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Title: Rosa Mundi and Other Stories
Author: Dell, Ethel M. (Ethel May), 1881-1939
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Rosa Mundi and Other Stories" ***

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ROSA MUNDI AND OTHER STORIES

by

ETHEL M. DELL

Author of _The Bars of Iron_, _The Keeper of the Door_, _The Knave of
Diamonds_, _The Obstacle Race_, _The Rocks of Valpré_, _The Way of an
Eagle_, etc.



CONTENTS


ROSA MUNDI

A DEBT OF HONOUR
     I.--HOPE AND THE MAGICIAN
    II.--THE VISITOR
   III.--THE FRIEND IN NEED
    IV.--HER NATURAL PROTECTOR
     V.--MORE THAN A FRIEND
    VI.--HER ENEMY
   VII.--THE SCRAPE
  VIII.--BEFORE THE RACE
    IX.--THE RACE
     X.--THE ENEMY'S TERMS
    XI.--WITHOUT DEFENCE
   XII.--THE PENALTY
  XIII.--THE CURSE OF THE VALLEY
   XIV.--HOW THE TALE WAS TOLD
    XV.--THE NIGHT OF DESPAIR
   XVI.--THE COMING OF HOPE

THE DELIVERER
     I.--A PROMISE OF MARRIAGE
    II.--A RING OF VALUE
   III.--THE HONEYMOON
    IV.--A GRIEVOUS WOUND
     V.--A STRUGGLE FOR MASTERY
    VI.--AN OFFER OF HELP
   VII.--THE DELIVERER
  VIII.--AFTER THE ACCIDENT
    IX.--THE END OF A MYSTERY
     X.--TAKEN TO TASK
    XI.--MONEY'S NOT EVERYTHING
   XII.--AFTERWARDS--LOVE

THE PREY OF THE DRAGON

THE SECRET SERVICE MAN
     I.--A TIGHT PLACE
    II.--A BROKEN FRIENDSHIP
   III.--DERRICK'S PARADISE
    IV.--CARLYON DEFENDS HIMSELF
     V.--A WOMAN'S FORGIVENESS
    VI.--FIEND OR KING?
   VII.--THE REAL COLONEL CARLYON
  VIII.--THE STRANGER ON THE VERANDA
    IX.--A FIGHT IN THE NIGHT
     X.--SAVED A SECOND TIME
    XI.--THE SECRET OUT

THE PENALTY



Rosa Mundi


Was the water blue, or was it purple that day? Randal Courteney
stretched his lazy length on the shady side of the great natural
breakwater that protected Hurley Bay from the Atlantic rollers, and
wondered. It was a day in late September, but the warmth of it was as a
dream of summer returned. The season was nearly over, or he had not
betaken himself thither, but the spell of heat had prolonged it unduly.
It had been something of a shock to him to find the place still occupied
by a buzzing crowd of visitors. He never came to it till he judged the
holidays to be practically over. For he loved it only when empty. His
idea of rest was solitude.

He wondered how long this pearly weather would last, and scanned the sky
for a cloud. In vain! There was no cloud all round that blue horizon,
and behind him the cliffs stood stark against an azure sky. Summer was
lingering, and even he had not the heart to wish her gone.

Something splashed noisily on the other side of the rocky breakwater.
Something squeaked and gurgled. The man frowned. He had tramped a
considerable distance to secure privacy. He had his new novel to think
out. This invasion was intolerable. He had not even smoked the first
pipe of his meditations. Impatiently he prepared to rise and depart.

But in that moment a voice accosted him, and in spite of himself he
paused. "I want to get over the breakwater," said the voice. "There's
such a large crab lives this side."

It was an engaging voice--a voice with soft, lilting notes in it--the
voice of a child.

Courteney's face cleared a little. The grimness went out of his frown,
the reluctance from his attitude. He stood up against the rocky barrier
and stretched his hands over to the unseen owner of the voice.

"I'll help you," he said.

"Oh!" There was an instant's pause; then two other hands, wet, cool,
slender, came up, clasping his. A little leap, a sudden strain, and a
very pink face beneath a cloud of golden hair laughed down into his.
"You must pull," she said; "pull hard!"

Courteney obeyed instructions. He pulled, and a pair of slim shoulders
clad in white, with a blue sailor collar, came into view. He pulled
again, and a white knee appeared, just escaping a blue serge skirt. At
the third pull she was over and standing, bare-footed, by his side. It
had been a fairy leap. He marvelled at the lightness of her till he saw
her standing so, with merry eyes upraised to his. Then he laughed, for
she was laughing--the infectious laugh of the truant.

"Oh, thank you ever so much," she said. "I knew it was much nicer this
side than the other. No one can see us here, either."

"Is that why you wanted to get over?" he asked.

She nodded, her pink face all mystery. "It's nice to get away from
everyone sometimes, isn't it? Even Rosa Mundi thinks that. Did you know
that she is here? It is being kept a dead secret."

"Rosa Mundi!" Courteney started. He looked down into the innocent face
upraised to his with something that was almost horror in his own. "Do
you mean that dancing woman from Australia? What can a child like you
know of her?"

She smiled at him, the mystery still in her eyes. "I do know her. I
belong to her. Do you know her, too?"

A sudden hot flush went up over Courteney's face. He knew the woman;
yes, he knew her. Was it years ago--or was it but yesterday?--that he
had yielded to the importunities of his friend, young Eric Baron, and
gone to see her dance? The boy had been infatuated, wild with the lure
of her. Ah well, it was over now. She had been his ruin, just as she had
been the ruin of others like him. Baron was dead and free for ever from
the evil spell of his enchantress. But he had not thought to hear her
name in this place and on the lips of a child.

It revolted him. For she had utterly failed to attract his fancy. He
was fastidious, and all he had seen in her had been the sensuous charm
of a sinuous grace which, to him, was no charm at all. He had almost
hated her for the abject adoration that young Eric's eyes had held. Her
art, wonderful though he admitted it to be, had wholly failed to enslave
him. He had looked her once--and once only--in the eyes, judged her, and
gone his way.

And now this merry-eyed, rosy-faced child came, fairy-footed, over the
barrier of his reserve, and spoke with a careless familiarity of the
only being in the world whom he had condemned as beyond the pale.

"I'm not supposed to tell anyone," she said, with sapphire eyes uplifted
confidingly to his. "She isn't--really--here before the end of the week.
You won't tell, will you? Only when I saw you plodding along out here by
yourself, I just had to come and tell you, to cheer you up."

He stood and looked at her, not knowing what to say. It was as if some
adverse fate were at work, driving him, impelling him.

The soft eyes sparkled into laughter. "I know who you are," chuckled the
gay voice on a high note of merriment. "You are Randal Courteney, the
writer. It's not a bit of good trying to hide, because everybody knows."

He attempted a frown, but failed in its achievement. "And who are you?"
he said, looking straight into the daring, trusting eyes. She was, not
beautiful, but her eyes were wonderful; they held a mystery that
beckoned and eluded in the same subtle moment.

"I?" she said. "I am her companion, her familiar spirit. Sometimes she
calls me her angel."

The man moved as if something had stung him, but he checked himself with
instinctive self-control. "And your name?" he said.

She turned out her hands with a little gesture that was utterly
unstudied and free from self-consciousness. "My name is Rosemary," she
said. "It means--remembrance."

"You are her adopted child?" Courteney was, looking at her curiously.
Out of what part of Rosa Mundi's strange, fretted existence had the
desire for remembrance sprung to life? He had deemed her a woman of many
episodes, each forgotten as its successor took its place. Yet it seemed
this child held a corner in her memory that was to last.

She turned her face to the sun. "We have adopted each other," she said
naïvely. "When Rosa Mundi is old, I shall take her place, so that she
may still be remembered."

The words, "Heaven forbid!" were on Courteney's lips. He checked them
sharply, but something of his original grimness returned as he said,
"And now that you are on the other side of the breakwater, what are you
going to do?"

She looked up at him speculatively, and in a moment tossed back the
short golden curls that clustered at her neck. She was sublimely young.
In the eyes of the man, newly awakened, she had the look of one who has
seen life without comprehending it. "I always like to get the other side
of things, don't you?" she said. "But I won't stay with you if you are
bored. I am going right to the end of the rocks to see the tide come
in."

"And be washed away?" suggested Courteney.

"Oh no," she assured him confidently. "That won't happen. I'm not nearly
so young as I look. I only dress like this when I want to enjoy myself.
Rosa Mundi says"--her eyes were suddenly merry--"that I'm not
respectable. Now, don't you think that sounds rather funny?"

"From her--yes," said Courteney.

"You don't like her?" The shrewd curiosity of a child who desires
understanding upon a forbidden subject was in the question.

The man evaded it. "I have never seen her except in the limelight."

"And you didn't like her--then?" Keen disappointment sounded in her
voice.

His heart smote him. The child was young, though possibly not so young
as she looked. She had her ideals, and they would be shattered soon
enough without any help from him.

With a brief laugh he turned aside, dismissing the subject. "That form
of entertainment doesn't appeal to me much," he said. "Now it's your
turn to tell me something. I have been wondering about the colour of
that sea. Would you call it blue--or purple?"

She looked, and again the mystery was in her face. For a moment she did
not speak. Then, "It is violet," she said--"the colour of Rosa Mundi's
eyes."

Ere the frown had died from his face she was gone, pattering lightly
over the sand, flitting like a day-dream into the blinding sunshine that
seemed to drop a veil behind her, leaving him to his thoughts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Randal Courteney was an old and favoured guest at the Hurley Bay Hotel.
From his own particular corner of the great dining-room he was
accustomed to look out upon the world that came and went. Frequently
when he was there the place was almost deserted, and always he had been
treated as the visitor of most importance. But to-night, for the first
time, he found himself supplanted. Someone of more importance was
staying in the hotel, someone who had attracted crowds, whose popularity
amounted almost to idolatry.

The hotel was full, but Courteney, despite his far-reaching fame, was
almost entirely overlooked. News had spread that the wonderful
Australian dancer was to perform at the Pier Pavilion at the end of the
week, and the crowds had gathered to do her honour. They were going to
strew the Pier with roses on the night of her appearance, and they were
watching even now for the first sign of her with all the eager curiosity
that marks down any celebrity as fair prey. Courteney smiled grimly to
himself. How often it had been his lot to evade the lion-hunters! It was
an unspeakable relief to have the general attention thus diverted from
himself. Doubtless Rosa Mundi would revel in it. It was her _rôle_ in
life, the touchstone of her profession. Adulation was the very air she
breathed.

He wondered a little to find her seeking privacy, even for a few days.
Just a whim of hers, no doubt! Was she not ever a creature of whims? And
it would not last. He remembered how once young Eric Baron had told him
that she needed popularity as a flower needs the sun. His rose of the
world had not been created to bloom unseen. The boy had been absurdly
long-suffering, unbelievably blind. How bitter, how cruel, had been his
disillusion, Courteney could only guess. Had she ever cared, ever
regretted, he wondered? But no, he was sure she had not. She would care
for nothing until the bloom faded. Then, indeed, possibly, remorse might
come.

Someone passing his table paused and spoke--the managing director of the
Hurley Bay Theatre and of a score of others, a man he knew slightly,
older than himself. "The hive swarms in vain," he said. "The queen
refuses to emerge."

Courteney's expression was supremely cynical. "I was not aware that she
was of such a retiring disposition," he said.

The other man laughed. He was an American, Ellis Grant by name, a man of
gross proportions, but keen-eyed, iron-jawed, and successful. "There is
a rumour," he said, "that she is about to be married. Possibly that
might account for her shyness."

His look was critical. Courteney threw back his head almost with
defiance. "It doesn't interest me," he said curtly.

Ellis Grant laughed again and passed on. He valued his acquaintanceship
with the writer. He would not jeopardize it with over-much familiarity.
But he did not believe in the utter lack of interest that he professed.
No living man who knew her could be wholly indifferent to the doings of
Rosa Mundi. The fiery charm of her, her passionate vitality, made that
impossible.

Courteney finished his dinner and went out. The night was almost as hot
as the day had been. He turned his back on the Pier, that was lighted
from end to end, and walked away down the long parade.

He was beginning to wish himself out of the place. He had an absurd
feeling of being caught in some web of Fate that clung to him
tenaciously, strive as he would. Grant's laugh of careless incredulity
pursued him. There had been triumph also in that laugh. No doubt the
fellow anticipated a big haul on Rosa Mundi's night.

And again there rose before him the memory of young Eric Baron's ardent
face. "I'd marry her to-morrow if she'd have me," the boy had said to
him once.

The boy had been a fool, but straight. The woman--well, the woman was
not the marrying sort. He was certain of that. She was elusive as a
flame. Impatiently yet again he flung the thought of her from him. What
did it matter to him? Why should he be haunted by her thus? He would not
suffer it.

He tramped to the end of the parade and stood looking out over the dark
sea. He was sorry for that adopted child of hers. That face of innocence
rose before him clear against the gathering dark. Not much chance for
the child, it seemed! Utterly unspoilt and unsophisticated at present,
and the property of that _demi-mondaine_! He wondered if there could be
any relationship between them. There was something in the child's eyes
that in some strange fashion recalled the eyes of Rosa Mundi. So might
she once have gazed in innocence upon a world unknown.

Again, almost savagely, he strove to thrust away the thoughts that
troubled him. The child was bound to be contaminated sooner or later;
but what was that to him? It was out of his power to deliver her. He was
no rescuer of damsels in distress.

So he put away from him the thought of Rosa Mundi and the thought of the
child called Rosemary who had come to him out of the morning sunlight,
and went back to his hotel doggedly determined that neither the one nor
the other should disturb his peace of mind. He would take refuge in his
work, and forget them.

But late that night he awoke from troubled sleep to hear Ellis Grant
laugh again in careless triumph--the laugh of the man who knows that he
has drawn a prize.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was not a restful night for Randal Courteney, and in the early
morning he was out again, striding over the sunlit sands towards his own
particular bathing-cove beyond the breakwater.

The tide was coming in, and the dashing water filled all the world with
its music. A brisk wind was blowing, and the waves were high.

It was the sort of sea that Courteney revelled in, and he trusted that,
at that early hour, he would be free from all intrusion. So accustomed
to privacy was he that he had come to regard the place almost as his
own.

But as he topped the breakwater he came upon a sight that made him draw
back in disgust. A white mackintosh lay under a handful of stones upon
the shingly beach. He surveyed it suspiciously, with the air of a man
who fears that he is about to walk into a trap.

Then, his eyes travelling seaward, he spied a red cap bobbing up and
down in the spray of the dancing waves.

The impulse to turn and retrace his steps came to him, but some unknown
force restrained him. He remembered suddenly the current that had more
than once drawn him out of his course when bathing in those waters, and
the owner of the red cap was alone. He stood, uncertain, on the top of
the breakwater, and watched.

Two minutes later the very event he had pictured was taking place under
his eyes, and he was racing over the soft sand below the shingle at the
top of his speed. Two arms were beating wildly out in the shining
sparkle of water, as though they strove against the invisible bars of a
cage, and a voice--the high, frightened voice of a child--was calling
for help.

He flung off his coat as he ran, and dashed without an instant's pause
straight into the green foaming waves. The water swirled around him as
he struck out; he clove his way through it, all his energies
concentrated upon the bobbing red cap and struggling arms ahead of him.
Lifted on the crest of a rushing wave, he saw her, helpless as an infant
in the turmoil. Her terrified eyes were turned his way, wildly
beseeching him. He fought with the water to reach her.

He realized as he drew nearer that she was not wholly inexperienced. She
was working against the current to keep herself up, but no longer
striving to escape it. He saw with relief that she had not lost her
head.

He had been prepared to approach her with caution, but she sent him a
sudden, brave smile that reassured him.

"Be quick!" she gasped. "I'm nearly done."

The current caught him, but with a powerful stroke or two he righted his
course and reached her. Her hand closed upon his shoulder.

"I'm all right now," she panted, and despite the distress of her
breathing, he caught the note of confidence in her voice.

"We've got to get out of it," he made grim answer. "Get your hand in my
belt; that'll help you best. Then, when you're ready, strike out with
the other and make for the open sea! We shall get out of this infernal
current that way."

She obeyed him implicitly, asking no question. Side by side they drew
out of the current, the man pulling strongly, his companion seconding
his efforts with a fitfulness that testified to her failing powers. They
reached calmer water at length, and then curtly he ordered her to turn
on her back and rest.

Again without a word she obeyed him, and he floated beside her,
supporting her. The early sun smote down upon them with increasing
strength. Her face was deathly pale against the red of her cap.

"We must get to shore," said Courteney, observing her.

"That dreadful current!" she gasped through quivering lips.

"No. We can avoid that. It will mean a scamper over the sands when we
get there, but that will do you good. Stay as you are! I will tow you."

Had she been less obedient, he would have found his task infinitely
harder. But she was absolutely submissive to his will. Ten minutes later
he landed her close to his own bathing-cove, which he discovered with
relief to be deserted.

She would have subsided in a heap upon the sand the moment she felt it
warm and dry beneath her feet; but he held her up.

"No. A good run is what you need. Come! Your mackintosh is half-a-mile
away."

She looked at him with dismay, but he remained inexorable. He had no
desire to have her fainting on his hands. As if she had been a boy, he
gripped her by the elbow.

Again she submitted stumblingly to his behest, but when they had covered
half the distance Courteney had mercy.

"You're fagged out," he said. "Rest here while I go and fetch it!"

She sank down thankfully on the shingle, and he strode swiftly on.

When he returned she had hollowed a nest for herself, and was lying
curled up in the sun. Her head was pillowed on her cap, and the soft
golden curls waved tenderly above her white forehead. Once more she
seemed to him a mere child, and he looked down upon her with compassion.

She sat up at his approach with a boyish, alert movement, and lifted
her eyes to his. He likened them half-unconsciously to the purple-blue
of hare-bells, in the ardent light of the early morning.

"You are kind!" she said gratefully.

He placed the white mackintosh around her slim figure. "Take my advice,"
he said in his brief fashion, "and don't come bathing alone in this
direction again!"

She made a small shy gesture of invitation. "Sit down a minute!" she
said half-pleadingly. "I know you are very wet; but the sun is so warm,
and they say sea-water never chills."

He hesitated momentarily; then, possibly because she had spoken with so
childlike an appeal, he sat down in the shingle beside her.

She stretched out a slender hand to him, almost as though feeling her
way. And when he took it she made a slight movement towards him, as of
one about to make a confidence. "Now we can talk," she said.

He let her hand go again, and felt in the pocket of his coat, which he
carried on his arm, for his pipe.

She drew a little nearer to him. "Mr. Courteney," she said, "doesn't
'Thank you' sound a silly thing to say?"

He drew back. "Don't! Please don't!" he said, and flushed uneasily as he
opened his tobacco-pouch. "I would infinitely rather you said nothing at
all to any one. Don't do it again, that's all."

"Mustn't I even tell Rosa Mundi?" she said.

His flush deepened as he remembered that she would probably know him by
name. She must have known in those far-off Australian days that he was
working with all his might to free young Baron from her toils.

He sat in silence till, "Will you tell me something?" whispered
Rosemary, leaning nearer.

He stiffened involuntarily. "I don't know."

"Please try!" she urged softly. "I feel sure you can. Why--why don't you
like Rosa Mundi?"

He looked at her, and his eyes were steely; but they softened by
imperceptible degrees as they met the earnest sweetness of her answering
look. "No, I can't tell you that," he said with decision.

But her look held him. "Is it because you don't think she is very good?"

"I can't tell you," he said again.

Still she looked at him, and again there seemed to be in her eyes that
expression of a child who has seen life without understanding it.
"Perhaps you think I am too young to know good from evil," she said
after a moment. "I am not. I have told you I am older than I look, and
in some things I am older even than my years. Then, too, I belong to
Rosa Mundi. I told you, didn't I? I am her familiar spirit. She has even
called me her angel, or her better self. I know a great many things
about her, and some of them are very sad. May I tell you some of the
things I know?"

He turned his eyes away from her abruptly, with the feeling that he was
resisting some curious magnetism. What was there about this child that
attracted him? He was not a lover of children. Moreover, she was verging
upon womanhood approaching what he grimly termed "the dangerous age."

He filled his pipe deliberately while she waited for his answer, turning
his gaze upon the dazzling line of the horizon.

"You can do as you like," he said at last, and added formally, "May I
smoke?"

She nodded. "Yes, I would like you to. It will keep you from being
bored. I want to tell you about Rosa Mundi, because you do not judge her
fairly. You only know her by repute, and I--I know her heart to heart."

Her voice deepened suddenly, and the man glanced downwards for an
instant, but immediately looked away again. She should tell him what she
would, but by no faintest sign should she imagine that she had succeeded
in arousing his interest. The magnetism was drawing him. He was aware of
the attraction, and with firmness he resisted it. Let her strive as she
would, she would never persuade him to think kindly of Rosa Mundi.

"You think her--bad," said Rosemary, her voice pitched very low. "I
know--oh, I know. Men--some men--are very hard on women like her, women
who have had to hew their own way in the world, and meet temptation
almost before"--her voice quivered a little--"they knew what temptation
meant."

He looked down at her again suddenly and searchingly; but her clear eyes
never flinched from his. They were pleading and a little troubled, but
wholly unafraid.

"Perhaps you won't believe me," she said. "You'll think you know best.
But Rosa Mundi wasn't bad always--not at the beginning. Her dancing
began when she was young--oh, younger than I am. It was a dreadful
uphill fight. She had a mother then--a mother she adored. Did you ever
have a mother like that, I wonder? Perhaps it isn't the same with men,
but there are some women who would gladly die for their mothers.
And--and Rosa Mundi felt like that. A time came when her mother was
dying of a slow disease, and she needed things--many things. Rosa Mundi
wasn't a success then. She hadn't had her chance. But there was a man--a
man with money and influence--who was willing to offer it to
her--at--at--a price. She was dancing for chance coppers outside a San
Francisco saloon when first he made his offer. She--refused."

Rosemary's soft eyes were suddenly lowered. She did not look like a
child any longer, but a being sexless, yet very pitiful--an angel about
to weep.

Courteney watched her, for he could not turn away.

Almost under her breath, she went on: "A few days later her mother began
to suffer--oh, terribly. There was no money, no one to help. She went
again and danced at the saloon entrance. He--the man--was there. She
danced till she was tired out. And then--and then--she was hungry,
too--she fainted." The low voice sank a little lower. "When she came to
herself, she was in his keeping. He was very kind to her--too kind. Her
strength was gone, and--and temptation is harder to resist when one is
physically weak too. When she went back to her mother she had
accepted--his--offer. From that night her fortune was made."

Two tears gathered on the dark lashes and hung there till she put up a
quick hand and brushed them away.

The man's face was curiously softened; he looked as if he desired to dry
those tears himself.

Without looking up she continued. "The mother died--very, very soon.
Life is like that. Often one pays--in vain. There is no bargaining with
death. But at least she never knew. That was Rosa Mundi's only comfort.
There was no turning back for her then. And she was so desolate, so
lonely, nothing seemed to matter.

"She went from triumph to triumph. She carried all before her. He took
her to New York, and she conquered there. They strewed her path with
roses. They almost worshipped her. She tried to think she was happy, but
she was not--even then. They came around her in crowds. They made love
to her. She was young, and their homage was like a coloured ball to
her. She tossed it to and fro, and played with it. But she made game of
it all. They were nothing to her--nothing, till one day there came to
her a boy--no, he was past his boyhood--a young man--rich, well-born,
and honourable. And he--he loved her, and offered her--marriage. No one
had ever offered her that before. Can you realize--but no, you are a
man!--what it meant to her? It meant shelter and peace and freedom. It
meant honour and kindness, and the chance to be good. Perhaps you think
she would not care for that. But you do not know her. Rosa Mundi was
meant to be good. She hungered for goodness. She was tired--so tired of
the gaudy vanities of life, so--so--what is the word--so nauseated with
the cheap and the bad. Are you sorry for her, I wonder? Can you picture
her, longing--oh, longing--for what she calls respectability? And
then--this chance, this offer of deliverance! It meant giving up her
career, of course. It meant changing her whole life. It meant
sacrifice--the sort of sacrifice that you ought to be able to
understand--for she loved her dancing and her triumphs, just as you love
your public--the people who read your books and love you for their sake.
That is different, isn't it, from the people who follow you about and
want to stare at you just because you are prosperous and popular? The
people who really appreciate your art--those are the people you would
not disappoint for all the world. They make up a vast friendship that
is very precious, and it would be a sacrifice--a big--sacrifice--to give
it up. That is the sort of sacrifice that marriage meant to Rosa Mundi.
And though she wanted marriage--and she wanted to be good--she
hesitated."

There was a little pause. Randal Courteney was no longer dissembling his
interest. He had laid his pipe aside, and was watching with unvarying
intentness the downcast childish face. He asked no questions. There was
something in the low-spoken words that held him silent. Perhaps he
feared to probe too deep.

In a few moments she went on, gathering up a little handful of the
shining shingle, and slowly sifting it through her fingers as though in
search of something precious.

"I think if she had really loved the man, it wouldn't have mattered.
Nothing counts like love, does it? But--you see--she didn't. She wanted
to. She knew that he was clean and honourable, worthy of a good woman.
He loved her, too, loved her so that he was willing to put away all her
past. For she did not deceive him about that. He was willing to give her
all--all she wanted. But she did not love him. She honoured him, and she
felt for a time at least that love might come. He guessed that, and he
did his best--all that he could think of--to get her to consent. In the
end--in the end"--Rosemary paused, a tiny stone in her hand that shone
like polished crystal--"she was very near to the verge of yielding, the
young man had almost won, when--when something happened that
altered--everything. The young man had a friend, a writer, a great man
even then; he is greater now. The friend came, and he threw his whole
weight into the scale against her. She felt him--the force of
him--before she so much as saw him. She had broken with her lover some
time before. She was free. And she determined to marry the young man who
loved her--in spite of his friend. That very day it happened. The young
man sent her a book written by his friend. She had begun to hate the
writer, but out of curiosity she opened it and read. First a bit here,
then a bit there, and at last she sat down and read it--all through."

The little shining crystal lay alone in the soft pink palm. Rosemary
dwelt upon it, faintly smiling.

"She read far into the night," she said, speaking almost dreamily, as if
recounting a vision conjured up in the glittering surface of the stone.
"It was a free night for her. And she read on and on and on. The book
gripped her; it fascinated her. It was--a great book. It was
called--_Remembrance_." She drew a quick breath and went on somewhat
hurriedly. "It moved her in a fashion that perhaps you would hardly
realize. I have read it, and I--understand. The writing was wonderful.
It brought home to her--vividly, oh, vividly--how the past may be atoned
for, but never, never effaced. It hurt her--oh, it hurt her. But it did
her good. It showed her how she was on the verge of taking a wrong
turning, of perhaps--no, almost certainly--dragging down the man who
loved her. She saw suddenly the wickedness of marrying him just to
escape her own prison. She understood clearly that only love could have
justified her--no other motive than that. She saw the evil of fastening
her past to an honourable man whose good name and family demanded of him
something better. She felt as if the writer had torn aside a veil and
shown her her naked soul. And--and--though the book was a good book, and
did not condemn sinners--she was shocked, she was horrified, at what it
made her see."

Rosemary suddenly closed her hand upon the shining stone, and turned
fully and resolutely to the man beside her.

"That night changed Rosa Mundi," she said; "changed her completely.
Before it was over she wrote to the young man who loved her and told him
that she could not marry him. The letter did not go till the following
evening. She kept it back for a few hours--in case she repented.
But--though she suffered--she did not repent. In the evening she had an
engagement to dance. The young man was there--in the front row. And he
brought his friend. She danced. Her dancing was superb that night. She
had a passionate desire to bewitch the man who had waked her soul--as
she had bewitched so many others. She had never met a man she could not
conquer. She was determined to conquer him. Was it wrong? Anyway, it was
human. She danced till her very heart was on fire, danced till she trod
the clouds. Her audience went mad with the delight of it. They raved as
if they were intoxicated. All but one man! All but one man! And he--at
the end--he looked her just once in the eyes, stonily, piercingly, and
went away." She uttered a sharp, choking breath. "I have nearly done,"
she said. "Can you guess what happened then? Perhaps you know. The man
who loved her received her letter when he got back that night.
And--and--she had bewitched him, remember; he--shot himself. The
friend--the writer--she never saw again. But--but--Rosa Mundi has never
forgotten him. She carries him in her heart--the man who taught her the
meaning of life."

She ceased to speak, and suddenly, like a boy, sprang to her feet,
tossing away the stone that she had treasured in her hand.

But the man was almost as quick as she. He caught her by the shoulder as
he rose. "Wait!" he said. "Wait!" His voice rang hard, but there was no
hardness in his eyes. "Tell me--who you are!"

She lifted her eyes to his fearlessly, without shame. "What does it
matter who I am?" she said. "What does it matter? I have told you I am
Rosemary. That is her name for me, and it was your book called
_Remembrance_ that made her give it me."

He held her still, looking at her with a growing compassion in his
eyes. "You are her child," he said.

She smiled. "Perhaps--spiritually. Yes, I think I am her child, such a
child as she might have been if--Fate--had been kind to her--- or if she
had read your book before--and not after."

He let her go slowly, almost with reluctance. "I think I should like to
meet your--Rosa Mundi," he said.

Her eyes suddenly shone. "Not really? You are in earnest? But--but---
you would hurt her. You despise her."

"I am sorry for her," he said, and there was a hint of doggedness in his
voice, as though he spoke against his better judgment.

The child's face had an eager look, but she seemed to be restraining
herself. "I ought to tell you one thing about her first," she said.
"Perhaps you will disapprove. I don't know. But it is because of
you--and your revelation--that she is doing it. Rosa Mundi is going to
be married. No, she is not giving up her career or anything--except her
freedom. Her old lover has come back to her. She is going to marry him
now. He wants her for his wife."

"Ah!" It was the man who was eager now. He spoke impulsively. "She will
be happy then? She loves him?"

Rosemary looked at him with her clear, unfaltering eyes. "Oh, no," she
said. "He isn't that sort of man at all. Besides, there is only one man
in the world that she could care for in that way. No, she doesn't love
him. But she is doing the right thing, and she is going to be good. You
will not despise her any more?"

There was such anxious appeal in her eyes that he could not meet it. He
turned his own away.

There fell a silence between them, and through it the long, long roar of
the sea rose up--a mighty symphony of broken chords.

The man moved at last, looked down at the slight boyish figure beside
him, hesitated, finally spoke. "I still think that I should like to meet
Rosa Mundi," he said.

Her eyes smiled again. "And you will not despise her now," she said, her
tone no longer a question.

"I think," said Randal Courteney slowly, "that I shall never despise any
one again."

"Life is so difficult," said Rosemary, with the air of one who knew.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were strewing the Pier with roses for Rosa Mundi's night. There
were garlands of roses, festoons of roses, bouquets of roses; roses
overhead, roses under foot, everywhere roses.

Summer had returned triumphant to deck the favourite's path.

Randal Courteney marked it all gravely, without contempt. It was her
hour.

No word from her had reached him, but that night he would meet her face
to face. Through days and nights of troubled thought, the resolve had
grown within him. To-night it should bear fruit. He would not rest again
until he had seen her. For his peace of mind was gone. She was about to
throw herself away upon a man she did not love, and he felt that it was
laid upon him to stop the sacrifice. The burden of responsibility was
his. He had striven against this conviction, but it would not be denied.
From the days of young Eric Baron's tragedy onward, this woman had made
him as it were the star of her destiny. To repudiate the fact was
useless. She had, in her ungoverned, impulsive fashion, made him surety
for her soul.

The thought tormented him, but it held a strange attraction for him
also. If the story were true, and it was not in him to doubt it, it
touched him in a way that was wholly unusual. Popularity, adulation, had
been his portion for years. But this was different, this was personal--a
matter in which reputation, fame, had no part. In a different sphere she
also was a star, with a host of worshippers even greater than his own.
The humility of her amazed him. She had, as it were, taken her fate
between her hands and laid it as an offering at his feet.

And so, on Rosa Mundi's night, he went to the great Pavilion, mingling
with the crowd, determined when her triumph was over, to seek her out.
There would be a good many seekers, he doubted not; but he was convinced
that she would not deny him an interview.

He secured a seat in the third row, avoiding almost by instinct any more
conspicuous position. He was early, and while he waited, the thought of
young Eric Baron came to him--the boy's eager-face, the adoration of his
eyes. He remembered how on that far-off night he had realized the
hopelessness of combating his love, how he had shrugged his shoulders
and relinquished the struggle. And the battle had been his even then--a
bitter victory more disastrous than defeat.

He put the memory from him and thought of Rosemary--the child with the
morning light in her eyes, the innocence of the morning in her soul. How
tenderly she had spoken of Rosa Mundi! How sweetly she had pleaded her
cause! With what amazing intuition had she understood! Something that
was greater than pity welled up within him. Rosa Mundi's guardian angel
had somehow reached his heart.

People were pouring into the place. He saw that it was going to be
packed. And outside, lining the whole length of the Pier, they were
waiting for her too, waiting to strew her path with, roses.

Ah! she was coming! Above the wash of the sea there rose a roar of
voices. They were giving her the homage of a queen. He listened to the
frantic cheering, and again it was Rosa Mundi, splendid and brilliant,
who filled his thoughts as she filled the thoughts of all just then.

The cheering died down, and there came a great press of people into the
back of the building. The lights were lowered, but he heard the
movement, the buzz of a delighted crowd.

Suddenly the orchestra burst into loud music. They were playing "Queen
of the Earth," he remembered later. The curtain went up. And in a blaze
of light he saw Rosa Mundi.

Something within him sprang into quivering life. Something which till
that moment he had never known awoke and gripped him with a force
gigantic. She was robed in shimmering, transparent gold--a queen-woman,
slight indeed, dainty, fairy-like--yet magnificent. Over her head,
caught in a jewelled fillet, there hung a filmy veil of gold, half
revealing, half concealing, the smiling face behind. Trailing wisps of
golden gossamer hung from her beautiful arms. Her feet were bound with
golden sandals. And on her breast were roses--golden roses.

She was exquisite as a dream. He gazed and gazed upon her as one
entranced. The tumult of acclamation that greeted her swept by him
unheeded. He was conscious only of a passionate desire to fling back the
golden veil that covered her and see the laughing face behind. Its
elusiveness mocked him. She was like a sunbeam standing there, a
flitting, quivering shaft of light, too spiritual to be grasped fully,
almost too dazzling for the eye to follow.

The applause died down to a dead silence. Her audience watched her with
bated breath. Her dance was a thing indescribable. Courteney could think
of nothing but the flashing of morning sunlight upon running water to
the silver strains of a flute that was surely piped by Pan. He could not
follow the sparkling wonder of her. He felt dazed and strangely
exhilarated, almost on fire with this new, fierce attraction. It was as
if the very soul were being drawn out of his body. She called to him,
she lured him, she bewitched him.

When he had seen her before, he had been utterly out of sympathy. He had
scorned her charms, had felt an almost angry contempt for young Baron's
raptures. To him she had been a snake-woman, possessed of a fascination
which, to him, was monstrous and wholly incomprehensible. She had worn a
strange striped dress of green--tight-fitting, hideous he had deemed it.
Her face had been painted. He had been too near the stage, and she had
revolted him. Her dance had certainly been wonderful, sinuous, gliding,
suggestive--a perfectly conceived scheme of evil. And she had thought to
entrap him with it! The very memory was repulsive even yet.

But this--ah! this was different. This thing of light and air, this
dancing sunbeam, this creature of the morning, exquisite in every
detail, perfectly poised, swifter than thought, yet arresting at every
turn, vivid as a meteor, yet beyond all scrutiny, all ocular power of
comprehension, she set every nerve in him a-quiver. She seized upon his
fancy and flung it to and fro, catching a million colours in her radiant
flights. She made the hot blood throb in his temples. She beat upon the
door of his heart. She called back his vanished youth, the passion
unassuaged of his manhood. She appealed to him directly and personally.
She made him realize that he was the one man who had taught--and could
teach--her the meaning of life.

Then it was over. Like a glittering crystal shattered to fragments, his
dream of ecstasy collapsed. The noise around him was as the roar of
thundering breakers. But he sat mute in the midst of it, as one stunned.

Someone leaned over from behind and spoke to him. He was aware of a hand
upon his shoulder.

"What do you think of her?" said Ellis Grant in his ear. "Superb, isn't
she? Come and see her before she appears again!"

As if compelled by some power outside himself, Courteney rose. He edged
his way to the end of the row and joined the great man there. The whole
house was a seething turmoil of sound.

Grant was chuckling to himself as one well pleased. In Courteney's eyes
he looked stouter, more prosperous, more keenly business-like, than when
he had spoken with him a few nights previously. He took Courteney by the
arm and led him through a door at the side.

"Let 'em yell 'emselves hoarse for a bit!" he said. "Do 'em good. Guess
my 'rose of the world' isn't going to be too cheap a commodity.... Which
reminds me, sir. You've cost me a thousand English pounds by coming here
to-night."

"Indeed?" Courteney spoke stiffly. He felt stiff, physically stiff, as
one forcibly awakened from a deep slumber.

The man beside him was still chuckling. "Yes. The little witch! Said
she'd manage it somehow when I told her you weren't taking any. We had a
thousand on it, and the little devil has won, outwitted us both. How in
thunder did she do it? Laid a trap for you; what?"

Courteney did not answer. The stiffness was spreading. He felt as one
turned to stone. Mechanically he yielded to the hand upon his arm, not
speaking, scarcely thinking.

And then--almost before he knew it--he was in her presence, face to face
with the golden vision that had caught and--for a space at least--had
held his heart.

He bowed, still silent, still strangely bound and fettered by the
compelling force.

A hand that was lithe and slender and oddly boyish came out to him. A
voice that had in it sweet, lilting notes, like the voice of a laughing
child, spoke his name.

"Mr. Courteney! How kind!" it said.

As from a distance he heard Grant speak. "Mr. Courteney, allow me to
introduce you--my wife!"

There was a dainty movement like the flash of shimmering wings. He
looked up. She had thrown back her veil.

He gazed upon her. "Rosemary!"

She looked back at him above the roses with eyes that were deeply
purple--as the depths of the sea. "Yes, I am Rosemary--to my friends,"
she said.

Ellis Grant was laughing still, in his massive, contented way. "But to
her lover," he said, "she is--and always has been--Rosa Mundi."

Then speech came back to Courteney, and strength returned. He held
himself in firm restraint. He had been stricken, but he did not flinch.

"Your husband?" he said.

She indicated Grant with a careless hand. "Since yesterday," she said.

He bowed to her again, severely formal. "May I wish you joy?" he said.

There was an instant's pause, and in that instant something happened.
She had not moved. Her eyes still met his own, but it was as if a veil
had dropped between them suddenly. He saw the purple depths no more.

"Thank you," said Rosa Mundi, with her little girlish laugh.

       *       *       *       *       *

As he strode down the Pier a few minutes later, he likened the scent
of the crushed roses that strewed the way to the fumes of
sacrifice--sacrifice offered at the feet of a goddess who cared for
nothing sacred. Not till long after did he remember the tears that he
had seen her shed.



A Debt of Honour

I

HOPE AND THE MAGICIAN


They lived in the rotten white bungalow at the end of the valley--Hope
and the Magician. It stood in a neglected compound that had once been a
paradise, when a certain young officer belonging to the regiment of
Sikhs then stationed in Ghantala had taken it and made of it a dainty
home for his English bride. Those were the days before the flood, and no
one had lived there since. The native men in the valley still remembered
with horror that awful night when the monsoon had burst in floods and
water-spouts upon the mountains, and the bride, too terrified to remain
in the bungalow, had set out in the worst fury of the storm to find her
husband, who was on duty up at the cantonments. She had been drowned
close to the bungalow in a ranging brown torrent which swept over what a
few hours earlier had been a mere bed of glittering sand. And from that
time the bungalow had been deserted, avoided of all men, a haunted
place, the abode of evil spirits.

Yet it still stood in its desolation, rotting year by year. No native
would approach the place. No Englishman desired it. For it was well away
from the cantonments, nearer than any other European dwelling to the
native village, and undeniably in the hottest corner of all the Ghantala
Valley.

Perhaps its general air of desolation had also influenced the minds of
possible tenants, for Ghantala was a cheerful station, and its
inhabitants preferred cheerful dwelling-places. Whatever the cause, it
had stood empty and forsaken for more than a dozen years.

And then had come Hope and the Magician.

Hope was a dark-haired, bright-eyed English girl, who loved riding as
she loved nothing else on earth. Her twin-brother, Ronald Carteret, was
the youngest subaltern in his battalion, and for his sake, she had
persuaded the Magician that the Ghantala Valley was an ideal spot to
live in.

The Magician was their uncle and sole relative, an old man, wizened and
dried up like a monkey, to whom India was a land of perpetual delight
and novelty of which he could never tire. He was engaged upon a book of
Indian mythology, and he was often away from home for the purpose of
research. But his absence made very little difference to Hope. Her
brother lived in the bungalow with her, and the people in the station
were very kind to her.

The natives, though still wary, had lost their abhorrence of the place.
They believed that the Magician, as they called him, had woven a spell
to keep the evil spirits at a distance. It was known that he was in
constant communication with native priests. Moreover, the miss-_sahib_
who dwelt at the bungalow remained unharmed, so it seemed there was
nought to fear.

Hope, after a very few months, cut off her hair and wore it short and
curly. This also seemed to discourage the evil ones. So at length it
appeared that the curse had been removed, or at least placed in
abeyance.

As for Hope, she liked the place. Her nerves were generally good, and
the joy of being near the brother she idolized outweighed every other
consideration. The colonel's wife, Mrs. Latimer, was very kind to her
from the outset, and she enjoyed all the Ghantala gaieties under her
protection and patronage.

Not till Mrs. Latimer was taken ill and had to leave hurriedly for the
Hills did it dawn upon Hope, after nearly eight happy months, that her
position was one of considerable isolation, and that this might, under
certain circumstances, become a matter for regret.



II

THE VISITOR

It was on a Sunday evening of breathless heat that this conviction first
took firm hold of Hope. Her uncle was away upon one of his frequent
journeys of research. Her brother was up at the cantonments, and she was
quite alone save for her _ayah_, and the _punkah-coolie_ dozing on the
veranda.

She had not expected any visitors. Visitors seldom came to the bungalow,
for the simple reason that she was seldom at home to receive them, and
the Magician never considered himself at liberty for social obligations.
So it was with some surprise that she heard footsteps that were not her
brother's upon the baked earth of the compound; and when her _ayah_ came
to her with the news that Hyde _Sahib_ was without, she was even
conscious of a sensation of dismay.

For Hyde _Sahib_ was a man she detested, without knowing why. He was a
civil servant, an engineer, and he had been in Ghantala longer than any
one else of the European population. Very reluctantly she gave the order
to admit him, hoping that Ronnie would soon return and take him off her
hands. For Ronnie professed to like the man.

He greeted her with a cool self-assurance that admitted not the smallest
doubt of his welcome.

"I was passing, and thought I would drop in," he told her, retaining her
hand till she abruptly removed it. "I guessed you would be all forlorn.
The Magician is away, I hear?"

Hope steadily returned the gaze of his pale eyes, as she replied, with
dignity:

"Yes; my uncle is from home. But I am not at all lonely. I am expecting
my brother every minute."

He smiled at her in a way that made her stiffen instinctively. She had
never been so completely alone with him before.

"Ah, well," he said, "perhaps you will allow me to amuse you till he
returns. I rather want to see him."

He took her permission for granted, and sat down in a bamboo chair on
the veranda, leaning back, and staring up at her with easy insolence.

"I can scarcely believe that you are not lonely here," he remarked. "A
figure of speech, I suppose?"

Hope felt the colour rising in her cheeks under his direct and
unpleasant scrutiny.

"I have never felt lonely till to-day," she returned, with spirit.

He laughed incredulously. "No?" he said.

"No," said Hope with emphasis. "I often think that there are worse
things in the world than solitude."

Something in her tone--its instinctive enmity, its absolute
honesty--attracted his attention. He sat up and regarded her very
closely.

She was still on her feet--a slender, upright figure in white. She was
grasping the back of a chair rather tightly, but she did not shrink from
his look, though there was that within her which revolted fiercely as
she met it. But he prolonged the silent combat with brutal intention,
till at last, in spite of herself, her eyes sank, and she made a slight,
unconscious gesture of protest. Then, deliberately and insultingly, he
laughed.

"Come now, Miss Carteret," he said, "I'm sure you can't mean to be
unfriendly with me. I believe this place gets on your nerves. You're not
looking well, you know."

"No?" she responded, with frozen dignity.

"Not so well as I should like to see you," said Hyde, still smiling his
objectionable smile. "I believe you're moped. Isn't that it? I know the
symptoms, and I know an excellent remedy, too. Wouldn't you like to try
it?"

Hope looked at him uncertainly. She was quivering all over with nervous
apprehension. His manner frightened her. She was not sure that the man
was absolutely sober. But it would be absurd, ridiculous, she told her
thumping heart, to take offence, when it might very well be that the
insult existed in her imagination alone. So, with a desperate courage,
she stood her ground.

"I really don't know what you mean," she said coldly. "But it doesn't
matter; tell me about your racer instead!"

"Not a bit of it," returned Hyde. "It's one thing at a time with me
always. Besides, why should I bore you to that extent? Why, I'm boring
you already. Isn't that so?"

He set his hands on the arms of his chair preparatory to rising, as he
spoke; and Hope took a quick step away from him. There was a look in his
eyes that was horrible to her.

"No," she said, rather breathlessly. "No; I'm not at all bored. Please
don't get up; I'll go and order some refreshment."

"Nonsense!" he said sharply. "I don't want it. I won't have any! I
mean"--his manner softening abruptly---"not unless you will join me;
which, I fear, is too much to expect. Now don't go away! Come and sit
here!" drawing close to his own the chair on which she had been leaning.
"I want to tell you something. Don't look so scared! It's something
you'll like; it is, really. And you're bound to hear it sooner or later,
so it may as well be now. Why not?"

But Hope's nerves were stretched to snapping point, and she shrank
visibly. After all, she was very young, and there was that about this
man that terrified her.

"No," she said hurriedly. "No; I would rather not. There is nothing you
could tell me that I should like to hear. I--I am going to the gate to
look for Ronnie."

It was childish, it was pitiable; and had the man been other than a
coward it must have moved him to compassion. As it was he sprang up
suddenly, as though to detain her, and Hope's last shred of self-control
deserted her.

She uttered a smothered cry and fled.



III

THE FRIEND IN NEED

The road that led to the cantonments was ill-made and stony, but she
dashed along it like a mad creature, unconscious of everything save the
one absorbing desire to escape. Ronnie was not in sight, but she
scarcely thought of him. The light was failing fast, and she knew that
it would soon be quite dark, save for a white streak of moon overhead.
It was still frightfully hot. The atmosphere oppressed her like a leaden
weight. It seemed to keep her back, and she battled with it as with
something tangible. Her feet were clad in thin slippers, and at any
other time she would have known that the rough stones cut and hurt her.
But in the terror of the moment she felt no pain. She only had the sense
to run straight on, with gasping breath and failing limbs, till at last,
quite suddenly, her strength gave out and she sank, an exhausted,
sobbing heap, upon the roadway.

There came the tread of a horse's hoofs, and she started and made a
convulsive effort to crawl to one side. She was nearer fainting than she
had ever been in her life.

Then the hoof-beats stopped, and she uttered a gasping cry, all her
nameless terror for the moment renewed.

A man jumped to the ground and, with a word to his animal, stooped over
her. She shrank from him in unreasoning panic.

"Who is it? Who is it?" she sobbed. He answered her instantly, rather
curtly.

"I--Baring. What's the matter? Something gone wrong?"

She felt strong hands lifting her, and she yielded herself to them, her
panic quenched.

"Oh, Major Baring!" she said faintly. "I didn't know you!"

Major Baring made no response. He held her on her feet facing him, for
she seemed unable to stand, and waited for her to recover herself. She
trembled violently between his hands, but she made a resolute effort
after self-control.

"I--I didn't know you," she faltered again.

"What's the matter?" asked Major Baring.

But she could not tell him. Already the suspicion that she had behaved
unreasonably was beginning to take possession of her. Yet--yet--Hyde
must have seen she was alarmed. He might have reassured her. She
recalled the look in his eyes, and shuddered. She was sure he had been
drinking. She had heard someone say that he did drink.

"I--I have had a fright," she said at last. "It was very foolish of me,
of course. Very likely it was a false alarm. Anyhow, I am better now.
Thank you."

He let her go, but she was still so shaken that she tottered and
clutched his arm.

"Really I am all right," she assured him tremulously. "It is
only--only--"

He put his arm around her without comment; and again she yielded as a
child might have yielded to the comfort of his support.

After some seconds he spoke, and she fancied his voice sounded rather
grim.

"I am going your way," he said. "I will walk back with you."

Hope was crying to herself in the darkness, but she hoped he did not
notice.

"I think I shall go and meet Ronnie," she said. "I don't want to go
back. It--it's so lonely."

"I will come in with you," he returned.

"Oh, no!" she said quickly. "No! I mean--I mean--I don't want you to
trouble any more about me. Indeed, I shall be all right."

He received the assurance in silence; and she began to wonder dolefully
if she had offended him. Then, with abrupt kindliness, he set her mind
at rest.

"Dry your eyes," he said, "and leave off crying, like a good child!
Ronnie's at the club, and won't be home at present. I didn't know you
were all alone, or I would have brought him along with me. That's
better. Now, shall we make a move?"

He slung his horse's bridle on his arm and, still supporting her with
the other, began to walk down the stony road. Hope made no further
protest. She had always considered Ronnie's major a rather formidable
person. She knew that Ronnie stood in awe of him, though she had always
found him kind.

They had not gone five yards when he stopped.

"You are limping. What is it?"

She murmured something about the stones.

"You had better ride," he decided briefly. "Rupert will carry you like a
lamb. Ready? How's that?"

He lifted her up into the saddle as if she had been a child, and stooped
to arrange her foot in the strap of the stirrup.

"Good heavens!" she heard him murmur, as he touched her shoe. "No wonder
the stones seemed hard! Quite comfortable?" he asked her, as he
straightened himself.

"Quite," she answered meekly.

And he marched on, leading the horse with care.

At the gate of the shadowy little compound that surrounded the bungalow
she had quitted so precipitately he paused.

"I will leave the animal here," he said, holding up his hands to her.

She slipped into them submissively.

The cry of a jackal somewhere beyond the native village made her start
and tremble. Her nerves were still on edge.

Major Baring slipped the bridle over the gate-post and took her hand in
his. The grip of his fingers was very strong and reassuring.

"Come," he said kindly, "let us go and look for this bogey of yours!"

But at this point Hope realized fully that she had made herself
ridiculous, and that for the sake of her future self-respect she must by
some means restrain him from putting his purpose into execution. She
stood still and faced him.

"Major Baring," she said, her voice quivering in spite of her utmost
effort, "I want you--please--not to come any farther. I know I have been
very foolish. I am sure of it now. And--please--do you mind going away,
and not thinking any more about it?"

"Yes, I do," said Major Baring.

He spoke with unmistakable decision, and the girl's heart sank.

"Listen!" he said quietly. "Like you, I think you have probably been
unnecessarily alarmed. But, even so, I am coming with you to satisfy
myself. Or--if you prefer--I will go alone, and you can wait for me
here."

