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THE MAN WHO WENT TO HELL
The Hon. Sydney Chester Molyneux stood with his cue in one hand, and an open telegram in the other, in the billiard-room at Enton. He was visibly annoyed.
"Beastly hard luck," he declared. "Parliament is a shocking grind anyway. It isn't that one ever does anything, you know, but one wastes such a lot of time when one might have been doing something worth while."
"Do repeat that, Sydney," Lady Caroom begged, laying down her novel for a moment. "It really sounds as though it ought to mean something."
"I couldn't!" he admitted. "I wish to cultivate a reputation for originality, and my first object is to forget everything I have said directly I have said it, in case I should repeat myself."
"A short memory," Arranmore remarked, "is a politician's most valuable possession, isn't it?"
"No memory at all is better," Molyneux answered.
"And your telegram?" Lady Caroom asked.
"Is from my indefatigable uncle," Molyneux groaned. "He insists upon it that I interest myself in the election here, which means that I must go in to-morrow and call upon Rochester."
The younger girl looked up from her chair, and laughed softly.
"You will have to speak for him," she said. "How interesting! We will all come in and hear you."
Molyneux missed an easy cannon, and laid down his cue with an aggrieved air.
"It is all very well for you," he remarked, dismally, "but it is a horrible grind for me. I have just succeeded in forgetting all that we did last session, and our programme for next. Now I've got to wade through it all. I wonder why on earth Providence selected for me an uncle who thinks it worth while to be a Cabinet Minister?"
Sybil Caroom shrugged her shoulders.
"I wonder why on earth," she remarked, "any constituency thinks it worth while to be represented by such a politician as you. How did you get in, Sydney?"
"Don't know," he answered. "I was on the right side, and I talked the usual rot."
"For myself," she said, "I like a politician who is in earnest. They are more amusing, and more impressive in every way. Who was the young man you spoke to in that little place where we had tea?" she asked her host.
"His name is Kingston Brooks," Arranmore answered. "He is the agent for Henslow, the Radical candidate."
"Well, I liked him," she said. "If I had a vote I would let him convert me to Radicalism. I am sure that he could do it."
"He shall try--if you like," Arranmore remarked.
I am going to ask him to shoot one day."
"I am delighted to hear it," the girl answered. "I think he would be a wholesome change. You are all too flippant here."
The door opened. Mr. Hennibul, K.C., inserted his head and shoulders.
"I have been to look at Arranmore's golf-links," he remarked. "They are quite decent. Will some one come and play a round?"
"I will come," Sybil declared, putting down her book.
"And I," Molyneux joined in. "Hennibul can play our best ball."
Lady Caroom and her host were left alone. He came over to her side.
"What can I do to entertain your ladyship?" he asked, lightly. "Will you play billiards, walk or drive? There is an hour before lunch which must be charmed away."
"I am not energetic," she declared. "I ought to walk for the sake of my figure. I'm getting shockingly stout. Marie made me promise to walk a mile to-day. But I'm feeling deliciously lazy."
"/Embonpoint/ is the fashion," he remarked, "and you are inches short of even that yet. Come and sit in the study while I write some letters." She held out her hands.
"Pull me up, then! I am much too comfortable to move unaided."
She sprang to her feet lightly enough, and for a moment he kept her hands, which rested willingly enough in his. They looked at one another in silence. Then she laughed.
"My dear Arranmore," she protested, "I am not made up half carefully enough to stand such a critical survey by daylight. Your north windows are too terrible."
"Not to you, dear lady," he answered, smiling. "I was wondering whether it was possible that you could be forty-one."
"You brute," she exclaimed, with uplifted eyebrows. "How dare you? Forty if you like--for as long as you like. Forty is the fashionable age, but one year over that is fatal. Don't you know that now-a-days a woman goes straight from forty to sixty? It is such a delicious long rest. And besides, it gives a woman an object in life which she has probably been groping about for all her days. One is never bored after forty."
"And the object?"
"To keep young, of course. There's scope for any amount of ingenuity. Since that dear man in Paris has hit upon the real secret of enamelling, we are thinking of extending the limit to sixty-five. Lily Cestigan is seventy-one, you know, and she told me only last week that Mat Harlowe--you know Harlowe, he's rather a nice boy, in the Guards had asked her to run away with him. She's known him three months, and he's seen her at least three times by daylight. She's delighted about it."
"And is she going?" Arranmore asked.
"Well, I'm not sure that she'd care to risk that," Lady Caroom answered, thoughtfully. "She told him she'd think about it, and, meanwhile, he's just as devoted as ever."
They crossed the great stone hall together--the hall which, with its wonderful pillars and carved dome, made Enton the show-house of the county. Arranmore's study was a small octagonal room leading out from the library. A fire of cedar logs was burning in an open grate, and he wheeled up an easy-chair for her close to his writing-table.
"I wonder," she remarked, thoughtfully, "what you think of Syd Molyneux?"
"Is there anything--to be thought about him?" he answered, lighting a cigarette.
"He's rather that way, isn't he?" she assented. "I mean for Sybil, you know."
"I should let Sybil decide," he answered.
"She probably will," Lady Caroom said. "Still, she's horribly bored at having to be dragged about to places, you know, and that sort of thing, just because she isn't married, and she likes Syd all right. He's no fool!"
