Infomotions, Inc.Witness for the Defense / Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948



Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
Title: Witness for the Defense
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): thresk; hazlewood; pettifer; stella; ballantyne; stella ballantyne; dick; henry thresk; little beeding; robert pettifer; dick hazlewood; jane repton; captain ballantyne; margaret pettifer; stella ballantyne's; answered thresk; thresk looked; asked thresk;
Contributor(s): Ross, James [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
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Identifier: etext12535
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Title: Witness For The Defense

Author: A.E.W. Mason

Release Date: June 6, 2004 [EBook #12535]

Language: English

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                      THE WITNESS FOR THE DEFENCE

                            BY A.E.W. MASON

                                 1914




CONTENTS

CHAPTER


       I. HENRY THRESK

      II. ON BIGNOR HILL

     III. IN BOMBAY

      IV. JANE REPTON

       V. THE QUEST

      VI. IN THE TENT AT CHITIPUR

     VII. THE PHOTOGRAPH

    VIII. AND THE RIFLE

      IX. AN EPISODE IN BALLANTYNE'S LIFE

       X. NEWS FROM CHITIPUR

      XI. THRESK INTERVENES

     XII. THRESK GIVES EVIDENCE

    XIII. LITTLE BEEDING AGAIN

     XIV. THE HAZLEWOODS

      XV. THE GREAT CRUSADE

     XVI. CONSEQUENCES

    XVII. TROUBLE FOR MR. HAZLEWOOD

   XVIII. MR. HAZLEWOOD SEEKS ADVICE

     XIX. PETTIFER'S PLAN

      XX. ON THE DOWNS

     XXI. THE LETTER IS WRITTEN

    XXII. A WAY OUT OF THE TRAP

   XXIII. METHODS FROM FRANCE

    XXIV. THE WITNESS

     XXV. IN THE LIBRARY

    XXVI. TWO STRANGERS

   XXVII. THE VERDICT




THE WITNESS FOR THE DEFENCE




CHAPTER I

HENRY THRESK


The beginning of all this difficult business was a little speech which
Mrs. Thresk fell into a habit of making to her son. She spoke it the
first time on the spur of the moment without thought or intention. But
she saw that it hurt. So she used it again--to keep Henry in his
proper place.

"You have no right to talk, Henry," she would say in the hard practical
voice which so completed her self-sufficiency. "You are not earning your
living. You are still dependent upon us;" and she would add with a note
of triumph: "Remember, if anything were to happen to your dear father you
would have to shift for yourself, for everything has been left to me."

Mrs. Thresk meant no harm. She was utterly without imagination and had no
special delicacy of taste to supply its place--that was all. People and
words--she was at pains to interpret neither the one nor the other and
she used both at random. She no more contemplated anything happening to
her husband, to quote her phrase, than she understood the effect her
barbarous little speech would have on a rather reserved schoolboy.

Nor did Henry himself help to enlighten her. He was shrewd enough to
recognise the futility of any attempt. No! He just looked at her
curiously and held his tongue. But the words were not forgotten. They
roused in him a sense of injustice. For in the ordinary well-to-do
circle, in which the Thresks lived, boys were expected to be an expense
to their parents; and after all, as he argued, he had not asked to be
born. And so after much brooding, there sprang up in him an antagonism to
his family and a fierce determination to owe to it as little as he could.

There was a full share of vanity no doubt in the boy's resolve, but the
antagonism had struck roots deeper than his vanity; and at an age when
other lads were vaguely dreaming themselves into Admirals and
Field-Marshals and Prime-Ministers Henry Thresk, content with lower
ground, was mapping out the stages of a good but perfectly feasible
career. When he reached the age of thirty he must be beginning to make
money; at thirty-five he must be on the way to distinction--his name must
be known beyond the immediate circle of his profession; at forty-five he
must be holding public office. Nor was his profession in any doubt. There
was but one which offered these rewards to a man starting in life without
money to put down--the Bar.

So to the Bar in due time Henry Thresk was called; and when something
did happen to his father he was trained for the battle. A bank failed and
the failure ruined and killed old Mr. Thresk. From the ruins just enough
was scraped to keep his widow, and one or two offers of employment were
made to Henry Thresk.

But he was tenacious as he was secret. He refused them, and with the
help of pupils, journalism and an occasional spell as an election
agent, he managed to keep his head above water until briefs began
slowly to come in.

So far then Mrs. Thresk's stinging speeches seemed to have been
justified. But at the age of twenty-eight he took a holiday. He went down
for a month into Sussex, and there the ordered scheme of his life was
threatened. It stood the attack; and again it is possible to plead in its
favour with a good show of argument. But the attack, nevertheless, brings
into light another point of view.

Prudence, for instance, the disputant might urge, is all very well in the
ordinary run of life, but when the great moments come conduct wants
another inspiration. Such an one would consider that holiday with a
thought to spare for Stella Derrick, who during its passage saw much of
Henry Thresk. The actual hour when the test came happened on one of the
last days of August.




CHAPTER II

ON BIGNOR HILL


They were riding along the top of the South Downs between Singleton and
Arundel, and when they came to where the old Roman road from Chichester
climbs over Bignor Hill, Stella Derrick raised her hand and halted. She
was then nineteen and accounted lovely by others besides Henry Thresk,
who on this morning rode at her side. She was delicately yet healthfully
fashioned, with blue eyes under broad brows, raven hair and a face pale
and crystal-clear. But her lips were red and the colour came easily into
her cheeks.

She pointed downwards to the track slanting across the turf from the brow
of the hill.

"That's Stane Street. I promised to show it you."

"Yes," answered Thresk, taking his eyes slowly from her face. It was a
morning rich with sunlight, noisy with blackbirds, and she seemed to him
a necessary part of it. She was alive with it and gave rather than took
of its gold. For not even that finely chiselled nose of hers could impart
to her anything of the look of a statue.

"Yes. They went straight, didn't they, those old centurions?" he said.

He moved his horse and stood in the middle of the track looking across a
valley of forest and meadow to Halnaker Down, six miles away in the
southwest. Straight in the line of his eyes over a shoulder of the down
rose a tall fine spire--the spire of Chichester Cathedral, and farther on
he could see the water in Bosham Creek like a silver mirror, and the
Channel rippling silver beyond. He turned round. Beneath him lay the blue
dark weald of Sussex, and through it he imagined the hidden line of the
road driving straight as a ruler to London.

"No going about!" he said. "If a hill was in the way the road climbed
over it; if a marsh it was built through it."

They rode on slowly along the great whaleback of grass, winding in and
out amongst brambles and patches of yellow-flaming gorse. The day was
still even at this height; and when, far away, a field of long grass
under a stray wind bent from edge to edge with the swift motion of
running water, it took them both by surprise. And they met no one. They
seemed to ride in the morning of a new clean world. They rose higher on
to Duncton Down, and then the girl spoke.

"So this is your last day here."

He gazed about him out towards the sea, eastwards down the slope to the
dark trees of Arundel, backwards over the weald to the high ridge of
Blackdown.

"I shall look back upon it."

"Yes," she said. "It's a day to look back upon."

She ran over in her mind the days of this last month since he had come to
the inn at Great Beeding and friends of her family had written to her
parents of his coming. "It's the most perfect of all your days here. I am
glad. I want you to carry back with you good memories of our Sussex."

"I shall do that," said he, "but for another reason."

Stella pushed on a foot or two ahead of him.

"Well," she said, "no doubt the Temple will be stuffy."

"Nor was I thinking of the Temple."

"No?"

"No."

She rode on a little way whilst he followed. A great bee buzzed past
their heads and settled in the cup of a wild rose. In a copse beside them
a thrush shot into the air a quiverful of clear melody.

Stella spoke again, not looking at her companion, and in a low voice and
bravely with a sweet confusion of her blood.

"I am very glad to hear you say that, for I was afraid that I had let you
see more than I should have cared for you to see--unless you had been
anxious to see it too."

She waited for an answer, still keeping her distance just a foot or two
ahead, and the answer did not come. A vague terror began to possess her
that things which could never possibly be were actually happening to
her. She spoke again with a tremor in her voice and all the confidence
gone out of it. Almost it appealed that she should not be put to shame
before herself.

"It would have been a little humiliating to remember, if that had
been true."

Then upon the ground she saw the shadow of Thresk's horse creep up until
the two rode side by side. She looked at him quickly with a doubtful
wavering smile and looked down again. What did all the trouble in his
face portend? Her heart thumped and she heard him say:

"Stella, I have something very difficult to say to you."

He laid a hand gently upon her arm, but she wrenched herself free. Shame
was upon her--shame unendurable. She tingled with it from head to foot.
She turned to him suddenly a face grown crimson and eyes which brimmed
with tears.

"Oh," she cried aloud, "that I should have been such a fool!" and she
swayed forward in her saddle. But before he could reach out an arm to
hold her she was upright again, and with a cut of her whip she was off
at a gallop.

"Stella," he cried, but she only used her whip the more. She galloped
madly and blindly over the grass, not knowing whither, not caring,
loathing herself. Thresk galloped after her, but her horse, maddened by
her whip and the thud of the hoofs behind, held its advantage. He settled
down to the pursuit with a jumble of thoughts in his brain.

"If to-day were only ten years on ... As it is it would be madness ...
madness and squalor and the end of everything ... Between us we
haven't a couple of pennies to rub together ... How she rides! ... She
was never meant for Brixton ... No, nor I ... Why didn't I hold my
tongue? ... Oh what a fool, what a fool! Thank Heaven the horses come
out of a livery stable ... They can't go on for ever and--oh, my God!
there are rabbit-holes on the Downs." And his voice rose to a shout:
"Stella! Stella!"

But she never looked over her shoulder. She fled the more desperately,
shamed through and through! Along the high ridge, between the bushes and
the beech-trees, their shadows flitted over the turf, to a jingle of bits
and the thunder of hoofs. Duncton Beacon rose far behind them; they had
crossed the road and Charlton forest was slipping past like dark water
before the mad race came to an end. Stella became aware that escape was
impossible. Her horse was spent, she herself reeling. She let her reins
drop loose and the gallop changed to a trot, the trot to a walk. She
noticed with gratitude that Thresk was giving her time. He too had fallen
to a walk behind her, and quite slowly he came to her side. She turned
to him at once.

"This is good country for a gallop, isn't it?"

"Rabbit-holes though," said he. "You were lucky."

He answered absently. There was something which had got to be said now.
He could not let this girl to whom he owed--well, the only holiday that
he had ever taken, go home shamed by a mistake, which after all she had
not made. He was very near indeed to saying yet more. The inclination was
strong in him, but not so strong as the methods of his life. Marriage
now--that meant to his view the closing of all the avenues of
advancement, and a life for both below both their needs.

"Stella, just listen to me. I want you to know that had things been
different I should have rejoiced beyond words."

"Oh, don't!" she cried.

"I must," he answered and she was silent. "I want you to know," he
repeated, stammering and stumbling, afraid lest each word meant to heal
should only pierce the deeper. "Before I came here there was no one.
Since I came here there has been--you. Oh, my dear, I would have been
very glad. But I am obscure--without means. There are years in front of
me before I shall be anything else. I couldn't ask you to share them--or
I should have done so before now."

In her mind ran the thought: what queer unimportant things men think
about! The early years! Wouldn't their difficulties, their sorrows be the
real savour of life and make it worth remembrance, worth treasuring? But
men had the right of speech. Not again would she forget that. She bowed
her head and he blundered on.

"For you there'll be a better destiny. There's that great house in the
Park with its burnt walls. I should like to see that rebuilt and you in
your right place, its mistress." And his words ceased as Stella abruptly
turned to him. She was breathing quickly and she looked at him with a
wonder in her trouble.

"And it hurts you to say this!" she said. "Yes, it actually hurts you."

"What else could I say?"

Her face softened as she looked and heard. It was not that he was cold of
blood or did not care. There was more than discomfort in his voice, there
was a very real distress. And in his eyes his heart ached for her to see.
Something of her pride was restored to her. She fell at once to his tune,
but she was conscious that both of them talked treacheries.

"Yes, you are right. It wouldn't have been possible. You have your name
and your fortune to make. I too--I shall marry, I suppose, some one"--and
she suddenly smiled rather bitterly--"who will give me a Rolls-Royce
motor-car." And so they rode on very reasonably.

Noon had passed. A hush had fallen upon that high world of grass and
sunlight. The birds were still. They talked of this and that, the
latest crisis in Europe and the growth of Socialism, all very wisely
and with great indifference like well-bred people at a dinner-party.
Not thus had Stella thought to ride home when the message had come that
morning that the horses would be at her door before ten. She had ridden
out clothed on with dreams of gold. She rode back with her dreams in
tatters and a sort of incredulity that to her too, as to other girls,
all this pain had come.

They came to a bridle-path which led downwards through a thicket of trees
to the weald and so descended upon Great Beeding. They rode through the
little town, past the inn where Thresk was staying and the iron gates of
a Park where, amidst elm-trees, the blackened ruins of a great house
gaped to the sky.

"Some day you will live there again," said Thresk, and Stella's lips
twitched with a smile of humour.

"I shall be very glad after to-day to leave the house I am living in,"
she said quietly, and the words struck him dumb. He had subtlety enough
to understand her. The rooms would mock her with memories of vain dreams.
Yet he kept silence. It was too late in any case to take back what he had
said; and even if she would listen to him marriage wouldn't be fair. He
would be hampered, and that, just at this time in his life, would mean
failure--failure for her no less than for him. They must be
prudent--prudent and methodical, and so the great prizes would be theirs.

A mile beyond, a mile of yellow lanes between high hedges, they came to
the village of Little Beeding, one big house and a few thatched cottages
clustered amongst roses and great trees on the bank of a small river.
Thither old Mr. Derrick and his wife and his daughter had gone after the
fire at Hinksey Park had completed the ruin which disastrous speculations
had begun; and at the gate of one of the cottages the riders stopped and
dismounted.

"I shall not see you again after to-day," said Stella. "Will you come in
for a moment?"

Thresk gave the horses to a passing labourer to hold and opened the gate.

"I shall be disturbing your people at their luncheon," he said.

"I don't want you to go in to them," said the girl. "I will say goodbye
to them for you."

Thresk followed her up the garden-path, wondering what it was that she
had still to say to him. She led him into a small room at the back of the
house, looking out upon the lawn. Then she stood in front of him.

"Will you kiss me once, please," she said simply, and she stood with her
arms hanging at her side, whilst he kissed her on the lips.

"Thank you," she said. "Now will you go?"

He left her standing in the little room and led the horses back to the
inn. That afternoon he took the train to London.




CHAPTER III

IN BOMBAY


It was not until a day late in January eight years afterwards that Thresk
saw the face of Stella Derrick again; and then it was only in a portrait.
He came upon it too in a most unlikely place. About five o'clock
upon that afternoon he drove out of the town of Bombay up to one of the
great houses on Malabar Hill and asked for Mrs. Carruthers. He was shown
into a drawing-room which looked over Back Bay to the great buildings of
the city, and in a moment Mrs. Carruthers came to him with her hands
outstretched.

"So you've won. My husband telephoned to me. We do thank you! Victory
means so much to us."

The Carruthers were a young couple who, the moment after they had
inherited the larger share in the great firm of Templeton & Carruthers,
Bombay merchants, had found themselves involved in a partnership
suit due to one or two careless phrases in a solicitor's letter. The case
had been the great case of the year in Bombay. The issue had been
doubtful, the stake enormous and Thresk, who three years before had taken
silk, had been fetched by young Carruthers from England to fight it.

"Yes, we've won," he said. "Judgment was given in our favor this
afternoon."

"You are dining with us to-night, aren't you."

"Thank you, yes," said Thresk. "At half-past eight."

"Yes."

Mrs. Carruthers gave him some tea and chattered pleasantly while he drank
it. She was fair-haired and pretty, a lady of enthusiasms and uplifted
hands, quite without observation or knowledge, yet with power to
astonish.  For every now and then some little shrewd wise saying would
gleam out of the placid flow of her trivialities and make whoever heard
it wonder for a moment whether it was her own or whether she had heard it
from another. But it was her own. For she gave no special importance to
it as she would have done had it been a remark she had thought worth
remembering. She just uttered it and slipped on, noticing no difference
in value between what she now said and what she had said a second ago. To
her the whole world was a marvel and all things in it equally amazing.
Besides she had no memory.

"I suppose that now you are free," she said, "you will go up into the
central Provinces and see something of India."

"But I am not free," replied Thresk. "I must get immediately back to
England."

"So soon!" exclaimed Mrs. Carruthers. "Now isn't that a pity! You ought
to see the Taj--oh, you really ought!--by moonlight or in the morning. I
don't know which is best, and the Ridge too!--the Ridge at Delhi. You
really mustn't leave India without seeing the Ridge. Can't things wait in
London?"

"Yes, things can, but people won't," answered Thresk, and Mrs. Carruthers
was genuinely distressed that he should depart from India without a
single journey in a train.

"I can't help it," he said, smiling back into her mournful eyes. "Apart
from my work, Parliament meets early in February."

"Oh, to be sure, you are in Parliament," she exclaimed. "I had
forgotten." She shook her fair head in wonder at the industry of
her visitor. "I can't think how you manage it all. Oh, you must
need a holiday."

Thresk laughed.

"I am thirty-six, so I have a year or two still in front of me before I
have the right to break down. I'll save up my holidays for my old age."

"But you are not married," cried Mrs. Carruthers. "You can't do that. You
can't grow comfortably old unless you're married. You will want to work
then to get through the time. You had better take your holidays now."

"Very well. I shall have twelve days upon the steamer. When does it go?"
asked Thresk as he rose from his chair.

"On Friday, and this is Monday," said Mrs. Carruthers. "You certainly
haven't much time to go anywhere, have you?"

"No," replied Thresk, and Mrs. Carruthers saw his face quicken suddenly
to surprise. He actually caught his breath; he stared, no longer aware of
her presence in the room. He was looking over her head towards the grand
piano which stood behind her chair; and she began to run over in her mind
the various ornaments which encumbered it. A piece of Indian drapery
covered the top and on the drapery stood a little group of Dresden China
figures, a crystal cigarette-box, some knick-knacks and half-a-dozen
photographs in silver frames. It must be one of those photographs, she
decided, which had caught his eye, which had done more than catch his
eye. For she was looking up at Thresk's face all this while, and the
surprise had gone from it. It seemed to her that he was moved.

"You have the portrait of a friend of mine there," he said, and he
crossed the room to the piano.

Mrs. Carruthers turned round.

"Oh, Stella Ballantyne!" she cried. "Do you know her, Mr. Thresk?"

"Ballantyne?" said Thresk. For a moment or two he was silent. Then he
asked: "She is married then?"

"Yes, didn't you know? She has been married for a long time."

"It's a long time since I have heard of her," said Thresk. He looked
again at the photograph.

"When was this taken?"

"A few months ago. She sent it to me in October. She is beautiful, don't
you think?"

"Yes."

But it was not the beauty of the girl who had ridden along the South
Downs with him eight years ago. There was more of character in the face
now, less, much less, of youth and none of the old gaiety. The open
frankness had gone. The big dark eyes which looked out straight at
Thresk as he stood before them had, even in that likeness, something of
aloofness and reserve. And underneath, in a contrast which seemed to him
startling, there was her name signed in the firm running hand in which
she had written the few notes which passed between them during that
month in Sussex. Thresk looked back again at the photograph and then
resumed his seat.

"Tell me about her, Mrs. Carruthers," he said. "You hear from her often?"

"Oh no! Stella doesn't write many letters, and I don't know her
very well."

"But you have her photograph," said Thresk, "and signed by her."

"Oh yes. She stayed with me last Christmas, and I simply made her get her
portrait taken. Just think! She hadn't been taken for years. Can you
understand it? She declared she was bored with it. Isn't that curious?
However, I persuaded her and she gave me one. But I had to force her to
write on it."

"Then she was in Bombay last winter?" said Thresk slowly.

"Yes." And then Mrs. Carruthers had an idea.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "if you are really interested in Stella I'll put
Mrs. Repton next to you to-night."

"Thank you very much," said Thresk. "But who is Mrs. Repton?"

Mrs. Carruthers sat forward in her chair.

"Well, she's Stella's great friend--very likely her only real friend in
India. Stella's so reserved. I simply adore her, but she quite prettily
and politely keeps me always at arm's length. If she has ever opened out
to anybody it's to Jane Repton. You see Charlie Repton was Collector at
Agra before he came into the Bombay Presidency, and so they went up to
Mussoorie for the hot weather. The Ballantynes happened actually to have
the very next bungalow--now wasn't that strange?--so naturally they
became acquainted. I mean the Ballantynes and the Reptons did..."

"But one moment, Mrs. Carruthers," said Thresk, breaking in upon the
torrent of words. "Am I right in guessing that Mrs. Ballantyne lives
in India?"

"But of course!" cried Mrs. Carruthers.

"She is actually in India now?"

"To be sure she is!"

Thresk was quite taken aback by the news.

"I had no idea of it," he said slowly, and Mrs. Carruthers replied
sweetly:

"But lots of people live in India, Mr. Thresk. Didn't you know that? We
are not the uttermost ends of the earth."

Thresk set to work to make his peace. He had not heard of Mrs. Ballantyne
for so long. It seemed strange to him to find himself suddenly near to
her now--that is if he was near. He just avoided that other exasperating
trick of treating India as if it was a provincial town and all its
inhabitants neighbours. But he only just avoided it. Mrs. Carruthers,
however, was easily appeased.

"Yes," she said. "Stella has lived in India for the best part of eight
years. She came out with some friends in the winter, made Captain
Ballantyne's acquaintance and married him almost at once--in January, I
think it was. Of course I only know from what I've been told. I was a
schoolgirl in England at the time."

"Of course," Thresk agreed. He was conscious of a sharp little stab of
resentment. So very quickly Stella had forgotten that morning on the
Downs! It must have been in the autumn of that same year that she had
gone out to India, and by February she was married. The resentment was
quite unjustified, as no one knew better than himself. But he was a man;
and men cannot easily endure so swift an obliteration of their images
from the thoughts and the hearts of the ladies who have admitted that
they loved them. None the less he pressed for details. Who was
Ballantyne? What was his position? After all he was obviously not the
millionaire to whom in a more generous moment he had given Stella. He
caught himself on a descent to the meanness of rejoicing upon that.
Meanwhile Mrs. Carruthers rippled on.

"Captain Ballantyne? Oh, he's a most remarkable man! Older than
Stella, certainly, but a man of great knowledge and insight. People
think most highly of him. Languages come as easily to him as
crochet-work to a woman."

This paragon had been Resident in the Principality of Bakuta to the north
of Bombay when Stella had first arrived. But he had been moved now to
Chitipur in Rajputana. It was supposed that he was writing in his leisure
moments a work which would be the very last word upon the native
Principalities of Central India. Oh, Stella was to be congratulated! And
Mrs. Carruthers, in her fine mansion on Malabar Hill, breathed a sigh of
envy at the position of the wife of a high official of the British _Raj_.

Thresk looked over again to the portrait on the piano.

"I am very glad," he said cordially as once more he rose.

"But you shall sit next to Mrs. Repton to-night," said Mrs. Carruthers.
"And she will tell you more."

"Thank you," answered Thresk. "I only wished to know that things are
going well with Mrs. Ballantyne--that was all."




CHAPTER IV

JANE REPTON


Mrs. Carruthers kept her promise. She went in herself with Henry Thresk,
as she had always meant to do, but she placed Mrs. Repton upon his left
just round the bend of the table. Thresk stole a glance at her now and
then as he listened to the rippling laughter of his hostess during the
first courses. She was a tall woman and rather stout, with a pleasant
face and a direct gaze. Thresk gave her the age of thirty-five and put
her down as a cheery soul. Whether she was more he had to wait to learn
with what patience he could. He was free to turn to her at last and he
began without any preliminaries.

"You know a friend of mine," he said.

"I do?"

"Yes."

"Who is it?"

"Mrs. Ballantyne."

He noticed at once a change in Mrs. Repton. The frankness disappeared
from her face; her eyes grew wary.

"I see," she said slowly. "I was wondering why I was placed next to you,
for you are the lion of the evening and there are people here of more
importance than myself. I knew it wasn't for my _beaux yeux_."

She turned again to Thresk.

"So you know my Stella?"

"Yes. I knew her in England before she came out here and married. I have
not, of course, seen her since. I want you to tell me about her."

Mrs. Repton looked him over with a careful scrutiny.

"Mrs. Carruthers has no doubt told you that she married very well."

"Yes; and that Ballantyne is a remarkable man," said Thresk.

Mrs. Repton nodded.

"Very well then?" she said, and her voice was a challenge.

"I am not contented," Thresk replied. Mrs. Repton turned her eyes to her
plate and said demurely:

"There might be more than one reason for that."

Thresk abandoned all attempt to fence with her. Mrs. Repton was not of
those women who would lightly give their women-friends away. Her phrase
"my Stella" had, besides, revealed a world of love and championship.
Thresk warmed to her because of it. He threw reticence to the winds.

"I am going to give you the real reason, Mrs. Repton. I saw her
photograph this afternoon on Mrs. Carruthers' piano, and it left me
wondering whether happiness could set so much character in a
woman's face."

Mrs. Repton shrugged her shoulders.

"Some of us age quickly here."

"Age was not the new thing which I read in that photograph."

Mrs. Repton did not answer. Only her eyes sounded him. She seemed to be
judging the stuff of which he was made.

"And if I doubted her happiness this afternoon I must doubt it still more
now," he continued.

"Why?" exclaimed Mrs. Repton.

"Because of your reticence, Mrs. Repton," he answered. "For you have been
reticent. You have been on guard. I like you for it," he added with a
smile of genuine friendliness. "May I say that? But from the first moment
when I mentioned Stella Ballantyne's name you shouldered your musket."

Mrs. Repton neither denied nor accepted his statement. She kept looking
at him and away from him as though she were still not sure of him, and at
times she drew in her breath sharply, as though she had already taken
upon herself some great responsibility and now regretted it. In the end
she turned to him abruptly.

"I am puzzled," she cried. "I think it's strange that since you are
Stella's friend I knew nothing of that friendship--nothing whatever."

Thresk shrugged his shoulders.

"It is years since we met, as I told you. She has new interests."

"They have not destroyed the old ones. We remember home things out here,
all of us. Stella like the rest. Why, I thought that I knew her whole
life in England, and here's a definite part of it--perhaps a very
important part--of which I am utterly ignorant. She has spoken of many
friends to me; of you never. I am wondering why."

She spoke obviously without any wish to hurt. Yet the words did hurt. She
saw Thresk redden as she uttered them, and a swift wild hope flamed like
a rose in her heart: if this man with the brains and the money and the
perseverance sitting at her side should turn out to be the Perseus for
her beautiful chained Andromeda, far away there in the state of Chitipur!
The lines of a poem came into her thoughts.

"I know; the world proscribes not love,
Allows my finger to caress
Your lips' contour and downiness
Provided it supplies the glove."

Suppose that here at her side was the man who would dispense with the
glove! She looked again at Thresk. The lean strong face suggested that he
might, if he wanted hard enough. All her life had been passed in the
support of authority and law. Authority--that was her husband's
profession. But just for this hour, as she thought of Stella Ballantyne,
lawlessness shone out to her desirable as a star.

"No, she has never once mentioned your name, Mr. Thresk."

Again Thresk was conscious of the little pulse of resentment beating at
his heart.

"She has no doubt forgotten me."

Mrs. Repton shook her head.

"That's one explanation. There might be another."

"What is it?"

"That she remembers you too much."

Mrs. Repton was a little startled by her own audacity, but it provoked
nothing but an incredulous laugh from her companion.

"I am afraid that's not very likely," he said. There was no hint of
elation in his voice nor any annoyance. If he felt either, why, he was on
guard no less than she. Mrs. Repton was inclined to throw up her hands in
despair. She was baffled and she was little likely, as she knew, to get
any light.

"If you take the man you know best of all," she used to say, "you still
know nothing at all of what he's like when he's alone with a woman,
especially if it's a woman for whom he cares--unless the woman talks."

Very often the woman does talk and the most intimate and private facts
come in a little while to be shouted from the housetops. But Stella
Ballantyne did not talk. She had talked once, and once only, under a
great stress to Jane Repton; but even then Thresk had nothing to do with
her story at all.

Thresk turned quickly towards her.

"In a moment Mrs. Carruthers will get up. Her eyes are collecting
the women and the women are collecting their shoes. What have you
to tell me?"

Mrs. Repton wanted to speak. Thresk gave her confidence. He seemed to be
a man without many illusions, he was no romantic sentimentalist. She went
back to the poem of which the lines had been chasing one another through
her head all through this dinner, as a sort of accompaniment to their
conversation. Had he found it out? she asked herself--

"The world and what it fears."

Thus she hung hesitating while Mrs. Carruthers gathered in her hands her
gloves and her fan. There was a woman at the other end of the table
however who would not stop talking. She was in the midst of some story
and heeded not the signals of her hostess. Jane Repton wished she would
go on talking for the rest of the evening, and recognised that the wish
was a waste of time and grew flurried. She had to make up her mind to say
something which should be true or to lie. Yet she was too staunch to
betray the confidence of her friend unless the betrayal meant her
friend's salvation. But just as the woman at the end of the table ceased
to talk an inspiration came to her. She would say nothing to Thresk, but
if he had eyes to see she would place him where the view was good.

"I have this to say," she answered in a low quick voice. "Go yourself to
Chitipur. You sail on Friday, I think? And to-day is Monday. You can make
the journey there and back quite easily in the time."

"I can?" asked Thresk.

"Yes. Travel by the night-mail up to Ajmere tomorrow night. You will be
in Chitipur on Wednesday afternoon. That gives you twenty-four hours
there, and you can still catch the steamer here on Friday."

"You advise that?"

"Yes, I do," said Mrs. Repton.

Mrs. Carruthers rose from the table and Jane Repton had no further word
with Thresk that night. In the drawing-room Mrs. Carruthers led him from
woman to woman, allowing him ten minutes for each one.

"He might be Royalty or her pet Pekingese," cried Mrs. Repton in
exasperation. For now that her blood had cooled she was not so sure that
her advice had been good. The habit of respect for authority resumed its
ancient place in her. She might be planting that night the seed of a very
evil flower. "Respectability" had seemed to her a magnificent poem as she
sat at the dinner-table. Here in the drawing-room she began to think that
it was not for every-day use. She wished a word now with Thresk, so that
she might make light of the advice which she had given. "I had no
business to interfere," she kept repeating to herself whilst she talked
with her host. "People get what they want if they want it enough, but
they can't control the price they have to pay. Therefore it was no
business of mine to interfere."

But Thresk took his leave and gave her no chance for a private word. She
drove homewards a few minutes later with her husband; and as they
descended the hill to the shore of Back Bay he said:

"I had a moment's conversation with Thresk after you had left the
dining-room, and what do you think?"

"Tell me!"

"He asked me for a letter of introduction to Ballantyne at Chitipur."

"But he knows Stella!" exclaimed Jane Repton.

"Does he? He didn't tell me that! He simply said that he had time to see
Chitipur before he sailed and asked for a line to the Resident."

"And you promised to give him one?"

"Of course. I am to send it to the Taj Mahal hotel to-morrow morning."

Mrs. Repton was a little startled. She did not understand at all why
Thresk asked for the letter and, not understanding, was the more alarmed.
The request seemed to imply not merely that he had decided to make the
journey but that during the hour or so since they had sat at the
dinner-table he had formed some definite and serious plan.

"Did you tell him anything?" she asked rather timidly.

"Not a word," replied Repton.

"Not even about--what happened in the hills at Mussoorie?"

"Of course not."

"No, of course not," Jane Repton agreed.

She leaned back against the cushions of the victoria. A clear dark sky of
stars wonderfully bright stretched above her head. After the hot day a
cool wind blew pleasantly on the hill, and between the trees of the
gardens she could see the lights of the city and of a ship here and there
in the Bay at their feet.

"But it's not very likely that Thresk will find them at Chitipur," said
Repton. "They will probably be in camp."

Mrs. Repton sat forward.

"Yes, that's true. This is the time they go on their tour of inspection.
He will miss them." And at once disappointment laid hold of her. Mrs.
Repton was not in the mood for logic that evening. She had been afraid a
moment since that the train she had laid would bring about a
conflagration. Now that she knew it would not even catch fire she passed
at once to a passionate regret. Thresk had inspired her with a great
confidence. He was the man, she believed, for her Stella. But he was
going up to Chitipur! Anything might happen! She leaned back again in the
carriage and cried defiantly to the stars.

"I am glad that he's going. I am very glad." And in spite of her
conscience her heart leaped joyously in her bosom.




CHAPTER V

THE QUEST


The next night Henry Thresk left Bombay and on the Wednesday afternoon he
was travelling in a little white narrow-gauge train across a flat yellow
desert which baked and sparkled in the sun. Here and there a patch of
green and a few huts marked a railway station and at each gaily-robed
natives sprung apparently from nowhere and going no-whither thronged the
platform and climbed into the carriages. Thresk looked impatiently
through the clouded windows, wondering what he should find in Chitipur if
ever he got there. The capital of that state lies aloof from the trunk
roads and is reached by a branch railway sixty miles long, which is the
private possession of the Maharajah and takes four hours to traverse. For
in Chitipur the ancient ways are devoutly followed. Modern ideas of speed
and progress may whirl up the big central railroad from Bombay to Ajmere.
But they stop at the junction. They do not travel along the Maharajah's
private lines to Chitipur, where he, directly descended from an important
and most authentic goddess, dispenses life and justice to his subjects
without even the assistance of the Press. There is little criticism in
the city and less work. A patriarchal calm sleeps in all its streets. In
Chitipur it is always Sunday afternoon. Even down by the lake, where the
huge white many-storeyed palace contemplates its dark-latticed windows
and high balconies mirrored in still water unimaginably blue nothing
which could be described as energy is visible. You may see an elephant
kneeling placidly in the lake while an attendant polishes up his trunk
and his forehead with a brickbat. But the elephant will be too
well-mannered to trumpet his enjoyment. Or you may notice a fisherman
drowsing in a boat heavy enough to cope with the surf of the Atlantic.
But the fisherman will not notice you--not even though you call to him
with dulcet promises of rupees. You will, if you wait long enough, see a
woman coming down the steps with a pitcher balanced on her head; and
indeed perhaps two women. But when your eyes have dwelt upon these
wonders you will have seen what there is of movement and life about the
shores of those sleeping waters. It was in accordance with the fitness of
things that the city and its lake should be three miles from the railway
station and quite invisible to the traveller. The hotel however and the
Residency were near to the station, and it was the Residency which had
brought Thresk out of the crowds and tumult of Bombay. He put up at the
hotel and enclosing Repton's introduction in a covering letter sent it by
his bearer down the road. Then he waited; and no answer came.

Finally he asked if his bearer had returned. Quite half an hour he was
told, and the man was sent for.

"Well? You delivered my letter?" said Thresk.

"Yes, Sahib."

"And there was no answer?"

"No. No answer, Sahib," replied the man cheerfully.

"Very well."

He waited yet another hour, and since still no acknowledgment had come he
strolled along the road himself. He came to a large white house. A
flagpost tapered from its roof but no flag blew out its folds. There was
a garden about the house, the trim well-ordered garden of the English
folk with a lawn and banks of flowers, and a gardener with a hose was
busy watering it. Thresk stopped before the hedge. The windows were all
shuttered, the big door closed: there was nowhere any sign of the
inhabitants.

Thresk turned and walked back to the hotel. He found the bearer laying
out a change of clothes for him upon his bed.

"His Excellency is away," he said.

"Yes, Sahib," replied the bearer promptly. "His Excellency gone on
inspection tour."

"Then why in heaven's name didn't you tell me?" cried Thresk.

The bearer's face lost all its cheerfulness in a second and became a
mask. He was a Madrassee and black as coal. To Thresk it seemed that the
man had suddenly withdrawn himself altogether and left merely an image
with living eyes. He shrugged his shoulders. He knew that change in his
servant. It came at the first note of reproach in his voice and with such
completeness that it gave him the shock of a conjurer's trick. One moment
the bearer was before him, the next he had disappeared.

"What did you do with the letter?" Thresk asked and was careful that
there should be no exasperation in his voice.

The bearer came to life again, his white teeth gleamed in smiles.

"I leave the letter. I give it to the gardener. All letters are sent to
his Excellency."

"When?"

"Perhaps this week, perhaps next."

"I see," said Thresk. He stood for a moment or two with his eyes upon the
window. Then he moved abruptly.

"We go back to Bombay to-morrow afternoon."

"The Sahib will see Chitipur to-morrow. There are beautiful palaces on
the lake."

Thresk laughed, but the laugh was short and bitter.

"Oh yes, we'll do the whole thing in style to-morrow."

He had the tone of a man who has caught himself out in some childish act
of folly. He seemed at once angry and ashamed.

None the less he was the next morning the complete tourist doing India
at express speed during a cold weather. He visited the Museum, he walked
through the Elephant Gate into the bazaar, he was rowed over the lake to
the island palaces; he admired their marble steps and columns and floors
and was confounded by their tinkling blue glass chandeliers. He did the
correct thing all through that morning and early in the afternoon climbed
into the little train which was to carry him back to Jarwhal Junction and
the night mail to Bombay.

"You will have five hours to wait at the junction, Mr. Thresk," said the
manager of the hotel, who had come to see him off. "I have put up some
dinner for you and there is a dak-bungalow where you can eat it."

"Thank you," said Thresk, and the train moved off. The sun had set before
he reached the junction. When he stepped out on to the platform twilight
had come--the swift twilight of the East. Before he had reached the
dak-bungalow the twilight had changed to the splendour of an Indian
night. The bungalow was empty of visitors. Thresk's bearer lit a fire and
prepared dinner while Thresk wandered outside the door and smoked. He
looked across a plain to a long high ridge, where once a city had
struggled. Its deserted towers and crumbling walls still crowned the
height and made a habitation for beasts and birds. But they were quite
hidden now and the sharp line of the ridge was softened. Halfway between
the old city and the bungalow a cluster of bright lights shone upon the
plain and the red tongues of a fire flickered in the open. Thresk was in
no hurry to go back to the bungalow. The first chill of the darkness had
gone. The night was cool but not cold; a moon had risen, and that dusty
plain had become a place of glamour. From somewhere far away came the
sound of a single drum. Thresk garnered up in his thoughts the beauty of
that night. It was to be his last night in India. By this time to-morrow
Bombay would have sunk below the rim of the sea. He thought of it with
regret. He had come up into Rajputana on a definite quest and on the
advice of a woman whose judgment he was inclined to trust. And his quest
had failed. He was to see for himself. He would see nothing. And still
far away the beating of that drum went on--monotonous, mournful,
significant--the real call of the East made audible. Thresk leaned
forward on his seat, listening, treasuring the sound. He rose reluctantly
when his bearer came to tell him that dinner was ready. Thresk took a
look round. He pointed to the cluster of lights on the plain.

"Is that a village?" he asked.

"No, Sahib," replied the bearer. "That's his Excellency's camp."

"What!" cried Thresk, swinging round upon his heel.

His bearer smiled cheerfully.

"Yes. His Excellency to whom I carried the Sahib's letter. That's his
camp for to-night. The keeper of the bungalow told me so. His Excellency
camped here yesterday and goes on to-morrow."

"And you never told me!" exclaimed Thresk, and he checked himself. He
stood wondering what he should do, when there came suddenly out of the
darkness a queer soft scuffling sound, the like of which he had never
heard. He heard a heavy breathing and a bubbling noise and then into
the fan of light which spread from the window of the bungalow a man in
a scarlet livery rode on a camel. The camel knelt; its rider
dismounted, and as he dismounted he talked to Thresk's bearer.
Something passed from hand to hand and the bearer came back to Thresk
with a letter in his hand.

"A chit from his Excellency."

Thresk tore open the envelope and found within it an invitation to
dinner, signed "Stephen Ballantyne."

"Your letter has reached me this moment," the note ran. "It came by your
train. I am glad not to have missed you altogether and I hope that you
will come to-night. The camel will bring you to the camp and take you
back in plenty of time for the mail."

After all then the quest had not failed. After all he was to see for
himself--what a man could see within two hours, of the inner life of a
married couple. Not very much certainly, but a hint perhaps, some token
which would reveal to him what it was that had written so much
character into Stella Ballantyne's face and driven Jane Repton into
warnings and reserve.

"I will go at once," said Thresk and his bearer translated the words to
the camel-driver.

But even so Thresk stayed to look again at the letter. Its handwriting at
the first glance, when the unexpected words were dancing before his eyes,
had arrested his attention; it was so small, so delicately clear.
Thresk's experience had made him quick to notice details and slow to
infer from them. Yet this handwriting set him wondering. It might have
been the work of some fastidious woman or of some leisured scholar; so
much pride of penmanship was there. It certainly agreed with no picture
of Stephen Ballantyne which his imagination had drawn.

He mounted the camel behind the driver, and for the next few minutes all
his questions and perplexities vanished from his mind. He simply clung to
the waist of the driver. For the camel bumped down into steep ditches and
scuffled up out of them, climbed over mounds and slid down the further
side of them, and all the while Thresk had the sensation of being poised
uncertainly in the air as high as a church-steeple. Suddenly however the
lights of the camp grew large and the camel padded silently in between
the tents. It was halted some twenty yards from a great marquee. Another
servant robed in white with a scarlet sash about his waist received
Thresk from the camel-driver.

He spoke a few words in Hindustani, but Thresk shook his head. Then the
man moved towards the marquee and Thresk followed him. He was conscious
of a curious excitement, and only when he caught his breath was he aware
that his heart was beating fast. As they neared the tent he heard voices
within. They grew louder as he reached it--one was a man's, loud,
wrathful, the other was a woman's. It was not raised but it had a ring in
it of defiance. The words Thresk could not hear, but he knew the woman's
voice. The servant raised the flap of the tent.

"Huzoor, the Sahib is here," he said, and at once both the voices were
stilled. As Thresk stood in the doorway both the man and the woman
turned. The man, with a little confusion in his manner, came quickly
towards him. Over his shoulder Thresk saw Stella Ballantyne staring at
him, as if he had risen from the grave. Then, as he took Ballantyne's
extended hand, Stella swiftly raised her hand to her throat with a
curious gesture and turned away. It seemed as if now that she was sure
that Thresk stood there before her, a living presence, she had something
to hide from him.




CHAPTER VI

IN THE TENT AT CHITIPTUR


The marquee was large and high. It had a thick lining of a dull red
colour and a carpet covered the floor; cushioned basket chairs and a few
small tables stood here and there; against one wall rose an open
escritoire with a box of cheroots upon it; the two passages to the
sleeping-tents and the kitchen were hidden by grass-screens and between
them stood a great Chesterfield sofa. It was, in a word, the tent of
people who were accustomed to make their home in it for weeks at a time.
Even the latest books were to be seen. But it was dark.