"Oh, no!" said Hope quickly. "If--if you must go, I'll come, too. But
first, will you promise--whatever happens--not to--to laugh at me?"

Baring made an abrupt movement that she was at a loss to interpret. It
was too dark for her to see his face with any distinctness.

"Very well," he said. "Yes; I promise that."

Hope was still almost crying. She felt horribly ashamed. With her hand
in his, she went beside him up the short drive to the bungalow. And, as
she went, she vehemently wished that the earth would open and swallow
her up.



IV

HER NATURAL PROTECTOR


They ascended to the veranda still hand-in-hand. It was deserted.

Baring led her straight along it till he came to the two chairs outside
the drawing-room window. They were empty. A servant had just lighted a
lamp in the room behind them.

"Go in!" said Baring. "I will come back to you."

She obeyed him. She felt incapable of resistance just then. He passed on
quietly, and she stood inside the room, waiting and listening with
hushed breath and hands tightly clenched.

The seconds crawled by, and again there came to her straining ears the
cry of a jackal from far away. Then at last she caught the sound of
Baring's voice, curt and peremptory, and her heart stood still. But he
was only speaking to the _punkah-coolie_ round the corner, for almost
instantly the great fan above her head began to move.

A few seconds more, and he reappeared at the window alone. Hope drew a
great breath of relief and awoke to the fact that she was trembling
violently.

She looked at him as he came quietly in. His lean, bronzed face, with
the purple scar of a sword-cut down one cheek, told her nothing. Only
she fancied that his mouth, under its narrow, black line of moustache,
looked stern.

He went straight up to her and laid his hand on her shoulder.

"Tell me what frightened you!" he said, looking down at her with keen
blue eyes that shone piercingly in his dark face.

She shook her head instantly, unable to meet his look.

"Please," she said beseechingly, "please don't ask me! I would so much
rather not."

"I have promised not to laugh at you," he reminded her gravely.

"I know," she said. "I know. But really, really, I can't. It was so
silly of me to be frightened. I am not generally silly like that.
But--somehow--to-day--"

Her voice failed her. He took his hand from her shoulder; and she knew
suddenly that, had he chosen, he could have compelled.

"Don't be distressed!" he said. "Whatever it was, it's gone. Sit down,
won't you?"

Hope dropped rather limply into a chair. The security of Baring's
protecting presence was infinitely comforting, but her fright and
subsequent exertion had made her feel very weak. Baring went to the
window and stood there for some seconds, with his back to her. She noted
his height and breadth of shoulder with a faint sense of pleasure. She
had always admired this man. Secretly--his habitual kindness to her
notwithstanding--she was also a little afraid of him, but her fear did
not trouble her just then.

He turned quietly at length and seated himself near the window.

"How long does your uncle expect to be away?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"I never know; he may come back to-morrow, or perhaps not for days."

Baring's black brows drew together.

"Where is he?" he asked. She shook her head again.

He said nothing; but his silence was so condemnatory that she felt
herself called upon to defend the absent one.

"You see, he came here in the first place because I begged so very hard.
And he has to travel because of his book. I always knew that, so I
really can't complain. Besides, I'm not generally lonely, and hardly
ever nervous. And I have Ronnie."

"Ronnie!" said Baring; and for the first time he looked contemptuous.

Hope sighed.

"It's quite my own fault," she said humbly. "If I hadn't--"

"Pardon me! It is not your fault," he interrupted grimly. "It is
iniquitous that a girl like you should be left in such a place as this
entirely without protection. Have you a revolver?"

Hope looked startled.

"Oh, no!" she said. "If I had, I should never dare to use it, even if I
knew how."

Baring looked at her, still frowning.

"I think you are braver than that," he said.

Hope flushed vividly, and rose.

"No," she said, a note of defiance in her voice. "I'm a miserable
coward, Major Baring. But no one knows it but you and, perhaps, one
other. So I hope you won't give me away."

Baring did not smile.

"Who else knows it?" he asked.

Hope met his eyes steadily. She was evidently resolved to be weak no
longer.

"It doesn't matter, does it?" she said.

He did not answer her; and again she had a feeling that he was offended.

There was a considerable pause before he spoke again. He seemed to be
revolving something in his mind. Then at last, abruptly, he began to
talk upon ordinary topics, and at once she felt more at her ease with
him. They sat by the window after that for the best part of an hour;
till, in fact, the return of her brother put an end to their
_tête-à-tête_.

By those who were least intimate with the Carteret twins it was often
said that in feature they were exactly alike. Those who knew them better
saw no more than a very strong resemblance in form and colouring, but it
went no farther. In expression they differed utterly. The boy's face
lacked the level-browed honesty that was so conspicuous in the girl's.
His mouth was irresolute. His eyes were uncertain. Yet he was a
good-looking boy, notwithstanding these defects. He had a pleasant laugh
and winning manner, and was essentially kind-hearted, if swift to take
offence.

He came in through the window, walking rather heavily, and halted just
inside the room, blinking, as if the light dazzled him. Baring gave him
a single glance that comprehended him from head to foot, and rose from
his chair.

Again it seemed to Hope that she saw contempt upon his face; and a rush
of indignation checked the quick words of welcome upon her lips.

Her brother spoke first, and his words sounded rather slurred, as if he
had been running.

"Hullo!" he said. "Here you are! Don't get up! I expected to find you!"

He addressed Baring, who replied instantly, and with extreme emphasis:

"That I am sure you did not."

Ronnie started, and put his hand to his eyes as if confused.

"Beg pardon," he said, a moment later, in an odd tone of shame. "I
thought it was Hyde. The light put me off. It--it's Major Baring, isn't
it?"

"Yes; Baring." Baring repeated his own name deliberately; and, as by a
single flash of revelation Hope understood the meaning of his contempt.

She stood as if turned to stone. She had often seen Ronnie curiously
excited, even incoherently so, before that night, but she had never seen
him like this. She had never imagined before for a single instant what
now she abruptly knew without the shadow of a doubt.

A feeling that was like physical sickness came over her. She looked from
Ronnie to Ronnie's major with a sort of piteous appeal. Baring turned
gravely towards her.

"You will let me have a word alone with your brother?" he said quietly.
"I was waiting to see him, as you know."

She felt that he had given her a definite command, and she obeyed it
mutely, almost mechanically. He opened the door for her, and she went
out in utter silence, sick at heart.



V

MORE THAN A FRIEND


Two days later Hope received an invitation from Mrs. Latimer to join her
at the Hill Station for a few weeks.

She hesitated, for her brother's sake, to accept it, but he, urged
thereto by some very plain speaking from his major, persuaded her so
strongly that she finally yielded.

Though she would not have owned it, Hope was, in fact, in sore need of
this change. The heat had told upon her nerves and spirits. She had had
no fever, but she was far from well, as her friend, Mrs. Latimer,
realized as soon as she saw her.

She at once prescribed complete rest, and the week that followed was to
Hope the laziest and the most peaceful that she had ever known. She was
always happy in Mrs. Latimer's society, and she had no desire just then
for gaiety. The absolute freedom from care acted upon her like a tonic,
and she very quickly began to recover her usual buoyant health.

The colonel's wife watched her unobserved. She had by her a letter,
written in the plain language of a man who knew no other, and she often
referred to this letter when she was alone; for there seemed to be
something between the lines, notwithstanding its plainness.

As a result of this suspicion, when Hope rode back in Mrs. Latimer's
_rickshaw_ from an early morning service at the little English church on
the hill, on the second Sunday after her arrival, a big figure, clad in
white linen, rose from a _charpoy_ in Mrs. Latimer's veranda, and
stepped down bareheaded to receive her.

Hope's face, as she recognized the visitor, flushed so vividly that she
was aware of it, and almost feared to meet his eyes. But he spoke at
once, and thereby set her at her ease.

"That's much better," he said approvingly, as if he had only parted from
her the day before. "I was afraid you were going on the sick-list, but I
see you have thought better of it. Very wise of you."

She met his smile with a feeling of glad relief.

"How is Ronnie?" she said.

He laughed a little at the hasty question.

"Ronnie is quite well, and sends his love. He is going to have a five
days' leave next week to come and see you. It would have been this week,
but for me."

Hope looked up at him enquiringly.

"You see," he quietly explained, "I was coming myself, and--it will seem
odd to you, of course--I didn't want Ronnie."

Hope was silent. There was something in his manner that baffled her.

"Selfish of me, wasn't it?" he said.

"I don't know," said Hope.

"It was, I assure you," he returned; "sheer selfishness on my part. Are
we going to breakfast on the veranda? You will have to do the honours, I
know. Mrs. Latimer is still in bed."

Hope sat down thoughtfully. She had never seen Major Baring in this
light-hearted mood. She would have enjoyed it, but for the thought of
Ronnie.

"Wasn't he disappointed?" she asked presently.

"Horribly," said Baring. "He turned quite green when he heard. I don't
think I had better tell you what he said."

He was watching her quietly across the table, and she knew it. After a
moment she raised her eyes.

"Yes; tell me what he said, Major Baring!" she said.

"Not yet," said Baring. "I am waiting to hear you tell me that you are
even more bitterly disappointed than he was."

"I don't see how I can tell you that," said Hope, turning her attention
to the coffee-urn.

"No? Why not?"

"Because it wouldn't be very friendly," she answered gravely.

"Do you know, I almost dared to fancy it was because it wouldn't be
true?" said Baring.

She glanced up at that, and their eyes met. Though he was smiling a
little, there was no mistaking the message his held for her. She
coloured again very deeply, and bent her head to hide it.

He did not keep her waiting. Very quietly, very resolutely, he leaned
towards her across the table, and spoke.

"I will tell you now what your brother said to me, Hope," he said, his
voice half-quizzical, half-tender. "He's an impertinent young rascal,
but I bore with him for your sake, dear. He said: 'Go in and win, old
fellow, and I'll give you my blessing!' Generous of him, wasn't it? But
the question is, have I won?"

Yet she could not speak. Only as he stretched out his hands to her, she
laid her own within them without an instant's hesitation, and suffered
them to remain in his close grasp. When he spoke to her again, his voice
was sunk very low.

"How did I come to propose in this idiotic fashion across the
breakfast-table?" he said. "Never mind, it's done now--or nearly done.
You mustn't tremble, dear. I have been rather sudden, I know. I should
have waited longer; but, under the circumstances, it seemed better to
speak at once. But there is nothing to frighten you. Just look me in the
face and tell me, may I be more than a friend to you? Will you have me
for a husband?" Hope raised her eyes obediently, with a sudden sense of
confidence unutterable. They were full of the quick tears of joy.

"Of course!" she said instantly. "Of course!" She blushed again
afterwards, when she recalled her prompt, and even rapturous, answer to
his question. But, at the time, it was the most natural and spontaneous
thing in the world. It was not in her at that moment to have answered
him otherwise. And Baring knew it, understanding so perfectly that no
other word was necessary on either side. He only bent his head, and held
her two hands very closely to his lips before he gently let them go. It
was his sole reply to her glad response. Yet she felt as if there was
something solemn in his action; almost as if thereby he registered a
vow.



VI

HER ENEMY


Notwithstanding her determination to return to Ghantala after the
breaking of the monsoon. Hope stayed on at the Hill Station with Mrs.
Latimer till the rains were nearly over. She had wished to return, but
her hostess, her _fiancé_, and her brother were all united in the
resolve to keep her where she was. So insistent were they that they
prevailed at length. It had been a particularly bad season at Ghantala,
and sickness was rife there.

Baring even went so far as positively to forbid her to return till this
should have abated.

"You will have to obey me when we are married, you know," he grimly told
her. "So you may as well begin at once."

And Hope obeyed him. There was something about this man that compelled
her obedience. Her secret fear of him had not wholly disappeared. There
were times when the thought that she might one day incur his displeasure
made her uneasy. His strength awed even while it thrilled her. Behind
his utmost tenderness she felt his mastery.

And so she yielded, and remained at the Hill Station till Mrs. Latimer
herself returned to Ghantala in October. She and Ronnie had not been
together for nearly six weeks, and the separation seemed to her like as
many months. He was at the station to meet them, and the moment she saw
him she was conscious of a shock. She had never before seen him look so
hollow-eyed and thin.

He greeted her, however, with a gaiety that, in some degree, reassured
her. He seemed delighted to have her with him again, was full of the
news and gossip of the station, and chattered like a schoolboy
throughout the drive to their bungalow.

Her uncle came out of his room to welcome her, and then burrowed back
again, and remained invisible for the rest of the evening. But Hope did
not want him. She wanted no one but Ronnie just then.

The night was chilly, and they had a fire. Hope lay on a sofa before it,
and Ronnie sat and smoked. Both were luxuriously comfortable till a hand
rapped smartly upon the window and made them jump.

Ronnie exclaimed with a violence that astonished Hope, and started to
his feet. She also sprang up eagerly, almost expecting to see her
_fiancé_. But her expectations were quickly dashed.

"It's that fellow Hyde!" Ronnie said, looking at her rather doubtfully.
"You don't mind?"

Her face fell, but he did not wait for her reply. He stepped across to
the window, and admitted the visitor.

Hyde sauntered in with a casual air.

He came across to her, smiling in the way she loathed, and almost before
she realized it he had her hand in a tight, impressive grip, and his
pale eyes were gazing full into hers.

"You look as fresh as an English rose," was his deliberate greeting.

Hope freed her hand with a slight, involuntary gesture of disgust. Till
the moment of seeing him again she had almost forgotten how utterly
objectionable he was.

"I am quite well," she said coldly. "I think I shall go to bed, Ronnie.
I'm tired."

Ronnie was pouring some whisky into a glass. She noticed that his hand
was very shaky.

"All right," he said, not looking at her.

"You're not going to desert us already?" said Hyde; still, as she felt,
mocking her with his smile. "It will be dark, indeed, when Hope is
withdrawn."

He went to the door, but paused with his hand upon it. She looked at him
with the wild shrinking of a trapped creature in her eyes.

"Never mind," he laughed softly; "I am very tenacious. Even now--you
will scarcely believe it--I still have--Hope!"

He opened the door with the words, and, as she passed through in
unbroken silence, her face as white as marble, there was something in
his words, something of self-assured power, almost of menace, that
struck upon her like a breath of evil. She would have stayed and defied
him had she dared. But somehow, inexplicably, she was afraid.



VII

THE SCRAPE


Very late that night there came a low knock at Hope's door. She was
lying awake, and she instantly started up on her elbow.

"Who is it?" she called.

The door opened softly, and Ronnie answered her.

"I thought you would like to say good-night, Hope," he said.

"Oh, come in, dear!" Hope sat up eagerly. She had not expected this
attention from Ronnie. "I'm wide awake. I'm so glad you came!"

He slipped into the room, and, reaching her, bent to kiss her; then, as
she clung closely to him, he sat down on the edge of her bed.

"I'm sorry Hyde annoyed you," he said.

She leaned her head against him, and was silent.

"It'll be a good thing for you when you're married," Ronnie went on
presently. "Baring will take better care of you than I do."

Something in his tone went straight to her heart. Her clinging arms
tightened, but still she was silent. For what he said was unanswerable.

When he spoke again, she felt it was with an effort.

"Baring came round to-night to see you. I went out and spoke to him. I
told him you had gone to bed, and so he didn't come in. I was glad he
didn't. Hyde was there, and they don't hit it particularly well. In
fact--" he hesitated. "I would rather he didn't know Hyde was here.
Baring's a good chap--the best in the world. He's done no end for me;
more than I can ever tell you. But he's awfully hard in some ways. I
can't tell him everything. He doesn't always understand."

Again there sounded in his voice that faint, wistful note that so smote
upon Hope's heart. She drew nearer to him, her cheek against his
shoulder.

"Oh, Ronnie," she said, and her voice quivered passionately, "never
think that of me, dear! Never think that I can't understand!"

He kissed her forehead.

"Bless you, old girl!" he whispered huskily.

"My marriage will make no difference--no difference," she insisted. "You
and I will still be to each other what we have always been. There will
be the same trust between us, the same confidence. Rather than lose
that, I will never marry at all!"

She spoke with vehemence, but Ronnie was not carried away by it.

"Baring will have the right to know all your secrets," he said gloomily.

"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Hope impulsively. "He would never expect that.
He knows that we are twins, and there is no tie in the world that is
quite like that."

Ronnie was silent, but she felt that it was not the silence of
acquiescence. She took him by the shoulders and made him face her.

"Ronnie," she said very earnestly, "if you will only tell me things, and
let me help you where I can, I swear to you--I swear to you most
solemnly--that I will never betray your confidence to Monty, or to any
one else: I know that he would never ask it of me; but even if he
did--even if he did--I would not do it." She spoke so steadfastly, so
loyally, that he was strongly moved. He thrust his arm boyishly round
her.

"All right, dear old girl, I trust you," he said. "I'll tell you all
about it. As I see you have guessed, there is a bit of a scrape; but it
will be all right in two or three weeks. I've been a fool, and got into
debt again. Baring helped me out once. That's partly why I'm so
particularly anxious that he shouldn't get wind of it this time. Fact
is, I'm very much in Hyde's power for the time being. But, as I say, it
will be all right before long. I've promised to ride his Waler for the
Ghantala Valley Cup next month. It's a pretty safe thing, and if I pull
it off, as I intend to do, everything will be cleared, and I shall be
out of his hands. It's a sort of debt of honour, you see. I can't get
out of it, but I shall be jolly glad when it's over. We'll chuck him
then, if he isn't civil. But till then I'm more or less helpless. So
you'll do your best to tolerate him for my sake, won't you?"

A great sigh rose from Hope's heart, but she stifled it. Hyde's attitude
of insolent power was explained to her, and she would have given all she
had at that moment to have been free to seek Baring's advice.

"I'll try, dear," she said. "But I think the less I see of him the
better it will be. Are you quite sure of winning the Cup?"

"Oh, quite," said Ronnie, with confidence. "Quite. Do you remember the
races we used to have when we were kids? We rode barebacked in those
days. You could stick on anything. Remember?"

Yes, Hope remembered; and a sudden, almost fierce regret surged up
within her.

"Oh, Ronnie," she said, "I wish we were kids still!"

He laughed at her softly, and rose.

"I know better," he said; "and so does Baring. Good-night, old girl!
Sleep well!"

And with that he left her. But Hope scarcely slept till break of day.



VIII

BEFORE THE RACE


Hope had arranged to go to the races with Mrs. Latimer after previously
lunching with her.

When the day arrived she spent the morning working on the veranda in the
sunshine. It was a perfect day of Indian winter, and under its influence
she gradually forgot her anxieties, and fell to dreaming while she
worked.

Down below the compound she heard the stream running swiftly between its
banks, with a bubbling murmur like half-suppressed laughter. It was
fuller than she had ever known it. The rains had swelled the river
higher up the valley, and they had opened the sluice-gates to relieve
the pressure upon the dam that had been built there after the disastrous
flood that had drowned the English girl years before.

Hope loved to hear that soft chuckling between the reeds. It made her
think of an English springtime. The joy of spring was in her veins. She
turned her face to the sunshine with a smile of purest happiness. Only
two months more to the zenith of her happiness!

There came the sound of a step on the veranda--a stumbling, uncertain
step. She turned swiftly in her chair, and sprang up. Ronnie had
returned to prepare for the race, and she had not heard him. She had not
seen him before that day, and she felt a momentary compunction as she
moved to greet him. And then--her heart stood still.

He was standing a few paces away, supporting himself against a pillar of
the veranda. His eyes were fixed and heavy, like the eyes of a man
walking in his sleep. He stared at her dully, as if he were looking at a
complete stranger.

Hope stopped short, gazing at him in speechless consternation.

After several moments he spoke thickly, scarcely intelligibly.

"I can't race to-day," he said. "Not well enough. Hyde must find a
substitute."

He could hardly articulate the last word, but Hope caught his meaning.
The whole miserable tragedy was written up before her in plain,
unmistakable characters.

But almost as quickly as she perceived it came the thought that no one
else must know. Something must be done, even though it was at the
eleventh hour.

Her first instinct was to send for Baring, but she thrust it from her.
No! She must find another way. There must be a way out if she were only
quick enough to see it--some way by which she could cover up his
disgrace so that none should know of it. There was a way--surely there
was a way! Ronnie's dull stare became intolerable. She went to him,
bravely, steadfastly.

"Go and lie down!" she said. "I will see about it for you."

Something in her own words sent a sudden flash through her brain. She
caught her breath, and her face turned very white. But her steadfastness
did not forsake her. She took Ronnie by the arm and guided him to his
room.



IX

THE RACE


"Such a pity. Hope can't come!"

Mrs. Latimer addressed Baring, who had just approached her across the
racecourse. The sun was shining brilliantly, and the scene was very
gay.

Baring, who had drawn near with a certain eagerness, seemed to stiffen
at her words.

"Can't come!" he echoed. "Why not?"

Mrs. Latimer handed him a note.

"She sent this round half an hour ago."

Baring read the note with bent brows. It merely stated that the writer
had been working all the morning and was a little tired. Would Mrs.
Latimer kindly understand and excuse her?

He handed it back without comment.

"Where is young Carteret?" he asked. "Have you seen him yet?"

"No," she answered. "Somebody was saying he was late. Ah! There he is,
surely--just going into the weighing-tent. What a superb horse that is
of Mr. Hyde's! Do you think he will win the Cup?"

Baring thought it likely, but he said it with so preoccupied an air that
Mrs. Latimer smiled, and considerately refrained from detaining him.

She watched him walk down towards the weighing-tent; but before he
reached it, she saw the figure of young Carteret issue forth at the
farther end, and start off at a run with his saddle on his shoulder
towards the enclosure where the racers were waiting. He was late, and
she thought he looked flurried.

A few minutes later Baring returned to her.

"The boy is behindhand, as usual," he remarked. "I didn't get near him.
Time is just up. I hear the Rajah thinks very highly of Hyde's Waler."

Mrs. Latimer looked across at the Indian Prince who was presenting the
Cup. He was seated in the midst of a glittering crowd of natives and
British officers. She saw that he was closely scanning the restless line
of horses at the starting-point.

Through her glasses she sought the big black Waler. He was foaming and
stamping uneasily, and she saw that his rider's face was deadly pale.

"I don't believe Ronnie can be well," she said. "He looks so nervous."

Baring grunted in a dissatisfied note, but said nothing.

Another two minutes, and the signal was given. There were ten horses in
the race. It was a fair start, and the excitement in the watching crowd
became at once intense.

Baring remained at Mrs. Latimer's side. She was on her feet, and
scarcely breathing. The black horse stretched himself out like a
greyhound, galloping splendidly over the shining green of the course.
His rider, crouched low in the saddle, looked as if at any instant he
might be hurled to the earth.

Baring watched him critically, his jaw set and grim. Obviously, the boy
was not himself, and he fancied he knew the reason.

"If he pulls it off, it'll be the biggest fluke of his life," he
muttered.

"Isn't it queer?" whispered Mrs. Latimer. "I never saw young Carteret
ride like that before."

Baring was silent. He began to think he understood Hope's failure to put
in an appearance.

Gradually the black Waler drew away from all but two others, who hotly
contested the leadership. He was running superbly, though he apparently
received but small encouragement from his rider.

As they drew round the curve at the further end of the course, he was
galloping next to the rails. As they finally turned into the straight
run home, he was leading.

But the horse next to him, urged by his rider, who was also his owner,
made so strenuous an effort that it became obvious to all that he was
gaining upon the Waler.

A great yell went up of "Carteret! Carteret! Wake up, Carteret! Don't
give it away!" And the Waler's rider, as if startled by the cry,
suddenly and convulsively slashed the animal's withers.

Through a great tumult of shouting the two horses dashed past the
winning-post. It seemed a dead heat; but, immediately after, the news
spread that Hyde's horse was the winner. The Waler had gained his
victory by a neck.

Hyde was leading his horse round to the Rajah's stand. His jockey,
looking white and exhausted, sat so loosely in the saddle that he seemed
to sway with the animal's movements. He did not appear to hear the
cheering around him.

Baring took up his stand near the weighing-tent, and, a few minutes
later, Hyde and his jockey came up together. The boy's cap was dragged
down over his eyes, and he looked neither to right nor left.

Hyde, perceiving Baring, pushed forward abruptly.

"I want a word with you," he said. "I've been trying to catch you for
some days past. But first, what did you think of the race?" He coolly
fastened on to Baring's elbow, and the latter had to pause. Hyde's
companion passed swiftly on; and Hyde, seeing the look on Baring's face,
began to laugh.

"It's all right; you needn't look so starched. The little beggar's been
starving himself for the occasion, and overdone it. He'll pull round
with a little feeding up. Tell me what you thought of the race! Splendid
chap, that animal of mine, eh?"

He kept Baring talking for several minutes; and, when they finally
parted, his opportunity had gone.

Baring went into the weighing-tent, but Ronnie was nowhere to be seen.
And he wondered rather grimly as he walked away if Hyde had detained him
purposely to give the boy a chance to escape.



X

THE ENEMY'S TERMS


It was nearly dark that evening when Hope stood again on the veranda of
the Magician's, bungalow, and listened to the water running through the
reeds. She thought it sounded louder than in the morning--- more
insistent, less mirthful. She shivered a little as she stood there. She
felt lonely; her uncle was away for a couple of days, and Ronnie was in
his room. She was bracing herself to go and rouse him to dress for mess.
Slowly, at last, she turned to go. But at the same instant a voice
called to her from below, and she stopped short.

"Ah, don't run away!" it said. "I've come on purpose to see you--on a
matter of importance."

Reluctantly Hope waited. She knew the voice well, and it made her quiver
in every nerve with the instinct of flight. Yet she summoned all her
resolution and stood still, while Hyde calmly mounted the veranda steps
and approached her. He was in riding-dress, and he carried a crop,
walking with all the swaggering insolence that she loathed.

"There's something I want to say to you," he said. "I can come in, I
suppose? It won't take me long."

He took her permission for granted, and turned into the drawing-room.
Hope followed him in silence. She could not pretend to this man that his
presence was a pleasure to her. She hated him, and deep in her heart she
feared him as she feared no one else in the world.

He looked at her with eyes of cynical criticism by the light of the
shaded lamp. She felt that there was something worse than insolence
about him that night--something of cruelty, of brutality even, from
which she was powerless to escape.

"Come!" he said, as she did not speak. "Doesn't it occur to you that I
have been a particularly good friend to you to-day?"

Hope faced him steadily. Twice before she had evaded this man, but she
knew that to-night evasion was out of the question. She must confront
him without panic, and alone.

"I think you must tell me what you mean," she said, her voice very low.

He shrugged his shoulders indifferently, and then laughed at her--his
abominable, mocking laugh.

"I have noticed before," he said, "that when a woman finds herself in a
tight corner, she invariably tries to divert attention by asking
unnecessary questions. It's a harmless little stratagem that may serve
her turn. But in this case, let me assure you, it is sheer waste of
time. I hold you--and your brother, also--in the hollow of my hand. And
you know it."

He spoke slowly, with a confidence from which there was no escape. His
eyes still closely watched her face. And Hope felt again that wild
terror, which only he had ever inspired in her, knocking at her heart.

She did not ask him a second time what he meant. He had made her realize
the utter futility of prevarication. Instead, she forced herself to
meet his look boldly, and grapple with him with all her desperate
courage.

"My brother owed you a debt of honour," she said; "and it has been paid.
What more do you want?"

A glitter of admiration shone for a moment through his cynicism. This
was better than meek surrender. A woman who fought was worth conquering.

"You are not going to acknowledge, then," he said, "that you--you
personally--are in any way indebted to me?"

"Certainly not!" The girl's eyes did not flinch before his. Save that
she was trembling, he would scarcely have detected her fear. "You have
done nothing for me," she said. "You only served your own purpose."

"Oh, indeed!" said Hyde softly. "So that is how you look at it, is it?"

He moved, and went close to her. Still she did not shrink. She was
fighting desperately--desperately--a losing battle.

"Well," he said, after a moment, in which she withstood him silently
with all her strength, "in one sense that is true. I did serve my own
purpose. But have you, I wonder, any idea what that purpose of mine
was?"

He waited, but she did not answer him. She was nearly at the end of her
strength. Hyde did not offer to touch her. He only smiled a little at
the rising panic in her white face.

"Do you know what I am going to do now?" he said. "I am going to
mess--it's a guest night--and they will drink my health as the winner of
the Ghantala Cup. And then I shall propose someone else's health. Can
you guess whose?"

She shrank then, shrank perceptibly, painfully, as the victim must
shrink, despite all his resolution, from the hot iron of the torturer.

Hyde stood for a second longer, watching her. Then he turned. There was
fiendish triumph in his eyes.

"Good-bye!" he said.

She caught her breath sharply, spasmodically, as one who suppresses a
cry of pain. And then, before he reached the window, she spoke:

"Please wait!"

He turned instantly, and came back to her.

"Come!" he said. "You are going to be reasonable after all."

"What is it that you want?" Her desperation sounded in her voice. She
looked at him with eyes of wild appeal. Her defiance was all gone. The
smile went out of Hyde's face, and suddenly she saw the primitive savage
in possession. She had seen it before, but till that moment she had
never realized quite what it was.

"What do I want?" he said. "I want you, and you know it. That fellow
Baring is not the man for you. You are going to give him up. Do you
hear? Or else--if you prefer it--he will give you up. I don't care which
it is, but one or the other it shall be. Now do we understand one
another?"

Hope stared at him, speechless, horror-stricken, helpless!

He came nearer to her, but she did not recoil, for as a serpent holds
its prey, so he held her. She wanted to protest, to resist him fiercely,
but she was mute. Even the power to flee was taken from her. She could
only stand as if chained to the ground, stiff and paralyzed, awaiting
his pleasure. No nightmare terror had ever so obsessed her. The agony of
it was like a searing flame.

And Hyde, seeing her anguished helplessness, came nearer still with a
sort of exultant deliberation, and put his arm about her as she stood.

"I thought I should win the trick," he said, with a laugh that seemed to
turn her to ice. "Didn't I tell you weeks ago that I had--Hope?"

She did not attempt to answer or to resist. Her lips were quite
bloodless. A surging darkness was about her, but yet she remained
conscious--vividly horribly conscious--of the trap that had so suddenly
closed upon her. Through it she saw his face close to her own, with that
sneering, devilish smile about his mouth that she knew so well. And the
eyes with their glittering savagery were mocking her--mocking her.

Another instant and his lips would have pressed her own. He held her
fast, so fast that she felt almost suffocated. It was the most hideous
moment of her life. And still she could neither move nor protest. It
seemed as if, body and soul, she was his prisoner.

But suddenly, unexpectedly, he paused. His arms slackened and fell
abruptly from her; so abruptly that she tottered, feeling vaguely for
support. She saw his face change as he turned sharply away. And
instinctively, notwithstanding the darkness that blinded her, she knew
the cause. She put her hand over her eyes and strove to recover herself.



XI

WITHOUT DEFENCE


When Hope looked up, the silence had become unbearable. She saw Baring
standing quite motionless near the window by which he had entered. He
was not looking at her, and she felt suddenly, crushingly, that she had
become less than nothing in his sight, not so much as a thing, to be
ignored.

Hyde, quite calm and self-possessed, still stood close to her. But he
had turned his back upon her to face the intruder. And she felt herself
to be curiously apart from them both, almost like a spectator at a play.

It was Hyde who at last broke the silence when it had begun to torture
her nerves beyond endurance.

"Perhaps this _rencontre_ is not as unfortunate as it looks at first
sight," he remarked complacently. "It will save me the trouble of
seeking an interview with you to explain what you are now in a position
to see for yourself. I believe a second choice is considered a woman's
privilege. Miss Carteret, as you observe, has just availed herself of
this. And I am afraid that in consequence you will have to abdicate in
my favour."

Baring heard him out in complete silence. As Hyde ended, he moved
quietly forward into the room. Hope felt him drawing nearer, but she
could not face him. His very quietness was terrible to her, and she was
desperately conscious that she had no weapon of defence.

She had not thought that he would so much as notice her, but she was
wrong. He passed by Hyde without a glance, and reached her.

"What am I to understand?" he said.

She started violently at the sound of his voice. She knew that Hyde had
turned towards her again, but she looked at neither of them. She was
trembling so that she could scarcely stand. Her very lips felt cold, and
she could not utter a word.

After a brief pause Baring spoke again: "Can't you answer me?"

There was no anger in his voice, but there was also no kindness. She
knew that he was watching her with a piercing scrutiny, and she dared
not raise her eyes. She shook her head at last, as he waited for her
reply.

"Are you willing for me to take an explanation from Mr. Hyde?" he
asked; and his tone rang suddenly hard. "Has he the right to explain?"

"Of course I have the right," said Hyde easily.

"Tell him so, Hope!"

Baring bent towards the girl.

"If he has the right," he said, his voice quiet but very insistent,
"look me in the face--and tell me so!"

She made a convulsive effort and looked up at him.

"Yes," she said in a whisper. "He has the right."

Baring straightened himself abruptly, almost as if he had received a
blow in the face.

He stood for a second silent. Then:

"Where is your brother?" he asked.

Hope hesitated, and at once Hyde answered for her.

"He isn't back yet. He stopped at the club."

"That," said Baring sternly, "is a lie."

He laid his hand suddenly upon Hope's shoulder.

"Surely you can tell me the truth at least!" he said.

Something in his tone pierced the wild panic at her heart. She looked up
at him again, meeting the mastery of his eyes.

"He is in his room," she said. "Mr. Hyde didn't know."

Hyde laughed, and at the sound the hand on Hope's shoulder closed like a
vice, till she bit her lip with the effort to endure the pain. Baring
saw it, and instantly set her free.

"Go to your brother," he said, "and ask him to come and speak to me!"

The authority in his voice was not to be gainsaid. She threw an
imploring look at Hyde, and went. She fled like a wild creature along
the veranda to her brother's room, and tapped feverishly, frantically at
the window. Then she paused listening intently for a reply. But she
could hear nothing save the loud beating of her heart. It drummed in her
ears like the hoofs of a galloping horse. Desperately she knocked again.

"Let me in!" she gasped. "Let me in!"

There came a blundering movement, and the door opened.

"Hullo!" said Ronnie, in a voice of sleepy irritation. "What's up?"

She stumbled into the dark room, breathless and sobbing.

"Oh, Ronnie!" she cried. "Oh, Ronnie; you must help me now!"

He fastened the door behind her, and as she sank down half-fainting in a
chair, she heard him groping for matches on the dressing-table.

He struck one, and lighted a lamp. She saw that his hand was very shaky,
but that he managed to control it. His face was pale, and there were
deep shadows under his heavy eyes, but he was himself again, and a
thrill of thankfulness ran through her. There was still a chance, still
a chance!



XII

THE PENALTY


Five minutes later, or it might have been less, the brother and sister
stepped out on to the veranda to go to the drawing-room. They had to
turn a corner of the bungalow to reach it, and the moment they did so
Hope stopped dead. A man's voice, shouting curses, came from the open
window; and, with it, the sound of struggling and the sound of
blows--blows delivered with the precision and regularity of a
machine--frightful, swinging blows that sounded like revolver shots.

"What is it?" gasped Hope in terror. "What is it?" But she knew very
well what it was; and Ronnie knew, too.

"You stay here," he said. "I'll go and stop it."

"No, no!" she gasped back. "I am coming with you; I must." She slipped
her cold hand into his, and they ran together towards the commotion.

Reaching the drawing-room window, Ronnie stopped, and put the trembling
girl behind him. But he himself did not enter. He only stood still, with
a cowed look on his face, and waited. In the middle of the room, Baring,
his face set and terrible, stood gripping Hyde by the torn collar of his
coat and thrashing him, deliberately, mercilessly, with his own
riding-whip. How long the punishment had gone on the two at the window
could only guess. But it was evident that Hyde was nearing exhaustion.
His face was purple in patches, and the curses he tried to utter came
maimed and broken and incoherent from his shaking lips. He had almost
ceased to struggle in the unwavering grip that held him; he only moved
convulsively at each succeeding blow.

"Oh, stop him!" implored Hope, behind her brother. "Stop him!" Then, as
he did not move, she pushed wildly past him into the room.

Baring saw her, and instantly, almost as if he had been awaiting her,
stayed his hand. He did not speak. He simply took Hyde by the shoulders
and half-carried, half-propelled him to the window, through which he
thrust him.

He returned empty-handed and closed the window. Ronnie had entered, and
was standing by his sister, who had dropped upon her knees by the sofa
and hidden her face in the cushions, sobbing with a pasionate
abandonment that testified to nerves that had given way utterly at last
beneath a strain too severe to be borne. Baring just glanced at her,
then turned his attention to her brother.

"I have been doing your work for you," he remarked grimly. "Aren't you
ashamed of yourself?" He put his hand upon Ronnie, and twisted him round
to face the light, looking at him piercingly. "Aren't you ashamed of
yourself?" he repeated.

Ronnie met his eyes irresolutely for a moment, then looked away towards
Hope. She had become very still, but her face remained hidden. There was
something tense about her attitude. After a moment Ronnie spoke, his
voice very low.

"I suppose you had a reason for what you have just been doing?"

"Yes," Baring said sternly, "I had a reason. Do you mean me to
understand that you didn't know that fellow to be a blackguard?"

Ronnie made no answer. He stood like a beaten dog.

"If you didn't know it," Baring continued, "I am sorry for your
intelligence. If you did, you deserve the same treatment as he has just
received."

Hope stirred at the words, stirred and moaned, as if she were in pain;
and again momentarily Baring glanced at her. But his face showed no
softening.

"I mean what I say," he said, turning inexorably to Ronnie. "I told you
long ago that that man was not fit to associate with your sister. You
must have known it for yourself; yet you continued to bring him to the
house. What I have just done was in her defence. Mark that, for--as you
know--I am not in the habit of acting hastily. But there are some
offences that only a horsewhip can punish." He set the boy free with a
contemptuous gesture, and crossed the room to Hope. "Now I have
something to say to you," he said.

She started and quivered, but she did not raise her head. Very quietly
he stooped and lifted her up. He saw that she was too upset for the
moment to control herself, and he put her into a chair and waited beside
her. After several seconds she slipped a trembling hand into his, and
spoke.

"Monty," she said, "I have something to say to you first."

Her action surprised him. It touched him also, but he did not show it.

"I am listening," he said gravely.

She looked up at him and uttered a sharp sigh. Then, with an effort, she
rose and faced him.

"You are very angry with me," she said. "You are going to--to--give me
up."

His face hardened. He looked back at her with a sternness that sent the
blood to her heart. He said nothing whatever. She went on with
difficulty.

"But before you do," she said, "I want to tell you that--that--ever
since you asked me to marry you I have loved you--with my whole heart;
and I have never--in thought or deed--been other than true to my love. I
can't tell you any more than that. It is no good to question me. I may
have done things of which you would strongly disapprove, which you would
even condemn, but my heart has always been true to you--always."

She stopped. Her lips were quivering painfully. She saw that her words
had not moved him to confidence in her, and it seemed as if the whole
world had suddenly turned dark and empty and cold--a place to wander in,
but never to rest.

A long silence followed that supreme effort of hers. Baring's
eyes--blue, merciless as steel--were fixed upon her in a gaze that
pierced and hurt her. Yet he forced her to endure it. He held her in
front of him ruthlessly, almost cruelly.

"So I am not to question you?" he said at last. "You object to that?"

She winced at his tone.

"Don't!" she said under her breath. "Don't hurt me more--more than you
need!"

He was silent again, grimly, interminably silent, it seemed to her. And
all the while she felt him doing battle with her, beating down her
resistance, mastering her, compelling her.

"Hope!" he said at length.

She looked up at him. Her knees were shaking under her. Her heart was
beginning to whisper that her strength was nearly spent; that she would
not be able to resist much longer.

"Tell me," he said very quietly, "this one thing only! What is the hold
that Hyde has over you?"

She shook her head.

"That is the one thing--"

"It is the one thing that I must know," he said sternly.

She was white to the lips.

"I can't answer you," she said.

"You must answer me!" He turned her quivering face up to his own. "Do
you hear me, Hope?" he said. "I insist upon your answering me."

He still spoke quietly, but she was suddenly aware that he was putting
forth his whole strength. It came upon her like a physical, crushing
weight. It overwhelmed her. She hid her face with an anguished cry. He
had conquered her.

In another moment she would have yielded. Her opposition was dead. But
abruptly, unexpectedly, there came an interruption. Ronnie, very pale,
and looking desperate, came between them.

"Look here, sir," he said, "you--you are going too far. I can't have my
sister coerced in this fashion. If she prefers to keep this matter to
herself, she must do so. You can't force her to speak."

Baring released Hope and turned upon him almost violently, but, seeing
the unusual, if precarious, air of resolution with which Ronnie
confronted him, he checked himself. He walked to the end of the room and
back before he spoke. His features were set like a mask when he
returned.

"You may be right," he said, "though I think it would have been better
for everyone if you had not interfered. Hope, I am going. If you cannot
bring yourself to tell me the whole truth without reservation, there can
be nothing further between us. I fear that, after all, I spoke too soon.
I can enter upon no compact that is not based upon absolute
confidence."

He spoke coldly, decidedly, without a trace of feeling; and, having
spoken, he went deliberately to the window. There he stood for a few
seconds with his back turned upon the room; then, as the silence
remained unbroken, he quietly lifted the catch and let himself out.

In the room he left not a word was spoken for many tragic minutes.



XIII

THE CURSE OF THE VALLEY


Hope had some difficulty in persuading Ronnie to attend mess that night,
though, as a matter of fact, she was longing for solitude.

He went at last, and she was glad, for a great restlessness possessed
her to which it was a relief to give way. She wandered about the veranda
in the dark after his departure, trying to realize fully what had
happened. It had all come upon her so suddenly. She had been forced to
act throughout without a moment's pause for thought. Now that it was all
over she wanted to collect herself and face the worst.

Her engagement was at an end. It was mainly that fact that she wished to
grasp. But somehow she found it very difficult. She had grown into the
habit of regarding herself as belonging exclusively and for all time to
Montagu Baring.

"He has given me up! He has given me up!" she whispered to herself, as
she paced to and fro along the crazy veranda. She recalled the look his
face had worn, the sternness, the pitilessness of his eyes. She had
always felt at the back of her heart that he had it in him to be hard,
merciless. But she had not really thought that she would ever shrink
beneath the weight of his anger. She had trusted blindly to his love to
spare her. She had imagined herself to be so dear to him that she must
be exempt. Others--it did not surprise her that others feared him. But
she--his promised wife--what could she have to fear?

She paused at the end of the veranda, looking up. The night was full of
stars, and it was very cold. At the bottom of the compound she heard the
water running swiftly. It did not chuckle any more. It had become a
miniature roar. It almost seemed to threaten her.

She remembered how she had listened to it in the morning, sitting in the
sunshine, dreaming; and her heart suddenly contracted with a pain
intolerable. Those golden dreams were over for ever. He had given her
up.

Again her restlessness urged her. Cold as it was, she could not bring
herself to go indoors. She descended into the compound, passed swiftly
through it, and began to climb the rough ground of the hill that rose
behind it above the native village.

The Magician's bungalow looked very ghostly in the starlight. Presently
she paused, and stood motionless, gazing down at it. She remembered
how, when she and her uncle had first come to it, the native servants
had told them of the curse that had been laid upon it; of the evil
spirits that had dwelt there; of voices that had cried in the night! Was
it true, she wondered vaguely? Was it possible for a place to be cursed?

A faint breeze ran down the valley, stirring the trees to a furtive
whispering. Again, subconsciously, she was aware of the cold, and moved
to return. At the same moment there came a sound like the report of a
cannon half a mile away, followed by a long roar that was unlike
anything she had ever heard--a sound so appalling, so overwhelming, that
for an instant, seized with a nameless terror, she stood as one turned
to stone.

And then--before the impulse of flight to the bungalow had reached her
brain--the whole terrible disaster burst upon her. Like a monster of
destruction, that which had been a gurgling stream rose above its banks
in a mighty, brown flood, surged like an inrushing sea over the moonlit
compound, and swept down the valley, turning it into a whirling turmoil
of water.



XIV

HOW THE TALE WAS TOLD


Ronnie Carteret was the subject of a good deal of chaff that night at
mess. The Rajah was being entertained, and he was the only man who paid
the young officer any compliments on the matter of his achievement on
the racecourse. Everyone else openly declared that the horse, and not
its rider, was the one to be congratulated.

"Never saw anything so ludicrous in my life," one critic said. "He
looked like a rag doll in the saddle. How he managed to stick on passes
me. Is it the latest from America, Ronnie? Leaves something to be
desired, old chap! I should stick to the old style, if I were you."

Ronnie had no answer for the comments and advice showered upon him from
all sides. He received them all in silence, sullenly ignoring derisive
questions.

Hyde was not present, to the surprise of every one. All knew that he had
been invited, and there was some speculation upon his non-appearance.

Baring was there, quiet and self-contained as usual. No one ever chaffed
Baring. It was generally recognized that he did not provide good sport.
When the toasts were over he left the table.

It was soon after his departure that a sound like a distant explosion
was heard by those in the messroom, causing some discussion there.

"It's only some fool letting off fireworks," someone said; and as this
seemed a reasonable explanation, no one troubled to enquire further. And
so fully half an hour passed before the truth was known.

It was Baring who came in with the news, and none who saw it ever
forgot his face as he threw open the messroom door. It was like the face
of a man suddenly stricken with a mortal hurt.

"Heavens, man! What's the matter?" the colonel exclaimed, at sight of
him. "You look as if--as if--"

Baring glanced round till his eyes fell upon Ronnie, and, when he spoke,
he seemed to be addressing him alone.

"The dam has burst," he said, his words curt, distinct, unfaltering.
"The whole of the lower valley is flooded. The Magician's bungalow has
been swept away!"

"What?" gasped Ronnie. "What?"

He sprang to his feet, the awful look in Baring's eyes reflected in his
own, and made a dash for the doorway in which Baring stood. He stumbled
as he reached, it and the latter threw out a supporting arm.

"It's no use your going," he said, his voice hard and mechanical.
"There's nothing to be done. I've been as near as it is possible to get.
It's nothing but a raging torrent half a mile across."

He moved straight forward to a chair, and thrust the boy down into it.
There was a terrible stiffness--almost a fixity--about him. He did not
seem conscious of the men that crowded round him. It was not his
habitual reserve that kept him from collapse at that moment; it was
rather a stunned sense of expediency.

"There's nothing to be done," he repeated.

He looked down at Ronnie, who was clutching at the table with both
hands, and making ineffectual efforts to speak.

"Give him some brandy, one of you!" he said.

Someone held a glass against the boy's chattering teeth. The colonel
poured some spirit into another and gave it to Baring. He took it with a
hand that seemed steady, but the next instant it slipped through his
fingers and smashed on the floor. He turned sharply, not heeding it.
Most of the men in the room were on their way out to view the
catastrophe for themselves. He made as if to follow them; then, as if
struck by a sudden thought, he paused.

Ronnie, deathly pale, and shaking all over, was fighting his way back to
self-control. Baring moved back to him with less of stiffness and more
of his usual strength of purpose.

"Do you care to come with me?" he said.

Ronnie looked up at him. Then, though he still shivered violently, he
got up without speaking; and, in silence, they went away together.



XV

THE NIGHT OF DESPAIR


Not till more than two hours later did Ronnie break his silence. He
would have tramped the hills all night above the flooded valley, but
Baring would not suffer it. He dragged him almost forcibly away from
the scene of desolation, where the water still flowed strongly, carrying
trees and all manner of wreckage on its course. And, though he was
almost beside himself, the boy yielded at last. For Baring compelled
obedience that night. He took Ronnie back to his own quarters, but on
the threshold Ronnie drew back.

"I can't come in with you," he said.

Baring's hand was on his shoulder.

"You must," he answered quietly.

"I can't," Ronnie persisted, with an effort. "I can't! I'm a cur; I'm
worse. You wouldn't ask me if you knew."

Baring paused, then, with a strange, unwonted gentleness, he took the
boy's arm and led him in. "Never mind!" he said.

Ronnie went with him, but in Baring's room he faced him with the courage
of despair.

"You'll have to know it," he said jerkily. "It was my doing that
you--and she--parted as you did. She was going to tell you the truth. I
prevented her--for my own sake--not hers. I--I came between you."

Baring's hand fell, but neither his face nor his tone varied as he made
steady reply.

"I guessed it might be that--afterwards. I was on my way to tell her so
when the dam went."

"That isn't all," Ronnie went on feverishly. "I'm worse than that, worse
even than she knew. I engaged to ride Hyde's horse to--to discharge a
debt I owed him. I told her it was a debt of honour. It wasn't. It was
to cover theft. I swindled him once, and he found out. I hated riding
his horse, but it would have meant open disgrace if I hadn't. She knew
it was urgent. And then at the last moment I was thirsty; I overdid it.
No; confound it, I'll tell you the truth! I went home drunk, too drunk
to sit a horse. And so she--she sent me to bed, and went in my place.
That's the thing she wouldn't tell you, the thing Hyde knew. She always
hated the man--always. She only endured him for my sake." He broke off.
Baring was looking at him as if he thought that he were raving. After a
moment Ronnie realized this. "It's the truth," he said. "I've told you
the truth. I never won the cup. I didn't know anything more about it
till it was over and she told me. I don't wonder you find it hard to
believe. But I swear it's the truth. Now let me go--and shoot myself!"

He flung round distractedly, but Baring stopped him. There was no longer
any hardness about him, only compassionate kindness, as he made him sit
down, and gravely shut the door. When he spoke, it was not to utter a
word of reproach or blame.

"No, don't go, boy!" he said, in a tone that Ronnie never forgot. "We'll
face this thing together. May God help us both!"

And Ronnie, yielding once more, leaned his head in his hands, and burst
into anguished tears.



XVI

THE COMING OF HOPE


How they got through the dragging hours of that awful night neither of
them afterwards quite knew. They spoke very little, and slept not at
all. When morning came at last they were still sitting in silence as if
they watched the dead, linked together as brothers by a bond that was
sacred.

It was soon after sunrise that a message came for Ronnie from the
colonel's bungalow next door to the effect that the commanding-officer
wished to see him. He looked at Baring as he received it.

"I wish you'd come with me," he said.

Baring rose at once. He knew that the boy was depending very largely
upon his support just then. The sunshine seemed to mock them as they
went. It was a day of glorious Indian winter, than which there is
nothing more exquisite on earth, save one of English spring. The colonel
met them on his own veranda. He noted Ronnie's haggard face with a quick
glance of pity.

"I sent for you, my lad," he said, "because I have just heard a piece of
news that I thought I ought to pass on at once."

"News, sir?" Ronnie echoed the word sharply.

"Yes; news of your sister." The colonel gave him a keen look, then went
on in a tone of reassuring kindness that both his listeners found
maddeningly deliberate. "She was not, it seems, in the bungalow at the
time the dam burst. She was out on the hillside, and so--My dear fellow,
for Heaven's sake pull yourself together! Things are better than you
think. She--" He did not finish, for Ronnie suddenly sprang past him
with a loud cry. A girl's figure had appeared in the doorway of the
colonel's drawing-room. Ronnie plunged in, and it was seen no more.

The colonel turned to Baring for sympathy, and found that the latter had
abruptly, almost violently, turned his back. It surprised him
considerably, for he had often declared his conviction that under no
circumstances would this officer of his lose his iron composure.
Baring's behaviour of the night before had seemed to corroborate this;
in fact, he had even privately thought him somewhat cold-blooded.

