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Title: At Large
Author: Hornung, E. W. (Ernest William), 1866-1921
Language: English
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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 "At Large" ***

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OTHER BOOKS BY MR. HORNUNG

    THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN. $1.25.

    RAFFLES. MORE ADVENTURES OF THE
      AMATEUR CRACKSMAN. Illustrated by
      F. C. YOHN. $1.50.

    PECCAVI. A NOVEL. $1.50.

    THE SHADOW OF A MAN. $1.25.

    DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. A
      NOVEL. $1.25.

    SOME PERSONS UNKNOWN. $1.25.

    YOUNG BLOOD. $1.25.

    MY LORD DUKE. $1.25.

    THE ROGUE'S MARCH. A ROMANCE.
      $1.50.

    THE BOSS OF TAROOMBA. [_Ivory
      Series._] 16mo. $0.75.

    A BRIDE FROM THE BUSH. [_Ivory
      Series._] 16mo. $0.75.

    IRRALIE'S BUSHRANGER. A STORY
      OF AUSTRALIAN ADVENTURE. [_Ivory
      Series._] 16mo. $0.75.



                                AT LARGE



                                AT LARGE


                               _A NOVEL_

                                   BY
                             E. W. HORNUNG


                        CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
                     NEW YORK::::::::::::::::: 1902



                          COPYRIGHT, 1902, BY
                        CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

                         _All rights reserved_


                        PUBLISHED FEBRUARY, 1902


                             TROW DIRECTORY
                    PRINTING AND BOOKBINDING COMPANY
                                NEW YORK



                                CONTENTS


                                                             Page

        I. A Nucleus of Fortune                                 1

       II. Sundown                                             11

      III. After Four Years                                    20

       IV. How Dick Came Home                                  28

        V. The First Evening at Graysbrooke                    41

       VI. Sisyphus                                            53

      VII. South Kensington                                    64

     VIII. The Admirable Miles                                 72

       IX. A Dancing Lesson and its Consequences               86

        X. An Old Friend and an Old Memory                     98

       XI. Dressing, Dancing, Looking on                      109

      XII. "To-Morrow, and To-Morrow, and To-Morrow"          123

     XIII. In Bushey Park                                     132

      XIV. Quits                                              152

       XV. The Morning After                                  163

      XVI. Military Manoeuvres                                174

     XVII. "Miles's Beggars"                                  185

    XVIII. Alice Speaks for Herself                           196

      XIX. Conterminous Courses                               206

       XX. Strange Humility                                   216

      XXI. An Altered Man                                     227

     XXII. Extremities                                        234

    XXIII. The Effect of a Photograph                         244

     XXIV. The Effect of a Song                               256

      XXV. Melmerbridge Church                                271

     XXVI. At Bay                                             286

    XXVII. The Fatal Tress                                    296

   XXVIII. The Effort                                         307

     XXIX. Elizabeth Ryan                                     313

      XXX. Sweet Revenge                                      325

     XXXI. The Charity of Silence                             333

    XXXII. Suspense: Reaction                                 343

   XXXIII. How Dick Said Good-Bye                             353



                                AT LARGE



                                At Large

                                   I

                          A NUCLEUS OF FORTUNE


A hooded wagon was creeping across a depressing desert in the middle of
Australia; layers of boxes under the hood, and of brass-handled,
mahogany drawers below the boxes, revealed the licensed hawker of the
bush. Now, the hawker out there is a very extensive development of his
prototype here at home; he is Westbourne Grove on wheels, with the
prices of Piccadilly, W. But these particular providers were neither so
universal nor so exorbitant as the generality of their class. There were
but two of them; they drove but two horses; and sat shoulder to shoulder
on the box.

The afternoon was late; all day the horses had been crawling, for the
track was unusually heavy. There had been recent rains; red mud clogged
the wheels at every yard, and clung to them in sticky tires. Little
pools had formed all over the plain; and westward, on the off-side of
the wagon, these pools caught the glow of the setting sun, and filled
with flame. Far over the horses' ears a long low line of trees was
visible; otherwise the plain was unbroken; you might ride all day on
these plains and descry no other horse nor man.

The pair upon the box were partners. Their names were Flint and
Edmonstone. Flint was enjoying a senior partner's prerogative, and
lolling back wreathed in smoke. His thick bare arms were idly folded. He
was a stout, brown, bearded man, who at thirty looked many years older;
indolence, contentment, and goodwill were written upon his face.

The junior partner was driving, and taking some pains about it--keeping
clear of the deep ruts, and pushing the pace only where the track was
good. He looked twenty years Flint's junior, and was, in fact, just of
age. He was strongly built and five-feet-ten, with honest gray eyes,
fair hair, and an inelastic mouth.

Both of these men wore flannel shirts, buff cord trousers, gray felt
wideawakes; both were public-school men, drawn together in the first
instance by that mutually surprising fact, and for the rest as different
as friends could be. Flint had been ten years in the Colonies,
Edmonstone not quite ten weeks. Flint had tried everything, and failed;
Edmonstone had everything before him, and did not mean to fail. Flint
was experienced, Edmonstone sanguine; things surprised Edmonstone,
nothing surprised Flint. Edmonstone had dreams of the future, and golden
dreams; Flint troubled only about the present, and that very little. In
fine, while Edmonstone saw licensed hawking leading them both by a short
cut to fortune, and earnestly intended that it should, Flint said they
would be lucky if their second trip was as successful as their first,
now all but come to an end.

The shadow of horses and wagon wavered upon the undulating plain as
they drove. The shadows grew longer and longer; there was a noticeable
change in them whenever young Edmonstone bent forward to gaze at the sun
away to the right, and then across at the eastern sky already tinged
with purple; and that was every five minutes.

"It will be dark in less than an hour," the lad exclaimed at last, in
his quick, anxious way; "dark just as we reach the scrub; we shall have
no moon until eleven or so, and very likely not strike the river
to-night."

The sentences were punctuated with sharp cracks of the whip. An answer
came from Edmonstone's left, in the mild falsetto that contrasted so
queerly with the bodily bulk of Mr. John Flint, and startled all who
heard him speak for the first time.

"My good fellow, I implore you again to spare the horseflesh and the
whipcord--both important items--and take it easy like me."

"Jack," replied Edmonstone warmly, "you know well enough why I want to
get to the Murrumbidgee to-night. No? Well, at all events, you own that
we should lose no time about getting to some bank or other?"

"Yes, on the whole. But I don't see the good of hurrying on now to reach
the township at an unearthly hour, when all the time we might camp in
comfort anywhere here. To my mind, a few hours, or even a night or two,
more or less----"

"Are neither here nor there? Exactly!" broke in Edmonstone, with
increasing warmth. "Jack, Jack! the days those very words cost us! Add
them up--subtract them from the time we've been on the roads--and we'd
have been back a week ago at least. I shall have no peace of mind until
I step out of the bank, and that's the truth of it." As he spoke, the
fingers of Edmonstone's right hand rested for a moment, with a curious,
involuntary movement, upon his right breast.

"I can see that," returned Flint, serenely. "The burden of riches, you
see--and young blood! When you've been out here as long as I have,
you'll take things easier, my son."

"You don't understand my position," said Edmonstone. "You laugh when I
tell you I came out here to make money: all the same, I mean to do it. I
own I had rotten ideas about Australia--all new chums have. But if I
can't peg out my claim and pick up nuggets, I'm going to do the next
best thing. It may be hawking and it may not. I mean to see. But we must
give the thing a chance, and not run unnecessary risks with the gross
proceeds of our very first trip. A hundred and thirty pounds isn't a
fortune; but it may be the nucleus of one; and it's all we've got
between us in this world meanwhile."

"My dear old boy, I'm fully alive to it. I only don't see the point of
finishing the trip at a gallop."

"The point is that our little all is concealed about my person," said
Edmonstone, grimly.

"And my point is that it and we are absolutely safe. How many more times
am I to tell you so?" And there was a squeak of impatience in the absurd
falsetto voice, followed by clouds of smoke from the bearded lips.

Edmonstone drove some distance without a word.

"Yet only last week," he remarked at length, "a store was stuck up on
the Darling!"

"What of that?"

"The storekeeper was robbed of every cent he had."

"I know."

"Yet they shot him dead in the end."

"And they'll swing for it."

"Meanwhile they've shown clean heels, and nobody knows where they
are--or are not."

"Consequently you expect to find them waiting for us in the next clump,
eh?"

"No, I don't. I only deny that we are absolutely safe."

Flint knocked out his pipe with sudden energy.

"My dear boy," cried he, "have I or have I not been as many years out
here as you've been weeks? I tell you I was in the mounted police, down
in Vic, all through the Kelly business; joined in the hunt myself; and
back myself to know a real bushranger when I see him or read about him.
This fellow who has the cheek to call himself Sundown is not a
bushranger at all; he and his mates are mere robbers and murderers. Ned
Kelly didn't go shooting miserable storekeepers; and he was the last of
the bushrangers, and is likely to remain the last. Besides, these chaps
will streak up-country, not down; but, if it's any comfort to you, see
here," and Flint pocketed his pipe, made a long arm overhead and reached
a Colt's revolver from a hook just inside the hood of the wagon, "let
this little plaything reassure you. What, didn't you know I was a dead
shot with this? My dear chap, I wasn't in the mounted police for
nothing. Why, I could pick out your front teeth at thirty yards and
paint my name on your waistcoat at twenty!"

Flint stroked the glittering barrel caressingly, and restored the pistol
to its hook: there was a cartridge in every chamber.

The other said nothing for a time, but was more in earnest than ever
when he did speak.

"Jack," said he, "I can only tell you this: if we were to lose our money
straight away at the outset I should be a lost man. How could we go on
without it--hawking with an empty wagon? How could I push, push,
push--as I've got to--after losing all to start with? A hundred pounds!
It isn't much, but it is everything to me--everything. Let me only keep
it a bit and it shall grow under my eyes. Take it away from me and I am
done for--completely done for."

He forgot that he was using the first person singular instead of plural;
it had become natural to him to think out the business and its
possibilities in this way, and it was no less in Flint's nature to see
no selfishness in his friend's speech. Flint only said solemnly:

"You shouldn't think so much about money, old chap."

"Money and home!" exclaimed Dick Edmonstone in a low, excited tone.
"Home and money! It's almost all I do think about."

Jack Flint leaned forward, and narrowly scanned the face of his friend;
then lay back again, with a light laugh of forced cheerfulness.

"Why, Dick, you speak as though you had been exiled for years, and it's
not three months since you landed."

Dick started. It already seemed years to him.

"Besides," continued the elder man, "I protest against any man growing
morbid who can show a balance-sheet like ours. As to home-sickness, wait
until you have been out here ten years; wait until you have tried
digging, selecting, farming, droving; wait until you have worn a
trooper's uniform and a counter jumper's apron, and ridden the
boundaries at a pound a week, and tutored Young Australia for your
rations. When you have tried all these things--and done no good at any
of 'em, mark you--then, if you like, turn home-sick."

The other did not answer. Leaning forward, he whipped up the horses, and
gazed once more towards the setting sun. His companion could not see his
face; but trouble and anxiety were in that long, steady, westward gaze.
He was very young, this lad Edmonstone--young even for his years. Unlike
his mate, his thoughts were all of the past and of the future; both
presented happy pictures; so happy that his mind would fly from the one
to the other without touching the present. And so he thought now, gazing
westward, of home, and of something sweeter than home itself; and he
blended that which had gone before with that which was yet to come; and
so wonderful was the harmony between these two that to-day was entirely
forgotten. Then the sun swung half-way below the dark line of the
horizon; a golden pathway shone across the sandy track right to the
wheels of the wagon; the dark line of scrub, now close at hand, looked
shadowy and mysterious; the sunset colours declared themselves finally
in orange and pink and gray, before the spreading purple caught and
swallowed them. The dreamer's face grew indistinct, but his golden
dreams were more vivid than before.

A deadly stillness enveloped the plain, making all sounds staccato: the
rhythmical footfall of the horses, the hoarse notes of crows wheeling
through the twilight like uncanny heralds of night, the croaking of
crickets in the scrub ahead.

Dick was recalled to the antipodes by a mild query from his mate.

"Are you asleep, driver?"

"No."

"You haven't noticed any one ahead of us this afternoon on horseback?"

"No; why?"

"Because here are some one's tracks," said Flint, pointing to a fresh
horse-trail on the side of the road.

Edmonstone stretched across to look. It was difficult in the dusk to
distinguish the trail, which was the simple one of a horse walking.

"I saw no one," he said; "but during the last hour it would have been
impossible to see any one, as close to the scrub as we are now. Whoever
it is, he must have struck the track hereabouts somewhere, or we should
have seen his trail before sundown."

"Whoever it is," said Flint, "we shall see him in a minute. Don't you
hear him? He is still at a walk."

Edmonstone listened, and the measured beat of hoofs grew upon his ear;
another moment and a horseman's back was looming through the dusk--very
broad and round, with only the crown of a wideawake showing above the
shoulders. As the wagon drew abreast his horse was wheeled to one side,
and a hearty voice hailed the hawkers:

"Got a match, mateys? I've used my last, and I'm just weakening for a
smoke."

"Here's my box," said Dick, pulling up. "Take as many as you like."

And he dropped his match-box into a great fat hand with a wrist like a
ship's cable, and strong stumpy fingers: it was not returned until a
loaded pipe was satisfactorily alight; and as the tobacco glowed in the
bowl the man's face glowed in company. It was huge like himself, and
bearded to the eyes, which were singularly small and bright, and set
very close together.

"I don't like that face," said Dick when the fellow had thanked him with
redoubled heartiness, and ridden on.

"It looked good-natured."

"It was and it wasn't. I don't want to see it again; but I shall know it
if ever I do. I had as good a look at him as he had at us."

Flint made no reply; they entered the forest of low-sized malee and pine
in silence.

"Jack," gasped Edmonstone, very suddenly, after half-an-hour, "there's
some one galloping in the scrub somewhere--can't you hear?"

"Eh?" said Flint, waking from a doze.

"Some one's galloping in the scrub--can't you hear the branches
breaking? Listen."

"I hear nothing."

"Listen again."

Flint listened intently.

"Yes--no. I thought for an instant--but no, there is no sound now."

He was right: there was no sound then, and he was somewhat ruffled.

"What are you giving us, Dick? If you will push on, why, let's do it;
only we do one thing or the other."

Dick whipped up the horses without a word. For five minutes they trotted
on gamely; then, without warning, they leaped to one side with a shy
that half-overturned the wagon.

Side by side, and motionless in the starlight, sat two shadowy forms on
horseback, armed with rifles, and masked to the chin.

"Hands up," cried one of them, "or we plug."



                                   II

                                SUNDOWN


There was no time for thought, much less for action, beyond that taken
promptly by Flint, who shot his own hands above his head without a
moment's hesitation, and whispered to Dick to do the same. Any other
movement would have been tantamount to suicide. Yet it was with his eyes
open and his head cool that Flint gave the sign of submission.

The horsemen sat dark and motionless as the trees of the sleeping forest
around them. They were contemplating the completeness of their triumph,
grinning behind their masks.

Flint saw his chance. Slowly, very slowly, his left arm, reared rigidly
above his head, swayed backward; his body moved gently with his arm; his
eyes never left the two mysterious mounted men.

He felt his middle finger crowned by a cool ring. It was the muzzle of
his precious Colt. One grasp, and at least he would be armed.

He turned his wrist for the snatch, gazing steadily all the while at the
two vague shadows of men. Another second--and a barrel winked in the
starlight, to gleam steadily as it covered Flint's broad chest. He who
had called upon them to throw up their hands spoke again; his voice
seemed to come from the muzzle of the levelled rifle.

"Stretch an inch more, you on the near-side, and you're the last dead
man."

Flint shrugged his shoulders. The game was lost. There was no more need
to lose his head than if the game had been won. There was no need at all
to lose his life.

"I give you best," said he, without the least emotion in his
extraordinary voice.

"Fold your arms and come down," said the man with the rifle, his finger
on the trigger.

Flint did as he was ordered.

"The same--you with the reins."

Edmonstone's only answer was a stupefied stare.

"Jump down, my friend, unless you want helping with this."

Dick obeyed apathetically; he was literally dazed. At a sign from the
man with the rifle he took his stand beside Flint; three paces in front
of the luckless pair shone the short barrel of the Winchester repeater.
The other robber had dismounted, and was standing at the horses' heads.

In this position, a moment's silence fell upon the four men, to be
broken by the coarse, grating laughter of a fifth. Edmonstone turned his
head, saw another horseman issuing from the trees, and at once
recognised the burly figure of the traveller who had borrowed his
match-box less than an hour before. At that moment, and not until then,
Dick Edmonstone realised the situation. It was desperate; all was lost!
The lad's brain spun like a top: reason fled from it; his hand clutched
nervously at the pocket where the money was, and he swore in his heart
that if that went, his life might go with it.

In another instant the hairy ruffian had ridden his horse close up to
Edmonstone, whipped his foot from the stirrup, and kicked the youngster
playfully in the chest--on that very spot which his thoughtless gesture
had betrayed.

At this the other bushrangers set up a laugh--a short one.

With a spring like a young leopard, Dick Edmonstone had the big horseman
by the beard, and down they came to the ground together. There, in the
sand, they rolled over each other, locked in mortal combat--writhing,
leaping, twisting, shifting--so that the leader of the band, though he
pointed his rifle at the struggling men, dared not fire, for fear of
hitting the wrong one. But there came a moment when the struggling
ceased, when Flint sprang forward with a hoarse cry on his lips and
Sundown took careless aim with the Winchester.

Dick Edmonstone was lying on his back with white, upturned face. Two
crushing weights pinned down each arm below the shoulder; his adversary
was kneeling on him with grinding teeth and a frightful face, and one
hand busy at his belt. His hand flew up with a gleam. It was at that
moment that the man with the rifle raised it and fired.

The bearded ruffian shook his hand as though hit, and the haft of a
knife slipped from it; the bullet had carried away the blade. With a
curse he felt for his revolver.

"Don't be a fool, Jem Pound," said the marksman quietly, lowering his
smoking piece. "Before you bring the lot of us to the gallows, I'll put
a bullet through your own fat head. Get up, you big fool! Cut the mokes
adrift, and turn everything out of the wagon."

The man Pound rose sulkily, with a curious last look at the young
Englishman's throat, and hell-fire in his little eyes.

"Ben, watch this cove," the chief went on, pointing to Flint, "and watch
him with the shooter. I'll see to the youngster myself. Come here, my
friend."

The speaker was plainly no other than the rascal who called himself
Sundown; the hawkers heard the sobriquet on the lips of the other masked
man, and their glances met. He was wrapped in a cloak that hid him from
head to heels, stooped as he walked, and was amply masked. What struck
Flint--who was sufficiently cool to remain an attentive observer--was
the absence of vulgar bluster about this fellow; he addressed
confederates and captives alike in the same quiet, decisive tones,
without either raising his voice to a shout or filling the air with
oaths. It appeared that Ned Kelly had not been the last of the real
bushrangers, after all.

"You come along with me," said he, quietly; and drew Dick aside,
pointing at him the rifle, which he grasped across the breech, with a
finger still upon the trigger.

"Now," continued Sundown, when they had withdrawn a few yards into the
scrub, "turn out that pocket." He tapped Edmonstone on the chest with
the muzzle of the rifle.

Dick folded his arms and took a short step backward.

"Shoot me!" he exclaimed, looking the robber full in the face. "Why did
you save me a minute ago? I prefer to die. Shoot me, and have done with
it."

"Open your coat," said the bushranger.

Edmonstone tore open not only his coat, but his shirt as well, thus
baring his chest.

"There. Shoot!" he repeated hoarsely.

Sundown stared at the boy with a moment's curiosity, but paid no heed to
his words.

"Empty that pocket."

Dick took out the pocket-book that contained all the funds of the firm.

"Open it."

Dick obeyed.

"How much is in it?"

"A hundred and thirty pounds."

"Good! Cheques!"

"More notes."

The robber laughed consumedly.

"Take them, if you are going to," said Dick, drawing a deep breath.

Sundown did take them--pocket-book and all--still covering his man with
the rifle. The moon was rising. In the pale light the young fellow's
face was ghastly to look upon; it had the damp pallor of death itself.
The bushranger eyed it closely, and half-dropped the bushranger's
manner.

"New chum, I take it!"

"What of that?" returned Dick bitterly.

"And not long set up shop?"

Dick made no answer. Sundown stepped forward and gripped his shoulder.

"Say, mate, is this hundred and odd quid so very much to you?"

Still no answer.

"On oath, now: is it so very much?"

Dick looked up wildly.

"Much? It is everything. You have robbed me of all I have! You have
saved my life when I'd as soon lose it with my money. Yes, it's all I
have in the world, since you want to know! Do you want to madden me, you
cur? Shoot me--shoot, I tell you. If you don't I'll make you!" And the
young madman clenched his fist as he spoke.

That instant he felt himself seized by the neck and pushed forward, with
a ring of cold steel pressing below his ear.

"Here you--Jem Pound--have your revenge and bind this cub. Bind tight,
but fair, for I'm watching you."

In five minutes the blood would scarcely circulate in a dozen different
parts of Edmonstone's body; he was bound as tightly as vindictive
villain could bind him, to the off hind-wheel of his own wagon. Sundown
stood by with the rifle, and saw it done.

Flint had already been bound to the near hind-wheel, so that the
partners were lashed back to back--both able to watch their property
looted at the rear of the wagon, but unable to exchange glances.

Sundown strolled about during the operation, which his subordinates
conducted with deepening disgust, till he returned and asked what they
had got.

"Precious little," was the answer. "Stock sold out--boxes mostly empty."

Nevertheless some few varieties of bush merchandise strewed the ground,
and hats, boots, and pipes were quickly selected by Jem Pound and the
man addressed as Ben; though as for Sundown, he seemed content with a
supply of smoking materials, and, indeed, to be more or less preoccupied
while the plunder went forward. At length, at a word from him, the other
men mounted their horses, while their leader walked round to where Flint
was spread-eagled against the wheel.

"Is there anything you want before we go?" the bushranger inquired, as
civilly as you please.

"Yes," said Flint; "I want you to fill my pipe, stick it in my mouth,
and put a match to it, if you will be so good."

The other laughed, but complied with the full request before turning his
attention to young Edmonstone.

"As for you," he said, "here's your pocket-book. I couldn't take such a
treasure from you. Better keep it in memory of the fortune (the immense
fortune of a hundred and thirty pounds) it once contained. Not that I
have quite emptied it, though; I may be a devil, but I never clean a man
out quite; so you'll find enough left to get you a night's lodging and
some tucker. And--and don't forget old Sundown altogether; you may be
able to put in a good word for him some day!"

These last words, though spoken after a pause, were thrown off lightly
enough; yet somehow they were unlike the rest that had gone before.
Before their sound had died away Sundown was in his saddle, and the
sound of horses galloping through the scrub was growing faint and far
away.

Flint was the first to free himself. It took him hours. His teeth ached,
his fingers bled, before the last knot that bound his hands was undone.
His knife quickly did the rest.

He went straight to Edmonstone, who had not spoken since the gang
decamped. Flint found him pale and cold, with a very hard expression
upon his face. Dick allowed himself to be set free without a
word--without so much as an intelligent glance.

The horses could be heard munching bits of bushes close at hand. They
were easily caught. Nor was it a difficult task to a ready-handed fellow
like Flint to splice the traces, which the bushrangers had cut.

The crestfallen partners were on the point of reentering the wagon, when
Flint saw the pocket-book lying where it had been dropped.

"Better take it," said Flint sorrowfully.

In utter apathy Dick picked it up.

"Wouldn't you see if they've cleaned it entirely?" suggested Flint.

With listless fingers Edmonstone withdrew the elastic and opened the
pocket-book.

By this time the moon had mounted high in the clear southern sky; by her
pure white rays they might have read small print. Flint's heart smote
him; it was by his doing they had carried so many notes, through a fad
of his about opening their banking account with hard cash; at cheques
the bushrangers might easily have turned up their noses, as bushrangers
had done before. But now, as it was--poor, poor young devil!

A cry broke the silence, and rang out loud and wild upon the still night
air. It came from Flint's side. He turned to find his companion
tottering and trembling.

Dick Edmonstone had dropped the pocket-book, and was nervously counting
a roll of crisp, crackling papers.

"They are all here!--all! all!" he whispered in a strange, broken voice.

"Never!"

"Yes, all--all! Only think of it; our fortune is not lost, after
all--it's made--the key to it is in my hand again! Jack, the fellow had
pity on me. No, I mean on us. I don't mean to be selfish, Jack; it's
share and share alike, between you and me, and always will be. But if
you knew--if you knew! Jack, I'll put in that good word for him--I'll
make it more than words, if ever I get the chance! For I do owe him
something," said the poor fellow, carried away by reaction and
excitement, so that his breaking voice trembled between sobs and
laughter. "I do owe that Sundown something. God bless him--that's all
_I_ say."

But Flint said nothing at all; he was much too amazed for words.



                                  III

                            AFTER FOUR YEARS


One chilly night in June, 1886, the ship _Hesper_, bound from Melbourne
to London, sailed into the Channel. She carried the usual wool cargo and
twenty saloon passengers besides. When the Lizard light was sighted, the
excitement--which had increased hourly since the Western Islands were
left astern--knew no reasonable bounds. For the _Hesper_ was a hundred
and eight days out; and among her passengers were grizzled Colonists, to
whom this light was the first glimmer of England for thirty years; men
who had found in the Colonial Exhibition at South Kensington an excuse
to intrust vast flocks and herds to the hands of overseers, and to
consummate that darling scheme of every prosperous Colonial, which they
render by their phrase "a trip home." Sweepstakes on the date of
sighting England, got up in the tropics, were now promptly settled;
quarrels begun in the Southern Ocean were made up in the magic element
of British waters; discontent was in irons, and joy held the ship. Far
into the middle-watch festive souls perambulated the quarter-deck with
noisy expressions of mirth, though with the conviction that the vessel
was behaving badly; whereas the vessel was a good deal more innocent of
that charge than the gentlemen who preferred it. But even when the last
of these roysterers retired there was still one passenger left on the
poop.

A young man leaned with folded arms upon the port rail, staring out into
the night. It seemed as though his eye penetrated the darkness, and
found something bright beyond, so wistful was its gaze. One bell rang
out from the forecastle, two bells followed half an hour later at one
o'clock, but the figure of this dreamer remained motionless. For an hour
he did not stir; but, as his imagination became more vivid, the
expression of his eyes grew softer, until their yearning melted into a
thin, thin film, and the firm lines of the mouth relaxed, and facial
creases carved by a few hard years were smoothed away. He was only a few
hours ahead of the _Hesper_ after all: she was off the Cornish coast,
and he (in fancy) far up the Thames.

Three-bells aroused the dreamer. He stood upright with a start. He
passed his hand quickly across his forehead, as if to rid his brain of
weak thoughts. He began tramping the deck rapidly. Now the whole man was
changed: his step was brisk, his frame instinct with nervous animation,
his chest swelled proudly, his eyes sparkled with triumph. He had hung
over the rail like any sentimental home-comer; he marched the deck like
a conquering hero.

Yet this was one of the youngest men on board, and his years of absence
from England were but a tithe of some of his fellow-passengers. During a
long voyage the best and the worst of a man's character come out; but
this man's display had been less complete than any one else's, and he
was probably the better liked on board in consequence. Though reserved
and quiet, he had, indeed without being conscious of it, become very
popular. Perhaps one factor in this was the accidental discovery,
half-way through the voyage, that he could draw uncommonly well; for it
opened up a source of unexpected entertainment at a time when the stock
amusements of the high seas had begun to flag. But there was one thing
about him which, had his fellow-passengers suspected it, in all
probability would have interfered considerably with his popularity: this
was the astounding fact that at the age of twenty-five he had already
made his fortune.

One scene from the bush life of this exceedingly lucky young gentleman
has already been set forth. It will be sufficient to briefly glance at
the remainder of his Colonial career, since details of unbroken success
are voted a bore by common consent.

The firm of Flint and Edmonstone did well out of licensed hawking.
Perhaps their honesty--which was as transparent as it was original in
that line of business--had much to do with their success; for although
squatters were at first sceptical of the new firm, their eyes were at
once opened to the iniquitous prices of the Jews, who had hitherto
enjoyed a monopoly of their custom. The newcomers thus gained
experimental patronage, which they retained on their merits. After a
year they advanced a step in the mercantile scale of the Colony: they
set up a general store at a rising settlement on the Darling. The store
had not been opened six months when the senior partner's chequered life
in the Colonies was terminated in a manner utterly unforeseen. Word came
that he had inherited, through an accommodating series of deaths, money
and property in Ireland. It was no brilliant heritage, but it held out
advantages greater on the whole than back-block storekeeping could be
expected to afford. Withdrawing a temperate share of the profits, Mr.
John Flint kicked the dust of the Riverina from his long boots, and
finally disappeared from the face of the desert, and Edmonstone was left
sole proprietor of a most promising "concern."

The luck that had hitherto attended him was soon to be enhanced; for,
gold being discovered close to the little township on the Darling, a
"rush" from all parts of Australia followed. As in most similar cases of
late years, expectations were by no means realised on the new diggings.
Still, people came, and the storekeeper was a made man.

A colonist of less than three years' standing, he joined three congenial
spirits in the enterprise of stocking a station in the new Kimberley
district of Western Australia. Here a huge success seemed certain in
process of time; when, in the full tide of prosperity, with all he
touched turning to gold beneath his fingers, with the lust of wealth
upon him, there came a sudden revulsion of feeling. He realised that he
had already amassed a fortune--small enough as fortunes go, but beyond
his wildest hopes when quitting England. He saw that to go farther was
to pursue wealth for wealth's sake--which was a rather lofty view of it;
and that luck might not last for ever--which was shrewd; and that, with
the sufficiency he had won, a rather better kind of existence was within
reach. In short, he sickened of money-grubbing in a single night, and
turned desperately home-sick instead; and, as it was not a game of
cards, he was able, without incurring anything worse than compassion, to
rise a winner. He determined to go home, invest his "pile," live on the
interest, and--devote himself to art! He journeyed forthwith to
Melbourne, and there succeeded in disposing of his share in the
Kimberley station for a sum little short of five figures.

Dick Edmonstone was opposed to sensational methods, or he would have
taken the first mail-steamer and dropped like a thunderbolt among his
people in England, with his money in his pocket. Besides, an exceptional
amount of experience crammed into four years had robbed him, among other
things, of nearly (though not quite) all his boyish impetuosity. So he
merely wrote two letters by the first mail to his mother and to a
certain Colonel Bristo. Thereafter he took his passage by the clipper
_Hesper_, then loading at Williamstown, and prepared for a period of
reflection, anticipation, and well-earned rest.

Dick Edmonstone had altered a good deal during his four years in
Australia. In the first place, the big boy had become a man, and a man
who held up his head among other men; a man who had made his way by his
own indomitable perseverance, and who thereby commanded your respect; a
man of all-round ability in the opinion of his friends (and they were
right); a man of the world in his own (and he was wrong). And all at
twenty-five! The old tremendous enthusiasm had given place to a
thoroughly sanguine temperament of lusty, reliant manhood. He was cooler
now, no doubt, but his heart was still warm and his head still hot.
Strangers took him for thirty. His manner was always independent, could
be authoritative, and was in danger of becoming arrogant. This much,
successful money-hunting had naturally brought about. But a generous
disposition had saved him from downright selfishness through it all, and
the talisman of a loyal, honest, ardent love had led him blameless
through a wild and worldly life. And he was still young--young in many
ways. His hopes and beliefs were still boundless; they had all come true
so far. He had not found the world a fraud yet. On the contrary, he
liked the world, which was natural; and thought he knew it, which did
not follow because he happened to know some rough corners of it.

One curious characteristic of young Edmonstone as a public schoolman and
a modern young Englishman was the entire absence in him of false pride.
Though transported pretty directly from Cambridge to Australia, he had
taken to retail trade (of a humble kind at that) with philosophical
sang-froid. On leaving England he had asked himself, What was his chief
object in going out? And he had answered, To make money and return. Did
it matter how he made it, once out there? No. No manual toil need
degrade him, no honest business put him to shame. In England it is
different; but in her democratic Colonies her younger sons--whether from
Poplar or from Eton--must take the work that offers, as they covet
success. Dick Edmonstone jumped at his first opening; that it chanced to
be in the licensed hawking line cost him hardly a pang.

Indeed, he looked back lovingly in his success on those early days,
when all he possessed in the world was invested in that daring venture.
He thought of the anxiety that consumed him at the time, and of Jack
Flint's cooling influence; and whenever he thought of those days one
episode rose paramount in his brain, obliterating other memories. That
episode was the "sticking-up" of the wagon on the first trip by Sundown
and his men, which must have meant his ruin but for the extraordinary
behaviour of the bushranger with regard to the pocket-book and its
contents. He did not forget that the bushranger had preserved his life
as well as restored his money. And that hundred pounds actually turned
out to be the nucleus of a fortune! Sundown--poor fellow--was captured;
perhaps by this time hanged, or imprisoned for life. Just before the
_Hesper_ sailed, word of the outlaw's arrest in a remote district of
Queensland was telegraphed from Brisbane. He had been heard of from time
to time during the preceding years, but on the whole his gang had done
less mischief and shed less blood than some of their predecessors. As
for Dick, when he read of the capture he was downright sorry. It may be
a passive order of kindness that refrains from robbing a man; yet Dick
was so peculiarly constituted as to feel in secret more than a passing
regret at the news.

But as the _Hesper_ drew towards the Channel he thought less and less of
the life he had left behind, and more and more of the life before him.
He longed all day to feel the springy turf of England under foot once
more; to have the scent of English flowers in his nostrils; to listen to
English larks carolling out of sight in the fleecy clouds of an English
sky. How green the fields would seem! How solid the houses, how
venerable the villages, how historic the rivers of the Old World! And
then how he longed to plunge into the trio he styled "his people"--his
mother the widow, his brother the City clerk, his sister the saint! Yet
what were these yearnings beside one other! What the dearest kin beside
her who must yet be nearer and dearer still!--the young girl from whom
he had fled to seek his fortune--for whom he had found it. In her his
honest yearning centred, in her his high hopes culminated. Of her he
thought all day, gazing out over the sun-spangled waves, and all night,
tossing in his berth. A thousand times he cursed his folly in choosing
canvas before steam; the time was so long--and seemed longer; the
brightest days were interminable ages; favouring gales were lighter than
zephyrs.

He allowed no doubts to interfere with the pleasures of anticipation; no
fears, no anxieties. If he thought of what might have happened at home
during the last four or five months since he had received news, the
catalogue of calamities was endless. He did not believe disappointment
possible through any sort of a calamity. If those he loved still
lived--as he knew they did five or six months ago--then he was sure of
his reception; he was sure of hearts and hands; he was sure of his
reception from every one--yes, from every one.

The future seemed so splendid and so near! Yet it was giving the future
hardly a fair chance to expect as much of it as young Edmonstone
expected during the last days of his homeward voyage.



                                   IV

                           HOW DICK CAME HOME


A crowd of the usual dock order had gathered on the quay at Blackwall by
the time the _Hesper_ made her appearance, towed by two Channel tugs.
Some time, however, passed before the vessel swung near enough to the
quay for recognitions to begin; and by then the dingy line of dock
loafers and watermen was enhanced by a second rank of silk hats and a
slight leaven of bonnets. With intolerable sloth the big ship swung
closer and closer, broadside on; greetings were excitedly exchanged, and
at length the gangway was thrown across and held by a dozen eager hands.

Dick Edmonstone, at the break of the poop, bent forward to search among
the faces on the quay, apparently without finding any he knew. But
presently, as his eye glanced rapidly up and down the line, he became
conscious of one gaze fixed steadily upon him; twice he overlooked this
face; the third time, a mutual stare, a quick smile of delight, a bound
across the gangway, and Dick was grasping his brother's hand.

"Dick!"

"Maurice!"

Then they seemed to gasp in the same breath:

"Never should have known you!" "Nor I you--from Adam!"

And then they were silent for a whole minute, scrutinising one another
from head to heels; until Maurice said simply that he had got away from
the bank and needn't go back, and fell to asking about the voyage, and
the weather, and the passengers, and had the cabin been comfortable? and
what a stunning ship! To all of which Dick replied coherently; and for
five minutes they talked as though they had parted last week. Only for
such trifles could they find ready words; so much was inexpressible just
at first.

They went into Dick's cabin; and there their tongues loosened a little.
All were well at home, and happy, and comfortable; the news was good all
round, as Dick phrased it, with thankfulness in his heart. That was the
first delicious fact to be realised. After that, words flew with
marvellous rapidity; the brothers were soon like two competitive human
looms, turning them out one against the other. Fortunately the pace was
too quick to last; in ten minutes both were breathless. Then they
fastened upon stewards and Customs officials, and, by dint of some
bullying and a little bribing, managed finally to get clear of the ship
with Dick's luggage.

Dick was in tremendous spirits. He was back in old England at last, and
testified his appreciation of the fact every minute.

Between Blackwall and Fenchurch Street he made odious comparisons
touching Colonial travelling; in the four-wheeler across to Waterloo he
revelled in the rattle and roar of the traffic; along the loop-line his
eyes feasted on the verdant fields that had haunted his dreams in the
wilderness.

The Edmonstones lived in a plain little house in a road at Teddington,
in which all the houses were little, plain, and uniformly alike. They
called their house "The Pill Box"; but that was a mere nickname, since
all the houses in that plain little road were fearfully and wonderfully
christened, and theirs no exception to the rule. Its name--blazoned on
the little wooden gate--was Iris Lodge; and being sane people, and
sufficiently familiar with suburban ideas, the Edmonstones had never
attempted to discover the putative point of the appellation. They were
satisfied to dub the house "The Pill Box," with malicious candour, among
themselves. For the Edmonstones did not take kindly (much less at first)
to road or house. And naturally, since five years ago, before Mr.
Edmonstone's death, they had lived in a great, square, charming villa,
with a garden-wall running a quarter of a mile along the towing-path,
within sight of Kingston Bridge. But then Richard Edmonstone senior had
dropped dead, at the height of his reputed success on the Stock Exchange
and of his undoubted popularity in the clubs. To the surprise of all but
those who knew him most intimately, he had left next to nothing behind
him; the house by the river had been hurriedly sold, young Richard had
as promptly emigrated, and the rest of them had bundled into as small a
house as they could find in the neighbourhood.

But squat, snug, bourgeois as it was, Dick felt that the plain little
house was nevertheless home, as the cab rattled over the railway bridge
and along the road to the left, and so on towards "The Pill Box." It was
raining (that June was not an ideal month), and the vehicle was the
detestable kind of victoria so much affected by the honest cabmen of the
Thames valley; still, Dick insisted on having the hood down to sniff the
air of his native heath. Yet, though in sufficiently good spirits, his
heart was beating quickly within him. These homecomings are no small
things, unless the rover be old or loveless, and Dick was neither.

After all, the meeting was got over, as such meetings have been got over
before, with a few tears and fewer words and melting looks and warm
embraces. And so Dick Edmonstone was given back to the bosom of his
family.

When the first and worst of it was over, he could not rest in a chair
and talk to them, but must needs roam about the room, examining
everybody and everything as he answered their questions. How well his
mother was looking! and how her dark eyes beamed upon him!--the more
brightly, perhaps, from their slight moisture. Her hand was as smooth
and white as ever, and her hair whiter; how well it suited her to wear
no cap, and have the silver mass pushed back like that! He had declared
to himself he had never seen so pretty a woman over five-and-thirty--and
his mother was fifty, and looking every year of it. And Fanny--well,
she, perhaps, was as far from beauty as ever; but her wavy chestnut hair
was matchless still, and as for expression, had there ever been one so
sweet and gentle in the world before? It was Maurice who had all the
good looks, though. But Maurice was pale and slim and rather
round-shouldered; and instantly the image of the lad bending all day
over the desk rose in Dick's mind and made him sad. What a different
man the bush would make of Maurice! Then he looked round at the old
familiar objects; the Landseer engravings and Fanny's water-colour
sketches; the cottage piano, the writing-table, old pieces of odd ware
which he remembered from his cradle, the fancy ormolu clock, which he
had hated from his earliest days of discernment. He looked no further--a
telegram was stuck up in front of the clock, and flaunted in his face:

"Edmonstone, Iris Lodge, Teddington,--Ship _Hesper_ signalled Start
Point ten this morning.--Bone and Phillips."

He read it curiously.

"Why, that's three days old!" he said, laughing. "Do you mean to say you
have been staring at that bit of paper ever since--a sort of deputy-me,
eh?"

"It was the first we heard," said the mother simply; and a subtle
something brought back her tears. "I half think I'll frame it!" she
added, smiling at her own weakness.

"I found out your other signallings," said Maurice. "I was in Bone's
office half-a-dozen times yesterday."

Dick continued his survey of the room.

"Well, I think I recognise everything," he said presently; "but, I say,
Fanny, I've got a thing or two for you to arrange in your high-art
fashion; some odds and ends you haven't seen the like of before, I
expect."

"No!" said Fanny.

"Oh, but I have, though; and some of 'em expressly for you."

"No!--really?--then what?"

"Aha, you'll see," said Dick. "Maurice, we'll unpack them now--if that
brute of a Customs functionary has left a whole thing in the box." And
the two left the room.

"To think," said Fanny musingly, "that our Dick is back! Really back,
and never going out again; and been through all kinds of fearful
adventures; and sailed round the world, and been away four years and a
half--one can scarcely realise any of it. But above all, to think that
he has made his fortune!"

Mrs. Edmonstone started.

"Oh, Fanny," cried she, "I had forgotten that! He never once spoke of
it, and I didn't think of it. Oh, my boy, my boy!" She burst fairly into
sobs. Her joy had been too great to bear before she was reminded of this
overwhelming fact; it had brought the tears again and again to her eyes;
now it became akin to pain.

Yet she did nothing but smile after her sons returned, laden with
treasures and curios which they laid out all over the room. There was a
famous rug of Tasmanian opossum skins, a dozen emu eggs, the tail of a
lyre-bird, the skin of an immense carpet-snake, a deadly collection of
boomerangs and spears, and a necklace of quandong stones mounted with
silver. Mrs. Edmonstone beheld in silent wonder. As for Fanny, she was
in ecstasies ("It is as good as the Exhibition," she said). So the time
slipped away, and before half the quaint things had been examined and
described it was dinner-time. They were all so happy together that first
afternoon!

Few and simple were the courses at Iris Lodge, but at dessert Maurice
produced some particular old Benedictine (which had been in the family
as long as he had), and Dick's health was drunk with unspeakable
enthusiasm. Dick blushed; for it made what he burned to say more
awkward; but at last he blurted out, apparently appealing to the
mildewed Benedictine bottle:

"I say--will you all think me an awful brute if I clear out for an hour
or two? Mother, will you? You know what I have still to do--whom to
see--to complete my first day in old England."

"Why, of course!" from the younger ones; and Mrs. Edmonstone simply
pronounced the question: "Graysbrooke?"

"Yes," said Dick. "I must go and see them, you know. You know why, too,"
he added simply.

No one said anything. There was a rather awkward pause, which it fell to
Fanny to break.

"By the bye," she said tentatively, "they have a visitor there."

She was prepared to add further information, but Dick looked at her
blankly, and clearly was not listening. They rose from the table, and
almost directly the three who went into the drawing-room heard the front
door open and shut.

Dick was thankful to be out in the cool and the twilight, and alone. The
day had been showery and dull, but late in the afternoon the clouds had
broken up, and now they floated serenely in the still air, just touched
with a pale pink rim to westward. The gravelly ground was wet enough to
sound crisply underfoot--nothing more. Drip-drip fell the drops from the
laburnums in the gardens all down the road; drip-drip all round, from
tree, shrub, and flower; every leaf distilling perfume every minute.
Dick appreciated the evidence of his nostrils with the relish of a man
who has smelt nothing but brine for four months, nothing like this for
four years. Nevertheless, he walked on briskly, down into the London
road, that here lies parallel with the river, then down a curve to the
left, as the highroad bends away from the river to form the High Street
of Teddington; then to a full stop at a corner opposite the old
churchyard. He had intended to walk along the lower road towards
Kingston, straight to the gates of Graysbrooke, which fronted the river.
But now the thought occurred to him (prompted by the sweetness of the
evening, and backed up by the fact that it was as yet rather early to
drop in casually for the evening anywhere--even at the house of one's
sweetheart whom one hadn't seen for over four years). How about hiring a
boat and rowing to Graysbrooke? It was no distance; and then, only to be
afloat again on the dear old Thames! Dick did not hesitate at the corner
long, but turned sharp down to the left, and hired his shallop at the
ferry landing.

Down with the stream a hundred yards, and he was level with the lock; a
few strong strokes against the stream, and the way already on the boat,
and her nose grounded on the rollers; a minute's exertion, a minute's
fumbling for coppers, and he floated out into the narrow reach beyond
the lock. He paddled slowly along, bestowing friendly glances on the
banks. The cottages on the left, close to the lock, he remembered just
as he saw them; but the poplars on the island, inverted in the glassy
water--he felt convinced they had grown. With each stroke of the oars
the voice of the weir grew louder; it seemed to be roaring its rough
welcome to him, just as yonder alders, right across the stream, through
the danger-posts, were bowing theirs. How glorious it was, this first
row on the Thames!

But now the house was almost in sight, and he could think no longer of
the river. Slowly, as he sculled on, Graysbrooke discovered itself: a
gray, stone, turreted building, set in leafy trees. There were
battlements along the coping, which might have looked venerable but for
the slates that peeped between them; yet the stone was mellowed by time;
and altogether there was nothing either offensively new or unwholesomely
ancient in the appearance of the house. Dick saw it all in his mind even
before he stopped rowing to satisfy the cravings of his hungry eyes.
Still twilight, and the river here a mirror without flaw, every stone
had its duplicate in the clear depths below; that parallelogram of ruddy
light that fastened Dick's attention showed with especial sharpness in
the reflection. The light was in the drawing-room. They had finished
dinner. He could storm them now--at once.

A little inlet entered one end of the lawn; in here he sculled and
moored his boat. Then he sprang upon the close-cropped grass and stood
transfixed.

The light in the dining-room was turned low; but that in the room to the
right of the hall-door--the room with the French window--was shining
brightly. And through the open window there burst, as Dick's feet
touched the grass, the sound of a girl's song. The voice was low and
clear, and full of youth and tenderness; it rose, and fell, and
trembled, for the singer possessed feeling; it hastened here and
lingered there, and abused none of these tricks, for she sang with what
is rarer than feeling--taste. Dick trembled violently; he wanted to rush
into the room then and there, but he was thrilled, and rooted to the
ground; and after a bar or two the voice soothed him and set his spirit
at rest, like the touch of a true friend's hand in the hour of pain.
Then he stood quite humbly, hoping it would never, never end. What the
song was he didn't know, and never thought of finding out afterwards; he
might have heard it a hundred times or never before; he knew nothing
during these few transported minutes--nothing, except that he was
listening to her voice.

As the last low note was borne out upon the air, and voices within the
room murmured the conventional grace after song, Dick stepped forward,
meaning to boldly enter. Two yards from the window, however, he silently
halted; it was so dark that he could see into the room without himself
being seen from within. The temptation to avail himself of so obvious an
advantage was too strong to be resisted.

There were three persons in the room, but for the eyes of Dick only
one--the two men made no immediate impression on his physical
perception. It was a supreme moment in his life. He had left England for
the sake of a young girl, to make his way in the world so that he might
return and proudly claim her: for he had won her heart. And now he had
made his way through toil and privation to a small fortune, and had
come back to woo her hand. She was here--this girl for whom he had given
his early manhood's strength, his brain's essence, the best drops of his
life's blood; this girl whose image had beckoned him onward when he grew
faint, and urged him still further in the hour of success; whose name
had risen to his lips in despair and in peril, inspiring new
courage--here, within ten feet of him; he striving to realise it, and to
grow cool before going into her presence, yet yearning to fling himself
at her feet.

It was good that she was ignorant of his approach, for it showed her to
him in a fair light straight away--completely natural and unconscious of
herself. She had seated herself after her song at a low table, and was
making an indolent attack on some trifling work with her scissors. The
lamplight, from under its crimson shade, fell upon her hair and face and
neck with marvellous results, for it made her beautiful. She was not at
all beautiful. She had a peerless complexion, a good nose, matchless
teeth; otherwise her features were of no account. But she was
exceedingly pretty; and as she sat there with the warm lamplight
changing her ordinary light-coloured hair into a ruddy gold fit for any
goddess, a much less prejudiced person than Dick Edmonstone might have
been pardoned the notion that she was lovely, though she was not.

When at last he managed to raise his eyes from her they rested upon a
face that was entirely strange. A tall, massive man, in evening dress,
leaned with an elbow on the chimneypiece, his head lightly resting on
his hand, one foot on the edge of the fender. There could be no two
opinions as to the beauty of this face--it was handsome and striking to
the last degree. Burnt, like Dick's, to the colour of brick-dust, it was
framed in dark curly hair, with beard and whiskers of a fairer hue,
while the mouth was hidden by a still fairer, almost golden, moustache.
The effect was leonine. Dick caught his profile, and saw that the
steady, downward gaze was bent upon the dainty little head that glowed
in the lamplight. From his vantage-post outside the window he glanced
from observer to observed. They were a sufficiently good-looking pair,
yet he overrated the one and underrated the other. He was by no means
attracted to this unknown exquisite; there was an ease about his pose
which bespoke freedom also; and his scrutiny of the unconscious girl was
of a kind that would at least have irritated any man in Dick's position.

Dick allowed his attention to rest but briefly upon the third occupant
of the room--a man with snowy hair and whiskers, who was apparently
dropping off to sleep in a big armchair. Somehow or other, the sight of
the men--but particularly of the stranger--acted on his heart like a
shower-bath on a man's head; his pulse slackened, he regained with
interest the self-possession with which he had first approached the
window. He took three steps forward, and stood in the middle of the
room.

A startled cry escaped the old man and the girl. The man by the
fireplace dropped his forearm and turned his head three inches.

Dick strode forward and grasped an outstretched hand.

"Colonel Bristo!"

"Dick Edmonstone!--is it really Dick?" a well-remembered voice repeated
a dozen times. "We knew you were on your way home, but--bless my soul!
bless my soul!"

The old soldier could think of nothing else to say; nor did it matter,
for Dick's salute was over and his back turned; he was already clasping
the hand of the fair young girl, who had risen, flushed and breathless,
to greet him.

He was speechless. He tried to say "Alice," but the sound was
inarticulate. Their eyes met.

A clatter in the fender. The tall man's heel had come down heavily among
the fire-irons.

"Let me introduce you," said Colonel Bristo to this man and Dick. "You
will like to know each other, since you both come from the same country:
Mr. Edmonstone, from Australia; Mr. Miles, from Australia! Mr. Miles was
born and bred there, Dick, and has never been in England before. So you
will be able to compare notes."

The two men stared at each other and shook hands.



                                   V

                    THE FIRST EVENING AT GRAYSBROOKE


"Sit down, boy, sit down," said Colonel Bristo, "and let us have a look
at you. Mind, we don't know yet that you're not an impostor. You should
have brought proofs."

"Here are five-foot-ten of them," said Dick, laughing.

"To believe that, we must put you through examination--and
cross-examination," the Colonel added with a glance at his daughter;
"although I half believe you really are the man you profess to be. What
do you say, Alice?"

"I have a strong case--" Dick was beginning, but he was cut short.

"It is Dick," said the oracle sweetly.

"You take his word for it?" asked her father.

"No, I identify him," Alice answered with a quiet smile; "and he hasn't
altered so very much, when one looks at him."

Dick turned his head and met her eyes; they were serene and friendly.
"Thank you," he said to her, with gratitude in his voice. And, indeed,
he felt grateful to them all; to the Colonel for his ponderous
pleasantry, to Alice for her unembarrassed manner, to Mr. Miles for the
good taste he showed in minding his own business. (He had strolled over
to the window.)

"And when did you land?" inquired the Colonel.

"This morning."

"Only this morning!" exclaimed Alice; "then I think it was too good of
you to come and see us so soon; don't you, papa?"

Very kind of him indeed, papa thought. Dick was pleased; but he thought
they might have understood his eagerness. Alice, at any rate, should not
have been surprised--and probably was not. "I couldn't put it off," he
said, frankly.

There was a slight pause; then the Colonel spoke:

"That's kindly said, my boy; and if your mother knew how it does us good
to see you here, she would scarcely grudge us an hour or two this
evening--though grudge it you may depend she does. As for ourselves,
Dick, we can hardly realise that you are back among us."

"I can't realise it at all," murmured Dick, aloud but to himself.

"I won't worry you by asking point-blank how you like Australia," the
Colonel went on, "for that's a daily nuisance in store for you for the
next six months. But I may tell you we expect some tough yarns of you;
our taste has been tickled by Miles, who has some miraculous--why, where
is Miles?"

Miles had vanished.

"What made him go, I wonder?" asked Alice, with the slightest
perceptible annoyance. Dick did not perceive it, but he thought the
question odd. To disappear seemed to him the only thing a stranger, who
was also a gentleman, could have done; he was scarcely impartial on the
point, however.

Alice took up the theme which her father had dropped.

"Oh, Mr. Miles has some wonderful stories," said she; "he has had some
tremendous adventures."

"The deuce he has!" thought Dick, but he only said: "You should take
travellers' tales with a grain of salt."

"Thanks," Alice instantly retorted; "I shall remember that when you tell
yours."

They laughed over the retort. All three began to feel quite at ease.

"So you kept up your sketching out there, and drew bush scenes for our
illustrated papers?" said the Colonel.

"Two or three times; more often for the Colonial papers."

