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Title: Blue Aloes - Stories of South Africa
Author: Stockley, Cynthia
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 "Blue Aloes - Stories of South Africa" ***

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BLUE ALOES

Stories Of South Africa

by

CYNTHIA STOCKLEY

Author of "Poppy," "Wild Honey," etc.



G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London

The Knickerbocker Press
1919

Copyright, 1919
by
Cynthia Stockley



CONTENTS

   BLUE ALOES

   THE LEOPARD

   ROSANNE OZANNE

   APRIL FOLLY



Blue Aloes


The Strange Story of a Karoo Farm

PART I

Night, with the sinister, brooding peace of the desert, enwrapped the
land, and the inmates of the old Karoo farm had long been at rest; but
it was an hour when strange tree-creatures cry with the voices of human
beings, and stealthy velvet-footed things prowl through places
forbidden by day, and not all who rested at Blue Aloes were sleeping.

Christine Chaine, wakeful and nervous, listening to the night sounds,
found them far more distracting than any the day could produce.  Above
the breathing of the three children sleeping near her in the big room,
the buzz of a moth-beetle against the ceiling, and the far-off howling
of jackals, she could hear something out in the garden sighing with
faint, whistling sighs.  More disquieting still was a gentle,
intermittent tapping on the closed and heavily barred shutters, inside
which the windows stood open, inviting coolness.  She had heard that
tapping every one of the three nights since she came to the farm.

The window stood to the right of her bed, and, by stretching an arm,
she could have unbolted the shutters and looked out, but she would have
died rather than do it.  Not that she was a coward.  But there was some
sinister quality in the night noises of this old Karoo farm that
weighed on her courage and paralyzed her senses.  So, instead of
stirring, she lay very still in the darkness, the loud, uncertain beats
of her heart adding themselves to all the other disconcerting sounds.

Mrs. van Cannan had laughed her lazy, liquid laugh when Christine
spoke, the first morning after her arrival, of the tapping.

"It was probably a stray ostrich pecking on your shutters," said the
mistress of Blue Aloes.  "You are strange to the Karoo, my dear.  When
you have been here a month, you'll take no notice of night noises."

There was possibly truth in the prophecy, but Christine doubted it.
There were also moments when she doubted being able to last a week out
at the farm, to say nothing of a month.  That was only in the night
watches, however; by day, she found it hard to imagine any
circumstances so unpleasant as to induce her to leave the three little
van Cannan children, who, even in so short a time, had managed to twine
their fingers and their mops of bronze hair round her affections.

The tapping began again, soft and insistent.  Christine knew it was not
a branch, for she had taken the trouble to ascertain; and that a stray
ostrich should choose her window to peck at for three nights running
seemed fantastic.  Irrelatively, one of the children murmured drowsily
in sleep, and the little human sound braced the girl's nerves.  The
sense of loneliness left her, giving place to courageous resolution.
She forgot everything save that she was responsible for the protection
of the children, and determined that the tapping must be investigated,
once and for all.  Just as she was stirring, the soft sighing
recommenced close to the shutters, followed by three clear taps.
Christine changed her mind about getting out of bed, but she leaned
toward the window on her elbow, and said, in a low voice that trembled
a little:

"Is any one there?"

A whistling whisper answered her:

"_Take care of the children._"

With the words, a strangely revolting odour came stealing through the
shutters.  The girl shrank back, all her fears returning.  Yet she
forced herself to speak again.

"Who is it?  What do you want?"

"_Mind the boy--take care of the boy,_" sobbed the whistling voice, and
again the foul odour stole into the room.  It seemed to Christine the
smell of something dead and rotten and old.  She could not bear it.
Hatred of it was greater than fear, and, springing from her bed, she
wrestled with the bolts of the shutters.  But when she threw them open
there was--nothing!  Darkness stood without like a presence, and seemed
to push against the shutters, trying to enter as she hastily rebarred
them.

Something was stirring in the room, too.  With hands that shook, she
lit the candle and, by its gleam, discovered Roderick, the eldest
child, sitting up in bed, his red-gold mop all tumbled, his eyes, full
of dreams, fixed on her with a wide stare.  She crossed the room, and
knelt beside him.

"What is it, darling?"

"I thought my nannie was there," he murmured.

"Your nannie?" she echoed, in surprise, knowing that "nannie" was the
common name for any black nurse who tended and waited on them.  "But
she is in bed and asleep long ago."

"I don't mean _that_ one.  I mean my nannie what's dead--Sophy."

The girl's backbone grew chill.  She remembered hearing that the
children had been always minded by an educated old Basuto woman called
Sophy, who had been a devoted slave to each from birth up, and because
of whose death, a few months back, a series of English governesses had
come and gone at the farm.

She remembered, too, those fluty whispers that resembled no human voice.

"Lie down, darling, and sleep," she said gently.  "I will stay by you."

The boy did not instantly obey.  He had a whim to sit up, watching.
There was no fear in his wide grey eyes, but it was uncanny to see them
searching the shadows of the room and returning always, with a fixed,
somnambulistic stare, to the window.  Christine had a fancy that
children, with the memories of another world clinging to them, have a
vision of unseen things denied to older people; and she wondered
painfully what was going on in the mind behind this handsome little
face.  At last, she prevailed upon him to lie down, but it was long
before he slept.  Even then, she sat on, holding his hand, keeping
vigil over him and the two other small sleepers.

They were lovely children.  Each head glowed red-gold upon its pillow,
and each little profile was of a regularity almost classical, with the
pure colouring peculiar to red-haired people.  The boy's face was well
sprinkled with freckles, but five-year-old Marguerite and little Coral,
of four, who were perfect little imps of mischief, had the dainty
snow-pink look of daisies growing in a meadow with their faces turned
up to God.

It was difficult to connect such fragrant, well-tended flowers with the
whistling horror out in the darkness.  More, it was absurd, impossible.
The girl decided that the whole thing was a bad nightmare which she
must shake off.  The explanation of it could only be that, half asleep,
she had dreamed she heard the tapping and the whispers, and smelled the
evil odour.  Why should a _Thing_ come and tell her to mind the
children?  "_Mind the boy._"  He was already minded--they were all
happy and well cared for in their own home.  The boy Roderick must have
been dreaming, too, and talking in his sleep.  Thus, Christine's clear
English mind rejected the whole thing as an illusion, resulting from
weariness and the new, strange conditions of her life.  Yet there was
an Irish side to her that could not so easily dispose of the matter.
She remembered with what uneasiness her nights had been haunted from
the first.  How always, when the dark fell, she had sensed something
uncanny, something unseen and menacing, that she could never track to
its source.  But tonight the sense of hovering evil had taken definite
form and direction.  It was at the children that harm was directed; the
whistling, sighing words had concerned the children only.  The girl
shivered again at the horrid recollection.

"Yet anything that cares about children cannot be altogether evil," she
thought.  That comforted her a little, but the spell of horror the
night had laid upon her was not lifted until dawn came.  Then she
slipped on some clothes and let herself out into the morning air.

The garden that straggled about the farm was composed of a dozen
century-old oaks, a sprinkling of feathery pepper-trees, and many
clumps of brilliant-blossomed cacti.  The veranda and outbuildings were
heavily hung with creepers, and great barrels of begonias and geraniums
stood about.  Within a few hundred yards of the house, the green and
glowing cultivation stopped as abruptly as the edges of an oasis in the
desert, and the Karoo began--that sweeping, high table-land, empty of
all but brown stones, long white thorns, fantastically shaped clumps of
prickly-pear, bare brown hills, and dried-up rivulets, and that yet is
one of the healthiest and, from the farmer's point of view, wealthiest
plateaux in the world.

Between the farm and the far hills arose a curious line of shroudy
blue, seeming to hover round the estate, mystically encircling it, and
cutting it off from the rest of the desert.  This was the century-old
hedge of blue aloes which gave the farm its name.  Planted in a huge
ring of many miles' circumference, the great spiked cacti, with leaves
thick and flat as hide shields, and pointed as steel spears, made a
barrier against cattle, ostriches, and human beings that was impassable
except by the appointed gaps.  No doubt it had a beauty all its own,
but beneath its fantastic, isolated blooms and leaves of Madonna blue,
the gnarled roots sheltered a hundred varieties of poisonous reptiles
and insects.  That is why, in Africa, no one likes blue aloes--they
always harbour death.

Dawn on the Karoo more than compensates for its fearsome nights and
torrid noontides.  The dew, jewelling a thousand spider-webs, the
sparkling brightness of the air, the exquisite purity of the
atmosphere, and grandeur of space and loneliness rimmed about by
rose-tipped skies and far forget-me-not hills make a magic to catch the
heart in a net from which it never quite escapes.

Christine felt this enchantment as she wandered across the veld, her
eyes fixed on the hills from behind which the sun would presently
emerge to fill the land with a clear, pitiless heat that turned
everything curiously grey.  A dam of water reflecting pink cloud-tips
lay bright and still as a sheet of steel.  The fields of lucerne, under
the morning light, were softly turning from black to emerald, and
beyond the aloe hedge a native kraal that was scattered on the side of
a hill slowly woke to life.  A dog barked; a wisp of smoke curled
between the thatched huts, and one or two blanketed figures crept from
the low doors.  The simple yet secret lives of these people intrigued
Christine deeply.  She knew little of Kafirs, for she had been in
Africa only a few months; but the impassive silence of them behind
their watching, alert eyes always fascinated her.  They said so little
before their masters, the whites.  Here, for instance, was a little
colony of fifty or more people living in a kraal close to their
employers.  Some of them were grey-haired and had worked for a quarter
of a century on the farm--the men on the land, the women at the
house--yet, once their daily tasks were over, none knew what their
lives were when they returned to the straggling village of palisades
and low-doored huts.

Musing on these things, Christine turned at last and sauntered slowly
homeward.  Everything was still very quiet, but smoke was rising from
the solid farm chimneys, and, rounding the corners of some large
outbuildings, she came suddenly upon more life--feathery, fantastic
life of spindlelegs and fluttering wings.  Scores of baby ostriches,
just released from their night shelter, were racing into the morning
light, pirouetting round each other like crazy, gleesome sprites.
Christine stood laughing at their fandangos and the antics of the
Kafirs engaged in herding them.  A man standing near, pipe in mouth,
and hands in pockets, observing the same scene, was astonished that her
sad yet passionate face could so change under the spell of laughter.
He had wondered, when he first saw her, why a girl with such ardent
eyes should wear such weariness upon her lips and look so disdainfully
at life.  Now he saw that it was a mask she wore and forgot when she
was alone, and he wondered still more what had brought such a girl to
be a governess on a Karoo farm.

But in a moment Christine's face changed, resuming, like a veil over
its youth and bloom, the look of world-weariness.  She bowed slightly
to him, with a somewhat cool response to his pleasant morning greeting,
and made haste to resume her walk homeward.

She knew him to be Richard Saltire, the government forest and land
expert, who was engaged in certain experiments on the farm.  He shared
a bungalow somewhere on the land with two young Hollanders who were
learning ostrich-farming, and came with them to lunch every day at the
house.  Already, his bold, careless face, with its sunbitten beauty,
had separated itself in her memory from the faces of the other men, for
it was a face and personality that could not leave a woman undisturbed.
Incidentally, it had disturbed her in connection with an impression not
altogether agreeable.

One of the first hints Mrs. van Cannan had given the new governess was
that the master of Blue Aloes did not care for any kind of intimacy to
exist between the womenfolk of the farm and the men occupied about it.
Christine had been long enough in South Africa to recognize that this
was an odd departure from the general rule of friendliness and
equality; but a hint to the proud has the same efficacy as a word to
the wise.  Besides, she had no longing for the society of men, but
rather a wish to forget that she had ever known any.  Life had made a
hole in her heart which she meant to fill if she could, but only with
inanimate things and the love of children.  So that Mr. van Cannan's
unsociable restriction, far from being irksome, suited her perfectly.

Mrs. van Cannan apparently did not apply to herself her husband's
injunction, for she was charming to everybody, and especially to Mr.
Saltire.  It was impossible not to notice this, and also that the fact
was not lost upon the gloomy, fanatic glance of the master of the house.

If Mr. Saltire showed bad taste in so openly returning Mrs. van
Cannan's interest, it had to be admitted that it was the form of bad
taste that is a law unto itself and takes no thought of the opinion of
others.  Although Africa had spoiled Saltire's complexion, it was
evident that she had never bowed his neck or put humility into his eye
or made him desist from looking over his boldly cut nose as though he
had bought the world and did not want it.

But to Christine Chaine it seemed that to cause pain to a man racked
with neuritis and jealousy for the sake of a mild flirtation with a
pretty woman was a cruel as well as a dangerous game.  That was one of
the reasons why the friendliness of his morning greeting had been met
with such coldness.  She had known heartlessness before in her life,
and wished no further acquaintance with it.  That was the resolution
with which she hurried back through the straggling garden, the
whitewashed porch, and massive front door to the nursery.

The children, full of high spirits and wilfulness, were engaged in
their morning romp of trying to evade Meekie, the colored "nannie,"
whose business it was to bathe them.

They were extraordinarily lovable children, in spite of a certain
elf-like disobedience which possessed them like a disease.  It was
quite enough to tell them not to do a thing for them to be eaten up
with a desire to do it forthwith.  Christine had discovered this, and
had learned to manage them in other ways than by direct command.

"Take Roddy--no; take Coral, she is the dirtiest--no, no--Rita!  Rita
is the pig!" they shrieked, as they pranced from bed to bed.  "Bathe
yourself, old Meekie--you are the blackest of all."

Christine had her work cut out with them for the next half-hour, but at
last they were marshalled, sweet and shining, to breakfast, where she
presided, for their father always took an early breakfast, and Mrs. van
Cannan never rose until eleven.  Afterward, according to custom, they
paid a visit to the latter's room, to wish her good-morning.

Isabel van Cannan was a big, lazy, laughing woman, with sleepy, golden
eyes.  She spent hours in bed, lying, as she did now, amid quantities
of pillows, doing absolutely nothing.  She had told Christine that she
was of Spanish extraction, yet she was blond as a Swede.  Her hair,
which had a sort of lamb's-wool fluffiness, lay upon her pillows in two
great ropes, yellow as the pollen of a lily.  She took the children one
by one into a sleepy embrace, kissed and patted their cheeks,
admonishing them to be good and obey Miss Chaine in everything.

"Be sure not to go in the sun without your hats," she adjured the two
small girls.  "Roddy doesn't matter so much, but little girls'
complexions are very important."

Rita and Coral stuck out their rose-pink chins and exchanged a
sparkling glance.  Christine knew that she would have trouble with them
and their hats all day.

"Good-bye," said Mrs. van Cannan, and sank back among her pillows.  As
the children scampered out of the room, she called sharply, "Don't go
near the dam, Roddy!"

Christine had heard her say that before, and always with that sharp
inflection.

"I never let them go near the dam without me," she said reassuringly.
Mrs. van Cannan did not answer, but a quiver, as if of pain, passed
over her closed eyelids.

Outside in the passage, Roderick pressed close to Christine and
murmured, with a sort of elfin sadness:

"Carol was drowned in the dam."

The girl was startled.

"Carol?" she echoed.  "Who was Carol?"

"My big brother--a year older than me," he whispered.  "He is buried
out in the graveyard.  I'll take you to see the place if you like.  Let
us go now."

Christine collected herself.

"We must go to lessons now, dear.  Later on, you shall show me anything
you like."

But from time to time during the morning, sitting in the
creeper-trimmed summer-house they used for a school-room, with her
charges busy round her, Christine's thoughts returned to the strange
little revelation.  Roddy, with his red-gold brush of hair, bent over
his slate, was not the first-born, then!  _He_ had been drowned in the
dam--that peaceful sheet of walled-in water that reflected the pink
tips of dawn and wherein, at eventide, the cattle waded happily to
drink.  This old Karoo farmhouse had known tragedy, even as she had
sensed.  Small wonder Bernard van Cannan's eyes wore a haunted look!
Yet his wife, with her full happy laugh and golden locks, lying among
her pillows, seemed curiously untouched by sorrow.  Except for that
quiver of the eyelids, Christine had never seen her show anything but a
contented face to life.

Well--the history of Blue Aloes was a sealed book when the girl came to
it, knowing nothing of its inmates beyond their excellent references as
an old Huguenot family.  Now the book, slowly opening page by page, was
revealing strange things.

The luncheon-hour always provided fresh material for a reflective mind.
The dining-room was large and lofty, and the table must have dated back
to the early days at the Cape, when every great family had its scores
of retainers and slaves.  It was composed of time-stained teak, and
could have seated dozens, being curiously shaped like a capital E with
the middle branch of the letter missing.  Only one of the branches was
now in use, and at this Christine presided over her small charges,
fortunately somewhat aloof from the rest, for they had many odd habits
which it was her business to correct without drawing attention.  Coral
did not like pumpkin, and would keep dropping it on the floor.  Rita
loved to kill flies with a spoon.  Roddy's specialty was sliding bits
of meat into the open jaws of a pointer--there were always several
under the table--then briskly passing his plate for more.  Once or
twice, looking up from correcting these idiosyncrasies, the girl found
the blue eyes of Richard Saltire fixed upon her as if in ironic
inquiry, and though she felt the slow colour creep into her face, she
returned the glance coldly.  How dare he be curious about her, she
thought rather angrily.  Let him confine himself to making the lids of
his hostess droop and her cheeks dimple.  Not that Christine believed
there to be any harm in their open flirtation--Mrs. van Cannan was
plainly devoted to her husband; perhaps it was natural that she should
enjoy admiration.  She possessed the kind of beauty only to be achieved
by the woman who makes the care of her appearance an art, and spends
hours in absolute repose of mind and body.  Her face had not a line in
it of strain or sorrow.  Faint pink tinted her cheeks.  Her pink-linen
gown, open in a low V, showed the perfect contour and creaminess of her
breast.  The restless, adoring eyes of her husband came back to her
always with that glance, vigilant and sombre, that was peculiar to them.

With some assumption of state, he always sat in the centre of the body
of the table, with his wife beside him.  Saltire sat at her right, and
Saxby, the overseer, was placed beside his host.  Opposite them, on the
other side of the table, were the two young Hollanders and a cheerful
Scotch colonial called McNeil.

These six men were expected to take both luncheon and dinner at the
farm, but only the Hollanders turned up in the evening, perhaps because
the excellence of the fare was outbalanced by the long prayers and
hymns with which the meal was prefaced and ended.  Even at lunch-time,
there was a Bible at the host's elbow, from which he read a number of
texts before pronouncing a long grace, while the visitors listened with
expressions that varied from embarrassment to impatience.  Richard
Saltire always looked frankly bored, but sometimes he and Mrs. van
Cannan exchanged a smile of sympathy at having to listen to the
maledictions of Job while the roast was getting cold.  Hymns for lunch
were mercifully omitted.  Bernard van Cannan, though plainly a
religious fanatic, was also the owner of one of the wealthiest farms in
the colony, and no doubt he realized that the working-hours of his
employees might be more profitably engaged than by chanting hymns.

Saxby, the overseer, a dark, burly man of unusual height, was marked by
the thick lips and general fulness of countenance that suggests to
those who have lived long enough in Africa "a touch of colour."  He had
the soft voice, too, and full, deep laugh of those who have a dash of
native blood in their veins.  His manner was melancholy, though
charming, and he imposed his society upon no man, but attended strictly
to his business.  He was the best manager the farm had ever known.
After being there for less than a year, he had so improved the stock
and the land that Bernard van Cannan looked upon him as a little god,
and his word was law on the farm.  His private history, a rather sad
one, Christine had already heard from Mrs. van Cannan.  It appeared
that his wife had been terribly disfigured in a fire and was not only a
semi-invalid but a victim of melancholia.  She lived with him in an
isolated bungalow some way off, and he did everything for her with his
own hands as she shrank from being seen by any one, and particularly
detested natives.  While her husband was away at his duties, she
remained locked in the bungalow, inaccessible to any one save Mrs. van
Cannan, who sometimes went to sit with her.

"But I can't bear to go often," Isabel van Cannan told Miss Chaine.
"She depresses me so terribly, and what good can I do her, poor soul?"

Unnecessary for her to add that she hated being depressed.  It was bad
for the complexion, she laughed.  Laughter was never far from her lips.
But, at the moment, there really seemed some trace of the morning's
pain on her as she looked at her husband.

"Bernard's shoulder is giving him so much trouble," she said
appealingly to Saltire.  "He wants to go to East London to see his old
specialist, but I don't believe in that man.  I think rest in bed is
the cure for all ills.  Don't you agree with me, Mr. Saltire?"

"Bed has its uses no doubt," laughed Saltire, with the cheerful
carelessness of the thoroughly healthy man, "but a change of scene is
better sometimes, for some people."

Van Cannan, his shoulder and left eye twitching perpetually, turned a
searching gaze upon the deeply tanned face of the forestry expert, as
though suspecting some double meaning in the words.  Saltire bore the
scrutiny undisturbed.  Immaculate in white linens, his handsome fairish
head wearing a perpetually well-groomed look, perhaps by reason of a
bullet which, during the Boer War, had skimmed straight through his
hair, leaving a perfect parting in the centre, he was a striking
contrast to the haggard master of the house, who muttered morosely:

"There is some Latin saying--isn't there?--about people 'changing their
skies but not their dispositions.'"

"_In_disposition is a different matter," remarked Saxby sagely, "and
with neuritis it is a mistake to let the pain get too near the heart.
I think you ought to see a doctor, Mr. van Cannan, but East London is a
long way off.  Why not call in the district man?"

"He would prescribe a bottle of pink water and charge me a couple of
pounds for it.  I need better treatment than that.  I could not even
ride this morning--had to leave my horse and walk home.  The pain was
vile."

Saxby looked at him sympathetically.

"Well, try a couple of weeks' rest in bed, as Mrs. van Cannan suggests.
You know that I can keep things going all right."

"And Mr. Saltire will continue to turn the prickly-pears into ogres and
hags," said his wife, with her childlike smile.  "When you get up
again, he will have a whole army of shrivelled monsters ready for you."

It is true that this was Richard Saltire's business on the farm--to rid
the land of that bane and pest of the Karoo, the prickly-pear cactus.
The new governmental experiment was the only one, so far, that had
shown any good results in getting rid of the pest.  It consisted in
inoculating each bush with certain poisons, which, when they entered
the sap of the plant, shrivelled and withered it to the core, making
its large, pale, flapping hands drop off as though smitten by leprosy,
and causing the whole bush to assume a staggering, menacing attitude
that was immensely startling and grotesque.  Many of the natives were
now afraid to go about on the farm after dusk.  They said the
prickly-pears threatened them, even ran after them, intent on revenge.

Christine had heard Mr. van Cannan say that his father knew the man
whose grandfather was the first Dutchman to introduce the prickly-pear
into the Karoo.  It was a great treasure then, being looked upon as
good fodder for beast and ostrich in time of drought, and the boy used
to be beaten if he did not properly water the leaves which were being
laboriously preserved on the great trek into the desert.
Unfortunately, the preservation had been so complete that it was now
the ruin of many a fine Karoo estate, springing up everywhere,
smothering other growths and destroying, with its tiny multitudinous
thorns, the stomachs of the cattle, who love too much its watery
leaves.  Mr. van Cannan was one of the farmers rich enough to take
drastic steps to save his farm.  Saltire was doing it for him very
thoroughly and efficiently.

"How much longer do you expect to be?" asked van Cannan.

"Oh, another three weeks ought to finish the job," said Saltire.  "But,
as you know, they are most persistent things.  When you think they are
done for, you find them sprouting green again below the wound, and have
to give them another dose."

"Three weeks!" muttered van Cannan, with moody eyes.  He looked to
Christine like a man suffering with sickness of the soul.  Everyone
supposed the rest-cure definitely settled on, but, with the
contrariness of an ailing child, he suddenly announced determinedly, "I
shall leave for East London this afternoon."

The children were called to kiss him good-bye, and they clustered round
him.

"Take care of them for me," he said, with a piercing wistfulness, to
Christine.  "Take care of my boy."

Then he turned brusquely to Saxby, making arrangements for a mule-cart
to be ready at two o'clock to drive him into Cradock, the nearest large
town, where he would have to spend the night before proceeding farther
by rail.

Christine could not but be struck by the words he had used, and mused
over them wonderingly while she tucked Rita and Coral under their
mosquito-curtains.  It was her habit to spend this hour with Roddy and
a story-book.  But today he hovered restlessly, showing no inclination
to settle down, and seeming full of some suppressed excitement.  At
last, he whispered in her ear:

"Don't forget where you said you would come with me--to see Carol and
the others."  Christine wondered if old Sophy was one of the others,
and, even in the noontide heat, she felt a chill.

"All right, Roddy," she agreed slowly.  "Wait till I get a sunshade,
though.  It is dreadfully hot."

She shaded him as much as herself while they threaded their way through
the shrubs that seemed to simmer in the grey-brown heat.

Almost every South African farm has its private cemetery.  It is the
custom to bury the dead where they have lived, and often the graveyard
is in the shadiest corner of the garden, where the women sit to sew,
the men bring their pipes, and children spread their playthings upon
the flat, roughly hewn tombstones.

At Blue Aloes, the place of the dead was hidden far from the haunts of
the living, but the narrow, uncertain path led to it at last--a bare,
sun-bleached spot, secluded but unshaded by a gaudy-blossomed hedge of
cactus.  A straight, single line of graves, less than a dozen in
number, lay blistering in the sunshine.  Some were marked with slabs of
lime-worn [Transcriber's note: time-worn?] stone, upon whose faded
lettering little green rock-lizards were disporting themselves.  The
last two in the line had white marble crosses at their heads, each
bearing a name in black letters, and a date.  The preceding one, too,
was fairly new, with the earth heaped in still unbroken lumps upon it,
but it bore no distinguishing mark of any kind.  Death appeared to have
been fairly busy in recent times at Blue Aloes.  The date on the end
grave was no older than six months.

Little Bernard Quentin van Cannan lay there, sleeping too soon at the
age of three and a half.  Roddy pronounced his brief but sufficiently
eloquent epitaph.

"He was Coral's twin.  A tarantula bit him--one of the awful big
poisonous ones out of the aloe hedge."

The next cross registered the resting-place of Carol Quentin van
Cannan--drowned a year back, at the age of nine.  Christine's sad gaze
travelled to the third and unmarked mound.

"Is that Sophy's grave?" she asked softly, for shrivelling on the lumps
of earth lay a bunch of poppies that she had seen Roddy gathering the
day before, and now remembered wondering where he had disappeared to
afterward.  Roddy did not answer.  He was staring before him with
manful eyes that winked rapidly but shed no tears.  His lips were
pursed up as if to whistle, yet made no sound.  At the sight of him and
the withered poppies in the place where never a flower of memory
blossomed, hot tears surged to the girl's eyes.  It was wistful to
think of a child remembering when all others forgot.

"No one ever comes here but me," he said, at last.

Christine got rid of her tears by turning her back on him and pressing
them away with her fingers, for she knew that emotion embarrasses and
pains children, and she wanted to help this small, brave man, not hurt
him.

"You and I will come here often, Roddy.  We will turn it into a garden,
and make it blossom like the rose--shall we?"

"Yes, yes!" he cried eagerly.  "'Blossom like the rose'--that comes out
of the Bible!  I have heard daddy read it.  But we must not talk about
it to mamma.  It makes her too sad to come here, or even talk about it.
Mamma doesn't like sad things."

Suddenly, the strange quietude of the place was invaded by the sound of
voices.  They were far-off voices, but both the girl and the child
started as though caught in some forbidden act, and instinctively took
hands.  A moment later they were hurrying away from the lonely spot,
back by the way they had come.  Half-way home they came upon Richard
Saltire and the squad of Kafirs who carried his implements and liquids.
Theirs were the voices that had been heard.  Work had begun on the
territory so thickly sewn with prickly-pears that lay between farm and
cemetery.

Saltire, with sleeves rolled up, was operating with a syringe upon the
trunk of a giant bush, but he turned round to throw a smile to Roddy.

"Hello, Rod!"

"Hello, Dick!" was the blithe response.  "Gr-r-r!  You giving it to
that old bush?"

"Rather!  He's getting it where the chicken got the ax.  Like to have a
go at him?"

"Oh--oh--yes!"

Roddy delightedly grasped the syringe, and was instructed how to fill
and plunge it into the green, dropsical flesh of the plant.  The Kafirs
stood looking on with grave, imperturbable faces.  Christine sat down
on a rock and, from the rosy shadow of her parasol, observed the pair.
She was astonished at this revelation of intimacy.  Saltire's satirical
blue eyes were full of warm affection as he looked at the boy, and
Roddy's manner toward him contained a loving familiarity and trust she
had never seen him exhibit to any one.  It was interesting, too, to
watch the man's fine, capable hands manipulating his instruments and
his quick eye searching each bush to select a vulnerable spot for the
virus of death.  His movements had the grace and energy of one whose
every muscle is trained by service and in perfect condition.  Only men
who hail from cold climates retain this characteristic in Africa.
Those born in its disintegrating heats are usually overtaken in the
early thirties by physical weariness or, as some choose to call it,
"slackness" that only fine moral training can overcome.

He was good to look at, too, this man in spotless white clothes, the
blueness of his eyes throwing up the clear tan of his face, his
burnished hair lying close to his head.  Christine thought rather sadly
that the presence on the farm of any one so sane and fearless-looking
would have been a great comfort to her, if only he had not been one of
the people whose ways troubled her most.

It was with difficulty that she at last got Roddy away, he was so
evidently under the forestry man's spell.  Almost she felt that spell
herself when he began talking to her, looking deep into her eyes while
he explained his work; but suddenly it seemed to her that those blue
eyes were explaining something quite different, and, flushing
furiously, she made haste to take Roddy's hand and end the interview by
walking away.

There was considerable trouble during the afternoon with Rita and
Coral.  If Christine turned her back for a moment, they flew out into
the sunshine, hatless, disporting themselves like baby ostriches.
Reproaches were received with trills of laughter, warnings of
punishment with trusting, happy eyes.

When, at last, Christine had them safely absorbed in a table-game, it
was to realize that Roddy had suddenly disappeared.  Calling Meekie to
take charge of the little girls, she hastened, with beating heart, in
search of the boy.  Instinct took her in the direction of the dam, and
she caught him up just as he had reached its brink.  He looked at her
brightly, no sign of shamefacedness or sulkiness on him, but would give
no further explanation than that he "only wanted to peep in."

"But, Roddy, how could you be so disobedient, dear?  And you remember
what your mother said this morning?"

"Yes, I remember; but I did not promise.  If I had promised, I would
not have gone."

"Well, will you promise me, darling?"

But at that he broke away from her and ran toward the house, singing,
"Just a little peep-in--just a little peep-in."

She felt more than slightly dispirited.  There were three bad nights
behind her, and the day had been particularly tiring.  Though young and
energetic, and with an extraordinary sense of love and responsibility
toward these naughty, attractive children, she wondered, for a weary
moment, whether she could stand the racket.  The work of governessing
was new to her.  Any work was new to her, and governessing in Africa is
as different to governessing in England (which is bad enough) as
plowing cultivated land is to opening up virgin soil.  But life had
unexpectedly laid the burden of work upon Christine Chaine, and having
put her hand to the plow, she did not mean to turn back.  Only, for
once, she was glad when nightfall brought the hour when she could leave
her charges for a while in someone else's care.

Once the children were safely in bed, it was Meekie's task to sit
beside them until Christine had dined and rested, and chose to come to
bed.  Meekie belonged to the kraal people, but she had white blood in
her, like so many natives, and spoke very good English.

That all the men on the farm should turn up to dinner that evening did
not seem to Christine so much a cause for surprise as for contempt.  In
her short but not too happy experience of life, she had, like a certain
great American philosopher, discovered that the game of life is not
always "played square" when there is a woman in it.  Of course, it was
comprehensible that all men liked a good dinner, especially when it was
not marred by hymns and long prayers, fervent to the point of
fanaticism.  Equally, of course, the pretty hostess, with a charming
word of welcome for everyone, was an attraction in herself.  But,
somehow, it sickened the clear heart of Christine Chaine to see this
jubilant gathering round a dinner table that was usually deserted, and
from which the host had just departed, a sick and broken man.  She
thought the proceedings more worthy of a lot of heartless schoolboys
delighting in a master's absence than of decent, honest men.

And whatever she thought of the Hollanders and colonials, whose
traditions were unknown to her, it was certain that her scorn was
redoubled for the one man she knew to be of her own class and land.

Yet there he sat at the elbow of his hostess, calm and smiling, no whit
removed from his usual self-contained and arrogant self.  Christine
gave him one long look that seemed to turn her violet eyes black; then
she looked no more his way.  She could not have told why she hated this
action in him so bitterly.  Perhaps she felt that he was worthy of
higher things, but, if questioned, she would probably have laid it at
the door of caste and country.  All that she knew, for a poignant
moment, was an intense longing to strike the smile from his lips with
anything to hand--a wine-glass, a bowl, a knife.

Mercifully, the moment passed, and all that most of them saw was a
young girl who had come late to dinner--a girl with a rather radiant
skin, purply black hair that branched away from her face as though with
a life of its own, and violet eyes that, after one swordlike glance all
round, were hidden under a line of heavy lashes.  The black-velvet
dinner gown she wore, simple to austerity, had just a faint rim of
tulle at the edges against her skin.  Only an artist or connoisseur
would have observed the milkiness of that skin and the perfect lines
under the sombre velvet.  Small wonder that most eyes turned to the
lady who tonight took the place of ceremony at the table, and who, as
always, was arrayed in the delicate laces and pinkish tints that seemed
to call to notice the gold of the hair, the rose of her cheek, and the
golden-brown shadows of her eyes.

The little cloud of sadness and loss that hovered over her, yet never
descended, was like the rain-cloud that sometimes threatens a June day.
It seemed everyone's business to drive that cloud away, and everyone
but Christine applied themselves nobly to the task.  At the end of the
long dinner, all were so properly employed in this manner that
apparently no one noticed the departure of the silent, scornful-lipped
governess, and she was able to make her exit without notice or
remonstrance.

For a little while she walked up and down in the garden under the rays
of a new and early-retiring slip of moon.  Then, with a pain at her
heart that she had hoped it was for ever out of the power of life to
deal her, she retired to the nursery, relieved the coloured nurse from
her watch, and went quietly to bed.

For fully an hour afterward she heard the echo of laughter and voices
in the front veranda--sometimes the chink of glasses.  Later, Mrs. van
Cannan sang and played waltz-music to them in the drawing-room.  At
last the men departed, one by one.  Mrs. van Cannan was heard calling
sharply for her night lemonade and someone to unlace her frock.  Next,
the servants shuffled softly homeward through the dusk.  The old Cape
cook, who had quarters somewhere near the kitchen, went the rounds,
locking up.  The clang of the iron bar falling into its bracket across
the great front door echoed through the house.  Then all was still.

In the sinister, brooding peace of the desert that ensued, the night
noises presently began to make themselves heard.

A cricket somewhere in the house set up a sprightly cheeping.  Far, far
away, an animal wailed, and a jackal distressfully called to its mate.
Then something laughed terribly--rocking, hollow laughter--it might
have been a hyena.

Christine Chaine was a Catholic.  She crossed herself in the darkness
and softly repeated some of the prayers whose cadences and noble
phrases seem to hold power to hush the soul into peace.  She hoped at
this time they would hush her mind into sleep, but for a long while
many impressions of the day haunted her.  Sometimes she saw the
twitching shoulders and tormented gaze of a sick man, then the smiling
blond-and-pink beauty of a woman.  Sometimes a pair of blue eyes, with
riddles in them that she would not read, held her; then graves--graves
in a long arid line.  At last she slept, the sleep of weariness that
mercifully falls upon the strong and healthy like a weight, blotting
out consciousness.

Then--taps on the shutter, and words:

"_Mind the boy--take care of the boy!_"

They were soft taps and whispered words, but, like the torment of
dropping water, they had their effect at last.  The girl sat up in bed
again, her fingers pressed to her temples, her eyes staring, listening,
listening.  Yes--they were the same eternal taps and words.  With the
dull desperation of fatigue, she got out of bed and approached the
window.

"Who are you?  What are you?  Tell me what to do," she said quietly.

In the long silence that followed, there was only one answer--the
subtle odour of rottenness stole into the room.

She never knew afterward what possessed her to take the course she did.
Probably if she had not gone to sleep in the strength and peace of
prayers, and awakened with the protection of them woven about her, she
would have taken no course at all.  As it was, she knew she had got to
do something to solve the mystery of this warning.  It did not occur to
her to get out of the window.  The right thing seemed to be to make her
way very quietly through the house, let herself out by the front door,
and come round to the window where the warning thing waited.  It would
not hurt her, she knew.  It was a hateful Thing, but that its
intentions were benevolent was a conclusion that had forced itself upon
her soul.

Groping for her dressing-gown, she found it and put it on without
striking a light.  And though she carried a box of matches in her hand,
she believed she would not need them, for the way was perfectly simple
and well known to her--a long passage that led to the dining-room, at
one end of which was the great, iron-barred front door.

Her feet and hands found the way quietly, and she reached the front
door without incident, but when she felt for the great bar whose
strident clanging in its bracket had been a last signal of night within
the house, her hand encountered nothing.  Wonderingly she slid her
fingers up and down the polished oak.  At last she realized that the
bar hung loose; the door was merely on the latch.  Someone beside
herself who dwelt within the house had business without its portals
that night and was still abroad!

For the first time, the girl's purpose faltered.  A slow fear pierced
her, and her feet refused to take her farther.  The thought flashed
into her mind that, if she passed the door, she might find herself
locked out, with the night--and she knew not what beside.

Even as she stood there hesitating, trying to collect her courage, a
sound--the soft tread of a foot on gravel--told her that some other
being was close by.  There came the same stealthy tread in the porch.
Swiftly she shrank back into the embrasure of one of the long windows,
thankful for the green blinds against which her dark dressing-gown
would give no sign.  With one full sleeve, she shrouded her face.  She
had suddenly become terribly aware of being nothing but a slight girl
in a nightgown and wrap, with bare feet thrust into straw slippers.
She remembered stories she had heard of struggles in the darkness with
powerful natives, and her heart turned to water.

It seemed to her the most horrible moment of her life while she stood
shrinking there in the shadow, listening to the door open and close,
the bar being replaced, the quiet, regular breathing of that other
person.  Whoever it was, his movements were calm and undisturbed, but
Christine could see nothing, only a large, dim outline that moved
sure-footedly across the room, opened another door on the far side,
closed it, and was gone.

There were so many other doors, so many other passages.  All Christine
could be certain of and thankful for was that it was not her door and
her passage that had swallowed up the mysterious night-walker.  It was
some little time before she collected sufficient fortitude to creep
back whence she had come, her plan unfulfilled, her courage melted.
She was bitterly ashamed, yet felt as if she had escaped from some
great evil.  Once in the nursery, she locked the door, lighted a
candle, and, after she had looked to ascertain that the children were
sleeping soundly, she opened her dressing-case and took out a little
box of cachets that had been prescribed for her a year before when
bitter trouble had stolen sleep for many a night.  She felt, and with
some reason, that this was an occasion when it would not be too
cowardly to resort to artificial means of restoring her nerves by
sleep.  For though fright and surprise had bereft her, for the time
being, of her nerve, her firm spirit was neither beaten nor cowed.  She
meant to see this thing through, and her last waking thought was a
murmured prayer for help to steel her heart against terrors that walked
by night, and to resist to the utmost any menace of evil that should
approach the little children in her charge.



PART II

There followed some tranquil days of which nothing broke the peaceful
monotony.  The children were extraordinarily tractable, perhaps because
Mrs. van Cannan seemed too preoccupied to lay any injunctions upon
them.  True, Roddy made one of his mysterious disappearances, but it
was not long before Christine, hard on his heels, discovered him
emerging from an outhouse, where she later assured herself that he
could have come to no great harm, for it was merely a big barn stacked
with grain and forage, and a number of old packing cases.  Nothing
there to account for the expression he wore--that same suggestion of
tears fiercely restrained which she had noticed when they were looking
at the unmarked grave in the cemetery.  It wrung her heart to see his
young mouth pursed up to whistle a tune that would not come, the look
of longing in eyes where only happiness and the divine contentment of
childhood should dwell; but the boy volunteered no information, and she
did not press him.  She wanted his confidence, not to have him regard
her as a sort of jailer.

Every day, in the cool of the early morning, while the others were
still sleeping, he and she visited the graveyard, starting the good
work of making it blossom like the rose, as Christine had promised.
They planted lilies and geraniums over the little brothers, and edged
the lonely, unmarked grave with a species of curly-leaved box common to
that part of the country and which grew rapidly.  It was Roddy's fancy,
too, to cover this grave with portulaca--a little plant bearing starry
flowers of vivid hues that live for a day only.  He chose plants that
bore only scarlet and golden blossoms.

"She liked those two colours," he told Christine, smiling.  "She said
that when we were babies we were all like that--very red, with yellowy
golden hair."

Christine, looking at the bright head and the fresh cheeks so rare in a
South African child, readily understood.  But she could not help
wondering, as before, at the loyal little heart that remembered so well
the words and fancies of a dead woman--when all others forgot!

Nearly always on returning from these morning excursions they met
Saltire, rapidly wreaking destruction upon the district.  Already,
scores of the prickly-pears through which they must wend their way were
assuming the staggering attitude characteristic of them as the sap
dried and they died of their wounds.  Sometimes, one side of a bush
would shrivel first, causing it to double up like a creature agonizing.
Some crouched like strange beasts watching to spring.  Others thrust
themselves ominously forward with projected arms, as if ready to
grapple.  Some brandished their flat leaves as the painter Wiertz, in
his famous picture of _Napoleon in Hell_, made wives and mothers
brandish their menacing fists at the man who had robbed them of their
loved ones.  All wore a look that suggested both agony and revenge.
Christine understood, at last, why the Kafirs hated to go about the
land after dark, averring that the afflicted bushes threatened and
chased them.  She began herself to experience an inexplicable feeling
of relief, as though at the overcoming of an enemy, when a great spire
of smoke betokened the final uprooting and burning of a clump of bush.
For fire was the ultimate element used to transform the pest from a
malignant into a beneficent factor, and, as aromatic ash, it became of
service to the land it had ruined so long.  Almost, the process seemed
an exposition of Job's words: "When thou hast tried me with fire, I
shall come forth as gold."

It was a curious thing how the "personality" of the bushes appeared to
affect them all.  Saltire at his work gave the impression of a fighter
concentrating on the defeat of an enemy.  Roddy would dance for joy
before each staggering bush.  The impassivity of the natives departed
from them when they stood about the funeral pyres, and clapping of
hands and warlike chanting went heavenward with the smoke.  Christine
and Roddy often lingered to watch these rejoicings; indeed, it was
impossible at any time to get the boy past Saltire and his gang without
a halt.  The English girl, while standing somewhat aloof, would
nevertheless not conceal from herself the interest she felt in the
forestry man's remarks, not only on the common enemy, but his work in
general.

"They have a great will to live, Roddy--much stronger than you and I,
because we dissipate our will in so many directions.  I've met this
determination before in growing things, though.  There are plants in
the African jungle that you have to track and trail like wild beasts
and do murder upon before they will die.  And this old prickly-pear is
of the same family.  If a bit of leaf can break off and fly past you,
it hides itself behind a stone, hastily puts roots into the ground, and
grows into a bush before you can say 'Jack Robinson.'  Your farm will
be a splendid place when we've got rid of all these and replaced them
with the spineless plant.  Prickly-pear without spines is a perfect
food for cattle and ostriches in this climate."

Thus he talked to Roddy, as if the latter were already a man and in
possession of his heritage--the wide lands of Blue Aloes; but always
while he talked, he looked at and considered the girl who stood aloof,
wearing her air of world-weariness like a veil over the youth and bloom
of her.

And she, on her side, was considering and reading him, too.  She liked
him better, because, since that first night of Mr. van Cannan's
departure, he had absented himself from the dinner-table.  That showed
some glimmer of grace in him.  Still, there was far too much arrogance
in his manner, she thought, and decided that he had probably been
spoiled by too facile women.  Nothing blunts the fine spiritual side of
a man's character so rapidly as association with women of low ideals.
The romance of her own life had been split upon that rock.  She had
known what it was to stand by and see the man she loved with all the
pure idealism of youth wrecked by the cheap wiles of a high-born woman
with a second-rate soul.  Perhaps her misfortune had sharpened her
vision for this defect in men.  Certainly, it had tainted her outlook
with disdain.  She sometimes felt, as Pater wrote of _Mona Lisa_, that
"she had looked upon all the world, and her eyelids were a little
weary."  At any rate, when she found Dick Saltire's blue eyes looking
into hers so straightly and significantly that it almost seemed as if
an arrow came glancing from him to her, she merely told herself, with
an inward-smiling bitterness, that no doubt the same phenomenon
occurred when he spoke to Mrs. van Cannan.

Some days after the departure of the master of the farm for the coast,
the post-bag arrived from Cradock, and, as Mrs. van Cannan was still
sleeping, it fell to Christine, as it had sometimes done before, to
distribute the mail.  Among her own large batch of home letters it was
so unusual to find a South African one that she opened it immediately,
and was astonished to discover it to be from Bernard van Cannan.  It
had been written from Cradock on the evening of the day he left the
farm.


"DEAR MISS CHAINE:

"I want once more to commend to you the very special care of my
children while I am away.  My wife, not being very strong, is unable to
see as much of them as she would wish, and I do not like her to be
worried.  But there are many dangers on a farm, and I have already, by
most unhappy chance, lost two young sons.  Both deaths occurred during
absences of mine and were the result of accident, though, at the time,
they were surrounded by every loving care and security.  Perhaps,
therefore, you will understand the kind of superstitious apprehension I
feel about Roderick, who is the last and only one left to come after me
in the old place.  He has always needed special looking-after, being
extremely curious and impulsive while, at the same time, nervous and
reticent.

"Perhaps it is only my illness that makes me full of fears, but _I can
assure you that had it not been for the great confidence you have
inspired in me from the first_, I should not have left the farm, so
anxious do I continually feel about the welfare of my third and last
son.  However, I trust in God I shall be back soon, better in health,
to find that all is well.

"Do not worry my dear wife with this matter.  She is of a disposition
that cannot cope with sorrow and trouble, and I would not for the world
cloud her happy outlook with my morbid fancies.  Keep my confidence,
and remember that I rely on you with all my heart to guard my little
ones.

"Sincerely yours,

"BERNARD VAN CANNAN.

"P. S.--I append my last London address, and if I am detained for any
time, I shall be glad to hear from you."


A vision of the gloomy-eyed man, twitching with pain and nerves, rose
up before her eyes as she folded the letter, and she resolved to write
to him at once, allaying his fears as much as possible by an assurance
of her devotion.  She was sitting in the summer-house at the time, the
children beside her, bent over their morning lessons.  Through the
creeper-framed doorway, she could see the walls and veranda of the old
farm, glaring white in the fierce sunlight, but with every line
expressing such harmony as only the old Dutch architects seem to have
had the secret of putting into the building of South African
homesteads.  Before the front door stood three gnarled oaks, which yet
bore the marks of chains used by the early van Cannans to fasten up the
cattle at night, for fear of the hostile Kafirs who at set of sun came
creeping over the kopjes.  Scores of fierce, man-eating dogs were kept
to deal with the marauders, and there were still loopholes in the white
walls from which those within had watched and defended.

But those days were long past.  Nothing now in the gracious building,
with its shady stoeps and high, red roof, toned melodiously by age, to
betoken battle, murder, and sudden death.  It seemed strange that
sinister forebodings should attach themselves in any mind to such
harmony of form and colour.  Yet Christine held in her hand the very
proof of such thoughts, and, what was more, knew herself to be obsessed
by them when darkness took the land.  For a moment even now, looking
out at the brilliant sunshine, she was conscious of a falter in her
soul, a moment of horrible loneliness, a groping-out for some human
being stronger than herself of whom to take counsel.  A thought of
Saltire flashed across her.  He looked strong and sane, kind and
chivalrous.  But could he be trusted?  Had she not already learned in
the bitter school of life that "Ye have no friend but resolution!"

A shadow fell across the doorway.  It was Saxby, the manager.  He gave
her his pleasant, melancholy smile.

"I wonder if Mrs. van Cannan is up yet," he said, in his full, rich
voice.  "There are one or two farm matters I want to consult her about."

Christine looked at the watch on her wrist and saw that it was past
eleven.

"Oh, I should think so, Mr. Saxby.  The closing of all the shutters is
usually a sign that she is up and about."

It is, in fact, a practice in all Karoo houses to close every window
and shutter at about ten o'clock each morning, not throwing them open
again until sunset.  This keeps the interiors extraordinarily cool,
and, as the walls are usually whitewashed, there is plenty of light.

"I expect I shall find her in the drawing-room," Saxby remarked, and
passed on.  Christine saw him leave again about half an hour later.
Then the sound of waltz-music within the closed house told that Mrs.
van Cannan was beguiling away the rest of the long, hot morning in a
favourite fashion.  At noon, the heat, as usual, made the summer-house
untenable, and its occupants were driven indoors.

Lunch introduced the only excitement the quiet monotony of the day ever
offered, when the men came filing into the soft gloom of the
dining-room, bringing with them a suggestion of a world of work that
still went on its way, come rain, come shine.  All of them took
advantage of the custom of the climate to appear coatless.  Indeed, the
fashion of shirts was sometimes so _décolletée_ as to be slightly
embarrassing to English eyes.  Only Saltire paid the company the
compliment of unrolling his sleeves, buttoning the top button of his
shirt, and assuming a tie for the occasion.

Everyone seemed of opinion that the summer rains were brewing and that
was the reason of the insufferable heat.

"We'll have a couple of days of this," prophesied Andrew McNeil, "then
down it will come with a vengeance."

"The land wants it, of course, but it will be a confounded nuisance to
me," remarked the forestry expert.

"Oh, Mr. Saltire, you are insatiable in your work of murder," smiled
his hostess.  "Are you as merciless in all your dealings?"  She looked
at him with provoking eyes.  Christine hardened herself to hear an
answer in the same vein, but was as agreeably relieved as surprised.

"I want to get the work done," said Saltire briefly.

"I never knew any one so anxious to leave us before," grumbled Mrs. van
Cannan prettily.  "You must be terribly bored with us all."

"Never less in my life."

The answer was so impersonal as to be almost a sign of boredom in
itself, and Mrs. van Cannan, little accustomed to have her charming
advances met in such fashion, turned away with a pucker on her brow to
a more grateful audience.  At the same moment, an irresistible impulse
drew Christine's glance to Saltire in time to receive one of those
straight, significant looks that indescribably disturbed her.  Nothing
there of the impersonality his words had betrayed!  It was a clear
message from a man to a woman--one of those messages that only very
strong-willed people who know what they want have the frankness,
perhaps the boldness, to send.  Even an indifferent woman would have
been stirred to a knowledge of dangerous sweetness, and she knew that
she had never been quite indifferent to the personal magnetism of Dick
Saltire.  As it was, she was shaken to the very soul of her.  For a
moment, she had the curious illusion that she had never lived before,
never had been happy or unhappy, was safe at last in some sure, lovely
harbour from all the hurts of the world.  It was strange in the midst
of everyday happenings, with the talk and clatter of a meal going on,
to be swept overwhelmingly away like that to a far place where only two
people dwelt--she and the man who looked at her.  And before the
illusion was past, she had returned a message to him.  She did not know
what was in her look, but she knew what was in her heart.

Almost immediately it was time to take the children and go.  Mrs. van
Cannan delayed them for a moment, giving some directions for the
afternoon.  If Christine could have seen herself with the children
clinging to her, she would have been surprised that she could appear so
beautiful.  Her grace of carriage and well-bred face had always been
remarkable, but gone were disdain and weariness from her.  She passed
out of the room without looking again at Dick Saltire, though he rose,
as always, to open the door for her.

An afternoon of such brazen heat followed that it was well to be within
the shelter of the shuttered house.  But outside, in the turmoil of
dust and glare, the work of the farm went on as usual.  Christine
pictured Saltire at his implacable task, serene in spite of dust and
blaze, with the quality of resolution in his every movement that
characterized him, the quality he had power to put into his eyes and
throw across a room to her.  The remembrance of his glance sent her
pale, even now in the quiet house.  Only a strong man, sure of himself
and with the courage of his wishes, would dare put such a message into
his eyes, would dare call boldly and silently to a woman that _she_ was
his _raison d'être_, that, because of her, the dulness and monotony of
life had never bored him less, that he had found her, that she must
take of and give to him.  She knew now that he had been telling her
these things ever since they had met, but that she had turned from the
knowledge, until, at last, in an unguarded moment, it had reached and
overwhelmed her, flooding her soul with passionate joy, yet filling her
with a peace and security she had never known, either in the old
farmhouse or since the long-ago day when all her brave castles of youth
and love had crashed down into the dust.  Gone now was unbelief, and
disdain, and fear of terror that stalked by night; a rock was at her
back, there was a hand to hold in the blackest darkness.  Never any
more need she feel fear and spiritual loneliness.  Withal, there was
the passionate joy of adventure, of exploration in sweet, unknown lands
of the heart, the launching of a boat upon a sea of dreams.  Life sang
to Christine Chaine like a nightingale under the stars.

How tenderly and patiently she beguiled the heat-weary children
throughout that long afternoon!  There was no feeling of haste upon
her.  She knew that sweetness was travelling her way, that "what is for
thee, gravitates toward thee," and is vain to seek before the appointed
hour.  It might come as even-song to a seemingly endless day, or dawn
following a fearsome night.  But it was coming.  That was all that
mattered!

The directions Mrs. van Cannan had given, as they left the luncheon,
were to the effect that, when the siesta hour was over, the children
were to have possession of the drawing-room until it was cool enough
for them to go for their accustomed walk.  This plan was to continue as
long as the hot weather lasted.

"I think it is not very healthy for any of you," she said amiably, "to
stick all day in a room you have to sleep in at night."

Christine could not help being surprised at her giving up the coolest
and quietest room in the house, and one that had hitherto been
forbidden ground to the children.  However, here they were, installed
among gaily cretonned furniture, the little girls dashing about like
squirrels in a strange cage, Roddy, apparently more at home, prowling
softly around, examining things with a reverent yet familiar air.

"I remember when we used to come here every day," said Rita suddenly,
and stood stock-still with concentrated eyes, like one trying to catch
the memory of a dream.  "When was it, Roddy?"

He looked at her steadily.

"When our old nannie was here."

Rita fixed her blue eyes on his.

"There was someone else here, too," she insisted.

"Sophy always brought us here," he repeated mechanically.

"I remember old Sophy," murmured Rita thoughtfully.  "She cried
dreadfully when she went away.  She was not allowed to kiss us because
she had turned all silver colour."  She trilled into gay laughter.
"Mamma told me that it might have turned us all silver, too."

"I kissed her before she went, anyway!" burst from Roddy fiercely.
"And I would not have cared if it had turned me to silver."

Christine glanced wonderingly at him, astonished at this new theme of
silver.

"But if she went away, how is it that she is buried here, Roddy?"

"She isn't."

"But the grave we covered with portulaca--"  She stopped abruptly, for
the boy's face had assumed the look she could not bear--the look of
enduring that only those hardened to life should know.  "Come and
listen to this story of a magic carpet on which two children were
carried over strange lands and cities," she said gently, and drew them
all round her, with an arm through Roddy's.

The windows and shutters were thrown open at sunset, and the children
had their tea in the dining-room.  Afterward, they went for a long walk
across the sands toward the kopjes, which had receded into distance
again and in the west were turning purple with mauve tops.  But the
rest of the sky was coloured a threatening greenish bronze, with
monstrous-shaped clouds sprawled across it; and the air, though
sunless, was still sand-laden and suffocating, with the promise of
storm.

It would have been easy for Christine to take the children toward the
vicinity in which Saltire was occupied and where he would now be
putting up his instruments and dismissing his workers for the night,
but some instinct half modest, half self-sacrificing made her postpone
the happiness of seeing him again, and guided her feet in an opposite
direction.  She was certain that, though he had refrained from dining
at the farm except for the one night of Mr. van Cannan's departure, she
would see him there that evening, and she dressed with special care and
joy in the beauty of her hair, her tinted, curving face, and the subtle
glamour that she knew she wore as the gift of happiness.

"How sweet it is to be young and desirable--and desired by the one man
in the world!" was the half-formed thought in her mind as she combed
her soft, cloudy black hair high above her face and fixed it with a
tall amber comb.  But she would not converse too clearly with her
heart.  Enough that she had heard it singing in her breast as she had
never thought to hear it sing again.  She was glad of the excuse of the
heavy heat to discard her usual black gown and be seen in a colour that
she knew belonged to her by right of her black hair and violet eyes--a
deep primrose-yellow of soft, transparent muslin.

Saltire was late for dinner, but he came, as she had known he would,
taking his usual place next to Mrs. van Cannan and almost opposite
Christine, who, for the evening meal, was always expected to sit at the
main body of the table.  She was busy at the moment hearing from Mr.
McNeil all about the process of ostrich-feather plucking which was to
begin next day, but she did not miss a word of the late comer's
apologies or the merry raillery with which they were met by his
hostess.  The latter, as usual, gathered unto herself every remark
uttered at the table, and the attentions of every man, though she never
bothered much about old Andrew McNeil.  But if she had the lip-service,
Christine was very well aware to whom was accorded, that night, the
service of the eyes.

Every man there had become aware of the youth and beauty which, till
that day, she had worn as if veiled, and they were paying the tribute
that men will proffer until the end of time to those two gifts of the
gods.  She knew it without vanity, but also without embarrassment, for
she had tasted triumph before in a world more difficult to please than
this, surrounded by opponents worthier of her steel than Isabel van
Cannan.  The little triumph only pleased her in that she could offer it
as a gift to the man she loved.  For here is another eternal truth,
that all men are one in pride of possession of that which excites envy
and admiration in other men.  All women know this with a gladness that
is salted by sorrow.

Saltire's eyes were the only ones she could not meet with serenity.
She felt his glance on her often, but always when she tried to lift
hers to meet it, her lids seemed weighted by little heavy pebbles.

She meant to overcome this weakness, though, and look at him even as
she had answered at noon; but, in the middle of dinner, while she yet
strove against the physical inability, her resolution was disturbed by
a strange occurrence.  A wild scream of fear and horror came ringing
from the nursery.  Without a thought for anything but that it was
Roddy's voice, Christine sprang from the table.  Down the long passage
and into the nursery she ran, and, almost bursting into the room,
caught the boy in her arms.  He was not screaming now, but white as
death and staring with fearful eyes at the bed, on which the bedclothes
were pulled back, with Meekie peering over it.  The two little girls,
round-eyed and frightened, were sitting up in their cots.  For a
moment, Roddy stayed rigid in her arms; then he hid his face against
her arm and broke into convulsive sobs.

"It's a big spider--all red and black--like the one that bit Bernard!"

And, in fact, from where she stood, Christine could see the monstrous
thing, with its black, furry claws, protruding eyes, and red-blotched
body, still crouching there in a little hollow at the end of the bed.
Only, the person leaning over examining it now was not Meekie but
Saltire, who had reached the nursery almost on her heels.

"I put my foot against it and touched its beastly fur!" cried Roddy,
and suddenly began to scream again.

"Roddy!  How dare you make that abominable noise?"