But his present conduct seemed to indicate that even Baring was human,
notwithstanding his strength; and in his heart the colonel liked him for
it. After a moment he began to speak, considerately ignoring the other's
attitude.

"She was providentially on the further hill when it happened, and she
had great difficulty in getting round to us; lost her way several times,
poor girl, and only panic-stricken natives to direct her. It's been a
shocking disaster--the native village entirely swept away, though not
many European lives lost, I am glad to say. But Hyde is among the
missing. You knew Hyde?"

"I knew him--well." Baring's words seemed to come with an effort.

"Ah, well, poor fellow; he probably didn't know much about it. Terrible,
a thing of this sort. It's impossible yet to estimate the damage, but
the whole of the lower valley is devastated. The Magician's bungalow has
entirely disappeared, I hear. A good thing the old man was away from
home."

At this point, to Colonel Latimer's relief, Baring turned. He was paler
than usual, but there was no other trace of emotion about him.

"If you will allow me," he said, "I should like to go and speak to her,
too."

"Certainly," the colonel said heartily. "Certainly. Go at once! No doubt
she is expecting you. Tell the youngster I want him out here!"

And Baring went.

       *       *       *       *       *

If Hope did expect him, she certainly did not anticipate the manner of
his coming. The man who entered the colonel's drawing-room was not the
man who had striven with a mastery that was almost brutal to bring her
into subjection only the day before. She could not have told wherein the
difference lay, but she was keenly aware of its existence. And because
of her knowledge she felt no misgiving, no shadow of fear. She did not
so much as wait for him to come to her. Simply moved by the woman's
instinct that cannot err, she went straight to him, and so into his
arms, clinging to him with a little sobbing laugh, and not speaking at
all, because there were no words that could express what she yet found
it so sublimely easy to tell him. Baring did not speak either, but he
had a different reason for his silence. He only held her closely to him,
till presently, raising her face to his, she understood. And she laughed
again, laughed through tears.

"Weren't you rather quick to give up--hope?" she whispered.

He did not answer her, but she found nothing discouraging in his
silence. Rather, it seemed to inspire her. She slipped her arms round
his neck. Her tears were nearly gone.

"Hope doesn't die so easily," she said softly. "And I'll tell you
another thing that is ever so much harder to kill, that can never die at
all, in fact; or, perhaps I needn't. Perhaps you can guess what it is?"

And again he did not answer her. He only bent, holding her fast pressed
against his heart, and kissed her fiercely, passionately, even
violently, upon the lips.

"My Hope!" he said. "My Hope!"



The Deliverer[1]


I

A PROMISE OF MARRIAGE


The band was playing very softly, very dreamily; it might have been a
lullaby. The girl who stood on the balcony of the great London house,
with the moonlight pouring full upon her, stooped, and nervously,
fumblingly, picked up a spray of syringa that had fallen from among the
flowers on her breast.

The man beside her, dark-faced and grave, put out a perfectly steady
hand.

"May I have it?" he said.

She looked up at him with the start of a trapped animal. Her face was
very pale. It was in striking contrast to the absolute composure of his.
Very slowly and reluctantly she put the flower into his outstretched
hand.

He took it, but he took her fingers also and kept them in his own.

"When will you marry me, Nina?" he asked.

She started again and made a frightened effort to free her hand.

He smiled faintly and frustrated it.

"When will you marry me?" he repeated.

She threw back her head with a gesture of defiance; but the courage in
her eyes was that of desperation.

"If I marry you," she said, "it will be purely and only for your money."

He nodded. Not a muscle of his face moved.

"Of course," he said. "I know that."

"And you want me under those conditions?"

There was a quiver in the words that might have been either of scorn or
incredulity.

"I want you under any conditions," he responded quietly. "Marry my money
by all means if it attracts you! But you must take me with it."

The girl shrank.

"I can't!" she whispered suddenly.

He released her hand calmly, imperturbably.

"I will ask you again to-morrow," he said.

"No!" she said sharply.

He looked at her questioningly.

"No!" she repeated, with a piteous ring of uncertainty in her voice.
"Mr. Wingarde, I say No!"

"But you don't mean it," he said, with steady conviction.

"I do mean it!" she gasped. "I tell you I do!"

She dropped suddenly into a low chair and covered her face with a moan.

The man did not move. He stared absently down into the empty street as
if waiting for something. There was no hint of impatience about his
strong figure. Simply, with absolute confidence, he waited.

Five minutes passed and he did not alter his position. The soft strains
in the room behind them had swelled into music that was passionately
exultant. It seemed to fill and overflow the silence between them. Then
came a triumphant crash and it ended. From within sounded the gay buzz
of laughing voices.

Slowly Wingarde turned and looked at the bent, hopeless figure of the
girl in the chair. He still held indifferently between his fingers the
spray of white blossom for which he had made request.

He did not speak. Yet, as if in obedience to an unuttered command, the
girl lifted her head and looked up at him. Her eyes were full of misery
and indecision. They wavered beneath his steady gaze. Slowly, still
moving as if under compulsion, she rose and stood before him, white and
slim as a flower. She was quivering from head to foot.

The man still waited. But after a moment he put out his hand silently.

She did not touch it, choosing rather to lean upon the balustrade of the
balcony for support. Then at last she spoke, in a whisper that seemed to
choke her.

"I will marry you," she said--"for your money."

"I thought you would," Wingarde said very quietly.

He stood looking down at her bent head and white shoulders. There were
sparkles of light in her hair that shone as precious metal shines in
ore. Her hands were both fast gripped upon the ironwork on which she
leant.

He took a step forward and was close beside her, but he did not again
offer her his hand.

"Will you answer my original question?" he said. "I asked--when?"

In the moonlight he could see her shivering, shivering violently. She
shook her head; but he persisted.

His manner was supremely calm and unhurried.

"This week?" he said.

She shook her head again with more decision.

"Oh, no--no!" she said.

"Next?" he suggested.

"No!" she said again.

He was looking at her full and deliberately, but she would not look at
him. She was quaking in every limb. There was a pause. Then Wingarde
spoke again.

"Why not next week?" he asked. "Have you any particular reason?"

She glanced at him.

"It would be--so soon," she faltered.

"What difference does that make?" A very strange smile touched his grim
lips. "Having made up your mind to do something disagreeable, do you
find shirking till the last moment makes it any easier--any more
palatable? Surely the sooner it's over--"

"It never will be over," she broke in passionately. "It is for all my
life! Ah, what am I saying? Mr. Wingarde"--she turned towards him, her
face quivering painfully--"be patient with me! I have given my promise."

The smile on his face deepened into something that closely resembled a
sneer.

"How long do you want me to wait?" he said. "Fifty years?"

She drew back sharply. But almost instantly he went on speaking.

"I will yield a point," he said, "if it means so much to you. But, you
know, the wedding-day will dawn eventually, however remote we make it.
Will you say next month?"

The girl's eyes wore a hunted look, but she kept them raised with
desperate resolution. She did not answer him, however. After a moment he
repeated his question. His face had become stern. The lines about his
mouth were grimly resolute.

"Will you say next month, Nina?" he said. "It shall be the last day of
it if you wish. But--next month."

His tone was inexorable. He meant to win this point, and she knew it.

Her breath came quickly, unevenly; but in face of his mastery she made a
great effort to control her agitation.

"Very well," she said, and she spoke more steadily than she had spoken
at all during the interview. "I will marry you next month."

"Will you fix the day?" he asked.

She uttered a sudden, breathless laugh--the reckless laugh of the loser.

"Surely that cannot matter!" she said. "The first day or the last--as
you say, what difference does it make?"

"You leave the choice tome?" he asked, without the smallest change of
countenance.

"Certainly!" she said coldly.

"Then I choose the first," he rejoined.

And at the words she gave a great start as if already she repented the
moment of recklessness.

The notes of a piano struck suddenly through the almost tragic silence
that covered up the protest she had not dared to utter. A few quiet
chords; and then a woman's voice began to sing. Slowly, with deep,
hidden pathos, the words floated out into the night; and, involuntarily
almost, the man and the girl stood still to listen:

    Shadows and mist and night,
      Darkness around the way,
    Here a cloud and there a star,
      Afterwards, Day!

    Sorrow and grief and tears,
      Eyes vainly raised above,
    Here a thorn and there a rose;
      Afterwards, Love!

The voice was glorious, the rendering sublime. The spell of the singer
was felt in the utter silence that followed.

Wingarde's eyes never left his companion's face. But the girl had turned
from him. She was listening, rapt and eager. She had forgotten his very
presence at her side. As the last passionate note thrilled into silence
she drew a long breath. Her eyes were full of tears.

Suddenly she came to earth--to the consciousness of his watching
eyes--and her expression froze into contemptuous indifference. She
turned her head and faced him, scorning the tears she could not hide.

In her look were bitter dislike, fierce resistance, outraged pride.

"Some people," she said, with a little, icy smile, "would prefer to say
'Afterwards, Death!' I am one of them."

Wingarde looked back at her with complete composure. He also seemed
faintly contemptuous.

"You probably know as much of the one as of the other," he coolly
responded.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Author--I
regret to say unknown to me--of the little poem which I have quoted in
this story.]



II

A RING OF VALUE


"So Nina has made up her mind to retrieve the family fortunes," yawned
Leo, the second son of the house. "Uncommonly generous of her. My only
regret is that it didn't occur to her that it would be a useful thing to
do some time back. Is the young man coming to discuss settlements
to-night?"

"What a beast you are!" growled Burton, the eldest son.

"We're all beasts, if it comes to that," returned Leo complacently. "May
as well say it as think it. She has simply sold herself to the highest
bidder to get the poor old pater out of Queer Street. And we shall, I
hope, get our share of the spoil. I understand that Wingarde is lavish
with his worldly goods. He certainly ought to be. He's a millionaire of
the first water. A thousand or so distributed among his wife's relations
would mean no more to him than the throwing of the crusts to the
sparrows." He stopped to laugh lazily. "And the wife's relations would
flock in swarms to the feast," he added in a cynical drawl.

Burton growled again unintelligibly. He strongly resented the sacrifice,
though he could not deny that there was dire need for it.

The family fortunes were at a very low ebb. His father's lands were
mortgaged already beyond their worth, and he and his brother had been
trained for nothing but a life of easy independence.

There were five more sons of the family, all at various stages of
education--two at college, three at Eton. It behooved the only girl of
the family to put her shoulder to the wheel if the machine were to be
kept going on its uphill course. Lord Marchmont had speculated
desperately and with disastrous results during the past five years. His
wife was hopelessly extravagant. And, of late, visions of the bankruptcy
court had nearly distracted the former.

It had filtered round among his daughter's admirers that money, not
rank, would win the prize. But somehow no one had expected Hereford
Wingarde, the financial giant, to step coolly forward and secure it for
himself. He had been regarded as out of the running. Women did not like
him. He was scarcely ever seen in Society. And it was freely rumoured
that he hated women.

Nina Marchmont, moreover, had always treated him with marked coldness,
as if to demonstrate the fact that his wealth held no attractions for
her. On the rare occasions that they met she was always ready to turn
aside with half-contemptuous dislike on her proud face, and amuse
herself with the tamest of her worshippers rather than hold any
intercourse with the fabulous monster of the money-markets.

Certainly there was a surprise in store for the world in which she
moved. It was also certain that she meant to carry it through with rigid
self-control.

Meeting her two brothers at lunch, she received the half-shamed
congratulations of one and the sarcastic comments of the other without
the smallest hint of discomfiture. She had come straight from an
interview with her father whom she idolized, and his gruff: "Well, my
dear, well; delighted that you have fallen in love with the right man,"
and the unmistakable air of relief that had accompanied the words, had
warmed her heart.

She had been very anxious about her father of late. The occasional heart
attacks to which he was subject had become much more frequent, and she
knew that his many embarrassments and perplexities were weighing down
his health. Well, that anxiety was at least lightened. She would be able
to help in smoothing away his difficulties. Surely the man of millions
would place her in a position to do so! He had almost undertaken to do
so.

The glad thought nerved her to face the future she had chosen. She was
even very faintly conscious of a mitigation of her antipathy for the man
who had made himself her master. Besides, even though married to him,
she surely need not see much of him. She knew that he spent the whole of
his day in the City. She would still be free to spend hers as she
listed.

And so, when she saw him that evening, when his momentous interview with
her father was over, she was moved to graciousness for the first time. A
passing glimpse of her father's face assured her that all had gone well,
aye, more than well.

As for Wingarde, he waived the money question altogether when he found
himself alone with his _fiancée_.

"Your father will tell you what provision I am prepared to make for
you," he coldly said. "He is fully satisfied--on your behalf."

She felt the sting of the last words, and flushed furiously. But she
found no word of indignation to utter, though in a moment her
graciousness was a thing of the past.

"I have not deceived you," she said, speaking with an effort.

He gave her a keen look.

"I don't think you could," he rejoined quietly. "And I certainly
shouldn't advise you to try."

And then to her utter surprise and consternation he took her shoulders
between his hands.

"May I kiss you?" he asked.

There was not a shade of emotion to be detected in either face or voice
as he made the request. Yet Nina drew back from him with a shudder that
she scarcely attempted to disguise.

"No!" she said vehemently.

He set her free instantly, and she thought he smiled. But the look in
his eyes frightened her. She felt the mastery that would not compel.

"One more thing," he said, calmly passing on. "It is usual for a girl in
your position to wear an engagement ring. I should like you to wear this
in my honour."

He held out to her on the palm of his hand a little, old-fashioned ring
set with rubies and pearls. Nina glanced at him in momentary surprise.
It was not in the least what she would have expected as the rich man's
first gift. Involuntarily she hesitated. She felt that he had offered
her something more than mere precious stones set in gold.

He waited for her to take the ring in absolute silence.

"Mr. Wingarde," she said nervously, "I--I am afraid it is something you
value."

"It is," he said. "It belonged to my mother. In fact, it was her
engagement ring. But why should you be afraid?"

For the first time there was a note of softness in his voice.

Nina's face was burning.

"I would rather have something you do not care about," she said in a low
tone.

Instantly his face grew hard.

"Give me your hand!" he said shortly. "The left, please!"

She gave it, the flush dying swiftly from her cheeks. She could not
control its trembling as he deliberately fitted the ring on to the third
finger.

"Understand," he said, "that I wish this ring and no other to be the
token of your engagement to me. If you object to it, I am sorry. But,
after all, it will only be in keeping with the rest. I must go now as I
have an appointment to keep. Your father has asked me to lunch on Sunday
and I have accepted. I hope you will pay me the compliment of being at
home."



III

THE HONEYMOON


The first of June fell on a Saturday that year, and a good many people
remained in town for it in order to be present at the wedding of Lord
Marchmont's only daughter to Hereford Wingarde, the millionaire.

Comments upon Nina's choice had even yet scarcely died out, and Archie
Neville, her faithful friend and admirer, was still wondering why he and
his very comfortable income had been passed over for this infernal
bounder whom no one knew. He had proposed to Nina twice, and on each
occasion her refusal had seemed to him to be tinged with regret. To use
his own expression, he was "awfully cut up" by the direction affairs had
taken. But, philosophically determined to make the best of it, he
attended the wedding with a smiling face, and even had the audacity to
kiss the bride--a privilege that had not been his since childhood.

Hereford Wingarde, standing by his wife's side, the recipient of
congratulations from crowds of people who seemed to be her intimate
friends, but whom he had never seen before, noted that salute of Archie
Neville's with a very slight lift of his black brows. He noted also that
Nina returned it, and that her hand lingered in that of the young man
longer than in those of any of her other friends. It was a small
circumstance, but it stuck in his memory.

A house had been lent them for the honeymoon by one of Nina's wealthy
friends in the Lake District. They arrived there hard upon midnight,
having dined on board the train.

A light meal awaited them, to which they immediately sat down.

"You are tired," Wingarde said, as the lamplight fell upon his bride's
flushed face and bright eyes.

His own eyes were critical. She laughed and turned aside from them.

"I am not at all tired," she said. "I am only sorry the journey is over.
I miss the noise."

He made no further comment. He had a disconcerting habit of dropping
into sudden silences. It took possession of him now, and they finished
their refreshment with scarcely a word.

Then Nina rose, holding her head very high. He embarrassed her, and she
strongly resented being embarrassed.

Wingarde at once rose also. He looked more massive than usual, almost as
if braced for a particular effort.

"Going already?" he said. "Good-night!"

"Good-night!" said Nina.

She glanced at him with momentary indecision. Then she held out her
hand.

He took it and kept it.

"I think you will have to kiss me on our wedding night," he said.

She turned very white. The hunted look had returned to her eyes. She
answered him with the rapidity of desperation.

"You can do as you like with me now," she said. "I am not able to
prevent you."

"You mean you would rather not?" he said, without the smallest hint of
anger or disappointment in his tone.

She started a little at the question. There was no escaping the
searching of his eyes.

"Of course I would rather not," she said.

He released her quivering hand and walked quietly to the door.

"Good-night, Nina!" he said, as he opened it.

She stood for a moment before she realized that he had yielded to her
wish. Then, as he waited, she made a sudden impulsive movement towards
him.

Her fingers rested for an instant on his arm.

"Good-night--Hereford!" she said.

He looked down at her hand, not offering to touch it. His lips relaxed
cynically.

"Don't overwhelm me!" he said.

And in a flash she had passed him with blazing eyes and a heart that was
full of fierce anger. So this was his reception of her first overture!
Her cheeks burnt as she vowed to herself that she would attempt no more.

She did not see her husband again that night.

When they met in the morning, he seemed to have forgotten that they had
parted in a somewhat strained atmosphere. The only peculiarity about
his greeting was that it did not seem to occur to him to shake hands.

"There is plenty to do if you're feeling energetic," he said. 'Driving,
riding, mountaineering, boating; which shall it be?"

"Have you no preference?" she asked, as she faced him over the
coffee-urn.

He smiled slightly.

"Yes, I have," he said. "But let me hear yours first!"

"Driving," she said at once. "And now yours?"

"Mine was none of these things," he answered. "I wonder what sort of
conveyance they can provide us with? Also what manner of horse? Are you
going to drive or am I? Mind, you are to state your preference."

"Very well," she answered. "Then I'll drive, please, I know this country
a little. I stayed near here three years ago with the Nevilles. Archie
and I used to fish."

"Did you ever catch anything?" Wingarde asked, with his quiet eyes on
her face.

"Of course we did," she answered. "Salmon trout--beauties. Oh, and other
things. I forget what they were called. We had great fun, I remember."

Her face flushed at the remembrance. Archie had been very romantic in
those days, quite foolishly so. But somehow she had enjoyed it.

Wingarde said no more. He rose directly the meal was over. It was a
perfect summer morning. The view from the windows was exquisite. Beyond
the green stretches of the park rose peak after peak of sunlit
mountains. There were a few cloud-shadows floating here and there. In
one place, gleaming like a thread of silver, he could see a waterfall
tumbling down a barren hillside.

Suddenly, through the summer silence, an octave of bells pealed
joyously.

Nina started

"Why, it's Sunday!" she exclaimed. "I had quite forgotten. We ought to
go to church."

Wingarde turned round.

"What an inspiration!" he said dryly.

His tone offended her. She drew herself up.

"Are you coming?" she asked coldly.

He looked at her with the same cynical smile with which he had received
her overture the night before.

"No," he said. "I won't bore you with my company this morning."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"As you please," she said, turning to the door.

He made no rejoinder. And as she passed out, she realized that he
believed she had suggested going to church in order to escape an hour of
his hated society. It was but a slight injustice and certainly not
wholly unprovoked by her. But, curiously, she resented it very strongly.
She almost felt as if he had insulted her.

She found him smoking in the garden when she returned from her solitary
expedition, and she hoped savagely that he had found his own society as
distasteful as she did; though on second thoughts this seemed scarcely
possible.

She decided regretfully, yet with an inner sense of expediency, that she
would spend the afternoon in his company. But her husband had other
plans.

"You have had a hot walk," he said. "You had better rest this afternoon.
I am going to do a little mountaineering; but I mean to be back by
tea-time. Perhaps when it is cool you will come for a stroll, unless you
have arranged to attend the evening service also."

He glanced at her and saw the indignant colour rise in her face. But she
was too proud to protest.

"As you wish," she said coldly.

Conversation during lunch was distinctly laboured. Wingarde's silences
were many and oppressive. It was an unspeakable relief to the girl when
at length he took himself off. She told herself with a wry smile that he
was getting on her nerves. She did not yet own that he frightened her.

The afternoon's rest did her good; and when he returned she was ready
for him.

He looked at her, as she sat in the garden before the tea-table in her
muslin dress and big straw hat, with a shade of approval in his eyes.

He threw himself down into a chair beside her without speaking.

"Have you been far?" she asked.

"To the top of the hill," he answered. "I had a splendid view of the
sea."

"It must have been perfect," she said.

"You have been there?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," she answered, "long ago; with Archie."

Wingarde turned his head and looked at her attentively. She tried to
appear unconscious of his scrutiny, and failed signally. Before she
could control it, the blood had rushed to her face.

"And you found it worth doing?" he asked.

The question seemed to call for no reply, and she made none.

But yet again she felt as if he had insulted her.

She was still burning with silent resentment when they started on their
walk. He strolled beside her, cool and unperturbed. If he guessed her
mood, he made no sign.

"Where are you taking me?" he asked presently.

"It is the road to the wishing-gate," she replied icily. "There is a
good view of the lake farther on."

He made no further enquiry, and they walked on in dead silence through
exquisite scenery.

They reached the wishing-gate, and the girl stopped almost
involuntarily.

"Is this the fateful spot?" said Wingarde, coming suddenly out of his
reverie. "What is the usual thing to do? Cut our names on the gate-post?
Rather a low-down game, I always think."

She uttered a sudden, breathless laugh. "My name is here already," she
said, pointing with a finger that shook slightly at some minute
characters cut into the second bar of the gate.

He bent and looked at the inscription--two names cut with infinite care,
two minute hearts intertwined beneath.

Nina watched him with a scornful little smile on her lips.

"Artistic, isn't it?" she said.

He straightened himself abruptly, and their eyes met. There was a
curious glint in his that she had never seen before. She put her hand
sharply to her throat. Quite suddenly she knew that she was afraid of
this monster to whom she had given herself--horribly, unreasonably
afraid.

But he did not speak, and her scare began to subside.

"Now I'm going to wish," she said mounting the lowest bar of the gate.

He spoke then, abruptly, cynically.

"Really," he said, "what can you have to wish for now?"

She looked back at him defiantly. Her eyes were on a level with his.
Because he had frightened her, she went the more recklessly. It would
never answer to let him suspect this power of his.

"Something that I'm afraid you will never give me," she said, a bitter
ring in her voice.

"What?" he asked sharply.

"Among other things, happiness," she said. "You can never give me
that."

She saw him bite his lip, but he controlled himself to speak quietly.

"Surely you make a mistake," he said, "to wish for something which,
since you are my wife, can never be yours!"

She laughed, still standing on the gate, and telling herself that she
felt no fear.

"Very well," she said, "I will wish for a Deliverer first."

"For what?"

His naked fist banged down upon the gate-post, and she saw the blood
start instantly and begin to flow. She knew in that moment that she had
gone too far.

Her fear returned in an overwhelming flood. She stumbled off the gate
and faced him, white to the lips.

A terrible pause followed, in which she knew herself to be fighting him
with every inch of her strength. Then suddenly, without apparent reason,
she gave in.

"I was joking," she said, in a low voice. "I spoke in jest."

He made her a curt bow, his face inflexibly stern.

"It is good of you to explain," he said. "With my limited knowledge of
your character and motives, I am apt to make mistakes."

He turned from her abruptly with the words, and, shaking the blood from
his hand, bound the wound with his handkerchief.

"Shall we go on?" he said then.

And Nina accompanied him, ashamed and afraid. She felt as if at the last
moment she had asked for quarter; and, contemptuously, because she was a
woman, he had given it.



IV

A GREVIOUS WOUND


After that moment of madness by the wishing-gate Nina's wanton desire to
provoke to wrath the monster to whom she was chained died a sudden and
unnatural death. She was scrupulously careful of his feelings from that
day forward, and he treated her with a freezing courtesy, a cynical
consideration, that seemed to form a barrier behind which the actual man
concealed himself and watched.

That he did watch her was a fact of which she was miserably conscious.
She knew with the certain knowledge of intuition that he studied her
continually. She was perpetually under the microscope of his criticism,
and there were times when she told herself she could not bear it. He was
too much for her; too pitiless a tyrant, too stern a master. Her life
was becoming insupportable.

A fortnight of their honeymoon had passed away, when one morning
Wingarde looked up with a frown from a letter.

"I have had a summons to town," he said abruptly.

Nina's heart leapt at the words, and her relief showed itself for one
unmanageable second in her face.

He saw it, and she knew he saw it.

"I shall be sorry," he said, with cutting sarcasm, "to curtail your
enjoyment here, but the necessity for my presence is imperative. I
should like to catch the two-thirty this afternoon if you can be ready
by then."

Nina's face was burning. She held herself very erect.

"I can be ready before then if you wish," she said stiffly.

He rose from the breakfast-table with a curt laugh. As he passed her he
flicked her cheek with the envelope he held in his hand.

"You are a dutiful wife, my dear," he said.

She winced sharply, and bent her head over her own letters.

"I do my best," she said, after a moment.

"I am sure of it," he responded dryly.

He paused at the door as if he expected her to say more. More came,
somewhat breathlessly, and not upon the same subject.

Nina glanced up with sudden resolution.

"Hereford," she said, "can you let me have some money?"

She spoke with the rapidity of nervousness. She saw his hand leave the
door. His face remained quite unmoved.

"For yourself?" he asked.

Considering the amount of the settlement he had made upon her, the
question was absurd. Nina smiled faintly.

"No," she said, "not for myself."

He took a cheque-book from his pocket and walked to a writing-table.

"How much do you want?" he asked.

She hesitated, and he looked round at her.

"I--I only want to borrow it," she said haltingly. "It is rather a big
sum."

"How much?" he repeated.

"Five thousand pounds," she answered, in a low voice.

He continued to look at her for several seconds. Finally he turned and
shut up his cheque-book with a snap.

"The money will be placed to your credit to-morrow," he said. "But
though a financier, I am not a money-lender. Please understand that! And
let your family understand it, too."

And, rising, he walked straight from the room.

No further reference was made to the matter on either side. Nina's pride
or her courage shrank from any expression of gratitude.

In the afternoon with intense thankfulness she travelled southward.
Never were London smoke and dust more welcome.

They went straight to Wingarde's great house in Crofton Square. Dinner
was served immediately upon their arrival.

"I must ask you to excuse me," Wingarde said, directly dessert was
placed upon the table. "I have to go out--on business. In case I don't
see you again, good-night!"

He was on his feet as he spoke. In her surprise Nina started up also.

"At this hour!" she exclaimed. "Why, it is nearly eleven!"

"At this hour," he grimly responded, "you will be able to dispense with
my society no doubt."

His tone silenced her. Yet, as he turned to go, she looked after him
with mute questioning in her eyes. She had a feeling that he was keeping
something from her, and--perhaps it was merely the natural result of
womanly curiosity baffled--she was vaguely hurt that he did not see fit
to tell her whither his business was taking him.

A few words would have sufficed; but he had not chosen to utter them,
and her pride was sufficient to suppress any display of interest in his
affairs. She would not court the snub that she felt convinced he would
not hesitate to administer.

So he left her without explanation, and Nina went drearily to bed. On
the following morning, however, the sun shone upon her, and she went
downstairs in better spirits.

The first person she encountered was her husband. He was sauntering
about the morning-room in his overcoat, a cup of strong tea in his hand.

He greeted her perfunctorily, as his fashion was.

"Oh, good-morning!" he said. "I have only just got back. I was detained
unavoidably. I am going upstairs for an hour's rest, and then I shall
be off to the City. I don't know if you would care to drive in with me.
I shall use the car, but it will then be at your service for the rest of
the day."

"Have you been working all night?" Nina asked incredulously.

He nodded.

"It was unavoidable," he said again, with a touch of impatience. "You
had better have a second brew of tea, this is too strong for you."

He set down his cup and rang the bell.

Nina stood and looked at him. He certainly did not look like a man who
had been up all night. Alert, active, tough as wire, he walked back to
the table and gathered together his letters. A faint feeling of
admiration stirred in her heart. His, strength appealed to her for the
first time.

"I should like to drive into the City with you," she said, after a
pause.

He gave her a sharp glance.

"I thought you would be wanting to go to the bank," he remarked coolly.

She flushed and turned her back upon him. It was an unprovoked assault,
and she resented it fiercely.

When they met again an hour later she was on the defensive, ready to
resist his keenest thrust, and, seeing it, he laughed cynically.

"Armed to the teeth?" he asked, with a careless glance at her slim
figure and delicate face.

She did not answer him by so much as a look. He handed her into the car
and took his seat beside her.

"Can you manage to dine out with some of your people to-night?" he
asked. "I am afraid I shall not be home till late."

"You seem to have a great deal on your hands," she remarked coldly.

"Yes," said Wingarde.

It was quite obvious that he had no intention of taking her into his
confidence, and Nina was stubbornly determined to betray no interest.
Then and there she resolved that since he chose to give himself up
entirely to the amassing of wealth, not hesitating to slight his wife in
the process, she also would live her separate life wholly independent of
his movements.

She pretended to herself that she would make the most of it. But deep in
her heart she hated him for thus setting her aside. His action pierced
straight through her pride to something that sheltered behind it, and
inflicted a grevious wound.



V

A STRUGGLE FOR MASTERY


"Jove! Here's a crush!" laughed Archie Neville. "Delighted to meet you
again, Mrs. Wingarde! How did you find the Lakes?"

His good-looking, boyish face was full of pleasure. He had not expected
to meet her. Nina's welcoming smile was radiant.

"Oh, here you are, Archie!" she exclaimed, as they shook hands. "Someone
said you were out of town, but I couldn't believe anything so tragic."

"Quite right," said Archie. "Never believe the worst till there is
positively no alternative. I'm not out of town, and I'm not going to be.
It's awfully nice to see you again, you know! I thought the sun had set
for the rest of the season."

Nina uttered a gay little laugh.

"Oh, dear, no! We certainly intended to stay longer, but Hereford was
summoned back on business, and I really wasn't sorry on the whole. I did
rather regret missing all the fun."

Archie laughed.

"Hereford must be doing dark deeds then," he said, "of which he keeps
the rest of the world in complete ignorance. The markets are dead flat
just now--nothing doing whatever. It's enough to make you tear your
hair."

"Really!" said Nina. "He gave me to understant that it was something
urgent."

And then she became suddenly silent, meeting Archie's eyes, and aware of
the surprise he was too much of a gentleman to express. With a cold
feeling of dissatisfaction she turned from the subject.

"It's very nice to be back again among my friends," she said. "Can't you
come and dine to-morrow and go to the theatre afterwards?"

Archie considered a moment, and she knew that when he answered he was
cancelling other engagements.

"Thanks, I shall be delighted!" he said, "if I shan't be _de trop_."

There was a touch of mockery in Nina's smile.

"We shall probably be alone," she said. "My husband's business keeps him
late in the City. We have been home a week, and he has only managed to
dine with me once."

"Isn't he here to-night?" asked Archie.

She shook her head.

"What an infernal shame!" he exclaimed impulsively. "Oh, I beg your
pardon! That was a slip."

But Nina laid her hand on his sleeve.

"You needn't apologize," she said, in a low voice. "One can't have
everything. If you marry--an outsider--for his money, you have to pay
the penalty."

Archie looked at her with further indiscretion upon the tip of his
tongue. But he thought twice and kept it back.

"I say, you know," he said awkwardly, "I--I'm sorry."

"Thank you," she said gently. "Well, you will come to-morrow?"

"Of course," he said. "What theatre shall we go to? I'll bring the
tickets with me."

The conversation drifted away into indifferent topics and presently they
parted. Nina was almost gay of heart as she drove homeward that night.
She had begun to feel her loneliness very keenly, and Archie's society
promised to be of value.

Her husband was waiting for her when she returned. As she entered her
own sitting-room, he started up abruptly from an arm-chair as if her
entrance had suddenly roused him from sleep. She was considerably
surprised to see him there, for he had never before intruded without her
permission.

He glanced at the clock, but made no comment upon the lateness of the
hour.

"I hope you have enjoyed yourself," he said somewhat formally.

The words were as unexpected as was his presence there. Nina stood for a
moment, waiting for something further.

Then, as he did not speak, she shrugged her shoulders and threw back her
cloak.

"It was a tremendous crush," she said indifferently. "No, I didn't enjoy
it particularly. But it was something to do."

"I am sorry you are feeling bored," he said gravely.

Nina sat down in silence. She did not in the least understand what had
brought him there.

"It is getting rather late," she remarked, after a pause. "I am just
going to have a cup of tea and then go to bed."

A little tea-tray stood on the table at her elbow. A brass kettle was
fizzing cheerily above a spirit stove.

"Do you want a cup?" she asked, with a careless glance upwards.

He had remained standing, looking down at her with an expression that
puzzled her slightly. His eyes were heavy, as if they wanted sleep.

"Thank you," he said.

Nina threw off her wraps and sat up to brew the tea. The light from a
rose-shaded lamp poured full upon her. She looked superb and she knew
it. The knowledge deprived her for once of that secret sense of fear
that so brooded at the back of her intercourse with this man. He stood
in total silence behind her. She began to wonder what was coming.

Having made tea, she leant back again with her hands behind her head.

"I suppose we must give it two minutes to draw," she remarked, with a
smothered yawn. "Isn't it frightfully hot to-night? I believe there is
thunder about."

He made no response, and she turned her eyes slowly upon him. She knew
he was watching her, but a curious sense of independence possessed her
that night. He did not disconcert her.

Their eyes met. Hers were faintly insolent. His were inscrutable.

At last he spoke.

"I am sorry you have not enjoyed yourself," he said, speaking rather
stiffly. "Will you--by way of a change--come out with me to-morrow
night? I think I may anyhow promise you"--he paused slightly--"that you
shall not be bored."

There was a short silence. Nina turned and moved the cups on the little
tray. She did not, however, seem embarrassed.

"I happen to be engaged to-morrow evening," she said coldly at length.

"Is it important?" he asked. "Can't you cancel the engagement?"

She uttered a little, flippant laugh. She had not hoped for such an
opportunity as this.

"I'm afraid I really can't," she said. "You should have asked me
earlier."

"What are you going to do?"

There was a new note in his voice--a hint of mastery. She resented it
instantly.

"That is my affair," she said calmly, beginning to pour out the tea.

He looked at her as if he scarcely believed his ears. He was silent for
some seconds, and very quietly she turned to him and handed him a cup.

He took it from her and instantly set it aside.

"Be good enough to answer my question!" he said.

She heard the gathering sternness in his tone, and, tea-cup in hand, she
laughed. A curious recklessness possessed her that night. She felt as if
she had the strength to fling off the bands of tyranny. But her heart
had begun to beat very fast. She realized that this was no mere
skirmish.

"Why should I answer you?" she asked, helping herself to some more cream
with a hand that was slightly unsteady in spite of her effort to
control it. "I do not see the necessity."

"I think you do," he rejoined.

Nina said no more. She swallowed her tea, nibbled at a wafer with a
species of deliberate trifling calculated to proclaim aloud her utter
fearlessness, and at length rose to go.

In that moment her husband stepped forward and took her by the
shoulders.

"Before you leave this room, please," he said quietly.

She drew back from him in a blaze of indignant rebellion.

"I will not!" she said. "Let me go instantly!"

His hold tightened. His face was more grim than she had ever seen it.
His eyes seemed to beat hers down. Yet when he spoke he did not raise
his voice.

"I have borne a good deal from you, Nina," he said. "But there is a
limit to every man's endurance."

"You married me against my will," she panted. "Do you think I have not
had anything to endure, too?"

"That accusation is false," he said. "You married me of your own accord.
Without my money, you would have passed me by with scorn. You know it."

She began to tremble violently.

"Do you deny that?" he insisted pitilessly.

"At least you pressed me hard," she said.

"I did," he replied. "I saw you meant to sell yourself. And I did not
mean you to go to any scoundrel."

"So you bought me for yourself?" she said, with a wild laugh.

"I did." Wingarde's voice trembled a little. "I paid your price," he
said, "and I have taken very little for it. You have offered me still
less. Now, Nina, understand! This is not going on for ever. I simply
will not bear it. You are my wife, sworn to obey me--and obey me you
shall."

He held her fast in front of him. She could feel the nervous strength of
his hands. It thrilled her through and through. She felt like a trapped
animal in his grasp. Her resistance began to waver.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I am going to conquer you," he said grimly.

"You won't do it by violence," she returned quickly.

Her words seemed to pierce through a weak place in the iron armour in
which he had clad himself. Abruptly he set her free.

The suddenness of his action so surprised her that she tottered a
little. He made a swift move towards her; but in a second she had
recovered herself, and he drew back. She saw that his face was very
pale.

"Are you quite sure of that?" he asked.

She did not answer him. Shaking from head to foot, she stood facing him.
But words would not come.

After a desperate moment the tension was relaxed. He turned on his heel.

"Well, I have warned you," he said, and strode heavily away.

The moment she ceased to hear his footsteps, Nina sank down into a chair
and burst into tears.



VI

AN OFFER OF HELP


On the following morning Nina did not descend the stairs till she had
heard the car leave the house. The strain of the previous night's
interview had told upon her. She felt that she had not the resolution to
face such another.

The heat was intense. She remembered with regret that she had promised
to attend a charitable bazaar in the City that afternoon. Somehow she
could summon no relish either for that or the prospect of the theatre
with Archie at night. She wondered whither her husband had proposed to
take her, half wishing she had yielded a point to go.

She went to the bazaar, fully prepared to be bored. The first person she
saw, however, was Archie, and at once the atmosphere seemed to lighten.

He attached himself to her without a moment's delay.

"I say," he said, "send your car back! I'll take you home. I've got my
hansom here. It's much more exciting than a motor. We'll go and have
tea somewhere presently."

Nina hesitated for barely a second, then did as he required.

Archie's eyes were frankly tender. But, after all, why not? They had
known each other all their lives. She laughed at the momentary scruple
as they strolled through the bazaar together.

Archie bought her an immense fan--"to keep off the flies," as he
elegantly expressed it; and she made a few purchases herself as in duty
bound, and conversed with several acquaintances.

Then, her companion becoming importunate for departure, she declined tea
in the hall and went away with him.

Archie was enjoying himself hugely.

"Now, where would you like to go for tea?" he asked as they drove away.

"I don't care in the least," she said, "only I'm nearly dead. Let it be
somewhere close at hand."

Archie promptly decided in favour of a tea-shop in St. Paul's
Churchyard.

"I suppose you have read the morning papers?" he said, as they sat down.
"I thought your husband had something up his sleeve."

"What do you mean?" queried Nina quickly. "No, I know nothing."

Archie laughed.

"Don't you really? Well, he has made a few thousands sit up, I can tell
you. You've heard of the Crawley gold fields? Heaven knows where they
are, but that doesn't matter--somewhere in Australia of course. No one
knew anything about them till recently. Well, they were boomed
tremendously a little while ago. Your husband was the prime mover. He
went in for them largely. Everyone went for them. They held for a bit,
then your husband began to sell as fast as he could. And then, of
course, the shares went down to zero. People waited a bit, then
sold--for what they could get. No one knew who did the buying till
yesterday. My dear Nina, your husband has bought the lot. He has got the
whole concern into his hands for next to nothing. The gold fields have
turned up trumps. They stand three times as high as they ever did
before. He was behind the scenes. He merely sold to create a slump. If
he chose to sell again he could command almost any price he cared to
ask. Well, one man's loss is another man's gain. But he's as rich as
Croesus. They say there are a good many who would like to be at his
throat."

Nina listened with disgust undisguised on her face.

"How I loathe money!" she said abruptly.

"Oh, I say!" protested Archie. "You're not such an extremist as that.
Think of the host of good things that can't be done without it."

"What good things does he do?" she demanded contemptuously. "He simply
lives to heap up wealth."

"You can't say for certain that he doesn't do a few decent things when
no one's looking," suggested Archie, who liked to be fair, even to those
for whom he felt no liking. "People--rich men like that--do, you know.
Why, only last night I heard of a man--he's a West End physician--who
runs a sort of private hospital somewhere in the back slums, and
actually goes and practises there when his consulting hours are over.
Pure philanthropy that, you know. And no one but the slummers any the
wiser. They say he's simply adored among them. They go to him in all
their troubles, physical or otherwise. That's only an instance. I don't
say your husband does that sort of thing. But he may."

Nina uttered her bitter little laugh.

"You always were romantic, Archie," she said. "But I'm afraid I'm past
the romantic age. Anyhow I'm an unbeliever."

Archie gave her a keen look.

"I say--" he said, and stopped.

"Well?" Nina looked back at him questioningly.

"I beg your pardon," he said, colouring boyishly. "You won't like what I
was going to say. I think I won't say it."

"You needn't consider my feelings," she returned, "I assure you I am not
used to it."

"Oh, well," he said. "I was going to say that you talk as if he were a
beast to you. Is he?"

Nina raised her dark eyebrows and did not instantly reply. Archie
looked away from her. He felt uncomfortably that he had gone too far.

Then slowly she made answer:

"No, he is not. I think he has begun to realize that the battle is not
always to the strong."

Struck by something in her tone, Archie glanced at her again.

"Jove!" he suddenly said. "How you hate him!"

The words were out almost before he knew it. Nina's face changed
instantly. But Archie's contrition was as swift.

"Oh, I say, forgive me!" he broke in, with a persuasive hand on her arm.
"Do, if you can! I know it was unpardonable of me. I'm so awfully sorry.
You see, I--"

She interrupted hastily.

"It doesn't matter--it doesn't matter. I understand. It was quite an
excusable mistake. Please don't look so distressed! It hasn't hurt me
much. I think it would have hurt me more if it had been literally true."

The sentences ran out rapidly. She was as agitated as he. They had the
little recess to themselves, and their voices scarcely rose above a
whisper.

"Then it wasn't true?" Archie said, with a look of relief.

Nina drew back. She was not prepared to go as far as that. All her life
she had sought to be honest in her dealings.

"It hasn't come actually to that yet," she said under her breath. "But
it may--it may."

Somehow it relieved the burden that pressed upon her to be able to speak
thus openly to her life-long comrade. But Archie looked grieved, almost
shocked.

"What will you do if it does?" he asked.

"I shall leave him," she said, her face growing hard. "I think he
understands that."

There was a heavy silence between them. Then impulsively, with pure
generosity, Archie spoke.

"Nina," he said, "if you should need--help--of any sort, you know--will
you count on me?"

Nina hesitated for a moment.

"Please!" said Archie gently.

She bent her head.

"Thank you," she said. "I will."



VII

THE DELIVERER


Half-an-hour later they went out again into the blazing sunshine.

"What do you think of my hack?" Archie asked, as they drove away
westwards. "I got him at Tattersall's the other day. I haven't driven
him before to-day. He's a bit jumpy. But I like an animal that can jump,
don't you know."

"I know you do," laughed Nina. "I believe that is purely why you haven't
started a motor yet. They can do everything that is vicious and
extraordinary except jump. But do you really like a horse to shy at
everything he passes? Look at him now! He doesn't like that hand-cart
with red paint."

"He's an artist," grinned Archie. "It offends his eye; and no wonder.
Don't be alarmed, though! He won't do anything outrageous. My man knows
how to manage him."

Nina leant back. She was not, as a rule, nervous, but, as Archie's new
purchase was forced protesting past the object of his fright, she was
conscious of a very decided feeling of uneasiness. The animal looked to
her vicious as well as alarmed.

They got safely past the hand-cart, and a brief interval of tranquillity
followed as they trotted briskly down Ludgate Hill.

"He won't have time to look at anything now," said Archie cheerfully.

The words had scarcely left his lips when the tire of a stationary car
they were passing exploded with a report like a rifle shot. In a second
Archie's animal leapt into the air, struck the ground with all four
hoofs together--and bolted.

"My man's got him," said Archie. "Sit still! Nothing's going to happen."

He put his arm in front of Nina and gripped the farther side of the
hansom.

But Nina had not the smallest intention of losing her head. During the
first few moments her sensations were more of breathless interest than
fear. Certainly she was very far from panic.

She saw the roadway before them clear as if by magic before their
galloping advance. She heard shouts, warning cries, yells of excitement.
She also heard, very close to her, Archie's voice, swearing so evenly
and deliberately that she was possessed by an insane desire to laugh at
him. Above everything else, she heard the furious, frantic rhythm of the
flying hoofs before them. And yet somehow inexplicably she did not at
first feel afraid.

They tore with a speed that seemed to increase momentarily straight down
the thoroughfare that a few seconds before had seemed choked with
traffic. They shaved by vans, omnibuses, hand-barrows. Houses and shops
seemed to whirl past them, like a revolving nightmare--ever the same,
yet somehow ever different. A train was thundering over the bridge as
they galloped beneath it. The maddened horse heard and stretched himself
to his utmost speed.

And then came tragedy--- the tragedy that Nina always felt that she had
known from the beginning of that wild gallop must come.

As they raced on to Ludgate Circus she had a momentary glimpse of a boy
on a bicycle traversing the street before them at right angles. Archie
ceased suddenly to swear. The reins that till then had been taut sagged
down abruptly. He made a clutch at them and failed to catch them. They
slipped away sideways and dragged on the ground.

There came a shock, a piercing cry. Nina started forward for the first
time, but Archie flung his arms round her, holding her fast. Then they
were free of the obstacle and dashing on again.

"Let me see!" she gasped. "Let me see!"

They bumped against a curb and nearly overturned. Then one of their
wheels caught another vehicle. The hansom was whizzed half round, but
the pitiless hoofs still tore on and almost miraculously the worst was
still averted.

Archie's hold was close and nearly suffocated her; but over his shoulder
Nina still managed to look ahead.

And thus looking she saw the most wonderful, and the most terrifying,
episode of the whole adventure.

She saw a man in faultless City attire leap suddenly from the footway to
the road in front of them. For a breathless instant she saw him poised
to spring, and in her heart there ran a sudden, choking sense of
anguished recognition. She shut her eyes and cowered in Archie's arms.
Deliverance was coming. She felt it in every nerve. But how? And by
whom?

There came a jerk and a plunge, a furious, straining effort. The fierce
galloping ceased, yet they made still for a few yards a halting,
difficult progress.

Then they stopped altogether, and she felt the shock of hoofs upon the
splashboard.

Another moment and that, too, ceased. They stood still, and Archie's
arms relaxed.

Nina lifted her head and saw her husband hatless in the road, his face
set and grim, his hands gripping the reins with a strength that
evidently impressed upon the runaway the futility of opposition. In his
eyes was a look that made her tremble.



VIII

AFTER THE ACCIDENT


"You had better go home in the car," Wingarde said. "It is waiting for
me in Fenwick Street. Mr. Neville, perhaps you will be good enough to
accompany my wife. Your animal is tame enough now. Your man will have no
difficulty with it, if he is to be found."

"Ah! Exactly!" Archie said.

He looked round vaguely. Nina was leaning on his arm. His man was
nowhere to be seen, having some minutes since abandoned a situation
which he had discovered to be beyond his powers to deal with.

A crowd surrounded them, and a man at his elbow informed him that his
driver had thrown down the reins and jumped off before they were clear
of the railway bridge. Archie swallowed the comment upon this discreet
behaviour, that rose to his lips.

A moment later Wingarde, who had seemed on the point of departure,
pushed his way hastily-back to him.

"Never mind the hansom!" he said. "I believe your man has been hurt. I
will see to it. Just take my wife out of this, will you? I want to see
if that boy is alive or dead."

He had turned again with the words, forcing his way through the crowd.
Nina pressed after him. She was as white as the dress she wore. There
was no holding her back. Archie could only accompany her.

It was difficult to get through the gathering throng. When finally they
succeeded in doing so, they found Wingarde stooping over the unconscious
victim of the accident. He had satisfied himself that the boy lived, and
was feeling rapidly for broken bones.

Becoming aware of Nina's presence, he looked up with a frown. Then,
seeing her piteous face, he refrained from uttering the curt rebuke that
had risen to his lips.

"I want you to go home," he said. "I will do all that is necessary here.
Neville, take my wife home! The car is close at hand in Fenwick Street."

"He isn't dead?" faltered Nina shakily.

"No--certainly not." Wingarde's voice was confident.

He turned from her to speak to a policeman; and Nina yielded to Archie's
hand on her arm. She was more upset than she had realized.

Neither of them spoke during the drive westwards. Archie scowled a good
deal, but he gave no vent to his feelings.

Arrived in Crofton Square, he would have taken his leave of her. But
Nina would not hear of this.

"Please stay till Hereford comes!" she entreated. "You will want to know
what he has done. Besides, I want you."

Archie yielded to pressure. No word was spoken by either in praise or
admiration of the man who had risked his life to save theirs. Somehow it
was a difficult subject between them.

Nearly two hours later Wingarde arrived on foot. He reported Archie's
man only slightly the worse for his adventure.

"It ought to have killed him," he said briefly. "But men of that sort
never are killed. I told him to drive back to stables. The horse was as
quiet as a lamb."

"And the boy?" Nina asked eagerly.

"Oh, the boy!" Wingarde said. "His case is more serious. He was taken to
the Wade Home. I went with him. I happen to know Wade."

"That's the West End physician," said Archie. "He calls himself Wade, I
know, when he wants to be _incog_."

"That's the man," said Wingarde. "But I am not acquainted with him as
the West End physician. He is purely a City acquaintance. Oh, are you
going, Neville? We shall see you again, I suppose?"

It was not cordially spoken. Archie coloured and glanced at Nina.

"You are coming to dinner, aren't you?" she said at once. "Please do! We
shall be alone. And you promised, didn't you?"

Archie hesitated for a moment. Wingarde was looking at him piercingly.

"I hope you won't allow my presence to interfere with any plans you may
have made for to-night's amusement," he remarked. "I shall be obliged to
go out myself after dinner."

Archie drew himself up. Wingarde's tone stung.

"You are very good," he said stiffly. "What do you say, Nina? Do you
feel up to the theatre?"

Nina's colour also was very high. But her eyes looked softer than usual.
She turned to her husband.

"Couldn't you come, too, for once, Hereford?" she asked. "We were
thinking of the theatre. It--it would be nice if you came too."

The falter in the last sentence betrayed the fact that she was nervous.

Wingarde smiled faintly, contemptuously, as he made reply.

"Really, that's very kind of you," he said. "But I am compelled to plead
a prior engagement. You will be home by midnight, I suppose?"

Archie made an abrupt movement. For a second he hovered on the verge of
an indignant outburst. The man's manner, rather than his words, was
insufferable. But in that second he met Wingarde's eyes, and something
he saw there checked him. He pulled himself together and somewhat
awkwardly took his leave.

Wingarde saw him off, with the scoffing smile upon his lips. When he
returned to the drawing-room Nina was on her feet, waiting for him. She
was still unusually pale, and her eyes were very bright. She wore a
restless, startled look, as though her nerves were on the stretch.

Wingarde glanced at her.

"You had better go and lie down till dinner," he said.

Nina looked back at him. Her lips quivered a little, but when she spoke
her voice was absolutely steady. She held her head resolutely high.

"I think Archie must have forgotten to thank you," she said, "for what
you did. But I have not. Will you accept my gratitude?"

There was proud humility in her voice. But Wingarde only shrugged his
shoulders with a sneer.

"Your gratitude would have been more genuine if you had been saved a
widow instead of a wife," he said brutally.

