Infomotions, Inc.With Edged Tools / Merriman, Henry Seton, 1862-1903



Author: Merriman, Henry Seton, 1862-1903
Title: With Edged Tools
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): oscard; durnovo; guy oscard; meredith; lady cantourne; jack meredith; cantourne; jocelyn; millicent; simiacine; loango; millicent chyne; jack; guy; maurice gordon; maurice; gordon; joseph; jocelyn gordon; victor; africa; john meredith; miss chyne; guy osc
Contributor(s): Riley, Henry Thomas, 1816-1878 [Translator]
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Title: With Edged Tools

Author: Henry Seton Merriman

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK, WITH EDGED TOOLS ***




This eBook was prepared by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.




WITH EDGED TOOLS




"Of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean
uses, and likewise also such as serve to the contrary; but what is
the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge."



                               TO JAMES PAYN

                         A TOKEN OF SINCERE REGARD



CONTENTS

I.        TWO GENERATIONS
II.       OVER THE OLD GROUND
III.      A FAREWELL
IV.       A TRAGEDY
V.        WITH EDGED TOOLS
VI.       UNDER THE LINE
VII.      THE SECRET OF THE SIMIACINE
VIII.     A RECRUIT
IX.       TO PASS THE TIME
X.        LOANGO
XI.       A COMPACT
XII.      A MEETING
XIII.     IN BLACK AND WHITE
XIV.      PANIC-STRICKEN
XV.       A CONFIDENCE
XVI.      WAR
XVII.     UNDERHAND
XVIII.    A REQUEST
XIX.      IVORY
XX.       BROUGHT TO THE SCRATCH
XXI.      THE FIRST CONSIGNMENT
XXII.     THE SECOND CONSIGNMENT
XXIII.    MERCURY
XXIV.     NEMESIS
XXV.      TO THE RESCUE
XXVI.     IN PERIL
XXVII.    OFF DUTY
XXVIII.   A SLOW RECOVERY
XXIX.     A CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE
XXX.      OLD BIRDS
XXXI.     SEED-TIME
XXXII.    AN ENVOY
XXXIII.   DARK DEALING
XXXIV.    AMONG THORNS
XXXV.     ENGAGED
XXXVI.    NO COMPROMISE
XXXVII.   FOUL PLAY
XXXVIII.  THE ACCURSED CAMP
XXXIX.    THE EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCE
XL.       SIR JOHNS LAST CARD
XLI.      A TROIS
XLII.     A STRONG FRIENDSHIP
XLIII.    A LONG DEBT
XLIV.     MADE UP
XLV.      THE TELEGRAM



CHAPTER I.  TWO GENERATIONS



     Why all delights are vain, but that most vain
     Which with pain purchased doth inherit pain.

"My dear--Madam--what you call heart does not come into the question
at all."

Sir John Meredith was sitting slightly behind Lady Cantourne,
leaning towards her with a somewhat stiffened replica of his former
grace.  But he was not looking at her--and she knew it.

They were both watching a group at the other side of the great
ballroom.

"Sir John Meredith on Heart," said the old lady, with a depth of
significance in her voice.

"And why not?"

"Yes, indeed.  Why not?"

Sir John smiled with that well-bred cynicism which a new school has
not yet succeeded in imitating.  They were of the old school, these
two; and their worldliness, their cynicism, their conversational
attitude, belonged to a bygone period.  It was a cleaner period in
some ways--a period devoid of slums.  Ours, on the contrary, is an
age of slums wherein we all dabble to the detriment of our hands--
mental, literary, and theological.

Sir John moved slightly in his chair, leaning one hand on one knee.
His back was very flat, his clothes were perfect, his hair was not
his own, nor yet his teeth.  But his manners were entirely his own.
His face was eighty years old, and yet he smiled his keen society
smile with the best of them.  There was not a young man in the room
of whom he was afraid, conversationally.

"No, Lady Cantourne," he repeated.  "Your charming niece is
heartless.  She will get on."

Lady Cantourne smiled, and drew the glove further up her stout and
motherly right arm.

"She will get on," she admitted.  "As to the other, it is early to
give an opinion."

"She has had the best of trainings--," he murmured.  And Lady
Cantourne turned on him with a twinkle amidst the wrinkles.

"For which?" she asked.

"Choisissez!" he answered, with a bow.

One sees a veteran swordsman take up the foil with a tentative turn
of the wrist, lunging at thin air.  His zest for the game has gone;
but the skill lingers, and at times he is tempted to show the
younger blades a pass or two.  These were veteran fencers with a
skill of their own, which they loved to display at times.  The zest
was that of remembrance; the sword-play of words was above the head
of a younger generation given to slang and music-hall airs; and so
these two had little bouts for their own edification, and enjoyed
the glitter of it vastly.

Sir John's face relaxed into the only repose he ever allowed it; for
he had a habit of twitching and moving his lips such as some old men
have.  And occasionally, in an access of further senility, he
fumbled with his fingers at his mouth.  He was clean shaven, and
even in his old age he was handsome beyond other men--standing an
upright six feet two.

The object of his attention was the belle of that ball, Miss
Millicent Chyne, who was hemmed into a corner by a group of eager
dancers anxious to insert their names in some corner of her card.
She was the fashion at that time.  And she probably did not know
that at least half of the men crowded round because the other half
were there.  Nothing succeeds like the success that knows how to
draw a crowd.

She received the ovation self-possessedly enough, but without that
hauteur affected by belles of balls--in books.  She seemed to have a
fresh smile for each new applicant--a smile which conveyed to each
in turn the fact that she had been attempting all along to get her
programme safely into his hands.  A halting masculine pen will not
be expected to explain how she compassed this, beyond a gentle
intimation that masculine vanity had a good deal to do with her
success.

"She is having an excellent time," said Sir John, weighing on the
modern phrase with a subtle sarcasm.  He was addicted to the use of
modern phraseology, spiced with a cynicism of his own.

"Yes, I cannot help sympathising with her--a little," answered the
lady.

"Nor I.  It will not last."

"Well, she is only gathering the rosebuds."

"Wisely so, your ladyship.  They at least LOOK as if they were going
to last.  The full-blown roses do not."

Lady Cantourne gave a little sigh.  This was the difference between
them.  She could not watch without an occasional thought for a time
that was no more.  The man seemed to be content that the past had
been lived through and would never renew itself.

"After all," she said, "she is my sister's child.  The sympathy may
only be a matter of blood.  Perhaps I was like that myself once.
Was I?  You can tell me."

She looked slowly round the room and his face hardened.  He knew
that she was reflecting that there was no one else who could tell
her; and he did not like it.

"No," he answered readily.

"And what was the difference?"

She looked straight in front of her with a strange old-fashioned
demureness.

"Their name is legion, for they are many."

"Name a few.  Was I as good-looking as that, for instance?"

He smiled--a wise, old, woman-searching smile.

"You were better-looking than that," he said, with a glance beneath
his lashless lids.  "Moreover, there was more of the grand lady
about you.  You behaved better.  There was less shaking hands with
your partners, less nodding and becking, and none of that modern
forwardness which is called, I believe, camaraderie."

"Thank you, Sir John," she answered, looking at him frankly with a
pleasant smile.  "But it is probable that we had the faults of our
age."

He fumbled at his lips, having reasons of his own for disliking too
close a scrutiny of his face.

"That is more than probable," he answered, rather indistinctly.

"Then," she said, tapping the back of his gloved hand with her fan,
"we ought to be merciful to the faults of a succeeding generation.
Tell me who is that young man with the long stride who is getting
himself introduced now."

"That," answered Sir John, who prided himself upon knowing every
one--knowing who they were and who they were not--"is young Oscard."

"Son of the eccentric Oscard?"

"Son of the eccentric Oscard."

"And where did he get that brown face?"

"He got that in Africa, where he has been shooting.  He forms part
of some one else's bag at the present moment."

"What do you mean?"

"He has been apportioned a dance.  Your fair niece has bagged him."

If he had only known it, Guy Oscard won the privilege of a waltz by
the same brown face which Lady Cantourne had so promptly noted.
Coupled with a sturdy uprightness of carriage, this raised him at a
bound above the pallid habitues of ballroom and pavement.  It was,
perhaps, only natural that Millicent Chyne should have noted this
man as soon as he crossed the threshold.  He was as remarkable as
some free and dignified denizen of the forest in the midst of
domestic animals.  She mentally put him down for a waltz, and before
five minutes had elapsed he was bowing before her while a mutual
friend murmured his name.  One does not know how young ladies manage
these little affairs, but the fact remains that they are managed.
Moreover, it is a singular thing that the young persons who succeed
in the ballroom rarely succeed on the larger and rougher floor of
life.  Your belle of the ball, like your Senior Wrangler, never
seems to do much afterwards--and Afterwards is Life.

The other young men rather fell back before Guy Oscard--scared,
perhaps, by his long stride, and afraid that he might crush their
puny toes.  This enabled Miss Chyne to give him the very next dance,
of which the music was commencing.

"I feel rather out of all this," said Oscard, as they moved away
together.  "You must excuse uncouthness."

"I see no signs of it," laughed Millicent.  "You are behaving very
nicely.  You cannot help being larger and stronger than--the others.
I should say it was an advantage and something to be proud of."

"Oh, it is not that," replied Oscard; "it is a feeling of
unkemptness and want of smartness among these men who look so clean
and correct.  Shall we dance?"

He looked down at her, with an admiration which almost amounted to
awe, as if afraid of entering the throng with such a dainty and
wonderful charge upon his powers of steering.  Millicent Chyne saw
the glance and liked it.  It was different from the others, quite
devoid of criticism, rather simple and full of honest admiration.
She was so beautiful that she could hardly be expected to be unaware
of the fact.  She had merely to make comparisons, to look in the
mirror and see that her hair was fairer and softer, that her
complexion was more delicately perfect, that her slight, rounded
figure was more graceful than any around her.  Added to this, she
knew that she had more to say than other girls--a larger stock of
those little frivolous, advice-seeking, aid-demanding nothings than
her compeers seemed to possess.

She knew that in saying them she could look brighter and prettier
and more intelligent than her competitors.

"Yes," she said, "let us dance by all means."

Here also she knew her own proficiency, and in a few seconds she
found that her partner was worthy of her skill.

"Where have you been?" she asked presently.  "I am sure you have
been away somewhere, exploring or something."

"I have only been in Africa, shooting."

"Oh, how interesting!  You must tell me all about it!"

"I am afraid," replied Guy Oscard, with a somewhat shy laugh, "that
that would NOT be interesting.  Besides, I could not tell you now."

"No, but some other time.  I suppose you are not going back to
Africa to-morrow, Mr. Oscard?"

"Not quite.  And perhaps we may meet somewhere else."

"I hope so," replied Miss Chyne.  "Besides, you know my aunt, Lady
Cantourne.  I live with her, you know."

"I know her slightly."

"Then take an opportunity of improving the acquaintanceship.  She is
sitting under the ragged banner over there."

Millicent Chyne indicated the direction with a nod of the head, and
while he looked she took the opportunity of glancing hastily round
the room.  She was seeking some one.

"Yes," said Oscard, "I see her, talking to an old gentleman who
looks like Voltaire.  I shall give her a chance of recognising me
before the evening is out.  I don't mind being snubbed if--"

He paused and steered neatly through a narrow place.

"If what?" she asked, when they were in swing again.

"If it means seeing you again," he answered bluntly--more bluntly
than she was accustomed to.  But she liked it.  It was a novelty
after the smaller change of ballroom compliments.

She was watching the door all the while.

Presently the music ceased and they made their way back to the spot
whence he had taken her.  She led the way thither by an almost
imperceptible pressure of her fingers on his arm.  There were
several men waiting there, and one or two more entering the room and
looking languidly round.

"There comes the favoured one," Lady Cantourne muttered, with a
veiled glance towards her companion.

Sir John's grey eyes followed the direction of her glance.

"My bright boy?" he inquired, with a wealth of sarcasm on the
adjective.

"Your bright boy," she replied.

"I hope not," he said curtly.

They were watching a tall fair man in the doorway who seemed to know
everybody, so slow was his progress into the room.  The most
remarkable thing about this man was a certain grace of movement.  He
seemed to be specially constructed to live in narrow, hampered
places.  He was above six feet; but, being of slight build, he moved
with a certain languidness which saved him from that unwieldiness
usually associated with large men in a drawing-room.

Such was Jack Meredith, one of the best known figures in London
society.  He had hitherto succeeded in moving through the mazes of
that coterie, as he now moved through this room, without jarring
against any one.



CHAPTER II.  OVER THE OLD GROUND



     A man who never makes mistakes never makes anything else
either.

Miss Millicent Chyne was vaguely conscious of success--and such a
consciousness is apt to make the best of us a trifle elated.  It was
certainly one of the best balls of the season, and Miss Chyne's
dress was, without doubt, one of the most successful articles of its
sort there.

Jack Meredith saw that fact and noted it as soon as he came into the
room.  Moreover, it gratified him, and he was pleased to reflect
that he was no mean critic in such matters.  There could be no doubt
about it, because he KNEW as well as any woman there.  He knew that
Millicent Chyne was dressed in the latest fashion--no furbished-up
gown from the hands of her maid, but a unique creation from Bond
Street.

"Well," she asked in a low voice, as she handed him her programme,
"are you pleased with it?"

"Eminently so."

She glanced down at her own dress.  It was not the nervous glance of
the debutante, but the practised flash of experienced eyes which see
without appearing to look.

"I am glad," she murmured.

He handed her back the card with the orthodox smile and bow of
gratitude, but there was something more in his eyes.

"Is that what you did it for?" he inquired.

"Of course," with a glance half coquettish, half humble.

She took the card and allowed it to drop pendent from her fan
without looking at it.  He had written nothing on it.  This was all
a form.  The dances that were his had been inscribed on the
engagement-card long before by smaller fingers than his.

She turned to take her attendant partner's arm with a little flaunt-
-a little movement of the hips to bring her dress, and possibly
herself, more prominently beneath Jack Meredith's notice.  His eyes
followed her with that incomparably pleasant society smile which he
had no doubt inherited from his father.  Then he turned and mingled
with the well-dressed throng, bowing where he ought to bow--asking
with fervour for dances in plain but influential quarters where
dances were to be easily obtained.

And all the while his father and Lady Cantourne watched.

"Yes, I THINK," the lady was saying, "that that is the favoured
one."

"I fear so."

"I noticed," observed Lady Cantourne, "that he asked for a dance."

"And apparently got one--or more."

"Apparently so, Sir John."

"Moreover--"

Lady Cantourne turned on him with her usual vivacity.

"Moreover?" she repeated.

"He did not need to write it down on the card; it was written there
already."

She closed her fan with a faint smile

"I sometimes wonder," she said, "whether, in our young days, you
were so preternaturally observant as you are now."

"No," he answered, "I was not.  I affected scales of the very
opaquest description, like the rest of my kind."

In the meantime this man's son was going about his business with a
leisurely savoir-faire which few could rival.  Jack Meredith was the
beau-ideal of the society man in the best acceptation of the word.
One met him wherever the best people congregated, and he invariably
seemed to know what to do and how to do it better than his compeers.
If it was dancing in the season, Jack Meredith danced, and no man
rivalled him.  If it was grouse shooting, Jack Meredith held his gun
as straight as any man.  All the polite accomplishments in their
season seemed to come to him without effort; but there was in all
the same lack of heart--that utter want of enthusiasm which imparted
to his presence a subtle suggestion of boredom.  The truth was that
he was over-educated.  Sir John had taught him how to live and move
and have his being with so minute a care, so keen an insight, that
existence seemed to be nothing but an habitual observance of set
rules.

Sir John called him sarcastically his "bright boy," his "hopeful
offspring," the "pride of his old age"; but somewhere in his
shrivelled old heart there nestled an unbounded love and admiration
for his son.  Jack had assimilated his teaching with a wonderful
aptitude.  He had as nearly as possible realised Sir John Meredith's
idea of what an English gentleman should be, and the old
aristocrat's standard was uncompromisingly high.  Public school,
University, and two years on the Continent had produced a finished
man, educated to the finger-tips, deeply read, clever, bright, and
occasionally witty; but Jack Meredith was at this time nothing more
than a brilliant conglomerate of possibilities.  He had obeyed his
father to the letter with a conscientiousness bred of admiration.
He had always felt that his father knew best.  And now he seemed to
be waiting--possibly for further orders.  He was suggestive of a
perfect piece of mechanism standing idle for want of work delicate
enough to be manipulated by its delicate craft.  Sir John had
impressed upon him the desirability of being independent, and he had
promptly cultivated that excellent quality, taking kindly enough to
rooms of his own in a fashionable quarter.  But upon the principle
of taking a horse to the water and being unable to make him drink,
Sir John had not hitherto succeeded in making Jack take the
initiative.  He had turned out such a finished and polished English
gentleman as his soul delighted in, and now he waited in cynical
silence for Jack Meredith to take his life into his own hands and do
something brilliant with it.  All that he had done up to now had
been to prove that he could attain to a greater social popularity
than any other man of his age and station; but this was not exactly
the success that Sir John Meredith coveted for his son.  He had
tasted of this success himself, and knew its thinness of flavour--
its fleeting value.

Behind his keen old eyes such thoughts as these were passing, while
he watched Jack go up and claim his dance at the hands of Miss
Millicent Chyne.  He could almost guess what they said; for Jack was
grave and she smiled demurely.  They began dancing at once, and as
soon as the floor became crowded they disappeared.

Jack Meredith was an adept at such matters.  He knew a seat at the
end of a long passage where they could sit, the beheld of all
beholders who happened to pass; but no one could possibly overhear
their conversation--no one could surprise them.  It was essentially
a strategical position.

"Well," inquired Jack, with a peculiar breathlessness, when they
were seated, "have you thought about it?"

She gave a little nod.

They seemed to be taking up some conversation at a point where it
had been dropped on a previous occasion.

"And?" he inquired suavely.  The society polish was very thickly
coated over the man; but his eyes had a hungry look.

By way of reply her gloved hand crept out towards his, which rested
on the chair at his side.

"Jack!" she whispered; and that was all.

It was very prettily done, and quite naturally.  He was a judge of
such matters, and appreciated the girlish simplicity of the action.

He took the small gloved hand and pressed it lovingly.  The
thoroughness of his social training prevented any further display of
affection.

"Thank Heaven!" he murmured.

They were essentially of the nineteenth century--these two.  At a
previous dance he had asked her to marry him; she had deferred her
answer, and now she had given it.  These little matters are all a
question of taste.  We do not kneel nowadays, either physically or
morally.  If we are a trifle off hand, it is the women who are to
blame.  They should not write in magazines of a doubtful reputation
in language devoid of the benefit of the doubt.  They are equal to
us.  Bien!  One does not kneel to an equal.  A better writer than
any of us says that men serve women kneeling, and when they get to
their feet they go away.  We are being hauled up to our feet now.

"But--?" began the girl, and went no further.

"But what?"

"There will be difficulties."

"No doubt," he answered, with quiet mockery.  "There always are.  I
will see to them.  Difficulties are not without a certain advantage.
They keep one on the alert."

"Your father," said the girl.  "Sir John--he will object."

Jack Meredith reflected for a moment, lazily, with that
leisureliness which gave a sense of repose to his presence.

"Possibly," he admitted gravely.

"He dislikes me," said the girl.  "He is one of my failures."

"I did not know you had any.  Have you tried?  I cannot quite admit
the possibility of failure."

Millicent Chyne smiled.  He had emphasised the last remark with
lover-like glance and tone.  She was young enough; her own beauty
was new enough to herself to blind her to the possibility mentioned.
She had not even got to the stage of classifying as dull all men who
did not fall in love with her at first sight.  It was her first
season, one must remember.

"I have not tried very hard," she said.  "But I don't see why I
should not fail."

"That is easily explained."

"Why?"

"No looking-glass about."

She gave a little pout, but she liked it.

The music of the next dance was beginning, and, remembering their
social obligations, they both rose.  She laid her hand on his arm,
and for a moment his fingers pressed hers.  He smiled down into her
upturned eyes with love, but without passion.  He never for a second
risked the "gentleman" and showed the "man."  He was suggestive of a
forest pool with a smiling rippled surface.  There might be depth,
but it was yet unpenetrated.

"Shall we go now," he said, "and say a few words in passing to my
redoubtable father?  It might be effective."

"Yes, if you like," she answered promptly.  There is no more
confident being on earth than a pretty girl in a successful dress.

They met Sir John at the entrance of the ballroom.  He was wandering
about, taking in a vast deal of detail.

"Well, young lady," he said, with an old-world bow, "are you having
a successful evening?"

Millicent laughed.  She never knew quite how to take Sir John.

"Yes, I think so, thank you," she answered, with a pretty smile.  "I
am enjoying myself very much."

There was just the least suggestion of shyness in her manner, and it
is just possible that this softened the old cynic's heart, for his
manner was kinder and almost fatherly when he spoke again.

"Ah!" he said, "at your time of life you do not want much--plenty of
partners and a few ices.  Both easily obtainable."

The last words were turned into a compliment by the courtly
inclination of the head that accompanied them.

The exigencies of the moment forced the young people to go with the
stream.

"Jack," said Sir John, as they passed on, "when you have been
deprived of Miss Chyne's society, come and console yourself with a
glass of sherry."

The dutiful son nodded a semi-indifferent acquiescence and
disappeared.

"Wonderful thing, sherry!" observed Sir John Meredith for his own
edification.

He waited there until Jack returned, and then they set off in search
of refreshment.  The son seemed to know his whereabouts better than
the father.

"This way," he said, "through the conservatory."

Amidst the palms and tropical ferns Sir John paused.  A great deal
of care had been devoted to this conservatory.  Half hidden among
languorous scented flowers were a thousand tiny lights, while
overhead in the gloom towered graceful palms and bananas.  A
fountain murmured pleasantly amidst a cluster of maidenhairs.  The
music from the ballroom fell softly over all.

Sir John Meredith and his son stood in silence, looking around them.
Finally their eyes met.

"Are you in earnest with that girl?" asked Sir John abruptly.

"I am," replied Jack.  He was smiling pleasantly.

"And you think there is a chance of her marrying you--unless, of
course, something better turns up?"

"With all due modesty I do."

Sir John's hand was at his mouth.  He stood up his full six feet two
and looked hard at his son, whose eyes were level with his own.
They were ideal representatives of their school.

"And what do you propose marrying upon?  She, I understand, has
about eight hundred a year.  I respect you too much to suspect any
foolish notions of love in a cottage."

Jack Meredith made no reply.  He was entirely dependent upon his
father.

"Of course," said Sir John, "when I die you will be a baronet, and
there will be enough to live on like a gentleman.  You had better
tell Miss Chyne that.  She may not know it.  Girls are so innocent.
But I am not dead yet, and I shall take especial care to live some
time."

"In order to prevent my marriage?" suggested Jack.  He was still
smiling, and somehow Sir John felt a little uneasy.  He did not
understand that smile.

"Precisely so," he said, rather indistinctly.

"What is your objection?" inquired Jack Meredith, after a little
pause.

"I object to the girl."

"Upon what grounds?"

"I should prefer you to marry a woman of heart."

"Heart?" repeated Jack, with a suspicion of hereditary cynicism.  "I
do not think heart is of much consequence.  Besides, in this case,
surely that is my province! you would not have her wear it on her
sleeve?"

"She could not do that:  not enough sleeve."

Sir John Meredith had his own views on ladies' dress.

"But," he added, "we will not quarrel.  Arrange matters with the
young lady as best you can.  I shall never approve of such a match,
and without my approval you cannot well marry."

"I do not admit that."

"Indeed?"

"Your approval means money," explained this dutiful son politely.
"I might manage to make the money for myself."

Sir John moved away.

"You might," he admitted, looking back.  "I should be very glad to
see you doing so.  It is an excellent thing--money."

And he walked leisurely away.



CHAPTER III.  A FAREWELL



                              Since called
     The Paradise of Fools, to few unknown.

Having been taught to take all the chances and changes of life with
a well-bred calmness of demeanour, Jack Meredith turned the teaching
against the instructor.  He pursued the course of his social duties
without appearing to devote so much as a thought to the quarrel
which had taken place in the conservatory.  His smile was as ready
as ever, his sight as keen where an elderly lady looked hungry, his
laughter as near the surface as society demands.  It is probable
that Sir John suffered more, though he betrayed nothing.  Youth has
the upper hand in these cases, for life is a larger thing when we
are young.  As we get on in years, our eggs, to use a homely simile,
have a way of accumulating into one basket.

At eleven o'clock the next morning Sir John Meredith's valet
intimated to his master that Mr. Meredith was waiting in the
breakfast-room.  Sir John was in the midst of his toilet--a
complicated affair, which, like other works of art, would not bear
contemplation when incomplete.

"Tell him," said the uncompromising old gentleman, "that I will come
down when I am ready."

He made a more careful toilet than usual, and finally came down in a
gay tweed suit, of which the general effect was distinctly
heightened by a pair of white gaiters.  He was upright, trim, and
perfectly determined.  Jack noted that his clothes looked a little
emptier than usual--that was all.

"Well," said the father, "I suppose we both made fools of ourselves
last night."

"I have not yet seen you do that," replied the son, laying aside the
morning paper which he had been reading.

Sir John smiled grimly.  He hoped that Jack was right.

"Well," he added, "let us call it a difference of opinion."

"Yes."

Something in the monosyllable made the old gentleman's lips twitch
nervously.

"I may mention," he said, with a dangerous suavity, "that I still
hold to my opinion."

Jack Meredith rose, without haste.  This, like the interview of the
previous night, was conducted upon strictly high-bred and
gentlemanly lines.

"And I to mine," he said.  "That is why I took the liberty of
calling at this early hour.  I thought that perhaps we might effect
some sort of a compromise."

"It is very good of you to make the proposal."  Sir John kept his
fingers away from his lips by an obvious exercise of self-control.
"I am not partial to compromises:  they savour of commerce."

Jack gave a queer, curt nod, and moved towards the door.  Sir John
extended his unsteady hand and rang the bell.

"Good-morning," he said.

"Graves," he added, to the servant who stood in the doorway, "when
you have closed the door behind Mr. Meredith, bring up breakfast, if
you please."

On the doorstep Jack Meredith looked at his watch.  He had an
appointment with Millicent Chyne at half-past eleven--an hour when
Lady Cantourne might reasonably be expected to be absent at the
weekly meeting of a society which, under the guise and nomenclature
of friendship, busied itself in making servant girls discontented
with their situations.

It was only eleven o'clock.  Jack turned to the left, out of the
quiet but fashionable street, and a few steps took him to
Piccadilly.  He went into the first jeweller's shop he saw, and
bought a plain diamond ring.  Then he walked on to keep his
appointment with his affianced wife.

Miss Millicent Chyne was waiting for him with that mixture of
maidenly feelings of which the discreet novelist only details a
selection.  It is not customary to dwell upon thoughts of vague
regret at the approaching withdrawal of a universal admiration--at
the future necessity for discreet and humdrum behaviour quite devoid
of the excitement that lurks in a double meaning.  Let it,
therefore, be ours to note the outward signs of a very natural
emotion.  Miss Chyne noted them herself with care, and not without a
few deft touches to hair and dress.  When Jack Meredith entered the
room she was standing near the window, holding back the curtain with
one hand and watching, half shyly, for his advent.

What struck her at once was his gravity; and he must have seen the
droop in her eyes, for he immediately assumed the pleasant, half-
reckless smile which the world of London society had learnt to
associate with his name.

He played the lover rather well, with that finish and absence of
self-consciousness which only comes from sincerity; and when Miss
Chyne found opportunity to look at him a second time she was fully
convinced that she loved him.  She was, perhaps, carried off her
feet a little--metaphorically speaking, of course--by his evident
sincerity.  At that moment she would have done anything that he had
asked her.  The pleasures of society, the social amenities of
aristocratic life, seemed to have vanished suddenly into thin air,
and only love was left.  She had always known that Jack Meredith was
superior in a thousand ways to all her admirers.  More gentlemanly,
more truthful, honester, nobler, more worthy of love.  Beyond that,
he was cleverer, despite a certain laziness of disposition--more
brilliant and more amusing.  He had always been to a great extent
the chosen one; and yet it was with a certain surprise and sense of
unreality that she found what she had drifted into.  She saw the
diamond ring, and looked upon it with the beautiful emotions aroused
by those small stones in the female breast; but she did not seem to
recognise her own finger within the golden hoop.

It was at this moment--while she dwelt in this new unreal world--
that he elected to tell her of his quarrel with his father.  And
when one walks through a maze of unrealities nothing seems to come
amiss or to cause surprise.  He detailed the very words they had
used, and to Millicent Chyne it did not sound like a real quarrel
such as might affect two lives to their very end.  It was not
important.  It did not come into her life; for at that moment she
did not know what her life was.

"And so," said Jack Meredith, finishing his story, "we have begun
badly--as badly as the most romantic might desire."

"Yes, theoretically it is consoling.  But I am sorry, Jack, very
sorry.  I hate quarrelling with anybody."

"So do I.  I haven't time as a rule.  But the old gentleman is so
easy to quarrel with, he takes all the trouble."

"Jack," she said, with pretty determination, "you must go and say
you are sorry.  Go now!  I wish I could go with you."

But Meredith did not move.  He was smiling at her in evident
admiration.  She looked very pretty with that determined little pout
of the lips, and perhaps she knew it.  Moreover, he did not seem to
attach so much importance to the thought as to the result--to the
mind as to the lips.

"Ah!" he said, "you do not know the old gentleman.  That is not our
way of doing things.  We are not expansive."

His face was grave again, and she noticed it with a sudden throb of
misgiving.  She did not want to begin taking life seriously so soon.
It was like going back to school in the middle of the holidays.

"But it will be all right in a day or two, will it not?  It is not
serious," she said.

"I am afraid it is serious, Millicent."

He took her hand with a gravity which made matters worse.

"What a pity!" she exclaimed; and somehow both the words and the
speaker rang shallow.  She did not seem to grasp the situation,
which was perhaps beyond her reach.  But she did the next best
thing.  She looked puzzled, pretty, and helpless.

"What is to be done, Jack?" she said, laying her two hands on his
breast and looking up pleadingly.

There was something in the man's clear-cut face--something beyond
aristocratic repose--as he looked down into her eyes--something
which Sir John Meredith might perhaps have liked to see there.  To
all men comes, soon or late, the moment wherein their lives are
suddenly thrust into their own hands to shape or spoil, to make or
mar.  It seemed that where a clever man had failed, this light-
hearted girl was about to succeed.  Two small clinging hands on Jack
Meredith's breast had apparently wrought more than all Sir John's
care and foresight.  At last the light of energy gleamed in Jack
Meredith's lazy eyes.  At last he faced the "initiative," and seemed
in no wise abashed.

"There are two things," he answered; "a small choice."

"Yes."

"The first and the simplest," he went on in the tone of voice which
she had never quite fathomed--half cynical, half amused--"is to
pretend that last night--never was."

He waited for her verdict.

"We will not do that," she replied softly; "we will take the other
alternative, whatever it is."

She glanced up half shyly beneath her lashes, and he felt that no
difficulty could affright him.

"The other is generally supposed to be very difficult," he said.
"It means--waiting."

"Oh," she answered cheerfully, "there is no hurry.  I do not want to
be married yet."

"Waiting perhaps for years," he added--and he saw her face drop.

"Why?"

"Because I am dependent on my father for everything.  We could not
marry without his consent."

A peculiar, hard look crept into her eyes, and in some subtle way it
made her look older.  After a little pause she said:

"But we can surely get that--between us?"

"I propose doing without it."

She looked up--past him--out of the window.  All the youthfulness
seemed to have left her face, but he did not appear to see that.

"How can you do so?"

"Well, I can work.  I suppose I must be good for something--a
bountiful Providence must surely have seen to that.  The difficulty
is to find out what it intends me for.  We are not called in the
night nowadays to a special mission--we have to find it out for
ourselves."

"Do you know what I should like you to be?" she said, with a bright
smile and one of those sudden descents into shallowness which he
appeared to like.

"What?"

"A politician."

"Then I shall be a politician," he answered, with loverlike
promptness.

"That would be very nice," she said; and the castles she at once
began to build were not entirely aerial in their structure.

This was not a new idea.  They had talked of politics before as a
possible career for himself.  They had moved in a circle where
politics and politicians held a first place--a circle removed above
the glamour of art, and wherein Bohemianism was not reckoned an
attraction.  She knew that behind his listlessness of manner he
possessed a certain steady energy, perfect self-command, and that
combination of self-confidence and indifference which usually
attains success in the world.  She was ambitious not only for
herself but for him, and she was shrewd enough to know that the only
safe outlet for a woman's ambition is the channel of a husband's
career.

"But," he said, "it will mean waiting."

He paused, and then the worldly wisdom which he had learnt from his
father--that worldly wisdom which is sometimes called cynicism--
prompted him to lay the matter before her in its worst light.

"It will mean waiting for a couple of years at least.  And for you
it will mean the dulness of a long engagement, and the anomalous
position of an engaged girl without her rightful protector.  It will
mean that your position in society will be quite different--that
half the world will pity you, while the other half thinks you--well,
a fool for your pains."

"I don't care," she answered.

"Of course," he went on, "I must go away.  That is the only way to
get on in politics in these days.  I must go away and get a
speciality.  I must know more about some country than any other man;
and when I come back I must keep that country ever before the eye of
the intelligent British workman who reads the halfpenny evening
paper.  That is fame--those are politics."

She laughed.  There seemed to be no fear of her taking life too
seriously yet.  And, truth to tell, he did not appear to wish her to
do so.

"But you must not go very far," she said sweetly.

"Africa."

"Africa?  That does not sound interesting."

"It is interesting:  moreover, it is the coming country.  I may be
able to make money out there, and money is a necessity at present."

"I do not like it, Jack," she said in a foreboding voice.  "When do
you go?"

"At once--in fact, I came to say good-bye.  It is better to do these
things very promptly--to disappear before the onlookers have quite
understood what is happening.  When they begin to understand they
begin to interfere.  They cannot help it.  I will write to Lady
Cantourne if you like."

"No, I will tell her."

So he bade her good-bye, and those things that lovers say were duly
said; but they are not for us to chronicle.  Such words are better
left to be remembered or forgotten as time and circumstance and
result may decree.  For one may never tell what words will do when
they are laid within the years like the little morsel of leaven that
leaveneth the whole.



CHAPTER IV.  A TRAGEDY



     Who knows? the man is proven by the hour.

In his stately bedroom on the second floor of the quietest house in
Russell Square Mr. Thomas Oscard--the eccentric Oscard--lay,
perhaps, a-dying.

Thomas Oscard had written the finest history of an extinct people
that had ever been penned; and it has been decreed that he who
writes a fine history or paints a fine picture can hardly be too
eccentric.  Our business, however, does not lie in the life of this
historian--a life which certain grave wiseacres from the West End
had shaken their heads over a few hours before we find him lying
prone on a four-poster counting for the thousandth time the number
of tassels fringing the roof of it.  In bold contradiction to the
medical opinion, the nurse was, however, hopeful.  Whether this
comforting condition of mind arose from long experience of the ways
of doctors, or from an acquired philosophy, it is not our place to
inquire.  But that her opinion was sincere is not to be doubted.
She had, as a matter of fact, gone to the pantomime, leaving the
patient under the immediate eye of his son, Guy Oscard.

The temporary nurse was sitting in a cretonne-covered armchair, with
a book of travel on his knee, and thoughts of Millicent Chyne in his
mind.  The astute have no doubt discovered ere this that the mind of
Mr. Guy Oscard was a piece of mental mechanism more noticeable for
solidity of structure than brilliancy or rapidity of execution.
Thoughts and ideas and principles had a strange way of getting mixed
up with the machinery, and sticking there.  Guy Oscard had, for
instance, concluded some years before that the Winchester rifle was,
as he termed it, "no go"; and if the Pope of Rome and the patentee
of the firearm in question had crossed Europe upon their bended
knees to persuade him to use a Winchester rifle, he would have
received them with a pleasant smile and an offer of refreshment.  He
would have listened to their arguments with that patience of manner
which characterises men of large stature, and for the rest of his
days he would have continued to follow big game with an "Express"
double-barrelled rifle as heretofore.  Men who decide such small
matters as these for themselves, after mature and somewhat slow
consideration, have a way of also deciding the large issues of life
without pausing to consider either expediency or the experience of
their neighbours.

During the last forty-eight hours Guy Oscard had made the decision
that life without Millicent Chyne would not be worth having, and in
the hush of the great house he was pondering over this new feature
in his existence.  Like all deliberate men, he was placidly
sanguine.  Something in the life of savage sport that he had led had
no doubt taught him to rely upon his own nerve and capacity more
than do most men.  It is the indoor atmosphere that contains the
germ of pessimism.

His thoughts cannot have been disturbing, for presently his eyes
closed and he appeared to be slumbering.  If it was sleep, it was
the light unconsciousness of the traveller; for a sound so small,
that waking ears could scarce have heard it, caused him to lift his
lashes cautiously.  It was the sound of bare feet on carpet.

Through his lashes Guy Oscard saw his father standing on the
hearthrug within two yards of him.  There was something strange,
something unnatural and disturbing, about the movements of the man
that made Guy keep quite still--watching him.

Upon the mantelpiece the medicine bottles were arranged in a row,
and the "eccentric Oscard" was studying the labels with a feverish
haste.  One bottle--a blue one--bore two labels:  the smaller, of
brilliant orange colour, with the word "Poison" in startling
simplicity.  He took this up and slowly drew the cork.  It was a
liniment for neuralgic pains in an overwrought head--belladonna.  He
poured some into a medicine-glass, carefully measuring two
tablespoonsful.

Then Guy Oscard sprang up and wrenched the glass away from him,
throwing the contents into the fire, which flared up.  Quick as
thought the bottle was at the sick man's lips.  He was a heavily
built man with powerful limbs.  Guy seized his arm, closed with him,
and for a moment there was a deadly struggle, while the pungent
odour of the poison filled the atmosphere.  At last Guy fell back on
art:  he tripped his father cleverly, and they both rolled on the
floor.

The sick man still gripped the bottle, but he could not get it to
his lips.  He poured some of the stuff over his son's face, but
fortunately missed his eyes.  They struggled on the floor in the dim
light, panting and gasping, but speaking no word.  The strength of
the elder man was unnatural--it frightened the younger and stronger
combatant.

At last Guy Oscard got his knee on his father's neck, and bent his
wrist back until he was forced to let go his hold on the bottle.

"Get back to bed!" said the son breathlessly.  "Get back to bed."

Thomas Oscard suddenly changed his tactics.  He whined and cringed
to his own offspring, and begged him to give him the bottle.  He
dragged across the floor on his knees--three thousand pounds a year
on its knees to Guy Oscard, who wanted that money because he knew
that he would never get Millicent Chyne without it.

"Get back to bed!" repeated Guy sternly, and at last the man crept
sullenly between the rumpled sheets.

Guy put things straight in a simple, man-like way.  The doctor's
instructions were quite clear.  If any sign of excitement or mental
unrest manifested itself, the sleeping-draught contained in a small
bottle on the mantelpiece was to be administered at once, or the
consequences would be fatal.  But Thomas Oscard refused to take it.
He seemed determined to kill himself.  The son stood over him and
tried threats, persuasion, prayers; and all the while there was in
his heart the knowledge that, unless his father could be made to
sleep, the reputed three thousand a year would be his before the
morning.

It was worse than the actual physical struggle on the floor.  The
temptation was almost too strong.

After a while the sick man became quieter, but he still refused to
take the opiate.  He closed his eyes and made no answer to Guy's
repeated supplication.  Finally he ceased shaking his head in
negation, and at last breathed regularly like a child asleep.

Afterwards Guy Oscard reproached himself for suspecting nothing.
But he knew nothing of brain diseases--those strange maladies that
kill the human in the human being.  He knew, however, why his father
had tried to kill himself.  It was not the first time.  It was
panic.  He was afraid of going mad, of dying mad like his father
before him.  People called him eccentric.  Some said that he was
mad.  But it was not so.  It was only fear of madness.  He was still
asleep when the nurse came back from the pantomime in a cab, and Guy
crept softly downstairs to let her in.

They stood in the hall for some time while Guy told her in whispers
about the belladonna liniment.  Then they went upstairs together and
found Thomas Oscard--the great historian--dead on the floor.  The
liniment bottle, which Guy had left on the mantelpiece, was in his
hand--empty.  He had feigned sleep in order to carry out his
purpose.  He had preferred death, of which the meaning was unknown
to him, to the possibility of that living death in which his father
had lingered for many years.  And who shall say that his thoughts
were entirely selfish?  There may have been a father's love
somewhere in this action.  Thomas Oscard, the eccentric savant, had
always been a strong man, independent of the world's opinion.  He
had done this thing deliberately, of mature thought, going straight
to his Creator with his poor human brain full of argument and reason
to prove himself right before the Judge.

They picked him up and laid him reverently on the bed, and then Guy
went for the doctor.

"I could," said the attendant of Death, when he had heard the whole
story--"I could give you a certificate.  I could reconcile it, I
mean, with my professional conscience and my--other conscience.  He
could not have lived thirty hours--there was an abscess on his
brain.  But I should advise you to face the inquest.  It might be"--
he paused, looking keenly into the young fellow's face--"it might be
that at some future date, when you are quite an old man, you may
feel inclined to tell this story."

Again the doctor paused, glancing with a vague smile towards the
woman who stood beside them.  "Or even nurse--" he added, not
troubling to finish his sentence. "We all have our moments of
expansiveness.  And it is a story that might easily be--
discredited."

So the "eccentric Oscard" finished his earthly career in the
intellectual atmosphere of a coroner's jury.  And the world rather
liked it than otherwise.  The world, one finds, does like novelty,
even in death.  Some day an American will invent a new funeral, and
if he can only get the patent, will make a fortune.

The world was, moreover, pleased to pity Guy Oscard with that pure
and simple sympathy which is ever accorded to the wealthy in
affliction.  Every one knew that Thomas Oscard had enjoyed affluence
during his lifetime, and there was no reason to suppose that Guy
would not step into very comfortably lined shoes.  It was
unfortunate that he should lose his father in such a tragic way, and
the keen eye of the world saw the weak point in his story at once.
But the coroner's jury was respectful, and the rest of society never
so much as hinted at the possibility that Guy had not tried his best
to keep his father alive.

Among the letters of sympathy, the young fellow received a note from
Lady Cantourne, whose acquaintance he had successfully renewed, and
in due course he called at her house in Vere Gardens to express
somewhat lamely his gratitude.

Her ladyship was at home, and Guy Oscard was ushered into her
presence.  He looked round the room, with a half-suppressed gleam of
searching which was not overlooked by Millicent Chyne's aunt.

"It is very good of you to call," she said, "so soon after your poor
father's death.  You must have had a great deal of trouble and
worry.  Millicent and I have often talked of you, and sympathised
with you.  She is out at the moment, but I expect her back almost at
once.  Will you sit down?"

"Thanks," he said; and after he had drawn forward a chair he
repeated the word vaguely and comprehensively--"Thanks"--as if to
cover as many demands for gratitude as she could make.

"I knew your father very well," continued the lady, "when we were
young.  Great things were expected of him.  Perhaps he expected them
himself.  That may have accounted for a tone of pessimism that
always seemed to pervade his life.  Now, you are quite different.
You are not a pessimist--eh?"

Guy gravely examined the back of his gloved hand.  "Well, I am
afraid I have not given much thought to the question."

Lady Cantourne gave him the benefit of a very wise smile.  She was
unrivalled in the art of turning a young man's mind inside out and
shaking it.

"No! you need not apologise.  I am glad you have given no thought to
it.  Thought is the beginning of pessimism, especially with young
men; for if they think at all, they naturally think of themselves."

"Well, I suppose I think as much of myself as other people."

"Possibly; but I doubt it.  Will you ring the bell?  We will have
some tea."

He obeyed, and she watched him with approval.  For some reason--
possibly because he had not sought it--Lady Cantourne had bestowed
her entire approval on this young man.  She had been duly informed,
a few weeks before this visit, that Miss Millicent Chyne had engaged
herself to be married to Jack Meredith whenever that youth should
find himself in a position to claim the fulfilment of her promise.
She said nothing against the choice or the decision, merely
observing that she was sorry that Jack had quarrelled with his
father.  By way of counsel she advised strongly that the engagement
be kept as much in the background as possible.  She did not, she
said, want Millicent to be a sort of red rag to Sir John, and there
was no necessity to publish abroad the lamentable fact that a
quarrel had resulted from a very natural and convenient attachment.
Sir John was a faddist, and, like the rest of his kind, eminently
pig-headed.  It was more than likely that in a few months he would
recall his son, and, in the meantime, it never did a girl any good
to be quarrelled over.

Lady Cantourne was too clever a woman to object to the engagement.
On the contrary, she allowed it to be understood that such a match
was in many ways entirely satisfactory.  At the same time, however,
she encouraged Guy Oscard to come to the house, knowing quite well
that he was entirely unaware of the existence of Jack Meredith.

"I am," she was in the habit of saying, "a great advocate for
allowing young people to manage their affairs themselves.  One young
man, if he be the right one, has more influence with a girl than a
thousand old women; and it is just possible that he knows better
than they do what is for her happiness.  It is the interference that
makes mischief."

So she did not interfere.  She merely invited Guy Oscard to stay to
tea.



CHAPTER V.  WITH EDGED TOOLS



                    Do not give dalliance
     Too much the rein; the strongest oaths are straw
     To the fire i' the blood.

"And what do you intend to do with yourself?" asked Lady Cantourne
when she had poured out tea.  "You surely do not intend to mope in
that dismal house in Russell Square?"

"No, I shall let it if I can."

"Oh, you will have no difficulty in doing that.  People live in
Russell Square again now, and try to make one believe that it is a
fashionable quarter.  Your father stayed on there because the
carpets fitted the rooms, and on account of other ancestral
conveniences.  He did not live there--he knew nothing of his
immediate environments.  He lived in Phoenicia."

"Then," continued Guy Oscard, "I shall go abroad."

"Ah!  Will you have a second cup?  Why will you go abroad?"

Guy Oscard paused for a moment.  "I know an old hippopotamus in a
certain African river who has twice upset me.  I want to go back and
shoot him."

"Don't go at once; that would be running away from it--not from the
hippopotamus--from the inquest.  It does not matter being upset in
an African river; but you must not be upset in London by--an
inquest."

"I did not propose going at once," replied Guy Oscard, with a
peculiar smile which Lady Cantourne thought she understood.  "It
will take me some time to set my affairs in order--the will, and all
that."

Lady Cantourne waited with perfectly suppressed curiosity, and while
she was waiting Millicent Chyne came into the room.  The girl was
dressed with her habitual perfect taste and success, and she came
forward with a smile of genuine pleasure, holding out a small hand
neatly gloved in Suede.  Her ladyship was looking not at Millicent,
but at Guy Oscard.

Millicent was glad that he had called, and said so.  She did not add
that during the three months that had elapsed since Jack Meredith's
sudden departure she had gradually recognised the approaching ebb of
a very full tide of popularity.  It was rather dull at times, when
Jack's letters arrived at intervals of two and sometimes of three
weeks--when her girl friends allowed her to see somewhat plainly
that she was no longer to be counted as one of themselves.  An
engagement sits as it were on a young lady like a weak heart on a
schoolboy, setting her apart in work and play, debarring her from
participation in that game of life which is ever going forward where
young folks do congregate.

Moreover, she liked Guy Oscard.  He aroused her curiosity.  There
was something in him--something which she vaguely suspected to be
connected with herself--which she wanted to drag out and examine.
She possessed more than the usual allowance of curiosity--which is
saying a good deal; for one may take it that the beginning of all
things in the feminine mind is curiosity.  They want to know what is
inside Love before they love.  Guy Oscard was a new specimen of the
genus homo; and while remaining perfectly faithful to Jack, Miss
Millicent Chyne saw no reason why she should not pass the time by
studying him, merely, of course, in a safe and innocent manner.  She
was one of those intelligent young ladies who think deeply--about
young men.  And such thinking usually takes the form of speculation
as to how the various specimens selected will act under specified
circumstances.  The circumstances need hardly be mentioned.  Young
men are only interesting to young women in circumstances strictly
personal to and bearing upon themselves.  In a word, maidens of a
speculative mind are always desirous of finding out how different
men will act when they are in love; and we all know and cannot fail
to applaud the assiduity with which they pursue their studies.

"Ah!" said Miss Chyne, "it is very good of you to take pity upon two
lone females.  I was afraid that you had gone off to the wilds of
America or somewhere in search of big game.  Do you know, Mr.
Oscard, you are quite a celebrity?  I heard you called the 'big-game
man' the other day, also the 'travelling fellow.'"

The specimen smiled happily under this delicate handling.

"It is not," he said modestly, "a very lofty fame.  Anybody could
let off a rifle."

"I am afraid I could not," replied Millicent, with a pretty little
shudder of horror, "if anything growled."

"Mr. Oscard has just been telling me," interposed Lady Cantourne
conversationally, "that he is thinking of going off to the wilds
again."

"Then it is very disappointing of him," said Millicent, with a
little droop of the eyelids which went home.  "It seems to be only
the uninteresting people who stay at home and live humdrum lives of
enormous duration."

"He seems to think that his friends are going to cast him off
because his poor father died without the assistance of a medical
man," continued the old lady meaningly.

"No--I never said that, Lady Cantourne."

"But you implied it."

Guy Oscard shook his head.  "I hate being a notoriety," he said.  "I
like to pass through with the crowd.  If I go away for a little
while I shall return a nonentity."

At this moment another visitor was announced, and presently made his
appearance.  He was an old gentleman of no personality whatever, who
was nevertheless welcomed effusively, because two people in the room
had a distinct use for him.  Lady Cantourne was exceedingly
gracious.  She remembered instantly that horticulture was among his
somewhat antiquated accomplishments, and she was immediately
consumed with a desire to show him the conservatory which she had
had built outside the drawing-room window.  She took a genuine
interest in this abode of flowers, and watered the plants herself
with much enthusiasm--when she remembered.

Added to a number of positive virtues the old gentleman possessed
that of abstaining from tea, which enabled the two horticulturists
to repair to the conservatory at once, leaving the young people
alone at the other end of the drawing-room.

Millicent smoothed her gloves with downcast eyes and that demure air
by which the talented fair imply the consciousness of being alone
and out of others' earshot with an interesting member of the
stronger sex.

Guy sat and watched the Suede gloves with a certain sense of placid
enjoyment.  Then suddenly he spoke, continuing his remarks where
they had been broken off by the advent of the useful old gentleman.

"You see," he said, "it is only natural that a great many people
should give me the cold shoulder.  My story was a little lame.
There is no reason why they should believe in me."

"I believe in you," she answered.

"Thank you."

He looked at her in a strange way, as if he liked her terse creed,
and would fain have heard it a second time.  Then suddenly he leant
back with his head against a corner of the piano.  The fronds of a
maidenhair fern hanging in delicate profusion almost hid his face.
He was essentially muscular in his thoughts, and did not make the
most of his dramatic effects.  The next remark was made by a pair of
long legs ending off with patent-leather boots which were not quite
new.  The rest of him was invisible.

"It was a very unpleasant business," he said, in a jerky, self-
conscious voice.  "I didn't know that I was that sort of fellow.
The temptation was very great.  I nearly gave in and let him do it.
He was a stronger man than I.  You know--we did not get on well
together.  He always hoped that I would turn out a literary sort of
fellow, and I suppose he was disappointed.  I tried at one time, but
I found it was no good.  From indifference it turned almost to
hatred.  He disliked me intensely, and I am afraid I did not care
for him very much."

She nodded her head, and he went on.  Perhaps he could see her
through the maidenhair fern.  She was getting more and more
interested in this man.  He obviously disliked talking of himself--a
pleasant change which aroused her curiosity.  He was so unlike other
men, and his life seemed to be different from the lives of the men
whom she had known--stronger, more intense, and of greater variety
of incident.

"Of course," he went on, "his death was really of enormous advantage
to me.  They say that I shall have two or three thousand a year,
instead of five hundred, paid quarterly at Cox's.  He could not
prevent it coming to me.  It was my mother's money.  He would have
done so if he could, for we never disguised our antipathy for each
other.  Yet we lived together, and--and I had the nursing of him."

Millicent was listening gravely without interrupting--like a man.
She had the gift of adapting herself to her environments in a marked
degree.

"And," he added curtly, "no one knows how much I wanted that three
thousand a year."

The girl moved uneasily, and glanced towards the conservatory.

"He was not an old man," Guy Oscard went on.  "He was only forty-
nine.  He might have lived another thirty years."

She nodded, understanding the significance of his tone.

"There," he said, with an awkward laugh, "do you still believe in
me?"

"Yes," she answered, still looking away.

There was a little pause.  They were both sitting forward in their
chairs looking towards the conservatory.

"It was not the money that tempted me," said Guy very deliberately;
"it was you."

She rose from her chair as if to join her aunt and the horticultural
old gentleman.

"You must not say that," she said, in little more than a whisper,
and without looking round she went towards Lady Cantourne.  Her eyes
were gleaming with a singular suppressed excitement, such as one
sees in the eyes of a man fresh from a mad run across country.

Guy Oscard rose also, and followed more deliberately.  There was
nothing for him to do but to take his leave.

"But," said Lady Cantourne graciously, "if you are determined to go
away you must at least come and say good-bye before you leave."

"Thanks; I should like to do so, if I may."

"We shall be deeply disappointed if you forget," said Millicent,
holding out her hand, with a smile full of light-heartedness and
innocent girlish friendship.



CHAPTER VI.  UNDER THE LINE



     Enough of simpering and grimace,
     Enough of vacuity, trimmed with lace.

"Curse this country!  Curse it--curse it!"  The man spoke aloud, but
there was no one near to hear.  He shook his skinny yellow fist out
over the broad river that crept greasily down to the equatorial sea.

All around him the vegetable kingdom had asserted its sovereignty.
At his back loomed a dense forest, impenetrable to the foot of man,
defying his puny hand armed with axe or saw.  The trees were not
high, few of them being above twenty feet, but from their branches
creepers and parasites hung in tangled profusion, interlaced,
joining tree to tree for acres, nay for miles.

As far as the eye could reach either bank of the slow river was thus
covered with rank vegetation--mile after mile without variety,
without hope.  The glassy surface of the water was broken here and
there by certain black forms floating like logs half hidden beneath
the wave.  These were crocodiles.  The river was the Ogowe, and the
man who cursed it was Victor Durnovo, employe of the Loango Trading
Association, whose business it was at that season to travel into the
interior of Africa to buy, barter, or steal ivory for his masters.

He was a small-faced man, with a squarely aquiline nose and a black
moustache, which hung like a valance over his mouth.  From the
growth of that curtain-like moustache Victor Durnovo's worldly
prosperity might have been said to date.  No one seeing his mouth
had before that time been prevailed upon to trust him.  Nature has a
way of hanging out signs and then covering them up, so that the
casual fail to see.  He was a man of medium height, with abnormally
long arms and a somewhat truculent way of walking, as if his foot
was ever ready to kick anything or any person who might come in his
way.

His movements were nervous and restless, although he was tired out
and half-starved.  The irritability of Africa was upon him--had hold
over him--gripped him remorselessly.  No one knows what it is, but
it is there, and sometimes it is responsible for murder.  It makes
honourable European gentlemen commit crimes of which they blush to
think in after days.  The Powers may draw up treaties and sign the
same, but there will never be a peaceful division of the great
wasted land so near to Southern Europe.  There may be peace in
Berlin, or Brussels, or London, but because the atmosphere of Africa
is not the same as that of the great cities, there will be no peace
beneath the Equator.  From the West Coast of Africa to the East men
will fight and quarrel and bicker so long as human nerves are human
nerves.  The irritability lurks in the shades of boundless forests
where men may starve for want of animal sustenance; it hovers over
the broad bosoms of a hundred slow rivers haunted by the mysterious
crocodile, the weird hippopotamus.  It is everywhere, and by reason
of it men quarrel about trifles and descend to brutal passion over a
futile discussion.

Victor Durnovo had sent his boatmen into the forest to find a few
bananas, a few handsful of firewood, and while they were absent he
gave vent to that wild unreasoning passion which is inhaled into the
white man's lungs with the air of equatorial Africa.  For there are
moral microbes in the atmosphere of different countries, and we must
not judge one land by the laws of another.  There is the fatalism of
India, the restlessness of New York, the fear of the Arctic, the
irritability of Africa.

"Curse this country!" he shouted, "curse it--curse it!  River and
tree--man and beast!"

He rose and slouched down to his boat, which lay moored to a snag
alongside the bank, trodden hard to the consistency of asphalte by a
hundred bare feet.  He stepped over the gunwale and made his way aft
with a practised balancing step.  The after part of the canoe was
decked in and closed with lock and key.  The key hung at his watch-
chain--a large chain with square links and a suggestive doubtfulness
of colour.  It might have been gold, but the man who wore it somehow
imparted to it a suggestion of baser metal.

He opened the locker and took from it a small chest.  From this he
selected a bottle, and, rummaging in the recesses of the locker, he
found an unwashed tumbler.  Into half a glass of water he dropped a
minute quantity from the bottle and drank off the mixture.  The
passion had left him now, and quite suddenly he looked yellow and
very weak.  He was treating himself scientifically for the
irritability to which he had given way.  Then he returned to the
bank and laid down at full length.  The skin of his face must have
been giving him great pain, for it was scarlet in places and exuding
from sun-blisters.  He had long ago given up wiping the perspiration
from his brow, and evidently did not care to wash his face.

Presently a peacefulness seemed to come over him, for his eyes lost
their glitter and his heavy lids drooped.  His arms were crossed
behind his head--before him lay the river.

Suddenly he sat upright, all eagerness and attention.  Not a leaf
stirred.  It was about five o'clock in the evening, the stillest
hour of the twenty-four.  In such a silence the least sound would
travel almost any distance, and there was a sound travelling over
the water to him.  It was nothing but a thud repeated with singular
regularity; but to his practised ears it conveyed much.  He knew
that a boat was approaching, as yet hidden by some distant curve in
the river.  The thud was caused by the contact of six paddles with
the gunwale of the canoe as the paddlers withdrew them from the
water.

Victor Durnovo rose again and brought from the boat a second rifle,
which he laid beside the double-barrelled Reilly which was never
more than a yard away from him, waking or sleeping.  Then he waited.
He knew that no boat could reach the bank without his full
permission, for every rower would be dead before they got within a
hundred yards of his rifle.  He was probably the best rifle-shot but
one in that country--and the other, the very best, happened to be in
the approaching canoe.

After the space of ten minutes the boat came in sight--a long black
form on the still waters.  It was too far away for him to
distinguish anything beyond the fact that it was a native boat.

"Eight hundred yards," muttered Durnovo over the sight of his rifle.

He looked upon this river as his own, and he knew the native of
equatorial Africa.  Therefore he dropped a bullet into the water,
under the bow of the canoe, at eight hundred yards.

A moment later there was a sound which can only be written "P-ttt"
between his legs, and he had to wipe a shower of dust from his eyes.
A puff of blue smoke rose slowly over the boat and a sharp report
broke the silence a second time.

Then Victor Durnovo leapt to his feet and waved his hat in the air.
From the canoe there was an answering greeting, and the man on the
bank went to the water's edge, still carrying the rifle from which
he was never parted.

Durnovo was the first to speak when the boat came within hail.

"Very sorry," he shouted.  "Thought you were a native boat.  Must
establish a funk--get in the first shot, you know."

"All right," replied one of the Europeans in the approaching craft,
with a courteous wave of the hand, "no harm done."

There were two white men and six blacks in the long and clumsy boat.
One of the Europeans lay in the bows while the other was stretched
at his ease in the stern, reclining on the canvas of a neatly folded
tent.  The last-named was evidently the leader of the little
expedition, while the manner and attitude of the man in the bows
suggested the servitude of a disciplined soldier slightly relaxed by
abnormal circumstances.

"Who fired that shot?" inquired Durnovo, when there was no longer
any necessity to shout.

"Joseph," replied the man in the stern of the boat, indicating his
companion.  "Was it a near thing?"

"About as near as I care about--it threw up the dust between my
legs."

The man called Joseph grinned.  Nature had given him liberally of
the wherewithal for indulgence in that relaxation, and Durnovo
smiled rather constrainedly.  Joseph was grabbing at the long reedy
grass, bringing the canoe to a standstill, and it was some moments
before his extensive mouth submitted to control.

"I presume you are Mr. Durnovo," said the man in the stern of the
boat, rising leisurely from his recumbent position and speaking with
a courteous savoir-faire which seemed slightly out of place in the
wilds of Central Africa.  He was a tall man with a small
aristocratic head and a refined face, which somehow suggested an
aristocrat of old France.

"Yes," answered Durnovo.

The tall man stepped ashore and held out his hand.

"I am glad we have met you," he said; "I have a letter of
introduction to you from Maurice Gordon, of Loango."

Victor Durnovo's dark face changed slightly; his eyes--bilious,
fever-shot, unhealthy--took a new light.

"Ah!" he answered, "are you a friend of Maurice Gordon's?"

There was another question in this, an unasked one; and Victor
Durnovo was watching for the answer.  But the face he watched was
like a delicately carved piece of brown marble, with a courteous,
impenetrable smile.

"I met him again the other day at Loango.  He is an old Etonian like
myself."

This conveyed nothing to Durnovo, who belonged to a different world,
whose education was, like other things about him, an unknown
quantity.

"My name," continued the tall man, "is Meredith--John Meredith--
sometimes called Jack."

They were walking up the bank towards the dusky and uninviting tent.

"And the other fellow?" inquired Durnovo, with a backward jerk of
the head.

"Oh--he is my servant."

Durnovo raised his eyebrows in somewhat contemptuous amusement, and
proceeded to open the letter which Meredith had handed him.

"Not many fellows," he said, "on this coast can afford to keep a
European servant."

Jack Meredith bowed, and ignored the irony.

"But," he said courteously, "I suppose you find these coloured chaps
just as good when they have once got into your ways?"

"Oh yes," muttered Durnovo.  He was reading the letter.  "Maurice
Gordon," he continued, "says you are travelling for pleasure--just
looking about you.  What do you think of it?"

He indicated the dismal prospect with a harsh laugh.

"A bit suggestive of Hell," he went on, "eh?  How does it strike
you?"

"Finer timber, I should think," suggested Jack Meredith, and Durnovo
laughed more pleasantly.

"The truth is," he explained, "that it strikes one as a bit absurd
that any man should travel up here for pleasure.  If you take my
advice you will come down-stream again with me to-morrow."

He evidently distrusted him; and the sidelong, furtive glance
suggested vaguely that Victor Durnovo had something farther up this
river which he wished to keep concealed.

"I understand," answered Meredith, with a half-suppressed yawn,
"that the country gets finer farther up--more mountainous--less
suggestive of--Hell."