A single lamp swinging above the round dinner-table from the cross-pole
of the roof burnt in the very centre of the tent; and that was all. The
corners were shadowy; the lining merely absorbed the rays and gave none
back. The round pool of light which spread out beneath the lamp was
behind Ballantyne when he turned to the doorway, so Thresk for a moment
was only aware of him as a big heavily-built man in a smoking-jacket and
a starched white shirt; and it was to that starched white shirt that he
spoke, making his apologies. He was glad too to delay for a second or
two the moment when he must speak to Stella. In her presence this eight
long years of effort and work had become a very little space.

"I had to come as I was, Captain Ballantyne," he said, "for I have only
with me what I want for the night in the train."

"Of course. That's all right," Ballantyne replied with a great
cordiality. He turned towards Stella. "Mr. Thresk, this is my wife."

Now she had to turn. She held out her right hand but she still covered
her throat with her left. She gave no sign of recognition and she did not
look at her visitor.

"How do you do, Mr. Thresk?" she said, and went on quickly, allowing him
no time for a reply. "We are in camp, you see. You must just take us as
we are. Stephen did not tell me till a minute ago that he expected a
visitor. You have not too much time. I will see that dinner is served at
once." She went quickly to one of the grass-screens and lifting it
vanished from his view. It seemed to Thresk that she had just seized upon
an excuse to get away. Why? he asked himself. She was nervous and
distressed, and in her distress she had accepted without surprise
Thresk's introduction to her as a stranger. To that relationship then he
and she were bound for the rest of his stay in the Resident's camp.

Mrs. Repton had been wrong when she had attributed Thresk's request for
a formal introduction to Ballantyne to a plan already matured in his
mind. He had no plan, although he formed one before that dinner was at an
end. He had asked for the letter because he wished faithfully to follow
her advice and see for himself. If he called upon Stella he would find
her alone; the mere sending in of his name would put her on her guard; he
would see nothing. She would take care of that. He had no wish to make
Ballantyne's acquaintance as Mrs. Ballantyne's friend. He could claim
that friendship afterwards. Now however Stella herself in her confusion
had made the claim impossible. She had fled--there was no other word
which could truthfully describe her swift movement to the screen.

Ballantyne however had clearly not been surprised by it.

"It was a piece of luck for me that I camped here yesterday and
telegraphed for my letters," he said. "You mentioned in your note that
you had only twenty-four hours to give to Chitipur, didn't you? So I was
sure that you would be upon this train."

He spoke with a slow precision in a voice which he was careful--or so it
struck Thresk--to keep suave and low; and as he spoke he moved towards
the dinner-table and came within the round pool of light. Thresk had a
clear view of him. He was a man of a gross and powerful face, with a
blue heavy chin and thick eyelids over bloodshot eyes.

"Will you have a cocktail?" he asked, and he called aloud, going to the
second passage from the tent: "Quai hai! Baram Singh, cocktails!"

The servant who had met Thresk at the door came in upon the instant with
a couple of cocktails on a tray.

"Ah, you have them," he said. "Good!"

But he refused the glass when the tray was held out to him, refused it
after a long look and with a certain violence.

"For me? Certainly not! Never in this world." He looked up at Thresk
with a laugh. "Cocktails are all very well for you, Mr. Thresk, who are
here during a cold weather, but we who make our homes here--we have to
be careful."

"Yes, so I suppose," said Thresk. But just behind Ballantyne, on a
sideboard against the wall of the tent opposite to that wall where the
writing-table stood, he noticed a syphon of soda, a decanter of whisky
and a long glass which was not quite empty. He looked at Ballantyne
curiously and as he looked he saw him start and stare with wide-opened
eyes into the dim corners of the tent. Ballantyne had forgotten Thresk's
presence. He stood there, his body rigid, his mouth half-open and fear
looking out from his eyes and every line in his face--stark paralysing
fear. Then he saw Thresk staring at him, but he was too sunk in terror
to resent the stare.

"Did you hear anything?" he said in a whisper.

"No."

"I did," and he leaned his head on one side. For a moment the two men
stood holding their breath; and then Thresk did hear something. It was
the rustle of a dress in the corridor beyond the mat-screen.

"It's Mrs. Ballantyne," he said, and she lifted the screen and came in.

Thresk just noticed a sharp movement of revulsion in Ballantyne, but he
paid no heed to him. His eyes were riveted on Stella Ballantyne. She was
wearing about her throat now a turquoise necklace. It was a heavy
necklace of Indian make, rather barbaric and not at all beautiful, but it
had many rows of stones and it hid her throat--just as surely as her hand
had hidden it when she first saw Thresk. It was to hide her throat that
she had fled. He saw Ballantyne go up to his wife, he heard his voice and
noticed that her face grew grave and hard.

"So you have come to your senses," he said in a low tone. Stella passed
him and did not answer. It was, then, upon the question of that necklace
that their voices had been raised when he reached the camp. He had heard
Ballantyne's, loud and dominant, the voice of a bully. He had been
ordering her to cover her throat. Stella, on the other hand, had been
quiet but defiant. She had refused. Now she had changed her mind.

Baram Singh brought in the soup-tureen a second afterwards and Ballantyne
raised his hands in a simulation of the profoundest astonishment.

"Why, dinner's actually punctual! What a miracle! Upon my word, Stella, I
shan't know what to expect next if you spoil me in this way."

"It's usually punctual, Stephen," Stella replied with a smile of anxiety
and appeal.

"Is it, my dear? I hadn't noticed it. Let us sit down at once."

Upon this tone of banter the dinner began; and no doubt in another man's
mouth it might have sounded good-humoured enough. There was certainly no
word as yet which, it could be definitely said, was meant to wound, but
underneath the raillery Thresk was conscious of a rasp, a bitterness just
held in check through the presence of a stranger. Not that Thresk was
spared his share of it. At the very outset he, the guest whom it was such
a rare piece of good fortune for Ballantyne to meet, came in for a taste
of the whip.

"So you could actually give four-and-twenty hours to Chitipur, Mr.
Thresk. That was most kind and considerate of you. Chitipur is grateful.
Let us drink to it! By the way what will you drink? Our cellar is rather
limited in camp. There's some claret and some whisky-and-soda."

"Whisky-and-soda for me, please," said Thresk.

"And for me too. You take claret, don't you, Stella dear?" and he
lingered upon the "dear" as though he anticipated getting a great deal of
amusement out of her later on. And so she understood him, for there came
a look of trouble into her face and she made a little gesture of
helplessness. Thresk watched and said nothing.

"The decanter's in front of you, Stella," continued Ballantyne. He turned
his attention to his own tumbler, into which Baram Singh had already
poured the whisky; and at once he exclaimed indignantly:

"There's much too much here for me! Good heavens, what next!" and in
Hindustani he ordered Baram Singh to add to the soda-water. Then he
turned again to Thresk. "But I've no doubt you exhausted Chitipur in your
twenty-four hours, didn't you? Of course you are going to write a book."

"Write a book!" cried Thresk. He was surprised into a laugh. "Not I."

Ballantyne leaned forward with a most serious and puzzled face.

"You're not writing a book about India? God bless my soul! D'you hear
that, Stella? He's actually twenty-four hours in Chitipur and he's not
going to write a book about it."

"Six weeks from door to door: or how I made an ass of myself in India,"
said Thresk. "No thank you!"

Ballantyne laughed, took a gulp of his whisky-and-soda and put the glass
down again with a wry face.

"This is too strong for me," he said, and he rose from his chair and
crossed over to the tantalus upon the sideboard. He gave a cautious look
towards the table, but Thresk had bent forward towards Stella. She was
saying in a low voice:

"You don't mind a little chaff, do you?" and with an appeal so wistful
that it touched Thresk to the heart.

"Of course not," he answered, and he looked up towards Ballantyne. Stella
noticed a change come over his face. It was not surprise so much which
showed there as interest and a confirmation of some suspicion which he
already had. He saw that Ballantyne was secretly pouring into his glass
not soda-water at all but whisky from the tantalus. He came back with the
tumbler charged to the brim and drank deeply from it with relish.

"That's better," he said, and with a grin he turned his attention to his
wife, fixing her with his eyes, gloating over her like some great snake
over a bird trembling on the floor of its cage. The courses followed one
upon the other and while he ate he baited her for his amusement. She took
refuge in silence but he forced her to talk and then shivered with
ridicule everything she said. Stella was cowed by him. If she answered it
was probably some small commonplace which with an exaggerated politeness
he would nag at her to repeat. In the end, with her cheeks on fire, she
would repeat it and bend her head under the brutal sarcasm with which it
was torn to rags. Once or twice Thresk was on the point of springing up
in her defence, but she looked at him with so much terror in her eyes
that he did not interfere. He sat and watched and meanwhile his plan
began to take shape in his mind.

There came an interval of silence during which Ballantyne leaned back in
his chair in a sort of stupor; and in the midst of that silence Stella
suddenly exclaimed with a world of longing in her voice:

"And you'll be in England in thirteen days! To think of it!" She glanced
round the tent. It seemed incredible that any one could be so fortunate.

"You go straight from Jarwhal Junction here at our tent door to Bombay.
To-morrow you go on board your ship and in twelve days afterwards you'll
be in England."

Thresk leaned forward across the table.

"When did you go home last?" he asked.

"I have never been home since I married."

"Never!" exclaimed Thresk.

Stella shook her head.

"Never."

She was looking down at the tablecloth while she spoke, but as she
finished she raised her head.

"Yes, I have been eight years in India," she added, and Thresk saw the
tears suddenly glisten in her eyes. He had come up to Chitipur
reproaching himself for that morning on the South Downs, a morning so
distant, so aloof from all the surroundings in which he found himself
that it seemed to belong to an earlier life. But his reproaches became
doubly poignant now. She had been eight years in India, tied to this
brute! But Stella Ballantyne mastered herself with a laugh.

"However I am not alone in that," she said lightly. "And how's London?"

It was unfortunate that just at this moment Captain Ballantyne woke up.

"Eh what!" he exclaimed in a mock surprise. "You were talking, Stella,
were you? It must have been something extraordinarily interesting that
you were saying. Do let me hear it."

At once Stella shrank. Her spirit was so cowed that she almost had the
look of a stupid person; she became stupid in sheer terror of her
husband's railleries.

"It wasn't of any importance."

"Oh, my dear," said Ballantyne with a sneer, "you do yourself an
injustice," and then his voice grew harsh, his face brutal. "What was
it?" he demanded.

Stella looked this way and that, like an animal in a trap. Then she
caught sight of Thresk's face over against her. Her eyes appealed to him
for silence; she turned quickly to her husband.

"I only said how's London?"

A smile spread over Ballantyne's face.

"Now did you say that? How's London! Now why did you ask how London was?
How should London be? What sort of an answer did you expect?"

"I didn't expect any answer," replied Stella. "Of course the question
sounds stupid if you drag it out and worry it."

Ballantyne snorted contemptuously.

"How's London? Try again, Stella!"

Thresk had come to the limit of his patience. In spite of Stella's appeal
he interrupted and interrupted sharply.

"It doesn't seem to me an unnatural question for any woman to ask who has
not seen London for eight years. After all, say what you like, for women
India means exile--real exile."

Ballantyne turned upon his visitor with some rejoinder on his tongue.
But he thought better of it. He looked away and contented himself
with a laugh.

"Yes," said Stella, "we need next-door neighbours."

The restraint which Ballantyne showed towards Thresk only served to
inflame him against his wife.

"So that you may pull their gowns to pieces and unpick their characters,"
he said. "Never mind, Stella! The time'll come when we shall settle down
to domestic bliss at Camberley on twopence-halfpenny a year. That'll be
jolly, won't it? Long walks over the heather and quiet evenings--alone
with me. You must look forward to that, my dear." His voice rose to a
veritable menace as he sketched the future which awaited them and then
sank again.

"How's London!" he growled, harping scornfully on the unfortunate phrase.
Ballantyne had had luck that night. He had chanced upon two of the
banalities of ordinary talk which give an easy occasion for the bully.
Thresk's twenty-four hours to give to Chitipur provided the best opening.
Only Thresk was a guest--not that that in Ballantyne's present mood would
have mattered a great deal, but he was a guest whom Ballantyne had it in
his mind to use. All the more keenly therefore he pounced upon Stella.
But in pouncing he gave Thresk a glimpse into the real man that he was, a
glimpse which the barrister was quick to appreciate.

"How's London? A lot of London we shall be able to afford! God! what a
life there's in store for us! Breakfast, lunch and dinner, dinner,
breakfast, lunch--all among the next-door neighbours." And upon that he
flung himself back in his chair and reached out his arms.

"Give me Rajputana!" he cried, and even through the thickness of his
utterance his sincerity rang clear as a bell. "You can stretch yourself
here. The cities! Live in the cities and you can only wear yourself out
hankering to do what you like. Here you can do it. Do you see that, Mr.
Thresk? You can do it." And he thumped the table with his hand.

"I like getting away into camp for two months, three months at a
time--on the plain, in the jungle, alone. That's the point--alone. You've
got it all then. You're a king without a Press. No one to spy on you--no
one to carry tales--no next-door neighbours. How's London?" and with a
sneer he turned back to his wife. "Oh, I know it doesn't suit Stella.
Stella's so sociable. Stella wants parties. Stella likes frocks. Stella
loves to hang herself about with beads, don't you, my darling?"

But Ballantyne had overtried her to-night. Her face suddenly flushed and
with a swift and violent gesture she tore at the necklace round her
throat. The clasp broke, the beads fell with a clatter upon her plate,
leaving her throat bare. For a moment Ballantyne stared at her, unable to
believe his eyes. So many times he had made her the butt of his savage
humour and she had offered no reply. Now she actually dared him!

"Why did you do that?" he asked, pushing his face close to hers. But he
could not stare her down. She looked him in the face steadily. Even her
lips did not tremble.

"You told me to wear them. I wore them. You jeer at me for wearing them.
I take them off."

And as she sat there with her head erect Thresk knew why he had bidden
her to wear them. There were bruises upon her throat--upon each side of
her throat--the sort of bruises which would be made by the grip of a
man's fingers. "Good God!" he cried, and before he could speak another
word Stella's moment of defiance passed. She suddenly covered her face
with her hands and burst into tears.

Ballantyne pushed back his chair sulkily. Thresk sprang to his feet. But
Stella held him off with a gesture of her hand.

"It's nothing," she said between her sobs. "I am foolish. These last few
days have been hot, haven't they?" She smiled wanly, checking her tears.
"There's no reason at all," and she got up from her chair. "I think I'll
leave you for a little while. My head aches and--and--I've no doubt I
have got a red nose now."

She took a step or two towards the passage into her private tent
but stopped.

"I _can_ leave you to get along together alone, can't I?" she said with
her eyes on Thresk. "You know what women are, don't you? Stephen will
tell you interesting things about Rajputana if you can get him to talk.
I shall see you before you go," and she lifted the screen and went out
of the room. In the darkness of the passage she stood silent for a
moment to steady herself and while she stood there, in spite of her
efforts, her tears burst forth again uncontrollably. She clasped her
hands tightly over her mouth so that the sound of her sobbing might not
reach to the table in the centre of the big marquee; and with her lips
whispering in all sincerity the vain wish that she were dead she
stumbled along the corridor.

But the sound had reached into the big marquee and coming after the
silence it wrung Thresk's heart. He knew this of her at all events--that
she did not easily cry. Ballantyne touched him on the arm.

"You blame me for this."

"I don't know that I do," answered Thresk slowly. He was wondering how
much share in the blame he had himself, he who had ridden with her on the
Downs eight years ago and had let her speak and had not answered. He sat
in this tent to-night with shame burning at his heart. "It wasn't as if I
had no confidence in myself," he argued, unable quite to cast back to the
Thresk of those early days. "I had--heaps of it."

Ballantyne lifted himself out of his chair and lurched over to the
sideboard. Thresk, watching him, fell to wondering why in the world
Stella had married him or he her. He knew that a blind man may see such
mysteries on any day and that a wise one will not try to explain them.
Still he wondered. Had the man's reputation dazzled her?--for undoubtedly
he had one; or was it that intellect which suffered an eclipse when
Ballantyne went into camp with nobody to carry tales?

He was still pondering on that problem when Ballantyne swung back to the
table and set himself to prove, drunk though he was, that his reputation
was not ill-founded.

"I am afraid Stella's not very well," he said, sitting heavily down.
"But she asked me to tell you things, didn't she? Well, her wishes are my
law. So here goes."

His manner altogether changed now that they were alone. He became
confidential, intimate, friendly. He was drunk. He was a coarse
heavy-featured man with bloodshot eyes; he interrupted his conversation
with uneasy glances into the corners of the tent, such glances as Thresk
had noticed when he was alone with him before they sat down to dinner;
but he managed none the less to talk of Rajputana with a knowledge which
amazed Thresk now and would have enthralled him at another time. A
visitor may see the surface of Rajputana much as Thresk had done, may
admire its marble palaces, its blue lakes and the great yellow stretches
of its desert, but to know anything of the life underneath in that
strange secret country is given to few even of those who for long years
fly the British flag over the Agencies. Nevertheless Ballantyne
knew--very little as he acknowledged but more than his fellows. And
groping drunkenly in his mind he drew out now this queer intrigue, now
that fateful piece of history, now the story of some savage punishment
wreaked behind the latticed windows, and laid them one after another
before Thresk's eyes--his peace-offerings. And Thresk listened. But
before his eyes stood the picture of Stella Ballantyne standing alone in
the dark corridor beyond the grass-screen whispering with wild lips her
wish that she was dead; and in his ears was the sound of her sobbing.
Here, it seemed, was another story to add to the annals of Rajputana.

Then Ballantyne tapped him on the arm.

"You're not listening," he said with a leer. "And I'm telling you good
things--things that people don't know and that I wouldn't tell them--the
swine. You're not listening. You're thinking I'm a brute to my wife, eh?"
And Thresk was startled by the shrewdness of his host's guess.

"Well, I'll tell you the truth. I am not master of myself," Ballantyne
continued. His voice sank and his eyes narrowed to two little bright
slits. "I am afraid. Yes, that's the explanation. I am so afraid that
when I am not alone I seek relief any way, any how. I can't help it." And
even as he spoke his eyes opened wide and he sat staring intently at a
dim corner of the tent, moving his head with little jerks from one side
to the other that he might see the better.

"There's no one over there, eh?" he asked.

"No one."

Ballantyne nodded as he moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue.

"They make these tents too large," he said in a whisper. "One great blot
of light in the middle and all around in the corners--shadows. We sit
here in the blot of light--a fair mark. But what's going on in the
shadows, Mr.--What's your name? Eh? What's going on in the shadows?"

Thresk had no doubt that Ballantyne's fear was genuine. He was not
putting forward merely an excuse for the scene which his guest had
witnessed and might spread abroad on his return to Bombay. No, he was
really terrified. He interspersed his words with sudden unexpected
silences, during which he sat all ears and his face strained to listen,
as though he expected to surprise some stealthy movement. But Thresk
accounted for it by that decanter on the sideboard, in which the level of
the whisky had been so noticeably lowered that evening. He was wrong
however, for Ballantyne sprang to his feet.

"You are going away to-night. You can do me a service."

"Can I?" asked Thresk.

He understood at last why Ballantyne had been at such pains to interest
and amuse him.

"Yes. And in return," cried Ballantyne, "I'll give you another glimpse
into the India you don't know."

He walked up to the door of the tent and drew it aside. "Look!"

Thresk, leaning forward in his chair, looked out through the opening. He
saw the moonlit plain in a soft haze, in the middle of it the green lamp
of a railway signal and beyond the distant ridge, on which straggled the
ruins of old Chitipur.

"Look!" cried Ballantyne. "There's tourist India all in one: a desert, a
railway and a deserted city, hovels and temples, deep sacred pools and
forgotten palaces--the whole bag of tricks crumbling slowly to ruin
through centuries on the top of a hill. That's what the good people come
out for to see in the cold weather--Jarwhal Junction and old Chitipur."

He dropped the curtain contemptuously and it swung back, shutting out the
desert. He took a step or two back into the tent and flung out his arms
wide on each side of him.

"But bless your soul," he cried vigorously, "here's the real India."

Thresk looked about the tent and understood.

"I see," he answered--"a place very badly lit, a great blot of light in
the centre and all around it dark corners and grim shadows."

Ballantyne nodded his head with a grim smile upon his lips.

"Oh, you have learnt that! Well, you shall do me a service and in return
you shall look into the shadows. But we will have the table cleared
first." And he called aloud for Baram Singh.




CHAPTER VII

THE PHOTOGRAPH


While Baram Singh was clearing the table Ballantyne lifted the box of
cheroots from the top of the bureau and held it out to Thresk.

"Will you smoke?"

Thresk, however, though he smoked had not during his stay in India
acquired the taste for the cheroot; and it interested him in later times
to reflect how largely he owed his entanglement in the tragic events
which were to follow to that accidental distaste. For conscious of it he
had brought his pipe with him, and he now fetched it out of his pocket.

"This, if I may," he said.

"Of course."

Thresk filled his pipe and lighted it, Ballantyne for his part lit a
cheroot and replaced the box upon the top, close to a heavy
riding-crop with a bone handle, which Thresk happened now to notice
for the first time.

"Be quick!" he cried impatiently to Baram Singh, and seated himself in
the swing-chair in front of the bureau, turning it so as not to have his
back to Thresk at the table. Baram Singh hurriedly finished his work and
left the marquee by the passage leading to the kitchen. Ballantyne waited
with his eyes upon that passage until the grass-mat screen had ceased to
move. Then taking a bunch of keys from his pocket he stooped under the
open writing-flap of the bureau and unlocked the lowest of the three
drawers. From this drawer he lifted a scarlet despatch-box, and was just
going to bring it to the table when Baram Singh silently appeared once
more. At once Ballantyne dropped the box on the floor, covering it as
well as he could with his legs.

"What the devil do you want?" he cried, speaking of course in Hindustani,
and with a violence which seemed to be half made up of anger and half of
fear. Baram Singh replied that he had brought an ash-tray for the Sahib,
and he placed it on the round table by Thresk's side.

"Well, get out and don't come back until you are called," cried
Ballantyne roughly, and in evident relief as Baram Singh once more
retired he took a long draught from a fresh tumbler of whisky-and-soda
which stood on the flap of the bureau beside him. He then stooped once
more to lift the red despatch-box from the floor, but to Thresk's
amazement in the very act of stooping he stopped. He remained with his
hands open to seize the box and his body bent over his knees, quite
motionless. His mouth was open, his eyes staring, and upon his face such
a look of sheer terror was stamped as Thresk could never find words to
describe. For the first moment he imagined that the man had had a stroke.
His habits, his heavy build all pointed that way. The act of stooping
would quite naturally be the breaking pressure upon that overcharged
brain. But before Thresk had risen to make sure Ballantyne moved an arm.
He moved it upwards without changing his attitude in any other way, or
even the direction of his eyes, and he groped along the flap of the
bureau very cautiously and secretly and up again to the top ledge. All
the while his eyes were staring intently, but with the intentness of
extreme fear, not at the despatch-box but at the space of carpet--a
couple of feet at the most--between the despatch-box and the tent-wall.
His fingers felt along the ledge of the bureau and closed with a silent
grip upon the handle of the riding-crop. Thresk jumped to the natural
conclusion: a snake had crept in under the tent-wall and Ballantyne dared
not move lest the snake should strike. Neither did he dare to move
himself. Ballantyne was clearly within reach of its fangs. But he looked
and--there was nothing. The light was not good certainly, and down by the
tent-wall there close to the floor it was shadowy and dim. But Thresk's
eyes were keen. The space between the despatch-box and the wall was
empty. Nothing crawled there, nothing was coiled.

Thresk looked at Ballantyne with amazement; and as he looked Ballantyne
sprang from his chair with a scream of terror--the scream of a
panic-stricken child. He sprang with an agility which Thresk would never
have believed possible in a man of so gross a build. He leapt into the
air and with his crop he struck savagely once, twice and thrice at the
floor between the wall and the box. Then he turned to Thresk with every
muscle working in his face.

"Did you see?" he cried. "Did you see?"

"What? There was nothing to see!"

"Nothing!" screamed Ballantyne. He picked up the box and placed it on the
table, thrusting it under Thresk's hand. "Hold that! Don't let go! Stay
here and don't let go," he said, and running up the tent raised his voice
to a shout.

"Baram Singh!" and lifting the tent-door he called to others of his
servants by name. Without waiting for them he ran out himself and in a
second Thresk heard him cursing thickly and calling in panic-stricken
tones just close to that point of the wall against which the bureau
stood. The camp woke to clamour.

Thresk stood by the table gripping the handle of the despatch-box as he
had been bidden to do. The tent-door was left open. He could see lights
flashing, he heard Ballantyne shouting orders, and his voice dwindled and
grew loud as he moved from spot to spot in the encampment. And in the
midst of the noise the white frightened face of Stella Ballantyne
appeared at the opening of her corridor.

"What has happened?" she asked in a whisper. "Oh, I was afraid that
you and he had quarrelled," and she stood with her hand pressed over
her heart.

"No, no indeed," Thresk replied, and Captain Ballantyne stumbled back
into the tent. His face was livid, and yet the sweat stood upon his
forehead. Stella Ballantyne drew back, but Ballantyne saw her as she
moved and drove her to her own quarters.

"I have a private message for Mr. Thresk's ears," he said, and when she
had gone he took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead.

"Now you must help me," he said in a low voice. But his voice shook and
his eyes strayed again to the ground by the wall of the tent.

"It was just there the arm came through," he said. "Yes, just there," and
he pointed a trembling finger.

"Arm?" cried Thresk. "What are you talking about?"

Ballantyne looked away from the wall to Thresk, his eyes incredulous.

"But you saw!" he insisted, leaning forward over the table.

"What?"

"An arm, a hand thrust in under the tent there, along the ground reaching
out for my box."

"No. There was nothing to see."

"A lean brown arm, I tell you, a hand thin and delicate as a woman's."

"No. You are dreaming," exclaimed Thresk; but dreaming was a euphemism
for the word he meant.

"Dreaming!" repeated Ballantyne with a harsh laugh. "Good God! I wish I
was. Come. Sit down here! We have not too much time." He seated himself
opposite to Thresk and drew the despatch-box towards him. He had regained
enough mastery over himself now to be able to speak in a level voice. No
doubt too his fright had sobered him. But it had him still in its grip,
for when he opened the despatch-box his hand so shook that he could
hardly insert the key in the lock. It was done at last however, and
feeling beneath the loose papers on the surface he drew out from the very
bottom a large sealed envelope. He examined the seals to make sure they
had not been tampered with. Then he tore open the envelope and took out a
photograph, somewhat larger than cabinet size.

"You have heard of Bahadur Salak?" he said.

Thresk started.

"The affair at Umballa, the riots at Benares, the murder in Madras?"

"Exactly."

Ballantyne pushed the photograph into Thresk's hand.

"That's the fellow--the middle one of the group."

Thresk held up the photograph to the light. It represented a group of
nine Hindus seated upon chairs in a garden and arranged in a row facing
the camera. Thresk looked at, the central figure with a keen and
professional interest. Salak was a notorious figure in the Indian
politics of the day--the politics of the subterranean kind. For some
years he had preached and practised sedition with so much subtlety and
skill that though all men were aware that his hand worked the strings of
disorder there was never any convicting evidence against him. In all the
three cases which Thresk had quoted and in many others less well-known
those responsible for order were sure that he had devised the crime,
chosen the moment for its commission and given the order. But up till a
month ago he had slipped through the meshes. A month ago, however, he had
made his mistake.

"Yes. It's a clever face," said Thresk.

Ballantyne nodded his head.

"He's a Mahratta Brahmin from Poona. They are the fellows for brains, and
Salak's about the cleverest of them."

Thresk looked again at the photograph.

"I see the picture was taken at Poona."

"Yes, and isn't it an extraordinary thing!" cried Ballantyne, his face
flashing suddenly into interest and enjoyment. The enthusiasm of the
administrator in his work got the better of his fear now, just as a
little earlier it had got the better of his drunkenness. Thresk was
looking now into the face of a quite different man, the man of the
intimate knowledge and the high ability for whom fine rewards were
prophesied in Bombay. "The very cleverest of them can't resist the
temptation of being photographed in group. Crime after crime has been
brought home to the Indian criminal both here and in London because they
will sit in garden-chairs and let a man take their portraits. Nothing
will stop them. They won't learn. They are like the ladies of the light
opera stage. Well, let 'em go on I say. Here's an instance."

"Is it?" asked Thresk. "Surely that photograph was taken a long
time ago."

"Nine years. But he was at the same game. You have got the proof in your
hands. There's a group of nine men--Salak and his eight friends. Well,
of his eight friends every man jack is now doing time for burglary, in
some cases with violence--that second ruffian, for instance, he's in for
life--in some cases without, but in each case the crime was burglary.
And why? Because Salak in the centre there set them on to it. Because
Salak nine years ago wasn't the big swell he is now. Because Salak
wanted money to start his intrigues. That's the way he got
it--burglaries all round Bombay."

"I see," said Thresk. "Salak's in prison now?"

"He's in prison in Calcutta, yes. But he's awaiting his trial. He's not
convicted yet."

"Exactly," Thresk answered. "This photograph is a valuable thing to have
just now."

Ballantyne threw up his arms in despair at the obtuseness of his
companion.

"Valuable!" he cried in derision. "Valuable!" and he leaned forward on
his elbows and began to talk to Thresk with an ironic gentleness as if he
were a child.

"You don't quite understand me, do you? But a little effort and all will
be plain."

He got no farther however upon this line of attack, for Thresk
interrupted him sharply.

"Here! Say what you have got to say if you want me to help you. Oh, you
needn't scowl! You are not going to bait me for your amusement. I am not
your wife." And Ballantyne after a vain effort to stare Thresk down
changed to a more cordial tone.

"Well, you say it's a valuable thing to have just now. I say it's an
infernally dangerous thing. On the one side there's Salak the great
national leader, Salak the deliverer, Salak professing from his prison in
Calcutta that he has never used any but the most legitimate
constitutional means to forward his propaganda. And here on the other is
Salak in his garden-chair amongst the burglars. Not a good thing to
possess--this photograph, Mr. Thresk. Especially because it's the only
one in existence and the negative has been destroyed. So Salak's friends
are naturally anxious to get it back."

"Do they know you have it?" Thresk asked.

"Of course they do. You had proof that they knew five minutes ago when
that brown arm wriggled in under the tent-wall."

Ballantyne's fear returned upon him as he spoke. He sat shivering; his
eyes wandered furtively from corner to corner of the great tent and came
always back as though drawn by a serpent to the floor by the wall of the
tent. Thresk shrugged his shoulders. To dispute with Ballantyne once more
upon his delusion would be the merest waste of time. He took up the
photograph again.

"How do you come to possess it?" he asked. If he was to serve his host in
the way he suspected he would be asked to, he must know its history.

"I was agent in a state not far from Poona before I came here."

Thresk agreed.

"I know. Bakuta."

"Oh?" said Ballantyne with a sharp look. "How did you know that?"

He was always in alarm lest somewhere in the world gossip was whispering
his secret.

"A Mrs. Carruthers at Bombay."

"Did she tell you anything else?"

"Yes. She told me that you were a great man."

Ballantyne grinned suddenly.

"Isn't she a fool?" Then the grin left his face. "But how did you come to
discuss me with her at all?"

That was a question which Thresk had not the slightest intention to
answer. He evaded it altogether.

"Wasn't it natural since I was going to Chitipur?" he asked, and
Ballantyne was appeased.

"Well, the Rajah of Bakutu had that photograph and he gave it to me when
I left the State. He came down to the station to see me off. He was too
near Poona to be comfortable with that in his pocket. He gave it to me on
the platform in full view, the damned coward. He wanted to show that he
had given it to me. He said that I should be safe with it in Chitipur."

"Chitipur's a long way from Poona," Thresk agreed.

"But don't you see, this trial that's coming along in Calcutta makes all
the difference. It's known I have got it. It's not safe here now and no
more am I so long as I've got it."

One question had been puzzling Thresk ever since he had seen the look of
terror reappear in Ballantyne's face. It was clear that he lived in a
very real fear. He believed that he was watched, and he believed that he
was in danger; and very probably he actually was. There had, to be sure,
been no attempt that night to rob him of it as he imagined. But none the
less Salak and his friends could not like the prospect of the production
of that photograph in Calcutta, and would hardly be scrupulous what means
they took to prevent it. Then why had not Ballantyne destroyed it?
Thresk asked the question and was fairly startled by the answer. For it
presented to him in the most unexpected manner another and a new side of
the strange and complex character of Stephen Ballantyne.

"Yes, why don't I destroy it?" Ballantyne repeated. "I ask myself that,"
and he took the photograph out of Thresk's hands and sat in a sort of
muse, staring at it. Then he turned it over and took the edge between his
forefinger and his thumb, hesitating whether he would not even at this
moment tear it into strips and have done with it. But in the end he cast
it upon the table as he had done many a time before and cried in a voice
of violence:

"No, I can't. That's to own these fellows my masters and I won't. By God
I won't! I may be every kind of brute, but I have been bred up in this
service. For twenty years I have lived in it and by it. And the service
is too strong for me. No, I can't destroy that photograph. There's the
truth. I should hate myself to my dying day if I did."

He rose abruptly as if half ashamed of his outburst and crossing to his
bureau lighted another cheroot.

"Then what do you want me to do with it?" asked Thresk.

"I want you to take it away."

Ballantyne was taking a casuistical way of satisfying his conscience, and
he was aware of it. He would not destroy the portrait--no! But he
wouldn't keep it either. "You are going straight back to England," he
said. "Take it with you. When you get home you can hand it to one of the
big-wigs at the India Office, and he'll put it in a pigeon-hole, and some
day an old charwoman cleaning the office will find it, and she'll take it
home to her grandchildren to play with and one of them'll drop it on the
fire, and there'll be an end of it."

"Yes," replied Thresk slowly. "But if I do that, it won't be useful at
Calcutta, will it?"

"Oh," said Ballantyne with a sneer. "You've got a conscience too, eh?
Well, I'll tell you. I don't think that photograph will be needed at
Calcutta."

"Are you sure of that?"

"Yes. Salak's friends don't know it, but I do."

Thresk sat still in doubt. Was Ballantyne speaking the truth or did he
speak in fear? He was still standing by the bureau looking down upon
Thresk and behind him, so that Thresk had not the expression of his face
to help him to decide. But he did not turn in his chair to look. For as
he sat there it dawned upon him that the photograph was the very thing
which he himself needed. The scheme which had been growing in his mind
all through this evening, which had begun to grow from the very moment
when he had entered the tent, was now complete in every detail except
one. He wanted an excuse, a good excuse which should explain why he
missed his boat, and here it was on the table in front of him. Almost he
had refused it! Now it seemed to him a Godsend.

"I'll take it," he cried, and Baram Singh silently appeared at the outer
doorway of the tent.

"Huzoor," he said. "Railgharri hai."

Ballantyne turned to Thresk.

"Your train is signalled," and as Thresk started up he reassured him.
"There's no hurry. I have sent word that it is not to start without you."
And while Baram Singh still stood waiting for orders in the doorway of
the tent Ballantyne walked round the table, took up the portrait very
deliberately and handed it to Thresk.

"Thank you," he said. "Button it in your coat pocket."

He waited while Thresk obeyed.

"Thus," said Thresk with a laugh, "did the Rajah of Bakutu," and
Ballantyne replied with a grin.

"Thank you for mentioning that name." He turned to Baram Singh. "The
camel, quick!"

Baram Singh went out to the enclosure within the little village of tents
and Thresk asked curiously:

"Do you distrust him?"

Ballantyne looked steadily at his visitor and said:

"I don't answer such questions. But I'll tell you something. If that man
were dying he would ask for leave. And if he would ask for leave because
he would not die with my scarlet livery on his back. Are you answered?"

"Yes," said Thresk.

"Very well." And with a brisk change of tone Ballantyne added: "I'll see
that your camel is ready." He called aloud to his wife: "Stella! Stella!
Mr. Thresk is going," and he went out through the doorway into the
moonlight.




CHAPTER VIII

AND THE RIFLE


Thresk, alone in the tent, looked impatiently towards the grass-screen.
He wanted half-a-dozen words with Stella alone. Here was the opportunity,
the unhoped-for opportunity, and it was slipping away. Through the open
doorway of the tent he saw Ballantyne standing by a big fire and men
moving quickly in obedience to his voice. Then he heard the rustle of a
dress in the corridor, and she was in the room. He moved quickly towards
her, but she held up her hand and stopped him.

"Oh, why did you come?" she said, and the pallor of her face reproached
him no less than the regret in her voice.

"I heard of you in Bombay," he replied. "I am glad that I did come."

"And I am sorry."

"Why?"

She looked about the tent as though he might find his answer there.
Thresk did not move. He stood near to her, watching her face intently
with his jaw rather set.

"Oh, I didn't say that to wound you," said Stella, and she sat down on
one of the cushioned basket-chairs. "You mustn't think I wasn't glad to
see you. I was--at the first moment I was very glad;" and she saw his
face lighten as she spoke. "I couldn't help it. All the years rolled
away. I remembered the Sussex Downs and--and--days when we rode there
high up above the weald. Do you remember?"

"Yes."

"How long was that ago?"

"Eight years."

Stella laughed wistfully.

"To me it seems a century." She was silent for a moment, and though he
spoke to her urgently she did not answer. She was carried back to the
high broad hills of grass with the curious clumps of big beech-trees upon
their crests.

"Do you remember Halnaker Gallop?" she asked with a laugh. "We found it
when the chains weren't up and had the whole two miles free. Was there
ever such grass?"

She was looking straight at the bureau, but she was seeing that green
lane of shaven turf in the haze of an August morning. She saw it rise and
dip in the open between long brown grass. There was a tree on the
left-hand side just where the ride dipped for the first time. Then it ran
straight to the big beech-trees and passed between them, a wide glade of
sunlight, and curved out at the upper end by the road and dipped down
again to the two lodges.

"And the ridge at the back of Charlton forest, all the weald to Leith
Hill in view?" She rose suddenly from her chair. "Oh, I am sorry that
you came."

"And I am glad," repeated Thresk.

The stubbornness with which he repeated his words arrested her. She
looked at him--was it with distrust, he asked himself? He could not be
sure. But certainly there was a little hard note in her voice which had
not been there before, when in her turn she asked:

"Why?"

"Because I shouldn't have known," he said in a quick whisper. "I should
have gone back. I should have left you here. I shouldn't have known."

Stella recoiled.

"There is nothing to know," she said sharply, and Thresk pointed at
her throat.

"Nothing?"

Stella Ballantyne raised her hand to cover the blue marks.

"I--I fell and hurt myself," she stammered.

"It was he--Ballantyne."

"No," she cried and she drew herself erect. But Thresk would not accept
the denial.

"He ill-treats you," he insisted. "He drinks and ill-treats you."

Stella shook her head.

"You asked questions in Bombay where we are known. You were not told
that," she said confidently. There was only one person in Bombay who
knew the truth and Jane Repton, she was very sure, would never have
betrayed her.

"That's true," Thresk conceded. "But why? Because it's only here in camp
that he lets himself go. He told us as much to-night. You were here at
the table. You heard. He let his secret slip: no one to carry tales, no
one to spy. In the towns he sets a guard upon himself. Yes, but he looks
forward to the months of camp when there are no next-door neighbours."

"No, that's not true," she protested and cast about for explanations.
"He--he has had a long day and to-night he was tired--and when you are
tired--Oh, as a rule he's different." And to her relief she heard
Ballantyne's voice outside the tent.

"Thresk! Thresk!"

She came forward and held out her hand.

"There! Your camel's ready," she said. "You must go! Goodbye," and as he
took it the old friendliness transfigured her face. "You are a great man
now. I read of you. You always meant to be, didn't you? Hard work?"

"Very," said Thresk. "Four o'clock in the morning till midnight;" and she
suddenly caught him by the arm.

"But it's worth it." She let him go and clasped her hands together. "Oh,
you have got everything!" she cried in envy.

"No," he answered. But she would not listen.

"Everything you asked for," she said and she added hurriedly, "Do you
still collect miniatures? No time for that now I suppose." Once more
Ballantyne's voice called to them from the camp-fire.

"You must go."

Thresk looked through the opening of the tent. Ballantyne had turned and
was coming back towards them.

"I'll write to you from Bombay," he said, and utter disbelief showed in
her face and sounded in her laugh.

"That letter will never reach me," she said lightly, and she went up to
the door of the tent. Thresk had a moment whilst her back was turned and
he used it. He took his pipe out of his pocket and placed it silently and
quickly on the table. He wanted a word with her when Ballantyne was out
of the way and she was not upon her guard to fence him off. The pipe
might be his friend and give it him. He went up to Stella at the
tent-door and Ballantyne, who was half-way between the camp-fire and the
tent, stopped when he caught sight of him.

"That's right," he said. "You ought to be going;" and he turned again
towards the camel. Thus for another moment they were alone together, but
it was Stella who seized it.

"There go!" she said. "You must go," and in the same breath she added:

"Married yet?"

"No," answered Thresk.

"Still too busy getting on?"

"That's not the reason"--and he lowered his voice to a whisper--"Stella."

Again she laughed in frank and utter disbelief.

"Nor is Stella. That's mere politeness and good manners. We must show the
dear creatures the great part they play in our lives." And upon that all
her fortitude suddenly deserted her. She had played her part so far, she
could play it no longer. An extraordinary change came over her face. The
smiles, the laughter slipped from it like a loosened mask. Thresk saw
such an agony of weariness and hopeless longing in her eyes as he had
never seen even with his experience in the Courts of Law. She drew back
into the shadow of the tent.

"In thirteen days you'll be steaming up the Channel," she whispered, and
with a sob she covered her face with her hands. Thresk saw the tears
trickle between her fingers.

Ballantyne at the fire was looking back towards the tent. Thresk hurried
out to him. The camel was crouching close to the fire saddled and ready.

"You have time," said Ballantyne. "The train's not in yet," and Thresk
walked to the side of the camel, where a couple of steps had been placed
for him to mount. He had a foot on the step when he suddenly clapped his
hand to his pocket.

"I've left my pipe," he cried, "and I've a night's journey in front of
me. I won't be a second."

He ran back with all his speed to the tent. The hangings at the door were
closed. He tore them aside and rushed in.

"Stella!" he said in a whisper, and then he stopped in amazement. He had
left her on the very extremity of distress. He found her, though to be
sure the stains of her tears were still visible upon her face, busy with
one of the evening preparations natural in a camp-life--quietly,
energetically busy. She looked up once when he raised the hanging over
the door, but she dropped her eyes the next instant to her work.