She recoiled from him. Her eyes flashed furious indignation. She felt as
if he had struck her in the face. She spoke instantly and vehemently.
Her voice shook.

"That is a poison of your own mixing," she said. "You know it!"

"What! It isn't true?" he asked.

He drew suddenly close to her. His eyes gleamed also with the gleam of
a smouldering fire. She saw that he was moved. She believed him to be
angry. Trembling, yet scornful, she held her peace.

He gripped her wrists suddenly, bending his dark face close to hers.

"If it isn't true--" he said, and stopped.

She drew back from him with a startled movement. For an instant her eyes
challenged his. Then abruptly their fierce resistance failed. She turned
her face aside and burst into tears.

In a moment she was free. Her husband stood regarding her with a very
curious look in his eyes. He watched her as she moved slowly away from
him, fighting fiercely, desperately, to regain her self-control. He saw
her sit down, leaving almost the length of the room between them, and
lean her head upon her hand.

Then the man's arrested brutality suddenly reasserted itself, and he
strode to the door.

"Pshaw!" he exclaimed as he went. "Don't I know that you pray for a
deliverer every night of your life? And what deliverer would you have if
not death--the surest of all--in your case positively the only one
within the bounds of possibility?"

He was gone with the words, but she would not have attempted to answer
them had he stayed. Her head was bowed almost to her knees, and she sat
quite motionless, as if he had stabbed her to the heart.

Later she dined alone with Archie in her husband's unexplained absence,
and later still, at the theatre, her face was as gay, her laugh as
frequent, as any there.



IX

THE END OF A MYSTERY


On the following afternoon Nina went to the Wade Home to see the victim
of the accident. She was received by the matron, a middle-aged, kindly
woman, who was openly pleased with the concern her visitor exhibited.

"Oh, he's better," she said, "much better. But I'm afraid I can't let
you see him now, as he is asleep. Dr. Wade examined him himself
yesterday. And he was here again this morning. His opinion is that the
spine has been only bruised. While unconsciousness lasted, it was, of
course, difficult to tell. But the patient became conscious this
morning, and Dr. Wade said he was very well pleased with him on the
whole. He thinks we shall not have him very long. He's a bright little
chap and thoroughly likes his quarters. His father is a dock labourer.
Everyone knows the Wade Home, and all the patients consider themselves
very lucky to be here. You see, the doctor is such a favourite wherever
he goes."

"I have never met Dr. Wade," Nina said. "I suppose he is a great man?"

The matron's jolly face glowed with enthusiasm.

"He is indeed," she said--"a splendid man. You probably know him by
another name. They say he is a leading physician in the West End. But we
City people know him and love him by his assumed name only. Why, only
lately he cut short his holiday on purpose to be near one of his
patients who was dying. If you could manage to come to-morrow afternoon
after four o'clock, no doubt you would see him. It is visiting-day, and
he is always here on Sunday afternoons between three and six in case the
visitors like to see him. I should be delighted to give you some tea.
And you could then see the little boy."

"Thank you," Nina said. "I will."

That evening she chanced to meet Archie Neville at a friend's
dinner-table and imparted to him her purpose.

"Jove!" he said. "Good idea! I'll come with you, shall I?"

"Please not in the hansom!" she said.

"Not a bit of it," returned Archie. "But you needn't be nervous. I've
sacked that man. No matter! We'll go in a wheelbarrow if you think
that'll be safer."

Nina laughed and agreed to accept his escort. Archie's society was a
very welcome distraction just then.

To her husband she made no mention of her intention. She had established
the custom of going her own way at all times. It did not even cross her
mind to introduce the subject. He was treating her with that sarcastic
courtesy of his which was so infinitely hard to bear. It hurt her
horribly, and because of the pain she avoided him as much as she dared.

She did not know how he spent his time on Sundays. Except for his
presence at luncheon she found she was left as completely to her own
devices as on other days.

She had agreed to drive Archie to the Wade Home in her husband's
landaulette.

Wingarde left the house before three and she was alone when Archie
arrived.

The latter looked at her critically.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Nothing," she returned instantly. "Why?"

"You're looking off colour," he said.

Nina turned from him impatiently.

"There is nothing the matter with me," she said. "Shall we start?"

Archie said no more. But he glanced at her curiously from time to time.
He wondered privately if her husband's society were driving her to that
extreme which she had told him she might reach eventually.

Visitors were being admitted to the Wade Home when they arrived. They
were directed to the ward where lay the boy in whom they were
interested. Nina presented him with flowers and a book, and sat for some
time talking with him. The little fellow was hugely flattered by her
attentions, though too embarrassed to express his pleasure in words.
Archie amused himself by making pennies appear and disappear in the
palms of his hands for the benefit of a sad-faced urchin in the next bed
who had no visitors.

In the midst of this the matron bustled in to beg Nina and her companion
to take a cup of tea in her room.

"Dr. Wade is here and sure to come in," she said. "I should like you to
meet him."

Nina accordingly took leave of her _protégé_, and, followed by Archie,
repaired to the matron's room.

The windows were thrown wide open, for the afternoon was hot. They sat
down, feeling that tea was a welcome sight.

"I have a separate brew for Dr. Wade," said the matron cheerily. "He
likes it so very strong. He almost always takes a cup. There! I hear him
coming now."

There sounded a step in the passage and a man's quiet laugh. Nina
started slightly.

A moment later a voice in the doorway said:

"Ah! Here you are, Mrs. Ritchie! I have just been prescribing a piece of
sugar for this patient of ours. Her mother is waiting to take her away."

Nina was on her feet in an instant. All the blood seemed to rush to her
heart. Its throbs felt thick and heavy. On the threshold her husband
stood, looking full at her. In his arms was a little child.

"Dr. Wade!" smiled the matron. "You do spoil your patients, sir. There!
Let me take her! Please come in! Your tea is just ready. I was just
talking about you to Mrs. Wingarde, who came to see the boy who was
knocked down by a hansom last week. Madam, this is Dr. Wade."

She went forward to lift the child out of Wingarde's arms. There
followed a silence, a brief, hard-strung silence. Nina stood quite
still. Her hands were unconsciously clasped together. She was white to
the lips. But she kept her eyes raised to Wingarde's face. He seemed to
be looking through her, and in his eyes was that look with which he had
regarded her when he had saved her life and Archie's two days before.

He spoke almost before the matron had begun to notice anything unusual
in the atmosphere.

"Ah!" he said, with a slight bow. "You know me under different
circumstances--you and Mr. Neville. You did not expect to meet me here?"

Archie glanced at Nina and saw her agitation. He came coolly forward and
placed himself in the breach.

"We certainly didn't," he said. "It's good sometimes to know that people
are not all they seem. I congratulate you, er--Dr. Wade."

Wingarde turned his attention to his wife's companion. His face was very
dark.

"Take the child to her mother, please, Mrs. Ritchie!" he said curtly,
over his shoulder.

The matron departed discreetly, but at the door the child in her arms
began to cry.

Wingarde turned swiftly, took the little one's face between his hands,
spoke a soft word, and kissed it.

Then, as the matron moved away, he walked back into the room, closing
the door behind him. All the tenderness with which he had comforted the
wailing baby had vanished from his face.

"Mr. Neville," he said shortly, "my wife will return in the car with me.
I will relieve you of your attendance upon her."

Archie turned crimson, but he managed to control himself--more for the
sake of the girl who stood in total silence by his side than from any
idea of expediency.

"Certainly," he said, "if Mrs. Wingarde also prefers that arrangement."

Nina glanced at him. He saw that her lip was quivering painfully. She
did not attempt to speak.

Archie turned to go. But almost instantly Wingarde's voice arrested him.

"I can give you a seat in the car if you wish," he said. He spoke with
less sternness, but his face had not altered.

Archie stopped. Again for Nina's sake he choked back his wrath and
accepted the churlishly proffered amendment.

Wingarde drank his tea, strolling about the room. He did not again
address his wife directly.

As for Nina, though she answered Archie when he spoke to her, it was
with very obvious effort. She glanced from time to time at her husband
as if in some uncertainty. Finally, when they took leave of the matron
and went down to the car she seemed to hail the move with relief.

Throughout the drive westwards scarcely a word was spoken. At the end of
the journey Archie turned deliberately and addressed Wingarde. His face
was white and dogged.

"I should like a word with you in private," he said.

Wingarde looked at him for a moment as if he meant to refuse. Then
abruptly he gave way.

"I am at your service," he said formally.

And Archie marched into the house in Nina's wake.

In the hall Wingarde touched his shoulder.

"Come into the smoking-room!" he said quietly.



X

TAKEN TO TASK


"I want to know what you mean," said Archie.

He stood up very straight, with the summer sunlight full in his face,
and confronted Nina's husband without a hint of dismay in his bearing.

Wingarde looked at him with a very faint smile on his grim lips.

"You wish to take me to task?" he asked.

"I do," said Archie decidedly.

"For what in particular? The innocent deception practised upon an
equally innocent public? Or for something more serious than that?"

There was an unmistakable ring of sternness behind Wingarde's
deliberately scoffing tone.

Archie answered him instantly, with the quickness of a man who fights
for his honour.

"For something more serious," he said. "It's nothing to me what fool
trick you may choose to play for your own amusement. But I am not going
to swallow an insult from you or any man. I want an explanation for
that."

Wingarde stood with his back to the light and looked at him.

"In what way have I insulted you?" he said.

"You implied that I was not a suitable escort for your wife," Archie
said, forcing himself to speak without vehemence.

Wingarde raised his eyebrows.

"I apologize if I was too emphatic," he said, after a moment. "But,
considering the circumstances, I am forced to tell you that I do not
consider you a suitable escort for my wife."

"What circumstances?" said Archie. He clenched his hands abruptly, and
Wingarde saw it.

"Please understand," he said curtly, "that I will listen to you only so
long as you keep your temper! I believe that you know what I mean--what
circumstances I refer to. If you wish me to put them into plain language
I will do so. But I don't think you will like it."

Archie pounced upon the words.

"You would probably put me to the trouble of calling you a liar if you
did," he said, in a shaking voice. "I have no more intention than you
have of mincing matters. As to listening to me, you shall do that in any
case. I am going to tell you the truth, and I mean that you shall hear
it."

He strode to the door as he spoke, and locked it, pocketing the key.

Wingarde did not stir to prevent him. He waited with a sneer on his lips
while Archie returned and took up his stand facing him.

"You seem very sure of yourself," he said in a quiet tone.

"I am," Archie said doggedly. "Absolutely sure. You think I am in love
with your wife, don't you?"

Wingarde frowned heavily.

"Are you going to throw dust in my eyes?" he asked contemptuously.

Archie locked his hands behind him.

"I am going to tell you the truth," he said again, and, though his voice
still shook perceptibly there was dignity in his bearing. "Three years
ago I was in love with her."

"Calf love?" suggested Wingarde carelessly.

"You may call it what you like," Archie rejoined. "That is to say,
anything honourable. I was hard hit three years ago, and it lasted off
and on till her marriage to you. But she never cared for me in the same
way. That I know now. I proposed to her twice, and she refused me."

"You weren't made of money, you see," sneered Wingarde.

Archie's fingers gripped each other. He had never before longed so
fiercely to hurl a blow in a man's face.

"If I had been," he said, "I am not sure that I should have made the
running with you in the field. That brings me to what I have to say to
you. I wondered for a long time how she brought herself to marry you.
When you came back from your honeymoon I began to understand. She
married you for your money; but if you had chosen, she would have
married you for love."

He blurted out the words hastily, as though he could not trust himself
to pause lest he should not say them.

Wingarde stood up suddenly to his full height. For once he was taken
totally by surprise and showed it. He did not speak, however, and Archie
blundered on:

"I am not your friend. I don't say this in any way for your sake. But--I
am her's--- her friend, mind you. I don't say I haven't ever flirted
with her. I have. But I have never said to her a single word that I
should be ashamed to repeat to you--not one word. You've got to believe
that whether you want to or not."

He paused momentarily. The frown had died away from Wingarde's face, but
his eyes were stern. He waited silently for more. Archie proceeded with
more steadiness, more self-assurance, less self-restraint.

"You've treated her abominably," he said, going straight to the point.
"I don't care what you think of me for saying so. It's the truth. You've
deceived her, neglected her, bullied her. Deny it if you can! Oh, no,
this isn't what she has told me. It has been as plain as daylight. I
couldn't have avoided knowing it. You made her your wife, Heaven knows
why. You probably cared for her in your own brutal fashion. But you have
never taken the trouble to make her care for you. You never go out with
her. You never consider her in any way. You see her wretched, ill
almost, under your eyes; and instead of putting it down to your own
confounded churlishness, you turn round and insult me for behaving
decently to her. There! I have done. You can kick me out of the house as
soon as you like. But you won't find it so easy to forget what I've
said. You know in your heart that it's the truth."

Archie ended his vigorous speech with the full expectation of being made
to pay the penalty by means of a damaged skin.

Wingarde's face was uncompromising. It told nothing of his mood during
the heavy silence that followed. It was, therefore, a considerable
shock when he abruptly surrendered the citadel without striking a single
blow.

"I am much obliged to you, Neville," he said very quietly. "And I beg to
apologize for a most unworthy suspicion. Will you shake hands?"

Archie tumbled off his high horse with more speed than elegance. He
thrust out his hand with an inarticulate murmur of assent. Perhaps after
all the fellow had been no worse than an unmannerly bear. The next
minute he was discussing politics with the monster he had dared to beard
in his own den.

When Nina saw her husband again he treated her with a courtesy so
scrupulous that she felt the miserable scourge of her uncertainty at
work again. She would have given much to have possessed the key to his
real feelings. With regard to his establishment of the Wade Home, he
gave her the briefest explanation. He had been originally intended for a
doctor, he said, had passed his medical examinations, and been qualified
to practise. Then, at the last minute, a chance opening had presented
itself, and he had gone into finance instead.

"After that," he somewhat sarcastically said, "I gave myself up to the
all absorbing business of money-making. And doctoring became merely my
fad, my amusement, my recreation--whatever you please to call it."

"I wish you had told me," Nina said, in a low voice.

At which remark he merely shrugged his shoulders, making no rejoinder.

She felt hurt by his manner and said no more. Only later there came to
her the memory of the man she feared, standing in the doorway of the
matron's room with a little child in his arms. Somehow that picture was
very vividly impressed upon her mind.



XI

MONEY'S NOT EVERYTHING


"What! You are coming too?"

Nina stopped short on her way to the car and gazed at her husband in
amazement.

He had returned early from the City, and she now met him dressed to
attend a garden-party whither she herself was going.

He bent his head in answer to her surprised question.

"I shall give myself the pleasure of accompanying you," he said, with
much formality.

She coloured and bit her lip. Swift as evil came the thought that he
resented her intimacy with Archie and was determined to frustrate any
attempt on their part to secure a _tête-à-tête_.

"You take great care of me," she said, with a bitter little smile.

Wingarde made no response; his face was quite inscrutable.

They scarcely spoke during the drive, and she kept her face averted.
Only when he held out his hand to assist her to alight she met his eye
for an instant and wondered vaguely at the look he gave her.

The party was a large one; the lawns were crowded. Nina took the first
opportunity that offered to slip away from him, for she felt hopelessly
ill at ease in his company. The sensation of being watched that had
oppressed her during her brief honeymoon had reawakened.

Archie presently joined her.

"Did I see the hero of the Crawley gold field just now?" he asked. "Or
was it hallucination?"

Nina looked at him with a very bored expression.

"Oh, yes, my husband is here," she said. "I suppose you had better not
stay with me or he will come up and be rude to you."

Archie chuckled.

"Not he! We understand one another," he said lightly. "But, I say, what
an impostor the fellow is! Everyone knows about Dr. Wade, but no one
connects him in the smallest degree with Hereford Wingarde. It shouldn't
be allowed to go on. You ought to tell the town-crier."

Nina tried to laugh, but it was a somewhat dismal effort.

"Come along!" said Archie cheerily. "There's my mother over there; she
has been wondering where you were."

Nina went with him with a nervous wonder if Hereford were still watching
her, but she saw nothing of him.

The afternoon wore away in music and gaiety. A great many of her
acquaintances were present, and to Nina the time passed quickly.

She was sitting in a big marquee drinking the tea that Archie had
brought her when she next saw her husband. By chance she discovered him
talking with a man she did not know, not ten yards from her. The tent
was fairly full, and the buzz of conversation was continuous.

Nina glanced at him from time to time with a curious sense of
uneasiness, and an unaccountable desire to detach him from his
acquaintance grew gradually upon her.

The latter was a heavy-browed man with queer, furtive eyes. As Nina
stealthily watched them she saw that this man was restless and agitated.
Her husband's face was turned from her, but his attitude was one of
careless ease, into which his big limbs dropped when he was at leisure.

Later she never knew by what impulse she acted. It was as if a voice
suddenly cried aloud in her heart that Wingarde was in deadly danger.
She gave Archie her cup and rose.

"Just a moment!" she said hurriedly. "I see Hereford over there."

She moved swiftly in the direction of the two men. There was disaster
in the air. She seemed to breathe it as she drew near. Her husband
straightened himself before she reached him, and half turned with his
contemptuous laugh. The next instant Nina saw his companion's hand whip
something from behind him. She shrieked aloud and sprang forward like a
terrified animal. The man's eyes maddened her more than the deadly
little weapon that flashed into view in his right hand.

There followed prompt upon her cry the sharp explosion of a
revolver-shot, and then the din of a panic-stricken crowd.

But Nina did not share the panic. She had flung herself in front of her
husband, had flung her whole weight upon the upraised arm that had
pointed the revolver and borne it downwards with all her strength. Those
who saw her action compared it later with the furious attack of a
tigress defending her young.

It was all over in a few brief seconds. Men crowded round and
overpowered her adversary. Someone took the frenzied girl by the
shoulders and forced her to relinquish her clutch.

She turned and looked straight into Wingarde's face, and at the sight
her nerves gave way and she broke into hysterical sobbing, though she
knew that he was safe.

He put his arm around her and led her from the stifling tent. People
made way for them. Only their hostess and Archie Neville followed.

Outside on the lawn, away from the buzzing multitude, Nina began to
recover herself. Archie brought a chair, and she dropped into it, but
she held fast to Wingarde's arm, beseeching him over and over again not
to leave her.

Wingarde stooped over her, supporting her; but he found nothing to say
to her. He briefly ordered Archie to fetch some water, and made request
to his hostess, almost equally brief, that their car might be called in
readiness for departure. But his manner was wholly free from agitation.

"My wife will recover better at home," he said, and the lady of the
house went away with a good deal of tact to give the order herself.

Left alone with him, Nina still clung to her husband; but she grew
rapidly calmer in his quiet hold. After a moment he spoke to her.

"I wonder how you knew," he said.

Nina leant her head against him like an exhausted child.

"I saw it coming," she said. "It was in his eyes--mad hatred. I knew he
was going to--to kill you if he could."

She did not want to meet his eyes, but he gently compelled her.

"And so you saved my life," he said in a quiet tone.

"I had to," she said faintly.

Archie here reappeared with a glass of water.

"The fellow is in a fit," he reported. "They are taking him away. Jove,
Wingarde! You ought to be a dead man. If Nina hadn't spoilt that shot--"

Nina was shuddering, and he broke off.

"You'd better give up cornering gold fields," he said lightly. "It seems
he was nearly ruined over your last _coup_. You may do that sort of
thing once too often, don't you know. I shouldn't chance another throw."

Nina stood up shakily and looked at her husband.

"If you only would give it up!" she said, with trembling vehemence.
"I--I hate money!"

Wingarde made no response; but Archie instantly took her up.

"You only hate money for what it can't buy," he said. "You probably
expect too much from it. Don't blame money for that."

Nina uttered a tremulous laugh that sounded strangely passionate.

"You're quite right," she said. "Money's not everything. I have weighed
it in the balance and found it wanting."

"Yes," Wingarde said in a peculiar tone. "And so have I."



XII

AFTERWARDS--LOVE


An overwhelming shyness possessed Nina that night. She dined alone with
her husband, and found his silences even more oppressive than usual.
Yet, when she rose from the table, an urgent desire to keep him within
call impelled her to pause.

"Shall you be late to-night?" she asked him, stopping nervously before
him, as he stood by the open door.

"I am not going out to-night," he responded gravely."

"Oh!" Nina hesitated still. She was trembling slightly. "Then--I shall
see you again?" she said.

He bent his head.

"I shall be with you in ten minutes," he replied.

And she passed out quickly.

The night was still and hot. She went into her own little sitting-room
and straight to the open window. Her heart was beating very fast as she
stood and looked across the quiet square. The roar of London hummed
busily from afar. She heard it as one hears the rushing of unseen water
among the hills.

There was no one moving in the square. The trees in the garden looked
dim and dreamlike against a red-gold sky.

Suddenly in the next house, from a room with an open window, there rose
the sound of a woman's voice, tender as the night. It reached the girl
who stood waiting in the silence. The melody was familiar to her, and
she leant forward breathlessly to catch the words:

    Shadows and mist and night,
      Darkness around the way;
    Here a cloud and there a star;
      Afterwards, Day!

There came a pause and the soft notes of a piano. Nina stood with
clasped hands, waiting for the second verse. Her cheeks were wet.

It came, slow and exquisitely pure, as if an angel had drawn near to the
turbulent earth with a message of healing:

    Sorrow and grief and tears,
      Eyes vainly raised above;
    Here a thorn and there a rose;
      Afterwards, Love!

Nina turned from the open window. She was groping, for her eyes were
full of tears. From the doorway a man moved quietly to meet her.

"Hereford!" she said in a broken whisper, and went straight into his
arms.

He held her fast, so fast that she felt his heart beating against her
bowed head. But it was many seconds before he spoke.

"Do you remember the wishing-gate, Nina?" he said, speaking softly. "And
how you asked for a Deliverer?"

She stretched up her arms to clasp his neck without lifting her head.
She was crying and could not answer him.

He put his hand upon her hair and she felt it tremble.

"Has the Deliverer come to you, dear?" he asked her very tenderly.

He felt for her face in the darkness, and turned it slowly upwards. She
did not resist him though she knew well what was coming. Rather she
yielded to his touch with a sudden, passionate willingness. And so their
lips met in the first kiss that had ever passed between them.

Thus there came a Deliverer more potent than death into the heart of the
girl who had married for money, and made its surrender sweet.



The Prey of the Dragon

I


"Ah! She's off!"

A deafening blast came from the great steamship's siren, and a long sigh
went up from the crowd upon the quay. Someone raised a cheer that was
quickly drowned in the noise of escaping steam. Very slowly, almost
imperceptibly, the vessel began to move.

A black gap appeared, and widened between her and the wharf till it
became a stretch of grey water veiled in the dank fog of a murky sea.
The fog was everywhere, floating in wreaths upon the oily swell,
blotting out all distant objects, making vague those that were near.
Very soon the crowd on the shore was swallowed up and the great vessel
was heading for the mouth, of the harbour and the wide loneliness
beyond.

Sybil Denham hid her face in her hands for a moment and shivered. There
was something terrible to her in the thought of those thousands of miles
to be traversed alone. It cowed her. It appalled her.

Yet when she looked up again her eyes were brave. She stood committed
now to this great step, and she was resolved to take it with a high
courage. Whatever lay before her, she must face it now without
shrinking. Yet it was horribly lonely. She turned from the deck-rail
with nervous haste.

The next instant she caught her foot against a coil of rope and fell
headlong, with a violence that almost stunned her. A moment she lay,
then, gasping, began to raise herself.

But as she struggled to her knees strong hands lifted her, and a man's
voice said gruffly:

"Are you hurt?"

She found herself in the grasp of a powerful giant with the physique of
a prize-fighter and a dark face with lowering brows that seemed to wear
an habitual scowl.

She was too staggered to speak; the fall had unnerved her. She put her
hand vaguely behind her, feeling for the rail, looking up at him with
piteous, quivering lips.

"You should look where you are going," he said, with scant sympathy.
"Perhaps you will another time."

She found the rail, leaned upon it, then turned her back upon him
suddenly and burst into tears which she was too shaken to restrain. She
thought he would go away, hoped that he would; but he remained, standing
in stolid silence till she managed in a measure to regain her
self-control.

"Where did you hurt yourself?" he asked then.

She struggled with herself, and answered him. "I--I am not hurt."

"Then what are you crying for?"

The words sounded more like a rude retort than a question.

She found them unanswerable, and suddenly, while she still stood
battling with her tears, something in the utterance touched her sense of
humour. She gulped down a sob, and gave a little strangled laugh.

"I don't quite know," she said, drying her eyes. "Thank you for picking
me up."

"I should have tumbled over you if I hadn't," he responded.

Again her sense of humour quivered, finally dispelling all desire to
cry. She turned a little.

"I'm glad you didn't!" she said with fervour.

"So am I."

The curt rejoinder cut clean through her depression. She broke into a
gay, spontaneous laugh.

But the next instant she checked herself and apologized.

"Forgive me! I'm very rude."

"What's the joke?" he asked.

She answered him in a voice that still quivered a little with suppressed
merriment.

"There isn't a joke. I--I often laugh at nothing. It's a silly habit of
mine."

His moody silence seemed to endorse this remark. She became silent also,
and after a moment made a shy movement to depart.

He turned then and looked at her, looked full and straight into her
small, sallow face, with its shadowy eyes and pointed features, as if he
would register her likeness upon his memory.

She gave him a faint, friendly smile.

"I'm going below now," she said. "Good-bye!"

He raised his hat abruptly. His head was massive as a bull's.

"Mind how you go!" he said briefly.

And Sybil went, feeling like a child that has been rebuked.



II


"Do you always walk along with your eyes shut?" asked Brett Mercer.

Sybil gave a great start, and saw him lounging immediately in her path.
The days that had elapsed since their first meeting had placed them upon
a more or less intimate footing. He had assumed the right to speak to
her from the outset--this giant who had picked her up like an infant and
scolded her for crying.

It was a hot morning in the Indian Ocean. She had not slept during the
night, and she was feeling weary and oppressed. But, with a woman's
instinctive reserve, she forced a hasty smile. She would not have
stopped to speak had he not risen and barred her progress.

"Sit here!" he said.

She looked up at him with refusal on her lips; but he forestalled her
by laying an immense hand on her shoulder and pressing her down into the
chair he had just vacated. This accomplished, he turned and hung over
the rail in silence. It seemed to be the man's habit at all times to do
rather than to speak.

Sybil sat passive, feeling rather helpless, dumbly watching the great
lounging figure, and wondered how she should escape without hurting his
feelings.

Suddenly, without turning his head, he spoke to her.

"I suppose if I ask what's the matter you'll tell me to go to the
devil."

The remark, though characteristic, was totally unexpected. Sybil stared
at him for a moment. Then, as once before, his rude address set her
sense of humour a-quivering. Depressed, miserable though she was, she
began to laugh.

He turned, and looked at her sideways.

"No doubt I am very funny," he observed dryly.

She checked herself with an effort.

"Oh, I know I'm horrid to laugh. But it's not that I am ungrateful.
There is nothing really the matter. I--I'm feeling rather like a stray
cat this morning, that's all."

The smile still lingered about her lips as she said it. Somehow, telling
this taciturn individual of her trouble deprived it of much of its
bitterness.

Mercer displayed no sympathy. He did not even continue to look at her.
But she did not feel that his impassivity arose from lack of interest.

Suddenly:

"Is it true that you are going to be married as soon as you land?" he
asked.

Sybil was sitting forward with her chin in her hands.

"Quite true," she said; adding, half to herself, "so far as I know."

"What do you mean by that?" He turned squarely and looked down at her.

She hesitated a little, but eventually she told him.

"I thought there would have been a letter for me from Robin at Aden, but
there wasn't. It has worried me rather."

"Robin?" he said interrogatively.

"Robin Wentworth, the man I am going to marry," she explained. "He has a
farm at Bowker Creek, near Rollandstown. But he will meet me at the
docks. He has promised to do that. Still, I thought I should have heard
from him again."

"But you will hear at Colombo," said Mercer.

She raised her eyes--- those soft, dark eyes that were her only beauty.

"I may," she said.

"And if you don't?"

She smiled faintly.

"I suppose I shall worry some more."

"Are you sure the fellow is worth it?" asked Mercer unexpectedly.

"We have been engaged for three years," she said, "though we have been
separated."

He frowned.

"A man can alter a good deal in three years."

She did not attempt to dispute the point. It was one of the many doubts
that tormented her in moments of depression.

"And what will you do if he doesn't turn up?" proceeded Mercer.

She gave a sharp shiver.

"Don't--don't frighten me!" she said.

Mercer was silent. He thrust one hand into his pocket, and absently
jingled some coins. He began to whistle under his breath, and then,
awaking to the fact, abruptly stopped himself.

"If I were in your place," he said at length, "I should get off at
Colombo and sail home again on the next boat."

Sybil shook her head slowly but emphatically.

"I am quite sure you wouldn't. For one thing you would be too poor, and
for another you would be too proud."

"Are you very poor?" he asked her point blank.

She nodded.

"And very proud."

"And your people?"

"Only my father is living, and I have quarrelled with him."

"Can't you make it up?"

"No," she said sharply and emphatically. "I could never return to my
father. There is no room for me now that he has married again. I would
sooner sell matches at a street corner than go back to what I have
left."

"So that's it, is it?" said Mercer. He was looking at her very
attentively with his brows drawn down. "You are not happy at home, so
you are plunging into matrimony to get away from it all."

"We have been engaged for three years," she protested, flushing.

"You said that before," he remarked. "It seems to be your only argument,
and a confoundedly shaky one at that."

She laughed rather unsteadily.

"You are not very encouraging."

"No," said Mercer.

He was still looking at her somewhat sternly. Involuntarily almost she
avoided his eyes.

"Perhaps," she said, with a touch of wistfulness, "when you see my
_fiancé_ you will change your mind."

He turned from her with obvious impatience.

"Perhaps you will change yours," he said.

And with that surly rejoinder of his the conversation ended. The next
moment he moved abruptly away, leaving her in possession.


III

It was early morning when they came at last into port. When Sybil
appeared on deck she found it crowded with excited men, and the hubbub
was deafening. A multitude of small boats buzzed to and fro on the
tumbling waters below them, and she expected every instant to see one
swamped as the great ship floated majestically through the throng.

She had anticipated a crowd of people on the wharf to witness their
arrival, but the knot of men gathered there scarcely numbered a score.
She scanned them eagerly, but it took only a very few seconds to
convince her that Robin Wentworth was not among them. And there had been
no letter from him at Colombo.

"They don't allow many people on the wharf," said Mercer's voice behind
her. "There will be more on the other side of the Customs house."

She looked up at him, bravely smiling, though her heart was throbbing
almost to suffocation and she could not speak a word.

He passed on into the crowd and she lost sight of him.

There followed a delay of nearly half-an-hour, during which she stood
where she was in the glaring sunshine, dumbly watching. The town, with
its many buildings, its roar of traffic; the harbour, with its ships and
its hooting sirens; the hot sky, the water that shone like molten brass;
all were stamped upon her aching brain with nightmare distinctness. She
felt as one caught in some pitiless machine that would crush her to
atoms before she could escape.

The gangways were fixed at last, and there was a general movement. She
went with the crowd, Mercer's last words still running through her brain
with a reiteration that made them almost meaningless. On the other side
of the Customs house! Of course, of course she would find Robin there,
waiting for her!

She said it to herself over and over as she stepped ashore, and she
began to picture their meeting. And then, suddenly, an awful doubt
assailed her. She could not recall his features. His image would not
rise before her. The memory of his face had passed completely from her
mind. It had never done so before, and she was scared. But she strove to
reassure herself with the thought that she must surely recognize him the
moment her eyes beheld him. It was but a passing weakness this, born of
her agitation. Of course, she would know him, and he would know her,
too, mightily though she felt she had changed during those three years
that they had not met.

She moved on as one in a dream, still with that nightmare of oppression
at her heart. The crowd of hurrying strangers bewildered her. Her
loneliness appalled her. She had an insane longing to rush back to her
cabin and hide herself. But she pressed on, on into the Customs house,
following her little pile of luggage that looked so ludicrously
insignificant among all the rest.

The babel here was incessant. She felt as if her senses would leave her.
Piteously, like a lost child, she searched every face within her scope
of vision; but she searched in vain for the face of a friend.

Later, she found herself following an official out into an open space
like a great courtyard, that was crammed with vehicles. He was wheeling
her luggage on a trolley. Suddenly he faced round and asked her whither
she wanted to go.

She looked at him helplessly. "I am expecting someone to meet me," she
said.

He stared at her in some perplexity, and finally suggested that he
should set down her luggage and leave her to wait where she was.

To this she agreed, and when he had gone she seated herself on her cabin
trunk and faced the situation. She was utterly alone, with scarcely any
money in her possession, and no knowledge whatever of the place in which
she found herself. Robin would, of course, come sooner or later, but
till he came she was helpless.

What should she do, she wondered desperately? What could she do? All
about her, people were coming and going. She watched them dizzily. There
was not one of them who seemed to be alone. The heat and glare was
intense. The clatter of wheels sounded in her ears like the roar of
great waters. She felt as if she were sinking down, down through endless
turmoil into a void unspeakable.

How long she had sat there she could not have said. It seemed to her
hours when someone came up to her with a firm and purposeful stride,
and stooping, touched her shoulder. She looked up dazedly, and saw
Brett Mercer.

He said something to her, but it was as if he spoke in an unknown
language. She had not the faintest idea what he meant. His face swam
before her eyes. She shook her head at him vaguely, with quivering lips.

He stooped lower. She felt his arm encircle her, felt him draw her to
her feet. Again he seemed to be speaking, but his words eluded her. The
roar of the great waters filled her brain. Like a lost child she turned
and clung to the supporting arm.



IV


Later, it seemed to her that her senses must have deserted her for a
time, for she never remembered what happened to her next. A multitude of
impressions crowded upon her, but she knew nothing with distinctness
till she woke to find herself lying in a room with green blinds
half-drawn, with Mercer stooping over her, compelling her to drink a
nauseating mixture in a wine-glass.

As soon as full consciousness returned to her she refused to take
another drop.

"What is it? It--it's horrible."

"It's the best stuff you ever tasted," he told her bluntly. "You needn't
get up. You are all right as you are."

But she sat up, nevertheless, and looked at him confusedly. "Where am
I?" she said.

He seated himself on the corner of a table that creaked loudly beneath
his weight. It seemed to her that he looked even more massive than
usual--a bed-rock of strength. His eyes met hers with a certain mastery.

"You are in a private room in a private hotel," he said. "I brought you
here."

"In a hotel!" She stared at him for a moment, stricken silent by the
information; then quickly she rose to her feet. "Oh, but I--I can't
stay!" she said. "I have no money."

"I know," said Mercer. He remained seated on the table edge, his hands
in his pockets, his eyes unwaveringly upon her. "That's where I come
in," he told her, with a touch of aggressiveness, as though he sighted
difficulties ahead. "I have money--plenty of it. And you are to make use
of it."

She stood motionless, gazing at him. His eyes never left her. She could
not quite fathom his look, but it was undoubtedly stern.

"Mr. Mercer," she said at last, rather piteously, "I--indeed I am
grateful to you, much more than grateful. But--I can't!"

"Rubbish!" said Mercer curtly. "If you weren't a girl, I should tell you
not to be a fool!"

She was clasping and unclasping her hands. It was to be a battle of
wills. His rough speech revealed this to her. And she was ill-equipped
for the conflict. His dominant personality seemed to deprive her of even
the desire to fight. She remembered, with a sudden, burning flush, that
she had clung to him only a little while before in her extremity of
loneliness. Doubtless he remembered it too.

Yet she braced herself for the struggle. He could not, after all, compel
her to accept his generosity.

"I am sorry," she said; "I am very sorry. But, you know, there is
another way in which you can help me."

"What is that?" said Mercer.

"If you could tell me of some respectable lodging," she said. "I have
enough for one night if the charges are moderate. And even after
that--if Robin doesn't come--I have one or two little things I might
sell. He is sure to come soon."

"And if he doesn't?" said Mercer.

Her fingers gripped each other.

"I am sure he will," she said.

"And if he doesn't?" said Mercer again.

His persistence became suddenly intolerable. She turned on him with
something like anger--the anger of desperation.

"Why will you persist in trying to frighten me? I know he will come. I
know he will!"

"You don't know," said Mercer. "I am not frightening you. You were
afraid before you ever spoke to me."

He spoke harshly, without pity, and still his eyes dwelt resolutely upon
her. He seemed to be watching her narrowly.

She did not attempt to deny his last words. She passed them by.

"I shall write to Bowker Creek. He may have mistaken the date."

"He may," said Mercer, in a tone she did not understand. "But, in the
meantime, why should you turn your back upon the only friend you have at
hand? It seems to me that you are making a fuss over nothing. You have
been brought up to it, I daresay; but it isn't the fashion here. We are
taught to take things as they come, and make the best of 'em. That's
what you have got to do. It'll come easier after a bit."

"It will never come easily to me to--to live on charity," she protested,
rather incoherently.

"But you can pay me back," said Brett Mercer.

She shook her head.

"Not if--if Robin----"

"I tell you, you can!" he insisted stubbornly.

"How?" She turned suddenly and faced him. There was a hint of defiance,
or, rather, daring, in her manner. She met his look with unswerving
resolution. "If there is a good chance of my being able to do that," she
said, "even if--even if Robin fails me, I will accept your help."

"You will be able to do it," said Mercer.

"How?" she asked again.

"I will tell you," he said, "when you are quite sure that Robin has
failed you."

"Tell me now!" she pleaded. "If it is some work that you can find for me
to do--and I will do anything in the world that I can--it would be such
a help to me to know of it. Won't you tell me what you mean? Please do!"

"No," said Mercer. "It is only a chance, and you may refuse it. I can't
say. You may feel it too much for you to attempt. If you do, you will
have to endure the obligation. But you shall have the chance of paying
me back if you really want it."

"And you won't tell me what it is?" she said.

"No." He got to his feet, and stood looking down at her. "I can't tell
you now. I am not in a position to do so. I am going away for a few
days. You will wait here till I come back?"

"Unless Robin comes," she said. "And then, of course, I would leave you
a message."

He nodded.

"Otherwise you will stay here?"

"If you are sure you wish it," she said.

"I do. And I am going to leave you this." He laid a packet upon the
table. "It is better for you to be independent, for the sake of
appearances." His iron mouth twitched a little. "Now, good-bye! You
won't be more miserable than you can help?"

She smiled up at him bravely.

"No; I won't be miserable. How long shall you be gone?"

"Possibly a week, possibly a little more."

"But you will come back?" she said quickly, almost beseechingly.

"I shall certainly come back," he said.

With the words his great hand closed firmly upon hers, and she had a
curious, vagrant feeling of insecurity that she could not attempt to
analyse. Then abruptly he let her go. An instant his eyes still held
her, and then, before she could begin to thank him, he turned to the
door and was gone.



V


For ten days, that seemed to her like as many years, Sybil Denham waited
in the shelter into which she had been so relentlessly thrust for an
answer to her letter to Bowker Creek, and during the whole of that time
she lived apart, exchanging scarcely a word with any one. Every day,
generally twice a day, she went down to the wharf; but, she could not
bring herself to linger. The loneliness that perpetually dogged her
footsteps was almost poignant there, and sometimes she came away with
panic at her heart. Suppose Mercer also should forsake her! She had not
the faintest idea what she would do if he did. And yet, whenever she
contemplated his return, she was afraid. There was something about the
man that she had never fathomed--something ungovernable, something
brutal--from which instinctively she shrank.

On the evening of the tenth day she received her answer--a letter from
Rollandstown by post. The handwriting she knew so well sprawled over the
envelope which her trembling fingers could scarcely open. Relief was
her first sensation, and after it came a nameless anxiety. Why had he
written? How was it--how was it that he had not come to her?

Trembling all over, she unfolded the letter, and read:

"Dear Sybil,--I am infernally sorry to have brought you out for nothing,
for I find that I cannot marry you after all. Things have gone wrong
with me of late, and it would be downright folly for me to think of
matrimony under existing circumstances. I am leaving this place almost
at once, so there is no chance of hearing from you again. I hope you
will get on all right. Anyhow, you are well rid of me.--Yours,

"ROBIN."

Beneath the signature, scribbled very faintly, were the words, "I'm
sorry, old girl; I'm sorry."

She read the letter once, and once only; but every word stamped itself
indelibly upon her memory, every word bit its way into her consciousness
as though it had been scored upon her quivering flesh. Robin had failed
her. That ghastly presentiment of hers had come true. She was
alone--alone, and sinking in that awful whirlpool of desolation into
which for so long she had felt herself being drawn. The great waters
swirled around her, rising higher, ever higher. And she was alone.

Hours passed. She sat in a sort of trance of horror, Robin's letter
spread out beneath her nerveless fingers. She did not ask herself what
she should do. The blow had stunned all her faculties. She could only
sit there face to face with despair, staring blind-eyed before her,
motionless, cold as marble to the very heart of her. She fancied--she
even numbly hoped--that she was going to die.

She never heard repeated knocking at her door, or remembered that it was
locked, till a man's shoulder burst it open. Then, indeed, she turned
stiffly and looked at the intruder.

"You!" she said.

She had forgotten Brett Mercer.

He came forward quickly, stooped and looked at her; then went down on
his knee and thrust his arm about her.

She sat upright in his hold, not yielding an inch, not looking at him.
Her eyes were glassy.

For a little he held her; then gently but insistently he drew her to
him, pillowed her head against him, and began to rub her icy cheek.

"I've left you alone too long," he said.

She suffered him dumbly, scarcely knowing what she did. But presently
the blood that seemed to have frozen in her veins began to circulate
again, and the stiffness passed from her limbs. She stirred in his hold
like a frightened bird.

"I'm sorry!" she faltered.

He let her draw away from him, but he kept his arm about her. She looked
at him, and found him intently watching her. Her eyes fell, and rested
upon the letter which lay crumpled under her hands.

"A dreadful thing has happened to me," she said. "Robin has written to
say--to say--that he cannot marry me!"

"What is there dreadful in that?" said Mercer.

She did not look up, though his words startled her a little.

"It--has made me feel like--like a stray cat again," she said, with the
ghost of a smile about her lips. "Of course, I know I'm foolish. There
must be plenty of ways in which a woman can earn her living here. You
yourself were thinking of something that I might do, weren't you?"

"I was," said Mercer. He laid his great hand upon hers, paused a moment,
then deliberately drew her letter from beneath them and crushed it into
a ball. "But I want you to tell me something before we go into that. The
truth, mind! It must be the truth!"

"Yes?" she questioned, with her head bent.

"You must look at me," he said, "or I shan't believe you."

There was something Napoleonic about his words which placed them wholly
beyond the sphere of offensiveness. Slowly she turned her head and
looked him in the eyes.

He took his arm abruptly away from her.

"Heavens!" he said. "How miserable you look! Are you very miserable?"

"I'm not very happy," she said.

"But you always smile," he said, "even when you're crying. Ah, that's
better! I scarcely knew you before. Now, tell me! Were you in love with
the fellow?"

She shrank a little at the direct question. He put his hand on her
shoulder. His touch was imperious.

"Just a straight answer!" he said. "Were you?"

She hesitated, longing yet fearing to lower her eyes.

"I--I don't quite know," she said at length. "I used to think so."

"You haven't thought so of late?" His eyes searched hers unsparingly,
with stern insistence.

"I haven't been sure," she admitted.

He released her and rose.

"You won't regret him for long," he said. "In fact, you'll live to be
glad that you didn't have him!"

She did not contradict him. He was too positive for that. She watched
him cross the room with a certain arrogance, and close the half-open
door. As he returned she stood up.

"Can we get to business now?" she said.

"Business?" said Mercer.

With a steadiness that she found somewhat difficult of accomplishment
she made reply:

"You thought you could find me employment--some means by which I could
pay you back."

"You still want to pay me back?" he said.

She glanced up half nervously.

"I know that I can never repay your kindness to me," she said. "So far
as that goes, I am in your debt for always. But--the money part I must
and will, somehow, return."

"Being the most important part?" he suggested, halting in front of her.

"I didn't mean to imply that," she answered. "I think you know which I
put first. But I can only do what I can, and money is repayable."

"So is kindness," said Mercer.

Again shyly she glanced at him.

"I am afraid I don't quite understand."

He sat down once more upon the table edge to bring his eyes on a level
with hers.

"There's nothing to be scared about," he said.

She smiled a little.

"Oh, no; I am not scared. I believe you think me even more foolish than
I actually am."

"No, I don't," said Mercer. "If I did, I shouldn't say what I am going
to say. As it is, you are not to answer till you have counted up to
fifty. Is that a bargain?"

"Yes," she said, beginning to feel more curious than afraid.

"Here goes then," said Brett Mercer. "I want a wife, and I want you.
Will you marry me? Now, shut your eyes and count!"

But Sybil disobeyed him. She opened her eyes wide, and stared at him in
breathless amazement.

Mercer stared back with absolute composure.

"I'm in dead earnest," he told her. "Never made a joke in my life. Of
course, you'll refuse me. I know that. But I shan't give you up if you
do. If you don't marry me, you won't marry any one else, for I'll lick
any other man off the ground. I come first with you now, and I mean to
stay first."

He stopped, for amazement had given place to something else on her face.
She looked at him queerly, as if irresolute for a few seconds; but she
no longer shrank from meeting his eyes. And then quite suddenly she
broke into her funny little laugh.

"Amusing, is it?" he said.

She turned sharply away, with one hand pressed to her mouth, obviously
struggling with herself.

At last:

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to laugh really--really. Only
you--you're such a monster, and I'm such a shrimp! Please don't be vexed
with me!"

She put out her hand to him, without turning.

He did not take it at once. When he did, he drew her round to face him.
There was an odd restraint about the action, determined though it was.

"Well?" he said gruffly. "Which is it to be? Am I to go to the devil, or
stay with you?"

She looked down at the great hand that held her. She was still half
laughing, though her lips quivered.

"I couldn't possibly marry you yet," she said.

"No. To-morrow!" said Mercer.

She shook her head.

"Not even then."

"Listen!" he said. "If you won't marry me at once you will have to come
with me without. For I am going up-country to see my farms, and I don't
mean to leave you here."

"Can't I wait till you come back?" she said.

"What for?"

He leaned forward a little, trying to peer under her drooping lids. She
was trembling slightly.

"I think you forget," she said, "that--that we hardly know each other."

"How are we to get any nearer if I'm up-country and you're here?" he
said.

She looked at him unwillingly.

"You may change your mind when you have had time to think it over," she
said, colouring deeply.

"I'll take the risk," said Mercer. "Besides"--she saw his grim smile for
an instant--"I've been thinking of nothing else since I met you."

She started a little.

"I--I had no idea."

"No," he said; "I saw that. You needn't be afraid of me on that account.
It ought to have the opposite effect."

"I am not afraid of you," she said, with a certain dignity. "But I,
too, should have time for consideration."

"A woman doesn't need it," he asserted. "She can make up her mind at a
moment's notice."

"And is often sorry for ever afterwards," she said smiling faintly.

He thrust out his jaw, as if challenging her.

"You think I shall make you sorry?"

"No," she answered. "But I want to be quite sure."

"Which is another reason for marrying me to-morrow," he said. "I'm not
going to let you wait. It's only a whim. You weren't created to live
alone, and there is no reason why you should. I am here, and you will
have to take me."

"Whether I want to or not?" she said.

"Don't you want to?" he questioned.

She was silent.

He lifted the hand he held and looked at it. He spanned her wrist with
his finger and thumb.

"That's reason enough for me," he abruptly said. "You are nothing but
skin and bone. You've been starving yourself."

"I haven't," she protested. "I haven't, indeed."

"I don't believe you," he retorted rudely. "You weren't such a skeleton
as this when I saw you last. Come, what's the good of fighting? You'll
have to give in."

She smiled again faintly at the rough persuasion in his voice, but still
she hesitated.

"I shan't eat you, you know," he proceeded, pressing his advantage. "I
shan't do anything you won't like."

She glanced at him quickly.

"You mean that?"

His eyes looked straight back at her.

"Yes, I mean it."

"Can I trust you?" she said, almost in a whisper.

He rose to his full height, and stood before her. And in that moment an
odd little thrill went through her. He was magnificent--the finest man
she had ever seen. She caught her breath a little, feeling awed before
the immensity of his strength. But, very curiously, she no longer felt
afraid.

"You must ask yourself that question," he said bluntly. "You have my
word."

And with a gasp she let herself go at last.

"I will take you on trust," she said.



VI


When Sybil at length travelled up-country with her husband the shearing
season had already commenced. They went by easy stages, for the heat was
great, and she was far from strong. She knew that Mercer was anxious to
reach his property, and she would have journeyed more rapidly if he
would have permitted it, but upon this point he was firm. At every turn
he considered her, and she marvelled at the intuition with which he
divined her unspoken wishes. Curt and rough though he was, his care
surrounded her in a magic circle within which she dwelt at ease. With
all his imperiousness she did not find him domineering, and this fact
was a constant marvel to her, for she knew the mastery of his will. By
some mysterious power he curbed himself, and day by day her confidence
in him grew.

They accomplished the greater part of the journey by rail, and then when
the railway ended came the long, long ride. They travelled for five
days, spending each night at an inn at some township upon the road.
Through dense stretches of forest, through great tracts of waste
country, and again through miles of parched pasture-land they rode, and
during the whole of that journey Mercer's care never relaxed. She never
found him communicative. He would ride for hours without uttering a
word, but yet she was subtly conscious of his close attention. She knew
that she was never out of his thoughts.

At the inns at which they rested he always saw himself to her comfort,
and the best room was always placed at her disposal. One thing impressed
her at every halt. The innkeepers one and all stood in awe of him. Not
one of them welcomed him, but not one of them failed to attend with
alacrity to his wants. It puzzled her, for she herself had never found
him really formidable.

On the last morning of their ride, when they set forth, she surprised a
look of deep compassion in the eyes of the innkeeper's wife as she said
good-bye, and it gave her something of a shock. Why was the woman sorry
for her? Had she heard her story by any strange chance? Or was it for
some other reason? It left an unpleasant impression upon her. She wished
she had not seen it.

They rode that day almost exclusively through Mercer's property, which
extended for many miles. He was the owner of several farms, two of which
they passed without drawing rein. He was taking her to what he called
the Home Farm, his native place, which he still made his headquarters,
and from which he overlooked the whole of his great property.

The brief twilight had turned to darkness before they reached it. During
the last half hour Mercer rode with his hand upon Sybil's bridle, and
she was glad to have it there. She was not accustomed to riding in the
dark. Moreover, she was very tired, and when at last they turned in
through an open gateway to one side of which a solitary lantern had been
fixed, she breathed a deep sigh of thankfulness.

She saw the outline of the house but vaguely, but in two windows lights
were burning, and as they clattered up a door was thrown open, and a man
stood silhouetted for a moment on the threshold.

"Hullo, Curtis! Here we are!" was Mercer's greeting. "Later than I
intended, but it's a far cry from Wallarroo, and we had to take it
easy."

"The best way," the other said.

He went forward and quietly helped Sybil to dismount. He did not speak
to her as he did so, and she wondered a little at the reserve of his
manner. But the next moment she forgot him at the sight of a hideous
young negro who had suddenly appeared at the horses' heads.

"It's only Beelzebub," said the man at her side, in a tired voice, as if
it were an effort to speak at all.

She realized that the explanation was intended to be reassuring, and
laughed rather tremulously. Finding Mercer at her side she slipped her
hand into his.