Mrs. van Cannan's voice fell like a jet of ice-cold water into the
room.  Behind her in the doorway loomed the tall figure of Saxby, the
manager, with McNeil and the others.  Christine's warm heart would
never have suggested such a method of quieting the boy, but it had its
points.  Roddy, though still shaking and ashen, stood up straight and
looked at his mother.

"All about a silly spider!" continued the latter, with cutting scorn.
"I am ashamed of you!  I thought you were brave, like your father."

That flushed Roddy to his brows.

"It has fur--red fur," he stammered.

"You deserve a whipping for your cowardice," said Mrs. van Cannan
curtly, and walked over to the bed.  "The thing is half dead, and quite
harmless," she said.

"Half dead or half drunk," McNeil jocosely suggested.  "I never saw a
tarantula so quiet as that before."

"The question is how long would it have stayed in that condition?" said
Saltire significantly.  "For you are mistaken about its harmlessness,
Mrs. van Cannan.  It is one of the most poisonous and ferocious of its
tribe."

They had got the strangely sluggish beast off the bed by knocking it
with a stick into an old shoe, and were removing it.  Christine only
vaguely heard the remarks, for Roddy hid his eyes while it was being
carried out, and was trembling violently against her.  It seemed
amazing to her that Mrs. van Cannan did not realize that there was more
than mere cowardice in his behaviour.  The trouble was so plainly
psychological--the memory of the loss of a loved little brother subtly
interwoven with horror of that particular species of venomous insect.
Christine herself had a greater hatred of spiders than of any creeping
things, and well understood the child's panic of disgust and fear.  It
filled her with indignation to hear Mrs. van Cannan turn once more and
lash the boy with a phrase before she swept from the room.

"Miserable little coward!"

In a moment, the girl was kneeling on the floor beside the unhappy
child, holding him tight, whispering words of love and comfort.

"No, no, darling; it is only that she does not understand!  We will
explain to her--I will tell her later why you hated it so.  Wait till
your daddy comes back.  I am sure he will understand."

So she strove to comfort him, while Meekie coaxed the little girls back
to the horizontal attitude under their sheets.

"Don't make me go back into that bed," whispered Roddy fearfully.

"No; of course not.  Don't worry; just trust me, darling!"  She turned
to Meekie.  "I will stay with them now, Meekie.  You may go."

"But has the missy had her dinner?" asked the Cape woman politely.

"I have had all I want, thank you, Meekie."

The thought of going back to the dinner-table--to eat and join in the
talk and laughter while this small boy whom she loved stayed alone with
his wretchedness revolted her.  Perhaps later, when he slept, she might
slip out into the garden for a while.  In the meantime, she beguiled
him over to her own bed, and having taken off the coverlet to show him
that it held no lurking horrors, she made him get in and curl up, and
she knelt beside him, whispering softly so as not to disturb the
others, reassuring him of her belief in his courage whilst
understanding his horror, confessing her own hatred of spiders, but
urging him to try and fight against his fear of them.  She told him
stories of her own childhood, crooned little poems to him, and sang old
songs softly, hoping and praying that he would presently fall asleep.
But time slipped by, and he remained wide-eyed, gripping her hand
tightly, and only by the slightest degrees relaxing the nervous rigour
of his body under the coverlet.  Suddenly, he startled her by a strange
remark:

"If I could only get into the pink palace with Carol, I'd be all right."

The girl looked down into the distended pupils gazing so wistfully at
her, and wondering what new psychological problem she had to deal with.
She knew she must go very warily, or defeat her own longing to help
him.  At last, she said very tenderly,

"The world is full of pink palaces, Roddy, but we do not always find
them until we are grown up."

He looked at her intently.

"Carol found one at the bottom of the dam," he whispered slowly.  "He
is there now; it's only his body that is buried in the graveyard."

She smoothed his hair gently with her hand.

"Carol is in a more beautiful palace than any we find here on earth,
darling."

The secret, elfin expression crossed his face, but he said nothing.

"And you must not believe that about the dam," she warned him gravely.
"There is nothing at the bottom of it but black mud, and deep water
that would drown you, too, if you went in."

"I _know_ the palace is there," he repeated doggedly.  "I have seen it.
The best time to see it is in the early morning or in the evening.  All
the towers of it are pink then, and you can see the golden wings of the
angels shining through the windows."

"That is the reflection of the pink-and-gold clouds in the sky at dawn
and sunset that you see, dear silly one.  Will you not believe me?"

He squeezed her hand lovingly.

"Mamma has seen it, too," he whispered.  "You know she was with Carol
when he fell in, and she saw him go into the door of the palace and be
met by all the golden angels.  She tried to get him back, but she
cannot swim, and then she came running home for help.  Afterward, they
took Carol's body out and buried him, but, you know, he is really there
still.  Mamma has seen him looking through the windows--she told
me--but you must not tell any one.  It is very secret, and once I
thought I saw him, too, beckoning to me."

Christine was staggered.  That so dangerous an illusion had been
fostered by a mother was too bewildering, and she hardly knew how to
meet and loyally fight it.  It did not take her long to decide.  With
all the strength at her command, she set to work to clear away from his
mind the whole fantastical construction.  He clung to it firmly at
first, and, in the end, almost pleaded to be left with the belief that
he had but to step down the dam wall and join his brother in the fair
pink palace.  She realized now what tragedy had been lurking at her
elbow all these days.  Remembering the day when she had caught him up
at the brink of the dam, she turned cold as ice in the heat-heavy room.
A moment later, she returned to her theme, her explanations, her
prayers for a promise from him that never, never would he go looking
again for a vision that did not exist.  At last he promised, and almost
immediately fell asleep.

As for Christine Chaine, she stayed where she was on the floor, her
head resting on the bed in sheer exhaustion, her limbs limp.  All
thought of going into the garden had left her.  Sitting there,
stiff-kneed and weary, she thought of Saltire's eyes, and realized that
there had come and gone an evening which she must count for ever among
the lost treasures of her life.  Yet she did not regret it as she rose
at last and looked down by the dim light on the pale, beautiful, but
composed little face on the pillow.

She lay long awake.  Roddy's bed was too short for her, and there was
no ease in it, even had her mind and heart been at rest.  All the
fantasies she had beguiled from the boy's brain had come to roost in
her own, with a hundred other vivid and painful impressions.  The
night, too, was fuller than usual of disquietude.  The wind, which had
been rising steadily, now tore at the shutters and rushed shrieking
through the trees.  There was a savage rumble of thunder among the
hills, and, intermittently, lightning came through the shutter-slats.

When, above it all, she heard a gentle tapping, and sensed the
whispering presence without, her cup of dreadful unease was full.  But
she was not afraid.  She rose, as she had done one night before, and
put on her dressing-gown.  For a while, standing close to the shutters,
she strained her ears to catch the message whose import she knew so
well.  The idea of speaking to someone or something as anxious as
herself over Roddy had banished all horror.  She longed for an
interview with the strange being without.  There was nothing to do but
attempt, as before, to leave the house by the front door.

Down the long passage and through the dining-room she felt her way,
moving noiselessly.  When she came to the door, she found it once again
with the bar hanging loose.  More, it was ajar, and stirring
(sluggishly, by reason of its great weight) to the wind.  But her hand
fell back when she would have opened it wide, for there were two people
in the blackness of the porch, bidding each other good-night with
kisses and wild words.  Clear on a gust of wind came Isabel van
Cannan's voice, fiercely passionate.

"I hate the place.  Oh, to be gone from it, Dick!  To be gone with you,
my darling!  When--when?"

He crushed the question on her lips with kisses and whisperings.

Christine Chaine stole back from whence she came, with the strange and
terrible sensation that her heart was being crushed between iron
fingers and was bleeding slowly, drop by drop, to death.  Once more,
life had played her false.  Love had mocked her and passed by on the
other side.


Some of the men wondered, next day, how they could have had the
illusion that Miss Chaine was a beautiful girl.  The two Hollanders,
who were great friends, discussed the matter after lunch while they
were clipping feathers from the ostriches.  One thing was quite clear
to them both: she was just one of those cold Englishwomen without a
drop in her veins of the warmth and sparkle that a man likes in a
woman.  Mrs. van Cannan now--she was the one!  Still, it was a funny
thing how they should have been taken in over Miss Chaine.  Someone
else had been taken in, too, however, and with a vengeance--that fellow
Saltire, with his "sidey" manners.  _He_ had got a cold douche, if you
like, at the hands of the proud one.  They had all witnessed it.  Thus
and thus went the Dutchmen's remarks and speculations, and they
chuckled with the malice of schoolboys over the discomfiture of
Saltire.  For it was well known to them and to the other men that the
Englishman had ridden off, in the cool hours of the dawn, to Farnie
Marais' place about ten miles away, to get her some flowers.  He wanted
to borrow an instrument, he said, but it was funny he should choose to
go to Marais', who was more famous for the lovely roses he grew for the
market than for any knowledge of scientific instruments.  Funny, too,
that all he had been seen to bring back was a bunch of yellow roses
that must have cost him a stiff penny, for old Farnie did not grow
roses for fun.

No one had seen Saltire present the roses (that must have happened in
the dining-room before the others came in); but all had marked the
careless indifference with which they were scattered on the table and
spilled on the floor beside the governess's chair.  She looked on
calmly, too, while the little girls, treating them like daisies, pulled
several to pieces, petal by petal.  Only the boy Roderick had appeared
to attach any worth to them.  He rescued some from under the table, and
was overheard to ask ardently if he might have three for his own.  The
answer that he might have them all if he liked was not missed by any
one in the room, though spoken in Miss Chaine's usual quiet tones.  It
might have been an accident that she walked over some of the spilled
roses as she left the room, but certainly she could not have shown her
mind more plainly than by leaving every single one behind her.  Roddy
only, with a pleased and secret look upon his face, carried three of
them away in a treasured manner.

Whatever Saltire's feelings were at the affront put upon him, he gave
no sign.  He was not one who wore his emotions where they could be read
by all who ran, or even by those who sat and openly studied him with
malice and amusement.  His face was as serene as usual, and his envied
gift of turning events of the monotonous everyday veld life into
interesting topics of conversation remained unimpaired.  He had even
risen, as always, with his air of careless courtesy, to open the door
for the woman who walked over his flowers.

The fact remained, as the manager said to the foreman after lunch, that
he had certainly "caught it in the neck," and must have felt it
somewhere.  Perhaps he did.  Perhaps he merely congratulated himself
that the little scene when he had given the roses to Miss Chaine had
been lost by everyone except the children, who were too young and
self-engrossed to value its subtlety.

Either by accident or design, he had come to lunch a little earlier
than usual, and as Miss Chaine and the children were always in their
seats a good ten minutes before the rest of the party, it was quite
simple for him, entering quietly and before she even knew of his
presence, to lay the bunch of fragrant roses across her hands.  A sweep
of heavy delicious perfume rose to her face, and she gave a little
rapturous "Oh!"

"I thought you might like them," said Saltire, with a sort of boyish
diffidence that was odd in him.  "They are just the colour of the dress
you wore last night."

In an instant, her face froze.  She looked at him, with eyes from which
every vestige of friendliness or liking had completely disappeared, and
said politely, but with the utmost disdain:

"Thank you, I do not care for them.  Pray give them where they will be
appreciated."

She pulled her hands from under the lovely blooms and pushed them away
as if there were something contaminating in their touch.  Some fell on
the table, some on the floor.  For a moment, Saltire seemed utterly
taken aback, then he said carelessly:

"Throw them away if you like.  They were meant for you and no one else."

She gave him a curiously cutting glance, but spoke nothing.  As the
sound of voices told of the approach of the other men, he walked to his
place without further remark, and had already taken his seat when Mrs.
van Cannan, followed by Saxby, entered.  They were talking about
Saxby's wife, and Mrs. van Cannan looked infinitely distressed.

"I am so sorry.  I will go and sit with her this afternoon and see if I
can cheer her up," she said.

"It will be very kind of you," said Saxby gratefully.  "I have never
known her so low."

"It must be the weather.  We are all feeling the heat terribly.  If
only the rains would break."

"They are not far off," said Andrew McNeil cheerfully.  "I prophesy
that tonight every kloof will be roaring full, and tomorrow will see
the river in flood."

"In that case, the mail had better go off this evening at six," said
Mrs. van Cannan.  "It may be held up for days otherwise.  I hope
everyone has their letters ready?  Have you, Miss Chaine?"

"I have one or two still to write, but I can get through them quickly
this afternoon."

Christine avoided looking directly at her.  She felt that the woman
must see the contempt in her eyes.  It was hard to say which she
detested more of the two sitting there so serenely cheerful--the
faithless wife and mother, or the man who ate another man's salt and
betrayed him in his absence.  It made her feel sick and soiled to be in
such company, to come into contact with such creeping, soft-footed,
whispering treachery.  She ached to get away from it all and wipe the
whole episode from her mind.  Yet how could she leave the children,
leave Roddy, desert the father's trust?  She knew she could not.  But
very urgently she wrote after lunch to Mr. van Cannan, begging him to
return to the farm as soon as his health permitted and release her from
her engagement.  She expressed it as diplomatically as she was able,
making private affairs her reason for the change; but she could not and
would not conceal the fervency of her request.

There was a brooding silence in the room where she sat writing and
thinking.  Roddy, for once, tired out from the night before, slept
under his mosquito-net, side by side with the little girls, and
Christine, looking at his beautiful, classical face and sensitive
mouth, wondered how she would ever be able to carry out her plan to
leave the farm.  Who would understand him as she did, and protect him?
Even the father who loved him had not known of the secret, fantastic
danger of the dam.  And the woman who should have destroyed the fantasy
had encouraged it!  But God knew what was in the heart of that strange
woman; Christine Chaine did not--nor wished to.  All she wished was
that she might never see her again.  As for Saltire, her proud resolve
was to blot him from her memory, to forget that he had ever occupied
her heart for a moment.  But--O God, how it hurt, that empty,
desecrated heart!  How it haunted her, the face she had thought so
beautiful, with its air of strength and chivalry, that now she knew to
be a mockery and a lie!

She sat in the shuttered gloom, with her hands pressed to her temples,
and bitter tears that could no longer be held back sped down her
cheeks.  In all the dark hours since she had stolen back to the
nursery, overwhelmed by the discovery of a hateful secret, she had not
wept.  Her spirit had lain like a stricken thing in the ashes of
humiliation, and her heart had stayed crushed and dead.  "Cold as a
stone in a valley lone."  Now it was wakened to pain once more by the
scent of three yellow roses carefully placed by Roddy in a jug on the
table.  The scent of those flowers told her that she must go wounded
all her life.  She could "never again be friends with roses."  He had
even spoiled those for her.  How dared he?  Oh, how dared he come to
her with gifts of flowers in his hands straight from a guilty intrigue
with another man's wife?

The children stirred and began to chirrup drowsily, and she hastily
collected herself, forcing back her tears and assuming the
expressionless mask which life so often makes women wear.  She was only
just in time.  A moment later, Isabel van Cannan came into the room
with a packet of letters in her hands.

"Oh, Miss Chaine," she said, with her pretty, child-like air, "would it
be too much to ask you to take down these letters to the store
presently?  The mail is to leave about four o'clock.  I have to go out
myself by and by, but the Saxbys' house is in the opposite direction,
as you know, and I am really not able to knock about too much in this
heat."

"Certainly I will take them," said Christine.  "But the children?"

"They must not go, of course.  Indeed, I would not ask you to go out in
this blaze, but I don't like to trust letters with servants.  There is
no hurry, however.  Finish your own letters first, then bring the
children to my room.  They will amuse themselves there all right."

By the time Christine had donned a shady hat and gloves, Mrs. van
Cannan had made out a long list of articles she required at the store.
The household things were to be sent in the ordinary way, but she
begged Christine to choose some coloured cottons that she required for
new pinafores for the little girls and bring them along, also to look
through the stock of note-paper for anything decently suitable, as her
own stock had given out.  It was the type of errand Christine was
unaccustomed to perform and plainly foreign to her recognized duties;
but it was difficult to be unobliging and refuse, so she took the
letters and the list and departed.

The store was a good half-mile off and the going (in hot weather) not
very fast.  Then, when she got there, the storekeeper was busy with his
own mail, and she was kept waiting until various goods had been packed
into the cart before the door and driven away with the mail behind four
prancing mules.  Looking out cottons and writing-paper occupied some
further time.  Stores on farms are poky places, and the things always
hidden away in inaccessible spots.  At any rate, the best part of an
hour had passed before Christine was again on her way home, and she had
an uneasy feeling that she had been too long away from the children,
especially from Roddy.  Suddenly, her haste was arrested by an
unexpected sight.  A tiny spot of colour lay right in her pathway on
the ground.  It was only a yellow rose-leaf, but it brought a catch in
Christine's breath and her feet to an abrupt halt.  How had it come
there?  If it had fallen from one of Roddy's roses, it meant that he
had been out of doors since she left!  That set her hurrying on again,
but, as she walked, she reflected that of the many roses left in the
dining-room, some might easily have been carried off by the servants
and leaves dropped from them.  Still, she was breathless and rather
pale when she reached the house, wasting not a moment in finding her
way to Mrs. van Cannan's room.

Rita and Coral were amusing themselves happily, winding up a tangle of
bright-coloured silks.  But Roddy was gone!  Neither was Mrs. van
Cannan there.

Christine sat down rather suddenly, but her voice gave no sign of the
alarm she felt.

"Where is Roddy?"

"He went out," answered Rita, perching herself upon Christine.  "Mamma
is going to give us each a new dolly if we get this silk untangled for
her."

"How long ago did Roddy go?"

"Just after you went.  But you mustn't be cross with him; Mamma gave
him permission."

"Mamma is gone, too, to see poor Mrs. Saxby," prattled Coral.

Christine put them gently away from her.

"Well, hurry up and earn your new dollies," she counselled, smiling;
"I'll be back very soon to help you."

In the dining-room, she looked for the discarded roses and found them
gathered in a dying heap on a small side-table.  In the nursery, she
found two of Roddy's roses in the jug.  The third was missing!

Of one thing she felt as certain as she could feel of anything in the
shifting quicksands of that house, and that was that Roddy had not gone
to the dam, for he had promised her earnestly, the night before, that
never again would he go there without her.  Could he, then, have gone
to the cemetery?  Even that seemed unlikely, for he loved her to go
with him on his excursions thither.  Where else, then?  The rose-leaf
she had passed on the road stuck obstinately in her memory, and now she
suddenly remembered that the place she had seen it was near the barn
from whence she had once found Roddy emerging.  Perhaps he had gone
there to amuse himself in his own mysterious fashion.  He might even
have been there when she passed.  Oh, why had she not looked in?  But
the omission was easily rectified.  In two minutes she was out of doors
again, walking rapidly the way she had come.

Roddy was not in the barn, however, and it seemed at a glance as
harmless a place as she had thought it before.  An end of it was full
of forage, and one side piled high with old farm-implements and empty
cases.  Rather to the fore of the pile stood one large packing case,
sacking and straw sticking from under its loose lid.  Christine had
just decided there was nothing here to warrant her scrutiny when, lying
in front of this case, she saw something that drew her gaze like a
magnet.  It was another yellow rose-leaf.

"Roddy!" she cried, and was astonished at the sharp relief in her
voice, for she had suddenly made up her mind that the boy was there
hiding from her.  There was no answer to her call.  Very slowly then
she went over and lifted the lid of the case.  It was quite loose, and
edged with a fringe of strong nails that had once fastened it to the
box, but which now were red with rust.  A quantity of sacking, of the
kind used for winding about fragile goods, lay heaped at the top and
came away easily to her hand, exposing that which lay firmly wedged at
the bottom.  What she had expected to find she did not know.  What she
did find astonished her beyond all things.  It was a beautifully
chiselled white marble tombstone in the shape of a cross.  The whole of
the inscription was clear of dust or any covering save one fading
yellow rose.  Awed, deeply touched, and feeling herself upon the verge
of a mysterious revelation, Christine lifted Roddy's yellow rose and
read the simple gold-lettered inscription:


  TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED WIFE,
  CLARICE VAN CANNAN
  (BORN QUENTIN),
  WHO DIED AT EAST LONDON, JUNE 7, 19--, AND WAS
  BROUGHT BACK TO REST NEAR HER SORROWING
  HUSBAND AND CHILDREN.
  (AGED 27)


The date of death was two years old.

Much that had been dark became clear to Christine.  She understood at
last.  The woman whose sad fate was here recorded, cut off at
twenty-seven--that fairest period in a happy woman's life--was Roddy's
mother, the mother of all the little van Cannan children, living and
dead.  The woman who had ousted her memory from all hearts save loving,
loyal Roddy's was the second wife and stepmother.

Much in the attitude of the big, blond, laughing woman who reigned now
at Blue Aloes, false to her husband, careless of the fate of his
children, was accounted for, too.  The sorrows of the van Cannans had
never touched her.  How should they?  Had not Christine heard from her
own lips, the night before, the confession of her love for another, and
her hatred of Bernard van Cannan's home.  How, then, should she love
Bernard van Cannan's children?

The cruel taunt of cowardice she had flung at Roddy was explained.  The
boy's sensitive, loyal nature was a book too deep for her reading, the
memory of his loved ones too sweet and tenacious for her to tamper
with.  Nevertheless, she had understood him well enough to set a bond
on his honour never to speak of the dead woman who slept in the
unmarked grave while her tombstone lay in the rubble of an outhouse.
The spell by which she had won the man to forgetfulness and neglect was
not the same as that by which she had induced silence in the boy.  A
promise had been wrung from him--perhaps even under duress!  Suddenly,
terror swept over Christine Chaine.  It was revealed to her, as in a
vision, that the pink-and-white woman who laughed with such childlike
innocence by day and whispered so passionately to her lover by night
could be capable of many things not good for those who stood in the way
of her wishes.

Why had two of the van Cannan sons died sudden deaths?  Why was the
lure of a pink palace at the bottom of the dam fostered in the third?
How had the tarantula come into his bed, and why had someone said that
it acted like a thing drugged or intoxicated, and that, when it woke
up, it would have been a bad lookout for Roddy?

"God forgive me!" cried the distracted girl to herself.  "Perhaps I am
more wicked than she, to harbour such thoughts!"

Then, as if at a call that her heart heard rather than her ears, she
found herself running out of the barn and across the veld in the hot,
stormy sunshine, in the direction of the Saxbys' bungalow.

She had never been there before, though often, in their walks, she and
the children had passed within a stone's throw of the little
wood-and-iron building.  The door was always shut, and the windows
hidden by the heavy creeper that covered in the stoep.  She had often
thought what a drab and dreary life it must be for a woman to live
hidden away there, and even the children never passed without a
compassionate allusion to "poor Mrs. Saxby, always shut up there alone."

A dread of seeing the sad, disfigured creature seized her now, as she
reached the darkened stoep, and held her back for a moment.  She stood
wondering why she had come and how she could expect to find Roddy there
where the children had never been allowed to penetrate.  But, in the
very act of hesitation, she heard the boy's voice ring out.

"No, mamma; _please don't make me do it!_"

In a couple of swift steps she was in the stoep and her hand on the
knob of the door.  But the door would not open.  There were two narrow
windows that gave onto the stoep, and, without pause, she flew to the
one that she judged to be in the direction of the child's voice and
laid hands upon it.  It was closed and curtained with thick blue
muslin, but there were no shutters, and to her forceful push the lower
part jerked up, and the curtains divided.  She found herself standing
there, the silent spectator of a scene in which all the actors were
silent, too amazed or paralyzed by her unexpected appearance.



PART III

The room was a common little sitting-room with a table in the centre,
at either end of which sat Mrs. van Cannan and Mr. Saxby.  Roddy was
between the table and the wall, and Christine's first glance showed him
white-faced and staring with fascinated, fearful eyes at a large
cardboard box, with a flat-iron on its lid, which stood on the table.
The two elder people were each holding small knobkerries, that is,
stout sticks with wired handles and heavy heads made by the natives.  A
revolver lay at Saxby's elbow.

The little tableau remained stationary just long enough for Christine
to observe all details; then everyone acted at once.  Roddy flew round
the table and reached her at the window, sobbing:

"Oh, Miss Chaine!  Miss Chaine!"

Saxby laid his knobkerrie on the table and lit a cigarette, and Mrs.
van Cannan, rising from her seat with an air of dignity outraged beyond
all bounds, addressed Christine.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion, Miss Chaine?  How dare you come
bursting into Mr. Saxby's house like this?"

"I heard Roddy call out," was the firm answer, "and I consider it my
duty to protect him."  She had the boy well within her reach now, and
could easily have lifted him out of the low window, but it seemed an
undignified thing to do unless it became absolutely necessary.

"Protect him!  From what, may I ask?"  The woman's voice was like a
knife.

"I don't know from what.  I only know that he was in grave fear of
something you were about to do."

Saxby interposed with a soft laugh.

"You surely cannot suppose Roddy was in any danger from his mother,
Miss Chaine--or that I would harm him?"

He certainly did not look very harmful with his full, handsome features
and melancholy smile.

"Your action is both ridiculous and impertinent," continued Mrs. van
Cannan furiously.  "And I can tell you that I will not stand that sort
of thing from any one in my house," she added, with the air of one
dismissing a servant: "You may go.  Roddy, come here!"

Roddy gave a wild cry.

"Don't leave me, Miss Chaine.  They've got a snake in that box, and
they want me to let it out."

There was blank silence for a moment; then Christine spoke with
deliberation.

"If this is true, it is the most infamous thing I have ever heard."

Even Isabel van Cannan was silenced, and Saxby's deprecating smile
passed.  He said gravely:

"Mrs. van Cannan has a right to use what methods she thinks best to
cure her boy of cowardice."

"Cowardice!" Christine answered him scornfully.  "The word would be
better applied to those who deliberately terrify a child.  I am
astonished at a man taking part in such a vile business."

She was pale with indignation and pity for the boy who trembled in her
arms, and in no mood to choose her words.

Saxby shrugged his shoulders with a sort of helpless gesture toward his
companion as if to say he had only done as he was told.  Mrs. van
Cannan gave him a furious glance before returning to Christine.

"Can't you see," she said violently, "that we have sticks here ready to
kill the thing, and a revolver if necessary?  Not that it is
poisonous--if it had bitten that miserable little worm!"  She cast a
withering glance at Roddy.  He shrank closer to Christine, who judged
it time to pull him safely from the room to her side on to the veranda.

"There is nothing miserable about Roddy," she said fiercely, "except
his misfortune in having a step-mother who neither loves nor
understands him."

That blenched the woman at the table.  She turned a curious yellow
colour, and her golden-brown eyes appeared to perform an evolution in
her head that, for a moment, showed nothing of them but the eyeball.

"That will do," she hissed, advancing menacingly upon Christine.  "I
always felt you were a spy.  But you shall not stay prying here another
day.  Pack your things and go at once."

"Come, come, Mrs. van Cannan," interposed Saxby soothingly; "I am sure
you are unjust to Miss Chaine.  Besides, how can she go at once?  There
is nothing for her to travel by until the cart returns from Cradock."

But the woman he addressed had lost all control of herself.

"She goes tomorrow, cart or no cart!" she shouted, and struck one
clenched fist on the other.  "We will see who is mistress at Blue
Aloes!"

Christine cast at her the look of a well-bred woman insulted by a
brawling fishwife, and with Roddy's hand tightly in hers, walked out of
the veranda without deigning to answer.

But though her mien was haughty as she walked away from Saxby's
bungalow holding Roddy's hand, her spirits were at zero.  She had
burned her boats with a vengeance, and come out into the open to face
an enemy who would stick at nothing, and who, apparently, had everyone
at the farm at her side, including the big, good-natured-seeming Saxby.

It would be difficult to stay on at Blue Aloes and protect Roddy if his
stepmother insisted on her departure, and she did not see how she was
going to do it.  She only knew that nothing and no one should budge her
from the place.  Something dogged in her upheld her from dismay and
determined her to take a stand against the whole array of them.  She
was in the right, and it was her plain duty to do as Bernard van Cannan
had besought, and not go until she could place Roddy in his father's
hands with the full story of his persecutions.

"Tell me about it, Roddy," she said quietly, as they walked away.
"Don't hide anything.  You know that I love you and that your father
has trusted you to my care."

"Yes," he assented eagerly; "but how did you know about my real mammie
being dead?"  His natural resilience had already helped him to surmount
the terror just past, and he was almost himself again.  "I wanted to
tell you, but I had promised mamma not to tell any one."

It was as Christine had supposed.  She explained her finding of the
tombstone and the yellow rose, but not the rest of her terrible
conclusions.

"I put it there," he said shyly.  "She always loved yellow and red
flowers.  I was keeping the other two for her and Carol in the
graveyard."

Christine squeezed the warm little hand, but continued her questions
steadily.

"What happened after you had been to the outhouse?"

"Mamma was waiting for me on the stoep.  She said she wanted me to come
with her to see Mrs. Saxby."  He added, with the sudden memory of
surprise: "But we _didn't_ see Mrs. Saxby.  I wonder where she was."

The same wonder seized Christine.  Where could the unhappy, distraught
creature have been hiding while the trial of Roddy was in process?

"What happened then?"

"We just went into the sitting-room, and Mr. Saxby got the box and the
knobkerries and his revolver, and mamma said, 'Now, Roddy, there is a
snake in that box, and I want you to prove you are not a coward like
last night by taking off the lid.'"  He shuddered violently.  "But I
couldn't.  Oh, Miss Chaine, am I a coward?" he pleaded.

"No, darling; you are _not_," she said emphatically.  "Nobody in their
senses would touch a box with a snake in it.  It was very wrong to ask
you to."

He looked at her gratefully.

"Then you opened the window.  Oh, how glad I felt!  It was just like as
if God had sent you, for my heart felt as if it was calling out to you
all the time.  Perhaps you heard it and that made you come?"

"I did, Roddy," she said earnestly, "I ran all the way from the
outhouse, because I felt you were in need of me."

They were nearly home when they saw Saltire and his boys close beside
their path.  Roddy was urgent to stop and talk, but Christine made the
fact that heavy rain-drops were beginning to fall an excuse for
hurrying on, and indeed in Saltire's face there was no invitation to
linger, for, though he smiled at Roddy, Christine had never seen him so
cold and forbidding-looking.

"He knows that I know," she thought, "and, base as he is, that disturbs
him."  The bitter thought brought her no consolation.  She felt
desolate and alone, like one lost in a desert, with a great task to
accomplish and no friend in sight or sign in the skies.  In the house,
she collected the little girls, and they spent the rest of the
afternoon together.  The storm had broke suddenly, and the
long-threatened rain came at last, lashing up the earth and battering
on the window-panes amid deafening claps of thunder and a furious gale
of wind.

When bath-time came for the children, Christine stayed with them until
the last moment, superintending Meekie.  She would have given worlds to
avoid going in to dinner that night.  No one could have desired food
less, or the society of those with whom she must partake of it.  Yet
she felt that it would be a sign of weakness and a concession to the
enemy if she stayed away, so she dressed as usual and went in to face
the dreary performance of sitting an hour or so with people whom she
held in fear as well as contempt, for she knew not from moment to
moment what new offence she might have to meet.  Only great firmness of
spirit and her natural good breeding sustained her through that trying
meal.

Saltire did not put in an appearance, for which small mercy she was
fain to thank God.  Deeply as he had wounded and offended her, she
hated to see his face as she had seen it that afternoon.  Mrs. van
Cannan, oddly pallid but with burning eyes, absolutely ignored the
presence of the governess, and her lead was followed by all save Andrew
McNeil, who was no man's man but his own, and always treated the girl
with genial friendliness.  As a matter of fact, there was but little
conversation, for the sound of the rain, swishing down on the roof and
windows and tearing through the trees without, deadened the sound of
voices, and everyone seemed distrait.

Christine was not the only one who finished her meal hurriedly.  As she
rose, asking to be excused, Mrs. van Cannan, rising too, detained her.

"I wish to make arrangements with you about your departure tomorrow,
Miss Chaine," she said, loudly enough for everyone's hearing.  "Kindly
come to my room."

There was nothing to be gained by not complying.  Christine did not
mean to leave the next day, and this seemed a good opportunity for
stating her reasons and intentions; she buckled on her moral armour as
she followed the trailing pink-and-white draperies down the long
passage, preparing for an encounter of steel on steel.

"Close the door," said Isabel van Cannan, and went straight to a table
drawer, taking out a small bag full of money.

"I shall give you a month's salary instead of notice," she announced,
counting out sovereigns, "though, as a matter of fact, I believe you
are not entitled to it, considering the scandalous way you have
behaved, plotting and spying and setting the children against me."

Christine disdained to answer this lying charge.  She only said quietly:

"It is useless to offer me money, Mrs. van Cannan.  I have no intention
of leaving the farm until Mr. van Cannan returns."

"What do you mean?  How dare you?" began the other, with a return of
her loud and insolent manner.

"Don't shout," said Christine coldly.  "You only degrade yourself and
do not alarm me.  I mean what I have said.  Mr. van Cannan engaged me,
and entrusted his children to my care, not only when I came but by
letter since his departure.  I do not mean to desert that trust or
relegate it to any hands but his own."

"He never wrote to you.  I don't believe a word of it."

"You are at liberty to believe what you choose.  I have the proof, and
shall produce it if necessary.  In the meantime, please understand
plainly that I do not intend to be parted from Roddy."

A baffled look passed over the other's features, but she laughed
contemptuously.

"We shall see," she sneered.  "Wait till tomorrow, and we shall see how
much your proofs and protests avail you."

"As we both know each other's minds and intentions, there is no use in
prolonging this very disagreeable interview," answered Christine
calmly, and walked out.

The dining-room was silent and dim.  The men had evidently braved the
rain for the sake of getting early to their own quarters, and no one
was about.  In the nursery, the lamp by which she sometimes read or
wrote at her own table had not been lighted.  Only a sheltered candle
on the wash-hand stand cast a dim shadow toward the three little white
beds under their mosquito-nets.  Meekie had gone, but the quiet
breathing of the children came faintly to the girl as she sat down by
her table, thankful for a little space of silence and solitude in which
to collect her forces.  She saw violent and vulgar scenes ahead.  Mrs.
van Cannan, now that her true colours were unmasked, and it was no
longer worth while to play the soft, sleepy rôle behind which she hid
her fierce nature, would stick at nothing to get rid of Christine and
set the whole world against her.  Though the girl's resolution held
firm, a dull despair filled her.  How vile and cruel life could be!
Friendship was a mockery; love, disillusion and ashes; nothing held
sweet and true but the hearts of little children.  An arid conclusion
for a girl from whom the gods had not withdrawn those two surpassing
and swiftly passing gifts--youth and beauty.

"To be a cynic at twenty-two!" she thought bitterly, and looked at her
white, ringless hands.  "I must have loved my kind even better than
Chamfort, who said that no one who had loved his kind well could fail
to be a misanthrope at forty.  And I thought I had left it all behind
in civilized England!  Cruelty, falseness, treachery!  But they are
everywhere.  Even here, on a South African farm in the heart of a
desert, I find them in full bloom."

She bowed her head in her hands and strove for peace and forgetfulness,
if for that night only.  In the end, she found calmness at least, by
reciting softly to herself the beautiful Latin words of her creed.
Then she arose and took the candle in her hand for a final look at the
children before she retired.  The day had been terrible and full of
surprises, but fate had reserved a last and staggering one for this
hour.  Roddy's bed was empty!

The shock of the discovery dazed her for a moment.  It was too horrible
to think that she had been sitting there all this time, wasting
precious moments, while Roddy was--where?  O God, where, and in what
cruel hands on this night of fierce storm and stress?  When was it that
he had gone?  Why had not Meekie been at her post as usual?  She caught
up the light and ran from the nursery into one room after another of
the house.

All was silent.  The servants were gone, the rooms empty.  No sound but
the pitiless battering of the rain without.  At last she came to Isabel
van Cannan's room and rapped sharply.  There was no answer, and she
made no bones about turning the door-handle, for this was no time for
ceremony.  But the bedroom, though brightly lighted, was empty.  She
did not enter, but stood in the doorway, searching with her eyes every
corner and place that could conceivably hide a small boy.  But there
was no likely place.  Even the bed stood high on tall brass legs, and
its short white quilt showed that nothing could be hidden there.  One
object, however, that Christine Chaine had not sought forced itself
upon her notice--an object that, even in her distress of mind, she had
time to find extraordinary and unaccountable in this house of
extraordinary and unaccountable things.  On the dressing-table was a
wig-stand of the kind to be seen in the window of a fashionable
_coiffeur_.  It had a stupid, waxen face, and on its head was arranged
a wig of blond curly hair with long golden plaits hanging down on each
side, even as the plaits of Isabel van Cannan hung about her shoulders
as she lay among her pillows every morning.  The thing gave Christine a
thrill such as all the horrors of that day had not caused her.  So
innocent, yet so sinister, perched there above the foolish, waxen
features, it seemed symbolical of the woman who hid cruel and terrible
things behind her babylike airs and sleepy laughter.

Atop of these thoughts came the woman herself, emerging _en déshabillé_
from her adjoining bathroom.  The moment she saw Christine, she flung a
towel across her head, but too late for her purpose.  The girl had seen
the short, crisp, almost snowy curls that were hidden by day under the
golden wig, and realized in an instant that she was in the presence of
a woman of a breed she had never known--mulatto, albino, or some
strange admixture of native and European blood.  The golden hair,
assisted by artificial aids to the complexion, and her large
golden-brown eyes had lent an extraordinary blondness to the skin.  But
the moment the wig was off, the mischief was out.  The thickness of
eyelids and nostril, and a certain cruel, sensuous fulness of the lips
and jaw told the dark tale, and Christine wondered how she could ever
have been taken in, except that the woman before her was as clever as
she was cruel and unscrupulous.  A tingling horror stole through her
veins as she stood there, sustaining a malignant glance and listening
dumfounded to an insolent inquiry as to what further spying she had
come to do.

"I beg your pardon," she stammered.  "I knocked, and, getting no
answer, opened the door, hardly knowing what I did in my distress.
Roddy is missing from his bed, and I don't know where to look for him."

The other had turned away for a moment, adjusting the covering on her
head before a mirror.  She may still have believed that her secret
remained unrevealed.

"I haven't the faintest notion of Roddy's whereabouts," she said, "and
if he is lost out in this storm, perhaps drowned in one of the kloofs,
yours will be the blame, and I will see you are brought to book for
it."  She spoke with the utmost malice and satisfaction.  "Now, get out
of my room!"

Christine went.  Indeed, she was convinced that for once the woman
spoke truth and that Roddy was not there or anywhere in the house.  It
was out-of-doors that she must seek him.  So back to her room on winged
feet to get a waterproof and make her way from the house.  For once,
the front door was barred!  Outside, the rain had ceased as suddenly as
it had burst from the heavens.  Only the wind swished and howled wildly
among the trees, tearing up handfuls of gravel to fling against the
doors and windows.  Afar off was a roaring sound new to her, that,
later, she discovered to be the rushing waters in the kloofs that were
tearing tumultuously to swell the river a few miles off.  Clouds had
blotted out moon and stars.  All the light there was came
intermittently from whip-like lightning flashes across the sky.  It
helped Christine a little as she stumbled through the darkness, crying
out Roddy's name, but she found herself often colliding with trees, and
prickly-pear bushes seemed to be rushing hither and thither, waving
fantastic arms and clutching for her as she passed.  The idea had come
to her suddenly to seek Andrew McNeil and ask for his help.  He was the
only friendly soul of all those on the farm that she could turn to.
True, another face presented itself to her mind for one moment, but she
banished it with scorn, despising herself for even thinking of Dick
Saltire.

She fancied that McNeil lodged at the storekeeper's place, and set
herself to find the route she had taken that afternoon--no easy task in
the darkness that surrounded her.  But at last she saw a twinkle of
light, and, approaching closer, found that, by great good luck, she had
indeed happened on the store.  The door stood open, and she could see
the man behind the counter talking to McNeil, who, seated on an
upturned case, was smoking peacefully.  Someone else was there
too--someone whose straight back and gallant air was very familiar to
her.  Saltire was buying tobacco from the storekeeper.  But Christine
had no word for him.  She went straight to McNeil with her story.

"Roddy is lost!" she cried.  "You must please come and help me find
him."

The men stared, electrified at her appearance.  White as a bone, her
beautiful violet eyes full of haunting fear; her hair, torn down by the
wind and flickering in long black strands about her face, far below her
waist, she looked like a wraith of the storm.

"Roddy lost!"  McNeil and the storekeeper turned mechanically as one
man to Saltire.  It was only the girl who would not turn to him.

"Come quickly!" she urged.  "He may be drowning somewhere, even now, in
one of the swollen streams."  She imagined the tragedy to herself as
she spoke, and her voice was full of wistful despair.

"Get her a hot drink."  Saltire, flinging the command to the
storekeeper, spoke for the first time.  "I'll round up the boys and get
lanterns for a search."  In a few moments there was a flicker of
lanterns without, and the murmur of voices.

"Come along, Niekerk!" commanded Saltire, and the storekeeper began to
put his lights out.  "McNeil, you take Miss Chaine back to the farm."

"No, no; I must come, too!" she cried.

"Impossible," he said curtly.  "You will only be a hindrance."

"Then I will go home alone," she said quietly, "and free Mr. McNeil to
accompany you."

"Very well--if you think you can find your way.  Here is a lantern."

She took it and went her way while they went theirs.  Long before she
reached the garden round the house, the lantern in her unskilful hands
had gone out and she was groping by instinct.

All the weariness and strain of the day had suddenly descended upon her
in a cloud.  She knew she was near the end of her tether.  This life at
Blue Aloes was too much for her, after all; she must give it best at
last; it was dominating her, driving her like a leaf before the wind.
These were her thoughts as she crept wearily through the garden, but
suddenly she heard voices and was galvanized into hope, tinged with
fear.  Perhaps Roddy was found!  Perhaps her terror and suffering had
been unnecessary.  She listened for a moment, then located the speakers
close to her in the stoep.

"Dick," a voice she knew was saying, "I am sick of it.  Bernard _may_
die down in East London, but we shall never get rid of the boy while
that English Jezebel is here.  And she knows too much now.  We had
better go.  Blue Aloes will never be ours to sell and go back to our
own dear island.  Everything has gone wrong."

"Nonsense, Issa.  You are too impatient.  Van Cannan will never come
back.  He is too full of antimony.  As for Roddy, poor kid, he is
probably drowned in one of the kloofs and speeding for the river by
now--just the sort of adventure his queer little mind would embark on.
No one can blame us for _that_, at least.  You are far too easily
discouraged, my darling.  Wait till the morning."  The voice was the
soft, sonorous voice of Saxby, and a lightning flash revealed to the
girl cowering among the trees that it was he who held Isabel van Cannan
in his arms.

There were two "Dicks" at Blue Aloes, and Christine, not knowing it,
had been guilty of a grave injustice to Richard Saltire!  Aghast as she
was by the revelation, all her love and faith came tingling back in a
sweet, overwhelming flood.  For a moment or two she forgot Roddy,
forgot where she was, forgot all the world but Saltire, and her
attention was withdrawn from the pair in the stoep--indeed, she had no
desire to hear their words, now that she was sure they knew no more of
the boy's whereabouts than she herself.  But the muffled clang of the
bar across the front door broke through her thoughts, and she became
aware that Saxby had left and Mrs. van Cannan gone in.  She was alone
in the gaunt darkness, barred out, and with no means of getting into
the house; all other doors were locked, as well she knew, and all
shutters firmly bolted, including those of the nursery.  However, the
fact did not worry her greatly, for the thought of being snug and safe
while poor Roddy roamed somewhere in the blackness had no appeal for
her.  Out here, she seemed, somehow, nearer to him, and to the man whom
she now knew she had deeply wronged.  Lanterns, twinkling like
will-o'-the-wisps in every direction, told of the search going forward,
and she determined to stay in the summer-house and wait for what news
might come.  It was very obscure there, and she knew not what loathly
insects might be crawling on the seats and table, but, at any rate, it
was shelter from the rain, which now again began to fall heavily.

It seemed to her hours that she sat there while the storm swept round
her and the rushing of many waters filled her ears.  As a matter of
fact, it was less than half an hour before she determined that
inactivity was something not to be borne another moment and that she
must return and join in the search for Roddy.  So out she stumbled
across the veld again, in the direction of the lanterns, evading as
best she could the prickly-pear bushes, stubbing her feet against rocks
and boschies, drenched and driven by the storm.  It was old Andrew
McNeil whom she found first, and he seemed an angel from heaven after
the vile and menacing loneliness, although he was but ill pleased to
see her.

"You should be in your bed, lassie," he muttered.  "The poor bairn will
never be found this night.  We've searched everywhere.  There's nothing
left but the water."

"Oh, don't say that!" she cried woefully, and peered, fascinated, at
the boiling torrent rushing down a kloof that but yesterday was an
innocent gully they had crossed in their walks, in some places so
narrow as to allow a jump from bank to bank.  Now it was a turbulent
flood of yellow water, spreading far beyond its banks and roaring with
a rage unappeasable.  While they stood there, staring, Saltire came up.

"You, Miss Chaine!  I thought I asked you to return to the farm."  His
tones, were frigid, but his eyes compassionate.  No one with any
humanity could have failed to be touched by the forlorn girl, pale and
lovely in the dim light.

"I had to come.  I could not stay inert any longer."

"We have searched every inch of the land inside the aloes," he said.
"He has either fallen into one of the streams or got out beyond the
hedge into the open veld--which seems impossible, somehow.  At any
rate, we can do no more until it is light."  He dismissed the natives
with a brief: "Get home, boys.  _Hamba lalla!_" then turned to McNeil.
"Take Miss Chaine's other arm, Mac; we must see for ourselves that she
goes indoors."

She made some sound of remonstrance, but he paid no attention, simply
taking her arm, half leading, half supporting her.  There was a long
way to go.  They walked awhile in a silence that had hopelessness in
it; then Christine asked:

"Did you search every outhouse and barn?"

"Every one, and the cemetery, too," answered Saltire.  "There's not a
place inside or out of the farm-buildings we haven't been over--except
Saxby's bungalow, and he's hardly likely to be there."

"He was there this afternoon," said Christine slowly.  It seemed to her
time to let them into the truth.

"What!"

Both men halted in amazement.  Such a thing as any one but Mrs. van
Cannan going to Saxby's was unknown.  Briefly she recounted the
incidents of the afternoon.  The men's verdict was the same as hers had
been.

"Atrocious!"

"Infamous!  After that, we will certainly visit Saxby's," decided
Saltire.  "But, first, Miss Chaine must go home."

"No, no; let me come," she begged.  "It is not far.  I _must_ know."

So, in the end, she got her way, and they all approached the bungalow
together.  It was in utter darkness, and the men had to rap loud and
long before any response came from within.  At last Saxby's voice was
heard inquiring who the deuce, and what the deuce, etc., etc., at that
time of the night--followed by his appearance in the doorway with a
candle.

"We want to come in and look for Roddy," said Saltire briefly, and,
without further ado, pushed the burly man aside and entered, followed
by McNeil.  Christine, too, entered, and sat down inside the door.  She
was very exhausted.  Saxby appeared too flabbergasted to move for a
moment.  Then he remonstrated with considerable heat.

"What do you mean by this?  You don't seem to know that you are in my
house!"

But the other two had already passed through the empty sitting-room to
the one beyond, and were casting lantern-gleams from side to side,
examining everything.

"You must be crazy to think the boy is here," Saxby blustered, as they
re-emerged.  They paid not the slightest attention to him, but
continued their search into the kitchen, the only other room of the
house.

"No," said Saltire, very quietly, as he came back into the room and set
the light on the table; "the boy is not here.  But where is Mrs. Saxby?"

Saxby's face had grown rather pallid, but his jaw was set in a dogged
fashion.

"That is _my_ business," he said harshly.

It was Saltire whose face and manner had become subtly agreeable.

"Oh, no, Saxby; it is all of our business at present.  What I find so
strange is that nowhere in the house is there any sign or token that a
woman lives here, or has ever lived here.  It seems to me that needs a
little explaining."

"You'll get no explanation from me," was the curt answer.

"I think you had better tell us something about it," said Saltire
pleasantly.  He held the lantern high, and it lighted up a shelf upon
which stood some curious glass jars with perforated stoppers.  "I see
you have a fine collection of live tarantulas and scorpions.  I
remember now I have often seen you groping among the aloes.  Curious
hobby!"

"Get out of my house!" said Saxby, with sudden rage.

"And is the snake still in the box?" asked Saltire, approaching the
table where the cardboard box still occupied its central position, with
the heavy iron on top of it.

"Don't touch it, for God's sake!" shouted Saxby, lunging forward to
stop him, but the deed was already done, though Saltire himself was
unprepared for what followed on his lifting the iron.  The lid flew up,
and, with a soft hiss, something slim and swift as a black arrow darted
across the air, seemed to kiss Saxby in passing, and was gone through
the open door into the night.

The big man made a strange sound and put his hand to his throat.  He
swayed a little, and then sank upon a long cane lounge.  Christine
noticed that his eyes rolled with the same curious evolution as the
eyes of Mrs. van Cannan had performed that afternoon.  It was as though
they turned in his head for a moment, showing nothing but the white
eyeball.  She wondered why the other men rushed to the sideboard and
opened a brandy-bottle, and while she stayed, wondering, Saxby spoke
softly, looking at her with his beautiful, melancholy brown eyes.

"I shall be dead in half an hour.  Fetch Isabel.  Let me see her face
before I die."

She knew him for a bad man, false friend, one who could be cruel to a
little child; yet it seemed he could love well.  That was something.
She found herself running through the darkness as she had never run in
her life, to do the last behest of Richard Saxby.

When she and Isabel van Cannan returned, they found him almost gone.
Saltire and McNeil had worked over him until the sweat dripped from
their faces, but he who has been kissed by the black mamba, deadliest
of snakes, is lost beyond all human effort.  The light was fast fading
from his face, but, for a moment, a spurt of life leaped in his eyes.
He held out his aims to the woman, and she fell weeping into them.
Christine turned away and stared out at the darkness.  Saltire had been
writing; a sheet of paper upon which the ink was still wet lay upon the
table, and in his hand he held a packet of letters.

"I have told everything, Issa," muttered the dying man.  "I had to
clean my soul of it."

She recoiled fiercely from him.

"'Told everything?'" she repeated, and her face blanched with fury and
despair.  It seemed as if she would have struck him across the lips,
but McNeil intervened.

"Have reverence for a passing soul, woman," said he sternly.  "Black as
his crimes are, yours are blacker, I'm thinking.  He was only the tool
of the woman he loved--his lawful wife."

"You said that?" she raved.  But Saxby was beyond recriminations.  That
dark soul had passed to its own place.  She turned again to the others,
foaming like a creature trapped.

"It is all lies, lies!"--then fell silent, her eyes sealed to the newly
written paper on the table under Saltire's hand.  At last, she said
quietly: "I must, however, insist upon knowing what he has said about
me.  What is written on that paper, Mr. Saltire?"

"If you insist, I will read it," he answered.  "Though it is scarcely
in my province to do so."

"It is only fair that I should hear," she said, with great calmness.
And Saltire read out the terse phrases that bore upon them the stamp of
Death's hurrying hand.


"I am a native of the island Z---- in the West Indies.  Isabel Saxby,
known as van Cannan, is my wife.  While travelling to the Cape Colony
on some business of mine, she met van Cannan and his wife and stayed
with them at East London.  When she did not return to Z----, I came to
look for her and found that, Mrs. van Cannan having died, she had
bigamously married the widower and come to live at Blue Aloes.  I loved
her, and could not bear to be parted from her, so, through her
instrumentality, I came here as manager.  The eldest boy was drowned
before my arrival.  The youngest died six months later of a bite from
one of my specimen tarantulas.  The third boy is, I expect, drowned
tonight.  I take the blame of all these deaths and of Bernard van
Cannan's, if he does not return.  It was only when all male van Cannans
were dead that Blue Aloes could be sold for a large sum enabling us to
return to Z----.  We would have taken the little girls with us.

"With my dying breath, I take full blame for all on my shoulders.  No
one is guilty but I.

"[Signed.] RICHARD SAXBY."


"Poor fellow!" said the listening woman gently.  "Poor fellow to have
died with such terrible delusions torturing him!"  She passed her hands
over her eyes, wiping away her tears and with them every last trace of
violence and anger.  Subtly her face had changed back to the babylike,
laughing, sleepy face they all knew so well--the face that had held the
dead man in thrall and made Bernard van Cannan forget the mother of his
children.

"You will please give me that paper, Mr. Saltire," she pleaded, "and
you will please all of you forget the ravings of poor Dick Saxby.  It
is true that I knew him in the past, and that he followed me here, but
the rest, as you must realize, are simply hallucinations of a poisoned
brain."

Andrew McNeil's dour face had grown bewildered, but softened.
Christine--if she had not seen a little too much, if she had not known
that lovely golden hair hanging in rich plaits about the woman's
shoulders covered the crisped head of a white negress, if she had not
overheard impassioned words at midnight, if she had not loved Roddy so
well--might have been beguiled.  But there was one person upon whom the
artist's wiles were wasted.

"I'm afraid it can't be done, Mrs. Saxby," said Saltire gravely.  "The
testimony of a dying man is sacred--and Saxby's mind was perfectly
clear."

"How could it have been?  And do not call me 'Mrs. Saxby,' please."
She still spoke patiently, but a smouldering fire began to kindle in
her eyes.

"You see," he continued, exhibiting the packet of letters to which he
now added the testimony, "I have here the certificate of your marriage
to Saxby six years ago in the West Indies--and also proof of the
possession by you of a large amount of antimony.  You may, of course,
be able to explain away these things, as well as Saxby's testimony, but
you will understand that I cannot oblige you by handing them over."  A
silence fell, in which only her rapid breathing could be heard.  "There
is one thing, however, you can do, that will perhaps help a little.
Tell us where Roddy is--if you know."

The smouldering fires leaped to flame.  She glared at him like a
tigress.

"Oh, you, and your Roddys!" she cried savagely.  "If I knew where he
was, I would kill him!  I would kill any one I could who stood in my
way--do you understand?  That is how we are made in my land.  Oh, that
I ever left it, to come to this vile and barren desert!"

She gave one swift, terrible look at the dead man and swept from the
house.  That was the last time any one of them ever saw her.

When, a little later, Saltire, McNeil, and Christine came out of the
dead man's house and left him to his long silence, the black wings of
night were lifted, the storm was past, and a rose-red dawn veiled in
silver bedecked the sky.  The hills were tender with pearl and azure.
The earth smelled sweet and freshly washed.  A flock of wild duck rose
from the dam and went streaking across the horizon like in a Japanese
etching.  All the land was full of dew and dreams.  It was almost
impossible to despair in such an hour.  Christine felt the wings of
hope beating in her breast, and an unaccountable trust in the goodness
of God filled her.

"Joy cometh in the morning," she said, half to herself, half to the men
who walked, sombre and silent, beside her, and the shadow of a smile
hovered on her lips.  They looked at her wonderingly.  The night of
terror had taken toll of her, and she was pale as the last star before
dawn.  Yet her white beauty framed in hanging hair shone like some rare
thing that had passed through fire and come out unscathed and purified
in the passing.  "_Il faut souffrir pour être belle_" is a frivolous
French saying, but, like many frivolous phrases, has its basic roots in
the truth.  It was true enough of Christine Chaine in that hour.  She
had suffered and was beautiful.  Dour old Andrew McNeil gave a sigh for
the years of life that lay behind him, and a glance at the face of the
other man; then, like a wise being, he said,

"Well, I'll be going on down."

So Christine and Dick Saltire walked alone.

"Let us hurry," she said suddenly, quickening her pace.  "I feel as
though something may have happened."

But all was silent at the farm.  It was still too early even for the
servants to be astir, and the big front door stood open as she and the
other woman had left it an hour or so agone.

She left Saltire in the stoep and went within.  The little girls slept
peacefully, ignorant of the absence of their brother.

All seemed unchanged, yet Christine's searching eye found one thing
that was unusual--a twist of paper stuck through the slats of the
shutter.  In a moment, she had it untwisted and was reading the words
printed in ungainly letters upon it.

"Do not worry.  Roddy quite safe.  Will come back when his father
returns."

"I knew," she whispered to herself, "I knew that joy cometh."  She
looked in the mirror and was ashamed of the disarray she saw there, yet
thought that, even so, a man who loved her might perhaps find her fair.
As a last thought, she took Roddy's two yellow roses and stuck them in
the bosom of her gown.  Then she went back to the stoep and, showing
Saltire the paper, told him the story of the whispering thing that had
sighed so often for Roddy's safety outside her window.

"I feel sure, somehow, that, after all, he is safe, and with that
friend who knew more than we did, who knew all the tragedy of the
mother and the other two little sons, and feared for Roddy from the
first."

Saltire made no answer, for he was looking at the roses and then into
her eyes; and when she tried to return the look, the weight of the
little stones was on her lids again, and her lips a-quiver.  But he
held her against his heart close, close--crushing the yellow roses,
kissing the little stones from her lids and the quiver from her lips.
Then he left her swiftly; for it is a sweet and terrible thing to kiss
the lips and crush the roses and go, and a better thing to hasten the
hour when one may kiss the lips and crush the roses--and stay.

So she did not see him again for three days.  But from the faithful
McNeil she heard that the flooded river had been forded and a telegram
sent recalling Bernard van Cannan, that a search had been instituted
for the mistress of Blue Aloes, who was missing, that a party of
farmers had been collected to "sit" upon the body of Richard Saxby, and
had pronounced him most regrettably dead from the bite of a black
mamba.  Whereafter he was buried in a quiet spot near the hedge of blue
aloes, from which he had collected so many rare specimens of poisonous
reptiles and insects.

On the third day, one of the kloofs on the farm gave up a wig of golden
hair, all muddy and weed-entangled.  The natives hung it on a bush to
dry, and there was much gossip among them that day, hastily hushed when
any European person came by.

At nine o'clock the same evening, Roddy was found peacefully sleeping
in the bed with Meekie carefully adjusting the mosquito-curtains over
him as though he had never been missing.  In the morning, he told
Christine he had had an awfully funny dream.

"I dreamed I was with my old 'nannie' again--you know--Sophy.  She was
all covered up, and I could only see her eyes looking through holes in
a white thing.  She was living all by herself in a hut.  I didn't stay
with her, but with another old woman, but she used to come and see me
every day, and sometimes Meekie used to come, too, and Klaas and Jacoop
and all the farm-boys to talk to me.  The old woman kept giving me some
tea made of herbs that made me feel very quiet and happy, and Sophy
told me I should come back soon to the farm when daddy was home again.
She was always covered up with white clothes, and I could only see her
eyes, and I love Sophy very much, Miss Chaine, but I can't say she
smelled very nice in my dream.  It was a very funny dream, though, and
lasted an awful long time."

It had indeed lasted three days, but Roddy would never know that,
during those three days, he had been incarcerated in the Kafir kraal on
the hillside, outside the aloe hedge.  It was only when the golden wig
was washed up from the river that the mysterious kraal people, silent
and impassive, seemingly ignorant of all but their duties, yet knowing
every single thing that passed at the farm, even down to the use of the
false hair (though Bernard van Cannan himself had never suspected
this), gave him back to those who awaited.

