Sleep refused to come to Claire that
night. She lay tossing on her bed while the
old clock in the corridor without struck hour after
Two, three, four, and still she tossed,
and turned, and again and again asked herself the
world-old question, “What shall I do? What
shall I do?” and shuddered at the thought of
the disillusionment which was coming to her poor friend.
What was her own duty in the matter?
Obviously Cecil must be told the truth; obviously
she was the one to tell it. Would it be possible
to write? Inclination clamoured in favour
of such a course. It would be so much easier:
it would obviate the necessity for a lacerating interview.
Would it not be easier for Cecil, also? Claire
felt that if positions had been reversed, she would
crave above all things to be alone, hidden from the
eyes of even the most sympathising of friends; but
Cecil’s nature was of a different type.
Having heard the one abhorrent fact, she would wish
to probe further, to be told details, to ask a score
of trifling questions. However full a letter
might be, she would not be satisfied without an interview.
“But I might write first, and see her afterwards!”
poor Claire said to herself. “It would
not be quite so bad, when she had got over the first
shock. I could not bear to see her face...”
It was five o’clock before at
last sleep came to drive away the haunting questions,
and when she woke it was to find her early tea had
grown cold on the table by her side, and to see on
looking at her watch that it was nearly ten o’clock.
She dressed hurriedly and went downstairs to find
Mrs Fanshawe alone in the dining-room, reading the
Morning Post. She waved aside Claire’s
apologies for her late appearance with easy good nature.
No one was expected to be punctual at breakfast.
It was sheer tyranny to decree that visitors should
get up at a definite hour. If Claire had slept
badly, why didn’t she order breakfast in her
room, and spend the morning in bed?
“You look a wreck!” she
said frankly, and threw down the paper with an impatient
gesture. “Such a nuisance about this bad
news. Erskine seems disgusted with the whole
affair. He has gone off with Major Carew to
see what can be done, and is to go straight to the
Willoughbys. So tiresome, for I particularly
wanted him to be in good form this afternoon!
What’s it all about? As it has happened
in my house, I think I am entitled to an explanation.
Something to do with Major Carew’s servant?
How can your friend be associated with a servant?
The man has bolted, it appears. The Major came
over half an hour ago to say that he never returned
last night. Thought flight the best policy, I
suppose, but what I am waiting to be told, is-what
has he done?”
Claire sat down on the nearest chair,
feeling more of a wreck than ever.
“Deserted! A soldier!
But if he is found? The punishment...”
“He has already been found out,
it appears, so that it was a choice between certain
punishment if he stayed, or the chance of getting safely
away. I am waiting to hear what it’s all
“Oh, Mrs Fanshawe, it’s
so difficult. It’s not my secret!”
cried poor Claire desperately. “He, this
man, has been masquerading under his master’s
name. My friend knew him as Major Carew.
She, they, became very intimate.”
“Engaged, I suppose! It
doesn’t say much for her discrimination.
Her ideas of what constitute a gentleman must be
somewhat vague!” Mrs Fanshawe said disagreeably.
She felt disagreeable, and she never made any effort
to conceal her feelings, kindly or the reverse.
It was annoying that one of her own guests should
be mixed up in an unsavoury scandal with a common
soldier: annoying to have people going about with
long faces, when she had planned a festive week.
Really this Claire Gifford was becoming more and
more of an incumbrance! Mrs Fanshawe paused
with her hand on the coffee-pot, to ask a pointed question-
“Have you also known
this man under his false name, may I ask?”
Claire flushed uncomfortably.
“I met him twice. Only twice. For
a very short time.”
Mrs Fanshawe did not speak, but she
arched her eyebrows in a fashion which was more scorching
than words. “So you, also, are ignorant
of what constitutes a gentleman!” said those
eyebrows. “You also have been including
my friend’s servant among your acquaintances!”
