Infomotions, Inc.Ensign Knightley and Other Stories / Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948



Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
Title: Ensign Knightley and Other Stories
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): knightley; mitchelbourne; solita; hatteras; rudel; fevrier; scrope; walker; lady tamworth; princess joceliande; captain plessy; major lashley; princess; ensign knightley; major shackleton
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Title: Ensign Knightley and Other Stories

Author: A. E. W. Mason

Release Date: July 9, 2004  [eBook #12859]

Language: English

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ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY AND OTHER STORIES

By

A. E. W. MASON

Author of "The Courtship of Morrice Buckler," "The Watchers,"
"Parson Kelly," etc.

1901






CONTENTS.


ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY
THE MAN OF WHEELS
MR. MITCHELBOURNE'S LAST ESCAPADE
THE COWARD
THE DESERTER
THE CROSSED GLOVES
THE SHUTTERED HOUSE
KEEPER OF THE BISHOP
THE CRUISE OF THE "WILLING MIND"
HOW BARRINGTON RETURNED TO JOHANNESBURG
HATTERAS
THE PRINCESS JOCELIANDE
A LIBERAL EDUCATION
THE TWENTY-KRONER STORY
THE FIFTH PICTURE




ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY.


It was eleven o'clock at night when Surgeon Wyley of His Majesty's
ship _Bonetta_ washed his hands, drew on his coat, and walked from the
hospital up the narrow cobbled street of Tangier to the Main-Guard by
the Catherine Port. In the upper room of the Main-Guard he found
Major Shackleton of the Tangier Foot taking a hand at bassette with
Lieutenant Scrope of Trelawney's Regiment and young Captain Tessin of
the King's Battalion. There were three other officers in the room, and
to them Surgeon Wyley began to talk in a prosy, medical strain. Two of
his audience listened in an uninterested stolidity for just so long as
the remnant of manners, which still survived in Tangier, commanded,
and then strolling through the open window on to the balcony, lit
their pipes.

Overhead the stars blazed in the rich sky of Morocco; the
riding-lights of Admiral Herbert's fleet sprinkled the bay; and below
them rose the hum of an unquiet town. It was the night of May 13th,
1680, and the life of every Christian in Tangier hung in the balance.
The Moors had burst through the outposts to the west, and were now
entrenched beneath the walls. The Henrietta Redoubt had fallen that
day; to-morrow the little fort at Devil's Drop, built on the edge of
the sand where the sea rippled up to the palisades, must fall; and
Charles Fort, to the southwest, was hardly in a better case. However,
a sortie had been commanded at daybreak as a last effort to relieve
Charles Fort, and the two officers on the balcony speculated over
their pipes on the chances of success.

Meanwhile, inside the room Surgeon Wyley lectured to his remaining
auditor, who, too tired to remonstrate, tilted his chair against the
wall and dozed.

"A concussion of the brain," Wyley went on, "has this curious effect,
that after recovery the patient will have lost from his consciousness
a period of time which immediately preceded the injury. Thus a man may
walk down a street here in Tangier; four, five, six hours afterwards,
he mounts his horse, is thrown on to his head. When he wakes again to
his senses, the last thing he remembers is--what? A sign, perhaps,
over a shop in the street he walked down, or a leper pestering him for
alms. The intervening hours are lost to him, and forever. It is no
question of an abeyance of memory. There is a gap in the continuity of
his experience, and that gap he will never fill up."

"Except by hearsay?"

The correction came from Lieutenant Scrope at the bassette table. It
was quite carelessly uttered while the Lieutenant was picking up his
cards. Surgeon Wyley shifted his chair towards the table, and accepted
the correction.

"Except, of course, by hearsay."

Wyley was a new-comer to Tangier, having sailed into the bay less than
a week back; but he had been long enough in the town to find in Scrope
a subject at once of interest and perplexity. Scrope was in years
nearer forty than thirty, dark of complexion, aquiline of feature, and
though a trifle below the middle height he redeemed his stature by the
litheness of his figure. What interested Wyley was that he seemed a
man in whom strong passions were always desperately at war with a
strong will. He wore habitually a mask of reserve; behind it, Wyley
was aware of sleeping fires. He spoke habitually in a quiet, decided
voice, like one that has the soundings of his nature; beneath it,
Wyley detected, continually recurring, continually subdued, a note
of turbulence. Here, in a word, was a man whose hand was against the
world but who would not strike at random. What perplexed Wyley, on the
other hand, was Scrope's subordinate rank of lieutenant in a garrison
where, from the frequency of death, promotion was of the quickest. He
sat there at the table, a lieutenant; a boy of twenty-four faced him,
and the boy was a captain and his superior.

It was to the Lieutenant, however, that Wyley resumed his discourse.

"The length of time lost is proportionate to the severity of the
concussion. It may be only an hour; I have known it to be a day." He
leaned back in his chair and smiled. "A strange question that for a
man to ask himself--What did he do during those hours?--a question to
appal him."

Scrope chose a card from his hand and played it. Without looking up
from the table, he asked: "To appal him? Why?"

"Because the question would be not so much what did he do, as what may
he not have done. A man rides through life insecurely seated on his
passions. Within a few hours the most honest man may commit a damnable
crime, a damnable dishonour."

Scrope looked quietly at the Surgeon to read the intention of his
words. Then: "I suppose so," he said carelessly. "But do you think
that question would press?"

"Why not?" asked Wyley.

Scrope shrugged his shoulders. "I should need an example before I
believed you."

The example was at the door. The corporal of the guard at the
Catherine Port knocked and was admitted. He told his story to Major
Shackleton, and as he told it the two officers lounged back into the
room from the balcony, and the other who was dozing against the wall
brought the legs of his chair with a bang to the floor and woke up.

It appeared that a sentry at the stockade outside the Catherine Port
had suddenly noticed a flutter of white on the ground a few yards
from the stockade. He watched this white object, and it moved. He
challenged it, and was answered by a whispered prayer for admission in
the English tongue and in an English voice. The sentry demanded the
password, and received as a reply, "Inchiquin. It is the last password
I have knowledge of. Let me in! Let me in!"

The sentry called the corporal, the corporal admitted the fugitive and
brought him to the Main-Guard. He was now in the guard-room below.

"You did well," said the Major. "The man has come from the Moorish
lines, and may have news which will profit us in the morning. Let
him up!" and as the corporal retired, "'Inchiquin,'" he repeated
thoughtfully: "I cannot call to mind that password."

Now Wyley had noticed that when the corporal first mentioned the word,
Scrope, who was looking over his cards, had dropped one on the table
as though his hand shook, had raised his head sharply, and with his
head his eyebrows, and had stared for a second fixedly at the wall in
front of him. So he said to Scrope:

"You can remember."

"Yes, I remember the password," Scrope replied simply. "I have cause
to. 'Inchiquin' and 'Teviot'--those were password and countersign on
the night which ruined me--the night of January 6th two years ago."

There was an awkward pause, an interchange of glances. Then Major
Shackleton broke the silence, though to no great effect.

"H'm--ah--yes," he said. "Well, well," he added, and laying an arm
upon Scrope's sleeve. "A good fellow, Scrope."

Scrope made no response whatever, but of a sudden Captain Tessin
banged his fist upon the table.

"January 6th two years ago. Why," and he leaned forward across the
table towards Scrope, "Knightley fell in the sortie that morning, and
his body was never recovered. The corporal said this fugitive was an
Englishman. What if--"

Major Shackleton shook his head and interrupted.

"Knightley fell by my side. I saw the blow; it must have broken his
skull."

There was a sound of footsteps in the passage, the door was opened
and the fugitive appeared in the doorway. All eyes turned to him
instantly, and turned from him again with looks of disappointment.
Wyley remarked, however, that Scrope, who had barely glanced at the
man, rose from his chair. He did not move from the table; only he
stood where before he had sat.

The new-comer was tall; a beard plastered with mud, as if to disguise
its colour, straggled over his burned and wasted cheeks, but here and
there a wisp of yellow hair flecked with grey curled from his hood, a
pair of blue eyes shone with excitement from hollow sockets, and he
wore the violet-and-white robes of a Moorish soldier.

It was his dress at which Major Shackleton looked.

"One of our renegade deserters tired of his new friends," he said with
some contempt.

"Renegades do not wear chains," replied the man in the doorway,
lifting from beneath his long sleeves his manacled hands. He spoke
in a weak, hoarse voice, and with a rusty accent; he rested a hand
against the jamb of the door as though he needed support. Tessin
sprang up from his chair, and half crossed the room.

The stranger took an uncertain step forward. His legs rattled as he
moved, and Wyley saw that the links of broken fetters were twisted
about his ankles.

"Have two years made so vast a difference?" he asked. "Well, they were
years of the bastinado, and I do not wonder."

Tessin peered into his face. "By God, it is!" he exclaimed.
"Knightley!"

"Thanks," said Knightley with a smile.

Tessin reached out to take Knightley's hands, then instantly stopped,
glanced from Knightley to Scrope and drew back.

"Knightley!" cried the Major in a voice of welcome, rising in his
seat. Then he too glanced expectantly at Scrope and sat down again.
Scrope made no movement, but stood with his eyes cast down on the
table like a man lost in thought. It was evident to Wyley that both
Shackleton and Tessin had obeyed the sporting instinct, and had left
the floor clear for the two men. It was no less evident that Knightley
remarked their action and did not understand it. For his eyes
travelled from face to face, and searched each with a wistful anxiety
for the reason of their reserve.

"Yes, I am Knightley," he said timidly. Then he drew himself to his
full height. "Ensign Knightley of the Tangier Foot," he cried.

No one answered. The company waited upon Scrope in a suspense so
keen that even the ringing challenge of the words passed unheeded.
Knightley spoke again, but now in a stiff, formal voice, and slowly.

"Gentlemen, I fear very much that two years make a world of
difference. It seems they change one who had your goodwill into a most
unwelcome stranger."

His voice broke in a sob; he turned to the door, but staggered as he
turned and caught at a chair. In a moment Major Shackleton was beside
him.

"What, lad? Have we been backward? Blame our surprise, not us."

"Meanwhile," said Wyley, "Ensign Knightley's starving."

The Major pressed Knightley into a chair, called for an orderly, and
bade him bring food. Wyley filled a glass with wine from the bottle on
the table, and handed it to the Ensign.

"It is vinegar," he said, "but--"

"But Tangier is still Tangier," said Knightley with a laugh. The
Major's cordiality had strengthened him like a tonic. He raised the
glass to his lips and drank; but as he tilted his head back his eyes
over the brim of the glass rested on Scrope, who still stood without
movement, without expression, a figure of stone, but that his chest
rose and fell with his deep breathing. Knightley set down his glass
half-full.

"There is something amiss," he said, "since even Captain Scrope
retains no memory of his old comrade."

"Captain?" exclaimed Wyley. So Scrope had been more than a lieutenant.
Here was an answer to the question which had perplexed him. But it
only led to another question: "Had Scrope been degraded, and why?" He
did not, however, speculate on the question, for his attention was
seized the next moment. Scrope made no sort of answer to Knightley's
appeal, but began to drum very softly with his fingers on the table.
And the drumming, at first vague and of no significance, gradually
took on, of itself as it seemed, a definite rhythm. There was a
variation, too, in the strength of the taps--now they fell light, now
they struck hard. Scrope was quite unconsciously beating out upon the
table a particular tune, although, since there was but the one
note sounded, Wyley could get no more than an elusive hint of its
character.

Knightley watched Scrope for a little as earnestly as the rest.
Then--"Harry!" he said, "Harry Scrope!" The name leaped from his lips
in a pleading cry; he stretched out his hands towards Scrope, and the
chain which bound them reached down to the table and rattled on the
wood.

There was a simultaneous movement, almost a simultaneous ejaculation
of bewilderment amongst those who stood about Knightley. Where they
had expected a deadly anger, they found in its place a beseeching
humility. And Scrope ceased from drumming on the table and turned on
Knightley.

"Don't shake your chains at me," he burst out harshly. "I am deaf to
any reproach that they can make. Are you the only man that has worn
chains? I can show as good, and better." He thrust the palm of his
left hand under Knightley's nose. "Branded, d'ye see? Branded. There's
more besides." He set his foot on the chair and stripped the silk
stocking down his leg. Just above the ankle there was a broad indent
where a fetter had bitten into the flesh. "I have dragged a chain, you
see; not like you among the Moors, but here in Tangier, on that damned
Mole, in sight of these my brother officers. By the Lord, Knightley, I
tell you you have had the better part of it."

"You!" cried Knightley. "You dragged a chain on Tangier Mole? For
what offence?" And he added, with a genuine tenderness, "There was no
disgrace in't, I'll warrant."

Major Shackleton half checked an exclamation, and turned it into a
cough. Scrope leaned right across the table and stared straight into
Knightley's eyes.

"The offence was a duel," he answered steadily, "fought on the night
of January 6th two years ago."

Knightley's face clouded for an instant. "The night when I was
captured," he said timidly.

"Yes."

The officers drew closer about the table, and seemed to hold their
breath, as the strange catechism proceeded.

"With whom did you fight?" asked Knightley.

"With a very good friend of mine," replied Scrope, in a hard, even
voice.

"On what account?"

"A woman."

Knightley laughed with a man's amused leniency for such escapades when
he himself is in no way hurt by them.

"I said there would be no disgrace in't, Harry," he said, with a smile
of triumph.

The heads of the listeners, which had bunched together, were suddenly
drawn back. A dark flush of anger overspread Scrope's face, and the
veins ridged up upon his forehead. Some impatient speech was on the
tip of his tongue, when the Major interposed.

"What's this talk of penalties? Where's the sense of it? Scrope paid
the price of his fault. He was admitted to the ranks afterwards. He
won a lieutenancy by sheer bravery in the field. For all we know he
may be again a captain to-morrow. Anyhow he wears the King's uniform.
It is a badge of service which levels us all from Ensign to Major in
an equality of esteem."

Scrope bowed to the Major and drew back from the table. The other
officers shuffled and moved in a welcome relief from the strain
of their expectancy, and Knightley's thoughts were diverted by
Shackleton's words to a quite different subject. For he picked with
his fingers at the Moorish robe he wore and "I too wore the King's
uniform," he pleaded wistfully.

"And shall do so again, thank God," responded the Major heartily.

Knightley started up from his chair; his face lightened unaccountably.

"You mean that?" he asked eagerly. "Yes, yes, you mean it! Then let it
be to-night--now--even before I sup. As long as I wear these chains,
as long as I wear this dress, I can feel the driver's whip curl
about my shoulders." He parted the robe as he spoke, and showed that
underneath he wore only a coarse sack which reached to his knees, with
a hole cut in it for his head.

"True, you have worn the chains too long," said the Major. "I should
have had them knocked off before, but--" he paused for a second, "but
your coming so surprised me that of a truth I forgot," he continued
lamely. Then he turned to Tessin. "See to it, Tessin! Ensign Barbour
of the Tangier Foot was killed to-day. He was quartered in the
Main-Guard. Take Knightley to his quarters and see what you can do.
By the way, Knightley, there's a question I should have put to you
before. By what road did you come in?"

"Down Teviot Hill past the Henrietta Fort. The Moors brought me down
from Mequinez to interpret between them and their prisoners. I escaped
last night."

"Past the Henrietta Fort?" replied the Major. "Then you can help us,
for that way we make our sortie."

"To relieve the Charles Fort?" said Knightley. "I guessed the Charles
Fort was surrounded, for I heard one man on the Tangier wall shouting
through a speaking trumpet to the Charles Fort garrison. But it will
not be easy to relieve them. The Moors are entrenched between. There
are three trenches. I should never have crawled through them, but that
I stripped a dead Moor of his robe."

"Three trenches," said Tessin, with a shrug of the shoulders.

"Yes, three. The two nearest to Tangier may be carried. But the
third--it is deep, twelve feet at the least, and wide, at the least
eight yards. The sides are steep and slippery with the rain."

"A grave, then," said Scrope carelessly; "a grave that will hold
many before the evening falls. It is well they made it wide and deep
enough."

The sombre words knocked upon every heart like a blow on a door behind
which conspirators are plotting. The Major was the first to recover
his speech.

"Curse your tongue, Scrope!" he said angrily. "Let who will lie in
your grave when the evening falls. Before that time comes, we'll show
these Moors so fine a powder-play as shall glut some of them to all
eternity. _Bon chat, bon rat_; we are not made of jelly. Tessin, see
to Knightley."

The two men withdrew. Major Shackleton scribbled a note and despatched
it to Sir Palmes Fairborne, the Lieutenant-Governor. Scrope took a
turn or two across the room while the Major was writing the news which
Knightley had brought. Then--"What game is this he's playing?" he
said, with a jerk of his head to the door by which Knightley had gone
out. "I have no mind to be played with."

"But is he playing a game at all?" asked Wyley.

Scrope faced him quickly, looked him over for a second, and replied:
"You are a new-comer to Tangier, or you would not have asked that
question."

"I should," rejoined Wyley with complete confidence. "I know quite
enough to be sure of one thing. I know there lies some deep matter of
dispute between Ensign Knightley and Lieutenant Scrope, and I am sure
that there is one other person more in the dark than myself, and that
person is Ensign Knightley. For whereas I know there is a dispute, he
is unaware of even that."

"Unaware?" cried Scrope. "Why, man, the very good friend I fought
with was Ensign Knightley. The woman on whose account we fought was
Knightley's wife." He flung the words at the Surgeon with almost a
gesture of contempt. "Make the most of that!" And once again he began
to pace the room.

"I am not in the least surprised," returned Wyley with an easy smile.
"Though I admit that I am interested. A wife is sauce to any story."
He looked placidly round the company. He alone held the key to the
puzzle, and since he was now become the centre of attraction he was
inclined to play with his less acute brethren. With a wave of the hand
he stilled the requests for an explanation, and turned to Scrope.

"Will you answer me a question?"

"I think it most unlikely."

The curt reply in no way diminished the Surgeon's suavity.

"I chose my words ill. I should have asked, Will you confirm an
assertion? The assertion is this: Ensign Knightley had no suspicion
before he actually discovered the--well, the lamentable truth."

Scrope stopped his walk and came back to the table.

"Why, that is so," he agreed sullenly. "Knightley had no suspicions.
It angered me that he had not."

Wyley leaned back in his chair.

"Really, really," he said, and laughed a little to himself. "On the
night of January 6th Ensign Knightley discovers the lamentable truth.
At what hour?" he asked suddenly.

Scrope looked to the Major. "About midnight," he suggested.

"A little later, I should think," corrected Major Shackleton.

"A little after midnight," repeated Wyley. "Ensign Knightley and
Lieutenant Scrope, I understand, immediately fight a duel, which seems
to have been interrupted before any hurt was done."

The Major and Scrope agreed with a nod of their heads.

"In the morning," continued Wyley, "Ensign Knightley takes part in a
skirmish, and is clubbed on the head so fiercely that Major Shackleton
thought his skull must be broken in. At what hour was he struck?"
Again he put the question quickly.

"'Twixt seven and eight of the morning," replied the Major.

"Quite so," said Wyley. "The incidents fit to a nicety. Two years
afterwards Ensign Knightley comes home. He knows nothing of the duel,
or any cause for a duel. Lieutenant Scrope is still 'Harry' to him,
and his best of friends. It is all very clear."

He gazed about him. Perplexity sat on each face except one; that face
was Scrope's.

"I spoke to you all some half an hour since concerning the effects of
a concussion. I could not have hoped for so complete an example," said
Wyley.

Captain Tessin whistled; Major Shackleton bounced on to his feet.

"Then Knightley knows nothing," cried Tessin in a gust of excitement.

"And never will know," cried the Major.

"Except by hearsay," sharply interposed Scrope. "Gentlemen, you go too
fast, Except by hearsay. That, Mr. Wyley, was the phrase, I think. By
what spells, Major," he asked with irony, "will you bind Tangier to
silence when there's scandal to be talked? Let Knightley walk down to
the water-gate to-morrow; I'll warrant he'll have heard the story a
hundred times with a hundred new embellishments before he gets there."

Major Shackleton resumed his seat moodily.

"And since that's the truth, why, he had best hear the story nakedly
from me."

"From you?" exclaimed Tessin. "Another duel, then. Have you counted
the cost?"

"Why, yes," replied Scrope quietly.

"Two years of the bastinado," said the Major. "That was what he said.
He comes back to Tangier to find--who knows?--a worse torture here.
Knightley, Knightley, a good officer marked for promotion until that
infernal night. Scrope, I could turn moralist and curse you!"

Scrope dropped his head as though the words touched him. But it was
not long before he raised it again.

"You waste your pity, I think, Major," he said coldly. "I disagree
with Mr. Wyley's conclusions. Knightley knows the truth of the matter
very well. For observe, he has made no mention of his wife. He has
been two years in slavery. He escapes, and he asks for no news of his
wife. That is unlike any man, but most of all unlike Knightley. He has
his own ends to serve, no doubt, but he knows."

The argument appeared cogent to Major Shackleton.

"To be sure, to be sure," he said. "I had not thought of that."

Tessin looked across to Wyley.

"What do you say?"

"I am not convinced," replied Wyley. "Indeed, I was surprised that
Knightley's omission had not been remarked before. When you first
showed reserve in welcoming Knightley, I noticed that he became all at
once timid, hesitating. He seemed to be afraid."

Major Shackleton admitted the Surgeon's accuracy. "Well, what then?"

"Well, I go back to what I said before Knightley appeared. A man has
lost so many hours. The question, what he did during those hours, is
one that may well appal any one. Lieutenant Scrope doubted whether
that question would trouble a man, and needed an instance. I believe
here is the instance. I believe Knightley is afraid to ask any
questions, and I believe his reason to be fear of how he lived during
those lost hours."

There was a pause. No one was prepared to deny, however much he might
doubt, what Wyley said.

Wyley continued:

"At some point of time before this duel Knightley's recollections
break off. At what precise point we are not aware, nor is it of any
great importance. The sure thing is he does not know of the dispute
between Lieutenant Scrope and himself, and it is of more importance
for us to consider whether he cannot after all be kept from knowing.
Could he not be sent home to England? Mrs. Knightley, I take it, is no
longer in Tangier?"

Major Shackleton stood up, took Wyley by the arm and led him out on to
the balcony. The town beneath them had gone to sleep; the streets were
quiet; the white roofs of the houses in the star-shine descended to
the water's edge like flights of marble steps; only here and there did
a light burn. To one of the lights close by the city wall the Major
directed Wyley's attention. The house in which it burned lay so nearly
beneath them that they could command a corner of the square open
_patio_ in the middle of it; and the light shone in a window set in
that corner and giving on to the _patio_.

"You see that house?" said the Major.

"Yes," said Wyley. "It is Scrope's. I have seen him enter and come
out."

"No doubt," said the Major; "but it is Knightley's house."

"Knightley's! Then the light burning in the window is--"

The Major nodded. "She is still in Tangier. And never a care for him
has troubled her for two years, not so much as would bring a pucker to
her pretty forehead--all my arrears of pay to a guinea-piece."

Wyley leaned across the rail of the balcony, watching the light, and
as he watched he was aware that his feelings and his thoughts changed.
The interest which he had felt in Scrope died clean away, or rather
was transferred to Knightley; and with this new interest there sprang
up a new sympathy, a new pity. The change was entirely due to that one
yellow light burning in the window and the homely suggestions which it
provoked. It brought before him very clearly the bitter contrast: so
that light had burned any night these last two years, and Scrope had
gone in and out at his will, while up in the barbarous inlands of
Morocco the husband had had his daily portion of the bastinado and
the whip. It was her fault, too, and she made her profit of it. Wyley
became sensible of an overwhelming irony in the disposition of the
world.

"You spoke a true word to-night, Major," he said bitterly. "That light
down there might turn any man to a moralist, and send him preaching in
the market-places."

"Well," returned the Major, as though he must make what defence he
could for Scrope, "the story is not the politest in the world. But,
then, you know Tangier--it is only a tiny outpost on the edges of the
world where we starve behind broken walls forgotten of our friends. We
have the Moors ever swarming at our gates and the wolf ever snarling
at our heels, and so the niceties of conduct are lost. We have so
little time wherein to live, and that little time is filled with the
noise of battle. Passion has its way with us in the end, and honour
comes to mean no more than bravery and a gallant death."

He remained a few moments silent, and then disconnectedly he told
Wyley the rest of the story.

"It was only three years ago that Knightley came to Tangier. He should
never have brought his wife with him. Scrope and Knightley became
friends. All Tangier knew the truth pretty soon, and laughed at
Knightley's ignorance.... I remember the night of January 6th very
well. I was Captain of the Guard that night too. A spy brought in news
that we might expect a night attack. I sent Knightley with the news to
Lord Inchiquin. On the way back he stepped into his own house. It was
late at night. Mrs. Knightley was singing some foolish song to Scrope.
The two men came down into the street and fought then and there. The
quarter was aroused, the combatants arrested and brought to me....
There are two faults which our necessities here compel us to punish
beyond their proper gravity: duelling, for we cannot afford to lose
officers that way; and brawling in the streets at night, because the
Moors lie _perdus_ under our walls; ready to take occasion as it
comes. Of Scrope's punishment you have heard. Knightley I released for
that night. He was on guard--I could not spare him. We were attacked
in the morning, and repulsed the attack. We followed up our success by
a sortie in which Knightley fell."

Wyley began again to wonder at what particular point in this story
Knightley's recollection broke off; and, further, what particular fear
it was that kept him from all questions even concerning his wife.

Knightley's voice was heard behind them, and they turned back into the
room. The Ensign had shaved his matted beard and combed out his hair,
which now curled and shone graciously about his head and shoulders;
his face, too, for all that it was wasted, had taken almost a boyish
zest, and his figure, revealed in the graceful dress of his regiment,
showed youth in every movement. He was plainly by some years a younger
man than Scrope.

He saluted the Major, and Wyley noticed that with his uniform he
seemed to have drawn on something of a soldierly confidence.

"There's your supper, lad," said Shackleton, pointing to a few poor
herrings and a crust of bread which an orderly had spread upon the
table. "It is scanty."

"I like it the better," said Knightley with a laugh; "for so I am
assured I am at home, in Tangier. There is no beef, I suppose?"

"Not so much as a hoof."

"No butter?"

"Not enough to cover a sixpence."

"There is cheese, however." He lifted up a scrap upon a fork.

"There will be none to-morrow."

"And as for pay?" he asked slyly.

"Two years and a half in arrears."

Knightley laughed again.

"Moreover," added Shackleton, "out of our nothing we may presently
have to feed the fleet. It is indeed the pleasantest joke imaginable."

"In a week, no doubt," rejoined Knightley, "I shall be less sensible
of its humour. But to-night--well, I am home in Tangier, and that
contents me. Nothing has changed." At that he stopped suddenly.
"Nothing has changed?" This time the phrase was put as a question, and
with the halting timidity which he had shown before. No one answered
the question. "No, nothing has changed," he said a third time, and
again his eyes began to travel wistfully from face to face.

Tessin abruptly turned his back; Shackleton blinked his eyes at the
ceiling with altogether too profound an unconcern; Scrope reached out
for the wine, and spilt it as he filled his glass; Wyley busily drew
diagrams with a wet finger on the table.

All these details Knightley remarked. He laid down his fork, he rested
his elbow on the table, his forehead upon his hand. Then absently he
began to hum over to himself a tune. The rhythm of it was somehow
familiar to the Surgeon's ears. Where had he heard it before? Then
with a start he remembered. It was this very rhythm, that very tune,
which Scrope's fingers had beaten out on the table when he first
saw Knightley. And as he had absently drummed it then, so Knightley
absently hummed it now.

Surely, then, the tune had some part in the relations of the two
men--perhaps a part in this story. "A foolish song." The words flashed
into Wyley's mind.

"She was singing a foolish song." What if the tune was the tune of
that song? But then--Wyley's argument came to a sudden conclusion. For
if the tune _was_ the tune of that song, why, then Knightley must know
the truth, since he remembered that song. Was Scrope right after all?
Was Knightley playing with him? Wyley glanced at Knightley in the
keenest excitement. He wanted words fitted to that tune, and in a
little the words came--first one or two fitted here and there to a
note, and murmured unconsciously, then an entire phrase which filled
out a bar, finally this verse in its proper sequence:

  "No, no, fair heretick, it needs must be
    But an ill love in me,
    And worse for thee;
  For were it in my power
  To love thee now this hour
    More than I did the last,
  'Twould then so fall
  I might not love at all.
  Love that can flow...."

And then the song broke off, and silence followed. Wyley looked again
at Knightley, but the latter had not changed his position. He still
sat with his face shaded by his hand.

The Surgeon was startled by a light touch on the arm. He turned with
almost a jump, and he saw Scrope bending across the table towards him,
his eyes ablaze with an excitement no less keen than his own.

"He knows, he knows!" whispered Scrope. "It was that song she was
singing; at that word 'flow' he pushed open the door of the room."

Knightley raised his head and drew his hand across his forehead,
as though Scrope's whisper had aroused him. Scrope seated himself
hurriedly.

"Nothing has changed, eh?" Knightley asked, like a man fresh from his
sleep. Then he stood, and quietly, slowly, walked round the table
until he stood directly behind Scrope's chair. Scrope's face hardened;
he laid the palms of his hands upon the edge of the table ready to
spring up; he looked across to Wyley with the expectation of death in
his eyes.

One of the officers shuffled his feet. Tessin said "Hush!" Knightley
took a step forward and dropped a hand on Scrope's shoulder, very
lightly; but none the less Scrope started and turned white as though
he had been stabbed.

"Harry," said the Ensign, "my--my wife is still in Tangier?"

Scrope drew in a breath. "Yes."

"Ah, waiting for me! You have shown her what kindness you could during
my slavery?"

He spoke in a wavering voice, as if he were not sure of his ground,
and as he spoke he felt Scrope shiver beneath his hand, and saw upon
the faces of his companions an unmistakable shrinking. He turned away
and staggered, rather than walked, to the window, where he stood
leaning against the sill.

"The day is breaking," he said quietly. Wyley looked up; outside the
window the colour was fading down the sky. It was purple still towards
the zenith, but across the Straits its edges rested white upon the
hills of Spain.

"Love that can flow ..." murmured Knightley, and of a sudden he flung
back into the room. "Let me have the truth of it," he burst out,
confronting his brother-officers gathered about the table--"the truth,
though it knell out my damnation. If you only knew how up there, at
Fez, at Mequinez, I have pictured your welcome when I should get back!
I made of my anticipation a very anodyne. The cudgelling, the chains,
the hunger, the sun, hot as though a burning glass was held above my
head--it would all make a good story for the guard-room when I got
back--when I got back. And yet I do get back, and one and all of you
draw away from me as though I were one of the Tangier lepers we
jostle in the streets. 'Love that can flow ...'" he broke off. "I ask
myself"--he hesitated, and with a great cry, "I ask you, did I play
the coward on that night I was captured two years ago?"

"The coward?" exclaimed Shackleton in bewilderment.

Wyley, for all his sympathy, could not refrain from a triumphant
glance at Scrope. "Here is the instance you needed," he said.

"Yes, did I play the coward?" Knightley seated himself sideways on the
edge of the table, and clasping his hands between his knees, went on
in a quick, lowered voice. "'Love that can flow'--those are the last
words I remember. You sent me, Major, to the Governor with a message.
I delivered it; I started back. On my way back I passed my house. I
went in. I stood in the _patio_. My wife was singing that song. The
window of the room in which she sang opened on to the _patio_. I stood
there listening for a second. Then I went upstairs. I turned the
handle of the door. I remember quite clearly the light upon the room
wall as I opened the door. Those words 'love that can flow' came
swelling through the opening; and--and--the next thing I am aware of,
I was riding chained upon a camel into slavery."

Tessin and Major Shackleton looked suddenly towards Wyley in
recognition of the accuracy of his guess. Scrope simply wiped the
perspiration from his forehead and waited.

"But how does that--forgetfulness, shall we say?--persuade you to the
fear that you played the coward?" asked Wyley.

"Well," replied Knightley, and his voice sank to a whisper, "I played
the coward afterwards at Mequinez. At the first it used to amuse me to
wonder what happened after I opened the door and before I was captured
outside Tangier; later it only puzzled me, and in the end it began to
frighten me. You see, I could not tell; it was all a blank to me, as
it is now; and a man overdriven--well, he nurses sickly fancies.
No need to say what mine were until the day I played the coward in
Mequinez. They set me to build the walls of the Emperor's new Palace.
We used the stones of the old Roman town and built them up in
Mequinez, and in the walls we were bidden to build Christian slaves
alive to the glory of Allah. I refused. They stripped the flesh off my
feet with their bastinadoes, starved me of food and drink, and brought
me back again to the walls. Again I refused." Knightley looked up at
his audience, and whether or no he mistook their breathless silence
for disbelief,--"I did," he implored. "Twice I refused, and twice they
tortured me. The third time--I was so broken, the whistle of a cane
in the air made me cry out with pain--I was sunk to that pitch of
cowardice--" He stopped, unable to complete the sentence. He clasped
and unclasped his hands convulsively, he moistened his dry lips with
his tongue, and looked about him with a weak, almost despairing laugh.
Then he began in another way. "The Christian was a Portuguee from
Marmora. He was set in the wall with his arms outstretched on either
side--the attitude of a man crucified. I built in his arms--his right
arm first--and mortised the stones, then his left arm in the same way.
I was careful not to look in his face. No, no! I didn't look in his
face." Knightley repeated the words with a horrible leer of cunning,
and hugged himself with his arms. To Wyley's thinking he was strung
almost to madness. "After his arms I built in his feet, and upwards
from his feet I built in his legs and his body until I came to his
neck. All this while he had been crying out for pity, babbling
prayers, and the rest of it. When I reached his neck he ceased his
clamour. I suppose he was dumb with horror. I did not know. All I knew
was that now I should have to meet his eyes as I built in his face.
I thought for a moment of blinding him. I could have done it quite
easily with a stone. I picked up a stone to do it, and then, well--I
could not help looking at him. He drew my eyes to his like a steel
filing to a magnet. And once I had looked, once I had heard his eyes
speaking, I--I tore down the stones. I freed his body, his legs, his
feet and one arm. When the guards noticed what I was doing I cannot
tell. I could not tell you when their sticks began to beat me. But
they dragged me away when I had freed only one arm. I remember seeing
him tugging at the other. What happened to me,"--he shivered,--"I
could not describe to you. But you see I had played the coward finely
at Mequinez, and when that question recurred to me as to what had
happened after I had opened the door, I began to wonder whether by any
chance I had played the coward at Tangier. I dismissed the thought as
a sickly fancy, but it came again and again; and I came back here, and
you draw aloof from me with averted faces and forced welcomes on your
lips. Did I play the coward on that night I was captured? Tell me!
Tell me!" And so the torrent of his speech came to an end.

The Major rose gravely from his seat, walked round the table and held
out his hand.

"Put your hand there, lad," he said gravely.

Knightley looked at the outstretched hand, then at the Major's face.
He took the hand diffidently, and the Major's grasp was of the
heartiest.

"Neither at Mequinez nor at Tangier did you play the coward," said the
Major. "You fell by my side in the van of the attack."

And then Knightley began to cry. He blubbered like a child, and with
his blubbering he mixed apologies. He was weak, he was tired, his
relief was too great; he was thoroughly ashamed.

"You see," he said, "there was need that I should know. My wife is
waiting for me. I could not go back to her bearing that stigma.
Indeed, I hardly dared ask news of her. Now I can go back; and,
gentlemen, I wish you good-night."

He stood up, made his bow, wiped his eyes, and began to walk to the
door. Scrope rose instantly.

"Sit down, Lieutenant," said the Major sharply, and Scrope obeyed with
reluctance.

The Major watched Knightley cross the room. Should he let the Ensign
go? Should he keep him? He could not decide. That Knightley would seek
his wife at once might of course have been foreseen; and yet it had
not been foreseen either by the Major or the others. The present
facts, as they had succeeded one after another had engrossed their
minds.

Knightley's hand was on the door, and the Major had not decided. He
pushed the door open, he set a foot in the passage, and then the roar
of a gun shook the room.

"Ah!" remarked Wyley, "the signal for your sortie."

Knightley stopped and listened. Major Shackleton stood in a fixed
attitude with his eyes upon the floor. He had hit upon an issue, it
seemed to him by inspiration. The noise of the gun was followed by ten
clear strokes of a bell.

"That's for the King's Battalion," said Knightley with a smile.

"Yes," said Tessin, and picking up his sword from a corner he slung
the bandolier across his shoulder.

The bell rang out again; this time the number of the strokes was
twenty.

"That's for my Lord Dunbarton's Regiment," said Knightley.

"Yes," said two of the remaining officers. They took their hats and
followed Captain Tessin down the stairs.

A third time the bell spoke, and the strokes were thirty.

"Ah!" said Knightley, "that's for the Tangier Foot. Well, good luck to
you, Major!" and he passed through the door.

"A moment, Knightley. The regiment first. You wear Ensign Barbour's
uniform. You must do more than wear his uniform. The regiment first."

Major Shackleton spoke in a husky voice and kept his eyes on the
floor. Scrope looked at him keenly from the table. Knightley hardly
looked at him at all. He stepped back into the room.

"With all my heart, Major: the regiment first."

"Your station is at Peterborough Tower. You will go there--at once."

"At once," replied Knightley cheerfully. "So she would wish," and he
went down the stairs into the street. Major Shackleton picked up his
hat.

"I command this sortie," he said to Wyley; but as he turned he found
himself confronted by Scrope.

"What do you intend?" asked Scrope.

Major Shackleton looked towards Wyley. Wyley understood the look and
also what Shackleton intended. He went from the room and left the two
men together.

The grey light poured through the window; the candles still burnt
yellow on the table.

"What do you intend?"

The Major looked Scrope straight in the face.

"I have heard a man speak to-night in a man's voice. I mean to do that
man the best service that I can. These two years at Mequinez cannot
mate with these two years at Tangier. Knightley knows nothing now; he
never shall know. He believes his wife a second Penelope; he shall
keep that belief. There is a trench--you called it very properly a
grave. In that trench Knightley will not hear though all Tangier
scream its gossip in his ears. I mean to give him his chance of
death."

"No, Major," cried Scrope. "Or listen! Give me an equal chance."

"Trelawney's Regiment is not called out. Again, Lieutenant, I fear me
you will have the harder part of it."

Shackleton repeated Scrope's own words in all sincerity, and hurried
off to his post.

Scrope was left alone in the guard-room. A vision of the trench,
twelve feet deep, eight yards wide, yawned before his eyes. He closed
them, but that made no difference; he still saw the trench. In
imagination he began to measure its width and depth. Then he shook his
head to rid himself of the picture, and went out on to the balcony.
His eyes turned instinctively to a house by the city wall, to a corner
of the _patio_ the house and the latticed shutter of a window just
seen from the balcony.

He stepped back into the room with a feeling of nausea, and blowing
out the candles sat down alone, in the twilight, amongst the empty
chairs. There were dark corners in the room; the broadening light
searched into them, and suddenly the air was tinged with warm gold.
Somewhere the sun had risen. In a little, Scrope heard a dropping
sound of firing, and a few moments afterwards the rattle of a volley.
The battle was joined. Scrope saw the trench again yawn up before his
eyes. The Major was right. This morning, again, Lieutenant Scrope had
the harder part of it.




THE MAN OF WHEELS.


When Sir Charles Fosbrook was told by Mr. Pepys that Tangier had been
surrendered to the Moors, he asked at once after the fate of his
gigantic mole; and when he was informed that his mole had been, before
the evacuation, so utterly blown to pieces that its scattered blocks
made the harbour impossible for anchorage, he forbade so much as the
mention in his presence of the name of Africa. But if he had done with
Tangier, Tangier had not done with him, and five years afterwards
he became concerned in the most unexpected way with certain tragic
consequences of that desperate siege.

He received a letter from an acquaintance of whom he had long lost
sight, a Mr. Mardale of the Quarry House near Leamington, imploring
him to give his opinion upon some new inventions. The value of the
inventions could be easily gauged; Mr. Mardale claimed to have
invented a wheel of perpetual rotation. Sir Charles, however, had his
impulses of kindness. He knew Mr. Mardale to be an old and gentle
person, a little touched in the head perhaps, who with money enough
to surfeit every instinct of pleasure, had preferred to live a shy
secluded life, busily engaged either in the collection of curiosities
or the invention of toy-like futile machines. There was a girl too
whom Sir Charles remembered, a weird elfin creature with extraordinary
black eyes and hair and a clear white face. Her one regret in those
days had been that she was not born a horse, and she had lived in the
stables, in as horse like a fashion as was possible. Her ankle indeed
still must bear an unnecessary scar through the application of a
fierce horse-liniment to a sprain. No doubt, however, she had long
since changed her ambitions. Sir Charles calculated her age. Resilda
Mardale must be twenty-five years old and a deuced fine woman into the
bargain. Sir Charles took a glance at his figure in his cheval-glass.
He had reached middle-age to be sure, but he had a leg that many a
spindle-shanked youngster might envy, nor was there any unbecoming
protuberance at his waist. He wrote a letter accepting the invitation
and a week later in the dusk of a June evening, drove up the long
avenue of trees to the terrace of the Quarry House.

The house was a solid square mansion built upon the side of a hill,
and the ground in front of it fell away very quickly from the terrace
to what Sir Charles imagined must be a pond, for a light mist hung at
the bottom. On the other side of the pond the ground rose again in a
steep hill. But Sir Charles had no opportunity at this moment to get
any accurate knowledge of the house and its surroundings. For apart
from the darkness, it was close upon supper-time and Miss Resilda
Mardale must assuredly not be kept waiting. His valet subsequently
declared that Sir Charles had seldom been so particular in the choice
of his coat and small-clothes; and the supper-bell certainly rang out
before he was satisfied with the set of his cravat.

He could not, however, consider his pains wasted when once he was set
down opposite to Resilda. She was taller than he had expected her to
be, but he did not count height a fault so long as there was grace
to carry it off, and grace she had in plenty. Her face had gained in
delicacy and lost nothing of its brilliancy, or of its remarkable
clearness of complexion. Her hair too if it was less rebellious, and
more neatly coiled, had retained its glory of profusion, and her big
black eyes, though to be sure they were grown a trifle sedate, no
doubt could sparkle as of old. Sir Charles set himself to make them
sparkle. Old Mr. Mardale prattled of his inventions to his heart's
delight--he described the wheel, and also a flying machine and besides
the flying machine, an engine by which steam might be used to raise
water to great altitudes. Sir Charles was ready from time to time with
a polite, if not always an appropriate comment, and for the rest he
paid compliments to Resilda. Still the eyes did not sparkle, indeed a
pucker appeared and deepened on her forehead. Sir Charles accordingly
redoubled his gallantries, he was slyly humorous about the
horse-liniment, and thereupon came the remark which so surprised him
and was the beginning of his strange discoveries. For Resilda suddenly
leaned towards him and said frankly:

"I would much rather, Sir Charles, you told me something of your great
mole at Tangier."

Sir Charles had reason for surprise. The world had long since
forgotten his mole, if ever it had been concerned in it. Yet here was
a girl whose thoughts might be expected to run on youths and ribands
talking of it in a little village four miles from Leamington as though
there were no topic more universal. Sir Charles Fosbrook answered her
gravely.

"I thought never to speak of Tangier and the mole again. I spent many
years upon the devising and construction of that great breakwater. It
could have sheltered every ship of his Majesty's navy. It was wife and
children to me. My heart lay very close to it. I fancied indeed my
heart was disrupted with the disruption of the mole, and it has at all
events, lain ever since as heavy as King Charles' Chest."

"Yes, I can understand that," said Resilda.

Sir Charles had vowed never to speak of the matter again. But he had
kept his vow for five long years, and besides here was a girl of a
remarkable beauty expressing sympathy and asking for information. Sir
Charles broke his vow and talked, and the girl helped him. A suspicion
that she might have primed herself with knowledge in view of his
coming, vanished before the flame of her enthusiasm. She knew the
history of its building almost as well as he did himself, and could
even set him right in his dates. It was she who knew the exact day on
which King Charles' Chest, that great block of mortised stones, which
formed as it were the keystone of the breakwater, had been lowered
into its place. Sir Charles abandoned all reserve, and talked freely
of his hopes and fears as the pier ran farther out and out into the
currents of the Straits, of his bitter disappointment when his labours
were destroyed. He forgot his gallantries, he showed himself the man
he was. Neither he nor Resilda noticed a low rumble of thunder or the
beating of sudden rain upon the windows, so occupied were they with
the theme of their talk; and at last Sir Charles, leaning back in his
chair, cried out with astonishment and delight.

"But how is it that my mole is so familiar a thing to you? Explain it
if you please! Never have I spent so agreeable an evening."

A momentary embarrassment seemed to follow upon his words. Resilda
looked at her father who chuckled and explained.

"Sir, an old soldier years ago came over the hill in front of the
house and begged for alms. He found my daughter on the terrace in a
lucky moment for himself. He had all sorts of wonderful stories of
Tangier and the great mole which was then a building. Resilda was set
on fire that day, and though the King and the Parliament might shut
their eyes to the sore straits of that town and the gallantry of its
defenders, no one was allowed to forget them in the Quarry House. To
tell the truth I sometimes envied the obliviousness of Parliament,"
and he laughed gently. "So from the first my daughter was primed with
the history of that siege, and lately we have had further means of
knowledge--" He began to speak warily and with embarrassment--"For two
years ago Resilda married an officer of The King's Battalion, Major
Lashley."

"Here are two surprises," cried Sir Charles. "For in the first place,
Madam, I had no thought you were wed. Blame a bachelor's stupidity!"
and he glanced at her left hand which lay upon the table-cloth with
the band of gold gleaming upon a finger. "In the second place I knew
Major Lashley very well, though it is news to me that he ever troubled
his head with my mole. A very gallant officer, who defended Charles
Fort through many nights of great suspense, and cleft his way back
to Tangier when his ammunition was expended. I shall be very glad to
shake the Major once more by the hand."

At once Sir Charles was aware that he had uttered the most awkward and
unsuitable remark. Resilda Lashley, as he must now term her, actually
flinched away from him and then sat with a vague staring look of pain
as though she had been shocked clean out of her wits. She recovered
herself in a moment, but she did not speak, neither had Sir Charles
any words. He looked at her dress which was white and had not so much
as a black riband dangling anywhere about it.

But there were other events than death which could make the utterance
of his wish a _gaucherie_. Sir Charles prided himself upon his tact,
particularly with a good-looking woman, and he was therefore much
abashed and confused. The only one who remained undisturbed was Mr.
Mardale. His mind was never for very long off his wheels, or his
works of art. It was the turn of his pictures now. He had picked up a
genuine Rubens in Ghent, he declared. It was standing somewhere in the
great drawing-room on the carpet against the back of a chair, and Sir
Charles must look at it in the morning, if only it could be found. He
had clean forgotten all about his daughter it appeared. She, however,
had a mind to clear the mystery up, and interrupting her father.

"It is right that you should know," she said simply, "Major Lashley
disappeared six months ago."

"Disappeared!" exclaimed Sir Charles in spite of himself, and the
astonishment in his voice woke the old gentleman from his prattle.

"To be sure," said he apologetically, "I should have told you before
of the sad business. Yes, Sir, Major Lashley disappeared, utterly from
this very house on the eleventh night of last December, and though the
country-side was scoured and every ragamuffin for miles round brought
to question, no trace of him has anywhere been discovered from that
day to this."

An intuition slipped into Sir Charles Fosbrook's mind, and though he
would have dismissed it as entirely unwarrantable, persisted there.
The thought of the steep slope of ground before the house and the mist
in the hollow between the two hills. The mist was undoubtedly the
exhalation from a pond. The pond might have reeds which might catch
and gather a body. But the pond would have been dragged. Still the
thought of the pond remained while he expressed a vague hope that the
Major might by God's will yet be restored to them.

He had barely ended before a louder gust of rain than ordinary smote
upon the windows and immediately there followed a knocking upon the
hall-door. The sound was violent, and it came with so opposite a
rapidity upon the heels of Fosbrook's words that it thrilled and
startled him. There was something very timely in the circumstances of
night and storm and that premonitory clapping at the door. Sir Charles
looked towards the door in a glow of anticipation. He had time to
notice, however, how deeply Resilda herself was stirred; her left hand
which had lain loose upon the table-cloth was now tightly clenched,
and she had a difficulty in breathing. The one strange point in her
conduct was that although she looked towards the door like Sir Charles
Fosbrook, there was more of suspense in the look than of the eagerness
of welcome. The butler, however, had no news of Major Lashley to
announce. He merely presented the compliments of Mr. Gibson Jerkley
who had been caught in the storm near the Quarry House and ten miles
from his home. Mr. Jerkley prayed for supper and a dry suit of
clothes.

"And a bed too," said Resilda, with a flush of colour in her cheeks,
and begging Sir Charles' permission she rose from the table. Sir
Charles was disappointed by the mention of a strange name. Mr.
Mardale, however, to whom that loud knocking upon the door had been
void of suggestion, now became alert. He looked with a strange anxiety
after his daughter, an anxiety which surprised Fosbrook, to whom
this man of wheels and little toys had seemed lacking in the natural
affections.

"And a bed too," repeated Mr. Mardale doubtfully, "to be sure! To be
sure!" And though he went into the hall to welcome his visitor, it was
not altogether without reluctance.

Mr. Gibson Jerkley was a man of about thirty years. He had a brown
open personable countenance, a pair of frank blue eyes, and the steady
restful air of a man who has made his account with himself, and who
neither speaks to win praise nor is at pains to escape dislike. Sir
Charles Fosbrook was from the first taken with the man, though he
spoke little with him for the moment. For being tired with his long
journey from London, he retired shortly to his room.

But however tired he was, Sir Charles found that it was quite
impossible for him to sleep. The cracking of the rain upon his
windows, the groaning trees in the park, and the wail of the wind
among the chimneys and about the corners of the house were no doubt
for something in a Londoner's sleeplessness. But the mysterious
disappearance of Major Lashley was at the bottom of it. He thought
again of the pond. He imagined a violent kidnapping and his fancies
went to work at devising motives. Some quarrel long ago in the crowded
city of Tangier and now brought to a tragical finish amongst the oaks
and fields of England. Perhaps a Moor had travelled over seas for his
vengeance and found his way from village to village like that
Baracen lady of old times. And when he had come to this point of his
reflections, he heard a light rapping upon his door. He got out of bed
and opened it. He saw Mr. Gibson Jerkley standing on the threshold
with a candle in one hand and a finger of the other at his lip.