"We saw them all," said Alice, graciously--"I mean the English ones. We
cut them out and kept them." (She should have said that she did.)

"Did you, though?" said Dick, delighted.

"Yes," said Alice, "and I have a crow to pick with you about them. That
'Week in the Sandwich Islands'--it was yours, wasn't it?"

Dick admitted that it was.

"Oh, and pray when were you in the Sandwich Islands?"

He confessed that he had never seen them.

"So you not only cheated a popular journal--a nice thing to do!--but
deceived the British public, which is a far more serious matter. What
explanation have you to offer? What apology to 'One who was
Deceived'--as I shall sign my 'Times' letter, when I write it?"

"Alice, you are an inquisitor," said Colonel Bristo. But Alice replied
with such a mischievous, interested smile that Dick immediately ceased
to feel ashamed of himself.

"The fact is," he owned, "your popular journal doesn't care a fig
whether one has been to a place so long as one's sketches of it are
attractive. I did them a thing once of a bullock-dray stuck up in the
mud; and how did it appear? 'The War at the Cape: Difficulties in
Reaching the Front.' And they had altered the horns of my bullocks, if
you please, to make 'em into South African cattle! You see, just then
Africa was of more interest to your British public than Australia.
Surely you won't be so hard on me now? You see you have made me divulge
professional secrets by your calumnies."

Alice said she forgave him, if all that was true; but she added, slyly:
"One must take travellers' tales with a pinch of salt, you know!"

"Come, Alice," said her father, "if you insist on pitching into our
artist, he shall have his fling at our photographer. Dick, she's taken
to photography--it's lately become the fashion. Look on that table,
under the lamp; you'll find some there that she was trimming, or
something, when you dropped in our midst."

"May I look at them?" Dick asked, moving over to Alice.

"Certainly; but they're very bad, I'm afraid; and since you artists
scorn photography--as so inartistic, you know--I suppose you will be a
severe critic."

"Not when this is the subject," said Dick, in a low voice, picking up a
print; "how did you manage to take yourself?"

He was sitting beside her at the little table, with the lamp between
them and the Colonel; he instinctively lowered his voice, and a grain of
the feeling he had so far successfully repressed escaped into his tone.

"Someone took off the cap for me."

"Oh. Who?"

"Who? Oh, I get anybody to take the cap off when I am so vain as to take
myself--anybody who is handy."

"Mr. Miles, for instance?" It was a stray question, suggested by no
particular train of thought, and spoken carelessly; there was no trace
of jealousy in the tone--it was too early for that; but Alice looked up,
quick to suspect, and answered shortly:

"Yes, if you like."

Dick was genuinely interested, and noticed in her tone nothing amiss.
Several of the photographs turned out to be of Alice, and they charmed
him.

"Did Mr. Miles take all these?" he asked, lightly; he was forced to
speak so before her father: the restraint was natural, though he
marvelled afterwards that he had been able to maintain it so long.

Alice, however, read him wrong. She was prepared for pique in her old
lover, and imagined it before it existed. She answered with marked
coldness:

"A good many of them."

This time Dick detected the unpleasant ring in her words--he could not
help but detect it. A pang shot to his heart. His first (and only)
impression of Miles, which had fled from his mind (with all other
impressions) while talking to her, swiftly returned. He had used the
man's name, a minute ago, without its conveying anything to his mind; he
used it now with a bitterness at heart which crept into his voice.

"And don't you return the compliment? I see no photographs of Mr. Miles
here; and he would look so well in one."

"He has never been taken in his life--and never means to be. Now, Dick,
you have seen them all," she added quite softly, her heart smiting her;
and with that she rolled all the prints into one little cylinder. Dick
was in that nervous state in which a kind word wipes out unkindness the
moment it is spoken, and the cloud lifted at once from his face. They
were silent for more than a minute. Colonel Bristo quietly left the
room.

Then a strange change came over Dick. While others had been in the room,
composure had sat naturally upon him; but now that they were alone
together, and the dream of his exile so far realised, that armour fell
from him, and left his heart bare. He gazed at his darling with
unutterable emotion; he yearned to clasp her in his arms, yet dared not
to profane her with his touch. There had been vows between them when
they parted--vows out of number, and kisses and tears; but no betrothal,
and never a letter. He could but gaze at her now--his soul in that
gaze--and tremble; his lips moved, but until he had conquered his
weakness no words came. As for Alice, her eyes were downcast, and
neither did she speak. At length, and timidly, he took her hand. She
suffered this, but drew ever so slightly away from him.

"Alice," he faltered, "this is the sweetest moment of my life. It is
what I have dreamt of, Alice, but feared it might never come. I cannot
speak; forgive me, dear."

She answered him cunningly:

"It is very nice to have you back again, Dick."

He continued without seeming to hear her, and his voice shook with
tenderness: "Here--this moment--I can't believe these years have been; I
think we have never been separated----"

"It certainly doesn't seem four years," said Alice sympathetically, but
coolly.

Dick said nothing for a minute; his eyes hung on her downcast lids,
waiting for an answering beam of love, but one never came.

"You remember," he said at last, in a calmer voice, "you remember the
old days? and our promises? and how we parted?" He was going on, but
Alice interrupted him by withdrawing her hand from his and rising from
her chair.

"Dick," said she, kindly enough, "don't speak of them, especially not
now--but don't speak of them at all. We can't have childhood over again;
and I was a child then--of seventeen. I am grown up now, and altered;
and you--of course you have altered too."

"Oh Alice!"--the turning of the door handle made him break off short,
and add in a quick whisper, "I may speak to you to-morrow?"

"Very well," she answered indifferently, as there entered upon them a
little old lady in rustling silk and jingling beads--an old lady with a
sallow face and a piercing black eye, who welcomed Dick with a degree of
fussy effusiveness, combined with a look and tone which discounted her
words.

"Delighted to see you back, Mr. Richard--a pleasure I have often looked
forward to. We don't welcome conquering heroes every day," were in
themselves sufficiently kindly words, but they were accompanied by a
flash of the beady eyes from Dick to Alice, and a scrutiny of the young
fellow's appearance as searching as it was unsympathetic; and when a
smile followed, overspreading her loose, leathery, wrinkled skin, the
effect was full of uncanny suggestion.

"Yes, it is jolly to be back, and thanks very much," said Dick civilly;
"and it is charming to find you still here, Mrs. Parish."

"Of course I am still here," said the leathery little lady brusquely: as
if Colonel Bristo could live without his faithful domestic despot, as if
Graysbrooke could stand without its immemorial housekeeper! This Mrs.
Parish was ugly, vain, and old, and had appeared as old and as vain and
as ugly when, more than twenty years ago, she first entered the
Colonel's service. She had her good points, however, and a sense of duty
according to her lights. Though it be no extravagant praise, she was a
better person at heart than on the surface.

She now inquired with some condescension about Dick's Australian life,
and how he liked it, and where he had been, and how he should like
living altogether out there. She congratulated him on his success (she
called it "luck"), which she declared was in the mouths of everybody. On
that he felt annoyed, and wondered if she knew any details, and what
figure she would bid for some--of, say, his first year--in the local
gossip market.

"Of course you will go back," said the old woman with conviction; "all
lucky Colonists do. You will find England far too dull and slow for
you." At this point Colonel Bristo and Mr. Miles came back, chatting. "I
was saying," Mrs. Parish repeated for their benefit, "that of course Mr.
Richard will soon return to Australia; he will tire of England in six
weeks; it is always the way. Mr. Miles is the happy exception!" with a
smile upon that gentleman which strove to be arch--with doubtful
success.

"I never said I meant to make 'Home' my home," said the Australian, with
the drawl of his race, but in tones mellow and musical. His long frame
sank with graceful freedom into a chair beside Mrs. Parish, and his
clear blue eyes beamed upon them all--all except Dick, whom he forgot to
notice just then.

"I don't think Dick means to go back," said the Colonel cheerily. "That
would be treating us all abominably; in fact, we could never allow
it--eh, Dick?"

Dick looked gravely at the carpet.

"I mean to settle down in England now," said he; and he could not
refrain from a sly glance at Alice. Her eyes, bent thoughtfully upon
him, instantly filled with mischief.

"You mean to stay at home, yet sketch the ends of the earth; is that
it?" Her tone changed swiftly to one of extreme kindness. "Well, it
would be dreadful if you didn't stop at home now. Whatever you do" (he
changed colour; she added calmly), "think of Mrs. Edmonstone and Fanny!"

A little later, Alice and her father told Dick all the news of
themselves that they could think of--how they had been in Italy last
year, and in Scotland the year before, and how they had taken a
shooting-box in Yorkshire for this year. And Alice's manner was very
courteous and kindly, for she was beginning to reproach herself for
having been cruel to him on this his first evening, and to wonder how
she could have had the heart. She asked him if he had forgotten how to
dance, and said he must begin learning over again at once, in order to
dance at her ball--her very own party--on the second of July.

Poor Dick's spirits once more rose high, though this time an uneasy
sediment remained deep in his heart. Without the least intention in the
world, Alice was beginning a very pretty game of coquetry with her
sweetheart--alas! her quondam sweetheart. While they talked, Mr. Miles,
at the other side of the room, kept up an entertaining conversation with
Mrs. Parish. At the same time he observed Dick Edmonstone very
narrowly--perhaps more anxiously than he need have regarded an old
friend of his friends'; though perhaps with no more than a social lion's
innate suspicion of his kind. At last Dick rose to go.

Colonel Bristo went out with him, and thrust his arm affectionately
through the young man's as they crossed the lawn.

"Dick," said he, very kindly, "I thought I would wait till I saw you
alone to congratulate you most heartily on having made your way so
splendidly. Nay, don't interrupt me; your way in the world is already
made, and nobly made. I think you showed your sense--and more--in
stopping short, and coming home to follow up the career you love. That
was the intention expressed in your letter, I think?"

"Yes, sir. And that letter?" said Dick anxiously. He had felt misgivings
about it ever since the heat of triumph in which it was written and
posted in Melbourne.

"I liked it," said the Colonel simply; "it was manly and frank, and to
the point. You shall have my answer now; and I, too, will be frank. Four
years ago, more or less, I was forced to answer in a certain way a
certain question--there was no alternative. Dick, think seriously--you
are both four years older; are you, for one, still of the same mind?"

"I am; indeed I am," said Dick, earnestly.

"Then take your chance!" said Colonel Bristo. "I cannot say more; I
don't understand women; I find it bitter to say this much, I that am to
lose her. But you deserve her; come here as often as you will; you will
be very welcome. And if you both wish now--both, mind!--what you both
wished then, when for obvious reasons I could not hear of it----"

"You were right enough, sir," Dick murmured sadly.

"Then," continued the Colonel, "I frankly tell you, I shall like it.
That's all; good-night!"

Dick looked up from the dewy grass, and his lips formed a grateful
sentence, though no words could express his feeling just then. He looked
up, but the honest, simple-hearted soldier was gone. He who had faced
the Russian shot and shell had retreated cowardly before honest English
thanks!

The young man stepped into his boat, undid the painter, and floated out
upon the broad moonlit river. Ah, how kind of Colonel Bristo! But only
to think what those words would have been to them four years ago! Yes,
to them; for then Alice besought the consent that had just been given;
besought it as wildly as himself. And now did she even desire it? He had
found her so passionless, so different from all he had fancied, or
hoped, or feared. Once she had been cruel, but anon so kind; and then
she had ridiculed him in pure friendliness. Alas, fatal friendliness!
Had she but been awkward or shown him downright coldness--anything but
that. As to this Miles, no need to think about him yet. The question was
whether Alice Bristo still loved Dick Edmonstone, not whether there was
another man in the case; time enough for that afterwards. Yet a few
short hours ago the question--faced so calmly now--would have stunned or
maddened this ardent lover.

Down with the stream came peace and hope, with the soft, soothing touch
of the moonbeams; they stole into the heart of Dick Edmonstone; they
held it for one brief moment. For a sound broke on his ears which made
him stare and tremble, and drove out the sweet influences almost before
their presence was felt. Yet the sound of itself was sweet; the very
same sound had thrilled poor Dick as he leapt ashore; it was the voice
of Alice--singing to Mr. Miles!



                                   VI

                                SISYPHUS


Dick Edmonstone slept badly, his first night in England; and no wonder,
since already a sense of grievous disappointment weighed him down. When
he reached home and his own room, this feeling grew upon him; it
distracted him, it denied him rest. Where his faith had been surest,
disillusion came slowly home to him; in the purest spot of the vision
the reality was dim and blurred. What a fool he had been to make sure of
anything! Above all, to build his peace of mind on the shifting sand of
a woman's love; to imagine--simply because his love for Alice had never
wavered--that Alice's love for him must perforce remain equally
unchanged. And all that night her voice, as he had last heard it, rang
cruelly in his ear, and a light remark, about what she had called her
"childhood," lay like lead at his heart.

At breakfast he could not quite conceal his trouble; he looked somewhat
haggard. He knew that he was expected to be in high spirits, and did his
best to feign them, but his mirth was perfunctory. This was obvious to
his sister, and not unnoticed by Mrs. Edmonstone. They spoke about it
afterwards, for they knew something of the circumstances at Graysbrooke,
and had their own opinion of the guest there.

Dick fidgeted all the morning, and passed some of the time in unpacking
his belongings. In the afternoon he left the house full of conflicting
emotions. As he walked up the drive, Dick could not tell how he had
waited until the afternoon, such a wild elation took possession of him
at the thought of again seeing his beloved. Miss Bristo was in the
garden, the butler told him--yes, alone; and Dick walked through the
house and on to the top of the shaven lawn that sloped to the river.

He found her deep in a magazine and in the stern sheets of the boat,
which was moored in the inlet. She was all in white, for the day was
sunny; and she smiled sweetly from under the broad brim of her straw hat
as Dick stepped gravely into the boat, and sat down on the thwart facing
her.

She looked so careless and so bright that he could not find it in his
heart to vex her straight away; so they talked lightly of this and that
for a full quarter of an hour, while Dick basked recklessly in her
smiles, and almost persuaded himself that this was happiness. But at
last came a pause; and then he nerved himself to speak.

"Alice," he began gravely, "you know our few words last night? You said
I might speak to you today."

"Well," said Alice, carelessly.

"You know very well what I want to speak about," rather warmly.

Alice turned down her leaf, shut up her magazine, leant back, and
surveyed him calmly.

"I wish I didn't, Dick," she answered, half in annoyance, half in pity.
But her look added: "Say on; let us have it out--and over."

"Last night," said Dick smoothly, "I asked you if you remembered old
days, and what there was between us, and so on. You said you didn't want
to remember them, and talked about your 'childhood.' You said you were
altered, and that, of course, I must be altered." He paused.

So far he had been cool and fluent; but he had rehearsed all this. His
next words came hot from the heart, and fell unsteadily from the lips.

"Oh, Alice," cried he, "did you mean that? Say that you didn't! I have
never changed, never can. Oh, say that you are the same. Say that you
only meant to tease me, or try me, or anything you like--anything but
that you meant all that about our being altered, and forgetting the
past--" his voice was piteous in its appeal; "say that you didn't mean
it!" he repeated in a whisper.

"I did mean it," Alice replied; not harshly or coldly, but with due
deliberation.

Dick turned pale. He grasped the gunwale nervously with each hand, and
leaned forward.

"Then I--no longer--have your love?" he asked in a hollow voice.

Alice looked at him reproachfully; there was even indignation in her
glance.

"How can you force such things from me? Have you no pride?" He winced.
"But, since you press for an explanation, you shall have one. Before you
went away I knew no one. I was a child; I had always been fond of you;
my head was full of nonsense; and, when you asked me, I said I loved
you. It was true, too, in a childish way."

"Go on," said Dick, in a low voice.

Alice was flushed, and her eyes sparkled, but her self-possession was
complete.

"Well, you come back after four years, and, it seems, expect to find me
still a child. Instead of that, I am a woman--a sensible woman," with a
good humoured twinkle of the eyes, "disinclined to go on with the old
nonsense just where it left off--you must admit that that would be
absurd? But for the rest, I am as fond of you, Dick, as I was then--only
without the childish nonsense. No one is more delighted to see you back,
and welcome you, than I am; no one is more your friend. Dear Dick," she
added in a tone of earnest entreaty, "cannot we be friends still?"

"No!" exclaimed Dick, hoarsely.

The flush died away from the girl's face, to return two-fold.

"No!" he repeated. "You give me your love, and then, after years of
separation, you offer me your friendship instead. What is that to me?
How can I make that do--a lamp instead of the sun? It is too much to ask
of any man: you know it. Who has taught you to play with men's hearts
like this?"

"I have been too kind," said Alice, coldly. She had stifled her
humiliation, and was preparing to leave the boat.

"Say rather too cruel!" returned Dick very bitterly. "Nay, not on my
account. I will save you the trouble of going."

He sprang from the boat as he spoke. One moment he stood on the bank
with a blight on his brave eyes; the next, he raised his hat proudly,
turned on his heel and was gone.

No sooner had he disappeared than the young lady produced a little lace
handkerchief, and rained her tears upon its wholly inadequate area. She
sobbed for nearly five minutes; and, after that, dipped her pink fingers
in the water, and made assiduous efforts to expunge the most tell-tale
symptoms. Then she took up the magazine and tried to revive her interest
in the story she had been reading, but she could remember nothing about
it. Finally she was about to quit the boat in despair, when, looking up,
whom should she see but Dick Edmonstone towering above her on the bank,
hat in hand.

"I want you to forgive me," he said very humbly. She affected not to
understand him, and intimated as much by raising her eyebrows.

"For what I said just now" (rapidly)--"for everything I have said since
I saw you first, last night. And I want to say--if you will still have
it--let us be--friends."

Her face instantly brightened; every trace of affectation vanished; she
smiled gratefully upon him.

"Ah, that is sense!" said she.

"But," said Dick, still more earnestly, "there are two questions I do
think I may ask, though whether you will answer them--"

"I will," the girl exclaimed rashly.

"Well, then, the first is, have you taken a dislike to me--a new one?
Don't laugh," he said, colouring; "I mean it. It is so possible, you
know. I have led a rough life; you might easily be ashamed of the
things I had to do, to make my way at first; you might easily think me
less polished, less gentlemanly: if it is that, I implore you to say
so."

She could scarcely keep grave; even he might have smiled, but for the
question he had still to ask.

"No, it is not that; to my mind you are just the same."

Dick drew a deep breath of relief.

"The second question may offend you; if it does--well, it can't be
helped. I think my old footing--even though you were a child then--is
sufficient excuse for it. It is, then--and, indeed, you must grant me an
honest answer--do you love another man?"

"And it is not that," said Alice shortly, nevertheless looking him full
in the face.

A great load was removed from his heart.

"Then it is only," he said eagerly--"only that you wish to cancel the
past? really only that?"

"Really only that," she repeated with a smile.

"Then," added Dick, hope rekindling in his heart, "may I never--that is,
won't you hold out to me the least faint spark?"

"I think you had better leave well alone," said Alice; and she stepped
lightly from the boat as she spoke. "Now I must go in. Will you come,
too?"

"No; I must say good-bye."

"Really? Then good-bye, Dick." Another sweet smile as she stretched out
her hand. "And come as often as ever you can; you will always be
welcome."

He watched her slim form tripping daintily across the grass.

"Ay, I will come!" he muttered between his teeth; "and I shall win you
yet, Miss Caprice, though I have to begin all over again. To start
afresh! How could I have borne the thought yesterday? Yet to-day it must
be faced. This minute I give up looking back, and begin to look forward.
And it may be better so; for when I win you, as win you I shall, you
will be all the dearer to me. I might not have valued you as I
ought--who knows? You do not deny me hope; I shan't deny it to myself.
You shall be mine, never fear. For the present, have your wish--we are
only friends."

His resolution taken, Dick Edmonstone threw up vain regrets; "friendly
relations" with Alice were duly established, and at first the plan
worked tolerably well. They had one or two common interests,
fortunately. Alice dabbled in water-colours; in which Dick could help
her, and did. In return, Alice took a lively interest in his sketches;
and they would sometimes talk of the career to which he was to devote
himself. Then there was the river; they were both good oars, and, with
Alice, rowing was a passion.

Beyond these things there was little enough to bring them together. In
everything else Mr. Miles either stepped in or enjoyed a previous
pre-eminence. At first Dick tried hard to hate this man for his own
sake, without being jealous of him; but under the circumstances it was
impossible for jealousy not to creep in. He certainly distrusted Miles;
the man struck him from the first as an adventurer, who had wormed
himself by mysterious means into the friendship of the guileless,
single-hearted Colonel Bristo; and observation deepened this
impression. On the other hand, the pair saw very little of each other.
Dick naturally avoided Miles, and Miles--for some good reason of his
own--shunned Dick. In fact, the jealous feeling did not arise from
anything he saw or heard: the flame was promoted and fed, as it were, at
second-hand.

Deep in his heart, poor Dick had counted on being something of a lion
(it was only human) on his return from Australia, at least on one hearth
besides his own; and lo! a lion occupied that hearth before him--a lion,
moreover, of the very same type. The Bristos didn't want to hear
Australian experiences, because they had already heard such as could
never be surpassed, from the lips of Miles; their palate for bush yarns
was destroyed. Dick found himself cut out, in his own line, by Miles.
His friends were very hospitable and very kind, but they had no wish to
learn his adventures. And those adventures! How he had hoarded them in
his mind! how he had dreamed in his vanity of enthralling the Colonel
and thrilling Alice! He had hoped at least to interest them; and even in
that he failed. Each little reminiscence yawned over, each comparison or
allusion ignored--these were slight things with sharp edges. With Alice,
it more than once happened that when he touched on his strange
experiences she forgot to listen, which wounded him; or if she made him
repeat it, it was to cite some far more wonderful story of Mr.
Miles--which sowed salt in the wound. Of course vanity was its own cure,
and he dropped the subject of Australia altogether; but he was very full
of his romantic life, and this took him a day or two, and cost him some
moments of bitterness.

So Dick's first fortnight in England passed, and on the whole he
believed he had made some sort of progress with Alice. Moreover, he
began rather to like wooing her on his merits. On consideration, it was
more satisfactory, perhaps, than reviving the old boy-and-girl sentiment
as if there had been no four years' hiatus; more satisfactory, because
he never doubted that he would win her in the end. It is to be noted
that his ideas about one or two things changed in a remarkable degree
during those first days.

One morning, when they chanced to be particularly confidential together,
Dick said suddenly:

"By the bye, how did you come to know this--Mr. Miles?" He had almost
said "this fellow Miles."

"Has papa never told you?" Alice asked in surprise.

"No, never."

"Nor Mr. Miles himself? Ah, no: he would be the last person to speak of
it. But I will tell you. Well, then, it was when we were down in Sussex.
Papa was bathing (though I had forbidden it), when he was seized with
cramp, out of his depth. He must certainly have been drowned; but a
great handsome fellow, dressed like a fisherman, saw his distress,
rushed into the sea, swam out, and rescued him with the help of a boat.
Poor papa, when he came to himself, at once offered the man money; and
here came the surprise. The man laughed, refused the money, dived his
hand into his own pocket, and threw a sovereign to the boatman who had
helped!"

Dick's interest was thoroughly aroused, and he showed it; but he thought
to himself: "That was unnecessary. Why couldn't the fellow keep to the
part he was playing?"

And Alice continued: "Then papa found out that he was a gentleman in
disguise--a Mr. Miles, from Sydney! He had been over some months, and
was seeing England in thorough fashion. Indeed, he seemed a regular
boatman, with his hands all hard and seamed with tar."

"And your father made friends with him?"

"Naturally; he brought him up to the hotel, where I heard all about the
affair. You may imagine the state I was in! After that we saw a good
deal of him down there, and papa got to like him very much, and asked
him to come and stay with us when he grew tired of that kind of life and
returned to London. And that's all."

"How long did you say it is since he saved your father's life?" Dick
asked, after a short pause.

"Let me see, it's--yes, not quite a month ago."

Dick gave vent to a scarcely audible whistle.

"And he has no other friends in England?"

"Not that I know of."

"And writes no letters nor receives any?" (He was speaking from his own
observation.)

"Not that I know of. But how should I know? or what does it matter?"

"In fact, he is a friendless adventurer, whom you don't know a thing
about beyond what you have told me?"

Alice suddenly recoiled, and a dangerous light gleamed in her eyes.

"What do you mean? I don't understand you. Why all these questions?"

Dick regarded her unflinchingly. He knew what an honest answer would
cost him, yet he was resolved to speak out.

"Because," said he, impressively and slowly, "because I don't believe
Mr. Miles is what he makes himself out to be."

He knew that he had made some advance in her esteem, he knew that these
words would lose him all that he had gained, and he was right. A flash
of contempt lit up the girl's eyes and pierced to his soul. "Noble
rival!" said she; and without another word swept haughtily past
him--from the garden where they had been walking--into the house.



                                  VII

                          SOUTH KENSINGTON


The first act of every Australian who landed in England that summer was,
very naturally, to visit the Exhibition--their Exhibition--at South
Kensington.

Dick was not an Australian, and it therefore did not consume him to put
off South Kensington until he had been a week or so quietly at home.
Nevertheless he was sufficiently eager to inspect the choice products of
a land that he regarded with gratitude as indeed his alma mater; and
still more eager to expatiate on all that was to be seen to insular
friends, who believed that New Zealand was an inland colony, and who
asked if Victoria was not the capital of Sydney. On that very first
evening he had made a sort of offer to escort Colonel Bristo and Alice;
but there he was too late; and he experienced the first of a series of
petty mortifications--already mentioned--which originated from a common
cause. Mr. Miles had already been with the Bristos to the Exhibition,
and had proved a most entertaining showman. He had promised to accompany
them again in a week or two; would not Dick join the party? For three
visits would be more than impartial persons, such as the Colonel and his
daughter, were likely to care about--even with so splendid a cicerone as
Mr. Miles.

Of course, Dick was not going to play second fiddle to the Australian
deliberately and with his eyes open. He made his excuses, and never
alluded to the matter again. But one day, after a morning's business in
the City, he went alone.

When he was once in the vast place, and had found his way to the
Australian section, his interest speedily rose to a high pitch. It is
one thing to go to an exhibition to be instructed, or to wonder what on
earth half the things are; it is something quite different to find
yourself among familiar objects and signs which are not Greek to you, to
thread corridors lined with curios which you hail as the household gods
of your exile. Instead of the bored outsider, with his shallow
appreciation of everything, you become at once a discriminate observer
and intelligent critic, and sightseeing for once loses its tedium. Dick
wandered from aisle to aisle, from stand to stand, in rapt attention. At
every turn he found something of peculiar interest to him: here it was a
view of some township whose every stick he knew by heart; there a sample
of wood bearing on the printed label under the glass the name of a sheep
station where he had stayed time out of number.

The golden arch at the entrance to the Victorian Court arrested him, as
it arrested all the world; but even more fascinating in his eyes was the
case of model nuggets close at hand. He heard a small boy asking his
mamma if they were all real, and he heard mamma reply with bated breath
that she supposed so; then the small boy smacked his lips, and uttered
awed (though slangy) ejaculations, and the enlightened parent led him
on to wonders new. But Dick still gazed at the nuggets; he was
wondering--if he could have it all over again--whether he would rather
pick up one of these fellows than win again their equivalent through
toil and enterprise, step by step, when a smart slap on the back caused
him to turn sharp round with an exclamation.

A short, stout, red-faced man stood at his elbow with arms akimbo, and
grinned familiarly in his face. Dick looked him up and down with a stare
of indignation; he could not for the life of him recognise the fellow;
yet there he stood, his red-stubbled chin thrust forward, and a broad,
good-humoured grin on his apish face, and dressed gorgeously. He wore a
high white hat tilted backward, a snowy waistcoat, a dazzling tie, and a
black frock-coat, with an enormous red rose in the button hole. His
legs, which now formed two sides of an equilateral triangle with the
floor for its base, were encased in startling checks, and his feet,
which were small, in the glossiest patent leather. His left hand rested
gloved upon his hip, and four fingers of his ungloved right hand were
thrust into his waistcoat pocket, leaving the little one in the cold
with a diamond of magnitude flashing from its lowest joint.

"Euchred?" this gentleman simply asked, in a nasal tone of immense
mirth.

"If you mean do I know you, I don't," said Dick, only a degree less
haughtily than if he had come straight from Oxford instead of from the
bush.

"What! you don't remember me?" exclaimed the man more explicitly, his
fingers itching to leap from the waistcoat-pocket.

Dick stared an uncompromising denial.

The diamond flashed in his eyes, and a small piece of pasteboard was
held in front of him, on which were engraved these words:

"The Hon. Stephen Biggs."

Dick repressed an insane impulse to explode with laughter.

"What! of Marshall's Creek?"

"The same."

Dick stretched out his hand.

"A thousand pardons, my dear fellow; but how could I expect to see you
here? And--the Honourable?"

"Ah!" said Mr. Biggs, with legitimate pride, "that knocks you, old man!
It was only the Legislative Assembly when you and me was mates; it's the
Legislative Council now. I'm in the Upper 'Ouse, my son!"

"I'm sure I congratulate you," said Dick.

"But 'ang the 'andle," continued the senator magnanimously; "call me
Steve just the same."

"Well, it's like the whiff of the gum leaves to see you again, Steve.
When did you arrive?"

"Last week. You see," confidentially, "I'm in my noo rig out--the best
your London can do; though, after all, this Colony'll do as good any day
in the week. I can't see where it is you do things better than we do.
However, come and have a drink, old man."

In vain Dick protested that he was not thirsty; Mr. Biggs was. Besides,
bushmen are not to be denied or trifled with on such points. The little
man seized Dick's arm, marched him to the nearest bar, and called for
beer.

"Ah!" sighed Mr. Biggs, setting down his tankard, "this is the one point
where the Old Country licks us. This Colony can't come within a cooee of
you with the beer, and I'm the first to own it! We kep' nothing like
this at my place on the Murray, now did we?"

Dick was forced to shake his head, for, in fact, the Honourable Stephen
had formerly kept a flourishing "hotel" on the Murray, where the
Colonial beer had been no better than--other Colonial beer--a brew with
a bad name. Dick observed an odd habit Mr. Biggs had of referring to his
native heath as though he were still on it, speaking of his country as
he would have spoken of it out there--as "this Colony."

The Honourable Steve now insisted on tacking himself on to Dick, and
they roamed the Exhibition together. Biggs talked volubly of his
impressions of England and the English (he had crowded a great deal into
his first few days, and had already "done" half London), of the
Exhibition, of being fêted by the flower of Britain and fed on the fat
of the land; and though his English was scarcely impeccable a vein of
shrewd common sense ran through his observations which was as admirable
in the man (he had risen very rapidly even for Australia) as it was
characteristic of his class.

"By-the-bye," said Mr. Biggs, after they had freely criticised the
romantic group of blacks and fauna in the South Australian Court, "have
you seen the Hut?"

"No," said Dick.

"Then come on; it's the best thing in the whole show; and," dropping
his voice mysteriously, "there's the rummest go there you ever saw in
your life."

Everybody remembers the Settler's Hut. It was a most realistic property,
with its strips of bark and its bench and wash-basin, though some
bushmen were heard to deny below their breath the existence of any hut
so spick and span "where they come from."

"Good!" said Dick, as soon as he saw the Hut. "That's the real thing, if
you like."

"Half a shake," said Mr. Biggs, "and I'll show you something realler."
He drew Dick to the window of the hut. "Look there!" he whispered,
pointing within.

Three or four persons were inspecting the interior, and debating aloud
as to how they personally should care to live in such a place; and each,
as he surveyed the rude walls, the huge fireplace, the primitive cooking
utensils, reserved his most inquisitive scrutiny for an oddly-dressed
man who sat motionless and silent on the low bank, as though the Hut
belonged to him. A more colourable inference would have been that the
man belonged to the Hut; and in that case he must have been admitted the
most picturesque exhibit in the Colonial Courts, as he looked the most
genuine; for the man was dressed in the simple mode of an Australian
stockman, and looked the part from the thin soles of his plain
side-spring boots to the crown of his cabbage-tree hat. From under the
broad brim of the latter a pair of quick, dark eyes played restlessly
among the people who passed in and out, or thronged the door of the hut.
His shoulders were bent, and his head habitually thrust forward, so that
it was impossible, in the half-light, to clearly make out the features;
but long, iron-gray locks fell over the collar of his coarse tweed coat,
and a bushy, pepper-and-salt beard hid the throat and the upper portion
of the chest. Old though the man undoubtedly was, his massive frame
suggested muscularity that must once have been enormous, and must still
be considerable.

"Now, what do you think of that cove?" inquired the Hon. Stephen Biggs
in a stage whisper.

"Why," said Dick, who was frowning in a puzzled manner, "he looks the
real thing too. I suppose that's what he's there for. Now, I wonder
where----"

"Ah, but it ain't that," broke in Biggs, "I've been here every day,
almost, and when I see him here every day, too, I soon found out he
don't belong to the place. No; he's an ordinary customer, who pays his
bob every morning when the show opens, and stays till closing-time. He's
to be seen all over the Exhibition, but generally at the Hut--most
always about the Hut."

"Well, if he isn't paid for it, what on earth is his object?" said Dick,
as they moved away.

"Ah," said Mr. Biggs darkly, "I have a notion of my own about that,
though some of the people that belong to this here place share it with
me."

"And?" said Dick.

"And," said Mr. Biggs with emphasis, "in my opinion the fellow's the
dead spit of a detective; what's more, you may take your Colonial oath
he is one!"

"Well," said Dick coolly, "I've seen him before, though I can't tell
where. I remember his bulk and shape better than his face."

"Yes? By Jove, my boy, you may be the very man he's after!"

Mr. Biggs burst into a loud guffaw; then turned grave in a moment, and
repeated impressively: "A detective--my oath!"

"But he looks a genuine Australian, if ever I saw one," objected Dick.

"Well, maybe he's what he looks."

"Then do you think he's come over on purpose? It must be a big job."

"I think he has. It must."

"Ah," said Dick, "then I have seen him out there somewhere; probably in
Melbourne."

"Quite likely," said Mr. Biggs. "There are plenty of his sort in this
Colony, and as sharp as you'll find anywhere else, my word!"

A little later they left the Exhibition, and spent the evening
together.



                                  VIII

                          THE ADMIRABLE MILES


If Mr. Miles was systematically "spoilt" by the Bristos, he was more or
less entitled to the treatment, since it is not every guest who has had
the privilege of saving his host from drowning. But Mr. Miles was in
other ways an exceptional visitor. He contrived to create entertainment
instead of requiring it. He was no anxiety to anybody; he upset no
household routine; he might have remained for months, and not outstayed
his welcome; from the first he made himself at home in the most
agreeable fashion. In a word, he was a very charming man.

Moreover, he was unlike other men: he was far more independent, and far
less conventional. It was impossible to measure him by a commonplace
standard. He had little peculiarities which would not have recommended
other men, but which in his case were considered virtues: he was quite
artless in matters of etiquette. Indeed, he was a splendid specimen of
free, ingenuous manhood--an ideal Australian, according to the notions
of the old country.

The least breath against their guest on conventional grounds would have
been indignantly resented by the Graysbrooke people. They put upon his
peculiarities an interpretation which in Mrs. Parish's case resolved
itself into a formula:

"They are so free-and-easy out there; they despise conventionality; they
are natural. Oh that we were all Australians!" (Mr. Miles was the one
Australian of her acquaintance.)

Thus when he swore unmistakably at a clumsy oarsman while piloting the
ladies through a crowded lock, the offence was hushed up with a formula;
and so were other offences, since formulas will cover anything.

One day Mrs. Parish, going into the drawing-room, paused on the
threshold with an angry sniff.

"Smoke--in here! It is the very first time in all these years," severely
to Alice, "that I have ever known your papa--"

"It was not papa, it was Mr. Miles," said Alice quietly. "He walked in
with his pipe, and I really did not like to tell him. I believe he has
gone for more tobacco."

"Why, how stupid of me! Of course, with Mr. Miles it is quite
different." (Mrs. Parish assumed an indulgent tone.) "He is not used to
such restraints. You were quite right to say nothing about it. He shall
smoke where he likes."

Again the little old lady came to Alice, and said very gravely:

"My dear, did you notice the way our visitor refused the hock this
evening? Of course they do not drink such stuff in the bush, and he must
have what he is accustomed to. I will arrange with Tomlin to have the
whisky decanter placed quietly in front of him for the future."

Alice, for her part, not only permitted but abetted this system of
indulgence; for she agreed with Mrs. Parish that the guest was a noble
creature, for whose personal comfort it was impossible to show too much
solicitude--which, indeed, was the least they could do. He had saved her
father's life.

That incident--which she had related to Dick with a wonderful absence of
feminine exaggeration--had been in itself enough to plant in her heart a
very real regard for Mr. Miles. That was but natural; but one or two
other things which came to her knowledge furthered this regard.

One Saturday morning in Kingston market-place Alice met a bosom friend,
who informed her that she had seen the Graysbrooke pleasure-boat being
towed up-stream by a tall gentleman--("So handsome, my dear; who is
he?")--while a miserable, half-starved wretch sat luxuriously in the
stern-sheets. Rallied with this, the Australian's brick-dust complexion
became a shade deeper. Then he made a clean breast of the affair, in his
usual quiet tone, but with a nearer approach to diffidence than he had
yet shown them. He had gone out for a solitary pull, and had no sooner
started than a cadaverous creature with a tow-rope pestered him for a
job. Miles had refused the man; doubted his strength to tow a flea with
a silk thread; and observed that he, Miles, was more fit to tow the
other, if it came to that. At this, Miles, being sworn at for making
game of a starving man, had promptly landed, forced the man, speechless
with amazement, into the boat, towed him to Kingston, and left him to a
good dinner, with some wholesome advice touching immediate emigration.

A few days later, at dusk on a wet afternoon, Mrs. Parish, from her
bedroom window, saw Mr. Miles walk quickly up the drive in his
shirt-sleeves. It transpired that he had given his coat to a ragged,
shivering tramp on the London road--plus the address of the Emigration
Office.

"You see," he said, on both these occasions, "I never saw anything half
so bad in my own country. If you aren't used to it, it knocks a man's
heart to see a poor devil so far gone as all that."

In short, Mr. Miles exhibited to the Bristos, on several occasions, a
propensity to odd and impulsive generosity; and the point told
considerably in their general regard for the man, which day by day grew
more profound.

Among other peculiarities, so excellently appreciated, Mr. Miles had a
singular manner of speaking. It was an eminently calm manner; but for
the ring of quiet audacity in every tone, it might have been called a
subdued manner. He never raised his voice; he never spoke with heat.
When he said to Colonel Bristo, clinging to him in the sea, "If you hang
on like that I must fell you," his tone was as smooth as when he
afterwards apologised for the threat. When he paid Alice his first
compliment he did so without the smallest hesitation, and in his
ordinary tone; and his compliments were of the most direct order. They
once heard him threaten to thrash a bargee for ill-treating a horse, and
they were amazed when the man sulkily desisted; the threat was so gently
and dispassionately uttered. As for his adventures, they were told with
so much of detail and gravity that the manner carried conviction where
the matter was most fantastic. Miles was the best of "good company."
Apart from the supreme service rendered to him, Colonel Bristo was fully
persuaded that he was entertaining the best fellow in the world. Add to
this that Mrs. Parish adored the handsome Australian, while Alice meekly
revered him, and it will be easily seen that a hostile opinion of their
hero was well calculated to recoil on its advocate.

During the short period in which the hero was also the stranger, he
spent all his time in the Colonel's society. Apparently the two men
found many subjects of mutual interest. Once, when Alice interrupted
them in the study, Mr. Miles seemed to be eloquently enumerating the
resources and capabilities of some remote district of the Antipodes; for
though she spent some minutes getting a book, he took no notice of her
presence in the room. On another occasion Alice saw her father examining
a kind of map or plan, while Mr. Miles bent over him in explanation. She
afterwards learnt that this was a plan of the Queensland station of
which Mr. Miles was part owner.

After the first day or two it seemed evident that Mr. Miles disliked the
society of ladies.

On the third evening, however, the men patronised the drawing-room for
half-an-hour, and the Colonel asked Alice to sing something. She sang,
and Mr. Miles listened. When she had finished, Mr. Miles coolly asked
her to sing again. The following night he extracted three songs from
her. Then Mr. Miles began to spend less time in his host's sanctum. He
cultivated Alice; he interested himself in her amusements--photography
for one; he got her to sing to him in the daytime. He was civil to Mrs.
Parish.

When the young lady sat down to the piano, this sun-burned Apollo did
not hang over her, as other men did (when they got the chance); nor did
he turn over a bar too soon or too late--like the others. He made no
pretence of polite assistance, not he. But he flung himself in a chair,
threw back his head, and drank in every note. At first it was generally
with his back to the piano, and always with closed eyes. Then he found
another chair--one a little further away, but so placed that the girl's
profile was stamped like a silhouette on the sunlit window, directly in
his line of vision. And he no longer listened with closed eyelids.

Mrs. Parish, a keen observer, hovered about during these performances,
and noted these things. She had perceived at the time the impression
Alice's first song made upon Mr. Miles: she saw that he had regarded the
girl from that moment with a newly awakened interest. Thenceforth he had
made himself agreeable to both ladies, whereas before he had ignored
them both. Now, although she knew well enough that Miles's attentions,
so far as she was concerned, could be but politic, yet such was the
inveterate vanity of this elderly duenna that she derived therefrom no
small personal gratification. An impudent compliment thrilled her as it
might have thrilled a schoolgirl. But this did not prevent her seeing
what was really going on, nor secretly rejoicing at what she saw.

She watched the pair together from the first. She watched the girl
innocently betray her veneration for the man who had saved her father's
life. She knew that it is perilous for a man to see that a girl thinks
him a hero, and she awaited results. She soon fancied that she saw some.
She thought that Miles's habitual insouciance was a trifle less apparent
when he conversed with Alice; certainly his eyes began to follow her and
rest upon her; for Mr. Miles did such things openly. But she detected no
corresponding symptoms in Alice; so one day she told her bluntly: "Mr.
Miles is falling in love with you, child."

Alice was startled, and coloured with simple annoyance.

"What nonsense!" she said indignantly.

Immediately she thought of the absent Dick, and her blush
deepened--because she thought of him so seldom. Mrs. Parish replied that
it was not nonsense, but, instead of urging proofs in support of her
statement, contented herself with cataloguing Mr. Miles's kingly
attributes. Here Alice could not contradict her. The old lady even spoke
of the station in Queensland and the house at Sydney. Encouraged by the
girl's silence, however, she overshot the mark with a parallel
reference--and not a kind one--to Dick Edmonstone. She saw her mistake
at once, but too late; without a word Alice turned coldly from her, and
they barely exchanged civilities during the rest of that day.

From that moment Miss Bristo's manner towards Mr. Miles was changed.
Mrs. Parish had put into her head a thought that had never once occurred
to her. An innocent pleasure was poisoned for her. She did not quite
give up the songs, and the rest, but she became self-conscious, and
developed a sudden preference for that society which is said to be no
company at all.

At this juncture the ship _Hesper_ entered the Channel, and was duly
reported in the newspapers. Alice saw the announcement, and knew that in
two or three days she should see her lover. These days she spent in
thought.

At seventeen she had been madly in love with young Edmonstone--what is
called a "romantic" or "school-girl" affair--chiefly sentimental on her
side, terribly earnest on his. At eighteen--parted many months from a
sweetheart from whom she never heard, and beginning to think of him
daily instead of hourly--she asked herself whether this was really love.
At nineteen, it was possible to get through a day--days, even--without
devoting sentimental minutes to the absent one. Alice was at least madly
in love no longer. There remained a very real regard for Dick, a
constant prayer for his welfare, a doubt as to whether he would ever
come home again, a wondering (if he did) whether she could ever be the
same to him again, or he to her; nothing more.

Mrs. Parish was in a great measure responsible for all this. That
excellent woman had predicted from the first that Dick would never make
his fortune (it was not done nowadays), and that he would never come
back. Another factor was the ripening of her understanding, aided by a
modicum of worldly experience which came to her at first-hand. Alice was
honoured with two proposals of marriage, and in each case the rejected
(both were wife-hunting) consoled himself elsewhere within three
months. To this groundwork Mrs. Parish added some judicious facts from
her own experience; and this old lady happened to be the girl's only
confidante and adviser. Alice gathered that, though man's honour might
be a steadfast rock, his love was but a shifting sand. Thus there were
such things as men marrying where they had ceased to love; thus Dick
might return and profess love for her which was no longer sincere.

In the end Miss Bristo was left, like many other young ladies, with an
imperfect knowledge of her own mind, and attempted, unlike most young
ladies, to mould her doubts into a definite and logical form. She did
arrive at a conclusion--when she learned that Dick was nearly home. This
conclusion was, that, whatever happened, there must be no immediate
engagement: she did not know whether Dick loved her still--she was not
absolutely sure that she still loved him.

We have seen how she communicated her decision to Dick. His manifest
agony when he heard it sent a thrill through her heart--a thrill that
recalled the old romance. The manly way in which he afterwards accepted
his fate touched her still more. She began to think that she might after
all have mistaken herself of late; and this notion would probably have
become a conviction but for one circumstance--the presence of Mr. Miles.

Dick was jealous: she saw it, or thought she saw it, from the first.
This vexed her, and she had not bargained to be vexed by Dick. It made
her more than half-inclined to give him something to be jealous of.
Accordingly she was once or twice so malicious as to throw Mr. Miles in
his teeth in their conversations, and watch the effect. And the effect
did not please her.

On the other hand, about Mr. Miles there was no particle of jealousy
(one thing more to his credit). Why, he had asked with the greatest
interest all about Dick, after he had gone that first evening; and her
answers had been most circumspect: she had let him suppose that Dick was
a squatter during his whole term in Australia. After that Mr. Miles had
asked no more. But Dick had never asked one word about Mr. Miles until
he had been in England a fortnight, and then he offended her deeply. Up
to that point her interest in Dick had been gradually growing more
tender; she felt him to be true and brave, and honoured him; and
contrasted her own fickleness with his honest worth. Once or twice she
felt a longing to make him happy. Even as she felt herself irresistibly
bowed down before him her idol fell. From this man, whom she was
learning to truly love, came a mean, unmanly suggestion. To further his
progress with her he stooped to slander the man whom he was pleased to
consider his rival, and that rival the noblest, the most generous of
men.

She could not easily forgive this; she could never forget it, and never
think quite the same of Dick afterwards. And then the conduct of the
other one was so different! Her manner instinctively warmed towards Mr.
Miles: she should be his champion through thick and thin. As for Dick,
after that little scene, he did not come near Graysbrooke for a week.

Now, during that week, the words that had offended her recurred many
times to Alice. The pale, earnest, honest face with which Dick had
uttered them also rose in her mind. Was it possible that his suspicion
could be absolutely groundless? Was it not credible that he might have
reasons for speaking--mistaken ones, of course--which he could not
reveal to her? In any case, his words rankled; and so much sting is
seldom left by words which we have already dismissed, once and for all,
as utterly and entirely false.

During that week, moreover, there occurred a frivolous incident, of
which Alice would have thought nothing before the expression of Dick's
suspicions but which now puzzled her sorely. One brilliant afternoon she
found herself completely indolent. She wandered idly into the garden,
and presently came upon a rather droll sight: her father and Mr. Miles,
sound asleep, side by side, in a couple of basket-chairs under the shade
of a weeping willow. The girl conceived a happy roguery: what a subject
for a photograph! She stole into the house for her camera. When she
returned, her father was gone. She was disappointed, hesitated a few
moments, and then coolly photographed the still unconscious Mr. Miles.
An hour later she greeted him with the negative--an excellent one.

"You said you had never been taken," said she mischievously. "Well, here
is your first portrait. It will be capital."

He asked to look at it, in his quiet way. Alice handed him the dripping
glass. He had no sooner held it up to the light than it slipped through
his fingers, and broke into a dozen fragments upon the gravel path.

Mr. Miles apologised coldly, and proceeded to pick up the pieces with a
provoking smile. Alice was irate, and accused him of breaking her
negative purposely. Mr. Miles replied with charming candour that he had
never been photographed in his life, and never meant to be. Already
blaming herself for having yielded to a silly impulse, and one which was
even open to wrong construction, Alice said no more; and presently, when
the Australian gravely begged her forgiveness, it was granted with equal
gravity. Nevertheless she was puzzled. Why should Mr. Miles so dread a
photograph of himself? What had he to fear? Would Dick add this to his
little list of suspicious circumstances? If he did, it would be the
first item not utterly absurd. What if she were to tell him, and see!

As it happened, Dick called the very next day, a Wednesday, and the last
day in June. Alice received him coldly. There was a natural restraint on
both sides, but she thawed before he went. As he was saying good-bye,
she asked him (casually) if he would come on Friday afternoon--the day
of her dance--and help with the floor and things. She really wished him
to come very much, for she foresaw an opportunity for explanation,
without which the evening would be a misery to her; besides, they could
talk over Mr. Miles fairly and confidentially. Dick jumped at it, poor
fellow, brightened up at once, and walked home a happier man.

The following day Alice accompanied her father to town, on pleasure
bent. The little jaunt had been long arranged, and Mr. Miles was their
efficient escort.

That was on Thursday, July 1st.

Unfortunately for Mr. Biggs, M.L.C., he could not spend all his days at
the Exhibition, so that a certain little drama, not widely differing
from that astute legislator's preconception, was at last played to an
altogether unappreciative house. The facts are these:

About four in the afternoon, an old gentleman, with snowy whiskers and
hair, and with a very charming girl upon his arm, looked into the
Settler's Hut. They did not remain within above ten seconds; but during
those ten seconds the genus loci--who was in his customary place on the
bunk--heard a voice without which caused him to start, pull the brim of
his cabbage-tree hat further over his eyes, and draw a long breath
through his teeth.

"I won't come in," said this voice, which was low and unconcerned; "I've
seen it before; besides, I know the kind of thing rather too well."

The shadows of the old gentleman and the girl had hardly disappeared
from the threshold when the man in the cabbage-tree hat and side-spring
boots rose swiftly, and peered stealthily after them. What he saw caused
him to smile with malignant triumph. A tall, well-dressed man walked
beside the old gentleman and his daughter.

The watcher allowed them to pass almost out of sight, then followed
warily. He followed them all the afternoon, keeping so far behind, and
dodging so cleverly, that they never saw him. When the trio at length
quitted the building and took a cab, this man followed through the
streets at a double. He followed them to Waterloo. He got into the same
train with them. They got out at a station on the loop line; he got out
also, paid his fare to the ticket collector, and once more dogged his
quarry. An hour later the cabbage-tree hat was attracting attention on
that same suburban platform; later still the occupants of a third-class
smoking carriage in an up train thought that they had never before seen
such an evil expression as that which the broad brim of the cabbage-tree
hat only partially concealed.

This also was on the 1st of July.



                                   IX

                 A DANCING LESSON AND ITS CONSEQUENCES


To enter a cricket-field in mid-winter and a ballroom at midday are
analogous trials, and serious ones to enthusiasts in either arena; but
the former is a less depressing sight in January than in December, while
there is something even inspiriting about a ballroom the day before the
dance.

When, quite early in the afternoon, Alice slipped unobserved into the
cool and empty dining-room, her cheeks glowed, her eyes sparkled, and
the hard boards yielded like air beneath her airy feet. She shut the
door quietly, though with an elbow; her hands were full. She carried two
long wax candles that knew no flame, two gleaming dinner-knives, and a
pair of scissors. These were deposited on a chair--provisionally--while
the young lady inspected the floor with critical gaze.

She frowned--the floor was far from perfect. She slid out one small
foot, as if trying dubious ice--yes, most imperfect. The other foot
followed; it would be impossible to dance on a floor like this. Next
instant the lie was given to this verdict by the judge herself, for Miss
Bristo was skimming like a swallow round the room.

Would you see a graceful maiden at her best? Then watch her dancing.
Would you behold her most sweet? Then catch her unawares--if you can.
Most graceful and most sweet, then--I admit that the combination is a
rare one, but she should be dancing all alone; for, alas! the ballroom
has its mask, and the dual dance its trammels.

In this instance it was only that Alice desired to try the floor, and to
assure herself that her feet had lost none of their cunning; and only
once round. No, twice; for, after all, the floor was not so very bad,
while the practice was very good, and--the sensation was delicious. Yet
a third round--a last one--with quickened breath and heightened colour,
and supple curves and feet more nimble, and a summer gown like a silver
cloud, now floating in the wake of the pliant form, now clinging
tenderly as she swiftly turned. And none to see her!

What, none?

As Alice came to an abrupt pause in front of her cutlery and candles, a
deep soft voice said, "Bravo!"

She looked quickly up, and the base of a narrow open window at the end
of the room was filled by a pair of broad shoulders; and well set up on
the shoulders was a handsome, leonine face, with a blond beard and a
pair of bold, smiling eyes.

"Bravo, Miss Bristo!"

"Well, really, Mr. Miles--"

"Now don't be angry--you can't be so unreasonable. I was out here; I saw
something white and dazzling pass the window twice; and the third time I
thought I'd see what it was. I came and looked, and thought it was an
angel turned deserter, and dancing for joy to be on earth again! There
was no harm in that, was there?"

"There is a great deal of harm in compliments," said Alice severely;
"especially when they are wicked as well as rude."

Mr. Miles smiled up at her through the window, completely unabashed.

"I forgot. Of course it was rude to liken you to gods I never saw, and
never hope to see. Forgive me!"

But Alice was thinking that her freak required a word of explanation.

"I was only just trying the floor," she said. "I never dreamt that
anyone would be so mean as to watch me."