The proprietors of very dark eyes would do well to remember that it
is dangerous to glance furtively to one side or the other.  The
attention of dark eyes is more easily felt than the glances of grey
or blue orbs.

Jack Meredith's suspicions were aroused by the suspicious manner of
his interlocutor.

"There is no white man knows this river as I do, and I do not
recommend it.  Look at me--on the verge of jaundice--look at this
wound on my arm; it began with a scratch and has never healed.  All
that comes from a month up this cursed river.  Take my advice, try
somewhere else."

"I certainly shall," replied Meredith.  "We will discuss it after
dinner.  My chap is a first-rate cook.  Have you got anything to add
to the menu?"

"Not a thing.  I've been living on plantains and dried elephant-meat
for the last fortnight."

"Doesn't sound nourishing.  Well, we are pretty well provided, so
perhaps you will give me the pleasure of your company to dinner?
Come as you are:  no ceremony.  I think I will wash though.  It is
as well to keep up these old customs."

With a pleasant smile he went towards the tent which had just been
erected.  Joseph was very busy, and his admonishing voice was heard
at times.

"Here, Johnny, hammer in that peg.  Now, old cups and saucers, stop
that grinning and fetch me some water.  None of your frogs and
creepy crawly thing this time, my blonde beauty, but clean water,
comprenny?"

With these and similar lightsome turns of speech was Joseph in the
habit of keeping his men up to the mark.  The method was eminently
successful.  His coloured compeers crowded round him "all of a
grin," as he himself described it, and eager to do his slightest
behest.  From the throne to the back-kitchen the secret of success
is the art of managing men--and women.



CHAPTER VII.  THE SECRET OF THE SIMIACINE



     Surtout, Messieurs, pas de zele.

Such was the meeting of Victor Durnovo and Jack Meredith.  Two men
with absolutely nothing in common--no taste, no past, no kinship--
nothing but the future.  Such men as Fate loves to bring together
for her own strange purposes.  What these purposes are none of us
can tell.  Some hold that Fate is wise.  She is not so yet, but she
cannot fail to acquire wisdom some day, because she experiments so
industriously.  She is ever bringing about new combinations, and one
can only trust that she, the experimenter, is as keenly disappointed
in the result as are we, the experimented.

To Jack Meredith Victor Durnovo conveyed the impression of little
surprise and a slight local interest.  He was a man who was not
quite a gentleman; but for himself Jack did not give great heed to
this.  He had associated with many such; for, as has been previously
intimated, he had moved in London society, where there are many men
who are not quite gentlemen.  The difference of a good coat and that
veiled insolence which passes in some circles for the ease of good
breeding had no weight with the keen son of Sir John Meredith, and
Victor Durnovo fared no worse in his companion's estimation because
he wore a rough coat and gave small attention to his manners.  He
attracted and held Jack's attention by a certain open-air manliness
which was in keeping with the situation and with his life.
Sportsmen, explorers and wanderers were not new to Jack; for
nowadays one may never know what manner of man is inside a faultless
dress-suit.  It is an age of disappearing, via Charing Cross station
in a first-class carriage, to a life of backwooding, living from
hand to mouth, starving in desert, prairie, pampas or Arctic wild,
with, all the while, a big balance at Cox's.  And most of us come
back again and put on the dress-suit and the white tie with a
certain sense of restfulness and comfort.

Jack Meredith had known many such.  He had, in a small way, done the
same himself.  But he had never met one of the men who do not go
home--who possess no dress-coat and no use for it--whose business it
is to go about with a rifle in one hand and their life in the other-
-who risk their lives because it is their trade and not their
pleasure.

Durnovo could not understand the new-comer at all.  He saw at once
that this was one of those British aristocrats who do strange things
in a very strange way.  In a degree Meredith reminded him of Maurice
Gordon, the man whose letter of introduction was at that moment
serving to light the camp fire.  But it was Maurice Gordon without
that semi-sensual weakness of purpose which made him the boon
companion of Tom, Dick, or Harry, provided that one of those was
only with him long enough.  There was a vast depth of reserve--of
indefinable possibilities, which puzzled Durnovo, and in some subtle
way inspired fear.

In that part of Africa which lies within touch of the Equator, life
is essentially a struggle.  There is hunger about, and where hunger
is the emotions will be found also.  Now Jack Meredith was a past-
master in the concealment of these, and, as such, came to Victor
Durnovo in the guise of a new creation.  He had lived the latter and
the larger part of his life among men who said, in action if not in
words, I am hungry, or I am thirsty; I want this, or I want that;
and if you are not strong enough to keep it, I will take it from
you.

This man was different; and Victor Durnovo did not know--could not
find out--WHAT he wanted.

He had at first been inclined to laugh at him.  What struck him most
forcibly was Joseph, the servant.  The idea of a man swaggering up
an African river with a European man-servant was so preposterous
that it could only be met with ridicule; but the thing seemed so
natural to Jack Meredith, he accepted the servitude of Joseph so
much as a matter of course, that after a time Durnovo accepted him
also as part and parcel of Meredith.

Moreover, he immediately began to realise the benefit of being
waited upon by an intelligent European, for Joseph took off his
coat, turned up his sleeves, and proceeded to cook such a dinner as
Durnovo had not tasted for many months.  There was wine also, and
afterwards a cigar of such quality as appealed strongly to Durnovo's
West Indian palate.

The night settled down over the land while they sat there, and
before them the great yellow equatorial moon rose slowly over the
trees.  With the darkness came a greater silence, for the myriad
insect life was still.  This great silence of Central Africa is
wonderfully characteristic.  The country is made for silence, the
natives are created to steal, spirit-ridden, devil-haunted, through
vast tracks of lifeless forest, where nature is oppressive in her
grandeur.  Here man is put into his right place--a puny,
insignificant, helpless being in a world that is too large for him.

"So," said Durnovo, returning to the subject which had never really
left his thoughts, "you have come out here for pleasure?"

"Not exactly.  I came chiefly to make money, partly to dispel some
of the illusions of my youth, and I am getting on very well.
Picture-book illusions they were.  The man who drew the pictures had
never seen Africa."

"This is no country for illusions.  Things go naked here--damned
naked."

"And only language is adorned?"

Durnovo laughed.  He had to be alert to keep up with Jack Meredith--
to understand his speech; and he rather liked the necessity, which
was a change after the tropic indolence in which he had moved.

"Swearing, you mean," he replied.  "Hope you don't mind it?"

"Not a bit.  Do it myself."

At this moment Joseph, the servant, brought coffee served up in tin
cups.

"First-class dinner," said Durnovo.  "The best dinner I have had for
years.  Clever chap, your man!"

The last remark was made as much for the servant's edification as
for the master's, and it was accompanied by an inviting smile
directed towards Joseph.  Of this the man took no notice whatever.
He came from a world where masters and masters' guests know their
place and keep it, even after a good dinner.

The evening had turned out so very differently from what he had
expected that Durnovo was a little off his balance.  Things were so
sociable and pleasant in comparison with the habitual loneliness of
his life.  The fire crackled so cheerily, the moon shone down on the
river so grandly, the subdued chatter of the boatmen imparted such a
feeling of safety and comfort to the scene, that he gave way to that
impulse of expansiveness which ever lurks in West Indian blood.

"I say," he said, "when you told me that you wanted to make money,
were you in earnest?"

"In the deadliest earnest," replied Jack Meredith, in the half-
mocking tone which he never wholly learnt to lay aside.

"Then I think I can put you in the way of it.  Oh, I know it seems a
bit premature--not known you long enough, and all that.  But in this
country we don't hold much by the formalities.  I like you.  I liked
the look of you when you got out of that boat--so damned cool and
self-possessed.  You're the right sort, Mr. Meredith."

"Possibly--for some things.  For sitting about and smoking first-
class cigars and thinking second-class thoughts I am exactly the
right sort.  But for making money, for hard work and steady work, I
am afraid, Mr. Durnovo, that I am distinctly the wrong sort."

"Now you're chaffing again.  Do you always chaff?"

"Mostly; it lubricates things, doesn't it?"

There was a little pause.  Durnovo looked round as if to make sure
that Joseph and the boatmen were out of earshot.

"Can you keep a secret?" he asked suddenly.

Jack Meredith turned and looked at the questioner with a smile.  His
hat had slipped to the back of his head, the light of the great
yellow moon fell full upon his clean-cut, sphinx-like face.  The
eyes alone seemed living.

"Yes!  I can do that."

He was only amused, and the words were spoken half-mockingly; but
his face said more than his lips.  It said that even in chaff this
was no vain boast that he was uttering.  Even before he had set foot
on African soil he had been asked to keep so many secrets of a
commercial nature.  So many had begun by imparting half a secret, to
pass on in due course to the statement that only money was required,
say, a thousand pounds.  And, in the meantime, twenty-five would be
very useful, and, if not that, well, ten shillings.  Jack Meredith
had met all that before.

But there was something different about Durnovo.  He was not
suitably got up.  Your bar-room prospective millionaire is usually a
jolly fellow, quite prepared to quench any man's thirst for liquor
or information so long as credit and credulity will last.  There was
nothing jolly or sanguine about Durnovo.  Beneath his broad-brimmed
hat his dark eyes flashed in a fierce excitement.  His hand was
unsteady.  He had allowed the excellent cigar to go out.  The man
was full of quinine and fever, in deadly earnest.

"I can see you're a gentleman," he said; "I'll trust you.  I want a
man to join me in making a fortune.  I have got my hand on it at
last.  But I'm afraid of this country.  I'm getting shaky; look at
that hand.  I've been looking for it too long.  I take you into my
confidence, the first comer, you'll think.  But there are not many
men like you in this country, and I'm beastly afraid of dying.  I'm
in a damned funk.  I want to get out of this for a bit, but I dare
not leave until I set things going."

"Take your time," said Meredith, quietly and soothingly; "light that
cigar again and lie down.  There is no hurry."

Durnovo obeyed him meekly.

"Tell me," he said, "have you ever heard of Simiacine?"

"I cannot say that I have," replied Jack.  "What is it for, brown
boots or spasms?"

"It is a drug, the most expensive drug in the market.  And they must
have it, they cannot do without it, and they cannot find a
substitute.  It is the leaf of a shrub, and your hatful is worth a
thousand pounds."

"Where is it to be found?" asked Jack Meredith.  "I should like
some--in a sack."

"Ah, you may laugh now, but you won't when you hear all about it.
The scientific chaps called it Simiacine, because of an old African
legend which, like all those things, has a grain of truth in it.
The legend is, that the monkeys first found out the properties of
the leaf, and it is because they live on it that they are so strong.
Do you know that a gorilla's arm is not half so thick as yours, and
yet he would take you and snap your backbone across his knee; he
would bend a gun-barrel as you would bend a cane, merely by the turn
of his wrist.  That is Simiacine.  He can hang on to a tree with one
leg and tackle a leopard with his bare hands--that's Simiacine.  At
home, in England and in Germany, they are only just beginning to
find out its properties; it seems that it can bring a man back to
life when he is more than half dead.  There is no knowing what
children that are brought up on it may turn out to be; it may double
the power of the human brain--some think it will."

Jack Meredith was leaning forward, watching with a certain sense of
fascination the wild, disease-stricken face, listening to the man's
breathless periods.  It seemed that the fear of death, which had
gotten hold of him, gave Victor Durnovo no time to pause for breath.

"Yes," said the Englishman, "yes, go on."

"There is practically no limit to the demand that there is for it.
At present the only way of obtaining it is through the natives, and
you know their manner of trading.  They send a little packet down
from the interior, and it very often takes two months and more to
reach the buyer's hands.  The money is sent back the same way, and
each man who fingers it keeps a little.  The natives find the leaf
in the forests by the aid of trained monkeys, and only in very small
quantities.  Do you follow me?"

"Yes, I follow you."

Victor Durnovo leant forward until his face was within three inches
of Meredith, and the dark wild eyes flashed and glared into the
Englishman's steady glance.

"What," he hissed, "what if I know where Simiacine grows like a
weed?  What if I could supply the world with Simiacine at my own
price?  Eh--h--h!  What of that, Mr. Meredith?"

He threw himself suddenly back and wiped his dripping face.  There
was a silence, the great African silence that drives educated men
mad, and fills the imagination of the poor heathen with wild tales
of devils and spirits.

Then Jack Meredith spoke, without moving.

"I'm your man," he said, "with a few more details."

Victor Durnovo was lying back at full length on the hard dry mud,
his arms beneath his head.  Without altering his position he gave
the details, speaking slowly and much more quietly.  It seemed as if
he spoke the result of long pent-up thought.

"We shall want," he said, "two thousand pounds to start it.  For we
must have an armed force of our own.  We have to penetrate through a
cannibal country, of the fiercest devils in Africa.  It is a
plateau, a little plateau of two square miles, and the niggers think
that it is haunted by an evil spirit.  When we get there we shall
have to hold it by force of arms, and when we send the stuff down to
the coast we must have an escort of picked men.  The bushes grow up
there as thick as gooseberry bushes in a garden at home.  With a
little cultivation they will yield twice as much as they do now.  We
shall want another partner.  I know a man, a soldierly fellow full
of fight, who knows the natives and the country.  I will undertake
to lead you there, but you will have to take great care of me.  You
will have to have me carried most of the way.  I am weak, devilish
weak, and I am afraid of dying; but I know the way there, and no
other man can say as much!  It is in my head here; it is not written
down.  It is only in my head, and no one can get it out of there."

"No," said Meredith, in his quiet, refined voice, "no, no one can
get it out.  Come, let us turn in.  To-morrow I will go down the
river with you.  I will turn back, and we can talk it over as we go
downstream."



CHAPTER VIII.  A RECRUIT



     Said the Engine from the East,
     "They who work best talk the least."

It is not, of course, for a poor limited masculine mind to utter
heresies regarding the great question of woman's rights.  But as
things stand at present, as, in fact, the forenamed rights are to-
day situated, women have not found comprehension of the dual life.
The dual life is led solely by men, and until women have found out
its full compass and meaning, they can never lead in the world.
There is the public life and the private; and the men who are most
successful in the former are the most exclusive in the latter.
Women have only learned to lead one life; they must be all public or
all private, there is no medium.  Those who give up the private life
for which Providence destined them, to assume the public existence
to which their own conceit urges them, have their own reward.  They
taste all the bitterness of fame and never know its sweets, because
the bitterness is public and the sweets are private.

Women cannot understand that part of a man's life which brings him
into daily contact with men whom he does not bring home to dinner.
One woman does not know another without bringing her in to meals and
showing her her new hat.  It is merely a matter of custom.  Men are
in the habit of associating in daily, almost hourly, intercourse
with others who are never really their friends and are always held
at a distance.  It is useless attempting to explain it, for we are
merely reprimanded for unfriendliness, stiffness, and stupid pride.
Soit!  Let it go.  Some of us, perhaps, know our own business best.
And there are, thank Heaven! amidst a multitude of female doctors,
female professors, female wranglers, a few female women left.

Jack Meredith knew quite well what he was about when he listened
with a favourable ear to Durnovo's scheme.  He knew that this man
was not a gentleman, but his own position was so assured that he
could afford to associate with any one.  Here, again, men are safer.
A woman is too delicate a social flower to be independent of
environments.  She takes the tone of her surroundings.  It is, one
notices, only the ladies who protest that the barmaid married in
haste and repented of at leisure can raise herself to her husband's
level.  The husband's friends keep silence, and perhaps, like the
mariner's bird, they meditate all the more.

What Meredith proposed to do was to enter into a partnership with
Victor Durnovo, and when the purpose of it was accomplished, to let
each man go his way.  Such partnerships are entered into every day.
Men have carried through a brilliant campaign--a world-affecting
scheme--side by side, working with one mind and one heart; and when
the result has been attained they drop out of each other's lives for
ever.  They are created so, for a very good purpose, no doubt.  But
sometimes Providence steps in and turns the little point of contact
into the leaven that leaveneth the whole lump.  Providence, it
seems--or let us call it Fate--was hovering over that lone African
river, where two men, sitting in the stern of a native canoe, took
it upon themselves to prearrange their lives.

A month later Victor Durnovo was in London.  He left behind him in
Africa Jack Meredith, whose capacities for organisation were
developing very quickly.

There was plenty of work for each to do.  In Africa Meredith had
undertaken to get together men and boats, while Durnovo went home to
Europe for a threefold purpose.  Firstly, a visit to Europe was
absolutely necessary for his health, shattered as it was by too long
a sojourn in the fever-ridden river beds of the West Coast.
Secondly, there were rifles, ammunition, and stores to be purchased
and packed in suitable cases.  And, lastly, he was to find and
enlist the third man, "the soldierly fellow full of fight," who knew
the natives and the country.

This, indeed, was his first care on reaching London, and before his
eyes and brain were accustomed to the roar of the street life he
took a cab to Russell Square, giving the number affixed to the door
of a gloomy house in the least frequented corner of the stately
quadrangle.

"Is Mr. Guy Oscard at home?" he inquired of the grave man-servant.

"He is, sir," replied the butler, stepping aside.

Victor Durnovo thought that a momentary hesitation on the part of
the butler was caused by a very natural and proper feeling of
admiration for the new clothes and hat which he had purchased out of
the money advanced by Jack Meredith for the outfit of the
expedition.  In reality the man was waiting for the visitor to throw
away his cigar before crossing the threshold.  But he waited in
vain, and Durnovo stood, cigar in mouth, in the dining-room until
Guy Oscard came to him.

At first Oscard did not recognise him, and conveyed this fact by a
distant bow and an expectant silence.

"You do not seem to recognise me," said Durnovo with a laugh, which
lasted until the servant had closed the door.  "Victor Durnovo!"

"Oh--yes--how are you?"

Oscard came forward and shook hands.  His manner was not exactly
effusive.  The truth was that their acquaintanceship in Africa had
been of the slightest, dating from some trivial services which
Durnovo had been able and very eager to render to the sportsman.

"I'm all right, thanks," replied Durnovo.  "I only landed at
Liverpool yesterday.  I'm home on business.  I'm buying rifles and
stores."

Guy Oscard's honest face lighted up at once--the curse of Ishmael
was on him in its full force.  He was destined to be a wanderer on
God's earth, and all things appertaining to the wild life of the
forests were music in his ears.

Durnovo was no mean diplomatist.  He had learnt to know man, within
a white or coloured skin.  The effect of his words was patent to
him.

"You remember the Simiacine?" he said abruptly.

"Yes."

"I've found it."

"The devil you have!  Sit down."

Durnovo took the chair indicated.

"Yes, sir," he said, "I've got it.  I've laid my hand on it at last.
I've always been on its track.  That has been my little game all the
time.  I did not tell you when we met out there, because I was
afraid I should never find it, and because I wanted to keep quiet
about it."

Guy Oscard was looking out of the window across to the dull houses
and chimneys that formed his horizon, and in his eyes there was the
longing for a vaster horizon, a larger life.

"I have got a partner," continued Durnovo, "a good man--Jack
Meredith, son of Sir John Meredith.  You have, perhaps, met him."

"No," answered Oscard; "but I have heard his name, and I have met
Sir John--the father--once or twice."

"He is out there," went on Durnovo, "getting things together
quietly.  I have come home to buy rifles, ammunition, and stores."

He paused, watching the eager, simple face.

"We want to know," he said quietly, "if you will organise and lead
the fighting men."

Guy Oscard drew a deep breath.  There are some Englishmen left,
thank Heaven! who love fighting for its own sake, and not only for
the gain of it.  Such men as this lived in the old days of chivalry,
at which modern puny carpet-knights make bold to laugh, while
inwardly thanking their stars that they live in the peaceful age of
the policeman.  Such men as this ran their thick simple heads
against many a windmill, couched lance over many a far-fetched
insult, and swung a sword in honour of many a worthless maid; but
they made England, my masters.  Let us remember that they made
England.

"Then there is to be fighting?"

"Yes," said Durnovo, "there will be fighting.  We must fight our way
there, and we must hold it when we get there.  But so far as the
world is concerned, we are only a private expedition exploring the
source of the Ogowe."

"The Ogowe?" and again Guy Oscard's eyes lighted up.

"Yes, I do not mind telling you that much.  To begin with, I trust
you; secondly, no one could get there without me to lead the way."

Guy Oscard looked at him with some admiration, and that sympathy
which exists between the sons of Ishmael.  Durnovo looked quite fit
for the task he set himself.  He had regained his strength on the
voyage, and with returning muscular force his moral tone was higher,
his influence over men greater.  Amidst the pallid sons of the
pavement among whom Guy Oscard had moved of late, this African
traveller was a man apart--a being much more after his own heart.
The brown of the man's face and hands appealed to him--the dark
flashing eyes, the energetic carriage of head and shoulders.  Among
men of a fairer skin the taint that was in Victor Durnovo's blood
became more apparent--the shadow on his finger-nails, the deep olive
of his neck against the snowy collar, and the blue tint in the white
of his eyes.

But none of these things militated against him in Oscard's mind.
They only made him fitter for the work he had undertaken.

"How long will it take?" asked Guy.

Durnovo tugged at his strange, curtain-like moustache.  His mouth
was hidden; it was quite impossible to divine his thoughts.

"Three months to get there," he answered at length.  "One month to
pick the leaf, and then you can bring the first crop down to the
coast and home, while Meredith and I stay on at the plateau."

"I could be home again in eight months?"

"Certainly!  We thought that you might work the sale of the stuff in
London, and in a couple of years or so, when the thing is in swing,
Meredith will come home.  We can safely leave the cultivation in
native hands when once we have established ourselves up there, and
made ourselves respected among the tribes."

A significance in his tone made Guy Oscard look up inquiringly.

"How?"

"You know my way with the natives," answered Durnovo with a cruel
smile.  "It is the only way.  There are no laws in Central Africa
except the laws of necessity."

Oscard was nothing if not outspoken.

"I do not like your way with the natives," he said, with a pleasant
smile.

"That is because you do not know them.  But in this affair you are
to be the leader of the fighting column.  You will, of course, have
carte blanche."

Oscard nodded.

"I suppose," he said, after a pause, "that there is the question of
money?"

"Yes; Meredith and I have talked that over.  The plan we fixed upon
was that you and he each put a thousand pounds into it; I put five
hundred.  For the first two years we share the profits equally.
After that we must come to some fresh arrangement, should you or
Meredith wish to give up an active part in the affair.  I presume
you would not object to coming up at the end of a year, with a handy
squad of men to bring down the crop under escort?"

"No," replied Oscard, after a moment's reflection.  "I should
probably be able to do that."

"I reckon," continued the other, "that the journey down could be
accomplished in two months, and each time you do the trip you will
reduce your time."

"Yes."

"Of course," Durnovo went on, with the details which he knew were
music in Oscard's ears, "of course we shall be a clumsy party going
up.  We shall have heavy loads of provisions, ammunition, and seeds
for cultivating the land up there."

"Yes," replied Guy Oscard absently.  In his ears there rang already
the steady plash of the paddle, the weird melancholy song of the
boatmen, the music of the wind amidst the forest trees.

Durnovo rose briskly.

"Then," he said, "you will join us?  I may telegraph out to Meredith
that you will join us?"

"Yes," replied Oscard simply.  "You may do that."

"There is no time to be lost," Durnovo went on.  "Every moment
wasted adds to the risk of our being superseded.  I sail for Loango
in a fortnight; will you come with me?"

"Yes."

"Shall I take a passage for you?"

"Yes."

Durnovo held out his hand.

"Good-bye," he said.  "Shall I always find you here when I want
you?"

"Yes--stay, though!  I shall be going away for a few days.  Come to-
morrow to luncheon, and we will settle the preliminaries."

"Right--one o'clock?"

"One o'clock."

When Durnovo had gone Guy sat down and wrote to Lady Cantourne
accepting her invitation to spend a few days at Cantourne Place, on
the Solent.  He explained that his visit would be in the nature of a
farewell, as he was about to leave for Africa for a little big-game
hunting.



CHAPTER IX.  TO PASS THE TIME



     Quand on n'a pas ce que l'on aime, il faut aimer ce que l'on a.

"Your energy, my dear lady, is not the least of many attributes."

Lady Cantourne looked up from her writing-desk with her brightest
smile.  Sir John Meredith was standing by the open window, leaning
against the jamb thereof with a grace that had lost its youthful
repose.  He was looking out, across a sloping lawn, over the Solent,
and for that purpose he had caused himself to be clad in a suit of
blue serge.  He looked the veteran yachtsman to perfection--he could
look anything in its season--but he did his yachting from the shore-
-by preference from the drawing-room window.

"One must keep up with the times, John," replied the lady, daintily
dipping her quill.

"And 'the times' fills its house from roof to cellar with people who
behave as if they were in a hotel.  Some of them--say number five on
the first floor, number eleven on the second, or some of the
atticated relatives--announce at breakfast that they will not be
home to lunch.  Another says he cannot possibly return to dinner at
half-past seven, and so on.  'The times' expects a great deal for
its money, and does not even allow one to keep the small change of
civility."

Lady Cantourne was blotting vigorously.

"I admit," she answered, "that the reaction is rather strong;
reactions are always stronger than they intend to be.  In our early
days the formalities were made too much of; now they are--"

"Made into a social hash," he suggested, when she paused for a word,
"where the prevailing flavour is the common onion of commerce!  Now,
I'll wager any sum that that is an invitation to some one you do not
care a screw about."

"It is.  But, Sir John, the hash must be kept moving; cold hash is
not palatable.  I will tell you at once, I am inviting young Semoor
to fill the vacancy caused by Mr. Oscard's departure."

"Ah!  Mr. Oscard proposes depriving us of his--society."

"He leaves to-morrow.  He only came to say good-bye."

"He moves on--to some other hostelry?"

"No!  He is going to--"

She paused, so that Sir John was forced to turn in courteous inquiry
and look her in the face.

"Africa!" she added sharply, never taking her bright eyes from his
face.

She saw the twitching of the aged lips before his hand got there to
hide them.  She saw his eyes fall before her steady gaze, and she
pitied him while she admired his uncompromising pride.

"Indeed!" he said.  "I have reason to believe," he added, turning to
the window again, "that there is a great future before that country;
all the intellect of Great Britain seems to be converging in its
direction."

Since his departure Jack's name had never been mentioned, even
between these two whose friendship dated back a generation.  Once or
twice Sir John had made a subtle passing reference to him, such as
perhaps no other woman but Lady Cantourne could have understood; but
Africa was, so to speak, blotted out of Sir John Meredith's map of
the world.  It was there that he kept his skeleton--the son who had
been his greatest pride and his deepest humiliation--his highest
hope in life--almost the only failure of his career.

He stood there by the window, looking out with that well-bred
interest in details of sport and pastime which was part of his
creed.  He braved it out even before the woman who had been a better
friend to him than his dead wife.  Not even to her would he confess
that any event of existence could reach him through the impenetrable
mask he wore before the world.  Not even she must know that aught in
his life could breathe of failure or disappointment.  As it is given
to the best of women to want to take their sorrows to another, so
the strongest men instinctively deny their desire for sympathy.

Lady Cantourne, pretending to select another sheet of note-paper,
glanced at him with a pathetic little smile.  Although they had
never been anything to each other, these two people had passed
through many of the trials to which humanity is heir almost side by
side.  But neither had ever broken down.  Each acted as a sort of
mental tonic on the other.  They had tacitly agreed, years before,
to laugh at most things.  She saw, more distinctly than any, the
singular emptiness of his clothes, as if the man was shrinking, and
she knew that the emptiness was of the heart.

Sir John Meredith had taught his son that Self and Self alone reigns
in the world.  He had taught him that the thing called Love, with a
capital L, is nearly all Self, and that it finally dies in the arms
of Self.  He had told him that a father's love, or a son's, or a
mother's, is merely a matter of convenience, and vanishes when Self
asserts itself.

Upon this principle they were both acting now, with a strikingly
suggestive similarity of method.  Neither was willing to admit to
the world in general, and to the other in particular, that a cynical
theory could possibly be erroneous.

"I am sorry that our young friend is going to leave us," said Sir
John, taking up and unfolding the morning paper.  "He is honest and
candid, if he is nothing else."

This meant that Guy Oscard's admiration for Millicent Chyne had
never been concealed for a moment, and Lady Cantourne knew it.

"He interests me," went on the old aristocrat, studying the
newspaper; and his hearer knew the inner significance of the remark.

At times she was secretly ashamed of her niece, but that esprit de
corps which binds women together prompted her always to defend
Millicent.  The only defence at the moment was silence, and an
assumed density which did not deceive Sir John--even she could not
do that.

In the meantime Miss Millicent Chyne was walking on the sea-wall at
the end of the garden with Guy Oscard.  One of the necessary
acquirements of a modern educational outfit is the power of looking
perfectly at home in a score of different costumes during the year,
and, needless to say, Miss Chyne was finished in this art.  The
manner in which she wore her sailor-hat, her blue serge, and her
neat brown shoes conveyed to the onlooker, and especially the male
of that species (we cannot in conscience call them observers), the
impression that she was a yachtswoman born and bred.  Her delicate
complexion was enhanced by the faintest suspicion of sunburn and a
few exceedingly becoming freckles.  There was a freedom in her
movements which had not been observable in London drawing-rooms.
This was Diana-like and in perfect keeping with the dainty sailor
outfit; moreover, nine men out of ten would fail to attribute the
difference to sundry cunning strings within the London skirt.

"It is sad," Millicent was saying, "to think that we shall have no
more chances of sailing.  The wind has quite dropped, that horrid
tide is running, and--this is your last day."

She ended with a little laugh, knowing full well that there was
little sentiment in the big man by her side.

"Really," she went on, "I think I should be able to manage a boat in
time, don't you think so?  Please encourage me.  I am sure I have
tried to learn."

But he remained persistently grave.  She did not like that gravity;
she had met it before in the course of her experiments.  One of the
grievances harboured by Miss Millicent Chyne against the opposite
sex was that they could not settle down into a harmless, honest
flirtation.  Of course, this could be nothing but a flirtation of
the lightest and most evanescent description.  She was engaged to
Jack Meredith--poor Jack, who was working for her, ever so hard,
somewhere near the Equator--and if Guy Oscard did not know this he
had only himself to blame.  There were plenty of people ready to
tell him.  He had only to ask.

Millicent Chyne, like Guy, was hampered at the outset of life by
theories upon it.  Experience, the fashionable novel, and modern
cynicism had taught her to expect little from human nature--a
dangerous lesson, for it eases responsibility, and responsibility is
the Ten Commandments rolled into a compact whole, suitable for the
pocket.

She expected of no man--not even of Jack--that perfect faithfulness
in every word and thought which is read of in books.  And it is one
of the theories of the day that what one does not expect one is not
called upon to give.  Jack, she reflected, was too much a man of the
world to expect her to sit and mope alone.  She was apparently
incapable of seeing the difference between that pastime and sitting
on the sea-wall behind a large flowering currant-tree with a man who
did not pretend to hide the fact that he was in love with her.  Some
women are thus.

"I do not know if you have learnt much," he answered.  "But I have."

"What have you learnt?" she asked in a low voice, half-fascinated by
the danger into which she knew that she was running.

"That I love you," he answered, standing squarely in front of her,
and announcing the fact with a deliberate honesty which was rather
startling.  "I was not sure of it before, so I stayed away from you
for three weeks; but now I know for certain."

"Oh, you mustn't say that!"

She rose hastily and turned away from him.  There was in her heart a
sudden feeling of regret.  It was the feeling that the keenest
sportsman sometimes has when some majestic monarch of the forest
falls before his merciless rifle--a sudden passing desire that it
might be undone.

"Why not?" he asked.  He was desperately in earnest, and that which
made him a good sportsman--an unmatched big-game hunter, calm and
self-possessed in any strait--gave him a strange deliberation now,
which Millicent Chyne could not understand.  "Why not?"

"I do not know--because you mustn't."

And in her heart she wanted him to say it again.

"I am not ashamed of it," he said, "and I do not see why I should
not say it to you--or to any one else, so far as that goes."

"No, never!" she cried, really frightened.  "To me it does not
matter so much.  But to no one else--no, never!  Aunt Marian must
not know it--nor Sir John."

"I cannot see that it is any business of Sir John's.  Of course,
Lady Cantourne would have liked you to marry a title; but if you
cared for me she would be ready to listen to reason."

In which judgment of the good lady he was no doubt right--especially
if reason spoke with the voice of three thousand pounds per annum.

"Do you care for me?" he asked, coming a little closer.

There was a whole world of gratified vanity and ungratified
curiosity for her in the presence of this strong man at her elbow.
It was one of the supreme triumphs of her life, because he was
different from the rest.  He was for her what his first tiger had
been for him.  The danger that he might come still nearer had for
her a sense of keen pleasure.  She was thoroughly enjoying herself,
and the nearest approach that men can experience to the joy that was
hers is the joy of battle.

"I cannot answer that--not now."

And the little half-shrinking glance over her shoulder was a low-
minded, unmaidenly invitation.  But he was in earnest, and he was,
above all, a gentleman.  He stood his ground a yard away from her.

"Then when," he asked--"when will you answer me?"

She stood with her back turned towards him, looking out over the
smooth waters of the Solent, where one or two yachts and a heavy
black schooner were creeping up on the tide before the morning
breeze.  She drummed reflectively with her fingers on the low stone
wall.  Beneath them a few gulls whirled and screamed over a shoal of
little fish.  One of the birds had a singular cry, as if it were
laughing to itself.

"You said just now," Millicent answered at length, "that you were
not sure yourself--not at first--and therefore you cannot expect me
to know all at once."

"You would know at once," he argued gravely, "if it was going to be
no.  If you do not say no now, I can only think that it may be yes
some day.  And"--he came closer--he took the hand that hung at her
side--conveniently near--"and I don't want you to say no now.  Don't
say no!  I will wait as long as you like for yes.  Millicent, I
would rather go on waiting, and thinking that it is going to be yes,
even if it is no after all."

She said nothing, but she left her hand in his.

"May I go on thinking that it will be yes until I come back?"

"I cannot prevent your thinking, can I?" she whispered, with a
tender look in her eyes.

"And may I write to you?"

She shook her head.

"Well--I--I--  Now and then," he pleaded.  "Not often.  Just to
remind you of my existence."

She gave a little laugh, which he liked exceedingly, and remembered
afterwards.

"If you like," she answered.

At this moment Lady Cantourne's voice was heard in the distance,
calling them.

"There!" exclaimed Millicent.  "We must go at once.  And no one--no
one, mind--must know of this."

"No one shall know of it," he answered.



CHAPTER X.  LOANGO



     Faithful and hopeful, wise in charity,
     Strong in grave peace, in pity circumspect.

Those who for their sins have been to Loango will scarcely care to
have its beauties recalled to memory.  And to such as have not yet
visited the spot one can only earnestly recommend a careful
avoidance.

Suffice it to say, therefore, that there is such a place, and the
curious may find it marked in larger type than it deserves on the
map of Africa, on the West Coast of that country, and within an inch
or so of the Equator.

Loango has a bar, and outside of that mysterious and somewhat
suggestive nautical hindrance the coasting steamers anchor, while
the smaller local fry find harbour nearer to the land.  The
passenger is not recommended to go ashore--indeed, many difficulties
are placed in his way, and he usually stays on board while the
steamer receives or discharges a scanty cargo, rolling ceaselessly
in the Atlantic swell.  The roar of the surf may be heard, and at
times some weird cry or song.  There is nothing to tempt even the
most adventurous through that surf.  A moderately large white
building attracts the eye, and usually brings upon itself a
contemptuous stare, for it seems to be the town of Loango, marked so
bravely on the map.  As a matter of fact the town is five miles
inland, and the white building is only a factory or trading
establishment.

Loango is the reverse of cheerful.  To begin with, it is usually
raining there.  The roar of the surf--than which there are few
sadder sounds on earth--fills the atmosphere with a never-ceasing
melancholy.  The country is overwooded; the tropical vegetation, the
huge tangled African trees, stand almost in the surf; and inland the
red serrated hills mount guard in gloomy array.  For Europeans this
country is accursed.  From the mysterious forest-land there creeps
down a subtle, tainted air that poisons the white man's blood, and
either strikes him down in a fever or terrifies him by strange
unknown symptoms and sudden disfiguring disease.  The Almighty
speaks very plainly sometimes and in some places--nowhere more
plainly than on the West Coast of Africa, which land He evidently
wants for the black man.  We of the fairer skin have Australia now;
we are taking America, we are dominant in Asia; but somehow we don't
get on in Africa.  The Umpire is there, and He insists on fair play.

"This is not cheery," Jack Meredith observed to his servant as they
found themselves deposited on the beach within a stone's-throw of
the French factory.

"No, sir, not cheery, sir," replied Joseph.  He was very busy
attending to the landing of their personal effects, and had only
time to be respectful.  It was Joseph's way to do only one thing at
a time, on the principle, no doubt, that enough for the moment is
the evil thereof.  His manner implied that, when those coloured
gentlemen had got the baggage safely conveyed out of the boats on to
the beach, it would be time enough to think about Loango.

Moreover, Joseph was in his way rather a dauntless person.  He held
that there were few difficulties which he and his master, each in
his respective capacity, were unable to meet.  This African mode of
life was certainly not one for which he had bargained when taking
service; but he rather enjoyed it than otherwise, and he was
consoled by the reflection that what was good enough for his master
was good enough for him.  Beneath the impenetrable mask of a
dignified servitude he knew that this was "all along of that Chyne
girl," and rightly conjectured that it would not last for ever.  He
had an immense respect for Sir John, whom he tersely described as a
"game one," but his knowledge of the world went towards the
supposition that headstrong age would finally bow before headstrong
youth.  He did not, however, devote much consideration to these
matters, being a young man although an old soldier, and taking a
lively interest in the present.

It had been arranged by letter that Jack Meredith should put up, as
his host expressed it, at the small bungalow occupied by Maurice
Gordon and his sister.  Gordon was the local head of a large trading
association somewhat after the style of the old East India Company,
and his duties partook more of the glory of a governor than of the
routine of a trader.

Of Maurice Gordon's past Meredith knew nothing beyond the fact that
they were schoolfellows strangely brought together again on the deck
of a coasting steamer.  Maurice Gordon was not a reserved person,
and it was rather from a lack of opportunity than from an excess of
caution that he allowed his new-found friend to go up the Ogowe
river, knowing so little of himself, Maurice Gordon, of Loango.

There were plenty of willing guides and porters on the beach; for in
this part of Africa there is no such thing as continued and
methodical labour.  The entire population considers the lilies of
the field to obvious purpose.

Joseph presently organised a considerable portion of this population
into a procession, headed triumphantly by an old white-woolled negro
whose son cleaned Maurice Gordon's boots.  This man Joseph selected-
-not without one or two jokes of a somewhat personal nature--as a
fitting guide to the Gordons' house.  As they neared the little
settlement on the outskirts of the black town where the mission and
other European residences are situated, the veteran guide sent on
couriers to announce the arrival of the great gentleman, who had for
body-servant the father of laughter.

On finally reaching the bungalow Meredith was pleasantly surprised.
It was pretty and homelike--surrounded by a garden wherein grew a
strange profusion of homely English vegetables and tropical flowers.

Joseph happened to be in front, and, as he neared the verandah, he
suddenly stopped at the salute; moreover, he began to wonder in
which trunk he had packed his master's dress-clothes.

An English lady was coming out of the drawing-room window to meet
the travellers--a lady whose presence diffused that sense of
refinement and peace into the atmosphere which has done as much
towards the expansion of our piecemeal empire as ever did the strong
right arm of Thomas Atkins.  It is because--sooner or later--these
ladies come with us that we have learnt to mingle peace with war--to
make friends of whilom enemies.

She nodded in answer to the servant's salutation, and passed on to
greet the master.

"My brother has been called away suddenly," she said.  "One of his
sub-agents has been getting into trouble with the natives.  Of
course you are Mr. Meredith?"

"I am," replied Jack, taking the hand she held out; it was a small
white hand--small without being frail or diaphanous.  "And you are
Miss Gordon, I suppose?  I am sorry Gordon is away, but no doubt we
shall be able to find somewhere to put up."

"You need not do that," she said quietly.  "This is Africa, you
know.  You can quite well stay with us, although Maurice is away
until to-morrow."

"Sure?" he asked.

"Quite!" she answered.

She was tall and fair, with a certain stateliness of carriage which
harmonised wonderfully with a thoughtful and pale face.  She was not
exactly pretty, but gracious and womanly, with honest blue eyes that
looked on men and women alike.  She was probably twenty-eight years
of age; her manner was that of a woman rather than of a girl--of one
who was in life and not on the outskirts.

"We rather pride ourselves," she said, leading the way into the
drawing-room, "upon having the best house in Loango.  You will, I
think, be more comfortable here than anywhere."

She turned and looked at him with a slow, grave smile.  She was
noticing that, of the men who had been in this drawing-room, none
had seemed so entirely at his ease as this one.

"I must ask you to believe that I was thinking of your comfort and
not of my own."

"Yes, I know you were," she answered.  "Our circle is rather
limited, as you will find, and very few of the neighbours have time
to think of their houses.  Most of them are missionaries, and they
are so busy; they have a large field, you see."

"Very--and a weedy one, I should think."

He was looking round, noting with well-trained glance the thousand
little indescribable touches that make a charming room.  He knew his
ground.  He knew the date and the meaning of every little ornament--
the title and the writer of each book--the very material with which
the chairs were covered; and he knew that all was good--all arranged
with that art which is the difference between ignorance and
knowledge.

"I see you have all the new books."

"Yes, we have books and magazines; but, of course, we live quite out
of the world."

She paused, leaving the conversation with him, as in the hands of
one who knew his business.

"I," he said, filling up the pause, "have hitherto lived in the
world--right in it.  There is a lot of dust and commotion; the dust
gets into people's eyes and blinds them; the commotion wears them
out; and perhaps, after all, Loango is better!"

He spoke with the easy independence of the man of the world,
accustomed to feel his way in strange places--not heeding what
opinion he might raise--what criticism he might brave.  He was
glancing round him all the while, noting things, and wondering for
whose benefit this pretty room had been evolved in the heart of a
savage country.  Perhaps he had assimilated erroneous notions of
womankind in the world of which he spoke; perhaps he had never met
any of those women whose natural refinement urges them to surround
themselves, even in solitude, with pretty things, and prompts them
to dress as neatly and becomingly as their circumstances allow for
the edification of no man.

"I never abuse Loango," she answered; "such abuse is apt to recoil.
To call a place dull is often a confession of dulness."

He laughed--still in that somewhat unnatural manner, as if desirous
of filling up time.  He had spent the latter years of his life in
doing nothing else.  The man's method was so different to what
Jocelyn Gordon had met with in Loango, where men were all in deadly
earnest, pursuing souls or wealth, that it struck her forcibly, and
she remembered it long after Meredith had forgotten its use.

"I have no idea," she continued, "how the place strikes the passing
traveller; he usually passes by on the other side; but I am afraid
there is nothing to arouse the smallest interest."

"But, Miss Gordon, I am not the passing traveller."

She looked up with a sudden interest.

"Indeed!  I understood from Maurice that you were travelling down
the coast without any particular object."

"I have an object--estimable, if not quite original."

"Yes?"

"I want to make some money.  I have never made any yet, so there is
a certain novelty in the thought which is pleasant."

She smiled with the faintest suspicion of incredulity.

"I know what you are thinking," he said; "that I am too neat and
tidy--too namby-pamby to do anything in this country.  That my boots
are too narrow in the toe, my hair too short and my face too clean.
I cannot help it.  It is the fault of the individual you saw
outside--Joseph.  He insists on a strict observance of the social
duties."

"We are rougher here," she answered.

"I left England," he explained, "in rather a hurry.  I had no time
to buy uncomfortable boots, or anything like that.  I know it was
wrong.  The ordinary young man of society who goes morally to the
dogs and physically to the colonies always has an outfit.  His
friends buy him an outfit, and certain enterprising haberdashers
make a study of such things.  I came as I am."

While he was speaking she had been watching him--studying him more
closely than she had hitherto been able to do.

"I have heard of a Sir John Meredith," she said suddenly.

"My father."

He paused, drawing in his legs, and apparently studying the neat
brown boots of which there had been question.

"Should you meet him again," he went on, "it would not be advisable
to mention my name.  He might not care to hear it.  We have had a
slight difference of opinion.  With me it is different.  I am always
glad to hear about him.  I have an immense respect for him."

She listened gravely, with a sympathy that did not attempt to
express itself in words.  On such a short acquaintance she had not
learnt to expect a certain lightness of conversational touch which
he always assumed when speaking of himself, as if his own thoughts
and feelings were matters for ridicule.

"Of course," he went on, "I was in the wrong.  I know that.  But it
sometimes happens that a man is not in a position to admit that he
is in the wrong--when, for instance, another person would suffer by
such an admission."

"Yes," answered Jocelyn; "I understand."

At this moment a servant came in with lamps and proceeded to close
the windows.  She was quite an old woman--an Englishwoman--and as
she placed the lamps upon the table she scrutinised the guest after
the manner of a privileged servitor.  When she had departed Jack
Meredith continued his narrative with a sort of deliberation which
was explained later on.

"And," he said, "that is why I came to Africa--that is why I want to
make money.  I do not mind confessing to a low greed of gain,
because I think I have the best motive that a man can have for
wanting to make money."

He said this meaningly, and watched her face all the while.

"A motive which any lady ought to approve of."

She smiled sympathetically.

"I approve and I admire your spirit."

She rose as she spoke, and moved towards a side table, where two
lighted candles had been placed.

"My motive for talking so barefacedly about myself," he said, as
they moved towards the door together, "was to let you know exactly
who I am and why I am here.  It was only due to you on accepting
your hospitality.  I might have been a criminal or an escaped
embezzler.  There were two on board the steamer coming out, and
several other shady characters."

"Yes," said the girl; "I saw your motive."

They were now in the hall, and the aged servant was waiting to show
him his room.



CHAPTER XI.  A COMPACT



     Drifting, slow drifting down a wizard stream.

"No one knows," Victor Durnovo was in the habit of saying, "what is
going on in the middle of Africa."

And on this principle he acted.

"Ten miles above the camping-ground where we first met," he had told
Meredith, "you will find a village where I have my headquarters.
There is quite a respectable house there, with--a--a woman to look
after your wants.  When you have fixed things up at Loango, and have
arranged for the dhows to meet my steamer, take up all your men to
this village--Msala is the name--and send the boats back.  Wait
there till we come."

In due time the telegram came, via St. Paul de Loanda, announcing
the fact that Oscard had agreed to join the expedition, and that
Durnovo and he might be expected at Msala in one month from that
time.  It was not without a vague feeling of regret that Jack
Meredith read this telegram.  To be at Msala in a month with forty
men and a vast load of provisions meant leaving Loango almost at
once.  And, strange though it may seem, he had become somewhat
attached to the dreary West African town.  The singular cosmopolitan
society was entirely new to him; the life, taken as a life, almost
unique.  He knew that he had not outstayed his welcome.  Maurice
Gordon had taken care to assure him of that in his boisterous,
hearty manner, savouring more of Harrow than of Eton, every morning
at breakfast.

"Confound Durnovo!" he cried, when the telegram had been read aloud.
"Confound him, with his energy and his business-like habits!  That
means that you will have to leave us before long; and somehow it has
got to be quite natural to see you come lounging in ten minutes late
for most things, with an apology for Jocelyn, but none for me.  We
shall miss you, old chap."

"Yes," added Jocelyn, "we shall."

She was busy with the cups, and spoke rather indifferently.

"So you've got Oscard?" continued Maurice.  "I imagine he is a good
man--tip-top shot and all that.  I've never met him, but I have
heard of him."

"He is a gentleman, at all events," said Meredith quietly; "I know
that."

Jocelyn was looking at him between the hibiscus flowers decorating
the table.

"Is Mr. Durnovo going to be leader of the expedition?" she inquired
casually, after a few moments' silence; and Jack, looking up with a
queer smile, met her glance for a moment.

"No," he answered.

Maurice Gordon's hearty laugh interrupted.

"Ha, ha!" he cried.  "I wonder where the dickens you men are going
to?"

"Up the Ogowe river," replied Jack.

"No doubt.  But what for?  There is something mysterious about that
river.  Durnovo keeps his poor relations there, or something of that
kind."

"We are not going to look for them."

"I suppose," said Maurice, helping himself to marmalade, "that he
has dropped upon some large deposit of ivory; that will turn out to
be the solution of the mystery.  It is the solution of most
mysteries in this country.  I wish I could solve the mysteries of
ways and means and drop upon a large deposit of ivory, or spice, or
precious stones.  We should soon be out of this country, should we
not, old girl?"

"I do not think we have much to complain of," answered Jocelyn.

"No; you never do.  Moreover, I do not suppose you would do so if
you had the excuse."

"Oh yes, I should, if I thought it would do any good."

"Ah!" put in Meredith.  "There speaks Philosophy--jam, please."

"Or Resignation--that is strawberry and this is black currant."

"Thanks, black currant.  No--Philosophy.  Resignation is the most
loathsome of the virtues."

"I can't say I care for any of them very much," put in Maurice.

"No; I thought you seemed to shun them," said Jack, like a flash.

"Sharp! very sharp!  Jocelyn, do you know what we called him at
school?--the French nail; he was so very long and thin and sharp!  I
might add polished and strong, but we were not so polite in those
days.  Poor old Jack! he gave as good as he got.  But I must be off-
-the commerce of Western Africa awaits me.  You'll be round at the
office presently, I suppose, Jack?"

"Yes; I have an appointment there with a coloured person who is a
liar by nature and a cook by trade."

Maurice Gordon usually went off like this--at a moment's notice.  He
was one of those loud-speaking, quick-actioned men, who often get a
reputation for energy and capacity without fully deserving it.

Jack, of a more meditative habit, rarely followed his host with the
same obvious haste.  He finished his breakfast calmly, and then
asked Jocelyn whether she was coming out on to the verandah.  It was
a habit they had unconsciously dropped into.  The verandah was a
very important feature of the house, thickly overhung as it was with
palms, bananas, and other tropical verdure.  Africa is the land of
creepers, and all around this verandah, over the trellis-work,
around the supports, hanging in festoons from the roof, were a
thousand different creeping flowers.  The legend of the house--for,
as in India, almost every bungalow on the West Coast has its tale--
was that one of the early missionaries had built it, and, to beguile
the long months of the rainy season, had carefully collected these
creepers to beautify the place against the arrival of his young
wife.  She never came.  A telegram stopped her.  A snake interrupted
his labour of love.

Jack took a seat at once, and began to search for his cigar-case in
the pocket of his jacket.  In this land of flies and moths men need
not ask permission before they smoke.  Jocelyn did not sit down at
once.  She went to the front of the verandah and watched her brother
mount his horse.  She was a year older than Maurice Gordon, and
exercised a larger influence over his life than either of them
suspected.

Presently he rode past the verandah, waving his hand cheerily.  He
was one of those large, hearty Englishmen who seem to be all
appetite and laughter--men who may be said to be manly, and beyond
that nothing.  Their manliness is so overpowering that it swallows
up many other qualities which are not out of place in men, such as
tact and thoughtfulness, and PERHAPS intellectuality and the power
to take some interest in those gentler things that interest women.

When Jocelyn came to the back of the verandah she was thinking about
her brother Maurice, and it never suggested itself to her that she
should not speak her thoughts to Meredith, whom she had not seen
until three weeks ago.  She had never spoken of Maurice behind his
back to any man before.

"Does it ever strike you," she said, "that Maurice is the sort of
man to be led astray by evil influence?"

"Yes; or to be led straight by a good influence, such as yours."

He did not meet her thoughtful gaze.  He was apparently watching the
retreating form of the horse through the tangle of flower and leaf
and tendril.

"I am afraid," said the girl, "that my influence is not of much
account."

"Do you really believe that?" asked Meredith, turning upon her with
a half-cynical smile.

"Yes," she answered simply.

Before speaking again he took a pull at his cigar.

"Your influence," he said, "appears to me to be the making of
Maurice Gordon.  I frequently see serious flaws in the policy of
Providence; but I suppose there is wisdom in making the strongest
influence that which is unconscious of its power."

"I am glad you think I have some power over him," said Jocelyn;
"but, at the same time, it makes me uneasy, because it only confirms
my conviction that he is very easily led.  And suppose my influence-
-such as it is--was withdrawn?  Suppose that I were to die, or, what
appears to be more likely, suppose that he should marry?"

"Then let us hope that he will marry the right person.  People
sometimes do, you know."

She smiled with a strange little flicker of the eyelids.  They had
grown wonderfully accustomed to each other during the last three
weeks.  Here, it would appear, was one of those friendships between
man and woman that occasionally set the world agog with curiosity
and scepticism.  But there seemed to be no doubt about it.  He was
over thirty, she verging on that prosaic age.  Both had lived and
moved in the world; to both life was an open book, and they had
probably discovered, as most of us do, that the larger number of the
leaves are blank.  He had almost told her that he was engaged to be
married, and she had quite understood.  There could not possibly be
any misapprehension; there was no room for one of those little
mistakes about which people write novels and fondly hope that some
youthful reader may be carried away by a very faint resemblance to
that which they hold to be life.  Moreover, at thirty, one leaves
the first romance of youth behind.

There was something in her smile that suggested that she did not
quite believe in his cynicism.

"Also," she said gravely, "some stronger influence might appear--an
influence which I could not counteract."

Jack Meredith turned in his long chair and looked at her
searchingly.

"I have a vague idea," he said, "that you are thinking of Durnovo."

"I am," she admitted, with some surprise.  "I wonder how you knew?
I am afraid of him."

"I can reassure you on that score," said Meredith.  "For the next
two years or so Durnovo will be in daily intercourse with me.  He
will be under my immediate eye.  I did not anticipate much pleasure
from his society.  But now I do."

"Why?" she asked, rather mystified.

"Because I shall have the daily satisfaction of knowing that I am
relieving you of an anxiety."

"It is very kind of you to put it in that way," said Jocelyn.  "But
I should not like you to sacrifice yourself to what may be a foolish
prejudice on my part."

"It is not a foolish prejudice.  Durnovo is not a gentleman either
by birth or inclination.  He is not fit to associate with you."

To this Jocelyn answered nothing.  Victor Durnovo was one of her
brother's closest friends--a friend of his own choosing.

"Miss Gordon," said Jack Meredith suddenly, with a gravity that was
rare, "will you do me a favour?"

"I think I should like to."

"You admit that you are afraid of Durnovo now:  if at any time you
have reason to be more afraid, will you make use of me?  Will you
write or come to me and ask my help?"

"Thank you," she said hesitatingly.

"You see," he went on, in a lighter tone, "I am not afraid of
Durnovo.  I have met Durnovos before.  You may have observed that my
locks no longer resemble the raven's wing.  There is a little grey--
just here--above the temple.  I am getting on in life, and I know
how to deal with Durnovos."

"Thank you," said the girl, with a little sigh of relief.  "The
feeling that I have some one to turn to will be a great relief.  You
see how I am placed here.  The missionaries are very kind and well-
meaning, but there are some things which they do not quite
understand.  They may be gentlemen--some of them are; but they are
not men of the world.  I have no definite thought or fear, and very
good persons, one finds, are occasionally a little dense.  Unless
things are very definite, they do not understand."

"On the other hand," pursued Jack, in the same reflective tone, as
if taking up her thought, "persons who are not good have a
perception of the indefinite.  I did not think of it in that light
before."

Jocelyn Gordon laughed softly, without attempting to meet his
lighter vein.

"Do you know," she said, after a little silence, "that I was
actually thinking of warning you against Mr. Durnovo?  Now I stand
aghast at my own presumption."

"It was kind of you to give the matter any thought whatever."

He rose and threw away the end of his cigar.  Joseph was already
before the door, leading the horse which Maurice Gordon had placed
at his visitor's disposal.

"I will lay the warning to heart," he said, standing in front of
Jocelyn and looking down at her as she lay back in the deep basket-
chair.  She was simply dressed in white--as was her wont, for it
must be remembered that they were beneath the Equator--a fair
English maiden, whose thoughts were hidden behind a certain
gracious, impenetrable reserve.  "I will lay it to heart, although
you have not uttered it.  But I have always known with what sort of
man I was dealing.  We serve each other's purpose, that is all; and
he knows that as well as I do."

"I am glad Mr. Oscard is going with you," she answered guardedly.

He waited a moment.  It seemed as if she had not done speaking--as
if there was another thought near the surface.  But she did not give
voice to it, and he turned away.  The sound of the horse's feet on
the gravel did not arouse her from the reverie into which she had
fallen; and long after it had died away, leaving only the hum of
insect life and the distant ceaseless song of the surf, Jocelyn
Gordon sat apparently watching the dancing shadows on the floor as
the creepers waved in the breeze.



CHAPTER XII.  A MEETING



     No one can be more wise than destiny.

The short equatorial twilight was drawing to an end, and all Nature
stood in silence, while Night crept up to claim the land where her
reign is more autocratic than elsewhere on earth.  There is a black
night above the trees, and a blacker beneath.  In an hour it would
be dark, and, in the meantime, the lowering clouds were tinged with
a pink glow that filtered through from above.  There was rain
coming, and probably thunder.  Moreover, the trees seemed to know
it, for there was a limpness in their attitude as if they were
tucking their heads into their shoulders in anticipation of the
worst.  The insects were certainly possessed of a premonition.  They
had crept away.

It was distinctly an unlikely evening for the sportsman.  The
stillness was so complete that the faintest rustle could be heard at
a great distance.  Moreover, it was the sort of evening when Nature
herself seems to be glancing over her shoulder with timorous
restlessness.

Nevertheless, a sportsman was abroad.  He was creeping up the right-
hand bank of a stream, his only chance lying in the noise of the
waters, which might serve to deaden the sound of broken twig or
rustling leaf.

This sportsman was Jack Meredith, and it was evident that he was
bringing to bear upon the matter in hand that intelligence and
keenness of perception which had made him a person of some
prominence in other scenes where Nature has a less assured place.

It would appear that he was not so much at home in the tangle of an
African forest as in the crooked paths of London society; for his
clothes were torn in more than one place; a mosquito, done to sudden
death, adhered sanguinarily to the side of his aristocratic nose,
while heat and mental distress had drawn damp stripes down his
countenance.  His hands were scratched and inclined to bleed, and
one leg had apparently been in a morass.  Added to these physical
drawbacks there was no visible sign of success, which was probably
the worst part of Jack Meredith's plight.

Since sunset he had been crawling, scrambling, stumbling up the bank
of this stream in relentless pursuit of some large animal which
persistently kept hidden in the tangle across the bed of the river.
The strange part of it was that when he stopped to peep through the
branches the animal stopped too, and he found no way of discovering
its whereabouts.  More than once they remained thus for nearly five
minutes, peering at each other through the heavy leafage.  It was
distinctly unpleasant, for Meredith felt that the animal was not
afraid of him, and did not fully understand the situation.  The
respective positions of hunter and hunted were imperfectly defined.
He had hitherto confined his attentions to such game as showed a
sporting readiness to run away, and there was a striking novelty in
this unseen beast of the forest, fresh, as it were, from the hands
of its Creator, that entered into the fun of the thing from a
totally mistaken standpoint.

Once Meredith was able to decide approximately the whereabouts of
his prey by the momentary shaking of a twig.  He raised his rifle
and covered that twig steadily; his forefinger played tentatively on
the trigger; but on second thoughts he refrained.  He was keenly
conscious of the fact that the beast was doing its work with skill
superior to his own.  In comparison to his, its movements were
almost noiseless.  Jack Meredith was too clever a man to be
conceited in the wrong place, which is the habit of fools.  He
recognised very plainly that he was not distinguishing himself in
this new field of glory; he was not yet an accomplished big-game
hunter.

Twice he raised his rifle with the intention of firing at random
into the underwood on the remote chance of bringing his enemy into
the open.  But the fascination of this duel of cunning was too
strong, and he crept onwards with bated breath.

It was terrifically hot, and all the while Night was stalking
westward on the summits of the trees with stealthy tread.

While absorbed in the intricacies of pursuit--while anathematising
tendrils and condemning thorns to summary judgment--Jack Meredith
was not losing sight of his chance of getting back to the little
village of Msala.  He knew that he had only to follow the course of
the stream downwards, retracing his steps until a junction with the
Ogowe river was effected.  In the meantime his lips were parted
breathlessly, and there was a light in the quiet eyes which might
have startled some of his well-bred friends could they have seen it.

At last he came to an open space made by a slip of the land into the
bed of the river.  When Jack Meredith came to this he stepped out of
the thicket and stood in the open, awaiting the approach of his
stealthy prey.  The sound of its footfall was just perceptible,
slowly diminishing the distance that divided them.  Then the trees
were parted, and a tall, fair man stepped forward on to the opposite
bank.

Jack Meredith bowed gravely, and the other sportsman, seeing the
absurdity of the situation, burst into hearty laughter.  In a moment
or two he had leapt from rock to rock and come to Meredith.

"It seems," he said, "that we have been wasting a considerable
amount of time."

"I very nearly wasted powder and shot," replied Jack, significantly
indicating his rifle.

"I saw you twice, and raised my rifle; your breeches are just the
colour of a young doe.  Are you Meredith?  My name is Oscard."

"Ah!  Yes, I am Meredith.  I am glad to see you."

They shook hands.  There was a twinkle in Jack Meredith's eyes, but
Oscard was quite grave.  His sense of humour was not very keen, and
he was before all things a sportsman.

"I left the canoes a mile below Msala, and landed to shoot a deer we
saw drinking, but I never saw him.  Then I heard you, and I have
been stalking you ever since."

"But I never expected you so soon; you were not due till--look!"
Jack whispered suddenly.

Oscard turned on his heel, and the next instant their two rifles
rang out through the forest stillness in one sharp crack.  Across
the stream, ten yards behind the spot where Oscard had emerged from
the bush, a leopard sprang into the air, five feet from the ground,
with head thrown back, and paws clawing at the thinness of space
with grand free sweeps.  The beast fell with a thud, and lay still--
dead.

The two men clambered across the rocks again, side by side.  While
they stood over the prostrate form of the leopard--beautiful,
incomparably graceful and sleek even in death--Guy Oscard stole a
sidelong glance at his companion.  He was a modest man, and yet he
knew that he was reckoned among the big-game hunters of the age.
This man had fired as quickly as himself, and there were two small
trickling holes in the animal's head.

While he was being quietly scrutinised Jack Meredith stooped down,
and, taking the leopard beneath the shoulders, lifted it bodily back
from the pool of blood.

"Pity to spoil the skin," he explained, as he put a fresh cartridge
into his rifle.

Oscard nodded in an approving way.  He knew the weight of a full-
grown male leopard, all muscle and bone, and he was one of those
old-fashioned persons mentioned in the Scriptures as taking a
delight in a man's legs--or his arms, so long as they were strong.

"I suppose," he said quietly, "we had better skin him here."

As he spoke he drew a long hunting-knife, and, slashing down a bunch
of the maidenhair fern that grew like nettles around them, he wiped
the blood gently, almost affectionately, from the leopard's cat-like
face.

