AND OTHER STORIES
ETHEL M. DELL
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
Made in the United States of America
This edition is issued under arrangement with the publishers
G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London
Made in the United States of America
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
The Safety Curtain
Those Who Wait
The Eleventh Hour
The Place of Honour
The Safety Curtain
A great shout of applause went through the crowded hall as the
Dragon-Fly Dance came to an end, and the Dragon-Fly, with quivering,
iridescent wings, flashed away.
It was the third encore. The dance was a marvellous one, a piece of
dazzling intricacy, of swift and unexpected subtleties, of almost
superhuman grace. It must have proved utterly exhausting to any ordinary
being; but to that creature of fire and magic it was no more than a
glittering fantasy, a whirl too swift for the eye to follow or the brain
"Is it a boy or a girl?" asked a man in the front row.
"It's a boy, of course," said his neighbour, shortly.
He was the only member of the audience who did not take part in that
third encore. He sat squarely in his seat throughout the uproar,
watching the stage with piercing grey eyes that never varied in their
stern directness. His brows were drawn above them—thick, straight brows
that bespoke a formidable strength of purpose. He was plainly a man who
was accustomed to hew his own way through life, despising the trodden
paths, overcoming all obstacles by grim persistence.
Louder and louder swelled the tumult. It was evident that nothing but a
repetition of the wonder-dance would content the audience. They yelled
themselves hoarse for it; and when, light as air, incredibly swift, the
green Dragon-Fly darted back, they outdid themselves in the madness of
their welcome. The noise seemed to shake the building.
Only the man in the front row with the iron-grey eyes and iron-hard
mouth made no movement or sound of any sort. He merely watched with
unchanging intentness the face that gleamed, ashen-white, above the
shimmering metallic green tights that clothed the dancer's slim body.
The noise ceased as the wild tarantella proceeded. There fell a deep
hush, broken only by the silver notes of a flute played somewhere behind
the curtain. The dancer's movements were wholly without sound. The
quivering, whirling feet scarcely seemed to touch the floor, it was a
dance of inspiration, possessing a strange and irresistible fascination,
a weird and meteoric rush, that held the onlookers with bated breath.
It lasted for perhaps two minutes, that intense and trancelike
stillness; then, like, a stone flung into glassy depths, a woman's
scream rudely shattered it, a piercing, terror-stricken scream that
brought the rapt audience back to earth with a shock as the liquid music
of the flute suddenly ceased.
"Fire!" cried the voice. "Fire! Fire!"
There was an instant of horrified inaction, and in that instant a tongue
of flame shot like a fiery serpent through the closed curtains behind
the dancer. In a moment the cry was caught up and repeated in a dozen
directions, and even as it went from mouth to mouth the safety-curtain
began to descend.
The dancer was forgotten, swept as it were from the minds of the
audience as an insect whose life was of no account. From the back of the
stage came a roar like the roar of an open furnace. A great wave of heat
rushed into the hall, and people turned like terrified, stampeding
animals and made for the exits.
The Dragon-Fly still stood behind the footlights poised as if for
flight, glancing this way and that, shimmering from head to foot in the
awful glare that spread behind the descending curtain. It was evident
that retreat behind the scenes was impossible, and in another moment or
two that falling curtain would cut off the only way left.
But suddenly, before the dancer's hunted eyes, a man leapt forward. He
held up his arms, making himself heard in clear command above the
dreadful babel behind him.
"Quick!" he cried. "Jump!"
The wild eyes flashed down at him, wavered, and were caught in his
compelling gaze. For a single instant—the last—the trembling,
glittering figure seemed to hesitate, then like a streak of lightning
leapt straight over the footlights into the outstretched arms.
They caught and held with unwavering iron strength. In the midst of a
turmoil indescribable the Dragon-Fly hung quivering on the man's breast,
the gauze wings shattered in that close, sustaining grip. The
safety-curtain came down with a thud, shutting off the horrors behind,
and a loud voice yelled through the building assuring the seething crowd
But panic had set in. The heat was terrific. People fought and struggled
to reach the exits.
The dancer turned in the man's arms and raised a deathly face, gripping
his shoulders with clinging, convulsive fingers. Two wild dark eyes
looked up to his, desperately afraid, seeking reassurance.
He answered that look briefly with stern composure.
"Be still! I shall save you if I can."
The dancer's heart was beating in mad terror against his own, but at his
words it seemed to grow a little calmer. Quiveringly the white lips
"There is a door—close to the stage—a little door—behind a green
curtain—if we could reach it."
"Ah!" the man said.
His eyes went to the stage, from the proximity of which the audience had
fled affrighted. He espied the curtain.
Only a few people intervened between him and it, and they were
struggling to escape in the opposite direction.
"Quick!" gasped the dancer.
He turned, snatched up his great-coat, and wrapped it about the slight,
boyish figure. The great dark eyes that shone out of the small white
face thanked him for the action. The clinging hands slipped from his
shoulders and clasped his arm. Together they faced the fearful heat that
raged behind the safety-curtain.
They reached the small door, gasping. It was almost hidden by green
drapery. But the dancer was evidently familiar with it. In a moment it
was open. A great burst of smoke met them. The man drew back. But a
quick hand closed upon his, drawing him on. He went blindly, feeling as
if he were stepping into the heart of a furnace, yet strangely
determined to go forward whatever came of it.
The smoke and the heat were frightful, suffocating in their intensity.
The roar of the unseen flames seemed to fill the world.
The door swung to behind them. They stood in seething darkness.
But again the small clinging hand pulled upon the man.
"Quick!" the dancer cried again.
Choked and gasping, but resolute still, he followed. They ran through a
passage that must have been on the very edge of the vortex of flame, for
behind them ere they left it a red light glared.
It showed another door in front of them with which the dancer struggled
a moment, then flung open. They burst through it together, and the cold
night wind met them like an angel of deliverance.
The man gasped and gasped again, filling his parched lungs with its
healing freshness. His companion uttered a strange, high laugh, and
dragged him forth into the open.
They emerged into a narrow alley, surrounded by tall houses. The night
was dark and wet. The rain pattered upon them as they staggered out into
a space that seemed deserted. The sudden quiet after the awful turmoil
they had just left was like the silence of death.
The man stood still and wiped the sweat in a dazed fashion from his
face. The little dancer reeled back against the wall, panting
For a space neither moved. Then, terribly, the silence was rent by a
crash and the roar of flames. An awful redness leapt across the darkness
of the night, revealing each to each.
The dancer stood up suddenly and made an odd little gesture of
farewell; then, swiftly, to the man's amazement, turned back towards the
door through which they had burst but a few seconds before.
He stared for a moment—only a moment—not believing he saw aright, then
with a single stride he reached and roughly seized the small,
He heard a faint cry, and there ensued a sharp struggle against his
hold; but he pinioned the thin young arms without ceremony, gripping
them fast. In the awful, flickering glare above them his eyes shone
downwards, dominant, relentless.
"Are you mad?" he said.
The small dark head was shaken vehemently, with gestures curiously
suggestive of an imprisoned insect. It was as if wild wings fluttered
And then all in a moment the struggling ceased, and in a low, eager
voice the captive began to plead.
"Please, please let me go! You don't know—you don't understand. I
came—because—because—you called. But I was wrong—I was wrong to
come. You couldn't keep me—you wouldn't keep me—against my will!"
"Do you want to die, then?" the man demanded. "Are you tired of life?"
His eyes still shone piercingly down, but they read but little, for the
dancer's were firmly closed against them, even while the dark cropped
head nodded a strangely vigorous affirmative.
"Yes, that is it! I am so tired—so tired of life! Don't keep me! Let
me go—while I have the strength!" The little, white, sharp-featured
face, with its tight-shut eyes and childish, quivering mouth, was
painfully pathetic. "Death can't be more dreadful than life," the low
voice urged. "If I don't go back—I shall be so sorry afterwards. Why
should one live—to suffer?"
It was piteously spoken, so piteously that for a moment the man seemed
moved to compassion. His hold relaxed; but when the little form between
his hands took swift advantage and strained afresh for freedom he
instantly tightened his grip.
"No, No!" he said, harshly. "There are other things in life. You don't
know what you are doing. You are not responsible."
The dark eyes opened upon him then—wide, reproachful, mysteriously
far-seeing. "I shall not be responsible—if you make me live," said the
Dragon-Fly, with the air of one risking a final desperate throw.
It was almost an open challenge, and it was accepted instantly, with
grim decision. "Very well. The responsibility is mine," the man said
briefly. "Come with me!"
His arm encircled the narrow shoulders. He drew his young companion
unresisting from the spot. They left the glare of the furnace behind
them, and threaded their way through dark and winding alleys back to the
throbbing life of the city thoroughfares, back into the whirl and
stress of that human existence which both had nearly quitted—and one
had strenuously striven to quit—so short a time before.
"My name is Merryon," the man said, curtly. "I am a major in the Indian
Army—home on leave. Now tell me about yourself!"
He delivered the information in the brief, aggressive fashion that
seemed to be characteristic of him, and he looked over the head of his
young visitor as he did so, almost as if he made the statement against
The visitor, still clad in his great-coat, crouched like a dog on the
hearthrug before the fire in Merryon's sitting-room, and gazed with
wide, unblinking eyes into the flames.
After a few moments Merryon's eyes descended to the dark head and
surveyed it critically. The collar of his coat was turned up all round
it. It was glistening with rain-drops and looked like the head of some
small, furry animal.
As if aware of that straight regard, the dancer presently spoke, without
turning or moving an eyelid.
"What you are doesn't matter to any one except yourself. And what I am
doesn't matter either. It's just—nobody's business."
"I see," said Merryon.
A faint smile crossed his grim, hard-featured face. He sat down in a low
chair near his guest and drew to his side a small table that bore a tray
of refreshments. He poured out a glass of wine and held it towards the
queer, elfin figure crouched upon his hearth.
The dark eyes suddenly flashed from the fire to his face. "Why do you
offer me—that?" the dancer demanded, in a voice that was curiously
vibrant, as though it strove to conceal some overwhelming emotion. "Why
don't you give me—a man's drink?"
"Because I think this will suit you better," Merryon said; and he spoke
with a gentleness that was oddly at variance with the frown that drew
The dark eyes stared up at him, scared and defiant, for the passage of
several seconds; then, very suddenly, the tension went out of the white,
pinched face. It screwed up like the face of a hurt child, and all in a
moment the little, huddled figure collapsed on the floor at his feet,
while sobs—a woman's quivering piteous sobs—filled the silence of the
Merryon's own face was a curious mixture of pity and constraint as he
set down the glass and stooped forward over the shaking, anguished form.
"Look here, child!" he said, and whatever else was in his voice it
certainly held none of the hardness habitual to it. "You're
upset—unnerved. Don't cry so! Whatever you've been through, it's over.
No one can make you go back. Do you understand? You're free!"
He laid his hand, with the clumsiness of one little accustomed to
console, upon the bowed black head.
"Don't!" he said again. "Don't cry so! What the devil does it matter?
You're safe enough with me. I'm not the sort of bounder to give you
She drew a little nearer to him. "You—you're not a bounder—at all,"
she assured him between her sobs. "You're just—a gentleman. That's what
"All right," said Merryon. "Leave off crying!"
He spoke with the same species of awkward kindliness that characterized
his actions, and there must have been something strangely comforting in
his speech, for the little dancer's tears ceased as abruptly as they had
begun. She dashed a trembling hand across her eyes.
"Who's crying?" she said.
He uttered a brief, half-grudging laugh. "That's better. Now drink some
wine! Yes, I insist! You must eat something, too. You look
She accepted the wine, sitting in an acrobatic attitude on the floor
facing him. She drank it, and an odd sparkle of mischief shot up in her
great eyes. She surveyed him with an impish expression—much as a
grasshopper might survey a toad.
"Are you married?" she inquired, unexpectedly.
"No," said Merryon, shortly. "Why?"
She gave a little laugh that had a catch in it. "I was only thinking
that your wife wouldn't like me much. Women are so suspicious."
Merryon turned aside, and began to pour out a drink for himself. There
was something strangely elusive about this little creature whom Fortune
had flung to him. He wondered what he should do with her. Was she too
old for a foundling hospital?
"How old are you?" he asked, abruptly.
She did not answer.
He looked at her, frowning.
"Don't!" she said. "It's ugly. I'm not quite forty. How old are you?"
"What?" said Merryon.
"Not—quite—forty," she said again, with extreme distinctness. "I'm
small for my age, I know. But I shall never grow any more now. How old
did you say you were?"
Merryon's eyes regarded her piercingly. "I should like the truth," he
said, in his short, grim way.
She made a grimace that turned into an impish smile. "Then you must
stick to the things that matter," she said. "That is—nobody's
He tried to look severe, but very curiously failed. He picked up a plate
of sandwiches to mask a momentary confusion, and offered it to her.
Again, with simplicity, she accepted, and there fell a silence between
them while she ate, her eyes again upon the fire. Her face, in repose,
was the saddest thing he had ever seen. More than ever did she make him
think of a child that had been hurt.
She finished her sandwich and sat for a while lost in thought. Merryon
leaned back in his chair, watching her. The little, pointed features
possessed no beauty, yet they had that which drew the attention
irresistibly. The delicate charm of her dancing was somehow expressed in
every line. There was fire, too,—a strange, bewitching fire,—behind
the thick black lashes.
Very suddenly that fire was turned upon him again. With a swift, darting
movement she knelt up in front of him, her clasped hands on his knees.
"Why did you save me just now?" she said. "Why wouldn't you let me die?"
He looked full at her. She vibrated like a winged creature on the verge
of taking flight. But her eyes—her eyes sought his with a strange
assurance, as though they saw in him a comrade.
"Why did you make me live when I wanted to die?" she insisted. "Is life
so desirable? Have you found it so?"
His brows contracted at the last question, even while his mouth curved
cynically. "Some people find it so," he said.
"But you?" she said, and there was almost accusation in her voice, "Have
the gods been kind to you? Or have they thrown you the dregs—just the
The passionate note in the words, subdued though it was, was not to be
mistaken. It stirred him oddly, making him see her for the first time as
a woman rather than as the fantastic being, half-elf, half-child, whom
he had wrested from the very jaws of Death against her will. He leaned
slowly forward, marking the deep, deep shadows about her eyes, the vivid
red of her lips.
"What do you know about the dregs?" he said.
She beat her hands with a small, fierce movement on his knees, mutely
refusing to answer.
"Ah, well," he said, "I don't know why I should answer either. But I
will. Yes, I've had dregs—dregs—and nothing but dregs for the last
He spoke with a bitterness that he scarcely attempted to restrain, and
the girl at his feet nodded—a wise little feminine nod.
"I knew you had. It comes harder to a man, doesn't it?"
"I don't know why it should," said Merryon, moodily.
"I do," said the Dragon-Fly. "It's because men were made to boss
creation. See? You're one of the bosses, you are. You've been led to
expect a lot, and because you haven't had it you feel you've been
cheated. Life is like that. It's just a thing that mocks at you. I
She nodded again, and an odd, will-o'-the-wisp smile flitted over her
"You seem to know—something of life," the man said.
She uttered a queer choking laugh. "Life is a big, big swindle," she
said. "The only happy people in the world are those who haven't found it
out. But you—you say there are other things in life besides suffering.
How did you know that if—if you've never had anything but dregs?"
"Ah!" Merryon said. "You have me there."
He was still looking full into those shadowy eyes with a curious,
dawning fellowship in his own.
"You have me there," he repeated. "But I do know. I was happy enough
once, till—" He stopped.
"Things went wrong?" insinuated the Dragon-Fly, sitting down on her
heels in a childish attitude of attention.
"Yes," Merryon admitted, in his sullen fashion. "Things went wrong. I
found I was the son of a thief. He's dead now, thank Heaven. But he
dragged me under first. I've been at odds with life ever since."
"But a man can start again," said the Dragon-Fly, with her air of
"Oh, yes, I did that." Merryon's smile was one of exceeding bitterness.
"I enlisted and went to South Africa. I hoped for death, and I won a
The girl's eyes shone with interest. "But that was luck!" she said.
"Oh, yes; it was luck of a sort—the damnable, unsatisfactory sort. I
entered the Indian Army, and I've got on. But socially I'm practically
an outcast. They're polite to me, but they leave me outside. The man who
rose from the ranks—the fellow with a shady past—fought shy of by the
women, just tolerated by the men, covertly despised by the
youngsters—that's the sort of person I am. It galled me once. I'm used
to it now."
Merryon's grim voice went into grimmer silence. He was staring sombrely
into the fire, almost as if he had forgotten his companion.
There fell a pause; then, "You poor dear!" said the Dragon-Fly,
sympathetically. "But I expect you are like that, you know. I expect
it's a bit your own fault."
He looked at her in surprise.
"No, I'm not meaning anything nasty," she assured him, with that quick
smile of hers whose sweetness he was just beginning to realize. "But
after a bad knockout like yours a man naturally looks for trouble. He
gets suspicious, and a snub or two does the rest. He isn't taking any
more. It's a pity you're not married. A woman would have known how to
hold her own, and a bit over—for you."
"I wouldn't ask any woman to share the life I lead," said Merryon, with
bitter emphasis. "Not that any woman would if I did. I'm not a ladies'
She laughed for the first time, and he started at the sound, for it was
one of pure, girlish merriment.
"My! You are modest!" she said. "And yet you don't look it, somehow."
She turned her right-hand palm upwards on his knee, tacitly inviting
his. "You're a good one to talk of life being worth while, aren't you?"
He accepted the frank invitation, faintly smiling. "Well, I know the
good things are there," he said, "though I've missed them."
"You'll marry and be happy yet," she said, with confidence. "But I
shouldn't put it off too long if I were you."
He shook his head. His hand still half-consciously grasped hers. "Ask a
woman to marry the son of one of the most famous swindlers ever known? I
think not," he said. "Why, even you—" His eyes regarded her,
comprehended her. He stopped abruptly.
"What about me?" she said.
He hesitated, possessed by an odd embarrassment. The dark eyes were
lifted quite openly to his. It came to him that they were accustomed to
the stare of multitudes—they met his look so serenely, so impenetrably.
"I don't know how we got on to the subject of my affairs," he said,
after a moment. "It seems to me that yours are the most important just
now. Aren't you going to tell me anything about them?"
She gave a small, emphatic shake of the head. "I should have been dead
by this time if you hadn't interfered," she said. "I haven't got any
"Then it's up to me to look after you," Merryon said, quietly.
But she shook her head at that more vigorously still. "You look after
me!" Her voice trembled on a note of derision. "Sure, you're joking!"
she protested. "I've looked after myself ever since I was eight."
"And made a success of it?" Merryon asked.
Her eyes shot swift defiance. "That's nobody's business but my own," she
said. "You know what I think of life."
Merryon's hand closed slowly upon hers. "There seems to be a pair of
us," he said. "You can't refuse to let me help you—for fellowship's
The red lips trembled suddenly. The dark eyes fell before his for the
first time. She spoke almost under her breath. "I'm too old—to take
help from a man—like that."
He bent slightly towards her. "What has age to do with it?"
"Everything." Her eyes remained downcast; the hand he held was trying
to wriggle free, but he would not suffer it.
"Circumstances alter cases," he said. "I accepted the responsibility
when I saved you."
"But you haven't the least idea what to do with me," said the
Dragon-Fly, with a forlorn smile. "You ought to have thought of that.
You'll be going back to India soon. And I—and I—" She stopped, still
stubbornly refusing to meet the man's eyes.
"I am going back next week," Merryon said.
"How fine to be you!" said the Dragon-Fly. "You wouldn't like to take me
with you now as—as valet de chambre?"
He raised his brows momentarily. Then: "Would you come?" he asked, with
a certain roughness, as though he suspected her of trifling.
She raised her eyes suddenly, kindled and eager. "Would I come!" she
said, in a tone that said more than words.
"You would?" he said, and laid an abrupt hand on her shoulder. "You
She knelt up swiftly, the coat that enveloped her falling back,
displaying the slim, boyish figure, the active, supple limbs. Her
breathing came through parted lips.
"As your—your servant—your valet?" she panted.
His rough brows drew together. "My what? Good heavens, no! I could only
take you in one capacity."
She started back from his hand. For a moment sheer horror looked out
from her eyes. Then, almost in the same instant, they were veiled. She
caught her breath, saying no word, only dumbly waiting.
"I could only take you as my wife," he said, still in that
half-bantering, half-embarrassed fashion of his. "Will you come?"
She threw back her head and stared at him. "Marry you! What, really?
Really?" she questioned, breathlessly.
"Merely for appearances' sake," said Merryon, with grim irony. "The
regimental morals are somewhat easily offended, and an outsider like
myself can't be too careful."
The girl was still staring at him, as though at some novel specimen of
humanity that had never before crossed her path. Suddenly she leaned
towards him, looking him full and straight in the eyes.
"What would you do if I said 'Yes'?" she questioned, in a small, tense
He looked back at her, half-interested, half amused. "Do, urchin? Why,
marry you!" he said.
"Really marry me?" she urged. "Not make-believe?"
He stiffened at that. "Do you know what you're saying?" he demanded,
She sprang to her feet with a wild, startled movement; then, as he
remained seated, paused, looking down at him sideways, half-doubtful,
half-confiding. "But you can't be in earnest!" she said.
"I am in earnest." He raised his face to her with a certain doggedness,
as though challenging her to detect in it aught but honesty. "I may be
several kinds of a fool," he said, "but I am in earnest. I'm no great
catch, but I'll marry you if you'll have me. I'll protect you, and I'll
be good to you. I can't promise to make you happy, of course,
but—anyway, I shan't make you miserable."
"But—but—" She still stood before him as though hovering on the edge
of flight. Her lips were trembling, her whole form quivering and
scintillating in the lamplight. She halted on the words as if uncertain
how to proceed.
"What is it?" said Merryon.
And then, quite suddenly, his mood softened. He leaned slowly forward.
"You needn't be afraid of me," he said. "I'm not a heady youngster. I
shan't gobble you up."
She laughed at that—a quick, nervous laugh. "And you won't beat me
He frowned at her. "Beat you! I?"
She nodded several times, faintly smiling. "Yes, you, Mr. Monster! I'm
sure you could."
He smiled also, somewhat grimly. "You're wrong, madam. I couldn't beat a
"Oh, my!" she said, and threw up her arms with a quivering laugh,
dropping his coat in a heap on the floor. "How old do you think this
child is?" she questioned, glancing down at him in her sidelong,
He looked at her hard and straight, looked at the slim young body in its
sheath of iridescent green that shimmered with every breath she drew,
and very suddenly he rose.
She made a spring backwards, but she was too late. He caught and held
"Let me go!" she cried, her face crimson.
"But why?" Merryon's voice fell curt and direct. He held her firmly by
She struggled against him fiercely for a moment, then became suddenly
still. "You're not a brute, are you?" she questioned, breathlessly.
"You—you'll be good to me? You said so!"
He surveyed her grimly. "Yes, I will be good to you," he said. "But I'm
not going to be fooled. Understand? If you marry me, you must play the
part. I don't know how old you are. I don't greatly care. All I do care
about is that you behave yourself as the wife of a man in my position
should. You're old enough to know what that means, I suppose?"
He spoke impressively, but the effect of his words was not quite what he
expected. The point of a very red tongue came suddenly from between the
red lips, and instantly disappeared.
"That all?" she said. "Oh yes; I think I can do that. I'll try, anyway.
And if you're not satisfied—well, you'll have to let me know. See?
Now let me go, there's a good man! I don't like the feel of your
He let her go in answer to the pleading of her eyes, and she slipped
from his grasp like an eel, caught up the coat at her feet, and wriggled
Then, impishly, she faced him, buttoning it with nimble fingers the
while. "This is the garment of respectability," she declared. "It isn't
much of a fit, is it? But I shall grow to it in time. Do you know, I
believe I'm going to like being your wife?"
"Why?" said Merryon.
She laughed—that laugh of irrepressible gaiety that had surprised him
"Oh, just because I shall so love fighting your battles for you," she
said. "It'll be grand sport."
"Think so?" said Merryon.
"Oh, you bet!" said the Dragon-Fly, with gay confidence. "Men never know
how to fight. They're poor things—men!"
He himself laughed at that—his grim, grudging laugh. "It's a world of
fools, Puck," he said.
"Or knaves," said the Dragon-Fly, wisely. And with that she stretched up
her arms above her head and laughed again. "Now I know what it feels
like," she said, "to have risen from the dead."
There came the flash of green wings in the cypresses and a raucous
scream of jubilation as the boldest parakeet in the compound flew off
with the choicest sweetmeat on the tiffin-table in the veranda. There
were always sweets at tiffin in the major's bungalow. Mrs. Merryon loved
sweets. She was wont to say that they were the best remedy for
homesickness she knew.
Not that she ever was homesick. At least, no one ever suspected such a
possibility, for she had a smile and a quip for all, and her laughter
was the gayest in the station. She ran out now, half-dressed, from her
bedroom, waving a towel at the marauder.
"That comes of being kind-hearted," she declared, in the deep voice that
accorded so curiously with the frothy lightness of her personality.
"Everyone takes advantage of it, sure."
Her eyes were grey and Irish, and they flashed over the scene
dramatically, albeit there was no one to see and admire. For she was
strangely captivating, and perhaps it was hardly to be expected that
she should be quite unconscious of the fact.
"Much too taking to be good, dear," had been the verdict of the
Commissioner's wife when she had first seen little Puck Merryon, the
But then the Commissioner's wife, Mrs. Paget, was so severely plain in
every way that perhaps she could scarcely be regarded as an impartial
judge. She had never flirted with any one, and could not know the joys
Young Mrs. Merryon, on the other hand, flirted quite openly and very
sweetly with every man she met. It was obviously her nature so to do.
She had doubtless done it from her cradle, and would probably continue
the practice to her grave.
"A born wheedler," the colonel called her; but his wife thought "saucy
minx" a more appropriate term, and wondered how Major Merryon could put
up with her shameless trifling.
As a matter of fact, Merryon wondered himself sometimes; for she flirted
with him more than all in that charming, provocative way of hers, coaxed
him, laughed at him, brilliantly eluded him. She would perch daintily on
the arm of his chair when he was busy, but if he so much as laid a hand
upon her she was gone in a flash like a whirling insect, not to return
till he was too absorbed to pay any attention to her. And often as those
daring red lips mocked him, they were never offered to his even in
jest. Yet was she so finished a coquette that the omission was never
obvious. It seemed the most natural thing in the world that she should
evade all approach to intimacy. They were comrades—just comrades.
Everyone in the station wanted to know Merryon's bride. People had begun
by being distant, but that phase was long past. Puck Merryon had stormed
the citadel within a fortnight of her arrival, no one quite knew how.
Everyone knew her now. She went everywhere, though never without her
husband, who found himself dragged into gaieties for which he had scant
liking, and sought after by people who had never seemed aware of him
before. She had, in short, become the rage, and so gaily did she revel
in her triumph that he could not bring himself to deny her the fruits
On that particular morning in March he had gone to an early parade
without seeing her, for there had been a regimental ball the night
before, and she had danced every dance. Dancing seemed her one passion,
and to Merryon, who did not dance, the ball had been an unmitigated
weariness. He had at last, in sheer boredom, joined a party of
bridge-players, with the result that he had not seen much of his young
wife throughout the evening.
Returning from the parade-ground, he wondered if he would find her up,
and then caught sight of her waving away the marauders in scanty attire
on the veranda.
He called a greeting to her, and she instantly vanished into her room.
He made his way to the table set in the shade of the cluster-roses, and
sat down to await her.
She remained invisible, but her voice at once accosted him.
"Good-morning, Billikins! Tell the khit you're ready! I shall be out
in two shakes."
None but she would have dreamed of bestowing so frivolous an appellation
upon the sober Merryon. But from her it came so naturally that Merryon
scarcely noticed it. He had been "Billikins" to her throughout the brief
three months that had elapsed since their marriage. Of course, Mrs.
Paget disapproved, but then Mrs. Paget was Mrs. Paget. She disapproved
of everything young and gay.
Merryon gave the required order, and then sat in stolid patience to
await his wife's coming. She did not keep him long. Very soon she came
lightly out and joined him, an impudent smile on her sallow little face,
dancing merriment in her eyes.
"Oh, poor old Billikins!" she said, commiseratingly. "You were bored
last night, weren't you? I wonder if I could teach you to dance."
"I wonder," said Merryon.
His eyes dwelt upon her in her fresh white muslin. What a child she
looked! Not pretty—no, not pretty; but what a magic smile she had!
She sat down at the table facing him, and leaned her elbows upon it. "I
wonder if I could!" she said again, and then broke into her sudden
"What's the joke?" asked Merryon.
"Oh, nothing!" she said, recovering herself. "It suddenly came over me,
that's all—poor old Mother Paget's face, supposing she had seen me last
"Didn't she see you last night? I thought you were more or less in the
public eye," said Merryon.
"Oh, I meant after the dance," she explained. "I felt sort of wound up
and excited after I got back. And I wanted to see if I could still do
it. I'm glad to say I can," she ended, with another little laugh.
Her dark eyes shot him a tentative glance. "Can what?" asked Merryon.
"You'll be shocked if I tell you."
"What was it?" he said.
There was insistence in his tone—the insistence by which he had once
compelled her to live against her will. Her eyelids fluttered a little
as it reached her, but she cocked her small, pointed chin
"Why should I tell you if I don't want to?" she demanded.
"Why shouldn't you want to?" he said.
The tip of her tongue shot out and in again. "Well, you never took me
for a lady, did you?" she said, half-defiantly.
"What was it?" repeated Merryon, sticking to the point.
Again she grimaced at him, but she answered, "Oh, I only—after I'd had
my bath—lay on the floor and ran round my head for a bit. It's not a
bit difficult, once you've got the knack. But I got thinking of Mrs.
Paget—she does amuse me, that woman. Only yesterday she asked me what
Puck was short for, and I told her Elizabeth—and then I got laughing so
that I had to stop."
Her face was flushed, and she was slightly breathless as she ended, but
she stared across the table with brazen determination, like a naughty
child expecting a slap.
Merryon's face, however, betrayed neither astonishment nor disapproval.
He even smiled a little as he said, "Perhaps you would like to give me
lessons in that also? I've often wondered how it was done."
She smiled back at him with instant and obvious relief.
"No, I shan't do it again. It's not proper. But I will teach you to
dance. I'd sooner dance with you than any of 'em."
It was naïvely spoken, so naïvely that Merryon's faint smile turned into
something that was almost genial. What a youngster she was! Her
freshness was a perpetual source of wonder to him when he remembered
whence she had come to him.
"I am quite willing to be taught," he said. "But it must be in strict
She nodded gaily.
"Of course. You shall have a lesson to-night—when we get back from the
Burtons' dinner. I'm real sorry you were bored, Billikins. You shan't be
That was her attitude always, half-maternal, half-quizzing, as if
something about him amused her; yet always anxious to please him, always
ready to set his wishes before her own, so long as he did not attempt to
treat her seriously. She had left all that was serious in that other
life that had ended with the fall of the safety-curtain on a certain
night in England many æons ago. Her personality now was light as
gossamer, irresponsible as thistledown. The deeper things of life passed
her by. She seemed wholly unaware of them.
"You'll be quite an accomplished dancer by the time everyone comes back
from the Hills," she remarked, balancing a fork on one slender brown
finger. "We'll have a ball for two—every night."
"We!" said Merryon.
She glanced at him.
"I said 'we.'"
"I know you did." The man's voice had suddenly a dogged ring; he looked
across at the vivid, piquant face with the suggestion of a frown between
"Don't do that!" she said, lightly. "Never do that, Billikins! It's
most unbecoming behaviour. What's the matter?"
"The matter?" he said, slowly. "The matter is that you are going to the
Hills for the hot weather with the rest of the women, Puck. I can't keep
She made a rude face at him.
"Preserve me from any cattery in the Hills!" she said. "I'm going to
stay with you."
"You can't," said Merryon.
"I can," she said.
He frowned still more.
"Not if I say otherwise, Puck."
She snapped her fingers at him and laughed.
"I am in earnest," Merryon said. "I can't keep you here for the hot
weather. It would probably kill you."
"What of that?" she said.
He ignored her frivolity.
"It can't be done," he said. "So you must make the best of it."
"Meaning you don't want me?" she demanded, unexpectedly.
"Not for the hot weather," said Merryon.
She sprang suddenly to her feet.
"I won't go, Billikins!" she declared, fiercely, "I just won't!"
He looked at her, sternly resolute.
"You must go," he said, with unwavering decision.
"You're tired of me! Is that it?" she demanded.
He raised his brows. "You haven't given me much opportunity to be that,
have you?" he said.
A great wave of colour went over her face. She put up her hand as though
instinctively to shield it.
"I've done my best to—to—to—" She stopped, became piteously silent,
and suddenly he saw that she was crying behind the sheltering hand.
He softened almost in spite of himself.
"Come here, Puck!" he said.
She shook her head dumbly.
"Come here!" he repeated.
She came towards him slowly, as if against her will. He reached forward,
still seated, and drew her to him.
She trembled at his touch, trembled and started away, yet in the end she
"Please," she whispered; "please!"
He put his arm round her very gently, yet with determination, making her
stand beside him.
"Why don't you want to go to the Hills?" he said.
"I'd be frightened," she murmured.
"I don't know," she said, vaguely.
"Yes, but you do know. You must know.
Tell me." He spoke gently, but the stubborn note was in his voice and
his hold was insistent. "Leave off crying and tell me!"
"I'm not crying," said Puck.
She uncovered her face and looked down at him through tears with a
faintly mischievous smile.
"Tell me!" he reiterated. "Is it because you don't like the idea of
Her smile flashed full out upon him on the instant.
"Goodness, no! Whatever made you think that?" she demanded, briskly.
He was momentarily disconcerted, but he recovered himself at once.
"Then what is your objection to going?" he asked.
She turned and sat down conversationally on the corner of the table.
"Well, you know, Billikins, it's like this. When I married you—I did it
out of pity. See? I was sorry for you. You seemed such a poor, helpless
sort of creature. And I thought being married to me might help to
improve your position a bit. You see my point, Billikins?"
"Oh, quite," he said. "Please go on!"
She went on, with butterfly gaiety.
"I worked hard—really hard—to get you out of your bog. It was a horrid
deep one, wasn't it, Billikins? My! You were floundering! But I've
pulled you out of it and dragged you up the bank a bit. You don't get
sniffed at anything like you used, do you, Billikins? But I daren't
leave you yet—I honestly daren't. You'd slip right back again directly
my back was turned. And I should have the pleasure of starting the
business all over again. I couldn't face it, my dear. It would be too
"I see," said Merryon. There was just the suspicion of a smile among the
rugged lines of his face. "Yes, I see your point. But I can show you
another if you'll listen."
He was holding her two hands as she sat, as though he feared an attempt
to escape. For though Puck sat quite still, it was with the stillness of
a trapped creature that waits upon opportunity.
"Will you listen?" he said.
It was not an encouraging nod, but he proceeded.
"All the women go to the Hills for the hot weather. It's unspeakable
here. No white woman could stand it. And we men get leave by turns to
join them. There is nothing doing down here, no social round whatever.
It's just stark duty. I can't lose much social status that way. It will
serve my turn much better if you go up with the other women and continue
to hold your own there. Not that I care a rap," he added, with masculine
tactlessness. "I am no longer susceptible to snubs."
"Then I shan't go," she said at once, beginning to swing a restless
"Yes, but you will go," he said. "I wish it."
"You want to get rid of me," said Puck, looking over his head with the
eyes of a troubled child.
Merryon was silent. He was watching her with a kind of speculative
curiosity. His hands were still locked upon hers.
Slowly her eyes came down to his.
"Billikins," she said, "let me stay down for a little!" Her lips were
quivering. She kicked his chair agitatedly. "I don't want to go," she
said, dismally. "Let me stay—anyhow—till I get ill!"
"No," Merryon said. "It can't be done, child. I can't risk that.
Besides, there'd be no one to look after you."
She slipped to her feet in a flare of indignation. "You're a pig,
Billikins! You're a pig!" she cried, and tore her hands free. "I've a
good mind to run away from you and never come back. It's what you
deserve, and what you'll get, if you aren't careful!"
She was gone with the words—gone like a flashing insect disturbing the
silence for a moment, and leaving a deeper silence behind.
Merryon looked after her for a second or two, and then philosophically
continued his meal. But the slight frown remained between his brows. The
veranda seemed empty and colourless now that she was gone.
The Burtons' dinner-party was a very cheerful affair. The Burtons were
young and newly married, and they liked to gather round them all the
youth and gaiety of the station. It was for that reason that Puck's
presence had been secured, for she was the life of every gathering; and
her husband had been included in the invitation simply and solely
because from the very outset she had refused to go anywhere without him.
It was the only item of her behaviour of which worthy Mrs. Paget could
As a matter of fact Merryon had not the smallest desire to go, but he
would not say so; and all through the evening he sat and watched his
young wife with a curious hunger at his heart. He hated to think that he
had hurt her.
There was no sign of depression about Puck, however, and he alone
noticed that she never once glanced in his direction. She kept everyone
up to a pitch of frivolity that certainly none would have attained
without her, and an odd feeling began to stir in Merryon, a sensation of
jealousy such as he had never before experienced. They seemed to
forget, all of them, that this flashing, brilliant creature was his.
She seemed to have forgotten it also. Or was it only that deep-seated,
inimitable coquetry of hers that prompted her thus to ignore him?
He could not decide; but throughout the evening the determination grew
in him to make this one point clear to her. Trifle as she might, she
must be made to understand that she belonged to him, and him alone.
Comrades they might be, but he held a vested right in her, whether he
chose to assert it or not.
They returned at length to their little gimcrack bungalow—the
Match-box, as Puck called it—on foot under a blaze of stars. The
distance was not great, and Puck despised rickshaws.
She flitted by his side in her airy way, chatting inconsequently, not
troubling about response, as elusive as a fairy and—the man felt it in
the rising fever of his veins—as maddeningly attractive.
They reached the bungalow. She went up the steps to the rose-twined
veranda as though she floated on wings of gossamer. "The roses are all
asleep, Billikins," she said. "They look like alabaster, don't they?"
She caught a cluster to her and held it against her cheek for a moment.
Merryon was close behind her. She seemed to realize his nearness quite
suddenly, for she let the flowers go abruptly and flitted on.
He followed her till, at the farther end of the veranda, she turned and
faced him. "Goodnight, Billikins," she said, lightly.
"What about that dancing-lesson?" he said.
She threw up her arms above her head with a curious gesture. They
gleamed transparently white in the starlight. Her eyes shone like
"I thought you preferred dancing by yourself," she retorted.
"Why?" he said.
She laughed a soft, provocative laugh, and suddenly, without any
warning, the cloak had fallen from her shoulders and she was dancing.
There in the starlight, white-robed and wonderful, she danced as, it
seemed to the man's fascinated senses, no human had ever danced before.
She was like a white flame—a darting, fiery essence, soundless,
He watched her with pent breath, bound by the magic of her, caught, as
it were, into the innermost circle of her being, burning in answer to
her fire, yet so curiously enthralled as to be scarcely aware of the
ever-mounting, ever-spreading heat. She was like a mocking spirit, a
will-o'-the-wisp, luring him, luring him—whither?
The dance quickened, became a passionate whirl, so that suddenly he
seemed to see a bright-winged insect caught in an endless web and
battling for freedom. He almost saw the silvery strands of that web
floating like gossamer in the starlight.
And then, with well-nigh miraculous suddenness, the struggle was over
and the insect had darted free. He saw her flash away, and found the
Her cloak lay at his feet. He stooped with an odd sense of giddiness and
picked it up. A fragrance of roses came to him with the touch of it, and
for an instant he caught it up to his face. The sweetness seemed to
There came a light, inconsequent laugh; sharply he turned. She had
opened the window of his smoking-den and was standing in the entrance
with impudent merriment in her eyes. There was triumph also in her
pose—a triumph that sent a swirl of hot passion through him. He flung
aside the cloak and strode towards her.
But she was gone on the instant, gone with a tinkle of maddening
laughter. He blundered into the darkness of an empty room. But he was
not the man to suffer defeat tamely. Momentarily baffled, he paused to
light a lamp; then went from room to room of the little bungalow,
locking each door that she might not elude him a second time. His blood
was on fire, and he meant to find her.
In the end he came upon her wholly unexpectedly, standing on the veranda
amongst the twining roses. She seemed to be awaiting him, though she
made no movement towards him as he approached.
"Good-night, Billikins," she said, her voice very small and humble.
He came to her without haste, realizing that she had given the game
into his hands. She did not shrink from him, but she raised an appealing
face. And oddly the man's heart smote him. She looked so pathetically
small and childish standing there.
But the blood was still running fiercely in his veins, and that
momentary twinge did not cool him. Child she might be, but she had
played with fire, and she alone was responsible for the conflagration
that she had started.
He drew near to her; he took her, unresisting, into his arms.
She cowered down, hiding her face away from him. "Don't, Billikins!
Please—please, Billikins!" she begged, incoherently. "You promised—you
"What did I promise?" he said.
"That you wouldn't—wouldn't"—she spoke breathlessly, for his hold was
tightening upon her—"gobble me up," she ended, with a painful little
"I see." Merryon's voice was deep and low. "And you meantime are at
liberty to play any fool game you like with me. Is that it?"
She was quivering from head to foot. She did not lift her face. "It
wasn't—a fool game," she protested. "I did it because—because—you
were so horrid this morning, so—so cold-blooded. And I—and I—wanted
to see if—I could make you care."
"Make me care!" Merryon said the words over oddly to himself; and then,
still fast holding her, he began to feel for the face that was so
strenuously hidden from him.
She resisted him desperately. "Let me go!" she begged, piteously. "I'll
be so good, Billikins. I'll go to the Hills. I'll do anything you like.
Only let me go now! Billikins!"
She cried out sharply, for he had overcome her resistance by quiet
force, had turned her white face up to his own.
"I am not cold-blooded to-night, Puck," he said. "Whatever you
are—child or woman—gutter-snipe or angel—you are mine, all mine.
And—I want you!"
The deep note vibrated in his voice; he stooped over her.
But she flung herself back over his arm, striving desperately to avoid
him. "No—no—no!" she cried, wildly. "You mustn't, Billikins! Don't
kiss me! Don't kiss me!"
She threw up a desperate hand, covering his mouth. "Don't—oh, don't!"
she entreated, brokenly.
But the fire she had kindled she was powerless to quench. He would not
be frustrated. He caught her hand away. He held her to his heart. He
kissed the red lips hotly, with the savage freedom of a nature long
"Who has a greater right?" he said, with fiery exultation.
She did not answer him. But at the first touch of his lips upon her own
she resisted no longer, only broke into agonized tears.
And suddenly Merryon came to himself—was furiously, overwhelmingly
"God forgive me!" he said, and let her go.
She tottered a little, covering her face with her hands, sobbing like a
hurt child. But she did not try to run away.
He flung round upon his heel and paced the veranda in fierce discomfort.
Beast that he was—brute beast to have hurt her so! That piteous sobbing
was more than he could bear.
Suddenly he turned back to her, came and stood beside her. "Puck—Puck,
child!" he said.
His voice was soft and very urgent. He touched the bent, dark head with
a hesitating caress.
She started away from him with a gasp of dismay; but he checked her.
"No, don't!" he said. "It's all right, dear. I'm not such a brute as I
seem. Don't be afraid of me!"
There was more of pleading in his voice than he knew. She raised her
head suddenly, and looked at him as if puzzled.
He pulled out his handkerchief and dabbed her wet cheeks with clumsy
tenderness. "It's all right," he said again. "Don't cry! I hate to see
She gazed at him, still doubtful, still sobbing a little. "Oh,
Billikins!" she said, tremulously, "why did you?"
"I don't know," he said. "I was mad. It was your own fault, in a way.
You don't seem to realize that I'm as human as the rest of the world.
But I don't defend myself. I was an infernal brute to let myself go like
"Oh, no, you weren't, Billikins!" Quite unexpectedly she answered him.
"You couldn't help it. Men are like that. And I'm glad you're human.
But—but"—she faltered a little—"I want to feel that you're safe, too.
I've always felt—ever since I jumped into your arms that night—that
you—that you were on the right side of the safety-curtain. You are,
aren't you? Oh, please say you are! But I know you are." She held out
her hands to him with a quivering gesture of confidence. "If you'll
forgive me for—for fooling you," she said, "I'll forgive you—for being
fooled. That's a fair offer, isn't it? Don't let's think any more about
it!" Her rainbow smile transformed her face, but her eyes sought his
He took the hands, but he did not attempt to draw her nearer. "Puck!" he
"What is it?" she whispered, trembling.
"Don't!" he said. "I won't hurt you. I wouldn't hurt a hair of your
head. But, child, wouldn't it be safer—easier for both of us—if—if we
lived together, instead of apart?"
He spoke almost under his breath. There was no hint of mastery about
him at that moment, only a gentleness that pleaded with her as with a
And Puck went nearer to him on the instant, as it were instinctively,
almost involuntarily. "P'r'aps some day, Billikins!" she said, with a
little, quivering laugh. "But not yet—not if I've got to go to the
Hills away from you."
"When I follow you to the Hills, then," he said.
She freed one hand and, reaching up, lightly stroked his cheek.
"P'r'aps, Billikins!" she said again. "But—you'll have to be awfully
patient with me, because—because—" She paused, agitatedly; then went
yet a little nearer to him. "You will be kind to me, won't you?" she
He put his arm about her. "Always, dear," he said.
She raised her face. She was still trembling, but her action was one of
resolute confidence. "Then let's be friends, Billikins!" she said.
It was a tacit invitation. He bent and gravely kissed her.
Her lips returned his kiss shyly, quiveringly. "You're the nicest man I
ever met, Billikins," she said. "Good-night!"
She slipped from his encircling arm and was gone.
The man stood motionless where she had left him, wondering at himself,
at her, at the whole rocking universe. She had kindled the Magic Fire
in him indeed! His whole being was aglow. And yet—and yet—she had had
her way with him. He had let her go.
Wherefore? Wherefore? The hot blood dinned in his ears. His hands
clenched. And from very deep within him the answer came. Because he
Summer in the Plains! Pitiless, burning summer!
All day a blinding blaze of sun beat upon the wooden roof, forced a way
through the shaded windows, lay like a blasting spell upon the parched
compound. The cluster-roses had shrivelled and died long since. Their
brown leaves still clung to the veranda and rattled desolately with a
dry, scaly sound in the burning wind of dawn.
The green parakeets had ceased to look for sweets on the veranda.
Nothing dainty ever made its appearance there. The Englishman who came
and went with such grim endurance offered them no temptations.