"Unfortunately one can't learn from merely watching," Mr. Miles replied,
quietly raising himself upon the sill. "You surely haven't forgotten the
lesson you promised to give me?"--swinging his legs into the room--"I
claim that lesson now." He towered above her, a column of gray tweed,
his arms folded lightly across his massive chest.

The window by which Miles entered was five feet above the river lawn,
and one of three at that end of the room--the other walls had none.
Standing with one's back to these windows, the door was on the right
hand side, and, facing it, a double door communicating with the
conservatory. Before this double door, which was ajar, hung a heavy
curtain, awaiting adjustment for the evening.

"I did not ask you in," remarked Alice with some indignation. It was
just like Mr. Miles, this; and for once he really was not wanted.

"Unfortunately, no; you forced me to ask myself. But about the lesson?
You know I never danced in my life; am I to disgrace my country
to-night?"

"You should have come to me this morning."

"You were--cooking, I believe."

"Thank you, Mr. Miles! Then yesterday."

"We were all in town. Now do be the angel you looked a minute since,
Miss Bristo, and show me the ropes. It won't take you ten minutes; I
assure you I'm a quick learner. Why, if it's time you grudge, we have
wasted ten minutes already, talking about it."

Impudence could no higher climb; but Mr. Miles was not as other men
are--at least, not in this house. There was nothing for it but to give
in, show him the rudiments, and get rid of them as quickly as possible;
for Dick might arrive at any moment.

"Ten minutes is all I shall give you, then. Attention! One, two, three;
one, two, three; so! Can you do it?"

Of course he could not, after a niggardly example of half-a-dozen steps:
he did not try; he insisted on her waltzing once right round the room
very slowly.

"Then it is your last chance," exclaimed Alice. "Now watch: you begin
so: one--a long one, remember--then two, three--little quick ones. Now
try. No, you needn't lift your feet; you are not stamping for an encore,
Mr. Miles. It is all done by sliding, like this. Now, try again."

Miles bent his six feet three into five feet nothing, and slid gravely
round with an anxious watch upon his feet.

"Why, you are bent double," cried Miss Bristo, sharply; "and, let me
tell you, you will never learn while you look at your feet."

Miles stopped short.

"Then how am I to learn?" he asked, gazing helplessly at his
instructress.

Alice burst out laughing.

"You had better lock yourself in your room and practise hard until
evening. The ten minutes are up; but you have exactly six hours and
twenty-nine minutes before you, if you make haste."

"Well, you shall suffer if I cut a poor figure to-night, Miss Bristo,
and it will serve you right, for I intend to have my share of your
dances."

"That remains to be seen," said Alice tritely.

"Stay, though," said Miles, drawing himself up to the last of his
seventy-five inches, and speaking in that smooth, matter-of-fact tone
that ushered in his most astounding audacities, "suppose we two try--in
double harness--now?"

"Mr. Miles!"

"Miss Bristo, I am sure I should get on a thousand times better. Is it
so very much to ask?" he added humbly--for him.

The inner Alice echoed the question: Was it so very much to ask--or to
grant? The answer came at once: To anyone else, yes; to Mr. Miles, no;
grave, heroic, middle-aged Mr. Miles! With a mighty show of
condescension, Miss Bristo agreed to one round, and not a step more. She
would not have been called prude for the world; but unluckily, prudery
and prudence so often go hand in hand.

The two went whirling round the empty room. Before they were half-way
round, Alice exclaimed:

"You have cheated; never danced, indeed!"

He murmured that it was so many years ago, he thought he had forgotten.
Having thus discovered that she could teach her pupil nothing, it was
Alice's plain duty to stop; but this she forgot to do. Mr. Miles, for
his part, said not a word, but held her firmly. He, in fact, waltzed
better than any man she had ever danced with. Two
rounds--three--six--without a word.

Even if they had not been dancing they might have failed to hear a
buoyant footstep that entered the conservatory at this time; for the
worst of an india-rubber sole is the catlike tread that it gives the
most artless wearer. But it was an unfortunate circumstance that they
did just then happen to be dancing.

There is no excuse for Miss Bristo, that I know of. Pleas of faulty
training or simplicity within her years would, one feels, be futile.
Without doubt she behaved as the girl of this period is not intended to
behave; let her be blamed accordingly. She did not go unpunished.

After waltzing for no less a space than five minutes--in a ballroom bare
as a crypt, in broad daylight, and in silence--Alice, happening to look
up, saw a look on her partner's face which made her tremble. She had
never seen a similar expression.

It was pale and resolute--stern, terrible. She disengaged herself with
little ado, and sank quietly into a chair by the window.

"A fine 'one round'!" she said demurely; "but it shall be deducted from
your allowance this evening."

She could not see him; he was behind her. His eyes were devouring the
shapely little head dipped in the gold of the afternoon sun. Her face he
could not see--only the tips of two dainty ears and they were pink. But
a single lock of hair--a wilful lock that had got astray in the dance,
and lay on her shoulder like a wisp of sunlit hay--attracted his
attention, and held it. When he managed to release his eyes, they roved
swiftly round the room, and finally rested upon another chair within his
reach, on which lay two wax-candles, two dinner-knives, and a pair of
scissors.

A click of steel an inch from her ear caused Alice to start from her
chair and turn round. Mr. Miles--pale, but otherwise undisturbed--stood
holding the scissors in his right hand, and in his left was a lock of
her hair. For one moment Miss Bristo was dumb with indignation. Then her
lips parted; but before she could say a word the door-handle turned, Mr.
Miles dropped the scissors upon the chair and put his left hand in his
pocket, and the head and shoulders of Colonel Bristo were thrust into
the room.

"Ah, I have found you at last!" the old gentleman cried with an
indulgent smile. "If you are at liberty, and Alice don't mind, we will
speak of--that matter--in my study."

"My lesson is just over," said Miles, bowing to Alice. He moved towards
the door; with his fingers upon the handle, he turned, and for an
instant regarded Alice with a calm, insolent, yet tender gaze; then the
door closed, and Alice was alone.

She heard the footsteps echo down the passage; she heard another door
open and shut. The next sound that reached her ears was at the other
side of the room in which she sat. She glanced quickly toward the
curtained door: a man stood between it and her. It was Dick.

Alice recoiled in her chair. She saw before her a face pale with
passion; for the first time in her life she encountered the eyes of an
angry man. She quailed; a strange thrill crept through her frame; she
could only look and listen. It seemed an age before Dick spoke. When he
did speak, it was in a voice far calmer than she expected. She did not
know that the calm was forced, and therefore the more ominous.

"I have only one thing to ask," he began hurriedly, in a low tone: "was
this a plot? If it was, do say so, and so far as I am concerned its
effect shall be quick enough: I will go at once. Only I want to know the
worst, to begin with."

Alice sat like a stone. She gave no sign that she had so much as heard
him. Poor girl, the irony of Fate seemed directed against her! She had
invited Dick on purpose to consult him about Mr. Miles, and now--and
now--

"You don't speak," pursued Dick, less steadily; "but you must. I mean to
have my answer before either of us leaves this room. I mean to know all
there is to know. There shall be an end to this fooling between us
two!"

"What right have you to speak to me like this?"

"The right of a true lover--hopeless of late, yet still that! Answer me:
had you planned this?"

"You know that is absurd."

How coldly, how evenly she spoke! Was her heart of ice? But Dick--there
was little of the "true lover" in his looks, and much of the true hater.
Yet even now, one gentle word, one tender look from him, and tears of
pity and penitence might still have flowed. His next words froze them.

"No conspiracy, then! Merely artless, honest, downright love-making;
dancing--alone--and giving locks of hair and (though only by
coincidence!) the man you loved once and enslaved for ever--this man of
all others asked by you to come at this very hour, and, in fact, turning
up in the middle of it! And this was chance. I am glad to hear it!"

Men have been called hard names for speaking to women less harshly than
this--even on greater provocation; but let it be remembered that he had
loved her long years better than his life; that he had wrenched himself
from England and from her--for her sake; that during all that time her
image had been graven on his soul. And, further, that he had led a rough
life in rough places, where men lose their shallower refinements, and
whence only the stout spirits emerge at all.

When recrimination becomes insult a woman is no longer defenceless;
right or wrong in the beginning, she is right now; she needs no more
than the consciousness of this to quicken her wit and whet her tongue.

"I do not understand you," exclaimed Alice, looking him splendidly in
the face. "Have the goodness to explain yourself before I say the last
word that shall ever pass between you and me."

"Yes, I will explain," cried Dick, beside himself--"I will explain your
treatment of me! While you knew I was on my way to you--while I was on
the very sea--you took away your love from me, and gave it to another
man. Since then see how you have treated me! Well, that man--the man you
flatter, and pet, and coquette with; the man who kennels here like a
tame dog--is a rogue: a rogue and a villain, mark my words!"

In the midst of passion that gathered before his eyes a marble statue,
pure and cold, seemed to rise out of the ground in front of him.

"One word," said Alice Bristo, in the kind of voice that might come from
marble: "the last one. You spoke of putting an end to something existing
between us--'fooling' was the word you used. Well, there was something
between us long ago, though you might have found a prettier word for it;
but it also ended long ago; and you have known that some weeks. There
has since been friendship; yes, you shall have an end put to that too,
though you might have asked it differently. Stay, I have not finished.
You spoke of Mr. Miles; most of what you said was beneath notice;
indeed, you have so far lost self-control that I think you cannot know
now what you said a minute ago. But you spoke of Mr. Miles in a cruel,
wicked way. You have said behind his back what you dare not say to his
face. He at least is generous and good; he at least never forgets that
he is a gentleman; but then, you see, he is so infinitely nobler, and
truer, and greater than you--this man you dare to call a villain!"

"You love him!" cried Dick fiercely.

Instead of answering, Alice lowered her eyes. Stung to the quick--sick
and sore at heart--revenge came within her reach in too sweet a form to
be resisted.

Never was lie better acted. Dick was staggered. He approached her
unsteadily.

"It is a villain that you love!" he gasped. "I know it--a villain and an
impostor! But I will unmask him with my own hands--so help me God!"

He raised his pale face upward as he spoke, smiting his palms together
with a dull dead thud. Next moment he had vaulted through the open
window by which Miles had entered so short a time before--and was gone.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile an interview of a very different character took place in
Colonel Bristo's sanctum. It ended thus:

"Then you are quite sure that this hundred will be enough for you to go
on with?"

"More than enough; fifty would have done. Another Queensland mail is due
a month hence; and they can never fail me twice running."

"But you say you are so far up country that you do not send down to meet
every mail. Your partner may not have thought you likely to run short."

"I wired him some weeks ago that I had miscalculated damages. I should
have had my draft by this mail but for the floods. I feel confident they
have prevented him sending down in time; there has been mention of these
floods several times in the papers."

"Well, my dear Miles, if you want more, there is more where this came
from. I cashed the cheque myself this morning, by the way; I happened to
be in the bank, and I thought you would like it better. Here they
are--ten tens."

"Colonel Bristo, I can never express--"

"Don't try, sir. You saved my life."



                                   X

                    AN OLD FRIEND AND AN OLD MEMORY


When Dick Edmonstone opened the garden gate of Iris Lodge he was no
longer excited. The storm that had so lately shaken his frame and lashed
his spirit had spent its frenzy; no such traces as heaving breast or
quickened pulse remained to tell of it. The man was calm--despair had
calmed him; the stillness of settled gloom had entered his soul. His
step was firm but heavy; the eye was vacant; lips like blanched iron;
the whole face pale and rigid.

These are hall-marks graven by misery on the face of man; they are
universal and obvious enough, though not always at the first glance. For
instance, if prepared with a pleasant surprise for another, one is
naturally slow to detect his dismal mood. Thus, no sooner had Dick set
foot upon the garden path than the front door was flung open, and there
stood Fanny, beaming with good-humour, good news on the tip of her
tongue. It was like sunrise facing a leaden bank of western clouds.

"Oh, Dick, there is someone waiting to see you! You will never guess; it
is a bush friend of yours. Such an amusing creature!" she added sotto
voce.

Dick stood still on the path and groaned. "Biggs!" he muttered in
despair.

Nothing directs attention to the face so surely as the voice. There was
such utter weariness in this one word that Fanny glanced keenly at her
brother, saw the dulness of his eyes, read for apathy agony, and knew
that instant that there had been a cruel crisis in his affair with Alice
Bristo.

Instead of betraying her insight, she went quickly to him with a bright
smile, laid her hand on his arm, and said:

"His name is not Biggs, Dick dear. It is--but you will be very glad to
see him! Come in at once."

A flash of interest lit up Dick's clouded face; he followed Fanny into
the hall, and there, darkening the nearest doorway, stood a burly
figure. The light of the room being behind this man, Dick could not at
once distinguish his features. While he hesitated, a well-remembered
falsetto asked if he had forgotten his old mate. Then Dick sprang
forward with outstretched hand.

"Dear old Jack, as I live!"

"Dear old humbug! Let me tell you you've done your level best to miss
me. An hour and a half have I been here, a nuisance to these ladies--"

"No, no, Dick; Mr. Flint has done nothing but entertain us," put in Mrs.
Edmonstone.

"A charitable version," said Flint, bowing clumsily. "But I tell you, my
boy, in half-an-hour my train goes."

"Don't delude yourself," said Dick; "you won't get off so easily
to-night, let alone half-an-hour."

"Must, sir," Jack Flint replied. "Leave Dover by to-night's
boat--holiday. If you'd only come in sooner! I wonder now where he's
been?" Flint added, with a comic expression on his good-natured face.

"No place that I wouldn't have left for an hour or two with you, old
chap," said Dick in a strange tone; "nowhere very pleasant."

Nothing better could have happened to Dick just then than seeing the
chum from whom he had parted nearly three years ago. It was as though
his good angel had stored up for him a sovereign simple, and
administered it at the moment it was most needed. In the presence of
Flint he had escaped for a few minutes from the full sense of his
anguish. But now, by an unlucky remark, Jack had undone his good work as
unconsciously as he had effected it. Dick remembered bitterly that long
ago he had told his friend all about his love--as it then stood.

"Mr. Flint has been telling us some of your adventures, which it seems
we should never have heard from you," observed Fanny, reproachfully.

This was quite true. Once snubbed at Graysbrooke, his system of silence
on that subject had been extended to Iris Lodge. One set of people had
voted his experiences tiresome; that was enough for him. This was
doubtless unfair to his family, but it was not unnatural in Dick. He was
almost morbid on the point.

"Indeed!" he replied; "but suppose he gives us some of his Irish
adventures instead? How many times have they tried to pot you, my unjust
landlord? You must know, mother, that this is not only my ex-partner in
an honourable commercial enterprise--not only 'our Mr. Flint' that used
to be--but John Flint, Esq., J.P., of Castle Flint, county Kerry;
certainly a landholder, and of course--it goes without saying--a
tyrant."

"Really?" said Mrs. Edmonstone. "He did not tell us that."

"It's the unhappy fact," said Flint, gloomily. "A few hundred acres of
hills and heather, and a barn called by courtesy 'Castle'; those are my
feudal possessions. The scenery is gorgeous, but the land--is a
caution!"

"Barren?" asked Dick.

"As Riverina in a drought."

"And the tenants?"

"Oh, as to the tenants, we hit it off pretty well. It's in North Kerry
they're lively. I'm in the south, you see, and there they're peaceable
enough. Laziness is their worst crime. I do all I can for 'em, but I
don't see how I can hold on much longer."

"Evict?"

"No," said Flint, warmly; "I'd rather emigrate, and take the whole
boiling of them with me; take up new country, and let them select on it.
Dick, you savage, don't laugh; I'm not joking. I've thought about it
often."

"Would you really like to go back to Australia, Mr. Flint?" Mrs.
Edmonstone asked, glancing at the same time rather anxiously at her son.

"Shouldn't mind, madam," returned Flint.

"No more should I!" broke in Dick, in a harsh voice.

Flint looked anxiously at his friend, and made a mental note that Dick
had not found all things quite as he expected. For a minute no one
spoke; then Fanny took the opportunity of returning to her former
charge.

"We have heard some of your adventures which you seemed determined to
keep to yourself. I think it was very mean of you, and so does mamma.
Oh, Dick, why--why did you never tell us about the bush-ranger?"

Mrs. Edmonstone gazed fondly at her son--and shivered.

"Has he told you that?" Dick asked quickly. "Jack, old chap"--rather
reproachfully--"it was a thing I never spoke of."

"Nonsense, my dear fellow!"

"No, it's a fact. I never cared to talk about it, I felt it so
strongly."

"Too strongly," said Flint; "I said so at the time."

For a little while Dick was silent; then he said:

"Since he has told you, it doesn't matter. I can only say it nearly
drove me out of my mind; it was the bitterest hour of my life!"

A little earlier that day this would have been true.

His mother's eyes filled with tears. "I can understand your feeling,
dear Dick," she murmured; "yet I wish you had told us--though, indeed,
it would have made me miserable if you had written it. But now Mr. Flint
has given us a graphic account of the whole incident. Thank Heaven you
were spared, my boy!"

"Thank Sundown," said Dick dryly.

"Oh, yes!" cried Fanny. "Noble fellow! Poor, wicked, generous man! I
didn't think such robbers existed; I thought they went out with wigs and
patches, a hundred years ago."

"So they did," muttered Flint. "They're extinct as the dodo. I never
could make this one out--a deep dog."

"Oh, sir," exclaimed Mrs. Edmonstone, "do you think there is no spark of
goodness in the worst natures? of truth in the falsest? of generosity in
the most selfish?"

Jack Flint looked quaintly solemn; his face was in shadow, luckily.

"Yes," said Dick, gravely, "my mother is right; there was a good impulse
left in that poor fellow, and if you find gold in an outlaw and a thief,
you may look for it anywhere. But in my opinion there was more than a
remnant of good in that man. Think of it. He saved me from being knifed,
to begin with; well, it was to his own interest to do that. But after
that he took pity, and left us our money. That needed more than a good
impulse; it needed a force of character which few honest men have. Try
and realise his position--a price upon him, his hand against the world
and the world's hand against him, a villain by profession, not credited
with a single virtue except courage, not bound by a single law of God or
man; a man you would have thought incapable of compassion; and
yet--well, you know what he did."

There was a manly fervour in his voice which went straight to the hearts
of his mother and sister. They could not speak. Even Flint forgot to
look sceptical.

"If it had not meant so much to me, that hundred pounds," Dick
continued, as though arguing with himself, "it is possible that I might
think less of the fellow. I don't know, but I doubt it, for we had no
notion then what that hundred would turn to. As it is, I have thought of
it very often. You remember, Jack, how much more that hundred seemed to
me at that time than it really was, and how much less to you?"

"It was a hundred and thirty," said Flint; "I remember that you didn't
forget the odd thirty then."

"Dick," Fanny presently exclaimed, out of a brown study, "what do you
think you would do if--you ever met that bushranger again. I mean, if he
was at your mercy, you know?"

Flint sighed, and prepared his spirit for heroics.

"No use thinking," Dick answered. "By this time he's a life--if they
didn't hang him."

Flint became suddenly animated.

"What?" he cried, sharply.

"Why, the last I heard of him--the day I sailed from Melbourne--was,
that he was captured somewhere up in Queensland."

"If you had sailed a day later you would have heard more."

"What?" asked Dick, in his turn.

"He escaped."

"Escaped?"

"The same night. He got clean away from the police-barracks at Mount
Clarence--that was the little Queensland township. They never caught
him. They believe he managed to clear out of the country--to America,
probably."

"By Jove, I'm not sorry!" exclaimed Dick.

"Here are some newspaper cuttings about him," continued Flint, taking
the scraps from his pocketbook and handing them to Dick. "Read them
afterwards; they will interest you. He was taken along with another
fellow, but the other fellow was taken dead--shot through the heart.
That must have been the one he called Ben; for the big brute who tried
to knife you had disappeared some time before. When they were taken they
were known to have a lot of gold somewhere--I mean, Sundown was--for
they had just stuck up the Mount Clarence bank."

"Yes, I heard that when I heard of the capture."

"Well, it was believed that Sundown feared an attack from the police,
and planted the swag, went back to it after his escape, and got clear
away with the lot. But nothing is known; for neither Sundown nor the
gold was ever seen again."

"Mamma, aren't you glad he escaped," cried Fanny, with glowing cheeks.
"It may be wicked, but I know I am! Now, what would you do, Dick?"

"What's the good of talking about it?" said Dick.

"Then I'll tell you what I'd do; I'd hide this poor Sundown from
justice; I'd give him a chance of trying honesty, for a change--that's
what I should do! And if I were you, I should long and long and long to
do it!"

Flint could not help smiling. Dick's sentiment on the subject was
sufficiently exaggerated; but this young lady! Did this absurd
romanticism run in the family? If so, was it the father, or the
grandfather, or the great-grandfather that died in a madhouse?

But Dick gazed earnestly at his sister. Her eyes shone like living coals
in the twilight of the shaded room. She was imaginative; and the story
of Dick and the bushranger appealed at once to her sensibilities and her
sympathy. She could see the night attack in the silent forest, and a
face of wild, picturesque beauty--the ideal highwayman--was painted in
vivid colour on the canvas of her brain.

"Fanny, I half think I might be tempted to do something like that," said
Dick gently. "I have precious few maxims, but one is that he who does me
a good turn gets paid with interest--though I have a parallel one for
the man who works me a mischief."

"So it is a good turn not to rob a man whom you've already assaulted!"
observed Flint ironically.

"It is a good turn to save a man's life."

"True; but you seem to think more of your money than your life!"

"I believe I did four years ago," said Dick, smiling, but he checked his
smile when Flint looked at his watch and hastily rose.

Dick expostulated, almost to the extent of bluster, but quite in vain;
Flint was already shaking hands with the ladies.

"My dear fellow," said he, "I leave these shores to-night; it's my
annual holiday. I'm going to forget my peasants for a few weeks in Paris
and Italy. If I lose this train I lose to-night's boat--I found out that
before I came; so good-bye, my--"

"No, I'm coming to the station," said Dick; "at least I stickle for that
last office."

Mrs. Edmonstone hoped that Mr. Flint--her boy's best friend, as she was
assured--would see his way to calling on his way home and staying a day
or two. Mr. Flint promised; then he and Dick left the house.

They were scarcely in the road before Flint stopped, turned, laid a hand
on each of Dick's shoulders, and quickly delivered his mind:

"There's something wrong. I saw it at once. Tell me."

Dick lowered his eyes before his friend's searching gaze.

"Oh, Jack," he answered, sadly, "it is all wrong!"

And before they reached the station Flint knew all that there was to
know--an abridged but unvarnished version--of the withering and dying of
Dick's high hopes.

They talked softly together until the train steamed into the station;
and then it was Dick who at the last moment returned to a matter just
touched in passing:

"As to this dance to-night--you say I must go?"

"Of course you must go. It would never do to stay away. For one thing,
your friend, the Colonel might be hurt and bothered, and he is now your
best friend, mind. Then you must put a plucky face on it; she mustn't
see you cave in after the first facer. I half think it isn't all up yet;
you can't tell."

Dick shook his head.

"I would rather not go; it will be wormwood to me; you know what it will
be: the two together. And I know it's all up. You don't understand
women, Jack."

"Do you?" asked the other, keenly.

"She couldn't deny that--that--I can't say it, Jack."

"Ah, but you enraged her first! Anyway, you ought to go to-night for
your people's sake. Your sister's looking forward to it tremendously;
never been to a ball with you before; she told me so. By Jove! I wished
I was going myself."

"I wish you were, instead of me."

"Nonsense! I say, stand clear. Good-bye!"

Away went the train and Jack Flint. And Dick stood alone on the
platform--all the more alone because his hand still tingled from the
pressure of that honest grip; because cheering tones still rang in his
ears, while his heart turned sick, and very lonely.



                                   XI

                     DRESSING, DANCING, LOOKING ON


The Bristos dined early that evening, and dressed afterwards; but only
the Colonel and Miles sat down. Mrs. Parish was far too busy, adding
everywhere finishing touches from her own deft hand; while as for Alice,
she took tea only, in her room.

When Mr. Miles went up-stairs to dress, the red sunlight still streamed
in slanting rays through the open window. His room was large and
pleasant, and faced the drive.

Mr. Miles appeared to be in excellent spirits. He whistled softly to
himself--one of Alice's songs; a quiet smile lurked about the corners of
his mouth; but since his yellow moustache was long and heavy, this smile
was more apparent in the expression of the eyes. He moved about very
softly for such a heavy man--almost noiselessly, in fact; but this
practice was habitual with him.

His dress-clothes were already laid out on the bed; they seemed never to
have been worn. His portmanteau, which stood in one corner, also
appeared to have seen little service: it would have been hard to find a
scratch on the leather, and the glossy surface bore but one porter's
label. But, naturally enough, Miles's belongings were new: a fresh
outfit from head to heel is no slight temptation to the Australian in
London.

The first step towards dressing for a ball is to undress; the first step
towards undressing is to empty one's pockets. With Miles this evening
this was rather an interesting operation. It necessitated several
niceties of manipulation, and occupied some little time. Miles carefully
drew down the blinds as a preliminary, and bolted the door.

He then crossed to the mantel-piece, lit the gas, and felt in his
breast-pocket.

The first thing to be removed from this pocket was an envelope--an
envelope considerably thickened by its contents, which crackled between
the fingers. Miles dropped the envelope into the fender after
withdrawing the contents. These he smoothed out upon the mantel-piece;
he fairly beamed upon them; they were ten Bank of England ten-pound
notes. Then he counted them, folded them into small compass, and
transferred them to the trousers-pocket of his evening dress. In doing
this his smile became so broad that his whistling ended rather abruptly.
It was a pleasant smile.

The next incumbrance of which he relieved himself came from that same
breast-pocket; but it was less easily placed elsewhere--so much less
that the whistling was dropped altogether, and, instead of smiling, Mr.
Miles frowned. Nay, a discovery that his dress-coat had no breast-pocket
was followed by quite a volley of oaths. Swearing, however, is a common
failing of the most estimable bushmen; so that, coming from a man like
Miles, the words meant simply nothing. Miles then tried the
trousers-pocket which did not contain the bank-notes; but though the
article was--of its kind--remarkably small, it was obviously too large
for such a pocket, and for the tail-pockets it was too heavy. Mr. Miles
looked seriously put out. His face wore just that expression which might
be produced by the rupture of a habit or rule of life that has become
second nature. In despair and disgust he dropped the thing into his
travelling bag, which he was careful to lock at once, and placed the key
in the pocket with the notes: the thing was a small revolver.

There followed, from the waistcoat, penknife, pencilcase, watch and
chain, and, lastly, something that created a strange and instant change
in the expression of Mr. Miles; and this, though it was the veriest
trifle, lying in a twisted scrap of printed paper. He spread and
smoothed out the paper just as he had done with the notes, and something
was displayed on its surface: something--to judge by the greedy gaze
that devoured it--of greater value than the bank-notes, and to be parted
with less willingly than the revolver. It was a lock of light-coloured
hair.

Mr. Miles again unlocked his travelling bag, and took from it a packet
of oiled-silk, a pair of scissors, tape, a needle and thread. It is a
habit of many travellers to have such things always about them. Miles,
for one, was very handy in the use of them, so that in about ten minutes
he produced a very neat little bag, shaped like an arc, and hung upon a
piece of tape with ends sewn to the ends of the chord. Holding this bag
in his left hand, he now took very carefully, between the thumb and
finger of his right hand, the lock of light-coloured hair. He let it
roll in his palm, he placed his finger tips in the mouth of the little
bag, then paused, as if unwilling to let the hair escape his hand, and,
as he paused, his face bent down until his beard touched his wrist. Had
not the notion been wildly absurd, one who witnessed the action might
have expected Mr. Miles to press his lips to the soft tress that nestled
in his palm; but, indeed, he did nothing of the kind. He jerked up his
head suddenly, slipped the tress into its little case, and began at once
to stitch up the opening. As he did this, however, he might have been
closing the tomb upon all he loved--his face was so sad. When the thread
was secured and broken, he loosed his collar and shirt-band and hung the
oiled-silk bag around his neck.

At that moment a clock on the landing, chiming the three-quarters after
eight, bade him make haste. There was good reason, it seemed, why he
should be downstairs before the guests began to arrive.

In the drawing-room he found Colonel Bristo and Mrs. Parish. In face
benevolent rather than strong, there was little in Colonel Bristo to
suggest at any time the Crimean hero; he might have been mistaken for a
prosperous stockbroker, but for a certain shyness of manner incompatible
with the part. To-night, indeed, the military aspect belonged rather to
the lady housekeeper; for rustling impatiently in her handsome black
silk gown, springing up repeatedly at the sound of imaginary wheels,
Mrs. Parish resembled nothing so much as an old war horse scenting
battle. She welcomed the entrance of Miles with effusion, but Miles paid
her little attention, and as little to his host. He glanced quickly
round the room, and bit his lip with vexation; Miss Bristo was as yet
invisible. He crossed the hall by a kind of instinct, and looked into
the ballroom, and there he found her. She had flitted down that moment.

Her dress was partly like a crystal fall, and partly like its silver
spray; it was all creamy satin and tulle. Or so, at least, it seemed to
her partners whose knowledge, of course, was not technical. One of them,
who did not catch her name on introduction--being a stranger, brought
under the wing of a lady with many daughters--described her on his card
simply as "elbow sleeves;" and this must have been a young gentleman of
observation, since the sleeves--an artful compromise between long and
short--were rather a striking feature to those who knew. Others
remembered her by her fan; but the callow ones saw nothing but her face,
and that haunted them--until the next ball.

Mr. Miles, however, was the favoured man who was granted the first
glimpse of this lovely apparition. He also looked only at her face. Was
she so very indignant with him? Would she speak to him? Would she refuse
him the dances he had set his heart on? If these questions were decided
against him he was prepared to humble himself at her feet; but he soon
found there was no necessity for that.

For, though Alice was deeply angry with Mr. Miles, she was ten times
angrier with herself, and ten times ten with Dick. Her manner was
certainly cold, but she seemed to have forgotten the gross liberty Miles
had taken in the afternoon; at any rate, she made no allusion to it.
She gave him dances--then and there--since he brought her a programme,
but in doing so her thoughts were not of Miles. She gave him literal
carte blanche, but not to gratify herself or him. There were too few
ways open to her to punish the insults she had received that day; but
here was one way--unless the object of her thoughts stayed away.

She hurried from the ballroom at the sound of wheels. In a few minutes
she was standing at her father's side shaking hands with the people. She
seemed jubilant. She had a sunny smile and a word or two for all. She
was like a tinkling brook at summer noon. Everyone spoke of her
prettiness, and her dress (the ladies whispered of this), and above all,
her splendid spirits. She found out, when it was over, that she had
shaken hands with the Edmonstones among the rest. She had done so
unconsciously, and Dick, like everybody else, had probably received a
charming welcome from her lips.

If that was the case he must have taken the greeting for what it was
worth, for he seized the first opportunity to escape from Fanny and
Maurice, who were bent upon enjoying themselves thoroughly in
unsentimental fashion. He saw one or two men whom he had known before he
went to Australia, staring hard at him, but he avoided them; he shrank
into a corner and called himself a fool for coming.

He wanted to be alone, yet was painfully conscious of the wretched
figure cut by a companionless man in a room full of people. If he talked
to nobody people would point at him. Thus perhaps: "The man who made a
fool of himself about Miss Bristo, don't you know; went to Australia,
made his fortune, and all the rest of it, and now she won't look at him,
poor dog!" He was growing morbid. He made a pretence of studying the
water-colours on the wall, and wished in his soul that he could make
himself invisible.

A slight rustle behind him caused him to turn round. His heart rose in
his throat; it was Alice.

"You must dance with me," she said coldly; and her voice was the voice
of command.

Dick was electrified; he gazed at her without speaking. Then a scornful
light waxed in his eyes, and his lips formed themselves into a sneer.

"You can hardly refuse," she continued cuttingly. "I do not wish to be
questioned about you; there has been a little too much of that.
Therefore, please to give me your arm. They have already begun."

That was so; the room in which they stood was almost empty. Without a
word Dick gave her his arm.

The crowd about the doorway of the ballroom made way for them to pass,
and a grim conceit which suggested itself to Dick nearly made him laugh
aloud.

As they began to waltz Alice looked up at him with flashing eyes.

"If you hate this," she whispered between her teeth, "imagine my
feelings!"

He knew that his touch must be like heated irons to her; he wanted her
to stop, but she would not let him. As the couples thinned after the
first few rounds she seemed the more eager to dance on. One moment,
indeed, they had the floor entirely to themselves. Thus everyone in the
room had an opportunity of noticing that Alice Bristo had given her
first dance to Dick Edmonstone.

The Colonel saw it, and was glad; but he said to himself, "The boy
doesn't look happy enough; and as for Alice--that's a strange expression
of hers; I'll tell her I don't admire it. Well, well, if they only get
their quarrels over first, it's all right, I suppose."

Fanny noted it with delight. The one bar to her complete happiness for
the rest of the evening was now removed. The best of dancers herself,
she was sought out by the best. To her a ball was a thing of intrinsic
delight, in no way connected with sentiment or nonsense.

Mrs. Parish also saw it, but from a very different point of view. She
bustled over to Mr. Miles, who was standing near the piano, and asked
him confidentially if he had not secured some dances with Alice? He
showed her his card, and the old schemer returned triumphant to her
niche among the dowagers.

He followed her, and wrote his name on her empty card opposite the first
square dance; a subtle man, this Mr. Miles.

At the end of the waltz Miss Bristo thanked her partner coldly, observed
below her breath that she should not trouble him again, bowed--and left
him.

Dick was done with dancing; he had not wished to dance at all; but this
one waltz was more than enough for him--being with her. Love is
responsible for strange paradoxes.

He found two men to talk to: men who gloried in dancing, without greater
aptitude for the art (for it is one) than elephants shod with lead.
Being notorious, these men never got partners, save occasional ladies
from remote districts, spending seasons with suburban relatives. These
men now greeted Dick more than civilly, though they were accustomed to
cut his brother, the bank-clerk, every morning of their lives. They
remembered him from his infancy; they heard he had done awfully well
abroad, and congratulated him floridly. They were anxious to hear all
about Australia. Dick corrected one or two notions entertained by them
respecting that country. He assured them that the natives were
frequently as white as they were. He informed them, in reply to a
question, that lions and tigers did not prowl around people's premises
in the majority of Australian towns; nor, indeed, were those animals to
be found in the Colonies, except in cages. He set them right on the
usual points of elementary geography. He explained the comprehensive
meaning of the term, "the bush."

As Dick could at a pinch be fluent--when Australia was the subject--and
as his mood to-night was sufficiently bitter, his intelligent
questioners shortly sheered off. They left him at least better-informed
men. Thereupon Dick returned to the ballroom with some slight access of
briskness, and buried himself in a little knot of wall-flowers of both
sexes.

A dance had just begun--scarcely necessary to add, a waltz. Every man
blessed with a partner hastened to fling his unit and hers into the
whirling throng. After a round or two, half the couples would pause, and
probably look on for the rest of the time; but it seems to be a point of
honour to begin with the music. As Dick stood watching, his sister
passed quite close to him; she happened to be dancing with Maurice, her
very creditable pupil, but neither of them saw Dick. Close behind them
came a pair of even better dancers, who threaded the moving maze without
a pause or a jar or a single false step; they steered so faultlessly
that a little path seemed always to open before them; human teetotums,
obstacles to every one else, seemed mysteriously to melt at the graceful
approach of these two. But, in fact, it was impossible to follow any
other pair at the same time, so great were the ease, and beauty, and
harmony of this pair. They seemed to need no rest; they seemed to yield
themselves completely--no, not to each other--but to the sweet influence
of the dreamy waltz.

Dick watched the pair whose exquisite dancing attracted so much
attention; his face was blank, but the iron was in his soul. The other
wallflowers also watched them, and commented in whispers. Dick overheard
part of a conversation between a young lady whose hair was red (but
elaborately arranged), and a still younger lady with hair (of the same
warm tint) hanging in a plait, who was presumably a sister, not yet
thoroughly "out." Here is as much of it as he listened to:

"Oh, how beautifully they dance!"

"Nonsense, child! No better than many others."

"Well, of course, I don't know much about it. But I thought they danced
better than anyone in the room. Who are they?"

"Don't speak so loud. You know very well that is Miss Bristo herself;
the man is--must be--Mr. Edmonstone."

"Are they engaged?"

"Well, I believe they used to be. He went out to Australia because he
couldn't afford to marry (his family were left as poor as mice!), but
now he has come back with a fortune, and of course it will be on again
now. I used to know him--to bow to--when they lived on the river; I
never saw anyone so much altered, but still, that must be he."

"Oh, it must! See how sweet they----"

"Hush, child! You will be heard. But you are quite right; didn't you see
how----"

That was as much as Dick could stand. He walked away with a pale face
and twitching fingers. He escaped into the conservatory, and found a
solitary chair in the darkest corner. In three minutes the waltz ended,
and the move to the conservatory was so general that for some minutes
the double doors were all too narrow. Before Dick could get away, a
yellow-haired youth with a pretty partner, less young than himself,
invaded the dark corner, and by their pretty arrangement of two chairs
effectually blocked Dick's egress. They were somewhat breathless, having
evidently outstripped competitors for this nook only after considerable
exertion. The yellow-haired youth proceeded to enter into a desperate
flirtation--according to his lights--with the pretty girl his senior:
that is to say, he breathed hard, sought and received permission to
manipulate the lady's fan, wielded it execrably, and uttered
commonplaces in tones of ingenuous pathos. The conservatory, the
plashing fountain, and the Chinese lantern are indeed the accepted
concomitants of this kind of business, to judge by that class of modern
drawing-room songs which is its expositor. At length, on being snubbed
by the lady (he had hinted that she should cut her remaining partners in
his favour), the young gentleman relapsed with many sighs into personal
history, which may have been cunningly intended as an attack on her
sympathy, but more probably arose from the egotism of eighteen. He
inveighed against the barbarous system of superannuation that had
removed him from his public school; inquired repeatedly, Wasn't it
awfully hard lines? but finally extolled the freedom of his present
asylum, a neighbouring Army crammer's, where (he declared) a fellow was
treated like a gentleman, not like a baby. He was plainly in the
confidential stage.

All this mildly amused Dick, if anything; but presently the victim of an
evil system abruptly asked his partner if she knew Miss Bristo very
well.

"Not so very well," was the reply; "but why do you ask?"

"Because--between you and me, you know--I don't like her. She doesn't
treat a fellow half civilly. You ask for a waltz, and she gives you a
square. Now I know she'd waltzes to spare, 'cause I heard her give
one----"

"Oh, so she snubbed you, eh?"

"Well, I suppose it does almost amount to that. By the bye, is she
engaged to that long chap who's been dancing with her all the evening?"

"I believe she is; but----"

It was a promising "but;" a "but" that would become entre nous with very
little pressing.

"But what?"

"It is a strange affair."

"How?"

"Oh, I ought not to say; but of course you would never repeat----"

"Rather not; surely you can trust a fel----"

"Well, then, she used to be engaged--or perhaps it wasn't an absolute
engagement--to someone else: he went out to Australia, and made money,
and now that he has come back she's thrown him over for this Mr. Miles,
who also comes from Australia. I know it for a fact, because Mrs. Parish
told mamma as much."

"Poor chap! Who is he?"

"Mr. Edmonstone; one of the Edmonstones who lived in that big house
across the river--surely you remember?"

"Oh, ah!"

"I believe he is here to-night--moping somewhere, I suppose."

"Poor chap! Hallo, there's the music! By Jove! I say, this is awful; we
shall have to part!"

They went; and Dick rose up with a bitter smile. He would have given
much, very much, for the privilege of wringing that young
whippersnapper's neck. Yet it was not the boy's fault; some fate pursued
him: there was no place for him--no peace for him--but in the open air.

A soft midsummer's night, and an evening breeze that cooled his heated
temples with its first sweet breath. Oh, why had he not thought of
coming out long ago! He walked up and down the drive, slowly at first,
then at speed, as his misery grew upon him, and more times than he
could count. The music stopped, began again, and again ceased; it came
to him in gusts as he passed close to the front of the conservatory on
his beat. At last, when near the house, he fancied he saw a dark
motionless figure crouching in the shrubbery that edged the lawn at the
eastern angle of the house.

Dick stopped short in his walk until fancy became certainty; then he
crept cautiously towards the figure.



                                  XII

               "TO-MORROW, AND TO-MORROW, AND TO-MORROW"


Mr. Miles had written his name no fewer than six times on Alice's card.
On finding this out Alice had resolved to recognise perhaps half these
engagements--in any case, no more than should suit her convenience.
After her dance with Dick she found it would suit her admirably to
recognise them all.

For Dick had no word of apology or regret; in fact, he did not speak at
all. He did not even look sorry; but only hard and cold and bitter. It
was not in the power of woman to treat such a man too harshly.

Alice therefore threw herself into these dances with Miles with a zest
which brought about one good result: the mere physical effort gradually
allayed the fever of her spirit; with the even, rhythmical motion
sufficient peace stole into the heart of the girl to subdue the
passionate tumult of many hours. To this tranquillity there presently
succeeded the animation inseparable from ardent exercise.

While the music lasted Alice could scarcely bring herself to pause; she
seemed never to tire. Between the dances she spoke little to her
partner, but filled her lungs with new breath, and waited impatiently
for the striking of a new note; and when the new note sounded she turned
to that partner with eyes that may have meant to fill with gratitude,
yet seemed to him to glow with something else.

Once, when he led her from the heated room, she fancied many eyes were
upon her. She heard whispers; a murmur scarcely audible; a hum of
wonder, of admiration, perhaps of envy. Well, was she not to be admired
and envied? Could she not at least compare with the fairest there in
looks? Was there one with a foot more light and nimble? And was not
this, her partner, the manliest yet most godlike man that ever stooped
to grace a ballroom?--and the best dancer into the bargain?--and the
most admirable altogether? These questions were asked and answered in
one proud upward glance as she swept on his arm through the throng.

"She never looked so well before," exclaimed Mrs. Parish, in an ecstatic
aside to Colonel Bristo; "so brilliant, so animated, so happy!"

"I don't agree with you," the Colonel answered shortly; and he added,
with strange insight in one usually so unobservant: "Alice is not
herself to-night."

That seemed absurd on the face of it. Who that watched her dancing could
have admitted it for a moment? Well, last of all, probably her partner.

The music burst forth again. The dancers flocked back to the room, Alice
and Mr. Miles among them. It was the sixth dance, and their third
together.

Again they were dancing together, the glassy floor seeming to pass
beneath their feet without effort of theirs, the music beating like a
pulse in the brain. As for Alice, she forgot her partner, she forgot
Dick, she forgot the faces that fled before her eyes as she glided, and
turned, and skimmed, and circled; she only knew that she was whirling,
whirling, and that for awhile her heart was at rest.

Before the dance was fairly over, Miles led his partner into the
conservatory, but said to her: "We will go right through into the open
air; it will be so much pleasanter." And he did not wait her consent
either--which was characteristic.

The smooth lawn leading down to the river was illuminated, and now that
it was quite dark it had a very effective appearance, and was a charming
resort between the dances. The lawn was bounded on the right by the
little inlet which has been mentioned. A rustic bridge crossed this
inlet, leading into a meadow, where seven tall poplars, in rigid rank,
fronted the river. Without a protest from the girl, Miles led her over
the bridge, and across the meadow, and down to the river's brim, under
the shadow of the stately poplars. Most likely she did not heed where
they were going; at any rate, they had been there often enough together
before--in daylight.

It was a heavenly night; the pale blue stars were reflected in the black
still mirror of the Thames, the endless song of the weir was the only
sound that broke the absolute stillness of the meadow. No voices reached
them from the house, no strains of music. As though influenced by the
night, the two were silent for some minutes; then Alice said lightly:

"I am glad you brought me out; I was beginning to stifle. What a lovely
night! But I thought there would be a moon. When is there a moon, Mr.
Miles?"

No answer but a deep breath, that was half a groan Alice thought.
Perhaps she was mistaken. She could not see his face, unless she moved
away from him, he was so tall. She repeated the question:

"I want to know when there will be a moon. It would be so delicious now,
if it shot up right over there, to be reflected right down there--but
why don't you speak, Mr. Miles?"

Still no answer. She drew back a step. He was standing like a monument,
tall and rigid, with his hands clasped tightly in front of him and his
face turned slightly upward. He seemed unconscious of her presence at
his side. Something in his motionless attitude, and the ghastly pallor
of his face in the starlight, sent a thrill of vague fear to the heart
of Alice. She drew yet a little farther from him, and asked timidly if
anything was the matter.

Slowly he turned and faced her. His head drooped, his shoulders sank
forward. She could see little beads glistening on his forehead. His
hands loosed each other, and his arms were lifted towards her, only to
be snatched back, and folded with a thud upon the breast. There they
seemed to sink and fall like logs upon a swollen sea.

"Matter?" he cried in a low, tremulous voice; then, pausing, "nothing is
the matter!" Then in a whisper, "Nothing to tell you--now."

A strange coldness overcame Alice--the sense of an injury wrought in her
carelessness on the man before her. She tried to speak to him, but could
find no words. With a single glance of pity, she turned and fled to the
house. He did not follow her.

So Mrs. Parish had been right, after all; and she, Alice--a dozen names
occurred to her which she had heard fastened upon women who sport with
men's hearts to while away an idle month.

She reached the conservatory, but paused on the stone steps, with a hand
lightly laid on the iron balustrade--for the floor-level was some feet
above that of the garden-path. The music was in full swing once more,
but Alice's attention was directed to another sound--even, rapid,
restless footsteps on the drive. She peered in that direction; for it
was possible, from her position on these steps, to see both the river to
the left and the lodge-gates far off on the right--in daylight. She had
not long to wait. A figure crossed quickly before her, coming from the
front of the house: a man--by his dress, one of the guests--and
bare-headed. When he first appeared, his back was half-turned to her; as
he followed the bend of the drive she saw nothing but his back! then she
lost sight of him in the darkness and the shadows of the drive.
Presently she heard his steps returning; he was perambulating a beat.
Not to be seen by him as he neared the house, Alice softly opened the
door and entered the conservatory. It was at that moment quite deserted.
She moved noiselessly to the southern angle, hid herself among the
plants, and peered through the glass. It was very dark in this corner,
and the foliage so thick that there was small chance of her being seen
from without. The solitary figure passed below her, on the other side of
the glass; it was Dick: she had been sure of it.

She watched him cross and recross twice--thrice; then she trembled
violently, and the next time she could not see him distinctly, because
tears--tears of pity--had started to her eyes. If a face--haggard,
drawn, white as death, hopeless as the grave--if such a face is a sight
for tears, then no wonder Alice wept. Was it possible that this was he
who landed in England less than a month ago--so gay, so successful, so
boyish? He looked years older. The eager light had gone out of his eyes.
His step, so buoyant then, was heavy now, though swift with the fever of
unrest. He bent forward as he walked, as though under a burden: a month
ago he had borne no burden. Was this the man she had loved so wildly
long ago--this wreck? Was this the result of trying to rule her heart by
her head? Was this, then, her handiwork?

Her cup to-night was to be filled to overflowing. Even now her heart had
gone out in pity to another whom also she had wronged--in pity, but not
in love. For here, at last--at this moment--she could see before her but
one: the man who had loved her so long and so well; the man who had once
held her perfect sun of love--Heaven help her, who held it still!

A faintness overcame this frail girl. Her frame shook with sobs. She
could not see. She leant heavily against the framework of the glass. She
must have fallen, but a gentle hand at that moment was thrust under her
arm.

"Oh, fancy finding you here! Your father sent me--" the pleasant voice
broke off suddenly, and Alice felt herself caught in strong and tender
arms. She looked up and saw Dick's sister. Her poor beating heart gave
one bound, and then her head sank on Fanny's shoulder.

Presently she was able to whisper:

"Take me up-stairs; I am ill. It has been a terrible day for me!"

                   *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Miles still stood by the river, erect, motionless; his powerful
hands joined in front of him in an iron knot, his fine head thrown
slightly backward, as though in defiance. At first the thoughts in his
mind were vague. Then, very slowly, they began to take shape. A little
later his expression was soft and full of hope, and his lips kept
repeating inaudibly one word: the word "to-morrow."

Then in a moment his mind was chaos.

There is nothing more confusing to the brain than memory. Often there is
nothing so agonising and unsparing in its torture, when memory preys
upon the present, consuming all its peace and promise like some foul
vampire. Miles was now in the clutch of memory in its form of monster.
His teeth were clenched, his face livid, the veins on his forehead
standing out like the spreading roots of an oak. Spots of blood stood
under the nails of his clenched fingers.

The stars blinked high overhead, and the stars deep down in the tranquil
water answered them. The voice of the weir seemed nearer and louder. A
gentle breeze stirred the line of poplars by the river's brink in the
meadow, and fanned the temples of the motionless man at their feet. A
bat passed close over him, lightly touching his hair with its wing.
Miles did not stir.

Slowly--as it were, limb by limb--he was freeing himself from the grip
of the hideous past. At last, with a sudden gesture, he flung back his
head, and his eyes gazed upward to the zenith. It was an awful gaze: a
vision of honour and happiness beyond a narrow neck of crime--a glimpse
of heaven across the gulf of hell.

His tongue articulated the word that had trembled on his lips before:
now it embodied a fixed resolve--"To-morrow! to-morrow!"

                   *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Miles became suddenly aware that his name was being spoken somewhere
in the distance by a voice he knew--young Edmonstone's. A moment later
the speaker was with him, and had added:

"There is someone who wants to speak to you, standing outside the gate."

There was a gleam of triumph in the younger man's eyes that shot out
from the misery of his face like lightning from a cloud, throwing that
misery into stronger relief. Miles noted this swift gleam, and it struck
terror into his heart--at this moment, more than terror. He was as a
general who, on the eve of the brilliant stroke that is to leave him
conqueror, hears the alarm sounded in his own rearguard. He stared Dick
up and down for some moments. When he spoke, it was--to the ear--with
perfect coolness:

"Thanks. I half-expected something of the kind; but it is an infernal
nuisance to-night. I must get a coat and hat, for I may have to go up to
town at once." And he strode away.

Dick watched him out of sight, admiring more than anything he had seen
in this man his readiness and resource at this moment. He would have
liked to follow Miles, and keep him within reach or sight; but those
were not his directions. Instead, he crossed the bridge, at once bore to
the left, and crept into the shrubbery. Keeping close to the wall,
without stirring a single leaf, he gained a spot within ten paces of the
gate, whence he could command most of the drive and a fair slice of the
road. In a minute Miles approached at a swinging walk. He passed close
to Dick, and so through the gate. At that moment a man emerged from the
shadows at the other side of the road; it was the man Dick had
discovered in the shrubbery, though he had seen him before--in the
Settler's Hut!

The two men were now but a few paces apart; with little more than a yard
between them, they stopped. A low chuckle escaped one of them; but
without another sound they turned--passed slowly down the road, side by
side, and so out of sight.

Dick gasped: it was so very unlike his preconceived notions of arrest!



                                  XIII

                             IN BUSHEY PARK


"So boss, you know me?"

"I have not forgotten you, you scoundrel!"

Such was the interchange of greetings between the man from the
Exhibition and Mr. Miles, the Australian. They had halted at a lamp-post
some distance down the road, and stood facing each other in the
gaslight.

"That's right. I'm glad you don't forget old mates," said the stout,
round-shouldered man. "That's one good thing, anyway; but it's a bad'un
to go calling them names first set-off, especially when----"

"Look here," interrupted Miles, with an admirable imitation of his
ordinary tone; "I haven't much time to give you, my man. How the deuce
did you get here? And what the deuce do you want with me?"

"Oh, so you're in a hurry, are you?" sneered the man. "And you want to
get back to the music, and the wine, and the women, do you?"

"Listen!" said Miles smoothly; "do you hear that step in the distance?
It's coming nearer; it's the policeman, for certain; and if you don't
get your business stated and done with before he reaches us, I'll give
you in charge. Nothing simpler: I know the men on this beat, and they
know me."

"Not so well as I do, I reckon!" returned the other dryly, and with the
quiet insolence of confident security. "And so you're the fine gentleman
now, are you?"

"If you like--and for all you can prove to the contrary."

"The Australian gentleman on a trip home, eh? Good; very good! And your
name is Miles!"

"It's worth your neck to make it anything else?"

The other thrust forward his face, and the beady eyes glittered with a
malignant fire. "You don't lose much time about coming to threats,
mate," he snarled. "P'r'aps it'ud be better if you waited a bit; p'r'aps
I'm harder to funk than you think! Because I dare prove to the contrary,
and I dare give you your right name. Have you forgotten it? Then I'll
remind you; and your friend the bobby shall hear too, now he's come so
close. How's this, then?--Edward Ryan, otherwise Ned the Ranger;
otherwise--and known all over the world, this is--otherwise--"

Miles stopped him with a rapid, fierce gesture, at the same time quietly
sliding his left hand within his overcoat. He felt for his revolver. It
was not there. He recalled the circumstance which had compelled him to
lay it aside. It seemed like Fate: for months that weapon had never been
beyond the reach of his hand; now, for the first time, he required it,
and was crippled for want of it. He recovered his composure in a moment,
but not before his discomfiture had been noticed, and its cause shrewdly
guessed. Laying a heavy hand on the other's broad, rounded shoulder, he
said simply and impressively:

"Hush!"

"Then let's move on."

"Where?"

"Where we can talk."

The man pointed across the road to a broad opening directly opposite the
lamp-post. It was the beginning of another road; the spot where they
stood was indeed the junction of the cross and down-stroke of a capital
letter T, of which the cross was the road that ran parallel with the
river.

"Very well," said Miles, with suspicious alacrity; "but I must go back
first to make some excuse, or they will be sending after me."

"Then, while you are gone, I shall confide in your friend the
policeman."