She was standing by the table with a small rook-rifle in her hands. The
breech was open. She looked down the barrel, holding up the weapon so
that the light might shine into the breech.

"Yes?" she said, and with so much indifference that she did not lift her
eyes from her work. "I thought you had gone."

"I left my pipe behind me," said Thresk.

"There it is, on the table."

"Thank you."

He put it in his pocket. Of the two he was disconcerted and at a loss,
she was entirely at her ease.




CHAPTER IX

AN EPISODE IN BALLANTYNE'S LIFE


The Reptons lived upon the Khamballa Hill and the bow-window of their
drawing-room looked down upon the Arabian Sea and southwards along the
coast towards Malabar Point. In this embrasure Mrs. Repton sat through
a morning, denying herself to her friends. A book lay open on her lap
but her eyes were upon the sea. A few minutes after the clock upon her
mantelpiece had struck twelve she saw that for which she watched: the
bowsprit and the black bows of a big ship pushing out from under the
hill and the water boiling under its stem. The whole ship came into
view with its awnings and its saffron funnels and headed to the
north-west for Aden.

Jane Repton rose up from her chair and watched it go. In the sunlight its
black hull was so sharply outlined on the sea, its lines and spars were
so trim that it looked a miniature ship which she could reach out her
hand and snatch. But her eyes grew dim as she watched, so that it became
shapeless and blurred, and long before the liner was out of sight it was
quite lost to her.

"I am foolish," she said as she turned away, and she bit her
handkerchief hard. This was midday of the Friday and ever since that
dinner-party at the Carruthers' on the Monday night she had been
alternating between wild hopes and arguments of prudence. But until this
moment of disappointment she had not realised how completely the hopes
had gained the upper hand with her and how extravagantly she had built
upon Thresk's urgent questioning of her at the dinner-table.

"Very likely he never found the Ballantynes at all," she argued. But he
might have sent her word. All that morning she had been expecting a
telephone message or a telegram or a note scribbled on board the steamer
and sent up the Khamballa Hill by a messenger. But not a token had come
from him and now of the boat which was carrying him to England there was
nothing left but the stain of its smoke upon the sky.

Mrs. Repton put her handkerchief in her pocket and was going about the
business of her house when the butler opened the door.

"I am not in--" Mrs. Repton began and cut short the sentence with a cry
of welcome and surprise, for close upon the heels of the servant Thresk
was standing.

"You!" she cried. "Oh!"

She felt her legs weakening under her and she sat down abruptly on a
chair.

"Thank Heaven it was there," she said. "I should have sat on the
floor if it hadn't been." She dismissed the butler and held out her
hand to Thresk. "Oh, my friend," she said, "there's your steamer on
its way to Aden."

Her voice rang with enthusiasm and admiration. Thresk only nodded his
head gloomily.

"I have missed it," he replied. "It's very unfortunate. I have clients
waiting for me in London."

"You missed it on purpose," she declared and Thresk's face relaxed into a
smile. He turned away from the window to her. He seemed suddenly to wear
the look of a boy.

"I have the best of excuses," he replied, "the perfect excuse." But even
he could not foresee how completely that excuse was to serve him.

"Sit down," said Jane Repton, "and tell me. You went to Chitipur, I know.
From your presence here I know too that you found--them--there."

"No," said Thresk, "I didn't." He sat down and looked straight into Jane
Repton's eyes. "I had a stroke of luck. I found them--in camp."

Jane Repton understood all that the last two words implied.

"I should have wished that," she answered, "if I had dared to think it
possible. You talked with Stella?"

"Hardly a word alone. But I saw."

"What did you see?"

"I am here to tell you." And he told her the story of his night at the
camp so far as it concerned Stella Ballantyne, and indeed not quite all
of that. For instance he omitted altogether to relate how he had left his
pipe behind in the tent and had returned for it. That seemed to him
unimportant. Nor did he tell her of his conversation with Ballantyne
about the photograph. "He was in a panic. He had delusions," he said and
left the matter there. Thresk had the lawyer's mind or rather the mind of
a lawyer in big practice. He had the instinct for the essential fact and
the knowledge that it was most lucid when presented in a naked
simplicity. He was at pains to set before Jane Repton what he had seen of
the life which Stella lived with Stephen Ballantyne and nothing else.

"Now," he said when he had finished, "you sent me to Chitipur. I must
know why."

And when she hesitated he overbore her.

"You can be guilty of no disloyalty to your friend," he insisted, "by
being frank with me. After all I have given guarantees. I went to
Chitipur upon your word. I have missed my boat. You bade me go to
Chitipur. That told me too little or too much. I say too little. I have
got to know all now." And he rose up and stood before her. "What do you
know about Stephen Ballantyne?"

"I'll tell you," said Jane Repton. She looked at the clock. "You had
better stay and lunch with us if you will. We shall be alone. I'll tell
you afterwards. Meanwhile--" and in her turn she stood up. The sense of
responsibility was heavy upon her.

She had sent this man upon his errand of knowledge. He had done, in
consequence of it, a stronger, a wilder thing than she had thought, than
she had hoped for. She had a panicky feeling that she had set great
forces at work.

"Meanwhile--" asked Thresk; and she drew a breath of relief. The
steadiness of his eyes and voice comforted her. His quiet insistence gave
her courage. None of her troubles and doubts had any place apparently in
his mind. A nervous horse in the hands of a real horseman--thus she
thought of herself in Thresk's presence.

"Meanwhile I'll give you one reason why I wanted you to go. My husband's
time in India is up. We are leaving for England altogether in a month's
time. We shall not come back at all. And when we have gone Stella will be
left without one intimate friend in the whole country."

"Yes," said Thresk. "That wouldn't do, would it?" and they went in to
their luncheon.

All through that meal, before the servants, they talked what is written
in the newspapers. And of the two she who had fears and hesitations was
still the most impatient to get it done. She had her curiosity and it
was beginning to consume her. What had Thresk known of Stella and she of
him before she had come out to India and become Stella Ballantyne? Had
they been in love? If not why had Thresk gone to Chitipur? Why had he
missed his boat and left all his clients over there in England in the
lurch? If so, why hadn't they married--the idiots? Oh, how she wanted to
know all the answers to all these questions! And what he proposed to do
now! And she would know nothing unless she was frank herself. She had
read his ultimatum in his face.

"We'll have coffee in my sitting-room. You can smoke there," she said and
led the way to it. "A cheroot?"

Thresk smiled with amusement. But the amusement annoyed her for she did
not understand it.

"I have got a Havana cigar here," he said. "May I?"

"Of course."

He lit it and listened. But it was not long before it went out and he did
not stir to light it again. The incident of which Mrs. Repton had been
the witness, and which she related now, invested Ballantyne with horror.
Thresk had left the camp at Chitipur with an angry contempt for him. The
contempt passed out of his feelings altogether as he sat in Mrs. Repton's
drawing-room.

"I am not telling you what Stella has confided to me," said Mrs. Repton.
"Stella's loyal even when there's no cause for loyalty; and if loyalty
didn't keep her mouth closed, self-respect would. I tell you what I saw.
We were at Agra at the time. My husband was Collector there. There was
a Durbar held there and the Rajah of Chitipur came to it with his
elephants and his soldiers, and naturally Captain Ballantyne and his wife
came too. They stayed with us. You are to understand that I knew
nothing--absolutely nothing--up to that time. I hadn't a suspicion--until
the afternoon of the finals in the Polo Tournament. Stella and I went
together alone and we came home about six. Stella went upstairs and I--I
walked into the library."

She had found Ballantyne sitting in a high arm-chair, his eyes glittering
under his black thick eyebrows and his face livid. He looked at her as
she entered, but he neither moved nor spoke, and she thought that he was
ill. But the decanter of whisky stood empty on a little table at his side
and she noticed it.

"We have some people coming to dinner to-night, Captain Ballantyne," she
said. "We shall dine at eight, so there's an hour and a half still."

She went over to a book-case and took out a book. When she turned back
into the room a change had taken place in her visitor. Life had flickered
into his face. His eyes were wary and cunning.

"And why do you tell me that?" he asked in a voice which was thick and
formidable. She had a notion that he did not know who she was and then
suddenly she became afraid. She had discovered a secret--his secret. For
once in the towns he had let himself go. She had a hope now that he could
not move and that he knew it; he sat as still as his arm-chair.

"I had forgotten to tell you," she replied. "I thought you might like to
know beforehand."

"Why should I like to know beforehand?"

She had his secret, he plied her with questions to know if she had it.
She must hide her knowledge. Every instinct warned her to hide it.

"The people who are coming are strangers to India," she said, "but I have
told them of you and they will come expectant."

"You are very kind."

She had spoken lightly and with a laugh. Ballantyne replied without irony
or amusement and with his eyes fixed upon her face. Mrs. Repton could not
account for the panic which seized hold upon her. She had dined in
Captain Ballantyne's company before often enough; he had now been for
three days in her house; she had recognised his ability and had neither
particularly liked nor disliked him. Her main impression had been that he
was not good enough for Stella, and it was an impression purely feminine
and instinctive. Now suddenly he had imposed himself upon her as a
creature dangerous, beastlike. She wanted to get out of the room but she
dared not, for she was sure that her careful steps would, despite
herself, change into a run. She sat down, meaning to read for a few
moments, compose herself and then go. But no sooner had she taken her
seat than her terror increased tenfold, for Ballantyne rose swiftly from
his chair and walking in a circle round the room with an extraordinarily
light and noiseless step disappeared behind her. Then he sat down. Mrs.
Repton heard the slight grating of the legs of a chair upon the floor. It
was a chair at a writing-table close by the window and exactly at her
back. He could see every movement which she made, and she could see
nothing, not so much as the tip of one of his fingers. And of his fingers
she was now afraid. He was watching her from his point of vantage; she
seemed to feel his eyes burning upon the nape of her neck. And he said
nothing; and he did not stir. It was broad daylight, she assured herself.
She had but to cross the room to the bell beside the fireplace. Nay, she
had only to scream--and she was very near to screaming--to bring the
servants to her rescue. But she dared not do it. Before she was half-way
to the bell, before the cry was out of her mouth she would feel his
fingers close about her throat.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Repton had begun to tell her story with reluctance, dreading lest
Thresk should attribute it to a woman's nerves and laugh. But he did not.
He listened gravely, seriously; and, as she continued, that nightmare of
an evening so lived again in her recollections that she could not but
make it vivid in her words.

"I had more than a mere sense of danger," she said. "I felt besides a
sort of hideous discomfort, almost physical discomfort, which made me
believe that there was something evil in that room beyond the power of
language to describe."

She felt her self-control leaving her. If she stayed she must betray her
alarm. Even now she had swallowed again and again, and she wondered that
he had not detected the working of her throat. She summoned what was left
of her courage and tossing her book aside rose slowly and deliberately.

"I think I shall copy Stella's example and lie down for an hour," she
said without turning her head towards Ballantyne, and even while she
spoke she knew that she had made a mistake in mentioning Stella. He would
follow her to discover whether she went to Stella's room and told what
she had seen to her. But he did not move. She reached the door, turned
the handle, went out and closed the door behind her.

For a moment then her strength failed her; she leaned against the wall by
the side of the door, her heart racing. But the fear that he would follow
urged her on. She crossed the hall and stopped deliberately before a
cabinet of china at the foot of the stairs, which stood against the wall
in which the library door was placed. While she stood there she saw the
door open very slowly and Ballantyne's livid face appear at the opening.
She turned towards the stairs and mounted them without looking back.
Halfway up a turn hid the hall from her, and the moment after she had
passed the turn she heard him crossing the hall after her, again with a
lightness of step which seemed to be uncanny and inhuman in so heavy and
gross a creature.

"I was appalled," she said to Thresk frankly. "He had the step of an
animal. I felt that some great baboon was tracking me stealthily."

Mrs. Repton came to Stella Ballantyne's door and was careful not to stop.
She reached her own room, and once in shot the bolt; and in a moment or
two she heard him breathing just outside the panels.

"And to think that Stella is alone with him in the jungle months at a
time!" she cried, actually wringing her hands. "That thought was in my
mind all the time--a horror of a thought. Oh, I could understand now the
loss of her spirits, her colour, her youth."

Pictures of lonely camps and empty rest-houses, far removed from any
habitation in the silence of Indian nights, rose before her eyes. She
imagined Stella propped up on her elbow in bed, wide-eyed with terror,
listening and listening to the light footsteps of the drunken brute
beyond the partition-wall, shivering when they approached, dropping back
with the dew of her sweat upon her forehead when they retired; and
these pictures she translated in words for Thresk in her house on the
Khamballa Hill.

Thresk was moved and showed that he was moved. He rose and walked to the
window, turning his back to her.

"Why did she marry him?" he exclaimed. "She was poor, but she had a
little money. Why did she marry him?" and he turned back to Mrs. Repton
for an answer.

She gave him one quick look and said:

"That is one of the things she has never told me and I didn't meet her
until after she had married him."

"And why doesn't she leave him?"

Mrs. Repton held up her hands.

"Oh, the easy questions, Mr. Thresk! How many women endure the thing that
is because it is? Even to leave your husband you want a trifle of spirit.
And what if your spirit's broken? What if you are cowed? What if you live
in terror day and night?"

"Yes. I am a fool," said Thresk, and he sat down again. "There are two
more questions I want to ask. Did you ever talk to Stella"--the Christian
name slipped naturally from him and only Jane Repton of the two remarked
that he had used it--"of that incident in the library at Agra?"

"Yes."

"And did she in consequence of what you told her give you any account of
her life with her husband?"

Mrs. Repton hesitated not because she was any longer in doubt as to
whether she would speak the whole truth or not--she had committed herself
already too far--but because the form of the question nettled her. It was
a little too forensic for her taste. She was anxious to know the man; she
could dispense with the barrister altogether.

"Yes, she did," she replied, "and don't cross-examine me, please."

"I beg your pardon," said Thresk with a laugh which made him human on
the instant.

"Well, it's true," said Jane Repton in a rush. "She told me the
truth--what you know and more. He stripped when he was drunk, stripped
to the skin. Think of it! Stella told me that and broke down. Oh, if you
had seen her! For Stella to give way--that alone must alarm her friends.
Oh, but the look of her! She sat by my side on the sofa, wringing her
hands, with the tears pouring down her face ..." Thresk rose quickly
from his chair.

"Thank you," he said, cutting her short. He wanted to hear no more. He
held out his hand to her with a certain abruptness.

Mrs. Repton rose too.

"What are you going to do?" she asked breathlessly. "I must know I have a
right to, I think. I have told you so much. I was in great doubt whether
I should tell you anything. But--" Her voice broke and she ended her
plea lamely enough: "I am very fond of Stella."

"I know that," said Thresk, and his voice was grateful and his face
most friendly.

"Well, what are you going to do?"

"I am going to write to her to ask her to join me in Bombay," he replied.




CHAPTER X

NEWS FROM CHITIPUR


A long silence followed upon his words. Jane Repton turned to the
mantelshelf and moved an ornament here and another one there. She had
contemplated this very consequence of Thresk's journey to Chitipur. She
had actually worked for it herself. She was frank enough to acknowledge
that. None the less his announcement, quietly as he had made it, was a
shock to her. She did not, however, go back upon her work; and when she
spoke it was rather to make sure that he was not going to act upon an
unconsidered impulse.

"It will damage your career," she said. "Of course you have
thought of that."

"It will alter it," he answered, "if she comes to me. I shall go out of
Parliament, of course."

"And your practice?"

"That will suffer too for a while no doubt. But even if I lost it
altogether I should not be a poor man."

"You have saved money?"

"No. There has not been much time for that, but for a good many years now
I have collected silver and miniatures. I know something about them and
the collection is of value."

"I see."

Mrs. Repton looked at him now. Oh, yes, he had thought his proposal out
during the night journey to Bombay--not a doubt of it.

"Stella, too, will suffer," she said.

"Worse than she does now?" asked Thresk.

"No. But her position will be difficult for awhile at least," and she
came towards Thresk and pleaded.

"You will be thoughtful of her, for her? Oh, if you should play her
false--how I should hate you!" and her eyes flashed fire at him.

"I don't think that you need fear that."

But he was too calm for her, too quiet. She was in the mood to want
heroics. She clamoured for protestations as a drug for her uneasy mind.
And Thresk stood before her without one. She searched his face with
doubtful eyes. Oh, there seemed to her no tenderness in it.

"She will need--love," said Mrs. Repton. "There--that's the word. Can you
give it her?"

"If she comes to me--yes. I have wanted her for eight years," and then
suddenly she got, not heroics, but a glimpse of a real passion. A spasm
of pain convulsed his face. He sat down and beat with his fist upon the
table. "It was horrible to me to ride away from that camp and leave her
there--miles away from any friend. I would have torn her from him by
force if there had been a single hope that way. But his levies would have
barred the road. No, this was the only chance: to come away to Bombay,
to write to her that the first day, the first night she is able to slip
out and travel here she will find me waiting."

Mrs. Repton was satisfied. But while he had been speaking a new fear had
entered into her.

"There's something I should have thought of," she exclaimed.

"Yes?"

"Captain Ballantyne is not generous. He is just the sort of man not to
divorce his wife."

Thresk raised his head. Clearly that possibility had no more occurred to
him than it had to Jane Repton. He thought it over now.

"Just the sort of man," he agreed. "But we must take that risk--if
she comes."

"The letter's not yet written," Mrs. Repton suggested.

"But it will be," he replied, and then he stood and confronted her. "Do
you wish me not to write it?"

She avoided his eyes, she looked upon the floor, she began more than one
sentence of evasion; but in the end she took both his hands in hers and
said stoutly:

"No, I don't! Write! Write!"

"Thank you!"

He went to the door, and when he had reached it she called to him in a
low voice.

"Mr. Thresk, what did you mean when you repeated and repeated if
she comes?"

Thresk came slowly back into the room.

"I meant that eight years ago I gave her a very good reason why she
should put no faith in me."

He told her that quite frankly and simply, but he told her no more than
that, and she let him go. He went back to the great hotel on the Apollo
Bund and sent off a number of cablegrams to London saying that he had
missed his steamer and that the work waiting for him must go to other
hands. The letter to Stella Ballantyne he kept to the last. It could not
reach her immediately in any case since she was in camp. For all he knew
it might be weeks before she read it; and he had need to go warily in the
writing of it. Certain words she had used to him were an encouragement;
but there were others which made him doubt whether she would have any
faith in him. Every now and then there had been a savour of bitterness.
Once she had been shamed because of him, on Bignor Hill where Stane
Street runs to Chichester, and a second time in front of him in the tent
at Chitipur. No, it was not an easy letter which he had to write, and he
took the night and the greater part of the next day to decide upon its
wording. It could not in any case go until the night-mail. He had
finished it and directed it by six o'clock in the evening and he went
down with the letter in his hand into the big lounge to post it in the
box there. But it never was posted.

Close to the foot of the staircase stood a tape machine, and as Thresk
descended he heard the clicking of the instrument and saw the usual small
group of visitors about it. They were mostly Americans, and they were
reading out to one another the latest prices of the stock-markets. Some
of the chatter reached to Thresk's inattentive ears, and when he was only
two steps from the floor one carelessly-spoken phrase interjected between
the values of two securities brought him to a stop. The speaker was a
young man with a squarish face and thick hair parted accurately in the
middle. He was dressed in a thin grey suit and he was passing the tape
between his fingers as it ran out. The picture of him was impressed
during that instant upon Thresk's mind, so that he could never afterwards
forget it.

"Copper's up one point," he was saying, "that's fine. Who's Captain
Ballantyne, I wonder? United Steel has dropped seven-eighths. Well, that
doesn't affect me," and so he ran on.

Thresk heard no more of what he said. He stood wondering what news could
have come up on the tape of Captain Ballantyne who was out in camp in the
state of Chitipur, or if there was another Captain Ballantyne. He joined
the little group in front of the machine, and picking up the ribbon from
the floor ran his eyes backwards along it until he came to "United
Steel." The sentence in front of that ran as follows:

"Captain Ballantyne was found dead early yesterday morning outside his
tent close to Jarwhal Junction."

Thresk read the sentence twice and then walked away. The news might be
false, of course, but if it were true here was a revolution in his life.
There was no need for this letter which he held in his hand. The way was
smoothed out for Stella, for him. Not for a moment could he pretend to do
anything but welcome the news, to wish with all his heart that it was
true. And it seemed probable news. There was the matter of that
photograph. Thresk had carried it out to the Governor's house on Malabar
Point on the very morning of his arrival in Bombay. He had driven on to
Mrs. Repton's house after he had left it there. But he had taken it away
from Chitipur at too late a day to save Ballantyne. Ballantyne had, after
all, had good cause to be afraid while he possessed it, and the news had
not yet got to Salak's friends that it had left his possession. Thus he
made out the history of Captain Ballantyne's death.

The tape machine, however, might have ticked out a mere rumour with no
truth in it at all. He went to the office and obtained a copy of _The
Advocate of India_,--the evening newspaper of the city. He looked at the
stop-press telegrams. There was no mention of Ballantyne's death. Nor on
glancing down the columns could he find in any paragraph a statement that
any mishap had befallen him. But on the other hand he read that he
himself, Henry Thresk, having brought his case to a successful
conclusion, had left India yesterday by the mail-steamer Madras, bound
for Marseilles. He threw down the paper and went to the telephone-box. If
the news were true the one person likely to know of it was Mrs. Repton.
Thresk rang up the house on the Khamballa Hill and asked to speak to her.
An answer was returned to him at once that Mrs. Repton had given orders
that she was not to be disturbed. Thresk however insisted:

"Will you please give my name to her--Henry Thresk," and he waited with
his ear to the receiver for a century. At last a voice spoke to him, but
it was again the voice of the servant.

"The Memsahib very sorry, sir, but cannot speak to any one just now;" and
he heard the jar of the instrument as the receiver at the other end was
sharply hung up and the connection broken.

Thresk came out from the telephone-box with a face puzzled and very
grave. Mrs. Repton refused to speak to him!

It was a fact, an inexplicable fact, and it alarmed him. It was
impossible to believe that mere reflection during the last twenty-four
hours had brought about so complete a revolution in her feelings. He to
whom she had passionately cried "Write! Write!" only yesterday could
hardly be barred out from mere speech with her to-day for any fault of
his. He had done nothing, had seen no one. Thresk was certain now that
the news upon the tape was true. But it could not be all the truth. There
was something behind it--something rather grim and terrible.

Thresk walked to the door of the hotel and called up a motor-car. "Tell
him to drive to the Khamballa Hill," he said to the porter. "I'll let him
know when to stop."

The porter translated the order and Thresk stopped him at Mrs.
Repton's door.

"The Memsahib does not receive any one to-day," said the butler.

"I know," replied Thresk. He scribbled on a card and sent it in. There
was a long delay. Thresk stood in the hall looking out through the open
door. Night had come. There were lights upon the roadway, lights a long
way below at the water's edge on Breach Candy, and there was a light
twinkling far out on the Arabian Sea. But in the house behind him all was
dark. He had come to an abode of desolation and mourning; and his heart
sank and he was attacked with forebodings. At last in the passage behind
him there was a shuffling of feet and a gleam of white. The Memsahib
would receive him.

Thresk was shown into the drawing-room. That room too was unlit. But the
blinds had not been lowered and light from a street lamp outside turned
the darkness into twilight. No one came forward to greet him, but the
room was not empty. He saw Repton and his wife huddled close together on
a sofa in a recess by the fireplace.

"I thought that I had better come up from Bombay," said Thresk, as he
stood in the middle of the room. No answer was returned to him for a few
moments and then it was Repton himself who spoke.

"Yes, yes," he said, and he got up from the sofa. "I think we had better
have some light," he added in a strange indifferent voice. He turned the
light on in the central chandelier, leaving the corners of the room in
shadow, like--the parallel forced its way into Thresk's mind--like the
tent in Chitipur. Then very methodically he pulled down the blinds. He
did not look at Thresk and Jane Repton on the couch never stirred.
Thresk's forebodings became a dreadful certainty. Some evil thing had
happened. He might have been in a house of death. He knew that he was
not wanted there, that husband and wife wished to be alone and silently
resented his presence. But he could not go without more knowledge than he
had.

"A message came up on the tape half an hour ago," he said in a low voice.
"It reported that Ballantyne was dead."

"Yes," replied Repton. He was leaning forward over a table and looking up
to the chandelier as if he fancied that its light burnt more dimly than
was usual.

"That's true," and he spoke in the same strange mechanical voice he had
used before.

"That he was found dead outside his tent," Thresk added.

"It's quite true," Repton agreed. "We are very sorry."

"Sorry!"

The exclamation burst from Thresk's lips.

"Yes."

Repton moved away from the chandelier. He had not looked at Thresk once
since he had entered the room; nor did he look towards his wife. His face
was very pale and he was busy now setting a chair in place, moving a
photograph, doing any one of the little unnecessary things people
restlessly do when there is an importunate visitor in the room who will
not go.

"You see, there's terribly bad news," he added.

"What news?"

"He was shot, you know. That wasn't in the telegram on the tape, of
course. Yes, he was shot--on the same night you dined there--after you
had gone."

"Shot!"

Thresk's voice dropped to a whisper.

"Yes," and the dull quiet voice went on, speaking apparently of some
trivial affair in which none of them could have any interest. "He was
shot by a bullet from a little rook-rifle which belonged to Stella, and
which she was in the habit of using."

Thresk's heart stood still. A picture flashed before his eyes. He
saw the inside of that dimly lit tent with its red lining and Stella
standing by the table. He could hear her voice: "This is my little
rook-rifle. I was seeing that it was clean for to-morrow." She had spoken
so carelessly, so indifferently that it wasn't conceivable that what was
in all their minds could be true. Yet she had spoken, after all, no more
indifferently than Repton was speaking now; and he was in a great stress
of grief. Then Thresk's mind leaped to the weak point in all this chain
of presumption.

"But Ballantyne was found outside the tent," he cried with a little note
of triumph. But it had no echo in Repton's reply.

"I know. That makes everything so much worse."

"What do you mean?"

"Ballantyne was found in the morning outside the tent stone-cold. But
no one had heard the shot, and there were sentries on the edge of the
encampment. He had been dragged outside after he was dead or when he
was dying."

A low cry broke from Thresk. The weak point became of a sudden the most
deadly, the most terrible element in the whole case. He could hear the
prosecuting counsel making play with it. He stood for a moment lost in
horror. Repton had no further word to say to him. Mrs. Repton had never
once spoken. They wanted him away, out of the room, out of the house.
Some insight let him into the meaning of her silence. In the presence of
this tragedy remorse had gripped her. She was looking upon herself as one
who had plotted harm for Stella. She would never forgive Thresk for his
share in the plot.

Thresk went out of the room without a word more to either Repton or his
wife. Whatever he did now he must do by himself. He would not be admitted
into that house again. He closed the door of the room behind him, and
hardly had he closed it when he heard the snap of a switch and the line
of light under the door vanished. Once more there was darkness in the
drawing-room. Repton no doubt had returned to his wife's side and they
were huddled again side by side on the sofa. Thresk walked down the hill
with a horrible feeling of isolation and loneliness. But he shook it off
as he neared the lights of Bombay.




CHAPTER XI

THRESK INTERVENES


Thresk reached his hotel with some words ringing in his head which Jane
Repton had spoken to him at Mrs. Carruthers' dinner-party:

"You can get any single thing in life you want if you want it enough, but
you cannot control the price you will have to pay for it. That you will
only learn afterwards and gradually."

He had got what he had wanted--the career of distinction, and he wondered
whether he was to begin now to learn its price.

He mounted to his sitting-room on the second floor, avoiding the lounge
and the lift and using a small side staircase instead of the great
central one. He had passed no one on the way. In his room he looked upon
the mantelshelf and on the table. No visitor had called on him that day;
no letter awaited him. For the first time since he had landed in India a
day had passed without some resident leaving on him a card or a note of
invitation. The newspapers gave him the reason. He was supposed to have
left on the _Madras_ for England. To make sure he rang for his waiter; no
message of any kind had come.

"Shall I ask at the office?" the waiter asked.

"By no means," answered Thresk, and he added: "I will have dinner served
up here to-night."

There was just a possibility, he thought, that he might after all escape
this particular payment. He took from his pocket his unposted letter to
Stella Ballantyne. There was no longer any use for it and even its
existence was now dangerous to Stella. For let it be discovered, however
she might plead that she knew nothing of its contents, a motive for the
death of Ballantyne might be inferred from it. It would be a false
motive, but just the sort of motive which the man in the street would
immediately accept. Thresk burnt the letter carefully in a plate and
pounded up each black flake of paper until nothing was left but ashes.
Then for the moment his work was done. He had only to wait and he did not
wait long. On the very next morning his newspaper informed him that
Inspector Coulson of the Bombay Police had left for Chitipur.

The Inspector was a young man devoted to his work, but he travelled now
upon a duty which he would gladly have handed to any other of his
colleagues. He had met Stella Ballantyne in Bombay upon one of her rare
visits to Jane Repton. He had sat at the same dinner-table with her, and
he did not find it pleasant to reflect on the tragic destiny which she
must now fulfil. For the facts were fatal.

At daybreak on the morning of the Friday a sentry on the outer edge of
the camp at Jarwhal Junction had noticed something black lying upon the
ground in the open just outside the door of the Agent's big marquee. He
ran across the ground and discovered Captain Ballantyne sprawling, face
downwards, in the smoking-suit which he had worn at dinner the night
before. The sentry shook him gently by the shoulder, but the limpness of
the body frightened him. Then he noticed that there was blood upon the
ground, and calling loudly for help he ran to the guard-room tent. He
returned with others of the native levies and they lifted Ballantyne up.
He was dead and the body was cold. The levies carried him into the tent
and opened his shirt. He had been shot through the heart. They then
roused Mrs. Ballantyne's ayah and bade her wake her mistress. The ayah
went into Mrs. Ballantyne's room and found her mistress sound asleep. She
waked her up and told her what had happened. Stella Ballantyne said not a
word. She got out of bed, and flinging on some clothes went into the
outer tent, where the servants were standing about the body. Stella
Ballantyne went quite close to it and looked down upon the dead man's
face for a long time. She was pale, but there was no shrinking in her
attitude--no apprehension in her eyes.

"He has been killed," she said at length; "telegrams must be sent at
once: to Ajmere for a doctor, to Bombay, and to His Highness the
Maharajah."

Baram Singh salaamed.

"It is as your Excellency wills," he said.

"I will write them," said Stella quietly. And she sat down at her own
writing-table there and then.

The doctor from Ajmere arrived during the day, made an examination and
telegraphed a report to the Chief Commissioner at Ajmere. That report
contained the three significant points which Repton had enumerated to
Thresk, but with some still more significant details. The bullet which
pierced Captain Ballantyne's heart had been fired from Mrs. Ballantyne's
small rook-rifle, and the exploded cartridge was still in the breech. The
rifle was standing up against Mrs. Ballantyne's writing-table in a corner
of the tent, when the doctor from Ajmere discovered it. In the second
place, although Ballantyne was found in the open, there was a patch of
blood upon the carpet within the tent and a trail of blood from that spot
to the door. There could be no doubt that Ballantyne was killed inside.
There was the third point to establish that theory. Neither the sentry on
guard nor any one of the servants sleeping in the adjacent tents had
heard the crack of the rifle. It would not be loud in any case, but if
the weapon had been fired in the open it would have been sufficiently
sharp and clear to attract the attention of the men on guard. The heavy
double lining of the tent however was thick enough so to muffle and
deaden the sound that it would pass unnoticed.

The report was considered at Ajmere and forwarded. It now brought
Inspector Coluson of the Police up the railway from Bombay. He found Mrs.
Ballantyne waiting for him at the Residency of Chitipur.

"I must tell you who I am," he said awkwardly.

"There is no need to," she answered, "I know."

He then cautioned her in the usual way, and producing his pocket-book
asked her whether she wished to throw any light upon her husband's death.

"No," she said. "I have nothing to say. I was asleep and in bed when my
ayah came into my room with the news of his death."

"Yes," said the Inspector uncomfortably. That detail, next to the
dragging of the body out of the tent, seemed to him the grimmest part of
the whole tragedy.

He shut up his book.

"I am afraid it is all very unsatisfactory," he said. "I think we must go
back to Bombay."

"It is as your Excellency wills," said Stella in Hindustani, and the
Inspector was startled by the bad taste of the joke. He had not the
knowledge of her life with Ballantyne, which alone would have given him
the key to understand her. But he was not a fool, and a second glance at
her showed to him that she was not speaking in joke at all. He had an
impression that she was so tired that she did not at the moment care what
happened to her at all. The fatigue would wear off, no doubt, when she
realised that she must fight for her life, but now she stood in front of
him indifferent and docile--much as one of the native levies was wont to
stand before her husband. The words which the levies used and the
language in which they spoke them rose naturally to her lips, as the only
words and language suitable to the occasion.

"You see, Mrs. Ballantyne," he said gently, "there is no reason to
suspect a single one of your servants or of your escort."

"And there is reason to suspect me," she added, looking at him quietly
and steadily.

The Inspector for his part looked away. He was a young man--no more than
a year or two older than Stella Ballantyne herself. They both came from
the same kind of stock. Her people and his people might have been friends
in some pleasant country village in one of the English counties. She was
pretty, too, disconcertingly pretty, in spite of the dark circles under
her eyes and the pallor of her face. There was a delicacy in her looks
and in her dress which appealed to him for tenderness. The appeal was all
the stronger because it was only in that way and unconsciously that she
appealed. In her voice, in her bearing, in her eyes there was no request,
no prayer.

"I have been to the Palace," he said, "I have had an audience with the
Maharajah."

"Of course," she answered. "I shall put no difficulties in your way."

He was standing in her own drawing-room, noticing with what skill
comfort had been combined with daintiness, and how she had followed the
usual instinct of her kind in trying to create here in this room a piece
of England. Through the window he looked out upon a lawn which was being
watered by a garden-sprinkler, and where a gardener was at work attending
to a bed of bright flowers. There, too, she had been making the usual
pathetic attempt to convert a half-acre of this country of yellow desert
into a green garden of England. Coulson had not a shadow of doubt in his
mind Stella Ballantyne would exchange this room with its restful colours
and its outlook on a green lawn for--at the best--many years of solitary
imprisonment in Poona Gaol. He shut up his book with a snap.

"Will you be ready to go in an hour?" he asked roughly.

"Yes," said she.

"If I leave you unwatched during that hour you will promise to me that
you will be ready to go in an hour?"

Stella Ballantyne nodded her head.

"I shall not kill myself now," she said, and he looked at her quickly,
but she did not trouble to explain her words. She merely added: "I may
take some clothes, I suppose?"

"Whatever you need," said the Inspector. And he took her down to Bombay.

She was formally charged next morning before the stipendiary for the
murder of her husband and remanded for a week.

She was remanded at eleven o'clock in the morning, and five minutes later
the news was ticked off on the tape at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Within
another five minutes the news was brought upstairs to Thresk. He had been
fortunate. He was in a huge hotel, where people flit through its rooms
for a day and are gone the next, and no one is concerned with the doings
of his neighbour, a place of arrival and departure like the platform of a
great railway station. There was no place in all Bombay where Thresk
could so easily pass unnoticed. And he had passed unnoticed. A single
inquiry at the office, it is true, would have revealed his presence, but
no one had inquired, since by this time he should be nearing Aden. He had
kept to his rooms during the day and had only taken the air after it was
dark. This was in the early stages of wireless telegraphy, and the
_Madras_ had no installation. It might be that inquiries would be made
for him at Aden. He could only wait with Jane Repton's words ringing in
his ears: "You cannot control the price you will have to pay."

Stella Ballantyne was brought up again in a week's time and the case then
proceeded from day to day. The character of Ballantyne was revealed, his
brutalities, his cunning. Detail by detail he was built up into a gross
sinister figure secret and violent which lived again in that crowded
court and turned the eyes of the spectators with a shiver of discomfort
upon the young and quiet woman in the dock. And in that character the
prosecution found the motive of the crime. Sympathy at times ran high for
Stella Ballantyne, but there were always the two grim details to keep it
in check: she had been found asleep by her ayah, quietly restfully asleep
within a few hours of Ballantyne's death; and she had, according to the
theory of the Crown, found in some violence of passion the strength to
drag the dying man from the tent and to leave him to gasp out his life
under the stars.

Thresk watched the case from his rooms at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Every fact
which was calculated to arouse sympathy for her was also helping to
condemn her. No one doubted that she had shot Stephen Ballantyne. He
deserved shooting--very well. But that did not give her the right to be
his executioner. What was her defence to be? A sudden intolerable
provocation? How would that square with the dragging of his body across
the carpet to the door? There was the fatal insuperable act.

Thresk read again and again the reports of the proceedings for a hint as
to the line of the defence. He got it the day when Repton appeared in the
witness-box on a subpoena from the Crown to bear testimony to the
violence of Stephen Ballantyne. He had seen Stella with her wrist
bruised so that in public she could not remove her gloves.

"What kind of bruises?" asked the counsel.

"Such bruises as might be made by some one twisting her arms," he
answered, and then Mr. Travers, a young barrister who was enjoying his
first leap into the public eye, rose to cross-examine.

Thresk read through that cross-examination and rose to his feet. "You
cannot control the price you will have to pay," he said to himself. That
day, when Mrs. Ballantyne's solicitor returned to his office after the
rising of the Court, he found Thresk waiting for him.

"I wish to give evidence for Mrs. Ballantyne," said Thresk--"evidence
which will acquit her."

He spoke with so much certainty that the solicitor was fairly startled.

"And with evidence so positive in your possession it is only this
afternoon that you come here with it! Why?"

Thresk was prepared for the question.

"I have a great deal of work waiting for me in London," he returned. "I
hoped that it might not be necessary for me to appear at all. Now I see
that it is."

The solicitor looked straight at Thresk.

"I knew from Mrs. Repton that you dined with the Ballantynes that night,
but she was sure that you knew nothing of the affair. You had left the
tent before it happened."

"That is true," answered Thresk.

"Yet you have evidence which will acquit Mrs. Ballantyne?"

"I think so."

"How is it, then," the lawyer asked, "that we have heard nothing of this
evidence at all from Mrs. Ballantyne herself?"

"Because she knows nothing of it," replied Thresk.

The lawyer pointed to a chair. The two men sat down together in the
office and it was long before they parted.

Within an hour of Thresk's return from the solicitor's office an
Inspector of Police waited on him at his hotel and was instantly shown
up.

"We did not know until to-day," he said, "that you were still in Bombay,
Mr. Thresk. We believed you to be on the Madras, which reached Marseilles
early this morning."

"I missed it," replied Thresk. "Had you wanted me you could have inquired
at Port Said five days ago."

"Five days ago we had no information."

The native servants of Ballantyne had from the first shrouded themselves
in ignorance. They would answer what questions were put to them; they
would not go one inch beyond. The crime was an affair of the Sahibs and
the less they had to do with it the better, until at all events they were
sure which way the wind was setting from Government House. Of their own
initiative they knew nothing. It was thus only by the discovery of
Thresk's letter to Captain Ballantyne, which was found crumpled up in a
waste-paper basket, that his presence that night in the tent was
suspected.

"It is strange," the Inspector grumbled, "that you did not come to us of
your own accord when you had missed your boat and tell us what you knew."

"I don't think it is strange at all," answered Thresk, "for I am a
witness for the defence. I shall give my evidence when the case for the
defence opens."

The Inspector was disconcerted and went away. Thresk's policy had so far
succeeded. But he had taken a great risk and now that it was past he
realised with an intense relief how serious the risk had been. If the
Inspector had called upon him before he had made known his presence to
Mrs. Ballantyne's solicitor and offered his evidence, his position would
have been difficult. He would have had to discover some other good
reason why he had lain quietly at his hotel during these last days. But
fortune had favoured him. He had to thank, above all, the secrecy of the
native servants.




CHAPTER XII

THRESK GIVES EVIDENCE


Thresk's fears were justified. Sympathy for Stella Ballantyne had
already begun to wane. The fact that Ballantyne had been found outside
the door of the tent was already assuming a sinister importance. Mrs.
Ballantyne's counsel slid discreetly over that awkward incident. Very
fortunately, as it was now to prove, he did not cross-examine the doctor
from Ajmere at all. But there are always the few who oppose the general
opinion--the men and women who are in the minority because it is the
minority; those whom the hysterical glorification made of Stella
Ballantyne had offended; the austere, the pedantic, the just, the
jealous, all were quick to seize upon this disconcerting fact: Stella
Ballantyne had dragged her dying husband from the tent. It was either
sheer callousness or blind fury--you might take your choice. In either
case it dulled the glow of martyrdom which for a week or two had been so
radiant upon Stella Ballantyne's forehead; and the few who argued thus
attracted adherents daily. And with the sympathy for Stella Ballantyne
interest in the case began to wane too.

The magisterial inquiry threatened to become tedious. The pictures of
the witnesses and the principals occupied less and less space in the
newspapers. In another week the case would be coldly left with a shrug of
the shoulders to the Law Courts. But unexpectedly curiosity was stirred
again, for the day after Thresk had called upon the lawyer, when the case
for the Crown was at an end, Mrs. Ballantyne's counsel, Mr. Travers,
asked permission to recall Baram Singh. Permission was granted, and Baram
Singh once more took his place in the witness-box.

Mr. Travers leant against the desk behind him and put his questions with
the most significant slowness.

"I wish to ask you, Baram Singh," he said, "about the dinner-table on the
Thursday night. You laid it?"

"Yes," replied Baram Singh.

"For how many?"

"For three."

There was a movement through the whole court.

"Yes," said Mr. Travers, "Captain Ballantyne had a visitor that night."

Baram Singh agreed.

"Look round the court and tell the magistrate if you can see here the man
who dined with Captain Ballantyne and his wife that night."

For a moment the court was filled with the noise of murmuring. The usher
cried "Silence!" and the murmuring ceased. A hush of expectation filled
that crowded room as Baram Singh's eyes travelled slowly round the
walls. He dropped them to the well of the court, and even his
unexpressive face flashed with a look of recognition.

"There," he cried, "there!" and he pointed to a man who was sitting just
underneath the counsel's bench.

Mr. Travers leant forward and in a quiet but particularly clear
voice said:

"Will you kindly stand up, Mr. Thresk?"

Thresk stood up. To many of those present--the idlers, the people of
fashion, the seekers after a thrill of excitement who fill the public
galleries and law-courts--his long conduct of the great Carruthers trial
had made him a familiar figure. To the others his name, at all events,
was known, and as he stood up on the floor of the court a swift and
regular movement like a ripple of water passed through the throng. They
leant forward to get a clearer view of him and for a moment there was a
hiss of excited whispering.