Sometimes he spent the night on a charpoy on the veranda, lying
motionless, though often sleepless, through the breathless, dragging
hours. There had been sickness among the officers and Merryon, who was
never sick, was doing the work of three men. He did it doggedly, with
the stubborn determination characteristic of him; not cheerfully—no one
ever accused Merryon of being cheerful—but efficiently and
uncomplainingly. Other men cursed the heat, but he never took the
trouble. He needed all his energies for what he had to do.
His own chance of leave had become very remote. There was so much sick
leave that he could not be spared. Over that, also, he made no
complaint. It was useless to grumble at the inevitable. There was not a
man in the mess who could not be spared more easily than he.
For he was indomitable, unfailing, always fulfilling his duties with
machine-like regularity, stern, impenetrable, hard as granite.
As to what lay behind that hardness, no one ever troubled to inquire.
They took him for granted, much as if he had been a well-oiled engine
guaranteed to surmount all obstacles. How he did it was nobody's
business but his own. If he suffered in that appalling heat as other men
suffered, no one knew of it. If he grew a little grimmer and a little
gaunter, no one noticed. Everyone knew that whatever happened to others,
he at least would hold on. Everyone described him as "hard as nails."
Each day seemed more intolerable than the last, each night a perceptible
narrowing of the fiery circle in which they lived. They seemed to be
drawing towards a culminating horror that grew hourly more palpable,
more monstrously menacing—a horror that drained their strength even
"It's going to kill us this time," declared little Robey, the youngest
subaltern, to whom the nights were a torment unspeakable. He had been
within an ace of heat apoplexy more than once, and his nerves were
stretched almost to breaking-point.
But Merryon went doggedly on, hewing his unswerving way through all. The
monsoon was drawing near, and the whole tortured earth seemed to be
waiting in dumb expectation.
Night after night a glassy moon came up, shining, immense and awful,
through a thick haze of heat. Night after night Merryon lay on his
veranda, smoking his pipe in stark endurance while the dreadful hours
crept by. Sometimes he held a letter from his wife hard clenched in one
powerful hand. She wrote to him frequently—short, airy epistles, wholly
inconsequent, often provocatively meagre.
"There is a Captain Silvester here," she wrote once; "such a bounder.
But he is literally the only man who can dance in the station. So what
would you? Poor Mrs. Paget is so shocked!"
Feathery hints of this description were by no means unusual, but though
Merryon sometimes frowned over them, they did not make him uneasy. His
will-o'-the-wisp might beckon, but she would never allow herself to be
caught. She never spoke of love in her letters, always ending demurely,
"Yours sincerely, Puck." But now and then there was a small cross
scratched impulsively underneath the name, and the letters that bore
this token accompanied Merryon through his inferno whithersoever he
There came at last a night of terrible heat, when it seemed as if the
world itself must burst into flames. A heavy storm rolled up, roared
overhead for a space like a caged monster, and sullenly rolled away,
without a single drop of rain to ease the awful tension of waiting that
possessed all things.
Merryon left the mess early, tramping back over the dusty road,
convinced that the downpour for which they all yearned was at hand.
There was no moonlight that night, only a hot blackness, illumined now
and then by a brilliant dart of lightning that shocked the senses and
left behind a void indescribable, a darkness that could be felt. There
was something savage in the atmosphere, something primitive and
passionate that seemed to force itself upon him even against his will.
His pulses were strung to a tropical intensity that made him aware of
the man's blood in him, racing at fever heat through veins that felt
swollen to bursting.
He entered his bungalow and flung off his clothes, took a plunge in a
bath of tepid water, from which he emerged with a pricking sensation all
over him that made the lightest touch a torture, and finally, keyed up
to a pitch of sensitiveness that excited his own contempt, he pulled on
some pyjamas and went out to his charpoy on the veranda.
He dismissed the punkah coolie, feeling his presence to be
intolerable, and threw himself down with his coat flung open. The
oppression of the atmosphere was as though a red-hot lid were being
forced down upon the tortured earth. The blackness beyond the veranda
was like a solid wall. Sleep was out of the question. He could not
smoke. It was an effort even to breathe. He could only lie in torment
and wait—and wait.
The flashes of lightning had become less frequent. A kind of waking
dream began to move in his brain. A figure gradually grew upon that
screen of darkness—an elf-like thing, intangible, transparent, a
quivering, shadowy image, remote as the dawn.
Wide-eyed, he watched the vision, his pulses beating with a mad longing
so fierce as to be utterly beyond his own control. It was as though he
had drunk strong wine and had somehow slipped the leash of ordinary
convention. The savagery of the night, the tropical intensity of it, had
got into him. Half-naked, wholly primitive, he lay and waited—and
For a while the vision hung before him, tantalizing him, maddening him,
eluding him. Then came a flash of lightning, and it was gone.
He started up on the charpoy, every nerve tense as stretched wire.
"Come back!" he cried, hoarsely. "Come back!"
Again the lightning streaked the darkness.
There came a burst of thunder, and suddenly, through it and above it,
he heard the far-distant roar of rain. He sprang to his feet. It was
The seconds throbbed away. Something was moving in the compound, a
subtle, awful Something. The trees and bushes quivered before it, the
cluster-roses rattled their dead leaves wildly. But the man stood
motionless in the light that fell across the veranda from the open
window of his room, watching with eyes that shone with a fierce and
glaring intensity for the return of his vision.
The fevered blood was hammering at his temples. For the moment he was
scarcely sane. The fearful strain of the past few weeks that had
overwhelmed less hardy men had wrought upon him in a fashion more subtle
but none the less compelling. They had been stricken down, whereas he
had been strung to a pitch where bodily suffering had almost ceased to
count. He had grown used to the torment, and now in this supreme moment
it tore from him his civilization, but his physical strength remained
untouched. He stood alert and ready, like a beast in a cage, waiting for
whatever the gods might deign to throw him.
The tumult beyond that wall of blackness grew. It became a swirling
uproar. The rose-vines were whipped from the veranda and flung writhing
in all directions. The trees in the compound strove like terrified
creatures in the grip of a giant. The heat of the blast was like tongues
of flame blown from an immense furnace. Merryon's whole body seemed to
be wrapped in fire. With a fierce movement, he stripped the coat from
him and flung it into the room behind him. He was alone save for the
devils that raged in that pandemonium. What did it matter how he met
And then, with the suddenness of a stupendous weight dropped from
heaven, came rain, rain in torrents and billows, rain solid as the
volume of Niagara, a crushing mighty force.
The tempest shrieked through the compound. The lightning glimmered,
leapt, became continuous. The night was an inferno of thunder and
And suddenly out of the inferno, out of the awful strife of elements,
out of that frightful rainfall, there came—a woman!
She came haltingly, clinging with both hands to the rail of the veranda,
her white face staring upwards in terror and instinctive appeal. She was
like an insect dragging itself away from destruction, with drenched and
He saw her coming and stiffened. It was his vision returned to him, but
till she came within reach of him he was afraid to move. He stood
upright against the wall, every mad instinct of his blood fiercely awake
The noise and wind increased. It swirled along the veranda. She seemed
afraid to quit her hold of the balustrade lest she should be swept away.
But still she drew nearer to the lighted window, and at last, with
desperate resolution, she tore herself free and sprang for shelter.
In that instant the man also sprang. He caught her in arms that almost
expected to clasp emptiness, arms that crushed in a savage ecstasy of
possession at the actual contact with a creature of flesh and blood. In
the same moment the lamp in the room behind him flared up and went out.
There arose a frightened crying from his breast. For a few moments she
fought like a mad thing for freedom. He felt her teeth set in his arm,
and laughed aloud. Then very suddenly her struggles ceased. He became
aware of a change in her. She gave her whole weight into his arms, and
lay palpitating against his heart.
By the awful glare of the lightning he found her face uplifted to his.
She was laughing, too, but in her eyes was such a passion of love as he
had never looked upon before. In that moment he knew that she was
his—wholly, completely, irrevocably his. And, stooping, he kissed the
upturned lips with the fierce exultation of the conqueror.
Her arms slipped round his neck. She abandoned herself wholly to him.
She gave him worship for worship, passion for passion.
Later, he awoke to the fact that she was drenched from head to foot. He
drew her into his room and shut the window against the driving blast.
She clung to him still.
"Isn't it dreadful?" she said, shuddering. "It's just as if Something
Big is trying to get between us."
He closed the shutter also, and groped for matches. She accompanied him
on his search, for she would not lose touch with him for a moment.
The lamp flared on her white, childish face, showing him wild joy and
horror strangely mingled. Her great eyes laughed up at him.
"Billikins, darling! You aren't very decent, are you? I'm not decent
either, Billikins. I'd like to take off all my clothes and dance on my
He laughed grimly. "You will certainly have to undress—the sooner the
She spread out her hands. "But I've nothing to wear, Billikins, nothing
but what I've got on. I didn't know it was going to rain so. You'll have
to lend me a suit of pyjamas, dear, while I get my things dried. You
see"—she halted a little—"I came away in rather a hurry. I—was
Merryon, oddly sobered by her utter dependence upon him, turned aside
and foraged for brandy. She came close to him while he poured it out.
"It isn't for me, is it? I couldn't drink it, darling. I shouldn't know
what was happening for the next twenty-four hours if I did."
"It doesn't matter whether you do or not," he said. "I shall be here to
look after you."
She laughed at that, a little quivering laugh of sheer content. Her
cheek was against his shoulder. "Live for ever, O king!" she said, and
softly kissed it.
Then she caught sight of something on the arm below. "Oh, darling, did I
do that?" she cried, in distress.
He put the arm about her. "It doesn't matter. I don't feel it," he
said. "I've got you."
She lifted her lips to his again. "Billikins, darling, I didn't know it
was you—at first, not till I heard you laugh. I'd rather die than hurt
you. You know it, don't you?"
"Of course I know it," he said.
He caught her to him passionately for a moment, then slowly relaxed his
hold. "Drink this, like a good child," he said, "and then you must get
to bed. You are wet to the skin."
"I know I am," she said, "but I don't mind."
"I mind for you," he said.
She laughed up at him, her eyes like stars. "I was lucky to get in when
I did," she said. "Wasn't the heat dreadful—and the lightning? I ran
all the way from the station. I was just terrified at it all. But I kept
thinking of you, dear—of you, and how—and how you'd kissed me that
night when I was such a little idiot as to cry. Must I really drink it,
Billikins? Ah, well, just to please you—anything to please you. But you
must have one little sip first. Yes, darling, just one. That's to please
your silly little wife, who wants to share everything with you now.
There's my own boy! Now I'll drink every drop—every drop."
She began to drink, standing in the circle of his arm; then looked up at
him with a quick grimace. "It's powerful strong, dear. You'll have to
put me to bed double quick after this, or I shall be standing on my head
He laughed a little. She leaned back against him.
"Yes, I know, darling. You're a man that likes to manage, aren't you?
Well, you can manage me and all that is mine for the rest of my natural
life. I'm never going to leave you again, Billikins. That's understood,
His face sobered. "What possessed you to come back to this damnable
place?" he said.
She laughed against his shoulder. "Now, Billikins, don't you start
asking silly questions. I'll tell you as much as it's good for you to
know all in good time. I came mainly because I wanted to. And that's the
reason why I'm going to stay. See?"
She reached up an audacious finger and smoothed the faint frown from his
forehead with her sunny, provocative smile.
"It'll have to be a joint management," she said. "There are so many
things you mustn't do. Now, darling, I've finished the brandy to please
you. So suppose you look out your prettiest suit of pyjamas, and I'll
try and get into them." She broke into a giddy little laugh. "What would
Mrs. Paget say? Can't you see her face? I can!"
She stopped suddenly, struck dumb by a terrible blast of wind that shook
the bungalow to its foundations.
"Just hark to the wind and the rain, Billikins!" she whispered, as it
swirled on. "Did you ever hear anything so awful? It's as if—as if God
were very furious—about something. Do you think He is, dear? Do you?"
She pressed close to him with white, pleading face upraised. "Do you
believe in God, Billikins? Honestly now!"
The man hesitated, holding her fast in his arms, seeing only the
quivering, childish mouth and beseeching eyes.
"You don't, do you?" she said. "I don't myself, Billikins. I think He's
just a myth. Or anyhow—if He's there at all—He doesn't bother about
the people who were born on the wrong side of the safety-curtain. There,
darling! Kiss me once more—I love your kisses—I love them! And now go!
Yes—yes, you must go—just while I make myself respectable. Yes, but
you can leave the door ajar, dear heart! I want to feel you close at
hand. I am yours—till I die—king and master!"
Her eyes were brimming with tears; he thought her overwrought and weary,
and passed them by in silence.
And so through that night of wonder, of violence, and of storm, she lay
against his heart, her arms wound about his neck with a closeness which
even sleep could not relax.
Out of the storm she had come to him, like a driven bird seeking refuge;
and through the fury of the storm he held her, compassing her with the
fire of his passion.
"I am safe now," she murmured once, when he thought her sleeping. "I am
And he, fancying the raging of the storm had disturbed her, made hushing
answer, "Quite safe, wife of my heart."
She trembled a little, and nestled closer to his breast.
"You can't mean to let your wife stay here!" ejaculated the colonel,
sharply. "You wouldn't do anything so mad!"
Merryon's hard mouth took a sterner downward curve. "My wife refuses to
leave me, sir," he said.
"Good heavens above, Merryon!" The colonel's voice held a species of
irritated derision. "Do you tell me you can't manage—a—a piece of
thistledown like that?"
Merryon was silent, grimly, implacably silent. Plainly he had no
intention of making such an admission.
"It's madness—criminal madness!" Colonel Davenant looked at him
aggressively, obviously longing to pierce that stubborn calm with which
Merryon had so long withstood the world.
But Merryon remained unmoved, though deep in his private soul he knew
that the colonel was right, knew that he had decided upon a course of
action that involved a risk which he dreaded to contemplate.
"Oh, look here, Merryon!" The colonel lost his temper after his own
precipitate fashion. "Don't be such a confounded fool! Take a
fortnight's leave—I can't spare you longer—and go back to the Hills
with her! Make her settle down with my wife at Shamkura! Tell her you'll
beat her if she doesn't!"
Merryon's grim face softened a little. "Thank you very much, sir! But
you can't spare me even for so long. Moreover, that form of punishment
wouldn't scare her. So, you see, it would come to the same thing in the
end. She is determined to face what I face for the present."
"And you're determined to let her!" growled the colonel.
Merryon shrugged his shoulders.
"You'll probably lose her," the colonel persisted, gnawing fiercely at
his moustache. "Have you considered that?"
"I've considered everything," Merryon said, rather heavily. "But she
came to me—through that inferno. I can't send her away again. She
Colonel Davenant swore under his breath. "Let me talk to her!" he said,
after a moment.
The ghost of a smile touched Merryon's face. "It's no good, sir. You can
talk. You won't make any impression."
"But it's practically a matter of life and death, man!" insisted the
colonel. "You can't afford any silly sentiment in an affair like this."
"I am not sentimental," Merryon said, and his lips twitched a little
with the words. "But all the same, since she has set her heart on
staying, she shall stay. I have promised that she shall."
"You are mad," the colonel declared. "Just think a minute! Think what
your feelings will be if she dies!"
"I have thought, sir." The dogged note was in Merryon's voice again. His
face was a mask of impenetrability. "If she dies, I shall at least have
the satisfaction of knowing that I made her happy first."
It was his last word on the subject. He departed, leaving the colonel
That evening the latter called upon Mrs. Merryon. He found her sitting
on her husband's knee smoking a Turkish cigarette, and though she
abandoned this unconventional attitude to receive her visitor, he had a
distinct impression that the two were in subtle communion throughout his
"It's so very nice of you to take the trouble," she said, in her
charming way, when he had made his most urgent representations. "But
really it's much better for me to be with my husband here. I stayed at
Shamkura just as long as I could possibly bear it, and then I just had
to come back here. I don't think I shall get ill—really. And if I
do"—she made a little foreign gesture of the hands—"I'll nurse
As Merryon had foretold, it was useless to argue with her. She
dismissed all argument with airy unreason. But yet the colonel could not
find it in his heart to be angry with her. He was very angry with
Merryon, so angry that for a whole fortnight he scarcely spoke to him.
But when the end of the fortnight came, and with it the first break in
the rains, little Mrs. Merryon went smiling forth and returned his call.
"Are you still being cross with Billikins?" she asked him, while her
hand lay engagingly in his. "Because it's really not his fault, you
know. If he sent me to Kamchatka, I should still come back."
"You wouldn't if you belonged to me," said Colonel Davenant, with a
She laughed and shook her head. "Perhaps I shouldn't—not unless I loved
you as dearly as I love Billikins. But I think you needn't be cross
about it. I'm quite well. If you don't believe me, you can look at my
She shot it out impudently, still laughing. And the colonel suddenly and
paternally patted her cheek.
"You're a very naughty girl," he said. "But I suppose we shall have to
make the best of you. Only, for Heaven's sake, don't go and get ill on
the quiet! If you begin to feel queer, send for the doctor at the
He abandoned his attitude of disapproval towards Merryon after that
interview, realizing possibly its injustice. He even declared in a
letter to his wife that Mrs. Merryon was an engaging chit, with a will
of her own that threatened to rule them all! Mrs. Davenant pursed her
lips somewhat over the assertion, and remarked that Major Merryon's wife
was plainly more at home with men than women. Captain Silvester was so
openly out of temper over her absence that it was evident she had been
"leading him on with utter heartlessness," and now, it seemed, she meant
to have the whole mess at her beck and call.
As a matter of fact, Puck saw much more of the mess than she desired. It
became the fashion among the younger officers to drop into the Merryons'
bungalow at the end of the evening. Amusements were scarce, and Puck was
a vigorous antidote to boredom. She always sparkled in society, and she
was too sweet-natured to snub "the boys," as she called them. The smile
of welcome was ever ready on her little, thin white face, the quick jest
on her nimble tongue.
"We mustn't be piggy just because we are happy," she said to her husband
once. "How are they to know we are having our honeymoon?" And then she
nestled close to him, whispering, "It's quite the best honeymoon any
woman ever had."
To which he could make but the one reply, pressing her to his heart and
kissing the red lips that mocked so merrily when the world was looking
She had become the hub of his existence, and day by day he watched her
anxiously, grasping his happiness with a feeling that it was too great
The rains set in in earnest, and the reek of the Plains rose like an
evil miasma to the turbid heavens. The atmosphere was as the interior of
a steaming cauldron. Great toadstools spread like a loathsome disease
over the compound. Fever was rife in the camp. Mosquitoes buzzed
incessantly everywhere, and rats began to take refuge in the bungalow.
Puck was privately terrified at rats, but she smothered her terror in
her husband's presence and maintained a smiling front. They laid down
poison for the rats, who died horribly in inaccessible places, making
her wonder if they were not almost preferable alive. And then one night
she discovered a small snake coiled in a corner of her bedroom.
She fled to Merryon in horror, and he and the khitmutgar slew the
creature. But Puck's nerves were on edge from that day forward. She went
through agonies of cold fear whenever she was left alone, and she
feverishly encouraged the subalterns to visit her during her husband's
absence on duty.
He raised no objection till he one day returned unexpectedly to find her
dancing a hornpipe for the benefit of a small, admiring crowd to whom
she had been administering tea.
She sprang like a child to meet him at his entrance, declaring the
entertainment at an end; and the crowd soon melted away.
Then, somewhat grimly, Merryon took his wife to task.
She sat on the arm of his chair with her arms round his neck, swinging
one leg while she listened. She was very docile, punctuating his remarks
with soft kisses dropped inconsequently on the top of his head. When he
ended, she slipped cosily down upon his knee and promised to be good.
It was not a very serious promise, and it was plainly proffered in a
spirit of propitiation. Merryon pursued the matter no further, but he
was vaguely dissatisfied. He had a feeling that she regarded his
objections as the outcome of eccentric prudishness, or at the best an
unreasonable fit of jealousy. She smoothed him down as though he had
been a spoilt child, her own attitude supremely unabashed; and though he
could not be angry with her, an uneasy sense of doubt pressed upon him.
Utterly his own as he knew her to be, yet dimly, intangibly, he began to
wonder what her outlook on life could be, how she regarded the tie that
bound them. It was impossible to reason seriously with her. She floated
out of his reach at the first touch.
So that curious honeymoon of theirs continued, love and passion crudely
mingled, union without knowledge, flaming worship and blind possession.
"You are happy?" Merryon asked her once.
To which she made ardent answer, "Always happy in your arms, O king."
And Merryon was happy also, though, looking back later, it seemed to him
that he snatched his happiness on the very edge of the pit, and that
even at the time he must have been half-aware of it.
When, a month after her coming, the scourge of the Plains caught her, as
was inevitable, he felt as if his new-found kingdom had begun already to
depart from him.
For a few days Puck was seriously ill with malaria. She came through it
with marvellous resolution, nursed by Merryon and his bearer, the
general factotum of the establishment.
But it left her painfully weak and thin, and the colonel became again
furiously insistent that she should leave the Plains till the rains were
Merryon, curiously enough, did not insist. Only one evening he took the
little wasted body into his arms and begged her—actually begged her—to
consent to go.
"I shall be with you for the first fortnight," he said. "It won't be
more than a six-weeks' separation."
"Six weeks!" she protested, piteously.
"Perhaps less," he said. "I may be able to come to you for a day or two
in the middle. Say you will go—and stay, sweetheart! Set my mind at
"But, darling, you may be ill. A thousand things may happen. And I
couldn't go back to Shamkura. I couldn't!" said Puck, almost crying,
clinging fast around his neck.
"But why not?" he questioned, gently. "Weren't they kind to you there?
Weren't you happy?"
She clung faster. "Happy, Billikins! With that hateful Captain Silvester
lying in wait to—to make love to me! I didn't tell you before. But
that—that was why I left."
He frowned above her head. "You ought to have told me before, Puck."
She trembled in his arms. "It didn't seem to matter when once I'd got
away; and I knew it would only make you cross."
"How did he make love to you?" demanded Merryon.
He tried to see her face, but she hid it resolutely against him. "Don't,
Billikins! It doesn't matter now."
"It does matter," he said, sternly.
Puck was silent.
Merryon continued inexorably. "I suppose it was your own fault. You led
She gave a little nervous laugh against his breast. "I never meant to,
Billikins. I—I don't much like men—as a rule."
"You manage to conceal that fact very successfully," he said.
She laughed again rather piteously. "You don't know me," she whispered.
"I'm not—like that—all through."
"I hope not," said Merryon, severely.
She turned her face slightly upwards and snuggled it into his neck. "You
used not to mind," she said.
He held her close in his arms the while he steeled himself against her.
"Well, I mind now," he said. "And I will have no more of it. Is that
She assented dubiously, her lips softly kissing his neck. "It isn't—all
my fault, Billikins," she whispered, wistfully, "that men treat
He set his teeth. "It must be your fault," he declared, firmly. "You can
help it if you try."
She turned her face more fully to his. "How grim you look, darling! You
haven't kissed me for quite five minutes."
"I feel more like whipping you," he said, grimly.
She leapt in his arms as if he had been about to put his words into
action. "Oh, no!" she cried. "No, you wouldn't beat me, Billikins.
You—you wouldn't, dear, would you?" Her great eyes, dilated and
imploring, gazed into his for a long desperate second ere she gave
herself back to him with a sobbing laugh. "You're not in earnest, of
course. I'm silly to listen to you. Do kiss me, darling, and not
frighten me anymore!"
He held her close, but still he did not comply with her request. "Did
this Silvester ever kiss you?" he asked.
She shook her head vehemently, hiding her face.
"Look at me!" he said.
"No, Billikins!" she protested.
"Then tell me the truth!" he said.
"He kissed me—once, Billikins," came in distressed accents from his
"And you?" Merryon's words sounded clipped and cold.
She shivered. "I ran right away to you. I—I didn't feel safe any more."
Merryon sat silent. Somehow he could not stir up his anger against her,
albeit his inner consciousness told him that she had been to blame; but
for the first time his passion was cooled. He held her without ardour,
the while he wondered.
That night he awoke to the sound of her low sobbing at his side. His
heart smote him. He put forth a comforting hand.
She crept into his arms. "Oh, Billikins," she whispered, "keep me with
you! I'm not safe—by myself."
The man's soul stirred within him. Dimly he began to understand what his
protection meant to her. It was her anchor, all she had to keep her from
the whirlpools. Without it she was at the mercy of every wind that blew.
Again cold doubt assailed him, but he put it forcibly away. He gathered
her close, and kissed the tears from her face and the trouble from her
THE MOUTH OF THE PIT
So Puck had her way and stayed.
She was evidently sublimely happy—at least in Merryon's society, but
she did not pick up her strength very quickly, and but for her unfailing
high spirits Merryon would have felt anxious about her. There seemed to
be nothing of her. She was not like a creature of flesh and blood. Yet
how utterly, how abundantly, she satisfied him! She poured out her love
to him in a perpetual offering that never varied or grew less. She gave
him freely, eagerly, glowingly, all she had to give. With passionate
triumph she answered to his need. And that need was growing. He could
not blind himself to the fact. His profession no longer filled his life.
There were times when he even resented its demands upon him. The sick
list was rapidly growing, and from morning till night his days were
Puck made no complaint. She was always waiting for him, however late the
hour of his return. She was always in his arms the moment the dripping
overcoat was removed. Sometimes he brought work back with him, and
wrestled with regimental accounts and other details far into the night.
It was not his work, but someone had to do it, and it had devolved upon
Puck never would go to bed without him. It was too lonely, she said; she
was afraid of snakes, or rats, or bogies. She used to curl up on the
charpoy in his room, clad in the airiest of wrappers, and doze the
time away till he was ready.
One night she actually fell into a sound sleep thus, and he, finishing
his work, sat on and on, watching her, loath to disturb her. There was
deep pathos in her sleeping face. Lines that in her waking moments were
never apparent were painfully noticeable in repose. She had the puzzled,
wistful look of a child who has gone through trouble without
understanding it—a hurt and piteous look.
He watched her thus till a sense of trespass came upon him, and then he
rose, bent over her, and very tenderly lifted her.
She was alert on the instant, with a sharp movement of resistance. Then
at once her arms went round his neck. "Oh, darling, is it you? Don't
bother to carry me! You're so tired!"
He smiled at the idea, and she nestled against his heart, lifting soft
lips to his.
He carried her to bed, and laid her down, but she would not let him go
immediately. She yet clung about his neck, hiding her face against it.
He held her closely. "Good-night, little pal—little sweetheart," he
Her arms tightened. "Billikins!" she said.
He waited. "What is it, dear?"
She became a little agitated. He could feel her lips moving, but they
said no audible word.
He waited in silence. And suddenly she raised her face and looked at him
fully. There was a glory in her eyes such as he had never seen before.
"I dreamt last night that the wonderfullest thing happened," she said,
her red lips quivering close to his own. "Billikins, what if—the dream
A hot wave of feeling went through him at her words. He crushed her to
him, feeling the quick beat of her heart against his own, the throbbing
surrender of her whole being to his. He kissed her burningly, with such
a passion of devotion as had never before moved him.
She laughed rapturously. "Isn't it great, Billikins?" she said. "And I'd
have missed it all if it hadn't been for you. Just think—if I hadn't
jumped—before the safety-curtain—came—down!"
She was speaking between his kisses, and eventually they stopped her.
"Don't think," he said; "don't think!"
It was the beginning of a new era, the entrance of a new element into
their lives. Perhaps till that night he had never looked upon her wholly
in the light of wife. His blind passion for her had intoxicated him.
She had been to him an elf from fairyland, a being elusive who offered
him all the magic of her love, but upon whom he had no claims. But from
that night his attitude towards her underwent a change. Very tenderly he
took her into his own close keeping. She had become human in his eyes,
no longer a wayward sprite, but a woman, eager-hearted, and his own. He
gave her reverence because of that womanhood which he had only just
begun to visualize in her. Out of his passion there had kindled a
greater fire. All that she had in life she gave him, glorying in the
gift, and in return he gave her love.
All through the days that followed he watched over her with unfailing
devotion—a devotion that drew her nearer to him than she had ever been
before. She was ever responsive to his mood, keenly susceptible to his
every phase of feeling. But, curiously, she took no open notice of the
change in him. She was sublimely happy, and like a child she lived upon
happiness, asking no questions. He never saw her other than content.
Slowly that month of deadly rain wore on. The Plains had become a vast
and fetid swamp, the atmosphere a weltering, steamy heat, charged with
fever, leaden with despair.
But Puck was like a singing bird in the heart of the wilderness. She
lived apart in a paradise of her own, and even the colonel had to
relent again and bestow his grim smile upon her.
"Merryon's a lucky devil," he said, and everyone in the mess agreed with
But, "You wait!" said Macfarlane, the doctor, with gloomy emphasis.
"There's more to come."
It was on a night of awful darkness that he uttered this prophecy, and
his hearers were in too overwhelming a state of depression to debate the
Merryon's bungalow was actually the only one in the station in which
happiness reigned. They were sitting together in his den smoking a great
many cigarettes, listening to the perpetual patter of the rain on the
roof and the drip, drip, drip of it from gutter to veranda, superbly
content and "completely weather-proof," as Puck expressed it.
"I hope none of the boys will turn up to-night," she said. "We haven't
room for more than two, have we?"
"Oh, someone is sure to come," responded Merryon. "They'll be getting
bored directly, and come along here for coffee."
"There's someone there now," said Puck, cocking her head. "I think I
shall run along to bed and leave you to do the entertaining. Shall I?"
She looked at him with a mischievous smile, very bright-eyed and alert.
"It would be a quick method of getting rid of them," remarked Merryon.
She jumped up. "Very well, then. I'll go, shall I? Shall I, darling?"
He reached out a hand and grasped her wrist. "No," he said,
deliberately, smiling up at her. "You'll stay and do your duty—unless
you're tired," he added. "Are you?"
She stooped to bestow a swift caress upon his forehead. "My own
Billikins!" she murmured. "You're the kindest husband that ever was. Of
course, I'm going to stay."
She could scarcely have effected her escape had she so desired, for
already a hand was on the door. She turned towards it with the roguish
smile still upon her lips.
Merryon was looking at her at the moment. She interested him far more
than the visitor, whom he guessed to be one of the subalterns. And so
looking, he saw the smile freeze upon her face to a mask-like
immobility. And very suddenly he remembered a man whom he had once seen
killed on a battlefield—killed instantaneously—while laughing at some
joke. The frozen mirth, the starting eyes, the awful vacancy where the
soul had been—he saw them all again in the face of his wife.
"Great heavens, Puck! What is it?" he said, and sprang to his feet.
In the same instant she turned with the movement of one tearing herself
free from an evil spell, and flung herself violently upon his breast.
"Oh, Billikins, save me—save me!" she cried, and broke into hysterical
His arms were about her in a second, sheltering her, sustaining her. His
eyes went beyond her to the open door.
A man was standing there—a bulky, broad-featured, coarse-lipped man
with keen black eyes that twinkled maliciously between thick lids, and a
black beard that only served to emphasize an immensely heavy under-jaw.
Merryon summed him up swiftly as a Portuguese American with more than a
dash of darker blood in his composition.
He entered the room in a fashion that was almost insulting. It was
evident that he was summing up Merryon also.
The latter waited for him, stiff with hostility, his arms still tightly
clasping Puck's slight, cowering form. He spoke as the stranger
advanced, in his voice a deep menace like the growl of an angry beast
protecting its own.
"Who are you? And what do you want?"
The stranger's lips parted, showing a gleam of strong white teeth. "My
name," he said, speaking in a peculiarly soft voice that somehow
reminded Merryon of the hiss of a reptile, "is Leo Vulcan. You have
heard of me? Perhaps not. I am better known in the Western Hemisphere.
You ask me what I want?" He raised a brown, hairy hand and pointed
straight at the girl in Merryon's arms. "I want—my wife!"
Puck's cry of anguish followed the announcement, and after it came
silence—a tense, hard-breathing silence, broken only by her long-drawn,
Merryon's hold had tightened all unconsciously to a grip; and she was
clinging to him wildly, convulsively, as she had never clung before. He
could feel the horror that pulsed through her veins; it set his own
blood racing at fever-speed.
Over her head he faced the stranger with eyes of steely hardness. "You
have made a mistake," he said, briefly and sternly.
The other man's teeth gleamed again. He had a way of lifting his lip
when talking which gave him an oddly bestial look. "I think not," he
said. "Let the lady speak for herself! She will not—I think—deny me."
There was an intolerable sneer in the last sentence. A sudden awful
doubt smote through Merryon. He turned to the girl sobbing at his
"Puck," he said, "for Heaven's sake—what is this man to you?"
She did not answer him; perhaps she could not. Her distress was terrible
to witness, utterly beyond all control.
But the newcomer was by no means disconcerted by it. He drew near with
the utmost assurance.
"Allow me to deal with her!" he said, and reached out a hand to touch
But at that action Merryon's wrath burst into sudden flame. "Curse you,
keep away!" he thundered. "Lay a finger on her at your peril!"
The other stood still, but his eyes gleamed evilly. "My good sir," he
said, "you have not yet grasped the situation. It is not a pleasant one
for you—for either of us; but it has got to be grasped. I do not happen
to know under what circumstances you met this woman; but I do know that
she was my lawful wife before the meeting took place. In whatever light
you may be pleased to regard that fact, you must admit that legally she
is my property, not yours!"
"Oh, no—no—no!" moaned Puck.
Merryon said nothing. He felt strangled, as if a ligature about his
throat had forced all the blood to his brain and confined it there.
After a moment the bearded man continued: "You may not know it, but she
is a dancer of some repute, a circumstance which she owes entirely to
me. I picked her up, a mere child in the streets of London, turning
cart-wheels for a living. I took her and trained her as an acrobat. She
was known on the stage as Toby the Tumbler. Everyone took her for a boy.
Later, she developed a talent for dancing. It was then that I decided to
marry her. She desired the marriage even more than I did." Again he
smiled his brutal smile.
"Oh, no!" sobbed Puck. "Oh, no!"
He passed on with a derisive sneer. "We were married about two years
ago. She became popular in the halls very soon after, and it turned her
head. You may have discovered yourself by this time that she is not
always as tractable as she might be. I had to teach her obedience and
respect, and eventually I succeeded. I conquered her—as I
hoped—completely. However, six months ago she took advantage of a stage
fire to give me the slip, and till recently I believed that she was
dead. Then a friend of mine—Captain Silvester—met her out here in
India a few weeks back at a place called Shamkura, and recognized her.
Her dancing qualities are superb. I think she displayed them a little
rashly if she really wished to remain hidden. He sent me the news, and I
have come myself to claim her—and take her back."
"You can't take me back!" It was Puck's voice, but not as Merryon had
ever heard it before. She flashed round like a hunted creature at bay,
her eyes blazing a wild defiance into the mocking eyes opposite. "You
can't take me back!" she repeated, with quivering insistence. "Our
marriage was—no marriage! It was a sham—a sham! But even if—even
if—it had been—a true marriage—you would have to—set me—free—now."
"And why?" said Vulcan, with his evil smile.
She was white to the lips, but she faced him unflinching. "There is—a
reason," she said.
"In—deed!" He uttered a scoffing laugh of deadly insult. "The same
reason, I presume, as that for which you married me?"
She flinched at that—flinched as if he had struck her across the face.
"Oh, you brute!" she said, and shuddered back against Merryon's
supporting arm. "You wicked brute!"
It was then that Merryon wrenched himself free from that paralysing
constriction that bound him, and abruptly intervened.
"Puck," he said, "go! Leave us! I will deal with this matter in my own
She made no move to obey. Her face was hidden in her hands. But she was
sobbing no longer, only sickly shuddering from head to foot.
He took her by the shoulder. "Go, child, go!" he urged.
But she shook her head. "It's no good," she said. "He has got—the
The utter despair of her tone pierced straight to his soul. She stood as
one bent beneath a crushing burden, and he knew that her face was
burning behind the sheltering hands.
He still held her with a certain stubbornness of possession, though she
made no further attempt to cling to him.
"What do you mean by that?" he said, bending to her. "Tell me what you
mean! Don't be afraid to tell me!"
She shook her head again. "I am bound," she said, dully, "bound hand and
"You mean that you really are—married to him?" Merryon spoke the words
as it were through closed lips. He had a feeling as of being caught in
some crushing machinery, of being slowly and inevitably ground to
Puck lifted her head at length and spoke, not looking at him. "I went
through a form of marriage with him," she said, "for the sake
of—of—of—decency. I always loathed him. I always shall. He only wants
me now because I am—I have been—valuable to him. When he first took me
he seemed kind. I was nearly starved, quite desperate, and alone. He
offered to teach me to be an acrobat, to make a living. I'd better have
drowned myself." A little tremor of passion went through her voice; she
paused to steady it, then went on. "He taught by fear—and cruelty. He
opened my eyes to evil. He used to beat me, too—tie me up in the
gymnasium—and beat me with a whip till—till I was nearly beside myself
and ready to promise anything—anything, only to stop the torture. And
so he got everything he wanted from me, and when I began to be
successful as a dancer he—married me. I thought it would make things
better. I didn't think, if I were his wife, he could go on ill-treating
me quite so much. But I soon found my mistake. I soon found I was even
more his slave than before. And then—just a week before the
fire—another woman came, and told me that it was not a real marriage;
that—that he had been through exactly the same form with her—and there
was nothing in it."
She stopped again at sound of a low laugh from Vulcan. "Not quite the
same form, my dear," he said. "Yours was as legal and binding as the
English law could make it. I have the certificate with me to prove this.
As you say, you were valuable to me then—as you will be again, and so I
was careful that the contract should be complete in every particular.
Now—if you have quite finished your—shall we call it confession?—I
suggest that you should return to your lawful husband and leave this
gentleman to console himself as soon as may be. It is growing late, and
it is not my intention that you should spend another night under his
He spoke slowly, with a curious, compelling emphasis, and as if in
answer to that compulsion Puck's eyes came back to his.
"Oh, no!" she said, in a quick, frightened whisper. "No! I can't! I
Yet she made a movement towards him as if drawn irresistibly.
And at that movement, wholly involuntary as it was, something in
Merryon's brain seemed to burst. He saw all things a burning,
intolerable red. With a strangled oath he caught her back, held her
violently—a prisoner in his arms.
"By God, no!" he said. "I'll kill you first!"
She turned in his embrace. She lifted her lips and passionately kissed
him. "Yes, kill me! Kill me!" she cried to him. "I'd rather die!"
Again the stranger laughed, though his eyes were devilish. "You had
better come without further trouble," he remarked. "You will only add to
your punishment—which will be no light one as it is—by these
hysterics. Do you wish to see my proofs?" He addressed Merryon with
sudden open malignancy. "Or am I to take them to the colonel of your
"You may take them to the devil!" Merryon said. He was holding her
crushed to his heart. He flung his furious challenge over her head. "If
the marriage was genuine you shall set her free. If it was not"—he
paused, and ended in a voice half-choked with passion—"you can go to
The other man showed his teeth in a wolfish snarl. "She is my wife," he
said, in his slow, sibilant way. "I shall not set her free.
And—wherever I go, she will go also."
"If you can take her, you infernal blackguard!" Merryon threw at him.
"Now get out. Do you hear? Get out—if you don't want to be shot!
Whatever happens to-morrow, I swear by God in heaven she shall not go
with you to-night!"
The uncontrolled violence of his speech was terrible. His hold upon Puck
was violent also, more violent than he knew. Her whole body lay a
throbbing weight upon him, and he was not even aware of it.
"Go!" he reiterated, with eyes of leaping flame. "Go! or—" He left the
sentence uncompleted. It was even more terrible than his flow of words
had been. The whole man vibrated with a wrath that possessed him in a
fashion so colossal as to render him actually sublime. He mastered the
situation by the sheer, indomitable might of his fury. There was no
standing against him. It would have been as easy to stem a racing
Vulcan, for all his insolence, realized the fact. The man's strength in
that moment was gigantic, practically limitless. There was no coping
with it. Still with the snarl upon his lips he turned away.
"You will pay for this, my wife," he said. "You will pay in full. When I
punish, I punish well."
He reached the door and opened it, still leering back at the limp,
girlish form in Merryon's arms.
"It will not be soon over," he said. "It will take many days, many
nights, that punishment—till you have left off crying for mercy, or
He was on the threshold. His eyes suddenly shot up with a gloating
hatred to Merryon's.
"And you," he said, "will have the pleasure of knowing every night when
you lie down alone that she is either writhing under the lash—a
frequent exercise for a while, my good sir—or finding subtle comfort in
my arms; both pleasant subjects for your dreams."
He was gone. The door closed slowly, noiselessly, upon his exit. There
was no sound of departing feet.
But Merryon neither listened nor cared. He had turned Puck's deathly
face upwards, and was covering it with burning, passionate kisses,
drawing her back to life, as it were, by the fiery intensity of his
GREATER THAN DEATH
She came to life, weakly gasping. She opened her eyes upon him with the
old, unwavering adoration in their depths. And then before his burning
look hers sank. She hid her face against him with an inarticulate sound
more anguished than any weeping.
The savagery went out of his hold. He drew her to the charpoy on which
she had spent so many evenings waiting for him, and made her sit down.
She did not cling to him any longer; she only covered her face so that
he should not see it, huddling herself together in a piteous heap, her
black, curly head bowed over her knees in an overwhelming agony of
Yet there was in the situation something that was curiously reminiscent
of that night when she had leapt from the burning stage into the safety
of his arms. Now, as then, she was utterly dependent upon the charity of
He turned from her and poured brandy and water into a glass. He came
back and knelt beside her.
"Drink it, my darling!" he said.
She made a quick gesture as of surprised protest. She did not raise her
head. It was as if an invisible hand were crushing her to the earth.
"Why don't you—kill me?" she said.
He laid his hand upon her bent head. "Because you are the salt of the
earth to me," he said; "because I worship you."
She caught the hand with a little sound of passionate endearment, and
laid her face down in it, her hot, quivering lips against his palm. "I
love you so!" she said. "I love you so!"
He pressed her face slowly upwards. But she resisted. "No, no! I
"You need not be afraid," he said. "Once and for all, Puck, believe me
when I tell you that this thing shall never—can never—come between
She caught her breath sharply; but still she refused to look up. "Then
you don't understand," she said. "You—you—can't understand
that—that—I was—his—his—" Her voice failed. She caught his hand in
both her own, pressing it hard over her face, writhing in mute shame
"Yes, I do understand," Merryon said, and his voice was very quiet, full
of a latent force that thrilled her magnetically. "I understand that
when you were still a child this brute took possession of you, broke you
to his will, did as he pleased with you. I understand that you were as
helpless as a rabbit in the grip of a weasel. I understand that he was
always an abomination and a curse to you, that when deliverance offered
you seized it; and I do not forget that you would have preferred death
if I would have let you die. Do you know, Puck"—his voice had softened
by imperceptible degrees; he was bending towards her so that she could
feel his breath on her neck while he spoke—"when I took it upon me to
save you from yourself that night I knew—I guessed—what had happened
to you? No, don't start like that! If there was anything to forgive I
forgave you long ago. I understood. Believe me, though I am a man, I can
He stopped. His hand was all wet with her tears. "Oh, darling!" she
whispered. "Oh, darling!"
"Don't cry, sweetheart!" he said. "And don't be afraid any longer! I
took you from your inferno. I learnt to love you—just as you were,
dear, just as you were. You tried to keep me at a distance; do you
remember? And then—you found life was too strong for you. You came back
and gave yourself to me. Have you ever regretted it, my darling? Tell me
"Never!" she sobbed. "Never! Your love—your love—has been—the
safety-curtain—always—between me and—harm."
And then very suddenly she lifted her face, her streaming eyes, and met
"But there's one thing, darling," she said, "which you must know. I
loved you always—always—even before that monsoon night. But I came to
you then because—because—I knew that I had been recognized, and—I was
afraid—I was terrified—till—till I was safe in your arms."
"Ah! But you came to me," he said.
A sudden gleam of mirth shot through her woe. "My! That was a night,
Billikins!" she said. And then the clouds came back upon her,
overwhelming her. "Oh, what is there to laugh at? How could I laugh?"
He lifted the glass he held and drank from it, then offered it to her.
"Drink with me!" he said.
She took, not the glass, but his wrist, and drank with her eyes upon his
When she had finished she drew his arms about her, and lay against his
shoulder with closed eyes for a space, saying no word.
At last, with a little murmuring sigh, she spoke. "What is going to
"God knows," he said.
But there was no note of dismay in his voice. His hold was strong and
She stirred a little. "Do you believe in God?" she asked him, for the
He had not answered her before; he answered her now without hesitation.
"Yes, I do."
She lifted her head to look at him. "I wonder why?" she said.
He was silent for a moment; then, "Just because I can hold you in my
arms," he said, "and feel that nothing else matters—or can matter
"You really feel that?" she said, quickly. "You really love me, dear?"
"That is love," he said, simply.
"Oh, darling!" Her breath came fast. "Then, if they try to take me from
you—you will really do it—you won't be afraid?"
"Do what?" he questioned, sombrely.
"Kill me, Billikins," she answered, swiftly. "Kill me—sooner than let
He bent his head. "Yes," he said. "My love is strong enough for that."
"But what would you do—afterwards?" she breathed, her lips raised to
A momentary surprise showed in his eyes. "Afterwards?" he questioned.
"After I was gone, darling?" she said, anxiously.
A very strange smile came over Merryon's face. He pressed her to him,
his eyes gazing deep into hers. He kissed her, but not passionately,
rather with reverence.
"Your afterwards will be mine, dear, wherever it is," he said. "If it
comes to that—if there is any going—in that way—we go together."
The anxiety went out of her face in a second. She smiled back at him
with utter confidence. "Oh, Billikins!" she said. "Oh, Billikins, that
will be great!"
She went back into his arms, and lay there for a further space, saying
no word. There was something sacred in the silence between them,
something mysterious and wonderful. The drip, drip, drip of the
ceaseless rain was the only sound in the stillness. They seemed to be
alone together in a sanctuary that none other might enter, husband and
wife, made one by the Bond Imperishable, waiting together for
deliverance. They were the most precious moments that either had ever
known, for in them they were more truly wedded in spirit than they had
ever been before.
How long the great silence lasted neither could have said. It lay like a
spell for awhile, and like a spell it passed.
Merryon moved at last, moved and looked down into his wife's eyes.
They met his instantly without a hint of shrinking; they even smiled.
"It must be nearly bedtime," she said. "You are not going to be busy
"Not to-night," he said.
"Then don't let's sit up any longer, darling," she said. "We can't
either of us afford to lose our beauty sleep."
She rose with him, still with her shining eyes lifted to his, still with
that brave gaiety sparkling in their depths. She gave his arm a tight
little squeeze. "My, Billikins, how you've grown!" she said, admiringly.
"You always were—pretty big. But to-night you're just—titanic!"