Miles uttered a curse, and led the way across the road and straight on.
There were no lamps in the road they entered now--no houses, no lights
of any kind--but on the right a tall hedge, and on the left trim posts
and rails, with fields beyond. They walked on for some minutes in
silence, which was at length broken by Miles's unwelcome visitor.

"It's no sort o' use you being in a hurry," said he. "I've found you
out; why not make the best of it?"

"What am I to do for you?" asked Miles, as smoothly as though the man by
his side were an ordinary highway beggar.

"You'll see in good time. Sorry I've put you to inconvenience, but if
you weren't passing for what you ain't you wouldn't feel it so; so you
see, Ned Ryan, playing the gent has its drawbacks. Now, after me having
crossed the whole blessed world to speak to you, it would be roughish if
you refused me your best ear; now wouldn't it?"

"You have just landed, then?" said Miles; and added, after a pause, "I
hoped you were dead."

"Thanks," returned the other, in the tone of coarse irony that he had
employed from the beginning. "Being one as returns good for evil, I
don't mind saying I was never so glad as when I clapped eyes on you
yesterday--alive and safe."

"Yesterday! Where?"

"Never mind where. But I ain't just landed--Oh, no!"

Suddenly Miles stopped short in his walk. They had entered again the
region of lights and houses; the road was no longer dark and lonely; it
had intersected the highroad that leads to Kingston, and afterwards bent
in curves to the right; now its left boundary was the white picket-fence
of the railway, and, a hundred yards beyond, a cluster of bright lights
indicated Teddington station.

"Not a step further," said Miles.

"What! not to the station? How can we talk--"

"You are a greater fool than I took you for," said Miles scornfully.

"Yes? Well, anyway, I mean to say what I've got to say, wherever it is,"
was the dogged reply. "If you came to town to my lodging, not a soul
could disturb us. We can't talk here."

Miles hesitated.

"There is a place, five minutes' walk from here, that I would trust
before any room," he said presently. "Only be reasonable, my good
fellow, and I'll hear what you have to say there."

The man turned his head and glanced sharply in the direction whence they
had come. Then he assented.

Miles led the way over the wooden footbridge that spans the line a
little way above the station. In three minutes they walked in the shadow
of great trees. The high wall in front of them bent inwards, opening a
wide mouth. Here were iron gates and lamps; and beyond, black forms and
deep shadows, and the silence of sleeping trees. Without a word they
passed through the gates into Bushey Park.

Miles chose the left side of the avenue, and led on under the spreading
branches of the horse-chestnuts. Perhaps a furlong from the gates he
stopped short, and confronted his companion.

"Here I will settle with you," he said, sternly. "Tell me what you want;
or first, if you like, how you found me. For the last thing I remember
of you, Jem Pound, is that I sacked you from our little concern--for
murder."

The man took a short step forward, and hissed back his retort:

"And the last thing I heard of you--was your sticking up the Mount
Clarence bank, and taking five hundred ounces of gold! You were taken;
but escaped the same night--with the swag. That's the last I heard of
you--Ned Ryan--Ned the Ranger--Sundown!"

"I can hang you for that murder," pursued Miles, as though he had not
heard a word of this retort.

"Not without dragging yourself in after me, for life; which you'd find
the worse half of the bargain! Now listen, Ned Ryan; I'll be plain with
you. I can, and mean to, bleed you for that gold--for my fair share of
it."

"And this is what you want with me?" asked Miles, in a tone so low and
yet so fierce that the confidence of Jem Pound was for an instant
shaken.

"I want money; I'm desperate--starving!" he answered, his tone sinking
for once into a whine.

"Starvation doesn't carry a man half round the world."

"I was helped," said Pound darkly.

"Who helped you?"

"All in good time, Sundown, old mate! Come, show me the colour of it
first."

Miles spread out his arms with a gesture that was candour itself.

"I have none to give you. I am cleaned out myself."

"That's a lie!" cried Pound, with a savage oath.

Miles answered with cool contempt:

"Do you think a man clears out with five hundred ounces in his pockets?
Do you think he could carry it ten miles, let alone two hundred?"

Jem Pound looked hard at the man who had been his captain in a life of
crime. A trace of the old admiration and crude respect for a brilliant
fearless leader, succeeded though this had been by years of bitter
hatred, crept into his voice as he replied:

"You could! No one else! No other man could have escaped at all as you
did. I don't know the thing you couldn't do!"

"Fool!" muttered Miles, half to himself.

"That's fool number two," answered Pound angrily. "Well, maybe I am one,
maybe I'm not; anyhow I've done what a dozen traps have tried and
failed, and I'll go on failing--until I help them: I've run you to
earth, Ned Ryan!"

"Ah! Well, tell me how."

"No, I heard a footstep just then; people are about."

"A chance passer," said Miles.

"You should have come with me. Walls are safe if you whisper; here there
are no walls."

"You are right. We have stuck to the most public part, though; follow me
through here."

They had been standing between two noble trees of the main avenue. This
avenue, as all the world knows, is composed of nothing but horse
chestnuts; but behind the front rank on either side are four lines of
limes, forming to right and left of the great artery four minor parallel
channels. Miles and his companion, turning inwards, crossed the soft
sward of the minor avenues, and emerged on the more or less broken
ground that expands southward to Hampton Wick. This tract is patched in
places with low bracken, and dotted in others with young trees. It is
streaked with converging paths--some worn by the heavy tread of men,
others by the light feet of the deer, but all soft and grassy, and no
more conspicuous than the delicate veins of a woman's hand.

They left the trees behind, and strode on heedlessly into the darkness.
Their shins split the dew from the ferns; startled fawns rose in front
of them and scampered swiftly out of sight, a momentary patch of grey
upon the purple night.

"This will suit you," said Miles, still striding aimlessly on. "It is a
good deal safer than houses here. Now for your story."

He was careful as they walked to keep a few inches in the rear of Pound,
who, for his part, never let his right hand stray from a certain sheath
that hung from the belt under his coat: the two men had preserved these
counter-precautions from the moment they quitted the lighted roads.

"It is soon told, though it makes me sweat to think of it--all but the
end, and that was so mighty neat the rest's of no account," Pound began,
with a low laugh. "Well, you turned me adrift, and I lived like a hunted
dingo for very near a year. If I'd dared to risk it, I'd have blabbed on
you quick enough; but there was no bait about Queen's evidence, and I
daren't let on a word else--you may thank the devil for that, not me!
Well, I had no money, but I got some work at the stations, though in
such mortal terror that I daren't stay long in one place, until at last
I got a shepherd's billet, with a hut where no one saw me from week's
end to week's end. There I was safe, but in hell! I daren't lay down o'
nights; when I did I couldn't sleep. I looked out o' the door twenty
times a night to see if they were coming for me. I saw frightful things,
and heard hellish sounds; I got the horrors without a drop o' liquor!
You did all this, Ned Ryan--you did it all!"

Inflamed by the memory of his torments, Pound raised his voice in rage
and hate that a single day had exalted from impotency to might. But rage
red-hot only aggravates the composure of a cool antagonist, and the
reply was cold as death:

"Blame yourself. If you had kept clean hands, you might have stuck to us
to the end; as it was, you would have swung the lot of us in another
month. No man can accuse me of spilling blood--nor poor Hickey either,
for that matter; but you--I could dangle you to-morrow! Remember that,
Jem Pound; and go on."

"I'll remember a bit more--you'll see!" returned Pound with a stifled
gasp. He was silent for the next minute; then added in the tone of one
who bides his time to laugh last and loudest: "Go on? Right! Well, then,
after a long time I showed my nose in a town, and no harm came of it."

"What town?"

"Townsville."

"Why Townsville?" Miles asked quickly.

"Your good lady was there; I knew she would give me--well, call it
assistance."

"That was clever of you," said Miles after a moment's silence, but his
calm utterance was less natural than before.

"I wanted a ship," Pound continued; "and could have got one too, through
being at sea before at odd times, if I'd dared loaf about the quay by
day. Well, one dark night I was casting my eyes over the Torres Straits
mail boat, when a big man rushed by me and crept on board like a cat. I
knew it was you that moment; I'd heard of your escape. You'd your swag
with you; the gold was in it--I knew it! What's the use of shaking your
head? Of course it was. Well, first I pushed forward to speak to you,
then I drew back. Why? Because just then you'd have thought no more of
knocking me on the head and watching me drown before your eyes than I'd
think of----"

"Committing another murder! By heaven, I wish I had had the chance!"
muttered Miles.

"Then, if I'd started the hue and cry, it would have meant killing the
golden goose--and most likely me with it. I thought of something better:
I saw you drop down into the hold--there was too much risk in showing
your money for a passage or trying for a fo'c'stle berth; the boat was
to sail at daylight. I rushed to your wife and told her; but her cottage
was three miles out of the town, worse luck to it! and when I got her to
the quay, you were under way and nearly out of sight--half-an-hour late
in sailing, and you'd have had a friend among the passengers!"

"And what then?"

"Why, then your wife was mad! I soothed her: she told me that she had
some money, and I told her if she gave me some of it I might still catch
you for her. I showed her how the mail from Sydney, by changing at
Brindisi, would land one in England before the Queensland boat. I knew
it was an off-chance whether you ever meant to reach England at all, or
whether you'd succeed if you tried; but," said Pound, lowering his voice
unaccountably, "I was keen to be quit of the country myself. Here was my
chance, and I took it; your wife shelled out, and I lost no time."

The man ceased speaking, and looked sharply about him. His eyes were
become thoroughly used to the darkness, so that he could see some
distance all round with accuracy and ease; but they were eyes no less
keen than quick; and so sure-sighted that one glance was at all times
enough for them, and corroboration by a second a thing unthought of.

They were walking, more slowly now, on a soft mossy path, and nearing a
small plantation, chiefly of pines and firs, half-a-mile from the
avenues. This path, as it approaches the trees, has beside it several
saplings shielded by tall triangular fences, which even in daylight
would afford very fair cover for a man's body. Miles and Pound had
passed close to half-a-dozen or more of these triangles.

"Well?" said Miles; for Pound remained silent.

"I am looking to see where you have brought me."

"I have brought you to the best place of all, this plantation," Miles
answered, leaving the path and picking his way over the uneven ground
until there were trees all round them. "Here we should be neither seen
nor heard if we stayed till daybreak. Are you going on?"

But Pound was not to be hurried until he had picked out a spot to his
liking still deeper in the plantation; far from shaking his sense of
security, the trees seemed to afford him unexpected satisfaction. The
place was dark and silent as the tomb, though the eastern wall of the
park was but three hundred yards distant. Looking towards this wall in
winter, a long, unbroken row of gaslights marks the road beyond; but in
summer the foliage of the lining trees only reveals a casual glimmer,
which adds by contrast to the solitude of this sombre, isolated,
apparently uncared-for coppice.

"I reached London just before you," resumed Pound, narrowly watching the
effect of every word. "I waited for your boat at the docks. There were
others waiting. I had to take care--they were detectives."

Miles uttered an ejaculation.

"I watched them go on board; I watched them come back--without you. They
were white with disappointment. Ned Ryan, those men would sell their
souls to lay hands on you now!"

"Go on!" said Miles between his teeth.

"Well, I got drinking with the crew, and found you'd fallen overboard
coming up Channel--so they thought; it happened in the night. But you've
swum swollen rivers, before my eyes, stronger than I ever see man swim
before or since, and I was suspicious. Ships get so near the land coming
up Channel. I went away and made sure you were alive, if I could find
you. At last, by good luck, I did find you."

"Where?"

"At the Exhibition. I took to loafing about the places you were sure to
go to, sooner or later, as a swell, thinking yourself safe as the Bank.
And that's where I found you--the swell all over, sure enough. You
stopped till the end, and that's how I lost you in the crowd going out;
but before that I got so close I heard what you were saying to your
swell friends: how you'd bring 'em again, if they liked; what you'd
missed that day, but must see then. So I knew where to wait about for
you. But you took your time about coming again. Every day I was waiting
and watching--and starving. A shilling a day to let me into the place;
a quid in reserve for when the time came; and pence for my meals. Do you
think a trifle'll pay for all that? When you did turn up again
yesterday, you may lay your life I never lost sight of you."

"I should have known you any time; why you went about in that rig----"

"I had no others. I heard fools whisper that I was a detective,
moreover, and that made me feel safe."

"You followed me down here yesterday, did you? Then why do nothing till
to-night?"

The fellow hesitated, and again peered rapidly into every corner of the
night.

"Why did you wait?" repeated Miles impatiently.

An evil grin overspread the countenance of Jem Pound. He seemed to be
dallying with his answer--rolling the sweet morsel on his tongue--as
though loth to part with the source of so much private satisfaction.
Miles perceived something of this, and, for the first time that night,
felt powerless to measure the extent of his danger. Up to this point he
had realised and calculated to a nicety the strength of the hold of this
man over him, and he had flattered himself that it was weak in
comparison with his own counter-grip; but now he suspected, nay felt,
the nearness of another and a stronger hand.

"Answer, man," he cried, with a scarcely perceptible tremor in his
voice, "before I force you! Why did you wait?"

"I went back," said Pound slowly, slipping his hand beneath his coat,
and comfortably grasping the haft of his sheath-knife, "to report
progress."

"To whom?"

"To--your wife!"

"What!"

"Your wife!"

"You are lying, my man," said Miles, with a forced laugh. "She never
came to England."

"She didn't, didn't she? Why, of course you ought to know best, even if
you don't; but if you asked me, I should say maybe she isn't a hundred
miles from you at this very instant!"

"Speak that lie again," cried Miles, his low voice now fairly quivering
with passion and terror, "and I strike you dead where you stand! She is
in Australia, and you know it!"

Jem Pound stepped two paces backward, and answered in a loud, harsh
tone:

"You fool! she is here!"

Miles stepped forward as if to carry out his threat; but even as he
moved he heard a rustle at his side, and felt a light hand laid on
his arm. He started, turned, and looked round. There, by his
side--poverty-stricken almost to rags, yet dark and comely as the
summer's night--stood the woman whom years ago he had made his wife!

A low voice full of tears whispered his name: "Ned, Ned!" and "Ned,
Ned!" again and again.

He made no answer, but stood like a granite pillar, staring at her. She
pressed his arm with one hand, and laid the other caressingly on his
breast; and as she stood thus, gazing up through a mist into his stern,
cold face, this topmost hand rested heavily upon him. To him it seemed
like lead; until suddenly--did it press a bruise or a wound, that such a
hideous spasm should cross his face? that he should shake off the woman
so savagely?

By the merest accident, the touch of one woman had conjured the vision
of another; he saw before him two, not one; two as opposite in their
impressions on the senses as the flower and the weed; as separate in
their associations as the angels of light and darkness.

Yet this poor woman, the wife, could only creep near him
again--forgetting her repulse, since he was calm the next moment--and
press his hand to her lips, so humbly that now he stood and bore it, and
repeat brokenly:

"I have found him! Oh, thank God! Now at last I have found him!"

While husband and wife stood thus, silenced--one by love, the other by
sensations of a very different kind--the third person watched them with
an expression which slowly changed from blank surprise to mortification
and dumb rage. At last he seemed unable to stand it any longer, for he
sprang forward and whispered hoarsely in the woman's ear:

"What are you doing? Are you mad? What are we here for? What have we
crossed the sea for? Get to work, you fool, or----"

"To work to bleed me, between you!" cried Ned Ryan, shaking himself
again clear of the woman. "By heaven, you shall find me a stone!"

Elizabeth Ryan turned and faced her ally, and waved him back with a
commanding gesture.

"No, Jem Pound," said she, in a voice as clear and true as a clarion,
"it is time to tell the truth: I did not come to England for that! O
Ned, Ned! I have used this man as my tool--can't you see?--to bring me
to you. Ned, my husband, I am by your side; have you no word of
welcome?"

She clung to him, with supplication in her white face and drooping,
nerveless figure; and Pound looked on speechless. So he had been fooled
by this smooth-tongued, fair-faced trash; and all his plans and schemes,
and hungry longings and golden expectations, were to crumble into dust
before treachery such as this! So, after all, he had been but a dupe--a
ladder to be used and kicked aside! A burning desire came over him to
plunge his knife into this false demon's heart, and end all.

But Ryan pushed back his wife a third time, gently but very firmly.

"Come, Liz," said he, coldly enough, yet with the edge off his voice and
manner, "don't give us any of this. This was all over between us long
ago. If it's money you want, name a sum; though I have little enough,
you shall have what I can spare, for I swear to you I got away with my
life and little else. But if it's sentiment, why, it's nonsense; and you
know that well enough."

Elizabeth Ryan stood as one stabbed, who must fall the moment the blade
is withdrawn from the wound; which office was promptly performed by one
who missed few opportunities.

"Why, of course!" exclaimed Pound, with affected sympathy with the wife
and indignation against the husband. "To be sure you see how the wind
lies, missis?"

"What do you mean?" cried Elizabeth Ryan fiercely.

"Can't you see?" pursued Pound in the same tone, adding a strong dash of
vulgar familiarity; "can't you see that you're out of the running, Liz,
my lass? You may be Mrs. Ryan, but Mrs. Ryan is a widow; there's no Ned
Ryan now. There's a Mr. Miles, an Australian gentleman, in his skin,
and, mark me, there'll be a Mrs.--"

He stopped, for Liz Ryan turned on him so fiercely that it looked as
though she was gathering herself to spring at his throat.

"You liar!" she shrieked. "Tell him, Ned! Give him the lie yourself!
Quickly--speak, or I shall go mad!"

Her husband uttered no sound.

"He can't, you see," sneered Pound. "Why, if you'd only come in with me
into the garden, you'd have seen the two together sweethearting in the
starlight!"

"If I had," said Mrs. Ryan, trembling violently, "I pity both. But no, I
don't believe it! O Ned! Ned! answer, unless you want to break my
heart!"

"Well, well, what does it matter?" put in Pound hastily, speaking to her
in a fatherly, protective tone, which hit the mark aimed at. "Liz, my
dear, you and I have been good friends all this time; then why not let
him go his ways?--after we've got our rights, I mean."

Ned Ryan glanced sharply from his wife to the man who had brought her
from Australia; and then he spoke:

"My good woman, why not be frank? What's the use of acting a part to
me? Anyway, it's a bit too thin this time. Only let me alone, and you
two can go on--as you are. Come now, I don't think I'm hard on you;
considering everything I might be a deal harder."

His wife sprang before him, her black eyes flashing, her whole frame
quivering.

"Edward Ryan, you shall answer for these foul, cruel words before Him
who knows them to be false. What do you think me, I wonder? That vile
thing there--can't you see how I have used him?--he has been the bridge
between me and you, yet you make him the barrier! Oh, you know me better
than that, Ned Ryan! You know me for the woman who sacrificed all for
you--who stood by you through thick and thin, and good and bad, while
you would let her--who would not have forsaken you for twenty
murders!--who loved you better than life--God help me!" cried the poor
woman, wildly, "for I love you still!"

She rose the next moment, and continued in a low, hard, changed voice:

"But love and hate lie close together; take care, and do not make me
hate you, for if you do I shall be pitiless as I have been pitiful,
cruel as I have been fond. I, who have been ready all these years to
shield you with my life--I shall be the first to betray you to the laws
you have cheated, if you turn my love to hate. Ned! Ned! stop and think
before it is too late!"

She pressed both hands upon her heart, as if to stay by main force its
tumultuous beating. Her limbs tottered beneath her. Her face was like
death. Her life's blood might have mingled with the torrent of her
eloquence!

"You are beside yourself," said her husband, who had listened like a
stone; "otherwise you would remember that tall talk never yet answered
with me. And yet--yet I am sorry for you--so poor, so ragged, so thin--"
His voice suddenly softened, and he felt with his hand in his pocket.
"See here! take these twenty pounds. It's a big lump of all I have; but
'twill buy you a new dress and some good food, and make you decent for a
bit, and if I had more to spare, upon my soul you should have it!"

Elizabeth Ryan snatched the notes from her husband's hand, crumpled them
savagely, and flung them at his feet; with a wild sweep of her arm she
tore off her bonnet, as though it nursed the fire within her brain, and
coils of dark, disordered hair fell down about her shoulders. For one
moment she stood glaring fixedly at her husband, and then fell heavily
to the ground.

"She has fainted," said Miles, not without pity, and bending over her.
"Bring her to, then lead her away. Take her back; she must not see me
again."

Pound knelt down, and quietly pocketed the crumpled notes; then he
raised the senseless head and fanned the ashy face, looking up meanwhile
and saying:

"Meet me here to-morrow night at ten; I will come alone."

"For the last time, then."

"I am agreeable; but it will rest with you."

Miles drew away into the shadows. He waited, and presently he heard a
faint, hollow, passionate voice calling his name:

"Ned Ryan! I will come back, Ned Ryan! Come back, never fear, and see
you--see you alone! And if you are as hard then--as hard and
cruel--Heaven help us both!--Heaven help us both!"

When Ned Ryan, alias Sundown, alias Miles, heard the footsteps fail in
the distance and die on the still night air, a rapid change came over
his face and bearing. Throughout the night he had lost his self-command
seldom; his nerve never. But now the pallor of a corpse made his
features ghastly, and a cold sweat burst forth in great beads upon his
forehead. His limbs trembled, and he staggered.

By a violent effort he steadied his brain and straightened his body. In
a few minutes he had well-nigh regained his normal calm. Then gradually
his chest expanded, and his air became that of one who has climbed
through desperate peril to the lofty heights and sweet breath of
freedom. Nay, as he stood there, gazing hopefully skyward, with the dim
light upon his strong handsome face, he might very well have been
mistaken for a good man filled with dauntless ambition, borne aloft on
the wings of noble yearning.

"After all, I am not lost!" The thoughts escaped in words from the
fulness of his soul. "No, I am safe; he dares not betray me; she will
not--because she loves me. Not another soul need ever know."

A new voice broke upon his ear:

"You are wrong; I know!"

His lowered gaze fell upon the motionless figure of Dick Edmonstone, who
was standing quietly in front of him.



                                  XIV

                                 QUITS


For the second time that night Miles felt instinctively for his
revolver, and for the second time in vain.

The younger man understood the movement.

"A shot would be heard in the road and at the lodge," said he quietly.
"You'll only hasten matters by shooting me."

At once Miles perceived his advantage; his adversary believed him to be
armed. Withdrawing his hand from the breast of his overcoat slowly, as
though relinquishing a weapon in the act of drawing it, he answered:

"I believe you are right. But you are a cool hand!"

"Perhaps."

"I have only seen one other as cool--under fire."

"Indeed?"

"A fact. But I'll tell you where you come out even stronger."

"Do."

"In playing the spy. There you shine!"

"Hardly," said Dick dryly, and this time he added a word or two: "or I
should have shown you up some time since."

The two men faced one another, fair and square, but their attitudes were
not aggressive. Miles leant back against a tree with folded arms, and
Dick stood with feet planted firmly and hands in his pockets. A combat
of coolness was beginning. The combatants were a man in whom this
quality was innate, and one who rose to it but rarely. In these
circumstances it is strange that the self-possession of Dick was real to
the core, whilst that of the imperturbable Miles was for once affected
and skin-deep.

"Will you tell me," said Miles, "what you have heard? You may very
possibly have drawn wrong inferences."

"I heard all," Dick answered.

"All is vague; why not be specific?"

"I heard that--well, that that woman was your wife."

Miles felt new hope within him. Suppose he had heard no more than that!
And he had not heard anything more--the thing was self-evident--or he
would not have spoken first of this--this circumstance which must be
confessed "unpleasant," but should be explained away in five minutes;
this--what more natural?--this consequence of an ancient peccadillo,
this bagatelle in comparison with what he might have learned.

"My dear sir, it is nothing but an infernal lie!" he cried with eager
confidence; "she never was anything of the kind. It is the old story: an
anthill of boyish folly, a mountain of blackguardly extortion. Can't you
see?"

"No, I can't," said Dick stolidly.

"Why, my good fellow, they have come over on purpose to bleed me--they
said so. It's as plain as a pikestaff."

"That may be true, so far as the man is concerned."

"Don't you see that the woman is his accomplice? But now a word with
you, my friend. These are my private affairs that you have had the
impudence----"

"That was not all I heard," said Dick coldly.

Danger again--in the moment of apparent security.

"What else did you hear, then?" asked Miles, in a voice that was deep
and faint at the same time.

"Who you are," replied Dick shortly. "Sundown the bushranger."

The words were pronounced with no particular emphasis; in fact, very
much as though both sobriquet and calling were household words, and
sufficiently familiar in all men's mouths. The bushranger heard them
without sign or sound. Dick waited patiently for him to speak; but he
waited long.

It was a strange interview between these two men, in the dead of this
summer's night, in the heart of this public park. They were rivals in
love; one had discovered the other to be not only an impostor, but a
notorious felon; and they had met before under circumstances the most
peculiar--a fact, however, of which only one of them was now aware. The
night was at the zenith of its soft and delicate sweetness. A gentle
breeze had arisen, and the tops of the slender firs were making circles
against the sky, like the mastheads of a ship becalmed; and the stars
were shining like a million pin-pricks in the purple cloak of light. At
last Miles spoke, asking with assumed indifference what Dick intended to
do.

"But let it pass; of course you will inform at once!"

"What else can I do?" demanded Dick, sternly.

Miles scrutinised his adversary attentively and speculated whether
there was the least chance of frightening such a man. Then he again
thrust his hand into the breast of his overcoat, and answered
reflectively:

"You can die--this minute--if I choose."

Dick stood his ground without moving a muscle.

"Nonsense!" he said scornfully. "I have shown you that you can gain
nothing by that."

Miles muttered a curse, and scowled at the ground, without, however,
withdrawing his hand.

"The case stands thus," said Dick: "you have imposed on friends of mine,
and I have found you--not a common humbug, as I thought all along--but
quite a famous villain. Plainly speaking, a price is on your head."

Miles did not speak.

"And your life is in my hands."

Miles made no reply.

"The natural thing," Dick continued, "would have been to crawl away,
when I heard who you were, and call the police. You see I have not done
that."

Still not a word.

"Another, and perhaps fairer, way would be to give you a fair start from
this spot and this minute, and not say a word for an hour or two, until
people are about; the hare-and-hounds principle, in fact. But I don't
mean to do that either."

Miles raised his eyes, and at last broke his silence.

"You are arbitrary," he sneered. "May I ask what is the special quality
of torture you have reserved for me? I am interested to know."

"I shall name a condition," replied Dick firmly--"a single
condition--on which, so far as I am concerned, you may impose on the
public until some one else unmasks you."

"I don't believe you!"

"You have not heard my condition. I am in earnest."

"I wouldn't believe you on oath!"

"And why?"

"Because you owe me a grudge," said Miles, speaking rapidly--"because it
is in your interest to see me go under."

"My condition provides for all that."

"Let me hear it, then."

"First tell me how you came to know the Bristos."

Miles gave Dick substantially the same story that he had already learned
from Alice.

"Now listen to me," said Dick. "Instead of squatter you were bushranger.
You had been in England a day or two instead of a month or two, and you
had set foot in Sussex only; instead of masquerading as a fisherman you
wore your own sailor's clothes, in which you swam ashore from your
ship."

"Well guessed!" said Miles ironically.

"A cleverer thing was never done," Dick went on, his tone, for the
moment, not wholly free from a trace of admiration. "Well, apart from
that first set of lies, your first action in England was a good one.
That is one claim on leniency. The account you have given me of it is
quite true, for I heard the same thing from one whose lips, at least,
are true!"

These last words forced their way out without his knowledge until he
heard them.

"Ah!" said Miles.

An involuntary subdual of both voices might have been noticed here; it
was but momentary, and it did not recur.

Dick Edmonstone took his hands from his pockets, drew nearer to Miles,
slowly beat his left palm with his right fist, and said:

"My condition is simply this: you are to go near the Bristos no more."

If this touched any delicate springs in the heart of Miles, their
workings did not appear in his face. He made no immediate reply; when it
came, there was a half-amused ring in his speech:

"You mean to drive a hard bargain."

"I don't call it hard."

"All I possess is in that house. I cannot go far, as I stand; you might
as well give me up at once."

"I see," said Dick musingly. "No; you are to have an excellent chance. I
have no watch on me: have you? No? Well, it can't be more than one now,
or two at the latest, and they keep up these dances till dawn--or they
used to. Then perhaps you had better go back to the house now.
Button-hole the Colonel; tell him you have had a messenger down from
town--from your agent. You can surely add a London agent to your
Queensland station and your house in Sydney! Well, affairs have gone
wrong on this station of yours--drought, floods--anything you like; you
have received an important wire; you are advised, in fact, to start back
to Queensland at once. At any rate, you must pack up your traps and
leave Graysbrooke first thing in the morning. You are very sorry to be
called back so suddenly--they are sorrier still to lose you; but
Australia and England are so close now, you are sure to be over again
some day--and all the rest of it; but you are never to go near them
again. Do you agree?"

"What is the alternative?"

"Escape from here dressed like that if you can! You will breakfast in
gaol. At best you will be hunted for a week or two, and then taken
miserably--there is no bush in England; whereas I offer you freedom with
one restriction."

"I agree," said Miles, hoarsely.

"Very good. If you keep your word, Sundown the bushranger is at the
bottom of the sea, for all I know; if you break it, Sundown the
bushranger is a lost man. Now let us leave this place."

Dick led the way from the plantation, with his hands again deep in his
pockets.

Miles followed, marvelling. Marvelling that he, who had terrorised half
Australia, should be dictated to by this English whelp, and bear it
meekly; wondering what it all meant. What, to begin with, was the
meaning of this masterly plan for an honourable exit? which was, in
fact, a continuation of his own falsehood. Why had not this young
fellow--who had every reason to hate him, independently of to-night's
discovery--quietly brought the police and watched him taken in cold
blood? There would have been nothing underhand in that; it was, in fact,
the only treatment that any criminal at large would expect at the hands
of the average member of society--if he fell into those hands. Then why
had not this been done? What tie or obligation could possibly exist
between this young Edmonstone and Sundown the Australian bushranger?

The night was at its darkest when they reached the avenue; so dark that
they crossed into the middle of the broad straight road, where the way
was clearest. Straight in front of them burned the lamps of the gateway,
like two yellow eyes staring through a monstrous crape mask. They seemed
to be walking in a valley between two long, regular ranges of black
mountains with curved and undulating tops--only that the mountains
wavered in outline, and murmured from their midst under the light touch
of the sweet mild breeze.

They walked on in silence, and watched the deep purple fading slowly but
surely before their eyes, and the lights ahead growing pale and sickly.

Miles gave expression to the thought that puzzled him most:

"For the life of me, I can't make out why you are doing this" (he
resented the bare notion of mercy, and showed it in his tone). "With you
in my place and I in yours----"

Dick stopped in his walk, and stopped Miles also.

"Is it possible you do not know me?"

"I have known you nearly a month," Miles answered.

"Do you mean to say you don't remember seeing me before--before this
last month?"

"Certainly, when first I met you, I seemed to remember your voice; but
from what I was told about you I made sure I was mistaken."

"Didn't they tell you that at one time, out there I was hawking?"

"No. Why, now--"

"Stop a bit," said Dick, raising his hand. "Forget that you are here;
forget you are in England. Instead of these chestnuts, you're in the
mallee scrub. The night is far darker than this night has ever been: the
place is a wilderness. You are lying in wait for a hawker's wagon. The
hawkers drive up; you take them by surprise, and you're three to two.
They are at your mercy. The younger one is a new chum from England--a
mere boy. He has all the money of the concern in his pocket, and nothing
to defend it with. He flings himself unarmed upon one of your gang, and,
but for you, would be knifed for his pains. You save him by an inch; but
you see what maddens him--you see he has the money. You take it from
him. The money is all the world to him: he is mad: he wants to be killed
outright. You only bind him to the wheel, taking from him all he has. So
he thinks, and death is at his heart. But he finds that, instead of
taking it all, you have left it all; you have been moved by compassion
for the poor devil of a new chum! Well, first he cannot believe his
eyes; then he is grateful; then senseless."

Miles scanned the young man's face in the breaking light. Yes, he
remembered it now; it had worn this same passionate expression then. His
own face reflected the aspect of the eastern sky; a ray was breaking in
upon him, and shedding a new light on an old action, hidden away in a
dark corner of his mind. A thing that had been a little thing until now
seemed to expand in the sudden warmth of this new light. Miles felt an
odd, unaccountable sensation, which, however, was not altogether
outside his experience: he had felt it when he pulled Colonel Bristo
from the sea, and in the moment of parting with his coat to a
half-perishing tramp.

Dick continued:

"Stop a minute--hear the end. This new chum, fresh from 'home,' was
successful. He made a fortune--of a sort. It might have been double what
it is had he been in less of a hurry to get back to England." Dick
sighed. "Whatever it is, it was built on that hundred which you took and
restored: that was its nucleus. And therefore--as well as because you
saved his life--this new chum, when no longer one, never forgot Sundown
the bushranger; he nursed a feeling of gratitude towards him which was
profound if, as he had been assured, illogical. Only a few hours ago he
said, 'If he came within my power I should be inclined to give him a
chance,' or something like that." Dick paused; then he added: "Now you
know why you go free this morning."

Miles made no immediate remark. Bitter disappointment and hungry
yearning were for the moment written clearly on his handsome, reckless
face. At last he said:

"You may not believe me, but when you came to me--down there on the
lawn--that's what I was swearing to myself; to begin afresh. And see
what has come to me since then!" he added, with a harsh laugh.

"Just then," returned Dick, frankly, "I should have liked nothing better
than to have seen you run in. I followed you out with as good a hate as
one man can feel towards another. You never thought of my following you
out here? Nor did I think of coming so far; by the bye, the--your wife
made it difficult for me; she was following too. Yes, I hated you
sufficiently; and I had suspected you from the first--but not for what
you are; when I heard Jem Pound say your name I was staggered, my brain
went reeling, I could scarcely keep from crying out."

"Did you recognise him?"

"Pound? No: I thought him a detective. He is a clever fellow."

"He is the devil incarnate!"

They had passed through the gates into the road.

"Here we separate," said Dick. "Go back to Graysbrooke the way you came,
and pack your things. Is there any need to repeat--"

"None."

"You understand that if you break it, all's up with you?"

"I have accepted that."

"Then we are quits!"

"I like your pluck--I liked it long ago," said Miles, speaking suddenly,
after staring at Dick for more than a minute in silence. "I was thinking
of that new chum hawker awhile ago, before I knew you were he. You
reminded me of him. And I ought to have known then; for I was never
spoken to the same, before or since, except then and now. No one else
ever bargained with Sundown! Well, a bargain it is. Here's my hand on
it."

As he spoke, he shook Edmonstone by the hand with an air of good faith.
Next moment, the two men were walking in opposite directions.



                                   XV

                           THE MORNING AFTER


Dick reached Iris Lodge before the other two whom he had left at the
ball. This was fortunate, not only because he had the latchkey in his
pocket, but since it obviated crooked answers to awkward questions: they
would, of course, suppose that he had gone straight home from the
Bristos'.

He went quietly up to his room, changed his coat, and filled his pipe.
In searching for matches on the dressing-table, however, he came across
something which caused him to forget his pipe for the moment; a packet
of letters in an elastic band, displaying immediately below the band a
thin, folded collection of newspaper cuttings. They were the extracts
Flint had given him, referring to the capture and subsequent escape of
Sundown the bushranger. He had found no time to read them before going
out, and now--well, now he would read them with added interest, that was
all.

Yet he stood still with the papers in his hand, trying to realise all
that he had seen, and heard, and said since midnight; trying not to
separate in his mind the vaguely suspected rogue of yesterday and the
notorious villain unmasked this morning; trying, on the other hand, to
reconcile the Sundown of his remembrance--still more of his
imagination--with the Miles of his acquaintance, to fuse two
inconsistent ideas, to weld unsympathetic metals.

Standing thus, with all other sensations yielding to bewilderment, Dick
was recalled to himself by hearing voices and footsteps below his
window. Fanny and Maurice had returned; he must go down and let them in,
and then--the cuttings!

"Why, how long have you been in?" was Fanny's first question; she had
too much tact to ask him why he had left.

"Oh, a long time," Dick replied. "I didn't feel quite all right," he
added, a shade nearer the truth; "but--but I thought it would only
bother you."

"How could you think that? If you had only told me," said Fanny, with
honest trouble in her voice, "you shouldn't have come alone."

"Then I'm glad I gave you the slip." Dick manufactured a laugh. "But,
indeed, I'm all right now--right as the mail, honour bright!"

"But why didn't you go to bed when you got home?" his sister pursued.

"The key!" explained Maurice laconically, turning out the hall gas as he
spoke.

They stole up-stairs in the pale chill light that fell in bars through
the blind of the landing window.

Fanny laid her hand softly on Dick's shoulder.

"It was wretched after you went," she whispered sympathetically. "Do you
know that--that--" timorously--"Alice went up-stairs and never came down
again?"

"Did no one else disappear?" asked Dick, bending his head to read his
sister's eyes.

Fanny hung her head. Mr. Miles had been missed by all; but no
one--except the Colonel--had remarked Dick's absence in her hearing.
When she had found Alice nearly fainting, and taken her to her maid, she
had seen, indeed, that her friend was sorely distressed about something;
but the friendship between them was not close enough for the seeking of
confidences on either side; and, as the cause of so many sighs and
tears, she had thought naturally, because she wished so to think, of her
own brother. Now it seemed that perhaps, after all, Mr. Miles--whom she
detested--had been the object of compassion. And Fanny had nothing to
say.

"Good night," said Dick, quietly kissing her.

The next moment she heard the key turn in his door.

He sat down on the edge of the bed, lit his pipe, and withdrew the
cuttings from the indiarubber band. There was not much to read, after
all; only three paragraphs, of which two were telegraphic, and
consequently brief. In no case was either name or date of the newspaper
attached; but in the short paragraphs Dick seemed to recognise the type
of the "Australasian," while there was internal evidence that the longer
one emanated from a Queensland organ. After glancing rapidly at all
three, he arranged them in an order that proved to be chronologically
correct.

The first paragraph (telegraphic: headed "Brisbane, Friday,") stated
that, on the afternoon of the day before, the branch of the Australian
Joint-Stock Bank at Mount Clarence had been entered by two bushrangers,
one of whom declared that he was Sundown, the New South Wales outlaw.
That after "bailing up" everybody in the establishment, and shutting up
the bank--which, as it was then closing-time, was effected without
raising the suspicions of the township--the bushrangers had ridden away,
taking with them about five hundred ounces of gold and a considerable
sum in cheques and notes. That, at two o'clock the following morning,
the bushrangers had been captured asleep under a gunyah, twelve miles
from Mount Clarence, "through the rare sagacity of Sergeant Dogherty,"
and that Sundown's mate, a man named Benjamin Hickey, had been
subsequently shot dead by the police on attempting to escape. "The
redoubtable Ned Ryan, alias Sundown," the paragraph concluded, "gave no
trouble on the way to Mount Clarence, whence he will be forwarded to
Rockhampton without delay; but the gold has not yet been recovered,
having evidently been 'planted' by the outlaws before camping for the
night."

Dick believed that he had seen this identical paragraph in the "Argus"
of February 13th, the day on which the Hesper sailed from Hobson's Bay.

The second cutting seemed to be part--perhaps the greater part--of an
article from a Queensland pen, written in the first blush of triumph
following the announcement of Sundown's capture. From it Dick learned so
much concerning Ned Ryan that had never before come to his knowledge,
that it is here reproduced word for word:

"Edward Ryan, or 'Sundown,' is declared by our informant to be a man of
pleasing countenance, about six feet three inches high and thirty-seven
years of age. He is a native of Victoria, where his parents resided for
many years. Some six years ago--being then a horse-dealer of
questionable repute--he married the daughter of a well-to-do farmer in
the Ovens district (Vic.). But for some time past--since, indeed, a
short time after his outlawry--he is said to have ceased all
communication with his wife. About four years and a half ago, a warrant
was taken out against Edward Ryan for some roguery connected with a
horse. He, however, managed to escape across the Murray into New South
Wales. A few weeks later his career of desperate crime--which has now
happily ended as above detailed--was commenced in the partnership of two
kindred spirits. One of these, Benjamin Hickey, has met with a summary
fate, but one strictly in accordance with his deserts, as already
described. The third of the band, however, who is believed by the police
to be a Tasmanian 'old hand,' lost sight of for many years, was turned
adrift some time ago by Sundown, on account, it is said, of his extreme
bloodthirstiness. This statement receives colour from the fact that
Sundown, since his capture, has declared that neither he nor Hickey ever
spilt blood with their own hands; so that if this is true, not only the
murder of Youl, the storekeeper near Menindie, on the Darling--which
crime rendered the name of Sundown infamous at the commencement--but the
grievous wounding of Constable O'Flynn, two years later, may be freely
ascribed to the murderous hand of the miscreant that is still at large.
However this may be, we have, in Sundown, succeeded in running to earth
a freebooter equal in daring, impudence, and cunning generalship to the
most formidable of the highwaymen who were the terror of the sister
colonies in the early days. The credit of this brilliant capture,
however, rests entirely with this colony. Indeed, it is to be hoped that
we shall hereafter be able to boast that it was reserved to the youngest
colony to add the finishing touch to the extermination of the Australian
bandit. And as the bushrangers had been but a few months in Queensland,
whereas their depredations in the neighbouring colony extended over as
many years, it will be seen that on the whole the exploit of our police
compares not unfavourably with the New South Wales method of doing
business."

After this, the effect of the last extract was at least startling. The
words in this case were few, and cruelly to the point. They simply told
of the escape of the prisoner Ryan during a violent dust-storm that
enveloped the township of Mount Clarence, and afterwards rendered
tracking (when the bird was discovered to have flown) most difficult. No
details of the escape were given, but the message ended with the
confident assurance (which read humourously now) that the re-capture of
Sundown, alive or dead, could be but a matter of hours.

There was a curious smile upon Dick's face as he folded up the cuttings.
"I wonder how on earth he did it?" he asked himself as he slowly knocked
the ashes from his pipe.

The sunlight was peeping in where it could through blind and curtains.
Dick raised the first, drew back the second, and stood in the broad
light of day. Then, throwing up the sash, he plunged head and shoulders
into the fresh, fragrant morning air. The effect upon him was magical.
His forehead seemed pressed by a cool, soothing hand; his throat drank
down a deep draught of wizard's wine; he caught at his breath, as though
actually splashing in the dewy air, and yet in a very little while the
man's baser nature asserted itself. Dick yawned, not once or twice, but
repeatedly; then he shivered and shut the window. Five minutes later the
lively sparrows--if they took more than a passing interest in their
early guest, as they should, since such very early guests were rare
among them--the sprightly sparrows that visited the window-ledge might
have seen for themselves that he was sound, sound asleep.

For some hours this sleep was profound, until, in fact, Dick began to
dream. Then, indeed, he was soon awake, but not before his soul had been
poisoned by a very vivid and full vision. This dream was not strange
under the circumstances, but it was plausible, disturbing, and less
bizarre than most--in fact, terribly realistic. He had gone to
Graysbrooke and found Miles--Sundown the bushranger--still there. At
once and openly he had denounced the villain, shown him in his true
colours, and at once he had been disbelieved--laughed at by the enemy,
pitied by his friends, treated as the victim of a delusion. With Miles's
mocking defiant laugh in his ears, Dick awoke.

It was the dread, the chance of something like this actually happening,
that hurried him to Graysbrooke with unbroken fast. He found Colonel
Bristo plainly worried, yet glad to see him, eager to tell him what was
the matter.

"We have lost our guest."

Dick felt the blood rushing back to his face at the words.

"Miles has gone," the Colonel pursued in a tone of annoyance; "gone this
morning--a summons to Australia, he fears--a thing he had never dreamt
of until last night."

"Dear me!" said Dick, with surprise that was partly genuine. For his
plan had worked out better--he had been followed more strictly to the
letter than he could have dared to hope; the misgivings of the last hour
were turned to supreme satisfaction.

"Yes," sighed the soldier, "it was most unexpected. And I need not tell
you how disappointed we all are."

Dick murmured that he was sure of it, with all the awkwardness of an
honest tongue driven into hypocrisy.

"For my own part, I feel confoundedly put out about it. I shall be as
dull as ditch-water for days. As for the ladies, they'll miss him
horribly."

Dick's reply was monosyllabic, and its tone fell distinctly short of
sympathy.

"He was such a good fellow!"

The Colonel said this regretfully, and waited for some echo. But Dick
could have said nothing without the whole truth bursting out, so he
merely asked:

"When did he go?"

"About nine--as soon as he could pack up his things, in fact. Alice was
not down to say good-bye to him."

Dick's eyes glittered.

"He will be back to say it, though?" he asked suspiciously.

"No, I fear not; he will probably have to start at once; at least, so
his agent told him--the fellow who came down last night, and robbed us
of him for half the evening. By-the-bye, we missed you too; did you go
home?"

"Yes." Dick faltered a little.

"Have you and Alice been quarrelling?" asked Alice's father abruptly.

Dick answered simply that they had. Colonel Bristo silently paced the
carpet. When he spoke again it was to revert to the subject of Miles.

"Yes, I am sorry enough to lose him; for we had become great friends,
intimate friends, and we understood one another thoroughly, he and I.
But the worst of it is, we shan't have him with us in Yorkshire. What a
man for the moors! And how he would have enjoyed it! But there; it's no
use talking; we're all disappointed, and there's an end of it."

The Colonel laid his hand on Dick's shoulder, and added:

"You won't disappoint us, my boy?"

"For the moors, sir?"

"Why, of course."

"I cannot go--I am very sorry"--hastily--"but----"

"Nonsense, Dick!"

"I really cannot--I cannot, indeed," with lame repetition.

"And why?" asked Colonel Bristo, mildly. "Why--when you promised us
weeks ago?"

Dick raised his eyes from the ground, and the answer was given and
understood without words; yet he felt impelled to speak. He began in a
low voice, nervously:

"Without disrespect, sir, I think I may beg of you not to insist on an
explanation--either from me, or from--anyone else. It could do no good.
It might do--I mean it might cause--additional pain. You have guessed
the reason? Yes, you see it clearly--you understand. And--and you seem
sorry. Don't let it trouble you, sir. There are lots better than I." He
paused, then added uncertainly: "Colonel Bristo, you have been more, far
more, than kind and good to me. If you treated me like a son before it
was time--well--well, it will all be a pleasant memory to--to take away
with me."

"Away?"

"Yes, away; back to Australia," said Dick, expressing his newest thought
as though it were his oldest. "Before you get back from the north, I
shall probably be on my way."

"Don't do that, Dick--don't do that," said Colonel Bristo, with some
feeling.

Personal liking for Dick apart, it was not a pleasant reflection that
his daughter had jilted the man who had come from Australia to marry
her, and was sending him back there.

Dick answered him sadly.

"It can't be helped, sir. It is all over. It is decent that I should
go."

"I don't understand 'em--never understood 'em," muttered the old man
vaguely, and half to himself. "Still, there is no one but Dick, I dare
swear; who should there be but Dick?"

Dick stepped forward, as though to push the scales from the eyes of this
unseeing man; but he checked his impulse, and cried huskily, holding the
thin hand in his own great strong one:

"Good-bye, Colonel Bristo. God bless you, sir! Good-bye!"

And the young man was gone.



                                  XVI

                          MILITARY MANOEUVRES


"Well!" exclaimed Colonel Bristo, after some minutes. He leant back in
his chair and stared sternly at his book-shelves. "It's a nice look-out
for the moors; that's all."

His reflections were dispiriting. He was thinking that the only two men
whom he had really wanted down in Yorkshire had this morning, almost in
the same breath, declared that they could not go. They were, in fact,
both going back to Australia--independently, from widely different
reasons. With Miles the necessity was pressing enough, no doubt; and
then he had only been visiting England, and never contemplated a long
stay. But Dick's case was very different. He had come home for good,
with his "pile" and his prospects. Could he possibly have been made so
miserable during these few weeks that he would be glad to bury himself
again in the bush? Could his case be really so hopeless as he himself
believed it?

"If so," said Colonel Bristo with irritation, "then Alice has played the
deuce with the best young fellow in England!"

But how could he tell? How was he, the father, to get at the facts of
the case? Alice was all the world to him: but for all the world he would
not have sought her confidence in such a matter. Then what was he to
do?

He got up from his chair, and paced the floor with the stride of a
skipper on his poop. He had liked young Edmonstone always--respected him
as a mere stripling. Love-sick boys were, as a rule, selfish, if not
sly, young fools--that was his experience; but this one had shown
himself upright and fearless--had, in fact, behaved uncommonly well,
once the mischief was done. But that liking had developed into affection
since the night of Dick's arrival. Poor fellow! how grateful he had
been! how hopeful! Who could have discouraged him? The Colonel, for his
part, had no reason to do so now. What was there against him? what
against "it"? In a word, he had soon--as he saw more of him--set his
heart upon Dick for his son. Secretly, he had already formed certain
projects of parental ingenuity. He had already, in his walks, held
stealthy intercourse with house and estate agents, and otherwise dipped
into the future of other people, further than he had any business. And
here was the death-blow to it all! The pair had quarrelled so violently
that the prospective son-in-law was on the point of taking himself back
to Australia! One thing was certain: it could be no ordinary
disagreement--she must have jilted him. But if so, for whom? She had
seen nobody for months--nobody but Miles! And Miles--the Colonel smiled
indulgently--with all his good points, with all his fine qualities,
Miles was no marrying man. Then who could it be? Once more he, her
father, was unable to tell, for the life of him.

He sat down, rose again in a moment, and rang the bell. Then he sent a
polite message to Mrs. Parish, requesting her kind attendance, if not in
any way inconvenient.

"She can at least put me right on one or two points. That is, if she
doesn't go off at a tangent, down some blind-alley of a side issue!"

The lady appeared after the regulation delay, by which she was in the
habit of italicising the dignity of her office.

By her greeting, one would have thought the appointment was of her
making. She observed that she would have come before to inquire how the
Colonel felt after it all, but understood that he was engaged.

The Colonel explained with a sigh.

"He is gone."

"Ah!" There was unprecedented sympathy in the lady's look and tone.

"You saw him go?" asked the Colonel, looking up in surprise.

"I did," sadly; "I did."

"He said good-bye to you, perhaps?"

"To be sure he did! He was hardly likely to--"

"He didn't ask to see Alice, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes, he did."

"Dear me!" said the Colonel to himself.

"But she could not see him, I grieve to say; it was a thousand pities,
seeing that he's going straight back to Australia."

"Oh, he told you that too, did he?"

"Of course, Colonel Bristo, when he said good-bye."

"Dear me! But why wouldn't Alice see him?"

"It was too early."

"A mere excuse," exclaimed the Colonel angrily, looking at his watch.
"Too early! It is plain that she has thrown him over. If so, then the
best young fellow in England has been----But perhaps you can tell me
whether it really is so?"

Mrs. Parish began to feel mystified.

"A young fellow?" she began doubtfully.

"Well, young in years; older than his age, I know. But that's not my
point."

"Then I really don't know, Colonel Bristo. Alice seldom honors me with
her confidence nowadays. Indeed, for the last year--"

"The point--my dear madam; the point!"

"Well, then," snapped Mrs. Parish, "to judge by their dances together,
last night, I should say you are certainly wrong!"

"Ah, you thought that at the time, I know. Do you remember my
disagreeing with you when you declared Alice had never been more
brilliant, and so on? Why she only danced with the lad once!"

Only once! "The lad!" Colonel Bristo must certainly be joking; and jokes
at the expense of the lady who had controlled his household for twenty
years were not to be tolerated.

"Colonel Bristo, I fail to understand you. If it were not preposterous,
I should imagine you had stooped to ridicule. Allow me, please, to state
that your daughter danced three times, if not four, with Mr. Miles--I
see nothing to smile at, Colonel Bristo!"

"My good--my dear Mrs. Parish," said he, correcting himself hastily, and
rising urbanely from his chair, "we are at cross purposes. I mean young
Edmonstone; you mean, I suppose, Mr. Miles. A thousand apologies."

Mrs. Parish was only partially appeased.

"Oh, if you mean that young gentleman, I can assure you he has
absolutely no chance. Has he said good-bye, too, then?"

"Yes. He says he is going back to Australia."

"I said he would!" exclaimed Mrs. Parish with gusto.

"But--I say! You surely don't mean that it is Mr. Miles Alice cares
for?"

Mrs. Parish smiled superior.

"Has it not been patent?"

"Not to me, madam!" said Colonel Bristo warmly.

"Love on both sides; I might say at first sight. I watched it dawn, and
last night I thought it had reached high noon," the old lady declared
with emotion. "But this unfortunate summons! Still, I think we shall see
him again before he sails, and I think he will come back to England for
good before long."

"You mean you hope so, Mrs. Parish," said the Colonel dryly. He seated
himself at his desk with unmistakable meaning. "Confound her!" he
muttered when the door closed; "the thing is plausible enough. Yet I
don't believe it. What's more, much as I like Miles, I don't wish it!
No. Now what am I to do about Dick?"

This question occupied his thoughts for the rest of the morning. He
could not answer it to his satisfaction. In the afternoon he sent word
to Iris Lodge, begging Dick to come over in the evening for an hour. The
messenger brought back the news that Mr. Edmonstone was from home--had,
in fact, left for abroad that afternoon.

"Abroad!" thought Colonel Bristo. "He has lost no time! But 'abroad'
only means the Continent--it is 'out' when you go farther. And yet that
is one way out--the quickest! Is he capable of such madness at a
moment's notice? Never; impossible. But I had better look into the
matter myself."

