Part the Second
Chapter 8
 

To Alma, on his return, he gave a full account of all he had heard and done. The story of Hugh Carnaby's good fortune interested her greatly. She elicited every detail of which Harvey had been informed; asked shrewd questions; and yet had the air of listening only for her amusement.

'Should you have thought Redgrave likely to do such a thing?' Rolfe inquired.

'Oh, I don't know him at all well. He has been a friend of Sibyl's for a long time -- so, of course ----'

Her voice dropped, but in a moment she was questioning again.

'You say that Mr. Redgrave went to see him at Coventry?'

'Yes. Redgrave must have heard he was there, from Sibyl, I suppose.'

'And that was two days ago?'

'So Carnaby said -- Why?'

'Somebody -- oh, I think it was Mrs. Rayner Mann, yesterday -- said Mr Redgrave was in Paris.'

Cecil Morphew's affairs had much less interest for her; but when Harvey said that he was going to town again tomorrow, to look at the shop in Westminster Bridge Road, she regarded him with an odd smile.

'You surely won't get mixed up in things of that kind?'

'It might be profitable,' he answered very quietly; 'and -- one doesn't care to lose any chance of that kind -- just now ----'

He would not meet her eyes; but Alma searched his face for the meaning of these words, so evidently weighted.

'Are you at all uneasy, Harvey?'

'Not a bit -- not a bit,' answered the weak man in him. 'I only meant that, if we are going to remove ----'

They sat for more than five minutes in silence. Alma's brain was working very rapidly, as her features showed. When he entered, she looked rather sleepy; now she was thrilling with vivid consciousness; one would have thought her absorbed in the solution of some exciting problem. Her next words came unexpectedly.

'Harvey, if you mean what you say about letting me follow my own instincts, I think I shall decide to try my fortune -- to give a public recital.'

He glanced at her, but did not answer.

'We made a sort of bargain -- didn't we?' she went on, quickly, nervously, with an endeavour to strike the playful note. 'Hughie shall go to Mrs. Abbott's, and I will attend to what you said about the choice of acquaintances.'

'But surely neither of those things can be a subject of bargaining between us? Isn't your interest in both at least equal to my own?'

'Yes -- I know -- of course. It was only a joking way of putting it.'

'Tell me plainly' -- he looked at her now -- 'have you the slightest objection, on any ground, to Hughie's being taught by Mrs. Abbott? If so, do let us clear it up.'

'Dear, I have not a shadow of objection,' replied Alma, straightening herself a little, and answering his gaze with excessive frankness. 'How could I have? You think Mrs. Abbott will teach him much better than I could, and in that you are quite right. I have no talent for teaching. I haven't much patience -- except in music. It's better every way, that he should go to Mrs. Abbott. I feel perfect confidence in her, and I shouldn't be able to in a mere stranger.'

Harvey gave a slow nod, and appeared to have something more of importance to say; but he only asked how the child's cold had been tonight. Alma replied that it was neither better nor worse; she spoke absently.

'On whose encouragement do you principally rely?' was Rolfe's next question.

'On that of twenty people!'

'I said "principally".'

'Herr Wilenski has often praised me; and he doesn't throw his praise away. And you yourself, Harvey, didn't you say last might that I was undoubtedly as good as most professionals?'

'I don't think I used quite those words; and, to tell you the truth, it had never entered my head that you would take them for encouragement to such a step as this.'

Alma bent towards him, smiling.

'I understand. You don't think me good enough. Now the truth, the truth!' and she held up a finger -- which she could not succeed in keeping steady.

'Yes, you shall have the truth. It's too serious a matter for making pretences. My own judgment is worthless, utterly; it should neither offend nor encourage you. But it's very plain to me that you shouldn't dream of coming before the public unless Wilenski, and perhaps some one else of equal or better standing, actually urges you to it. Now, has he done anything like that?'

She reddened, and hardly tried to conceal her vexation.

'This only means, Harvey, that you don't want me to come out.'

'Come now, be more reasonable. It does not only mean that; in fact, I can say honestly it doesn't mean that at all. If Wilenski tells you plainly that you ought to become a professional violinist, there's no one will wish you luck half so heartily as I. But if it's only the encouragement of "twenty people" -- that means nothing. I'm speaking simply as the best friend you have. Don't run the risk of a horrible disappointment. I know you wouldn't find that easy to bear -- it would be bad for you, in every way.