He gave it a terrific squeeze. "Come inside!" he said. "You are tired."

They went in, Curtis following.

In a room with a sanded floor that looked pleasantly homely to her
English eyes a meal was spread. The place and everything it contained
shone in the lamplight. She looked around her with a smile of pleasure,
notwithstanding her weariness. And then her eyes fell upon Curtis, and
found his fixed upon her.

He averted them instantly, but she had read their expression at a
glance--surprise and compassion--and her heart gave a curious little
throb of dismay.

She turned nevertheless without a pause to Mercer.

"Won't you introduce me to your friend?" she said.

"What?" said Mercer. "Oh, that's Curtis, my foreman. Curtis, this is my
wife."

Curtis bowed stiffly, but Sybil held out her hand.

"How nice everything looks!" she said. "I am sure we have you to thank
for it."

"Beelzebub and me," he said; and again she was struck by the utter lack
of animation in his voice.

He was a man of about forty, lean and brown, with an unmistakable air of
breeding about him that put her at her ease at once. His quiet manner
was a supreme contrast to Mercer's roughness. She was quite sure that he
was not colonial born.

He sat at table with them, and waited also, but he did not utter a word
except now and again in answer to some brief query from Mercer. When the
meal was over he cleared the table and disappeared.

She looked at Mercer in some surprise as the door closed upon him.

"He's a useful chap," Mercer said. "I'm sorry there isn't a woman in the
house, but you'll find Beelzebub better than a dozen. And this fellow is
always at hand for anything you may want in the evening."

"He is a gentleman," she said almost involuntarily.

Mercer looked at her.

"Do you object to having a gentleman to wait on you?" he asked curtly.

She did not quite understand his tone, but she was very far just then
from understanding the man himself. His question demanded no answer, and
she gave none.

After a moment she got up, and, conscious of an oppression in the
atmosphere, took off her hat and pushed back the hair from her face.
She knew that Mercer was watching her, felt his eyes upon her, and
wished intensely that he would speak, but he did not utter a word. There
seemed to her to be something stubborn in his silence, and it affected
her strangely.

For a while she stood also silent, then suddenly with a little smile she
looked across at him.

"Aren't you going to show me everything?" she said.

"Not to-night," he said. "I will show you your bedroom if you are too
tired to stay up any longer."

She considered the matter for a few seconds, then quietly crossed the
room to his side. She laid a hand that trembled slightly on his
shoulder.

"You have been very good to me," she said.

He stiffened at her touch.

"You had better go to bed," he said gruffly, and made as if he would
rise.

But she checked him with a dignity all her own.

"Wait, please; I want to speak to you."

"Not to thank me, I hope," he said.

"No, not to thank you." She paused an instant, and seemed to hesitate.
"I--I really want to ask you something," she said at length.

He reached up and removed her hand from his shoulder.

"Well?" he questioned.

"Don't hold me at arms' length!" she pleaded gently. "It makes things so
difficult."

"What is it you want to know?" he asked without relaxing.

She stood silent for a few seconds as if summoning all her courage. Then
at length, her voice very low, she spoke.

"When you said that you wanted me for your wife, did you mean that
you--loved me?"

He made an abrupt movement, and his fingers closed tightly upon her
wrist. For a moment or more he sat in tense silence, then he got to his
feet.

"Why do you want to know?" he demanded harshly.

She stood before him with bent head.

"Because," she said, and there was a piteous quiver in her voice, "I am
lonely, and I have a very empty heart. And--and--if you love me it will
not frighten me to know it. It will only--make me--glad."

He put his hand on her shoulder. "Do you know what you are saying?" he
questioned.

"Yes," she said under her breath.

"Are you sure?" he persisted.

She raised her head impulsively, and, with a gesture most winning, most
confident, she stretched up her arms to him.

"Yes," she said. "I mean it! I mean it! I want--to be loved!"

His arms were close about her as she ended, and she uttered the last
words chokingly with her face against his breast. The effort had cost
her all her strength, and she clung to him panting, almost fainting,
while panic--wild, unreasoning panic--swept over her. What was this man
to whom she had thus impulsively given herself--this man whom all men
feared?

Nevertheless, she grew calmer at last, awaking to the fact that though
his hold was tense and passionate, he still retained his self-control.
She commanded herself, and turned her face upwards.

"Then you do love me?" she said tremulously.

His eyes shone into hers, red as the inner, intolerable glow of a
furnace. He did not attempt to make reply in words. He seemed at that
moment incapable of speech. He only bent and kissed her fiercely,
burningly, even brutally, upon the lips. And so she had her answer.



VII


It was a curious establishment over which Sybil found herself called
upon to preside. The native, Beelzebub, was her only domestic, and, as
Mercer had predicted, she found him very willing if not always
efficient. One thing she speedily discovered regarding him. He went in
deadly fear of his master, and invariably crept about like a whipped
cur in his presence.

"Why is it?" she said to Curtis once.

But Curtis only shrugged his shoulders in reply.

He was a continual puzzle to her, this man. There was no servility about
him, but she had a feeling that he, too, was in some fashion under
Mercer's heel. He made himself exceedingly useful to her in his silent,
unobtrusive way; but he seldom spoke on his own initiative, and it was
some time before she felt herself to be on terms of intimacy with him.
He was an excellent cook; and he and Beelzebub between them made her
duties remarkably light. In fact, she spent most of her time riding with
her husband, who was fully occupied just then in overlooking the
shearers' work. She also was keenly interested, but he never suffered
her to go among the men. Once, when she had grown tired of waiting for
him, and followed him into one of the sheds, he was actually angry with
her--a new experience, which, if it did not seriously scare her, made
her nervous in his presence for some time afterwards.

She had come to regard him as a man whose will was bound to be
respected, a man who possessed the power of impressing his personality
indelibly upon all with whom he came in contact. There were times when
he touched and set vibrating the very pulse of her being, times when her
heart quivered and expanded in the heat of his passion as a flower that
opens to the sun. But there were also times when he filled her with a
nameless dread, when the very foundations of her confidence were shaken,
and she felt as a prisoner behind iron bars. She did not know him, that
was her trouble. There were in him depths that she could not reach,
could scarcely even realize. He was slow to reveal himself to her, and
she had but the vaguest indications to guide her. She even felt
sometimes that he deliberately kept back from her that which she felt to
be almost the essential part of him. This she knew that time must
remedy. Living his life, she was bound ultimately to know whereof he was
made, and she tried to assure herself that when that knowledge came to
her she would not be dismayed. And yet she had occasional glimpses of
him that made her tremble.

One evening, after they had spent the entire day in the saddle, he went
after supper to look at one of the horses that was suffering from a
cracked hock. Curtis was busy in the kitchen, and Sybil betook herself
to the step to wait for her husband. She often sat in the starlight
while he smoked his pipe. She knew that he liked to have her there.

She was drowsy after her long exercise, and must have dozed with her
head against the door-post, when suddenly she became conscious of a
curious sound. It came from the direction of the stable which was on the
other side of the house. But for the absolute stillness of the night she
would not have heard it. She started upright in alarm, and listened
intently.

It came again--a terrible wailing, unlike anything she had ever heard,
ending in a staccato shriek that made her blood run cold.

She sprang up and turned into the house, almost running into Curtis, who
had just appeared in the passage behind her.

"Oh, what is it?" she cried. "What is it? Something terrible is
happening! Did you hear?"

She would have turned into the kitchen, that being the shortest route to
the stable, but he stretched an arm in front of her.

"I shouldn't go if I were you," he said. "You can't do any good."

She stood and stared at him, a ghastly fear clutching her heart.
"What--what do you mean?" she gasped.

"It's only Beelzebub," he said, "getting hammered for his sins."

She gripped her hands tightly over her breast. "You mean that--that my
husband--?"

He nodded. "It won't go on much longer. I should go to bed if I were
you."

He meant it kindly, but the words sounded to her most hideously callous.
She turned from him, sobbing hysterically, and sprang for the open door.

The next moment she was running swiftly round the house to the stable.
Turning the corner, she heard a sound like a pistol-shot. It was
followed instantly by a scream so utterly inhuman that even then she
almost wheeled and fled. But she mastered the impulse. She reached the
stable-door, fumbled at the latch, finally burst inwards as it swung
open.

A lantern hung on a nail immediately within. By its light she discovered
her husband--a gigantic figure--towering over something she could not
see, something that crouched, writhing and moaning, in a corner. He was
armed with a horsewhip, and even as she entered she saw him raise it and
bring it downwards with a horrible precision upon the thing at his feet.
She heard again that awful shriek of anguish, and a sick shudder went
through her. Unconsciously, a cry broke from her own lips, and, as
Mercer's arm went up again, she flung herself forward and tried to catch
it.

In her agitation she failed. The heavy end of the whip fell upon her
outstretched arm, numbing; it to the shoulder. She heard Mercer utter a
frightful oath, and with a gasp she fell.


VIII

When she came to herself she was lying on her bed. Someone--Curtis--was
bathing her arm in warm water. He did not speak to her or raise his:
eyes from his occupation. She thought he looked very grim.

"Where is--Brett?" she whispered.

Curtis did not answer her, but a moment later she looked beyond him and
saw Mercer leaning upon the bed-rail. His eyes were fixed upon her and
held her own. She sought to avoid them, but could not. And suddenly she
knew that he was angry with her, not merely displeased, but furiously
angry.

She made an effort to rise, but at that Curtis laid a restraining hand
upon her, and spoke.

"Go away, Mercer!" he said. "Haven't you done harm enough for one
night?"

The words amazed her. She had never thought that he would dare to use
such a tone to her husband. She trembled for the result, for Mercer's
face just then was terrible, but Curtis did not so much as glance in his
direction.

Mercer's eyes remained mercilessly fixed upon her.

"Do you wish me to go?" he said.

"No," she murmured faintly.

Her arm was beginning to hurt her horribly, and she shuddered
uncontrollably once or twice. But that unvarying scrutiny was harder to
bear, and at last, in desperation, she made a quivering appeal.

"Come and help me!" she begged. "Come and lift me up!"

For an instant he did not stir, and she even thought he would refuse.
Then, stiffly, he straightened himself and moved round to her side.

Stooping, he raised and supported her. But his expression did not alter;
the murderous glare was still in his eyes. She turned her face into his
breast and lay still.

After what seemed a very long interval Curtis spoke.

"That's all I can do for the present. I will dress it again in the
morning, and it had better be in a sling. Mercer, I should like a word
with you outside."

Sybil stirred sharply at the brief demand. Her nerves were on edge, and
a quaking doubt shot through her as to what Mercer might do if Curtis
presumed too far.

She laid an imploring hand on her husband's arm.

"Stay with me!" she begged him faintly.

He did not move or speak.

Curtis stood up.

"Presently, then!" he said, and she heard him move away.

At the door he paused, and she thought he made some rapid sign to
Mercer. But the next moment she heard the door close softly, and knew
that he had gone.

She lay quite still thereafter, her heart fluttering too much for
speech. What would he say to her, she wondered; how would he break his
silence? She had no weapon to oppose against his anger. She was as
powerless before it as Beelzebub had been.

Suddenly he moved. He turned her head back upon his arm and looked
straight down into her eyes. She did not shrink. She would not. But her
heart died within her. She felt as if she were gazing into hell,
watching a soul in torment.

"Well?" he said at last. "Are you satisfied?"

"Satisfied?" she faltered.

"As to the sort of monster you have married," he explained, with savage
bitterness. "You've been putting out feelers ever since you came here.
Did you think I didn't know? Well, you've found out a little more than
you wanted, this time. Perhaps it will be a lesson to you.
Perhaps"--sheer cruelty shone red in his eyes--"when you see what I've
done to you, you will remember that I am not a man to play with, and
that any one, man or woman, who interferes with me, must pay the price."

"I don't know what you mean," she answered with an effort. "What
happened was an accident."

"Was it?" he said brutally. "Was it?"

Still she did not shrink from him.

"Yes," she said. "It was an accident."

"How do you know?" he asked.

She answered him instantly. She had not realized till then that she was
fighting the flames for his soul. The knowledge came upon her suddenly,
and it gave her strength.

"Because I know that you love me," she said. "Because--because--though
you are cruel, and though you may be wicked--I love you, too."

She said it with absolute sincerity, but it was the hardest thing she
had ever done in her life. To tell this man who was half animal and half
fiend that he had not somehow touched the woman's heart in her seemed
almost a desecration. She saw the flare of passion leap up in his eyes,
and she was conscious for one sick moment of a feeling of downright
repulsion. If she had only succeeded in turning his savagery into
another channel she had spoken in vain; or, worse, she had made a
mistake that could never be remedied.

Abruptly she felt her courage waver. She shrank at last.

"I want you to understand," she faltered; and again, "I want you to
understand."

But she could get no further. She hid her face against him and began to
sob.

There followed a silence, tense and terrible, which she dared not break.

Then she felt him bend lower, and suddenly his arms were under her. He
lifted her like a little child and sat down, holding her. His hand
pressed her head against his neck, fondling, soothing, consoling. And
she knew, with an overwhelming thankfulness, that she had not offered
herself in vain. She had drawn him out of his hell by the magic of her
love.


IX

When morning came Mercer departed alone, and Curtis was left in charge.
Sybil lay in her room half dressed, while the latter treated her injured
arm.

"You ought not to be up at all," he remarked, as he uncovered it. "Have
you had any sleep?"

"Not much," she was obliged to confess.

"Why didn't you stay in bed?"

"I don't want--my husband--to think me very bad," she said, flushing a
little.

"Why not?" said Curtis. And then he glanced at her, saw the flush, and
said no more.

She watched his bandaging with interest.

"You look so professional," she said.

He uttered a short laugh.

"Do I?"

"I mean," she said, unaccountably embarrassed, "that you do it so
nicely."

"I have done a good deal of veterinary work," he said rather coldly. And
then suddenly he seemed to change his mind. "I was a professional once,"
he said, without looking at her. "I made a mistake--a bad one--and it
broke me. That's all."

"Oh," she said impulsively, "I am so sorry."

"Thank you," he said quietly.

Not till he was about to leave her did she manage to ask the question
that had been uppermost in her mind since his entrance.

"Have you seen Beelzebub yet?"

He paused--somewhat unwillingly, she thought.

"Yes," he answered.

"Is he"--she hesitated--"is he very bad?"

"He isn't going to die, if that is what you mean," said Curtis.

She felt her heart contract.

"Please tell me!" she urged rather faintly. "I want to know."

With the air of a man submitting to the inevitable Curtis proceeded to
inform her.

"He is lying in the loft over the stable, like a sick dog. He is rather
badly mauled, and whimpers a good deal. I shall take him some soup
across presently, but I don't suppose he'll touch it."

"Ok, dear!" she said. "What shall you do then?"

"Mercer will have to lend a hand if I can't manage him," Curtis
answered. "But I shall do my best."

She suppressed a shudder.

"I hope you will be successful."

"So do I," said Curtis, departing.

When she saw him again she asked anxiously for news; but he had none of
a cheering nature to give her. Beelzebub would not look at food.

"I knew he wouldn't," he said. "He has been like this before."

"Mr. Curtis!" she exclaimed.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"It's Mercer's way. He regards the boy as his own personal property, and
so he is, more or less. He picked him up in the bush when he wasn't more
than a few days old. The mother was dead. Mercer took him, and he was
brought up among the farm men. He's a queer young animal, more like a
dog than a human being. He needs hammering now and then. I kick him
occasionally myself. But Mercer goes too far."

"What had he done?" questioned Sybil.

"Oh, it was some neglect of the horses. I don't know exactly what.
Mercer isn't precisely patient, you know. And when the fellow gets
thoroughly scared he's like a rabbit; he can't move. Mercer thinks him
obstinate, and the rest follows as a natural consequence. I must ask you
to excuse me. I have work to do."

"One moment!" Sybil laid a nervous hand on his arm. "Mr. Curtis, if--if
you can't persuade the poor boy to take any food, how will my husband do
so?"

"He won't," said Curtis. "He'll hold him down while I drench him, that's
all."

"That must be very bad for him," she said.

"Of course it is. But we can't let him die, you know." He looked at her
suddenly. "Don't you worry yourself, Mrs. Mercer," he said kindly. "He
isn't quite the same as a white man, though it may offend your Western
prejudices to hear me say so. Beelzebub will pull through all right.
They are wonderfully tough, these chaps."

"I wonder if I could persuade him to take something," she said.

He shook his head.

"I don't suppose you could. In any case, you mustn't try. It is against
orders."

"Whose orders?" she asked quickly.

"Your husband's," he answered. "His last words to me were that I was on
no account to let you go near him."

"Oh, why?" she protested. "And I might be able to help."

"It isn't at all likely," he said. "And he's not a very pretty thing to
look at."

"As if that matters!" she exclaimed.

"Well, it does matter, because I don't want to have you in hysterics, as
much for my own sake as for yours." He smiled a little. "Also, if Mercer
finds he has been disobeyed it will make him savage again, and perhaps I
shall be the next victim."

"He would never touch you!" she exclaimed.

"He might. Why shouldn't he?"

"He never would!" she reiterated. "You are not afraid of him."

He looked contemptuous for a second; and then his expression changed.

"You are right," he said. "That is my chief safeguard; and, permit me to
say, yours also. It may be worth remembering."

"You think him a coward!" she said.

He considered a little.

"No, not a coward," he said then. "There is nothing mean about him, so
far as I can see. He suffers from too much raw material, that's all.
They call him Brute Mercer in these parts. But perhaps you will be able
to tame him some day."

"I!" she said, and turned away with a mournful little smile.

She might charm him once or even twice out of a savage mood, but the
conviction was strong upon her that he would overwhelm her in the end.


X

For nearly an hour after Curtis had left her she sat still, thinking of
Beelzebub. The afternoon sunlight lay blindingly upon all things. The
heat of it hung laden in the air. But she could not sleep or even try to
rest. Her arm throbbed and burned with a ceaseless pain, and ever the
thought of Beelzebub, lying in the loft "like a sick dog," oppressed her
like an evil dream.

The shadows had begun to lengthen a little when at last she rose. She
could bear it no longer. Whatever the consequences, she could endure
them more easily than this torture of inactivity. As for Curtis she
believed him fully capable of taking care of himself.

She went to the kitchen and was relieved to find him absent. Searching,
she presently found the bowl of soup Beelzebub had refused. She turned
it into a saucepan and hung over the fire, scarcely conscious of the
heat in her pressing desire to be of use.

Finally, armed with the hot liquor, she stole across the yard to the
stable. The place was deserted, save for the horse she usually rode, who
whinnied softly to her as she passed. At the foot of the loft ladder
she stood awhile, listening, and presently heard a heavy groan.

She had to make the ascent very slowly, using her injured arm to support
herself. When she emerged at last she found herself in a twilight which
for a time her dazzled eyes could not pierce. The heat was intolerable,
and the place hummed with flies.

"Beelzebub!" she said softly at length. "Beelzebub, where are you?"

There was a movement in what she dimly discerned to be a heap of straw,
and she heard a feeble whimpering as of an animal in pain.

Her heart throbbed with pity as she crept across the littered floor. She
was beginning to see more distinctly, and by sundry chinks she
discovered the loft door. She went to it, fumbled for the latch, and
opened it. Instantly the place was flooded with light, and turning
round, she beheld Beelzebub.

He was lying in a twisted heap in the straw, half naked, looking like
some monstrous reptile. In all her life she had never beheld anything so
horrible. His black flesh was scored over and over with long purple
stripes; even his face was swollen almost beyond recognition, and out of
it the whites of his eyes gleamed, bloodshot and terrible.

For a few moments she was possessed by an almost overpowering desire to
flee from the awful sight; and then again he stirred and whimpered, and
pity--element most divine--came to her aid.

She went to the poor, whining creature, and knelt beside him.

"See!" she said. "I have brought you some soup. Do try and take a
little! It will do you good."

There was a note of entreaty in her voice, but Beelzebub's eyes stared
as though they would leap out of his head.

He writhed away from her into the straw. "Go 'way, missis!" he hissed at
her, with lips drawn back in terror. "Go 'way, or Boss'll come and beat
Beelzebub!"

He spoke the white man's language; it was the only one he knew, but
there was something curiously unfamiliar, something almost bestial in
the way he spat his words.

Again Sybil was conscious of a wild desire to escape before sheer horror
paralysed her limbs, but she fought and conquered the impulse.

"Boss won't beat you any more," she said. "And I want you to be a good
boy and drink this before I go. I brought it myself, because I knew you
would take it to please me. You will, won't you, Beelzebub?"

But Beelzebub was not to be easily persuaded. He cried and moaned and
writhed at every word she spoke. But Sybil had mastered herself, and she
was very patient. She coaxed him as though he had been in truth the sick
dog to which Curtis had likened him. And at last, by sheer persistence,
she managed to insert the spoon between his chattering teeth.

He let her feed him then, lying passive, still whimpering between every
gulp, while she talked soothingly, scarcely knowing what she said in the
resolute effort to keep her ever-recurring horror at bay. When the bowl
was empty she rose.

"Perhaps you will go to sleep now," she said kindly. "Suppose you try!"

He stared up at her from his lair with rolling, uneasy eyes. Suddenly he
pointed to her bandaged arm.

"Boss did that!" he croaked.

She turned to close the door again, feeling the blood rise in her face.

"Boss didn't mean to," she answered with as much steadiness as she could
muster. "And he didn't mean to hurt you so badly, either, Beelzebub. He
was sorry afterwards."

She saw his teeth gleam in the twilight like the bared fangs of a wolf,
and knew that he grinned in derision of this statement. She picked up
her bowl and turned to go. At the same instant he spoke in a piercing
whisper out of the darkness.

"Boss kill a white man once, missis!"

She stood still, rooted to the spot. "Beelzebub!"

He shrank away, whimpering.

"No, no! Boss'll kill poor Beelzebub! Missis won't tell Boss?"

To her horror his hand shot out and fastened upon her skirt. But she
could not have moved in any case. She stood staring down at him,
cold--cold to the very heart with foreboding.

"No," she said at last, and it was as if she stood apart and listened to
another woman, very calm and collected, speaking on her behalf. "I will
never tell him, Beelzebub. You will be quite safe with me. So tell me
what you mean! Don't be afraid! Speak plainly! When did Boss kill a
white man?"

There must have been something of compulsion in her manner, for, albeit
quaveringly and with obvious terror, the negro answered her.

"Down by Bowker Creek, missis, 'fore you come. Boss and the white man
fight--a dam' big fight. Beelzebub run away. Afterwards, Boss, come on
alone. So Beelzebub know that Boss kill' the white man."

"Oh, then you didn't see him killed! You don't know?"

Was it her own lips uttering the words? They felt quite stiff and
powerless.

"Beelzebub run away," she heard him repeating rather vacantly.

"What did they fight with?" she said.

"They fight with their hands," he told her. "White man from Bowker Creek
try to shoot Boss, and make Boss very angry."

"But perhaps he wasn't killed," she insisted to herself. "Of course--of
course, he wasn't. You shouldn't say such things, Beelzebub. You
weren't there to see."

Beelzebub shuffled in the straw and whined depreciatingly.

"Tell me," she heard the other woman say peremptorily, "what was the
white man's name?"

But Beelzebub only moaned, and she was forced to conclude that he did
not know.

"Where is Bowker Creek?" she asked next.

He could not tell her. His intelligence seemed to have utterly deserted
him.

She stood silent, considering, while he coiled about revoltingly in the
straw at her feet.

Suddenly through the afternoon silence there came the sound of a horse's
hoofs. She started, and listened.

Beelzebub frantically clutched at her shoes.

"Missis won't tell Boss!" he implored again. "Missis won't----"

She stepped desperately out of his reach.

"Hush!" she said. "Hush! He will hear you. I must go. I must go at
once."

Emergency gave her strength. She moved to the trap-door, and, she knew
not how, found the ladder with her feet.

Grey-faced, dazed, and cold as marble, she descended. Yet she did not
stumble. Her limbs moved mechanically, unfalteringly.

When she reached the bottom she turned with absolute steadiness and
found Brett Mercer standing in the doorway watching her.

XI

He stood looking at her in silence as she came forward. She did not stop
to ascertain if he were angry or not. Somehow it did not seem to matter.
She only dealt with the urgent necessity for averting his suspicion.

"I just ran across with some soup for Beelzebub," she said, her pale
face raised unflinchingly. "I am glad to say he has taken it. Please
don't go up! I want him to get to sleep."

She spoke, with a wholly unconscious authority. The supreme effort she
was making seemed to place her upon a different footing. She laid a
quiet hand upon his arm and drew him out of the stable.

He went with her as one surprised into submission. One of the farm men
who had taken his horse stared after them in amazement.

As they crossed the yard together Mercer found his voice.

"I told Curtis you weren't to go near Beelzebub."

"I know," she answered. "Mr. Curtis told me."

He cracked his whip savagely.

"Where is Curtis?"

"I don't know," she answered. "But, Brett, if you are angry because I
went you must deal with me, not with Mr. Curtis. He had nothing whatever
to do with it."

Mercer was silent, and she divined with no sense of elation that he
would not turn his anger against her.

They entered the house together, and he strode through the passage,
calling for Curtis. But when the latter appeared in answer to the
summons, to her surprise Mercer began to speak upon a totally different
subject.

"I have just seen Stevens from Wallarroo. They are all in a mortal funk
there. He was on his way over here to ask you to go and look at a man
who is very bad with something that looks like smallpox. You can please
yourself about going; though, if you take my advice, you'll stay away."

Curtis did not at once reply. He gravely took the empty bowl from
Sybil's hand, and it was upon her that his eyes rested as he finally
said, "Do you think you could manage without me?"

She looked up with perfect steadiness.

"Certainly I could. Please do as you think right!"

"What about Beelzebub?" he said.

Mercer made a restless movement.

"He will be on his legs again in a day or two. One of the men must look
after him."

"I shall look after him," Sybil said, with a calmness of resolution that
astounded both her hearers.

Mercer put his hand on her shoulder, but said nothing. It was Curtis who
spoke with the voice of authority.

"You will have to take care of her," he said bluntly. "Bear in mind what
I said to you last night! I will show you how to treat the arm. And then
I think I had better go. It may prevent an epidemic."

Thereafter he assumed so businesslike an air that he seemed to Sybil to
be completely transformed. There never had been much deference in his
attitude towards Mercer, but he treated him now without the smallest
ceremony. He was as a man suddenly awakened from a long lethargy. From
that moment to the moment of his departure his activity was unceasing.

Sybil and Mercer watched him finally ride away, and it was not till he
was actually gone that the fact that she was left absolutely alone with
her husband came home to her.

With a sense of shock she realized it, and those words of
Beelzebub's--the words that she had been so resolutely forcing into the
back of her mind--came crowding back upon her with a vividness and
persistence that were wholly beyond her control.

What was she going to do, she wondered? What could she do with this
awful, this unspeakable doubt pressing ever upon her? It might all be a
mistake, a hideous mistake on Beelzebub's part. She had no great faith
in his intelligence. It might be that by some evil chance his muddled
brain had registered the name of Bowker Creek in connection with the
fight which she did not for a moment doubt had at some time taken
place. Beelzebub was never reliable in the matter of details, and he
had not been able to answer her question regarding the place.

Over and over again she tried to convince herself that her fear was
groundless, and over and over again the words came back to her, refusing
to be forgotten or ignored--"the white man from Bowker Creek." Who was
this white man whom Mercer had fought, this man who had tried to shoot
him? She shuddered whenever she pictured the conflict. She was horribly
afraid.

Yet she played her part unfalteringly, and Mercer never suspected the
seething anguish of suspense and uncertainty that underlay her steadfast
composure. He thought her quieter than usual, deemed her shy; and he
treated her in consequence with a tenderness of which she had not
believed him capable--a tenderness that wrung her heart.

She was thankful when the morning came, and he left her, for the strain
was almost more than she could endure.

But in the interval of solitude that ensued she began to build up her
strength anew. Alone with her doubts, she faced the fact that she would
probably never know the truth. She could not rely upon Beelzebub for
accuracy, and she could not refer to her husband. The only course open
to her was to bury the evil thing as deeply as might be, to turn her
face resolutely away from it, to forget--oh, Heaven, if she could but
forget!

All through that day Beelzebub slept, curled up in the straw. She
visited him several times, but he needed nothing. Nature had provided
her own medicine for his tortured body. In the evening a man came with a
note from Curtis. The case was undoubtedly one of smallpox, he wrote,
and he did not think his patient would recover. There was a good deal of
panic at Wallarroo, and he had removed the man to a cattle-shed at some
distance from the township where they were isolated. There were one or
two things he needed which he desired Mercer to send on the following
day to a place he described, whence he himself would fetch them.

"Beelzebub can go," said Mercer.

"If he is well enough!" said Sybil.

He frowned.

"You don't seem to realize what these niggers are made of. Of course, he
will be well enough."

She said no more, for she saw that the topic was unwelcome; but she
determined to make a stand on Beelzebub's behalf the next day, unless
his condition were very materially improved.


XII

It was with surprise and relief that upon entering the kitchen on the
following morning Sybil found Beelzebub back in his accustomed place. He
greeted her with a wider grin than usual, which she took for an
expression of gratitude. He seemed to have made a complete recovery, for
which she was profoundly thankful.

She herself was feeling better that day. Her arm pained her less, and
she no longer carried it in a sling. She had breakfasted in bed, Mercer
himself waiting upon her.

She was amazed to hear him speak with kindness to Beelzebub, and even
ask the boy if he thought he could manage the ride to Wallarroo.
Beelzebub, abjectly eager to return to favour, professed himself ready
to start at once. And so presently Sybil found herself alone.

The long day passed without event. The loneliness did not oppress her.
She busied herself with preparing delicacies for the sick man, which
Beelzebub could take on the following day. Beelzebub had had smallpox,
and knew no fear.

He did not return from his errand till the afternoon was well advanced.
She went to the door to hear his news, but he was in his least
intelligent mood, and seemed able to tell her very little. By dint of
close questioning she elicited that he had seen Curtis, who had told him
that the man was worse. Beyond this, Beelzebub appeared to know nothing;
and yet there was something about him that excited her attention. He
seemed more than once to be upon the point of saying something, and to
fail at the last moment, as though either his wits or his courage were
unequal to the effort. She could not have said what conveyed this
impression, but it was curiously strong. She tried hard to elicit
further information, but Beelzebub only became more idiotic in response,
and she was obliged to relinquish the attempt.

Mercer came in soon after, and she dismissed the matter from her mind.
But a vivid dream recalled it. She started up in the night, agitated,
incoherent, crying that someone wanted her, someone who could not wait,
and she must go. She could not tell her husband what the dream had been
and in the morning all memory of it had vanished. But it left a vague
disquietude behind, a haunting anxiety that hung heavily upon her. She
could not feel at peace.

Mercer left that morning. He had to go a considerable distance to an
outlying farm. She saw him off from the gate, and then went back into
the house, still with that inexplicable sense of oppression weighing her
down.

She prepared the parcel that she purposed to send to Curtis, and went in
search of Beelzebub. He was sweeping the kitchen.

"I shall want you to go to Wallarroo again to-day," she said. "You had
better start soon, as I should like Mr. Curtis to get this in good
time."

Beelzebub stopped sweeping, and cringed before her.

"Boss gone?" he questioned cautiously.

"Yes," she answered, wondering what was coming.

He drew a little nearer to her, still cringing.

"Missis," he whispered piercingly, "Beelzebub see the white man
yesterday."

She stared at him.

"What white man, Beelzebub? What do you mean?"

"White man from Bowker Creek," said Beelzebub.

Her breathing stopped suddenly. She felt as if she had been stabbed.
"Where!" she managed to gasp.

Beelzebub looked vacant. There was evidently something that she was
expected to understand. She forced her startled brain into activity.

"Is he the man who is ill--the man Mr. Curtis is taking care of?"

Beelzebub looked intelligent again.

"White man very bad," he said.

"But--but--how was it you saw him? You were told to leave the parcel by
the fence for Mr. Curtis to fetch."

Beelzebub exerted himself to explain.

"Mr. Curtis away, so Beelzebub creep up close and look in. But the white
man see Beelzebub and curse; so Beelzebub go away again."

"And that is the man you thought Boss killed?" Sybil questioned, relief
and fear strangely mingled within her.

Her brain was beginning to whirl, but with all her strength she
controlled it. Now or never would she know the truth.

Beelzebub was scared by the question.

"Missis won't tell Boss?" he begged.

"No, no," she said impatiently. "When will you learn that I never repeat
things? Now, Beelzebub, I want you to do something for me. Can you
remember? You are to ask Mr. Curtis to tell you the white man's name.
Say that Boss--do you understand?--say that Boss wants to know! And then
come back as fast as you possibly can, before Boss gets home to-night,
and tell me!"

She repeated these instructions many times over till it seemed
impossible that he could make any mistake. And then she watched him go,
and set herself with a heart like lead to face the interminable day.

She thought the hours would never pass, so restless was she, so
continuous the torment of doubt that vexed her soul. There were times
when she felt that if the thing she feared were true, it would kill her.
If her husband--the man whom, in spite of almost every instinct, she had
learnt to love--had deceived her, if he had played a double game to win
her, if, in short, the man he had fought at Bowker Creek were Robin
Wentworth, then she felt as if life for her were over. She might
continue to exist, indeed, but the heart within her would be dead. There
would be nothing left her but the grey ruins of that which had scarcely
begun to be happiness.

She tried hard to compose herself, but all her strength could not still
the wild fluttering of her nerves through the long-drawn-out suspense
of that dreadful day. At every sound she hastened to the door to look
for Beelzebub, long before he could possibly return. At the striking of
every hour she strained her ears to listen.

But when at last she heard the hoof-beats that told of the negro's
approach she felt that she could not go again; she lacked the physical
strength to seek him and hear the truth.

For a time she sat quite still, gathering all her forces for the ordeal.
Then at length she compelled herself, and rose.

Beelzebub was grooming his horse. He looked up at her approach and
grinned.

"Well, Beelzebub," she said through her white lips, "have you seen Mr.
Curtis?"

"Yes, missis." Beelzebub rolled his eyes intelligently. He seemed
unaware of the tragedy in the English girl's drawn face.

"And the white man?" she said.

"Mr. Curtis think the white man die soon," said Beelzebub.

"Ah!" She pressed her hand tightly against her heart. She felt as if its
throbbing would choke her. "And--his name?" she said.

Beelzebub paused and opened his eyes to their widest extent. He was
making a supreme effort, and the result was monstrous. But Sybil did not
quail; she scarcely saw him.

"His name?" she said; and again, raising her voice, "His name?"

The whole world seemed to rock while she waited, but she stood firm in
the midst of chaos. Her whole soul was concentrated upon Beelzebub's
reply.

It came at last with the effect of something uttered from an immense
distance that was yet piercingly distinct.

"Went--" said Beelzebub, and paused; then, with renewed effort,
"Wentworth."

And Sybil turned from him, shrinking as though something evil had
touched her, and walked stiffly back into the house. She had known it
all day long!



XIII


She never knew afterwards how long a time elapsed between the
confirmation of her doubts and the sudden starting to life of a new
resolution within her. It came upon her unexpectedly, striking through
the numbness of her despair, nerving her to action--the memory of her
dream and whence that dream had sprung. Robin Wentworth still lived. It
might be he would know her. It might even be that he was wanting her.
She would go to him.

It was the only thing left for her to do. Of the risk to herself she did
not think, nor would it have deterred her had it presented itself to her
mind. She felt as though he had called to her, and she had not
answered.

To Beelzebub's abject entreaties she paid no heed. There were two fresh
horses in the stable, and she ordered him to saddle them both. He did
not dare to disobey her in the matter, but she knew that no power on
earth would have induced him to remain alone at the farm till Mercer's
coming.

She left no word to explain her absence. There seemed no time for any
written message, nor was she in a state of mind to frame one. She was
driven by a consuming fever that urged her to perpetual movement. It did
not seem to matter how the tidings of her going came to Mercer.

Not till she was in the saddle and riding, riding hard, did she know a
moment's relief. The physical exertion eased the inward tumult, but she
would not slacken for an instant. She felt that to do so would be to
lose her reason. Beelzebub, galloping after her, thought her demented
already.

Through the long, long pastures she travelled, never drawing rein,
looking neither to right nor left. The animal she rode knew the way to
Wallarroo, and followed it undeviatingly. The sun was beginning to
slant, and the shadows to lengthen.

Mile after mile of rolling grassland they left behind them, and still
they pressed forward. At last came the twilight, brief as the soft
sinking of a curtain, and then the dark. But the night was ablaze with
stars, and the road was clear.

Sybil rode as one in a nightmare, straining forward eternally. She did
not urge her horse, but he bore her so gallantly that she did not need
to do so. Beelzebub had increasing difficulty in keeping up with her.

At last, after what seemed like the passage of many hours, they sighted
from afar the lights of Wallarroo. Sybil drew rein, and waited for
Beelzebub.

"Which way?" she said.

He pointed to a group of trees upon a knoll some distance from the road,
and thither she turned her horse's head. Beelzebub rode up beside her.

They left the knoll on one side, and, skirting it, came to a dip in the
hill-side. And here they came at length to the end of their journey--a
journey that to Sybil had seemed endless--and halted before a wooden
shed that had been built for cattle. A flap of canvas had been nailed
above the entrance, behind which a dim light burned. Sybil dismounted
and drew near.

At first she heard no sound; then, as she stood hesitating and
uncertain, there came a man's voice that uttered low, disjointed words.
She thought for a second that someone was praying, and then, with a
thrill of horror, she knew otherwise. The voice was uttering the most
fearful curses she had ever heard.

Scarcely knowing what she did, but unable to stand there passively
listening, she drew aside the canvas flap and looked in.

In an instant the voice ceased. There fell a silence, followed by a
wild, half-strangled cry. She had a glimpse of a prone figure in a
corner struggling upwards, and then Curtis was before her--Curtis
haggard and agitated as she had never seen him--pushing her back out of
the dim place into the clean starlight without.

"Mrs. Mercer! Are you mad?" she heard him say.

She resisted his compelling hands; she was strangely composed and
undismayed.

"I am coming in," she said. "Nothing on earth will keep me back. That
man--Robin Wentworth--is a friend of mine. I am going to see him and
speak to him."

"Impossible!" Curtis said.

But she withstood him unfalteringly.

"It is not impossible. You must let me pass. I mean to go to him, and
you cannot prevent it."

He saw the hopelessness of opposing her. Her eyes told him that it was
no whim but steadfast purpose that had brought her there. He looked
beyond her to Beelzebub, but gathered no inspiration in that quarter.

"Let me pass, Mr. Curtis!" said Sybil gently. "I shall take no harm. I
must see him before he dies."

And Curtis yielded. He was worn out by long and fruitless watching, and
he could not cope with this fresh emergency. He yielded to her
insistence, and suffered her to pass him.

"He is very far gone," he said.



XIV


As Sybil entered she heard again that strange, choked cry. The sick man
was struggling to rise, but could not.

She went straight to the narrow pallet on which he lay and bent over
him.

"Robin!" she said.

He gave a great start, and became intensely still, lying face downwards,
his body twisted, his head on his arm.

She stooped lower. She touched him. A superhuman strength was hers.

"Robin," she said, "do you know me?"

He turned his face a little, and she saw the malignant horror of the
disease that gripped him. It was a sight that would have turned her sick
at any other time. But to-night she knew no weakness.

"Who are you?" he said, in a gasping whisper.

"I am Sybil," she answered steadfastly. "Don't you remember me?"

He lay motionless for a little, his breathing sharp and short. At
length:

"You had better get away from this pestilent hole," he panted out. "It's
no place for a woman."

"I have come to nurse you," she said.

"You!" He seemed to collect himself with an effort. He turned his face
fully towards her. "Didn't you marry that devil Mercer, after all?" he
gasped, gazing up at her with glassy eyes.

Only by his eyes would she have known him--this man whom once long ago
she had fancied that she loved--and even they were strained and
unfamiliar. She bent her head in answer. "Yes, Robin, I married him."

He began to curse inarticulately, spasmodically; but that she would not
have. She knelt down suddenly by his side, and took his hand in hers.
The terrible, disfigured countenance did not appal her, though the
memory of it would haunt her all her life.

"Robin, listen!" she said earnestly. "We may not have very long
together. Let us make the most of what time we have! Don't waste your
strength! Try to tell me quietly what happened, how it was you gave me
up! I want to understand it all. I have never yet heard the truth."

Her quiet words, the steady pressure of her hand, calmed him. He lay
still for a space, gazing at her.

"You're not afraid?" he muttered at last.

"No," she said.

He continued to stare at her.

"Is he--good to you?" he said.

The words came with difficulty. She saw his throat working with the
convulsive effort to produce sound.

Curtis touched her arm. "Give him this!"

She took a cup from his hand, and held it to the swollen lips. But he
could not swallow. The liquid trickled down into his beard.

"He's past it," murmured Curtis.

"Sybil!" The words came with a hard, rending sound. "Is he--good to
you?"

She was wiping away the spilt drops with infinite, unfaltering
tenderness.

"Yes, dear," she answered. "He is very good to me."

He uttered a great gasping sigh.

"That's--all--that matters," he said, and fell silent, still gazing at
her with eyes that seemed too fixed to take her in.

In the long, long silence that followed no one moved. But for those wild
eyes Sybil would have thought him sleeping.

Minutes passed, and at last Curtis spoke under his breath.

"You had better go. You can't do any more."

But she would not stir. She had a feeling that Robin still wanted her.

Suddenly through the night silence there came a sound--the hoof-beats of
a galloping horse.

She turned her head and listened. "What is that?"

As if in answer, Beelzebub's black face appeared in the entrance. His
eyes were distended with fright.

"Missis!" he hissed in a guttural whisper.

"Here's Boss comin'!" and disappeared again like a monstrous goblin.

Sybil glanced up at Curtis. "Don't let him come here!" she said.

But for once he seemed to be at a loss. He made no response to her
appeal. While they waited, the hoofs drew steadily nearer, thudding over
the grass.

"Mr. Curtis!" she said urgently.

He made a sharp, despairing gesture. "I can't help it," he said. "You
must go. For Heaven's sake, don't let him touch you, and burn the
clothes you have on as soon as possible! I am going to set fire to this
place immediately."

"Going to--set fire to it?" She stared at him in surprise, still
scarcely understanding.

"The poor chap is dead," he said. "It's the only thing to do."

She turned back to the face upon the pillow with its staring, sightless
eyes. She raised a pitying hand to close them, but Curtis intervened.

He drew her to her feet. "Go!" he said. "Go! Keep Mercer away, that's
all!"

She heard the jingling of a horse's bit and knew that the rider was very
near. Mechanically almost, she turned from the place of death and went
to meet him.



XV


He was off his horse and striding for the entrance when she encountered
him. The starlight on his face showed it livid and terrible. At sight
of her he stopped short.

"Are you mad?" he said.

They were the identical words that Curtis had used; but his voice,
hoarse, unnatural, told her that he was in a dangerous mood.

She backed away from him. "Don't come near me!" she said quickly.
"He--he is just dead. And I have been with him."

"He?" he flung at her furiously, and she knew by his tone that he
suspected the truth.

She tried to answer him steadily, but her strength was beginning to fail
her. The long strain was telling upon her at last. She was uncertain of
herself.

"It--was Robin Wentworth," she said.

He took a swift stride towards her. His face was convulsed with passion.
"You came here to see that soddened cur?" he said.

She shrank away from him. The tempest of his anger overwhelmed her. She
could not stand against it. For the first time she quailed.

"I have seen him," she said. "And he is dead. Ah, don't--don't touch
me!"

He paid no attention to her cry. He seized her by the shoulders and
almost swung her from his path.

"It would have been better for you," he said between his teeth, "if he
had died before you got here. You have begun to repent already, and
you'll go on repenting for the rest of your life."

"What are you going to do?" she cried, seeing him turn. "Brett, don't go
in there! Don't! Don't! You must not! You shall not!"

In a frenzy of fear she threw herself upon him, struggling with all her
puny strength to hold him back.

"I tell you he is dead!" she gasped. "Why do you want to go in?"

"I am going to see for myself," he said stubbornly, putting her away.

"No!" she cried. "No!"

His eyes gleamed red with a savage fury as she clung to him afresh. He
caught her wrists, forcing her backwards.

"I don't believe he is dead!" he snarled.

"He is! He is! Mr. Curtis told me so."

"If he isn't, I'll murder him!" Brett Mercer vowed, and flung her
fiercely from him.

She fell with violence and lay half-stunned, while he, blinded with
rage, possessed by devils, strode forward into that silent place,
leaving her prone.

She thought later that she must have fainted, for the next thing she
knew--and it must have been after the passage of several minutes--was
Mercer kneeling beside her and lifting her. His touch was perfectly
gentle, but she dared not look into his face. She cowered in his arms in
mortal fear. He had crushed her at last.

"Have I hurt you?" he said.

She did not answer. Her voice was gone. She was as powerless as an
infant. He raised her and bore her steadily away.

When he paused finally, it was to speak to Beelzebub, who was holding
the horses. And then, without a word to her, he lifted her up on to a
saddle, and mounted himself behind her. She lay against his breast as
one dazed, incapable of speech or action. And so, with his arm about
her, moving slowly through a world of shadows, they began the long, long
journey back.

They travelled so for the greater part of the night, and during the
whole of that time Mercer never uttered a word. The horse he rode was
jaded, and he did not press it. Beelzebub, with the other two, rode far
ahead.

It was still dark when at last they turned in to the Home Farm, and,
still in that awful silence, Mercer dismounted and lifted his wife to
the ground.

He set her on her feet, but her limbs trembled so much that she could
scarcely stand. He kept his arm around her, and led her into the house.

He took her to her room and left her there; but in a few minutes he
returned with food on a tray which he set before her without raising his
eyes, and again departed. She did not see him again for many hours.



XVI


From sheer exhaustion she slept at last, but her sleep was broken and
unrefreshing. She turned and tossed, dozing and waking in utter
weariness of mind and body till the day was far advanced. Finally, too
restless to lie any longer, she arose and dressed.

The sound of voices took her to her window before she left her room, and
she saw her husband on horseback with Curtis standing by his side. A
sense of relief shot through her at sight of the latter. She had come to
rely upon him more than she knew. While she watched, Mercer raised his
bridle and rode slowly away without a backward glance. And again she was
conscious of relief.

Curtis stood looking after him for a few seconds, then turned and
entered the house.

She met him in the passage outside her room. He greeted her gravely.

"I was just coming to see if I could do anything for you," he said.

"Thank you," she answered nervously. "I am better now. Where has my
husband gone?"

He did not answer her immediately. He turned aside to the room in which
she generally sat, standing back for her to pass him. "I have something
to say to you," he said.

She glanced at him anxiously as she took the chair he offered her.

"In the first place," he said, "you will be wise if you keep absolutely
quiet for the next few days. There will be nothing to disturb you.
Mercer is not returning at present. He has left you in my charge."

"Oh, why?" she said.

Her hands were locked together. She had begun to tremble from head to
foot.

Curtis was watching her quietly.

"I think," he said, "that he is better away from you for a time, and he
agrees with me."

"Why?" she said again, lifting her piteous eyes. "Is he so angry with
me?"

"With you? No. He has come to his senses in that respect. But he is not
in a particularly safe mood, and he knows it. He has gone to fight it
out by himself."

Curtis paused, but Sybil did not speak. Her attitude had relaxed. He
read unmistakble relief in every line.

"Well, now," he said deliberately, "I am going to tell you the exact
truth of this business, as Mercer himself has told it to me."

"He wishes me to know it?" she asked quickly.

"He is willing that I should tell you," Curtis answered. "In fact, until
he saw me to-day he believed that you knew it already. That was the
primary cause of his savagery last night. You have probably formed a
very shrewd suspicion of what happened, but it is better for you to know
things as they actually stand. If it makes you hate him--well, it's no
more than he deserves."

"Ah, but I have to live with him," she broke in, with sudden passion.
"It is easy for you to talk of hating him, but I--I am his wife. I must
go on living by his side, whatever I may feel."

"Yes, I know," Curtis said. "But it won't make it any easier for either
of you to feel that there is this thing between you. Even he sees that.
You can't forgive him if you don't know what he has done."

"Then why doesn't he tell me himself?" she said.

"Because," Curtis answered, looking at her steadily, "it will be easier
for you to hear it from me. He saw that, too."

She could not deny it, but for some reason it hurt her to hear him say
so. She had a feeling that it was to Curtis's insistence, rather than to
her husband's consideration, that she owed this present respite.

"I will listen to you, then," she said.

Curtis began to walk up and down the room.

"First, with regard to Wentworth," he said. "There was a time once when
he occupied very much the position that I now hold. He was Mercer's
right-hand man. But he took to drink, and that did for him. I am afraid
he was never very sound. Anyhow, Mercer gave him up, and he disappeared.

"After he had gone, after I took his place, we found out one or two
things he had done which might have landed him in prison if Mercer had
followed them up. However, the man was gone, and it didn't seem worth
while to track him. It was not till afterwards that we heard he was at
Bowker Creek, and Mercer was then on the point of starting for England,
and decided to leave him alone.

"It's a poor place--Bowker Creek. He had got a job there as boundary
rider. I suppose he counted on the shearing season to set him up. But he
wasn't the sort of chap who ever gets on. And when Mercer met you on his
way out from the old country it was something of a shock to him to hear
that you were on your way to marry Robin Wentworth.

"Of course, he ought to have told you the truth, but instead of that he
made up his mind to take the business into his own hands and marry you
himself. He cabled from Colombo to Wentworth to wait for him at Bowker
Creek, hinted that if he went to the coast he would have him arrested,
and said something vague about coming to an understanding which induced
Wentworth to obey orders.

"Then he came straight here and pressed on to Rollandstown, taking
Beelzebub with him to show him the short cuts. It's a hard day's ride in
any case. He reached Bowker Creek the day after, and had it out with
Wentworth. The man had been drinking, was unreasonable, furious, finally
tried to shoot him.

"Well, you know Mercer. He won't stand that sort of thing. He thrashed
him within an inch of his life, and then made him write and give you up.
It was a despicable affair from start to finish. Mercer's only excuse
was that Wentworth was not the sort of man to make any woman happy.
Finally, when he had got what he wanted, Mercer left him, after swearing
eternal vengeance on him if he ever came within reach of you. The rest
you know."

Yes, Sybil knew the rest. She understood the whole story from beginning
to end, realized with what unscrupulous ingenuity she had been trapped
and wondered bitterly if she would ever endure her husband's presence
again without the shuddering sense of nausea which now overcame her at
the bare thought of him.

She sat in stony silence, till at last Curtis paused beside her.

"I want you to rest," he said. "I think, if you don't, the consequences
may be serious."

She looked up at him uncomprehendingly.

"Come, Mrs. Mercer!" he said.

She shrank at the name.

"Don't call me that!" she said, and stumbled uncertainly to her feet.
"I--I am going away."

He put a steadying hand on her shoulder.

"You can't," he said quietly. "You are not fit for it. Besides, there is
nowhere for you to go to. But I will get Mrs. Stevens, the innkeeper's
wife at Wallarroo, to come to you for a time. She is a good sort, you
can count on her. As for Mercer, he will not return unless you--or
I--send for him."

She shivered violently, uncontrollably.

"You will never send for him?"

"Never," he answered, "unless you need him."

She glanced around her wildly. Her eyes were hunted.

"Why do you say that?" she gasped.

"I think you know why I say it," said Curtis very steadily.

Her hands were clenched.

