It was while the Australian was telling Amber the story which had interested her so greatly that Ernest Clifton was listening to something that Josephine had to say to him—something that caused him a good deal of spare thought all the time he was driving to his rooms in St. James’s Street, and even after he had settled himself in his chair with a small tumbler half filled with Apollinaris on a table at his elbow.

The words that she had spoken to him at that time of soft sounds and lights and garden scents were not such as he had been accustomed to hear from her; though he could not but acknowledge to himself—he now and again acknowledged something to himself; never to any one else—that he had noticed signs of readiness on her part to say those very words. It had needed all his adroitness—and he had usually a pretty fair share at his command—to prevent her from saying them long ago.

I wonder if you know how great a strain it is upon me to adhere to the compact which we made last year.

Those were the words that she had spoken in his ear when the Terrace had become almost deserted, only Amber and Pierce Win wood remaining in the seats they had occupied while drinking their coffee, and she had spoken in so low a tone that, even with the band playing so soft and low as it was, no word could be heard by any one passing their chairs.

He had been slightly startled by her words—he thought now that he had time to think over the matter, that perhaps he should have seemed when in her presence to have been more startled than he actually was. But the fact was that he had been so startled as to be unable to discriminate exactly how startled he should seem.

It required a trained intelligence such as his to appreciate so delicate a train of thought as this. He felt that it would have been more flattering to her if he had seemed more surprised when she had spoken. It would have allowed her to feel that his confidence in her fidelity was absolute and therefore—the logic was his—she would have felt flattered. When a young woman has secretly promised eventually to marry, and in the meantime to love, a certain man, and when in the cool of the evening of a delightful day and a tranquillising dinner she confesses to him that the keeping of the “meantime” clause in her compact subjects her to a great strain, the man should of course seem greatly surprised. If he were to seem otherwise, he would in effect be saying to the girl, “I took it for granted that the strain upon you would be great.”

He could not accuse himself of any deficiency of cleverness in his attitude towards her after she had spoken that surprising sentence. He knew that there was a proper amount of feeling in the way he breathed a sibilant “H’sh—h’sh!” while turning wondering eyes upon her—their expression of surprise being not without a certain element of pain.

“H’sh—for heaven’s sake—my dearest! Oh, Josephine! But... ah, you cannot mean that—that...”

He reflected now that those jerked-out words—those unfinished sentences could scarcely have been surpassed in effect. He hoped that she felt that the hand which he had then laid upon hers, was trembling. He had meant that it should tremble. And yet now when he came to think over it, he was not quite sure that his hand should have trembled. It was just possible that a girl after speaking as she had spoken, would have been more impressed by a thoroughly firm hand touching hers—a hand whose firmness would have given her confidence, compelling her to realise the confidence which he had—well, in himself.

(He was certainly a man of exquisite judgment in subtle shades of expression.)

She had, however, not withdrawn her hand for some seconds—several seconds: the dusk had cast its friendly and fascinating shade over them: the seeming incaution of his attitude was purely imaginary. No one could see the direction taken by his hand or hers.

“I tell you, it is the truth,” she had said, withdrawing her hand. “It is a great strain that you have put upon me, Ernest. I sometimes feel like a criminal—exactly like a criminal—in the presence of my father and my mother.”

“Ah, I thought that you saw with my eyes,” he said, and the pained expression in his voice increased. “I thought that we agreed that it would be madness—your father—he would never give his consent—you yourself said so.”

“I said so—I admit; but—please don’t think that I want to—to—break it off—oh, no; I only mean to say that—that—well, I have said all that I mean to say—it is a great strain upon me and I sometimes feel very miserable about it. You can understand that it should be so, Ernest.”

“I can understand, dearest—heaven knows that I feel how——”

“I don’t know how I ever came to agree to—to all that you put upon me—I really don’t.” She had actually interrupted him with her vehemence. It seemed as if she had not heard that he had begun to speak.

And her eyes were turned, he could see, in the direction of Pierce Winwood—the man who had sat beside her at dinner and who was now sitting beside Amber Severn.