Impelled by annoyance -- for the project seemed to him delusive, and his sense of dignity rose against it -- Harvey had begun with unwonted decision, but he was soon uncomfortably self-conscious and self-critical; he spoke with effort, vainly struggling against that peculiar force of Alma's personality which had long ago subdued him. When he looked at her, saw her distant smile, her pose of the head as in one who mildly rebukes presumption, he was overcome with a feeling of solemn ineptitude. Quite unaware that his last sentence was to Alma the most impressive -- the only impressive -- part of his counsel, suddenly he broke off, and found relief in unexpected laughter.

'There now, I've done my duty -- I've discharged the pedagogue. Get rid of your tragic mask. Be yourself; do as you wish. When the time comes, just tell me what you have decided.'

So, once more, did he oust common-sense with what he imagined a riper wisdom. One must not take things funereally. Face to face with a woman in the prime of her beauty, he heard a voice warning him against the pedantic spirit of middle age, against formalism and fogeyishness.

'Now I know you again,' said Alma, softening, but still reserved; for she did not forget that he had thrown doubt upon her claims as an artist -- an incident which would not lose its importance as she pondered it at leisure.

Harvey sat late. On going upstairs, instead of straightway entering his own room, he passed it with soft step and paused by another door, that of the chamber in which Hughie slept under the care of Miss Smith. The child had coughed in the night during this last week. But at present all was quiet, and with comfortable reassurance the father went to rest.

Alma had matters to occupy her more important than a child's passing ailment. As she slowly unrobed herself by the fire, combed out her warm, fragrant, many-rippled tresses, or held mute dialogue with her eyes in the glass, from a ravel of uneasy thoughts there detached itself, first and foremost, the discovery that Redgrave had not been in Paris when Mrs Strangeways said he was. What was the meaning of this contradiction? Thereto hung the singular coincidence of Redgrave's return home exactly at the time when she and Mrs. Strangeways happened to be there. She had thought of it as a coincidence and nothing more; but if Redgrave had deceived Mrs. Strangeways as to his movements, the unlooked-for arrival took a suspicious significance. There remained a dark possibility: that Mrs. Strangeways knew what was about to happen. Yet this seemed inconceivable.

Was it inconceivable? Why should a woman of that age, and of so much experience, feel nervous about going alone to her friend's house on such a simple mission? It appeared odd at the time, and was more difficult to understand the more she thought of it. And one heard such strange stories -- in society of a certain kind -- so many whispered hints of things that would not bear to be talked about.

Redgrave had not been in Paris, but at Coventry. There again was a puzzling circumstance. Harvey himself declared his surprise at hearing that Redgrave had entered into partnership with Hugh Carnaby. Had Sibyl anything to do with this? Could she have hinted to her friend the millionaire that her husband's financial position was anything but satisfactory, and had Redgrave, out of pure friendship -- of course, out of pure friendship -- hastened to their succour?

This perplexity was almost as disturbing as that which preceded it. Knowing the man of money as she did, Alma found it disagreeable to connect his name thus closely with Sibyl's. Disagreeable in a complicated sense; for she had begun to think of Cyrus Redgrave as intimately associated with her own ambitions, secret and avowed. He was to aid her in winning fame as a violinist; and, to this end, all possible use (within certain limits) was to be made of the power she had over him. Alma viewed the position without the least attempt at disguising its true nature. She was playing with fire; knew it; enjoyed the excitement of it; trusted herself with the completest confidence to come out of the game unscorched. But she felt assured that other women, in similar circumstances, had engaged in much the same encounter with Cyrus Redgrave; and could it be imagined that Sibyl Carnaby was one of them -- Sibyl, the woman of culture, of high principle, the critic of society -- Sibyl, to whom she had so long paid homage, as to one of the chosen of her sex? That Redgrave might approach Sibyl with lawless thought, she could well believe, and such a possibility excited her indignation; that Sibyl would meet him on his own terms, she could not for a moment have credited, but for a traitor-voice that spoke in her for the first time, the voice of jealousy.