"That is the man who dined with Captain and Mrs. Ballantyne on the night
when Captain Ballantyne was killed?" said Mr. Travers.

"Yes," replied Baram Singh.

No one understood what was coming. People began to ask themselves whether
Thresk was concerned in the murder. Word had been published that he had
already left for England. How was it he was here now? Mr. Travers, for
his part, was enjoying to the full the suspense which his question had
aroused. Not by any intonation did he allow a hint to escape him whether
he looked upon Thresk as an enemy or friend.

"You may sit down, sir, now," he said, and Thresk resumed his seat.

"Will you tell us what you know of Mr. Thresk's visit to the Captain?"
Travers resumed, and Baram Singh told how a camel had been sent to the
dak-house by the station of Jarwhal Junction.

"Yes," said Mr. Travers, "and he dined in the tent. How long did he
stay?"

"He left the camp at eleven o'clock on the camel to catch the night train
to Bombay. The Captain-sahib saw him off from the edge of the camp."

"Ah," said Mr. Travers, "Captain Ballantyne saw him off?"

"Yes--from the edge of the camp."

"And then went back to the tent?"

"Yes."

"Now I want to take you to another point. You waited at dinner?"

"Yes."

"And towards the close of dinner Mrs. Ballantyne left the room?"

"Yes."

"She did not come back again?"

"No."

"No. The two men were then left alone?"

"Yes."

"After dinner was the table cleared?"

"Yes," said Baram Singh, "the Captain-sahib called to me to clear the
table quickly."

"Yes," said Travers. "Now, will you tell me what the Captain-sahib was
doing while you were clearing the table?"

Baram Singh reflected.

"First of all the Captain-sahib offered a box of cheroots to his visitor,
and his visitor refused and took a pipe from his pocket. The
Captain-sahib then lit a cheroot for himself and replaced the box on the
top of the bureau."

"And after that?" asked Travers.

"After that," said Baram Singh, "he stooped down, unlocked the bottom
drawer of his bureau and then turned sharply to me and told me to hurry
and get out."

"And that order you obeyed?"

"Yes."

"Now, Baram Singh, did you enter the room again?"

Baram Singh explained that after he had gone out with the table-cloth he
returned in a few moments with an ash-tray, which he placed beside the
visitor-sahib.

"Yes," said Travers. "Had Captain Ballantyne altered his position?"

Baram Singh then related that Captain Ballantyne was still sitting in
his chair by the bureau, but that the drawer of the bureau was now open,
and that on the ground close to Captain Ballantyne's feet there was a red
despatch-box.

"The Captain-sahib," he continued, "turned to me with great anger, and
drove me again out of the room."

"Thank you," said Mr. Travers, and he sat down.

The prosecuting counsel rose at once.

"Now, Baram Singh," he said with severity, "why did you not mention when
you were first put in the witness-box that this gentleman was present in
the camp that night?"

"I was not asked."

"No, that is quite true," he continued, "you were not asked specifically,
but you were asked to tell all that you knew."

"I did not interfere," replied Baram Singh. "I answered what questions
were asked. Besides, when the sahib left the camp the Captain-sahib
was alive."

At this moment Mr. Travers leaned across to the prosecuting counsel and
said: "It will all be made clear when Mr. Thresk goes into the box."

And once more, as Mr. Travers spoke these words, a rustle of expectancy
ran round the court.

Travers opened the case for the defence on the following morning. He had
been originally instructed, he declared, to reserve the defence for the
actual trial before the jury, but upon his own urgent advice that plan
was not to be followed. The case which he had to put before the
stipendiary must so infallibly prove that Mrs. Ballantyne was free from
all complicity in this crime that he felt he would not be doing his duty
to her unless he made it public at the first opportunity. That unhappy
lady had already, as every one who had paid even the most careless
attention to the facts that had been presented by the prosecution must
know, suffered so much distress and sorrow in the course of her married
life that he felt it would not be fair to add to it the strain and
suspense which even the most innocent must suffer when sent for trial
upon such a serious charge. He at once proposed to call Mr. Thresk, and
Thresk rose and went into the witness-box.

Thresk told the story of that dinner-party word for word as it had
occurred, laying some emphasis on the terror which from time to time had
taken possession of Stephen Ballantyne, down to the moment when Baram
Singh had brought the ash-tray and left the two men together, Thresk
sitting by the table in the middle of the room and Ballantyne at his
bureau with the despatch-box on the floor at his feet.

"Then I noticed an extraordinary look of fear disfigure his face," he
continued, "and following the direction of his eyes I saw a lean brown
arm with a thin hand as delicate as a woman's wriggle forward from
beneath the wall of the tent towards the despatch-box."

"You saw that quite clearly?" asked Mr. Travers.

"The tent was not very brightly lit," Thresk explained. "At the first
glance I saw something moving. I was inclined to believe it a snake and
to account in that way for Captain Ballantyne's fear and the sudden
rigidity of his attitude. But I looked again and I was then quite sure
that it was an arm and hand."

The evidence roused those present to such a tension of excitement and to
so loud a burst of murmuring that it was quite a minute before order was
restored and Thresk took up his tale again. He described Ballantyne's
search for the thief.

"And what were you doing," Mr. Travers asked, "whilst the search was
being made?"

"I stood by the table holding the despatch-box firmly in my hands as
Ballantyne had urgently asked me to do."

"Quite so," said Mr. Travers; and the attention of the court was now
directed to that despatch-box and the portrait of Bahadur Salak which it
contained. The history of the photograph, its importance at this moment
when Salak's trial impended, and Ballantyne's conviction of the extreme
danger which its possessor ran--a conviction established by the bold
attempt to steal it made under their very eyes--was laid before the
stipendiary. He sent the case to trial as he was bound to do, but the
verdict in most people's eyes was a foregone conclusion. Thresk had
supplied a story which accounted for the crime, and cross-examination
could not shake him. It was easy to believe that at the very moment when
Thresk was saying goodbye to Captain Ballantyne by the fire on the edge
of the camp the thief slipped into the marquee, and when discovered by
Ballantyne either on his return or later shot him with Mrs. Ballantyne's
rifle. It was clear that no conviction could be obtained while this story
held the field and in due course Mrs. Ballantyne was acquitted. Of
Thresk's return to the tent just before leaving the camp nothing was
said. Thresk himself did not mention it and the counsel for the Crown had
no hint which could help him to elicit it.

Thus the case ended. The popular heroine of a criminal trial loses, as
all observers will have noticed, her crown of romance the moment she is
set free; and that good fortune awaited Stella Ballantyne. Thresk called
the next day upon Jane Repton and was coldly told that Stella had already
gone from Bombay. He betook himself to her solicitor, who was cordial but
uncommunicative. The Reptons, it appeared, were responsible to him for
the conduct of the case. He had not any knowledge of Stella Ballantyne's
destination, and he pointed to a stack of telegrams and letters as
confirmation of his words.

"They will all go up to Khamballa Hill," he said. "I have no
other address."

The next day, however, a little note of gratitude came to Thresk through
the post. It was unsigned and without any address. But it was in Stella
Ballantyne's handwriting and the post-mark was Kurrachee. That she did
not wish to see him he could quite understand; Kurrachee was a port from
which ships sailed to many destinations; he could hardly set out in a
blind search for her across the world. So here, it seemed, was that
chapter closed. He took the next steamer westwards from Bombay, landed at
Brindisi and went back to his work in the Law Courts and in Parliament.




CHAPTER XIII

LITTLE BEEDING AGAIN


But though she disappeared Stella Ballantyne was not in flight from men
and women. She avoided them because they did not for the moment count in
her thoughts, except as possible hindrances. She was not so much running
away as running to the place of her desires. She yielded to an impulse
with which they had nothing whatever to do, an impulse so overmastering
that even to the Reptons her precipitancy wore a look of ingratitude. She
drove home with Jane Repton as soon as she was released, to the house on
Khamballa Hill, and while she was still in the carriage she said:

"I must go away to-morrow morning."

She was sitting forward with a tense and eager look upon her face and her
hands clenched tightly in her lap.

"There is no need for that. Make your home with us, Stella, for a little
while and hold your head high."

Jane Repton had talked over this proposal with her husband. Both of
them recognised that the acceptance of it would entail on them some
little sacrifice. Prejudice would be difficult. But they had thrust
these considerations aside in the loyalty of their friendship and Jane
Repton was a little hurt that Stella waved away their invitation
without ceremony.

"I can't. I can't," she said irritably. "Don't try to stop me."

Her nerves were quite on edge and she spoke with a greater violence than
she knew. Jane Repton tried to persuade her.

"Wouldn't it be wiser for you to face things here, even though it means
some effort and pain?"

"I don't know," answered Stella, still in the quick peremptory tone of
one who will not be argued with. "I don't care either. I have nothing to
do with wisdom just now. I don't want people at all. I want--oh, how I
want--" She stopped and then she added vaguely: "Something else," and her
voice trailed away into silence. She sat without a word, all tingling
impatience, during the rest of that drive and continued so to sit after
the carriage had stopped. When Jane Repton descended, and she woke up
with a start and looked at the house, it was as though she brought her
eyes down from heaven to earth. Once within the house she went straight
up to Repton. He had left his wife behind with Stella at the Law Courts
and had come home in advance of them. He had not spoken a word to Stella
that day, and he had not the time now, for she began immediately in an
eager voice and a look of fever in her eyes:

"You won't try to stop me, will you? I must go away to-morrow."

Repton used more tact now than his wife had done. He took the troubled
and excited woman's hand and answered her very gently:

"Of course, Stella. You shall go when you like."

"Oh, thank you," she cried, and was freed to remember the debt which she
owed to these good friends of hers. "You must think me a brute, Jane! I
haven't said a word to you about all your kindness. But--oh, you'll
think me ridiculous, when you know"--and she began to laugh and to sob
in one breath. Stella Ballantyne had remained so sunk in apathy through
all that long trial that her friends were relieved at her outburst of
tears. Jane Repton led her upstairs and put her to bed just as if she
had been a child.

"There! You can get up for dinner if you like, Stella, or stay where you
are. And if you'll tell us what you want to do we'll make the
arrangements for you and not ask you a question."

Jane Repton kissed her and left her alone; and it was while Stella was
sleeping upstairs that Henry Thresk called at the house and was told that
there was no news for him.

"No doubt she will write to you, Mr. Thresk, if she wishes you to know
what she is doing. But I should not count upon it if I were you," said
Jane Repton, in a sweet voice and with eyes like pebbles. "She did not
mention you, I am sorry to say, when the trial was over."

She could not forgive him because of her own share in what she now called
his "treachery" towards Stella. She had no more of the logician in her
composition than Thresk had of the hero. He had committed under a great
stress of emotion and sympathy what the whole experience and method of
his life told him was one of the worst of crimes. And now that its object
was achieved, and Stella Ballantyne free, he was in the mood to see only
the harm which he had done to the majesty of the law; he was uneasy; he
was not troubled by the thought that discovery would absolutely ruin him.
That indeed did not enter into his thoughts. But he could not but make a
picture of himself in the robe of a King's Counsel, claiming sternly the
anger of the Law against some other man who should have done just what he
had done, no more and no less. And so when Mrs. Repton's door was finally
closed upon him, and no message was given to him from the woman he had
saved, he was at once human and unheroic enough to visit a little of his
resentment upon her. He had not spoken to her at all since the night at
Chitipur; he had no knowledge of the stupor and the prostration into
which, after her years of misery, she had fallen; he had no insight into
the one compelling passion which now had her, body and soul, in its grip.
He turned away from the door and went back to the Taj Mahal. A steamer
would be starting for Port Said in two days and by that steamer he would
travel. That Stella was in the house on the Khamballa Hill he did not
doubt, but since she had no word or thought to spare for him he could not
but turn his back and go.

Stella herself got up to dinner, and after it was over she told her
friends of the longing which filled her soul.

"All through the trial," she said shyly, with the shrinking of those who
reveal a very secret fancy and are afraid that it will be ridiculed, "in
the heat of the court, in the close captivity of my cell, I was conscious
of just one real unconquerable passion--to feel the wind blowing against
my face upon the Sussex Downs. Can you understand that? Just to see the
broad green hills with the white chalk hollows in their sides and the
forests marching down to the valleys like the Roman soldiers from
Chichester--oh! I was mad for the look and the smell and the sounds of
them! It was all that I thought about. I used to close my eyes in the
dock and I was away in a second riding through Charlton Forest or over
Farm Hill, or looking down to Slindon from Gumber Corner, and over its
woods to the sea. And now that I am free"--she clasped her hands and her
face grew radiant--"oh, I don't want to see people." She reached out a
hand to each of her friends. "I don't call you people, you know. But even
you--you'll understand and forgive and not be hurt--I don't want to see
for a little while."

The beaten look of her took the sting of ingratitude out of her words.
She stood between them, her delicate face worn thin, her eyes unnaturally
big; she had the strange transparent beauty of people who have been lying
for months in a mortal sickness. Jane Repton's eyes filled with tears and
her hand sought for her handkerchief.

"Let's see what can be done," said Repton. "There's a mail-steamer of
course, but you won't want to travel by that."

"No."

Repton worked out the sailings from Bombay and the other ports on the
western coast of India while Stella leaned over his shoulder.

"Look!" he said. "This is the best way. There's a steamer going to
Kurrachee to-morrow, and when you reach Kurrachee you'll just have time
to catch a German Lloyd boat which calls at Southampton. You won't be
home in thirteen days to be sure, but on the other hand you won't be
pestered by curious people."

"Yes, yes," cried Stella eagerly. "I can go to-morrow."

"Very well."

Repton looked at the clock. It was still no more than half-past ten. He
saw with what a fever of impatience Stella was consumed.

"I believe I could lay my hand on the local manager of the line to-night
and fix your journey up for you."

"You could?" cried Stella. He might have been offering her a crown, so
brightly her thanks shone in her eyes.

"I think so."

He got up from the table and stood looking at her, and then away from her
with his lips pursed in doubt.

"Yes?" said she.

"I was thinking. Will you travel under another name? I don't suggest it
really, only it might save you--annoyance."

Repton's hesitation was misplaced, for Stella Ballantyne's pride was
quite beaten to the ground.

"Yes," she said at once. "I should wish to do that"; and both he and his
wife understood from that ready answer more completely than they ever had
before how near Stella had come to the big blank wall at the end of life.
For seven years she had held her head high, never so much as whispering a
reproach against her husband, keeping with a perpetual guard the secret
of her misery. Pride had been her mainspring; now even that was broken.
Repton went out of the house and returned at midnight.

"It's all settled," he said. "You will have a cabin on deck in both
steamers. I gave your name in confidence to the manager here and he will
take care that everything possible is done for you. There will be very
few passengers on the German boat. The season is too early for either the
tourists or the people on leave."

Thus Stella Ballantyne crept away from Bombay and in five weeks' time
she landed at Southampton. There she resumed her name. She travelled into
Sussex and stayed for a few nights at the inn whither Henry Thresk had
come years before on his momentous holiday. She had a little money--the
trifling income which her parents had left to her upon their death--and
she began to look about for a house. By a piece of good fortune she
discovered that the cottage in which she had lived at Little Beeding
would be empty in a few months. She took it and before the summer was out
she was once more established there. It was on an afternoon of August
when Stella made her home in it again. She passed along the yellow lane
driven deep between high banks of earth where the roots of great
elm-trees cropped out. Every step was familiar to her. The lane with many
twists under overarching branches ran down a steep hill and came out into
the open by the big house with its pillared portico and its light grey
stone and its wonderful garden of lawn and flowers and cedars. A tiny
church with a narrow graveyard and strange carefully-trimmed square
bushes of yew stood next to the house, and beyond the church the lane
dipped to the river and the cottage.

Stella went from room to room. She had furnished the cottage simply and
daintily; the walls were bright, her servant-girl had gathered flowers
and set them about. Outside the window the sunlight shone on a green
garden. She was alone. It was the home-coming she had wished for.

For three or four months she was left alone; and then one afternoon as
she came into the cottage after a walk she found a little white card upon
the table. It bore the name of Mr. Hazlewood.




CHAPTER XIV

THE HAZLEWOODS


In the quiet country town obvious changes had taken place during the
eight years of Stella's absence. They were not changes of importance,
however, and one sentence can symbolize them all--there was now tarmac
upon its roads. But in the cluster of houses a mile away at the end of
the deep lane the case was different. Mr. Harold Hazlewood had come to
Little Beeding. He now lived in the big house to which the village owed
its name and indeed its existence. He lived--and spread consternation
amongst the gentry for miles round.

"Lord, how I wish poor Arthur hadn't died!" old John Chubble used to
cry. He had hunted the West Sussex hounds for thirty years and the very
name of Little Beeding turned his red face purple. "There was a man. But
this fellow! And to think he's got that beautiful house! Do you know
there's hardly a pheasant on the place. And I've hashed them down out of
the sky in the old days there by the dozen. Well, he's got a son in the
Coldstream, Dick Hazlewood, who's not so bad. But Harold! Oh, pass me
the port!"

Harold indeed had inherited Little Beeding by an accident during the
first summer after Stella had gone out to India. Arthur Hazlewood, the
owner and Harold's nephew, had been lost with his yacht in a gale of wind
off the coast of Portugal. Arthur was a bachelor and thus Harold
Hazlewood came quite unexpectedly into the position of a country squire
when he was already well on in middle age. He was a widower and a man of
a noticeable aspect. At the first glance you knew that he was not as
other men; at the second you suspected that he took a pride in his
dissimilarity. He was long, rather shambling in his gait, with a mild
blue eye and fair thin hair now growing grey. But length was the chief
impression left by his physical appearance. His legs, his arms, his face,
even his hair, unless his son in the Coldstream happened to be at home at
the time, were long.

"Is your father mad?" Mr. Chubble once asked of Dick Hazlewood. The two
men had met in the broad street of Great Beeding at midday, and the elder
one, bubbling with indignation, had planted himself in front of Dick.

"Mad?" Dick repeated reflectively. "No, I shouldn't go as far as that. Oh
no! What has he done now?"

"He has paid out of his own pocket the fines of all the people in Great
Beeding who have just been convicted for not having their babies
vaccinated."

Dick Hazlewood stared in surprise at his companion's indignant face.

"But of course he'd do that, Mr. Chubble," he answered cheerfully. "He's
anti-everything--everything, I mean, which experience has established or
prudence could suggest."

"In addition he wants to sell the navy for old iron and abolish
the army."

"Yes," said Dick, nodding his head amicably. "He's like that. He
thinks that without an army and a navy we should be less aggressive. I
can't deny it."

"I should think not indeed," cried Mr. Chubble. "Are you walking home?"

"Yes."

"Let us walk together." Mr. Chubble took Dick Hazlewood by the arm and as
they went filled the lane with his plaints.

"I should think you can't deny it. Why, he has actually written a
pamphlet to enforce his views upon the subject."

"You should bless your stars, Mr. Chubble, that there is only one. He
suffers from pamphlets. He writes 'em and prints 'em and every member of
Parliament gets one of 'em for nothing. Pamphlets do for him what the
gout does for other old gentlemen--they carry off from his system a great
number of disquieting ailments. He's at prison reform now," said Dick
with a smile of thorough enjoyment. "Have you heard him on it?"

"No, and I don't want to," Mr. Chubble exploded.

He struck viciously at an overhanging bough, as though it was the head
of Harold Hazlewood, and went on with the catalogue of crimes. "He made a
speech last week in the town-hall," and he jerked his thumb backwards
towards the town they had left. "Intolerable I call it. He actually
denounced his own countrymen as a race of oppressors."

"He would," answered Dick calmly. "What did I say to you a minute ago?
He's advanced, you know."

"Advanced!" sneered Mr. Chubble, and then Dick Hazlewood stopped and
contemplated his companion with a thoughtful eye.

"I really don't think you understand my father, Mr. Chubble," said Dick
with a gentle remonstrance in his voice which Mr. Chubble was at a loss
whether to take seriously or no.

"Can you give me the key to him?" he cried.

"I can."

"Then out with it, my lad."

Mr. Chubble disposed himself to listen but with so bristling an
expression that it was clear no explanation could satisfy him. Dick,
however, took no heed of that. He spoke slowly as one lecturing to an
obtuse class of scholars.

"My father was born predestined to believe that all the people whom he
knows are invariably wrong, and all the people he doesn't know are
invariably right. And when I feel inclined to deplore his abuse of his
own country I console myself with the reflection that he would be the
staunchest friend of England that England ever had--if only he had been
born in Germany."

Mr. Chubble grunted and turned the speech suspiciously over in his mind.
Was Dick poking fun at him or at his father?

"That's bookish," he said.

"I am afraid it is," Dick Hazlewood agreed humbly. "The fact is I am now
an Instructor at the Staff College and much is expected of me."

They had reached the gate of Little Beeding House. It was summer time.
A yellow drive of gravel ran straight between long broad flower-beds
to the door.

"Won't you come in and see my father?" Dick asked innocently.
"He's at home."

"No, my lad, no." Mr. Chubble hastened to add: "I haven't the time. But I
am very glad to have met you. You are here for long?"

"No. Only just for luncheon," said Dick, and he walked along the drive
into the house. He was met in the hall by Hubbard the butler, an old
colourless man of genteel movements which seemed slow and were
astonishingly quick. He spoke in gentle purring tones and was the very
butler for Mr. Harold Hazlewood.

"Your father has been asking for you, sir," said Hubbard. "He seems a
little anxious. He is in the big room."

"Very well," said Dick, and he crossed the hall and the drawing-room,
wondering what new plan for the regeneration of the world was being
hatched in his father's sedulous brains. He had received a telegram at
Camberley the day before urgently calling upon him to arrive at Little
Beeding in time for luncheon. He went into the library as it was called,
but in reality it was the room used by everybody except upon ceremonial
occasions. It was a big room; half of it held a billiard table, the other
half had writing-tables, lounges, comfortable chairs and a table for
bridge. The carpet was laid over a parquet floor so that young people,
when they stayed there, rolled it up and danced. There were windows upon
two sides of the room. Here a row of them looked down the slope of the
lawn to the cedar-trees and the river, the other, a great bay which
opened to the ground, gave a view of a corner of the high churchyard wall
and of a meadow and a thatched cottage beyond. In this bay Mr. Hazlewood
was standing when Dick entered the room.

"I got your telegram, father, and here I am."

Mr. Hazlewood turned back from the window with a smile upon his face.

"It is good of you, Richard. I wanted you to-day."

A very genuine affection existed between these two, dissimilar as they
were in physique and mind. Dick Hazlewood was at this time thirty-four
years old, an officer of hard work and distinction, one of the younger
men to whom the generals look to provide the brains in the next great
war. He had the religion of his type. To keep physically fit for the
hardest campaigning and mentally fit for the highest problems of modern
strategy and to boast about neither the one qualification nor the
other--these were the articles of his creed. In appearance he was a
little younger than his years, lithe, long in the leg, with a thin brown
face and grey eyes which twinkled with humour. Harold Hazlewood was
intensely proud of him, though he professed to detest his profession. And
no doubt he found at times that the mere healthful, well-groomed look of
his son was irritatingly conventional. What was quite wholesome could
never be quite right in the older man's philosophy. To Dick, on the other
hand, his father was an intense enjoyment. Here was a lovable innocent
with the most delightful illusion that he understood the world. Dick
would draw out his father by the hour, but, as he put it, he wouldn't let
the old boy down. He stopped his chaff before it could begin to hurt.

"Well, I am here," he said. "What scrape have you got into now?"

"I am in no scrape, Richard. I don't get into scrapes," replied his
father. He shifted from one foot to the other uneasily. "I was wondering,
Richard--you have been away all this last year, haven't you?--I was
wondering whether you could give me any of your summer."

Dick looked at his father. What in the world was the old boy up to now?
he asked himself.

"Of course I can. I shall get my leave in a day or two. I thought of
playing some polo here and there. There are a few matches arranged. Then
no doubt--" He broke off. "But look here, sir! You didn't send me an
urgent telegram merely to ask me that."

"No, Richard, no." Everybody else called his son Dick, but Harold
Hazlewood never. He was Richard. From Richard you might expect much, the
awakening of a higher nature, a devotion to the regeneration of the
world, humanitarianism, even the cult of all the "antis." From Dick you
could expect nothing but health and cleanliness and robustious
conventionality. Therefore Richard Captain Hazlewood of the Coldstream
and the Staff Corps remained. "No, there was something else."

Mr. Hazlewood took his son by the arm and led him into the bay window. He
pointed across the field to the thatched cottage.

"You know who lives there?"

"No."

"Mrs. Ballantyne."

Dick put his head on one side and whistled softly. He knew the general
tenor of that _cause celebre_.

Mr. Hazlewood raised remonstrating hands.

"There! You are like the rest, Richard. You take the worst view. Here is
a good woman maligned and slandered. There is nothing against her. She
was acquitted in open trial by a jury of responsible citizens under a
judge of the Highest Court in India. Yet she is left alone--like a leper.
She is the victim of gossip and _such_ gossip. Richard," said the old man
solemnly, "for uncharitableness, ill-nature and stupid malice the gossip
of a Sussex village leaves the most deplorable efforts of Voltaire and
Swift entirely behind."

"Father, you _are_ going it," said Dick with a chuckle. "Do you mean to
give me a step-mother?"

"I do not, Richard. Such a monstrous idea never entered my thoughts. But,
my boy, I have called upon her."

"Oh, you have!"

"Yes. I have seen her too. I left a card. She left one upon me. I called
again. I was fortunate."

"She was in?"

"She gave me tea, Richard."

Richard cocked his head on one side.

"What's she like, father? Topping?"

"Richard, she gave me tea," said the old man, dwelling insistently upon
his repetition.

"So you said, sir, and it was most kind of her to be sure. But that fact
won't help me to form even the vaguest picture of her looks."

"But it will, Richard," Mr. Hazlewood protested with a nervousness which
set Dick wondering again. "She gave me tea. Therefore, don't you see, I
must return the hospitality, which I do with the utmost eagerness.
Richard, I look to you to help me. We must champion that slandered lady.
You will see her for yourself. She is coming here to luncheon."

The truth was out at last. Yet Dick was aware that he might very easily
have guessed it. This was just the quixotic line his father could have
been foreseen to take.

"Well, we must just keep our eyes open and see that she doesn't slip
anything into the decanters while our heads are turned," said Dick with a
chuckle. Old Mr. Hazlewood laid a hand upon his son's shoulder.

"That's the sort of thing they say. Only you don't mean it, Richard, and
they do," he remarked with a mild and reproachful shake of the head. "Ah,
some day, my boy, your better nature will awaken."

Dick expressed no anxiety for the quick advent of that day.

"How many are there of us to be at luncheon?" asked Dick.

"Only the two of us."

"I see. We are to keep the danger in the family. Very wise, sir,
upon my word."

"Richard, you pervert my meaning," said Mr. Hazlewood. "The
neighbourhood has not been kind to Mrs. Ballantyne. She has been made to
suffer. The Vicar's wife, for instance--a most uncharitable person. And
my sister, your Aunt Margaret, too, in Great Beeding--she is what you
would call--"

"Hot stuff," murmured Dick.

"Quite so," replied Mr. Hazlewood, and he turned to his son with a look
of keen interest upon his face. "I am not familiar with the phrase,
Richard, but not for the first time I notice that the crude and
inelegant vulgarisms in which you abound and which you no doubt pick up
in the barrack squares compress a great deal of forcible meaning into
very few words."

"That is indeed true, sir," replied Dick with an admirable gravity, "and
if I might be allowed to suggest it, a pamphlet upon that interesting
subject would be less dangerous work than coquetting with the latest
edition of the Marquise de Brinvilliers."

The word pamphlet was a bugle-call to Mr. Hazlewood.

"Ah! Speaking of pamphlets, my boy," he began, and walked over to a desk
which was littered with papers.

"We have not the time, sir," Dick interrupted from the bay of the window.
A woman had come out from the cottage. She unlatched a little gate in her
garden which opened on to the meadow. She crossed it. Yet another gate
gave her entrance to the garden of Little Beeding. In a moment Hubbard
announced:

"Mrs. Ballantyne"; and Stella came into the room and stood near to the
door with a certain constraint in her attitude and a timid watchfulness
in her big eyes. She had the look of a deer. It seemed to Dick that at
one abrupt movement she would turn and run.

Mr. Hazlewood pressed forward to greet her and she smiled with a warmth
of gratitude. Dick, watching her from the bay window, was surprised by
the delicacy of her face, by a look of fragility. She was dressed very
simply in a coat and short skirt of white, her shoes and her gloves were
of white suede, her hat was small.

"And this is my son Richard," said Mr. Hazlewood; and Dick came forward
out of the bay. Stella Ballantyne bowed to him but said no word. She
was taking no risks even at the hands of the son of her friend. If
advances of friendliness were to be made they must be made by him, not
her. There was just one awkward moment of hesitation. Then Dick
Hazlewood held out his hand.

"I am very glad to meet you, Mrs. Ballantyne," he said cordially, and he
saw the blood rush into her face and the fear die out in her eyes.

The neighbourhood, to quote Mr. Hazlewood, had not been kind to Stella
Ballantyne. She had stood in the dock and the fact tarnished her.
Moreover here and there letters had come from India. The verdict was
inevitable, but--but--there was a doubt about its justice. The full
penalty--no. No one desired or would have thought it right, but something
betwixt and between in the proper spirit of British compromise would not
have been amiss. Thus gossip ran. More-over Stella Ballantyne was too
good-looking, and she wore her neat and simple clothes too well. To some
of the women it was an added offence when they considered what she might
be wearing if only the verdict had been different. Thus for a year Stella
had been left to her own company except for a couple of visits which the
Reptons had paid to her. At the first she had welcomed the silence, the
peace of her loneliness. It was a balm to her. She recovered like a
flower in the night. But she was young--she was twenty-eight this
year--and as her limbs ceased to be things of lead and became once more
aglow with life there came to her a need of companionship. She tried to
tramp the need away on the turf of her well-loved downs, but she failed.
A friend to share with her the joy of these summer days! Her blood
clamoured for one. But she was an outcast. Friends did not come her way.
Therefore she had gratefully received old Mr. Hazlewood in her house, and
had accepted, though with some fear, his proposal that she should lunch
at the big house and make the acquaintance of his son.

She was nervous at the beginning of that meal, but both father and son
were at the pains to put her at her ease; and soon she was talking
naturally, with a colour in her cheeks, and now and then a note of
laughter in her voice. Dick worked for the recurrence of that laughter.
He liked the clear sound of it and the melting of all her face into
sweetness and tender humour which came with it. And for another thing he
had a thought, and a true one, that it was very long since she had known
the pleasure of good laughter.

They took their coffee out on the lawn under the shade of a huge
cedar-tree. The river ran at their feet and a Canadian canoe and a
rowing-boat were tethered close by in a little dock. The house, a place
of grey stone with grey weathered and lichen-coloured slates, raised its
great oblong chimneys into a pellucid air. The sunlight flashed upon its
rows of tall windows--they were all flat to the house, except the one
great bay on the ground floor in the library--and birds called from all
the trees. The time slipped away. Dick Hazlewood found himself talking of
his work, a practice into which he seldom fell, and was surprised that
she could talk of it with him. He realised with a start how it was that
she knew. But she talked naturally and openly, as though he must know her
history. Once even some jargon of the Staff College slipped from her.
"You were doing let us pretend at Box Hill last week, weren't you?" she
said, and when he started at the phrase she imagined that he started at
the extent of her information. "It was in the papers," she said. "I read
every word of them," and then for a second her face clouded, and she
added: "I have time, you see."

She looked at her watch and sprang to her feet.

"I must go," she said. "I didn't know it was so late. I have enjoyed
myself very much." She did not hesitate now to offer her hand. "Goodbye."

Dick Hazlewood went with her as far as the gate and came back to
his father.

"You were asking me," he said carelessly, "if I could give you some part
of the summer. I don't see why I shouldn't come here in a day or two. The
polo matches aren't so important."

The old man's eyes brightened.

"I shall be delighted, Richard, if you will." He looked at his son with
something really ecstatic in his expression. At last then his better
nature was awakening. "I really believe--" he exclaimed and Dick cut
him short.

"Yes, it may be that, sir. On the other hand it may not. What is quite
clear is that I must catch my train. So if I might order the car?"

"Of course, of course."

He came out with his son into the porch of the house.

"We have done a fine thing to-day, Richard," he said with enthusiasm and
a nod towards the cottage beyond the meadow.

"We have indeed, sir," returned Dick cheerily. "Did you ever see such a
pair of ankles?"

"She lost the tragic look this afternoon, Richard. We must be her
champions."

"We will put in the summer that way, father," said Dick, and waving his
hand was driven off to the station.

Mr. Hazlewood walked back to the library. But "walked" is a poor word. He
seemed to float on air. A great opportunity had come to him. He had
enlisted the services of his son. He saw Dick and himself as Toreadors
waving red flags in the face of a bull labelled Conventionality. He went
back to the pamphlet on which he was engaged with renewed ardour and
laboured diligently far into the night.




CHAPTER XV

THE GREAT CRUSADE


"I was in Great Beeding this morning," said Dick, as he sat at luncheon
with his father, "and the blinds were up in Aunt Margaret's house."

"They have returned from their holiday then," his father observed with a
tremor in his voice. He looked afraid. Then he looked annoyed.

"Pettifer will break down if he doesn't take care," he exclaimed
petulantly. "No man with any sense would work as hard as he does. He
ought to have taken two months this year at the least."

"We should still have to meet Aunt Margaret at the end of them," said
Dick calmly. He had no belief in Mr. Hazlewood's distress at the overwork
of Pettifer.

A month had passed since the inauguration of the great Crusade, and
though talk was rife everywhere and indignation in many places loud, a
certain amount of success had been won. But all this while Mrs. Pettifer
had been away. Now she had returned. Mr. Hazlewood stood in some awe of
his sister. She was not ill-natured, but she knew her mind and expressed
it forcibly and without delay. She was of a practical limited nature; she
saw very clearly what she saw, but she walked in blinkers, and had
neither comprehension of nor sympathy with those of a wider vision. She
was at this time a woman of forty, comfortable to look upon and the wife
of Mr. Robert Pettifer, the head of the well-known firm of solicitors,
Pettifer, Gryll and Musgrave. Mrs. Pettifer had very little patience to
spare for the idiosyncrasies of her brother, though she owed him a good
deal more than patience. For at the time, some twenty years before, when
she had married Robert Pettifer, then merely a junior partner of the
firm, Harold Hazlewood had alone stood by her. To the rest of the family
she was throwing herself away; to her brother Harold she was doing a fine
thing, not because it was a fine thing but because it was an exceptional
thing. Robert Pettifer however had prospered, and though he had reached
an age when he might have claimed his leisure the nine o'clock train
still took him daily to London.

"Aunt Margaret isn't after all so violent," said Dick, for whom she kept
a very soft place in her heart. But Harold shook his head.

"Your aunt, Richard, has all the primeval ferocity of the average woman."
And then the fires of the enthusiast were set alight in his blue eyes.
"I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll send her my new pamphlet, Richard. It
may have a humanising influence upon her. I have some advance copies.
I'll send her one this afternoon."

Dick's eyes twinkled.

"I should if I were you, though to be sure, sir, we have tried that plan
before without any prodigious effect."

"True, Richard, true, but I have never before risen to such heights as
these." Mr. Hazlewood threw down his napkin and paced the room. "Richard,
I am not inclined to boast. I am a humble man."

"It is only humility, sir, which achieves great work," said Dick, as he
went contentedly on with his luncheon.

"But the very title of this pamphlet seems to me calculated to interest
the careless and attract the thoughtful. It is called _The Prison Walls
must Cast no Shadow_."

With an arm outstretched he seemed to deliver the words of the title
one by one from the palm of his hand. Then he stood smiling,
confident, awaiting applause. Dick's face, which had shown the highest
expectancy, slowly fell in a profound disappointment. He laid down his
knife and fork.

"Oh, come, father. All walls cast shadows. It entirely depends upon the
altitude of the sun."

Mr. Hazlewood returned to his seat and spoke gently.

"The phrase, my boy, is a metaphor. I develop in this pamphlet my belief
that a convict, once he has expiated his offence, should upon his release
be restored to the precise position in society which he held before with
all its privileges unimpaired."

Dick chuckled in the most unregenerate delight.

"You are going it, father," he said, and disappointment came to Mr.
Hazlewood.

"Richard," he remonstrated mildly, "I hoped that I should have had your
approval. It seemed to me that a change was taking place in you, that the
player of polo, the wild hunter of an inoffensive little white ball, was
developing into the humanitarian."

"Well, sir," rejoined Dick, "I won't deny that of late I have been
beginning to think that there is a good deal in your theories. But you
mustn't try me too high at the beginning, you know. I am only in my
novitiate. However, please send it to Aunt Margaret, and--oh, how I would
like to hear her remarks upon it!"

An idea occurred to Mr. Hazlewood.

"Richard, why shouldn't you take it over yourself this afternoon?"

Dick shook his head.

"Impossible, father, I have something to do." He looked out of the window
down to the river running dark in the shade of trees. "But I'll go
to-morrow morning," he added.

And the next morning he walked over early to Great Beeding. His aunt
would have received the pamphlet by the first post and he wished to seize
the first fine careless rapture of her comments. But he found her in a
mood of distress rather than of wordy impatience.

The Pettifers lived in a big house of the Georgian period at the bottom
of an irregular square in the middle of the little town. Mrs. Pettifer
was sitting in a room facing the garden at the back with the pamphlet on
a little table beside her. She sprang up as Dick was shown into the room,
and before he could utter a word of greeting she cried:

"Dick, you are the one person I wanted to see."

"Oh?"

"Yes. Sit down."

Dick obeyed.

"Dick, I believe you are the only person in the world who has any control
over your father."

"Yes. Even in my pinafores I learnt the great lesson that to control
one's parents is the first duty of the modern child."

"Don't be silly," his aunt rejoined sharply. Then she looked him over.
"Yes, you must have some control over him, for he lets you remain in the
army, though an army is one of his abominations."

"Theoretically it's a great grief to him," replied Dick. "But you see I
have done fairly well, so actually he's ready to burst with pride. Every
sentimental philosopher sooner or later breaks his head against his own
theories."

Mrs. Pettifer nodded her head in commendation.

"That's an improvement on your last remark, Dick. It's true. And your
father's going to break his head very badly unless you stop him."

"How?"

"Mrs. Ballantyne."

All the flippancy died out of Dick Hazlewood's face. He became at once
grave, wary.

"I have been hearing about him," continued Mrs. Pettifer. "He has made
friends with her--a woman who has stood in the dock on a capital charge."

"And has been acquitted," Dick Hazlewood added quietly and Mrs. Pettifer
blazed up.

"She wouldn't have been acquitted if I had been on the jury. A
parcel of silly men who are taken in by a pretty face!" she cried,
and Dick broke in:

"Aunt Margaret, I am sorry to interrupt you. But I want you to understand
that I am with my father heart and soul in this."

He spoke very slowly and deliberately and Mrs. Pettifer was
utterly dismayed.

"You!" she cried. She grew pale, and alarm so changed her face it was as
if a tragic mask had been slipped over it. "Oh, Dick, not you!"

"Yes, I. I think it is cruelly hard," he continued with his eyes
relentlessly fixed upon Mrs. Pettifer's face, "that a woman like Mrs.
Ballantyne, who has endured all the horrors of a trial, the publicity,
the suspense, the dread risk that justice might miscarry, should have
afterwards to suffer the treatment of a leper."

There was for the moment no room for any anger now in Mrs. Pettifer's
thoughts. Consternation possessed her. She weighed every quiet firm word
that fell from Dick, she appreciated the feeling which gave them wings,
she searched his face, his eyes. Dick had none of his father's
flightiness. He was level-headed, shrewd and with the conventions of his
times and his profession. If Dick spoke like this, with so much certitude
and so much sympathy, why then--She shrank from the conclusion with a
sinking heart. She became very quiet.

"Oh, she shouldn't have come to Little Beeding," she said in a low voice,
staring now upon the ground. It was to herself she spoke, but Dick
answered her, and his voice rose to a challenge.

"Why shouldn't she? Here she was born, here she was known. What else
should she do but come back to Little Beeding and hold her head high? I
respect her pride for doing it."

Here were reasons no doubt why Stella should come back; but they did not
include the reason why she had. Dick Hazlewood was well aware of it. He
had learnt it only the afternoon before when he was with her on the
river. But he thought it a reason too delicate, of too fine a gossamer to
be offered to the prosaic mind of his Aunt Margaret. With what ridicule
and disbelief she would rend it into tatters! Reasons so exquisite were
not for her. She could never understand them.

Mrs. Pettifer abandoned her remonstrances and was for dropping the
subject altogether. But Dick was obstinate.

"You don't know Mrs. Ballantyne, Aunt Margaret. You are unjust to her
because you don't know her. I want you to," he said boldly.

"What!" cried Mrs. Pettifer. "You actually--Oh!" Indignation robbed her
of words. She gasped.

"Yes, I do," continued Dick calmly. "I want you to come one night and
dine at Little Beeding. We'll persuade Mrs. Ballantyne to come too."

It was a bold move, and even in his eyes it had its risks for Stella. To
bring Mrs. Pettifer and her together was, so it seemed to him, to mix
earth with delicate flame. But he had great faith in Stella Ballantyne.
Let them but meet and the earth might melt--who could tell? At the worst
his aunt would bristle, and there were his father and himself to see that
the bristles did not prick.

"Yes, come and dine."

Mrs. Pettifer had got over her amazement at her nephew's audacity.
Curiosity had taken its place--curiosity and fear. She must see this
woman for herself.

"Yes," she answered after a pause. "I will come. I'll bring Robert too."

"Good. We'll fix up a date and write to you. Goodbye."

Dick went back to Little Beeding and asked for his father. The old
gentleman added to his other foibles that of a collector. It was the
only taste he had which was really productive, for he owned a collection
of miniatures, gathered together throughout his life, which would have
realised a fortune if it had been sold at Christie's. He kept it arranged
in cabinets in the library and Dick found him bending over one of the
drawers and rearranging his treasures.

"I have seen Aunt Margaret," he said. "She will meet Stella here
at dinner."

"That will be splendid," cried the old man with enthusiasm.

"Perhaps," replied his son; and the next morning the Pettifers received
their invitation.

