her speedily to follow poor Tom Maitland to the grave. Indeed they already felt dreadfully sorry for Iris, her daughter, who would be left an orphan. They redoubled their attentions towards Louise. They would not let her stir a finger; they insisted on doing everything in the world to save her trouble. They had to, because if she was called upon to do anything tiresome or inconvenient her heart went back on her and there she was at death’s door. She was entirely lost without a man to take care of her, she said, and she did not know how, with her delicate health, she was going to bring up her dear Iris. Her friends asked why she did not marry again. Oh, with her heart it was out of the question, though of course she knew that dear Tom would have wished her to, and perhaps it would be the best thing for Iris if she did; but who would want to be bothered with a wretched invalid like herself? Oddly enough more than one young man showed himself quite ready to undertake the charge and a year after Tom’s death she allowed George Hobhouse to lead her to the altar. He was a fine, upstanding fellow, and he was not at all badly off. I never saw any one so grateful as he for the privilege of being allowed to take care of this frail little thing.

‘I shan’t live to trouble you long,’ she said.

He was a soldier and an ambitious one, but he resigned his commission. Louise’s health forced her to spend the winter at Monte Carlo and the summer at Deauville. He hesitated a little at throwing up his career, and Louise at first would not hear of it; but at last she yielded as she always yielded, and he prepared to make his wife’s last few years as happy as might be.

‘It can’t be very long now,’ she said. ‘I’ll try not to be troublesome.’

For the next two or three years Louise managed, notwithstanding her weak heart, to go beautifully dressed to all the most lively parties, to gamble very heavily, to dance and even to flirt with tall, slim young men. But George Hobhouse had not the stamina of Louise’s first husband and he had to brace himself now and then with a stiff drink for his day’s work as Louise’s second husband. It is possible that the habit would have grown on him, which Louise would not have liked at all, but very fortunately (for her) the war broke out. He rejoined his regiment and three months later was killed. It was a great shock to Louise. She felt, however, that in such a crisis she must not give way to a private grief; and if she had a heart attack nobody heard of it. In order to distract her mind, she turned her villa at Monte Carlo into a hospital for convalescent officers. Her friends told her that she would never survive the strain.

‘Of course it will kill me,’ she said, ‘I know that. But what does it matter? I must do my bit.’

It didn’t kill her. She had the time of her life. There was no convalescent home in France that was more popular. I met her by chance in Paris. She was lunching at the Ritz with a tall and very handsome Frenchman. She explained that she was there on business connected with the hospital. She told me that the officers were too charming to her. They knew how delicate she was and they wouldn’t let her do a single thing. They took care of her, well—as though they were all her husbands. She sighed.

‘Poor George, who would ever have thought that I, with my heart, should survive him?’

‘And poor Tom!’ I said.

I don’t know why she didn’t like my saying that. She gave me her plaintive smile and her beautiful eyes filled with tears.

‘You always speak as though you grudged me the few years that I can expect to live.’

‘By the way, your heart’s much better, isn’t it?’

‘It’ll never be better. I saw a specialist this morning and he said I must be prepared for the worst.’

‘Oh, well, you’ve been prepared for that for nearly twenty years now, haven’t you?’

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