been turned on him struck
him with its tragic comedy, and he involuntarily smiled.
His sense of humour saved him from words and acts
which might possibly have made the matter a pure tragedy
after all. He loosed his arm from Marion’s.
“I must bid father and mother
good-night. Then I will join you both ’in
the court of the king.’” And he turned
and went back, and said to his father as he kissed
his mother: “I am had at an advantage, General.”
“And serves you right, my boy.
You had the odds with you, but she has captured them
like a born soldier.” His mother said to
him gently: “Frank, you blamed us, but
remember that we wished only your good. Take
my advice, dear, and try to love your wife and win
“Love her try to
love her!” he said. “I shall easily
do that. But the other ?” He shook
his head a little, though what he meant perhaps he
did not know quite himself, and then followed Marion
and Lali upstairs. Marion had tried to escape
from Lali, but was told that she must stay; and the
three met at the child’s cot. Marion stooped
down and kissed its forehead. Frank stooped also
and kissed its cheek. Then the wife kissed the
other cheek. The child slept peacefully on.
“You can always see the baby here before breakfast,
if you choose,” said Lali; and she held out
her hand again in good-night. At this point Marion
stole away, in spite of Lah’s quick little cry
of “Wait, Marion!” and the two were left
“I am very tired,” she
said. “I would rather not talk to-night.”
The dismissal was evident.
He took her hand, held it an instant,
and presently said: “I will not detain
you, but I would ask you, Lali, to remember that you
are my wife. Nothing can alter that.”
“Still we are only strangers,
as you know,” she quietly rejoined.
“You forget the days we were
together after we were married,” he
“I am not the same girl,...
you killed her... We have to start again....
I know all.”
“You know that in my wretched anger and madness
“Oh, please do not speak of
it,” she said; “it is so bad even in thought.”
“But will you never forgive
me, and care for me? We have to live our lives
“Pray let us not speak of it
now,” she said, in a weary voice; then, breathlessly:
“It is of much more consequence that you should
love me and the child.”
He drew himself up with a choking
sigh, and spread out his arms to her. “Oh,
my wife!” he exclaimed.
“No, no,” she cried, “this
is unreasonable; we know so little of each other....
He turned at the door, came back,
and, stooping, kissed the child on the lips.
Then he said: “You are right. I deserve
to suffer.... Good-night.”
But when he was gone she dropped on
her knees, and kissed the child many times on the