"I saw alight beneath your door," said Jerkley, and Sir Charles made
room for him to enter. He closed the door cautiously, and setting his
candle down upon a chest of drawers, said without any hesitation:

"I have come, Sir, to ask for your advice. I do not wonder at your
surprise, it is indeed a strange sort of intrusion for a man to make
upon whom you have never clapped your eyes before this evening. But
for one thing I fancy Mrs. Lashley wishes me to ask you for the
favour. She has said nothing definitely, in faith she could not as you
will understand when you have heard the story. But that I come with
her approval I am very sure. For another, had she disapproved, I
should none the less have come of my own accord. Sir, though I know
you very well by reputation, I have had the honour of few words with
you, but my life has taught me to trust boldly where my eyes bid me
trust. And the whole affair is so strange that one more strange act
like this intrusion of mine is quite of apiece. I ask you therefore to
listen to me. The listening pledges you to nothing, and at the worst,
I can promise you, my story will while away a sleepless hour. If when
you have heard, you can give us your advice, I shall be very glad. For
we are sunk in such a quandary that a new point of view cannot but
help us."

Sir Charles pointed to a chair and politely turned away to hide a
yawn. For the young man's lengthy exordium had made him very drowsy.
He could very comfortably had fallen asleep at this moment. But Gibson
Jerkley began to speak, and in a short space of time Sir Charles was
as wide-awake as any house-breaker.

"Eight years ago," said he, "I came very often to the Quarry House,
but I always rode homewards discontented in the evening. Resilda at
that time had a great ambition to be a boy. The sight of any brown
bare-legged lad gipsying down the hill with a song upon his lips,
would set her viciously kicking the toes of her satin slippers against
the parapet of the terrace, and clamouring at her sex. Now I was not
of the same mind with Resilda."

"That I can well understand," said Sir Charles drily. "But, my young
friend, I can remember a time when Resilda desired of all things to be
a horse. There was something hopeful because more human in her wish to
be a boy, had you only known."

Mr. Jerkley nodded gravely and continued:

"I was young enough to argue the point with her, which did me no good,
and then to make matters worse, the soldier from Tangier came over the
hill, with his stories of Major Lashley--Captain he was then."

"Major Lashley," exclaimed Sir Charles. "I did not hear the soldier
was one of Major Lashley's men!"

"But he was and thenceforward the world went very ill with me. Reports
of battles, and sorties came home at rare intervals. She was the first
to read of them. Major Lashley's name was more than once mentioned. We
country gentlemen who stayed at home and looked after our farms and
our tenants, having no experience of war, suffered greatly in the
comparison. So at the last I ordered my affairs for a long voyage, and
without taking leave of any but my nearest neighbours and friends, I
slipped off one evening to the wars."

"You did not wish your friends at the Quarry House good-bye?" said
Fosbrook.

"No. It might have seemed that I was making claims, and, after all,
one has one's pride. I would never, I think, ask a woman to wait
for me. But she heard of course after I had gone and--I am speaking
frankly--I believe the news woke the woman in her. At all events there
was little talk after of Tangier at the Quarry House."

Mr. Jerkley related his subsequent history. He had sailed at his own
charges to Africa; he had enlisted as a gentleman volunteer in The
King's Battalion; he had served under Major Lashley in the Charles
Fort where he was in charge of the great speaking-trumpet by which
the force received its orders from the Lieutenant-Governor in Tangier
Castle; he took part in the desperate attempt to cut a way back
through the Moorish army into the town. In that fight he was wounded
and left behind for dead.

"A year later peace was made. Tangier was evacuated, Major Lashley
returned to England. Now the Major and I despite the difference
in rank had been friends. I had spoken to him of Miss Mardale's
admiration, and as chance would have it, he came to Leamington to take
the waters."

"Chance?" said Sir Charles drily.

"Well it may have been intention," said Jerkley. "There was no reason
in the world why he should not seek her out. She was not promised to
me, and very likely I had spoken of her with enthusiasm. For a long
time she would not consent to listen to him. He was, however, no
less persistent--he pleaded his suit for three years. I was dead you
understand, and what man worth a pinch of salt would wish a woman to
waste her gift of life in so sterile a fidelity.... You follow me?
At the end of three years Resilda yielded to his pleadings, and the
persuasions of her friends. For Major Lashley quickly made himself a
position in the country. They were married, Major Lashley was not a
rich man, it was decided that they should both live at the Quarry
House."

"And what had Mr. Mardale to say to it?" asked Fosbrook.

"Oh, Sir," said Gibson Jerkley with a laugh. "Mr. Mardale is a man of
wheels, and little steel springs. Let him sit at his work-table in
that crowded drawing-room on the first floor, without interruption,
and he will be very well content, I can assure you.... Hush!" and he
suddenly raised his hand. In the silence which followed, they both
distinctly heard the sound of some one stirring in the house. Mr.
Jerkley went to the door and opened it. The door gave on to the
passage which was shut off at its far end by another door from the
square tulip-wood landing, at the head of the stairs. He came back
into the bedroom.

"There is a light on the other side of the passage-door," said he.
"But I have no doubt it is Mr. Mardale going to his bed. He sits late
at his work-table."

Sir Charles brought him back to his story.

"Meanwhile you were counted for dead, but actually you were taken
prisoner. There is one thing which I do not understand. When peace was
concluded the prisoners were freed and an officer was sent up into
Morocco to secure their release."

"There were many oversights like mine, I have no doubt. The Moors were
reluctant enough to produce their captives. We who were supposed to be
dead were not particularly looked for. I have no doubt there is many
a poor English soldier sweating out his soul in the uplands of that
country to this day. I escaped two years ago, just about the time, in
fact, when Miss Resilda Mardale became Mrs. Lashley. I crept down
over the hillside behind Tangier one dark evening, and lay all night
beneath a bush of tamarisks dreaming the Moors were still about me.
But an inexplicable silence reigned and nowhere was the darkness
spotted by the flame of any camp-fire. In the morning I looked down
to Tangier. The first thing which I noticed was your broken stump of
mole, the second that nowhere upon the ring of broken wall could be
seen the flash of a red coat or the glitter of a musket-barrel. I came
down into Tangier, I had no money and no friends. I got away in a
felucca to Spain. From Spain I worked my passage to England. I came
home nine months ago. And here is the trouble. Three months after I
returned Major Lashley disappeared. You understand?"

"Oh," cried Sir Charles, and he jumped in his chair. "I understand
indeed. Suspicion settled upon you," and as it ever will upon the
least provocation suspicion passed for a moment into Fosbrook's brain.
He was heartily ashamed of it when he looked into Jerkley's face. It
would need, assuredly, a criminal of an uncommon astuteness to come at
this hour with this story. Mr. Jerkley was not that criminal.

"Yes," he answered simply, "I am looked at askance, devil a doubt of
it. I would not care a snap of the fingers were I alone in the matter;
but there is Mrs. Lashley ... she is neither wife nor widow ... and,"
he took a step across the room and said quickly--and were she known
for a widow, there is still the suspicion upon me like a great iron
door between us."

"Can you help us, Sir Charles! Can you see light?"

"You must tell me the details of the Major's disappearance," said Sir
Charles, and the following details were given.

On the eleventh of December and at ten o'clock of the evening Major
Lashley left the house to visit the stables which were situated in
the Park and at the distance of a quarter of a mile from the house. A
favourite mare, which he had hunted the day before, had gone lame,
and all day Major Lashley had shown some anxiety; so that there was a
natural reason why he should have gone out at the last moment before
retiring to bed. Mrs. Lashley went up to her room at the same time,
indeed with so exact a correspondence of movement that as she reached
the polished tulip-wood landing at the top of the stairs, she heard
the front door latch as her husband drew it to behind him. That was
the last she heard of him.

"She woke up suddenly," said Jerkley, "in the middle of the night, and
found that her husband was not at her side. She waited for a little
and then rose from her bed. She drew the window-curtains aside and by
the glimmering light which came into the room, was able to read the
dial of her watch. It was seven minutes past three of the morning. She
immediately lighted her candle and went to rouse her father. Her door
opened upon the landing, it is the first door upon the left hand side
as you mount the stairs; the big drawing-room opens on to the landing
too, but faces the stairs. Mrs. Lashley at once went to that room,
knowing how late Mr. Mardale is used to sit over his inventions, and
as she expected, found him there. A search was at once arranged; every
servant in the house was at once impressed, and in the morning every
servant on the estate. Major Lashley had left the stable at a quarter
past ten. He has been seen by no one since."

Sir Charles reflected upon this story.

"There is a pond in front of the house," said he.

"It was dragged in the morning," replied Jerkley.

Sir Charles made various inquiries and received the most
unsatisfactory answers for his purpose. Major Lashley had been a
favourite alike at Tangier, and in the country. He had a winning
trick of a smile, which made friends for him even among his country's
enemies. Mr. Jerkley could not think of a man who had wished him ill.

"Well, I will think the matter over," said Sir Charles, who had not an
idea in his head, and he held the door open for Mr. Jerkley. Both men
stood upon the threshold, looked down the passage and then looked at
one another.

"It is strange," said Jerkley.

"The light has been a long while burning on the landing," said Sir
Charles. They walked on tiptoe down the passage to the door beneath
which one bright bar of light stretched across the floor. Jerkley
opened the door and looked through; Sir Charles who was the taller man
looked over Jerkley's head and never were two men more surprised. In
the embrasure of that door to the left of the staircase, the door
behind which Resilda Lashley slept, old Mr. Mardale reclined, with his
back propped against the door-post. He had fallen asleep at his post,
and a lighted candle half-burnt flamed at his side. The reason of his
presence then was clear to them both.

"A morbid fancy!" he said in a whisper, but with a considerable anger
in his voice. "Such a fancy as comes only to a man who has lost his
judgment through much loneliness. See, he sits like any negro outside
an Eastern harem! Sir, I am shamed by him."

"You have reason I take the liberty to say," said Sir Charles
absently, and he went back to his room puzzling over what he had seen,
and over what he could neither see nor understand. The desire for
sleep was altogether gone from him. He opened his window and leaned
out. The rain had ceased, but the branches still dripped and the air
was of an incomparable sweetness. Blackbirds and thrushes on the
lawns, and in the thicket-depths were singing as though their lives
hung upon the full fresh utterance of each note. A clear pure light
was diffused across the world. Fosbrook went back to his old idea of
some vengeful pursuit sprung from a wrong done long ago in Tangier.
The picture of Major Lashley struck with terror as he got news of his
pursuers, and slinking off into the darkness. Even now, somewhere or
another, on the uplands or the plains of England, he might be rising
from beneath a hedge to shake the rain from his besmeared clothes, and
start off afresh on another day's aimless flight. The notion caught
his imagination and comforted him to sleep. But in the morning he woke
to recognise its unreality. The unreality became yet more vivid to
him at the breakfast-table, when he sat with two pairs of young eyes
turning again and again trustfully towards him. The very reliance
which the man and woman so clearly placed in him spurred him. Since
they looked to him to clear up the mystery, why he must do it, and
there was an end of the matter.

He was none the less glad, however, when Mr. Jerkley announced his
intention of returning home. There would at all events be one pair
of eyes the less. He strolled with Mr. Jerkley on the terrace
after breakfast with a deep air of cogitation, the better to avoid
questions. Gibson Jerkley, however, was himself in a ruminative
mood. He stopped, and gazing across the valley to the riband of road
descending the hill:

"Down that road the soldier came," said he, "whose stories brought
about all this misfortune."

"And very likely down that road will come the bearer of news to make
an end of it," rejoined Fosbrook sententiously. Mr. Jerkley looked at
him with a sudden upspringing of hope, and Sir Charles nodded with
ineffable mystery, never guessing how these lightly spoken words were
to return to his mind with the strength of a fulfilled prophecy.

As he nodded, however, he turned about towards the house, and a
certain disfigurement struck upon his eyes. Two windows on the first
floor were entirely bricked up, and as the house was square with level
tiers of windows, they gave to it an unsightly look. Sir Charles
inquired of his companion if he could account for them.

"To be sure," said Jerkley, with the inattention of a man diverted
from serious thought to an unimportant topic. "They are the windows of
the room in which Mrs. Mardale died a quarter of a century ago. Mr.
Mardale locked the door as soon as his wife was taken from it to the
church, and the next day he had the windows blocked. No one but he has
entered the room during all these years, the key has never left his
person. It must be the ruin of a room by now. You can imagine it, the
dust gathering, the curtains rotting, in the darkness and at times the
old man sitting there with his head running on days long since dead.
But you know Mr. Mardale, he is not as other men."

Sir Charles swung round alertly to his companion. To him at all events
the topic was not an indifferent one.

"Yet you say, you believe that he is void of the natural affections.
Last night we saw a proof, a crazy proof if you will, but none the
less a proof of his devotion to his daughter. To-day you give me as
sure a one of his devotion to his dead wife," and almost before he had
finished, Mr. Mardale was calling to him from the steps of the house.

He spent all that morning in the great drawing-room on the first
floor. It was a room of rich furniture, grown dingy with dust and
inattention, and crowded from end to end with tables and chairs and
sofas, on which were heaped in a confused medley, pictures, statues of
marble, fans and buckles from Spain, queer barbaric ornaments, ivory
carvings from the Chinese. Sir Charles could hardly make his way to
the little cleared space by the window, where Mr. Mardale worked,
without brushing some irreplaceable treasure to the floor. Once
there he was fettered for the morning. Mr. Mardale with all the
undisciplined enthusiasm of an amateur, jumping from this invention to
that, beaming over his spectacles. Sir Charles listened with here and
there a word of advice, or of sympathy with the labour of creation.
But his thoughts were busy elsewhere, he was pondering over his
discovery of the morning, over the sight which he and Jerkley had seen
last night, he was accustoming himself to regard the old man in a
strange new light, as an over-careful father and a sorely-stricken
husband. Meanwhile he sat over against the window which was in the
side of the house, and since the house was built upon a slope of hill,
although the window was on the first floor, a broad terrace of grass
stretched away from it to a circle of gravel ornamented with statues.
On this terrace he saw Mrs. Lashley, and reflected uncomfortably that
he must meet her at dinner and again sustain the inquiry of her eyes.

He avoided actual questions, however, and as soon as dinner was over,
with a meaning look at the girl to assure her that he was busy with
her business, he retired to the library. Then he sat himself down to
think the matter over restfully. But the room, walled with books upon
its three sides, fronted the Southwest on its fourth, and as the
afternoon advanced, the hot June sun streamed farther and farther into
the room. Sir Charles moved his chair back, and again back, and again,
until at last it was pushed into the one cool dark corner of the room.
Then Sir Charles closed his wearied eyes the better to think. But he
had slept little during the last night, and when he opened them again,
it was with a guilty start. He rubbed his eyes, then he reached a hand
down quickly at his side, and lifted a book out of the lowest shelf in
the corner. The book was a volume of sermons. Sir Charles replaced it,
and again dipped his hand into the lucky-bag. He drew out a tome of
Mr. Hobbes' philosophy; Sir Charles was not in the mood for Hobbes; he
tried again. On this third occasion he found something very much more
to his taste, namely the second Volume of Anthony Hamilton's Memoirs
of Count Grammont. This he laid upon his knee, and began glancing
through the pages while he speculated upon the mystery of the Major's
disappearance. His thoughts, however, lagged in a now well-worn
circle, they begot nothing new in the way of a suggestion. On the
other hand the book was quite new to him. He became less and less
interested in his thoughts, more and more absorbed in the Memoirs.
There were passages marked with a pencil-line in the margin, and
marked, thought Sir Charles, by a discriminating judge. He began to
look only for the marked passages, being sure that thus he would most
easily come upon the raciest anecdotes. He read the story of the
Count's pursuit by the brother of the lady he was affianced to. The
brother caught up the Count when he was nearing Dover to return to
France. "You have forgotten something," said the brother. "So I have,"
replied Grammont. "I have forgotten to marry your sister." Sir Charles
chuckled and turned over the pages. There was an account of how the
reprobate hero rode seventy miles into the country to keep a tryst
with an _inamorata_ and waited all night for no purpose in pouring
rain by the Park gate. Sir Charles laughed aloud. He turned over more
pages, and to his surprise came across, amongst the marked passages, a
quite unentertaining anecdote of how Grammont lost a fine new suit of
clothes, ordered for a masquerade at White Hall. Sir Charles read the
story again, wondering why on earth this passage had been marked; and
suddenly he was standing by the window, holding the book to the light
in a quiver of excitement. Underneath certain letters in the words of
this marked passage he had noticed dents in the paper, as though by
the pressure of a pencil point. Now that he stood by the light, he
made sure of the dents, and he saw also by the roughness of the paper
about them, that the pencil-marks had been carefully erased. He read
these underlined letters together--they made a word, two words--a
sentence, and the sentence was an assignation.

Sir Charles could not remember that the critical moment in any of his
great engineering undertakings, had ever caused him such a flutter
of excitement, such a pulsing in his temples, such a catching of his
breath--no, not even the lowering of Charles' Chest into the Waters
of Tangier harbour. Everything at once became exaggerated out of its
proportions, the silence of the house seemed potential and expectant,
the shadows in the room now that the sun was low had their message, he
felt a queer chill run down his spine like ice, he shivered. Then he
hurried to the door, locked it and sat down to a more careful study.
And as he read, there came out before his eyes a story--a story told
as it were in telegrams, a story of passion, of secret meetings, of
gratitude for favours.

Who was the discriminating judge who had marked these passages and
underlined these letters? The book was newly published, it was in the
Quarry House, and there were three occupants of the Quarry House. Was
it Mr. Mardale? The mere question raised a laugh. Resilda? Never.
Major Lashley then? If not Major Lashley, who else?

It flashed into his mind that here in this book he might hold the
history of the Major's long courtship of Resilda. But he dismissed the
notion contemptuously. Gibson Jerkley had told him of that courtship,
and of the girl's reluctance to respond to it. Besides Resilda was
never the woman in this story. Perhaps the first volume might augment
it and give the clue to the woman's identity. Sir Charles hunted
desperately through the shelves. Nowhere was the first volume to be
found. He wasted half-an-hour before he understood why. Of course the
other volume would be in the woman's keeping, and how in the world to
discover her?

Things moved very quickly with Sir Charles that afternoon. He had shut
up the volume and laid it on the table, the while he climbed up and
down the library steps. From the top of the steps he glanced about the
room in a despairing way, and his eyes lit upon the table. For the
first time he remarked the binding which was of a brown leather. But
all the books on the shelves were bound uniformly in marble boards
with a red backing. He sprang down from the steps with the vigour of a
boy, and seizing the book looked in the fly leaf for a name. There was
a name, the name of a bookseller in Leamington, and as he closed the
book again, some one rapped upon the door. Sir Charles opened it and
saw Mr. Mardale. He gave the old gentleman no time to speak.

"Mr. Mardale," said he, "I am a man of plethoric habits, and must
needs take exercise. Can you lend me a horse?"

Mr. Mardale was disappointed as his manner showed. He had perhaps at
that very moment hit upon a new and most revolutionary invention.
But his manners hindered him from showing more than a trace of
the disappointment, and Sir Charles rode out to the bookseller at
Leamington, with the volume beneath his coat.

"Can you show me the companion to this?" said he, dumping it down upon
the counter. The bookseller seized upon the volume and fondled it.

"It is not fair," he cried. "In any other affair but books, it would
be called at once sheer dishonesty. Here have been my subscribers
clamouring for the Memoirs for six months and more."

"You hire out your books!" cried Sir Charles.

"Give would be the properer word," grumbled the man.

Sir Charles humbly apologised.

"It was the purest oversight," said he, "and I will gladly pay double.
But I need the first volume."

"The first volume, Sir," replied the bookseller in a mollified voice,
"is in the like case with the second. There has been an oversight."

"But who has it?"

The bookseller was with difficulty persuaded to search his list. He
kept his papers in the greatest disorder, so that it was no wonder
people kept his volumes until they forgot them. But in the end he
found his list.

"Mrs. Ripley," he read out, "Mrs. Ripley of Burley Wood."

"And where is Burley Wood?" asked Sir Charles.

"It is a village, Sir, six miles from Leamington," replied the
bookseller, and he gave some rough directions as to the road.

Sir Charles mounted his horse and cantered down the Parade. The sun
was setting; he would for a something miss his supper; but he meant to
see Burley Wood that day, and he would have just daylight enough
for his purpose. As he entered the village, he caught up a labourer
returning from the fields. Sir Charles drew rein beside him.

"Will you tell me, if you please, where Mrs. Ripley lives?"

The man looked up and grinned.

"In the churchyard," said he.

"Do you mean she is dead?"

"No less."

"When did she die?"

"Well, it may have been a month or two ago, or it may have been more."

"Show me her grave and there's a silver shilling in your pocket."

The labourer led Fosbrook to a corner of the churchyard. Then upon
a head-stone he read that Mary Ripley aged twenty-nine had died on
December 7th. December the 7th thought Sir Charles, five days before
Major Lashley died. Then he turned quickly to the labourer.

"Can you tell me when Mrs. Ripley was buried?"

"I can find out for another shilling."

"You shall have it, man."

The labourer hurried off, discovered the sexton, and came back. But
instead of the civil gentleman he had left, he found now a man with a
face of horror, and eyes that had seen appalling things. Sir Charles
had remained in the churchyard by the grave, he had looked about him
from one to the other of the mounds of turf, his imagination already
stimulated had been quickened by what he had seen; he stood with the
face of a Medusa.

"She was buried when?" he asked.

"On December the 11th," replied the labourer.

Sir Charles showed no surprise. He stood very still for a moment, then
he gave the man his two shillings, and walked to the gate where his
horse was tied. Then he inquired the nearest way to the Quarry House,
and he was pointed out a bridle-path running across fields to a hill.
As he mounted he asked another question.

"Mr. Ripley is alive?"

"Yes."

"It must be Mr. Ripley," Sir Charles assured himself, as he rode
through the dusk of the evening. "It must be ... It must be ..." until
the words in his mind became a meaningless echo of his horse's hoofs.
He rode up the hill, left the bridle-path for the road, and suddenly,
and long before he had expected, he saw beneath him the red square of
the Quarry House and the smoke from its chimneys. He was on that very
road up which he and Gibson Jerkley had looked that morning. Down that
road, he had said, would come the man who knew how Major Lashley
had disappeared, and within twelve hours down that road the man was
coming. "But it must be Mr. Ripley," he said to himself.

None the less he took occasion at supper to speak of his ride.

"I rode by Leamington to Burley Wood. I went into the churchyard."
Then he stopped, but as though the truth was meant to come to light,
Resilda helped him out.

"I had a dear friend buried there not so long ago," she said. "Father,
you remember Mrs. Ripley."

"I saw her grave this afternoon," said Fosbrook, with his eyes upon
Mr. Mardale. It might have been a mere accident, it was in any case a
trifling thing, the mere shaking of a hand, the spilling of a spoonful
of salt upon the table, but trifling things have their suggestions.
He remembered that Resilda, when she had waked up on the night of
December the 11th to find herself alone, had sought out her father,
who was still up, and at work in the big drawing-room. He remembered
too that the window of that room gave on to a terrace of grass. A man
might go out by that window--aye and return without a soul but himself
being the wiser.

Of course it was all guess work and inference, and besides, it must be
Mr. Ripley. Mr. Ripley might as easily have discovered the secret
of the Memoirs as himself--or anyone else. Mr. Ripley would have
justification for anger and indeed for more--yes for what men who are
not affected are used to call a crime ... Sir Charles abruptly stopped
his reasoning, seeing that it was prompted by a defence of Mr.
Mardale. He made his escape from his hosts as soon as he decently
could and retired to his room. He sat down in his room and thought,
and he thought to some purpose. He blew out his candle, and stole down
the stairs into the hall. He had met no one. From the hall he went to
the library-door and opened it--ever so gently. The room was quite
dark. Sir Charles felt his way across it to his chair in the corner.
He sat down in the darkness and waited. After a time inconceivably
long, after every board in the house had cracked a million times, he
heard distinctly a light shuffling step in the passage, and after that
the latch of the door release itself from the socket. He heard nothing
more, for a little, he could only guess that the door was being
silently opened by some one who carried no candle. Then the shuffling
footsteps began to move gently across the room, towards him, towards
the corner where he was sitting. Sir Charles had had no doubt but that
they would, not a single doubt, but none the less as he sat there
in the dark, he felt the hair rising on his scalp, and all his body
thrill. Then a hand groped and touched him. A cry rang out, but it was
Sir Charles who uttered it. A voice answered quietly:

"You had fallen asleep. I regret to have waked you."

"I was not asleep, Mr. Mardale."

There was a pause and Mr. Mardale continued.

"I cannot sleep to-night, I came for a book."

"I know. For the book I took back to Leamington to-day, before I went
to visit Mrs. Ripley's grave."

There was a yet longer pause before Mr. Mardale spoke again.

"Stay then!" he said in the same gentle voice. "I will fetch a light."
He shuffled out of the room, and to Sir Charles it seemed again an
inconceivably long time before he returned. He came back with a single
candle, which he placed upon the table, a little star of light,
showing the faces of the two men shadowy and dim. He closed the door
carefully, and coming back, said simply:

"You know."

"Yes."

"How did you find out?"

"I saw the grave. I noticed the remarkable height of the mound. I
guessed."

"Yes," said Mr. Mardale, and in a low voice he explained. "I found the
book here one day, that he left by accident. On December 11th Mrs.
Ripley was buried, and that night he left the house--for the stables,
yes, but he did not return from the stables. It seemed quite clear to
me where he would be that night. People hereabouts take me for a
man crazed and daft, I know that very well, but I know something of
passion, Sir Charles. I have had my griefs to bear. Oh, I knew where
he would be. I followed over the hill down to the churchyard of Burley
Wood. I had no thought of what I should do. I carried a stick in my
hand, I had no thought of using it. But I found him lying full-length
upon the grave with his lips pressed to the earth of it, whispering to
her who lay beneath him.... I called to him to stand up and he did. I
bade him, if he dared, repeat the words he had used to my face, to
me, the father of the girl he had married, and he did--triumphantly,
recklessly. I struck at him with the knob of my stick, the knob was
heavy, I struck with all my might, the blow fell upon his forehead.
The spade was lying on the ground beside the grave. I buried him with
her. Now what will you do?"

"Nothing," said Sir Charles.

"But Mr. Jerkley asked you to help him."

"I shall tell a lie."

"My friend, there is no need," said the old man with his gentle
smile. "When I went out for this candle I ..." Sir Charles broke in
upon him in a whirl of horror.

"No. Don't say it! You did not!"

"I did," replied Mr. Mardale. "The poison is a kindly one. I shall be
dead before morning. I shall sleep my way to death. I do not mind, for
I fear that, after all, my inventions are of little worth. I have left
a confession on my writing-desk. There is no reason--is there?--why he
and she should be kept apart?"

It was not a question which Sir Charles could discuss. He said
nothing, and was again left alone in the darkness, listening to the
shuffling footsteps of Mr. Mardale as, for the last time, he mounted
the stairs.




MR. MITCHELBOURNE'S LAST ESCAPADE.


It was in the kitchen of the inn at Framlingham that Mr. Mitchelbourne
came across the man who was afraid, and during the Christmas week
of the year 1681. Lewis Mitchelbourne was young in those days, and
esteemed as a gentleman of refinement and sensibility, with a queer
taste for escapades, pardonable by reason of his youth. It was his
pride to bear his part in the graceful tactics of a minuet, while a
saddled horse waited for him at the door. He delighted to vanish of a
sudden from the lighted circle of his friends into the byways where
none knew him, or held him of account, not that it was all vanity with
Mitchelbourne though no doubt the knowledge that his associates
in London Town were speculating upon his whereabouts tickled him
pleasurably through many a solitary day. But he was possessed both of
courage and resource, qualities for which he found too infrequent an
exercise in his ordinary life; and so he felt it good to be free for
awhile, not from the restraints but from the safeguards, with
which his social circumstances surrounded him. He had his spice of
philosophy too, and discovered that these sharp contrasts,--luxury and
hardship, treading hard upon each other and the new strange people
with whom he fell in, kept fresh his zest of life.

Thus it happened that at a time when families were gathering cheerily
each about a single fireside, Mr. Mitchelbourne was riding alone
through the muddy and desolate lanes of Suffolk. The winter was not
seasonable; men were not tempted out of doors. There was neither
briskness nor sunlight in the air, and there was no snow upon the
ground. It was a December of dripping branches, and mists and steady
pouring rains, with a raw sluggish cold, which crept into one's
marrow.

The man who was afraid, a large, corpulent man, of a loose and heavy
build, with a flaccid face and bright little inexpressive eyes like a
bird's, sat on a bench within the glow of the fire.

"You travel far to-night?" he asked nervously, shuffling his feet.

"To-night!" exclaimed Mitchelbourne as he stood with his legs apart
taking the comfortable warmth into his bones. "No further than from
this fire to my bed," and he listened with enjoyment to the rain
which cracked upon the window like a shower of gravel flung by some
mischievous urchin. He was not suffered to listen long, for the
corpulent man began again.

"I am an observer, sir. I pride myself upon it, but I have so much
humility as to wish to put my observations to the test of fact. Now,
from your carriage, I should judge you to serve His Majesty."

"A civilian may be straight. There is no law against it," returned
Mitchelbourne, and he perceived that the ambiguity of his reply threw
his questioner into a great alarm. He was at once interested. Here,
it seemed, was one of those encounters which were the spice of his
journeyings.

"You will pardon me," continued the stranger with a great assumption
of heartiness, "but I am curious, sir, curious as Socrates, though
I thank God I am no heathen. Here is Christmas, when a sensible
gentleman, as upon my word I take you to be, sits to his table and
drinks more than is good for him in honour of the season. Yet here are
you upon the roads to Suffolk which have nothing to recommend them. I
wonder at it, sir."

"You may do that," replied Mitchelbourne, "though to be sure, there
are two of us in the like case."

"Oh, as for me," said his companion shrugging his shoulders, "I am on
my way to be married. My name is Lance," and he blurted it out with
a suddenness as though to catch Mitchelbourne off his guard.
Mitchelbourne bowed politely.

"And my name is Mitchelbourne, and I travel for my pleasure, though my
pleasure is mere gipsying, and has nothing to do with marriage. I
take comfort from thinking that I have no friend from one rim of
this country to the other, and that my closest intimates have not an
inkling of my whereabouts."

Mr. Lance received the explanation with undisguised suspicion, and at
supper, which the two men took together, he would be forever laying
traps. Now he slipped some outlandish name or oath unexpectedly into
his talk, and watched with a forward bend of his body to mark whether
the word struck home; or again he mentioned some person with whom
Mitchelbourne was quite unfamiliar. At length, however, he seemed
satisfied, and drawing up his chair to the fire, he showed himself at
once in his true character, a loud and gusty boaster.

"An exchange of sentiments, Mr. Mitchelbourne, with a chance
acquaintance over a pipe and a glass--upon my word I think you are in
the right of it, and there's no pleasanter way of passing an evening.
I could tell you stories, sir; I served the King in his wars, but I
scorn a braggart, and all these glories are over. I am now a man of
peace, and, as I told you, on my way to be married. Am I wise? I do
not know, but I sometimes think it preposterous that a man who
has been here and there about the world, and could, if he were so
meanly-minded, tell a tale or so of success in gallantry, should
hamper himself with connubial fetters. But a man must settle, to
be sure, and since the lady is young, and not wanting in looks or
breeding or station, as I am told--"

"As you are told?" interrupted Mitchelbourne.

"Yes, for I have never seen her. No, not so much as her miniature.
Nor have I seen her mother either, or any of the family, except the
father, from whom I carry letters to introduce me. She lives in a
house called 'The Porch' some miles from here. There is another house
hard by to it, I understand, which has long stood empty and I have a
mind to buy it. I bring a fortune, the lady a standing in the county."

"And what has the lady to say to it?" asked Mitchelbourne.

"The lady!" replied Lance with a stare. "Nothing but what is dutiful,
I'll be bound. The father is under obligations to me." He stopped
suddenly, and Mitchelbourne, looking up, saw that his mouth had
fallen. He sat with his eyes starting from his head and a face grey as
lead, an image of panic pitiful to behold. Mitchelbourne spoke but got
no answer. It seemed Lance could not answer--he was so arrested by a
paralysis of terror. He sat staring straight in front of him, and it
seemed at the mantelpiece which was just on a level with his eyes. The
mantelpiece, however, had nothing to distinguish it from a score of
others. Its counterpart might be found to this day in the parlour of
any inn. A couple of china figures disfigured it, to be sure, but
Mitchelbourne could not bring himself to believe that even their
barbaric crudity had power to produce so visible a discomposure. He
inclined to the notion that his companion was struck by a physical
disease, perhaps some recrudescence of a malady contracted in those
foreign lands of which he vaguely spoke.

"Sir, you are ill," said Mitchelbourne. "I will have a doctor, if
there is one hereabouts to be found, brought to your relief." He
sprang up as he spoke, and that action of his roused Lance out of his
paralysis. "Have a care," he cried almost in a shriek, "Do not move!
For pity, sir, do not move," and he in his turn rose from his chair.
He rose trembling, and swept the dust off a corner of the mantelpiece
into the palm of his hand. Then he held his palm to the lamp.

"Have you seen the like of this before?" he asked in a low shaking
voice.

Mitchelbourne looked over Lance's shoulder. The dust was in reality a
very fine grain of a greenish tinge.

"Never!" said Mitchelbourne.

"No, nor I," said Lance, with a sudden cunning look at his companion,
and opening his fingers, as he let the grain run between them. But he
could not remove as easily from Mitchelbourne's memories that picture
he had shown him of a shaking and a shaken man. Mitchelbourne went to
bed divided in his feelings between pity for the lady Lance was to
marry, and curiosity as to Lance's apprehensions. He lay awake for
a long time speculating upon that mysterious green seed which could
produce so extraordinary a panic, and in the morning his curiosity
predominated. Since, therefore, he had no particular destination he
was easily persuaded to ride to Saxmundham with Mr. Lance, who, for
his part, was most earnest for a companion. On the journey Lance gave
further evidence of his fears. He had a trick of looking backwards
whenever they came to a corner of the road--an habitual trick, it
seemed, acquired by a continued condition of fear. When they stopped
at midday to eat at an ordinary, he inspected the guests through the
chink at the hinges of the door before he would enter the room; and
this, too, he did as though it had long been natural to him. He kept
a bridle in his mouth, however; that little pile of grain upon
the mantelshelf had somehow warned him into reticence, so that
Mitchelbourne, had he not been addicted to his tobacco, would
have learnt no more of the business and would have escaped the
extraordinary peril which he was subsequently called upon to face.

But he _was_ addicted to his tobacco, and no sooner had he finished
his supper that night at Saxmundham than he called for a pipe. The
maidservant fetched a handful from a cupboard and spread them upon the
table, and amongst them was one plainly of Barbary manufacture. It had
a straight wooden stem painted with hieroglyphics in red and green
and a small reddish bowl of baked earth. Nine men out of ten would no
doubt have overlooked it, but Mitchelbourne was the tenth man. His
fancies were quick to kindle, and taking up the pipe he said in a
musing voice:

"Now, how in the world comes a Barbary pipe to travel so far over seas
and herd in the end with common clays in a little Suffolk village?"

He heard behind him the grating of a chair violently pushed back. The
pipe seemingly made its appeal to Mr. Lance also.

"Has it been smoked?" he asked in a grave low voice.

"The inside of the bowl is stained," said Mitchelbourne.

Mitchelbourne had been inclined to believe that he had seen last
evening the extremity of fear expressed in a man's face: he had now to
admit that he had been wrong. Mr. Lance's terror was a Circe to him
and sunk him into something grotesque and inhuman; he ran once or
twice in a little tripping, silly run backwards and forwards like an
animal trapped and out of its wits; and his face had the look of a
man suffering from a nausea; so that Mitchelbourne, seeing him, was
ashamed and hurt for their common nature.

"I must go," said Lance babbling his words. "I cannot stay. I must
go."

"To-night?" exclaimed Mitchelbourne. "Six yards from the door you will
be soaked!"

"Then there will be the fewer men abroad. I cannot sleep here! No,
though it rained pistols and bullets I must go." He went into
the passage, and calling his host secretly asked for his score.
Mitchelbourne made a further effort to detain him.

"Make an inquiry of the landlord first. It may be a mere shadow that
frightens you."

"Not a word, not a question," Lance implored. The mere suggestion
increased a panic which seemed incapable of increase. "And for the
shadow, why, that's true. The pipe's the shadow, and the shadow
frightens me. A shadow! Yes! A shadow is a horrible, threatning thing!
Show me a shadow cast by nothing and I am with you. But you might as
easily hold that this Barbary pipe floated hither across the seas of
its own will. No! 'Ware shadows, I say." And so he continued harping
on the word, till the landlord fetched in the bill.

The landlord had his dissuasions too, but they availed not a jot more
than Mr. Mitchelbourne's.

"The road is as black as a pauper's coffin," said he, "and damnable
with ruts."

"So much the better," said Lance.

"There is no house where you can sleep nearer than Glemham, and no man
would sleep there could he kennel elsewhere."

"So much the better," said Lance. "Besides, I am expected to-morrow
evening at 'The Porch' and Glemham is on the way." He paid his bill,
slipped over to the stables and lent a hand to the saddling of his
horse. Mitchelbourne, though for once in his life he regretted the
precipitancy with which he welcomed strangers, was still sufficiently
provoked to see the business to its end. His imagination was seized by
the thought of this fat and vulgar person fleeing in terror through
English lanes from a Barbary Moor. He had now a conjecture in his mind
as to the nature of that greenish seed. He accordingly rode out with
Lance toward Glemham.

It was a night of extraordinary blackness; you could not distinguish
a hedge until the twigs stung across your face; the road was narrow,
great tree-trunks with bulging roots lined it, at times it was very
steep--and, besides and beyond every other discomfort, there was the
rain. It fell pitilessly straight over the face of the country with a
continuous roar as though the earth was a hollow drum. Both travellers
were drenched to the skin before they were free of Saxmundham, and one
of them, when after midnight they stumbled into the poor tumble-down
parody of a tavern at Glemham, was in an extreme exhaustion. It was no
more than an ague, said Lance, from which he periodically suffered,
but the two men slept in the same bare room, and towards morning
Mitchelbourne was awakened from a deep slumber by an unfamiliar voice
talking at an incredible speed through the darkness in an uncouth
tongue. He started up upon his elbow; the voice came from Lance's bed.
He struck a light. Lance was in a high fever, which increased as the
morning grew.

Now, whether he had the sickness latent within him when he came from
Barbary, or whether his anxieties and corpulent habit made him an
easy victim to disease, neither the doctor nor any one else could
determine. But at twelve o'clock that day Lance was seized with an
attack of cholera and by three in the afternoon he was dead. The
suddenness of the catastrophe shocked Mr. Mitchelbourne inexpressibly.
He stood gazing at the still features of the man whom fear had, during
these last days, so grievously tormented, and was solemnly aware of
the vanity of those fears. He could not pretend to any great esteem
for his companion, but he made many suitable reflections upon the
shears of the Fates and the tenacity of life, in which melancholy
occupation he was interrupted by the doctor, who pointed out the
necessity of immediate burial. Seven o'clock the next morning was the
hour agreed upon, and Mitchelbourne at once searched in Lance's
coat pockets for the letters which he carried. There were only two,
superscribed respectively to Mrs. Ufford at "The Porch" near Glemham,
and to her daughter Brasilia. At "The Porch" Mitchelbourne remembered
Lance was expected this very evening, and he thought it right at once
to ride thither with his gloomy news.

Having, therefore, sprinkled the letters plentifully with vinegar and
taken such rough precautions as were possible to remove the taint of
infection from the letters, he started about four o'clock. The evening
was most melancholy. For, though no rain any longer fell, there was a
continual pattering of drops from the trees and a ghostly creaking of
branches in a light and almost imperceptible wind. The day, too, was
falling, the grey overhang of cloud was changing to black, except for
one wide space in the west, where a pale spectral light shone without
radiance; and the last of that was fading when he pulled up at a
parting of the roads and inquired of a man who chanced to be standing
there his way to "The Porch." He was directed to ride down the road
upon his left hand until he came to the second house, which he could
not mistake, for there was a dyke or moat about the garden wall. He
passed the first house a mile further on, and perhaps half a mile
beyond that he came to the dyke and the high garden wall, and saw the
gables of the second house loom up behind it black against the sky. A
wooden bridge spanned the dyke and led to a wide gate. Mitchelbourne
stopped his horse at the bridge. The gate stood open and he looked
down an avenue of trees into a square of which three sides were made
by the high garden wall, and the fourth and innermost by the house.
Thus the whole length of the house fronted him, and it struck him as
very singular that neither in the lower nor the upper windows was
there anywhere a spark of light, nor was there any sound but the
tossing of the branches and the wail of the wind among the chimneys.
Not even a dog barked or rattled a chain, and from no chimney breathed
a wisp of smoke. The house in the gloom of that melancholy evening had
a singular eerie and tenantless look; and oppressive silence reigned
there; and Mitchelbourne was unaccountably conscious of a growing
aversion to it, as to something inimical and sinister.

He had crossed the mouth of a lane, he remembered, just at the first
corner of the wall. The lane ran backwards from the road, parallel
with the side wall of the garden. Mitchelbourne had a strong desire
to ride down that lane and inspect the back of the house before he
crossed the bridge into the garden. He was restrained for a moment by
the thought that such a proceeding must savour of cowardice. But only
for a moment. There had been no doubting the genuine nature of Lance's
fears and those fears were very close to Mr. Mitchelbourne now. They
were feeling like cold fingers about his heart. He was almost in the
icy grip of them.

He turned and rode down the lane until he came to the end of the wall.
A meadow stretched behind the house. Mitchelbourne unfastened the
catch of a gate with his riding whip and entered it. He found himself
upon the edge of a pool, which on the opposite side wetted the house
wall. About the pool some elder trees and elms grew and overhung, and
their boughs tapped like fingers upon the window-panes. Mitchelbourne
was assured that the house was inhabited, since from one of the
windows a strong yellow light blazed, and whenever a sharper gust blew
the branches aside, swept across the face of the pool like a flaw of
wind.

The lighted window was in the lowest storey, and Mitchelbourne, from
the back of his horse, could see into the room. He was mystified
beyond expression by what he saw. A deal table, three wooden chairs,
some ragged curtains drawn back from the window, and a single lamp
made up the furniture. The boards of the floor were bare and unswept;
the paint peeled in strips from the panels of the walls; the
discoloured ceiling was hung with cobwebs; the room in a word matched
the outward aspect of the house in its look of long disuse. Yet it had
occupants. Three men were seated at the table in the scarlet coats and
boots of the King's officers. Their faces, though it was winter-time,
were brown with the sun, and thin and drawn as with long privation and
anxiety. They had little to say to one another, it seemed. Each man
sat stiffly in a sort of suspense and expectation, with now and then a
restless movement or a curt word as curtly answered.

Mitchelbourne rode back again, crossed the bridge, fastened his horse
to a tree in the garden, and walked down the avenue to the door. As he
mounted the steps, he perceived with something of a shock, that the
door was wide open and that the void of the hall yawned black before
him. It was a fresh surprise, but in this night of surprises, one more
or less, he assured himself, was of little account. He stepped into
the hall and walked forwards feeling with his hands in front of him.
As he advanced, he saw a thin line of yellow upon the floor ahead of
him. The line of yellow was a line of light, and it came, no doubt,
from underneath a door, and the door, no doubt, was that behind which
the three men waited. Mitchelbourne stopped. After all, he reflected,
the three men were English officers wearing His Majesty's uniform,
and, moreover, wearing it stained with their country's service. He
walked forward and tapped upon the door. At once the light within the
room was extinguished.

It needed just that swift and silent obliteration of the slip of light
upon the floor to make Mitchelbourne afraid. He had been upon the
brink of fear ever since he had seen that lonely and disquieting
house; he was now caught in the full stream. He turned back. Through
the open doorway, he saw the avenue of leafless trees tossing against
a leaden sky. He took a step or two and then came suddenly to a halt.
For all around him in the darkness he seemed to hear voices breathing
and soft footsteps. He realised that his fear had overstepped his
reason; he forced himself to remember the contempt he had felt for
Lance's manifestations of terror; and swinging round again he flung
open the door and entered the room.

"Good evening, gentlemen," said he airily, and he got no answer
whatsoever. In front of him was the grey panel of dim twilight where
the window stood. The rest was black night and an absolute silence. A
map of the room was quite clear in his recollections. The three men
were seated he knew at the table on his right hand. The faint light
from the window did not reach them, and they made no noise. Yet they
were there. Why had they not answered him, he asked himself. He could
not even hear them breathing, though he strained his ears. He could
only hear his heart drumming at his breast, the blood pulsing in his
temples. Why did they hold their breath? He crossed the room, not
knowing what he did, bereft of his wits. He had a confused, ridiculous
picture of himself wearing the flaccid, panic stricken face of Mr.
Lance, like an ass' head, not holding the wand of Titania. He reached
the window and stood in its embrasure, and there one definite,
practical thought crept into his mind. He was visible to these men who
were invisible to him. The thought suggested a precaution, and with
the trembling haste of a man afraid, he tore at the curtains and
dragged them till they met across the window so that even the faint
grey glimmer of the night no longer had entrance. The next moment
he heard the door behind him latch and a key turn in the lock. He
crouched beneath the window and did not stand up again until a light
was struck, and the lamp relit.

The lighting of the lamp restored Mr. Mitchelbourne, if not to the
full measure of his confidence, at all events to an appreciation that
the chief warrant for his trepidation was removed. What he had with
some appearance of reason feared was a sudden attack in the dark. With
the lamp lit, he could surely stand in no danger of any violence at
the hands of three King's officers whom he had never come across in
all his life. He took, therefore, an easy look at them. One, the
youngest, now leaned against the door, a youth of a frank, honest
face, unremarkable but for a firm set of the jaws. A youth of no great
intellect, thought Mitchelbourne, but tenacious, a youth marked out
for a subordinate command, and never likely for all his sterling
qualities to kindle a woman to a world-forgetting passion, or to tread
with her the fiery heights where life throbs at its fullest. Mr.
Mitchelbourne began to feel quite sorry for this young officer of the
limited capacities, and he was still in the sympathetic mood when one
of the two men at the table spoke to him. Mitchelbourne turned at
once. The officers were sitting with a certain air of the theatre in
their attitudes, one a little dark man and the other a stiff, light
complexioned fellow with a bony, barren face, unmistakably a stupid
man and the oldest of the three. It was he who was speaking, and he
spoke with a sort of aggravated courtesy like a man of no breeding
counterfeiting a gentleman upon the stage.

"You will pardon us for receiving you with so little ceremony. But
while we expected you, you on the other hand were not expecting us,
and we feared that you might hesitate to come in if the lamp was
burning when you opened the door."

Mitchelbourne was now entirely at his ease. He perceived that there
was some mistake and made haste to put it right.

"On the contrary," said he, "for I knew very well you were here.
Indeed, I knocked at the door to make a necessary inquiry. You did not
extinguish the lamp so quickly but that I saw the light beneath the
door, and besides I watched you some five minutes through the window
from the opposite bank of the pool at the back of the house."

The officers were plainly disconcerted by the affability of Mr.
Mitchelbourne's reply. They had evidently expected to carry off a
triumph, not to be taken up in an argument. They had planned a stroke
of the theatre, final and convincing, and behold the dialogue went on!
There was a riposte to their thrust.

The spokesman made some gruff noises in his throat. Then his face
cleared.

"These are dialectics," he said superbly with a wave of the hand.

"Good," said the little dark fellow at his elbow, "very good!"

The youth at the door nodded superciliously towards Mitchelbourne.

"True, these are dialectics," said he with a smack of the lips upon
the word. It was a good cunning scholarly word, and the man who could
produce it so aptly worthy of admiration.

"You make a further error, gentlemen," continued Mitchelbourne, "you
no doubt are expecting some one, but you were most certainly not
expecting me. For I am here by the purest mistake, having been
misdirected on the way." Here the three men smiled to each other, and
their spokesman retorted with a chuckle.

"Misdirected, indeed you were. We took precautions that you should be.
A servant of mine stationed at the parting of the roads. But we are
forgetting our manners," he added rising from his chair. "You should
know our names. The gentleman at the door is Cornet Lashley, this
is Captain Bassett and I am Major Chantrell. We are all three of
Trevelyan's regiment."

"And my name," said Mitchelbourne, not to be outdone in politeness,
"is Lewis Mitchelbourne, a gentleman of the County of Middlesex."

At this each of the officers was seized with a fit of laughter;
but before Mitchelbourne had time to resent their behavior, Major
Chantrell said indulgently:

"Well, well, we shall not quarrel about names. At all events we all
four are lately come from Tangier."

"Oh, from Tangier," cried Mitchelbourne. The riddle was becoming
clear. That extraordinary siege when a handful of English red-coats
unpaid and ill-fed fought a breached and broken town against countless
hordes for the honour of their King during twenty years, had not yet
become the property of the historian. It was still an actual war
in 1681. Mitchelbourne understood whence came the sunburn on his
antagonists' faces, whence the stains and the worn seams of their
clothes. He advanced to the table and spoke with a greater respect
than he had used.

"Did one of you," he asked, "leave a Moorish pipe behind you at an inn
of Saxmundham?"

"Ah," said the Major with a reproachful glance at Captain Bassett. The
Captain answered with some discomfort:

"Yes. I made that mistake. But what does it matter? You are here none
the less."

"You have with you some of the Moorish tobacco?" continued
Mitchelbourne.

Captain Bassett fetched out of his pocket a little canvas bag, and
handed it to Mitchelbourne, who untied the string about the neck, and
poured some of the contents into the palm of his hand. The tobacco was
a fine, greenish seed.

"I thought as much," said Mitchelbourne, "you expected Mr. Lance
to-night. It is Mr. Lance whom you thought to misdirect to this
solitary house. Indeed Mr. Lance spoke of such a place in this
neighbourhood, and had a mind to buy it."

Captain Bassett suddenly raised his hand to his mouth, not so quickly,
however, but Mitchelbourne saw the grim, amused smile upon his lips.
"It is Mr. Lance for whom you now mistake me," he said abruptly.

The young man at the door uttered a short, contemptuous laugh, Major
Chantrell only smiled.

"I am aware," said he, "that we meet for the first time to-night, but
you presume upon that fact too far. What have you to say to this?" And
dragging a big and battered pistol from his pocket, he tossed it upon
the table, and folded his arms in the best transpontine manner.

"And to this?" said Captain Bassett. He laid a worn leather powder
flask beside the pistol, and tapped upon the table triumphantly.

Mr. Mitchelbourne recognised clearly that villainy was somehow
checkmated by these proceedings and virtue restored, but how he could
not for the life of him determine. He took up the pistol.

"It appears to have seen some honourable service," said he. This
casual remark had a most startling effect upon his auditors. It was
the spark to the gun-powder of their passions. Their affectations
vanished in a trice.