And this the Colonel did in the course of a few days, by himself calling
at Iris Lodge. There was a little coldness, or it may have been merely
self-consciousness, in his reception. But when, after a few
preliminaries, the visitor began to speak of Dick, this soon wore off;
for his regard was too warmly expressed, and his praise too obviously
genuine, not to win and melt hearts half as loving as those of Mrs.
Edmonstone and her daughter. The Colonel, for his part, was sufficiently
rewarded when he learnt that Dick had merely joined an old Australian
friend in Italy, and would be back at the beginning of August.

"I was half afraid," he observed tentatively, "that he was tired of
England already, and was on his way out again."

The horror with which this notion was instantly demolished caused the
old gentleman to smile with unconcealed satisfaction; for it assured him
that Dick's intention (if it was an intention, and not merely the wild
idea of a heated moment) had at least not yet been breathed to his
family. He took up his hat and cane with a light heart. And he stopped
to add a rider to his gracious adieu:

"We shall be tramping the moors when your son returns, Mrs. Edmonstone,
so I beg you will forward him on to us. And pray, Miss Fanny, use your
influence as well, for we have lost our other Australian, and I don't
see how we can get on without Dick."

He went out in good spirits.

Thereafter, as far as the Colonel was concerned, young Edmonstone might
bake himself to his heart's content--until the Twelfth--abroad. As it
happened, Colonel Bristo found a far more immediate cause for anxiety at
home. This was the appearance of Alice.

As July drew near its latter days, the change in her looks passed the
perceptible stage to the noticeable. Her colouring had been called her
best point by some, her only good one by others (possibly according to
the sex of the critic); yet now her face was wholly void of colour. The
flower-like complexion was, if possible, more delicate than before, but
now it resembled the waxen lily instead of the glowing wild rose. Even
the full, firm lips were pale and pinched. Her eyes were either dull or
restless, and their dark setting seemed more prominent: shadows lay
below them where no shadows should have been. For the rest, any real
activity of mind or body seemed as impossible to her as any real repose;
she appeared to have gained only in thoughtfulness--as indicated by
silence. On fine days, though the river could not charm her, she would
dress for walking, and come back tired out in twenty minutes. On wet
ones she divided her time between the first few pages of a book, and the
first few bars of a waltz; between the two she never got any farther in
either. Perhaps experience had taught her that all the tune of a waltz
is at the beginning; and I suppose she failed to "get into" her novels.
Her ear was sensitive, attuned to her temper; common sounds startled her
painfully; the unexpected opening or shutting of a door went far to
unhinge both nerves and temper. The latter, indeed, was less sweet at
this period than ever in her life before, and none knew it so well as
she herself, who bore the brunt of it in her own heart.

None of these signs escaped the watchful eyes about her. But while, on
the one hand, Mrs. Parish noted them with incomplete sympathy and
impartial confidence in the justice of consequences (believing that
Alice's indecision had brought this on her own head, and that a little
uncertainty would do her no harm), the father's heart became more and
more distressed as each new symptom was made plain to him. He was both
worried and perplexed. He called in a local doctor. That move made her
ill-health no better, and her ill-temper worse. What, then, could the
father do? Always loving and indulgent--never intimate--with his child,
it had been his practice, when serious matters arose, to employ the
ambassador always at hand; thus there had never, during all the years,
been a word of contention between father and daughter; and to this
practice the father resorted now.

Late one afternoon they were all three sitting in the garden, when Alice
rose, without breaking her long silence, and slowly walked towards the
house. The Colonel followed her with his eyes; he held a glowing
cigarette between his fingers; the distance was short enough, but before
Alice reached the house the cigarette was out.

"Look at her now! Is that the step of a healthy girl? See her climb
those six steps--they might be the top flight of St. Paul's! Mrs.
Parish"--with sudden decision--"Mrs. Parish, you must see to the root of
this matter before it gets any worse. I must know exactly what is at the
bottom of it. I desire you to speak to Alice, for I cannot. You
understand me, I think? Very well, then, pray watch your opportunity."

The very next morning the housekeeper came to the study. She had spoken
to Alice. She did not require much questioning.

"Oh, as to young Mr. Richard. I could elicit nothing--nothing at all. He
seemed quite outside her thoughts."

Mrs. Parish made this statement with a smack of satisfaction. Colonel
Bristo, however, must have given it a construction of his own, for he
did not look displeased. He simply said:

"Well?"

"Well, she was almost as reticent about Mr. Miles; though we know what
that signifies!" (But here the Colonel shook his head.) "What she did
say, however, is not worth repeating."

"Still, I should like to hear it."

"It does not affect matters in the least."

"Pray go on, Mrs. Parish."

"Of course, if you insist, Colonel Bristo! Well, then, Alice tells me
that, two days after Mr. Miles went, a shabby kind of woman had the
impudence to walk into the garden, accost her, and ask if Mr. Miles (how
she had got his name, one cannot tell) was still here. Alice said 'No,'
and was weak enough to give her money, because she seemed wretched, she
says, and so got rid of her."

"One of the beggars he helped," said the Colonel. "He used to have long
conversations with them, and tell them to emigrate."

"Why, to be sure!" cried Mrs. Parish, at once enlightened and relieved.
And now she was as eager to tell the rest as before she had been slow to
speak. "The very next day after that, Alice saw a man watching the house
from the tow-path. He seemed to be there all day; so at last she rowed
across and asked him if he wanted anyone. He said, 'Yes, the gentleman
who's been staying there; where is he?' She told him he was on his way
back to Australia. The man did not seem to believe it. In the end she
gave money to him too, and soon she saw him go."

"Another of his beggars!" laughed Colonel Bristo. "Their name is legion,
no doubt, and we shall see more of them yet. For the credit of the
Mother Country, we can't shut the door in their faces after a Colonial
has given them a taste of real downright generosity. Poor Miles!"

"Well, Alice, for her part, seems ready enough to carry on his works of
charity," said Mrs. Parish, adroitly, with an emphasis ever so slight on
the possessive pronoun.

The Colonel smiled. Then he thanked her graciously for the service.

"I am extremely obliged to you, Mrs. Parish, for the hundredth time. You
have saved me yet another interview. That is, I should have made it
awkward, but you, with your usual tact, have got at precisely what I
wanted. I am perfectly satisfied."

Mrs. Parish bowed. She was not a little pleased with the compliment to
her tact, on which she plumed herself above everything; but her pleasure
was less than her surprise--that the Colonel should be so easily
satisfied! She moved with dignity to the door. As she was shutting it,
the Colonel rubbed his hands and exclaimed aloud:

"It is Dick!"

The door, which was at that moment swinging to, stopped, trembled, then
shut with a vicious little bang. The Colonel could make a near enough
guess at the expression of the face on the other side of it. He smiled
benevolently.

"Silly lady! She thinks I have turned against my friend Miles--whom, by
the way, she worships on her own account. Far from it, I miss him
abominably. But when it comes to a choice between him and Dick--and
where my girl is concerned--why, then, I confess, I'm all for the
younger man and the older suitor."



                                  XVII

                           "MILES'S BEGGARS"


Iris Lodge, during the first half of August, became for once gay, not to
say festive--in a small way, as befitted a first experiment. Maurice
managed to wrest his hard-earned annual holiday from the bank, and, on
the very first day of the fourteen allotted him, back came Dick from
abroad, bringing with him his friend Flint. After a remarkable display
of obstinacy on this gentleman's part, Dick had at last prevailed upon
him to leave his tenants to their own devices for one more week, and
tarry by the Thames. But, though this was brought about by dint of hard
persuading, in the end Mr. Flint somehow saw his way to doubling the
week which at first he had grudgingly promised.

In his excuse it can only be urged that he enjoyed himself beyond
expectation. The weather was very nearly faultless, the river at its
best, formalities few, and the ladies--charming. The lawn-tennis
court--though several inches short--was quite of the billiard-table
order. The music in the evenings, though it did not run in a man's head,
possessed a certain odd, mysterious, soothing, saddening, pleasing
quality, that silenced one at the time, and left an impression that Miss
Edmonstone could make her piano speak, if she tried. Perhaps it was
classical music; very likely Chopin. Lastly--and last thing--the
spirituous nightcap, though approached in a spirit of moderation, had a
way of imparting the proper Eucalyptian flavour to all reminiscences of
life among the gum-trees. Could there be better conditions for a
pleasant visit? Flint asked himself. And if the house was the smallest
he had ever stayed in, would not Castle Flint seem cheerless, vast,
sepulchral, by comparison?

But indeed they were wonderfully bright and happy days: the ones on the
river, when, in the bushmen's phrase, they all "camped," and Flint made
tea in true bush fashion, and Dick a "damper" which no one but bushmen
could eat; the afternoons at tennis, spent in wonderfully keen, if not
deeply scientific, struggles; the morning at Hampton Court, when Flint
owned himself completely "bushed" in the Maze, and when they were all
photographed on the Green, bringing away with them the atrocious result
in a gilt frame; and the day when Dick hired the four-in-hand (it
created some sensation in the little road) and drove them all through
Chertsey and Ascot, to Windsor, and back by Staines and Shepperton.

Certainly any outsider must have voted them a jovial, light-hearted
party, without a serious care to divide among them; and even Flint, who
had some power of observation, and also knew his friend thoroughly--even
Flint told himself that old Dick had got back his good spirits, and was,
in fact, "getting over it." But Flint did not know. Ever since their
hurried interview on the 2nd of July, Dick had been as reticent as he
had then been communicative of all that lay nearest his heart.

Yet never for one moment did Dick forget. He had no wish to forget. So
long as he could keep his disappointment to himself, deep down within
him, he would suffer and smile. For the sake of the others he could not
rise in his place at the feast and declare himself the skeleton he felt.
They must find it out sooner or later--then let it be later. Here his
thoughts were all of his mother and Fanny; they would be heart-broken
when he told them of his determination to go back to Australia. But a
determination it was, growing more solid day by day, though as yet told
only to Colonel Bristo, and that in the unguarded spontaneity of sudden
emotion. But as for his people, better tell them just before he
went--say the week before, or why not on the very day of sailing? Why
make them unhappy before their time, when their happiness in having him
back was still boundless?

After all, it would only be a temporary trouble; for Dick had evolved a
great scheme for the future, which was this: He would go out and buy a
small station in a first-rate district--at arm's length, indeed, from
towns and railroads, but still just in touch with civilisation. Then he
would send home for them all. Yes, all. For Maurice would make an ideal
book-keeper. Fanny would revel in the life, and Mrs. Edmonstone would
certainly prefer it to the small house at Teddington. This plan was
conceived, matured, calculated out, and found feasible, during the many
long summer nights wherein Dick never closed his eyes, when perhaps it
was well that there was this object of focus for his mind.

As for his attitude towards Flint, Dick was well aware that his access
of reserve, after the way in which he had unburdened his soul at their
first meeting, must appear strangely inconsistent. He had rushed to join
his friend on the Continent, travelled with him for nearly a month, and
not told him another word of his affairs. It could not be helped; it
would be impossible to tell Flint anything of what had followed their
first talk at Teddington without making a clean breast of his discovery
that Miles the Australian was no other than Sundown the bushranger, and
this Dick would not tell a soul unless Miles broke faith with him. Least
of all would he confide in Flint, for Flint would be the very first to
turn round and call him madman.

Nevertheless the days seemed to chase each other pleasantly enough for
one and all, actually doing so for all but one; and, as always happens
in such cases, the fortnight drew far too quickly to its close.

"To-day is Thursday--the Twelfth, by-the-bye--and here we are within
sight of Sunbury Lock; and on Monday, and ever afterwards, the bank; the
blessed bank!"

This cheerful reminder proceeded (one day up the river) from the lips
and soul of the man in the stern, who was steering. There was a
sympathetic groan from the man in the bows, who was smoking. The working
half of the crew received the observation, which was thrown out
gratuitously to all, in business-like silence, broken only by the flash
of four sculls as one, and the swish of the feather blades through the
air. The groan in the bows was followed by a reflection of kindred
pathos, delivered in a high key:

"We will call next Monday Black Monday; for to me it means Holyhead,
Dublin, Kerry, and tenants! blessed tenants! But not for always," added
Flint suddenly; "I don't say 'ever afterwards;' why should you? Why
should I be a slave to my Castle and you to your City? Why shouldn't we
emigrate together?"

No one in the boat could see the speaker's face; it was impossible to
tell whether he was jesting or serious.

"Oh, I'm game!" cried Maurice, very much in earnest at once.

"Well, then, just hold on till I give Castle Flint the sack."

"Or until it is sacked about your ears," suggested stroke jerkily. "But
what nonsense you two are talking!"

"Not at all, Miss Edmonstone--if you will allow me. You can't expect a
man to live out his life in troubled Ireland when there's a happy
Australia to go to: there, you know, you may combine the blessings of
liberty, equality, and Home Rule of the most advanced kind, with the
peculiar satisfaction of calling yourself a staunch Tory, and believing
it! But as for our friend here, station life would add a year to his
life for every year the City is capable of shortening it. He'd make a
first-rate jackeroo."

"What is that?"

"What's a jackeroo? Oh, a young gentleman--for choice, the newest new
chum to be found--who goes to a station to get Colonial experience. He
has to work like a nigger, and revels in it, for a bit. If he is a black
sheep, and has the antique ideas of the Colonies held by those who sent
him out to whiten him, his illusions may last a couple of days; if he
has read up Australia on the voyage, they will probably hold out a
little longer, while he keeps looking for what his book told him he
would find; the fact being that the modern bush life hasn't yet been
done into English. Meanwhile he runs up the horses, rides round
boundaries, mends fences, drives sheep to water--if it is a drought--and
skins the dead ones, weighs out flour and sugar, cleans harness, camps
anywhere, and lives on mutton and damper, and tea."

"But what does he get for all that?" asked Maurice, with visions of
money-bags.

"Rations and experience," replied Flint promptly. "When he's admitted to
be worth his salt he will be asked to make other arrangements. Then some
still newer new chum will be selected for the post, through the
introductions he has brought to the stock and station agents, and in his
turn will drive his teeth into the dirty work of the station, which the
ordinary pound-a-week hands refuse, and so get his Colonial experience!"

"Thanks; I'll stop where I am," said Maurice.

"He isn't fair," said Dick, speaking for the first time. "You know you
aren't fair, old chap, raking up your own case as typical, when it was
exceptional. Jackeroos are treated all right, and paid too, so long as
they're smart and willing--the two things needful. Come, I've been a
squatter myself, and can't hear my class run down."

"You won't hear me defend the landlords on that ground," remarked Flint,
who had contracted eccentric politics.

"Well," said Dick, experimentally, "if I go back to it, Maurice shall be
my jackeroo, and judge for himself whether you haven't painted us too
black."

He shipped his oars. Flint was standing up with the boat-hook to pilot
them through the open lock-gates.

"Then I'll ride the boundaries!" cried Fanny, who sat a horse like a
leech, but had had no mount for years.

"In that case," added Flint quietly, "I'll apply for overseer's billet,
with the right of sacking slack hands."

For a moment Dick looked really pleased: this jesting about a station in
Australia was, so far, feeling the way, and might make matters a trifle
easier when the time came. But the smile quickly faded from his face. In
truth, on no day during these last weeks had he been so troubled in
spirit, so tossed between the cross-currents of conflicting feelings.

That morning he had received two letters, apparently of contrary
character: for while the perusal of one gratified him so intensely that
he could not help handing it round for them all to see, the mere sight
of the other was sufficient to make him thrust the unopened envelope
hurriedly into his pocket.

The first letter was indeed a matter for congratulation, for it was the
most completely satisfactory, though not the first, of several similar
communications which Dick had received since his return from Australia.
It was a short note from the editor of the "Illustrated British
Monthly," accepting (for immediate use: a great point) a set of sketches
entitled "Home from Australia," which set forth the humours and trials
of a long sea voyage, and were, in fact, simply a finished reproduction
of those sketches that had delighted the passengers on board the Hesper.
But it was more than a mere formal acceptance: besides enclosing a
cheque (in itself a charming feature) to meet the present case, the note
contained a complimentary allusion to the quality of the "work," and a
distinct hint for the future. This in a postscript--observing that as
Australian subjects were somewhat in demand since the opening of the
Colonial Exhibition--he (the editor) would be glad to see anything
thoroughly Australian that Mr. Edmonstone might chance to have ready.

Of course the precious note was read aloud, and greeted with cries of
delight. Fancy an opening with the "Illustrated British" at this stage!
What could be better? And it did look like a real opening. The hero of
the moment alone sat silent; the unread letter in his pocket checked his
speech; it was from Yorkshire.

"Why did you ever leave us, when you can do so splendidly here at home?"
Mrs. Edmonstone asked him, half in regret for the past, half in joy for
the future.

Flint saw his friend's preoccupation, and answered for him.

"He didn't know it was in him till he got out there, I fancy. I remember
him sending his first things to the Melbourne and Sydney papers; and
before a year was out, his famous buck-jumping picture was stuck up in
every shanty in New South Wales and Victoria."

"Eh?" said Dick, looking up abruptly. "Oh, they coloured it vilely! What
do you say, mother? No, I say, don't jump to conclusions. How do you
know I can do any real good? I've been lucky so far, but I'm only at the
very, very beginning. I may fail miserably after all. And then where
should I be without my little pile?"

After breakfast Dick read the letter from Yorkshire in his own room.

"At the risk of being unduly persistent," wrote Colonel Bristo, "I must
ask you to reconsider your decision." (Dick had refused a short but
pressing invitation the week before.) "I know something of your reasons
for refusing, and I believe them to be mistaken reasons. If you have
really settled to return to Australia, that is all the more reason why
you should come. If you like, I will undertake not to press you to stay
beyond one day; only do come to bid us good-bye. Do not, however, fear
to offend me by a second refusal. I shall be grievously disappointed,
but nothing more. We really want you, for we shall be short of guns; two
of the men only stay till Monday, so come on that day. But apart from
all this, I am very sure that your coming will make the days a little
less dull and dreary for one of us. Everything else has failed."

The letter ended abruptly. Dick read it through twice, and put it back
in his pocket with a full heart.

But what was he to do? Here was the good Colonel honestly trying, in his
own way, to set matters right between him and Alice; but it was a
childlike, if not a childish way--a way that ignored causes and refused
to realise effects.

Dick trusted he was no such fool as to be affected by the hope that
breathed in the Colonel's letter. The Colonel was confessedly unversed
in women's ways--then why did he meddle? Surely it would have been more
natural, more dignified, to send him, Dick, to the deuce, or to the
Colonies--they were much the same thing in the Old Country--than to
waste another thought on the man whom his own daughter (who could surely
judge for herself) had chosen to jilt? Dick savagely wished that the
former had been his treatment; and, rowing down from Sunbury that
afternoon, he was so far decided that the phrases of his refusal were in
his head. Call it rude, churlish, obstinate; he was obstinate, and was
willing to own it; he had refused the Colonel once, and that refusal
should be final.

Nevertheless, he was absent and distrait all day, whereas the others
were in rather higher spirits than usual, and the contrast was
uncomfortable. Dick therefore invented an excuse for running up to town,
promising himself a quiet corner of his club, in which to write to the
Colonel and pull himself together. He needed pulling together: he was
yearning to see Alice again--perhaps only to ask her forgiveness and bid
her good-bye--yet vowing between his teeth to see her no more; he would
not be entirely himself until his refusal was penned and posted.

He walked absently to the station, forgot his change at the
ticket-office, and jumped into the nearest compartment of the first
train that came in. A man and a woman got into the same compartment.
Dick did not see them, for he was attempting to interest himself in an
evening paper; but he could not help hearing their voices as they sat
opposite him in close conversation. And, hearing, Dick was startled. His
pulse beat violently; his fingers tightened upon the edges of the
newspaper.

"His fine friends," the man was saying, "are gone into the country
somewhere. We must find out where."

The tones were Jem Pound's.

"Why?" asked the same woman's voice that Dick had heard in Bushey Park.

"Because if Ned Ryan hasn't fled the country, that's where he is!"

"But he has gone back to Australia."

"Not he! He daren't go out there again. He'd be a fool to do it if he
dared. No, no. He cleared out o' this because of you and me. He cracked
he was going out there again, because he knew we'd come asking after him
and they'd tell us that yarn. But he's no more gone than I have. Mark
me, missis, we'll find him at this here Colonel's country place! But we
must find the place first."

Dick did not lower his paper until the train reached Waterloo. Long
before that his mind was filled with one absorbing idea. A swift but
complete reaction had taken place within him; he was charged with
nervous energy and primed with impatience. Some of the impatience he
worked off in a rapid walk to his club, where he answered Colonel
Bristo's note in a dozen words; but one idea continued in fierce
possession of his mind, to the exclusion of all others.



                                 XVIII

                        ALICE SPEAKS FOR HERSELF


Monday, August 9th.--Here we are at last, at the shooting box on the
Yorkshire moors; or rather in the Yorkshire dales. I mean, papa and I
are here: our faithful Mrs. Parish follows to-morrow, and the "guns" are
expected on Wednesday. We two have been staying at a little seaside
place on the coast--quite a charming place, with not only broad sands,
but very presentable cliffs, and other things worth looking at besides
the sea; delightful gardens, for instance, where the inevitable band
played, instead of on the everlasting pier. Of course, it was all rather
tedious; but the North Sea breezes and the delicious air did one no
harm, I felt, while they seemed to do papa visible good. Indeed, he
declares he feels fit for anything now--meaning, of course, in the way
of sport, which I only hope he won't overdo. So perhaps, after all, we
did well to leave home a week earlier than we at first intended (much as
I hated leaving home at all), for we have come to the moorland air with
lungs full of sea-air, and papa says there couldn't be a finer mixture
than that for me.

But it is difficult to think of the sea here in the dales, where we are
so far from it. We are far from everything, as it seems to me. Yet I am
told, and I suppose I must believe, that the great smoky town which we
passed through the other day is within twenty miles of us, and we are
assured that there is a very "canny" village--if not a small town--four
or five miles from us. It is also true that it only took an hour and
twenty minutes to drive from the railway station, but then there wasn't
much of a village there. Now we expected to find one here, and papa even
professed to point it out to me as we drove through; but as it was
nearly dark, and I could only make out a short, huddled-up row of houses
on one side of the road, I couldn't see where the village came in, and
told him so. Still, it is down on the Ordnance map, Gateby by name; and,
though it is too dark to see now, it can only be a few hundred yards
from us.

As for this house--which, by-the-bye, is nameless--I am sure it has
never been anything but a shooting box, for it has no pretence to a
garden, but stands behind a hedge almost in a bare field--a plain,
gaunt, two-storied, evenly-balanced stone building. In the three rooms
down stairs there is very little furniture, except what we sent before
us. In one of them, the smallest, a book-case with glass doors has been
made into a gun-rack, and this may point to the fact that the place was
not always what it is. This room we will call "the gun-room." Whether it
was built for better things, I don't know; but for ages the house has
been let year after year for the shooting alone.

At this moment an old man, with a pale blue eye and a bright red nose,
who is apparently caretaker and general factotum of the establishment,
is expatiating to papa on the birds: their probable quantity and
unmistakable quality; but he has a barbarous tongue, and for my part I
am too tired to listen to him any longer.

Yes, tired--and sleepy too. If writing a diary has always this effect
upon me, it will more than fulfil its original mission--which was only
to help me to pass the intolerable time!

Tuesday, 10th.--I was up and out quite early, long before breakfast, on
a voyage of discovery. The first thing I had seen, on drawing up my
blind, was red-tiled Gateby, straight in front of my window, across
half-a-dozen fields. I could see a path winding through these fields,
and coming out into the road just below our house; so on this pathway I
settled for my first walk. I could see that it was the shortest way to
Gateby. I would inspect Gateby.

It was a perfect morning, with plenty of sunshine and blue sky, and the
last of a soft white mist just filling up the hollows of the meadows; so
that I knew that it would be a hot day, as, in fact, it is.

When I had followed the path across the fields until I had only two left
to cross (and these were a potato field and a meadow, from which a boy
was driving in the cows), I stopped and perched myself on a stone
gate-post, and surveyed Gateby. From there it looked like one long low
irregular building, stone-built and red-tiled. Only one house, and that
at the extreme left of the rest, was slated. More of Gateby I could not
see from there, so I went on looking all round me. Over the village rose
the hills, with bold but even outline. The hillsides are so evenly
divided by the hedges into so many squares that they look as though
great nets had been cast over them. The squares have all kinds of
colours--greens, and yellows, and dirty browns (of ploughed fields).
Following the bend of the valley, as the fields grew less in
perspective, I noticed that they took a commoner tint, between pale
green and dun, until the farthest range of all showed a uniform
greyish-blue. I did not expect to be able to see half so far when deep
down in a dale, and I thought the hills would be higher. In fact, with
this particular dale of ours I am a little bit disappointed; for,
instead of finding it a deep furrow in the face of Nature, as I had made
up my mind it would be, it is, after all, the veriest dimple.

Well, Gateby is a quaint enough little place when you attack it fairly,
from the front, as I presently did. It has about a dozen houses all
told, and they are all on one side of the road, and hug each other as
though space were an object of the first importance. Several of the
houses are, at least, demi-semi-detached. The largest of them is the
public-house; the best the schoolhouse, the front of which is simply one
mass of pink roses--I never saw anything like it.

I walked back by the road. The pathway through the fields merely cuts
off, I now found, the angle made by the two roads: the road in which we
are, which leads over the moor, and the road in which Gateby is, which
leads in one direction to the railway, six miles off, and in the
other--I don't know where. These two roads join at right angles, and I
believe they are the only roads in the dale.

Nearing home, I met the person with the gay-coloured nose and eyes, and
he stopped to bid me good morning. I thought his complexion looked a
little cooler, but then it was very early morning. He inquired, with
some pride and expectancy, what I thought of the dale. I answered,
rather unkindly I am afraid, that I thought it pretty, but a fraud: the
hills were too low, the valleys were too shallow.

"Ah!" he observed compassionately, "waät till thoo's been ower t' mower,
an' seen t' view from Melmerbridge Bank; an' waät till thoo sees
Beckdaäl!"

He went on to tell me all about Melmerbridge. I almost think he offered
to personally conduct me over to Melmerbridge, and to show me its
church, and its beck, and the view from its bank. At any rate, before I
could get away from him I had learnt that his name was Andy Garbutt, and
that he had been eight and twenty years, man and boy, come next
Michaelmas, in the service of the owner of our nameless shooting-box.

I found papa ready for breakfast, and delighted to find that I had been
out and about so early; there was no need to tell him that it was simply
because I could not sleep or rest. And of course we both duly voted the
real Yorkshire bacon the very best we had ever tasted in our two lives;
though, for my part, I must own I only swallowed it to please papa,
whose eye was upon my plate.

In the afternoon we walked up to the moor together, and papa was charmed
because we "put up" quite a number of birds. I could not stay long,
however, as papa wished me to drive off to meet Mrs. Parish, and I am
writing this while waiting for the trap, because, somehow, I cannot
settle to reading--not even yellowbacks. A horrid nuisance, her coming!
I do wish it had not been just yet. By-the-bye, papa tells me he has
heard from Mr. Miles, who, after all, has not yet left England, his
business having turned out different from what he expected. Then how
strange that we have never heard from him all these weeks! I quite
thought he would be out there by this time. However, he says he really
does sail in a few days, and he only wishes he saw his way to running
down to say good-bye to us--but that will be impossible. I believe papa
has written to him, telling him all about the place, and the prospects,
and who are coming. I am not sorry that he is not coming, I think. This
reminds me that papa says that Dick Edmonstone has written saying that
he cannot possibly come. I am not at all sorry to hear that. I think he
shows his sense.

Thursday, 12th.--Everybody came yesterday; and now they are all on the
moor, and we two women are to go and have lunch with them at one. There
are five guns, and we hear them distinctly from time to time. Besides
papa, there are Cousin Philip (who likes to be called Doctor Robson
now), and Laurence Pinckney, and Captain Awdry, and Mr. Oliver.

Cousin Philip has been on a long voyage to New Zealand and back, as
ship's surgeon, since we last saw him. It ought to have improved him,
and perhaps it has; but to me he seems as dull and ponderous and
undecided as ever. He tells me that he interested himself at sea by
getting up prayer-meetings in the steerage, which, he says, had far more
heart in them than the captain's perfunctory services on the
quarter-deck; but it seems that his zeal got him disliked--most
unrighteously--by the other officers. He is certainly a good young man.
Captain Awdry I have met once or twice before; he is a great beauty, a
great sportsman, and that's all; but Mr. Oliver is new to me. I fancy he
is local--an ironmaster or something. He is old, and tall, and well
set-up; very deferential to me, if you please, and tremendously keen
about the grouse. As for Laurence Pinckney--one has to call him Mr.
Pinckney now--he is nothing short of a revelation.

When I knew him before, he used to go to some public school--I forget
which, but it can't be many years ago. And now he is a "writing man,"
fresh from Fleet-street, with all the jargon at his tongue's end--and,
in short, quite the most amusing boy. In appearance he is just what he
ought not to be. I have always pictured to myself the literary
man--especially the literary young man--with long hair and eye-glasses,
and the rest bizarre. Therefore Laurence Pinckney disappoints me; he is
spruce, brisk, and sharp-eyed, short, dark, and unguarded.

He sat next me at dinner, and talked nothing but his "shop"--which,
however, is a kind of "shop" that rather interests one; besides, the
egotism of a raw recruit in the noble army of authors is really
diverting. He talks fluently about all the new books, criticising most
of them severely, and I should say that he has read and remembered at
least two or three reviews of each. He has told me the different
magazines he writes for, so that I shall know where to seek his name--if
I don't forget. He "thinks nothing of bearding literary lions in their
editorial dens;" and this, I shouldn't wonder, has something to do with
that drawer full of rejected MSS. of which he has already been frank
enough to whisper--in fact, he has quite taken me into his literary
confidence. But indeed he is rather amusing.

Friday, 13th.--Mrs. Parish is really very agreeable, and easier to get
on with than for a long while past. She tells me, among other things,
that she saw more of Mr. Miles's beggars after we left home--caught them
talking to the servants, and packed them off about their business. Poor
things! From her account, I rather fancy they were the same I saw. She
went with me to luncheon on the moor yesterday. It was really not bad
fun. They were all in good spirits, because, on the whole, they had made
a good start. Captain Awdry had done the most execution, and took it the
most sadly. But old Mr. Oliver had drawn first blood, and, unlike the
blasé Captain, was not above showing his delight. Papa and Cousin Philip
were modest about their share: it was impossible to find out exactly
what they had done. Poor Laurence Pinckney, however, had hit nothing at
all; and, indeed, his shooting must be execrable, to judge by what one
hears. I heard Mr. Oliver muttering that he would not get within range
of him, not if he knew it; while Captain Awdry's contempt lies too deep
for smiles or sneers. But Mr. Pinckney does not care; he carries a
notebook with him, which he whips out whenever the view strikes him as
worth remembering, or whenever something happy occurs to him. He says it
is extraordinary what happy thoughts do come to a man who carries a gun.
I tell him that to-morrow he must think of nothing but his next shot.
He answers that to-morrow he must not shoot, as Saturday is always a
busy day with him, wherever he is:--on it he writes for his weekly
paper. He calls it "his," as though the paper belonged to him, and I
tell him so. He explains that he is "on the staff--practically." He
keeps to himself the name of the paper and the nature of his
contributions: it is best to make no inquiries, I think.

Saturday, 14th.--Papa tells me that Dick has written to say he finds he
can come after all, and is coming.

Somehow it has been a wretched day. I seem to have done absolutely
nothing all day, and, now that it is evening, my head aches, and I have
come upstairs quite early, though I know I shall never sleep. Poor papa
has been saying he sees I find it dull, and blaming himself because I
have no companion. As it happens, that is, in my eyes, the most joyful
feature of the business, but I could not tell dear papa so; and he was
full of regrets that Cousin Maggie was prevented from coming at the last
moment--a circumstance for which I can never be too thankful. Poor
Maggie would have been an infliction indeed. She has all the heavy
virtues of her brother--and imagine a feminine Philip! That creature
himself has annoyed me sufficiently this evening: tacked himself on to
me, talked in a low voice, looked like a sheep, and would not be
snubbed--he never would, and never will. To escape him, and for no other
reason, I sang a song in response to Laurence Pinckney's absurd
pleadings. But I hate singing! I hate the sound of my voice! I would
give worlds to be away from here, and at home again and alone. I am
tired of the place, and to be forever saying civil things to people is
insupportable, and replying to their civility-speeches even worse. This
minute I hate everything and everybody, and myself the worst of all!

Sunday, 15th.--I wrote some contemptible nonsense last night, when my
head was splitting; but I will not score it out; if ever I go mad these
gradations will be interesting, if not useful!...

It is, by-the-bye, to-morrow, papa tells me, that Dick is coming.



                                  XIX

                          CONTERMINOUS COURSES


Between five and six o'clock in the afternoon of Monday, August 16th,
when the last train but one steamed into the small station at Inglesby,
six miles from Gateby, one passenger left it. He was a tall man in a
light tweed suit. His luggage consisted of a portmanteau and a gun-case.
After looking in vain for a conveyance outside the station, he found the
station-master and asked where he could get one to take him to Gateby;
the station-master directed him to the inn.

Between six and seven, but rather more than an hour later, the last
train of the day came in. It also deposited a single passenger--another
sportsman, for he too carried a gun-case; moreover, he went through the
same performance as the last arrival: looked first for a conveyance and
then for the station-master, to whom he put the same question about a
trap and Gateby, and from whom he received the same direction. But the
official was struck with the coincidence, and dropped a word or two
about "the other gentleman;" at which this one, whose name was
Edmonstone, started, though he walked off to the inn, a porter following
with his baggage, without putting further questions.

The inn had a great square parlour, scrupulously clean and flagged with
red tiles, where Dick entered, and clattered on the well-scoured table.
The person of the landlady, who presently appeared, was in the nicest
harmony with floor and furniture, so neat and spotless, and in hand and
face so very red. Her speech, however, as she asked what was wanted, was
by way of being rough.

"In the first place," said Edmonstone, "two glasses of beer"; and
presently handed one to the porter, who tendered his respects, received
sixpence, repeated his respects with emphasis, and withdrew. "In the
next place a horse and trap."

"We've no hosses an' traps here, yooung man."

"Come now!" said Dick. "They told me at the station this was just the
place where there was one."

"Mebbe it is, but it's out now. Where is't ye want to be?"

"Gateby."

"Gaätby! Why, that's where it's gone with t'other gentleman!"

"Indeed? To Colonel Bristo's, do you know?"

"That was it."

"It's a pity I didn't come by the other train!" His tone puzzled the
woman. "We might have travelled together, by Jove! What was the
gentleman like?"

"Very tall."

"Taller than I am, I suppose?"

"Yes--easy."

"A fair beard?"

"To be sure. You know him, then?"

"Very well indeed. We ought to have travelled together. Has the trap
that took him come back yet?"

"Not it. It hasn't had time."

"It must go back with me when it does. Don't look like that, woman;
here's a sovereign for the job!"

He flung the coin on the table. The woman stared at him and at it,
seemed doubtful whether to take or leave the sovereign, but eventually
overcame her scruples, honestly determining to throw in a good square
meal for the money.

"The trap won't be back yet a bit, sir. You'll be wanting----"

"Nothing, except to be left alone," broke in the strange guest. "That's
all the trouble I shall put you to--that, and to tell me when the trap's
ready."

There was no use in saying more to the gentleman. He might not be quite
right--he might fly at a body. The good woman left him gazing
abstractedly out of the window; yet she had scarcely closed the door
when she heard him clattering to and fro over the tiled floor like a
caged beast.

His thoughts were in a tumult. He calmed them by a strenuous effort. He
strove to look the matter in the face. What was the matter?

Ned Ryan, the Australian outlaw, who had been screened on condition that
he came near the Bristos no more, had broken that condition; had somehow
heard that Edmonstone was not to be one of the shooting-party in
Yorkshire, and was even now the Colonel's newly-arrived guest.

After all, perhaps this was no more than Dick had been prepared for,
since his journey from Teddington to Waterloo in the same compartment
with Jem Pound and Elizabeth Ryan; he had listened to a villain's
suspicions of a brother villain; from that moment he had shared those
suspicions. Dick realised then, and only then, that while he was not
near the Bristos they were not safe from the advances of "Mr. Miles," if
he was bold enough to make them. But the sudden realisation of his fears
took Dick's breath away; he had not bargained to find Miles already at
Gateby--he had no definite plan for the defeat of Miles, and he was
certain that the man described to him by the mistress of the inn was
Miles--as certain as if he had seen him himself.

Then how was he to act? Was he to show no quarter, since this villain
had played false? That course presented difficulties--dangers as well;
and at the least it involved a violent scene under Colonel Bristo's
roof. Must he, then, parley a second time with the villain--let him off
again, trust him again, go on shielding a known desperado? No. Ned Ryan
could be trusted no further, shielded no more. There were more things
than one to be considered--more people than one. The man must receive
his deserts.

And to accomplish this--to deliver to justice a criminal of the first
water--this young Edmonstone went blindly forward, with thoughts of
doing it without fuss and all but single-handed.

There was little daylight left when Dick was driven out of Inglesby;
night fell long before he saw the lights of Gateby; it was fully nine
when they reached the little square stone house behind the hedge. The
dogs in the kennel not far from the house barked an alarm. The front
door opened, and Dick saw a well-known figure outlined against the light
of the passage. It was the Colonel himself, and his greeting was most
cordial. Yet how hard it was to put any heart into the answer! Dick
tried, failed miserably, and knew it. Before there was time for many
sentences, Dick found himself hustled into a room--a long, faded,
unlovely room--in which sat two ladies, Miss Bristo and Mrs. Parish.

The meeting between Alice and Dick--who had not seen each other since
that fateful second evening of July--was perfectly careless without
being conspicuously cold. It may be assumed that neither was wholly free
from some sort of agitation; but it is to be suspected that each had
prepared for the same, and masked accordingly. The mummery on both sides
was excellently well managed.

Observations the most natural in the world, as well as the most
commonplace, were the order of the minute.

"How rude," said Alice, "you must have thought us not to send to meet
you! But we have actually only one pony, and he had gone to
Melmerbridge, which is in the opposite direction."

"We thought," said Mrs. Parish, "that as you had not telegraphed, and
did not come by the usual train, you could not be coming to-night."

"Pray don't name it," Dick answered to the one lady; and to the other:
"I really must apologise for forgetting to wire."

The window was wide open, for the night was warm: and through the window
came the voices of men chatting, and the faint scent of cigars. Among
the voices Dick immediately distinguished one that he was prepared for,
and listened for--the soft, deep voice of Miles. Strangely enough, he
only caught the well-known tones on the moment of entering the room;
speaking himself, and being spoken to by those in the room, he could
hear no more than a hum outside; and when he listened again, during the
first pause, he could no longer hear Miles.

Very soon the conversation outside ceased altogether, and a moment later
the men appeared in the room. There were but two of them, and Miles was
not one. As for Mr. Oliver and Captain Awdry, they had only come for the
first three days, and had both gone on the Saturday evening.

Dick remembered one of the two men; a heavy-jawed, squarely-built young
man, whose eyes were of pale green, whose chin never by any chance
appeared to have been shaved since the day before yesterday, whose
expression in repose was too demure for a man. This was Philip Robson,
and Dick shook hands with him. The dapper little dark man Dick had never
seen before. Whoever he was, he seemed to know Alice pretty well, by the
way he promptly pestered her for a song.

"So you have only recently returned from Australia, I understand,"
Robson said to Dick. "I, too, am fresh from those parts. And I am told
you came by sailing-ship--so did I--as surgeon."

The dapper young gentleman at the other side of the room here made an
inane remark in a loud tone about both being in the same boat, which was
ignored by the worthy doctor and Dick, who stared. If they were
listening they must have heard this wag informing Miss Bristo that she
ought to laugh, and vowing that he would throw away no more good things
in mere perishable words of mouth.

"No," said Alice, "write them. It is far the best. The point is so much
more easily seen in print; and then, instead of pearls wasted on us poor
things, the whole world roars at them."

"Sixty thousand people have the chance," Laurence Pinckney answered--in
allusion, it was believed, to the circulation of "his" weekly paper.

But he seemed to have nothing smart ready just then, for he went back to
begging for a song.

"Mr. Miles was somewhat tired, I presume, Dr. Robson?" Mrs. Parish was
saying. "You see he had a great rush to come to-day. We only knew this
morning, when we got his telegram--so thoughtful of him to send
one!--that he had found it possible to come at all."

"Yes. He appeared to me to be considerably fatigued--indeed, when he
left us I thought him looking pale. I offered to mix him a little
something that would fit him for to-morrow. But he wouldn't let me."

Cousin Philip became professional on the slightest provocation.

Dick was asking the Colonel about the sport so far.

"Forty-eight brace the first day, forty-two the second; five guns; over
dogs. But," added the Colonel, whispering, "my young friend over there
hits nothing at all. Philip is fair; but as for me, I don't see as I
used to. Awdry was the crack shot. But you and Miles will be a better
pair than Awdry and Oliver."

Dick and Miles--coupled! That silenced Dick. He felt his very skin
bristle at the thoughts that poured in upon his mind.

"Do you know Mr. Miles?"

The question was put in a solemn undertone by Cousin Philip. Considering
Dick's thoughts at that moment, it was almost a startling question. He
waited a moment before replying.

"Yes," he then said slowly, "I know him."

"An interesting man," said the doctor, "a profoundly interesting man;
that I can see, and I congratulate myself on making his acquaintance. I
shall enjoy his society, I know. And a Colonial, too."

"My dear fellow, Colonials are as good as any other people."

Dick had often to tell people that; but the words were scarcely spoken
before it struck him that, in this connection, they were a little
incongruous.

"They may be; they may be. But when I travelled for an insurance company
in New Zealand, I know I didn't think so. We went round the
stations--the agent and I--insuring people, you know."

Dick did know. He had himself met with many such professional Samaritans
in Riverina. They were not popular there.

"Well," continued the young doctor, "I don't think we were always well
treated. In some places they actually seemed to regard us with
suspicion. We didn't meet with the least respect, I can assure you. Once
or twice we were downright insulted. Now in England----"

"Let us listen to this song," said Dick. Robson was really too
ponderous.

Alice had at last yielded to the importunities of Laurence Pinckney, and
was singing something in French. That young gentleman turned over the
leaves, but he did not look entirely appreciative. When the song was
over, he complained of the French words. He wanted something in English;
though he could not refrain from a trenchant and sweeping criticism of
all the words of all the ballads and songs foisted on the musical world
during this last decade of a degenerate age.

There was no more singing, however; and presently the small party broke
up.

"Early hours for the moors," the Colonel said. "Philip, will you show
Dick his room? I'm sorry we've had to put you outside, Dick; but there
are more of us out than in, and there's really no choice. We all rough
it when we go a-shooting."

Dick laughed, and mentioned that the last few years had not made him
luxurious. The Colonel was on the stairs, candle in hand. Dick would
have liked to speak to him then and there, and tell him everything--but
Robson was there too: an inquisitive fellow, unless Dick's memory was at
fault; a man who would prick up his ears if he heard a private interview
asked for in his presence. So Dick merely said:

"I must be up early and look round. Shall I see you, sir, then?"

"See me? Why, you'll find I've been about for a good hour before you
dream of awaking! Take it easy, boy; you've been travelling all day. I'm
different. I never slept longer than six hours in my life. Good-night,
Dick; good-night, Philip;" and Colonel Bristo went off to bed.

Edmonstone followed Robson out into the dark, comforting himself with
the determination to tell Colonel Bristo everything before breakfast
next morning. They walked for some moments, then stopped before a door
that opened upon a flight of deal stairs. A candle and matches were on
the bottom step. The good doctor discharged his duty to the full by
lighting the candle and handing it to Dick.

"It is the room on the left," said Robson.

"Anyone in the room on the right?"

"No, I think not--I'm sure not. You are over the stable and that;
Pinckney and I are a few yards away, over the laundry. Good-night."

"Good-night, Robson. I say, Robson!"

"Well?"

"Who is Pinckney?"

"Son of a brother officer of the Colonel's. Comes from town, I fancy."

"What does he do--besides making an ass of himself?"

"He writes, I think."

"I'm not surprised; he's got cheek enough for anything! Good-night,
Robson."



                                   XX

                            STRANGE HUMILITY


Dick found his room plainly and scantily furnished but delightfully
fresh, clean, and comfortable. There was but one narrow strip of carpet
by the bedside, but the boards were as snowy as an admiral's poop; the
narrow bed stood out into the middle of the room, to the left as you
came in at the door. The ceiling, and the walls, and the blind, and the
bed, and the tall new candles, and the dressing-table on which they
stood, were all very white indeed. At the foot of the bed Dick found his
portmanteau and gun-case, and the first thing he did was to put together
his gun, and stand it in one corner of the room, ready for next day. He
happened to stand it in the corner nearest the bed head, and farthest
from the door; but there was no design in that: the whole action was
mechanical.

He undressed slowly, or rather he was long in beginning. He stood,
resting his elbows on the chest of drawers, and his chin in his palms,
and watched the candle burn half-way down before he so much as wound his
watch. It was only the wick's last throes that reminded him to put an
end to its flickering and get into bed. But by that time Dick's mind was
made up. When he lay down to sleep he knew precisely what he was going
to do first thing in the morning, and more or less what he meant to
say. He fell quickly into a dreamless slumber.

After sleeping like an infant for two or three hours he experienced
something very like a dream, and that about the very man of whom he
would certainly have dreamt sooner or later. But this was no dream. Dick
was awakened: he lay still for a moment, peering through the darkness,
and listening with all his ears. Then he started up in his bed, and
called sternly:

"Who is there? Who are you?"

At the foot of the bed a tall figure loomed through the darkness. The
challenge was answered: first with a short, soft laugh, then in the
mildest tones of the man who had passed himself off as Miles the
squatter.

"Hush! I have come to explain."

"Oh, it is you!" though Dick had known who it was from the moment the
light, stealthy step disturbed him.

"Yes; it isn't a burglar, so lie down again. I tell you I come with a
frank explanation. I suppose you will listen to a man?"

"Why should I? You have broken faith with me!"

"It amounts to that, I own. It must seem to you that I deserve no
further consideration at your hands. Very well; all I ask is a hearing."

The tones were so unlike anything that could have been expected from the
lips of this man that Edmonstone was taken aback; they were so low as to
be scarcely audible; they were humble, and they were sad. It was this
very humility that at first excited Dick's suspicion.

"I will listen to you now," said he, after a moment's thought, "but it
is the last thing I shall do for you. You might first strike a light.
There are matches on the dressing-table behind you, and two candles, I
think."

Miles complied unsuspectingly with this reasonable request. He was some
time, however, in finding the matches. Yet he heard no sound (Dick's arm
was so long, so lithe his movement) until the candles were alight; when
two loud clicks caused him to wheel suddenly round, throwing one
candlestick with a crash to the floor.

Dick was sitting up quietly in his bed, as he had been sitting a moment
before; but in his hands was a double-barrelled gun--cocked--the butt
not six inches from his shoulder, the muzzle not three feet from Miles's
breast. It could be brought to the shoulder in a small fraction of a
second. It could be fired with sufficient deadliness without being
brought to the shoulder at all. A finger was upon each of the triggers.
The light of the single candle glittered upon the barrels.

"Now, my friend," said Dick, "I am ready to listen to you as long as you
like."

Miles stared fixedly at the hammers of the gun. He did not speak, he did
not draw back. He stood there, in his shirt and trousers, motionless and
silent. This was not, as we know, his first interview under arms, but it
was the first in which the arms had been in the hands of the other side;
moreover, he had once pressed a pistol to the head of this Edmonstone
whose gun covered him now. The reversal of things was complete--the
tables were turned to the last inch. The strange part of it was that the
outwitted bushranger's face showed no trace of cunning baffled, or the
fury of an animal at bay, which might have been expected of him. On the
contrary, his countenance gradually filled with quite another
expression--one of reproach.

"I am not a fool," he said, speaking at last. "I was never yet fool
enough to tackle a forlorn hope. Therefore, even if I had come into this
room armed to the teeth to offer you violence, I should not dream of
competing against those double-barrels. But as I came empty-handed, and
in peace, I, for my part, can say all I have to say comfortably into
their muzzles--they can make no difference to me, unless you press too
hard on those triggers in your anxiety; and if you did, perhaps it would
be the best turn you or any man could do me! At the same time you are
treating me like a dog. The only words that have left my lips were as
submissive as any victor need want; I turned my back on you without the
smallest suspicion, yet turn round again to find you pointing a gun at
me!"

"You call that bad treatment!" Edmonstone sneered. "You forget, perhaps,
that you have no business to be loose in the world; you forget that I
found you out and shielded you, wrongly enough, on certain terms, which
you have broken! Well, I am reminding you; but I am not likely to give
you a second chance of playing me false. That is why I keep the sight of
my gun in a line with your stud--so; that is why, if you come a step
nearer, I won't answer for consequences."

"Considering," said Miles, "how I treated you a few years ago, and what
you owe to that treatment, I should have thought you might behave rather
differently to-night; you might have shown a little generosity, outlaw
as I am."

"You remind me," said Dick, "that in '82, in the scrub near Balranald,
you stuck up me and my mate, and took almost everything we had--except
our money. I didn't require to be reminded of that forbearance of yours.
I haven't forgotten it, and I know pretty well its worth by now, though
hitherto I have overvalued it. But that old account--supposing it to be
one, for argument's sake--was squared last month; you have been fool
enough to open a new one."

"It is a pity," said Miles, bitterly, "that I didn't let Jem Pound knife
you!"

"On the contrary, through saving me then you found one man in England
actually ready to screen you from justice. If you had not broken faith
with him that man would screen you still; but as it is--Steady! don't
move! I am pressing the trigger."

"Do you mean that you are going to betray me after all?" cried Miles, in
a quick gasp of dismay, yet drawing back--he had taken a step forward in
his agitation.

"What else would you have me do? Give you another chance? Honestly,"
cried Dick, with honesty in his tone, "I wish that I could! But can you
expect it?"

"Listen to me!" cried Miles, in a deep faltering voice. "Listen to me!"

"I am listening."

"The other day, then--I mean the night you found me out, you and those
blood-suckers--I was on the brink of a new life! You smile--but before
Heaven it is the truth! I had lived for weeks as I never lived
before--among good people. Bad as I was, they influenced me, at first
without my knowing it. It was a new side of life to me. I found it was
the best side. I grew--well, call it happy. Then I looked back and
loathed the old days. I began to map out a better life for myself. I was
a new man, starting afresh. I thanked God for my escape, for it seemed
like His act."

"If the fellow isn't in earnest," thought Dick, "this is the worst
blasphemy I ever heard. I half think he means what he says, poor
wretch."

"It was you that blotted out that new existence--just as it opened out
before me! It was you that drove me from my haven! It was you that
turned me adrift in a city full of foes! So much for your side of the
balance between us!"

Dick was half-carried away by the man's rough eloquence, and the note of
pathos in his deep tones. But he was only half-carried away; he was a
man hard to shift when his stand was once taken. His answer was shrewd:

"That city is the safest place in the world for such as you--safer even
than the bush. As to your friends, did you expect to live on them
forever?"

The other's vehemence was checked.

"Perhaps you intended to become one of the family!" said Edmonstone
scornfully, pursuing his advantage.

Miles pulled himself together, and dismissed this keen question with a
smile and a wave of the hand; but the smile faded quickly; nor had it
been anything better than a ghastly mockery.

"You do not appreciate my position," said Miles presently, fetching a
deep sigh; "you cannot put yourself in my place. No honest man could, I
suppose! And you shut me off from all decent living; you made me bid
good-bye to the people who had befriended me, and somehow--well, made me
wish I was a little less the ruffian! I became an outcast! I tried to
make new friends, but failed. I had lost my nerve somehow--that was the
worst of it! I resolved to throw it up, and quit England. I took my
passage for New York, and--"

"Do you mean what you say? Have you actually done that?"

"Yes. The ticket is in my room, which is opposite this room." He pointed
to the door. "I can bring it to show you."

"No; stay where you are; I believe you. When do you sail?"

"In a week--next Tuesday."

Dick breathed more freely. Here was an extenuating circumstance of the
broken compact. On the whole, Dick was glad to find one.

"Go on," said Dick, in a slightly less hostile tone: "tell me the rest,
and what it was that induced you to come up here."

"Surely you can see the rest for yourself? Surely you can put yourself
in my place at this point? I own that hearing you were not to be of the
party finally induced me to come--I thought you would not hear of it
till afterwards; but I came to bid my friends good-bye! to get one more
glimpse of a kind of life I had never seen before and shall never see
again! for one more week in a pure atmosphere."

"Oh! not to make up to Miss Bristo, then?"

Blunt though the words were, each one was a self-inflicted stab to the
heart of the man that spoke them.

"No!" cried Miles, and his voice was turned suddenly hoarse; "no, before
Heaven!"

"If I believed it was that, I think I should pull this trigger on the
spot."

"It is not," cried Miles; "I swear it is not," he whispered.

And Dick believed him then.

"Why, man," the bushranger went on, more steadily, "you have got me
under the whip here. Down with the lash and cut me to ribbons the first
time you see me playing false. Keep your eye on me; watch me all day; I
can do nothing up here without your knowledge; I cannot speak but you
will hear what it is I say. As to Miss Bristo, I will not go near
her--but this is a small part of the whole. In my whole conduct you will
find me behave like--like a changed man. Only let me stay this week out.
But one other thing--a thing I would go down on my knees to you for, if
that would do any good: don't open their eyes when I am gone. There will
be no need to; they will forget me as Miles the squatter if you let
them. Then let them. They think well of me because I saved the old man
from drowning. Edmonstone, you can let me keep their good opinions if
you will. God help me! they are the only good opinions I ever honestly
earned, because I got them entirely through that simple, paltry affair
at the seaside. Do not rob me of them, now or afterwards. That is all I
ask."

Dick was beginning to waver.