Where and how often did they meet? To ask this question was to touch another motive of discontent. Ever since the return to London life, Alma had felt dissatisfied with her social position. She was the wife of a gentleman of independent means; in theory, all circles should be open to her. Practically, she found herself very much restricted in the choice of acquaintances. Harvey had hinted that she should be careful where she went, and whom she knew; that she recognised the justice of this warning served merely to irritate her against its necessity. Why, then, did not her husband exert himself to obtain better society for her? Plainly, he would never take a step in that direction; he had his two or three friends, and found them sufficient; he would have liked to see her very intimate with Mrs. Abbott -- perhaps helping to teach babies on the kindergarten system! Left to her own resources, she could do little beyond refusing connections that were manifestly undesirable. Sibyl, she knew, associated with people of much higher standing, only out of curiosity taking a peep at the world to which her friend was restricted. There had always been a slight disparity in this respect between them, and in former days Alma had accepted it without murmuring; but why did Sibyl, just when she could have been socially helpful, show a disposition to hold aloof? 'Of course, you care nothing for people of that kind,' Mrs. Carnaby had said, after casually mentioning some 'good' family at whose country house she had been visiting. It was intended, perhaps, as a compliment, with allusion to Alma's theories of the 'simple life'; but, in face of the very plain fact that such theories were utterly abandoned, it sounded to Alma a humiliating irony.

Could it be that Sibyl feared inquiries, shrank from having it known that she was on intimate terms with the daughter of the late Bennet Frothingham -- a name still too often mentioned in newspapers and elsewhere? The shadow of this possibility had ere now flitted over Alma's mind; she was in the mood to establish it as a certainty, and to indulge the resentment that naturally ensued. For on more than one occasion of late, at Mrs. Rayner Mann's or in some such house, she had fancied that one person and another had eyed her in a way that was not quite flattering, and that remarks were privately exchanged about her. Perhaps Harvey himself saw in the fact of her parentage a social obstacle, which made him disinclined to extend their circle of common acquaintances. Was that what he meant by his grave air this evening? Was he annoyed at the thought of a publicity which would reveal her maiden name?

These currents of troubled feeling streamed together and bore her turbidly onwards whither her desires pointed. In one way, and one way only, could she hope to become triumphantly conspicuous, to raise herself quite above petty social prejudices, to defeat ill-wishers and put to shame faint-hearted friends. She had never been able to endure the thought of mediocrity. One chance there was; she must grasp it energetically and without delay. And she must make use of all subsidiary means to her great conquest -- save only the last dishonour.

That on her own merit she might rise to the first rank of musicians, Alma did not doubt. Her difficulty lay in the thought that it might require a long time, a wearisome struggle, to gain the universal recognition which alone would satisfy her. Therefore must Cyrus Redgrave be brought to the exertion of all his influence, which she imagined would assist her greatly. Therefore, too, must Felix Dymes be retained as her warm friend, probably (his own suggestion) as her man of business.

It was January. Her 'recital' must take place in the coming season, in May or June. She would sketch a programme at once -- tomorrow morning -- and then work, work, work terrifically!

Saved by the fervour of this determination from brooding over mysteries and jealousies, Alma lay down with a contented sigh, and was soon asleep, thanks to the health she still enjoyed. Her excitability was of the imagination rather than of the blood, and the cool, lymphatic flow, characteristically feminine, which mingled with the sanguine humour, traceable perhaps to a paternal source, spared her many an hour of wakefulness, as it guarded her against much graver peril.

On Sunday morning she generally went to church -- not because of any spiritual impulse, but out of habit. In Wales, Harvey often accompanied her; at Pinner he ceased to do so; but neither then nor now had any talk on the subject passed between them. Alma took it for granted that her husband was very 'broad' in matters of faith. She gathered from her reading that every man of education nowadays dispensed with dogmas, and, for her own part, it was merely an accident that she had not sought to attract attention by pronounced freethinking. Sibyl Carnaby went to church as a matter of course, and never spoke for or against orthodoxy. Had Sibyl been more 'advanced' in this direction, undoubtedly Alma would long ago have followed her example. Both of them, in girlhood, had passed through a great deal of direct religious teaching -- and both would have shrunk amazed if called upon to make the slightest sacrifice in the name of their presumed creed.

This morning, however, Alma remained at home, and one of the first things she did was to write to Sibyl, asking when it would be convenient for her friend to give her half-an-hour's private talk. Then she wrote to Felix Dymes, addressing the letter to the care of his publishers. At midday, as Harvey had gone to town on his business with Cecil Morphew, she decided to run over to Kingsbury-Neasden and ask her friends for lunch, in return for which she would make known to them her startling project. It was a wretched day; Hughie must not go out, and Pauline -- good creature -- would amuse him in one way and another all the afternoon.

As it chanced, her surprise visit could not have been worse timed, for Mrs. Leach was in a state of collapse after a violent quarrel, the day before, with her cook-housekeeper, who quitted the house at a moment's notice. Luncheon, in the admissible sense of the word, there was none to be had. Mr. Leach, finding the house intolerable when he arrived on Saturday afternoon, had gone back to his bachelor quarters, and the girls, when Alma presented herself, were just sitting down alone to what the housemaid chose to give them. But such an old friend could not be turned away because of domestic mishap.

Not until they had despatched the unsatisfactory meal, and were cosy in the drawing-room, did Alma reveal her great purpose. Dora Leach happened to have a slight acquaintance with a professional pianist who had recently come before the public, and Alma began by inquiring whether her friend could obtain information as to the expenses of the first 'recital' given by that lady.

'I'm afraid I don't know her quite well enough,' replied Miss Leach. 'What's it for? Are you thinking ----? Really? You really are?'

The sisters became joyously excited. Splendid idea! They had feared it was impossible. Oh, she might count with certainty upon a brilliant success! They began to talk about the programme. And what professionals would she engage to take part in the concert? When Alma mentioned that the illustrious Felix Dymes had offered to undertake the management of her business, interest rose to the highest point. Felix Dymes would of course be a tower of strength. Though tempted to speak of the support she might expect from another great man, Alma refrained; her reason being that she meant to ask Dora to accompany her to the Crystal Palace next Saturday. If, as was almost certain, Redgrave met them there, it would be unpleasant to let Dora surmise that the meeting was not by chance.

They chattered for two or three hours, and, among other things, made merry over a girl of their acquaintance (struggling with flagrant poverty), who aimed at a professional career.

'It really would be kindness,' said Dora, 'to tell her she hasn't the least chance; but one can't do that. She was here the other day playing to us -- oh, for such a time! She said her bow would have to be rehaired, and when I looked at it, I saw it was all greasy and black near the frog, from her dirty fingers; it only wanted washing. I just managed to edge in a hint about soap and water. But she's very touchy; one has to be so careful with her.'

'It's dreadfully awkward, you know,' put in Gerda, 'to talk to people who are so poor -- isn't it? It came out one day that she had been peeling potatoes for their dinner! It makes one so uncomfortable -- she really need not have mentioned it.'

The public halls were discussed. Which would Alma select? Then again the programme. Would she play the Adagio? -- meaning, of course, that in Spohr's Concerto 9. No, no; not the Adagio -- not on any account the Adagio! Something of Bach's? -- yes; perhaps the Chaconne. And Brahms? There was the Sonata in A for violin and piano. A stiff piece, but one must not be too popular -- Heaven forbid that one should catch at cheap applause! How about a trio? What was that thing of Dvorak's, at St James's Hall not long ago? Yes, the trio in B flat -- piano, violin, and 'cello. At least a score of pieces were jotted down, some from memory, some picked out of old programmes, of which Dora produced a great portfolio. Interruption came at length -- a servant entering to say that Mrs. Leach felt so ill, she wished the doctor to be summoned.

'Oh, bother Mamma and her illnesses!' exclaimed the vivacious Gerda when the intruder was waved off. 'It's all nonsense, you know. She will quarrel with servants and get herself into a state. It'll have to be a boarding-house; I see it coming nearer every day.'

Having made an appointment with Dora for next Saturday, Alma took leave, and went home in excellent spirits. Everything seemed to plan itself; the time had come, the moment of destiny. Doubtless she had been wise in waiting thus long. Had she come forward only a year or so after her father's tragedy, people might have said she was making profit of a vulgar sensation; it would have seemed in bad taste; necessity would have appeared to urge her. Now, such remarks were impossible. Mrs. Harvey Rolfe sounded much better than Miss Alma Frothingham. By-the-bye, was it to be 'Mrs.', or ought she to call herself 'Madame'? People did use the Madame, even with an English name. Madame Rolfe? Madame Harvey Rolfe? That made her laugh; it had a touch of the ridiculous; it suggested millinery rather than music. Better to reject such silly affectations and use her proper name boldly.

It was to be expected, of course, that people in general would soon discover her maiden name. Whispers would go round; facts might even get into the newspapers. Well? She herself had done nothing to be ashamed of, and if curiosity helped her to success, why, so much the better. In all likelihood it would help her; but she did not dwell upon this adventitious encouragement. A more legitimate source of hope revealed itself in Mrs. Strangeways' allusion to her personal advantages. She was not ill-looking; on that point there needed no flatterer's assurance. Her looks, if anything, had improved, and possibly she owed something to her experiment in 'simplicity', to the air of mountain and of sea. Felix Dymes, Cyrus Redgrave, not to speak of certain other people -- no matter. For all that, she must pay grave attention to the subject of dress. Her recital would doubtless be given in the afternoon, according to custom; so that it was not a case of grande tenue; but her attire must be nothing short of perfection in its kind. Could she speak about it with Sibyl? Perhaps -- yet perhaps not. She was very anxious to see Sibyl, and felt that a great deal depended upon their coming interview.

This took place on Tuesday; for Sibyl replied at once to the note, and begged her to come without delay. 'Tuesday at twelve. I do little in these gloomy days but read -- am becoming quite a bookworm. Why have you been silent so long? I was on the very point of writing to you, for I wish to see you particularly.'

And, when the servant opened her door, Sibyl was discovered in the attitude of a severe student, bending over a table on which lay many volumes. She would not have been herself had there appeared any neglect or unbecomingness in her costume, but she wore the least pretentious of morning gowns, close at throat and wrist, which aided her look of mental concentration and alertness. She rose with alacrity, and the visitor, using her utmost keenness in scrutiny of countenance, found that her own eyes, not Sibyl's, were the first to fall.

'Yes -- working as if I had an examination to pass. It's the best thing in weather such as this -- keeps one in health, I believe. You, of course, have your music, which answers the same purpose. I'm going in for the Renaissance; always wished to make a thorough study of it. Hugh is appalled; he never imagined I had so much energy. He says I shall be writing a book next -- and why not?'

'Of course you could,' replied Alma. 'You're clever enough for anything.'

Her suspicions evaporated in this cosy cloister. She wondered how she could have conceived such a thought of Sibyl, who, dressed so simply, had a girlish air, a beauty as of maidenhood. Exhilarated by her ambitious hopes, she turned in heart to the old friendship, felt her admiration revive, and spoke it freely.

'I know I'm not stupid,' said Sibyl, leaning back as if a little weary; 'and there's the pity of it, that I've never made more use of my brains. Of course, those years abroad were lost, though I suppose I got to know a little more of the world. And since we came back I have had no peace of mind. Did you guess that? Perhaps your husband knew about things from Hugh?'

'I was afraid you might be getting rather anxious; but as you never said anything yourself ----'

'I never should have done -- I hate talking about money. And you know that things are looking better?'

Sibyl's confident smile drew one of like meaning from Alma.

'Your husband had good news, I know, when Harvey met him on Saturday.'

'It sounds good,' said Sibyl, 'and I take it for granted it will be as good as it sounds. If that's complicated, well, so is business, and I don't profess to understand the details. I can only say that Hugh seems to be a good deal shrewder and more practical than I thought him. He is always making friends with what I consider the wrong kind of people; now at last he has got hold of just the right man, and it very much puzzles me how he did it. I have known Mr. Redgrave -- you've heard it's Mr Redgrave? -- I've known him for several years now, and, between ourselves, I never expected to benefit by the acquaintance.'

Her laugh was so significant that Alma had much ado to keep a steady face.

'I know -- things are said about him,' she murmured.

'Things are said about him, as you discreetly put it, my dear Alma.' The voice still rippled with laughter. 'I should imagine Hugh has heard them, but I suppose a man of the world thinks nothing of such trifles. And after all' -- she grew serious -- 'I would rather trust Hugh's judgment than general gossip. Hugh thinks him a "very good fellow". They were together a little in Scotland last autumn, you know, and -- it's very wrong to make fun of it, and I shouldn't repeat the story to anyone but you -- Mr. Redgrave confided to him that he was a blighted being, the victim of an unhappy love in early life. Can you quite picture it?'

'It has an odd sound,' replied Alma, struggling with rather tense nerves. 'Do you believe the story?'

'I can't see why in the world such a man should invent it. It seems he wanted to marry someone who preferred someone else; and since then he has ----'

Sibyl rippled off again.

'He has -- what?'

'Been blighted, my dear! Of course, people have different ways of showing blight. Mr. Redgrave, it is rumoured, hides his head in a hermitage, somewhere in the north of Italy, by one of the lakes. No doubt he lives on olives and macaroni, and broods over what might have been. Did you ever hear of that hermitage?'

Alma's colour heightened ever so little, and she kept her eyes on the questioner with involuntary fixedness. The last shadow of doubt regarding Sibyl having disappeared (no woman with an uneasy conscience, she said to herself, could talk in this way), she had now to guard herself against the betrayal of suspicious sensibilities. Sibyl, of course, meant nothing personal by these jesting allusions -- how could she? But it was with a hard voice that Alma declared her ignorance of Mr Redgrave's habits, at home, or in retreat by Italian lakes.

'It doesn't concern us,' agreed her friend. 'He has chosen to put his money into Hugh's business, and, from one point of view, that's a virtuous action. Hugh says he didn't suggest anything of the kind, but I fancy the idea must have been led up to at some time or other. The poor fellow has been horridly worried, and perhaps he let fall a word or two he doesn't care to confess. However it came about, I'm immensely glad, both for his sake and my own. My mind is enormously relieved -- and that's how I come to be working at the Renaissance.'

Alma took the first opportunity of giving the conversation a turn. It was not so easy as she had anticipated to make her announcement; for, to her own mind, Cyrus Redgrave and the great ambition were at every moment suggestive of each other, and Sibyl, in this peculiar mood, might throw out disturbing remarks or ask unwelcome questions. Only one recent occurrence called for concealment. Happily, Sibyl no longer met Mrs Strangeways (whose character had taken such a doubtful hue), and Redgrave himself could assuredly be trusted for discretion, whatever his real part in that perplexing scene at he bungalow.

'I feel the same want as you do,' said Alma, after a little transitional talk, 'of something to keep me busy. Of course, it must be music; but music at home, and at other people's homes, isn't enough. You know my old revolt against the bonds of the amateur. I'm going to break out -- or try to. What would you give for my chances?'

'My dear, I am no capitalist,' replied her friend, with animation. 'For such a bargain as that you must go among the great speculators. Hugh's experience seems to point to Mr. Redgrave.'

'Sibyl, please be serious.'

'So I am. I should like to have the purchase of your chances for a trifle of a few thousand pounds.'

Alma's flush of discomposure (more traitorous than she imagined) transformed itself under a gratified smile.

'You really think that I might do something worth the trouble? -- I don't mean money-making -- though, of course, no one despises money -- but a real artistic success?'

Sibyl made no half-hearted reply. She seemed in thorough agreement with those other friends of Alma's who had received the project enthusiastically. A dozen tickets, at least a dozen, she would at once answer for. But, as though an unwelcome word must needs mingle with her pleasantest talk today, she went on to speak of Alma's husband; what did he think of the idea?

'He looks on, that's all,' Alma replied playfully. 'If I succeed, he will be pleased; if I don't, he will have plenty of consolation to offer. Harvey and I respect each other's independence -- the great secret of marriage, don't you think? We ask each other's advice, and take it or not, as we choose. I fancy he doesn't quite like the thought of my playing for money. But if it were necessary he would like it still less. He finds consolation in the thought that I'm just amusing myself.'