He smiled and touched her cheek, not speaking.
"You fill the world," she said.
He bent once more to kiss her. "You fill my heart," he said.
They went round the bungalow together to see to the fastenings of doors
and windows. The khitmutgar had gone to his own quarters for the
night, and they were quite alone. The drip, drip, drip of the rain was
still the only sound, save when the far cry of a prowling jackal came
weirdly through the night.
"It's more gruesome than usual somehow," said Puck, still fast clinging
to her husband's arm. "I'm not a bit frightened, darling, only sort of
creepy at the back. But there's nobody here but you and me, is there?"
"Nobody," said Merryon.
"And will you please come and see if there are any snakes or scorpions
before I begin to undress?" she said. "The very fact of looking under my
bed makes my hair stand on end."
He went with her and made a thorough investigation, finding nothing.
"That's all right," she said, with a sigh of relief. "And yet, somehow,
I feel as if something is waiting round the corner to pounce out on us.
Is it Fate, do you think? Or just my silly fancy?"
"I think it is probably your startled nerves, dear," he said, smiling a
She assented with a half-suppressed shudder. "But I'm sure something
will happen directly," she said. "I'm sure. I'm sure."
"Well, I shall only be in the next room if it does," he said.
He was about to leave her, but she sprang after him, clinging to his
arm. "And you won't be late, will you?" she pleaded. "I can't sleep
without you. Ah, what is that? What is it? What is it?"
Her voice rose almost to a shriek. A sudden loud knocking had broken
through the endless patter of the rain.
Merryon's face changed a very little. The iron-grey eyes became stony,
quite expressionless. He stood a moment listening. Then, "Stay here!" he
said, his voice very level and composed. "Yes, Puck, I wish it. Stay
It was a distinct command, the most distinct he had ever given her. Her
clinging hands slipped from his arm. She stood rigid, unprotesting,
white as death.
The knocking was renewed with fevered energy as Merryon turned quietly
to obey the summons. He closed the door upon his wife and went down the
There was no haste in his movements as he slipped back the bolts, rather
the studied deliberation of purpose of a man armed against all
emergency. But the door burst inwards against him the moment he opened
it, and one of his subalterns, young Harley, almost fell into his arms.
Merryon steadied him with the utmost composure. "Halloa, Harley! You, is
it? What's all this noise about?"
The boy pulled himself together with an effort. He was white to the
"There's cholera broken out," he said. "Forbes and Robey—both down—at
their own bungalow. And they've got it at the barracks, too.
Macfarlane's there. Can you come?"
"Of course—at once." Merryon pulled him forward. "Go in there and get a
drink while I speak to my wife!"
He turned back to her door, but she met him on the threshold. Her eyes
burned like stars in her little pale face.
"It's all right, Billikins," she said, and swallowed hard. "I heard.
You've got to go to the barracks, haven't you, darling? I knew there was
going to be—something. Well, you must take something to eat in your
pocket. You'll want it before morning. And some brandy too. Give me your
flask, darling, and I'll fill it!"
Her composure amazed him. He had expected anguished distress at the bare
idea of his leaving her, but those brave, bright eyes of hers were
"Puck!" he said. "You—wonder!"
She made a small face at him. "Oh, you're not the only wonder in the
world," she told him. "Run along and get yourself ready! My! You are
going to be busy, aren't you?"
She nodded to him and ran into the drawing-room to young Harley. He
heard her chatting there while he made swift preparations for departure,
and he thanked Heaven that she realized so little the ghastly nature of
the horror that had swept down upon them. He hoped the boy would have
the sense to let her remain unenlightened. It was bad enough to have to
leave her after the ordeal they had just faced together. He did not want
her terrified on his account as well.
But when he joined them she was still smiling, eager only to provide for
any possible want of his, not thinking of herself at all.
"I hope you will enjoy your picnic, Billikins," she said. "I'll shut the
door after you, and I shall know it's properly fastened. Oh, yes, the
khit will take care of me, Mr. Harley. He's such a brave man. He kills
snakes without the smallest change of countenance. Good-night,
Billikins! Take care of yourself. I suppose you'll come back sometime?"
She gave him the lightest caress imaginable, shook hands affectionately
with young Harley, who was looking decidedly less pinched than he had
upon arrival, and stood waving an energetic hand as they went away into
the dripping dark.
"You didn't tell her—anything?" Merryon asked, as they plunged down the
"Not more than I could help, Major. But she seemed to know without."
The lad spoke uncomfortably, as if against his will.
"She asked questions, then?" Merryon's voice was sharp.
"Yes, a few. She wanted to know about Forbes and Robey. Robey is awfully
bad. I didn't tell her that."
"Who is looking after them?" Merryon asked.
"Only a native orderly now. The colonel and Macfarlane both had to go to
the barracks. It's frightful there. About twenty cases already. Oh, hang
this rain!" said Harley, bitterly.
"But couldn't they take them—Forbes, I mean, and Robey—to the
hospital?" questioned Merryon.
"No. To tell you the truth, Robey is pegging out, poor fellow. It's
always the best chaps that go first, though. Heaven knows, we may be all
gone before this time to-morrow."
"Don't talk like a fool!" said Merryon, curtly.
And Harley said no more.
They pressed on through mud that was ankle-deep to the barracks.
There during all the nightmare hours that followed Merryon worked with
the strength of ten. He gave no voluntary thought to his wife waiting
for him in loneliness, but ever and anon those blazing eyes of hers rose
before his mental vision, and he saw again that brave, sweet smile with
which she had watched him go.
The morning found him haggard but indomitable, wrestling with the
difficulties of establishing a camp a mile or more from the barracks out
in the rain-drenched open. There had been fourteen deaths in the night,
and seven men were still fighting a losing battle for their lives in the
hospital. He had a native officer to help him in his task; young Harley
was superintending the digging of graves, and the colonel had gone to
the bungalow where the two stricken officers lay.
Dank and gruesome dawned the day, with the smell of rot in the air and
the sense of death hovering over all. And there came to Merryon a
sudden, overwhelming desire to go back to his bungalow beyond the fetid
town and see how his wife was faring. She was the only white woman in
the place, and the thought of her isolation came upon him now like a
It was the fiercest temptation he had ever known. Till that day his
regimental duties had always been placed first with rigorous
determination. Now for the first time he found himself torn by
conflicting ties. The craving for news of her possessed him like a
burning thirst. Yet he knew that some hours must elapse before he could
honestly consider himself free to go.
He called an orderly at last, finding the suspense unendurable, and gave
him a scribbled line to carry to his wife.
"Is all well, sweetheart? Send back word by bearer," he wrote, and told
the man not to return without an answer.
The orderly departed, and for a while Merryon devoted himself to the
matter in hand, and crushed his anxiety into the background. But at the
end of an hour he was chafing in a fever of impatience. What delayed the
fellow? In Heaven's name, why was he so long?
Ghastly possibilities arose in his mind, fears unspeakable that he dared
not face. He forced himself to attend to business, but the suspense was
becoming intolerable. He began to realize that he could not stand it
He was nearing desperation when the colonel came unexpectedly upon the
scene, unshaven and haggard as he was himself, but firm as a rock in the
face of adversity.
He joined Merryon, and received the latter's report, grimly taciturn.
They talked together for a space of needs and expediencies. The fell
disease had got to be checked somehow. He spoke of recalling the
officers on leave. There had been such a huge sick list that summer that
they were reduced to less than half their normal strength.
"You're worth a good many," he said to Merryon, half-grudgingly, "but
you can't work miracles. Besides, you've got—" He broke off abruptly.
"How's your wife?"
"That's what I don't know, sir." Feverishly Merryon made answer. "I left
her last night. She was well then. But since—I sent down an orderly over an hour ago.
He's not come back."
"Confound it!" said the colonel, testily. "You'd better go yourself."
Merryon glanced swiftly round.
"Yes, go, go!" the colonel reiterated, irritably. "I'll relieve you for
a spell. Go and satisfy yourself—and me! None but an infernal fool
would have kept her here," he added, in a growling undertone, as Merryon
lifted a hand in brief salute and started away through the sodden mists.
He went as he had never gone in his life before, and as he went the
mists parted before him and a blinding ray of sunshine came smiting
through the gap like the sword of the destroyer. The simile rushed
through his mind and out again, even as the grey mist-curtain closed
He reached the bungalow. It stood like a shrouded ghost, and the drip,
drip, drip of the rain on the veranda came to him like a death-knell.
A gaunt figure met him almost on the threshold, and he recognized his
messenger with a sharp sense of coming disaster. The man stood mutely at
"Well? Well? Speak!" he ordered, nearly beside himself with anxiety.
"Why didn't you come back with an answer?"
The man spoke with deep submission. "Sahib, there was no answer."
"What do you mean by that? What the—Here, let me pass!" cried Merryon, in a ferment. "There must have
been—some sort of answer."
"No, sahib. No answer." The man spoke with inscrutable composure. "The
mem-sahib has not come back," he said. "Let the sahib see for
But Merryon had already burst into the bungalow; so he resumed his
patient watch on the veranda, wholly undisturbed, supremely patient.
The khitmutgar came forward at his master's noisy entrance. There was
a trace—just the shadow of a suggestion—of anxiety on his dignified
face under the snow-white turban. He presented him with a note on a
salver with a few murmured words and a deep salaam.
"For the sahib's hands alone," he said.
Merryon snatched up the note and opened it with shaking hands.
It was very brief, pathetically so, and as he read a great emptiness
seemed to spread and spread around him in an ever-widening desolation.
"Good-bye, my Billikins!" Ah, the pitiful, childish scrawl she had made
of it! "I've come to my senses, and I've gone back to him. I'm not
worthy of any sacrifice of yours, dear. And it would have been a big
sacrifice. You wouldn't like being dragged through the mud, but I'm used
to it. It came to me just that moment that you said, 'Yes, of course,'
when Mr. Harley came to call you back to duty. Duty is better than a
worthless woman, my Billikins, and I was never fit to be anything more
than a toy to you—a toy to play with and toss aside. And so good-bye,
The scrawl ended with a little cross at the bottom of the page. He
looked up from it with eyes gone blind with pain and a stunned and awful
sense of loss.
"When did the mem-sahib go?" he questioned, dully.
The khitmutgar bent his stately person. "The mem-sahib went in
haste," he said, "an hour before midnight. Your servant followed her to
the dâk-bungalow to protect her from budmashes, but she dismissed me
ere she entered in. Sahib, I could do no more."
The man's eyes appealed for one instant, but fell the next before the
dumb despair that looked out of his master's.
There fell a terrible silence—a pause, as it were, of suspended
vitality, while the iron bit deeper and deeper into tissues too numbed
Then, "Fetch me a drink!" said Merryon, curtly. "I must be getting back
And with soundless promptitude the man withdrew, thankful to make his
THE SACRED FIRE
"Well? Is she all right?" Almost angrily the colonel flung the question
as his second-in-command came back heavy-footed through the rain. He had
been through a nasty period of suspense himself during Merryon's
Merryon nodded. His face was very pale and his lips seemed stiff.
"She has—gone, sir," he managed to say, after a moment.
"Gone, has she?" The colonel raised his brows in astonished
interrogation. "What! Taken fright at last? Well, best thing she could
do, all things considered. You ought to be very thankful."
He dismissed the subject for more pressing matters, and he never noticed
the awful whiteness of Merryon's face or the deadly fixity of his look.
Macfarlane noticed both, coming up two hours later to report the death
of one of the officers at the bungalow.
"For Heaven's sake, man, have some brandy!" he said, proffering a flask
of his own. "You're looking pretty unhealthy. What is it? Feeling a bit
He held Merryon's wrist while he drank the brandy, regarding him with a
troubled frown the while.
"What is the matter with you, man?" he said. "You're not frightening
yourself? You wouldn't be such a fool!"
Merryon did not answer. He was never voluble. To-day he seemed
Macfarlane continued with an uneasy effort to hide a certain doubt
stirring in his mind. "I hear there was a European died at the
dâk-bungalow early this morning. I wanted to go round and see, but I
haven't been able. It's fairly widespread, but there's no sense in
getting scared. Halloa, Merryon!"
He broke off, staring. Merryon had given a great start. He looked like a
man stabbed suddenly from a dream to full consciousness.
"A European—at the dâk-bungalow—dead, did you say?"
His words tumbled over each other; he gripped Macfarlane's shoulder and
shook it with fierce impatience.
"So I heard. I don't know any details. How should I? Merryon, are you
mad?" Macfarlane put up a quick hand to free himself, for the grip was
painful. "He wasn't a friend of yours, I suppose? He wouldn't have been
putting up there if he had been."
"No, no; not—a friend." The words came jerkily. Merryon was breathing
in great spasms that shook him from head to foot. "Not—a friend!" he
said again, and stopped, gazing before him with eyes curiously
contracted as the eyes of one striving to discern something a long way
Macfarlane slipped a hand under his elbow. "Look here," he said, "you
must have a rest. You can be spared for a bit now. Walk back with me to
the hospital, and we will see how things are going there."
His hand closed urgently. He began to draw him away.
Merryon's eyes came back as it were out of space, and gave him a quick
side-glance that was like the turn of a rapier. "I must go down to the
dâk-bungalow," he said, with decision.
Swift protest rose to the doctor's lips, but it died there. He tightened
his hold instead, and went with him.
The colonel looked round sharply at their approach, looked—and swore
under his breath. "Yes, all right, major, you'd better go," he said.
Merryon essayed a grim smile, but his ashen face only twisted
convulsively, showing his set teeth. He hung on Macfarlane's shoulder
while the first black cloud of agony possessed him and slowly passed.
Then, white and shaking, he stood up. "I'll get round to the dâk now,
before I'm any worse. Don't come with me, Macfarlane! I'll take an
"I'm coming," said Macfarlane, stoutly.
But they did not get to the dâk-bungalow, or anywhere near it. Before
they had covered twenty yards another frightful spasm of pain came upon
Merryon, racking his whole being, depriving him of all his powers,
wresting from him every faculty save that of suffering. He went down
into a darkness that swallowed him, soul and body, blotting out all
finite things, loosening his frantic clutch on life, sucking him down as
it were into a frightful emptiness, where his only certainty of
existence lay in the excruciating agonies that tore and convulsed him
like devils in some inferno under the earth.
Of time and place and circumstance thereafter he became as completely
unconscious as though they had ceased to be, though once or twice he was
aware of a merciful hand that gave him opium to deaden—or was it only
to prolong?—his suffering. And æons and eternities passed over him
while he lay in the rigour of perpetual torments, not trying to escape,
only writhing in futile anguish in the bitter dark of the prison-house.
Later, very much later, there came a time when the torture gradually
ceased or became merged in a deathly coldness. During that stage his
understanding began to come back to him like the light of a dying day. A
vague and dreadful sense of loss began to oppress him, a feeling of
nakedness as though the soul of him were already slipping free, passing
into an appalling void, leaving an appalling void behind. He lay quite
helpless and sinking, sinking—slowly, terribly sinking into an
overwhelming sea of annihilation.
With all that was left of his failing strength he strove to cling to
that dim light which he knew for his own individuality. The silence and
the darkness broke over him in long, soundless waves; but each time he
emerged again, cold, cold as death, but still aware of self, aware of
existence, albeit the world he knew had dwindled to an infinitesimal
smallness, as an object very far away, and floating ever farther and
farther from his ken.
Vague paroxysms of pain still seized him from time to time, but they no
longer affected him in the same way. The body alone agonized. The soul
stood apart on the edge of that dreadful sea, shrinking afraid from the
black, black depths and the cruel cold of the eternal night. He was
terribly, crushingly alone.
Someone had once, twice, asked him a vital question about his belief in
God. Then he had been warmly alive. He had held his wife close in his
arms, and nothing else had mattered. But now—but now—he was very far
from warmth and life. He was dying in loneliness. He was perishing in
the outer dark, where no hand might reach and no voice console. He had
believed—or thought he believed—in God. But now his faith was wearing
very thin. Very soon it would crumble quite away, just as he himself was
crumbling into the dreadful silence of the ages. His life—the brief
passion called life—was over. Out of the dark it had come; into the
dark it went. And no one to care—no one to cry farewell to him across
that desolation of emptiness that was death! No one to kneel beside him
and pray for light in that awful, all-encompassing dark!
Stay! Something had touched him even then. Or was it but his dying
fancy? Red lips he had kissed and that had kissed him in return, eager
arms that had clung and clung, eyes of burning adoration! Did they truly
belong all to the past? Or were they here beside him even now—even now?
Had he wandered backwards perchance into that strange, sweet heaven of
love from which he had been so suddenly and terribly cast out? Ah, how
he had loved her! How he had loved her! Very faintly there began to stir
within him the old fiery longing that she, and she alone, had ever waked
within him. He would worship her to the last flicker of his dying soul.
But the darkness was spreading, spreading, like a yawning of a great
gulf at his feet. Already he was slipping over the edge. The light was
fading out of his sky.
It was the last dim instinct of nature that made him reach out a
groping hand, and with lips that would scarcely move to whisper, "Puck!"
He did not expect an answer. The things of earth were done with. His
life was passing swiftly, swiftly, like the sands running out of a
glass. He had lost her already, and the world had sunk away, away, with
all warmth and light and love.
Yet out of the darkness all suddenly there came a voice, eager,
passionate, persistent. "I am here, Billikins! I am here! Come back to
me, darling! Come back!"
He started at that voice, started and paused, holding back as it were on
the very verge of the precipice. So she was there indeed! He could hear
her sobbing breath. There came to him the consciousness of her hands
clasping his, and the faintest, vaguest glow went through his ice-cold
body. He tried, piteously weak as he was, to bend his fingers about
And then there came the warmth of her lips upon them, kissing them with
a fierce passion of tenderness, drawing them close as if to breathe her
own vitality into his failing pulses.
"Open your eyes to me, darling!" she besought him. "See how I love you!
And see how I want your love! I can't do without it, Billikins. It's my
only safeguard. What! He is dead? I say he is not—he is not! Or if he
is, he shall rise again. He shall come back. See! He is looking at me!
How dare you say he is dead?"
The wild anguish of her voice reached him, pierced him, rousing him as
no other power on earth could have roused him. Out of that deathly
inertia he drew himself, inch by inch, as out of some clinging swamp.
His hand found strength to tighten upon hers. He opened his eyes,
leaden-lidded as they were, and saw her face all white and drawn, gazing
into his own with such an agony of love, such a consuming fire of
worship, that it seemed as if his whole being were drawn by it, warmed,
She hung above him, fierce in her devotion, driving back the destroyer
by the sheer burning intensity of her love. "You shan't die, Billikins!"
she told him, passionately. "You can't die—now I am here!"
She stooped her face to his. He turned his lips instinctively to meet
it, and suddenly it was as though a flame had kindled between them—hot,
ardent, compelling. His dying pulses thrilled to it, his blood ran
"You—have—come—back!" he said, with slow articulation.
"My darling—my darling!" she made quivering answer. "Say I've come—in
He tried to speak again, but could not. Yet the deathly cold was giving
way like ice before the sun. He could feel his heart beating where
before he had felt nothing. A hand that was not Puck's came out of the
void beyond her and held a spoonful of spirit to his mouth. He swallowed
it with difficulty, and was conscious of a greater warmth.
"There, my own boy, my own boy!" she murmured over him. "You're coming
back to me. Say you're coming back!"
His lips quivered like a child's. He forced them to answer her. "If
you—will—stay," he said.
"I will never leave you again, darling," she made swift answer. "Never,
never again! You shall have all that you want—all—all!"
Her arms closed about him. He felt the warmth of her body, the
passionate nearness of her soul; and therewith the flame that had
kindled between them leaped to a great and burning glow, encompassing
them both—the Sacred Fire.
A wonderful sense of comfort came upon him. He turned to her as a man
turns to only one woman in all the world, and laid his head upon her
"I only want—my wife," he said.
It took him many days to climb back up that slope down which he had
slipped so swiftly in those few awful hours. Very slowly, with painful
effort, but with unfailing purpose, he made his arduous way. And through
it all Puck never left his side.
Alert and vigilant, very full of courage, very quick of understanding,
she drew him, leaning on her, back to a life that had become strangely
new to them both. They talked very little, for Merryon's strength was
terribly low, and Macfarlane, still scarcely believing in the miracle
that had been wrought under his eyes, forbade all but the simplest and
briefest speech—a prohibition which Puck strenuously observed; for
Puck, though she knew the miracle for an accomplished fact, was not
taking any chances.
"Presently, darling; when you're stronger," was her invariable answer to
any attempt on his part to elicit information as to the events that had
immediately preceded his seizure. "There's nothing left to fret about.
You're here—and I'm here. And that's all that matters."
If her lips quivered a little over the last assertion, she turned her
head away that he might not see. For she was persistently cheery in his
presence, full of tender humour, always undismayed.
He leaned upon her instinctively. She propped him so sturdily, with a
strength so amazing and so steadfast. Sometimes she laughed softly at
his weakness, as a mother might laugh at the first puny efforts of her
baby to stand alone. And he knew that she loved his dependence upon her,
even in a sense dreaded the time when his own strength should reassert
itself, making hers weak by comparison.
But that time was coming, slowly yet very surely. The rains were
lessening at last, and the cholera-fiend had been driven forth. Merryon
was to go to the Hills on sick leave for several weeks. Colonel Davenant
had awaked to the fact that his life was a valuable one, and his
admiration for Mrs. Merryon was undisguised. He did not altogether
understand her behaviour, but he was discreet enough not to seek that
enlightenment which only one man in the world was ever to receive.
To that man on the night before their departure came Puck, very pale and
resolute, with shining, unwavering eyes. She knelt down before him with
small hands tightly clasped.
"I'm going to say something dreadful, Billikins," she said.
He looked at her for a moment or two in silence.
Then, "I know what you are going to say," he said.
She shook her head. "Oh, no, you don't, darling. It's something that'll
make you frightfully angry."
The faintest gleam of a smile crossed Merryon's face. "With you?" he
She nodded, and suddenly her eyes were brimming with tears. "Yes, with
He put his hand on her shoulder. "I tell you, I know what it is," he
said, with a certain stubbornness.
She turned her cheek for a moment to caress the hand; then suddenly all
her strength went from her. She sank down on the floor at his feet,
huddled together in a woeful heap, just as she had been on that first
night when the safety-curtain had dropped behind her.
"You'll never forgive me!" she sobbed. "But I knew—I knew—I always
"Knew what, child?" He was stooping over her. His hand, trembling still
with weakness, was on her head. "But, no, don't tell me!" he said, and
his voice was deeply tender. "The fellow is dead, isn't he?"
"Oh, yes, he's dead." Quiveringly, between piteous sobs, she answered
him. "He—was dying before I reached him—that dreadful night. He
just—had strength left—to curse me! And I am cursed! I am cursed!"
She flung out her arms wildly, clasping his feet.
He stooped lower over her. "Hush—hush!" he said.
She did not seem to hear. "I let you take me—I stained your honour—I
wasn't a free woman. I tried to think I was; but in my heart—I always
knew—I always knew! I wouldn't have your love at first—because I knew.
And I came to you—that monsoon night—chiefly because—I wanted—when
he came after me—as I knew he would come—to force him—to set
Through bitter sobbing the confession came; in bitter sobbing it ended.
But still Merryon's hand was on her head, still his face was bent above
her, grave and sad and pitiful, the face of a strong man enduring grief.
After a little, haltingly, she spoke again. "And I wasn't coming back to
you—ever. Only—someone—a syce—told me you had been stricken down.
And then I had to come. I couldn't leave you to die. That's all—that's
all! I'm going now. And I shan't come back. I'm not—your wife. You're
quite, quite free. And I'll never—bring shame on you—again."
Her straining hands tightened. She kissed, the feet she clasped. "I'm a
wicked, wicked woman," she said. "I was born—on the wrong side—of the
safety-curtain. That's no—excuse; only—to make you understand."
She would have withdrawn herself then, but his hands held her. She
covered her face, kneeling between them.
"Why do you want me to understand?" he said, his voice very low.
She quivered at the question, making no attempt to answer, just weeping
silently there in his hold.
He leaned towards her, albeit he was trembling with weakness. "Puck,
listen!" he said. "I do understand."
She caught her breath and became quite still.
"Listen again!" he said. "What is done—is done; and nothing can alter
it. But—your future is mine. You have forfeited the right to leave me."
She uncovered her face in a flash to gaze at him as one confounded.
He met the look with eyes that held her own. "I say it," he said. "You
have forfeited the right. You say I am free. Am I free?"
She nodded, still with her eyes on his. "I have—no claim on you," she
His hands tightened; he brought her nearer to him. "And when that dream
of yours comes true," he said, "what then? What then?"
Her face quivered painfully at the question. She swallowed once or twice
spasmodically, like a hurt child trying not to cry.
"That's—nobody's business but mine," she said.
A very curious smile drew Merryon's mouth. "I thought I had had
something to do with it," he said. "I think I am entitled to
She shook her head, albeit she was very close to his breast. "You're
not, Billikins!" she declared, with vehemence. "You only say that—out
of pity. And I don't want pity. I—I'd rather you hated me than that!
His arms went round her. He uttered a queer, passionate laugh and drew
her to his heart. "And what if I offer you—love?" he said. "Have you no
use for that either, my wife—my wife?"
She turned and clung to him, clung fast and desperately, as a drowning
person clings to a spar. "But I'm not, Billikins! I'm not!" she
whispered, with her face hidden.
"You shall be," he made steadfast answer. "Before God you shall be."
"Ah, do you believe in God?" she murmured.
"I do," he said, firmly.
She gave a little sob. "Oh, Billikins, so do I. At least, I think I do;
but I'm half afraid, even now, though I did try to do—the right thing.
I shall only know for certain—when the dream comes true." Her face came
upwards, her lips moved softly against his neck. "Darling," she
whispered, "don't you hope—it'll be—a boy?"
He bent his head mutely. Somehow speech was difficult.
But Puck was not wanting speech of him just then. She turned her red
lips to his. "But even if it's a girl, darling, it won't matter, for
she'll be born on the right side of the safety-curtain now, thanks to
your goodness, your generosity."
He stopped her sharply. "Puck! Puck!"
Their lips met. Puck was sobbing a little and smiling at the same time.
"Your love is the safety-curtain, Billikins darling," she whispered,
softly. "And I'm going to thank God for it—every day of my life."
"My darling!" he said. "My wife!"
Her eyes shone up to his through tears. "Oh, do you realize," she said, "that
we have risen from the dead?"
"I really don't know why I accepted him. But somehow it was done before
I knew. He waltzes so divinely that it intoxicates me, and then I
naturally cease to be responsible for my actions."
Doris Fielding leant back luxuriously, her hands clasped behind her
"I can't think what he wants to marry me for," she said reflectively. "I
am quite sure I don't want to marry him."
"Then, my dear child, what possessed you to accept him?" remonstrated
her friend, Vera Abingdon, from behind the tea-table.
"That's just what I don't know," said Doris, a little smile twitching
the corner of her mouth. "However, it doesn't signify greatly. I don't
mind being engaged for a little while if he is good, but I certainly
shan't go on if I don't like it. It's in the nature of an experiment,
you see; and it really is necessary, for there is absolutely no other
way of testing the situation."
She glanced at her friend and burst into a gay peal of laughter. No one
knew how utterly charming this girl could be till she laughed.
"Oh, don't look so shocked, please!" she begged. "I know I'm flippant,
flighty, and foolish, but really I'm not a bit wicked. Ask Phil if I am.
He has known me all my life."
"I do not need to ask him, Dot." Vera spoke with some gravity
notwithstanding. "I have never for a moment thought you wicked. But I do
sometimes think you are rather heartless."
Doris opened her blue eyes wide.
"Oh, why? I am sure I am not. It really isn't my fault that I have been
engaged two or three times before. Directly I begin to get pleasantly
intimate with any one he proposes, and how can I possibly know, unless I
am on terms of intimacy, whether I should like to marry him or not? I am
sure I don't want to be engaged to any one for any length of time. It's
as bad as being cast up on a desert island with only one wretched man to
speak to. As a matter of fact, what you call heartlessness is sheer
broad-mindedness on my part. I admit that I do occasionally sail near
the wind. It's fun, and I like it. But I never do any harm—any real
harm I mean. I always put my helm over in time. And I must protect
myself somehow against fortune-hunters."
Vera was silent. This high-spirited young cousin of her husband's was
often a sore anxiety to her. She had had sole charge of the girl for the
past three years and had found it no light responsibility.
"Cheer up, darling!" besought Doris. "There is not the smallest cause
for a wrinkled brow. Perhaps the experiment will turn out a success this
time. Who knows? And even if it doesn't, no one will be any the worse. I
am sure Vivian Caryl will never break his heart for me."
But Vera Abingdon shook her head.
"I don't like you to be so wild, Dot. It makes people think lightly of
you. And you know how angry Phil was last time."
Dot snapped her fingers airily and rose.
"Who cares for Phil? Besides, it really was not my fault last time,
whatever any one may say. Are you going to ask my fiancé down to
Rivermead for Easter? Because if so, I do beg you won't tell everybody
we are engaged. It is quite an informal arrangement, and perhaps,
considering all the circumstances, the less said about it the better."
She stopped and kissed Vera's grave face, laughed again as though she
could not help it, and flitted like a butterfly from the room.
"Where is Doris?" asked Phil Abingdon, looking round upon the guests
assembled in his drawing-room at Rivermead. "We are all waiting for
"I think we had better go in without her," said his wife, with her
nervous smile. "She arranged to motor down with Mrs. Lockyard and her
party this afternoon. Possibly they have persuaded her to dine with
"She would never do that surely," said Phil, with an involuntary glance
at Vivian Caryl who had just entered.
"If you are talking about my fiancé, I think it more than probable
that she would," the latter remarked. "Mrs. Lockyard's place is just
across the river, I understand? Shall I punt over and fetch Doris?"
"No, no!" broke in his hostess anxiously. "I am sure she wouldn't come
if you did. Besides—"
"Oh, as to that," said Vivian Caryl, with a grim smile, "I think, with
all deference to your opinion, that the odds would be in my favour.
However, let us dine first, if you prefer it."
Mrs. Abingdon did prefer it, and said so hastily. She seemed to have a
morbid dread of a rupture between Doris Fielding and her fiancé, a
feeling with which Caryl quite obviously had no sympathy. There was
nothing very remarkable about the man save this somewhat supercilious
demeanour which had caused Vera to marvel many times at Doris's choice.
They went in to dinner without further discussion. Caryl sat on Vera's
left, and amazed her by his utter unconcern regarding the absentee. He
seemed to be in excellent spirits, and his dry humour provoked a good
deal of merriment.
She led the way back to the drawing-room as soon as possible. There was
a billiard-room beyond to which the members of her party speedily betook
themselves, and here most of the men joined them soon after. Neither
Caryl nor Abingdon was with them, and Vera counted the minutes of their
absence with a sinking heart while her guests buzzed all unheeding
It was close upon ten o'clock when she saw her husband's face for a
moment in the doorway. He made a rapid sign to her, and with a murmured
excuse she went to him, closing the door behind her.
Caryl was standing with him, calm as ever, though she fancied that his
eyes were a little wider than usual and his bearing less supercilious.
Her husband, she saw at a glance, was both angry and agitated.
"She has gone off somewhere with that bounder Brandon," he said. "They
got down to tea, and went off again in the motor afterwards, Mrs.
Lockyard doesn't seem to know for certain where."
"Phil!" she exclaimed in consternation, and added with her eyes on
Caryl, "What is to be done? What can be done?"
Caryl made quiet reply:
"There was some talk of Wynhampton. I am going there now on your
husband's motor-bicycle. If I do not find her there——"
He paused, and on the instant a girl's high peal of laughter rang
through the house. The drawing-room door was flung back, and Doris
herself stood on the threshold.
"Goodness!" she cried. "What a solemn conclave! You can't think how
funny you all look! Do tell me what it is all about!"
She stood before them, the motor-veil thrown back from her dainty face,
her slight figure quivering with merriment.
Vera hastened to meet her with outstretched hands.
"Oh, my dear, you can't think how anxious we have been about you."
Doris took her by the shoulders and lightly kissed her.
"Silly! Why? You know I always come up smiling. Why, Phil, you are
looking positively green! Have you been anxious, too? I am indeed
She swept him a curtsey, her face all dimples and laughter.
"We've had the jolliest time," she declared. "We motored to Wynhampton
and saw the last of the races. After that, we dined at a dear little
place with a duckpond at the bottom of the garden. And finally we
returned—it ought to have been by moonlight, only there was no moon.
Where is everyone? In the billiard-room? I want some milk and soda
frightfully. Vivian, you might, like the good sort you are, go and get
She bestowed a dazzling smile upon her fiancé and offered him one
finger by way of salutation.
Abingdon, who had been waiting to get in a word, here exploded with some
violence and told his young cousin in no measured terms what he thought
of her conduct.
She listened with her head on one side, her eyes brimful of mischief,
and finally with an airy gesture turned to Caryl.
"Don't you want to scold me, too? I am sure you do. You had better be
quick or there will be nothing left to say."
Abingdon turned on his heel and walked away. He was thoroughly angry and
made no attempt to hide it. His wife lingered a moment irresolute, then
softly followed him. And as the door closed, Caryl looked very steadily
into the girl's flushed face and spoke:
"All I have to say is this. Maurice Brandon is no fit escort for any
woman who values her reputation. And I here and now forbid you most
strictly, most emphatically, ever to go out with him alone again."
He paused. She was looking straight back at him with her chin in the
"Dear me!" she said. "Do you really? And who gave you the right to
dictate to me?"
"You yourself," he answered quietly.
"Indeed! May I ask when?"
He stiffened a little, but his face did not alter.
"When you promised to be my wife," he said.
Her eyes blazed instant defiance.
"An engagement can be broken off!" she declared recklessly.
"By mutual consent," said Caryl drily.
"That is absurd," she rejoined. "You couldn't possibly hold me to it
against my will."
"I am quite capable of doing so," he told her coolly, "if I think it
worth my while."
"Worth your while!" she exclaimed, staring at him as if she doubted his
"Even so," he said. "When I have fully satisfied myself that a heartless
little flirt like you can be transformed into a virtuous and amiable
wife. It may prove a difficult process, I admit, and perhaps not
altogether a pleasant one. But I shall not shirk it on that account."
He leant back against the mantelpiece with a gesture that plainly said
that so far as he was concerned the matter was ended.
But it was not so with Doris. She stood before him for several seconds
absolutely motionless, all the vivid colour gone from her face, her blue
eyes blazing with speechless fury. At length, with a sudden, fierce
movement, she tore the ring he had given her from her finger and held it
out to him.
"Take it!" she said, her voice high-pitched and tremulous. "This is the
He did not stir a muscle.
"Not yet, I think," he said.
She flashed a single glance at him in which pride and uncertainty were
strangely mingled, then made a sudden swoop towards the fire. He read
her intention in a second, and stooping swiftly caught her hand. The
ring shot from her hold, gleamed in a shining curve in the firelight,
and fell with a tinkle among the ashes of the fender.
Caryl did not utter a word, but his face was fixed and grim as, still
tightly gripping the hand he had caught, he knelt and groped among the
half-dead embers for the ring it had wantonly flung there. When he found
it he rose.
"Before you do anything of that sort again," he said, "let me advise you
to stop and think. It will do you no harm, and may save trouble."
He took her left hand, paused a moment, and then deliberately fitted the
ring back upon her finger. She made no resistance, for she was
instinctively aware that he would brook no morefrom her just then. She
was in fact horribly scared, though his voice was still perfectly quiet
and even. Something in his touch had set her heart beating, something
electric, something terrifying. She dared not meet his eyes.
He dropped her hand almost contemptuously. There was nothing lover-like
about him at that moment.
"And remember," he said, "that no experiment can ever prove a success
unless it is given a fair trial. You will continue to be engaged to me
until I set you free. Is that understood?"
She did not answer him. She was pulling at the loose ends of her veil
with restless fingers, her face downcast and very pale.
"Doris!" he said.
She glanced up at him sharply.
"I am rather tired," she said, and her voice quivered a little. "Do you
mind if I say good-night?"
"Answer me first," he said.
She shook her head.
"I forget what you asked me. It doesn't matter, does it? There's someone
coming, and I don't want to be caught. Good-night!"
She whisked round with the words before he could realize her intention,
and in a moment was at the door. She waved a hand to him airily as she
disappeared. And Caryl was left to wonder if her somewhat precipitate
departure could be regarded as a sign of defeat or merely a postponement
of the struggle.
THE KNIGHT ERRANT
It was the afternoon of Easter Day, and a marvellous peace lay upon all
Maurice Brandon, a look of supreme boredom on his handsome face, had
just sauntered down to the river bank. A belt of daffodils nodded to him
from the shrubbery on the farther shore. He stood and stared at them
absently while he idly smoked a cigarette.
Finally, after a long and quite unprofitable inspection, he turned aside
to investigate a boathouse under the willows on Mrs. Lockyard's side of
the stream. He found the door unlocked, and discovered within a somewhat
dilapidated punt. This, after considerable exertion, he managed to drag
forth and finally to run into the water. The craft seemed seaworthy, and
he proceeded to forage for a punt-pole.
Fully equipped at length, he stepped on board and poled himself out from
the shore. Arrived at the farther bank, he calmly disembarked and tied
up under the willows. He paused a few seconds to light another
cigarette, then turned from the river and sauntered up the path between
the high box hedges.
The garden was deserted, and he pursued his way unmolested till he came
within sight of the house. Here for the first time he stopped to take
deliberate stock of his surroundings. Standing in the shelter of a giant
rhododendron, he saw two figures emerge and walk along the narrow
gravelled terrace before the house. As he watched, they reached the
farther end and turned. He recognized them both. They were Caryl and his
For a few moments they stood talking, then went away together round an
angle of the house.
Scarcely had they disappeared before a girl's light figure appeared at
an upstairs window. Doris's mischievous face peeped forth, wearing her
gayest, most impudent grimace.
There was no one else in sight, and with instant decision Brandon
stepped into full view, and without the faintest suggestion of
concealment began to stroll up the winding path.
She heard his footsteps on the gravel, and turned her eyes upon him with
a swift start of recognition.
He raised his hand in airy salute, and he heard her low murmur of
laughter as she waved him a hasty sign to await her in the shrubbery
from which he had just emerged.
"Did you actually come across the river?" said Doris. "Whatever made
you do that?"
"I said I should come and fetch you, you know, if you didn't turn up,"
"Do you always keep your word?"
"To you—always," he assured her.
Her merry face coloured a little, but she met his eyes with absolute
"And now that you have come what can we do? Are you going to take me on
the river? It looks rather dangerous."
"It is dangerous," Brandon said coolly, "but I think I can get you over
in safety if you will allow me to try. In any case, I won't let you
"I shall be furious if anything happens," she told him—"if you splash
me even. So beware!"
He pushed out from the bank with a laugh. It was evident that her threat
did not greatly impress him.
As for Doris, she was evidently enjoying the adventure, and the risks
that attended it only added to its charm. There was something about this
man that fascinated her, a freedom and a daring to which her own
reckless spirit could not fail to respond. He was the most interesting
plaything she had had for a long time. She had no fear that he would
ever make the mistake of taking her seriously.
They reached the opposite bank in safety, and he handed her ashore with
"I have a confession to make," he said, as they walked up to the house.
"Oh, I know what it is," she returned carelessly. "Mrs. Lockyard did not
expect me and has gone out."
"You are taking it awfully well. One would almost think you didn't
"I never mind anything so long as I am not bored."
"Nor do I," said Brandon. "We seem to have a good deal in common. But
what puzzles me—"
He broke off. They had reached the open French window that led into Mrs.
Lockyard's drawing-room. He stood aside for her to enter.
"Well?" she said, as she passed him. "What is this weighty problem?"
He followed her in.
"What puzzles me," he said, "is how a girl with your natural
independence and love of freedom can endure to remain unmarried."
She opened her eyes wide in astonishment.
"My good sir, you have expressed the exact reason in words which could
not have been better chosen. Independence, love of freedom, and a very
strong preference for going my own way."
He laughed a little.
"Yes, but you would have all these things a thousand times multiplied if
you were married.
Look at all the restraints and restrictions to which girls are
subjected where married women simply please themselves. Why, you are
absolutely hedged round with conventions. You can scarcely go for a ride
with a man of your acquaintance in broad daylight without endangering
your reputation. What would they say—your cousin and Mrs. Abingdon—if
they knew that you were here with me now? They would hold up their hands
The girl's thoughts flashed suddenly to Caryl. How much freedom might
she expect from him?
"It's all very well," she said, with a touch of petulance, "but
easy-going husbands don't grow on every gooseberry-bush. I have never
yet met the man who wouldn't want to arrange my life in every detail if
I married him."
"Yes, you have," said Brandon.
He spoke with deliberate emphasis, and she knew that as he spoke he
looked at her in a manner that there could be no mistaking. Her heart
quickened a little, and she felt the colour rise in her face.
"Do you know that I am engaged to Vivian Caryl?" she said.
"Perfectly," he answered. "I also know that you have not the smallest
intention of marrying him."
She frowned, but did not contradict him.
He continued with considerable assurance:
"He is not the man to make you happy, and I think you know it. My only
wonder is that you didn't realize it earlier—before you became engaged
"My engagement was only an experiment," she said quickly.
"And therefore easily broken," he rejoined. "Why don't you put a stop to
He bent towards her.
"Do you mean to say that he is cad enough to hold you against your
Still she hesitated, half-afraid to speak openly.
He leant nearer; he took her hand.
"My dear child," he said, "don't for Heaven's sake give in to such
tyranny as that, and be made miserable for the rest of your life. Oh, I
grant you he is the sort of fellow who would make what is called a good
husband, but not the sort of husband you want. He would keep you in
order, shackle you at every turn. Marry him, and it will be good-bye to
liberty—even such liberty as you have now—forever."
Her face had changed. She was very pale.
"I know all that," she said, speaking rapidly, with headlong impulse.
"But, don't you see how difficult it is for me? They are all on his
side, and he is so horribly strong. Oh, I was a fool I know to accept
him. But we were waltzing and it came so suddenly. I never stopped to
think. I wish I could get away now, but I can't."
"I can tell you of a way," said Brandon.
She glanced at him.
"Oh, yes, I know. But I can't be engaged to two people at once. I
couldn't face it. I detest scenes."
"There need be no scene," he said. "You have only to come to me and give
me the right to defend you. I ask for nothing better. Even Caryl would
scarcely have the impertinence to dispute it. As my wife you will be
absolutely secure from any interference."
She was gazing at him wide-eyed.
"Do you mean a runaway marriage?" she questioned slowly.
He drew nearer still, and possessed himself of her hands.
"Yes, just that," he said. "It would take a little courage, but you have
plenty of that. And the rest I would see to. It wouldn't be so very
difficult, you know. Mrs. Lockyard would help us, and you would be
absolutely safe with me. I haven't much to offer you, I admit. I'm as
poor as a church mouse. But at least you would find me"—he smiled into
her startled eyes—"a very easy-going husband, I assure you."
"Oh, I don't know!" Doris said. "I don't know!"
Yet still she left her hands in his and still she listened to him. That
airy reference of his to his poverty affected her favourably. He would
scarcely have made it, she told herself, with an unconscious effort to
silence unacknowledged misgivings, if her fortune had been the sole
"Look here," he said, breaking in upon these hasty meditations, "I don't
want you to do anything in a hurry. Take a little while to think it
over. Let me know to-morrow. I am not leaving till the evening. You
shall do nothing, so far as I am concerned, against your will. I want
you, now and always, to do exactly as you like. You believe that?"
"I quite believe you mean it at the present moment," she said with a
decidedly doubtful smile.
"It will be so always," said Brandon, "whether you believe it or not."
And with considerable ceremony he raised her hands to his lips and
deliberately kissed them. It seemed to Doris at that moment that even so
headlong a scheme as this was not without its very material advantages.
There were so many drawbacks to being betrothed.
AT CLOSE QUARTERS
When Doris descended to breakfast on the following morning she found an
animated party in the dining-room discussing the best means of spending
the day. Abingdon himself and most of his guests were in favour of
attending an aviation meeting at Wynhampton a few miles away.
Caryl was not present, but as she passed through the hall a little
later, he came in at the front door.
"I was just coming to you," he remarked, pausing to flick the ash from
his cigarette before closing the door. "I have been making arrangements
for you to drive to Wynhampton with me."
Doris made a stiff movement that seemed almost mechanical. But the next
moment she recovered her self-control. Why was she afraid of this man,
she asked herself desperately? No man had ever managed to frighten her
"I think I should prefer to go in the motor," she said, and smiled with
quivering lips. "Get Phil to drive with you. He likes the dog-cart
better than I do."
"I have talked it over with him," Caryl responded gravely. "He agrees
with me that this is the best arrangement."
There was to be no escape then. Once more the stronger will prevailed.
Without another word she turned from him and went upstairs. She might
have defied him, but she knew in her heart that he could compass his
ends in spite of her. And she was afraid.
She had a moment of absolute panic as she mounted into the high cart. He
handed her up, and his grasp, close and firm, seemed to her eloquent of
that deadly resolution with which he mastered her.
For the first half-mile he said nothing whatever, being fully occupied
with the animal he was driving—a skittish young mare impatient of
Doris on her side sat in unbroken silence, enduring the strain with a
set face, dreading the moment when he should have leisure to speak.
He was evidently in no hurry to do so. Or was it possible that he found
some difficulty in choosing his words?
At length he turned his head and spoke.
"I secured this interview," he said, "because there is an important
point which I want to discuss with you."
"What is it?"
She nerved herself to meet his look, but her eyes fell before its steady
mastery almost instantly.
"About our wedding," he said in his calm, deliberate voice. "I should
like to have the day fixed."
Her heart gave a great thump of dismay.
"Do you really mean to hunt me down then and—and marry me against my
will?" she said, almost panting out the words.
Caryl turned his eyes back to the mare.
"I mean to marry you—yes," he said. "I think you forget that you
accepted me of your own accord."
"I was mad!" she broke in passionately.
"People in love are never wholly sane," he remarked cynically.
"I was never in love with you!" she cried. "Never, never!"
He raised his eyebrows.
"Nevertheless you will marry me," he said.
"Why?" she gasped back furiously. "Why should I marry you? You know I
hate you, and you—you—surely you must hate me?"
"No," he said with extreme deliberation, "strange as it may seem, I
Something in the words quelled her anger. Abruptly she abandoned the
struggle and fell silent, her face averted.
"And so," he proceeded, "we may as well decide upon the wedding-day
without further argument."
"And, if—if I refuse?" she murmured rather incoherently.
"You will not refuse," he said with a finality so absolute that her
last hope went out like an extinguished candle.
She seized her courage with both hands and turned to him.
"You will give me a little while to think it over?"