There was about these two men a strict attention to the matter in
hand, a mutual and common respect for all things pertaining to
sport, a quiet sense of settling down without delay to the
regulation of necessary detail that promised well for any future
interest they might have in common.

So these highly-educated young gentlemen turned up their sleeves and
steeped themselves to the elbow in gore.  Moreover, they did it with
a certain technical skill and a distinct sense of enjoyment.  Truly,
the modern English gentleman is a strange being.  There is nothing
his soul takes so much delight in as the process of getting hot and
very dirty, and, if convenient, somewhat sanguinary.  You cannot
educate the manliness out of him, try as you will; and for such
blessings let us in all humbleness give thanks to Heaven.

This was the bringing together of Jack Meredith and Guy Oscard--two
men who loved the same woman.  They knelt side by side, and Jack
Meredith--the older man, the accomplished, gifted gentleman of the
world, who stood second to none in that varied knowledge required
nowadays of the successful societarian--Jack Meredith, be it noted,
humbly dragged the skin away from the body while Guy Oscard cut the
clinging integuments with a delicate touch and finished skill.

They laid the skin out on the trampled maidenhair, and contemplated
it with silent satisfaction.  In the course of their inspection they
both arrived at the head at the same moment.  The two holes in the
hide, just above the eyes, came under their notice at the same
moment, and they turned and smiled gravely at each other, thinking
the same thought--the sort of thought that Englishmen rarely put
into intelligible English.

"I'm glad we did that," said Guy Oscard at length, suddenly.
"Whatever comes of this expedition of ours--if we fight like hell,
as we probably shall, before it is finished--if we hate each other
ever afterwards, that skin ought to remind us that we are much of a
muchness."

It might have been put into better English; it might almost have
sounded like poetry had Guy Oscard been possessed of the poetic
soul.  But this, fortunately, was not his; and all that might have
been said was left to the imagination of Meredith.  What he really
felt was that there need be no rivalry, and that he for one had no
thought of such; that in the quest which they were about to
undertake there need be no question of first and last; that they
were merely two men, good or bad, competent or incompetent, but
through all equal.

Neither of them suspected that the friendship thus strangely
inaugurated at the rifle's mouth was to run through a longer period
than the few months required to reach the plateau--that it was, in
fact, to extend through that long expedition over a strange country
that we call Life, and that it was to stand the greatest test that
friendship has to meet with here on earth.

It was almost dark when at last they turned to go, Jack Meredith
carrying the skin over his shoulder and leading the way.  There was
no opportunity for conversation, as their progress was necessarily
very difficult.  Only by the prattle of the stream were they able to
make sure of keeping in the right direction.  Each had a thousand
questions to ask the other.  They were total strangers; but it is
not, one finds, by conversation that men get to know each other.  A
common danger, a common pleasure, a common pursuit--these are the
touches of Nature by which men are drawn together into the kinship
of mutual esteem.

Once they gained the banks of the Ogowe their progress was quicker,
and by nine o'clock they reached the camp at Msala.  Victor Durnovo
was still at work superintending the discharge of the baggage and
stores from the large trading-canoes.  They heard the shouting and
chattering before coming in sight of the camp, and one voice raised
angrily above the others.

"Is that Durnovo's voice?" asked Meredith.

"Yes," answered his companion curtly.

It was a new voice which Meredith had not heard before.  When they
shouted to announce their arrival it was suddenly hushed, and
presently Durnovo came forward to greet them.

Meredith hardly knew him, he was so much stronger and healthier in
appearance.  Durnovo shook hands heartily.

"No need to introduce you two," he said, looking from one to the
other.

"No; after one mistake we discovered each other's identity in the
forest," answered Meredith.

Durnovo smiled; but there was something behind the smile.  He did
not seem to approve of their meeting without his intervention.



CHAPTER XIII.  IN BLACK AND WHITE



     A little lurking secret of the blood,
     A little serpent secret rankling keen.

The three men walked up towards the house together.  It was a fair-
sized house, with a heavy thatched roof that overhung the walls like
the crown of a mushroom.  The walls were only mud, and the thatching
was nothing else than banana leaves; but there was evidence of
European taste in the garden surrounding the structure, and in the
glazed windows and wooden door.

As they approached the open doorway three little children, clad in
very little more than their native modesty, ran gleefully out, and
proceeded to engage seats on Jack Meredith's boots, looking upon him
as a mere public conveyance.  They took hardly any notice of him,
but chattered and quarrelled among themselves, sometimes in baby
English, sometimes in a dialect unknown to Oscard and Meredith.

"These," said the latter, when they were seated, and clinging with
their little dusky arms round his legs, "are the very rummest little
kids I ever came across."

Durnovo gave an impatient laugh, and went on towards the house.  But
Guy Oscard stopped, and walked more slowly beside Meredith as he
laboured along heavy footed.

"They are the jolliest little souls imaginable," continued Jack
Meredith.  "There," he said to them when they had reached the
doorstep, "run away to your mother--very fine ride--no! no more to-
night!  I'm aweary--you understand--aweary!"

"Aweary--awe-e-e-ary!" repeated the little things, standing before
him in infantile nude rotundity, looking up with bright eyes.

"Aweary--that is it.  Good night, Epaminondas--good night, Xantippe!
Give ye good hap, most stout Nestorius!"

He stooped and gravely shook hands with each one in turn, and, after
forcing a like ceremonial upon Guy Oscard, they reluctantly
withdrew.

"They have not joined us, I suppose?" said Oscard, as he followed
his companion into the house.

"Not yet.  They live in this place.  Nestorius, I understand, takes
care of his mother, who, in her turn, takes care of this house.  He
is one and a half."

Guy Oscard seemed to have inherited the mind inquisitive from his
learned father.  He asked another question later on.

"Who is that woman?" he said during dinner, with a little nod
towards the doorway, through which the object of his curiosity had
passed with some plates.

"That is the mother of the stout Nestorius," answered Jack--
"Durnovo's housekeeper."

He spoke quietly, looking straight in front of him; and Joseph, who
was drawing a cork at the back of the room, was watching his face.

There was a little pause, during which Durnovo drank slowly.  Then
Guy Oscard spoke again.

"If she cooked the dinner," he said, "she knows her business."

"Yes," answered Durnovo, "she is a good cook--if she is nothing
else."

It did not sound as if further inquiries would be welcome, and so
the subject was dropped with a silent tribute to the culinary powers
of Durnovo's housekeeper at the Msala Station.

The woman had only appeared for a moment, bringing in some dishes
for Joseph--a tall, stately woman, with great dark eyes, in which
the patience of motherhood had succeeded to the soft fire of West
Indian love and youth.  She had the graceful, slow carriage of the
Creole, although her skin was darker than that of those dangerous
sirens.  That Spanish blood ran in her veins could be seen by the
intelligence of her eyes; for there is an intelligence in Spanish
eyes which stand apart.  In the men it seems to refer to the past or
the future, for their incorrigible leisureliness prevents the
present rendering of a full justice to their powers.  In the women
it belongs essentially to the present; for there is no time like the
present for love and other things.

"They call me," she had said to Jack Meredith, in her soft, mumbled
English, a fortnight earlier, "they call me Marie."

The children he had named after his own phantasy, and when she had
once seen him with them there was a notable change in her manner.
Her eyes rested on him with a sort of wondering attention, and when
she cooked his meals or touched anything that was his there was
something in her attitude that denoted a special care.

Joseph called her "Missis," with a sort of friendliness in his
voice, which never rose to badinage nor descended to familiarity.

"Seems to me, missis," he said, on the third evening after the
arrival of the advance column, "that the guv'nor takes uncommon
kindly to them little 'uns of yours."

They were washing up together after dinner in that part of the
garden which was used for a scullery, and Joseph was enjoying a
post-prandial pipe.

"Yes," she said simply, following the direction of Joseph's glance.
Jack Meredith was engaged in teaching Epaminondas the intellectual
game of bowls with a rounded pebble and a beer-bottle.  Nestorius,
whose person seemed more distended than usual, stood gravely by,
engaged in dental endeavours on a cork, while Xantippe joined
noisily in the game.  Their lack of dress was essentially native to
the country, while their mother affected a simple European style of
costume.

"And," added Joseph, on politeness bent, "it don't surprise me.  I'm
wonderfully fond of the little nig--nippers already.  I am--
straight."

The truth was that the position of this grave and still comely woman
was ambiguous.  Neither Joseph nor his master called her by the name
she had offered for their use.  Joseph compromised by the universal
and elastic "Missis"; his master simply avoided all names.

Ambiguity is one of those intangible nothings that get into the
atmosphere and have a trick of remaining there.  Marie seemed in
some subtle way to pervade the atmosphere of Msala.  It would seem
that Guy Oscard, in his thick-headed way, was conscious of this
mystery in the air; for he had not been two hours in Msala before he
asked "Who is that woman?" and received the reply which has been
recorded.

After dinner they passed out on to the little terrace overlooking
the river, and it was here that the great Simiacine scheme was
pieced together.  It was here beneath the vast palm trees that stood
like two beacons towering over the surrounding forest, that three
men deliberately staked their own lives and the lives of others
against a fortune.  Nature has a strange way of hiding her gifts.
Many of the most precious have lain unheeded for hundreds of years
in barren plains, on inaccessible mountains, or beneath the wave,
while others are thrown at the feet of savages who know no use for
them.

The man who had found the Simiacine was eager, restless, full of
suspicion.  To the others the scheme obviously presented itself in a
different light.  Jack Meredith was dilettante, light-hearted, and
unsatisfactory.  It was impossible to arouse any enthusiasm in him--
to make him take it seriously.  Guy Oscard was gravely indifferent.
He wanted to get rid of a certain space of time, and the African
forest, containing as it did the only excitement that his large
heart knew, was as good a place as any.  The Simiacine was, in his
mind, relegated to a distant place behind weeks of sport and
adventure such as his soul loved.  He scarcely took Victor Durnovo
au pied de la lettre.  Perhaps he knew too much about him for that.
Certain it is that neither of the two realised at that moment the
importance of the step that they were taking.

"You men," said Durnovo eagerly, "don't seem to take the thing
seriously."

"I," answered Meredith, "intend at all events to take the profits
very seriously.  When they begin to come in, J. Meredith will be at
the above address, and trusts by a careful attention to business to
merit a continuance of your kind patronage."

Durnovo laughed somewhat nervously.  Oscard did not seem to hear.

"It is all very well for you," said the half-caste in a lower voice.
"You have not so much at stake.  It is likely that the happiness of
my whole life depends upon this venture."

A curious smile passed across Jack Meredith's face.  Without turning
his head, he glanced sideways into Durnovo's face through the gloom.
But he said nothing, and it was Oscard who broke the silence by
saying simply:

"The same may possibly apply to me."

There was a little pause, during which he lighted his pipe.

"To a certain extent," he said in emendation.  "Of course, my real
object, as you no doubt know, is to get away from England until my
father's death has been forgotten.  My own conscience is quite
clear, but--"

Jack Meredith drew in his legs and leant forward.

"But," he said, interrupting, and yet not interrupting--"but the
public mind is an unclean sink.  Everything that goes into it comes
out tainted.  Therefore it is best only to let the public mind have
the scourings, as it were, of one's existence.  If they get anything
better--anything more important--it is better to skedaddle until it
has run through and been swept away by a flow of social garbage."

Guy Oscard grunted with his pipe between his teeth, after the manner
of the stoic American-Indian--a grunt that seemed to say, "My pale-
faced brother has spoken well; he expresses my feelings."  Then he
gave further vent to the deliberate expansiveness which was his.

"What I cannot stand," he said, "are the nudges and the nods and the
surreptitious glances of the silly women who think that one cannot
see them looking.  I hate being pointed out."

"Together with the latest skirt-dancing girl, and the last female
society-detective, with the blushing honours of the witness-box
thick upon her," suggested Jack Meredith.

"Yes," muttered Guy.  He turned with a sort of simple wonder, and
looked at Meredith curiously.  He had never been understood so
quickly before.  He had never met man or woman possessing in so
marked a degree that subtle power of going right inside the mind of
another and feeling the things that are there--the greatest power of
all--the power that rules the world; and it is only called Sympathy.

"Well," said the voice of Durnovo through the darkness, "I don't
mind admitting that all I want is the money.  I want to get out of
this confounded country; but I don't want to leave till I have made
a fortune."

The subtle influence that Meredith wielded seemed to have reached
him too, warming into expansiveness his hot Spanish blood.  His
voice was full of confidence.

"Very right and proper," said Meredith.  "Got a grudge against the
country; make the country pay for it in cash."

"That's what I intend to do; and it shall pay heavily.  Then, when
I've got the money, I'll know what to do with it.  I know where to
look, and I do not think that I shall look in vain."

Guy Oscard shuffled uneasily in his camp-chair.  He had an
Englishman's horror of putting into speech those things which we all
think, while only Frenchmen and Italians say them.  The Spaniards
are not so bad, and Victor Durnovo had enough of their blood in him
to say no more.

It did not seem to occur to any of them that the only person whose
individuality was still veiled happened to be Jack Meredith.  He
alone had said nothing, had imparted no confidence.  He it was who
spake first, after a proper period of silence.  He was too much of
an adept to betray haste, and thus admit his debt of mutual
confidence.

"It seems to me," he said, "that we have all the technicalities
arranged now.  So far as the working of the expedition is concerned,
we know our places, and the difficulties will be met as they present
themselves.  But there is one thing which I think we should set in
order now.  I have been thinking about it while I have been waiting
here alone."

The glow of Victor Durnovo's cigar died away as if in his attention
he was forgetting to smoke; but he said nothing.

"It seems to me," Jack went on, "that before we leave here we should
draw up and sign a sort of deed of partnership.  Of course, we trust
each other perfectly--there is no question of that.  But life is an
uncertain thing, as some earlier philosopher said before me; and one
never knows what may happen.  I have drawn up a paper in triplicate.
If you have a match, I will read it to you."

Oscard produced a match, and, striking it on his boot, sheltered it
with the hollow of his hand, while Jack read:

"We, the undersigned, hereby enter into partnership to search for
and sell, to our mutual profit, the herb known as Simiacine, the
profits to be divided into three equal portions, after the deduction
of one-hundredth part to be handed to the servant, Joseph Atkinson.
Any further expenses that may be incurred to be borne in the same
proportion as the original expense of fitting out the expedition,
namely, two-fifths to be paid by Guy Cravener Oscard, two-fifths by
John Meredith, one-fifth by Victor Durnovo.

"The sum of fifty pounds per month to be paid to Victor Durnovo,
wherewith he may pay the thirty special men taken from his estate
and headquarters at Msala to cultivate the Simiacine, and such corn
and vegetables as may be required for the sustenance of the
expedition; these men to act as porters until the plateau be
reached.

"The opinion of two of the three leaders against one to be accepted
unconditionally in all questions where controversy may arise.  In
case of death each of us undertakes hereby to hand over to the
executors of the dead partner or partners such moneys as shall
belong to him or them."

At this juncture there was a little pause while Guy Oscard lighted a
second match.

"And," continued Jack, "we hereby undertake severally, on oath, to
hold the whereabouts of the Simiacine a strict secret, which secret
may not be revealed by any one of us to whomsoever it may be without
the sanction, in writing, of the other two partners."

"There," concluded Jack Meredith, "I am rather pleased with that
literary production:  it is forcible and yet devoid of violence.  I
feel that in me the commerce of the century has lost an ornament.
Moreover, I am ready to swear to the terms of the agreement."

There was a little pause.  Guy Oscard took his pipe from his mouth,
and while he knocked the ashes out against the leg of his chair he
mumbled, "I swear to hold that agreement."

Victor Durnovo took off his hat with a sweep and a flourish, and,
raising his bared brow to the stars, he said, "I swear to hold to
that agreement.  If I fail, may God strike me dead!"



CHAPTER XIV.  PANIC-STRICKEN



     Is this reason?  Is this humanity?  Alas! it is man.

The next morning Jack Meredith was awakened by his servant Joseph
before it was fully light.  It would appear as if Joseph had taken
no means of awakening him, for Meredith awoke quite quietly to find
Joseph standing by his bed.

"Holloa!" exclaimed the master, fully awake at once, as townsmen
are.

Joseph stood at attention by the bedside.

"Woke you before yer time, sir," he said.  "There's something wrong
among these 'ere darkie fellers, sir."

"Wrong! what do you mean?"

Meredith was already lacing his shoes.

"Not rebellion?" he said curtly, looking towards his firearms.

"No, sir, not that.  It's some mortual sickness.  I don't know what
it is.  I've been up half the night with them.  It's spreading,
too."

"Sickness! what does it seem like?  Just give me that jacket.  Not
that sleeping sickness?"

"No, sir.  It's not that.  Missis Marie was telling me about that--
awful scourge that, sir.  No, the poor chaps are wide-awake enough.
Groanin', and off their heads too, mostly."

"Have you called Mr. Oscard?"

"No, sir."

"Call him and Mr. Durnovo."

"Met Mr. Durnovo, sir, goin' out as I came in."

In a few moments Jack joined Durnovo and Oscard, who were talking
together on the terrace in front of the house.  Guy Oscard was still
in his pyjamas, which he had tucked into top-boots.  He also wore a
sun-helmet, which added a finish to his costume.  They got quite
accustomed to this get-up during the next three days, for he never
had time to change it; and, somehow, it ceased to be humorous long
before the end of that time.

"Oh, it's nothing," Durnovo was saying, with a singular eagerness.
"I know these chaps.  They have been paid in advance.  They are
probably shamming, and if they are not they are only suffering from
the effects of a farewell glorification.  They want to delay our
start.  That is their little game.  It will give them a better
chance of deserting."

"At any rate, we had better go and see them," suggested Jack.

"No, don't!" cried Durnovo eagerly, detaining him with both hands.
"Take my advice, and don't.  Just have breakfast in the ordinary way
and pretend there is nothing wrong.  Then afterwards you can lounge
casually into the camp."

"All right," said Jack, rather unwillingly.

"It has been of some use--this scare," said Durnovo, turning and
looking towards the river.  "It has reminded me of something.  We
have not nearly enough quinine.  I will just take a quick canoe, and
run down to Loango to fetch some."

He turned quite away from them, and stooped to attach the lace of
his boot.

"I can travel night and day, and be back here in three days," he
added.  "In the meantime you can be getting on with the loading of
the canoes, and we will start as soon as I get back."

He stood upright and looked around with weatherwise, furtive eyes.

"Seems to me," he said, "there's thunder coming.  I think I had
better be off at once."

In the course of his inspection of the lowering clouds which hung,
black as ink, just above the trees, his eyes lighted on Joseph,
standing within the door of the cottage, watching him with a
singular half-suppressed smile.

"Yes," he said hurriedly, "I will start at once.  I can eat some
sort of a breakfast when we are under way."

He looked beneath his lashes quickly from Jack to Guy and back
again.  Their silent acquiescence was not quite satisfactory.  Then
he called his own men, and spoke to them in a tongue unknown to the
Englishmen.  He hurried forward their preparations with a feverish
irritability which made Jack Meredith think of the first time he had
ever seen Durnovo--a few miles farther down the river--all
palpitating and trembling with climatic nervousness.  His face was
quite yellow, and there was a line drawn diagonally from the
nostrils down each cheek, to lose itself ultimately in the heavy
black moustache.

Before he stepped into his canoe the thunder was rumbling in the
distance, and the air was still as death.  Breathing was an effort;
the inhaled air did not satisfy the lungs, and seemed powerless to
expand them.

Overhead the clouds, of a blue-black intensity, seemed almost to
touch the trees; the river was of ink.  The rowers said nothing, but
they lingered on the bank and watched Durnovo's face anxiously.
When he took his seat in the canoe they looked protestingly up to
the sky.  Durnovo said something to them rapidly, and they laid
their paddles to the water.

Scarcely had the boat disappeared in the bend of the river before
the rain broke.  It came with the rush of an express train--the
trees bending before the squall like reeds.  The face of the river
was tormented into a white fury by the drops which splashed up again
a foot in height.  The lashing of the water on the bare backs of the
negroes was distinctly audible to Victor Durnovo.

Then the black clouds split up like a rent cloth, and showed behind
them, not Heaven, but the living fire of Hell.  The thunder crashed
out in sharp reports like file-firing at a review.  With one accord
the men ceased rowing and crouched down in the canoe.

Durnovo shouted to them, his face livid with fury.  But for some
moments his voice was quite lost.  The lightning ran over the face
of the river like will-o'-the-wisps; the whole heaven was streaked
continuously with it.

Suddenly the negroes leaped to their paddles and rowed with bent
back, and wild staring eyes, as if possessed.  They were covered by
the muzzle of Durnovo's revolver.

Behind the evil-looking barrel of blue steel, the half-caste's
dripping face looked forth, peering into the terrific storm.  There
was no question of fending off such torrents of rain, nor did he
attempt it.  Indeed, he seemed to court its downfall.  He held out
his arms and stretched forth his legs, giving free play to the water
which ran off him in a continual stream, washing his thin khaki
clothing on his limbs.  He raised his face to the sky, and let the
water beat upon his brow and hair.

The roar of the thunder, which could be FELT, so great was the
vibration of the laden air, seemed to have no fear for him.  The
lightning, ever shooting athwart the sky, made him blink as if
dazzled, but he looked upon it without emotion.

He knew that behind him he had left a greater danger than this, and
he stretched out his limbs to the cleansing torrent with an exulting
relief to be washed from the dread infection.  Small-pox had laid
its hand on the camp at Msala:  and from the curse of it Victor
Durnovo was flying in a mad chattering panic through all the anger
of the tropic elements, holding death over his half-stunned crew,
not daring to look behind him or pause in his coward's flight.

It is still said on the Ogowe river that no man travels like Victor
Durnovo.  Certain it is that, in twenty-seven hours from the time
that he left Msala on the morning of the great storm, he presented
himself before Maurice Gordon in his office at the factory at
Loango.

"Ah!" cried Gordon, hardly noticing the washed-out, harassed
appearance of the visitor; "here you are again.  I heard that the
great expedition had started."

"So it has, but I have come back to get one or two things we have
forgotten.  Got any sherry handy?"

"Of course," replied Gordon, with perfect adhesion to the truth.

He laid aside his pen and, turning in his chair, drew a decanter
from a small cupboard which stood on the ground at his side.

"Here you are," he continued, pouring out a full glass with
practised, but slightly unsteady, hand.

Durnovo drank the wine at one gulp and set the glass down.

"Ah!" he said, "that does a chap good."

"Does it now?" exclaimed Maurice Gordon with mock surprise.  "Well,
I'll just try."

The manner in which he emptied his glass was quite different, with a
long, slow drawing-out of the enjoyment, full of significance for
the initiated.

"Will you be at home to-night?" asked Durnovo, gently pushing aside
the hospitable decanter.  "I have got a lot of work to do to-day,
but I should like to run in and see you this evening."

"Yes, come and dine."

Durnovo shook his head and looked down at his wrinkled and draggled
clothing.

"No, I can't do that, old man.  Not in this trim."

"Bosh?  What matter?  Jocelyn doesn't mind."

"No, but I do."

It was obvious that he wanted to accept the invitation, although the
objection he raised was probably honest.  For that taint in the
blood that cometh from the subtle tar-brush brings with it a vanity
that has its equal in no white man's heart.

"Well, I'll lend you a black coat!  Seven o'clock sharp!"

Durnovo hurried away with a gleam of excitement in his dark eyes.

Maurice Gordon did not resume his work at once.  He sat for some
time idly drumming with his fingers on the desk.

"If I can only get her to be civil to him," he reflected aloud,
"I'll get into this business yet."

At seven o'clock Durnovo appeared at the Gordons' house.  He had
managed to borrow a dress-suit, and wore an orchid in his
buttonhole.  It was probably the first time that Jocelyn had seen
him in this garb of civilisation, which is at the same time the most
becoming and the most trying variety of costume left to sensible men
in these days.  A dress-suit finds a man out sooner than anything
except speech.

Jocelyn was civil in her reception--more so, indeed, than Maurice
Gordon had hoped for.  She seemed almost glad to see Durnovo, and
evinced quite a kindly interest in his movements.  Durnovo
attributed this to the dress-suit, while Maurice concluded that his
obvious hints, thrown out before dinner, had fallen on fruitful
ground.

At dinner Victor Durnovo was quite charmed with the interest that
Jocelyn took in the expedition, of which, he gave it to be
understood, he was the chief.  So also was Maurice, because
Durnovo's evident admiration of Jocelyn somewhat overcame his
natural secrecy of character.

"You'll hear of me, Miss Gordon, never fear, before three months are
past," said Durnovo, in reply to a vague suggestion that his absence
might extend to several months.  "I am not the sort of man to come
to grief by a foolish mistake or any unnecessary risk."

To which sentiment two men at Msala bore generous testimony later
on.

The simple dinner was almost at an end, and it was at this time that
Jocelyn Gordon began once more to dislike Durnovo.  At first she had
felt drawn towards him.  Although he wore the dress-clothes rather
awkwardly, there was something in his manner which reminded her
vaguely of a gentleman.  It was not that he was exactly gentlemanly,
but there was the reflection of good breeding in his bearing.  Dark-
skinned people, be it noted, have usually the imitative faculty.  As
the dinner and the wine warmed his heart, so by degrees he drew on
his old self like a glove.  He grew bolder and less guarded.  His
opinion of himself rose momentarily, and with it a certain gleam in
his eyes increased as they rested on Jocelyn.

It was not long before she noted this, and quite suddenly her
ancient dislike of the man was up in arms with a new intensity
gathered she knew not whence.

"And," said Maurice, when Jocelyn had left them, "I suppose you'll
be a millionaire in about six months?"

He gently pushed the wine towards him at the same time.  Durnovo had
not slept for forty hours.  The excitement of his escape from the
plague-ridden camp had scarcely subsided.  The glitter of the silver
on the table, the shaded candles, the subtle sensuality of
refinement and daintiness appealed to his hot-blooded nature.  He
was a little off his feet perhaps.  He took the decanter and put it
to the worst use he could have selected.

"Not so soon as that," he said; "but in time--in time."

"Lucky beggar!" muttered Maurice Gordon, with a little sigh.

"I don't mind telling you," said Durnovo, with a sudden confidence
begotten of Madeira, "that it's Simiacine--that's what it is.  I
can't tell you more."

"Simiacine," repeated Gordon, fingering the stem of his wine-glass
and looking at him keenly between the candle-shades.  "Yes.  You've
always been on its track, haven't you?"

"In six months your go-downs will be full of it--my Simiacine, my
Simiacine."

"By God, I wish I had a hand in it."

Maurice Gordon pushed the decanter again--gently, almost
surreptitiously.

"And so you may, some day.  You help me and I'll help you--that is
my ticket.  Reciprocity--reciprocity, my dear Maurice."

"Yes, but how?"

"Can't tell you now, but I will in good time--in my own time.  Come,
let's join the ladies--eh? haha!"

But at this moment the servant brought in coffee, saying in his
master's ear that Miss Jocelyn had gone to bed with a slight
headache.



CHAPTER XV.  A CONFIDENCE



                                      The spirits
     Of coming things stride on before their issues.

There is nothing that brings men so close to each other as a common
grievance or a common danger.  Men who find pleasure in the same
game or the same pursuit are drawn together by a common taste; but
in the indulgence of it there is sure to arise, sooner or later, a
spirit of competition.  Now, this spirit, which is in most human
affairs, is a new bond of union when men are fighting side by side
against a common foe.

During the three days that followed Durnovo's departure from Msala,
Jack Meredith and Oscard learnt to know each other.  These three
days were as severe a test as could well be found; for courage,
humanity, tenderness, loyalty, were by turns called forth by
circumstance.  Smallpox rages in Africa as it rages nowhere else in
these days.  The natives fight it or bow before it as before an
ancient and deeply dreaded foe.  It was nothing new to them, and it
would have been easy enough for Jack and Oscard to prove to their
own satisfaction that the presence of three white men at Msala was a
danger to themselves and no advantage to the natives.  It would have
been very simple to abandon the river station, leaving there such
men as were stricken down to care for each other.  But such a
thought never seemed to suggest itself.

The camp was moved across the river, where all who seemed strong and
healthy were placed under canvas, awaiting further developments.

The infected were carried to a special camp set apart and guarded,
and this work was executed almost entirely by the three Englishmen,
aided by a few natives who had had the disease.

For three days these men went about with their lives literally in
their hands, tending the sick, cheering the despondent, frightening
the cowards into some semblance of self-respect and dignity.  And
during these three days, wherein they never took an organised meal
or three consecutive hours of rest, Joseph, Meredith, and Oscard
rose together to that height of manhood where master and servant,
educated man and common soldier, stand equal before their Maker.

Owing to the promptness with which measures had been taken for
isolating the affected, the terrible sickness did not spread.  In
all eleven men were stricken, and of these ten died within three
days.  The eleventh recovered, but eventually remained at Msala.

It was only on the evening of the third day that Jack and Guy found
time to talk of the future.  They had never left Durnovo's house,
and on this third day they found time to dine together.

"Do you think," Oscard asked bluntly, when they were left alone to
smoke, "that Durnovo knew what was the matter?"

"I am afraid that I have not the slightest doubt of it," replied
Jack lightly.

"And bolted?" suggested Oscard.

"And bolted."

Guy Oscard gave a contemptuous little laugh, which had a deeper
insult in it than he could have put into words.

"And what is to be done?" he inquired.

"Nothing.  People in books would mount on a very high pinnacle of
virtue and cast off Mr. Durnovo and all his works; but it is much
more practical to make what use we can of him.  That is a worldly-
wise, nineteenth-century way of looking at it; we cannot do without
him."

The contemplativeness of nicotine was upon Guy Oscard.

"Umph!" he grunted.  "It is rather disgusting," he said, after a
pause; "I hate dealing with cowards."

"And I with fools.  For everyday use, give me a coward by
preference."

"Yes, there is something in that.  Still, I'd throw up the whole
thing if--"

"So would I," said Jack, turning sharply in his chair, "if--"

Oscard laughed curtly and waited.

"If," continued Jack, "I could.  But I am more or less bound to go
on now.  Such chances as this do not turn up every day; I cannot
afford to let it go by.  Truth is, I told--some one who shall be
nameless--that I would make money to keep her in that state of life
wherein her godfathers, etc., have placed her; and make that money I
must."

"That is about my position too," said Guy Oscard, somewhat
indistinctly, owing to the fact that he habitually smoked a thick-
stemmed pipe.

"Is it?  I'm glad of that.  It gives us something in common to work
for."

"Yes."  Guy paused, and made a huge effort, finally conquering that
taciturnity which was almost an affliction to him.  "The reason I
gave the other night to you and that chap Durnovo was honest enough,
but I have another.  I want to lie low for a few months, but I also
want to make money.  I'm as good as engaged to be married, and I
find that I am not so well off as I thought I was.  People told me
that I should have three thousand a year when the governor died, but
I find that people know less of my affairs than I thought."

"They invariably do," put in Jack encouragingly.

"It is barely two thousand, and--and she has been brought up to
something better than that."

"Um! they mostly are.  Mine has been brought up to something better
than that too.  That is the worst of it."

Jack Meredith leant back in his folding chair, and gazed practically
up into the heavens.

"Of course," Guy went on, doggedly expansive now that he had once
plunged, "two thousand a year sounds pretty good, and it is not bad
to start upon.  But there is no chance of its increasing; in fact,
the lawyer fellows say it may diminish.  I know of no other way to
make money--had no sort of training for it.  I'm not of a commercial
turn of mind.  Fellows go into the City and brew beer or float
companies, whatever that may be."

"It means they sink other people's funds," explained Jack.

"Yes, I suppose it does.  The guv'nor, y' know, never taught me how
to make a livelihood; wouldn't let me be a soldier; sent me to
college, and all that; wanted me to be a litterateur.  Now I'm not
literary."

"No, I shouldn't think you were."

"Remains Africa.  I am not a clever chap, like you, Meredith."

"For which you may thank a gracious Providence," interposed Jack.
"Chaps like me are what some people call 'fools' in their uncouth
way."

"But I know a little about Africa, and I know something about
Durnovo.  That man has got a mania, and it is called Simiacine.  He
is quite straight upon that point, whatever he may be upon others.
He knows this country, and he is not making any mistake about the
Simiacine, whatever--"

"His powers of sick-nursing may be," suggested Jack.

"Yes, that's it.  We'll put it that way if you like."

"Thanks, I do prefer it.  Any fool could call a spade a spade.  The
natural ambition would be to find something more flowery and yet
equally descriptive."

Guy Oscard subsided into a monosyllabic sound.

"I believe implicitly in this scheme," he went on, after a pause.
"It is a certain fact that the men who can supply pure Simiacine
have only to name their price for it.  They will make a fortune, and
I believe that Durnovo knows where it is growing in quantities."

"I cannot see how it would pay him to deceive us in the matter.
That is the best way of looking at it," murmured Jack reflectively.
"When I first met him, the man thought he was dying, and for the
time I really believe that he was honest.  Some men are honest when
they feel unwell.  There was so little doubt in my mind that I went
into the thing at once."

"If you will go on with it I will stand by you," said Oscard
shortly.

"All right; I think we two together are as good as any half-bred
sharper on this coast, to put it gracefully."

Jack Meredith lighted a fresh cigarette, and leant back with the
somewhat exaggerated grace of movement which was in reality partly
attributable to natural litheness.  For some time they smoked in
silence, subject to the influence of the dreamy tropic night.
Across the river some belated bird was calling continuously and
cautiously for its mate.  At times the splashing movements of a
crocodile broke the smooth silence of the water.  Overhead the air
was luminous with that night-glow which never speaks to the senses
in latitudes above the teens.

There is something in man's nature that inclines him
sympathetically--almost respectfully--towards a mental inferior.
Moreover, the feeling, whatever it may be, is rarely, if ever, found
in women.  A man does not openly triumph in victory, as do women.
One sees an easy victor--at lawn tennis, for instance--go to his
vanquished foe, wiping vigorously a brow that is scarcely damp, and
explaining more or less lamely how it came about.  But the same
rarely happens in the "ladies' singles."  What, to quote another
instance, is more profound than the contempt bestowed by the girl
with the good figure upon her who has no figure at all?  Without
claiming the virtue of a greater generosity for the sex, one may,
perhaps, assume that men learn by experience the danger of despising
any man.  The girl with the good figure is sometimes--nay, often--
found blooming alone in her superiority, while the despised
competitor is a happy mother of children.  And all this to explain
that Jack Meredith felt drawn towards his great hulking companion by
something that was not a mere respect of mind for matter.

As love is inexplicable, so is friendship.  No man can explain why
David held Jonathan in such high esteem.  Between men it would
appear that admiration is no part of friendship.  And such as have
the patience to follow the lives of the two Englishmen thus brought
together by a series of chances will perhaps be able to discover in
this record of a great scheme the reason why Jack Meredith, the
brilliant, the gifted, should bestow upon Guy Oscard such a wealth
of love and esteem as he never received in return.

During the silence Jack was apparently meditating over the debt of
confidence which he still owed to his companion; for he spoke first,
and spoke seriously, about himself, which was somewhat against his
habit.

"I daresay you have heard," he said, "that I had a--a disagreement
with my father."

"Yes.  Heard something about it," replied Oscard, in a tone which
seemed to imply that the "something" was quite sufficient for his
requirements.

"It was about my engagement," Jack went on deliberately.  "I do not
know how it was, but they did not hit it off together.  She was too
honest to throw herself at his head, I suppose; for I imagine a
pretty girl can usually do what she likes with an old man if she
takes the trouble."

"Not with him, I think.  Seemed to be rather down on girls in
general," said Oscard coolly.

"Then you know him?"

"Yes, a little.  I have met him once or twice, out, you know.  I
don't suppose he would know me again if he saw me."

Which last remark does not redound to the credit of Guy's powers of
observation.

They paused.  It is wonderful how near we may stand to the brink and
look far away beyond the chasm.  Years afterwards they remembered
this conversation, and it is possible that Jack Meredith wondered
then what instinct it was that made him change the direction of
their thoughts.

"If it is agreeable to you," he said, "I think it would be wise for
me to go down to Loango, and gently intimate to Durnovo that we
should be glad of his services."

"Certainly."

"He cannot be buying quinine all this time, you know.  He said he
would travel night and day."

Oscard nodded gravely.

"How will you put it?" he asked.

"I thought I would simply say that his non-arrival caused us some
anxiety, and that I had come down to see if anything was wrong."

Jack rose and threw away the end of his cigarette.  It was quite
late, and across the river the gleam of the moonlight on fixed
bayonets told that only the sentries were astir.

"And what about the small-pox?" pursued Oscard, more with the desire
to learn than to amend.

"Don't think I shall say anything about that.  The man wants careful
handling."

"You will have to tell him that we have got it under."

"Yes, I'll do that.  Good-night, old fellow; I shall be off by
daylight."

By seven o'clock the next morning the canoe was ready, with its
swarthy rowers in their places.  The two Englishmen breakfasted
together, and then walked down to the landing-stage side by side.

It was raining steadily, and the atmosphere had that singular
feeling of total relaxation and limpness which is only to be felt in
the rain-ridden districts of Central Africa.

"Take care of yourself," said Oscard gruffly as Jack stepped into
the canoe.

"All right."

"And bring back Durnovo with you."

Jack Meredith looked up with a vague smile.

"That man," he said lightly, "is going to the Plateau if I have to
drag him there by the scruff of the neck."

And he believed that he was thinking of the expedition only.



CHAPTER XVI.  WAR



     Who, when they slash and cut to pieces,
     Do so with civilest addresses.

There is no power so subtle and so strong as that of association.
We have learnt to associate mustard with beef, and therefore mustard
shall be eaten with beef until the day when the lion shall lie down
with the lamb.

Miss Millicent Chyne became aware, as the year advanced towards the
sere and yellow leaf, that in opposing her wayward will in single
combat against a simple little association in the public mind she
was undertaking a somewhat herculean task.

Society--itself an association--is the slave of a word, and society
had acquired the habit of coupling the names of Sir John Meredith
and Lady Cantourne.  They belonged to the same generation; they had
similar tastes; they were both of some considerable power in the
world of leisured pleasure; and, lastly, they amused each other.
The result is not far to seek.  Wherever the one was invited, the
other was considered to be in demand; and Millicent found herself
face to face with a huge difficulty.

Sir John was distinctly in the way.  He had a keener eye than the
majority of young men, and occasionally exercised the old man's
privilege of saying outright things which, despite theory, are
better left unsaid.  Moreover, the situation was ill-defined, and an
ill-defined situation does not improve in the keeping.  Sir John
said sharp things--too sharp even for Millicent--and, in addition to
the original grudge begotten of his quarrel with Jack and its
result, the girl nourished an ever-present feeling of resentment at
a persistency in misunderstanding her of which she shrewdly
suspected the existence.

Perhaps the worst of it was that Sir John never said anything which
could be construed into direct disapproval.  He merely indicated, in
passing, the possession of a keen eyesight coupled with the
embarrassing faculty of adding together correctly two small
numerals.

When, therefore, Millicent allowed herself to be assisted from the
carriage at the door of a large midland country house by an eager
and lively little French baron of her acquaintance, she was
disgusted but not surprised to see a well-known figure leaning
gracefully on a billiard-cue in the hall.

"I wish I could think that this pleasure was mutual," said Sir John
with his courtliest smile, as he bowed over Millicent's hand.

"It might be," with a coquettish glance.

"If--?"

"If I were not afraid of you."

Sir John turned, smiling, to greet Lady Cantourne.  He did not
appear to have heard, but in reality the remark had made a distinct
impression on him.  It signalised a new departure--the attack at a
fresh quarter.  Millicent had tried most methods--and she possessed
many--hitherto in vain.  She had attempted to coax him with a filial
playfulness of demeanour, to dazzle him by a brilliancy which had
that effect upon the majority of men in her train, to win him by
respectful affection; but the result had been failure.  She was now
bringing her last reserve up to the front; and there are few things
more dangerous, even to an old campaigner, than a confession of fear
from the lips of a pretty girl.

Sir John Meredith gave himself a little jerk--a throw back of the
shoulders which was habitual--which might have been a tribute either
to Millicent behind, or to Lady Cantourne in front.

The pleasantest part of existence in a large country house full of
visitors is the facility with which one may avoid those among the
guests for whom one has no sympathy.  Millicent managed very well to
avoid Sir John Meredith.  The baron was her slave--at least he said
so--and she easily kept him at her beck and call during the first
evening.

It would seem that that strange hollow energy of old age had laid
its hand upon Sir John Meredith, for he was the first to appear in
the breakfast-room the next morning.  He went straight to the
sideboard where the letters and newspapers lay in an orderly heap.
It is a question whether he had not come down early on purpose to
look for a letter.  Perhaps he could not stay in his bed with the
knowledge that the postman had called.  He was possibly afraid to
ask his old servant to go down and fetch his letters.

His bent and knotted hands fumbled among the correspondence, and
suddenly his twitching lips were still.  A strange stillness indeed
overcame his whole face, turning it to stone.  The letter was there;
it had come, but it was not addressed to him.

Sir John Meredith took up the missive; he looked at the back, turned
it, and examined the handwriting of his own son.  There was a whole
volume--filled with pride, and love, and unquenchable resolve--
written on his face.  He threw the letter down among its fellows,
and his hand went fumbling weakly at his lips.  He gazed, blinking
his lashless lids, at the heap of letters, and the corner of another
envelope presently arrested his attention.  It was of the same
paper, of the same shape and hue, as that addressed to Miss Chyne.
Sir John drew a deep breath, and reached out his hand.  The letter
had come at last.  At last, thank God!  And how weakly ready he was
to grasp at the olive branch held out to him across a continent!

He took the letter; he made a step with it towards the door, seeking
solitude; then, as an afterthought, he looked at the superscription.
It was addressed to the same person, Miss Chyne, but in a different
handwriting--the handwriting of a man well educated but little used
to wielding the pen.

"The other," mumbled Sir John.  "The other man, by God!"

And, with a smile that sat singularly on his withered face, he took
up a newspaper and went towards the fireplace, where he sat stiffly
in an armchair, taking an enormous interest in the morning's news.
He read a single piece of news three times over, and a fourth time
in a whisper, so as to rivet his attention upon it.  He would not
admit that he was worsted--would not humble his pride even before
the ornaments on the mantelpiece.

Before Millicent came down, looking very fresh and pretty in her
tweed dress, the butler had sorted the letters.  There were only two
upon her plate--the twin envelopes addressed by different hands.
Sir John was talking with a certain laboured lightness to Lady
Cantourne, when that lady's niece came into the room.  He was
watching keenly.  There was a certain amount of interest in the
question of those two envelopes, as to which she would open first.
She looked at each in turn, glanced furtively towards Sir John, made
a suitable reply to some remark addressed to her by the baron, and
tore open Jack's envelope.  There was a gravity--a concentrated
gravity--about her lips as she unfolded the thin paper; and Sir
John, who knew the world and the little all-important trifles
thereof, gave an impatient sigh.  It is the little trifle that
betrays the man, and not the larger issues of life in which we
usually follow precedent.  It was that passing gravity (of the lips
only) that told Sir John more about Millicent Chyne than she herself
knew, and what he had learnt did not seem to be to his liking.

There is nothing so disquieting as the unknown motive, which
disquietude was Sir John's soon after breakfast.  The other men
dispersed to put on gaiters and cartridge-bags, and the old
aristocrat took his newspaper on to the terrace.

Millicent followed him almost at once.

"Sir John," she said, "I have had a letter from Africa."

Did she take it for granted that he knew this already?  Was this
spontaneous?  Had Jack told her to do it?

These questions flashed through the old man's mind as his eyes
rested on her pretty face.

He was beginning to be afraid of this girl:  which showed his
wisdom.  For the maiden beautiful is a stronger power in the world
than the strong man.  The proof of which is that she gets her own
way more often than the strong man gets his.

"From Africa?" repeated Sir John Meredith, with a twitching lip.
"And from whom is your letter, my dear young lady?"

His face was quite still, his old eyes steady, as he waited for the
answer.

"From Jack."

Sir John winced inwardly.  Outwardly he smiled and folded his
newspaper upon his knees.

"Ah, from my brilliant son.  That is interesting."

"Have you had one?" she asked, in prompt payment of his sarcasm.

Sir John Meredith looked up with a queer little smile.  He admired
the girl's spirit.  It was the smile of the fencer on touching
worthy steel.

"No, my dear young lady, I have not.  Mr. John Meredith does not
find time to write to me--but he draws his allowance from the bank
with a filial regularity."

Millicent had the letter in her hand.  She made it crinkle in her
fingers within a foot of the old gentleman's face.  A faint odour of
the scent she used reached his nostrils.  He drew back a little, as
if he disliked it.  His feeling for her almost amounted to a
repugnance.

"I thought you might like to hear that he is well," she said gently.
She was reading the address on the envelope, and again he saw that
look of concentrated gravity which made him feel uneasy for reasons
of his own.

"It is very kind of you to throw me even that crumb from your
richly-stored intellectual table.  I am very glad to hear that he is
well.  A whole long letter from him must be a treat indeed."

She thought of a proverb relating to the grapes that are out of
reach, but said nothing.

It was the fashion that year to wear little flyaway jackets with a
coquettish pocket on each side.  Millicent was wearing one of them,
and she now became aware that Sir John had glanced more than once
with a certain significance towards her left hand, which happened to
be in that pocket.  It, moreover, happened that Guy Oscard's letter
was in the same receptacle.

She withdrew the hand and changed colour slightly as she became
conscious that the corner of the envelope was protruding.

"I suppose that by this time," said Sir John pleasantly, "you are
quite an authority upon African matters?"

His manner was so extremely conversational and innocent that she did
not think it necessary to look for an inner meaning.  She was
relieved to find that the two men, having actually met, spoke of
each other frankly.  It was evident that Guy Oscard could be trusted
to keep his promise, and Jack Meredith was not the man to force or
repose a confidence.

"He does not tell me much about Africa," she replied, determined to
hold her ground.  She was engaged to be married to Jack Meredith,
and whether Sir John chose to ignore the fact or not she did not
mean to admit that the subject should be tabooed.

"No--I suppose he has plenty to tell you about himself and his
prospects?"

"Yes, he has.  His prospects are not so hopeless as you think."

"My dear Miss Chyne," protested Sir John, "I know nothing about his
prospects beyond the fact that, when I am removed from this sphere
of activity, he will come into possession of my title, such as it
is, and my means, such as they are."

"Then you attach no importance to the work he is inaugurating in
Africa?"

"Not the least.  I did not even know that he was endeavouring to
work.  I only trust it is not manual labour--it is so injurious to
the finger-nails.  I have no sympathy with a gentleman who imagines
that manual labour is compatible with his position, provided that he
does not put his hand to the plough in England.  Is not there
something in the Scriptures about a man putting his hand to the
plough and looking back?  If Jack undertakes any work of that
description, I trust that he will recognise the fact that he
forfeits his position by doing so."

"It is not manual labour--I can assure you of that."

"I am glad to hear it.  He probably sells printed cottons to the
natives, or exchanges wrought metal for ivory--an intellectual
craft.  But he is gaining experience, and I suppose he thinks he is
going to make a fortune."

It happened that this was precisely the thought expressed by Jack
Meredith in the letter in Millicent's hand.

"He is sanguine," she admitted.

"Of course.  Quite right.  Pray do not discourage him--if you find
time to write.  But between you and me, my dear Miss Chyne, fortunes
are not made in Africa.  I am an old man, and I have some experience
of the world.  That part of it which is called Africa is not the
place where fortunes are made.  It is as different from India as
chalk is from cheese, if you will permit so vulgar a simile."

Millicent's face dropped.

"But SOME people have made fortunes there."

"Yes--in slaves!  But that interesting commerce is at an end.
However, so long as my son does not suffer in health, I suppose we
must be thankful that he is creditably employed."

He rose as he spoke.

"I see," he went on, "your amiable friend the baron approaching with
lawn-tennis necessaries.  It is wonderful that our neighbours never
learn to keep their enthusiasm for lawn-tennis in bounds until the
afternoon."

With that he left her, and the baron came to the conclusion, before
very long, that something had "contraried" the charming Miss Chyne.
The truth was that Millicent was bitterly disappointed.  The idea of
failure had never entered her head since Jack's letters, full of
life and energy, had begun to arrive.  Sir John Meredith was a man
whose words commanded respect--partly because he was an old man
whose powers of perception had as yet apparently retained their full
force, and the vast experience of life which was his could hardly be
overrated.  Man's prime is that period when the widest experience
and the keenest perception meet.

Millicent Chyne had lulled herself into a false security.  She had
taken it for granted that Jack would succeed, and would return rich
and prosperous within a few months.  Upon this pleasant certainty
Sir John had cast a doubt, and she could hardly treat his words with
contempt.  She had almost forgotten Guy Oscard's letter.  Across a
hemisphere Jack Meredith was a stronger influence in her life than
Oscard.

While she sat on the terrace and flirted with the baron she
reflected hurriedly over the situation.  She was, she argued to
herself, not in any way engaged to Guy Oscard.  If he in an
unguarded moment should dare to mention such a possibility to Jack,
it would be quite easy to contradict the statement with convincing
heat.  But in her heart she was sure of Guy Oscard.  One of the
worst traits in the character of an unfaithful woman is the
readiness with which she trades upon the faithfulness of men.



CHAPTER XVII.  UNDERHAND



     The offender never pardons.

Victor Durnovo lingered on at Loango.  He elaborated and detailed to
all interested, and to some whom it did not concern, many excuses
for his delay in returning to his expedition, lying supine and
attendant at Msala.  It was by now an open secret on the coast that
a great trading expedition was about to ascend the Ogowe river,
with, it was whispered, a fortune awaiting it in the dim perspective
of Central Africa.

Durnovo had already built up for himself a reputation.  He was known
as one of the foremost ivory traders on the coast--a man capable of
standing against those enormous climatic risks before which his
competitors surely fell sooner or later.  His knowledge of the
interior was unrivalled, his power over the natives a household
word.  Great things were therefore expected, and Durnovo found
himself looked up to and respected in Loango with that friendly
worship which is only to be acquired by the possession or
prospective possession of vast wealth.

It is possible even in Loango to have a fling, but the carouser must
be prepared to face, even in the midst of his revelry, the haunting
thought that the exercise of the strictest economy in any other part
of the world might be a preferable pastime.

During the three days following his arrival Victor Durnovo indulged,
according to his lights, in the doubtful pleasure mentioned.  He
purchased at the best factory the best clothes obtainable; he lived
like a fighting cock in the one so-called hotel--a house chiefly
affected and supported by ship-captains.  He spent freely of money
that was not his, and imagined himself to be leading the life of a
gentleman.  He rode round on a hired horse to call on his friends,
and on the afternoon of the sixth day he alighted from this
quadruped at the gate of the Gordons' bungalow.

He knew that Maurice Gordon had left that morning on one of his
frequent visits to a neighbouring sub-factory.  Nevertheless, he
expressed surprise when the servant gave him the information.

"Miss Gordon," he said, tapping his boot with a riding-whip:  "is
she in?"

"Yes, sir."

A few minutes later Jocelyn came into the drawing-room, where he was
waiting with a brazen face and a sinking heart.  Somehow the very
room had power to bring him down towards his own level.  When he set
eyes on Jocelyn, in her fair Saxon beauty, he regained aplomb.

She appeared to be rather glad to see him.

"I thought," she said, "that you had gone back to the expedition?"

And Victor Durnovo's boundless conceit substituted "feared" for
"thought."

"Not without coming to say good-bye," he answered.  "It is not
likely."

Just to demonstrate how fully he felt at ease, he took a chair
without waiting for an invitation, and sat tapping his boot with his
whip, looking her furtively up and down all the while with an
appraising eye.

"And when do you go?" she asked, with a subtle change in her tone
which did not penetrate his mental epidermis.

"I suppose in a few days now; but I'll let you know all right, never
fear."

Victor Durnovo stretched out his legs and made himself quite at
home; but Jocelyn did not sit down.  On the contrary, she remained
standing, persistently and significantly.

"Maurice gone away?" he inquired.

"Yes."

"And left you all alone," in a tone of light badinage, which fell
rather flat, on stony ground.

"I am accustomed to being left," she answered gravely.

"I don't quite like it, you know."

"YOU?"

She looked at him with a steady surprise which made him feel a
trifle uncomfortable.

"Well, you know," he was forced to explain, shuffling the while
uneasily in his chair and dropping his whip, "one naturally takes an
interest in one's friends' welfare.  You and Maurice are the best
friends I have in Loango.  I often speak to Maurice about it.  It
isn't as if there was an English garrison, or anything like that.  I
don't trust these niggers a bit."

"Perhaps you do not understand them?" suggested she gently.

She moved away from him as far as she could get.  Every moment
increased her repugnance for his presence.

"I don't think Maurice would endorse that," he said, with a
conceited laugh.

She winced at the familiar mention of her brother's name, which was
probably intentional, and her old fear of this man came back with
renewed force.

"I don't think," he went on, "that Maurice's estimation of my humble
self is quite so low as yours."

She gave a nervous little laugh.

"Maurice has always spoken of you with gratitude," she said.

"To deaf ears, eh?  Yes, he has reason to be grateful, though
perhaps I ought not to say it.  I have put him into several very
good things on the coast, and it is in my power to get him into this
new scheme.  It is a big thing; he would be a rich man in no time."

He rose from his seat and deliberately crossed the room to the sofa
where she had sat down, where he reclined, with one arm stretched
out along the back of it towards her.  In his other hand he held his
riding-whip, with which he began to stroke the skirt of her dress,
which reached along the floor almost to his feet.

"Would you like him to be in it?" he asked, with a meaning glance
beneath his lashes.  "It is a pity to throw away a good chance; his
position is not so very secure, you know."

She gave a strange little hunted glance round the room.  She was
wedged into a corner, and could not rise without incurring the risk
of his saying something she did not wish to hear.  Then she leant
forward and deliberately withdrew her dress from the touch of his
whip, which was in its way a subtle caress.

"Is he throwing away the chance?" she asked.

"No, but you are."

Then she rose from her seat, and, standing in the middle of the
room, faced him with a sudden gleam in her eyes.

"I do not see what it has to do with me," she said; "I do not know
anything about Maurice's business arrangements, and very little
about his business friends."

"Then let me tell you, Jocelyn--well, then, Miss Gordon, if you
prefer it--that you will know more about one of his business friends
before you have finished with him.  I've got Maurice more or less in
my power now, and it rests with you--"

At this moment a shadow darkened the floor of the verandah, and an
instant later Jack Meredith walked quietly in by the window.

"Enter, young man," he said dramatically, "by window--centre."

"I am sorry," he went on in a different tone to Jocelyn, "to come in
this unceremonious way, but the servant told me that you were in the
verandah with Durnovo and--"

He turned towards the half-breed, pausing.

"And Durnovo is the man I want," weighing on each word.

Durnovo's right hand was in his jacket pocket.  Seeing Meredith's
proffered salutation, he slowly withdrew it and shook hands.

The flash of hatred was still in his eyes when Jack Meredith turned
upon him with aggravating courtesy.  The pleasant, half-cynical
glance wandered from Durnovo's dark face very deliberately down to
his jacket pocket, where the stock of a revolver was imperfectly
concealed.

"We were getting anxious about you," he explained, "seeing that you
did not come back.  Of course, we knew that you were capable of
taking--care--of yourself."

He was still looking innocently at the tell-tale jacket pocket, and
Durnovo, following the direction of his glance, hastily thrust his
hand into it.

"But one can never tell, with a treacherous climate like this, what
a day may bring forth.  However, I am glad to find you looking--so
very fit."

Victor Durnovo gave an awkward little laugh, extremely conscious of
the factory clothes.

"Oh, yes; I'm all right," he said.  "I was going to start this
evening."

The girl stood behind them, with a flush slowly fading from her
face.  There are some women who become suddenly beautiful--not by
the glory of a beautiful thought, not by the exaltation of a lofty
virtue, but by the mere practical human flush.  Jack Meredith, when
he took his eyes from Durnovo's, glancing at Jocelyn, suddenly
became aware of the presence of a beautiful woman.

The crisis was past; and if Jack knew it, so also did Jocelyn.  She
knew that the imperturbable gentlemanliness of the Englishman had
conveyed to the more passionate West Indian the simple, downright
fact that in a lady's drawing-room there was to be no raised voice,
no itching fingers, no flash of fiery eyes.

"Yes," he said, "that will suit me splendidly.  We will travel
together."

He turned to Jocelyn.

"I hear your brother is away?"

"Yes, for a few days.  He has gone up the coast."

Then there was a silence.  They both paused, helping each other as
if by pre-arrangement, and Victor Durnovo suddenly felt that he must
go.  He rose, and picked up the whip which he had dropped on the
matting.  There was no help for it--the united wills of these two
people were too strong for him.

Jack Meredith passed out of the verandah with him, murmuring
something about giving him a leg up.  While they were walking round
the house, Victor Durnovo made one of those hideous mistakes which
one remembers all through life with a sudden rush of warm shame and
self-contempt.  The very thing that was uppermost in his mind to be
avoided suddenly bubbled to his lips, almost, it would seem, in
defiance of his own will.

"What about the small--the small-pox?" he asked.

"We have got it under," replied Jack quietly.  "We had a very bad
time for three days, but we got all the cases isolated and prevented
it from spreading.  Of course, we could do little or nothing to save
them; they died."

Durnovo had the air of a whipped dog.  His mind was a blank.  He
simply had nothing to say; the humiliation of utter self-contempt
was his.

"You need not be afraid to come back now," Jack Meredith went on,
with a strange refinement of cruelty.

And that was all he ever said about it.

"Will it be convenient for you to meet me on the beach at four
o'clock this afternoon?" he asked, when Durnovo was in the saddle.

"Yes."

"All right--four o'clock."

He turned and deliberately went back to the bungalow.

There are some friendships where the intercourse is only the seed
which absence duly germinates.  Jocelyn Gordon and Jack had parted
as acquaintances; they met as friends.  There is no explaining these
things, for there is no gauging the depths of the human mind.  There
is no getting down to the little bond that lies at the bottom of the
well--the bond of sympathy.  There is no knowing what it is that
prompts us to say, "This man, or this woman, of all the millions,
shall be my friend."

"I am sorry," he said, "that he should have had a chance of causing
you uneasiness again."

Jocelyn remembered that all her life.  She remembers still--and
Africa has slipped away from her existence for ever.  It is one of
the mental photographs of her memory, standing out clear and strong
amidst a host of minor recollections.



CHAPTER XVIII.  A REQUEST



     It surely was my profit had I known
     It would have been my pleasure had I seen.

"Why did he come back?"

Jocelyn had risen as if to intimate that, if he cared to do so, they
would sit in the verandah.

"Why did Mr. Durnovo come back?" she repeated; for Jack did not seem
to have heard the question.  He was drawing forward a cane chair
with the leisurely debonnair grace that was his, and, before
replying, he considered for a moment.

"To get quinine," he answered.

Without looking at her, he seemed to divine that he had made a
mistake.  He seemed to know that she had flushed suddenly to the
roots of her hair, with a distressed look in her eyes.  The reason
was too trivial.  She could only draw one conclusion.

"No," he continued; "to tell you the truth, I think his nerve gave
way a little.  His health is undermined by this climate.  He has
been too long in Africa.  We have had a bad time at Msala.  We have
had small-pox in the camp.  Oscard and I have been doing doughty
deeds.  I feel convinced that, if we applied to some Society, we
should get something or other--a testimonial or a monument--also
Joseph."

"I like Joseph," she said in a low tone.

"So do I.  If circumstances had been different--if Joseph had not
been my domestic servant--I should have liked him for a friend."

He was looking straight in front of him with a singular fixity.  It
is possible that he was conscious of the sidelong scrutiny which he
was undergoing.

"And you--you have been all right?" she said lightly.

"Oh, yes," with a laugh.  "I have not brought the infection down to
Loango; you need not be afraid of that."

For a moment she looked as if she were going to explain that she was
not "afraid of that."  Then she changed her mind and let it pass, as
he seemed to believe.

"Joseph constructed a disinfecting room with a wood-smoke fire, or
something of that description, and he has been disinfecting
everything, down to Oscard's pipes."

She gave a little laugh, which stopped suddenly.

"Was it very bad?" she asked.

"Oh, no.  We took it in time, you see.  We had eleven deaths.  And
now we are all right.  We are only waiting for Durnovo to join, and
then we shall make a start.  Of course, somebody else could have
come down for the quinine."

"Yes."

He glanced at her beneath his lashes before going on,

"But, as Durnovo's nerves were a little shaken, it--was just as
well, don't you know, to get him out of it all."

"I suppose he got himself out of it all?" she said quietly.

"Well--to a certain extent.  With our approval, you understand."

Men have an esprit de sexe as well as women.  They like to hustle
the cowards through with the crowd, unobserved.

"It is a strange thing," said Jocelyn, with a woman's scorn of the
man who fears those things of which she herself has no sort of
dread, "a very strange thing, that Mr. Durnovo said nothing about it
down here.  It is not known in Loango that you had small-pox in the
camp."

"Well, you see, when he left we were not quite sure about it."

"I imagine Mr. Durnovo knows all about small-pox.  We all do on this
coast.  He could hardly help recognising it in its earliest stage."

She turned on him with a smile which he remembered afterwards.  At
the moment he felt rather abashed, as if he had been caught in a
very maze of untruths.  He did not meet her eyes.  It was a matter
of pride with him that he was equal to any social emergency that
might arise.  He had always deemed himself capable of withholding
from the whole questioning world anything that he might wish to
withhold.  But afterwards--later in his life--he remembered that
look in Jocelyn Gordon's face.

"Altogether," she said, with a peculiar little contented laugh, "I
think you cannot keep it up any longer.  He ran away from you and
left you to fight against it alone.  All the same, it was--nice--of
you to try and screen him.  Very nice, but I do not think that I
could have done it myself.  I suppose it was--noble--and women
cannot be noble."

"No, it was only expedient.  The best way to take the world is to
wring it dry--not to try and convert it and make it better, but to
turn its vices to account.  That method has the double advantage of
serving one's purpose at the time, and standing as a warning later.
The best way to cure vice is to turn it ruthlessly to one's own
account.  That is what we are doing with Durnovo.  His little
idiosyncrasies will turn in witness against him later on."

She shook her head in disbelief.

"Your practice and your theory do not agree," she said.

There was a little pause; then she turned to him gravely.

"Have you been vaccinated?" she asked.

"In the days of my baptism, wherein I was made--"

"No doubt," she interrupted impatiently, "but since?  Have you had
it done lately?"

"Just before I came away from England.  My tailor urged it so
strongly.  He said that he had made outfits for many gents going to
Africa, and they had all made their wills and been vaccinated.  For
reasons which are too painful to dwell upon in these pages I could
not make a will, so I was enthusiastically vaccinated."

"And have you all the medicines you will require?  Did you really
want that quinine?"

There was a practical, common-sense anxiety in the way she asked
these questions which made him answer gravely.