Mrs. Pettifer accepted it at once. She had not been idle since Dick had
left her. Before he had come she had merely looked upon the crusade as
one of Harold Hazlewood's stupendous follies. But after he had gone she
was genuinely horrified. She saw Dick speaking with the set dogged look
and the hard eyes which once or twice she had seen before. He had always
got his way, she remembered, on those occasions. She drove round to her
friends and made inquiries. At each house her terrors were confirmed. It
was Dick now who led the crusade. He had given up his polo, he was
spending all his leave at Little Beeding and most of it with Stella
Ballantyne. He lent her a horse and rode with her in the morning, he
rowed her on the river in the afternoon. He bullied his friends to call
on her. He brandished his friendship with her like a flag. Love me, love
my Stella was his new motto. Mrs. Pettifer drove home with every fear
exaggerated. Dick's career would be ruined altogether--even if nothing
worse were to happen. To any view that Stella Ballantyne might hold she
hardly gave a thought. She was sure of what it would be. Stella
Ballantyne would jump at her nephew. He had good looks, social position,
money and a high reputation. It was the last quality which would give him
a unique value in Stella Ballantyne's eyes. He was not one of the
chinless who haunt the stage doors; nor again one of that more subtly
decadent class which seeks to attract sensation by linking itself to
notoriety. No. From Stella's point of view Dick Hazlewood must be the
ideal husband.

Mrs. Pettifer waited for her husband's return that evening with unusual
impatience, but she was wise enough to hold her tongue until dinner was
over and he with a cigar between his lips and a glass of old brandy on
the table-cloth in front of him, disposed to amiability and concession.

Then, however, she related her troubles.

"You see it must be stopped, Robert."

Robert Pettifer was a lean wiry man of fifty-five whose brown dried face
seemed by a sort of climatic change to have taken on the colour of the
binding of his law-books. He, too, was a little troubled by the story,
but he was of a fair and cautious mind.

"Stopped?" he said. "How? We can't arrest Mrs. Ballantyne again."

"No," replied Mrs. Pettifer. "Robert, you must do something."

Robert Pettifer jumped in his chair.

"I, Margaret! Lord love you, no! I decline to mix myself up in the matter
at all. Dick's a grown man and Mrs. Ballantyne has been acquitted."

Margaret Pettifer knew her husband.

"Is that your last word?" she asked ruefully.

"Absolutely."

"It isn't mine, Robert."

Robert Pettifer chuckled and laid a hand upon his wife's.

"I know that, Margaret."

"We are going to dine next Friday night at Little Beeding to meet Stella
Ballantyne."

Mr. Pettifer was startled but he held his tongue.

"The invitation came this morning after you had left for London,"
she added.

"And you accepted it at once?"

"Yes."

Pettifer was certain that she had before she opened her mouth to
answer him.

"I shall dine at Little Beeding on Friday," he said, "because Harold
always gives me an admirable glass of vintage port"; and with that he
dismissed the subject. Mrs. Pettifer was content to let it smoulder in
his mind. She was not quite sure that he was as disturbed as she wished
him to be, but that he was proud of Dick she knew, and if by any chance
uneasiness grew strong in him, why, sooner or later he would let fall
some little sentence; and that little sentence would probably be useful.




CHAPTER XVI

CONSEQUENCES


The dinner-party at Little Beeding was a small affair. There were but ten
altogether who sat down at Mr. Hazlewood's dinner-table and with the
exception of the Pettifers all, owing to Dick Hazlewood's insistence,
were declared partisans of Stella Ballantyne. None the less Stella came
to it with hesitation. It was the first time that she had dined abroad
since she had left India, now the best part of eighteen months ago, and
she went forth to it as to an ordeal. For though friends of hers would be
present to enhearten her she was to meet the Pettifers. The redoubtable
Aunt Margaret had spoilt her sleep for a week. It was for the Pettifers
she dressed, careful to choose neither white nor black, lest they should
find something symbolic in the colour of her gown and make of it an
offence. She put on a frock of pale blue satin trimmed with some white
lace which had belonged to her mother, and she wore not so much as a thin
gold chain about her neck. But she did not need jewels that night. The
months of quiet had restored her to her beauty, the excitement of this
evening had given life and colour to her face, the queer little droop at
the corners of her lips which had betrayed so much misery and bitterness
of spirit had vanished altogether. Yet when she was quite dressed and
her mirror bade her take courage she sat down and wrote a note of apology
pleading a sudden indisposition. But she did not send it. Even in the
writing her cowardice came home to her and she tore it up before she had
signed her name. The wheels of the cab which was to take her to the big
house rattled down the lane under her windows, and slipping her cloak
over her shoulders she ran downstairs.

The party began with a little constraint. Mr. Hazlewood received his
guests in his drawing-room and it had the chill and the ceremony of a
room which is seldom used. But the constraint wore off at the table. Most
of those present were striving to set Stella Ballantyne at her ease, and
she was at a comfortable distance from Mrs. Pettifer, with Mr. Hazlewood
at her side. She was conscious that she was kept under observation and
from time to time the knowledge made her uncomfortable.

"I am being watched," she said to her host.

"You mustn't mind," replied Mr. Hazlewood, and the smile came back to her
lips as she glanced round the table.

"Oh, I don't, I don't," she said in a low voice, "for I have
friends here."

"And friends who will not fail you, Stella," said the old man. "To-night
begins the great change. You'll see."

Robert Pettifer puzzled her indeed more than his wife. She was plain to
read. She was frigidly polite, her enemy. Once or twice, however, Stella
turned her head to find Robert Pettifer's eyes resting upon her with a
quiet scrutiny which betrayed nothing of his thoughts. As a matter of
fact he liked her manner. She was neither defiant nor servile, neither
loud nor over-silent. She had been through fire; that was evident. But it
was evident only because of a queer haunting look which came and went in
her dark eyes. The fire had not withered her. Indeed Pettifer was
surprised. He had not formulated his expectations at all, but he had not
expected what he saw. The clear eyes and the fresh delicate colour, her
firm white shoulders and her depth of bosom, forced him to think of her
as wholesome. He began to turn over in his mind his recollections of her
case, recollections which he had been studious not to revive.

Halfway through the dinner Stella lost her uneasiness. The lights, the
ripple of talk, the company of men and women, the bright dresses had
their effect on her. It was as though after a deep plunge into dark
waters she had come to the surface and flung out her arms to the sun. She
ceased to notice the scrutiny of the Pettifers. She looked across the
table to Dick and their eyes met; and such a look of tenderness
transfigured her face as made Mrs. Pettifer turn pale.

"That woman's in love," she said to herself and she was horrified. It
wasn't Dick's social position then or the shelter of his character that
Stella Ballantyne coveted. She was in love. Mrs. Pettifer was honest
enough to acknowledge it. But she knew now that the danger which she had
feared was infinitely less than the danger which actually was.

"I must have it out with Harold to-night," she said, and later on, when
the men came from the dining-room, she looked out for her husband. But at
first she did not see him. She was in the drawing-room and the wide
double doors which led to the big library stood open. It was through
those doors that the men had come. Some of the party were gathered there.
She could hear the click of the billiard balls and the voices of women
mingling with those of the men. She went through the doors and saw her
husband standing by Harold Hazlewood's desk, and engrossed apparently in
some little paper-covered book which he held in his hand. She crossed to
him at once.

"Robert," she said, "don't be in a hurry to go to-night. I must have a
word with Harold."

"All right," said Pettifer, but he said it in so absent a voice that his
wife doubted whether he had understood her words. She was about to repeat
them when Harold Hazlewood himself approached.

"You are looking at my new pamphlet, Pettifer, _The Prison Walls must
Cast no Shadow_. I am hoping that it will have a great influence."

"No," replied Pettifer. "I wasn't. I was looking at this," and he held
up the little book.

"Oh, that?" said Hazlewood, turning away with disappointment.

"Yes, that," said Pettifer with a strange and thoughtful look at his
brother-in-law. "And I am not sure," he added slowly, "that in a short
time you will not find it the more important publication of the two."

He laid the book down and in his turn he moved away towards the
billiard-table. Margaret Pettifer remained. She had been struck by the
curious deliberate words her husband had used. Was this the hint for
which she was looking out? She took up the little book. It was a copy of
_Notes and Queries_. She opened it.

It was a small periodical magazine made up of printed questions which
contributors sent in search of information and answers to those questions
from the pens of other contributors. Mrs. Pettifer glanced through the
leaves, hoping to light upon the page which her husband had been
studying. But he had closed the book when he laid it down and she found
nothing to justify his remark. Yet he had not spoken without intention.
Of that she was convinced, and her conviction was strengthened the next
moment, for as she turned again towards the drawing-room Robert Pettifer
looked once sharply towards her and as sharply away. Mrs. Pettifer
understood that glance. He was wondering whether she had noticed what in
that magazine had interested him. But she did not pursue him with
questions. She merely made up her mind to examine the copy of _Notes and
Queries_ at a time when she could bring more leisure to the task.

She waited impatiently for the party to break up but eleven o'clock had
struck before any one proposed to go. Then all took their leave at once.
Robert Pettifer and his wife went out into the hall with the rest, lest
others seeing them remain should stay behind too; and whilst they stood a
little apart from the general bustle of departure Margaret Pettifer saw
Stella Ballantyne come lightly down the stairs, and a savage fury
suddenly whirled in her head and turned her dizzy. She thought of all the
trouble and harm this young woman was bringing into their ordered family
and she would not have it that she was innocent. She saw Stella with her
cloak open upon her shoulders radiant and glistening and slender against
the dark panels of the staircase, youth in her face, enjoyment sparkling
in her eyes, and her fingers itched to strip her of her bright frock, her
gloves, her slim satin slippers, the delicate white lace which nestled
against her bosom. She clothed her in the heavy shapeless garments, the
coarse shoes and stockings of the convict; she saw her working
desperately against time upon an ignoble task with black and broken
finger-nails. If longing could have worked the miracle, thus at this hour
would Stella Ballantyne have sat and worked, all the colour of her faded
to a hideous drab, all the grace of her withered. Mrs. Pettifer turned
away with so abrupt a movement and so disordered a face that Robert asked
her if she was ill.

"No, it's nothing," she said and against her will her eyes were drawn
back to the staircase. But Stella Ballantyne had disappeared and Margaret
Pettifer drew her breath in relief. She felt that there had been danger
in her moment of passion, danger and shame; and already enough of those
two evils waited about them.

Stella, meanwhile, with a glance towards Dick Hazlewood, had slipped back
into the big room. Then she waited for a moment until the door opened and
Dick came in.

"I had not said good-night to you," she exclaimed, coming towards him and
giving him her hands, "and I wanted to say it to you here, when we were
alone. For I must thank you for to-night, you and your father. Oh, I have
no words."

The tears were very near to her eyes and they were audible in her low
voice. Dick Hazlewood was quick to answer her.

"Good! For there's need of none. Will you ride to-morrow?"

Stella took her hands from his and moved across the room towards the
great bay window with its glass doors.

"I should love to," she said.

"Eight. Is that too early after to-night?"

"No, that's the good time," she returned with a smile. "We have the day
at its best and the world to ourselves."

"I'll bring the same horse round. He knows you now, doesn't he?"

"Thank you," said Stella. She unlatched the glass door and opened it.
"You'll lock it after me, won't you?"

"No," said Dick. "I'll see you to your door."

But Stella refused his company. She stood in the doorway.

"There's no need! See what a night it is!" and the beauty of it crept
into her soul and stilled her voice. The moon rode in a blue sky, a disc
of glowing white, the great cedar-trees flung their shadows wide over the
bright lawns and not a branch stirred.

"Listen," said Stella in a whisper and the river rippling against its
banks with now a deep sob and now a fairy's laugh sang to them in notes
most musical and clear. That liquid melody and the flutter of a bird's
wings in the bough of a tree were the only sounds. They stood side by
side, she looking out over the garden to the dim and pearly hills, he
gazing at her uplifted face and the pure column of her throat. They
stood in a most dangerous silence. The air came cool and fresh to their
nostrils. Stella drew it in with a smile.

"Good-night!" She laid her hand for a second on his arm. "Don't
come with me!"

"Why not?"

And the answer came in a clear whisper:

"I am afraid."

Stella seemed to feel the man at her side suddenly grow very still.
"It's only a step," she went on quickly and she passed out of the window
on to the pathway. Dick Hazlewood followed but she turned to him and
raised her hand.

"Don't," she pleaded; the voice was troubled but her eyes were steady.
"If you come with me I shall tell you."

"What?" he interrupted, and the quickness of the interruption broke the
spell which the night had laid upon her.

"I shall tell you again how much I thank you," she said lightly. "I shall
cross the meadow by the garden gate. That brings me to my door."

She gathered her skirt in her hand and crossed the pathway to the edge of
the grass.

"You can't do that," exclaimed Dick and he was at her side. He stooped
and felt the turf. "Even the lawn's drenched. Crossing the meadow you'll
be ankle-deep in dew. You must promise never to go home across the
meadow when you dine with us."

He spoke, chiding her as if she had been a mutinous child, and with so
much anxiety that she laughed.

"You see, you have become rather precious to me," he added.

Though the month was July she that night was all April, half tears, half
laughter. The smile passed from her lips and she raised her hands to her
face with the swiftness of one who has been struck.

"What's the matter?" he asked, and she drew her hand away.

"Don't you understand?" she asked, and answered the question herself.
"No, why should you?" She turned to him suddenly, her bosom heaving, her
hands clenched. "Do you know what place I fill here, in my own county?
Years ago, when I was a child, there was supposed to be a pig-faced woman
in Great Beeding. She lived in a small yellow cottage in the Square. It
was pointed out to strangers as one of the sights of the town. Sometimes
they were shown her shadow after dusk between the lamp and the blind.
Sometimes you might have even caught a glimpse of her slinking late at
night along the dark alleys. Well, the pig-faced woman has gone and I
have taken her place."

"No," cried Dick. "That's not true."

"It is," she answered passionately. "I am the curiosity. I am the freak.
The townspeople take a pride in me, yes, just the same pride they took in
her, and I find that pride more difficult to bear than all the aversion
of the Pettifers. I too slink out early in the morning or late after
night has fallen. And you"--the passion of bitterness died out of her
voice, her hands opened and hung at her sides, a smile of tenderness
shone on her face--"you come with me. You ride with me early. With you I
learn to take no heed. You welcome me to your house. You speak to me as
you spoke just now." Her voice broke and a cry of gladness escaped from
her which went to Dick Hazlewood's heart. "Oh, you shall see me to my
door. I'll not cross the meadow. I'll go round by the road." She stopped
and drew a breath.

"I'll tell you something."

"What?"

"It's rather good to be looked after. I know. It has never happened to me
before. Yes, it's very good," and she drew out the words with a low laugh
of happiness.

"Stella!" he said, and at the mention of her name she caught her hands up
to her heart. "Oh, thank you!"

The hall-door was closed and all but one car had driven away when they
turned the corner of the house and came out in the broad drive. They
walked in the moonlight with a perfume of flowers in the air and the big
yellow cups of the evening primroses gleaming on either side. They walked
slowly. Stella knew that she should quicken her feet but she could not
bring herself to do more than know it. She sought to take into her heart
every tiniest detail of that walk so that in memory she might, years
after, walk it again and so never be quite alone. They passed out through
the great iron gates and turned into the lane. Here great elms overhung
and now they walked in darkness, and now again were bathed in light. A
twig snapped beneath her foot; even so small a thing she would remember.

"We must hurry," she said.

"We are doing all that we can," replied Dick. "It's a long
way--this walk."

"You feel it so?" said Stella, tempting him--oh, unwisely! But the spell
of the hour and the place was upon her.

"Yes," he answered her. "It's a long way in a man's life," and he drew
close to her side.

"No!" she cried with a sudden violence. But she was awake too late. "No,
Dick, no," she repeated, but his arms were about her.

"Stella, I want you. Oh, life's dull for a man without a woman; I can
tell you," he exclaimed passionately.

"There are others--plenty," she said, and tried to thrust him away.

"Not for me," he rejoined, and he would not let her go. Her struggles
ceased, she buried her face in his coat, her hands caught his shoulders,
she stood trembling and shivering against him.

"Stella," he whispered. "Stella!"

He raised her face and bent to it. Then he straightened himself.

"Not here!" he said.

They were standing in the darkness of a tree. He put his arms about her
waist and lifted her into an open space where the moonlight shone bright
and clear and there were no shadows.

"Here," he said, and he kissed her on the lips. She thrust her head back,
her face uplifted to the skies, her eyes closed.

"Oh, Dick," she murmured, "I meant that this should never be. Even
now--you shall forget it."

"No--I couldn't."

"So one says. But--oh, it would be your ruin." She started away from him.

"Listen!"

"Yes," he answered.

She stood confronting him desperately a yard or so away, her bosom
heaving, her face wet with her tears. Dick Hazlewood did not stir.
Stella's lips moved as though she were speaking but no words were
audible, and it seemed that her strength left her. She came suddenly
forward, groping with her hands like a blind person.

"Oh, my dear," she said as he caught them. They went on again together.
She spoke of his father, of the talk of the countryside. But he had an
argument for each of hers.

"Be brave for just a little, Stella. Once we are married there will be no
trouble," and with his arms about her she was eager to believe.

Stella Ballantyne sat late that night in the armchair in her bedroom, her
eyes fixed upon the empty grate, in a turmoil of emotion. She grew cold
and shivered. A loud noise of birds suddenly burst through the open
window. She went to it. The morning had come. She looked across the
meadow to the silent house of Little Beeding in the grey broadening
light. All the blinds were down. Were they all asleep or did one watch
like her? She came back to the fireplace. In the grate some torn
fragments of a letter caught her eyes. She stooped and picked them up.
They were fragments of the letter of regret which she had written earlier
that evening.

"I should have sent it," she whispered. "I should not have gone. I should
have sent the letter."

But the regret was vain. She had gone. Her maid found her in the morning
lying upon her bed in a deep sleep and still wearing the dress in which
she had gone out.




CHAPTER XVII

TROUBLE FOR MR. HAZLEWOOD


When Dick and Stella walked along the drive to the lane Harold Hazlewood,
who was radiant at the success of his dinner-party, turned to Robert
Pettifer in the hall.

"Have a whisky-and-soda, Robert, before you go," he said. He led the way
back into the library. Behind him walked the Pettifers, Robert
ill-at-ease and wishing himself a hundred miles away, Margaret Pettifer
boiling for battle. Hazlewood himself dropped into an arm-chair.

"I am very glad that you came to-night, Margaret," he said boldly. "You
have seen for yourself."

"Yes, I have," she replied. "Harold, there have been moments this evening
when I could have screamed."

Robert Pettifer hurriedly turned towards the table in the far corner
of the room where the tray with the decanters and the syphons had
been placed.

"Margaret, I pass my life in a scream at the injustice of the world,"
said Harold Hazlewood, and Robert Pettifer chuckled as he cut off the end
of a cigar. "It is strange that an act of reparation should move you in
the same way."

"Reparation!" cried Margaret Pettifer indignantly. Then she noticed that
the window was open. She looked around the room. She drew up a chair in
front of her brother.

"Harold, if you have no consideration for us, none for your own
position, none for the neighbourhood, if you will at all costs force
this woman upon us, don't you think that you might still spare a thought
for your son?"

Robert Pettifer had kept his eyes open that evening as well as his wife.
He took a step down into the room. He was anxious to take no part in the
dispute; he desired to be just; he was favourably inclined towards Stella
Ballantyne; looking at her he had been even a little moved. But Dick was
the first consideration. He had no children of his own, he cared for Dick
as he would have cared for his son, and when he went up each morning by
the train to his office in London there lay at the back of his mind the
thought that one day the fortune he was amassing would add a splendour to
Dick's career. Harold Hazlewood alone of the three seemed to have his
eyes sealed.

"Why, what on earth do you mean, Margaret?"

Margaret Pettifer sat down in her chair.

"Where was Dick yesterday afternoon?"

"Margaret, I don't know."

"I do. I saw him. He was with Stella Ballantyne on the river--in the
dusk--in a Canadian canoe." She uttered each fresh detail in a more
indignant tone, as though it aggravated the crime. Yet even so she had
not done. There was, it seemed, a culminating offence. "She was wearing a
white lace frock with a big hat."

"Well," said Mr. Hazlewood mildly, "I don't think I have anything against
big hats."

"She was trailing her hand in the water--that he might notice its
slenderness of course. Outrageous I call it!"

Mr. Hazlewood nodded his head at his indignant sister.

"I know that frame of mind very well, Margaret," he remarked. "She cannot
do right. If she had been wearing a small hat she would have been
Frenchified."

But Mrs. Pettifer was not in a mood for argument.

"Can't you see what it all means?" she cried in exasperation.

"I can. I do," Mr. Hazlewood retorted and he smiled proudly upon his
sister. "The boy's better nature is awakening."

Margaret Pettifer lifted up her hands.

"The boy!" she exclaimed. "He's thirty-four if he's a day."

She leaned forward in her chair and pointing up to the bay asked: "Why is
that window open, Harold?"

Harold Hazlewood showed his first sign of discomfort. He shifted in
his chair.

"It's a hot night, Margaret."

"That is not the reason," Mrs. Pettifer retorted implacably.
"Where is Dick?"

"I expect that he is seeing Mrs. Ballantyne home."

"Exactly," said Mrs. Pettifer with a world of significance in her voice.
Mr. Hazlewood sat up and looked at his sister.

"Margaret, you want to make me uncomfortable," he exclaimed pettishly.
"But you shan't. No, my dear, you shan't." He let himself sink back again
and joining the tips of his fingers contemplated the ceiling. But
Margaret was in the mind to try. She shot out her words at him like so
many explosive bullets.

"Being friends is one thing, Harold. Marrying is another."

"Very true, Margaret, very true."

"They are in love with one another."

"Rubbish, Margaret, rubbish."

"I watched them at the dinner-table and afterwards. They are man and
woman, Harold. That's what you don't understand. They are not
illustrations of your theories. Ask Robert."

"No," exclaimed Robert Pettifer. He hurriedly lit a cigar. "Any inference
I should make must be purely hypothetical."

"Yes, we'll ask Robert. Come, Pettifer!" cried Mr. Hazlewood. "Let us
have your opinion."

Robert Pettifer came reluctantly down from his corner.

"Well, if you insist, I think they were very friendly."

"Ah!" cried Hazlewood in triumph. "Being friends is one thing, Margaret.
Marrying is another."

Mrs. Pettifer shook her head over her brother with a most
aggravating pity.

"Dick said a shrewd thing the other day to me, Harold."

Mr. Hazlewood looked doubtfully at his sister.

"I am sure of it," he answered, but he was careful not to ask for any
repetition of the shrewd remark. Margaret, however, was not in the mind
to let him off.

"He said that sentimental philosophers sooner or later break their heads
against their own theories. Mark those words, Harold! I hope they won't
come true of you. I hope so very much indeed."

But it was abundantly clear that she had not a shadow of doubt that they
would come true. Mr. Hazlewood was stung by the slighting phrase.

"I am not a sentimental philosopher," he said hotly. "Sentiment I
altogether abhor. I hold strong views, I admit."

"You do indeed," his sister interrupted with an ironical laugh. "Oh, I
have read your pamphlet, Harold. The prison walls must cast no shadow and
convicts, once they are released, have as much right to sit down at our
dinner-tables as they had before. Well, you carry your principles into
practice, that I will say. We had an illustration to-night."

"You are unjust, Margaret," and Mr. Hazlewood rose from his chair with
some dignity. "You speak of Mrs. Ballantyne, not for the first time, as
if she had been tried and condemned. In fact she was tried and
acquitted," and in his turn he appealed to Pettifer.

"Ask Robert!" he said.

But Pettifer was slow to answer, and when he did it was without
assurance.

"Ye-es," he replied with something of a drawl. "Undoubtedly Mrs.
Ballantyne was tried and acquitted"; and he left the impression on the
two who heard him that with acquittal quite the last word had not been
said. Mrs. Pettifer looked at him eagerly. She drew clear at once of
the dispute. She left the questions now to Harold Hazlewood, and
Pettifer had spoken with so much hesitation that Harold Hazlewood could
not but ask them.

"You are making reservations, Robert?"

Pettifer shrugged his shoulders.

"I think we have a right to know them," Hazlewood insisted. "You are a
solicitor with a great business and consequently a wide experience."

"Not of criminal cases, Hazlewood. I bring no more authority to judge
them than any other man."

"Still you have formed an opinion. Please let me have it," and Mr.
Hazlewood sat down again and crossed his knees. But a little impatience
was now audible in his voice.

"An opinion is too strong a word," replied Pettifer guardedly. "The
trial took place nearly eighteen months ago. I read the accounts of it
certainly day by day as I travelled in the train to London. But they were
summaries."

"Full summaries, Robert," said Hazlewood.

"No doubt. The trial made a great deal of noise in the world. But they
were not full enough for me. Even if my memory of those newspaper reports
were clear I should still hesitate to sit in judgment. But my memory
isn't clear. Let us see what I do remember."

Pettifer took a chair and sat for a few moments with his forehead
wrinkled in a frown. Was he really trying to remember? His wife asked
herself that question as she watched him. Or had he something to tell
them which he meant to let fall in his own cautiously careless way? Mrs.
Pettifer listened alertly.

"The--well--let us call it the catastrophe--took place in a tent in some
state of Rajputana."

"Yes," said Mr. Hazlewood.

"It took place at night. Mrs. Ballantyne was asleep in her bed. The man
Ballantyne was found outside the tent in the doorway."

"Yes."

Pettifer paused. "So many law cases have engaged my attention since,"
he said in apology for his hesitation. He seemed quite at a loss. Then
he went on:

"Wait a moment! A man had been dining with them at night--oh yes, I
begin to remember."

Harold Hazlewood made a tiny movement and would have spoken, but Margaret
held out a hand towards him swiftly.

"Yes, a man called Thresk," said Pettifer, and again he was silent.

"Well," asked Hazlewood.

"Well--that's all I remember," replied Pettifer briskly. He rose and put
his chair back. "Except--" he added slowly.

"Yes?"

"Except that there was left upon my mind when the verdict was published a
vague feeling of doubt."

"There!" cried Mrs. Pettifer triumphantly. "You hear him, Harold."

But Hazelwood paid no attention to her. He was gazing at his
brother-in-law with a good deal of uneasiness.

"Why?" he asked. "Why were you in doubt, Robert?"

But Pettifer had said all that he had any mind to say.

"Oh, I can't remember why," he exclaimed. "I am very likely quite wrong.
Come, Margaret, it's time that we were getting home."

He crossed over to Hazlewood and held out his hand. Hazlewood, however,
did not rise.

"I don't think that's quite fair of you, Robert," he said. "You don't
disturb my confidence, of course--I have gone into the case
thoroughly--but I think you ought to give me a chance of satisfying you
that your doubts have no justification."

"No really," exclaimed Pettifer. "I absolutely refuse to mix myself up in
the affair at all." A step sounded upon the gravel path outside the
window. Pettifer raised a warning finger. "It's midnight, Margaret," he
said. "We must go"; and as he spoke Dick Hazlewood walked in through the
open window.

He smiled at the group of his relations with a grim amusement. They
certainly wore a guilty look. He was surprised to remark some
embarrassment even upon his father's face.

"You will see your aunt off, Richard," said Mr. Hazlewood.

"Of course."

The Pettifers and Dick went out into the hall, leaving the old man in his
chair, a little absent, perhaps a little troubled.

"Aunt Margaret, you have been upsetting my father," said Dick.

"Nonsense, Dick," she replied, and her face flushed. She stepped into the
carriage quickly to avoid questions, and as she stepped in Dick noticed
that she was carrying a little paper-covered book. Pettifer followed.
"Good-night, Dick," he said, and he shook hands with his nephew very
warmly. In spite of his cordiality, however, Dick's face grew hard as he
watched the carriage drive away. Stella was right. The Pettifers were the
enemy. Well, he had always known there would be a fight, and now the
sooner it came the better. He went back to the library and as he opened
the door he heard his father's voice. The old man was sitting sunk in his
chair and repeating to himself:

"I won't believe it. I won't believe it."

He stopped at once when Dick came in. Dick looked at him with concern.

"You are tired, father," he said.

"Yes, I think I am a little. I'll go to bed."

Hazlewood watched Dick walk over to the corner table where the candles
stood beside the tray, and his face cleared. For the first time in his
life the tidy well-groomed conventional look of his son was a real
pleasure to him. Richard was of those to whom the good-will of the world
meant much. He would never throw it lightly away. Hazlewood got up and
took one of the candles from his son. He patted him on the shoulder. He
became quite at ease as he looked into his face.

"Good-night, my boy," he said.

"Good-night, sir," replied Dick cheerfully. "There's nothing like acting
up to one's theories, is there?"

"Nothing," said the old man heartily. "Look at my life!"

"Yes," replied Dick. "And now look at mine. I am going to marry Stella
Ballantyne."

For a moment Mr. Hazlewood stood perfectly still. Then he murmured
lamely:

"Oh, are you? Are you, Richard?" and he shuffled quickly out of the room.




CHAPTER XVIII

MR. HAZLEWOOD SEEKS ADVICE


As Dick was getting out of bed at half-past seven a troubled little note
was brought to him written hurriedly and almost incoherent.

"Dick, I can't ride with you this morning. I am too tired ... and I don't
think we should meet again. You must forget last night. I shall be very
proud always to remember it, but I won't ruin you, Dick. You mustn't
think I shall suffer so very much ..." Dick read it all through with a
smile of tenderness upon his face. He wrote a line in reply. "I will come
and see you at eleven, Stella. Meanwhile sleep, my dear," and sent it
across to the cottage. Then he rolled back into bed again and took his
own advice. It was late when he came down into the dining-room and he
took his breakfast alone.

"Where's my father?" he asked of Hubbard the butler.

"Mr. Hazlewood breakfasted half an hour ago, sir. He's at work now."

"Capital," said Dick. "Give me some sausages. Hubbard, what would you say
if I told you that I was going to be married?"

Hubbard placed a plate in front of him.

"I should keep my head, sir," he answered in his gentle voice. "Will you
take tea?"

"Thank you."

Dick looked out of the window. It was a morning of clear skies and
sunlight, a very proper morning for this the first of all the remarkable
days which one after the other were going especially to belong to him. He
was of the gods now. The world was his property, or rather he held it in
trust for Stella. It was behaving well; Dick Hazlewood was contented. He
ate a large breakfast and strolling into the library lit his pipe. There
was his father bending over his papers at his writing-table before the
window, busy as a bee no doubt at some new enthusiasm which was destined
to infuriate his neighbours. Let him go on! Dick smiled benignly at the
old man's back. Then he frowned. It was curious that his father had not
wished him a good-morning, curious and unusual.

"I hope, sir, that you slept well," he said.

"I did not, Richard," and still the back was turned to him. "I lay awake
considering with some care what you told me last night about--about
Stella Ballantyne."

Of late she had been simply Stella to Harold Hazlewood. The addition of
Ballantyne was significant. It replaced friendliness with formality.

"Yes, we agreed to champion her cause, didn't we?" said Dick cheerily.
"You took one good step forward last night, I took another."

"You took a long stride, Richard, and I think you might have consulted
me first."

Dick walked over to the table at which his father sat.

"Do you know, that's just what Stella said," he remarked, and he seemed
to find the suggestion rather unintelligible. Mr. Hazlewood snatched at
any support which was offered to him.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, and for the first time that morning he looked his son
in the face. "There now, Richard, you see!"

"Yes," Richard returned imperturbably. "But I was able to remove all
her fears. I was able to tell her that you would welcome our marriage
with all your heart, for you would look upon it as a triumph for your
principles and a sure sign that my better nature was at last
thoroughly awake."

Dick walked away from the table. The old man's face lengthened. If he was
a philosopher at all, he was a philosopher in a piteous position, for he
was having his theories tested upon himself, he was to be the experiment
by which they should be proved or disproved.

"No doubt," he said in a lamentable voice. "Quite so, Richard. Yes," and
he caught at vague hopes of delay. "There's no hurry of course. For one
thing I don't want to lose you... And then you have your career to think
of, haven't you?" Mr. Hazlewood found himself here upon ground more solid
and leaned his weight on it. "Yes, there's your career."

Dick returned to his father, amazement upon his face. He spoke as one who
cannot believe the evidence of his ears.

"But it's in the army, father! Do you realise what you are saying? You
want me to think of my career in the British Army?"

Consistency however had no charms for Mr. Hazlewood at this moment.

"Exactly," he cried. "We don't want to prejudice that--do we? No, no,
Richard! Oh, I hear the finest things about you. And they push the young
men along nowadays. You don't have to wait for grey hairs before you're
made a General, Richard, so we must keep an eye on our prospects, eh? And
for that reason it would be advisable perhaps"--and the old man's eyes
fell from Dick's face to his papers--"yes, it would certainly be
advisable to let your engagement remain for a while just a private matter
between the three of us."

He took up his pen as though the matter was decided and discussion at an
end. But Dick did not move from his side. He was the stronger of the two
and in a little while the old man's eyes wandered up to his face again.
There was a look there which Margaret Pettifer had seen a week ago. Dick
spoke and the voice he used was strange and formidable to his father.

"There must be no secrecy, father. I remember what you said: for
uncharitable slander an English village is impossible to beat. Our secret
would be known within a week and by attempting to keep it we invite
suspicion. Nothing could be more damaging to Stella than secrecy.
Consequently nothing could be more damaging to me. I don't deny that
things are going to be a little difficult. But of this I am sure"--and
his voice, though it still was quiet, rang deep with confidence--"our one
chance is to hold our heads high. No secrecy, father! My hope is to make
a life which has been very troubled know some comfort and a little
happiness."

Mr. Hazlewood had no more to say. He must renounce his gods or hold his
tongue. And renounce his gods--no, that he could not do. He heard in
imagination the whole neighbourhood laughing--he saw it a sea of laughter
overwhelming him. He shivered as he thought of it. He, Harold Hazlewood,
the man emancipated from the fictions of society, caught like a silly
struggling fish in the net of his own theories! No, that must never be.
He flung himself at his work. He was revising the catalogue of his
miniatures and in a minute he began to fumble and search about his
over-loaded desk.

"Everybody is trying to thwart me this morning," he cried angrily.

"What's the matter, father?" asked Dick, laying down the _Times_.
"Can I help?"

"I wrote a question to _Notes and Queries_ about the Marie Antoinette
miniature which I bought at Lord Mirliton's sale and there was an answer
in the last number, a very complete answer. But I can't find it. I can't
find it anywhere"; and he tossed his papers about as though he were
punishing them.

Dick helped in the search, but beyond a stray copy or two of _The Prison
Walls must Cast no Shadow_, there was no publication to be found at all.

"Wait a bit, father," said Dick suddenly. "What is _Notes and Queries_
like? The only notes and queries I read are contained in a pink paper.
They are very amusing but they do not deal with miniatures."

Mr. Hazlewood described the appearance of the little magazine.

"Well, that's very extraordinary," said Dick, "for Aunt Margaret took it
away last night."

Mr. Hazlewood looked at his son in blank astonishment.

"Are you sure, Richard?"

"I saw it in her hand as she stepped into her carriage."

Mr. Hazlewood banged his fist upon the table.

"It's extremely annoying of Margaret," he exclaimed. "She takes no
interest in such matters. She is not, if I may use the word, a virtuoso.
She did it solely to annoy me."

"Well, I wonder," said Dick. He looked at his watch. It was eleven
o'clock. He went out into the hall, picked up a straw hat and walked
across the meadow to the thatched cottage on the river-bank. But while he
went he was still wondering why in the world Margaret had taken away that
harmless little magazine from his father's writing-table. "Pettifer's at
the bottom of it," he concluded. "There's a foxy fellow for you. I'll
keep my eye on Uncle Robert." He was near to the cottage. Only a rail
separated its garden from the meadow. Beyond the garden a window stood
open and within the room he saw the flutter of a lilac dress.

From the window of the library Mr. Hazlewood watched his son open the
garden gate. Then he unlocked a drawer of his writing-table and took out
a large sealed envelope. He broke the seal and drew from the envelope a
sheaf of press cuttings. They were the verbatim reports of Stella
Ballantyne's trial, which had been printed day by day in the _Times of
India_. He had sent for them months ago when he had blithely taken upon
himself the defence of Stella Ballantyne. He had read them with a growing
ardour. So harshly had she lived; so shadowless was her innocence. He
turned to them now in a different spirit. Pettifer had been left by the
English summaries of the trial with a vague feeling of doubt. Mr.
Hazlewood respected Robert Pettifer. The lawyer was cautious, deliberate,
unemotional--qualities with which Hazlewood had instinctively little
sympathy. But on the other hand he was not bound hand and foot in
prejudice. He could be liberal in his judgments. He had a mind clear
enough to divide what reason had to say and the presumptions of
convention. Suppose that Pettifer was after all right! The old man's
heart sank within him. Then indeed this marriage must be prevented--and
the truth must be made known--yes, widely known. He himself had been
deceived--like many another man before him. It was not ridiculous to have
been deceived. He remained at all events consistent to his principles.
There was his pamphlet to be sure, _The Prison Walls must Cast no
Shadow_ that gave him an uncomfortable twinge. But he reassured himself.

"There I argue that, once the offence has been expiated, all the
privileges should be restored. But if Pettifer is right there has been no
expiation."

That saving clause let him out. He did not thus phrase the position even
to himself. He clothed it in other and high-sounding words. It was after
all a sort of convention to accept acquittal as the proof of innocence.
But at the back of his mind from first to last there was an immense fear
of the figure which he himself would cut if he refused his consent to
the marriage on any ground except that of Stella Ballantyne's guilt. For
Stella herself, the woman, he had no kindness to spare that morning.
Yesterday he had overflowed with it. For yesterday she had been one more
proof to the world how high he soared above it.

"Since Pettifer's in doubt," he said to himself, "there must be some
flaw in this trial which I overlooked in the heat of my sympathy"; and
to discover that flaw he read again every printed detail of it from the
morning when Stella first appeared before the stipendiary magistrate to
that other morning a month later when the verdict was given. And he
found no flaw. Stella's acquittal was inevitable on the evidence. There
was much to show what provocation she had suffered, but there was no
proof that she had yielded to it. On the contrary she had endured so
long, the presumption must be that she would go on enduring to the end.
And there was other evidence--positive evidence given by Thresk which
could not be gainsaid.

Mr. Hazlewood replaced his cuttings in the drawer; and he was utterly
discontented. He had hoped for another result. There was only one point
which puzzled him and that had nothing really to do with the trial, but
it puzzled him so much that it slipped out at luncheon.

"Richard," he said, "I cannot understand why the name of Thresk is so
familiar to me."

Dick glanced quickly at his father.

"You have been reading over again the accounts of the trial."

Mr. Hazlewood looked confused.

"And a very natural proceeding, Richard," he declared. "But while reading
over the trial I found the name Thresk familiar to me in another
connection, but I cannot remember what the connection is."

Dick could not help him, nor was he at that time concerned by the failure
of his father's memory. He was engaged in realising that here was another
enemy for Stella. Knowing his father, he was not greatly surprised, but
he thought it prudent to attack without delay.

"Stella will be coming over to tea this afternoon," he said.

"Will she, Richard?" the father replied, twisting uncomfortably in his
chair. "Very well--of course."

"Hubbard knows of my engagement, by the way," Dick continued implacably.

"Hubbard! God bless my soul!" cried the old man. "It'll be all over the
village already."

"I shouldn't wonder," replied Dick cheerfully. "I told him before I saw
you this morning, whilst I was having breakfast."

Mr. Hazlewood remained silent for a while. Then he burst out petulantly:

"Richard, there's something I must speak to you seriously about: the
lateness of your hours in the morning. I have noticed it with great
regret. It is not considerate to the servants and it cannot be healthy
for you. Such indolence too must be enervating to your mind."

Dick forbore to remind his father that he was usually out of the house
before seven.

"Father," he said, at once a very model of humility, "I will endeavour
to reform."

Mr. Hazlewood concealed his embarrassment at teatime under a show of
over-work. He had a great deal to do--just a moment for a cup of tea--no
more. There was to be a meeting of the County Council the next morning
when a most important question of small holdings was to come up for
discussion. Mr. Hazlewood held the strongest views. He was engaged in
shaping them in the smallest possible number of words. To be brief, to be
vivid--there was the whole art of public speaking. Mr. Hazlewood
chattered feverishly for five minutes; he had come in chattering, he went
out chattering.

"That's all right, Stella, you see," said Dick cheerfully when they
were left alone. Stella nodded her head. Mr. Hazlewood had not said one
word in recognition of her engagement but she had made her little fight
that morning. She had yielded and she could not renew it. She had spent
three miserable hours framing reasonable arguments why last night
should be forgotten. But the sight of her lover coming across the
meadow had set her heart so leaping that she could only stammer out a
few tags and phrases.

"Oh, I wish you hadn't come!" she had repeated and repeated and all the
while her blood was leaping in her body for joy that he had. She had
promised in the end to stand firm, to stand by his side and brave--what,
after all, but the clamour of a week? So he put it and so she was eager
to believe.

Mr. Hazelwood, busy though he made himself out to be, found time that
evening to drive in his motor-car into Great Beeding, and when the London
train pulled up at the station he was on the platform. He looked
anxiously at the passengers who descended until he saw Robert Pettifer.
He went up to him at once.

"What in the world are you doing here?" asked the lawyer.

"I came on purpose to catch you, Robert. I want to speak to you in
private. My car is here. If you will get into it with me we can drive
slowly towards your house."

Pettifer's face changed, but he could not refuse. Hazlewood was agitated
and nervous; of his ordinary complacency there was no longer a trace.
Pettifer got into the car and as it moved away from the station he asked:

"Now what's the matter?"

"I have been thinking over what you said last night, Robert. You had a
vague feeling of doubt. Well, I have the verbatim reports of the trial in
Bombay here in this envelope and I want you to read them carefully
through and give me your opinion." He held out the envelope as he spoke,
but Pettifer thrust his hands into his pockets.

"I won't touch it," he declared. "I refuse to mix myself up in the affair
at all. I said more than I meant to last night."

"But you did say it, Robert."

"Then I withdraw it now."

"But you can't, Robert. You must go further. Something has happened
to-day, something very serious."

"Oh?" said Pettifer.

"Yes," replied Mr. Hazlewood. "Margaret really has more insight than I
credited her with. They propose to get married."

Pettifer sat upright in the car.

"You mean Dick and Stella Ballantyne?"

"Yes."

And for a little while there was silence in the car. Then Mr. Hazlewood
continued to bleat.

"I never suspected anything of the kind. It places me, Robert, in a very
difficult position."

"I can quite see that," answered Pettifer with a grim smile. "It's really
the only consoling element in the whole business. You can't refuse your
consent without looking a fool and you can't give it while you are in any
doubt as to Mrs. Ballantyne's innocence."

Mr. Hazlewood was not, however, quite prepared to accept that definition
of his position.

"You don't exhaust the possibilities, Robert," he said. "I can quite
well refuse my consent and publicly refuse it if there are reasonable
grounds for believing that there was in that trial a grave miscarriage
of justice."