"I suppose not," Arranmore answered. "He's of a type, you know, which has sprung up during my--absence from civilization. You want to grow up with it to appreciate it properly. I don't think he's good enough for Sybil."
Lady Caroom sighed.
"Sybil's a dear girl," she said, "although she's a terrible nuisance to me. I shouldn't be at all surprised either if she developed views. I wish you were a marrying man, Arranmore. I used to think of you myself once, but you would be too old for me now. You're exactly the right age for Sybil."
Arranmore smiled. He had quite forgotten his letters. Lady Caroom always amused him so well.
"She is very like what you were at her age," he remarked. "What a pity it was that I was such a poverty-stricken beggar in those days. I am sure that I should have married you."
"Now I am beginning to like you," she declared, settling down more comfortably in her chair. "If you can keep up like that we shall be getting positively sentimental presently, and if there's anything I adore in this world--especially before luncheon--it is sentiment. Do you remember we used to waltz together, Arranmore?"
"You gave me a glove one night," he said. "I have it still."
"And you pressed my hand--and--it was in the Setons' conservatory--how bold you were."
"And the next day," he declared, in an aggrieved tone, "I heard that you were engaged to Caroom. You treated me shamefully."
"These reminiscences," she declared, "are really sweet, but you are most ungrateful. I was really almost too kind to you. They were all fearfully anxious to get me married, because Dumesnil always used to say that my complexion would give out in a year or two, and I wasted no end of time upon you, who were perfectly hopeless as a husband. After all, though, I believe it paid. It used to annoy Caroom so much, and I believe he proposed to me long before he meant to so as to get rid of you."
"I," Arranmore remarked, "was the victim."
She sat up with eyes suddenly bright.
"Upon my word," she declared, "I have an idea. It is the most charming and flattering thing, and it never occurred to me before. After all, it was not eccentricity which caused you to throw up your work at the Bar--and disappear. It was your hopeless devotion to me. Don't disappoint me now by denying it. Please don't! It was the announcement of my engagement, wasn't it?"
"And it has taken you all these years to find it out?
"I was shockingly obtuse," she murmured. "The thing came to me just now as a revelation. Poor, dear man, how you must have suffered. This puts us on a different footing altogether, doesn't it?" "Altogether," he admitted.
"And," she continued, eyeing him now with a sudden nervousness, "emboldens me to ask you a question which I have been dying to ask you for the last few years. I wonder whether you will answer it."
"I wonder!" he repeated.
A change in him, too, was noticeable. That wonderful impassivity of feature which never even in his lighter moments passed altogether away, seemed to deepen every line in his hard, clear-cut face. His mouth was close drawn, his eyes were suddenly colder and expressionless. There was about him at such times as--these an almost repellent hardness. His emotions, and the man himself, seemed frozen. Lady Caroom had seen him look like it once before, and she sighed. Nevertheless, she persevered.
"For nearly twenty years," she said, "you disappeared. You were reported at different times to be in every quarter of the earth, from Zambesia to Pekin. But no one knew, and, of course, in a season or two you were forgotten. I always wondered, I am wondering now, where were you? What did you do with yourself?
"I went down into Hell," he answered. "Can't you see the marks of it in my face? For many years I lived in Hell--for many years."
"You puzzle me," she said, in a low tone. "You had no taste for dissipation. You look as though life had scorched you up at some time or other. But how? where? You were found in Canada, I know, when your brother died. But you had only been there for a few years. Before then?"
"Ay! Before then?"
There was a short silence. Then Arranmore, who had been gazing steadily into the fire, looked up. She fancied that his eyes were softer.
"Dear friend," he said, "of those days I have nothing to tell--even you. But there are more awful things even than moral degeneration. You do me justice when you impute that I never ate from the trough. But what I did, and where I lived, I do not think that I shall ever willingly tell any one."
A piece of burning wood fell upon the hearthstone. He stooped and picked it up, placed it carefully in its place, and busied himself for a moment or two with the little brass poker. Then he straightened himself.
"Catherine," he said, "I think if I were you that I would not marry Sybil to Molyneux. It struck me to-day that his eyeglass-chain was of last year's pattern, and I am not sure that he is sound on the subject of collars. You know how important these things are to a young man who has to make his own way in the world. Perhaps, I am not sure, but I think it is very likely I might be able to find a husband for her."
"You dear man," Lady Caroom murmured. "I should rely upon your taste and judgment so thoroughly."
There was a discreet knock at the door. A servant entered with a card.
Arranmore took it up, and retained it in his fingers.
"Tell Mr. Brooks," he said, "that I will be with him in a moment. If he has ridden over, ask him to take some refreshment."
"You have a visitor," Lady Caroom said, rising. "If you will excuse me I will go and lie down until luncheon-time, and let my maid touch me up. These sentimental conversations are so harrowing. I feel a perfect wreck."
She glided from the room, graceful, brisk and charming, the most wonderful woman in England, as the Society papers were never tired of calling her. Arranmore glanced once more at the card between his fingers.
"Mr. Kingston Brooks."
He stood for a few seconds, motionless. Then he rang the bell.
"Show Mr. Brooks in here," he directed.
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