"Why?" said Caryl.
"Because I—I can't possibly decide upon the spur of the moment," she
Was he going to refuse her even this small request? It almost seemed
that he was.
"How long will it take you?" he asked. "Will you give me an answer
Her heart leapt to a sudden hope called to life by his words.
"To-morrow!" she said quickly.
"I said to-night."
"Very well," she rejoined, yielding. "To-night, if you prefer it."
"Thanks. I do."
They were his last words on the subject. He seemed to think it ended
there, and there was nothing more to be said.
As for Doris, she sat by his side, outwardly calm but inwardly shaken to
the depths. To be thus firmly caught in the meshes of her own net was an
experience so new and so terrifying that she was utterly at a loss as to
how to cope with it. Yet there was a chance, one ray of hope to help
her. There was Major Brandon, the man who had offered her freedom. He
was to have his answer to-day. For the first time she began seriously to
ponder what that answer should be.
THE WAY TO FREEDOM
So far as Doris was concerned the aviation meeting was not a success.
There were some wonderful exhibitions of flying, but she was too
preoccupied to pay more than a very superficial attention to what she
They lunched at a great hotel overlooking the aviation ground. The place
was crowded, and they experienced some difficulty in finding places.
Eventually Doris found herself seated at a square table with Caryl and
two others in the middle of the great room.
She was studying a menu as a pretext for avoiding conversation with her
fiancé, when a man's voice murmured hurriedly in her ear:
"Will you allow me for a moment please? The lady who has just left this
table thinks she must have dropped one of her gloves under it."
Doris pushed back her chair and would have risen, but the speaker was
already on his knees and laid a hasty, restraining hand upon her. It
found hers and, under cover of the table-cloth, pressed a screw of paper
into her fingers.
The next instant he emerged, very red in the face, but triumphant, a
lady's gauntlet glove in his hand.
"Awfully obliged!" he declared. "Sorry to have disturbed you. Thought I
should find it here."
He smiled, bowed, and departed, leaving Doris amazed at his audacity.
She had met this young man often at Mrs. Lockyard's house, where he was
invariably referred to as "the little Fricker boy."
She threw a furtive glance at Caryl, but he had plainly noticed nothing.
With an uneasy sense of shame she slipped the note into her glove.
She perused it on the earliest opportunity. It contained but one
"If you still wish for freedom, you can find it down by the river at any
There was no signature of any sort; none was needed, She hid the message
away again, and for the rest of the afternoon she was almost feverishly
gay to hide the turmoil of indecision at her heart.
She saw little of Caryl after luncheon, but he re-appeared again in time
to drive her back in the dog-cart as they had come. She found him very
quiet and preoccupied, on the return journey, but his presence no longer
dismayed her. It was the consciousness that a way of escape was open to
her that emboldened her.
They were nearing the end of the drive, when he at length laid aside his
preoccupation and spoke:
"Have you made up your mind yet?"
That query of his was the turning point with her. Had he shown the
smallest sign of relenting from his grim purpose, had he so much as
couched his question in terms of kindness, he might have melted her even
then; for she was impulsive ever and quick to respond to any warmth. But
the coldness of his question, the unyielding mastery of his manner,
impelled her to final rebellion. In the moment that intervened between
his question and her reply her decision was made.
"You shall have my answer to-night," she said.
He turned from her without a word, and a little wonder quivered through
her as to the meaning of his silence. She was glad when they reached
Rivermead and she could take refuge in her own room.
Here once more she read Brandon's message; read it with a thumping
heart, but no thought of drawing back. It was the only way out for her.
She dressed for dinner, and then made a few hasty preparations for her
flight. She laid no elaborate plans for effecting it, for she
anticipated no difficulty. The night would be dark, and she could rely
upon her ingenuity for the rest. Failure was unthinkable.
When they rose from the table she waited for Vera and slipped a hand
into her arm.
"Do make an excuse for me," she whispered. "I have had a dreadful day,
and I can't stand any more. I am going upstairs."
"My dear!" murmured back Vera, by way of protest.
Nevertheless she made the excuse almost as soon as they entered the
drawing-room, and Doris fled upstairs on winged feet. At the head she
met Caryl about to descend; almost collided with him. He had evidently
been up to his room to fetch something.
He stood aside for her at once.
"You are not retiring yet?" he asked.
She scarcely glanced at him. She would not give herself time to be
"I am coming down again," she said, and ran on.
Barely a quarter of an hour after the encounter with Caryl, dressed in a
long dark motoring coat and closely veiled, she slipped down the back
stairs that led to the servants' quarters, stood listening against a
baize door that led into the front hall, then whisked it open and fled
across to open the conservatory door, noiseless as a shadow.
The conservatory was in semi-darkness. She expected to see no one;
looked for no one. A moment she paused by the door that led into the
garden, and in that pause she heard a slight sound. It might have been
anything. It probably was a creak from one of the wicker chairs that
stood in a corner. Whatever its origin, it startled her to greater
haste. She fumbled at the door and pulled it open.
A gust of wind and rain blew in upon her, but she was scarcely aware of
it. In another moment she had softly closed the door again and was
scudding across the terrace to the steps that led towards the river
As she reached it a light shone out in front of her, wavered, and was
"This way to freedom, lady mine," said Brandon's voice close to her, and
she heard in it the laugh he did not utter. "Mind you don't tumble in."
His hand touched her arm, closed upon it, drew her to his side. In
another instant it encircled her, but she pushed him vehemently away.
"Let us go!" she said feverishly. "Let us go!"
"Come along then," he said gaily. "The boat is just here. You'll have to
hold the lantern. Mind how you get on board."
As he pushed out from the bank, he told her something of his
"There's a motor waiting—not the one Polly usually hires, but it's
quite a decent little car. By the way, she has gone straight up to Town
from Wynhampton; said we should do our eloping best alone. We shan't be
quite alone, though, for Fricker is going to drive us. But he's a
negligible quantity, eh? His only virtue is that he isn't afraid of
driving in the dark."
"You will take me to Mrs. Lockyard?" said Doris quickly.
"Of course. She is at her flat, she and Mrs. Fricker. We shall be there
soon after midnight, all being well. Confound this stream! It swirls
like a mill-race."
He fell silent, and devoted all his attention to reaching the farther
Doris sat with the lantern in her hands, striving desperately to control
her nervous excitement. Her absence could not have been discovered yet,
she was sure, but she was in a fever of anxiety notwithstanding. She
would not feel safe until she was actually on the road.
The boat bumped at last against the bank, and she drew a breath of
relief. The journey had seemed interminable.
Suddenly through the windy darkness there came to them the hoot of a
"That's all right," said Brandon cheerily. "That's Fricker, wanting to
know if all's well."
He hurried her over the wet grass, skirted the house by a side-path that
ran between dripping laurels, and brought her out finally into the
little front garden.
A glare of acetylene lamps met them abruptly as they emerged, dazzling
them for the moment. The buzz of a motor engine also greeted them, and a
smell of petrol hung in the wet air.
As her eyes accustomed themselves to the brightness, Doris made out a
small closed motor-car, with a masked chauffeur seated at the wheel.
"Good little Fricker!" said Brandon, slapping the chauffeur's shoulder
as he passed. "So you've got your steam up! Straight ahead then, and as
fast as you like. Don't get run in, that's all."
He handed Doris into the car, followed her, and slammed the door.
The next moment they passed swiftly out on to the road, and Doris knew
that the die was cast. She stood finally committed to this, the wildest,
most desperate venture of her life.
A MASTER STROKE
"Here beginneth," laughed Brandon, sliding his arm around her as she sat
tense in every nerve gazing at the rain-blurred window.
She did not heed him; it was almost as if she had not heard. Her hands
were tightly clasped upon one another, and her face was turned from him.
There was no lamp inside the car, the only illumination proceeding from
those without, showing them the driver huddled over the wheel, but
shedding little light into the interior.
He tightened his arm about her, laying his other hand upon her clasped
"By Jove, little girl, you're cold!" he said.
She was—cold as ice. She parted her fingers stiffly to free them from
"I—I'm quite comfortable," she assured him, without turning her head.
"Please don't trouble about me."
But he was not to be thus discouraged.
"You can't be comfortable," he argued. "Why, you're shivering. Let me
see what I can do to make things better."
He tried to draw her to him, but she resisted almost angrily.
"Oh, do leave me alone! I'm not uncomfortable. I'm only thinking."
"Well, don't be silly!" he urged. "It's no use thinking at this stage.
The thing is done now, and well done. We shall be man and wife by this
time to-morrow. We'll go to Paris, eh, and have no end of a spree."
"Perhaps," she said, not looking at him or yielding an inch to his
It was plain that for some reason she desired to be left in peace, and
after a brief struggle with himself, Brandon decided that he would be
wise to let her have her way. He leant back and crossed his arms in
The car sped along at a pace which he found highly satisfactory. He had
absolute faith in Fricker's driving and knowledge of the roads.
They had been travelling for the greater part of an hour, when Doris at
length relaxed from her tense attitude and lay back in her corner,
nestling into it with a long shiver.
Brandon was instantly on the alert.
"I'm sure you are cold. Here's a rug here. Let me—"
"Oh, do please leave me alone!" she said, with a sob. "I'm so horribly
Beseechingly almost she laid her hand upon his arm with the words.
The touch fired him. He considered that he had been patient long
enough. Abruptly he caught her to him.
"Come, I say," he said, half-laughing, half in savage earnest, "I can't
have you crying on what's almost our wedding trip!"
He certainly did not expect the absolutely furious resistance with which
she met his action. She thrust him from her with the strength of frenzy.
"How dare you?" she cried passionately. "How dare you touch me, you—you
For the moment, such was his astonishment, he suffered her to escape
from his hold. Then, called into activity by her unreasoning fury, the
devil in him leapt suddenly up and took possession. With a snarling
laugh he gripped her by the arms, holding her by brutal force.
"You little wild cat!" he said in a voice that shook between anger and
amusement. "So this is your gratitude, is it? I am to give all and
receive nothing for my pains. Then let me make it quite clear to you
here and now that that is not my intention. I will be kind to you, but
you must be kind to me, too. The benefit is to be mutual."
It was premature. In his heart he knew it, but she had provoked him to
it and there was no turning back now. He resented the provocation, that
was all, and it made him the more brutally inclined towards her.
As for Doris, she fought and tore at his grasp like a mad creature; and
when he mastered her, when, still laughing between his teeth, he forced
her face upwards and kissed it fiercely and violently, she shrieked
between his kisses, shrieked and shrieked again.
The sudden grinding of the brake recalled Brandon to his senses. The
fool was actually stopping the car. He relinquished his hold upon the
girl to dash his hand against the window in front.
"Drive on, curse you, drive on!" he shouted through the glass. "I'll let
you know if we want to stop."
But the car stopped in spite of him. The chauffeur, shining from head to
foot in his oil-skins, sprang to the ground. A moment and he was at the
door, had wrenched it open, and was peering within.
"What are you gaping there for, you fool?" raved Brandon, his hand upon
Doris, who was suddenly straining forward. "It's all right, I tell you.
"I am going on," the chauffeur responded calmly through his mask. "But I
am not taking you any farther, Major Brandon. So tumble out at once, you
dirty, thieving hound!"
The words, the tone, the attitude, flashed such a revelation upon Doris
that she cried out in amazement, and then with a revulsion of feeling so
great that it deprived her of all speech she threw herself forward and
clung to the masked chauffeur in an agony of tears.
Brandon was staring at him with dropped jaw.
"Who the blazes are you?" he said.
"You know me, I think," the chauffeur responded quietly. He was pressing
Doris back into her seat with absolute steadiness. "We have met before.
I was present at your first wedding ten years ago, and—as a junior
counsel—I helped to divorce you a few months after. My name is Vivian
He freed a hand to push up his mask. His pale face with its heavy-lidded
eyes stared, supremely contemptuous, into Brandon's suffused
countenance. His composure was somehow disconcerting.
"Suppose you get out," he suggested. "I can talk to you then in a
language you will understand."
"Curse you!" bawled Brandon. "Where's Fricker?"
Caryl shrugged his shoulders.
"You have seen him since I have. Are you going to get out? Ah, I thought
He stood aside to allow him to do so, and then stepped back to shut the
door. He did not utter a word to the girl cowering within, but that
action of his was a mute command. She crouched in the dark and listened,
but she did not dare to follow or to flee.
THE MAN AT THE WHEEL
When Caryl came back to the motor his handkerchief was bound about the
knuckles of his right hand, and his face wore a faint smile that had in
it more of grimness than humour.
He paused at the open window and looked in on Doris without opening the
door. The sound of the rain pattering heavily upon his shoulders filled
in a silence that she found terrible. He spoke at length:
"You had better shut the window, the rain is coming in."
That was all, spoken in his customary drawl without a hint of anger or
reproach. They cut her hard, those few words of his. It was as if he
deemed her unworthy even of his contempt.
She raised her white face.
"What—are you going to do?" she managed to ask through her quivering
"I am going to take you to the nearest town—to Bramfield to spend the
rest of the night. It is getting late, you know—past midnight already."
"Bramfield!" she echoed with a start. "Then—then we have been going
north all this time?"
"We have been going north," he said.
She glanced around. Her eyes were hunted.
"No," said Caryl. "I haven't killed him. He is sitting under the hedge
about fifty yards up the road, thinking things over."
He opened the door then abruptly, and she held her breath and became
still and tense with apprehension. But he only pulled up the window,
closed the door again with a sharp click, and left her. When she dared
to breathe again the car was in motion.
She took no interest in her surroundings. Her destination had become a
matter of such secondary importance that she gave it no consideration
whatever. What mattered, all that mattered, was that she was now in the
hands and absolutely at the mercy of the man whom she feared as she
feared no one else on earth, the man with whom in her mad coquetry she
had dared to trifle.
The car was stopping. It came to a standstill almost imperceptibly, and
Caryl stepped into the road. Tensely she watched him; but he did not so
much as glance her way. He turned aside to a little gate in a high hedge
of laurel, and passed within, leaving her alone in the night.
Soon she heard his deliberate footfalls returning. In a moment he had
reached the door, his hand was upon it. She turned stiffly towards him
as it opened.
He spoke at once in his calm, unmoved voice:
"A very old friend of mine lives here. She will put you up for the
night and see to your comfort. Will you get out?"
Mutely she did so, feeling curiously weak and unstrung. He put his arm
around her, and led her into the dim cottage garden.
They went up a tiled path to an open door from which the light of a
single candle gleamed fitfully in the draught. She stumbled at the
doorstep, but he held her up. He was almost carrying her.
As they entered, an old woman, bent and indescribably wrinkled, rose
from her knees before a deep old-fashioned fireplace on the other side
of the little kitchen, and came to meet them. She had evidently just
coaxed a dying fire back to life.
"Ah, poor dear," she said at sight of the girl's exhausted face. "She
looks more dead than alive. Bring her to the fire, Master Vivian. I'll
soon have some hot milk for the poor lamb."
Caryl led her to an arm-chair that stood on one side of the blaze, and
made her sit down. Then, stooping, he took one of her nerveless hands
and held it closely in his own.
He did not speak to her, and she was relieved by his forbearance. As the
warmth of his grasp gradually communicated itself to her numbed fingers,
she felt her racing pulses grow steadier; but she was glad when he laid
her hand down quietly in her lap and turned away.
He bent over her again in a few minutes with a cup of steaming milk.
She took it from him, tasted it, and shuddered.
"There is brandy in it."
"Yes," said Caryl.
She turned her head away.
"I don't want it. I hate brandy."
He put his hand on her shoulder.
"You had better drink it all the same," he said.
She glanced at him, caught her breath sharply, then dumbly gave way. He
kept his hand upon her while she drank, and only removed it to take the
After that, standing gravely before her, he spoke again.
"I am going on into the town now with the motor, and I shall put up
there. My old nurse will take care of you. I shall come back in the
THE SURRENDER OF THE CITADEL
Old Mrs. Maynard, sweeping her brick floor with wide-open door through
which the April sunlight streamed gloriously, nodded to herself a good
many times over the doings of the night. A very discreet creature was
Mrs. Maynard, faithful to the very heart of her, but she would not have
been mortal had she not been intensely curious to know what were the
circumstances that had led Vivian Caryl to bring to her door that
shrinking, exhausted girl who still lay sleeping in the room above.
When Doris awoke in response to her deferential knock, only the
reticence of the trained servant greeted her. The motherliness of the
night before had completely vanished.
Doris was glad of it. She had to steel herself for the coming interview
with Caryl; she had to face the result of her headlong actions with as
firm a front as she could assume. She needed all her strength, and she
could not have borne sympathy just then.
She thanked Mrs. Maynard for her attentions and saw her withdraw with
relief. Then, having nibbled very half-heartedly at the breakfast
provided, she arose with a great sigh, and began to prepare for whatever
might lie before her.
Dressed at length, she sat down by the open window to wait—and wonder.
The click of the garden gate fell suddenly across her meditations, and
she drew back sharply out of sight. He was entering.
She heard his leisurely footfall on the tiles and then his quiet voice
below. Her heart began to thump with thick, uncertain beats. She was
Yet when she heard the old woman ascending the stairs, she had the
courage to go to the door and open it.
Mr. Caryl was in the parlour, she was told. He would be glad to see her
at her convenience.
"I will go to him," she said, and forthwith descended to meet her fate.
He stood by the window when she entered, but wheeled round at once with
his back to the light. She felt that this did not make much difference.
She knew exactly how he was looking—cold, self-contained, implacable as
granite. She had seldom seen him look otherwise. His face was a
perpetual mask to her. It was this very inscrutability of his that had
first waked in her the desire to see him among her retinue of slaves.
She went forward slowly, striving to attain at least a semblance of
composure. At first it seemed that he would wait for her where he was;
then unexpectedly he moved to meet her. He took her hand into his own,
and she shrank a little involuntarily. His touch unnerved her.
"You have slept?" he asked. "You are better?"
Something in his tone made her glance upwards, catching her breath. But
she decided instantly that she had been mistaken. He would not, he could
not, mean to be kind at such a moment.
She made answer with an assumption of pride. She dared not let herself
be natural just then.
"I am quite well. There was nothing wrong with me last night. I was only
He suffered her hand to slip from his.
"I wonder what you think of doing," he said quietly. "Have you made any
The hot blood rushed to her face before she was aware of it. She turned
it sharply aside.
"Am I to have a voice in the matter?" she said, her voice very low. "You
did not think it worth while to consult me last night."
"You were scarcely in a fit state to be consulted," he answered gravely.
"That is why I postponed the discussion. But I was then—as I am
now—entirely at your disposal. I will take you back to your people at
once if you wish it."
She made a quick, passionate gesture of protest, and moved away from
"Have you any alternative in your mind?" he asked.
She remained with her back to him.
"I shall go away," she said, a sudden note of recklessness in her
voice. "I shall travel."
"Alone?" he questioned.
"Yes, alone." This time her voice rang defiance. She wheeled round
quivering from head to foot. "But for you," she said, "but for your
unwarrantable interference I should never have been placed in this
hateful, this impossible, position. I should have been with my friends
in London. It would have been my wedding-day."
The attack was plainly unexpected. Even Caryl was taken by surprise. But
the next moment he was ready for her.
"Then by all means," he said, "let me take you to your friends in
London. Doubtless your chivalrous lover has found his way thither long
She stamped like a little fury.
"Do you think I would marry him—now? Do you think I would marry any one
after—after what happened last night? Oh, I hate you—I hate you all!"
Her voice broke. She covered her face, with tempestuous sobbing, and
sank into a chair.
Caryl stood silent, biting his lip as if in irresolution. He did not try
to comfort her.
After a while, her weeping still continuing, he leant across the table.
"Doris," he said, "leave off crying and listen to me. I know it is out
of the question for you to marry that scoundrel whom I had the pleasure
of thrashing last night. It always has been out of the question. That
is one reason why I have been keeping such a hold upon you. Now that you
admit the impossibility of it, I set you free. But you will be wise to
think well before you accept your freedom from me. You are in an
intolerable position, and I am quite powerless to help you unless you
place yourself unreservedly in my hands and give me the right to protect
you. It means a good deal, I know. It means, Doris, the sacrifice of
your independence. But it also means a safe haven, peace, comfort, if
not happiness. You may not love me. I never seriously thought that you
did. But if you will give me your trust—I shall try to be satisfied
Love! She had never heard the word on his lips before. It sent a curious
thrill through her to hear it then. She had listened to him with her
face hidden, though her tears had ceased. But as he ended, she slowly
raised her head and looked at him.
"Are you asking me to marry you?" she said.
"I am," said Caryl.
She lowered her eyes from his, and began to trace a design on the
table-cloth with one finger.
"I don't want to marry you," she said at length.
"I know," said Caryl.
She did not look up.
"No, you don't know. That's just it. You think you know everything. But
you don't. For instance, you think you know why I ran away with Major Brandon. But
you don't. You never will know—unless I tell you, probably not even
She broke off with an abrupt sigh, and leant back in her chair.
"One thing I do thank you for," she said irrelevantly. "And that is that
you didn't take me back to Rivermead last night. Have they, I wonder,
any idea where I am?"
"I left a message for your cousin before I left," Caryl said.
"Oh, then he knew—?"
"He knew that I had you under my protection," Caryl told her grimly. "I
did not go into details. It was unnecessary. Only Flicker knew the
details. I marked him down in the afternoon, after the incident at
She opened her eyes.
"Then you guessed—?"
"I knew he did not find the missing glove under the table," said Caryl
quietly. "I did not need any further evidence than that. I knew,
moreover, that you had not devoted the whole of the previous afternoon
to your correspondence. I was waiting for your cousin in the
conservatory when you joined Brandon in the garden."
"And you—you were in the conservatory last night when I went through.
I—I felt there was someone there."
"Yes," he answered. "I waited to see you go."
"Why didn't you stop me?"
For an instant her eyes challenged his.
He stood up, straightening himself slowly.
"It would not have answered my purpose," he told her steadily.
She stood up also, her face gone suddenly white.
"You chose this means of—of forcing me to marry you?"
"I chose this means—the only means to my hand—of opening your eyes,"
he said. "It has not perhaps been over successful. You are still blind
to much that you ought to see. But you will understand these things
"Presently?" she faltered.
"When you are my wife," he said.
She flashed him a swift glance.
"I am to marry you then?"
He held out his hand to her across the table.
"Will you marry me, Doris?"
She hesitated for a single instant, her eyes downcast. Then suddenly,
without speaking, she put her hand into his, glad that, notwithstanding
the overwhelming strength of his position, he had allowed her the
honours of war.
THE WILLING CAPTIVE
"And so you were obliged to marry your bête noire after all! My dear,
it has been the talk of the town. Come, sit down, and tell me all about
it. I am burning to hear how it came about."
Doris's old friend, Mrs. Lockyard, paused to flick the ash from her
cigarette, and to laugh slyly at the girl's face of discomfiture.
Doris also held a cigarette between her fingers, but she was only toying
with it restlessly.
"There isn't much to tell," she said. "We were married by special
licence. I was not obliged to marry him. I chose to do so."
Mrs. Lockyard laughed again, not very pleasantly.
"And left poor Maurice in the lurch. That was rather cruel of you after
all his chivalrous efforts to deliver you from bondage. And he so hard
A flush of anger rose in the girl's face. She tilted her chin with the
old proud gesture.
"I should not have married him in any case," she said. "He made that
quite impossible by his own act. He—was not so chivalrous as I
A gleam of malice shone for a moment in Mrs. Lockyard's eyes, and just a
hint of it was perceptible in her voice as she made response.
"One has to make allowances sometimes. All men are not made after the
pattern of your chosen lord and master. He, I grant you, is hard as
granite and about as impassive. Still I mustn't depreciate your prize
since it was of your own choosing. Let me wish you instead every
"He was not impassive that night," said Doris quickly, with a sharp
inward sense of injustice.
"No?" questioned Mrs. Lockyard.
"No. At least—Major Brandon did not find him so." Doris's blue eyes
took fire at the recollection. "He gave him his deserts," she said, with
a certain exultation. "He thrashed him."
"Oh, my dear, he would have done that in any case. That was an old, old
score paid off at last. Forgive me for depriving you of this small
gratification. But that debt was contracted many years ago when you were
scarcely out of your cradle. Your presence was a mere incident. You were
the opportunity, not the cause."
"I don't know what you mean," said Doris, looking her straight in the
"No? Well, my dear, it isn't my business to enlighten you. If you really
want to know, I must refer you to your husband. Surely that is Mrs.
Fricker over there. You will not mind if she joins us?"
"I am going!" Doris announced abruptly—"I really only looked in to see
if there were any letters."
She dropped her cigarette with determination and turned to the nearest
It was true that she had run into the club for her correspondence, but
having met Mrs. Lockyard she had been almost compelled to linger, albeit
unwillingly. Now from the depths of her soul she regretted the impulse
that had borne her thither. She vowed to herself that she would not
enter the club again so long as Mrs. Lockyard remained in town.
Three weeks had elapsed since her marriage; three weeks of shopping in
Paris with Caryl somewhere in the background, looking on but never
He had been very kind on the whole, she was fain to admit, but she was
further from understanding him now than she had ever been. He had
retired into his shell so completely that it seemed unlikely that he
would ever again emerge, and she did not dare to make the first advance.
Her return to London had been one of the greatest ordeals she had ever
faced, but she had endured it unflinchingly, and had found that London
had already almost forgotten the eccentricity of her marriage. In the
height of the season memories are short.
Caryl had taken a flat overlooking the river, and here they had settled
down. He spent the greater part of his day at the Law Courts, and Doris
found herself thrown a good deal upon her own resources. In happier days
this had been her ideal, but for some reason it did not now content her.
Returning from her encounter with Mrs. Lockyard at the club, she told
herself with sudden petulance that life in town had lost all charm for
Entering the dainty sitting-room that looked on to the river, she
dropped into a chair by the window and stared out with her chin in her
hands. The river was a blaze of gold. A line of long black barges was
drifting down-stream in the wake of a noisy steam-tug. She watched them
absently, sick at heart.
Gradually the shining water grew blurred and dim. Its beauty wholly
passed her by, or if she saw it, it was only in vivid contrast to the
darkness in her soul. For a little, wide-eyed, she resisted the impulse
that tugged at her heart-strings; but at last in sheer weariness she
gave in. What did it matter, a tear more or less? There was no one to
know or care. And tears were sometimes a relief. She bowed her head upon
the sill and wept.
"Why, Doris!" a quiet voice said.
She started, started violently, and sprang upright.
Caryl was standing slightly behind her, his hand on the back of her
chair, but as she rose he came forward and stood beside her.
"What is it?" he said. "Why are you crying?"
"I'm not!" she declared vehemently. "I wasn't! You—you startled
She turned her back on him and hastily dabbed her eyes. She was furious
with him for coming upon her thus.
He stood at the window, looking out upon the long, black barges in
After a few seconds of desperate effort she controlled herself and
"I never heard you come in. I—must have been asleep."
He did not look at her, or attempt to refute the statement.
"I thought you were going to be out this afternoon," he said.
"So I was. So I have been. I went to the club to get my letters."
"Didn't you find any one there to talk to?" he asked.
"No one," she answered somewhat hastily; then, moved by some impulse she
could not have explained, "That is, no one that counts. I saw Mrs.
"Doesn't she count?" asked Caryl, still with his eyes on the river.
"I hate the woman!" Doris declared passionately.
He turned slowly round.
"What has she been saying to you?"
Again he made no comment on the obvious lie.
"Look here," he said. "Can't we go out somewhere to-night? There is a
new play at the Regency. They say it's good. Shall we go?"
The suggestion was quite unexpected; she looked at him in surprise.
"I have promised Vera to dine there," she said.
"Ring her up and say you can't," said Caryl.
"I must make some excuse if I do. What shall I say?"
"Say I want you," he said, and suddenly that rare smile of his for which
she had wholly ceased to look flashed across his face, "and tell the
truth for once."
She did not see him again till she entered the dining-room an hour
later. He was waiting for her there, and as she came in he presented her
with a spray of lilies.
Again in astonishment she looked up at him.
"Don't you like them?" he said.
"Of course I do. But—but—"
Her answer tailed off in confusion. Her lip quivered uncontrollably, and
she turned quickly away.
Caryl was plainly unaware of anything unusual in her demeanour. He
talked throughout dinner in his calm, effortless drawl, and gradually
under its soothing influence she recovered herself.
She enjoyed the play that followed. It was a simple romance, well
staged, and superbly acted. She breathed a sigh of regret when it was
Driving home again with Caryl, she thanked him impulsively for taking
"You weren't bored?" he asked.
"Of course not," she said.
She would have said more, but something restrained her. A sudden shyness
descended upon her that lasted till they reached the flat.
She left Caryl at the outer door and turned into the room overlooking
the river. The window was open as she had left it, and the air blew in
sweetly upon her over the water. She had dropped her wrap from her
shoulders, and she shivered a little as she stood, but a feeling of
suspense kept her motionless.
Caryl had entered the room behind her. She wondered if he would pause at
the table where a tray of refreshments was standing. He did not, and her
nerves tingled and quivered as he passed it by.
He joined her at the window, and they stood together for several seconds
looking out upon the great river with its myriad lights.
She had not the faintest idea as to what was passing in his mind, but
her heart-beats quickened in his silence to such a tumult that at last
she could bear it no longer. She turned back into the room.
He followed her instantly, and she fancied that he sighed.
"Won't you have anything before you go?" he said.
She shook her head.
"Good-night!" she said almost inaudibly.
For a moment—no longer—her hand lay in his. She did not look at him.
There was something in his touch that thrilled through her like an
But his grave "Good-night!" had in it nothing startling, and by the time
she reached her own room she had begun to ask herself what cause there
had been for her agitation. She was sure he must have thought her very
strange, very abrupt, even ungracious.
And at that her heart smote her, for he had been kinder that evening
than ever before. The fragrance of the lilies at her breast reminded her
She bent her head to them, and suddenly, as though the flowers exhaled
some potent charm, impulse—blind, domineering impulse—took possession
She turned swiftly to the door, and in a moment her feet were bearing
her, almost without her voluntary effort, back to the room she had left.
The door was unlatched. She pushed it open, entering impetuously. And
she came upon Caryl suddenly—as he had come upon her that
afternoon—sunk in a chair by the window, with his head in his hands.
He rose instantly at her entrance, rose and closed the window; then
lowered the blind very quietly, very slowly, and finally turned round to
"What is it? You have forgotten something?"
Except that he was paler than usual, his face bore no trace of emotion.
He looked at her with his heavy eyes gravely, with unfailing patience.
For an instant she stood irresolute, afraid; then again that urging
impulse drove her forward. She moved close to him.
"I only came back to say—I only wanted to tell you—Vivian, I—I was
horrid to you this afternoon. Forgive me!"
She stretched out her trembling hands to him, and he took them, held
them fast, then sharply let them go.
"My dear," he said, "you were in trouble, and I intruded upon you. It
was no case for forgiveness."
But she would not accept his indulgence.
"I was horrid," she protested, with a catch in her voice. "Why are you
so patient with me? You never used to be."
He did not answer her. He seemed to regard the question as superfluous.
She drew a little nearer. Her fingers fastened quivering upon his coat.
"Don't be too kind to me, Vivian," she said, her voice trembling.
"It—it isn't good for me."
He took her by the wrists and drew her hands away.
"You want to tell me something," he said. "What is it?"
She glanced upwards, meeting his look with sudden resolution.
"You asked me this afternoon why I was crying," she said. "And I—I lied
to you. You asked me, too, what Mrs. Lockyard said to me. And I lied
again. I will tell you now, if—if you will listen to me."
Caryl was still holding her wrists. There was a hint of sternness in his
"Well?" he said quietly. "What did she say?"
"She said"—Doris spoke with an effort—"she said, or rather she hinted,
that there was an old grudge between you and Major Brandon, a matter
with which I was in no way concerned, an affair of many years' standing.
She said that was why you followed him up and—thrashed him that night.
She implied that I didn't count at all. She made me wonder
if—if—"—she was speaking almost inarticulately, with bent head—"if
perhaps it was only to satisfy this ancient grudge that you married me."
Her words went into silence. She could not look him in the face. If he
had not held her wrists so firmly she would have been tempted to turn
and flee. As it was, she could only stand before him in quivering
He moved at length, moved suddenly and disconcertingly, freeing one
hand to turn her face quietly upwards. She did not resist him, but she
shrank as she met his eyes. She fancied she had never seen him look so
"And that was why you were crying?" he asked, deliberately searching her
"That was—one reason," she acknowledged faintly.
"Then there was something more than that?"
"Yes." She laid her hand pleadingly on his arm, and he released her. "I
will tell you," she said tremulously, keeping her face upturned to his.
"At least, I will try. But it's very difficult because—"
She began to falter under his look.
"Because," he said slowly, "you have no confidence in me. That I can
well understand. You married me more or less under compulsion, and when
a wife is no more than a guest in her husband's house, confidence
between them, of any description, is almost an impossibility."
He spoke without anger, but with a sadness that pierced her to the
heart; and having so spoken he leant his arm upon the mantelpiece,
turning slightly from her.
"I will tell you," he said, his voice very quiet and even, "exactly what
Mrs. Lockyard was hinting at. Ten years ago I was engaged to a
girl—like you in many ways—gay, impulsive, bewitching. I was young in
those days, romantic, too. I worshipped her as a goddess. I was utterly
blind to her failings. They simply didn't exist for me. She rewarded me
by running away with Maurice Brandon. I knew he was a blackguard, but
how much of a blackguard I did not realize till later. However, I didn't
trust him even then, and I followed them and insisted that they should
be married in my presence. Six months later I heard from her. He had
treated her abominably, had finally deserted her, and she was trying to
get a divorce. I did my best to help her, and eventually she obtained
it." He paused a moment, then went on with bent head, "I never saw her
after she gained her freedom. She went to her people, and very soon
Again he paused, then slowly straightened himself.
"I never cared for any woman after that," he said, "until I met you. As
for Brandon, he kept out of my way, and I had no object in seeking him.
In fact, I took no interest in his doings till I found that you were in
Mrs. Lockyard's set. That, I admit, was something of a shock. And then
when I found that you liked the man—"
"Oh, don't!" she broke in. "Don't! I was mad ever to tolerate him. Let
me forget it! Please let me forget it!"
She spoke passionately, and as if her emotion drew him he turned fully
round to her.
"If you could have forgotten him sooner," he said, with a touch of
sternness, "you would not find yourself tied now to a man you never
The effect of his words was utterly unexpected. She started as one
stricken, wounded in a vital place, and clasped her hands tightly
against her breast, crushing the flowers that drooped there.
"It is a lie!" she cried wildly. "It is a lie!"
"What is a lie?"
He took a step towards her, for she was swaying as she stood; but she
flung out her hands, keeping him from her.
Her face was working convulsively. She turned and moved unsteadily away
from him, groping out before her as she went. So groping, she reached
the door, and blindly sought the handle. But before she found it he
spoke in a tone that had subtly altered:
Her hands fell. She stood suddenly still, listening.
"Come here!" he said.
He crossed the room and reached her.
"Look at me!" he said.
She refused for a little, trembling all over. Then suddenly as he waited
she threw back her head and met his eyes. She was sobbing like a child
that has been hurt.
He bent towards her, looking closely, closely into her quivering face.
"So," he said, "it was a lie, was it? But, my own girl, how was I to
know? Why on earth didn't you say so before?"
She broke into a laugh that had in it the sound of tears.
"How could I? You never asked. How could I?"
"Shall I ask you now?" he said.
She stretched up her arms and clasped his neck.
"No," she whispered back. "Take me—take everything—for granted. It's
the only way, if you want to turn a heartless little flirt like me
into—into a virtuous and amiable wife!"
And so, clinging to him, her lips met his in the first kiss that had
ever passed between them.
Those Who Wait
A faint draught from the hills found its way through the wide-flung door
as the sun went down. It fluttered the papers on the table, and stirred
a cartoon upon the wall with a dry rustling as of wind in corn.
The man who sat at the table turned his face as it were mechanically
towards that blessed breath from the snows. His chin was propped on his
hand. He seemed to be waiting.
The light failed very quickly, and he presently reached out and drew a
reading-lamp towards him. The flame he kindled flickered upward,
throwing weird shadows upon his lean, brown face, making the sunken
hollows of his eyes look cavernous.
He turned the light away so that it streamed upon the open doorway. Then
he resumed his former position of sphinx-like waiting, his chin upon his
Half an hour passed. The day was dead. Beyond the radius of the lamp
there hung a pall of thick darkness—a fearful, clinging darkness that
seemed to wrap the whole earth. The heat was intense, unstirred by any
breeze. Only now and then the cartoon on the wall moved as if at the
touch of ghostly fingers, and each time there came that mocking whisper
that was like wind in corn.
At length there sounded through the night the dull throbbing of a
horse's feet, and the man who sat waiting raised his head. A gleam of
expectancy shone in his sombre eyes. Some of the rigidity went out of
Nearer came the hoofs and nearer yet, and with them, mingling
rhythmically, a tenor voice that sang.
As it reached him the man at the table pulled out a drawer with a sharp
jerk. His hand sought something within it, but his eyes never left the
curtain of darkness that the open doorway framed.
Slowly, very slowly at last, he withdrew his hand empty; but he only
partially closed the drawer.
The voice without was nearer now, was close at hand. The horse's hoofs
had ceased to sound. There came the ring of spurred heels without, a
man's hand tapped upon the doorpost, a man's figure showed suddenly
against the darkness.
"Hallo, Conyers! Still in the land of the living? Ye gods, what a
fiendish night! Many thanks for the beacon! It's kept me straight for
more than half the way."
He entered carelessly, the lamplight full upon him—a handsome,
straight-limbed young Hercules—tossed down his riding-whip, and looked
round for a drink.
"Here you are!" said Conyers, turning the rays of the lamp full upon
some glasses on the table.
"Ah, good! I'm as dry as a smoked herring. You must drink too, though.
Yes, I insist. I have a toast to propose, so be sociable for once. What
have you got in that drawer?"
Conyers locked the drawer abruptly, and jerked out the key.
"What do you want to know for?"
His visitor grinned boyishly.
"Don't be bashful, old chap! I always guessed you kept her there. We'll
drink her health, too, in a minute. But first of all"—he was splashing
soda-water impetuously out of a syphon as he spoke—"first of all—quite
ready, I say? It's a grand occasion—here's to the best of good fellows,
that genius, that inventor of guns, John Conyers! Old chap, your
fortune's made. Here's to it! Hip—hip—hooray!"
His shout was like the blare of a bull. Conyers rose, crossed to the
door, and closed it.
Returning, he halted by his visitor's side, and shook him by the
"Stop rotting, Palliser!" he said rather shortly.
Young Palliser wheeled with a gigantic laugh, and seized him by the
"You old fool, Jack! Can't you see I'm in earnest? Drink, man, drink,
and I'll tell you all about it. That gun of yours is going to be an
enormous success—stupendous—greater even than I hoped. It's true, by
the powers! Don't look so dazed. All comes to those who wait, don't you
know. I always told you so."
"To be sure, so you did." The man's words came jerkily. They had an odd,
detached sound, almost as though he were speaking in his sleep. He
turned away from Palliser, and took up his untouched glass.
But the next instant it slipped through his fingers, and crashed upon
the table edge. The spilt liquid streamed across the floor.
Palliser stared for an instant, then thrust forward his own glass.
"Steady does it, old boy! Try both hands for a change. It's this
He turned with the words, and picked up a paper from the table, frowning
over it absently, and whistling below his breath.
When he finally looked round again his face cleared.
"Ah, that's better! Sit down, and we'll talk. By Jove, isn't it
colossal? They told me over at the fort that I was a fool to come across
to-night. But I simply couldn't keep you waiting another night. Besides,
I knew you would expect me."
Conyers' grim face softened a little. He could scarcely have said how he
had ever come to be the chosen friend of young Hugh Palliser. The
intimacy had been none of his seeking.
They had met at the club on the occasion of one of his rare appearances
there, and the younger man, whose sociable habit it was to know
everyone, had scraped acquaintance with him.
No one knew much about Conyers. He was not fond of society, and, as a
natural consequence, society was not fond of him. He occupied the humble
position of a subordinate clerk in an engineer's office. The work was
hard, but it did not bring him prosperity. He was one of those men who
go silently on week after week, year after year, till their very
existence comes almost to be overlooked by those about them. He never
seemed to suffer as other men suffered from the scorching heat of that
tropical corner of the Indian Empire. He was always there, whatever
happened to the rest of the world; but he never pushed himself forward.
He seemed to lack ambition. There were even some who said he lacked
brains as well.
But Palliser was not of these. His quick eyes had detected at a glance
something that others had never taken the trouble to discover. From the
very beginning he had been aware of a force that contained itself in
this silent man. He had become interested, scarcely knowing why; and,
having at length overcome the prickly hedge of reserve which was at
first opposed to his advances, he had entered the private place which it
defended, and found within—what he certainly had not expected to
It was nearly three months now since Conyers, in a moment of unusual
expansion, had laid before him the invention at which he had been
working for so many silent years. The thing even then, though complete
in all essentials, had lacked finish, and this final touch young
Palliser, himself a gunner with a positive passion for guns, had been
able to supply. He had seen the value of the invention and had given it
his ardent support. He had, moreover, friends in high places, and could
obtain a fair and thorough investigation of the idea.
This he had accomplished, with a result that had transcended his high
hopes, on his friend's behalf; and he now proceeded to pour out his
information with an accompanying stream of congratulation, to which
Conyers sat and listened with scarcely the movement of an eyelid.
Hugh Palliser found his impassivity by no means disappointing. He was
used to it. He had even expected it. That momentary unsteadiness on
Conyers' part had astonished him far more.
Concluding his narration he laid the official correspondence before him,
and got up to open the door. The night was black and terrible, the heat
came in overwhelming puffs, as though blown from a blast furnace. He
leaned against the doorpost and wiped his forehead. The oppression of
the atmosphere was like a tangible, crushing weight. Behind him the
paper on the wall rustled vaguely, but there was no other sound. After
several minutes he turned briskly back again into the room, whistling a
sentimental ditty below his breath.
"Well, old chap, it was worth waiting for, eh? And now, I suppose,
you'll be making a bee-line for home, you lucky beggar. I shan't be long
after you, that's one comfort. Pity we can't go together. I suppose you
can't wait till the winter."
"No, my boy. I'm afraid I can't." Conyers spoke with a faint smile, his
eyes still fixed upon the blue official paper that held his destiny.
"I'm going home forthwith, and be damned to everything and
everybody—except you. It's an understood thing, you know, Palliser,
that we are partners in this deal."
"Oh, rot!" exclaimed Palliser impetuously. "I don't agree to that. I did
nothing but polish the thing up. You'd have done it yourself if I
"In the course of a few more years," put in Conyers drily.
"Rot!" said Palliser again. "Besides, I don't want any pelf. I've quite
as much as is good for me, more than I want. That's why I'm going to get
married. You'll be going the same way yourself now, I suppose?"
"You have no reason whatever for thinking so," responded Conyers.
Palliser laughed lightheartedly and sat down on the table. "Oh, haven't
I? What about that mysterious locked drawer of yours? Don't be shy, I
say! You had it open when I came in. Show her to me like a good chap! I
won't tell a soul."
"That's not where I keep my love-tokens," said Conyers, with a grim
twist of the mouth that was not a smile.
"What then?" asked Palliser eagerly. "Not another invention?"
"No." Conyers inserted the key in the lock again, turned it, and pulled
open the drawer. "See for yourself as you are so anxious."
Palliser leaned across the table and looked. The next instant his glance
flashed upwards, and their eyes met.
There was a sharply-defined pause. Then, "You'd never be fool enough for
that, Jack!" ejaculated Palliser, with vehemence.
"I'm fool enough for anything," said Conyers, with his cynical smile.
"But you wouldn't," the other protested almost incoherently. "A fellow
like you—I don't believe it!"
"It's loaded," observed Conyers quietly. "No, leave it alone, Hugh! It
can remain so for the present. There is not the smallest danger of its
going off—or I shouldn't have shown it to you."
He closed the drawer again, looking steadily into Hugh Palliser's face.
"I've had it by me for years," he said, "just in case the Fates should
have one more trick in store for me. But apparently they haven't, though
it's never safe to assume anything."
"Oh, don't talk like an idiot!" broke in Palliser heatedly. "I've no
patience with that sort of thing. Do you expect me to believe that a
fellow like you—a fellow who knows how to wait for his luck—would give
way to a cowardly impulse and destroy himself all in a moment because
things didn't go quite straight? Man alive! I know you better than that;
or if I don't, I've never known you at all."
"Ah! Perhaps not!" said Conyers.
Once more he turned the key and withdrew it. He pushed back his chair so
that his face was in shadow.
"You don't know everything, you know, Hugh," he said.
"Have a smoke," said Palliser, "and tell me what you are driving at."
He threw himself into a bamboo chair by the open door, the light
streaming full upon him, revealing in every line of him the arrogant
splendour of his youth. He looked like a young Greek god with the world
at his feet.
Conyers surveyed him with his faint, cynical smile. "No," he said, "you
certainly don't know everything, my son. You never have come a cropper
in your life."
"Haven't I, though?" Hugh sat up, eager to refute this criticism.
"That's all you know about it. I suppose you think you have had the
monopoly of hard knocks. Most people do."
"I am not like most people," Conyers asserted deliberately. "But you
needn't tell me that you have ever been right under, my boy. For you
"Depends what you call going under," protested Palliser. "I've been down
a good many times, Heaven knows. And I've had to wait—as you have—all
the best years of my life."
"Your best years are to come," rejoined Conyers. "Mine are over."
"Oh, rot, man! Rot—rot—rot! Why, you are just coming into your own!
Have another drink and give me the toast of your heart!" Hugh Palliser
sprang impulsively to his feet. "Let me mix it! You can't—you shan't be
melancholy to-night of all nights."
But Conyers stayed his hand.
"Only one more drink to-night, boy!" he said. "And that not yet. Sit
down and smoke. I'm not melancholy, but I can't rejoice prematurely.
It's not my way."
"Prematurely!" echoed Hugh, pointing to the official envelope.
"Yes, prematurely," Conyers repeated. "I may be as rich as Croesus, and
yet not win my heart's desire."
"Oh, I know that," said Hugh quickly. "I've been through it myself. It's
infernal to have everything else under the sun and yet to lack the one
thing—the one essential—the one woman."
He sat down again, abruptly thoughtful. Conyers smoked silently, with
his face in the shadow.
Suddenly Hugh looked across at him.
"You think I'm too much of an infant to understand," he said. "I'm
nearly thirty, but that's a detail."
"I'm forty-five," said Conyers.
"Well, well!" Hugh frowned impatiently. "It's a detail, as I said
before. Who cares for a year more or less?"