"No!" she cried back sharply. "No!"

Curtis was silent. There was deep compassion in his eyes.

She glanced around her wildly. Her eyes were on his eyes.

She shuddered again, shuddered from head to foot.

"If I thought that," she whispered, "if I thought that, I would----"

"Hush!" he interposed gently. "Don't say it! Go and lie down! You will
see things differently by and bye."

She knew that he was right, and worn out, broken as she was, she moved
to obey him. But before she reached the door her little strength was
gone. She felt herself sinking swiftly into a silence that she hoped and
even prayed was death. She did not know when Curtis lifted her.



XVII


During many days Sybil lay in her darkened room, facing, in weariness of
body and bitterness of soul, the problem of life. She was not actually
ill, but there were times when she longed intensely, passionately, for
death. She was weak, physically and mentally, after the long strain.
Courage and endurance had alike given way at last. She had no strength
with which to face what lay before her.

So far as outward circumstances went, she was in good hands. Curtis
watched over her with a care that never flagged, and the innkeeper's
wife from Wallarroo, large and slow and patient, was her constant
attendant. But neither of them could touch or in any way soothe the
perpetual pain that throbbed night and day in the girl's heart, giving
her no rest.

She left her bed at length after many days, but it was only to wander
aimlessly about the house, lacking the energy to employ herself. Her
nerves were quieter, but she still started at any sudden sound, and
would sit as one listening yet dreading to hear. Her husband's name
never passed her lips, and Curtis never made the vaguest reference to
him. He knew that sooner or later a change would come, that the long
suffering that lined her face must draw at last to a climax; but he
would do nothing to hasten it. He believed that Nature would eventually
find her own remedy.

But Nature is ever slow, and sometimes the wheel of life moves too
quickly for her methods to take effect.

Sybil was sitting one day by an open window when Beelzebub dashed
suddenly into view. He was on horseback, riding barebacked, and was
evidently in a ferment of excitement. He bawled some incoherent words as
he passed the window, words which Sybil could not distinguish, but which
nevertheless sent a sharp sense of foreboding through her heart. Had
he--or had he not--yelled something to her about "Boss"? She could not
possibly have said, but the suspicion was sufficiently strong to rouse
her to lean out of the window and try to catch something of what the boy
was saying.

He had reached the yard, and had flung himself off the sweating animal.
As she peered forth she caught sight of Curtis coming out of the stable.
Beelzebub saw him too, and broke out afresh with his wild cry. This
time, straining her ears to listen, she caught the words, all jumbled
together though they were.

"Boss got smallpox!"

She saw Curtis stop dead, and she wondered if his heart, like hers, had
ceased to beat. The next instant he moved forward, and for the first
time she saw him deliberately punch the gesticulating negro's woolly
head. Beelzebub cried out like a whipped dog and slunk back. Then, very
calmly, Curtis took him by the scruff of his neck, and began to question
him.

Sybil stood, gripping the curtain, and watched it all as one watches a
scene on the stage. Somehow, though she knew herself to be vitally
concerned, she felt no agitation. It was as if the blood had ceased to
run in her veins.

At length she saw Curtis release the palpitating Beelzebub, and turn
towards the house. Quite calmly she also turned.

They met in the passage.

"You needn't trouble to keep it from me," she said. "I know."

He gave her a keen look.

"I am going to him at once," was all he said.

She stood quite still, facing him; and suddenly she was conscious of a
great glow pulsing through her, as though some arrested force had been
set free. She knew that her heart was beating again, strongly, steadily,
fearlessly.

"I shall come with you," she said.

She saw his face change.

"I am sorry," he said, "but that is out of the question. You must know
it."

She answered him instantly, unhesitatingly, with some of the old, quick
spirit that had won Brett Mercer's heart.

"There you are wrong. I know it to be the only thing possible for me to
do."

Curtis looked at her for a second as if he scarcely knew her, and then
abruptly abandoned the argument.

"I will not be responsible," he said, turning aside.

And she answered him unfalteringly:

"I will take the responsibility."

XVIII


Slowly Brett Mercer raised himself and tried to peer through his swollen
eyelids at the door.

"Don't bring any woman here!" he mumbled.

The effort to see was fruitless. He sank back, blind and tortured, upon
the pillow. He had been taken ill at one of his own outlying farms, and
here he had lain for days--a giant bereft of his strength, waiting for
death.

His only attendant was a farm-hand who had had the disease, but knew
nothing of its treatment, who was, moreover, afraid to go near him.

Curtis took in the whole situation at a glance as he bent over him.

"Why didn't you send for me?" he said.

"That you?" gasped Mercer. "Man, I'm in hell! Can't you give me
something to put me out of my misery?"

Curtis was already at work over him.

"No," he said briefly. "I'm going to pull you through. You're wanted."

"You lie!" gasped back Mercer, and said no more.

Some hours after, starting suddenly from fevered sleep, he asked an
abrupt question:

"Does my wife know?"

"Yes, she knows," Curtis answered.

He flung his arms wide with a bitter gesture. "She'll soon be free," he
said.

"Not if I know it," said Curtis, in his quiet, unemotional style.

"You can't make me live against my will," muttered Mercer.

"Don't talk like a fool!" responded Curtis.

Late that night a hand that was not Curtis's smoothed the sick man's
pillow, and presently gave him nourishment. He noticed the difference
instantly, though he could not open his eyes; but he said nothing at the
time, and she fancied he did not know her.

But presently, when she thought him sleeping, he spoke.

"When did you come?"

Even then she was not sure that he was in his right mind. His face was
so swollen and disfigured that it told her nothing. She answered him
very softly:

"I came with Mr. Curtis."

"Why?" That one word told her that he was in full possession of his
senses. He moved his head to and fro on the pillow as one vainly seeking
rest. "Did you want to see me in hell?" he questioned harshly.

She leaned towards him. She was sitting by his bed.

"No," she said, speaking under her breath. "I came because--because it
was the only way out--for us both."

"What?" he said, and the old impatient frown drew his forehead. "You
came to see me die, then?"

"I came," she answered, "to try and make you live."

He drew a breath that was a groan.

"You won't succeed," he said.

"Why not?" she asked.

Again feverishly he moved his head, and she smoothed his pillow afresh
with hands that trembled.

"Don't touch me!" he said sharply. "What was Curtis dreaming of to bring
you here?"

"Mr. Curtis couldn't help it," she answered, with more assurance. "I
came." And then after a moment, "Are you--sorry--I came?"

"Yes," he muttered.

"Oh, why?" she said.

"I would sooner die--without you looking on," he said, forcing out his
words through set teeth.

"Oh, why?" she said again. "Don't you believe--can't you believe--that I
want you to live?"

"No," he groaned.

"Not if I swear it?" she asked, her voice sunk very low.

"No!" He flung the word with something of his ancient ferocity. She was
torturing him past endurance. He even madly hoped that he could scare
her away.

But Sybil made no move to go. She sat quite still for a few seconds.
Then slowly she went down upon her knees beside his pillow.

"Brett," she said, and he felt her breath quick and tremulous upon his
face as she spoke, "you may refuse to believe what I say. But--I can
convince you without words."

And before he knew her meaning, she had pressed her quivering lips to
his.

He recoiled, with an anguished sound that was half of protest and half
of unutterable pain.

"Do you want to die too?" he said. "Or don't you know the risk?"

"Yes, I know it," she answered. "I know it," and in her voice was such a
thrill of passion as he had never heard or thought to hear from her.
"But I know this, too, and I mean that you shall know it. My life is
nothing to me--do you understand?--nothing, unless you share it.
Now--will you believe me?"

Yes, he believed her then. He had no choice. The knowledge was as a
sword cutting its way straight to his heart. He tried to answer her,
tried desperately hard, because he knew that she was waiting for him to
speak, that his silence would hurt her who from that day forward he
would never hurt again.

But no words would come. He could not force his utterance. The power of
speech was gone from him. He turned his face away from her in choking
tears.

And Sybil knew that the victory was hers. Those tears were more to her
than words. She knew that he would live--if he could--for her sake.

XIX


It was more than six weeks later that Brett Mercer and his wife turned
in at the Home Farm, as they had turned in on that memorable night that
he had brought his bride from Wallarroo.

Now, as then, Curtis was ready for them in the open doorway, and
Beelzebub advanced grinning to take the horses. But there the
resemblance ceased. The woman who entered with her husband leaning on
her shoulder was no nervous, shrinking stranger, but a wife entering her
home with gladness, bearing her burden with rejoicing. The woman from
Wallarroo looked at her with a doubtful sort of sympathy. She also
looked at the gaunt, bowed man who accompanied her, and questioned with
herself if this were indeed Brett Mercer.

Brett Mercer it undoubtedly was, nor could she have said, save for his
slow, stooping gait, wherein lay the change that so amazed her.

Perhaps it was more apparent in Sybil than in the man himself as she
raised her face on entering, and murmured:

"So good to get home again, isn't it, dear?"

He did not speak in answer. He scarcely spoke at all that night. But his
silence satisfied her.

It was not till the following morning that he stretched out a great,
bony hand to her as she waited on him, and drew her down to his side.

"There has been enough of this," he said, with a touch of his old
imperiousness. "You have worked too hard already, harder than I ever
meant you to work. You are to take a rest, and get strong."

She uttered her gay little laugh.

"My dearest Brett, I am strong."

He lay staring at her in his most direct, disconcerting fashion. She
endured his look for a moment, and then averted her eyes. She would have
risen, but he prevented her.

"Sybil!" he said abruptly.

"Yes?" she answered, with her head bent.

"Are you afraid of me?" he said.

She shook her head instantly.

"Don't be absurd!"

"Then look at me!" he said.

She raised her eyes slowly, not very willingly. But, having raised them,
she kept them so, for there was that in his look which no longer made
her shy.

He made a slight gesture towards her that was rather of invitation than
insistence.

"Don't you think I'm nearly well enough to be let into the secret?" he
said.

His action, his tone, above all his look, broke down the last of the
barrier between them. She went into his arms with a shaky little laugh,
and hid her face against him.

"I would have told you long ago," she whispered, "only somehow--I
couldn't. Besides, I was so sure that you knew."

"Oh, yes, I knew," said Mercer. "Curtis saw to that; literally flayed me
with it till I took his advice and cleared out. You know, I've often
wondered since if it was that that made you want me, after all."

She shook her head, still with her face against his breast.

"No, dear, it wasn't. It--it made things worse at first. It was only
when I heard you were ill that--that I found--quite suddenly--that I
couldn't possibly go on without you. It was as if--as if something bound
round my heart had suddenly given way, and I could breathe again. When I
saw you I knew how terribly I wanted you."

"And that was how you came to kiss me with that loathsome disease upon
me?" he whispered. "That was what made you follow me down to hell to
bring me back?"

She turned her face upwards. Her eyes were shining.

"My dear," she said, and in her voice was a thrill like the first sweet
notes of a bird in the dawning, "you don't need to ask me why did these
things. For you know--you know. It was simply and only because I loved
you."

"Heaven knows why," he said, as he bent to kiss her.

"Heavens knows," she answered, and softly laughed as she surrendered her
lips to his.



The Secret Service Man


I

A TIGHT PLACE


"Shoulder to shoulder, boys! Give it 'em straight! There's no going back
this journey." And the speaker slapped his thigh and laughed.

He was penned in a hot corner with a handful of grinning little
Goorkhas, as ready and exultant as himself. He had no earthly business
in that particular spot. But he had won his way there in a hand-to-hand
combat, which had rendered that bit of ground the most desirable
abiding-place on the face of the earth. And being there he meant to
stay.

He was established with the inimitable effrontery of British insolence.
He had pushed on through the dark, fired by the enthusiasm which is born
of hard resistence. It had been no slight matter, but neither he nor his
men were to be easily dismayed. Moreover, their patience had been
severely tried for many tedious hours, and the removal of the curb had
gone to their heads like wine.

Young Derrick Rose, war correspondent, was hot of head and ready of
hand. He had a knack also of getting into tight places and extricating
himself therefrom with amazing agility; which knack served to procure
for him the admiration of his friends and the respect of his enemies. It
was his first Frontier campaign, but it was not apparently destined to
be his last, for he bore a charmed life. And he went his way with a
cheery recklessness that seemed its own security.

On the present occasion he had planted himself, with a serene assumption
of authority, at the head of a handful of Goorkhas who had been pressed
forward too far by an over-zealous officer in the darkness, and had lost
their leader in consequence.

Derrick had stumbled on the group and had forthwith taken upon himself
to direct them to a position which, with a good deal of astuteness, he
had marked out in his own mind earlier in the day as a desirable
acquisition.

There had been a hand-to-hand scuffle in the darkness, and then the
tribesmen had fallen back, believing themselves overwhelmed by superior
numbers.

Derrick and his Goorkhas had promptly taken possession of the rocky
eminence which was the object of their desire, and now prepared, with
commendable determination, to maintain themselves at the post thus
captured; an impossible feat in consideration of the paucity of their
numbers, which fact a wily enemy had already begun to suspect.

That the main force could by any means fail them was a possibility over
which for long neither Derrick nor his followers wasted a thought.
Nevertheless half-an-hour of mad turmoil passed, and no help came.

Derrick charitably set down its non-appearance to ignorance of his state
and whereabouts, and he began at length to wonder within himself how the
place was to be defended throughout the night. Retreat he would not
think of, for he was game to the finger-tips. But even he could not fail
to see that, when the moon rose, he and his followers would be in a very
tight fix.

"Confound their caution! What are they thinking of?" he muttered
savagely. "If they only came straight ahead they would be bound to find
us."

And then a yelling crowd of dim figures breasted the rocks and dashed
forward with the force of a hurricane upon the little body of Goorkhas.
In a second Derrick was fighting in the dark with mad enthusiasm for
bare foothold, and shouting at the top of his voice exhortations to his
men to keep together.

It was a desperate struggle, but once more the little party of invaders
held their ground. And Derrick, yelling encouragement to his friends and
defiance to his foes, became vaguely conscious of a new element in the
strife.

Someone, not a Goorkha, was standing beside him, fighting as he fought,
but in grim silence.

Derrick wondered considerably, but was too busy to ask questions. Only
when he missed his footing, and a strong hand shot out and dragged him
up, his wonder turned to admiration. Here was evidently a mighty
fighting-man!

The tribesmen drew off at length baffled, to wait for the moon to rise.
They were pretty sure of their prey despite the determined resistance
they had encountered. They did not know of the new force that had come
to strengthen that forsaken little knot of men. Had they known, their
estimate of the task before them would have undergone a very material
amendment.

"Hullo!" said Derrick, rubbing his sleeve across his forehead. "Where on
earth did you spring from?"

A steady voice answered him out of the gloom. "I came up from the
valley. The troops are halted at the entrance of the ravine. There will
be no further advance to-night."

Derrick swore a sudden, fierce oath.

"No further advance! Do you mean that? Then Carlyon doesn't know we are
here."

"Oh, yes, he knows," answered the man indifferently. "But he says very
reasonably that he didn't order you to come up here, and he can't
sacrifice twice the number of men here to get you down again.
Unfortunate for you, of course; but we all have to swallow bad luck at
one time or another. Make the best of it!"

Derrick swore again with less violence and greater resolution.

"And who, in wonder, may you be?" he broke off to enquire. "I'm a war
correspondent myself."

There was a vein of humour in the quiet reply.

"Oh, I'm a non-combatant, too. It's always the non-combatants that do
the work. Have you got a revolver? Good! Any cartridges? That's right.
Now, look here, it's out of the question to remain in this place till
moonrise."

"I won't go back," said Derrick doggedly. "I'll see Carlyon hang first."

"Quite right. I wasn't going to propose that. It's impossible, in the
first place. Perhaps it is only fair to Colonel Carlyon to mention that
he had no notion that there is anything so important as a newspaper man
at the head of this expedition. It's a detail, of course. Still, if you
get through, it is just as well that you should know the rights of the
case."

Derrick broke into an involuntary laugh.

"Did Carlyon get you to come and tell me so?" He turned and peered
through the darkness at the man beside him. "You never got up here
alone?" he said incredulously.

"Oh, yes. It wasn't difficult. I was guided by the noise you made. How
many men have you?"

"Ten or twelve; not more--all Goorkhas."

"Good! We must quit this place at once. It will be a death-trap when the
moon rises. There are some boulders higher up, away to the right. We
can occupy them till morning and fight back to back if they try to rush
us. There ought to be plenty of shelter among those rocks."

The man's cool speech caught Derrick's fancy. He spoke as quietly as if
he were sitting at an English dinner-table.

"You had better take command," said Derrick.

"No, thanks; you are going to pull this through. Are you ready to move?
Pass the word to the men! And then all together! It is now or never!"

A few seconds later they were stumbling in an indistinguishable mass
towards the haven indicated by the latest comer. It was a difficult
scramble, not the least difficult part of it being the task of keeping
in touch with each other. But Derrick's spirits returned at a bound with
this further adventure, and he began to rejoice somewhat prematurely in
his triumph over Carlyon's caution.

The man who had come to his assistance kept at his elbow throughout the
climb. Not a word was spoken. The men moved like cats through the
dimness. Below them was a confused din of rifle-firing. Their advance
had evidently not been detected.

"Silly owls! Wasting their ammunition!" murmured Derrick to the man
beside him. He received no response. A warning hand closed with a grip
on his elbow. And Derrick subsided.

When the moon rose, magnificent and glowing from behind the mountains,
Derrick and his men looked down from a high perch on the hillside, and
watched a furious party of tribesmen charge and occupy their abandoned
position.

"Now, this is good!" said Derrick, and he was in the act of firing his
revolver into the thick of the crowd below him when again the sinewy
hand of his unknown friend checked him.

"Hold your fire, man!" the man said, in his quiet, unmoved voice. "You
will want it presently."

But the stranger's hold tightened. He was standing in the shadow
slightly behind Derrick.

"Wait!" he said. "They will find you soon enough. You are not in a
position to take the offensive."

Derrick swung round with a restless word. And then he pulled up short.
He was facing a tribesman, gaunt and tall, with odd, light eyes that
glittered strangely in the moonlight. Derrick stared at the apparition,
dumbfounded. After a pause the man took his hand from the
correspondent's arm.

"Don't give the show away for want of a little caution!" he said. "There
are your men to think of, remember. This is no picnic."

Derrick was still staring hard at the strange figure before him.

"I say," he said at length, "what in the name of wonder are you?"

He heard a faint, contemptuous laugh. The unknown drew the end of his
_chuddah_ farther across his face.

"You are marvellously guileless for a war correspondent," he said. And
he turned on his heel and stalked away into the shadows.

Derrick stood gazing after him in stupefaction.

"A Secret Service agent, is he?" he murmured at length to himself. "By
Jove! What a marvellous fake! On Carlyon's business, I suppose. Confound
Carlyon! I'll tell him what I think of him if I come through this all
right."

Carlyon, in times of peace, was one of Derrick Rose's most intimate
friends. That Carlyon, upon whom he relied as upon a tower of strength
should fail him at such a pinch as this, and for motives of caution
alone, was a circumstance so preposterous and unheard-of that Derrick's
credulity was hardly equal to the strain.

He began to wonder if this stranger who had guided him into safety, from
what he now realized to be a positive death-trap, had given him a wholly
unexaggerated account of Carlyon's attitude.

He waited awhile, thinking the matter over with rising indignation; and
at length, as the noise below him subsided, he moved from his shelter to
find his informant. It was a rash thing to do, but prudence was not his
strong point. Moreover, the Secret Service man had aroused his
curiosity. He wanted to see more of this fellow. So, with an
indifference to danger, foolhardy, though too genuine to be
contemptible, he strolled across an unprotected space of moonlight to
join him.

Two seconds later he was lying on his face, struggling with the futile,
convulsive effort of a stricken man to recover his footing. And even
while he struggled, he lost consciousness.

He awoke at length as one awakes from a troublous dream, and looked
about him with a dazed consciousness of great tumult.

The space in which he lay was no longer wide and empty. The white world
was peopled with demons that leapt and surged around his prostrate body.
And someone, a man in white, with naked, uplifted arms, stood above him
and quelled the tumult.

Derrick saw it all, heard the mad yells lessen and die down, watched
with a dumb amazement the melting away of the fierce crowd.

And then the man who stood over him turned suddenly and, kneeling,
lifted him from his prostrate position. It was a man in native dress
whose eyes held for Derrick an odd, half-familiar fascination.

Where had he met those eyes before? Ah, he remembered. It was the Secret
Service man. And that was strange, too. For Carlyon always scoffed at
Secret Service men. Still, this was a small matter which, no doubt,
would right itself. Everything looked a little peculiar and distorted on
this night of wonders. Carlyon himself had sadly degenerated in his
opinion since the morning. Bother Carlyon!

Suddenly a great sigh burst from Derrick, and the moonlight broke up
into tiny, dazzling fragments. The darkness was full of them, alive
with them.

"Fire-flies!" gasped Derrick, and began to cough, at first slowly, with
pauses for breath, then quickly, spasmodically, convulsively. For breath
had finally failed him.

The arm behind him raised him with the steady strength of iron muscles,
and a hand pressed his chest. But the coughing did not cease. It was the
anguished strife of wounded Nature to assert her damaged authority; the
wild, last effort to clutch and hold fast the elusive torch that,
flickering in the midst of darkness, is called life--the one priceless
possession of our little mortal treasury.

And while he coughed and fought with the demon of suffocation Derrick
was strongly aware of the eyes that watched him, burning like two
brilliant blue points out of the darkness. Wonderful eyes! Steady,
strong, unflinching. The eyes of a friend--a true friend--not such an
one as Carlyon--Carlyon who had failed him.

A thick, unexplored darkness fell upon Derrick as he thought of
Carlyon's desertion; and he forgot at length to wonder at the
strangeness of the night.



II

A BROKEN FRIENDSHIP


By and bye, when the light dawned in his eyes, Derrick began to dream of
many strange things.

But he came back at last out of the shadows, weak and faint and weary.
And then he found that he was in hospital and had been there for weeks.

The discovery was rather staggering. Somehow he had never quite rid
himself of the impression that he was still lying on the great, rocky
boulder where the Secret Service man had so magically scattered his
enemies. But as life and full consciousness returned to him he became
aware that this had for weeks been no more than a fevered illusion.

When he was at length fairly out of danger he was dispatched southwards
on the first stage of the homeward journey.

He sailed for Home with his resentment against Carlyon yet strong upon
him. He had no parents. In his reckless young days, during the last
three years of his minority, Carlyon had been this boy's guardian. But
Derrick had been his own master for nearly four years, and the conscious
joy of independence was yet dear to his heart. He had no settled home of
his own, but he had plenty of money. And that, after all, was the
essential thing.

He had been brought up with the daughter of a clergyman in whose home he
had lived all his early life. The two had grown up together in close
companionship. They had been comrades all their lives.

Only of recent years, at the end of an uneventful college career, had
Derrick awakened to the astounding fact that Averil Eversley, his little
playmate, was a maiden sweet and comely whom he wanted badly for his
very own. She was three years younger than himself, but she had always
taken the lead in all their exploits.

Derrick discovered for the first time that this was not a proper state
of affairs. He had tried, not over tactfully, to show her that man was,
after all, the superior animal. Averil had first stared at his efforts,
and then laughed with uncontrollable mirth.

Then Derrick had set to work with splendid energy, and achieved in two
years a certain amount of literary success. Averil had praised him for
this; which reward of merit had so turned his head that he had at once
clumsily proposed to her. Averil had not laughed at that. She had
rejected him instantly, with so severe a scolding that Derrick had lost
his temper, and gone away to sulk. Later, he had turned his attention
again to journalistic work, hoping thereby to recover favour.

Then, and this had brought him to the previous winter, he had returned
to find Averil going in for a little innocent hero-worship on her own
account. And Carlyon, his own particular friend and adviser, had
happened to be the hero.

Whether Carlyon were aware of the state of affairs or not, Derrick in
his wrath had not stopped to enquire. He had simply and blindly gone
direct to the attack, with the result that Averil had been deeply and
irreconcilably offended, and Carlyon had so nearly kicked him for making
such a fool of himself that Derrick had retired in disgust from the
fray, had clamoured for and, with infinite difficulty, obtained a post
as war-correspondent in the ensuing Frontier campaign, and had departed
on his adventurous way, sulking hard.

Later, Carlyon had sought him out, had shaken hands with him, called him
an impetuous young ass, and had enjoined him to stick to himself during
the expedition in which Derrick was thus recklessly determined to take
part. They had, in fact, been entirely reconciled, avoiding by mutual
consent the delicate ground of their dispute. Carlyon was a man of
considerable reputation on the Frontier, and Derrick Rose was secretly
proud of the friendship that existed between them.

Now, however, the friendship had split to its very foundation. Carlyon
had failed him when life itself had been in the balance.

Impetuous as he was, Derrick was not one to forgive quickly so gross an
injury as this. He did not think, moreover, that Averil herself would
continue to offer homage before so obvious a piece of clay as her idol
had proved himself to be. Derrick was beginning to apply to Carlyon the
most odious of all epithets--that of coward.

He had set his heart upon a reconciliation with Averil, and earnestly he
hoped she would see the matter with his eyes.



III

DERRICK'S PARADISE


"So it was the Secret Service man who saved your life," said Averil,
with flushed cheeks. "Really, Dick, how splendid of him!"

"Finest chap I ever saw!" declared Derrick. "He looked about eight feet
high in native dress. I shall have to find that man some day, and tell
him what I think of him."

"Yes, indeed!" agreed Averil. "I expect, you know, it was really Colonel
Carlyon who sent him."

"Being too great a--strategist to advance himself," said Derrick.

"But he didn't know you were at the head of the Goorkhas," Averil
reminded him.

"Perhaps not," said Derrick. "But he knew I was there. And, putting me
out of the question altogether, what can you think of an officer who
will coolly leave a party of his men to be slaughtered like sheep in a
butcher's yard because the poor beggars happen to have got into a tight
place?"

Derrick spoke with strong indignation, and Averil was silent awhile.
Presently, however, she spoke again, slowly.

"I can't help thinking, Dick," she said, "that there is an explanation
somewhere. We ought not--it would not be fair--to say Colonel Carlyon
acted unworthily before he has had a chance of justifying himself."

There was justice in this remark. Derrick, who was lying at the girl's
feet on the hearthrug in the Rectory drawing-room, reached up a bony
hand and took possession of one of hers. For Averil had received him
with a warmer welcome than he had deemed possible in his most sanguine
moments, and he was very happy in consequence.

"All right," he said equably. "We'll shunt Carlyon for a bit, and talk
about ourselves. Shall we?"

Averil drew the bony hand on to her lap and looked at it critically.

"Poor old boy!" she said. "It is thin."

Derrick drew himself up to a sitting position. There was an air of
mastery about him as he raised a determined face to hers.

"Averil," he said suddenly, "you aren't going to send me to the
right-about again, are you?"

"Oh, don't let us squabble on your first night!'" said Averil hastily.

"Squabble!" the boy exclaimed, springing to his feet vigorously. "Do you
call--that--squabbling?"

Averil stood up, too, tall and straight, and slightly defiant.

"I don't want you to go away, Dick," she said, "if you can stay and
behave nicely. I thought it was horribly selfish of you to go off as you
did last winter. I think so still. If you had got killed, I should have
been very--very--"

"What?" demanded Derrick impatiently. "Sorry? Angry--what?"

"Angry," said Averil, with great decision. "I should never have forgiven
you. I am not sure that I shall, as it is."

Derrick uttered a sudden passionate laugh. Then abruptly his mood
changed. He held out his hands to her.

"Averil!" he said. "Averil! Can't you see how I want you--how I love
you? Why do you treat me like this? I've thought about you, dreamt about
you, day after day, night after night, ever since I went away. You
thought it beastly selfish of me to go. But it hasn't been such fun,
after all. All the weeks I was in hospital I felt sick for the sight of
you. It was worse than starvation. Can't you see what it is to me? Can't
you see that I--I worship you?"

"My dear Dick!" Averil put her hands into his, but her gesture was one
of restraint. "You mustn't talk so wildly," she said. "And, dear boy, do
try not to be quite so impulsive--so headstrong. You know, you--you--"

She broke off. Derrick, with a set jaw and burning eyes, was drawing her
to him, strongly, irresistibly.

"Derrick!" she said, with a flash of anger.

"I can't help it!" Derrick said passionately. "I've been counting on
this, living for this. Averil I--I--you can call me mad if you like,
but if you send me away again--I believe I shall shoot myself."

"What nonsense!" exclaimed Averil, half-angry, half-scornful.

He dropped her hands and stood quite still for the space of a few
seconds, his face white and twitching. And then, to her utter amazement,
he sank heavily into a chair and covered his face with his hands.

"Dick!" she ejaculated.

Silence followed the word, a breathless silence. Derrick sat perfectly
motionless, his fingers gripping his hair. At last Averil moved up to
him, a little frightened by his stillness, and very intensely
compassionate. She bent and touched his shoulder.

"Dick!" she said. "Dick! Don't!"

He stirred under her hand, but did not raise his head. "Get away,
Averil!" he muttered. "You don't understand."

And quite suddenly Averil was transported back to the far, receding
schooldays, when Derrick had got into trouble for smoking his first
cigar. The memory unconsciously influenced her speech.

"But, Dick," she said persuasively, "don't you think you are the least
bit in the world unreasonable? It's true I don't quite understand. We've
been such splendid chums all our lives, I really don't see why we should
begin to be anything different now. Besides, Dick"--there was appeal in
her voice--"I don't truly want to get married. It seems such a silly
thing to go and do when one had such really jolly times without. It does
spoil things so."

Derrick sat up. He was still absurdly boyish, despite his
four-and-twenty years.

"Look here, Averil!" he said doggedly. "If you won't have me, I'm not
going to hang about after you like a tame monkey. It's going to be one
thing or the other. I've made a big enough fool of myself over you. We
can't be chums, as you call it"--a passionate ring crept into his
voice--"when all the while you're holding me off at arm's length as if
I'd got the plague. So"--rising abruptly and facing her--"which is it to
be?"

Averil looked at him. His face was still white, but his lips were
sternly compressed. He was weak no longer. She was conscious of a sudden
thrill of admiration banishing her pity. After all, was he indeed only a
boy? He scarcely seemed so at that moment. He was, moreover, straight
and handsome despite his gaunt appearance.

"Answer me, Averil!" he said with determination.

But Averil had no answer ready. She stood silent.

Derrick laid his hand on her arm. It was a light touch, but somehow it
conveyed to her the fact that he was holding himself in with a tighter
rein than ever before.

"Don't torture me!" he said, speaking quickly, nervously. "Tell me
either to stay or--go!" His voice dropped on the last word, and for a
second Averil saw the torture on his face.

It was too much for her resolution. All her life she had been this boy's
chosen companion and confidante. She felt she could not turn from him
now in his distress, and deliberately break his heart. Yet for one
tumultuous second she battled with her impulse. Then--she yielded.
Somehow that look in Derrick's eyes compelled her.

She put her hands on his shoulders.

"Dick--stay!" she said.

His arms closed round her in a second. "You mean--" he said, under his
breath.

"Yes, Dick," she answered bravely, "I do mean. Dear boy, don't ever look
like that again! You have hurt me horribly."

Derrick turned her face up to his own and kissed her repeatedly and
passionately.

"You shall never regret it, my darling," he said. "You have turned my
world into a paradise. I will do the same for yours."

"It doesn't take much to make me happy," Averil said, leaning her
forehead against his shoulder. "I hope you will be a kind master, Dick,
and let me have my own way sometimes."

"Master?" scoffed Derrick, kissing her hair. "You know you can lead me
by the nose from world's end to world's end."

"I wonder," said Averil, with a little sigh. "Do you know, Dick, I'm not
quite sure of that."

"What!" said Derrick softly. "Not--quite--sure!"

"Not when you look as you did thirty seconds ago," Averil explained.
"Never mind, dear old boy! I'm glad you can look like that, though,
mind, you must never, never do it again if you live to be a hundred."

She looked up at him suddenly and clasped her hands behind his neck.
"You do love me, don't you, Dick?" she said.

"My darling, I worship you!" Derrick answered very solemnly.

And Averil drew his head down with a quivering smile and kissed him on
the lips.



IV

CARLYON DEFENDS HIMSELF


"Ah, Derrick! I thought I could not be mistaken."

Derrick turned swiftly at the touch of a hand on his shoulder, and
nearly tumbled into the roadway. He had been sauntering somewhat
aimlessly down the Strand till pulled up in this rather summary fashion.
He now found himself staring at a tall man who had come up behind him--a
man with a lined face and drooping eyelids, and a settled weariness
about his whole demeanour which, somehow, conveyed the impression that,
in his opinion, at least, there was nothing on earth worth striving for.

Derrick recovered his balance and stood still before him. Speech,
however, quite unexpectedly failed him. The quiet greeting had scattered
his ideas momentarily.

The hand that had touched his shoulder was deliberately transferred to
his elbow.

"Come!" said his acquaintance, smiling a little. "We are blocking the
gangway. I am staying at the Grand. If you are at liberty you might dine
with me. By the way, how are you, old fellow?"

He spoke very quietly and wholly without affectation. There was a touch
of tenderness in his last sentence that quite restored Derrick's
faculties.

He shook his arm free from the other's hand with a vehemence of action
that was unmistakably hostile.

"No, thanks, Colonel Carlyon!" he said, speaking fast and feverishly.
"If I were starving, I wouldn't accept hospitality from you!"

"Don't be a fool!" said Carlyon.

His tone was still quiet, but it was also stern. He pushed a determined
hand through Derrick's arm. "If you won't come my way," he said, "I
shall come yours."

Derrick swore under his breath. But he yielded. "Very well," he said
aloud. "I'll come. But I swear I won't touch anything."

"You needn't swear," said Carlyon; "it's unnecessary."

And Derrick bit his lip nearly through, being exasperated. He did not,
however, resist the compelling hand a second time, realizing the
futility of such a proceeding.

So in dead silence they reached the Grand and entered. Then Carlyon
spoke again.

"Come up to my room first!" he said.

Derrick went with him unprotesting.

In his own room Carlyon turned round and took him by the shoulders.
"Now," he said, "are you ill or merely sulky? Just tell me which, and I
shall know how to treat you!"

"It's no thanks to you I'm not dead!" exclaimed Derrick stormily. "I
didn't want to meet you, but, by Heaven, since I have, and since you
have forced an interview upon me, I'll go ahead and tell you what I
think of you."

Carlyon turned away from him and sat down. "Do, by all means," he said,
"if it will get you into a healthier frame of mind!"

But Derrick's flow of eloquence unexpectedly failed him at this
juncture, and he stood awkwardly silent.

Carlyon turned round at last and looked at him. "Sit down, Dick," he
said patiently, "and stop being an ass! I'm a difficult man to quarrel
with, as you know. So sit down and state your grievance, and have done
with it!"

"You know very well what's wrong!" Derrick burst out fiercely,
beginning to prowl to and fro.

"Do I?" said Carlyon. He got up deliberately and intercepted Derrick.
"Just stop tramping," he said, with sudden sternness, "and listen to me!
You have your wound alone to thank for keeping you out of the worst mess
you ever got into. If you hadn't gone back in a hospital truck, you
would have gone back under escort. Do you understand that?"

"Why?" flashed Derrick.

"Why?" echoed Carlyon, striking him abruptly on the shoulder. "Tell me
your own opinion of a hot-headed, meddling young fool who not only got
into mischief himself at a most critical moment, but led half-a-score of
valuable men into what was practically a death-trap, for the sake of, I
suppose he would call it, an hour's sport. On my soul, Derrick," he
ended, with a species of quiet vigour that carried considerable weight
behind it, "if you weren't such a skeleton I'd give you a sound
thrashing for your sins. As it is, you will be wise to get off that high
horse of yours and take a back seat. I never have put up with this sort
of thing from you. And I never mean to."

Derrick had no answer ready. He stood still, considering these things.

Colonel Carlyon turned his back on him and cut the end of a cigar. "Do
you grasp my meaning?" he enquired at length, as Derrick remained
silent.

Derrick moved to a chair and sat down. Somehow Carlyon had taken the
backbone out of his indignation. He spoke at last, but without anger.
"Even if it were as you say," he said, "I don't consider you treated me
decently."

Carlyon suddenly laughed. "Even if by some odd chance I have actually
spoken the truth," he said, "I shall not, and do not, feel called upon
to justify my action for your benefit."

"I think you owe me that," Derrick said quickly.

"I disagree with you," Carlyon rejoined. "I owe you nothing whatever
except the aforementioned thrashing which must, unfortunately, under the
circumstances, remain a debt for the present."

Derrick leant forward suddenly

"Stop rotting, Carlyon!" he said, with impulsive earnestness. "I can't
help talking seriously. You didn't know, surely, what a tight fix we
were in? You couldn't have intended us to--to--die in the dark like
that?"

"Intended!" said Carlyon sharply. "I never intended you to occupy that
position at all, remember."

"Yes; but--since we were in that position, since--if you choose to put
it so--I exceeded all bounds and intentions and took those splendid
little Goorkhas into a death-trap; I may have been a headstrong, idiotic
fool to do it; but, granted all that, you did not deliberately and
knowingly leave us to be massacred? You couldn't have done actually
that."

Carlyon laid his cigar-case on the table at Derrick's elbow, and lighted
his own cigar with great deliberation.

"You may remember, Dick," he said quietly, after a pause, "that once
upon a time you wrote--and published--a book. It had its merits and it
had its faults. But a fool of a critic took it into his head to give you
a thorough slating. You were furious, weren't you? I remember giving you
a bit of sound advice over that book. Probably you have forgotten it.
But it chances to be one of the guiding principles of my life. It is
this: Never answer your critics! Go straight ahead!"

He paused.

"I remember," said Derrick. "Well?"

"Well," said Carlyon gravely, "that is what I have done all my life,
what I mean to do now. You are in full possession of the facts of the
case. You have defined my position fairly accurately. I did know you
were in an impossible corner. I did know that you and the men with you
were in all probability doomed. And--I did not think good to send a
rescue. You do not understand the game of war. You merely went in for it
for the sake of sport, I for the sake of the stakes. There is a
difference. More than that I do not mean to say."

He sat down opposite Derrick as he ended and began to smoke with an air
of indifference. But his eyes were on the boy's face. They had been
close friends for years.

Derrick still sat forward. He was staring at the ground heavily,
silently Carlyon had given him a shock. Somehow he had not expected from
him this cool acknowledgment of an action from which he himself shrank
with unspeakable abhorrence.

To leave a friend in the lurch was, in Derrick's eyes, an act so
infamous that he would have cut his own throat sooner than be guilty of
it. It did not occur to him that Carlyon might have urged extenuating
circumstances, but had rather scornfully abstained from doing so.

He did not even consider the fact that, as commanding-officer, Carlyon's
responsibility for the lives in his charge was a burden not to be
ignored or lightly borne. He did not consider the risk to these same
valuable lives that a rescue in force would have involved.

He saw only himself fighting for a forlorn hope, his grinning little
Goorkhas gallantly and intrepidly following wherever he would lead, and
he saw the awful darkness down which his feet had stumbled, a terrible
chasm that had yawned to engulf them all.

He sat up at last and looked straight at Carlyon. He spoke slowly, with
an effort.

"If it had been only myself," he said, "I--perhaps, I might have found
it easier. But there were the men, my men. You could not alter your
plans by one hair's-breadth to save their gallant lives. I can't get
over that. I never shall. You left us to die like rats in a hole. But
for a total stranger--a spy, a Secret Service man--we should have been
cut to pieces, every one of us. You did not, I suppose, send that man to
help us out?"

Carlyon blew a cloud of smoke upwards. He frowned a little, but his look
was more one of boredom than annoyance.

"What exactly are you talking about?" he said. "I don't employ spies. As
to Secret Service agents, I think you have heard my opinion of them
before."

"Yes," said Derrick. He rose with an air of finality. His young face was
very stern. "He was probably attached to General Harford's division. He
found us in a fix, and he helped us out of it. He knew the land. We
didn't. He was the most splendid fighting-man I ever saw. He tried to
stick up for you, too--said you didn't know. That, of course, was a
mistake. You did know, and are not ashamed to own it."

"Not in the least," said Carlyon.

"The men couldn't have held out without him," Derrick continued. "After
I was hit, he stood by them. He only took himself off just before
morning came and you ventured to move to our assistance."

"He had no possible right to do it," observed Carlyon thoughtfully
ignoring the bitter ring of sarcasm in the boy's tone.

"Oh, none whatever," said Derrick. He spoke hastily, jerkily, as a man
not sure of himself. "No doubt his life was Government property, and he
had no right to risk it. Still he did it, and I am weak-minded enough to
be grateful. My own life may be worthless; at least, it was then. And I
would not have survived my Goorkhas. But he saved them, too. That, odd
as it may seem to you, made all the difference to me."

"Is your life more valuable now than it was a few months ago?" enquired
Carlyon, in a casual tone.

"Yes," said Derrick shorty.

"Has Averil accepted you?" Carlyon asked him point-blank.

"Yes," said Derrick again.

There was a momentary pause. Then: "Permit me to offer my
felicitations!" said Carlyon, through a haze of tobacco-smoke.

Derrick started as if stung. "I beg you won't do anything of the sort!"
he said with vehemence. "I don't want your good wishes. I would rather
be without them. I may be a hare-brained fool. I won't deny it. But as
for you--you are a blackguard--the worst sort of blackguard! I hope I
shall never speak to you again!"

Carlyon, lying back in his chair, neither stirred nor spoke. He looked
up at Derrick from beneath steady eyelids. But he offered him nothing in
return for his insulting words.

Derrick waited for seconds. Then patience and resolution alike failed
him. He swung round abruptly on his heel and walked out of the room.

As for Colonel Carlyon, he did not rise from his chair till he had
conscientiously finished his cigar. He had stuck to his principles. He
had not answered his critic. Incidentally he had borne more from that
critic than any man had ever before dared to offer him, more than he had
told Derrick himself that he would bear. Yet Derrick had gone away from
the encounter with a whole skin in order that Colonel Carlyon might
stick to his principles. Carlyon's forbearance was a plant of peculiar
growth.



V

A WOMAN'S FORGIVENESS


"Colonel Carlyon," said Averil, turning to face him fully, her eyes very
bright, "will you take the trouble to make me understand about Derrick?
I have been awaiting an opportunity to ask you ever since I heard about
it."

Carlyon paused. They chanced to be staying simultaneously in the house
of a mutual friend. He had arrived only the previous evening, and till
that moment had scarcely spoken to the girl.

Carlyon smothered an involuntary sigh. He could have wished that this
girl, with her straight eyes and honest speech, would have spared him
the explanation which she had made such speed to demand of him.

"Make you understand, Miss Eversley!" he said, halting deliberately
before a bookcase. "What exactly is it that you do not understand?"

"Everything," Averil said, with a comprehensive gesture. "I have always
believed that you thought more of Derrick than anything else in the
world."

"Ah!" said Carlyon quietly. "That is probably the root of the
misunderstanding. Correct that, and the rest will be comparatively
easy."

He took a book from the shelf before him and ran a quick eye through its
pages. After a brief pause he put the volume back and joined the girl on
the hearthrug.

"Is my behaviour still an enigma?" he said, with a slight smile.

She turned to him impulsively. "Of course," she said, colouring vividly,
"I am aware that to a celebrated man like you the opinion of a nobody
like myself cannot matter one straw. But--"

"Pardon me!" Carlyon gravely. "Even celebrated men are human, you know.
They have their feelings like the rest of mankind. I shall be sorry to
forfeit your good opinion. But I have no means of retaining it. Derrick
cannot see my point of view. You, of course, will share his
difficulties."

"That does not follow, does it?" said Averil.

"I should say so," said Carlyon. "You see, Miss Eversley, you have
already told me that you do not understand my action. Non-comprehension
in such a matter is synonymous with disapproval. You are, no doubt, in
full possession of the facts. More than the bare facts I cannot give
you. I will not attempt to justify myself where I admit no guilt."

"No," Averil said. "Pray don't think I am asking you to do anything of
the sort! Only, Colonel Carlyon," she laid a pleading hand on his arm
and lifted a very anxious face, "you remember we used to be friends, if
you will allow the presumption of such a term. Won't you even try to
show me your point of view in this matter? I think I could understand. I
want to understand."

Carlyon leant his elbow on the mantelpiece and looked very gravely into
the girl's troubled eyes.

"You are very generous, Averil," he said.

"Generous," she echoed, with a touch of impatience. "No; I only want to
be just--for my own sake. I hate to take a narrow, cramped view of
things. I hate that Dick should. A few words from you would set us both
right, and we could all be friends again."

"Ah!" said Carlyon. "But suppose--I have nothing to say?"

"You must have something!" she declared vehemently. "You never do
anything without a reason."

"Generous again!" said Carlyon.

"Oh, don't laugh at me!" cried Averil, stung by the quiet unconcern of
his words.

He straightened himself instantly, his face suddenly stern. "At least
you wrong me there!" he said, and before the curt reproof of his tone
she felt humbled and ashamed. "Listen to me a moment! You want my point
of view clearly stated. You shall have it.

"I am employed by a blundering Government to do a certain task which
bigger men shirk. Carlyon of the Frontier, they say, will stick at no
dirty job. I undertake the task. I lay my plans--subtle plans which you,
with your blind British generosity, would neither understand nor
approve. I proceed to carry them out. I am within sight of the end and
success, when an idiotic fool of a boy, who is not so much as a
combatant himself, blunders into the business and throws the whole
scheme out of gear. He assumes the leadership of a dozen stranded
Goorkhas, and instead of bringing them back he drags them forward into
an impossible position, and then expects a rescue.

"I meanwhile have my own work to do. I am responsible to the Government
for the lives of my men. I cannot expend them on other than Government
work.

"On one side of the scale is this same Government and the plans made in
its interest; on the other the life of a boy, strategically speaking,
worth nothing, and the lives of half-a-score of fighting men, already
accounted a loss. It may astonish you to know that the Government turned
the scale. Those who had incurred the penalty of rashness were left to
pay it. That, Miss Eversley, is all I have to say. You will be good
enough to remember that I have said it at your request and not in my own
defence."

He ceased to speak as abruptly as he had begun. He was standing at his
full height, and, tall though she was, Averil felt unaccountably small
and insignificant before him. Curtly, almost rudely, as he had spoken,
she admired him immensely for the stern code of honour he professed.

She did not utter a word for several seconds. He had impressed her very
strongly. She stayed to weigh his words in the balance of her own
judgment.

"It is a man's point of view," she said slowly at last, "not a woman's."

"Even so," said Carlyon, dropping back suddenly to his former attitude.

She looked at him very earnestly, her brows drawn together.

"You have not told me about the Secret Service man," she said at length.
"You sent him, did you not, on the forlorn chance of saving Dick?"

Carlyon shook his head in a grim disclaimer.

"Derrick's information was the first I heard of the individual," he
said. "I was unaware of the existence of a Secret Service agent within a
radius of fifty miles. I believe General Harford encourages the breed. I
do the precise opposite. I have no faith in professional spies in that
part of the world. Russian territory is too near, and Russian gold too
tempting."

Averil's face fell. "Colonel Carlyon," she said, in a very small voice,
"forgive me, but--but--you cannot be so hard as you sound. You are fond
of Dick, surely?"

"Yes," he said deliberately. "I am fond of you both, if I may be
permitted to say so."

Averil coloured a little. "Thank you," she said. "I shall try presently
to make him understand."

"Understand what?" said Carlyon curiously.

"Your feeling in the matter."

"My what?" he said roughly. Then hastily, "I beg your pardon, Miss
Eversley. But are you sure you understand it yourself?"

"I am doing my best," she said, in a low voice.

"But you are sorely disappointed, nevertheless," he said, in a more
kindly tone. "You expected something different. Well, it can't be
helped. I should leave Dick's convictions alone, if I were you. At least
he has no illusions left with regard to Carlyon of the Frontier."

There was an involuntary touch of sadness in the man's quiet speech. He
no longer looked at Averil, and his face in repose wore an expression of
unutterable weariness.

Averil held out her hand with an abrupt, childlike impulse.

"Colonel Carlyon," she said, speaking very rapidly, "you are right. I
don't understand. I think you hold too stern a view of your
responsibilities. I believe no woman could think otherwise. But at the
same time I do still believe you are a good man. I shall always believe
it."

Carlyon glanced at her quickly. Her face was flushed, her eyes very
eager. He looked away again almost instantly, but he took her
outstretched hand.

"Thank you, Averil," he said gravely. "I believe under the circumstances
few women would have said the same. Tell me! Did I hear a rumour that
you are going out to India yourself very shortly?"

She nodded. "I have almost promised to go," she said. "I have a married
sister at Sharapura. I wrote to her of my engagement, and she wrote
back, begging me to go to her if I could. She and her husband have been
disappointed several times about coming home, and it is still uncertain
when they will manage it. She wants to see me before I marry and settle
down, she says."

"And you want to go?"

"Of course I do," said Averil, with enthusiasm. "It has always been a
standing promise that I should go some day."

"And what does Derrick say to it?"

"Oh, Dick! He was very cross at first. But I have propitiated him by
promising to marry him as soon as I get back, which will be probably
this time next year."

Averil's face grew suddenly grave.

"I hope you will both be very happy," said Carlyon, rather formally.

"Thank you," said Averil, looking up at him. "It would make me much
happier if--you and Dick could be friends before then."

"Would it?" said Carlyon thoughtfully. "I wonder why."

"I should like my friends to be Dick's friends," she said, with slight
hesitation.

Carlyon smiled a little. "Forgive me, Miss Eversley, for being
monotonous!" he said.... "But, once more--how generous!"

Averil turned sharply away, inexplicably hurt by what she considered the
note of mockery in his voice, and went out, leaving him alone before the
fire. Emphatically this man was entirely beyond her understanding.

But, nevertheless, when they met again, she had forgiven him.



VI

FIEND OR KING?


"Hullo, doctor! What news?" sang out a curly-haired subaltern on the
steps of the club, a newly-erected, wooden bungalow of which the little
Frontier station was immensely proud. "You're looking infernally
serious. What's the matter?"

Dr. Seddon rolled stoutly off his steaming pony and went to join his
questioner.

"What do you think you're doing, Toby?" he said, with a glance at an
enormous pair of scissors in the boy's hand.

"I'm making lamp-shades," Toby responded, leading the way within.
"What's your drink? Nothing? What a horribly dry beast you are! Yes,
lamp-shades--for the ball, you know. Got to be ready by to-morrow night.
We're doing them with crinkly paper. Miss Eversley promised to come and
help me. But she hasn't turned up."

"What?" exclaimed Seddon. "Not come back yet?"

Toby dropped his scissors with a clatter, and dived for them under the
reading-room table.

"Don't make me jump, I say, doctor!" he said pathetically. "I'm quite
upset enough as it is. That lazy lout, Soames, won't stir a finger. The
other chaps are on duty. And Miss Eversley has proved faithless. Why
can't you turn to and help?"

But Seddon was already striding to the door again in hot haste.

"That idiot of a girl must have crossed the Frontier!" he said, as he
went. "There was a fellow shot on sentry-go last night. It's infernally
dangerous, I tell you!"

Toby raced after him swearing inarticulately. A couple of subalterns
just entering were nearly overwhelmed by their vigorous exit. They
recovered themselves and followed to the tune of Toby's excited
questioning. But none of the party got beyond the veranda steps, for
there the sound of clattering hoofs arrested them, and a jaded horse
bearing a dishevelled rider was pulled up short in front of the club.