"Service, yes, but honourable! Use that lie again, Mr. Lance, and I
will ram the butt of it down your throat!" cried Major Chantrell. He
leaned forward over the table in a blaze of fury. Yet his face did no
more than match the faces of his comrades.

Mitchelbourne began to understand. These simple soldier-men had
endeavoured to conduct their proceedings with great dignity and a
judicial calmness; they had mapped out for themselves certain parts
which they were to play as upon a stage; they were to be three stern
imposing figures of justice; and so they had become simply absurd and
ridiculous. Now, however, that passion had the upper hand of them,
Mitchelbourne saw at once that he stood in deadly peril. These were
men.

"Understand me, Mr. Lance," and the Major's voice rang out firm, the
voice of a man accustomed to obedience. "Three years ago I was in
command of Devil's Drop, a little makeshift fort upon the sands
outside Tangier. In front the Moors lay about us in a semicircle. Sir,
the diameter was the line of the sea at our backs. We could not retire
six yards without wetting our feet, not twenty without drowning. One
night the Moors pushed their trenches up to our palisades; in the dusk
of the morning I ordered a sortie. Nine officers went out with me and
three came back, we three. Of the six we left behind, five fell, by my
orders, to be sure, for I led them out; but, by the living God, you
killed them. There's the pistol that shot my best friend down, an
English pistol. There's the powder flask which charged the pistol, an
English flask filled with English powder. And who sold the pistol and
the powder to the Moors, England's enemies? You, an Englishman. But
you have come to the end of your lane to-night. Turn and turn as you
will you have come to the end of it."

The truth was out now, and Mitchelbourne was chilled with
apprehension. Here were three men very desperately set upon what they
considered a mere act of justice. How was he to dissuade them? By
argument? They would not listen to it. By proofs? He had none to offer
them. By excuses? Of all unsupported excuses which can match for
futility the excuse of mistaken identity? It springs immediate to the
criminal's lips. Its mere utterance is almost a conviction.

"You persist in error, Major Chantrell," he nevertheless began.

"Show him the proof, Bassett," Chantrell interrupted with a shrug of
the shoulders, and Captain Bassett drew from his pocket a folded sheet
of paper.

"Nine officers went out," continued Chantrell, "five were killed,
three are here. The ninth was taken a prisoner into Barbary. The Moors
brought him down to their port of Marmora to interpret. At Marmora
your ship unloaded its stores of powder and guns. God knows how often
it had unloaded the like cargo during these twenty years--often enough
it seems, to give you a fancy for figuring as a gentleman in the
county. But the one occasion of its unloading is enough. Our brother
officer was your interpreter with the Moors, Mr. Lance. You may very
likely know that, but this you do not know, Mr. Lance. He escaped, he
crept into Tangier with this, your bill of lading in his hand," and
Bassett tossed the sheet of paper towards Mitchelbourne. It fell upon
the floor before him but he did not trouble to pick it up.

"Is it Lance's death that you require?" he asked.

"Yes! yes! yes!" came from each mouth.

"Then already you have your wish. I do not question one word of your
charges against Lance. I have reason to believe them true. But I am
not Lance. Lance lies at this moment dead at Great Glemham. He died
this afternoon of cholera. Here are his letters," and he laid the
letters on the table. "I rode in with them at once. You do not believe
me, but you can put my words to the test. Let one of you ride to Great
Glemham and satisfy himself. He will be back before morning."

The three officers listened so far with impassive faces, or barely
listened, for they were as indifferent to the words as to the passion
with which they were spoken.

"We have had enough of the gentleman's ingenuities, I think," said
Chantrell, and he made a movement towards his companions.

"One moment," exclaimed Mitchelbourne. "Answer me a question! These
letters are to the address of Mrs. Ufford at a house called 'The
Porch.' It is near to here?"

"It is the first house you passed," answered the Major and, as he
noticed a momentary satisfaction flicker upon his victim's face, he
added, "But you will not do well to expect help from 'The Porch'--at
all events in time to be of much service to you. You hardly appreciate
that we have been at some pains to come up with you. We are not
likely again to find so many circumstances agreeing to favour us, a
dismantled house, yourself travelling alone and off your guard in a
country with which you are unfamiliar and where none know you, and
just outside the window a convenient pool. Besides--besides," he broke
out passionately, "There are the little mounds about Tangier, under
which my friends lie," and he covered his face with his hands. "My
friends," he cried in a hoarse and broken voice, "my soldier-men!
Come, let's make an end. Bassett, the rope is in the corner. There's a
noose to it. The beam across the window will serve;" and Bassett rose
to obey.

But Mitchelbourne gave them no time. His fears had altogether vanished
before his indignation at the stupidity of these officers. He was
boiling with anger at the thought that he must lose his life in this
futile ignominious way for the crime of another man, who was not even
his friend, and who besides was already dead. There was just one
chance to escape, it seemed to him. And even as Bassett stooped to
lift the coil of rope in the corner he took it.

"So that's the way of it," he cried stepping forward. "I am to be hung
up to a beam till I kick to death, am I? I am to be buried decently in
that stagnant pool, am I? And you are to be miles away before sunrise,
and no one the wiser! No, Major Chantrell, I am not come to the end of
my lane," and before either of the three could guess what he was at,
he had snatched up the pistol from the table and dashed the lamp into
a thousand fragments.

The flame shot up blue and high, and then came darkness.

Mitchelbourne jumped lightly back from his position to the centre of
the room. The men he had to deal with were men who would follow their
instincts. They would feel along the walls; of so much he could be
certain. He heard the coil of rope drop down in a corner to his left;
so that he knew where Captain Bassett was. He heard a chair upset in
front of him, and a man staggered against his chest. Mitchelbourne had
the pistol still in his hand and struck hard, and the man dropped with
a crash. The fall followed so closely upon the upsetting of the chair
that it seemed part of the same movement and accident. It seemed so
clearly part, that a voice spoke on Mitchelbourne's left, just where
the empty hearth would be.

"Get up! Be quick!"

The voice was Major Chantrell's and Mitchelbourne had a throb of hope.
For since it was not the Major who had fallen nor Captain Bassett, it
must be Lashley. And Lashley had been guarding the door, of which the
key still remained in the lock. If only he could reach the door and
turn the key! He heard Chantrell moving stealthily along the wall upon
his left hand and he suffered a moment's agony; for in the darkness he
could not surely tell which way the Major moved. For if he moved to
the window, if he had the sense to move to the window and tear aside
those drawn curtains, the grey twilight would show the shadowy moving
figures. Mitchelbourne's chance would be gone. And then something
totally unexpected and unhoped for occurred. The god of the machine
was in a freakish mood that evening. He had a mind for pranks and
absurdities. Mitchelbourne was strung to so high a pitch that the
ridiculous aspect of the occurrence came home to him before all else,
and he could barely keep himself from laughing aloud. For he heard two
men grappling and struggling silently together. Captain Bassett and
Major Chantrell had each other by the throat, and neither of them
had the wit to speak. They reserved their strength for the struggle.
Mitchelbourne stepped on tiptoe to the door, felt for the key, grasped
it without so much as a click, and then suddenly turned it, flung open
the door and sprang out. He sprang against a fourth man--the servant,
no doubt, who had misdirected him--and both tumbled on to the floor.
Mitchelbourne, however, tumbled on top. He was again upon his feet
while Major Chantrell was explaining matters to Captain Bassett;
he was flying down the avenue of trees before the explanation was
finished. He did not stop to untie his horse; he ran, conscious that
there was only one place of safety for him--the interior of Mrs.
Ufford's house. He ran along the road till he felt that his heart was
cracking within him, expecting every moment that a hand would be laid
upon his shoulder, or that, a pistol shot would ring out upon the
night. He reached the house, and knocked loudly at the door. He was
admitted, breathless, by a man, who said to him at once, with the
smile and familiarity of an old servant:

"You are expected, Mr. Lance."

Mitchelbourne plumped down upon a chair and burst into uncontrollable
laughter. He gave up all attempt for that night to establish his
identity. The fates were too heavily against him. Besides he was now
quite hysterical.

The manservant threw open a door.

"I will tell my mistress you have come, sir," said he.

"No, it would never do," cried Mitchelbourne. "You see I died at three
o'clock this afternoon. I have merely come to leave my letters of
presentation. So much I think a proper etiquette may allow. But it
would never do for me to be paying visits upon ladies so soon after
an affair of so deplorable a gravity. Besides I have to be buried
at seven in the morning, and if I chanced not to be back in time, I
should certainly acquire a reputation for levity, which since I am
unknown in the county, I am unwilling to incur," and, leaving the
butler stupefied in the hall, he ran out into the road. He heard no
sound of pursuit.




THE COWARD.


I.

"Geoffrey," said General Faversham, "look at the clock!"

The hands of the clock made the acutest of angles. It was close upon
midnight, and ever since nine the boy had sat at the dinner-table
listening. He had not spoken a word, indeed had barely once stirred in
the three hours, but had sat turning a white and fascinated face upon
speaker after speaker. At his father's warning he waked with a shock
from his absorption, and reluctantly stood up.

"Must I go, father?" he asked.

The General's three guests intervened in a chorus. The conversation
was clear gain for the lad, they declared,--a first taste of powder
which might stand him in good stead at a future time. So Geoffrey was
allowed furlough from his bed for another half-hour, and with his face
supported between his hands he continued to listen at the table.
The flames of the candles were more and more blurred with a haze of
tobacco smoke, the room became intolerably hot, the level of the
wine grew steadily lower in the decanters, and the boy's face took a
strained, quivering look, his pallour increased, his dark, wide-opened
eyes seemed preternaturally large.

The stories were all of that terrible winter in the Crimea, now ten
years past, and a fresh story was always in the telling before its
predecessor was ended. For each of the four men had borne his share
of that winter's wounds and privations. It was still a reality rather
than a memory to them; they could feel, even in this hot summer
evening and round this dinner-table, the chill of its snows, and the
pinch of famine. Yet their recollections were not all of hardships.
The Major told how the subalterns, of whom he had then been one, had
cheerily played cards in the trenches three hundred yards from the
Malakoff. One of the party was always told off to watch for shells
from the fort's guns. If a black speck was seen in the midst of the
cannon smoke, then the sentinel shouted, and a rush was made for
safety, for the shell was coming their way. At night the burning fuse
could be seen like a rocket in the air; so long as it span and flew,
the card-players were safe, but the moment it became stationary above
their heads it was time to run, for the shell was falling upon them.
The guns of the Malakoff were not the rifled guns of a later decade.
When the Major had finished, the General again looked at the clock,
and Geoffrey said good-night.

He stood outside the door listening to the muffled talk on the other
side of the panels, and, with a shiver, lighted his candle, and held it
aloft in the dark and silent hall. There was not one man's portrait upon
the walls which did not glow with the colours of a uniform,--and there
were the portraits of many men. Father and son the Faversham's had been
soldiers from the very birth of the family. Father and son,--no
steinkirks and plumed hats, no shakos and swallow tails, no frogged
coats and no high stocks. They looked down upon the boy as though
summoning him to the like service. No distinction in uniform could
obscure their resemblance to each other: that stood out with a
remarkable clearness. The Favershams were men of one stamp,--lean-faced,
hard as iron--they lacked the elasticity of steel--, rugged in feature;
confident in expression, men with firm, level mouths but rather narrow
at the forehead, men of resolution and courage, no doubt; but hardly
conspicuous for intellect, men without nerves or subtlety, fighting-men
of the first-class, but hardly first-class soldiers. Some of their
faces, indeed, revealed an actual stupidity. The boy, however, saw none
of their defects. To him they were one and all portentous and terrible;
and he had an air of one standing before his judges and pleading mutely
for forgiveness. The candle shook in his hand.

These Crimean knights, as his father termed them, were the worst of
torturers to Geoffrey Faversham. He sat horribly thralled, so long as
he was allowed; he crept afterwards to bed and lay there shuddering.
For his mother, a lady who some twenty years before had shone at the
Court of Saxe-Coburg, as much by the refinement of her intellect as by
the beauty of her person, had bequeathed to him a very burdensome
gift of imagination. It was visible in his face, marking him off
unmistakably from his father, and from the study portraits in the
hall. He had the capacity to foresee possibilities, and he could not
but exercise that capacity. A hint was enough for the boy. Straightway
he had a vivid picture before his mind, and as he listened to the men
at the dinner-table, their rough clipped words set him down in the
midst of their battlefields, he heard the drone of bullets, he
quivered expecting the shock of a charge. But of all the Crimean
nights this had been fraught with the most torments.

His father had told a story with a lowered voice, and in his usual
jerky way. But the gap was easy to fill up.

"A Captain! Yes, and he bore one of the best names in all England.
It seemed incredible, and mere camp rumour. But the rumour grew with
every fight he was engaged in. At the battle of Alma the thing was
proved. He was acting as galloper to his General. I believe, upon my
soul, that the General chose him for this duty so that the man might
set himself right. He was bidden to ride with a message a quarter of a
mile, and that quarter of a mile was bullet-swept. There were enough
men looking on to have given him a reputation, had he dared and come
through. But he did not dare, he refused, and was sent under arrest to
his tent. He was court-martialled and broken. He dropped out of his
circle like a plummet of lead; the very women in Piccadilly spat if
he spoke to them. He blew his brains out three years later in a back
bedroom off the Haymarket. Explain that if you can. Turns tail, and
says 'I daren't!' But you, can you explain it? You can only say it's
the truth, and shrug your shoulders. Queer, incomprehensible things
happen. There's one of them."

Geoffrey, however, understood only too well. He was familiar with many
phases of warfare of which General Faversham took little account, such
as, for instance, the strain and suspense of the hours between the
parading of the troops and the first crack of a rifle. He took that
story with him up the great staircase, past the portraits to his bed.
He fell asleep only in the grey of the morning, and then only to dream
of a crisis in some hard-fought battle, when, through his cowardice,
a necessary movement was delayed, his country worsted, and those dead
men in the hall brought to irretrievable shame. Geoffrey's power to
foresee in one flash all the perils to be encountered, the hazards to
be run, had taught him the hideous possibility of cowardice. He was
now confronted with the hideous fact. He could not afterwards clear
his mind of the memory of that evening.

He grew up with it; he looked upon himself as a born coward, and all
the time he knew that he was destined for the army. He could not have
avoided his destiny without an explanation, and he could not explain.
But what he could do, he did. He hunted deliberately, hoping
that familiarity with danger would overcome the vividness of his
anticipations. But those imagined hours before the beginnings of
battles had their exact counterpart in the moments of waiting while
the covers were drawn. At such times he had a map of the country-side
before his eyes, with every ditch and fence and pit underlined and
marked dangerous; and though he rode straight when the hounds were
off, he rode straight with a fluttering heart. Thus he spent his
youth. He passed into Woolwich and out of it with high honours;
he went to India with battery, and returned home on a two years'
furlough. He had not been home more than a week when his father broke
one morning into his bedroom in a great excitement--

"Geoff," he cried, "guess the news to-day!"

Geoffrey sat up in his bed:--"Your manner, Sir, tells me the news. War
is declared."

"Between France and Germany."

Geoffrey said slowly:--

"My mother, Sir, was of Germany."

"So we can wish that country all success."

"Can we do no more?" said Geoffrey. And at breakfast-time he returned
to the subject. The Favershams held property in Germany; influence
might be exerted; it was only right that those who held a substantial
stake in a country should venture something for its cause. The words
came quite easily from Geoffrey's lips; he had been schooling himself
to speak them ever since it had become apparent that Germany and
France were driving to the collision of war. General Faversham laughed
with content when he heard them.

"That's a Faversham talking," said he. "But there are obstacles, my
boy. There is the Foreign Enlistment Act, for instance. You are half
German, to be sure, but you are an English subject, and, by the Lord!
you are all Faversham. No, I cannot give you permission to seek
service in Germany. You understand. I cannot give you permission," he
repeated the words, so that the limit as well as the extent of their
meaning might be fully understood; and as he repeated them, he
solemnly winked. "Of course, you can go to Germany; you can follow
the army as closely as you are allowed. In fact, I will give you some
introductions with that end in view. You will gain experience, of
course; but seek service,--no! To do that, as I have said, I cannot
give you permission."

The General went off chuckling to write his letters; and with them
safely tucked away in his pocket, Geoffrey drove later in the day to
the station.

General Faversham did not encourage demonstrations. He shook his son
cordially by the hand--

"There's no way I would rather you spent your furlough. But come back,
Geoff," said he. He was not an observant man except in the matter of
military detail; and of Geoffrey's object he had never the slightest
suspicion. Had it been told him, however, he would only have
considered it one of those queer, inexplicable vagaries, like the
history of his coward in the Crimea.

Geoffrey's action, however, was of a piece with the rest of his life:
it was due to no sudden, desperate resolve. He went out to the war as
deliberately as he had ridden out to the hunting-field. The realities
of battle might prove his anticipations mere unnecessary torments of
the mind.

"If only I can serve,--as a volunteer, as a private, in any capacity,"
he thought, "I shall at all events know. And if I fail, I fail not in
the company of my fellows. I disgrace only myself, not my name. But if
I do not fail--" He drew a great breath, he saw himself waking up one
morning without oppression, without the haunting dread that he
was destined one day to slink in forgotten corners of the world a
forgotten pariah, destitute even of the courage to end his misery. He
went out to the war because he was afraid of fear.


II.

On the evening of the capitulation of Paris, two subalterns of
German Artillery were seated before a camp fire on a slope of hill
overlooking the town. To both of them the cessation of alarm was as
yet strange and almost incomprehensible, and the sudden silence
after so many months lived amongst the booming of cannon had even a
disquieting effect. Both were particularly alert on this night when
vigilance was never less needed. If a gust of wind caught the fire and
drove the red flare of the flame like a ripple across the grass, one
would be sure to look quickly over his shoulder, the other perhaps
would lift a warning finger and listen to the shivering of the trees
behind them. Then with a relaxation of his attitude he would say "All
right" and light his pipe again at the fire. But after one such gust,
he retained his position.

"What is it, Faversham?" asked his companion.

"Listen, Max," said Geoffrey; and they heard a faint jingle. The
jingle became more distinct, another sound was added to it, the sound
of a horse galloping over hard ground. Both officers turned their
faces away from the yellow entrenchment with its brown streak of gun,
below them and looked towards a roofless white-walled farmhouse on the
left, of which the rafters rose black against the sky like a gigantic
gallows. From behind that farmhouse an aide-de-camp galloped up to the
fire.

"I want the officer in command of this battery," he cried out and
Geoffrey stood up.

"I am in command."

The aide-de-camp looked at the subaltern in an extreme surprise.

"You!" he exclaimed. "Since when?"

"Since yesterday," answered Faversham.

"I doubt if the General knows you have been hit so hard," the
aide-de-camp continued. "But my orders are explicit. The officer in
command is to take sixty men and march to-morrow morning into St.
Denis. He is to take possession of that quarter, he is to make a
search for mines and bombs, and wait there until the German troops
march in." There was to be no repetition, he explained, of a certain
unfortunate affair when the Germans after occupying a surrendered fort
had been blown to the four winds. He concluded with the comforting
information that there were 10,000 French soldiers under arms in St.
Denis and that discretion was therefore a quality to be much exercised
by Faversham during his day of search. Thereupon he galloped back.

Faversham remained standing a few paces from the fire looking down
towards Paris. His companion petulantly tossed a branch upon the fire.

"Luck comes your way, my friend," said he enviously.

Geoffrey looked up to the stars and down again to Paris which with
its lights had the look of a reflected starlit firmament. Individual
lights were the separate stars and here and there a gash of fire,
where a wide thoroughfare cleaved, made a sort of milky way.

"I wonder," he answered slowly.

Max started up on his elbow and looked at his friend in perplexity.

"Why, you have sixty men and St. Denis to command. To-morrow may bring
you your opportunity;" and again with the same slowness, Geoffrey
answered, "I wonder."

"You joined us after Gravelotte," continued Max, "Why?"

"My mother was German," said Faversham, and turning suddenly back to
the fire he dropped on the ground beside his companion.

"Tell me," he said in a rare burst of confidence, "Do you think a
battle is the real test of courage? Here and there men run away to be
sure. But how many fight and fight no worse than the rest by reason of
a sort of cowardice? Fear of their companions in arms might dominate
fear of the enemy."

"No doubt," said Max. "And you infer?"

"That the only touchstone is a solitary peril. When danger comes upon
a man and there is no one to see whether he shirks--when he has no
friends to share his risks--that I should think would be the time when
fear would twist a man's bowels."

"I do not know," said Max. "All I am sure of is that luck comes your
way and not mine. To-morrow you march into St. Denis."

Geoffrey Faversham marched down at daybreak and formally occupied the
quarter. The aide-de-camp's calculations were confirmed. There were at
the least 10,000 French soldiers crowded in the district. Geoffrey's
discretion warned against any foolish effort to disarm them; he
simply ignored their chassepots and bulging pouches, and searched the
barracks, which the Germans were to occupy, from floor to ceiling.
Late in the afternoon he was able to assure himself that his duty was
ended. He billeted his men, and inquired whether there was a hotel
where he could sleep the night. A French sergeant led him through the
streets to an Inn which matched in every detail of its appearance that
dingy quarter of the town. The plaster was peeling from its walls, the
window panes were broken, and in the upper storey and the roof there
were yawning jagged holes where the Prussian shells had struck. In the
dusk the building had a strangely mean and sordid look. It recalled
to Faversham's mind the inns in the novels of the elder Dumas and
acquired thus something of their sinister suggestions. In the eager
and arduous search of the day he had forgotten these apprehensions to
which he had given voice by the camp fire. They now returned to him
with the relaxation of his vigilance. He looked up at the forbidding
house. "I wonder," he said to himself.

He was met in the hall by a little obsequious man who was full of
apologies for the disorder of his hostelry. He opened a door into a
large and dusty room.

"I will do my best, Monsieur," said he, "but food is not yet plentiful
in Paris."

In the centre of the room was a large mahogany table surrounded by
chairs. The landlord began to polish the table with his napkin.

"We had an ordinary, Sir, every day before the war broke out. But most
cheerful, every chair had its regular occupant. There were certain
jokes, too, which every day were repeated. Ah, but it was like home.
However, all is changed as you see. It has not been safe to sit in
this room for many a long month."

Faversham unstrapped his sword and revolver from his belt and laid
them on the table.

"I saw that your house had unfortunately suffered."

"Suffered!" said the garrulous little man. "It is ruined, sir, and its
master with it. Ah, war! It is a fine thing no doubt for you young
gentlemen, but for me? I have lived in a cellar, Sir, under the ground
ever since your guns first woke us from our sleep. Look, I will show
you."

He went out from the dining-room into the hall and from the hall into
the street; Faversham followed him. There was a wooden trap in the
pavement close by the wall with an iron ring. The landlord pulled
at the ring and raised the trap disclosing a narrow flight of stone
steps. Faversham bent forward and peered down into a dark cellar.

"Yes it is there that I have lived. Come down, Sir, and see for
yourself;" and the landlord moved down a couple of steps. Faversham
drew back. At once the landlord turned to him.

"But there is nothing to fear, Sir," he said with a deprecatory smile.
Faversham coloured to the roots of his hair.

"Of course there is nothing," said he and he followed the landlord.
The cellar was only lighted by the trap-door and at first Faversham
coming out of the daylight could distinguish nothing at all. He stood,
however, with his back to the light and in a little he began to see. A
little truckle-bed with a patchwork counterpane stood at the end, the
floor was merely hard earth, the furniture consisted of a stove, a
stool and a small deal table. And as Faversham took in the poverty of
this underground habitation, he suddenly found himself in darkness
again. The explanation came to him at once, the entrance to the cellar
had been blocked from the light. Yet he had heard no sound except the
footsteps of people in the street above his head. He turned and faced
the stair steps. As he did so, the light streamed down again; the
obstruction had been removed, and that obstruction had not been the
trap-door as Faversham had suspected, but merely the body of some
inquisitive passer-by. He recognised this with relief and immediately
heard voices speaking together, and as it seemed to him in lowered
tones.

A sword rattled on the pavement, the entrance was again darkened, but
Faversham had just time to see that the man who stooped down wore
the buttons of a uniform and a soldier's kepi. He kept quite still,
holding his breath while the man peered down into the cellar. He
remembered with a throb of hope that he had himself been unable to
distinguish a thing in the gloom. And then the landlord knocked
against the table and spoke aloud. At once the man at the head of
the steps stood up. Faversham heard him cry out in French, "They are
here," and he detected a note of exultation in the cry. At the same
moment a picture flashed before his eyes, the picture of that dusty
desolate dining-room up the steps, and of a long table surrounded
by chairs, upon which lay a sword and a revolver,--his sword, his
revolver. He had dismissed his sixty soldiers, he was alone.

"This is a trap," he blurted out.

"But, Sir, I do not understand," began the landlord, but Faversham cut
him short with a whispered command for silence.

The cellar darkened again, and the sound of boots rang upon the stone
steps. A rifle besides clanged as it struck against the wall. The
French soldiers were descending. Faversham counted them by the light
which escaped past their legs; there were three. The landlord kept
the silence which had been enjoined upon him but he fancied in the
darkness that he heard some one's teeth chattering.

The Frenchmen descended into the cellar and stood barring the steps.
Their leader spoke.

"I have the honour to address the Prussian officer in command of St.
Denis."

The Frenchman got no reply whatever to his words but he seemed to hear
some one sharply draw in a breath. He spoke again into the darkness;
for it was now impossible for any one of the five men in the cellar to
see a hand's breadth beyond his face.

"I am the Captain Plessy of Mon Vandon's Division. I have the honour
to address the Prussian officer."

This time he received an answer, quietly spoken yet with an
inexplicable note of resignation.

"I am Lieutenant Faversham in command of St. Denis."

Captain Plessy stepped immediately forward, and bowed. Now as he
dipped his shoulders in the bow a gleam of light struck over his head
into the cellar, and--he could not be sure--but it seemed to him that
he saw a man suddenly raise his arm as if to ward off a blow. Captain
Plessy continued.

"I ask Lieutenant Faversham for permission for myself and my two
officers to sleep to-night at this hotel;" and now he very distinctly
heard a long, irrepressible sigh of relief. Lieutenant Faversham gave
him the permission he desired in a cordial, polite way. Moreover he
added an invitation. "Your name, Captain Plessy, is well known to me
as to all on both sides who have served in this campaign and to many
more who have not. I beg that you and your officers will favour me
with your company at dinner."

Captain Plessy accepted the invitation and was pleased to deprecate
the Lieutenant's high opinion of his merits. But his achievement none
the less had been of a redoubtable character. He had broken through
the lines about Metz and had ridden across France into Paris without
a single companion. In the sorties from that beleaguered town he had
successively distinguished himself by his fearless audacity. His name
and reputation had travelled far as Lieutenant Faversham was that
evening to learn. But Captain Plessy, for the moment, was all for
making little of his renown.

"Such small exploits should be expected from a soldier. One brave man
may say that to another,--is it not so?--and still not be thought
to be angling for praise," and Captain Plessy went up the steps,
wondering who it was that had drawn the long sharp breath of suspense,
and uttered the long sigh of immense relief. The landlord or
Lieutenant Faversham? Captain Plessy had not been in the cellar at
the time when the landlord had seemed to hear the chatter of a man's
teeth.

The dinner was not a pronounced success, in spite of Faversham's
avoidance of any awkward topic. They sat at the long table in the big,
desolate and shabby room, lighted only by a couple of tallow candles
set up in their candlesticks upon the cloth. And the two junior
officers maintained an air of chilly reserve and seldom spoke except
when politeness compelled them. Faversham himself was absorbed, the
burden of entertainment fell upon Captain Plessy. He strove nobly, he
told stories, he drank a health to the "Camaraderie of arms," he drew
one after the other of his companions into an interchange of words, if
not of sympathies. But the strain told on him visibly towards the end
of the dinner. His champagne glass had been constantly refilled, his
face was now a trifle overflushed, his eyes beyond nature bright, and
he loosened the belt about his waist and at a moment when Faversham
was not looking the throat buttons of his tunic. Moreover while up
till now he had deprecated any allusions to his reputation he now
began to talk of it himself; and in a particularly odious way.

"A reputation, Lieutenant, it has its advantages," and he blew a kiss
with his fingers into the air to designate the sort of advantages to
which he referred. Then he leaned on one side to avoid the candle
between Faversham and himself.

"You are English, my Commandant?" he asked.

"My mother was German," replied Faversham.

"But you are English yourself. Now have you ever met in England a
certain Miss Marian Beveridge," and his leer was the most disagreeable
thing that Faversham ever remembered to have set eyes upon.

"No," he answered shortly.

"And you have not heard of her?"

"No."

"Ah!"

Captain Plessy leaned back in his chair and filled his glass.
Lieutenant Faversham's tone was not that of a man inviting confidence.
But the Captain's brains were more than a little fuddled, he repeated
the name over to himself once or twice with the chuckle which asks for
questions, and since the questions did not come, he must needs proceed
of his own accord.

"But I must cross to England myself. I must see this Miss Marian
Beveridge. Ah, but your English girls are strange, name of Heaven,
they are very strange."

Lieutenant Faversham made a movement. The Captain was his guest, he
was bound to save him if he could from a breach of manners and saw no
way but this of breaking up the party. Captain Plessy, however, was
too quick for him, he lifted his hand to his breast.

"You wish for something to smoke. It is true, we have forgotten to
smoke, but I have my cigarettes and I beg you to try them, the tobacco
I think is good and you will be saved the trouble of moving."

He opened the case and reached it over to Faversham. But as Faversham
with a word of thanks took a cigarette, the Captain upset the case
as though by inadvertence. There fell out upon the table under
Faversham's eyes not merely the cigarettes, but some of the Captain's
visiting-cards and a letter. The letter was addressed to Captain
Plessy in a firm character but it was plainly the writing of a woman.
Faversham picked it up and at once handed it back to Plessy.

"Ah," said Plessy with a start of surprise, "Was the letter indeed in
the case?" and he fondled it in his hands and finally kissed it with
the upturned eyes of a cheap opera singer. "A pigeon, Sir, flew with
it into Paris. Happy pigeon that could be the bearer of such sweet
messages."

He took out the letter from the envelope and read a line or two with a
sigh, and another line or two with a laugh.

"But your English girls are strange!" he said again. "Here is an
instance, an example, fallen by accident from my cigarette-case. M. le
Commandant, I will read it to you, that you may see how strange they
are."

One of Plessy's subalterns extended his hand and laid it on his
sleeve. Plessy turned upon him angrily, and the subaltern withdrew his
hand.

"I will read it to you," he said again to Faversham. Faversham did
not protest nor did he now make any effort to move. But his face grew
pale, he shivered once or twice, his eyes seemed to be taking the
measure of Plessy's strength, his brain to be calculating upon his
prowess; the sweat began to gather upon his forehead.

Of these signs, however, Plessy took no note. He had reached however
inartistically the point at which he had been aiming.

He was no longer to be baulked of reading his letter. He read it
through to the end, and Faversham listened to the end. It told its own
story. It was the letter of a girl who wrote in a frank impulse of
admiration to a man whom she did not know. There was nowhere a trace
of coquetry, nowhere the expression of a single sentimentality. Its
tone was pure friendliness, it was the work of a quite innocent girl
who because she knew the man to whom she wrote to be brave, therefore
believed him to be honourable. She expressed her trust in the very
last words. "You will not of course show this letter to any one in the
world. But I wrong you even by mentioning such an impossibility."

"But you have shown it," said Faversham.

His face was now grown of an extraordinary pallor, his lips twitched
as he spoke and his fingers worked in a nervous uneasy manner upon the
table-cloth. Captain Plessy was in far too complacent a mood to notice
such trifles. His vanity was satisfied, the world was a rosy mist
with a sparkle of champagne, and he answered lightly as he unfastened
another button of his tunic.

"No, my friend, I have not shown it. I keep the lady's wish."

"You have read it aloud. It is the same thing."

"Pardon me. Had I shown the letter I should have shown the name. And
that would have been a dishonour of which a gallant man is incapable,
is it not so? I read it and I did not read the name."

"But you took pains, Captain Plessy, that we should know the name
before you read the letter."

"I? Did I mention a name?" exclaimed Plessy with an air of concern and
a smile upon his mouth which gave the lie to the concern. "Ah, yes,
a long while ago. But did I say it was the name of the lady who had
written the letter? Indeed, no. You make a slight mistake, my friend.
I bear no malice for it--believe me, upon my heart, no! After a dinner
and a little bottle of champagne, there is nothing more pardonable.
But I will tell you why I read the letter."

"If you please," said Faversham, and the gravity of his tone struck
upon his companion suddenly as something unexpected and noteworthy.
Plessy drew himself together and for the first time took stock of his
host as of a possible adversary. He remarked the agitation of his
face, the beads of perspiration upon his forehead, the restless
fingers, and beyond all these a certain hunted look in the eyes with
which his experience had made him familiar. He nodded his head once or
twice slowly as though he were coming to a definite conclusion about
Faversham. Then he sat bolt upright.

"Ah," said he with a laugh. "I can answer a question which puzzled me
a little this afternoon," and he sank back again in his chair with an
easy confidence and puffed the smoke of his cigarette from his mouth.
Faversham was not sufficiently composed to consider the meaning of
Plessy's remark. He put it aside from his thoughts as an evasion.

"You were to tell me, I think, why you read the letter."

"Certainly," answered Plessy. He twirled his moustache, his voice had
lost its suavity and had taken on an accent of almost contemptuous
raillery. He even winked at his two brother officers, he was beginning
to play with Faversham. "I read the letter to illustrate how strange,
how very strange, are your English girls. Here is one of them who
writes to me. I am grateful--oh, beyond words, but I think to myself
what a different thing the letter would be if it had been written by
a Frenchwoman. There would have been some hints, nothing definite you
understand, but a suggestion, a delicate, provoking suggestion of
herself, like a perfume to sting one into a desire for a nearer
acquaintance. She would delicately and without any appearance of
intention have permitted me to know her colour, perhaps her height,
perhaps even to catch an elusive glimpse of her face. Very likely a
silk thread of hair would have been left inadvertently clinging to
a sheet of the paper. She would sketch perhaps her home and speak
remorsefully of her boldness in writing. Oh, but I can imagine the
letter, full of pretty subtleties, alluring from its omissions, a
vexation and a delight from end to end. But this, my friend!" He
tossed the letter carelessly upon the table-cloth. "I am grateful from
the bottom of my heart, but it has no art."

At once Geoffrey Faversham's hand reached out and closed upon the
letter.

"You have told me why you have read it aloud."

"Yes," said Plessy, a little disconcerted by the quickness of
Faversham's movement.

"Now I will tell you why I allowed you to read it to the end. I was of
the same mind as that English girl whose name we both know. I could
not believe that a man, brave as I knew you to be, could outside his
bravery be so contemptible."

The words were brought out with a distinct effort. None the less they
were distinctly spoken.

A startled exclamation broke from the two subalterns. Plessy commenced
to bluster.

"Sir, do I understand you?" and he saw Faversham standing above him,
in a quiver of excitement.

"You will hold your tongue, Captain Plessy, until I have finished. I
allowed you to read the letter, never thinking but that some pang of
forgotten honour would paralyse your tongue. You read it to the
end. You complain there is no art in it, that it has no delicate
provocations, such as your own countrywomen would not fail to use. It
should be the more sacred on that account, and I am glad to believe
that you misjudge your country women. Captain Plessy, I acknowledge
that as you read out that letter with its simple, friendly expression
of gratitude for the spectacle of a brave man, I envied you heartily,
I would have been very proud to have received it. I would have much
liked to know that some deed which I had done had made the world for
a moment brighter to some one a long way off with whom I was not
acquainted. Captain Plessy, I shall not allow you to keep this letter.
You shall not read it aloud again."

Faversham thrust the letter into the flame of the candle which stood
between Plessy and himself. Plessy sprang up and blew the candle out;
but little colourless flames were already licking along the envelope.
Faversham held the letter downwards by a corner and the colourless
flame flickered up into a tongue of yellow, the paper charred and
curled in the track of the flames, the flames leapt to Faversham's
fingers; he dropped the burning letter on the floor and crushed it
with his foot. Then he looked at Plessy and waited. He was as white as
the table-cloth, his dark eyes seemed to have sunk into his head
and burned unnaturally bright, every nerve in his body seemed to be
twitching; he looked very like the young boy who used to sit at the
dinner-table on Crimean nights and listen in a quiver to the appalling
stories of his father's guests. As he had been silent then, so he was
silent now. He waited for Captain Plessy to speak. Captain Plessy,
however, was in no hurry to begin. He had completely lost his air of
contemptuous raillery, he was measuring Faversham warily with the eyes
of a connoisseur.

"You have insulted me," he said abruptly, and he heard again that
indrawing of the breath which he had remarked that afternoon in the
cellar. He also heard Faversham speak immediately after he had drawn
the breath.

"There are reparations for insults," said Faversham.

Captain Plessy bowed. He was now almost as sober as when he had sat
down to his dinner.

"We will choose a time and place," said he.

"There can be no better time than now," suddenly cried Faversham, "no
better place than this. You have two friends of whom with your leave I
will borrow one. We have a large room and a candle apiece to fight
by. To-morrow my duties begin again. We will fight to-night, Captain
Plessy, to-night," and he leaned forward almost feverishly, his words
had almost the accent of a prayer. The two subalterns rose from their
chairs, but Plessy motioned them to keep still. Then he seized the
candle which he had himself blown out, lighted it from the candle at
the far end of the table and held it up above his head so that
the light fell clearly upon Faversham's face. He stood looking at
Faversham for an appreciable time. Then he said quietly,

"I will not fight you to-night."

One of the subalterns started up, the other merely turned his head
towards Plessy, but both stared at their Captain with an unfeigned
astonishment and an unfeigned disappointment. Faversham continued to
plead.

"But you must to-night, for to-morrow you cannot. To-night I am alone
here, to-night I give orders, to-morrow I receive them. You have your
sword at your side to-night. Will you be wearing it to-morrow? I pray
you gentlemen to help me," he said turning to the subalterns, and he
began to push the heavy table from the centre of the room.

"I will not fight you to-night, Lieutenant," Captain Plessy replied.

"And why?" asked Faversham ceasing from his work. He made a gesture
which had more of despair than of impatience.

Captain Plessy gave his reason. It rang false to every man in the
room and indeed he made no attempt to give to it any appearance of
sincerity. It was a deliberate excuse and not his reason.

"Because you are the Prussian officer in command and the Prussian
troops march into St. Denis to-morrow. Suppose that I kill you, what
sort of penalty should I suffer at their hands?"

"None," exclaimed Faversham. "We can draw up an account of the
quarrel, here now. Look here is paper and ink and as luck will have it
a pen that will write. I will write an account with my own hand, and
the four of us can sign it. Besides if you kill me, you can escape
into Paris."

"I will not fight you to-night," said Captain Plessy and he set down
the candle upon the table. Then with an elaborate correctness he drew
his sword from its scabbard and offered the handle of it to Faversham.

"Lieutenant, you are in command of St. Denis. I am your prisoner of
war."

Faversham stood for a moment or two with his hands clenched. The light
had gone out of his face.

"I have no authority to make prisoners," he said. He took up one of
the candles, gazed at his guest in perplexity.

"You have not given me your real reason, Captain Plessy," he said.
Captain Plessy did not answer a word.

"Good-night, gentlemen," said Faversham and Captain Plessy bowed
deeply as Faversham left the room.

A silence of some duration followed upon the closing of the door. The
two subalterns were as perplexed as Faversham to account for their
hero's conduct. They sat dumb and displeased. Plessy stood for a
moment thoughtfully, then he made a gesture with his hands as though
to brush the whole incident from his mind and taking a cigarette from
his case proceeded to light it at the candle. As he stooped to the
flame he noticed the glum countenances of his brother-officers, and
laughed carelessly.

"You are not pleased with me, my friends," said he as he threw himself
on to a couch which stood against the wall opposite to his companions.
"You think I did not speak the truth when I gave the reason of my
refusal? Well you are right. I will give you the real reason why I
would not fight. It is very simple. I do not wish to be killed. I know
these white-faced, trembling men--there are no men more terrible. They
may run away but if they do not, if they string themselves to
the point of action--take the word of a soldier older than
yourselves--then is the time to climb trees. To-morrow I would very
likely kill our young friend, he would have had time to think, to
picture to himself the little point of steel glittering towards his
heart--but to-night he would assuredly have killed me. But as I say I
do not wish to be killed. You are satisfied?"

It appeared that they were not. They sat with all the appearances
of discontent. They had no words for Captain Plessy. Captain Plessy
accordingly rose lightly from his seat.

"Ah," said he, "my good friend the Lieutenant has after all left me my
sword. The table too is already pushed sufficiently on one side.
There is only one candle to be sure, but it will serve. You are not
satisfied, gentlemen? Then--" But both subalterns now hastened to
assure Captain Plessy that they considered his conduct had been
entirely justified.




THE DESERTER.


Lieutenant Fevrier of the 69th regiment, which belonged to the first
brigade of the first division of the army of the Rhine, was summoned
to the Belletonge farm just as it was getting dusk. The Lieutenant
hurried thither, for the Belletonge farm opposite the woods of
Colombey was the headquarters of the General of his division.

"I have been instructed," said General Montaudon, "to select an
officer for a special duty. I have selected you."

Now for days Lieutenant Fevrier's duties had begun and ended with him
driving the soldiers of his company from eating unripe fruit; and
here, unexpectedly, he was chosen from all the officers of his
division for a particular exploit. The Lieutenant trembled with
emotion.

"My General!" he cried.

The General himself was moved.

"What your task will be," he continued, "I do not known. You will go
at once to the Mareschal's headquarters when the chief of the staff,
General Jarras, will inform you."

Lieutenant Fevrier went immediately up to Metz. His division was
entrenched on the right bank of the Mosel and beyond the forts, so
that it was dark before he passed through the gates. He had never once
been in Metz before; he had grown used to the monotony of camps; he
had expected shuttered windows and deserted roads, and so the aspect
of the town amazed him beyond measure. Instead of a town besieged, it
seemed a town during a fairing. There were railway carriages, it is
true, in the Place Royale doing duty as hospitals; the provision
shops, too, were bare, and there were no horses visible.

But on the other hand, everywhere was a blaze of light and a bustle of
people coming and going upon the footpaths. The cafes glittered and
rang with noise. Here one little fat burgher was shouting that the
town-guard was worth all the red-legs in the trenches; another as
loudly was criticising the tactics of Bazaine and comparing him for
his invisibility to a pasha in his seraglio; while a third sprang upon
a table and announced fresh victories. An army was already on the way
from Paris to relieve Metz. Only yesterday MacMahon had defeated the
Prussians, any moment he might be expected from the Ardennes. Nor were
they only civilians who shouted and complained. Lieutenant Fevrier saw
captains, majors, and even generals who had left their entrenchments
to fight the siege their own way with dominoes upon the marble tables
of the cabarets.

"My poor France," he said to himself, and a passer-by overhearing him
answered:

"True, monsieur. Ah, but if we had a man at Metz!"

Lieutenant Fevrier turned his back upon the speaker and walked on.
He at all events would not join in the criticisms. It was just, he
reflected, because he had avoided the cafes of Metz that he was
singled out for special distinction, and he fell to wondering what
work it was he had to do that night. Was it to surprise a field-watch?
Or to spike a battery? Or to capture a convoy? Lieutenant Fevrier
raised his head. For any exploit in the world he was ready.

General Jarras was writing at a table when Fevrier was admitted to his
office. The Chief of the Staff inclined his lamp-shade so that the
light fell full upon Fevrier's face, and the action caused the
lieutenant to rejoice. So much care in the choice of the officer meant
so much more important a duty.

"The General Montaudon tells me," said Jarras, "that you are an
obedient soldier."

"Obedience, my General, is the soldier's first lesson."

"That explains to me why it is first forgotten," answered Jarras,
drily. Then his voice became sharp and curt. "You will choose fifty
men. You will pick them carefully."

"They shall be the best soldiers in the regiment," said Fevrier.

"No, the worst."

Lieutenant Fevrier was puzzled. When dangers were to be encountered,
when audacity was needed, one requires the best soldiers. That was
obvious, unless the mission meant annihilation. That thought came to
Fevrier, and remembering the cafes and the officers dishonouring their
uniforms, he drew himself up proudly and saluted. Already he saw his
dead body recovered from the enemy, and borne to the grave beneath a
tricolour. He heard the lamentations of his friends, and the firing
of the platoon. He saw General Montaudon in tears. He was shaken with
emotion. But Jarras's next words fell upon him like cold water.

"You will parade your fifty men unarmed. You will march out of the
lines, and to-morrow morning as soon as it is light enough for the
Prussians to see you come unarmed you will desert to them. There are
too many mouths to feed in Metz[A]."

[Footnote A: See the Daily News War Correspondence, 1870.]

The Lieutenant had it on his lips to shout, "Then why not lead us out
to die?" But he kept silence. He could have flung his kepi in the
General's face; but he saluted. He went out again into the streets
and among the lighted cafes and reeled like a drunken man, thinking
confusedly of many things; that he had a mother in Paris who might
hear of his desertion before she heard of its explanation; that it was
right to claim obedience but _lache_ to exact dishonour--but chiefly
and above all that if he had been wise, and had made light of his
duty, and had come up to Metz to re-arrange the campaign with dominoes
on the marble-tables, he would not have been specially selected for
ignominy. It was true, it needed an obedient officer to desert! And
so laughing aloud he reeled blindly down to the gates of Metz. And
it happened that just by the gates a civilian looked after him, and
shrugging his shoulders, remarked, "Ah! But if we had a _Man_ at
Metz!"

From Metz Lieutenant Fevrier ran. The night air struck cool upon him.
And he ran and stumbled and fell and picked himself up and ran again
until he reached the Belletonge farm.

"The General," he cried, and so to the General a mud-plastered figure
with a white, tormented face was admitted.

"What is it?" asked Montaudon. "What will this say?"

Lieutenant Fevrier stood with the palms of his hands extended,
speechless like an animal in pain. Then he suddenly burst into tears
and wept, and told of the fine plan to diminish the demands upon the
commissariat.

"Courage, my old one!" said the General. "I had a fear of this. You
are not alone--other officers in other divisions have the same hard
duty," and there was no inflection in the voice to tell Fevrier what
his General thought of the duty. But a hand was laid soothingly upon
his shoulder, and that told him. He took heart to whisper that he had
a mother in Paris.

"I will write to her," said Montaudon. "She will be proud when she
receives the letter."

Then Lieutenant Fevrier, being French, took the General's hand and
kissed it, and the General, being French, felt his throat fill with
tears.

Fevrier left the headquarters, paraded his men, laid his sword and
revolver on the ground, and ordered his fifty to pile their arms. Then
he made them a speech--a very short speech, but it cost him much to
make it in an even voice.

"My braves," said he, "my fellow-soldiers, it is easy to fight for
one's country, it is not difficult to die for it. But the supreme test
of patriotism is willingly to suffer shame for it. That test your
country now claims of you. Attention! March!"

For the last time he exchanged a password with a French sentinel, and
tramped out into the belt of ground between the French outposts and
the Prussian field-watch. Now in this belt there stood a little
village which Fevrier had held with skill and honour all the two
days of the battle of Noisseville. Doubtless that recollection had
something to do with his choice of the village. For in his martyrdom
of shame he had fallen to wonder whether after all he had not deserved
it, and any reassurance such as the gaping house-walls of Vaudere
would bring to him, was eagerly welcomed. There was another reason,
however, in the position of the village.

It stood in an abrupt valley at the foot of a steep vine-hill on the
summit, and which was the Prussian forepost. The Prussian field-watch
would be even nearer to Vaudere and dispersed amongst the vines. So
he could get his ignominious work over quickly in the morning. The
village would provide, too, safe quarters for the night, since it
was well within range of the heavy guns in Fort St. Julien, and the
Prussians on that account were unable to hold it.

He led his fifty soldiers then northwestward from his camp, skirted
the Bois de Grimont, and marched into the village. The night was dark,
and the sky so overhung with clouds that not a star was visible. The
one street of Vaudere was absolutely silent. The glimmering white
cottages showed their black rents on either side, but never the light
of a candle behind any shutter. Lieutenant Fevrier left his men at the
western or Frenchward end of the street, and went forward alone.

The doors of the houses stood open. The path was encumbered with the
wreckage of their contents, and every now and then he smelt a whiff of
paraffin, as though lamps had been broken or cans overset. Vaudere had
been looted, but there were no Prussians now in the village.

He made sure of this by walking as far as the large house at the head
of the village. Then he went back to his men and led them forward
until he reached the general shop which every village has.

"It is not likely," he said, "that we shall find even the makeshift of
a supper. But courage, my friends, let us try!"

He could not have eaten a crust himself, but it had become an instinct
with him to anticipate the needs of his privates, and he acted from
habit. They crowded into the shop; one man shut the door, Fevrier
lighted a match and disclosed by its light staved-in barrels, empty
cannisters, broken boxes, fragments of lemonade bottles, but of food
not so much as a stale biscuit.

"Go upstairs and search."

They went and returned empty-handed.

"We have found nothing, monsieur," said they.

"But I have," replied Fevrier, and striking another match he held up
what he had found, dirty and crumpled, in a corner of the shop. It
was a little tricolour flag of painted linen upon a bamboo stick, a
child's cheap and gaudy toy. But Fevrier held it up solemnly, and of
the fifty deserters no one laughed.

"The flag of the Patrie," said Fevrier, and with one accord the
deserters uncovered.

The match burned down to Fevrier's fingers, he dropped it and trod
upon it and there was a moment's absolute stillness. Then in the
darkness a ringing voice leapt out.

"Vive la France!"

It was not the lieutenant's voice, but the voice of a peasant from the
south of the Loire, one of the deserters.

"Ah, but that is fine, that cry," said Fevrier.

He could have embraced that private on both cheeks. There was love in
that cry, pain as well--it could not be otherwise--but above all a
very passion of confidence.

"Again!" said Fevrier; and this time all his men took it up, shouting
it out, exultantly. The little ruined shop, in itself a contradiction
of the cry, rang out and clattered with the noise until it seemed to
Fevrier that it must surely pierce across the country into Metz and
pluck the Mareschal in his headquarters from his diffidence. But they
were only fifty deserters in a deserted village, lost in the darkness,
and more likely to be overheard by the Prussian sentries than by any
of their own blood.

It was Fevrier who first saw the danger of their ebullition. He cut it
short by ordering them to seek quarters where they could sleep until
daybreak. For himself, he thrust the little toy flag in his breast and
walked forward to the larger house at the end of the village beneath
the vine-hill; and as he walked, again the smell of paraffin was
forced upon his nostrils.