"Which means," observed Conyers, with his dry smile, "that the one woman
is older than you are."
"She is," Palliser admitted recklessly. "She is five years older. But
what of it? Who cares? We were made for each other. What earthly
difference does it make?"
"It's no one's business but your own," remarked Conyers through a haze
"Of course it isn't. It never has been." Hugh yet sounded in some
fashion indignant. "There never was any other possibility for me after I
met her. I waited for her six mortal years. I'd have waited all my life.
But she gave in at last. I think she realized that it was sheer waste of
time to go on."
"What was she waiting for?" The question came with a certain weariness
of intonation, as though the speaker were somewhat bored; but Hugh
Palliser was too engrossed to notice.
He stretched his arms wide with a swift and passionate gesture.
"She was waiting for a scamp," he declared.
"It is maddening to think of—the sweetest woman on earth, Conyers,
wasting her spring and her summer over a myth, an illusion. It was an
affair of fifteen years ago. The fellow came to grief and disappointed
her. She told me all about it on the day she promised to marry me. I
believe her heart was nearly broken at the time, but she has got over
it—thank Heaven!—at last. Poor Damaris! My Damaris!"
He ceased to speak, and a dull roar of thunder came out of the night
like the voice of a giant in anguish.
Hugh began to smoke, still busy with his thoughts.
"Yes," he said presently, "I believe she would actually have waited all
her life for the fellow if he had asked it of her. Luckily he didn't go
so far as that. He was utterly unworthy of her. I think she sees it now.
His father was imprisoned for forgery, and no doubt he was in the know,
though it couldn't be brought home to him. He was ruined, of course, and
he disappeared, just dropped out, when the crash came. He had been on
the verge of proposing to her immediately before. And she would have had
him too. She cared."
He sent a cloud of smoke upwards with savage vigour.
"It's damnable to think of her suffering for a worthless brute like
that!" he exclaimed. "She had such faith in him too. Year after year she
was expecting him to go back to her, and she kept me at arm's length,
till at last she came to see that both our lives were being sacrificed
to a miserable dream. Well, it's my innings now, anyway. And we are
going to be superbly happy to make up for it."
Again he flung out his arms with a wide gesture, and again out of the
night there came a long roll of thunder that was like the menace of a
tortured thing. A flicker of lightning gleamed through the open door for
a moment, and Conyers' dark face was made visible. He had ceased to
smoke, and was staring with fixed, inscrutable eyes into the darkness.
He did not flinch from the lightning; it was as if he did not see it.
"What would she do, I wonder, if the prodigal returned," he said
quietly. "Would she be glad—or sorry?"
"He never will," returned Hugh quickly. "He never can—after fifteen
years. Think of it! Besides—she wouldn't have him if he did."
"Women are proverbially faithful," remarked Conyers cynically.
"She will stick to me now," Hugh returned with confidence. "The other
fellow is probably dead. In any case, he has no shadow of a right over
her. He never even asked her to wait for him."
"Possibly he thought that she would wait without being asked," said
Conyers, still cynical.
"Well, she has ceased to care for him now," asserted Hugh. "She told me
The man opposite shifted his position ever so slightly. "And you are
satisfied with that?" he said.
"Of course I am. Why not?" There was almost a challenge in Hugh's voice.
"And if he came back?" persisted the other. "You would still be
Hugh sprang to his feet with a movement of fierce impatience. "I believe
I should shoot him!" he said vindictively. He looked like a splendid
wild animal suddenly awakened. "I tell you, Conyers," he declared
passionately, "I could kill him with my hands if he came between us
Conyers, his chin on his hand, looked him up and down as though
appraising his strength.
Suddenly he sat bolt upright and spoke—spoke briefly, sternly, harshly,
as a man speaks in the presence of his enemy. At the same instant a
frightful crash of thunder swept the words away as though they had never
In the absolute pandemonium of sound that followed, Hugh Palliser, with
a face gone suddenly white, went over to his friend and stood behind
him, his hands upon his shoulders.
But Conyers sat quite motionless, staring forth at the leaping
lightning, rigid, sphinx-like. He did not seem aware of the man behind
him, till, as the uproar began to subside, Hugh bent and spoke.
"Do you know, old chap, I'm scared!" he said, with a faint, shamed
laugh. "I feel as if there were devils abroad. Speak to me, will you,
and tell me I'm a fool!"
"You are," said Conyers, without turning.
"That lightning is too much for my nerves," said Hugh uneasily. "It's
almost red. What was it you said just now? I couldn't hear a word."
"It doesn't matter," said Conyers.
"But what was it? I want to know."
The gleam in the fixed eyes leaped to sudden terrible flame, shone hotly
for a few seconds, then died utterly away. "I don't remember," said
Conyers quietly. "It couldn't have been anything of importance. Have a
drink! You will have to be getting back as soon as this is over."
Hugh helped himself with a hand that was not altogether steady. There
had come a lull in the tempest. The cartoon on the wall was fluttering
like a caged thing. He glanced at it, then looked at it closely. It was
a reproduction of Doré's picture of Satan falling from heaven.
"It isn't meant for you surely!" he said.
Conyers laughed and got to his feet. "It isn't much like me, is it?"
Hugh looked at him uncertainly. "I never noticed it before. It might
have been you years ago."
"Ah, perhaps," said Conyers. "Why don't you drink? I thought you were
going to give me a toast."
Hugh's mood changed magically. He raised his glass high. "Here's to your
eternal welfare, dear fellow! I drink to your heart's desire."
Conyers waited till Hugh had drained his glass before he lifted his own.
Then, "I drink to the one woman," he said, and emptied it at a draught.
The storm was over, and a horse's feet clattered away into the darkness,
mingling rhythmically with a cheery tenor voice.
In the room with the open door a man's figure stood for a long while
When he moved at length it was to open the locked drawer of the
writing-table. His right hand felt within it, closed upon something that
lay there; and then he paused.
Several minutes crawled away.
From afar there came the long rumble of thunder. But it was not this
that he heard as he stood wrestling with the fiercest temptation he had
Stiffly at last he stooped, peered into the drawer, finally closed it
with an unfaltering hand. The struggle was over.
"For your sake, Damaris!" he said aloud, and he spoke without cynicism.
"I should know how to wait by now—even for death—which is all I have
to wait for."
And with that he pulled the fluttering paper from the wall, crushed it
in his hand, and went out heavily into the night.
The Eleventh Hour
HIS OWN GROUND
"Oh, to be a farmer's wife!"
Doris Elliot paused, punt-pole in hand, to look across a field of
corn-sheaves with eyes of shining appreciation.
Her companion, stretched luxuriously on his back on a pile of cushions,
smiled a contemplative smile and made no comment.
The girl's look came down to him after a moment. She regarded him with
"You're very lazy, Hugh," she said.
"I know it," said Hugh Chesyl comfortably.
She dropped the pole into the water and drove the punt towards the bank.
"It's a pity you're such a slacker," she said.
He removed his cigarette momentarily. "You wouldn't like me any better
if I weren't," he said.
"Indeed I should—miles!"
"No, you wouldn't." His smile became more pronounced. "If I were more
energetic, I should be for ever pestering you to marry me. And, you
know, you wouldn't like that. As it is, I take 'No,' for an answer and
Doris was silent. Her slim, white-clad figure was bent to the task of
bringing the punt to a pleasant anchorage in an inviting hollow in the
grassy shore. Hugh Chesyl clasped his hands behind his head and watched
her with placid admiration.
The small brown hands were very capable. They knew exactly what to do,
and did it with precision. When they had finally secured the punt, with
him in it, to the bank he sat up.
"Are we going to have tea here? What a charming spot! Sweetly romantic,
isn't it? I wonder why you particularly want to be a farmer's wife?"
Doris's pointed chin still looked slightly scornful. "You wouldn't
wonder if you took the trouble to reflect, Mr. Chesyl," she said.
He laughed easily. "Oh, don't ask me to do that! You know what a
sluggish brain mine is. I can quite understand your not wanting to marry
me, but why you should want to marry a farmer—like Jeff Ironside—I
"Who is Jeff Ironside?" she demanded.
"He's the chap who owns this property. Didn't you know? A frightfully
energetic person; prosperous, too, for a wonder. But an absolute tinker,
my dear. I shouldn't marry him—all his fair acres notwithstanding—if
I were you. I don't think the county would approve."
Doris snapped her fingers with supreme contempt. "That for the county!
What a snob you are!"
"Am I?" said Hugh. "I didn't know."
She nodded severely. "Do you mind moving your legs? I want to get at the
"Don't mention it!" he said accommodatingly. "Are you going to give me
tea now? How nice! You are looking awfully pretty to-day, do you know? I
can't think how you do it. There isn't a feature in your face worth
mentioning, but, notwithstanding, you make an entrancing whole."
Doris sternly repressed a smile. "Please don't take the trouble to be
Hugh groaned. "There's no pleasing you. And still you haven't let me
into the secret as to why you want to be a farmer's wife."
Doris was unpacking the tea-things energetically. "You never understand
anything without being told," she said. "Don't you know that I
positively hate the life I live now?"
"I can quite believe it," said Hugh Chesyl. "But, if you will allow me
to say so, I think your remedy would be worse than the disease. Your
utmost ingenuity will fail to persuade me that the life of a farmer's
wife would suit you."
"I should like the simplicity of it," she maintained.
"And getting up at five in the morning to make the butter? And having a
hulking brute of a husband—like Jeff Ironside—tramping into your
kitchen with his muddy boots and beastly clothes (which you would have
to mend) just when you had got things into good order? I can see you
doing it!" Hugh Chesyl's speech went into his easy, high-bred laugh.
"You of all people—the dainty and disdainful Miss Elliot, for whom no
man is good enough!"
"I don't know why you say that." There was quick protest in the girl's
voice. She clattered the cups and saucers as if something in the lazy
argument had exasperated her. "I like a man who is a man—the hard,
outdoor, wholesome kind—who isn't afraid of taking a little
trouble—who knows what he wants and how to get it. I shouldn't quarrel
with him on the score of muddy boots. I should be only glad that he had
enough of the real thing in him to go out in all weathers and not to
"All of which is aimed at me," said Hugh to the trees above him. "I'm
afraid I'm boring you more than usual this afternoon."
"You can't help it," said Doris.
Hugh Chesyl's good-looking face crumpled a little, then smoothed itself
again to its usual placid expression. "Ah, well!" he said equably, "we
won't quarrel about it. Let's have some tea!"
He sat up in the punt and looked across at her; but she would not meet
his eyes, and there ensued a considerable pause before he said gently,
"I'm sorry you are not happy, you know."
"Are you?" she said.
"Yes. That's why I want you to marry me."
"Should I be any happier if I did?" said Doris, with a smile that was
somehow slightly piteous.
"I don't know." Hugh Chesyl's voice was as pleasantly vague as his
personality. "I shouldn't get in your way at all, and, at least, you
would have a home of your own."
"To be miserable in," said Doris, with suppressed vehemence.
"I don't know why you should be miserable," he said. "You wouldn't have
anything to do that you didn't like."
She uttered a laugh that caught her breath as if it had been a sob. "Oh,
don't talk about it, Hugh! I should be bored—bored to death. I want the
real thing—the real thing—not a polite substitute."
"Sorry," said Hugh imperturbably. "I have offered the utmost of which I
am capable. May I have my tea here, please? It's less trouble than
She acceded to his request without protest; but she stepped on to the
bank herself, and sat down with her back to a corn-sheaf. Very young and
slender she looked sitting there with the sunshine on her brown,
elf-like face, but she was by no means without dignity. There was a
fairy queenliness about her that imparted an indescribable charm to her
every movement. Her eyes were grey and fearless.
"How lovely to own a field like this!" she said. "And plough it and sow
it and watch it grow up, and then cut it and turn it into sheaves! How
proud the man who owns it must be!"
Something stirred on the other side of the sheaf, and she started a
little and glanced backwards. "What's that?"
"A rat probably," said Hugh Chesyl serenely from his couch in the punt.
"I expect the place is full of 'em. Won't you continue your rhapsody?
The man who owns this particular field is a miller as well as a farmer.
He grinds his own grain."
"Oh, is he that man?" Eagerly she broke in. "Does he live in that
perfectly exquisite old red-brick house on the water with the wheel
turning all day long? Oh, isn't he lucky?"
"I doubt if he thinks so," said Hugh Chesyl. "I've never met a contented
"I don't like people to be too contented," said Doris perversely. "It's
a sign of laziness and—yes—weakness of purpose."
"Oh, is it?" Again he uttered his good-tempered laugh; then, as he began
to drink his tea, he gradually sobered. "Has anything happened lately to
make you specially discontented with your lot?" he asked presently.
Doris's brows contracted. "Things are always happening. My stepmother
gets more unbearable every day. I sometimes think I will go and work
for my living, but my father won't hear of it. And what can I do? I
haven't qualified for anything. The only thing open to me is to fill a
post of unpaid companion to a rich and elderly cousin who would put up
with me but doesn't much want me. She lives at Kensington, too, and I
can breathe only in the country."
"Poor little girl!" said Hugh kindly.
"Oh, don't pity me!" she said quickly. "You can't do anything to help.
And I shouldn't grumble to you if there were anyone else to grumble to."
She leaned back against her sheaf with her eyes on the sunlit water
below. "I suppose I shall just go on in the same old way till something
happens. Anyhow, I can't see my way out at present. It's such a shame to
be unhappy, too, when life might be so ecstatic."
"How could life be ecstatic?" asked Hugh, passing up his cup to be
She threw him a quick glance. "You wouldn't understand if I were to tell
you," she said. "It never could be—for you."
He sighed. "I know I'm very limited. But it's a mistake to expect too
much from life, believe me. Ask but little, and perhaps—if you're
lucky—you won't be disappointed."
"I would rather have nothing than that," she said quickly.
Hugh Chesyl turned and regarded her curiously. "Would you really?" he
She nodded several times emphatically. "Yes; just live my own life
out-of-doors and do without everything else." She pulled a long stalk of
corn from the sheaf against which she rested and looked at it
thoughtfully. Her eyes were downcast, and the man in the punt could not
see the deep shadow of pain they held. "If I can't have corn," she said
slowly, with the air of one pronouncing sentence, "I won't have husks. I
will die of starvation sooner."
And with that very suddenly she rose and walked round the sheaf.
The movement was abrupt, so abrupt that Hugh Chesyl lifted his brows in
astonishment. He was still more surprised a moment later when he heard
her clear, girlish voice raised in admonition.
"I don't think it's very nice of you to lie there listening and not to
let us know."
Hugh sat upright in the punt. Who on earth was it that she was reproving
The next moment he saw. A huge man with the frame of a bull rose from
behind the sheaf and confronted his young companion. He had his hat in
his hand, and the afternoon sun fell full upon his uncovered head,
revealing a rugged, clean-shaven face that had in it a good deal of
British strength and a suspicion of gipsy alertness. To Chesyl's further
amazement he did not appear in the least abashed by the encounter.
"I'm sorry I overheard you," he said, with blunt deference. "I was
half-asleep at first. Afterwards, I didn't like to intrude."
Doris's grey eyes looked him up and down for a moment or two in
silence, and a flush rose in her tanned face. It seemed to Hugh that she
was likely to become the more embarrassed of the two, and he wondered if
he ought to go to the rescue.
Then swiftly Doris collected her forces. "I suppose you know you are
trespassing?" she said.
At that Hugh laid himself very suddenly down again in the bottom of the
boat, and left her to fight her own battles.
The man on the bank looked down at his small assailant with a face of
grim decorum. "No, I didn't know," he said.
"Well, you are," said Doris. "All this ground is private property. You
can see for yourself. It's a cornfield."
The intruder's eyes travelled over the upstanding sheaves, passed
gravely over the man in the punt, and came back to the girl. "Yes; I
see," he said stolidly.
"Then don't you think you'd better go?" she said.
He put his hat on somewhat abruptly. "Yes. I think I had better," he
said, and with that he turned on his heel and walked away through the
"Such impertinence!" said Doris, as she stepped down the bank to her
"It was rather," said Hugh.
She looked at him somewhat sharply. "I don't see that there is anything
to laugh at," she said.
"Don't you?" said Hugh.
"No. Why are you laughing?"
Hugh explained. "It only struck me as being a little funny that you
should order the man off his own ground in that cavalier fashion."
"Hugh!" Genuine dismay shone in the girl's eyes. "That wasn't—wasn't—"
"Jeff Ironside? Yes, it was," said Hugh. "I wonder you have never come
across him before. He works like a nigger."
"Hugh!" Doris collapsed upon the bank in sheer horror. "I have seen him
before—seen him several times. I thought he was just—a labourer—till
"Oh, no," said Hugh. "He's just your hard, outdoor, wholesome farmer.
Fine animal, isn't he? Always reminds me of a prize bull."
"How frightful!" said Doris with a gasp. "It's the worst faux pas I
have ever made."
"Cheer up!" said Hugh consolingly. "No doubt he was flattered by the
little attention. He took it very well."
"That doesn't make matters any better," said Doris. "I almost wish he
Whereupon Hugh laughed again. "Oh, don't wish that! I should think he
would be quite a nasty animal when roused. I shouldn't have cared to
fight him on your behalf. He could wipe the earth with me were he so
Doris's eyes, critical though not unkindly, rested upon him as he lay.
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, "I should almost think he could."
It was on a day six weeks later that Doris Elliot next found herself
upon the scene of her discomfiture. She had ridden from her home three
miles distant very early on a morning of September to join a meeting of
the foxhounds and go cub-hunting. There had been a heavy fall of rain,
and the ground was wet and slippery.
The field that had been all yellow with the shocks of corn was now in
process of being ploughed, and her horse Hector sank up to the fetlocks
at every stride, a fact which he resented with obvious impatience. She
guided him down to the edge of the river where the ground looked a
The run was over and she had enjoyed it; but she wanted now to take as
short a cut home as possible, and it was through this particular field
that the most direct route undoubtedly lay. She was alone, but she knew
every inch of the countryside, and but for this mischance of the plough
she would have been well on her way. Being a sportswoman, she made the
best of things, and did her utmost to soothe her mount's somewhat fiery
"You shall have a clean jump at the end, Hector, old boy," she promised
him. "We shall soon be out of it."
But in this matter also she was to receive a check; for when they came
to the clean jump, it was to find a formidable fence of wooden paling
confronting them, intervening directly in their line of march. It seemed
that the energetic owner had been attending to his boundaries with a
zeal that no huntsman would appreciate.
Doris bit her lip with a murmured "Too bad!"
There was nothing for it but to skirt the hedge in search of a gate.
Hector was naturally even more indignant than she, and stamped and
squealed as she turned him from the obstacle. He also wanted to get
home, and he was tired of fighting his way through ploughed land that
held him like a bog. To add to their discomfort it had begun to rain
again, and there seemed every prospect of being speedily soaked to the
Altogether the outlook was depressing; but someone was whistling
cheerily on the farther side of the field, and Doris took heart. It was
a long way to the gate, however, and when she reached it at length it
was to find another disappointment in store. The gate was padlocked.
She looked round in desperation. Her only chance of escape was
apparently to return by the way she had come by means of a gap which had
not yet been repaired, and which would lead her in directly the
opposite direction to that which she desired to take.
The rain was coming down in a sharp shower, and Hector was becoming more
and more restive. She halted him by the gate and looked over. Beyond lay
a field from which she knew the road to be easily accessible. She hated
to turn her back upon it.
Behind her over a rise came the plough, drawn by two stout horses,
driven by a sturdy figure that loomed gigantic against the sky. Glancing
back, Doris saw this figure, and an odd little spirit of dare-devilry
entered into her. She did not want to come face to face with the
ploughman, neither did she want to beat a retreat before the five-barred
gate that opposed her progress.
She spoke to Hector reassuringly and backed him several paces. He was
quick to grasp her desire and eager to fall in with it. She felt him
bracing himself under her, and she laughed in sheer delight as she set
him at the gate.
He went at it with a will over the broken ground, rose as she lifted
him, and made a gallant effort to clear the obstacle. But he was too
heavily handicapped. He slipped as he rose to the leap. He blundered
badly against the top bar of the gate, finally stumbled over and fell on
the other side, pitching his rider headlong into a slough of trampled
He was up in a moment and careering across the field, but Doris was not
so nimble. It was by no means her first tumble, nor had it been wholly
unexpected; but she had fallen with considerable violence, and it took
her a second or two to collect her wits. Then, like Hector, she sprang
up—only to reel back through the slippery mud and catch at the
splintered gate for support, there to cling sick and dizzy, with eyes
fast shut, while the whole world rocked around her in chaos
A full minute must have passed thus, then very suddenly out of the
confusion came a voice. Vaguely she recognized it, but she was too
occupied in the struggle to keep her senses to pay much attention to
what it said.
"I mustn't faint!" she gasped desperately through her set teeth. "I
A steady arm encircled her, holding her up.
"You'll be all right in half a minute," said the voice, close to her
now. "You came down rather hard."
She fought with herself and opened her eyes. Her head was swimming
still, but she compelled herself to look.
Jeff Ironside was beside her, one foot lodged upon the lowest bar of the
gate while he propped her against his bent knee.
He looked down at her with a certain sternness of demeanour that was
characteristic of him. "Take your time," he said. "It was a nasty
"I—I'm all right," she told him breathlessly. "Where—where is Hector?"
"If you mean your animal," he said in the slow, grim way which she
began to remember as his, "he is probably well on his way home by now.
He'll be all right," he added. "The gate from this field into the road
"Oh!" The faintness was overcoming her again as she tried to stand. She
clutched and held his arm. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I—never felt so
"Don't be in a hurry!" he said. "You can't help it."
She sank back against his support again and so remained for a few
seconds. He stood like a rock till she opened her eyes once more.
She found his own upon her, but he dropped them instantly. "You are not
hurt anywhere, are you?" he said.
She shook her head. "No, it's nothing. I've wrenched my shoulder a
little, but it isn't much."
"The right. No, really it isn't serious." She winced as he touched it
with his hand nevertheless.
"Sure?" he said.
He began to feel it very carefully, and she winced again with indrawn
"It's only bruised," she said.
"It's painful, anyhow," he remarked bluntly. "Well, you must be wet to
the skin. You had better come with me to the mill and get dry."
Doris flushed a little. "Oh, thank you, but really—I don't want to—to
trespass on your kindness. I can quite well walk home—from here."
"You can't," he said flatly. "Anyhow, you are not going to try. You had
better let me carry you."
But Doris drew back at that with swift decision. "Oh no! I am quite well
now—I can walk."
She stood up and he took his foot from the gate. She glanced at the top
bar thereof that hung in splinters.
"I'm so sorry," she murmured apologetically.
He also looked at his damaged property. "Yes, it was a pity you
attempted it," he said.
"I shall know better next time," she said with a wry smile. "Will it
"Well, it can't be mended for nothing," said Jeff Ironside. "Things
Doris considered him for a moment. He was certainly a fine animal, as
Hugh Chesyl had said, well made and well put together. She liked the
freedom of his pose, the strength of the great bull neck. At close
quarters he certainly did not look like an ordinary labourer. He had an
air of command that his rough clothes could not hide. There was nothing
of the clod-hopper about him albeit he followed the plough. He was
obviously a son of the soil, and he would wrest his living therefrom,
but he would do it with brain as well as hands. He had a wide forehead
above his somewhat sombre eyes.
"I am very sorry," she said again.
"I am sorry for you," he said. "Wouldn't it be as well to get out of
this rain? It's only a step to the mill."
She turned with docility and looked towards the two horses standing
patiently where he had left them on the brown slope of the hill.
"Not that way," he said. "Come across this field to the road. It is no
distance from there."
Doris began to gather up her skirt. It was wet through and caked with
mud. She caught her breath again as she did it. The pain in her shoulder
was becoming intense.
And then, to her amazement, Jeff Ironside suddenly stooped and put his
arms about her. Almost before she realized his intention, and while she
was still gasping her astonishment, he had lifted her and begun to move
with long, easy strides over the sodden turf.
"Oh," she said, "you—you—really you shouldn't!"
"It's the only thing to do," he returned.
And somehow—perhaps because he spoke with such finality—she did not
feel inclined to dispute the point. She submitted with a confused murmur
On an old oaken settle, cushioned like a church-pew, before a generous,
open fire, Doris began to forget her woes. She looked about her with
interest the while she endeavoured to sip a cup of steaming milk treated
with brandy that Jeff Ironside had brought her.
An old, old woman hobbled about the oak-raftered kitchen behind her
while Jeff himself knelt before her and unlaced her mud-caked boots. She
would have protested against his doing this had protest been of the
smallest avail, but when she attempted it he only smiled a faint, grim
smile and continued his task.
As he finally drew them off she thanked him in a small, shy voice. "You
are very kind—much kinder than I deserve," she said. "Do you know I've
often thought that I ought to have come to apologize for—for ordering
you off your own ground that day in the summer?"
He looked up at her as he knelt, and for the first time she heard him
laugh. There was something almost boyish in his laugh. It transformed
him utterly, and it had a marvellous effect upon her.
She laughed also and was instantly at her ease. She suddenly discovered
that he was young in spite of his ruggedness, and she warmed to him in
"But I really was sorry," she protested. "And I knew I ought to have
told you so before. But, somehow"—she flushed under his eyes—"I hadn't
the courage. Besides, I didn't know you."
"It wasn't a very serious offence, was it?" he asked.
"I should have been furious in your place," she said.
"It takes more than that to make me angry," said Jeff Ironside.
She put out her hand to him impulsively, the flush still in her cheeks.
"I am still perfectly furious with myself," she told him, "whenever I
think about it."
His hand enclosed hers in an all-enveloping grasp. "Then I shouldn't
think about it any more if I were you," he said.
"Very well, I won't," said Doris; adding with her own quaint air of
graciousness, "and thank you for being so friendly about it."
He released her hand somewhat abruptly and got to his feet. "How is your
shoulder now? Any better?"
"Oh, yes, it's better," she assured him. "Only rather stiff. Now, won't
you sit down and have your breakfast? Please don't bother about me any
more; I've wasted quite enough of your time."
He turned towards the table. "You must have some too. And then, when
you're ready, I will drive you home."
"Oh, but that will waste your time still more," she protested. "I'm sure
I can walk."
"I'm sure you won't try," he rejoined with blunt deliberation. "I hope
you don't mind eating in the kitchen, Miss Elliot. I would have had a
fire in the parlour if I had expected you."
"But, of course, I don't mind," she said. "And it's quite the finest old
kitchen I've ever seen."
He turned to the old woman who still hovered in the background. "All
right, Granny. Sit down and have your own."
"I'll wait on the lady first, Master Jeff," she returned, smiling upon
"No. I'm going to wait on the lady," said Jeff. "You sit down."
He had his way. It occurred to Doris that he usually did so. And
presently he was waiting upon her as she lay against the cushions, as
though she had been a princess in distress.
Their intimacy progressed steadily during the meal, and very soon
Doris's shyness had wholly worn away. She could not quite decide if Jeff
were shy or not. He was obviously quiet by nature. But his grimness
certainly disappeared, and more than once she found herself wondering at
his consideration and thought for her.
He went out after breakfast to put in the horse, and at once his old
housekeeper expanded into ardent praise of him.
"He works as hard as ten men," she said. "That's how it is he gets on. I
often think to myself that he works harder than he ought. It's all work
and no play with him. But there, it's no good my talking. He only laughs
at me, though I brought him up from his cradle. And a fine baby he was
to be sure. His poor mother—she came of gentlefolk, ran away from home
she did to marry Farmer Ironside—she died three days after he was born,
which was a pity, for the old master was just wrapped up in her, and was
never the same again. Well, as I was saying, his poor mother, she'd set
her heart on his being given the education of a gentleman; which he was,
but he always clung to the land did Master Jeff. He was sent to
Fordstead Grammar School along with the gentry, and a fine figure he cut
there. But then his father died, and he had to settle down to farming at
seventeen, and he's been farming ever since. He's very well-to-do is
Master Jeff, thanks to his own energy and perseverance; for farming
isn't what it was. But it's time he took a rest and looked about him.
He's thirty come Michaelmas, and he ought to be settling down. As I say
to him: 'Granny Grimshaw won't be here for always, and you won't like
any other kind of housekeeper save and unless she's a wife as well.' He
always laughs at me," said Granny Grimshaw, shaking her head. "But it's
true as the sun's above us. Master Jeff ought to be stirring himself to
find a wife. But he'll go to the gentry for one, same as his father did
before him. He won't be satisfied with any of them saucy country lasses.
He don't ever mix with them. He'll look high will Master Jeff if the
time ever comes that he looks at all. He's a gentleman himself right
through to the backbone, and he'll marry a lady."
By the time Jeff returned to announce that the rain had ceased and the
cart was waiting, there were not many of his private affairs of the
knowledge of which Doris had not been placed in possession.
She was smiling a little to herself over the old woman's garrulous
confidences when he entered, and it was evident that he caught the
smile, for he looked from her to his housekeeper with a touch of
Granny Grimshaw hastened to efface herself with apologetic promptitude,
and retired to the scullery to wash up.
Doris turned at once to her host. "Will you take me over the mill some
day?" she asked.
He looked momentarily surprised at the suggestion, and then in a second
he smiled. "Of course. When will you come?"
"On Sunday?" she ventured.
"It won't be working then."
"No. But other days you are busy."
Jeff dropped upon his knees again in front of her, and turned his
attention to brushing the worst of the mud from her skirt. He attacked
it with extreme vigour, his smooth lips firmly shut.
At the end of nearly a minute he paused. "I shan't be too busy for that
any day," he said.
"Not really?" Doris sounded a little doubtful.
He looked at her, and somehow his brown eyes made her lower her own.
They held a mastery, a confidence, that embarrassed her subtly and quite
"Come any time," he said, "except market-day. Mrs. Grimshaw will always
know where I am to be found, and will send me word."
She nodded. "I shall come one morning then. I will ride round, shall I?"
He returned to his task, faintly smiling. "Don't take any five-barred
gates on your way!" he said.
"No, I shan't do that again," she promised. "Five-barred gates have
"As well as their advantages," said Jeff Ironside enigmatically.
"Master Jeff!" The kitchen door opened with a nervous creak and a
wrinkled brown face, encircled by the frills of a muslin nightcap,
peered cautiously in. "Are you asleep, my dear?" asked Granny Grimshaw
with tender solicitude.
He was sitting at the table with his elbows upon it and his head in his
hands. She saw the smoke curling upwards from his pipe, and rightly
deduced from this that he was not asleep.
She came forward, candle in hand. "Master Jeff, you'll pardon me, I'm
sure. But it's getting so late—nigh upon twelve o'clock. You won't be
getting anything of a night's rest if you don't go to bed."
Jeff raised his head. His eyes, sombre with thought, met hers. "Is it
late?" he said abstractedly.
"And you such an early riser," said Granny Grimshaw.
She went across to the fire and began to rake it out, he watching her in
silence, still with that sombre look in his dark eyes.
Very suddenly Granny Grimshaw turned and, poker in hand, confronted
him. She was wearing a large Paisley shawl over her pink flannel
nightdress, but the figure she presented, though quaint, was not
"Master Jeff," she said, "don't you be too modest and retiring, my dear.
You're just as good as the best of 'em."
A slow, rather hard smile drew the corners of the man's mouth. "They
don't think so," he observed.
"They mayn't," said Granny Grimshaw severely. "But that don't alter what
is. You're a good man, and, what's more, a man of substance, which is
better than can be said for old Colonel Elliot, with one foot in the
grave, so to speak, and up to his eyes in debt. He owes money all over
the place, I'm told, and the place is mortgaged for three times its
proper value. His wife has a little of her own, so they say; but this
poor young lady as was here this morning, she'll be thrown on the world
without a penny to her name. A winsome young lady, too, Master Jeff. And
she don't look as if she were made to stand many hard knocks. She may
belong to the county, as they say, but her heart's in the right place.
She'd make a bonny mistress in this old place, and it wants a mistress
badly enough. Old Granny Grimshaw has done her best, my dear, and always
will. But she isn't the woman she was." An odd, wheedling note crept
into the old woman's voice. "She'll be wanting to sit in the
chimney-corner soon, Master Jeff, and just mind the little ones. You
wouldn't refuse her that?"
Jeff rose abruptly and went across to the fire to knock the ashes from
his pipe. Having done so, he remained bent for several seconds, as
though he were trying to read his fortune in the dying embers. Then very
slowly he straightened himself and spoke.
"I think you forget," he said, "that Colonel Elliot was the son of an
But Granny Grimshaw remained unabashed and wholly unimpressed. She laid
down the poker with decision. "I was never one to sneer at good birth,"
she said. "But I hold that you come of a breed as old and as good as any
in the land. Your father was a yeoman of the good old-fashioned sort;
and your mother—well, everyone hereabouts knows that she was a lady
born and bred. I don't see what titles have to do with breeding," said
Granny Grimshaw stoutly. "Not that I despise the aristocracy. Dear me,
no! But when all is said and done, no man can be better than a
gentleman, and no woman can look higher. And there are gentlemen in
every walk of life just the same as there are the other sort. And you,
Master Jeff, you're one of the gentlemen."
Jeff laughed a somewhat grim laugh, and turned to put out the lamp.
"You're a very nice old woman, Granny," he said. "But you are not an
"Ah, my dearie," said Granny Grimshaw, "but I know what women's hearts
are made of."
A somewhat irrelevant retort, which nevertheless closed the discussion.
They went upstairs together, and parted on the landing.
"And you'll go to bed now, won't you?" urged Granny Grimshaw.
"All right," said Jeff.
But once in his own room he went to the low lattice-window that
overlooked the mill-stream, and stood before it looking gravely forth
over the still water. It was a night of many stars. Beyond the stream
there stretched a dream-valley across which the river mists were
trailing. The tall trees in the meadows stood up with a ghostly
magnificence against them. The whole scene was one of wondrous peace,
and all, as far as he could see, was his. But the man's eyes brooded
over his acres with a dumb dissatisfaction, and when he turned from the
window at last it was with a gesture of hopelessness.
"God help me for a fool!" he muttered between his teeth. "If I went near
her, they would kick me out by the back door."
He began to undress with savage energy, and finally flung himself down
on the old four-poster in which his father had lain before him, lying
there motionless, with fixed and sleepless eyes, while the hours went by
over his head.
Once—it was just before daybreak—he rose and went again to the open
window that overlooked his prosperous valley. A change had come over the
face of it. The mists were lifting, lifting. He saw the dark forms of
cattle standing here and there. The river wound, silent and mysterious,
away into the dim, quiet distance. A church clock struck, its tone vague
and remote as a voice from another world. And as if in answer to its
solemn call a lark soared upwards from the meadow by the mill-stream
with a burst of song.
The east was surely lightening. The night was gone. Jeff leaned his
burning temple against the window-frame with a feeling akin to physical
sickness. He was tired—dead tired; but he knew that he could not sleep
now. The world was waking. From the farmyard round the corner of the
house there came the flap of wings and the old rooster's blatant
greeting to the dawn.
In another half-hour the whole place would be stirring. He had wasted a
whole night's rest.
Fiercely he straightened himself. Surely his brain must be going! Why,
he had only spoken to her twice. And then, like a spirit that mocked,
the words ran through his brain: "Who ever loved that loved not at first
So this was love, was it? This—was love!
With clenched hands he stood looking out to the dawning, while the wild
fever leaped and seethed in his veins. He called up before his inner
vision the light, dainty figure, the level, grey eyes, fearless, yet in
a fashion shy, the glow of the sun-tanned skin, the soft, thick hair,
brown in the shadow, gold in the sun.
Straight before him, low in the sky, hung the morning star. It almost
looked as if it were drifting earthwards with all its purity, all its
glistening sweetness, drifting straight to the heart of the world. He
fixed his eyes upon it, drawn by its beauty almost in spite of himself.
It was the only star in the sky, and it almost seemed as if it had a
message for him.
But the day was dawning, the star fading, and the message hard to read.
Why had she refused to marry Chesyl? he asked himself. The man was
lukewarm in speech and action; but that surely was but the way of the
world to which he belonged. No excess of emotion was ever encouraged
there. Doubtless behind that amiable mask there beat the same devouring
longing that throbbed in his own racing pulses. Surely Doris knew this!
Surely she understood her own kind!
He recalled those words of hers that he had overheard, the slow
utterance of them as of some pronouncement of doom. "If I can't have
corn, I won't have husks. I will die of starvation sooner."
He had caught the pain in those words. Had Hugh Chesyl failed to do so?
If so, Hugh Chesyl was a fool. He had never thought very highly of him,
though he supposed him to be clever after his own indolent fashion.
Chesyl was the old squire's nephew and heir—a highly suitable parti
for any girl. Yet Doris had refused him, not wholly without ignominy. A
gentleman, too! Jeff's mouth twisted. The thought came to him, and
ripened to steady conviction, that had Chesyl taken the trouble to woo,
he must in time have won. The girl was miserable enough to admit the
fact of her misery, and he offered her marriage with him as a friendly
means of escape. On other ground he could have won her. On this ground
he was probably the least likely man to win. She asked for corn, and he
offered husks. What wonder that she preferred starvation!
His hands were still clenched as he turned from the window. Oh, to have
been in Hugh Chesyl's place! She would have had no complaint then to
make as to the quality of his offering. He would never have suffered her
to go hungry. And yet the feeling that Hugh Chesyl loved her lingered
still in his soul. Ah, what a fool! What a fool!
It was nearly three hours later that Jim Dawlish the miller answered
Jeff Ironside's gruff morning greeting with an eager, "Have you heard
the news, sir?"
Dawlish was of a cheery, expansive disposition, and not much of the
village gossip ever escaped him or remained with him.
"What news?" demanded Jeff.
"Why, about the old Colonel up at the Place, to be sure," said Dawlish,
advancing his floury person towards the doorway in which stood the
master's square, strong figure.
"Colonel Elliot?" queried Jeff sharply. "What about him?"
Dawlish wagged a knowing head. "Ah, you may well ask that, sir. He
died—early this morning—quite unexpected. Had a fit or some'at. They
say it's an open question whether there'll be enough money to bury him.
He has creditors all over the county."
"Good heavens!" said Jeff. He drew back swiftly into the open air as if
he found the atmosphere of the mill oppressive. "Are you quite sure it's
true?" he questioned. "How did you hear?"
"It's true enough," said the miller, with keen enjoyment. "I heard it
from the police-sergeant. He says it was so sudden that there'll have to
be an inquest. I'm sorry for the widow and orphans though. It'll fall a
bit hard on them."
"Good heavens!" said Jeff again. "Good heavens!"
And then very abruptly he turned and left the mill.
"What's the matter with the boss?" asked the miller's underling. "Did
the Colonel owe him money too?"
"That's about the ticket," said Jim Dawlish cheerily. "That comes of
lending, that does. It just shows the truth of the old saying, 'Stick to
your money and your money'll stick to you.' There never was a truer
"Wonder if he's lost much?" said the underling speculatively.
Whereupon Jim Dawlish waxed suddenly severe. He never tolerated idle
gossip among his inferiors. "And that's no concern of yours, Charlie
Bates," he said. "You get on with your work and don't bother your pudden
head about what ain't in no way your business. Mr. Ironside is about the
soundest man within fifty miles, and don't you forget it!"
"He wasn't best pleased to hear about the poor old Colonel though for
all that," said Charlie Bates tenaciously. "And I'd give something to
know what'll come of it."
If he had known, neither he nor Jim Dawlish would have got through much
work that morning.
It was nearly a fortnight after Colonel Elliot's death that Jeff
Ironside went to the stable somewhat suddenly one morning, saddled his
mare, and, without a word to anyone, rode away.
Granny Grimshaw was the only witness of his departure, and she turned
from the kitchen window with a secret smile and nod.
It was an autumn morning of mist and sunshine. The beech trees shone
golden overhead, and the robins trilled loudly from the clematis-draped
hedges. Jeff rode briskly, with too set a purpose to bestow any
attention upon these things. He took a short cut across his own land and
entered the grounds belonging to the Place by a side drive seldom used.
Thence he rode direct to the front door of the great Georgian house and
boldly demanded admittance.
The footman who opened to him looked him up and down interrogatively.
"Miss Elliot is at home, but I don't know if she will see anyone," he
"Ask her!" said Jeff tersely. "My name is Ironside."
While the man was gone he took the mare to a yew tree that shadowed the
drive at a few yards' distance and tied her to it. There was an air of
grim resolution about all his actions. This accomplished, he returned to
the great front door.
As he reached it there came the sound of light, hastening feet within,
and in a moment the half-open door was thrown back. Doris herself, very
slim and pale, but withal very queenly in her deep mourning, came forth
with outstretched hand to greet him.
"But why did they leave you here?" she said. "Please come in!"
He followed her in with scarcely a word.
She led him down a long oak passage to a room that was plainly the
library, and there in her quick, gracious way she turned and faced him.
"I am very pleased to see you, Mr. Ironside. I was going to write to you
to thank you again for all your kindness, but lately—there has been so
much to think about—so much to do. I know you will understand. Do sit
But Jeff remained squarely on his feet. "I hope you have quite recovered
from your fall?" he said.
"Quite, thank you." She smiled faintly. "It seems such an age ago.
Hector came home quite safely too." She broke off short, paused as if
seeking for words, then said rather abruptly, "I shall never go hunting
"You mean not this year?" suggested Jeff.
She looked at him, and he saw that her smile Was piteous. "No, I mean
never. Everything is to be sold. Haven't you heard?"
He nodded. "Yes, I had heard. I hoped it wasn't true."
"Yes, it is true." Her two hands fastened very tightly upon the back of
a chair. There was something indescribably pathetic in the action. She
seemed on the verge of saying more, but in the end she did not say it.
She just stood looking at him with the wide grey eyes that tried so hard
not to be tragic.
Jeff stood looking back with great sturdiness and not much apparent
feeling. He offered no word of condolence or sympathy. Only after a very
decided pause he said, "I wonder what you will do?"
"I am going to London," she said.
"Soon?" Jeff's voice was curt, almost gruff.
"Yes, very soon." She hesitated momentarily, then went on rapidly, as if
it were a relief to tell someone. "My father's life was insured. It has
left my stepmother enough to live on; but, of course, not here. The
place is mortgaged up to the hilt. I have nothing at all. I have got to
make my own living."
"You?" said Jeff.
She smiled again faintly, "Yes, I. What is there in that? Lots of women
work for their living."
"You are not going to work for yours," he said.
She thrust the chair from her with a quick little movement of the hands.
"I would begin to-morrow—if I only knew how. But I don't—yet. I've got
to look about me for a little. I am going first to a cousin at
"Who doesn't want you," said Jeff.
She looked at him in sharp surprise. "Who—who told you that?"
"You did," he said doggedly. "At least, you told Mr. Chesyl—in my
"Ah, I remember!" She uttered a tremulous little laugh. "That was the
day I caught you eavesdropping and ordered you off your own ground."
"It was," said Jeff. "I heard several things that day, and I
guessed—other things." He paused, still looking straight at her. "Miss
Elliot," he said, "wouldn't it be easier for you to marry than to work
for your living?"
The pretty brows went up in astonishment. "Oh!" she said, in quick
confusion. "You heard that too?"
"Wouldn't it be easier?" persisted Jeff in his slow, stubborn way.
She shook her head swiftly and vehemently. "I shall never marry Mr.
Chesyl," she said with determination.
"Where is he?" asked Jeff.
The soft colour rose in her face at the question. She looked away from
him for the first time. "I don't quite know where he is. I believe he is
up north somewhere—in Scotland."
"He knows what has been happening here?" questioned Jeff.
She made a slight movement as of protest. "No doubt," she said in a low
Jeff's square jaw hardened. Abruptly he thrust Chesyl out of the
conversation. "It doesn't matter," he said. "That isn't what I came to
talk about. May I tell you just what I have come for? Will you give me a
She turned to him again in renewed surprise. "Of course," she said.
His dark eyes were upon her. "It may not please you," he said slowly,
"though I ask you to believe that it is not my intention to give you
"But, of course, I know you would not," she said.
Jeff's fingers clenched upon his riding-switch. He spoke with
difficulty, but not without a certain native dignity that made him
impressive. "I have come," he said, "just to say to you that if it is
possible that no one in your own world is wanting you, I am wanting you.
All that I have is absolutely at your disposal. I heard you say—that
day—that you would like to be a farmer's wife. Well—if you really
meant it—you have your opportunity."
"Mr. Ironside!" She was gazing at him in wide-eyed amazement.
A dark flush rose in his swarthy face under her eyes, "I had to say it,"
he said with heavy deliberation, "though I know I'm only hammering nails
into my own coffin. I had to take my only chance of telling you. Of
course, I know you won't listen. I'm not of your sort—respectable
enough, but not quite—not quite—" He broke off grimly, and for an
instant his teeth showed clenched upon his lower lip. "But if by any
chance, when everything else has failed," resolutely he went on, "you
could bring yourself to think of me—in that way, I shall always be
ready, quite ready, for you. That's what I came to say."
He straightened himself upon the words, and made as if he would turn and
leave her. But Doris was too quick for him. She moved like a flash. She
came between him and the door. "Please—please," she said, "you mustn't
He stopped instantly and she stood before him breathing quickly, her
hand upon the door.
She did not speak again very quickly; she was plainly trying to master
Jeff waited immovably with eyes unvaryingly upon her. "I don't want to
hurry you," he said at last. "I know, of course, what your answer will
be. But I can wait for it."
That faint, fugitive smile of hers went over her face. She took her hand
from the door.
"You—you haven't been very—explicit, have you?" she said. "Are
you—are you being just kind to me, Mr. Ironside, like—like Hugh
Her voice quivered as she asked the question, but her eyes met his with
He lowered his own very suddenly. "No," he said. "I wouldn't insult you
by being kind. I shouldn't ask you to marry me if I didn't love you with
all my heart and soul."
The words came quickly, with something of a burning quality. She made a
slight movement as if she were taken by surprise.
After a moment she spoke. "There are two kinds of love," she said.
"There's the big, unselfish kind—the real thing; and there's the
other—the kind that demands everything, and even then, perhaps, is
never satisfied. You hardly know me well enough to—to care for me in
the first big way, do you? You don't even know if I'm worth it."
"I beg your pardon," said Jeff Ironside. "I think I do know you well
enough for that. Anyhow, if you could bring yourself to marry me, I
should be satisfied. The right to take care of you—make you
comfortable—wait on you—that's all I'm asking. That would be enough
for me—more than I've dared to hope for."
"That would make you happy?" she asked.
He kept his eyes lowered. "It would be—enough," he repeated.
She uttered a sudden quick sigh. "But wouldn't you rather marry a woman
who was in love with you in just the ordinary way?" she said.
"No," said Jeff curtly.
"It would be much better for you," she protested.
He smiled a grim smile. "I am the best judge of that," he said.
She held out her hand to him. "Mr. Ironside, tell me honestly, wouldn't
you despise me if I married you in that way—taking all and giving
He crushed her hand in his. The red blood rose to his forehead. He
looked at her for a moment—only a moment—and instantly looked away
"No," he said, "I shouldn't."
"I should despise myself," said Doris.
"I don't know why you should," he said.
She smiled again with lips that quivered. "No, you don't understand.
You're too big for me altogether. I can't say 'Yes,' but I feel very
highly honoured all the same. You'll believe that, won't you?"
"Why can't you say 'Yes'?" asked Jeff.
She hesitated momentarily. "You see, I'm afraid I don't care for
you—like that," she said.
"Does that matter?" said Jeff.
She looked at him, her hand still in his. "Don't you think so?"
"No, I don't," he said, "unless you think you couldn't be happy."
"I was thinking of you," she said gently.
"Of me?" He looked surprised for an instant, and again his eyes met hers
in a quick glance. "If you're going to think of me," he said, "you'll do
it. I have told you, you needn't be afraid of my expecting too much."
But she shook her head. "I should be much more afraid of taking too much
from you," she said. "The little I could offer would never satisfy you."
"Yes it would," he insisted. "I'm only asking to stand between you and
trouble. It's all I want in life."
Again his eyes were upon her, dark and resolute. His hand held hers in a
steady grip. For the first time her own resolution began to falter.
"Let me write to you, Mr. Ironside," she said at last, with a vague idea
of softening a refusal that had become inexplicably hard.
"Write and say 'No'?" said Jeff.
She smiled a little, but her eyes filled with sudden tears. "You make it
very hard for me to say 'No,'" she said.
"I would like to make it impossible," he said.
"Even when I have told you that I can't—that I don't—love you in the
ordinary way?" she said almost pleadingly.
"I don't want to be loved in the ordinary way," he answered doggedly.
"I should be a perpetual disappointment to you," she said.
"I would rather have even that than—nothing," said Jeff.
One of the tears ran over and fell upon their clasped hands. "In fact,
you want me at any price," she said.
"At any price," said Jeff.
She bent her head and choked back a sob. "And no one else wants me at
all," she whispered.
He stooped towards her. Perhaps for her peace of mind it was as well
that she did not see the sudden fire that blazed in his deep-set eyes as
he did so.
"So you'll change your mind," he said, after a moment, to the bowed
head. "You'll have me—you will?"
She caught back another sob and said nothing.
He straightened himself sharply. "Miss Elliot, if it's going to make you
miserable, you had better send me away. I'll go—if it's for that."
He would have released her hand, but it tightened very suddenly upon
his. "No, don't go—don't go!" she said.
"But you're crying," muttered Jeff uneasily.
She gave a big gulp and raised her head. The tears were running down her
cheeks, but she smiled at him bravely notwithstanding. "I believe I
should cry—much more—if you were to go now," she told him, with a
quaint effort at humour.
Jeff Ironside put a strong grip upon himself. His heart was thumping
like the strokes of a heavy hammer. "Then you'll have me?" he said.
She put her other hand, with a very winning gesture of confidence, into
his. "I don't see how I can help it," she said. "You've knocked down all
my obstacles. But you do understand, don't you? You won't—won't—"
"Abuse your trust? No, never!" said Jeff Ironside. "I will die by my own
"Ah, I can't help liking you," Doris said impulsively, as if in
explanation or excuse. "You're so big."
"Thank you," Jeff said very earnestly. "And you won't cry any more?"
She uttered a whimsical little laugh. "But I wasn't crying for myself,"
she said, as she dried her eyes. "I was crying for you."
"Well, you mustn't," said Jeff. "You have given me all I want—much more
than I dared to hope for." He paused a moment, then abruptly, "You won't
think better of it when I'm gone, will you?" he said. "You won't write
and say you have changed your mind?"
She gave him her hand again with an air of comradeship. "It's a bargain,
Mr. Ironside," she said, with gentle dignity. "A very one-sided one, I
fear, but still—a bargain."
"I beg your pardon," murmured Jeff.
THE WEDDING PRESENT
The marriage of Jeff Ironside to Colonel Elliot's daughter created a
sensation in the neighbourhood even greater than that which followed the
Colonel's death. But the ceremony itself was strictly private. It took
place so quietly and so suddenly very early on a misty October morning
that it was over before most people knew anything about it. Jim Dawlish
knew, and was present with old Granny Grimshaw; but, save for the family
lawyer who gave away the bride and the aged rector who married them, no
one else was in the secret.
Mrs. Elliot knew, but she and her stepdaughter had never been in
sympathy, and she had already left the place and gone to town.
Very small and pathetic looked the bride in her deep mourning on that
dim autumn morning, but she played her part with queenly dignity,
unfaltering, undismayed. If she had acted upon impulse she was fully
prepared to face the consequences.
As for Jeff, he was gruff almost to rudeness, so desperate was the
turmoil of his soul. Not one word did he address to his bride from the
moment of entering the church to that of leaving it save such as were
contained in the marriage service. And even when they passed out
together into the grey churchyard he remained grimly silent till she
turned with a little smile and addressed him.
"Good-morning, Jeff!" she said, and her slender, ungloved hand, very
cold but superbly confident, found its way into his.
He looked down at her then and found his voice, the while his fingers
closed protectingly upon hers. "You're cold," he said. "They ought to
have warmed the church."
She turned her face up to the sky. "The sun will be through soon. Will
you take me home across the fields?"
"Too wet," said Jeff.
"Not if we keep to the path," she said. "I must just say good-bye to Mr.
Mr. Webster was the family lawyer. He came up with stilted phrases of
felicitation which sent Jeff instantly back into his impenetrable shell
of silence. Doris made reply on his behalf and her own with a dainty
graciousness that covered all difficulties, and finally extricated
herself and Jeff from the situation with a dexterity that left him
She had her way. They went by way of the fields, he and she alone
through the lifting mist, while Granny Grimshaw and Jim Dawlish marched
solemnly back to the mill by the road.
"It's a very good morning's work," asserted Granny Grimshaw with much
satisfaction. "I always felt that Master Jeff would never marry any but
"I'd rather him than me," returned Jim Dawlish obscurely.
Which remark Granny Grimshaw treated as unworthy of notice.
As Jeff Ironside and his bride neared the last stile the sun came
through and shone upon all things.
"I'm glad we came this way," she said.
Jeff said nothing. He never spoke unless he had something to say.
They reached the stile. He strode over and reached back a hand to her.
She took it, mounted and stepped over, then sat down unexpectedly on the
top bar with the hand in hers.
"Jeff!" she said.
He looked up at her. Her voice was small and shy, her cheeks very
"What is it?" said Jeff.
She looked down at the brown hand she held, all roughened and hardened
by toil, and hesitated.
"Well?" said Jeff.
She turned her eyes upon his face. "Are you going back to work to-day,
just as if—as if nothing had happened?" she asked.
He looked straight back at her. "You don't want me, do you?" he said.
She nodded. "Shall we go for a picnic?" she said.
"A picnic!" He seemed surprised at the suggestion.
She laughed a little. "Do you never go for picnics? I do—all by myself
sometimes. It's rather fun, you know."
"By yourself?" said Jeff.
She rose from her perch. "It's more fun with someone certainly," she
Jeff's face reflected her smile for an instant. "All right," he said.
"I'll take a holiday for once. But come home now and have some
She stepped down beside him. "It's nice of you to give me the very first
thing I ask for," she said. "Will you do something else for me?"
"Yes," said Jeff.
"Then will you call me Dot?" she said. "It was the pet name my mother
gave me. No one has used it since she died."
"Dot," repeated Jeff. "You really want me to call you that?"
"But, of course," she said, smiling, "you haven't called me anything
yet. Please begin at once! It really isn't difficult."
"Very well, Dot," he said. "And where are we going for our picnic?"
"Oh, not very far," she said. "Somewhere within a quite easy walk."
"Can't we ride?" suggested Jeff.
"Ride?" She looked at him in surprise.
"I have a horse who would carry you," he said.
"Have you—have you, really?" Quick pleasure came into her eyes. "Oh,
Jeff, how kind of you!"
"No, it isn't," said Jeff bluntly. "I want you to be happy."
She laughed her quick, light laugh. "So you're going to spoil me?" she
They reached the pretty Mill House above the stream and found breakfast
awaiting them in the oak-panelled parlour that overlooked a sunny
"How absolutely sweet!" said Doris.
He came and stood beside her at the window, looking silently forth.
She glanced at him half-shyly. "Aren't you very fond of it all?"
"Yes," he said.
"And I think I am going to be," said Doris.
"I hope you will," said Jeff.
She turned from him to Granny Grimshaw who entered at the moment with a
"I don't think we ought to have been married so early," she said. "You
must be quite tired out. Now, please, Mrs. Grimshaw, do sit down and let
me wait on you for a change!"
Granny Grimshaw smiled at the bare suggestion.
"No, no, Mrs. Ironside, my dear. This is for you and Master Jeff. I've
got mine in the kitchen."
"I never heard such a thing!" declared Doris. "Jeff, surely you are not
going to allow that!"
Jeff came from the window. "Of course you must join us, Granny," he
But Granny Grimshaw was obdurate on that point. "My place is in the
kitchen," she said firmly. "And there I must bide. But I am ready to
show you the way to your room, my dear, whenever you want to go."
Doris bent forward impulsively and kissed her. "You are much, much too
kind to me, you and Jeff," she said.
But as soon as she was alone with Jeff her shyness returned. She could
not feel as much at ease with him in the house as in the open air. She
did not admit it even to herself, but deep in her heart she had begun to
be a little afraid.
Till then she had gone blindly forward, taking in desperation the only
course that seemed to offer her escape from a position that had become
wholly intolerable. But now for the first time misgivings arose within
her. She remembered how slight was her knowledge of the man to whom she
had thus impetuously entrusted her future; and, remembering, something
of her ready confidence went from her. She fell silent also.
"You are not eating anything," said Jeff. She started at his voice and
"No, I'm not hungry," she said. "I shall eat all the more presently when
we get out into the open."
He said no more, but finished his own breakfast with businesslike
"Mrs. Grimshaw will take you upstairs," he said then, and went to the
door to call her.
"Where will you be?" Doris asked him shyly, as he stood back for her to
"I am going round to the stable," he said.
"May I come to you there?" she suggested.
He assented gravely: "Do!"
Granny Grimshaw was in her most garrulous mood. She took Doris up the
old steep stairs and into the low-ceiled room with the lattice window
that looked over the river meadows.
"It's the best room in the house," she told her. "Master Jeff was born
in it, and he's slept here for the past ten years. You won't be lonely,
my dear. My room is just across the passage, and he has gone to the room
at the end which he always had as a boy."
"This is a lovely room," said Doris.
She stood where Jeff had stood before the open window and looked across
"I hope you will be very happy here, my dear," said Granny Grimshaw
Doris turned round to her impetuously. "Dear Mrs. Grimshaw, I don't like
Jeff to give up the best room to me," she said. "Isn't there another one
that I could have?"
She glanced towards a door that led out of the room in which they were.
"Yes, go in, my dear!" said Granny Grimshaw with a chuckle. "It's all
Doris opened the door with a quick flush on her cheeks.
"Master Jeff thought you would like a little sitting-room of your own,"
said the old woman behind her.
"Oh, he shouldn't. He shouldn't!" Doris said.
She stood on the threshold of a sunny room that overlooked the garden
with its hedge of lavender and beyond it the orchard with its wealth of
ripe apples shining in the sun. The room had been evidently furnished
for her especial use. There was a couch in one corner, a cottage piano
in another, and a writing-table near the window.
"The old master bought those things for his bride," said Granny
Grimshaw. "They are just as good as new yet, and Master Jeff has had the
piano put in order for you. I expect you know how to play the piano, my
Doris went forward into the room. The tears were not far from her eyes.
"He is too good to me. He is much too good," she said.
"Ah, my dear, and you'll be good to him too, won't you?" said Granny
"I'll do my best," said Doris quietly.
She went down to Jeff in the stable-yard a little later with a heart
brimming with gratitude, but that strange, new shyness was with her
also. She did not know how to give him her thanks.
He was waiting for her, and escorted her across to the stable. "You will
like to see your mount," he said, cutting her short almost before she
She followed him into the stable. Jeff's own mare poked an inquiring
nose over the door of her loose-box. Doris stopped to fondle her. Jeff
plunged a hand into his pocket and brought out some sugar.
From the stall next to them came a low whinny. Doris, in the act of
feeding the mare, looked up sharply. The next moment with a little cry
she had sprung forward and was in the stall with her arms around the
neck of its occupant—a big bay, who nozzled against her shoulder with
"Oh, Hector! Hector!" she cried. "However did you come here?"
"I bought him," said Jeff, "as a wedding present."
"For me? Oh, Jeff!" She left Hector and came to him with both hands
outstretched. "Oh, Jeff, I don't know how to thank you. You are so much
too good. What can I say?"
He took the hands and gripped them. His dark eyes looked straight and
hard into hers, and a little tremor went through her. She lowered her
own instinctively, and in the same instant he let her go. He did not
utter a word, and she turned from him in silence with a face on fire.
She made no further effort to express her gratitude.
THE END OF THE PICNIC
Those odd silences of Jeff's fell very often throughout the day, and
they lay upon Doris's spirit like a physical weight. They rode through
autumn woodlands, and picnicked on the side of a hill. The day was warm
and sunny, and the whole world shone as through a pearly veil. There
were blackberries in abundance, large and ripe, and Doris wandered about
picking them during the afternoon while Jeff lounged against a tree and
He did not offer to join her, but she had a feeling that his eyes
followed her wherever she went, and a great restlessness kept her
moving. She could not feel at her ease in his vicinity. She wanted very
urgently to secure his friendship. She had counted upon that day in his
society to do so. But it seemed to be his resolve to hold aloof. He
seemed disinclined to commit himself to anything approaching intimacy,
and that attitude of his filled her with misgiving. Had he begun to
repent of the one-sided bargain, she asked herself? Or could it be that
he also was oppressed by shyness? She longed intensely to know.
The sun was sinking low in the sky when at length reluctantly she went
back to him. "It's getting late," she said. "Don't you think we ought to
He was standing in the level sun-rays gazing sombrely down into the
valley from which already the mists were beginning to rise.
He turned at her voice, and she knew he looked at her, though she did
not meet his eyes. For a moment or two he stood, not speaking, but as
though on the verge of speech; and her heart quickened to a nervous
Then unexpectedly he turned upon his heel. "Yes. Wait here, won't you,
while I go and fetch the animals?"
He went, and a sharp sense of relief shot through her. She was sure that
he had something on his mind; but inexplicably she was thankful that he
had not uttered it.
The sun was dropping out of sight behind the opposite hill, and she was
conscious of a growing chill in the atmosphere. A cockchafer whirred
past her and buried itself in a tuft of grass hard by. In the wood
behind her a robin trilled a high sweet song. From the farther side of
the valley came a trail of smoke from a cottage bonfire, and the scent
of it hung heavy in the evening air.
All these things she knew and loved, and they were to be hers for the
rest of her life; yet her heart was heavy within her. She turned and
looked after Jeff with a wistful drooping of the lips.
He had passed out of sight behind some trees, but as she turned she
heard a footfall in the wood close at hand, and almost simultaneously a
man emerged carrying a gun.
He stopped at sight of her, and on the instant Doris made a swift
movement of recognition.
"Why Hugh!" she said.
He came straight to her, with hand outstretched. "My dear, dear girl!"
Her hand lay in his, held in a clasp such as Hugh Chesyl had never
before given her, and then all in a moment she withdrew it.
"Why, where have you come from?" she said, with a little nervous laugh.
His eyes looked straight down to hers. "I've been yachting," he said,
"along Argyll and Skye. I didn't know till the day before yesterday
about the poor old Colonel. I came straight back directly I knew, got
here this morning, but heard that you had gone to town. I was going to
follow you straightway, but the squire wouldn't hear of it. You know
what he is. So I had to compromise and spend one night with him. By
Jove! it's a bit of luck finding you here. I'm pleased, Doris, jolly
pleased. I've been worried to death about you—never moved so fast in my
"Haven't you?" said Doris; she was still smiling a small, tired smile.
"But why? I don't see."
"Don't you?" said Hugh. "How shall I explain? You have got such a rooted
impression of me as a slacker that I am half afraid of taking your
She laughed again, not very steadily. "Oh, are you turning over a new
leaf? I am delighted to hear it."
He smiled also, his eyes upon hers. "Well, I am, in a way. It's come to
me lately that I've been an utter ass all this time. I expect you've
been thinking the same, haven't you?"
"No, I don't think so," said Doris.
"No? That's nice of you," said Hugh. "But it's the truth nevertheless. I
haven't studied the art of expressing myself properly. I can't do it
even yet. But it occurred to me—it just occurred to me—that perhaps
I'd never succeeded in making you understand how awfully badly I want to
marry you. I think I never told you so. I always somehow took it for
granted that you knew. But now—especially now, Doris, when you're in
trouble—I want you more than ever. Even if you can't love me as I love
He stopped, for she had flung out her hands with an almost agonized
gesture, and her eyes implored him though she spoke no word.
"Won't you listen to me just this once—just this once?" he pleaded. "My
dear, I love you so. I love you enough for both if you'll only marry
me, and give me the chance of making you happy."
An unwonted note of feeling sounded in his voice. He stretched out his
hand to her.
"Doris, darling, won't you change your mind? I'm miserable without you."
And then very suddenly Doris found her voice. She spoke with breathless
entreaty. "Hugh, don't—don't! I can't listen to you. I married Jeff
Ironside this morning."
His hand fell. He stared at her as if he thought her mad.
"You—married—Jeff Ironside! I don't believe it!"
She clenched her hands tightly to still her agitation. "But it's true,"
"Doris!" he said.
She nodded vehemently, keeping her eyes on his. "It's true," she said
He straightened himself up with the instinctive movement of a man
bracing himself to meet a sudden strain. "But why? How? I didn't even
know you knew the man."
She nodded again. "He helped me once when I was out cubbing, and I went
to his house. After that—when he heard that I had nothing to live
on—he came and asked me if I would marry him. And I was very miserable
because nobody wanted me. So I said 'Yes.'"
Her voice sank. Her lips were quivering.
"I wanted you," Hugh said.
She was silent.
He bent slowly towards her, looking into her eyes. "My dear, didn't you
really know—didn't you understand?"
She shook her head; her eyes were suddenly full of tears. "No, Hugh."
He held out his hand again and took hers. "Don't cry, Doris! You haven't
lost much. I shall get over it somehow. I know you never cared for me."
She bent her head with some murmured words he could not catch.
He leaned nearer. "What, dear, what? You never did, did you?"
He waited for her answer, and at last through tears it came. "I've been
struggling so hard, so hard, to keep myself from caring."
He was silent a moment, and again it was as if he were collecting his
strength for that which had to be endured. Then slowly: "You thought I
wasn't in earnest?" he said. "You thought I didn't care enough?"
She did not answer him in words; her silence was enough.
"God forgive me!" whispered Hugh....
There came the thud of horses' hoofs upon the grass, and his hand
relinquished hers. He turned to see Jeff Ironside barely ten paces away,
leading the two animals. Very pale but wholly collected, Hugh moved to
"I have just been hearing about your marriage, Ironside," he said. "May
I congratulate you?"
Jeff's eyes, with the red sunlight turning them to a ruddy brown, met
his with absolute directness as he made brief response. "You are very
"Doris and I are old friends," said Hugh.
"Yes, I know," said Jeff.
Spasmodically Doris turned and joined the two men. "We hope Mr. Chesyl
will come and see us sometimes, don't we, Jeff?" she said.
"Certainly," said Jeff, "when he has nothing better to do."
She turned to Hugh with a bright little smile. Her tears were wholly
gone, and he marvelled. "I hope that will be often, Hugh," she said.
"Thank you," Hugh said gravely. "Thank you very much." He added, after a
moment, to Jeff: "I shall probably be down here a good deal now. The
squire is beginning to feel his age. In fact, he wants me to make my
home with him. I don't propose to do that entirely, but I can't leave
him alone for long at a time."
"I see," said Jeff. He glanced towards Doris. "Shall we start back?" he
Hugh propped his gun against a tree, and stepped forward to mount her.
"So you still have Hector," he said.
"Jeff's wedding present," she answered, still smiling.
Lightly she mounted, and for a single moment he felt her passing touch
upon his shoulder. Then Hector moved away, stepping proudly. Jeff was
already in the saddle.
"Good-bye!" said Doris, looking back to him. "Don't forget to come and
She was gone.
Hugh Chesyl turned with the sun-rays dazzling him, and groped for his
He found it, shouldered it, and strode away down the woodland path. His
face as he went was the face of a man suddenly awakened to the stress
and the turmoil of life.
THE NEW LIFE
There was no doubt about it. Granny Grimshaw was not satisfied. Deeper
furrows were beginning to appear in her already deeply furrowed face.
She shook her head very often with pursed lips when she was alone. And
this despite the fact that she and the young mistress of the Mill House
were always upon excellent terms. No difficulties ever arose between
them. Doris showed not the smallest disposition to usurp the old
housekeeper's authority. Possibly Granny Grimshaw would have been better
pleased if she had. She spent much of her time out-of-doors, and when in
the house she was generally to be found in the little sitting-room that
Jeff had fitted up for her.
She had her meals in the parlour with Jeff, and these were the sole
occasions on which they were alone together. If Doris could have had her
way, Granny Grimshaw would have been present at these also, but on this
point the old woman showed herself determined, not to say obstinate. She
maintained that her place was the kitchen, and that her presence was
absolutely necessary there, a point of view which no argument of
Doris's could persuade her to relinquish.
So she and Jeff breakfasted, dined, and supped in solitude, and though
Doris became gradually accustomed to these somewhat silent meals, she
never enjoyed them. Of difficult moments there were actually very few.
They mutually avoided any but the most general subjects for
conversation. But of intimacy between them there was none. Jeff had
apparently drawn a very distinct boundary-line which he never permitted
himself to cross. He never intruded upon her. He never encroached upon
the friendship she shyly proffered. Once when she somewhat hesitatingly
suggested that he should come to her sitting-room for a little after
supper he refused, not churlishly, but very decidedly.
"I like to have my pipe and go to bed," he said.
"But you can bring your pipe, too," she said.
"No, thanks," said Jeff. "I always smoke in the kitchen or on the step."
She said no more, but went up to her room, and presently Jeff, moodily
puffing at his briar in the porch, heard the notes of her piano
overhead. She played softly for some little time, and Jeff's pipe went
out before it was finished—a most rare occurrence with him.
Only when the piano ceased did he awake to the fact, and then
half-savagely he knocked out its half-consumed contents and turned
He found Granny Grimshaw standing in the passage in a listening
attitude, and paused to bid her good-night.
"Be you going to bed, Master Jeff?" she said. "My dear, did you ever
hear the like? She plays like an angel."
He smiled somewhat grimly, without replying.
The old woman came very close to him. "Master Jeff, why don't you go and
make love to her? Don't you know she's waiting for you?"
"Is she?" said Jeff, but he said it in the tone of one who does not
require an answer, and with the words very abruptly he passed her by.
Granny Grimshaw shook her head and sighed, "Ah, dear!" after his
It was a few days after this that a letter came for Doris, one morning,
bearing the Squire's crest. Her husband handed it to her at the
breakfast-table, and she received it with a flush. After a moment,
seeing him occupied with a newspaper, she opened it.
"Dear Doris," it said. "You asked me to come and see you, but I
have not done so as I was not sure if, after all, you meant me
to take the invitation literally. We have b
een friends for so
long that I feel constrained to speak openly. For myself, I only
ask to go on being your friend, and to serve you in any way
possible. But perhaps I can serve you best by keeping away from
you. If so, then I will do even that.—Yours ever,
Something within moved Doris to raise her eyes suddenly, and instantly
she encountered Jeff's fixed upon her. The flush in her cheeks deepened
burningly. With an effort she spoke:
"Hugh Chesyl wants to know if he may come to see us."
"I thought you asked him," said Jeff.
A little quiver of resentment went through her; she could not have said
wherefore. "He was not sure if I meant it," she said.
There was an instant's silence; then Jeff did an extraordinary thing. He
stretched out his hand across the table, keeping his eyes on hers.
"Let me have his letter to answer!" he said.
She made a sharp instinctive movement of withdrawal. "Oh, no!" she said.
Jeff said nothing; but his face hardened somewhat, and his hand remained
Doris's grey eyes gleamed. "No, Jeff!" she repeated, more calmly, and
with the words she slipped Hugh's envelope into the bosom of her dress.
"I can't give you my letters to answer indeed."
Jeff withdrew his hand, and began to eat his breakfast in utter silence.
Doris played with hers until the silence became intolerable, and then,
very suddenly and very winningly, she leaned towards him.
"Dear Jeff, surely you are not vexed!" she said.
He looked at her again, and in spite of herself she felt her heart
"Are you, Jeff?" she said, and held out her hand to him.
For a moment he sat motionless, then abruptly he grasped the hand.
"May I say what I think?" he asked her bluntly.
"Of course," she said.
"Then I think from all points of view that you had better leave Chesyl
alone," he said.
"What do you mean?" Quickly she asked the question; the colour flamed in
her face once more. "Tell my why you think that!" she said.
"I would rather not," said Jeff.
"But that is not fair of you, Jeff," she protested.
He released her hand slowly. "I am sorry," he said. "If I were more to
you, I would say more. As it is—well, I would rather not."
She rose impetuously. "You are very—difficult," she said.
To which he made answer with that silence which was to her more
difficult than speech.
Yet later, when she was alone, her sense of justice made her admit that
he had not been altogether unreasonable. She recalled the fact that he
had overheard that leisurely proposal of marriage that Hugh had made her
in the cornfield on the occasion of their first meeting, and her face
burned afresh as she remembered certain other items of that same
conversation that he must also have overheard. No, on the whole it was
not surprising that he did not greatly care for Hugh—poor Hugh, who
loved her and had so narrowly missed winning her for himself. She
wondered if Hugh were really very miserable. She herself had passed
through so many stages of misery since her wedding-day. But she had
sufficient knowledge of herself to realize that it was the loneliness
and lack of sympathy that weighed upon her most.
Her feeling for Hugh was still an undeveloped quantity, though the
certainty of his love for her had quickened it to keener life. She was
not even yet absolutely certain that he could have satisfied her. It was
true that he had been deeply stirred for the moment, but how deeply and
how lastingly she had no means of gauging. Knowing the indolence of his
nature, she was inclined to mistrust the permanence of his feeling. And
so resolutely had she restrained her own feeling for him during the
whole length of their acquaintance that she was able still to keep it
within bounds. She knew that the sympathy between them was fundamental
in character, but she had often suspected—in her calmer moments she
suspected still—that it was of the kind that engenders friendship
rather than passion.
But even so, his friendship was essentially precious to her, all the
more so for the daily loneliness of spirit that she found herself
compelled to endure. For—with this one exception—she was practically
friendless. She had known that in marrying Jeff Ironside she was
relinquishing her own circle entirely. But she had imagined that there
would be compensations. Moreover, so far as society was concerned, she
had not had any choice. It had been this or exile. And she had chosen
Wherefore? Simply and solely because Jeff, of all she knew, had wanted
Again that curious little tremor went through her. Had he wanted her so
very badly after all? Not once since their wedding-day had he made any
friendly overture or responded to any overture of hers. They were as
completely strangers now as they had been on the day he had proposed to
A sharp little sigh came from her. She had not thought somehow that Jeff
would be so difficult. He had told her that he loved her. She had
counted on that for the foundation of their friendship, but no structure
had she succeeded in raising thereon. He asked nothing of her, and, save
for material comforts, he bestowed nothing in return. True, it was what
she had bargained for. But yet it did not satisfy her. She was not at
her ease with him, and she began to think she never would be.
As to Hugh, she hardly knew how to proceed; but she finally wrote him a
friendly note, concurring with his suggestion that they should not meet
again for a little while—"only for a little while, Hugh," she added,
almost in spite of herself, "for I can't afford to lose a friend like
And she did not guess how the heart-cry of her loneliness echoed through
THE WAY TO BE HAPPY
It was not until the week before Christmas that Doris saw Hugh again.
They met in the hunting-field. It was the first hunt she had attended
since her marriage, and she went to it alone.
The meet was some distance away, and she arrived after the start,
joining the ranks of the riders as they waited outside a copse which the
hounds were drawing.
The day was chill and grey. She did not altogether know why she went,
save that the loneliness at the Mill House seemed to become daily harder
to bear, and the longing to escape it, if only for a few hours, was not
to be denied.
She was scarcely in a sporting mood, and the sight of old acquaintances,
though they greeted her kindly enough, did not tend to raise her
The terrible conviction had begun to grow upon her of late that she had
committed a great mistake that no effort of hers could ever remedy, and
the thought of it weighed her down perpetually night and day.
But the sight of Hugh as he came to her along the edge of the wood was
a welcome one. She greeted him almost with eagerness, and the friendly
grasp of his hand sent warmth to her lonely young heart.
"I am very glad to see you following the hounds," Hugh said. "Are you
"Quite alone," she said, feeling a lump rise in her throat.
"Then you'll let me take care of you," he said, with a friendly smile.
And she could but smile and thank him.
It was not a particularly satisfactory day from a fox-hunting point of
view. The weather did not improve, and the scent was misleading. They
found and lost, found and lost again, and a cold drizzle setting in with
the afternoon effectually cooled the ardour of even the most
Yet Doris enjoyed herself. She and Hugh ate their lunch together under
some dripping trees, and they managed to make merry over it in spite of
the fact that both were fairly wet through. He made her share the sherry
in his flask, laughing down all protests, treating her with the absolute
ease that had always characterized their friendship. It was such a day
as Doris had often spent in his company, and the return to the old
genial atmosphere was like the sweetness of a spring day in the midst of
It was he who at length suggested the advisability of returning home.
"I'm sure you ought to get back and change," he said. "It'll be getting
dark in another hour."
Her face fell, "I have enjoyed it," she said regretfully.
"You'll come again," said Hugh. "They are meeting at Kendal's Corner on
Christmas Eve. I shall look out for you."
She smiled. "Very well, I'll be there. Thank you for giving me such a
good time, Hugh."
"My dear girl!" said Hugh.
They rode back together through a driving drizzle, and, as Hugh had
predicted, the early dusk had fallen before they reached the mill. The
roar of the water sounded indescribably desolate as they drew near, and
Doris gave a sharp, involuntary shiver.
It was then that Hugh drew close to her and stretched out a hand in the
growing darkness. "Doris!" he said softly.
She put her own into it swiftly, impulsively. "Oh, Hugh!" she said with
"Don't!" said Hugh gently. "Stick to it, dear! I think you won't be
sorry in the end. I believe he's a good chap. Give him all you can! It's
the only way to be happy."
Her fingers tightened convulsively upon his. She spoke no word.
"Don't, dear!" he said again very earnestly. "It's such a mistake.
Honestly, I don't think you've anything to be sorry for. So don't let
yourself be faint-hearted! I know he's not a bad sort."
"He's very good," whispered Doris.
"Yes, that's just it," said Hugh. "So don't be afraid of giving! You'll
never regret it. No one could help loving you, Doris. Remember that,
dear, when you're feeling down! You're just the sweetest woman in the
world, and the man who couldn't worship you would be a hopeless fool."
They were passing over the bridge that spanned the stream. The road was
narrow, and their horses moved side by side. They went over it with
They were nearing the house when Doris reined in. "Good-bye, dear Hugh!"
she said. "You're the truest friend any woman ever had."
He reined in also. They stood in the deep shadow of some trees close to
the gate that led into the Mill House garden. The roar of the water was
all about them. They seemed to be isolated from all the world. And so
Hugh Chesyl, being moved beyond his wont, lifted the hand that lay so
confidingly in his, and kissed it with all reverence.
"I want you to be happy," he said.
A moment later they parted without further words on either side, he to
retrace his steps across the bridge, she to turn wearily in at the iron
gate under the dripping trees that led to the Mill House porch.
She heard a man's step in front of her as she went, and at the porch she
found her husband.
"Oh, Jeff!" she said, slightly startled. "I didn't know it was you."
"I've been looking out for you for some time," he said. "You must be
"Yes, it's rained nearly all day, hasn't it? We didn't have much sport,
but I enjoyed it." Doris slid down into the hands he held up to her.
"Why, you are wet too," she said. "Hadn't you better change?"
"I'll take the horse round first," he said. "Won't you go in?"
She went in with a feeling of deep depression. Jeff's armour of reserve
seemed impenetrable. With lagging feet she climbed the stairs and
entered her sitting-room.
A bright fire was burning there, and the lamp was alight. A little
thrill of purely physical pleasure went through her at the sight. She
paused to take off her hat, then went forward and stooped to warm her
hands at the blaze.
She was certainly very tired. The arm-chair by the hearth was invitingly
near. She sank into it with a sigh and closed her eyes.
It must have been ten minutes later that the door, which she had left
ajar, was pushed open, and Jeff stood on the threshold.
He was carrying a steaming cup of milk. A moment he paused as if on the
verge of asking admittance; then as his eyes fell upon the slight young
figure sunk in the chair, he closed his lips and came forward in
A few seconds later, Doris opened her eyes with a start at the touch of
his hand on her shoulder.
She sat up sharply. "Oh, Jeff, how you startled me!"
It was the first time she had ever seen him in her little sitting-room,
though she had more than once invited him thither. His presence at that
moment was for some reason peculiarly disconcerting.
"I am sorry," he said, in his slow way. "The door was half open, and I
saw you were asleep. I don't think you are wise to sit down in your wet
clothes. I have brought you some milk and brandy."
"Oh, but I never take brandy," she said, collecting herself with a
little smile and rising. "It's very kind of you, Jeff. But I can't drink
it, really. It would go straight to my head."
"You must drink it," said Jeff.
He presented it to her with the words, but Doris backed away
"No, really, Jeff! I'll go and have a hot bath. That will do quite as
"You must drink this first," said Jeff.
There was a dogged note in his voice, and at sound of it Doris's brows
went up, and her smile passed.
"I mean it," said Jeff, setting cup and saucer on the table before her.
"I can't run the risk of having you laid up. Drink it now, before it
A little gleam of mutiny shone in Doris's eyes. "My dear Jeff," she said
very decidedly. "I have told you already that I do not drink brandy. I
am going to have a hot bath and change, and after that I will have some
tea. But I draw the line at hot grog. So, please, take it away! Give it
to Granny Grimshaw! It would do her more good."
She smiled again suddenly and winningly with the words. After all it was
absurd to be vexed over such a trifle.
But, to her amazement, Jeff's face hardened. He stepped to her, and, as
if she had been a child, took her by the shoulders, and put her down
into a chair by the table.
"Doris," he said, and his voice sounded deep and stern above her head,
"I may not get much out of my bargain, but I think I may claim obedience
at least. There is not enough brandy there to hurt you, and I wish you
to take it."
She stiffened at his action, as if she would actively resist; but she
only became rigid under his hands.
There followed a tense and painful silence. Then without a word Doris
took the cup and raised it unsteadily to her lips. In the same moment
Jeff took his hands from her shoulders, straightened himself, and in
silence left the room.
It was only a small episode, but it made an impression upon Doris that
she was slow to forget. It was not that she resented the assertion of
authority. She had the fairness to admit his right, but in a very subtle
fashion it hurt her. It made her feel more than ever the hollowness of
the bargain, to which he had made such grim allusion. It added,
moreover, to her uneasiness, making her suspect that he was fully as
dissatisfied as she. Yet, in face of the stony front he presented she
could not continue to proffer her friendship. He seemed to have no use
for it. He seemed, in fact, to avoid her, and the old shyness that had
oppressed her in the beginning returned upon her fourfold. She admitted
to herself that she was becoming afraid of the man. The very sound of
his voice made her heart beat thick and hard, and each succeeding day
witnessed a diminishing of her confidence.
Under these circumstances she withdrew more and more into her solitude,
and it was with something like dismay that she received the news from
Granny Grimshaw at the beginning of Christmas week that it was Jeff's
custom to entertain two or three of his farmer friends at supper on
"Only the menkind, my dear," said Granny Grimshaw consolingly. "And
they're easy enough to amuse, as all the world knows. Give 'em a good
feed, and they won't give any trouble. It's quite a job to get ready for
'em, that it is, but it's the only bit of entertaining he does all the
year round, so I don't grudge it."
"You must let me help you," Doris said.
And help she did, protest notwithstanding, so that Jeff, returning from
his work in the middle of the day, was surprised to find her flushed and
animated in the kitchen, clad in one of Granny Grimshaw's aprons,
rolling out pastry with the ready deftness of a practised pastry-cook.
There was no dismay in her greeting of him, and only she knew of that
sudden quickening of the heart that invariably followed his appearance.
"You didn't tell me about your Christmas party, Jeff," she said. "Granny
and I are going to give you a big spread. I hope you will invite me to
Jeff's dark face flushed a little as he made reply. "I'm afraid you
wouldn't enjoy it much."
"But you haven't introduced me to any of your friends yet," she
protested. "I should like to meet them."
"I'm not so sure of that," said Jeff.
She looked up at him for a moment. "Don't you think that's rather a
mistake?" she said.
"Why?" said Jeff.
With something of an effort she explained. "To take it for granted that
I shall look down on them. I don't want to look down on them, Jeff."
"It isn't that," said Jeff curtly. "But they're not your sort. They
don't talk your language. I'm not sure that I want you to meet them."
"But you can't keep me away from everyone, can you?" she said gently.
He did not answer her, and she returned to her pastry-making in silence.
But evidently her words had made some impression, for that evening when
she rose from the supper table to bid him a formal good-night, he very
abruptly reverted to the subject.
"If you really think you can stand the racket on Christmas Eve, I hope
you will join the party. There will be only four or five besides myself.
I have never invited the womenkind."
"Perhaps by next Christmas I shall have got to know them a little," said
Doris, "and then we can invite them too. Thank you for asking me, Jeff.
But yet she viewed the prospect with considerable misgiving, and would
have thankfully foregone the ordeal, if she had not felt constrained to
The preparations went forward under Granny Grimshaw's guidance without a
hitch, but they were kept busy up to the last moment, and on the day
before Christmas Eve Doris scribbled a hasty note to Hugh Chesyl,
excusing herself from attending the meet.
It was the only thing to be done, for she could not let him expect her
in vain, but she regretted it later when at the breakfast-table the
following day her husband silently handed to her Hugh's reply.
Hugh had written to convey his good wishes for Christmas, and this she
explained to Jeff; but he received her explanation in utter silence, and
she forthwith abandoned the subject. A smouldering resentment began to
burn within her. What right had he to treat Hugh's friendship with her
as a thing to be ashamed of? She longed to ask him, but would not risk
an open rupture. She knew that if she gave her indignation rein she
would not be able to control it.
So the matter passed, and she slipped Hugh's note into her bosom with a
sense of outraged pride that went with her throughout the day. It was
still present with her like an evil spirit when she went to her room to
She had not much time at her disposal, and she slipped into her black
evening gown with a passing wonder as to how Jeff's friends would be
attired. Descending again, she found Jim Dawlish fixing a piece of
mistletoe over the parlour door, and smiled at his occupation.
He smiled at her in a fashion that sent the blood suddenly and hotly to
her face, and she passed on to the kitchen, erect and quivering with
"Lor', my dearie, what a pretty picture you be, to be sure!" was Granny
Grimshaw's greeting, and again a tremor of misgiving went through the
girl's heart. Had she made herself too pretty for the occasion?
She mustered spirit, however, to laugh at the compliment, and busied
herself with the final arrangements.
Jeff appeared a few minutes later, clad in black but not in evening
dress. His eyes dwelt upon his wife for a moment or two before he
"Do you mind being in the parlour when they come in?"
She looked up at him with a smile which she knew to be forced. "Are you
sure I shan't be one too many, Jeff?"
"Quite," said Jeff.
There was no appealing against that, and she accompanied him without
Jim Dawlish was standing by the parlour door, admiring his handiwork. He
nudged Jeff as he went by, and was rewarded by Jeff's heaviest scowl.
A minute later, to Doris's mingled relief and dread, came the sounds of
the first arrival.
This proved to be a Mr. Griggs and his son, a horsey young man, whom she
vaguely knew by sight, having encountered him when following the hounds.
Mr. Griggs was a jolly old farmer, with a somewhat convivial
countenance. He shook her warmly by the hand, and asked her how she
liked being married.
Doris was endeavouring to reply to this difficult question as airily as
possible, when three more of Jeff's friends made their appearance, and
were brought up by Jeff in a group for introduction, thereby relieving
her of the obligation.
The party was now complete, and they all sat down to supper in varying
degrees of shyness. Doris worked hard to play her part as hostess, but
it was certainly no light task. Two of the last-comers were brothers of
the name of Chubb, and from neither of these could she extract more than
one word at a time. The third, Farmer Locke, was of the aggressive,
bulldog type, and he very speedily asserted himself. He seemed, indeed,
somewhat inclined to browbeat her, loudly arguing her slightest remark
after a fashion which she found decidedly exasperating, but presently
discovered to be his invariable habit with everyone. He flatly
contradicted even Jeff, but she was pleased to hear Jeff bluntly hold
his own, and secretly admired him for the achievement.
On the whole, the meal was not quite so much of an ordeal as she had
anticipated, and she was just beginning to congratulate herself upon
this fact when she discovered that young Griggs was ogling her with most
unmistakable familiarity whenever she glanced his way. She at once cut
him pointedly and with supreme disdain, only to find his father, who
was seated on her right, doing exactly the same thing.
Furious indignation entered her sore soul at this second discovery, and
from the smiling, genial hostess she froze into a marble statue of
aloofness. But tongues were loosened somewhat by that time, and her
change of attitude did not apparently affect the guests.
Mr. Locke continued his aggressive course, and the brothers Chubb were
emboldened to take it by turns to oppose him, while old Griggs drank
deeply and smacked his lips, and young Griggs told Jeff anecdotes in an
undertone which he interspersed with bold glances in the direction of
his stony-faced young hostess.
The appearance of Jim Dawlish carrying a steaming bowl of punch seemed
to Doris at length the signal for departure, and she rose from the
Jeff instantly rose at the farther end, and she divined that he had no
wish to detain her. Mr. Griggs the elder, on the other hand, was loud in
"We haven't drunk your health yet, missis," he said.
She forced herself to smile. "That is very kind of you. I am sure Jeff
will return thanks for me."
She made it evident that she had no intention of remaining, protest
notwithstanding, so Mr. Griggs arose and turned to open the door, still
loudly deploring her departure. Young Griggs was already there,
however. He leered at her as she approached him, and it occurred to her
that he was not very steady on his legs. She prepared him an icy bow,
which she was in the very act of executing when he made a sudden lurch
forward, and caught her round the waist. She heard him laugh with coarse
mirth, and had a glimpse of the bunch of mistletoe dangling above their
heads ere she fiercely pushed him from her into the passage.
The next instant Jeff was beside her, and she turned and clung to him in
"Jeff, don't let him!" she cried.
Jeff stretched out an arm to keep the young man back. A roar of laughter
rose from the remaining guests.
"Kiss her yourself then, Jeff!" cried old Griggs, hammering on the
table. "You've got her under the mistletoe."
"He daren't!" said Jim Dawlish, with a wink.
"Afraid to kiss his own wife!" gibed Locke, and the Chubb brothers
laughed in uproarious appreciation of the sally.
It was then that Doris became aware of a change in Jeff. The arm he had
stretched out for her protection suddenly encircled her. He bent his
face to hers.
"They shan't say that!" he muttered under his breath.
She divined his intention in an instant, and a wild flame of anger shot
up within her. This was how he treated her confidence! She made a swift
effort to wrench herself from him, then, feeling his arm tighten to
frustrate her, she struck him across the face in frantic indignation.
Again a roar of laughter arose behind them, and then very suddenly she
forgot everyone in the world but Jeff, for it was as if at that blow of
hers an evil spirit had taken swift possession of him. He gripped her
hands with savage strength, forcing them behind her, and so holding her,
with eyes that seared her soul, he kissed her passionately, violently,
devouringly, on face and neck and throat, sparing her not a whit, till
in an agony of helpless shame she sank powerless in his arms.
She heard again the jeering laughter in the room behind her, but between
herself and Jeff there was a terrible silence, till abruptly he set her
free, saying curtly, "You brought it on yourself. Now go!"
Her knees were shaking under her. She was burning from head to foot, as
though she had been wrapped in flame. But with an effort she controlled
She went in utter silence, feeling as if her heart were dead within her,
mounted the stairs with growing weakness, found and fumbled at her own
door, entered at last, and sank inert upon the floor.
Christmas morning broke with a sprinkle of snow, and an icy wind that
blew from the north, promising a heavier fall ere the day was over.
Jeff was late in descending, and he saw that the door of Doris's room
was open as he passed. He glanced in, saw that the room was empty, and
entered to lay a packet that he carried on her dressing-table. As he did
so, his eyes fell upon an envelope lying there, and that single glance
revealed the fact that it was addressed to him.
He picked it up, and, turning, cast a searching look around the room.
Across the end of the great four-poster bed hung the black lace gown she
had worn the previous evening, but the bed itself was undisturbed. He
saw in a moment that it had not been slept in. Sharply he turned to the
envelope in his hand, and ripped it open. Something bright rolled out
upon the floor. He stopped it with his foot. It was her wedding-ring.
An awful look showed for a moment in Jeff's eyes and passed. He stooped
and picked up the ring; then, with a species of deadly composure more
terrible than any agitation, he took out the letter that the envelope
It was very short—the first letter that she had ever written to him.
"Dear Jeff," it ran, "after what happened last night, I do not
think you will be surprised to hear that I feel I cannot stay
any longer under your roof. I have tried to be friends with you,
but you would not have it so, and now it has become quite
impossible for me to go on. I am leaving for town by the first
train I can catch. I am going to work for my living, and some
day I shall hope to make good to you all that I know you have
spent on my comfort.
"Please do not imagine I am going in anger. I blame myself more
than I blame you. I never ought to have married you, knowing
that I did not love you in the ordinary way. But this is the
only course open to me now. So good-bye!
Jeff Ironside looked up from the letter, and out across the grey
meadows. His face was pale, the square jaw absolutely rigid; but there
was no anger in his eyes, only the iron of an implacable determination.
For several seconds he watched the feathery snowflakes drifting over the
fields; then, with absolute steadiness, he returned both letter and ring
to the envelope, placed them in his pocket, and, turning, left the room.
Granny Grimshaw met him at the foot of the stairs. "Oh, Master Jeff,"
she said, "I am that worried. We can't find Mrs. Ironside."
Jeff paused an instant and turned his grim face to her. "It's all right,
Granny. I know where she is," he said. "Keep the breakfast hot!"
And with that he was gone.
He drove out of the yard a few minutes later in his dog-cart, muffled in
a great coat with the collar up to his ears.
At the station, Doris sat huddled in a corner of the little waiting-room
counting the dreary minutes as she waited for her train. No one beside
herself was going by it.
She had walked across the fields, and had made a détour to leave a
note at the Manor for Hugh. She could not leave Hugh in ignorance of her
She glanced nervously at the watch on her wrist. Yes, Jeff probably knew
by this time. How was he taking it? Was he very angry? But surely even
he must see how impossible he had made her life with him.
Restlessly she arose and went to the window. It had begun to snow in
earnest. The road was all blurred and grey with the falling flakes. She
shivered again. Her feet were like ice. Very oddly her thoughts turned
to that day in September when Jeff had knelt before her and drawn off
her muddy boots before the great open fire. A great sigh welled up
within her and her eyes filled with quick tears. If only he would have
consented to be her friend. She was so lonely—so lonely!
There came the sound of wheels along the road, and she turned away.
Evidently someone else was coming for the train. A little tremor of
impatience went through her. Would the train never come?
The wheels stopped before the station door. Someone descended, and there
followed the sound of a man's feet approaching her retreat. A hand was
laid upon the door, and she braced herself to meet a possible
acquaintance. It opened, and she glanced up.
"Oh, Jeff!" she said.
He shut the door behind him and came forward. His face was set in
dogged, unyielding lines.
"I have come to take you back," he said.
She drew sharply away from him. This was the last thing she had
Desperately she faced him. "I can't come with you, Jeff," she said. "My
mind is quite made up. I am very sorry for everything, especially sorry
that you have taken the trouble to follow me. But my decision is quite
Her breath came fast as she ended. Her heart was throbbing in thick,
heavy strokes. There was something so implacable in his attitude.
He did not speak at once, and she stood before him, striving with all
her strength to still her agitation. Then quite calmly he stood back and
motioned her to pass him. "Whatever you decide to do afterwards," he
said, "you must come back with me now. We had better start at once
before it gets worse."
A quiver of anger went through her; it was almost a sensation of hatred.
She remained motionless. "I refuse," she said in a low voice, her grey
eyes steadily raised to his.
She saw his black brows meet, but he gave no sign of impatience. "And
I—insist," he said stubbornly.
She felt the blood receding from her face. It was to be open conflict,
then. She collected all her resolution to oppose him, for to yield at
that moment was out of the question.
It was then, while she stood summoning her forces, that there came to
her ears the distant hum and throb of an approaching train. It was
coming at last. A porter ran past the window that looked upon the
platform, announcing its approach with a dismal yell. Doris straightened
and turned to go.
Jeff turned also. An odd light sprang up in his gipsy eyes. He went
straight to the door ere she could reach it, locked it, and withdrew the
That fired Doris. Her composure went in a single instant. "Jeff," she
exclaimed, "how dare you?"
He turned to the dingy window overlooking the line. "You compel me," he
She sank back impotent against the table. He stood staring grimly forth,
filling the window with his bulk.
Nearer came the train and nearer. Doris felt the hot blood drumming in
her brain. Something that was very nearly akin to frenzy entered into
her. She stood up with sudden, fierce resolution.
"Jeff," she said, "I will not be kept here against my will! Do you hear?
I will not! Give me that key!"
He took no more notice of the command than if it had been the buzzing of
a fly. His attention apparently was caught by something outside. He
leaned forward, watching intently.
Something in his attitude checked her wrath at its height. It was as
though a cold hand had been laid upon her heart. What was it he was
looking at? She felt she must know. As the train thundered into the
station she went to his side and looked forth also.
The next moment, with a shock that was physical, she saw the object of
his interest. Hugh Chesyl, with a face of grave perturbation, was
standing on the platform, searching this way and that. It was evident
that he had but just arrived at the station, and in a flash she divined
the reason of his coming. Quite obviously he was looking for her.
Sharply she withdrew herself from the window, and in the same moment
Jeff also turned. Their eyes met, and Doris caught her breath.
For it was as if a sword had pierced her. In a single, blinding instant
of revelation she read his thought, and sheer horror held her silent
before him. She stood as one paralyzed.
He did not utter a word, simply stood and looked at her, with eyes grown
devilish in their scrutiny. Then very suddenly and terribly he laughed,
and flung round upon his heel.
In that instant Doris's powers returned to her, urged by appalling
necessity. She sprang forward, reached the door, set her back against
it, faced him with the wild courage of agonizing fear.
"Jeff! Jeff!" she panted. "What are you going to do?"
The train had come to a standstill. There was a commotion of voices and
running feet. Jeff, still with that awful look in his eyes, stood still.
"You will miss your train," he said.
"What are you going to do?" she reiterated.
He smiled—a grim, dreadful smile. "I am going to see you off. You can
go now. Your friend Chesyl can follow by the next train—when I have
done with him."
He had the key in his hand. He stooped to insert it in the lock. But
swiftly she caught his wrist. "Jeff, stop—stop!" she gasped; and, as he
looked at her: "I'm not going away now!"
He wrung his hand free. "You had better go—for your own sake!" he said.
She flinched in spite of herself from the blazing menace of his eyes,
but again necessity spurred her. She stretched out her arms, barring his
"I won't! I can't! Jeff—Jeff—for Heaven's sake—Jeff!" Her voice
broke into wild entreaty. He had taken her roughly by the shoulders,
pulling her from his path. He would have put her from him, but she
snatched her opportunity and clung to him fast with all her quivering
He stood still then, suddenly rigid. "I have warned you!" he said, in a
voice so deep with passion that her heart quailed and ceased to beat.
"Let me go!"
But she only tightened her trembling hold. "You shan't go, Jeff! You
shan't insult Hugh Chesyl! He is a gentleman!"
"Is he?" said Jeff, very bitterly.
She could feel his every muscle strung and taut, ready for uncontrolled
violence. Yet still with her puny strength she held him, for she dared
not let him go.
"Jeff, listen to me! You must listen! Hugh is my very good friend—no
more than that. He has come here to say 'Good-bye.' I left a note for
him on my way here, just to tell him I was going. He is my friend—only
"I don't believe you," said Jeff.
She shrank as if he had struck her, but her hands still clutched his
coat. She attempted no further protestations, only stood with her white
face lifted and clear eyes fixed on his. The red fire that shone
fiercely back on her was powerless to subdue her steady regard, though
she felt as though it scorched her through and through.
From the platform came the shriek of the guard's whistle. The train was
Doris heard it go with a sick sense of despair. She knew that her
liberty went with it. As the last carriage passed she spoke again.
"I will go back with you now."
"If I will take you back," said Jeff.
Her hands clenched upon his coat. An awful weakness had begun to assail
her. She fought against it desperately.
Someone tried the handle of the door, pulled at it and desisted. She
caught her breath. Jeff's hand went out to open, but she shifted her
grasp, and again gripped his wrist.
"Wait! Wait!" she whispered through her white lips.
This time he did not shake her off. He stood with his eyes on hers and
The man on the other side of the door, evidently concluding that the
waiting-room had not been opened that day, gave up the attempt and
passed on. With straining ears Doris listened to his departing
footsteps. A few seconds later she saw Jeff's eyes go to the farther
window. Her own followed them. Hugh Chesyl, clad in a long grey ulster,
was tramping away through the snow.
He passed from sight, and Doris relaxed her hold. Her face was white and
spent. "Will you take me home?" she said faintly.
Slowly Jeff's eyes came back to her, dwelt upon her. He must have seen
the exhaustion in her face, but his own showed no softening.
He spoke at last sternly, with grim mastery. "If I take you back it must
be on a different footing. You tell me this man is no more to you than a
friend. I am even less. Do you think I will be satisfied with that?"
"I have tried to make you my friend," she said.
"And you have failed," he said. "Shall I tell you why? Or can you
She was silent.
He clenched his hands hard against his sides. "You know what happened
yesterday," he said. "It had nearly happened a hundred times before. I
kept it back till it got too strong for me. You dangled your friendship
before me till I was nearly mad with the want of you. You had better
have offered me nothing at all than that."
"Oh, Jeff!" she said.
He went on, heedless of reproach. "It has come to this with me:
friendship, if it comes at all, must come after. You tell me Chesyl is
not your lover. Do you deny that he has ever made love to you?"
"Since he knew of my marriage—never!" she said.
"Yet you ride home with him in the dark hand in hand!" said Jeff.
The colour flamed in her face and as swiftly died. "Hugh Chesyl is not
my lover," she said proudly.
"And you expect me to believe you?" he said.
He gazed at her without pity. "You will secure my belief in you," he
said, "only by coming to me as my wife."
A great shiver went through her. She stood silent.
"As my wife," he repeated looking straight into her face with eyes that
compelled. She was trembling from head to foot. He waited a moment,
then: "You would sooner run away with Hugh Chesyl?" he asked very
Sheer pain drove her into speech. "Oh, Jeff," she cried passionately,
"don't make me hate you!"
He started at that as an animal starts at the goad, and in an instant he
took her suddenly and fiercely by the shoulders. "Hate me, then! Hate
me!" he said, and kissed her again savagely on her white, panting lips
as he had kissed her the night before, showing no mercy.
She did not resist him. Her strength was gone. She hung quivering in his
arms till the storm of his passion had passed also. Then: "Let us go!"
she whispered: "Let us go!"
He released her slowly and turned to open the door. Then, seeing that
she moved unsteadily, he put his arm about her, supporting her. So, side
by side and linked together, they went out into the driving snow.
Doris was nearly fainting with cold and misery when they stopped at last
before the Mill House door. All the previous night she had sat up
listening with nerves on edge, and had finally taken her departure in
the early morning without food.
When Jeff turned to help her down she looked at him helplessly, seeing
him through a drifting mist that obscured all besides. He saw her
weakness at a single glance, and, mounting the step, took her in his
She sank down against his shoulder. "Oh, Jeff, I can't help it," she
whispered, through lips that were stiff and blue with cold.
"All right. I know," he said, and for the first time in many days she
heard a note of kindness in his voice.
He bore her straight through to the kitchen, and laid her down upon the
old oak settle, just as he had done on that day in September when first
he had brought her to his home.
Granny Grimshaw, full of tender solicitude, came hastening to her, but
"Hot milk and brandy—quick!" he ordered, and fell himself to chafing
the icy fingers.
When Granny Grimshaw brought the cup, he took it from her, and held it
for Doris to drink; and then, when she had swallowed a little and the
blood was creeping back into her face, he took off her boots and chafed
her feet also.
Granny Grimshaw put some bread into the milk while this was in progress
and coaxed Doris to finish it. She asked no questions, simply treating
her as she might have treated a lost child who had strayed away. There
was a vast fund of wisdom in the old grey head that was so often shaken
over the follies of youth.
And, finally, when Doris had a little recovered, she went with her to
her room, and helped her to bed, where she tucked her up with her own
hot-water bottle and left her.
From sheer exhaustion Doris slept, though her sleep was not a happy one.
Long, tangled dreams wound in a ceaseless procession through her brain,
and through them all she was persistently and fruitlessly striving to
persuade Jeff to let her go.
In the late afternoon she awoke suddenly to the sound of men's voices in
the room below her, and started up in nameless fear.
"Were you wanting anything, my dearie?" asked Granny Grimshaw, from a
chair by the fire.
"Who is that talking?" she asked nervously.
"It's Master Jeff and a visitor," said the old woman. "Now, don't you
bother your head about them! I'm going along to get you some tea."
She bustled away with the words, and Doris lay back, listening with
every nerve stretched. Her husband's deep voice was unmistakable, but
the other she could not distinguish. Only after a while there came the
sounds of movement, the opening of a door.
When that happened she sprang swiftly from the bed to her own door, and
softly opened it.
Two men stood in the hall below. Slipping out on to the landing, she
leaned upon the banisters in the darkness and looked down. Even as she
did so, a voice she knew well came up out of the gloom—a kindly,
well-bred voice that spoke with a slight drawl.
"I shouldn't be downhearted, Ironside. Remember, no one is cornered so
long as he can turn round and go back. It's the only thing to do when
you know you've taken a wrong turning."
Doris caught her breath. Her fingers gripped the black oak rail. She
listened in rigid expectancy for Jeff's answer. But no answer came.
In a moment Hugh's voice came again, still calm and friendly. "I'm going
away directly. The Squire has been ordered to the South for the rest of
the winter, and I've promised to go with him. I suppose we shall start
some time next week. May I look in and say 'Good-bye'?"
There was a pause. The girl on the landing above waited tensely for
Jeff's answer. It came at last slowly, in a tone that was not
unfriendly, but which did not sound spontaneous. "You can do as you
like, Chesyl. I have no objection."
"All right, then. Good-bye for the present! I hope when I do come I
shall find that all's well. All will be well in the end, eh, Jeff?"
There was a touch of feeling in the question that made Doris aware that
the speaker had gripped her husband's hand.
But again there was a pause before the answer came, heavily, it seemed
reluctantly: "Yes, it'll be all right for her in the end. Good-bye!"
The front-door opened; they went out into the porch together. And Doris
slipped back, to her room.
Those last words of her husband's rang strangely in her heart. Why had
he put it like that?
Her thoughts went to Hugh—dear and faithful friend who had taken this
step on her behalf. What had passed between him and her husband during
that interview in the parlour? She longed to know.
But whatever it had been, Hugh had emerged victorious. He had destroyed
those foul suspicions of Jeff's. He had conquered the man's enmity,
overthrown his passionate jealousy, humbled him into admitting himself
to be in the wrong. Very curiously that silent admission of Jeff's hurt
her pride almost as if it had been made on her behalf. The thought of
Jeff worsted by Hugh Chesyl, however deeply in the wrong he might be,
was somehow very hard to bear. Her heart ached for the man. She did not
want him to be humbled.
When Granny Grimshaw came up with her tea, she was half-dressed.
"I couldn't sleep any longer," she said. "It's dear of you to take such
care of me. But I'm quite all right. Dear Granny, forgive me for giving
you such a horrible Christmas Day!" She bent suddenly forward and kissed
the wrinkled face.
"My dearie! My dearie!" said Granny Grimshaw.
And then, exactly how it happened neither of them ever knew, all in a
moment Doris found herself folded close in the old woman's arms, sobbing
her heart out on the motherly shoulder.
"You shouldn't cry, darling; you shouldn't cry," murmured Granny
Grimshaw, softly patting the slim young form. "It would hurt Master Jeff
more than anything to have you cry."
"No, no! He doesn't really care for me. I could bear it better if he
did," whispered Doris.
"Not care for you, my dearie? Why, what ever can you be thinking of?"
protested Granny Grimshaw. "He's eating his very heart out for you, and
I verily believe he'd kill himself sooner than make you unhappy."
"Ah! You don't understand," sighed Doris. "He only wants—material
"Oh, my dear, my dear!" said Granny Grimshaw. "Did you suppose that the
man ever lived who could love a woman without? We're human, dear, the
very best of us, and there's no getting out of it. Besides, love is
never satisfied with half measures."
She drew the girl down into the chair before the fire and fussed over
her tenderly till she grew calmer. And then presently she slipped away.
Doris finished her tea slowly with her eyes on the red coals, then rose
at length to continue her dressing. As she stood at the table twisting
up her hair, her glance fell on a small packet that lay there.
With fingers that trembled a little she opened it. It contained a small
object wrapped in a slip of paper. There was writing upon it, which she
deciphered as she unrolled it. "For my wife, with all my love. Jeff."
And in her hand there lay a slender gold ring, exquisitely dainty, set
with pearls. A quick tremor went through Doris. She guessed that it had
belonged to his mother.
Again she read the few simple words; they seemed to her to hold an
appeal which the man himself could never have uttered, and her heart
quivered in response as a finely tempered instrument vibrates to a
sudden sound. Had she never understood him?
She finished her dressing with impulsive haste, and with Jeff's gift in
her hand turned to leave the room.
Her heart throbbed violently as she descended.
What would his mood be when she found him? If he would only be kind to
her! Ah, if only he would be kind! Granny Grimshaw was lighting the
lamps in the hall and parlour.
"Everyone's out but me," she said. "Master Jeff and I generally keep
house alone together on Christmas night. I don't know why he doesn't
come in. He went out to see to the horses half an hour ago. He hasn't
had his tea yet."
"I will give him his tea," Doris said.
"Very well," said Granny Grimshaw. "I'll leave the kettle on for you
while I go up and dress."
Doris went into the parlour to wait. The lamp on the table was alight,
the teacups ready, and a bright fire made the room cosy. She went to the
window and drew aside the curtain.
The snow had ceased, and the sky was clear. Stars were beginning to
pierce the darkness.
Slowly the minutes crawled by. She began to listen for his coming, to
chafe at his delay. At last, grown nervous with suspense, she turned
from the window and went into the hall. She opened the door and stepped
out into the porch.
Still and starlit lay the path before her. The snow had been swept away.
Impulse seized her. She felt she could wait no longer. She slipped back
into the hall, took a coat of Jeff's from a peg, put it on, and so
passed out into the open.
The way to the stable lay past the mill-stream. On noiseless feet she
followed it. The water was deep and dark and silent. She shivered as she
drew near. In the stable beyond, close to the mill, she saw a light. It
was moving towards her. In a moment she discovered Jeff's face above it,
and—was it something she actually saw in the face, or was it an
illusion created by the swinging lantern?—her heart gave a sudden jerk
of horror. For it was to her as if she looked upon the face of a dead
She stood still in the shadow of a weeping willow, arrested by that
look, and watched him come slowly forth.
He moved heavily as one driven by Fate, pulling the stable door to after
him. This he turned to lock, then stooped, still with that face as of a
death-mask, and deliberately extinguished his lantern.
Doris's heart jerked again at the action, and every pulse began to
clamour. Why did he put out the lantern before reaching the house?
The next moment she heard his footsteps, slow and heavy, coming towards
her. The path wound along a bank a couple of feet above the millstream.
He approached till in the darkness he had nearly reached her, then he
She thought he had discerned her, but the next moment she realized that
he had not. He was facing the water; he seemed to be staring across it.
And even as she watched he took another step straight towards it.
It was then that like a flashlight leaping from his brain to hers she
realized what he was about to do. How the knowledge came to her she
knew not, but it was hers past all disputing in that single second of
blinding revelation. And just as that morning she had been inspired to
act on sheer wild impulse, so now without an instant's pause she acted
again. She sprang from her hiding-place with a strangled cry, and threw
her arms about him.
"Jeff! Jeff! What are you doing here?"
He gave a great start that made her think of a frightened animal, and
stood still. She felt his arms grow rigid at his sides, and knew that
his hands were clenched.
"Jeff!" she cried again, clinging faster. "You—you're never thinking
Her utterance ended in a shudder as she sought with all her strength to
drag him away from the icy water.
He resisted her doggedly, standing like a rock. "Whatever I'm thinking
of doing is my affair," he said, shortly and sternly. "Go away and leave
"I won't!" she cried back to him half-hysterically. "I won't! If—if
you're going to do that, you'll take me with you!"
He turned round then and moved back to the path. "Who said I was going
to do anything?" he demanded in a voice that sounded half-angry and
She answered him with absolute candour. "I saw your face just now. I
couldn't help knowing. Oh, Jeff, Jeff! is it as bad as that? Do you hate me so badly as that?"
He made a movement of the arms that was curiously passionate, but he did
not attempt to take her into them. "I don't hate you," he said, in a
voice that sounded half-choked. "I love you—so horribly"—there was a
note of ferocity in the low-spoken words—"that I can never know any
peace without you! And since with you it is otherwise, what remedy is
there? You love Hugh Chesyl. You only want to be free to marry him.
He broke off in fierce impotence, and began to thrust her from him. But
she held him fast.
"Jeff—Jeff, this is madness! Listen to me! You must listen! Hugh and I
are friends, and we shall never be anything more. Jeff, let me be with
you! Teach me to love you! You can if you will. Don't—don't ruin both
She was pleading with him passionately, still holding him back. And, as
she pleaded, she reached up her arms and slowly clasped his neck.
"Oh, Jeff, be good to me—be good to me just this once!" she prayed.
"I've made such a hideous mistake, but don't punish me like this! I
swear if you go, I shall go too! There'll be nothing left to live for.
Jeff—Jeff, if you really love me, spare me this!"
The broken entreaty went into agonized sobbing, yet she kept her face
upraised to his. Instinctively she knew that in that eleventh hour she
must offer all she had.
Several moments throbbed away. She began to think that she had failed.
And then very suddenly he moved, put his arm about her, led her away.
Not a word did he utter, but there was comfort in the holding of his
arm. She went with him with the curious hushed sense of one who stands
on the threshold of that which is sacred.
A FARMER'S WIFE
Two eyes, old but yet keen, peered forth into the wintry night, and a
grey head nodded approvingly, as Jeff Ironside and his wife came in
silence to their home. And then the bedroom blind came down, and Granny
Grimshaw sat down cosily by her bit of wood fire to hold a strictly
private little service of thanksgiving.
Downstairs into the raftered kitchen two people came, each holding each,
both speechless, with a restraint that bound them as by a spell.
By nature the woman spoke first, her voice no more than a whisper. "Sit
on the settle, won't you? I'm going to get your tea."
His arm fell from her. He sat down heavily, not looking at her. She
stepped to the fire and took the empty teapot from the hob, then
light-footed to the dresser for the tea.
He did not watch her. For a while he sat staring blindly straight before
him. Then slowly he leaned forward, and dropped his head into his hands.
Not till the tea was made did she so much as glance towards him, so
intent to all seeming was she upon her task. But when it was done, she
looked at him sitting there bowed upon the settle, and very suddenly,
very lightly, she came to his side.
"Jeff!" she said.
He neither moved nor spoke.
She laid a shy hand on his shoulder. "Jeff!" Her voice was pleading and
rather breathless, as though she would ask him to bear with her. "I want
to thank you so much—so very much—for your Christmas gift. See! I'm
She slipped her hand down into his, so that he held it pressed against
his cheek. He spoke no word, but against her fingers she felt a quiver.
She bent over him, growing bolder. "Jeff, I—I want you to give me
He did not stir or answer.
"Please!" she whispered. "Won't you?"
And then dumbly, keeping his face hidden, he drew her hand down to his
"Is it there?" she whispered. "May I take it?"
Her fingers felt for and found what they sought. Her hand came up again,
wearing the ring. And then, with a swift, impulsive movement she knelt
before him, clasping his two wrists.
"Jeff—Jeff! will you—will you try to forgive me?"
There followed silence, but very strangely no misgiving assailed her.
She strove with gentle insistence to draw the shielding hands away.
At first he resisted her, and then very suddenly he yielded. His hands
went out to her, his head dropped forward upon her shoulder. A strangled
sob shook him.
And Doris knelt up with all her woman's compassion leaping to his need,
and clasped her warm arms about him, holding him to her heart.
That broke him, broke him utterly, so that for a while no words could
pass between them. For Doris was crying too, even while she sought to
But at last, with a valiant effort, she checked her tears.
"Jeff—darling, don't let us be so—so silly," she murmured, with one
quivering hand laid upon his head. "We've got all we want—both of us.
Let's forget it all! Let's begin again!"
He put his arms around her, not lifting his head.
"Can't we?" she said softly. "I'm ready."
He spoke at last below his breath. "You couldn't! You'll never forget
what a brute I've been."
She turned her head quickly and laid her cheek against his forehead.
"Shall I tell you just how much I am going to remember?"
He was silent, breathing deeply.
"Just this," she said. "That you love me—so much—that you can't do
without me, and that you were willing—to give your life—for my
happiness. That is what I am going to remember, Jeff, and it will be a
very precious memory. And I want to tell you just one little thing
before we go any farther. It's about Hugh. I don't love him in the way
that you and I count love. I did very nearly for a little while. But
that is over. I don't think—I never have quite thought—that he is
altogether my sort, or I his. Jeff dear, you believe that?"
"Yes," said Jeff.
"Thank you," she said simply. "I want you to try and believe me always,
because I do tell the truth. And now, Jeff, I've got to tell you that
I'm dreadfully sorry for the way I've treated you. Yes, let me say it,"
as he made a quick movement of protest. "It's true. I've treated you
abominably, mainly because I didn't understand. I do understand now.
You—you've opened my eyes. Oh, Jeff, thank God they were opened even at
the eleventh hour! What should I have done if—if—" She broke off with
a shiver, and then nestled to him like a child, as though that were the
end of the argument. "And now I'm going to be such a good wife to you,"
she whispered, "to make up for it all. I always wanted to be a farmer's
wife, you know. But you must help me. Jeff, will you?"
"I would die for you," he said, his head still bent as though he could
not wholly trust himself to look her in the face.
She gave a funny little tremulous laugh. "Yes, I know. But that wouldn't
be a bit of good. You would only break my heart. You don't want to do
that, do you?"
"Doris!" he said.
"Why won't you call me Dot?"
"Dot!" said Jeff very softly.
"That's better." Again her voice quivered upon a laugh. Her arms
slackened from his shoulders, and instantly his fell away, setting her
free. She rose to her feet, yet lingered a moment, bending slightly over
him, her eyes very bright.
But Jeff did not move, and with a half-sigh she turned away. "Would you
like to carry the teapot?" she said.
He got up.
"And you can hang up this coat of yours," she added. "I'll come in a
She watched him go in his slow, strong fashion; then for a few still
seconds she stood quite tense with hands tightly gripped together. What
passed within her during those moments only her own heart ever knew, how
much of longing, how much of regret, how much of earnest, quivering
She followed him almost at once as she had promised.
The parlour door was open. She came to it in her light, impetuous way.
She halted on the threshold.
"Jeff!" she said. "Come here!"
She reached out her hands to him—little, nervous hands full of purpose.
She drew him close. She raised her lips to his. The mistletoe dangled
above their heads.
"Will you kiss me, Jeff?" she whispered.
He stooped, half-hesitating.
Her arms stole about his neck. "You needn't—ever—be afraid to kiss
your own wife, dear," she said. "I want your love just in the ordinary
way—the ordinary way."
He held her to him. "Dot—Dot—forgive me!"
She shook her head with frank, fearless eyes raised to his. "It was a
bad bargain, Jeff. Forget it!"
"And make another?" he suggested.
To which she answered with her quick smile. "Love makes no bargains,
Jeff. Love just gives—and gives—and gives."
And as his lips met hers he knew the wondrous truth of what she said.
For in that one long kiss she gave him all she had. And love conquered,
just in the old, sweet, ordinary way.
The Place of Honour
Wherein a woman with a love of freedom, two soldiers in the Indian Army,
and a snake-bite are most intimately concerned.
"And that is the major's bride? Ah, what a pity!"
The soft, Irish eyes of Mrs. Raleigh, the surgeon's wife, looked across
the ball-room with a very real compassion in their grey depths.
"Pity?" said young Turner, the subaltern, who chanced to be at that
moment in attendance upon her. "It's worse than that; it's a monstrous
shame! She's only nineteen, you know; and he is twenty years older at
Mrs. Raleigh sighed.
"You have met her, Phil," she said. "I am going to get you to introduce
me. Let us go across to her."
Mrs. Raleigh was greatly beloved by all subalterns. Her husband's
bungalow was open to them day and night, and they took full advantage
of the fact.
It was not that there was anything particularly brilliant about the
surgeon's wife, but her ready sympathy made her a general favourite, and
her kindness of heart was known to be equal to the severest strain.
Therefore, among the boys of the regiment she ruled supreme, and the
expression of her lightest wish generally provoked a jealous scramble.
On the present occasion, however, young Turner did not display any
special alacrity to serve her.
"There's such a crowd round her it's difficult to squeeze in edgeways,"
he said. "I shouldn't trouble to go across yet if I were you."
Mrs. Raleigh laughed a little and laid her hand on his arm.
"So you don't like hovering on the outskirts, Phil," she said.
He frowned, and then as suddenly smiled.
"I'm not the sort that cares to fool with a married woman," he declared.
"There goes Devereux to swell the throng. I say, let's go and have a
She laughed again as she rose to accompany him. Phil Turner was severely
honest in all his ways, and, being a good woman, she liked him for it.
Nevertheless, though she yielded, her eyes still dwelt upon the girl in
bridal white who sat like a queen among her courtiers. The dark head
that was held so regally erect caught and chained the elder woman's
fancy. And the vivid, careless beauty of the face was a thing to bear
away in the heart and dream of in solitude. For the girl was lovely with
that loveliness which even the most grudging must acknowledge. She shone
in the crowd that surrounded her like a rare and brilliant flower in a
garden of herbs.
Phil Turner's arm stirred with slight impatience under Mrs. Raleigh's
hand, and she turned beside him.
"There is nothing like a really beautiful English girl in all the
world," she said, with a smile and another glance in the bride's
Young Turner grunted, and she gave his arm a slight shake.
"You don't deceive me," she said. "You admire her as much as I do. Now,
He looked at her for a moment moodily. Then——
"Yes," he said abruptly, "I do admire her. But, as for the major, I
think he's the biggest fool on this side of the Indian Ocean, and that's
saying a good deal."
Mrs. Raleigh shook her head as if she desired to disagree.
"Time alone will prove," she said.
"It's been lovely," said the bride. She leant back in the open carriage,
gazing with wide, charmed eyes into the vivid Indian night. "And I'm not
a bit tired," she added. "Are you?"
The man beside her did not instantly reply. He was a man of medium
height, dark and lithe and amazingly strong. It was not his habit to
speak much, but what little he said was usually very much to the point.
It was his custom to mask his feelings so completely that very few had
the smallest inkling as to his state of mind.
He was considered a hard man in his regiment, but he was known to be a
splendid soldier, and chiefly for that reason he was respected rather
than disliked. But the kindest critic could not have called him either
popular or attractive. And the news of his marriage in England had
fallen like a thunderbolt upon his Indian acquaintances, for he had long
ago come to be regarded among them as the last man in the world to
commit such a folly.
The full extent thereof had not been apparent till his return to his
regiment, accompanied by his bride, and then as one man the whole mess
had risen and condemned him in no measured terms, for the bride, with
all her entrancing beauty, her vivacity, her charm, was certainly a
startling contrast to the man who had wedded her—a contrast so sharp as
to be almost painful to the onlookers.
She herself, however, seemed to be wholly unaware of any incongruity.
Perhaps she had not seen enough of the world to feel it, or perhaps she
was wilfully blind to the things she did not desire to see.
In any case her face, as she lay back in the carriage by her husband's
side, expressed only the most complete contentment.
"Are you tired, Eustace?" she asked, as he did not hasten to reply to
her first question.
"No," he answered, "not tired; but glad to be going back."
"You've been bored," she said quickly. "What a frightful pity! Why did
you stay so long?"
Again he paused before replying, and she drummed on his knee with her
fingers with slight impatience.
"I had a notion," he said, in his quiet, unhurried tones, "that my wife
would have considered it rather hard lines to be dragged away while
there was a single man left to dance with."
The bride snatched her hand from his knee with a swiftness of action
that could hardly be mistaken. He might have been speaking in fun, but,
even so, it was an ugly jest. More probably he had meant the sting that
his words conveyed, for, owing to a delicate knee-cap that had once been
splintered by a bullet and still at times gave him trouble, Major Tudor
was a non-dancer. Whatever his meaning, the remark came upon her flushed
triumph like the icy chill before the dawn, dispelling dreams.
"I am sorry," she said, with all the haste of youth, "that you
sacrificed yourself to please me. I hope you will not do so again. Now
that I am married, I do not need a chaperon. I could quite well return
It was childishly spoken, but then she was a child, and the admiration
she had enjoyed throughout the evening had slightly turned her head. He
did not reply to her speech. Indeed, it was as if he had not heard it.
And her indignation mounted. There was not another man of her
acquaintance who would have treated her with a like lack of courtesy.
Did he think, because he was her husband, that she belonged to him so
completely that he could behave to her exactly as he saw fit? Perhaps.
She did not know him very well; nor apparently did he know her. For
during the brief six weeks of their married life she had been a little
shy, a little constrained, in his presence. But her success had, as it
were, unshackled her. Without hesitation she gave her feelings the rein.
"Do you consider that I am not to be trusted?" she asked him sharply.
"I beg your pardon?"
There was a note of surprised interrogation in his voice. She did not
look at him, but she knew that his eyebrows were raised, and a
faint—quite a faint—sense of misgiving stole over her.
"I asked if you thought me untrustworthy," she asked.
He relapsed into silence again, and she became exasperated.
"Why don't you answer me?" she said, with quick impatience.
He turned his head deliberately and looked at her; and again she tingled
with an apprehension which no previous word or action of his had ever
"Unprofitable questions," he said coolly, "like ill-timed jests, are
better left alone."
It was the first intentional snub he had ever administered to her, and
she quivered under it, furious but impotent. All the evening's enjoyment
had gone out of her. She was conscious only of a desire to strike back
and wound him as he had wounded her.
She did not utter another word during the drive, and when they reached
their bungalow—the daintiest and most luxurious in the station—she
alighted without touching the hand he offered her.
Refreshments awaited them in the dining-room, and the bride swept in
and helped herself, suffering her cloak to fall from her shoulders. He
picked it up and threw it over a chair. His dark face was quite composed
and inscrutable. He was not a handsome man, but there was something
undeniably striking about him, a strength of personality that made him
somehow formidable. The red and gold uniform he wore served to emphasise
the breadth of shoulder, which his height did not justify. He was a
splendid wrestler. There was not a man in the mess whom he could not
Yet to those who knew him best, his strength seemed to lie less in what
he did than in what he left undone. His restraint was the secret of his
Perhaps his young wife felt this, for notwithstanding her utmost effort
she knew herself to be at a disadvantage. She set down her glass of
sherbet unfinished and turned to the door. It was an abrupt move, but he
was ready for it. Before she reached it, he was waiting with the handle
in his grasp.
"Going to bed, Audrey?" he asked gravely, "Good-night!"
His manner did not betray that he was aware of her displeasure, yet
somehow she was quite convinced that he knew. She paused for a second,
and then, with her head held high, she was about to pass him without an
answering word or glance. But to her amazement he stopped her, his hand
upon her arm.
"Good-night!" he said again.
She faced him then in a blaze of passion, with white cheeks and flaming
eyes. But as she met his look her heart gave a sudden thump of fright,
and in a second her resistance had crumbled away. He did not speak
another word, but his look compelled. Undeniably he was master.
Mutely she raised her face for his kiss, and he kissed her.
"Sleep well," he said.
And she went from him, subdued and humbled, to her room.
AMID THE RUINS
"Do let us get away somewhere and enjoy ourselves!"
Audrey spoke in a quick undertone to the man nearest to her. It was
three weeks since her arrival at the Frontier station, and she had
settled down to the life with the ease of a born Anglo-Indian. Her first
vivid enjoyment of its gaieties was a thing of the past, but no one
suspected the fact, her husband least of all. She had not, as a matter
of fact, been much with him during those three weeks, for she had struck
up a warm friendship with Mrs. Raleigh, and in common with all the
younger spirits of the regiment she availed herself fully of the
privileges of the latter's hospitality.
On the present occasion, however—that of a picnic by moonlight at the
crumbling shrine of some long-forgotten holy man—Mrs. Raleigh was
absent, and Audrey was bored. She had arrived in her husband's
ralli-car, which he had driven himself, but she had speedily drifted
away from his side.
There was an element of perversity in her which made her resent the
feeling that he only accompanied her into society to watch over her,
and, if necessary, to keep her in order. It was not a particularly
worthy feeling, but certainly there was something about his attitude
that fostered it.
She guessed, and rightly, that, but for her, he would not have troubled
himself to attend these social gatherings, which he obviously enjoyed so
little. So when, having deliberately and with mischievous intent given
him the slip, she awoke suddenly to the fact that he had followed and
was standing near her, Audrey became childishly exasperated and seized
the first means of escape that offered.
The man she addressed was one of the least enthusiastic of her admirers,
but this did not trouble her at all. She had been a spoilt child all her
life, and she was accustomed to make use of others without stopping to
ascertain their inclinations.
Phil Turner, however, was by no means unwilling to be made use of in
this way. The boy was a gentleman, and was as chivalrous at heart as he
He turned at once in response to her quick whisper and offered her his
"There's an old well at the back of the ruin," he said. "Come and see
it. Mind the stones."
"That was splendid of you," she said approvingly, as they moved away
together. "Are you always so prompt? But I know you're not. I shouldn't
have asked you, only I took you for Mr. Devereux. You are very like him
at the back."
"Never heard that before!" he responded bluntly. "Don't believe it,
either, if you will forgive my saying so."
She laughed, a merry, ringing laugh.
"Oh, don't you like Mr. Devereux?"
"Yes, he's all right." Phil seldom spoke a disparaging word of any of
his comrades. "But I haven't the smallest wish to be like him," he
Audrey laughed at him again, freely, musically. She found this young
officer rather more entertaining than the rest.
They reached the other side of the shrine. Here, in a débris of stones
and weeds, there appeared the circular mouth of an old well, forgotten
like the shrine and long disused.
Audrey examined the edge with a fastidious air, and finally sat down on
it. The place was flooded with moonlight.
"I wish I were a man," she said suddenly.
"Good Heavens! Why?"
He asked the question in amazement.
"I should like to be your equal," she told him gaily. "I should like to
do and say to you just exactly what I liked."
Phil considered this seriously.
"You can do both without being my equal," he remarked at length in his
bluntest tone, "that is, if you care to condescend."
"Goodness!" laughed Audrey. "That's the only pretty thing I have ever
heard you say. I am sure it must be your first attempt. Now, isn't it?"
"And it wasn't strictly honest," proceeded Audrey daringly. "You know
you don't think that of any woman under the sun."
He did not contradict her. He had a feeling that she was fooling him,
but somehow he rather liked it.
"What about the women under the moon?" he said. "Perhaps they are
She nodded merrily.
"Perhaps they are," she conceded. "Certainly the men are. Now, you are
about the stodgiest person I know by daylight or lamplight
except—except—" She stopped. "No, I don't mean that!" she said, with
an impish smile. "There is no exception."
Phil was frowning a little, but he looked relieved at her amendment.
"Thank you!" he said brusquely. "I shall never dare to come near you
"Except by moonlight?" she suggested, with the impudent audacity of a
What reply he would have made to that piece of nonsense he sometimes
wondered afterward, but circumstances prevented his making any. The
words had only just passed her lips when she sprang to her feet with a
wild shriek of horror, shaking her arm with frantic violence.
"A snake!" she cried. "Take it away! Take it away! It's on my wrist!"
Phil Turner, though young, was accustomed to keep his wits about him,
and, luckily for the girl, her agony did not scare them away. He had
seized her arm in a fierce grip almost before her frenzied appeal was
uttered. A small snake was coiled round her wrist, and he tore it away
with his free hand, not caring how he grasped it. He tried to fling the
thing from him, but somehow his hold upon it was not sufficient. Before
he knew it the creature had shot up his sleeve.
The next instant he had shaken it down again with a muffled curse and
was trampling it savagely and vindictively into the stones at his feet.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, wheeling sharply.
"No," gasped Audrey, "no! But you—"
"Yes, the little beast's bitten me," he returned. "You see—"
"Oh, where, where?" she cried. "Let me see! Quick, quick! Something must
be done. Can't you suck it?"
He pushed up his sleeve.
"No; can't get at it," he said. "It's just below the elbow. Never mind;
it isn't serious!"
He would have tweaked his sleeve down again, though he was pale under
his sunburn. But Audrey stopped him, holding his bare arm between her
"Don't be a fool!" she gasped vehemently. "If you can't, I can—and I
Before he could stop her she had stooped, still holding him fast, and
put her lips to the tiny puncture in his flesh, on which scarcely more
than a speck of blood was visible.
Phil stiffened and stood still, every nerve rigid, as if something had
transfixed him. At last, hurriedly, jerkily, he spoke:
"Mrs. Tudor—for Heaven's sake! I can't let you do this. It wasn't
poisonous, ten to one. Don't! I say, Audrey—please don't!"
His voice was imploring, but she paid no heed. Her lips continued to
draw at the wound, while he, half-distracted, bent over her, protesting,
scarcely conscious of what he said, yet submitting in spite of himself.
There came the sound of running feet, and he guessed that her scream had
given the alarm. He stood up with mingled agitation and relief, and an
instant later was face to face with her husband.
"I—couldn't help it!" he stammered. "It was a snake-bite."
People were crowding round them with questions and exclamations. But
Tudor gave utterance to neither. He only put his hand on his wife's
shoulder and spoke to her.
"That will do, Audrey," he said. "There's a doctor here. Leave it to
At his words Audrey straightened herself, quivering all over; and then,
unnerved by sheer horror, she put out her hands with an unconscious
groping gesture, and fainted.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL CALL
Audrey had been an only girl at home, and had run wild all her life
amongst a host of brothers. She had seen next to nothing of the world
previous to her marriage, consequently her knowledge of its ways was
That she had grown up headstrong and extremely unconventional was
scarcely to be wondered at.
It had been entirely by her own choice that she had married Eustace
Tudor. She had just awakened to the fact that the family nest, like the
family purse, was of exceedingly narrow dimensions; and a passion for
exploring both mentally and physically was hers.
They had met only a couple of months before he was due to sail for
India, and his proposal to her had been necessarily somewhat
precipitate. She had admired him wholeheartedly for he was a soldier of
no mean repute, and the glamour of marriage had done the rest. She had
married him and had, for nearly six weeks, thereafter, been supremely
happy. True, he had not made much love to her; it was not apparently
his way, but he had been full of kindness and consideration. And Audrey
had been content.
But, arrived in that Indian Frontier station where all the world was
gay, she had become at once the centre of attraction, of admiration;
and, responding to this with girlish zest, she had begun to find
something lacking in her husband's treatment.
It dawned upon her that, where others worshipped with open devotion, he
did not so much as bend the knee. And, over and above this serious
defect, he was critical of her actions and inclined to keep her in
This made her reckless at first, even defiant; but she found he could
master her defiance, and that frightened her. It made her uncertain as
to how far it was safe to resist him. And, being afraid of him, she
shrank a little from too close or intimate a companionship with him.
She told herself that she valued her liberty too highly to part lightly
with it; but the reason in her heart was not this, and with all her
wilfulness, her childish self-sufficiency, she knew that it was not.
On the morning that followed the moonlight picnic she deliberately
feigned sleep when he rose, lest he should think fit to prohibit her
early ride. She had not slept well after her fright; but she had a
project in her mind, and she fully meant to carry it out.
She lay chafing till his horse's hoof-beats told her that he was
leaving the house behind him; then she, too, rose and ordered her own
Phil Turner, haggard and depressed after a night of considerable pain,
was sitting up in bed with his arm in a sling, drinking tea, when a
fellow-subaltern, who with two others shared the bungalow with him,
entered, half-dressed and dishevelled, with the astounding news that
Mrs. Tudor was waiting in the compound to know how he was.
Phil shot upright in amazement.
"Good Heavens, man! She herself?" he ejaculated.
His brother officer nodded, grinning.
"What's to be done? Send out word that you're still alive though not too
chirpy, and would she like anything to drink on the veranda? I can't go,
you know; I'm not dressed."
"Don't be an ass! Clear out and send me my bearer."
Phil spoke with decision. Since Mrs. Tudor had elected to do this
extraordinary thing, it was not for him to refuse to follow her lead. He
was too far in her debt, even had he desired to do so.
His bearer, therefore, was dispatched with a courteous message, and when
Phil entered the veranda a quarter of an hour later he found her
awaiting him there.
"This is awfully kind of you," he said, as he grasped her outstretched
hand. "I was horribly put out about you! You are none the worse?"
"Not a mite," she assured him. "And you? Your arm?"
He made a face.
"Raleigh was with me half the night, watching for dangerous symptoms;
but they didn't develop. He cauterized my arm as a precaution—a beastly
business. He hasn't been round again yet, but I believe it's better.
Yes, it was a poisonous bite. It would have been the death of me in all
probability, but for you. He told me so. I—I'm awfully obliged to you!"
He coloured deeply as he made his clumsy acknowledgments. He did not
find it an easy task. As for Audrey, she put out her hands swiftly to
"Ah, don't!" she said. "You did a far greater thing for me." She
shuddered and put the matter from her. "I'm sure you ought not to be
up," she went on. "I shouldn't have waited, only I thought you might
feel hurt if I went away after you had sent out word that you would see
me. I think I'll go now. Good-bye!"
There came the jingle of spurs on the veranda, and both started. The
colour rose in a great wave to the girl's face as she saw who it was,
but she turned at once to meet the newcomer.
"Oh, Eustace," she said, "so you are back already from the
He did not show any surprise at finding her there.
"Yes; just returned," he said, with no more than a quiet glance at her
"How are you, Phil? Had any sleep?"
"Not much," Phil owned, with unmistakable embarrassment. "But Raleigh
says I'm not going to die this time. It was good of you—and Mrs.
Tudor—to look in. Won't you have something? That lazy beast Travers
isn't dressed yet!"
"Oh, yes, he is!" said Travers, appearing at that moment. "I'll punch
your head for you, my boy, when we're alone! Hullo, Major! Come to see
the interesting invalid? You'll have some breakfast, won't you? Mrs.
Tudor will pour out tea for us."
But Tudor declined their hospitality briefly but decidedly, and Audrey
was obliged to support him.
Travers assisted her to mount, expressing his regret the while; and when
they were gone he turned round to his comrade with a grin.
"The major seems to be in a genial mood this morning," he remarked. "Had
they arranged to meet here?"
But Phil turned back into the bungalow with a heavy frown.
"The major's a bungling fool!" he said bitterly.
Tudor was very quiet and preoccupied during breakfast, but Audrey would
not notice it; and when at length she rose from the table she laid her
fingers for a second on his shoulder in a passing caress.
He turned instantly and took her hand.
"Just a moment, Audrey!" he said gravely.
She stopped unwillingly, her hand fidgeting ineffectually to be free.
He rose, still holding it in a quiet, strong grasp. He was frowning
"I only want to say," he said, "that what you did this morning was
somewhat unusual, though you may not have been aware of it. Please don't
do it again!"
Her cheeks flamed, and she met his eyes defiantly. She left her hand in
his rather than prove her weakness, but quite suddenly she was trembling
all over. It was a moment for asserting her freedom of action, and she
fully meant to do so; but she was none the less afraid.
"I was aware of it," she said, speaking very quickly before his look
could disconcert her. "But then what I did last night was unusual, too.
Also what Phil Turner did for me. You—you don't seem to realise that he
saved my life!"
"I think you discharged your debt," Tudor returned, with a certain
dryness that struck her unpleasantly.
"What else could I have done?" she demanded stormily. "If you had been
in my place—"
He stopped her.
"I was not discussing that," he said. "I have not blamed you for that.
Under the circumstances, you did the best thing possible. But I can't
say the same of your conduct this morning; and since you knew that what
you did was highly unconventional, I blame you for it. I hope you will
be more careful in the future."
Audrey was chafing openly before he ended.
"You treat me like a child," she broke in, the instant he paused. "You
don't give me credit for any judgment or discretion of my own."
He raised his eyebrows.
"That is hardly remarkable," he said.
She snatched her hand from him at last, too exasperated for the moment
to care what she did or how she did it.
"It is remarkable," she declared, her voice quivering with wrath.
"It—it's intolerable. And there's something else that struck me as
remarkable, too, and that is that you didn't think it worth while even
to thank Phil for—for saving my life last night. I think you might
have expressed a little gratitude, even—even if you didn't feel it."
The bitter words were uttered before she realised their full bitterness.
But the moment she had spoken them she knew, for his face told her.
A dead silence followed her outburst, and while it lasted she was
casting about wildly for some means of escape other than headlong
flight. Then, as if he read her impulse in her eyes, he moved at last
and turned aside.
She did not hear his sigh as she made her escape, or even then she might
have scaled the barrier that divided them, and found beyond it a better
thing than the freedom she prized so highly.
MRS. TUDOR'S CONFESSION
"Come in and sit down, Mrs. Tudor. Mrs. Raleigh isn't at home. But she
can't be long now. I have been waiting nearly half an hour."
Phil Turner hoisted himself out of the easiest chair in the Raleighs'
drawing-room as he uttered the words, and advanced with a friendly smile
to greet the newcomer.
"Oh, isn't she in?" said Audrey. "I am afraid I took her for granted at
"We all do," he assured her. "It is what she likes best. Do you know, I
haven't seen you for nearly a fortnight? I called, you know, twice; but
you were out."
Audrey laughed inconsequently.
"Why don't you treat me as you treat Mrs. Raleigh?" she said. "Come in
and wait, next time."
Phil smiled as he handed her to the chair he had just vacated.
"The major isn't so kind to subalterns," he said. "He would certainly
think, if he didn't say it, that it was like my cheek."
Audrey frowned over this.
"I don't see what he has to do with it," she declared finally. "But it
doesn't signify. How is your arm?"
"Practically convalescent, thanks! There's nothing like first aid, you
know. I say, Mrs. Tudor, you weren't any the worse? It didn't hurt you?"
He looked down at her with anxiety in his frank eyes, and Audrey was
conscious suddenly that he was no longer a mere casual acquaintance.
Perhaps she had been vaguely aware of it before, but the actual
realisation of it had not been in her mind till that moment.
She laughed lightly.
"Of course not," she said. "How could it? Don't be so ridiculous, Phil."
His face cleared.
"That's right," he said heartily. "Don't mind me. But I couldn't help
wondering. And I thought it was so decent of you to come round and look
me up on that first morning."
Audrey's smile faded.
"I am glad you thought it was decent, anyhow," she said, with a touch of
bitterness. "No one else did."
"Oh, rot, Mrs. Tudor!"
Phil spoke hastily. He was frowning, as his custom was when embarrassed.
She looked up at him and nodded emphatically.
"Yes, it was—just that," she said, an odd little note of passion in
her voice. "I never thought of these things before, but it seems that
here no one thinks of anything else."
"Don't take any notice of it," said Phil. "It isn't worth it."
"I can't help myself," said Audrey. "You see—I'm married!"
"So is Mrs. Raleigh." Phil spoke with sudden heat. "But she doesn't
"No, I know. But her husband is such an old dear. Everything she does is
right in his eyes."
It was skating on thin ice, and Phil at least realised it. He made an
abrupt effort to pull up.
"Yes, I'm awfully fond of Major Raleigh," he said. "By the way, he's an
immense admirer of yours. Your promptitude the other night quite won his
heart. He complimented your husband upon it."
"Did he? What did Eustace say?"
There was more than curiosity in Audrey's voice.
"I don't know."
Phil's eyes suddenly avoided hers. He spoke in a dogged, half-surly
Audrey sat and looked at him for a moment. Then lightly she rose and
stood before him.
"Tell me, please!" she said imperiously.
He made a sharp gesture of remonstrance.
"Sorry," he said, after a moment, as she waited inexorably. "I can't!"
"Oh, but you can!" she returned. "You're not to say you won't to me."
He looked down at her.
"I am sorry!" he said less brusquely. "But it can't be done. It isn't
worth a tussle, I assure you, nor is it worth the possible annoyance it
might cause you if you had your way. Look here, can't we talk of
She laid her hand impulsively on his arm.
"Tell me, Phil!" she said.
He drew back abruptly.
"You put me in a beastly position, Mrs. Tudor," he said. "I hate
repeating things. It isn't fair to corner me like this."
"Don't be absurd!" said Audrey. Her face was flushed and determined. She
was bent upon having her own way in this, at least. "I shall begin to
hate you in a minute."
But Phil could be determined, too.
"Can't help it," he said; but there was genuine regret in his voice.
"You'll have to, I'm afraid."
He was scarcely prepared for the effect of his words. She flung away
from him in tempestuous anger and turned as if to leave the room. But
before she reached the door some other impulse apparently overtook her.
She stopped abruptly with her back to Phil, and stood for what seemed to
him interminable seconds, fumbling with her handkerchief.
Then, before he had fully realised the approaching catastrophe, her
self-control suddenly deserted her. She sank into a chair with her hands
over her face and began to cry.
Now, Phil was young, and no woman had ever thus abandoned herself to
tears in his presence before. The sight sent a sharp shock through him
that was almost like a dart of physical pain. It paralysed him for an
instant; but the next he strode forward, convention flung to the winds,
desirous only to comfort. He reached her and bent over her, one hand
upon her shaking shoulder.
"I say, Mrs. Tudor, don't—don't!" he urged. "What is the matter? You're
not crying because I wouldn't do as you asked me? You couldn't care all
that for such a trifle?"
His voice was husky with agitation. He felt guiltily that it was all his
fault, and he could have kicked himself for his clumsiness.
She did not answer him, nor did her sobs grow less. It was the pent-up
misery of weeks to which she was giving vent, and, having yielded, it
was no easy matter to check herself again.
Phil became desperate and knelt down by her side, almost as distressed
"I say," he pleaded—"I say, Audrey, don't cry! Tell me what is wrong.
Let me help you. Give me a chance, anyhow. I—I'd do anything in the
world, you know. Only tell me."
He drew one of her hands away from her face and held it between his own.
She did not resist him. Her need of a comforter just then was very
great. Her head was bowed almost against his shoulder and it did not
occur to either of them that they were transgressing the most
elementary laws of conventionality.
"You can't help me," she sobbed at last. "No one can. I'm just lonely
and miserable and homesick. I hate this place and everyone in it
except—except you—and a few others. I wish I were back in England. I
wish I'd never left it. I wish—I wish—I'd never married."
Her voice came muffled and piteous. It was the cry of a desolate child.
And all the deep chivalry in Phil's soul quivered and thrilled in
response. Before he knew it, tender, consoling words had sprung to his
"Don't cry, dear; don't cry!" he said. "You'll feel better about it
presently. We all go through it, and it's beastly, I know, I know. But
it won't last. Nothing does in this chancy world. So what's the good of
She could not tell him. Her trouble was too immense at that moment to
bear discussion. But he comforted her. She liked the feel of his hand
upon her shoulder; the firm, friendly grasp of his fingers about her
"I sometimes think I can't go on," she whispered through her tears.
"It's like being in prison, and I want to run away. Only I can't—I
can't. I've got to bear it all my life."
A slight sound from the open window followed this confidence, and Phil
looked up sharply. Audrey had not heard it, and she did not notice his
Her head was still bent; and over it Phil, glaring like a tiger, met
the quiet, critical eyes of the girl's husband.
He rose to his feet the next instant, but he did not utter a word.
As for Tudor, he stood quite motionless, quite inscrutable, for the
space of seconds, looking gravely in upon them. Then, to Phil's
unspeakable amazement, he turned deliberately and walked away. There was
thick matting on Mrs. Raleigh's veranda, and his receding footsteps made
AN UNPLEASANT INTERVIEW
"There!" said Audrey, a few seconds later, "I've been a perfect idiot, I
know; but I'm better now. Tell me, do I look as if I had been crying?"
She raised her pretty, woebegone face to his and smiled very faintly.
There was something unmistakably grim about Phil at that moment, and she
"Of course you do," he said bluntly.
Audrey got up and peered at herself uneasily in a mirror.
"It doesn't show much," she said, after a careful inspection. "And,
anyhow"—turning round to him—"I don't know what you have to be cross
about. It—it was all your fault!"
Phil groaned and held his peace. She would know soon enough, he
Audrey drew nearer to him.
"Tell me what he said to Major Raleigh, Phil," she said rather
He shrugged his shoulders and yielded.
"He only said that he wished your discretion equalled your promptitude
in emergencies," he said.
"Oh," said Audrey. "Was that all? Well, I think you might have told me
Phil laughed grudgingly. The situation was abominable, but her utter
childishness palliated it. How was Tudor going to treat the matter? he
wondered. What if he—
A sudden thought flashed across Phil's brain, and his face grew set. Of
course it had been his fault, since she said so. It remained therefore
for him to extricate her, if he could. He turned to her.
"Look here, Mrs. Tudor," he said, in a judicious, elder-brotherly tone,
"I think it's a mistake, don't you know, to let yourself get depressed
over—well, little things. I know what it is to feel down on your luck.
But luck turns, you know, and—and—he's a good sort—a bit stiff and
difficult to get on with, but still—a good sort. You won't think me
rude if I leave you now? I didn't expect Mrs. Raleigh to be so long, and
I'm afraid I can't wait any longer. I've got to dress for mess."
"Goodness!" said Audrey, with a glance at the clock. "Does it take you
two hours? No, don't scowl! I'm only joking, so you needn't be cross.
Good-bye, then! Thank you for being kind to me."
Her hand lay in his for a moment. She was smiling at him rather sadly,
notwithstanding her half-bantering words.
Phil paused a second.
"I'm confoundedly sorry!" he said impulsively. "Don't cry any more."
She shook her head and withdrew her hand.
"Who says I've been crying?" she said lightly. "Go away, and don't be
He took her at her word and departed.
At the gate of the compound he met Mrs. Raleigh, but he refused to turn
back with her.
"I really must go; I've got an engagement," he said. "But Mrs. Tudor is
waiting for you. Keep her as long as you can. I believe she's a bit
down—homesick, you know." And he hurried away, breaking into a run as
soon as he reached the road.
He went straight to the Tudor's bungalow without giving himself time to
flinch from the interview that he had made up his mind he must have.
The major sahib was in, the khitmutgar told him and Phil scribbled
an urgent message on his card and sent it to him. Two minutes later he
was shown into his superior officer's presence, and he realised that he
stood committed to the gravest task he had ever undertaken.
Major Tudor was sitting unoccupied before the writing-table in his
smoking-room, but he rose as Phil entered. His face was composed as
"Well, Mr. Turner?" he said, as Phil came heavily forward.
Phil, more nervous than he had ever been before, halted in front of
"I came to speak to you, sir," he said with an effort, "to—to
Tudor was standing with his back to the light. He made no attempt to
help him out of his difficulties.
Phil came to an abrupt pause; then, as if some inner force had suddenly
come to his assistance, he straightened himself and tackled the matter
"I came to tell you, sir," he said, meeting Tudor's eyes squarely, "that
I have nothing to be ashamed of. In case"—he paused momentarily—"you
should misunderstand what you saw half an hour ago, I thought it better
to speak at once."
"Very prudent," said Tudor. "But—it is quite unnecessary. I do not
He spoke deliberately and coldly. But Phil clenched his hands. The words
cut him like a whip.
"You refuse to believe me?" he said.
Tudor did not answer.
"I must trouble you for an answer," Phil said, forcing himself to speak
"As you please," said Tudor, in the same cold tone. "I have a question
to put first. Had I not chanced to see what took place, would you have
sought this interview?"
The blood rose in a hot wave to Phil's head, but he did not wince or
"Of course I shouldn't," he said.
Tudor made a curt gesture as of dismissal.
"Out of your own mouth—" he said, and turned contemptuously away.
Phil stood quite still for the space of ten seconds, then the young
blood in him suddenly mounted to fever pitch. He strode up to his major,
and seized him fiercely by the shoulder.
"I won't bear this from any man," he said between his teeth. "I am as
honourable as you are! If you say—or insinuate—otherwise, I—by
Heaven—I'll kill you!"
The passionate words ceased, and there followed a silence more terrible
than any speech. Tudor stood absolutely motionless, facing the young
subaltern who towered over him, without a sign of either anger or
Then at last, very slowly and quietly, he spoke:
"You have made a mistake. Take your hand away."
Phil's hand dropped to his side. He was white to the lips. Yet he would
not relinquish his purpose at a word.
"It hasn't been for my own sake," he said, his voice still shaking with
the anger he could not subdue.
Tudor made no response. He stood with his eyes fixed steadily upon
Phil's agitated face. And, as if compelled by that searching gaze, Phil
reiterated the assertion.
"If I had only had myself to consider," he said, "I shouldn't
have—stooped—to offer an explanation."
"Let me remind you," Tudor said quietly, "that I have not asked for
"You prefer to misunderstand?" said Phil quickly.
"I prefer to take my own view," amended Tudor. "If you are wise—you
will be satisfied to leave it so."
It was final, and, though far from satisfied, Phil felt the futility of
further discussion. He turned to the door.
"Very well, sir," he said briefly, and went out, holding his head high.
As for Tudor, he sat down again before his writing-table with an unmoved
countenance, and after a short interval took up his correspondence.
There was no anger in his eyes.
AT THE DANCE
Audrey saw no more of Phil Turner for some days. She did not enjoy much
of her husband's society, either. He appeared to be too busy to think of
her, and she in consequence spent most of her time with Mrs. Raleigh.
But Phil, who had been one of the latter's most constant visitors, did
not show himself there.
It did not occur to Audrey that he absented himself on her account, and
she was disappointed not to meet him. Next perhaps to the surgeon's
wife, she had begun to regard him as her greatest friend. Certainly the
tie of obligation that bound them together was one that seemed to
warrant an intimate friendship. Moreover, Phil had been exceptionally
kind to her in distress, kinder far than Eustace had ever been.
She was growing away from her husband very rapidly, and she knew it,
mourned over it even in softer moments; but she felt powerless to remedy
the evil. It seemed so obvious to her that he did not care.
So she spent more and more of her hours away from the bungalow that had
been made so dainty for her presence, and Eustace never seemed to notice
that she was absent from his side.
He accompanied her always when she went out in the evening, but he no
longer intruded his guardianship upon her, and deep in her inmost heart
this thing hurt his young wife as nothing had ever hurt her before. She
had her own way in all matters, but it gave her no pleasure; and the
feeling that, though he might not approve of what she did, he would
never remonstrate, grew and festered within her till she sometimes
marvelled that he did not read her misery in her eyes.
She met Phil Turner again at length at a regimental dance. As usual her
card was quickly filled, but she reserved a waltz for him, and after a
while he came across and asked her for one.
"You were very nearly too late," she told him. "Why didn't you come
He looked awkward for a moment. Then—
"I was busy," he said rather shortly. "I'm one of the stewards."
He scrawled his initials across her card and left her again. Audrey
concluded in her girlish way that something had made him cross, and
dismissed him from her mind.
When at length he came to claim her she was hot and tired and suggested
He frowned at the idea, but, upon Audrey waxing imperious, he yielded.
They sat out together, but not in the cool dark of the veranda as she
had anticipated, but in the full glare of the ballroom amidst all the
hubbub of the dancers.
Audrey was annoyed, and showed it.
"I am sure we might find a seat on the veranda," she said.
But Phil was obstinate.
"I assure you, Mrs. Tudor," he said, "I looked in there just now, and
every seat was occupied."
"I don't believe you are telling the truth," she returned.
He raised his eyebrows.
"Thank you!" he said briefly.
Something in the curt reply caught her attention, and she gave him a
quick glance. He was looking remarkably handsome in his red and gold
uniform with the scarlet cummerbund across his shirt. Vexed as she was
with him, Audrey could not help admitting it to herself. His brown,
resolute face attracted her irresistibly.
She allowed a considerable pause to ensue before she went to the
inevitable attack. Somehow, notwithstanding his surliness, she had not
the faintest desire to quarrel with him.
"You're very grumpy to-night," she remarked at length in her cheery
young voice. "What's the matter?"
He started and looked intensely uncomfortable.
"Nothing—of course!" he said.
"Why of course? I wonder. With me it's the other way round. I am never
cross without a reason."
Audrey was still cheery.
He smiled faintly.
"I congratulate you," he said.
Audrey smiled also. Fully exposed as was their position, there was no
one near enough to overhear.
"Well, don't be cross any more, Phil," she said persuasively. "Cheer up,
and come to tiffin with me to-morrow. Will you? I shall be quite alone."
Phil's smile departed instantly. He glanced at her for a second, and
then fixed his eyes steadily upon the ground between his feet.
"You're awfully good!" he said at last. "But—thanks very much—I
"Can't?" echoed Audrey, with genuine disappointment. "Oh, I'm sure
that's nonsense! Why can't you? You're not on duty?"
"No," he said, speaking slowly, "I'm not on duty; but—fact is, I'm
going up to the Hills shooting for a few days and—I shall be busy,
packing guns and things. Besides—"
"Oh, do stop!" she broke in, with sudden impatience. "I know you are
only making up as you go along. It's very horrid of you, besides being
contemptible. Why can't you say at once that you are not coming because
you don't want to come?"
Her quick pride had taken fire at sound of his deliberate excuse; and,
as was its wont upon provocation, her anger flamed high at a moment's
Phil did not look at her. His expression was decidedly uneasy, but
there was a certain grimness about him that did not seem to indicate the
probability of any excessive show of docility in face of a browbeating.
"I don't say it," he said doggedly at length, "because, besides being
rude, it wouldn't be strictly true."
"I shouldn't have thought you would have had any scruples of that sort,"
rejoined Audrey, hitting her hardest because he had managed to hurt her.
"They haven't been very apparent to-night."
Phil made no protest, but he was frowning heavily.
She leant slightly towards him, speaking behind her fan.
"Be honest just for a second," she said, "if you can, and tell me; are
you tired of calling yourself a friend of mine? Are you trying to get
out of it? Because, if you are, it's quite the easiest thing in the
world to do so. But once done—"
She paused. Phil was looking at her at last, and there was something in
his eyes that startled her. A sudden pity rushed over her heart. She
felt as she had felt once long ago in England when a dog—an old friend
of hers—had been injured. He had looked at her with just such eyes as
those that were fixed upon her now. Their dumb pleading had been almost
more than she could bear.
Involuntarily she laid her hand on his arm, music and dancers all
forgotten in that moment of swift emotion.
"Phil," she whispered tremulously, "what is it? What is it?"
He did not answer her by a single word. He simply rose to his feet, as
if by her action she had suggested it, and whirled her in among the
He kept her going to the very last chord, she too full of wonder and
uncertainty to protest; and then he led her straight through the room to
where Mrs. Raleigh stood, surrounded by the usual crowd of subalterns,
muttered an excuse, and left her there.
It was nearly a week later that Audrey, riding home alone in a rickshaw
from a polo-match, was overtaken by young Gerald Devereux, a subaltern,
who was tearing along on foot as if on some urgent errand. Recognising
her, he reduced his speed and dropped into a jog-trot by her side.
"You haven't heard, of course?" he jerked out breathlessly. "Beastly bad
news! Those hill tribes—always up to some devilry! Poor old
"What?" exclaimed Audrey. "What has happened to him? Tell me, quick,
She turned as white as paper, and Devereux cursed himself for a clumsy
"It may not be the worst," he gasped back. "Dash it! I'm so winded! We
hope, you know, we hope—but it's usually a knife and good-bye with
these ruffians. Still, there's a chance—just a chance."
"But you haven't told me what has happened yet," cried Audrey, in a
fever of impatience.
He answered her, still running by her side "The Waris have got him;
rushed his camp at night and bagged everything. The coolies were in the
know, no doubt. Only his shikari got away. He has just come in wounded
with the news. I'm on my way to tell the Chief, though I don't see what
good he can do."
"You mean you think he is murdered?" gasped Audrey, through white lips.
"Afraid so, poor beggar! Well, so long, Mrs. Tudor! We must hope for the
best as long as we can."
He put his hand to his cap, and ran on, while Audrey, with a set, white
face, was borne to her bungalow.
Her husband was sitting on the veranda. He rose as she alighted and gave
her his hand up the short flight of steps to his side.
"You are rather late," he said in his grave way. "I am afraid you will
have to hurry."
They were dining out that night, but Audrey had forgotten it. She stared
at him as if dazed.
"What is it?" he asked. "Nothing wrong?"
She gasped hysterically.
"Oh, Eustace, an awful thing—an awful thing!" she cried. "Mr. Devereux
has just told me—"
Her voice broke, and her lips formed soundless words. She groped vaguely
for support with one hand.
Tudor put his arm round her and led her, tottering, indoors.
"All right; tell me presently," he said quietly. "Sit down and keep
still for a little."
He put her into an arm-chair and left her there. In a few seconds he
returned with some brandy and water, which he held to her lips in
silence. Then, setting down the glass, he began to rub her nerveless
Audrey submitted passively at first to his ministrations, but presently
as her strength returned she sat up.
"You haven't heard?" she asked him shakily.
"I have heard nothing," he answered. "Can you tell me now?"
"Yes—yes!" She paused a moment to steady her voice. Then—"It's Phil!"
she faltered. "He has been taken prisoner—murdered perhaps—by those
dreadful hill men! Oh Eustace"—lifting her face appealingly—"do you
think they would kill him? Do you? Do you?"
But Tudor said nothing. He made no attempt to comfort her, and she
turned from him in bitter disappointment. His lack of sympathy at such a
moment was almost more than she could bear.
"How did Devereux know?" he asked, after a pause.
She shook her head.
"He said something about a shikari. He was going to tell the colonel;
but he didn't think it would be any use. He said—he said—"
She broke off, quivering with agitation. Her husband took the glass
from the table again and made her drink a little. She tried to refuse,
but he insisted.
"You have had a shock. It will do you good," he said, in his level,
And Audrey yielded to the mastery she had scarcely felt of late.
The spirit helped to steady her, and at length she rose.
"I am going to my room, Eustace," she said, not looking at him.
"I—can't go out to-night. Perhaps you will make my excuses."
He did not answer her, and she threw him a swift glance. He was standing
stiff and upright. His face was stern and composed; it might have been a
"What excuse am I to make?" he asked.
Her eyes widened. The question was utterly unexpected.
"Why, the truth—of course," she said. "Say that I have been upset by
the news, that—that—I hadn't the heart—I couldn't—Eustace,"—appealing
suddenly, a tremor of indignation in her voice—"you don't seem to realise
that he is one of my greatest friends. Don't you understand?"
"Yes," he said—"yes, I understand!"
And she marvelled at the coldness—the deadly, concentrated coldness—of
"All the same," he went on, "I think you must make an effort to
accompany me to the Bentleys' to-night. It might be thought unusual if
I went alone."
She stared at him in sudden, amazed anger.
"Eustace!" she exclaimed. "How can you be so cruel, so cold-blooded,
so—so heartless? How can you expect such a thing of me—to sit at table
and hear them all talking about it, and his chances discussed? I
He did not press the point. Perhaps he realised that her nerves in their
present condition would prove wholly unequal to such a strain.
"Very well," he said quietly at length. "I will send a note to excuse us
"I don't see why you should stay at home," Audrey said, turning to the
door. "I would far rather be alone."
He did not explain his motive, and she went out of his presence with a
sensation of relief. She had never fully realised before how wide the
gulf between them had become.
She remained shut up in her room all the evening, eating nothing, face
to face with the horror of young Devereux's brief words. It was the
first time within her memory that death had approached her sheltered
life, and she was shocked and frightened, as a child is frightened by
the terrors of the dark.
Very late that night she crept into bed, dismissing her ayah, and lay
there shivering and forlorn, thinking, thinking, of the cruel faces and
flashing knives that Phil had awaked to see. She dozed at last in her
misery, only to wake again with a shriek of nightmare terror, and start
up sobbing hysterically.
"Why, Audrey!" a quiet voice said, and she woke fully, to find her
husband standing by her bed.
She turned to him impulsively, hiding her face against him, clinging to
him with straining arms. She could not utter a word, for an anguish of
weeping overtook her. And he was silent also, bending over her, his hand
upon her head.
Gradually the paroxysm passed and she grew quieter; but she still clung
closely to him, and at length with difficulty she began to speak.
"Oh, Eustace, it's all so horrible! I can't help seeing it. I'm sure
he's dead, or, if he isn't, it's almost worse. And I was so—unkind to
him the last time we were together. I thought he was cross, but I know
now he was only miserable; and I never dreamt I was never going to see
him again, or I wouldn't have been so—so horrid!"
Haltingly, pathetically, the poor little confession was gasped out
through quivering sobs and the face of the man who listened was no
longer a stony mask; it was alight and tender with a compassion too
great for utterance.
He bent a little lower over her, pressing her head closer to his heart;
and she heard its beating, slow and strong and regular, through all the
turmoil of her distress.
"Poor child!" he said. "Poor child!"
It was all the comfort he had to offer, but it was more to her than any
other words he had ever spoken. It voiced a sympathy which till that
moment had been wholly lacking—a sympathy that she desired more than
anything else on earth.
"Don't go away, Eustace!" she begged presently. "It—it's so dreadful
"Try to sleep, dear," he said gently.
"Yes, but I dream, I dream," she whispered piteously.
He laid her very tenderly back on the pillow, and sat down beside her.
"You won't dream while I am here," he said.
She clasped his hand closely in both her own and begged him tremulously
to kiss her. By the dim light of her night-lamp she could scarcely see
his face; but as her lips met his a great peace stole over her. She felt
as if he had stretched out his hands to her across the great, dividing
gulf that had opened between them and drawn her to his side.
About a quarter of an hour later Eustace Tudor rose noiselessly and
stood looking down at his young wife's sleeping face. It was placid as
an infant's, and her breathing was soft and regular. He knew that,
undisturbed, she would sleep so for hours.
And so he did not dare to kiss her. He only bowed his head till his lips
touched the coverlet beneath which she lay; and then stealthily,
silently, he crept away.
A CHANGE OF PRISONERS
Heavens, how the night crawled! Phil Turner, bound hand and foot, and
cruelly cramped in every limb, hitched himself to a sitting posture and
began to calculate how long he probably had to live.
There was no moon, but the starlight entered his prison—it was no more
than a mud hut, but had it been built of stone walls many feet thick his
chance would scarcely have been lessened. It was merely a question of
time, he knew, and he marvelled that his fate had been delayed so long.
To use his comrade's descriptive language, he had expected "a knife and
good-bye" full twenty hours before. But neither had been his portion. He
had been made a prisoner before he was fully awake, and hustled away to
the native fort before sunrise. He had been given chupatties to eat
and spring water to drink, and, though painfully stiff from his bonds,
he was unwounded.
It had been a daring capture, he reflected; but what were they keeping
him for? Not for the sake of hospitality—of that he was grimly
certain. There had been no pretence at any friendly feeling on the part
of his captors. They had glared hatred at him from the outset, and Phil
was firmly convinced, without any undue pessimism, that they had not the
smallest intention of sparing his life.
But why they postponed the final deed was a problem, that he found
himself quite unable to solve. It had worried him perpetually for twenty
hours, and, combined with the misery of his bonds, made sleep an
Sleep! The very thought of it was horrible to him. It had never struck
him before as a criminal waste of the precious hours of life, for Phil
was young, and he had not done with mortal existence. There were in it
deeps he had not sounded, heights he had never scaled. He was not
prepared to forego these at the will of a parcel of murderous ruffians
who chanced to object to the white man's rule. He had friends,
too—friends he could not afford to lose—friends who could not afford
to lose him.
Doubtless his murder would be avenged in due course; but—He grimaced
wrily to himself in the darkness, and tried once more to ease his
From outside came the murmur of voices. He could just see the shoulder
of one of his guards at the entrance and the steel glint of a
rifle-barrel. He gazed at the latter hungrily. Oh, for just a sporting
chance—to be free even in the midst of his enemies with that in his
A shadow fell across the entrance, and he saw the rifle no more. He saw
the two Wari sentinels salaaming profoundly, and he began to wonder who
the newcomer might be—a personage of some importance apparently.
There followed an interval of some minutes, during which Phil began to
chafe with feverish impatience. Then at last the shadow became
substance, moving into his line of vision, and a man, wrapped in a long,
native garment and wearing a chuddah that concealed the greater part
of his face, glided into the hut on noiseless, sandalled feet.
He held a naked knife in his hand, and Phil's heart began to thud
unpleasantly. It taxed all a man's self-control to face death in cold
blood, trussed hand and foot and helpless as an infant. But he gripped
himself hard, and faced the weapon without flinching. It would not do to
let these murderous ruffians see a white man afraid.
"Hullo!" he said contemptuously. "Come to put the finishing touch, I
suppose? You'll hang for it, you infernal, treacherous brute; but that's
a detail you border thieves don't seem to mind."
It eased the tension to hurl verbal defiance at his murderer, and there
was just the chance that the fellow might understand a little English.
But when his visitor stooped over him and deliberately cut his bonds, he
was astounded into silence.
He waited dumfounded, and a muscular hand gripped his shoulder, holding
"You'll be all right," a quiet voice said, "if you don't make a
confounded fool of yourself."
Phil gave a great start, and the hand that gripped him tightened.
Through the gloom he made out the outline of a grim, bearded face.
"Control yourself!" the quiet voice ordered. "Do you think I've done
this for nothing? We are alone—it may be for five minutes, it may be
for less. Get out of your things—sharp, and let me have them."
"Great Jupiter—Tudor!" gasped Phil.
"Yes—Tudor!" came the curt response. "Don't stop to jaw. Do as I tell
He took his hand from Phil's shoulder and stood up, backing into the
Phil stood up, too, straightening himself with an effort. The suddenness
of this thing had thrown him momentarily off his balance.
"Quick!" commanded Tudor in a fierce whisper. "Take off your clothes.
There isn't a second to lose."
But Phil stood uncertain.
"What's the game, Major?" he asked.
Tudor's hand gripped him again and violently.
"You fool!" he whispered savagely. "Don't stand gaping there! Can't you
see it's a matter of life and death? Do you want to be killed?"
Phil broke off. Tudor in that frame of mind was a stranger to him, but
he was none the less one who must be obeyed. Mechanically almost he
yielded to the man's insistence and began to strip off his clothes.
Tudor helped him with an energy that neither fumed nor faltered. Mute
obedience was all he required. But when he dropped the garment he wore
from his own shoulders, Phil paused to protest.
"I am not going to wear that!" he said. "What about you?"
"I can look after myself," Tudor answered curtly. "Get into it—quick!
There is no time for arguing. You're going to wear these, too."
He pulled the ragged, black beard from his face and the chuddah from
But Phil's eyes were opened, and he resisted.
"Heavens above, sir!" he said. "Do you think I'm going to do a thing
"You must!" Tudor answered.
He spoke quietly, but there was deadly determination behind his
quietude. They faced one another in the gloom, and suddenly there ran
between them a passion of feeling that blazed unseen like the hidden
current in an electric wire.
For a few seconds it burnt fiercely, silently; then Tudor laid a firm
hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"You must," he said again. "The choice does not rest with you. It is
made already. It only remains for you to yield—whatever it may cost
you—as I am doing."
Phil started as if he had struck him.
"You are wrong, sir," he exclaimed. "On my oath, you are wrong. You
don't understand. You never have understood. I—I—"
Tudor silenced him summarily with a hand upon his lips.
"I know, I know!" he said. "There is no time for this. Leave it and go.
If it is any comfort to you to know it, I think no evil of you. I
realise that what has happened had to happen, was in a sense inevitable,
and I blame myself alone. Listen to me. This disguise will take you
through all right if you keep your mouth shut. You are a priest,
remember, preaching the Jehad, only I've done all the preaching
necessary. You have simply to walk straight through them, down the hill
till you come to the pass, and then along the river-bed till you strike
the road to the Frontier. It's six miles away, but you will do it before
sunrise. No, don't speak! I haven't finished yet. You are going to do
this not for your own sake or for mine. You think you are going to
refuse, but you are not. As for me, your going or staying could make no
difference. I have come with a certain object in view, but I shall
remain, whether I gain that object or not. That I swear to you most
He turned away with the words and began to loosen his sandals. Phil
watched him dumbly. He was face to face with a difficulty of such
monstrous proportions that he was utterly nonplussed. From the distance
came the sound of voices.
"You had better go," observed Tudor, in steady tones. "The guards are
coming back. It will hasten matters for both of us if we are discovered
"Sir!" Phil burst out suddenly. "I—can't!"
Tudor wheeled swiftly. It was almost as if he had been waiting for that
desperate appeal. He caught up the native garment and flung it over
Phil's shoulders. He dragged the beard down over his face and secured
the chuddah about his head. He did it all with incredible rapidity and
a strength that would not be gainsaid.
Then, holding Phil fast in a merciless, irresistible grasp, he spoke:
"If you attempt to disobey me now, I'll kill myself with my own hands."
There was no mistaking the resolution of his voice, and it wrought the
end of the battle—an end inevitable. Phil realised it and accepted it
with a groan. He did not utter another word of protest. He was
conquered, humiliated, powerless. Only when at last he was ready to
depart he stood up and faced Tudor, as he had faced him on the day that
the latter had refused to give him a hearing.
"I've given in to you," he said; "but it's to save your life, if
possible, and for no other reason. You can think what you like of me,
but not—of her! Because, before Heaven, I believe this will break her
He would have said more, but Tudor cut him short.
"Go!" he said. "Go! I know what I am doing—better than you think!"
And Phil turned in silence and went out into the world-wide starlight.
The sun was already high when Audrey awoke. She started up, refreshed in
body and mind. Her first thought was of her husband. No doubt he had
gone out long before. He always rose early, even when off duty.
Then she remembered Phil, and her face contracted as all the trouble of
the night before rushed back upon her. Was he still living? she
She stretched out her hand to ring for her ayah. But as she did so her
eyes fell upon a table by her side and she caught sight of an envelope
lying there. She picked it up.
It was addressed to herself in her husband's handwriting, and, with a
sharp sense of anxiety, she tore it open. The note it contained was
I hope by the time you read this to have procured young Turner's
release, if he still lives—at no very great cost, I beg you to
believe. I desire the letter that you will find on my
writing-table to be sent at once to the colonel. There is also
a note for Mrs. Raleigh which I want you to deliver yourself.
God bless you, Audrey.
Audrey looked up from the letter with startled eyes and white cheeks.
What did it mean? What had he been doing in the night while she slept?
How was it possible for him to have saved Phil?
Trembling, she sprang from her bed and began to dress. Possibly the note
to Mrs. Raleigh might explain the mystery. She would ride round with it
She went into Tudor's room before starting and found the letter for the
colonel. It was addressed and sealed. She gave it to a syce with
orders to deliver it into the colonel's own hands without delay.
Then, still quivering with an apprehension she would not own, she
mounted and rode away to the surgeon's bungalow.
Mrs. Raleigh received her with some surprise.
"Ah, come in!" she said kindly. "I'm delighted to see you, dear; but,
sure, you are riding very late. And is there anything the matter?"
"Yes," gasped Audrey breathlessly. "I mean no, I hope not. My husband
has—has gone to try to save Phil Turner; and—and he left a note for
you, which I was to deliver. He went away in the night, but he—of
course he'll—be back—soon!"
Her voice faltered and died away. There was a look on Mrs. Raleigh's
face, hidden as it were behind her smile, that struck terror to Audrey's
heart. She thrust out the letter in an anguish of unconcealed suspense.
"Read it! Read it!" she implored, "and tell me what has
happened—quickly, for I—I don't understand!"
Mrs. Raleigh took the letter, passing a supporting arm around the girl's
"Sit down, dear!" she said tenderly.
Audrey obeyed, but her face was still raised in voiceless supplication
as Mrs. Raleigh opened the letter. The pause that followed was terrible
to her. She endured it in wrung silence, her hands fast gripped
Then Mrs. Raleigh turned, and in her eyes was a deep compassion, a
motherly tenderness of pity, that was to Audrey the confirmation of her
She did not speak again. Her heart felt constricted, paralysed. But Mrs.
Raleigh saw the entreaty which her whole body expressed, and, stooping,
she took the rigid hands into hers.
"My dear," she said, "he has gone into the Hills in disguise, up to the
native fort beyond Wara, as that is where he expects to find Phil.
Heaven help him and bring them both back!"
Audrey stared at her with a stunned expression. Her lips were quite
white, and Mrs. Raleigh thought she was going to faint.
But Audrey did not lose consciousness. She sat there as if turned to
stone, trying to speak and failing to make any sound. At last,
convulsively, words came.
"They will take him for a spy," she said, both hands pressed to her
throat as if something there hurt her intolerably. "The
"My darling, my darling, we must hope—hope and pray!" said the
Irishwoman, holding her closely.
Audrey turned suddenly, passionately, in the enfolding arms and clung to
her as if in physical agony.
"You may, you may," she said in a dreadful whisper, "but I can't—for I
don't believe. Do you in your heart believe he will ever come back?"
Mrs. Raleigh did not answer.
Audrey went on, still holding her tightly:
"Do you think I don't know why he wrote to you? It was to put me in your
care, because—because he knew he was never coming back. And shall
I—shall I tell you why he went?"
"Darling, hush—hush!" pleaded Mrs. Raleigh, her voice unsteady with
emotion. "There, don't say any more! Put your head on my shoulder, love.
Let me hold you so."
But Audrey's convulsive hold did not relax. She had been a child all her
life up to that moment, but, like a worn-out garment, her childhood had
slipped from her, and she had emerged a woman. The old, happy ignorance
was gone for ever, and the revelation that had dispelled it was almost
more than she could bear. Her newly developed womanhood suffered as
womanhood alone can suffer.
And yet, could she have drawn the veil once more before her eyes and so
have deadened that agonising pain, she would not have done so.
She was awake now. The long, long sleep with its gay dreams, its
careless illusions, was over. But it was better to be awake, better to
see and know things as they were, even if the anguish thereof killed
her. And so she refused the hushing comfort that only a child—such a
child as she had been but yesterday—could have found satisfying.
"Yes, I can tell you—now—why he went," she said, in that tense whisper
which so wrung Mrs. Raleigh's heart. "He went—for my sake! Think of it!
Think of it! He went because I was fretting about Phil. He went
because—because he thought—- that Phil's safety—meant—my happiness,
and that his safety—his—his precious life—didn't—count!"
The awful words sank into breathless silence. Mrs. Raleigh was crying
silently. She was powerless to cope with this. But Audrey shed no tears.
It was beyond tears and beyond mourning—this terrible revelation that
had come to her. By-and-by, it might be, both would come to her, if she
She rose suddenly at length with a sharp gasp, as of one seeking air.
"I am going," she said, in a clear, strong voice, "to the colonel. He
will help me to save my husband."
And with that she turned to the veranda, and met the commanding-officer
face to face. There was another man behind him, but she did not look at
him. She instantly, without a second's pause, addressed the colonel.
"I was coming to you," she said through her white lips. "You will help
me. You must help me. My husband is a prisoner, and I am going into the
Hills to find him. You must follow with men and guns. He must be
saved—whatever it costs."
The colonel laid his hand on her shoulder, looking down at her very
earnestly, very kindly.
"My dear Mrs. Tudor," he said, "all that can be done shall be done, all
that is humanly possible. I have already told Turner so. Did you know
that he was safe?"
He drew her forward a step, and she saw that the man behind him was Phil
Turner himself—Phil Turner, grave, strong, resolute, with all his
manhood strung up to the moment's emergency, all his boyhood submerged
in a responsibility that overwhelmed the lesser part of him, leaving
only that which was great.
He went straight up to Audrey and took the hands she stretched out to
him. Neither of them felt the presence of onlookers.
"He saved my life, Mrs. Tudor!" he said simply. "He forced me to take it
at his hands. But I'm going back with some men to find him. You stay
here with Mrs. Raleigh till we come back. We shall be quicker alone."
A great sob burst from Audrey. It was as if the few gallant words had
loosened the awful constriction at her heart.
"Oh, Phil, Phil!" she cried brokenly. "You understand—what this is to
me—how I love him—how I love him! Bring him back to me! Promise, Phil,
And Phil bent till his lips touched the hands he held.
"I will do it," he said with reverence—"so help me, God!"
A WOMAN'S AGONY
All through the day and the night that followed Audrey watched and
She spent the terrible hours at the Raleighs' bungalow, scarcely
conscious of her surroundings in her anguish of suspense. It possessed
her like a raging fever, and she could not rest. At times it almost
seemed to suffocate her, and then she would pace to and fro, to and fro,
hardly knowing what she did.
Mrs. Raleigh never left her, caring for her with a maternal tenderness
that never flagged. But for her Audrey would almost certainly have
collapsed under the strain.
"If he had only known! If he had only known!" she kept repeating. "But
how could he know? for I never showed him. How could he even guess? And
now he never can know. It's too late, too late!"
Futile, bitter regret! All through the night it followed her, and when
morning came the haggard misery it had wrought upon her face had robbed
it of all its youth.
Mrs. Raleigh tried to comfort her with hopeful words, but she did not
seem so much as to hear them. She was listening, listening intently, for
It was about noon that young Travers raced in, hot and breathless, but
he stopped short in evident dismay when he saw Audrey. He would have
withdrawn as precipitately as he had entered, but she sprang after him
and caught him by the arms.
"You have news!" she cried wildly. "What is it? Oh, what is it? Tell me
He hesitated and glanced nervously at Mrs. Raleigh.
"Yes, tell her," the latter said. "It is better than suspense."
And so briefly, jerkily, the boy blurted on his news:
"Phil's back again; but they haven't got the major. The fort was
deserted, except for one old man, and they have brought him along. They
are over at the colonel's bungalow now."
He paused, shocked by the awful look his tidings had brought into
The next instant she had sprung past him to the open door and was gone,
bareheaded and distraught, into the blazing sunshine.
How she covered the distance of the long, white road to the colonel's
bungalow, Audrey never remembered afterwards. Her agony of mind was too
great for her brain to register any impression of physical stress. She
only knew that she ran and ran as one runs in a nightmare, till
suddenly she was on the veranda of the colonel's bungalow, stumbling,
breathless, crying hoarsely for "Phil! Phil!"
He came to her instantly.
"Where is he?" she cried, in high, strained tones. "Where is my husband?
You promised to bring him back to me! You promised—you promised—"
Her voice failed. She felt choked, as if an iron hand were slowly,
remorselessly, crushing the life out of her panting heart. Thick
darkness hovered above her, but she fought it from her wildly,
"You promised—" She gasped again.
He took her gently by the arm, supporting her.
"Mrs. Tudor," he said very earnestly, "I have done my best."
He led her unresisting into a room close by. The colonel was there, and
with him a man in flowing, native garments.
"Mrs. Tudor," said Phil, his hand closing tightly upon her arm, "before
you blame me, I want you to speak to this man. He can tell you more
about your husband than I can."
He spoke very quietly, very steadily, almost as if he were afraid she
might not understand him.
Audrey made an effort to collect her reeling senses. The colonel bent
"Don't be afraid of him, Mrs. Tudor," he said kindly. "He is a friend,
and he speaks English."
But Audrey did not so much as glance at the native, who stood, silent
and impassive, waiting to be questioned. The agony of the past thirty
hours had reached its limit. She sank into a chair by the colonel's
table and hid her face in her shaking hands.
"I've nothing to ask him," she said hopelessly. "Eustace is
dead—dead—dead, without ever knowing how I loved him. Nothing matters
now. There is nothing left that ever can matter."
Dead silence succeeded her words, then a quiet movement, then silence
She did not look up or stir. Her passion of grief had burnt itself out.
She was exhausted mentally and physically.
Minutes passed, but she did not move. What was there to rouse her? There
was nothing left. She had no tears to shed. Tears were for small things.
This grief of hers was too immense, too infinite for tears.
Only at last something, some inner prompting, stirred her, and as if at
the touch of a hand that compelled, she raised her head.
She saw neither the colonel nor Phil, and a sharp prick of wonder
pierced her lethargy of despair. She turned in her chair, obedient still
to that inner force that compelled. Yes, they had gone. Only the native
remained—an old, bent man, who humbly awaited her pleasure. His face
was almost hidden in his chuddah.
Audrey looked at him.
"There is nothing to wait for," she said at length. "You need not
He did not move. It was as if he had not heard. Her wonder grew into a
sort of detached curiosity. What did the man want? She remembered that
the colonel had told her that he understood English.
"Is there—something—you wish to say to me?" she asked, and the bare
utterance of the words kindled a feeble spark of hope within her, almost
in spite of herself.
He turned very slowly.
"Yes, one thing," he said, paused an instant as she sprang to her feet
with a great cry, then straightened himself, pushed the chuddah back
from his face, and flung out his arms to her passionately.
"Audrey!" he said—"Audrey!"
By slow degrees Audrey learnt the story of her husband's escape.
It was Phil's doing in the main, he told her simply, and she understood
that but for Phil he would not have taken the trouble. Something Phil
had said to him that night had stuck in his mind, and it had finally
decided him to make the attempt.
Circumstances had favoured him. Moreover it was by no means the first
time that he had been among the Hill tribes in native guise. One
sentinel alone had returned to guard the hut after Phil's departure, and
this man he had succeeded in overpowering without raising an alarm.
Then, disguising himself once more, he had managed to escape just before
the dawn, and had lain hidden for hours among the boulders of the
river-bed, fearing to emerge by daylight. But in the evening he had left
his hiding-place, and found the fort to be occupied by British troops.
The Waris had gone to earth before their advance, and they had found the
He had forthwith presented himself in his disguise and been taken
before Phil, the officer-in-command.
"But surely he knew you?"
"Yes, he knew me. But I swore him to secrecy."
She drew a little closer to him.
"Eustace, why?" she whispered.
His arm tightened about her.
"I had to know the truth first," he said.
"Oh!" she murmured. "And now—are you satisfied?"
He bent and kissed her forehead gravely, tenderly.
"I am satisfied," he said.
"Well, didn't I tell you so?" laughed Phil, when they shook hands later.
Audrey did not ask him what he meant, for, with all his honesty, Phil
could be enigmatical when he chose. Moreover, it really didn't much
matter, for, as she tacitly admitted to herself, fond as she was of him,
he no longer occupied the place of honour in her thoughts, and she was
not vitally interested in him now that the trouble was over.
So when, a few weeks later, Phil cheerily packed his belongings and
departed to Poonah, having effected an exchange into the other battalion
stationed there, only his major understood why, and was sorry.