There was an honest ring in Ned Ryan's asseverations; and after all it
was just possible that a villain, who had shown a soft side at least
once before, might be softened right through by the gracious influence
of an English home. Then Sundown, the bushranger, desperado though he
had been, had preserved hands unstained by blood; and Sundown the
bushranger had saved him, Edmonstone, from death and ruin in the
Australian wilds, and Colonel Bristo from drowning. Such acts could not
be made light of or forgotten, no matter who was their author.

Dick was relenting, and the other saw it.

"Stay!" said Miles, suddenly. "You have my word only so far. I can show
you a better pledge of good faith if you will let me."

"Where is it?"

"In my room."

Edmonstone nodded. Miles left the room, and returned immediately with a
paper, which he handed to Edmonstone.

"Why, this is a receipt of passage-money for two!" said Edmonstone,
looking up. "You are not going out alone, then?"

"No," said Miles. His voice was low. His back was to the window, through
which grey dawn was now stealing. It was impossible to see the
expression on his face--its outline was all that was visible.

"Who is going with you?"

"My wife!" whispered Miles.

Dick was taken aback, glad, incredulous.

"Your wife!" he said. "Then you admit that she is your wife? When did
you see her?"

"Yesterday."

"But not until then!" Dick meant to put a question; he did not succeed
in his excitement--his tone was affirmative.

"No, not until then," said Miles quietly; "because, though I have been
watching her as closely as I dared, it was the first chance I got of
seeing her without seeing Pound. He thinks she has not seen me since the
night in Bushey Park. She must not escape him until the very day of
joining me on board the steamer. If she did, he would find her sooner or
later; and then he would find me, which is all he is living for. That
man would murder me if he got the chance. Do you understand now?"

Dick made no reply, but it all seemed clear and intelligible to him;
Pound's hold upon Mrs. Ryan, and the false position in which that fiend
placed the woman at the meeting of husband and wife, which accounted for
Ryan's misunderstanding and heartless treatment of his wife on that
occasion; the reconciliation of husband and wife; their projected
departure for America; the necessity of deceiving Pound meanwhile, and
getting away without his knowledge. All these things seemed natural
enough; and, told in the desperately earnest tones of a strong man
humbled, they carried conviction with them. Nor were they pleaded in
vain.

The way in which Dick finally put the matter was this:--

"Remember," he said, "that it is for my friends' sake as much as for
yours; that this is our second treaty; and that if you break one
particle of it there are always four men in the house here, and
villagers in plenty within a cooee of us."

"I know all these things," said Miles, very humbly, "and will forget
none of them."

And so the interview ended.

When Miles was gone, Dick lifted his gun, which had lain long upon the
counterpane, pressed the lever, bent down the barrels, and aimed them at
the glimmering window-blind. The early morning light shone right through
the gleaming bores--the gun had been empty all the time! Dick felt
ashamed of the part that it had played in the interview.



                                  XXI

                             AN ALTERED MAN


Colonel Bristo was rambling about the place, according to habit, for a
good hour the next morning before the early breakfast, but he saw
nothing of Dick until the bell rang for that meal.

"I thought you meant turning out early?" said the old fellow to the
young one, with a smile. "I've been looking for you in vain; but I'm
glad you followed my advice and took it easy. Did you sleep well,
though? That's the main thing; and 'pon my soul, you look as though you
had been awake all night!"

"Oh, I was all right, thanks, sir; I slept pretty well," said Dick, with
awkward haste.

The Colonel felt pretty sure that Dick had been all wrong, and slept not
at all. There was a haggard look about him that put the fact beyond the
contradiction of words.

"You didn't see Miles, I suppose?" said the Colonel after a moment's
thought. "His room is close to yours, you know."

"I did see him. We--we exchanged a few words."

Dick's tone and manner were strange.

"Confound them both!" thought the Colonel. "They have clashed already.
Yes, that is it. I wonder how it came about? I didn't think they were
such implacable foes. Mrs. Parish hinted to me long ago that they were,
and that it would be best not to have them here together. Is it all on
Alice's account, I wonder? Anyway, it is by no scheme of mine that they
are here together. Why, I wrote Miles a list of our little party without
a word about Dick. I never thought Dick was coming. Yet I am glad now he
is come."

"It was really kind of you," said Colonel Bristo aloud, "to give in and
come after all."

"No," said Dick, with sudden fire. "I'm thankful I came! I am grateful
to you for refusing to take my first refusal. Now that I am here, I
would not be elsewhere at this moment for the whole world!"

The Colonel was pleased, if a little puzzled, by this vehement outburst.

"Are you really going out again--back to the bush?" he said presently.

"Yes," said Dick, the fire within him quickly quenched. "I have quite
settled that point--though I have told no one but you, Colonel Bristo."

"Well, well--I think you are making a sad mistake; but of course every
man decides for himself."

That was all Colonel Bristo said just then, for he knew that the young
people had barely seen one another as yet. But up on the moor, an hour
or two later, when the guns divided, he felt inclined to say something
sharp, for the manner in which Dick avoided shooting with Miles was
rather too pointed, and a good deal too ridiculous and childish for the
Colonel's fancy.

That evening the conversation at the Colonel's dinner, and that around
the beer-stained board--dedicated of an evening to the engrossing
domino--in the inn at Gateby, were principally upon the selfsame
topic--to wit, the excellence of Miles's shooting.

"I can't conceive," said the Colonel, "seeing that you have never shot
grouse in your life before, how you do it."

"If I couldn't shoot straight," said the hero of the evening (for the
bag that day was the biggest yet, thanks to Miles), "I ought to be shot
myself. I was reared on gunpowder. In the bush--instead of the silver
spoon in your mouth--you are born with a fire-arm in your hand!"

Dick smiled grimly to himself. And yet this was the longest speech the
Australian had made all the evening. Miles was strangely subdued,
compared with what he had been at Graysbrooke. The Colonel and his
daughter had each noticed this already; and as for Mrs. Parish, she was
resolved to "speak up" on the subject to Alice, whom she blamed for it
entirely.

"Yon yoong man--him 't coomed las' night--t' long wan, I mean," declared
Andy Garbutt in the pot-house, banging down his fourth glass (empty)
upon the table, which upset several dominoes and led to "language"--"yon
yoong man's t'bes' shot I iver seed. The way he picked off t'ould cocks,
an' let be t'yoongsters an' all, was sumthink clever. I niver seed owt
like it. They do say 'tis his first taast o' t'mowers--but we isn't the
lads to swaller yon! Bob Rutter, y' ould divle--fill oop t' glasses."

And though perhaps, hyperbole ran riot upon the heels of intoxication,
still in Robert Rutter's genial hostelry "t' long chap's" reputation was
there and then established.

But the marked change in Miles's manner was, to those who had known him
best before, inexplicable. Never had a shooting-party a more modest,
mild, and unassuming member, even among the worst of shots; and Miles
was, if anything, better than Captain Awdry. His quiet boastfulness was
missing. He might have passed the weeks since the beginning of July in
some school of manners, where the Colonial angles had been effectually
rounded off, and the old free-and-easy habits toned down. Not that he
was shy or awkward--Miles was not the man to become either the one or
the other; but his manner had now--towards the Colonel, for instance,
and Alice--a certain deference-with-dignity, the lack of which had been
its worst fault before. Dick, who scarcely spoke three words to him in
as many days, suddenly awoke to a sense of relief and security.

"Poor fellow!" he thought, "he is keeping his word this time, I must
own. Well, I am glad I didn't make a scene; and the week is half over.
When it is quite over, I shall be still more glad that I let him off.
For, after all, I owe him my life. I am sorry I threatened him during
our interview, and perhaps I need not have avoided him so studiously
since. Yet I am watching him, and he knows it. I watch him sometimes
when he cannot possibly know it, and for the life of me I can see
nothing crooked. My belief is that he's only too thankful to get off on
the terms, and that he wouldn't break them for as much as his life is
worth; besides which, his remorse the other night was genuine."

Mrs. Parish, for her part, was quite sure that it was love unrequited
with Mr. Miles, and nothing else. She fumed secretly for two days, and
then "spoke up" according to her intention. What she said was not well
received, and a little assault-at-words was the result.

Dr. Robson told Mr. Pinckney that he found Miles a less interesting man
to talk to than he had been led to expect from his conversation the
first evening. Mr. Pinckney replied that if all the Australians were as
unsociable, he was glad he didn't live out there. Though Miles, he said,
might be a fine sportsman and a devilish handsome dog, there was
evidently "nothing in him;" by which it was meant that he was not
intellectual and literary--like L. P.

Colonel Bristo was fairly puzzled, but, on the whole, he liked the new
Miles rather less than the old.

As for Alice, though she did her best to exclude her personal feelings
from the pages of her diary, she could not help just touching on this
matter.

"I never," she wrote, "saw anybody so much changed as Mr. Miles, and in
so short a time. Though he is certainly less amusing than we used to
think him, I can't help admitting that the change is an improvement. His
audacity, I remember, carried him a little too far once or twice before
he left us. But he was a hero all the time, in spite of his faults, and
now he is one all the more. Oh, I can never forget what we owe to him!
To me he is most polite, and not in the least (as he sometimes used to
be) familiar, I am thankful to say. The more I think of it the less I
can account for his strange behaviour that night of our dance--because
it was so unlike what he had been up till then, and what he is now."

Of Dick this diary contained no mention save the bald fact of his
arrival. There was, indeed, a sentence later on that began with his
name, but the few words that followed his name were scored out so
carefully as to be illegible. The fact was that the estrangement between
the pair was well-nigh hopeless. They conversed together, when they did
converse, with mutual effort. Dick found himself longing to speak--to
ask her forgiveness before he went--but without opportunity or
encouragement. Alice, on the other hand, even if ready to meet an
overture half-way, was the last person in the world to invite one. Under
the conditions of the first few days, meeting only at breakfast and
dinner, and for an hour or so in the drawing-room afterwards, these two
might have been under one roof for weeks without understanding one
another a whit the better.

But meanwhile, Alice seemed to benefit very little by her change from
the relaxing Thames valley to the bracing Yorkshire moors; and as for
Dick--except when the Colonel was present, for whose sake he did make an
effort to be hearty--he was poor company, and desperately moody. He was
also short-tempered, as Philip Robson found out one morning when they
were tramping over the moor together. For Cousin Philip was sufficiently
ill-advised to inform his companion that he, Dr. Robson, thought him
looking far from well--at a moment when no good sportsman would have
opened his mouth, unless in businesslike reference to the work in hand.

"I'm all right, thanks," Dick answered shortly, and with some contempt.

"Ah!" said Philip, compassionately, "perhaps you are not a very good
judge of your own health; nor can you know how you look. Now, as a
medical man--"

"Spare me, my dear fellow. Go and look at all the tongues of the
village, if you must keep your eye in. They'll be charmed. As for me, I
tell you I don't want--I mean, I'm all right."

"As a medical man," pursued Philip, "I beg to dif--"

"Hang it!" cried Dick, now fairly irritated. "We didn't come out for a
consultation, did we? When I want your advice, Robson, you'll hear from
me."

With such men as Robson, if they don't feel the first gentle snub (and
the chances are all against it), anything short of an insult is waste of
breath. Yet, having driven you into being downright offensive, they at
once turn sensitive, and out with their indignation as though they had
said nothing to provoke you. Witness the doctor:

"I thought," he cried, beginning to tremble violently, "I came out with
a gentleman! I meant what I said for your good--it was pure kindness on
my part, nothing else. I thought--I thought--"

At that point he was cut short; for Edmonstone had lost his temper,
turned on his heel with a short, sharp oath, and made Philip Robson his
enemy from that minute.



                                  XXII

                              EXTREMITIES


That same evening (it was on the Thursday), on his return from shooting,
Dick Edmonstone found, among the other letters on the table in the
passage, one addressed to himself in a strange hand. The writing was
bad, but characteristic in its way; Dick had certainly never seen it
before. The envelope bore a London postmark. He took the letter into the
little back room, the gunroom, and sat down to read it alone.

Twilight was deep in this room, for the window was in an angle of the
house, facing eastward, and was overshadowed by the foliage of a
fair-sized oak. Some out-lying small branches of this tree beat gently
against the upper pane; the lower sash was thrown up. The window was
several feet above the ground. The corner below was a delightful spot,
shaded all day from the sun; a basket-work table and chair were always
there, for the nook was much affected by Mrs. Parish, and even by Alice,
in the hot, long, sleepy afternoons.

Edmonstone had read to the end of his letter, when the door opened and
Miles entered the room. Dick looked up and greeted him: "This is lucky.
I was just coming to look for you. I want to speak to you."

The other's astonishment was unconcealed. Since the small hours of
Tuesday the two had not exchanged a dozen words. Edmonstone had avoided
Miles on the moor, and elsewhere watched him as a terrier watches a rat
in a trap. Miles could not guess what was coming.

"I have a letter here that will interest you," said Dick. "Listen to
this:

    "'Dear Edmonstone,--I thought I'd look you up yesterday, as I
    had nothing on, but, like my luck, I found you away. Your
    people, however, treated me handsomely, and I stayed all the
    afternoon. We talked Australia; and this brings me to the reason
    of my writing to you. Your people told me of a rather mysterious
    Australian who stayed some time with the people you are with
    now, and went out again very suddenly at the beginning of last
    month. His name was Miles; your sister described him to me, and
    the description struck me as uncommon like that of a well-known
    gentleman at present wanted by the police of the Colony. The
    fact is, I have stumbled across an old mate of mine (a sergeant
    in the mounted police), who is over here after this very gent,
    and who I am helping a bit in the ready-money line. As he is
    working on the strict q.t., I must not tell you whom he's after.
    In fact, it's all on my own account I am writing you. I haven't
    told him anything about it. It's my own idea entirely, and I
    want you to tell me just this: Have your friends heard anything
    of this Miles since he left them? because I've been making
    inquiries, and found that no such name as Miles has been booked
    for a passage out at any of the London offices during the past
    two months! Of course I may have got hold of a wild-goose
    notion; but Miss Edmonstone told me that your friends made this
    Miles's acquaintance in an offhand kind of a way, and nobody
    else knew anything about him. Anyway, I'll wait till I hear from
    you before telling Compton, who's down at the seaside on a fresh
    clue.--Yours faithfully, Stephen Biggs.'"

"What name was that?" asked Miles quickly. He had listened calmly to the
end. But at the very end the colour had suddenly fled from his face.

"Biggs--the Hon. Stephen, M. L. C. A warm man for a campaign, rich as
Croesus. If he's set his heart upon having you, he'll chase you round
and round the world----"

"No. I mean the other man--the name of the sergeant."

Dick referred to the letter.

"Compton," he said.

"Compton!" repeated Miles in a whisper. "The only 'trap' in Australia I
ever feared--the only man in the world, bar Pound, I have still to fear!
Compton! my bitterest enemy!"

Edmonstone rose from the armchair in which he had been sitting, sat down
at the table, opened a blotter, and found a sheet of notepaper.

"Must you answer now?" cried Miles.

"Yes; on the spot."

"What do you mean to say?"

"I have not decided. What would you say in my place? I am a poor liar."

"If we changed places, and I had treated you as you have treated me
these two days--since our compact--I should write them the worst, and
have done with it," said Miles, in a low tone of intense bitterness.
"You professed to trust me. Yet you won't trust yourself near me on the
moors; you fear foul play at my hands. You watch me like a lynx here at
the house; yet I swear man never kept promise as I am keeping mine now!
You do things by halves, Edmonstone. You had better end the farce, and
wire the truth to your friend."

Reproach mingled with resignation in the last quiet words. Edmonstone
experienced a twinge of compunction.

"Nonsense!" he said. "I should be a fool if I didn't watch you--worse
than a fool to trust you. But betraying you is another matter. I don't
think of doing that, unless----"

"I can keep my word, Edmonstone, bad as I may be! Besides, I am not a
fool."

"And you are going on Monday?"

"Yes--to sail on Tuesday; you have seen my ticket."

"Then you shall see my answer to this letter."

Dick then dashed off a few lines. He handed the sheet, with the ink
still wet, to Miles, who read these words:

    "Dear Biggs,--A false scent, I am afraid. Ladies are never
    accurate; you have been misinformed about Miles. I knew him
    in Australia! He cannot be the man you want.--Yours
    sincerely,
                                                "R. Edmonstone."

The sheet of writing paper fluttered in Miles's hand. For one moment an
emotion of gratitude as fierce as that which he himself had once
inspired in the breast of Edmonstone, swelled within his own.

"You are a friend indeed," he murmured, handing back the letter. "And
yet your friendship seems like madness!"

"My old mate swears that I am mad on the subject!"

Dick folded and enclosed his note in an envelope, directed it, and got
up to go. Miles followed him to the door and wrung his hand in silence.

When the door was closed upon Edmonstone, Miles sank into the armchair,
and closed his eyes.

His expression was human then; it quickly hardened, and his face
underwent complete transformation. A moment later it was not a pleasant
face to look upon. The ugliness of crime had disfigured it in a flash.
The devils within him were unchained for once, and his looks were as
ugly as his thoughts.

"Curse it!"--he was thinking--"I must be losing my nerve: I get heated
and flurried as I never did before. Yet it was not altogether put on, my
gratitude to this young fellow: I do feel some of it. Nor were they all
lies that I told him the other night; I am altered in some ways. I
believe it was that spice of truth that saved me--for saved I am so far
as he is concerned. Anyway, I have fooled him rather successfully, and
he'll know it before he has done with me! True, I did not bargain to
meet him here, after what the Colonel wrote; but I flatter myself I made
the best of it--I can congratulate myself upon every step. No; one was
a false step: I was an idiot to show him the passage-money receipt; it
was telling him the name and line of the steamer and opening up the
track for pursuit when we are gone. And yet, and yet--I could not have
laid a cleverer false scent if I had tried! Instead of money flung away,
that passage-money will turn out a glorious investment; we'll show a
clean pair of heels in the opposite direction, while our good friends
here think of nothing but that one steamer! And so, once more,
everything is turning out well, if only I can keep this up three days
longer; if only Jem Pound and Frank Compton do not trouble me; if
only--if only I am not mistaken and misled as to the ease with which I
may carry off--my prize!"

And strange to say, as he thought of that final coup, the villainy faded
out of his face--though the act contemplated was bad enough, in all
conscience!

All at once a creaking noise startled Miles. He rose from his chair, and
crossed with swift noiseless steps over to the window. A man was lifting
himself gingerly from the basket-work chair--the man was Philip Robson.

Miles leant out of the window, seized him by the collar, and drew him
backward with a thud against the wall below the window.

"Eavesdropper! listener!" hissed Miles; and quick as lightning he
changed his hold from the doctor's collar to the doctor's wrists, which
he grabbed with each iron hand and drew upward over the sill.

The sill was more than six feet from the ground. The doctor stood on
tiptoe--helpless--in a trap. The doctor's face was white and guilty.
The doctor's tongue was for the moment useless.

"What were you doing there?" Miles demanded quietly, but with a nasty
look about the eyes.

"I--I had been asleep. I came back early from the moors because
Edmonstone insulted me. I was just awake. Let go my hands, will you? I
heard something--a very little--I could not help it. What do you mean by
holding my wrists like this? Leave loose of them, I say!"

"Then tell me what you heard."

"Something that I could not understand. If you don't let me go this
instant, I'll sing out!"

"Will you stand and talk sensibly, and listen to what I tell you?"

"Yes, I swear I will."

"There, then, you're free. Now I'll just tell you, in effect, what you
did hear," said Miles, whose inventive brain had been busy from the
moment he had discovered Robson. "You heard Edmonstone speak to me as
though I was a villain: well, he firmly believes I am one. You heard him
read me a letter from some one 'wanting' me: he has read me many such
letters. I believe you heard me asking him in effect not to tell any
one, and thanking him: this is what I make a point of doing. The fact
is, Edmonstone is under the delusion that I am a man who robbed him in
Australia. This is what's the matter!"

Miles tapped his forehead significantly.

"You don't mean it!" cried Robson, starting back.

"I do; but not so loud, man. His friends don't suspect anything; they
needn't know; it's only on this one point. What, didn't you hear our
last words? I said, 'It seems like madness.' He answered, 'My old
mate'--meaning the man who was with him at the time of the robbery--'my
old mate,' he says, 'swears that I am mad on that subject.'"

"Whew!" whistled the doctor. "Yes, I heard that."

"It speaks for itself, eh? But I put it to you as a medical man," said
Miles, rising still more fully to the occasion, and remembering the
doctor's weak point: "I put it to you as a medical man--has there not
been something strange about his manner?"

Robson thought at once of the disagreeable incident of the morning.

"There has, indeed," he said, without hesitation; "I have noticed it
myself!"

Even Miles marvelled at his own adroitness; he was elated, and showed it
by fetching a deep sigh.

"Poor Edmonstone! he is quite touched on the point. Perhaps the affair
brought on a fever at the time, for he is an excitable fellow, and that
would account for it."

"But is he safe?" asked Robson, eagerly. "He can't be!"

"Oh, yes, he is; quite. I repeat, it is only on that one point, and
nobody knows it here. And, mind, you are not to breathe a word of it to
any single soul!"

Philip was entirely taken in for the time being; but his silence was
another matter. That could only be pardoned, even on short lease, by an
apology from the rude Colonial. The doctor's wrists smarted yet; his
self-esteem was still more sore.

"I am so likely," said he, with fine irony, "to do your bidding after
the manner in which you have treated me!"

"Call it taking my hint," said Miles, with a nasty expression in the
eyes again. "You will find it a hint worth acting upon."

"You had no business to treat me as you did. It was a gross outrage!"
said the doctor, haughtily.

"Come, now, I apologise. It arose from my irritation on Edmonstone's
account, at the thing getting out. For his sake, you must indeed promise
to hold your tongue."

"Very well," said Philip Robson, reluctantly; "I--I promise."

And he meant at the time to keep his promise, if he could. In fact, he
did keep it. For a little calm reflection, away from the glamour thrown
by Miles's plausibility, and in the sober light of Philip's own
professional knowledge, served to weaken the case of insanity against
Dick Edmonstone. At the same time, reflection strengthened Edmonstone's
case against Miles, though Robson had only oblique information as to the
specific nature of that case. But at any rate there was no harm in
opening the letter-box (which was cleared in the morning) late at night,
and sending just one anonymous line to the same name and address as
those upon the envelope directed in Edmonstone's hand. If Miles was
really a forger of some kind, and Edmonstone was really shielding him,
then there was an excellent chance of scoring off them both at once.
And Philip Robson had contracted a pretty strong grudge against both
these men since morning.

Meanwhile Miles remained subdued and pensive, furtively attentive, but
extremely humble, towards Miss Bristo, and talkative to one person
only--Mrs. Parish. He was indeed, as he said, no fool. He was full of
cunning and coolness, foresight and resource. He was biding his
time--but for what?



                                 XXIII

                       THE EFFECT OF A PHOTOGRAPH


Laurence Pinckney was a hopeless sportsman. When he realised this for
himself he laid down his gun, and presently took up with Miss Bristo's
camera as a weapon better suited to him.

Alice had made no use of the apparatus for weeks and weeks; it was sent
down with other luggage without her knowledge, and she never thought of
unpacking it until Mr. Pinckney pleaded for instruction; when--perhaps
because Alice felt that without an occupation this visitor would be on
her hands all day--he did not plead in vain. He did not, however,
require many lessons. He knew something about it already, having given
the subject some attention (in the reading room of the British Museum)
before writing one of his rollicking articles. Nor were the lessons she
did give him much of a nuisance to Alice, for when he forgot to talk
about his work, and refrained from coruscation, there was no more
sensible and polite companion than Laurence Pinckney.

When, therefore, he set out on that Friday's ramble, which produced one
really good negative, and a number of quaint little Arcadian
observations jotted down in his notebook, it was with the entire
photographic impedimenta slung about his person, and some idea in his
head of an article on "The North Yorkshire Dales," to be illustrated by
the writer's own photographs.

His destination was a certain ancient abbey, set in gorgeous scenery,
eight long miles from Gateby. But long before he got there a hollow of
the plain country road tempted him, and he fell.

It was quite an ordinary bit of road; a tall hazel-hedge, and a pathway
high above the road on the left; on the right, a fence with trees beyond
it, one of them, an oak of perfect form, that stood in the foreground,
being of far greater size than most of the trees in this district, and
in strong contrast to its neighbours. That was really all. It never
would have been picturesque, nor have taken our artist's fancy, but for
the sunlight on the wet road and the fleecy pallor of the sky where it
met the sharp line of distant dark blue hills far away over the
hazel-hedge, to the left. But the sunlight was the thing. It came, as
though expressly ordered, from, so to say, the left wing. It rested
lightly on the hedge-tops. It fell in a million golden sparks on the
shivering leaves of the old oak. But it cleared the deep-cut road at a
bound, leaving it dark. Only a long way further on, where the bend to
the right began, did his majesty deign to step down upon the road; and
just there, because everything was wet from last night's rain, it was a
road of silver.

No sooner, however, was the picture focussed than the sun, which made it
what it was, disappeared behind a cloud--a favourite and mischievous
dodge of his for the mortification of the amateur photographer.

Now, while Pinckney waited for the sun to come out again, which he saw
was going to happen immediately, and while he held in his fingers the
pneumatic ball connected with the instantaneous shutter, two figures
appeared at the bend of the road that had been silver track a moment
before. They were a man and a woman, trudging along with the width of
the road between them. Pinckney watched them with painful interest. If
the cloud cleared the sun at that moment they would be horribly in the
way, for worse clouds were following on the heels of this one, and the
opportunity must be seized. There was nothing, of course, to prevent his
taking the tramps as they walked--no, it would spoil the picture. Stay,
though; it would add human interest. But the cloud did not pass so
rapidly after all, and the man and woman drew near the camera.

There was something peculiar in the appearance of the man that struck
Pinckney at once as un-English. This peculiarity was difficult to
localise. It was not in his clothes, which indeed looked new, but it was
partly in his heavy face, smooth-shaven and suntanned, partly in his
slow, slouching, methodical walk, and very much in his fashion of
carrying his belongings. Instead of the pudding-like bundle of the
English tramp he carried across his shoulders a long, neatly-strapped
cylinder, the outer coating of which was a blanket. About the woman, on
the other hand, there was nothing to strike the attention. Pinckney's
first glance took in, perhaps, the fact that her black skirt was torn
and draggled, and her black bodice in startling contrast to her white
face; but that could have been all.

Back came the sun, in a hurry, to the hedge-top and the oak-tree, and
the distant curve of the road. Pinckney had decided in favour of the
tramps in his picture, but they were come too near. He requested them in
his blandest tones to retrace a few steps. To his immense surprise he
was interrupted by a sullen oath from the man, who at once quickened his
steps forward, motioning to the woman to do the same.

"Thankee for nothing, and be hanged to you! Wait till we pass, will
you?"

If Pinckney had wanted further assurance that the man was a foreign
element, these sentences should have satisfied him; for your honest
British rustic is not the man to reject the favours of the camera, be
they never so promiscuous and his chance of beholding the result never
so remote.

Pinckney's answer, however, was a prompt pressure of the pneumatic ball
in his hand--a snap-shot at short range, the click of which did not
escape the sharp ears of the strange-looking, heavily-built old man.

"Have you took us?" asked he fiercely.

"Oh no," replied the photographer, without a blush, "I'm waiting till
you pass; look sharp, or I'll lose the sun again!"

The man scowled, but said no more. Next moment he passed by on one side
of the camera, and the woman on the other. Pinckney looked swiftly from
one to the other, and marked well the face of each. That of the man
repelled him, as bull-dog jaws upon a thick, short neck and small,
cruel-looking glittering eyes would repel most of us, even without this
man's vile expression. The man was tall and broad, but bent, and he
looked twenty years older at close quarters than at a distance. The
woman, on the other hand, was young, but so worn, and pinched, and
soured, and wearied that you had to look closely to find a trace of
youth. She never raised her eyes from the ground as she walked; but
Pinckney made sure they were dark eyes, for the well-formed eyebrows
were blue-black, like a raven's feather. Her wrist-bone showed
prominently--seeming to be covered by little more than skin--as she
caught together the shawl at her bosom with her left hand; a plain gold
hoop was on its third finger.

Pinckney watched the pair out of sight, still walking with the whole
road between them.

"That brute," muttered Pinckney, "beats his wife!"

And then he exposed another plate from the same position, packed up the
apparatus, and went his way.

Some hours later--towards evening, in fact--as Pinckney returned from
his ruined abbey and came in sight of Gateby, the rain--which had
gathered during the afternoon--came down from the leaden twilit sky in
earnest. It rains violently in the dales; and the photographer, hungry
though he was, and more than ready for dinner, saw no reason for getting
wet to the skin when the village was within a stone's-throw, and the
shooting-box half-a-mile further on. He burst into the inn for shelter;
and honest Robert Rutter conducted him to the private parlour with
peculiar satisfaction, having been intimate with Gateby rain many
years, and knowing also a thing or two about the appetites of gentlemen
from the south.

Pinckney, left alone, examined the room. It was gaudily carpeted,
uncomfortably furnished, stuffy for want of use and air, and crowded
with gimcracks. Foxes and birds, in huge cases, were perilously balanced
on absurd little tables. The walls were covered with inflamed-looking
prints, the place of honour being occupied by portraits of mine host and
hostess unrecognisable. The large square centre-table was laid out in
parterres of books never opened. In fact, the parlour was not what you
would have expected of the remote dales. For this very reason, perhaps,
that realist Pinckney took particular pains over the description which
was promptly set down in his note-book. The landlord coming in during
the writing, moreover, the poor man's words were taken out of his mouth
and set down red-hot, and on the phonetic principle, in a parenthesis.

This visit of Rutter's resulted subsequently in a heavy supper of ham
and eggs and beer, and a fire in the parlour, before which Pinckney
contentedly smoked, listening to the rain, which was coming down indeed
in torrents.

It was while this easy-going youth was in the most comfortable
post-prandial condition that the voices in a room, separated from the
parlour only by a narrow passage, grew loud enough to be distinctly
audible in it. Up to this point the conversation had been low and
indistinct, occasional laughter alone rising above an undertone; now the
laughter was frequent and hearty. The reasons were that the room in
question was the tap-room, and the fourth round of beer was already
imbibed. One voice--in which the local accents were missed--led the
talk; the rest interjaculated.

Mr. Pinckney pricked up his ears, and of course whipped out the
insatiable note-book. Simultaneously, in the kitchen, connected with the
tap-room on the opposite side, the landlord and his wife, with the
schoolmaster and his, were bending forward, and solemnly listening to
the stranger's wild stories, with the door ajar. Thus the glib-tongued
personage had more listeners, and more sober listeners, than he was
aware of.

"Sharks?" he was saying. "Seen sharks? You bet I have! Why, when I was
or'nary seaman--betwixt Noocastle, Noo South Wales and 'Frisco it was;
with coals--we counted twenty-seven of 'em around the ship the morning
we was becalmed in three south. And that afternoon young Billy
Bunting--the darling of our crew he was--he fell overboard, and was
took. Took, my lads, I say! Nothin' left on'y a patch of red in the blue
water and a whole set of metal buttons when we landed Mister John Shark
next morning." (Sensation.) "And that's gospel. But the next shark as we
got--and we was becalmed three weeks that go--the skipper he strung him
up to the spanker-boom, an' shot his blessed eyes out with a revolver;
'cause little Billy had been pet of the ship, d'ye see? And then we let
him back into the briny; and a young devil of an apprentice dived over
and swam rings round him, 'cause he couldn't see; and it was the best
game o' blindman's buff ever you seed in your born days." (Merriment.)
"What! Have ye never heard tell o' the shark in Corio Bay, an' what he
done? Oh, but I'll spin that yarn."

And spin it he did; though before he had got far the landlady exchanged
glances with the schoolmaster's lady, and both good women evinced
premonitory symptoms of sickness, so that the worthy schoolmaster
hastily took "his missis" home, and hurried back himself to hear the
end.

"A sailor," said Pinckney, listening in the parlour; "and even at that
an admirable liar."

He went out into the passage, and peeped through the chink of the door
into the tap-room. In the middle of the long and narrow table, on which
the dominoes for once lay idle, stood one solitary tallow candle, and
all around were the shadowy forms of rustics in various attitudes of
breathless attention--it was a snake-story they were listening to now;
and the face of the narrator, thrust forward close to the sputtering
wick, was the smooth, heavy, flexible face of the man whom Pinckney had
photographed unawares on the road.

Pinckney went softly back to the parlour, whistling a low note of
surprise.

"No wonder I didn't recognise the voice! That voice is put on. The surly
growl he gave me this morning in his natural tone. He's making up to the
natives; or else the fellow's less of a brute when he's drunk, and if
that's so, some philanthropist ought to keep him drunk for his natural
life. The terms might be mutual. 'I keep you in drink, in return for
which you conduct yourself like a Christian,--though an intoxicated one,
to me and all men.'"

"Who is that customer?" Pinckney asked of Bob Rutter, as they settled up
outside on the shining flags--shining in the starlight; for the heavy
rain had suddenly stopped, and the sky as suddenly cleared, and the
stars shone out, and a drip, drip, drip fell upon the ear from all
around, and at each breath the nostril drew in a fragrance sweeter than
flowers.

"He's a sailor," said honest Rutter; "that's all I know; I don't ask no
questions. He says his last voyage was to--Australia, I think they call
it--and back."

"I saw he was a sailor," said Pinckney.

"He asked," continued Rutter, "if there was anybody from them parts
hereabout; and I said not as I knowed on, till I remembered waddycallum,
your crack shot, up there, and tould him; and he seemed pleased."

"Has he nobody with him?" asked Pinckney, remembering the wan-faced
woman.

"Yes--a wife or sumthink."

"Where is she?"

"In t'blacksmith's shed."

Rutter pointed to a low shed that might have been a cow-house, but in
point of fact contained a forge and some broken ploughshares.

"Landlord," said Pinckney, severely, "you ought to turn that low
blackguard out, and not take another farthing of his money until he
finds the woman a fit place to sleep in!"

And with that young Pinckney splashed indignantly out into the darkness,
and along the watery road to the shooting-box. There he found everyone
on the point of going to bed. He was obliged, for that night, to keep to
himself the details of his adventures; but, long after the rest of the
premises were in darkness, a ruby-coloured light burned in Mr.
Pinckney's room; he had actually the energy to turn his dry-plates into
finished negatives before getting into bed, though he had tramped
sixteen miles with accoutrements! Not only that, but he got up early,
and had obtained a sun-print of each negative before going over to
breakfast. His impatience came of his newness to photography; it has
probably been experienced by every beginner in this most fascinating of
crafts.

These prints he stowed carefully in his pocket, closely buttoning his
coat to shield them from the light. At breakfast he produced them one by
one, and handed them round the table on the strict understanding that
each person should glance at each print for one second only. They were
in their raw and perishable state; but a few seconds' exposure to the
light of the room, said the perpetrator, would not affect them. In
truth, no one wished to look at them longer; they were poor productions:
the light had got in here, the focus was wrong in that one. But Mr.
Pinckney knew their faults, and he produced the last print, and the
best, with the more satisfaction.

"This one," said he, "will astonish you. It's a success, though I say
it. Moreover, it's the one I most wanted to come out well--a couple of
tramps taken unawares. This print you must look at only half-a-second
each."

He handed it to Alice, who pronounced it a triumph--as it was--and
glanced curiously at the downcast face of the woman in the foreground.
She handed it to the doctor, sitting next her. The doctor put the print
in his uncle's hand, at the head of the table. The Colonel's comment was
good-natured. He held out the print to Miles, who took it carelessly
from him, and leant back in his chair.

Now as Miles leant back, the sunlight fell full upon him. It streamed
through a narrow slit of a window at the end of the room--the big
windows faced southwest--and its rays just missed the curve of
table-cloth between the Colonel and Miles. But on Miles the rays fell:
on his curly light-brown hair, clear dark skin, blond beard and
moustache; and his blue eyes twinkled pleasantly under their touch. As
he idly raised the print, leaning back in the loose rough jacket that
became him so well, the others there had never seen him more handsome,
tranquil, and unconcerned.

Miles raised the print with slow indifference, glanced at it, jerked it
suddenly upward, and held it with both hands close before his eyes. They
could not see his face. But the sunlight fell upon the print, and
Pinckney cried out an excited protest:

"Look out, I say! Hold it out of the sun, please! Give it here, you'll
spoil the print!"

But Miles did not heed, even if he heard. The square of paper was
quivering, though held by two great strong hands. All that they could
see of Miles's face behind it was the brow: it was deeply scored across
and across--it was pale as ashes.

A minute passed; then the print was slowly dropped upon the table. No
print now: only a sheet of glossy reddish-brown paper.

Miles burst into a low, harsh laugh.

"A good likeness!" he said slowly. "But it has vanished, clean gone,
and, I fear, through my fault. Forgive me, Pinckney, I didn't understand
you. I thought the thing was finished. I know nothing about such
things--I'm an ignorant bushman"--with a ghastly smile--"but I
thought--I couldn't help thinking, when it vanished like that--that it
was all a hoax!"

He pushed back his chair, and stalked to the door. No one spoke--no one
knew what to say--one and all, they were mystified. On the threshold
Miles turned, and looked pleadingly towards the Colonel and Alice.

"Pray forgive me, I am covered with shame; but--but it was strangely
like some one--some one long dead," said Miles, hoarsely--and slowly,
with the exception of the last four words, which were low and hurried.
And with that he went from the room, and cannoned in the passage against
Dick Edmonstone, who was late for breakfast.

That day, the champion from Australia shot execrably, which was
inexplicable; and he kept for ever casting sudden glances over his
shoulders, and on all sides of him, which was absurd.



                                  XXIV

                          THE EFFECT OF A SONG


Late that afternoon, in Robert Rutter's meadow at the back of the inn, a
man and a woman stood in close conversation. The man was Jem Pound, the
woman Elizabeth Ryan.

"Then you have not seen him yet?"

"No, not yet; I have had no chance."

"You mean that you have been drunk, Jem Pound!"

"Not to say drunk, missis. But I've been over to a town called
Melmerbridge, and I went a long way round so as not to cross the moor.
They're shooting up there all day. It'd be no sort o' use tackling him
there."

"But surely they are back by now?" exclaimed Mrs. Ryan, impatiently. "I
tell you he must be seen to-day--this evening--now."

"Ay, ay; I'm just going. Straight along this path it is, across a few
fields, and there you are--opposite the house; and you may trust me----"

"I know; I have seen it for myself. But I am going too."

This was precisely what Pound did not want. He was treating the woman
with unwonted civility, not to say respect, with a view to the more
easily dissuading her from dangerous projects. And this was a dangerous
project from Pound's point of view; but Mrs. Ryan had set her soul upon
it. Argue as Jem would, she was bent upon seeing her husband with her
own eyes, and at once. And there, with that thin white face of hers she
might go and get him actually to pity her, and spoil everything--for Jem
Pound.

"After finding him again, do you think I will endure this a moment
longer?" asked Elizabeth scornfully.

Pound's reply was in the reflective manner.

"Well," said he, with slow deliberation, "I'm not sure but what it
mightn't, after all, do good for you to see him."

"Good--do good! To whom? What do you mean? What have you to do with it?"

Pound ground his teeth; he had everything to do with it. It was the old
story over again: this woman was using him as the guide to her own ends,
yet would cut him adrift the very moment those ends were in sight. How
he hated her! With his lips he cringed to her, in his heart he ground
her to powder; but if he was not in the position to bully her to-day, he
had lost few opportunities when he was; and he was at least forearmed
against her.

He affected a bluff kindliness of manner that would not have deceived
her had Mrs. Ryan been a little more composed.

"Look here, missis, you and me, we've been bound up in a ticklish job
together. I don't say as I've always done by you as I should, but there
is allowances to be made for a man that carries, as they say, his life
in his hand, and that's staked his life on this here job. I don't say,
either, as we're both on the exact same tack, but one thing's certain;
we must work together now, and if you can't work my way, why, I must
work yours. Now, missis, you ain't fit for the strain of seeing him. If
you could see your own face you'd know it, ma'am."

Her eyes had opened wide at his tone; she sighed deeply at his last
words.

"No," she said sadly, "I know I'm not fit for much. But I must go--I
must go."

"Then if you must, ma'am, take a teaspoonful of this first. It'll help
you through, and anyway keep you from fainting, as you did last time. I
got it in Melmerbridge this afternoon, after I see you look so sick."

He uncorked a small flask and held it to her lips.

"What is it?"

"Brandy--the best."

"And water?"

"Half and half. Remember that other night!"

"He is right," muttered the woman: "there must be no fainting this
time."

She sipped from the bottle and felt revived.

"Now we will go," she said, sternly.

They crossed the meadow, and so over the stile into the potato-field
that came next. Then Pound began to lag behind and watch his companion.
When they reached the gate she was reeling; she clung to the gate-post,
and waited for him to come up.

"You fiend!" she screamed, glaring impotently upon him. "Poisoner and
fiend! You have--you--"

She fell senseless at his feet without finishing the sentence. Pound
surveyed the helpless heap of clothes with complete satisfaction.

"Drugged you, eh? Is that what you'd say? Nay, hardly, my lass: p'r'aps
the brandy was risky for a fool of a woman that won't eat--p'r'aps it
was very near neat--p'r'aps there was more in it than that; anyway you
took it beautiful--lovely, you devil in petticoats!"

He raised her easily enough in his strong arms, carried her through the
gate into the next field, and dropped her upon a late heap of hay some
distance from the track.

"Playing at triangles," said Pound, "it must be two to one, or all
against all: one thing it sha'n't be--two to one, and Jem Pound the one!
There you lie until you're wanted, my dear. So long to you!"

And with that this wretch strolled off.

The gap in the hedge dividing the last of these few fields from the
road, and ending the path, occurred a few yards below the shooting-box.
Pound crept along the ditch between hedge and field until he judged he
was opposite the gate of the shooting-box. Then he stood up, parted the
hedge where it was thinnest, and peered through. The room to the right
of the porch was lit up within; though the blinds were drawn, the
windows were wide open. Pound could hear a low continuous murmur of
voices and other sounds, which informed him that the party were still
dining. He waited patiently. At last he heard a pushing back of chairs:
it must be over now, he thought; but no, the voices recommenced, pitched
in a slightly louder key. The windows on the left of the porch shone
out as brightly as their neighbours on the right of it. Light fingers
ran nimbly over the keys of a piano--only once--no tune came of it.

Pound, too, had fingers that could not long be idle: thick, knotty,
broad-nailed, supple-jointed; fingers that showed the working of the
mind. They were busy now. In a little while all the hedge within their
reach was stripped of its simple charms--its bluebells, its pink
foxgloves, its very few wild roses. Even the little leaves of the hedge
were plucked away by the handful; and on the grass, had it been lighter,
you might have discovered in the torn and mutilated shreds of leaf and
petal some index to the watcher's thoughts. At last there was a general
movement inside. Dark forms appeared on the steps. Two or three came
down the steps, and turned the corner of the house. One sauntered to the
gate and peered up and down the road. There was no mistaking this
figure.

Pound uttered in a low key a cry that is as common in the Australian
bush as it is uncommon elsewhere. He expected his man to start as though
shot, but he was disappointed. Ryan gave one sharp glance towards the
hedge, then passed through the gate, and on to the gap.

"Lord! how he takes it!" murmured Pound. "Did he expect me? Has he been
on the look-out night and day all this while?"

At the gap they met. Pound could restrain his exultation no longer.

"At last!"

"Yes," said the other, stepping quietly through the gap. He had given
the whole day to preparation for this interview; but he had expected it
to be an interview of three. Where was his wife? "Yes, and the fewer
words the better. How you got here I neither know nor care; tell me what
you want now that you are here."

"You know very well what I want."

"I may make a rough guess."

"I want money!"

"I thought so. It is a pity. You must go somewhere else for it: I have
none."

"What!" cried Pound, savagely, "is it all gone? All that you landed
with? Never! You have never got through all that!"

"'All that' is under a gum-tree somewhere in Queensland, unless some one
has found it lately. I told you so before, didn't I? How could I clear
out with the gold? How could I risk going back for it when once I got
away? All I brought with me was what never left my body: the notes and
some gold. It didn't come to much; the last of it went long since."

"Then how have you lived--what on?"

"My wits."

Jem Pound was in a towering passion.

"If I believed you," he hissed out, among his oaths, "I'd make a clean
breast of everything--every blessed job--though I swung for it! No; I'd
swing merrily, knowing they'd got you snug for the rest of your days,
for you'd be worse off than me, Ned Ryan! But I don't believe a word of
it; it's a lie--a lie--a lie!"

The utterance was that of a choking man. Miles wondered whether the man
had the spirit to carry out what he threatened; he seemed desperate, and
such confessions had been made before by desperate men. That the five
hundred ounces of gold had been abandoned by Sundown in his flight was
the simple truth. Yet if Pound realised this, he was capable of any
lengths of vengeance--even to putting his own neck in the noose, as he
said. Better, perhaps, leave him his delusion, and let him still think
that the gold had been brought over; better give a sop to Cerberus--even
though it were only a promise to-day and a few pounds to-morrow; for the
next day--well, the next day Cerberus might growl in vain. But a fair
round sum for Pound, if only it could be raised and handed over
immediately, would raise high hopes of "the share" he coveted; would
make him believe that the stronger man had given way at last; would
pacify him for the time being--which was all that was necessary. For in
two days Ned Ryan meant to fly from that place--in three, the shores of
England should fade from his sight for ever. Pound must be put off his
guard, like the rest; a fair round sum might do it--say fifty pounds.
Fifty pounds, then, must be raised that night.

"Jem Pound," said Sundown, in tones of capitulation, "there is no
getting over you! I throw up my hand, for the game's up. I thought I
could get the best of you, Jem, but, Lord! I didn't know my man, and
that's the fact. But listen to sense: you don't suppose I've got that
money here, do you? It's in London; you shall have five hundred of it in
hard cash, if you swear to stand by me, next week. I go up next week;
you go before me and wait. You refuse? Stay, then; hear me out: you
shall have fifty down, on this very spot, at this very hour, to-morrow
night!"

"Do you mean it?" asked Pound, suspiciously, his breath coming quick and
rapid with the excitement of the moment--his moment of victory.

"Every word of it."

"Fifty pounds--to-morrow night?"

"Every penny of it. Oh, there's no use in disguising it; you've got the
better of me, Jem, and I must stump up."

Pound looked at him doubtfully, wishing to believe, yet finding it
difficult.

"You gave us the slip before," he said; "how do we know you won't do it
again?"

"Watch me--watch me," he said.

"Ay, we must and we will!"

"You need not remind me of--of her!" cried Ryan, fiercely, all in a
moment.

"Ah, poor thing, poor thing!" said Pound.

"Why, has anything happened?"

"Poor soul!"

"Speak, man, for God's sake! Is she--is she--"

Ryan could not get out the word, trembling as he was with intense
excitement. Pound broke into a brutal laugh.

"No, Ned Ryan, she isn't dead, if that's what you want. I am sorry for
you. Now that you're going to behave handsome, I should have liked to
bring you good news. Yet, though she hangs on still, she's going down
the hill pretty quick--her own way. But she's waiting for us three
fields off; we'd better go to her before she comes to us. Come this
way."

Pound led the way to the hay-field. Miles followed him, filled with
foreboding. What had happened to Elizabeth? Was the woman ill? Was she
dying? Bad as he was--bad as she was--could he go coldly on his way and
let her die? He thought of her as he had seen her last, two months ago;
and then strangely enough, he figured her as he had first seen her,
many, many years ago. Poor thing! poor Liz!

"She is not here," said Pound, when he came to the gate that Elizabeth
Ryan had clung to. "Now I wonder--stay! what is that over there? Come,
let's look. It may be--by Heaven, it is your wife!"

He had pointed to a dark object among the mounds of hay. Now the two men
stood looking down on the insensible form of Elizabeth Ryan.

"No, not death," said Pound; "only brandy!"

The husband looked down upon his wretched wife without speaking or
moving. Oh, that it were death! His muscles were rigid--repugnance and
loathing froze him to the bone. How white her face was in the faint
moonshine! how white that hand under the white cheek! and the other hand
stretched helplessly out--good God! the wedding-ring he had placed
there, she dared to wear it still! Oh, that this were death!

And a minute ago he had thought of her--for some seconds together--not
unkindly!

At last Ryan spoke.

"I dare swear," he murmured, as though speaking to himself, "that she
has not got our certificate! A ring is no proof."

Pound knelt down and shook some sense into the woman's head.

"Eh? What is it? Where am I?"

He whispered hurriedly in her ear: "He is here--your husband. He says
something about your having no proof that you are his wife. Give me the
certificate!"

Without grasping the meaning of any but the last word, Elizabeth Ryan
mechanically drew forth from her bosom a folded square of paper. Pound
took it from her, and unfolded it with his back to Ryan. When he faced
about, Pound held the certificate in his left hand and a revolver in his
right.

Ryan paid no heed to the pistol, beyond recognising it as one of his
own--the fellow, in fact, to the one he at that moment carried in his
own pocket; Pound's last transaction, as a member of Sundown's gang,
having been to help himself to this and other trifles as keepsakes. The
production of the weapon Ryan treated, or affected to treat, with
contempt. The certificate took up his whole attention. Yet one glance,
even in the moonlight, was sufficient to show him that the certificate
was genuine.

"You may put them both away," was all he said. "But remember: to-morrow
night, same spot and hour. Or let us say here, at this gate: it is
farther from the house."

He turned to go, but suddenly recoiled, being face to face with his
wife, who had struggled to her feet. With a strange wild cry the woman
flung herself into his arms. Ryan caught her, held her one instant,
then dashed her heavily to the ground, and fled like a murderer from
the place.

The poor thing lay groaning, yet sobered.

"Ah, I remember," she moaned at last, gathering up her bruised and
aching limbs. "I was drugged--by you!"

The look of terrible hatred which she darted at Jem Pound was ineffable
but calm. He answered her with a stout denial:

"I gave you nothing but brandy, and that I gave you for the best. I
didn't mean it to knock you over, but I'm not sorry it did. Bad as it
was, it would have been worse if you had seen much more of him."

"Why? What did he say?"

"He said he wouldn't give us a farthing. No, not if you were starving.
He said you were less than nothing to him now. He said we might do our
worst, and the sooner hell swallowed both of us the better he'd like
it."

Mrs. Ryan gave a little cry of pain and anger. She staggered across the
dewy grass, and confronted Pound at arm's length. She was shaking and
shivering like a withered leaf.

"Jem Pound," said she, "I will tell you what I have known for many
weeks, but hidden from you. I will tell you where he has that money, or
some of it."

"Where?" cried Pound.

She tapped him lightly on the chest.

"There!" said Mrs. Ryan.

"How the devil do you know?"

"By woman's wit. On that night, when my hand rested there on his breast
for one moment, he pushed me from him. I remembered afterwards that he
started from my hand as though I touched a wound. I did the same thing
to-night, only on purpose, and you know how he took it: he flung me to
the ground this time. Mark my words, there is that which he values more
than anything else hung round his neck and resting there! Whatever it
is, take it, Jem Pound! Do you hear? You are bad enough for anything:
then take it--even if you have to take his life with it!"

Her voice was hoarse and horrible, yet so low that it could scarcely be
heard. Without waiting for an answer, she turned swiftly away and
disappeared in the darkness.

Jem Pound drew a long deep breath.

"This," said he, "is the best night's work I've done since I came back
to the Old Country. This morning I didn't dream of anything so good. Now
I see a better night's work not far ahead!"

He proceeded to carve a cake of black tobacco slowly and deliberately,
then filled his pipe. As he did this, leaning with his broad back
against the gate, a sound came to his ears across the silent sleeping
meadows--a strange sound to him--the sound, in fact, of a woman's song.
His pipe was by this time loaded, and the mouthpiece between his teeth.
Moreover, the match-box was in his left hand and a match in his right.
Yet Jem Pound actually did not strike that match until the strange sound
had died away!

I know not what spirit was abroad that night to invest a simple,
well-known drawing-room song with the sinews of Fate; yet not only in
the fields, but far up the road, where Colonel Bristo was wandering
alone in the faint light of the sickle moon, the low clear notes were
borne out on the wings of the evening. The Colonel faced about at the
first note, and walked back quite quickly. His solitary wanderings at
all times of the day were a great weakness of the old fellow, but his
daughter's singing was a greater; and she sang so seldom now. He walked
on the wet grass at the roadside rather than lose a note through the
noise of his own footsteps; and lo! when he came near the house, he
descried a tall figure standing motionless in the very middle of the
road.

Surely some spirit was abroad that night, that all the waking world drew
near and listened to that song of Alice's! It should have been a greater
song--noble poetry wedded to music such as the angels make in heaven and
have sometimes--in golden ages gone by--breathed into the souls of men,
who have found the secret too wondrous sweet and terrible to keep. To
touch the sensibilities of the different unknown listeners, it should
have been a mighty song indeed! But, you see, Alice herself knew nothing
of what was happening; she was aware of only one listener, who was
humbly standing by her side; and out of the pitiful fulness of her heart
she sang the sad and simple words that you have heard often enough, no
doubt:

        Falling leaf and fading tree,
        Lines of white in a sullen sea,
        Shadows rising on you and me;
        The swallows are making them ready to fly,
        Wheeling out on a windy sky.
        Good-bye, summer! good-bye, good-bye!

A thin film floated over the eyes of Colonel Bristo. The same thing had
occasionally happened before when his daughter sang. But lately she had
been singing so little, and the song was so sad, and the voice more
plaintive than it had ever been formerly.

As for Miles, the other listener in the road, he stood like one
entranced. Her singing had haunted his soul now many weeks; it was many
weeks since he had heard it last--save in his dreams; besides, the words
put the match to a desperate train of thought.