If Dick Saltire had not so thoroughly understood the native mind and
inspired the confidence of his boys, the truth might never have been
known.  As it was, it lay in his power to relate to those whom it
concerned that a certain woman named Sophy Bronjon, formerly nurse to
the van Cannans, and sent away by them to be conveyed to Robin Island
because she had developed leprosy, had never left the precincts of the
farm, but stayed there, brooding over the little ones she loved.  The
kraal people to whom (though a mission-educated woman) she belonged had
hidden and sheltered her.  Through Meekie's instrumentality, she
undoubtedly knew all that passed on the farm, and as surely as she had
noted the fate of the van Cannan heirs, she recognized Christine as an
ally and friend, and had warned her as best she could of the dangers
that beset Roddy.  It was she who had sighed and whispered through the
closed shutters, frightening Christine at first, but in the end
engendering trust, and it was she who, on hearing of the narrow escape
of Roddy from the tarantula, had made up her mind to spirit him, with
the aid of Meekie and the storm, from the farm and its dangers until
the return of his father.

With the disappearance of Mrs. van Cannan and the death of Saxby, the
menace was removed and the child brought back as silently as he had
been taken away.  Even he knew no more than that he had dreamed a
strange dream.

Saltire went to meet Bernard van Cannan at Cradock, taking with him the
papers left in his care by Richard Saxby.  There was not so much to
explain to the owner of Blue Aloes, as might have been expected.  The
doctor who treated him for neuritis and found him dying of slow
poisoning by antimony had lifted the scales from his eyes, and a little
clear thought, away from the spell of the woman known as Isabel van
Cannan, had done much to show him that the sequence of tragedies in his
home was due to something more than the callousness of fate.  Thus he
was, in some measure, prepared for Saxby's confession, though not for
the fact that the woman he had adored to fanaticism had never been his
wife, or more to him than might have been an adder gathered from his
own aloe hedge, with all the traits and attributes peculiar to adders
who are gathered to the bosom and warmed there.

He came back to a home from which the spell of the golden, laughing
woman was lifted.  The evil menace that had hung for so long over the
old farm was lifted for ever.  Part was buried by the blue-aloe hedge;
part of it, plucked from the dregs of an ebbing river, lay in a far
grave with no mark on it but the plain words, "Isabel Saxby."  While
the sad watcher in the kraal had no more need to walk and whisper
warnings by night.

It was the children who laughed now at Blue Aloes, merry and free as
elves in a wood.  There was a glow came out of Christine Chaine that
communicated itself to all.  She and Saltire were to be married as soon
as a Quentin aunt, who was on her way, had settled down comfortably
with the children.  Afterward, Roddy would live with them at the Cape
until his schooldays were over.  In the meantime, they walked in a
garden of Eden, for the rains had made the desert bloom, and life
offered them its fairest blossoms with both hands.



The Leopard

PART I

It was nine o'clock, and time for the first waltz to strike up.  The
wide, empty floor of the Falcon Hotel lounge gleamed with a waxen glaze
under the brilliant lights, and the dancers' feet were tingling to
begin.  Michael Walsh, who always played at the Wankelo dances, sat
down at the piano and struck two loud arresting bars, then gently
caressed from the keys the crooning melody of the _Wisteria Waltz_.
Two by two, the dancers drew into the maze of music and movement, and
became part of a weaving rhythmic, kaleidoscopic picture.

There was not an ill-looking person in the room.  The men were of a
tanned, hard-bitten, adventurous brand; the women were nearly all
pretty or attractive or both, and mostly young.  These are the usual
attributes of women in a new country like Rhodesia; for men do not take
ugly, unattractive women to share life with them in the wilds, and
girls born in such places have a gift all their own of beauty and charm.

Many of them were badly dressed, however, for that, too, is an
attribute of the wilds, where women mostly make their own clothes,
unless they are rich enough to get frequent parcels from England.
There was this to be noted about the gowns: When they were new, they
were patchy affairs, made up at home from materials bought in Rhodesian
shops; but when well cut, they were battered and worn.  Take, for
instance, Mrs. Lisle's gown of pale-green satin and sequins.  She had
been an actress before she married Barton Lisle and came out to the ups
and downs of a mining speculator's life, and all her clothes were
_réchauffées_ of the toilettes in which she had once dazzled provincial
audiences.  Gay Liscannon's frock of pale rose-leaf silk, with a skirt
that was a flurry of delicious little frills and a bodice of lace, sewn
with little paste dew drops that folded around her fresh young form
like the filmy wings of a butterfly, had Bond Street stamped all over
it, as they who ran might read; but it had not been paid for, although
it was already tumbling into little tears and tatters.  For Gay was no
Penelope to sit patiently at home and ply the nimble needle.  She had
worn it to six dances already, and would probably wear it another six
before she summoned up the nerve to present her father with the bill.

Berlie Hallett possessed a London godmother in the shape of an aunt who
sent her an occasional frock, and her white-tulle-and-forget-me-nots
was all that it should have been except that it had turned to an ashen
creamy hue, possessed a long tear down the back (unskilfully concealed
by a ribbon sash), lacked about six yards of lace (accidentally ripped
off the flounces), and was minus a few dozen posies of forget-me-nots
(now in the possession of various amorous young men).  Berlie no more
than her friend Gay was a sit-by-the-fire-and-mend creature.  They were
real, live, out-of-door, golfing, hard-riding girls, full of spirits
and gaiety and _joie de vivre_.

Berlie, at that moment, was dancing with all her soul as well as her
feet, melted in the arms of Johnny Doran, a rich rancher who had
proposed to her eight times and whom she intended should propose
another ten before she finally refused him.  But Gay, the best dancer
in Rhodesia, was not dancing.  Her feet were tingling, and the music
was in her brain like wine, and her heart was burning, and her eyes,
though not turned that way, were watching, with impatient wrath, the
door across the room.  But with her lips she smiled at the little group
of clamouring, protesting men about her, and gave out one brief
statement.

"My shoe hurts me."

"Which one?" they clamoured, like a lot of school-boys.  "And why?
It's the same pair you danced to the dawn in last week--why should it
hurt you now?  And why does one hurt you?  Why not two?  Who will bet
that it won't stop hurting after this dance?" they inquired of one
another, "and who is the man it is hurting for?"

Gay surveyed them dispassionately with her misty, violet eyes.

"Don't be silly," said she serenely; "my shoe hurts."

They gave her up as hopeless and faded away, one by one, bent on
finding someone to finish the waltz with.  Men out-numbered girls by
about four to one in Wankelo.  Only Tryon stayed, lounging against the
wall, smiling subtly to himself.

"There's Molly Tring just coming in," said Gay to him.  "You'd better
go and get a dance from her, Dick."

"By and by," said Tryon, with his cryptic smile.  "I'm waiting for
something."

Even as he spoke, Gay saw across the room the face she had been
watching for.  A tall man had come into the doorway and stood casting a
casual but comprehensive eye about him.  He was not in evening dress,
but wore a loose grey lounge suit of rather careless aspect, and his
short, fairish, curly hair was ruffled as though he had been running
his fingers through it.  Accompanying him was a small black dog with a
large stone in its mouth, which came into the ballroom and sat down.
Gay gave one look at the pair of them, and the colour went out of her
face.  There was more than a glint of passion in the eyes she turned to
Tyron, who was smiling no longer.

"I'll finish this dance with you, if you like, Dick."

"My shoe hurts," said Tryon.

She flung away from him in a rage and a moment later, was lost among
the rest of the dancers in the arms of one Claude Hayes, a man not too
proud to take the goods the gods offered, even if they were short
ratio.  Tryon sauntered over to the doorway tenanted by the man in
grey, who appeared to be delightfully impervious to the fact that he
was the only person on the scene not in evening dress.

"Hello, Tryon!" said he.

"Hello, Lundi!  Thought you meant to turn up and dance tonight?"

"Yes, so I did," said Lundi Druro, looking at Tryon with the blithe and
friendly smile that made all men like him.  "But I forgot."

"I won't ask what you were doing, then," was Tryon's dry comment.  To
which Druro responded nothing.  He was one of those who did before the
sun and moon that which seemed good unto him to do, with a sublime
indifference to comments.  Everyone knew what he was doing when he
"forgot," and he didn't care if they did.

"Lundi meant to get married, but he forgot," was a household jest in
Rhodesia, founded on a legend from home that, at a certain
supper-party, a beautiful actress had inveigled him into making her an
offer of marriage, and the ceremony had been fixed for the following
day.  But, though bride and wedding-party turned up at the appointed
hour, the bridegroom never materialized.  He had gone straight from the
supper-party at the Savoy to the Green Room Club and fallen into a game
of poker that lasted throughout the night and all the next day, with
the result that all memory of the proposed wedding had faded from his
mind.  The lady, very much injured in her tenderest feeling
(professional and personal vanity), had sued him for a large sum of
money, which he had paid without blinking and returned to South Africa,
heart-free, to make some more.

"Did you pull in the pot?" asked Tryon, who was a poker player himself.

"No," said Druro regretfully; "hadn't time.  I left the game and came
away as soon as I remembered this blessed dance."

Just then the waltz came to an end, its last notes trailing off into
nothingness and blowing away like a handful of leaves on a breeze.  The
kaleidoscopic patterns sorted themselves and turned into a circle of
perambulating couples, and Gay and her partner passed the two men in
the doorway.

"Hi!  I want to speak to you," said Druro, whose manners were unique,
making an imperious sign at Gay.  She looked at him with eyes like
frozen violets and walked on.  Druro, looking after her, observed that
she and her partner passed out of a door leading to the east veranda.

"H'm!" said he, reflective but unperturbed.  Then he turned to Tryon.
"Go and get Hayes away from her, Tryon."

"That's a nice job!" commented Tryon.

"Go on, old man!" said Druro, kindly but firmly.  "Tell him there's a
man in the bar wants to see him on a matter of life and death.  He'll
thank you for it afterward."

Tryon went grumbling through the ballroom, and Druro stepped back out
of the front hall into the street and made a circuit of the hotel.  By
the time he had reached the east veranda, Tryon was gently leading away
the unresisting Hayes, and a rose-leaf shoe, visible between two pots
of giant croton, guided the stalker to his prey.  He sat down on a seat
beside her.

"Did you mean it when you cut me in that brutal manner just now--or was
it an accident?" he asked reproachfully.

Gay did not answer or stir.  His manner changed.

"Gay, I am most awfully sorry and ashamed of myself.  Will you forgive
me?"

The girl sat up straight in her chair at that, and looked at him.  She
was too generous to ignore a frank appeal for pardon, but she had that
within which demanded propitiation.

"Have you any explanation to offer?" she asked, and he answered:

"I clean forgot all about it."

She stared at him in exasperation and scorn, her eyes sparkling with
anger, and he returned her gaze with his frank and fearless smile.
"_M'Schlega_," the natives called him--"the man who always laughs
whether good or bad comes to him."

Gay at last withdrew her face into the shadows where he could no longer
see it clearly.

"I suppose you think that disappointing a girl and making her lose a
dance is nothing," she said quietly.

"You misjudge me.  If I had thought about it at all, it would never
have happened.  But the whole thing went clean out of my mind until it
was too late to dress and get down here in time.  Do you think I would
_purposely_ miss such a keen pleasure as it is to dance with you--and
the honour of having your first waltz given me?"

She did not answer, but slowly her anger began to fade.

"I came down here as hard as I could belt, as soon as I remembered."

More anger melted away.

"I haven't even had my dinner yet."

Gay sprang up like a whirlwind.

"Oh, how detestable you are," she said, in a low, furious voice, "with
your dinner and your wretched excuses!  Do you think I don't know what
you were doing that you forgot?  Everyone knows what you are doing when
you forget your engagements--playing poker and drinking with a lot of
low gambling men, wasting your money and your time and all that is fine
in you!"

Druro had stood up, too, and faced her with the first bolt she flung.
They were quite alone, for the trilling notes of a two-step had swiftly
emptied the veranda.  He still wore a smile on his lips, but its
singularly heart-warming quality had gone from it.  His red-brown face
had grown a shade less red-brown, and his grey, whimsical, good-natured
eyes looked suddenly hard as rock.  He addressed her as if she were
someone he had never met before.

"You are very plain-spoken!"

"You need a little plain-speaking," she said passionately.

"It is a pity to waste wit and wisdom on an object so unworthy.
Obviously, I am past reforming"--his smile had a mocking turn to it
now--"even if I wanted to be reformed."

"_Of course_ you don't want to be reformed," said Gay.  "No drunkard
and gambler ever does."

Her voice was hard, but there was a pain in her heart like the twist of
a knife there.  She pressed her hand among the laces of her dress, and
all the little paste jewels twinkled.  Druro noticed them.  They
engaged his attention, even while he was swallowing down her words like
a bitter dose of poison.  He was deeply offended.  She spoke to him as
if he were some kind of a pariah, and it was unpardonable.  If she had
been a man, he would have known what to do, and have done it quick.
But what could be done with a slip of a girl who stood there with a
folded lace butterfly around her and looked like a passionate tea-rose
twinkling with dewdrops?  Nothing, except just smile.  But only the
self-control gained in many a hard-won and ably bluffed game of life
(and poker) enabled him to do it, and to say, with great gentleness:

"I'm afraid that I am as I am.  You must take me or leave me at that."

"I'll leave you, then," she said burningly, and slipped past him.  At
the door of the ballroom she looked back and flung him a last word,
"Until you are a different man from the present Lundi Druro."

Druro, entirely taken aback by her decisive retort and action, stood
staring long after she had disappeared.

"Well, by the living something or other!" he muttered at last, and
walked away from the hotel, filled with wholesale rage and indignation.
"The little shrew!  Who asked her to take me, I wonder?  Or for her
opinions on my ways of living?  Of all the cheeky monkeys!  Pitching
into me like that--just because she missed her blessed waltz!
_Certainly_ it was rotten of me--I don't say it wasn't.  _But I
forgot_.  I _told_ her I forgot.  Didn't I come straight down here and
tell her?  Left those fellows--left a jack-pot!  O my aunt!  And that's
all I get for it--a decent and reasonable fellow like me to be called
such names just because I distract myself with the only one or two
things that can delude one into believing that life is worth living in
this rotten country!  Drunkard and gambler--fine words to fling at a
man like bomb-shells!"

Thus it was with Druro, whom all men hailed as "well-met," and all
women liked, and all Rhodesia called "Lundi," though his Christian
names were really Francis Everard.  No one had ever called him anything
but Lundi since the day he jumped into the Lundi River to save his
dog's life.  He was on a shoot with half a dozen other men, and they
had heavily dynamited a portion of the river to bring up some fresh
fish for dinner.  Druro's dog, thinking it was a game he knew, jumped
in after one of the sticks of dynamite to bring it out to his master,
and Druro, like a flash, was in after him and out again, just in time
to save himself and the dog from being blown to smithereens.  "The
bravest action he had ever seen in his life," one of the witnesses
described it--and he had been through several native wars and knew what
he was talking about, just as Druro, who was a mining expert, knew the
risk he was taking when he jumped in among the dynamite.

This was the man who was filled with rage and desolation of heart at
the words of "a little monkey of eighteen or nineteen--old dissipated
Derek Liscannon's daughter, I thank you!  Nice school to come to for
temperance lectures!  Not that she can help being Derry's daughter, and
not that old Derry is a bad sort--far from it--but as hard a drinker as
you could find in a day's march.  And young Derry hits it up a bit,
too, though one of the nicest boys in the world.  I've always said that
Gay was the sweetest, prettiest little kid in Rhodesia--in Africa, if
it comes to that--and now she turns on me like this--blow her buttons!"

He strode along the soft, dusty roads that still had a feel of the veld
in them, neither looking nor listing whither he went.  It was a soft,
plaintive voice that brought him to a standstill, and the realization
that he was close to the Wankelo railway station.

"Oh, _can_ you tell whether the Falcon Hotel is far from here?"

"The Falcon Hotel, madam?"  His hand went instinctively to his head,
but there was no hat upon it.  "There is surely a bus here that will
take you to it," he said, looking about him.

She gave a little laugh.

"Yes; but I don't want my poor bones rattled to pieces in a bus if it
is not too far to walk."

Dimly he could see a slight figure swathed in velvety darkness of furs
and veils that gave out a faint perfume of violets, and the suggestion
of a pale, oval face.  Her voice was low and sweet.

"It is not very far," said Druro.  "I will gladly show you the way, if
you will allow me."

"That is so very kind of you," she answered softly, and fell into step
by his side.

As they walked, she told him, with the simple aplomb of a well-bred
woman of the world, that she had just arrived by the train from
Buluwayo and was going on to a place called Selukine for a week or two.
It was not necessary for her to tell him that she was recently from
home, for he knew it by her air, her voice, her accent, her rustly
garments, the soft perfume of fur and violets, and a dozen little
intangible signs and symbols that all had an appeal for him.  For Druro
was one of those Englishmen who love England from afar a great deal
better than they do when at home.  He had lived in Rhodesia, off and
on, for ten years, and the veld life was in the very blood and bones of
him.  Yet he always spoke of it as a rotten country, and gravely
affirmed that it was bad luck to have to live away from England.

"Give me London lamp-posts," he was in the habit of saying, "and you
can have all the veld you want for keeps."  And he went home every
year, declaring that he was finished with Africa and would never come
back.  Yet he came back.  Also, he had built himself a lovely little
ranch-house in the midst of five thousand acres of Sombwelo Forest,
where there were no lampposts at all, only trees and a silent, deep
river full of crocodiles.  It is true that he had never lived there.
He only went there and mooned by himself sometimes, when he was "out"
with the world.  It had occurred to him, since his _rencontre_ with
Gay, that he would go there very shortly.  But now this rustling,
softly perfumed lady made him remember his beloved lampposts.  It was a
year since he had been home, and she meant home.


She was London; she was Torment; she was Town.


Curiosity to see her face consumed him.  He felt certain that she was
beautiful.  No plain woman could be so self-possessed and sure of
herself, could give out such subtle charm and fascination.  After the
brutal and unexpected treatment he had received at the hands of Gay
Liscannon, he felt himself under some sweet, healing spell.

They reached the hotel all too soon.  The bus, with her luggage on it,
had passed them by the way, and host and porters were awaiting her at
the front door.  In the light she turned to thank him with a charming
smile, and he saw, as he expected, that her face was subtly beautiful.

"I hope we shall meet again, Mr.----"  She paused smiling.

"Druro," he supplied, smiling too, "and this is Rhodesia.  I'm afraid
you can't miss meeting me again--if you try."

He, too, as she very well observed, was good to behold, standing there
with the light on his handsome head.  She did not miss the potency of
his smile.  Nor, being a woman who dealt in lights and shades herself,
was the flattering significance of his words wasted upon her.

"_Tant meiux!_" she said, and, in case he was no French scholar,
repeated it in English, as she held out her slim gloved hand--"All the
better!"

Gay and a man she had been dancing with came out and passed them as
they stood there smiling and touching hands--a handsome, debonair man
and a subtly beautiful woman.  Gay took the picture of them home with
her, and stayed long thinking of it when she should have been sleeping.
Long she leaned from her bedroom window, gazing at the great grey
spaces of veld that she loved so much, but seeing them not.  All she
could see was Druro's face turned cold, the rocklike expression of his
eyes when he stared at her as though she had been some stranger--she,
who had loved him for years, ever since, as a girl of sixteen, straight
from England and from school, she first saw him and found in his clear,
careless face and fearless ways the crystallization of all her girlish
dreams.  Lovely and spirited, decked in the bloom of youth, she had
more, perhaps, than her fair share of admirers and adorers.  Every man
who met her fell, to some extent, in love with her.  "Gay fever" it was
called; and they all went through it, and some recovered and some did
not.  But Gay's fever was for Lundi Druro, though she hid it well
behind locked lips and a sweet, serene gaze.  She could not see him
riding down the street, or standing among a group of his fellows (for
other men always clustered about Druro), or even catch a glimpse of his
big red Argyle car standing outside a building, without a tingling of
all the life in her veins.

But she was neither blind nor a fool.  Her spirit brooded over Druro
with the half-mystical and half-maternal love that all true women
accord to the beloved; but she knew very well that he had never looked
her way and that the chances were he never might.  He was a man's man.
He liked women, and his eyes always lit up when he saw one, but he
forgot all about them when they were not there, forgot them easily in
cards and conviviality and the society of other men.  Once, when
someone had attacked him about his indifference to women, he had
answered:

"Why, I adore women!  But I prefer the society of men--there are fewer
regrets afterward."

There was no doubt that he exercised a tremendous personal magnetism
upon other men--attracted them, amused them, and influenced them, even
obsessed them.  The way he could make them do things just out of sheer
liking for him almost amounted to mesmerism.  It must be added that,
though they were often unpractical, crazy, unwise, even dangerous
things he influenced others to do, they were never shameful or in any
way shady.  There wasn't a shameful instinct or thought in the whole of
Lundi Druro's composition.  Gay, however, divined in him that his power
of obsessing the minds of other men had become, or was on the way of
becoming, a temptation and obsession to himself.  She was wise enough
to realize that hardly any man in the world can stand too much
popularity, also to see the rocks ahead for Druro in a country where
men drink and gamble far too much, and are fast in the clutches of
these vices before they realize them as bad habits.  It was not for
nothing that she was Derek Liscannon's daughter and Derry Liscannon's
sister.

She had her worries and anxieties, poor Gay, though she carried them
with a stiff lip and never let the world guess how often her heart was
aching behind her smile.  But, of late, the worst of them had come to
be in the fear that Lundi Druro was going the way so many good men go
in Rhodesia--full-tilt for the rocks of moral and physical ruin.

This was the reason for her attack on him.  She had long meditated
something of the kind, though quite certain that he would take it
badly.  But she had thought that his friendship with her family and
herself warranted (she knew that her love did) her doing a thing from
which her soul shrank but did not retreat--hurting another human soul
so as to help it to its own healing.  And it had all ended in
disappointment and despair.  Nothing to show for it but the picture of
him standing happy and gay, his eyes admiringly fixed on another woman!
Perhaps the beautiful stranger would solace him for the wound Gay's
hand had dealt?  Who could she be? the girl wondered miserably.

But, by the next afternoon, everyone in Wankelo knew that Mrs. Hading,
beautiful, unattached, and travelling for her pleasure, was staying at
the "Falcon"; and Beryl Hallett, who was also staying there, had
already met her and prepared a complete synopsis of her character,
clothes, and manners (not to mention features, complexion, and hair)
for the benefit of her friend, Gay Liscannon.

"My dear, she has lovely, weary manners and lovely, weary eyes, with an
expression as if she doesn't take any interest in anything; but you bet
she does!" said Beryl, whose language always contained a somewhat
sporting flavour.  "You bet she takes an interest in clothes and men
and everything that's going!  Nothing much gets past those weary eyes.
And she is as _chic_ as the deuce.  Never have we seen such clothes up
here.  She smells so delicious, too--not scented, you know, but just
little faint puffs of fragrance.  I wish I knew how to do it.  But I
don't think you _can_ do it without sachets in your corsets and a maid
to sew them into all your clothes, and salts and perfumes for your
bath, and plenty of tin to keep it all going!  Blow!  How can
poverty-stricken wretches like us contend with that kind of thing, I'd
like to know?"

"We don't have to contend with it," said Gay indifferently.

The two girls were sitting in Berlie's mother's private sitting-room
upstairs.  Gay was in riding-kit and had come to beguile Berlie to go
for a canter.

"Oh, don't we?" said the latter emphatically.  "You should just see the
pile of men that came in to lunch here today--just to have a look at
her.  The story of her glory has gone forth.  She came over to our
table and asked if we minded if she sat with us, and then she wound her
lovely manners all around mother so that mum thinks she's a dream and
an angel.  But _I_ don't cotton to her much, Gay--and I can feel she
doesn't like me, either, though she was as sweet as honey.  My dear,
she will nobble all our men--I feel it in my bones."

"Let her," said Gay listlessly.

"She even has old Lundi Druro crumpled up--what do you think of
_that_?"  Gay's charming face turned to a mask.  "That gives you an
idea of her power," continued Beryl dolorously, "if she can keep Lundi
Druro amused.  She is sitting in the lounge with him now.  They've been
there ever since lunch, and he was to have gone out to his mine early
this morning."

Gay jumped up from her chair.

"Are you coming for that ride or not, Berlie?  I'm sick of scorching
indoors."  There were, indeed, two spots of flame in her cheeks.

"Oh, Gay, I can't; I am too G. I. for anything."  "G. I." is Rhodesian
for "gone in," a common condition for both men and women and things in
that sprightly land of nicknames and nick-phrases.

"I'm off, then," said Gay hurriedly.

"Wait a minute--I'll come down with you!" said Beryl, and, rushing to
the mirror over the mantel, began to pat her pretty _cendré_ hair flat
to her head, in unconscious imitation of Mrs. Hading's coiffure.

The two girls went downstairs together.  Beryl's arm thrust through her
friend's.  Gay's horse stood at the side entrance, facing the
staircase.  She instinctively quickened her pace as they reached the
lounge door, but, before she could pass, it opened, and Mrs. Hallett
came out.

"Oh, I was just coming to look for you girls.  Mrs. Scott is in from
Umvuma, Gay, and dying to see you."

Gay gave an inward groan.  Mrs. Scott was an old friend of her dead
mother's, and about the only woman in the world for whom the girl would
have entered the lounge at that moment.  As it was, she followed
Beryl's mother swiftfoot through the swing door, very upright and smart
in her glossy tan riding-boots, knee-breeches, and graceful long coat
of soft tan linen.  In the matter of riding-kit, Gay always went nap.
A ball or day gown she might wear until it fell off her back, but when
it came to habits, she considered nothing too good or too recent for
her.

For a moment, Marice Hading looked away from the man who sat opposite,
amusing her with apt and cynical reflections on life in Rhodesia, and
shot a soft, dark glance at the straight back of the girl in
riding-kit.  Her cleverly appraising eye took in, with the
instantaneousness of photography, every detail of Gay's get-up, and her
brain acknowledged that she had seldom seen a better one either in
Central Park or Rotten Row.  But no expression of any such opinion
showed in her weary, disdainful eyes or found its way to her lips, for
in the art of using language to conceal her thoughts, Marice Hading had
few rivals.  What she said to Druro, whose glance had also wandered
that way, was:

"One cannot help noticing what a hard-riding, healthy-looking crowd the
women of this country are."

The words sounded like a simple, frank statement; but somehow they
robbed Gay of some of the perfection of her young and charming
ensemble, and made her one of a crowd in which her distinction was
lost.  Druro felt this vaguely without being able to tell exactly how
it happened.  He knew nothing of the subtleties of a woman's mind.  He
had thought that Gay looked rather splendidly young and sweet, and,
because of it, a fresh pang shot through him at the remembrance of her
scornful dismissal of him the night before.  But, with Mrs. Hading's
words, the impression passed, and he got a quick vision of Gay as just
an ordinary girl who had been extremely rude to him.  This helped him
to meet with equanimity the calm, clear glance she sent through him.

"Don't you know the little riding girl?" asked Mrs. Hading softly, but
something in Druro's surprised expression made her cover the question
with a faintly admiring remark: "She's quite good-looking, I think.
Who is she?"

"The daughter of an old friend of mine--a Colonel Liscannon," said
Druro, speaking in a low voice and rapidly.  He would have preferred
not to discuss Gay at all, but his natural generosity impelled him to
accord her such dignity and place as belonged to her and not to leave
her where Mrs. Hading's words seemed to place her--just the other side
of some fine, invisible line.

"Ah, one of the early pioneers?  They were all by way of being captains
and colonels, weren't they?" murmured Marice Hading, still weaving
fine, invisible threads.

Druro frowned slightly.  "Colonel Liscannon is an old service-man----"

"May I beg for one of those delicious cigarettes you were smoking after
lunch?" she said languidly.  "And do tell where to get some like them.
I find it so difficult to get anything at all smokable up here, except
from your clubs."

Thus, Colonel Liscannon and his daughter were gracefully consigned to
the limbo of subjects not sufficiently interesting to hold the
attention of Mrs. Hading.  If she could not, by reason of Druro's
natural chivalry, put Gay just over the wrong side of some subtle
social line she had drawn, she could, at least, thrust her out of the
conversation altogether and out of Druro's mind.  This was always a
pastime she found fascinating--pushing someone out of a man's mind and
taking the empty place herself--and one at which long practice had made
her nearly perfect.  So it is not astonishing that she succeeded so
well with Druro that, when Gay left her friends and slipped out to her
waiting horse, he did not even notice her going.  He was busy trying to
persuade Mrs. Hading to come for a spin around the Wankelo kopje in his
car, and he was not unsuccessful.  Only, they went further than the
kopje.  About six miles out they got a glimpse of a solitary rider
ahead, going like the wind.  A cloud of soft, ashen dust rising from
under the horse's heels floated back and settled like the gentle dew
from heaven upon the car and its occupants.  Druro was on the point of
slackening speed, but Mrs. Hading's pencilled brows met in a line above
her eyes, and one of her little white teeth showed in her underlip.

"Get past her, please," she said coldly.  "I object to other people's
dust."

Druro was about to object in his turn, though, for a moment, he
philandered with the delightful thought of getting even with Gay by
covering her with dust and petrol fumes.  Unfortunately, his gallant
resistance to this pleasant temptation would never be known, for Gay
suddenly and unexpectedly wheeled to the left and put her horse's head
to the veld.  The swift wheeling movement, with its attendant extra
scuffling of dust, sent a further graceful contribution of fine dirt on
to the occupants of the car.  It would have been difficult to accuse
Gay of doing it on purpose, however, for she appeared blandly
unconscious of the neighbourhood of fellow beings.  She gave a little
flick of her whip, and away she went over a great burnt-out patch of
veld, leaving the long, white, dusty road to those who had no choice
but to take it.

Mrs. Hading did not love Gay Liscannon any better for her score, but
she would have disliked her in any case.  Because she was no longer
young herself, youth drove at her heart like a poisoned dagger.  One of
the few keen pleasures she had left in life was to bare her foils to
the attack of some inexperienced girl, to match her wit and art and
beauty against a fresh cheek and ingenuous heart, and prove to the
world that victory was still to her.  But when she had done it, victory
was dust in her palm and bitter in her mouth as dead-sea apples.  For
she knew that the wolf of middle age was at her door.

Marice Hading was one of those unhappy women who have drained to the
dregs every cup of pleasure they can wrench from life and fled from the
healing cup of pain.  Now, with the chilly and uncompromising hand of
forty clutching at her, pain was always with her--not ennobling,
chastening pain, but the pain of those who, having been overfull, must
henceforth go empty.

Small wonder that, weary-eyed and dry-souled, she roamed the earth in
feverish search of solace and refreshment.  Her husband, a generous,
affectionate man, condemned by her selfishness to a waste of arid years
empty of wife-love or children, had died of overwork, dyspepsia, and
general dissatisfaction some eight years before, leaving his widow with
an income of two thousand pounds a year, a sum she found all too small
for her requirements.

In her fashion, she had been in love several times during her
widowhood, but never sufficiently so to surrender her liberty.  Horror
of child-bearing and a passion for the care and cultivation of her own
beauty were further reasons for not succumbing to the temptation to
take another man slave in marriage.  She had contented herself with
holding the hearts of the men who loved her in her hands and squeezing
them dry of every drop of devotion and self-sacrifice they could
generate.

But the harvest of hearts was giving out, and the wolf was at the door.
She had had very bad luck in the last year or two.  The hearts that had
come her way were as selfish as her own, and knew how to slip elusively
from greedy little hands, without yielding too much.  For a long time
it had seemed to her that the world had become bankrupt of big,
generous-giving hearts, and that there were no more little games of
life worth playing.  Now, suddenly and unexpectedly, she happened upon
Wankelo, a green spot in the desert.  Here were girls to act as
counters in the game she loved to play, and here, too, unless she were
grievously mistaken, was a man who had the best of sport to offer.
With the hunter's sure instinct for the prey, she recognized unerringly
the big, generous qualities of Druro's nature.  Here was a heart that
could be made to suffer and to give.  Besides, he was extremely
good-looking.  She felt a kind of hopeful certainty that he could offer
her jaded heart something new in the way of emotions.

In consideration of these things, she decided to pitch her tent for a
while in Wankelo.  Selukine could wait.  Her projected visit there was,
in any case, only one of speculation and curiosity.  She had heard of
the place as being thick with small gold mines closed down for want of
capital, and it had occurred to her that the possibility of finding a
gold mine cheaply, and a capitalist for nothing at all, was quite on
the cards.  Besides, discreet inquiry, or, rather, discreet listening
to the frank discussion of other people's affairs, which is one of the
features of Rhodesian life, had elicited the happy information that
Druro was on the way to becoming a very wealthy man.  The Leopard reef,
report said, was making bigger and richer at every blast, and the
expectation was that it would be the richest thing in the way of mines
that Rhodesia had yet known.  Luck, like nature, has her darlings.

The Leopard mine was Druro's own property and the darling of his heart,
next to his dog Toby.  He had taken forty thousand pounds sterling from
it in one year and spent it in another.  That was the time he stayed
away a whole year among the lamp-posts, "forgot" to get married, and
came back without a bean.  He declared there were plenty more forty
thousands to be got out of the Leopard, and perhaps there were, but,
unfortunately, during his absence the reef had been lost.  As he was
the only man who believed it would ever be found again, he had
encountered some difficulty in getting together sufficient capital to
restart the mine, for, of course, it had been shut down on the loss of
the reef.  But, on the strength of his personality, he had succeeded
where most men would have failed.  After many months, operations were
in full swing.  It was said that the mine was panning three ounces over
a width of four-six, and a strike of a thousand feet proved, with the
reef at the bottom of the shaft, richer and stronger than ever.  But
Druro himself gave away little information on the subject, beyond
admitting sometimes in the bitters-time before dinner at the club, that
the mine was looking all right.  Rumour did the rest.

For a few days after Mrs. Hading's arrival, Lundi Druro disappeared
from every-day life in Wankelo.  It was a way he had of doing, and
everyone who sought him at such times would find him at the Leopard in
pants embroidered with great holes burned into them by cyanide and
acids, a disreputable shirt without any buttons or collar, and face and
hands blackened beyond recognition with the machine-oil and grime
inseparable from a large mining plant.  He always did his own assaying,
taking both time and trouble over it.  It must certainly be admitted
that, if he knew how to play when he played, he also worked some when
he worked.

During this time, Mrs. Hading was busy in many ways, but chiefly in
winding her lovely manners about people whom she decided would be
useful to her, and prosecuting a further acquaintance with Beryl
Hallett and Gay Liscannon.  It was quite unavoidable that she and Gay
should meet, however averse they might be to one another, and each
accepted the fact with an outward calm that gave no indication of
inward fires.  Mrs. Hading was charming to Gay, as was her invariable
practice while searching for chinks in the opponent's armour.  Her
hands blessed, even while her fingers were busy feeling for the soft
spots in the victim's skull.  Gay, on her side, was pleasant, polite,
and interested, while guarding her heart behind a barrier as fine as a
shirt of steel mail.  For, though of a frank and generous disposition,
she was not a fool, and life had taught her a few things about the
attitude of mind of most pretty unattached women toward young girls in
the same case.

At eleven o'clock one morning, they were all gathered round Mrs.
Hallett's tea-table--Gay, Berlie, Mrs. Hading, and several men, for 11
A.M. is the "off" hour in Rhodesia, when everyone leaves his business,
if he has any, to take tea in the pleasantest society he can find.  At
Wankelo, most people sallied forth to the lounge of the "Falcon," the
club-room of the town, where morning tea was a ceremony, almost a rite.

Someone had just remarked on the prolonged absence of Lundi Druro when
his car rolled up to the door, and, a moment later he strolled in and
came over to the circle of tea-drinkers, cool and peaceful in their
white clothes and shady hats.  Unfortunately, his dog, Toby, chose this
as a suitable occasion for saying a few pleasant words to Gay's dog,
Weary.  In a moment chairs were being pushed out of the way; teacups
and scones and buttered toast were flying in every direction; men were
tangled up with a revolving, growling mass of black and brown fur, and
half a dozen feminine voices were crying pitifully:

"Oh, save Toby!"  "Don't let Weary kill him!"  "Poor little Toby, he
has no teeth!"

Toby was not the dog Druro had fished out of the Lundi River--to that
bull-terrier there had been many successors, and all had come to bad
and untimely ends.  Druro, indeed, had sworn that he would never
acquire another dog; but Toby had sprung from none knew whence and
acquired him.  He was a little black, limping fellow of no breed at
all, whose eyes had grown filmy from long gazing at Lundi Druro as if
he were a sun-god or something that dazzled the vision.  He usually
carried a sacrificial offering in the shape of an enormous stone culled
on his travels, and, with this in his mouth, would sit for hours,
gazing at his god playing poker or otherwise engaged.  The only time he
relinquished this stone was when he had a fight on hand, a rather
frequent occurrence, as his perpetual limp and partially chewed-off
ears testified.  For, though his teeth were worn away by the
stone-habit, he had a soul of steel and was afraid of nothing in the
dog line.  Gay's dog was one of those from whom he would stand no
nonsense, and they never met without attempting to settle their feud
for once and all.  Druro usually settled it by banging Weary on the
nose until he let go, for the latter was a powerful beast, and if
allowed to work his wicked way, Toby would not have had a hope.  But
today, for some reason known to himself, Druro had an objection to
hitting Gay's dog and contented himself with wrenching Weary's jaws
apart, a dangerous and not very easy feat to accomplish.  Weary,
however, came in for several sound kicks and cuffs from other
directions, and his mistress was in by no means an angelic frame of
mind by the time she had her champion safe back between her knees, held
by his collar.

"Why don't you keep your wretched little mongrel at home?" she inquired
bitterly of Druro.

"It's a free country," responded Lundi blandly, wiping his damp brow
and Toby's bloody ear with the same handkerchief.  "You should train
your bully to go for dogs of his own size."

"You know Toby always starts it."

"Well, I don't say he doesn't," admitted Druro.  "But he does it on
principle.  He's a born reformer--aren't you, Tobe?  Picks a scrap with
any one he considers a disreputable, dissipated character."  Toby's
master smiled mockingly at Weary's mistress.

"Reformation, like charity, should begin at home," she flashed back,
and the instant she had uttered the words could have bitten off her
tongue.  For everyone was smiling delightedly.  A few quarrels and
scandals give a zest to life in Rhodesia, and are always warmly
welcomed.  No one knew the real foundation of Gay's and Druro's
misunderstanding, but it had been plain for some time that there was
one.

"We were talking about getting up a picnic," said peace-loving Mrs.
Hallett.  "Mrs. Hading must be shown a real Rhodesian picnic."

"I want it to be a moonlight one!" cried Berlie.  "They are twice as
much fun."

"Yes; but there won't be a moon for nearly a month," someone complained.

"Well, we must have a day picnic now, and a moonlight one next month.
We shall want your car, Lundi."

"You can have it any time.  Where do you think of going?"

"Either to Sombwelo Forest or Selukine."

Everyone agreed that Mrs. Hading must see both of these lovely places.

"I have to go to Selukine anyway, on business," said Mrs. Hading, who
had no idea of letting her plan to motor through that district in
Druro's company be interfered with by picnics, "so please let it be
Sombwelo."

"You can have my ranch there as a base of operations," proffered Lundi,
"and make my boys do the work."

They all applauded this except Gay, who submitted that a picnic was not
a picnic unless conducted on alfresco lines, with all the cooking and
eating done out of doors by the picnickers themselves.  Druro
understood that she objected to his ranch and was sorry he had spoken,
especially as some of the others looked at her with understanding eyes
also.  However, she was outvoted, everyone crying that if she liked
hard work and out-door cooking, and spiders and ants running over the
table-cloth and mosquitoes biting her ankles, she could have them, but
they would have the ranch.  To Druro's surprise and relief, she laughed
and gave in quite pleasantly.  Being a man, he could not know that, at
that very moment, she was dismally deciding that, considering all that
had passed, she could not possibly go to Druro's ranch.

"I shall have to be taken ill at the last moment," she reflected, and
could have wept, for she loved picnics, and Druro's ranch had a secret
call for her heart.  But she laughed instead, and helped, with a
cheerful air, to draw up the lists of those who were to supply cars,
chickens, cakes, crockery, and all the other incidentals that go to the
making of a successful picnic.  The tea-party had by this time become
enlarged to the size of a reception, and with everybody talking and
arguing at once, no one (except Gay) noticed that, after a little quiet
conversation, Mrs. Hading and Druro withdrew and disappeared.  It
transpired later that they had ordered an early lunch and started for
Selukine in the Argyle.

And that was only the beginning of it.  In the week that followed, it
became more usual to see Mrs. Hading in Lundi Druro's car than out of
it.

Gay, staunch to her resolve, absented herself from the festivity at
Sombwelo.  It was no great exaggeration to plead that she was ill, for
her spirit was sick if her body was not.  But no one spared her the
details of a successful and delightful day.  It seemed that Druro had
been a perfect host and Mrs. Hading a graceful and gracious guest.
And, from that time forward, never a day passed in which the two did
not spend some, at least, of its hours together.  When Marice was not
by Druro's side in the big red car, sometimes learning to drive,
sometimes just tearing through the air, _en route_ to some mine or
other which she wanted to see, they might be found in the "Falcon"
lounge, playing bridge with another couple or just sitting alone,
talking of London lamp-posts.  Sometimes they played two-handed poker,
for Marice not only sympathized but shared with Druro his passion for
cards.  Perhaps this drew their hearts as well as their heads together.
At any rate, to lookers-on they seemed absorbed in one another.

Mrs. Hading essayed skilfully and very winningly to draw Gay into her
intimate circle, and it vexed her to realize how she evaded her plans.
Berlie, she had already subjugated and made a tool of; but Gay stood
aloof and would not be beguiled.  While perfectly courteous to Mrs.
Hading and whole-heartedly admiring her beauty, she had yet distrusted
and disliked her from the first.  Now her dislike deepened, for she saw
that the widow was harming Druro.  She kept him from his work, and
sympathized and pandered to the passions that already too greatly
obsessed him.  There were always cocktails and cards on the table
before them.  Druro was drawing closer round him the net of his
weaknesses from which Gay had so longed to drag him forth.  Between the
latter and Lundi Druro there now existed a kind of armed peace which
appeared to be based, on his side, in indifference, and, on hers, in
pride.  There was often open antagonism in their eyes as they faced
each other.  She despised him for lingering and lagging at the heels of
pleasure, and he knew it.  Sometimes, when he was not actively angry
with her, he thought she had grown older and sadder in a short while,
and wondered if she were having trouble about young Derry, who was
up-country, or whether old Derek was going the pace more than usual at
home.  It must be these secret troubles, he thought, that had suddenly
changed her from the laughing girl he knew into a rather beautiful but
cold woman.  Cold, yes, cold as the east wind!  Sometimes her clear
eyes chilled him like the air of a certain little cold hour of the dawn
that he very much dreaded; it was a relief to turn away from them to
the warm and subtle scents and frondlike ways of Marice Hading.

For weeks now, he had divided his time so carefully between Mrs. Hading
and poker at the club, that there was nothing at all left for the
Leopard mine.  His partner, M. R. Guthrie, commonly known as "Emma,"
sometimes came from the mine to look for him, pedalling moodily into
Wankeloon a bicycle, and always pedalling away more moodily than he
came.  He was a shrivelled-up American with a biting tongue, and the
only man in the country from whom Druro would take back talk.

"What is this wine-woman-and-song stunt you are on now, Lundi?" he
inquired, late one night, when he had cornered Druro in the club with a
small but select poker-party of the hardest citizens in the country.
Druro gave him a dark glance.

"That's my business," he said curtly.

"Have you any other business?" asked Emma bitterly.  "You don't happen
to own a mine, I suppose?"

"What are mines compared to jack-pots?" inquired Druro gravely.
"Besides, what are you on that mine for, Emma?  A decoration?  Or do
you think you are my wet-nurse?  I don't remember engaging you in that
capacity."

Guthrie rose, offended.

"All right, my boy--go to blazes your own way!"

"I can get there without leading-strings, anyway," Lundi retorted
cheerfully.

"But not without apron-strings," muttered his partner, departing on the
faithful bicycle.  "I dunno what's come to the fellow!"

In truth, Druro hardly knew himself.  A kind of fever had taken
possession of him, a fever of unrest and discontent with himself and
all things.  He couldn't remember how it began or when, but it seemed
to him that life, in one moment, from being interesting and vivid, had
turned old and cold and tasted like a rotten apple in his mouth.  And
he did not care how many drinks he took to wash the flavour away.  He
knew that he was drinking too much and neglecting his work, and
jeopardizing other people's money as well as his own by so doing, but
his soul was filled with a bitter carelessness and indifference to
these facts.  He was anxious not to inquire too deeply within himself
on the matter of what ailed him, being dimly aware of a something at
the back of his mind that could inform him only too well.  He wished to
avoid all discussion with that something, sitting like a veiled,
watching figure, waiting for some unoccupied hour.  Up to now, he had
been very successful in dodging the appointment, but he had premonition
that he would be caught one of these days soon--in some little cold
dawn-hour perhaps.

There came a day when Mrs. Hading decided to return the hospitality
shown her in Wankelo by giving an entertainment of her own.  She
mentioned her intention lightly to Druro.

"I really must try and arrange to give a little jolly of my own in
return for all the big jollies people here have given me."

In reality, she had determined on something in the nature of "a
surprise to the natives" that would put all their little picnics and
dinner-parties entirely in the shade, and duly impress not only Wankelo
but Rhodesia and, incidentally, Lundi Druro.  For, after several weeks
of close intercourse with the latter, she had come to the conclusion
that she might do very much worse than marry him.  More, she actually
desired to do so.  The stimulus of his insouciant gaiety and
originality, good looks and unfailingly good spirits had come to be a
necessary part of her existence.  She needed him now, like a bracing
cocktail she had grown used to taking so many times a day and could no
longer do without.  Besides, the Leopard was panning out well, at the
rate of a thousand pounds sterling per month, and had the prospect of
doing far better.

These were good enough reasons for Mrs. Hading's decision that Druro,
as well as Wankelo, should be impressed by the finished splendour and
grace of her "little jolly."  She intended to show him that, when it
came to choosing a wife who could spend his thousands graciously and to
the best effect, he could never do better than Marice Hading.  To which
end, she concentrated her whole mind on the purpose of making her
entertainment a complete and conspicuous success.

A little group of those people whom she favoured with her intimacy were
called into council, theoretically to help her with advice, though in
practice she needed little of them but admiring applause.  They met
every morning in a corner of the lounge which, by introducing her own
flowers, books, and cushions, she had made peculiarly hers.  Here over
morning tea the plans for her "jolly" were projected and perfected, and
here were always to be found Berlie Hallett and her mother, Cora Lisle,
Johnny Doran, Major Maturin, and one or two lesser but useful lights.

Druro, though he did little more than decorate the assembly with his
good-tempered smile, was a most necessary feature of it, and Dick Tryon
was more often than not to be found there also, though whether he came
to scoff or bless, no one was quite certain.  His position in the
circle of Mrs. Hading's satellites had never been clearly defined.  He
was supposed by some people to be hopelessly in love with Gay
Liscannon, and that supposition alone was enough to make Marice Hading
anxious to attach him to her personal staff.  Besides, he was an
interesting man and a clever lawyer--always a useful combination in a
friend.  At any rate, he was one of those who helped to applaud the
programme of Mrs. Hading's jolly, which she eventually decided was to
take the form of a bridge tournament followed by supper and a dance.

This sounds a simple enough affair, but, under Mrs. Hading's treatment,
it became rarefied.  A chef for the supper had been commanded from
Johannesburg, a string orchestra for the dance from Salisbury, and
exquisite bridge prizes were being sent from a jeweller's at the Cape.
The hotel dining-room was to be transformed into a salon for the card
tournament, the lounge decorated as a ballroom, and an enormous marquee
erected for the supper.

The day dawned at last when, all these arrangements being completed,
there was nothing for the select council to do but congratulate each
other on the prospect of a perfect evening.  Druro, however, who had
for some days been showing (to the initiated eyes of his male friends,
at least) signs of restlessness, not to say boredom, marred the harmony
of this propitious occasion by absenting himself, thereby causing the
president of the meeting palpable inquietude and displeasure.  She
missed her laughing cavalier, as she had a fancy for calling him, from
her retinue.  Plainly _distraite_, she sat twisting her jewelled
fingers and casting restless glances toward the door until certain
emissaries, who had been sent forth, returned with the news that no one
had seen Druro since eleven o'clock the night before, when he had gone
off in a car with some mining men.  The widow hid her annoyance under a
pretty, petulant smile and the remark:

"He must be given a penance this afternoon."  After which she abruptly
dismissed the audience until tea-time.

When tea-time came, however, with its gathering in Mrs. Hallett's
sitting-room (the lounge being in preparation for the evening's
festivities), there was still no Druro.  Further inquiry had elicited
the fact that the men he had gone off with were from the Glendora.  The
Glendora was a mine owned by an Australian syndicate and run entirely
by Australians, a hard-living, hard-drinking crowd, who, by reason of
their somewhat notorious ways and also because none of them had wives,
were left rather severely alone by the Wankelo community.  One or two
of the managers, however, belonged to the club, and it was with these
that Druro had disappeared.

Mrs. Hading, whose petulance was not quite so pretty as in the morning,
rather gathered than was told these things, and she saw very plainly
that she had not gathered all there was to tell.  Men have a curious
way of standing back to back when women want to find out too much.  But
she did not need a great deal of enlightening, and when a man said with
careless significance, "I expect he has forgotten all about tonight,"
and the other men's eyes went blank, she guessed what was at the bottom
of it all.  She had learned by now what were the occasions on which
Druro so poignantly _forgot_, and she was furious, not because gambling
might be bad for his bank account or his immortal soul, but that he
should dare to have a more burning interest than herself.

"What about sending someone to remind him?" suggested Maturin.  Marice
Hading regarded him coldly.

"He is engaged to open the ball with me this evening.  I do not think
he is likely to forget."  There was more than a ring of arrogance in
her tone, and, looking straight past him into the eyes of Gay
Liscannon, she added acridly, "Whomsoever he may have thus
distinguished in the past."

Gay, who, by some mischance, had happened accidentally upon the
meeting, was taken off her guard by this direct attack, as the ready
flush in her cheek clearly told.  A moment later, she was her pale,
calm self.  But Mrs. Hading saw that her arrow shot at a venture had
drawn blood.  She really knew nothing of Gay's quarrel with Druro, and
her venture was based on a remark Berlie had let fall.  But she was
aware of a shadow between Gay and Druro that her sharp and curious eyes
had never been able to penetrate, and that infuriated her.  Tryon,
lazily examining his shoes, here interposed a casual remark.

"I am willing to prophesy that what has happened once can happen
again--in spite of William De Morgan."

It was Marice Hading's turn to flush.

"If I do not dance with Mr. Druro tonight, it will not be because he is
absent," she said, with cold arrogance.

"_Nous verrons,_" he answered agreeably.  She gave him an insolent
look.  He had declared sides at last, and she knew where she stood.

Gay dressed for the dance with but little enthusiasm.  Pride made her
put aside her longing to stay at home with her own wretchedness--pride
and bitter curiosity, but, above all, a haunting fear of what the
evening might bring forth.  She had a strange premonition that
something final and fatal was going to happen to her love for Druro.
It was to be given its death-thrust, perhaps, by the announcement of an
engagement between him and the widow.  Surely, Marice Hading's
significance had meant that if it had meant anything!  This fete was to
be the scene of her triumph.  She meant to brandish Druro as a
trophy--fastening him publicly to the wheels of her chariot.  Strangely
enough, what Gay dreaded still more was that Druro would not turn up at
all.  She felt a miserable foreboding about the gang at Glendora.  And
it was based on good grounds.  They had once lured her brother Derry
out to that camp, and what he had told her of his experiences there had
left her with a wholesome dread and detestation of the Australians.

"I wonder I got out with my skin," said Derry.  "They rooked me right
and left.  There isn't a finer set of sharpers outside of Mexico
City--and the whole gang ready to eat you up alive if you show by the
twitch of an eyelash that you are 'on' to them.  There's one pirate
there--Capperne--who's worse than all the rest.  Nothing can beat him.
You know he's sharping you all the time, but he's so slick you can
never catch him out.  And it wouldn't be wise to, either."

These were the men that Druro had gone out to play poker with--Lundi
Druro, with his love of fair play and easily roused temper and
carelessness of consequences.  It was a heavy and apprehensive heart
that the girl hooked up inside her ball gown.

The "Falcon" was a fairy-land of softly shaded lights and flowers of
every shade of yellow and gold.  Few flowers except those of the
hardiest kinds could be got in any quantity at Wankelo, so Mrs. Hading
had cleverly decided to use only those of one colour, choosing
sunflowers, marigolds, and all the little yellow children of the Zinnia
family.  These, mingled with the tender green of maidenhair fern, of
which quantities had been obtained from Selukine, massed against walls
draped with green, made an exquisite setting for her entertainment and
her own beauty.  She glided here and there among the amber lights,
welcoming her guests and setting them at the little green-clad card
tables, a diaphanous vision of gold-and-orange chiffons, her perfect
neck and shoulders ablaze with diamonds, and her little flat-coiffed
black head, rather snakelike on its long throat, banded by a chain of
yellow topazes.

Everything blended in the picture she had made for herself, and the
picture was perfect to behold.  But, unfortunately, the person whom it
had been created chiefly to impress was missing.  Druro had not come.

The bridge tournament waned to an end, and the dainty and expensive
prizes were awarded; the guests flowed in a gentle, happy tide to the
supper marquee and partook of such a collation of aspics and salads,
and soufflés and truffles, and such a divine brew of cup and amazing
brand of cocktails as Wankelo had never before dreamed of in its
philosophy; then back they ebbed, more happily and hilariously than
they had flowed, to the ballroom, where, on the stroke of midnight, the
special string orchestra from Salisbury strung out sweet, tremolo
opening bars of the first waltz.  And Druro had not come!

Mrs. Hading gracefully surrendered herself to the arms of a great man
who had been obliging enough to drop in accidentally by the evening
train from Buluwayo, and, floating down the room, opened the ball.  Her
partner was a very great man indeed, both in South African and English
politics, and it was a feather of no small jauntiness in Marice
Hading's cap that she had been able to secure him for the vacant seat
at her supper-table and afterward beguile him to the ballroom and into
asking her to dance.  His presence lent a final note of distinction to
an extraordinarily successful evening, and she had every reason to be
proud and triumphant--except one!  But it was that one thing that
poisoned all.  No triumph could quench her rage and humiliation at
Druro's defection.

"He shall pay!  He shall pay!" were the words that beat time in her
brain, all the while she was floating and gliding among her guests,
full of graceful, weary words and charming, tired smiles, the only
colour in her face showing on her bitter lips.

"He shall pay me my price for this," she promised herself softly, "and
it shall not be a light one."

(Hugh Hading had paid his price for her girlhood; Lundi Druro should
pay for the rest of her life!)

Only one thing could put her right with her own pride and before the
little world which had witnessed the slight, and that she would
exact--the announcement that he was hers, body and soul, to do with as
she pleased.  That the honour would be an empty one, this evening's
_déroute_ would seem to have demonstrated; he had proved once more that
he was no man's man, and no woman's man, either; he belonged to his
sins, and his weaknesses, and his failings.  But, for the moment, it
would be enough for Marice Hading that he should propose to her and be
accepted.  Her time would come later--afterward.  There were many modes
of recompense of which she was past mistress, many subtle means of
repayment for injuries received.  Such a mind as hers was not lacking
in refined methods of inflicting punishment.  It would be proved to
him, in bitter retribution, that Marice Hading could not be trifled
with and neglected--_forgotten for a game of cards_!

In the meantime, she eased her anger a little by snubbing Tryon, when
he came to claim a waltz she had given him early in the week.  Looking
at him with cool and lovely disdain as she leaned on the arm of the
great politician who still lingered with her, she disclaimed all
recollection of any such engagement.

"You should be careful not to make such mistakes, Mr. Tryon," she said
haughtily.

"_Soit_!  The mistake is mine as well as the loss," he murmured
gracefully, knowing very well what was his real crime.  "But prophets
must be prepared for losses.  In olden days they have even been known
to lose their heads for prophesying too truly."  And on that he made a
bow, and returned to Gay, whom he had left in their sitting-out place,
which was his car.  She had danced but little all the evening and
seemed lost in dark thoughts.

"Tired?" he asked, leaning on the door beside her.

"No; but I'm sick of this dance," she said fiercely.  "Take me for a
spin, Dick."

"Right.  But the roads are pretty bad in the dark, you know."

Gay pondered a moment.

"The Selukine road isn't bad"--she paused a moment, then slowly added,
"and the road to Glendora."

It was Tryon's turn to ponder.  The road to the Glendora was the worst
in the country, but it didn't take him long to read the riddle.

"Come on, then!" he said abruptly.  "Shall I get your cloak?"

"No; let me wear your things, Dick."  She took up a big motor-coat and
deer-stalker from the driving-seat and slipped into them.  The
rose-pink gown disappeared and was lost under the darkness of tweed,
and the cap covered her bright hair.  She sat well back in the shadows
of the tonneau.

Tryon set the car going, climbed moodily into the lonely driving-seat,
and steered away into the darkness just as the music stopped and a
crowd of dancers came pouring out of the ballroom.

The Glendora lay west of the town, and the road to it ran past the
club.  As luck would have it, a man coming from the latter place, and
pushing a bicycle before him, almost collided with them, causing Tryon
to pull up short.

"Is that you, Emma Guthrie?" he called irritably.

"Yep!" came the gloomy answer.

"Seen anything of Lundi?"

"Nope!" on a deeper tone of gloom.  Gay touched Tryon's shoulder.

"Make him come, too," she whispered.

"I'm just taking a run out to the Glendora," announced Tryon.  "Want to
come?"

"I do," said Guthrie, with laconic significance, and climbed in beside
the driver.  They flipped through the night at thirty miles an hour,
which was as much as Tryon dared risk on such a road.  The Glendora was
about ten miles off.  Gay, furled in the big coat and kindly darkness,
could hear the two men exchanging an occasional low word, but little
was said.  It was doubtful whether Guthrie knew who Tryon's other
passenger was.

In time, the clanking and pounding of a battery smote their ears, and
the twinkling myriad lights of a mining camp were spread across the
darkness.  One large wood-and-iron house, standing alone on rising
ground, well back from the road, was conspicuously brilliant.  The
doors were closed, but lights and the sound of men's voices raised in
an extraordinary uproar streamed from its open, unblinded windows and
fanlights.  Abruptly Tryon turned the car so that it faced for home,
halted it in the shadow of some trees, and jumping out, strode toward
the house, followed by Guthrie and Gay.

Almost as they reached it, the door was flung open, and a man came out
and stood in the light.  He was passing his hand over his eyes and
through his hair in an odd gesture that would have told Gay who he was,
even if every instinct in her had not recognized Druro.  The
pandemonium in the house had fallen suddenly to a great stillness, but
as Guthrie and Tryon reached the house, it broke forth again with
increased violence, and a number of men rushed out and laid hands on
Druro as if to detain him.  He flung them off in every direction; a
couple of them fell scrambling and swearing over the low rail of the
veranda.  Then, several spoken sentences, terse, and clean-cut as
cameos, fell on the night air.

"Come on home, Lundi; we have a car here."

"I tell you he has killed Capperne!  Capperne is dead as a bone!"

"All right!" came Druro's voice, cool and careless.  "If he's dead,
he's dead.  I am prepared to accept the consequences."