"Miss Eversley herself!" cried Toby, making a dash forward.

A native servant slipped unobtrusively to the sweating horse's bridle.
Averil was on the ground in a moment and turned to ascend the steps of
the club-house.

"Is my brother-in-law here?" she said to Toby, accepting the hand he
offered.

"Who? Raymond? No; he's in the North Camp somewhere. Do you want him?
Anything wrong? By Jove, Miss Eversley, you've given us an awful
fright!"

Averil went up the steps with so palpable an effort that Seddon hastily
dragged forward a chair. Her lips, as she answered Toby, were quite
colourless.

"I have had a fright myself," she said. Then she looked round at the
other men with a shaky laugh. "I have been riding for my life," she said
a little breathlessly. "I have never done that before. It--it's very
exciting--almost more so than riding to hounds. I have often wondered
how the fox felt. Now I know."

She ignored the chair Seddon placed for her, turning to the boy called
Toby with great resolution.

"Those lamp-shades, Mr. Carey," she said. "I'm sorry I'm so late. You
must have thought I was never coming. In fact"--the colour was returning
to her face, and her smile became more natural--"I thought so myself a
few minutes ago. Let us set to work at once!"

Toby burst into a rude whoop of admiration and flung a ball of string
into the air.

"Miss Eversley, well done! Well done!" he gasped. "You--you deserve a
V.C.!"

"Indeed I don't," she returned. "I have been running away hard."

"Tell us all about it, Miss Eversley!" urged one of her listeners. "You
have been across the Frontier, now, haven't you? What happened? Someone
tried to snipe you from afar?"

But Miss Eversley refused to be communicative. "I am much too busy," she
said, "to discuss anything so unimportant. Come, Mr. Carey, the
lamp-shades!"

Toby bore her off in triumph to inspect his works of art. There was a
good deal of understanding in Toby's head despite its curls which he
kept so resolutely cropped. He attended to business without a hint of
surprise or inattention. And he was presently rewarded for his good
behaviour.

Averil, raising her eyes for a moment from one of the shades which she
was tacking together while he held it in shape, said presently:

"A very peculiar thing happened to me this morning, Mr. Carey."

"Yes?" he replied, trying to keep the note of expectancy out of his
voice.

Averil nodded gravely. "I crossed the Frontier," she said, "and rode
into the mountains. I thought I heard a child crying. I lost my way and
fell among thieves."

"Yes?" said Toby again. He looked up, frankly interested this time.

"I was shot at," she resumed. "It was my own fault, of course. I
shouldn't have gone. My brother-in-law warned me very seriously against
going an inch beyond the Frontier only last night. Well, one buys one's
experience. I certainly shall never go again, not for a hundred wailing
babies."

"Probably a bird," remarked Toby practically.

"Probably," assented Averil, equally practical. "To continue: I didn't
know what to do. I was horribly frightened. I had lost my bearings. And
then out of the very midst of my enemies there came a friend."

"Ah!" said Toby quickly. "The right sort?"

"There is only one sort," she said, with a touch of dignity.

"And what did he do?" said Toby, with eager interest.

"He simply took my bridle and ran by my side till we were out of
danger," Averil said, a sudden soft glow creeping up over her face.

Toby looked at her very seriously. "In native rig, I suppose?" he said.

"Yes," said Averil.

"Carlyon of the Frontier," said Toby, with abrupt decision.

She nodded. "I did not know he had left England," she said.

"He hasn't--officially speaking," said Toby. He was watching her
steadily. "Do you know, Miss Eversley," he said, "I think I wouldn't
mention your discovery to any one else?"

"I am not going to," she said.

"No? Then why did you tell me?" he asked, with a tinge of rude suspicion
in his voice.

Averil looked him suddenly and steadily in the face. It was a very
innocent face that Toby Carey presented to a serenely credulous world.

"Because," said Averil slowly, "he told me to tell you alone. 'Tell Toby
Carey only,' he said, 'to watch when the beasts go down to drink.' They
were his last words."

"Good!" said Toby unconcernedly. "Then he knew you recognized him?"

"Yes," Averil said; "he knew." She smiled faintly as she said it. "He
told me he was in no danger," she added.

"Is he a friend of yours?" asked Toby sharply.

"Yes," said Averil, with pride.

"I'm sorry to hear it," said Toby bluntly.

"Why?" she asked, with a swift flash of anger.

"Why?" he echoed vehemently. "Ask your brother-in-law, ask Seddon, ask
any one! The man is a fiend!"

Averil sprang to her feet in sudden fury.

"How dare you!" she cried passionately. "He is a king!"

Toby stared for a moment, then grew calm. "We are not talking about the
same man, Miss Eversley," he said shortly. "The man I know is a fiend
among fiends. The man you know is, no doubt--different."

But Averil swept from the club-room without a word. She was very angry
with Toby Carey.



VII

THE REAL COLONEL CARLYON


Averil rode back to her brother-in-law's bungalow, vexed with herself,
weary at heart, troubled. She had arrived at the station among the
mountains on the Frontier two months before, and had spent a very happy
time there with the sister whom she had not seen for years. The ladies
of the station numbered a very scanty minority, but there was no lack of
gaiety and merriment on that account.

That the hills beyond the Great Frontier were peopled by tribes in a
seething state of discontent was a matter known, but little recked of,
by the majority of the community. Officers went their several ways,
fully awake to threatening rumours, but counting them of small
importance. They went to their sport; to their polo, their racing,
their gymkhanas, with light hearts and in perfect security. They lay
down in the dread shadow of a mighty Empire and slept secure in the very
jaws of danger.

The fierce and fanatical hatred that raged over the Frontier was less
than nothing to most of them. The power that sheltered them was wholly
sufficient for their confidence.

The toughness of the good northern breed is of a quality untearable,
made to endure in all climates, under all conditions. Ordered to carry
revolvers, they stuffed them unloaded into side-pockets, or left them in
the hands of _syces_ to bear behind them.

Proof positive of their total failure to realize the danger that
threatened from amidst the frowning, grey-cragged mountains was the fact
that their womenkind were allowed to remain at the station, and even
rode and drove forth unattended on the rocky, mountain roads.

True, they were warned against crossing the Frontier. A few officers, of
whom Captain Raymond, who was Averil's brother-in-law, and Toby Carey,
the innocent-faced subaltern, were two, saw the rising wave from afar;
but they saw it vaguely as inevitable but not imminent. Captain Raymond
planned to himself to send his wife and her sister to Simla before the
monsoon broke up the fine weather.

And this was all he accomplished beyond administering a severe reprimand
to his young sister-in-law for running into danger among the hills.

"There are always thieves waiting to bag anyone foolish enough to show
his nose over the border," he said. "Isn't the Indian Empire large
enough for you that you must needs go trespassing among savages?"

Averil heard him out with the patience of a slightly wandering
attention. She had not recounted the whole of her experience for his
benefit, nor did she intend to do so. She was still wondering what the
mysterious message she had delivered to Toby Carey might be held to
mean.

When Captain Raymond had exhausted himself she went away to her own room
and sat for a long while gazing towards the great mountains, thinking,
thinking.

Her sister presently joined her. Mrs. Raymond was a dark-eyed,
merry-hearted little woman, the gay originator of many a frolic, and an
immense favourite with men and women alike.

"Poor darling! I declare Harry has made you look quite miserable!" was
her exclamation, as she ran lightly in and seated herself on the arm of
Averil's chair.

"Harry!" echoed Averil, in a tone of such genuine scorn that Mrs.
Raymond laughed aloud.

"You're very rude," she said. "Still, I'm glad Harry isn't the offender.
Who is it, I wonder? But, never mind! I have a splendid piece of news
for you, dear. Shut your eyes and guess!"

"Oh, I can't indeed!" protested Averil. "I am much too tired."

Mrs. Raymond looked at her with laughing eyes.

"There! She shan't be teased!" she cried gaily. "It's the loveliest
surprise you ever had, darling; but I can't keep it a secret any longer.
I wanted to see him now that he is grown up, and quite satisfy myself
that he is really good enough for you. So, dear, I wrote to him and
begged him to join us here. And the result is--now guess!"

Averil had turned sharply to look at her.

"Do you mean you have asked Dick to come here?" she said, in a quick,
startled way.

"Exactly, dear; I actually have," said Mrs. Raymond. "More--we had a
wire this morning. He will be here to dinner."

"Oh!" said Averil. She rose hastily, so hastily that her sister was left
sitting on the arm of the bamboo chair, which instantly overturned on
the top of her.

Averil extricated her with many laughing apologies, and, by the time
Mrs. Raymond had recovered her equilibrium, the younger girl had lost
her expression of astonishment and was looking as bright and eager as
her sister could desire.

"Only Dick is such a madcap," she said. "How shall we keep him from
getting up to mischief in No Man's Land precisely as I have done?"

Mrs. Raymond opined that Averil ought by then to have discovered the
secret of managing the young man, and they went to _tiffin_ on the
veranda in excellent spirits.

Dr. Seddon was there and young Steele, one of Raymond's subalterns.
Averil found herself next to the doctor, who, rather to her surprise,
forebore to twit her with her early morning adventure. He was, in fact,
very grave, and she wondered why.

Steele, strolling by her side in the shady compound, by and bye
volunteered information.

"Poor old Seddon is in a mortal funk," he said, "which accounts for his
wretched appetite. He has been wasting steadily ever since Carlyon went
away. He thinks Carlyon is the only fellow capable of taking care of
him. No one else is monster enough."

"Is Colonel Carlyon expected out here?" Averil asked, in a casual tone.

One of Steele's eyelids contracted a little as if it wanted to wink. He
answered her in a low voice: "Carlyon is never expected before his
arrival, Miss Eversley."

"No?" said Averil indifferently. "And, why, please do you call him a
monster?"

Steele laughed a little. "Didn't you know?" he said. "Why, he is the
King of Evil in these parts!"

Averil felt her face slowly flushing. "I don't understand," she said.

"Don't you?" said Steele. "Honestly now?"

The flush heightened. "Of course I don't," she said. "Otherwise why
should I tell you so?"

"Pardon!" said Steele, unabashed. "Well, then, you must know that we are
all frightened of Carlyon of the Frontier. We hate him badly, but he has
the whip-hand of us, and so we have to do the tame trot for him. Over
there"--he jerked his head towards the mountains--"they would lie down
in a row miles long and let him walk over their necks. And not a single
blackguard among them would dare to stab upwards, because Carlyon is
immortal, as everyone knows, and it wouldn't be worth the blackguard's
while to survive the deed.

"They don't call him Carlyon in the mountains, but it's the same man,
for all that. He is a prophet, a deity, among them. They believe in him
blindly as a special messenger from Heaven. And he plays with them,
barters them, betrays them, every single day he spends among them. He is
strong, he is unscrupulous, he is merciless. He respects no friendship.
He keeps no oath. He betrays, he tortures, he slays. Even we, the
enlightened race, shrink from him as if he were the very fiend
incarnate.

"But he is a valuable man. The information he obtains is priceless. But
he trades with blood. He lives on treachery. He is more subtle than the
subtlest Pathan. He would betray any one or all of us to death if it
were to the interest of the Empire that we should be sacrified. That,
you know, in reason, is all very well. But, personally, I would sooner
tread barefoot on a scorpion than get entangled in Carlyon's web. He is
more false and more cruel than a serpent. At least, that is his
reputation among us. And those heathen beggars trust him so utterly."

Steele stopped abruptly. He had spoken with strong passion. His honest
face was glowing with indignation. He was British to the backbone, and
he loathed all treachery instinctively.

Suddenly he saw that the girl beside him had turned very white. He
paused in his walk with an awkward sense of having spoken unadvisedly.

"Of course," he said, with a boyish effort to recover his ground, "it
has to be done. Someone must do the dirty work. But that doesn't make
you like the man who does it a bit the better. One wouldn't brush
shoulders with the hangman if one knew it."

Averil was standing still. Her hands were clenched.

"Are you talking of Colonel Carlyon--my friend?" she said slowly.

Steele turned sharply away from the wide gaze of her grey eyes.

"I hope not, Miss Eversley," he said. "The man I mean is not fit to be
the friend of any woman."



VIII

THE STRANGER ON THE VERANDA


It was to all outward seeming a very gay crowd that assembled at the
club-house on the following night for the first dance of the season.
For some unexplained reason sentries had been doubled on all sides of
the Camp, but no one seemed to have any anxiety on that account.

"We ought to feel all the safer," laughed Mrs. Raymond when she heard.
"No one ever took such care of us before."

"It must be all rot," said Derrick who had arrived the previous evening
in excellent spirits. "If there were the smallest danger of a rising you
wouldn't be here."

"Quite true," laughed Mrs. Raymond, "unless the road to Fort Akbar is
considered unsafe."

"I never saw a single border thief all the way here!" declared Derrick,
departing to look for Averil.

He claimed the first waltz imperiously, and she gave it to him. She was
the prettiest girl in the room, and she danced with a queenly grace of
movement. Derrick was delighted. He did not like giving her up, but
Steele was insistent on this point. He had made Derrick's acquaintance
in the Frontier campaign of a year before, and he parted the two without
scruple, declaring he would not stand by and see a good chap like
Derrick make a selfish beast of himself on such an occasion.

Derrick gave place with a laugh and sought other partners. In the middle
of the evening Toby Carey strolled up to Averil and bent down in a
conversational attitude. He was not dancing himself. She gave him a
somewhat cold welcome.

After a few commonplace words he took her fan from her hand and
whispered to her behind it:

"There's a fellow on the veranda waiting to speak to you," he said.
"Calls himself a friend."

Her heart leapt at the murmured words. She glanced hurriedly round.
Everyone in the room was dancing. She had pleaded fatigue. She rose
quietly and stepped to the window, Toby following.

She stood a moment on the threshold of the night and then passed slowly
out. All about her was dark.

"Go on to the steps!" murmured Toby behind her. "I shall keep watch."

She went on with gathering speed. At the head of the veranda-steps she
dimly discerned a figure waiting for her, a figure clothed in some
white, muffling garment that seemed to cover the face. And yet she knew
by all her bounding pulses whom she had found.

"Colonel Carlyon!" she said, and on the impulse of the moment she gave
him both her hands.

His quiet voice answered her out of the strange folds. "Come into the
garden a moment!" he said.

She went with him unquestioning, with the confidence of a child. He led
her with silent, stealthy tread into the deepest gloom the compound
afforded. Then he stopped and faced her with a question that sent a
sudden tumult of doubt racing through her brain.

"Will you take a message to Fort Akbar for me, Averil?" he said. "A
matter of life and death."

A message! Averil's heart stood suddenly-still. All the evil report that
she had heard of this man raised its head like a serpent roused from
slumber, a serpent that had hidden in her breast, and a terrible agony
of fear took the place of her confidence.

Carlyon waited for her answer without a sign of impatience. Through her
mind, as it were on wheels of fire, Steele's passionate words were
running: "He lives on treachery. He would betray any one or all of us to
death if it were to the interest of the Empire that we should be
sacrificed." And again: "I would sooner tread barefoot on a scorpion
than get entangled in Carlyon's web."

All this she would once have dismissed as vilest calumny. But Carlyon's
abandonment of Derrick, and his subsequent explanation thereof, were
terribly overwhelming evidence against him. And now this man, this spy,
wanted to use her as an instrument to accomplish some secret end of his.

A matter of life or death, he said. And for which of these did he
purpose to use her efforts? Averil sickened at the possibilities the
question raised in her mind. And still Carlyon waited for her answer.

"Why do you ask me?" she said at last, in a quivering whisper. "What is
the message you want to send?"

"You delivered a message for me only yesterday without a single
question," he said.

She wrung her hands together in the darkness. "I know. I know," she
said; "but then I did not realize."

"You saved the camp from destruction," he went on. "Will you not do the
same to-night?"

"How shall I know?" she sobbed in anguish.

"What have they been telling you?"

The quiet voice came in strange contrast to the agitated uncertainty of
her tones. Carlyon laid steady hands on her shoulders. In the dim light
his eyes had leapt to blue flame, sudden, intense. She hid her face from
their searching; ashamed, horrified at her own doubts--yet still
doubting.

"Your friendship has stood a heavier strain than this," Carlyon said,
with grave reproach.

But she could not answer him. She dared scarcely face her own thoughts
privately, much less utter them to him.

What if he were urging the tribes to rise to give the Government a
pretext for war? She had heard him say that peace had come too soon,
that war alone could remedy the evil of constantly recurring outrages
along that troublous Frontier.

What if he counted the lives of a few women and their gallant protectors
as but a little price to pay for the accomplishment of this end?

What if he purposed to make this awful sacrifice in the interests of the
Empire, and only asked this thing of her because no other would
undertake it?

She lifted her face. He was still looking at her with those strange,
burning eyes that seemed to pierce her very soul.

"Averil," he said, "you may do a great thing for the Empire to-night--if
you will."

The Empire! Ah, what fearful things would he not do behind that mask!
Yet she stood silent, bound by the spell of his presence.

Carlyon went on. "There is going to be a rising, but we shall hold our
own, I hope without loss. You can ride a horse, and I can trust you.
This message must be delivered to-night. There is not an officer at
liberty. I would not send one if there were. Every man will be wanted.
Averil, will you go for me?"

He was holding her very gently between his hands. He seemed to be
pleading with her. Her resolution began to waver. They had shattered her
idol, yet she clung fast to the crumbling shrine.

"You will not let them be killed?" she whispered piteously. "Oh, promise
me!"

"No one belonging to this camp will be killed if I can help it," he
said. "You will tell them at Fort Akbar that we are prepared here.
General Harford is marching to join them from Fort Wara. Whatever they
may hear they must not dream of moving to join us till he reaches them.
They are not strong enough. They would be cut to pieces. That is the
message you are going to take for me. Their garrison is too small to be
split up, and Fort Akbar must be protected at all costs. It is a more
important post than this even."

"But there are women here," Averil whispered.

"They are under my protection," said Carlyon quietly. "I want you to
start at once--before we shut the gates."

"Have they taken you by surprise, then?" she asked, with a sharp,
involuntary shiver.

"No," Carlyon said. "They have taken the Government by surprise. That's
all." He spoke with strong bitterness. For he was the watchman who had
awaked in vain.

A moment later he was drawing her with him along the shadowy path.

"You need have no fear," he whispered to her. "The road is open all the
way. I have a horse waiting that will carry you safely. It is barely ten
miles. You have done it before."

"Am I to go just as I am?" she asked him, carried away by his
unfaltering resolution.

"Yes," said Carlyon, "except for this." He loosened the _chuddah_ from
his own head and stooped to muffle it about hers. "I have provided for
your going," he said. "You will see no one. You know the way. Go hard!"

He moved on again. His arm was round her shoulders.

"And you?" she said, with sudden misgiving.

"I shall go back to the camp," he said, "when I have seen you go."

They went a little farther, ghostly, white figures gliding side by
side. Wildly as her heart was beating, Averil felt that it was all
strangely unreal, felt that the man beside her was a being unknown and
mysterious, almost supernatural. And yet, strangely, she did not fear
him. As she had once said to him, she believed he was a good man. She
would always believe it. And yet was that awful doubt hammering through
her brain.

They reached the bounds of the club compound and Carlyon stopped again.
From the building behind them there floated the notes of a waltz, weird,
dream-like, sweet as the earth after rain in summer.

"I want to know," Carlyon said steadily, "if you trust me."

She stretched up her hands like a child and laid them against his
breast. She answered him with piteous entreaty in which passion
strangely mingled.

"Colonel Carlyon," she whispered brokenly, "promise me that when this is
over you will give it up! You were not made to spy and betray! You were
made an honourable, true-hearted man--God's greatest and best creation.
You were never meant to be twisted and warped to an evil use. Ah, tell
me you will give it up! How can I go away and leave you toiling in the
dungeons?"

"Hush!" said Carlyon. "You do not understand."

Later, she remembered with what tenderness he gathered her hands again
into his own, holding them reverently. At the time she realized nothing
but the monstrous pity of his wasted life.

"It isn't true!" she sobbed. "You would not sacrifice your friends?"

"Never!" said Carlyon sharply.

He paused. Then--"You must go, Averil," he said. "There are two sentries
on the Buddhist road, and the password is 'Empire.' After that-straight
to Akbar. The moon is rising, and no one will speak to you or attempt to
stop you. You will not be afraid?"

"I trust you," she said very earnestly.

Ten minutes later, as the moon shot the first silver streak above the
frowning mountains, a white horse flashed out on the road beyond the
camp--a white horse bearing a white-robed rider.

On the edge of the camp one sentry turned to another with wonder on his
face.

"That messenger's journey will be soon over," he remarked. "An easy
target for the black fiends!"

In the mountains a dusky-faced hillman turned glittering, awe-struck
eyes upon the flying white figure.

"Behold!" he said. "The Heaven-sent rides to the moonrise even as he
foretold. The time draws near."

And Carlyon, walking back in strange garb to join his own people,
muttered to himself as he went: "One woman, at least, is safe!"



IX

A FIGHT IN THE NIGHT


An hour before daybreak the gathering wave broke upon the camp. It was
Toby Carey who ran hurriedly in upon the dancers in the club-room when
they were about to disperse and briefly announced that there was going
to be a fight. He added that Carlyon was at the mess-house, and desired
all the men to join him there. The women were to remain at the club,
which was already surrounded by a party of Sikhs and Goorkhas. Toby
begged them to believe they were in no danger.

"Where is Averil?" cried Mrs. Raymond distractedly.

"Carlyon has already provided for her safety," Toby assured her, as he
raced off again.

Five minutes later Carlyon, issuing rapid orders in the veranda of the
mess-house, turned at the grip of a hand on his shoulder, and saw
Derrick, behind him, wild-eyed and desperate.

"What have you done with Averil?" the boy said through white lips.

"She is safe at Akbar," Carlyon briefly replied. Then, as Derrick
instantly wheeled, he caught him swiftly by the arm.

"You wait, Dick!" he said. "I have work for you."

"Let me go!" flashed Derrick fiercely.

But Carlyon maintained his hold. He knew what was in the lad's mind.

"It can't be done," he said. "It would be certain death if you attempted
it. We are cut off for the present."

He interrupted himself to speak to an officer who was awaiting an order
then turned again to Derrick.

"I tell you the truth, Dick," he said, a sudden note of kindliness in
his voice. "She is safe. I had the opportunity--for one only. I took
it--for her. You can't follow her. You have forfeited your right to
throw away your life. Don't forget it, boy, ever! You have got to live
for her and let the blackguards take the risks."

He ended with a faint smile, and Derrick fell back abashed, an unwilling
admiration struggling with the sullenness of his submission.

Later, at Carlyon's order, he joined the party that had been detailed to
watch over the club-house, the most precious and the safest position in
the whole station. He chafed sorely at the inaction, but he repressed
his feelings.

Carlyon's words had touched him in the right place. Though fiercely
restless still, his manhood had been stirred, and gradually the
strength, the unflinching resolution that had dominated Averil, took the
place of his feverish excitement. Derrick, the impulsive and headstrong,
became the mainstay as well as the undismayed protector of the women
during that night scare of the Frontier.

There was sharp fighting down in the camp. They heard the firing and the
shouts; but with the sunrise there came a lull. The women turned white
faces to one another and wondered if it could be over.

Presently Derrick entered with the latest news. The tribesmen had been
temporarily beaten off, he said, but the hills were full of them. Their
own losses during the night amounted to two wounded sepoys. Fighting
during the day was not anticipated.

Carlyon, snatching hasty refreshment in a hut near the scene of the
hottest fighting, turned grimly to Raymond, his second in command, as
gradual quiet descended upon the camp.

"You will see strange things to-night," he said.

Raymond, whose right wrist had been grazed by a bullet, was trying
clumsily to bandage it with his handkerchief.

"How long is it going to last?" he said.

"To-night will see the end of it," said Carlyon, quietly going to his
assistance. "The rising has been brewing for some time. The tribesmen
need a lesson, so does the Government. It is just a bubble--this. It
will explode to-night. To be honest for once"--Carlyon smiled a little
over his bandaging--"I did not expect this attack so soon. A Heaven-sent
messenger has been among the tribesmen. They revere him almost as much
as the great prophet himself. He has been listening to their
murmurings."

Carlyon paused. Raymond was watching him intently, but the quiet face
bent over his wound told him nothing.

"Had I known what was coming," Carlyon said, "so much as three days ago,
the women would not now be in the station. As things are, it would have
been impossible to weaken the garrison to supply them with an escort to
Akbar."

Raymond stifled a deep curse in his throat. Had they but known indeed!

Carlyon went on in his deliberate way: "I shall leave you in command
here to-night. I have other work to do. General Harford will be here at
dawn. The attacking force will be on the east of the camp. You will
crush them between you! You will stamp them down without mercy. Let them
see the Empire is ready for them! They will not trouble us again for
perhaps a few years."

Again he paused. Raymond asked no question. Better than most he knew
Carlyon of the Frontier.

"It will be a hard blow," Carlyon said. "The tribesmen are very
confident. Last night they watched a messenger ride eastwards on a white
horse. It was an omen foretold by the Heaven-sent when he left them to
carry the message through the hills to other tribes."

Raymond gave a great start. "The girl!" he said.

For a second Carlyon's eyes met his look. They were intensely blue, with
the blueness of a flame.

"She is safe at Akbar," he said, returning without emotion to the
knotting of the bandage. "The road was open for the messenger. The horse
was swift. There is one woman less to take the risk."

"I see," said Raymond quietly. He was frowning a little, but not at
Carlyon's strategy.

"The rest," Carlyon continued, "must be fought for. The moon is full
to-night. The Great Fakir will come out of the hills in his zeal and
lead the tribes himself. Guard the east!"

Raymond drew a sharp breath. But Carlyon's hand on his shoulder silenced
the astounded question on his lips.

"We have got to protect the women," Carlyon said. "Relief will come at
dawn."



X

SAVED A SECOND TIME


All through the day quiet reigned. An occasional sword-glint in the
mountains, an occasional gleam of white against the brown hillside;
these were the only evidences of an active enemy.

The women were released from durance in the club-house, with strict
orders to return in the early evening.

Derrick went restlessly through the camp, seeking Carlyon. He found him
superintending the throwing-up of earthworks. The most exposed part of
the camp was to be abandoned. Derrick joined him in silence. Somehow
this man's personality attracted him strongly. Though he had defied him,
quarrelled with him, insulted him, the spell of his presence was
irresistible.

Carlyon paid small attention to him till he turned to leave that part of
the camp's defences. Then, with a careless hand through Derrick's arm,
he said:

"You will have your fill of stiff fighting to-night, boy. But, remember,
you are not to throw yourself away."

As evening fell, the attack was resumed, and it continued throughout the
night. Tribesmen charged up to the very breastworks themselves and fell
before the awful fire of the defenders' rifles. Death had no terrors for
them. They strove for the mastery with fanatical zeal. But they strove
in vain. A greater force than they possessed, the force of discipline
and organized resistance--kept them at bay. Behind the splendid courage
of the Indian soldiers were the resource and the resolution of a handful
of Englishmen. The spirit of the conquering race, unquenchable,
irresistible, weighed down the balance.

In the middle of the night Captain Raymond was hit in the shoulder and
carried, fainting, to the closely guarded club-house, where his wife was
waiting.

The command devolved upon Lieutenant Steele, who took up the task
undismayed. Down in the hastily dug trenches Toby Carey was fiercely
holding his men to their work.

And Derrick Rose was with him, unrestrained for that night at least.

"Relief at dawn!" Toby said to him once.

And Derrick responded with a wild laugh.

"Relief be damned! We can hold our own without it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Relief came with the dawn, at a moment when the tribesmen were spurring
themselves to the greatest effort of all, sustained by the knowledge
that their Great Fakir was among them.

General Harford, with guides, Sikhs, Goorkhas, came down like a
hurricane from the south-east, cut off a great body of tribesmen from
their fellows, and drove them headlong, with deadly force, upon the
defences they had striven so furiously to take.

The defenders sallied out to meet them with fixed bayonets. The brief
siege, if siege it could be called, was over.

In the early light Derrick found himself fighting, fighting furiously,
sword to sword. And the terrible joy of the conflict ran in his blood
like fire.

"Ah!" he gasped. "It's good! It's good!"

And then he found another fighting beside him--a mighty fighting man,
grim, terrible, silent. They thrust together; they withdrew together;
they charged together.

Once an enemy seized Derrick's sword and he found himself vainly
struggling against the awful, wild-faced fanatic's sinewy grasp. He saw
the man's upraised arm, and knew with horrible certainty that he was
helpless, helpless.

Then there shot out a swift, rescuing hand. A straight and deadly blow
was struck. And Derrick, flinging a laugh over his shoulder, beheld a
man dressed as a tribesman fall headlong over his enemy's body, struck
to the earth by another swordsman.

Like lightning there flashed through his brain the memory of a man who
had saved his life more than a year before on this same tumultuous
Frontier--a man in tribesman's dress, with blue eyes of a strange, keen
friendliness. He had it now. This was the Secret Service man. Derrick
planted himself squarely over the prostrate body, and there stood while
the fight surged on about him to the deadly and inevitable end.



XI

THE SECRET OUT


"All Carlyon's doing!" General Harford said a little later. "He has
pulled the strings throughout, from their very midst. Carlyon the
ubiquitous, Carlyon the silent, Carlyon the watchful! He has averted a
horrible catastrophe. The Indian Government must be made to understand
that he is a servant worth having. They say he personally led the
tribesmen to their death. They certainly walked very willingly into the
trap arranged for them. Now, where is Carlyon?"

No one knew. In the plain outside the camp wounded men were being
collected. The General was relieved to hear that Carlyon was not among
them. He sat down to make his report, a highly eulogistic report, of
this man's splendid services. And then he went to late breakfast at the
club-house.

In the evening Averil rode back to the station with an escort. The
terrible traces of the struggle were not wholly removed. They rode round
by a longer route to avoid the sight.

Seddon was the first of her friends who saw her. He was standing inside
the mess-house. He went hurriedly forward and gave her brief details of
the fight. Then, while they were talking, Derrick himself came running
up. He greeted her with less of his boyish effusion than was customary.

"How is the Secret Service man?" he asked abruptly of Seddon. "Is he
badly damaged?"

The latter looked at him hard for a second.

"You can come in and see him," he said, and led the way into the mess.

Averil and Derrick followed him hand in hand. In a few low words the boy
told her of his old friend's reappearance.

"He has saved my life twice over," he said.

"He has saved more lives than yours," Seddon remarked abruptly, over his
shoulder.

He led the way "to the little ante-room where, stretched on a sofa, lay
Derrick's Secret Service man. He was dressed in white, his face half
covered with a fold of his head-dress. But the eyes were open--blue,
alert, beneath drooping lids. He was speaking, softly, quickly, as a man
asleep.

"The women must be protected," he said. "Let the blackguards take the
risks!"

Averil started forward with a cry, and in a moment was kneeling by his
side. The strange eyes were turned upon her instantly. They were
watchful still and exceeding tender--the eyes of the hero she loved.
They faintly smiled at her. To his death he would keep up the farce. To
his death he would never show her the secret he had borne so long.

"Ah! The message!" he said, with an effort. "You gave it?"

"There was no need of a message," Averil cried. "You invented it to get
me away, to make me escape from danger. You knew that otherwise I would
not have gone. It was your only reason for sending me."

He did not answer her. The smile died slowly out. His eyes passed to
Derrick. He looked at him very earnestly, and there was unutterable
pleading in the look.

The boy stooped forward. Shocked by the sudden discovery, he yet
answered as it were involuntarily to the man's unspoken wish. He knelt
down beside the girl, his arm about her shoulders. His voice came with a
great sob.

"The Secret Service man and Carlyon of the Frontier in one!" he said. "A
man who does not forsake his friends. I might have known."

There was a pause, a great silence. Then Carlyon of the Frontier spoke
softly, thoughtfully, with grave satisfaction it seemed. He looked at
neither of them, but beyond them both. His eyes were steady and
fearless.

"A blackguard--a spy--yet faithful to his friends--even so," he said;
and died.

The boy and girl were left to each other. He had meant it to be so--had
worked for it, suffered for it. In the end Carlyon of the Frontier had
done that which he had set himself to do, at a cost which none other
would ever know--not even the girl who had loved him.



The Penalty

I


"Now then, you fellows, step out there! Step out like the men you are!
Left--right! Left--right! That's the way! Holy Jupiter! Call those chaps
savages! They're gentlemen, every jack one of 'em. That's it, my
hearties! Salute the old flag! By Jove, Monty, a British squad couldn't
have done it better!"

The speaker pushed back his helmet to wipe his forehead. He was very
much in earnest. The African sun blazing down on his bronzed face
revealed that. The blue eyes glittered out of the lean, tanned
countenance. They were full of resolution, indomitable resolution, and
good British pluck.

As the little company of black men swung by, with the rhythmic pad of
their bare feet, he suddenly snatched out his sword and waved it high in
the smiting sunlight.

"Halt!" he cried.

They stood as one man, all gleaming eyes and gleaming teeth. They were
all a good head taller than the Englishman who commanded them, but they
looked upon him with reverence, as a being half divine.

"Now, cheer, you beggars, cheer!" he cried. "Three cheers for the King!
Hip, hip--"

"Hooray!" came in hoarse chorus from the assembled troop. It sounded
like a war cry.

"Hip, hip--" yelled the Englishman again.

And again "Hooray!" came the answering yell.

"Hip, hip--" for the third time from the man with the sword.

And for the third time, "Hooray!" from the deep-chested troopers halted
in the blazing sunshine.

The British officer turned about with an odd smile quivering at the
corners of his mouth. There was an almost maternal tenderness about it.

He sheathed his sword.

"You beauties!" he murmured softly. "You beauties!" Then aloud, "Very
good, sergeant! Dismiss them! Come along, Monty! Let's go and have a
drink."

He linked his arm in that of the silent onlooker, and drew him into the
little hut of rough-hewn timber which was dignified by the name, printed
in white letters over the door, of "Officers' Quarters."

"What do you think of them?" he demanded, as they entered. "Aren't they
soldiers? Aren't they men?"

"I think, Duncannon," the other answered slowly, "that you have worked
wonders."

"Ah, you'll tell the Chief so? Won't he be astounded? He swore I should
never do it; declared they'd knife me if I tried to hammer any
discipline into them. Much he knows about it! Good old Chief!"

He laughed boyishly, and again wiped his hot face.

"On my soul, Monty, it's been no picnic," he declared. "But I'd have
sacrificed five years' pay, and my step as well, gladly--gladly--sooner
than have missed it. Here you are, old boy! Drink! Drink to the latest
auxiliary force in the British Empire! Damn' thirsty climate, this."

He tossed his helmet aside, and sat down on the edge of the table--a
lithe, spare figure, brimming with active strength.

"I've literally coaxed those chaps into shape," he declared. "Oh, yes,
I've bullied 'em too--cursed 'em right and left; but they never turned a
hair--knew it was all for their good, and took it lying down. I've
taught 'em to wash too, you know. That was the hardest job of all. I
knocked one great brute all round the parade-ground one day, just to
show I was in earnest. He went off afterwards, and blubbed like a baby.
But in the evening I found him squatting outside, quite naked, and as
clean as a whistle. To quote the newspapers, I was profoundly touched.
But I didn't show it, you bet. I whacked him on the shoulder, and told
him to be a man."

He broke off to laugh at the reminiscence; and Montague Herne gravely
set down his glass, and turned his chair with its back to the sunlight.

"Do you know you've been here eighteen months?" he said.

Duncannon nodded.

"I feel as if I'd been born here. Why?"

"Most fellows," proceeded Herne, ignoring the question, "would have been
clamouring for leave long ago. Why, you have scarcely heard your own
language all this time."

"I have though," said Duncannon quickly. "That's another thing I've
taught 'em. They picked it up wonderfully quickly. There isn't one of
'em who doesn't know a few sentences now."

"You seem to have found your vocation in teaching these heathen to sit
up and beg," observed Herne, with a dry smile.

Duncannon turned dusky red under his tan.

"Perhaps I have," he said, with a certain, doggedness.

Herne, with his back to the light, was watching him.

"Well," he said finally, "we've served our turn. The battalion is going
Home!"

Duncannon gave a great start.

"Already?"

"After two years' service," the other reminded him grimly.

Duncannon fell silent, considering, the matter with bent brows.

"Who succeeds us?" he asked at length.

Herne shrugged his shoulders.

"You don't know?" There was sudden, sharp anxiety in Duncannon's voice.
He got off the table with a jerk. "You must know," he said.

Herne sat motionless, but he no longer looked the other in the face.

"You've taught 'em to fight," he said slowly. "They are men enough to
look after themselves now."

"What?" Duncannon flung the word with violence. He took a single stride
forward, standing over Herne in an attitude that was almost menacing.
His hands were clenched. "What?" he said again.

Herne leaned back, and felt for his cigarette-case.

"Take it easy, old chap!" he said. "It was bound to come, you know. It
was never meant to be more than a temporary occupation among these
friendlies. They have been useful to us, I admit. But we can't fight
their battles for them for ever. It's time for them to stand on their
own legs. Have a smoke!"

Duncannon ignored the invitation. He turned pale to the lips. For a
space of seconds he said nothing whatever. Then at length, slowly, in a
voice that was curiously even, "Yes, I've taught 'em to fight," he said.
"And now I'm to leave 'em to be massacred, am I?"

Herne shrugged his shoulders again, not because he was actually
indifferent, but because, under the circumstances, it was the easiest
answer to make.

Duncannon went on in the same dead-level tone:

"Yes, they've been useful to us, these friendlies. They've made common
cause with us against those infernal Wandis. They might have stayed
neutral, or they might have whipped us off the ground. But they didn't.
They brought us supplies, and they brought us mules, and they helped us
along generally, and hauled us out of tight corners. They've given us
all we asked for, and more to it. And now they are going to pay the
penalty, to reap our gratitude. They're going to be left to themselves
to fight our enemies--the fellows we couldn't beat--single-handed,
without experience, without a leader, and only half trained. They are
going to be left as a human sacrifice to pay our debts."

He paused, standing erect and tense, staring out into the blinding
sunlight. Then suddenly, like the swift kindling of a flame, his
attitude changed. He flung up his hands with a wild gesture.

"No, I'm damned!" he cried violently. "I'm damned if they shall! They
are my men--the men I made. I've taught 'em every blessed thing they
know. I've taught 'em to reverence the old flag, and I'm damned if I'll
see them betrayed! You can go back to the Chief, and tell him so! Tell
him they're British subjects, staunch to the backbone! Why, they can
even sing the first verse of the National Anthem! You'll hear them at
it to-night before they turn in. They always do. It's a sort of evening
hymn to them. Oh, Monty, Monty, what cursed trick will our fellows think
of next, I wonder? Are we men, or are we reptiles, we English? And we
boast--we boast of our national honour!"

He broke off, breathing short and hard, as a man desperately near to
collapse, and leaned his head on his arm against the rough wall as if in
shame.

Herne glanced at him once or twice before replying.

"You see," he said at length, speaking somewhat laboriously, "what we've
got to do is to obey orders. We were sent out here not to think but to
do. We're on Government service. They are responsible for the thinking
part. We have to carry it out, that's all. They have decided to evacuate
this district, and withdraw to the coast. So"--again he shrugged his
shoulders--"there's no more to be said. We must go."

He paused, and glanced again at the slight, khaki-clad figure that
leaned against the wall.

After a moment, meeting with no response, he resumed.

"There's no sense in taking it hard, since there is no help for it. You
always knew that it was an absolutely temporary business. Of course, if
we could have smashed the Wandis, these chaps would have had a better
look-out. But--well, we haven't smashed them."

"We hadn't enough men!" came fiercely from Duncannon.

"True! We couldn't afford to do things on a large scale. Moreover, it's
a beastly country, as even you must admit. And it isn't worth a big
struggle. Besides, we can't occupy half the world to prevent the other
half playing the deuce with it. Come, Bobby, don't be a fool, for
Heaven's sake! You've been treated as a god too long, and it's turned
your head. Don't you want to get Home? What about your people? What
about----"

Duncannon turned sharply. His face was drawn and grey.

"I'm not thinking of them," he said, in a choked voice. "You don't know
what this means to me. You couldn't know, and I can't explain. But my
mind is made up on one point. Whoever goes--I stay!"

He spoke deliberately, though his breathing was still quick and uneven.
His eyes were sternly steadfast.

Herne stared at him in amazement.

"My good fellow," he said, "you are talking like a lunatic! I think you
must have got a touch of sun."

A faint smile flickered over Duncannon's set face.

"No, it isn't that," he said. "It's a touch of something else--something
you wouldn't understand."

"But--heavens above!--you have no choice!" Herne exclaimed, rising
abruptly. "You can't say you'll do this or that. So long as you wear a
sword, you have to obey orders."

"That's soon remedied," said Duncannon, between his teeth.

With a sudden, passionate movement he jerked the weapon from its sheath,
held it an instant gleaming between his hands, then stooped and bent it
double across his knee.

It snapped with a sharp click, and instantly he straightened himself,
the shining fragments in his hands, and looked Montague Herne in the
eyes.

"When you go back to the Chief," he said, speaking very steadily, "you
can take him this, and tell him that the British Government can play
what damned dirty trick they please upon their allies. But I will take
no part in it. I shall stick to my friends."

And with that he flung the jingling pieces of steel upon the table, took
up his helmet, and passed out into the fierce glare of the little
parade-ground.


II

"Oh, is it our turn at last? I am glad!"

Betty Derwent raised eyes of absolute honesty to the man who had just
come to her side, and laid her hand with obvious alacrity upon his arm.

"You don't seem to be enjoying yourself," he said.

"I'm not!" she declared, with vehemence. "It's perfectly horrid. I hope
you're not wanting to dance, Major Herne? For I want to sit out,
and--and get cool, if possible."

"I want what you want," said Herne. "Shall we go outside?"

"Yes--no! I really don't know. I've only just come in. I want to get
away--right away. Can't you think of a quiet corner?"

"Certainly," said Herne, "if it's all one to you where you go."

"I should like to run away," the girl said impetuously, "right away from
everybody--except you."

"That's very good of you," said Herne, faintly smiling.

The hand that rested on his arm closed with an agitated pressure.

"Oh, no, it isn't!" she assured him. "It's quite selfish. I--I am like
that, you know. Where are we going?"

"Upstairs," said Herne.

"Upstairs!" She glanced at him in surprise, but he offered no
explanation. They were already ascending.

But when they had mounted one flight of stairs, and were beginning to
mount a second, the girl's eyes flashed understanding.

"Major Herne, you're a real friend in need!"

"Think so?" said Herne. "Perhaps--at heart--I am as selfish as you
are."

"Oh, I don't mind that," she rejoined impulsively. "You are all selfish,
every one of you, but--thank goodness!--you don't all want the same
thing."

Montague Herne raised his brows a little.

"Quite sure of that?"

"Quite sure," said Betty vigorously. "I always know." She added with
apparent inconsequence, "That's how it is we always get on so well. Are
you going to take me right out on to the ramparts? Are you sure there
will be no one else there?"

"There will be no one where we are going," he said.

She sighed a sigh of relief.

"How good! We shall get some air up there, too. And I want air--plenty
of it. I feel suffocated."

"Mind how you go!" said Herne. "These stairs are uneven."

They had come to a spiral staircase of stone. Betty mounted it
light-footed, Herne following close behind.

In the end they came to an oak door, against which the girl set her
hand.

"Major Herne! It's locked!"

"Allow me!" said Herne.

He had produced a large key, at which Betty looked with keen
satisfaction.

"You really are a wonderful person. You overcome all difficulties."

"Not quite that, I am afraid." Herne was smiling. "But this is a
comparatively simple matter. The key happens to be in my charge. With
your permission, we will lock the door behind us."

"Do!" she said eagerly. "I have never been at this end of the ramparts.
I believe I shall spend the rest of the evening here, where no one can
follow us."

"Haven't you any more partners?" asked Herne.

She showed him a full card with a little grimace.

"I have had such an awful experience. I am going to cut the rest."

He smiled a little.

"Rather hard on the rest. However----"

"Oh, don't be silly!" she said impatiently. "It isn't like you."

"No," said Herne.

He spoke quietly, almost as if he were thinking of something else. They
had passed through the stone doorway, and had emerged upon a flagged
passage that led between stone walls to the ramparts. Betty passed along
this quickly, mounted the last flight of steps that led to the
battlements, and stood suddenly still.

A marvellous scene lay spread below them in the moonlight--silent land
and whispering sea. The music of the band in the distant ballroom rose
fitfully--such music as is heard in dreams. Betty stood quite motionless
with the moonlight shining on her face. She looked like a nymph caught
up from the shimmering water.

Impulsively at length she turned to the man beside her.

"Shall I tell you what has been happening to me to-night?"

"If you really wish me to know," said Herne.

She jerked her shoulder with a hint of impatience.

"I feel as if I must tell someone, and you are as safe, as any one I
know. I have danced with six men so far, and out of those six three have
asked me to marry them. It's been almost like a conspiracy, as if they
were doing it for a wager. Only, two of them were so horribly in earnest
that it couldn't have been that. Major Herne, why can't people be
reasonable?"

"Heaven knows!" said Herne.

She gave him a quick smile.

"If I get another proposal to-night I shall have hysterics. But I know I
am safe with you."

Herne was silent.

Betty gave a little shiver.

"You think me very horrid to have told you?"

"No," he answered deliberately, "I don't. I think that you were
extraordinarily wise."

She laughed with a touch of wistfulness.

"I have a feeling that if I quite understood what you meant, I shouldn't
regard that as a compliment."

"Very likely not." Herne's dark face brooded over the distant water. He
did not so much as glance at the girl beside him, though her eyes were
studying him quite frankly.

"Why are you so painfully discreet?" she said suddenly. "Don't you know
that I want you to give me advice?"

"Which you won't take," said Herne.

"I don't know. I might. I quite well might. Anyhow, I should be
grateful."

He rested one foot on the battlement, still not looking at her.

"If you took my advice," he said, "you would marry."

"Marry!" she said with a quick flush. "Why? Why should I?"

"You know why," said Herne.

"Really I don't. I am quite happy as I am."

"Quite?" he said.

She began to tap her fingers against the stonework. There was something
of nervousness in the action.

"I couldn't possibly marry any one of the men who proposed to me
to-night," she said.

"There are other men," said Herne.

"Yes, I know, but--" She threw out her arms suddenly with a gesture that
had in it something passionate. "Oh, if only I were a man myself!" she
said. "How I wish I were!"

"Why?" said Herne.

She answered him instantly, her voice not wholly steady.

"I want to travel. I want to explore. I want to go to the very heart of
the world, and--and learn its secrets."

Herne turned his head very deliberately and looked at her.

"And then?" he said.

Half defiantly her eyes met his.

"I would find Bobby Duncannon," she said, "and bring him back."

Herne stood up slowly.

"I thought that was it," he said.

"And why shouldn't it be?" said Betty. "I have known him for a long time
now. Wouldn't you do as much for a pal?"

Herne was silent for a moment. Then:

"You would be wiser to forget him," he said. "He will never come back."

"I shall never forget him," said Betty almost fiercely.

He looked at her gravely.

"You mean to waste the rest of your life waiting for him?" he asked.

Her hands gripped each other suddenly.

"You call it waste?" she said.

"It is waste," he made answer, "sheer, damnable waste. The boy was mad
enough to sacrifice his own career--everything that he had--but it is
downright infernal that you should be sacrificed too. Why should you pay
the penalty for his madness? He was probably killed long ago, and even
if not--even if he lived and came back--you would probably ask yourself
if you had ever met him before."

"Oh, no!" Betty said. "No!"

She turned and looked out to the water that gleamed so peacefully in the
moonlight.

"Do you know," she said, her voice very low, scarcely more than a
whisper, "he asked me to marry him--five years ago--just before he went.
It was my first proposal. I was very young, not eighteen. And--and it
frightened me. I really don't know why. And so I refused. He said he
would ask me again when I was older, when I had come out. I remember
being rather relieved when he went away. It wasn't till afterwards, when
I came to see the world and people, that I realized that he was more to
me than any one else. He--he was wonderfully fascinating, don't you
think? So strong, so eager, so full of life! I have never seen any one
quite like him." She leaned her hands suddenly against a projecting
stone buttress and bowed her head upon them. "And I--refused him!" she
said.

The low voice went out in a faint sob, and the man's hands clenched. The
next instant he had crossed the space that divided him from the slender
figure in its white draperies that drooped against the wall.

He bent down to her.

"Betty, Betty," he said, "you're crying for the moon, child. Don't!"

She turned, and with a slight, confiding movement slid out a trembling
hand.

"I have never told anyone but you," she said.

He clasped the quivering fingers very closely.

"I would sell my soul to see you happy," he said. "But, my dear Betty,
happiness doesn't lie in that direction. You are sacrificing substance
to shadow. Won't you see it before it's too late, before the lean years
come?" He paused a moment, seeming to restrain himself. Then, "I've
never told you before," he said, his voice very low, deeply tender. "I
hardly dare to tell you now, lest you should think I'm trading on your
friendship, but I, too, am one of those unlucky beggars that want to
marry you. You needn't trouble to refuse me, dear. I'll take it all for
granted. Only, when the lean years do come to you, as they will, as they
must, will you remember that I'm still wanting you, and give me the
chance of making you happy?"

"Oh, don't!" sobbed Betty. "Don't! You hurt me so!"

"Hurt you, Betty! I!"

She turned impulsively and leaned her head against him.

"Major Herne, you--you are awfully good to me, do you know? I shall
never forget it. And if--if I were not quite sure in my heart that Bobby
is still alive and wanting me, I would come to you, if you really cared
to have me. But--but--"

"Do you mean that, Betty?" he said. His arm was round her, but he did
not seek to draw her nearer, did not so much as try to see her face.

But she showed it to him instantly, lifting clear eyes, in which the
tears still shone, to his.

"Oh, yes, I mean it. But, Major Herne, but----"

He met her look, faintly smiling.

"Yes," he said. "It's a pretty big 'but,' I know, but I'm going to
tackle it. I'm going to find out if the boy is alive or dead. If he
lives, you shall see him again; if he is dead--and this is the more
probable, for it is no country for white men--I shall claim you for
myself, Betty. You won't refuse me then?"

"Only find out for certain," she said.

"I will do that," he promised.

"But how? How? You won't go there yourself?"

"Why not?" he said.

Something like panic showed in the girl's eyes. She laid her hands on
his shoulders.

"Monty, I don't want you to go."

"You would rather I stayed?" he said. He was looking closely into her
eyes.

She endured the look for a little, then suddenly the tears welled up
again.

"I can't bear you to go," she whispered. "I mean--I mean--I couldn't
bear it if--if----"

He took her hands gently, and held them.

"I shall come back to you, Betty," he said.

"Oh, you will!" she said very earnestly. "You will!"

"I shall," said Montague Herne; and he said it as a man whose resolution
no power on earth might turn.



III

No country for white men indeed! Herne grimly puffed a cloud of smoke
into a whirl of flies, and rose from the packing-case off which he had
dined.

Near by were the multitudinous sounds of the camp, the voices of Arabs,
the grunting of camels, the occasional squeal of a mule. Beyond lay the
wilderness, mysterious, silent, immense, the home of the unknown.

He had reached the outermost edge of civilization, and he was waiting
for the return of an Arab spy, a man he trusted, who had pushed on into
the interior. The country beyond him was a dense tract of bush almost
impenetrable; so far as he knew, waterless.