He walked more slowly. That odour of paraffin began to seem
remarkable. The looting of the village had not occurred to-day, for
there had been thick dust about the general shop. But the paraffin had
surely been freshly spilt, or the odour would have evaporated.

Lieutenant Fevrier walked on thinking this over. He found the broken
door of his house, and still thinking it over, mounted the stairs.
There was a door fronting the stairs. He felt for the handle and
opened it, and from a corner of the room a voice challenged him in
German.

Fevrier was fairly startled. There were Germans in the village after
all. He explained to himself now the smell of paraffin. Meanwhile he
did not answer; neither did he move; neither did he hear any movement.
He had forgotten for the moment that he was a deserter, and he stood
holding his breath and listening. There was a tiny window opposite to
the door, but it only declared itself a window, it gave no light. And
illusions came to Lieutenant Fevrier, such as will come to the bravest
man so long as he listens hard enough in the dark--illusions of
stealthy footsteps on the floor, of hands scraping and feeling along
the walls, of a man's breathing upon his neck, of many infinitesimal
noises and movements close by.

The challenge was repeated and Fevrier remembered his orders.

"I am Lieutenant Fevrier of Montaudon's division."

"You are alone."

Fevrier now distinguished that the voice came from the right-hand
corner of the room, and that it was faint.

"I have fifty men with me. We are deserters," he blurted out, "and
unarmed."

There followed silence, and a long silence. Then the voice spoke
again, but in French, and the French of a native.

"My friend, your voice is not the voice of a deserter. There is too
much humiliation in it. Come to my bedside here. I spoke in German,
expecting Germans. But I am the cure of Vaudere. Why are you
deserters?"

Fevrier had expected a scornful order to marshal his men as prisoners.
The extraordinary gentleness of the cure's voice almost overcame him.
He walked across to the bedside and told his story. The cure basely
heard him out.

"It is right to obey," said he, "but here you can obey and disobey.
You can relieve Metz of your appetites, my friend, but you need not
desert." The cure reached up, and drawing Fevrier down, laid a hand
upon his head. "I consecrate you to the service of your country. Do
you understand?"

Fevrier leaned his mouth towards the cure's ear.

"The Prussians are coming to-night to burn the village."

"Yes, they came at dusk."

Just at the moment, in fact, when Fevrier had been summoned to Metz,
the Prussians had crept down into Vaudere and had been scared back to
their repli by a false alarm.

"But they will come back you may be sure," said the cure, and raising
himself upon his elbow he said in a voice of suspense "Listen!"

Fevrier went to the window and opened it. It faced the hill-side, but
no sounds came through it beyond the natural murmurs of the night. The
cure sank back.

"After the fight here, there were dead soldiers in the streets--French
soldiers and so French chassepots. Ah, my friend, the Prussians have
found out which is the better rifle--the chassepot or the needle gun.
After your retreat they came down the hill for those chassepots. They
could not find one. They searched every house, they came here and
questioned me. Finally they caught one of the villagers hiding in a
field, and he was afraid and he told where the rifles had been buried.
The Prussians dug for them and the hole was empty. They believe they
are still hidden somewhere in the village; they fancy, too, that there
are secret stores of food; so they mean to burn the houses to the
ground. They did not know that I was here this afternoon. I would have
come into the French lines had it been possible, but I am tied here to
my bed. No doubt God had sent you to me--you and your fifty men. You
need not desert. You can make your last stand here for France."

"And perish," cried Fevrier, caught up from the depths of his
humiliation, "as Frenchmen should, arms in hand." Then his voice
dropped again. "But we have no arms."

The cure shook the lieutenant's arm gently.

"Did I not tell you the chassepots were not found? And why? Because
too many knew where they were hidden. Because out of that many I
feared there might be one to betray. There is always a Judas. So I got
one man whom I knew, and he dug them up and hid them afresh."

"Where, father?"

The question was put with a feverish eagerness--it seemed to the cure
with an eagerness too feverish. He drew his hand, his whole body away.

"You have matches? Light one!" he said, in a startled voice.

"But the window--!"

"Light one!"

Every moment of time was now of value. Fevrier took the risk and lit
the match, shading it from the window so far as he could with his
hand.

"That will do."

Fevrier blew out the light. The cure had seen him, his uniform and his
features. He, too, had seen the cure, had noticed his thin emaciated
face, and the eyes staring out of it feverishly bright and
preternaturally large.

"Shall I tell you your malady, father?" he said gently. "It is
starvation."

"What will you, my son? I am alone. There is not a crust from one end
of Vaudere to the other. You cannot help me. Help France! Go to the
church, stand with your back to the door, turn left, and advance
straight to the churchyard wall. You will find a new grave there, the
rifles in the grave. Quick! There is a spade in the tower. Quick! The
rifles are wrapped from the damp, the cartridges too. Quick! Quick!"

Fevrier hurried downstairs, roused three of his soldiers, bade one of
them go from house to house and bring the soldiers in silence to the
churchyard, and with the others he went thither himself. In groups of
two and three the men crept through the street, and gathered about
the grave. It was already open. The spade was driven hard and quick,
deeper and deeper, and at last rang upon metal. There were seventy
chassepots, complete with bayonets and ammunition. Fifty-one were
handed out, the remaining nineteen were hastily covered in again.
Fevrier was immeasurably cheered to notice his men clutch at their
weapons and fondle them, hold them to their shoulders taking aim, and
work the breech-blocks.

"It is like meeting old friends, is it not, my children, or rather
new sweethearts?" said he. "Come! The Prussians may advance from
the Brasserie at Lanvallier, from Servigny, from Montay, or from
Noisseville, straight down the hill. The last direction is the most
likely, but we must make no mistake. Ten men will watch on the
Lanvallier road, ten on the Servigny, ten on the Montay, twenty will
follow me. March!"

An hour ago Lieutenant Fevrier was in command of fifty men who
slouched along with their hands in their pockets, robbed even of
self-respect. Now he had fifty armed and disciplined soldiers, men
alert and inspired. So much difference a chassepot apiece had made.
Lieutenant Fevrier was moved to the conception of another plan; and to
prepare the way for its execution, he left his twenty men in a house
at the Prussian end of Vaudere, and himself crept in among the vines
and up the hill.

Somewhere near to him would be the sentries of the field-watch. He
went down upon his hands and knees and crawled, parting the vine
leaves, that the swish of them might not betray him. In a little knoll
high above his head he heard the cracking of wood, the sound of men
stumbling. The Prussians were coming down to Vaudere. He lay flat
upon the ground waiting and waiting; and the sounds grew louder and
approached. At last he heard that for which he waited--the challenge
of the field-watch, the answer of the burning-party. It came down to
him quite clearly through the windless air. "Sadowa."

Lieutenant Fevrier turned about chuckling. It seemed that in some
respects the world after all was not going so ill with him that night.
He crawled downwards as quickly as he could. But it was now more than
even inspiration that he should not be detected. He dared not stand
up and run; he must still keep upon his hands and knees. His arms so
ached that he was forced now and then to stop and lie prone to give
them ease; he was soaked through and through with perspiration; his
blood hammered at his temples; he felt his spine weaken as though the
marrow had melted into water; and his heart throbbed until the effort
to breathe was a pain. But he reached the bottom of the hill, he got
refuge amongst his men, he even had time to give his orders before the
tread of the first Prussian was heard in the street.

"They will make for the other end of Vaudere. They will give the
village first as near to the French lines as it reaches and light the
rest as they retreat. Let them go forward! We will cut them off. And
remember, the bayonet! A shot will bring the Prussians down in force.
It will bring the French too, so there is just the chance we may find
the enemy as silent as ourselves."

But the plan was to undergo alteration. For as Lieutenant Fevrier
ended, the Prussians marched in single file into the street and
halted. Fevrier from the corner within his doorway counted them; there
were twenty-three in all. Well, he had twenty besides himself, and the
advantage of the surprise; and thirty more upon the other roads, for
whom, however, he had other work in mind. The officer in command of
the Prussians carried a dark lantern, and he now turned the slide, so
that the light shone out.

His men fell out of their rank, some to make a cursory search, others
to sprinkle yet more paraffin. One man came close to Fevrier's
doorway, and even looked in, but he saw nothing, though Fevrier was
within six feet of him, holding his breath. Then the officer closed
his lantern, the men re-formed and marched on. But they left behind
with Lieutenant Fevrier--an idea.

He thought it quickly over. It pleased him, it was feasible, and there
was comedy in it. Lieutenant Fevrier laughed again, his spirits were
rising, and the world was not after all going so ill with him.

He had noticed by the lantern light that the Prussians had not
re-formed in the same order. They were in single file again, but the
man who marched last before the halt, did not march last after it.
Each soldier, as he came up, fell in in the rear of the file. Now
Fevrier had in the darkness experienced some difficulty in counting
the number of Prussians, although he had strained his eyes to that
end.

He whispered accordingly some brief instructions to his men; he sent
a message to the ten on the Servigny road, and when the Prussians
marched on after their second halt, Lieutenant Fevrier and two
Frenchmen fell in behind them. The same procedure was followed at the
next halt and at the next; so that when the Prussians reached the
Frenchward end of Vaudere there were twenty-three Prussians and ten
Frenchmen in the file. To Fevrier's thinking it was sufficiently
comic. There was something artistic about it too.

Fevrier was pleased, but he had not counted on the quick Prussian
step to which his soldiers were unaccustomed. At the fourth halt, the
officer moved unsuspiciously first on one side of the street, then on
the other, but gave no order to his men to fall out. It seemed that
he had forgotten, until he came suddenly running down the file and
flashed his lantern into Fevrier's face. He had been secretly counting
his men.

"The French," he cried. "Load!"

The one word quite compensated Fevrier for the detection. The Germans
had come down into Vaudere with their rifles unloaded, lest an
accidental discharge should betray their neighbourhood to the French.

"Load!" cried the German. And slipping back he tugged at the revolver
in his belt. But before he could draw it out, Fevrier dashed his
bayonet through the lantern and hung it on the officer's heart. He
whistled, and his other ten men came running down the street.

"Vorwarts," shouted Fevrier, derisively. "Immer Vorwarts."

The Prussians surprised, and ignorant how many they had to face, fell
back in disorder against a house-wall. The French soldiers dashed at
them in the darkness, engaging them so that not a man had the chance
to load.

That little fight in the dark street between the white-ruined cottages
made Fevrier's blood dance.

"Courage!" he cried. "The paraffin!"

The combatants were well matched, and it was hand-to-hand and
bayonet-to-bayonet. Fevrier loved his enemies at that moment. It even
occurred to him that it was worth while to have deserted. After the
sense of disgrace, the prospect of imprisonment and dishonour, it
was all wonderful to him--the feel of the thick coat yielding to the
bayonet point, the fatigue of the beaten opponent, the vigour of the
new one, the feeling of injury and unfairness when a Prussian he had
wounded dropped in falling the butt of a rifle upon his toes.

Once he cried, "_Voila pour la patrie_!" but for the rest he fought in
silence, as did the others, having other uses for their breath. All
that could be heard was a loud and laborious panting, as of wrestlers
in a match, the clang of rifle crossing rifle, the rattle of bayonet
guarding bayonet, and now and then a groan and a heavy fall. One
Prussian escaped and ran; but the ten who had been stationed on the
Servigny road were now guarding the entrance from Noisseville. Fevrier
had no fears of him. He pressed upon a new man, drove him against the
wall, and the man shouted in despair:

"_A moi_!"

"You, Philippe?" exclaimed Fevrier.

"That was a timely cry," and he sprang back. There were six men
standing, and the six saluted Fevrier; they were all Frenchmen.
Fevrier mopped his forehead.

"But that was fine," said he, "though what's to come will be still
better. Oh, but we will make this night memorable to our friends. They
shall talk of us by their firesides when they are grown old and France
has had many years of peace--we shall not hear, but they will talk of
us, the deserters from Metz."

Lieutenant Fevrier in a word was exalted, and had lost his sense of
proportion. He did not, however, relax his activity. He sent off the
six to gather the rest of his contingent. He made an examination of
the Prussians, and found that sixteen had been killed outright, and
eight were lying wounded. He removed their rifles and ammunition out
of reach, and from dead and wounded alike took the coats and caps.
To the wounded he gave instead French uniforms; and then, bidding
twenty-three of his soldiers don the Prussian caps and coats, he
snatched a moment wherein to run to the cure.

"It is over," said he. "The Prussians will not burn Vaudere to-night."
And he jumped down the stairs again without waiting for any response.
In the street he put on the cap and coat of the Prussian officer,
buckled the sword about his waist, and thrust the revolver into
his belt. He had now twenty-three men who at night might pass for
Prussians, and thirteen others.

To these thirteen he gave general instructions. They were to spread
out on the right and left, and make their way singly up through
the vines, and past the field-watch if they could without risk of
detection. They were to join him high up on the slope, and opposite to
the bonfire which would be burning at the repli. His twenty-three he
led boldly, following as nearly as possible the track by which the
Prussians had descended. The party trampled down the vine-poles,
brushed through the leaves, and in a little while were challenged.

"Sadowa," said Fevrier, in his best imitation of the German accent.

"Pass Sadowa," returned the sentry.

Fevrier and his men filed upwards. He halted some two hundred yards
farther on, and went down upon his knees. The soldiers behind him
copied his example. They crept slowly and cautiously forward until the
flames of the bonfire were visible through the screen of leaves, until
the faces of the officers about the bonfire could be read.

Then Fevrier stopped and whispered to the soldier next to him. That
soldier passed the whisper on, and from a file the Frenchmen crept
into line. Fevrier had now nothing to do but to wait; and he waited
without trepidation or excitement. The night from first to last had
gone very well with him. He could even think of Mareschal Bazaine
without anger.

He waited for perhaps an hour, watching the faces round the fire
increase in number and grow troubled with anxiety. The German officers
talked in low tones staring through their night-glasses down the hill,
to catch the first leaping flame from the roofs of Vaudere, pushing
forward their heads to listen for any alarm. Fevrier watched them with
the amusement of a spectator in a play house. He was fully aware that
he was shortly to step upon the stage himself. He was aware too that
the play was to have a tragic ending. Meanwhile, however, here
was very good comedy! He had a Frenchman's appreciation of the
picturesque. The dark night, the glowing fire on the one broad level
of grass, the French soldiers hidden in the vines, within a stone's
throw of the Germans, the Germans looking unconsciously on over
their heads for the return of those comrades who never would
return.--Lieutenant Fevrier was the dramatist who had created this
striking and artistic situation. Lieutenant Fevrier could not but be
pleased. Moreover there were better effects to follow. One occurred to
him at this very moment, an admirable one. He fumbled in his breast
and took out the flag. A minute later he saw the Colonel of the
forepost join the group, hack nervously with his naked sword at
a burning log, and dispatch a subaltern down the hill to the
field-watch.

The subaltern came crashing back through the vines. Fevrier did not
need to hear his words in order to guess at his report. It could only
be that the Prussian party had given the password and come safely back
an hour since. Besides, the Colonel's act was significant.

He sent four men at once in different directions, and the rest of his
soldiers he withdrew into the darkness behind the bonfire. He did not
follow them himself until he had picked up and tossed a fusee into the
fire. The fusee flared and spat and spurted, and immediately it
seemed to Fevrier--so short an interval of time was there--that the
country-side was alive with the hum of a stirring camp, and the rattle
of harness-chains, as horses were yoked to guns.

For a third time that evening Fevrier laughed softly. The deserters
had roused the Prussian army round Metz to the expectation of an
attack in force. He touched his neighbour on the shoulder.

"One volley when I give the word. Then charge. Pass the order on!" and
the word went along the line like a ripple across a pond.

He had hardly given it, the fusee had barely ceased to sputter, before
a company doubled out on the open space behind the bonfire. That
company had barely formed up, before another arrived to support it.

"Load!"

As the Prussian command was uttered, Fevrier was aware of a movement
at his side. The soldier next to him was taking aim. Fevrier reached
out his hand and stopped the man. Fevrier was going to die in five
minutes, and meant to die chivalrously like a gentleman. He waited
until the German companies had loaded, until they were ordered to
advance, and then he shouted,

"Fire!"

The little flames shot out and crackled among the vines. He saw
gaps in the Prussian ranks, he saw the men waver, surprised at the
proximity of the attack.

"Charge," he shouted, and crashing through the few yards of shelter,
they burst out upon the repli, and across the open space to the
Prussian bayonets. But not one of the number reached the bayonets.

"Fire!" shouted the Prussian officer, in his turn.

The volley flashed out, the smoke cleared away, and showed a little
heap of men silent between the bonfire and the Prussian ranks.

The Prussians loaded again and stood ready, waiting for the main
attack. The morning was just breaking. They stood silent and
motionless till the sky was flooded with light and the hills one after
another came into view, and the files of poplars were seen marching
on the plains. Then the Colonel approached the little heap. A rifle
caught his eye, and he picked it up.

"They are all mad," said he. Forced to the point of the bayonet was a
gaudy little linen tri-colour flag.




THE CROSSED GLOVES.


"Although you have not been near Ronda for five years," said the
Spanish Commandant severely to Dennis Shere, "the face of the country
has not changed. You are certainly the most suitable officer I
can select, since I am told you are well acquainted with the
neighbourhood. You will ride therefore to-day to Olvera and deliver
this sealed letter to the officer commanding the temporary garrison
there. But it is not necessary that it should reach him before eleven
at night, so that you will still have an hour or two before you start
in which you can renew your acquaintanceships, as I can very well
understand you are anxious to do."

Dennis Shere's reluctance, however, was now changed into alacrity. For
the road to Olvera ran past the gates of that white-walled, straggling
residencia where he had planned to spend this first evening that he
was stationed at Ronda. On his way back from his colonel's quarters
he even avoided those squares and streets where he would be likely to
meet with old acquaintances, foreseeing their questions as to why he
was now a Spanish subject and wore the uniform of a captain of Spanish
cavalry and by seven o'clock he was already riding through the Plaza
de Toros upon his mission. There, however, a familiar voice hailed
him, and turning about in his saddle he saw an old padre who had once
gained a small prize for logic at the University of Barcelona, and who
had since made his inferences and deductions an excuse for a great
deal of inquisitiveness. Shere had no option but to stop. He broke in,
however, at once on the inevitable questions as to his uniform with
the statement that he must be at Olvera by eleven.

"Fifteen miles," said the padre. "Does it need four hours and a fresh
horse to journey fifteen miles?"

"But I have friends to visit on the way," and to give convincing
details to an excuse which was plainly disbelieved, Shere added, "Just
this side of Setenil I have friends."

The padre was still dissatisfied. "There is only one house just this
side of Setenil, and Esteban Silvela I saw with my own eyes to-day in
Ronda."

"He may well be home by now, and it is not Esteban whom I go to see."

"Not Esteban," exclaimed the padre. "Then it will be--"

"His sister, the Senora Christina," said Shere with a laugh at his
companion's persistency. "Since the brother and sister live alone, and
it is not the brother, why it will be the sister. You argue still very
closely, padre."

The padre stood back a little from Shere and stared. Then he said
slyly, and with the air of one who quotes:

"All women are born tricksters."

"Those were rank words," said Shere composedly.

"Yet they were often spoken when you grew vines in the Ronda Valley."

"Then a crowd of men must know me for a fool. A young man may make a
mistake, padre, and exaggerate a disappointment. Besides, I had not
then seen the senora. Esteban I knew, but she was a child, and known
to me only by name." And then, warmed by the pleasure in his old
friend's face, he said, "I will tell you about it."

They walked on slowly side by side, while Shere, who now that he had
begun to confide was quite swept away, bent over his saddle and told
how after inheriting a modest fortune, after wandering for three years
from city to city, he had at last come to Paris, and there, at a
Carlist conversazione, had heard the familiar name called from a
doorway, and had seen the unfamiliar face appear. Shere described
Christina. She walked with the grace of a deer, as though the floor
beneath her foot had the spring of turf. The blood was bright in her
face; her brown hair shone; she was sweet with youth; the suppleness
of her body showed it and the steadiness of her great clear eyes.

"She passed me," he went on, "and the arrogance of what I used to
think and say came sharp home to me like a pain. I suppose that
I stared--it was an accident, of course--perhaps my face showed
something of my trouble; but just as she was opposite me her fan
slipped through her fingers and clattered on the floor."

The padre was at a loss to understand Shere's embarrassment in
relating so small a matter.

"Well," said he, "you picked up the fan and so--"

"No," interrupted Shere. His embarrassment increased, and he stammered
out awkwardly, "Just for the moment, you see, I began to wonder
whether after all I had not been right before; whether after all
any woman would or could baulk herself of a fraction of any man's
admiration, supposing that it would only cost a trick to extort it.
And while I was wondering she herself stooped, picked up the fan, and
good-humouredly dropped me a curtsey for my lack of manners. Esteban
presented me to her that evening. There followed two magical months in
Paris and a June in London."

"But, Esteban?" said the padre, doubtfully. "I do not understand. I
know something of Esteban Silvela. A lean man of plots and devices. My
friend, do you know that Esteban has not a groat? The Silvela fortunes
and estate came from the mother and went to the daughter. Esteban
is the Senora Christina's steward, and her marriage would alter his
position at the least. Did he not spoil the magic of the months in
Paris?"

Shere laughed aloud in assured confidence.

"No, indeed," said he. "I did not know Esteban was dependent on his
sister, but what difference would her marriage make? Esteban is my
best friend. For instance, you questioned me about my uniform. It is
by Esteban's advice and help that I wear it."

"Indeed!" said the padre, quickly. "Tell me."

"That June, in London, two years ago--it was by the way the last time
I saw the senora--we three dined at the same house. As the ladies rose
from the table I said to Christina quietly, 'I want to speak to you
to-night,' and she answered very simply and quietly, 'With all my
heart.' She was not so quiet, however, but that Esteban overheard her.
He hitched his chair up to mine; I asked him what my chances were, and
whether he would second them? He was most cordial, but he thought with
his Spaniard's pride that I ought--I use my words, not his--in some
way to repair my insufficiency in station and the rest; and he pointed
out this way of the uniform. I could not resist his argument; I did
not speak that night. I took out my papers and became a Spaniard; with
Esteban's help I secured a commission. That was two years ago. I have
not seen her since, nor have I written, but I ride to her to-night
with my two years' silence and my two years' service to prove the
truth of what I say. So you see I have reason to thank Esteban." And
since they were now come to the edge of the town they parted company.
Shere rode smartly down the slope of the hill, the padre stood and
watched him with a feeling of melancholy.

It was not merely that he distrusted Esteban, but he knew Shere, the
cadet of an impoverished family, who had come out from England to a
small estate in the Ronda valley, which had belonged to his house
since the days of the Duke of Wellington in Spain. He knew him for a
man of tempests and extremes, and as he thought of his ardent words
and tones, of his ready acceptance of Esteban's good faith, of his
description of Christina, he fell to wondering whether so sudden and
violent a conversion from passionate cynic to passionate believer
would not lack permanence. There was that little instructive accident
of the dropped fan. Even in the moment of conversion so small a thing
had almost sufficed to dissuade Shere.

Shere, however, was quite untroubled--so untroubled, indeed, that he
even rode slowly that he might not waste the luxury of anticipating
the welcome which his unexpected appearance would surely provoke. He
rode into the groves of almond and walnut trees and out again into a
wild and stony country. It was just growing dusk when he saw ahead
of him the square white walls of the enclosure, and the cluster of
buildings within, glimmering at the foot of a rugged hill. The lights
began to move in the windows as he approached, and then a man suddenly
appeared at his side on the roadway and whistled twice loudly as
though he were calling his dog. Shere rode past the man and through
the open gates into the courtyard. There were three men lounging
there, and they came forward almost as if they had expected Shere. He
gave his horse into their charge and impetuously mounted the flight of
stone steps to the house. A servant in readiness came forward at once
and preceded Shere along a gallery towards a door. Shere's impetuosity
led him to outstep the servant, he opened the door, and so entered the
room unannounced.

It was a long, low room with a wainscot of dark walnut, and a single
lamp upon the table gave it shadows rather than light. He had just
time to notice that a girl and a man were bending over the table in
the lamplight, to recognise with a throb of the heart the play of
the light upon the girl's brown hair, to understand that she was
explaining something which she held in her hands, and then Esteban
came quickly to him with a certain air of perplexity and a glance of
inquiry towards the servant. Then he said:--

"Of course, of course, you stopped and came in of your own accord."

"Of my own accord, indeed," said Shere, who was looking at Christina
instead of heeding Esteban's words. His unexpected coming had
certainly not missed its effect, although it was not the effect which
Shere had desired. There was, to be sure, a great deal of astonishment
in her looks, but there was also consternation; and when she spoke it
was in a numbed and absent way.

"You are well? We have not seen you this long while. Two years is it?
More than two years."

"There have been changes," said Esteban. "We have had war and, alas,
defeats."

"Yes, I was in Cuba," said Shere, and the conversation dragged
on impersonal and dull. Esteban talked continually with a forced
heartiness, Christina barely spoke at all, and then absently. Shere
noticed that she had but lately come in, for she still wore her hat,
and her gloves lay crossed on the table in the light of the lamp; she
moved restlessly about the room, stopping now and then to give an ear
to any chance noise in the courtyard, and to glance alertly at the
door; so that Shere understood that she was expecting another visitor,
and that he himself was in the way. An inopportune intrusion, it
seemed, was the sole outcome of the two years' anticipations, and
utterly discouraged he rose from his chair. On the instant, however,
Esteban signed to Shere to remain, and with a friendly smile himself
made an excuse and left the room.

Christina was now walking up and down one particular seam in the floor
with as much care as if the seam was a tight-rope, and this exercise
she continued. Shere moved over to the table and quite absently played
with the gloves which lay there, disarranging their position, so that
they no longer made a cross.

"You remember that night in London," said he, and Christina stopped
for a second to say simply and without any suggestion that she was
offended, "You should have spoken that night," and then resumed her
walk.

"Yes," returned Shere. "But I was always aware that I could not offer
you your match, and I found, I thought, quite suddenly that evening a
way to make my insufficiency less insufficient."

"Less insufficient by a strip of brass upon your shoulder," she
exclaimed passionately. She came and stood opposite to him. "Well,
that strip of brass stops us both. It stops my ears, it must stop your
lips too. Where did we meet first?"

"In Paris."

"Go on!"

"At a Carlist--" and Shere broke off and took a step towards her.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, "I never thought of it. I imagined you went there
to laugh as I did."

"Does one laugh at one's creed?" she cried violently; and Shere with a
helpless gesture of the hands sat down in a chair. Esteban had fooled
him, and why, the padre had shown Shere that afternoon, Esteban had
fooled him irreparably; it did not need a glance at Christina, as she
stood facing him, to convince him of that. There was no anger against
him, he noticed, in her face, but on the contrary a great friendliness
and pity. But he knew her at that moment. Her looks might soften, but
not her resolve. She was heart-whole a Carlist. Carlism was her creed,
and her creed would be more than a creed, it would be a passion too.
So it was not to persuade her but rather in acknowledgment that he
said:

"And one does not change one's creed?"

"No," she answered, and suggested, but in a doubtful voice, "but one
can put off one's uniform."

Shere stood up. "Neither can one do that," he said simply. "It is
quite true that I sought my commission upon your account. I would just
as readily have become a Carlist had I known. I had no inclination one
way or the other, only a great hope and longing for you. But I have
made the mistake, and I cannot retrieve it. The strip of brass obliges
me to good faith. Already you will understand the uniform has had its
inconvenience. It sent me to Cuba, and set me armed against men almost
of my own blood. There was no escape then; there is no escape now."

Christina moved closer to him. The reticence with which Shere spoke,
and the fact that he made no claim upon her made her voice very
gentle.

"No," she agreed. "I thought that you would make that answer. And in
my heart I do not think that I should like to have heard from you any
other."

"Thank you," said Shere. He drew out his watch. "I have still some
way to go. I have to reach Olvera by eleven;" and he was aware that
Christina at his side became at once very still, so that even her
breathing was arrested. For her sigh of emotion at the abrupt mention
of parting he was thankful, but it made him keep his eyes turned from
her lest a sight of any distress of hers might lead him to falter from
his purpose.

"You are riding to Olvera?" she asked, after a pause, and in a queer
muffled voice.

"Yes. So I must say good-bye," and now he turned to her. But she was
too quick for him to catch a glimpse of her face. She had already
turned from him and was walking towards the door.

"You must also say good-bye to Esteban," said she, as though to gain
time. With her fingers on the door-handle she stopped. "Tell me," she
exclaimed. "It was Esteban who advised the army, who helped you to
your commission? You need not deny it! It was Esteban," she stood
silent, turning over this revelation in her mind. Then she added, "Did
you see Esteban in Ronda this afternoon?"

"No, but I heard that he was there. I must go."

He took up his hat, and turning again towards the door saw that
Christina stood with her back against the panels and her arms
outstretched across them like a barrier.

"You need not fear," he said to reassure her. "I shall not quarrel
with Esteban. He is your brother, and the harm is done. Besides, I do
not know that it is all harm when I look back in the years before I
wore the uniform. In those times it was all one's own dissatisfactions
and trivial dislikes and trivial ambitions. Now I find a repose in
losing them, in becoming a little necessary part of a big machine,
even though it is not the best machine of its kind and works creakily.
I find a dignity in it too."

It was the man of extremes who spoke, and he spoke quite sincerely.
Christina, however, neither answered him nor heard. Her eyes were
fixed with a strange intentness upon him; her breath came and went as
if she had run a race, and in the silence seemed unnaturally audible.

"You carry orders to Olvera?" she said at length. Shere fetched the
sealed letter out of his pocket.

"So I must go, or fail in my duty," said he.

"Give me the letter," said Christina.

Shere stared at her in amazement. The amazement changed to suspicion.
His whole face seemed to narrow and sharpen out of his own likeness
into something foxy and mean.

"I will not," he said, and slowly replaced the letter. "There was a
man in the road," he continued slowly, "who whistled as I passed--a
signal, no doubt. You are Carlist. This is a trap."

"A trap not laid for you," said Christina. "Be sure of that! Until you
spoke of Olvera I did not know."

"No," admitted Shere, "not laid for me to your knowledge, but to
Esteban's. You were surprised at my coming--Esteban only at the manner
of my coming. He asked if I had ridden into the gates of my own accord
I remember. He was in Ronda this afternoon. Very likely it was he who
told my colonel of my knowledge of the neighbourhood. It would suit
his purposes well to present me to you suddenly, not merely as an
enemy, but an active enemy. Yes, I understand that. But," and his
voice hardened again, "even to your knowledge the trap was laid for
the man who carries the letter. You have your share in the trick." He
repeated the word with a sharp laugh, savouring it, dwelling upon it
as upon something long forgotten, and now suddenly remembered. "A
murderous trick, too, it seems! I wonder what would have happened if
I had not turned in at the gates of my own accord. How much farther
should I have ridden towards Olvera, and by what gentle means should I
have been stopped?"

"By nothing more dangerous than a hand upon your bridle and an excuse
that you might do me some small service at Olvera."

"An excuse, a falsity! To be sure," said Shere bitterly. "Yet you
still stand before the door though you know the letter will not be
yours. Is the trick after all so harmless? Is there no one--Esteban,
for instance--in the dark passage outside the door or on the dark road
outside the gates?"

"I will prove to you you are wrong."

Christina dropped her arms to her side, moved altogether from the
door, and rang a bell. "Esteban shall come here; he will see you
outside the gates; he will set you safely on your road to Olvera." She
spoke now quite quietly; all the panic and agitation had gone in
a moment from her face, her manner, and her words. But the very
suddenness of the change in her increased Shere's suspicions. A moment
ago Christina was standing before the door with every nerve astrain,
her face white, and her eyes bewildered with horror. Now she stood
easily by the table with the lighted lamp, speaking easily, playing
easily with the gloves upon the table. Shere watched for the secret of
this sudden change.

A servant answered the bell and was bidden to find Esteban. No look of
significance passed between them; by no gesture was any signal given.
"No harm was intended to any man," Christina continued as soon as
the door again was closed; "I insisted--I mean there was no need to
insist; for I promised to get the letter from the bearer once he had
come into this room."

"How?" Shere asked with a blunt contempt. "By tricks?"

Christina raised her head quickly, stung to a moment's anger; but she
did not answer him, and again her head drooped.

"At all events," she said quietly, "I have not tried to trick you,"
and Shere noticed that she arranged with an absent carelessness the
gloves in the form of a cross beneath the lamp; and at once he felt
that her action contradicted her words. It was merely an instinct at
first. Then he began to reason. Those gloves had been so arranged when
first he entered the room. Christina and Esteban were bending over the
table. Christina was explaining something. Was she explaining that
arrangement of the gloves? Was that arrangement the reason of her
ready acceptance of his refusal to part with his orders? Was it, in a
word, a signal for Esteban--a signal which should tell him whether
or not she had secured the letter? Shere saw a way to answer that
question. He was now filled with distrust of Christina as half an hour
back he had been filled with faith in her; so that he paid no heed
to her apology, or to the passionate and pleading voice in which she
spoke it.

"So much was at stake for us," she said. "It seemed a necessity that
we must have that letter, that no sudden orders must reach Olvera
to-night. For there is some one at Olvera--I must trust you, you see,
though you are our pledged enemy--some one of great consequence to us,
some one we love, some one to whom we look to revive this Spain of
ours. No, it is not our King, but his son--his young and gallant son.
He will be gone to-morrow, but he is at Olvera to-night. And so when
Esteban found out to-day that orders were to be sent to the commandant
there it seemed we had no choice. It seemed those orders must not
reach him, and it seemed therefore--just so that no hurt might be
done, which otherwise would surely have been done, whatever I might
order or forbid--that I must use a woman's way and secure the letter."

"And the bearer?" asked Shere, advancing to the table. "What of him?
He, I suppose, might creep back to Ronda, broken in honour and with a
lie to tell? The best lie he could invent. Or would you have helped
him to the lie?"

Christina shrank away from the table as though she had been struck.

"You had not thought of his plight," continued Shere. "He rides out
from Ronda an honest soldier and returns--what? No more a soldier than
this glove of yours is your hand," and taking up one of the gloves he
held it for a moment, and then tossed it down at a distance from its
fellow. He deliberately turned his back to the table as Christina
replied:

"The bearer would be just our pledged enemy--pledged to outwit us, as
we to outwit him. But when you came there was no effort made to outwit
you. Own that at all events? You carry your orders safely, with your
honour safe, though the consequence may be disaster for us, and
disgrace for that we did not prevent you. Own that! You and I, I
suppose, will meet no more. So you might own this that I have used no
tricks with you?"

The appeal coming as an answer to his insult and contempt, and coming
from one whose pride he knew to be a real and dominant quality,
touched Shere against his expectation. He faced Christina on an
impulse to give her the assurance she claimed, but he changed his
mind.

"Are you sure of that?" he asked slowly, for he saw that the gloves
while his back was turned had again been crossed. He at all events
was now sure. He was sure that those crossed gloves were a signal for
Esteban, a signal that the letter had not changed hands. "You have
used no tricks with me?" he repeated. "Are you sure of that?"

The handle of the door rattled; Christina quickly crossed towards it.
Shere followed her, but stopped for the fraction of a second at the
table and deliberately and unmistakably placed the gloves in parallel
lines. As the door opened, he was standing between Christina and the
table, blocking it from her view.

It was not she, however, who looked to the table, but Esteban. She
kept her eyes upon her brother, and when he in his turn looked to her
Shere noticed a glance of comprehension swiftly interchanged. So Shere
was confident that he had spoiled this trick of the gloves, and when
he took a polite leave of Christina and followed Esteban from the room
it was not without an air of triumph.

Christina stood without changing her attitude, except that perhaps she
pushed her head a little forward that she might the better hear the
last of her lover's receding steps. When they ceased to sound she ran
quickly to the window, opened it, and leaned out that she might the
better hear his horse's hoofs on the flagged courtyard. She heard
besides Esteban's voice speaking amiably and Shere's making amiable
replies. The sharp hard clatter upon the stones softened into the
duller thud upon the road; the voices became fainter and lost their
character. Then one clear "good-night" rang out loudly, and was
followed by the quick beats of a horse trotting. Christina slowly
closed the window and turned her eyes upon the room. She saw the lamp
upon the table and the gloves in parallel lines beneath it.

Now Shere was so far right in that the gloves were intended as a
signal for Esteban; only owing to that complete revulsion of which the
padre had seen the possibility, Shere had mistaken the signal. The
passionate believer had again become the passionate cynic. He saw the
trick, and setting no trust in the girl who played it, heeding neither
her looks nor words nor the sincerity of her voice, had no doubt that
it was aimed against him; whereas it was aimed to protect him. Shere
had no doubt that the gloves crossed meant that he still had the
sealed letter in his keeping, and therefore he disarranged them. But
in truth the gloves crossed meant that Christina had it, and that the
messenger might go unhindered upon his way.

Christina uttered no cry. She simply did not believe what her eyes
saw. She needed to touch the gloves before she was convinced, and when
she had done that she was at once not sure but that she herself in
touching them had ranged them in these lines. In the end, however,
she understood, not the how or why, but the mere fact. She ran to the
door, along the gallery, down the steps into the courtyard. She met no
one. The house might have been a deserted ruin from its silence.
She crossed the courtyard to the glimmering white walls, and passed
through the gates on to the road. The night was clear; and ahead of
her far away in the middle of the road a lantern shone very red.
Christina ran towards it, and as she approached she saw faces like
miniatures grouped above it. They did not heed her until she was close
upon them, until she had noticed one man holding a riderless horse
apart from the group and another coiling up a stout rope. Then
Esteban, who was holding the lantern, raised his hand to keep her
back.

"There has been an accident," said he. "He fell, and fell awkwardly,
the horse with him."

"An accident," said Christina, and she pointed to the coil of rope. It
was no use for her now to say that she had forbidden violence. Indeed,
at no time, as she told Shere, would it have been of any use. She
pushed through the group to where Dennis Shere lay on the ground, his
face white and shiny and tortured with pain. She knelt down on the
ground and took his head in her hands as though she would raise it on
to her lap, but one man stopped her, saying, "It is his back, senora."
Shere opened his eyes and saw who it was that bent over him, and
Christina, reading their look, was appalled. It was surely impossible
that human eyes could carry so much hate. His lips moved, and she
leaned her ear close to his mouth to catch the words. But it was only
one word he spoke and repeated:--

"Tricks! Tricks!"

There was no time to disprove or explain. Christina had but one
argument. She kissed him on the lips.

"This is no trick," she cried, and Esteban, laying a hand upon her
shoulder, said, "He does not hear, nor can his lips answer;" and
Esteban spoke the truth. Shere had not heard, and never would hear, as
Christina knew.

"He still has the letter," said Esteban. Christina thrust him back
with her hand and crouched over the dead man, protecting him. In a
little she said, "True, there is the letter." She unbuttoned Shere's
jacket and gently took the letter from his breast. Then she knelt back
and looked at the superscription without speaking. Esteban opened the
door of the lantern and held the flame towards her. "No," said she.
"It had better go to Olvera."

She rode to Olvera that night. They let her go, deceived by her
composure and thinking that she meant to carry it to "the man of great
consequence."

But Christina's composure meant nothing more than that her mind and
her feelings were numbed. She was conscious of only one conviction,
that Shere must not fail in his duty, since he had staked his honour
upon its fulfilment. And so she rode straight to the commandant's
quarters at Olvera, and telling of an accident to the bearer, handed
him the letter. The commandant read it, and was most politely
distressed that Christina should have put herself to so much trouble,
for the orders merely recalled his contingent to Ronda in the morning.
It was about this time that Christina began to understand precisely
what had happened.




THE SHUTTERED HOUSE.


If ever a man's pleasures jumped with his duties mine did in the year
1744, when, as a clerk in the service of the Royal African Company
of Adventurers, I was despatched to the remote islands of Scilly in
search of certain information which, it was believed, Mr. Robert
Lovyes alone could impart. For even a clerk that sits all day conning
his ledgers may now and again chance upon a record or name which
will tickle his dull fancies with the suggestion of a story. Such a
suggestion I had derived from the circumstances of Mr. Lovyes. He had
passed an adventurous youth, during which he had for eight years
been held to slavery by a negro tribe on the Gambia river; he had
afterwards amassed a considerable fortune, and embarked it in the
ventures of the Company; he had thereupon withdrawn himself to Tresco,
where he had lived for twenty years: so much any man might know
without provocation to his curiosity. The strange feature of Mr.
Lovyes' conduct was revealed to me by the ledgers. For during all
those years he had drawn neither upon his capital nor his interest, so
that his stake in the Company grew larger and larger, with no profit
to himself that any one could discover. It seemed to me, in fact,
clean against nature that a man so rich should so disregard his
wealth; and I busied myself upon the journey with discovering strange
reasons for his seclusion, of which none, I may say, came near the
mark, by so much did the truth exceed them all.

I landed at the harbour of New Grimsey, on Tresco, in the grey
twilight of a September evening; and asking for Mr. Lovyes, was
directed across a little ridge of heather to Dolphin Town, which lies
on the eastward side of Tresco, and looks across Old Grimsey Sound to
the island of St. Helen's. Dolphin Town, you should know, for all its
grand name, boasts but a poor half-score of houses dotted about the
ferns and bracken, with no semblance of order. One of the houses,
however, attracted my notice--first, because it was built in two
storeys, and was, therefore, by a storey taller than the rest; and,
secondly, because all its windows were closely shuttered, and it wore
in that falling light a drooping, melancholy aspect, like a derelict
ship upon the seas. It stood in the middle of this scanty village, and
had a little unkempt garden about it inclosed within a wooden paling.
There was a wicket-gate in the paling, and a rough path from the gate
to the house door, and a few steps to the right of this path a well
was sunk and rigged with a winch and bucket. I was both tired and
thirsty, so I turned into the garden and drew up some water in the
bucket. A narrow track was beaten in the grass between the well and
the house, and I saw with surprise that the stones about the mouth of
the well were splashed and still wet. The house, then, had an inmate.
I looked at it again, but the shutters kept their secret: there was no
glimmer of light visible through any chink. I approached the house,
and from that nearer vantage discovered that the shutters were common
planks fitted into the windows and nailed fast to the woodwork from
without. Growing yet more curious, I marched to the door and knocked,
with an inquiry upon my tongue as to where Mr. Lovyes lived. But the
excuse was not needed; the sound of my blows echoed through the house
in a desolate, solitary fashion, and no step answered them. I knocked
again, and louder. Then I leaned my ear to the panel, and I distinctly
heard the rustling of a woman's dress. I held my breath to hear the
more surely. The sound was repeated, but more faintly, and it was
followed by a noise like the closing of a door. I drew back from the
house, keeping an eye upon the upper storey, for I thought it possible
the woman might reconnoitre me thence. But the windows stared at me
blind, unresponsive. To the right and left lights twinkled in the
scattered dwellings, and I found something very ghostly in the thought
of this woman entombed as it were in the midst of them and moving
alone in the shuttered gloom. The twilight deepened, and suddenly the
gate behind me whined on its hinges. At once I dropped to my full
length on the grass--the gloom was now so thick there was little
fear I should be discovered--and a man went past me to the house.
He walked, so far as I could judge, with a heavy stoop, but was yet
uncommon tall, and he carried a basket upon his arm. He laid the
basket upon the doorstep, and, to my utter disappointment, turned
at once, and so down the path and out at the gate. I heard the gate
rattle once, twice, and then a click as its latch caught. I was
sufficiently curious to desire a nearer view of the basket, and
discovered that it contained food. Then, remembering me that all this
while my own business waited, I continued on my way to Mr. Lovyes'
house. It was a long building of a brownish granite, under Merchant's
Point, at the northern extremity of Old Grimsey Harbour. Mr. Lovyes
was sitting over his walnuts in the cheerless solitude of his
dining-room--a frail old gentleman, older than his years, which I took
to be sixty or thereabouts, and with the air of a man in a decline.
I unfolded my business forthwith, but I had not got far before he
interrupted me.

"There is a mistake," he said. "It is doubtless my brother Robert you
are in search of. I am John Lovyes, and was, it is true, captured
with my brother in Africa, but I escaped six years before he did, and
traded no more in those parts. We fled together from the negroes, but
we were pursued. My brother was pierced by an arrow, and I left him,
believing him to be dead."

I had, indeed, heard something of a brother, though I little expected
to find him in Tresco too. He pressed upon me the hospitality of his
house, but my business was with Mr. Robert, and I asked him to direct
me on my path, which he did with some hesitation and reluctance. I had
once more to pass through Dolphin Town, and an impulse prompted me to
take another look at the shuttered house. I found that the basket of
food had been removed, and an empty bucket stood in its place. But
there was still no light visible, and I went on to the dwelling of
Mr. Robert Lovyes. When I came to it, I comprehended his brother's
hesitation. It was a rough, mean little cottage standing on the edge
of the bracken close to the sea--a dwelling fit for the poorest
fisherman, but for no one above that station, and a large open boat
was drawn up on the hard beside it as though the tenant fished for
his bread. I knocked at the door, and a man with a candle in his hand
opened it.

"Mr. Robert Lovyes?" I asked.

"Yes, I am he." And he led the way into a kitchen, poor and mean as
the outside warranted, but scrupulously clean and bright with a fire.
He led the way, as I say, and I was still more mystified to observe
from his gait, his height, and the stoop of his shoulders that he was
the man whom I had seen carrying the basket through the garden. I had
now an opportunity of noticing his face, wherein I could detect no
resemblance to his brother's. For it was broader and more vigorous,
with a great, white beard valancing it; and whereas Mr. John's hair
was neatly powdered and tied with a ribbon, as a gentleman's should
be, Mr. Robert's, which was of a black colour with a little sprinkling
of grey, hung about his head in a tangled mane. There was but a
two-years difference between the ages of the brothers, but there might
have been a decade. I explained my business, and we sat down to a
supper of fish, freshly caught, which he served himself. And during
supper he gave me the information I was come after. But I lent only
an inattentive ear to his talk. For my knowledge of his wealth, the
picture of him as he sat in his great sea-boots and coarse seaman's
vest, as though it was the most natural garb in the world, and his
easy discourse about those far African rivers, made a veritable jumble
of my mind. To add to it all, there was the mystery of the shuttered
house. More than once I was inclined to question him upon this last
account, but his manner did not promise confidences, and I said
nothing. At last he perceived my inattention.

"I will repeat all this to-morrow," he said grimly. "You are, no
doubt, tired. I cannot, I am afraid, house you, for, as you see, I
have no room; but I have a young friend who happens by good luck to
stay this night on Tresco, and no doubt he will oblige me." Thereupon
he led me to a cottage on the outskirts of Dolphin Town, and of all in
that village nearest to the sea.

"My friend," said he, "is named Ginver Wyeth, and, though he comes
from these parts, he does not live here, being a school-master on the
mainland. His mother has died lately, and he is come on that account."

Mr. Wyeth received me hospitably, but with a certain pedantry of
speech which somewhat surprised me, seeing that his parents were
common fisherfolk. He readily explained the matter, however, over a
pipe, when Mr. Lovyes had left us. "I owe everything to Mrs. Lovyes,"
he said. "She took me when a boy, taught me something herself, and
sent me thereafter, at her own charges, to a school in Falmouth."

"Mrs. Lovyes!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," he continued, and, bending forward, lowered his voice. "You
went up to Merchant's Point, you say? Then you passed Crudge's
Folly--a house of two storeys with a well in the garden."

"Yes, yes!" I said.

"She lives there," said he.

"Behind those shutters!" I cried.

"For twenty years she has lived in the midst of us, and no one has
seen her during all that time. Not even Robert Lovyes. Aye, she has
lived behind the shutters."

There he stopped. I waited, thinking that in a little he would take up
his tale, but he did not, and I had to break the silence.

"I had not heard that Mr. Robert was ever married," I said as
carelessly as I might.

"Nor was he," replied Mr. Wyeth. "Mrs. Lovyes is the wife of John.
The house at Merchant's Point is hers, and there twenty years ago she
lived."

His words caught my breath away, so little did I expect them.

"The wife of John Lovyes!" I stammered, "but--" And I told him how I
had seen Robert Lovyes carry his basket up the path.

"Yes," said Wyeth. "Twice a day Robert draws water for her at the
well, and once a day he brings her food. It is in his house, too, that
she lives--Crudge's Folly, that was his name for it, and the name
clings. But, none the less, she is the wife of John;" and with little
more persuasion Mr. Wyeth told me the story.

"It is the story of a sacrifice," he began, "mad or great, as you
please; but, mark you, it achieved its end. As a boy, I witnessed it
from its beginnings. For it was at this very door that Robert Lovyes
rapped when he first landed on Tresco on the night of the seventh of
May twenty-two years ago, and I was here on my holidays at the time. I
had been out that day in my father's lugger to the Poul, which is
the best fishing-ground anywhere near Scilly, and the fog took us, I
remember, at three of the afternoon. So what with that and the wind
failing, it was late when we cast anchor in Grimsey Sound. The night
had fallen in a brown mirk, and so still that the sound of our feet
brushing through the ferns was loud, like the sweep of scythes. We sat
down to supper in this kitchen about nine, my mother, my father, two
men from the boat, and myself, and after supper we gathered about the
fire here and talked. The talk in these parts, however it may begin,
slides insensibly to that one element of which the noise is ever in
our ears; and so in a little here were we chattering of wrecks and
wrecks and wrecks and the bodies of dead men drowned. And then, in the
thick of the talk, came the knock on the door--a light rapping of the
knuckles, such as one hears twenty times a day; but our minds were
so primed with old wives' tales that it fairly shook us all. No one
stirred, and the knocking was repeated.

"Then the latch was lifted, and Robert Lovyes stepped in. His beard
was black then--coal black, like his hair--and his face looked out
from it pale as a ghost and shining wet from the sea. The water
dripped from his clothes and made a puddle about his feet.

"'How often did I knock?' he asked pleasantly. 'Twice, I think. Yes,
twice.'

"Then he sat down on the settle, very deliberately pulled off his
great sea-boots, and emptied the water out of them.

"'What island is this?' he asked.

"'Tresco.'

"'Tresco!' he exclaimed, in a quick, agitated whisper, as though he
dreaded yet expected to hear the name. 'We were wrecked, then, on the
Golden Ball.'

"'Wrecked?' cried my father; but the man went on pursuing his own
thoughts.

"'I swam to an islet.'

"'It would be Norwithel,' said my father.

"'Yes,' said he, 'it would be Norwithel.' And my mother asked
curiously--

"'You know these islands?' For his speech was leisurely and delicate,
such as we heard neither from Scillonians nor from the sailors who
visit St. Mary's.