The Australians stood off, grouped together, muttering.  Guthrie and
Tryon moved to either side of Druro, and between them he walked calmly
away from the house.  When they reached the car, he took the seat
beside Tryon, Guthrie climbed in next to Gay, and they drove away
without a word being spoken.  The whole nightmare happening had passed
with the precision and ease of a clockwork scene played by marionettes.
Now the curtain was down, and nothing remained but the haunting,
fateful words still ringing in the ears of them all.  Small wonder they
sat silent as death.  As the car entered the precincts of the town,
Druro said to Tryon:

"I must go to the police camp and report this thing, Dick.  But, first
drive to the 'Falcon,' will you?  I've just remembered that I had an
appointment there and must go and apologize."

They drew up at a side entrance of the hotel and Druro stepped out and
turned almost mechanically to open the door for those behind.  So far
he had shown no knowledge of Gay's presence, but he now looked straight
into her eyes without any sign of surprise.  He held out his hand to
help her to descend, and, in the same instant, swiftly withdrew it.

"I forgot," he said, and, for an instant, stood staring at his palm and
then at her in a dazed, musing sort of way.  "There is blood upon it!"

Gay could not speak.  Her heart felt breaking.  It seemed to her that,
in that moment, with the shadow of crime on him, he had suddenly
changed into a bright-haired, innocent, wistful boy.  She longed, with
an infinite, brooding love that was almost maternal, to shelter and
comfort him against all the world.  But she could do nothing.  Even if
she could have spoken, there was nothing to say.  Only, on an impulse,
she caught the hand he had drawn back, and, for a moment, held it close
between her warm, generous little palms.  Then she slipped away into
the darkness, and he went into the hotel, walking like a man in a dream.



PART II

Cold-blooded nerve, otherwise intrepid cheek, is a much admired quality
in that land of bluffs and _blagues_ called Rhodesia.  Therefore, when
Lundi Druro walked into Mrs. Hading's ballroom in his old grey lounge
suit, with ruffled hair and the distrait eyes of a man dreaming of
other things, and proceeded, in casual but masterly fashion, to detach
his hostess from the tentacles of a new admirer, Wankelo silently
awarded him the palm of palms.  But no one who saw Mrs. Hading's face
as she walked out of the ballroom by his side envied him his job of
conciliation.

However, they could not know that her cold looks were for their benefit
rather than Druro's.  Banal upbraidings would not bring off the _coup_
she had planned, and she did not intend to employ them.  When she and
Druro were out of earshot in a far corner of the veranda, the face she
turned to him wore nothing on it but an expression of lovely and tender
pain that he found much harder to contend with than anything she could
possibly have said.

Contritely he proffered his profound apologies and regrets.  But when
all was said and done, it boiled down to the same old lame duck of an
excuse that was yet the simple and shameful truth.

"I forgot all about it."

Like Gay under similar circumstances, she was infuriated by the
combined flimsiness and sincerity of the plea.  But, unlike Gay, she
was too clever to give herself away and ruin her plans by an outburst
of indignation.  She only fixed her sad and lovely dark eyes on his and
said quietly:

"Is that all you have to say to me, Lundi?  With everyone laughing at
my humiliation and disappointment--my foolishness!"

He flushed at the use of his name, the tone of her voice, the inference
in her words.

"I am most frightfully sorry," he repeated, deeply embarrassed.  "It
was unutterably caddish of me.  I can never forgive myself, or expect
you to forgive me."

"I think you know by now that I can forgive you anything," she
answered, in a low voice.

His embarrassment increased.

"I'm not worth a second thought from any woman," he asseverated firmly.

"But if I think you are?"  There was a little break in her voice, and
suddenly she put out her hands toward him.  "If I cannot help----"

"Mrs. Hading," he interposed hastily, "you don't know what you are
saying.  I am a blackguard--a scamp, unfit to touch a woman's hand."

"Let me be judge of that," she said.

"I have not even told you everything about tonight.  When you hear what
has happened, you won't want to speak to me again."  She suddenly took
out a little lace handkerchief and began to cry.  He stared at her with
haggard eyes.  "Do you know that I have killed a man tonight?" he said
sombrely.

That gave her pause.  Her nerves went taut and her face rigid behind
the scrap of lace.  Even _her_ cold soul balked at murder, and her
plans of mingled revenge and self-advancement rocked a little.  She
looked at him direct now, with eyes full of horrified enquiry.

"I did not mean to distress you with the story," he said.  "But I
struck a man over the card-table, and they say he is dead."

It seemed to her that she caught a sound of relief, even triumph in the
statement--almost as though he was glad to have such a reason for
stemming the tide of her words, and not taking the clinging hands she
put out to him.  Her keen mind was on the alert instantly.  What was at
the bottom of it all?  Perhaps the man was not dead.  Perhaps this was
just a little trick of Druro's to slip the toils he felt closing round
his liberty--her toils!  Being a trickster herself, she easily
suspected trickery in others.  Rapidly she turned the thing over in her
mind.  She had no intention of involving herself with a man who had got
to pay the penalty for committing a crime--but nothing simpler for her
than to repudiate him if anything so unpleasant should really arise.
On the other hand, in case he was juggling with the truth, she must
establish a hold, a bond that, being a man of honour, he would not be
able to repudiate.  The situation called for the exercise of all the
finesse of which she was mistress.  She put away her handkerchief and
looked at him gravely.

"There must be some dreadful mistake."

He shrugged his shoulders rather wearily.

"I don't think so."  His manner inferred, "And I don't much care,
either."

"But you must care," she said urgently.  "You must fight it, Lundi.  If
you won't do it for your own sake"--she came a step nearer to him--"I
ask you to do it for mine."  He was staring moodily into the gloom of
the night and the deeper gloom of his own soul.  "To make up to me for
the humiliation you have put upon me tonight," she said, almost in a
whisper, "I think I have a right to claim so much."

That jerked him from his dreams.  He looked her straight in the eyes.

"If anything I can say or do will make up to you for that, you will
have no need to claim it," he said firmly, and, bowing over her hand,
took his leave.  People who saw him go thought he looked more haggard
than when he came.  But this was accounted for when, within the hour,
news of the happenings at Glendora sped like wildfire through the town.

Before morning, however, there were certain hopeful tidings to mingle
with the bad, and Marice Hading had cause to congratulate herself on
her foresight in establishing her bond.  Capperne was not dead.  And
there was hope of saving him.  Half his teeth were knocked down his
throat; in falling he had struck his head and cut it open; his heart,
weakened by dissipation, had all but reached its last beat, and lung
complication had set in.  But the chances were that, being a worthless,
useless life, precious to no one but himself, he would pull through and
live to "sharp" another day.  The doctors, at any rate, worked like
tigers to insure this end.  For there was no doubt that, if he died,
the consequences must be extremely unpleasant for Druro.  It was highly
improbable that the latter would pay the penalty with his life, but a
verdict of manslaughter against him could scarcely be avoided.  He had
struck Capperne down after a violent dispute in which the Australian,
accused of sharping, had given him the lie, and Capperne's friends, the
only witnesses of the fracas, were prepared, if Capperne died, to swear
away Druro's life and liberty.  As it was, they moved heaven and earth
to have him put under arrest--"in case of accidents"--but their efforts
were crowned with neither appreciation nor success, and Druro went
about much as usual, careless, amusing, and apparently not unduly
depressed.  Still, it was a dark and doubtful period, and that his
future hung precariously in the balance, he was very well aware, and so
were his friends.

The only thing noticeably unusual in his habits was a certain avoidance
of the Falcon Hotel and the society of womankind; and this, of course,
was very well understood.  It was natural that a man under a
storm-cloud that might burst any moment and blot him out should wish to
keep out of the range of women's emotional sympathy.  Men's sympathy is
of a different calibre.  Even when it is a practical, living thing that
can be felt and built on, it is often almost cold-bloodedly
inarticulate and undemonstrative, which is the only kind of sympathy
acceptable to a man in trouble, especially a man of Druro's type, who
did not want to discuss the thing at all, but just to take what was
coming to him with a stiff lip.

One good result of it all was that now, at last, his mine was getting a
little attention.  Once more he donned blue overalls and a black face
and embroidered his pants with cyanide burns.  And Emma Guthrie was
content, or as content as Emma Guthrie could be.  Rumour now said that
crushing would be commenced on the mine in two months' time, and that
ten stamps were to be added to the milling-plant already existing.
This looked good for Druro's financial prospects, however gloomy his
social ones might be.  But he never talked.  Emma Guthrie was the man
who did all the bucking about the mine and its future.  Rumour did the
rest handsomely, and it was unanimously accorded that fate would be
playing a shady trick indeed on Lundi Druro if, just when his future
was painting itself in scarlet and gold with purple splashes, he was to
be put out of the game by the death of a waster like Capperne.

On the day, then, that Capperne was at last pronounced to be out of the
wood, there was almost general rejoicing in Wankelo.  The little
township threw its hat up into the air, and everyone burst into bubbles
of relief and gaiety.  In the club and hotels men valiantly "breasted
the bar," vying with each other in the liquid celebration of Druro's
triumph and the defeat of the enemy at Glendora, and all the women
rushed to tea at the "Falcon" to discuss the news and, incidentally, to
see how Mrs. Hading took it, and whether any further developments would
now arise with regard to herself and Druro.

As soon as Mrs. Hading realized that Druro meant to absent himself from
the felicity of her society during his period of uncertainty, she had
thought out a pose for herself and assumed it like a glove.  It was the
pose of a woman who withdraws a little from the world to face her
sorrows alone--or almost alone.  A few admiring friends were admitted
into her semi-devotional retreat.  Mrs. Hallett was allowed to read to
her awhile every day, and Berlie to arrange her flowers.  Major Maturin
brought her the English papers and any news that was going.  A quiet
game of bridge was sometimes indulged in, but Marice spent much of her
time reading and writing, and a straight-backed chair with a cushion
before it and a beautifully bound book of devotions lying on it hinted
at deeper things.  A certain drooping trick of the eyelids lent her an
air of subdued sadness and courage that was attractive.  A pose was
always dearer to Marice Hading than bread, and this one gave her
special pleasure--first, because it was becoming; secondly, because it
was a restful way of getting through the hot weather, and, thirdly,
because it conveyed to people the idea to which she wished to accustom
them--that she and Druro were something to each other.  She was no
longer to be seen in the lounge.  Having successfully impressed Mrs.
Hallett with her sorrowful mien, that lady had placed her sitting-room,
the only private one in the hotel, at Marice's disposal, and it was
there, surrounded by flowers and books of verse, that she received the
few friends she allowed to see her and wrote a daily letter of great
charm and veiled tenderness to Druro.  He nearly always responded with
about three lines, making one note answer three letters, sometimes
more.  Druro was no fancy letter-writer.  He could tell a woman he
loved her, fervently enough, no doubt, either on or off paper, if the
spirit moved him.  But he never told Marice anything except that he was
all right, and chirpy, and pretty busy at the mine, and hoped to see
her one of these days when the horizon looked a little clearer.  Brief
and frank as were these missives, she studied them as closely as if
they had been written in the hieroglyphics of some unknown language,
and had often nearly bitten her underlip through by the time she
reached the end of them.

With the growing conviction that Capperne would recover, her letters to
Druro grew more intimate and perhaps a shade insistent on his
over-sensitiveness in absenting himself for so long from the society of
his best friends.  It was natural that, when the good news was
definitely confirmed, she should expect him to present himself, and
perhaps that was why she came down to the lounge that day for tea,
instead of having it served in the private sitting-room as usual.

She was looking radiant.  The systematic rest-cure, combined with the
services of her maid, a finished _masseuse_, had done wonders for her,
and a gown of chiffon shaded like a bunch of pansies and so transparent
that most of her could be seen through it successfully crowned her
efforts.

Druro felt the old charm of lamp-posts stealing like a delicate,
narcotizing perfume over his senses as he took her hand and listened to
her soft murmurs of congratulation.  After all, it is true that almost
any woman can marry any man if she has a few looks, a few brains, and
the quality of persistence.  Besides, Marice had him safely bonded.
The shrouded figure at the back of his mind that was waiting for some
quiet hour in which to discuss the mess he was making of his life would
have to be narcotized, too, or denied and driven forth.

Gay Liscannon came in with a riding party of noisy people, who
clattered over, clamouring for tea and clapping Druro on the shoulder
with blithe smiles.  She gave him a friendly hand-clasp and said:

"Glad to see you're all right again, Lundi."

That was the spirit of all their welcomes.  No one said openly:
"Hooray!  You're out of the jaws of the law."  But they welcomed him
like a long-lost brother turned up from the dead, and immediately began
to talk about getting up some kind of "jolly" for him.  It must be
admitted that Rhodesians are always on the look-out for an excuse for a
jolly, but this really seemed a reasonable occasion.  They told him he
looked gloomy and needed a jolly to cheer him up.

"A picnic is the thing for you," said Berlie Hallett, who loved this
form of diversion better, even, than flirting.  "Let us give him a
picnic in his own district, Selukine."

A thoughtful look crossed Marice Hading's face.

"What about his own mine?" she said.  "Can't we come and picnic there,
Lundi?  I have never seen the Leopard."

The idea was ardently welcomed.

"Yes--the Leopard mine!  We'll take our own champagne and baptize the
new reef and Lundi's future fortunes.  It shall be the great Leopard
picnic--the greatest ever!"

It was furthermore suggested that, as there was a moon, it should be a
moonlight picnic with a midnight supper at the mine.

Lundi was fain to submit, whether he liked, it or not.  He wondered a
little what Emma Guthrie would say at having the mine invaded, but
personally he did not care a toss.  The narcotizing spell had fallen
suddenly from him again, and life and his future fortunes looked
uninterestingly grey.  He became aware of the shrouded figure tapping
for attention at the back of his brain.  Gay was the cause of it,
somehow.  He abruptly got up to go, saying he must get back to the mine.

"Emma will want some talking over before he will allow any picnicking
around there," he said.  "I think I had better go and start on him
right away."

"Oh, don't go yet!" they cried, and Marice Hading looked at him
chidingly.  But he had no heart for their gay arrangements, and took
himself off after finally hearing that the date was fixed for two
nights later, all cars to be at the "Falcon" at eight o'clock in the
evening and the start to be made from there.

Only a legitimate reason would have kept Gay away from a jolly given in
Druro's honour.  But she expected to have that reason in the
indisposition of her father, who had been ailing for some time.  She
was not sorry, for she felt a shrinking from what the picnic might
bring forth, just as she had felt on the night of Mrs. Hading's dance.

However, fate was not inclined to spare her anything that was due to
her.  Colonel Liscannon was so much better that he could easily be
left, and, moreover, an old crony had come in from the country to spend
a couple of days with him.  So there was no chance of Gay's evasion
without a seeming rudeness to Druro.  But she was very late in arriving
at the "Falcon," where she was to be a passenger in Tryon's car.

At the last, it was a matter of ordering something at the chemist's for
her father and sending off a telegram that detained her, and she did
not reach the hotel until nearly a quarter to nine.  Long before she
got there, she saw that all the cars were gone except one which she
easily recognized as Tryon's.

"Dear old Dick!  He is always to be relied on," she said, and had a
half-finished thought that she would rather be with him that night than
any one, except----

Then she went quickly into the lounge, where, no doubt, he would be
waiting, and found him indeed, but sitting around a little table with
coffee and liqueurs in the company of Druro and Mrs. Hading, the latter
looking none too pleased.

"Ah," said she, with acerbity, as Gay came in, "at last!  We were
beginning to think you were never coming."

"But why did you wait for me?" inquired Gay, politely bewildered.  "I
thought Dick----"

"Some idiot has walked off with my car," explained Druro.  "So Tryon is
taking us all."

"And we are waiting for petrol as well as you," smiled Tryon; "so sit
down."  He put a chair for her next to Mrs. Hading, but that lady,
after a swift glance into a mirror on the wall, skilfully manoeuvred
her seat until she was opposite instead of next to the girl.  Gay, in a
little white frock of soft mull, with a cascade of lace falling below
her long, young throat, resembled a freshly-gathered rose with all the
fragrance and dewiness of the garden of Youth upon her.  When Marice
looked at her, she felt like a Borgia.  She would have liked to press a
cup of poison to the girl's curved red lips and force her to drink.  In
that glimpse in the mirror, she had seen that her own face, above a
delicate shroudy scarf with long flying ends, rose like some tired
hothouse orchid, beautiful still, but fading, paling, passing; and she
hated Gay's youth and freshness with a poignant hatred that was like
the piercing of a stiletto.  She wondered why she had been such a fool
as to wear that gown of purplish amethystine tulle tonight.  It was a
colour that made her face look hard and artificially tinted.  True, her
bare neck and shoulders, which were of a perfection rarely seen outside
of an art gallery, showed at their best through the mazy shroudings,
and her throat looked as if it had been modelled by some cunning
Italian hand and sculptured in creamy alabaster.  Her throat, indeed,
was Marice Hading's great beauty, and her pride in it the most sinful
of all her prides.  She spent hours in her locked room massaging it and
smoothing it with soft palms, working snowy creams into it, modelling
it with her fine fingers, as though it were of some plastic material
other than flesh and blood.  She watched for the traces of time on it
and fought them with the art and skill of a creature fighting for its
life.  Indeed, when a woman makes a god of her beauty, it is her life
for which she is fighting in the unequal battle with time.

Night was naturally the time at which this reverenced beauty of hers
shone most effectively to the dazzlement of women and the undoing of
men.  Day was not so kind.  The South African sun is ruthless to
exposed complexions, and has an unhappy way of showing up the presence
of thick pastes and creams which have been worked into contours in
danger of becoming salients.  So, although Marice never wore a collar,
but always had her gowns cut into a deep V both back and front, she
invariably shrouded herself with filmy laces and chiffons.  She drew
these about her now and rose wearily.  It seemed to her she had noticed
Druro looking at Gay with some strange quality in his glance.

"If we don't make a move, we shall never get there at all," she said
sharply.

Everything was going wrong tonight.  Here she was stuck with two people
whom she detested, after specially planning to make the drive alone
with Druro!

"Come along; I expect the car is fixed up by now," said Tryon, and they
all moved out.  A black porter was patrolling the stoep.

"Has my boy been here with petrol for the car?" asked Tryon.

"Yas, sar."

"And filled it?"

"Yas, sar."

They approached to get in, and a fresh annoyance for Mrs. Hading arose.
Druro said casually:

"How are we going to sit?"

"You are driving, of course," stated Marice, in an authoritative tone.

"No," said Tryon dryly; "I never let any one handle my car but myself."

Now, nothing would make Marice renounce the comfort of the front seat.
Even if she would have done it for the sake of sitting with Druro, she
knew that the jarring and jolting so unavoidable on African roads would
put her nerves on edge for the evening.  So there was nothing further
to be said, but she felt, as she flung herself into the seat beside
Tryon, that this was verily the last straw.  For a time she showed her
displeasure with and disdain of Tryon by sitting half turned and
conversing with Druro, who was obliged to lean forward uncomfortably to
answer her remarks.  But she soon tired of this, for the strong wind
caused by the car cutting through the air tore her flatly arranged hair
from its appointed place and blew it over her eyes in thin black
strings.  This enraged her, as the dishevelment of a carefully arranged
coiffure always enrages a fashionable woman.  She loathed wind at any
time; it always aroused seven devils in her.  She longed to box Tryon's
ears.  But the best she could do was to sit in haughty silence at his
side, while the wind took the long ends of her scented tulle scarf and
tore it to rags, fluttering them maliciously in the faces of the two
silent ones behind.  Every now and then Druro mechanically caught hold
of these ends, crumpled them into a bunch, and stuffed them behind Mrs.
Hading's shoulders, but a few minutes later they would be loose again,
whipping the wind.  Once, when he was catching the flickering things
from Gay's face, his hand touched her cheek, and once, when they both
put out their hands together, they clasped each other's fingers instead
of the fragile stuff.  But they never spoke.  And their silence at last
began to weigh on the two in front.  They found themselves straining
their ears to hear if those two would ever murmur a word to each other.
And if they did not, _why didn't they_?

"Has he got his arm round her?" wondered Tryon savagely.  (He too had
counted on tonight and the long, lonely drive with Gay, and was in none
too pleasant a mood with life.)

"Is he holding her hand?" thought Marice Hading, and ground her teeth.
"Has there ever been anything between them?"

But Druro and Gay were doing none of these things--only sitting very
still, and thinking long, long thoughts.  And whatever it was they
thought of, it put no gladness into their eyes.  Any one who could have
peered into their faces in the pale moonlight must have been struck by
the similarity in the expression of their eyes, the vague, staring
misery of those who search the horizon vainly for something that will
never be theirs, some lost city from which they are for ever exiled.

The African horizon was wonderfully beautiful that night.  As they came
out from the miles of bush which surround Wankelo into the
hill-and-valley lands of Selukine, the moon burst in pearly splendour
from her fleecy wrappings of cloud and showed long lines of
silver-tipped hills and violet valleys, and, here and there, great open
stretches of undulating space with a clear view across leagues and
leagues to the very edge, it seemed, of the world.  As one such great
stretch of country rolled into view from a rise in the road, Druro
spoke for the first time, in a low voice, vaguely and half to himself.

"There is the land I love--_my_ country!"

With his hand he made a gesture that was like a salute.  After all, he
was a Rhodesian, and this was his confession of faith.  The story of
the lamp-posts was only a bluff put up to disguise the hook Africa had
put in his heart, the hook by which she drags all those who love her
back across the world, denying, reviling, forswearing her even unto
seventy times seven, yet panting to be once more in her adored arms.
All Rhodesians have this heart-wound, which opens and bleeds when they
are away from their country, and only heals over in the sweet veld air.

Gay did not answer.  He had hardly seemed to address the remark to her;
yet it went home to her heart because she, too, was a Rhodesian, and
this was the land she loved.

Suddenly they swept down once more into a tract of country thick with
bush and tall, feathery trees.  Here the rotting timbers of some old
mine-head buildings and great mounds of thrown-up earth inked against
the sky-line showed that man had been in these wilds, torn up the earth
for its treasure, and passed on.  Near the road an old iron house, that
had once been a flourishing mine-hotel, was now almost hidden by a
tangle of wild creepers and bush, with branches of trees thrusting
their way through gaping doorways and windows.

"This was the old Guinea-Pig Camp.  It is 'gone in' now, but once it
was a great place--this old wilderness," said Tryon to Mrs. Hading, and
misquoted Kipling.

  "They used to call it a township once,
  Gold-drives and main-reefs and rock-drills once,
  Ladies and bridge-drives and band-stands once,
      But now it is G. I."


He stopped, and the car having reached the foot of the hill that led
out of the valley stopped, too, as if paralysed by its owner's efforts
at parody.  It had been jerking and bucking like a playful mustang for
some time past, and behaving in an altogether curious manner, but now
it was stiller than the dead.  Tryon waggled the levers to no avail,
then flung himself out of the car and got busy with the crank.  Not a
move.  Druro then got out and had a go at the crank.  No good.
Thereafter, the two made a thorough examination of the beast, but
poking and prying into all its secret places booted them nothing.  As
far as the eye of man could see, nothing was wrong with the thing but
sheer obstinacy.  It was more from habit than a spirit of inquiry that
Druro finally gave a casual squint into the reservoir.  Then the
mischief was out.  It was empty; the boy had never filled it.  It was
doubtful whether he had put in any petrol at all.  The two men stared
at each other aghast.

"Well, of all the rotten niggers in this rotten country!" breathed
Tryon, at last, and, with the words, expressed all the weight of the
white man's burden in Africa, mingled with rage at his present
powerlessness to smite the evil-doer.  Druro grinned.  It was not his
funeral, and, to the wise, no further words were necessary.  But Mrs.
Hading had not been long enough in Africa to be wise.  This final
calamity seemed all part and parcel of the mismanagement of the
evening, and she did not care to conceal her annoyance.

"I cannot imagine any one but a fool allowing himself to be placed in
such a predicament," she said, looking at Tryon with the utmost scorn.

He shrugged his shoulders, dumb with mortification.  Druro, smiling
with his usual native philosophy, now got his portion.

"Is there anything to do besides standing there smirking?" she inquired
acridly.

"I should think we had better foot it to the Guinea-Pig."  To do him
justice, he had been thinking as well as smirking, but Marice was in no
mood to be just.  "A fellow called Burral lives there and has a
telephone.  He may have some petrol.  All may not yet be lost!"  He
continued to smile.  Not that he felt cheerful--but the situation
seemed to him to call for derision rather than despair.

"Foot it?  Do you mean walk through this wild bush?  Good Heavens!  How
far is it?"

"Only about a mile or so, and there is quite a good path.  Still, if
you think it better to stay here in the car with Tryon while I go----"

"No; I'll go," said Tryon hastily.

"No you don't," persisted Druro.  "I know the way better than you do."
But Mrs. Hading put an end to the argument as to who should escape her
recriminations.

"I refuse to be left in this wild spot with any one," she declared, and
flung one last barb of hatred at Tryon.  "How could you be such a fool?"

But Tryon's withers could be no further wrung.  He merely felt sorry
for Druro.  The widow was showing herself to be no saint under
affliction.  Not here the bright companion on a weary road who is
better than silken tents and horse-litters!

They started down the path to Burral's, Druro and Mrs. Hading ahead.
Gay and Tryon following at a distance too short not to hear the widow's
voice still engaged in acrid comment.

"What a fuss to make about nothing!" said Gay, a trifle disdainfully.
"I'm afraid Africa won't suit her for long, if that's how she takes
incidents of every-day life."

"I don't think she'll suit Africa," rejoined Tryon savagely.  "Still,
I'm not denying that I am a first-class fool to have trusted that
infernal nigger.  I could kick myself."

"Kick the nigger instead, tomorrow," laughed Gay, adding in the
Rhodesian spirit, "what does it matter, anyway?"

The path now became narrower and overhung with wandering branches and
creepers.  The brambles seemed to have a special penchant for Mrs.
Hading's flying ends of tulle and lace, and she spent most of her time
disengaging herself while Druro went ahead, pushing branches out of the
way.  Poor Marice!  Her feet ached in their high-heeled shoes, and her
French toilette was created for a salon and not out-of-door walking.
Truly, she was no veld-woman.  What came as a matter of course to Gay
was a tragedy to her.

"How stupid!  How utterly imbecile!" she muttered bitterly.  "A hateful
country--and idiots of men!"

"Cheer up!" said Druro, with an equability he did not feel.  Nothing
bored him more than bad temper.  "We'll soon be dead--I mean, we'll
soon be at Burral's."

"I find your cheerfulness slightly brutal," she remarked cuttingly,
"and the thought of Burral's does not fill me with any delight."

"I'm sorry," he began, but his apology and the stillness of the night
were both destroyed by a sudden loud crack of a rifle.

"By Jove!  Who's that, I wonder?" exclaimed Druro.  "There's nothing
much to shoot about here."  Then, to Mrs. Hading, "Stand still a
minute--will you?--while I reconnoitre."  He went a few yards ahead and
gave a halloo.  They all stood still, listening, until the call was
returned in a man's voice from somewhere not far off.  At the same
time, a soft cracking of bushes was heard near at hand.

"It must be Burral out after a buck!" called out Tryon.  He and Gay
were still some way behind.  Marice half-way between them, and Druro
was apparently trying to disentangle her flickering, fluttering
chiffons from a fresh engagement with the bushes when the terrible
thing happened.  The lithe, speckled body of a leopard came sailing,
with a grace and swiftness indescribable, through the air and, leaping
upon the fluttering figure, bore her to the ground.  A scream of terror
and anguish rent the night, and Gay and Tryon, galvanized by horror,
powerless though they were to contend with the savage brute, rushed
forward to the rescue.  But Druro was there before them.  They saw him
stoop down and catch the huge cat by its hind legs, and, with
extraordinary power, swing it high in the air.  Snarling and spitting,
it twisted its flexible body to attack him in turn, and, even as it
went hurtling over his head into the bush behind, it reached out a paw
and clawed him across the face.  At the same moment, a man with a gun
came crashing through the undergrowth, followed the flying body of the
leopard into the bush, and with two rapid shots gave the beast its
quietus.  Reeking gun in hand, he returned to the party in the pathway.

"Got the brute at last," he panted.  "Only wounded him the first shot;
that's why he came for you people.  My God!  Who's hurt here?"

No one answered.  Mrs. Hading lay moaning terribly on the ground, with
Tryon and Gay bending over her.  Druro was stumbling about like a
drunken man.  "Is it you, Lundi Druro?  Did that devil get you, too?
Where are you hurt?"

"It's Burral, isn't it?" said Druro vaguely.  "Yes; I got a flick
across the eyes.  Never mind me.  Get that lady to your place, Burral,
and telephone to Selukine.  Tell them to send a car and a doctor and to
drive like mad."

"My throat--oh, my throat!" keened Marice Hading.  Tryon supported her.
Gay was tearing her white skirt into strips and using them for
bandages.  Druro came stumbling over to them.

"For God's sake, get her to Burral's place, Dick!" said he.  "Burral's
wife is a nurse and will know what to do.  Can you two fellows carry
her?  I would help you--but I can't see very well.  I'll come on
behind."

Gay helped to lift Marice into the two men's arms, and they went ahead
with their moaning burden; then she came back to Druro, who was
staggering vaguely along.

"Let me help you, Lundi.  Lean on me."

He put out an arm, and she caught it and placed it around her shoulders.

"I can't see, Gay," he said, in a voice that was quite steady yet had
in it some quality of terrible apprehension.  She peered into his face.
The moon had become obscured, but she could see that his eyes were wide
open with torn lids.  There was a great gash down his cheek.

"Come quickly!" she cried, her voice trembling with tears.  "Oh, come
quickly, Lundi!  We must bathe and dress your wounds as soon as
possible.  Leopard wounds are terribly poisonous."

"All right," he said.  "Sure you don't mind my leaning on you?  I hope
they get a doctor at once for Mrs. Hading."

They went forward slowly, he taking curiously uneven steps.  She was
tall, but he had to stoop a little to keep his hold on her.

"There hasn't been a leopard in these parts for nearly two years," he
mused.  "The last was shot on my mine the day we struck the reef--that
is why we called it the Leopard.  You remember, Gay?  Do you think Mrs.
Hading is badly wounded?"

"Her throat and chest are very much torn, but I don't think the wounds
are deep."

"Poor woman!  Good Lord; what bad luck!"

"Try and hurry, Lundi."

"But I can't see.  Perhaps if I could wipe the blood out of my eyes,
Gay--where the deuce is my handkerchief?"

"Here is mine--let me do it for you.  Sit down for a moment on this
ant-heap."

She knelt by his side and gently wiped away the blood.  By the sweat
that was pouring down his face, she knew that he must be suffering
intense pain, and was almost afraid to touch the wounded eyes.

"Is that better?  Can you see now?" she asked fearfully.

"No," he said quietly.  There was a moment of anguished silence between
them, then he laughed.

"Cheerful if I am going to be blind!"

The words tore her heart in two, appealing to all that was tender and
noble in her nature, and to that brooding maternal love that was almost
stronger in her than lover's love.  She seemed, as once before when
trouble was on him, to see him as a bright-haired boy with innocent
eyes, whom life had led astray, but who was ready with a laugh on his
lips to face the worst fate would do.  And she cried out, with a great
cry, tenderly, brokenly:

"No, no, Lundi; you shall not be blind!"

She put her arms round him as if to ward off the powers of darkness and
evil, and he let his bloody face rest against the soft sweetness of her
breast.  Leaning there, he knew he was home at last.  Her warm tears,
falling like gentle rain upon his wounded eyes, slipped down into his
heart, into his very soul, cleansing it, washing away the shadows that
had been between them.  Now he knew what the shrouded figure at the
back of his mind had waited for so long to say to him--that he loved
this girl and should make his life worthy of her.  He had always loved
her, but had been too idle and careless, too fond of the ways and
pleasures of men to change his life for her.  Now that he held her in
his arms, and could feel the blaze of her love burning through the
walls of her, meeting the flame in his own heart, it was too late.
Fate, with lightnings in her hand, had stepped between them, and a
woman who held his promise intervened.

"Gay," he said gently, her name felt so sweet on his lips, "by a
terrible mistake I have destroyed your happiness and mine.  Forgive me."

"There is no question of forgiveness, Lundi," she whispered; "I will
help you to stand by it."

He held up his blurred eyes and torn, bleeding lips, and she kissed him
as one might kiss the dead, in exquisite renouncement and farewell.
Only that the quick are not the dead--and cannot be treated as such.  A
more poignant misery waked in both their hearts with that kiss.  He
could not see her--that was terrible--but the satiny warmth of her
mouth was so dear, so exquisitely dear!  He suddenly remembered her as
she was that night in her little rose-leaf gown with all the dewdrops
twinkling on her.  He wondered if he would ever see her again in all
her beauty.

"You were so sweet that night of the dance, Gay," he said, "in your
little pinky gown, with the dewdrops winking on you!"

She understood that he was wondering if he should ever see her again.

"You shall--you shall!" she cried.  "Oh, hurry!  Come quickly!  Let us
get to the house and to help."

The serene and careless philosophy characteristic of him came back.

"If I am to be blind, all right," he said quietly.  "I'll accept it
without a kick, because of this hour."

Once more they stumbled deviously and slowly on.  A light showed nearer
now, in a house window, and presently the other two men were on their
way to meet them with lanterns and a brandy-flask.  In a short time,
Druro was established in Mrs. Burral's sitting-room, having his eyes
bathed and bandaged by her skilful hands.

"What about Mrs. Hading?" had been his first question.  Marice's low
moans could be plainly heard from behind the curtain which divided the
one room of the little iron house.

"Her throat and shoulders are very much lacerated," said Mrs. Burral.
"I think we have avoided the danger of blood-poisoning for you both, as
I was able to clean the wounds so quickly with bichloride.  But she
will be dreadfully scarred, poor thing!  And you, Mr. Druro, I'm
afraid--I'm afraid your eyes are badly hurt."

It seemed years to them all, though it was scarcely more than half an
hour before assistance came from Selukine.  All tragedies take place in
the brain, it has been said, and poignant things were happening behind
several foreheads during that bad half-hour of waiting.  Marice Hading,
lying on Mrs. Burral's bed, hovered over by that kind woman, was
suffering more acutely in the thought of her ravaged beauty than from
the pain of her wounds.  Druro's bandaged eyes saw with greater
clearness down the bleak avenues of the future than they had ever seen
in health.  Tryon was afraid to look at Gay.  He was outwardly
attentive to Burral's tale of the leopard's depredations--chickens torn
from the roost, a mutilated foal, a half-eaten calf--and of the final
stalking and unlucky wounding of the beast, rendering it mad with the
rage to attack everything it met; but his brain was occupying itself
with a thought that ran round and round in it like a squirrel in a
cage--the thought that Gay was lost to him for ever.  He had seen her
looking at Lundi Druro with all her tortured soul in her eyes.  Now she
stood at the window, staring into the night.

When, at last, the whir of motor-wheels was heard on the far-off road,
each of them hastened to recapture their wretched minds and drag them
back from the lands of desolation in which they wandered, to face once
more the formalities of life behind life's mask of convention.  There
came a sound of many voices--subdued, deploring, anxious, inquiring.
The picnickers had heard of the accident and were returning in force to
succour the lost ones.  It was a sorry ending to the great Leopard
picnic.


Mrs. Hading and Druro were driven to the Wankelo Hospital, and doctors
and nurses closed in on them.  Specialists came from Buluwayo and the
Cape, and, after a time of waiting, it was known that the danger of
blood-poisoning was past for both of the victims.  But whether Lundi
Druro was to walk in darkness for the rest of his days could not be so
quickly told or what lay behind the significant silence concerning Mrs.
Hading's injuries.  It was known that her condition was not dangerous,
but she saw no one, and, in the private ward she had engaged, she
surrounded herself with nurses whose business it was not to talk, and
doctors, even in Rhodesia, do not gratify the inquiries of the merely
curious.  So, for a long period of waiting, no one quite knew how the
tragedy was all to end.

In another part of the hospital, Druro sat in his room with bandaged
eyes and Toby on his knees, gossiping with the friends who came to
beguile his monotony, giving no outward sign that hope had been dragged
from his heart as effectively as light had been wiped from his eyes.
From the black emptiness in which he sat, he sent Marice Hading a daily
message containing all the elements of a mental cocktail--a jibe at
fate, a fleer at leopards in general, and a prophecy of merrier times
to come as soon as they were out of their present annoyances.  In
reply, she wrote guarded little notes (that were read to him by his
nurse), making small mention of her own injuries but seeming feverishly
anxious concerning his sight.  All he could tell her was that he
awaited the arrival and verdict of Sir Charles Tryon, the famous
eye-specialist, now somewhere on his way between Madeira and Wankelo.
It was Dick Tryon, who, knowing that his brother was taking a holiday
at Madeira, had cabled asking for his services for Druro.

Poor Dick Tryon!  He blamed himself bitterly for the whole catastrophe
on the grounds that, if he had only looked into the petrol-tank instead
of taking a Kafir's word, the car would never have been held up or the
encounter with the leopard occurred.  It was no use Lundi Druro's
telling him that such reasoning manifested an arrogant underrating of
the powers of destiny.

"You are a very clever fellow, Dick, but even you can't wash out the
writing on the wall," philosophized the patient, from behind his
bandage, "nor scribble anew on the tablet of Fate, which is hung round
the neck of every man.  If the old hag meant me to be blind, she'd
fixed me all right without your assistance."

But Tryon could not be reasoned with in this wise.  Perhaps it was the
shipwreck in Gay's eyes that would not let him rest.  Druro could not
see that; but it was part of Dick Tryon's penance to witness it every
day when he fetched Gay and her father in his car to visit the
hospital.  She always came laden with flowers and cheery words, and
left an odour of happiness and hope behind her.  But Tryon had seen
what was in her eyes that night at Burral's, and behind all her hopeful
smiling he saw it there still.  He realized that she and Druro had
found each other in the hour of tragedy, and that for him there was no
rôle left but that of spectator--unless he could prove himself a friend
by helping them to each other's arms, in spite of Marice Hading.  As
for Druro and Gay, they had never been alone together since that
night--and never meant to be.  They had had their hour.

Another of Tryon's self-imposed jobs was to motor to Selukine and bring
back Emma Guthrie to see his partner.  For there were moments when
Druro could stand no one's society so well as the bitter-tongued
American's.

"Go and bring in Emma to say a few pleasant words all round," he would
enjoin, and Emma would come, looking like a wounded bear ready to eat
up everything in sight.  But, strange to say, after the first two or
three visits, his words were sweeter than honey in the honeycomb, and
all his ways were soothing and serene.  He had nothing but good news to
dispense.  The novelty first amused then exasperated Druro, and he
ended up by telling Guthrie to clear out of the hospital and never come
back.

Emma did come back, however, and every time he showed his face, it was
to bring some fresh tale of the sparkling fortunes hidden in the bosom
of his Golconda.  The mine was a brick, a peach, a flower.  Zeus
dropping nightly showers of gold upon Danaë was nothing to the miracles
going on at the Leopard.

One evening after dinner, while Druro was sitting alone with his own
dark thoughts, a message was brought to him--a message that Mrs. Hading
would be glad to see him.  It appeared that she had been up and about
her room for some days, and was as bored as he with her own society.

Leaning on the arm of his nurse, he walked down the long veranda and
came to her big, cool room, delicately shaded with rose lights and full
of the scent of violets and faint Parisian essences.  He could not see
her of course, or the rose lights, but he sensed her sitting there in
her long chair, looking languorous and subtle, with colours and flowers
and books about her.  The nurse guided him to a seat near her and left
them together.

"Well, here we are, Lundi--turned into a pair of wretched, broken-down
crocks!"

The words were light, but the indescribable bitterness of her voice
struck at him painfully.

"Only for a little while," he said gently.  "We'll both be back in the
game soon, fitter than ever."

"Never!"  There was the sound of a shudder in the exclamation.  "How
can one ever be the same after _that_----"

"You've been a brick!  You mustn't give way now, after coming through
so bravely."

"How I hate Africa!" she exclaimed fiercely.

Druro could not help smiling.

"Poor old Africa!  We all abuse her like a pickpocket and cling to her
like a mother."

"I don't cling.  All I ask is never to see her again."

"I don't wonder.  She has not treated you too well."

The smile faded from his lips, leaving them sombre.  It was like
looking into a dark window to see Lundi Druro's face without the gaiety
of his eyes.  At the same time, their absence threw up a quality of
strength about his mouth and jaw that might have gone unobserved.  He
was conscious of her attention acutely fixed upon him, but he could not
know with what avid curiosity she was searching his features, or guess,
fortunately for him, at the cold, clear thought that was passing
through her mind.

"How awful to have to drag a blind husband about the world!  Still--the
money will mitigate.  I can always pay people to----"  Then a thrill of
pleasure shot through that bleak and desert thing which was her heart.
"He will never see me as I am now."

Yes; this reflection actually gave her pleasure and content in Druro's
tragedy.  He, of all the world, would still think of her as she had
been before the leopard puckered her throat and scarred her cheek with
terrible scars.  At the thought, her vanity, which was her soul,
suddenly flowered forth again.  Her voice softened; some of the old
glamour came back into it.

"Will you take me away from this cruel country, Lundi--as soon as we
are both better?"

To leave Africa, and that which Africa held!  All Lundi Druro's blood
called out, "No," but his firm lips answered gently:

"Yes; if you wish it," then closed again as if set in stone.

"And never come back to it again?"

"That is a harder thing to promise, Marice," he said.  "One never knows
what life and fate may demand of one.  My work might call me back here."

"Yes, yes; that is true," she said peevishly.  "The main thing is that
you will never expect me to come back.  But, of course, if you are
blind, it will not be much use your coming either."

The blow was unexpected, but he did not flinch.

She was the first person who had taken such a probability for granted;
but he had long faced the contingency himself.

"If I am to be blind, we must reconstruct plans and promises, Marice.
They are made, as far as I am concerned, conditionally."

"No; no conditions!" she cried feverishly.  "I am going to marry you,
whether your eyes recover or not.  Promise me you won't draw back, if
the worst comes?"

She could not bear to lose him--this one man in all the world who would
still think her beautiful.  All her soul which was her vanity cried out
passionately to him.

"Of course I will promise you, dear, if you think it good enough," he
said, "if you still want me and think a blind man can make you happy."

"Yes; I want you blind," she answered strangely.  "You can make me very
happy."  Then she reached for the bell-button and pressed it.  Her
nerves were giving out, and she needed to be alone.  But the future was
arranged for now, and she could rest.  She made a subtle sign to the
entering nurse, and Druro never guessed that he was being evicted by
any one but the latter in her professional capacity.  To be deceived is
doubtless part of the terrible fate of the blind.

She had succeeded in deceiving Druro in more than this.  Confirmed now
in the belief that he was necessary to her happiness and that to fulfil
his promises to her was the only way of honour, he knew that he must
thrust the thought of Gay out of his mind for ever.  Even in the grey
misery of that decision, he could still feel a glow of gratitude toward
the woman who loved him enough to face the future with a blind man.
Because his mind was a jumble of emotions fermented by the humility
born of sitting in darkness and affliction, for many days he spoke a
little of it to Tryon, who came, as was now his custom, to help pass
away the evening.  So Tryon was the first person in Wankelo to hear of
Marice Hading's greatness of heart--and the last person in the world to
believe in it.  But he did not say so to Druro.  He had long ago sized
up Marice Hading's subtle mind and shallow soul, and it was not very
difficult for him to read this riddle of new-born nobility.  Druro and
his rich mine were to pay the price of her lost beauty.  What booted it
if he were blind?  So much the better for the vanity of a woman who
worshipped her beauty as Mrs. Hading had done.  It was certain that,
blind or whole, she meant to hold Druro to his bond, and that she would
eventually make hay with his life, Tryon had not the faintest doubt.
Destruction for Druro--shipwreck for Gay!  A woman's cruel, skilful
little hands had crumpled up their happiness like so much waste paper,
and Tryon, with the best will in the world, saw no clear way to save it
from being pitched to the burning.  The best he could do, for that
evening at least, was to shake Druro's hand warmly at parting and tell
him that he was a deuced lucky fellow.

Two days later, Sir Charles Tryon arrived, a short, square man with
most unprofessional high spirits and a jolly laugh that filled everyone
with hope.  It was late in the afternoon when he got to Wankelo, and,
after a cursory test of Druro's eyes, he announced himself unable to
give a decisive verdict until after a more complete examination the
following day.  He then departed to his brother's house for dinner and
a good night's rest after his long journey.

No sooner had Dick tucked him safely away than he was back again at the
hospital, for he had a very shrewd notion of the brand of misery Druro,
condemned to a night's suspense, would be suffering.  And he guessed
right.  Emma Guthrie, just arrived, was in the act of "cheering him up"
with an account of the mine's output from the monthly clean-up that day.

"How many ounces?" asked Druro indifferently.  The prosperity of the
mine bothered him far less than the fate of his eyes, for he knew
himself to be one of those men who can always find gold.  If one mine
gave out, there were plenty of others.

"Five hundred, as usual," said Guthrie jubilantly.  "Here it is--feel
it; weigh it."

From a sagging coat pocket he abstracted what might, from its size and
shape, have been a bar of soap but for the yellow shine of it, and
placed it in Druro's right hand.  The latter lifted it with a weighing
gesture for a moment and handed it back.

"That's all right."

"All right!  I should say!" declaimed the bright and bragful Emma.
"Two thousand of the best there, all gay and golden!  I tell you,
Lundi, we've got a peach.  And she hasn't done her best by a long
chalk.  She's only beginning.  You buck up and get your eyes well, my
boy, and come and see for yourself."  He began to hold forth in
technical terms that were Greek to Tryon concerning stopes, cross-cuts,
foot-walls, stamps, and drills.  Every moment his voice grew gayer and
more ecstatic.  He seemed drunk with success and unable to contain his
bubbling, rapturous optimism, and that Druro sat brooding with the
sinister silence of a volcano that might, at any instant, burst into
violent eruption did not appear to disturb him.  Fortunately, some
other men came in and relieved the situation; when Guthrie took his
leave, a few moments later, Tryon made a point of accompanying him to
the gate.  He was getting as sick as Druro of Emma's perpetual gaiety
and came out with the distinct intention of saying so as rudely as
possible.

"What do you mean by bringing your devilish good spirits here?  Have
you no bowels?  Kindly chuck it for once and for all."

Guthrie, squatting on his haunches, feeling his bicycle tyres, turned
up to him a face grown suddenly rutted and haggard as a Japanese
gargoyle.

"That drum-and-fife band is only a bluff, Dick," he said quietly.  "The
Leopard is G. I., and if that boy loses his eyes as well, neither of us
will ever climb out of the soup again."

Tryon came out of the gate and stared at him interestedly.

"What do you mean?  How can the Leopard----"

"I mean that the reef is gone--for good, this time."

"The reef gone?" reiterated Tryon stupidly.  "Why--good Lord, I thought
you'd found it richer and stronger than ever!"

"So we did.  But, my boy, mining is the biggest gamble in the world.
It pinched out, sudden as a stroke of apoplexy, a few days after
Lundi's accident.  We've got a month's crushing in hand now, and when
that's gone, we'll have to shut down.  We're bust!"

"But what about that five-hundred-ounce clean-up you handed him?"

"All bluff!  I drew two thousand quid for native wages and threw it
into the melting-pot.  That lovely button goes back to the bank
tomorrow.  They've got to be bluffed, too, until Lundi's able to stand
the truth."

"I don't know if he'll thank you for it, Emma," said Tryon, at last.

"I don't say he will; I don't say Lundi can't take his physic when he's
got to, as well as any man.  But I can reckon he's got an overdose
already.  I'll wait."

Tryon stared a while into the shrewd, wizened face, then said
thoughtfully:

"I think you're quite right.  There are moments when enough is too
much, and I haven't a doubt but that a little extra bad luck would just
finish what chance he has of seeing again.  Keep it up your sleeve
anyway, until we hear my brother's verdict."

"Oh, I'll keep it," said Emma grimly.  "Once his bandages are off,
we'll let the hornets buzz, but not before."

"Meantime," remarked Tryon, "if you like to make me a present of the
information, I will promise to use it carefully and for nothing but
Druro's benefit."

Guthrie gave him a long, expressionless glance.

"There are worse things than having your eyes clawed out by a leopard,"
continued Dick enigmatically.

"What worse?"

"You might, for instance, have your heart plucked out by a vulture
while you're lying helpless."

"Poison the carcass!" Emma elegantly advised.  "That'll finish the
vulture before it has time to gorge full."  And, as he straddled his
battered bicycle, he added a significant remark, which showed that he
very well knew what he was talking about.  "Lundi'll always be blind
about women, anyway."

Tryon did not return to Druro's room, but went thoughtfully toward that
wing of the hospital in which he knew the quarters of the young and
pretty matron to be situated.  Having found her, he put before her so
urgent and convincing an appeal for an interview with Mrs. Hading that
she went herself to ask that lady to receive him.  A clinching factor
was an adroit remark about his brother's interest in Druro's chances.
He guessed that such a remark repeated would bring him into Marice
Hading's presence quicker than anything else, and he was right.  Within
five minutes, he was in the softly shaded, violet-scented room where
Druro had groped his way some nights before--the difference being that
he could see that which Druro had mercifully been spared.

The beauty of the woman sitting in the long chair had been torn from
her like a veil behind which she had too long hidden her real self.
Now that she was stripped, a naked thing in the wind, all eyes could
see her deformities and read her cold and arid soul.  The furies of
rage and rancour were grabbling at her heart, even as the leopard had
scrabbled on her face.  It was not the mere disfigurement of the angry,
purplish scars that twisted her mouth and puckered her cheeks.  A
shining spirit, gentle and brave in affliction might have transformed
even these, robbing them of their hideousness.  But here was one who
had "thrown down every temple she had built," and whose dark eyes were
empty now of anything except a malign and bitter ruin.  It was as
though nothing could longer cover and conceal her cynical dislike of
all things but herself.  The face set on the long, ravaged throat, once
so subtly alluring, had turned hawklike and cruel.  It seemed
shrivelled, too, and, between the narrow linen bandages she still wore,
it had the cunning malice of some bird of prey peering from a barred
cage.

Tryon looked once, then kept his eyes to his boots.  He would have
given much to have fled, and, in truth, he had no stomach for his job.
It seemed to him uncommonly like hitting at some wounded creature
already smitten to death.  But it was not for himself he was fighting.
It was for Gay's sweet, upright soul, and the happiness of a man too
good to be thrown to the vultures of a woman's greed and cruelty.  That
thought hardened his heart for the task he had in hand.

Marice came to the point at once.  It seemed that, with her beauty, she
had lost or discarded the habit of subtle attack.

"What does Sir Charles think of his chances?"

It was Tryon who had to have recourse to subtlety.  Juggling with his
brother's professional name was a risky business, and he did not mean
to get on to dangerous ground.

"He can't tell yet--he was afraid to be certain, tonight--is going to
have another go at them tomorrow.  But----"

"But?"  She leaned forward eagerly.  "There is not much hope?"

There was no mistaking her face and voice.  It was as he had guessed;
_she did not want Druro to recover_.  Tryon had no further qualms.

"_I_ am not going to give up hope, anyway," he said, with that air of
dogged intent which is often founded on hopelessness.  She gave a
little sigh and sat back among her cushions, like a woman who has taken
a refreshing drink.

"Dear Druro, it is very sad for him!" said she complacently, and
presently added, "but I shall always see that he is taken care of."

Something in Tryon shuddered, but outwardly he gave no sign, only
looked at her commiseratingly.

"It is that we are thinking of--Guthrie and I.  Are you strong enough
physically and well-enough off financially to undertake such a burden?"
She regarded him piercingly, a startled look in her eyes.  "Doubtless
you are a rich women--and, of course, no one could doubt your
generosity.  Still, a blind man without means of his own----"

"_What?_"  She fired the word at him like a pistol-shot.

"He does not know," said Tryon softly.  "We are keeping it dark for
some days yet.  The two shocks together might----"  He paused.

"What--_what_?" she panted at him, like a runner at the end of his last
lap.

"The mine is no good.  They are dropping back into it every penny they
ever made, and the reef has pinched out.  Guthrie told me this tonight
on his oath."  The woman gave a long, sighing breath and lay back
painfully in her chair.  But Tryon had a cruel streak in him.  He would
not let her rest.  "He is a ruined man, and may be a blind man, but,
thank God, he has you to lean on!"

"You are mad!" said she, and burst into a harsh laugh.  Tryon's face
was full of grave concern as he rose.

"Shall I send your nurse?"

She pulled herself together sharply.

"Yes, yes; send her--but, before you go, promise me, Mr. Tryon, never
to let Druro know you told me."

("Is it possible that she has so much grace in her?" he pondered.)

"Never!" he promised solemnly.  "He shall find out the greatness of
your love for himself."

Like fate, Tryon knew where to rub in the salt.  As he went down the
veranda, he heard the same harsh, cruel laugh ringing out, somewhat
like the laugh of a hyena that has missed its prey.


After Sir Charles had gone, Druro sat for a while silent, elbows on the
table, thinking.  He had insisted upon getting up as usual, though they
had tried to keep him in bed.  He was not going to take it lying down,
he said.  So now he sat there, alone, except for Toby, who sat on his
knee and, from time to time, put out a little red tongue and gently
licked his master's ear.

The nurses who came softly in to congratulate him slipped away softlier
still, without speaking.  They could understand what it meant to him to
know that he would see the sunshine again, the rose and primrose dawns,
the great purple shadows of night flung across the veld.  What they did
not know was that, in spirit, he was looking his last on the land he
loved and seeing down a vista of long years greyer than the veld on the
greyest day of winter.  His lips were firmly closed, but they wore a
bluish tinge as he sat there, for he was tasting life colder than ice
and drier than the dust of the desert between his teeth; and the
serpent of remorse and regret was at his heart.

But not for long.  Presently he rose and squared his shoulders, like a
man settling his burden for a long march, and said quickly to himself
some words he had once read, he knew not where.

"'A man shall endure such things as the stern women drew off the
spindles for him at his birth.'"

His nurse, who had been waiting in the veranda, hearing his voice, now
came in and greeted him gaily.  "Hooray, Mr. Druro!  Oh, you don't know
how glad we all are!  And the whole town has been here to wish you luck
and joy on the news.  But Sir Charles made us drive them all away.  He
says you may see no more than two people before you have lunched and
rested, and he has selected the two himself."

"What cheek!" said Druro.  "And what a nice soft hand you've got,
nurse!"

"Be off with you now!" laughed the trim Irish nurse.  "And how can I
read you the letter I have for you with one hand?"

"Try it wid wan eye instid," said he, putting on a brogue to match her
own.  She laughed and escaped, and, later, read the letter, at his wish.


LUNDI DEAR:

I grieve to hurt you, but it is no use pretending.  I can never live in
this atrocious Africa, and I feel it would be cruel to tear you away
from a country you love so much.  Besides, after deep consideration, I
find that my darling husband's memory is dearer to me than any living
man can be.  Forgive me--and farewell.

MARICE.


"She left by the morning's train," said the nurse.  "You know she has
been well enough to go for more than a week."

As Lundi did not answer, she went away and left him once more sitting
very still.  But with what a different stillness!  The whole world
smelled sweet in his nostrils and spoke of freedom.  His blood chanted
a paean of praise and hope to the sun and moon and stars.  An old cry
of the open surged in him.

"Life is sweet, brother!  There is day and night, brother, both sweet
things, sun, moon, and stars, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind
on the heath!"

The voice of Tryon broke in on his communings.

"How do you feel, old man?"

"That you, Dick?"  Druro stooped down and felt for Toby once more.  "I
feel inclined to run out into the street and throw my hat into the air,
and yell out that I'll fight any one, play poker against any one, and
match my girl and my dog against all comers."

"Indeed!  Then I'll leave you, for you're certainly suffering from a
dangerous swagger in the blood."

Tryon's smile had more than a tinge of sadness in it as he turned to
go.  This action of his was one of those that smell sweet and blossom
in the dust, but, as yet, he was too near it to savour much more than
its bitterness.  The path is narrow and the gate is straight for those
who serve faithfully at Love's high altar.  As he went from the room,
he looked with tender eyes at the flower-like girl who had come in with
him and stood now with smiling lips and eyes full of tears looking at
the man and the dog.

"You ought to give him a lecture, Gay.  It isn't good for a man to be
so puffed up with pride."

"Gay!" said Druro, standing up and letting Toby down with a rush.

"Yes, Lundi.  Dick fetched me.  I had to come and tell you how glad----"

She slid a hand into his, and he drew her into his arms and began to
kiss her with those slow, still-lipped kisses that have all the meaning
of life and love behind them.

Toby, having trotted out into the garden, now returned with a large
stone which he had culled as one might gather a bouquet of flowers to
present upon a triumphant occasion.



Rosanne Ozanne

PART I

Although the Ozannes kept an hotel in Kimberley, they were not of the
class usually associated with hotel-running in rough mining-towns.  It
was merely that, on their arrival in the diamond fields, they had
accepted such work as came to their hands, in a place where people like
Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Beit were washing blue ground for diamonds in
their own claims, and other men, afterward to become world-famous
millionaires, were standing behind counters bartering with natives or
serving drinks to miners.

John Ozanne, the honest but not brilliant son of an English clergyman,
did not disdain to serve behind his own bar, either, when his barman
was sick, and his wife, in servantless days, turned to in the hotel
kitchen and cooked the meals, though such work was far from her taste
and had not been included in her upbringing as a country doctor's
daughter.  In fact, the pair of them were of the stuff from which good
colonials are made, and they deserved the luck that gradually came to
them.

In time, the little hotel grew into a large and flourishing concern.
John Ozanne was seen no more in his bar, and his wife retired into the
privacy of her own wing of the building, though her capable hand was
still felt in the hotel management.  It was at this period that the
little twin daughters were born to them, adding a fresh note of
sweetness to the harmony that existed between the devoted and
prosperous couple.

They were bonny, healthy children, and very pretty, though not at all
alike--little Rosanne being very dusky, while Rosalie was fair as a
lily.  All went well with them until about a year after their birth,
when Rosanne fell ill of a wasting sickness as inexplicable as it was
deadly.  Without rhyme or reason that doctors or mother could lay
finger on, the little mite just grew thinner and more peevish day by
day, and visibly faded under their eyes.  Every imaginable thing was
tried without result, and, at last, the doctors grown glum and the
mother despairing were obliged to admit themselves beaten by the
mysterious sickness.

Late one afternoon, Mrs. Ozanne, sitting in her bedroom, realized that
the end was near.  The child lay on her lap, a mere bundle of skin and
bone, green in colour and scarcely breathing.  The doctor had just left
with a sad shake of his head and the conclusive words:

"Only a matter of an hour or so, Mrs. Ozanne.  Try and bear up.  You
have the other little one left."

But what mother's heart could ever comfort its pain for the loss of one
loved child by thinking of those that are left?  Heavy tears fell down
Mrs. Ozanne's cheek on to the small, wasted form.  Her trouble seemed
the more poignant in that she had to bear it alone, for her husband was
away on a trip to the old country.  She herself was sick, worn to a
shadow from long nursing and watching.  But even now there was no
effort, physical or mental, that she would not have made to save the
little life that had just been condemned.  Her painful brooding was
broken by the sound of a soft and languorous voice.

"Baby very sick, missis?"

The mother looked up and saw, in the doorway, the new cook who had been
with them about a week, and of whom she knew little save that the woman
was a Malay and named Rachel Bangat.  There was nothing strange in her
coming to the mistress's room to offer sympathy.  In a South African
household the servants take a vivid interest in all that goes on.
"Yes," said the mother, dully.  The woman crept nearer and looked down
on the little face with its deathly green shadows.