Mr. Pettifer looked sharply at his companion. The voice no less than the
words fixed his attention. This was not the Mr. Hazlewood of yesterday.
The champion had dwindled into a figure of meanness. Harold Hazlewood
would be glad to discover those reasonable grounds; and he would be very
much obliged if Robert Pettifer would take upon himself the
responsibility of discovering them.

"Yes, I see," said Pettifer slowly. He was half inclined to leave Harold
Hazlewood to find his way out of his trouble by himself. It was all his
making after all. But other and wider considerations began to press upon
Pettifer. He forced himself to omit altogether the subject of Hazlewood's
vanities and entanglements.

"Very well. Give the cuttings to me! I will read them through and I will
let you know my opinion. Their intention to marry may alter
everything--my point of view as much as yours."

Mr. Pettifer took the envelope in his hand and got out of the car as
soon as Hazlewood had stopped it.

"You have raised no objections to the engagement?" he asked.

"A word to Richard this morning. Of not much effect I am afraid."

Mr. Pettifer nodded.

"Right. I should say nothing to anybody. You can't take a decided line
against it at present and to snarl would be the worst policy imaginable.
To-day's Thursday. We'll meet on Saturday. Good-night," and Robert
Pettifer walked away to his own house.

He walked slowly, wondering at the eternal mystery by which this
particular man and that individual woman select each other out of the
throng. He owed the greater part of his fortune to the mystery like many
another lawyer. But to-night he would willingly have yielded a good
portion of it up if that process of selection could be ordered in a more
reasonable way. Love? The attraction of Sex? Yes, no doubt. But why these
two specimens of Sex? Why Dick and Stella Ballantyne?

When he reached his house his wife hurried forward to meet him. Already
she had the news. There was an excitement in her face not to be
misunderstood. The futile time-honoured phrase of triumph so ready on the
lips of those who have prophesied evil was trembling upon hers.

"Don't say it, Margaret," said Pettifer very seriously. "We have come to
a pass where light words will lead us astray. Hazlewood has been with me.
I have the reports of the trial here."

Margaret Pettifer put a check upon her tongue and they dined together
almost in complete silence. Pettifer was methodically getting his own
point of view quite clearly established in his mind, so that whatever he
did or advised he might be certain not to swerve from it afterwards. He
weighed his inclinations and his hopes, and when the servants had left
the dining-room and he had lit his cigar he put his case before his wife.

"Listen, Margaret! You know your brother. He is always in extremes. He
swings from one to the other. He is terrified now lest this marriage
should take place."

"No wonder," interposed Mrs. Pettifer.

Pettifer made no comment upon the remark.

"Therefore," he continued, "he is anxious that I should discover in these
reports some solid reason for believing that the verdict which acquitted
Stella Ballantyne was a grave miscarriage of justice. For any such reason
must have weight."

"Of course," said Mrs. Pettifer.

"And will justify him--this is his chief consideration--in withholding
publicly his consent."

"I see."

Only a week ago Dick himself had observed that sentimental
philosophers had a knack of breaking their heads against their own
theories. The words had been justified sooner than she had expected.
Mrs. Pettifer was not surprised at Harold Hazlewood's swift change any
more than her husband had been. Harold, to her thinking, was a
sentimentalist and sentimentality was like a fir-tree--a thing of no
deep roots and easily torn up.

"But I do not take that view, Margaret," continued her husband, and she
looked at him with consternation. Was he now to turn champion, he who
only yesterday had doubted? "And I want you to consider whether you can
agree with me. There is to begin with the woman herself, Stella
Ballantyne. I saw her for the first time yesterday, and to be quite
honest I liked her, Margaret. Yes. It seemed to me that there was nothing
whatever of the adventuress about her. And I was impressed--I will go
further, I was moved--dry-as-dust old lawyer as I am, by something--How
shall I express it without being ridiculous?" He paused and searched in
his vocabulary and gave up the search. "No, the epithet which occurred to
me yesterday at the dinner-table and immediately, still seems to me the
only true one--I was moved by something in this woman of tragic
experiences which was strangely virginal."

One quick movement was made by Margaret Pettifer. The truth of her
husband's description was a revelation, so exact it was. Therein lay
Stella Ballantyne's charm, and her power to create champions and friends.
Her history was known to you, the miseries of her marriage, the suspicion
of crime. You expected a woman of adventures and lo! there stood before
you one with "something virginal" in her appearance and her manner, which
made its soft and irresistible appeal.

"I recognise that feeling of mine," Pettifer resumed, "and I try to put
it aside. And putting it aside I ask myself and you, Margaret, this:
Here's a woman who has been through a pretty bad time, who has been
unhappy, who has stood in the dock, who has been acquitted. Is it quite
fair that when at last she has floated into a haven of peace two private
people like Hazlewood and myself should take it upon ourselves to review
the verdict and perhaps reverse it?"

"But there's Dick, Robert," cried Mrs. Pettifer. "There's Dick. Surely
he's our first thought."

"Yes, there's Dick," Mr. Pettifer repeated. "And Dick's my second point.
You are all worrying about Dick from the social point of view--the
external point of view. Well, we have got to take that into our
consideration. But we are bound to look at him, the man, as well. Don't
forget that, Margaret! Well, I find the two points of view identical. But
our neighbours won't. Will you?"

Mrs. Pettifer was baffled.

"I don't understand," she said.

"I'll explain. From the social standpoint what's really important as
regards Dick? That he should go out to dinner? No. That he should have
children? Yes!"

And here Mrs. Pettifer interposed again.

"But they must be the right children," she exclaimed. "Better that he
should have none than that he should have children--"

"With an hereditary taint," Pettifer agreed. "Admitted, Margaret. If we
come to the conclusion that Stella Ballantyne did what she was accused of
doing we, in spite of all the verdicts in the world, are bound to resist
this marriage. I grant it. Because of that conviction I dismiss the plea
that we are unfair to the woman in reviewing the trial. There are wider,
greater considerations."

These were the first words of comfort which Mrs. Pettifer had heard since
her husband began to expound. She received them with enthusiasm.

"I am so glad to hear that."

"Yes, Margaret," Pettifer retorted drily. "But please ask yourself
this question: (it is where, to my thinking, the social and the
personal elements join) if this marriage is broken off, is Dick likely
to marry at all?"

"Why not?" asked Margaret.

"He is thirty-four. He has had, no doubt, many opportunities of
marriage. He must have had. He is good-looking, well off and a good
fellow. This is the first time he has wanted to marry. If he is
disappointed here will he try again?"

Mrs. Pettifer laughed, moved by the remarkable depreciation of her own
sex which women of her type so often have. It was for man to throw the
handkerchief. Not a doubt but there would be a rush to pick it up!

"Widowers who have been devoted to their wives marry again," she argued.

"A point for me, Margaret!" returned Pettifer. "Widowers--yes. They miss
so much--the habit of a house with a woman its mistress, the
companionship, the order, oh, a thousand small but important things. But
a man who has remained a bachelor until he's thirty-four--that's a
different case. If he sets his heart at that age, seriously, for the
first time on a woman and does not get her, that's the kind of man who,
my experience suggests to me--I put it plainly, Margaret--will take one
or more mistresses to himself but no wife."

Mrs. Pettifer deferred to the worldly knowledge of her husband but she
clung to her one clear argument.

"Nothing could be worse," she said frankly, "than that he should marry a
guilty woman."

"Granted, Margaret," replied Mr. Pettifer imperturbably. "Only suppose
that she's not guilty. There are you and I, rich people, and no one to
leave our money to--no one to carry on your name--no one we care a rap
about to benefit by my work and your brother's fortune--no one of the
family to hand over Little Beeding to."

Both of them were silent after he had spoken. He had touched upon their
one great sorrow. Margaret herself had her roots deep in the soil of
Little Beeding. It was hateful to her that the treasured house should
ever pass to strangers, as it would do if this the last branch of the
family failed.

"But Stella Ballantyne was married for seven years," she said at last,
"and there were no children."

"No, that's true," replied Pettifer. "But it does not follow that with a
second marriage there will be none. It's a chance, I know, but--" and
he got up from his chair. "I do honestly believe that it's the only
chance you and I will have, Margaret, of dying with the knowledge that
our lives have not been altogether vain. We've lighted our little torch.
Yes, and it burns merrily enough, but what's the use unless at the
appointed mile-stone there's another of us to take it and carry it on?"

He stood looking down at his wife with a wistful and serious look
upon his face.

"Dick's past the age of calf-love. We can't expect him to tumble from one
passion to another; and he's not easily moved. Therefore I hope very
sincerely that these reports which I am now going to read will enable me
to go boldly to Harold Hazlewood and say: 'Stella Ballantyne is as
guiltless of this crime as you or I.'"

Mr. Pettifer took up the big envelope which he had placed on the table
beside him and carried it away to his study.




CHAPTER XIX

PETTIFER'S PLAN


On the Saturday morning Mr. Hazlewood drove over early to Great Beeding.
His impatience had so grown during the last few days that his very sleep
was broken at night and in the daytime he could not keep still. The news
of Dick's engagement to Stella Ballantyne was now known throughout the
countryside and the blame for it was laid upon Harold Hazlewood's
shoulders. For blame was the general note, blame and chagrin. A few bold
and kindly spirits went at once to see Stella; a good many more seriously
and at great length debated over their tea-tables whether they should
call after the marriage. But on the whole the verdict was an indignant
No. Disgrace was being brought upon the neighbourhood. Little Beeding
would be impossible. Dick Hazlewood only laughed at the constraint of his
acquaintances, and when three of them crossed the road hurriedly in Great
Beeding to avoid Stella and himself he said good-humouredly:

"They are like an ill-trained company of bad soldiers. Let one of them
break from the ranks and they'll all stream away so as not to be left
behind. You'll see, Stella. One of them will come and the rest will
tumble over one another to get into your drawing-room."

How much he believed of what he said Stella did not inquire. She had a
gift of silence. She just walked a little nearer to him and smiled, lest
any should think she had noticed the slight. The one man, in a word, who
showed signs of wear and tear was Mr. Hazlewood himself. So keen was his
distress that he had no fear of his sister's sarcasms.

"I--think of it!" he exclaimed in a piteous bewilderment, "actually I
have become sensitive to public opinion," and Mrs. Pettifer forbore from
the comments which she very much longed to make. She was in the study
when Harold Hazlewood was shown in, and Pettifer had bidden her to stay.

"Margaret knows that I have been reading these reports," he said. "Sit
down, Hazlewood, and I'll tell you what I think."

Mr. Hazlewood took a seat facing the garden with its old red brick wall,
on which a purple clematis was growing.

"You have formed an opinion then, Robert?"

"One."

"What is it?" he asked eagerly.

Robert Pettifer clapped the palm of his hand down upon the cuttings from
the newspapers which lay before him on his desk.

"This--no other verdict could possibly have been given by the jury. On
the evidence produced at the trial in Bombay Mrs. Ballantyne was properly
and inevitably acquitted."

"Robert!" exclaimed his wife. She too had been hoping for the contrary
opinion. As for Hazlewood himself the sunlight seemed to die off that
garden. He drew his hand across his forehead. He half rose to go when
again Robert Pettifer spoke.

"And yet," he said slowly, "I am not satisfied."

Harold Hazlewood sat down again. Mrs. Pettifer drew a breath of relief.

"The chief witness for the defence, the witness whose evidence made the
acquittal certain, was a man I know--a barrister called Thresk."

"Yes," interrupted Hazlewood. "I have been puzzled about that man ever
since you mentioned him before. His name I am somehow familiar with."

"I'll explain that to you in a minute," said Pettifer, and his wife
leaned forward suddenly in her chair. She did not interrupt but she sat
with a look of keen expectancy upon her face. She did not know whither
Pettifer was leading them but she was now sure that it was to some
carefully pondered goal.

"I have more than once briefed Thresk myself. He's a man of the highest
reputation at the Bar, straightforward, honest; he enjoys a great
practice, he is in Parliament with a great future in Parliament. In a
word he is a man with everything to lose if he lied as a witness in a
trial. And yet--I am not satisfied."

Mr. Pettifer's voice sank to a low murmur. He sat at his desk staring out
in front of him through the window.

"Why?" asked Hazlewood. But Pettifer did not answer him. He seemed not to
hear the question. He went on in the low quiet voice he had used before,
rather like one talking to himself than to a companion.

"I should very much like to put a question or two to Mr. Thresk."

"Then why don't you?" exclaimed Mrs. Pettifer. "You know him."

"Yes." Mr. Hazlewood eagerly seconded his sister. "Since you know him you
are the very man."

Pettifer shook his head.

"It would be an impertinence. For although I look upon Dick as a son I am
not his father. You are, Hazlewood, you are. He wouldn't answer me."

"Would he answer me?" asked Hazlewood. "I don't know him at all. I can't
go to him and ask if he told the truth."

"No, no, you can't do that," Pettifer answered, "nor do I mean you to. I
want to put my questions myself in my own way and I thought that you
might get him down to Little Beeding."

"But I have no excuse," cried Hazlewood, and Mrs. Pettifer at last
understood the plan which was in her husband's mind, which had
been growing to completion since the night when he had dined at
Little Beeding.

"Yes, you have an excuse," she cried, and Pettifer explained what it was.

"You collect miniatures. Some time ago you bought one of Marie Antoinette
at Lord Mirliton's sale. You asked a question as to its authenticity in
_Notes and Queries_. It was answered--"

Mr. Hazlewood broke in excitedly:

"By a man called Thresk. That is why the name was familiar to me. But I
could not remember." He turned upon his sister. "It is your fault,
Margaret. You took my copy of _Notes and Queries_ away with you. Dick
noticed it and told me."

"Dick!" Pettifer exclaimed in alarm. But the alarm passed. "He cannot
have guessed why."

Mrs. Pettifer was clear upon the point.

"No. I took the magazine because of a remark which Robert made to you.
Dick did not hear it. No, he cannot have guessed why."

"For it's important he should have no suspicion whatever of what I
propose that you should do, Hazlewood," Pettifer said gravely. "I propose
that we should take a lesson from the legal processes of another country.
It may work, it may not, but to my mind it is our only chance."

"Let me hear!" said Hazlewood.

"Thresk is an authority on old silver and miniatures. He has a valuable
collection himself. His advice is sought by people in the trade. You know
what collectors are. Get him down to see your collection. It wouldn't be
the first time that you have invited a stranger to pass a night in your
house for that purpose, would it?"

"No."

"And the invitation has often been accepted?"

"Well--sometimes."

"We must hope that it will be this time. Get Thresk down to Little
Beeding upon that excuse. Then confront him unexpectedly with Mrs.
Ballantyne. And let me be there."

Such was the plan which Pettifer suggested. A period of silence followed
upon his words. Even Mr. Hazlewood, in the extremity of his distress,
recoiled from it.

"It would look like a trap."

Mr. Pettifer thumped his table impatiently.

"Let's be frank, for Heaven's sake. It wouldn't merely look like a trap,
it would be one. It wouldn't be at all a pretty thing to do, but there's
this marriage!"

"No, I couldn't do it," said Hazlewood.

"Very well. There's no more to be said."

Pettifer himself had no liking for the plan. It had been his intention
originally to let Hazlewood know that if he wished to get into
communication with Thresk there was a means by which he could do it. But
the fact of Dick's engagement had carried him still further, and now
that he had read the evidence of the trial carefully there was a real
anxiety in his mind. Pettifer sealed up the cuttings in a fresh envelope
and gave them to Hazlewood and went out with him to the door.

"Of course," said the old man, "if your legal experience, Robert, leads
you to think that we should be justified--"

"But it doesn't," Pettifer was quick to interpose. He recognised his
brother-in-law's intention to throw the discredit of the trick upon his
shoulders but he would have none of it. "No, Hazlewood," he said
cheerfully: "it's not a plan which a high-class lawyer would be likely to
commend to a client."

"Then I am afraid that I couldn't do it."

"All right," said Pettifer with his hand upon the latch of the front
door. "Thresk's chambers are in King's Bench Walk." He added the number.

"I simply couldn't think of it," Hazlewood repeated as he crossed the
pavement to his car.

"Perhaps not," said Pettifer. "You have the envelope? Yes. Choose an
evening towards the end of the week, a Friday will be your best chance of
getting him."

"I will do nothing of the kind, Pettifer."

"And let me know when he is coming. Goodbye."

The car carried Mr. Hazlewood away still protesting that he really
couldn't think of it for an instant. But he thought a good deal of it
during the next week and his temper did not improve. "Pettifer has rubbed
off the finer edges of his nature," he said to himself. "It is a pity--a
great pity. But thirty years of life in a lawyer's office must no doubt
have that effect. I regret very much that Pettifer should have imagined
that I would condescend to such a scheme."




CHAPTER XX

ON THE DOWNS


They went up by the steep chalk road which skirts the park wall to the
top of the conical hill above the race-course. An escarpment of grass
banks guards a hollow like a shallow crater on the very summit. They rode
round it upon the rim, now facing the black slope of Charlton Forest
across the valley to the north, now looking out over the plain and
Chichester. Thirty miles away above the sea the chalk cliffs of the Isle
of Wight gleamed under their thatch of dark turf. It was not yet nine in
the morning. Later the day would climb dustily to noon; now it had the
wonder and the stillness of great beginnings. A faint haze like a veil at
the edges of the sky and a freshness of the air made the world magical to
these two who rode high above weald and sea. Stella looked downwards to
the silver flash of the broad water west of Chichester spire.

"That way they came, perhaps on a day like this," she said slowly, "those
old centurions."

"Your thoughts go back," said Dick Hazlewood with a laugh.

"Not so far as you think," cried Stella, and suddenly her cheeks
took fire and a smile dimpled them. "Oh, I dare to think of many
things to-day."

She rode down the steep grass slope towards the race-course with Dick at
her side. It was the first morning they had ridden together since the
night of the dinner-party at Little Beeding. Mr. Hazlewood was at this
moment ordering his car so that he might drive in to the town and learn
what Pettifer had discovered in the cuttings from the newspapers. But
they were quite unaware of the plot which was being hatched against them.
They went forward under the high beech-trees watching for the great roots
which stretched across their path, and talking little. An open way
between wooden posts led them now on to turf and gave them the freedom of
the downs. They saw no one. With the larks and the field-fares they had
the world to themselves; and in the shade beneath the hedges the dew
still sparkled on the grass. They left the long arm of Halnaker Down upon
their right, its old mill standing up on the edge like some lighthouse on
a bluff of the sea, and crossing the high road from Up-Waltham rode along
a narrow glade amongst beeches and nut-trees and small oaks and bushes of
wild roses. Open spaces came again; below them were the woods and the
green country of Slindon and the deep grass of Dale Park. And so they
drew near to Gumber Corner where Stane Street climbs over Bignor Hill.
Here Dick Hazlewood halted.

"I suppose we turn."

"Not to-day," said Stella, and Dick turned to her with surprise. Always
before they had stopped at this point and always by Stella's wish. Either
she was tired or was needed at home or had letters to write--always
there had been some excuse and no reason. Dick Hazlewood had come to
believe that she would not pass this point, that the down land beyond was
a sort of Tom Tiddler's ground on which she would not trespass. He had
wondered why, but his instinct had warned him from questions. He had
always turned at this spot immediately, as if he believed the excuse
which she had ready.

Stella noticed the surprise upon his face; and the blushes rose again in
her cheeks.

"You knew that I would not go beyond," she said.

"Yes."

"But you did not know why?" There was a note of urgency in her voice.

"I guessed," he said. "I mean I played with guesses--oh not seriously,"
and he laughed. "There runs Stane Street from Chichester to London and
through London to the great North Wall. Up that road the Romans marched
and back by that road they returned to their galleys in the water there
by Chichester. I pictured you living in those days, a Boadicea of the
Weald who had set her heart, against her will, on some dashing captain
of old Rome camped here on the top of Bignor Hill. You crept from your
own people at night to meet him in the lane at the bottom. Then came
week after week when the street rang with the tramp of soldiers
returning from London and Lichfield and the North to embark in their
boats for Gaul and Rome."

"They took my captain with them?" cried Stella, laughing with him at
the conceit.

"Yes, so my fable ran. He pined for the circus and the theatre and the
painted ladies, so he went willingly."

"The brute," cried Stella. "And so I broke my heart over a decadent
philanderer in a suit of bright brass clothes and remember it thirteen
hundred years afterwards in another life! Thank you, Captain Hazlewood!"

"No, you don't actually remember it, Stella, but you have a feeling that
round about Stane Street you once suffered great humiliation and
unhappiness." And suddenly Stella rode swiftly past him, but in a moment
she waited for him and showed him a face of smiles.

"You see I have crossed Stane Street to-day, Dick," she said. "We'll ride
on to Arundel."

"Yes," answered Dick, "my story won't do," and he remembered a sentence
of hers spoken an hour and a half ago: "My thoughts do not go back as far
as you think."

At all events she was emancipated to-day, for they rode on until at the
end of a long gentle slope the great arch of the gate into Arundel Park
gleamed white in a line of tall dark trees.




CHAPTER XXI

THE LETTER IS WRITTEN


But Stella's confidence did not live long. Mr. Hazlewood was a child at
deceptions; and day by day his anxieties increased. His friends argued
with him--his folly and weakness were the themes--and he must needs repel
the argument though his thoughts echoed every word they used. Never was a
man brought to such a piteous depth of misery by the practice of his own
theories. He sat by the hour at his desk, burying his face amongst his
papers if Dick came into the room, with a great show of occupation. He
could hardly bear to contemplate the marriage of his son, yet day and
night he must think of it and search for expedients which might put an
end to the trouble and let him walk free again with his head raised high.
But there were only the two expedients. He must speak out his fears that
justice had miscarried, and that device his vanity forbade; or he must
adopt Pettifer's suggestion, and from that he shrank almost as much. He
began to resent the presence of Stella Ballantyne and he showed it.
Sometimes a friendliness, so excessive that it was almost hysterical,
betrayed him; more usually a discomfort and constraint. He avoided her
if by any means he could; if he could not quite avoid her an excuse of
business was always on his lips.

"Your father hates me, Dick," she said. "He was my friend until I touched
his own life. Then I was in the black books in a second."

Dick would not hear of it.

"You were never in the black books at all, Stella," he said, comforting
her as well as he could. "We knew that there would be a little struggle,
didn't we? But the worst of that's over. You make friends daily."

"Not with your father, Dick. I go back with him. Ever since that
night--it's three weeks ago now--when you took me home from Little
Beeding."

"No," cried Dick, but Stella nodded her head gloomily.

"Mr. Pettifer dined here that night. He's an enemy of mine."

"Stella," young Hazlewood remonstrated, "you see enemies everywhere," and
upon that Stella broke out with a quivering troubled face.

"Is it wonderful? Oh, Dick, I couldn't lose you! A month ago--before that
night--yes. Nothing had been said. But now! I couldn't, I couldn't! I
have often thought it would be better for me to go right away and never
see you again. And--and I have tried to tell you something, Dick, ever so
many times."

"Yes?" said Dick. He slipped his arm through hers and held her close to
him, as though to give her courage and security. "Yes, Stella?" and he
stood very still.

"I mean," she said, looking down upon the ground, "that I have tried to
tell you that I wouldn't suffer so very much if we did part, but I never
could do it. My lips shook so, I never could speak the words." Then her
voice ran up into a laugh. "To think of your living in a house with
somebody else! Oh no!"

"You need have no fear of that, Stella."

They were in the garden of Little Beeding and they walked across the
meadow towards her cottage, talking very earnestly. Mr. Hazlewood was
watching them secretly from the window of the library. He saw that Dick
was pleading and she hanging in doubt; and a great wave of anger surged
over him that Dick should have to plead to her at all, he who was giving
everything--even his own future.

"King's Bench Walk," he muttered to himself, taking from the drawer of
his writing-table a slip of paper on which he had written the address
lest he should forget it. "Yes, that's the address," and he looked at it
for a long time very doubtfully. Suppose that his suspicions were
correct! His heart sank at the supposition. Surely he would be justified
in setting any trap. But he shut the drawer violently and turned away
from his writing-table. Even his pamphlets had become trivial in his
eyes. He was brought face to face with real passions and real facts, he
had been fetched out from his cloister and was blinking miserably in a
full measure of daylight. How long could he endure it, he wondered?

The question was settled for him that very evening. He and his son were
taking their coffee on a paved terrace by the lawn after dinner. It was a
dark quiet night, with a clear sky of golden stars. Across the meadow the
lights shone in the windows of Stella's cottage.

"Father," said Dick, after they had sat in a constrained silence for a
little while, "why don't you like Stella any longer?"

The old man blustered in reply:

"A lawyer's question, Richard. I object to it very strongly. You assume
that I have ceased to like her."

"It's extremely evident," said Dick drily. "Stella has noticed it."

"And complained to you of course," cried Mr. Hazlewood resentfully.

"Stella doesn't complain," and then Dick leaned over and spoke in the
full quiet voice which his father had grown to dread. There rang in it so
much of true feeling and resolution.

"There can be no backing down now. We are both agreed upon that, aren't
we? Imagine for an instant that I were first to blazon my trust in a
woman whom others suspected by becoming engaged to her and then
endorsed their suspicions by breaking off the engagement! Suppose that
I were to do that!"

Mr. Hazlewood allowed his longings to lead him astray. For a
moment he hoped.

"Well?" he asked eagerly.

"You wouldn't think very much of me, would you? Not you nor any man. A
cur--that would be the word, the only word, wouldn't it?"

But Mr. Hazlewood refused to answer that question. He looked behind him
to make sure that none of the servants were within hearing. Then he
lowered his voice to a whisper.

"What if Stella has deceived you, Dick?"

It was too dark for him to see the smile upon his son's face, but he
heard the reply, and the confidence of it stung him to exasperation.

"She hasn't done that," said Dick. "If you are sure of nothing else,
sir, you may be quite certain of what I am telling you now. She hasn't
done that."

He remained silent for a few moments waiting for any rejoinder, and
getting none he continued:

"There's something else I wanted to speak to you about."

"Yes?"

"The date of our marriage."

The old man moved sharply in his chair.

"There's no hurry, Richard. You must find out how it will affect your
career. You have been so long at Little Beeding where we hear very
little from the outer world. You must consult your Colonel."

Dick Hazlewood would not listen to the argument.

"My marriage is my affair, sir, not my Colonel's. I cannot take advice,
for we both of us know what it would be. And we both of us value it at
its proper price, don't we?"

Mr. Hazlewood could not reply. How often had he inveighed against
the opinions of the sleek worldly people who would add up advantages
in a column and leave out of their consideration the merits of the
higher life.

"It would not be fair to Stella were we to ask her to wait," Dick
resumed. "Any delay--think what will be made of it! A month or six weeks
from now, that gives us time enough."

The old man rose abruptly from his chair with a vague word that he would
think of it and went into the house. He saw again the lovers as he had
seen them this afternoon walking side by side slowly towards Stella
Ballantyne's cottage; and the picture even in the retrospect was
intolerable. The marriage must not take place--yet it was so near. A
month or six weeks! Mr. Hazlewood took up his pen and wrote the letter to
Henry Thresk at last, as Robert Pettifer had always been sure that he
would do. It was the simplest kind of letter and took but a minute in the
writing. It mentioned only his miniatures and invited Henry Thresk to
Little Beeding to see them, as more than one stranger had been asked
before. The answers which Thresk had given to the questions in _Notes and
Queries_ were pleaded as an introduction and Thresk was invited to choose
his own day and remain at Little Beeding for the night. The reply came by
return of post. Thresk would come to Little Beeding on the Friday
afternoon of the next week. He was in town, for Parliament was sitting
late that year. He would reach Little Beeding soon after five so that he
might have an opportunity of seeing the miniatures by daylight. Mr.
Hazlewood hurried over with the news to Robert Pettifer. His spirits had
risen at a bound. Already he saw the neighbourhood freed from the
disturbing presence of Stella Ballantyne and himself cheerfully resuming
his multifarious occupations.

Robert Pettifer, however, spoke in quite another strain.

"I am not so sure as you, Hazlewood. The points which trouble me are very
possibly capable of quite simple explanations. I hope for my part that
they will be so explained."

"You hope it?" cried Mr. Hazlewood.

"Yes. I want Dick to marry," said Robert Pettifer.

Mr. Hazlewood was not, however, to be discouraged. He drove back to his
house counting the days which must pass before Thresk's arrival and
wondering how he should manage to conceal his elation from the keen
eyes of his son. But he found that there was no need for him to
trouble himself on that point, for this very morning at luncheon Dick
said to him:

"I think that I'll run up to town this afternoon, father. I might be
there for a day or two."

Mr. Hazlewood was delighted. No other proposal could have fitted in so
well with his scheme. The mere fact that Dick was away would start people
at the pleasant business of conjecturing mishaps and quarrels. Perhaps
indeed the lovers _had_ quarrelled. Perhaps Richard had taken his advice
and was off to consult his superiors. Mr. Hazlewood scanned his son's
face eagerly but learnt nothing from it; and he was too wary to ask any
questions.

"By all means, Richard," he said carelessly, "go to London! You will be
back by next Friday, I suppose."

"Oh yes, before that. I shall stay at my own rooms, so if you want me you
can send me a telegram."

Dick Hazlewood had a small flat of his own in some Mansions at
Westminster which had seen very little of him that summer.

"Thank you, Richard," said the old man. "But I shall get on very well,
and a few days change will no doubt do you good."

Dick grinned at his father and went off that afternoon without a word of
farewell to Stella Ballantyne. Mr. Hazlewood stood in the hall and saw
him go with a great relief at his heart. Everything at last seemed to be
working out to advantage. He could not but remember how so very few
weeks ago he had been urgent that Richard should spend his summer at
Little Beeding and lend a hand in the noble work of defending Stella
Ballantyne against ignorance and unreason. But the twinge only lasted a
moment. He had made a mistake, as all men occasionally do--yes, even
sagacious and thoughtful people like himself. And the mistake was already
being repaired. He looked across the meadow that night at the lighted
blinds of Stella's windows and anticipated an evening when those windows
would be dark and the cottage without an inhabitant.

"Very soon," he murmured to himself, "very soon." He had not one single
throb of pity for her now, not a single speculation whither she would go
or what she would make of her life. His own defence of her had now become
a fault of hers. He wished her no harm, he argued, but in a week's time
there must be no light shining behind those blinds.




CHAPTER XXII

A WAY OUT OF THE TRAP


Mr. Hazlewood was very glad that Richard was away in London during this
week. Excitement kept him feverish and the fever grew as the number of
days before Thresk was to come diminished. He would never have been able
to keep his secret had every meal placed him under his son's eyes. He was
free too from Stella herself. He met her but once on the Monday and then
it was in the deep lane leading towards the town. It was about five
o'clock in the evening and she was driving homewards in an open fly. Mr.
Hazlewood stopped it and went to the side.

"Richard is away, Stella, until Wednesday, as no doubt you knew," he
said. "But I want you to come over to tea when he comes back. Will Friday
suit you?"

She had looked a little frightened when Mr. Hazlewood had called to the
driver and stopped the carriage; but at his words the blood rushed into
her cheeks and her eyes shone and she pushed out her hand impulsively.

"Oh, thank you," she cried. "Of course I will come."

Not for a long time had he spoken to her with so kind a voice and a face
so unclouded. She rejoiced at the change in him and showed him such
gratitude as is given only to those who render great service, so intense
was her longing not to estrange Dick from his father.

But she had become a shrewd observer under the stress of her evil
destiny; and the moment of rejoicing once past she began to wonder what
had brought about the change. She judged Mr. Hazlewood to be one of those
weak and effervescing characters who can grow more obstinate in
resentment than any others if their pride and self-esteem receive an
injury. She had followed of late the windings of his thoughts. She put
the result frankly to herself.

"He hates me. He holds me in horror."

Why then the sudden change? She was in the mood to start at shadows and
when a little note was brought over to her on the Friday morning in Mr.
Hazlewood's handwriting reminding her of her engagement she was filled
with a vague apprehension. The note was kindly in its terms yet to her it
had a menacing and sinister look. Had some stroke been planned against
her? Was it to be delivered this afternoon?

Dick came at half-past four from a village cricket match to fetch her.

"You are ready, Stella? Right! For we can't spare very much time. I have
a surprise for you."

Stella asked him what it was and he answered:

"There's a house for sale in Great Beeding. I think that you
would like it."

Stella's face softened with a smile.

"Anywhere, Dick," she said, "anywhere on earth."

"But here best of all," he answered. "Not to run away--that's our policy.
We'll make our home in our own south country. I arranged to take you over
the house between half-past five and six this evening."

They walked across to Little Beeding and were made welcome by Mr.
Hazlewood. He came out to meet them in the garden and nervousness made
him kittenish and arch.

"How are you, Stella?" he inquired. "But there's no need to ask. You look
charming and upon my word you grow younger every day. What a pretty hat!
Yes, yes! Will you make tea while I telephone to the Pettifers? They seem
to be late."

He skipped off with an alacrity which was rather ridiculous. But Stella
watched him go without any amusement.

"I am taken again into favour," she said doubtfully.

"That shouldn't distress you, Stella," replied Dick.

"Yet it does, for I ask myself why. And I don't understand this
tea-party. Mr. Hazlewood was so urgent that I should not forget it.
Perhaps, however, I am inventing trouble."

She shook herself free from her apprehensions and followed Dick into the
drawing-room, where the kettle was boiling and the tea-service spread
out. Stella went to the table and opened the little mahogany caddy.

"How many are coming, Dick?" she asked.

"The Pettifers."

"My enemies," said Stella, laughing lightly.

"And you and my father and myself."

"Five altogether," said Stella. She began to measure out the tea into the
tea-pot but stopped suddenly in the middle of her work.

"But there are six cups," she said. She counted them again to make sure,
and at once her fears were reawakened. She turned to Dick, her face quite
pale and her big eyes dark with forebodings. So little now was needed to
disquiet her. "Who is the sixth?"

Dick came closer to her and put his arm about her waist.

"I don't know," he said gently; "but what can it matter to us, Stella?
Think, my dear!"

"No, of course," she replied, "it can't make any difference," and she
dipped her teaspoon once more into the caddy. "But it's a little
curious, isn't it?--that your father didn't mention to you that there
was another guest?"

"Oh, wait a moment," said Dick. "He did tell me there would be some
visitor here to-day but I forgot all about it. He told me at luncheon.
There's a man from London coming down to have a look at his miniatures."

"His miniatures?" Stella was pouring the hot water into the tea-pot. She
replaced the kettle on its stand and shut the tea-caddy. "And Mr.
Hazlewood didn't tell you the man's name," she said.

"I didn't ask him," answered Dick. "He often has collectors down."

"I see." Her head was bent over the tea-table; she was busy with her brew
of tea. "And I was specially asked to come this afternoon. I had a note
this morning to remind me." She looked at the clock. "Dick, if we are to
see that house this afternoon you had better change now before the
visitors come."

"That's true. I will."

Dick started towards the door, and he heard Stella come swiftly after
him. He turned. There was so much trouble in her face. He caught her
in his arms.

"Dick," she whispered, "look at me. Kiss me! Yes, I am sure of you," and
she clung to him. Dick Hazlewood laughed.

"I think we ought to be fairly happy in that house," and she let him
go with a smile, repeating her own words, "Anywhere, Dick, anywhere
on earth."

She waited, watching him tenderly until the door was closed. Then she
covered her face with her hands and a sob burst from her lips. But the
next moment she tore her hands away and looked wildly about the room. She
ran to the writing-table and scribbled a note; she thrust it into an
envelope and gummed the flap securely down. Then she rang the bell and
waited impatiently with a leaping heart until Hubbard came to the door.

"Did you ring, madam?" he asked.

"Yes. Has Mr. Thresk arrived yet?"

She tried to control her face, to speak in a careless and indifferent
voice, but she was giddy and the room whirled before her eyes.

"Yes, madam," the butler answered; and it seemed to Stella Ballantyne
that once more she stood in the dock and heard the verdict spoken. Only
this time it had gone against her. That queer old shuffling butler became
a figure of doom, his thin and piping voice uttered her condemnation. For
here without her knowledge was Henry Thresk and she was bidden to meet
him with the Pettifers for witnesses. But it was Henry Thresk who had
saved her before. She clung to that fact now.

"Mr. Thresk arrived a few minutes ago."

Just before old Hazlewood had come forward out of the house to welcome
her! No wonder he was in such high spirits! Very likely all that great
show of kindliness and welcome was made only to keep her in the garden
for a few necessary moments.

"Where is Mr. Thresk now?" she asked.

"In his room, madam."

"You are quite sure?"

"Quite."

"Will you take this note to him, Hubbard?" and she held it out to
the butler.

"Certainly, madam."

"Will you take it at once? Give it into his hands, please."

Hubbard took the note and went out of the room. Never had he seemed to
her so dilatory and slow. She stared at the door as though her sight
could pierce the panels. She imagined him climbing the stairs with feet
which loitered more at each fresh step. Some one would surely stop him
and ask for whom the letter was intended. She went to the door which led
into the hall, opened it and listened. No one was descending the
staircase and she heard no voices. Then above her Hubbard knocked upon a
door, a latch clicked as the door was opened, a hollow jarring sound
followed as the door was sharply closed. Stella went back into the room.
The letter had been delivered; at this moment Henry Thresk was reading
it; and with a sinking heart she began to speculate in what spirit he
would receive its message. Henry Thresk! The unhappy woman bestirred
herself to remember him. He had grown dim to her of late. How much did
she know of him? she asked herself. Once years ago there had been a month
during which she had met him daily. She had given her heart to him, yet
she had learned little or nothing of the man within the man's frame. She
had not even made his acquaintance. That had been proved to her one
memorable morning upon the top of Bignor Hill, when humiliation had so
deeply seared her soul that only during this last month had it been
healed. In the great extremities of her life Henry Thresk had decided,
not she, and he was a stranger to her. She beat her poor wings in vain
against that ironic fact. Never had he done what she had expected. On
Bignor Hill, in the Law Court at Bombay, he had equally surprised her.
Now once more he held her destinies in his hand. What would he decide?
What had he decided?

"Yes, he will have decided now," said Stella to herself; and a certain
calm fell upon her troubled soul. Whatever was to be was now determined.
She went back to the tea-table and waited.

Henry Thresk had not much of the romantic in his character. He was a busy
man making the best and the most of the rewards which the years brought
to him, and slamming the door each day upon the day which had gone
before. He made his life in the intellectual exercise of his profession
and his membership of the House of Commons. Upon the deeps of the
emotions he had closed a lid. Yet he had set out with a vague reluctance
to Little Beeding; and once his motor-car had passed Hindhead and dipped
to the weald of Sussex the reluctance had grown to a definite regret that
he should once more have come into this country. His recollections were
of a dim far-off time, so dim that he could hardly believe that he had
any very close relation with the young struggling man who had spent his
first real holiday there. But the young man had been himself and he had
missed his opportunity high up on the downs by Arundel. Words which Jane
Repton had spoken to him in Bombay came back to him on this summer
afternoon like a refrain to the steady hum of his car. "You can get what
you want, so long as you want it enough, but you cannot control the price
you will have to pay."

He had reached Little Beeding only a few moments before Dick and Stella
had crossed into the garden. He had been led by Hubbard into the library,
where Mr. Hazlewood was sitting. From the windows he had even seen the
thatched cottage where Stella Ballantyne dwelt and its tiny garden bright
with flowers.

"It is most kind of you to come," Mr. Hazlewood had said. "Ever since we
had our little correspondence I have been anxious to take your opinion on
my collection. Though how in the world you manage to find time to have an
opinion at all upon the subject is most perplexing. I never open the
_Times_ but I see your name figuring in some important case."

"And I, Mr. Hazlewood," Thresk replied with a smile, "never open my mail
without receiving a pamphlet from you. I am not the only active man in
the world."

Even at that moment Mr. Hazlewood flushed with pleasure at the flattery.

"Little reflections," he cried with a modest deprecation, "worked out
more or less to completeness--may I say that?--in the quiet of a rural
life, sparks from the tiny flame of my midnight oil." He picked up one
pamphlet from a stack by his writing-table. "You might perhaps care to
look at _The Prison Walls_."

Thresk drew back.

"I have got mine, Mr. Hazlewood," he said firmly. "Every man in England
should have one. No man in England has a right to two."

Mr. Hazlewood fairly twittered with satisfaction. Here was a notable man
from the outside world of affairs who knew his work and held it in
esteem. Obviously then he was right to take these few disagreeable
twists and turns which would ensure to him a mind free to pursue his
labours. He looked down at the pamphlet however, and his satisfaction
was a trifle impaired.

"I am not sure that this is quite my best work," he said timidly--"a
little hazardous perhaps."

"Would you say that?" asked Thresk.

"Yes, indeed I should." Mr. Hazlewood had the air of one making a
considerable concession. "The very title is inaccurate. _The Prison Walls
must Cast no Shadow_." He repeated the sentence with a certain unction.
"The rhythm is perhaps not amiss but the metaphor is untrue. My son
pointed it out to me. As he says, all walls cast shadows."

"Yes," said Thresk. "The trouble is to know where and on whom the shadow
is going to fall."

Mr. Hazlewood was startled by the careless words. He came to earth
heavily. All was not as yet quite ready for the little trick which had
been devised. The Pettifers had not arrived.

"Perhaps you would like to see your room, Mr. Thresk," he said. "Your bag
has been taken up, no doubt. We will look at my miniatures after tea."

"I shall be delighted," said Thresk as he followed Hazlewood to the door.
"But you must not expect too much knowledge from me."

"Oh!" cried his host with a laugh. "Pettifer tells me that you are a
great authority."

"Then Pettifer's wrong," said Thresk and so stopped. "Pettifer? Pettifer?
Isn't he a solicitor?"

"Yes, he told me that he knew you. He married my sister. They are both
coming to tea."

With that he led Thresk to his room and left him there. The room was over
the porch of the house and looked down the short level drive to the iron
gates and the lane. It was all familiar ground to Thresk or rather to
that other man with whom Thresk's only connection was a dull throb at his
heart, a queer uneasiness and discomfort. He leaned out of the window. He
could hear the river singing between the grass banks at the bottom of the
garden behind him. He would hear it through the night. Then came a
knocking upon his door, and he did not notice it at once. It was repeated
and he turned and said:

"Come in!"

Hubbard advanced with a note upon a salver.

"Mrs. Ballantyne asked me to give you this at once, sir."

Thresk stared at the butler. The name was so apposite to his thoughts
that he could not believe it had been uttered. But the salver was held
out to him and the handwriting upon the envelope removed his doubts. He
took it up, said "Thank you" in an absent voice and waited until the door
was closed again and he was alone. The last time he had seen that writing
was eighteen months ago. A little note of thanks, blurred with tears and
scribbled hastily and marked with no address, had been handed to him in
Bombay. Stella Ballantyne had disappeared then. She was here now at
Little Beeding and his relationship with the young struggling barrister
of ten years back suddenly became actual and near. He tore open the
envelope and read.