Claire felt the hopelessness of trying
to justify herself, and relapsed into silence also,
the while she made a pretence of eating one of the
most miserable meals of her life. According to
his mother, Erskine was “quite disgusted”
with the whole affair! Claire’s heart sank
at the thought, but she acknowledged that such an
attitude would be no more than was natural under the
circumstances. A soldier himself, Captain Fanshawe
would be a stern judge of a soldier’s fraud,
while his amour propre could not fail to be
touched. Claire had too much faith to believe
that his displeasure would be extended to herself,
yet she was miserably aware that it was through her
instrumentality that he had been brought in contact
with the scandal.
In the midst of much confusion of
mind only one thing seemed certain, and that was that
it was impossible to face a tennis party that afternoon.
Claire made her apologies to Mrs Fanshawe as she rose
from the table, and they were accepted with disconcerting
“Of course! Of course!
I never imagined that you would. Under the
circumstances it would be most awkward. I expect
by afternoon the story will be the talk of the place.
Your friend, I understand, is still ignorant of the
man’s real station? What do you propose
to do with regard to breaking the news?”
“In. I’m going to
write. I thought I would sit in my room and compose
a letter.-It will be difficult!”
“Difficult!” Mrs Fanshawe
repeated the word with disagreeable emphasis.
“Impossible, I should say, and, excuse me! cruel
into the bargain. To open a letter from a friend,
expecting to find the ordinary chit-chat, and to receive
a blow that shatters one’s life! My dear,
it’s unthinkable! You cannot seriously
“You think it would be better
if I told, her?” Claire asked anxiously.
“I wondered myself, but naturally I dreaded
it, and I thought she might prefer to get over the
first shock alone. I had decided to write first,
and see her later on. But you think...”
“I think decidedly that you
ought to break the news in person. You can lead
up to it more naturally in words. Even the most
carefully written letters are apt to read coldly;
perhaps the more care we spend on them, the more coldly
“Yes, that’s true, that’s
quite true, but I thought it would be better not to
wait. She is staying at home just now.
I don’t think he will visit her there, for he
seemed to shrink from meeting her mother, but he may
write and try-” Claire drew herself
up on the point of betraying that borrowing of money
which was the most shameful feature of the fraud,
but Mrs Fanshawe was too much absorbed in her own schemes
to notice the omission. She had seen a way of
getting rid of an unwelcome guest, and was all keenness
to turn it to account.
“He is sure to try to see her
again while he is at large. He will probably
urge her to marry him at once. You should certainly
not defer your visit if it is to be of any use.
How dreadful it would be if she were to marry
him under an assumed name! You mustn’t
let us interfere with your arrangement, my dear.
You only promised me ten days, so I can’t grumble
if you run away, and for the short time that Erskine
is at home, there are so many friends to fit in...
You understand, I am sure, that I am thinking of
your own convenience!”
“I understand perfectly, thank
you!” Claire replied, her head in the air,
the indignant colour dying her cheeks with red.
Mrs Fanshawe’s arguments in favour of haste
might be wise enough, but her personal desire was
all too plainly betrayed. And she pointedly ignored
the fact that the proposed interview need not have
interrupted Claire’s visit, since it and the
journey involved could easily have been accomplished
in the course of a day. “I understand
perfectly, thank you. I will go upstairs and
pack now. Perhaps there is a train I could catch
“The twelve-thirty. That
will give you the afternoon in town. I’ll
order a fly from the inn. I’m so
sorry for you, dear! Most nerve-racking to
have to break bad news, but you’ll feel happier
when it’s done. Perhaps you could take
the poor thing with you to that sweet little farm!”
Not for the world would Claire have
spent the next hour in Mrs Fanshawe’s company.
She hurried to her room, and placing her watch on
the dressing-table, so timed her packing that it should
not be completed a moment before the lumbering country
“fly” drove up to the door. Then,
fully dressed, she descended the staircase, and held
out a gloved hand to her hostess, apparently unconscious
of an offered kiss.
It was some slight consolation to
note the change of bearing which had come over Mrs
Fanshawe during the last hour, and to realise that
the success of her scheme had not brought much satisfaction.