"All, thanks.  We did not really want the quinine, but we can do
with it.  Oscard is our doctor; he is really very good.  He looks it
all up in a book, puts all the negative symptoms on one side, and
the positive on the other--adds them all up, then deducts the
smaller from the larger, and treats what is left of the patient
accordingly."

She laughed, more with the view of pleasing him than from a real
sense of the ludicrous.

"I do not believe," she said, "that you know the risks you are
running into.  Even in the short time that Maurice and I have been
here we have learnt to treat the climate of Western Africa with a
proper respect.  We have known so many people who have--succumbed."

"Yes, but I do not mean to do that.  In a way, Durnovo's--what shall
we call it?--lack of nerve is a great safeguard.  He will not run
into any danger."

"No, but he might run you into it."

"Not a second time, Miss Gordon.  Not if we know it.  Oscard
mentioned a desire to wring Durnovo's neck.  I am afraid he will do
it one of these days."

"The mistake that most people make," the girl went on more lightly,
"is a want of care.  You cannot be too careful, you know, in
Africa."

"I am careful; I have reason to be."

She was looking at him steadily, her blue eyes searching his.

"Yes?" she said slowly, and there were a thousand questions in the
word.

"It would be very foolish of me to be otherwise," he said.  "I am
engaged to be married, and I came out here to make the wherewithal.
This expedition is an expedition to seek the wherewithal."

"Yes," she said, "and therefore you must be more careful than any
one else.  Because, you see, your life is something which does not
belong to you, but with which you are trusted.  I mean, if there is
anything dangerous to be done, let some one else do it.  What is she
like?  What is her name?"

"Her name is Millicent--Millicent Chyne."

"And--what is she like?"

He leant back, and, interlocking his fingers, stretched his arms out
with the palms of his hands outward--a habit of his when asked a
question needing consideration.

"She is of medium height; her hair is brown.  Her worst enemy
admits, I believe, that she is pretty.  Of course, I am convinced of
it."

"Of course," replied Jocelyn steadily.  "That is as it should be.
And I have no doubt that you and her worst enemy are both quite
right."

He nodded cheerfully, indicating a great faith in his own judgment
on the matter under discussion.

"I am afraid," he said, "that I have not a photograph.  That would
be the correct thing, would it not?  I ought to have one always with
me in a locket round my neck, or somewhere.  A curiously-wrought
locket is the correct thing, I believe.  People in books usually
carry something of that description--and it is always curiously
wrought.  I don't know where they buy them."

"I think they are usually inherited," suggested Jocelyn.

"I suppose they are," he went on in the same semi-serious tone.
"And then I ought to have it always ready to clasp in my dying hand,
where Joseph would find it and wipe away a furtive tear as he buried
me.  It is a pity.  I am afraid I inherited nothing from my
ancestors except a very practical mind."

"I should have liked very much to see a photograph of Miss Chyne,"
said Jocelyn, who had, apparently, not been listening.

"I hope some day you will see herself, at home in England.  For you
have no abiding city here."

"Only a few more years now.  Has she--are her parents living?"

"No, they are both dead.  Indian people they were.  Indian people
have a tragic way of dying young.  Millicent lives with her aunt,
Lady Cantourne.  And Lady Cantourne ought to have married my
respected father."

"Why did she not do so?"

He shrugged his shoulders--paused--sat up and flicked a large moth
off the arm of his chair.  Then,

"Goodness only knows," he said.  "Goodness, and themselves.  I
suppose they found it out too late.  That is one of the little risks
of life."

She answered nothing.

"Do you think," he went on, "that there will be a special Hell in
the Hereafter for parents who have sacrificed their children's lives
to their own ambition?  I hope there will be."

"I have never given the matter the consideration it deserves," she
answered.  "Was that the reason?  Is Lady Cantourne a more important
person than Lady Meredith?"

"Yes."

She gave a little nod of comprehension, as if he had raised a
curtain for her to see into his life--into the far perspective of
it, reaching back into the dim distance of fifty years before.  For
our lives do reach back into the lives of our fathers and
grandfathers; the beginnings made there come down into our daily
existence, shaping our thought and action.  That which stood between
Sir John Meredith and his son was not so much the present
personality of Millicent Chyne as the past shadows of a disappointed
life, an unloved wife and an unsympathetic mother.  And these things
Jocelyn Gordon knew while she sat, gazing with thoughtful eyes,
wherein something lived and burned of which she was almost ignorant-
-gazing through the tendrils of the creeping flowers that hung
around them.

At last Jack Meredith rose briskly, watch in hand, and Jocelyn came
back to things of earth with a quick gasping sigh which took her by
surprise.

"Miss Gordon, will you do something for me?"

"With pleasure."

He tore a leaf from his pocket-book, and, going to the table, he
wrote on the paper with a pencil pendent at his watch-chain.

"The last few days," he explained while he wrote, "have awakened me
to the lamentable fact that human life is rather an uncertain
affair."

He came towards her, holding out the paper.

"If you hear--if anything happens to me, would you be so kind as to
write to Millicent and tell her of it?  That is the address."

She took the paper, and read the address with a dull sort of
interest.

"Yes," she said.  "Yes, if you like.  But--nothing must happen to
you."

There was a slight unsteadiness in her voice, which made her stop
suddenly.  She did not fold the paper, but continued to read the
address.

"No," he said, "nothing will.  But would you not despise a man who
could not screw up his courage to face the possibility?"

He wondered what she was thinking about, for she did not seem to
hear him.

A clock in the drawing-room behind them struck the half-hour, and
the sound seemed to recall her to the present.

"Are you going now?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered, vaguely puzzled.  "Yes, I must go now."

She rose, and for a moment he held her hand.  He was distinctly
conscious of something left unsaid--of many things.  He even paused
on the edge of the verandah, trying to think what it was that he had
to say.  Then he pushed aside the hanging flowers and passed out.

"Good-bye!" he said over his shoulder.

Her lips moved, but he heard no sound.  She turned with a white,
drawn face and sat down again.  The paper was still in her hand.
She consulted it again, reading in a whisper:

"Millicent Chyne--Millicent!"

She turned the paper over and studied the back of it--almost as if
she was trying to find what there was behind that name.

Through the trees there rose and fell the music of the distant surf.
Somewhere near at hand a water-wheel, slowly irrigating the rice-
fields, creaked and groaned after the manner of water-wheels all
over Africa.  In all there was that subtle sense of unreality--that
utter lack of permanency which touches the heart of the white exile
in tropic lands, and lets life slip away without allowing the
reality of it to be felt.

The girl sat there with the name before her--written on the little
slip of paper--the only memento he had left her.



CHAPTER XIX.  IVORY



     'Tis one thing to be tempted, Escalus,
     Another thing to fall.

One of the peculiarities of Africa yet to be explained is the almost
supernatural rapidity with which rumour travels.  Across the whole
breadth of this darkest continent a mere bit of gossip has made its
way in a month.  A man may divulge a secret, say, at St. Paul de
Loanda, take ship to Zanzibar, and there his own secret will be told
to him.

Rumour met Maurice Gordon almost at the outset of his journey
northward.

"Small-pox is raging on the Ogowe River," they told him.  "The
English expedition is stricken down with it.  The three leaders are
dead."

Maurice Gordon had not lived four years on the West African coast in
vain.  He took this for what it was worth.  But if he had acquired
scepticism, he had lost his nerve.  He put about and sailed back to
Loango.

"I wonder," he muttered, as he walked up from the beach to his
office that same afternoon--"I wonder if Durnovo is among them?"

And he was conscious of a ray of hope in his mind.  He was a kind-
hearted man, in his way, this Maurice Gordon of Loango; but he could
not disguise from himself the simple fact that the death of Victor
Durnovo would be a distinct convenience and a most desirable relief.
Even the best of us--that is to say, the present writer and his
reader--have these inconvenient little feelings.  There are people
who have done us no particular injury, to whom we wish no particular
harm, but we feel that it would be very expedient and considerate of
them to die.

Thinking these thoughts, Maurice Gordon arrived at the factory and
went straight to his own office, where he found the object of them--
Victor Durnovo--sitting in consumption of the office sherry.

Gordon saw at once that the rumour was true.  There was a hunted
unwholesome look in Durnovo's eyes.  He looked shaken, and failed to
convey a suggestion of personal dignity.

"Hulloa!" exclaimed the proprietor of the decanter.  "You look a bit
chippy.  I have been told there is small-pox up at Msala."

"So have I.  I've just heard it from Meredith."

"Just heard it--is Meredith down here too?"

"Yes, and the fool wants to go back to-night.  I have to meet him on
the beach at four o'clock."

Maurice Gordon sat down, poured out for himself a glass of sherry,
and drank it thoughtfully.

"Do you know, Durnovo," he said emphatically, "I have my doubts
about Meredith being a fool."

"Indeed!" with a derisive laugh.

"Yes."

Maurice Gordon looked over his shoulder to see that the door was
shut.

"You'll have to be very careful," he said.  "The least slip might
let it all out.  Meredith has a quiet way of looking at one which
disquiets me.  He might find out."

"Not he," replied Durnovo confidently, "especially if we succeed;
and we shall succeed--by God we shall!"

Maurice Gordon made a little movement of the shoulders, as
indicating a certain uneasiness, but he said nothing.

There was a pause of considerable duration, at the end of which
Durnovo produced a paper from his pocket and threw it down.

"That's good business," he said.

"Two thousand tusks," murmured Maurice Gordon.  "Yes, that's good.
Through Akmed, I suppose?"

"Yes.  We can outdo these Arabs at their own trade."

An evil smile lighted up Durnovo's sallow face.  When he smiled, his
dropping, curtain-like moustache projected in a way that made keen
observers of the human face wonder what his mouth was like.

Gordon, who had been handling the paper with the tips of his finger,
as if it were something unclean, threw it down on the table again.

"Ye--es," he said slowly; "but it does not seem to dirty black hands
as it does white.  They know no better."

"Lord!" ejaculated Durnovo.  "Don't let us begin the old arguments
all over again.  I thought we settled that the trade was there; we
couldn't prevent it, and therefore the best thing is to make hay
while the sun shines, and then clear out of the country."

"But suppose Meredith finds out?" reiterated Maurice Gordon, with a
lamentable hesitation that precedes loss.

"If Meredith finds out, it will be the worse for him."

A certain concentration of tone aroused Maurice Gordon's attention,
and he glanced uneasily at his companion.

"No one knows what goes on in the heart of Africa," said Durnovo
darkly.  "But we will not trouble about that; Meredith won't find
out."

"Where is he now?"

"With your sister, at the bungalow.  A lady's man--that is what he
is."

Victor Durnovo was smarting under a sense of injury which was
annoyingly indefinite.  It was true that Jack Meredith had come at a
very unpropitious moment; but it was equally clear that the
intrusion could only have been the result of accident.  It was
really a case of the third person who is no company, with aggravated
symptoms.  Durnovo had vaguely felt in the presence of either a
subtle possibility of sympathy between Jocelyn Gordon and Jack
Meredith.  When he saw them together, for only a few minutes as it
happened, the sympathy rose up and buffeted him in the face, and he
hated Jack Meredith for it.  He hated him for a certain reposeful
sense of capability which he had at first set down as conceit, and
later on had learnt to value as something innate in blood and
education which was not conceit.  He hated him because his
gentlemanliness was so obvious that it showed up the flaws in other
men, as the masterpiece upon the wall shows up the weaknesses of the
surrounding pictures.  But most of all he hated him because Jocelyn
Gordon seemed to have something in common with the son of Sir John
Meredith--a world above the head of even the most successful trader
on the coast--a world in which he, Victor Durnovo, could never live
and move at ease.

Beyond this, Victor Durnovo cherished the hatred of the Found Out.
He felt instinctively that behind the courteous demeanour of Jack
Meredith there was an opinion--a cool, unbiassed criticism--of
himself, which Meredith had no intention of divulging.

On hearing that Jack was at the bungalow with Jocelyn, Maurice
Gordon glanced at the clock and wondered how he could get away from
his present visitor.  The atmosphere of Jack Meredith's presence was
preferable to that diffused by Victor Durnovo.  There was a feeling
of personal safety and dignity in the very sound of his voice which
set a weak and easily-led man upon his feet.

But Victor Durnovo had something to say to Gordon which
circumstances had brought to a crisis.

"Look here," he said, leaning forward and throwing away the
cigarette he had been smoking.  "This Simiacine scheme is going to
be the biggest thing that has ever been run on this coast."

"Yes," said Gordon, with the indifference that comes from non-
participation.

"And I'm the only business man in it," significantly.

Gordon nodded his head, awaiting further developments.

"Which means that I could work another man into it.  I might find
out that we could not get on without him."

The black eyes seemed to probe the good-natured, sensual face of
Maurice Gordon, so keen, so searching was their glance.

"And I would be willing to do it--to make that man's fortune--
provided--that he was--my brother-in-law."

"What the devil do you mean?" asked Gordon, setting down the glass
that was half raised to his lips.

"I mean that I want to marry--Jocelyn."

And the modern school of realistic, mawkishly foul novelists, who
hold that Love excuseth all, would have taken delight in the
passionate rendering of the girl's name.

"Want to marry Jocelyn, do you?" answered Maurice, with a derisive
little laugh.  On the first impulse of the moment he gave no thought
to himself or his own interests, and spoke with undisguised
contempt.  He might have been speaking to a beggar on the roadside.

Durnovo's eyes flashed dangerously, and his tobacco-stained teeth
clenched for a moment over his lower lip.

"That is my desire--and intention."

"Look here, Durnovo!" exclaimed Gordon.  "Don't be a fool!  Can't
you see that it is quite out of the question?"

He attempted weakly to dismiss the matter by leaning forward on his
writing-table, taking up his pen, and busying himself with a number
of papers.

Victor Durnovo rose from his chair so hastily that in a flash
Maurice Gordon's hand was in the top right-hand drawer of his
writing-table.  The good-natured blue eyes suddenly became fixed and
steady.  But Durnovo seemed to make an effort over himself, and
walked to the window, where he drew aside the woven-grass blind and
looked out into the glaring sunlight.  Still standing there, he
turned and spoke in a low, concentrated voice:

"No," he said, "I can't see that it is out of the question.  On the
contrary, it seems only natural that she should marry the man who is
her brother's partner in many a little--speculation."

Maurice Gordon, sitting there, staring hopelessly into the half-
breed's yellow face, saw it all.  He went back in a flash of
recollection to many passing details which had been unnoted at the
time--details which now fitted into each other like the links of a
chain--and that chain was around him.  He leapt forward in a
momentary opening of the future, and saw himself ruined, disgraced,
held up to the execration of the whole civilised world.  He was
utterly in this man's power--bound hand and foot.  He could not say
him no.  And least of all could he say no to this demand, which had
roused all the latent chivalry, gentlemanliness, brotherly love,
that was in him.  Maurice Gordon knew that Victor Durnovo possessed
knowledge which Jocelyn would consider cheap at the price of her
person.

There was one way out of it.  His hand was still on the handle of
the top right-hand drawer.  He was a dead shot.  His finger was
within two inches of the stock of a revolver.  One bullet for Victor
Durnovo, another for himself.  Then the old training of his school
days--the training that makes an upright, honest gentleman--asserted
itself, and he saw the cowardice of it.  There was time enough for
that later, when the crisis came.  In the meantime, if the worst
came to the worst, he could fight to the end.

"I don't think," said Durnovo, who seemed to be following Gordon's
thoughts, "that the idea would be so repellent to your sister as you
seem to think."

And a sudden ray of hope shot athwart the future into which his
listener was staring.  It might be so.  One can never tell with
women.  Maurice Gordon had had considerable experience of the world,
and, after all, he was only building up hope upon precedent.  He
knew, as well as you or I, that women will dance and flirt with--
even marry--men who are not gentlemen.  Not only for the moment, but
as a permanency, something seems to kill their perception of a fact
which is patent to every educated man in the room; and one never
knows what it is.  One can only surmise that it is that thirst for
admiration which does more harm in the world than the thirst for
alcoholic stimulant which we fight with societies and guilds, oaths
and little snips of ribbon.

"The idea never entered my head," said Gordon.

"It has never been out of mine," replied Durnovo, with a little
harsh laugh which was almost pathetic.  "I don't want you to do
anything now," he went on more gently.  It was wonderful how well he
knew Maurice Gordon.  The suggested delay appealed to one side of
his nature, the softened tone to another.  "There is time enough.
When I come back I will speak of it again."

"You have not spoken to her?"

"No, I have not spoken to her."

Maurice Gordon shook his head.

"She is a queer girl," he said, trying to conceal the hope that was
in his voice.  "She is cleverer than me, you know, and all that.  My
influence is very small, and would scarcely be considered.

"But your interests would," suggested Durnovo.  "Your sister is very
fond of you, and--I think I have one or two arguments to put forward
which she would recognise as uncommonly strong."

The colour which had been returning slowly to Maurice Gordon's face
now faded away again.  His lips were dry and shrivelled as if he had
passed through a sirocco.

"Mind," continued Durnovo reassuringly, "I don't say I would use
them unless I suspected that you were acting in opposition to my
wishes."

Gordon said nothing.  His heart was throbbing uncomfortably--it
seemed to be in his throat.

"I would not bring forward those arguments except as a last
resource," went on Victor Durnovo, with the deliberate cruelty of a
tyrant.  "I would first point out the advantages; a fourth share in
the Simiacine scheme would make you a rich man--above suspicion--
independent of the gossip of the market-place."

Maurice Gordon winced visibly, and his eyes wavered as if he were
about to give way to panic.

"You could retire and go home to England--to a cooler climate.  This
country might get too hot for your constitution--see?"

Durnovo came back into the centre of the room and stood by the
writing-table.  His attitude was that of a man holding a whip over a
cowering dog.

He took up his hat and riding-whip with a satisfied little laugh, as
if the dog had cringingly done his bidding.

"Besides," he said, with a certain defiance of manner, "I may
succeed without any of that--eh?"

"Yes," Gordon was obliged to admit with a gulp, as if he were
swallowing his pride, and he knew that in saying the word he was
degrading his sister--throwing her at this man's feet as the price
of his honour.

With a half-contemptuous nod Victor Durnovo turned, and went away to
keep his appointment with Meredith.



CHAPTER XX.  BROUGHT TO THE SCRATCH



     Take heed of still waters; they quick pass away.

Guy Oscard was sitting on the natural terrace in front of Durnovo's
house at Msala, and Marie attended to his simple wants with that
patient dignity which suggested the recollection of better times,
and appealed strongly to the manhood of her fellow-servant Joseph.

Oscard was not good at the enunciation of those small amenities
which are supposed to soothe the feelings of the temporarily
debased.  He vaguely felt that this woman was not accustomed to
menial service, but he knew that any suggestion of sympathy was more
than he could compass.  So he merely spoke to her more gently than
to the men, and perhaps she understood, despite her chocolate-
coloured skin.

They had inaugurated a strange, unequal friendship during the three
days that Oscard had been left alone at Msala.  Joseph had been
promoted to the command of a certain number of the porters, and his
domestic duties were laid aside.  Thus Marie was called upon to
attend to Guy Oscard's daily wants.

"I think I'll take coffee," he was saying to her in reply to a
question.  "Yes--coffee, please, Marie."

He was smoking one of his big wooden pipes, staring straight in
front of him with a placidity natural to his bulk.

The woman turned away with a little smile.  She liked this big man
with his halting tongue and quiet ways.  She liked his awkward
attempts to conciliate the coquette Xantippe--to extract a smile
from the grave Nestorius, and she liked his manner towards herself.
She liked the poised pipe and the jerky voice as he said, "Yes--
coffee, please, Marie."

Women do like these things--they seem to understand them and to
attach some strange, subtle importance of their own to them.  For
which power some of us who have not the knack of turning a pretty
phrase or throwing off an appropriate pleasantry may well be
thankful.

Presently she returned, bringing the coffee on a rough tray, also a
box of matches and Oscard's tobacco pouch.  Noting this gratuitous
attention to his comfort, he looked up with a little laugh.

"Er--thank you," he said.  "Very kind."

He did not put his pipe back to his lips--keenly alive to the fact
that the exigency of the moment demanded a little polite exchange of
commonplace.

"Children gone to bed?" he asked anxiously.

She paused in her slow, deft arrangement of the little table.

"Yes," she answered.

He nodded as if the news were eminently satisfactory.  "Nestorius,"
he said, adhering to Meredith's pleasantry, "is the jolliest little
chap I have met for a long time."

"Yes," she answered softly.  "Yes--but listen!"

He raised his head, listening as she did--both looking down the
river into the gathering darkness.

"I hear the sound of paddles," she said.  "And you?"

"Not yet.  My ears are not so sharp as yours."

"I am accustomed to it," the woman said, with some emotion in her
voice which he did not understand then.  "I am always listening."

Oscard seemed to be struck with this description of herself.  It was
so very apt--so comprehensive.  The woman's attitude before the
world was the attitude of the listener for some distant sound.

She poured out his coffee, setting the cup at his elbow.  "Now you
will hear," she said, standing upright with that untrammelled
dignity of carriage which is found wherever African blood is in the
veins.  "They have just come round Broken Tree Bend.  There are two
boats."

He listened, and after a moment heard the regular glug-glug of the
paddles stealing over the waters of the still tropic river, covering
a wonderful distance.

"Yes," he said, "I hear.  Mr. Meredith said he would be back to-
night."

She gave a strange, little low laugh--almost the laugh of a happy
woman.

"He is like that, Mr. Meredith," she said; "what he says he does"--
in the pretty English of one who has learnt Spanish first.

"Yes, Marie--he is like that."

She turned, in her strangely subdued way, and went into the house to
prepare some supper for the new-comers.

It was not long before the sound of the paddles was quite distinct,
and then--probably on turning a corner of the river and coming in
sight of the lights of Msala--Jack Meredith's cheery shout came
floating through the night.  Oscard took his pipe from his lips and
sent back an answer that echoed against the trees across the river.
He walked down to the water's edge, where he was presently joined by
Joseph with a lantern.

The two boats came on to the sloping shore with a grating sound, and
by the light of the waving lantern Oscard saw Durnovo and Jack land
from the same boat.

The three men walked up to the house together.  Marie was at the
door, and bowed her head gravely in answer to Jack's salutation.
Durnovo nodded curtly and said nothing.

In the sitting-room, by the light of the paraffin lamp, the two
Englishmen exchanged a long questioning glance, quite different from
the quick interrogation of a woman's eyes.  There was a smile on
Jack Meredith's face.

"All ready to start to-morrow?" he inquired.

"Yes," replied Oscard.

And that was all they could say.  Durnovo never left them alone
together that night.  He watched their faces with keen, suspicious
eyes.  Behind the moustache his lips were pursed up in restless
anxiety.  But he saw nothing--learnt nothing.  These two men were
inscrutable.

At eleven o'clock the next morning the Simiacine seekers left their
first unhappy camp at Msala.  They had tasted of misfortune at the
very beginning, but after the first reverse they returned to their
work with that dogged determination which is a better spirit than
the wild enthusiasm of departure, where friends shout and flags
wave, and an artificial hopefulness throws in its jarring note.

They had left behind them with the artifice of civilisation that
subtle handicap of a woman's presence; and the little flotilla of
canoes that set sail from the terrace at Msala one morning in
November, not so many years ago, was essentially masculine in its
bearing.  The four white men--quiet, self-contained, and intrepid--
seemed to work together with a perfect unity, a oneness of thought
and action which really lay in the brain of one of them.  No man can
define a true leader; for one is too autocratic and the next too
easily led; one is too quick-tempered, another too reserved.  It
would almost seem that the ideal leader is that man who knows how to
extract from the brains of his subordinates all that is best and
strongest therein--who knows how to suppress his own individuality,
and merge it for the time being into that of his fellow-worker--
whose influence is from within and not from without.

The most successful Presidents of Republics have been those who are,
or pretend to be, nonentities, content to be mere pegs, standing
still and lifeless, for things to be hung upon.  Jack Meredith was,
or pretended to be, this.  He never assumed the airs of a leader.
He never was a leader.  He merely smoothed things over, suggested
here, laughed there, and seemed to stand by, indifferent all the
while.

In less than a week they left the river, hauling their canoes up on
the bank, and hiding them in the tangle of the virgin underwood.  A
depot of provisions, likewise hidden, was duly made, and the long,
weary march began.

The daily routine of this need not be followed, for there were weeks
of long monotony, varied only by a new difficulty, a fresh danger,
or a deplorable accident.  Twice the whole company had to lay aside
the baggage and assume arms, when Guy Oscard proved himself to be a
cool and daring leader.  Not twice, but two hundred times, the ring
of Joseph's unerring rifle sent some naked savage crawling into the
brake to die, with a sudden wonder in his half-awakened brain.  They
could not afford to be merciful; their only safeguard was to pass
through this country, leaving a track of blood and fire and dread
behind them.

This, however, is no record of travel in Central Africa.  There are
many such to be had at any circulating library, written by abler and
more fantastic pens.  Some of us who have wandered in the darkest
continent have looked in vain for things seen by former travellers--
things which, as the saying is, are neither here nor there.  Indeed,
there is not much to see in a vast, boundless forest with little
life and no variety--nothing but a deadly monotony of twilit tangle.
There is nothing new under the sun--even immediately under it in
Central Africa.  The only novelty is the human heart--Central Man.
That is never stale, and there are depths still unexplored, heights
still unattained, warm rivers of love, cold streams of hatred, and
vast plains where strange motives grow.  These are our business.

We have not to deal so much with the finding of the Simiacine as
with the finders, and of these the chief at this time was Jack
Meredith.  It seemed quite natural that one duty after another
should devolve upon him, and he invariably had time to do them all,
and leisure to comment pleasantly upon it.  But his chief care was
Victor Durnovo.

As soon as they entered the forest, two hundred miles above Msala,
the half-breed was a changed man.  The strange restlessness asserted
itself again--the man was nervous, eager, sincere.  His whole being
was given up to this search; his whole heart and soul were enveloped
in it.  At first he worked steadily, like a mariner treading his way
through known waters; but gradually his composure left him, and he
became incapable of doing other work.

Jack Meredith was at his side always.  By day he walked near him as
he piloted the column through the trackless forest.  At night he
slept in the same tent, stretched across the doorway.  Despite the
enormous fatigue, he slept the light sleep of the townsman, and
often he was awakened by Durnovo talking aloud, groaning, tossing on
his narrow bed.

When they had been on the march for two months--piloted with
marvellous instinct by Durnovo--Meredith made one or two changes in
the organisation.  The caravan naturally moved slowly, owing to the
enormous amount of baggage to be carried, and this delay seemed to
irritate Victor Durnovo to such an extent that at last it was
obvious that the man would go mad unless this enormous tension could
be relieved.

"For God's sake," he would shout, "hurry those men on!  We haven't
done ten miles to-day.  Another man down--damn him!"

And more than once he had to be dragged forcibly away from the
fallen porter, whom he battered with both fists.  Had he had his
will, he would have allowed no time for meals, and only a few hours'
halt for rest.  Guy Oscard did not understand it.  His denser nerves
were incapable of comprehending the state of irritation and
unreasoning restlessness into which the climate and excitement had
brought Durnovo.  But Meredith, in his finer organisation,
understood the case better.  He it was who soothingly explained the
necessity for giving the men a longer rest.  He alone could persuade
Durnovo to lie down at night and cease his perpetual calculations.
The man's hands were so unsteady that he could hardly take the
sights necessary to determine their position in this sea-like waste.
And to Jack alone did Victor Durnovo ever approach the precincts of
mutual confidence.

"I can't help it, Meredith," he said one day, with a scared look,
after a particularly violent outburst of temper.  "I don't know what
it is.  I sometimes think I am going mad."

And soon after that the change was made.

An advance column, commanded by Meredith and Durnovo, was selected
to push on to the Plateau, while Oscard and Joseph followed more
leisurely with the baggage and the slower travellers.

One of the strangest journeys in the vast unwritten history of
commercial advance was that made by the five men from the camp of
the main expedition across the lower slopes of a mountain range--
unmarked on any map, unnamed by any geographer--to the mysterious
Simiacine Plateau.  It almost seemed as if the wild, bloodshot eyes
of their guide could pierce the density of the forest where Nature
had held unchecked, untrimmed sway for countless generations.
Victor Durnovo noted a thousand indications unseen by his four
companions.  The journey no longer partook of the nature of a
carefully calculated progress across a country untrodden by a white
man's foot; it was a wild rush in a straight line through unbroken
forest fastness, guided by an instinct that was stronger than
knowledge.  And the only Englishman in the party--Jack Meredith--had
to choose between madness and rest.  He knew enough of the human
brain to be convinced that the only possible relief to this tension
was success.

Victor Durnovo would never know rest now until he reached the spot
where the Simiacine should be.  If the trees were there, growing, as
he said, in solitary state and order, strangely suggestive of human
handiwork, then Victor Durnovo was saved.  If no such spot was
found, madness and death could only follow.

To save his companion's reason, Meredith more than once drugged his
food; but when the land began to rise beneath their feet in
tentative, billow-like inequalities--the deposit of a glacial age--
Durnovo refused to stop for the preparation of food.  Eating dry
biscuits and stringy tinned meat as they went along, the four men--
three blacks and one white--followed in the footsteps of their mad
pilot.

"We're getting to the mountains--we're getting to the mountains!  We
shall be there to-night!  Think of that, Meredith--to-night!" he
kept repeating with a sickening monotony.  And all the while he
stumbled on.  The perspiration ran down his face in one continuous
stream; at times he paused to wipe it from his eyes with the back of
his hands, and as these were torn and bleeding, there were smears of
blood across his cheeks.

The night fell; the moon rose, red and glorious, and the beasts of
this untrodden forest paused in their search for meat to watch with
wondering, fearless eyes that strange, unknown animal--man.

It was Durnovo who, climbing wildly, first saw the break in the
trees ahead.  He gave a muffled cry of delight, and in a few minutes
they were all rushing, like men possessed, up a bare slope of broken
shale.

Durnovo reached the summit first.  A faint, pleasant odour was
wafted into their faces.  They stood on the edge of a vast table-
land melting away in the yellow moonlight.  Studded all over, like
sheep in a meadow, were a number of little bushes, and no other
vegetation.

Victor Durnovo stooped over one of these.  He buried his face among
the leaves of it, and suddenly he toppled over.

"Yes," he cried as he fell, "it's Simiacine!"

And he turned over with a groan of satisfaction, and lay like a dead
man.



CHAPTER XXI.  THE FIRST CONSIGNMENT



     Since all that I can ever do for thee
     Is to do nothing, may'st thou never see,
     Never divine, the all that nothing costeth me.

One morning, three months later, Guy Oscard drew up in line his
flying column.  He was going back to England with the first
consignment of Simiacine.  During the twelve weeks that lay behind
there had been constant reference made to his little body of picked
men, and the leader had selected with a grave deliberation that
promised well.

The lost soldier that was in him was all astir in his veins as he
reviewed his command in the cool air of early morning.  The journey
from Msala to the Plateau had occupied a busy two months.  Oscard
expected to reach Msala with his men in forty days.  Piled up in
neat square cases, such as could be carried in pairs by a man of
ordinary strength, was the crop of Simiacine, roughly valued by
Victor Durnovo at forty thousand pounds.  Ten men could carry the
whole of it, and the twenty cases set close together on the ground
made a bed for Guy Oscard.  Upon this improvised couch he gravely
stretched his bulk every night all through the journey that
followed.

Over the whole face of the sparsely vegetated table-land the dwarf
bushes grew at intervals, each one in a little circle of its own,
where no grass grew:  for the dead leaves, falling, poisoned the
earth.  There were no leaves on the bushes now, for they had all
been denuded, and the twisted branches stood out naked in the
morning mist.  Some of the bushes had been roughly pruned, to
foster, if possible, a more bushy growth and a heavier crop of
leaves near to the parent stem.

It was a strange landscape; and any passing traveller, knowing
nothing of the Simiacine, must perforce have seen at once that these
insignificant little trees were something quite apart in the
vegetable kingdom.  Each standing with its magic circle, no bird
built its nest within the branches--no insect constructed its filmy
home--no spider weaved its busy web from twig to twig.

Solitary, mournful, lifeless the Plateau which had nearly cost
Victor Durnovo his life lay beneath the face of heaven, far above
the surrounding country--the summit of an unnamed mountain--a land
lying in the heart of a tropic country which was neither tropic,
temperate, nor arctic.  Fauna had it none, for it produced nothing
that could sustain life.  Flora it knew not, for the little trees,
with their perennial fortune of brilliant brown-tinted leaves,
monopolised vegetable life, and slew all comers.  It seemed like
some stray tract of another planet, where the condition of living
things was different.  There was a strange sense of having been
thrown up--thrown up, as it were, into mid-heaven, there to hang for
ever--neither this world nor the world to come.  The silence of it
all was such as would drive men mad if they came to think of it.  It
was the silence of the stars.

The men who had lived up here for three months did not look quite
natural.  There was a singular heaviness of the eyelids which all
had noticed, though none had spoken of it.  A craving for animal
food, which could only be stayed by the consumption of abnormal
quantities of meat, kept the hunters ever at work on the lower
slopes of the mountain.  Sleep was broken, and uncanny things
happened in the night.  Men said that they saw other men like trees,
walking abroad with sightless eyes; and Joseph said, "Gammon, my
festive darky--gammon!" but he, nevertheless, glanced somewhat
uneasily towards his master whenever the natives said such things.

A clearing had been made on that part of the Plateau which was most
accessible from below.  The Simiacine trees had been ruthlessly cut
away--even the roots were grubbed up and burnt--far away on the
leeward side of the little kingdom.  This was done because there
arose at sunset a soft and pleasant odour from the bushes which
seemed to affect the nerves, and even made the teeth chatter.  It
was, therefore, deemed wise that the camp should stand on bare
ground.

It was on this ground, in front of the tents, that Guy Oscard drew
up his quick-marching column before the sun had sprung up in its
fantastic tropical way from the distant line of virgin forest.  As
he walked along the line, making a suggestion here, pulling on a
shoulder-rope there, he looked staunch and strong as any man might
wish to be.  His face was burnt so brown that eyebrows and moustache
stood out almost blonde, though in reality they were only brown.
His eyes did not seem to be suffering from the heaviness noticeable
in others; altogether, the climate and the mystic breath of the
Simiacine grove did not appear to affect him as it did his
companions.  This was probably accounted for by the fact that, being
chief of the hunters, most of his days had been passed on the lower
slopes in search of game.

To him came presently Jack Meredith--the same gentle-mannered man,
with an incongruously brown face and quick eyes seeing all.  It is
not, after all, the life that makes the man.  There are gentle
backwoodsmen, and ruffians among those who live in drawing-rooms.

"Well?" said Meredith, following the glance of his friend's eye as
he surveyed his men.

Oscard took his pipe from his lips and looked gravely at him.

"Don't half like it, you know," he said in a low voice; for Durnovo
was talking with a head porter a few yards away.

"Don't half like what?--the flavour of that pipe?  It looks a little
strong."

"No, leaving you here," replied Oscard.

"Oh, that's all right, old chap! You can't take me with you, you
know.  I intended to stick to it when I came away from home, and I
am not going to turn back now."

Oscard gave a queer little upward jerk of the head, as if he had
just collected further evidence in support of a theory which
chronically surprised him.  Then he turned away and looked down over
the vast untrodden tract of Africa that lay beneath them.  He kept
his eyes fixed there, after the manner of a man who has no fluency
in personal comment.

"You know," he said jerkily, "I didn't think--I mean you're not the
sort of chap I took you for.  When I first saw you I thought you
were a bit of a dandy and--all that.  Not the sort of man for this
work.  I thought that the thing was bound to be a failure.  I knew
Durnovo, and had no faith in him.  You've got a gentle way about
you, and your clothes are so confoundedly neat.  But--"  Here he
paused and pulled down the folds of his Norfolk jacket.  "But I
liked the way you shot that leopard the day we first met."

"Beastly fluke," put in Meredith, with his pleasant laugh.

Oscard contented himself with a denying shake of the head.

"Of course," he continued, with obvious determination to get it all
off his mind, "I know as well as you do that you are the chief of
this concern--have been chief since we left Msala--and I never want
to work under a better man."

He put his pipe back between his lips and turned round with a
contented smile, as much as to say, "There, that is the sort of man
I am!  When I want to say that sort of thing I can say it with the
best of you."

"We have pulled along very comfortably, haven't we?" said Meredith;
"thanks to your angelic temper.  And you'll deliver that packet of
letters to the governor, won't you?  I have sent them in one packet,
addressed to him, as it is easier to carry.  I will let you hear of
us somehow within the next six months.  Do not go and get married
before I get home.  I want to be your best man."

Oscard laughed and gave the signal for the men to start, and the
long caravan defiled before them.  The porters nodded to Meredith
with a great display of white teeth, while the head men, the
captains of tens, stepped out of the ranks and shook hands.  Before
they had disappeared over the edge of the plateau, Joseph came
forward to say good-bye to Oscard.

"And it is understood," said the latter, "that I pay in to your
account at Lloyd's Bank your share of the proceeds?"

Joseph grinned.  "Yes, sir, if you please, presumin' it's a safe
bank."

"Safe as houses."

"'Cos it's a tolerable big amount," settling himself into his boots
in the manner of a millionaire.

"Lot of money--about four hundred pounds!  But you can trust me to
see to it all right."

"No fear, sir," replied Joseph grandly.  "I'm quite content, I'm
sure, that you should have the--fingering o' the dibs."

As he finished--somewhat lamely perhaps--his rounded periods, he
looked very deliberately over Oscard's shoulder towards Durnovo, who
was approaching them.

Meredith walked a little way down the slope with Oscard.

"Good-bye, old chap!" he said when the parting came.  "Good luck,
and all that.  Hope you will find all right at home.  By the way,"
he shouted after him, "give my kind regards to the Gordons at
Loango."

And so the first consignment of Simiacine was sent from the Plateau
to the coast.

Guy Oscard was one of those deceptive men who only do a few things,
and do those few very well.  In forty-three days he deposited the
twenty precious cases in Gordon's godowns at Loango, and paid off
the porters, of whom he had not lost one.  These duties performed,
he turned his steps towards the bungalow.  He had refused Gordon's
invitation to stay with him until the next day, when the coasting
steamer was expected.  To tell the truth, he was not very much
prepossessed in Maurice's favour, and it was with a doubtful mind
that he turned his steps towards the little house in the forest
between Loango and the sea.

The room was the first surprise that awaited him, its youthful
mistress the second.  Guy Oscard was rather afraid of most women.
He did not understand them, and probably he despised them.  Men who
are afraid or ignorant often do.

"And when did you leave them?" asked Jocelyn, after her visitor had
explained who he was.  He was rather taken aback by so much dainty
refinement in remote Africa, and explained rather badly.  But she
helped him out by intimating that she knew all about him.

"I left them forty-four days ago," he replied.

"And were they well?"

"She is very much interested," reflected Oscard, upon whom her
eagerness of manner had not been lost.  "Surely, it cannot be that
fellow Durnovo?"

"Oh, yes," he replied with unconscious curtness.

"Mr. Durnovo cannot ever remain inland for long without feeling the
effect of the climate."

Guy Oscard, with the perspicacity of his sex, gobbled up the bait.
"It IS Durnovo," he reflected.

"Oh, he is all right," he said; "wonderfully well, and so are the
others--Joseph and Meredith.  You know Meredith?"

Jocelyn was busy with a vase of flowers standing on the table at her
elbow.  One of the flowers had fallen half out, and she was
replacing it--very carefully.

"Oh, yes," she said, without ceasing her occupation, "we know Mr.
Meredith."

The visitor did not speak at once, and she looked up at him, over
the flowers, with grave politeness.

"Meredith," he said, "is one of the most remarkable men I have ever
met."

It was evident that this ordinarily taciturn man wanted to unburthen
his mind.  He was desirous of talking to some one of Jack Meredith;
and perhaps Jocelyn reflected that she was as good a listener as he
would find in Loango.

"Really," she replied with a kindly interest.  "How?"

He paused, not because he found it difficult to talk to this woman,
but because he was thinking of something.

"I have read or heard somewhere of a steel gauntlet beneath a velvet
glove."

"Yes."

"That describes Meredith.  He is not the man I took him for.  He is
so wonderfully polite and gentle and pleasant.  Not the qualities
that make a good leader for an African exploring expedition--eh?"

Jocelyn gave a strange little laugh, which included, among other
things, a subtle intimation that she rather liked Guy Oscard.  Women
do convey these small meanings sometimes, but one finds that they do
not intend them to be acted upon.

"And he has kept well all the time?" she asked softly.  "He did not
look strong."

"Oh, yes.  He is much stronger than he looks."

"And you--you have been all right?"

"Yes, thanks."

"Are you going back to--them?"

"No, I leave to-morrow morning early by the Portuguese boat.  I am
going home to be married."

"Indeed!  Then I suppose you will wash your hands of Africa for
ever?"

"Not quite," he replied.  "I told Meredith that I would be prepared
to go up to him in case of emergency, but not otherwise.  I shall,
of course, still be interested in the scheme.  I take home the first
consignment of Simiacine; we have been very successful, you know.  I
shall have to stay in London to sell that.  I have a house there."

"Are you to be married at once?" inquired Jocelyn, with that frank
interest which makes it so much easier for a man to talk of his own
affairs to a woman than to one of his own sex.

"As soon as I can arrange it," he answered with a little laugh.
"There is nothing to wait for.  We are both orphans, and,
fortunately, we are fairly well off."

He was fumbling in his breast-pocket, and presently he rose, crossed
the room, and handed her, quite without afterthought or self-
consciousness, a photograph in a morocco case.

Explanation was unnecessary, and Jocelyn Gordon looked smilingly
upon a smiling, bright young face.

"She is very pretty," she said honestly.

Whereupon Guy Oscard grunted unintelligibly.

"Millicent," he said after a little pause--"Millicent is her name."

"Millicent?" repeated Jocelyn--"Millicent WHAT?"

"Millicent Chyne."

Jocelyn folded the morocco case together and handed it back to him.

"She is very pretty," she repeated slowly, as if her mind could only
reproduce--it was incapable of creation.

Oscard looked puzzled.  Having risen he did not sit down again, and
presently he took his leave, feeling convinced that Jocelyn was
about to faint.

When he was gone the girl sat wearily down.

"Millicent Chyne," she whispered.  "What is to be done?"

"Nothing," she answered to herself after a while.  "Nothing.  It is
not my business.  I can do nothing."

She sat there--alone, as she had been all her life--until the short
tropical twilight fell over the forest.  Quite suddenly she burst
into tears.

"It IS my business," she sobbed.  "It is no good pretending
otherwise; but I can do nothing."



CHAPTER XXII.  THE SECOND CONSIGNMENT



     Who has lost all hope has also lost all fear.

Among others, it was a strange thing that Jocelyn felt no surprise
at meeting the name of Millicent Chyne on the lips of another man.
Women understand these things better than we do.  They understand
each other, and they seem to have a practical way of accepting human
nature as it is which we never learn to apply to our fellowmen.
They never bluster as we do, nor expect impossibilities from the
frail.

Another somewhat singular residue left, as it were, in Jocelyn's
mind when the storm of emotion had subsided was a certain indefinite
tenderness for Millicent Chyne.  She felt sure that Jack Meredith's
feeling for her was that feeling vaguely called the right one, and,
as such, unalterable.  To this knowledge the subtle sympathy for
Millicent was perhaps attributable.  But navigation with pen and
thought among the shoals and depths of a woman's heart is hazardous
and uncertain.

Coupled with this--as only a woman could couple contradictions--was
an unpardoning abhorrence for the deceit practised.  But Jocelyn
knew the world well enough to suspect that, if she were ever brought
face to face with her meanness, Millicent would be able to bring
about her own forgiveness.  It is the knowledge of this lamentable
fact that undermines the feminine sense of honour.

Lastly, there was a calm acceptance of the fact that Guy Oscard must
and would inevitably go to the wall.  There could be no comparison
between the two men.  Millicent Chyne could scarcely hesitate for a
moment.  That she herself must likewise suffer uncomplainingly,
inevitably, seemed to be an equally natural consequence in Jocelyn
Gordon's mind.

She could not go to Jack Meredith and say:

"This woman is deceiving you, but I love you, and my love is a
nobler, grander thing than hers.  It is no passing fancy of a giddy,
dazzled girl, but the deep strong passion of a woman almost in the
middle of her life.  It is a love so complete, so sufficing, that I
know I could make you forget this girl.  I could so envelop you with
love, so watch over you and care for you, and tend you and
understand you, that you MUST be happy.  I feel that I could make
you happier than any other woman in the world could make you."

Jocelyn Gordon could not do this; and all the advanced females in
the world, all the blue stockings and divided skirts, all the wild
women and those who pant for burdens other than children, will never
bring it to pass that women can say such things.

And precisely because she could not say this, Jocelyn felt hot and
sick at the very thought that Jack Meredith should learn aught of
Millicent Chyne from her.  Her own inner motive in divulging what
she had learnt from Guy Oscard could never for a moment be hidden
behind a wish, however sincere, to act for the happiness of two
honourable gentlemen.

Jocelyn had no one to consult--no one to whom she could turn, in the
maddening difficulty of her position, for advice or sympathy.  She
had to work it out by herself, steering through the quicksands by
that compass that knows no deviation--the compass of her own honour
and maidenly reserve.

Just because she was so sure of her own love she felt that she could
never betray the falseness of Millicent Chyne.  She felt somehow
that Millicent's fall in Jack Meredith's estimation would drag down
with it the whole of her sex, and consequently herself.  She did not
dare to betray Millicent, because the honour of her sex must be held
up by an exaggerated honour in herself.  Thus her love for Jack
Meredith tied her hands, while she stood idly by to see him wreck
his own life by what could only be a miserable union.

With the clear sight of the onlooker, Jocelyn Gordon now saw that,
by Jack Meredith's own showing, Millicent was quite unworthy of him.
But she also remembered words, silences, and hints which
demonstrated with lamentable plainness the fact that he loved her.
She was old enough and sufficiently experienced to avoid the futile
speculation as to what had attracted this love.  She knew that men
marry women who in the estimation of onlooking relatives are
unworthy of them, and live happily ever afterwards, without deeming
it necessary to explain to those relatives how it comes about.

Now it happened that this woman--Jocelyn Gordon--was not one of
those who gracefully betray themselves at the right moment and are
immediately covered with a most becoming confusion.  She was strong
to hold to her purpose, to subdue herself, to keep silent.  And this
task she set herself, having thought it all carefully out in the
little flower-scented verandah, so full of pathetic association.
But it must be remembered that she in no wise seemed to see the
pathos in her own life.  She was unconscious of romance.  It was all
plain fact, and the plainest was her love for Jack Meredith.

Her daily life was in no perceptible way changed.  Maurice Gordon
saw no difference.  She had never been an hilarious person.  Now she
went about her household, her kindnesses, and unobtrusive good works
with a quieter mien; but, when occasion or social duty demanded, she
seemed perhaps a little readier than before to talk of indifferent
topics, to laugh at indifferent wit.  Those who have ears to hear
and eyes wherewith to see learn to distrust the laugh that is too
ready, the sympathy that flows in too broad a stream.  Happiness is
self-absorbed.

Four months elapsed, and the excitement created in the small world
of Western Africa by the first dazzling success of the Simiacine
Expedition began to subside.  The thing took its usual course.  At
first the experts disbelieved, and then they prophesied that it
could not last.  Finally, the active period of envy, hatred, and
malice gave way to a sullen tolerance not unmixed with an indefinite
grudge towards Fortune who had favoured the brave once more.

Maurice Gordon was in daily expectation of news from that far-off
favoured spot they vaguely called the Plateau.  And Jocelyn did not
pretend to conceal from herself the hope that filled her whole
being--the hope that Jack Meredith might bring the news in person.

Instead, came Victor Durnovo.

He came upon her one evening when she was walking slowly home from a
mild tea-party at the house of a missionary.  Hearing footsteps on
the sandy soil, she turned, and found herself face to face with
Durnovo.

"Ah!" she exclaimed, and her voice thrilled with some emotion which
he did not understand.  "Ah, it is you!"

"Yes," he said, holding her hand a little longer than was necessary.
"It is I."

His journey from Msala through the more civilised reaches of the
lower river, his voyage in the coasting boat, and his arrival at
Loango, had partaken of the nature of a triumphal progress.  Victor
Durnovo was elated--like a girl in a new dress.

"I was coming along to see you," he said, and there was a subtle
offence in his tone.

She did not trouble to tell him that Maurice was away for ten days.
She felt that he knew that.  There was a certain truculence in his
walk which annoyed her; but she was wonderingly conscious of the
fact that she was no longer afraid of him.  This feeling had as yet
taken no definite shape.  She did not know what she felt, but she
knew that there was no fear in her mind.

"Have you been successful?" she asked, with a certain negative
kindness of tone bred of this new self-confidence.

"I should think we had!  Why, the lot that Oscard brought down was a
fortune in itself.  But you saw Oscard, of course.  Did he stay at
the bungalow?"

"No; he stayed at the hotel."

"Did you like him?"

The question was accompanied by a momentary glance of the dark,
jealous eyes.

"Yes, very much."

"He is a nice fellow, first-rate fellow.  Of course, he has his
faults, but he and I got on splendidly.  He's--engaged, you know."

"So he told me."

Durnovo glanced at her again searchingly, and looked relieved.  He
gave an awkward little laugh.

"And I understand," he said, "that Meredith is in the same enviable
position."

"Indeed!"

Durnovo indulged in a meaning silence.

"When do you go back?" she asked carelessly.

"Almost at once," in a tone that apologised for causing her
necessary pain.  "I must leave to-morrow or the next day.  I do not
like the idea of Meredith being left too long alone up there with a
reduced number of men.  Of course, I had to bring a pretty large
escort.  I brought down sixty thousand pounds worth of Simiacine."

"Yes," she said; "and you take all the men back to-morrow?"

He did not remember having stated for certain that he was leaving
the next day.

"Or the day after," he amended.

"Have you had any more sickness among the men?" she asked at once,
in a tone of irony which made him wince.

"No," he answered, "they have been quite all right."

"What time do you start?" she asked.  "There are letters for Mr.
Meredith at the office.  Maurice's head clerk will give them to
you."

She knew that these letters were from Millicent.  She had actually
had them in her hand.  She had inhaled the faint, refined scent of
the paper and envelopes.

"You will be careful that they are not lost, won't you?" she said,
tearing at her own heart with a strange love of the pain.  "They may
be important."

"Oh, I will deliver them sharp enough," he answered.  "I suppose I
had better start to-morrow."

"I should think so," she replied quietly, with that gentle mendacity
which can scarcely be grudged to women, because they are so poorly
armed.  "I should think so.  You know what these men are.  Every
hour they have in Loango demoralises them more and more."

They had reached the gate of the bungalow garden.  She turned and
held out her hand in an undeniable manner.  He bade her good-bye and
went his way, wondering vaguely what had happened to them both.  The
conversation had taken quite a different turn to what he had
expected and intended.  But somehow it had got beyond his control.
He had looked forward to a very different ending to the interview.
And now he found himself returning somewhat disconsolately to the
wretched hotel in Loango--dismissed--sent back.

The next day he actually left the little West African coast town,
turning his face northward with bad grace.  Even at that distance,
he feared Jack Meredith's half-veiled sarcasm.  He knew that nothing
could be hidden for long from the Englishman's suavely persistent
inquiry and deduction.  Besides, the natives were no longer safe.
Meredith, with the quickness of a cultured linguist, had picked up
enough of their language to understand them, while Joseph talked
freely with them in that singular mixture of slang and vernacular
which follows the redcoat all over the world.  Durnovo had only been
allowed to come down to the coast under a promise, gracefully
veiled, but distinct enough, that he should only remain twenty-four
hours in Loango.

Jocelyn avoided seeing him again.  She was forced to forego the
opportunity of hearing much that she wanted to learn because
Durnovo, the source of the desired knowledge, was unsafe.  But the
relief from the suspense of the last few months was in itself a
consolation.  All seemed to be going on well at the Plateau.  Danger
is always discounted at sight; and Jocelyn felt comparatively easy
respecting the present welfare of Jack Meredith, living as she did
on the edge of danger.

Four days later she was riding through the native town of Loango,
accompanied by a lady-friend, when she met Victor Durnovo.  The
sight of him gave her a distinct shock.  She knew that he had left
Loango three days before with all his men.  There was no doubt about
that.  Moreover, his air was distinctly furtive--almost scared.  It
was evident that the chance meeting was as undesired by him as it
was surprising to her.

"I thought you had left," she said shortly, pulling up her horse
with undeniable decision.

"Yes. . .  but I have come back--for--for more men."

She knew he was lying, and he felt that she knew.

"Indeed!" she said.  "You are not a good starter."

She turned her horse's head, nodded to her friend, bowed coldly to
Durnovo, and trotted towards home.  When she had reached the corner
of the rambling, ill-paved street, she touched her horse.  The
animal responded.  She broke into a gentle canter, which made the
little children cease their play and stare.  In the forest she
applied the spurs, and beneath the whispering trees, over the silent
sand, the girl galloped home as fast as her horse could lay legs to
the ground.

Jocelyn Gordon was one of those women who rise slowly to the
occasion, and the limit of their power seems at times to be only
defined by the greatness of the need.



CHAPTER XXIII.  MERCURY



     So cowards never use their might
     But against such that will not fight.

On nearing the bungalow, Jocelyn turned aside into the forest where
a little colony of huts nestled in a hollow of the sand-dunes.

"Nala," she cried, "the paddle-maker.  Ask him to come to me."

She spoke in the dialect of the coast to some women who sat together
before one of the huts.

"Nala--yes," they answered.  And they raised their strident voices.

In a few moments a man emerged from a shed of banana-leaves.  He was
a scraggy man--very lightly clad--and a violent squint handicapped
him seriously in the matter of first impressions.  When he saw
Jocelyn he dropped his burden of wood and ran towards her.  The
African negro does not cringe.  He is a proud man in his way.  If he
is properly handled, he is not only trustworthy--he is something
stronger.  Nala grinned as he ran towards Jocelyn.

"Nala," she said, "will you go a journey for me?"

"I will go at once."

"I came to you," said Jocelyn, "because I know that you are an
intelligent man and a great traveller."

"I have travelled much," he answered, "when I was younger."

"Before you were married?" said the English girl.  "Before little
Nala came?"

The man grinned.

He looked back over his shoulder towards one of the huts, where a
scraggy infant with a violent squint lay on its diaphragm on the
sand.

"Where do you wish me to go?" asked the proud father.

"To Msala on the Ogowe river."

"I know the Ogowe.  I have been at Msala," with the grave nod of a
great traveller.

"When can you leave?"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Now."

Jocelyn had her purse in her hand.

"You can hire a dhow," she said; "and on the river you may have as
many rowers as you like.  You must go very quickly to Msala.  There
you must ask about the Englishman's Expedition.  You have heard of
it?"

"Yes:  the Englishman, Durnovo, and the soldier who laughs."

"Yes.  Some of the men are at Msala now.  They were going up-country
to join the other Englishman far away--near the mountains.  They
have stopped at Msala.  Find out why they have not gone on, and come
back very quickly to tell me.  You understand, Nala?"

"Yes."

"And I can trust you?"

"Yes:  because you cured the little one when he had an evil spirit.
Yes, you can trust me."

She gave him money and rode on home.  Before she reached the
bungalow the paddle-maker passed her at a trot, going towards the
sea.

She waited for three days, and then Victor Durnovo came again.
Maurice was still away.  There was an awful sense of impending
danger in the very air in the loneliness of her position.  Yet she
was not afraid of Durnovo.  She had left that fear behind.  She went
to the drawing-room to see him, full of resolution.

"I could not go away," he said, after relinquishing her hand,
"without coming to see you."

Jocelyn said nothing.  The scared look which she had last seen in
his face was no longer there; but the eyes were full of lies.

"Jocelyn," the man went on, "I suppose you know that I love you?  It
must have been plain to you for a long time."

"No," she answered, with a little catch in her breath.  "No, it has
not.  And I am sorry to hear it now."

"Why?" he asked, with a dull gleam which could not be dignified by
the name of love.

"Because it can only lead to trouble."

Victor Durnovo was standing with his back to the window, while
Jocelyn, in the full light of the afternoon, stood before him.  He
looked her slowly up and down with a glance of approval which
alarmed and disquieted her.

"Will you marry me?" he asked.

"No!"

His black moustache was pushed forward by some motion of the hidden
lips.

"Why?"

"Do you want the real reason?" asked Jocelyn.

Victor Durnovo paused for a moment.

"Yes," he said.

"Because I not only do not care for you, but I despise and distrust
you."

"You are candid," he said, with an unpleasant little laugh.

"Yes."

He moved a little to one side and drew a chair towards him, half-
leaning, half-sitting on the back of it.

"Then," he said, "I will be candid with you.  I intend you to marry
me; I have intended it for a long time.  I am not going down on my
knees to ask you to do it:  that is not my way.  But, if you drive
me to it, I will make your brother Maurice go down on his knees and
beg you to marry me."

"I don't think you will do that," answered the girl steadily.
"Whatever your power over Maurice may be, it is not strong enough
for that; you overrate it."

"You think so?" he sneered.

"I am sure of it."

Durnovo glanced hastily round the room in order to make sure that
they were not overheard.

"Suppose," he said, in a low, hissing voice, "that I possess
knowledge that I have only to mention to one or two people to make
this place too hot for Maurice Gordon.  If he escaped the fury of
the natives, it would be difficult to know where he could go to.
England would be too hot for him.  They wouldn't have him there; I
could see to that.  He would be a ruined man--an outcast--execrated
by all the civilised world."

He was watching her face all the while.  He saw the colour leave
even her lips, but they were steady and firm.  A strange wonder
crept into his heart.  This woman never flinched.  There was some
reserved strength within herself upon which she was now drawing.
His dealings had all been with half-castes--with impure blood and
doubtful descendants of a mixed ancestry.  He had never fairly
roused a pure-bred English man or woman, and suddenly he began to
feel out of his depth.

"What is your knowledge?" asked Jocelyn in a coldly measured voice.

"I think you had better not ask that; you will be sorry afterwards.
I would rather that you thought quietly over what I have told you.
Perhaps, on second thoughts, you will see your way to give me some--
slight hope.  I should really advise it."

"I did not ask your advice.  What is your knowledge?"

"You will have it?" he hissed.

"Yes."

He leant forward, craning his neck, pushing his yellow face and
hungering black eyes close into hers.

"Then, if you will have it, your brother--Maurice Gordon--is a
slave-owner."

She drew back as she might have done from some unclean animal.  She
knew that he was telling the truth.  There might be extenuating
circumstances.  The real truth might have quite a different sound,
spoken in different words; but there was enough of the truth in it,
as Victor Durnovo placed it before her, to condemn Maurice before
the world.

"Now will you marry me?" he sneered.

"No!"

Quick as thought she had seen the only loophole--the only possible
way of meeting this terrible accusation.

He laughed; but there was a faint jangle of uneasiness in his
laughter.

"Indeed!"

"Supposing," said Jocelyn, "for one moment that there was a grain of
truth in your fabrication, who would believe you?  Who on this coast
would take your word against the word of an English gentleman?  Even
if the whole story were true, which it is not, could you prove it?
You are a liar, as well as a coward and a traitor!  Do you think
that the very servants in the stable would believe you?  Do you
think that the incident of the small-pox at Msala is forgotten?  Do
you think that all Loango, even to the boatmen on the beach, ignores
the fact that you are here in Loango now because you are afraid to
go through a savage country to the Simiacine Plateau as you are
pledged to do?  You were afraid of the small-pox once; there is
something else that you are afraid of now.  I do not know what it
is, but I will find out.  Coward!  Go!  Leave the house at once,
before I call in the stable-boys to turn you out, and never dare to
speak to me again!"

Victor Durnovo recoiled before her, conscious all the while that she
had never been so beautiful as at that moment.  But she was
something far above him--a different creation altogether.  He never
knew what drove him from that room.  It was the fear of something
that he did not understand.

He heard her close the window after him as he walked away beneath
the trees.

She stood watching him--proud, cold, terrible in her womanly anger.
Then she turned, and suddenly sank down upon the sofa, sobbing.

But fortune decreed that she should have neither time to weep nor
think.  She heard the approaching footsteps of her old servant, and
when the door was opened Jocelyn Gordon was reading a book, with her
back turned towards the window.

"That man Nala, miss, the paddle-maker, wants to see you."

"Tell him to go round to the verandah."

Jocelyn went out by the open window, and presently Nala came
grinning towards her.  He was evidently very much pleased with
himself--held himself erect, and squinted more violently than usual.

"I have been to Msala," he said, with considerable dignity of
manner.

"Yes, and what news have you?"

Nala squatted down on the chunam floor, and proceeded to unfold a
leaf.  The operation took some time.  Within the outer covering
there was a second envelope of paper, likewise secured by a string.
Finally, the man produced a small note, which showed signs of having
been read more than once.  This he handed to Jocelyn with an absurd
air of importance.

She opened the paper and read:

"To MARIE AT MSALA,--Send at once to Mr. Durnovo, informing him that
the tribes have risen and are rapidly surrounding the Plateau.  He
must return here at once with as large an armed force as he can
raise.  But the most important consideration is time.  He must not
wait for men from elsewhere, but must pick up as many as he can in
Loango and on the way up to Msala.  I reckon that we can hold out
for four months without outside assistance, but after that period we
shall be forced to surrender or to try and cut our way through
WITHOUT the Simiacine.  With a larger force we could beat back the
tribes, and establish our hold on the Plateau by force of arms.
This must be forwarded to Mr. Durnovo at once, wherever he is.  The
letter is in duplicate, sent by two good messengers, who go by
different routes.
                                   JOHN MEREDITH."

When Jocelyn looked up, dry-lipped, breathless, Nala was standing
before her, beaming with self-importance.

"Who gave you this?"

"Marie at Msala."

"Who is she?"

"Oh--Mr. Durnovo's woman at Msala.  She keeps his house."

"But this letter is for Mr. Durnovo," cried Jocelyn, whose fear made
her unreasonably angry.  "Why has he not had it?"

Nala came nearer, with upraised forefinger and explanatory palm.

"Marie tell me," he said, "that Mr. Meredith send two letters.
Marie give Mr. Durnovo one.  This--other letter."

There was a strange glitter in the girl's blue eyes--something
steely and unpleasant.

"You are sure of that?  You are quite sure that Mr. Durnovo has had
a letter like this?" she asked slowly and carefully, so that there
could be no mistake.

"That is true," answered the man.

"Have you any more news from Msala?"

Nala looked slightly hurt.  He evidently thought that he had brought
as much news as one man could be expected to carry.

"Marie has heard," he said, "that there is much fighting up in the
country."

"She has heard no particulars--nothing more than that?"

"No:  nothing."

Jocelyn Gordon rose to this occasion also.

"Can you go," she said, after a moment's thought, "to St. Paul de
Loanda for me?"