"Baby going to die, missis," she said.

Mrs. Ozanne bowed her head.  There was silence then.  The mother, blind
with tears, thought the woman had gone as quietly as she came, but
presently the voice spoke again, almost caressingly.

"Missis sell baby to me for a farthing; baby not die."

The mother gave a jump, then dashed the tears from her eyes and stared
at the speaker.  In the dusky shadows of the doorway the woman, in her
white turban and black-and-gold shawl, seemed suddenly to have assumed
a fateful air.  Yet she was an ordinary enough looking Malay, of stout,
even course, build, with a broad, high cheek-boned face that wore the
grave expression of her race.  It was only her dark eyes, full of a
sinister melancholy, that differed from any eyes Mrs. Ozanne had ever
seen, making her shiver and clutch the baby to her breast.

"Go away out of here!" she said violently, and the woman went, without
a word.  But within half an hour the languorous voice was whispering
once more from the shadow of the doorway.

"Missis sell baby to me for a farthing; baby get well."

The mother, crouching over the baby, straining her ears for its
faltering heart-beats, had no words.  In a sort of numb terror she
waved the woman off.  It was no more than fifteen minutes later that
the Malay came again; yet it seemed to Mrs. Ozanne that she waited
hours with cracking ear-drums to hear once more the terms of the
strange bargain.  This time, the words differed slightly.

"Missis sell baby to me for two years; baby belong all to me; missis no
touch, no speak."  In the dark palm she proffered lay a farthing.
"Take it quick, missis; baby dying."

Sophia Ozanne cast one anguished glance at the face of her child, then
gave it up, clutched the farthing and fell fainting to the floor.

An hour later, other servants came to relate that the baby was still
alive and its breathing more regular.  In another hour, they reported
it sleeping peacefully.  The heart-wrung mother, still weak and
quivering from her collapse, crept through the hotel and came faltering
to the kitchen threshold, but dared not enter.  Near the fire, on a
rough bed formed of two chairs and a folded blanket, the child lay
sleeping.  Even from the door she could see that its colour was better
and the green shadows gone.  The atmosphere of the kitchen was gently
warm.  Rachel Bangat, with her back to the door, was busy at the table
cutting up vegetables.  Without turning round, she softly addressed the
mother.

"You keep away from here.  If you not remember baby my baby for two
years, something happen!"

That was all.  But under the languor of the voice lay a dagger-like
menace that struck to the mother's heart.

"Oh, I'll keep the bargain," she whispered fervently.  "Only--be kind
to my child, won't you?"

"Malays always kind to children," said Rachel Bangat impassively, and
continued peeling vegetables.

It was true.  All Malay women have a passion for children, and consider
themselves afflicted if they have never borne a child.  Illegitimate
and unwanted babies will always find a home open to them in the Malay
quarter of any South African town.  The mother, comforted in some sort
by the knowledge, stole away--and kept away.

Within two weeks the child was sitting up playing with its toes.
Within a month it was toddling about the kitchen, though the little
sister did not walk until some weeks later.  The story got about
Kimberley, much as Mrs. Ozanne tried to keep it secret.  For one thing,
the child's extraordinary recovery could not be hidden  The doctor's
amazement was not less than that of the friends who had watched the
progress of the child's sickness and awaited its fatal termination.
These, having come to condole, stayed to gape at the news that Rosanne
was better and down in the kitchen with the cook.  Later, Mrs. Ozanne's
nurse appeared regularly in the Public Gardens with only one baby,
where once she had perambulated two.  Little Rosanne was never seen,
and, indeed, never left the back premises of the hotel except on Sunday
afternoons, when Rachel Bangat arrayed her in gaudy colours and took
her away to the Malay Location.  The child's health, instead of
suffering, seemed to thrive under this treatment, and she was twice the
size of her twin sister.  Mrs. Ozanne had means of knowing, too, that,
though Rosanne gambolled round in the dust like a little animal all
day, she was well washed at night and put to sleep in a clean bed.
That was some comfort to the poor mother in her wretchedness.  She knew
that Kimberley tongues were wagging busily and that, thanks to the
servants, the story had leaked out and was public property.  There were
not wanting mothers to condemn her for what they variously termed her
foolishness, ignorant supersitition, and heartlessness.  But there were
others who sympathized, saying that she had done well in a bad
situation to trust to the healing gift some Malays are known to possess
together with many other strange powers for good and evil.  The doctor
himself, after seeing little Rosanne with a pink flush in her cheeks,
had said to her mother:

"It's a mystery to me--in fact, something very like a miracle.  But, as
it turns out, you did quite right to let the woman have the child.  I
should certainly advise you to leave it with her for a time."

Even if he had not so advised and had there been no sympathizers, in
the face of all opposition Mrs. Ozanne would have stuck to her bargain.
She knew not what dread fear for her child's safety lay shuddering in
the depths of her heart, but this she knew: that nothing could make her
defy that fear by breaking bond with Rachel Bangat.

Even her husband's anger, when he returned from England, could not make
her contemplate such a step.  She had written and told him all about
the matter from beginning to end, describing the gamut of emotions
through which she had passed--anxiety, suffering, terror, and dreadful
relief; and he had sympathized and seemed to understand, even
applauding her action since the sequel appeared so successful.

But, apparently, he had never fully realized the main fact of the
bargain until he returned to find that, while one little daughter was
dainty and sweet under a nursemaid's care, the other, dressed in the
gaudy bandanas and bangles of a Malay child, gambolled in the back yard
or crawled in the kitchen among potato peelings and pumpkin pips.
First aghast, then furious, he brooded over the thing, held back by his
terrified wife from making a move.  Then, at the end of three days, he
broke loose.

"It's an outrage!" he averred, and stamped to the back regions with his
wife hanging to his arm trying to stay him.  In the kitchen no sign of
Rachel Bangat, but the child was sitting in a small, rough-deal
sugar-box, which served for waste and scraps, using it as a go-cart.
Amidst the debris of vegetable and fruit peelings, she sat gurgling and
banging with a chunk of pumpkin, while the other chubby hand held a
half-eaten apple.  John Ozanne caught her up.

"Leave her, John; for God's sake, leave her!" pleaded his wife,
white-faced.  At her words a sound came from the scullery, and the cook
bounded into the doorway and stood looking with a dark eye.

"You take my baby?" she asked.  Perhaps it was the gentleness of her
tone that made John Ozanne stop to explain that it was not fitting for
an Englishman's child to be dragged up in a kitchen, and that the thing
could not go on any longer.

"I quite understand that you've been very good, my woman, and I shall
see that you are well re----"

"You take her; she be dead in twenty-four hours," said Rachel Bangat
impassively.  Her deep languorous voice seemed to stroke its hearers
like a velvety hand, yet had in it some deadly quality.  To John
Ozanne, unimaginative man though he was, it was like hearing the click
of a revolver in the hand of an enemy who is a dead shot.  His grasp
slackened round the child, and his wife took her from him and set her
back in the box.  They went out alone.  Never again was an attempt made
to break the two years' compact.

At the end of the allotted time, Mrs. Ozanne returned the farthing to
the Malay, who received it in silence but with a strange and secret
smile.  Little Rosanne, healthy and strong, was taken into the bosom of
her family, and John Ozanne, with scant ceremony or sentiment, paid
Rachel Bangat handsomely for her services and dismissed her.
Presumable the Malay Location swallowed her up, for she was seen no
more at the hotel, and the whole strange episode was, to all outward
appearance, finished.


These happenings having been overpast for some fifteen years, many
changes had come, in the meantime, to the Ozanne family.  The head of
it--that good citizen, husband, and father, John Ozanne--after amassing
a large fortune, had severed his connection with the hotel and retired
to enjoy the fruits of his industry.  Fate, however, had not permitted
him to enjoy them long, for he was badly injured in a carriage accident
and died shortly afterward, leaving everything to his wife and
daughters.  The latter, having enjoyed the advantages of education in
England and France, were now returned to their mother's wing, and the
three lived together in a large, cool stone residence which, pleasantly
situated in Belgravia (even then the most fashionable part of
Kimberley), was known as Tiptree House.

Both girls were extremely pretty, with all the bloom and grace of their
eighteen years upon them, and moved in the best society the place
afforded--a society which, if not more cultured, was at least more
alive and interesting than that of the average English country town.
For Kimberley continued to be the place where the most wonderful
diamonds were to be picked out of the earth, as commonly as shells off
the beach of a South Sea Island, and the adventurous and ambitious
still circulated there in great numbers.  There was no lack of gaiety
and excitement, and the Ozanne girls joined in all that went on, and
were extremely popular, though in different ways and for different
reasons.  Rosalie, blond, with a nature as sunny as her hair, and all
her heart to be read in her frank, blue eyes, was beloved by her
friends for her sympathy and sweetness; while the feelings that Rosanne
excited were more in the nature of admiration and astonishment at her
wit and fascination, and the verve with which she threw herself into
life.  She was always in demand for brilliant functions, which she made
the more brilliant by her presence; but, though she had the art of
attracting both men and women, she also possessed a genius for searing
and wounding those who came too close, and she was not able to keep her
friends as Rosalie did.  Her dark beauty was touched with something
wild and mysterious that repelled even while it charmed, and her ways
were as subtle and strange as her looks.  Indeed, though she lived
under the same roof with her mother and sister, and to all outward
appearance seemed to be one with them in their daily life and
interests, she was really an exile in her own family, and all three
were aware of the fact.  Rosalie and Mrs. Ozanne, being single-hearted,
simple people, were in complete accord with one another; but there was
no real intimacy between them and Rosanne, and though they had (for
love of the latter) tried for years to break down the intangible
barrier that existed, all efforts were vain and usually resulted in
pain to themselves.  It was as though Rosanne dwelt within the
fortified camp of herself, and only came glancing forth like a black
arrow when she saw an opportunity to deal a wound.

Mrs. Ozanne, in brooding over the matter--as she often did--silently
and sadly, assigned this secret antagonism in Rosanne to the strange
episode of the girl's babyhood, and bitterly blamed the Malay woman for
stealing her child's heart and changing her nature.  Sometimes she
actually went so far as to wonder if it would not have been better to
have let Rosanne die than have made the uncanny bargain that had
restored her to health.  Once she had even pondered over the
possibility of the Malay having tricked her by exchanging the real
Rosanne for another child, but it was impossible to entertain such an
idea long; Rosanne bore too strong a resemblance to her father's side
of the family, and there were, besides, certain small birthmarks which
no art could have imitated.

Still, indubitably a _something_ existed in Rosanne that was foreign to
her family.  And the cruel streak in her character which betrayed
itself in cutting comments, as bright as they were incisive, and tiny
acts of witty malice were incomprehensible to her kindly-natured mother
and sister.  Furthermore, her hatred, when it was aroused, seemed to
possess the mysterious quality of a curse.  For instance, it appeared
to be enough for her to give one dark glance at someone she intensely
disliked or who had crossed her wishes, for that person to fall sick,
or suffer accident or loss or some unexpected ill.  Mrs. Ozanne had
noticed it times out of number; in fact, she secretly kept a sort of
black list of all the things that had happened to people who had been
so unfortunate as to offend Rosanne.  At first, it had seemed to the
mother impossible that there could be anything in the thing, but the
evidence had gradually mounted up until now it was almost overwhelming.
Besides, Mrs. Ozanne was not alone in remarking it.  Rosalie, too,
knew, and conveyed her knowledge in round-about ways to her mother, for
they would never speak openly of this strangeness in one they dearly
loved.  But it was through Rosalie that the mother heard that the same
thing had gone on at school.  There, the other girls had
superstitiously but secretly named Rosanne "The Hoodoo Girl," because
to have much to do with her always brought you bad luck, especially if
you fell out with her.  In fact, whenever you crossed her in any way,
"something happened," the girls said.

"_Something happen!_"  Those had been the Malay cook's words that had
haunted and intimidated Mrs. Ozanne.  And that was what it all amounted
to.  Rosanne had, in some way, acquired the power of her foster-mother
for making things of an unpleasant nature happen to people she did not
like.  Kind-hearted Mrs. Ozanne, with mind always divided between stern
conviction and a wish to deride it, suffered a mental trepidation that
grew daily more unbearable, for what had been serious enough when
Rosanne was younger began to be something perilously sinister now that
she was turning into a woman and her deeper passions and emotions began
to be aroused.  In fact, the thing had come home to Mrs. Ozanne with
renewed significance lately, and she was still trembling with
apprehension over several strange happenings.

This was one of them: Pretty Mrs. Valpy, an intimate of the family, and
by way of being one of the only two close friends Rosanne could boast,
had fallen out with the latter at a ball where she was chaperoning the
two girls.  From a little misunderstanding about a dance, a serious
quarrel had arisen.  Rosanne, considering herself engaged for the
seventh waltz to Major Satchwell, had kept it for him only to find that
Mrs. Valpy, having in error written his name down for the same dance
instead of the next, had kept him to it, with the result that Rosanne
was obliged to "sit it out," a proceeding not at all agreeable to her
as the best dancer in Kimberley.  She had been in a fury, and, when the
two came to her at the end of the dance, she did not disguise her
annoyance.  Major Satchwell apologized and explained the error away as
best he could, knowing himself in the wrong for having been prevailed
upon by Mrs. Valpy; but the latter aggravated the offence by laughing
merrily over it and saying, with a touch of malice:

"After all, you know, Rosanne, I'm the married woman, and if there
_was_ a doubt I should have the benefit of it before a mere girl.
Besides, I'm sure it did you good to see, for once, what it feels like
to be a wall-flower."

Rosanne gave her a look that quenched her merriment, and, she declared,
made her feel queer all the evening; and when, in the dressing-room
later, she tried to make it up with Rosanne, she was coldly snubbed.
She then angrily remarked that it was the last time she would chaperon
a jealous and bad-tempered girl to a dance, and left the sisters to go
home with another married friend.

The next day her prize Pom, which, because she had no child, she
foolishly adored, disappeared and was never seen again; and a few days
later her husband fell very ill of pneumonia.  On the day of the
biggest race-meeting of the season, he was not expected to live, and on
the night of the club ball he had a serious relapse, so that Violet
Valpy, who adored racing and dancing, missed both these important
fixtures.  In the meantime, Major Satchwell was thrown from his horse
and broke a leg.

Of course it was foolish, even blasphemous, to point any connection
between Rosanne and these things--Mrs. Ozanne said so to herself ten
times an hour--but, in their procedure, there was such a striking
similarity to all Rosanne's "quarrel-cases," that the poor woman could
not help adding them to the black list.  Just as she could not help
observing that, after the three events, Rosanne cheered up wonderfully
and came out of the gloomy abstraction which always enveloped her when
she was suffering from annoyance at the hands of others and left her
when the offence had been mysteriously expiated by the offenders.  Mrs.
Ozanne was indeed deeply troubled.  The disappearance of the Pom was
bad enough; but, after all, George Valpy had nearly died, while poor
Everard Satchwell would limp for life.  It had once been supposed that
he and Rosanne were fond of each other and might make a match of it.
Mrs. Ozanne herself had believed that the girl liked him more than a
little; but evidently this was not so, or--the worried woman did not
finish the thought, even in her own mind, which was now busy with
further problems connected with her beautiful, dark daughter.

Rosanne had always shown a great love for jewels.  As a child, coloured
stones were most popular with her, but since she grew up she had
transferred her passion to diamonds, and, though her mother pointed out
that such jewels were not altogether suitable to a young girl, she had
gradually acquired quite a number of them and wore them with
extraordinary keenness of pleasure.  Some she had obtained in exchange
for jewels that had been gifts from her mother or birthday presents
from old friends of the family, her devouring passion for the white,
sparkling stones apparently burning up all sentimental values.  Even a
string of beautiful pearls--one of two necklaces John Ozanne had
invested his first savings in for his twin daughters--had gone by the
board in exchange for a couple of splendid single-stone rings.  An
emerald pendant that had come from Mrs. Ozanne's side of the family,
and been given to Rosanne on her seventeenth birthday, had been parted
with also, to the mother's intense chagrin, Rosanne having thrown it
into a collection of jewels which she exchanged, with an additional sum
of money, for a little neck-circlet of small but very perfect stones
that was the surprise and envy of all her girl friends.

She possessed, also, a fine pendant and several brooches, and was,
moreover, constantly adding to her stock.  It was her mother's belief
that most of her generous allowance of pocket-money went in this
direction, and more than once she expostulated with her daughter on the
subject.  But, as may have been already guessed, Rosanne was not made
of malleable clay, or the mother's hands of the iron that moulds
destinies.  So the strange, dark daughter continued to do as she chose
in the matter of jewels and, indeed, every other matter.

Not the least of the reasons for Mrs. Ozanne's disapproval of her
daughter's jewel transactions was the fact that they took the girl into
all sorts of places and among odd, mean people.  She was hand and glove
with every Jew and Gentile diamond-dealer in the place, but she also
knew a number of other dealers of whom reputable dealers took no
cognizance, and who dwelt behind queer, dingy shops whose windows
displayed little, and where business was carried on in some gloomy
inner room.  Certainly, Mrs. Ozanne neither guessed at the existence of
such people nor her daughter's acquaintance with them.  It was enough
for the poor woman that the sight of Rosanne sauntering in and out of
jeweller's shops, leaning over counters, peering at fine stones or
holding them up to the light, was a well-known one in Kimberley, and
that many people gossiped about the scandal of such proceedings and
blamed Mrs. Ozanne for letting the headstrong girl do these things.

However, it was not the thought of people's criticism on this point
that was now troubling Mrs. Ozanne, but a matter far more disquieting.
She had begun to realize that Rosanne, though she had long since
exchanged away all her earlier jewels for diamonds, was still
increasing her stock of the latter in a way that could not possibly be
accounted for by her dress allowance; for she was fond of clothes, and
her reputation as the best-dressed girl in Kimberley cost heavily.  But
even if she had spent the whole year's allowance in lump at the
jewellers', it would not have paid for the beautiful stones she had
lately displayed.

On the night of the club ball, for instance, in a room packed with
pretty women beautifully gowned and jewelled, Rosanne blazed forth, a
radiant figure that put everyone else in the shade.  In a particularly
rare golden-red shade of orange tulle, her faultless shoulders quite
bare, her long throat and small dark head superbly held and ablaze with
jewels, she was a vision of fire.  She looked like a single flame that
had become detached from some great conflagration and was swaying and
dancing through the world alone.  She shone and sparkled and flickered,
and was the cynosure of all eyes.  Mrs. Ozanne had never been so proud
of her--and so perturbed.  For where had that new diamond spray of
maidenhair fern come from, that shone so gloriously against the glossy
bands and curls of dark hair; and whence the single stone, that, like a
great dewdrop, hung on her breast, suspended by a platinum chain so
fine as to be almost invisible?  Other people were asking these
questions also, and once the distracted mother, lingering in a cool
corner of the balcony while her daughters were dancing, heard the voice
of an acquaintance saying acidly:

"What a fool the mother is!  She must be ruining herself to buy that
girl diamonds to trick herself out in--like a peacock!"

Rosanne did not look like a peacock at all, but like fire and water
made incarnate.  The diamonds she wore seemed as much a part of her
natural element as her hair and eyes and the tinted ivory flesh of her.
Mrs. Ozanne knew it, and so did the speaker, who was also the mother of
three plain daughters.  But that did not bring balm to Sophia Ozanne's
heart, or did it comfort her soul that Sir Denis Harlenden, the
distinguished traveller and hunter, after some weeks of apparent
dangling at Rosanne's heels, was now paying such open and unmistakable
court that all other mothers could not but sit up and enviously take
notice.  Rosalie, too, it was plain, had a little hook in the heart of
Richard Gardner, a promising young advocate and one of the best matches
in Kimberley.  But what booted it to Sophia Ozanne to triumph over
other mothers when her mind was filled with forebodings and unhappy
problems?  She tried solving one of these on arriving home after the
ball, but with no very great success.

In the dim-lit hall of Tiptree House--a lofty, pleasant room arranged
as a lounge--they all lingered a few moments.  Rosalie, with a dreaming
look in her blue eyes, stood sipping a glass of hot milk.  Rosanne had
thrown off her white velvet cloak and flung herself and her crushed
tulle into a great armchair.  Mrs. Ozanne, with a cup of chocolate in
her hand, looked old and weary--though in point of years she was still
a young woman.

"Rosanne," she ventured, "a lot of people were remarking on your
diamonds tonight."

"Yes?" said the girl carelessly.  Her thoughts seemed elsewhere, and
she did not look happy, in spite of the success that had been hers that
evening.

"Yes; even Dick--" put in Rosalie timidly, then corrected
herself--"even Mr. Gardner noticed them, and rather wondered, I think,
how you came to be wearing such beautiful stones."

Rosanne sat up swiftly.

"Dick Gardner had better mind his own business," she said quickly, "or
he will be sorry.  I never liked that man."

Rosalie turned pale.  Mrs. Ozanne braced herself to the defence of her
gentle, little, fair daughter.

"But, my dear, it is not only Mr. Gardner; I heard many people saying
things--that I must be ruining myself to buy you such jewels, and
that----"

"Well, you're not, mother, are you?"  Rosanne had risen and stood,
smiling her subtle, ironical smile.

"No, dear, of course not; but I feel very uneasy, and I should like to
know----"

"You need never feel uneasy about me, mother.  I am well able to take
care of myself and mind my own affairs"--she began to move out of the
room--"and I also know how to deal with interfering people who try to
mind them for me.  Don't worry, mother dear, but go to bed.  You look
tired."

The door closed behind her.  Rosalie threw herself into her mother's
arms.

"Oh, mother, she meant that for Dick!" she cried, and burst into tears.
Mrs. Ozanne, trembling herself, strove to comfort her child.

"Nonsense, darling, she's only cross and tired.  She did not mean
anything.  Besides, what can--"  She faltered and broke off.

"What can't she do?" sobbed Rosalie.  "And Dick did, he _did_ say that
everyone was amazed at her diamonds--and so they were."

"But what is all this about Dick, dear?" asked her mother, with a
tender little smile.  The subject was changed, as she meant it to be.

"Oh, mummie, we're engaged!  I was only waiting for Rosanne to go to
tell you; and I was so happy."

"And you will go on being happy, darling.  He is a splendid fellow--and
a good man, too.  Nothing shall happen to prevent your being the
happiest pair alive," comforted Mrs. Ozanne, and, with crooning,
motherly words, herded Rosalie to bed.  But she herself stayed
sleepless for many hours.

"Rosanne," she said, at lunch the next day, before Rosalie came in, "I
think you ought to know that your sister is engaged to Richard Gardner."

Rosanne started and stared at her mother in silence for a moment.  It
even seemed to Mrs. Ozanne that a little of the bright colour left her
cheek.

"It happened last night, and he is coming to see me this afternoon."

Then Rosanne said a queer thing.

"I can't help that."  Her face had a brooding, enigmatic look, and she
seemed to be staring at her mother without seeing her.  "I'm sorry, but
I can't help it," she repeated slowly.

"Help it!"  Mrs. Ozanne's eyes took on a haggard look.  "What do you
mean, dear?"

"Nothing," said the girl abruptly, and began to talk about something
else as Rosalie came into the room.  No more was said about the
engagement, and Rosanne, after hurrying through her lunch and barely
eating anything, jumped up and hurried away with the announcement that
she was going down to Kitty Drummund's and would not be back to tea.

Kitty Drummund was that other close friend of whom mention has already
been made.  A young married woman, her husband was manager of one of
the big compounds belonging to the De Beers Company.  A compound is an
enormous yard fenced with corrugated iron, inside which dwell several
hundreds of natives employed down in the mines.  These natives are kept
inside the compounds for spells of three to six months, according to
contract, and during that time are not allowed to stir out for any
purpose whatsoever, except to go underground, the shaft-head being in
the enclosure.  At the end of their contracts, they are allowed to
return to their kraals, after having been rigorously searched to make
certain that they have no diamonds on them.  Scores of white men are
employed in the business of guarding, watching, and searching the
natives, and it was over these men and, indirectly, over the natives,
also, that Leonard Drummund was manager, his job obliging him and his
wife to live far from the fashionable quarter of Kimberley.

Their house, in fact, though outside the compound, was close beside it
and within the grounds of the company, being fenced off from the town
by a high wire fence.  The only entrance into this enclosure was an
enormous iron gate through which all friends of the Drummunds or
visitors to the compound had to pass, under the scrutinizing stare of
the man on guard, who had also the right to challenge persons as to
what business took them into the company's grounds.  It was thus that
De Beers guarded, and still do guard to this day, the diamond industry
from thieves and pirates, and would-be members of the illicit
diamond-buying trade.

Through this big gate, on the afternoon after the club ball, Rosanne
passed unchallenged, as she was in the habit of doing four or five
times a week, being well known to all the guards as a friend of Mrs.
Drummund's.  Many of the guards were acquaintances of hers, also, for,
when they were not in the act of guarding, they were young men about
town, qualifying for bigger positions in the company's employ.  The
young fellow on guard that day had danced with Rosanne the night
before, and when she went through she gave him a smile and a friendly
nod.  He thought what a lovely, proud little face she had, and that
that fellow Harlenden would be a lucky man to get her, even if he were
a baronet.

Kitty Drummund, among cushions and flowers, behind the green blinds of
her veranda, was waiting in a hammock for her friend.  For a very happy
reason she had been obliged to forego gaieties for a time; but her
interest in them remained, and she was dying to hear all about the
ball.  Rosanne, however, seemed far from being in her usual vein of
quips and quirks and bright, ironical sayings about the world in
general.  Indeed, her conversation was of the most desultory
description, and Kitty gleaned little more news of her than she had
already found in the morning newspaper.  Between detached snatches of
talk, the girl fell into long moments of moody silence, and even tea
and cigarettes did not unknit her brow or loose her tongue.  Kitty, who
not only expected to be entertained about the dance but had also
excellent reasons for supposing she should hear something very exciting
and important about Rosanne herself, was vaguely troubled and
disappointed.  At last she ventured a gentle feeler.

"What about Sir Denis, Nan?"

Rosanne turned a thoughtful gaze on her, and this time a little of her
old mockery glimmered in it.

"He still survives."

"Don't be silly, darling.  Len heard this morning at the club--what
everyone is saying--_you_ know--how much he is in love with you, and
that he's sure to propose soon."

"He proposed last night, Kit.  We are engaged."

Kitty sat up with dancing eyes.

"And you've been keeping it back all this time!  Oh, Rosanne, how could
you?  Such a darling man!  You are lucky.  What a lovely bride you'll
make!  You must put it off until I can come.  Shall you be married in
bright colours, as you always said you would?  And you'll be Lady
Harlenden!"

Kitty was not a snob, but titles didn't often come her way and she
couldn't help taking a whole-hearted delight in the fact that Rosanne
would have one.

"I shall never be Lady Harlenden.  I don't mean to marry him, Kit."

"Don't mean to marry him!"  Kitty Drummund's lips fell apart and all
the dancing excitement went out of her eyes.  She sat and stared.  At
last she said wonderingly but with conviction:

"But you care for him, Rosanne!"

"I know," said the other sombrely.  "I love him.  I love him, and I
can't resist letting him know and taking his love for a little while.
It is so wonderful.  Oh, Kit, it is so wonderful!  But I can never
marry him.  I am too wicked."

"Wicked!"

Kitty stared at her.  The lovely dark face had become extraordinarily
distorted and anguished, and seemed actually to age under Kitty's eyes.
The girl put up her hands and pressed them to her temples.

"Oh, I am so unhappy," she muttered, "and I can't tell any one!  Mother
and Rosalie don't understand----"

Kitty Drummund was only frivolous on the surface.  At core she was
sound, a good woman and a loyal friend.  She took the girl's hands.

"Tell _me_, dear," she said gravely; "I'll try and help."

But Rosanne shook her head.  The agonized, tortured look passed slowly
from her features, and her face became once more composed, though white
as ashes.  Her eyes were dull as burnt-out fires.

"I can't," she said heavily.  "I can't tell any one; I don't even
understand it myself."

She fell into silence again, but presently turned to Kit with a stern
look, half commanding, half imploring.

"Swear you'll never tell any one what I've said, Kit--about the
engagement or anything else."

Kitty promised solemnly.

"Not even Len," insisted Rosanne.

"Not even Len.  But, oh, Nan, I shall pray that it will all come right!"

"Prayers are no good," said Rosanne, with abrupt bitterness.  "God
knows I've given them a fair chance!"

"Darling, one never knows when a prayer may be answered, but it _will_
be--sometime."

Rosanne began suddenly to talk of something else, and the strange
incident ended; for when Rosanne wished to drop a subject she dropped
it, and put her foot on it in such a way that it could not be picked up
again.  Besides, this was scarcely one on which Kitty, however much she
desired to help, could press her friend.  So she did the wisest thing
she could think of under the circumstances--made the girl go indoors to
the piano and play to her.  She knew that Rosanne gave, and was given
to, by music in a way that is only possible to deep, inarticulate
natures such as possess the musician's gift.  One had only to listen to
her music, thought Kitty, to know that there were depths in her that no
woman would ever fathom, though a man might, some day.  Denis Harlenden
might--if she would let him.

Listening, as she lay in her hammock, to the wild, strange chords flung
from under Rosanne's fingers, and again the plaintive, tender notes
that stole out like wounded birds and fluttered away on broken wings to
the sunlight, Kitty realized that she was an ear-witness to the
interpretation of a soul's pain.  Though she had never heard of Jean
Paul Richter's plaint to music--"_Thou speakest to me of those things
which in all my endless days I have found not, nor shall
find_"--something of the torment embodied in those exquisitely bitter
words came to her through Rosanne's music, and she was able to realize
some tithe of what the girl was suffering.

Yet, in the end, Rosanne came out of the drawing-room with the shadows
gone from her face and all the old mocking, glancing life back in it.
If she had given of her torment to music, music, whether for good or
ill, had restored to her the vivid and delicate power which made up her
strangely forceful personality.  She was hurriedly drawing on her
gloves.

"I've just remembered the Chilvers' dinner-party tonight and must fly.
You know how Molly Chilvers nags if one is late for her dull old
banquets."

She kissed Kitty, tucked a rug round her, for the cool of evening was
beginning to fall, and went her ways.  But as she followed the path
that led through the blue-ground heaps, past the iron compound, and
down to the big gate, she was thinking that if Molly Chilvers' banquets
were dull, the banquet of life was not, and it was the banquet of life
she had put her lips to since she knew and loved Denis Harlenden.  She
was to meet him tonight!  That thought had power enough to drive out
the little snakes of despair and desolation that had been eating her
heart all day.  Let the morrows, with their pain of parting, take care
of themselves!  Today, it was good to be alive!  That was her
philosophy as she went, light-foot, through the blue-ground heaps.

There was no one about in the big outer enclosure.  The monotonous
chanting of Kafir songs came over the iron walls of the compound, the
murmuring of many voices, clank of pot and pan, smell of fires, and the
soft, regular beat of some drumlike native instrument.  The day-shift
boys had come up from the mines and were preparing their evening meal.

Passers-by were never supposed to go near to the walls of the compound,
but in one place the path wound within a yard or two of it, and, as it
happened, this spot was just out of eye-reach of the towers which stood
at the four corners of the compound (unless the guards popped their
heads out of the window, which they rarely did).  True, the guard at
the gate commanded a full view of the spot, but if he had been looking
when Rosanne reached it, he would only have seen her stooping to tie up
her shoe.  He was not looking, however.  It was not his custom, even
though it might be his duty, to spy on Mrs. Drummund's visitors,
especially such a visitor as Miss Ozanne.  Therefore, no one saw that,
when she had finished tying up her shoe, she leaned forward from the
path and slid out her hand to a tiny mound of earth that lay near the
compound wall--a little mound that might very well have been pushed up
by a mole on the other side--dived her fingers into the earth, and
withdrew a small package wrapped in a dirty rag.  Then, swiftly she
thrust something back into the earth, smoothed the little heap level,
rose from tying her shoe, and lightly sauntered on her way.  The next
time she had occasion to use her handkerchief she slipped the little
package into her pocket, and so, empty-handed except for her sunshade,
she passed through the big gate.


At seven o'clock that evening, the carriage stood before the door of
Tiptree House, waiting to convey the Ozanne family to the Chilvers'
dinner-party, and Mrs. Ozanne, in black velvet and old lace, waited in
the hall for her two daughters.  She sat tapping with her fan upon a
little Benares table before her, turning over in her mind, as she had
been doing all the afternoon, two sentences from a letter Richard
Gardner had sent her.  It was an honourable and manly letter, putting
forward his feelings for Rosalie and the fact that he had already asked
her to be his wife.  He had meant, he wrote, to call that afternoon on
Mrs. Ozanne and ask verbally for her consent to the engagement, but
something had happened to prevent his coming.  However, he hoped, all
being well, to call instead on the following day and put his position
before Mrs. Ozanne.

"_Something has happened!_"  "_All being well!_"--those were the
phrases that repeated themselves in Sophia Ozanne's mind over and over
again, rattling like two peas in an empty drum.  It was on account of
them that she had refrained from showing Rosalie the note; but her
precaution was wasted, for the girl had also received a letter from her
lover, and, curiously enough, it contained the two sentences which were
so vividly present in Mrs. Ozanne's consciousness.  Rosalie had
repeated them to her mother at tea-time, and in the quiet drawing-room,
as the two women sat looking at each other with apprehensive eyes
across the teacups, the seemingly innocent words sounded strangely
pregnant of trouble.

Perhaps that was why Rosalie looked less pretty than usual as she came
in and joined her mother.  Her white satin gown gave her a ghostly air,
and the forget-me-not eyes had faint pink rims to them that were
unbecoming.  The mother had barely time to make these mental
observations when Rosanne entered.  To their surprise, she was still in
her afternoon gown and hat.

"I'm not going to the Chilvers' tonight," she said rapidly.  "I've
already sent Molly a message, but please make her my further excuses,
mother."

"But, my dear," exclaimed Mrs. Ozanne reproachfully, "you'll spoil her
party!  I think you ought to make an effort, even if you are late."

"Oh, no, mother; I can't.  Besides, it was silly of her to give a party
the night after a ball, when everyone is fagged out."  She looked the
picture of glowing health as she said it--more like some bright wild
mountain-flower than a girl.

"I'm quite sure you are not so tired as either Rosalie or myself,"
pursued her mother warmly, "and I think that at least you might have
let me know of your decision earlier."

"Yes, mother; I suppose I might, though I don't quite know what
difference it would have made.  I beg your pardon, anyway.  But I don't
see why you go, either, if you are tired.  Rosalie looks dead beat."
She was looking at her sister in an oddly tender way.

"Nothing wrong, I hope, Rosie?" she asked, in a voice so soft and
appealing that Mrs. Ozanne would not have been astonished if the gentle
and easily moved Rosalie had responded by pouring out her heart.  But,
instead, she turned away, biting a trembling lip, and put on her wraps
without speaking.  Rosanne shrugged her shoulders and went out of the
room in her rapid, silent way.

"Mother, I feel I hate her!" Rosalie muttered, with burning eyes.  Her
mother was profoundly shocked.

"Oh, hush, my darling!" she whispered.  "You don't know what you are
saying."

Linking her arm in her daughter's, she led the way in silence to the
carriage.

Rosanne, meanwhile, went into the dining-room and had something cold
brought to her there by Maria, the old Cape cook.  All the other
servants were out for the evening, as was the rule on the rare
occasions when the family did not entertain.  Having dined, the girl
went to her bedroom.  The house was of the bungalow type--everything on
the ground floor and no upper stories.  All the bedrooms gave on to the
great veranda that ran round the house, but Rosanne's room, being at
the corner, had two French windows, one facing the front garden with a
full view of the tennis-courts and drive, the other, shaded by creepers
and a great tree-fern, looked out to the clustered trees and winding
paths of the side gardens.  It was from this door that Rosanne emerged,
half an hour later, dressed in something so subtly night-coloured that
she looked like a grey moth flickering through the trees of the garden.
Softly she let herself out of the little side gate chiefly used by the
servants, and, slipping from shadow to shadow in the dim lights of
quiet back streets, she made her way toward the commercial part of the
town.  The main street--that same Du Toit's Pan Road where John
Ozanne's hotel had once flourished--was brightly lighted by large
arc-lamps, but never once did Rosanne come within range of these.  It
was in a dingy lane giving off from the big thoroughfare that she at
last stopped before a shop whose shuttered window bore the
legend--"Syke Ravenal: Jeweller."  Upon an undistinguished looking side
door she knocked gently, distinctly, three times.  It opened as if by
magic, and, like a shadow, she slipped into the darkness behind it.


Harlenden was a little early.  Rosanne had said nine o'clock, and it
wanted, perhaps, twenty minutes to the hour when he rang at Tiptree
House and was told by Maria, after a few moments' waiting, that she
could not find Miss Rosanne anywhere.

"Very well; I'll wait here," he said, and, lighting a cigar, sat down
in one of the deep chairs in the dimly lighted veranda.

He was a lean, fair, well-groomed man, with a hard-cut face that told
nothing.  You had to make your own deductions from a pair of stone-grey
eyes, a mouth close-lipped without being cold, and a manner not wanting
in indications of arrogance that yet pleased by a certain careless
grace and sureness.  As Emerson says, "Do as you please, and you may do
as you please, for, in the end, if you are consistent you will please
the world."  Perhaps it was his unfailing habit of following out this
rule that made the world respect Denis Harlenden, even if it were not
pleased with him.  Certainly, his people would not be very pleased that
he had chosen a Kimberley hotel-keeper's daughter to carry on the line
of one of the oldest baronetcies in England.  But, to speak with truth,
he had given neither his people nor the Kimberley Hotel a thought in
the matter.  He loved Rosanne for her wit, her beauty, her courage, a
certain sportsmanlike daring which showed in all her actions, and her
unlikeness to any other woman he had ever known.  Moreover, he was
certain that she was the one woman who could keep his love without
boring him.  He, like Kitty Drummund, was aware of unfathomed depths in
her, and he was not at all sure that he should like everything he found
in those depths if he ever fathomed them.  But, in any case, he
preferred them to shallows.  A shallow woman could not have kept Denis
Harlenden's heart for a week--or a day.  He also valued surprises, and
Rosanne was full of surprises.

She gave him one now.  At the sound of a slight, crushing of gravel
underfoot, he had risen and stepped toward the end of the veranda, and,
standing there beside the great tree-fern, he saw her coming from the
side garden into the faint rays of light from the house.  She had her
two hands folded over her breast as though holding something precious
there, and her face was rapt.  He had never before seen her in that
odd, sheathlike garment of silver-grey velvet.  It gave her, he
thought, with that brooding look on her face and her faintly smiling
mouth, an air of moon-like mysteriousness.  Almost as silently as a
moonbeam, she slid into the veranda and would have passed on into her
room but that he put his arms round her and drew her to his heart.

The thought had come over him suddenly to test her courage and coolness
thus, and she did not disappoint him.  For a moment he felt her heart
fluttering like a wild bird against his; then she gave a little low
laugh.

"Oh, Denis!" she whispered, against his lips.  But when he let her go
he saw that her face was white as milk.

"You _were_ frightened, then?" he questioned.

"No, no; I knew at once it was you--by the scent of your dear coat."
She stroked it with one hand, then made to move away, but he still held
her.  What had made her turn white, then, if she were not afraid?

"Let me go away and change my gown," she said, trying to edge away into
the dark.

"But why?  I love it.  You are like a witch of the moon in it."

"No; it isn't a nice gown," she insisted childishly and still tried to
escape, but he could be obstinate, too.

"I want you to keep it on--and, darling, darling, don't waste any of
the moments we may be together!  You told me yourself it could only be
an hour."

She gave a deep sigh.  It was true.  Moments spent with him were too
precious to waste.  There might not be so many more.  Still, she did
not abandon her plan to get away from him to her room, if only for a
minute.  Gently she resisted his half-movement to lead her to a chair.
He knew, by now, that she was holding something in her left hand which
she did not wish him to see.  They remained standing by the tree-fern,
each will striving for supremacy.  In the meantime, he went on speaking
in his extraordinary charming voice that had power to make her heart
ache with even the memory of its dear sound.

"Not that I can see why I should only have an hour."

"Mother will be back by ten," she said.

"Why shouldn't she know at once?  I don't like this hole-and-corner
business, Rosanne.  It is not good enough for you."  He kissed her on
the lips, and added, "Or me."

Her face was in shadow, but his was not, and she could see that fires
were lighted in the stone-grey eyes that banished all its masklike
impassivity and brought a wonderful beauty into it.  She stood
trembling to his kiss and his voice and the magic of her love for him.
Almost it seemed as if she must do as he wished.  But she knew she must
not.  If her mother once knew, everyone would have to know, and how
brutal that would be to him when she had to tell him that it must all
come to an end, that she could not and would not marry him!

"You must let me tell her tonight," he was saying, with quiet firmness.

"No, no!" she faltered.

"Yes.  And there is another thing; give me your left hand, Rosanne."

She did not give it so much as that he drew it from behind her.  It was
tightly clenched.  Holding it in his own, he drew her to a chair at
last.  She seemed to have no more strength to resist.  Then, sitting
down before her, he gently unclenched one finger after another until
what she had hidden there lay sparkling in the night.  Almost as if it
had been something evil, he shook it from her palm into her lap, and
taking her hand to his lips, kissed it, then placed upon the third
finger a ring.

"You must only like the jewels I give you, Rosanne," he said, with
unveiled meaning.

They sat there for a long, aching, exquisitely silent moment, her hand
in his, the great square emerald set in a wonderful filigree and
scrolling of gold on her finger, the other thing gleaming with a
baleful light between them.  Then the spell broke with the roll of
carriage wheels on the drive.  A minute later, Mrs. Ozanne came into
the veranda, Rosalie clinging to her arm.  Harlenden was on his feet
instantly, and, before Rosanne could intervene, had proffered his
request to speak to her mother.  The latter looked as much dazed by his
words as his presence.

"Not tonight, Sir Denis, please."

"It is rather important," he pleaded, looking very boyish.  But she
seemed to notice nothing, and shook her head.

"Some other time--my poor Rosalie is ill--in trouble; she has heard
some distressing news."

He drew back at once, apologizing, and a few minutes later was gone.
Rosanne followed her mother and sister into the house, a strangely
yearning, sorrowful look upon her face.  Nothing was said.  Rosalie
seemed half-fainting, and her mother, still supporting her, led her to
the door of her bedroom.  They disappeared together.  Rosanne stared
after them, but made no attempt to help.  When they had gone, she sat
still in the hall, waiting.  Sometimes she looked at the sparkling
thing in her hand (she had caught it up from her lap when her mother
came into the veranda), a slim, flexible string of diamonds for weaving
in the hair--glowing and glimmering like spurts of flame imprisoned
within frozen dewdrops.  Sometimes she looked at the great emerald
Denis Harlenden had set on her finger.  But her eyes had something of
the fixed, unseeing stare of the sleep-walker.  At last Sophia Ozanne
came back and stood beside her.  Neither looked at the other.

"What is it mother?" she asked, in a low voice.

"Richard Gardner is very ill.  They hoped it was only a sore throat
that would soon yield to treatment; but he went to a specialist
today--that Doctor Stratton who came out to see the Cape governor's
throat--and he seems to think--"  Poor Mrs. Ozanne halted and choked as
if she herself were suffering from an affection of the throat.  Rosanne
still sat silent and brooding.

"He seems to think it is something malignant--and, in that case, he and
poor Rosalie--"  She broke down.

"Will never be able to marry, mother?" asked Rosanne, not curiously,
only sadly, as if she knew already.  Her mother nodded.

"Who told you?"

"Richard's brother was at the Chilvers'; he thought we had better know
at once."

Mrs. Ozanne sat down by the little Benares table and, resting her face
on her hands, began to cry quietly.  Rosanne stared before her with an
absorbed stare.  She seemed in a very transport of grave thought.  When
Mrs. Ozanne at length raised her eyes for an almost furtive glance, she
thought she had never seen anything so tragic as her daughter's face.
Her own was working horribly with misery and some urgent necessity.

"Rosanne!" she stammered at last, afraid of the sound of her own words.
"Couldn't you do something?"

The girl removed her dark gaze from nothingness and transferred it to
her mother's imploring, fearful eyes.

"Oh, mother!" she said quietly.  "Oh, mother!  I am more unhappy than
you or Rosalie can ever be!"



PART II

Rosalie Ozanne kept her bed for a week or more.  She had sunk into a
sort of desolate lethargy of mind and body from which nothing could
rouse her.  Her mother was in despair.  Richard Gardner was too ill to
come to see the girl he loved, and he did not write.  The blow that had
fallen upon his promising and prosperous life seemed to have shattered
his nerves and benumbed his initiative.  He had no words of hope for
Rosalie; so he said nothing.  Thus, in silence and apart, the two were
suffering their young agony of wrecked hopes and love laid on its bier.

Rosanne, meanwhile, to all appearances, went on her way rejoicing.  For
a moment, in the shock of mutual grief over Rosalie's trouble, she and
her mother had drawn nearer in spirit, and strange words of sorrow and
sympathy, as though dragged from her very depths, had come faltering
from the girl's lips.  But the next day all trace of such unaccustomed
softness had disappeared.  She was her gay, resilient self once more,
bright and hard as the stones she loved to wear, and more reserved and
withdrawn from her family than ever.  She avoided both her mother and
sister as much as possible, spending most of her time in her own room
or with her friend Kitty Drummund.  As usual, too, she was often out
riding and driving--but no longer with Denis Harlenden.  Major
Satchwell had been received back into the favour of her intimate
friendship, and it was he who was always to be found riding or limping
at her side.

Harlenden had not called at Tiptree House since the night when, after
the Chilvers' dinner-party, he had requested an interview with Mrs.
Ozanne and been asked to wait until a more propitious moment.  Indeed,
the latter, with mind full of foreboding and sorrow for her stricken
child, had almost forgotten that he had ever made such a request.  But
Rosanne had not forgotten.  And Rosanne knew why her lover stayed away
from Tiptree House.  He had made his reason sufficiently clear in a
letter she had received the morning after their last meeting in the
veranda.  The terse sentences of that letter were like himself--cold
and quiet without, but with the burn of hidden fires beneath the
surface.

"Until you are prepared to let the world know how things are with us, I
shall not come again.  And another thing, Rosanne: I love you.  Your
kiss is on my lips, and no other woman's lips shall ever efface its
exquisite memory  You love me, too, I think.  But do you love me more
than certain other things?  If not, and if you cannot be the Rosanne I
wish you to be, caring only for such things as are worthy of your
beauty and my pride, this love of ours can never come to its perfection
but will have to be rooted out and crushed as a useless, hopeless
thing.  When you see this as I do, send for me.  I shall not be long in
coming."

Curiously enigmatic words if read by any but the eyes for which they
were intended.  But Rosanne knew what they meant, and read them with
her teeth dug into her lip and cheeks pale as a bone.  The first time
she read them she burst into a furious, ringing laugh, and crushing the
letter into a ball, flung it into the waste-paper basket and went out.
That was the afternoon on which she renewed her friendship with Everard
Satchwell.  But when she came home she sought the waste-paper basket,
and taking out the letter, uncrumpled it and read it again.  Thereafter
she read it many times.  Sometimes she went to bed with it crushed to
her breast.  But she never answered it.  Instead, she wrote to Everard
Satchwell and completed the work, already begun, of beguiling him back
into her life just as he was beginning to hope he could do without her.

One day, when she was out riding with him, they met Harlenden riding
alone.  He had a moody, lonely look that wrenched at her heart for a
moment until she saw the civilly indifferent smile with which he
returned her half-appealing glance and Satchwell's cheery greeting.  As
their eyes met, his were so empty of what she knew they could contain
for her that her heart turned cold in her breast.  For the first time,
the well-bred impassivity of his face irked and infuriated her.  She
doubted, almost hated him.  She could have struck him with her
riding-whip because he gave no sign of the hurt she had dealt him, but,
instead, her face grew almost as smilingly masklike as his own; only
when she got home, within the refuge of her bedroom walls, did it
change and become distorted with pain and rage, its beauty marred and
blotted out with tears.

That he should ride coolly by and give no sign, while _her_ heart ached
as if a knife were in it, while she drained to the dregs the cup of
lonely love!  That was bitter.  But bitterer still the knowledge that
within herself lay the reason of their separation, as well as the power
to end it.  She could bring him back this very hour if she wished, was
her thought.  Yet, could she?  Were not those other bonds that held her
soul in slavery stronger than herself--stronger (as he had suggested in
his letter) than her love for Denis Harlenden?

Miserably, her face lifeless and pale as the face of one who has lain
among the ashes of renouncement and repentance, she rose from the bed
where she had flung herself weeping, and creeping to an old-fashioned
oak bureau of heavy make, sat down before it and began to unlock its
many drawers and take therefrom a number of little jewel-cases.  One by
one she opened these and spread before her the radiant, sparkling
things they contained with their myriad points of light and dancing
colour.  She ran the things through her fingers and bathed her hands in
them like water.  Then she curved her palms into a cup and held them
filled to the brim with such a sparkling draught as only a god could
drink--a draught with fire and ice in it, blood and crystal water,
purity and evil.  The roses of life and the blue flowers of death were
all intermingled and reflected in that magic draught of frozen fire and
liquid crystal.  As the girl gazed into it, colour came back to her
pale face, and her eyes caught and returned the flashing beams of
light.  It almost seemed as if she and the stones, able to communicate,
were exchanging the signals of some secret code.

One jewel was more beautiful than all the rest, the lovely, flexible
chain of stones she had been holding to her breast that night when
Harlenden surprised her coming from the garden into the veranda--the
thing he had shaken from her hand into her lap as if it had been a
toad.  She remembered Harlenden, now, as she gazed into the iridescent
shapes of light, seeming to see in their brilliant, shallow depths
worlds of romance that every-day life knew not of.  At last she caught
the thing up and kissed it burningly, then pressed it against her heart
as if it possessed some quality of spikenard to ease the pain she still
felt aching there.  The sound of the dinner-gong shook her from her
strange dreams, and hastily, yet with a sort of lingering regret, she
began to gather up the jewels and lay them once more into their downy
nests of white velvet.  Her fingers caressed and her eyes embraced
every single stone as she laid it away.

"I must get some more," she murmured feverishly to herself; "I must get
some more--soon!"

She had forgotten Denis Harlenden now.  Her lips took on a hungry, arid
line, and her eyes were suddenly hard and more brilliant than the
stones she handled.  The lust of diamonds, which is one of the greatest
and most terrible of all the lusts, had got her in its scorpion-claws
and was squeezing love from her heart and beauty from her soul.

"Rosanne, your sister is worse," her mother said, at dinner.  They had
reached dessert, but these were the first words that had passed between
them.  Rosanne's shoulders moved with the suggestion of a shrug.

"I think she gives way," she remarked coldly.  "She could shake off
that illness with the exercise of a little self-control."

"It is easy to talk like that when you are not the sufferer, dear.  You
forget that her whole heart is wrapped up in Dick.  I believe that if
he dies, she will--."  The mother's words ended in something very like
a sob.  She looked utterly worn out and wretched.  Her eyes wistfully
searched Rosanne's, but the latter's mood appeared to be one of
complete _sang-froid_.

"You always look on the worst side of things, mother," she said calmly.
"If Dick dies, and I daresay he will--cancer of the throat is nearly
always fatal, I believe--Rosalie will get over it in time and marry
some other man."

"Rosanne, I never thought you could be so heartless!"

"Nonsense, mother; it isn't heartlessness but common sense, and I think
you ought not to encourage Rosalie by being sympathetic.  A little
bracing brutality is what she needs to pull her out of her misery."

Mrs. Ozanne rose, her eyes shining with anger as well as tears.

"I forbid you to speak to me of your unhappy sister unless you can
speak kindly," she said, and added harshly; "I sometimes think,
Rosanne, that you are either not my child or that that Malay woman
bewitched and cast some evil spell over you when you were a baby."

Rosanne looked at her with musing eyes.

"I have sometimes thought so myself," she said slowly, "and that,
instead of you reproaching me, it is I who have the right to reproach
you for bartering me away to witchcraft rather than letting me die an
innocent little child."

Sophia Ozanne's lips fell apart, and the colour died slowly out of her
handsome, wholesome-looking face.  She said nothing while she stood
there gazing for a long minute at her daughter; but her breath came
laboriously, and she held her hand over her heart as if she had
received a blow there.  At last, in silence, she walked heavily from
the room.

Rosanne helped herself daintily to fruit salad, but when she had it on
her plate she did nothing but stare at it.  After a few moments she
rang the bell and sent out a message to the stables that she would
require the carriage for an hour.

"And tell my mother, if she asks, that I have gone to Mrs. Drummund's,"
she directed old Maria, as she went away to her room to put on a hat
and wrap.

"It is pretty awful at home now," she complained to Kitty Drummund,
some twenty minutes later.  "The whole house is wrapped in gloom
because Dick Gardner has a sore throat.  One might as well live in a
mausoleum."

"Dearest, it is a little more than a sore throat, isn't it?  Len saw
Tommy Gardner today, and he says Dick is in awful pain and can't speak.
They are sending him away to the Cape tonight, as a last hope.  Doctor
Raymond, there, is supposed to be wonderfully clever with affections of
the throat, though I must say I don't believe it will be much good,
since Stratton has condemned him."

"Oh, talk about something else, Kit, for heaven's sake!" cried Rosanne,
with a sudden access of desperate irritation.  "I can't bear any more
Dick Gardner."

Kitty stroked the hair and bare shoulders of the girl sitting on the
floor beside her.

"I know you're not really heartless, Nan, but you do sound so
sometimes.  I expect all this trouble at home is on your nerves a
little bit.  Tell me, how are your own affairs, darling?  Is the
engagement still going on?"

"No; the engagement is finished.  I told you I never meant to marry
him."

"I think you are making an awful mistake, Nan.  He's the only man for
you--the only man who can----"

"Can what?" asked Rosanne, with fierce moodiness.  "Save my soul alive?"

"How strange!  Those were the very words I was going to use, though I
don't know why.  They just came into my head."

"Everyone seems to be hitting the right nail on the head tonight,"
commented Rosanne dryly.  "First, my mother; now, you.  I wonder who'll
be the third.  All good things run in threes, don't they?"

Kitty knew better than to try to cope with her in that mood, so she
remained silent until Rosanne rose and caught up her hat.

"Oh, don't go yet, darling!  Do stay and see Len.  He had to go out
directly after dinner, but he promised not to be long.  Fancy!  They're
having such excitement up at the compound.  But I don't know whether I
ought to tell you, though," she finished doubtfully.

"Oh, yes, do!" said Rosanne, wearily ironical.  "Do tell me something
that will make life seem less of an atrocious joke than it
is--especially if you oughtn't to tell."

"Well, we're not supposed to breathe anything like this outside the
compound walls, you know.  Len told me not to mention it to a soul; but
I don't expect he meant to include you, for, of course, you are all
right."

"Of course!"  Rosanne smiled mockingly at herself in the mirror before
which she was arranging her hair preparatory to posing her hat upon it.

"Well, my dear, just think!  They've discovered a Kafir boy in the
compound who has been stealing thousands of pounds' worth of diamonds
for months, and passing them to someone outside.  They caught him in
the act this afternoon."

"How frightfully exciting!"  Rosanne had put her hat on now, but was
still manoeuvring to get it at exactly the correct angle over her right
eye.  "How did he do it?"

"He made a little tunnel from under his sleeping-bunk to the outside of
the compound wall, about a yard and a half long, and through that he
would push a parcel of diamonds by means of a stick with a flat piece
of tin at the end of it, something like a little rake and exactly the
same length as the tunnel.  He always pushed a little heap of earth
through first, so as to cover the diamonds up from any eyes but those
of his confederate outside.  When the confederate had removed the
diamonds, he pushed back the earth against the tin rake, which the boy
always left in place until he had another packet of diamonds ready to
put through.  In this way the hole was never exposed, except during the
few moments, once a week, when the boy was putting in a fresh packet."

"But how awfully thrilling!" exclaimed Rosanne.

"Yes; isn't it?  What they want to do now is to catch the confederate
who is, of course, the real culprit, for encouraging an ignorant Kafir
to steal."

"Who could it possibly be?"

"Goodness knows!  Such heaps of people come inside this outer compound,
tradespeople, servants with messages, and so on.  But just think of it,
Nan!  Thousands of pounds' worth, and the Kafir boy only got ten pounds
for each packet he pushed through."

"Well, what would a Kafir do with thousands of pounds, anyway?" said
Rosanne, laughing irrelevantly.  "I think ten pounds was quite enough."

"That's true--too much for the wretch, indeed!  However, he has
confessed and told everything he could to help our people to trap the
other wretch.  Unfortunately, that is not very much."

"No?"

"No; he says he has never seen the man who fetches the diamonds.  The
only one he has ever seen was a man he is not able to describe because
he is so ordinary-looking, who came to his kraal in Basutoland about
seven months ago, and made the whole plan with him to come and work on
contracts of three months at a time as a compound-boy, steal as many
diamonds as he could, and pass them out in the way I have described.
Each parcel was to cost ten pounds and to contain no less than ten
diamonds.  No money passed between them, but every time a parcel was
put through the tunnel, the confederate on the other side put a blue
bead in its place among the sand.  The boy found the bead and kept it
as a receipt, and when he came out at the end of every three months'
contract he wore a bracelet of blue beads on his wrist.  Naturally, the
authorities didn't take any notice of this when they searched him, for
nearly all Kafirs wear beads of some kind.  These beads were quite a
common kind to look at; only when they were examined carefully were
they found to have been passed through some chemical process which dyed
the inside a peculiar mauve colour, making it impossible for the Kafir
to cheat by adding ordinary blue beads (of which there are plenty for
sale in the compound) to his little bunch of 'receipts.'"

"How clever!" said Rosanne.  "And how are they going to catch the
confederate?  Put a trap-parcel, I suppose, and pounce on him when he
comes to fetch it?"

She had seated herself again, opposite Kitty, her arms resting on the
back of the chair, her face vivid with interest.

"Cleverer than that," announced Kitty.  "They are going to put the trap
and watch who fetches it.  But they won't pounce on him; they mean to
follow him up and arrest the whole gang."

"Gang?"

"Len says there's sure to be a gang of them, and for the sake of
getting them all, parcel after parcel of stones will be put through the
tunnel, if necessary, until every one of them is traced and arrested."

"Rather risky for the diamonds, I should think!"

"They'll only put inferior ones in.  Besides, the Kafir boy's contract
is up in a week's time, and if all the gang aren't caught by then,
they're going to let the boy go out and meet his confederate to deliver
his beads, and then the arrest will be made."

"Surely the Kafir was able to describe him, if he had been in the habit
of meeting him every three months?"

"He says he was a young white boy, very thin, who wears a mask and an
overcoat.  They have met twice at night, in an old unused house in the
Malay compound, the other side of Kimberley.  Can you imagine any one
running such awful risks for the sake of diamonds, Nan?  But Len says
it goes on all the time--this illicit diamond-buying business--and the
company loses thousands of pounds every year and is hardly ever able to
catch the thieves.  They're as clever as paint!  They have to be, for
if they are caught it means ten to twenty years' imprisonment for them,
as they know.  Mustn't it be awful to live in such a state of risk and
uncertainty, never knowing when you're going to be found out, for, of
course, there are plenty of detectives on the watch for illicit buying
all the time?"

"Awful--yes, but terribly exciting," Rosanne said musingly.  "Don't you
think so?" she added quickly, and began to pull on her gloves.