“You agreed to my suggestion because—well, because you knew what you still know—that is, that you loved a man whose hope it is to become worthy of you, Josephine. I admit that I had no right to ask you to listen to me—to hear me tell you that I loved you—when I had nothing to offer you—nothing but years of waiting—years of struggle—years of hope. And now... Josephine, do you wish to be released from your part in the compact which we made a year ago?”

“No, no; I do not wish to be released. What, can it be possible that you have so misunderstood me—that you fancy I am the sort of woman who does not know her own mind—her own heart from one day to another?”

“I know that you are steadfastness itself—only—if I have placed you in an equivocal position—if you feel that the years of waiting... what I feel exactly, my dearest, is that it would be better for both of us to separate now than for——”

“You cannot understand much of my nature if you think for a moment that, after giving you my promise, I would ask you to free me from all that the giving of that promise entailed. But I was thinking that it might be better for us to be frank.”

“Have I ever kept anything from you?”

“I mean that it might be better if you had gone to my father and told him what were your hopes—your prospects—told him that I had given you my promise, and that we meant that nothing should come between us.”

“That would have separated us in a moment—you agreed with me.”

“It might have prevented our meeting and corresponding; but if we were sure of ourselves, would it have separated us in reality? The only separation possible would be brought about by either of us loving some one else; and that we know would be impossible.”

“Dearest, that is the confession which comes from my heart daily—hourly—giving me strength to annihilate time and space, so that the years of our waiting seem no more than hours.”

“Oh, I know my own heart, Ernest; and that is why I feel that what I say is true: even though my father should refuse to listen to us, we should still not be separated. In fact I really feel that there would not be so great a barrier between us as there is now when we meet.”

“I think I know how you feel,” he said; but he had not the smallest notion of how she felt. Barrier? What barrier was she thinking of? He had not the smallest notion of what was in her mind—or for that matter, her heart.

And it seemed that she knew this for she made an attempt to explain herself.

“I mean that the secret which we share together forms a barrier between us—a sort of barrier. I feel every time that I see you, with my mother sitting by not knowing the compact which we have made—every one else too sitting by, having no idea that we are otherwise than free—I feel that I am treating them badly—that I am mean—underhanded—deceitful.”

“Ah, my Josephine... Do you fancy that any one suspects?—your friend, Miss Severn?—she is clever—she has been saying something that has frightened you?”

“Oh, cannot you even see that it would be a positive relief if any one was to suspect anything—if any one were to speak out?”

“Good heavens! What a state of nervousness you must have allowed yourself to fall into when you would feel ruin to be a relief to you.”


“Ruin, I say; because I know that in such a case I should have no chance of getting your father’s consent—yes, and not only so: when he came to learn the truth—to be made aware of my presumption he would turn his party against me, and my career would be ruined. Do you think that I am not capable of doing something in the world, Josephine, that you would stand by and see my career ruined?”

“I have every belief in your ability, only—I am not sure that a man should think so much of his career—no, I don’t mean that—I only mean that prudence and—and a career may be bought too dearly.”

“Prudence—bought too dear?”

“I wonder if, after all, I am so very different from other women in thinking that love is more to be preferred than a career.”

“Of course it is, my dearest; but—heavens above, Josephine, would you do me the injustice to believe that I would ask you to make what all the world would call an idiotic match—well, at least an imprudent match?”

“Imprudence? Who is there that can say what is a prudent marriage or what is an imprudent! If people love each other truly... psha! I have actually fallen into the strain of that detestable person—the Other Woman. I dare say that you are right and I am wrong. You see, you are a man and can reason these things out—prudent marriages and so forth; whereas I am only a woman—I cannot reason—I cannot even think—I can only feel.”

“Thank heaven for that, Josephine. Ah, believe me, I have looked at this matter from every standpoint, and I long ago came to see that there was nothing for it but to do as we are doing. Believe me, my dear girl, if you were content to marry me to-morrow just as I am, I would not be content to accept such a sacrifice on your part. And for heaven’s sake, dearest, do not let any one suspect that there exists between us this—this understanding. Ah, Josephine, you will agree with me in thinking that prudence is everything.”