In the days of the British expedition this had been an almost
insuperable obstacle, but Herne was in no mood to turn back. Behind him
lay desert, wide and barren under the fierce African sun. He had
traversed it with a dogged patience, regardless of hardship, and,
whatever lay ahead of him, he meant to go on. Hidden deep below the
man's calm aspect there throbbed a fierce impatience. It tortured him by
night, depriving him of rest.

Very curiously, the conviction had begun to take root in his soul also
that Bobby Duncannon still lived. In England he had scouted the notion,
but here in the heart of the desert everything seemed possible. He felt
as if a voice were calling to him out of the mystery towards which he
had set his face, a voice that was never silent, continually urging him
on.

Wandering that night on the edge of the bush, with the camp-fires behind
him, he told himself that until he knew the truth he would never turn
back.

He lay down at last, though his restlessness was strong upon him,
compelling his body at least to be passive, while hour after hour
crawled by and the wondrous procession of stars wheeled overhead.

In the early morning there came a stir in the camp, and he rose, to find
that his messenger had returned. The man was waiting for him outside his
tent. The orange and gold of sunrise was turning the desert into a
wonderland of marvellous colour, but Herne's eyes took no note thereof.
He saw only his Arab guide bending before him in humble salutation,
while in his heart he heard a girl's voice, low and piteous, "Bobby is
still alive and wanting me."

"Well, Hassan?" he questioned. "Any news?"

The man's eyes gleamed with a certain triumph.

"There is news, _effendi_. The man the _effendi_ seeks is no longer
chief of the Zambas. They have been swallowed up by the Wandis."

Herne groaned. It was only what he had expected, but the memory of the
boy's face with its eager eyes was upon him. The pity of it! The vast,
irretrievable waste!

"Then he is dead?" he said.

The Arab spread out his hands.

"Allah knows. But the Wandis do not always slay their prisoners,
_effendi_. The old and the useless ones they burn, but the strong ones
they save alive. It may be that he lives."

"As a slave!" Herne said.

"It is possible, _effendi_." The Arab considered a moment. Then, "The
road to the country of the Wandis is no journey for _effendis_," he
said. "The path is hard to find, and there is no water. Also, the bush
is thick, and there are many savages. But beyond all are the mountains
where the Wandis dwell. It is possible that the chief of the Zambas has
been carried to their City of Stones. It is a wonderful place,
_effendi_. But the way thither, especially now, even for an Arab----"

"I am going myself," Herne said.

"The _effendi_ will die!"

Herne shrugged his shoulders.

"Be it so! I am going!"

"But not alone, _effendi_." A speculative gleam shone in the Arab's wary
eyes. He was the only available guide, and he knew it. The Englishman
was mad, of course, but he was willing to humour him--for a
consideration.

Herne saw the gleam, and his grim face relaxed.

"Name your price, Hassan!" he said. "If it doesn't suit me--I go alone."

Hassan smiled widely. Certainly the Englishman was mad, but he had a
sporting fancy for mad Englishmen, a fancy that kept his pouch well
filled. He had not the smallest intention of letting this one out of his
sight.

"We will go together, _effendi_," he said. "The price shall not be named
between us until we return in peace. But the _effendi_ will need a
disguise. The Wandis have no love for the English."

"Then I will go as your brother," said Herne.

The Arab bowed low.

"As traders in spice," he said, "we might, by the goodness of Allah,
pass through to the Great Desert. But we could not go with a large
caravan, _effendi_, and we should take our lives in our hands."

"Even so," said the Englishman imperturbably. "Let us waste no time!"

It had been his attitude throughout, and it had had its effect upon the
men who had travelled with him. They had come to look upon him with
reverence, this mad Englishman, who was thus calmly preparing to risk
his life for a man whose bones had probably whitened in the desert years
before. By sheer, indomitable strength of purpose Herne was
accomplishing inch by inch the task that he had set himself.

A few days more found him traversing the wide, scrub-grown plateau that
stretched to the mountains where the Wandis had their dwelling-place.
The journey was a bitter one, the heat intense, the difficulties of the
way sometimes wellnigh insurmountable. They carried water with them,
but the need for economy was great, and Herne was continually possessed
by a consuming thirst that he never dared to satisfy.

The party consisted of himself, Hassan, an Arab lad, and five natives.
The rest of his following he had left on the edge of civilization,
encamped in the last oasis between the desert and the scrub, with orders
to await his return. If, as the Arab had suggested, he succeeded in
pushing through to the farther desert, he would return by a more
southerly route, giving Wanda as wide a berth as possible.

Thus ran his plans as, day after day, he pressed farther into the heart
of the unknown country that the British had abandoned in despair over
three years before. They found it deserted, in some parts almost
impenetrable, so dense was the growth of bush in all directions. And yet
there were times when it seemed to Herne that the sense of emptiness was
but a superficial impression, as if unseen eyes watched them on that
journey of endless monotony, as if the very camels knew of a lurking
espionage, and sneered at their riders' ignorance.

This feeling came to him generally at night, when he had partially
assuaged the torment of thirst that gave him no peace by day, and his
mind was more at leisure for speculation. At such times, lying apart
from his companions, wrapt in the immense silence of the African night,
the conviction would rise up within him that every inch of their
progress through that land of mystery was marked by a close observation,
that even as he lay he was under _surveillance_, that the dense
obscurity of the bush all about him was peopled by stealthy watchers
whose vigilance was never relaxed.

He mentioned his suspicion once to Hassan; but the Arab only smiled.

"The desert never sleeps, _effendi_. The very grass of the _savannah_
has ears."

It was not a very satisfactory explanation, but Herne accepted it. He
put down his uneasiness to the restlessness of nerves that were ever on
the alert, and determined to ignore it. But it pursued him, none the
less; and coupled with it was the voice that called to him perpetually,
like the crying of a lost soul.

They were drawing nearer to the mountains when one day the Arab lad,
Ahmed, disappeared. It happened during the midday halt, when the rest of
the party were drowsing. No one knew when he went or how, but he
vanished as if a hand had plucked him off the face of the earth. It
seemed unlikely that he would have wandered into the bush, but this was
the only conclusion that they could come to; and they spent the rest of
the day in fruitless searching.

Herne slept not at all that night. The place seemed to be alive with
ghostly whisperings, and he could not bring himself to rest. He spent
the long hours revolver in hand, waiting with a dogged patience for the
dawn.

But when it came at last, in a sudden tropical stream of light
illuminating all things, he knew that, his vigilance notwithstanding, he
had been tricked. The morning dawned upon a deserted camp. The natives
had fled in the night, and only Hassan and the camels remained.

Hassan was largely contemptuous.

"Let them go!" he said. "We are but a day's journey from Wanda. We will
go forward alone, _effendi_. The chief of the Wandis will not slay two
peaceful merchants who desire only to travel through to the Great
Desert."

And so, with the camels strung together, they went forward. There was no
attempt at concealment in their progress. The path they travelled was
clearly defined, and they pursued it unmolested. But ever the conviction
followed Herne that countless eyes were upon them, that through the
depths of the bush naked bodies slipped like reptiles, hemming them in
on every side.

They had travelled a couple of hours, and the sun was climbing
unpleasantly high, when, rounding a curve of the path, they came
suddenly upon a huddled figure. It looked at first sight no more than a
bundle of clothes kicked to one side, too limp and tattered to contain a
human form. But neither Herne nor his companion was deceived. Both knew
in a flash what that inanimate object was.

Hassan was beside it in a moment, and Herne only waited to draw his
revolver before he followed.

It was the boy, Ahmed, still breathing indeed, but so far gone that
every gasp seemed as if it must be his last. Hassan drew back the
covering from his face, and, in spite of himself, Herne shuddered; for
it was mutilated beyond recognition. The features were slashed to
ribbons.

"Water, _effendi_!" Hassan's voice recalled him; and he turned aside to
procure it.

It was little more than a tepid drain, but it acted like magic upon the
dying boy. There came a gasping whisper, and Hassan stooped to hear.

When, a few minutes later, he stood up, Herne knew that the end had
come; knew, too, by the look in the Arab's eyes that they stood
themselves on the brink of that great gulf into which the boy's life had
but that instant slipped.

"The Wandis have returned from a great slaughter," Hassan said. "Their
Prophet is with them, and they bring many captives. The lad wandered
into the bush, and was caught by a band of spies. They tortured him, and
let him go, _effendi_. Thus will they torture us if we go forward any
longer." He caught at the bridle of the nearest camel. "The lust of
blood is upon them," he said. "We will go back."

"Not so," Herne said. "If we go back we die, for the water is almost
gone. We must press forward now. There will be water in the mountains."

Hassan glanced at him sideways. He looked as if he were minded to defy
the mad Englishman, but Herne's revolver was yet in his hand, and he
thought better of it. Moreover, he knew, as did Herne, that their water
supply was not sufficient to take them back. So, without further
discussion, they pressed on until the heat compelled them to halt.

It had seemed to Herne the previous night that he could never close his
eyes again, but now as he descended from his camel, an intense
drowsiness possessed him. For a while he strove against it, and managed
to keep it at bay; but the sight of Hassan, curled up and calmly
slumbering, soon served to bring home to him the futility of
watchfulness. The Arab was obviously resigned to his particular fate,
whatever that might be, and, since sleep had become a necessity to him,
it seemed useless to combat it. What, after all, could vigilance do for
him in that world of hostility? The odds were so strongly against him
that it had become almost a fight against the inevitable. And he was too
tired to keep it up. With a sigh, he suffered his limbs to relax and lay
as one dead.



IV


HE awoke hours after with an inarticulate feeling that someone wanted
him, and started up to the sound of a rifle shot that pierced the
stillness like a crack of thunder. In a second he would have been upon
his feet, but, even as he sprang, something else that was very close at
hand sprang also, and hurled him backwards. He found himself fighting
desperately in the grip of an immense savage, fighting at a hopeless
disadvantage, with the man's knees crushing the breath out of his body,
and the man's hands locked upon his throat.

He struggled fiercely for bare life, but he was powerless to loosen that
awful, merciless pressure. The barbaric face that glared into his own
wore a devilish grin, inexpressibly malignant. It danced before his
starting eyes like some hideous spectre seen in delirium, intermittent,
terrible, with blinding flashes of light breaking between. He felt as if
his head were bursting. The agony of suffocation possessed him to the
exclusion of all else. There came a sudden glaze in his brain that was
like the shattering of every faculty, and then, in a blood-red mist, his
understanding passed.

It seemed to him when the light reeled back again that he had been
unconscious for a very long time. He awoke to excruciating pain, of
which he seemed to have been vaguely aware throughout, and found himself
bound hand and foot and slung across the back of a camel. He dangled
helplessly face downwards, racked by cramp and a fiery torment of thirst
more intolerable than anything he had ever known.

Darkness had fallen, but he caught the gleam of torches, and he knew
that he was surrounded by a considerable body of men. The ground they
travelled was stony and ascended somewhat steeply. Herne swung about
like a bale of goods, torn by his bonds, flung this way and that, and
utterly unable to protect himself in any way, or to ease his position.

He set his teeth to endure the torture, but it was so intense that he
presently fainted again, and only recovered consciousness when the
agonizing progress ceased. He opened his eyes, to find the camel that
had borne him kneeling, and he himself being bundled by two brawny
savages on to the ground. He fell like a log, and so was left. But,
bound though he was, the relief of lying motionless was such that he
presently recovered so far as to be able to look about him.

He discovered that he was lying in what appeared to be a huge
amphitheatre of sand, surrounded by high cliffs, ragged and barren, and
strewn with boulders. Two great fires burned at several yards' distance,
and about these, a number of savages were congregated. From somewhere
behind came the trickle of water, and the sound goaded him to something
that was very nearly approaching madness. He dragged himself up on to
his knees. His thirst was suddenly unendurable.

But the next instant he was flat on his face in the sand, struck down by
a blow on the back of the neck that momentarily stunned him. For a while
he lay prone, gritting the sand in his teeth; then again with the
strength of frenzy he struggled upwards.

He had a glimpse of his guard standing over him, and recognized the
savage who had nearly strangled him, before a second crashing blow
brought him down. He lay still then, overwhelmed in darkness for a long,
long time.

He scarcely knew when he was lifted at last and borne forward into the
great circle of light cast by one of the fires. He felt the glare upon
his eyeballs, but it conveyed nothing to him. Over by the farther fire
some festivity seemed to be in progress. He had a vague vision of
leaping, naked bodies, and the flash of knives. There was a good deal of
shouting also, and now and then a nightmare shriek. And then came the
torment of the fire, great heat enveloping him, thirst that was anguish.

He turned upon his captors, but his mouth was too dry for speech. He
could only glare dumbly into their evil faces, and they glared back at
him in fiendish triumph. Nearer to the red glow they came, nearer yet.
He could hear the crackle of the licking flames. They danced giddily
before his eyes.

Suddenly the arms that bore him swung back. He knew instinctively that
they were preparing to hurl him into the heart of the fire, and the
instinct of self-preservation rushed upon him, stabbing him to vivid
consciousness. With a gigantic effort he writhed himself free from their
hold.

He fell headlong, but the strength of madness had entered into him. He
fought like a man possessed, straining at his bonds till they cracked
and burst, forcing from his parched throat sounds which in saner moments
he would not have recognized as human, struggling, tearing, raging, in
furious self-defence.

He was hopelessly outmatched. The odds were such as no man in his senses
could have hoped to combat with anything approaching success. Almost
before his bonds began to loosen, his enemies were upon him again. They
hoisted him up, fighting like a maniac. They tightened his bonds
unconcernedly, and prepared for a second attempt.

But, before it could be made, a fierce yell rang suddenly from the
cliffs above them, echoing weirdly through the savage pandemonium,
arresting, authoritative, piercingly insistent.

What it portended Herne had not the vaguest notion, but its effect upon
the two Wandis who held him was instant and astounding. They dropped him
like a stone, and fled as if pursued by furies.

As for Herne, he wriggled and writhed from the vicinity of the fire,
still working at his bonds, his one idea to reach the water that he knew
was running within a stone's throw of him. It was an agonizing progress,
but he felt no pain but that awful, consuming thirst, knew no fear but a
ghastly dread that he might fail to reach his goal. For a single
mouthful of water at that moment he would have bartered his very soul.

His breathing came in great gasps. The sweat was running down his face.
His heart beat thickly, spasmodically. His senses were tottering. But he
clung tenaciously to the one idea. He could not die with his thirst
unquenched. If he crawled every inch of the way upon his stomach, he
would somehow reach the haven of his desire.

There came the padding of feet upon the sand close to him, and he cursed
aloud and bitterly. It was death this time, of course. He shut his eyes
and lay motionless, waiting for it. He only hoped that it might be
swift; that the hellish torture he was suffering might be ended at a
blow.

But no blow fell. Hands touched him, severed his bonds, dragged him
roughly up. Then, as he staggered, powerless for the moment to stand, an
arm, hard and fleshless as the arm of a skeleton, caught him and urged
him forward. Irresistibly impelled, he left the glare of the fire, and
stumbled into deep shadow.

Ten seconds later he was on his knees by a natural basin of rock in
which clear water brimmed, plunged up to the elbows, and drinking as
only a man who has known the thirst of the desert can drink.



V


He turned at last from that exquisite draught with the water running
down his face. His Arab dress hung about him in tatters. He was bruised
and bleeding in a dozen places. But the man's heart of him was alive
again and beating strongly. He was ready to sell his life as dearly as
he might.

He looked round for the native who had brought him thither, but it
seemed to him that he was alone, shut away by a frowning pile of rock
from the great amphitheatre in which the Wandis were celebrating their
return from the slaughter of their enemies. The shouting and the
shrieking continued in ghastly tumult, but for the moment he seemed to
be safe.

The moon was up, but the shadows were very deep. He seemed to be
standing in a hollow, with sheer rock on three sides of him. The water
gurgled away down a narrow channel, and fell into darkness. With
infinite caution he crept forward to peer round the jutting boulder that
divided him from his enemies.

The next instant sharply he drew back. A man armed with a long, native
spear was standing in the entrance.

He was still a prisoner, then; that much was certain. But his guard was
single-handed. He began to consider the possibility of overpowering him.
He had no weapon, but he was a practised wrestler; and they were so far
removed from the yelling crowd about the fire that a scuffle in that
dark corner was little likely to attract attention.

It was fairly obvious to him why he had been rescued from the fire.
Doubtless his gigantic struggles had been observed by the onlooker, and
he was considered too good a man to burn. They would keep him for a
slave, possibly mutilate him first.

Again, stealthily, he investigated the position round that corner of
rock. The man's back was turned towards him. He seemed to be watching
the doings of the distant tribesmen. Herne freed himself from his ragged
garment, and crept nearer. His enemy was of no great stature. In fact,
he was the smallest Wandi that he had yet seen. He questioned with
himself if he could be full grown.

Now or never was his chance, though a slender one at that, even if he
escaped immediate detection. He gathered himself together, and sprang
upon his unsuspecting foe.

He aimed at the native weapon, knowing the dexterity with which this
could be shortened and brought into action, but it was wrenched from him
before he could securely grasp it.

The man wriggled round like an eel, and in a moment the point was at his
throat. Herne flung up a defending arm, and took it through his flesh.
He knew in an instant that he was outmatched. His previous struggles had
weakened him, and his adversary, if slight, had the activity of a
serpent.

For a few breathless seconds they swayed and fought, then again Herne
was conscious of that deadly point piercing his shoulder. With a sharp
exclamation, he shifted his ground, trod on a loose stone, and sprawled
headlong backward.

He fell heavily, so heavily that all the breath was knocked out of his
body, and he could only lie, gasping and helpless, expecting death. His
enemy was upon him instantly, and he marvelled at the man's strength.
Sinewy hands encompassed his wrists, forcing his arms above his head. In
the darkness he could not see his face, though it was close to his own,
so close that he could feel his breathing, quick and hard, and knew that
it had been no light matter to master him.

He himself had wholly ceased to fight. He was bleeding freely from the
shoulder, and a dizzy sense of powerlessness held him passive, awaiting
his deathblow.

But still his adversary stayed his hand. The iron grip showed no sign of
relaxing, and to Herne, lying at his mercy, there came a fierce
impatience at the man's delay.

"Curse you!" he flung upwards from between his teeth. "Why can't you
strike and have done?"

His brain had begun to reel. He was scarcely in full possession of his
senses, or he had not wasted his breath in curses upon a savage who was
little likely to understand them. But the moment he had spoken, he knew
in some subtle fashion that his words had not fallen on uncomprehending
ears.

The hands that held him relaxed very gradually. The man above him seemed
to be listening. Herne had a fantastic feeling that he was waiting for
something further, waiting as it were to gather impetus to slay him.

And then, how it happened he had no notion, suddenly he was aware of a
change, felt the danger that menaced him pass, knew a surging darkness
that he took for death; and as his failing senses slid away from him he
thought he heard a voice that spoke his name.



VI

"BE still, _effendi_!"

It was no more than a whisper, but it pierced Herne's understanding as a
burst of light through a rent curtain.

He opened his eyes wide.

"Hassan!" he said faintly.

"I am here, _effendi._" Very cautiously came the answer, and in the
dimness a figure familiar to him stooped over Herne.

Herne tried to raise himself and failed with a groan. It was as if a
red-hot knife had stabbed his shoulder.

"What happened?" he said.

"The _effendi_ is wounded," the Arab made answer. "We are the prisoners
of the Mullah. The Wandis would have slain us, but he saved us alive.
Doubtless they will mutilate us presently as they are mutilating the
rest."

Herne set his teeth.

"What is this Mullah like?" he asked, after a moment.

"A man small of stature, _effendi_, but very fierce, with the visage of
a devil. The Wandis fear him greatly. When he looks upon them with anger
they flee."

Herne's eyes were striving to pierce the gloom.

"Where on earth are we?" he said.

"It is the Mullah's dwelling-place, _effendi_, at the gate of the City
of Stones. None may enter or pass out without his knowledge. His slaves
brought me hither while the _effendi_ was lying insensible. He cut my
bonds that I might bandage the _effendi's_ shoulder."

Again Herne sought to raise himself, and with difficulty succeeded. He
could make out but little of his surroundings in the gloom, but it
seemed to him that he was close to the spot where he had received his
wound, for the murmur of the spring was still in his ears, and in the
distance the yelling of the savages continued. But he was faint and
dizzy from pain and loss of blood, and his investigations did not carry
him very far. For a while he retained his consciousness, but presently
slipped into a stupor of exhaustion, through which all outside
influences soon failed to penetrate.

He dreamed after a time that Betty Derwent and he were sailing alone
together on a stormy sea, striving eternally to reach an island where
the sun shone and the birds sang, and being for ever flung back again
into the howling waste of waters till, in agony of soul, they ceased to
strive.

Then came the morning, all orange and gold, shining pitilessly down upon
him, and he awoke to the knowledge that Betty was far away, and he was
tossing alone on a sea that yet was no sea, but an endless desert of
sand. Intense physical pain dawned upon him at the same time, pain that
was anguish, thrilling through every nerve, so that he pleaded
feverishly for death, not knowing what he said.

No voice answered him. No help came. He rocked on and on in torment
through the sandy desolation, seeing strange visions dissolve before his
eyes, hearing sounds to which his tortured brain could give no meaning.
In the end, he lost himself utterly in the mazes of delirum, and all
understanding ceased.

Long, long afterwards he came back as it were from a great journey, and
knew that Hassan was waiting upon him, ministering to him, tending him
as if he had been a child. He was too weak for speech, almost too weak
to open his eyes, but the life was still beating in his veins. It was
the turn of the tide.

Wearily he dragged himself back from the endless waste in which he had
wandered, back to sanity, back to the problems of life. Hassan smiled
upon him as a mother upon her infant, being not without cause for
self-congratulation on his own account.

"The _effendi_ is better," he said. "He will sleep and live."

And Herne slept, as a child sleeps, for many hours.

He awoke towards sunset to hear sounds that made him marvel--the
cheerful clatter of a camp, the voices of men, the protests of camels.

It took him back to that last evening he had spent in contact with
civilization, the evening he had finally set himself to conquer the
unknown, in answer to a voice that called. How much of that mission had
he accomplished, he asked himself? How far was he even yet from his
goal?

He gazed with drawn brows at the narrow walls of the tent in which he
lay, and presently, a certain measure of strength returning to him, he
raised himself on his sound arm and looked about him.

On the instant he perceived the faithful Hassan watching beside him. The
Arab beamed upon him as their eyes met.

"All is well, _effendi_," he said. "By the mercy of Allah, we have
reached the Great Desert, and are even now in the company of El Azra,
the spice merchant. We shall travel with his caravan in safety."

"But how on earth did we get here?" questioned Herne.

Hassan was eager to explain.

"We escaped by night from Wanda three days ago, the Prophet of the
Wandis himself assisting us. You were wounded, _effendi_, and without
understanding. The Prophet of the Wandis bore you on his camel. It was a
journey of many dangers, but Allah protected us, and guided us to this
oasis, sending also El Azra to our succour. It is a strong caravan,
_effendi_. We shall be safe with him."

But here Herne suddenly broke in upon his complacence.

"It was not my intention to leave Wanda," he said, "till I had done what
I went to do. I must go back."

"_Effendi_!"

"I must go back!" he reiterated with force. "Do you think, because I
have been beaten once, I will give up in despair? I should have thought
you would have known me better by now."

"But, _effendi_, there is nothing to be gained by going back," Hassan
pleaded. "The man you seek is dead, and we are already fifty miles from
Wanda."

"How do you know he is dead?" Herne demanded.

"From the mouth of the Wandi Prophet himself, _effendi_. He asked me
whence you came and wherefore, and when I told him, he said, 'The man is
dead.'"

"Is this Prophet still with us?" Herne asked.

"Yes, _effendi_, he is here. But he speaks no tongue save his own. And
he is a terrible man, with the face of a devil."

"Bring him to me!" Herne said.

"He will come, _effendi_; but he will only speak of himself. He will not
answer questions."

"Enough! Fetch him!" Herne ordered. "And you remain and interpret!"

But when Hassan was gone, his weakness returned upon him, and the
bitterness of defeat made itself felt. Was this the end of his long
struggle, to be overwhelmed at last by the odds he had so bravely dared?
It was almost unthinkable. He could not reconcile himself to it. And yet
at the heart of him lurked the conviction that failure was to be his
portion. He had attempted the impossible. He had offered himself in
vain; and any further sacrifice could only end in the same way. If Bobby
Duncannon were indeed dead, his task was done; but he had felt so
assured that he still lived that he could not bring himself to expel the
belief. It was the lack of knowledge that he could not endure, the
thought of returning to the woman he loved empty-handed, of seeing once
more the soul-hunger in her eyes, and being unable to satisfy it.

No, he could not face it. He would have to go back, even though it meant
to his destruction, unless this Mad Prophet could furnish him with proof
incontestable of young Duncannon's death. He glanced with impatience
towards the entrance. Why did the man delay?

He supposed the fellow would want _backsheesh_, and that thought sent
him searching among his tattered clothing for his pocket-book. He found
it with relief; and then again physical weakness asserted itself, and he
leaned back with closed eyes. His shoulder was throbbing with a fiery
pain. He wondered if Hassan knew how to treat it. If not, things would
probably get serious.

The buzzing of a multitude of flies distracted his thoughts from this,
and he began to long ardently for a smoke. He roused himself to hunt for
his cigarette-case; but he sought in vain and finally desisted with a
groan.

It was at this point that the tent-flap was drawn aside, admitting for a
moment the marvellous orange glow of the sinking sun, and a man attired
as an Arab came noiselessly in.



VII


Herne lay quite still, regarding his visitor with critical eyes.

The latter stood with his back to the western glow. His face was more
than half concealed by one end of his turban. He made no advance, but
stood like a brazen image, motionless, inscrutable, seeming scarcely
aware of the Englishman's presence.

It was Herne who broke the silence. The light was failing very rapidly.
He raised his voice with a touch of impatience.

"Hassan, where are you?"

At that the stranger moved, as one coming out of a deep reverie.

"There is no need to call your servant," he said, halting slightly over
the words. "I speak your language."

Herne opened his eyes in surprise. He knew that many of the Wandis had
come in contact with Englishmen, but few of them could be said to have a
knowledge of the language. He saw at a glance that the man before him
was no ordinary Wandi warrior. His build was too insignificant, more
suggestive of the Arab than the negro. His hands were like the hands of
an Egyptian mummy, dark of hue and incredibly bony. He wished he could
see the fellow's face. Hassan's description had fired his curiosity.

"So," he said, "you speak English, do you? I am glad to hear it. And you
are the Mullah of Wanda, the man who saved my life?"

He received no reply whatever from the man in the doorway. It was as if
he had not spoken.

Herne frowned. It seemed likely to be an unsatisfactory interview after
all. But just as he was about to launch upon a fresh attempt, the man
spoke, in a slow, deep voice that was not without a certain richness of
tone.

"You came to Wanda--my prisoner," he said. "You left because I do not
kill white men, and they are not good slaves. But if you return to Wanda
you will die. Therefore be wise, and go back to your people, as I go to
mine!"

Herne raised himself to a sitting position. His shoulder was beginning
to hurt him intolerably, but he strove desperately to keep it in the
background of his consciousness.

"Why don't you kill white men?" he said.

But the question was treated with a silence that felt contemptuous.

The glow without was fading swiftly, and the darkness was creeping up
like a curtain over the desert. The weird figure standing upright
against the door-flap seemed to take on a deeper mystery, a silence more
unfathomable.

Herne began to feel as if he were in a dream. If the man had not spoken
he would have wondered if his very presence were but hallucination.

He gathered his wits for another effort.

"Tell me," he said, "do you never use white men as slaves?"

Still that uncompromising silence.

Herne persevered.

"Three years ago, before the Wandis conquered the Zambas, there was a
white man, an Englishman, who placed himself at their head, and taught
them to fight. I am here to seek him. I shall not leave without news of
him."

"The Englishman is dead!" It was as if a mummy uttered the words. The
speaker neither stirred nor looked at Herne. He seemed to be gazing into
space.

Herne waited for more, but none came.

"I want proof of his death," he said, speaking very deliberately. "I
must know beyond all doubt when and how he died."

"The Englishman was burned with the other captives," the slow,
indifferent voice went on. "He died in the fire!"

"What?" said Herne, with violence. "You devil! I don't believe it! I
thought you did not kill white men!"

"He was not as other white men," came the unmoved reply. "The Wandis
feared his magic. Fire alone can destroy magic. He died slowly but--he
died!"

"You devil!" Herne said again.

His hand was fumbling feverishly at his bandaged shoulder. He scarcely
knew what he was doing. In his impotent fury he sought only for freedom,
not caring how he obtained it. Never in the whole of his life had he
longed so overpoweringly to crush a man's throat between his hands.

But his strength was unequal to the effort. He sank back, gasping,
half-fainting, yet struggling fiercely against his weakness. Suddenly he
was aware of the blood welling up to his injured shoulder. He knew in an
instant that the wound had burst out afresh; knew, too, that the bandage
would be of no avail to check the flow.

"Fetch Hassan!" he jerked out.

But the man before him made no movement to obey.

"Are you going to stand by, you infernal fiend, and watch me die?" Herne
flung at him.

A thick mist was beginning to obscure his vision, but it seemed to him
that those last words of his took effect. Undoubtedly the man moved,
came nearer, stooped over him.

"Go!" Herne gasped. "Go!"

He could feel the blood soaking through the bandage under his hand,
spreading farther every instant.

This was to be the end, then, to lie at the mercy of this madman till
death came to blot out all his efforts, all his hopes. He made a last
feeble effort to stanch that deadly flow, failed, sank down exhausted.

It was then that a voice came to him out of the gathering darkness,
quick and urgent, speaking to him, as it were, across the gulf of years:

"Monty, Monty, lie still, man! I'll see to you!"

That voice recalled Herne, renewed his failing faculties, galvanized him
into life. The man with the mummy's hands was bending over him,
stripping away the useless bandage, fashioning it anew for the moment's
emergency. In a few seconds he was working at it with pitiless strength,
twisting and twisting again till the tension told, and Herne forced back
a groan.

But he clung to consciousness with all his quivering strength,
bewildered, unbelieving still, yet hovering on the edge of conviction.

"Is it really you, Bobby?" he whispered. "I can't believe it! Let me
look at you! Let me see for myself!"

The man beside him made no answer. He had snatched up the first thing he
could find, a fragment of a broken tent-peg, to tighten the pressure
upon the wound.

But, as if in response to Herne's appeal, he freed one hand momentarily,
and pushed back the covering from his face. And in the dim light Herne
looked, looked closely; then shut his eyes and sank back with an
uncontrollable shudder.

"Merciful Heaven!" he said.



VIII


"Monty, I say! Monty!"

Again the gulf of years was bridged; again the voice he knew came down
to him. Herne wrestled with himself, and opened his eyes.

The man in Arab dress was still kneeling by his side, the skeleton hands
still supported him, but the face was veiled again.

He suppressed another violent shudder.

"In Heaven's name," he said, "what are you?"

"I am a dead man," came the answer. "Don't move! I will call your man in
a moment, but I must speak to you first. Do you feel all right?"

"Bobby!" Herne said.

"No, I am not Bobby. He died, you know, ages ago. They cut him up and
burned him. Don't move. I have stopped the bleeding, but it will easily
start again. Lean back--so! You needn't look at me. You will never see
me again. But if I hadn't shown you--once, you would never have
understood. Are you comfortable? Can you listen?"

"Bobby!" Herne said again.

He seemed incapable of anything but that one word, spoken over and over,
as though trying to make himself believe the incredible.

"I am not Bobby," the voice reiterated. "Put that out of your mind for
ever! He belonged to another life, another world. Don't you believe me?
Must I show you--again? Do you really want to talk with me face to
face?"

"Yes," Herne said, with abrupt resolution. "I will see you--talk with
you--as you are."

There was a brief pause, and he braced himself to face, without
blenching, the thing that a moment before, his soldier's training
notwithstanding, had turned him sick with horror. But he was spared the
ordeal.

"There is no need," said the familiar voice. "You have seen enough. I
don't want to haunt you, even though I am dead. What put it into your
head to come in search of me? You must have known I should be long past
any help from you."

"I--wanted to know," Herne said. He was feeling curiously helpless, as
if, in truth, he were talking with a mummy. All the questions he desired
to put remained unuttered. He was confronted with the impossible, and he
was powerless to deal with it.

"What did you want to know? How I died? And when? It was a thousand
years ago, when those damned Wandis swallowed up the Zambas. They took
me first--by treachery. Then they wiped out the entire tribe. The poor
devils were lost without me. I always knew they would be--but they made
a gallant fight for it." A thrill of feeling crept into the monotonous
voice, a tinge of the old abounding pride, but it was gone on the
instant, as if it had not been. "They slaughtered them all in the end,"
came in level, dispassionate tones, "and, last of all, they killed me.
It was a slow process, but very complete. I needn't harrow your
feelings. Only be quite sure I am dead! The thing that used to be my
body was turned into an abomination that no sane creature could look
upon without a shudder. And as for my soul, devils took possession, so
that even the Wandis were afraid. They dare not touch me now. I have
trampled them, I have tortured them, I have killed them. They fly from
me like sheep. Yet, if I lead, they follow. They think, because I have
conquered them, that I am invincible, invulnerable, immortal. They
cringe before me as if I were a god. They would offer me human sacrifice
if I would have it. I am their talisman, their mascot, their safeguard
from defeat, their luck--a dead man, Herne, a dead man! Can't you see
the joke? Why don't you laugh?"

Again the grim voice thrilled as if some fiendish mirth stirred it to
life.

Herne moved and groaned, but spoke no word.

"What? You don't see it? You never had much sense of humour. And yet
it's a good thing to laugh when you can. We savages don't know how to
laugh. We only yell. That is all you wanted to know, is it? You will go
back now with an easy mind?"

"As if that could be all!" Herne muttered.

"That is all. And count yourself lucky that I haven't killed you. It was
touch and go that night you attacked me. You may die yet."

"I may. But it won't be your fault if I do. Great Heaven, I might have
killed you!"

"So you might." Again came that quiver of dreadful laughter. "That would
have been the end of the story for everyone, for you wouldn't have got
away without me. But that was no part of the program. Even you couldn't
kill a dead man. Feel that, if you don't believe me!" Suddenly one of
the shrivelled, mummy hands came down to his own. "How much life is
there in that?"

Herne gripped the hand. It was cold and clammy; he could feel every
separate bone under the skin. He could almost hear them grind together
in his hold. He repressed another shudder; and even as he did it, he
heard again the bitter cry of a woman's wrung heart, "Bobby is still
alive and wanting me."

Would she say that when she knew? Would she still reach out her hands to
this monstrous wreck of humanity, this shattered ruin of what had once
been a tower of splendid strength? Would she feel bound to offer
herself? Was her love sufficient to compass such a sacrifice? The bare
thought revolted him.

"Are you satisfied?" asked the voice that seemed to him like a mocking
echo of Bobby's ardent tones. "Why don't you speak?"

A great struggle was going on in Herne's soul. For Betty's sake--for
Betty's sake--should he hold his peace? Should he take upon himself a
responsibility that was not his? Should he deny this man the chance that
was his by right--the awful chance--of returning to her? The temptation
urged him strongly; the fight was fierce. But--was it because he still
grasped that bony hand?--he conquered in the end.

"I haven't told you yet why I came to look for you," he said.

"Is it worth while?" The question was peculiarly deliberate, yet not
wholly cynical.

Desperately Herne compelled himself to answer.

"You have got to know it, seeing it was not for my own
satisfaction--primarily--that I came."

"Why then?" The brief query held scant interest; but the hand he still
grasped stirred ever so slightly in his.

Herne set his teeth.

"Because--someone--wanted you."

"No one ever wanted me," said the Wandi Mullah curtly.

But Herne had tackled his task, and he pursued it unflinching.

"I came for the sake of a woman who once--long ago--refused to marry
you, but who has been waiting for you--ever since."

"A woman?" Undoubtedly there was a savage note in the words. The
shrunken fingers clenched upon Herne's hand.

"Betty Derwent," said Herne very quietly.

Dead silence fell in the darkened tent--the silence of the desert,
subtle, intense, in a fashion terrible. It lasted for a long time; so
long a time that Herne suffered himself at last to relax, feeling the
strain to be more than he could bear. He leaned among his pillows, and
waited. Yet still, persistently, he grasped that cold, sinuous hand,
though the very touch of it repelled him, as the touch of a reptile
provokes instinctive loathing. It lay quite passive in his own, a thing
inanimate, yet horribly possessed of life.

Slowly at last through the darkness a voice came:

"Monty!"

It was hardly more than a whisper; yet on the instant, as if by magic,
all Herne's repulsion, his involuntary, irrepressible shrinking, was
gone. He was back once more on the other side of the gulf, and the hand
he held was the hand of a friend.

"My dear old chap!" he said very gently.

Vaguely he discerned the figure by his side. It sat huddled, mummy-like
but it held no horrors for him any longer. They were not face to face
in that moment--they were soul to soul.

"I say--Monty," stumblingly came the words, "you know--I never dreamed
of this. I thought she would have married--long ago. And she has been
waiting--all these years?"

"All these years," Herne said.

"Do you think she has suffered?" There was a certain sharpness in the
question, as if it were hard to utter.

And Herne, pledged to honesty, made brief reply:

"Yes."

There followed a pause; then:

"Will it grieve her--very badly--to know that I am dead?" asked the
voice beside him.

"Yes, it will grieve her." Herne spoke as if compelled.

"But she will get over it, eh?"

"I believe so." Herne's lips were dry; he forced them to utterance.

The free hand fastened claw-like upon his arm.

"You'll tell me the straight truth, man," said Bobby's voice in his ear.
"What if I--came to life?"

But Herne was silent. He could not bring himself to answer.

"Speak out!" urged the voice--Bobby's voice, quick, insistent, even
imploring. "Don't be afraid! I haven't any feelings left worth
considering. She wouldn't get over that, you think? No woman could!"

Herne turned in desperation, and faced his questioner.

"God knows!" he said helplessly.

Again there fell a silence, such a silence as falls in a death-chamber
at the moment of the spirit's passing. The darkness was deepening. Herne
could scarcely discern the figure by his side.

The hand upon his arm had grown slack. All vitality seemed to have gone
out of it. It was as though the spirit had passed indeed. And in the
stillness Herne knew that he was recrossing the gulf, that his
friend--the boy he had known and loved--was receding rapidly, rapidly
behind the veil of years, would soon be lost to him for ever.

The voice that spoke to him at length was the voice of a stranger.

"Remember," it said, "Bobby Duncannon is dead--has been dead for years!
Let no woman waste her life waiting for him, for he will never return!
Let her marry instead the man who wants her, and put the empty years
behind! In no other way will she find happiness."

"But you?" Herne groaned. "You?"

The hand he held had slipped from his grasp. Through the dimness he saw
the man beside him rise to his feet. A moment he stood; then flung up
his arms above his head in a fierce gesture of renunciation that sent a
stab of recollection through Herne.

"I! I go to my people!" said the Prophet of the Wandis. "And you--will
go to yours."

It was final, and Herne knew it; yet his heart cried out within him for
the friend he had lost. Suddenly he found he could not bear it.

"Bobby! Bobby!" he burst forth impulsively. "Stop, man, stop and think!
There must be some other way. You can't--you shan't--go back!"

He hardly knew what he said, so great was his distress. The gulf was
widening, widening, and he was powerless. He knew that it could never be
bridged again.

"It's too big a forfeit," he urged very earnestly. "You can't do it. I
won't suffer it. For Betty's sake--Bobby, come back!"

And then, for the last time, he heard his friend's voice across the
ever-widening gulf.

"For Betty's sake, old chap, I am a dead man. Remember that! It's you
who must go back to her. Marry her, love her, make her--forget!"

For an instant those mummy hands rested upon him, held him, caressed
him; it was almost as if they blessed him. For an instant the veil was
lifted; they were comrades together. Then it fell....

There came a quiet movement, the sound of departing feet.

Herne turned and blindly searched the darkness. Across the gulf he cried
to his friend to return to him.

"Bobby, come back, lad, come back! We'll find some other way."

But there came no voice in answer, no sound of any sort. The desert had
received back its secret. He was alone....



IX


"Now, don't bother any more about me!" commanded Betty Derwent,
establishing herself with an air of finality on the edge of the trout
stream to which she had just suffered herself to be conducted by her
companion. "I am quite capable of baiting my own hook if necessary. You
run along up-stream and have some sport on your own account!"

The companion, a very young college man, looked decidedly blank over
this kindly dismissal. He had been manoeuvring to get Betty all to
himself for days, but, since everybody seemed to want her, it had been
no easy matter. And now, to his disgust, just as he was congratulating
himself upon having gained his end and secured a _tête-à-tête_ that,
with luck, might last for hours, he was coolly told to run along and
amuse himself while she fished in solitude.

"I say, you know," he protested, "that's rather hard lines."

"Don't be absurd!" said Betty. "I came out to catch fish, not to talk.
And you are going to do the same."

"Oh, confound the fish!" said the luckless one.

Nevertheless, he yielded, seeing that it was expected of him, and took
himself off, albeit reluctantly.

Betty watched him go, with a faint smile. He was a nice boy undoubtedly,
but she much preferred him at a distance.

She sat down on the bank above the trout-stream, and took a letter from
her pocket. It had reached her the previous day, and she had already
read it many times. This fact, however, did not deter her from reading
it yet again, her chin upon her hand. It was not a lengthy epistle.

     "DEAR BETTY," it said, "I am back from my wanderings, and I
     am coming straight to you; but I want you to get this letter
     first, in time to stop me, if you feel so inclined. It is
     useless for me to attempt to soften what I have to say. I
     can only put it briefly, just because I know--too well--what
     it will mean to you. Betty, the boy is dead, has been dead
     for years. How he died and exactly when, I do not know; but
     I have certified the fact of his death beyond all question.
     He died at the hands of the Wandis, when his own men, the
     Zambas, were defeated. So much I heard from the Wandi Mullah
     himself, and more than that I cannot tell you. My dear, that
     is the end of your romance, and I know that you will never
     weave another. But, that notwithstanding, I am coming--now,
     if you will have me--later, if you desire it--to claim you
     for myself. Your happiness always has and always will come
     first with me, and neither now nor hereafter shall I ever
     ask of you more than you are disposed to give.--Ever yours,"

                                               "MONTAGUE HERNE."

Very slowly Betty's eyes travelled over the paper. She read right to the
end, and then suffered her eyes to rest for a long time upon the
signature. Her fishing-rod lay forgotten on the ground beside her. She
seemed to be thinking deeply.

Once, rather suddenly, she moved to look at the watch on her wrist. It
was drawing towards noon. She had sent no message to delay him. Would he
have travelled by the night train? But she dismissed that conjecture as
unlikely. Herne was not a man to do anything headlong. He would give her
ample time. She almost wished--she checked the sigh that rose to her
lips. No, it was better as it was. A man's ardour was different from a
boy's; and she--she was a girl no longer. Her romance was dead.

A slight sound beside her, a footstep on the grass! She turned, looked,
sprang to her feet. The vivid colour rushed up over her face.

"You!" she gasped, almost inarticulately.

He had come by the night train after all.

He came up to her quite quietly, with that leisureliness of gait that
she remembered so well.

"Didn't you expect me?" he said.

She held out a hand that trembled.

"Yes, I--I knew you would come; only, you see, I hardly thought you
would get here so soon."

"But you meant me to come?" he said.

His hand held hers closely, warmly, reassuringly. He looked into her
face.

For a few seconds she evaded the look with a shyness beyond her control;
then resolutely she mastered herself and met his eyes.

"Yes, I meant you to come. I am glad you are back. I--" She broke off
suddenly, gazing at him in consternation. "Monty," she exclaimed, "you
never told me you had been ill!"

He smiled at that, and her agitation began to subside.

"I am well again, Betty," he said.

"Oh, but you don't look it," she protested. "You look--you look as if
you had suffered--horribly. Have you?"

He passed the question by. "At least, I have managed to come back
again," he said, "as I promised."

"I--I am thankful to see you again," she faltered her shyness returning
upon her. "I've been--desperately anxious."

"On my account?" said Herne.

She bent her head. "Yes."

"Lest I shouldn't come back?"

"Yes," she said again.

"But I told you I should," He was still holding her hand, trying to read
her downcast face.

"Oh, I knew you would if you could," said Betty. "Only--I couldn't help
thinking--of what you said about--about sacrificing substance
to--shadow. It--was very wrong of me to send you."

She spoke unevenly, with obvious effort. She seemed determined that he
should not have that glimpse into her soul which he so evidently
desired.

"My dear Betty," he said, "I went on my own account as much as on yours.
I think you forget that. Or are you remembering--and regretting--it?"

She had begun to tremble. He laid a steadying hand upon her shoulder.

"No," she said faintly. Then swiftly, impulsively, she raised her face.
"Major Herne, I--I want to tell you something--before you say any more."

"What is it, Betty?" he said.

"Just this," she made answer, speaking very quickly. "I--I am not good
enough for you. I haven't been--straight with you. I've been realizing
it more and more ever since you went away. I--I'm quite despicable. I've
been miserable about it--wretched--all the time you have been away."

Herne's face changed. A certain grimness came into it.

"But, my dear girl," he said, "you never pretended to be in love with
me."

She drew a sharp breath of distress.

"I know," she said. "I know. And I let you go to that dreadful place,
though I knew--before you went--that, whatever happened, it could make
no difference to me. But I hadn't the courage to tell you the truth.
After what passed between us that night, I felt--I couldn't. And so--and
so--I let you go, even though I knew I was deceiving you. Oh, do forgive
me if you can! I've had my punishment. I have been nearly mad with
anxiety lest any harm should come to you."

"I suppose I ought to be grateful for that," Herne said. He still looked
grim, but there was no anger about him. He had taken his hand from her
shoulder, but he still held her trembling fingers in his quiet grasp.
"Don't fret!" he said. "Where's the use? I shall get over it somehow. If
you are quite sure you know your own mind, there is no more to be said."
He spoke with no shadow of emotion. His eyes looked into hers with
absolute steadiness. He even, after a moment, very faintly smiled.
"Except good-bye!" he said. "And perhaps the sooner I say that the
better."

But at this point Betty broke in upon him breathlessly, almost
incoherently.

"Major Herne, I--I don't understand. You--you can say good-bye, of
course--if you wish. But--it will be by your own choice if you do."

"What?" he said.

She snatched her hand suddenly from him.

"I suppose you mean to punish me, to make me pay for my--idiocy.
You--you think--"

"I think that either you or I must be mad," said Herne.

"Then it's you!" flung back Betty half hysterically. "To imagine for one
moment that I--that I meant--that!"

"Meant what?" A sudden note of sternness made itself heard in Herne's
voice. He moved a step forward, and took her shoulders between his
hands, looking at her closely, unsparingly. "Betty," he said, "let us at
least understand one another! Tell me what you meant just now!"

She faced him defiantly

"I didn't mean anything."

He passed that by.

"Why did you ask my forgiveness?"

She made a sharp gesture of repudiation.

"What was there to forgive?" he insisted.

"I--I am not going to tell you," said Betty, with great distinctness.

Again he overlooked her open defiance.

"You are afraid. Why?"

"I'm not!" said Betty almost fiercely.

"You are afraid," he repeated deliberately, "afraid of my finding
out--something. Betty, look at me!"

Her face was scarlet. She turned it swiftly from him.

"Let me go!"

"Look at me!" he repeated.

She began to pant. She was quivering between his hands like a wild thing
caught. "Major Herne, it isn't fair of you! Let me go!"

"Never, Betty!" He spoke with sudden decision; but all the grimness had
gone from his face. "You may as well give in, for I have you at my
mercy. And I will be merciful if you do, but not otherwise."

"How dare you?" gasped Betty almost inarticulately.

"I dare do many things," said Montague Herne, with a smile that was not
all mirthful. "How long have you left off crying for the moon? Tell me!"

"I won't tell you anything!" protested Betty.

"Yes, you will. I have got to know it. If you will only give in like a
wise woman, you will find it much easier."

His voice held persuasion this time. For a little she made as if she
would continue to resist him; then impulsively she yielded.

"Oh, Monty!" she said, with a sob; and the next moment was in his arms.

He held her close.

"Come!" he said. "You can tell me now."

"I--don't know," whispered Betty, her face hidden. "You--frightened me
by being so ready to go away again. I couldn't help wondering if it had
been just kindness that prompted you to come to me. It--I suppose it
wasn't?" A startled note of interrogation sounded in her voice. She was
trembling still.

"Betty, Betty!" he said.

"Forgive me!" she whispered back, "You see, I couldn't have endured
that, because I--love you. No, wait; I haven't finished. I want you to
know the truth. I've been sacrificing substance to shadow, reality to
dreams, all my life--all my life. But that night--the night I took you
into my confidence--you opened my eyes. I began to see what I was doing.
But I hadn't the courage to tell you so, and it seemed not quite fair to
Bobby so I held my peace.

"I let you go. But I knew--I knew before you went--that even if you
found him, even if you brought him back, even if he cared for me still,
I should have nothing to give him. My feeling for him was just a dream
from which I had awakened. Oh, Monty, I was yours even then; and I kept
it back. That was why I wanted your forgiveness."

Breathlessly she ended, and in silence he heard her out. He was holding
her very closely to him, but his eyes looked beyond her, as though they
searched a far horizon.

"Do you understand?" whispered Betty at last.

He moved, and the look in his eyes changed. It was as if the horizon
narrowed.

"I understand," he said.

She lifted her face, with a gesture half shy, half confiding.

"Are you going to forgive me, Monty? I--I've paid a big price for my
foolishness--bigger than you will ever know. I kept asking
myself--asking myself--whatever I should do if you--if you brought him
back."

"Poor child!" he said. "Poor little Betty!"

She clung to him suddenly.

"Oh, wasn't I an idiot? And yet, somehow, I feel so treacherous.
Monty--Monty, you're sure he is dead?"

"Yes, he is dead," said Herne deliberately.

She drew a deep breath.

"I'm so thankful he never knew!" she said. "I--I don't suppose he really
cared, do you? Not enough to spoil his life?"

"God knows!" said Montague Herne very gravely.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Hullo!" said Betty's fellow-sportsman, making his appearance some time
later. "Getting on for grub-time, eh? How have you got on? Why, I
thought you came out to fish, and not to talk! Who on earth----"

"My _fiancé_," said Betty quickly.

"Your--Hullo! Why, it's Major Herne! Delighted to see you! Had no idea
you were in this country. Thought you were hunting big game somewhere in
Africa."

"I was," said Herne. "I--had no luck. So I came home."

"Where--presumably--you found it! Congratulations! Betty, I'm pleased!"

"How nice of you!" said Betty.

"Yes, it is rather, all things considered. How ever, I suppose even I
must regard it as a blessing in disguise. Perhaps, when you are
married, you will kindly leave off breaking all our hearts for nothing!"

"Perhaps you will leave off being so foolish as to let them be broken,"
returned Betty, with spirit.

"Ah, perhaps! Not very likely though I fear. Hearts are tender
things--eh, Major Herne? And when someone like Betty comes along there
is sure to be some damage done. It's the penalty we have to pay for
being only human."

"Ah, well, you soon get over it," said Betty quickly.

"How do you know that? I may perhaps, if I'm lucky; but there are
exceptions to every rule. Some of us go on paying the penalty all our
lives."

A moment's silence followed the light words. Betty apparently had
nothing to say.

And then: "And some of us don't even know the meaning of the word!" said
Montague Herne.





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