"Ah, don't go, yet!" cried Kitty.  "Len will be dreadfully disappointed
to find you gone."

"Tell him you told me the story," laughed Rosanne.  "That will cheer
him up."

"I don't think I shall," said Kitty soberly.  "I'm afraid he'd be
awfully mad with me, after all, even though it is only you I've told.
He'll say women can't keep things to themselves, and that you're sure
to tell someone else, and so the whole thing will get about."

"You needn't worry, dear.  It will never get about through me," said
Rosanne quietly, and, kissing Kitty good-night, she went her ways.

As she passed through the brightly lit outer compound, stepping briskly
toward the big gate, she was aware of more than one lurking shadow
behind the blue-ground heaps.  Also, it seemed to her that various
guards were more alert than usual in their guardhouses.  But she gave
no faintest sign of observing these things, greeted the guard at the
gate pleasantly, and, passing out to the street, stepped into the
waiting carriage and was driven home.  It wanted a few minutes to
midnight when she stole from the veranda door of her room once more,
dressed in her dim, straight gown of moonlight velvet with a swathe of
colourless veil about her head and, sliding softly through the garden,
went out into the quiet streets of the town until she came, at last, to
a little indistinguished door next to a jeweller's window, whereon was
neatly inscribed the name, "Syke Ravenal."  On knocking gently three
times, the door opened mechanically to admit her.  Inside all was dark;
but a few paces down a passage brought her to a door that opened into a
small but brightly lighted room.  An elderly man was seated at a table
engaged in beautifully illuminating a parchment manuscript.  This was
Syke Ravenal.

"You are very late, my child," he said, in a gently benevolent tone.
His voice was rich and sonorous.

"It was not safe to come before."

"Safe?"  His dark, hawk-like face did not change, but there was a sound
in his voice like the clank of broken iron.

"They've caught Hiangeli," she said.

"Ah!"  He carefully folded the manuscript between two protecting sheets
of blotting-paper and placed it in the drawer of his table.  His hands
shook as if with ague, but his voice was as perfectly composed as his
face when he spoke again.

"Tell me all about it, my child."

"They got him in the compound today, as he was putting the parcel
through.  He has confessed as much as he knows about your son going to
the kraal, and the blue beads, and the old house in the Malay compound
where he was paid.  They have now set a trap-parcel of stones and are
sitting in wait to catch the confederate."  She sank down in a chair
opposite to him and leaned her elbows on the table.  "To catch me," she
said slowly.

He looked at her keenly.  Her face was deadly pale, but there was no
trace of fear in it.  Whatever Rosanne Ozanne may have been, she was no
coward.  Neither was the man opposite her.

"Ah!  They have no inkling, of course, that it was you who met Hiangeli
and paid him?"

"No; he was not able to tell them any more than that it was a white
boy."  She added, with the ghost of a smile, "A thin, white boy, in a
mask and an overcoat."

"Well, that's all right.  They won't catch you, and they won't catch
me, and Saul is safe in Amsterdam.  Luck is on our side, as she always
is on the side of good players.  Hiangeli must foot the bill, because
he played badly."

Rosanne sat listening.  It was plain that Hiangeli's fate was a matter
of indifference to her, but some storm was brewing behind her
smouldering eyes.  Ravenal went on calmly:

"It's been a good game while it lasted.  The pity is that it must come
to an end."

Then the storm broke forth.

"But it must not come to an end!" she burst out violently.  "I can't
live without it!"

The man looked at her reflectively.

"You're a great sport.  I've never known a woman with finer nerve.
But, just the same, the game has got to come to an end."

"Game!  You don't understand.  It is meat and drink to me.  I _must_
have diamonds."  She sounded like a woman pleading for some drug to
deaden pain, memory, and conscience.  Her voice was wild; she put out
her hands to him in an imploring gesture.  "I have given up everything
for them--everything!"

He shook his head.

"We can't do any more of it," he said inflexibly.  "Not for a year, at
the outside."

Her hands fell on the table.  She shivered as though she already felt
cold and hunger.

"Suffer torment for a year?" she muttered.  "It is impossible.  I
can't.  I have nothing else.  I've sacrificed everything to it--_duty,
friendship, love_!"  She leaned her head in her hands, and Ravenal did
not hear the last words.

"Pull yourself together, my child.  It is not like you to give way like
this.  Listen: Go home now and sit tight.  Nerve and a quiet going
about your ways are what are needed for the next few weeks.  Don't come
near me unless you have anything important to communicate; then come in
the ordinary way to the shop with some jewel to be mended.  But
remember: There is no possible channel through which they can connect
either of us with Hiangeli, and nothing in the world to fear."

"It is not fear I feel," she said dully.

"I know.  It is disappointment.  You are broken-hearted because the
black diamonds cannot be handed over to you."

She did not speak, but if ever a woman's face betrayed hunger and
passionate longing, hers did at that moment.  All her beauty was gone.
There was nothing but a livid mask with two burning eyes.  A pitying
look crossed Ravenal's face.  He was not an unkindly man.

"Poor child," he said gently, "it's hard on you!"  For a moment he
seemed to hesitate, then, coming to a swift decision, rose and went
over to a safe embedded in the wall, and unnoticeable by reason of a
piece of Oriental embroidery pinned above it and a chair standing
carelessly before it.  Unlocking it, he brought to the table a small
jewel-case.

"I'll tell you what I'll do.  I can't let you have it for good, because
it's not earned yet.  Twenty more rough stones are wanted from you
before this is yours.  That was the bargain.  But, considering all the
circumstances, I'll _lend_ it to you for a while."

Before he had finished speaking she had seized the case from his hands
and pressed it open.  A magnificent pendant gleamed up at her with all
the smoky, mysterious beauty of black diamonds.

"I know I can trust you with it, for I have trusted you with more than
that.  My life is in your hands, just as much as yours is in mine.  So
keep the thing, and finish paying for it when you can.  If we're never
able to get any more rough diamonds from the mine, you'll have to pay
in money."

She hardly seemed to hear, so wrapped was she in the contemplation of
her new treasure, brooding and crooning over it like a mother with a
child.  He watched her for a moment, then rose and fetched the grey
veil she had cast off on entering.

"Come now, my child; it is late, and you must be gone.  Be careful.  I
know I need not remind you of the oath between us three."

"Silence--and suicide, if necessary," she murmured mechanically.  She
had taken the jewel from its case and was threading it on a chain round
her throat, "Death rather than betray the other two."

"That's it," said the other, with cheerful firmness.  "Now, good-night."

He lowered the lights and opened the door of the room.  She passed into
the dark passage, and he returned to the table and pressed a button
which opened the front door.  When he heard it softly close, he knew
that she was out of the house and on her way home.

But her adventures were not yet over.  Before she had gone very far she
was aware of being followed.  A mirror in a shop window reflected, afar
off, the silhouette of the only other person besides herself in the now
silent street--a tall man in a slouch hat.  Apparently he had on shoes
as light as her own, for his feet made no more noise than hers, though
her fine ear detected the steady beat of them behind her.  For the
first time, she knew terror.  Supposing it were a detective who had
tracked her from Syke Ravenal's door, and was now waiting to arrest her
as she entered her own home!  She realized that her courage had lain in
the knowledge of absolute security, for now, at the menace of
discovery, her heart was paralyzed with fright and she could scarcely
breathe.  Instinct told her to run, but acquired self-control kept her
from this madness, and, by a great effort, she continued walking
quietly as before.  Gradually her nerve returned.  She determined, by
feint, to discover whether the man were really following her or if his
presence were due to accident.  Having now arrived at the residential
part of the town, where every house stood back from the road and was
sheltered by a garden, she coolly opened a gate at random and walked
boldly in.  The man was still some way behind, and she had ample time
to pass through the garden and reach the veranda before he drew near.

It was a house strange to her, and she had not the faintest idea who
lived there.  All the windows and doors were closed and shuttered, but
light showed through a fanlight over the hall door.  The veranda,
blinded by heavy green mats, contained the usual array of chairs, and
she sank down on one, her heart beating like a drum, her ears strained
to hear her pursuer pass.  Instead, to her horror, she heard the gate
briskly unlatched and footsteps on the path.  Terrified by this
unexpected move, and sure, now, that the end had come, she sprang to
her feet and stood waiting like a straight, grey ghost for the man to
enter the veranda.  The light above the hall door fell full on him, and
it is hard to say whether dismay or horror were strongest in her when
she recognized Harlenden.

"Denis!" she stammered.

"Why are you here, Rosanne?" he asked quietly.  "Do you need me?"

Astonishment kept her dumb for a moment, then, with a realization of
the position, came anger.

"How dare you follow me?" she exclaimed, in a low, tense voice.

"I live in this house."

"_You live here?_" she faltered, and sat down suddenly, trembling from
head to foot.

"Yes; and I have just returned from the club."

"Then it was _not_ you following me?"

At that she sprang up and threw herself into his arms in a frenzy of
fear.

"Who was it, then?  Oh, Denis, Denis, save me; take me into your
house--hide me!"

"Hush!" he said gently, and, keeping a supporting arm about her, guided
her round the veranda, took a key out of his pocket, and let her and
himself in by a side door.  He closed and locked the door behind them,
put her into a chair, then examined the window to make sure it was
closed as well as shuttered.  It was a man's sitting-room, full of the
scent of leather and tobacco.  Going to a spirit-stand on the table he
poured out some brandy.

"Drink this," he said, in the same firm tone he had used all along, and
mechanically she obeyed him.

"Where are we?" she murmured.  "Whose house is this?  I thought you
lived at the club?"

"So I did until last week, when this house was lent me.  Don't be
afraid.  The servants are all in bed, and there is no one about.  You
are much safer here than roaming about the streets at one in the
morning."

"Then you _were_ following me?"

"Certainly I was following you.  I saw you come out of Syke Ravenal's
shop and I walked behind you, but only because your way and mine
happened to be in the same direction."

She passed her hand over her eyes with a hopeless gesture.  It seemed
as though this endless day of terrors and surprises would never be
done, and she was weary, weary.  He sat regarding her with grave eyes.
She looked like a little, tired, unhappy child, and his heart was sick
with longing to gather her in his arms and comfort her and take her
sorrows on himself.  But he knew that there were things beyond his help
here, unless she gave him her full confidence and cast her burdens into
his hands.

"Rosanne," he said, at last, "I ask you to trust me."

She looked at him with wretched eyes and a mouth tipped at the corners
as though she would weep if she could.  In truth, the enchantment of
this man's love and her love for him was on her again, and the poignant
torment of it was almost too exquisite to bear.  His voice stole
through her senses like the music of an old dream.  His lean, strong
frame, the stone-grey eyes, and close-lipped mouth all spoke of that
power in a man which means safety to the woman he loves.  Safety!  Only
such a storm-petrel as Rosanne Ozanne, weary, with wings beaten and
torn by winds whose fateful forces she herself did not understand,
could realize the full allure of that word.  She felt like a sailor
drowning in a wild sea, within sight of the fair land he never would
reach.  That fair land of safety was not for her feet, that had
wandered down such dark and shameful paths.  But, oh, how the birds
sang on that sweet shore!  How cool were the green pastures!  Small
wonder that her face wore the tortured misery of a little child.  Denis
Harlenden's heart turned to water at the sight of it, and the blood
thrummed in his veins with the ache to crush her to his breast and keep
her there against the world and against herself, spite of all the
unfathomed things in her which estranged him.  But he was strong enough
to refrain from even touching her hands.  Only his voice he could not
stay from its caresses.

"Is not love enough for you, Rosanne?"

She trembled under it like leaves in the wind and lifted her eyes to
his.  They looked long into each other's souls through those windows
which can wear so many veils to hide the truth.  But, in that moment,
the veils were lifted, and both saw Truth in all her naked terror and
beauty.  What he saw scorched and repelled but did not daunt him;
instead, a nobler love, chivalrous and pitiful, was born of the sight.
And she saw that love, and knew it great enough to clothe her even if
she came to him stripped of fair repute and the world's honours.

"Yes; it is enough," she said brokenly, and cast a thing she wore about
her neck to the floor.  Then, suddenly, she collapsed in her chair and
fell into a fit of dry weeping.  Long, bitter sobs shook her frame and
seemed to tear their way out of her body.  She was like a woman
wrenched upon the rack.  Harlenden could do nothing but stand and wait,
his own face twisted with pain, until the storm was past.  Gradually it
died away, with longer and longer intervals between the shuddering
sighs.  At last, she uncovered her face, bleached and ravaged by the
tearless storm, yet wearing a gentler beauty than ever it had known,
and rose trembling to her feet.

"Take me home, Denis," she whispered.  He wrapped her veil about her
and she felt the thrill of his hands upon her, but he did not kiss her.
They had come closer to each other than any kiss could bring them.
Just as they were passing from the room, she remembered something and
stepped back.

"I must touch that vile thing again," she said, "because it does not
belong to me and must go back to where it came from."  She stooped and
picked the black, glittering object from the floor.

A spasm contracted Harlenden's face, but he asked no question.
Silently they went from the house and into the dark streets.  There was
no moon.  At her gate, he stooped and kissed her lips.

Mrs. Ozanne got up the morning of the following day with the urgent
feeling on her of something to be done.  It seemed as if there were
some move to be made that would help her and her children in their
unhappiness, only she didn't know what the move was.  But she always
remembered, afterward, with what feverish urgency she dressed, putting
on walking-things instead of a wrapper, and stepping from her room into
the bustling atmosphere of the house with a determined indifference to
the tasks and interests that usually occupied her attention.

Rosalie was as surprised to see her mother dressed for going out as was
the mother to find her daughter at the breakfast-table.

"Why, Rosalie, my darling, this is an unexpected joy!"

"Yes, mother; I thought I would make an effort."

It was the first time that the girl had been out of her room for over
two weeks, and she looked frail as a snowdrop, and nearly as white.

"You can't have two daughters sick abed, you know," she added, with a
wistful smile.

"Is Rosanne still----"  Mrs. Ozanne often left questions and remarks
about her other daughter unfinished.

The latter had spent the whole of the previous day in her room, seeming
physically unable to leave her bed.

"Yes; I'm afraid she's really ill.  She just lies there, not speaking
or eating, and she looks--oh, mother, she looks so unhappy!"

"I begged her yesterday to see the doctor."

"She says no doctor can do her any good, and that we must just leave
her alone.  I fancy she's thinking out something that she's terribly
worried about."

"There is something wrong," said the mother heavily.  "Oh, Rosalie, if
she were only like you, and would not hide her heart from those who
love her!"

"We can't all be alike, mother darling!  Rosanne has a stronger
character for better or worse than I have.  It is easy for me to throw
my troubles on other people's shoulders, but she is capable of bearing
in silence far greater sorrows, and of making far greater sacrifices."

"It is not a happy nature," sighed her mother.  "I wonder if Kitty
Drummund can do any good if I send for her?"

"Better not, mother.  She says she wants to see no one at present, and
you know she was at Kitty's the night before last."

"I have asked her so often not to go out at night like that--even to
Kitty's.  I dare say she caught cold driving."

"Poor Rosanne!  It is more than a cold she has!"

Sophia Ozanne looked at her little, fair daughter with tender eyes,
remembering the heartless way Rosanne had spoken of her sister's grief
only two nights before.

"How different you are, my Rosalie--forgetting your own sorrow to think
of others!"

The girl's eyes filled with tears, but she did not shed them.

"I'm afraid it's only another form of selfishness, mummie dear.  I want
to be kind and loving to all the world, just so that God will be good
to me and give Dick another chance."

"My poor, poor child!"  The mother's arms were round her in a moment,
ready for comfort, but Rosalie pushed her gently away, smiling with
quivering lips.

"Don't pity me, mother.  I'm determined to be brave, whatever comes.
But tell me, where are you going, all prinked out in your
walking-things?"

"I--I don't know yet, dear."  Mrs. Ozanne looked startled and
embarrassed.  "I have various things to do."

"It's a frightful morning.  Do you think you ought to go out?"

"I must," was the elder woman's firm answer, and she bustled away
before there was time for further questioning.  Not for anything did
she mean to be deterred from the pressing desire in her to go out.
Rosalie had been perfectly right about the weather.  It was that arid
time of year when the air swirls in gusts of hot wind, laden with
gritty blue sand from the debris-heaps, and the finer red dust of the
streets.  Kimberley dust is notoriously the worst of its kind in a land
plagued with dust.  Buluwayo runs it pretty close, and Johannesburg, in
the spring months, has special sand-devils of its own, but nothing in
Africa has ever quite come up to Kimberley at its worst.  This was not
one of its worst, however; merely a day on which all who had wisdom sat
at home within closed doors and sealed windows, awaiting a cessation of
the penetrating abomination of filth.

Often, during the morning, Mrs. Ozanne found herself wondering what she
was doing wandering about the town on such a day.  Desultorily, and
with an odd feeling that this was not what she should be about, she let
herself be blown along the street and in and out of shops, face bent
down, eyes half closed, bumping blindly into people, her skirts
swirling and flacking, her hat striving its utmost to escape and take
the hair of her head with it.  There were no necessary errands to do.
The servants did the shopping, and she rarely went out except to drive
in the afternoons.  Vaguely she wondered why she had not used the
carriage this morning.

Lunch-time came, but she could not bring herself to return home.  It
seemed to her that there was still something she must do, though she
could not remember what.

In the end, she went into a clean, respectable little restaurant and
lunched off a lamb chop and boiled potatoes, regardless of the
excellent lunch that awaited her at home.  Then, like a restless and
unclean spirit, out she blew once more into the howling maelstrom of
wind and dust.

She began to feel, at last, as if it were a nightmare, this necessity
that urged her on, she knew not whither.  Dimly, her eyes still blinded
by dust, she was aware that she had left the main thoroughfares and was
now in a poorer part of the town.  With the gait of a sleep-walker, she
continued on her way, until suddenly a voice addressing her jerked her
broad-awake.

"You come see me, missis?"

A woman had opened the door of a mean tin house and stood there waiting
in the doorway, almost as if she had been expecting Sophia Ozanne.  The
latter stood stone-still, but her mind went racing back to a winter
afternoon seventeen years before, when she had sat in her bedroom with
the little dying form of Rosanne upon her knees, and a voice speaking
from the shadow of her bedroom had said, "Missis sell baby to me for a
farthing; baby not die."  The same voice addressed her now, and the
same woman stood in the doorway of the mean house gazing at her with
large, mournful eyes.  It was Rachel Bangat, the Malay cook.

"You come see me die, missis?" she questioned, in her soft, languorous
voice.

"Die!  Are you sick, Rachel?" said Mrs. Ozanne.

"Yes, missis; Rachel very sick.  Going die in three days."

Sophia Ozanne searched the dark, high-boned face with horror-stricken
eyes, but could see no sign of death on it, or any great change after
seventeen years, except a more unearthly mournfulness in the mysterious
eyes.

But she had often heard it said that Malays possess a prophetic
knowledge of the hour and place of their death, and she could well
credit Rachel Bangat with this strange faculty.

"How my baby getting along, missis?"

Such yearning tenderness was in the question that Mrs. Ozanne, spite of
a deep repugnance to discuss Rosanne with this woman, found herself
answering:

"She is grown up now, Rachel."

"She very pretty?"

"Yes."

"And very rich?"

"We are well-off."

"But she?  I give her two good gifts that make her rich all by herself.
She no use them?"

"What gifts were those, Rachel?"  The mother drew nearer and peered
with haggard eyes at the Malay.

"I tell you, missis.  Because I love my baby so much and want her be
very rich and happy, I give her two good things--_the gift of bright
stones_ and _the gift of hate well_."

Sophia Ozanne drew nearer still, staring like a fascinated rabbit into
the mournfully sinister dark eyes, while the soft voice rippled on.

"She no use those gifts I give her?  I think so.  I think she say, 'I
hate that man,' and he die, sometimes quick, sometimes slow.  Or she
not hate too much, and he only get little sick.  Or she wish him bad in
his business, and he get bad.  That not so?"

Sophia Ozanne thought of the black list she had kept for years of all
the people whom Rosanne disliked and who had come to ill.  In swift
procession they passed through her mind, and Dick Gardner, with his
anguished throat, walked at the end of the procession.

"Yes."  Her dry lips ejected the word in spite of her wish to be silent.

"Ah!" said the Malay, softly satisfied.  "And the bright stones?  She
not get all she want without buy?"

This time, Mrs. Ozanne did not answer; only her blanched face grew a
shade whiter.  The woman leaned forward and spoke to her earnestly,
imploringly.

"You tell her get rich quick with the bright stones before too late.
Her power going soon.  Rachel die in three days, and then gifts go away
from Rachel's baby.  No more power hate or get bright stones.  Tell her
quick, missis.  I make you come here today so you can go back tell her.
All night and all morning I stand here make you come to me.  Now, go
back quick, tell my baby.  Three days!  Eight o'clock on third night,
Rachel die."

As strangely as she had appeared, the Malay withdrew into her wretched
shanty and closed the door.

Sophia Ozanne never knew by what means and in what manner she reached
her home that day, but at about five o'clock she came into the hall of
Tiptree House, and was met by her daughter Rosalie with the news that
Rosanne had got up from her bed and left the house, taking a suitcase
with her.

"And, oh, mother, I could see that she was in a high fever, her cheeks
were so flushed and her eyes like fire!  What shall we do?"

Her mother sat down and wiped great beads of moisture from her pallid
face.

"I think we will pray, Rosalie," she said slowly.


It was still broad afternoon when Rosanne walked openly into Syke
Ravenal's shop, bag in hand.  The benevolent-faced old man, occupied in
cleaning the works of a watch, looked up with the bland inquiring
glance of a tradesman to a customer.  But his face changed when he saw
her eyes.

"You have news?" he asked, in a low tone.

"Take me to the inner room," she ordered curtly.  Without demur, he led
the way.  The moment the door closed on them she flung the heavy
leather bag on to the table.

"Take them," she cried wildly; "take them back!  They are all there.
Not one is missing."

"Hush, my child--hush!" he gently urged.  But she would not be hushed.

"I hate you," she said passionately.  "I curse the day I entered this
shop, an innocent girl, and was beguiled by you and your son and my mad
passion for diamonds into becoming your tool and accomplice.  Oh, how I
hate you!  I can never betray you because of my oath, but I curse you
both, and I pray I may never see or hear of you again."

"That's all right, my child," he said soothingly.  She threw him one
glance of loathing and contempt and walked from the place.


Rosanne had taken to her bed again, and this time when they brought the
doctor she was too ill to object, too ill to do anything but lie
staring in a sort of mental and physical coma at the ceiling above her.

"Let her be," said the old-fashioned family doctor, who had known her
from babyhood.  "She has a splendid constitution and will pull through.
But let her have no worries of any kind."

So they left her alone, except in the matter of ministering occasional
nourishment, which she took with the mechanical obedience of a child.

For two days Rosanne lay there, silent and strange.  The third day her
sickness took an acute form.  She tossed and moaned and called out in
her pain, her face twisted with torture.  Her mind appeared to remain
clear.

"Mother, I believe I am dying," she said, after one such spell, during
the afternoon.  "I feel as if something is tearing itself loose from my
very being.  Does it hurt like this when the soul is trying to escape
from the body?"

"I have sent for the doctor again, darling."

"It is nothing he can cure.  It is _here_, and _here_ that I suffer."
She touched her head and her heart.  "But, oh, my body, too, is
tortured!"

She lay still a little while, moaning softly to herself while her
mother stood by, sick with distress; then she said:

"Send for Denis Harlenden, mother.  I must see him before I die."

Mrs. Ozanne asked no question.  Her woman's instinct told her much that
Rosanne had left unsaid.  Within half an hour, Harlenden was being
shown into the drawing-room, where she awaited him.  He came in with no
sign upon his face of the anxiety in his heart.  This was the fourth
day since he had seen Rosanne, and she had sent him no word.

"Sir Denis, my daughter is very ill.  I don't know why she should be
calling out for you----"  She faltered.  Marks of the last few days'
anxiety were writ large upon her, but she was not wanting in a certain
patient dignity.

Harlenden strode over and took her hands in his as he would have taken
the hands of his own mother.

"It is because we love each other," he said gently, "and because, as
soon as she will let me, I am going to marry her."

A ray of thankfulness shone across her features.

"Marriage!  I don't know, Sir Denis; but, if you love her I can tell
you something that will help you to understand her better, and perhaps
you can help her."

Briefly, and in broken words, she related to him the strange incident
of Rosanne's babyhood, its seeming effect upon her character, and the
Malay's extraordinary words of two days before.  She did not disguise
from him that she believed Rosanne guilty, whether consciously or
unconsciously, of many dark things, but she pleaded for her child the
certainty that she had been in the clutches of forces stronger than
herself.

"About the diamonds," she finished, at last, "I know nothing, and I am
afraid to think.  Did you read of that awful case of suicide in
yesterday's paper--that man, Syke Ravenal, who has been robbing De
Beers?  I am tormented with the thought that she may have known
something of him--yet how could she?"

"You must put such a thought out of your mind for ever and never
mention it to a soul," said Harlenden firmly.  "That man committed
suicide because his only son had been killed by accident in Amsterdam.
He left a vast fortune and a number of jewels which had been taken from
their settings to De Beers, by way of conscience-money for several
thousand pounds' worth of diamonds in the rough which he had stolen
from them.  There is absolutely no evidence to connect any other person
with his crime, except a letter asking the company to deal lightly with
a native boy called Hiangeli, who had been a tool of his."

"Then you think it could have nothing possibly to do with my poor
child?"

"Certainly not," said Denis Harlenden, without flinching.

"Not that I think that she would have done it in her right senses, but,
oh, Sir Denis, she has been under a spell all her life, an evil spell,
which, please God, will be broken when that woman dies!  You do not
think me mad, I hope?"

"I do not," he answered gravely.  "I am as sure of what you say as you
yourself.  What you do not know, Mrs. Ozanne, is that love has already
broken that spell.  Rosanne is already free from it."

She looked at him questioningly, longingly.

"I cannot tell you more," he said gently.  "But, believe me, it is
true.  May I go to her now?"

The mother led the way.  Rosanne, who had just passed through another
terrible crisis of anguish, lay on her bed, still and white as a lily.
A crimson-silk wrapper swathed about her shoulders, and the clouds of
night-black hair, flung in a tangled mass above her pillows, threw into
violent contrast the deadly pallor of her face.  Her eyes, dark and
wide with suffering, looked unseeingly at Harlenden at first, but
gradually a ray of recognition dawned in them and she put out her hand
with a faint cry.

"Denis!"

He took her hand and held it safe, while, with all the strength in him,
he willed peace and calmness into her troubled mind.

"Denis, I think I am going to die."

"Dearest, I know you are going to live--for me."

"No, no; I am not worthy of life--or of you.  I have been too wicked!"

"I want you to rest now," he said.

"I cannot rest till I have told you everything.  I wanted to tell you
the other night, you know, but I was too exhausted.  Denis, I am a
criminal--a thief!  I have stolen diamonds under cover of the
friendship of another woman.  I have received them from another thief
in the mines, and taken them to a man, whose son, a merchant in
Amsterdam, sent me my share of the robbery in cut stones set as jewels.
The rough stolen stones meant nothing to me, but the finished ones
dazzled and maddened me.  I cannot describe to you what they did to my
senses, but I was mad at the sight and touch of them.  They had power
to benumb every decent feeling in me.  For them, I forgot duty.  My
poor mother, how she has suffered!  I betrayed friendship; I debased
love!  Yes, Denis, I debased our love!  I meant just to take the joy of
it for a little while, then cast it away when it came to choosing
between you and the stones."

"But you did not."

"No, thank God, I could not!  It was stronger than my base passion,
stronger than myself.  Oh, Denis, I thank you for your love!  It has
saved me from a hell in life, and a hell hereafter, for I think God
will not further punish one so deeply repentant as I."

"You are not going to die, Rosanne," he repeated firmly.

"Do you think I would live and let you link your clean, upright life
with my dark one?" she said sadly.  "You do not even know all the
darkness of it yet.  Listen: I found I had a power through which I
could hurt others by just wishing them ill--and I used it freely.  Ah,
I have hurt many people!  It tortures me to think of how many.  I have
been lying here for two days and nights trying to undo all the harm I
have done, Denis--willing against the evil I have wished for, praying
for happiness to be given back to every one of them."  Her voice grew
faint and far-off.  "I have even tried to undo the harm I wished would
come to the two people who tempted me into stealing, Denis.  But,
somehow, I feel that it is too late for them.  That _something_ in
here"--she touched her heart--"which hurts me so much, tells me I
cannot help those two wretched ones."

Her voice broke off; she was shaken like a reed with a terrible spasm
of suffering.  It was as though she were in the clutches of some brutal
giant.

"Denis," she cried faintly, "I feel I am being rent asunder!  Part of
me is being torn away.  Surely, even death cannot be so terrible!"

A clock on the table struck eight.  Instantly she raised herself in
bed, fell back again, gave a deep sigh, and lay still.


A few hours later, she woke with a gentle flush in her cheeks and a
wonderful harmony in all her features.  Her first glance fell upon her
mother leaning over the foot of the bed, and she gave a happy smile.

"Oh, mother, I have had such a lovely dream!  I dreamed Dick was well
and coming back soon to Rosalie."

"And so he is, my darling.  She has had a wire to say that Doctor
Raymond has discovered that the throat trouble is not malignant but
quite curable.  He will be well in a few weeks."

"Then it _may_ come true, my dream," she said softly and shyly.  "My
dream that she and I were being married on the same day, she to Dick,
and I to--oh, Denis, how strange that you should be here when I was
dreaming of you!  What brought you here?  Have you come to tell mother
that we love each other?"

They began to realize dimly then, as they realized fully later on,
that, by a merciful gift of Providence her mind was a blank concerning
all the dark things of the past.

Memory of them had died with the dying of the Malay woman at eight
o'clock on a summer evening, and no shadow of them ever came back to
dim the harmony of her life with Denis Harlenden.


She is one of the happiest as well as one of the loveliest women in
London today.  Wrapped up in her home life and children, she still
finds time to be seen about everywhere with her husband, and they are
looked upon as one of the few ideally happy couples in society.

It has often been remarked, as a curious fact, that she never wears
jewels of any kind, save an emerald ring and some exquisite pearls.



April Folly

PART I

Waterloo Station, greasy underfoot and full of the murky, greenish gloom
of a November day, was the scene of a jostling crowd.  The mail-boat
train for South Africa stretched far down the long platform, every
carriage door blocked by people bidding farewell, handing in bouquets of
flowers, parcels of books, boxes of chocolates; bartering jests and
scattering laughter; sending their love to the veld, to Table Mountain,
to Rhodesia, to the Victoria Falls.

Only one first-class reserved compartment had no crowd before it, nor any
further audience than a middle-aged woman, with a wistful Irish face and
the neat and careful appearance peculiar to superior servants of the
old-fashioned type.  With her hands full of newly-purchased bookstand
magazines and her eyes full of trouble, she stood gazing at the sole
occupant of the carriage.

"Oh, Miss Diana your Ladyship . . ." he began once more.

"Shut it, Marney," said Miss Diana her Ladyship, elegantly.  "I've had
enough.  You're not coming with me, and that's that.  I'm not a child any
longer never to stir about the world alone."

"Shure, and your aunt, Lady Grizel, will turn in her grave at it," keened
poor Marney.  An expression of scampish glee crossed the girl's face.

"Yes, old Grizzly will do some turning," she murmured.  "Thank goodness
that's all she can do now."

The maid crossed herself with a shocked air, though it was far from being
the first time she had heard those profanities of the dead upon her
mistress's lips.  The latter gave her no time for further argument.

"What's the use of standing there stuffing up my view?" she demanded
crossly.  "If you want something to do, go and get me some flowers.
Everyone has flowers but me.  It's outrageous.  Get heaps."

Marney flurried down the platform, bent on her errand, and Diana
Vernilands immediately issued from the doorstep of the carriage and gazed
eagerly and invitingly at the crowd.

Ordinarily the beauty alone of the sables which muffled her ears and fell
to her heels would have focused attention, not to mention the eager
liveliness of her face.  But on this occasion no one returned her vivid
glances.  Everyone was busy with their own affairs and friends.  The only
person seeming as isolated and lonely as herself was another girl, who,
having made a tour from one end of the train to the other in vain quest
of a seat, was now wearily and furiously doing the return trip.  No
porter followed her; she carried her own dressing-case and rugs, and she,
too, was without flowers.  This last fact clenched Lady Diana's decision.
A bond of loneliness and flowerlessness existed between them.  She hailed
the other girl deliriously.

"Hi!  Are you looking for a place?" she cried.  "Come in here.  I've got
a carriage to myself."

The other was as astonished as relieved.

"Oh, may I?  How awfully good of you!" she said warmly, and stepping into
the carriage, bestowed her possessions in such small space as was not
already encumbered.  Then she looked at Lady Diana in the doorway with a
pair of lovely but rather sad violet eyes that had smoky shadows beneath
them.

"I shall have to fight about my ticket with the ticket collector when he
comes round.  It is only a second-class one.  I hope you don't mind?"

"Mind!" said Diana.  "I hate everyone in authority, and I love rows and
cocktails and excitement.  Still, it might save time to pay."

"It might," said the other "but I'm not going to.  There were no
second-class seats left, so the onus is on them.  Besides"--her creamy
face flushed faintly and her eyes became defiant--"I can't afford it."

Diana could very well believe it, for she had seldom seen a girl so badly
dressed.  However, the deep blue eyes that had all sorts of pansy tints
lying dormant in them, and the winging black satin hair that looked as if
smoke had been blown through it, could not be obscured even by a shabby
hat.  Diana's own hair being a violent apricot and her eyes of the same
colour as a glass of sherry with the sun on it, she could admire without
pain this type so different to her own.

The fact was that they were as striking a pair of girls as any one could
hope to meet in a day's march, but the delicate beauty of one was under a
cloud which only a connoisseur's eye could see through--badly-cut
garments and an unfashionable hat!  On the other hand, Lady Diana's
highly-coloured and slightly dairymaidish prettiness would have been more
attractive in simpler and less costly clothes.  While they were coming to
these conclusions about each other an inspector of tickets entered the
carriage.  Diana delightedly braced herself for a row, but there was no
need for it.  Whether it was the charm of the strange girl's golden
voice, or the subtle air of luxury and independence combined with a faint
odour of Russian leather and honey that stole from the furs of Lady Diana
Vernilands, none can tell, but the inspector behaved like a man under the
influence of hypnotism.  He listened to the tale of the second-class
ticket as to words of Holy Writ, and departed like a man in a dream
without having uttered a single protest, and at Lady Diana's behest,
carefully locking the door behind him.  A moment later whistles, shouts,
and the clicking of hundreds of farewell kisses signalled the train's
immediate departure.  The devoted Marney, carrying what appeared to be a
bridal bouquet of white lilies and roses, dashed up just in time to make
a last attempt to accompany her mistress.  But the door was unyielding,
and the worst she could do was to claw at the window as she panted
alongside the now moving train, crying:

"You'd better let me come with you, now, Miss Diana your Ladyship. . . ."

The latter only waved her hand in kind but firm dismissal.

"Go home and look after papa, Marney, and don't worry about me.  I shall
be back soon."  As the train took a jump and finally fled from the
station, leaving Marney far behind, she added thoughtfully, "I don't
think!" and burst out laughing.

"Just as though I _would_ hurry back to frowsy old England the first time
I've ever managed to get away from it on my own!"

The other girl looked at her with deep, reflective eyes.

"If you had been on your own as much as I have you wouldn't think it such
a catch," she remarked, with a little dry smile.

"Oh, wouldn't I!  I can't imagine anything more heavenly than having no
relations in the world.  It must be perfect paradise!"

"It's the paradise I have lived in for three years," said April Poole
sombrely, "and any one who likes it can have it, and give me their hell
instead."

"What!" cried Diana Vernilands, not sympathetic, but astounded and eager.
She stared at the other with envious, avid eyes that filled and
brightened at last with an amazing plan.  It burst from her like a shell
from a gun.  "_Let's change places: I be you, and you be me!_"

April considered her, and being very weary of her own destiny, considered
the plan also.  But though she was as ardent as any one for flyaway
schemes and fantastic adventure, this plan looked to her too
Arabian-nightish altogether, and not likely to hold water for more than
the length of the journey from Waterloo to Southampton.

"How can we?  I am a poverty-stricken girl, going out to governess at the
Cape.  You, a peer's daughter, I suppose, who will be met on the boat and
surrounded by every care and attention. . . ."

"Yes, surrounded!" Diana interrupted savagely.  With sudden fury she tore
off the little sable hat, flung it on the seat beside her and stabbed it
viciously with a great pearl pin.  "I'm sick of being surrounded!  I wish
to goodness I were Alexander Selkirk, shipwrecked on a desert island."

"That wouldn't be much fun, either," said April.  "I don't think there is
much fun anywhere.  We have all got what we don't want, and want what we
can't get."

"You couldn't _not_ want a face like yours," said Diana, handsomely.  It
gave her no pain, as has been mentioned before, because April was dark.
If she had been addressing a blonde like herself, wild cats could not
have torn such a compliment from Diana Vernilands.

"Couldn't I?  Good looks without the surroundings and clothes to put them
in are not much of a gift.  Beauty in a third-class carriage and shabby
clothes looks cheap and is fair game for any one's stalking."

"Well, change with me, then," urged Diana.  "I'd rather be stalked than
gazed at from afar like a brazen image."

She gave her hat another stab.  April quivered all over, like a mother
who sees a child ill-treated.

"Don't do that," she cried at last, in a poignant voice.  She had seen
that hat in her dreams for years, but never got so near it before.  Diana
Vernilands looked at her thoughtfully, then held it out.

"Put it on," she entreated.  "Wear it, and be surrounded instead of me.
Oh, for Heaven's sake do!  I see you are just as keen as I am, and just
as sick of being who you are.  Try it on."

She may have meant the hat, or she may have meant the plan.  April
accepted the hat, and with it the plan.  From the moment she saw herself
in the glass her doom was dight.  There was a little star-like purple
flower, such as never grew on land or sea, nestling in the golden
darkness of the fur.  It seemed to April a flower that might have been
plucked from the slopes of the blue hills of Nirvana, or found floating
on the still waters of Lethe in that land where it is always afternoon.
It brought dreams of romance to her heart, and made starry flowers of its
own colour blossom in her eyes.  She crushed the hat softly down upon her
dark, winging hair, crinking and shaping it to frame her face at the
right angle.  Her fate was sealed.

"All right," she said, in a slow, dreamy voice.  "Let's arrange it."

So while the train swooped on its way to the port whence the great ships
turn their noses towards the Southern Cross, they drew up the plot, and
the rôles were cast.  Diana Vernilands, for the duration of the voyage
only, was to be the penniless, friendless English girl, who could go her
ways freely and talk and mix with any one she liked without being watched
and criticized.  April Poole, in the lovely hats and gowns and jewels of
Lady Diana, would accept the dignity and social obligations that hedge a
peer's daughter, even on a voyage to South Africa.  On arrival at the
Cape, each to assume her identity and disappear from the ken of their
fellow-travellers: April to be swallowed up by a Cape suburb, where she
was engaged to teach music and French to the four daughters of a rich
wine-grower; Diana to proceed to her destination--the farm of an
eccentric woman painter, somewhere on the veld.

It all looked as simple and harmless as picking apples in an orchard.  No
one would be any the wiser, they said, and no harm would accrue to
anybody, while each girl would have the experience of enjoying herself in
a new and original fashion.  The only things they did not take into their
calculations were their personal idiosyncrasies and the machinations of
an old hag called Fate.

"What a time I'll have!" cried Diana.  "Though what you will get out of
it as the Earl of Roscannon's daughter beats me.  You won't be sick of it
half way and want to change back, I hope?"

"If you only knew how sick I am of being April Poole you wouldn't be
afraid," was the fervent answer.  Diana looked at her curiously.

"It can't be only the clothes--though of course I imagine it must be
rotten, not having the right clothes.  By the way, there are plenty for
us both, you know.  I did myself well in the shopping line, fortunately."

"I should hardly expect you to wear mine," said April drily.  "No, as you
rightly suspect, it isn't for the clothes, though they fascinate and lure
me.  And it isn't for the honour and glory of being Lady Diana, though
that is fascinating too, and it will be priceless to have the joke on the
rest of the world for once.  It is for various subtle reasons which I
don't suppose you would altogether understand. . . ."

"Never mind them, then," interrupted Diana.  "I'm not a bit subtle, and
don't care tuppence for reasons.  All I care about is having a topping
time for once in my life.  Now, listen, I'll tell you a few things about
myself, so that you won't get bowled if any one asks you.  My father is
Lord Roscannon, and our place is Bethwick Castle, in Northumberland.
It's a gloomy old place that would give you the creeps.  My mother died
twenty-two years ago when I was born, and my father doesn't care about
anything except archaeology, so I have always been in the clutches of my
maiden aunt, Lady Grizel Vernilands, who ruled Bethwick and me as long as
I can remember.  Everyone called her the Grizzly Bear.

"Never mind, she's dead now, and I have been able to persuade papa that
my health needs a sea voyage.  He suggested the Continent--_of course_
with a companion.  But I have been clawed backwards and forwards on the
Continent for years by Aunt Grizel, and have had enough.  I chose Africa,
because it sounds so nice and racy in novels, doesn't it?  Fortunately
papa's greatest friend, a parson and also an archaeologist, has a
daughter out there.  She paints, and lives on a farm somewhere on the
veld in the Cape Colony, so I am allowed to go and stay with her for
three months.

"I even escaped the company of my maid, as you saw, though she tried hard
to persuade papa that I should get into trouble without her.  I believe
she would have come at the last, even without luggage, if I hadn't been
too smart for her and had the door locked.  Lucky, wasn't it?  We should
never have been able to execute our little scheme with her about.  Now
tell me your story."

"No need to go too closely into that," said April.  "No one will put you
any piercing questions about my family, or be in a position to contradict
your statements."

The Poole family tree, in fact, grew as tall and old as the Roscannon's
upon the pages of heraldry, but drink and riotous living had perished its
roots and rotted its branches long before April was born.  Her father,
its last hope, had been a scamp and gamester who broke his wife's heart
and bequeathed the cup of poverty and despair to his child's lips.  But
these were things locked in April's heart, and not for idle telling in a
railway carriage.

"I am an orphan without relatives or friends," she went on quietly.  "No
assets except musical tastes and a knowledge of languages, picked up in
cheap Continental schools.  I am twenty, and rather embittered by life,
but I try not to be, because there's nothing can blacken the face of the
sun like bitterness of heart, is there?  It can spoil even a spring day."

Diana looked vague.  In spite of tilts and tournaments with the Grizzly
Bear, she had no more knowledge of that affliction of bitterness to which
April referred than of the bitterness of affliction.  The fact was patent
in the gay light of her sherry-brown eye and her red mouth, so avid for
pleasure.  The book of life's difficulties, well conned by April Poole,
was still closed to the Earl's only daughter.

"Perhaps she will know a little more about it by the end of the voyage,"
thought April, but without a tinge of malice, for in truth she was
neither malicious nor bitter, though she often pretended to herself to be
both.  Whatever life had done to her, it had not yet robbed her of her
powers of resilience, nor quenched her belief in the ultimate benevolence
of Fate.  Her joy in voyaging to a great unknown land had been a little
dimmed by the prospect of the monotonous drudgery that awaits most
governesses, but here, already cropping up by the wayside, was a
compensating adventure, and her heart, which had been reposing in her
boots, took little wings of delight unto itself and nearly flew away with
excitement.

Eager as Diana, she threw herself into a discussion of clothes, personal
tastes and habits, the exchange of cabins, and ways and means of
circumventing the curiosity and suspicion of their fellow-travellers.
Diana could not do her own hair, but had ascertained that there was a
hairdresser on board whom she could visit every day.  The ticket for her
first-class stateroom she cheerfully handed over to April, in exchange
for one which gave possession of a berth in a cheaper cabin to be shared
with another woman.

"We must do the thing thoroughly," she insisted, "and I shan't mind
sharing in the least.  It may be amusing if the other woman is pleasant.
I don't think you and I had better know each other too well to begin
with, do you?  We can pretend to make friends as the voyage goes on.  Or
shall we say that we were at school together?"

"Let us say as little as possible," said April, who had an objection to
telling lies, even little white ones.  But Diana did not share her
scruples, and plainly averred her intention of "spinning a yarn" to any
one who asked questions.

In a whirl of excitement they arrived at the docks, and were hustled with
the rest of the crowd up the steep gangway that led to the deck of the
Union Castle Company's latest and most modern liner, the _Clarendon
Castle_.  April, who had exchanged her cloth coat for Diana's sables,
felt the eyes of the world burning and piercing through the costly furs
to the secret in her bosom.  But Diana felt no such discomfort, jubilant
in her new-found liberty, she paced the decks, inspected the ship, made
friends with the first officer and several passengers, and finally went
down to lunch in the dining saloon.  She seated herself at the general
table, and as a number of merry people were toasting each other farewell
in champagne, she thought it only fitting to order a half-bottle for
herself.  Some of the women looked at her curiously, but that did not
daunt Diana, especially after she had begun on the champagne.

April, placed at some distance in solitary state, noted and envied the
coolness and composure of her fellow-conspirator.  She, too, had meant to
be one of the general crowd, but already the news of her rank and state
had tickled the ears of the chief steward, and she found herself
reverently waylaid and conducted with ceremony to a small table, whence
she could gaze and be gazed upon by the rest of the world without fear of
contamination.  A steward, told off for her special service, hovered
about her like a guardian angel, and during the meal a gold-braided
personality approached and, murmuring the Captain's compliments, hoped
that when the voyage had once started she would grace his table by her
presence.  Afar off, Diana cast her a grin over the rim of a wine-glass,
but gave no further sign of recognition.

It is a phenomenon well known to travellers, that when the last warning
bell rings on board a departing ship all the pretty women and interesting
men go ashore, leaving only the dull and fusty ones behind.  Diana and
April, however, were not depressed by this spectacle, for to the former,
in her position of free-lance, all men looked interesting and all women
superfluous; while April, in full possession of the beautifully appointed
stateroom on the promenade deck, to which she had retired directly after
lunch, was too busy reviewing the position to think about
fellow-passengers just then.  She was bothered over the business of
sitting at the Captain's table.  She had seen him on the boat deck as she
came aboard, and her heart failed her at the thought of deceiving such a
genial, kindly-looking man.  It was plain that the experiment of "taking
people in" was not going to be so pricelessly funny as she had
anticipated.  She said so to Diana, who came to her cabin as soon as the
ship started to make a selection of clothes.  But Diana would listen to
none of her virtuous backslidings.

"You can't back out now," she said firmly.  "A bargain's a bargain, and
I've told everyone I am April Poole, going to Africa to be a governess,
and all the ship knows you are Lady Diana Vernilands.  We should be a
spectacle for the gods if we change back now.  No one would believe us,
either.  We'd only be looked upon with suspicion for the rest of the
voyage, and all our fun and pleasure spoilt.  For goodness's sake don't
be an idiot!"

That was all the slightly conscience-stricken April got for her pains,
and Diana stalked off triumphant, lugging a suit-case and an armful of
wraps.  April heard her explaining to a stewardess in the corridor that
her baggage had got mixed up with Lady Diana Verniland's, and that it was
very awkward; and then she saw and heard no more of her for several days.
For immediately on emerging from the Solent the _Clarendon_ ran into very
heavy weather, which continued until the Bay of Biscay was passed,
keeping all but the hardiest travellers confined to their cabins.  April,
who was among the victims, had plenty of solitary leisure in which to
repent her misdeed if she felt so inclined.  But the impulse to repent
soon passed, and workaday wisdom reassured her that what she and Diana
were doing was really very harmless and of no consequence to any one but
themselves.  No very great effort was required to make the best of the
situation and enjoy it as much as Diana had evidently determined to do.
It was very pleasant, after all, to be waited on and fussed about as
though she were a person of infinite importance instead of a shabby, trim
governess.  She, who had padded the bumps of life for others so long,
could now thoroughly appreciate having the same service performed for
herself.

Being of a nature neither arrogant nor impatient, she soon endeared
herself to the stewardesses and serving-people, who, having some
experience in the tempers and tantrums of fine ladies, were agreeably
surprised by her gentle and charming manner, and could not do enough for
her in return.

After the first few days of frightful illness she began to feel better,
and was able to be moved from her cabin to the ladies' lounge.  Wrapped
in one or other of Diana's ravishing boudoir garments of silk and fur,
she was supported there every morning, ensconced on the most luxurious
sofa, and surrounded by attentions from the other semi-invalids.  Nothing
was too good for the peer's delightful daughter, and everyone behaved as
if she were an angel dropped from heaven.  In fact, with the lovely
spirituelle air her illness had given, and the sea bloom just beginning
to tint her cheeks again and dew her eyes, she looked rather like one.

The ship's doctor, who was young and susceptible, broke it gently to such
of the male passengers who were able to bear the strain that a dazzling
joy awaited their eyes when "Lady Diana" should be well enough to appear
in public.  The story of her charming looks and ways circulated softly
round the boat, even as a pleasant wine circulates in the veins.

April knew nothing of these things.  She only felt very happy in the
kindness of everybody, in the gradual steadying of the ship, now emerging
from the troubled Bay into smoother, warmer waters, and in the prospect
of soon being allowed to go on deck.  Sometimes she wondered why the real
Diana gave no sign, but came to the conclusion that she, too, had been
ill.

It was a natural enough thing to ask the doctor, when they were alone one
day, if Miss Poole was among his patients.  He seemed sufficiently
astonished by the query.

"Miss Poole!" he echoed.  "Oh, no; she's not ill--far from it.  Do you
know her?"

"Certainly I know her," smiled April, astonished in her turn.  "I was
wondering why she had not been to see me."

The doctor murmured something cryptic about her having "no doubt been too
busy," and seemed to have nothing further to say.  The face of the lounge
stewardess wore a peculiar expression.  A quiet, rather austere-looking
woman, she always behaved like a mummy in the doctor's presence, standing
behind him with folded hands and mute lips.  But when he had gone she
came to life.

"Do you mean the young lady whose baggage got mixed with yours at the
beginning of the voyage, my lady?" she asked.  April remembered the
necessity to walk delicately.

"Yes . . . a pretty, fair girl," she said cautiously.  "Very gay and
bright."

"Very," agreed the stewardess laconically.  Then the source of her
eloquence dried up even as the doctor's had done.  April began to think
it was time to go on deck and see what was doing.

The next day was not only gloriously fine, but the ship came to harbour
by that island which is as a bouquet of fruit and flowers pinned to a
jagged breast.  There seems always something sinister lurking behind the
wreathed and radiant beauty of Madeira; but to those who come in ships
from out the bitter fogs of England she is a siren with a blue and golden
smile, and her gift-laden hands are soothing and serene.

April, lying in her deck-chair, thought she had come to fairyland.
Escorted upstairs by the doctor and a retinue of stewardesses, she was
installed in a sheltered corner that commanded the whole brilliant scene.
The purser found her the most comfortable of chairs, the first officer
brought her a bamboo table from his cabin for her books, the Captain
stayed awhile from his duties to congratulate her on her recovery, and
several men loitered near at hand casting reverently admiring glances.
But she had eyes for nothing save the vivid scene before her.  The
smiling island, with its head in the mists and its feet in a sapphire sea
still as a painted lake; boats full of flowers, corals, ivories, silken
embroideries and unknown fruits; the burnished bodies of diving boys; the
odour of spices and sandalwood; the clatter of strange tongues; the dark
faces and bright clothes of the invading crowds of natives.

It was a spectacle to enchant the senses.  She could not think why so
many passengers were scurrying to and fro anxious to be taken ashore.  It
seemed as foolish as to try to get into a picture instead of sitting
before it.

Everyone was wearing light clothes, for summer had come at full bound,
and soon they would be in the tropics.  There were beautifully cut white
linen suits, smart skirts, and filmy blouses.  A popular saying on the
Cape mail-boats is that passengers to South Africa are all clothes and no
money, while passengers returning are all money and no clothes.  April
did not know the epigram, nor the truth of it.  But she could plainly
perceive that in the scanty kit of April Poole she would have been very
much out of the running among this smart and jaunty crowd.

As it was, clad in a sleek silken muslin of lovely lines, snowy shoes and
stockings, and a rose-laden hat, she could hold her own with any one.  A
longing filled her to see Diana Vernilands.  She wanted to talk to her,
exchange confidences, thank her, bless her, and, above all, to find out
what it was she found so attractive in her side of the game.  What on
earth could it be that was so much more ravishing than to be at peace
with the world, respected by it, liked by it, and yet independent of it?
To wear lovely clothes in which you could enjoy the knowledge of looking
charming without meeting suspicion in the eyes of women and the
"good-hunting" glance in the eyes of men.  This last constituted, indeed,
that "subtle reason" at which she had hinted to Diana.  Life had harried
April too much for her few years.  Obliged to travel its highways alone
and unprotected, some of the adventures encountered there had cut her to
the quick.  While women looked askance at her, men looked too hard, and
too long.  Doubtless she had met the wrong kind.  Lonely young girls
without money or connections do not always find the knightly and
chivalrous gentlemen of their dreams!  Naturally pure-hearted and
high-minded, she had asked nothing of those she did meet save respect and
good-comradeship; but either she was too pretty or peculiarly
unfortunate, for she had seldom been offered either.  It was something,
perhaps, that she still kept dreams, and a belief that there were
knightly and chivalrous men somewhere in the world, though they might not
be for her.

She was still, like Omar, wondering "What the vinters buy one half so
precious as the stuff they sell"--lost in cogitations about Diana, when
the subject of her thoughts, accompanied by three men, came down a
companion-way from an upper deck.  They were evidently set for the shore,
and making their way to the ship's side as if certain that the best
places in the best boats were preserved for them.

Diana's appearance betrayed the lack of a maid.  Her dress was crumpled,
her shoes badly laced, and her hat cocked carelessly upon her head.  But
the subtle Italian hand of the ship's coiffeur had touched her hair,
saving the situation.  Also, there was a sparkle in her eye and a _joie
de vivre_ in her laughter that made up for many deficiencies.  Her
companions appeared to have been picked for their good looks, sleek
heads, and immaculate clothes.  One, with whom she palpably stood on the
happiest of terms, was, in fact, strikingly handsome.  The other two,
loitering in her wake, seemed content if she tossed them a word over her
shoulder from time to time.  They all behaved as if they had bought the
ship, and found the presence of the rest of the passengers an
impertinence.  Such of the latter as were still on board returned the
compliment according to sex and the ability that was theirs.  The men
plainly admired Diana's nerve, while wondering with their eyebrows what
on earth she could see in those three footling fellows.  The women looked
pityingly at the men, and with their noses indicated that Diana was some
kind of dangerous and unpleasant animal escaped from a menagerie.  A lady
who had seated herself by April in a chair labelled "Major Sarle," curled
her lip at the passing group in a manner painfully familiar to her
neighbour.  Presently, when they were left alone, the rest of the world
having disappeared down the ship's side, she addressed April, but with a
very different expression on her face.

"You are Lady Diana Vernilands, I think?" she said, smiling in a friendly
manner.  "I am Mrs. Stanislaw.  So glad to see you up."

April was instantly on the alert.  Not only did she know the name of Mrs.
Lionel Stanislaw, but had very good cause to remember it as that of the
lady with whom she was to have shared a cabin.  The smiling face had once
been a pretty one, but the tide of youth was fast receding, leaving
uncovered a bleak and barren shore, whose chief salients were a
disdainful nose and a mouth which looked as if it might be able to say
bitter things.  The eyes, however, were still handsome, if supercilious,
and her manners velvety.  No doubt there were claws beneath the velvet,
but they were not for April . . . only for the girl who was using April's
name!  They had not talked for five minutes before she realized that in
this woman Diana had an enemy.  Not that Mrs. Stanislaw's words were
censorious.  She was too clever for that.  Her remarks were merely
deprecative and full of pity.

"A most amazing creature," she said gently, "but rather disturbing to
live with.  I confess I wish I had been cribbed and cabined with someone
who had more conventional manners and kept earlier hours."

Here was something for April to ponder.

"She is very young," she faltered at length, and was unwise enough to
add, "and pretty."

These being two heinous offences in the eyes of Mrs. Stanislaw, she
proceeded at once to hang, draw, and quarter the criminal.  But her voice
was tenderer than before.

"Yes, isn't it a pity? . . . and so foolishly indiscreet.  Do you know,
they tell me that she is spoken of by all the men on the ship as the
April Fool, a parody on her name, which is April Poole."

Pleasant hearing for her listener, who flushed scarlet.

"Can you imagine any one who has a living to earn being so unwise?  I
find it difficult to believe she is going to the Cape to teach someone's
children.  I only hope that the story of her indiscretions will not
precede her, poor girl."

April was dumb.  Mrs. Stanislaw came to the conclusion that she was dull
and rather lacking in feminine sweetness, and after a while went away to
bargain with a native for some embroideries.  She would have been
delighted to know what a poisoned barb she had implanted and left
quivering in the side of the so-called Lady Diana.

Beneath the folded V of filmy lace on April's bosom her heart was beating
passionately, and the rose-wreathed hat fortunately drooped enough to
hide the tears of mortification that filled her eyes.  _Her_ name to be
parodied and bandied about the ship on men's lips!  A poor thing, but her
own!  One that for all her ups and downs she had striven and contrived to
keep untarnished.  How dared Diana Vernilands do this thing to her?  What
foolishness had she herself been guilty of to put it in another's power
to thus injure her?

Her eyes were so blurred with tears that she did not notice at what
particular moment another occupant had usurped the chair of Major Sarle.
It was a man this time.  April hastily seized a book and began to read.
He must have stolen up with the silence of a tiger, and he reminded her
of tigers somehow, though she could not quite tell why, except that he
was curiously powerful and graceful looking.  His hair, which grew in a
thick short mat, was strongly sprinkled with silver, but his skin, though
brick-red, was unlined.  She judged him to be a sailor-man, for he had
the clear and innocent eye of one who has looked long on great spaces.
These were her conclusions, made while diligently reading her book.  He,
too, was busy reading in the same fashion, but, manlike, was slower in
his deductions.  By the time she had finished with his hair he had not
got much further than her charming ankles.  Certainly, he had ascertained
that she was a pretty woman before he took possession of his chair, but
that was merely instinct, the fulfilling of a human law.  Detail, like
destruction, was to come after.  He lingered over the first detail.  They
were such very pretty ankles.  It did not seem right that they should
be resting on the hard deck instead of on a canvas foot-rest.  He
remembered that his own chair had a foot-rest, but it was in his cabin.
Should he go and fetch it?  Dared he offer it to her?  He was on
hail-fellow-well-met terms with lions and tigers, as April had curiously
divined, but having enjoyed fewer encounters with women, was slightly shy
of them.  However, being naturally courageous, he might presently have
been observed emerging from a deck cabin with a canvas foot-rest in his
hand, and it was only the natural sequence of events that while
attempting to hitch it on his chair his guileless gaze should discover
that April's feet were without support.  He looked so shy and kind for
such a sun-bitten, weather-hardened creature, that she had no heart to
refuse the friendly offer, even had she felt the inclination.  Besides,
the advances made to her in the rôle of Lady Diana were very different to
those she had so often been obliged to repulse as April Poole.

She felt, too, that here was a man not trying to make friends with any
ulterior motive, but just because on this pleasant, delightful morning it
was pleasant and delightful to talk to someone and share the pleasure.

Vereker Sarle had made the voyage to South Africa so many times that he
had lost count of them, and knew Madeira so well that it bored him to go
ashore there any more.