The last bars of the song, then, came as a shock to the audience of two
outside in the road, who had not realised that the song would ever stop:

        "What are we waiting for, you and I?"
        A pleading look, a stifled cry;
        "Good-bye for ever! good-bye, good-bye!"

The last notes of all were low, and the singer's best. They were charged
with wild grief; they seemed to end in a half-sob of anguish. But the
voice had caught all the passion of the words, and something more
besides. For whom was this passion?

It all died away. The world outside was tamer than before; the sickle
moon dipped down to rest below the hill beyond the village, and those
lanes and meadows knew no such singing any more.

The tall listener in the road still gazed at the holland blind that
flapped against the sash of the open window. It was all the sound that
came from the room now. He was repeating the last words of the song, and
weighing them.

"No, no," he was thinking, "if I may not live for her, what else is
there to live for? God, let me die for her!"

A glowing red spot approached him through the darkness that had fallen
upon the land; it was the Colonel's cigarette. It brought him back to
the world as it was--his world, and a vile one.

"I was taking a little stroll," said Colonel Bristo. "Will you join me?
I think Alice will sing no more to-night."

Meanwhile, in the room, the singer had risen. She meant to quietly put
away the music, but it slipped from her fingers. She turned with wet
gentle eyes to one who was speaking to her, then fled at his words from
the room.

Yet Dick had only asked her: "Will you never, never forgive me?"



                                  XXV

                          MELMERBRIDGE CHURCH


Dick was in the passage, brushing a week's dust from his hard felt hat;
he was going to church this Sunday morning; half the party were going.
From the gun-room came the sound of a pen gliding swiftly over foolscap,
and the perfume of Mr. Pinckney's pipe; from the open air a low
conversational murmur, kept up by Mrs. Parish and Mr. Miles on the
steps. Dick, though not unconscious of these sounds, was listening for
another--a certain footstep on the stairs. It came at last. Alice came
slowly down; Alice, prayer-book in hand, in the daintiest of white
dresses and the prettiest, simplest straw hat; Alice for whom Mrs.
Parish and Miles and Dick were all three waiting.

Her step was less light than it should have been. The slim little figure
positively drooped. Her eyes, too, seemed large and bright, and dark
beyond nature, though that may have been partly from the contrast with a
face so pale. The girl's altered looks had caused anxiety at Teddington,
but the change to Yorkshire had not visibly improved them. This morning,
after a night made even more restless than others by a sudden influx of
hopes and fears, this was painfully apparent.

The Colonel, coming in from outside at this moment, gazed earnestly at
his daughter. It was easily seen that he was already worried about
something; but the annoyance in his expression changed quickly to pain.

"You are not going to walk to Melmerbridge Church?" he said to her.

"Oh, yes, I am," she answered.

Her tone and look were saucy, in spite of her pallor; one of the old
smiles flickered for a moment upon her lips.

"My child," said her father, more in surprise than disapproval, "it is
eight miles there and back!"

"With a nice long rest in between," Alice reminded him. "I thought it
would do one good, the walk; otherwise, papa, I am not in the least
eager; so if you think----"

"Go, my dear, of course--go, by all means," put in Colonel Bristo
hastily; "unwonted energy like this must on no account be discouraged.
Yes, yes, you are quite right; it will do you all the good in the
world."

As he spoke, he caught sight of Miles in the strong light outside the
door. The worried look returned to the Colonel's eyes. Anxiety for his
daughter seemed to fade before a feeling that for the time was
uppermost. He watched his daughter cross over to the door, and Dick put
on his hat to follow her. Then the Colonel stepped forward and plucked
the young man by the arm.

"Dick, I want you to stop at home with me. I want to speak with you
particularly, about something very important indeed."

Dick experienced a slight shock of disappointment, succeeded by a sense
of foreboding. He fell back at once, and replaced his hat on the stand.

As for Alice, she felt a sudden inclination to draw back, herself. But
that was not to be thought of. Mrs. Parish and Mr. Miles were waiting
now at the gate. Alice went out and told them that Dick was, after all,
staying behind with the Colonel.

"Not coming?" cried Mrs. Parish. "Why, I had promised myself a long chat
with him!" which, as it happened, though Dick was no favourite of hers,
was strictly true. "Where is Mr. Pinckney?"

"Busy writing to catch the post."

"And Dr. Robson?"

"Cousin Philip has gone to read the lessons for the Gateby schoolmaster,
his new friend. Had we not better start?"

The three set out, walking slowly up the road, for Mrs. Parish was a
really old lady, and it was only the truly marvellous proportion of
sinew and bone in her composition, combined with a romantic and
well-nigh fanatical desire to serve the most charming of men, that
fortified her to attempt so formidable a walk.

"You men are blind," she had told her idol, among other things on the
steps. "Where a word would end all, you will not speak."

"You honestly think it would end it the right way?" Miles had asked her.

"I do not think, I know," the old woman had said for the fiftieth time.

She had undertaken to give him his opportunity that morning. With four
in the party, that would have been easy enough; with three, it became a
problem soluble only by great ingenuity.

For some distance beyond the shooting-box the road ascended gently, then
dipped deep down into a hollow, with a beck at the bottom of it, and a
bridge and a farmhouse on the other side. The hill beyond was really
steep, and from its crest the shooting-box--with red-roofed Gateby
beyond and to the left of it--could be seen for the last time. But when
they had toiled to the top of this second hill, Mrs. Parish with the
kindly assistance of the attentive Miles, it occurred to none of them to
look round, or they might have made out the Colonel and Dick still
standing on the steps, and the arm of the former raised and pointed
towards them.

"It is about that man there," the Colonel was saying, "that I want to
speak to you."

Dick could scarcely suppress an exclamation. He changed colour. His face
filled with apprehension. What was coming next? What was suspected? What
discovered? Until these words the Colonel had not spoken since the
church-goers left, and his manner was strange.

The Colonel, however, was scrutinising the young man.

"What rivals they are!" he was thinking. "The one starts at the mere
name of the other! The fact is, Dick," he said aloud, "Miles has dealt
with me rather queerly in some money matters, and--What on earth's the
matter?"

The strong young fellow at Colonel Bristo's side was trembling like a
child; his face was livid, his words low and hurried.

"I will tell you in a moment, sir. Pray go on, Colonel Bristo."

"Well, the fact is I want you to tell me if you know anything--of your
own knowledge, mind--of this station of Miles's in Queensland."

"Excuse me: I can only answer by another question. Has he been raising
money on his station?"

"Do you mean by borrowing from me?"

"Yes, that is what I do mean."

"Well, then, he has. At Teddington--I don't mind telling you, between
ourselves--I lent him a hundred pounds when a remittance he expected by
the mail did not come. After that I found out that he had an agent in
town all the while, and it then struck me as rather odd that he should
have borrowed of me, though even then I did not think much of it. You
see, the man did me the greatest service one man can render another, and
I was only too glad of the opportunity to do him a good turn of any
sort. I can assure you, Dick, at the time I would have made it a
thousand--on the spot--had he asked it. Besides, I have always liked
Miles, though a little less, I must confess, since he came up here. But
last night, as we were strolling about together outside, he suddenly
asked me for another hundred; and the story with which he supported his
request was rambling, if not absurd. He said that his partner evidently
believed him to be on his way out again, and therefore still omitted to
send him a remittance; that he was thus once more 'stuck up' for cash;
that he had quarrelled with his agent (whom I suggested as the most
satisfactory person to apply to), and withdrawn the agency. Well, I
have written out the cheque, and given it him this morning. His
gratitude was profuse, and seemed genuine. All I want you to tell me is
this: Do you know anything yourself of his station, his partner, or his
agent?"

Dick made his answer with a pale, set face, but in a tone free alike
from tremor or hesitancy:

"The man has no station, no agent, no partner!"

"What?" cried out the Colonel. "What are you saying? You must not make
statements of this sort unless you are sure beyond the shadow of a
doubt. I asked what you knew, not what you suspected."

"And I am telling you only what I know."

"That Miles is a common swindler?"

"That his name is not Miles, to begin with."

"Then do you mean to say," the Colonel almost shouted, "that you have
known all this, and let me be duped by the fellow before your eyes?"

"I never suspected what you have told me now," said Dick warmly. "But it
is true that I have known for some weeks who and what this man is. I
found him out at Graysbrooke, and got rid of him for you within a few
hours. I was at fault not to give him in charge. You have good cause to
blame me--and I sha'n't want for blame by and by!--but if you will
listen to me, I will tell you all--yes, all; for I have protected a
worse scoundrel than I thought: I owe him not another moment's silence."

"Come in here, then," said Colonel Bristo, sternly; "for I confess that
I cannot understand you."

                   *       *       *       *       *

Up hill and down dale was the walk to Melmerbridge; but the ascents
really were a shade longer and steeper than the descents, and did not
only seem so to the ladies. For when at last they reached the long grey
stone wall at the edge of the moor, and passed through the gate into the
midst of brown heather, dotted with heads of gay green bracken, they
were greeted by a breeze--gentle and even fitful, but inexpressibly
refreshing. Now below, in the deep lanes between the hedge-rows, there
had been no breeze at all--for the morning was developing into hazy,
sleepy, stifling heat, and the sun was dim--and the flies had been most
pestilent. Accordingly they all drew breath on the moor. Mr. Miles
uncovered his head, and let the feeble breeze make mild sport with his
light brown locks. Then he lit a cigarette. As for the ladies, they sat
down for a moment's rest; and, considering that one of them was well on
in years, and the other combating with a sickness that was gradually
tightening its hold upon her, they were walking uncommonly well. But
conversation had flagged from the start, nor did the magic air of the
moorland quicken it.

When they had threaded the soft, rutted track that girdled the heather
with a reddish-brown belt, when they had climbed the very last knoll,
they found themselves on the extreme edge of that range of hills. Far
below them, to the right, stretched mile upon mile of table-land,
studded with villages and woods, divided by the hedges into countless
squares. No two neighbours, among these squares, were filled in with the
same colour; some were brown, some yellow, and the rest all shades of
green. Far ahead, where the squares were all lost and their colours
merged in one dirty neutral tint--far ahead--at the horizon, in
fact--hung a low, perpetual cloud, like a sombre pall of death. And
death indeed lay under it: death to green fields, sweet flowers, and
honest blue skies.

They viewed all this from a spot where the road had been carved round
the rough brow of a russet cliff. This spot was the loftiest as well as
the ruggedest of the whole walk. On the left the road was flanked by the
ragged wall of the cliff; on the right it was provided with a low
parapet, over which one might gaze forth upon the wide table-land, or
drop stones upon the tops of the tallest fir-trees in the wood at the
cliff's base.

Old Mrs. Parish pointed to the long black cloud on the horizon, and
explained that it was formed almost entirely of the smoke of
blast-furnaces, and was the constant canopy of a great town that they
could not see, because the town was hidden in perennial smoke. More than
this she might have said--about the mighty metals that were disgorged
from under their very feet--about the rich men of yonder town (old
Oliver, for one), not forgetting the poor men, beggar-men, and
thieves--had the old lady not perceived that Miles was gazing furtively
at Alice, and Alice gazing thoughtfully into space, and neither of them
listening to a word.

They walked on, and the descending road became smoother, but tortuous;
and trees arched over it, and the view was hidden until they stood at
the top of straight, steep Melmerbridge Bank, and the good-sized
prosperous village lay stretched at their feet.

One long row of houses and shops on the left; a long straight silvery
stream for the right-hand side of the village street; a bridge across
this stream, leading to a church and a public-house that stood side by
side, on apparently the best of terms, and without another near
neighbour on that side of the beck--such was Melmerbridge from its
bank-top.

As they crossed a white wooden bridge at the foot of the bank (for the
beck curved and twisted, like other becks, except where it did its duty
by that straight village street), a simple, modest Sabbath peal rang out
upon the sultry air.

The old church was roomy, twilit, and consequently cool. Strong light
never found its way inside those old stone walls, for the narrow windows
were pictorial, one and all. Dusk lingered in these aisles throughout
the longest days; upon them day broke last of all; they met nightfall
half-way.

After a long, hot, tiring walk there could have been no more grateful
retreat than this church of All Saints at Melmerbridge. The senses were
lulled in the very porch, nor were they rudely aroused when the quiet
peal had ended and the quiet service began. Everything was subdued and
inoffensive, even to the sermon: a vigorous discourse from the dark oak
pulpit would have grated on the spirit, like loud voices in a
death-chamber.

As for Mrs. Parish, she was soon sleeping as soundly and reverently as
the oldest parishioner. Alice, on the other hand, gave her whole mind to
the service, and her mind filled with peace. Her sweet clear voice
chimed in with every response (at which the parish clerk, with the fine
old crusted dialect, who enjoyed a monopoly in the responses, snorted
angrily and raised his tones), while in the first hymn it rose so high
and clear that the young curate peered over his book through the dusk,
and afterwards lost his place in the Litany through peering again.

Miles, for his part, looked about him with a pardonable curiosity. He
thought that he might have been christened in some church as an infant;
he had certainly been married in one as a comparatively respectable
blackleg--but that was not a pleasant thing to recall to-day. He had
since been once in a little iron Bush chapel, on a professional visit
with his merry men, the object of which visit was attained with such
complete success that all Australia thrilled with indignation. In
London, the Bristos had insisted on taking him to St. Paul's and the
Abbey. This was the full extent of his previous church-going. He was
interested for a little while in looking about him. His interest might
have lasted to the Benediction had there been less subjective food for
thought, or, perhaps, if he had been sitting there alone.

In the hush and the dusk of this strange place, and the monotonous
declamation of phrases that conveyed no meaning to him, Miles set
himself deliberately to think. Wild and precarious as his whole life had
been, he felt its crisis to be within arm's length of him now at
last--he joined hands with it here in this peaceful Yorkshire church.
Even the past few years of infamy and hourly risk contained no situation
so pregnant with fate as the present. He ran over in his mind the chain
of circumstances that had led up to this crisis.

The train of thought took him back to Queensland, where, with Nemesis
holding him by the throat at last, he had wrenched himself from her
tightening grip, and escaped. He had tumbled upon English soil with a
fair sum of money, a past dead and buried, a future of some sort before
him; by chance he had tumbled upon his feet. Chance, and that genius in
the water that had crowned his escape by drowning him in the eyes of the
world, had combined at once, and helped him to save an unknown
gentleman's life. Mother-wit and the laws of gratitude enabled him to
dupe the man he had rescued, become his close friend, live upon him,
draw upon him, extract with subtle cunning the last farthing of salvage,
and all the while he guessed--pretty correctly--that his pursuers were
arriving to learn his death and take ship back to Australia.

Thus far everything had worked out so prettily that it seemed worth
while turning thoroughly honest and beginning this second life on
entirely different lines from the old one. Then he fell in love and
believed that his love was returned, a belief that was not fostered by
his own fancy unaided; now more than ever he desired to improve on the
past, and to forget all ties and obligations belonging to the past.
Edward Ryan was dead; then Edward Ryan's wife was a widow; Miles the
Australian was a new unit in humanity; then why should not Miles the
Australian marry?

Up to this point he could look back on every step with intense
satisfaction; but here his reflections took a bitter turn. To go on
calmly recoiling step after step, beginning with the month of July, was
impossible: he tried it; but to remember that night in the park--to
remember subsequent weeks spent in scheming and plotting, in rejecting
plot after plot and scheme after scheme, in slowly eating his heart out
in the solitude of a London lodging, in gradually losing all taste for
fresh enterprise and all nerve for carrying it out--to remember all this
was to pour vitriol on the spirit. He would remember no more; he would
shut the gate on memory; he would annihilate thought; he would make his
mind a blank. Yet he was powerless to do any of these things.

In his helplessness he looked down on the white figure at his side. The
second hymn was being sung. He had stood, and sat, and knelt or leant
forward with the rest, by mere mechanical impulse. He was even holding
the book which she held without knowing it. When he realised this, his
hand shook so much that the hymn-book was almost jerked from his
fingers. At this she looked up, and caught his eyes bent down upon her.

Now Miles was at the end of the pew, next the wall, and in shadow. Alice
noticed nothing in his expression, and went on singing without pause or
break. But either her face, as she raised it, came in direct line with
the skirt of some saint, in the window above Miles, and the sun, or else
the sun chose that moment for a farewell gleam; in any case, the girl's
pale face was instantly flooded with a rich, warm, crimson glow. Miles
looked down, and this warm glow caught in his heart like a tongue of
live flame.

The hymn was over; they sank down side by side: she to listen to the
sermon, no matter its calibre--he to his thoughts, no matter their
madness.

What were his thoughts? Not reflections now. Not hesitancy, his new
unaccountable failing; not nervous doubt, his new humiliating enemy. No,
his thoughts were of the old kind, but worse. He was contemplating a
crime. He was contemplating the worst crime of his whole career. The
plain English of his thoughts was this:

"I believe that she likes me. I see that she is, in the catch phrase,
'pining.' I am told that it is for me. Very good. If that is the case
she will believe what I tell her, and do what I ask her. I have some
power of persuasion. I am not without invention. I shall represent to
her all kinds of reasons for precipitancy and secrecy--temporary
secrecy. In a word, she shall fly with me! Well, that is bad enough; but
there my badness ends. I will live without crime for her sake; I will
retrieve what I can of the past. Henceforth my life is of her, with
her--above all, it is for her. She need never know how I have wronged
her, therefore she will not be wronged."

He looked at the face beside him; it was white as alabaster. Alice was
straining her eyes towards some object that filled them with sadness and
sympathy. He followed the direction of her gaze; and he saw an old, old
man--a man who would soon come to church for the last time, and remain
outside the walls, under the grass--who was gazing with pathetic
wistfulness at the preacher, and, with wrinkled hand raised to the ear,
making the most and the best of every well-worn epithet and perfunctory
stock phrase. That was all. Miles brought back his glance to the white
profile at his side, and found it changed in this instant of time: the
long eyelashes were studded with crystal tears!

How sad she looked--how thin and ill! Would she look like this
afterwards? Would tears often fill her eyes in the time to come?

Miles shut his eyes, and again exerted might and main to blot out
thought. But he could not do it; and half his confidence was gone at the
moment when he most needed it all. He knew it, and shuddered. A thought
that had haunted him of late crossed his mind for the hundredth time: he
was an altered man not only in pretence but in reality; his nerve and
coolness had deserted him!

The sermon was over, and the congregation awake. Miles stood up with the
rest, and took between thumb and finger his side of the little hymn book
held out to him. He heartily wished it all over. In his present
unfortunate state of mind another hymn was another ordeal: her voice,
when she sang, put such weak thoughts into his head. Was he not a fool
and a madman to think at all of a woman who unmanned him so? Nay, hush!
The hymn was begun. She was singing it with her whole heart, the little
head thrown backward, the little white face turned upward. She was
singing; he could hear nothing else. She was singing; would she sing
afterwards? She was singing from the depths of her tired soul. Would she
ever sing like this again? Would he ever hear her voice again. Hush!
This might be the last time!

                   *       *       *       *       *

Colonel Bristo was back on the steps, gazing under his thin, hollowed
hand up the road. He looked anxious, and indignant, and determined--but
old and careworn.

"What a time they are!" said Dick, pointing to the crest of the second
hill, where the brown road met the silver sky. Next moment he would have
recalled his words, for two figures, not three, stood out black against
the sky. They were only in sight for an instant, but during that instant
they were hand in hand!

The two men on the steps waited without a word for many minutes. Neither
could bring himself to speak--perhaps each hoped that the other had not
seen everything. Besides, one was the father of the girl, and the
other--her jilted lover. More than once the father shivered, and his
fingers twitched the whole time. Simultaneously they both started in
surprise; for all at once Alice appeared over the brow of the nearest
hill, coming swiftly towards them--alone.

"Thank God!" murmured the Colonel, forgetting Dick's presence. "He has
asked her to marry him, and she has refused. The villain!"

"Then, if you are right," cried Dick with sudden intensity, "a million
times blacker villain he."

"What do you mean?"

"Mean? I mean--but there is no need to tell you now."

"You may as well tell me everything."

"Then I mean that he is married already."



                                  XXVI

                                 AT BAY


"Where is Mrs. Parish?" demanded Colonel Bristo, the moment his daughter
reached the gate. In spite of a gallant effort to be calm before Alice,
his voice quivered.

"The walk was too much for her." The girl's face was flushed, and her
tones faint. "She said she couldn't walk back were it ever so. She spoke
to Mrs. Commyns--who was called here, you know--and went to the Rectory.
She wants us to send the pony-trap if----"

"Where is Mr. Miles?" Alice's father interrupted her.

"He is following."

She passed quickly by them into the house. Her face was full of trouble.
Traces of tears were visible under her eyes. They heard her hurrying
upstairs. Neither of them spoke a word. Dick had his back turned; he was
watching the road.

The figure of Miles appeared on the nearest knoll. He walked slowly down
the bank, his head bent, his eyes fixed upon the ground. Dick turned to
Colonel Bristo.

"You had better leave me to speak to him," he said. "I will settle with
him on the spot."

"It ought to come from me," said the Colonel doubtfully; "and yet----"

The old man paused. Dick looked at him with some anxiety.

"You had really better leave him to me, sir," he repeated. "I am sorry
to say I am used to treating with him. There had better be no third
party to our last parley. And the fewer words the better, on Alice's
account; she need know nothing. Besides, I know your intentions----"

"Yes, yes; that for my part I will take no steps, not even to get back
my money; that he may go to-day instead of to-morrow, and leave the
country--we will not stop him. Of course, he will be only too glad to
get off! Dick, I care nothing about the paltry pounds he has got out of
me; he is welcome to them; I do not grudge him them, because of the
service he did me--yet if I saw him now, I feel that I should forget to
count that service. And you are right about Alice. Speak quietly, and
get rid of him quickly. I will not see him unless I am obliged; at
least, I will first hear from the dining-room what he has to say to
you."

A moment later the Colonel was at his post in the dining-room. His
retreat from the steps, which was really characteristic of the
man, is open to misconstruction. He feared nothing worse than an
unpleasantness--a disagreeable scene; and he avoided unpleasantnesses
and disagreeables systematically through life. That was the man's
weakness. Now if Dick had led him to suppose that Miles would do
anything but take his congé philosophically and go, the Colonel would
have filled the breach bristling with war. But from Dick's account of
his previous relations with the impostor, he expected that Miles would
be sent to the right-about with ease, and Colonel Bristo shrank from
doing this personally.

The dining-room windows were wide open, but the brown holland blinds
were drawn. Colonel Bristo did not raise them. He sat down to listen
without looking. Almost immediately he heard a sharp click from the
latch of the wicket-gate; then a louder click accompanied by a thud of
timbers. Whoever had opened the gate had passed through and swung it to.
The next sound that Colonel Bristo heard was the quiet, business-like
voice of young Edmonstone:

"Stop! I have a word for you from the Colonel. Stop where you are! He
does not want you to come in."

"What do you mean? What has happened?" The tones were apathetic--those
of a man who has heard his doom already, to whom nothing else can matter
much.

"He simply does not want you inside his house again. He is sending your
things down to the inn, where he hopes you will stay until you leave the
place according to your plans. Ryan," added Edmonstone in an altered
manner, "you understand me by this time? Then you may take my word for
it that you are as safe as you were yesterday; though you don't deserve
it. Only go at once."

There was a pause. The Colonel fidgeted in his chair.

"So, my kind, generous, merciful friend could not keep his word one day
longer!"

Miles's voice was so completely changed that the Colonel involuntarily
grasped the blind-cord; for now it was the voice of an insolent,
polished villain.

"If I had known before," Dick answered him coolly, "what I have found
out this morning, you might have cried for quarter until you were
hoarse."

"May I ask what you have learnt this morning?"

"Your frauds on the man who befriended you."

"My obligations to the man whose life I saved. Your way of putting it is
prejudiced. Of course you gave him your version as to who I am?"

"My version!" exclaimed Edmonstone scornfully. "I told him that you and
the bushranger Sundown are one."

Again Miles swiftly changed his key; but it was his words that were
startling now.

"You are mad!" he said, pityingly--"you are mad; and I have known it for
weeks. Your last words put your delusion in a nutshell. You have not a
proof to bless yourself with. You are a madman on one point; and here
comes the man that knows it as well as I do!"

In a whirl of surprise and amazement, not knowing for the moment whom or
what to believe, the Colonel pulled up the blind and leant through the
window. The Australian stood facing his accuser with an impudent smile
of triumph. For once he stood revealed as he was--for once he looked
every inch the finished scoundrel. If the Colonel had wavered for an
instant before drawing up the blind, he wavered no more after the first
glimpse of the Australian's face. He settled in his mind at that instant
which was the liar of those two men. Yet something fascinated him. He
was compelled to listen.

Robson was coming in at the gate.

"You are the very man we want," laughed Miles, turning towards him. "Now
pull yourself together, Doctor. Do you call our friend, Mr. Edmonstone
here, sane or not?"

"You said that he was not," said Robson, looking from Edmonstone to
Miles.

"And you agreed with me?"

"I said I thought----"

"You said you thought! Well, never mind; I call him sane--practically;
only under a delusion. But we will test him. You charge me with being a
certain Australian bushranger, Mr. Edmonstone. Of course you have some
evidence?"

An awkward sensation came over Dick: a consciousness that he had
committed a mistake, and a mistake that was giving the enemy a momentary
advantage. He choked with rage and indignation: but for the moment he
could find no words. Evidence? He had the evidence of his senses; but it
was true that he had no corroborative evidence at hand.

The bushranger's eyes glittered with a reckless light. He knew that the
sides were too uneven to play this game long. He felt that he was a free
man if he quietly accepted fate as he had accepted it before at this
man's hands. The odds were overwhelming; but he was seized with a wild
desire to turn and face them; to turn upon his contemptible foe and
treat him as he should have treated him in the beginning. It might cost
him his liberty--his life--but it was worth it! The old devilry had
sprung back into being within him. He was desperate--more desperate,
this half-hour, than ever in the whole course of his desperate
existence. His life had seemed worth having during the past weeks of his
cowardice; now it was valueless--more valueless than it had been before.
He was at bay, and he realised it. His brain was ablaze. He had played
the docile Miles too long. Wait a moment, and he would give them one
taste of the old Sundown!

"At least," he sneered in a low, suppressed voice, "you have someone
behind you with a warrant? No? Nothing but your bare word and the dim
recollection of years ago? That, my friend, seems hardly enough. Ah,
Colonel, I'm glad you are there. Is there any truth in this message that
has been given me, that you have had enough of me?"

"I wish you to go," said Colonel Bristo, sternly. "I wash my hands of
you. Why refuse a chance of escape?"

"What! Do you mean to say you believe this maniac's cock-and-bull yarn
about me?" He pointed jauntily at Dick with his forefinger. But the hand
lowered, until the forefinger covered the corner of white handkerchief
peeping from Edmonstone's breast-pocket. For a moment Miles seemed to be
making some mental calculation; then his hand dropped, and trifled with
his watch-chain.

"I believe every word that he has told me," declared the Colonel
solemnly. "As to warrants, they are not wanted where there is to be no
arrest. We are not going to lay hands on you. Then go!"

"Go!" echoed Edmonstone hoarsely. "And I wish to God I had done my duty
the night I found you out! You would have been in proper hands long
before this."

"Suppose I refuse to go? Suppose I stay and insist on evidence being
brought against me?" said Miles to the Colonel. Then turning to Dick
with fiery, blood-shot eyes, he cried: "Suppose, since there is no
evidence at all, I shoot the inventor of all these lies?"

The hand was raised sharply from the watch-chain and dived into an inner
pocket. That moment might have been Dick Edmonstone's last on earth, had
not a white fluttering skirt appeared in the passage behind him.

The hand of Miles dropped nervelessly.

Colonel Bristo heard in the passage the light quick steps and rustling
dress, and ran to the door. At the same instant Pinckney jumped up from
his writing to see what was the matter. They met in the passage, and
followed Alice to the steps. Her father seized her hand, to draw her
back, but she snatched it from his grasp. Her hand was icy cold. Her
face was white as death--as immovable--as passionless. She stood on the
steps, and glanced from Edmonstone at her side to Miles on the path
below. On Miles her calm glance rested.

"You seem to forget!" she said in a hard voice that seemed to come from
far away. "You are forgetting what you said to me a few minutes ago, on
the road. I understand your meaning better now than I did then. Yes, it
is true; you know it is true: you are what he says you are!"

Miles watched her like one petrified.

She turned to Dick at her side. And now a sudden flush suffused her
pallid cheeks, and her eyes dilated.

"It is you," she cried impetuously, "you that we have to thank for
this! You that have brought all this upon us, you that allowed us to
be preyed upon by a villain--screened him, helped him in his deceit,
plotted with him! Being what he was, it was in his nature to cheat us.
I forgive him, and pity him. But you I shall never forgive! Go, Mr.
Miles. Whatever and whoever you are, go as you are asked. And go you
too--true friend--brave gentleman! Go, both of you. Let us never see
you again. Yet no! Stay--stay, all of you" (her face was changing, her
words were growing faint)--"and hear what it was--he said--to me--and
my answer, which is my answer still! Stay--one moment--and hear----"

Her words ceased altogether. Without a cry or a moan she sank senseless
in her father's arms.

Philip Robson rushed forward. They stretched her on the cold stone. They
tore open the collar round her neck, breaking the pretty brooch. They
put brandy to her lips, and salts to her nostrils, and water upon her
brow. Minutes passed, and there was no sign, no glimmer of returning
life.

When Alice fell, Miles took one step forward, but no more. He stood
there, leaning forward, unable to remove his eyes from the white
lifeless face, scarcely daring to breathe.

There was no noise, no single word! The doctor (to his credit be it
remembered) was trying all that he knew, quickly and quietly. The
Colonel said not a word, but silently obeyed his nephew, and chafed the
chill hands. Edmonstone fanned her face gently. Pinckney had disappeared
from the group.

Robson suddenly looked up and broke the silence.

"Where is the nearest doctor?"

"Melmerbridge," murmured someone.

"He should be fetched at once. We want experience here. This is no
ordinary faint."

Before the doctor had finished speaking, Miles wheeled round and darted
to the gate. And there he found himself confronted by a short, slight,
resolute opponent.

"You sha'n't escape," said Pinckney through his teeth, "just because the
others can't watch you! You villain!"

Pinckney had heard only the end of what had passed on the steps, but
that was enough to assure him that Miles had been unmasked as a
criminal. Of course he would take the opportunity of all being
preoccupied to escape, and did; and David faced Goliath in the gateway.

In lesser circumstances Miles would have laughed, and perhaps tossed
his little enemy into the ditch. But now he whipped out his
revolver--quicker than thought--and presented it with such swift,
practised precision that you would have thought there had been no hiatus
in his career as bushranger. And he looked the part at that instant!

Pinckney quailed, and gave way.

The next moment, Miles was rushing headlong up the hill.

On the crest of the second hill, above the beck and the bridge, he
stopped to look round. The people on the steps were moving. Their number
had increased. He could distinguish a servant-maid holding her apron to
her eyes. They were moving slowly; they were carrying something into the
house--something in a white covering that hung heavily as a cerement in
the heavy air.



                                 XXVII

                            THE FATAL TRESS


Was she dead?

The question was thundered out in the sound of the runner's own steps on
the flinty places, and echoed by the stones that rolled away from under
his feet. The thought throbbed in his brain, the unspoken words sang in
his ears: Was she dead?

The face of Alice was before Ryan as he ran: the pale, delicate face of
this last week, not the face of old days. The early days of summer were
old days, though it was summer still. June by the Thames was buried
deeper in the past than last year in Australia, though it was but August
now. What had come over the girl in these few weeks? What had changed
and saddened her? What made her droop like a trampled flower? What was
the matter--was it the heart?

The heart! Suppose it was the heart. Suppose the worst. Suppose this
shock had killed her. Suppose he--the criminal, the outlaw, the wretch
unfit to look upon good women--had murdered this sweet, cruel, wayward,
winsome girl! Even so, he must still push on and bring her aid. If that
aid came too late, then let his own black life come to a swift and
miserable end. His life for hers; the scales of justice demanded it.

The afternoon was dull but not dusky. The clouds were so high and
motionless that it seemed as if there were no clouds, but one wide vault
of tarnished silver. To point to that part of this canopy that hid the
sun would have been guesswork.

Between the tall hedges the air was heavier than in the morning; the
flies and midges swarmed in myriads. Even on the moor there was now no
breath of wind. The heather looked lifeless, colourless; the green
fronds peeping between had lost their sparkle; the red-brown of the
undulating belt of road was the brightest tint in the landscape up
there.

When Ryan was half-way across the moor, rain began to fall. He threw
back his head as he ran, and the raindrops cooled his heated face. His
hat had long ago been jerked off, and his hair lay plastered by
perspiration to the scalp. The man's whole frame was on fire from his
exertions. The breath came hard through his clenched teeth. His blue
eyes were filled with a wild despair. Since the last backward look, that
showed him the solemn group on the steps, he had thundered on without an
instant's pause; and the time lost in toiling up the banks was made up
by dashing headlong down the other side.

Now he was climbing the steep ascent that culminated at the spot where
the road was curved round the face of the cliff, and protected on the
right by the low stone parapet. Once at the top, he would soon be in
Melmerbridge, for the remainder of the road was down-hill.

The wall of cliff on the left was jagged and perpendicular, and of the
same russet tint as the road. Detached fragments of the rock rested in
the angle formed by its base and the rough-hewn road. Among these
boulders was an object that attracted Ryan's curiosity as he climbed up
from below: it was so like a boulder in rigidity and colour, and in
outline so like a man. Ryan saw the outline alter: of course it was a
man, and he was crouching with his back to the rock for shelter from the
rain. Suddenly the man rose, and staggered into the middle of the pass,
between rocky wall and stone parapet, while Ryan was still some yards
below. It was Pound.

Ryan had seen him in the street at Melmerbridge, in coming from church.
Pound had reeled out of a public-house and caught him by the arm. Ryan
had shaken him off with a whispered promise to meet him in the evening
as arranged; and had explained the occurrence to his companion by some
ready lie.

So Pound was on his way back to Gateby, drunk. This was evident from his
attitude as he stood barring the pass, and from the hoarse peal of
laughter that echoed round the cliff, and from the tones of blusterous
banter with which he greeted his quondam leader.

"Welcome! Glad to see ye! But who'd ha' thought you'd be better than
your word? Better, I say--you're better than your blessed word!"

"Stand clear!" shouted Ryan, twenty paces below.

Pound leered down upon him like a satyr. His massive arms were tightly
folded across his bulky chest. His smooth face became horrible as he
stood looking down and leering. His answer to Ryan was hissed savagely
through his teeth:

"Stand clear be----! I want my money. I'll have my whack o' the swag,
and have it now! D'ye hear? Now!"

"I have nothing about me," Ryan answered. "You drunken fool, stand
clear!"

The twenty paces between them were reduced to ten.

"Nothing about you!" jeered Pound, spitting upon the ground. "Ay, I
know--you carry your nothing round your neck, old man! And I'll have my
share of it now or never!"

They were almost at arm's length now.

"Never, then!" cried Ryan, half drawing his revolver.

In a flash Pound's arm unfolded, and his right arm shot out straight
from the shoulder. There followed a streak of fire and a loud report.
Thin clouds of white smoke hung in the motionless air. From their midst
came a deep groan and the thud of a dead weight falling. And Pound was
left standing alone, a smoking pistol in his hand. For a minute he stood
as still as Ryan lay.

"A shake longer," he muttered at length, "and I'd have been there and
you here. As it is--as it is, I think you're cooked at last, skipper!"

He put the revolver back in his pocket, and stood contemplating his
work. The sight completely sobered him. To a certain degree it
frightened him as well. Of the other sensations, such as might ensue
upon a first murder, Jem Pound experienced simply none. Even his fear
was not acute, for it was promptly swallowed by cupidity.

"Now for them notes!"

He knelt down beside his victim, eyeing him cautiously. The fallen man
lay stretched across the road, on his back. He had torn open his coat
and waistcoat while running, and the white shirt was darkened with a
stain that increased in area every instant. Pound wondered whether he
had hit the heart. The upturned face, with closed eyelids and mouth
slightly open, was slimy and wet with perspiration and the soft August
rain. By holding the back of his hand half-an-inch above the mouth,
Pound satisfied himself that Ryan was still breathing--"his last,"
thought Jem Pound, without any extravagant regret. Blood was flowing
from a scalp-wound at the back of the head, received in falling; but
this escaped the murderer's notice. What he next observed was that the
arms lay straight down the sides, and that the right hand grasped a
revolver. At sight of this, Jem Pound leapt to his feet with an excited
exclamation.

He drew forth again his own revolver, to assure himself that he was not
mistaken. No, he was not. The pistols were an original brace, and alike
in every particular. The smooth, heavy face of the murderer lit up with
infernal exultation. He pointed with a finger that trembled now--from
sheer excitement--to the pistol in the lifeless hand, then tapped the
barrel of his own significantly.

"Suicide!" he whispered. "Suicide--suicide--suicide!" He reiterated the
word until he thought that he appreciated its full import. Then he knelt
down and leant over the prostrate Ryan, with the confident air of a
lucky man on the point of crowning a very pyramid of good fortune.

Slowly and daintily he unfastened the studs in Ryan's shirt; he was
playing with blood now, and must avoid unnecessary stains. He would just
take what he wanted--take it cleverly, without leaving a trace
behind--and satisfy himself that it was what he wanted, more or less.
Then he would fire one chamber of Ryan's revolver, and make off. But
first--those notes! The chest was already bathed in blood; but Pound saw
at once the object of his search, the cause of his deed, and his black
heart leapt within him.

Well, the little oiled-silk bag was small--unexpectedly
small--incredibly small; but then there were bank notes for enormous
sums; and one bank-note, or two, or three, would fold quite as small as
this, and press as thin. To Pound's ignorant mind it seemed quite
natural for Sundown, the incomparably clever Sundown, to have exchanged
his ill-gotten gold for good, portable paper-money at some or other time
and place. Dexterously, with the keen broad blade of his knife, he cut
the suspending tapes and picked up the bag on its point. The oiled-silk
bag was blood-stained; he wiped it gingerly on the flap of Ryan's coat,
and then wiped the blood from his own fingers. He knew better than to
allow bank-notes to become stained with blood.

Yet how light it was in his palm! It would not be lighter if the
oiled-silk contained nothing at all. By its shape, however, it did
contain something. Pound rose to his feet to see what. His confidence
was ebbing. His knees shook under him with misgiving. He moved
unsteadily to the low stone parapet, sat down, and ripped open the
little bag with such clumsy haste that he cut his finger.

Jem Pound sat like a man turned to stone. The little bag was still in
his left hand, and the knife; his right hand was empty the contents of
the bag, a lock of light hair, had fallen from his right palm to the
ground, where it lay all together, for there was no wind to scatter it.

Jem Pound's expression was one of blank, unspeakable, illimitable
disappointment; suddenly he looked up, and it turned to a grimace of
speechless terror.

The barrel of the other revolver covered him.

Bleeding terribly from the bullet in his lungs, but stunned by the fall
on his head, Ned Ryan had recovered consciousness in time to see Pound
rip open the oiled-silk bag, in time to smile faintly at what
followed--and to square accounts.

Ryan did not speak. The faint smile had faded from his face. In the
relentless glare that took its place the doomed wretch, sitting in a
heap on the low parapet, read his death-warrant.

There was a pause, a hush, of very few moments. Pound tried to use his
tongue, but, like his lips, it was paralysed. Then the echoes of the
cliff resounded with a second, short, sharp pistol shot, and when the
white smoke cleared away the parapet was bare; Jem Pound had vanished;
the account was squared.

Ryan fell back. The pistol dropped from his hand. Again he became
well-nigh senseless, but this time consciousness refused to forsake him
utterly; he rallied. Presently he fell to piecing together, in jerky,
delirious fashion, the events of the last few minutes--or hours, he did
not know which--but it was all the same to him now. The circumstances
came back to him vividly enough, if out of their proper sequence. That
which had happened at the moment his senses fled from him was clearest
and uppermost in his mind at first.

"The cur!" he feebly moaned. "He gave me no show. He has killed me--I am
bleeding to death and not a soul to stop it or stand by me!"

Yet, very lately, he had decided that his life was valueless, and even
thought of ending it by his own hand. Some dim reflection of this recent
attitude of mind perhaps influenced him still, for, if an incoherent
mind can be said to reason, his first reasoning was somewhat in this
strain:

"Why should I mind? Who am I any good to, I should like to know? What
right have I to live any more? None! I'm ready. I've faced it night and
day these four years, and not for nothing--not to flinch now it's
here!... And hasn't my life been gay enough, and wild enough, and long
enough?... I said I'd die in the bush, and so I will--here, on these
blessed old ranges. But stop! I didn't mean to be shot by a mate--I
didn't mean that. A mate? A traitor! What shall we do with him?"

His mind had annihilated space: it had flown back to the bush.

A curious smile flickered over Ryan's face in answer to his own
question.

"What have I done with him?" he muttered.

He raised himself on his elbows and looked towards the spot where he had
seen Pound last. The formation of the parapet seemed to puzzle him. It
was unlike the ranges.

"He was always the worst of us, that Jem Pound," he went rambling on;
"the worst of a bad lot, I know. But those murders were his doing. So at
last we chucked him overboard. And now he's come back and murdered me.
As to that, I reckon we're about quits, with the bulge on my side. Never
mind, Jem Pound"--with a sudden spice of grim humour--"we'll meet again
directly. Your revenge'll keep till then, old son!"

All this time Ryan's brain was in a state of twilight. He now lay still
and quiet, and began to forget again. But he could not keep his eyes
long from the spot whence Pound had disappeared, and presently, after a
fruitless effort to stand upright, he crawled to the parapet, slowly
lifted himself, and hung over it, gazing down below.

Nothing to be seen; nothing but the tops of the fir-trees. Nothing to be
heard; for the fir-trees were asleep in the still, heavy atmosphere, and
the summer rain made no noise. He raised his head until his eyes fell
upon the broad flat table-land. The air was not clear, as it had been in
the morning. That pall of black smoke covering the distant town was
invisible, for the horizon was far nearer, misty and indeterminate; and
his eyes were dim as they never had been before. The line of white smoke
left by an engine that crept lazily across the quiet country was what he
saw clearest; the tinkling of a bell--for Sunday-school, most
likely--down in one of the hamlets that he could not see, was the only
sound that reached his ears.

Yet he was struggling to recognise as much as he could see, vaguely
feeling that it was not altogether new to him. It was the struggle of
complete consciousness returning.

He was exhausted again; he fell back into the road. Then it was that he
noticed the parapet streaming with blood at the spot where he had hung
over it. To think that the coward Pound should have bled so freely in so
short a time! And how strange that he, Ned Ryan, should not have
observed that blood before he had drenched himself in it! No! Stop! It
was his own blood! He was shot; he was dying; he was bleeding to his
death--alone--away from the world!

A low moan--a kind of sob--escaped him. He lay still for some minutes.
Then, with another effort, he raised himself on his elbow and looked
about him. The first thing that he saw--close to him, within his
reach--was that fatal tress of light-coloured hair!

In a flash his mind was illumined to the innermost recesses, and clear
from that moment.

Now he remembered everything: how he had come to his senses at the very
moment that Pound was handling this cherished tress, which alone was
sufficient reason and justification for shooting Jem Pound on the spot;
how he had been on his way to fetch help--help for Alice Bristo!

He pressed the slender tress passionately to his lips, then twined it
tightly in and out his fingers.

Faint and bleeding as he was, he started to his feet. New power was
given him; new life entered the failing spirit: new blood filled the
emptying vessels. For a whole minute Ned Ryan was a Titan. During that
minute the road reeled out like a red-brown ribbon under his stride. The
end of that minute saw him at the top of Melmerbridge Bank. There, with
the village lying at his feet, and the goal all but won, he staggered,
stumbled, and fell headlong to the ground.



                                 XXVIII

                               THE EFFORT


Galloping over the moor, fresh from his corn, the pony suddenly swerved,
and with such violence that the trap was all but overturned.

"What was that?" asked Edmonstone, who was driving.

"A hat," Pinckney answered.

These two men were alone together, on an errand of life or death.

Edmonstone glanced back over his shoulder.

"I'll swear," said he, "that hat is Miles's!"

"Good heavens! has he stuck to the road?"

"Looks like it."

"Then we're on his track?"

"Very likely."

"And will get him, eh?"

At this question Edmonstone brought down the lash heavily on the pony's
flank.

"Who wants to get him? Who cares what becomes of him? The Melmerbridge
doctor's the man we want to get!"

Pinckney relapsed into silence. It became plain to him that his
companion was painfully excited. Otherwise there was no excuse for his
irritability.

At the foot of the last steep ascent on the farther side of the moor,
Pinckney had jumped out to walk. He was walking a few yards ahead of the
pony. Suddenly he stopped, uttered a shrill exclamation, and picked up
something he found lying in the road. He was then but a few feet from
the top, and the low stone parapet was already on his right hand.

"What is it?" cried Dick, from the pony-trap below.

Pinckney threw his hand high over his head. The revolver was stamped
black and sharp against the cold grey sky.

A cold shudder passed through Edmonstone's strong frame. The wings of
death beat in his ears and fanned his cheek with icy breath. The dread
angel was hovering hard by. Dick felt his presence, and turned cold and
sick to the heart.

"Let me see it," cried Dick, urging on the pony.

Pinckney ran down to meet him with a pale, scared face.

"It was his," faltered Pinckney. "I ought to know it. He threatened me
with it when I tried to stop him bolting."

The slightest examination was enough to bespeak the worst.

"One cartridge has been fired," said Dick, in a hushed voice. "God knows
what we shall find next!"

What they found next was a patch of clotting blood upon the stones of
the parapet.

They exchanged no more words, but Dick got down and ran on ahead, and
Pinckney took the reins.

Dick's searching eyes descried nothing to check the speed of his running
till he had threaded the narrow, winding lane that led to Melmerbridge
Bank, and had come out at the top of that broad highway; and there, at
the roadside, stretched face downward on the damp ground, lay the
motionless form of Sundown, the Australian outlaw.

The fine rain was falling all the time. The tweed clothes of the
prostrate man were soaked and dark with it. Here and there they bore a
still darker, soaking stain; and a thin, thin stripe of dusky red,
already two feet in length, was flowing slowly down the bank, as though
in time to summon the people of Melmerbridge to the spot. Under the
saturated clothes there was no movement that Dick could see; but neither
was there, as yet, the rigidity of death in the long, muscular,
outstretched limbs.

Dick stole forward and knelt down, and murmured the only name that rose
to his lips:

"Miles! Miles! Miles!"

No answer--no stir. Dick lowered his lips to the ear that was uppermost,
and spoke louder:

"Miles!"

This time a low, faint groan came in answer. He still lived!

Dick gently lifted the damp head between his two hands, and laid Ryan's
cheek upon his knee.

Ryan opened his blue eyes wide.

"Where am I? Who are you? Ah!"

Consciousness returned to the wounded man, complete in a flash this
time. At once he remembered all--tearing madly down from the top, in and
out this winding track--and all that had gone before. He was perfectly
lucid. He looked up in Edmonstone's face, pain giving way before fierce
anxiety in his own, and put a burning question in one short, faint,
pregnant word:

"Well?"

Had health and strength uttered this vague interrogative, Dick would
have replied on the instant from the depths of his own anxiety by
telling the little that he knew of Alice Bristo's condition. But here
was a man struck down--dying, as it seemed. How could one think that on
the brink of the grave a man should ask for news from another's sick
bed? Edmonstone was puzzled by the little word, and showed it.

"You know what I mean?" exclaimed Ryan, with weary impatience. "Is
she--is she--dead?"

"God forbid!" said Dick. "She is ill--she is insensible still. But man,
man, what about you? What have you done?"

"What have I done?" cried Ryan, hoarsely. "I have come to bring help to
her--and--I have failed her! I can get no further!"

His voice rose to a wail of impotent anguish. His face was livid and
quivering. He fell back exhausted. Dick attempted to staunch the blood
that still trickled from the wound in the chest. But what could he do?
He was powerless. In his helplessness he gazed down the bank; not a soul
was to be seen. He could not leave Ryan. He could hear the sure-footed
steps of the pony slowly approaching from above. What was he to do? Was
this man to die in his arms without an effort to save him? He gazed
sorrowfully upon the handsome face, disfigured by blood, and pain, and
mire. All his relations with this man recrossed his mind in a swift
sweeping wave, and, strange to say, left only pity behind them. Could
nothing be done to save him?

The pony-trap was coming nearer every instant. It was Dick's one hope
and comfort, for Pinckney could leave the trap and rush down into the
village for help. He hallooed with all his might, and there was an
answering call from above.

"Make haste, make haste!" cried Dick at the top of his voice.

The shouting aroused Ryan. He opened his eyes, and suddenly started into
a sitting posture.

"Haste?" he cried, with articulation weaker yet more distinct. "Yes,
make haste to the township! To the township, do you hear? There it is!"

He pointed through the rain to the red roofs of Melmerbridge, on the
edge of the tableland below. It was then that Dick noticed the lock of
hair twisted about the fingers of Ryan's right hand.

"There it is, quite close--don't you see it? Go! go--I can't! Fly for
your life to the township, and fetch him--not to me--to her! For God's
sake, fetch him quick!"

For all the use of the word "township," his mind was not wandering in
Australia now.

"Why don't you go? You may be too late! Why do you watch me like that?
Ah, you won't go! You don't care for her as I did; you want her to die!"

Wildly he flung himself forward, and dug his fingers into the moist
ground, and began feebly creeping down the bank on his hands and knees.
Dick tried in vain to restrain him. The failing heart was set upon an
object from which death alone could tear it. During this the last hour
of his life this criminal, this common thief, had struggled strenuously
towards an end unpretending enough, but one that was for once not
selfish--had struggled and fought, and received his death-wound, and
struggled on again. His life had been false and base. It cannot be
expected to count for much that in his last moments he was faithful, and
not ignoble. Yet so it was in the end. Edmonstone tried in vain to
restrain him; but with a last extraordinary effort he flung himself
clear, and half crawled, half rolled several yards.

Suddenly Ned Ryan quivered throughout his whole frame. Dick caught him
in his arms, and held him back by main force.

The dying man's glassy gaze was fixed on the red roofs below. For an
instant one long arm was pointed towards them, and a loud clear voice
rang out upon the silent air:

"The township! The township----!"

The cry ended in a choking sob. The arm fell heavily. Edmonstone
supported a dead weight on his breast.

"Pinckney!"

"Yes, yes?"

"God forgive him--it's all over!"



                                  XXIX

                             ELIZABETH RYAN


Elizabeth Ryan did not return to Gateby after leaving Pound in the
fields between the village and the shooting-box. All that night she
roamed the lanes and meadows like a restless shade. Whither her
footsteps led her she cared little, and considered less.

Though not unconscious of the mechanical act of walking, her sense of
locomotion was practically suspended. A night on the treadmill would
have left upon her an impression of environment no more monotonous than
that which remained to her when this night was spent; and she never once
halted the whole night through.

Her seeing mind held but one image--her husband. In her heart, darting
its poison through every vein, quivered a single passion--violent,
ungovernable anger. The full, undivided force of this fierce passion was
directed against Edward Ryan.

Later--when the flame had gone out, and the sullen glow of stern resolve
remained in its stead--the situation presented itself in the form of
alternatives. Either she must betray her husband, or set him free by
ending her own miserable life. One of these two things must be done, one
left undone. There was no third way now. The third way had been tried;
it should have led to compassion and justice; it had led only to
further cruelty and wrong. One of the remaining ways must now be chosen;
for the woman it little mattered which; they surely converged in death.

At daybreak Elizabeth Ryan found herself in flat, low-lying country. She
looked for the hills, and saw them miles away. From among those hills
she had come. She must have been walking right through the night, she
thought.

She was by no means sure. She only knew that her brain had been terribly
active all through the night--she could not answer for her body. Then,
all at once, a deadly weariness overcame her, and a score of aches and
pains declared themselves simultaneously. Prevented by sheer distraction
from feeling fatigue as it came, by natural degrees, the moment the
mental strain was interrupted the physical strain manifested its results
in the aggregate; Mrs. Ryan in one moment became ready to drop.

She had drifted into a narrow green lane leading to a farmhouse. She
followed up this lane till it ended before a substantial six-barred
gate. She opened the gate and entered the farmyard. She tried the doors
of the outbuildings. A cowhouse was open and empty; one of its stalls
was stacked high with hay; to the top of this hay she climbed, and crept
far back to the wall, and covered her dress with loose handfuls of the
hay. And there Elizabeth Ryan went near to sleeping the clock round.

A hideous dream awoke her at last. She was trembling horribly. She had
seen her husband dead at her feet--murdered at his wife's instigation!

The mental picture left by the dream was so vivid that the unhappy woman
lay long in terror and trembling, not daring to move. Instead of paling
before consciousness and reason, the ghastly picture gained in breadth,
colour, and conviction with each waking minute. He was lying dead at her
feet--her husband--her Ned--the man for love of whom she had crossed the
wide world, and endured nameless hardships, unutterable humiliation. He
was slain by the hand of the man who had led her to him--by the ruthless
murderer, Jem Pound!

She remembered her words to Pound, and her teeth chattered: "Take it,
even if you have to take his life with it!" Those were the very words
she had used in her frenzy, meaning whatever it was that Ned wore upon
his breast. He wore it, whatever it was, near to his heart; he must
value it next to his life. What else could it be but money? Oh, why had
she told Pound? How could passion carry her so far? If her dream was
true--and she had heard of true dreams--then her husband was murdered,
and the guilt was hers.