“Everything—next, of course, to love. But above all, no one must be led to have the least suspicion——”

“Oh, have I not been prudence itself up to the present?” There was a suspicion in her voice—a suspicion of scorn,—he remembered that distinctly as he sat in his rooms recalling the whole scene an hour after it had been enacted. With that note—that half tone of scorn—their little chat ceased, for Guy Overton had come up and after him Lady Severn and Mr. Shirley, so that all that remained for him to do was to give a tender pressure with a look of courteous carelessness that was meant to prevent the possibility of any one with eyes fancying that there was tenderness in his pressure of Miss West’s fingers.

And now he was asking himself the question:

Who is the Other Man?

Ernest Clifton had a pretty good working acquaintance with the motives of men and women—not perhaps, quite so complete an acquaintance with these motives as he fancied he had, but still a very fair knowledge; and therefore he was asking himself that question:

Who is the Other Man?

He had had a good deal of trouble persuading Josephine during the preceding autumn to agree to engage herself to marry him. It had not been done in a minute. He had never before had such difficulty persuading a girl to give him such a promise. She was what physicians call “an obstinate case.” Hers was psychologically an obstinate case; but she had yielded at last to his treatment, and had given him her promise.

He flattered himself that it was his own cleverness—his own cleverness of argument—his own personality, for was not cleverness part of his personality?—that had brought her to perceive that she would be doing well to promise to marry him and at the same time to keep that promise a secret from her own father and mother and all the world besides. He remembered how he had impressed her by his story of his early struggles. He had appealed to her imagination by telling her how humble his career had been in its beginning—how, being the third son of a doctor in a village in Warwickshire, he had been thrown on the world to shift for himself when he was sixteen years of age—how he had, while working as a reporter on the staff of a Birmingham newspaper, starved himself in order to have money enough to pass University examinations and take a degree and, later on, to get called to the Bar. He told her how he had given up much of his time when practically behind the scenes at Birmingham to the study of the political machinery of a great party, with the result that he had worked himself into the position of the Secretary of the Organisation, becoming a power in his political party—a man with whom in critical times, the Head of the Cabinet had conferred before venturing upon legislation that might have a tendency to alienate a considerable proportion of his friends.

And Josephine had listened to him, and had fully appreciated his contention that for such a man as he hoped to become, the choice of a wife was a matter of supreme importance. He had given her to understand that his ideal woman was one to whom her husband would apply for counsel when he needed it—one who would be her husband’s right hand in all matters. He had seen enough, he said, to make him aware of the fact that those men who were willing to relegate their wives to a purely domestic position were the men who were themselves eventually relegated by their party to a purely domestic position: they became the domestics of their party mainly, he believed, because they had been foolish enough—conceited enough, for there is no such fool as your conceited politician—to fancy that nowadays—nay, that at any time in the history of the country, the wife of the political leader should occupy a humbler place than the political leader himself.

He had prevailed upon her, first, by stimulating her interest in himself, and secondly, by stimulating her ambition—he knew that she had ambition—and she had agreed, but only after considerable difficulty on his part, to accept his assurance that for some time at least, it would be well for their engagement to remain a secret, even from her father and mother. He had reason for knowing, he told her, that her father was antagonistic to him, on account of his alleged interference—“interference” was the word that Mr. West had freely employed at the time—with the constituency which he represented at a rather critical time. He knew, he said, that it would require time to clear the recollection of this unhappy incident from her father’s mind, so that to ask him for his consent to their engagement would be hopeless.

Well, she had, after great demur, consented to give him her promise, and to preserve the matter a secret.

And now he was sitting in his chair asking himself the question:

“Who is the Other Man?”

He was unable to answer the question; all that he could do was to keep his eyes open.

But as this was the normal state of his eyes he knew that he was not subjecting them to any condition that threatened astygia.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook