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She tells me she is n't acting for a week or two, -rehearsing some new play. Is n't it wonderful to think of the things that are going on every day? Just think of the Holy Spirit pouring into this sinning creature's heart, catching her in the middle of her champagne and frivolity, and just turning her, almost compelling her towards Christ! And men like John Morley or Constantine Schuabe say there is no truth in Christianity!—I 'll take one of these apples - poor fools! Now I must go and write my sermon." He was gone in a clattering rush.
For a long time Basil sat thinking. The mysterious links of some great chain were being revealed inch by inch. Wonderful as these circumstances already seemed to him, he felt sure there was far more behind them than he knew as yet. There was some unseen tie, some influence that drew his thoughts ever more and more towards the library in the palace at Manchester.
The next evening a maid showed Gortre into the hall of the flat of Bloomsbury Court Mansions, eyeing him curiously as she did so.
He passed down the richly carpeted passage with a quickening of all his pulses, noticing the Moorish lamps of copper studded with turquoise which threw a dim crimson light over everything, marking the ostentatious luxury of the place with wonder.
Gertrude Hunt lay back in a low arm-chair. She was dressed in a long, dull red teagown of cashmere, with a broad white band round the neck opening of white Indian needlework, embroidered with dark green leaves.
Her face was pale and tired.
Despite the general warmth of the time, a fire burnt steadily on the hearth.
Gortre sat down at her invitation, and they fell into a
desultory conversation. He waited for her to open on the real subjects that had brought him there.
He watched the tired, handsome face. Coarse it certainly was, in expression rather than feature, but that very coarseness gave it
power. This woman, who lived the life of a doll, had character. One saw that. Perhaps, he thought, as he looked at her, that the very eagerness and greed for pleasure marked in her face, the passionate determination to tear the heart and core out of life, might still be directed to purer and nobler ends.
Then she began to talk to him quite frankly, and with no disguise or slurring over the facts of her life.
“I'm sick and tired of it all, Mr. Gortre," she said bitterly. “You can't know what it means a bit-lucky for you. Imagine spending all your life in a room painted bright yellow, eating nothing but chocolate creams, with a band playing comic songs for ever and
And even then you won't get it." Basil shuddered. There was something so poignant and forceful in her words that they hurt, stung like a whip-lash. He was being brought into terrible contact not only with sin and the satiety of sin, but with its results. The hideous staleness and torture of it all appalled him as he looked at this human personification of it in the crimson gown.
“That 's how it was at first,” she continued. “I knew there was something more than this in life, though. I could read it in people's faces. So I came to the service at your church one Sunday evening. I'd never made fun of religion and all that at any time. I simply could n't believe it, that was all. Then I heard you preach on the Resurrection. I heard all the proofs for the first time. Of course, I could see there was n't any doubt about the matter at all. Then, curiously, directly I began to believe in it I began to hate the way I was
going on, so I went to Father Ripon, who was very nice, and he said you 'd call.”
“I quite understand you, Miss Hunt," said Gortre. “That 's the beauty of faith. When once you believe, then you 've got to change. It 's a great pity, a very great pity, that clergymen don't attempt to explain things more than they do. If one is n't built in a certain way, I can quite understand and sympathise with any one who is n't able to take a parson's mere statement on trust, so to speak. But that 's beside the way. You believe at any rate. And now what are you going to do? I'm here to help you in every possible way. I want to hear your views, just as you have thought them out.”
“I like that,” she said. “That 's practical and sensible. I've never cared very much for sentimental ways of looking at things. You know I can't live very long. I've got enough to live quietly on for some years, put away in a bank, money I've made acting. I have n't spent a penny of my salary for years—I 've made the men pay for everything. I shall go quietly away to the country and be alone with my thoughts, close to a little quiet church. You 'll find a place for me, won't you? That's what I want to do. But there's something in the way, and a big something, too."
“I'm here to help that," said Basil.
“It 's Bob,” she answered. The man that keeps me. I'm afraid of him. He's been away for months, out of England, but he's coming back at once. Tomorrow as likely as not, he could n't say to a day. I had a letter from Brindisi last week. He's been to Palestine, via Alexandria.”
A quick premonition took hold of the young man. “Who is he?” he asked.
She took a photograph from the mantel-shelf and gave it to him. It was one of the Stereoscopic Company's
series of "celebrities." Under the portrait was printed - "Sir Robert Llwellyn." Gortre started violently.
“I know him," he said thickly. “I felt when I met him— What does it all mean?'
He dropped his head into his hands, filled with the old, nameless, unreasoning fear.
She looked steadily at him, wondering at his manner. There was a tense silence for a time.
In the silence suddenly they heard a sound, clear and distinct. A key was being inserted into the door of the · flat.
They waited breathlessly. Gertrude Hunt grew very white. Without any words from her, Basil knew whose fingers were even now upon the handle of the door.
Llwellyn entered. His huge form was dressed in a light grey suit and he carried a straw hat in his hand. His face was burned a deep brown.
He stopped suddenly as he saw Gortre and an ugly look flashed out on the sensual, intellectual face. Some swift intuition seemed to give him the key of the situation or something near it.
“The curate of Dieppe!” he said in a cold, mirthless voice. “And what, Mr. Gortre, may I ask, are you doing here?”
Miss Hunt has asked me to come and see her," answered Basil.
"Consoling yourself with the Church, Gertie, while your proprietor is away?” Llwellyn said with a sneer.
Then his manner changed suddenly.
He turned to Gortre. “Now then, my man," he snarled, get out of this place at once. You may not know that I pay the rent and other expenses of this establishment. It is mine. I know all about you. Your reputation has reached me from sources you have little
idea of. And I saw you at Dieppe. I don't propose to resume our acquaintance in London; kindly go at once.
Basil looked at the woman. He saw pleading, a terrible entreaty in her eyes. If he left her now, the
power of this man, his strength of will, might drag her back for ever into hell. He could see the girl regarded him with terror. There was a great surprise in her face also. The man seemed so strong and purposeful. Even Gortre remembered that he had worn no such indefinable air of confidence and triumph six months ago in France.
“Miss Hunt wants me to stay, sir,” he answered quietly, “and so I 'm going to stay. But perhaps you had better be given an explanation at once. Miss Hunt is going to leave you to-morrow.
She will never see you again."
"And may I ask," the big man answered, “why you have interfered in my private affairs and why you think --for she is going to do nothing of the sort-Miss Hunt is going from here?”
"Simply because the Holy Spirit wills it so," said the clergyman.
Llwellyn looked steadily at him and then at the woman.
Something he saw in their faces told him the truth.
He laughed shortly. “Let me tell you," he said in a voice which quivered with ugly passion, " that in a short time all meddling priests will lose their power over the minds of others for ever. Your Christ, your God, the pale dreamer of the East, shall be revealed to you and all men at last! His manner had changed once more.
Fierce as it was, there was an intense meaning and power in it. He spoke as one having authority, with also a concentrated hate in his words, so real and bitter that it gave them a certain fineness.