"We have the best of it from here, in spite of a little coal dust," he
told her, for with a great deal of rattling, banging, and singing on the
lower decks the ship was taking on her voyage ration of coal.  "Still,
you should go ashore and see it some time.  It is worth a visit for the
sake of the gardens, the breakfast of fresh fish at the hotel on the
hilltop, and the bumping rush down again in the man-drawn sleighs."

He took it for granted that she was a woman travelling for pleasure and
likely to be back this way soon.  While she gave a little inward sigh,
wondering whether she would ever have the money to return to England, or
if it would be her fate to live in exile for ever.

Sarle presented her with one of his simple maxims of life.

"All good citizens of the world should do everything once and once only,"
he averred, with his frank and disarming smile.  "If we stuck to that
rule life would never go stale on us."

"I'm afraid it would hardly apply to everyday life and all the weary
things we have to do over and over again."

"I was thinking of the big things," he said slowly.  "Like potting your
first elephant or falling in love.  I don't know what equivalents women
have for these things."

April could not forbear a little ripple of laughter.

"I believe they fall in love, too, sometimes," she said.  But Sarle, with
his sea-blue gaze on her, answered gravely:

"I know very little about them."

It was hard to decide whether he was an expert flirt with new methods, or
really and truly a man with a heart as guileless as his eyes.  But, at
any rate, he was amusing, and April forgot her tears and anger completely
in the pleasant hour they spent together until the passengers, recalled
by the ship's siren, began to return from ashore.

Diana and her bodyguard were the last to arrive, the men laden with
fruit, flowers, and numerous parcels, and the girl more openly careless
of the rest of the world than before.  They took possession of a group of
chairs that did not belong to them, and scattered their possessions upon
the deck.  Pomegranates, nectarines, and bananas began to roll in every
direction, to the inconvenience of the passers-by, but what did that
matter?  Diana lit a cigarette, declaring that it was too hot for words,
and that she _must_ have a John Collins.  They all ordered John
Collinses.  The handsome man fanned Diana with a large palm leaf, and she
looked at him with languorous eyes.

April grew hot inside her skin.  Conversation interrupted by the noise
around them, both she and Sarle had immersed themselves once more in
their books.  But April, at least, was profoundly conscious of everything
said and done by the neighbouring group, and she longed to take Diana
Vernilands by the shoulders and give her a sound shaking.  As for the
three men who were encouraging and abetting the little minx, it would
have been a pleasure to push them separately and singly overboard.  She
did not know how she could have managed to sit so still, except that
Sarle was there reading by her side, silent and calm, apparently noticing
nothing extraordinary in the behaviour of their neighbours.

A steward brought the John Collinses--four tall glasses of pale liquid
and ice, some stuff red as blood floating on the top.  No sooner had
Diana tasted hers than she set up a loud wail that there was not enough
Angostura in it.  One of the men hurried away to have this grave defect
remedied, and the moment he was out of sight Diana took up his as yet
untouched glass, and with two long straws between her lips, skilfully
sucked all the red stuff from the top of the drink and replaced the
glass.  Above the delighted laughter of her companions, April heard a
woman's scornful remark further down the deck:

"It is only the April Fool!"

That was the little more that proved too much.  The real April closed her
book sharply and left her chair.  Walking to the deck-rail, she stood
leaning over, thinking hard, trying to decide how best to get hold of
Diana Vernilands and tell her firmly that this folly must stop at once.

She felt very miserable.  Madeira, fading in the wake of the ship, with
already the blue haze of distance blurring its outlines, seemed to her
like the dream she had lived in these last few days . . . the golden
dream in which everyone liked and trusted her, and her beauty was a
pleasure instead of a burden.  Tomorrow she must return to her destiny of
shabby clothes and second places, with the added bitterness of knowing
her name made the byword of the ship!  That was something she could never
live down, if the voyage lasted a year.  There would merely be two April
fools instead of one, and she the wretched masquerader in borrowed plumes
not the least of them!  Slowly she turned away from the rail and went to
her cabin.  A line sent by a steward brought Diana there at the
double-quick.  She burst into the cabin, the open note in her hand.

"What do you mean?  Is this the way you keep faith? . . .  Trying to
slither out of our bargain before it is a week old!"

"It is you who have broken faith," retorted April indignantly.  "Surely
it was in the bargain that you should behave with common decency and not
make my name notorious!"

"Rot!" was the airy answer.  "A few old pussy cats with their fur brushed
the wrong way, that's all.  Who's going to mind what they say?"

"Do you realize that you are known from one end of the ship to the other
as the April Fool?"

Diana burst out laughing.

"I know who started that . . . the poisonous asp I share my cabin with.
Just because I have seen her putting on her transformation, and know how
many kinds of paints she uses to build up her face!  If it had been _you_
it would have been just the same.  You'd have been the April Fool
instead, that's all.  You ought to be jolly grateful, instead of bullying
me."

She sat down on the lounge, smiling and sparkling, and took out a
cigarette.  April, in whom laughter was always near the surface, could
have smiled herself had she not been nearer weeping.  After all, Diana's
pranks and antics were in no way vicious, but seemed merely the result of
the lifelong drastic restraint hitherto exercised over her.  Her vitality
was breaking out like a fire that has been too long covered up.  But
there was no knowing where she would stop, and what would not be consumed
in the merry blaze.

"Well, I'm _not_ grateful," she said firmly, "and if you want to be
talked about in future, it will have to be under your own name."

"Oh, April!"  Diana's jauntiness left her instantly.  "I beg of you,
_don't_ be unkind.  I am having such a topping time.  I've never been so
happy in my life.  If you only knew how dull I've been with old Aunt
Grizel always hounding me to death.  Don't go and spoil my first good
time."

"It is you who are spoiling it.  You forget that I have to earn my living
and am dependent on the world's good opinion.  Where shall I be at the
end of the voyage with the frivolous reputation you are building up for
me?"

"I won't do it any more.  I'll be so good.  You'll see how I'll change
from now on."

"The mischief is already done, unfortunately."

"All the same, we can't possibly change now," pleaded Diana.  "What good
will it do us? . . . and you will get the worst of it, my dear.  The
world is a bundle of snobs, and the people on the ship thoroughly
represent it.  They will soon forgive me, but your crime will be
unpardonable.  They will be simply furious with you for taking them in."

This was the tongue of truth, as April knew well.  She looked at the
other girl ruefully.

"How can I trust you any longer?  I saw you with those men on deck . . .
playing the fool . . . making yourself cheap.  Oh, Diana, how can
you? . . . under my name or any other, you are still a lady with certain
rules to observe."

Diana flushed.

"You don't understand . . . I can't explain to you what it means to me to
break loose from convention for a little while . . . it's something in my
blood that has to come out.  But, indeed, April, I swear to you if you
will only go on I will behave.  I really will.  I can't help what is
past, but there shall be nothing fresh for them to carp at in the future,
anyhow.  Do be a sport and consent, won't you?"

In the end, by pleading, beguiling, and piling promise on promise, she
got her way, and thereafter the game went on--with a difference.  They
still called her the April Fool, because names like that stick; but as
far as could be seen, she committed no fresh escapades to deserve the
title.  Yet the real April Poole sometimes wondered if the last phase of
this folly was not worse than the first.  She could not in justice deny
that Diana was much quieter and more orderly, but it seemed a pity that
her quietness should take the form of sitting for long hours at a time in
rapt silence with a certain extremely handsome man.  This was Captain the
Hon. Geoffrey Bellew, on his way to South Africa as attaché to a Governor
somewhere in the interior.  He it was with whom Diana had been on such
happy terms the day of landing at Madeira.  The two other men had been
cast forth like Gadarene swine.  Bellew and Diana were sufficient unto
themselves.  Eternally together, sometimes they walked the deck, or threw
quoits, or played two-handed card games; but ever they avoided large
companionable games, and always they sought the dusky corner in which to
sit undisturbed, gazing into each other's eyes.  Strictly speaking, there
was nothing to cavil at in this.  Numbers of other couples were doing the
same.  These little games of two and two go forward all the time on
voyages to the Cape (especially nearing the Equator), and are the joy of
the genial-hearted.  Even those who have no little games of their own are
wont to look on sympathetically, or, better still, to turn away the
understanding eye.  The long, lazy, somnolent days and the magic nights,
star-spangled above and lit with phosphorescent seas below, lend
themselves to the dangerous kind of flirtation that says little and looks
much, and if there is any place in the world where Cupid is rampant and
"Psyche may meet unblamed her Eros," it is on the deck of a liner in the
tropics.

But either Diana was one of those unfortunate girls who cannot glance
over the garden wall without being accused of stealing peaches, or else
she had too thoroughly got people's backs up during the first week at
sea, for everyone looked cold-eyed at her romance and called it
unromantic names.  There were continual little undercurrents of gossip
going on about her beneath the otherwise pleasant surface of everyday
life.  April did not talk gossip nor listen to it, but she was vaguely
aware of it.  Except for this, she would have been the happiest girl in
the world, and, indeed, she did not allow it to bother her too much,
having made up her mind to cast care to the winds and enjoy herself while
the sun shone.  Destruction might come after--at Cape Town, perhaps, but
if it did, _tant pis_!

Something of Diana's recklessness entered into her, only that it did not
take the form of outraging the convenances, but just of enjoying life to
the full with the permission and approval of the world.  She loved the
summer seas, and each blue and golden hour seemed all too short for the
pleasure to be stuffed into it.

Everyone was delightful to her.  Gone were the days when all women's
hands were against her and her hand against all men.  When she had time
to think about it, she fully recognized that most of the admiration and
kindness tendered to her by the other passengers was entirely worthless,
and merely the result of snobbery.

But she had neither time nor inclination to go too deeply into the matter
with herself.  Her heart very ardently desired to believe that some at
least of the people who made such a fuss over her liked her for herself
alone, regardless of the rank and wealth she was supposed to possess.
Sarle, for instance--Vereker Sarle, the shy man of wild places as she
soon learned him to be, "the man who owned the largest and most
up-to-date ranch--Northern Rhodesia," people informed her . . . surely to
him she was a charming girl, as well, or before, she was Lady Diana
Vernilands.  She wanted to believe it, and she did believe it.  Not a
very difficult task to believe anything on sapphire seas decorated by
golden dawns and rose-red sunsets.  Cynical truths have no room to
blossom in such surroundings.  It was sheer joy to be alive, and she
threw herself into the merry routine of the days with all the zest of
youth.  Her beautiful, athletic figure had been trained in many
gymnasiums, but never before had she known the delight of exercise in the
wild, fresh air of the open sea, where her muscles felt like rippling
music, and her blood seemed full of red roses.  Her eyes had changed from
their smoky sadness to the dewy radiance of hyacinths plucked at dawn,
and her skin wore the satiny sheen, rose-tinted, of perfect well-being.
She wished the voyage would last for ever.

Nothing succeeds like success.  Because she was brilliant and happy, and
apparently had everything she wanted, Luck smiled, and all good things
came her way.  She was acclaimed a champion at deck games, and
unremittingly sought as a partner.  In the evenings she never lacked
companions to help her dance the soles off her shoes.  She played auction
like a fiend and always held the cards; won all the prizes in the sports
for running, jumping, threading the needle, and holding eggs in spoons;
bowled everyone at cricket.  It seemed she could do nothing wrong or
badly.  Finally, at the fancy dress ball, when everyone turned out in
wonderful garments planned and prepared long months before, she easily
captured the votes of the crowd as the wearer of the most original and
charming costume created on the spur of the moment.

There had been only one fancy dress in Diana's wardrobe, that of a
Persian lady; and for once she showed herself greedy in the matter of
clothes, and calmly commandeered it without consulting April.  Yet the
latter's fanciful imitation of a well-known poster, composed of
inexpensive calicoes (bought from that emporium of all wants and
wonders--the barber's shop), had triumphed over the gorgeous veils and
jewels and silken trousers of the Persian houri and swept the unanimous
vote of the ship into April's lap.  Enough in all this to turn any girl's
head, and though natural dignity and a certain attractive quality of
humility that was hers kept April's heart sweet, she was sometimes in
danger of becoming slightly _tête montée_.  But she always pinched
herself in time, with the reminder that it was all only a dream from
which she must awaken very soon.  For the nineteen halcyon days of the
voyage were speeding by and coming to an end.  Hot, hard blue skies
gleamed overhead, and at night came the moon of Africa, pearl-white
instead of amber-coloured, as it looks in Europe.  Strange stars
appeared, too, bigger, more lustrous, than the stars of cooler climes,
and seeming to brood very low over the world.  The "Milky Way" was a path
of powdered silver.  The "Coal Sack" showed itself full of brilliant
jewels.  And the Southern Cross!  When April first saw it mystically
scrolled across the heavens, like a device upon the shield azure of some
celestial Galahad, its magic fell across her soul, and would not be
lifted.

This is one of the first spells Africa puts upon those whom she means to
make her own.  Ever after, with the poignant memory of that Cross of
straggling stars there is a thought of Africa, and the two cannot be torn
apart.  For April there was always to be a memory of Vereker Sarle, too,
associated with it, for he it was who first picked out the Cross for her
in the luminant heavens, and he it was who said to her on the night
before they reached Cape Town:

"There seems to be some kind of blessing in that old Cross held out over
us as we come trailing back."

After that first day at Madeira she had not seen a great deal of Vereker
Sarle.  He had dropped back quietly from the crowd that ringed her in,
and become a looker-on, sometimes barely that, for he was a great
poker-player, and spent much time in the smoke-room with one or two
hard-looking citizens who were plainly not drawing-room ornaments.  April
had missed him, with a little pain in her heart, for instinct told her
that he was one of the men who count in the world.  Also, she had divined
that his heart was as clear as his eyes.  Though his face was so scarred
and rugged as to inspire in the wit of the ship the jest that it had been
chewed at by one of the lions he had hunted, there was yet something in
it that suggested the gentleness of a child, and that knight-like
chivalry that she had sought but never found in any man.  So it hurt her
a little when she thought of it in the night hours, that he should keep
aloof from her, yet in a way she was glad, for she could not so ardently
have enjoyed playing her rôle if Sarle had looked on too much with his
innocent, yet keen gaze.  It was by accident that he found her alone that
night, between dinner and dancing, and they stayed looking at the stars
and talking of the land they were to reach sometime within the next two
days.  He was not a great talker, and most of the information April
gathered was in the form of half-scornful, half-wistful remarks.  He
spoke of Africa as a man might speak of some worthless woman, whom he yet
loved above all peerless women.  Of the lure and bane of her.  How she
was the home of lies and flies, the grave of reputation, the refuge of
the remittance man and the bad egg; the land of the unexpected pest, but
never the unexpected blessing; of sunstroke and fever; scandals and
broken careers; snobbery, bobbery, and highway robbery.  How, yet, when
one had been away from her for a little while, sometimes for a few months
only, one forgot all these things and remembered only with hunger and
aching the pink-tipped hills of her, the crystal air, royal sunsets and
tender dawns; the unforgettable friends she had given, the exquisite
reveries her wild spaces had inspired; the valiant men who lie buried in
her breast, the sweeping rivers and leagues and leagues of whispering
grasses.  How, suddenly, the nostalgia for the burn and the bite of her
bitter lips seizes upon the men who have known her too long and too well,
dragging them from ease and comfort and the soft cushions of life, back
across the seas to her gaunt and arid breast.

"And there seems to be some kind of blessing in that old Cross held over
us as we come trailing back!"

His smile was scoffing and a little weary, but behind it April heard
longing in his voice, and saw the searching of his eyes towards where
land would soon appear.  And what he was feeling strangely communicated
itself to her.  The subtle hand of Africa was laid upon her heart, and
she trembled.  In that moment she sickened suddenly of her false
position.  Why was she not coming to this watchful land frankly and with
clean hands, instead of in the coils of a foolish pretence?  She looked
at the fine, open face of the man at her side and was ashamed.  An
impulse seized her to tell him the truth, but the thought of Diana drew
her up sharply.  Had she the right to disclose the secret before first
consulting the other girl, or at least telling her what she meant to do?
There had of late been something about Diana that called for this
consideration.  She had grown so quiet and pale.  Her gay laughter was
seldom heard, and though she still sat about with Bellew a great deal, no
one ever heard them talking much.  They seemed to revel in silence.  It
was not difficult to divine what spell was upon them, and April was more
glad than she could tell.

For if it came to pass that Diana should get something out of this
masquerade, something beyond mere frivolous enjoyment, then the means
would have justified the end, and neither would have cause for reproach.
How fitting, too, for Diana and Bellew, both of the same world and social
position, to find each other in such a disinterested way.  Really, it
looked as if everything were for the best in the best of all possible
worlds.  It was only when Sarle's clear gaze was upon her that April's
soul stirred with a sense of guilt and a longing to discontinue the
deceit, harmless as it was.  His simple, candid personality made it
impossible to remain with him and not be sincere.  A very panic of haste
seized her to find Diana and arrange some plan of action.  Abruptly she
left him, and though dancing had begun and she saw her partner bearing
down on her, she fled in the direction of the music saloon, where Diana
and Bellew might most frequently be found.  But they were nowhere in
sight, and their dusky and palm-sheltered corner was in possession of
Mrs. Stanislaw, who instantly pounced on April with a request for her
autograph.  Everyone was walking about with birthday and autograph books
that night.  Others were carrying about large photographs of the ship and
begging people to sign their names upon it, as a souvenir of the voyage.
These things are done upon every trip to the Cape.

While April stood turning the pages of the autograph album and wondering
what name to put down, she got one of the worst jolts of her life.

"I have found out two very interesting things," said Mrs. Stanislaw, in
her soft and serpentine manner.  "The woman whose children Miss Poole is
going to governess at the Cape is Cora Janis, one of my most intimate
friends.  And . . ." she paused dramatically.  April's fingers still
fluttered the pages, but her heart took a bound and then stood still.

"How very interesting," she stammered, "and what else?"

"Captain Bellew is a married man!"



PART II

April closed the book and handed it back without writing anything.

"If that is true, I really do not see what it has to do with you--or
me," she said coldly.

"Oh, I know it is true," said Mrs. Stanislaw, airily ignoring the rest
of April's remark.  "I had it from a lady who is travelling
second-class because she has a bevy of children.  She knows Mrs. Bellew
quite well, and, curiously enough, is a friend also of Cora Janis, who
wrote to her some time ago asking her to look out for Miss Poole on the
voyage.  Naturally, Cora thought her governess would also be travelling
second."  Mrs. Stanislaw smiled drily.  "She little knows our April
Fool."

The girl's fascinated eyes watched the line of her smile.  It was like
a thin curved knife, all the crueller for being artificially reddened.

"Why should you have such a down on her?"

The older woman's hard, handsome eyes took expression of surprise.

"A down on her?  You are mistaken.  I am only sorry that a girl should
so cheapen herself and her sex generally."

April could have shaken her, but it seemed wiser to try propitiation
instead.  Her own career, as well as Diana's reputation, was at stake.

"After all, she has harmed no one but herself, Mrs. Stanislaw.  As for
Captain Bellew, I daresay he told her long ago about his being married.
. . ."

"If you think so you think worse of her than I do," said Mrs. Stanislaw
acidly, "and I could hardly suppose that!"

"I do not think badly of her at all," retorted April indignantly.  "She
is only a girl, and if she has been misled--well, it seems to me that
the situation calls for a little human charity rather than
condemnation."

"Of course," said the soft-voiced one.  "I quite agree.  Far be it from
me to condemn.  One has, however, certain duties to one's friends."

April saw clearly what she meant, and that it was as useless to try to
divert her from her intention as to argue with an octopus.  The very
fact that she knew Mrs. Janis would probably put an extinguisher on
April's career as a governess.  Her impersonation of Lady Diana was
bound to come out, and if Mrs. Janis was cut on the same pattern as her
friend, she would be truly outraged by such an impertinence in a mere
governess.  There was little to do but keep a tight lip and hope for
the best.  For the moment, indeed, her troubles were swamped by a flood
of pity for Diana.  She felt sure that Diana was in love with Bellew,
and feared that he had not told her the truth.  On the other hand, he
might honourably have done so, and Diana being the reckless
scatterbrain she was, still chose to dally on the primrose path of
danger.  It was hard to know what to do.

On the main deck dancing was in full swing, and the first sight that
met her eyes was Diana and Bellew scampering in a tango.  Diana wore a
satin gown of curious blue that gleamed and shone like the blue light
of sulphurous flames, and as she danced she trilled a little French
song that was often on her lips:

  "Tout le mond
  Au salon
  On y tan-gue, on y tan-gue,
  Tout le mond
  Au salon
  On y tan-gue, tout en rang."


It was a parody on an old South of France chanson, and everyone was
singing it in Paris that year.  Someone far down the deck, who had
evidently read the original in Alphonse Daudet's _Lettres de Mon
Moulin_, took up the refrain:

  "Sur le pont
  D'Avignon
  On y dan-se, on y dan-se,
  Sur le pont
  D'Avignon
  On y dan-se, tout en rond."


Small use trying to stop her and speak serious things to her in that
mad frolic.  April herself was whirled into the pool of music and
movement, and did not emerge until the band, at a late hour, struck up
the National Anthem.  By special dispensation of the Captain, dancing
had been prolonged because it was the last ball of the voyage.  The
next two nights were to be respectively devoted to a bridge-drive and a
grand farewell concert.  However, only a score or so of the most ardent
dancers were left on deck when the final note of music sounded and the
lights went out with a click.  Figures became wraith-like in the
moonlight, and April gave a sigh as her partner's arm fell from her
waist and they drew up by the ship's rail, where Vereker Sarle stood
watching them and smoking.

"And that's the end of the story," said she, laughing a little
ruefully.  Her partner went away to get her a cold drink, and she half
expected Sarle to reproach her because it had been his dance and she
had purposely avoided dancing with him.  But he only said: "Africa is
the beginning of many stories."

She shivered a little, though the night was warm.

"I am beginning to be afraid of her--this Africa of yours!"

"No need for you to be afraid anywhere," he smiled.  "There will always
be those who will stand between you and fear."

"How little you know!" she said abruptly.  "I haven't a friend in the
world."

There was a short silence, and they looked straight at each other, the
slim, tall girl in her diaphanous tulles, the powerful, innocent-eyed
man.

"You must be joking," he began.  Then he saw the trouble in her eyes
and her quivering mouth.

"But even in jest, never say that, while I am in the world," he added
gently.  She was so grateful for the chivalrous words that she dared
not speak for fear the tears should rush out of her eyes.  Impulsively
she put out her hand, and his brown, firm one closed on it, and held it
very close.  Then he carried it to his lips.  She heard him say one
word, very softly: "Diana."

At that she tore her hand from his and sped away swiftly into the
darkness.  Once in her cabin she locked the door, turned out the
lights, and flung herself on to the bed.  For a long time she lay
there, a rumpled heap of tulle and misery, weeping because life was a
cruel brute who kept her gifts for the rich and wellborn or the old and
indifferent, mockingly withholding from those who were young and eager
and could better appreciate them.

"What is the use of youth and good looks when one is poor and lonely?"
she sobbed.  "They only mock one!  It is like having a Paris hat put on
your head while your feet are bare and bleeding and your stomach is
empty."

She wished she had never begun this miserable game of Diana Vernilands,
never tasted the power of rank and place, the joy of jewels and pretty
clothes.  She wished she had never left England, never seen Vereker
Sarle, and, above all, she wished she were dead.

It was about two in the morning before she had finished wishing and
sobbing.  Youth began to assert itself then, and she thought of what a
sight would be in the morning, with tangled hair and swollen eyes.
Languidly at last she rose.  The tulle dress was ruined, but little she
recked.  Rather she felt a fierce satisfaction in the thought that it
was done for, and Diana could never wear it.

That wretched Diana! . . .

But when her flushed face was bathed and her hair brushed out she
thought more kindly of Diana, remembering that she, too, was in
trouble.  Well, tomorrow there would have to be a great clean-up of all
these miserable pretences and deceits; tonight, at least, she would try
and sleep.  Her hand was on the switch to turn out the lights when
there came a knocking at the door.  It was such a strange, peremptory
knocking--such a careless outraging of the small hours, that for a
moment she stood rooted with astonishment and apprehension, staring at
herself in the mirror that composed the back of the door.

"Who is it?" she stammered at last.

"The Captain," said a stern voice, and in the glass she saw her cheeks
and lips become pale.  What on earth could be wrong?  Was the ship on
fire, or wrecked?  Had their last hour come?

"I am sorry to bother you, but will you please open the door for a
moment?"

By a great effort she composed herself and did as she was bid.  A
little group of people with strained faces and staring eyes presented
themselves behind the Captain; she recognized several men, the
stewardesses, and Mrs. Stanislaw; while in the shadows beyond them was
whispering and much shuffling.  The whole ship seemed to be afoot.
Captain Carey gave one swift look round the cabin, then his eyes rested
on her startled face, and he patted her arm gently and reassuringly.

"Don't be alarmed, my dear Lady Diana," he said, in his tender, Irish
voice, from which all sternness had vanished.  "It is only that we are
looking for Miss Poole, and we thought that possibly she might be in
here with you."

"Miss Poole!"

The girl's face stiffened and blanched.  She put out a hand to support
herself against the dressing-table.  The Captain signed to a
stewardess, and the little crowd moved away.  There was loud knocking
on another door.

"Why are they searching? . . ."

The stewardess patted her arm, even as the Captain had done, but being
a simple woman, she spoke simply, and without waste of words.

"There is a fear that she is not on the ship."

"Not on the ship!" whispered April.  "But where else could she be?
What other place? . . ."

Then she understood.  There was no other place. . . .  Her knees
trembled, and the stewardess supported her to the sofa.  She sat down
with chattering teeth, smitten by a great and bitter cold.  Diana--the
sea . . . warm, merry, gay Diana in the cold sea!

"I don't believe it.  It can't be true!"

"Mrs. Stanislaw had reason to think that she intended to commit suicide
tonight . . . and when she did not come to bed by two o'clock, she
thought it her duty to inform the Captain, who is, of course, bound to
search the ship."

"It can't be true. . . . I don't believe it," repeated April
mechanically; but all the time her heart was in terror, remembering
Diana's pale looks and the news she had heard tonight of Bellew's
marriage.  Had he told Diana, then . . . and was this the result?  All
at once it became impossible to sit still any longer.  She must know
the truth.  She jumped up, searched feverishly for a cloak to put on,
and pulling the stewardess with her, hurried on deck.  But after a few
steps they came to a standstill, for the crowd following the Captain
had suddenly and curiously broken up and separated before the door of
one of the deck cabins.  Men and women who a moment before had been
clustering and whispering agitatedly together were now hurrying past,
each apparently intent on reaching their own cabins in the quickest
time possible.  For one horrible moment April thought it was some
tragic discovery that was scattering them, but a moment later she
realized that tragedy had gone from the air.  The deck was flooded with
electric light, and people's faces could plainly be seen.  Many
expressions were written there, but none of pity or sorrow.  The men,
for the most part, looked embarrassed; the women's expressions varied
from frozen hauteur to scornful rage.  They behaved like people who had
been bitterly wronged by some lying tale.  The one predominating
emotion shared by all seemed to be an intense desire to escape from the
scene.  In less than two minutes not a soul was left on the deck save
the dazed and astounded April.  She remained, wondering what on earth
it was all about; why without visible reason the search had come to
such a sudden end, and what could be the meaning of the phrase Mrs.
Stanislaw had flung at her as she passed.

"The April fool has surpassed herself!"

A sickening apprehension crept over the girl.  That Diana was not
overboard seemed certain; but what new folly had she committed?  As if
in answer to the gloomy query, the lights were once more switched out,
and a strange vapoury greyness took possession of the ship.  It was
that still small hour when the yellowing East adds pallor to the night
without dispersing its darkness.

Then two things happened.  The door of that cabin before which the
crowd had so mysteriously disintegrated opened very softly, and through
the aperture stole forth a woman's figure. . . .  For a swift moment
the light from within rested on yellow hair and gleaming blue satin;
then the door closed and the figure became part of the stealing dimness
which was neither night nor morning.  But April, who stood in her path,
had seen and recognized.

"Diana!" she cried.

The other girl stood stock still.  Her face showed ghostly in the
greyness.  She peered at April, clutching at her arm and whispering:

"For God's sake take me to your cabin!"

They crept down the deck like a pair of thieves, hardly breathing till
they were behind the locked door.  Without looking at her, April saw
that there was trouble to meet.  She remembered the faces of the other
women, and the instinct to protect a fellow-creature against the mob
rose in her.

"Tell me what it is.  I'll help you fight it out."

But Diana had flung herself down with a defiant air on the sofa.

"Don't you know?  Weren't you one of the hounds on my track?" she
demanded, in a high-pitched whisper.  April looked at her steadily.

"The whole thing is an absolute mystery to me.  I know nothing except
that first you were missing, and then apparently they found you----"

"Yes; in Geoffrey Bellew's cabin!"

The April fool had, indeed, surpassed herself!  April blenched, but she
took the blow standing.  After all, she had been as great a fool as the
girl sitting there, for she, too, had handed over her good name into
the careless hands of another; had sold her reputation for a song--a
song that had lasted seventeen days, but seemed now in the act of
becoming a dirge.

"Do you mind telling me what happened, so that I know exactly where we
stand and what there is to be done."

Diana laughed.

"There is nothing to be done."

April forgave her the laugh, because it was not composed of merriment
nor any elements of joyousness.

"I went to Geoffrey's cabin because we had things to talk over, and it
seemed the only place where we could get away from prying eyes.
Somehow I stayed on and on, not realizing it was so late . . . and
then, and then . . ."  She began to stammer; defiance left her . . .
"then, that awful knocking . . . those faces staring in! . . . all
those brutes of women!"  She covered her eyes with her hands and broke
down utterly.  "My God!  I am done for!"

April thought so, too.  It seemed to her they were both done for, but
there was not much help in saying so.  Diana's confession horrified
her, and she saw that her own future at the Cape was knocked as flat as
a house of cards that is demolished by the wayward hand of a child.
Yet at that moment her principal feeling was one of compassion for the
girl on the sofa, who alternately laughed and covered her eyes, and now
with a pitiful attempt at bravado was attempting to light a cigarette,
with hands that shook like aspen leaves.

"I suppose it was that cat Stanislaw who started the search for me?"

"It appears that she got into a panic when you did not return to your
cabin, and went and told the Captain she feared you were overboard."

"The she-fiend!  Much she cared if I was at the bottom of the sea!  She
had pried out where I was, and that was her subtle way of advertising
it to the whole ship."

"I believe you are right," said April slowly, "though it is hard to
understand how any one could do a thing so studiedly cruel."

"Cruel!  She is a fiend, I tell you," cried Diana.  "One of those women
who have nothing left in their natures but hatred for those who are
still young and pretty.  I realized long ago that she would ruin my
reputation if she could, but I did not give her credit for so much
cleverness."

"Well, at any rate, she is not so clever as she thinks," said April
drily.  "For she hasn't ruined your reputation, after all; only mine."

Diana started; terror came into her eyes.

"My God, April!  You don't mean to give me away?"

April knew very well what she meant to do.  She had tasted of "the
triumph and the roses and the wine," and the bill had been presented.
Even though it left her bankrupt and disgraced, she was going to honour
that bill; but she could not resist finding out what point of view was
held by Diana as to similar obligations.

"You think, then, it is _my_ name that should be left with the smirch
on it?" she asked dispassionately.

Diana grew crimson and then very pale.

"The scandal . . ." she stammered; "my people . . . you don't know what
it would mean to have such a story attached to me."

"It would be better to have it attached to me, of course," April
agreed, with an irony that was entirely wasted on Diana.

"You see that, don't you?" she said eagerly.  "After all, nobody knows
your name, and it will soon be forgotten.  But mine----"

April could only smile.  She saw that pity was entirely wasted here.
Diana was so eminently able to look after herself when it came to the
matter of self-preservation.

"And it will only be for another couple of days.  After that we shall
never see Mrs. Stanislaw or any of this rotten crew of women again."

"You are an optimist," was April's only comment.  "After all, it is I
who will have to bear the brunt of their insolence tomorrow, whatever
name I go under," complained Diana.

"I'm afraid I cannot give you my face as well as my name to help you
bear it," said April drily.  Unexpectedly the retort pierced, for Diana
suddenly burst into tears.

"I know you think me a beast.  But I really _am_ thinking more of my
father than of myself.  He is terribly proud.  It would break his heart
to hear this story of me being found in a man's cabin.  Oh!  How could
I have done such an awful thing!  You think I don't care, but I can
tell you I could simply die of shame."

April was softened once more.

"Don't cry, Diana, and don't worry any further.  Of course, your name
shall never come out.  That is quite settled.  Come, now, and let me
help you into bed.  You had far better stay here than face that tigress
Stanislaw in her den."

Nevertheless, when she had safely tucked the still weeping and
collapsed Diana into her berth, she thought it advisable to make an
excursion herself to the den of the tigress, ostensibly to fetch
Diana's night-things; in reality to let her know where Diana was
spending the night, and that the girl had one woman friend at least to
stand by her.  Even as she expected, Mrs. Stanislaw was awake and lying
in wait, ready to spring.  It must have been a disagreeable surprise to
see April instead of the victim.  The former's manner was all suavity.

"I am sorry to disturb you, but I have come for Miss Poole's things.
She is not at all well, and I have persuaded her to spend the night
with me."  Tranquilly she began to collect night-wear, slippers, hair
and tooth brushes.  The tigress, being thoroughly taken back, could do
nothing for the moment but breathe heavily and glare.  April, with the
wisdom of the serpent, made haste to escape before the feline creature
regained the use of claw and fang.

But there were worse things to face in the morning.  Even though Diana
postponed the evil hour by pretending she was ill and having her
breakfast in bed, she could not stay in the cabin for ever.  Once the
first days of seasickness are over there is a rule against people
stopping in their berths all day except under doctor's orders, and the
stewardesses are very rigid in enforcing this.  Besides, the Captain
and first officer inspect cabins between ten and eleven A.M., and Diana
had no particular yearning to see them again just then.

April went down to breakfast as usual, outwardly composed, but with an
eye secretly alert to spy out the land.  It did not take her long to
discover that all the women were in arms, with their stabbing knives
ready for action.  Mrs. Stanislaw had evidently not been idle, and the
name of "Lady Diana" was already bracketed with that of the April Fool.
To send her entirely to Coventry was rather too drastic treatment for
an earl's daughter, but many a cold glance came her way.

"Birds of a feather nest together," was one of the tart observations
that fell upon her ears as she passed a group of women who only
yesterday were fawning upon her.  Plainly it was considered a fresh
outrage upon womanhood that she should have given the protection of her
name and cabin to the heroine of last night's scandal.

She did not mind very much.  With a clear conscience on this count at
least, she was able to meet their displeasure imperturbably.  But she
could not help feeling sorry for the real Diana.

That unfortunate creature, on venturing forth to her own cabin, was met
by the sight of Mrs. Stanislaw dragging all her possessions into the
corridor.  It appeared that even for the few remaining days at sea the
tigress could not lie down with the black sheep!  A sweet and
sympathetic soul, who also lived down the same alley and had the same
horror of contaminating influence, had therefore offered to take her
in.  The picturesque incident was being witnessed and silently approved
by women in the neighbouring cabins, who, curiously enough, all
happened to be busy packing with their doors open, so as not to miss
anything.

It must be remembered that most of these people had been persistently
flouted, even insulted, by Diana during the voyage.  Some of them,
matrons with daughters of their own, were really shocked by the "bad
example" her behaviour had established.  So it was perhaps not to be
wondered at that a sort of combined sniff of holiness and
self-righteousness went up to Heaven when the culprit came barging down
the passage, nose in air, and a defiant flush upon her cheek.
Stumbling over the trunks and piles of clothes which littered the
place, she managed to gain her room, and close the door behind her with
a resounding bang to show how little she cared about any of them.  But
it was immediately reopened by Mrs. Stanislaw, come to fetch more of
her things, and not averse to talking as long as possible over the
business.  By continually going backwards and forwards for small
armfuls of articles, and always leaving the door open, she managed to
deprive Diana of all privacy.  The latter bore with it for as long as
her patience lasted, which was about five minutes.  Then she flung out
of the room, hoping to find refuge elsewhere.  But wherever she went it
was the same.  In the writing-room everyone bent suddenly over their
blotting-pads, and the balmy morning air took on an arctic chill.
Music and conversation faded away when she sauntered into the music
saloon.  On deck even the sailors looked at her curiously.  The story
of her indiscretion had penetrated to every corner of the vessel.  The
miserable girl fetched a book from the library and tried to hide
herself behind it, seated in her deck-chair.  She soon had that side of
the ship to herself.

Later, it was discovered that a lady with whom she was engaged to play
off a final in deck quoits had "scratched."  The same thing happened
with regard to the bridge-drive.  The girl who was cast as her opponent
in the opening round publicly withdrew her name from the competition.
There it was, up on the games notice-board--a girl's name with a black
pencil mark drawn through it.  All who ran might read, and a good many
did run to read.  Clearly the April Fool had become the object of the
most unanimous taboo ever set in motion on a ship.  Her name was mud.
Even the men did not rally to her aid, though she had been popular
enough with them before.  There are few men who will not crumple up
before a phalanx of women with daggers in their hands and feathers in
their hair; even as the big-game hunter thinks it no shame to flee
before a horde of singing ants!  The only two who behaved with natural
decency were Bellew and Sarle.  The latter appeared utterly unconscious
of anything unusual when he came and sat down by the two girls.  There
might have been a little more deference in his manner to Diana; that
was all.  As for Bellew, he had not been trained in the diplomatic
service for nothing.  He possessed to a marked degree the consummate
sang-froid that is a natural attribute of aides-de-camp.  Nothing could
have been more cool than his manner when he joined the group and
suggested a game of quoits.  The whole world of the ship had its ears
cocked to listen to these two, and was watching them acutely--with eyes
that gazed at the horizon.  If only Diana could have comported herself
in a rational manner the situation might at least have been decently
salvaged, if not carried with triumph.  But she had lost her nerve.
Intrepid throughout the voyage in committing every possible folly, now,
when a little real courage was needed, she crumpled.  The fierce white
light of public disapproval withered her.  It was pitiful to see the
way she went to pieces--to hear her hysterical laughter and foolish
remarks.

"For goodness' sake have the courage of your sins!  Show some blood!"
was the rebuke April longed to administer together with a sound
shaking.  But anger was futile, and rebuke out of the question.  The
only wise thing was to retreat in as good order as possible to the
cabin of which Diana now enjoyed sole possession, and there reconsider
the position.

"I can't bear it," she whimpered desperately.  "I can't stand another
two days of it.  I tell you I shall go mad."

"Nonsense!" April responded, with a cheerfulness that found no echo in
her heart.  "You must take a pull on yourself, Diana.  As you said last
night, you owe these women nothing, and will probably never see them
again."

But Diana's lay had changed tune.

"Oh!  Won't I? . . . I feel they will haunt me all my days.  What is
that couplet?--

  "He who hath a thousand friends hath not a friend to spare;
  But he who hath one enemy shall meet him everywhere."

A man said to me yesterday that what is done on the voyage to the Cape
is known at Cairo within a week if it is sufficiently scandalous."  She
wept.

"A blue look-out for me!" thought her listener, dismally imagining the
name of April Poole flashing from one end of the great continent to
another.  Not only at the Cape would she be debarred from earning her
living!  This impression was confirmed by some of the remarks women
made to her later in the day.  They were all quite willing to be
friendly as long as she was not in the company of the black sheep.

"She might just as well take ship back to England," one said.  "No one
will employ her as a governess after this.  The story will be all over
Cape Town within an hour of our arrival."

"You can't live these things down in Africa," said another.  "Of
course, she might get a job up-country, where people are not particular
and only want a kind of servant to look after their children."

It was no use April protesting against the cruelty of condemning a girl
for ever because of one indiscretion.  Her listeners only looked at her
suspiciously.  One old Englishwoman, who had lived many years in South
Africa, put the case more cynically than kindly:

"Girls who earn their living are not allowed the luxury of
indiscretion.  If it had been _you_, now----"

"Do you mean that I should have been forgiven by reason of my position?"

"My dear," was the dry reply, "it is the same old snobbish world
wherever you go.  What constitutes a crime in one strata of society is
only eccentricity in another."

April communicated the gist of this worldly wisdom to Diana, half
hoping that it might give the latter courage to disclose herself and
perhaps clear them both of any worse indictment than upon the count of
foolishness.  But it was a futile hope, and nothing came of it except
more tears and another wild appeal not to be "given away."  All sense
of justice had left Diana, or been swamped by the newly-born fear for
her family's honour.

Thus the miserable day wore to its close.  A steward, no doubt heavily
subsidized, spent most of the afternoon carrying notes backwards and
forwards between Diana and Bellew.  April stayed in her cabin as much
as possible, and for the rest was careful to be always near other
people, so that Sarle would find no opportunity of giving expression to
the things to be seen in his eyes.  It was a precarious joy to read
those sweet things, but she dared not let him utter them.  For when the
debacle came at Cape Town, he must have nothing to regret.  The moment
they were quit of the ship and its scandal she would be relieved of her
promise to Diana and able to tell him the truth.  If he had spoken no
word of love to her before then he would be free as air to go his way
without speaking one, while she just slipped away and disappeared, to
be seen of him no more.  But if he chose not to go his ways----?  If
when he heard all he still wished to stay?  Ah! what a sweet, perilous
thought was that!  She dared not dwell on it, and yet if she banished
it utterly from her mind all the thrill went out of life, and every
throb of the engine bringing them nearer land seemed a beat of her
heart soon to be silenced for ever.

Evening came at last--an evening of dinner parties and best frocks,
with an early commencement of the bridge-drive afterwards.  Sarle,
several days before, had arranged to have a special small table for
four with a special dinner, asking April to be his hostess and choose
the other two guests.  She, with an instinct that they would be left
out in the cold by everyone else, had chosen Diana and Bellew.  Now, at
the last moment, Diana shirked the ordeal, and from behind her locked
door announced in muffled tones that she had a headache and was going
to bed.  So April sent a message to Sarle, giving him the chance of
filling the gap if he so wished.  When she went down she found him
waiting for her with Bellew and Dick Nichols, the old poker-playing,
battle-scarred warrior of the smoke-room, whose acquaintance she was
delighted to make.  He was a little bit shy at first at sitting down in
his worn though spotless white-duck slacks opposite the beautiful girl
in black and silver, with straps of amethysts across her satiny
shoulders.  But she had that gift which is born rather than acquired of
setting people at their ease, and she wanted to get the liking of this
man who was Sarle's friend.  So she beguiled him by the blue of her
eyes and the eager interest of her smile, and he opened up like a book
of strange stories and pictures under the hand of a child.  Listening
to the talk, she was transported to that strange region of bush and
spaces that is far from being enchanted land and yet casts an
everlasting spell.  She heard lions roar and the shuffling steps of
oxen plodding through dust; felt the brazen glare of the sun against
her eyes; saw the rain swishing down on grass that grew taller than a
man's head.

She remembered a verse of Percival Gibbon's about the veld:

  There's a balm for crippled spirits
    In the open view
  Running from your very footsteps
    Out into the blue,
  Like a wagon track to heaven
    Straight 'twixt God and you.


Both Sarle and Nichols knew that track, she was sure.  They were oddly
alike, these two veld men, with their gentle ways, their brown muscular
hands, and their eyes full of distance.  A very different type to the
sleek and handsome Bellew, who sat so composed under the many blighting
glances cast his way.

"They know about the guile of creatures, but he has made an art of
beguiling human beings," thought April, and all the vexation of the day
came surging over her, almost spoiling her dinner and the pleasure of
the evening.  Almost--not quite!  When you are "young and very sweet,
with the jasmine in your hair," and have only to raise your eyes to see
desire of you sitting unashamed in the eyes of the man you love,
nothing can quite spoil your gladness of living.  All the same, she
stuck to the card-room the whole evening, and her resolution to give
Sarle no chance of saying anything he might regret.  He must have
realized it after a time, when she had once or twice eluded his little
plots to get her on deck, but he gave no sign.  He was a hunter, and
could bide his time with patience and serenity.

It was not in her plan that when they parted it should be just where
the shadows of a funnel fell, nor that he should leave a swift kiss, in
the palm of the hand she tendered him in bidding good-night; yet both
of these things came to pass.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

The stewardess who brought her an early cup of tea handed her a letter
with the remark:

"It was under your door, m'lady.  And please would you like your big
trunks from the hold brought here, or will you pack in the
baggage-room?"

"Oh, here, I think, stewardess.  It will be much more convenient."

"Of course it will," agreed the good woman.  "But, there! how the
baggage men do grumble at having to lug up big trunks like yours and
Mr. Bellew's!"

"I am very sorry," said April "but I'm afraid I can't help it."  She
had reflected swiftly that as she and Diana had so many possessions to
exchange before packing, it could only be done in the privacy of he
cabin.  She was very tired after a "white night" all too crowded with
the black butterflies of unhappy thought, and when she looked at the
superscription on the envelope and saw that it was in Diana's writing
she sighed.  All the worries of the coming day rose up before her like
a menacing wall with broken glass on the top.

"Blow Diana!  I wish she were at the bottom of the sea," she said to
herself, with the irritability born of a bad night.

Leaning on her elbow, she sipped at the fragrant tea and reflected
sorrowfully on what a happy creature she would have been that morning
if she had never met Diana Vernilands and entered into the mad plan of
exchanging identities!  What a clear and straight road would have lain
before her! . . . with the man whose kiss still burnt the palm of her
hand waiting for her at the end of it!  But instead--what?  She sighed
again and tears came into her eyes as she lay back on the pillows and
tore open the envelope.  Then suddenly her body lying there so soft and
delicate in the luxurious berth stiffened with horror.  The tears froze
in her eyes.  The letter at which she was staring was composed of two
loose and separate pages, on the first of which was scrawled a couple
of brief sentences signed by a name:


"_I cannot bear it any longer.  I am going to end my troubles in the
sea._

"APRIL POOLE."


Mechanically her clutch relaxed on this terrible first page, and she
turned to the second.  It was headed: "_absolutely private and
confidential, to be destroyed immediately after reading,_" and the
words heavily underscored; then came wild phrases meant for April's
private eyes alone.


"I am leaving you to face it all.  For God's sake forgive me and keep
your promise.  Never let any one on the ship or in Africa know the
truth.  Spare my poor father the agony of having his name dragged in
the dust as well as losing his daughter.  Do not do anything except
under the counsel of _the other person_ on this ship who knows the
truth and who will advise you the exact course to take.  But do not
approach him in any way or speak of this to him until all the misery
and excitement of my suicide is over.  I have written to him, too, and
he will advise you at the right time, but to drag him into this would
only ruin his career, and earn my curse for ever.  I trust you utterly
in all this.  Oh, April, do not betray my trust!  Do not fail me!  I
beg and implore you with my last breath to do as I ask.  Go on using my
name, and money, and everything belonging to me until the moment that
_he_ advises you to either write my father the truth or return to
England and break it to him personally.  If he hears it in any other
way it will kill him, and his blood be on your soul as well as mine.  I
pray, I beseech, I implore you, be faithful to your unhappy friend,

"DIANA."


It took a long time for April's stricken mind to absorb the meaning of
it all.  Over and over she read the blurred tear-blistered sentences,
sometimes weeping, sometimes painfully muttering them aloud to herself.
When she had finished at last, her course was set, her mind made up.
She knew the letter by heart, and sitting up in bed, white as a ghost,
she slowly destroyed it into minutest atoms, putting them into a little
purse that lay in the rack beside her.  Then she rang the bell.  To the
stewardess who came she said calmly, but with pallid lips:

"If Miss Poole is in her cabin, ask her to come to me."

Then she whipped out of bed, flung on a wrapper, and arranged her hair.
When the woman returned, she knew the answer before it was spoken.

"Miss Poole is not in her cabin.  Her bed has not been slept in."

"Ask the Captain to come here."

In a few moments it was all over.  The Captain had come and gone again,
with the first page of Diana's letter in his hand.  The procedure after
that was much the same as it had been two nights before, except that
the Captain went alone on his search, and the result, with the evidence
he held in his hand, was a foregone conclusion from the first.  All
inquiry terminated in the same answer.  No one had set eyes on "Miss
Poole" since the previous evening.  The last person to speak with her
was the stewardess, who, on finding she did not intend going to dinner,
had offered to bring her some, but had been refused.  The rest was
conjecture--a riddle that only the sea, lying as blue and flat and
still as the sea in a gaudy oleograph, could answer.  The story had
flown round the ship like wildfire, and hardly a soul but felt as if he
or she had taken part in a murder.  Women reproached each other and
themselves, and men went sombre-eyed to the smoke-room and ordered
drinks that left them still dry-mouthed.  The blue and golden day with
the perfumes of Africa spicing its breath took on a brazen and arid
look.  It was as if old Mother Africa had already reached out her
brazen hand and dealt a blow, just to remind everyone on the boat that
she was there waiting for them, perhaps with a tragedy for each in her
Pandora box.  The Captain had not let it be known where and with whom
Diana's last note had been found.  With the remembrance of April's
ashen face as she had handed it to him, he wished to spare the girl as
much as possible.

As for her, the one clear thought in her mind was that she must obey
Diana's last behest and keep silence.  It was not hard to do that, for
she had no words.  Throughout the day, in a kind of mental torpor, she
helped the stewardess sort and pack all the costly clothes and
possessions which were really Diana's, putting them into the trunks
already labelled for a hotel in Cape Town; her own things were locked
and sealed up in the abandoned cabin on the lower deck, and she would
probably never see them again.  She did not attempt to speak to Bellew,
though she knew that an interview with him awaited her, for there could
be no mistake about his being that _other person_ referred to in
Diana's letter.  Neither did she see Vereker Sarle.  He sent a note
during the afternoon, a very sweet and friendly note, hoping that she
was not ill, and begging her not to be too upset by the tragedy.  And
between the lines she read as he meant her to do.

"Why are you hiding from me?  Come on deck.  I want you."

She wanted him, too.  She longed for the comfort of his presence, but
did not dare meet him.  A greater barrier than ever existed between
them.  The dead girl stood there with her finger on her lips.  The
truth could not now be told to Sarle, until, at any rate, it was known
to that unhappy old man in England whose head must be bowed in sorrow
to the grave.  After that, who could tell?

Somehow she felt that all hope of personal happiness with Vereker Sarle
was over.  It was unfit that so clean-souled and upright a man should
be involved in the tangle of lies and deceit and tragedy that she and
Diana had between them encompassed.  He would shrink from her when he
knew all, of that she felt certain, and it made her shrink in turn to
think of it.  So she sent only a little formal line in answer to his
note, making no reference to the likelihood of seeing him on deck or
anywhere else.  It looked cold and cruel enough to her, that note, like
a little knife she was sending him; but it was a two-edged knife, with
which she also wounded herself.

The stewardess brought her tea and toast, and she stayed in her room
all day.  Only in the cool of the evening, when everyone else was
dining, she crept out for a few moments, and leaned upon the ship's
rail, drinking in the air and staring at the moody line of land ahead
that meant fresh experiences and trouble on the morrow!  She was afraid
to look at the sea!

No farewell concert took place that night.  People whispered together
in little groups for a while after dinner, but all the merriment of the
last night at sea was lost in the sense of tragedy that hung about the
ship.  Almost everyone was oppressed by a feeling of guilty
responsibility for what had happened.  The inherent decency of human
nature asserted itself, and each one thought:

"Why did I not give the poor girl a helping hand instead of driving her
to desperation?"  It was remembered that "Lady Diana" had stood by her,
and everyone yearned to absolve their souls by explanation to the
person who (to her great regret) bore that rank and title.  But she had
put a barricade of stewardesses between her and them, and was invisible
to callers.  Some few of the younger and more resilient passengers, in
an effort to shake off what seemed to them useless gloom, went and
asked the Captain to allow the band to play on deck.  He consented,
stipulating only that there should be no dancing.  Of course, no one
wanted to dance, but as ships' bands specialize in dance music, the
musicians struck at once into a tango, and it happened to be the one
Diana had made her own by singing her little French rhyme to it:

  "Tout le monde
  Au salon
  On y tan-gue, on y tan-gue."


It only needed that.  Every mind instantly conjured up the picture of a
vivid figure in a frock that gleamed blue as sulphurous flames.  A
hysterical woman sprang up screaming shrilly, and had to be taken away;
a solitary sea gull, its plumage shining with a weird blueness in the
electric light, chose this moment to fly low along the deck, crying its
wailing cry.  That was enough.  Another woman began to scream; the
music stopped, and there was almost a panic to get away from a spot
that seemed haunted.  In a little while the first-class deck was as
deserted as the deck of a derelict, and the ship was wrapped in
silence.  The personality of the April Fool seemed more imposing in
death than it had been in life!

By morning the _Clarendon Castle_ had reached her destined port, and
lay snugly berthed in Cape Town docks.  April, venturing out at the tip
of dawn to get a first glimpse of Africa, found that a great mountain
wrapped in a mantle of mist stood in the way.  It seemed almost as if
by reaching out a hand she could touch the dark sides of it, so close
it reared, and so bleak it brooded above her.  Yet she knew this to be
an illusion of the atmosphere, for between her and the mountain's base
lay the streets and little white houses and gardens of Cape Town.  It
might have been some southern town on the shores of the Mediterranean
except for that mountain, which made it unlike any other place in the
world.  The "Table of the Mass," the Portuguese named it, and when, as
now, silver mists unrolled themselves upon the flat top and streamed in
veils down the gaunt sides, they said that the cloth was spread for the
Sacred Feast.

April thought of all the great wanderers whose first sight of Africa
must inevitably have been the same as hers--this mysterious mountain
standing like a grey witch across the path!  Drake sighted it from afar
in 1580; Diaz was obliged to turn back from it by his mutinying
sailors; Livingstone, Stanley, Cecil Rhodes, "Doctor Jim," all the
great adventurers, and thousands of lesser ones, had looked upon it,
and gone past it, to their sorrow.  For if history be true, none can
ever come out from behind that brooding witch untouched by sorrow.
They may grow great, they may reap gold or laurels, or their heart's
desire; but in the reaping and the gaining their souls will know grey
sorrow.  A rhyme of her childhood came unsolicited into April's mind:

  How many miles to Banbury?
  Three score and ten.
  Will I be there by candlelight?
  Yes, and back again:
  Only--_mind the old witch by the way_!


She shivered, but the sun burst like a sudden glorious warrior upon the
world, dispersing fear, and making her feel as though, after all,
everything and everyone was young, and all life decked out in spring
array.  If only the burden of deceit had not been upon her, how blithe
and strong in hope could she have set foot in this new land.

As she turned to go back to her cabin she found Geoffrey Bellew by her
side.  He appeared a little haggard, and some of his habitual
self-assurance was missing.  No doubt he had seen Table Mountain on
former visits to Africa, yet he looked at it rather than into the eyes
of the girl he addressed.

"Will you go to the Mount Nelson Hotel?" he said in a low tone.  "I can
meet you there, and we will talk matters over."

"When?" she said.  Spring went out of her.  "Where is the hotel?"

He reflected for a moment.

"Well, perhaps you had better give yourself into my charge.  I will see
you through the Customs, and drive you up afterwards, and make all
arrangements--shall I?"

She consented.  It seemed as good a plan as any for avoiding bother,
and had the recommendation that it would keep off Vereker Sarle.  So,
later, when crowds began to surge and heave upon the ship, everyone mad
with excitement at meeting their friends, and mountains of luggage
barging in every direction, she stayed close by the side of this man
she disliked intensely, yet whose smooth ability to deal with men and
matters she could not but admire.  Obstacles fell down like ninepins
before him; stewards ran after him; officials waited upon him; his
baggage, the heaviest and most cumbersome on the ship, was the first to
go down the gangway, and April's with it.  A few hurried farewells, and
she found herself seated beside him in an open landau, driving behind a
conveyance full of trunks towards the Customs House.  A dull pain
burned within her at the remembrance of Sarle's face.  He had looked
from her to Bellew with those steady eyes that saw so much and betrayed
so little, merely remarking, as he took the hand she tendered lightly
in farewell:

"One doesn't say good-bye in Africa, Lady Diana, only 'So
long'--meaning that we may meet again tomorrow, perhaps even today."

He had not even looked after them as they left the ship.  Yet April,
because she loved him, was aware of his astonishment at this strange
and sudden intimacy of hers with Bellew.  Still, what was the use of
caring?  There were worse hurts in store for him, if, indeed, they met
again as he predicted.  She bit on the bullet and ignored the pain at
her heart.  Bellew did not waste any small talk on her; that was one
comfort.  He seemed to be more concerned about his luggage than about
her, shouting out to the coloured men to be careful and to remove
nothing from the van without his direction.  At the Customs House, in
fact, all his stuff was left assiduously alone.  April's was opened and
gone through rapidly by the officials; but the production of his papers
and credentials as an attaché to the Governor of Zambeke, or some such
outlandish place, gave Bellew instant immunity, and no single article
of his belongings was unlocked.  Within a few moments they were again
_en route_ for their hotel.

Their way took them by the main thoroughfare of the town, and April was
astonished at the numbers of people flocking on the pavements, filling
trams and rickshaws, drinking tea on the overhanging balconies and
restaurants.  The air was sunny, yet with the fresh bite of the sea in
it, and everyone seemed gay and careless.  The whole of one side of the
wide street was lined by Malays and natives offering flowers for sale.
In front of the Bank a sort of floral bazaar was established, the
bright head "dookies," silver bangles, and glowing dark eyes of the
vendors making a brave show above the massed glory of colour in their
baskets.  Huge bunches of pink proteas, spiked lilies of every hue,
bales of heather and waxen white chinckerichees filled the air with
heavy perfume.  The sellers came pressing to the passing carriages,
soliciting custom in the soft clipped speech of the Cape native.
Bellew, for all he was so distrait, had the graceful inspiration to
stop and take on a load of colour and perfume, and April for a moment
lost count of her troubles in sheer joy of the senses.

"But where do they come from?" she cried.  "I have never seen such
flowers in the world."

"There _are_ no flowers in the world like those from Table Mountain,"
he said.

"That old bleak beast?"  She gazed in astonishment at the grey mass
still hovering above and about them.  "She looks as though nothing
would grow on her gaunt sides except sharp flints."

Bellew laughed.

"Those gaunt sides are covered with beauty, and hundreds of people make
their living from them."

"Africa is wonderful," sighed April, and suddenly the weight of her
burden returned.

"Africa's all right, if it weren't for the people in it," he retorted
moodily.

The hotel proved to be a picturesque building perched on rising ground
above lovely gardens.  Some of its countless windows looked over the
town to the sea; but most of them seemed to be peered into by the
relentless granite eyes of the mountain.  April's first act was to draw
the blinds of her room.

"That mountain will sit upon my heart and crush me into my grave if I
stay here long," she thought, and felt despairing.  Bellew had engaged
rooms for her, boldly inscribing the name of "Lady Diana Vernilands" in
the big ledger, while she stood by, acquiescing in, if not contributing
to the lie.  Afterwards he went away to superintend the unloading of
his luggage.  It appeared that his three immense trunks contained much
valuable glass and china for the Governor's wife, and he was taking no
risks concerning their safety.

Although making only a short stay, and in spite of the glum looks of
the porters, he had everything carried carefully up to his room on the
fourth floor.  Glum looks were wasted on the bland Bellew, who lived by
the motto "_Je m'en fiche de tout le monde_," and who on his own
confession would have liked Africa to himself.