"'Yes,' he answered, his face breaking into a smile of unexpected
softness, 'I know these islands. From Rosevean to Ganilly, from
Peninnis Head to Maiden Bower: I know them well.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

At this point Mr. Wyeth broke off his story, and crossing to the
window, opened it. "Listen!" he said. I heard as it were the sound of
innumerable voices chattering and murmuring and whispering in some
mysterious language, and at times the voices blended and the murmurs
became a single moan.

"It is the tide making on the Golden Ball," said Mr. Wyeth. "The reef
stretches seawards from St. Helen's island and half way across the
Sound. You may see it at low tide, a ledge level as a paved causeway,
and God help the ship that strikes on it!"

Even while he spoke, from these undertones of sound there swelled
suddenly a great booming like a battery of cannon.

"It is the ledge cracking," said Mr. Wyeth, "and it cracks in the
calmest weather." With that, he closed the window, and, lighting his
pipe, resumed his story.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It was on that reef that Mr. Robert Lovyes was wrecked. The ship, he
told us, was the schooner _Waking Dawn_, bound from Cardiff to Africa,
and she had run into the fog about half-past three, when they were a
mile short of the Seven Stones. She bumped twice on the reef, and sank
immediately, with, so far as he knew, all her crew.

"'So now,' Robert continued, tapping his belt, 'since I have the means
to pay, I will make bold to ask for a lodging, and for this night I
will hang up here my dripping garments to Neptune.'

    "'Me tabula sacer
  Votiva paries--'

"I began in the pride of my schooling, for I had learned that verse of
Horace but a week before.

"'This, no doubt, is the Cornish tongue,' he interrupted gravely, 'and
will you please to carry my boots outside?'

"What followed seemed to me then the strangest part of all this
business, though, indeed, our sea-fogs come and go as often as not
with a like abruptness. But the time of this fog's dispersion shocked
the mind as something pitiless and arbitrary. For had the air cleared
an hour before, the _Waking Dawn_ would not have struck. I opened the
door, and it was as though a panel of brilliant white was of a sudden
painted on the floor. Robert Lovyes sprang up from the settle, ran
past me into the open, and stood on the bracken in his stockinged
feet. A little patch of fog still smoked on the shining beach of Tean;
a scarf of it was twisted about the granite bosses of St. Helen's; and
for the rest the moonlight sparkled upon the headlands and was spilled
across miles of placid sea. There was a froth of water upon the Golden
Ball, but no sign of the schooner sunk among its weeds.

"My father, however, and the two boatmen hurried down to the shore,
while I was despatched with the news to Merchant's Point. My mother
asked Mr. Lovyes his name, that I might carry it with me. But he spoke
in a dreamy voice, as though he had not heard her.

"'There were eight of the crew. Four were below, and I doubt if the
four on deck could swim.'

"I ran off on my errand, and, coming back a little later with a bottle
of cordial waters, found Mr. Lovyes still standing in the moonlight.
He seemed not to have moved a finger. I gave him the bottle, with a
message that any who were rescued should be carried to Merchant's
Point forthwith, and that he himself should go down there in the
morning.

"'Who taught you Latin?' he asked suddenly.

"'Mrs. Lovyes taught me the rudiments,' I began; and with that he led
me on to talk of her, but with some cunning. For now he would divert
me to another topic and again bring me back to her, so that it all
seemed the vagrancies of a boy's inconsequent chatter.

"Mrs. Lovyes, who was remotely akin to the Lord Proprietor, had come
to Tresco three years before, immediately after her marriage, and, it
was understood, at her husband's wish. I talked of her readily, for,
apart from what I owed to her bounty, she was a woman most sure to
engage the affections of any boy. For one thing she was past her
youth, being thirty years of age, tall, with eyes of the kindliest
grey, and she bore herself in everything with a tender toleration,
like a woman that has suffered much.

"Of the other topics of this conversation there was one which later I
had good reason to remember. We had caught a shark twelve feet long at
the Poul that day, and the shark fairly divided my thoughts with Mrs.
Lovyes.

"'You bleed a fish first into the sea,' I explained. 'Then you bait
with a chad's head, and let your line down a couple of fathoms. You
can see your bait quite clearly, and you wait.'

"'No doubt,' said Robert; 'you wait.'

"'In a while,' said I, 'a dim lilac shadow floats through the clear
water, and after a little you catch a glimpse of a forked tail and
waving fins and an evil devil's head. The fish smells at the bait and
sinks again to a lilac shadow--perhaps out of sight; and again it
rises. The shadow becomes a fish, the fish goes circling round your
boat, and it may be a long while before he turns on his back and
rushes at the bait.'

"'And as like as not, he carries the bait and line away."

"'That depends upon how quick you are with the gaff,' said I.' Here
comes my father.'

"My father returned empty-handed. Not one of the crew had been saved.

"'You asked my name,' said Robert Lovyes, turning to my mother. 'It is
Crudge--Jarvis Crudge.' With that he went to his bed, but all night
long I heard him pacing his room.

"The next morning he complained of his long immersion in the sea, and
certainly when he told his story to Mr. and Mrs. Lovyes as they sat
over their breakfast in the parlour at Merchant's Point, he spoke with
such huskiness as I never heard the like of. Mr. Lovyes took little
heed to us, but went on eating his breakfast with only a sour comment
here and there. I noticed, however, that Mrs. Lovyes, who sat over
against us, bent her head forward and once or twice shook it as though
she would unseat some ridiculous conviction. And after the story was
told, she sat with no word of kindness for Mr. Crudge, and, what was
yet more unlike her, no word of pity for the sailors who were lost.
Then she rose and stood, steadying herself with the tips of her
fingers upon the table. Finally she came swiftly across the room and
peered into Mr. Crudge's face.

"'If you need help,' she said, 'I will gladly furnish it. No doubt you
will be anxious to go from Tresco at the earliest. No doubt, no doubt
you will,' she repeated anxiously.

"'Madame,' he said, 'I need no help, being by God's leave a man'--and
he laid some stress upon the 'man,' but not boastfully--rather as
though all _women_ did, or might need help, by the mere circumstance
of their sex--'and as for going hence, why yesterday I was bound for
Africa. I sailed unexpectedly into a fog off Scilly. I was wrecked in
a calm sea on the Golden Ball--I was thrown up on Tresco--no one
on that ship escaped but myself. No sooner was I safe than the fog
lifted---'

"'You will stay?' Mrs. Lovyes interrupted. 'No?'

"'Yes,' said he, 'Jarvis Grudge will stay.'

"And she turned thoughtfully away. But I caught a glimpse of her face
as we went out, and it wore the saddest smile a man could see.

"Mr. Grudge and I walked for a while in silence.

"'And what sort of a name has Mr. John Lovyes in these parts?' he
asked.

"'An honest sort,' said I emphatically--'the name of a man who loves
his wife.'

"'Or her money,' he sneered. 'Bah! a surly ill-conditioned dog, I'll
warrant, the curmudgeon!"

"'You are marvellously recovered of your cold,' said I.

"He stopped, and looked across the Sound. Then he said in a soft,
musing voice: 'I once knew just such another clever boy. He was so
clever that men beat him with sticks and put on great sea-boots to
kick him with, so that he lived a miserable life, and was subsequently
hanged in great agony at Tyburn.'

"Mr. Grudge, as he styled himself, stayed with us for a week, during
which time he sailed much with me about these islands; and I made a
discovery. Though he knew these islands so well, he had never visited
them before, and his knowledge was all hearsay. I did not mention my
discovery to him, lest I should meet with another rebuff. But I was
none the less sure of its truth, for he mistook Hanjague for Nornor,
and Priglis Bay for Beady Pool, and made a number of suchlike
mistakes. After a week he hired the cottage in which he now lives,
bought his boat, leased from the steward the patch of ground in
Dolphin Town, and set about building his house. He undertook the work,
I am sure, for pure employment and distraction. He picked up the
granite stones, fitted them together, panelled them, made the floors
from the deck of a brigantine which came ashore on Annet, pegged down
the thatch roof--in a word, he built the house from first to last with
his own hands and he took fifteen months over the business, during
which time he did not exchange a single word with Mrs. Lovyes, nor
anything more than a short 'Good-day' with Mr. John. He worked,
however, with no great regularity. For while now he laboured in a
feverish haste, now he would sit a whole day idle on the headlands;
or, again, he would of a sudden throw down his tools as though the
work overtaxed him, and, leaping into his boat, set all sail and
run with the wind. All that night you might see him sailing in the
moonlight, and he would come home in the flush of the dawn.

"After he had built the house, he furnished it, crossing for that
purpose backwards and forwards between Tresco and St. Mary's. I
remember that one day he brought back with him a large chest, and I
offered to lend him a hand in carrying it. But he hoisted it on his
back and took it no farther than the cottage in which he lived, where
it remained locked with a padlock.

"Towards Christmas-time, then, the house was ready, but to our
surprise he did not move into it. He seemed, indeed, of a sudden, to
have lost all liking for it, and whether it was that he had no longer
any work upon his hands, he took to following Mrs. Lovyes about, but
in a way that was unnoticeable unless you had other reasons to suspect
that his thoughts were following her.

"His conduct in this respect was particularly brought home to me on
Christmas Day. The afternoon was warm and sunny, and I walked over the
hill at Merchant's Point, meaning to bathe in the little sequestered
bay beyond. From the top of the hill I saw Mrs. Lovyes walking along
the strip of beach alone, and as I descended the hill-side, which
is very deep in fern and heather, I came plump upon Jarvis Grudge,
stretched full-length on the ground. He was watching Mrs. Lovyes with
so greedy a concentration of his senses that he did not remark my
approach. I asked him when he meant to enter his new house.

"'I do not know that I ever shall,' he replied.

"'Then why did you build it?' I asked.

"'Because I was a fool!' and then he burst out in a passionate
whisper. 'But a fool I was to stay here, and a fool's trick it was
to build that house!' He shook his fist in its direction. 'Call it
Grudge's Folly, and there's the name for it!' and with that he turned
him again to spying upon Mrs. Lovyes.

"After a while he spoke again, but slowly and with his eyes fixed upon
the figure moving upon the beach.

"'Do you remember the night I came ashore? You had caught a shark that
day, and you told me of it. The great lilac shadow which rises from
the depths and circles about the bait, and sinks again and rises again
and takes--how long?--two years maybe before he snaps it.'

"'But he does not carry it away,' said I, taking his meaning.

"'Sometimes--sometimes," he snarled.

"'That depends on how quick we are with the gaff."

"'You!' he laughed, and taking me by the elbows, he shook me till I
was giddy.

"'I owe Mrs. Lovyes everything,' I said. At that he let me go. The
ferocity of his manner, however, confirmed me in my fears, and, with a
boy's extravagance, I carried from that day a big knife in my belt.

"'The gaff, I suppose,' said Mr. Grudge with a polite smile when
first he remarked it. During the next week, however, he showed more
contentment with his lot, and once I caught him rubbing his hands and
chuckling, like a man well pleased; so that by New Year's Eve I was
wellnigh relieved of my anxiety on Mrs. Lovyes' account.

"On that night, however, I went down to Grudge's cottage, and peeping
through the window on my way to the door, I saw a strange man in the
room. His face was clean-shaven, his hair tied back and powdered; he
was in his shirt-sleeves, with a satin waistcoat, a sword at his side,
and shining buckles to his shoes. Then I saw that the big chest stood
open. I opened the door and entered.

"'Come in!' said the man, and from his voice I knew him to be Mr.
Crudge. He took a candle in his hand and held it above his head.

"'Tell me my name,' he said. His face, shaved of its beard and no
longer hidden by his hair, stood out distinct, unmistakable.

"'Lovyes,' I answered.

"'Good boy,' said he. 'Robert Lovyes, brother to John.'

"'Yet he did not know you,' said I, though, indeed, I could not
wonder.

"'But she did,' he cried, with a savage exultation. 'At the first
glance, at the first word, she knew me.' Then, quietly, 'My coat is on
the chair beside you.'

"I took it up. 'What do you mean to do?' I asked.

"'It is New Year's Eve,' he said grimly. 'The season of good wishes.
It is only meet that I should wish my brother, who stole my wife, much
happiness for the next twelve months.'

"He took the coat from my hands.

"'You admire the coat? Ah! true, the colour is lilac.' He held it out
at arm's length. Doubtless I had been staring at the coat, but I had
not even given it a thought. 'The lilac shadow!' he went on, with a
sneer. 'Believe me, it is the purest coincidence.' And as he prepared
to slip his arm into the sleeve I flashed the knife out of my belt. He
was too quick for me, however. He flung the coat over my head. I felt
the knife twisted out of my hand; he stumbled over the chair; we both
fell to the ground, and the next thing I know I was running over the
bracken towards Merchant's Point with Robert Lovyes hot upon my heels.
He was of a heavy build, and forty years of age. I had the double
advantage, and I ran till my chest cracked and the stars danced above
me. I clanged at the bell and stumbled into the hall.

"'Mrs. Lovyes!' I choked the name out as she stepped from the parlour.

"'Well?' she asked. 'What is it?'

"'He is following--Robert Lovyes!'

"She sprang rigid, as though I had whipped her across the face. Then,
'I knew it would come to this at the last,' she said; and even as she
spoke Robert Lovyes crossed the threshold.

"'Molly,' he said, and looked at her curiously. She stood singularly
passive, twisting her fingers. 'I hardly know you,' he continued. 'In
the old days you were the wilfullest girl I ever clapped eyes on.'

"'That was thirteen years ago,' she said, with a queer little laugh at
the recollection.

"He took her by the hand and led her into the parlour. I followed.
Neither Mrs. Lovyes nor Robert remarked my presence, and as for John
Lovyes, he rose from his chair as the pair approached him, stretched
out a trembling hand, drew it in, stretched it out again, all without
a word, and his face purple and ridged with the veins.

"'Brother,' said Robert, taking between his fingers half a gold coin,
which was threaded on a chain about Mrs. Lovyes' wrist, 'where is the
fellow to this? I gave it to you on the Gambia river, bidding you
carry it to Molly as a sign that I would return.'

"I saw John's face harden and set at the sound of his brother's voice.
He looked at his wife, and, since she now knew the truth, he took the
bold course.

"'I gave it to her,' said he, 'as a token of your death; and, by God!
she was worth the lie!'

"The two men faced one another--Robert smoothing his chin, John with
his arms folded, and each as white and ugly with passion as the other.
Robert turned to Mrs. Lovyes, who stood like a stone.

"'You promised to wait,' he said in a constrained voice. 'I escaped
six years after my noble brother.'

"'Six years?' she asked. 'Had you come back then you would have found
me waiting.'

"'I could not,' he said. 'A fortune equal to your own--that was what I
promised to myself before I returned to marry you.'

"'And much good it has done you,' said John, and I think that he meant
by the provocation to bring the matter to an immediate issue. 'Pride,
pride!' and he wagged his head. 'Sinful pride!'

"Robert sprang forward with an oath, and then, as though the movement
had awakened her, Mrs. Lovyes stepped in between the two men, with an
arm outstretched on either side to keep them apart.

"'Wait!' she said. 'For what is it that you fight? Not, indeed, for
me. To you, my husband, I will no more belong; to you, my lover, I
cannot. My woman's pride, my woman's honour--those two things are mine
to keep.'

"So she stood casting about for an issue, while the brothers glowered
at one another across her. It was evident that if she left them alone
they would fight, and fight to the death. She turned to Robert.

"'You meant to live on Tresco here at my gates, unknown to me; but you
could not.'

"'I could not,' he answered. 'In the old days you had spoken so much
of Scilly--every island reminded me--and I saw you every day.'

"I could read the thought passing through her mind. It would not serve
for her to live beside them, visible to them each day. Sooner or later
they would come to grips. And then her face flushed as the notion of
her great sacrifice came to her.

"'I see but the one way,' she said. 'I will go into the house that
you, Robert, have built. Neither you nor John shall see me, but none
the less, I shall live between you, holding you apart, as my hands do
now. I give my life to you so truly that from this night no one shall
see my face. You, John, shall live on here at Merchant's Point.
Robert, you at your cottage, and every day you will bring me food and
water and leave it at my door.'

"The two men fell back shamefaced. They protested they would part and
put the world between them; but she would not trust them. I think,
too, the notion of her sacrifice grew on her as she thought of it. For
women are tenacious of sacrifice even as men are of revenge. And in
the end she had her way. That night Robert Lovyes nailed the boards
across the windows, and brought the door-key back to her; and that
night, twenty years ago, she crossed the threshold. No man has seen
her since. But, none the less, for twenty years she has lived between
the brothers, keeping them apart."

This was the story which Mr. Wyeth told me as we sat over our
pipes, and the next day I set off on my journey back to London. The
conclusion of the affair I witnessed myself. For a year later we
received a letter from Mr. Robert, asking that a large sum of money
should be forwarded to him. Being curious to learn the reason for his
demand, I carried the sum to Tresco myself. Mr. John Lovyes had died a
month before, and I reached the island on Mr. Robert's wedding-day.
I was present at the ceremony. He was now dressed in a manner which
befitted his station--an old man bent and bowed, but still handsome,
and he bore upon his arm a tall woman, grey-haired and very pale, yet
with the traces of great beauty. As the parson laid her hand in her
husband's, I heard her whisper to him, "Dust to Dust."




KEEPER OF THE BISHOP.


For a fortnight out of every six weeks the little white faced man
walked the garrison on St. Mary's Island in a broadcloth frock-coat,
a low waistcoat and a black riband of a tie fastened in a bow; and it
gave him great pleasure to be mistaken for a commercial traveller. But
during the other four weeks he was head-keeper of the lighthouse on
the Bishop's Rock, with thirty years of exemplary service to his
credit. By what circumstances he had been brought to enlist under the
Trinity flag I never knew. But now, at the age of forty-eight he was
entirely occupied with a great horror of the sea and its hunger for
the bodies of men; the frock-coat which he wore during his spells on
shore was a protest against the sea; and he hated not only the sea but
all things that were in the sea, especially rock lighthouses, and of
all rock lighthouses especially the Bishop.

"The Atlantic's as smooth as a ballroom floor," said he. It was a
clear, still day and we were sitting among the gorse on the top of the
garrison, looking down the sea towards the west. Five miles from the
Scillies, the thin column of the Bishop showed like a cord strung
tight in the sky. "But out there all round the lighthouse there are
eddies twisting and twisting, without any noise, and extraordinary
quick, and every other second, now here, now there, you'll notice the
sea dimple, and you'll hear a sound like a man hiccoughing, and all at
once, there's a wicked black whirlpool. The tide runs seven miles an
hour past the Bishop. But in another year I have done with her." To
her Garstin nodded across from St. Mary's to that grey finger post of
the Atlantic. "One more winter, well, very likely during this one more
winter the Bishop will go--on some night when a storm blows from west
or west-nor'west and the Irish coast takes none of its strength."

He was only uttering the current belief of the islands. The first
Bishop lighthouse had been swept away before its building was
finished, and though the second stood, a fog bell weighing no less
than a ton, and fixed ninety feet above the water, had been lifted
from its fittings by a single wave, and tossed like a tennis-ball into
the sea. I asked Garstin whether he had been stationed on the rock at
the time.

"People talk of lightships plunging and tugging at their cables," he
returned. "Well, I've tried lightships, and what I say is, ships are
built to plunge and tug at their cables. That's their business. But it
isn't the business of one hundred and twenty upright feet of granite
to quiver and tremble like a steel spring. No, I wasn't on the Bishop
when the bell went. But I was there when a wave climbed up from the
base of the rock and smashed in the glass wall of the lantern, and put
the light out. That was last spring at four o'clock in the morning.
The day was breaking very cold and wild, and one could just see the
waves below, a lashing tumble of grey and white water as far as the
eye could reach. I was in the lantern reading 'It's never too late to
mend.' I had come to where the chaplain knocks down the warder, and I
was thinking how I'd like to have a go at that warder myself, when all
the guns in the world went off together in my ears. And there I was
dripping wet, and fairly sliced with splinters of glass, and the wind
blowing wet in my face, and the lamp out, and a bitter grey light of
morning, as though there never, never had been any sun, and all the
dead men in the sea shouting out for me one hundred feet below," and
Garstin shivered, and rose to his feet. "Well, I have only one more
winter of it."

"And then?" I asked.

"Then I get the North Foreland, and the trippers come out from
Margate, and I live on shore with my wife and--By the way, I wanted to
speak to you about my boy. He's getting up in years. What shall I make
of him? A linen-draper, eh? In the Midlands, what? or something in a
Free Library, handing out Charles Reade's books? He's at home now.
Come and see him!"

In Garstin's quarters, within the coastguard enclosure, I was
introduced to his wife and the lad, Leopold. "What shall we call him?"
Mrs. Garstin had asked, some fifteen years before. "I don't know any
seafaring man by the name of Leopold," Garstin had replied, after a
moment of reflection. So Leopold he was named.

Mrs. Garstin was a buxom, unimaginative woman, but she shared to the
full her husband's horror of the sea. She told me of nights when she
lay alone listening to the moan of the wind overhead, and seeing the
column of the Bishop rock upon its base, and of mornings when she
climbed from the sheltered barracks up the gorse, with her heart
tugging in her breast, certain, certain that this morning, at least,
there would be no Bishop lighthouse visible from the top of the
garrison.

"It seems a sort of insult to the works of God," said she, in a hushed
voice. "It seems as if it stood up there in God's face and cried, 'You
can't hurt me!'"

"Yes, most presumptuous and provoking," said Garstin; and so they fell
to talking of the boy, who, at all events, should fulfil his
destiny very far inland from the sea. Mrs. Garstin leaned to the
linen-drapery; Garstin inclined to the free library.

"Well, I will come down to the North Foreland," said I, "and you shall
tell me which way it is."

"Yes, if--" said Garstin, and stopped.

"Yes, if--" repeated his wife, with a nod of the head.

"Oh! it won't go this winter," said I.

And it didn't. But, on the other hand, Garstin did not go to the North
Foreland, nor for two years did I hear any more of him. But two years
later I returned to St. Mary's and walked across the beach of the
island to the little graveyard by the sea. A new tablet upon the outer
wall of the church caught and held my eye. I read the inscription and
remained incredulous. For the Bishop still stood. But the letters were
there engraved upon the plate, and as I read them again, the futility
of Garstin's fears was enforced upon me with a singular pathos.

For the Bishop still stood and Garstin had died on the Christmas Eve
of that last year which he was to spend upon rock lighthouses. Of how
he died the tablet gave a hint, but no more than a hint. There were
four words inscribed underneath his name:

  "And he was not."

I walked back to Hugh Town, wondering at the tragedy which those four
words half hid and half revealed, and remembering that the tide runs
seven miles an hour past the Bishop, with many eddies and whirlpools.
Almost unconsciously I went up the hill above Hugh Town and came to
the signal station on the top of the garrison. And so occupied was I
with my recollections of Garstin that it did not strike me as strange
that I should find Mrs. Garstin standing now where he had stood and
looking out to the Bishop as he was used to look.

"I had not heard," I said to her.

"No?" she returned simply, and again turned her eyes seawards. It was
late on a midsummer afternoon. The sun hung a foot or so above the
water, a huge ball of dull red fire, and from St. Mary's out to the
horizon's rim the sea stretched a rippling lagoon of the colour of
claret. Over the whole expanse there was but one boat visible, a
lugger, between Sennen and St. Agnes, beating homewards against a
light wind.

"It was a storm, I suppose," said I. "A storm out of the west?"

"No. There was no wind, but--there was a haze, and it was growing
dark." Mrs. Garstin spoke in a peculiar tone of resignation, with a
yearning glance towards the Bishop as I thought, towards the lugger as
I know. But even then I was sure that those last words: "There was a
haze and it was growing dark," concealed the heart of her distress.
She explained the inscription upon the tablet, while the lugger tacked
towards St. Mary's, and while I gradually began to wonder what still
kept her on the island.

At four o'clock on the afternoon of that Christmas Eve, the lighthouse
on St. Agnes' Island showed its lamps; five minutes later the red
beams struck out from Round Island to the north; but to the west on
the Bishop all was dark. The haze thickened, and night came on; still
there was no flash from the Bishop, and the islands wondered. Half an
hour passed; there was still darkness in the west, and the islands
became alarmed. The Trinity Brethren subsidise a St. Agnes' lugger to
serve the Bishop, and this boat was got ready. At a quarter to five
suddenly the Bishop light shot through the gloom, but immediately
after a shutter was interposed quickly some half-a-dozen times. It was
the signal of distress, and the lugger worked out to the Bishop with
the tide. Of the three keepers there were now only two.

It appeared from their account that Garstin took the middle day watch,
that they themselves were asleep, and that Garstin should have roused
them to light the lamps at a quarter to four. They woke of their own
accord in the dark, and at once believed they had slept into the
night. The clock showed them it was half-past four. They mounted to
the lantern room, and nowhere was there any sign of Garstin. They lit
the lamps. The first thing they saw was the log. It was open and the
last entry was written in Garstin's hand and was timed 3.40 P.M. It
mentioned a ketch reaching northwards. The two men descended the
winding-stairs, and the cold air breathed upon their faces. The brass
door at the foot of the stairs stood open. From that door thirty feet
of gun-metal rungs let in to the outside of the lighthouse lead down
to the set-off, which is a granite rim less than a yard wide, and
unprotected by any rail. They shouted downwards from the doorway,
and received no answer. They descended to the set-off, and again no
Garstin, not even his cap. He was not.

Garstin had entered up the log, had climbed down to the set-off for
five minutes of fresh air, and somehow had slipped, though the wind
was light and the sea whispering. But the whispering sea ran seven
miles an hour past the Bishop.

This was Mrs. Garstin's story and it left me still wondering why she
lived on at St. Mary's. I asked after her son.

"How is Leopold? What is he--a linen-draper?" She shaded her eyes with
her hand and said:

"That's the St. Agnes' lugger from the Bishop, and if we go down to
the pier now we shall meet it."

We walked down to the pier. The first person to step on shore was
Leopold, with the Trinity House buttons on his pilot coat.

"He's the third hand on the Bishop now," said Mrs. Garstin. "You are
surprised?" She sent Leopold into Hugh Town upon an errand, and as we
walked back up the hill she said: "Did you notice a grave underneath
John's tablet?"

"No," said I.

"I told you there was a mention in the log of a ketch."

"Yes."

"The ketch went ashore on the Crebinachs at half-past four on that
Christmas Eve. One man jumped for the rocks when the ketch struck, and
was drowned. The rest were brought off by the lugger. But one man was
drowned."

"He drowned because he jumped," said I.

"He drowned because my man hadn't lit the Bishop light," said she,
brushing my sophistry aside. "So I gave my boy in his place."

And now I knew why those words--"There was a haze and it was growing
dark"--held the heart of her distress.

"And if the Bishop goes next winter," she continued, "why, it will
just be a life for a life;" and she choked down a sob as a young voice
hailed us from behind.

But the Bishop still stands in the Atlantic, and Leopold, now the
second hand, explains to the Margate trippers the wonders of the North
Foreland lights.




THE CRUISE OF THE "WILLING MIND."


The cruise happened before the steam-trawler ousted the smack from the
North Sea. A few newspapers recorded it in half-a-dozen lines of
small print which nobody read. But it became and--though nowadays the
_Willing Mind_ rots from month to month by the quay--remains staple
talk at Gorleston ale-houses on winter nights.

The crew consisted of Weeks, three fairly competent hands, and a
baker's assistant, when the _Willing Mind_ slipped out of Yarmouth.
Alexander Duncan, the photographer from Derby, joined the smack
afterwards under peculiar circumstances. Duncan was a timid person,
but aware of his timidity. He was quite clear that his paramount
business was to be a man; and he was equally clear that he was not
successful in his paramount business. Meanwhile he pretended to be,
hoping that on some miraculous day a sudden test would prove the straw
man he was to have become real flesh and blood. A visit to a surgeon
and the flick of a knife quite shattered that illusion. He went
down to Yarmouth afterwards, fairly disheartened. The test had been
applied, and he had failed.

Now, Weeks was a particular friend of Duncan's. They had chummed
together on Gorleston Quay some years before, perhaps because they
were so dissimilar. Weeks had taught Duncan to sail a boat, and had
once or twice taken him for a short trip on his smack; so that the
first thing that Duncan did on his arrival at Yarmouth was to take the
tram to Gorleston and to make inquiries.

A fisherman lounging against a winch replied to them---

"If Weeks is a friend o' yours I should get used to missin' 'im, as I
tell his wife."

There was at that time an ingenious system by which the skipper might
buy his smack from the owner on the instalment plan--as people buy
their furniture--only with a difference: for people sometimes get
their furniture. The instalments had to be completed within a certain
period. The skipper could do it--he could just do it; but he couldn't
do it without running up one little bill here for stores, and another
little bill there for sail-mending. The owner worked in with the
sail-maker, and just as the skipper was putting out to earn his last
instalment, he would find the bailiffs on board, his cruise would be
delayed, he would be, consequently, behindhand with his instalment and
back would go the smack to the owner with a present of four-fifths of
its price. Weeks had to pay two hundred pounds, and had eight weeks to
earn it in. But he got the straight tip that his sail-maker would stop
him; and getting together any sort of crew he could, he slipped out at
night with half his stores.

"Now the No'th Sea," concluded the fisherman, "in November and
December ain't a bobby's job."

Duncan walked forward to the pier-head. He looked out at a grey
tumbled sky shutting down on a grey tumbled sea. There were flecks of
white cloud in the sky, flecks of white breakers on the sea, and it
was all most dreary. He stood at the end of the jetty, and his great
possibility came out of the grey to him. Weeks was shorthanded.
Cribbed within a few feet of the smack's deck, there would be no
chance for any man to shirk. Duncan acted on the impulse. He bought a
fisherman's outfit at Gorleston, travelled up to London, got a passage
the next morning on a Billingsgate fish-carrier, and that night went
throbbing down the great water street of the Swim, past the green
globes of the Mouse. The four flashes of the Outer Gabbard winked him
good-bye away on the starboard, and at eleven o'clock the next night
far out in the North Sea he saw the little city of lights swinging on
the Dogger.

The _Willing Mind's_ boat came aboard the next morning and Captain
Weeks with it, who smiled grimly while Duncan explained how he had
learnt that the smack was shorthanded.

"I can't put you ashore in Denmark," said Weeks knowingly. "There'll
be seven weeks, it's true, for things to blow over; but I'll have to
take you back to Yarmouth. And I can't afford a passenger. If you
come, you come as a hand. I mean to own my smack at the end of this
voyage."

Duncan climbed after him into the boat. The _Willing Mind_ had now
six for her crew, Weeks; his son Willie, a lad of sixteen; Upton,
the first hand; Deakin, the decky; Rall, the baker's assistant, and
Alexander Duncan. And of these six four were almost competent. Deakin,
it is true, was making his second voyage; but Willie Weeks, though
young, had begun early; and Upton, a man of forty, knew the banks and
currents of the North Sea as well as Weeks.

"It's all right," said the skipper, "if the weather holds." And for
a month the weather did hold, and the catches were good, and Duncan
learned a great deal. He learnt how to keep a night-watch from
midnight till eight in the morning, and then stay on deck till noon;
how to put his tiller up and down when his tiller was a wheel, and how
to vary the order according as his skipper stood to windward or to
lee; he learnt to box a compass and to steer by it; to gauge the
leeway he was making by the angle of his wake and the black line in
the compass; above all, he learnt to love the boat like a live thing,
as a man loves his horse, and to want every scanty inch of brass on
her to shine.

But it was not for this that Duncan had come out to sea. He gazed out
at night across the rippling starlit water, and the smacks nestling
upon it, and asked of his God: "Is this all?" And his God answered
him.

The beginning of it was the sudden looming of ships upon the horizon,
very clear, till they looked like carved toys. The skipper got out his
accounts and totted up his catches, and the prices they had fetched
in Billingsgate Market. Then he went on deck and watched the sun set.
There were no cloud-banks in the west, and he shook his head.

"It'll blow a bit from the east before morning," said he, and he
tapped on the barometer. Then he returned to his accounts and added
them up again. After a little he looked up, and saw the first hand
watching him with comprehension.

"Two or three really good hauls would do the trick," suggested Weeks.

The first hand nodded. "If it was my boat I should chance it to-morrow
before the weather blows up."

Weeks drummed his fists on the table and agreed.

On the morrow the Admiral headed north for the Great Fisher Bank, and
the fleet followed, with the exception of the _Willing Mind_. The
_Willing Mind_ lagged along in the rear without her topsails till
about half-past two in the afternoon, when Captain Weeks became
suddenly alert. He bore away till he was right before the wind,
hoisted every scrap of sail he could carry, rigged out a spinnaker
with his balloon fore-sail, and made a clean run for the coast of
Denmark. Deakin explained the manoeuvre to Duncan. "The old man's
goin' poachin'. He's after soles."

"Keep a look-out, lads!" cried Weeks. "It's not the Danish gun-boat
I'm afraid of; it's the fatherly English cruiser a-turning of us
back."

Darkness, however, found them unmolested. They crossed the three-mile
limit at eight o'clock, and crept close in under the Danish headlands
without a glimmer of light showing.

"I want all hands all night," said Weeks; "and there's a couple of
pounds for him as first see the bogey-man."

"Meaning the Danish gun-boat," explained Deakin.

The trawl was down before nine. The skipper stood by his lead. Upton
took the wheel, and all night they trawled in the shallows, bumping on
the grounds, with a sharp eye for the Danish gun-boat. They hauled in
at twelve and again at three and again at six, and they had just got
their last catch on deck when Duncan saw by the first grey of the
morning a dun-coloured trail of smoke hanging over a projecting knoll.

"There she is!" he cried.

"Yes, that's the gun-boat," answered Weeks. "We can laugh at her with
this wind."

He put his smack about, and before the gun-boat puffed round the
headland, three miles away, was reaching northwards with his sails
free. He rejoined the fleet that afternoon. "Fifty-two boxes of
soles!" said Weeks. "And every one of them worth two-pound-ten in
Billingsgate Market. This smack's mine!" and he stamped on the deck in
all the pride of ownership. "We'll take a reef in," he added. "There's
a no'th-easterly gale blowin' up and I don't know anything worse in
the No'th Sea. The sea piles in upon you from Newfoundland, piles in
till it strikes the banks. Then it breaks. You were right, Upton;
we'll be lying hove-to in the morning."

They were lying hove-to before the morning. Duncan, tossing about
in his canvas cot, heard the skipper stamping overhead, and in an
interval of the wind caught a snatch of song bawled out in a high
voice. The song was not reassuring, for the two lines which Duncan
caught ran as follows--

  You never can tell when your death-bells are ringing,
  Your never can know when you're going to die.

Duncan tumbled on to the floor, fell about the cabin as he pulled
on his sea-boots and climbed up the companion. He clung to the
mizzen-runners in a night of extraordinary blackness. To port and to
starboard the lights of the smacks rose on the crests and sank in the
troughs, with such violence they had the air of being tossed up into
the sky and then extinguished in the water; while all round him there
flashed little points of white which suddenly lengthened out into
a horizontal line. There was one quite close to the quarter of the
_Willing Mind_. It stretched about the height of the gaff in a line of
white. The line suddenly descended towards him and became a sheet; and
then a voice bawled, "Water! Jump! Down the companion! Jump!"

There was a scamper of heavy boots, and a roar of water plunging over
the bulwarks, as though so many loads of wood had been dropped on the
deck. Duncan jumped for the cabin. Weeks and the mate jumped the next
second and the water sluiced down after them, put out the fire, and
washed them, choking and wrestling, about on the cabin floor. Weeks
was the first to disentangle himself, and he turned fiercely on
Duncan.

"What were you doing on deck? Upton and I keep the watch to-night. You
stay below, and, by God, I'll see you do it! I have fifty-two boxes of
soles to put aboard the fish-cutter in the morning, and I'm not going
to lose lives before I do that! This smack's mine!"

Captain Weeks was transformed into a savage animal fighting for his
own. All night he and the mate stood on the deck and plunged down the
open companion with a torrent of water to hurry them. All night Duncan
lay in his bunk listening to the bellowing of the wind, the great
thuds of solid green wave on the deck, the horrid rush and roaring of
the seas as they broke loose to leeward from under the smack's keel.
And he listened to something more--the whimpering of the baker's
assistant in the next bunk. "Three inches of deck! What's the use
of it! Lord ha' mercy on me, what's the use of it? No more than an
eggshell! We'll be broken in afore morning, broken in like a man's
skull under a bludgeon.... I'm no sailor, I'm not; I'm a baker. It
isn't right I should die at sea!"

Duncan stopped his ears, and thought of the journey some one would
have to make to the fish-cutter in the morning. There were fifty-two
boxes of soles to be put aboard.

He remembered the waves and the swirl of foam upon their crests and
the wind. Two men would be needed to row the boat, and the boat must
make three trips. The skipper and the first hand had been on deck all
night. There remained four, or rather three, for the baker's assistant
had ceased to count--Willie Weeks, Deakin, and himself, not a great
number to choose from. He felt that he was within an ace of a panic,
and not so far, after all, from that whimperer his neighbour. Two men
to row the boat--two men! His hands clutched at the iron bar of his
hammock; he closed his eyes tight; but the words were thundered out at
him overhead, in the whistle of the wind, and slashed at him by the
water against the planks at his side. He found that his lips were
framing excuses.

Duncan was on deck when the morning broke. It broke extraordinarily
slowly, a niggardly filtering of grey, sad light from the under edge
of the sea. The bare topmasts of the smacks showed one after the
other. Duncan watched each boat as it came into view with a keen
suspense. This was a ketch, and that, and that other, for there was
the peak of its reefed mainsail just visible, like a bird's wing, and
at last he saw it--the fish-cutter--lurching and rolling in the very
middle of the fleet, whither she had crept up in the night. He stared
at it; his belly was pinched with fear as a starveling's with
hunger; and yet he was conscious that, in a way, he would have been
disappointed if it had not been there.

"No other smack is shipping its fish," quavered a voice at his elbow.
It was the voice of the baker's assistant.

"But this smack is," replied Weeks, and he set his mouth hard. "And,
what's more, my Willie is taking it aboard. Now, who'll go with
Willie?"

"I will."

Weeks swung round on Duncan and stared at him. Then he stared out to
sea. Then he stared again at Duncan.

"You?"

"When I shipped as a hand on the _Willing Mind_, I took all a hand's
risks."

"And brought the willing mind," said Weeks with a smile, "Go, then!
Some one must go. Get the boat tackle ready, forward. Here, Willie,
put your life-belt on. You, too, Duncan, though God knows life-belts
won't be of no manner of use; but they'll save your insurance. Steady
with the punt there! If it slips inboard off the rail there will be a
broken back! And, Willie, don't get under the cutter's counter. She'll
come atop of you and smash you like an egg. I'll drop you as close as
I can to windward, and pick you up as close as I can to leeward."

The boat was dropped into the water and loaded up with fish-boxes.
Duncan and Willie Weeks took their places, and the boat slid away into
a furrow. Duncan sat in the boat and rowed. Willie Weeks stood in the
stern, facing him, and rowed and steered.

"Water!" said Willie every now and then, and a wave curled over the
bows and hit Duncan a stunning blow on the back.

"Row," said Willie, and Duncan rowed and rowed. His hands were ice, he
sat in water ice-cold, and his body perspired beneath his oil-skins,
but he rowed. Once, on the crest of a wave, Duncan looked out and saw
below them the deck of a smack, and the crew looking upwards at them
as though they were a horserace. "Row!" said Willie Weeks. Once, too,
at the bottom of a slope down which they had bumped dizzily, Duncan
again looked out, and saw the spar of a mainmast tossing just over the
edge of a grey roller. "Row," said Weeks, and a moment later, "Ship
your oar!" and a rope caught him across the chest.

They were alongside the cutter.

Duncan made fast the rope.

"Push her off!" suddenly cried Willie, and grasped an oar. But he was
too late. The cutter's bulwarks swung down towards him, disappeared
under water, caught the punt fairly beneath the keel and scooped it
clean on to the deck, cargo and crew.

"And this is only the first trip!" said Willie.

The two following trips, however, were made without accident.

"Fifty-two boxes at two-pound-ten," said Weeks, as the boat was swung
inboard. "That's a hundred and four, and ten two's are twenty, and
carry two, and ten fives are fifty, and two carried, and twenties into
that makes twenty-six. One hundred and thirty pounds--this smack's
mine, every rope on her. I tell you what, Duncan: you've done me a
good turn to-day, and I'll do you another. I'll land you at Helsund,
in Denmark, and you can get clear away. All we can do now is to lie
out this gale."

Before the afternoon the air was dark with a swither of foam and spray
blown off the waves in the thickness of a fog. The heavy bows of
the smack beat into the seas with a thud and a hiss--the thud of a
steam-hammer, the hiss of molten iron plunged into water; the waves
raced exultingly up to the bows from windward, and roared angrily away
in a spume of foam from the ship's keel to lee; and the thrumming and
screaming of the storm in the rigging exceeded all that Duncan had
ever imagined. He clung to the stays appalled. This storm was surely
the perfect expression of anger, too persistent for mere fury. There
seemed to be a definite aim of destruction, a deliberate attempt to
wear the boat down, in the steady follow of wave upon wave, and in the
steady volume of the wind.

Captain Weeks, too, had lost all of a sudden all his exhilaration. He
stood moodily by Duncan's side, his mind evidently labouring like
his ship. He told Duncan stories which Duncan would rather not have
listened to, the story of the man who slipped as he stepped from the
deck into the punt, and weighted by his boots, had sunk down and down
and down through the clearest, calmest water without a struggle; the
story of the punt which got its painter under its keel and drowned
three men; the story of the full-rigged ship which got driven across
the seven-fathom part of the Dogger--the part that looks like a man's
leg in the chart--and which was turned upside-down through the bank
breaking. The skipper and the mate got outside and clung to her
bottom, and a steam-cutter tried to get them off, but smashed them
both with her iron counter instead.

"Look!" said Weeks, gloomily pointing his finger. "I don't know why
that breaker didn't hit us. I don't know what we should have done if
it had. I can't think why it didn't hit us! Are you saved?"

Duncan was taken aback, and answered vaguely--"I hope so."

"But you must know," said Weeks, perplexed. The wind made a
theological discussion difficult. Weeks curved his hand into a
trumpet, and bawled into Duncan's ear: "You are either saved or not
saved! It's a thing one knows. You must know if you are saved, if
you've felt the glow and illumination of it." He suddenly broke off
into a shout of triumph: "But I got my fish on board the cutter. The
_Willing Mind's_ the on'y boat that did." Then he relapsed again into
melancholy: "But I'm troubled about the poachin'. The temptation was
great, but it wasn't right; and I'm not sure but what this storm ain't
a judgment."

He was silent for a little, and then cheered up. "I tell you what.
Since we're hove-to, we'll have a prayer-meeting in the cabin to-night
and smooth things over."

The meeting was held after tea, by the light of a smoking
paraffin-lamp with a broken chimney. The crew sat round and smoked,
the companion was open, so that the swish of the water and the man on
deck alike joined in the hymns. Rail, the baker's assistant, who had
once been a steady attendant at Revivalist meetings, led off with a
Moody and Sankey hymn, and the crew followed, bawling at the top pitch
of their lungs, with now and then some suggestion of a tune. The
little stuffy cabin rang with the noise. It burst upwards through the
companion-way, loud and earnest and plaintive, and the winds caught
it and carried it over the water, a thin and appealing cry. After the
hymn Weeks prayed aloud, and extempore and most seriously. He
prayed for each member of the crew by name, one by one, taking the
opportunity to mention in detail each fault which he had had to
complain of, and begging that the offender's chastisement might be
light. Of Duncan he spoke in ambiguous terms.

"O Lord!" he prayed, "a strange gentleman, Mr. Duncan, has come
amongst us. O Lord! we do not know as much about Mr. Duncan as You do,
but still bless him, O Lord!" and so he came to himself.

"O Lord! this smack's mine, this little smack labouring in the North
Sea is mine. Through my poachin' and your lovin' kindness it's mine;
and, O Lord, see that it don't cost me dear!" And the crew solemnly
and fervently said "Amen!"

But the smack was to cost him dear. For in the morning Duncan woke to
find himself alone in the cabin. He thrust his head up the companion,
and saw Weeks with a very grey face standing by the lashed wheel.

"Halloa!" said Duncan. "Where's the binnacle?"

"Overboard," said Weeks.

Duncan looked round the deck.

"Where's Willie and the crew?"

"Overboard," said Weeks. "All except Rail! He's below deck forward and
clean daft. Listen and you'll hear 'im. He's singing hymns for those
in peril on the sea."

Duncan stared in disbelief. The skipper's face drove the disbelief out
of him.

"Why didn't you wake me?" he asked.

"What's the use? You want all the sleep you can get, because you an'
me have got to sail my smack into Yarmouth. But I was minded to call
you, lad," he said, with a sort of cry leaping from his throat. "The
wave struck us at about twelve, and it's been mighty lonesome on deck
since with Willie callin' out of the sea. All night he's been callin'
out of the welter of the sea. Funny that I haven't heard Upton or
Deakin, but on'y Willie! All night until daybreak he called, first on
one side of the smack and then on t'other, I don't think I'll tell his
mother that. An' I don't see how I'm to put you on shore in Denmark,
after all."

What had happened Duncan put together from the curt utterances of
Captain Weeks and the crazy lamentations of Rail. Weeks had roused all
hands except Duncan to take the last reef in. They were forward by the
mainmast at the time the wave struck them. Weeks himself was on the
boom, threading the reefing-rope through the eye of the sail. He
shouted "Water!" and the water came on board, carrying the three men
aft. Upton was washed over the taffrail. Weeks threw one end of the
rope down, and Rail and Willie caught it and were swept overboard,
dragging Weeks from the boom on to the deck and jamming him against
the bulwarks.

The captain held on to the rope, setting his feet against the side.
The smack lifted and dropped and tossed, and each movement wrenched
his arms. He could not reach a cleat. Had he moved he would have been
jerked overboard.

"I can't hold you both!" he cried, and then, setting his teeth and
hardening his heart, he addressed his words to his son: "Willie! I
can't hold you both!" and immediately the weight upon the rope was
less. With each drop of the stern the rope slackened, and Weeks
gathered the slack in. He could now afford to move. He made the rope
fast and hauled the one survivor on deck. He looked at him for a
moment. "Thank God, it's not my son!" he had the courage to say.

"And my heart's broke!" had gasped Rail. "Fair broke." And he had gone
forward and sung hymns.

They saw little more of Rall. He came aft and fetched his meals away;
but he was crazed and made a sort of kennel for himself forward, and
the two men left on the smack had enough upon their hands to hinder
them from waiting on him. The gale showed no sign of abatement; the
fleet was scattered; no glimpse of the sun was visible at any time;
and the compass was somewhere at the bottom of the sea.

"We may be making a bit of headway no'th, or a bit of leeway west,"
said Weeks, "or we may be doing a sternboard. All that I'm sure of
is that you and me are one day going to open Gorleston Harbour. This
smack's cost me too dear for me to lose her now. Lucky there's the
tell-tale compass in the cabin to show us the wind hasn't shifted."

All the energy of the man was concentrated upon this wrestle with the
gale for the ownership of the _Willing Mind_; and he imparted his
energy to his companion. They lived upon deck, wet and starved and
perishing with the cold--the cold of December in the North Sea, when
the spray cuts the face like a whip-cord. They ate by snatches when
they could, which was seldom; and they slept by snatches when they
could, which was even less often. And at the end of the fourth day
there came a blinding fall of snow and sleet, which drifted down
the companion, sheeted the ropes with ice, and hung the yards with
icicles, and which made every inch of brass a searing-iron and every
yard of the deck a danger to the foot.

It was when this storm began to fall that Weeks grasped Duncan
fiercely by the shoulder.

"What is it you did on land?" he cried. "Confess it, man! There may be
some chance for us if you go down on your knees and confess it."

Duncan turned as fiercely upon Weeks. Both men were overstrained with
want of food and sleep.

"I'm not your Jonah--don't fancy it! I did nothing on land!"

"Then what did you come out for?"

"What did you? To fight and wrestle for your ship, eh? Well, I came
out to fight and wrestle for my immortal soul, and let it go at that!"

Weeks turned away, and as he turned, slipped on the frozen deck. A
lurch of the smack sent him sliding into the rudder-chains, where he
lay. Once he tried to rise, and fell back. Duncan hauled himself along
the bulwarks to him.

"Hurt?"

"Leg broke. Get me down into the cabin. Lucky there's the tell-tale.
We'll get the _Willing Mind_ berthed by the quay, see if we don't."
That was still his one thought, his one belief.

Duncan hitched a rope round Weeks, underneath his arms, and lowered
him as gently as he could down the companion.

"Lift me on to the table so that my head's just beneath the compass!
Right! Now take a turn with the rope underneath the table, or I'll
roll off. Push an oily under my head, and then go for'ard and see if
you can find a fish-box. Take a look that the wheel's fast."

It seemed to Duncan that the last chance was gone. There was just one
inexperienced amateur to change the sails and steer a seventy-ton
ketch across the North Sea into Yarmouth Roads. He said nothing,
however, of his despair to the indomitable man upon the table, and
went forward in search of a fish-box. He split up the sides into rough
splints and came aft with them.

"Thank 'ee, lad," said Weeks. "Just cut my boot away, and fix it up
best you can."

The tossing of the smack made the operation difficult and long. Weeks,
however, never uttered a groan. Only Duncan once looked up, and
said--"Halloa! You've hurt your face too. There's blood on your chin!"

"That's all right!" said Weeks, with an effort. "I reckon I've just
bit through my lip."

Duncan stopped his work.

"You've got a medicine-chest, skipper, with some laudanum in it--?"

"Daren't!" replied Weeks. "There's on'y you and me to work the ship.
Fix up the job quick as you can, and I'll have a drink of Friar's
Balsam afterwards. Seems to me the gale's blowing itself out, and if
on'y the wind holds in the same quarter--" And thereupon he fainted.

Duncan bandaged up the leg, got Weeks round, gave him a drink of
Friar's Balsam, set the teapot within his reach, and went on deck. The
wind was going down; the air was clearer of foam. He tallowed the lead
and heaved it, and brought it down to Weeks. Weeks looked at the sand
stuck on the tallow and tasted it, and seemed pleased.

"This gives me my longitude," said he, "but not my latitude, worse
luck. Still, we'll manage it. You'd better get our dinner now; any odd
thing in the way of biscuits or a bit of cold fish will do, and then I
think we'll be able to run."

After dinner Duncan said: "I'll put her about now."

"No; wear her and let her jibe," said Weeks, "then you'll on'y have to
ease your sheets."

Duncan stood at the wheel, while Weeks, with the compass swinging
above his head, shouted directions through the companion. They sailed
the boat all that night with the wind on her quarter, and at daybreak
Duncan brought her to and heaved his lead again. There was rough sand
with blackish specks upon the tallow, and Weeks, when he saw it,
forgot his broken leg.