'I wish you would both come over and dine with us quietly,' said Sibyl, after reflecting, with a smile. 'It would do us all good. I don't see many people nowadays, and I'm getting rather tired of ordinary society; after all, it's great waste of time. I think Hugh is more inclined to settle down and be quiet among his friends. What day would suit you?'

Alma, engrossed in other thoughts, named a day at random. Part of her scheme was still undisclosed: she had a special reason for wishing Sibyl to know of her relations with Felix Dymes, yet feared that she might not hit exactly the right tone in speaking of him.

'Of course, I must have a man of business -- and who do you think has offered his services?'

Sibyl was not particularly impressed by the mention of Dymes's name; she had only a slight personal acquaintance with him, and cared little for his reputation as a composer.

'I had a note from him this morning,' Alma continued. 'He asks me to see him today at the Apollo -- the theatre, you know. They're going to produce his comic opera, "Blue Roses" -- of course, you've heard of it. I shall feel rather nervous about going there -- but it'll be a new experience. Or do you think it would be more discreet if I got him to come to Pinner?'

'I didn't think artists cared about those small proprieties,' answered Sibyl, laughing.

'No -- of course, that's the right way to regard it. Let me show you his letter.' She took it from her little seal-skin bag. 'A trifle impudent, don't you think? Mr. Dymes has a great opinion of himself, and absolutely no manners.'

'Well -- if you can keep him in hand ----'

They exchanged glances, and laughed together.

'No fear of that,' said Alma 'And he's just the kind of man to be very useful. His music -- ah well! But he has popularity, and a great many people take him at his own estimate. Impudence does go a long way.'

Sibyl nodded, and smiled vaguely.

Dymes had suggested a meeting at three o'clock, and to this Alma had already given her assent by telegraph. She lunched with Mrs. Carnaby, -- who talked a great deal about the Renaissance, -- left immediately after, to visit a few shops, and drove up to the Apollo Theatre at the appointed time. Her name sufficed; at once she was respectfully conducted to a small electric-lighted room, furnished only with a table and chairs, and hung about with portraits of theatrical people, where Dymes sat by the fire smoking a cigarette. The illustrious man apologised for receiving her here, instead of in the manager's room, which he had hoped to make use of.

'Littlestone is in there, wrangling about something with Sophy Challis, and they're likely to slang each other for an hour or two. Make yourself comfortable. It's rather hot; take off those furry things.'

'Thank you,' replied Alma, concealing her nervousness with malapert vivacity, 'I shall be quite comfortable in my own way. It is rather hot, and your smoke is rather thick, so I shall leave the door a little open.'

Dymes showed his annoyance, but could offer no objection.

'We're getting into shape for this day week. Littlestone calls the opera "Blue Noses" -- it has been so confoundedly cold at rehearsals.'

Alma was seized by the ludicrous suggestion, and laughed without restraint; her companion joined in, his loud neigh drowning her more melodious merriment. This put them on natural terms of comradeship, and then followed a long, animated talk. Dymes was of opinion that the hiring of a hall and the fees of supplementary musicians might be defrayed out of the sale of tickets; but there remained the item of advertisement, and on this subject he had large ideas. He wanted 'to do the thing properly'; otherwise he wouldn't do it at all. But Alma was to take no thought for the cost; let it all be left to him.

'You want to succeed? All right; let your fiddling be up to the mark, and I answer for the public. It's all between you and me; you needn't say who is doing the job for you. Ada Wellington comes off on May the 10th; I shall put you down for a fortnight later. That gives you nearly four months to prepare. Don't overdo it; keep right in health; take plenty of exercise. You look very well now; keep it up, and you'll knock 'em. I only wish it was the stage instead of the platform -- but no use talking about that, I suppose?'

'No use whatever,' Alma replied, flushing with various emotions.

In the course of his free talk, it happened that he addressed her as 'Alma'. She did not check him; but when the name again fell from his lips, she said quietly, with a straight look ----

'I think not. The proper name, if you please.'

Dymes took the rebuke good-humouredly. When their conversation was over, he wished her to go with him to a restaurant for tea; but Alma insisted on catching a certain train at Baker Street, and Dymes had to be satisfied with the promise of another interview shortly.