No word concerning the tragedy had yet passed between him and April,
but she knew that something was impending, and that she would probably
do as he told her, for he seemed in the strange circumstances to occupy
the position of sole executor to Diana's will.  On going down to lunch
she found that he had engaged a small table for them both, but was not
there himself.  What pleased her less was that as regards company she
might just as well have been back on board the _Clarendon Castle_.
Almost every one of her fellow-passengers was scattered around the
multiplicity of small tables.  It would seem as if the "Mount Nelson"
was the only hotel in the town, although she remembered quite a number
of others in the Directory.  Even Vereker Sarle was there.  Far down
the long room she saw him sitting with two other men: one of them, Dick
Nichols, looking very much at home; the other a distinguished,
saturnine man with an English air to him, in spite of being burnt as
black as the ace of spades.  She was aware that Sarle saw her, and had
a trembling fear that he might join her.  It was almost a relief when
Bellew came in towards the end of the meal, for she knew he would prove
an effective barrier.  He looked hot and weary, and explained that he
had been obliged to go back down town to attend to some business.

"I think you had better take up your quarters here for a time," he
added.  She flinched at the prospect.

"But why?  It is so public!  Everyone off the boat seems to be here,
and I shall have to keep on telling lies just because I know them.  It
seems to me I can't open my mouth without telling a lie, and," she
finished desperately, "it makes me sick."

He looked at her coldly.  His fine brown eyes could be hard as flint.

"I thought it was a promise--some sort of a compact--to do what was
best--_for her_?" he remarked.  A little cold wave of the sea seemed to
creep over her soul, and she could see her hands trembling as she dealt
with the fruit on her plate.

"Very well," she acquiesced tonelessly, at last; "if you think it best.
How long am I to stay?"

"Until next week's mail-boat sails," he said slowly.  "I have been down
to see if I could get you a berth on this week's, but she is full up."

"You want me to return to England?"  There was desperate resistance in
her voice now.  She had not realized until that moment how much she
wished to stay.

"It is not what _I_ want: it is for her," he insisted ruthlessly.  "You
must go to her father and explain everything.  Letters are no good."

She was silent, but her eyes were wretched.  She wanted to stay in
Africa.

"After all, it is your share of the payment for folly," he pursued
relentlessly.  That was too much for her temper.

"And yours?" she flashed back.

His face did not change, but his voice became very gentle.

"Don't worry.  I too am paying."

She would have given much to recall her fierce retort then, for after
all, it was true that she was not the only one hit.  This man too was
suffering under his mask.  He had loved Diana, and that his love was
the direct cause of the tragedy must make his wretchedness the more
acute.  With an impulse of pity and understanding she put out her hand
to him across the table, but instead of taking it he passed her a
little dish of salted almonds.  Mortified, she looked up in time to see
Sarle and his friends going by, and was left wondering how much they
had witnessed, and whether Bellew had meant to snub or spare her.  The
whole thing was a miserable mix-up, and it almost seemed to her as if
Diana had as usual got the best of it, for at any rate she was out of
the deceit and discomfort.

She thought so still more when the women surrounded her in the lounge,
and drew her in among them to take coffee.  They were all as merry as
magpies, and seemed to have clean forgotten the tragedy of the ship
except in so far as it lent a thrill to conversation.  Several who were
going on the next day to different parts of the country pressed her to
visit them at their homes.  Mrs. Stanislaw came up with her claws
sheathed in silk and a strange woman in tow, and murmuring: "I _must_
introduce Mrs. Janis.  She is anxious to know all you can tell her of
poor Miss Poole," stood smiling with a feline delight in the encounter.
April turned from her bitter face to the other woman, an
elaborately-dressed shrew with a domineering hook to her nose, and had
the thankful feeling of a mouse who has just missed by a hair's breadth
the click of the trap on its nose.

"I'm afraid I can give you no more information than is already
available," she said distantly.

"It seems to be a most shameful affair," complained Mrs. Janis; "and
the wretched girl apparently has no relatives one can write to."

"None," stated April firmly and gratefully.  She could well imagine how
this lady with a grievance would treat the feelings of relations.

"Perhaps Captain Bellew might know of someone," purred Mrs. Stanislaw.

"You had better ask him."  It was April's turn to smile, though wryly
enough.  "He will deal with you without the gloves," she thought, and
turned away from them.

The lounge was a pleasant place, with French windows leading into the
garden; deep chairs and palms were scattered everywhere, and it smelled
fragrantly of coffee and cigars.  Groups of men and women clustered
about the small tables, smoking and talking.  One corner was fenced off
by a little counter, from behind which a distinguished-looking waiter
dispensed cocktails and liqueurs with the air of a duke bestowing
decorations.  This was Léon, who knew the pet drinks and secret sins of
everyone in South Africa, but whose discreet eyes told nothing.  The
knowledge he possessed of men, women, and things would have made a
fascinating volume, but no one had been able to unseal his lips.  He
hardly ever spoke, simply mixing the drinks and indicating with his
hand the tables to which they should be carried.  April was in the
presence of a personage without being aware of it.  Neither did she
know until much later that this pleasant lounge was one of the
principal gossip centres of the country.  In its smoky atmosphere many
a fair reputation has withered away, many a great name been tarnished
for ever.  As for the baby scandals that are born there, have legs and
arms and wings stuck on to them and are sent anteloping or flying all
over the country, their name is legion!

Bellew had left her immediately after lunch.  He said that he had an
appointment with an old friend of his mother's, and should be leaving
to stay with her for several days before continuing his journey.  April
had, in fact, from her seat in the lounge seen him come out of the lift
into the hall accompanied by a little bent old lady, and watched them
drive away together in a taxi.  Thereafter she breathed more freely,
and a longing to be in the open air out of this smoke-laden atmosphere
moved her to extricate herself from the chattering crowd of women and
make her way to the veranda.  It was cool and fresh there under the
stone porticoes, with veils of green creepers hanging between her and
the blazing sunshine and colour of the garden.  She sat down, and, as
is always the way with a woman in moments of silence and beauty, her
thoughts immediately clustered about the image of the man she loved.
What was Vereker Sarle thinking of her?  Would he go from the Cape to
his home up north without trying to see her again?  While she pondered
these things he walked out through one of the tall French windows and
came towards her, followed by his dark, saturnine friend.  They
approached like men sure of a welcome, Sarle smiling in his disarmingly
boyish fashion, the other man smiling too: but with a difference.
There was some quality of sardonic amusement and curiosity in his
glance that arrested April's instant attention.

"I warned you that it is hard to shake off your friends in this
country," said Sarle gaily.  "May we come and sit with you for a little
while?  Sir Ronald tells me that you and he are quite old friends."

Her heart gave a leap.  Instantly she understood the sardonic amusement
of the stranger's demeanour.  If any other man than Sarle had been
there she would have thrown up the sponge.  But she could not bear to
have the truth stripped and exposed there before him.  It was too
brutal.  If he must know, he should know in a less cruel manner than
that.  She faced the new-comer squarely, her features frozen to an
outward composure.

"This is a very pleasant surprise, Lady Di!" he said easily, while his
eyes expressed the utmost amusement.  "It must be nearly two years
since we met?"

"Oh, surely much longer than that?" she answered, and her smile was
almost as mocking as his.  They stood taking each other's measure
whilst Sarle dragged forward some chairs.  A faint admiration came into
the man's face.  She was a fraud, and he knew that she knew that he
knew it, but he had also to acknowledge that there was fine metal in
her even for an adventuress.  As a duellist at least she seemed worthy
of his steel.  Besides, in her gown of faint lilac and her orchid-laden
hat she was a very entrancing vision.  The duel might be picturesque as
well as piquant.

"I trust you left Lord Vernilands well?" he inquired politely.  She dug
desperately in her mind for a moment.  It seemed foolishly important to
be truthful, even though this man knew she was acting a lie.

"He is never very well in the winter," she answered, without any
apparent interlude for thought.  Sir Ronald was even more pleased with
her.

"That is so," he agreed.  "I remember when I left Bethwick that autumn
he was just in for his annual bout of bronchitis."

The two men sat down, and, with her permission, smoked.  Sarle had
placed his chair where he could look full at her, missing no shade of
expression on her face.  His frank warm eyes enfolded her in a gaze of
trust and devotion that was as patent to the other man as to her.
There was no peace for her in that gaze; things were too desperate for
that; but it nerved her resolution to fence to the death with this
polished gamester.  She had her back to the wall, and resolved to die
fighting rather than make an ignominious surrender before the man she
loved.

Sarle looked from one to the other contentedly.  For once his
far-seeing veld eyes played him false.

"I am so glad you two are friends," he said.  Then, addressing April,
"Odd that we shouldn't have discovered it before, for, you know, Kenna
is my best friend, as well as my ranching partner."



PART III

They sat talking for close on two hours, and at the end of that time
April rose with a laugh on her lips and many a light and airy reason
why she could not stay.  It was too hot, she must rest a little, she
had unpacking to do.  Even after rising from her chair she lingered as
if regretful to go, but they could not persuade her to stay and have
tea with them.  Presently she sauntered off slowly, leaving a promise
that she would dine with them that evening.  She did not know why she
promised.  As she walked away, sauntering, because her feet seemed as
lead-laden as her heart, she told herself that it would be better to go
and dine with the sharks in Table Bay than sit down again with Ronald
Kenna.  In her room she lay exhausted and very still for a long time,
with the feeling that she had escaped from a red-hot gridiron.  She
looked in her mirror on entering, expecting to see a vision of Medusa,
hair hanging in streaks, eyes distraught, and deep ruts in the cheeks;
but her face was charming and composed, and a fixed smile curved her
mouth.  She shuddered at her own image.

"Lies deform and obscure the soul," she thought, "yet my face bears no
mark of the lies I have told this afternoon, nor the hell my spirit has
passed through!"

Only when she removed her hat something strange arrested her attention,
something that might have been a feather or a flake of snow lying on
her luminous black hair just where it grew low in a widow's peak at the
centre of her forehead.  She made to brush it lightly away, but it
stayed, for it was not a feather at all, but a lock of her own hair
that had turned white.  A little gift from Ronald Kenna!

He had played with her as a cat plays with a mouse before killing it.
True, he had not killed her, nor (which would have been the same thing)
exposed her mercilessly before Vereker Sarle's eyes.  But he had made
her pay for his clemency.  Probably the cleverness with which she
slipped out of the corners into which she was hedged, her skill in
darting from under his menacing paw, roused his admiration as well as
his sporting instinct.  It must have been a great game for him, but
hers were the breathless emotions of the helpless mouse whose heart
goes pit-a-pat in the fear of being gobbled up the next moment.

It was all very subtle.  Sarle never suspected what was going on, so
cool and sweet she looked under her shady hat, so unfailing was her
composure.  He was accustomed to the dry and biting flavour of Kenna's
speech, and paid no great heed to it.  He believed himself listening to
the witty reminiscences of two people with many friends and interests
in common, and nothing in the girl's manner as she lied and fenced and
swiftly covered up mistakes with jests and laughter betrayed the agony
of baiting she was enduring.  Kenna was a friend he would have trusted
with everything he had in the world; but he was aware of a twist in
that friend's nature which made him look at women with sardonic eyes.
It had not always been so.  Some woman had given that cruel twist to a
loyal and trusting nature; some loved hand had dealt the wound that
festered in Ronald Kenna's heart; and Sarle, because he guessed this,
forgave his friend much.  But he would never have forgiven had he known
what was passing there under his very eyes.  The woman he loved was on
the rack, and he never guessed it because she smiled instead of crying
out.

And it was all to suffer again that evening.  April knew that, as she
dressed herself carefully for dinner.  There was no mistaking Kenna's
pressing request that they should be allowed to come to her table.
Sarle had not had time to ask for himself alone.  Kenna had forestalled
him, and there was double craft in the action: he meant to keep his
eye, or rather his claw, on her, while preventing her from being alone
with Sarle.  If she was in the fray to protect Sarle from the pain of
finding her out, he was in it to protect Sarle from her.  The situation
might have been funny if it had not been grim.  She could have laughed
at it but for her fear of Kenna, but for an old man's pain and misery,
but that the whole miserable structure of deceit rested on a girl's
drowned body.

She put on a black gown.  It seemed only fitting to absent herself
awhile from the felicity of colour.  Besides, all her joy in clothes
had gone.  How gladly would she now have donned her own shabby
garments, if with them could have returned the old peace of mind!  But
even the plain little demi-toilette of black chiffon was peerlessly
cut, and her whiteness glowed like a pearl through its filmy darkness.
There was no way of dressing her hair that would hide the white feather
on her forehead, and after trying once or twice she left it.  It looked
very remarkable, that touch of age above her young, flower-like face.
She could not altogether hate it, for it was a scar won bravely enough,
and in desperate battle.  Africa had not taken long to put its mark on
her!

The men were waiting for her in the lounge; Sarle looking radiantly
happy because he was sure of the society of the two people he cared for
most in the world; Kenna with a fresh device to try her composure.

"I want to see if you can remember the ingredients of that cocktail I
introduced to you at the 'Carlton' on a certain memorable evening when
we escaped from Aunt Grizel," he said gaily.  She looked at him
reflectively.  "As I've just been telling Sarle, you learned the recipe
by heart, and swore that from henceforth you would use no other."

"Ah, yes," she drawled slowly.  "But you take no account of time and my
'Winter-garment of Repentance.'  I am a very different girl to the one
you knew two years ago."

"I realize that, of course."  He grinned with delight at her point.  It
seemed to him possible that the evening might be even more entertaining
than the afternoon.

"_This_ girl never drinks cocktails," she finished quaintly, and he
liked her more and more.

Many glances followed them as they passed down the long room, full of
rose-shaded candles and the heavy scent of flowers.  Pretty women are
not scarce in Cape Town, especially at the season when all Johannesburg
crowds to the sea, but there was a haunting, almost tragic loveliness
about April that night that set her apart from the other women, and
drew every eye.  Sarle felt his pulses thrill with the pride that stirs
every man when the seal of public admiration is set upon the woman he
loves.  As he looked at her across the table he suddenly recalled some
little verses he had found scrawled in Kenna's writing on an old book
once when they were away together on the veld:

  My love she is a lady fair,
    A lady fair and fine;
  She is to eat the rarest meat
    And drink the reddest wine.

  Her jewelled foot shall tread the ground
    Like a feather on the air;
  Oh! and brighter than the sunset
    The frocks my love shall wear!

  If she be loyal men shall know
    What beauty gilds my pride;
  If she be false the more glad I,
    For the world is always wide.

Poor Kenna!  She had been false: that was why he had sought the wide
world of the veld and renounced women.  Sarle, certain of the innate
truth and loyalty of the girl opposite him as of her pearl-like outer
beauty, could pity his friend's fate from the bottom of his soul.  But
being a man, he did not linger too long with pity; hope is always a
pleasanter companion, and hope was burning in him like a blue flame:
the hope that within an hour or two he would hold this radiant girl in
his arms and touch her lips.  He thought of the garden outside, full of
shadows and scented starlight, and looking at the curve of her lips,
his eyes darkened, and strange bells rang in his ears.  She had eluded
him for many nights, although she knew he loved her.  He had kissed her
fingers and the palm of her hand, but tonight out in the starlit garden
he meant to kiss her lips.  The resolve was iron in him.  He hardly
heard what the other two were saying.  He was living in a world of his
own.  April, weary of Kenna's cruel heckling, turned to him for a
moment's relief, and what she saw in his eyes was wine and oil for her
weariness, but it made her afraid, not only because of the perilous
longing in her to give him all he asked, but because Kenna sat alert as
a lynx for even a smile she might cast that way.  It was very certain
that no opportunity would be given them for being a moment together;
and divining something of Sarle's resolute temper, she could not help
miserably wondering what would happen when it came to a tussle of will
between the two men.

However, even the careful plans of first-class lynxes go awry
sometimes.  A waiter came to the table to say that Kenna was wanted on
the telephone.

"Tell them I'm engaged," was the curt answer.

"It's his Honour Judge Byng, sir," said the waiter in an awed manner,
"and I have already told him you were at dinner.  He says it is most
important."

Kenna glared at the man, then at his companions.  The latter appeared
placidly indifferent.  April sipped her wine, and her eyes roamed round
the room whilst she exchanged idle talk with Sarle.  But the moment
Kenna's back was turned indifference fell from them; they looked at
each other eagerly like two school-children in a hurry to take
advantage of the teacher's absence.

"Darn him!" muttered Sarle.  "I wish Byng would keep him all night."

"He will be back directly," she said breathlessly.  Sarle glanced at
the plates.  They were only at the fish.

"He's got to finish his dinner, I suppose," he said grudgingly.  "But
can't we escape afterwards?  I want to show you the garden."

"He's sure to stay with us," she answered tragically.

"Oh--but to Halifax with him!" began Sarle.

"I know, but we mustn't offend him," she implored hastily.  "He . . .
he's such a good fellow."

"Of course I realize he is an old friend of yours, and likes to be with
you, and all that," Sarle conceded.  "But so do I.  I want to show you
the garden . . . by myself."  He looked pleadingly and intently into
her eyes until her lids fell and a soft flush suffused her cheeks.  His
glance drank in every detail of her fresh, sweet beauty.

"What's that funny little patch of white on your hair?" he asked
suddenly.  "I have been puzzling about it all the evening.  Is it a new
fashion?"  She shook her head.

"He's coming back."  From where she sat she could see Kenna the moment
he entered the room.

"Promise you will come to the garden," he urged.

"Yes," she said softly.

"No matter how long it takes to get rid of him?"

"Yes."

"Even if we have to pretend to say good-night? . . .  I shall be
waiting for you . . . you'll come?"  She nodded; there was no time for
more.  Kenna was upon them, very cross at having his dinner
interrupted, and with an eye cocked searchingly upon April.  But
neither she nor Sarle gave any sign of what had passed.

Later, when they were round their coffee in the lounge, the hall-porter
brought her some letters on a salver.  She saw Kenna looking at her
satirically as she examined the superscriptions.  All were addressed to
Lady Diana Vernilands, and the problem of what she was to do about
letters was one not yet considered.

"Don't let me keep you from your interesting correspondence," he
remarked, and April started, to find that they were alone.  Sarle had
gone across to Leon to get some cigars.

"Oh, there's nothing that can't wait," she said hastily, and pushed
them into her hand-bag.

"I agree"--he assumed a bright, conversational air--"that some things
are even more interesting for being waited for; the explanation of your
conduct, for instance!"

She looked at him steadily, though her heart was beating rapidly, for
this moment had come upon her with sudden unexpectedness.

"You appear to suffer from curiosity?"

"Don't call it suffering."  His tone was suave.  "I am enjoying myself
immensely."

"I shall try not to do anything to interfere with your amusement," she
remarked, after a pause.

"That will be kind.  The situation piques me.  I should like to watch
it to a finish without contributing to the _dénouement_; unless"--he
looked at her significantly--"I am obliged to."

"I cannot believe anything or any one could oblige you to be
disagreeable, Sir Ronald," she jeered softly.  He meditated with an air
of gravity.

"There _are_ one or two things, though; friendship, for instance--I
would do quite disagreeable things for the sake of a friend."  She was
silent.

"I might even vex a woman I admire as much as I do you, to save a
friend from disaster."

Thus they sparred, the attention of each fixed on Sarle, so gay and
debonair, buying cigars within a stone's throw of them.  Having
finished with Leon, he attempted to rejoin them, but the lounge was
crowded, and at every few steps some old friend entangled him.

"There is nothing much to admire about me."  In spite of herself a note
of desolation crept into her voice.  Kenna looked at her in surprise.
This was a new side to the adventuress!

"_Au contraire_.  Apart from the inestimable gifts of youth and beauty
the gods have bestowed, you possess a quality that would draw
admiration from the most unwilling--courage."

She bowed mockingly.  Sarle was escaping from his many friends at last
and returning.  Kenna rapped out what he had to say sharply, though his
voice was low.

"He is a good fellow, and I do not care to give him pain--unless you
force me to."

He searched her face keenly, but found no trace there of anything
except a courteous interest in his conversation.  She did not mean him
to guess how much Vereker Sarle's happiness meant to her.

"Anything else?" she dared him.

"Well, of course I should like to know where the real Lady Diana is,"
he said carelessly.  That gave her a bad moment.  Mercifully, the
waiter created a diversion by knocking a coffee-cup over as he removed
the tray, and Sarle, returning, had some news for Kenna of a mutual
friend's success in some political campaign.  This gave her a short
space in which to recover.  But she was badly shaken, and wondered
desperately how she was going to get through the rest of the evening if
Kenna clung.  They sat talking in a desultory fashion, each restlessly
watching the others.  There was a clatter of conversation about them,
and in the adjoining drawing-room a piano and violins had begun to
play.  The air was warm and heavy.  For some reason April could not
fathom the French windows had been closed, and there was a swishing,
seething sound outside, as though the sea was rushing in tides through
the garden.  She felt curiously unstrung.  It was not only the nervous
effect of having these two men so intent upon her every word and
movement, but there was something extraordinarily disturbing in the
atmospheric conditions that made the palms of her hands ache and her
scalp prickle as from a thousand tiny thorns.

"I don't think I can bear this place much longer," she said suddenly,
even to herself unexpectedly.  "Wouldn't it be cooler out where we were
sitting this afternoon?"

"I think so," said Sarle briskly.  "Besides I want to show you the
garden."  He rose, but Kenna rose too.

"My dear fellow," he expostulated gently, "don't you realize there is a
south-easter blowing?  We can't subject Lady Di to the curse of the
Cape tonight.  It always affects new-comers most disagreeably.  In
fact, I think she is suffering from it already."

"Is that what is making me prickle all over and feel as though I want
to commit murder?" she inquired, with rather a tremulous smile.  "What
is this new African horror?"

"Only our Cape 'mistral.'"  Sarle looked at her anxiously.  "It's
blowing a bit hard in the trees outside, but----"

"I thought that was the sea.  If it's only the wind I don't mind."  She
rose, half hesitating.  "I love wind."

"I think it would be very unwise of you to go," said Kenna quietly.
Sarle thought him infernally interfering, though he heard nothing in
the words but friendly counsel.  To April the remark contained a
threat, and she gave way with as good a grace as she might, holding out
her hand to say good-night to them.

"Perhaps I had better postpone acquaintance with your curse as long as
possible."  The words were for Kenna, her smile for Sarle.

"I will see you to the lift," the latter said.  Kenna could hardly
offer to come too, but as it was only just across the lounge to the
hall, and within range of his eye, perhaps he thought it did not
matter.  He could not know that Sarle, sauntering with a careless air
beside her, was saying very softly and only for her ear:

"It is quite early.  If instead of taking the lift again you came down
the main staircase, you would find a door almost opposite, leading into
the garden.  I think you promised?"

His voice was very pleading.  She did not answer, nor even turn his
way.  But once safely in the lift, out of the range of Kenna's gimlet
eyes, over the shoulders of the stunted brown lift-boy she let her
glance rest in his, and so told him that he would have his wish.

There must have been some witchery in that south-east wind.  She knew
it was madness to go, that she was only entangling herself more closely
in a mesh which could not be unravelled for many days.  Yet within half
an hour she was out there in the darkness, with the wind tearing at her
hair and flickering her cloak about her like a silken sail.  When she
closed the door behind her and went forward it was like plunging into
an unknown purple pool, full of dark objects swaying and swimming
beside her in the fleeting darkness.  Tendrils of flowering plants
caught at her with twining fingers.  A heavily scented waxen flower,
pallid as the face of a lost soul, stooped and kissed her from a
balcony as she passed.  The young trees were like slim girls bowing to
each other with fantastic grace; the big trees stood together "terrible
as an army with banners," raging furiously in an uproar like the
banging of a thousand breakers upon a brazen beach.  The sky was full
of wrack, with a snatch of moon flying across it, and a scattering of
lost stars.

She felt more alive and vital than ever in her life before.  The
clamour of the storm seemed to be in her veins as well as in her ears.
She was glad with a wild, exultant happiness of which she had never
dreamed, when she found herself snatched by strong arms and held close,
close.  The maelstrom whirled about her, but she was clasped safe in a
sheltered place.  Sarle kissed her with long, silent kisses.  There was
no need for words, their lips told the tale to each other.  It seemed
to her that her nature expanded into the vastness of the sea and the
wind and the stars, and became part with them. . . .  But all the while
she was conscious of being just a slight, trembling girl held close
against a man's heart--the right man, and the right heart!  She had
come across the sea to find him, and Africa had given them to each
other.  She lost count of time and place and terror.  The burden of her
trouble mercifully left her.  She remembered only that she and Vereker
Sarle loved each other and were here alone together in this
wind-wracked wilderness of perfumed darkness and mystery.  Her ears and
mind were closed to everything but his whispering words:

"My darling, my darling . . .  I have waited for you all my life . . .
women have been nothing to me because I knew you were somewhere in the
world.  I have crossed the veld and the seas a thousand times looking
for you, and have found you at last!  I will never let you go."

He kissed her throat and her eyes.  More than ever her whiteness shone
in the gloom with the luminousness of a pearl.

"Your beauty makes me tremble," he whispered in her hair.  "Darling,
say that you love me and will give yourself to me for ever."

"I love you, Vereker. . . ."

"Call me Kerry."

"I love you, Kerry.  I give myself to you."

She rejoiced in her beauty, because it was a precious gift to him.

"You don't know what you mean to me, Diana--a star dropped out of
heaven; the pure air of the veld I love; white lilies growing on a
mountain top.  Thank God you are all these things without any darkness
in you anywhere.  It is the crown of a man's life to love a woman like
you."

"Let me go, Kerry," she said.  "It is late.  I must go."

He did not notice that her voice was broken with tears, for the wind
swept her words up to the trees and the boiling wrack of clouds beyond.
But he knew that it was time for her to go.  That wild pool of love and
wind and stars was too sweet and dangerous a place for lovers to linger
in.  He wrapped her cloak about her and sheltered her back to the door
from which she had emerged.

"Tomorrow morning . . .  I shall be waiting for you in the lounge.  We
will settle then how soon you will give yourself to me--it must be very
soon, darling.  I am forty-four, and can't wait a moment."

The light from the door fell on his face and showed it gay as a boy's.
Her face was hidden, or he must have, recognized the misery stamped
upon it.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

In the morning light it seemed to her that the finger of snow on her
hair had broadened a little.  It was five o'clock of an ice-green dawn,
with the mountain like an ashen wraith outside, and the wind still
raging.  South-easters last for three days, Kenna had said, and she
shuddered to look at that unseen power whipping the leaves from the
trees, beating down the beauty of the garden, tearing the mists from
the mountain's side, only to pile them higher upon the summit.  It took
courage to go out in that wind, but it took greater courage to stay and
meet Vereker Sarle.  So she was dressed and hatted, with a small
suit-case in her hand, and starting on a journey to the Paarl.  She did
not know what "the Paarl" was, nor where!  Her first introduction to
that strange name was at midnight, when she found it on one of the
letters addressed to Diana.  All the other letters were of no
consequence, but the Paarl letter seemed to solve for her the pressing
and immediate problem of how to escape from the terror of exposure by
Kenna before the loved eyes of Sarle.  It was from the parson's
daughter, that eccentric painter who lived somewhere on the veld, and
whose home was to have been Diana's destination.  "Clive Connal" she
signed herself, and said she hoped Diana would take the morning train,
as it was the coolest one to travel by, and arrive at the Paarl by
8.30, where a mule-cart would be waiting to take her to Ho-la-lé-la.[1]
So April meant to follow instructions and trust to luck to see her
through.  Whatever happened, it could not be more terrible than to read
disgust and disillusion in Vereker Sarle's eyes.

She stole down the stairs like a shadow, and found a sleepy clerk in
the booking-office.  It was simple to explain to him that she was going
away for a few days, but wished her room kept on, and everything left
as it was.  She would send a wire to say at what date she would be
returning.  There was no difficulty about the bill, for, fortunately,
Bellew had supplied her with plenty of money, saying it was Diana's,
and that she would have wished it to be used.  It was too early for a
taxi to be got, even by telephoning, but the porter caught a stray
rickshaw that chanced to be passing, and April had her first experience
of flying downhill behind a muscular black man with feathers in his
hair and bangles on his feet.  Before she reached the station her veil
and hair were in streamers, and her scalp was almost torn from her
head, but the _serpent jaune_ which had gnawed her vitals all night had
ceased from troubling, and joy of living glowed in her once more.  She
could not help it; there was something in the air and the wind and the
blaze of Africa that made for life, and thrust out despair.  It swept
away misery as the south-easter had swept the skies, leaving them blue
and clear as a flawless turquoise.

She caught her train, and in fate's good hour reached the Paarl, which
proved to be a town of one long street, decked with stately oaks, and
mellowed old Dutch homes.  The mule-cart was waiting for her, and on
the driver's seat a woman with the austere features and blue, pure,
visionary eyes of Galahad, the stainless knight.  But she was dressed
in breeches and a slouch hat, a cigarette hung from the corner of her
mouth, and she beckoned April gladsomely with an immense cowthong whip.

"Come on!  I was afraid you'd shirk the early train, but I see you're
the stuff.  Hop in!"

April did her best, but hopping into a Cape cart that has both steps
missing takes some practice.  The mules did most of the hopping; she
scrambled, climbed, sprawled, and sprained herself all over before she
reached the vacant seat, already encumbered with many parcels.  With a
blithe crack of the whip and a string of strange words flung like a
challenge at her mules, Miss Connal got under way.

The farm was six miles off, but ere they had gone two April knew the
painter as well as if they had been twin sisters.  Clive Connal hadn't
a secret or a shilling she would not share with the whole world.  She
used the vocabulary of a horse-dealer and the slang of a schoolboy, but
her mind was as fragrant as a field that the Lord hath blessed, and her
heart was the heart of a child.  It was shameful to deceive such a
creature, and April's nature revolted from the act.  Before they
reached the farm she had confessed her identity--explaining how the
change had come about, and why it was important to go on with the
deception.  Too much explanation was not necessary with a person of
Clive's wide understanding.  No vagaries of behaviour seemed to shock
or astonish her large human soul.  She merely, during the relation of
Diana's tragedy, muttered once or twice to herself:

"The poor thing!  Oh! the poor thing!" and looked at April as though
she too were "a poor thing," instead of a fraud and an adventuress to
be abjured and cast out.  For the first time since her mother's death
the girl felt herself sheltering in the warmth of womanly sympathy, and
the comfort of it was very sweet.

"Don't worry too much," said Clive cheerfully.

"_Tout s'arrange_: that's my motto.  Everything comes straight if you
leave it alone."

A cheerful motto indeed, and one seeming to fit well with the picture
of the old farmhouse lying in the morning sunshine.  Low-roofed and
white-walled, it was tucked under the shelter of the Qua-Qua mountains,
with apricot orchards stretching away on either side.  Six immense oaks
spread their untrimmed branches above the high stoep, and before the
house, where patches of yellow-green grass grew ragged as a vagabond's
hair, a Kerry cow was pegged out and half a dozen black babies
disported themselves amongst the acorns.  Dozens of old paraffin tins
stained with rust, and sawed-off barrels bulging asunder lined the edge
of the stoep, all filled with geraniums, begonias, cacti, red lilies,
and feathery bamboos.  Every plant had a flower, and every flower was a
brilliant, vital thing.  Other decorations were a chopping-block, an
oak chest, blistered and curled by the sun, several wooden beds with
the bedding rolled up on them, and two women, who smiled a welcome.
These were Ghostie, and _belle_ Helène--the only names April ever knew
them by.

"Welcome to the home for derelicts, broken china, and old crocks," they
said.  "You may think you are none of these things, but there must be
something the matter with you or you wouldn't be here."

"Too true!" thought April, but smilingly answered, "There doesn't seem
much wrong with you!"

"Oh, there is, though.  Ghostie is a journalist, recovering from having
the soul trampled out of her by Johannesburg Jews.  I am a singer with
a sore throat and a chronic pain in my right kidney that I am trying to
wash away with the juice of Clive's apricots and the milk from Clive's
cows."

"Nuff sed," interposed Clive.  "Let's think about some grub.  I've
brought back sausages for breakfast."

Meekie, the mother of the black babies, had fetched in the parcels from
the cart, and already there was a fizzling sound in the kitchen.  The
rest of the household proudly conducted April to the guest-chamber.
There was nothing in it except a packing-case and a bed, but the walls
were covered by noble studies of mountains, Clive pointed out some
large holes in the floor, warning April not to get her foot twisted in
them.

"I don't think there are any snakes here," she said carelessly.  "There
is an old cobra under the dining-room floor, and we often hear her
hissing to herself, but she never does any harm."

"It is better to sleep on the stoep at night," Ghostie recommended.
"We all do."

Before the afternoon April had settled down among them as if she had
lived there always.  Sarle and his kisses seemed like a lost dream; the
menace of Kenna was forgotten.  For the first time in her existence she
let herself drift with the tide, taking no thought for the morrow nor
the ultimate port at which her boat would "swing to."  It was
lotus-eating in a sense, yet none of the dwellers at Ho-la-lé-la idled.
It is true that Ghostie and _belle_ Helène were crocks, but they worked
at the business of repairing their bodies to tackle the battle of life
once more.  April soon discovered that they were only two of the many
of Clive's comrades who came broken to the farm and went away healed.
Clive was a Theosophist: all men were her brothers, and all women her
sisters; but those especially among art-workers who fell by the wayside
might share her bread and blanket.  They called her Old Mother Sphinx,
because of her inscrutable eyes, and the tenderness of her mothering.

She herself never stopped working, and her body was hard as iron from
long discipline.  She rose in the dawn to work on her lands, hoeing,
digging her orchards, and tending her cattle in company with her
coloured labourers.  It was only at odd moments or during the heat of
the day that she painted, and all the money she made with paint was
swallowed up by the farm, which did not pay, but which was the very
core of her heart.

Impossible for April to be in such company and not work too, even if
her thoughts had not demanded occupation.  So, first she mended the
clothes of everybody, including Meekie's ragged piccanins; then she
went to the Paarl, bought a pot of green paint, and spent days of sheer
forgetfulness smartening up the rusty paraffin tins and barrels, and
all the bleared and blistered shutters and doors and sills of the farm,
that had not known paint for many years.

At mid-day they bathed in a tree-shaded pool that had formed in the bed
of a stream running across the farm.  They had no bathing frocks but
their skins, and sometimes Clive, sitting stark on the bank, palette in
hand, painted the others as they tumbled in the dark brown water,
sporting and splashing like a lot of schoolboys.  Afterwards they would
mooch home through the shimmering noontide heat, deliciously tired,
wrapped in reflection and their towels.  Ghostie provided a perpetual
jest by wearing a smart Paris hat with a high cerise crown.  She said
it had once belonged to the fastest woman in South Africa, who had
given it to her as a joke, but she did not mention the lady's name, nor
say in what her "fastness" consisted.  This was characteristic of
visitors at Ho-la-lé-la: they sometimes stated facts, but never talked
scandal.  When April asked them to call her by her own name, instead of
"Diana," they did so without comment, accepting her as one of
themselves, and asking no questions about England, the voyage, or the
Cape.  The scandalous tragedy of the April Fool had never reached them,
and if it had they would have taken little interest except to be sorry
for the girl.

In the evenings when work was put away Clive played to them on the
'cello.

"I was determined to have music in my life," she told April.  "And as
you can't lug a piano and musician all over the shop with you, I saw no
way of getting it but to darn well teach myself."

And very well she had done it, though why she had chosen a 'cello,
which also needed some lugging, no one knew but herself.  Sitting with
it between her heavy boots and breeched legs, the eternal cigarette
drooping from her mouth, she looked more than ever like Galahad, her
blue austere gaze seeming to search beyond the noble mountain tops of
her own pictures for some Holy Grail she would never find.  No
complicated music was hers, just grand, simple things like Handel's
"Largo," Van Biene's "Broken Melody," "Ave Maria," or some of Squire's
sweet airs.

Sometimes at night they went out and climbed upon a huge rock that
stood in the apricot orchard.  It was big enough to build a house on,
and called by Clive her Counsel Rock, because there she took counsel
with the stars when things went wrong with the farm.  Lying flat on
their backs they could feel the warmth of the day still in the stone as
they gazed at the purple and silver panoply of heaven spread above
them, and Clive would commune with blue-rayed Sirius and his dark
companion; the Gemini, those radiant twins; Orion's belt in the centre
sky preciously gemmed with celestial diamonds; Canopus, a calm, pale
yellow star, the largest in our universe; Mars, gleaming red as a
madman's eye; Venus springing from the horizon, the Pleiades slinking
below it.  The "galloping star" she claimed as her own on account of
its presumed horsiness.

"It's a funny thing," she said.  "My mother and father were gentle,
bookish creatures with no understanding of animals.  Even if a pony had
to be bought for us children, every male thing of the family--uncles,
nephews, tenth cousins--was summoned from every corner of England for
his advice and experience.  Yet these unsophisticated beings have a
daughter like me--born into the world a full-blown horse-dealer!  To
say nothing of mules.  You can believe me or believe me not," she added
bragfully, "but there is _no one_ in this land of swindles who knows
more about mules than I do."

They chose to believe her, especially after hearing her haggling and
bartering with some of the itinerant dealers who visited the farm from
time to time.

"I don't know vy ve can't do pizness today!  I got no profit in
anyting.  I just been here for a friend"--thus the dealer.

"Ah!  I know who your friend is," Clive would jeer from the stoep.
"You keep him under your own hat.  But don't come here expecting to
swop a beautiful mule that cost me 20 pounds for that skew-eyed crock
that will go thin as a rake after three weeks on the sour veld, a 10
pound note thrown in, and taking me for a fool into the bargain.  Your
horse is worth 15 pounds, and not a bean more."

"I also must lif!"--the whine of the Jew.

"I don't see the necessity."  Clive shamelessly plagiarized Wilde,
Plato, or the holy prophets when it suited her.

"Vot, you know!  You can't do pizness with a womans!"  The dealer would
weep tears of blood, but Clive made the bargain.

A week slid past, and April barely noticed its passing.  No word came
from the outer world.  It was not the custom to read newspapers at
Ho-la-lé-la, and all letters were stuffed unopened into a drawer, in
case they might be bills.  Close friends were wise enough to
communicate by telegram, or, better still, dump themselves in person
upon the doorstep.  The only reason that April had been expected and
fetched was that a "home letter" had heralded the likely advent of Lady
Diana, and given the date and hotel at which she would be staying.
Home letters were never stuffed away unopened.

Late one afternoon, however, there was an unexpected announcement.  The
_boch-ma-keer-ie_ bird began to cry in the orchard, and Clive said it
was a surer sign of visitors than any that came from the telegraph
office.

"Tomorrow is Sunday.  We'll have visitors, sure as a gun," she
prophesied.

April quailed.  She could not bear the peaceful drifting to end, and
wished for no reminder of that outer world where Bellew, the mail-boat
for England, and the dreary task of breaking an old man's heart awaited
her.  Sometimes in spite of herself she was obliged to consider these
things, and the considering threw shadows under her eyes and hollowed
her cheeks.  Sarle, too, though he was a dream by day, became very real
at night when she should have been dreaming.  She knew now that she
could never escape from the memory of him, and the thought that he was
suffering from her silence and defection tortured her.  What must he
think of her, slinking guiltily away without a word of explanation or
farewell?  Doubtless Kenna would set him right!  "Faithful are the
wounds of a friend," she thought bitterly.  Better far and braver to
have done the explaining and setting right herself, if only she could
have found some way of releasing herself from the compact of silence
made with Diana and Bellew.

Sunday, morning dawned very perfectly.  They were all sleeping on the
stoep, their beds in line against the wall, Clive upon the oak chest,
which her austere self-discipline commanded.  At three o'clock, though
a few stars lingered, the sky was already tinting itself with the
lovely lustre of a pink pearl.  No sound broke the stillness but the
breathing of the sleepers and the soft perpetual dropping of acorns
from the branches overhead.

The peace and beauty of it smote April to the heart.  She pressed her
fingers over her eyes and tears oozed through them, trickling down her
face.  When at last she looked again the stars were gone and the sky
was blue as a thrush's egg, with a fluff of rose-red clouds knitted
together overhead and a few crimson rags scudding across the Qua-Quas.
A dove suddenly cried, "Choo-coo, choo-coo," and others took up the
refrain, until in the hills and woods hundreds of doves were greeting
the morning with their soft, thrilling cries.  Fowls straying from a
barn near by started scratching in the sand.  The first streak of
sunshine shot across the hills and struck a bush of pomegranates
blossoming scarlet by the gate.

Presently the farm workers began to come from their huts and file past
the stoep towards the outhouses.  Julie, the Cape foreman, with a right
leg longer than the left, was the first to stagger by.

"Moorer, Missis!" he said, with a pull of his cap and a swift
respectful glance at the stoep.  Clive, awake by now on her oak chest,
responded absently without raising her head from the pillow.

"Moorer, Julie!"

Next, Isaac, whose legs were so formed that when he stood still they
described a circle, and when he moved the circle became a triangle.

"Moorer, Missis!" said he.

"Moorer, Isaac!"

Jim, the cowherd, had a hare-lip and no roof to his mouth, and was so
modest that he turned his head away when he lisped his salutation to
the stoep.

"Moor-ler, Mithis!"

"Moorer, Jim!"

After a few moment's silence a voice from one of the beds was heard.

"Is the file-past of the Decrepits over?  May one now sleep for a
while?"

"This place ought to be called _des Invalides_," grumbled another.

Clive laughed her large, blithe laugh.

"At any rate, there's nothing wrong with me," she proclaimed, and
sprang with one leap into her top-boots.  Passing April's bed she
touched the girl's eyelids tenderly, and her finger-tips came away wet.

"Nor with our little April, I hope--except a passing shower!  You had
better come up the lands with me this morning, and plant trees."

That was Clive's cure for all ills of the body and soul: to plant trees
that would grow up and benefit Africa long after the planters were dead
and forgotten.  No one ever left Ho-la-lé-la without having had a dose
of this medicine, and many an incipient forest lay along the valleys
and down the sides of the Qua-Quas.  So behold April an hour or two
later, faring forth with a pick and a basket full of saplings, followed
by Clive leading the Kerry cow, who was sick and needed exercise.

They lunched in the open, resting from their labours and savouring the
sweetness of food earned by physical labour.  Care was stuffed out of
sight, dreams and ghosts faded in the clear sun-beaten air, and again
April realized what life could mean in this wonderful land, given the
right companionship, and a clean heart.  But Clive, with arms clasped
about her knees, sat munching apricots and staring with a strange
sadness at her forests of baby trees.  There was an unfulfilled look on
her face, spite of living her own life, and following her star.
Neither Africa nor life had given her all she needed.

Later they wended their way back full of the happy weariness engendered
by honest toil.  But nearing home Clive lifted her nose, and sniffing
the breeze like a wild ass of the desert sensing unfamiliar things
scowled bitterly.

"Petrol!" she ejaculated.  "One of those stinking motor-cars!  Why
can't people use horses, like gentlemen?  What's the matter with a nice
mule, even?"

As they slouched warily round the house and came in view of the stoep
she emitted a staccato whistle of dismay.  Tethered out upon the
vagabondish grass was--not one motor-car, but three!  An opulent thing
of blinking brass and crimson leather arrogated to itself the exclusive
shade of the largest tree; a long grey torpedo affair of two seats
occupied the pasturage of the Kerry cow; and blistering in the
sunshine, with several fowls perched upon it, was an ancient Ford
wearing the roystering air of a scallywag come home for good.

"That old _boch-ma-keer-ie_ bird knew something!" muttered the painter.
"I don't like the look of this!"

They paused to take counsel of each other, then presently advanced,
Clive approaching her own front door with the stealthy glide of a
pickpocket, April tip-toeing behind her.  The idea was to get indoors
without being seen, listen in the hall to discover whether the visitors
were agreeable ones, and if not, to take refuge in the kitchen until
they had departed.  Unfortunately one of them came out of the front
door to shake his pipe on the stoep as Clive and April reached the
steps.

"Why, it's old Kerry Sarle!" cried Clive heartily, and stealth fell
from her.  She beamed with happiness, and shook his hand unceasingly,
pouring forth questions like water.

"When did you get back?  Why didn't you come before?  What did you
bring a crowd for?  Who have you got with you?"

"Only Kenna.  The crowd doesn't belong to me.  They've come to buy
pictures or something, and are in your studio.  I haven't seen them.
We are in the dining-room."

His speech was disjointed and halting, his amazed gaze fixed upon the
girl standing thunderstruck at the foot of the steps.  Clive forged on
into the house with a gloomy eye; she hated to sell pictures, even when
she needed the money.  April and Sarle were left together, and in a
moment he was down the step by her side.  They stood looking at each
other with the memory of their last kiss kindling between them.  He had
been bitterly hurt, but he loved and trusted her beyond all things that
were, and could not conceal the happiness in his eyes.  Only for the
open studio windows and the round-eyed piccannins, he would have
gathered her to his heart; as it was he gathered her hands instead and
held them where they could feel its beating.

"Darling!  Thank God I have found you."

Kenna had not betrayed her, then.  The blow was still to fall.  She
managed to smile a little, but she had turned very pale, and there was
something in her silence chilling even to his ardent spirit.

"You don't think I tracked you down?  We motored out here with no idea
but to see Clive Connal----"

"Of course not."  She strove to speak casually.  "I couldn't expect to
have a friend like Clive all to myself, but I never dreamed you knew
her."

"She has been my friend for twelve years or more."

"Yes," said Kenna's voice from the stoep, "we are all old friends
together here."

He had come out with _belle_ Helène, and stood smiling upon them.  The
old malice was there, with some new element of strain that made him
look more sardonic, yet strangely pathetic to the girl who feared him.

"Who'd have thought to find you here, Lady Di?" he sneered softly.
"Life is full of pleasant surprises!"

They all went into the dining-room, where tea was laid, and Clive
brought in her picture-dealers, who proved to be two globe-trotters
anxious to acquire specimens of South African art.  Someone had told
them that Clive Connal stood top of the tree amongst Cape painters, so
they had spent about seven pounds ten on a car from Cape Town in the
hope of getting some rare gem for a couple of guineas.  One was a fat
and pompous ass, the other a withered monkey of a fellow who hopped
about peering through his monocle at the pictures on the walls,
uttering deprecating criticism in the hope of bringing down prices.

"This sketch of Victoria Falls is not bad," he piped, gazing at a thing
of tender mists and spraying water above a titanic rock-bound gorge.
"The left foreground wants breaking up a bit, though!"

"I think you want breaking up a bit," muttered Clive, who had already
made up her mind to sell him nothing, and looking longingly at her
sjambok lying on the sideboard.  "Where are Ghostie and the others?"
she demanded.

"They had tea by themselves in Ghostie's room."  _Belle_ Helène
proffered the statement rather hesitatingly, and no wonder, in a house
where "_les amies de mes amis sont mes amies_" was the rule.  It took
more than that to offend Clive, but she looked astonished.

"Oh, all right, then, let's have ours," she said, and sitting at the
head of her table held the loaf of home-made brown bread firmly to her
breast, carving hefty slices and passing them on the point of the knife
to _belle_ Helène, who jammed them from a tin.  Customs were simple and
the fare frugal at Ho-la-lé-la.  There were only two teaspoons between
six, as Ghostie had the other two in her bedroom.  The jam
unfortunately gave out before the globe-trotters got theirs, but there
was some good dripping--if they had only happened to like dripping.
They seemed pained before the end of the meal, and one was heard to
murmur to the other as they went out:

"Would you believe that her father was a clergyman?  Bread and
dripping! and jam scratched out of a tin!  This comes of living in the
wilds of Africa, I suppose.  An entire loss of culture!"

The daughter of the clergyman must have surprised them a good deal by
her unexpected spurt of holiness in refusing to sell pictures on a
Sunday.  They wound up their old taxi and went away very much annoyed
at having come so far for nothing.

"Whose then is the Babylonian litter with trappings of scarlet and
gold?" asked Clive, as the Ford rattled off.  "You don't mean to say
you fellows came in a thing like that?"

They denied it until seventy times seven.  The grey torpedo was
Sarle's.  Kenna was of opinion that the owners of the crimson caravan
must be Johannesburgers, and "dripping with it."

"Not Johannesburgers," disputed Clive, with a wry lip.  "No; they're
too exclusive for that."

Something must have gone very wrong indeed with the atmosphere for
Clive to start sneering.  In truth some jangling element unnatural to
the sweet accord of Ho-la-lé-la had been introduced, and did not leave
with the strangers.

They settled down to smoke in the studio, but there was more smoke
about than tranquillity.  Sarle seemed distrait.  _Belle_ Helène
sometimes cast an uneasy glance at April, who, still very pale, sat by
herself on the lounge.  Only Clive and Kenna talked racily, but in
jerks, of cattle, fruit-blight, mules, and white ants.  But presently
all subjects of conversation seemed to peter out, leaving a dark pool
of silence to form between them in the room.  Kenna it was who threw
the stone disturbing those still waters.

"Has any one told you, Miss Connal, about the girl who committed
suicide on the _Clarendon Castle_?"

For a full moment not a word was spoken.  Sarle, staring, made a
movement with his hand over his mat of hair.  April's lids fell over
her eyes as though afflicted by a deadly weariness.  Clive changed her
cigarette from one corner of her mouth to the other before answering
briefly:

"Yes; I know all about it."  Which seemed to astonish Kenna.

"Oh!" he exclaimed.  "I wish I did!"

It was Sarle's turn to look astonished.

"Why, Kenna, I told you everything there was to know.  Besides, it was
in the papers."

"No, Kerry.  You told me something . . . and the papers told me
something.  _Everything_ can only be related by one person."
Dramatically he fixed his glance upon that person.  There was no
mistaking the challenge.  April found courage to return his glance, but
her eyes looked like the eyes of a drowning girl.  At the sight of them
two people were moved to action.  _Belle_ Helène rose and slipped from
the room.  Sarle also rose, but it was to seat himself again by April's
side on the lounge.

"I don't understand what all this is about," he said quietly, "but it
seems a good time for you to know, Kenna, and you, Clive, that we"--he
took April's hand in his--"are engaged, and going to be married as soon
as possible."

Kenna looked at him with pity and tenderness.

"You had better let her speak, old man.  It is time you were
undeceived."

"Be careful, Kenna."

"My dear Kerry, do you suppose that it gives me any pleasure to cause
you pain, or to distress this charming lady?  Only my friendship for
you----"

"I can dispense with it," Sarle curtly interrupted.

"Ah!  That's the way when a woman steps in."  Kenna's lips twisted in a
bitter grin.  Sarle turned to April.

"Diana . . ."

"That is the very crux of the matter," rapped out, Kenna.  "_She is
not_ Diana."

"What in God's name----?" began Sarle.

"What I want to know," pursued Kenna sombrely, "is--why, if Diana
Vernilands jumped overboard, does this girl go masquerading under her
title?"

"Are you mad?"  Sarle stared from one to the other.  "Haven't you known
her all your life?  Did you not meet as old friends?"

Kenna shrugged.  "I never set eyes on her until that day at the 'Mount
Nelson.'  She was a friend of yours and chose to call herself by the
name of a friend of mine, and . . . I humoured her . . . and you.  But
the thing has gone too far.  After inquiries among other passengers I
have realized the truth--that it was Diana who . . ."  A spasm of pain
flickered across his melancholy eyes.  Sarle, in grave wonder and hurt,
turned to April.

"It is true," she cried bitterly, pierced to the heart by his look.
"Diana is drowned.  I am a masquerader."  Even if she had been nothing
to him he could not have remained unmoved by the desperate pleading of
her eyes.  But he happened to love her with the love that casts out
fear, and distrust, and all misunderstanding.

"I am the real April Poole," she said, broken, but resolute that at
least there should be no further mistake.  He gave her one long look,
then lifted her hand, and held it closer.  The gesture was for all the
world to see.  But Kenna had not finished with her.

"You will allow a natural curiosity in me to demand why you should wear
the name and retain the possessions of my friend Lady Diana
Vernilands?" he asked, dangerously suave.

Then Clive sprang full-armed to the fray.

"And you will allow a natural curiosity in me to demand why you should
harry my friend like this--browbeat her for a girlish folly entered
into mutually by two girls and ending in tragedy through no fault of
April's?"  The painter's eyes burned with a blue fire bleak as her own
mountain tops.  It was as though Joan of Arc had come to the rescue and
was sweeping the room with valiant sword.  Even Kenna was partially
intimidated.

"That is her story," he muttered.

"You fool, Ronald Kenna," she said gently.  "Can't you look in her face
and see there is no touch of treachery or darkness there?  Thank God,
Kerry is not so blind."

There was a deep silence.  Then she said:

"Listen, then, to my story," and repeated the facts April had told her,
but as April could never have told them, so profound was her
understanding of the motives of the two girls in exchanging identities,
so tender her treatment of the wayward Diana.  Truly this "unfulfilled
woman" was greater in the width and depth of her soul than many of
those to whom life has given fulfilment of their dreams.

Daylight faded, and shadows stole through the open windows.  In the
large, low-ceiled room clustered with saddles and harness and exquisite
pictures, everything grew dim, except their white faces, and the
glistening of tears as they dripped from April's lids.

"I must ask to be forgiven," said Kenna very humbly, at last.  "My only
plea is that my friendship for Kerry blinded me.  And . . ." he halted
an instant before the confession of his trouble.  "I once loved that
little wayward girl."

So it was Diana Vernilands who had proved false and sent him into the
wilds!  Somehow that explained much to them all: much for forgiveness,
but very much more for pity and sympathy.

Suddenly the peace of eventide was rudely shattered by the jarring
clank of a motor being geared-up for starting.  Evidently Ghostie's
friends were departing in the same aloof spirit with which they had
held apart all the afternoon.  No one in the studio stirred to speed
the parting guests.  It did not seem fitting to obtrude upon the pride
of the great.  A woman's voice bade good-bye, and Ghostie was heard
warning them of a large rock fifty yards up the lane.  A man called
good-night, and they were off.

"By Jove!  I know that fellow's voice," puzzled Sarle.  April thought
she did too, but she was in a kind of happy trance where voices did not
matter.  The next episode was Ghostie at the studio window blotting out
the evening skies.

"They have gone," she timidly announced.

"Ah!  Joy go with them," remarked Clive, more in relief than regret.

"But there is still one of them in my room."

"_What?_"

"She has been waiting to speak to you all the afternoon; they all have,
but they could not face the crowd."

"Pore fellers," said Clive, with cutting irony.

"The one in my room's--a girl," said Ghostie--"a friend of yours."

"She has strange ways," commented Clive glumly.  "But ask her to come
in.  These also are my friends."

Ghostie disappeared.  Simultaneously the two men arose; remarking that
they must be going--they had stayed too late, and it was getting dark.
Clive easily shut them up.

"Of course you can't go.  Stay to supper and go back by the light of
the moon.  We've got to have some music and sit on the Counsel Rock,
and eat--apricots and all sorts of things yet.  And afterwards we'll
come a bit of the way with you."

They did not need much persuasion to settle down again.  Clive handed
round smokes.

"We won't spoil the best hour of the day by lighting the lamp," she
said.  They waited.  In a minute or so they heard the strange girl
approaching.  The house consisted of a number of rooms built in the
form of a square round a little back courtyard.  Each room led into the
other, but had also an outer door.  Ghostie's room was third from the
studio, with one between, unused because of huge holes in the floor.
It was through this dilapidated chamber that the girl could now be
heard approaching, clicking her high heels and picking her way
delicately by the aid of a candle whose beams showed under the door and
flicked across the courtyard at the back.  In spite of its light she
caught one of her high heels in a hole, and a faint but distinctly
naughty word was heard, followed by a giggle.  As she reached the door
she blew out the candle.  They heard the puff of her breath, as plainly
as they had heard the naughty word.  Then she stood in the open
doorway, visible only because she wore a white dress.

"Come in," said Clive with politeness, but irony not quite gone from
her voice.  The figure did not stir or speak.  For some reason unknown
to her, April felt the hair on her scalp stir as though a chill wind
had blown through it.  And the same wind sent a thrill down her
backbone.  Clive repeated the invitation, somewhat sharply, and then
the girl spoke.

"I'm ashamed to come in."

The voice was timid, and very low, but it was enough to make April give
a broken cry and hide her face in Sarle's shoulder.  Kenna leapt to his
feet, and next moment the yellow spurt of a lighted match in his hand
revealed the drooping face of the girl in the doorway.

"My God!  Diana!"

"Yes; isn't it awful!" she said mournfully.  "I know I ought to be
dead, but I'm not.  How do you do, Ronny?"

She passed him and came slowly across the room to the girl who was
trembling violently against Sarle's shoulder.  The strain of the day,
ending in this, was almost more than April Poole could bear.

"Don't be frightened, April."  She was genuinely concerned.  "It is
really me and not my ghost.  You see, I never jumped overboard at all,
but simply hid in one of Geoffrey Bellew's big packing-cases.  I really
could not face those enraged beasts and Philistines any longer."

There was an amazed and gasping silence, but Diana in the middle of the
limelight was in her element, and rapidly regained her spirits.  She
tripped to Clive and shook her warmly by the hand.

"So pleased to see you.  I should have come out here long ago, but I
got so knocked about in the packing-case that I had to go to bed and be
nursed by Geoff's old aunt at Wynberg.  Everything perfectly proper, so
don't be alarmed.  She chaperoned us out here this afternoon, you know,
and would have liked to see you, but really it was rather awkward with
Ronny and Major Sarle turning up immediately afterwards.  We didn't
expect to find April here either--naturally.  That was a nasty bang in
the eye.  I begged Ghostie to hide me in her room, and we waited and
waited, but these terrible men seem to have taken root here."  She
twinkled at them gaily, but no one appeared to have recovered
sufficiently from shock to reciprocate her pert amusement.

"So at last, of course, I had to bundle them off and face the music
alone.  Especially as _belle_ Helène told me there was some sort of
trouble boiling up in here for poor April."

"I suppose you never realized that trouble has been boiling up for her
ever since you disappeared?" said Clive.

"Oh, but of course; and I've been dreadfully sorry, and worrying myself
to ribbons."

"It doesn't seem to have interfered with your health," was Clive's only
rejoinder.  "May one ask what you intended to do to put things
straight?"

Diana had the grace to look slightly abashed--only slightly.

"There was nothing for it but to come out here to you and sit tight
until the scandal had blown over, while April returned to England.
Once she got on board she would have found a letter telling her it was
all right, and that I was not dead at all."

"Very charming and considerate too!" commented Ronald Kenna acidly.  "A
few other people, including Sarle and myself, might have been dead in
the meantime, but what would that have mattered?"

It was no use being acid with Diana, however.  She was riotously
pleased with herself, and bubbling over with pride in her cleverness,
and joy in her escape from seclusion.  Infection from her
light-heartedness was almost impossible, and once the shock had passed,
April easily forgave her the cruel and thoughtless part she had played,
the hours of anguish she had given.  Sarle and Kenna exchanged one grim
glance, but it ended in a smile.  The deep-rooted friendships of men do
not hurry to such short and poor conclusions.  Besides, Sarle had come
that day to the attainment of his heart's desire, and was not inclined
to fall out with either Fate or friends.  As for Kenna, looking at the
gilt-haired minx who held his heart-strings, he saw as in a vision that
days of peaceful loneliness on the veld were passing, and the future
held more uneasiness and folly than the mere month of April could
cover.  He would need all the friends he had to see him through.



[1] Basuto for "Far away over there."





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