"My word," he cried, "we've hit the Fisher Bank! You'd best lash the
wheel, get our breakfast, and take a spell of sleep on deck. Tie a
string to your finger and pass it down to me, so that I can wake you
up."

Weeks waked him up at ten o'clock, and they ran southwest with a
steady wind till six, when Weeks shouted--

"Take another cast with your lead."

The sand upon the tallow was white like salt.

"Yes," said Weeks; "I thought we was hereabouts. We're on the edge of
the Dogger, and we'll be in Yarmouth by the morning." And all through
the night the orders came thick and fast from the cabin. Weeks was on
his own ground; he had no longer any need of the lead; he seemed no
longer to need his eyes; he felt his way across the currents from the
Dogger to the English coast; and at daybreak he shouted--

"Can you see land?"

"There's a mist."

"Lie to, then, till the sun's up."

Duncan lay the boat to for a couple of hours, till the mist was tinged
with gold and the ball of the sun showed red on his starboard quarter.
The mist sank, the brown sails of a smack thrust upwards through it;
coastwards it shifted and thinned and thickened, as though cunningly
to excite expectation as to what it hid. Again Weeks called out--

"See anything?"

"Yes," said Duncan, in a perplexed voice. "I see something. Looks like
a sort of mediaeval castle on a rock."

A shout of laughter answered him.

"That's the Gorleston Hotel. The harbour-mouth's just beneath. We've
hit it fine," and while he spoke the mist swept clear, and the long,
treeless esplanade of Yarmouth lay there a couple of miles from
Duncan's eyes, glistening and gilded in the sun like a row of dolls'
houses.

"Haul in your sheets a bit," said Weeks. "Keep no'th of the hotel, for
the tide'll set you up and we'll sail her in without dawdlin' behind
a tug. Get your mainsail down as best you can before you make the
entrance."

Half an hour afterwards the smack sailed between the pier-heads.

"Who are you?" cried the harbour-master.

"The _Willing Mind_."

"The _Willing Mind's_ reported lost with all hands."

"Well, here's the _Willing Mind_," said Duncan, "and here's one of the
hands."

The irrepressible voice bawled up the companion to complete the
sentence--

"And the owner's reposin' in his cabin." But in a lower key he added
words for his own ears. "There's the old woman to meet. Lord! but the
_Willing Mind_ has cost me dear."




HOW BARRINGTON RETURNED TO JOHANNESBURG.


Norris wanted a holiday. He stood in the marketplace looking
southwards to the chimney-stacks, and dilating upon the subject to
three of his friends. He was sick of the Stock Exchange, the men, the
women, the drinks, the dances--everything. He was as indifferent to
the price of shares as to the rise and fall of the quicksilver in his
barometer; he neither desired to go in on the ground floor nor to come
out in the attics. He simply wanted to get clean away. Besides he
foresaw a slump, and he would be actually saving money on the veld. At
this point Teddy Isaacs strolled up and interrupted the oration.

"Where are you off to, then?"

"Manicaland," answered Norris.

"Oh! You had better bring Barrington back."

Teddy Isaacs was a fresh comer to the Rand, and knew no better.
Barrington meant to him nothing more than the name of a man who had
been lost twelve months before on the eastern borders of Mashonaland.
But he saw three pairs of eyebrows lift simultaneously, and heard
three simultaneous outbursts on the latest Uitlander grievance.
However, Norris answered him quietly enough.

"Yes, if I come across Barrington, I'll bring him back." He nodded his
head once or twice and smiled. "You may make sure of that," he added,
and turned away from the group.

Isaacs gathered that there had been trouble between Barrington
and Morris, and applied to his companions for information. The
commencement of the trouble, he was told, dated back to the time when
the two men were ostrich-farming side by side, close to Port Elizabeth
in the Cape Colony. Norris owned a wife; Barrington did not. The story
was sufficiently ugly as Johannesburg was accustomed to relate it, but
upon this occasion Teddy Isaacs was allowed to infer the details. He
was merely put in possession of the more immediate facts. Barrington
had left the Cape Colony in a hurry, and coming north to the Transvaal
when Johannesburg was as yet in its brief infancy, had prospered
exceedingly. Meanwhile, Norris, as the ostrich industry declined, had
gone from worse to worse, and finally he too drifted to Johannesburg
with the rest of the flotsam of South Africa. He came to the town
alone, and met Barrington one morning eye to eye on the Stock
Exchange. A certain amount of natural disappointment was expressed
when the pair were seen to separate without hostilities; but it was
subsequently remarked that they were fighting out their duel, though
not in the conventional way. They fought with shares, and Barrington
won. He had the clearer head, and besides, Norris didn't need much
ruining; Barrington could see to that in his spare time. It was, in
fact, as though Norris stood up with a derringer to face a machine
gun. His turn, however, had come after Barrington's disappearance, and
he was now able to contemplate an expedition into Manicaland without
reckoning up his pass-book.

He bought a buck-wagon with a tent covering over the hinder part,
provisions sufficient for six months, a span of oxen, a couple of
horses salted for the thickhead sickness, hired a Griqua lad as
wagon-driver, and half a dozen Matabele boys who were waiting for a
chance to return, and started northeastward.

From Johannesburg he travelled to Makoni's town, near the Zimbabwe
ruins, and with half a dozen brass rings and an empty cartridge case
hired a Ma-ongwi boy, who had been up to the Mashonaland plateau
before. The lad guided him to the head waters of the Inyazuri, and
there Norris fenced in his camp, in a grass country fairly wooded, and
studded with gigantic blocks of granite.

The Ma-ongwi boy chose the site, fifty yards west of an ant-heap, and
about a quarter of a mile from a forest of machabel. He had camped on
the spot before, he said.

"When?" asked Norris.

"Twice," replied the boy. "Three years ago and last year."

"Last year?" Norris looked up with a start of surprise. "You were up
here last year?"

"Yes!"

For a moment or two Norris puffed at his pipe, then he asked slowly--

"Who with?"

"Mr. Barrington," the boy told him, and added, "It is his wagon-track
which we have been following."

Norris rose from the ground, and walked straight ahead for the
distance of a hundred yards until he reached a jasmine bush, which
stood in a bee-line with the opening of his camp fence. Thence he
moved round in a semicircle until he came upon a wagon-track in the
rear of the camp, and, after pausing there, he went forward again, and
completed the circle. He returned to his wagon chuckling. Barrington,
he remembered, had been lost while travelling northwards to the
Zambesie; but the track stopped here. There was not a trace of it to
the north or the east or the west. It was evident that the boy had
chosen Barrington's last camping-ground as the site for his own, and
he discovered a comforting irony in the fact. He felt that he was
standing in Barrington's shoes.

That night, as he was smoking by the fire, he called out to the
Ma-ongwi boy. The lad came forward from his hut behind the wagon.

"Tell me how you lost him," said Norris.

"He rode that way alone after a sable antelope." The boy pointed an
arm to the southwest. "The beast was wounded, and we followed its
blood-spoor. We found Mr. Barrington's horse gored by the antelope's
horns. He himself had gone forward on foot. We tracked him to a little
stream, but the opposite bank was trampled, and we lost all sign of
him." This is what the boy said though his language is translated.

Norris remained upon this encampment for a fortnight. Blue
wildebeests, koodoos, elands, and gems-bok were plentiful, and once he
got a shot at a wart-hog boar. At the end of the fortnight he walked
round the ant-heap early one morning, and of a sudden plumped down
full length in the grass. Straight in front of him he saw a herd of
buffaloes moving in his direction down a glade of the forest a quarter
of a mile away. Norris cast a glance backwards; the camp was hidden
from the herd by the intervening ant-heap. He looked again towards the
forest; the buffaloes advanced slowly, pasturing as they moved. Norris
crawled behind the ant-heap on his hands and knees, ran thence into
the camp, buckled on a belt of cartridges, snatched up a 450-bore
Metford rifle, and got back to his position just as the first of the
herd stepped into the open. It turned to the right along the edge of
the wood, and the others followed in file. Norris wriggled forward
through the grass, and selecting a fat bull in the centre of the line,
aimed behind its shoulder and fired. The herd stampeded into the
forest, the bull fell in its tracks.

Norris sprang forward with a shout; but he had not run more than
thirty yards before the bull began to kick. It kneeled upon its
forelegs, rose thence on to its hind legs, and finally stood up.
Norris guessed what had happened. He had hit the bull in the neck
instead of behind the shoulders, and had broken no bones. He fired
his second barrel as the brute streamed away in an oblique line
southeastwards from the wood, and missed. Then he ran back to camp,
slapped a bridle on to his swiftest horse, and without waiting to
saddle it, sprang on its back and galloped in pursuit. He rode as it
were along the base of a triangle, whereas the bull galloped from the
apex, and since his breakfast was getting hot behind him, he wished
to make that triangle an isosceles. So he jammed his heels into his
horse's ribs, and was fast drawing within easy range, when the buffalo
got his wind and swerved on the instant into a diagonal course due
southwest.

The manoeuvre left Norris directly behind his quarry, and with a long,
stern chase in prospect. However, his blood was up, and he held on to
wear the beast down. He forgot his breakfast; he took no more than a
casual notice of the direction he was following; he simply braced his
knees in a closer grip, while the distorted shadows of himself and the
horse lengthened and thinned along the ground as the sun rose over his
right shoulder.

Suddenly the buffalo disappeared in a dip of the veld, and a few
moments later came again into view a good hundred yards further to the
south. Norris pulled his left rein, and made for the exact spot at
which the bull had reappeared. He found himself on the edge of a tiny
cliff which dropped twenty feet in a sheer fall to a little stream,
and he was compelled to ride along the bank until he reached the
incline which the buffalo had descended. He forded the stream,
galloped under the opposite bank across a patch of ground which had
been trampled into mud by the hoofs of beasts coming here to water,
and mounted again to the open. The bull had gained a quarter of a
mile's grace from his mistake, and was heading straight for a huge
cone of granite.

Norris recognised the cone. It towered up from the veld, its cliffs
seamed into gullies by the rain-wash of ages, and he had used it more
than once as a landmark during the last fortnight, for it rose due
southwest of his camp.

He watched the bull approach the cone and vanish into one of the
gullies. It did not reappear, and he rode forward, keeping a close eye
upon the gully. As he came opposite to it, however, he saw through the
opening a vista of green trees flashing in the sunlight. He turned his
horse through the passage, and reined up in a granite amphitheatre.
The floor seemed about half a mile in diameter; it was broken into
hillocks, and strewn with patches of a dense undergrowth, while here
and there a big tree grew. The walls, which converged slightly towards
an open top, were robed from summit to base with wild flowers, so that
the whole circumference of the cone was one blaze of colour.

Norris hitched forward and reloaded the rifle. Then he advanced slowly
between the bushes on the alert for a charge from the wounded bull;
but nothing stirred. No sound came to his ears except the soft padding
noise of his horse's hoofs upon the turf. There was not a crackle
of the brushwood, and the trees seemed carved out of metal. He rode
through absolute silence in a suspension of all movement. Once his
horse trod upon a bough, and the snapping of the twigs sounded like so
many cracks of a pistol. At first the silence struck Norris as merely
curious, a little later as very lonesome. Once or twice he stopped his
horse with a sudden jerk of the reins, and sat crouched forwards with
his neck outstretched, listening. Once or twice he cast a quick,
furtive glance over his shoulder to make certain that no one stood
between himself and the entrance to the hollow. He forgot the buffalo;
he caught himself labouring his breath, and found it necessary to
elaborately explain the circumstance in his thoughts on the ground of
heat.

The next moment he began to plead this heat not merely as an excuse
for his uneasiness, but as a reason for returning to camp. The heat
was intense, he argued. Above him the light of an African midday sun
poured out of a brassy sky into a sort of inverted funnel, and lay in
blinding pools upon the scattered slabs of rock. Within the hollow,
every cup of the innumerable flowers which tapestried the cliffs
seemed a mouth breathing heat. He became possessed with a parching
thirst, and he felt his tongue heavy and fibrous like a dried fig.
There was, however, one obstacle which prevented him from acting upon
his impulse, and that obstacle was his sense of shame. It was not so
much that he thought it cowardly to give up the chase and quietly
return, but he knew that the second after he had given way, he would
be galloping madly towards the entrance in no child's panic of terror.
He finally compromised matters by dropping the reins upon his horse's
neck in the unformulated hope that the animal would turn of its own
accord; but the horse kept straight on.

As Norris drew towards the innermost wall of granite, there was a
quick rustle all across its face as though the screen of shrubs and
flowers had been fluttered by a draught of wind. Norris drew himself
erect with a distinct appearance of relief, loosened the clench of his
fingers upon his rifle, and began once more to search the bushes for
the buffalo.

For a moment his attention was arrested by a queer object lying upon
the ground to his left. It was in shape something like a melon, but
bigger, and it seemed to be plastered over with a black mould. Norris
rode by it, turned a corner, and then with a gasp reined back his
horse upon its haunches. Straight in front of him a broken rifle lay
across the path.

Norris stood still, and stared at it stupidly. Some vague recollection
floated elusively through his brain. He tried to grasp and fix it
clearly in his mind. It was a recollection of something which had
happened a long while ago, in England, when he was at school.
Suddenly, he remembered. It was not something which had happened, but
something he had read under the great elm trees in the close. It was
that passage in _Robinson Crusoe_ which tells of the naked footprint
in the sand.

Norris dismounted, and stooped to lift the rifle; but all at once he
straightened himself, and swung round with his arms guarding his head.
There was no one, however, behind him, and he gave a little quavering
laugh, and picked up the rifle. It was a heavy lo-bore Holland, a
Holland with a single barrel, and that barrel was twisted like a
corkscrew. The lock had been wrenched off, and there were marks upon
the stock--marks of teeth, and other queer, unintelligible marks as
well.

Norris held the rifle in his hands, gazing vacantly straight ahead. He
was thinking of the direction in which he had come, southwest, and of
the stream which he had crossed, and of the patch of trampled mud,
where track obliterated track. He dropped the rifle. It rang upon a
stone, and again the screen of foliage shivered and rustled. Norris,
however, paid no attention to the movement, but ran back to that
object which he had passed, and took it in his hands.

It was oval in shape, being slightly broader at one end than the
other. Norris drew his knife and cleaned the mould from one side
of it. To the touch of the blade it seemed softer than stone, and
smoother than wood. "More like bone," he said to himself. In the side
which he had cleaned, there was a little round hole filled up with
mould. Norris dug his knife in and scraped round the hole as one
cleans a caked pipe. He drew out a little cube of mud. There was a
second corresponding hole on the other side. He turned the narrower
end of the thing upwards. It was hollow, he saw, but packed full of
mould, and more deliberately packed, for there were finger-marks in
the mould. "What an aimless trick!" he muttered vaguely.

He carried the thing back to the rifle, and, comparing them,
understood those queer marks upon the stock. They were the mark of
fingers, of human fingers, impressed faintly upon the wood with
superhuman strength. He was holding the rifle in his hands and looking
down at it; but he saw below the rifle, and he saw that his knees were
shaking in a palsy.

On an instant he tossed the rifle away, and laughed to reassure
himself--laughed out boldly, once, twice; and then he stopped with his
eyes riveted upon the granite wall. At each laugh that he gave the
shrubs and flowers rippled, and shook the sunlight from their leaves.
For the first time he remarked the coincidence as something strange.
He lifted up his face, but not a breath of air fanned it; he looked
across the hollow, the trees and bushes stood immobile. He laughed a
third time, louder than before, and all at once his laughter got hold
of him; he sent it pealing out hysterically, burst after burst, until
the hollow seemed brimming with the din of it. His body began to
twist; he beat time to his laughter with his feet, and then he danced.
He danced there alone in the African sunlight faster and faster, with
a mad tossing of his limbs, and with his laughter grown to a yell. And
as though to keep pace with him, each moment the shiver of the foliage
increased. Up and down, crosswise and breadthwise, the flowers were
tossed and flung, while their petals rained down the cliff's face in
a purple storm. It appeared, indeed, to Norris that the very granite
walls were moving.

In the midst of his dance he kicked something and stumbled. He
stopped dead when he saw what that something was. It was the queer,
mud-plastered object which he had compared with the broken rifle, and
the sight of it recalled him to his wits. He tucked it hastily beneath
his jacket, and looked about him for his horse. The horse was standing
behind him some distance away, and nearer to the cliff. Norris
snatched up his own rifle, and ran towards it. His hand was on the
horse's mane, when just above its head he noticed a clean patch of
granite, and across that space he saw a huge grey baboon leap, and
then another, and another. He turned about, and looked across to the
opposite wall, straining his eyes, and a second later to the wall on
his right. Then he understood; the twisted rifle, the finger marks,
this thing which he held under his coat, he understood them all. The
walls of the hollow were alive with baboons, and the baboons were
making along the cliffs for the entrance.

Norris sprang on to his horse, and kicked and beat it into a gallop.
He had only to traverse the length of a diameter, he told himself, the
baboons the circumference of a circle. He had covered three-quarters
of the distance when he heard a grunt, and from a bush fifty yards
ahead the buffalo sprang out and came charging down at him.

Norris gave one scream of terror, and with that his nerves steadied
themselves. He knew that it was no use firing at the front of a
buffalo's head when the beast was charging. He pulled a rein and
swerved to the left; the bull made a corresponding turn. A moment
afterwards Norris swerved back into his former course, and shot just
past the bull's flanks. He made no attempt to shoot them; he held his
rifle ready in his hands, and looked forwards. When he was fifty yards
from the passage he saw the first baboon perched upon a shoulder of
rock above the entrance. He lifted his rifle, and fired at a venture.
He saw the brute's arms wave in the air, and heard a dull thud on the
ground behind him as he drove through the gully and out on to the open
veld.

The next morning Norris broke up his camp, and started homewards for
Johannesburg. He went down to the Stock Exchange on the day of his
arrival, and chanced upon Teddy Isaacs.

"What's that?" asked Isaacs, touching a bulge of his coat.

"That?" replied Norris, unfastening the buttons. "I told you I would
bring back Barrington if I found him," and he trundled a scoured and
polished skull across the floor of the Stock Exchange.




HATTERAS.


The story was told to us by James Walker in the cabin of a seven-ton
cutter one night when we lay anchored in Helford river. It was towards
the end of September; during this last week the air had grown chilly
with the dusk, and the sea when it lost the sun took on a leaden and a
dreary look. There was no other boat in the wooded creek and the swish
of the tide against the planks had a very lonesome sound. All the
circumstances I think provoked Walker to tell the story but most of
all the lonely swish of the tide against the planks. For it is the
story of a man's loneliness and the strange ways into which loneliness
misled him. However, let the story speak for itself.

Hatteras and Walker had been schoolfellows, though never schoolmates.
Hatteras indeed was the head of the school and prophecy vaguely
sketched out for him a brilliant career in some service of importance.
The definite law, however, that the sins of the fathers shall be
visited upon the children, overbore the prophecy. Hatteras, the
father, disorganised his son's future by dropping unexpectedly through
one of the trap ways of speculation into the bankruptcy court beneath
just two months before Hatteras, the son, was to have gone up to
Oxford. The lad was therefore compelled to start life in a stony world
with a stock in trade which consisted of a school boy's command of the
classics, a real inborn gift of tongues and the friendship of James
Walker. The last item proved of the most immediate value. For Walker,
whose father was the junior partner in a firm of West African
merchants, obtained for Hatteras an employment as the bookkeeper at a
branch factory in the Bight of Benin.

Thus the friends parted. Hatteras went out to West Africa alone and
met with a strange welcome on the day when he landed. The incident
did not come to Walker's ears until some time afterwards, nor when he
heard of it did he at once appreciate the effect which it had upon
Hatteras. But chronologically it comes into the story at this point,
and so may as well be immediately told.

There was no settlement very near to the factory. It stood by itself
on the swamps of the Forcados river with the mangrove forest closing
in about it. Accordingly the captain of the steamer just put
Hatteras ashore in a boat and left him with his traps on the beach.
Half-a-dozen Kru boys had come down from the factory to receive him,
but they could speak no English, and Hatteras at this time could speak
no Kru. So that although there was no lack of conversation there was
not much interchange of thought. At last Hatteras pointed to his
traps. The Kru boys picked them up and preceded Hatteras to the
factory. They mounted the steps to the verandah on the first floor and
laid their loads down. Then they proceeded to further conversation.
Hatteras gathered from their excited faces and gestures that they
wished to impart information, but he could make neither head nor tail
of a word they said and at last he retired from the din of their
chatter through the windows of a room which gave on the verandah, and
sat down to wait for his superior, the agent. It was early in the
morning when Hatteras landed and he waited until midday patiently. In
the afternoon it occurred to him that the agent would have shown
a kindly consideration if he had left a written message or an
intelligible Kru boy to receive him. It is true that the blacks came
in at intervals and chattered and gesticulated, but matters were not
thereby appreciably improved. He did not like to go poking about the
house, so he contemplated the mud-banks and the mud-river and the
mangrove forest, and cursed the agent. The country was very quiet.
There are few things in the world quieter than a West African forest
in the daytime. It is obtrusively, emphatically quiet. It does not
let you forget how singularly quiet it is. And towards sundown the
quietude began to jar on Hatteras' nerves. He was besides very hungry.
To while away the time he took a stroll round the verandah.

He walked along the side of the house towards the back, and as he
neared the back he head a humming sound. The further he went the
louder it grew. It was something like the hum of a mill, only not so
metallic and not so loud; and it came from the rear of the house.

Hatteras turned the corner and what he saw was this--a shuttered
window and a cloud of flies. The flies were not aimlessly swarming
outside the window; they streamed in through the lattices of the
shutters in a busy practical way; they came in columns from the forest
and converged upon the shutters; and the hum sounded from within the
room.

Hatteras looked about for a Kru boy just for the sake of company, but,
at that moment there was not one to be seen. He felt the cold strike
at his spine, he went back to the room in which he had been sitting.
He sat again, but he sat shivering. The agent had left no work for
him.... The Kru boys had been anxious to explain something. The
humming of the flies about that shuttered window seemed to Hatteras
to have more explicit language than the Kru boys' chatterings. He
penetrated into the interior of the house, and reckoned up the doors.
He opened one of them ever so slightly, and the buzzing came through
like the hum of a wheel in a factory, revolving in the collar of
a strap. He flung the door open and stood upon the threshold. The
atmosphere of the room appalled him; he felt the sweat break cold upon
his forehead and a deadly sickness in all his body. Then he nerved
himself to enter.

At first he saw little because of the gloom. In a moment, however, he
made out a bed stretched along the wall and a thing stretched upon the
bed. The thing was more or less shapeless because it was covered with
a black, furry sort of rug. Hatteras, however, had little trouble in
defining it. He knew now for certain what it was that the Kru boys had
been so anxious to explain to him. He approached the bed and bent over
it, and as he bent over it the horrible thing occurred which left so
vivid an impression on Hatteras. The black, furry rug suddenly lifted
itself from the bed, beat about Hatteras' face, and dissolved into
flies. The Kru boys found Hatteras in a dead swoon on the floor
half-an-hour later, and next day, of course, he was down with the
fever. The agent had died of it three days before.

Hatteras recovered from the fever, but not from the impression. It
left him with a prevailing sense of horror and, at first, with a sense
of disgust too. "It's a damned obscene country," he would say. But he
stayed in it, for he had no choice. All the money which he could save
went to the support of his family, and for six years the firm he
served moved him from district to district, from factory to factory.

Now the second item in the stock in trade was a gift of tongues and
about this time it began to bring him profit. Wherever Hatteras was
posted, he managed to pick up a native dialect and with the dialect
inevitably a knowledge of native customs. Dialects are numerous on the
west coast, and at the end of six years, Hatteras could speak as many
of them as some traders could enumerate. Languages ran in his blood;
because he acquired a reputation for knowledge and was offered service
under the Niger Protectorate, so that when two years later, Walker
came out to Africa to open a new branch factory at a settlement on the
Bonny river, he found Hatteras stationed in command there.

Hatteras, in fact, went down to Bonny river town to meet the steamer
which brought his friend.

"I say, Dick, you look bad," said Walker.

"People aren't, as a rule, offensively robust about these parts."

"I know that; but your the weariest bag of bones I've ever seen."

"Well, look at yourself in a glass a year from now for my double,"
said Hatteras, and the pair went up river together.

"Your factory's next to the Residency," said Hatteras. "There's a
compound to each running down to the river, and there's a palisade
between the compounds. I've cut a little gate in the palisade as it
will shorten the way from one house to the other."

The wicket gate was frequently used during the next few
months--indeed, more frequently than Walker imagined. He was only
aware that, when they were both at home, Hatteras would come through
it of an evening and smoke on his verandah. Then he would sit
for hours cursing the country, raving about the lights in
Piccadilly-circus, and offering his immortal soul in exchange for a
comic-opera tune played upon a barrel-organ. Walker possessed a big
atlas, and one of Hatteras' chief diversions was to trace with his
finger a bee-line across the African continent and the Bay of Biscay
until he reached London.

More rarely Walker would stroll over to the Residency, but he soon
came to notice that Hatteras had a distinct preference for the factory
and for the factory verandah. The reason for the preference puzzled
Walker considerably. He drew a quite erroneous conclusion that
Hatteras was hiding at the Residency--well, some one whom it was
prudent, especially in an official, to conceal. He abandoned the
conclusion, however, when he discovered that his friend was in the
habit of making solitary expeditions. At times Hatteras would be
absent for a couple of days, at times for a week, and, so far as
Walker could ascertain, he never so much as took a servant with him
to keep him company. He would simply announce at night his intended
departure, and in the morning he would be gone. Nor on his return
did he ever offer to Walker any explanation of his journeys. On one
occasion, however, Walker broached the subject. Hatteras had come back
the night before, and he sat crouched up in a deck chair, looking
intently into the darkness of the forest.

"I say," asked Walker, "isn't it rather dangerous to go slumming about
West Africa alone?"

Hatteras did not reply for a moment. He seemed not to have heard the
suggestion, and when he did speak it was to ask a quite irrelevant
question.

"Have you ever seen the Horse Guards' Parade on a dark, rainy night?"
he asked; but he never moved his head, he never took his eyes from
the forest. "The wet level of ground looks just like a lagoon and the
arches a Venice palace above it."

"But look here, Dick!" said Walker, keeping to his subject. "You never
leave word when you are coming back. One never knows that you have
come back until you show yourself the morning after."

"I think," said Hatteras slowly, "that the finest sight in the world
is to be seen from the bridge in St. James's Park when there's a State
ball on at Buckingham Palace and the light from the windows reddens
the lake and the carriages glance about the Mall like fireflies."

"Even your servants don't know when you come back," said Walker.

"Oh," said Hatteras quietly, "so you have been asking questions of my
servants?"

"I had a good reason," replied Walker, "your safety," and with that
the conversation dropped.

Walker watched Hatteras. Hatteras watched the forest. A West African
mangrove forest at night is full of the eeriest, queerest sounds that
ever a man's ears harkened to. And the sounds come not so much from
the birds, or the soughing of the branches; they seem to come from the
swamp life underneath the branches, at the roots of trees. There's
a ceaseless stir as of a myriad of reptiles creeping in the slime.
Listen long enough and you will fancy that you hear the whirr and rush
of innumerable crabs, the flapping of innumerable fish. Now and again
a more distinctive sound emerges from the rest--the croaking of a
bull-frog, the whining cough of a crocodile. At such sounds Hatteras
would start up in his chair and cock his head like a dog in a room
that hears another dog barking in the street.

"Doesn't it sound damned wicked?" he said, with a queer smile of
enjoyment.

Walker did not answer. The light from a lamp in the room behind them
struck obliquely upon Hatteras' face and slanted off from it in a
narrowing column until it vanished in a yellow thread among the leaves
of the trees. It showed that the same enjoyment which ran in Hatteras'
voice was alive upon his face. His eyes, his ears, were alert, and he
gently opened and shut his mouth with a little clicking of the teeth.
In some horrible way he seemed to have something in common with, he
appeared almost to participate in, the activity of the swamp. Thus,
had Walker often seen him sit, but never with the light so clear upon
his face, and the sight gave to him a quite new impression of his
friend. He wondered whether all these months his judgment had been
wrong. And out of that wonder a new thought sprang into his mind.

"Dick," he said, "this house of mine stands between your house and
the forest. It stands on the borders of the trees, on the edge of the
swamp. Is that why you always prefer it to your own?"

Hatteras turned his head quickly towards his companion, almost
suspiciously. Then he looked back into the darkness, and after a
little he said:--

"It's not only the things you care about, old man, which tug at you,
it's the things you hate as well. I hate this country. I hate these
miles and miles of mangroves, and yet I am fascinated. I can't get the
forest and the undergrowth out of my mind. I dream of them at nights.
I dream that I am sinking into that black oily batter of mud. Listen,"
and he suddenly broke off with his head stretched forwards. "Doesn't
it sound wicked?"

"But all this talk about London?" cried Walker.

"Oh, don't you understand?" interrupted Hatteras roughly. Then he
changed his tone and gave his reason. "One has to struggle against a
fascination of that sort. It's devil's work. So for all I am worth I
talk about London."

"Look here, Dick," said Walker. "You had better get leave and go back
to the old country for a spell."

"A very solid piece of advice," said Hatteras, and he went home to the
Residency.


II.

The next morning he had again disappeared. But Walker discovered upon
his table a couple of new volumes. He glanced at the titles. They were
Burton's account of his pilgrimage to al-Madinah and Mecca.

Five nights afterwards Walker was smoking a pipe on the verandah when
he fancied that he heard a rubbing, scuffling sound as if some one
very cautiously was climbing over the fence of his compound. The moon
was low in the sky and dipping down toward the forest; indeed the rim
of it touched the tree-tops so that while a full half of the enclosure
was bare to the yellow light that half which bordered on the forest
was inky black in shadow; and it was from the furthest corner of this
second half that the sound came. Walker bent forward listening. He
heard the sound again, and a moment after another sound, which left
him in no doubt. For in that dark corner he knew that a number of
palisades for repairing the fence were piled and the second sound
which he heard was a rattle as some one stumbled against them. Walker
went inside and fetched a rifle.

When he came back he saw a negro creeping across the bright open space
towards the Residency. Walker hailed to him to stop. Instead the negro
ran. He ran towards the wicket gate in the palisades. Walker shouted
again; the figure only ran the faster. He had covered half the
distance before Walker fired. He clutched his right forearm with his
left hand, but he did not stop. Walker fired again, this time at his
legs, and the man dropped to the ground. Walker heard his servants
stirring as he ran down the steps. He crossed quickly to the negro
and the negro spoke to him, but in English, and with the voice of
Hatteras.

"For God's sake keep your servants off!"

Walker ran to the house, met his servants at the foot of the steps,
and ordered them back. He had shot at a monkey he said. Then he
returned to Hatteras.

"Dicky, are you hurt?" he whispered.

"You hit me each time you fired, but not very badly I think."

He bandaged Hatteras' arm and thigh with strips of his shirt and
waited by his side until the house was quiet. Then he lifted him and
carried him across the enclosure to the steps and up the steps into
his bedroom. It was a long and fatiguing process. For one thing Walker
dared make no noise and must needs tread lightly with his load; for
another, the steps were steep and ricketty, with a narrow balustrade
on each side waist high. It seemed to Walker that the day would dawn
before he reached the top. Once or twice Hatteras stirred in his arms,
and he feared the man would die then and there. For all the time his
blood dripped and pattered like heavy raindrops on the wooden steps.

Walker laid Hatteras on his bed and examined his wounds. One bullet
had passed through the fleshy part of the forearm, the other through
the fleshy part of his right thigh. But no bones were broken and no
arteries cut. Walker lit a fire, baked some plaintain leaves, and
applied them as a poultice. Then he went out with a pail of water and
scrubbed down the steps.

Again he dared not make any noise, and it was close on daybreak before
he had done. His night's work, however, was not ended. He had still to
cleanse the black stain from Hatteras' skin, and the sun was up before
he stretched a rug upon the ground and went to sleep with his back
against the door.

"Walker," Hatteras called out in a low voice, an hour or so later.

Walker woke up and crossed over to the bed.

"Dicky, I'm frightfully sorry. I couldn't know it was you."

"That's all right, Jim. Don't you worry about that. What I wanted to
say was that nobody had better know. It wouldn't do, would it, if it
got about?"

"Oh, I am not so sure. People would think it rather a creditable
proceeding."

Hatteras shot a puzzled look at his friend. Walker, however, did not
notice it, and continued, "I saw Burton's account of his pilgrimage in
your room; I might have known that journeys of the kind were just the
sort of thing to appeal to you."

"Oh, yes, that's it," said Hatteras, lifting himself up in bed. He
spoke eagerly--perhaps a thought too eagerly. "Yes, that's it. I have
always been keen on understanding the native thoroughly. It's after
all no less than one's duty if one has to rule them, and since I could
speak their lingo--" he broke off and returned to the subject which
had prompted him to rouse Walker. "But, all the same, it wouldn't do
if the natives got to know."

"There's no difficulty about that," said Walker. "I'll give out
that you have come back with the fever and that I am nursing you.
Fortunately there's no doctor handy to come making inconvenient
examinations."

Hatteras knew something of surgery, and under his directions Walker
poulticed and bandaged him until he recovered. The bandaging, however,
was amateurish, and, as a result, the muscles contracted in Hatteras'
thigh and he limped--ever so slightly, still he limped--he limped
to his dying day. He did not, however, on that account abandon his
explorations, and more than once Walker, when his lights were out and
he was smoking a pipe on the verandah, would see a black figure with
a trailing walk cross his compound and pass stealthily through the
wicket in the fence. Walker took occasion to expostulate with his
friend.

"It's too dangerous a game for a man to play for any length of time.
It is doubly dangerous now that you limp. You ought to give it up."

Hatteras made a strange reply.

"I'll try to," he said.

Walker pondered over the words for some time. He set them side by side
in his thoughts with that confession which Hatteras had made to
him one evening. He asked himself whether, after all, Hatteras'
explanation of his conduct was sincere, whether it was really a
desire to know the native thoroughly which prompted these mysterious
expeditions; and then he remembered that he himself had first
suggested the explanation to Hatteras. Walker began to feel
uneasy--more than uneasy, actually afraid on his friend's account.
Hatteras had acknowledged that the country fascinated him, and
fascinated him through its hideous side. Was this masquerading as a
black man a further proof of the fascination? Was it, as it were, a
step downwards towards a closer association? Walker sought to laugh
the notion from his mind, but it returned and returned, and here and
there an incident occurred to give it strength and colour.

For instance, on one occasion after Hatteras had been three weeks
absent, Walker sauntered over to the Residency towards four o'clock
in the afternoon. Hatteras was trying cases in the court-house, which
formed the ground floor of the Residency. Walker stepped into the
room. It was packed with a naked throng of blacks, and the heat was
overpowering. At the end of the hall sat Hatteras. His worn face shone
out amongst the black heads about him white and waxy like a gardenia
in a bouquet of black flowers. Walker invented his simile and realised
its appositeness at one and the same moment. Bouquet was not an
inappropriate word since there is a penetrating aroma about the native
of the Niger delta when he begins to perspire.

Walker, however, thinking that the Court would rise, determined to
wait for a little. But, at the last moment, a negro was put up to
answer to a charge of participation in Fetish rites. The case seemed
sufficiently clear from the outset, but somehow Hatteras delayed its
conclusion. There was evidence and unrebutted evidence of the usual
details--human sacrifice, mutilations and the like, but Hatteras
pressed for more. He sat until it was dusk, and then had candles
brought into the Court-house. He seemed indeed not so much to be
investigating the negro's guilt as to be adding to his own knowledge
of Fetish ceremonials. And Walker could not but perceive that he
took more than a merely scientific pleasure in the increase of his
knowledge. His face appeared to smooth out, his eyes became quick,
interested, almost excited; and Walker again had the queer impression
that Hatteras was in spirit participating in the loathsome ceremonies,
and participating with an intense enjoyment. In the end the negro was
convicted and the Court rose. But he might have been convicted a good
three hours before. Walker went home shaking his head. He seemed to
be watching a man deliberately divesting himself of his humanity. It
seemed as though the white man were ambitious to decline into the
black. Hatteras was growing into an uncanny creature. His friend began
to foresee a time when he should hold him in loathing and horror. And
the next morning helped to confirm him in that forecast.

For Walker had to make an early start down river for Bonny town, and
as he stood on the landing-stage Hatteras came down to him from the
Residency.

"You heard that negro tried yesterday?" he asked with an assumption of
carelessness.

"Yes, and condemned. What of him?"

"He escaped last night. It's a bad business, isn't it?"

Walker nodded in reply and his boat pushed off. But it stuck in his
mind for the greater part of that day that the prison adjoined the
Court-house and so formed part of the ground floor of the Residency.
Had Hatteras connived at his escape? Had the judge secretly set free
the prisoner whom he had publicly condemned? The question troubled
Walker considerably during his month of absence, and stood in the way
of his business. He learned for the first time how much he loved his
friend and how eagerly he watched for the friend's advancement.
Each day added to his load of anxiety. He dreamed continually of a
black-painted man slipping among the tree-boles nearer and nearer
towards the red glow of a fire in some open space secure amongst the
swamps, where hideous mysteries had their celebration. He cut short
his business and hurried back from Bonny. He crossed at once to the
Residency and found his friend in a great turmoil of affairs. Walker
came back from Bonny a month later and hurried across to his friend.

"Jim," said Hatteras, starting up, "I've got a year's leave; I am
going home."

"Dicky!" cried Walker, and he nearly wrung Hatteras' hand from his
arm. "That's grand news."

"Yes, old man, I thought you would be glad; I sail in a fortnight."
And he did.

For the first month Walker was glad. A year's leave would make a new
man of Dick Hatteras, he thought, or, at all events, restore the old
man, sane and sound, as he had been before he came to the West African
coast. During the second month Walker began to feel lonely. In the
third he bought a banjo and learnt it during the fourth and fifth.
During the sixth he began to say to himself, "What a time poor Dick
must have had all those six years with those cursed forests about him.
I don't wonder--I don't wonder." He turned disconsolately to his banjo
and played for the rest of the year; all through the wet season while
the rain came down in a steady roar and only the curlews cried--until
Hatteras returned. He returned at the top of his spirits and health.
Of course he was hall-marked West African, but no man gets rid of that
stamp. Moreover there was more than health in his expression. There
was a new look of pride in his eyes and when he spoke of a bachelor it
was in terms of sympathetic pity.

"Jim," said he, after five minutes of restraint, "I am engaged to be
married."

Jim danced round him in delight. "What an ass I have been," he
thought, "why didn't I think of that cure myself?" and he asked, "When
is it to be?"

"In eight months. You'll come home and see me through."

Walker agreed and for eight months listened to praises of the lady.
There were no more solitary expeditions. In fact, Hatteras seemed
absorbed in the diurnal discovery of new perfections in his future
wife.

"Yes, she seems a nice girl," Walker commented. He found her upon his
arrival in England more human than Hatteras' conversation had led him
to expect, and she proved to him that she was a nice girl. For she
listened for hours to him lecturing her on the proper way to treat
Dick without the slightest irritation and with only a faintly visible
amusement. Besides she insisted on returning with her husband to Bonny
river, which was a sufficiently courageous thing to undertake.

For a year in spite of the climate the couple were commonplace and
happy. For a year Walker clucked about them like a hen after its
chickens and slept the sleep of the untroubled. Then he returned to
England and from that time made only occasional journeys to West
Africa. Thus for awhile he almost lost sight of Hatteras and
consequently still slept the sleep of the untroubled. One morning,
however, he arrived unexpectedly at the settlement and at once called
on Hatteras. He did not wait to be announced, but ran up the steps
outside the house and into the dining-room. He found Mrs. Hatteras
crying. She dried her eyes, welcomed Walker, and said that she was
sorry, but her husband was away.

Walker started, looked at her eyes, and asked hesitatingly whether he
could help. Mrs. Hatteras replied with an ill-assumed surprise that
she did not understand. Walker suggested that there was trouble. Mrs.
Hatteras denied the truth of the suggestion. Walker pressed the point
and Mrs. Hatteras yielded so far as to assert that there was no
trouble in which Hatteras was concerned. Walker hardly thought it the
occasion for a parade of manners, and insisted on pointing out
that his knowledge of her husband was intimate and dated from his
schooldays. Thereupon Mrs. Hatteras gave way.

"Dick goes away alone," she said. "He stains his skin and goes away at
night. He tells me that he must, that it's the only way by which he
can know the natives, and that so it's a sort of duty. He says the
black tells nothing of himself to the white man--ever. You must go
amongst them if you are to know them. So he goes, and I never know
when he will come back. I never know whether he will come back."

"But he has done that sort of thing on and off for years, and he has
always come back," replied Walker.

"Yes, but one day he will not." Walker comforted her as well as he
could, praised Hatteras for his conduct, though his heart was hot
against him, spoke of risks that every one must run who serve the
Empire. "Never a lotus closes, you know," he said, and went back to
the factory with the consciousness that he had been telling lies.

It was no sense of duty that prompted Hatteras, of that he was
certain, and he waited--he waited from darkness to daybreak in his
compound for three successive nights. On the fourth he heard the
scuffling sound at the corner of the fence. The night was black as the
inside of a coffin. Half a regiment of men might steal past him and he
not have seen them. Accordingly he walked cautiously to the palisade
which separated the enclosure of the Residency from his own, felt
along it until he reached the little gate and stationed himself
in front of it. In a few moments he thought that he heard a man
breathing, but whether to the right or the left he could not tell;
and then a groping hand lightly touched his face and drew away again.
Walker said nothing, but held his breath and did not move. The hand
was stretched out again. This time it touched his breast and moved
across it until it felt a button of Walker's coat. Then it was
snatched away and Walker heard a gasping in-draw of the breath and
afterwards a sound as of a man turning in a flurry. Walker sprang
forward and caught a naked shoulder with one hand, a naked arm with
the other.

"Wait a bit, Dick Hatteras," he said.

There was a low cry, and then a husky voice addressed him respectfully
as "Daddy" in trade-English.

"That won't do, Dick," said Walker.

The voice babbled more trade-English.

"If you're not Dick Hatteras," continued Walker, tightening his grasp,
"You've no manner of right here. I'll give you till I count ten and
then I shall shoot."

Walker counted up to nine aloud and then--

"Jim," said Hatteras in his natural voice.

"That's better," said Walker. "Let's go in and talk."


III.

He went up the step and lighted the lamp. Hatteras followed him and
the two men faced one another. For a little while neither of them
spoke. Walker was repeating to himself that this man with the black
skin, naked except for a dirty loincloth and a few feathers on his
head was a white man married to a white wife who was sleeping--Nay,
more likely crying--not thirty yards away.

Hatteras began to mumble out his usual explanation of duty and the
rest of it.

"That won't wash," interrupted Walker. "What is it? A woman?"

"Good Heaven, no!" cried Hatteras suddenly. It was plain that that
explanation was at all events untrue. "Jim, I've a good mind to tell
you all about it."

"You have got to," said Walker. He stood between Hatteras and the
steps.

"I told you how this country fascinated me in spite of myself," he
began.

"But I thought," interrupted Walker, "that you had got over that
since. Why, man, you are married," and he came across to Hatteras and
shook him by the shoulder. "Don't you understand? You have a wife!"

"I know," said Hatteras. "But there are things deeper at the heart
of me than the love of woman, and one of those things is the love of
horror. I tell you it bites as nothing else does in this world. It's
like absinthe that turns you sick at the beginning and that you can't
do without once you have got the taste of it. Do you remember my first
landing? It made me sick enough at the beginning, you know. But now--"
He sat down in a chair and drew it close to Walker. His voice dropped
to a passionate whisper, he locked and unlocked his fingers with
feverish movements, and his eyes shifted and glittered in an unnatural
excitement.

"It's like going down to Hell and coming up again and wanting to go
down again. Oh, you'd want to go down again. You'd find the whole
earth pale. You'd count the days until you went down again. Do you
remember Orpheus? I think he looked back not to see if Eurydice was
coming after him but because he knew it was the last glimpse he would
get of Hell." At that he broke off and began to chant in a crazy
voice, wagging his head and swaying his body to the rhythm of the
lines:--

  "Quum subita in cantum dementia cepit amantem
  Ignoscenda quidem scirent si ignoscere manes;
  Restilit Eurydicengue suam jam luce sub ipsa
  Immemor heu victusque animi respexit."

"Oh, stop that!" cried Walker, and Hatteras laughed. "For God's sake,
stop it!"

For the words brought back to him in a flash the vision of a
class-room with its chipped desks ranged against the varnished walls,
the droning sound of the form-master's voice, and the swish of lilac
bushes against the lower window panes on summer afternoons. "Go on,"
he said. "Oh, go on, and let's have done with it."

Hatteras took up his tale again, and it seemed to Walker that the man
breathed the very miasma of the swamp and infected the room with it.
He spoke of leopard societies, murder clubs, human sacrifices. He had
witnessed them at the beginning, he had taken his share in them at the
last. He told the whole story without shame, with indeed a growing
enjoyment. He spared Walker no details. He related them in their
loathsome completeness until Walker felt stunned and sick. "Stop," he
said, again, "Stop! That's enough."

Hatteras, however, continued. He appeared to have forgotten Walker's
presence. He told the story to himself, for his own amusement, as a
child will, and here and there he laughed and the mere sound of his
laughter was inhuman. He only came to a stop when he saw Walker hold
out to him a cocked and loaded revolver.

"Well?" he asked. "Well?"

Walker still offered him the revolver.

"There are cases, I think, which neither God's law nor man's law seems
to have provided for. There's your wife you see to be considered. If
you don't take it I shall shoot you myself now, here, and mark you I
shall shoot you for the sake of a boy I loved at school in the old
country."

Hatteras took the revolver in silence, laid it on the table, fingered
it for a little.

"My wife must never know," he said.

"There's the pistol. Outside's the swamp. The swamp will tell no
tales, nor shall I. Your wife need never know."

Hatteras picked up the pistol and stood up.

"Good-bye, Jim," he said, and half pushed out his hand. Walker shook
his head, and Hatteras went out on to the verandah and down the steps.

Walker heard him climb over the fence; and then followed as far as the
verandah. In the still night the rustle and swish of the undergrowth
came quite clearly to his ears. The sound ceased, and a few minutes
afterwards the muffled crack of a pistol shot broke the silence like
the tap of a hammer. The swamp, as Walker prophesied, told no tales.
Mrs. Hatteras gave the one explanation of her husband's disappearance
that she knew and returned brokenhearted to England. There was some
loud talk about the self-sacrificing energy, which makes the English a
dominant race, and there you might think is the end of the story.

But some years later Walker went trudging up the Ogowe river in Congo
Francais. He travelled as far as Woermann's factory in Njole Island
and, having transacted his business there, pushed up stream in the
hope of opening the upper reaches for trade purposes. He travelled for
a hundred and fifty miles in a little stern-wheel steamer. At that
point he stretched an awning over a whale-boat, embarked himself, his
banjo and eight blacks from the steamer, and rowed for another fifty
miles. There he ran the boat's nose into a clay cliff close to a Fan
village and went ashore to negotiate with the chief.

There was a slip of forest between the village and the river bank, and
while Walker was still dodging the palm creepers which tapestried it
he heard a noise of lamentation. The noise came from the village and
was general enough to assure him that a chief was dead. It rose in a
chorus of discordant howls, low in note and long-drawn out--wordless,
something like the howls of an animal in pain and yet human by reason
of their infinite melancholy.

Walker pushed forward, came out upon a hillock, fronting the palisade
which closed the entrance to the single street of huts, and passed
down into the village. It seemed as though he had been expected. For
from every hut the Fans rushed out towards him, the men dressed in
their filthiest rags, the women with their faces chalked and their
heads shaved. They stopped, however, on seeing a white man, and Walker
knew enough of their tongue to ascertain that they looked for the
coming of the witch doctor. The chief, it appeared, had died a natural
death, and, since the event is of sufficiently rare occurrence in the
Fan country, it had promptly been attributed to witchcraft, and the
witch doctor had been sent for to discover the criminal. The village
was consequently in a lively state of apprehension, since the end of
those who bewitch chiefs to death is not easy. The Fans, however,
politely invited Walker to inspect the corpse. It lay in a dark hut,
packed with the corpse's relations, who were shouting to it at the top
of their voices on the on-chance that its spirit might think better of
its conduct and return to the body. They explained to Walker that they
had tried all the usual varieties of persuasion. They had put red
pepper into the chief's eyes while he was dying. They had propped open
his mouth with a stick; they had burned fibres of the oil nut under
his nose. In fact, they had made his death as uncomfortable as
possible, but none the less he had died.

The witch doctor arrived on the heels of the explanation, and Walker,
since he was powerless to interfere, thought it wise to retire for
the time being. He went back to the hillock on the edge of the trees.
Thence he looked across and over the palisade and had the whole length
of the street within his view.

The witch doctor entered it from the opposite end, to the beating
of many drums. The first thing Walker noticed was that he wore a
square-skirted eighteenth century coat and a tattered pair of brocaded
knee breeches on his bare legs; the second was that he limped--ever
so slightly. Still he limped and--with the right leg. Walker felt a
strong desire to see the man's face, and his heart thumped within him
as he came nearer and nearer down the street. But his hair was so
matted about his cheeks that Walker could not distinguish a feature.
"If I was only near enough to see his eyes," he thought. But he was
not near enough, nor would it have been prudent for him to have gone
nearer.

The witch doctor commenced the proceedings by ringing a handbell in
front of every hut. But that method of detection failed to work.
The bell rang successively at every door. Walker watched the
man's progress, watched his trailing limb, and began to discover
familiarities in his manner. "Pure fancy," he argued with himself. "If
he had not limped I should have noticed nothing."

Then the doctor took a wicker basket, covered with a rough wooden lid.
The Fans gathered in front of him; he repeated their names one after
the other and at each name he lifted the lid. But that plan appeared
to be no improvement, for the lid never stuck. It came off readily at
each name. Walker, meanwhile, calculated the distance a man would have
to cover who walked across country from Bonny river to the Ogowe, and
he reflected with some relief that the chances were several thousand
to one that any man who made the attempt, be he black or white, would
be eaten on the way.

The witch doctor turned up the big square cuffs of his sleeves, as a
conjurer will do, and again repeated the names. This time, however,
at each name, he rubbed the palms of his hands together. Walker was
seized with a sudden longing to rush down into the village and examine
the man's right forearm for a bullet mark. The longing grew on him.
The witch doctor went steadily through the list. Walker rose to his
feet and took a step or two down the hillock, when, of a sudden, at
one particular name, the doctor's hands flew apart and waved wildly
about him. A single cry from a single voice went up out of the group
of Fans. The group fell back and left one man standing alone. He made
no defence, no resistance. Two men came forward and bound his hands
and his feet and his body with tie-tie. Then they carried him within a
hut.

"That's sheer murder," thought Walker. He could not rescue the victim,
he knew. But--he could get a nearer view of that witch doctor. Already
the man was packing up his paraphernalia. Walker stepped back among
the trees and, running with all his speed, made the circuit of the
village. He reached the further end of the street just as the witch
doctor walked out into the open.

Walker ran forward a yard or so until he too stood plain to see on the
level ground. The witch doctor did see him and stopped. He stopped
only for a moment and gazed earnestly in Walker's direction. Then he
went on again towards his own hut in the forest.

Walker made no attempt to follow him. "He has seen me," he thought.
"If he knows me he will come down to the river bank to-night."
Consequently, he made the black rowers camp a couple of hundred yards
down stream. He himself remained alone in his canoe.

The night fell moonless and black, and the enclosing forest made it
yet blacker. A few stars burned in the strip of sky above his head
like gold spangles on a strip of black velvet. Those stars and the
glimmering of the clay bank to which the boat was moored were the
only lights which Walker had. It was as dark as the night when Walker
waited for Hatteras at the wicket-gate.

He placed his gun and a pouch of cartridges on one side, an unlighted
lantern on the other, and then he took up his banjo and again he
waited. He waited for a couple of hours, until a light crackle as of
twigs snapping came to him out of the forest. Walker struck a chord on
his banjo and played a hymn tune. He played "Abide with me," thinking
that some picture of a home, of a Sunday evening in England's summer
time, perhaps of a group of girls singing about a piano might flash
into the darkened mind of the man upon the bank and draw him as with
cords. The music went tinkling up and down the river, but no one
spoke, no one moved upon the bank. So Walker changed the tune and
played a melody of the barrel organs and Piccadilly circus. He had not
played more than a dozen bars before he heard a sob from the bank and
then the sound of some one sliding down the clay. The next instant a
figure shone black against the clay. The boat lurched under the weight
of a foot upon the gunwale, and a man plumped down in front of Walker.

"Well, what is it?" asked Walker, as he laid down his banjo and felt
for a match in his pocket.

It seemed as though the words roused the man to a perception that he
had made a mistake. He said as much hurriedly in trade-English, and
sprang up as though he would leap from the boat. Walker caught hold of
his ankle.

"No, you don't," said he, "you must have meant to visit me. This isn't
Heally," and he jerked the man back into the bottom of the boat.

The man explained that he had paid a visit out of the purest
friendliness.

"You're the witch doctor, I suppose," said Walker. The other replied
that he was and proceeded to state that he was willing to give
information about much that made white men curious. He would explain
why it was of singular advantage to possess a white man's eyeball, and
how very advisable it was to kill any one you caught making Itung. The
danger of passing near a cotton-tree which had red earth at the roots
provided a subject which no prudent man should disregard; and Tando,
with his driver ants, was worth conciliating. The witch doctor was
prepared to explain to Walker how to conciliate Tando. Walker replied
that it was very kind of the witch doctor but Tando didn't really
worry him. He was, in fact, very much more worried by an inability to
understand how a native so high up the Ogowe River had learned how to
speak trade-English.

The witch doctor waved the question aside and remarked that Walker
must have enemies. "Pussim bad too much," he called them. "Pussim
woh-woh. Berrah well! Ah send grand Krau-Krau and dem pussim die one
time." Walker could not recollect for the moment any "pussim" whom
he wished to die one time, whether from grand Krau-Krau or any
other disease. "Wait a bit," he continued, "there is one man--Dick
Hatteras!" and he struck the match suddenly. The witch doctor started
forward as though to put it out. Walker, however, had the door of the
lantern open. He set the match to the wick of the candle and closed
the door fast. The witch doctor drew back. Walker lifted the lantern
and threw the light on his face. The witch doctor buried his face in
his hands and supported his elbows on his knees. Immediately Walker
darted forward a hand, seized the loose sleeve of the witch doctor's
coat and slipped it back along his arm to the elbow. It was the sleeve
of the right arm and there on the fleshy part of the forearm was the
scar of a bullet.

"Yes," said Walker. "By God, it is Dick Hatteras!"

"Well?" cried Hatteras, taking his hands from his face. "What the
devil made you turn-turn 'Tommy Atkins' on the banjo? Damn you!"

"Dick, I saw you this afternoon."

"I know, I know. Why on earth didn't you kill me that night in your
compound?"

"I mean to make up for that mistake to-night!"

Walker took his rifle on to his knees. Hatteras saw the movement,
leaned forward quickly, snatched up the rifle, snatched up the
cartridges, thrust a couple of cartridges into the breech, and handed
the loaded rifle back to his old friend.

"That's right," he said. "I remember. There are some cases neither
God's law nor man's law has quite made provision for." And then he
stopped, with his finger on his lip. "Listen!" he said.

From the depths of the forest there came faintly, very sweetly the
sound of church-bells ringing--a peal of bells ringing at midnight in
the heart of West Africa. Walker was startled. The sound seemed fairy
work, so faint, so sweet was it.

"It's no fancy, Jim," said Hatteras, "I hear them every night and at
matins and at vespers. There was a Jesuit monastery here two hundred
years ago. The bells remain and some of the clothes." He touched his
coat as he spoke. "The Fans still ring the bells from habit. Just
think of it! Every morning, every evening, every midnight, I hear
those bells. They talk to me of little churches perched on hillsides
in the old country, of hawthorn lanes, and women--English women,
English girls, thousands of miles away--going along them to church.
God help me! Jim, have you got an English pipe?"

"Yes; an English briarwood and some bird's-eye."

Walker handed Hatteras his briarwood and his pouch of tobacco.
Hatteras filled the pipe, lit it at the lantern, and sucked at it
avidly for a moment. Then he gave a sigh and drew in the tobacco more
slowly, and yet more slowly.

"My wife?" he asked at last, in a low voice.

"She is in England. She thinks you dead."

Hatteras nodded.

"There's a jar of Scotch whiskey in the locker behind you," said
Walker. Hatteras turned round, lifted out the jar and a couple of tin
cups. He poured whiskey into each and handed one to Walker.

"No thanks," said Walker. "I don't think I will."

Hatteras looked at his companion for an instant. Then he emptied
deliberately both cups over the side of the boat. Next he took the
pipe from his lips. The tobacco was not half consumed. He poised the
pipe for a little in his hand. Then he blew into the bowl and watched
the dull red glow kindle into sparks of flame as he blew. Very slowly
he tapped the bowl against the thwart of the boat until the burning
tobacco fell with a hiss into the water. He laid the pipe gently down
and stood up.

"So long, old man," he said, and sprang out on to the clay. Walker
turned the lantern until the light made a disc upon the bank.

"Good bye, Jim," said Hatteras, and he climbed up the bank until he
stood in the light of the lantern. Twice Walker raised the rifle to
his shoulder, twice he lowered it. Then he remembered that Hatteras
and he had been at school together.

"Good bye, Dicky," he cried, and fired. Hatteras tumbled down to the
boat-side. The blacks down-river were roused by the shot. Walker
shouted to them to stay where they were, and as soon as their camp was
quiet he stepped on shore. He filled up the whiskey jar with water,
tied it to Hatteras' feet, shook his hand, and pushed the body into
the river. The next morning he started back to Fernan Vaz.




THE PRINCESS JOCELIANDE.


The truth concerning the downfall of the Princess Joceliande has never
as yet been honestly inscribed. Doubtless there be few alive except
myself that know it; for from the beginning many strange and insidious
rumours were set about to account for her mishap, whereby great damage
was done to the memory of the Sieur Rudel le Malaise and Solita his
wife; and afterwards these rumours were so embroidered and painted by
rhymesters that the truth has become, as you might say, doubly lost.
For minstrels take more thought of tickling the fancies of those to
whom they sing with joyous and gallant histories than of their high
craft and office, and hence it is that though many and various
accounts are told to this day throughout the country-side by
grandsires at their winter hearths, not one of them has so much as a
grain of verity. They are but rude and homely versions of the chaunts
of Troubadours.

And yet the truth is sweet and pitiful enough to furnish forth a song,
were our bards so minded. Howbeit, I will set it down here in simple
prose; for so my duty to the Sieur Rudel bids me, and, moreover, 'twas
from this event his wanderings began wherein for twenty years I bare
him company.

And let none gainsay my story, for that I was not my master's servant
at the time, and saw not the truth with mine own eyes. I had it from
the Sieur Rudel's lips, and more than once when he was vexed at the
aspersions thrown upon his name. But he was ever proud, as befitted so
knightly a gentleman, and deigned not to argue or plead his honour
to the world, but only with his sword. Thus, then, it falls to me to
right him as skilfully as I may. Though, alas! I fear my skill is
little worth, and calumnies are ever fresh to the palate, while truth
needs the sauce of a bright fancy to command it.

These columnies have assuredly gained some credit, because with ladies
my lord was ever blithe and _debonnaire_. That he loved many I do not
deny; but while he loved, he loved right loyally, and, indeed, it is
no small honour to be loved by a man of so much worship, even for
a little--the which many women thought also, and those amongst the
fairest. And I doubt not that as long as she lived, he loved his wife
Solita no less ardently than those with whom he fell in after she had
most unfortunately died.

The Sieur Rudel was born within the castle of Princess Joceliande,
and there grew to childhood and from childhood to youth, being ever
entreated with great amity and love for his own no less than for his
father's sake. Though of a slight and delicate figure, he excelled in
all manly exercises and sports and in venery and hawking. There was
not one about the court that could equal him. Books too he read, and
in many languages, labouring at philosophies and logics, so that had
you but heard him speak, and not marked the hardihood of his limbs
and his open face, you might have believed you were listening to some
doxical monk.

In the tenth year of his age came Solita to the castle, whence no man
knew, nor could they ever learn more than this, that she sailed out of
the grey mists of a November morning to our bleak Brittany coast in a
white-painted boat. A fisherman drew the boat to land, perceiving
it when he was casting his nets, and found a woman-child therein,
cushioned upon white satin; and marvelling much at the richness of her
purveyance, for even the sail of the boat was of white silk, he bore
her straightway to the castle. And the abbot took her and baptised her
and gave her Sola for a name. "For," said he, "she hath come alone and
none knoweth her parentage or place." In time she grew to exceeding
beauty, with fair hair clustering like finest silk above her temples
and curling waywardly about her throat; wondrous fair she was and
white, shaming the snowdrops, so that all men stopped and gazed at her
as she passed.

And the Princess Joceliande, perceiving her, joined her to the company
of her hand-maidens and took great delight in her for her modesty and
beauty, so that at last she changed her name. "Sola have you been
called till now," she said, "but henceforth shall your name be Solita,
as who shall say 'you have become my wont.'"

Meanwhile the Sieur Rudel was advanced from honour to honour, until
he stood ever at the right hand of the Princess, and ruled over her
kingdom as her chancellor and vicegerent. Her enemies he conquered and
added their lands and sovereignties to hers, until of all the kings
in those parts, none had such power and dominions as the Princess
Joceliande. Many ladies, you may believe, cast fond eyes on him, and
dropped their gauntlet that he might bend to them upon his knee and
pick it up, but his heart they could not bend, strive how they might,
and to each and all he showed the same courtesy and gentleness. For
he had seen the maiden Solita, and of an evening when the Court was
feasting in the hall and the music of harps rippled sweetly in
the ears, he would slip from the table as one that was busied in
statecraft, and in company with Solita pace the terrace in the dark,
beneath the lighted windows. Yet neither spoke of love, though loving
was their intercourse. Solita for that her modesty withheld her, and
she feared even to hope that so great a lord should give his heart to
her keeping; Rudel because he had not achieved enough to merit she
should love him. "In a little," he would mutter, "in a little! One
more thing must I do, and then will I claim my guerdon of the Princess
Joceliande."

Now this one more thing was the highest and most dangerous emprise of
all that he had undertaken. Beyond the confines of the kingdom there
dwelt a great horde of men that had come to Brittany from the East
in many deep ships and had settled upon the coast, whence they
would embark and, travelling hard by the land, burn and ravage the
sea-borders for many days.

Against these did the Sieur Rudel make war, and gathering the nobles
and yeomen he mustered them in boats and prepared to sail forth to
what he believed was the last of his adventures, knowing not that it
was indeed but the beginning. And to the princess he said: "Lady, I
have served you faithfully, as a gentleman should serve his queen.
From nothing have I drawn back that could establish or increase you.
Therefore when I get me home again, one boon will I ask of you, and I
pray you of your mercy grant it me."

"I will well," replied the princess. "For such loyal service hath no
queen known before--nay, not even Dame Helen among the Trojans."

So right gladly did the Sieur Rudel depart from her, and down he
walked among the sandhills, where he found Solita standing in a hollow
in the midst of a cloud of sand which the sharp wind whirled about
her. Nothing she said to him, but she stood with downcast head and
eyes that stung with tears.

"Solita," said he, "the Princess hath granted me such boon as I may
ask on my return. What say you?"

And she answered in a low voice. "Who am I, my lord, that I should
oppose the will of the princess? A nameless maiden, meet only to yoke
with a nameless yeoman!"

At that the Sieur Rudel laughed and said, "Look you into a mirror,
sweet! and your face will gainsay your words."

She lifted her eyes to his and the light came into them again, so that
they danced behind the tears, and Rudel clipped her about the waist
for all that he had not as yet merited her, and kissed her upon the
lips and the forehead and upon her white hands and wrists.

But she, gazing past his head, saw the blowing sands beyond and the
armed men in the boats upon the sea, and "O, Rudel, my sweet lord!"
she cried, "never till this moment did I know how barren and lonely
was the coast. Come back, and that soon--for of a truth I dread to be
left alone!"

"In God's good time and if so He will, I will come back, and from the
moment of my coming I will never again depart from you."

"Promise me that!" she said, clinging to him with her arms twined
about his neck, and he promised her, and so, comforting her a little
more, he got him into his boat and sailed away upon his errand.

But of all this, the Princess Joceliande knew nothing. From her
balcony in the castle she saw the Sieur Rudel sail forth. He stood
upon the poop, the wind blowing the hair back from his face, and as
she watched his straight figure, she said, "A boon he shall ask, but
a greater will I grant. Surely no man ever did such loyal service but
for love, and for love's sake, he shall share my throne with me." With
that she wept a little for fear he might be slain or ever he should
return; but she remembered from how many noble exploits he had come
scatheless, and so taking heart once more she fell to thinking of his
black locks and clear olive face and darkly shining eyes. For, in
truth, these outward qualities did more enthral and delight her than
his most loyal services.

But for the maiden Solita, she got her back to her chamber and,
remembering her lord's advice, spied about for a mirror. No mirror,
however, did she possess, having never used aught else but a basin of
clear water, and till now found it all-sufficient, so little curious
had she been concerning the whiteness of her beauty. Thereupon she
thought for a little, and unbinding her hair so that it fell to her
feet in a golden cloud, hied her to Joceliande, who bade her take a
book of chivalry and read aloud. But Solita so bent her head that her
hair fell ever across the pages and hindered her from reading, and
each time she put it roughly back from her forehead with some small
word of anger as though she was vexed.

"What ails you, child?" asked the princess.

"It is my hair," replied Solita. But the princess paid no heed. She
heard little, indeed, even of what was read, but sat by the window
gazing out across the grey hungry sea, and bethinking her of the Sieur
Rudel and his gallant men. And again Solita let her hair fall upon the
scroll, and again she tossed it back, saying, "Fie! Fie!"

"What ails you, child?" the princess asked.

"It is my hair," she replied, and Joceliande, smiling heedlessly, bade
her read on. So she read until Joceliande bade her stop and called to
her, and Solita came over to the window and knelt by the side of the
princess, so that her hair fell across the wrist of Joceliande and
fettered it. "It _is_ ever in the way," said Solita, and she loosed
it from the wrist of the princess. But the princess caught the silky
coils within her hand and smoothed them tenderly. "That were easily
remedied," she replied with a smile, and she sought for the scissors
which hung at her girdle.

But Solita bethought her that many men had praised the colour and
softness of her hair--why, she could not tell, for dark locks alone
were beautiful in her eyes. Howbeit men praised hers, and for Sieur
Rudel's sake she would fain be as praiseworthy as might be. Therefore
she stayed Joceliande's hand and cried aloud in fear, "Nay, nay, sweet
lady, 'tis all the gold I have, and I pray you leave it me who am so
poor."

And the Princess Joceliande laughed, and replaced the scissors in her
girdle. "I did but make pretence, to try you," she said, "for, in
truth, I had begun to think you were some holy angel and no woman, so
little share had you in a woman's vanities. But 'tis all unbound, and
I wonder not that it hinders you. Let me bind it up!"

And while the princess bound the hair cunningly in a coronal upon her
head, Solita spake again hesitatingly, seeking to conceal her craft.

"Madame, it is easy for you to bind my hair, but for myself, I have no
mirror and so dress it awkwardly."

Joceliande laughed again merrily at the words. "Dear heart!" she
cried. "What man is it? Hast discovered thou art a woman after all?
First thou fearest for thy hair, and now thou askest a mirror. But in
truth I like thee the better for thy discovery." And she kissed Solita
very heartily, who blushed that her secret was so readily found out,
and felt no small shame at her lack of subtlety. For many ladies, she
knew, had secrets--ay, even from their bosom lords and masters---and
kept them without effort in the subterfuge, whereas she, poor fool,
betrayed hers at the first word.

"And what man is it?" laughed the princess. "For there is not one
that deserves thee, as thou shalt judge for thyself." Whereupon she
summoned one of her servants and bade him place a mirror in the
bed-chamber of Solita, wherein she might see herself from top to toe.

"Art content?" she asked. "Thus shalt thou see thyself, without
blemish or fault even for this crown of hair to the heel of thy foot.
But I fear me the sight will change all thy thoughts and incline thee
to scorn of thy suitor."

Then she stood for a little watching the sunlight play upon the golden
head and pry into the soft shadows of the curls, and her face saddened
and her voice faltered.

"But what of me, Solita?" she said. "All men give me reverence, not
one knows me for a woman. I crave the bread of love, all day long I
hunger for it, but they offer me the polished stones of courtesy and
respect, and so I starve slowly to my death. What of me, Solita? What
of me?"

But Solita made reply, soothing her:

"Madame," she said, "all your servants love you, but it beseems them
not to flaunt it before your face, so high are you placed above them.
You order their fortunes and their lives, and surely 'tis nobler work
than meddling with this idle love-prattle."

"Nay," replied the princess, laughing in despite of her heaviness,
for she noted how the blush on Solita's cheek belied the scorn of her
tongue. "There spoke the saint, and I will hear no more from her now
that I have found the woman. Tell me, did he kiss you?"

And Solita blushed yet more deeply, so that even her neck down to her
shoulders grew rosy, and once or twice she nodded her head, for her
lips would not speak the word.

Then Joceliande sighed to herself and said--

    "And yet, perchance, he would not die for you, whereas men die for
    me daily, and from mere obedience. How is he called?"

    "Madame," she replied, "I may not tell you, for all my pride in
    him. 'Twill be for my lord to answer you in his good time. But
    that he would die for me, if need there were, I have no doubt. For
    I have looked into his eyes and read his soul."

So she spake with much spirit, upholding Sieur Rudel; but Joceliande
was sorely grieved for that Solita would not trust her with her
lover's name, and answered bitterly:

    "And his soul which you did see was doubtless your own image. And
    thus it will be with the next maiden who looks into his eyes. Her
    own image will she see, and she will go away calling it his soul,
    and not knowing, poor fool, that it has already faded from his
    eyes."

At this Solita kept silence, deeming it unnecessary to make reply. It
might be as the princess said with other men and other women, but the
Sieur Rudel had no likeness to other men, and in possessing the Sieur
Rudel's love she was far removed from other women. Therefore did she
keep silence, but Joceliande fancied that she was troubled by the
words which she had spoken, and straightway repented her of them.

"Nay, child," she said, and she laid her hand again upon Solita's
head. "Take not the speech to heart. 'Tis but the plaint of a woman
whose hair is withered from its brightness and who grows peevish in
her loneliness. But open your mind to me, for you have twined about my
heart even as your curls did but now twine and coil about my wrist,
and the more for this pretty vanity of yours. Therefore tell me his
name, that I may advance him."

But once more Solita did fob her off, and the princess would no longer
question her, but turned her wearily to the window.

"All day long," she said, "I listen to soft speeches and honeyed
tongues, and all night long I listen to the breakers booming upon the
sands, and in truth I wot not which sound is the more hollow."

Such was the melancholy and sadness of her voice that the tears
sprang into Solita's eyes and ran down her cheeks for very pity of
Joceliande.

"Think not I fail in love to you, sweet princess," she cried. "But I
may not tell you, though I would be blithe and proud to name him. But
'tis for him to claim me of you, and I must needs wait his time."

But Joceliande would not be comforted, and chiding her roughly, sent
her to her chamber. So Solita departed out of her sight, her heart
heavy with a great pity, though little she understood of Joceliande's
distress. For this she could not know: that at the sight of her white
beauty the Princess Joceliande was ashamed.

And coming into her chamber, Solita beheld the mirror ranged against
the wall, and long she stood before it, being much comforted by the
image which she saw. From that day ever she watched the ladies of the
court, noting jealously if any might be more fair than she whom Sieur
Rudel had chosen; and often of a night when she was troubled by the
aspect of some fair and delicate new-comer, she would rise from her
couch and light a taper, and so gaze at herself until the fear of her
unworthiness diminished. For there were none that could compare with
her in daintiness and fair looks ever came to the castle of the
Princess Joceliande.

But of the Sieur Rudel, though oft she thought, she never spake,
biding his good time, and the princess questioned her in vain. For
she, whose heart hitherto had lain plain to see, like a pebble in a
clear brook of water, had now learnt all the sweet cunning of love's
duplicity.

Thus the time drew on towards the Sieur Rudel's home-coming, and ever
the twain looked out across the sea for the black boats to round the
bluff and take the beach--Joceliande from her balcony, Solita from the
window of her little chamber in the tower; and each night the princess
gave orders to light a beacon on the highest headland that the
wayfarers might steer safely down that red path across the tumbling
waters.

So it fell that one night both ladies beheld two ships swim to the
shore, and each made dolorous moan, seeing how few of the goodly
company that sailed forth had got them home again, and wondering in
sore distress whether Rudel had returned with them or no.

But in a little there came a servant to the princess and told of one
Sir Broyance de Mille-Faits, a messenger from the neighbouring kingdom
of Broye, that implored instant speech with her. And being admitted
before all the Court assembled in the great hall, he fell upon his
knees at the foot of the princess, and, making his obeisance, said--

    "Fair Lady Joceliande, I crave a boon, and I pray you of your
    gentleness to grant it me."

    "But what boon, good Sir Broyance?" replied the princess. "I know
    you for a true and loyal gentleman who has ever been welcome at my
    castle. Speak, then, your need, and if so be I may, you shall find
    me complaisant to your request."

Thereupon, Sir Broyance took heart and said:

    "Since our king died, God rest his soul, there has been no peace
    or quiet in our kingdom of Broye. 'Tis rent with strife and
    factions, so that no man may dwell in it but he must fight from
    morn to night, and withal win no rest for the morrow. The king's
    three sons contend for the throne, and meanwhile is the country
    eaten up. Therefore am I sent by many, and those our chiefest
    gentlemen, to ask you to send us Sieur Rudel, that he may quell
    these conflicts and rule over us as our king."

So Sir Broyance spake and was silent, and a great murmur and
acclamation rose about the hall for that the Sieur Rudel was held
in such honour and worship even beyond his own country. But for the
Princess Joceliande, she sat with downcast head, and for a while
vouchsafed no reply. For her heart was sore at the thought that Sieur
Rudel should go from her.

"There is much danger in the adventure," she said at length,
doubtfully.

"Were there no danger, madame," he replied, "we should not ask Sieur
Rudel of you to be our leader, and great though the danger be, greater
far is the honour. For we offer him a kingdom."

Then the princess spake again to Sir Broyance:

"It may not be," she said. "Whatever else you crave, that shall you
have, and gladly will I grant it you. But the Sieur Rudel is the
flower of our Court, he stands ever at my right hand, and woe is me if
I let him go, for I am only a woman."

"But, madame, for his knighthood's sake, I pray you assent to our
prayer," said Sir Broyance. "Few enemies have you, but many friends,
whereas we are sore pressed on every side."

But the princess repeated: "I am only a woman," and for a long while
he made his prayer in vain.

At last, however, the princess said:

"For his knighthood's sake thus far will I yield to you: Bide here
within my castle until Sieur Rudel gets him home, and then shall you
make your prayer to him, and by his answer will I be bound."

"That I will well," replied Sir Broyance, bethinking him of the Sieur
Rudel's valour, and how that he had a kingdom to proffer to him.

But the Princess Joceliande said to herself:

"I, too, will offer him a kingdom. My throne shall he share with me;"
and so she entertained Sir Broyance right pleasantly until the Sieur
Rudel should get him back from the foray. Meanwhile she would say
to Solita, "He shall not go to Broye, for in truth I need him;" and
Solita would laugh happily, replying, "It is truth: he will not go to
Broye," and thinking thereto silently, "but it is not the princess who
will keep him, but even I, her poor handmaiden. For I have his promise
never to depart from me." So much confidence had her mirror taught
her, as it ever is with women.

But despite them both did the Sieur Rudel voyage to Broye and rule
over the kingdom as its king, and how that came about ye shall hear.

Now on the fourth day after the coming of Sir Broyance, the Princess
Joceliande was leaning over the baluster of her balcony and gazing
seawards as was her wont. The hours had drawn towards evening, and the
sun stood like a glowing wheel upon the farthest edge of the sea's
grey floor, when she beheld a black speck crawl across its globe, and
then another and another, to the number of thirty. Thereupon, she
knew that the Sieur Rudel had returned, and joyfully she summoned her
tirewomen and bade them coif and robe her as befitted a princess.
A coronet of gold and rubies they set upon her head, and a robe of
purple they hung about her shoulders. With pearls they laced her neck
and her arms, and with pearls they shod her feet, and when she saw the
ships riding at their anchorage, and the Sieur Rudel step forth amid
the shouts of the sailors, then she hied her to the council-chamber
and prepared to give him instant audience. Yet for all her jewels and
rich attire, she trembled like a common wench at the approach of her
lover, and feared that the loud beating of her heart would drown the
sound of his footsteps in the passage.

But the Sieur Rudel came not, and she sent a messenger to inquire why
he tarried, and the messenger brought word and said:

"He is with the maiden Solita in the tower."

Then the princess stumbled as though she were about to fall, and her
women came about her. But she waved them back with her hand, and so
stood shivering for a little. "The night blows cold," she said; "I
would the lamps were lit." And when her servants had lighted the
council-chamber, she sent yet another messenger to Sieur Rudel,
bidding him instantly come to her, and waited in great bitterness of
spirit. For she remembered how that she had promised to grant him the
boon that he should ask, and much she feared that she knew what that
boon was.

Now leave we the Princess Joceliande, and hie before her messenger to
the chamber of Solita. No pearls or purple robes had she to clad her
beauty in, but a simple gown of white wool fastened with a silver
girdle about the waist, and her hair she loosed so that it rippled
down her shoulders and nestled round her ears and face.

Thither the Sieur Rudel came straight from the sea, and--

"Love," he said, kissing her, "it has been a weary waste of days and
nights, and yet more weary for thee than for me. For stern work was
there ever to my hand--ay, and well-nigh more than I could do; but for
thee nought but to wait."

"Yet, my dear lord," she replied, "the princess did give me this
mirror, wherein I could see myself from top to toe, and a great
comfort has it been to me."

So she spake, and the messenger from the princess brake in upon them,
bidding the Sieur Rudel hasten to the council-chamber, for that the
Princess Joceliande waited this long while for his coming.

"Now will I ask for the fulfilment of her promise," said Rudel to
Solita, "and to-night, sweet, I will claim thee before the whole
Court." With that he got him from the chamber and, following the
messenger, came to where the princess awaited him.

"Madame," he said, "good tidings! By God's grace we have won the
victory over your enemies. Never again will they buzz like wasps about
your coasts, but from this day forth they will pay you yearly truage."

"Sir," she replied, rebuking him shrewdly, "indeed you bring me good
tidings, but you bring them over-late. For here have I tarried for you
this long while, and it beseems neither you nor me."

"Madame," he answered, "I pray you acquit me of the fault and lay the
blame on Love. For when sweet Cupid thrones a second queen in one's
heart beside the first, what wonder that a man forgets his duty? And
now I would that of your gentleness you would grant me your maiden
Solita for wife."

"That I may not," returned Joceliande, stricken to the soul at that
image of a second queen. "A nameless child, and my handmaiden! Sieur
Rudel, it befits a man to look above him for a wife."

"And that, madame," he answered, "in very truth I do. Moreover, though
no man knows Solita's parentage and place, yet must she be of gentle
nurture, else had there been no silk sail to float her hitherwards;
and so much it liketh you to grant my boon, for God's love, I pray
you, hold your promise."

Thereupon was the princess sore distressed for that she had given her
promise. Howbeit she said: "Since it is so, and since my maiden Solita
is the boon you crave, I give her to you;" and so dismissed the Sieur
Rudel from her presence, and getting her back to her chamber, made
moan out of all measure.

"Lord Jesu," she cried, "of all my kingdom and barony, but one thing
did I hunger for and covet, and that one thing this child, whom of my
kindness I loved and fostered, hath traitorously robbed me of! Why did
I take her from the sea?"

So she wept for a great while, until she bethought her of a remedy.
Then she wiped her tears and gave order that Sir Broyance should come
to her. To him she said: "To-night at the high feast you shall make
your prayer to the Lord Rudel, and I myself will join with you, so
that he shall become your leader and rule over you as king."

So she spake, thinking that when the Sieur Rudel had departed, she
would privily put Solita to death--openly she dared not do it, for the
great love the nobles bore towards Rudel--and when Solita was dead,
then would she send again for Rudel and share her siege with him. Sir
Broyance, as ye may believe, was right glad at her words, and made him
ready for the feast. Hither, when the company was assembled, came the
Sieur Rudel, clad in a green tunic edged with fur of a white fox, and
a chain set with stones of great virtue about his neck. His hose were
green and of the finest silk, and on his feet he wore shoes of white
doeskin, and the latchets were of gold. So he came into the hall, and
seeing him thus gaily attired with all his harness off, much did all
marvel at his knightly prowess. For in truth he looked more like some
tender minstrel than a gallant warrior. Then up rose Sir Broyance and
said;

"From the kingdom of Broye the nobles send greeting to the Sieur
Rudel, and a message."

And with that he set forth his errand and request; but the Sieur Rudel
laughed and answered:

"Sir Broyance, great honour you do me, and so, I pray, tell your
countrymen of Broye. But never more will I draw sword or feuter spear,
for this day hath the Princess Joceliande granted me her maiden Solita
for wife, and by her side I will bide till death."

Thereupon rose a great murmur of astonishment within the hall, the men
lamenting that the Sieur Rudel would lead them no more to battle, and
the women marvelling to each other that he should choose so mean a
thing as Solita for wife. But Sir Broyance said never a word, but got
him from the table and out of the hall, so that the company marvelled
yet more for that he had not sought to persuade the Sieur Rudel. Then
said the Princess Joceliande, and greatly was she angered both against
Solita and Rudel:

"Fie, my lord! shame on you; you forget your knighthood!"

And he replied, "My knighthood, your highness, had but one use, and
that to win my sweet Solita."

Wherefore was Joceliande's heart yet hotter against the twain, and she
cried aloud:

"Nay, but it is on us that the shame of your cowardice will fall. Even
now Sir Broyance left our hall in anger and scorn. It may not be that
our chiefest noble shall so disgrace us."

But Sieur Rudel laughed lightly, and answered her:

"Madame, full oft have I jeopardised my life in your good cause, and I
fear no charge of cowardice more than I fear thistle-down."

His words did but increase the fury of the princess, and she brake out
in most bitter speech:

"Nay, but it is a kitchen knave we have been honouring unawares, and
bidding sit with us at table!"

And straightway she called to her servants and bade them fetch the
warden of the castle with the fetters. But the Sieur Rudel laughed
again, and said:

"Thus it will be impossible that I leave my dear Solita and voyage
perilously to Broye."

Nor any effort or resistance did he make, but lightly suffered them
to fetter him, the while the princess most foully mis-said him. With
fetters they prisoned his feet, and manacles they straitly fastened
about his wrists, and they bound him to a pillar in the hall by a
chain about his middle.

"There shall you bide," she said, "in shameful bonds until you make
promise to voyage forth to Broye. For surely there is nothing so vile
in all this world as a craven gentleman."

With that she turned her again to the feast, though little heart she
had thereto. But the Sieur Rudel was well content; for not for all
the honour in Christendom would he break his word to his dear Solita.
Howbeit, the nobles were ever urgent that the princess should set him
free, pleading the worshipful deeds he had accomplished in her cause.
But to none of them would she hearken, and the fair gentle ladies of
the Court greatly applauded her for her persistence--and especially
those who had erstwhile dropped their gauntlets that Rudel might bend
and pick them up. And many pleasant jests they passed upon the Sieur
Rudel, bidding him dance with them, since he was loth to fight. But
he paid no heed to them, nor could they provoke him by any number of
taunts. Whereupon, being angered at his silence, they were fain to
send to Solita and make their sport with her.

But that Joceliande would not suffer, and, rising, she went to
Solita's chamber and entreated her most kindly, telling her that for
love of her the Sieur Rudel would not adventure himself at Broye. Not
a word did she say of how she had mistreated him, and Solita answered
her jocundly for that her lord had held his pledge with her. But when
the castle was still, the princess took Solita by the hand and led her
down the steps to where Rudel stood against the pillar in the dark
hall.

"For thy sake, sweet Solita," she said, "is he bound. For thy sake!"
and she made her feel the manacles upon his hands. And when Solita had
so felt his bonds, she wept, and made the greatest sorrow that ever
man heard.

"Alas!" she cried, "that my dear lord should suffer in such straits.
In God's mercy, madame, I pray you let him go! Loyal service hath he
done for you, such as no other in the kingdom."

"Loyal service, I trow," replied the princess. "He hath brought such
shame upon my Court that for ever am I dishonoured. It may not be that
I let him go, without you give him back his word and bid him forth to
Broye."

"And that will I never do," replied Solita, "for all your cruelty."

So the princess turned her away and gat her from the hall, but Solita
remained with her lord, making moan and easing his fetters with her
hands as best she might. Hence it fell out that she who should have
comforted must needs be comforted herself, and that the Sieur Rudel
did right willingly.

The like, he would say to me, hath often happened to him since, and
when he was harassed with sore distress he must needs turn him about
to stop a woman's tears; for which he thanked God most heartily, and
prayed that so it might ever be, since thus he clean forgot his own
sad plight. Whence, meseems, may men understand how noble a gentleman
was my good lord the Sieur Rudel.

Now when the night was well spent and drawing on to dawn, Solita, for
very weariness, fell asleep at the pillar's foot, and Rudel began to
take counsel with himself if, by any manner of means, he might outwit
the Princess Joceliande. For this he saw, that she would not have him
wed her handmaiden, and for that cause, and for no cowardice of his,
had so cruelly entreated him. And when he had pondered a little with
himself, he bent and touched Solita with his hands, and called to her
in a low voice.

"Solita," he said, "it is in Joceliande's heart to keep us twain
each from other. Rise, therefore, and get thee to the good abbot who
baptised thee. Ever hath he stood my friend, and for friendship's sake
this thing he will do. Bring him hither into the hall, that he may
marry us even this night, and when the morning comes I will tell the
princess of our marriage; and so will she know that her cruelty is of
small avail, and release me unto thee."

Thereupon Solita rose right joyously.

"Surely, my dear lord," said she, "no man can match thee, neither in
craft nor prowess," and she hurried through the dark passages towards
the lodging of the abbot. Hard by this lodging was the chapel of the
castle, and when she came thereto the windows were ablaze with light,
and Solita clapped her ear to the door. But no sound did she hear, no,
not so much as the stirring of a mouse, and bethinking her that the
good abbot might be holding silent vigil, she gently pressed upon the
door, so that it opened for the space of an inch; and when she looked
into the chapel, she beheld the Princess Joceliande stretched upon
the steps before the altar. Her coronet had fallen from her head and
rolled across the stones, and she lay like one that had fallen asleep
in the counting of her beads. Greatly did Solita marvel at the sight,
but no word she said lest she should wake the princess; and in a
little, becoming afeard of the silence and of the shadows which the
flickering candles set racing on the wall, she shut the door quickly
and stole on tiptoe to the abbot. Long she entreated him or ever she
prevailed, for the holy man was timorous, and feared the wrath of the
princess. But at the last, for the Sieur Rudel's sake, he consented,
and married them privily in the hall as the grey dawn was breaking
across the sea.

Now, in the morning, the princess bid Solita be brought to her, and
when they were alone, gently and cunningly she spake:

"Child," she said, "I doubt not thy heart is hot against me for that I
will not enlarge the Sieur Rudel. Alas! fain were I to do this thing,
but for the honour of my Court I may not. Bound are we not by our
wills but by our necessities--and thus it is with all women. Men may
ride forth and shape their lives with their good swords; but for us,
we must needs bide where we were born, and order such things as fall
to us, as best we can. Therefore, child, take my word to heart: the
Sieur Rudel loves thee, and thou wouldst keep his love. Let my age
point to thee the way! What if I release him? No longer can he stay
with us, holding high honour and dignity, since he hath turned him
from his knightlihood and avoided this great adventure, but forth
with you must he fare. And all day long will he sit with you in your
chamber, idle as a woman, and ever his thoughts will go back to the
times of his nobility. The clash of steel will grow louder in
his ears; he will list again to the praises of minstrels in the
banquet-hall, and when men speak to him of great achievements wrought
by other hands, then thou wilt see the life die out of his eyes, and
his heart will become cold as stone, and thou wilt lose his love. A
great thing will it be for thee if he come not to hate thee in the
end. But if, of thy own free will, thou send him from thee, then shalt
thou ever keep his love. Thy image will ride before his eyes in the
van of battles; for very lack of thee he will move from endeavour to
endeavour; and so thy life will be enshrined in his most noble deeds."

At these words, with such cunning gentleness were they spoken, Solita
was sore troubled.

"I cannot send him from me," she cried, "for never did woman so love
her lord--no, not ever in the world!"

"Then prove thy love," said Joceliande again. "A kingdom is given into
his hand, and he will not take it because of thee. It is a hard thing,
I trow right well. But the cross becomes a crown when a woman lifts
it. Think! A kingdom! And never yet was kingdom established but the
stones of its walls were mortised with the blood of women's hearts."

So she pleaded, hiding her own thoughts, until Solita answered her,
and said:

"God help me, but he shall go to Broye!"

Much ado had the Princess Joceliande to hide her joy for the success
of her device; but Solita, poor lass! had neither eyes nor thoughts
for her. Forthwith she rose to her feet, and quickly gat her to the
hall, lest her courage should fail, before that she had accomplished
her resolve. But when she came near to the Sieur Rudel, blithely he
smiled at her and called "Solita, my wife." It seemed to her that
words so sweet had never as yet been spoken since the world began, and
all her strength ebbed from her, and she stood like one that is dumb,
gazing piteously at her husband. Again Rudel called to her, but no
answer could she make, and she turned and fled sobbing to the chamber
of the princess.

"I could not speak," she said; "my lips were locked, and Rudel holds
the key."

But the princess spoke gently and craftily, bidding her take heart,
for that she herself would go with her and second her words; and
taking Solita by the hand, she led her again to the hall.

This time Solita made haste to speak first. "Rudel," she said, "no
honour can I bring to you, but only foul disgrace, and that is no fit
gift from one who loves you. Therefore, from this hour I hold you quit
of your promise and pray you to undertake this mission and set forth
for Broye."

But the Sieur Rudel would hearken to nothing of what she said.

"No foul disgrace can come to me," he cried, "but only if I prove
false to you and lose your love. My promise I will keep, and all the
more for that I see the Princess Joceliande hath set you on to this."

But Solita protested that it was not so, and that of her own will and
desire she released him, for the longing to sacrifice herself for her
dear lord's sake grew upon her as she thought upon it. Yet he would
not consent.

"My word I passed to you when you were a maid, and shall I not keep it
now that you are a wife?" he cried.

"Wife?" cried the princess, "you are his wife?" And she roughly
gripped Solita's wrist so that the girl could not withhold a cry.

"In truth, madame," replied the Sieur Rudel, "even last night, in this
hall, Solita and I were married by the good abbot, and therefore I
will not leave her while she lives."

Still Joceliande would not believe it, bethinking her that the Sieur
Rudel had hit upon the pretence as a device for his enlargement; but
Solita showed to her the ring which the abbot had taken from the
finger of her lord and placed upon hers, and then the princess knew
that of a surety they were married, and her hatred for Solita burned
in her blood like fire.

But no sign she gave of what she felt, but rather spoke with greater
softness to them both, bidding them look forward beyond the first
delights of love, and behold how all their years to come were the
price they needs must pay.

Now, while they were yet debating each with other, came Sir Broyance
into the hall, and straightway the princess called to him and begged
him to add his prayers to Solita's. But he answered:

"That, madame, I will not do, for, indeed, the esteem I have for the
Sieur Rudel is much increased, and I hold it no cowardice that he
should refuse a kingdom for his wife's sake, but the sweetest bravery.
And therefore it was that I broke off my plea last night and sought
not to persuade him."

At that Rudel was greatly rejoiced, and said:

"Dost hear him, Solita? Even he who most has need of me acquits me of
disgrace. Truly I will never leave thee while I live."

But the princess turned sharply to Sir Broyance. "Sir, have you
changed your tune?" she said; "for never was a man so urgent as you
with me for the Sieur Rudel's help."

"Alas! madame," he replied, "I knew not then that he was plighted to
the maiden Solita, or never would I have borne this message. For
this I surely know, that all my days are waste and barren because I
suffered my mistress to send me from her after a will-of-the-wisp
honour, even as Solita would send her lord."

Thereupon Solita brake in upon him:

"But, my lord, you have won great renown, and far and wide is your
prowess known and sung."

"That avails me nothing," he replied, "my life rings hollow like an
empty cup, and so are two lives wasted."

"Nay, my lord, neither life is wasted. For much have you done for
others, though maybe little for yourself, while for her you loved the
noise of your achievements must have been enough."

"Of that I cannot tell," he answered. "But this I know: she drags a
pale life out behind convent walls. Often have I passed the gate with
my warriors, but never could I hold speech with her."

"She will have seen your banners glancing in the sun," said Solita,
"and so will she know her sacrifice was good." Thereupon she turned
her again to her husband. "For my sake, dear Rudel, I pray you go to
Broye."

But still he persisted, saying he would not depart from her till
death, until at last she ceased from her importunities, and went sadly
to her chamber. Then she unbound her hair and stood gazing at her
likeness in the mirror.

"O cursed beauty," she cried, "wherein I took vain pride for my sweet
lord's sake--truly art thou my ruin and snare!" And while she thus
made moan, the princess came softly into her chamber.

"He will not leave me, madame," she sobbed. Joceliande came over to
her and gently laid her hand upon her head and whispered in her ear,
"Not while you live!"

For awhile Solita sat silent.

"Ay, madame," she said at length, "even as I came alone to these
coasts, so will I go from them;" and slowly she drew from its sheath a
little knife which she carried at her girdle. She tried the point upon
her finger, so that the blood sprang from the prick and dropped on her
white gown. At the sight she gave a cry and dropped the knife, and "I
cannot do it" she said, "I have not the courage. But you, madame! Ever
have you been kind to me, and therefore show me this last kindness."

"I will well," said the princess; and she made Solita to sit upon a
couch, and with two bands of her golden hair she tied her hands fast
behind her, and so laid her upon her back on the couch. And when she
had so laid her she said:

"But for all that you die, he shall not go to Broye, but here shall he
bide, and share my throne with me."

Thereupon did Solita perceive all the treachery of Princess
Joceliande, and vainly she struggled to free her hands and to cry out
for help. But Joceliande clapped her palm upon Solita's mouth, and
drawing a gold pin from her own hair, she drove it straight into her
heart, until nothing but the little knob could be seen. So Solita
died, and quickly the princess wiped the blood from her breast, and
unbound her hands and arranged her limbs as though she slept. Then she
returned to the hall, and, summoning the warden, bade him loose the
Sieur Rudel.

"It shall be even as you wish," she said to him. Wise and prudent had
she been, had she ended with that; but her malice was not yet sated,
and so she suffered it to lead her to her ruin. For she stretched out
her hand to him and said, "I myself will take you to your wife." And
greatly marvelling, the Sieur Rudel took her hand and followed.

Now when they were come to Solita's chamber, the princess entered
first, and turned her again to my Lord Rudel and laid her finger to
her lips, saying, "Hush!" Therefore he came in after her on tiptoe and
stood a little way from the foot of the couch, fearing lest he might
wake his wife.

"Is she not still?" asked Joceliande in a whisper. "Is she not still
and white?"

"Still and white as a folded lily," he replied, "and like a folded
lily, too, in her white flesh there sleeps a heart of gold." Therewith
he crept softly to the couch and bent above her, and in an instant he
perceived that her bosom did not rise and fall. He gazed swiftly at
the princess; she was watching him, and their glances met. He dropped
upon his knees by the couch and felt about Solita's heart that he
might know whether it beat or not, and his fingers touched the knob of
Joceliande's bodkin. Gently he drew the gown from Solita's bosom, and
beheld how that she had been slain. Then did he weep, believing that
in truth she had killed herself, but the princess must needs touch him
upon the shoulder.

"My lord," she said, "why weep for the handmaid when the princess
lives?"

Then the Sieur Rudel rose straightway to his feet and said:

"This is thy doing!" For a little Joceliande denied it, saying that of
her own will and desire Solita had perished. But Rudel looked her ever
sternly in the face, and again he said, "This is thy doing!" and at
that Joceliande could gainsay him no more. But she dropped upon the
floor, and kissed his feet, and cried:

"It was for love of thee, Rudel. Look, my kingdom is large and of much
wealth, yet of no worth is it to me, but only if it bring thee service
and great honour. A princess am I, yet no joy do I have of my degree,
but only if thou share my siege with me."

Then Rudel broke out upon her, thrusting her from him with his hand
and spurning her with his foot as she crouched upon the floor.

"No princess art thou, but a changeling. For surely princess never did
such foul wrong and crime;" and even as he spake, many of the nobles
burst into the chamber, for they had heard the outcry below and
marvelled what it might mean. And when Rudel beheld them crowding
the doorway, "Come in, my lords," said he, "so that ye may know what
manner of woman ye serve and worship. There lies my dear wife, Solita,
murdered by this vile princess, and for love of me she saith, for love
of me!" And again he turned him to Joceliande. "Now all the reverence
I held thee in is turned to hatred, God be thanked; such is the
guerdon of thy love for me."

Joceliande, when she heard his injuries, knew indeed that her love was
unavailing, and that by no means might she win him to share her siege
with her. Therefore her love changed to a bitter fury, and standing
up forthwith she bade the nobles take their swords and smite off the
Sieur Rudel's head. But no one so much as moved a hand towards his
hilt. Then spake Rudel again:

"O vile and treacherous," he cried, "who will obey thee?" and his eyes
fell upon Solita where she lay in her white beauty upon the golden
pillow of her hair. Thereupon he dropped again upon his knees by the
couch, and took her within his arms, kissing her lips and her eyes,
and bidding her wake; this with many tears. But seeing she would not,
but was dead in very truth, he got him to his feet and turned to where
the princess stood like stone in the middle of the chamber. "Now for
thy sin," he cried, "a shameful death shalt thou die and a painful,
and may the devil have thy soul!"

He bade the nobles depart from the chamber, and following them the
last, firmly barred the door upon the outside. Thus was the Princess
Joceliande left alone with dead Solita, and ever she heard the closing
and barring of doors and the sound of feet growing fainter and
fainter. But no one came to her, loud though she cried, and sorely was
she afeard, gazing now at the dead body, now wondering what manner of
death the Sieur Rudel planned for her. Then she walked to the window
if by any chance she might win help that way, and saw the ships riding
at their anchorage with sails loose, and heard the songs of the
sailors as they made ready to cast free; and between the coast and
the castle were many men hurrying backwards and forwards with all the
purveyance of a voyage. Then did she think that she was to be left
alone in the tower, to starve to death in company of the girl she had
murdered, and great moan she made; but other device was in the mind
of my ingenious master Lord Rudel. For all about the castle he piled
stacks of wood and drenched them with oil, bethinking him that
Solita his wife, if little joy she had had of her life, should have
undeniable honour in her obsequies. And so having set fire to the
stacks, he got him into the ships with all the company that had
dwelled within the castle, and drew out a little way from shore. Then
the ships lay to and watched the flames mounting the castle walls. The
tower wherein the Princess Joceliande was prisoned was the topmost
turret of the building, so that many a roof crashed in, and many a
rampart bowed out and crumbled to the ground, or ever the fire touched
it. But just as night was drawing on, lo! a great tongue of flame
burst through the window from within, and the Sieur Rudel beheld in
the midst of it as it were the figure of a woman dancing.

Thereupon he signed to his sailors to hoist the sail again, and the
other ships obeying his example, he led the way gallantly to Broye.




A LIBERAL EDUCATION.


"So you couldn't wait!"

Mrs. Branscome turned full on the speaker as she answered
deliberately: "You have evidently not been long in London, Mr. Hilton,
or you would not ask that question."

"I arrived yesterday evening."

"Quite so. Then will you forgive me one tiny word of advice? You will
learn the truth of it soon by yourself; but I want to convince you at
once of the uselessness--to use no harder word--of trying to revive a
flirtation--let me see! yes, quite two years old. You might as well
galvanise a mummy and expect it to walk about. Besides," she added
inconsistently, "I had to marry and--and--you never came."

"Then you sent the locket!"

The word sent a shiver through Mrs. Branscome with a remembrance of
the desecration of a gift which she had cherished as a holy thing. She
clung to flippancy as her defence.

"Oh, no! I never sent it. I lost it somewhere, I think. Must you go?"
she continued, as Hilton moved silently to the door. "I expect my
husband in just now. Won't you wait and meet him?"

"How dare you?" Hilton burst out. "Is there nothing of your true self
left?"

       *       *       *       *       *
David Hilton's education was as yet in its infancy. This was not only
his first visit to England, but, indeed, to any spot further afield
than Interlaken. All of his six-and-twenty years that he could
recollect had been passed in a _chalet_ on the Scheidegg above
Grindelwald, his only companion an elderly recluse who had
deliberately cut himself off from communion with his fellows. The
trouble which had driven Mr. Strange, an author at one time of some
mark, into this seclusion, was now as completely forgotten as his
name. Even David knew nothing of its cause. That Strange was his uncle
and had adopted him when left an orphan at the age of six, was the
sum of his information. For although the pair had lived together for
twenty years, there had been little intercourse of thought between
them, and none of sentiment. Strange had, indeed, throughout shut his
nephew, not merely from his heart, but also from his confidence, at
first out of sheer neglect, and afterwards, as the lad grew towards
manhood, from deliberate intent. For, by continually brooding over his
embittered life, he had at last impregnated his weak nature with the
savage cynicism which embraced even his one comrade; and the child he
had originally chosen as a solace for his loneliness, became in the
end the victim of a heartless experiment. Strange's plan was based
upon a method of training. In the first place, he thoroughly isolated
David from any actual experience of persons beyond the simple
shepherd folk who attended to their needs and a few Alpine guides who
accompanied him on mountain expeditions. He kept incessant guard over
his own past life, letting no incidents or deductions escape, and fed
the youth's mind solely upon the ideal polities of the ancients,
his object being to launch him suddenly upon the world with little
knowledge of it beyond what had filtered through his books, and
possessed of an intuitive hostility to existing modes. What kind of a
career would ensue? Strange anticipated the solution of the problem
with an approach to excitement. Two events, however, prevented the
complete realisation of his scheme. One was a lingering illness which
struck him down when David was twenty-four and about to enter on his
ordeal. The second, occurring simultaneously, was the advent of Mrs.
Branscome--then Kate Alden--to Grindelwald.

They met by chance on the snow slopes of the Wetterhorn early one
August morning. Miss Alden was trying to disentangle some meaning
from the _patois_ of her guides, and gratefully accepted Hilton's
assistance. Half-an-hour after she had continued the ascent, David
noticed a small gold locket glistening in her steps. It recalled him
to himself, and he picked it up and went home with a strange trouble
clutching at his heart. The next morning he carried the locket down
into the valley, found its owner and--forgot to restore it. It became
an excuse for further descents. Meanwhile, the theories were wooed
with a certain coldness. In front of them stood perpetually the one
real thing which had surged up through the quiet of his life, and,
lover-like, he justified its presence to himself, by seeing in Kate
Alden's frank face the incarnation of the ideal patterns of his books.
The visits to Grindelwald grew more frequent and more prolonged. The
climax, however, came unexpectedly to both. David had commissioned a
jeweller at Berne to fashion a fac-simile of the locket for his own
wearing, and, meaning to restore the original, handed Kate Alden the
copy the evening before she left. An explanation of the mistake led to
mutual avowals and a betrothal. Hilton returned to nurse his adoptive
father, and was to seek England as soon as he could obtain his
release. Meanwhile, Kate pledged herself to wait for him. She kept the
new locket, empty except for a sprig of edelweiss he had placed in
it, and agreed that if she needed her lover's presence, she should
despatch it as an imperative summons.

During the next two years Strange's life ebbed sullenly away. The
approach of death brought no closer intimacy between uncle and nephew,
since indeed the former held it almost as a grievance against
David that he should die before he could witness the issue of his
experiment. Consequently the younger man kept his secret to himself,
and embraced it the more closely for his secrecy, fostering it through
the dreary night watches, until the image of Kate Alden became a
Star-in-the-East to him, beckoning towards London. When the end came,
David found himself the possessor of a moderate fortune; and with the
humiliating knowledge that this legacy awoke his first feeling of
gratitude towards his uncle, he locked the door of the _chalet_, and
so landed at Charing Cross one wet November evening. Meanwhile the
locket had never come.

       *       *       *       *       *

After Hilton had left, Mrs. Branscome's forced indifference gave way.
As she crouched beside the fire, numbed by pain beyond the power of
thought, she could conjure up but one memory--the morning of their
first meeting. She recollected that the sun had just risen over the
shoulder of the Shreckhorn, and how it had seemed to her young fancy
that David had come to her straight from the heart of it. The sound of
her husband's step in the hall brought her with a shock to facts. "He
must go back," she muttered, "he must go back."

David, however, harboured no such design. One phrase of hers had
struck root in his thoughts. "I had to marry," she had said, and
certain failings in her voice warned him that this, whatever it
meant, was in her eyes the truth. It had given the lie direct to the
flippancy which she had assumed, and David determined to remain until
he had fathomed its innermost meaning. A fear, indeed, lest the one
single faith he felt as real should crumble to ashes made his resolve
almost an instinct of self-preservation. The idea of accepting the
situation never occurred to him, his training having effectually
prevented any growth of respect for the _status quo_ as such. Nor did
he realise at this time that his determination might perhaps prove
unfair to Mrs. Branscome. A certain habit of abstraction, nurtured in
him by the spirit of inquiry which he had imbibed from his books, had
become so intuitive as to penetrate even into his passion. From the
first he had been accustomed to watch his increasing intimacy with
Kate Alden from the standpoint of a third person, analysing her
actions and feelings no less than his own. And now this tendency gave
the crowning impetus to a resolve which sprang originally from his
necessity to find sure foothold somewhere amid the wreckage of his
hopes.

From this period might be dated the real commencement of Hilton's
education. He returned to the Branscomes' house, sedulously schooled
his looks and his words, save when betrayed into an occasional
denunciation of the marriage laws, and succeeded at last in overcoming
a distaste which Mr. Branscome unaccountably evinced for him. To a
certain extent, also, he was taken up by social entertainers. There
was an element of romance in the life he had led which appealed
favourably to the seekers after novelty--"a second St. Simeon
Skylights" he had been rashly termed by one good lady, whose wealth
outweighed her learning. At first his gathering crowd of acquaintances
only served to fence him more closely within himself; but as he began
to realise that this was only the unit of another crowd, a crowd of
designs and intentions working darkly, even he, sustained by the
strength of a single aim, felt himself whirling at times. Thus he
slowly grew to some knowledge of the difficulties and complications
which must beset any young girl like Kate Alden, whose nearest
relation and chaperon had been a feather-headed cousin not so
many years her elder. At last, in a dim way, he began to see the
possibility of replacing his bitterness with pity. For Mrs. Branscome
did not love her husband; he plainly perceived that, if only from the
formal precision with which she performed her duties. She appeared to
him, indeed, to be paying off an obligation rather than working out
the intention of her life.

The actual solution of his perplexities came by an accident. Amongst
the visitors who fell under Hilton's observation at the Branscomes'
was a certain Mr. Marston, a complacent widower of some
five-and-thirty years, and Branscome's fellow servant at the
Admiralty. Hilton's attention was attracted to this man by the air
of embarrassment with which Mrs. Branscome received his approaches.
Resolute to neglect no clue, however slight, David sought Marston's
companionship, and, as a reward, discovered one afternoon in a Crown
Derby teacup on the mantel-shelf of the latter's room his own present
of two years back. The exclamation which this discovery extorted
aroused Marston.

"What's up?"

"Where did you get this?"

"Why? Have you seen it before?"

The question pointed out to David the need of wariness.

"No!" he answered. "Its shape rather struck me, that's all. The emblem
of a conquest, I suppose?"

The invitation stumbled awkwardly from unaccustomed lips, but
Marston noticed no more than the words. He was chewing the cud of a
disappointment and answered with a short laugh:

"No! Rather of a rebuff. The lady tore her hand away in a hurry--the
link on the bracelet was thin, I suppose. Anyway, that was left in my
hand."

"You were proposing to her?"

"Well, hardly. I was married at the time."

There was a silence for some moments, during which Hilton slowly
gathered into his mind a consciousness of the humiliation which Kate
must have endured, and read in that the explanation of her words "I
had to marry." Marston took up the tale, babbling resentfully of
a nursery prudishness, but his remarks fell on deaf ears until he
mentioned a withered flower, which he had found inside the locket.
Then David's self control partially gave way. In imagination he saw
Marston carelessly tossing the sprig aside and the touch of his
fingers seemed to sully the love of which it was the token. The locket
burned into his hand. Without a word he dropped it on to the floor,
and ground it to pieces with his heel. A new light broke in upon
Marston.

"So this accounts for all your railing against the marriage laws," he
laughed. "By Jove, you have kept things quiet. I wouldn't have given
you credit for it."

His eyes travelled from the carpet to David's face, and he stopped
abruptly.

"You had better hold your tongue," David said quietly. "Pick up the
pieces."

"Do you think I would touch them now?"

Marston rose from his lounge; David stepped in front of the door.
There was a litheness in his movements which denoted obedient muscles.
Marston perceived this now with considerable discomfort, and thought
it best to comply: he knelt down and picked up the fragments of the
locket.

"Now throw them into the grate!"

That done, David took his leave. Once outside the house, however, his
emotion fairly mastered him. The episode of which he had just heard
was so mean and petty in itself, and yet so far-reaching in its
consequences that it set his senses aflame in an increased revolt
against the order of the world. Marriage was practically a necessity
to a girl as unprotected as Kate Alden; he now acquiesced in that. But
that it should have been forced upon her by the vanity of a trivial
person like Marston, engaged in the pursuit of his desires, sent a
fever of repulsion through his veins. He turned back to the door
deluded by the notion that it was his duty to render the occurrence
impossible of repetition. He was checked, however, by the thought of
Mrs. Branscome. The shame he felt hinted the full force of degradation
of which she must have been conscious, and begot in him a strange
feeling of loyalty. Up till now the true meaning of chivalry had
been unknown to him. In consequence of his bringing up he had been
incapable of regarding faith in persons as a working motive in one's
life. Even the first dawn of his passion had failed to teach him that;
all the confidence and trust which he gained thereby being a mere
reflection, from what he saw in Kate Alden, of truth to him. It was
necessary that he should feel her trouble first and his poignant sense
of that now revealed to him, not merely the wantonness of the perils
women are compelled to run, but their consequent sufferings and their
endurance in suppressing them.

A feverish impulse towards self-sacrifice sprang up within him. He
would bury the incident of that afternoon as a dead thing--nay, more,
for Mrs. Branscome's sake he would leave England and return to his
retreat among the mountains. If she had suffered, why should he claim
an exemption? The idea had just sufficient strength to impel him to
catch the night-mail from Charing Cross. That it was already weakening
was evidenced by a half-feeling of regret that he had not missed the
train.

The regret swelled during his journey to the coast. The scene he had
just come through became, from much pondering on it, almost unreal,
and, with the blurring of the impression it had caused, there rose a
doubt as to the accuracy of his vision of Mrs. Branscome's distress,
which he had conjured out of it. His chivalry, in a word, had grown
too quickly to take firm root. It was an exotic planted in soil not
yet fully prepared. David began to think himself a fool, and at last,
as the train neared Dover, a question which had been vaguely throbbing
in his brain suddenly took shape. Why had she not sent for him? True,
the locket was lost, but she might have written. The formulation of
the question shattered almost all the work of the last few hours. He
cursed his recent thoughts as a child's fairy dreams. Why should he
leave England after all? If he was to sacrifice himself it should be
for some one who cared sufficiently for him to justify the act.

There might, of course, have been some hidden obstacle in the way,
which Mrs. Branscome could not surmount. The revelation of Marston's
unimagined story warned him of the possibility of that. But the
chances were against it. Anyway, he quibbled to himself, he had a
clear right to pursue the matter until he unearthed the truth. Acting
upon this decision, David returned to town, though not without a
lurking sense of shame.

A few evenings after, he sought out Mrs. Branscome at a dance. The
blood rushed to her face when she caught his figure, and as quickly
ebbed away.

"So you have not gone, after all?" There was something pitiful in her
tone of reproach.

"No. What made you think I had?"

"Mr. Marston told me!"

"Did he tell you why?"

"I guessed that, and I thanked you in my heart."

David was disconcerted; the woman he saw corresponded so ill with what
he was schooling himself to believe her. He sought to conceal his
confusion, as she had once done, and played a part. Like her, he
overplayed it.

"Well! I came to see London life, you know. It makes a pretty comedy."

"Comedies end in tears at times."

"Even then common politeness makes us sit them out. Can you spare me a
dance?"

Mrs. Branscome pleaded fatigue, and barely suppressed a sigh of relief
as she noted her husband's approach. David followed her glance, and
bent over her, speaking hurriedly:--

"You said you knew why I went away; I want to tell you why I came
back."

"No! no!" she exclaimed. "It could be of no use--of no help to either
of us."

"I came back," he went on, ignoring her interruption, "merely to ask
you one question. Will you hear it and answer it? I can wait," he
added, as she kept silence.

"Then, to-morrow, as soon as possible," Mrs. Branscome replied, beaten
by his persistency. "Come at seven; we dine at eight, so I can give
you half-an-hour. But you are ungenerous."

That night began what may be termed the crisis of Hilton's education.
This was the second time he had caught Mrs. Branscome unawares. On the
first occasion--that of his unexpected arrival in England--he did not
possess the experience to measure accurately looks and movements,
or to comprehend them as the connotation of words. It is doubtful,
besides, whether, had he owned the skill, he would have had the power
to exercise it, so engrossed was he in his own distress. By the
process, however, of continually repressing the visible signs of his
own emotions, he had now learnt to appreciate them in others. And
in Mrs. Branscome's sudden change of colour, in little convulsive
movements of her hands, and in a certain droop of eyelids veiling eyes
which met the gaze frankly as a rule, he read this evening sure proofs
of the constancy of her heart. This fresh knowledge affected him in
two ways. On the one hand it gave breath to the selfish passion which
now dominated his ideas. At the same time, however it assured him
that when he asked his question: "Why did you not send for me?" an
unassailable answer would be forthcoming; and, moreover, by convincing
him of this, it destroyed the sole excuse he had pleaded to himself
for claiming the right to ask it. In self-defence Hilton had recourse
to his old outcry against the marriage laws and, finding this barren,
came in the end to frankly devising schemes for their circumvention.
Such inward personal conflicts were, of necessity, strange to a man
dry-nursed on abstractions, and, after a night of tension, they tossed
him up on the shores of the morning broken in mind and irresolute for
good or ill.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Branscome received him impassively at the appointed time. David
saw that he was expected to speak to the point, and a growing scorn
for his own insistence urged him to the same course. He plunged
abruptly into his subject and his manner showed him in the rough, more
particularly to himself.

"What I came back to ask you is just this. You know--you must
know--that I would have come, whatever the consequence. Why did you
not send for me after, after--?"

"Why did I not send for you?" Mrs. Branscome took him up, repeating
his words mechanically, as though their meaning had not reached her.
"You don't mean that you never received my letter. Oh, don't say that!
It can't have miscarried, I registered it."

"Then you did write?"

This confirmation of her fear drove a breach through her composure.

"Of course, of course, I wrote," she cried. "You doubt that? What can
you think of me? Yes, I wrote, and when no answer came, I fancied
you had forgotten me--that you had never really cared, and so I--I
married."

Her voice dried in her throat. The thought of this ruin of two lives,
made inevitable by a mistake in which neither shared, brought a sense
of futility which paralysed her.

The same idea was working in Hilton's mind, but to a different end. It
fixed the true nature of this woman for the first time clearly within
his recognition, and the new light blinded him. Before, his imagined
grievance had always coloured the picture; now, he began to realise
not only that she was no more responsible for the catastrophe than
himself, but that he must have stood in the same light to her as she
had done to him. The events of the past few months passed before his
mind as on a clear mirror. He compared the gentle distinction of her
bearing with his own flaunting resentment.

"I am sorry," he said, "I have wronged you in thought and word and
action. The fact is, I never saw you plainly before; myself stood in
the way."

Mrs. Branscome barely heeded his words. The feelings her watchfulness
had hitherto restrained having once broken their barriers swept her
away on a full flow. She recalled the very terms of her letter. She
had written it in the room in which they were standing. Mr. Branscome
had called just as she addressed the envelope--she had questioned him
about its registration to Switzerland, and, yes, he had promised to
look after it and had taken it away. "Yes!" she repeated to herself
aloud, directing her eyes instinctively towards her husband's study
door. "He promised to post it."

The sound of the words and a sudden movement from Hilton woke her to
alarm. David had turned to the window, and she felt that he had heard
and understood. The silence pressed on her like a dead weight. For
Hilton, this was the crucial moment of his ordeal. He had understood
only too clearly, and this second proof of the harm a petty sin could
radiate struck through him the same fiery repulsion which had stung
him to revolt when he quitted Marston's rooms. He flung up the window
and faced the sunset. Strips of black cloud barred it across, and he
noticed, with a minute attention of which he was hardly conscious,
that their lower edges took a colour like the afterglow on a Swiss
rock mountain. The perception sent a riot of associations through his
brain which strengthened his wavering purpose. Must he lose her after
all, he thought; now that he had risen to a true estimation of her
worth? His fancy throned Kate queen of his mountain home, and he
turned towards her, but a light of fear in her eyes stopped the words
on his lips.

"I trust you," she said, simply.

The storm of his passions quieted down. That one sentence just
expressed to him the debt he owed to her. In return--well, he could do
no less than leave her her illusion.

"Good-bye," he said. "All the good that comes to us, somehow, seems to
spring from women like yourself, while we give you nothing but trouble
in return. Even this last misery, which my selfishness has brought to
you, lifts me to breathe a cleaner air."

"He must have forgotten to post it," Mrs. Branscome pleaded.

"Yes; we must believe that. Good-bye!"

For a moment he stayed to watch her white figure, outlined against the
dusk of the room, and then gently closed the door on her. The next
morning David left England, not, however, for Grindelwald. He dreaded
the morbid selfishness which grows from isolation, and sought a
finishing school in the companionship of practical men.




THE TWENTY-KRONER STORY.


The surgeon has a weakness for men who make their living on the sea.
From the skipper of a Dogger Bank fishing-smack to the stoker of a
Cardiff tramp, from Margate 'longshoreman to a crabber of the Stilly
Isles, he embraces them all in a lusty affection. And this not merely
out of his own love of salt water but because his diagnosis reveals
the gentleman in them more surely than in the general run of his
wealthier patients. "A primitive gentleman, if you like," Lincott will
say, "not above tearing his meat with his fingers or wearing the
same shirt night and day for a couple of months on end, but still a
gentleman." As one of the innumerable instances which had built up his
conviction, Lincott will offer you the twenty-kroner story.

As he was walking through the wards of his hospital he stopped for
a moment by the bed of a brewer's drayman who was suffering from an
access of _delirium tremens_. The drayman's language was violent and
voluble. But he sank into a coma with the usual suddenness common to
such cases, and in the pause which followed Lincott heard a gentle
voice a few beds away earnestly apologising to a nurse for the trouble
she was put to. "Why," she replied with a laugh, "I am here to be
troubled." Apologies of the kind are not so frequently heard in the
wards of an East End hospital. This one, besides, was spoken with an
accent not very pronounced, it is true, but unfamiliar. Lincott moved
down to the bed. It was occupied by a man apparently tall, with a pair
of remorseful blue eyes set in an open face, and a thatch of yellow
hair dusted with grey.

"What's the matter?" asked Lincott, and the patient explained. He was
a Norseman from Finland, fifty-three years old, and he had worked all
his life on English ships. He had risen from "decky" to mate. Then he
had injured himself, and since he could work no more he had come into
the hospital to be cured. Lincott examined him, found that a slight
operation was all the man needed, and performed it himself. In six
weeks time Helling, as the sailor was named, was discharged. He made a
simple and dignified little speech of thanks to the nurses for their
attention, and another to the surgeon for saving his life.

"Nonsense!" said Lincott, as he held out his hand. "Any medical
student could have performed that operation."

"Then I have another reason to thank you," answered Helling. "The
nurses have told me about you, sir, and I'm grateful you spared the
time to perform it yourself."

"What are you going to do?" asked Lincott.

"Find a ship, sir," answered Helling. Then he hesitated, and slowly
slipped his finger and thumb along the waist-band of his trousers. But
he only repeated, "I must find a ship," and so left the hospital.

Three weeks later Helling called at Lincott's house in Harley Street.
Now, when hospital patients take the trouble, after they have been
discharged, to find out the doctor's private address and call, it
generally means they have come to beg. Lincott, remembering how
Helling's simple courtesies had impressed him, experienced an actual
disappointment. He felt his theories about the seafaring man begin to
totter. However, Helling was shown into the consulting-room, and at
the sight of him Lincott's disappointment vanished. He did not start
up, since manifestations of surprise are amongst those things with
which doctors find it advisable to dispense, but he hooked a chair
forward with his foot.

"Now then, sit down! Chuck yourself about! Sit down," said Lincott
genially. "You look bad."

Helling, in fact, was gaunt with famine; his eyes were sunk and dull;
he was so thin that he seemed to have grown in height.

"I had some trouble in finding a ship," he said; and sitting down on
the edge of the chair, twirled his hat in some embarrassment.

"It is three weeks since you left the hospital?"

"Yes."

"You should have come here before," the surgeon was moved to say.

"No," answered Helling. "I couldn't come before, sir. You see, I had
no ship. But I found one this morning, and I start to-morrow."

"But for these three weeks? You have been starving." Lincott slipped
his hand into his pocket. It seemed to him afterwards simply
providential that he did not fumble his money, that no clink of coins
was heard. For Helling answered,

"Yes, sir, I've been starving." He drew back his shoulders and
laughed. "I'm proud to know that I've been starving."

He laid his hat on the ground, drew out and unclasped his knife, felt
along the waist-band of his breeches, cut a few stitches, and finally
produced a little gold coin. This coin he held between his forefinger
and thumb.

"Forty years ago," he said, "when I was a nipper and starting on
my first voyage, my mother gave me this. She sewed it up in the
waist-band of my breeches with her own hands and told me never to part
with it until I'd been starving. I've been near to starvation often
and often enough. But I never have starved before. This coin has
always stood between that and me. Now, however, I have actually been
starving and I can part with it."

He got up from his chair and timidly laid the piece of gold on the
table by Lincott's elbow. Then he picked up his hat. The surgeon
said nothing, and he did not touch the coin. Neither did he look at
Helling, but sat with his forehead propped in his hand as though he
were reading the letters on his desk. Helling, afraid to speak lest
his coin should be refused, walked noiselessly to the door and
noiselessly unlatched it.

"Wait a bit!" said Lincott. Helling stopped anxiously in the doorway.

"Where have you slept"--Lincott paused to steady his voice--"for the
last three weeks?" he continued.

"Under arches by the river, sir," replied Helling. "On benches along
the Embankment, once or twice in the parks. But that's all over now,"
he said earnestly. "I'm all right. I've got my ship. I couldn't part
with that before, because it was the only thing I had to hang on to
the world with. But I'm all right now."

Lincott took up the coin and turned it over in the palm of his hand.

"Twenty kroners," he said. "Do you know what that's worth in England?"

"Yes, I do," answered Helling with some trepidation.

"Fifteen shillings," said Lincott. "Think of it, fifteen shillings,
perhaps sixteen."

"I know," interrupted Helling quickly, mistaking the surgeon's
meaning. "But please, please, you mustn't think I value what you have
done for me at that. It's only fifteen shillings, but it has meant a
fortune to me all the last three weeks. Each time that I've drawn my
belt tighter I have felt that coin underneath it burn against my skin.
When I passed a coffee-stall in the early morning and saw the steam
and the cake I knew I could have bought up the whole stall if I chose.
I could have had meals, and meals, and meals. I could have slept in
beds under roofs. It's only fifteen shillings; nothing at all to
you," and he looked round the consulting-room, with its pictures and
electric lights, "but I want you to take it at what it has been worth
to me ever since I came out of the hospital."

Lincott took Helling into his dining-room. On a pedestal stood a great
silver vase, blazing its magnificence across the room.

"You see that?" he asked.

"Yes," said Helling.

"It was given to me by a patient. It must have cost at the least
L500."

Helling tapped the vase with his knuckles.

"Yes, sir, that's a present," he said enviously. "That _is_ a
present."

Lincott laughed and threw up the window.

"You can pitch it out into the street if you like. By the side of your
coin it's muck."

Lincott keeps the coin. He points out that Helling was fifty-three at
the time that he gave him this present, and that the operation was one
which any practitioner could have performed.




THE FIFTH PICTURE.


Lady Tamworth felt unutterably bored. The sensation of lassitude, even
in its less acute degrees, was rare with her; for she possessed a
nature of so fresh a buoyancy that she was able, as a rule, to extract
diversion from any environment. Her mind took impressions with the
vivid clearness of a mirror, and also, it should be owned, with a
mirror's transient objectivity. To-day, however, the mirror was
clouded. She looked out of the window; a level row of grey houses
frowned at her across the street. She looked upwards; a grey pall of
cloud swung over the rooftops. The interior of the room appeared to
her even less inviting than the street. It was the afternoon of the
first drawing-room, and a _debutante_ was exhibiting herself to her
friends. She stood in the centre, a figure from a Twelfth-Night cake,
amidst a babble of congratulations, and was plainly occupied in a
perpetual struggle to conceal her moments of enthusiasm beneath a
crust of deprecatory languor.

The spectacle would have afforded choice entertainment to Lady
Tamworth, had she viewed it in the company of a sympathetic companion.
Solitary appreciation of the humorous, however, only induced in her
a yet more despondent mood. The tea seemed tepid; the conversation
matched the tea. Epigrams without point, sallies void of wit, and
cynicisms innocent of the sting of an apt application floated about
her on a ripple of unintelligent laughter. A phrase of Mr. Dale's
recurred to her mind, "Hock and seltzer with the sparkle out of it;"
so he had stigmatised the style and she sadly thanked him for the
metaphor.

There was, moreover, a particular reason for her discontent. Nobody
realised the presence of Lady Tamworth, and this unaccustomed neglect
shot a barbed question at her breast. "After all why should they?" She
was useless, she reflected; she did nothing, exercised no influence.
The thought, however, was too painful for lengthened endurance; the
very humiliation of it produced the antidote. She remembered that she
had at last persuaded her lazy Sir John to stand for Parliament. Only
wait until he was elected! She would exercise an influence then. The
vision of a _salon_ was miraged before her, with herself in the middle
deftly manipulating the destinies of a nation.

"Lady Tamworth!" a voice sounded at her elbow.

"Mr. Dale!" She turned with a sudden sprightliness. "My guardian angel
sent you."

"So bad as that?"

"I have an intuition." She paused impressively upon the word.

"Never mind!" said he soothingly. "It will go away."

Lady Tamworth glared, that is, as well as she could; nature had not
really adapted her for glaring. "I have an intuition," she resumed,
"that this is what the suburbs mean." And she waved her hand
comprehensively.

"They are perhaps a trifle excessive," he returned. "But then you
needn't have come."

"Oh, yes! Clients of Sir John." Lady Tamworth sighed and sank with a
weary elegance into a chair. Mr. Dale interpreted the sigh. "Ah! A
wife's duties," he began.

"No man can know," she interrupted, and she spread out her hands in
pathetic forgiveness of an over-exacting world. Her companion laughed
brutally. "You _are_ rude!" she said and laughed too. And then, "Tell
me something new!"

"I met an admirer of yours to-day."

"But that's nothing new." She looked up at him with a plaintive
reproach.

"I will begin again," he replied submissively. "I walked down the
Mile-End road this morning to Sir John's jute-factory."

"You fail to interest me," she said with some emphasis.

"I am so sorry. Good-bye!"

"Mr. Dale!"

"Yes!"

"You may, if you like, go on with the first story."

"There is only one. It was in the Mile-End road I met the
admirer--Julian Fairholm."

"Oh!" Lady Tamworth sat up and blushed. However, Lady Tamworth blushed
very readily.

"It was a queer incident," Mr. Dale continued. "I caught sight of a
necktie in a little dusty shop-window near the Pavilion Theatre. I
had never seen anything like it in my life; it fairly fascinated me,
seemed to dare me to buy it."

The lady's foot began to tap upon the carpet. Mr. Dale stopped and
leaned critically forward.

"Well! Why don't you go on?" she asked impatiently.

"It's pretty," he reflected aloud.

The foot disappeared demurely into the seclusion of petticoats. "You
exasperate me," she remarked. But her face hardly guaranteed her
words. "We were speaking of ties."

"Ah, the tie wasn't pretty. It was of satin, bright yellow with blue
spots. And an idea struck me; yes, an idea! Sir John's election
colours are yellow, his opponent's blue. So I thought the tie would
make a tactful present, symbolical (do you see?) of the state of the
parties in the constituency."

He paused a second time.

"Well?"

"I went in and bought it."

"Well?"

"Julian Fairholm sold it to me."

Lady Tamworth stared at the speaker in pure perplexity. Then all at
once she understood and the blood eddied into her cheeks. "I don't
believe it!" she exclaimed.

"His face would be difficult to mistake," Mr. Dale objected. "Besides
I had time to assure myself, for I had to wait my turn. When I entered
the shop, he was serving a woman with baby-linen. Oh yes! Julian
Fairholm sold me the tie."

Lady Tamworth kept her eyes upon the ground. Then she looked up. She
struck the arm of her chair with her closed fist and cried in a quick
petulance, "How dare he?"

"Exactly what I thought," answered her companion smoothly. "The
colours were crude by themselves, the combination was detestable. And
he an artist too!" Mr. Dale laughed pleasantly.

"Did he speak to you?"

"He asked me whether I would take a packet of pins instead of a
farthing."

"Ah, don't," she entreated, and rose from her chair. It might have
been her own degradation of which Mr. Dale was speaking.

"By the way," he added, "I was so taken aback that I forgot to present
the tie. Would you?"

"No! No!" she said decisively and turned away. But a sudden notion
checked her. "On second thoughts I will; but I can't promise to make
him wear it."

The smile which sped the words flickered strangely upon quivering lips
and her eyes shone with anger. However the tie changed hands, and Lady
Tamworth tripped down stairs and stepped into her brougham. The packet
lay upon her lap and she unfolded it. A round ticket was enclosed, and
the bill. On the ticket was printed, _A Present from Zedediah Moss_.
With a convulsion of disgust she swept the parcel on to the floor.
"How dare he?" she cried again, and her thoughts flew back to the
brief period of their engagement. She had been just Kitty Arlton in
those days, the daughter of a poor sea-captain but dowered with
the compensating grace of personal attractions. Providence had
indisputably designed her for the establishment of the family
fortunes; such at all events was the family creed, and the girl
herself felt no inclination to doubt a faith which was backed by the
evidence of her looking-glass. Julian Fairholm at that time shared a
studio with her brother, and the acquaintance thus begun ripened into
an attachment and ended in a betrothal. For Julian, in the common
prediction, possessed that vague blessing, a future. It is true the
common prediction was always protected by a saving clause: "If he
could struggle free from his mysticism." But none the less his
pictures were beginning to sell, and the family displayed a moderate
content. The discomposing appearance of Sir John Tamworth, however,
gave a different complexion to the matter. Sir John was rich, and had
besides the confident pertinacity of success. In a word, Kitty Arlton
married Sir John.

Lady Tamworth's recollections of the episode were characteristically
vague; they came back to her in pieces like disconnected sections of
a wooden puzzle. She remembered that she had written an exquisitely
pathetic letter to Fairholm "when the end came," as she expressed it;
and she recalled queer scraps of the artist's talk about the danger
of forming ties. "New ties," he would say, "mean new duties, and they
hamper and clog the will." Ah yes, the will; he was always holding
forth about that and here was the lecture finally exemplified! He
was selling baby-linen in the Mile-End road. She had borne her
disappointment, she reflected, without any talk about will. The
thought of her self-sacrifice even now brought the tears to her eyes;
she saw herself wearing her orange-blossoms in the spirit of an
Iphigeneia.

Sections of the puzzle, however, were missing to Lady Tamworth's
perceptions. For, in fact, her sense of sacrifice had been mainly
artificial, and fostered by a vanity which made the possession of a
broken romance seem to pose her on a notable pedestal of duty. What
had really attracted her to Julian was the evidence of her power shown
in the subjugation of a being intellectually higher than his compeers.
It was not so much the man she had cared for, as the sight of herself
in a superior setting; a sure proof whereof might have been found in a
certain wilful pleasure which she had drawn from constantly impelling
him to acts and admissions which she knew to be alien to his nature.

It was some revival of this idea which explained her exclamation, "How
dare he?" For his conduct appeared more in the light of an outrage and
insult to her than of a degradation of himself. He must be rescued
from his position, she determined.

She stooped to pick up the bill from the floor as the brougham swung
sharply round a corner. She looked out of the window; the coachman had
turned into Berkeley Square; in another hundred yards she would reach
home. She hastily pulled the check-string, and the footman came to the
door. "Drive down the Mile-End road," she said; "I will fetch Sir John
home." Lady Tamworth read the address on the bill. "Near the Pavilion
Theatre," Mr. Dale had explained. She would just see the place this
evening, she determined, and then reflect on the practical course to
be pursued.

The decision relieved her of her sense of humiliation, and she nestled
back among her furs with a sigh of content. There was a pleasurable
excitement about her present impulse which contrasted very brightly
with her recent _ennui_. She felt that her wish to do something,
to exert an influence, had been providentially answered. The task,
besides, seemed to her to have a flavour of antique chivalry; it
smacked of the princess undoing enchantments, and reminded her vaguely
of Camelot. She determined to stop at the house and begin the work
at once; so she summoned the footman a second time and gave him the
address. So great indeed was the charm which her conception exercised
over her, that her very indignation against Julian changed to pity.
He had to be fitted to the chivalric pattern, and consequently
refashioned. Her harlequin fancy straightway transformed him into the
romantic lover who, having lost his mistress, had lost the world and
therefore, naturally, held the sale of baby-linen on a par with the
painting of pictures. "Poor Julian!" she thought.

The carriage stopped suddenly in front of a shuttered window. A
neighbouring gas-lamp lit up the letters on the board above it, _Z.
Moss_. This unexpected check in the full flight of ardour dropped her
to earth like a plummet. And as if to accentuate her disappointment
the surrounding shops were aglare with light; customers pressed
busily in and out of them, and even on the roadway naphtha-jets waved
flauntingly over barrows of sweet-stuff and fruit. Only this sordid
little house was dark. "They can't afford to close at this hour," she
murmured reproachfully.

The footman came to the carriage door, disdain perceptibly struggling
through his mask of impassivity.

"Why is the shop closed?" Lady Tamworth asked.

"The name, perhaps, my lady," he suggested. "It is Friday."

Lady Tamworth had forgotten the day. "Very well," she said sullenly.
"Home at once!" However, she corrected herself adroitly: "I mean, of
course, fetch Sir John first."

Sir John was duly fetched and carried home jubilant at so rare an
attention. The tie was presented to him on the way, and he bellowed
his merriment at its shape and colour. To her surprise Lady Tamworth
found herself defending the style, and inveighing against the monotony
of the fashions of the West End. Nor was this the only occasion on
which she disagreed with her husband that evening. He launched an
aphorism across the dinner-table which he had cogitated from the
report of a divorce-suit in the evening papers. "It is a strange
thing," he said, "that the woman who knows her influence over a man
usually employs it to hurt him; the woman who doesn't, employs it
unconsciously for his good."

"You don't mean that?" she asked earnestly.

"I have noticed it more than once," he replied.

For a moment Lady Tamworth's chivalric edifice showed cracks and
rents; it threatened to crumble like a house of cards; but only for
a moment. For she merely considered the remark in reference to the
future; she applied it to her present wish to exercise an influence
over Julian. The issue of that, however, lay still in the dark, and
was consequently imaginable as inclination prompted. A glance at Sir
Julian sufficed to finally reassure her. He was rosy and modern, and
so plainly incapable of appreciating chivalric impulses. To estimate
them rightly one must have an insight into their nature, and therefore
an actual experience of their fire; but such fire left traces on the
person. Chivalric people were hollow-cheeked with luminous eyes; at
least chivalric men were hollow-cheeked, she corrected herself with
a look at the mirror. At all events Sir John and his aphorism were
beneath serious reflection; and she determined to repeat her journey
upon the first opportunity.

The opportunity, however, was delayed for a week and occasioned Lady
Tamworth no small amount of self-pity. Here was noble work waiting for
her hand, and duty kept her chained to the social oar!

On the afternoon, then, of the following Friday she dressed with
what even for her was unusual care, aiming at a complex effect of
daintiness and severity, and drove down in a hansom to Whitechapel.
She stopped the cab some yards from the shop and walked up to the
window. Through the glass she could see Julian standing behind the
counter. His hands (she noticed them particularly because he was
displaying some cheap skeins of coloured wool) seemed perhaps a trifle
thinner and more nervous, his features a little sharpened, and there
was a sprinkling of grey in the black of his hair. For the first time
since the conception of her scheme Lady Tamworth experienced a feeling
of irresolution. With Fairholm in the flesh before her eyes, the task
appeared difficult; its reality pressed in upon her, driving a breach
through the flimsy wall of her fancies. She resolved to wait until the
shop should be empty, and to that end took a few steps slowly up the
street and returned yet more slowly. She looked into the window again;
Julian was alone now, and still she hesitated. The admiring comments
of two loungers on the kerb concerning her appearance at last
determined her, and she brusquely thrust open the door. A little bell
jangled shrilly above it and Julian looked up.

"Lady Tamworth!" he said after the merest pause and with no more than
a natural start of surprise. Lady Tamworth, however, was too taken
aback by the cool manner of his greeting to respond at once. She had
forecast the commencement of the interview upon such wholly different
lines that she felt lost and bewildered. An abashed confusion was the
least that she expected from him, and she was prepared to increase it
with a nicely-tempered indignation. Now the positions seemed actually
reversed; he was looking at her with a composed attention, while she
was filled with embarrassment.

A suspicion flashed through her mind that she had come upon a fool's
errand. "Julian!" she said with something of humility in her voice,
and she timidly reached out her little gloved hand towards him. Julian
took it into the palm of his own and gazed at it with a sort of
wondering tenderness, as though he had lighted upon a toy which he
remembered to have prized dearly in an almost forgotten childhood.

This second blow to her pride quickened in her a feeling of
exasperation. She drew her fingers quickly out of his grasp. "What
brought you down to this!" She snapped out the words at him; she had
not come to Whitechapel to be slighted at all events.

"I have risen," he answered quietly.

"Risen? And you sell baby-linen!"

Julian laughed in pure contentment. "You don't understand," he said.
For a moment he looked at her as one debating with himself and then:
"You have a right to understand. I will tell you." He leaned across
the counter, and as he spoke the eager passion of a devotee began to
kindle in his eyes and vibrate through the tones of his voice. "The
knowledge of a truth worked into your heart will lift you, eh, must
lift you high? But base your life upon that truth, centre yourself
about it, till your thoughts become instincts born from it! It must
lift you still higher then; ah, how much higher! Well, I have done
that. Yes, that's why I am here. And I owe it all to you."

Lady Tamworth repeated his words in sheer bewilderment. "You owe it
all to me?"

"Yes," he nodded, "all to you." And with genuine gratitude he added,
"You didn't know the good that you had done."

"Ah, don't say that!" she cried.

The bell tinkled over the shop-door and a woman entered. Lady Tamworth
bent forward and said hastily, "I must speak to you."

"Then you must buy something; what shall it be?" Fairholm had already
recovered his self-possession and was drawing out one of the shelves
in the wall behind him.

"No, no!" she exclaimed, "not here; I can't speak to you here. Come
and call on me; what day will you come?"

Julian shook his head. "Not at all, I am afraid. I have not the time."

A boy came out from the inner room and began to get ready the
shutters. "Ah, it's Friday," she said. "You will be closing soon."

"In five minutes."

"Then I will wait for you. Yes, I will wait for you."

She paused at the door and looked at Julian. He was deferentially
waiting on his customer, and Lady Tamworth noticed with a queer
feeling of repugnance that he had even acquired the shopman's trick of
rubbing the hands. Those five minutes proved for her a most unenviable
period. Julian's sentence,--"I owe it all to you"--pressed heavily
upon her conscience. Spoken bitterly, she would have given little heed
to it; but there had been a convincing sincerity in the ring of
his voice. The words, besides, brought back to her Sir John's
uncomfortable aphorism and freighted it with an accusation. She
applied it now as a search-light upon her jumbled recollections of
Julian's courtship, and began to realise that her efforts during that
time had been directed thoughtlessly towards enlarging her influence
over him. If, indeed, Julian owed this change in his condition to her,
then Sir John was right, and she had employed her influence to his
hurt. And it only made her fault the greater that Julian was himself
unconscious of his degradation. She commenced to feel a personal
responsibility commanding her to rescue him from his slough, which
was increased moreover by a fear that her persuasions might prove
ineffectual. For Julian's manner pointed now to an utter absence of
feeling so far as she was concerned.

At last Julian came out to her. "You will leave here," she cried
impulsively. "You will come back to us, to your friends!"

"Never," he answered firmly.

"You must," she pleaded; "you said you owed it all to me."

"Yes."

"Well, don't you see? If you stay here, I can never forgive myself; I
shall have ruined your life."

"Ruined it?" Julian asked in a tone of wonder. "You have made it." He
stopped and looked at Lady Tamworth in perplexity. The same perplexity
was stamped upon her face. "We are at cross-purposes, I think," he
continued. "My rooms are close here. Let me give you some tea, and
explain to you that you have no cause to blame yourself."

Lady Tamworth assented with some relief. The speech had an odd
civilised flavour which contrasted pleasantly with what she had
imagined of his mode of life.

They crossed the road and turned into a narrow side-street. Julian
halted before a house of a slovenly exterior, and opened the door. A
bare rickety staircase rose upwards from their feet. Fairholm closed
the door behind Lady Tamworth, struck a match (for it was quite dark
within this passage), and they mounted to the fourth and topmost
floor. They stopped again upon a little landing in front of a second
door. A wall-paper of a cheap and offensive pattern, which had here
and there peeled from the plaster, added, Lady Tamworth observed, a
paltry air of tawdriness to the poverty of the place. Julian fumbled
in his pocket for a key, unlocked the door, and stepped aside for his
companion to enter. Following her in, he lit a pair of wax candles
on the mantelpiece and a brass lamp in the corner of the room. Lady
Tamworth fancied that unawares she had slipped into fairyland;
so great was the contrast between this retreat and the sordid
surroundings amidst which it was perched. It was furnished with a
dainty, and almost a feminine luxury. The room, she could see, was no
more than an oblong garret; but along one side mouse-coloured curtains
fell to the ground in folds from the angle where the sloping roof met
the wall; on the other a cheerful fire glowed from a hearth of white
tiles and a kettle sang merrily upon the hob. A broad couch, piled
with silk cushions occupied the far end beneath the window, and the
feet sank with a delicate pleasure into a thick velvety carpet. In the
centre a small inlaid table of cedar wood held a silver tea-service.
The candlesticks were of silver also, and cast in a light and
fantastic fashion. The solitary discord was a black easel funereally
draped.

Julian prepared the tea, and talked while he prepared it. "It is this
way," he began quietly. "You know what I have always believed; that
the will was the man, his soul, his life, everything. Well, in the old
days thoughts and ideas commenced to make themselves felt in me, to
crop up in my work. I would start on a picture with a clear settled
design; when it was finished, I would notice that by some unconscious
freak I had introduced a figure, an arabesque, always something which
made the whole incongruous and bizarre. I discovered the cause during
the week after I received your last letter. The thoughts, the ideas
were yours; better than mine perhaps, but none the less death to me."

Lady Tamworth stirred uneasily under a sense of guilt, and murmured
a faint objection. Julian shook off the occupation of his theme and
handed her some cake, and began again, standing over her with the cake
in his hand, and to all seeming unconscious that there was a strain of
cruelty in his words. "I found out what that meant. My emotions were
mastering me, drowning the will in me. You see, I cared for you so
much--then."

A frank contempt stressing the last word cut into his hearer with the
keenness of a knife. "You are unkind," she said weakly.

"There's no reproach to you. I have got over it long ago," he replied
cheerily. "And you showed me how to get over it; that's why I am
grateful. For I began to wonder after that, why I, who had always been
on my guard against the emotions, should become so thoroughly their
slave. And at last I found out the reason; it was the work I was
doing."

"Your work?" she exclaimed.

"Exactly! You remember what Plato remarked about the actor?"

"How should I?" asked poor Lady Tamworth.

"Well, he wouldn't have him in his ideal State because acting develops
the emotions, the shifty unstable part of a man. But that's true of
art as well; to do good work in art you must feel your work as an
emotion. So I cut myself clear from it all. I furnished these rooms
and came down here,--to live." And Julian drew a long breath, like a
man escaped from danger.

"But why come here?" Lady Tamworth urged. "You might have gone into
the country--anywhere."

"No, no, no!" he answered, setting down the cake and pacing about the
room. "Wherever else I went, I must have formed new ties, created new
duties. I didn't want that; one's feelings form the ties, one's
soul pays the duties. No, London is the only place where a man can
disappear. Besides I had to do something, and I chose this work,
because it didn't touch me. I could throw it off the moment it was
done. In the shop I earn the means to live; I live here."

"But what kind of a life is it?" she asked in despair.

"I will tell you," he replied, sinking his tone to an eager whisper;
"but you mustn't repeat it, you must keep it a secret. When I am in
this room alone at night, the walls widen and widen away until at last
they vanish," and he nodded mysteriously at her. "The roof curls up
like a roll of parchment, and I am left on an open platform."

"What do you mean?" gasped Lady Tamworth.

"Yes, on an open platform underneath the stars. And do you know,"
he sank his voice yet lower, "I hear them at times; very faintly of
course,--their songs have so far to travel; but I hear them,--yes, I
hear the stars."

Lady Tamworth rose in a whirl of alarm. Before this crazy exaltation,
her very desire to pursue her purpose vanished. For Julian's manner
even more than his words contributed to her fears. In spite of his
homily, emotion was dominant in his expression, swaying his body,
burning on his face and lighting his eyes with a fire of changing
colours. And every note in his voice was struck within the scale of
passion.

She glanced about the room; her eyes fell on the easel. "Don't you
ever paint?" she asked hurriedly.

He dropped his head and stood shifting from one foot to the other, as
if he was ashamed. "At times," he said hesitatingly; "at times I have
to,--I can't help it,--I have to express myself. Look!" He stepped
suddenly across the room and slid the curtains back along the rail.
The wall was frescoed from floor to ceiling.

"Julian!" Lady Tamworth cried. She forgot all her fears in face of
this splendid revelation of his skill. Here was the fulfilment of his
promise.

In the centre four pictures were ranged, the stages in the progress of
an allegory, but executed with such masterful craft and of so vivid an
intention that they read their message straightway into the heart of
one's understanding. Round about this group, were smaller sketches,
miniatures of pure fancy. It seemed as if the artist had sought relief
in painting these from the pressure of his chief design. Here, for
instance, Day and Night were chasing one another through the rings of
Saturn; there a swarm of silver stars was settling down through the
darkness to the earth.

"Julian, you must come back. You can't stay here."

"I don't mean to stay here long. It is merely a halting-place."

"But for how long?"

"I have one more picture to complete."

They turned again to the wall. Suddenly something caught Lady
Tamworth's eye. She bent forward and examined the four pictures with
a close scrutiny. Then she looked back again to Julian with a happy
smile upon her face. "You have done these lately?"

"Quite lately; they are the stages of a man's life, of the struggle
between his passions and his will."

He began to describe them. In the first picture a brutish god was
seated on a throne of clay; before the god a man of coarse heavy
features lay grovelling; but from his shoulders sprang a white figure,
weak as yet and shadowy, but pointing against the god the shadow of a
spear; and underneath was written, "At last he knoweth what he made."
In the second, the figure which grovelled and that which sprang from
its shoulders were plodding along a high-road at night, chained
together by the wrist. The white figure halted behind, the other
pressed on; and underneath was written, "They know each other not." In
the third the figures marched level, that which had grovelled scowling
at its companion; but the white figure had grown tall and strong and
watched its companion with contempt. Above the sky had brightened
with the gleam of stars; and underneath was written, "They know each
other." In the fourth, the white figure pressed on ahead and dragged
the other by the chain impatiently. Before them the sun was rising
over the edge of a heath and the road ran straight towards it in a
golden line; and underneath was written, "He knoweth his burden."

Lady Tamworth waited when he had finished, in a laughing expectancy.
"And is that all?" she asked. "Is that all?"

"No," he replied slowly; "there is yet a further stage. It is
unfinished." And he pointed to the easel.

"I don't mean that. Is that all you have to say of these?"

"I think so. Yes."

"Look at me!"

Julian turned wonderingly to Lady Tamworth. She watched him with a
dancing sparkle of her eyes. "Now look at the pictures!" Julian obeyed
her. "Well," she said after a pause, with a touch of anxiety. "What do
you see now?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?" she asked. "Do you mean that?"

"Yes! What should I see?" She caught him by the arm and stared
intently into his eyes in a horror of disbelief. He met her gaze with
a frank astonishment. She dropped his arm and turned away.

"What should I see?" he repeated.

"Nothing," she echoed with a quivering sadness in her voice. "It is
late, I must go."

The white figure in each of those four pictures wore her face,
idealised and illumined, but still unmistakably her face; and he did
not know it, could not perceive it though she stood by his side! The
futility of her errand was proved to her. She drew on her gloves and
looking towards the easel inquired dully, "What stage is that?"

"The last; and it is the last picture I shall paint. As soon as it is
completed I shall leave here."

"You will leave?" she asked, paying little heed to his words.

"Yes! The experiment has not succeeded," and he waved a hand towards
the wall. "I shall take better means next time."

"How much remains to be done?" Lady Tamworth stepped over to the
easel. With a quick spring Julian placed himself in front of it.

"No!" he cried vehemently, raising a hand to warn her off. "No!"

Lady Tamworth's curiosity began to reawaken. "You have shown me the
rest."

"I know; you had a right to see them."

"Then why not that?"

"I have told you," he said stubbornly. "It is not finished."

"But when it is finished?" she insisted.

Julian looked at her strangely. "Well, why not?" he said reasoning
with himself. "Why not? It is the masterpiece."

"You will let me know when it's ready?"

"I will send it to you; for I shall leave here the day I finish it."

They went down stairs and back into the Mile-End road. Julian hailed a
passing hansom, and Lady Tamworth drove westwards to Berkeley Square.

The fifth picture arrived a week later in the dusk of the afternoon.
Lady Tamworth unpacked it herself with an odd foreboding.

It represented an orchard glowing in the noontide sun. From the
branches of a tree with lolling tongue and swollen twisted face swung
the figure which had grovelled before the god. A broken chain dangled
on its wrist, a few links of the chain lay on the grass beneath, and
above the white figure winged and triumphant faded into the blue of
the sky; and underneath was written, "He freeth himself from his
burden."

Lady Tamworth rushed to the bell and pealed loudly for her maid.
"Quick!" she cried, "I am going out." But the shrill screech of a
newsboy pierced into the room. With a cry she flung open the window.
She could hear his voice plainly at the corner of the square. For a
while she clung to the sash in a dumb sickness. Then she said quietly:
"Never mind! I will not go out after all! I did not know I was so
late."



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