She was nervous, she was more than nervous, she was
afraid! The while Claire had been packing upstairs,
she had had time to realise Erskine’s return,
and his reception of the news she would have to break.
As she drove away from the door, Claire realised
that her hostess would have paid a large sum down
to have been able to undo that morning’s work!
For her own part, Claire cared nothing
either way: literally and truthfully at that
moment even the thought of leaving Erskine had no
power to wound. The quickly-following events
of the last twenty-four hours had had a numbing effect
on her brain. She was miserable, sore, and wounded;
the whole fabric of life seemed tumbling to pieces.
Love, for the moment, was in abeyance. As the
fly passed the last yard of mown grass which marked
the boundary of the Fanshawe property, she threw out
her arms with one of the expressive gestures, which
remained with her as a result of her foreign training.
“Fini!” she cried aloud.
Mentally at that moment, she swept the Fanshawes, mother
and son, from the stage of her life.
Where should she go next? Back
to solitude, and the saffron parlour? London
in August held no attraction, but the solitary prospect
of being able to see Sophie, and at the moment Claire
shrank from Sophie’s sharp eyes. Should
she telegraph to the farm, and ask how soon she could
be received; and at the same time telegraph to Mary
Rhodes asking for an immediate interview? A
few minutes’ reflection brought a decision in
favour of this plan, and she drew a pocket-book from
her dressing-bag, and busied herself in composing
the messages. One to the farm, a second to Laburnum
Crescent announcing her immediate return, then came
a pause, to consider the difficult wording of the
third. Would it be possible to drop a word of
warning, intelligible to Cecil herself, but meaningless
to anyone else who might by chance open the wire?
“Back in town. Have important
news. Imperative to see you to-day, if possible.
Appoint meeting. Delay dangerous.”
It was not perfect, but in Claire’s
dazed condition it was the best she could concoct,
and it left a tactful uncertainty as to whether the
news affected herself or Cecil, which would make it
the easier to explain. Claire counted the words
and folded the three messages in her hand-bag, ready
to be sent off the moment she reached the station.
The fly lumbered on; up a toilsome
hill, down into the valley, up another hill on the
farther side; then came a scattering of houses, a
church, a narrow street lined with shops, and finally
the station itself, the clock over the entrance showing
a bare four minutes to spare.
The porter labelled the luggage, and
trundled it down the platform. Claire hurried
through her business in the telegraph office, and ran
after him just as the train slowed down on the departure
platform. One carriage showed two empty corner
places on the nearest side, Claire opened the door,
seated herself facing the engine, and spread her impedimenta
on the cushions. But few passengers had been
waiting, for this was one of the slowest trains in
the day, but now at this last moment there came the
sound of running footsteps, a man’s footsteps,
echoing in strong heavy beats. With a traveller’s
instinctive curiosity Claire leant forward to watch
the movements of this late comer, and putting her
head out of the window came face to face with Erskine
At sight of her he stopped short,
at sight of him she stood up, blocking the window
from sight of the other occupants of the carriage;
by a certain defiance of pose, appearing to defend
it also against his own entrance. But he did
not attempt to enter. Though he had been running,
it was his pallor, not his heat, which struck Claire
in that first moment. He was white, with the
pallor of intense anger; the flash of his eyes was
like cold steel. He rested his hands on the sill
of the window, and looked up into her face.
“This is my mother’s doing!”
It was a statement, not a question,
and Claire made no reply. She stood stiff and
silent, while down the length of the platform sounded
the quick banging of doors.
“I got through sooner than I
expected and went home to change. I did not
waste time in talking... I could guess what had
happened. She made it impossible for you to
Still silence. The guard’s
whistle sounded shrilly. Erskine came a step
nearer. His white tense face almost touched her
“Claire!” he whispered breathlessly, “will
you marry me?”
“Stand back there! Stand
back!” cried an authoritative voice. The
wheels of the carriage rolled slowly forward.
Claire bent forward, and gave her answer in one incisive
The wheels rolled faster and faster:
left the station, whirled out into the green, smiling