"Be prepared to see me. Be prepared to hear news of me. I will have a
talk with you afterwards if you like. This is a trap. Be kind."

He stood for a while with the letter in his hand, speculating upon its
meaning, until the wheels of a car grated on the gravel beneath his
window. The Pettifers had come. But Thresk was in no hurry to descend. He
read the note through many times before he hid it away in his letter-case
and went down the stairs.




CHAPTER XXIII

METHODS FROM FRANCE


Meanwhile Stella Ballantyne waited below. She heard Mr. Hazlewood in the
hall greeting the Pettifers with the false joviality which sat so ill
upon him; she imagined the shy nods and glances which told them that the
trap was properly set. Mr. Hazlewood led them into the room.

"Is tea ready, Stella? We won't wait for Dick," he said, and Stella took
her place at the table. She had her back to the door by which Thresk
would enter. She had not a doubt that thus her chair had been
deliberately placed. He would be in the room and near to the table before
he saw her. He would not have a moment to prepare himself against the
surprise of her presence. Stella listened for the sound of his footsteps
in the hall; she could not think of a single topic to talk about except
the presence of that extra sixth cup; and that she must not mention if
the tables were really to be turned upon her antagonists. Surprise must
be visible upon her side when Thresk did come in. But she was not alone
in finding conversation difficult. Embarrassment and expectancy weighed
down the whole party, so that they began suddenly to speak at once and
simultaneously to stop. Robert Pettifer however asked if Dick was playing
cricket, and so gave Harold Hazlewood an opportunity.

"No, the match was over early," said the old man, and he settled
himself in his arm-chair. "I have given some study to the subject of
cricket," he said.

"You?" asked Stella with a smile of surprise. Was he merely playing for
time, she wondered? But he had the air of contentment with which he
usually embarked upon his disquisitions.

"Yes. I do not consider our national pastime beneath a philosopher's
attention. I have formed two theories about the game."

"I am sure you have," Robert Pettifer interposed.

"And I have invented two improvements, though I admit at once that they
will have to wait until a more enlightened age than ours adopts them. In
the first place"--and Mr. Hazlewood flourished a forefinger in the
air--"the game ought to be played with a soft ball. There is at present a
suggestion of violence about it which the use of a soft ball would
entirely remove."

"Entirely," Mr. Pettifer agreed and his wife exclaimed impatiently:

"Rubbish, Harold, rubbish!"

Stella broke nervously into the conversation.

"Violence? Why even women play cricket, Mr. Hazlewood."

"I cannot, Stella," he returned, "accept the view that whatever women do
must necessarily be right. There are instances to the contrary."

"Yes. I come across a few of them in my office," Robert Pettifer said
grimly; and once more embarrassment threatened to descend upon the party.
But Mr. Hazlewood was off upon a favourite theme. His eyes glistened and
the object of the gathering vanished for the moment from his thoughts.

"And in the second place," he resumed, "the losers should be accounted to
have won the game."

"Yes, that must be right," said Pettifer. "Upon my word you are in form,
Hazlewood."

"But why?" asked Mrs. Pettifer.

Harold Hazlewood smiled upon her as upon a child and explained:

"Because by adopting that system you would do something to eradicate the
spirit of rivalry, the desire to win, the ambition to beat somebody else
which is at the bottom of half our national troubles."

"And all our national success," said Pettifer.

Hazlewood patted his brother-in-law upon the shoulder. He looked at him
indulgently. "You are a Tory, Robert," he said, and implied that argument
with such an one was mere futility.

He had still his hand upon Pettifer's shoulder when the door opened.
Stella saw by the change in his face that it was Thresk who was entering.
But she did not move.

"Ah," said Mr. Hazlewood. "Come over here and take a cup of tea."

Thresk came forward to the table. He seemed altogether unconscious that
the eyes of the two men were upon him.

"Thank you. I should like one," he said, and at the sound of his voice
Stella Ballantyne turned around in her chair.

"You!" she cried and the cry was pitched in a tone of pleasure and
welcome.

"Of course you know Mrs. Ballantyne," said Hazlewood. He saw Stella rise
from her chair and hold out her hand to Thresk with the colour aflame in
her cheeks.

"You are surprised to see me again," she said.

Thresk took her hand cordially. "I am delighted to see you again,"
he replied.

"And I to see you," said Stella, "for I have never yet had a chance of
thanking you"; and she spoke with so much frankness that even Pettifer
was shaken in his suspicions. She turned upon Mr. Hazlewood with a
mimicry of indignation. "Do you know, Mr. Hazlewood, that you have done a
very cruel thing?"

Mr. Hazlewood was utterly discomfited by the failure of his plot, and
when Stella attacked him so directly he had not a doubt but that she had
divined his treachery.

"I?" he gasped. "Cruel? How?"

"In not telling me beforehand that I was to meet so good a friend of
mine." Her face relaxed to a smile as she added: "I would have put on my
best frock in his honour."

Undoubtedly Stella carried off the honour of that encounter. She had at
once driven the battle with spirit onto Hazlewood's own ground and left
him worsted and confused. But the end was not yet. Mr. Hazlewood waited
for his son Richard, and when Richard appeared he exclaimed:

"Ah, here's my son. Let me present him to you, Mr. Thresk. And there's
the family."

He leaned back, with a smile in his eyes, watching Henry Thresk. Robert
Pettifer watched too.

"The family?" Thresk asked. "Is Mrs. Ballantyne a relation then?"

"She is going to be," said Dick.

"Yes," Mr. Hazlewood explained, still beaming and still watchful.
"Richard and Stella are going to be married."

A pause followed which was just perceptible before Thresk spoke again.
But he had his face under control. He took the stroke without flinching.
He turned to Dick with a smile.

"Some men have all the luck," he said, and Dick, who had been looking at
him in bewilderment, cried:

"Mr. Thresk? Not the Mr. Thresk to whom I owe so much?"

"The very man," said Thresk, and Dick held out his hand to him gravely.

"Thank you," he said. "When I think of the horrible net of doubt and
assumption in which Stella was coiled, I tell you I feel cold down my
spine even now. If you hadn't come forward with your facts--"

"Yes," Thresk interposed. "If I hadn't come forward with my facts. But I
couldn't well keep them to myself, could I?" A few more words were said
and then Dick rose from his chair.

"Time's up, Stella," and he explained to Henry Thresk: "We have to look
over a house this afternoon."

"A house? Yes, I see," said Thresk, but he spoke slowly and there was
just audible a little inflection of doubt in his voice. Stella was
listening for it; she heard it when her two antagonists noticed nothing.

"But, Dick," she said quickly, "we can put the inspection off."

"Not on my account," Thresk returned. "There's no need for that." He was
not looking at Stella whilst he spoke and she longed to see his face. She
must know exactly how she stood with him, what he thought of her. She
turned impulsively to Mr. Hazlewood.

"I haven't been asked, but may I come to dinner? You see I owe a good
deal to Mr. Thresk."

Mr. Hazlewood was for the moment at a loss. He had not lost hope that
between now and dinner-time explanations would be given which would
banish Stella Ballantyne altogether from Little Beeding. But he had no
excuse ready and he stammered out:

"Of course, my dear. Didn't I ask you? I must have forgotten. I certainly
expect you to dine with us to-night. Margaret will no doubt be here."

Margaret Pettifer had taken little part in the conversation about the
tea-table. She sat in frigid hostility, speaking only when politeness
commanded. She accepted her brother's invitation with a monosyllable.

"Thank you," said Stella, and she faced Henry Thresk, looking him
straight in the eyes but not daring to lay any special stress upon the
words: "Then I shall see you to-night."

Thresk read in her face a prayer that he should hold his hand until she
had a chance to speak with him. She turned away and went from the room
with Dick Hazlewood.

The old man rose as soon as the door was closed.

"Now we might have a look at the miniatures, Mr. Thresk. You will excuse
us, Margaret, won't you?"

"Of course," she answered upon a nod from her husband. The two men passed
through the doors into the great library whilst Thresk took a more
ceremonious leave of Mrs. Pettifer; and as Hazlewood opened the drawers
of his cabinets Robert Pettifer said in a whisper:

"That was a pretty good failure, I must say. And it was my idea too."

"Yes," replied Hazlewood in a voice as low. "What do you think?"

"That they share no secret."

"You are satisfied then?"

"I didn't say that"; and Thresk himself appeared in the doorway and went
across to the writing-table upon which Hazlewood had just laid a drawer
in which miniatures were ranged.

"I haven't met you," said Pettifer, "since you led for us in the great
Birmingham will-suit."

"No," answered Thresk as he took his seat at the table. "It wasn't quite
such a tough fight as I expected. You see there wasn't one really
reliable witness for the defence."

"No," said Pettifer grimly. "If there had been we should have been
beaten."

Mr. Hazlewood began to point out this and that miniature of his
collection, bending over Thresk as he did so. It seemed that the two
collectors were quite lost in their common hobby until Robert Pettifer
gave the signal.

Then Mr. Hazlewood began:

"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Thresk, for reasons quite outside these
miniatures of mine."

He spoke with a noticeable awkwardness, yet Henry Thresk disregarded it
altogether.

"Oh?" he said carelessly.

"Yes. Being Richard's father I am naturally concerned in everything
which affects him nearly--the trial of Stella Ballantyne for instance."

Thresk bent his head down over the tray.

"Quite so," he said. He pointed to a miniature. "I saw that at Christie's
and coveted it myself."

"Did you?" Mr. Hazlewood asked and he almost offered it as a bribe. "Now
you gave evidence, Mr. Thresk."

Thresk never lifted his head.

"You have no doubt read the evidence I gave," he said, peering from this
delicate jewel of the painter's art to that.

"To be sure."

"And since your son is engaged to Mrs. Ballantyne, I suppose that you
were satisfied with it"--and he paused to give a trifle of significance
to his next words--"as the jury was."

"Yes, of course," Mr. Hazlewood stammered, "but a witness, I think, only
answers the questions put to him."

"That is so," said Thresk, "if he is a wise witness." He took one of the
miniatures out of the drawer and held it to the light. But Mr. Hazlewood
was not to be deterred.

"And subsequent reflection," he continued obstinately, "might suggest
that all the questions which could throw light upon the trial had not
been put."

Thresk replaced the miniature in the drawer in front of him and leaned
back in his chair. He looked now straight at Mr. Hazlewood.

"It was not, I take it, in order to put those questions to me that you
were kind enough, Mr. Hazlewood, to ask me to give my opinion on your
miniatures. For that would have been setting a trap for me, wouldn't it?"

Hazlewood stared at Thresk with the bland innocence of a child. "Oh no,
no," he declared, and then an insinuating smile beamed upon his long
thin face. "Only since you _are_ here and since so much is at stake for
me--my son's happiness--I hoped that you might perhaps give us an answer
or two which would disperse the doubts of some suspicious people."

"Who are they?" asked Thresk.

"Neighbours of ours," replied Hazlewood, and thereupon Robert Pettifer
stepped forward. He had remained aloof and silent until this moment. Now
he spoke shortly, but he spoke to the point:

"I for one."

Thresk turned with a smile upon Pettifer.

"I thought so. I recognised Mr. Pettifer's hand in all this. But he ought
to know that the sudden confrontation of a suspected person with
unexpected witnesses takes place, in those countries where the method is
practised, before the trial; not, as you so ingeniously arranged it this
afternoon, two years after the verdict has been given."

Robert Pettifer turned red. Then he looked whimsically across the table
at his brother-in-law.

"We had better make a clean breast of it, Hazlewood."

"I think so," said Thresk gently.

Pettifer came a step nearer. "We are in the wrong," he said bluntly. "But
we have an excuse. Our trouble is very great. Here's my brother-in-law to
begin with, whose whole creed of life has been to deride the authority of
conventional man--to tilt against established opinion. Mrs. Ballantyne
comes back from her trial in Bombay to make her home again at Little
Beeding. Hazlewood champions her--not for her sake, but for the sake of
his theories. It pleases his vanity. Now he can prove that he is not as
others are."

Mr. Hazlewood did not relish this merciless analysis of his character. He
twisted in his chair, he uttered a murmur of protest. But Robert Pettifer
waved him down and continued:

"So he brings her to his house. He canvasses for her. He throws his son
in her way. She has beauty--she has something more than beauty--she
stands apart as a woman who has walked through fire. She has suffered
very much. Look at it how one will, she has suffered beyond her deserts.
She has pretty deferential ways which make their inevitable appeal to
women as to men. In a word, Hazlewood sets the ball rolling and it gets
beyond his reach."

Thresk nodded.

"Yes, I understand that."

"Finally, Hazlewood's son falls in love with her--not a boy mind, but a
man claiming a man's right to marry where he loves. And at once in
Hazlewood conventional man awakes."

"Dear me, no," interposed Harold Hazlewood.

"But I say yes," Pettifer continued imperturbably. "Conventional man
awakes in him and cries loudly against the marriage. Then there's myself.
I am fond of Dick. I have no child. He will be my heir and I am not poor.
He is doing well in his profession. To be an Instructor of the Staff
Corps at his age means hard work, keenness, ability. I look forward to a
great career. I am very fond of him. And--understand me, Mr. Thresk"--he
checked his speech and weighed his words very carefully--"I wouldn't say
that he shouldn't marry Stella Ballantyne just because Stella Ballantyne
has lain under a grave charge of which she has been acquitted. No, I may
be as formal as my brother-in-law thinks, but I hold a wider faith than
that. But I am not satisfied. That is the truth, Mr. Thresk. I am not
sure of what happened in that tent in far-away Chitipur after you had
ridden away to catch the night mail to Bombay."

Robert Pettifer had made his confession simply and with some dignity.
Thresk looked at him for a few moments. Was he wondering whether he
could answer the questions? Was he hesitating through anger at the
trick which had been played upon him? Pettifer could not tell. He waited
in suspense. Thresk pushed his chair back suddenly and came forward from
behind the table.

"Ask your questions," he said.

"You consent to answer them?" Mr. Hazlewood cried joyously, and Thresk
replied with coldness:

"I must. For if I don't consent your suspicions at once are double what
they were. But I am not pleased."

"Oh, we practised a little diplomacy," said Hazlewood, making light of
his offence.

"Diplomacy!" For the first time a gleam of anger shone in Thresk's eyes.
"You have got me to your house by a trick. You have abused your position
as my host. And but that I should injure a woman whom life has done
nothing but injure I should go out of your door this instant."

He turned his back upon Harold Hazlewood and sat down in a chair opposite
to Robert Pettifer. A little round table separated them. Pettifer, seated
upon a couch, took from his pocket the envelope with the press-cuttings
and spread them on the table in front of him. Thresk lolled back in his
chair. It was plain that he was in no terror of Pettifer's examination.

"I am at your service," he said.




CHAPTER XXIV

THE WITNESS


The afternoon sunlight poured into the room golden and clear. Outside the
open windows the garden was noisy with birds and the river babbled
between its banks. Henry Thresk shut his ears against the music. For all
his appearance of ease he dreaded the encounter which was now begun.
Pettifer he knew to be a shrewd man. He watched him methodically
arranging his press-cuttings in front of him. Pettifer might well find
some weak point in his story which he himself had not discovered; and
whatever course he was minded afterwards to take, here and now he was
determined once more to fight Stella's battle.

"I need not go back on the facts of the trial," said Pettifer. "They are
fresh enough in your memory, no doubt. Your theory as I understand it ran
as follows: While you were mounting your camel on the edge of the camp to
return to the station and Ballantyne was at your side, the thief whose
arm you had both seen under the tent wall, not knowing that now you had
the photograph of Bahadur Salak which he wished to steal, slipped into
the tent unperceived, took up the rook-rifle--"

"Which was standing by Mrs. Ballantyne's writing-table," Thresk
interposed.

"Loaded it,--"

"The cartridges were lying open in a drawer."

"And shot Ballantyne on his return."

"Yes," Thresk agreed. "In addition you must remember that when Captain
Ballantyne was found an hour or so later Mrs. Ballantyne was in bed
and asleep."

"Quite so," said Pettifer. "In brief, Mr. Thresk, you supplied a
reasonable motive for the crime and some evidence of a criminal. And I
admit that on your testimony the jury returned the only verdict which it
was possible to give."

"What troubles you then?" Henry Thresk asked, and Pettifer replied drily:

"Various points. Here's one--a minor one. If Captain Ballantyne was shot
by a thief detected in the act of thieving why should that thief risk
capture and death by dragging Captain Ballantyne's body out into the
open? It seems to me the last thing which he would naturally do."

Thresk shrugged his shoulders.

"I can't explain that. It is perhaps possible that not finding the
photograph he fell into a blind rage and satisfied it by violence towards
the dead man."

"Dead or dying," Mr. Pettifer corrected. "There seems to have been some
little doubt upon that point. But your theory's a little weak, isn't it?
To get away unseen would be that thief's first preoccupation, surely?"

"Reasoning as you and I are doing here quietly, at our ease, in this
room, no doubt you are right, Mr. Pettifer. But criminals are caught
because they don't reason quietly when they have just committed a crime.
The behaviour of a man whose mind is influenced by that condition cannot
be explained always by any laws of psychology. He may be in a wild panic.
He may act as madmen act, or like a child in a rage. And if my
explanation is weak it's no weaker than the only other hypothesis: that
Mrs. Ballantyne herself dragged him into the open."

Mr. Pettifer shook his head.

"I am not so sure. I can conceive a condition of horror in the wife,
horror at what she had done, which would make that act not merely
possible but almost inevitable. I make no claims to being an imaginative
man, Mr. Thresk, but I try to put myself into the position of the wife";
and he described with a vividness for which Thresk was not prepared the
scene as he saw it.

"She goes to bed, she undresses and goes to bed--she must do that if
she is to escape--she puts out her light, she lies in the dark awake,
and under the same roof, close to her, in the dark too, is lying the man
she has killed. Just a short passage separates her from him. There are
no doors--mind that, Mr. Thresk--no doors to lock and bolt, merely a
grass screen which you could lift with your forefinger. Wouldn't any and
every one of the little cracks and sounds and breathings, of which the
quietest and stillest night is full, sound to her like the approach of
the dead man? The faintest breath of air would seem a draught made by
the swinging of the grass-curtain as it was stealthily lifted--lifted by
the dead man. No, Mr. Thresk. The wife is just the one person I could
imagine who would do that needless barbarous violence of dragging the
body into the open--and she would do it, not out of cruelty, but because
she must or go mad."

Thresk listened without a movement until Robert Pettifer had finished.
Then he said:

"You know Mrs. Ballantyne. Has she the strength which she must have had
to drag a heavy man across the carpet of a tent and fling him outside?"

"Not now, not before. But just at the moment? You argued, Mr. Thresk,
that it is impossible to foresee what people will do under the immediate
knowledge that they have committed a capital crime. I agree. But I go a
little further. I say that they will also exhibit a physical strength
with which it would be otherwise impossible to credit them. Fear lends
it to them."

"Yes," Thresk interrupted quickly, "but don't you see, Mr. Pettifer, that
you are implying the existence of an emotion in Mrs. Ballantyne which the
facts prove her to have been without--fear, panic? She was found quietly
asleep in her bed by the ayah when she came to call her in the morning.
There's no doubt of that. The ayah was never for a moment shaken upon
that point. The pyschology of crime is a curious and surprising study,
Mr. Pettifer, but I know of no case where terror has acted as a
sleeping-draught."

Mr. Pettifer smiled and turned altogether away from the question.

"It is, as I said, a minor point, and perhaps one from which any
sort of inference would be unsafe. It interested me. I lay no great
stress upon it."

He dismissed the point carelessly, to the momentary amusement of Henry
Thresk. The art of slipping away from defeat had been practised with
greater skill. Thresk lost some part of his apprehension but none of his
watchfulness.

"Now, however, we come to something very different," said Pettifer,
hitching himself a little closer to his table and fixing his eyes upon
Thresk. "The case for the prosecution ran like this: Stephen Ballantyne
was, though a man of great ability, a secret drunkard who humiliated his
wife in public and beat her in private. She went in terror of him. She
bore on more than one occasion the marks of his violence; and upon that
night in Chitipur, perhaps in a panic and very likely under extreme
provocation, she snatched up her rook-rifle and put an end to the whole
bad business."

"Yes," Thresk agreed, "that was the case for the Crown."

"Yes, and throughout the sitting at the Stipendiary's inquiry before you
came upon the scene that theory was clearly developed."

"Yes."

Thresk's confidence vanished as quickly as it had come. He realised
whither Pettifer's questions were leading. There was a definitely weak
link in his story and Pettifer had noticed it and was testing it.

"Now," the solicitor continued--"and this is the important point--what
was the answer to that charge foreshadowed by the defence during those
days before you appeared?"

Thresk answered the question quickly, if answer it could be called.

"The defence had not formulated any answer. I came forward before the
case for the Crown finished."

"Quite so. But Mrs. Ballantyne's counsel did cross-examine the witnesses
for the prosecution--we must not forget that, Mr. Thresk--and from the
cross-examination it is quite clear what answer he was going to make. He
was going--not to deny that Mrs. Ballantyne shot her husband--but to
plead that she shot him in self-defence."

"Oh?" said Thresk, "and where do you find that?"

He had no doubt himself in what portion of the report of the trial a
proof of Pettifer's statement was to be discovered, but he made a
creditable show of surprise that any one should hold that opinion at all.

Pettifer selected a column of newspaper from his cuttings.

"Listen," he said. "Mr. Repton, a friend of Mrs. Ballantyne, was called
upon a subpoena by the Crown and he testified that while he was a
Collector at Agra he went up with his wife from the plains to the
hill-station of Moussourie during a hot weather. The Ballantynes went up
at the same time and occupied a bungalow next to Repton's. One night
Repton's house was broken into. He went across to Ballantyne the next
morning and advised him in the presence of his wife to sleep with a
revolver under his pillow."

"Yes, I remember that," said Thresk. He had indeed cause to remember it
very well, for it was just this evidence given by Repton with its clear
implication of the line which the defence meant to take that had sent him
in a hurry to Mrs. Ballantyne's solicitor. Pettifer continued by reading
Repton's words slowly and with emphasis.

"'Mrs. Ballantyne then turned very pale, and running after me down the
garden like a distracted woman cried: "Why did you tell him to do that?
It will some night mean my death."' This statement, Mr. Thresk, was
elicited in cross-examination by Mrs. Ballantyne's counsel, and it could
only mean that he intended to set up a plea of self-defence. I find it a
little difficult to reconcile that intention with the story you
subsequently told."

Henry Thresk for his part knew that it was not merely difficult, it was,
in fact, impossible. Mr. Pettifer had read the evidence with an accurate
discrimination. The plea of self-defence was here foreshadowed and it was
just the certainty that the defence was going to rely upon it for a
verdict which had brought Henry Thresk himself into the witness-box at
Bombay. Given all that was known of Stephen Ballantyne and of the life he
had led his unhappy wife, the defence would have been a good one, but for
a single fact--the discovery of Ballantyne's body outside the tent. No
plea of self-defence could safely be left to cover that. Thresk himself
wondered at it. It struck at public sympathy, it seemed the act of a
person insensate and vindictive. Therefore he had come forward with his
story. But Mr. Pettifer was not to know it.

"There are three things for you to remember," said Thresk. "In the first
place it is too early to assume that self-defence was going to be the
plea. Assumptions in a case of this kind are very dangerous, Mr.
Pettifer. They may lead to an irreparable injustice. We must keep to the
fact that no plea of self-defence was ever formulated. In the second
place Mrs. Ballantyne was brought down to Bombay in a state of complete
collapse. Her married life had been a torture to her. She broke down at
the end of it. She was indifferent to anything that might happen."

Pettifer nodded. "Yes, I can understand that."

"It followed that her advisers had to act upon their own initiative."

"And the third point?" Pettifer asked.

"Well, it's not so much a point as an opinion of mine. But I hold it
strongly. Her counsel mishandled the case."

Pettifer pursed up his lips and grunted. He tapped a finger once or twice
on the table in front of him. He looked towards Thresk as if all was not
quite said. Harold Hazlewood, to whom the position of a neglected
listener was rare and unpalatable, saw an opportunity for intervention.

"The three points are perhaps not very conclusive," he said.

Thresk turned towards him coldly:

"I promised to answer such questions as Mr. Pettifer put to me. I am
doing that. I did not undertake to discuss the value of my answers
afterwards."

"No, no, quite so," murmured Mr. Hazlewood. "We are very grateful, I am
sure," and he left once more the argument to Pettifer.

"Then I come to the next question, Mr. Thresk. At some moment in this
inquiry you of your own account put yourself into communication with Mrs.
Ballantyne's advisers and volunteered your evidence?"

"Yes."

"Isn't it strange that the defence did not at the very outset get into
communication with you?"

"No," replied Thresk. Here he was at his ease. He had laid his plans well
in Bombay. Mr. Pettifer might go on asking questions until midnight upon
this point. Thresk could meet him. "It was not at all strange. It was not
known that I could throw any light upon the affair at all. All that
passed between Ballantyne and myself passed when we were alone; and
Ballantyne was now dead."

"Yes, but you had dined with the Ballantynes on that night. Surely it's
strange that since you were in Bombay Mrs. Ballantyne's advisers did not
seek you out."

"Yes, yes," added Mr. Hazlewood, "very strange indeed, Mr.
Thresk--since you were in Bombay"; and he looked up at the ceiling and
joined the tips of his fingers, his whole attitude a confident
question: "Answer that if you can."

Thresk turned patiently round.

"Hasn't it occurred to you, Mr. Hazlewood, that it is still more strange
that the prosecution did not at once approach me?"

"Yes," said Pettifer suddenly. "That question too has troubled me"; and
Thresk turned back again.

"You see," he explained, "I was not known to be in Bombay at all. On the
contrary I was supposed to be somewhere in the Red Sea or the
Mediterranean on my way back to England."

Mr. Pettifer looked up in surprise. The statement was news to him and if
true provided a natural explanation of some of his chief perplexities.
"Let me understand that!" and there was a change in his voice which
Thresk was quick to detect. There was less hostility.

"Certainly," Thresk answered. "I left the tent just before eleven to
catch the Bombay mail. I was returning direct to England. The reason
why Ballantyne asked me to take the photograph of Bahadur Salak was
that since I was going on board straight from the train it could be no
danger to me."

"Then why didn't you go straight on board?" asked Pettifer.

"I'll tell you," Thresk replied. "I thought the matter over on the
journey down to Bombay, and I came to the conclusion that since the
photograph might be wanted at Salak's trial I had better take it to the
Governor's house at Bombay. But Government House is out at Malabar Point,
four miles from the quays. I took the photograph out myself and so I
missed the boat. But there was an announcement in the papers that I had
sailed, and in fact the consul at Marseilles came on board at that port
to inquire for me on instructions from the Indian Government."

Mr. Pettifer leaned back.

"Yes, I see," he said thoughtfully. "That makes a difference--a big
difference." Then he sat upright again and said sharply:

"You were in Bombay then when Mrs. Ballantyne was brought down from
Chitipur?"

"Yes."

"And when the case for the Crown was started?"

"Yes."

"And when the Crown's witnesses were cross-examined?"

"Yes."

"Why did you wait then all that time before you came forward?" Pettifer
put the question with an air of triumph. "Why, Mr. Thresk, did you wait
till the very moment when Mrs. Ballantyne was going to be definitely
committed to a particular line of defence before you announced that you
could clear up the mystery? Doesn't it rather look as if you had remained
hidden on the chance of the prosecution breaking down, and had only come
forward when you realised that to-morrow self-defence would be pleaded,
the firing of that rook-rifle admitted and a terrible risk of a verdict
of guilty run?"

Thresk agreed without a moment's hesitation.

"But that's the truth, Mr. Pettifer," he said, and Mr. Pettifer
sprang up.

"What?"

"Consider my position"--Thresk drew up his chair close to the table--"a
barrister who was beginning to have one of the large practices, the
Courts opening in London, briefs awaiting me, cases on which I had
already advised coming on. I had already lost a fortnight. That was bad
enough, but if I came forward with my story I must wait in Bombay not
merely for a fortnight but until the whole trial was completed, as in the
end I had to do. Of course I hoped that the prosecution would break down.
Of course I didn't intervene until it was absolutely necessary in the
interests of justice that I should."

He spoke so calmly, there was so much reason in what he said, that
Pettifer could not but be convinced.

"I see," he said. "I see. Yes. That's not to be disputed." He remained
silent for a few moments. Then he shuffled his papers together and
replaced them in the envelope. It seemed that his examination was over.
Thresk rose from his chair.

"You have no more questions to ask me?" he inquired.

"One more."

Pettifer came round the table and stood in front of Henry Thresk.

"Did you know Mrs. Ballantyne before you went to Chitipur?"

"Yes," Thresk replied.

"Had you seen her lately?"

"No."

"When had you last seen her?"

"Eight years before, in this neighbourhood. I spent a holiday close
by. Her father and mother were then alive. I had not seen her since. I
did not even know that she was in India and married until I was told so
in Bombay."

Thresk was prepared for that question. He had the truth ready and he
spoke it frankly. Mr. Pettifer turned away to Hazlewood, who was watching
him expectantly.

"We have nothing more to do, Hazlewood, but to thank Mr. Thresk for
answering our questions and to apologise to him for having put them."

Mr. Hazlewood was utterly disconcerted. After all, then, the marriage
must take place; the plot had ignominiously failed, the great questions
which were to banish Stella Ballantyne from Little Beeding had been put
and answered. He sat like a man stricken by calamity. He stammered out
reluctantly a few words to which Thresk paid little heed.

"You are satisfied then?" he asked of Pettifer; and Pettifer showed him
unexpectedly a cordial and good-humoured face.

"Yes. Let me say to you, Mr. Thresk, that ever since I began to study
this case I have wished less and less to bear hardly upon Mrs.
Ballantyne. As I read those columns of evidence the heavy figure of
Stephen Ballantyne took life again, but a very sinister life; and when I
look at Stella and think of what she went through during the years of
her married life while we were comfortably here at home I cannot but feel
a shiver of discomfort. Yes, I am satisfied and I am glad that I am
satisfied"; and with a smile which suddenly illumined his dry parched
face he held out his hand to Henry Thresk.

It was perhaps as well that the questions were over, for even while
Pettifer was speaking Stella's voice was heard in the hall. Pettifer had
just time to thrust away the envelope with the cuttings into a drawer
before she came into the room with Dick. She had been forced to leave the
three men together, but she had dreaded it. During that one hour of
absence she had lived through a lifetime of terror and anxiety. What
would Thresk tell them? What was he now telling them? She was like one
waiting downstairs while a surgical operation is being performed in the
theatre above. She had hurried Dick back to Little Deeding, and when she
came into the room her eyes roamed round in suspense from Thresk to
Hazlewood, from Hazlewood to Pettifer. She saw the tray of miniatures
upon the table.

"You admire the collection?" she said to Thresk.

"Very much," he answered, and Pettifer took her by the arm and in a voice
of kindness which she had never heard him use before he said:

"Now tell me about your house. That's much more interesting."




CHAPTER XXV

IN THE LIBRARY


Henry Thresk took Mrs. Pettifer in to dinner that night and she found him
poor company. He tried indeed by fits and starts to entertain her, but
his thoughts were elsewhere. He was in a great pother and trouble about
Stella Ballantyne, who sat over against him on the other side of the
table. She wore no traces of the consternation which his words had caused
her a couple of hours before. She had come dressed in a slim gown of
shimmering blue with her small head erect, a smile upon her lips and a
bright colour in her cheeks. Thresk hardly knew her, he had to tell
himself again and again that this was the Stella Ballantyne whom he had
known here and in India. She was not the girl who had ridden with him
upon the downs and made one month of his life very memorable and one day
a shameful recollection. Nor was she the stricken creature of the tent in
Chitipur. She was a woman sure of her resources, radiant in her beauty,
confident that what she wore was her colour and gave her her value. Yet
her trouble was greater than Thresk's, and many a time during the course
of that dinner, when she felt his eyes resting upon her, her heart sank
in fear. She sought his company after dinner, but she had no chance of a
private word with him. Old Mr. Hazlewood took care of that. One moment
Stella must sing; at another she must play a rubber of bridge. He at all
events had not laid aside his enmity and suspected some understanding
between her and his guest. At eleven Mrs. Pettifer took her leave. She
came across the room to Henry Thresk.

"Are you staying over to-morrow?" she asked, and Thresk with a
laugh answered:

"I wish that I could. But I have to catch an early train to London.
Even to-night my day's work's not over. I must sit up for an hour or
two over a brief."

Stella rose at the same time as Mrs. Pettifer.

"I was hoping that you would be able to come across and see my
little cottage to-morrow morning," she said. Thresk hesitated as he
took her hand.

"I should very much like to see it," he said. He was in a very great
difficulty, and was not sure that a letter was not the better if the more
cowardly way out of it. "If I could find the time."

"Try," said she. She could say no more for Mr. Hazlewood was at her elbow
and Dick was waiting to take her home.

It was a dark clear night; a sky of stars overarched the earth, but
there was no moon, and though lights shone brightly even at a great
distance there was no glimmer from the road beneath their feet. Dick
held her close in his arms at the door of her cottage. She was very
still and passive.

"You are tired?" he asked.

"I think so."

"Well, to-night has seen the last of our troubles, Stella."

She did not answer him at once. Her hands clung about his shoulders and
with her face smothered in his coat she whispered:

"Dick, I couldn't go on without you now. I couldn't. I wouldn't."

There was a note of passionate despair in her voice which made her words
suddenly terrible to him. He took her and held her a little away from
him, peering into her face.

"What are you saying, Stella?" he asked sternly. "You know that nothing
can come between us. You break my heart when you talk like that." He drew
her again into his arms. "Is your maid waiting up for you?"

"No."

"Call her then, while I wait here. Let me see the light in her room. I
want her to sleep with you to-night."

"There's no need, Dick," she answered. "I am unstrung to-night. I said
more than I meant. I swear to you there's no need."

He raised her head and kissed her on the lips.

"I trust you, Stella," he said gently; and she answered him in a low
trembling voice of so much tenderness and love that he was reassured.
"Oh, you may, my dear, you may."

She went up to her room and turned on the light, and sat down in her
chair just as she had done after her first dinner at Little Beeding. She
had foreseen then all the troubles which had since beset her, but she had
seemed to have passed through them--until this afternoon. Over there in
the library of the big house was Henry Thresk--the stranger. Very likely
he was at this moment writing to her. If he had only consented to come
over in the morning and give her the chance of pleading with him! She
went to the window and, drawing up the blind, leaned her head out and
looked across the meadow. In the library one of the long windows stood
open and the curtain was not drawn. The room was full of light. Henry
Thresk was there. He had befriended her this afternoon as he had
befriended her at Bombay, for the second time he had won the victory for
her; but the very next moment he had warned her that the end was not yet.
He would send her a letter, she had not a doubt of it. She had not a
doubt either of the message which the letter would bring.

A sound rose to her ears from the gravel path below her window--the sound
of a slight involuntary movement. Stella drew sharply back. Then she
leaned out again and called softly:

"Dick."

He was standing a little to the left of the window out of reach of the
light which streamed out upon the darkness from the room behind her. He
moved forward now.

"Oh, Dick, why are you waiting?"

"I wanted to be sure that all was right, Stella."

"I gave you my word, Dick," she whispered and she wished him
good-night again and waited till the sound of his footsteps had
altogether died away. He went back to the house and found Thresk still
at work in the library.

"I don't want to interrupt you," he said, "but I must thank you again. I
can't tell you what I owe you. She's pretty wonderful, isn't she? I feel
coarse beside her, I tell you. I couldn't talk like this to any one else,
but you're so sympathetic."

Henry Thresk had responded with nothing more than a grunt. He sat
slashing at his brief with a blue pencil, all the while that Dick
Hazlewood was speaking, and wishing that he would go to bed. Dick however
was unabashed.

"Did you ever see a woman look so well in a blue frock? Or in a black one
either? There's a sort of painted thing she wears sometimes too. Well,
perhaps I had better go to bed."

"I think it would be wise," said Thresk.

Young Hazlewood went over to the table in the corner and lit his candle.

"You'll shut that window before you go to bed, won't you?"

"Yes."

Hazlewood filled for himself a glass of barley-water and drank it,
contemplating Henry Thresk over the rim. Then he went back to him,
carrying his candle in his hand.

"Why don't you get married, Mr. Thresk?" he asked. "You ought to, you
know. Men run to seed so if they don't."

"Thank you," said Thresk.

The tone was not cordial, but mere words were an invitation to Dick
Hazlewood at this moment. He sat down and placed his lighted candle on
the table between Thresk and himself.

"I am thirty-four years old," he said, and Thresk interposed without
glancing up from his foolscap:

"From your style of conversation I find that very difficult to believe,
Captain Hazlewood."

"I have wasted thirty-four complete years of twelve months each,"
continued the ecstatic Captain, who appeared to think that on the very
day of his birth he would have recognised his soul's mate. "Just jogging
along with the world, a miracle about one and not half an eye to perceive
it. You know."

"No, I don't," Thresk observed. He lifted the candle and held it out to
Dick. Dick got up and took it.

"Thank you," he said. "That was very kind of you. I told you--didn't
I?--how sympathetic I thought you."

Thresk was not proof against his companion's pertinacity. He broke into a
laugh. "Are you going to bed?" he pleaded, and Dick Hazlewood replied,
"Yes I am." Suddenly his tone changed.

"Stella had a very good friend in you, Mr. Thresk. I am sure she still
has one," and without waiting for any answer he went upstairs. His
bedroom was near to the front in the side of the house. It commanded a
view of the meadow and the cottage and he rejoiced to see that all
Stella's windows were dark. The library was out of sight round the corner
at the back, but a glare of light from the open door spread out over the
lawn. Hazlewood looked at his watch. It was just midnight. He went to bed
and slept.

In the library Thresk strove to concentrate his thoughts upon his brief.
But he could not, and he threw it aside at last. There was a letter to be
written, and until it was written and done with his thoughts would not be
free. He went over to the writing-table and wrote it. But it took a long
while in the composition and the clock upon the top of the stable was
striking one when at last he had finished and sealed it up.

"I'll post it in the morning at the station," he resolved, and he went
to the window to close it. But as he touched it a slight figure wrapped
in a dark cloak came out of the darkness at the side and stepped past him
into the room. He swung round and saw Stella Ballantyne.

"You!" he exclaimed. "You must be mad."

"I had to come," she said, standing well away from the window in the
centre of the room as though she thought he would drive her out. "I heard
you say you would be sitting late here."

"How long have you been waiting out there?"

"A little while...I don't know...Not very long. I wasn't sure that you
were alone."

Thresk closed the window and drew the curtain across it. Then he crossed
the room and locked the doors leading into the dining-room and hall.

"There was no need for you to come," he said in a low voice. "I have
written to you."

"Yes." She nodded her head. "That's why I had to come. This afternoon you
spoke of leaving your pipe behind. I understood," and as he drew the
letter from his pocket she recoiled from it. "No, it has never been
written. I came in time to prevent its being written. You only had an
idea of writing. Say that! You are my friend." She took the letter from
him now and tore it across and again across. "See! It has never been
written at all."

But Thresk only shook his head. "I am very sorry. I see to-night the
stricken woman of the tent in Chitipur. I am very sorry," and Stella
caught at the commiseration in his voice. She dropped the cloak from her
shoulders; she was dressed as she had been at the dinner some hours
before, but all her radiance had gone, her cheeks trembled, her eyes
pleaded desperately.

"Sorry! I knew you would be. You are not hard. You couldn't be. You must
come close day by day in your life to so much that is pitiful. One can
talk to you and you'll understand. This is my first chance, the first
real chance I have ever had, Henry, the very first."

Thresk looked backwards over the years of Stella Ballantyne's unhappy
life. It came upon him with a shock that what she said was the bare
truth; and remorse followed hard upon the heels of the shock. This was
her first real chance and he himself was to blame that it had come no
earlier. The first chance of a life worth the living--it had been in his
hands to give her and he had refused to give it years ago on Bignor Hill.

"It's quite true," he admitted. "But I don't ask you to give it up,
Stella." She looked at him eagerly. "No! You would have understood that
if you had read my letter instead of tearing it up. I only ask you to
tell your lover the truth."

"He knows it," she said sullenly.

"No!"

"He does! He does!" she protested, her voice rising to a low cry.

"Hush! You'll be heard," said Thresk, and she listened for a moment
anxiously. But there was no sound of any one stirring in the house.

"We are safe here," she said. "No one sleeps above us. Henry, he knows
the truth."

"Would you be here now if he did?"

"I came because this afternoon you seemed to be threatening me. I didn't
understand. I couldn't sleep. I saw the light in this room. I came to ask
you what you meant--that's all."

"I'll tell you what I meant," said Thresk, and Stella with her eyes
fixed upon him sank down upon a chair. "I left my pipe behind me in the
tent on the night I dined with you. Your lover, Stella, doesn't know
that. I came back to fetch it. He doesn't know that. You were standing
by the table--" and Stella Ballantyne broke in upon him to silence the
words upon his lips.

"There was no reason why he should know," she exclaimed. "It had nothing
to do with what happened. We know what happened. There was a thief"--and
Thresk turned to her then with such a look of sheer amazement upon his
face that she faltered and her voice died to a murmur of words--"a lean
brown arm--a hand delicate as a woman's."

"There was no thief," he said quietly. "There was a man delirious with
drink who imagined one. There was you with the bruises on your throat and
the unutterable misery in your eyes and a little rifle in your hands.
There was no one else."

She ceased to argue; she sat looking straight in front of her with a
stubborn face and a resolution to cling at all costs to her chance of
happiness.

"Come, Stella," Thresk pleaded. "I don't say tell every one. I do say
tell him. For unless you do I must."

Stella stared at him.

"You?" she said. "You would tell him that you came back into the tent
and saw me?"

"Oh, much more--that I lied at the trial, that the story which secured
your acquittal was false, that I made it up to save you. That I told it
again this afternoon to give you a chance of slipping out from an
impossible position."

She looked at Thresk for a moment in terror. Then her expression changed.
A wave of relief swept over her; she laughed in Thresk's face.

"You are trying to frighten me," she said. "Only I know you. Do you
realise what it would mean to you if it were ever really known that you
had lied at the trial?"

"Yes."

"Your ruin. Your absolute ruin."

"Worse than that."

"Prison!"

"Perhaps. Yes."

Stella laughed again.

"And you would run the risk of the truth becoming known by telling it to
so much as one person. No, no! Another, perhaps--not you! You have had
one dream all your life--to rise out of obscurity, to get on in the
world, to hold the high positions. Everything and every one has been
sacrificed to its fulfilment. Oh, who should know better than I?" and she
struck her hands together sharply as she uttered that bitter cry. "You
have lain down late and risen early, and you have got on. Well, are you
the man to throw away all this work and success now that they touch
fulfilment? You are in the chariot. Will you step down and run tied to
the wheels? Will you stand up and say, 'There was a trial. I perjured
myself'? No. Another, perhaps. Not you, Henry."

Thresk had no answer to that indictment. All of it was true except
its inference, and it was no news to him. He made no effort to
defend himself.

"You are not very generous, Stella," he replied gently. "For if I lied, I
saved you by the lie."

Stella was softened by the words. Her voice lost its hardness, she
reached out her hand in an apology and laid it on his arm.

"Oh, I know. I sent you a little word of thanks when you gave me my
freedom. But it won't be of much value to me if I lose--what I am
fighting for now."

"So you use every weapon?"

"Yes."

"But this one breaks in your hand," he said firmly. "The thing you think
it incredible that I should do I shall do none the less."

Stella looked at him in despair. She could no longer doubt that he really
meant his words. He was really resolved to make this sacrifice of himself
and her. And why? Why should he interfere?

"You save me one day to destroy me the next," she said.

"No," he replied. "I don't think I shall do that, Stella," and he
explained to her what drove him on. "I had no idea why Hazlewood asked me
here. Had I suspected it I say frankly that I should have refused to
come. But I am here. The trouble's once more at my door but in a new
shape. There's this man, young Hazlewood. I can't forget him. You will be
marrying him by the help of a lie I told."

"He loves me," she cried.

"Then he can bear the truth," answered Thresk. He pulled up a chair
opposite to that in which Stella sat. "I want you to understand me, if
you will. I don't want you to think me harsh or cruel. I told a lie upon
my oath in the witness-box. I violated my traditions, I struck at my
belief in the value of my own profession, and such beliefs mean a good
deal to any man." Stella stirred impatiently. What words were these?
Traditions! The value of a profession!

"I am not laying stress upon them, Stella, but they count," Thresk
continued. "And I am telling you that they count because I am going to
add that I should tell that lie again to-morrow, were the trial to-morrow
and you a prisoner. I should tell it again to save you again. Yes, to
save you. But when you go and--let me put it very plainly--use that lie
to your advantage, why then I am bound to cry 'stop.' Don't you see that?
You are using the lie to marry a man and keep him in ignorance of the
truth. You can't do that, Stella! You would be miserable yourself if you
did all your life. You would never feel safe for a moment. You would be
haunted by a fear that some day he would learn the truth and not from
you. Oh, I am sure of it." He caught her hands and pressed them
earnestly. "Tell him, Stella, tell him!"

Stella Ballantyne rose to her feet with a strange look upon her face. Her
eyes half closed as though to shut out a vision of past horrors. She
turned to Thresk with a white face and her hands tightly clenched.

"You don't know what happened on that night, after you rode away to catch
your train?"

"No."

"I think you ought to know--before you sit in judgment"; and so at last
in that quiet library under the Sussex Downs the tragic story of that
night was told. For Thresk as he listened and watched, its terrors lived
again in the eyes and the hushed voice of Stella Ballantyne, the dark
walls seemed to fall back and dissolve. The moonlit plain of far-away
Chitipur stretched away in front of him to the dim hill where the old
silent palaces crumbled; and midway between them and the green
signal-lights of the railway the encampment blazed like the clustered
lights of a small town. But Thresk learnt more than the facts. The
springs of conduct were disclosed to him; the woman revealed herself,
dark places were made light; and he bowed himself beneath a new burden
of remorse.




CHAPTER XXVI

TWO STRANGERS


"You came back to the tent," she began, "and ever since then you have
misunderstood what you saw. For this is the truth: I was going to
kill myself."

Thresk was startled as he had not expected to be; and a great wave of
relief swept over him and uplifted his soul. Here was the simplest
explanation, yet it had never occurred to him. Always he had been
besieged by the vision of Stella standing quietly by the table,
deliberately preparing her rifle for use, always he had linked up that
vision with the death of Stephen Ballantyne in a dreadful connection. He
did not doubt that she spoke the truth now. Looking at her and noticing
the anguish of her face, he could not doubt it. So definite a
premeditation as he had imagined there had not been, and relief carried
him to pity.

"So it had come to that?" he said.

"Yes," replied Stella. "And you had your share in bringing it to
that--you who sit in judgment."

"I!" Thresk exclaimed.

"Yes, you who sit in judgment. I am not alone. No, I am not alone. A
crime was committed? Then you must shoulder your portion of the blame."

Thresk asked himself in vain what was his share. He had done a cowardly
thing years ago a few miles from this spot. He had never ceased to
reproach himself for the cowardice. But that it had lived and worked like
some secret malady until in the end it had made him an all-unconscious
accomplice in that midnight tragedy, a sharer in its guilt, if guilt
there were--here again was news for him. But the knowledge which her
first words had given to him, that all these years he had never got the
truth of her, kept him humble now. He ceased to be judge. He became pupil
and as pupil he answered her.

"I am ready to shoulder it."

He was seated on a cushioned bench which stood behind the writing-table
and Stella sat down at his side.

"When we parted--that morning--it was in the drawing-room over there in
my cottage. We parted, you to your work of getting on, Henry, I to think
of you getting on without me at your side. There was a letter lying on
the table, a letter from India. Jane Repton had written it and she asked
me to go out to her for the cold weather. I went. I was a young girl,
lonely and very unhappy, and as young girls often do who are lonely and
very unhappy I drifted into marriage."

"I see," said Thresk in a hushed voice. The terrible conviction grew upon
him now, lurid as the breaking of a day of storm, that the cowardice he
had shown on Bignor Hill ruined her altogether and hurt him not at all.
"Yes, I see. There my share begins."

"Oh no. Not yet," she answered. "Then I spoke when I should have kept
silence. I let my heart go out when I should have guarded it. No, I
cannot blame you."

"You have the right none the less."

But Stella would not excuse herself now and to him by any subtlety
or artifice.

"No: I married. That was my affair. I was
beaten--despised--ridiculed--terrified by a husband who drank secretly
and kept all his drunkenness for me. That, too, was my affair. But I
might have gone on. For seven years it had lasted. I was settling into a
dull habit of misery. I might have gone on being bullied and tortured had
not one little thing happened to push me over the precipice."

"And what was that?" asked Thresk.

"Your visit to me at Chitipur," she replied, and the words took his
breath away. Why, he had travelled to Chitipur merely to save her. He
leaned forward eagerly but she anticipated him. She smiled at him with an
indulgent forgiveness. "Oh, why did you come? But I know."

"Do you?" Thresk asked. Here at all events she was wrong.

"Yes. You came because of that one weak soft spot of sentimentalism there
is in all of you, the strongest, the hardest. You are strong for years.
You live alone for years. Then comes the sentimental moment and it's we
who suffer, not you."

And deep in Thresk's mind was the terror of the mistakes people make in
ignorance of each other, and of the mortal hurt the mistakes inflict. He
had misread Stella. Here was she misreading him and misreading him in
some strange way to her peril and ruin.

"You are sure of that?" he asked. She had no doubt--no more doubt than he
had had of the reason why she stood preparing her rifle.

"Quite," she answered. "You had heard of me in Bombay and it came over
you that you would like to see how the woman you had loved looked after
all these years: whether she retained her pretty way, whether she missed
you--ah, above all, whether she missed you. You wanted to fan up into a
mild harmless flame the ashes of an old romance, warm your hands at it
for half an hour, recapture a savour of dim and pleasant memories and
then go back to your own place and your own work, untouched and unhurt."

Thresk laughed aloud with bitterness at the mistake she had made. Yet he
could not blame her. There was a certain shrewd insight which though it
had led her astray in this case might well have been true in any other
case, might well have been true of him. He remembered her disbelief in
all that he had said to her in that tent at Chitipur; and he was appalled
by the irony of things and the blind and feeble helplessness of men to
combat it.

"So that's why I came to Chitipur?" he cried.

"Yes," Stella answered without a second of hesitation. "But I couldn't be
left untouched and unhurt. You came and all that I had lost came with
you, came in a vivid rush of bright intolerable memories." She clasped
her hands over her eyes and Thresk lived over again that evening in the
tent upon the desert, but with a new understanding. His mind was
illumined. He saw the world as a prison in which each living being is
shut off from his neighbour by the impenetrable wall of an inability to
understand.

"Memories of summers here," she resumed, "of women friends, of dainty and
comfortable things, and days of great happiness when it was good--oh so
very good!--to be alive and young. And you were going back to it all,
straight by the night-mail to Bombay, straight from the station on board
your ship. Oh, how it hurt to hear you speak of it, with a casual
pleasant word about exile and next-door neighbours!" She clasped her
hands together in front of her, her fingers worked and twisted. "No, I
couldn't endure it," she whispered. "The blows, the ridicule, the
contempt, I determined, should come to an end that night, and when you
saw me with the rifle in my hand I was going to end it."

"Yes?"

"And then the stupidest thing happened. I couldn't find the little box
of cartridges."

Stella described to him how she had run hither and thither about the
tent, opening drawers, looking into bags and growing more nervous and
more flurried with every second that passed. She had so little time.
Ballantyne was not going as far as the station with Thresk. He merely
intended to see his visitor off beyond the edge of the camp. And it must
all be over and done with before he came back. She heard Ballantyne call
to Thresk to sit firm while the camel rose; and still she had not found
them. She heard Thresk's voice saying good-night.

"The last words, Henry, I wanted to hear in the world. I thought that I
would wait for them and the moment they had died away--then. But I hadn't
found the cartridges and so the search began again."

Thresk, watching her as she lived through again those desperate minutes,
was carried back to Chitipur and seemed to be looking into that tent. He
had a dreadful picture before his eyes of a hunted woman rushing wildly
from table to table, with a white, quivering face and lips which babbled
incoherently and feverish hands which darted out nervously, over-setting
books and ornaments--in a vain search for a box of cartridges wherewith
to kill herself. She found them at last behind the whisky bottle, and
clutched at them with a great sigh of relief. She carried them over to
the table on which she had laid her rifle, and as she pushed one into
the breech, Stephen Ballantyne stood in the doorway of the tent.

"He swore at me," Stella continued. "I had taken the necklace off. I had
shown you the bruises on my throat. He cursed me for it, and he asked me
roughly why I didn't shoot myself and rid him of a fool. I stood without
answering him. That always maddened him. I didn't do it on purpose. I had
become dull and slow. I just stood and looked at him stupidly, and in a
fury he ran at me with his fist raised. I recoiled, he frightened me, and
then before he reached me--yes." Her voice died away in a whisper. Thresk
did not interrupt. There was more for her to tell and one dreadful
incident to explain. Stella went on in a moment, looking straight in
front of her and with all the passion of fear gone from her voice.

"I remember that he stood and stared at me foolishly for a little while.
I had time to believe that nothing had happened, and to be glad that
nothing had happened and to be terrified of what he would do to me. And
then he fell and lay quite still."

It seemed that she had no more to say, that she meant to leave
unexplained the inexplicable thing; and even Thresk put it out of
his thoughts.

"It was an accident then," he cried. "After all, Stella, it was an
accident."

But Stella sat mutely at his side. Some struggle was taking place in her
and was reflected in her countenance. Thresk's eager joy was damped.

"No, my friend," she said at length, slowly and very deliberately. "It
was not an accident."

"But you fired in fear." Thresk caught now at that alternative. "You shot
in self-defence. Stella, I blundered at Bombay." He moved away from her
in his agitation. "I am sorry. Oh, I am very sorry. I should never have
come forward at all. I should have lain quiet and let your counsel
develop his case, as he was doing, on the line of self-defence. You would
have been acquitted--and rightly acquitted. You would have had the
sympathy of every one. But I didn't know your story. I was afraid that
the discovery of Ballantyne outside the tent would ruin you. I knew that
my story could not fail to save you. So I told it. But I was wrong,
Stella. I blundered. I did you a great harm."

He was standing before her now and so poignant an anguish rang in his
voice that Stella was moved by it to discard her plans. Thus she had
meant to tell the story if ever she was driven to it. Thus she had told
it. But now she put out a timid hand and took him by the arm.

"I said I would tell you the truth. But I have not told it all. It's so
hard not to keep one little last thing back. Listen to me"; and with a
bowed head and her hand still clinging desperately to his arm she made
the final revelation.

"It's true I was crazy with fear. But there was just one little moment
when I knew what I was going to do, when it came upon me that the way I
had chosen before was the wrong one, and this new way the right one. No,
no," she cried as Thresk moved. "Even that's not all. That moment--you
could hardly measure it in time, yet to me it was distinct enough and is
marked distinctly in my memories, for during it _he_ drew back."

"What?" cried Thresk. "Don't say it, Stella!"

"Yes," she answered. "During it he drew back, knowing what I was going to
do just as I suddenly knew it. It was a moment when he seemed to me to
bleat--yes, that's the word--to bleat for mercy."

She had told the truth now and she dropped her hand from his sleeve.

"And you? What did you do?" asked Thresk.

"I? Oh, I went mad, I think. When I saw him lying there I lost my head.
The tent was flecked with great spots of fire which whirled in front of
my eyes and hurt. A strength far greater than mine possessed me. I was
crazy. I dragged him out of the tent for no reason--that's the truth--for
no reason at all. Can you believe that?"

"Yes," replied Thresk readily enough. "I can well believe that."

"Then something broke," she resumed. "I felt weak and numbed. I dragged
myself to my room. I went to bed. Does that sound very horrible to you?
I had one clear thought only. It was over. It was all over. I slept."
She leaned back in her chair, her hands dropped to her side, her eyes
closed. "Yes I did actually sleep."

A clock ticking upon the mantelshelf seemed to grow louder and louder in
the silence of the library. The sound of it forced itself upon Thresk. It
roused Stella. She opened her eyes. In front of her Thresk was standing,
his face grave and very pitiful.

"Now answer me truly," said Stella, and leaning forward she fixed her
eyes upon him. "If you still loved me, would you, knowing this story,
refuse to marry me?"

Thresk looked back across the years of her unhappy life and saw her as
the sport of a malicious destiny.

"No," he said, "I should not."

"Then why shouldn't Dick marry me?"

"Because he doesn't know this story."

Stella nodded her head.

"Yes. There's the flaw in my appeal to you, I know. You are quite right.
I should have told him. I should tell him now," and suddenly she dropped
on her knees before Thresk, the tears burst from her eyes, and in a voice
broken with passion she cried:

"But I daren't--not yet. I have tried to--oh, more than once. Believe
that, Henry! You must believe it! But I couldn't. I hadn't the courage.
You will give me a little time, won't you? Oh, not long. I will tell him
of my own free will--very soon, Henry. But not now--not now."

The sound of her sobbing and the sight of her distress wrung Thresk's
heart. He lifted her from the ground and held her.

"There's another way, Stella," he said gently.

"Oh, I know," she answered. She was thinking of the little bottle with
the tablets of veronal which stood by her bed, not for the first time
that night. She did not stop to consider whether Thresk, too, had that
way in his mind. It came to her so naturally; it was so easy, so simple a
way. She never thought that she misunderstood. She had come to the end of
the struggle; the battle had gone against her; she recognised it; and
now, without complaint, she bowed her head for the final blow. The
inherited habit of submission taught her that the moment had come for
compliance and gave her the dignity of patience. "Yes, I suppose that I
must take that way," she said, and she walked towards the chair over
which she had thrown her wrap. "Good-night, Henry."

But before she had thrown the cloak about her shoulders Thresk stood
between her and the window. He took the cloak from her hands.

"There have been too many mistakes, Stella, between you and me. There
must be no more. Here are we--until to-night strangers, and because we
were strangers, and never knew it, spoiling each other's lives."

Stella looked at him in bewilderment. She had taught Thresk that night
unimagined truths about herself. She was now to learn something of the
inner secret man which the outward trappings of success concealed. He led
her to a sofa and placed her at his side.

"You have said a good many hard things to me, Stella," he said with a
smile--"most of them true, but some untrue. And the untrue things you
wouldn't have said if you had ever chanced to ask yourself one question:
why I really missed my steamer at Bombay."

Stella Ballantyne was startled. She made a guess but faltered in the
utterance of it, so ill it fitted with her estimate of him.

"You missed it on purpose?"

"Yes. I didn't come to Chitipur on any sentimental journey"; and he told
how he had seen her portrait in Jane Repton's drawing-room and learnt of
the misery of her marriage.

"I came to fetch you away."

And again Stella stared at him.

"You? You pitied me so much? Oh, Henry!"

"No. I wanted you so much. It's quite true that I sacrificed everything
for success. I don't deny that it is well worth having. But Jane Repton
said something to me in Bombay so true--you can get whatever you want if
you want it enough, but you cannot control the price you will have to
pay. I know, my dear, that I paid too big a price. I trampled down
something better worth having."

Stella rose suddenly to her feet.

"Oh, if I had known that on the night in Chitipur! What a difference it
would have made!" She turned swiftly to him. "Couldn't you have told me?"

"I hadn't a chance. I hadn't five minutes with you alone. And you
wouldn't have believed me if I had had the chance. I left my pipe behind
me in order to come back and tell you. I had only the time then to tell
you that I would write."

"Yes, yes," she answered, and again the cry burst from her: "What a
difference it would have made! Merely to have known that you really
wanted me!"

She would never have taken that rifle from the corner and searched for
the cartridges, that she might kill herself! Whether she had consented or
not to go away and ruin Thresk's future she would have had a little faith
wherewith to go on and face the world. If she had only known! But up on
the top of Bignor Hill a blow had been struck under which her faith had
reeled and it had never had a chance of recovery. She laughed harshly.
The heart of her tragedy was now revealed to her. She saw herself the
sport of gods who sat about like cruel louts torturing a helpless animal
and laughing stupidly at its sufferings. She turned again to Thresk and
held out her hand.

"Thank you. You would have ruined yourself for me."

"Ruin's a large word," he answered, and still holding her hand he drew
her down again. She yielded reluctantly. She might misread his character,
but when the feelings and emotions were aroused she had the unerring
insight of her sex. She was warned by it now. She looked at Thresk with
startled eyes.

"Why have you told me all this?" she asked in suspense, ready for flight.

"I want to prepare you. There's a way out of the trouble--the honest way
for both of us: to make a clean breast of it together and together take
what follows."

She was on her feet and away from him in a second.

"No, no," she cried in alarm, and Thresk mistook the cause of the alarm.

"You can't be tried again, Stella. That's over. You have been acquitted."

She temporised.

"But you?"

"I?" and he shrugged his shoulders. "I take the consequences. I doubt if
they would be so very heavy. There would be some sympathy. And
afterwards--it would be as though you had slipped down from Chitipur to
Bombay and joined me as I had planned. We can make the best of our lives
together."

There was so much sincerity in his manner, so much simplicity she could
not doubt him; and the immensity of the sacrifice he was prepared to make
overwhelmed her. It was not merely scandal and the Divorce Court which he
was ready to brave now. He had gone beyond the plan contemplated at
Bombay. He was willing to go hand in hand with her into the outer
darkness, laying down all that he had laboured for unsparingly.

"You would do that for me?" she said. "Oh, you put me to shame!" and she
covered her face with her hands.

"You give up your struggle for a footing in the world--that's what you
want, isn't it?" He pleaded, and she drew her hands away from her face.
He believed that? He imagined that she was fighting just for a name, a
position in the world? She stared at him in amazement, and forced herself
to understand. Since he himself had cared for her enough to remain
unmarried, since the knowledge of the mistake which he had made had grown
more bitter with each year, he had fallen easily into that other error
that she had never ceased to care too.

"We'll make something of our lives, never fear," he was saying. "But to
marry this man for his position, and he not knowing--oh, my dear, I know
how you are driven--but it won't do! It won't do!"

She stood in silence for a little while. One by one he had torn her
defences down. She could hardly bear the gentleness upon his face and
she turned away from him and sat down upon a chair a little way off.

"Stand there, Henry," she said. A strange composure had succeeded her
agitation. "I must tell you something more which I had meant to hide
from you--the last thing which I have kept back. It will hurt you, I
am afraid."

There came a change upon Thresk's face. He was steeling himself to
meet a blow.

"Go on."

"It isn't because of his position that I cling to Dick. I want him to
keep that--yes--for his sake. I don't want him to lose more by marrying
me than he needs must"; and comprehension burst upon Henry Thresk.

"You care for him then! You really care for him?"

"So much," she answered, "that if I lost him now I should lose all the
world. You and I can't go back to where we stood nine years ago. You had
your chance then, Henry, if you had wished to take it. But you didn't
wish it, and that sort of chance doesn't often come again. Others like
it--yes. But not quite the same one. I am sorry. But you must believe me.
If I lost Dick I should lose all the world."

So far she had spoken very deliberately, but now her voice faltered.

"That is my one poor excuse."

The unexpected word roused Thresk to inquiry.

"Excuse?" he asked, and with her eyes fixed in fear upon him she
continued:

"Yes. I meant Dick to marry me publicly. But I saw that his father shrank
from the marriage. I grew afraid. I told Dick of my fears. He banished
them. I let him banish them."

"What do you mean?" Thresk asked.

"We were married privately in London five days ago."

Thresk uttered a low cry and in a moment Stella was at his side, all her
composure gone.

"Oh, I know that it was wrong. But I was being hunted. They were all like
a pack of wolves after me. Mr. Hazlewood had joined them. I was driven
into a corner. I loved Dick. They meant to tear him from me without any
pity. I clung. Yes, I clung."

But Thresk thrust her aside.

"You tricked him," he cried.

"I didn't dare to tell him," Stella pleaded, wringing her hands. "I
didn't dare to lose him."

"You tricked him," Thresk repeated; and at the note of anger in his voice
Stella found herself again.

"You accuse and condemn me?" she asked quietly.

"Yes. A thousand times, yes," he exclaimed hotly, and she answered with
another question winged on a note of irony:

"Because I tricked him? Or because I--married him?"

Thresk was silenced. He recognised the truth implied in the distinction,
he turned to her with a smile.

"Yes," he answered. "You are right, Stella. It's because you
married him."

He stood for a moment in thought. Then with a gesture of helplessness he
picked up her cloak. She watched his action and as he came towards her
she cried:

"But I'll tell him now, Henry." In a way she owed it to this man who
cared for her so much, who was so prepared for sacrifice, if sacrifice
could help. That morning on the downs was swept from her memory now.
"Yes, I'll tell him now," she said eagerly. Since Henry Thresk set
such store upon that confession, why so very likely would Dick, her
husband, too.

But Thresk shook his head.

"What's the use now? You give him no chance. You can't set him free"; and
Stella was as one turned to stone. All argument seemed sooner or later to
turn to that one dread alternative which had already twice that night
forced itself on her acceptance.

"Yes, I can, Henry, and I will, I promise you, if he wishes to be free. I
can do it quite easily, quite naturally. Any woman could. So many of us
take things to make us sleep."

There was no boastfulness in her voice or manner, but rather a despairing
recognition of facts.

"Good God, you mustn't think of it!" said Thresk eagerly. "That's too
big a price to pay."

Stella shook her head wistfully.

"You hear it said, Henry," she answered with an indescribable
wistfulness, "that women will do anything to keep the men they love.
They'll do a great deal--I am an example--but not always everything.
Sometimes love runs just a little stronger. And then it craves that the
loved one shall get all he wants to have. If Dick wants his freedom I
too, then, shall want him to have it."

And while Thresk stood with no words to answer her there came a knocking
upon the door. It was gentle, almost furtive, but it startled them both
like a clap of thunder. For a moment they stood rigid. Then Thresk
silently handed Stella her cloak and pointed towards the window. He
began to speak aloud. A word or two revealed his plan to Stella
Ballantyne. He was rehearsing a speech which he was to make in the
Courts before a jury. But the handle of the door rattled and now old Mr.
Hazlewood's voice was heard.

"Thresk! Are you there?"

Once more Thresk pointed to the window. But Stella did not move.

"Let him in," she said quietly, and with a glance at her he
unlocked the door.

Mr. Hazlewood stood outside. He had not gone to bed that night. He had
taken off his coat and now wore a smoking-jacket.

"I knew that I should not sleep to-night, so I sat up," he began, "and I
thought that I heard voices here."

Over Thresk's shoulder he saw Stella Ballantyne standing erect in the
middle of the room, her shining gown the one bright patch of colour. "You
here?" he cried to her, and Thresk made way for him to enter. He advanced
to her with a look of triumph in his eyes.

"You here--at this house--with Thresk? You were persuading him to
continue to hold his tongue."

Stella met his gaze steadily.

"No," she replied. "He was persuading me to the truth, and he has
succeeded."

Mr. Hazlewood smiled and nodded. There was no magnanimity in his triumph.
A schoolboy would have shown more chivalry to the opponent who was down.

"You confess then? Good! Richard must be told."

"Yes," answered Stella. "I claim the right to tell him."

But Mr. Hazlewood scoffed at the proposal.

"Oh dear no!" he cried. "I refuse the claim. I shall go straight to
Richard now."

He had actually taken a couple of steps towards the door before Stella's
voice rang out suddenly loud and imperative.

"Take care, Mr. Hazlewood. After you have told him he will come to me.
Take care!"

Hazlewood stopped. Certainly that was true.

"I'll tell Dick to-morrow, here, in your presence," she said. "And if he
wishes it I'll set him free and never trouble either of you again."

Hazlewood looked at Thresk and was persuaded to consent. Reflection
showed him that it was the better plan. He himself would be present when
Stella spoke. He would see that the truth was told without embroidery.

"Very well, to-morrow," he said.

Stella flung the cloak over her shoulders and went up to the window.
Thresk opened it for her.

"I'll see you to your door," he said.

The moon had risen now. It hung low with the branches of a tree like a
lattice across its face; and on the garden and the meadow lay that
unearthly light which falls when a moonlit night begins to drown in the
onrush of the dawn.

"No," she said. "I would rather go alone. But do something for me, will
you? Stay to-morrow. Be here when I tell him." She choked down a sob.
"Oh, I shall want a friend and you are so kind."

"So kind!" he repeated with a note of bitterness. Could there be praise
from a woman's lips more deadly? You are kind; you are put in your place
in the ruck of men; you are extinguished.

"Oh yes, I'll stay."

She stood for a moment on the stone flags outside the window.

"Will he forgive?" she asked. "You would. And he is not so very young, is
he? It's the young who don't forgive. Good-night."

She went along the path and across the meadow. Thresk watched her go and
saw the light spring up in her room. Then he closed the window and drew
the curtain. Mr. Hazlewood had gone. Thresk wondered what the morrow
would bring. After all, Stella was right. Youth was a graceful thing of
high-sounding words and impetuous thoughts, but like many other graceful
things it could be hard and cruel. Its generosity did not come from any
wide outlook on a world where there is a good deal to be said for
everything. It was rather a matter of physical health than judgment. Yes,
he was glad Dick Hazlewood was half his way through the thirties. For
himself--well, he knew his business. It was to be kind. He turned off the
lights and went to bed.




CHAPTER XXVII

THE VERDICT


"Six, seven, eight," said Mr. Hazlewood, counting the letters which he
had already written since breakfast and placing them on the salver which
Hubbard was holding out to him. He was a very different man this morning
from the Mr. Hazlewood of yesterday. He shone, complacent and serene. He
leaned back in his chair and gazed mildly at the butler. "There must be
an answer to the problem which I put to you, Hubbard."

Hubbard wrinkled his brows in thought and succeeded only in looking a
hundred and ten years old. He had the melancholy look of a moulting bird.
He shook his head and drooped.

"No doubt, sir," he said.

"But as far as you are concerned," Mr. Hazlewood continued briskly, "you
can throw no light upon it?"

"Not a glimmer, sir."

Mr. Hazlewood was disappointed and with him disappointment was petulance.

"That is unlike you, Hubbard," he said, "for sometimes after I have been
deliberating for days over some curious and perplexing conundrum, you
have solved it the moment it has been put to you."

Hubbard drooped still lower. He began the droop as a bow of
acknowledgment but forgot to raise his head again.

"It is very good of you, sir," he said. He seemed oppressed by the
goodness of Mr. Hazlewood.

"Yet you are not clever, Hubbard! Not at all clever."

"No, sir. I know my place," returned the butler, and Mr. Hazlewood
continued with a little envy.

"You must have some wonderful gift of insight which guides you straight
to the inner meaning of things."

"It's just common-sense, sir," said Hubbard.

"But I haven't got it," cried Mr. Hazlewood. "How's that?"

"You don't need it, sir. You are a gentleman," Hubbard replied, and
carried the letters to the door. There, however, he stopped. "I beg your
pardon, sir," he said, "but a new parcel of _The Prison Walls_ has
arrived this morning. Shall I unpack it?"

Mr. Hazlewood frowned and scratched his ear.

"Well--er--no, Hubbard--no," he said with a trifle of discomfort. "I am
not sure indeed that _The Prison Walls_ is not almost one of my mistakes.
We all make mistakes, Hubbard. I think you shall burn that parcel,
Hubbard--somewhere where it won't be noticed."

"Certainly, sir," said Hubbard. "I'll burn it under the shadow of the
south wall."

Mr. Hazlewood looked up with a start. Was it possible that Hubbard was
poking fun at him? The mere notion was incredible and indeed Hubbard
shuffled with so much meekness from the room that Mr. Hazlewood dismissed
it. He went across the hall to the dining-room, where he found Henry
Thresk trifling with his breakfast. No embarrassment weighed upon Mr.
Hazlewood this morning. He effervesced with good-humour.

"I do not blame you, Mr. Thresk," he said, "for the side you took
yesterday afternoon. You were a stranger to us in this house. I
understand your position."

"I am not quite so sure, Mr. Hazlewood," said Thresk drily, "that I
understand yours. For my part I have not closed my eyes all night. You,
on the other hand, seem to have slept well."

"I did indeed," said Hazlewood. "I was relieved from a strain of
suspense under which I have been labouring for a month past. To have
refused my consent to Richard's marriage with Stella Ballantyne on no
other grounds than that social prejudice forbade it would have seemed
a complete, a stupendous reversal of my whole theory and conduct of
life. I should have become an object of ridicule. People would have
laughed at the philosopher of Little Beeding. I have heard their
laughter all this month. Now, however, once the truth is known no one
will be able to say--"

Henry Thresk looked up from his plate aghast.

"Do you mean to say, Mr. Hazlewood, that after Mrs. Ballantyne has told
her story you mean to make that story public?"

Mr. Hazlewood stared in amazement at Henry Thresk.

"But of course," he said.

"Oh, you can't be thinking of it!"

"But I am. I must do it. There is so much at stake," replied Hazlewood.

"What?"

"The whole consistency of my life. I must make it clear that I am not
acting upon prejudice or suspicion or fear of what the world will say or
for any of the conventional reasons which might guide other men."

To Thresk this point of view was horrible; and there was no arguing
against it. It was inspired by the dreadful vanity of a narrow, shallow
nature, and Thresk's experience had never shown him anything more
difficult to combat and overcome.

"So for the sake of your reputation for consistency you will make a very
unhappy woman bear shame and obloquy which she might easily be spared?
You could find a thousand excuses for breaking off the marriage."

"You put the case very harshly, Mr. Thresk," said Hazlewood. "But
you have not considered my position," and he went indignantly back
to the library.

Thresk shrugged his shoulders. After all if Dick Hazlewood turned his
back upon Stella she would not hear the abuse or suffer the shame. That
she would take the dark journey as she declared he could not doubt. And
no one could prevent her--not even he himself, though his heart might
break at her taking it. All depended upon Dick.

He appeared a few minutes afterwards fresh from his ride, glowing with
good-humour and contentment. But the sight of Thresk surprised him.

"Hulloa," he cried. "Good-morning. I thought you were going to catch the
eight forty-five."

"I felt lazy," answered Thresk. "I sent off some telegrams to put off my
engagements."

"Good," said Dick, and he sat down at the breakfast-table. As he poured
out a cup of tea, Thresk said:

"I think I heard you were over thirty."

"Yes."

"Thirty's a good age," said Thresk.

"It looks back on youth," answered Dick.

"That's just what I mean," remarked Thresk. "Do you mind a cigarette?"

"Not at all."

Thresk smoked and while he smoked he talked, not carelessly yet careful
not to emphasize his case. "Youth is a graceful thing of high-sounding
words and impetuous thoughts, but like many other graceful things it can
be very hard and very cruel."

Dick Hazlewood looked closely and quickly at his companion. But he
answered casually:

"It is supposed to be generous."

"And it is--to itself," replied Thresk. "Generous when its sympathies are
enlisted, generous so long as all goes well with it: generous because it
is confident of triumph. But its generosity is not a matter of judgment.
It does not come from any wide outlook upon a world where there is a good
deal to be said for everything. It is a matter of physical health."

"Yes?" said Dick.

"And once affronted, once hurt, youth finds it difficult to forgive."

So far both men had been debating on an abstract topic without any
immediate application to themselves. But now Dick leaned across the table
with a smile upon his face which Thresk did not understand.

"And why do you say this to me this morning, Mr. Thresk?" he asked
pointedly.

"Yes, it's rather an impertinence, isn't it?" Thresk agreed. "But I was
looking into a case late last night in which irrevocable and terrible
things are going to happen if there is not forgiveness."

Dick took his cigarette-case from his pocket.

"I see," he remarked, and struck a match. Both men rose from the table
and at the door Dick turned.

"Your case, of course, has not yet come on," he said.

"No," answered Thresk, "but it will very soon."

They went into the library, and Mr. Hazlewood greeted his son with a
vivacity which for weeks had been absent from his demeanour.

"Did you ride this morning?" he asked.

"Yes, but Stella didn't. She sent word over that she was tired. I must go
across and see how she is."

Mr. Hazlewood interposed quickly:

"There is no need of that, my boy; she is coming here this morning."

"Oh!"

Dick looked at his father in astonishment.

"She said no word of it to me last night--and I saw her home. I suppose
she sent word over about that too?"

He looked from one to the other of his companions, but neither answered
him. Some uneasiness indeed was apparent in them both.

"Oho!" he said with a smile. "Stella's coming over and I know
nothing of it. Mr. Thresk's lazy, so remains at Little Beeding and
delivers a lecture to me over breakfast. And you, father, seem in
remarkable spirits."

Mr. Hazlewood seized upon the opportunity to interrupt his son's
reflections.

"I am, my boy," he cried. "I walked in the fields this morning
and--" But he got no further with his explanations, for the sound of Mrs.
Pettifer's voice rang high in the hall and she burst into the room.

"Harold, I have only a moment. Good morning, Mr. Thresk," she cried in a
breath. "I have something to say to you."

Thresk was disturbed. Suppose that Stella came while Mrs. Pettifer was
here! She must not speak in Mrs. Pettifer's presence. Somehow Mrs.
Pettifer must be dismissed. No such anxiety, however, harassed Mr.
Hazlewood.

"Say it, Margaret," he said, smiling benignantly upon her. "You cannot
annoy me this morning. I am myself again," and Dick's eyes turned sharply
upon him. "All my old powers of observation have returned, my old
interest in the great dark riddle of human life has re-awakened. The
brain, the sedulous, active brain, resumes its work to-day asking
questions, probing problems. I rose early, Margaret," he flourished his
hands like one making a speech, "and walking in the fields amongst the
cows a most curious speculation forced itself upon my mind. How is it, I
asked myself--"

It seemed that Mr. Hazlewood was destined never to complete a sentence
that morning, for Margaret Pettifer at this point banged her umbrella
upon the floor.

"Stop talking, Harold, and listen to me! I have been speaking with Robert
and we withdraw all opposition to Dick's marriage."

Mr. Hazlewood was dumfoundered.

"You, Margaret--you of all people!" he stammered.

"Yes," she replied decisively. "Robert likes her and Robert is a good
judge of a woman. That's one thing. Then I believe Dick is going to take
St. Quentins; isn't that so, Dick?"

"Yes," answered Dick. "That's the house we looked over yesterday."

"Well, it's not a couple of a hundred yards from us, and it would not be
comfortable for any of us if Dick and Dick's wife were strangers. So I
give in. There, Dick!" She went across the room and held out her hand to
him. "I am going to call on Stella this afternoon."

Dick flushed with pleasure.

"That's splendid, Aunt Margaret. I knew you were all right, you know. You
put on a few frills at first, of course, but you are forgiven."

Mr. Hazlewood made so complete a picture of dismay that Dick could not
but pity him. He went across to his father.

"Now, sir," he said, "let us hear this problem."

The old man was not proof against the invitation.

"You shall, Richard," he exclaimed. "You are the very man to hear it.
Your aunt, Richard, is of too practical a mind for such speculations.
It's a most curious problem. Hubbard quite failed to throw any light upon
it. I myself am, I confess, bewildered. And I wonder if a fresh young
mind can help us to a solution." He patted his son on the shoulder and
then took him by the arm.

"The fresh young mind will have a go, father," said Dick. "Fire away."

"I was walking in the fields, my boy."

"Yes, sir, among the cows."

"Exactly, you put your finger on the very point. How is it, I asked
myself--"

"That's quite your old style, father."

"Now isn't it, Richard, isn't it?" Mr. Hazlewood dropped Dick's arm. He
warmed to his theme. He caught fire. He assumed the attitude of the
orator. "How is it that with the advancement of science and the progress
of civilization a cow gives no more milk to-day than she did at the
beginning of the Christian era?"

With outspread arms he asked for an answer and the answer came.

"A fresh young mind can solve that problem in two shakes. It is because
the laws of nature forbid. That's your trouble, father. That's the
great drawback to sentimental enthusiasm. It's always up against the
laws of nature."

"Dick," said Mrs. Pettifer, "by some extraordinary miracle you are gifted
with common-sense. I am off." She went away in a hurricane as she had
come, and it was time that she did go, for even while she was closing the
door Stella Ballantyne came out from her cottage to cross the meadow.
Dick was the first to hear the gate click as she unlatched it and passed
into the garden. He took a step towards the window, but his father
interposed and for once with a real authority.

"No, Richard," he said. "Wait with us here. Mrs. Ballantyne has something
to tell us."

"I thought so," said Dick quietly, and he came back to the other two men.
"Let me understand." His face was grave but without anger or any
confusion. "Stella returned here last night after I had taken her home?"

"Yes," said Thresk.

"To see you?"

"Yes."

"And my father came down and found you together?"

"Yes."

"I heard voices," Mr. Hazlewood hurriedly interposed, "and so naturally I
came down."

Dick turned to his father.

"That's all right, father. I didn't think you were listening at the
keyhole. I am not blaming anybody. I want to know exactly where we
are--that's all."

Stella found the little group awaiting her, and standing up before them
she told her story as she had told it last night to Thresk. She omitted
nothing nor did she falter. She had trembled and cried for a great part
of the night over the ordeal which lay before her, but now that she had
come to it she was brave. Her composure indeed astonished Thresk and
filled him with compassion. He knew that the very roots of her heart were
bleeding. Only once or twice did she give any sign of what these few
minutes were costing her. Her eyes strayed towards Dick Hazlewood's face
in spite of herself, but she turned them away again with a wrench of her
head and closed her eyelids lest she should hesitate and fail. All
listened to her in silence, and it was strange to Thresk that the one man
who seemed least concerned of the three was Dick Hazlewood himself. He
watched Stella all the while she was speaking, but his face was a mask,
not a gesture or movement gave a clue to his thoughts. When Stella had
finished he asked composedly:

"Why didn't you tell me all this at the beginning, Stella?"

And now she turned to him in a burst of passion and remorse.

"Oh, Dick, I tried to tell you. I made up my mind so often that I would,
but I never had the courage. I am terribly to blame. I hid it all from
you--yes. But oh! you meant so much to me--you yourself, Dick. It wasn't
your position. It wasn't what you brought with you, other people's
friendship, other people's esteem. It was just you--you--you! I longed
for you to want me, as I wanted you." Then she recovered herself and
stopped. She was doing the very thing she had resolved not to do. She was
pleading, she was making excuses. She drew herself up and with a dignity
which was quite pitiful she now pleaded against herself.

"But I don't ask for your pity. You mustn't be merciful. I don't _want_
mercy, Dick. That's of no use to me. I want to know what you think--just
what you really and truthfully think--that's all. I can stand alone--if I
must. Oh yes, I can stand alone." And as Thresk stirred and moved,
knowing well in what way she meant to stand alone, Stella turned her eyes
full upon him in warning, nay, in menace. "I can stand alone quite
easily, Dick. You mustn't think that I should suffer so very much. I
shouldn't! I shouldn't--"

In spite of her control a sob broke from her throat and her bosom heaved;
and then Dick Hazlewood went quietly to her side and took her hand.

"I didn't interrupt you, Stella. I wanted you to tell everything now,
once for all, so that no one of us three need ever mention a word of
it again."

Stella looked at Dick Hazlewood in wonder, and then a light broke over
her face like the morning. His arm slipped about her waist and she leaned
against him suddenly weak, almost to swooning. Mr. Hazlewood started up
from his chair in consternation.

"But you heard her, Richard!"

"Yes, father, I heard her," he answered. "But you see Stella is my wife."

"Your--" Mr. Hazlewood's lips refused to speak the word. He fell back
again in his chair and dropped his face in his hands. "Oh, no!"

"It's true," said Dick. "I have rooms in London, you know. I went to
London last week. Stella came up on Monday. It was my doing, my wish.
Stella is my wife."

Mr. Hazlewood groaned aloud.

"But she has tricked you, Richard," and Stella agreed.

"Yes, I tricked you, Dick. I did," she said miserably, and she drew
herself from his arm. But he caught her hand.

"No, you didn't." He led her over to his father. "That's where you both
make your mistake. Stella tried to tell me something on the very night
when we walked back from this house to her cottage and I asked her to
marry me. She has tried again often during the last weeks. I knew very
well what it was--before you turned against her, before I married her.
She didn't trick me."

Mr. Hazlewood turned in despair to Henry Thresk.

"What do you say?" he asked.

"That I am very glad you asked me here to give my advice on your
collection," Thresk answered. "I was inclined yesterday to take a
different view of your invitation. But I did what perhaps I may suggest
that you should do: I accepted the situation."

He went across to Stella and took her hands.

"Oh, thank you," she cried, "thank you."

"And now"--Thresk turned to Dick--"if I might look at a _Bradshaw_ I
could find out the next train to London."

"Certainly," said Dick, and he went over to the writing-table. Stella and
Henry Thresk were left alone for a moment.

"We shall see you again," she said. "Please!"

Thresk laughed.

"No doubt. I am not going out into the night. You know my address. If you
don't ask Mr. Hazlewood. It's in King's Bench Walk, isn't it?" And he
took the time-table from Dick Hazlewood's hand.

THE END





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