The man laughed.

"Yes," he answered simply.

"At once--now?"

"Oh, yes," with a sigh.

Already Jocelyn was writing something on a sheet of paper.

"Take this," she said, "to the telegraph office at St. Paul de
Loanda, and send it off at once.  Here is money.  You understand?  I
will pay you when you bring back the receipt.  If you have been very
quick, I will pay you well."

That same evening a second messenger started northward after Maurice
Gordon with a letter telling him to come back at once to Loango.



CHAPTER XXIV.  NEMESIS



     Take heed of still waters.

Despite his assertion to Lady Cantourne, Guy Oscard stayed on in the
gloomy house in Russell Square.  He had naturally gone thither on
his return from Africa, and during the months that followed he did
not find time to think much of his own affairs.  Millicent Chyne
occupied all his thoughts--all his waking moments.  It is marvellous
how busily employed an active-minded young lady can keep a man.

In the ill-lighted study rendered famous by the great history which
had emanated in the manuscript therefrom, Guy Oscard had interviewed
sundry great commercial experts, and a cheque for forty-eight
thousand pounds had been handed to him across the table polished
bright by his father's studious elbow.  The Simiacine was sold, and
the first portion of it spent went to buy a diamond aigrette for the
dainty head of Miss Millicent Chyne.

Guy Oscard was in the midst of the London season.  His wealth and a
certain restricted renown had soon made him popular.  He had only to
choose his society, and the selection was not difficult.  Wherever
Millicent Chyne went he went also, and to the lady's credit it must
be recorded that no one beyond herself and Guy Oscard had hitherto
noticed this fact.  Millicent was nothing if not discreet.  It was
more or less generally known that she was engaged to Jack Meredith,
who, although absent on some vaguely romantic quest of a fortune,
was not yet forgotten.  No word, however, was popularly whispered
connecting her name with that of any other swain nearer home.  Miss
Chyne was too much of a woman of the world to allow that.  But, in
the meantime, she rather liked diamond aigrettes and the suppressed
devotion of Guy Oscard.

It was the evening of a great ball, and Guy Oscard, having received
his orders and instructions, was dining alone in Russell Square,
when a telegram was handed to him.  He opened it and spread the thin
paper out upon the table-cloth.  A word from that far, wild country,
which seemed so much fitter a background to his simple bulk and
strength than the cramped ways of London society--a message from the
very heart of the dark continent--to him:

"Meredith surrounded and in danger Durnovo false come at once
Jocelyn Gordon."

Guy Oscard pushed back his chair and rose at once, as if there were
somebody waiting in the hall to see him.

"I do not want any more dinner," he said, "I am going to Africa.
Come and help me to pack my things."

He studied Bradshaw and wrote a note to Millicent Chyne.  To her he
said the same as he had said to the butler, "I am going to Africa."

There was something refreshingly direct and simple about this man.
He did not enter into long explanations.  He simply bore on in the
line he had marked out.  He rose from the table and never looked
back.  His attitude seemed to say, "I am going to Africa; kindly get
out of my way."

At three minutes to nine--that is to say, in one hour and a half--
Guy Oscard took his seat in the Plymouth express.  He had
ascertained that a Madeira boat was timed to sail from Dartmouth at
eight o'clock that evening.  He was preceded by a telegram to
Lloyd's agent at Plymouth:

"Have fastest craft available, steam up ready to put to sea to catch
the Banyan African steamer four o'clock to-morrow morning.  Expense
not to be considered."

As the train crept out into the night, the butler of the gloomy
house in Russell Square, who had finished the port, and was
beginning to feel resigned, received a second shock.  This came in
the form of a carriage and pair, followed by a ring at the bell.

The man opened the door, and his fellow servitor of an eccentric
class and generation stepped back on the door-step to let a young
lady pass into the hall.

"Mr. Oscard?" she said curtly.

"Left 'ome, miss," replied the butler, stiffly conscious of walnut-
peel on his waistcoat.

"How long ago?"

"A matter of half an hour, miss."

Millicent Chyne, whose face was drawn and white, moved farther into
the hall.  Seeing the dining-room door ajar, she passed into that
stately apartment, followed by the butler.

"Mr. Oscard sent me this note," she said, showing a crumpled paper,
"saying that he was leaving for Africa to-night.  He gives no
explanation.  Why has he gone to Africa?"

"He received a telegram while he was at dinner, miss," replied the
butler, whose knowledge of the world indicated the approach of at
least a sovereign.  "He rose and threw down his napkin, miss.  'I'm
goin' to Africa,' he says.  'Come and help me pack.'"

"Did you see the telegram--by any chance?" asked Miss Chyne.

"Well, miss, I didn't rightly read it."

Millicent had given way to a sudden panic on the receipt of Guy's
note.  A telegram calling him to Africa--calling with a voice which
he obeyed with such alacrity that he had not paused to finish his
dinner--could only mean that some disaster had happened--some
disaster to Jack Meredith.  And quite suddenly Millicent Chyne's
world was emptied of all else but Jack Meredith.  For a moment she
forgot herself.  She ran to the room where Lady Cantourne was
affixing the family jewelry on her dress, and, showing the letter,
said breathlessly that she must see Guy Oscard at once.  Lady
Cantourne, wise woman of the world that she was, said nothing.  She
merely finished her toilet, and, when the carriage was ready, they
drove round by Russell Square.

"Who was it from?" asked Millicent.

"From a person named Gordon, miss."

"And what did it say?"

"Well, miss, as I said before, I did not rightly see.  But it seems
that it said, 'Come at once.'  I saw that."

"And what else?  Be quick, please."

"I think there was mention of somebody bein' surrounded, miss.  Some
name like Denver, I think.  No!  Wait a bit; it wasn't that; it was
somebody else."

Finishing off the port had also meant beginning it, and the worthy
butler's mind was not particularly clear.

"Was there any mention of Mr. Oscard's partner, Mr.--eh--Meredith?"
asked Millicent, glancing at the clock.

"Yes, miss, there was that name, but I don't rightly remember in
what connection."

"It didn't say that he--" Millicent paused and drew in her breath
with a jerk--"was dead, or anything like that?"

"Oh, no, miss."

"Thank you.  I--am sorry we missed Mr. Oscard."

She turned and went back to Lady Cantourne, who was sitting in the
carriage.  And while she was dancing the second extra with the first
comer at four o'clock the next morning, Guy Oscard was racing out of
Plymouth Sound into the teeth of a fine, driving rain.  On the
bridge of the trembling tug-boat, by Oscard's side, stood a keen-
eyed Channel pilot, who knew the tracks of the steamers up and down
Channel as a gamekeeper knows the hare-tracks across a stubble-
field.  Moreover, the tug-boat caught the big steamer pounding down
into the grey of the Atlantic Ocean, and in due time Guy Oscard
landed on the beach at Loango.

He had the telegram still in his pocket, and he went, not to Maurice
Gordon's office, but to the bungalow.

Jocelyn greeted him with a little inarticulate cry of joy.

"I did not think that you could possibly be here so soon," she said.

"What news have you?" he asked, without pausing to explain.  He was
one of those men who are silenced by an unlimited capacity for
prompt action.

"That," she replied, handing him the note written by Jack Meredith
to Marie at Msala.

Guy Oscard read it carefully.

"Dated seven weeks last Monday--nearly two months ago," he muttered,
half to himself.

He raised his head and looked out of the window.  There were lines
of anxiety round his eyes.  Jocelyn never took her glance from his
face.

"Nearly two months ago," he repeated.

"But you will go?" she said--and something in her voice startled
him.

"Of course I will go," he replied.  He looked down into her face
with a vague question in his quiet eyes; and who knows what he saw
there?  Perhaps she was off her guard.  Perhaps she read this man
aright and did not care.

With a certain slow hesitation he laid his hand on her arm.  There
was something almost paternal in his manner which was in keeping
with his stature.

"Moreover," he went on, "I will get there in time.  I have an
immense respect for Meredith.  If he said that he could hold out for
four months, I should say that he could hold out for six.  There is
no one like Meredith, once he makes up his mind to take things
seriously."

It was not very well done, and she probably saw through it.  She
probably knew that he was as anxious as she was herself.  But his
very presence was full of comfort.  It somehow brought a change to
the moral atmosphere--a sense of purposeful direct simplicity which
was new to the West African Coast.

"I will send over to the factory for Maurice," said the girl.  "He
has been hard at work getting together your men.  If your telegram
had not come he was going up to the Plateau himself."

Oscard looked slightly surprised.  That did not sound like Maurice
Gordon.

"I believe you are almost capable of going yourself," said the big
man with a slow smile.

"If I had been a man I should have been half-way there by this
time."

"Where is Durnovo?" he asked suddenly.

"I believe he is in Loango.  He has not been to this house for more
than a fortnight; but Maurice has heard that he is still somewhere
in Loango."

Jocelyn paused.  There was an expression on Guy Oscard's face which
she rather liked, while it alarmed her.

"It is not likely," she went on, "that he will come here.  I--I
rather lost my temper with him, and said things which I imagine hurt
his feelings."

Oscard nodded gravely.

"I'm rather afraid of doing that myself," he said; "only it will not
be his feelings."

"I do not think," she replied, "that it would be at all expedient to
say or do anything at present.  He must go with you to the Plateau.
Afterwards--perhaps."

Oscard laughed quietly.

"Ah," he said, "that sounds like one of Meredith's propositions.
But he does not mean it any more than you do."

"I do mean it," replied Jocelyn quietly.  There is no hatred so
complete, so merciless, as the hatred of a woman for one who has
wronged the man she loves.  At such times women do not pause to give
fair play.  They make no allowance.

Jocelyn Gordon found a sort of fearful joy in the anger of this
self-contained Englishman.  It was an unfathomed mine of possible
punishment over which she could in thought hold Victor Durnovo.

"Nothing," she went on, "could be too mean--nothing could be mean
enough--to mete out to him in payment of his own treachery and
cowardice."

She went to a drawer in her writing-table and took from it an
almanac.

"The letter you have in your hand," she said, "was handed to Mr.
Durnovo exactly a month ago by the woman at Msala.  From that time
to this he has done nothing.  He has simply abandoned Mr. Meredith."

"He is in Loango?" inquired Oscard, with a premonitory sense of
enjoyment in his voice.

"Yes."

"Does he know that you have sent for me?"

"No," replied Jocelyn.

Guy Oscard smiled.

"I think I will go and look for him," he said.

At dusk that same evening there was a singular incident in the bar-
room of the only hotel in Loango.

Victor Durnovo was there, surrounded by a few friends of antecedents
and blood similar to his own.  They were having a convivial time of
it, and the consumption of whisky was greater than might be deemed
discreet in such a climate as that of Loango.

Durnovo was in the act of raising his glass to his lips when the
open doorway was darkened, and Guy Oscard stood before him.  The
half-breed's jaw dropped; the glass was set down again rather
unsteadily on the zinc-covered counter.

"I want you," said Oscard.

There was a little pause, an ominous silence, and Victor Durnovo
slowly followed Oscard out of the room, leaving that ominous silence
behind.

"I leave for Msala to-night," said Oscard, when they were outside,
"and you are coming with me."

"I'll see you damned first!" replied Durnovo, with a courage born of
Irish whisky.

Guy Oscard said nothing, but he stretched out his right hand
suddenly.  His fingers closed in the collar of Victor Durnovo's
coat, and that parti-coloured scion of two races found himself
feebly trotting through the one street of Loango.

"Le' go!" he gasped.

But the hand at his neck neither relinquished nor contracted.  When
they reached the beach the embarkation of the little army was going
forward under Maurice Gordon's supervision.  Victor looked at
Gordon.  He reflected over the trump card held in his hand, but he
was too skilful to play it then.



CHAPTER XXV.  TO THE RESCUE



     I must mix myself with action lest I wither by despair.

Jocelyn had not conveyed to her brother by word or hint the
accusation brought against him by Victor Durnovo.  But when he
returned home it almost seemed as if he were conscious of the
knowledge that was hers.  She thought she detected a subtle
difference in his manner towards herself--something apologetic and
humble.  This was really the result of Victor Durnovo's threat made
in the office of the factory long before.

Maurice Gordon was not the sort of man to carry through the burden
of a half-discovered secret.  It needs a special temperament for
this--one that is able to inspire fear in whomsoever it may be
necessary to hold in check--a temperament with sufficient self-
reliance and strength to play an open game steadily through to the
end.  Since Durnovo's plain-spoken threat had been uttered Gordon
had thought of little else, and it was well known that Jocelyn's
influence was all that prevented him from taking hopelessly to
drink.  When away from her at the sub-factories it is to be feared
that he gave way to the temptation.  There is nothing so wearing as
a constant suspense, a never-resting fear; and if a man knows that
both may be relieved by a slight over-indulgence he must be a strong
man indeed if he can turn aside.

Gordon betrayed himself to Jocelyn in a thousand little ways.  He
consulted her wishes, deferred to her opinion, and sought her advice
in a way which never had been his hitherto; and while both were
conscious of this difference, both were alike afraid of seeking to
explain it.

Jocelyn knew that her repulse of Victor Durnovo was only a temporary
advantage; the position could not remain long undecided.  Victor
Durnovo would have to be met sooner or later.  Each day increased
the strength of her conviction that her brother was in the power of
this man.  Whether he had really allowed himself to be dragged into
the horrors of even a slight connection with the slave-trade she
could not tell; but she knew the world well enough to recognise the
fact that Durnovo had only to make the accusation for it to be
believed by the million sensation-mongers who are always on the
alert for some new horror.  She knew that should Durnovo breathe a
word of this in the right quarter--that is to say, into the eager
journalistic ear--there would hardly be a civilised country in the
world where Maurice Gordon of Loango could dwell under his own name.
She felt that they were all living on a slumbering volcano.  It was
one of those rare cases where human life seems no longer sacred; and
this refined, educated, gentle English lady found herself face to
face with the fact that Victor Durnovo's life would be cheap at the
price of her own.

At this moment Providence, with the wisdom of which we sometimes
catch a glimpse, laid another trouble upon her shoulders.  While she
was half distracted with the thought of her brother's danger, the
news was put into her hand by the grinning Nala that Jack Meredith--
the man she openly in her own heart loved--was in an even greater
strait.

Here, at all events, was a peril that could be met, however heavy
might be the odds.  Her own danger, the horror of Maurice's crime,
the hatred for Victor Durnovo, were all swallowed up in the sudden
call to help Jack Meredith.  And Jocelyn found at least a saving
excitement in working night and day for the rescue of the man who
was to be Millicent Chyne's husband.

Maurice aided her loyally.  His influence with the natives was
great; his knowledge of the country second only to Durnovo's.
During the fortnight that elapsed between the despatch of the
telegram to Guy Oscard and the arrival of that resourceful
individual at Loango, the whole coast was astir with preparation and
excitement.  Thus it came about that Guy Oscard found a little army
awaiting him, and to Maurice Gordon was the credit given.  Victor
Durnovo simply kept out of the way.  The news that an expedition was
being got together to go to the relief of Jack Meredith never
reached him in his retreat.  But after a fortnight spent in idleness
in the neighbouring interior, he could stand the suspense no longer,
and came down into the town, to be pounced upon at once by Guy
Oscard.

As he stood on the beach near to Oscard, watching the embarkation of
the men, his feelings were decidedly mixed.  There was an immense
relief from the anxiety of the last few weeks.  He had stood on the
verge of many crimes, and had been forcibly dragged back therefrom
by the strong arm of Guy Oscard.  It had been Victor Durnovo's
intention not only to abandon Jack Meredith to his certain fate, but
to appropriate to his own use the consignment of Simiacine, valued
at sixty thousand pounds, which he had brought down to the coast.
The end of it all was, of course, the possession of Jocelyn Gordon.
The programme was simple; but, racked as he was by anxiety, weakened
by incipient disease, and paralysed by chronic fear, the
difficulties were too great to be overcome.  To be a thorough
villain one must possess, first of all, good health; secondly,
untiring energy; and thirdly, a certain enthusiasm for wrong-doing
for its own sake.  Criminals of the first standard have always loved
crime.  Victor Durnovo was not like that.  He only made use of
crime, and had no desire to cultivate it for its own sake.  To be
forcibly dragged back, therefore, into the paths of virtue was in
some ways a great relief.  The presence of Guy Oscard, also, was in
itself a comfort.  Durnovo felt that no responsibility attached
itself to him; he had entire faith in Oscard, and had only to obey.

Durnovo was not a person who suffered from too delicate a
susceptibility.  The shame of his present position did not affect
him deeply.  Indeed, he was one of those men who have no sense of
shame before certain persons; and Guy Oscard was one of those.  The
position was not in itself one to be proud of, but the half-breed
accepted it with wonderful equanimity, and presently he began to
assist in the embarkation.

It was nearly dark when the little coast steamer secured by Maurice
Gordon for the service turned her prow northward and steamed away.

"The truth is," Durnovo took an early opportunity of saying to
Oscard, "that my nerve is no longer up to this work.  I should not
care to undertake this business alone, despite my reputation on the
coast.  It is a wonderful thing how closely the nerves are allied to
the state of one's health."

"Wonderful!" acquiesced Guy Oscard, with a lack of irony which only
made the irony keener.

"I've been too long in this d----d country," exclaimed Durnovo,
"that's the fact.  I'm not the man I was."

Guy Oscard smoked for some moments in silence; then he took his pipe
from his lips.

"The only pity is," he said judicially, "that you ever undertook to
look for the Simiacine if you were going to funk it when the first
difficulty arose."

Without further comment he walked away, and entered into
conversation with the captain of the steamer.

"All right," muttered Durnovo between his teeth--"all right, my
sarcastic grand gentleman.  I'll be even with you yet."

The strange part of it was that Guy Oscard never attempted to
degrade Durnovo from his post of joint commander.  This puzzled the
half-breed sorely.  It may have been that Oscard knew men better
than his indifferent manner would have led the observer to believe.
Durnovo's was just one of those natures which in good hands might
have been turned to good account.  Too much solitude, too much
dealing with negro peoples, and, chiefly, too long a sojourn in the
demoralising atmosphere of West Africa, had made a worse man of
Victor Durnovo than Nature originally intended.  He was not wholly
bad.  Badness is, after all, a matter of comparison, and, in order
to draw correctly such a comparison, every allowance must be made
for a difference in standard.  Victor Durnovo's standard was not a
high one; that was all.  And in continuing to treat him as an equal,
and trust him as such, Guy Oscard only showed that he was a cleverer
man than the world took him to be.

In due time Msala was reached.  As the canoes suitable for up-river
traffic were by no means sufficient to transport the whole of the
expeditionary force in one journey, a division was made.  Durnovo
took charge of the advance column, journeying up to the camp from
which the long march through the forest was to begin, and sending
back the canoes for Oscard and the remainder of the force.  With
these canoes he sent back word that the hostile tribes were within a
few days' march, and that he was fortifying his camp.

This news seemed to furnish Guy Oscard with food for considerable
thought, and after some space of time he called Marie.

She came, and, standing before him with her patient dignity of mien,
awaited his communications.  She never took her eyes off the letter
in his hand.  Oscard noticed the persistency of her gaze at the
time, and remembered it again afterwards.

"Marie," he said, "I have had rather serious news from Mr. Durnovo."

"Yes?" rather breathlessly.

"It will not be safe for you to stay at Msala--you must take the
children down to Loango."

"Does he say that?" she asked, in her rapid, indistinct English.

"Who?"

"Vic--Mr. Durnovo."

"No," replied Oscard, wondering at the question.

"He does not say anything about me or the children?" persisted
Marie.

"No."

"And yet he says there is danger?"

There was a strange, angry look in her great dark eyes which Oscard
did not understand.

"He says that the tribes are within two days' march of his camp."

She gave an unpleasant little laugh.

"He does not seem to have thought of us at Msala."

"I suppose," said Oscard, folding the letter and putting it in his
pocket, "that he thinks it is my duty to do what is best for Msala.
That is why I asked you to speak to me."

Mario did not seem to be listening.  She was looking over his head
up the river, in the direction from whence the message had come, and
there was a singular hopelessness in her eyes.

"I cannot leave until he tells me to," she said doggedly.

Guy Oscard took the pipe from his lips and examined the bowl of it
attentively for a moment.

"Excuse me," he said gently, "but I insist on your leaving with the
children to-morrow.  I will send two men down with you, and will
give you a letter to Miss Gordon, who will see to your wants at
Loango."

She looked at him with a sort of wonder.

"You insist?" she said.

He raised his eyes to meet hers.

"Yes," he answered.

She bowed her head in grave submission, and made a little movement
as if to go.

"It is chiefly on account of the children," he added.

Quite suddenly she smiled, and seemed to check a sob in her throat.

"Yes," said she softly, "I know."  And she went into the house.

The next morning brought further rumours of approaching danger, and
it seemed certain that this news must have filtered through
Durnovo's fortified camp further up the river.  This time the report
was more definite.  There were Arabs leading the tribes, and rumour
further stated that an organised descent on Msala was intended.  And
yet there was no word from Durnovo--no sign to suggest that he had
even thought of securing the safety of his housekeeper and the few
aged negroes in charge of Msala.  This news only strengthened
Oscard's determination to send Marie down to the coast, and he
personally superintended their departure before taking his seat in
the canoe for the up-river voyage.  The men of his division had all
preceded him, and no one except his own boatmen knew that Msala was
to be abandoned.

There was in Guy Oscard a dogged sense of justice which sometimes
amounted to a cruel mercilessness.  When he reached the camp he
deliberately withheld from Durnovo the news that the Msala household
had left the river station.  Moreover, he allowed Victor Durnovo to
further inculpate himself.  He led him on to discuss the position of
affairs, and the half-breed displayed an intimate knowledge of the
enemy's doings.  There was only one inference to be drawn, namely,
that Victor Durnovo had abandoned his people at Msala with the same
deliberation which had characterised his cowardly faithlessness to
Jack Meredith.

Guy Oscard was a slow thinking man, although quick in action.  He
pieced all these things together.  The pieces did not seem to fit
just then--the construction was decidedly chaotic in its
architecture.  But later on the corner-stone of knowledge propped up
the edifice, and everything slipped into its place.

Despite disquieting rumours, the expedition was allowed to depart
from the river-camp unmolested.  For two days they marched through
the gloomy forest with all speed.  On the third day one of the men
of Durnovo's division captured a native who had been prowling on
their heels in the line of march.  Victor Durnovo sent captor and
prisoner to the front of the column, with a message to Oscard that
he would come presently and see what information was to be
abstracted from the captive.  At the midday halt Durnovo accordingly
joined Oscard, and the man was brought before them.  He was hardly
worthy of the name, so disease-stricken, so miserable and half-
starved was he.

At first Durnovo and he did not seem to be able to get to an
understanding at all; but presently they hit upon a dialect in which
they possessed a small common knowledge.

His news was not reassuring.  In dealing with numbers he rarely
condescended to the use of less than four figures, and his
conception of a distance was very vague.

"Ask him," said Oscard, "whether he knows that there is an
Englishman with a large force on the top of a mountain far to the
east."

Durnovo translated, and the man answered with a smile.  In reply to
some further question the negro launched into a detailed narrative,
to which Durnovo listened eagerly.

"He says," said the latter to Oscard, "that the Plateau is in
possession of the Masais.  It was taken two months ago.  The blacks
were sold as slaves; the two Englishmen were tortured to death and
their bodies burnt."

Oscard never moved a muscle.

"Ask him if he is quite sure about it."

"Quite," replied Durnovo, after questioning.  "By God! Oscard; what
a pity!  But I always knew it.  I knew it was quite hopeless from
the first."

He passed his brown hand nervously over his face, where the
perspiration stood in beads.

"Yes," said Oscard slowly; "but I think we will go on all the same."

"What!" cried Durnovo.  "Go on?"

"Yes," replied Guy Oscard; "we will go on, and if I find you trying
to desert I'll shoot you down like a rat."



CHAPTER XXVI.  IN PERIL



     He made no sign; the fires of Hell were round him,
     The Pit of Hell below.

"About as bad as they can be, sir.  That's how things is."  Joseph
set down his master's breakfast on the rough table that stood in
front of his tent and looked at Jack Meredith.

Meredith had a way of performing most of his toilet outside his
tent, and while Joseph made his discouraging report he was engaged
in buttoning his waistcoat.  He nodded gravely, but his manner was
not that of a man who fully realised his position of imminent
danger.  Some men are like this--they die without getting at all
flustered.

"There's not more nor two or three out of the whole lot that I can
put any trust in," continued Joseph.

Jack Meredith was putting on his coat.

"I know what a barrack-room mutiny is.  I've felt it in the
hatmosphere, so to speak, before now, sir."

"And what does it feel like?" inquired Jack Meredith, lightly
arranging his watch-chain.

But Joseph did not answer.  He stepped backwards into the tent and
brought two rifles.  There was no need of answer; for this came in
the sound of many voices, the clang and clatter of varied arms.

"Here they come, sir," said the soldier-servant--respectful, mindful
of his place even at this moment.

Jack Meredith merely sat down behind the little table where his
breakfast stood untouched.  He leant his elbow on the table and
watched the approach of the disorderly band of blacks.  Some ran,
some hung back, but all were armed.

In front walked a small, truculent-looking man with broad shoulders
and an aggressive head.

He planted himself before Meredith, and turning, with a wave of the
hand, to indicate his followers, said in English:

"These men--these friends of me--say they are tired of you.  You no
good leader.  They make me their leader."

He shrugged his shoulders with a hideous grin of deprecation.

"I not want.  They make me.  We go to join our friends in the
valley."

He pointed down into the valley where the enemy was encamped.

"We have agreed to take two hundred pounds for you.  Price given by
our friends in valley--"

The man stopped suddenly.  He was looking into the muzzle of a
revolver with a fixed fascination.  Jack Meredith exhibited no
haste.  He did not seem yet to have realised the gravity of the
situation.  He took very careful aim and pulled the trigger.  A
little puff of white smoke floated over their heads.  The broad-
shouldered man with the aggressive head looked stupidly surprised.
He turned towards his supporters with a pained look of inquiry, as
if there was something he did not quite understand, and then he fell
on his face and lay quite still.

Jack Meredith looked on the blank faces with a glance of urbane
inquiry.

"Has anybody else anything to say to me?" he asked.

There was a dead silence.  Some one laughed rather feebly in the
background.

"Then I think I will go on with my breakfast."

Which he accordingly proceeded to do.

One or two of the mutineers dropped away and went back to their own
quarters.

"Take it away," said Meredith, indicating the body of the dead man
with his teaspoon.

"And look here," he cried out after them, "do not let us have any
more of this nonsense!  It will only lead to unpleasantness."

Some of the men grinned.  They were not particularly respectful in
their manner of bearing away the mortal remains of their late
leader.  The feeling had already turned.

Joseph thought fit to clench matters later on in the day by a few
remarks of his own.

"That's the sort o' man," he said, more in resignation than in
anger, "that the guv'nor is.  He's quiet like and smooth-spoken, but
when he does 'it he 'its 'ard, and when he shoots he shoots mortal
straight.  Now, what I says to you Christy Minstrels is this; we're
all in the same box and we all want the same thing, although I admit
there's a bit of a difference in our complexions.  Some o' you
jokers have got a fine richness of colour on your physiognimies that
I don't pretend to emulate.  But no matter.  What you wants is to
get out of this confounded old Platter, quick time, ain't it now?--
to get down to Loango and go out on the bust, eh?"

The Christy Minstrels acquiesced.

"Then," said Joseph, "obey orders and be hanged to yer."

It had been apparent to Meredith for some weeks past that the man
Nattoo, whom he had just shot, was bent on making trouble.  His
prompt action had not, therefore, been the result of panic, but the
deliberate execution of a fore-ordained sentence.  The only question
was how to make the necessary execution most awe-inspiring and
exemplary.  The moment was well chosen, and served to strengthen,
for the time being, the waning authority of these two Englishmen
thus thrown upon their own resources in the heart of Africa.

The position was not a pleasant one.  For three months the Plateau
had been surrounded by hostile tribes, who made desultory raids from
time to time.  These, the little force on the summit was able to
repulse; but a combined attack from, say, two sides at once would
certainly have been successful.  Meredith had no reason to suppose
that his appeal for help had reached Msala, infested as the
intervening forests were by cannibal tribes.  Provisions were at a
low ebb.  There seemed to be no hope of outside aid, and
disaffection was rife in his small force.  Jack Meredith, who was no
soldier, found himself called upon to defend a weak position, with
unreliable men, for an indefinite period.

Joseph had a rough knowledge of soldiering and a very rudimentary
notion of fortification.  But he had that which served as well--the
unerring eye for covert of a marksman.  He was a dead shot at any
range, and knowing what he could hit he also knew how to screen
himself from the rifle of an enemy.

Above all, perhaps, was the quiet influence of a man who never
flinched from danger nor seemed to be in the least disconcerted by
its presence.

"It seems, sir," said Joseph to his master later in the day, "that
you've kinder stumped them.  They don't understand you."

"They must be kept in check by fear.  There is no other way,"
replied Meredith rather wearily.  Of late he had felt less and less
inclined to exert himself.

"Yes, sir.  Those sort o' men."

Meredith made no answer, and after a little pause Joseph repeated
the words significantly, if ungrammatically.

"Those sort o' men."

"What do you mean?"

"Slaves," replied Joseph sharply, touching his hat without knowing
why.

"Slaves!  What the devil are you talking about?"

The man came a little nearer.

"Those forty men--leastwise thirty-four men--that we brought from
Msala--Mr. Durnovo's men, that cultivate this 'ere Simiacine as they
call it--they're different from the rest, sir."

"Yes, of course they are.  We do not hire them direct--we hire them
from Mr. Durnovo and pay their wages to him.  They are of a
different tribe from the others--not fighting men but
agriculturists."

"Ah--" Joseph paused.  "Strange thing, sir, but I've not seen 'em
handling any of their pay yet."

"Well, that is their affair."

"Yessir."

Having unburthened himself of his suspicion, the servant retired,
shaking his head ominously.  At any other time the words just
recorded would have aroused Jack Meredith's attention, but the
singular slothfulness that seemed to be creeping over his intellect
was already acting as a clog on his mental energy.

The next morning he was unable to leave his bed, and lay all day in
a state of semi-somnolence.  Joseph explained to the men that the
leader was so disgusted with their ungrateful conduct that he would
not leave the tent.  In the evening there was a slight attack made
from the southern side.  This Joseph was able to repulse, chiefly by
his own long-range firing, assisted by a few picked rifles.  But the
situation was extremely critical.  The roll of the big war-drum
could be heard almost incessantly, rising with weird melancholy from
the forest land beneath them.

Despite difficulties the new crop of Simiacine--the second within
twelve months--had been picked, dried, and stored in cases.
Without, on the Plateau, stood the bare trees, affording no covert
for savage warfare--no screen against the deadly bullet.  The camp
was placed near one edge of the tableland, and on this exposed side
the stockade was wisely constructed of double strength.  The attacks
had hitherto been made only from this side, but Joseph knew that
anything in the nature of a combined assault would carry his defence
before it.  In his rough-and-ready way he doctored his master,
making for him such soups and strength-giving food as he could.
Once, very late in the night, when it almost seemed that the shadow
of death lay over the little tent, he pounded up some of the magic
Simiacine leaves and mixed them in the brandy which he administered
from time to time.

Before sunrise the next morning the alarm was given again, and the
little garrison was called to arms.

When Joseph left his master's tent he was convinced that neither of
them had long to live; but he was of that hard material which is
found in its very best form in the ranks and on the forecastle--men
who die swearing.  It may be very reprehensible--no doubt it is--but
it is very difficult for a plain-going man to withhold his
admiration for such as these.  It shows, at all events, that Thomas
Atkins and Jack are alike unafraid of meeting their Maker.  It is
their duty to fight either a living enemy or a cruel sea, and if a
little profanity helps them to their duty, who are we that we may
condemn them?

So Joseph went out with a rifle in each hand and a fine selection of
epithets on his tongue.

"Now, you devils," he said, "we're just going to fight like hell."

And what else he said it booteth little.

He took his station on the roof of a hut in the centre of the little
stockade, and from thence he directed the fire of his men.
Crouching beneath him he had a disabled native who loaded each rifle
in turn; and just by way of encouraging the others he picked off the
prominent men outside the stockade with a deadly steadiness.  By way
of relieving the tension he indulged in an occasional pleasantry at
the expense of the enemy.

"Now," he would say, "there's a man lookin' over that bush with a
green feather on his nut.  It's a mistake to wear green feathers; it
makes a body so conspicuous."

And the wearer of the obnoxious feather would throw up his arms and
topple backwards, down the hill.

If Joseph detected anything like cowardice or carelessness he
pointed his rifle with a threatening frown towards the culprit, with
instant effect.  Presently, however, things began to get more
serious.  This was not the sudden assault of a single chief, but an
organised attack.  Before long Joseph ceased to smile.  By sunrise
he was off the roof, running from one weak point to another,
encouraging, threatening, fighting, and swearing very hard.  More
than once the enemy reached the stockade, and--ominous sign--one or
two of their dead lay inside the defence.

"Fight, yer devils--fight!" he cried in a hoarse whisper, for his
voice had given way.  "Hell--give 'em hell!"

He was everywhere at once, urging on his men, kicking them, pushing
them, forcing them up to the stockade.  But he saw the end.  Half-
dazed, the blacks fought on in silence.  The grim African sun leapt
up above the distant line of forest and shone upon one of the finest
sights to be seen on earth--a soldier wounded, driven, desperate,
and not afraid.

In the midst of it a hand was laid on Joseph's shoulder.

"There," cried a voice, "THAT corner.  See to it."

Without looking round, Joseph obeyed, and the breached corner was
saved.  He only knew that his master, who was almost dead, had come
to life again.  There was no time for anything else.

For half an hour it was a question of any moment.  Master and man
were for the time being nothing better than madmen, and the fighting
frenzy is wildly infectious.

At last there was a pause.  The enemy fell back, and in the
momentary silence the sound of distant firing reached the ears of
the little band of defenders.

"What's that?" asked Meredith sharply.  He looked like one risen
from the dead.

"Fighting among themselves," replied Joseph, who was wiping blood
and grime from his eyes.

"Then one of them is fighting with an Express rifle."

Joseph listened.

"By God!" he shouted, "by God, Mer--sir, we're saved!"

The enemy had apparently heard the firing too.  Perhaps they also
recognised the peculiar sharp "smack" of the Express rifle amidst
the others.  There was a fresh attack--an ugly rush of reckless men.
But the news soon spread that there was firing in the valley and the
sound of a white man's rifle.  The little garrison plucked up heart,
and the rifles, almost too hot to hold, dealt death around.

They held back the savages until the sound of the firing behind them
was quite audible even amidst the heavy rattle of the musketry.

Then suddenly the firing ceased--the enemy had divided and fled.
For a few moments there was a strange, tense silence.  Then a voice-
-an English voice--cried:

"Come on!"

The next moment Guy Oscard stood on the edge of the Plateau.  He
held up both arms as a signal to those within the stockade to cease
firing, and then he came forward, followed by a number of blacks and
Durnovo.

The gate was rapidly disencumbered of its rough supports and thrown
open.

Jack Meredith stood in the aperture, holding out his hand.

"It's all right; it's--all right," he said.

Oscard did not seem to take so cheerful a view of matters.  He
scrutinised Meredith's face with visible anxiety.

Then suddenly Jack lurched up against his rescuer, grabbing at him
vaguely.

In a minute Oscard was supporting him back towards his tent.

"It's all right, you know," explained Jack Meredith very gravely; "I
am a bit weak--that is all.  I am hungry--haven't had anything to
eat for some time, you know."

"Oh, yes," said Oscard shortly; "I know all about it."



CHAPTER XXVII.  OFF DUTY



     Chacun de vous peut-etre en son coeur solitaire
     Sous des ris passagers etouffe un long regret.

"Good-bye to that damned old Platter--may it be for ever!"  With
this valedictory remark Joseph shook his fist once more at the
unmoved mountain and resumed his march.

"William," he continued gravely to a native porter who walked at his
side and knew no word of English, "there is some money that is not
worth the making."

The man grinned from ear to ear and nodded with a vast appreciation
of what experience taught him to take as a joke.

"Remember that, my black diamond, and just mind the corner of your
mouth don't get hitched over yer ear," said Joseph, patting him with
friendly cheerfulness.

Then he made his way forward to walk by the side of his master's
litter and encourage the carriers with that mixture of light
badinage and heavy swearing which composed his method of dealing
with the natives.

Three days after the arrival of the rescuing force at the Plateau,
Guy Oscard had organised a retreating party, commanded by Joseph, to
convey Jack Meredith down to the coast.  He knew enough of medicine
to recognise the fact that this was no passing indisposition, but a
thorough breakdown in health.  The work and anxiety of the last
year, added to the strange disquieting breath of the Simiacine
grove, had brought about a serious collapse in the system which only
months of rest and freedom from care could repair.

Before the retreating column was ready to march it was discovered
that the hostile tribes had finally evacuated the country; which
deliverance was brought about not by Oscard's blood-stained track
through the forest, not by the desperate defence of the Plateau, but
by the whisper that Victor Durnovo was with them.  Truly a man's
reputation is a strange thing.

And this man--the mighty warrior whose name was as good as an army
in Central Africa--went down on his knees one night to Guy Oscard,
imploring him to abandon the Simiacine Plateau, or at all events to
allow him to go down to Loango with Meredith and Joseph.

"No," said Oscard; "Meredith held this place for us when he could
have left it safely.  He has held it for a year.  It is our turn
now.  We will hold it for him.  I am going to stay, and you have to
stay with me."

For Jack Meredith, life was at this time nothing but a constant,
never-ceasing fatigue.  When Oscard helped him into the rough litter
they had constructed for his comfort, he laid his head on the
pillow, overcome with a dead sleep.

"Good-bye, old chap," said Oscard, patting him on the shoulder.

"G'bye;" and Jack Meredith turned over on his side as if he were in
bed, drew up the blanket, and closed his eyes.  He did not seem to
know where he was, and, what was worse, he did not seem to care.
Oscard gave the signal to the bearers, and the march began.  There
is something in the spring of human muscles unlike any other motive
power; the power of thought may be felt even on the pole of a
litter, and one thing that modern invention can never equal is the
comfort of being carried on the human shoulder.  The slow swinging
movement came to be a part of Jack Meredith's life--indeed, life
itself seemed to be nothing but a huge journey thus peacefully
accomplished.  Through the flapping curtains an endless procession
of trees passed before his half-closed eyes.  The unintelligible
gabble of the light-hearted bearers of his litter was all that
reached his ears.  And ever at his side was Joseph--cheerful,
indefatigable, resourceful.  There was in his mind one of the
greatest happinesses of life--the sense of something satisfactorily
accomplished--the peacefulness that comes when the necessity for
effort is past and left behind--that lying down to rest which must
surely be something like Death in its kindest form.

The awe inspired by Victor Durnovo's name went before the little
caravan like a moral convoy and cleared their path.  Thus guarded by
the name of a man whom he hated, Jack Meredith was enabled to pass
through a savage country literally cast upon a bed of sickness.

In due course the river was reached, and the gentle swing of the
litter was changed for the smoother motion of the canoe.  And it was
at this period of the journey--in the forced restfulness of body
entailed--that Joseph's mind soared to higher things, and he
determined to write a letter to Sir John.

He was, he admitted even to himself, no great penman, and his
epistolary style tended, perhaps, more to the forcible than to the
finished.

"Somethin'," he reflected, "that'll just curl his back hair for 'im;
that's what I'll write 'im."

Msala had been devastated, and it was within the roofless walls of
Durnovo's house that Joseph finally wrote out laboriously the
projected capillary invigorator.

"HONOURED SIR" (he wrote),--"Trusting you will excuse the liberty, I
take up my pen to advise you respectfully"--while writing this word
Joseph closed his left eye--"that my master is taken seriously
worse.  Having been on the sick-list now for a matter of five weeks,
he just lies on his bed as weak as a new-born babe, as the sayin'
is, and doesn't take no notice of nothing.  I have succeeded in
bringing him down to the coast, which we hope to reach to-morrow,
and when we get to Loango--a poor sort of place--I shall at once
obtain the best advice obtainable--that is to be had.  Howsoever, I
may have to send for it; but money being no object to either master
or me, respectfully I beg to say that every care will be took.
Master having kind friends at Loango, I have no anxiety as to the
future, but, honoured sir, it has been a near touch in the past--
just touch and go, so to speak.  Not being in a position to form a
estimate of what is the matter with master, I can only respectfully
mention that I take it to be a general kerlapse of the system,
brought on, no doubt, by too long a living in the unhealthy platters
of Central Africa.  When I gets him to Loango I shall go straight to
the house of Mr. and Miss Gordon, where we stayed before, and with
no fear but what we will be received with every kindness and the
greatest hospitality.  Thank God, honoured sir, I've kept my health
and strength wonderful, and am therefore more able to look after
master.  When we reach Loango I shall ask Miss Gordon kindly to
write to you, sir, seeing as I have no great facility with my pen.--
I am, honoured sir, your respectful servant to command,
                        "JOSEPH ATKINSON,
                           "Late Corporal 217th Regt."

There were one or two round splashes on the paper suggestive,
perhaps, of tears, but not indicative of those useless tributes.
The truth was that it was a hot evening, and Joseph had, as he
confessed, but little facility with the pen.

"There," said the scribe, with a smile of intense satisfaction.
"That will give the old 'un beans.  Not that I don't respect him--oh
no."

He paused, and gazed thoughtfully at the evening star.

"Strange thing--life," he muttered, "uncommon strange.  Perhaps the
old 'un is right; there's no knowin'.  The ways o' Providence ARE
mysterious--onnecessarily mysterious to my thinkin'."

And he shook his head at the evening star, as if he was not quite
pleased with it.

With a feeling of considerable satisfaction, Joseph approached the
Bungalow at Loango three days later.  The short sea voyage had
somewhat revived Meredith, who had been desirous of walking up from
the beach, but after a short attempt had been compelled to enter the
spring cart which Joseph had secured.

Joseph walked by the side of this cart with an erect carriage, and a
suppressed importance suggestive of ambulance duty in the old days.

As the somewhat melancholy cortege approached the house, Meredith
drew back the dusky brown holland curtain and looked anxiously out.
Nor were Joseph's eyes devoid of expectation.  He thought that
Jocelyn would presently emerge from the flower-hung trellis of the
verandah; and he had rehearsed over and over again a neat,
respectful speech, explanatory of his action in bringing a sick man
to the house.

But the hanging fronds of flowers and leaf remained motionless, and
the cart drove, unchallenged, round to the principal door.

A black servant--a stranger--held the handle, and stood back
invitingly.  Supported by Joseph's arm, Jack Meredith entered.  The
servant threw open the drawing-room door; they passed in.  The room
was empty.  On the table lay two letters, one addressed to Guy
Oscard, the other to Jack Meredith.  Meredith felt suddenly how weak
he was, and sat wearily down on the sofa.

"Give me that letter," he said.

Joseph looked at him keenly.  There was something forlorn and cold
about the room--about the whole house--with the silent, smiling,
black servants and the shaded windows.

Joseph handed the letter as desired, and then, with quick practised
hands, he poured a small quantity of brandy into the cup of his
flask.  "Drink this first, sir," he said.

Jack Meredith fumbled rather feebly at the letter.  It was
distinctly an effort to him to tear the paper.

"MY DEAR MEREDITH" (he read),--"Just a line to tell you that the
Bungalow and its contents are at your service.  Jocelyn and I are
off home for two months' change of air.  I have been a bit seedy.  I
leave this at the Bungalow, and we shall feel hurt if you do not
make the house your home whenever you happen to come down to Loango.
I have left a similar note for Oscard, in whose expedition to your
relief I have all faith.--Yours ever,
                               "MAURICE GORDON."

"Here," said Meredith to his servant, "you may as well read it for
yourself."

He handed the letter to Joseph and leant back with a strange
rapidity of movement on the sofa.  As he lay there with his eyes
closed he looked remarkably like a dead man.

While Joseph was reading the letter the sound of bare feet on the
cocoa-leaf matting made him turn round.

A small, rotund white figure of a child, clad in a cotton garment,
stood in the doorway, finger in mouth, gazing gravely at the two
occupants of the room.

"Nestorius!" exclaimed Joseph, "by all that's holy!  Well, I AM glad
to see you, my son.  Where's Mammy, eh?"

Nestorius turned gravely round and pointed a small dusky finger in
the direction of the servants' quarters.  Then he replaced the
finger between his lips and came slowly forward to examine Meredith,
who had opened his eyes.

"Well, stout Nestorius.  This is a bad case, is it not?" said the
sick man.

"Bad case," repeated Nestorius mechanically.

At that moment Marie came into the room, dignified, gentle, self-
possessed.

"Ah, missis," said Joseph, "I'm glad to see you.  You're wanted
badly, and that's the truth.  Mr. Meredith's not at all well."

Marie bowed gravely.  She went to Meredith's side, and looked at him
with a smile that was at once critical and encouraging.  Nestorius
holding on to her skirts looked up to her face, and seeing the
smile, smiled too.  He went further.  He turned and smiled at Joseph
as if to make things pleasant all round.

Marie stooped over the sofa and her clever dusky fingers moved to
the cushions.

"You will be better in bed," she said; "I will get Mr. Gordon's room
made ready for you--yes?"

There are occasions when the mere presence of a woman supplies a
distinct want.  She need not be clever, or very capable; she need
have no great learning or experience.  She merely has to be a woman-
-the more womanly the better.  There are times when a man may
actually be afraid for the want of a woman, but that is usually for
the want of one particular woman.  There may be a distinct sense of
fear--a fear of life and its possibilities--which is nothing else
than a want--the want of a certain voice, the desire to be touched
by a certain hand, the carping necessity (which takes the physical
form of a pressure deep down in the throat) for the sympathy of that
one person whose presence is different from the presence of other
people.  And failing that particular woman another can, in a certain
degree, by her mere womanliness, stay the pressure of the want.

This was what Marie did for Jack Meredith, by coming into the room
and bending over him and touching his cushions with a sort of
deftness and savoir-faire.  He did not define his feelings--he was
too weak for that; but he had been conscious, for the first time in
his life, of a distinct sense of fear when he read Maurice Gordon's
letter.  Of course he had thought of the possibility of death many
times during the last five weeks; but he had no intention of dying.
He set the fact plainly before himself that with care he might
recover, but that at any moment some symptom could declare itself
which would mean death.

Both he and Joseph had, without making mention of it to each other,
counted entirely on finding the Gordons at home.  It was more than a
disappointment--very much more for Jack Meredith.  But in real life
we do not analyse our feelings as do men in books--more especially
books of the mawko-religious tenor written by ladies.  Jack Meredith
only knew that he felt suddenly afraid of dying when he read Maurice
Gordon's letter, and that when the half-caste woman came into the
room and gently asserted her claim, as it were, to supreme authority
in this situation, the fear seemed to be allayed.

Joseph, with something bright glistening in his keen, quick eyes,
stood watching his face as if for a verdict.

"You are tired," she said, "after your long journey."

Then she turned to Joseph with that soft, natural way which seems to
run through the negro blood, however much it may be diluted.

"Help Mr. Meredith," she said, "to Mr. Gordon's room.  I will go at
once and see that the bed is prepared."



CHAPTER XXVIII.  A SLOW RECOVERY



     We dare not let our tears flow, lest, in truth,
     They fall upon our work which must be done.

"They was just in time," said Joseph pleasantly to Marie that same
evening, when Jack Meredith had been made comfortable for the night,
and there was time to spare for supper.

"Ah!" replied the woman, who was busy with the supper-table.

Joseph glanced at her keenly.  The exclamation not only displayed a
due interest, but contained many questions.  He stretched out his
legs and wagged his head sapiently.

"And no mistake!" he said.  "They timed it almost to the minute.  We
had sort of beaten them back for the time bein'.  Mr. Meredith had
woke up sudden, as I told you, and came into the thick of the melee,
as we say in the service.  Then we heard the firin' in the distance
and the 'splat' of Mr. Oscard's Express rifle.  I just turns, like
this 'ere, my head over me shoulder, quite confidential, and I says,
'Good Lord, I thank yer.'  I'm no hand at tracts and Bible-readin's,
but I'm not such a blamed fool, Mistress Marie, as to think that
this 'ere rum-go of a world made itself.  No, not quite.  So I just
put in a word, quiet-like, to the Creator."

Marie was setting before him such luxuries as she could command.
She nodded encouragingly.

"Go on," she said.  "Tell me!"

"Cheddar cheese," he said parenthetically, with an appreciative
sniff.  "Hav'n't seen a bit o' that for a long time!  Well, then, up
comes Mr. Oscard as cool as a cowcumber, and Mr. Meredith he gives a
sort of little laugh and says, 'Open that gate.'  Quite quiet, yer
know.  No high falutin' and potry and that.  A few minutes before he
had been fightin' and cussin' and shoutin', just like any Johnny in
the ranks.  Then he calms down and wipes the blood off'n his hand on
the side of his pants, and says, 'Open that gate.'  That's a nice
piece of butter you've got there, mistress.  Lord! it's strange I
never missed all them things."

"Bring your chair to the table," said Marie, "and begin.  You are
hungry--yes?"

"Hungry ain't quite the word."

"You will have some mutton--yes?  And Mr. Durnovo, where was he?"

Joseph bent over his plate, with elbows well out, wielding his knife
and fork with a more obvious sense of enjoyment than usually obtains
in the politer circles.

"Mr. Durnovo," he said, with one quick glance towards her.  "Oh, he
was just behind Mr. Oscard.  And he follows 'im, and we all shake
hands just as if we was meeting in the Row, except that most of our
hands was a bit grimy and sticky-like with blood and grease off'n
the cartridges."

"And," said Marie, in an indirectly interrogative way, as she helped
him to a piece of sweet potato, "you were glad to see them, Mr.
Oscard and Mr. Durnovo--yes?"

"Glad ain't quite the word," replied Joseph, with his mouth full.

"And they were not hurt or--ill?"

"Oh, no!" returned Joseph, with another quick glance.  "They were
all right.  But I don't like sitting here and eatin' while you don't
take bit or sup yourself.  Won't you chip in, Mistress Marie?  Come
now, do."

With her deep, patient smile she obeyed him, eating little and
carelessly, like a woman in some distress.

"When will they come down to Loango?" she asked suddenly, without
looking at him.

"Ah! that I can't tell you.  We left quite in a hurry, as one may
say, with nothin' arranged.  Truth is I think we all feared that the
guv'nor had got his route.  He looked very like peggin' out, and
that's the truth.  Howsomever, I hope for the best now."

Marie said nothing, merely contenting herself with attending to his
wants, which were numerous and frequent.

"That God-forsaken place, Msala," said Joseph presently, "has been
rather crumpled up by the enemy."

"They have destroyed it--yes?"

"That is so.  You're right, they 'ave destroyed it."

Marie gave a quick little sigh--one of those sighs which the
worldly-wise recognise at once.

"You don't seem over-pleased," said Joseph.

"I was very happy there," she answered.

Joseph leant back in his chair, fingering reflectively his beer-
glass.

"I'm afraid, mistress," he said half-shyly, "that your life can't
have been a very happy one.  There's some folk that is like that--
through no fault of their own, too, so far as our mortal vision, so
to speak, can reckon it up."

"I have my troubles, like other people," she answered softly.

Joseph inclined his head to one side and collected his breadcrumbs
thoughtfully.

"Always seems to me," he said, "that your married life can't have
been so happy-like as--well, as one might say, you deserved, missis.
But then you've got them clever little kids.  I DO like them little
kids wonderful.  Not bein' a marrying man myself, I don't know much
of such matters.  But I've always understood that little 'uns--
especially cunning little souls like yours--go a long way towards
makin' up a woman's happiness."

"Yes," she murmured, with her slow smile.

"Been dead long--their pa?"

"He is not dead."

"Oh--beg pardon."

And Joseph drowned a very proper confusion in bitter beer.

"He has only ceased to care about me--or his children," explained
Marie.

Joseph shook his head; but whether denial of such a possibility was
intended, or an expression of sympathy, he did not explain.

"I hope," he said, with a somewhat laboured change of manner, "that
the little ones are in good health."

"Yes, thank you."

Joseph pushed back his chair with considerable vigour, and passed
the back of his hand convivially across his moustache.

"A square meal I call that," he said, with a pleasant laugh, "and I
thank you kindly."

With a tact which is sometimes found wanting inside a better coat
than he possessed, Joseph never again referred to that part of
Marie's life which seemed to hang like a shadow over her being.
Instead, he set himself the task of driving away the dull sense of
care which was hers, and he succeeded so well that Jack Meredith,
lying between sleep and death in his bedroom, sometimes heard a new
strange laugh.

By daybreak next morning Joseph was at sea again, steaming south in
a coasting-boat towards St. Paul de Loanda.  He sent off a telegram
to Maurice Gordon in England, announcing the success of the Relief
Expedition, and then proceeded to secure the entire services of a
medical man.  With this youthful disciple of AEsculapius he returned
forthwith to Loango and settled down with characteristic energy to
nurse his master.

Meredith's progress was lamentably slow, but still it was progress,
and in the right direction.  The doctor, who was wise in the strange
maladies of the West Coast, stayed for two days, and promised to
return once a week.  He left full instructions, and particularly
impressed upon the two nurses the fact that the recovery would
necessarily be so slow that their unpractised eyes could hardly
expect to trace its progress.

It is just possible that Meredith could at this time have had no
better nurse than Joseph.  There was a military discipline about the
man's method which was worth more than much feminine persuasion.

"Beef tea, sir," he would announce with a face of wood, for the
sixth time in one day.

"What, again?  No, hang it!  I can't."

"Them's my orders, sir," was Joseph's invariable reply, and he was
usually in a position to produce documentary confirmation of his
statement.  The two men--master and servant--had grown so accustomed
to the military discipline of a besieged garrison that it did not
seem to occur to them to question the doctor's orders.

Nestorius--small, stout, and silent--was a frequenter of the sick-
room, by desire of the invalid.  After laboriously toiling up the
shallow stairs--a work entailing huge effort of limbs and chin--he
would stump gravely into the room without any form of salutation.
There are some great minds above such trifles.  His examination of
the patient was a matter of some minutes.  Then he would say, "Bad
case," with the peculiar mechanical diction that was his--the words
that Meredith had taught him on the evening of his arrival.  After
making his diagnosis Nestorius usually proceeded to entertain the
patient with a display of his treasures for the time being.  These
were not in themselves of great value:  sundry pebbles, a trouser-
button, two shells, and a glass stopper, formed, as it were, the
basis of his collection, which was increased or diminished according
to circumstances.  Some of these he named; others were exhibited
with a single adjective, uttered curtly, as between men who required
no great tale of words wherewith to understand each other.  A few
were considered to be of sufficient value and importance to tell
their own story and make their way in the world thereupon.  He held
these out with a face of grave and contemplative patronage.

"Never, Nestorius," Meredith would say gravely, "in the course of a
long and varied experience, have I seen a Worcester-sauce stopper of
such transcendent beauty."

Sometimes Nestorius clambered on to the bed, when the mosquito-
curtains were up, and rested from his labours--a small curled-up
form, looking very comfortable.  And then, when his mother's soft
voice called him, he was wont to gather up his belongings and take
his departure.  On the threshold he always paused, finger in mouth,
to utter a valedictory "Bad case" before making his way downstairs
with a shadowy, mystic smile.

Kind neighbours called, and well-meaning but mistaken dissenting
missionaries left religious works of a morbid nature, eminently
suitable to the sick-bed; but Joseph, Marie, and Nestorius were the
only three who had free access to the quiet room.

And all the while the rain fell--night and day, morning, noon, and
evening--as if the flood-gates had been left open by mistake.

"Sloobrious, no doubt," said Joseph, "but blamed depressing."

And he shook his head at the lowering sky with a tolerant smile,
which was his way of taking Providence to task.

"Do y' know what I would like, missis?" he asked briskly of Marie
one evening.

"No."

"Well, I'd like to clap my eyes on Miss Gordon, just a stepping in
at that open door--that's what we want.  That sawbones feller is
right when he says the progress will be slow.  Slow!  Slow ain't
quite the word.  No more ain't progress the word--that's my opinion.
He just lies on that bed, and the most he can do is to skylark a bit
with Nestorius.  He don't take no interest in nothin', least of all
in his victuals--and a man's in a bad way when he takes no interest
in his victuals.  Yes, I'll take another pancake, thankin' you
kindly.  You've got a rare light hand for pancakes.  Rare--rare
ain't quite the word."

"But what could Miss Gordon do?" asked Marie.

"Well, she could kinder interest him in things--don't you see?  Him
and I we ain't got much in common--except his clothes and that
confounded beef-tea and slushin's.  And then there's Mr. Gordon.
He's a good hearty sort, he is.  Comes galamphin' into the room,
kickin' a couple of footstools and upsettin' things promiscuous.  It
cheers a invalid up, that sort o' thing."

Marie laughed in an awkward, unwonted way.

"But it do, missis," pursued Joseph, "wonderful; and I can't do it
myself.  I tried the other day, and master only thought I'd been
drinkin'."

"You are impatient," said Marie.  "He is better, I know.  I can see
it.  You see it yourself--yes?"

"A bit--just a bit.  But he wants some one of his own station in
life, without offence, Mistress Marie.  Some one as will talk with
him about books and evenin' parties and things.  And--" he paused
reflectively, "and Miss Gordon would do that."

There was a little silence, during which another pancake met its
fate.

"You know," said Joseph, with sudden confidence, "he's goin' to
marry a young lady at home, in London; a young lady of fashion, as
they say--one of them that's got one smile for men and another for
women.  Not his sort, as I should have thought myself, knowin' him
as I do."

"Then why does he marry her?" asked Marie.

"Ah!"  Joseph rose, and stretched out his arms with a freedom from
restraint learnt in the barrack-room.  "There you're asking me more
than I can tell you.  I suppose--it's the old story--I suppose he
thinks that she is his sort."



CHAPTER XXIX.  A CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE



     The pride that prompts the bitter jest.

A space had with some difficulty been cleared at the upper end of an
aristocratic London drawing-room, and with considerable enthusiasm
Miss Fitzmannering pranced into the middle of it.  Miss
Fitzmannering had kindly allowed herself to be persuaded to do "only
a few steps" of her celebrated skirt-dance.  Miss Eline
Fitzmannering officiated at the piano, and later on, while they were
brushing their hair, they quarrelled because she took the time too
quickly.

The aristocratic assembly looked on with mixed feelings, and faces
suitable to the same.  The girls who could not skirt-dance yawned
behind their fans--gauze preferred, because the Fitzmannerings could
see through gauze if they could not see through anything else.  The
gifted products of fashionable Brighton schools, who could in their
own way make exhibitions of themselves also, wondered who on earth
had taught Miss Fitzmannering; and the servants at the door felt
ashamed of themselves without knowing why.

Miss Fitzmannering had practised that skirt-dance--those few steps--
religiously for the last month.  She had been taught those same
contortions by a young lady in THE profession, whom even Billy
Fitzmannering raised his eyebrows at.  And every one knows that
Billy is not particular.  The performance was not graceful, and the
gentlemen present, who knew more about dancing--skirt or otherwise--
than they cared to admit, pursed up the corners of their mouths and
looked straight in front of them--afraid to meet the eye of some
person or persons undefined.

But the best face there was that of Sir John Meredith.  He was not
bored, as were many of his juniors--at least, he did not look it.
He was neither shocked nor disgusted, as apparently were some of his
contemporaries--at least, his face betrayed neither of those
emotions.  He was keenly interested--suavely attentive.  He followed
each spasmodic movement with imperturbably pleasant eyes.

"My dear young lady," he said, with one of his courtliest bows, when
at last Miss Fitzmannering had had enough of it, "you have given us
a great treat--you have, indeed."

"A most unique performance," he continued, turning gravely to Lady
Cantourne, by whose side he had been standing; and, strange to say,
her ladyship made a reproving little movement of the lips, and
tapped his elbow surreptitiously, as if he were misbehaving himself.

He offered his arm with a murmur of refreshments, and she accepted.

"Well," he said, when they were alone, or nearly so, "do you not
admit that it was a most unique performance?"

"Hush!" replied the lady, either because she was a woman or because
she was a woman of the world.  "The poor girl cannot help it.  She
is forced into it by the exigencies of society, and her mother.  It
is not entirely her fault."

"It will be entirely my fault," replied Sir John, "if I see her do
it again."

"It does not matter about a man," said Lady Cantourne, after a
little pause; "but a woman cannot afford to make a fool of herself.
She ought never to run the risk of being laughed at.  And yet I am
told that they teach that elegant accomplishment at fashionable
schools."

"Which proves that the schoolmistress is a knave as well as--the
other thing."

They passed down the long room together--a pattern, to the younger
generation, of politeness and mutual respect.  And that which one or
other did not see was not worth comprehension.

"Who," asked Sir John, when they had passed into the other room,
"who is the tall fair girl who was sitting near the fireplace?"

He did not seem to think it necessary to ask Lady Cantourne whether
she had noticed the object of his curiosity.

"I was just wondering," replied Lady Cantourne, stirring her tea
comfortably.  "I will find out.  She interests me.  She is different
from the rest."

"And she does not let it be seen--that is what I like," said Sir
John.  "The great secret of success in the world is to be different
from other people and conceal the fact."  He stood his full height,
and looked round with blinking, cynical eyes.  "They are all very
like each other, and they fail to conceal that."

"I dislike a person," said Lady Cantourne in her tolerant way, "who
looks out of place anywhere.  That girl would never look so."

Sir John was still looking round, seeing all that there was to be
seen, and much that was not intended for that purpose.

"Some of them," he said, "will look self-conscious in heaven."

"I hope so," said Lady Cantourne quietly; "that is the least one may
expect."

"I trust that there will be no skirt--"  Sir John broke off
suddenly, with a quick smile.  "I was about to be profane," he said,
taking her cup.  "But I know you do not like it."

She looked up at him with a wan little smile.  She was wondering
whether he remembered as well as she did that half an ordinary
lifetime lay between that moment and the occasion when she reproved
his profanity.

"Come," she said, rising, "take me back to the drawing-room, and I
will make somebody introduce me to the girl."

Jocelyn Gordon, sitting near the fire, talking to a white-moustached
explorer, and listening good-naturedly to a graphic account of
travels which had been put in the background by more recent
wanderers, was somewhat astounded when the hostess came up to her a
few minutes later, and introduced a stout little lady, with
twinkling, kindly eyes, by the name of Lady Cantourne.  She had
heard vaguely of Lady Cantourne as a society leader of the old
school, but had no clue to this obviously intentional introduction.

"You are wondering," said Lady Cantourne, when she had sent the
explorer on his travels elsewhere in order that she might have his
seat--"you are wondering why I asked to know you."

She looked into the girl's face with bright, searching eyes.

"I am afraid I was," admitted Jocelyn.

"I have two reasons:  one vulgar--the other sentimental.  The vulgar
reason was curiosity.  I like to know people whose appearance
prepossesses me.  I am an old woman--no, you need not shake your
head, my dear! not with me--I am almost a very old woman, but not
quite; and all my life I have trusted in appearances.  And," she
paused, studying the lace of her fan, "I suppose I have not made
more mistakes than other people.  I have always made a point of
trying to get to know people whose appearance I like.  That is my
vulgar reason.  You do not mind my saying so--do you?"

Jocelyn laughed with slightly heightened colour, which Lady
Cantourne noted with an appreciative little nod.

"My other reason is that, years ago at school, I knew a girl who was
very like you.  I loved her intensely--for a short time--as girls do
at school, you know.  Her name was Treseaton--the Honourable Julia
Treseaton."

"My mother!" said Jocelyn eagerly.

"I thought so.  I did not think so at first, but when you spoke I
was certain of it.  She had a way with her lips.  I am afraid she is
dead."

"Yes; she died nearly twenty-five years ago in Africa."

"Africa--whereabouts in Africa?"

Then suddenly Jocelyn remembered where she had heard Lady
Cantourne's name.  It had only been mentioned to her once.  And this
was the aunt with whom Millicent Chyne lived.  This cheery little
lady knew Jack Meredith and Guy Oscard; and Millicent Chyne's daily
life was part of her existence.

"The West Coast," she answered vaguely.  She wanted time to think--
to arrange things in her mind.  She was afraid of the mention of
Jack's name in the presence of this woman of the world.  She did not
mind Maurice or Guy Oscard--but it was different with a woman.  She
could hardly have said a better thing, because it took Lady
Cantourne some seconds to work out in her mind where the West Coast
of Africa was.

"That is the unhealthy coast, is it not?" asked her ladyship.

"Yes."

Jocelyn hardly heard the question.  She was looking round with a
sudden, breathless eagerness.  It was probable that Millicent Chyne
was in the rooms; and she never doubted that she would know her
face.

"And I suppose you know that part of the world very well?" said Lady
Cantourne, who had detected a change in her companion's manner.

"Oh yes."

"Have you ever heard of a place called Loango?"

"Oh yes.  I live there."

"Indeed, how very interesting!  I am very much interested in Loango
just now, I must tell you.  But I did not know that anybody lived
there."

"No one does by choice," explained Jocelyn.  "My father was a judge
on the Coast, and since his death my brother Maurice has held an
appointment at Loango.  We are obliged to live there for eight
months in the twelve."

She knew it was coming.  But, as chance would have it, it was easier
than she could have hoped.  For some reason Lady Cantourne looked
straight in front of her when she asked the question.

"Then you have, no doubt, met a friend of mine--Mr. Meredith?
Indeed, two friends; for I understand that Guy Oscard is associated
with him in this wonderful discovery."

"Oh yes," replied Jocelyn, with a carefully modulated interest, "I
have met them both.  Mr. Oscard lunched with us shortly before we
left Africa."

"Ah, that was when he disappeared so suddenly.  We never got quite
to the base of that affair.  He left at a moment's notice on receipt
of a telegram or something, only leaving a short and somewhat vague
note for my--for us.  He wrote from Africa, I believe, but I never
heard the details.  I imagine Jack Meredith was in some difficulty.
But it is a wonderful scheme this, is it not?  They are certain to
make a fortune, I understand."

"So people say," replied Jocelyn.  It was a choice to tell all--to
tell as much as she herself knew--or nothing.  So she told nothing.
She could not say that she had been forced by a sudden breakdown of
her brother's health to leave Loango while Jack Meredith's fate was
still wrapped in doubt.  She could not tell Lady Cantourne that all
her world was in Africa--that she was counting the days until she
could go back thither.  She could not lift for a second the veil
that hid the aching, restless anxiety in her heart, the life-
absorbing desire to know whether Guy Oscard had reached the Plateau
in time.  Her heart was so sore that she could not even speak of
Jack Meredith's danger.

"How strange," said Lady Cantourne, "to think that you are actually
living in Loango, and that you are the last person who has spoken to
Jack Meredith!  There are two people in this house to-night who
would like to ask you questions from now till morning, but neither
of them will do it.  Did you see me go through the room just now
with a tall gentleman--rather old."

"Yes," answered Jocelyn.

"That was Sir John Meredith, Jack's father," said Lady Cantourne in
a lowered voice.  "They have quarrelled, you know.  People say that
Sir John does not care--that he is heartless, and all that sort of
thing.  The world never says the other sort of thing, one finds.
But--but I think I know to the contrary.  He feels it very deeply.
He would give worlds to hear some news of Jack; but he won't ask it,
you know."

"Yes," said Jocelyn, "I understand."

She saw what was coming, and she desired it intensely, while still
feeling afraid--as if they were walking on some sacred ground and
might at any moment make a false step.

"I should like Sir John to meet you," said Lady Cantourne
pleasantly.  "Will you come to tea some afternoon?  Strange to say,
he asked who you were not half an hour ago.  It almost seems like
instinct, does it not?  I do not believe in mystic things about
spirits and souls going out to each other, and all that nonsense;
but I believe in instinct.  Will you come to-morrow?  You are here
to-night with Mrs. Sander, are you not?  I know her.  She will let
you come alone.  Five o'clock.  You will see my niece Millicent.
She is engaged to be married to Jack Meredith, you know.  That is
why they quarrelled--the father and son.  You will find a little
difficulty with her too.  She is a difficult girl.  But I dare say
you will manage to tell her what she wants to know."

"Yes," said Jocelyn quietly--almost too quietly, "I shall manage."

Lady Cantourne rose, and so did Jocelyn.

"You know," she said, looking up into the girl's face, "it is a good
action.  That is why I ask you to do it.  It is not often that one
has the opportunity of doing a good action to which even one's
dearest friend cannot attribute an ulterior motive.  Who is that man
over there?"

"That is my brother."

"I should like to know him; but do not bring him to-morrow.  We
women are better alone--you understand?"

With a confidential little nod the good lady went away to attend to
other affairs; possibly to carry through some more good actions of a
safe nature.

It was plain to Jocelyn that Maurice was looking for some one.  He
had just come, and was making his way through the crowd.  Presently
she managed to touch his elbow.

"Oh, there you are!" he exclaimed; "I want you.  Come out of this
room."

He offered her his arm, and together they made their way out of the
crowded room into a smaller apartment where an amateur reciter was
hovering disconsolately awaiting an audience.

"Here," said Maurice, when they were alone, "I have just had this
telegram."

He handed her the thin, white submarine telegraph-form with its
streaks of adhesive text.

"Relief entirely successful.  Meredith Joseph returned Loango.
Meredith bad health."

Jocelyn drew a deep breath.

"So that's all right--eh?" said Maurice heartily.

"Yes," answered Jocelyn, "that is all right."



CHAPTER XXX.  OLD BIRDS



     Angels call it heavenly joy;
     Infernal tortures the devils say;
     And men?  They call it--Love.

"By the way, dear," said Lady Cantourne to her niece the next
afternoon, "I have asked a Miss Gordon to come to tea this
afternoon.  I met her last night at the Fitzmannerings.  She lives
in Loango and knows Jack.  I thought you might like to know her.
She is exceptionally ladylike and rather pretty."

And straightway Miss Millicent Chyne went upstairs to put on her
best dress.

We men cannot expect to understand these small matters--these
exigencies, as it were, of female life.  But we may be permitted to
note feebly en passant through existence that there are occasions
when women put on their best clothes without the desire to please.
And, while Millicent Chyne was actually attiring herself, Jocelyn
Gordon, in another house not so far away, was busy with that
beautiful hair of hers, patting here, drawing out there, pinning,
poking, pressing with all the cunning that her fingers possessed.

When they met a little later in Lady Cantourne's uncompromisingly
solid and old-fashioned drawing-room, one may be certain that
nothing was lost.

"My aunt tells me," began Millicent at once, with that degage
treatment of certain topics hitherto held sacred which obtains among
young folks to-day, "that you know Loango."

"Oh yes--I live there."

"And you know Mr. Meredith?"

"Yes, and Mr. Oscard also."

There was a little pause, while two politely smiling pairs of eyes
probed each other.

"She knows something--how much?" was behind one pair of eyes.

"She cannot find out--I am not afraid of her," behind the other.

And Lady Cantourne, the proverbial looker-on, slowly rubbed her
white hands one over the other.

"Ah, yes," said Millicent unblushingly--that was her strong point,
blushing in the right place, but not in the wrong--"Mr. Oscard is
associated with Mr. Meredith, is he not, in this hare-brained
scheme?"

"I believe they are together in it--the Simiacine, you mean?" said
Jocelyn.

"What else could she mean?" reflected the looker-on.

"Yes--the Simiacine.  Such a singular name, is it not?  I always say
they will ruin themselves suddenly.  People always do, don't they?
But what do you think of it?  I SHOULD like to know."

"I think they certainly will make a fortune," replied Jocelyn--and
she noted the light in Millicent's eyes with a sudden feeling of
dislike--"unless the risks prove too great and they are forced to
abandon it."

"What risks?" asked Millicent, quite forgetting to modulate her
voice.

"Well, of course, the Ogowe river is most horribly unhealthy, and
there are other risks.  The natives in the plains surrounding the
Simiacine Plateau are antagonistic.  Indeed, the Plateau was
surrounded and quite besieged when we left Africa."

It may have hurt Millicent, but it hurt Jocelyn more--for the smile
had left her hearer's face.  She was off her guard, as she had been
once before when Sir John was near, and Millicent's face betrayed
something which Jocelyn saw at once with a sick heart--something
that Sir John knew from the morning when he had seen Millicent open
two letters--something that Lady Cantourne had known all along.

"And was Mr. Meredith on the Plateau when it was besieged?" asked
Millicent, with a drawn, crooked smile.

"Yes," answered Jocelyn.  She could not help seizing the poor little
satisfaction of this punishment; but she felt all the while that it
was nothing to the punishment she was bearing, and would bear all
her life.  There are few more contradictory things than the heart of
a woman who really loves.  For one man it is very tender; for the
rest of the world it is the hardest heart on earth if it is called
upon to defend the object of its love or the love itself.

"But," cried Millicent, "of course something was done.  They could
never leave Mr. Meredith unprotected."

"Yes," answered Jocelyn quietly, "Mr. Oscard went up and rescued
him.  My brother heard yesterday that the relief had been effected."

Millicent smiled again in her light-hearted way.

"That is all right," she said.  "What a good thing we did not know!
Just think, auntie dear, what a lot of anxiety we have been spared!"

"In the height of the season, too!" said Jocelyn.

"Ye--es," replied Millicent, rather doubtfully.

Lady Cantourne was puzzled.  There was something going on which she
did not understand.  Within the sound of the pleasant conversation
there was the cliquetis of the foil; behind the polite smile there
was the gleam of steel.  She was rather relieved to turn at this
moment and see Sir John Meredith entering the room with his usual
courtly bow.  He always entered her drawing-room like that.  Ah!
that little secret of a mutual respect.  Some people who are young
now will wish, before they have grown old, that they had known it.

He shook hands with Lady Cantourne and with Millicent.  Then he
stood with a deferential half-bow, waiting for the introduction to
the girl who was young enough to be his daughter--almost to be his
granddaughter.  There was something pathetic and yet proud in this
old man's uncompromising adherence to the lessons of his youth.

"Sir John Meredith--Miss Gordon."

The beginning--the thin end of the wedge, as the homely saying has
it--the end which we introduce almost every day of our lives, little
suspecting to what it may broaden out.

"I had the pleasure of seeing you last night," said Sir John at
once, "at Lady Fitzmannering's evening party, or 'At Home,' I
believe we call them nowadays.  Some of the guests read the
invitation too much au pied de la lettre for my taste.  They were so
much at home that I, fearing to intrude, left rather early."

"I believe the skirt-dancing frightened you away, Sir John," said
Millicent merrily.

"Even old birds, my dear young lady, may sometimes be alarmed by a
scarecrow."

"I missed you quite early in the evening," put in Lady Cantourne,
sternly refusing to laugh.  She had not had an opportunity of seeing
him since her conversation with Jocelyn, and the dangers of the
situation were fully appreciated by such an experienced woman of the
world.

"They began to clear the upper end of the room," he explained, "and
I assisted them in the most practical manner in my power."

He was beginning to wonder why he had been invited--nay, almost
commanded--to come, by an imperious little note.  And of late,
whenever Sir John began to wonder he began also to feel old.  His
fingers strayed towards his unsteady lips as if he were about to
make one of those little movements of senile helplessness to which
he sometimes gave way.

For a moment Lady Cantourne hesitated between two strokes of social
diplomacy--but only for a moment.  She had heard the bell ring, and
trusted that at the other end of the wire there might be one of
those fatuous young men who nibbled at that wire like foolish fish
round a gilt spoon-bait.  Her ladyship decided to carry on the
social farce a few minutes longer, instead of offering the
explanation which all were awaiting.

"We women," she said, "were not so easily deterred from our social
duties."

At this moment the door opened, and there entered a complex odour of
hairwash and perfumery--a collar which must have been nearly related
to a cuff, and a pair of tight patent-leather boots, all attached to
and somewhat overpowering a young man.

"Ah, my dear Mr. Grubb," said Lady Cantourne, "how good of you to
call so soon!  You will have some tea.  Millicent, give Mr. Grubb
some tea."

"Not too strong," added Sir John, apparently to himself, under the
cover of Mr. Grubb's somewhat scrappy greeting.

Then Lady Cantourne went to the conservatory and left Sir John and
Jocelyn at the end of the long room together.  There is nothing like
a woman's instinct.  Jocelyn spoke at once.

"Lady Cantourne," she said, "kindly asked me to meet you to-day on
purpose.  I live at Loango; I know your son, Mr. Meredith, and we
thought you might like to hear about him and about Loango."

She knew that with a man like Sir John any indirect approach to the
subject would be courting failure.  His veiled old eyes suddenly
lighted up, and he turned to glance over his shoulder.

"Yes," he said, with a strange hesitation, "yes--you are kind.  Of
course I am interested.  I wonder," he went on, with a sudden change
of manner, "I wonder how much you know?"

His unsteady hand was resting on her gloved fingers, and he blinked
at it as if wondering how it got there.

Jocelyn did not seem to notice.

"I know," she answered, "that you have had a difference of opinion--
but no one else knows.  You must not think that Mr. Meredith has
spoken of his private affairs to any one else.  The circumstances
were exceptional, and Mr. Meredith thought that it was due to me to
give me an explanation."

Sir John looked a little puzzled, and Jocelyn went on rather hastily
to explain

"My brother and Mr. Meredith were at Eton together.  They met
somewhere up the Coast, and my brother asked Mr. Meredith to come
and stay.  It happened that Maurice was away when Mr. Meredith
arrived, and I did not know who he was, so he explained."

"I see," said Sir John.  "And you and your brother have been kind to
my boy."

Somehow he seemed to have forgotten to be cynical.  He had never
known what it is to have a daughter, and she was ignorant of the
pleasant everyday amenities of a father's love.  As there is
undoubtedly such a thing as love at first sight, so must there be
sympathy at first sight.  For Jocelyn it was comprehensible--nay, it
was most natural.  This was Jack's father.  In his manner, in
everything about him, there were suggestions of Jack.  This seemed
to be a creature hewn, as it were, from the same material, moulded
on the same lines, with slightly divergent tools.  And for him--who
can tell?  The love that was in her heart may have reached out to
meet almost as great a love locked up in his proud soul.  It may
have shown itself to him, openly, fearlessly, recklessly, as love
sometimes does when it is strong and pure.

He had carefully selected a seat within the shadow of the curtains;
but Jocelyn saw quite suddenly that he was an older man than she had
taken him to be the evening before.  She saw through the deception
of the piteous wig--the whole art that strove to conceal the sure
decay of the body, despite the desperate effort of a mind still
fresh and vigorous.

"And I dare say," he said, with a somewhat lame attempt at cynicism,
"that you have heard no good of me?"

But Jocelyn would have none of that.  She was no child to be abashed
by sarcasm, but a woman, completed and perfected by her love.

"Excuse me," she said sharply; "but that is not the truth, and you
know it.  You know as well as I do that your son would never say a
word against you."

Sir John looked hastily round.  Lady Cantourne had come into the
room and was talking to the two young people:  Millicent was
glancing uneasily over Mr. Grubb's brainless cranium towards them.
Sir John's stiff, unsteady fingers fumbled for a moment round his
lips.

"Yes," he said, "I was wrong."

"He has always spoken of you with the greatest love and respect,"
said Jocelyn; "more than that, with admiration.  But he very rarely
spoke of you at all, which I think means more."

Sir John blinked, and suddenly pulled himself together with a
backward jerk of the arms which was habitual with him.  It almost
seemed as if he said to himself, as he squared his shoulders, "Come,
no giving way to old age!"

"Has his health been good?" he asked, rather formally.

"I believe so, until quite lately.  My brother heard yesterday by
telegram that he was at Loango in broken health," replied Jocelyn.

Sir John was looking at her keenly--his hard blue eyes like steel
between the lashless lids.

"You disquiet me," he said.  "I have a sort of feeling that you have
bad news to tell me."

"No," she answered, "not exactly.  But it seems to me that no one
realises what he is doing out in Africa--what risks he is running."

"Tell me," he said, drawing in his chair.  "I will not interrupt
you.  Tell me all you know from beginning to end.  I am naturally--
somewhat interested."

So Jocelyn told him.  And what she said was only a recapitulation of
facts known to such as have followed these pages to this point.  But
the story did not sound quite the same as that related to Millicent.
It was fuller, and there were certain details touched upon lightly
which had before been emphasised--details of dangers run and risks
incurred.  Also was it listened to in a different spirit, without
shallow comment, with a deeper insight.  Suddenly he broke into the
narrative.  He saw--keen old worldling that he was--a discrepancy.

"But," he said, "there was no one in Loango connected with the
scheme who"--he paused, touching her sleeve with a bony finger--"who
sent the telegram home to young Oscard--the telegram calling him out
to Jack's relief?"

"Oh," she explained lightly, "I did.  My brother was away, so there
was no one else to do it, you see!"

"Yes--I see."

And perhaps he did.

Lady Cantourne helped them skilfully.  But there came a time when
Millicent would stand it no longer, and the amiable Grubb wriggled
out of the room, crushed by a too obvious dismissal.

Sir John rose at once, and when Millicent reached them they were
talking of the previous evening's entertainment.

Sir John took his leave.  He bowed over Jocelyn's hand, and
Millicent, watching them keenly, could see nothing--no gleam of a
mutual understanding in the politely smiling eyes.

"Perhaps," he said, "I may have the pleasure of meeting you again?"

"I am afraid it is doubtful," she answered, with something that
sounded singularly like exultation in her voice.  "We are going back
to Africa almost at once."

And she, also, took her leave of Lady Cantourne.



CHAPTER XXXI.  SEED-TIME



     What Fate does, let Fate answer for.

One afternoon Joseph had his wish.  Moreover he had it given to him
even as he desired, which does not usually happen.  We are given a
part, or the whole, so distorted that we fail to recognise it.

Joseph looked up from his work and saw Jocelyn coming into the
bungalow garden.

He went out to meet her, putting on his coat as he went.

"How is Mr. Meredith?" she asked at once.  Her eyes were very
bright, and there was a sort of breathlessness in her manner which
Joseph did not understand.

"He is a bit better, miss, thank you kindly.  But he don't make the
progress I should like.  It's the weakness that follows the malarial
attack that the doctor has to fight against."

"Where is he?" asked Jocelyn.

"Well, miss, at the moment he is in the drawing-room.  We bring him
down there for the change of air in the afternoon.  Likely as not,
he's asleep."

And presently Jack Meredith, lying comfortably somnolent on the
outskirts of life, heard light footsteps, but hardly heeded them.
He knew that some one came into the room and stood silently by his
couch for some seconds.  He lazily unclosed his eyelids for a
moment, not in order to see who was there, but with a view of
intimating that he was not asleep.  But he was not wholly conscious.
To men accustomed to an active, energetic life, a long illness is
nothing but a period of complete rest.  In his more active moments
Jack Meredith sometimes thought that this rest of his was extending
into a dangerously long period, but he was too weak to feel anxiety
about anything.

Jocelyn moved away and busied herself noiselessly with one or two of
those small duties of the sick-room which women see and men ignore.
But she could not keep away.  She came back and stood over him with
a silent sense of possession which made that moment one of the
happiest of her life.  She remembered it in after years, and the
complex feelings of utter happiness and complete misery that filled
it.

At last a fluttering moth gave the excuse her heart longed for, and
her fingers rested for a moment, light as the moth itself, on his
hair.  There was something in the touch which made him open his
eyes--uncomprehending at first, and then filled with a sudden life.

"Ah!" he said, "you--you at last!"

He took her hand in both of his.  He was weakened by illness and a
great fatigue.  Perhaps he was off his guard, or only half awake.

"I never should have got better if you had not come," he said.
Then, suddenly, he seemed to recall himself, and rose with an effort
from his recumbent position.

"I do not know," he said, with a return of his old half-humorous
manner, "whether to thank you first for your hospitality or to beg
your pardon for making such unscrupulous use of it."

She was looking at him closely as he stood before her, and all her
knowledge of human ills as explored on the West Coast of Africa, all
her experience, all her powers of observation, were on the alert.
He did not look very ill.  The brown of a year's sunburn such as he
had gone through on the summit of an equatorial mountain where there
was but little atmosphere between earth and sun, does not bleach off
in a couple of months.  Physically regarded, he was stronger,
broader, heavier-limbed, more robust, than when she had last seen
him--but her knowledge went deeper than complexion, or the passing
effort of a strong will.

"Sit down," she said quietly.  "You are not strong enough to stand
about."

He obeyed her with a little laugh.

"You do not know," he said, "how pleasant it is to see you--fresh
and English-looking.  It is like a tonic.  Where is Maurice?"

"He will be here soon," she replied; "he is attending to the landing
of the stores.  We shall soon make you strong and well; for we have
come laden with cases of delicacies for your special delectation.
Your father chose them himself at Fortnum and Mason's."

He winced at the mention of his father's name, and drew in his legs
in a peculiar, decisive way.

"Then you knew I was ill?" he said, almost suspiciously.

"Yes, Joseph telegraphed."

"To whom?" sharply.

"To Maurice."

Jack Meredith nodded his head.  It was perhaps just as well that the
communicative Joseph was not there at that moment.

"We did not expect you for another ten days," said Meredith after a
little pause, as if anxious to change the subject.  "Marie said that
your brother's leave was not up until the week after next."

Jocelyn turned away, apparently to close the window.  She hesitated.
She could not tell him what had brought them back sooner--what had
demanded of Maurice Gordon the sacrifice of ten days of his holiday.

"We do not always take our full term," she said vaguely.

And he never saw it.  The vanity of man is a strange thing.  It
makes him see intentions that were never conceived; and without
vanity to guide his perception man is as blind a creature as walks
upon this earth.

"However," he said, as if to prove his own density, "I am selfishly
very glad that you had to come back sooner.  Not only on account of
the delicacies--I must ask you to believe that.  Did my eye brighten
at the mention of Fortnum and Mason?  I am afraid it did."

She laughed softly.  She did not pause to think that it was to be
her daily task to tend him and help to make him stronger in order
that he might go away without delay.  She only knew that every
moment of the next few weeks was going to be full of a greater
happiness than she had ever tasted.  As we get deeper into the
slough of life most of us learn to be thankful that the future is
hidden--some of us recognise the wisdom and the mercy which decree
that even the present be only partly revealed.

"As a matter of fact," she said lightly, "I suppose that you loathe
all food?"

"Loathe it," he replied.  He was still looking at her, as if in
enjoyment of the Englishness and freshness of which he had spoken.
"Simply loathe it.  All Joseph's tact and patience are required to
make me eat even eleven meals in the day.  He would like thirteen."

At this moment Maurice came in--Maurice--hearty, eager, full of
life.  He blustered in almost as Joseph had prophesied, kicking the
furniture, throwing his own vitality into the atmosphere.  Jocelyn
knew that he liked Jack Meredith--and she knew more.  She knew,
namely, that Maurice Gordon was a different man when Jack Meredith
was in Loango.  From Meredith's presence he seemed to gather a sense
of security and comfort even as she did--a sense which in herself
she understood (for women analyse love), but which in her brother
puzzled her.

"Well, old chap," said Maurice, "glad to see you.  I AM glad to see
you.  Thank Heaven you were bowled over by that confounded malaria,
for otherwise we should have missed you."

"That is one way of looking at it," answered Meredith.  But he did
not go so far as to say that it was a way which had not previously
suggested itself to him.

"Of course it is.  The best way, I take it.  Well--how do you feel?
Come, you don't look so bad."

"Oh--much better, thanks.  I have got on splendidly the last week,
and better still the last five minutes!  The worst of it is that I
shall be getting well too soon and shall have to be off."

"Home?" inquired Maurice significantly.

Jocelyn moved uneasily.

"Yes, home."

"We don't often hear people say that they are sorry to leave
Loango," said Maurice.

"_I_ will oblige you whenever you are taken with the desire,"
answered Jack lightly; "Loango has been a very good friend to me.
But I am afraid there is no choice.  The doctor speaks very plain
words about it.  Besides, I am bound to go home."

"To sell the Simiacine?" inquired Maurice.

"Yes."

"Have you the second crop with you?"

"Yes."

"And the trees have improved under cultivation?"

"Yes," answered Jack rather wonderingly.  "You seem to know a lot
about it."

"Of course I do," replied Maurice boisterously.

"From Durnovo?"

"Yes; he even offered to take me into partnership."

Jack turned on him in a flash.

"Did he indeed?  On what conditions?"

And then, when it was too late, Maurice saw his mistake.  It was not
the first time that the exuberance of his nature had got him into a
difficulty.

"Oh, I don't know," he replied vaguely.  "It's a long story.  I'll
tell you about it some day."

Jack would have left it there for the moment.  Maurice Gordon had
made his meaning quite clear by glancing significantly towards his
sister.  Her presence, he intimated, debarred further explanation.

But Jocelyn would not have it thus.  She shrewdly suspected the
nature of the bargain proposed by Durnovo, and a sudden desire
possessed her to have it all out--to drag this skeleton forth and
flaunt it in Jack Meredith's face.  The shame of it all would have a
certain sweetness behind its bitterness; because, forsooth, Jack
Meredith alone was to witness the shame.  She did not pause to
define the feeling that rose suddenly in her heart.  She did not
know that it was merely the pride of her love--the desire that Jack
Meredith, though he would never love her, should know once for all
that such a man as Victor Durnovo could be nothing but repugnant to
her.

"If you mean," she said, "that you cannot tell Mr. Meredith because
I am here, you need not hesitate on that account."

Maurice laughed awkwardly, and muttered something about matters of
business.  He was not good at this sort of thing.  Besides, there
was the initial handicapping knowledge that Jocelyn was so much
cleverer than himself.

"Whether it is a matter of business or not," she cried with
glittering eyes, "I want you to tell Mr. Meredith now.  He has a
right to know.  Tell him upon what condition Mr. Durnovo proposed to
admit you into the Simiacine."

Maurice still hesitated, bewildered, at a loss--as men are when a
seemingly secure secret is suddenly discovered to the world.  He
would still have tried to fend it off; but Jack Meredith, with his
keener perception, saw that Jocelyn was determined--that further
delay would only make the matter worse.

"If your sister wants it," he said, "you had better tell me.  I am
not the sort of man to act rashly--on the impulse of the moment."

Still Maurice tried to find some means of evasion.

"Then," cried Jocelyn, with flaming cheeks, "_I_ will tell you.  You
were to be admitted into the Simiacine scheme by Mr. Durnovo if you
could persuade or force me to marry him."

None of them had foreseen this.  It had come about so strangely, and
yet so easily, in the midst of their first greeting.

"Yes," admitted Maurice, "that was it."

"And what answer did you give?" asked Jocelyn.

"Oh, I told him to go and hang himself--or words to that effect,"
was the reply, delivered with a deprecating laugh.

"Was that your final answer?" pursued Jocelyn, inexorable.  Her
persistence surprised Jack.  Perhaps it surprised herself.

"Yes, I think so."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, he cut up rough and threatened to make things disagreeable;
so I think I said that it was no good his asking me to do anything
in the matter, as I didn't know your feelings."

"Well, you can tell him," cried Jocelyn hotly, "that never, under
any circumstances whatever, would I dream even of the possibility of
marrying him."

And the two men were alone.

Maurice Gordon gazed blankly at the closed door.

"How was I to know she'd take it like that?" he asked helplessly.

And for once the polished gentleman of the world forgot himself--
carried away by a sudden unreasoning anger which surprised him
almost as much as it did Maurice Gordon.

"Why, you damned fool," said Jack, "any idiot would have known that
she would take it like that.  How could she do otherwise?  You, her
brother, ought to know that to a girl like Miss Gordon the idea of
marrying such a low brute as Durnovo could only be repugnant.
Durnovo--why, he is not good enough to sweep the floor that she has
stood upon!  He's not fit to speak to her; and you go on letting him
come to the house, sickening her with his beastly attentions!
You're not capable of looking after a lady!  I would have kicked
Durnovo through that very window myself, only"--he paused, recalling
himself with a little laugh--"only it was not my business."

Maurice Gordon sat down forlornly.  He tapped his boot with his
cane.

"Oh, it's very well for you," he answered; "but I'm not a free
agent.  _I_ can't afford to make an enemy of Durnovo."

"You need not have made an enemy of him," said Jack, and he saved
Maurice Gordon by speaking quickly--saved him from making a
confession which could hardly have failed to alter both their lives.

"It will not be very difficult," he went on; "all she wants is your
passive resistance.  She does not want you to help HIM--do you see?
She can do the rest.  Girls can manage these things better than we
think, if they want to.  The difficulty usually arises from the fact
that they are not always quite sure that they do want to.  Go and
beg her pardon.  It will be all right."

So Maurice Gordon went away also, leaving Jack Meredith alone in the
drawing-room with his own thoughts.



CHAPTER XXXII.  AN ENVOY



                    What we love perfectly
     For its own sake we love, . . .
     . . . That which is best for it is best for us.

"Feel like gettin' up to breakfast, do you, sir?" said Joseph to his
master a few days later.  "Well, I am glad.  Glad ain't quite the
word, though!"

And he proceeded to perform the duties attendant on his master's
wardrobe with a wise, deep-seated shake of the head.  While setting
the shaving necessaries in order on the dressing-table, he went
further--he winked gravely at himself in the looking-glass.

"You've made wonderful progress the last few days, sir," he
remarked.  "I always told Missis Marie that it would do you a lot of
good to have Mr. Gordon to heart you up with his cheery ways--and
Miss Gordon too, sir."

"Yes, but they would not have been much good without all your care
before they came.  I had turned the corner a week ago--I felt it
myself."

Joseph grinned--an honest, open grin of self-satisfaction.  He was
not one of those persons who like their praise bestowed with
subtlety.

"Wonderful!" he repeated to himself as he went to the well in the
garden for his master's bath-water.  "Wonderful! but I don't
understand things--not bein' a marryin' man."

During the last few days Jack's progress had been rapid enough even
to satisfy Joseph.  The doctor expressed himself fully reassured,
and even spoke of returning no more.  But he repeated his wish that
Jack should leave for England without delay.

"He is quite strong enough to be moved now," he finished by saying.
"There is no reason for further delay."

"No," answered Jocelyn, to whom the order was spoken.  "No--none.
We will see that he goes by the next boat."

The doctor paused.  He was a young man who took a strong--perhaps
too strong--a personal interest in his patients.  Jocelyn had walked
with him as far as the gate, with only a parasol to protect her from
the evening sun.  They were old friends.  The doctor's wife was one
of Jocelyn's closest friends on the Coast.

"Do you know anything about Meredith's future movements?" he asked.
"Does he intend to come out here again?"

"I could not tell you.  I do not think they have settled yet.  But I
think that when he gets home he will probably stay there."

"Best thing he can do--best thing he can do.  It will never do for
him to risk getting another taste of malaria--tell him so, will you?
Good-bye."

"Yes, I will tell him."

And Jocelyn Gordon walked slowly back to tell the man she loved that
he must go away from her and never come back.  The last few days had
been days of complete happiness.  There is no doubt that women have
the power of enjoying the present to a greater degree than men.
They can live in the bliss of the present moment with eyes
continually averted from the curtain of the near future which falls
across that bliss and cuts it off.  Men allow the presence of the
curtain to mar the present brightness.

These days had been happier for Jocelyn than for Jack, because she
was conscious of the fulness of every moment, while he was merely
rejoicing in comfort after hardship, in pleasant society after
loneliness.  Even with the knowledge that it could not last, that
beyond the near future lay a whole lifetime of complete solitude and
that greatest of all miseries, the desire of an obvious
impossibility--even with this she was happier than he; because she
loved him and she saw him daily getting stronger; because their
relative positions brought out the best and the least romantic part
of a woman's love--the subtle maternity of it.  There is a fine
romance in carrying our lady's kerchief in an inner pocket, but
there is something higher and greater and much more durable in the
darning of a sock; for within the handkerchief there is chiefly
gratified vanity, while within the sock there is one of those small
infantile boots which have but little meaning for us.

Jocelyn entered the drawing-room with a smile.

"He is very pleased," she said.  "He does not seem to want to see
you any more, and he told me to be inhospitable."

"As how?"

"He told me to turn you out.  You are to leave by the next steamer."

He felt a sudden unaccountable pang of disappointment at her smiling
eyes.

"This is no joking matter," he said half seriously.  "Am I really as
well as that?"

"Yes."

"The worst of it is that you seem rather pleased."

"I am--at the thought that you are so much better."  She paused and
turned quite away, busying herself with a pile of books and
magazines.  "The other," she went on too indifferently, "was
unfortunately to be foreseen.  It is the necessary drawback."

He rose suddenly and walked to the window.

"The grim old necessary drawback," he said, without looking towards
her.

There was a silence of some duration.  Neither of them seemed to be
able to find a method of breaking it without awkwardness.  It was
she who spoke at last.

"He also said," she observed in a practical way, "that you must not
come out to Africa again."

He turned as if he had been stung.

"Did he make use of that particular word?" he asked.

"Which particular word?"

"Must."

Jocelyn had not foreseen the possibility that the doctor was merely
repeating to her what he had told Jack on a previous visit.

"No," she answered.  "I think he said 'better not.'"

"And you make it into 'must.'"

She laughed, with a sudden light-heartedness which remained
unexplained.

"Because I know you both," she answered.  "For him 'better not'
stands for 'must.'  With you 'better not' means 'doesn't matter.'"

"'Better not' is so weak that if one pits duty against it it
collapses.  I cannot leave Oscard in the lurch, especially after his
prompt action in coming to my relief."

"Yes," she replied guardedly.  "I like Mr. Oscard's way of doing
things."

The matter of the telegram summoning Oscard had not yet been
explained.  She did not want to explain it at that moment; indeed,
she hoped that the explanation would never be needed.

"However," she added, "you will see when you get home."

He laughed.

"The least pleasant part of it is," he said, "your evident desire to
see the last of me.  Could you not disguise that a little--just for
the sake of my feelings?"

"Book your passage by the next boat and I will promptly descend to
the lowest depths of despair," she replied lightly.

He shrugged his shoulders with a short laugh.

"This is hospitality indeed," he said, moving towards the door.

Then suddenly he turned and looked at her gravely.

"I wonder," he said slowly, "if you are doing this for a purpose.
You said that you met my father--"

"Your father is not the man to ask any one's assistance in his own
domestic affairs, and anything I attempted to do could only be
looked upon as the most unwarrantable interference."

"Yes," said Meredith seriously.  "I beg your pardon.  You are
right."

He went to his own room and summoned Joseph.

"When is the next boat home?" he asked.

"Boat on Thursday, sir."

Meredith nodded.  After a little pause he pointed to a chair.

"Just sit down," he said.  "I want to talk over this Simiacine
business with you."

Joseph squared his shoulders, and sat down with a face indicative of
the gravest attention.  Sitting thus he was no longer a servant, but
a partner in the Simiacine.  He even indulged in a sidelong jerk of
the head, as if requesting the attention of some absent friend in a
humble sphere of life to this glorious state of affairs.

"You know," said Meredith, "Mr. Durnovo is more or less a
blackguard."

Joseph drew in his feet, having previously hitched his trousers up
at the knees.

"Yes, sir," he said, glancing up.  "A blackguard--a damned
blackguard," he added unofficially under his breath.

"He wants continual watching and a special treatment.  He requires
someone constantly at his heels."

"Yes, sir," admitted Joseph, with some fervour.

"Now I am ordered home by the doctor," went on Meredith.  "I must go
by the next boat, but I don't like to go and leave Mr. Oscard in the
lurch, with no one to fall back upon but Durnovo--you understand."

Joseph's face had assumed the habitual look of servitude--he was no
longer a partner, but a mere retainer, with a half-comic resignation
in his eyes.

"Yes, sir," scratching the back of his neck.  "I am afraid I
understand.  You want me to go back to that Platter--that God-
forsaken Platter, as I may say."

"Yes," said Meredith.  "That is about it.  I would go myself--"

"God bless you!  I know you would!" burst in Joseph.  "You'd go like
winkin'.  There's no one knows that better nor me, sir; and what I
says is--like master, like man.  Game, sir--game it is!  I'll go.
I'm not the man to turn my back on a pal--a--a partner, sir, so to
speak."

"You see," said Meredith, with the deep insight into men that made
command so easy to him--"you see there is no one else.  There is not
another man in Africa who could do it."

"That's true, sir."

"And I think that Mr. Oscard will be looking for you."

"And he won't need to look long, sir.  But I should like to see you
safe on board the boat.  Then I'm ready to go."

"Right.  We can both leave by Thursday's boat, and we'll get the
captain to drop you and your men at Lopez.  We can get things ready
by then, I think."

"Easy, sir."

The question thus settled, there seemed to be no necessity to
prolong the interview.  But Joseph did not move.  Meredith waited
patiently.

"I'll go up, sir, to the Platter," said the servant at length, "and
I'll place myself under Mr. Oscard's orders; but before I go I want
to give you notice of resignation.  I resigns my partnership in this
'ere Simiacine at six months from to-day.  It's a bit too hot, sir,
that's the truth.  It's all very well for gentlemen like yourself
and Mr. Oscard, with fortunes and fine houses, and, as sayin' goes,
a wife apiece waiting for you at home--it's all very well for you to
go about in this blamed country, with yer life in yer hand, and not
a tight grip at that.  But for a poor soldier-man like myself, what
has smelt the regulation powder all 'is life and hasn't got nothing
to love and no gal waiting for him at home--well, it isn't good
enough.  That's what I say, sir, with respects."

He added the last two words by way of apology for having banged a
very solid fist on the table.  Meredith smiled.

"So you've had enough of it?" he said.

"Enough ain't quite the word, sir.  Why, I'm wore to a shadow with
the trouble and anxiety of getting you down here."

"Fairly substantial shadow," commented Meredith.

"May be, sir.  But I've had enough of moneymakin'.  It's too dear at
the price.  And if you'll let an old servant speak his mind it ain't
fit for you, this 'ere kind of work.  It's good enough for black-
scum and for chocolate-birds like Durnovo; but this country's not
built for honest white men--least of all for born and bred
gentlemen."

"Yes--that's all very well in theory, Joseph, and I'm much obliged
to you for thinking of me.  But you must remember that we live in an
age where money sanctifies everything.  Your hands can't get dirty
if there is money inside them."

Joseph laughed aloud.

"Ah, that's your way of speaking, sir, that's all.  And I'm glad to
hear it.  You have not spoken like that for two months and more."

"No--it is only my experience of the world."

"Well, sir, talkin' of experience, I've had about enough, as I tell
you, and I beg to place my resignation in your hands.  I shall do
the same by Mr. Oscard if I reach that Platter, God willin', as the
sayin' is."

"All right, Joseph."

Still there was something left to say.  Joseph paused and scratched
the back of his neck pensively with one finger.

"Will you be writin' to Mr. Oscard, sir, for me to take?"

"Yes."

"Then I should be obliged if you would mention the fact that I would
rather not be left alone with that blackguard Durnovo, either up at
the Platter or travelling down.  That man's got on my nerves, sir;
and I'm mortal afraid of doing him a injury.  He's got a long neck--
you've noticed that, perhaps.  There was a little Gourkha man up in
Cabul taught me a trick--it's as easy as killing a chicken--but you
want a man wi' a long neck--just such a neck as Durnovo's."

"But what harm has the man done you," asked Meredith, "that you
think so affectionately of his neck?"

"No harm, sir, but we're just like two cats on a wall, watchin' each
other and hating each other like blue poison.  There's more villainy
at that man's back than you think for--mark my words."

Joseph moved towards the door.

"Do you KNOW anything about him--anything shady?" cried Meredith
after him.

"No, sir.  I don't KNOW anything.  But I suspects a whole box full.
One of these days I'll find him out, and if I catch him fair
there'll be a rough and tumble.  It'll be a pretty fight, sir, for
them that's sittin' in the front row."

Joseph rubbed his hands slowly together and departed, leaving his
master to begin a long letter to Guy Oscard.

And at the other end of the passage, in her room with the door
locked, Jocelyn Gordon was sitting, hard-eyed, motionless.  She had
probably saved the life of Jack Meredith, and in doing so had only
succeeded in sending him away from her.



CHAPTER XXXIII.  DARK DEALING



     Only an honest man doing his duty.

When Jack Meredith said that there was not another man in Africa who
could make his way from Loango to the Simiacine Plateau he spoke no
more than the truth.  There were only four men in all the world who
knew the way, and two of them were isolated on the summit of a lost
mountain in the interior.  Meredith himself was unfit for the
journey.  There remained Joseph.

True, there were several natives who had made the journey, but they
were as dumb and driven animals, fighting as they were told,
carrying what they were given to carry, walking as many miles as
they were considered able to walk.  They hired themselves out like
animals, and as the beasts of the field they did their work--
patiently, without intelligence.  Half of them did not know where
they were going--what they were doing; the other half did not care.
So much work, so much wage, was their terse creed.  They neither
noted their surroundings nor measured distance.  At the end of their
journey they settled down to a life of ease and leisure, which was
to last until necessity drove them to work again.  Such is the
African.  Many of them came from distant countries, a few were
Zanzibaris, and went home made men.

If any doubt the inability of such men to steer a course through the
wood, let him remember that three months' growth in an African
forest will obliterate the track left by the passage of an army.  If
any hold that men are not created so dense and unambitious as has
just been represented, let him look nearer home in our own merchant
service.  The able-bodied seaman goes to sea all his life, but he
never gets any nearer navigating the ship--and he a white man.

In coming down to Loango, Joseph had had the recently-made track of
Oscard's rescuing party to guide him day by day.  He knew that this
was now completely overgrown.  The Simiacine Plateau was once more
lost to all human knowledge.

And up there--alone amidst the clouds--Guy Oscard was, as he himself
tersely put it, "sticking to it."  He had stuck to it to such good
effect that the supply of fresh young Simiacine was daily increasing
in bulk.  Again, Victor Durnovo seemed to have regained his better
self.  He was like a full-blooded horse--tractable enough if kept
hard at work.  He was a different man up on the Plateau to what he
was down at Loango.  There are some men who deteriorate in the
wilds, while others are better, stronger, finer creatures away from
the luxury of civilisation and the softening influence of female
society.  Of these latter was Victor Durnovo.

Of one thing Guy Oscard soon became aware, namely, that no one could
make the men work as could Durnovo.  He had merely to walk to the
door of his tent to make every picker on the little Plateau bend
over his tree with renewed attention.  And while above all was
eagerness and hurry, below, in the valley, this man's name insured
peace.

The trees were now beginning to show the good result of pruning and
a regular irrigation.  Never had the leaves been so vigorous, never
had the Simiacine trees borne such a bushy, luxuriant growth since
the dim dark days of the Flood.

Oscard relapsed into his old hunting ways.  Day after day he
tranquilly shouldered his rifle, and alone, or followed by one
attendant only, he disappeared into the forest, only to emerge
therefrom at sunset.  What he saw there he never spoke of.  Sure it
was that he must have seen strange things, for no prying white man
had set foot in these wilds before him; no book has ever been
written of that country that lies around the Simiacine Plateau.

He was not the man to worry himself over uncertainties.  He had an
enormous faith in the natural toughness of an Englishman, and while
he crawled breathlessly in the track of the forest monsters he
hardly gave a thought to Jack Meredith.  Meredith, he argued to
himself, had always risen to the occasion:  why should he not rise
to this?  He was not the sort of man to die from want of staying
power, which, after all, is the cause of more deaths than we dream
of.  And when he had recovered he would either return or send back
Joseph with a letter containing those suggestions of his which were
really orders.

Of Millicent Chyne he thought more often, with a certain tranquil
sense of a good time to come.  In her also he placed a perfect
faith.  A poet has found out that, if one places faith in a man, it
is probable that the man will rise to trustworthiness--of woman he
says nothing.  But of these things Guy Oscard knew little.  He went
his own tranquilly strong way, content to buy his own experience.

He was thinking of Millicent Chyne one misty morning while he walked
slowly backwards and forwards before his tent.  His knowledge of the
country told him that the mist was nothing but the night's
accumulation of moisture round the summit of the mountain--that down
in the valleys it was clear, and that half an hour's sunshine would
disperse all.  He was waiting for this result when he heard a rifle-
shot far away in the haze beneath him; and he knew that it was
Joseph--probably making one of those marvellous long shots of his
which roused a sudden sigh of envy in the heart of this mighty
hunter whenever he witnessed them.

Oscard immediately went to his tent and came out with his short-
barrelled, evil-looking rifle on his arm.  He fired both barrels in
quick succession and waited, standing gravely on the edge of the
Plateau.  After a short silence two answering reports rose up
through the mist to his straining ears.

He turned and found Victor Durnovo standing at his side.

"What is that?" asked the half-breed.

"It must be Joseph," answered Guy, "or Meredith.  It can be nobody
else."

"Let us hope that it is Meredith," said Durnovo with a forced laugh,
"but I doubt it."

Oscard looked down in his sallow, powerful face.  He was not quick
at such things, but at that moment he felt strangely certain that
Victor Durnovo was hoping that Meredith was dead.

"I hope it isn't," he answered, and without another word he strode
away down the little pathway from the summit into the clouds,
loading his rifle as he went.

Durnovo and his men, working among the Simiacine bushes, heard from
time to time a signal shot as the two Englishmen groped their way
towards each other through the everlasting night of the African
forest.

It was midday before the new-comers were espied making their way
painfully up the slope, and Joseph's welcome was not so much in
Durnovo's handshake, in Guy Oscard's silent approval, as in the row
of grinning, good-natured black faces behind Durnovo's back.

That night laughter was heard in the men's camp for the first time
for many weeks--nay, several months.  According to the account that
Joseph gave to his dusky admirers, he had been on terms of the
closest familiarity with the wives, and families of all who had such
at Loango or on the Coast.  He knew the mother of one, had met the
sweetheart of another, and confessed that it was only due to the
fact that he was not "a marryin' man" that he had not stayed at
Loango for the rest of his life.  It was somewhat singular that he
had nothing but good news to give.

Durnovo heard the clatter of tongues, and Guy Oscard, smoking his
contemplative pipe in a camp-chair before his hut door, noticed that
the sound did not seem very welcome.

Joseph's arrival with ten new men seemed to give a fresh zest to the
work, and the carefully-packed cases of Simiacine began to fill
Oscard's tent to some inconvenience.  Thus things went on for two
tranquil weeks.

"First," Oscard had said, "let us get the crop in and then we can
arrange what is to be done about the future."

So the crop received due attention; but the two leaders of the men--
he who led by fear and he who commanded by love--were watching each
other.

One evening, when the work was done, Oscard's meditations were
disturbed by the sound of angry voices behind the native camp.  He
turned naturally towards Durnovo's tent, and saw that he was absent.
The voices rose and fell:  there was a singular accompanying roar of
sound which Oscard never remembered having heard before.  It was the
protesting voice of a mass of men--and there is no sound like it--
none so disquieting.  Oscard listened attentively, and suddenly he
was thrown up on his feet by a pistol-shot.

At the same moment Joseph emerged from behind the tents, dragging
some one by the collar.  The victim of Joseph's violence was off his
feet, but still struggling and kicking.

Guy Oscard saw the flash of a second shot, apparently within a few
inches of Joseph's face; but he came on, dragging the man with him,
whom from his clothing Oscard saw to be Durnovo.

Joseph was spitting out wadding and burnt powder.

"Shoot ME, would yer--yer damned skulking chocolate-bird?  I'll
teach you!  I'll twist that brown neck of yours."

He shook him as a terrier shakes a rat, and seemed to shake things
off him--among others a revolver which described a circle in the air
and fell heavily on the ground, where the concussion discharged a
cartridge.

"'Ere, sir," cried Joseph, literally throwing Durnovo down on the
ground at Oscard's feet, "that man has just shot one o' them poor
niggers, so 'elp me God!"

Durnovo rose slowly to his feet, as if the shaking had disturbed his
faculties.

"And the man hadn't done 'im no harm at all.  He's got a grudge
against him.  I've seen that this last week and more.  It's a man as
was kinder fond o' me, and we understood each other's lingo.  That's
it--he was afraid of my 'earing things that mightn't be wholesome
for me to know.  The man hadn't done no harm.  And Durnovo comes up
and begins abusing 'im, and then he strikes 'im, and then he out
with his revolver and shoots 'im down."

Durnovo gave an ugly laugh.  He had readjusted his disordered dress
and was brushing the dirt from his knees.

"Oh, don't make a fool of yourself," he said in a hissing voice;
"you don't understand these natives at all.  The man raised his hand
to me.  He would have killed me if he had had the chance.  Shooting
was the only thing left to do.  You can only hold these men by fear.
They expect it."

"Of course they expect it," shouted Joseph in his face; "of course
they expect it, Mr. Durnovo."

"Why?"

"Because they're SLAVES.  Think I don't know that?"

He turned to Oscard.

"This man, Mr. Oscard," he said, "is a slave-owner.  Them forty that
joined at Msala was slaves.  He's shot two of 'em now; this is his
second.  And what does he care?--they're his slaves.  Oh! shame on
yer!" turning again to Durnovo; "I wonder God lets yer stand there.
I can only think that He doesn't want to dirty His hand by strikin'
yer down."

Oscard had taken his pipe from his lips.  He looked bigger, somehow,
than ever.  His brown face was turning to an ashen colour, and there
was a dull, steel-like gleam in his blue eyes.  The terrible, slow-
kindling anger of this Northerner made Durnovo catch his breath.  It
was so different from the sudden passion of his own countrymen.

"Is this true?" he asked.

"It's a lie, of course," answered Durnovo, with a shrug of the
shoulders.  He moved away as if he were going to his tent, but
Oscard's arm reached out.  His large brown hand fell heavily on the
half-breed's shoulder.

"Stay," he said; "we are going to get to the bottom of this."

"Good," muttered Joseph, rubbing his hands slowly together; "this is
prime."

"Go on," said Oscard to him.

"Where's the wages you and Mr. Meredith has paid him for those forty
men?" pursued Joseph.  "Where's the advance you made him for those
men at Msala?  Not one ha'penny of it have they fingered.  And why?
Cos they're slaves! Fifteen months at fifty pounds--let them as can
reckon tot it up for theirselves.  That's his first swindle--and
there's others, sir!  Oh, there's more behind.  That man's just a
stinkin' hotbed o' crime.  But this 'ere slave-owning is enough to
settle his hash, I take it."

"Let us have these men here--we will hear what they have to say,"
said Oscard in the same dull tone that frightened Victor Durnovo.

"Not you!" he went on, laying his hand on Durnovo's shoulder again;
"Joseph will fetch them, thank you."

So the forty--or the thirty-seven survivors, for one had died on the
journey up and two had been murdered--were brought.  They were
peaceful, timorous men, whose manhood seemed to have been crushed
out of them; and slowly, word by word, their grim story was got out
of them.  Joseph knew a little of their language, and one of the
head fighting men knew a little more, and spoke a dialect known to
Oscard.  They were slaves they said at once, but only on Oscard's
promise that Durnovo should not be allowed to shoot them.  They had
been brought from the north by a victorious chief, who in turn had
handed them over to Victor Durnovo in payment of an outstanding debt
for ammunition supplied.

The great African moon rose into the heavens and shone her yellow
light upon this group of men.  Overhead all was peace:  on earth
there was no peace.  And yet it was one of Heaven's laws that Victor
Durnovo had broken.

Guy Oscard went patiently through to the end of it.  He found out
all that there was to find; and he found out something which
surprised him.  No one seemed to be horror-struck.  The free men
stood stolidly looking on, as did the slaves.  And this was Africa--
the heart of Africa, where, as Victor Durnovo said, no one knows
what is going on.  Oscard knew that he could apply no law to Victor
Durnovo except the great law of humanity.  There was nothing to be
done, for one individual may not execute the laws of humanity.  All
were assembled before him--the whole of the great Simiacine
Expedition except the leader, whose influence lay over one and all
only second to his presence.

"I leave this place at sunrise to-morrow," said Guy Oscard to them
all.  "I never want to see it again.  I will not touch one penny of
the money that has been made.  I speak for Mr. Meredith and myself--
"

"Likewise me--damn it!" put in Joseph.

"I speak as Mr. Meredith himself would have spoken.  There is the
Simiacine--you can have it.  I won't touch it.  And now who is going
with me--who leaves with me to-morrow morning?"

He moved away from Durnovo.

"And who stays with me?" cried the half-breed, "to share and share
alike in the Simiacine?"

Joseph followed Oscard, and with him a certain number of the blacks,
but some stayed.  Some went over to Durnovo and stood beside him.
The slaves spoke among themselves, and then they all went over to
Durnovo.

So that which the placid moon shone down upon was the break-up of
the great Simiacine scheme.  Victor Durnovo had not come off so
badly.  He had the larger half of the men by his side.  He had all
the finest crop the trees had yielded--but he had yet to reckon with
high Heaven.



CHAPTER XXXIV.  AMONG THORNS



     We shut our hearts up nowadays,
     Like some old music-box that plays
     Unfashionable airs.

Sir John Meredith was sitting stiffly in a straight-backed chair by
his library fire.  In his young days men did not loll in deep
chairs, with their knees higher than their heads.  There were no
such chairs in this library, just as there was no afternoon tea
except for ladies.  Sir John Meredith was distressed to observe a
great many signs of the degeneration of manhood, which he attributed
to the indulgence in afternoon tea.  Sir John had lately noticed
another degeneration, namely, in the quality of the London gas.  So
serious was this falling off that he had taken to a lamp in the
evening, which lamp stood on the table at his elbow.

Some months earlier--that is to say, about six months after Jack's
departure--Sir John had called casually upon an optician.  He stood
upright by the counter, and frowned down on a mild-looking man who
wore the strongest spectacles made, as if in advertisement of his
own wares.

"They tell me," he said, "that you opticians make glasses now which
are calculated to save the sight in old age."

"Yes, sir," replied the optician, with wriggling white fingers.  "We
make a special study of that.  We endeavour to save the sight--to
store it up, as it were, in--a middle life, for use in old age.  You
see, sir, the pupil of the eye--"

Sir John held up a warning hand.

"The pupil of the eye is your business, as I understand from the
sign above your shop--at all events, it is not mine," he said.
"Just give me some glasses to suit my sight, and don't worry me with
the pupil of the eye."

He turned towards the door, threw back his shoulders, and waited.

"Spectacles, sir?" inquired the man meekly.

"Spectacles, sir!" cried Sir John.  "No, sir.  Spectacles be damned!
I want a pair of eyeglasses."

And these eyeglasses were affixed to the bridge of Sir John
Meredith's nose, as he sat stiffly in the straight-backed chair.

He was reading a scientific book which society had been pleased to
read, mark, and learn, without inwardly digesting, as is the way of
society with books.  Sir John read a good deal--he had read more
lately, perhaps, since entertainments and evening parties had fallen
off so lamentably--and he made a point of keeping up with the mental
progress of the age.

His eyebrows were drawn down, as if the process of storing up
eyesight for his old age was somewhat laborious.  At times he turned
and glanced over his shoulder impatiently at the lamp.

The room was very still in its solid old-fashioned luxury.  Although
it was June a small wood fire burned in the grate, and the hiss of a
piece of damp bark was the only sound within the four walls.  From
without, through the thick curtains, came at intervals the rumble of
distant wheels.  But it was just between times, and the fashionable
world was at its dinner.  Sir John had finished his, not because he
dined earlier than the rest of the world--he could not have done
that--but because a man dining by himself, with a butler and a
footman to wait upon him, does not take very long over his meals.

He was in full evening dress, of course, built up by his tailor,
bewigged, perfumed, and cunningly aided by toilet-table deceptions.

At times his weary old eyes wandered from the printed page to the
smouldering fire, where a whole volume seemed to be written--it took
so long to read.  Then he would pull himself together, glance at the
lamp, readjust the eyeglasses, and plunge resolutely into the book.
He did not always read scientific books.  He had a taste for travel
and adventure--the Arctic regions, Asia, Siberia, and Africa--but
Africa was all locked away in a lower drawer of the writing-table.
He did not care for the servants to meddle with his books, he told
himself.  He did not tell anybody that he did not care to let the
servants see him reading his books of travel in Africa.

There was nothing dismal or lonely about this old man sitting in
evening dress in a high-backed chair, stiffly reading a scientific
book of the modern, cheap science tenor--not written for scientists,
but to step in when the brain is weary of novels and afraid of
communing with itself.  Oh, no!  A gentleman need never be dull.  He
has his necessary occupations.  If he is a man of intellect he need
never be idle.  It is an occupation to keep up with the times.

Sometimes after dinner, while drinking his perfectly made black
coffee, Sir John would idly turn over the invitation cards on the
mantelpiece--the carriage was always in readiness--but of late the
invitations had not proved very tempting.  There was no doubt that
society was not what it used to be.  The summer was not what it used
to be, either.  The evenings were so confoundedly cold.  So he often
stayed at home and read a book.

He paused in the midst of a scientific definition and looked up with
listening eyes.  He had got into the way of listening to the passing
wheels.  Lady Cantourne sometimes called for him on her way to a
festivity, but it was not that.

The wheels he heard had stopped--perhaps it was Lady Cantourne.  But
he did not think so.  She drove behind a pair, and this was not a
pair.  It was wonderful how well he could detect the difference,
considering the age of his ears.

A few minutes later the butler silently threw open the door, and
Jack stood in the threshold.  Sir John Meredith's son had been given
back to him from the gates of death.

The son, like the father, was in immaculate evening dress.  There
was a very subtle cynicism in the thought of turning aside on such a
return as this to dress--to tie a careful white tie and brush
imperceptibly ruffled hair.

There was a little pause, and the two tall men stood, half-bowing
with a marvellous similarity of attitude, gazing steadily into each
other's eyes.  And one cannot help wondering whether it was a mere
accident that Jack Meredith stood motionless on the threshold until
his father said:

"Come in."

"Graves," he continued to the butler, with that pride of keeping up
before all the world which was his, "bring up coffee.  You will take
coffee?" to his son while they shook hands.

"Thanks, yes."

The butler closed the door behind him.  Sir John was holding on to
the back of his high chair in rather a constrained way--almost as if
he were suffering pain.  They looked at each other again, and there
was a resemblance in the very manner of raising the eyelid.  There
was a stronger resemblance in the grim waiting silence which neither
of them would break.

At last Jack spoke, approaching the fire and looking into it.

"You must excuse my taking you by surprise at this--unusual hour."
He turned; saw the lamp, the book, and the eyeglasses--more
especially the eyeglasses, which seemed to break the train of his
thoughts.  "I only landed at Liverpool this afternoon," he went on,
with hopeless politeness.  "I did not trouble you with a telegram,
knowing that you object to them."

The old man bowed gravely.

"I am always glad to see you," he said suavely.  "Will you not sit
down?"

And they had begun wrong.  It is probable that neither of them had
intended this.  Both had probably dreamed of a very different
meeting.  But both alike had counted without that stubborn pride
which will rise up at the wrong time and in the wrong place--the
pride which Jack Meredith had inherited by blood and teaching from
his father.

"I suppose you have dined," said Sir John, when they were seated,
"or may I offer you something?"

"Thanks, I dined on the way up--in a twilit refreshment-room, with
one waiter and a number of attendant black-beetles."

Things were going worse and worse.

Sir John smiled, and he was still smiling when the man brought in
coffee.

"Yes," he said conversationally, "for speed combined with discomfort
I suppose we can hold up heads against any country.  Seeing that you
are dressed, I supposed that you had dined in town."

"No.  I drove straight to my rooms, and kept the cab while I
dressed."

What an important matter this dressing seemed to be!  And there were
fifteen months behind it--fifteen months which had aged one of them
and sobered the other.

Jack was sitting forward in his chair with his immaculate dress-
shoes on the fender--his knees apart, his elbows resting on them,
his eyes still fixed on the fire.  Sir John looked keenly at him
beneath his frowning, lashless lids.  He saw the few grey hairs over
Jack's ears, the suggested wrinkles, the drawn lines about his
mouth.

"You have been ill?" he said.

Joseph's letter was locked away in the top drawer of his writing-
table.

"Yes, I had rather a bad time--a serious illness.  My man nursed me
through it, however, with marked success; and--the Gordons, with
whom I was staying, were very kind."

"I had the pleasure of meeting Miss Gordon."

Jack's face was steady--suavely impenetrable.

Sir John moved a little, and set his empty cup upon the table.

"A charming girl," he added.

"Yes."

There was a little pause.

"You are fortunate in that man of yours," Sir John said.  "A first-
class man."

"Yes--he saved my life."

Sir John blinked, and for the first time his fingers went to his
mouth, as if his lips had suddenly got beyond his control.

"If I may suggest it," he said rather indistinctly, "I think it
would be well if we signified our appreciation of his devotion in
some substantial way.  We might well do something between us."

He paused and threw back his shoulders.

"I should like to give him some substantial token of my--gratitude."

Sir John was nothing if not just.

"Thank you," answered Jack quietly.  He turned his head a little,
and glanced, not at his father, but in his direction.  "He will
appreciate it, I know."

"I should like to see him to-morrow."

Jack winced, as if he had made a mistake.

"He is not in England," he explained.  "I left him behind me in
Africa.  He has gone back to the Simiacine Plateau."

The old man's face dropped rather piteously.

"I am sorry," he said, with one of the sudden relapses into old age
that Lady Cantourne dreaded.  "I may not have a chance of seeing him
to thank him personally.  A good servant is so rare nowadays.  These
modern democrats seem to think that it is a nobler thing to be a bad
servant than a good one.  As if we were not all servants!"

He was thirsting for details.  There were a thousand questions in
his heart, but not one on his lips.

"Will you have the kindness to remember my desire," he went on
suavely, "when you are settling up with your man?"

"Thank you," replied Jack; "I am much obliged to you."

"And in the meantime as you are without a servant you may as well
make use of mine.  One of my men--Henry--who is too stupid to get
into mischief--a great recommendation by the way--understands his
business.  I will ring and have him sent over to your rooms at
once."

He did so, and they sat in silence until the butler had come and
gone.

"We have been very successful with the Simiacine--our scheme," said
Jack suddenly.

"Ah!"

"I have brought home a consignment valued at seventy thousand
pounds."

Sir John's face never changed.

"And," he asked, with veiled sarcasm, "do you carry out the--er--
commercial part of the scheme?"

"I shall begin to arrange for the sale of the consignment to-morrow.
I shall have no difficulty--at least, I anticipate none.  Yes, I do
the commercial part--as well as the other.  I held the Plateau
against two thousand natives for three months, with fifty-five men.
But I do the commercial part as well."

As he was looking into the fire still, Sir John stole a long
comprehensive glance at his son's face.  His old eyes lighted up
with pride and something else--possibly love.  The clock on the
mantelpiece struck eleven.  Jack looked at it thoughtfully, then he
rose.

"I must not keep you any longer," he said, somewhat stiffly.

Sir John rose also.

"I dare say you are tired; you need rest.  In some ways you look
stronger, in others you look fagged and pulled down."

"It is the result of my illness," said Jack.  "I am really quite
strong."

He paused, standing on the hearthrug, then suddenly he held out his
hand.

"Good-night," he said.

"Good-night."

Sir John allowed him to go to the door, to touch the handle, before
he spoke.

"Then--" he said, and Jack paused.  "Then we are no farther on?"

"In what way?"

"In respect to the matter over which we unfortunately disagreed
before you went away?"

Jack turned, with his hand on the door.

"I have not changed my mind in any respect," he said gently.
"Perhaps you are inclined to take my altered circumstances into
consideration--to modify your views."

"I am getting rather old for modification," answered Sir John
suavely.

"And you see no reason for altering your decision?"

"None."

"Then I am afraid we are no farther on."  He paused.  "Good-night,"
he added gently, as he opened the door.

"Good-night."



CHAPTER XXXV.  ENGAGED



     Well, there's the game.  I throw the stakes.

Lady Cantourne was sitting alone in her drawing-room, and the
expression of her usually bright and smiling face betokened
considerable perturbation.

Truth to tell, there were not many things in life that had power to
frighten her ladyship very much.  Hers had been a prosperous life as
prosperity is reckoned.  She had married a rich man who had retained
his riches while he lived and had left them to her when he died.
And that was all the world knew of Lady Cantourne.  Like the
majority of us, she presented her character and not herself to her
neighbours; and these held, as neighbours do, that the cheery,
capable little woman of the world whom they met everywhere was Lady
Cantourne.  Circumstances alter us less than we think.  If we are of
a gay temperament--gay we shall be through all.  If sombre, no
happiness can drive that sombreness away.  Lady Cantourne was meant
for happiness and a joyous motherhood.  She had had neither; but she
went on being "meant" until the end--that is to say, she was still
cheery and capable.  She had thrown an open letter on the little
table at her side--a letter from Jack Meredith announcing his return
to England, and his natural desire to call and pay his respects in
the course of the afternoon.

"So," she had said before she laid the letter aside, "he is home
again--and he means to carry it through?"

Then she had settled down to think, in her own comfortable chair
(for if one may not be happy, comfort is at all events within the
reach of some of us), and the troubled look had supervened.

Each of our lives is like a book with one strong character moving
through its pages.  The strong character in Lady Cantourne's book
had been Sir John Meredith.  Her whole life seemed to have been
spent on the outskirts of his--watching it.  And what she had seen
had not been conducive to her own happiness.

She knew that the note she had just received meant a great deal to
Sir John Meredith.  It meant that Jack had come home with the full
intention of fulfilling his engagement to Millicent Chyne.  At first
she had rather resented Sir John's outspoken objection to her niece
as his son's wife.  But during the last months she had gradually
come round to his way of thinking; not, perhaps, for the first time
in her life.  She had watched Millicent.  She had studied her own
niece dispassionately, as much from Sir John Meredith's point of
view as was possible under the circumstances.  And she had made
several discoveries.  The first of these had been precisely that
discovery which one would expect from a woman--namely, the state of
Millicent's own feelings.

Lady Cantourne had known for the last twelve months--almost as long
as Sir John Meredith had known--that Millicent loved Jack.  Upon
this knowledge came the humiliation--the degradation--of one
flirtation after another; and not even after, but interlaced.  Guy
Oscard in particular, and others in a minor degree, had passed that
way.  It was a shameless record of that which might have been good
in a man prostituted and trampled under foot by the vanity of a
woman.  Lady Cantourne was of the world worldly; and because of
that, because the finest material has a seamy side, and the highest
walks in life have the hardiest weeds, she knew what love should be.
Here was a love--it may be modern, advanced, chic, fin-de-siecle,
up-to-date, or anything the coming generation may choose to call it-
-but it was eminently cheap and ephemeral because it could not make
a little sacrifice of vanity.  For the sake of the man she loved--
mark that!--not only the man to whom she was engaged, but whom she
loved--Millicent Chyne could not forbear pandering to her own vanity
by the sacrifice of her own modesty and purity of thought.  There
was the sting for Lady Cantourne.

She was tolerant and eminently wise, this old lady who had made one
huge mistake long ago; and she knew that the danger, the harm, the
low vulgarity lay in the little fact that Millicent Chyne loved Jack
Meredith, according to her lights.

While she still sat there the bell rang, and quite suddenly she
chased away the troubled look from her eyes, leaving there the keen,
kindly gaze to which the world of London society was well
accustomed.  When Jack Meredith came into the room, she rose to
greet him with a smile of welcome.

"Before I shake hands," she said, "tell me if you have been to see
your father."

"I went last night--almost straight from the station.  The first
person I spoke to in London, except a cabman."

So she shook hands.

"You know," she said, without looking at him--indeed, carefully
avoiding doing so--"life is too short to quarrel with one's father.
At least it may prove too short to make it up again--that is the
danger."

She sat down, with a graceful swing of her silken skirt which was
habitual with her--the remnant of a past day.

Jack Meredith winced.  He had seen a difference in his father, and
Lady Cantourne was corroborating it.

"The quarrel was not mine," he said.  "I admit that I ought to have
known him better.  I ought to have spoken to him before asking
Millicent.  It was a mistake."

Lady Cantourne looked up suddenly.

"What was a mistake?"

"Not asking his--opinion first."

She turned to the table where his letter lay, and fingered the paper
pensively.

"I thought, perhaps, that you had found that the other was a
mistake--the engagement."

"No," he answered.

Lady Cantourne's face betrayed nothing.  There was no sigh, of
relief or disappointment.  She merely looked at the clock.

"Millicent will be in presently," she said; "she is out riding."

She did not think it necessary to add that her niece was riding with
a very youthful officer in the Guards.  Lady Cantourne never made
mischief from a sense of duty, or any mistaken motive of that sort.
Some people argue that there is very little that is worth keeping
secret; to which one may reply that there is still less worth
disclosing.

They talked of other things--of his life in Africa, of his success
with the Simiacine, of which discovery the newspapers were not yet
weary--until the bell was heard in the basement, and thereafter
Millicent's voice in the hall.

Lady Cantourne rose deliberately and went downstairs to tell her
niece that he was in the drawing-room, leaving him there, waiting,
alone.

Presently the door opened and Millicent hurried in.  She threw her
gloves and whip--anywhere--on the floor, and ran to him.

"Oh, Jack!" she cried.

It was very prettily done.  In its way it was a poem.  But while his
arms were still round her she looked towards the window, wondering
whether he had seen her ride up to the door accompanied by the very
youthful officer in the Guards.

"And, Jack--do you know," she went on, "all the newspapers have been
full of you.  You are quite a celebrity.  And are you really as rich
as they say?"

Jack Meredith was conscious of a very slight check--it was not
exactly a jar.  His feeling was that rather of a man who thinks that
he is swimming in deep water, and finds suddenly that he can touch
the bottom.

"I think I can safely say that I am not," he answered.

And it was from that eminently practical point that they departed
into the future--arranging that same, and filling up its blanks with
all the wisdom of lovers and the rest of us.

Lady Cantourne left them there for nearly an hour, in which space of
time she probably reflected they could build up as rosy a future as
was good for them to contemplate.  Then she returned to the drawing-
room, followed by a full-sized footman bearing tea.

She was too discreet a woman--too deeply versed in the sudden
changes of the human mind and heart--to say anything until one of
them should give her a distinct lead.  They were not shy and awkward
children.  Perhaps she reflected that the generation to which they
belonged is not one heavily handicapped by too subtle a delicacy of
feeling.

Jack Meredith gave her the lead before long.

"Millicent," he said, without a vestige of embarrassment, "has
consented to be openly engaged now."

Lady Cantourne nodded comprehensively.

"I think she is very wise," she said.

There was a little pause.

"I KNOW she is very wise," she added, turning and laying her hand on
Jack's arm.  The two phrases had quite a different meaning.  "She
will have a good husband."

"So you can tell EVERYBODY now," chimed in Millicent in her silvery
way.  She was blushing and looking very pretty with her hair blown
about her ears by her last canter with the youthful officer, who was
at that moment riding pensively home with a bunch of violets in his
coat which had not been there when he started from the stable.

She had found out casually from Jack that Guy Oscard was exiled
vaguely to the middle of Africa for an indefinite period.  The rest-
-the youthful officer and the others--did not give her much anxiety.
They, she argued to herself, had nothing to bring against her.  They
may have THOUGHT things--but who can prevent people from thinking
things?  Besides, "I thought" is always a poor position.

There were, it was true, a good many men whom she would rather not
tell herself.  But this difficulty was obviated by requesting Lady
Cantourne to tell everybody.  Everybody would tell everybody else,
and would, of course, ask if these particular persons in question
had been told; if not, they would have to be told at once.  Indeed
there would be quite a competition to relieve Millicent of her
little difficulty.  Besides, she could not marry more than one
person.  Besides--besides--besides--the last word of Millicent and
her kind.

Lady Cantourne was not very communicative during that dainty little
tea a trois, but she listened smilingly to Jack's optimistic views
and Millicent's somewhat valueless comments.

"I am certain," said Millicent, at length boldly attacking the
question that was in all their minds, "that Sir John will be all
right now.  Of course, it is only natural that he should not like
Jack to--to get engaged yet.  Especially before, when it would have
made a difference to him--in money, I mean.  But now that Jack is
independent--you know, auntie, that Jack is richer than Sir John--is
it not nice?"

"Very," answered Lady Cantourne, in a voice rather suggestive of
humouring a child's admiration of a new toy; "very nice indeed."

"And all so quickly!" pursued Millicent.  "Only a few months--not
two years, you know.  Of course, at first, the time went horribly
slow; but afterwards, when one got accustomed to it, life became
tolerable.  You did not expect me to sit and mope all day, did you,
Jack?"

"No, of course not," replied Jack; and quite suddenly, as in a
flash, he saw his former self, and wondered vaguely whether he would
get back to that self.

Lady Cantourne was rather thoughtful at that moment.  She could not
help coming back and back to Sir John.

"Of course," she said to Jack, "we must let your father know at
once.  The news must not reach him from an outside source."

Jack nodded.

"If it did," he said, "I do not think the 'outside source' would get
much satisfaction out of him."

"Probably not; but I was not thinking of the 'outside source' or the
outside effect.  I was thinking of his feelings," replied Lady
Cantourne rather sharply.  She had lately fallen into the habit of
not sparing Millicent very much; and that young lady, bright and
sweet and good-natured, had not failed to notice it.  Indeed, she
had spoken of it to several people--to partners at dances and
others.  She attributed it to approaching old age.

"I will write and tell him," said Jack quietly.

Lady Cantourne raised her eyebrows slightly, but made no spoken
comment.

"I think," she said, after a little pause, "that Millicent ought to
write too."

Millicent shuddered prettily.  She was dimly conscious that her
handwriting--of an exaggerated size, executed with a special broad-
pointed pen purchasable in only one shop in Regent Street--was not
likely to meet with his approval.  A letter written thus--two words
to a line--on note-paper that would have been vulgar had it not been
so very novel, was sure to incur prejudice before it was fully
unfolded by a stuffy, old-fashioned person.

"I will try," she said; "but you know, auntie dear, I CANNOT write a
long explanatory letter.  There never seems to be time, does there?
Besides, I am afraid Sir John disapproves of me.  I don't know why;
I'm sure I have tried"--which was perfectly true.

Even funerals and lovers must bow to meal-times, and Jack Meredith
was not the man to outstay his welcome.  He saw Lady Cantourne
glance at the clock.  Clever as she was, she could not do it without
being seen by him.

So he took his leave, and Millicent went to the head of the stairs
with him.

He refused the pressing invitation of a hansom-cabman, and proceeded
to walk leisurely home to his rooms.  Perhaps he was wondering why
his heart was not brimming over with joy.  The human heart has a
singular way of seeing farther than its astute friend and coadjutor,
the brain.  It sometimes refuses to be filled with glee, when
outward circumstances most distinctly demand that state.  And at
other times, when outward things are strong, not to say opaque, the
heart is joyful, and we know not why.

Jack Meredith knew that he was the luckiest man in London.  He was
rich, in good health, and he was engaged to be married to Millicent
Chyne, the acknowledged belle of his circle.  She had in no way
changed.  She was just as pretty, as fascinating, as gay as ever;
and something told him that she loved him--something which had not
been there before he went away, something that had come when the
overweening vanity of youth went.  And it was just this knowledge to
which he clung with a nervous mental grip.  He did not feel elated
as he should; he was aware of that, and he could not account for it.
But Millicent loved him, so it must be all right.  He had always
cared for Millicent.  Everything had been done in order that he
might marry her--the quarrel with his father, the finding of the
Simiacine, the determination to get well which had saved his life--
all this so that he might marry Millicent.  And now he was going to
marry her, and it must be all right.  Perhaps, as men get older, the
effervescent elation of youth leaves them; but they are none the
less happy.  That must be it.



CHAPTER XXXVI.  NO COMPROMISE



     Where he fixed his heart he set his hand
     To do the thing he willed.

"MY DEAR SIR JOHN,--It is useless my pretending to ignore your views
respecting Jack's marriage to Millicent; and I therefore take up my
pen with regret to inform you that the two young people have now
decided to make public their engagement.  Moreover, I imagine it is
their intention to get married very soon.  You and I have been
friends through a longer spell of years than many lives and most
friendships extend, and at the risk of being considered inconsequent
I must pause to thank you--well--to thank you for having been so
true a friend to me all through my life.  If that life were given to
me to begin again, I should like to retrace the years back to a
point when--little more than a child--I yielded to influence and
made a great mistake.  I should like to begin my life over again
from there.  When you first signified your disapproval of Millicent
as a wife for Jack, I confess I was a little nettled; but on the
strength of the friendship to which I have referred I must ask you
to believe that never from the moment that I learnt your opinion
have I by thought or action gone counter to it.  This marriage is
none of my doing.  Jack is too good for her--I see that now.  You
are wiser than I--you always have been.  If any word of mine can
alleviate your distress at this unwelcome event, let it be that I am
certain that Millicent has the right feeling for your boy; and from
this knowledge I cannot but gather great hopes.  All may yet come to
your satisfaction.  Millicent is young, and perhaps a little
volatile, but Jack inherits your strength of character; he may mould
her to better things than either you or I dream of.  I hope
sincerely that it may be so.  If I have appeared passive in this
matter it is not because I have been indifferent; but I know that my
yea or nay could carry no weight.--Your old friend,
                               "CAROLINE CANTOURNE."

This letter reached Sir John Meredith while he was waiting for the
announcement that dinner was ready.  The announcement arrived
immediately afterwards, but he did not go down to dinner until he
had read the letter.  He fumbled for his newly-purchased eyeglasses,
because Lady Cantourne's handwriting was thin and spidery, as became
a lady of standing; also the gas was so d----d bad.  He used this
expression somewhat freely, and usually put a "Sir" after it as his
father had done before him.

His eyes grew rather fierce as he read; then they suddenly softened,
and he threw back his shoulders as he had done a thousand times on
the threshold of Lady Cantourne's drawing-room.  He read the whole
letter very carefully and gravely, as if all that the writer had to
say was worthy of his most respectful attention.  Then he folded the
paper and placed it in the breast-pocket of his coat.  He looked a
little bowed and strangely old, as he stood for a moment on the
hearthrug thinking.  It was his practice to stand thus on the
hearthrug from the time that he entered the drawing-room, dressed,
until the announcement of dinner; and the cook far below in the
basement was conscious of the attitude of the master as the pointer
of the clock approached the hour.

Of late Sir John had felt a singular desire to sit down whenever
opportunity should offer; but he had always been found standing on
the hearthrug by the butler, and, hard old aristocrat that he was,
he would not yield to the somewhat angular blandishments of the
stiff-backed chair.

He stood for a few moments with his back to the smouldering fire,
and, being quite alone, he perhaps forgot to stiffen his neck; for
his head drooped, his lips were unsteady.  He was a very old man.

A few minutes later, when he strode into the dining-room where
butler and footman awaited him, he was erect, imperturbable,
impenetrable.

At dinner it was evident that his keen brain was hard at work.  He
forgot one or two of the formalities which were religiously observed
at that solitary table.  He hastened over his wine, and then he went
to the library.  There he wrote a telegram, slowly, in his firm
ornamental handwriting.

It was addressed to "Gordon, Loango," and the gist of it was--"Wire
whereabouts of Oscard--when he may be expected home."

The footman was despatched in a hansom cab, with instructions to
take the telegram to the head office of the Submarine Telegraph
Company, and there to arrange prepayment of the reply.

"I rather expect Mr. Meredith," said Sir John to the butler, who was
trimming the library lamp while the footman received his
instructions.  "Do not bring coffee until he comes."

And Sir John was right.  At half-past eight Jack arrived.  Sir John
was awaiting him in the library, grimly sitting in his high-backed
chair, as carefully dressed as for a great reception.

He rose when his son entered the room, and they shook hands.  There
was a certain air of concentration about both, as if they each
intended to say more than they had ever said before.  The coffee was
duly brought.  This was a revival of an old custom.  In bygone days
Jack had frequently come in thus, and they had taken coffee before
going together in Sir John's carriage to one of the great social
functions at which their presence was almost a necessity.  Jack had
always poured out the coffee--to-night he did not offer to do so.

"I came," he said suddenly, "to give you a piece of news which I am
afraid will not be very welcome."

Sir John bowed his head gravely.

"You need not temper it," he said, "to me."

"Millicent and I have decided to make our engagement known,"
retorted Jack at once.

Sir John bowed again.  To any one but his son his suave acquiescence
would have been maddening.

"I should have liked," continued Jack, "to have done it with your
consent."

Sir John winced.  He sat upright in his chair and threw back his
shoulders.  If Jack intended to continue in this way, there would be
difficulties to face.  Father and son were equally determined.  Jack
had proved too cunning a pupil.  The old aristocrat's own lessons
were being turned against him, and the younger man has, as it were,
the light of the future shining upon his game in such a case as
this, while the elder plays in the gathering gloom.

"You know," said Sir John gravely, "that I am not much given to
altering my opinions.  I do not say that they are of any value; but,
such as they are, I usually hold to them.  When you did me the
honour of mentioning this matter to me last year, I gave you my
opinion."

"And it has in no way altered?"

"In no way.  I have found no reason to alter it."

"Can you modify it?" asked Jack gently.

"No."

"Not in any degree?"

Jack drew a deep breath.

"No."

He emitted the breath slowly, making an effort so that it did not
take the form of a sigh.

"Will you, at all events, give me your reasons?" he asked.  "I am
not a child."

Sir John fumbled at his lips--he glanced sharply at his son.

"I think," he said, "that it would be advisable not to ask them."

"I should like to know why you object to my marrying Millicent,"
persisted Jack.

"Simply because I know a bad woman when I see her," retorted Sir
John deliberately.

Jack raised his eyebrows.  He glanced towards the door, as if
contemplating leaving the room without further ado.  But he sat
quite still.  It was wonderful how little it hurt him.  It was more-
-it was significant.  Sir John, who was watching, saw the glance and
guessed the meaning of it.  An iron self-control had been the first
thing he had taught Jack--years before, when he was in his first
knickerbockers.  The lesson had not been forgotten.

"I am sorry you have said that," said the son.

"Just," continued the father, "as I know a good one."

He paused, and they were both thinking of the same woman--Jocelyn
Gordon.

Sir John had said his say about Millicent Chyne; and his son knew
that that was the last word.  She was a bad woman.  From that point
he would never move.

"I think," said Jack, "that it is useless discussing that point any
longer."

"Quite.  When do you intend getting married?"

"As soon as possible."

"A mere question for the dressmaker?" suggested Sir John suavely.

"Yes."

Sir John nodded gravely.

"Well," he said, "you are, as you say, no longer a child--perhaps I
forget that sometimes.  If I do, I must ask you to forgive me.  I
will not attempt to dissuade you.  You probably know your own
affairs best--"

He paused, drawing his two hands slowly back on his knees, looking
into the fire as if his life was written there.

"At all events," he continued, "it has the initial recommendation of
a good motive.  I imagine it is what is called a love-match.  I
don't know much about such matters.  Your mother, my lamented wife,
was an excellent woman--too excellent, I take it, to be able to
inspire the feeling in a mere human being--perhaps the angels . . .
she never inspired it in me, at all events.  My own life has not
been quite a success within this room; outside it has been
brilliant, active, full of excitement.  Engineers know of machines
which will stay upright so long as the pace is kept up; some of us
are like that.  I am not complaining.  I have had no worse a time
than my neighbours, except that it has lasted longer."

He leant back suddenly in his chair with a strange little laugh.
Jack was leaning forward, listening with that respect which he
always accorded to his father.

"I imagine," went on Sir John, "that the novelists and poets are not
very far wrong.  It seems that there is such a thing as a humdrum
happiness in marriage.  I have seen quite elderly people who seem
still to take pleasure in each other's society.  With the example of
my own life before me, I wanted yours to be different.  My motive
was not entirely bad.  But perhaps you know your own affairs best.
What money have you?"

Jack moved uneasily in his chair.

"I have completed the sale of the last consignment of Simiacine," he
began categorically.  "The demand for it has increased.  We have now
sold two hundred thousand pounds worth in England and America.  My
share is about sixty thousand pounds.  I have invested most of that
sum, and my present income is a little over two thousand a year."

Sir John nodded gravely.

"I congratulate you," he said; "you have done wonderfully well.  It
is satisfactory in one way, in that it shows that, if a gentleman
chooses to go into these commercial affairs, he can do as well as
the bourgeoisie.  It leads one to believe that English gentlemen are
not degenerating so rapidly as I am told the evening Radical
newspapers demonstrate for the trifling consideration of one
halfpenny.  But"--he paused with an expressive gesture of the hand--
"I should have preferred that this interesting truth had been proved
by the son of some one else."

"I think," replied Jack, "that our speculation hardly comes under
the category of commerce.  It was not money that was at risk, but
our own lives."

Sir John's eyes hardened.

"Adventure," he suggested rather indistinctly, "travel and
adventure.  There is a class of men one meets frequently who do a
little exploring and a great deal of talking.  Faute de mieux, they
do not hesitate to interest one in the special pill to which they
resort when indisposed, and they are not above advertising a soap.
You are not going to write a book, I trust?"

"No.  It would hardly serve our purpose to write a book."

"In what way?" inquired Sir John.

"Our purpose is to conceal the whereabouts of the Simiacine
Plateau."

"But you are not going back there?" exclaimed Sir John unguardedly.

"We certainly do not intend to abandon it."

Sir John leant forward again with his two hands open on his knees,
thinking deeply.

"A married man," he said, "could hardly reconcile it with his
conscience to undertake such a perilous expedition."

"No," replied Jack, with quiet significance.

Sir John gave a forced laugh.

"I see," he said, "that you have outwitted me.  If I do not give my
consent to your marriage without further delay, you will go back to
Africa."

Jack bowed his head gravely.

There was a long silence, while the two men sat side by side, gazing
into the fire.

"I cannot afford to do that," said the father at length; "I am
getting too old to indulge in the luxury of pride.  I will attend
your marriage.  I will smile and say pretty things to the
bridesmaids.  Before the world I will consent under the condition
that the ceremony does not take place before two months from this
date."

"I agree to that," put in Jack.

Sir John rose and stood on the hearthrug, looking down from his
great height upon his son.

"But," he continued, "between us let it be understood that I move in
no degree from my original position.  I object to Millicent Chyne as
your wife.  But I bow to the force of circumstances.  I admit that
you have a perfect right to marry whom you choose--in two months
time."

So Jack took his leave.

"In two months' time," repeated Sir John, when he was alone, with
one of his twisted, cynic smiles, "in two months time--qui vivra
verra."



CHAPTER XXXVII.  FOUL PLAY



     Oh, fairest of creation, last and best
     Of all God's works!

For one or two days after the public announcement of her engagement,
Millicent was not quite free from care.  She rather dreaded the
posts.  It was not that she feared one letter in particular, but the
postman's disquietingly urgent rap caused her a vague uneasiness
many times a day.

Sir John's reply to her appealing little letter came short and
sharp.  She showed it to no one.

"MY DEAR MISS CHYNE,--I hasten to reply to your kind letter of to-
day announcing your approaching marriage with my son.  There are a
certain number of trinkets which have always been handed on from
generation to generation.  I will at once have these cleaned by the
jeweller, in order that they may be presented to you immediately
after the ceremony.  Allow me to urge upon you the advisability of
drawing up and signing a prenuptial marriage settlement.--Yours
sincerely,
                                    "JOHN MEREDITH."

Millicent bit her pretty lip when she perused this note.  She made
two comments, at a considerable interval of time.

"Stupid old thing!" was the first; and then, after a pause, "I HOPE
they are all diamonds."

Close upon the heels of this letter followed a host of others.
There was the gushing, fervent letter of the friend whose joy was
not marred by the knowledge that a wedding present must necessarily
follow.  Those among one's friends who are not called upon to offer
a more substantial token of joy than a letter are always the most
keenly pleased to hear the news of an engagement.  There was the
sober sheet (crossed) from the elderly relative living in the
country, who, never having been married herself, takes the
opportunity of giving four pages of advice to one about to enter
that parlous state.  There was the fatherly letter from the country
rector who christened Millicent, and thinks that he may be asked to
marry her in a fashionable London church--and so to a bishopric.  On
heavily-crested stationery follow the missives of the ladies whose
daughters would make sweet bridesmaids.  Also the hearty
congratulations of the slight acquaintance, who is going to Egypt
for the winter, and being desirous of letting her house without
having to pay one of those horrid agents, "sees no harm in
mentioning it."  The house being most singularly suitable for a
young married couple.  Besides these, the thousand and one who
wished to be invited to the wedding in order to taste cake and
champagne at the time, and thereafter the sweeter glory of seeing
their names in the fashionable news.

All these Millicent read with little interest, and answered in that
conveniently large calligraphy which made three lines look like a
note, and magnified a note into a four-page letter.  The
dressmakers' circulars--the tradesmen's illustrated catalogues of
things she could not possibly want, and the jewellers' delicate
photographs interested her a thousand times more.  But even these
did not satisfy her.  All these people were glad--most of them were
delighted.  Millicent wanted to hear from those who were not
delighted, not even pleased, but in despair.  She wanted to hear
more of the broken hearts.  But somehow the broken hearts were
silent.  Could it be that they did not care?  Could it be that THEY
were only flirting?  She dismissed these silly questions with the
promptness which they deserved.  It was useless to think of it in
that way--more useless, perhaps, than she suspected; for she was not
deep enough, nor observant enough, to know that the broken hearts in
question had been much more influenced by the suspicion that she
cared for them than by the thought that they cared for her.  She did
not know the lamentable, vulgar fact that any woman can be a flirt
if she only degrade her womanhood to flattery.  Men do not want to
love so much as to be loved.  Such is, moreover, their sublime
vanity that they are ready to believe any one who tells them,
however subtly--mesdames, you cannot be too subtle for a man's
vanity to find your meaning--that they are not as other men.

To the commonplace observer it would, therefore, appear
(erroneously, no doubt) that the broken hearts having been
practically assured that Millicent Chyne did not care for them,
promptly made the discovery that the lack of feeling was reciprocal.
But Millicent did not, of course, adopt this theory.  She knew
better.  She only wondered why several young men did not
communicate, and she was slightly uneasy lest in their anger they
should do or say something indiscreet.

There was no reason why the young people should wait.  And when
there is no reason why the young people should wait, there is every
reason why they should not do so.  Thus it came about that in a week
or so Millicent was engaged in the happiest pursuit of her life.
She was buying clothes without a thought of money.  The full joy of
the trousseau was hers.  The wives of her guardians having been
morally bought, dirt cheap, at the price of an anticipatory
invitation to the wedding, those elderly gentlemen were with little
difficulty won over to a pretty little femininely vague scheme of
withdrawing just a little of the capital--said capital to be spent
in the purchase of a really GOOD trousseau, you know.  The word
"good" emanating from such a source must, of course, be read as
"novel," which in some circles means the same thing.

Millicent entered into the thing in the right spirit.  Whatever the
future might hold for her--and she trusted that it might be full of
millinery--she was determined to enjoy the living present to its
utmost.  Her life at this time was a whirl of excitement--excitement
of the keenest order--namely, trying on.

"You do not know what it is," she said, with a happy little sigh, to
those among her friends who probably never would, "to stand the
whole day long being pinned into linings by Madame Videpoche."

And despite the sigh, she did it with an angelic sweetness of temper
which quite touched the heart of Madame Videpoche, while making no
difference in the bill.

Lady Cantourne would not have been human had she assumed the neutral
in this important matter.  She frankly enjoyed it all immensely.

"You know, Sir John," she said in confidence to him one day at
Hurlingham, "I have always dressed Millicent."

"You need not tell me that," he interrupted gracefully.  "On ne peut
s'y tromper."

"And," she went on almost apologetically, "whatever my own feelings
on the subject may be, I cannot abandon her now.  The world expects
much from Millicent Chyne.  I have taught it to do so.  It will
expect more from Millicent--Meredith."

The old gentleman bowed in his formal way.

"And the world must not be disappointed," he suggested cynically.

"No," she answered, with an energetic little nod, "it must not.
That is the way to manage the world.  Give it what it expects; and
just a little more to keep its attention fixed."

Sir John tapped with his gloved finger pensively on the knob of his
silver-mounted cane.

"And may I ask your ladyship," he inquired suavely, "what the world
expects of me?"

He knew her well enough to know that she never made use of the
method epigrammatic without good reason.

"A diamond crescent," she answered stoutly.  "The fashion-papers
must be able to write about the gift of the bridegroom's father."

"Ah--and they prefer a diamond crescent?"

"Yes," answered Lady Cantourne.  "That always seems to satisfy
them."

He bowed gravely and continued to watch the polo with that
marvellously youthful interest which was his.

"Does the world expect anything else?" he asked presently.

"No, I think not," replied Lady Cantourne, with a bright little
absent smile.  "Not just now."

"Will you tell me if it does?"

He had risen; for there were other great ladies on the ground to
whom he must pay his old-fashioned respects.

"Certainly," she answered, looking up at him.

"I should deem it a favour," he continued.  "If the world does not
get what it expects, I imagine it will begin to inquire why; and if
it cannot find reasons it will make them."

In due course the diamond crescent arrived.

"It is rather nice of the old thing," was Millicent's comment.  She
held the jewel at various angles in various lights.  There was no
doubt that this was the handsomest present she had received--sent
direct from the jeweller's shop with an uncompromising card inside
the case.  She never saw the irony of it; but Sir John had probably
not expected that she would.  He enjoyed it alone--as he enjoyed or
endured most things.

Lady Cantourne examined it with some curiosity.

"I have never seen such beautiful diamonds," she said simply.

There were other presents to be opened and examined.  For the
invitations had not been sent out, and many were willing to pay
handsomely for the privilege of being mentioned among the guests.
It is, one finds, after the invitations have been issued that the
presents begin to fall off.

But on this particular morning the other presents fell on barren
ground.  Millicent only half heeded them.  She could not lay the
diamond crescent finally aside.  Some people have the power of
imparting a little piece of their individuality to their letters,
and even to a commonplace gift.  Sir John was beginning to have this
power over Millicent.  She was rapidly falling into a stupid habit
of feeling uneasy whenever she thought of him.  She was vaguely
alarmed at his uncompromising adherence to the position he had
assumed.  She had never failed yet to work her will with men--young
and old--by a pretty persistence, a steady flattery, a subtle
pleading manner.  But Sir John had met all her wiles with his
adamantine smile.  He would not openly declare himself an enemy--
which she argued to herself would have been much nicer of him.  He
was merely a friend of her aunt's, and from that contemplative
position he never stepped down.  She could not quite make out what
he was "driving at," as she herself put it.  He never found fault,
but she knew that his disapproval of her was the result of long and
careful study.  Perhaps in her heart--despite all her contradictory
arguments--she knew that he was right.

"I wonder," she said half-aloud, taking up the crescent again, "why
he sent it to me?"

Lady Cantourne, who was writing letters at a terrible rate, glanced
sharply up.  She was beginning to be aware of Millicent's unspoken
fear of Sir John.  Moreover, she was clever enough to connect it
with her niece's daily increasing love for the man who was soon to
be her husband.

"Well," she answered, "I should be rather surprised if he gave you
nothing."

There was a little pause, only broken by the scratching of Lady
Cantourne's quill pen.

"Auntie!" exclaimed the girl suddenly, "why does he hate me?  You
have known him all your life--you must know why he hates me so."

Lady Cantourne shrugged her shoulders.

"I suppose," went on Millicent with singular heat, "that some one
has been telling him things about me--horrid things--false things--
that I am a flirt, or something like that; I am sure I'm not."

Lady Cantourne was addressing an envelope, and did not make any
reply.

"Has he said anything to you, Aunt Caroline?" asked Millicent in an
aggrieved voice.

Lady Cantourne laid aside her letter.

"No," she answered slowly, "but I suppose there are things which he
does not understand."

"Things?"

Her ladyship looked up steadily.

"Guy Oscard, for instance," she said; "I don't quite understand Guy
Oscard, Millicent."

The girl turned away impatiently.  She was keenly alive to the
advantage of turning her face away.  For in her pocket she had at
that moment a letter from Guy Oscard--the last relic of the old
excitement which was so dear to her, and which she was already
beginning to miss.  Joseph had posted this letter in Msala nearly
two months before.  It had travelled down from the Simiacine Plateau
with others, in a parcel beneath the mattress of Jack Meredith's
litter.  It was a letter written in good faith by an honest, devoted
man to the woman whom he looked upon already as almost his wife--a
letter which no man need have been ashamed of writing, but which a
woman ought not to have read unless she intended to be the writer's
wife.

Millicent had read this letter more than once.  She liked it because
it was evidently sincere.  The man's heart could be heard beating in
every line of it.  Moreover, she had made inquiries that very
morning at the Post Office about the African mail.  She wanted the
excitement of another letter like that.

"Oh, Guy Oscard!" she replied innocently to Lady Cantourne; "that
was nothing."

Lady Cantourne kept silence, and presently she returned to her
letters.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.  THE ACCURSED CAMP



     Here--judge if hell, with all its power to damn,
     Can add one curse to the foul thing I am--

There are some places in the world where a curse seems to brood in
the atmosphere.  Msala was one of these.  Perhaps these places are
accursed by the deeds that have been done there.  Who can tell?

Could the trees--the two gigantic palms that stood by the river's
edge--could these have spoken, they might perhaps have told the tale
of this little inland station in that country where, as the founder
of the hamlet was in the habit of saying, no one knows what is going
on.

All went well with the retreating column until they were almost in
sight of Msala, when the flotilla was attacked by no less than three
hippopotamuses.  One canoe was sunk, and four others were so badly
damaged that they could not be kept afloat with their proper
complement of men.  There was nothing for it but to establish a camp
at Msala, and wait there until the builders had repaired the damaged
canoes.

The walls of Durnovo's house were still standing, and here Guy
Oscard established himself with as much comfort as circumstances
allowed.  He caused a temporary roof of palm-leaves to be laid on
the charred beams, and within the principal room--the very room
where the three organisers of the great Simiacine scheme had first
laid their plans--he set up his simple camp furniture.

Oscard was too great a traveller, too experienced a wanderer, to be
put out of temper by this enforced rest.  The men had worked very
well hitherto.  It had, in its way, been a great feat of
generalship, this leading through a wild country of men unprepared
for travel, scantily provisioned, disorganised by recent events.  No
accident had happened, no serious delay had been incurred, although
the rate of progress had necessarily been very slow.  Nearly six
weeks had elapsed since Oscard with his little following had turned
their backs for ever on the Simiacine Plateau.  But now the period
of acute danger had passed away.  They had almost reached
civilisation.  Oscard was content.

When Oscard was content he smoked a slower pipe than usual--watching
each cloud of smoke vanish into thin air.  He was smoking very
slowly this, the third evening of their encampment at Msala.  There
had been heavy rain during the day, and the whole lifeless forest
was dripping with a continuous, ceaseless clatter of heavy drops on
tropic foliage; with a united sound like a widespread whisper.

Oscard was sitting in the windowless room without a light, for a
light only attracted a myriad of heavy-winged moths.  He was seated
before the long French window, which, since the sash had gone, had
been used as a door.  Before him, in the glimmering light of the
mystic Southern Cross, the great river crept unctuously, silently to
the sea.  It seemed to be stealing away surreptitiously while the
forest whispered of it.  On its surface the reflection of the great
stars of the southern hemisphere ran into little streaks of silver,
shimmering away into darkness.

All sound of human life was still.  The natives were asleep.  In the
next room, Joseph in his hammock was just on the barrier between the
waking and the sleeping life--as soldiers learn to be.  Oscard would
not have needed to raise his voice to call him to his side.

The leader of this hurried retreat had been sitting there for two
hours.  The slimy moving surface of the river had entered into his
brain; the restless silence of the African forest alone kept him
awake.  He hardly realised that the sound momentarily gaining
strength within his ears was that of a paddle--a single, weakly,
irregular paddle.  It was not a sound to wake a sleeping man.  It
came so slowly, so gently through the whisper of the dripping leaves
that it would enter into his slumbers and make itself part of them.

Guy Oscard only realised the meaning of that sound when a black
shadow crept on to the smooth evenness of the river's breast.
Oscard was eminently a man of action.  In a moment he was on his
feet, and in the darkness of the room there was the gleam of a
rifle-barrel.  He came back to the window--watching.

He saw the canoe approach the bank.  He heard the thud of the paddle
as it was thrown upon the ground.  In the gloom, to which his eyes
were accustomed, he saw a man step from the boat to the shore and
draw the canoe up.  The silent midnight visitor then turned and
walked up towards the house.  There was something familiar in the
gait--the legs were slightly bowed.  The man was walking with great
difficulty, staggering a little at each step.  He seemed to be in
great pain.

Guy Oscard laid aside his rifle.  He stepped forward to the open
window.

"Is that you, Durnovo?" he said, without raising his voice.

"Yes," replied the other.  His voice was muffled, as if his tongue
was swollen, and there was a startling break in it.

Oscard stepped aside, and Durnovo passed into his own house.

"Got a light?" he said, in the same muffled way.

In the next room Joseph could be heard striking a match, and a
moment later he entered the room, throwing a flood of light before
him.

"GOOD GOD!" cried Guy Oscard.  He stepped back as if he had been
struck, with his hand shielding his eyes.

"Save us!" ejaculated Joseph in the same breath.

The thing that stood there--sickening their gaze--was not a human
being at all.  Take a man's eyelids away, leaving the round balls
staring, blood-streaked; cut away his lips, leaving the grinning
teeth and red gums; shear off his ears--that which is left is not a
man at all.  This had been done to Victor Durnovo.  Truly the
vengeance of man is crueller than the vengeance of God!

Could he have seen himself, Victor Durnovo would never have shown
that face--or what remained of it--to a human being.  He could only
have killed himself.  Who can tell what cruelties had been paid for,
piece by piece, in this loathsome mutilation?  The slaves had
wreaked their terrible vengeance; but the greatest, the deepest, the
most inhuman cruelty was in letting him go.

"They've made a pretty mess of me," said Durnovo in a sickening,
lifeless voice--and he stood there, with a terrible caricature of a
grin.

Joseph set down the lamp with a groan, and went back into the dark
room beyond, where he cast himself upon the ground and buried his
face in his hands.

"O Lord!" he muttered.  "O God in heaven--kill it, kill it!"

Guy Oscard never attempted to run away from it.  He stood slowly
gulping down his nauseating horror.  His teeth were clenched; his
face, through the sunburn, livid; the blue of his eyes seemed to
have faded into an ashen grey.  The sight he was looking on would
have sent three men out of five into gibbering idiocy.

Then at last he moved forward.  With averted eyes he took Durnovo by
the arm.

"Come," he said, "lie down upon my bed.  I will try and help you.
Can you take some food?"

Durnovo threw himself down heavily on the bed.  There was a
punishment sufficient to expiate all his sins in the effort he saw
that Guy Oscard had had to make before he touched him.  He turned
his face away.

"I haven't eaten anything for twenty-four hours," he said, with a
whistling intonation.

"Joseph," said Oscard, returning to the door of the inner room--his
voice sounded different, there was a metallic ring in it--"get
something for Mr. Durnovo--some soup or something."

Joseph obeyed, shaking as if ague were in his bones.

Oscard administered the soup.  He tended Durnovo with all the
gentleness of a woman, and a fortitude that was above the fortitude
of men.  Despite himself, his hands trembled--big and strong as they
were; his whole being was contracted with horror and pain.  Whatever
Victor Durnovo had been, he was now an object of such pity that
before it all possible human sins faded into spotlessness.  There
was no crime in all that human nature has found to commit for which
such cruelty as this would be justly meted out in punishment.

Durnovo spoke from time to time, but he could see the effect that
his hissing speech had upon his companion, and in time he gave it
up.  He told haltingly of the horrors of the Simiacine Plateau--of
the last grim tragedy acted there--how, at last, blinded with his
blood, maimed, stupefied by agony, he had been hounded down the
slope by a yelling, laughing horde of torturers.

There was not much to be done, and presently Guy Oscard moved away
to his camp-chair, where he sat staring into the night.  Sleep was
impossible.  Strong, hardened, weather-beaten man that he was, his
nerves were all a-tingle, his flesh creeping and jumping with
horror.  Gradually he collected his faculties enough to begin to
think about the future.  What was he to do with this man?  He could
not take him to Loango.  He could not risk that Jocelyn or even
Maurice Gordon should look upon this horror.

Joseph had crept back into the inner room, where he had no light,
and could be heard breathing hard, wide awake in his hammock.

Suddenly the silence was broken by a loud cry:

"Oscard!  Oscard!"

In a moment Joseph and Oscard were at the bedside.

Durnovo was sitting up, and he grabbed at Oscard's arm.

"For God's sake!" he cried.  "For God's sake, man, don't let me go
to sleep!"

"What do you mean?" asked Oscard.  They both thought that he had
gone mad.  Sleep had nothing more to do with Durnovo's eyes--
protruding, staring, terrible to look at.

"Don't let me go to sleep," he repeated.  "Don't!  Don't!"

"All right," said Oscard soothingly; "all right.  We'll look after
you."

He fell back on the bed.  In the flickering light his eyeballs
gleamed.

Then quite suddenly he rose to a sitting position again with a wild
effort.

"I've got it!  I've got it!" he cried.

"Got what?"

"The sleeping sickness!"

The two listeners knew of this strange disease.  Oscard had seen a
whole village devastated by it, the habitants lying about their own
doors, stricken down by a deadly sleep from which they never woke.
It is known on the West Coast of Africa, and the cure for it is
unknown.

"Hold me!" cried Durnovo.  "Don't let me sleep!"

His head fell forward even as he spoke, and the staring wide-open
eyes that could not sleep made a horror of him.

Oscard took him by the arms, and held him in a sitting position.
Durnovo's fingers were clutching at his sleeve.

"Shake me!  God! shake me!"

Then Oscard took him in his strong arms, and set him on his feet.
He shook him gently at first, but as the dread somnolence crept on
he shook harder, until the mutilated inhuman head rolled upon the
shoulders.

"It's a sin to let that man live," exclaimed Joseph, turning away in
horror.

"It's a sin to let ANY man die," replied Oscard, and with his great
strength he shook Durnovo like a garment.

And so Victor Durnovo died.  His stained soul left his body in Guy
Oscard's hands, and the big Englishman shook the corpse, trying to
awake it from that sleep which knows no earthly waking.

So, after all, Heaven stepped in and laid its softening hand on the
judgment of men.  But there was a strange irony in the mode of
death.  It was strange that this man, who never could have closed
his eyes again, should have been stricken down by the sleeping
sickness.

They laid the body on the floor, and covered the face, which was
less gruesome in death, for the pity of the eyes had given place to
peace.

The morning light, bursting suddenly through the trees as it does in
Equatorial Africa, showed the room set in order and Guy Oscard
sleeping in his camp-chair.  Behind him, on the floor, lay the form
of Victor Durnovo.  Joseph, less iron-nerved than the great big-game
hunter, was awake and astir with the dawn.  He, too, was calmer now.
He had seen death face to face too often to be appalled by it in
broad daylight.

So they buried Victor Durnovo between the two giant palms at Msala,
with his feet turned towards the river which he had made his, as if
ready to arise when the call comes and undertake one of those
marvellous journeys of his which are yet a household word on the
West Coast.

The cloth fluttered as they lowered him into his narrow resting-
place, and the face they covered had a strange mystic grin, as if he
saw something that they could not perceive.  Perhaps he did.
Perhaps he saw the Simiacine Plateau, and knew that, after all, he
had won the last throw; for up there, far above the table-lands of
Central Africa, there lay beneath high Heaven a charnel-house.
Hounded down the slope by his tormentors, he had left a memento
behind him surer than their torturing knives, keener than their
sharpest steel--he had left the sleeping sickness behind him.

His last journey had been worthy of his reputation.  In twenty days
he had covered the distance between the Plateau and Msala, stumbling
on alone, blinded, wounded, sore-stricken, through a thousand daily
valleys of death.  With wonderful endurance he had paddled night and
day down the sleek river without rest, with the dread microbe of the
sleeping sickness slowly creeping through his veins.

He had lived in dread of this disease, as men do of a sickness which
clutches them at last; but when it came he did not recognise it.  He
was so racked by pain that he never recognised the symptoms; he was
so panic-stricken, so paralysed by the nameless fear that lay behind
him, that he could only think of pressing forward.  In the night
hours he would suddenly rise from his precarious bed under the
shadow of a fallen tree and stagger on, haunted by a picture of his
ruthless foes pressing through the jungle in pursuit.  Thus he
accomplished his wonderful journey alone through trackless forests;
thus he fended off the sickness which gripped him the moment that he
laid him down to rest.

He had left it--a grim legacy--to his torturers, and before he
reached the river all was still on the Simiacine Plateau.

And so we leave Victor Durnovo.  His sins are buried with him, and
beneath the giant palms at Msala lies Maurice Gordon's secret.

And so we leave Msala, the accursed camp.  Far up the Ogowe river,
on the left bank, the giant palms still stand sentry, and beneath
their shade the crumbling walls of a cursed house are slowly
disappearing beneath luxuriant growths of grass and brushwood.



CHAPTER XXXIX.  THE EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCE



     Yet I think at God's Tribunal
     Some large answer you shall hear.

In a dimly-lighted room in the bungalow at Loango two women had been
astir all night.  Now, as dawn approached, one of them, worn out
with watching, wearied with that blessed fatigue of anxiety which
dulls the senses, had laid her down on the curtain-covered bed to
sleep.

While Marie slept Jocelyn Gordon walked softly backwards and
forwards with Nestorius in her arms.  Nestorius was probably dying.
He lay in the Englishwoman's gentle arms--a little brown bundle of
flexile limbs and cotton night-shirt.  It was terribly hot.  All day
the rain had been pending; all night it had held off until the whole
earth seemed to pulsate with the desire for relief.  Jocelyn kept
moving, so that the changing air wafted over the little bare limbs
might allay the fever.  She was in evening dress, having, indeed,
been called from the drawing-room by Marie; and the child's woolly
black head was pressed against her breast as if to seek relief from
the inward pressure on the awakening brain.

A missionary possessing some small knowledge of medicine had been
with them until midnight, and, having done his best, had gone away,
leaving the child to the two women.  Maurice had been in twice,
clumsily, on tiptoe, to look with ill-concealed awe at the child,
and to whisper hopes to Marie which displayed a ludicrous, if
lamentable, ignorance of what he was talking about.

"Little chap's better," he said; "I'm sure of it.  See, Marie, his
eyes are brighter.  Devilish hot, though, isn't he--poor little
soul?"

Then he stood about, awkwardly sympathetic.

"Anything I can do for you, Jocelyn?" he asked, and then departed,
only too pleased to get away from the impending calamity.

Marie was not emotional.  She seemed to have left all emotion
behind, in some other phase of her life which was shut off from the
present by a thick curtain.  She was patient and calm, but she was
not so clever with the child as was Jocelyn.  Perhaps her greater
experience acted as a handicap in her execution of those small
offices to the sick which may be rendered useless at any moment.
Perhaps she knew that Nestorius was wanted elsewhere.  Or it may
only have been that Jocelyn was able to soothe him sooner, because
there is an unwritten law that those who love us best are not always
the best nurses for us.

When, at last, sleep came to the child, it was in Jocelyn's arms
that he lay with that utter abandonment of pose which makes a
sleeping infant and a sleeping kitten more graceful than any living
thing.  Marie leant over Nestorius until her dusky cheek almost
touched Jocelyn's fair English one.

"He is asleep," she whispered.

And her great dark eyes probed Jocelyn's face as if wondering
whether her arms, bearing that burden, told her that this was the
last sleep.

Jocelyn nodded gravely, and continued the gentle swaying motion
affected by women under such circumstances.

Nestorius continued to sleep, and at last Marie, overcome by sleep
herself, lay down on her bed.

Thus it came about that the dawn found Jocelyn moving softly in the
room, with Nestorius asleep in her arms.  A pink light came creeping
through the trees, presently turning to a golden yellow, and,
behold! it was light.  It was a little cooler, for the sea-breeze
had set in.  The cool air from the surface of the water was rushing
inland to supply the place of the heated atmosphere rising towards
the sun.  With the breeze came the increased murmur of the distant
surf.  The dull continuous sound seemed to live amidst the summits
of the trees far above the low-built house.  It rose and fell with a
long-drawn, rhythmic swing.  Already the sounds of life were
mingling with it--the low of a cow--the crowing of the cocks--the
hum of the noisier daylight insect-life.

Jocelyn moved to the window, and her heart suddenly leapt to her
throat.

On the brown turf in front of the house were two men, stretched side
by side, as if other hands had laid them there, dead.  One man was
much bigger than the other.  He was of exceptional stature.  Jocelyn
recognised them almost immediately--Guy Oscard and Joseph.  They had
arrived during the night, and, not wishing to disturb the sleeping
household, had lain them down in the front garden to sleep with a
quiet conscience beneath the stars.  The action was so startlingly
characteristic, so suggestive of the primeval, simple man whom
Oscard represented as one born out of time, that Jocelyn laughed
suddenly.

While she was still at the window, Marie rose and came to her side.
Nestorius was still sleeping.  Following the direction of her
mistress's eyes, Marie saw the two men.  Joseph was sleeping on his
face, after the manner of Thomas Atkins all the world over.  Guy
Oscard lay on his side, with his head on his arm.

"That is so like Mr. Oscard," said Marie, with her patient smile,
"so like--so like.  It could be no other man--to do a thing like
that."

Jocelyn gave Nestorius back to his mother, and the two women stood
for a moment looking out at the sleepers, little knowing what the
advent of these two men brought with it for one of them.  Then the
Englishwoman went to change her dress, awaking her brother as she
passed his room.

It was not long before Maurice Gordon had hospitably awakened the
travellers and brought them in to change their torn and ragged
clothes for something more presentable.  It would appear that
Nestorius was not particular.  He did not mind dying on the kitchen
table if need be.  His mother deposited him on this table on a
pillow, while she prepared the breakfast with that patient
resignation which seemed to emanate from having tasted of the worst
that the world has to give.

Joseph was ready the first, and he promptly repaired to the kitchen,
where he set to work to help Marie, with his customary energy.

It was Marie who first perceived a difference in Nestorius.  His
dusky little face was shining with a sudden, weakening perspiration,
his limbs lay lifelessly, with a lack of their usual comfortable-
looking grace.

"Go!" she said quickly.  "Fetch Miss Gordon!"

Jocelyn came, and Maurice and Guy Oscard; for they had been together
in the dining-room when Joseph delivered Marie's message.

Nestorius was wide awake now.  When he saw Oscard his small face
suddenly expanded into a brilliant grin.

"Bad case!" he said.

It was rather startling, until Marie spoke.

"He thinks you are Mr. Meredith," she said.  "Mr. Meredith taught
him to say 'Bad case!'"

Nestorius looked from one to the other with gravely speculative
eyes, which presently closed.

"He is dying--yes!" said the mother, looking at Jocelyn.

Oscard knew more of this matter than any of them.  He went forward
and leant over the table.  Marie removed a piece of salted bacon
that was lying on the table near to the pillow.  With the
unconsciousness of long habit she swept some crumbs away with her
apron.  Oscard was trying to find the pulse in the tiny wrist, but
there was not much to find.

"I am afraid he is very ill," he said.

At this moment the kettle boiled over, and Marie had to turn away to
attend to her duties.

When she came back Oscard was looking, not at Nestorius, but at her.

"We spent four days at Msala," he said, in a tone that meant that he
had more to tell her.

"Yes?"

"The place is in ruins, as you know."

She nodded with a peculiar little twist of the lips as if he were
hurting her.

"And I am afraid I have some bad news for you.  Victor Durnovo, your
master--"

"Yes--tell quickly!"

"He is dead.  We buried him at Msala.  He died in my arms."

At this moment Joseph gave a little gasp and turned away to the
window, where he stood with his broad back turned towards them.
Maurice Gordon, as white as death, was leaning against the table.
He quite forgot himself.  His lips were apart, his jaw had dropped;
he was hanging breathlessly on Guy Oscard's next word.

"He died of the sleeping sickness," said Oscard.  "We had come down
to Msala before him--Joseph and I.  I broke up the partnership, and
we left him in possession of the Simiacine Plateau.  But his men
turned against him.  For some reason his authority over them failed.
He was obliged to make a dash for Msala, and he reached it, but the
sickness was upon him."

Maurice Gordon drew a sharp sigh of relief which was almost a sob.
Marie was standing with her two hands on the pillow where Nestorius
lay.  Her deep eyes were fixed on the Englishman's sunburnt,
strongly gentle face.

"Did he send a message for me--yes?" she said softly.

"No," answered Oscard.  "He--there was no time."

Joseph at the window had turned half round.

"He was my husband," said Marie in her clear, deep tones; "the
father of this little one, which you call Nestorius."

Oscard bowed his head without surprise.  Jocelyn was standing still
as a statue, with her hand on the dying infant's cheek.  No one
dared to look at her.

"It is all right," said Marie bluntly.  "We were married at Sierra
Leone by the English chaplain.  My father, who is dead, kept a hotel
at Sierra Leone, and he knew the ways of the--half-castes.  He said
that the Protestant Church at Sierra Leone was good enough for him,
and we were married there.  And then Victor brought me away from my
people to this place and to Msala.  Then he got tired of me--he
cared no more.  He said I was ugly."

She pronounced it "ogly," and seemed to think that the story
finished there.  At all events, she added nothing to it.  But Joseph
thought fit to contribute a post scriptum.

"You'd better tell 'em, mistress," he said, "that he tried to starve
yer and them kids--that he wanted to leave yer at Msala to be
massacred by the tribes, only Mr. Oscard sent yer down 'ere.  You'd
better tell 'em that."

"No," she replied, with a faint smile.  "No, because he was my
husband."

Guy Oscard was looking very hard at Joseph, and, catching his eye,
made a little gesture commanding silence.  He did not want him to
say too much.

Joseph turned away again to the window, and stood thus, apart, till
the end.

"I have no doubt," said Oscard to Marie, "that he would have sent
some message to you had he been able; but he was very ill--he was
dying--when he reached Msala.  It was wonderful that he got there at
all.  We did what we could for him, but it was hopeless."

Marie raised her shoulders with her pathetic gesture of resignation.

"The sleeping sickness," she said, "what will you?  There is no
remedy.  He always said he would die of that.  He feared it."

In the greater sorrow she seemed to have forgotten her child, who
was staring open-eyed at the ceiling.  The two others--the boy and
girl--were playing on the doorstep with some unconsidered trifles
from the dust-heap--after the manner of children all the world over.

"He was not a good man," said Marie, turning to Jocelyn, as if she
alone of all present would understand.  "He was not a good husband,
but--" she shrugged her shoulders with one of her patient, shadowy
smiles--"it makes so little difference--yes?"

Jocelyn said nothing.  None of them had aught to say to her.  For
each in that room could lay a separate sin at Victor Durnovo's door.
He was gone beyond the reach of human justice to the Higher Court
where the Extenuating Circumstance is fully understood.  The
generosity of that silence was infectious, and they told her
nothing.  Had they spoken she would perforce have believed them; but
then, as she herself said, it would have made "so little
difference."  So Victor Durnovo leaves these pages, and all we can
do is to remember the writing on the ground.  Who amongst us dares
to withhold the Extenuating Circumstance?  Who is ready to leave
this world without that crutch to lean upon?  Given a mixed blood--
evil black with evil white and what can the result be but evil?
Given the climate of Western Africa and the mental irritation
thereof, added to a lack of education and the natural vice inherent
in man, and you have--Victor Durnovo.

Nestorius--the shameless--stretched out his little bare limbs and
turned half over on his side.  He looked from one face to the other
with the grave wonder that was his.  He had never been taken much
notice of.  His short walks in life had been very near the ground,
where trifles look very large, and from whence those larger
stumbling-blocks which occupy our attention are quite invisible.  He
had been the third--the solitary third child who usually makes his
own interest in life, and is left by or leaves the rest of his
family.

It was not quite clear to him why he was the centre of so much
attention.  His mind did not run to the comprehension of the fact
that he was the wearer of borrowed plumes--the sable plumes of King
Death.

He had always wanted to get on to the kitchen table--there was much
there that interested him, and supplied him with food for thought.
He had risked his life on more than one occasion in attempts to
scale that height with the assistance of a saucepan that turned over
and poured culinary delicacies on his toes, or perhaps a sleeping
cat that got up and walked away much annoyed.  And now that he was
at last at this dizzy height he was sorry to find that he was too
tired to crawl about and explore the vast possibilities of it.  He
was rather too tired to convey his forefinger to his mouth, and was
forced to work out mental problems without that aid to thought.

Presently his eyes fell on Guy Oscard's face, and again his own
small features expanded into a smile.

"Bad case!" he said, and, turning over, he nestled down into the
pillow, and he had the answer to the many questions that puzzled his
small brain.



CHAPTER XL.  SIR JOHN'S LAST CARD



     'Tis better playing with a lion's whelp
     Than with an old one dying.

As through an opera runs the rhythm of one dominant air, so through
men's lives there rings a dominant note, soft in youth, strong in
manhood, and soft again in old age.  But it is always there, and
whether soft in the gentler periods, or strong amidst the noise and
clang of the perihelion, it dominates always and gives its tone to
the whole life.

The dominant tone of Sir John Meredith's existence had been the high
clear note of battle.  He had always found something or some one to
fight from the very beginning, and now, in his old age, he was
fighting still.  His had never been the din and crash of warfare by
sword and cannon, but the subtler, deeper combat of the pen.  In his
active days he had got through a vast amount of work--that
unchronicled work of the Foreign Office which never comes, through
the cheap newspapers, to the voracious maw of a chattering public.
His name was better known on the banks of the Neva, the Seine, the
Bosphorus, or the swift-rolling Iser than by the Thames; and grim
Sir John was content to have it so.

His face had never been public property, the comic papers had never
used his personality as a peg upon which to hang their ever-changing
political principles.  But he had always been "there," as he himself
vaguely put it.  That is to say, he had always been at the back--one
of those invisible powers of the stage by whose command the scene is
shifted, the lights are lowered for the tragedy, or the gay music
plays on the buffoon.  Sir John had no sympathy with a generation of
men and women who would rather be laughed at and despised than
unnoticed.  He belonged to an age wherein it was held better to be a
gentleman than the object of a cheap and evanescent notoriety--and
he was at once the despair and the dread of newspaper interviewers,
enterprising publishers, and tuft-hunters.

He was so little known out of his own select circle that the porters
in Euston Station asked each other in vain who the old swell waiting
for the four o'clock "up" from Liverpool could be.  The four o'clock
was, moreover, not the first express which Sir John had met that
day.  His stately carriage-and-pair had pushed its way into the
crowd of smaller and humbler vehicular fry earlier in the afternoon,
and on that occasion also the old gentleman had indulged in a grave
promenade upon the platform.

He was walking up and down there now, with his hand in the small of
his back, where of late he had been aware of a constant aching pain.
He was very upright, however, and supremely unconscious of the
curiosity aroused by his presence in the mind of the station
canaille.  His lips were rather more troublesome than usual, and his
keen eyes twinkled with a suppressed excitement.

In former days there had been no one equal to him in certain
diplomatic crises where it was a question of brow-beating suavely
the uppish representative of some foreign State.  No man could then
rival him in the insolently aristocratic school of diplomacy which
England has made her own.  But in his most dangerous crisis he had
never been restless, apprehensive, pessimistic, as he was at this
moment.  And after all it was a very simple matter that had brought
him there.  It was merely the question of meeting a man as if by
accident, and then afterwards making that man do certain things
required of him.  Moreover, the man was only Guy Oscard--learned if
you will in forest craft, but a mere child in the hand of so old a
diplomatist as Sir John Meredith.

That which made Sir John so uneasy was the abiding knowledge that
Jack's wedding-day would dawn in twelve hours.  The margin was much
too small, through, however, no fault of Sir John's.  The West
African steamer had been delayed--unaccountably--two days.  A third
day lost in the Atlantic would have overthrown Sir John Meredith's
plan.  He had often cut things fine before, but somehow now--not
that he was getting old, oh no!--but somehow the suspense was too
much for his nerves.  He soon became irritated and distrustful.
Besides the pain in his back wearied him and interfered with the
clear sequence of his thoughts.

The owners of the West African steamer had telegraphed that the
passengers had left for London in two separate trains.  Guy Oscard
was not in the first--there was no positive reason why he should be
in the second.  More depended upon his being in this second express
than Sir John cared to contemplate.

The course of his peregrinations brought him into the vicinity of an
inspector whose attitude betokened respect while his presence raised
hope.

"Is there any reason to suppose that your train is coming?" he
inquired of the official.

"Signalled now, my lord," replied the inspector, touching his cap.

"And what does that mean?" uncompromisingly ignorant of technical
parlance.

"It will be in in one minute, my lord."

Sir John's hand was over his lips as he walked back to the carriage,
casting as it were the commander's eye over the field.

"When the crowd is round the train you come and look for me," he
said to the footman, who touched his cockaded hat in silence.

At that moment the train lumbered in, the engine wearing that
inanely self-important air affected by locomotives of the larger
build.  From all quarters an army of porters besieged the platform,
and in a few seconds Sir John was in the centre of an agitated
crowd.  There was one other calm man on that platform--another man
with no parcels, whom no one sought to embrace.  His brown face and
close-cropped head towered above a sea of agitated bonnets.  Sir
John, whose walk in life had been through crowds, elbowed his way
forward and deliberately walked against Guy Oscard.

"D--n it!" he exclaimed, turning round.  "Ah--Mr. Oscard--how d'ye
do?"

"How are you?" replied Guy Oscard, really glad to see him.

"You are a good man for a crowd; I think I will follow in your
wake," said Sir John.  "A number of people--of the baser sort.  Got
my carriage here somewhere.  Fool of a man looking for me in the
wrong place, no doubt.  Where are you going?  May I offer you a
lift?  This way.  Here, John, take Mr. Oscard's parcels."

He could not have done it better in his keenest day.  Guy Oscard was
seated in the huge, roomy carriage before he had realised what had
happened to him.

"Your man will look after your traps, I suppose?" said Sir John,
hospitably drawing the fur rug from the opposite seat.

"Yes," replied Guy, "although he is not my man.  He is Jack's man,
Joseph."

"Ah, of course; excellent servant, too.  Jack told me he had left
him with you."

Sir John leant out of the window and asked the footman whether he
knew his colleague Joseph, and upon receiving an answer in the
affirmative he gave orders--acting as Guy's mouthpiece--that the
luggage was to be conveyed to Russell Square.  While these orders
were being executed the two men sat waiting in the carriage, and Sir
John lost no time.

"I am glad," he said, "to have this opportunity of thanking you for
all your kindness to my son in this wild expedition of yours."

"Yes," replied Oscard, with a transparent reserve which rather
puzzled Sir John.

"You must excuse me," said the old gentleman, sitting rather
stiffly, "if I appear to take a somewhat limited interest in this
great Simiacine discovery, of which there has been considerable talk
in some circles.  The limit to my interest is drawn by a lamentable
ignorance.  I am afraid the business details are rather
unintelligible to me.  My son has endeavoured, somewhat cursorily
perhaps, to explain the matter to me, but I have never mastered the-
-er--commercial technicalities.  However, I understand that you have
made quite a mint of money, which is the chief consideration--
nowadays."

He drew the rug more closely round his knees and looked out of the
window, deeply interested in a dispute between two cabmen.

"Yes--we have been very successful," said Oscard.  "How is your son
now?  When I last saw him he was in a very bad way.  Indeed, I
hardly expected to see him again!"

Sir John was still interested in the dispute, which was not yet
settled.

"He is well, thank you.  You know that he is going to be married."

"He told me that he was engaged," replied Oscard; "but I did not
know that anything definite was fixed."

"The most definite thing of all is fixed--the date.  It is to-
morrow."

"To-morrow?"

"Yes.  You have not much time to prepare your wedding garments."

"Oh," replied Oscard, with a laugh, "I have not been bidden."

"I expect the invitation is awaiting you at your house.  No doubt my
son will want you to be present--they would both like you to be
there, no doubt.  But come with me now; we will call and see Jack.
I know where to find him.  In fact, I have an appointment with him
at a quarter to five."

It may seem strange that Guy Oscard should not have asked the name
of his friend's prospective bride, but Sir John was ready for that.
He gave his companion no time.  Whenever he opened his lips Sir John
turned Oscard's thoughts aside.

What he had told him was strictly true.  He had an appointment with
Jack--an appointment of his own making.

"Yes," he said, in pursuance of his policy of choking questions, "he
is wonderfully well, as you will see for yourself."

Oscard submitted silently to this high-handed arrangement.  He had
not known Sir John well.  Indeed, all his intercourse with him has
been noted in these pages.  He was rather surprised to find him so
talkative and so very friendly.  But Guy Oscard was not a very deep
person.  He was sublimely indifferent to the Longdrawn Motive.  He
presumed that Sir John made friends of his son's friends; and in his
straightforward acceptance of facts he was perfectly well aware that
by his timely rescue he had saved Jack Meredith from the hands of
the tribes.  The presumption was that Sir John knew of this, and it
was only natural that he should be somewhat exceptionally gracious
to the man who had saved his son's life.

It would seem that Sir John divined these thoughts, for he presently
spoke of them.

"Owing to an unfortunate difference of opinion with my son we have
not been very communicative lately," he said, with that deliberation
which he knew how to assume when he desired to be heard without
interruption.  "I am therefore almost entirely ignorant of your
African affairs, but I imagine Jack owes more to your pluck and
promptness than has yet transpired.  I gathered as much from one or
two conversations I had with Miss Gordon when she was in England.  I
am one of Miss Gordon's many admirers."

"And I am another," said Oscard frankly.

"Ah!  Then you are happy enough to be the object of a reciprocal
feeling which for myself I could scarcely expect.  She spoke of you
in no measured language.  I gathered from her that if you had not
acted with great promptitude the--er--happy event of to-morrow could
not have taken place."

The old man paused, and Guy Oscard, who looked somewhat distressed
and distinctly uncomfortable, could find no graceful way of changing
the conversation.

"In a word," went on Sir John in a very severe tone, "I owe you a
great debt.  You saved my boy's life."

"Yes, but you see," argued Oscard, finding his tongue at last, "out
there things like that don't count for so much."

"Oh--don't they?"  There was the suggestion of a smile beneath Sir
John's grim eyebrows.

"No," returned Oscard rather lamely, "it is a sort of thing that
happens every day out there."

Sir John turned suddenly, and with the courtliness that was ever his
he indulged in a rare exhibition of feeling.  He laid his hand on
Guy Oscard's stalwart knee.

"My dear Oscard," he said, and when he chose he could render his
voice very soft and affectionate, "none of these arguments apply to
me because I am not out there.  I like you for trying to make little
of your exploit.  Such conduct is worthy of you--worthy of a
gentleman; but you cannot disguise the fact that Jack owes his life
to you and I owe you the same, which, between you and me I may
mention, is more valuable to me than my own.  I want you to remember
always that I am your debtor, and if--if circumstances should ever
seem to indicate that the feeling I have for you is anything but
friendly and kind, do me the honour of disbelieving those
indications--you understand?"

"Yes," replied Oscard untruthfully.

"Here we are at Lady Cantourne's," continued Sir John, "where, as it
happens, I expect to meet Jack.  Her ladyship is naturally
interested in the affair of to-morrow, and has kindly undertaken to
keep us up to date in our behaviour.  You will come in with me?"

Oscard remembered afterwards that he was rather puzzled--that there
was perhaps in his simple mind the faintest tinge of a suspicion.
At the moment, however, there was no time to do anything but follow.
The man had already rung the bell, and Lady Cantourne's butler was
holding the door open.  There was something in his attitude vaguely
suggestive of expectation.  He never took his eyes from Sir John
Meredith's face, as if on the alert for an unspoken order.

Guy Oscard followed his companion into the hall, and the very scent
of the house--for each house speaks to more senses than one--made
his heart leap in his broad breast.  It seemed as if Millicent's
presence was in the very air.  This was more than he could have
hoped.  He had not intended to call this afternoon, although the
visit was only to have been postponed for twenty-four hours.

Sir John Meredith's face was a marvel to see.  It was quite steady.
He was upright and alert, with all the intrepidity of his mind up in
arms.  There was a light in his eyes--a gleam of light from other
days, not yet burnt out.

He laid aside his gold-headed cane and threw back his shoulders.

"Is Mr. Meredith upstairs?" he said to the butler.

"Yes--sir."

The man moved towards the stairs.

"You need not come!" said Sir John, holding up his hand.

The butler stood aside and Sir John led the way up to the drawing-
room.

At the door he paused for a moment.  Guy Oscard was at his heels.
Then he opened the door rather slowly, and motioned gracefully with
his left hand to Oscard to pass in before him.

Oscard stepped forward.  When he had crossed the threshold Sir John
closed the door sharply behind him and turned to go downstairs.



CHAPTER XLI.  A TROIS



     Men serve women kneeling; when they get on their feet they go
away.

Guy Oscard stood for a moment on the threshold.  He heard the door
close behind him, and he took two steps farther forward.

Jack Meredith and Millicent were at the fireplace.  There was a heap
of disordered paper and string upon the table, and a few wedding
presents standing in the midst of their packing.

Millicent's pretty face was quite white.  She looked from Meredith
to Oscard with a sudden horror in her eyes.  For the first time in
her life she was at a loss--quite taken aback.

"Oh-h!" she whispered, and that was all.

The silence that followed was tense as if something in the
atmosphere was about to snap; and in the midst of it the wheels of
Sir John's retreating carriage came to the ears of the three persons
in the drawing-room.

It was only for a moment, but in that moment the two men saw
clearly.  It was as if the veil from the girl's mind had fallen--
leaving her thoughts confessed, bare before them.  In the same
instant they both saw--they both sped back in thought to their first
meeting, to the hundred links of the chain that brought them to the
present moment--they KNEW; and Millicent felt that they knew.

"Are YOU going to be married to-morrow?" asked Guy Oscard
deliberately.  He never was a man to whom a successful appeal for
the slightest mitigation of justice could have been made.  His
dealings had ever been with men, from whom he had exacted as
scrupulous an honour as he had given.  He did not know that women
are different--that honour is not their strong point.

Millicent did not answer.  She looked to Meredith to answer for her;
but Meredith was looking at Oscard, and in his lazy eyes there
glowed the singular affection and admiration which he had bestowed
long time before on this simple gentleman--his mental inferior.

"Are YOU going to be married to-morrow?" repeated Oscard, standing
quite still, with a calmness that frightened her.

"Yes," she answered rather feebly.

She knew that she could explain it all.  She could have explained it
to either of them separately, but to both together, somehow it was
difficult.  Her mind was filled with clamouring arguments and
explanations and plausible excuses; but she did not know which to
select first.  None of them seemed quite equal to this occasion.
These men required something deeper, and stronger, and simpler than
she had to offer them.

Moreover, she was paralysed by a feeling that was quite new to her--
a horrid feeling that something had gone from her.  She had lost her
strongest, her single arm:  her beauty.  This seemed to have fallen
from her.  It seemed to count for nothing at this time.  There is a
time that comes as surely as death will come in the life of every
beautiful woman--a time wherein she suddenly realises how trivial a
thing her beauty is--how limited, how useless, how ineffectual!

Millicent Chyne made a little appealing movement towards Meredith,
who relentlessly stepped back.  It was the magic of the love that
filled his heart for Oscard.  Had she wronged any man in the world
but Guy Oscard, that little movement--full of love and tenderness
and sweet contrition--might have saved her.  But it was Oscard's
heart that she had broken; for broken they both knew it to be, and
Jack Meredith stepped back from her touch as from pollution.  His
superficial, imagined love for her had been killed at a single blow.
Her beauty was no more to him at that moment than the beauty of a
picture.

"Oh, Jack!" she gasped; and had there been another woman in the room
that woman would have known that Millicent loved him with the love
that comes once only.  But men are not very acute in such matters--
they either read wrong or not at all.

"It is all a mistake," she said breathlessly, looking from one to
the other.

"A most awkward mistake," suggested Meredith, with a cruel smile
that made her wince.

"Mr. Oscard must have mistaken me altogether," the girl went on,
volubly addressing herself to Meredith--she wanted nothing from
Oscard.  "I may have been silly, perhaps, or merely ignorant and
blind.  How was I to know that he meant what he said?"

"How, indeed?" agreed Meredith, with a grave bow.

"Besides, he has no business to come here bringing false accusations
against me.  He has no right--it is cruel and ungentlemanly.  He
cannot prove anything; he cannot say that I ever distinctly gave him
to understand--er, anything--that I ever promised to be engaged or
anything like that."

She turned upon Oscard, whose demeanour was stolid, almost dense.
He looked very large and somewhat difficult to move.

"He has not attempted to do so yet," suggested Jack suavely, looking
at his friend.

"I do not see that it is quite a question of proofs," said Oscard
quietly, in a voice that did not sound like his at all.  "We are not
in a court of justice, where ladies like to settle these questions
now.  If we were I could challenge you to produce my letters.  There
is no doubt of my meaning in them."

"There are also my poor contributions to--your collection," chimed
in Jack Meredith.  "A comparison must have been interesting to you,
by the same mail presumably, under the same postmark."

"I made no comparison," the girl cried defiantly.  "There was no
question of comparison."

She said it shamelessly, and it hurt Meredith more than it hurt Guy
Oscard, for whom the sting was intended.

"Comparison or no comparison," said Jack Meredith quickly, with the
keenness of a good fencer who has been touched, "there can be no
doubt of the fact that you were engaged to us both at the same time.
You told us both to go out and make a fortune wherewith to buy--your
affections.  One can only presume that the highest bidder--the owner
of the largest fortune--was to be the happy man.  Unfortunately we
became partners, and--such was the power of your fascination--we
made the fortune; but we share and share alike in that.  We are
equal, so far as the--price is concerned.  The situation is
interesting and rather--amusing.  It is your turn to move.  We await
your further instructions in considerable suspense."

She stared at him with bloodless lips.  She did not seem to
understand what he was saying.  At last she spoke, ignoring Guy
Oscard's presence altogether.

"Considering that we are to be married to-morrow, I do not think
that you should speak to me like that," she said with a strange,
concentrated eagerness.

"Pardon me, we are not going to be married to-morrow."

Her brilliant teeth closed on her lower lip with a snap, and she
stood looking at him, breathing so hard that the sound was almost a
sob.

"What do you mean?" she whispered hoarsely.

He raised his shoulders in polite surprise at her dulness of
comprehension.

"In the unfortunate circumstances in which you are placed," he
explained, "it seems to me that the least one can do is to offer
every assistance in one's power.  Please consider me hors de
concours.  In a word--I scratch."

She gasped like a swimmer swimming for life.  She was fighting for
that which some deem dearer than life--namely, her love.  For it is
not only the good women who love, though these understand it best
and see farther into it.

"Then you can never have cared for me," she cried.  "All that you
have told me," and her eyes flashed triumphantly across Oscard, "all
that you promised and vowed was utterly false--if you turn against
me at the first word of a man who was carried away by his own vanity
into thinking things that he had no business to think."

If Guy Oscard was no great adept at wordy warfare, he was at all
events strong in his reception of punishment.  He stood upright and
quiescent, betraying by neither sign nor movement that her words
could hurt him.

"I beg to suggest again," said Jack composedly, "that Oscard has not
yet brought any accusations against you.  You have brought them all
yourself."

"You are both cruel and cowardly," she exclaimed, suddenly
descending to vituperation.  "Two to one.  Two men--GENTLEMEN--
against one defenceless girl.  Of course I am not able to argue with
you.  Of course you can get the best of me.  It is so easy to be
sarcastic."

"I do not imagine," retorted Jack, "that anything that we can say or
do will have much permanent power of hurting you.  For the last two
years you have been engaged in an--intrigue, such as a thin-skinned
or sensitive person would hardly of her own free will undertake.
You may be able to explain it to yourself--no doubt you are--but to
our more limited comprehensions it must remain inexplicable.  We can
only judge from appearances."

"And of course appearances go against me--they always do against a
woman," she cried rather brokenly.

"You would have been wise to have taken that peculiarity into
consideration sooner," replied Jack Meredith coldly.  "I admit that
I am puzzled; I cannot quite get at your motive.  Presumably it is
one of those--SWEET feminine inconsistencies which are so charming
in books."

There was a little pause.  Jack Meredith waited politely to hear if
she had anything further to say.  His clean-cut face was quite
pallid; the suppressed anger in his eyes was perhaps more difficult
to meet than open fury.  The man who never forgets himself before a
woman is likely to be an absolute master of women.

"I think," he added, "that there is nothing more to be said."

There was a dead silence.  Millicent Chyne glanced towards Guy
Oscard.  He could have saved her yet--by a simple lie.  Had he been
an impossibly magnanimous man, such as one meets in books only, he
could have explained that the mistake was all his, that she was
quite right, that his own vanity had blinded him into a great and
unwarranted presumption.  But, unfortunately, he was only a human
being--a man who was ready to give as full a measure as he exacted.
The unfortunate mistake to which he clung was that the same sense of
justice, the same code of honour, must serve for men and women
alike.  So Millicent Chyne looked in vain for that indulgence which
is so inconsistently offered to women, merely because they are
women--the indulgence which is sometimes given and sometimes
withheld, according to the softness of the masculine heart and the
beauty of the suppliant feminine form.  Guy Oscard was quite sure of
his own impressions.  This girl had allowed him to begin loving her,
had encouraged him to go on, had led him to believe that his love
was returned.  And in his simple ignorance of the world he did not
see why these matters should be locked up in his own breast from a
mistaken sense of chivalry to be accorded where no chivalry was due.

"No," he answered.  "There is nothing more to be said."

Without looking towards her, Jack Meredith made a few steps towards
the door--quietly, self-composedly, with that perfect savoir-faire
of the social expert that made him different from other men.
Millicent Chyne felt a sudden plebeian desire to scream.  It was all
so heartlessly well-bred.  He turned on his heel with a little half-
cynical bow.

"I leave my name with you," he said.  "It is probable that you will
be put to some inconvenience.  I can only regret that this--
denouement did not come some months ago.  You are likely to suffer
more than I, because I do not care what the world thinks of me.
Therefore you may tell the world what you choose about me--that I
drink, that I gamble, that I am lacking in--honour!  Anything that
suggests itself to you, in fact.  You need not go away; I will do
that."

She listened with compressed lips and heaving shoulders; and the
bitterest drop in her cup was the knowledge that he despised her.
During the last few minutes he had said and done nothing that
lowered him in her estimation--that touched in any way her love for
him.  He had not lowered himself in any way, but he had suavely
trodden her under foot.  His last words--the inexorable intention of
going away--sapped her last lingering hope.  She could never regain
even a tithe of his affection.

"I think," he went on, "that you will agree with me in thinking that
Guy Oscard's name must be kept out of this entirely.  I give you
carte blanche except that."

With a slight inclination of the head he walked to the door.  It was
characteristic of him that although he walked slowly he never turned
his head nor paused.

Oscard followed him with the patient apathy of the large and
mystified.

And so they left her--amidst the disorder of the half-unpacked
wedding presents--amidst the ruin of her own life.  Perhaps, after
all, she was not wholly bad.  Few people are; they are only bad
enough to be wholly unsatisfactory and quite incomprehensible.  She
must have known the risk she was running, and yet she could not stay
her hand.  She must have known long before that she loved Jack
Meredith, and that she was playing fast and loose with the happiness
of her whole life.  She knew that hundreds of girls around her were
doing the same, and, with all shame be it mentioned, not a few
married women.  But they seemed to be able to carry it through
without accident or hindrance.  And illogically, thoughtlessly, she
blamed her own ill-fortune.

She stood looking blankly at the door which had closed behind three
men--one old and two young--and perhaps she realised the fact that
such creatures may be led blindly, helplessly, with a single hair,
but that that hair may snap at any moment.

She was not thinking of Guy Oscard.  Him she had never loved.  He
had only been one of her experiments, and by his very simplicity--
above all, by his uncompromising honesty--he had outwitted her.

It was characteristic of her that at that moment she scarcely knew
the weight of her own remorse.  It sat lightly on her shoulders
then, and it was only later on, when her beauty began to fade, when
years came and brought no joy for the middle-aged unmarried woman,
that she began to realise what it was that she had to carry through
life with her.  At that moment a thousand other thoughts filled her
mind--such thoughts as one would expect to find there.  How was the
world to be deceived?  The guests would have to be put off--the
wedding countermanded--the presents returned.  And the world--her
world--would laugh in its sleeve.  There lay the sting.



CHAPTER XLII. A STRONG FRIENDSHIP



     Still must the man move sadlier for the dreams
     That mocked the boy.

"Where are you going?" asked Meredith, when they were in the street.

"Home."

They walked on a few paces together.

"May I come with you?" asked Meredith again.

"Certainly; I have a good deal to tell you."

They called a cab, and singularly enough they drove all the way to
Russell Square without speaking.  These two men had worked together
for many months, and men who have a daily task in common usually
learn to perform it without much interchange of observation.  When
one man gets to know the mind of another, conversation assumes a
place of secondary importance.  These two had been through more
incidents together than usually fall to the lot of man--each knew
how the other would act and think under given circumstances; each
knew what the other was thinking now.

The house in Russell Square, the quiet house in the corner where the
cabs do not pass, was lighted up and astir when they reached it.
The old butler held open the door with a smile of welcome and a
faint aroma of whisky.  The luggage had been discreetly removed.
Joseph had gone to Mr. Meredith's chambers.  Guy Oscard led the way
to the smoking-room at the back of the house--the room wherein the
eccentric Oscard had written his great history--the room in which
Victor Durnovo had first suggested the Simiacine scheme to the
historian's son.

The two survivors of the originating trio passed into this room
together, and closed the door behind them.

"The worst of one's own private tragedies is that they are usually
only comedies in disguise," said Jack Meredith oracularly.

Guy Oscard grunted.  He was looking for his pipe.

"If we heard this of any two fellows except ourselves we should
think it an excellent joke," went on Meredith.

Oscard nodded.  He lighted his pipe, and still he said nothing.

"Hang it!" exclaimed Jack Meredith, suddenly throwing himself back
in his chair, "it is a good joke."

He laughed softly, and all the while his eyes, watchful, wise,
anxious, were studying Guy Oscard's face.

"He is harder hit than I am," he was reflecting. "Poor old Oscard!"

The habit of self-suppression was so strong upon him--acquired as a
mere social duty--that it was only natural for him to think less of
himself than of the expediency of the moment.  The social discipline
is as powerful an agent as that military discipline that makes a man
throw away his own life for the good of the many.

Oscard laughed, too, in a strangely staccato manner.

"It is rather a sudden change," observed Meredith; "and all brought
about by your coming into that room at that particular moment--by
accident."

"Not by accident," corrected Oscard, speaking at last.  "I was
brought there and pushed into the room."

"By whom?"

"By your father."

Jack Meredith sat upright.  He drew his curved hand slowly down over
his face--keen and delicate as was his mind--his eyes deep with
thought.

"The Guv'nor," he said slowly.  "The Guv'nor--by God!"

He reflected for some seconds.

"Tell me how he did it," he said curtly.

Oscard told him, rather incoherently, between the puffs.  He did not
attempt to make a story of it, but merely related the facts as they
had happened to him.  It is probable that to him the act was veiled
which Jack saw quite distinctly.

"That is the sort of thing," was Meredith's comment when the story
was finished, "that takes the conceit out of a fellow.  I suppose I
have more than my share.  I suppose it is good for me to find that I
am not so clever as I thought I was--that there are plenty of
cleverer fellows about, and that one of them is an old man of
seventy-nine.  The worst of it is that he was right all along.  He
saw clearly where you and I were--damnably blind."

He rubbed his slim brown hands together, and looked across at his
companion with a smile wherein the youthful self-confidence was less
discernible than of yore.  The smile faded as he looked at Oscard.
He was thinking that he looked older and graver--more of a middle-
aged man who has left something behind him in life--and the sight
reminded him of the few grey hairs that were above his own temples.

"Come," he said more cheerfully, "tell me your news.  Let us change
the subject.  Let us throw aside light dalliance and return to
questions of money.  More important--much more satisfactory.  I
suppose you have left Durnovo in charge?  Has Joseph come home with
you?"

"Yes, Joseph has come home with me.  Durnovo is dead."

"Dead!"

Guy Oscard took his pipe from his lips.

"He died at Msala of the sleeping sickness.  He was a bigger
blackguard than we thought.  He was a slave-dealer and a slave-
owner.  Those forty men we picked up at Msala were slaves belonging
to him."

"Ach!"  It was a strange exclamation, as if he had burnt his
fingers.  "Who knows of this?" he asked immediately.  The expediency
of the moment had presented itself to his mind again.

"Only ourselves," returned Oscard.  "You, Joseph, and I."

"That is all right, and the sooner we forget that the better.  It
would be a dangerous story to tell."

"So I concluded," said Oscard, in his slow, thoughtful way.  "Joseph
swears he won't breathe a word of it."

Jack Meredith nodded.  He looked rather pale beneath the light of
the gas.

"Joseph is all right," he said.  "Go on."

"It was Joseph who found it out," continued Oscard, "up at the
Plateau.  I paraded the whole crowd, told them what I had found out,
and chucked up the whole concern in your name and mine.  Next
morning I abandoned the Plateau with such men as cared to come.
Nearly half of them stayed with Durnovo.  I thought it was in order
that they might share in the Simiacine--I told them they could have
the whole confounded lot of the stuff.  But it was not that; they
tricked Durnovo there.  They wanted to get him to themselves.  In
going down the river we had an accident with two of the boats, which
necessitated staying at Msala.  While we were waiting there, one
night after ten o'clock the poor devil came, alone, in a canoe.
They had simply cut him in slices--a most beastly sight.  I wake up
sometimes even now dreaming of it, and I am not a fanciful sort of
fellow.  Joseph went into his room and was simply sick; I didn't
know that you could be made sick by anything you saw.  The sleeping
sickness was on Durnovo then; he had brought it with him from the
Plateau.  He died before morning."

Oscard ceased speaking and returned to his pipe.  Jack Meredith,
looking haggard and worn, was leaning back in his chair.

"Poor devil!" he exclaimed.  "There was always something tragic
about Durnovo.  I did hate that man, Oscard.  I hated him and all
his works."

"Well, he's gone to his account now."

"Yes, but that does not make him any better a man while he was
alive.  Don't let us cant about him now.  The man was an unmitigated
scoundrel--perhaps he deserved all he got."

"Perhaps he did.  He was Marie's husband."

"The devil he was!"

Meredith fell into a long reverie.  He was thinking of Jocelyn and
her dislike for Durnovo, of the scene in the drawing-room of the
bungalow at Loango; of a thousand incidents all connected with
Jocelyn.

"How I hate that man!" he exclaimed at length.  "Thank God--he is
dead--because I should have killed him."

Guy Oscard looked at him with a slow pensive wonder.  Perhaps he
knew more than Jack Meredith knew himself of the thoughts that
conceived those words--so out of place in that quiet room, from
those suave and courtly lips.

All the emotions of his life seemed to be concentrated into this one
day of Jack Meredith's existence.  Oscard's presence was a comfort
to him--the presence of a calm, strong man is better than many
words.

"So this," he said, "is the end of the Simiacine.  It did not look
like a tragedy when we went into it."

"So far as I am concerned," replied Oscard, with quiet
determination, "it certainly is the end of the Simiacine!  I have
had enough of it.  I, for one, am not going to look for that Plateau
again."

"Nor I.  I suppose it will be started as a limited liability company
by a German in six months.  Some of the natives will leave landmarks
as they come down so as to find their way back."

"I don't think so!"

"Why?"

Oscard took his pipe from his lips.

"When Durnovo came down to Msala," he explained, "he had the
sleeping sickness on him.  Where did he get it from?"

"By God!" ejaculated Jack Meredith, "I never thought of that.  He
got it up at the Plateau.  He left it behind him.  They have got it
up there now."

"Not now--"

"What do you mean, Oscard?"

"Merely that all those fellows up there are dead.  There is ninety
thousand pounds worth of Simiacine packed ready for carrying to the
coast, standing in a pile on the Plateau, and there are thirty-four
dead men keeping watch over it."

"Is it as infectious as that?"

"When it first shows itself, infectious is not the word.  It is
nothing but a plague.  Not one of those fellows can have escaped."

Jack Meredith sat forward and rubbed his two hands pensively over
his knees.

"So," he said, "only you and I and Joseph know where the Simiacine
Plateau is."

"That is so," answered Oscard.

"And Joseph won't go back?"

"Not if you were to give him that ninety thousand pounds worth of
stuff."

"And you will not go back?"

"Not for nine hundred thousand pounds.  There is a curse on that
place."

"I believe there is," said Meredith.

And such was the end of the great Simiacine Scheme--the wonder of a
few seasons.  Some day, when the great Sahara is turned into an
inland sea, when steamers shall ply where sand now flies before the
desert wind, the Plateau may be found again.  Some day, when Africa
is cut from east to west by a railway line, some adventurous soul
will scale the height of one of many mountains, one that seems no
different from the rest and yet is held in awe by the phantom-
haunted denizens of the gloomy forest, and there he will find a
pyramid of wooden cases surrounded by bleached and scattered bones
where vultures have fed.

In the meantime the precious drug will grow scarcer day by day, and
the human race will be poorer by the loss of one of those half-
matured discoveries which have more than once in the world's history
been on the point of raising the animal called man to a higher,
stronger, finer development of brain and muscle than we can conceive
of under existing circumstances.  Who can tell?  Perhaps the strange
solitary bush may be found growing elsewhere--in some other
continent across the ocean.  The ways of Nature are past
comprehension, and no man can say who sows the seed that crops up in
strange places.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and none can
tell what germs it bears.  It seems hardly credible that the
Plateau, no bigger than a cricket field, far away in the waste land
of Central Africa, can be the only spot on this planet where the
magic leaf grows in sufficient profusion to supply suffering
humanity with an alleviating drug, unrivalled--a strength-giving
herb, unapproached in power.  But as yet no other Simiacine has been
found and the Plateau is lost.

And the end of it was two men who had gone to look for it two years
before--young and hearty--returning from the search successful
beyond their highest hopes, with a shadow in their eyes and grey
upon their heads.

They sat for nearly two hours in that room in the quiet house in
Russell Square, where the cabs do not pass; and their conversation
was of money.  They sat until they had closed the Simiacine account,
never to be reopened.  They discussed the question of renouncement,
and, after due consideration, concluded that the gain was rightly
theirs seeing that the risk had all been theirs.  Slaves and slave-
owner had both taken their cause to a Higher Court, where the
defendant has no worry and the plaintiff is at rest.  They were
beyond the reach of money--beyond the glitter of gold--far from the
cry of anguish.  A fortune was set aside for Marie Durnovo, to be
held in trust for the children of the man who had found the
Simiacine Plateau; another was apportioned to Joseph.

"Seventy-seven thousand one hundred and four pounds for you," said
Jack Meredith at length, laying aside his pen, "seventy-seven
thousand one hundred and four pounds for me."

"And," he added, after a little pause, "it was not worth it."

Guy Oscard smoked his pipe and shook his head.

"Now," said Jack Meredith, "I must go.  I must be out of London by
to-morrow morning.  I shall go abroad--America or somewhere."

He rose as he spoke, and Oscard made no attempt to restrain him.

They went out into the passage together.  Oscard opened the door and
followed his companion to the step.

"I suppose," said Meredith, "we shall meet some time--somewhere?"

"Yes."

They shook hands.

Jack Meredith went down the steps almost reluctantly.  At the foot
of the short flight he turned and looked up at the strong, peaceful
form of his friend.

"What will you do?" he said.

"I shall go back to my big-game," replied Guy Oscard.  "I am best at
that.  But I shall not go to Africa."



CHAPTER XLIII.  A LONG DEBT



     The life unlived, the deed undone, the tear
     Unshed.

"I rather expect--Lady Cantourne," said Sir John to his servants
when he returned home, "any time between now and ten o'clock."

The butler, having a vivid recollection of an occasion when Lady
Cantourne was shown into a drawing-room where there were no flowers,
made his preparations accordingly.  The flowers were set out with
that masculine ignorance of such matters which brings a smile--not
wholly of mirth--to a woman's face.  The little-used drawing-room
was brought under the notice of the housekeeper for that woman's
touch which makes a drawing-room what it is.  It was always ready--
this room, though Sir John never sat in it.  But for Lady Cantourne
it was always more than ready.

Sir John went to the library and sat rather wearily down in the
stiff-backed chair before the fire.  He began by taking up the
evening newspaper, but failed to find his eyeglasses, which had
twisted up in some aggravating manner with his necktie.  So he laid
aside the journal and gave way to the weakness of looking into the
fire.

Once or twice his head dropped forward rather suddenly, so that his
clean-shaven chin touched his tie-pin, and this without a feeling of
sleepiness warranting the relaxation of the spinal column.  He sat
up suddenly on each occasion and threw back his shoulders.

"Almost seems," he muttered once, "as if I were getting to be an old
man."

After that he remembered nothing until the butler, coming in with
the lamp, said that Lady Cantourne was in the drawing-room.  The man
busied himself with the curtains, carefully avoiding a glance in his
master's direction.  No one had ever found Sir John asleep in a
chair during the hours that other people watch, and this faithful
old servant was not going to begin to do so now.

"Ah," said Sir John, surreptitiously composing his collar and
voluminous necktie, "thank you."

He rose and glanced at the clock.  It was nearly seven.  He had
slept through the most miserable hour of Millicent Chyne's life.

At the head of the spacious staircase he paused in front of the
mirror, half hidden behind exotics, and pressed down his wig behind
either ear.  Then he went into the drawing-room.

Lady Cantourne was standing impatiently on the hearthrug, and
scarcely responded to his bow.

"Has Jack been here?" she asked.

"No."

She stamped a foot, still neat despite its long journey over a road
that had never been very smooth.  Her manner was that of a
commander-in-chief, competent but unfortunate, in the midst of a
great reverse.

"He has not been here this afternoon?"

"No," answered Sir John, closing the door behind him.

"And you have not heard anything from him?"

"Not a word.  As you know, I am not fortunate enough to be fully in
his confidence."

Lady Cantourne glanced round the room as if looking for some object
upon which to fix her attention.  It was a characteristic movement
which he knew, although he had only seen it once or twice before.
It indicated that if there was an end to Lady Cantourne's wit, she
had almost reached that undesirable bourne.

"He has broken off his engagement," she said, looking her companion
very straight in the face, "NOW--at the eleventh hour.  Do you know
anything about it?"

She came closer to him, looking up from her compact little five-
feet-two with discerning eyes.

"John!" she exclaimed.

She came still nearer and laid her gloved hands upon his sleeve.

"John! you know something about this."

"I should like to know more," he said suavely.  "I am afraid--
Millicent will be inconvenienced."

Lady Cantourne looked keenly at him for a moment.  Physically she
almost stood on tip-toe, mentally she did it without disguise.  Then
she turned away and sat on a chair which had always been set apart
for her.

"It is a question," she said gravely, "whether any one has a right
to punish a woman so severely."

The corner of Sir John's mouth twitched.

"I would rather punish her than have Jack punished for the rest of
his life."

"Et moi?" she snapped impatiently.

"Ah!" with a gesture learnt in some foreign court, "I can only ask
your forgiveness.  I can only remind you that she is not your
daughter--if she were she would be a different woman--while he IS my
son."

Lady Cantourne nodded as if to indicate that he need explain no
more.

"How did you do it?" she asked quietly.

"I did not do it.  I merely suggested to Guy Oscard that he should
call on you.  Millicent and her fiance--the other--were alone in the
drawing-room when we arrived.  Thinking that I might be de trop I
withdrew, and left the young people to settle it among themselves,
which they have apparently done!  I am, like yourself, a great
advocate for allowing young people to settle things among
themselves.  They are also welcome to their enjoyment of the
consequences so far as I am concerned."

"But Millicent was never engaged to Guy Oscard."

"Did she tell you so?" asked Sir John, with a queer smile.

"Yes."

"And you believed her?"

"Of course--and you?"

Sir John smiled his courtliest smile.

"I always believe a lady," he answered, "before her face.  Mr. Guy
Oscard gave it out in Africa that he was engaged to be married, and
he even declared that he was returning home to be married.  Jack did
the same in every respect.  Unfortunately there was only one fond
heart waiting for the couple of them at home.  That is why I thought
it expedient to give the young people an opportunity of settling it
between themselves."

The smile left his worn old face.  He moved uneasily and walked to
the fireplace, where he stood with his unsteady hands moving idly,
almost nervously, among the ornaments on the mantelpiece.  He
committed the rare discourtesy of almost turning his back upon a
lady.

"I must ask you to believe," he said, looking anywhere but at her,
"that I did not forget you in the matter.  I may seem to have acted
with an utter disregard for your feelings--"

He broke off suddenly, and, turning, he stood on the hearthrug with
his feet apart, his hands clasped behind his back, his head slightly
bowed.

"I drew on the reserve of an old friendship," he said.  "You were
kind enough to say the other day that you were indebted to me to
some extent.  You are indebted to me to a larger extent than you
perhaps realise.  You owe me fifty years of happiness--fifty years
of a life that might have been happy had you decided differently
when--when we were younger.  I do not blame you now--I never have
blamed you.  But the debt is there--you know my life, you know
almost every day of it--you cannot deny the debt.  I drew upon
that."

And the white-haired woman raised her hand.

"Don't," she said gently, "please don't say any more.  I know all
that your life has been, and why.  You did quite right.  What is a
little trouble to me, a little passing inconvenience, the tattle of
a few idle tongues, compared with what Jack's life is to you?  I see
now that I ought to have opposed it strongly instead of letting it
take its course.  You were right--you always have been right, John.
There is a sort of consolation in the thought.  I like it.  I like
to think that you were always right and that it was I who was wrong.
It confirms my respect for you.  We shall get over this somehow."

"The young lady," suggested Sir John, "will get over it after the
manner of her kind.  She will marry some one else, let us hope,
before her wedding-dress goes out of fashion."

"Millicent will have to get over it as she may.  Her feelings need
scarcely be taken into consideration."

Lady Cantourne made a little movement towards the door.  There was
much to see to--much of that women's work which makes weddings the
wild, confused ceremonies that they are.

"I am afraid," said Sir John, "that I never thought of taking them
into consideration.  As you know, I hardly considered yours.  I hope
I have not overdrawn that reserve."

He had crossed the room as he spoke to open the door for her.  His
fingers were on the handle, but he did not turn it, awaiting her
answer.  She did not look at him, but past him towards the shaded
lamp with that desire to fix her attention upon some inanimate
object which he knew of old.

"The reserve," she answered, "will stand more than that.  It has
accumulated--with compound interest.  But I deny the debt of which
you spoke just now.  There is no debt.  I have paid it, year by
year, day by day.  For each one of those fifty years of unhappiness
I have paid a year--of regret."

He opened the door and she passed out into the brilliantly lighted
passage and down the stairs, where the servants were waiting to open
the door and help her to her carriage.

Sir John did not go downstairs with her.

Later on he dined in his usual solitary grandeur.  He was as
carefully dressed as ever.  The discipline of his household--like
the discipline under which he held himself--was unrelaxed.

"What wine is this?" he asked when he had tasted the port.

"Yellow seal, sir," replied the butler confidentially.

Sir John sipped again.

"It is a new bin," he said.

"Yes, sir.  First bottle of the lower bin, sir."

Sir John nodded with an air of self-satisfaction.  He was pleased to
have proved to himself and to the "damned butler," who had caught
him napping in the library, that he was still a young man in
himself, with senses and taste unimpaired.  But his hand was at the
small of his back as he returned to the library.

He was not at all sure about Jack--did not know whether to expect
him or not.  Jack did not always do what one might have expected him
to do under given circumstances.  And Sir John rather liked him for
it.  Perhaps it was that small taint of heredity which is in blood,
and makes it thicker than water.

"Nothing like blood, sir," he was in the habit of saying, "in
horses, dogs, and men."  And thereafter he usually threw back his
shoulders.

The good blood that ran in his veins was astir to-night.  The
incidents of the day had aroused him from the peacefulness that lies
under a weight of years (we have to lift the years one by one and
lay them aside before we find it), and Sir John Meredith would have
sat very upright in his chair were it not for that carping pain in
his back.

He waited for an hour with his eyes almost continually on the clock,
but Jack never came.  Then he rang the bell.

"Coffee," he said.  "I like punctuality, if you please."

"Thought Mr. Meredith might be expected, sir," murmured the butler
humbly.

Sir John was reading the evening paper, or appearing to read it,
although he had not his glasses.

"Oblige me by refraining from thought," he said urbanely.

So the coffee was brought, and Sir John consumed it in silent
majesty.  While he was pouring out his second cup--of a diminutive
size--the bell rang.  He set down the silver coffee-pot with a
clatter, as if his nerves were not quite so good as they used to be.
It was not Jack, but a note from him.

"MY DEAR FATHER,--Circumstances have necessitated the breaking off
of my engagement at the last moment.  To-morrow's ceremony will not
take place.  As the above-named circumstances were partly under your
control, I need hardly offer an explanation.  I leave town and
probably England to-night.--I am, your affectionate son,
                                   "JOHN MEREDITH."

There were no signs of haste or discomposure.  The letter was neatly
written in the somewhat large calligraphy, firm, bold, ornate, which
Sir John had insisted on Jack's learning.  The stationery bore a
club crest.  It was an eminently gentlemanly communication.  Sir
John read it and gravely tore it up, throwing it into the fire,
where he watched it burn.

Nothing was farther from his mind than sentiment.  He was not much
given to sentiment, this hard-hearted old sire of an ancient stock.
He never thought of the apocryphal day when he, being laid in his
grave, should at last win the gratitude of his son.

"When I am dead and gone you may be sorry for it" were not the words
that any man should hear from his lips.

More than once during their lives Lady Cantourne had said:

"You never change your mind, John," referring to one thing or
another.  And he had invariably answered:

"No, I am not the sort of man to change."

He had always known his own mind.  When he had been in a position to
rule he had done so with a rod of iron.  His purpose had ever been
inflexible.  Jack had been the only person who had ever openly
opposed his desire.  In this, as in other matters, his indomitable
will had carried the day, and in the moment of triumph it is only
the weak who repine.  Success should have no disappointment for the
man who has striven for it if his will be strong.

Sir John rather liked the letter.  It could only have been written
by a son of his--admitting nothing, not even defeat.  But he was
disappointed.  He had hoped that Jack would come--that some sort of
a reconciliation would be patched up.  And somehow the
disappointment affected him physically.  It attacked him in the
back, and intensified the pain there.  It made him feel weak and
unlike himself.  He rang the bell.

"Go round," he said to the butler, "to Dr. Damer, and ask him to
call in during the evening if he has time."

The butler busied himself with the coffee tray, hesitating, desirous
of gaining time.

"Anything wrong, sir?  I hope you are not feeling ill," he said
nervously.

"Ill, sir," cried Sir John.  "D--n it, no; do I look ill?  Just obey
my orders if you please."



CHAPTER XLIV.  MADE UP



                        My faith is large in Time,
     And that which shapes it to some perfect end.


"MY DEAR JACK,--At the risk of being considered an interfering old
woman, I write to ask you whether you are not soon coming to England
again.  As you are aware, your father and I knew each other as
children.  We have known each other ever since--we are now almost
the only survivors of our generation.  My reason for troubling you
with this communication is that during the last six months I have
noticed a very painful change in your father.  He is getting very
old--he has no one but servants about him.  You know his manner--it
is difficult for any one to approach him, even for me.  If you could
come home--by accident--I think that you will never regret it in
after life.  I need not suggest discretion as to this letter.  Your
affectionate friend,
                                  "CAROLINE CANTOURNE."

Jack Meredith read this letter in the coffee-room of the Hotel of
the Four Seasons at Wiesbaden.  It was a lovely morning--the sun
shone down through the trees of the Friedrichstrasse upon that
spotless pavement, of which the stricken wot; the fresh breeze came
bowling down from the Taunus mountains all balsamic and
invigorating--it picked up the odours of the Seringa and flowering
currant in the Kurgarten, and threw itself in at the open window of
the coffee-room of the Hotel of the Four Seasons.

Jack Meredith was restless.  Such odours as are borne on the morning
breeze are apt to make those men restless who have not all that they
want.  And is not their name legion?  The morning breeze is to the
strong the moonlight of the sentimental.  That which makes one
vaguely yearn incites the other to get up and take.

By the train leaving Wiesbaden for Cologne, "over Mainz," as the
guide-book hath it, Jack Meredith left for England, in which country
he had not set foot for fifteen months.  Guy Oscard was in Cashmere;
the Simiacine was almost forgotten as a nine days' wonder except by
those who live by the ills of mankind.  Millicent Chyne had
degenerated into a restless society "hack."  With great skill she
had posed as a martyr.  She had allowed it to be understood that
she, having remained faithful to Jack Meredith through his time of
adversity, had been heartlessly thrown over when fortune smiled upon
him and there was a chance of his making a more brilliant match.
With a chivalry which was not without a keen shaft of irony, father
and son allowed this story to pass uncontradicted.  Perhaps a few
believed it; perhaps they had foreseen the future.  It may have been
that they knew that Millicent Chyne, surrounded by the halo of
whatever story she might invent, would be treated with a certain
careless nonchalance by the older men, with a respectful avoidance
by the younger.  Truly women have the deepest punishment for their
sins here on earth; for sooner or later the time will come--after
the brilliancy of the first triumph, after the less pure
satisfaction of the skilled siren--the time will come when all that
they want is an enduring, honest love.  And it is written that an
enduring love cannot, with the best will in the world, be bestowed
on an unworthy object.  If a woman wishes to be loved purely she
must have a pure heart, and NO PAST, ready for the reception of that
love.  This is a sine qua non.  The woman with a past has no future.

The short March day was closing in over London with that murky
suggestion of hopelessness affected by metropolitan eventide when
Jack Meredith presented himself at the door of his father's house.

In his reception by the servants there was a subtle suggestion of
expectation which was not lost on his keen mind.  There is no
patience like that of expectation in an old heart.  Jack Meredith
felt vaguely that he had been expected thus, daily for many months
past.

He was shown into the library, and the tall form standing there on
the hearthrug had not the outline for which he had looked.  The
battle between old age and a stubborn will is long.  But old age
wins.  It never raises the siege.  It starves the garrison out.  Sir
John Meredith's head seemed to have shrunk.  The wig did not fit at
the back.  His clothes, always bearing the suggestion of emptiness,
seemed to hang on ancient-given lines as if the creases were well
established.  The clothes were old.  The fateful doctrine of not-
worth-while had set in.

Father and son shook hands, and Sir John walked feebly to the stiff-
backed chair, where he sat down in shamefaced silence.  He was
ashamed of his infirmities.  His was the instinct of the dog that
goes away into some hidden corner to die.

"I am glad to see you," he said, using his two hands to push himself
further back in his chair.

There was a little pause.  The fire was getting low.  It fell
together with a feeble, crumbling sound.

"Shall I put some coals on?" asked Jack.

A simple question--if you will.  But it was asked by the son in such
a tone of quiet, filial submission, that a whole volume could not
contain all that it said to the old man's proud, unbending heart.

"Yes, my boy, do."

And the last six years were wiped away like evil writing from a
slate.

There was no explanation.  These two men were not of those who
explain themselves, and in the warmth of explanation say things
which they do not fully mean.  The opinions that each had held
during the years they had left behind had perhaps been modified on
both sides, but neither sought details of the modification.  They
knew each other now, and each respected the indomitable will of the
other.

They inquired after each other's health.  They spoke of events of a
common interest.  Trifles of everyday occurrence seemed to contain
absorbing details.  But it is the everyday occurrence that makes the
life.  It was the putting on of the coals that reconciled these two
men.

"Let me see," said John, "you gave up your rooms before you left
England, did you not?"

"Yes."

Jack drew forward his chair and put his feet out towards the fire.
It was marvellous how thoroughly at home he seemed to be.

"Then," continued Sir John, "where is your luggage?"

"I left it at the club."

"Send along for it.  Your room is--er, quite ready for you.  I shall
be glad if you will make use of it as long as you like.  You will be
free to come and go as if you were in your own house."

Jack nodded with a strange, twisted little smile, as if he were
suffering from cramp in the legs.  It was cramp--at the heart.

"Thanks," he said, "I should like nothing better.  Shall I ring?"

"If you please."

Jack rang, and they waited in the fading daylight without speaking.
At times Sir John moved his limbs, his hand on the arm of the chair
and his feet on the hearth-rug, with the jerky, half-restless energy
of the aged which is not pleasant to see.

When the servant came, it was Jack who gave the orders, and the
butler listened to them with a sort of enthusiasm.  When he had
closed the door behind him he pulled down his waistcoat with a jerk,
and as he walked downstairs he muttered "Thank 'eaven!" twice, and
wiped away a tear from his bibulous eye.

"What have you been doing with yourself since I saw you?" inquired
Sir John conversationally when the door was closed.

"I have been out to India--merely for the voyage.  I went with
Oscard, who is out there still, after big-game."

Sir John Meredith nodded.

"I like that man," he said, "he is tough.  I like tough men.  He
wrote me a letter before he went away.  It was the letter of--one
gentleman to another.  Is he going to spend the rest of his life
'after big-game'?"

Jack laughed.

"It seems rather like it.  He is cut out for that sort of life.  He
is too big for narrow streets and cramped houses."

"And matrimony?"

"Yes--and matrimony."

Sir John was leaning forward in his chair, his two withered hands
clasped on his knees.

"You know," he said slowly, blinking at the fire, "he cared for that
girl--more than you did, my boy."

"Yes," answered Jack softly.

Sir John looked towards him, but he said nothing.  His attitude was
interrogatory.  There were a thousand questions in the turn of his
head, questions which one gentleman could not ask another.

Jack met his gaze.  They were still wonderfully alike, these two
men, though one was in his prime while the other was infirm.  On
each face there was the stamp of a long-drawn, silent pride; each
was a type of those haughty conquerors who stepped, mail-clad, on
our shore eight hundred years ago.  Form and feature, mind and
heart, had been handed down from father to son, as great types are.

"One may have the right feeling and bestow it by mistake on the
wrong person," said Jack.

Sir John's fingers were at his lips.

"Yes," he said rather indistinctly, "while the right person is
waiting for it."

Jack looked up sharply, as if he either had not heard or did not
understand.

"While the right person is waiting for it," repeated Sir John
deliberately.

"The right person--?"

"Jocelyn Gordon," exclaimed Sir John, "is the right person."

Jack shrugged his shoulders and leant back so that the firelight did
not shine upon his face.  "So I found out eighteen months ago," he
said, "when it was too late."

"There is no such thing as too late for that," said Sir John in his
great wisdom.  "Even if you were both quite old it would not be too
late.  I have known it for longer than you.  I found it out two
years ago."

Jack looked across the room into the keen, worldly-wise old face.

"How?" he inquired.

"From her.  I found it out the moment she mentioned your name.  I
conducted the conversation in such a manner that she had frequently
to say it, and whenever your name crossed her lips she--gave herself
away."

Jack shook his head with an incredulous smile.

"Moreover," continued Sir John, "I maintain that it is not too
late."

There followed a silence; both men seemed to be wrapped in thought,
the same thoughts with a difference of forty years of life in the
method of thinking them.

"I could not go to her with a lame story like that," said Jack.  "I
told her all about Millicent."

"It is just a lame story like that that women understand," answered
Sir John.  "When I was younger I thought as you do.  I thought that
a man must needs bring a clean slate to the woman he asks to be his
wife.  It is only his hands that must be clean.  Women see deeper
into these mistakes of ours than we do; they see the good of them
where we only see the wound to our vanity.  Sometimes one would
almost be inclined to think that they prefer a few mistakes in the
past because it makes the present surer.  Their romance is a
different thing from ours--it is a better thing, deeper and less
selfish.  They can wipe the slate clean and never look at it again.
And the best of them--rather like the task."

Jack made no reply.  Sir John Meredith's chin was resting on his
vast necktie.  He was looking with failing eyes into the fire.  He
spoke like one who was sure of himself--confident in his slowly
accumulated store of that knowledge which is not written in books.

"Will you oblige me?" he asked.

Jack moved in his chair, but he made no answer.  Sir John did not
indeed expect it.  He knew his son too well.

"Will you," he continued, "go out to Africa and take your lame story
to Jocelyn just as it is?"

There was a long silence.  The old worn-out clock on the mantelpiece
wheezed and struck six.

"Yes," answered Jack at length, "I will go."

Sir John nodded his head with a sigh of relief.  All, indeed, comes
to him who waits.

"I have seen a good deal of life," he said suddenly, arousing
himself and sitting upright in the stiff-backed chair, "here and
there in the world; and I have found that the happiest people are
those who began by thinking that it was too late.  The romance of
youth is only fit to write about in books.  It is too delicate a
fabric for everyday use.  It soon wears out or gets torn."

Jack did not seem to be listening.

"But," continued Sir John, "you must not waste time.  If I may
suggest it, you will do well to go at once."

"Yes," answered Jack, "I will go in a month or so.  I should like to
see you in a better state of health before I leave you."

Sir John pulled himself together.  He threw back his shoulders and
stiffened his neck.

"My health is excellent," he replied sturdily.  "Of course I am
beginning to feel my years a little, but one must expect to do that
after--eh--er--sixty.  C'est la vie."

He made a little movement of the hands.

"No," he went on, "the sooner you go the better."

"I do not like leaving you," persisted Jack.

Sir John laughed rather testily.

"That is rather absurd," he said; "I am accustomed to being left.  I
have always lived alone.  You will do me a favour if you will go now
and take your passage out to Africa."

"Now--this evening?"

"Yes--at once.  These offices close about half-past six, I believe.
You will just have time to do it before dinner."

Jack rose and went towards the door.  He went slowly, almost
reluctantly.

"Do not trouble about me," said Sir John, "I am accustomed to being
left."

He repeated it when the door had closed behind his son.

The fire was low again.  It was almost dying.  The daylight was
fading every moment.  The cinders fell together with a crumbling
sound, and a greyness crept into their glowing depths.  The old man
sitting there made no attempt to add fresh fuel.

"I am accustomed," he said, with a half-cynical smile, "to being
left."



CHAPTER XLV.  THE TELEGRAM



     How could it end in any other way?
     You called me, and I came home to your heart.

"They tell me, sir, that Missis Marie--that is, Missis Durnovo--has
gone back to her people at Sierra Leone."

Thus spoke Joseph to his master one afternoon in March, not so many
years ago.  They were on board the steamer Bogamayo, which good
vessel was pounding down the West Coast of Africa at her best speed.
The captain reckoned that he would be anchored at Loango by half-
past seven or eight o'clock that evening.  There were only seven
passengers on board, and dinner had been ordered an hour earlier for
the convenience of all concerned.  Joseph was packing his master's
clothes in the spacious cabin allotted to him.  The owners of the
steamer had thought it worth their while to make the finder of the
Simiacine as comfortable as circumstances allowed.  The noise of
that great drug had directed towards the West Coast of Africa that
floating scum of ne'er-do-welldom which is ever on the alert for
some new land of promise.

"Who told you that?" asked Jack, drying his hands on a towel.

"One of the stewards, sir--a man that was laid up at Sierra Leone in
the hospital."

Jack Meredith paused for a moment before going on deck.  He looked
out through the open porthole towards the blue shadow on the horizon
which was Africa--a country that he had never seen three years
before, and which had all along been destined to influence his whole
life.

"It was the best thing she could do," he said.  "It is to be hoped
that she will be happy."

"Yes, sir, it is.  She deserves it, if that goes for anything in the
heavenly reckonin'.  She's a fine woman--a good woman that, sir."

"Yes."

Joseph was folding a shirt very carefully.

"A bit dusky," he said, smoothing out the linen folds reflectively,
"but I shouldn't have minded that if I had been a marryin' man, but-
-but I'm not."

He laid the shirt in the portmanteau and looked up.  Jack Meredith
had gone on deck.

While Maurice and Jocelyn Gordon were still at dinner that same
evening, a messenger came announcing the arrival of the Bogamayo in
the roads.  This news had the effect of curtailing the meal.
Maurice Gordon was liable to be called away at any moment thus by
the arrival of a steamer.  It was not long before he rose from the
table and lighted a cigar preparatory to going down to his office,
where the captain of the steamer was by this time probably awaiting
him.  It was a full moon, and the glorious golden light of the
equatorial night shone through the high trees like a new dawn.
Hardly a star was visible; even those of the southern hemisphere
pale beside the southern moon.

Maurice Gordon crossed the open space of cultivated garden and
plunged into the black shadow of the forest.  His footsteps were
inaudible.  Suddenly he ran almost into the arms of a man.

"Who the devil is that?" he cried.

"Meredith," answered a voice.

"Meredith--Jack Meredith, is that you?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'm blowed!" exclaimed Maurice Gordon, shaking hands--
"likewise glad.  What brought you out here again?"

"Oh, pleasure!" replied Jack, with his face in the shade.

"Pleasure! you've come to the wrong place for that.  However, I'll
let you find out that for yourself.  Go on to the bungalow; I'll be
back in less than an hour.  You'll find Jocelyn in the verandah."

When Maurice left her, Jocelyn went out into the verandah.  It was
the beginning of the hot season.  At midday the sun on his journey
northward no longer cast a shadow.  Jocelyn could not go out in the
daytime at this period of the year.  For fresh air she had to rely
upon a long, dreamy evening in the verandah.

She sat down in her usual chair, while the moonlight, red and
glowing, made a pattern on the floor and on her white dress with the
shadows of the creepers.  The sea was very loud that night, rising
and falling like the breath of some huge sleeping creature.

Jocelyn Gordon fell into a reverie.  Life was very dull at Loango.
There was too much time for thought and too little to think about.
This girl only had the past, and her past was all comprised in a few
months--the few months still known at Loango as the Simiacine year.
She had lapsed into a bad habit of thinking that her life was over,
that the daylight of it had waned, and that there was nothing left
now but the grey remainder of the evening.  She was wondering now
why it had all come--why there had been any daylight at all.  Above
these thoughts she wondered why the feeling was still in her heart
that Jack Meredith had not gone out of her life for ever.  There was
no reason why she should ever meet him again.  He was, so far as she
knew, married to Millicent Chyne more than a year ago, although she
had never seen the announcement of the wedding.  He had drifted into
Loango and into her life by the merest accident, and now that the
Simiacine Plateau had been finally abandoned there was no reason why
any of the original finders should come to Loango again.

And the creepers were pushed aside by one who knew the method of
their growth.  A silver glory of moonlight fell on the verandah
floor, and the man of whom she was thinking stood before her.

"You!" she exclaimed.

"Yes."

She rose, and they shook hands.  They stood looking at each other
for a few moments, and a thousand things that had never been said
seemed to be understood between them.

"Why have you come?" she asked abruptly.

"To tell you a story."

She looked up with a sort of half smile, as if she suspected some
pleasantry of which she had not yet detected the drift.

"A long story," he explained, "which has not even the merit of being
amusing.  Please sit down again."

She obeyed him.

The curtain of hanging leaves and flowers had fallen into place
again; the shadowed tracery was on her dress and on the floor once
more.

He stood in front of her and told her his story, as Sir John had
suggested.  He threw no romance into it--attempted no extenuation--
but related the plain, simple facts of the last few years with the
semi-cynical suggestion of humour that was sometimes his.  And the
cloak of pride that had fallen upon his shoulders made him hide much
that was good, while he dragged forward his own shortcomings.  She
listened in silence.  At times there hovered round her lips a smile.
It usually came when he represented himself in a bad light, and
there was a suggestion of superior wisdom in it, as if she knew
something of which he was ignorant.

He was never humble.  It was not a confession.  It was not even an
explanation, but only a story--a very lame story indeed--which
gained nothing by the telling.  And he was not the hero of it.

And all came about as wise old Sir John Meredith had predicted.  It
is not our business to record what Jocelyn said.  Women--the best of
them--have some things in their hearts which can only be said once
to one person.  Men cannot write them down; printers cannot print
them.

The lame story was told to the end, and at the end it was accepted.
When Sir John's name was mentioned--when the interview in the
library of the great London house was briefly touched upon--Jack saw
the flutter of a small lace pocket-handkerchief, and at no other
time.  The slate was wiped clean, and it almost seemed that Jocelyn
preferred it thus with the scratches upon it where the writing had
been.

Maurice Gordon did not come back in an hour.  It was nearly ten
o'clock before they heard his footstep on the gravel.  By that time
Jocelyn had heard the whole story.  She had asked one or two
questions which somehow cast a different light upon the narrative,
and she had listened to the answers with a grave, judicial little
smile--the smile of a judge whose verdict was pre-ordained, whose
knowledge had nothing to gain from evidence.

Because she loved him she took his story and twisted it and turned
it to a shape of her own liking.  Those items which he had
considered important she passed over as trifles; the trifles she
magnified into the corner-stones upon which the edifice was built.
She set the lame story upon its legs and it stood upright.  She
believed what he had never told; and much that he related she chose
to discredit--because she loved him.  She perceived motives where he
assured her there were none; she recognised the force of
circumstances where he took the blame to himself--because she loved
him.  She maintained that the past was good, that he could not have
acted differently, that she would not have had it otherwise--because
she loved him.

And who shall say that she was wrong?

Jack went out to meet Maurice Gordon when they heard his footsteps,
and as they walked back to the house he told him.  Gordon was quite
honest about it.

"I hoped," he said, "when I ran against you in the wood, that that
was why you had come back.  Nothing could have given me greater
happiness.  Hang it, I AM glad, old chap!"

They sat far into the night arranging their lives.  Jack was
nervously anxious to get back to England.  He could not rid his mind
of the picture he had seen as he left his father's presence to go
and take his passage to Africa--the picture of an old man sitting in
a stiff-backed chair before a dying fire.  Moreover, he was afraid
of Africa; the Irritability of Africa had laid its hand upon him
almost as soon as he had set his foot upon its shore.  He was afraid
of the climate for Jocelyn; he was afraid of it for himself.  The
happiness that comes late must be firmly held to; nothing must be
forgotten to secure it, or else it may slip between the fingers at
the last moment.

Those who have snatched happiness late in life can tell of a
thousand details carefully attended to--a whole existence laid out
in preparation for it, of health fostered, small pleasures
relinquished, days carefully spent.

Jack Meredith was nervously apprehensive that his happiness might
even now slip through his fingers.  Truly, climatic influence is a
strange and wonderful thing.  It was Africa that had done this, and
he was conscious of it.  He remembered Victor Durnovo's strange
outburst on their first meeting a few miles below Msala on the Ogowe
river, and the remembrance only made him the more anxious that
Jocelyn and he should turn their backs upon the accursed West Coast
for ever.

Before they went to bed that night it was all arranged.  Jack
Meredith had carried his point.  Maurice and Jocelyn were to sail
with him to England by the first boat.  Jocelyn and he compiled a
telegram to be sent off first thing by a native boat to St. Paul de
Loanda.  It was addressed to Sir John Meredith, London, and signed
"Meredith, Loango."  The text of it was:

"I bring Jocelyn home by first boat."

                    .          .          .

And the last words, like the first, must be of an old man in London.
We found him in the midst of a brilliant assembly; we leave him
alone.  We leave him lying stiffly on his solemn fourpost bed, with
his keen, proud face turned fearlessly towards his Maker.  His lips
are still; they wear a smile which even in death is slightly
cynical.  On the table at his bedside lies a submarine telegram from
Africa.  It is unopened.




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