A low wail of agony escaped her, and for a moment drove her fears into a
new channel. Suppose that cry were heard! She would be discovered
immediately, perhaps imprisoned, and prevented from learning the worst
or the best about her dream, which she must learn at any price and at
once! Filled with this new and tangible dread she buried herself deeper
in the hay and held her breath. No one came. There was no sound but her
own heart's loud beating, and the dripping and splashing of the rain
outside in the yard, and the rising of the wind. She breathed freely
again; more freely than before her alarm. The minutes of veritable
suspense had robbed the superstitious terror of half its power, but not
of the motive half, she must go back and make sure about that dream
before carrying out any previous resolution. Until this was done,
indeed, all antecedent resolves were cancelled.

She crept down from the hay and peeped cautiously outside. She could see
no one. It was raining in torrents and the wind was getting up. With a
shudder she set her face to it, and crossed the yard. At the gate she
stopped suddenly, for two unpleasant facts simultaneously revealed
themselves: she had no idea of the way to Gateby, and she was famishing.
Now to be clear on the first point was essential, and there was nothing
for it but to apply boldly at the farmhouse for the information; as to
the second, perhaps at the farmhouse she might also beg a crust.

"Dear heart!" cried the good wife, answering the timid knock at the
door. "Hast sprung from t'grave, woman?"

"Nay," answered Elizabeth, sadly; "I am only on my way there."

The farmer's wife, a mountain of rosy kindliness, stared curiously at
the pale frightened face before her, and up and down the draggled dress.

"Why, Lord, thou'rt wet and cold; an' I'll be bound thou's had nobbut
hay for thy bed."

With a sudden flood of tears, Elizabeth Ryan confessed where she had
been sleeping all day.

"Nay, nay, honey," said the good woman, a tear standing in her own eye,
"it's nowt--it's nowt. Come in and get thysel' warmed an' dried. We're
having our teas, an' you shall have some, an' all!"

Thus the poor vagrant fell among warm Yorkshire hearts and generous
Yorkshire hands. They gave her food, warmth, and welcome, and pitied her
more than they liked to say. And when, in spite of all protests, she
would go on her way (though the risen wind was howling in the chimney,
and driving the heavy rain against the diamond panes), honest William,
son of the house and soil, brought a great sack and tied it about her
shoulders, and himself set her on the high road for Melmerbridge.

"Ye'll 'ave te go there," said he, "to get te Gaatby. 'Tis six mile from
this, an' Gaatby other fower."

Six miles? That was nothing. So said the strange woman, as she tramped
off in the teeth of the storm; and William, hurrying homeward, wondered
what had made her eyes so bright and her step so brisk all at once. He
asked his parents what they thought, but they only shook their puzzled
heads: they had done nothing out of the way that they knew of; how could
they guess that it had been their lot to show the first human kindness
to a poor forlorn pilgrim from over the seas--the first the poor woman
had met with in all stony-hearted England?

Yet her treatment at the hands of these simple people had lightened the
heart of Elizabeth Ryan, and the terror of her awful dream had softened
it. Her burning rage against her husband was quenched; she thought of it
with shuddering shame. Her wild resolves were thrown to the winds; she
must have been mad when she entertained them. She must have been blind
as well as mad; but now her sight was restored. Yes, now she could see
things in their true light. Now she could see who had caused her
husband's cruelty; who had poisoned him against her--subtly, swiftly,
surely, at their first meeting; who had drugged her, and then shown Ned
his drunken wife at their second meeting; whom she had to thank for all
her misery: the fiend, Jem Pound.

It was true that Ned had treated her heartlessly; but, believing what he
believed of her, could she blame him? She blamed him for listening to
the first whisper against her, from the lips of a monster; but his fault
ended there. He had never heard her in her own defence. He had not so
much as seen her alone. There lay the root of it all: she had been
allowed no chance of explaining, of throwing herself on his compassion.

But now she was going to put an end to all this. She was going to him at
once, and alone. She was going to tell him all: how she had waited
patiently for him at Townsville until the news of his capture drove her
almost frantic; how, in the impulse and madness of the moment, she had
trusted herself to Jem Pound, and followed him, her husband, to England;
how she had followed him for his own sake, in the blindness of her love,
which separation and his life of crime had been powerless to lessen;
how, ever since, she had been in the power of a ruffianly bully, who had
threatened and cajoled her by turns.

And then she would throw herself at Ned's feet, and implore his mercy.
And he, too, would see clearly, and understand, and pity her, and take
her back into his life. Whether that life was bad or good, it alone was
her heart's desire.

A soft smile stole over the haggard face, upon which the wind and the
rain were beating more fiercely every minute. Wind and rain were nothing
to her now; she could not feel them; she was back in Victoria, and the
sky above was dark blue, and the trees on either side the flint-strewn
track were gaunt, grey, and sombre. The scent of the eucalyptus filled
her nostrils. The strokes of two galloping horses rang out loud and
clear on the rough hard road. She was mounted on one of these horses,
Ned on the other. They were riding neck and neck, she and her handsome
Ned--riding to the township where the little iron church was. It was
their marriage morn. She had fled from home for ever.

Surely he loved her then--a little? Yet he had left her, very soon,
without a word or a cause; for weeks she could gather no tidings of him,
until one day news came that rang through the countryside, and was
echoed throughout the colony--news that stamped her new name with
infamy. But had she changed her name, or sunk her identity, or disowned
her husband, as some women might have done? No. She had employed her
woman's wit to hunt her husband down--to watch over him--to warn him
where danger lurked. One night--it stood out vividly in her memory--she
had burst breathlessly into his bivouac, and warned him in the nick of
time: half-an-hour later the armed force found the fires still burning,
but the bushrangers flown. And he had been good to her then; for it was
then that he had given her the money to go to his only relative--a
sister at Townsville; and he had promised in fun to "work up" through
Queensland, some day, and meet her there. Yes, with the hounds of
justice on his heels he had made time to be kind to her then, after a
fashion. It was not much, that amount of kindness, but it would be
enough for her now. After all that she had gone through, she would be
content with something short of love, say even tolerance. She would try
to win the rest, in after years--years when Ned settled down in some
distant country--when Ned reformed. Could he refuse her now so small a
measure of what she gave him without stint? Surely not. It was
impossible. Unless--unless--unless--

What made Elizabeth Ryan clench her drenched cold fingers and draw her
breath so hard? What blotted out the visionary blue skies, tore hope and
fancy to shreds, and roused her to the bleak reality of wind and rain
and the sickening memory of her husband's heartlessness? What, indeed,
but the suggestions of Jem Pound?

She loathed herself for listening to a single word from that polluted
source; yet, as Pound's words came back to her, she listened again to
them all. She thought of the pretty, delicate, pink-and-white woman her
own eyes had seen by the waters of the Thames, with whom she had spoken,
who had dared to offer her money. The thought became a globe of fire in
her brain; and soon the poor woman had worked herself back into a frame
of mind bordering upon that frenzy which had driven her hither and
thither, like a derelict ship at the wind's mercy, through the long
hours of the previous night. The appearance of watery lights through the
storm came not before it was time. Even to Elizabeth Ryan, with hope and
passion wrestling in her breast, there was a certain faint excitement
and satisfaction in reaching a village after a six-mile tramp through
wind, rain, and dusk deepening into night. Besides, if this was
Melmerbridge, she must ask and find out the road to Gateby.

Guided by the lights, she presently reached the north end of the long,
one-sided village street; the long straight stream, now running
turbulently, was on her left as she advanced, and Melmerbridge Bank
straight ahead, at the southern end of the village. An irregular line of
lights marked the houses on the right; to the left, across the beck,
there were no such lights; but a set of church windows--the church being
lit up for evening service--hung gaudily against the black screen of
night; the outline of the church itself was invisible. The deep notes of
an organ rose and fell in the distance, then died away; then suddenly,
as the wayfarer gazed, the stained-glass window disappeared, and Mrs.
Ryan found herself in the midst of a little stream of people who were
coming from the bridge in front of the church to the cottages on the
opposite side of the road.

From one of these people she received the directions she required, but
she noticed that most of them were talking eagerly and excitedly, in a
way not usual among folks fresh from worship, or indeed in a quiet
country village at any time. Little groups formed in the doorways and
kept up an animated conversation. Clearly there was something of
uncommon interest astir. Mrs. Ryan passed on, mildly interested herself.

The last houses of the village were darker. Elizabeth touched their
outer walls with her skirts as she trudged along the narrow uneven
pavement. From one of them came a sound which struck her as an odd sound
for a Sabbath evening--the long, steady sweep and swish of a plane. This
house was a shop; for six parallel threads of light issued from the
chinks of the tall shutters. Through one of these chinks a small boy was
gazing with rapt attention and one eye closed. Mrs. Ryan stopped, and
out of mere curiosity peered through another.

A burly old man was energetically planing a long, wide, roughly-shaped,
hexagonal plank. The shape of the plank was startling.

"What is it he is making?" inquired Mrs. Ryan of the small boy. Perhaps
she could see for herself, and put the question mechanically.

The answer was prompt and short:

"A coffin!"

Mrs. Ryan shuddered and stood still. The urchin volunteered a comment.

"My! ain't it a long 'un! Did ye iver see sich a long 'un, missis?"

He was little Tom Rowntree, the sexton's son and heir, this boy, so he
knew what he was talking about; one day, all being well, he would dig
graves and bury folks himself; he took a profound premature interest in
all branches of the hereditary avocation.

"Who is dead?" asked Mrs. Ryan, in a hard metallic voice.

"Haven't heard tell his name, but 'tis a sooincide, missis--a sooincide!
A gent's been and shot hisself upon the bank there, this afternoon. He's
a-lyin' ower yonder at t' Blue Bell."

"Where is that?"

"Yonder, look--t' last house on this side. It's nigh all dark, it is,
an' no one there 'cept my mother an' Mr. Robisson hisself, an' customers
turned away an' all. That's 'cause Mrs. Robisson she's took the
high-strikes--some people is that weak!"

But there was no listener to these final words of scorn. With a ghastly
face and starting eyes, Elizabeth Ryan was staggering to the Blue Bell
inn.

A square of pale light dimly illumined a window close to the ground to
the left of the door, otherwise the inn was in darkness. Elizabeth Ryan
crouched down, and never took her eyes from that window till the light
was extinguished. Then she heard the door within open and shut, and the
outer door open. A man and a woman stood conversing in low tones on the
steps, the woman's voice broken by sobs.

"'Tisn't that I'm growing old and nervous, Mr. Robisson, and thinkin'
that me own time'll come some day; no, it's not that. But all these
years--and never such a thing to happen in the village before--little
did I think to live to be called in to the likes o' this. And such a
good face as I never seed in living man, poor fellow! You never know
where madness comes in, and that's what it's been, Mr. Robisson. And now
I'm out o' t' room I'm that faint I don't know how to get home."

"Come, come, I'll give you my arm and umbrella across, Mistress
Rowntree."

"But ye've left t' key in t' door?"

"Oh, I'll be back quick enough; it's only a step."

He gave her his arm, and the pair came out together and went slowly up
the village street. In less than five minutes the landlord of the Blue
Bell returned, locked all the doors, and went to bed, leaving the inn in
total darkness.

A quarter of an hour later this total darkness was interrupted; a pale
light glimmered in the window close to the ground to the left of the
door. This light burned some ten or twenty minutes. Just before it was
put out, the window-sash was moved up slowly. Then, when all was once
more in darkness, a figure stepped out upon the sill, leapt lightly to
the ground, and cautiously drew down the sash.



                                  XXX

                             SWEET REVENGE


Whistling over the hilltops and thundering through the valleys, down
came the wind upon the little lonely house by the roadside; and with the
wind, driving rain; and they beat together upon the walls of that corner
room wherein Alice Bristo lay trembling between life and death.

The surgeon from Melmerbridge pronounced it to be brain fever. He had
found the patient wildly delirious. The case was grave, very grave.
Dangerous? There was always danger with an abnormal temperature and
delirium. Dr. Mowbray stayed until evening and ultimately left his
patient sleeping quietly. He promised to return in the early morning.

The doctor stopped, as he was driving off, to shriek something through
the storm:

"Have you any one who can nurse--among the servants?"

Inquiries were immediately made.

"No," was the answer.

"I'll send over a handy woman from Melmerbridge," said Dr. Mowbray;
crack went his whip, and the gig-wheels splashed away through the mud.

A young man standing at the other side of the road, bareheaded and
soaked to the skin, wondered whether the nurse would be sent at once
that night. Then this young man continued his wild rapid walk up and
down the country road, glancing up every moment at the feeble light that
shone from the casement of that corner room on the upper floor.

Up and down, never pausing nor slackening his speed, fifty paces above
the house and fifty below it, this unquiet spirit strode to and fro in
the wind and the rain, like Vanderdecken on his storm-proof poop.

Once, when opposite the house, he touched the skirts of a woman
crouching under the hedge; but he was not aware of it--he was gazing up
at the window--and, before he passed that spot again the woman was gone.

The woman had crept stealthily across the road and through the open
wicket. She was crouching behind the opposite hedge, on the rough
grass-plot in front of the house. Once more the swinging steps passed
the house and grew faint in the distance. The crouching woman sprang
erect, darted noiselessly up the steps, and grasped the door-handle. She
turned the handle and pushed gently, the door was neither locked nor
bolted; it opened. The woman entered, and closed the door softly behind
her. She stooped, listening. The footsteps passed the house without a
pause or a hitch, as before. She had been neither seen nor heard--from
without. A horrid smile disfigured the woman's livid face. She stood
upright for an instant, her hand raised to her forehead, pausing in
thought.

A lamp was burning low on the table in the passage; its dull light
flickered upon the dark, fierce, resolute face of Elizabeth Ryan.

The dark hair fell in sodden masses about a face livid and distorted
with blind fury, the dark eyes burned like live coals in the dim light,
the cast of the firm wide mouth was vindictive, pitiless; the fingers of
the right hand twitched terribly; once they closed spasmodically upon a
loose portion of the ragged dress, and wrung it so hard that the water
trickled down in a stream upon the mat, and at that moment murder was
written in the writhing face. The left hand was tightly clasped.

Elizabeth Ryan had crept into the chamber of death, in the Blue Bell at
Melmerbridge, during the five minutes' absence of the innkeeper. It was
she who had quitted that room by the window. She had fled wildly over
the moor, maddened by a discovery that scorched up the grief in her
heart, setting fire to her brain, changed in a flash from a bewildered,
heartbroken, forlorn creature to a ruthless frantic vendetta. The
substance of that discovery was hidden in her clasped left hand.

She stood for a brief interval on the mat, then stepped stealthily
forward towards the stairs. A light issued from an open door on the
left, near the foot of the stairs. She peeped in as she passed.
Stretched on a couch lay an old white-haired man, dressed as though it
were mid-day instead of mid-night, in a tweed suit. Though asleep, his
face was full of trouble. Nothing in this circumstance, nor in the
conduct of the man outside walking to and fro in the storm, nor in the
dim lights all over the house at this hour, struck Elizabeth Ryan as
extraordinary. Her power of perception was left her; her power of
inference was gone, except in direct relation to the one hideous
project that possessed her soul. She crept softly up the stairs. They
did not creak. She appreciated their silence, since it furthered her
design.

As below, a light issued from an open door. She approached this door on
tip-toe. A pair of small light shoes, with the morning's dust still upon
them, stood at one side of the mat; someone had mechanically placed them
there. When Elizabeth Ryan saw them her burning eyes dilated, and her
long nervous fingers closed with another convulsive grasp upon the folds
of her skirt.

She crossed the threshold and entered the room. The first thing she saw,
in the lowered light of a lamp, was an old, puckered, wrinkled face just
appearing over a barrier of eiderdown and shawls, and deep-set in an
easy-chair. The brown, wrinkled eyelids met the brown, furrowed cheeks.
The watcher slumbered and slept.

As yet the room wore none of the common trappings of a sick-room: the
illness was too young for that. The book the sick girl had been reading
last night lay open, leaves downward, on the chest of drawers; the
flowers that she had picked on the way to church, to fasten in her
dress, had not yet lost their freshness; the very watch that she had
wound with her own hand last night was still ticking noisily on the
toilet-table. Thus, to one entering the room, there was no warning of
sickness within, unless it was the sight of the queer old sleeping woman
in the great chair by the fireside, where a small fire was burning.

The stealthy visitor took two soft, swift, bold steps forward--only to
start back in awe and horror, and press her hand before her eyes. She,
Elizabeth Ryan, might do her worst now. She could not undo what had been
done before. She could not kill Death, and Death had forestalled her
here.

A cold dew broke out upon the woman's forehead. She could not move. She
could only stand still and stare. Her brain was dazed. She could not
understand, though she saw plainly enough. After a few moments she did
understand, and her heart sickened as it throbbed. Oh that it would beat
its last beat there and then! Oh if only she too might die! Standing, as
she thought, in the presence of death for the second time that night,
Elizabeth Ryan lifted her two arms, and prayed that the gracious cold
hand might be extended to her also. In the quenching of the fires that
had raged in her brain, in the reawakening of her heart's anguish, this
poor soul besought the Angel of Death not to pass her by, praying
earnestly, pitifully, dumbly, with the gestures of a fanatic.

She lowered her eyes to face for the last time her whom death had
snatched from vengeance. She started backwards, as she did so, in sudden
terror. What was this? The dead girl moved--the dead girl breathed--the
counterpane rose and fell evenly. Had she been mistaken in her first
impression? Elizabeth Ryan asked herself with chattering teeth. No! More
likely she was mistaken now. This must be an illusion, like the last;
she had been terrified by a like movement in the room at the Blue Bell,
and it had proved but a cruel trick of the sight and the imagination;
and this was a repetition of the same cruel trick.

No, again! The longer she looked the more distinct grew this movement.
It was regular, and it was gentle. Faint yet regular breathing became
audible. The face on the pillows was flushed. Death had stopped short at
Melmerbridge; Death had not travelled so far as this--at least, not yet:
there was still a chance for vengeance!

But Elizabeth Ryan had undergone a swift psychological reaction. That
minute in which she stood, as she believed, for the second time that
night in the presence of Death--that minute in which her spirit yearned
with a mighty longing to be stilled, too, for ever--that minute had done
its work. In it the mists of passion had risen from the woman's mind; in
it the venom had been extracted from her heart. Her eyes, now grown soft
and dim, roved slowly round the room. They fell curiously upon something
upon a chair on the far side of the bed--a heap of light hair; they
glanced rapidly to the head on the pillows--it was all but shaved.

Elizabeth Ryan raised her clenched left hand; the hand trembled--the
woman trembled from head to foot. She laid her arms upon the chest of
drawers, and her face upon her arms, and stood there until her trembling
ceased. When at last she raised her head, her eyes were swimming, but a
bright determination shone out through the tears.

She moved cautiously round the foot of the bed and dipped her left hand
into the heap of light hair, and for the first time unclasped her hand.
The hand was lifted empty, but the heap of Alice's hair remained a heap
of her hair still; it had but received its own again.

This strange yet simple act seemed to afford the performer the deepest
relief; she gazed kindly, even tenderly, on the young wan face before
her, and sighed deeply. Then hastily she retraced her steps to the door.
At the door she stopped to throw back a glance of forgiveness and
farewell.

Now it happened that the head of the sleeping girl had slipped upon the
pillow, so that its present position made the breathing laboured.

Quick as thought, Mrs. Ryan recrossed the room from the door, and, with
her woman's clever light hand, rearranged the pillows beneath the
burning head, and smoothed them gently. But in doing this the silent
tears fell one after the other upon the coverlet; and when it was done
some sudden impulse brought Elizabeth upon her knees by the bedside, and
from that bleeding heart there went up a short and humble prayer, of
which we have no knowing--at which we can make no guess, since it flew
upward without the weight of words.

How cold, how bitter, how piercing were the blast and the driving rain
outside! In the earlier part of the night their edge had not been half
so keen; at all events, it did not cut so deep. Where was a woman to
turn on such a night? A woman who had no longer any object in life, nor
a single friend, nor--if it came to that--a single coin: what was such
an one to do on a night like this?

The picture of the warm, dry bedroom came vividly back to Elizabeth
Ryan; she felt that she would rather lie sick unto death in that room
than face the wild night without an ailment more serious than a broken,
bleeding heart. She looked once back at the dim light in the upper
window, and then she set her face to Gateby. Before, however, she was
many paces on her way, quick footsteps approached her--footsteps that
she seemed to know--and a man's voice hailed her in rapid, excited
tones:

"Are you from Melmerbridge?"

"Yes," she faltered. What else dared she say. It was true, too.

"Then you are the nurse! you are the nurse! I have been waiting for you,
looking out for you, all the night, and now you have come; you have
walked through the storm; God bless you for it!"

His voice was tremulous with thanks and joy; yet trouble must have
clouded his mind, too, or he never could have believed in his words.

"I do not understand--" Mrs. Ryan was beginning, but he checked her
impatiently:

"You are the nurse, are you not?" he cried, with sudden fear in his
voice. "Oh don't--don't tell me I'm mistaken! Speak--yes, speak--for
here we are at the house."

The pause that followed well-nigh drove him frantic. Then came the
answer in a low, clear voice:

"You are not mistaken. I am waiting to be shown into the house."



                                  XXXI

                         THE CHARITY OF SILENCE


Dr. Mowbray, coming first thing in the morning, declared that the
patient had passed a better night than he had hoped for; but he told
Colonel Bristo privately that he must count on nothing as yet, and be
prepared for anything.

To his surprise and delight, the physician found his patient in the
hands of a gentle, intelligent nurse. This was the more fortunate since
he had failed to find in Melmerbridge a capable woman who was able to
come. Whoever the dark, shabbily-dressed woman was, she must not be
allowed to leave the bedside for the present. "She is a godsend," said
Dr. Mowbray on coming downstairs. Colonel Bristo, for his part, knew
nothing of the woman; he supposed she was from Gateby. Mrs. Parish, no
doubt, knew all about her; and after the doctor's account of her
services, the Colonel made no inquiries.

Edmonstone and Pinckney were to drive back to Melmerbridge with the
doctor to attend the inquest on the body of the suicide. Before they
started the Colonel called the two young men aside, and a brief, earnest
colloquy took place.

During the drive Dr. Mowbray mentioned a strange report that had reached
him before leaving Melmerbridge; it was noised in the village, at that
early hour, that the dead man had moved one of his hands during the
night.

"It will show you," the doctor said, "the lengths to which the rustic
imagination can stretch. The fact is, they are terribly excited and
primed with superstition, for there hasn't been a suicide in the parish
in the memory of this generation. What is more," added the old
gentleman, suddenly, "I'm not sure that there's been one now!"

There was some excuse, perhaps, for the string of excited questions
reeled off on the spur of the moment by young Pinckney: "Why? How could
it be anything else but suicide? Had they not got the pistol--Miles's
own pistol? Had not Dr. Mowbray himself said that the bullet extracted
fitted the one empty cartridge found in the revolver? Besides, Miles had
not denied shooting himself when asked by Edmonstone what he had done."

"But did he admit that he had shot himself?" asked Dr. Mowbray, turning
to Edmonstone.

"No, he did not."

"Was his manner, up to the last, that of a man who had deliberately shot
himself?"

"No, it was not. It might have been an accident."

"Neither the one nor the other," said the doctor. "Now I'll tell you two
something that I shall make public presently: a man cannot point a
pistol at himself from a greater distance than two feet at the outside;
but this shot was fired at three times that range!"

"How can you tell, sir?" asked Pinckney, with added awe and subtracted
vehemence.

"The clothes are not singed; the hole might have been made by a drill,
it was so clean."

The young man sat in silent wonder. Then Dick put a last question:

"You think it has been--murder?"

"Personally, I am convinced of it. We shall say all we know, and get an
adjournment. At the adjourned inquest Colonel Bristo will attend, and
tell us his relations with the dead man, who, it appears, had no other
friend in the country; but to-day that is not absolutely necessary, and
I shall explain his absence myself. Meanwhile, detectives will be sent
down, and will find out nothing at all, and the affair will end in a
verdict against some person or persons unknown, at best."

Dr. Mowbray's first prediction was forthwith fulfilled: the inquest was
adjourned. The doctor at once drove back to Gateby with the two young
men. As they drove slowly down the last hill they descried two
strangers, in overcoats and hard hats, conversing with Colonel Bristo in
the road. Philip Robson was standing by, talking to no one, and looking
uncomfortable.

When the shorter of the two strangers turned his face to the gig, Dick
ejaculated his surprise--for it was the rough, red, good-humoured face
of the Honourable Stephen Biggs.

"What has brought you here?" Dick asked in a low voice when he had
greeted the legislator.

By way of reply, Biggs introduced him to the tall, grave, black-bearded,
sharp-featured gentleman--Sergeant Compton, late of the Victorian
Mounted Police.

There was an embarrassed silence; then Philip Robson stepped forward.

"It was my doing," he said, awkwardly enough; and he motioned Dick to
follow him out of hearing of the others. "I listened," he then
confessed, "to a conversation between you and Miles. I heard you read a
letter aloud. From what passed between you, I gathered that Miles was a
blackleg of some kind, whom you were screening from the police. Miles
found that I had overheard you, and swore to me that you were the victim
of a delusion. When I reflected, I disbelieved him utterly. I copied the
address of the letter you had written, and the next day I wrote myself
to Mr. Biggs, describing Miles as well as I could, and saying where he
was. I did not dream that Miles was a bushranger, even then--I thought
he was merely a common swindler. However, that's the whole truth.
Edmonstone, I'm sorry!"

Dick's first expression of contempt had vanished. Frank admissions turn
away wrath more surely than soft answers. Besides, Robson had behaved
well yesterday: without him, what might not have happened before Dr.
Mowbray arrived?

"I believe," said Dick, "that you were justified in what you did,
only--I'm sorry you did it."

Mr. Biggs was in close conversation with Colonel Bristo. Sergeant
Compton stood aloof, silent and brooding; in the hour of triumph Death
had baulked him of his quarry; his dark face presented a study in fierce
melancholy.

"If only," the Colonel was saying piteously, "the tragedy could stop at
the name of Miles! The scandal that will attach to us when the whole
sensation comes to light is difficult to face. For my part, I would face
it cheerfully if it were not--if it were not for my daughter Alice. And,
after all, it may not annoy her. She may not live to hear it."

The last words were broken and hardly intelligible.

The rugged face of Stephen Biggs showed honest concern, and honest
sympathy too. It did not take him long to see the case from the
Colonel's point of view, and he declared very bluntly that, for his
part, he would be glad enough to hush the thing up, so far as the dead
man's past life was concerned (and here Mr. Biggs jingled handfuls of
coins in his pockets), but that, unfortunately, it did not rest with
him.

"You see, Colonel," he explained, "my mate here he's been on Ned Ryan's
trail, off and on, these four years. Look at him now. He's just mad at
being cheated in the end. But he's one of the warmest traps in this
Colony--I mean out in Vic.; and, mark me, he'll take care to let the
whole Colony know that, if he warn't in at Sundown's death, he was
nearer it than any other blessed 'trap.' There's some personal feeling
in it, Colonel," said Biggs, lowering his voice. "Frank Compton has
sworn some mighty oath or other to take Ned Ryan alive or dead."

"Suppose," said the Colonel, "we induce your friend here to hold his
tongue, do you think it would be possible for us to let this poor fellow
pass out of the world as Miles, a squatter, or, at worst, an unknown
adventurer?"

"How many are there of you, Colonel, up here who know?"

"Four."

"And there are two of us. Total six men in the world who know that Ned
Ryan, the bushranger, died yesterday. The rest of the world believes
that he was drowned in the Channel three months ago. Yes, I think it
would be quite possible. Moreover, I don't see that it would do the
least good to any one to undeceive the rest of the world; but Frank
Compton--"

"Is he the only detective after Miles in this country?"

"The only one left. The others went back to Australia, satisfied that
their man was drowned."

"But our police--"

"Oh, your police are all right, Colonel. They've never so much as heard
of Sundown. They're easily pleased, are your police!"

It was at this point that Dr. Mowbray reappeared on the steps. Colonel
Bristo went at once to learn his report, which must have been no worse
than that of the early morning, for it was to speak of the inquest that
the Colonel hurried back the moment the doctor drove away.

"Dick," said he, in a voice that all could hear (Edmonstone was still
talking to Robson--Compton still standing aloof), "you never told me the
result. The inquest is adjourned; but there is a strong impression it
seems that it is not a case of suicide after all, gentlemen--but one of
wilful murder."

The personal bias mentioned by Biggs had not altogether extinguished
ordinary professional instincts in the breast of Sergeant Compton; for,
at this, his black eyes glittered, and he pulled his patron aside.

Biggs, in his turn, sought a private word with the Colonel.

"Compton," he said, "is bent on at once seeing the spot where Ryan was
shot. Will you send some one with us? I'll bring my man back this
evening, and we'll try to talk him over between us; but I fear it's
hopeless."

Between three and four that afternoon the body of Jem Pound was found at
the bottom of the cliff, a mile from Melmerbridge, among the fir-trees.

Between eight and nine that evening, in the little gun-room at the
shooting-box, Biggs--in the presence of Colonel Bristo--made a last
effort to induce Sergeant Compton to join the conspiracy of silence
regarding the identity of Miles, the Australian adventurer, now lying
dead at Melmerbridge, with Sundown, the Australian bushranger, supposed
to have been drowned in the Channel in the previous April. All to no
purpose. The Sergeant remained obdurate.

"Mr. Biggs," said he, "and you, sir, I must declare to you firmly and
finally that it is impossible for me to hold my tongue in a case like
this. I will not speak of fairness and justice, for I agree that no one
will be a bit the better off for knowing that Ned Ryan died yesterday
instead of last spring. I will be perfectly candid. I will ask you to
think for a moment what this means to me. It means this: when I get back
to Melbourne I will be worth twice what I was before I sailed. The fact
of having been the only man to disbelieve in Ryan's drowning, and the
fact of having as near as a touch taken both Ryan and Pound alive, will
make my fortune for me out there."

Honest Biggs rattled the coins in his pockets, and seemed about to
speak.

"No, sir," said Compton, turning to his patron. "My silence won't be
given--it cannot be bought. I have another reason for telling
everything: my hatred for Ned Ryan--that death cannot cool!"

These words Compton hissed out in a voice of low, concentrated passion.

"I have not dogged him all these years for mere love of the work. No! He
brought disgrace upon me and mine, and I swore to take him alive or
dead. I keep my oath--I take him dead! All who know me shall know that I
have kept my oath! As for Jem Pound, his mate and his murderer--"

The door opened, and the nurse stood panting on the threshold. Even in
her intense excitement she remembered that she had left her charge
sleeping lightly, and her words were low:

"What is it you say? Do you say that Jem Pound murdered my husband?"
Colonel Bristo and the Sergeant started simultaneously. "Well, I might
have known that--I might have told you that. But upstairs--I have been
forgetting! I have been forgetting--forgetting! Yet when I heard you
gentlemen come in here I remembered, and it was to tell you what I knew
about Jem Pound that I came down."

Sergeant Compton had turned an ashen grey; his eyes never moved from the
face of the woman from the moment she entered the room. Elizabeth Ryan
crossed the room and stood in front of him. His face was in shadow.

"You, sir--I heard your voice as my hand was on the door-handle; and I
seemed to know your voice; and, while I stood trying to remember whose
voice it was, I heard what you said. So you will not let the dead man
rest! So, since he escaped you by his death, you would bring all the
world to hoot over his grave! Oh, sir, if the prayers of his wife--his
widow--"

She stopped. The man had risen unsteadily from his chair. His face was
close to hers. She sprang back as though shot.

Sergeant Compton whispered one word: "Liz!"

Biggs and the Colonel watched the pale dark woman and the dark pale man
in silent wonder. There was a likeness between man and woman.

"Liz!" repeated the Sergeant in a low, hoarse voice.

"Who--who are you? Are you--are you--"

"I am Frank!"

"Frank!" she whispered to herself, unable to realise all at once who
Frank had been--it was so long since there had been a Frank in her life.
"What!" she exclaimed in a whisper; "not my brother Frank?"

"Yes, your brother Frank. But--but I thought you were out there, Liz. I
thought he had long ago deserted you; and that made me thirst all the
more--"

His sister flung herself at his feet.

"Oh, Frank! Frank!" she wailed. "Since the day I married I have spoken
to none of my own kith and kin until this night. And this is how we
meet! Frank!--Frank!"--her voice fell to a tremulous whisper--"do one
thing for me, and then, if you are still so bitter against me, go away
again. Only one thing I ask--a promise. Promise, for your part, to keep
silence! Let the dead man--let the dead man sleep peacefully. If the
whole truth will come out, come out it must; but don't let it be through
you, Frank--never let it be through you! Speak. Do you promise?"

The low, tearful, plaintive tones ceased, and there was silence in the
room. Then Francis Compton bent down, and lifted his sister Elizabeth in
his arms.

"I promise," he whispered in a broken voice. "God knows you have
suffered enough!"



                                 XXXII

                           SUSPENSE: REACTION


Days of suspense followed, while Alice's life trembled in the balance.
In what way these days were passed the watchers themselves scarcely
knew: for it is among the offices of suspense to make word and deed
mechanical, and life a dream. The senses are dulled; nothing is
realised--not even death itself, when death comes. Afterwards you
remember with horror your callousness: when all the time your senses
have been dulled by the most merciful of Nature's laws. Afterwards you
find that you received many an impression without knowing it. Thus Dick
Edmonstone, for one, recalled a few things that he had quite forgotten,
on his way south in the train afterwards.

He could feel again the wind lifting the hair from his head on the dark
hilltop. He saw the crescent moon racing through foamy billows of
clouds, like a dismasted ship before the wind. He felt the rushing air
as he sped back to the post in the lonely road from which he watched all
night that square of yellow light--the light through her window-blind.
This faint yellow light shot beams of hope into his heart through the
long nights; he watched it till dawn, and then crept wearily to his bed
in the inn. When he roamed away from it, a superstitious dread seized
him that he would return to find the light gone out for ever. The pale,
faint light became to him an emblem of the faint, flickering life that
had burnt so low. He would wildly hurry back, with death at his heart.
Thank God! the light still burned.

In memory he could hear his own voice treating with a carter for a load
of straw. He was again laying down with his own hands the narrow road
with this straw; he was sitting half the day at his post in the gap of
the hedge, watching her window; he was tasting again of the delight with
which he watched the first vehicle crawl noiselessly across that straw.

These were among his most vivid recollections; but voices came back to
him plainest of all.

The voices of the professional nurses, whispering where they little
dreamt there was a listener; foreboding the worst; comparing notes with
their last fatal cases; throwing into their tones a kind of pity worse
than open indifference--perfunctory and cold. Or, again, these same
voices telling how a certain name was always on the feverish lips
upstairs.

"Ah, poor soul!" said they; "she thinks of nothing but him!"

Of whom? Whose name was for ever on her lips? The name of him to whom
she had breathed her last conscious words?

Even so; for another voice had echoed through the silent house more than
once, and could never be forgotten by those who heard it; the piercing,
heart-rending, delirious voice of Alice herself, reiterating those last
conscious words of hers:

"Hear what it was he said to me, and my answer--which is my answer
still!"

What had Miles said? What had been Alice's answer? Who would ever know?
Not Dick; and these words came back to him more often than any others,
and they tortured him.

But there were other words--words that had been spoken but yesterday,
and as yet seemed too good to be true; the words of the kind old country
doctor:

"She is out of danger!"

                   *       *       *       *       *

And now Dick Edmonstone was being whirled back to London. Alice was
declared out of danger, so he had come away. Alice was not going to die.
Her young life was spared. Then why was Dick's heart not filled with joy
and thanksgiving? Perhaps it was; but why did he not show it? He who had
been frenzied by her peril, should have leapt or wept for joy at her
safety. He did neither. He could show no joy. Why not?

Edmonstone arrived in town, and broke his fast at an hotel--he had
travelled all night. After breakfast he drove, with his luggage, first
to the offices of the P. and O. Company in Leadenhall Street. He stepped
from that office with a brisker air; something was off his mind;
something was definitely settled. On his way thence to Waterloo he
whistled lively tunes in the cab. By the time he reached Teddington and
Iris Lodge, the jauntiness of his manner was complete. In fact, his
manner was so entirely different from what his mother and Fanny had been
prepared for, that the good ladies were relieved and delighted beyond
measure for the first few minutes, until a something in his tone pained
them both.

"Oh yes," he said, carelessly, in answer to their hushed inquiry, "she
is out of danger now, safe enough. It has been touch and go, though."

He might have been speaking of a horse or dog, and yet have given people
the impression that he was a young man without much feeling.

"But--my boy," cried Mrs. Edmonstone, "what has been the matter with
you? We never heard that you were ill; and you look like a ghost, my
poor Dick!"

Dick was standing in rather a swaggering attitude on the hearthrug. He
wheeled round, and looked at himself in the large glass over the
chimneypiece. His face was haggard and lined, and his expression just
then was not a nice one.

"Why," he owned, with a grating laugh, "I certainly don't look very fit,
now you mention it, do I? But it's all on the surface. I'm all right,
bless you! I'm not on speaking terms with the sexton yet, anyway!"

A tear stood in each of Mrs. Edmonstone's dark eyes. Fanny frowned, and
beat her foot impatiently upon the carpet. What had come over Dick?

He must have known perfectly well the utter falsity of the mask he was
wearing; if not, self-deception was one of his accomplishments. Or
perhaps those tears in his mother's eyes caused a pang of shame to shoot
through him. In any case, he made a hasty effort to change his tone.

"How are you two? That is the main point with me. Bother my seediness!"

"We are always well," sighed Mrs. Edmonstone.

"And Maurice?"

"Maurice was never brisker."

"Lucky dog!" said Dick, involuntarily; and the bitterness was back in
his tone before he knew it.

"Your friend Mr. Flint," said Mrs. Edmonstone, "is Maurice's friend now,
and Mr. Flint finds all his friends in good spirits."

"Do you mean to say old Jack is doing the absentee landlord altogether?
Did he never go back?"

"Yes. But he is over again--he is in town just now," said Mrs.
Edmonstone.

"He's fast qualifying for buckshot, that fellow," said Dick, with light
irony.

"I rather fancy," observed Fanny, with much indifference, "that you will
see him this evening. I half think he is coming back with Maurice." And
Miss Fanny became profoundly interested in the world out of the window.

"Good!" cried Dick; and there was a ring of sincerity in that
monosyllable which ought to have made it appreciated--as much as a
diamond in a dustheap!

In a little while Dick went up to his room. He had letters to write, he
said; but he was heard whistling and singing as he unpacked his
portmanteau. Neither of the ladies saw much more of him that day. They
sat together in wretched silence; there was some constraint between
them; they felt hurt, but were too proud to express the feeling even to
each other. The fact was, they did not quite know why they felt hurt.
Dick had greeted them kindly enough--it was only that there was a
something in his manner which they didn't like and could not
understand. And so both these women longed heartily for evening, and the
coming of Maurice and merry Mr. Flint--Fanny, however, the more heartily
of the two.

Maurice and Flint did come--in excellent time, too; and it so happened
that when the little table-gong rang out its silvery call, Mr. Flint and
Miss Edmonstone were still perambulating the dewy, twilit tennis-court.
It further happened, in spite of the last-mentioned fact, that Miss
Fanny contrived to reach the drawing-room before her mother was finally
disentangled from the wools and needles that beset her at most hours of
the day; that mother and daughter were the last to enter the little
dining-room, hand in hand; that Miss Fanny looked uncommonly radiant,
and that the usual stupid tears were standing in gentle Mrs.
Edmonstone's soft, loving eyes.

Dick was unusually brilliant in his old place at the head of the
table--so brilliant that his friend Flint was taken by surprise, and,
for his own part, silenced; though it is true that the latter had
something on his mind which would have made him, in any case, worse
company than usual. Dick rattled on incessantly, about the dales, and
the moors, and the grouse, as though his stay in Yorkshire was
associated with no tragedy, and no sickness nigh unto death. His mood,
indeed, was not taken up by the others, but he did not seem to notice or
to mind that; only when he was quiet, all were quiet, and the sudden
silences were embarrassing to all save their prime author.

The longest and most awkward of these pauses occurred while the crumbs
were being removed. When the maid had withdrawn, Dick drank of his
wine, refilled his glass, held it daintily by the stem between finger
and thumb, leant back in his chair, and proceeded deliberately to break
the spell.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, speaking the trite words in the same
disagreeable tone that had pained the ladies that morning, "I am going
to make you a little speech; a very little one, mind, so don't look
uncomfortable--you needn't even feel it."

He glanced from one to another of them. They did look uncomfortable;
they felt that somehow Dick was not himself; they heartily wished he
would be quiet. His manner was not the manner to carry off a sneer as so
much pleasantry.

Dick continued:

"All good things must come to an end, you know--and, in fact, that's my
very original text. Now look at me, please--mother, look at your sheep
that was lost: thanks. You will, perhaps, agree with me that I'm hardly
the fellow I was when I landed; the fact being that this beautiful
British climate is playing old Harry with me, and--all good things come
to an end. If I may class myself among the good things for a moment--for
argument's sake--it seems to me that one good thing will come to an end
pretty soon. Look at me--don't you think so?"

The wretched smile that crossed his lean, pale face was not at variance
with his words. He was much altered. His cheeks were sunken and
bloodless, dark only under the eyes. His eyes to-night were unnaturally
bright. His lips too were bloodless; to-night they were quivering
incessantly. His question was left unanswered, as he meant that it
should be. Flint was trying mentally to compute the quantity of wine his
friend might possibly have taken; the others could not have spoken at
that moment even if they would.

"Now," continued Dick, still toying with his wine, "the country I left a
few months ago never allows a man to fall into my unhappy plight. It
puts a man in good health at the beginning, and keeps him in it to the
end, somewhere in the nineties. Why, Maurice, if he went out there,
would find that he has never known what health is! Fanny, we know, is a
hardy plant, and would thrive anywhere; yet she was made for the life
out there, if girl ever was. As for you, mother, it would clap twenty
years on to your dear old life--no, it would make you twenty years
younger. No one who has once lived there will live anywhere else. Even
old Flint here is dying to go back; he confessed as much last month. Now
what I say is this: all good things, etcetera--England among them.
Therefore let us all go out there together, and live happily ever
afterwards! Stop; hear me out, all of you: it's arranged already--I go
out first, to stock the station, and all the rest of it. The fact is, I
booked my passage this morning! Come, you have had good patience; my
speech, like better 'good things,' has come to an end!"

His tone had changed from half-jest to whole earnest--from earnestness
to ardour--from ardour to something bordering on defiance. But, with the
last word scarcely out of his mouth, he checked himself, and ejaculated
below his breath: "Good heavens!"

Mrs. Edmonstone had rushed sobbing from the room.

No one followed her. The others stared blankly, then indignantly, at
Dick, in whose face concern began to show itself. Then young Maurice
spoke up.

"If I were you," he said hotly to his brother, "I'd go after her, and
tell her you have taken too much wine, and beg her pardon for making a
fool of yourself!"

Dick darted an angry glance at him, but rose and stalked from the room.
In point of fact, the wine had not had much to do with it--no more and
no less than it has to do with anybody's after-dinner speech. At the
same time, Dick had not been altogether in his right senses, either then
or any time that day. He found his mother weeping as though her heart
would break; whereat his own heart smote him so that he came to his
senses there and then, and knelt in humility and shame at her feet.

"Dearest mother, forgive me!" he murmured again and again, and took her
hand in his and kissed it.

"But are you--are you really going back--back over the seas?" she
sobbed.

"Yes. I can't help it, mother! No one knows how miserable I have been
over here. Forgive me--forgive me--but I can't stay! I can't indeed!
But--but you shall come out too, and the others; and your life will be
happier than it has been for years, once you are used to it."

Mrs. Edmonstone shook her head.

"No; it is impossible," she said with sudden decision.

"How so? Both Fanny and Maurice, once when I sounded them--"

"Fanny will never go, and I cannot leave her."

"Why? Mother dear, what do you mean?"

"I mean that your sister is going to be married."

Married! The mere word ought not to have cut him to the heart; yet, in
the state that he was in then, it did. He rose uncertainly to his feet.

"You take my breath away, mother! I know of nothing. Whom is it to?"

"Can you ask?"

"I cannot guess."

"Then it is to your friend, Mr.--no, Jack--Jack Flint."

"God bless old Jack!"

That was what Dick said upon the instant. Then he stood silent. And
then--Dick sank into a chair, and laid his face upon his hands.

"I can go out alone," he whispered. "And--and I wish them joy; from my
heart I do! I will go and tell them so."



                                 XXXIII

                         HOW DICK SAID GOOD-BYE


The month was October; the day Dick's last in England. Both the day and
the month were far spent: in an hour or two it would be dark, in a week
or so it would be November. This time to-morrow the R.M.S. Rome, with
Dick on board, would be just clear of the Thames; this time next month
she would be ploughing through the Indian Ocean, with nothing but
Australia to stop her.

"Last days," as a rule, are made bearable by that blessed atmosphere of
excitement which accompanies them, and is deleterious to open sentiment.
That excitement, however, is less due to the mere fact of impending
departure than to the providential provision of things to be done and
seen to at the last moment. An uncomfortable "rush" is the best of
pain-killers when it comes to long farewells. The work, moreover, should
be for all hands, and last to the very end; then there is no time for
lamentation--no time until the boxes are out of the hall and the cab has
turned the corner, and the empty, untidy room has to be set to rights.
Then, if you like, is the time for tears.

Now Dick had made a great mistake. He had booked his passage too far in
advance. For six weeks he had nothing to think of but his voyage;
nothing to do but get ready. Everything was prearranged; nothing, in
this exceptional case, was left to the last, the very luggage being sent
to the boat before the day of sailing. If Dick had deliberately set
himself to deepen the gloom that shadowed his departure, he could not
have contrived things better. Maurice, for instance, with great
difficulty obtained a holiday from the bank because it was Dick's last
day. He might just as well have stopped in the City. There was nothing
for him to do. The day wore on in dismal idleness.

About three in the afternoon Dick left the house. He was seen by the
others from the front windows. The sight of him going out without a look
or a word on his last day cut them to the heart, though Dick had been
everything that was kind, and thoughtful, and affectionate since that
evening after his return from Yorkshire. Besides, the little family was
going to be broken up completely before long: Fanny was to be married in
the spring. No wonder they were sad.

Dick turned to the right, walked towards the river, turned to the right
again, and so along the London road towards the village.

"It is the right thing," he kept assuring himself, and with such
frequency that one might have supposed it was the wrong thing; "it is
the right thing, after all, to go and say good-bye. I should have done
it before, and got it over. I was a fool to think of shirking it
altogether; that would have been behaving like a boor. Well, I'll just
go in naturally, say good-bye all round, stop a few minutes, and then
hurry back home. A month ago I couldn't have trusted myself, but
now----"

It was a joyless smile that ended the unspoken sentence. The last month
had certainly strengthened his self-control; it had also hardened and
lined his face in a way that did not improve his good looks. Yes, he was
pretty safe in trusting himself now.

At the corner opposite the low-lying old churchyard he hesitated. He had
hesitated at that corner once before. He remembered the other occasion
with peculiar vividness to-day. Why should he not repeat the performance
he had gone through then? Why should he not take a boat and row up to
Graysbrooke? An admirable idea! It harmonised so completely with his
humour. It was the one thing wanting to complete the satire of his
home-coming. That satire had been so thoroughly bitter that it would be
a pity to deny it a finishing touch or two. Besides, it was so fitting
in every way: the then and the now offered a contrast that it would be a
shame not to make the most of. Then, thought Dick, his foolish hopes had
been as fresh and young and bright as the June leaves. Look at his bare
heart now! look at the naked trees! Hopes and leaves had gone the same
way--was it the way of all hopes as well as of all leaves? His mind, as
well as his eye, saw everything in autumnal tints. Nor did he shirk the
view. There is a stage of melancholy that rather encourages the cruel
contrasts of memory.

"I'll row up," said Dick, "and go through it all again. Let it do its
worst, it won't touch me now--therefore nothing will ever touch me as
long as I live. A good test!"

He did row up, wearing the same joyless smile.

He stood the test to perfection.

He did not forget to remember anything. He gave sentimentality a
princely chance to play the mischief with him. It was a rough and gusty
day, but mild for the time of year; a day of neither sunshine nor rain,
but plenty of wind and clouds; one of those blustering fellows, heralds
of Winter, that come and abuse Autumn for neglecting her business, and
tear off the last of the leaves for her with unseemly violence and
haste. The current was swift and strong, and many a crisp leaf of
crimson and amber and gold sailed down its broad fretted surface, to be
dashed over the weir and ripped into fragments in the churning froth
below.

Dick rowed into the little inlet with the white bridge across it,
landed, and nodded, in the spirit, to a hundred spots marked in his mind
by the associations of last June; those of an older day were not thought
of. Here was the place where Alice's boat had been when he had found her
reading a magazine--and interrupted her reading--on the day after his
return. There were the seven poplars, in whose shadows he had found
Miles on the night of the ball, when the miscreant Pound came inquiring
for him. There was the window through which he, Dick, had leapt after
that final scene--final in its results--with Alice in the empty
ballroom. A full minute's contemplation and elaborate, cold-blooded
recollection failed to awake one pang--it may be that, to a certain
quality of pain, Dick's sense had long been deadened. Then he walked
meditatively to the front of the house, and rang the bell--a thing he
was not sure that he had ever done before at this house.

Colonel Bristo was out, but Mrs. Parish was in. Dick would see Mrs.
Parish; he would be as civil to his old enemy as to the rest of them;
why not?

But Mrs. Parish received him in a wondrous manner; remorse and
apology--nothing less--were in the tones of her ricketty voice and the
grasp of her skinny hand. The fact was, those weeks in Yorkshire had
left their mark upon the old lady. They had left her older still, a
little less worldly, a little more sensible, and humbler by the
possession of a number of uncomfortable regrets. She had heard of Dick's
probable return to Australia, long ago; but her information had been
neither definite nor authentic. When he now told her that he was
actually to sail the next day, the old woman was for the moment visibly
affected. She felt that here there was a new and poignant regret in
store for her--one that would probably haunt her for the rest of her
days. At this rate life would soon become unbearable. It is a terrible
thing to become suddenly soft-hearted in your old age!

"Colonel Bristo is out," said Mrs. Parish, with a vague feeling that
made matters worse. "You will wait and see him, of course? I am sure he
will not be long; and then, you know, you must say good-bye to
Alice--she will be shocked when you tell her."

"Alice?" said Dick, unceremoniously, as became such a very old friend of
the family. "I hope so--yes, of course. Where is she?"

"She is in the dining-room. She spends her days there."

"How is she?" Dick asked, with less indifference in his manner.

"Better; but not well enough to stand a long journey, or else her father
would have taken her to the south of France before this. Come and see
her. She will be so pleased--but so grieved when she hears you are going
out again. I am sure she has no idea of such a thing. And to-morrow,
too!"

Dick followed Mrs. Parish from the room, wishing in his heart that
convalescence was a shorter business, or else that Alice might have the
advantages of climate that in a few days, and for evermore, would be
his; also speculating as to whether he would find her much changed, but
wishing and wondering without the slightest ruffling emotion. He had
some time ago pronounced himself a cure. Therefore, of course, he was
cured.

There were two fireplaces in the dining-room, one on each side of the
conservatory door. In the grate nearer the windows, which were all at
one end, overlooking lawn and river, a fire of wood and coal was burning
brightly. In a long low structure of basketwork--half-sofa, half-chair,
such as one mostly sees on shipboard and in verandahs--propped up by
cushions and wrapped in plaids and woollen clouds, lay Alice, the
convalescent. There was no sign that she had been reading. She did not
look as though she had been sleeping. If, then, it was her habit to
encourage the exclusive company of her own thoughts, it is little wonder
that she was so long in parting company with her weakness.

Dick stood humbly and gravely by the door; a thrill of sorrow shot
through him on seeing her lying there like that; the sensation was only
natural.

"Here is Mr. Richard come to--to--to ask you how you are," stammered
poor Mrs. Parish.

Alice looked up sharply. Mr. Richard crossed the room and held out his
hand with a smile.

"I hope from my heart that you are better--that you will very soon be
quite better."

"Thank you. It was kind of you to come. Yes, indeed, I am almost well
now. But it has been a long business."

Her voice was weak, and the hand she held out to him seemed so thin and
wasted that he took it as one would handle a piece of dainty, delicate
porcelain. Her hair, too, was cut short like a boy's. This was as much
as he noticed at the moment. The firelight played so persistently upon
her face that, for aught he could tell, she might be either pale as
death or bathed in blushes. For the latter, however, he was not in the
least on the look-out.

"Won't you sit down?" said Alice. "Papa will come in presently, and he
will be so pleased to see you; and you will take tea with us. Have you
been away?"

"No," said Dick, feeling awkward because he had made no inquiries
personally since the return of the Bristos from Yorkshire, now some days
back. "But I have been getting ready to go." He put down his hat on the
red baize cover of the big table, and sat down a few chairs further from
Alice than he need have done.

"What a capital time to go abroad," said Alice, "just when everything is
becoming horrid in England! We, too, are waiting to go; it is I that am
the stumbling-block."

So she took it that he was only going on the Continent. Better enlighten
her at once, thought Dick. Mrs. Parish had disappeared mysteriously from
the room.

"This time to-morrow," Dick accordingly said, "I shall be on board the
Rome."

The effect of this statement upon Alice was startling.

"What!" cried she, raising herself a few inches in suddenly aroused
interest. "Are you going to see them off?"

"See whom off?" Dick was mystified.

"My dear good nurse--the first and the best of my nurses--and her
brother the Sergeant."

"Do you mean Compton?"

"Yes. They sail in the Rome to-morrow."

"So the brother," Dick thought to himself, "is taking the sister back to
her own people, to be welcomed and forgiven, and to lead a better kind
of life. Poor thing! poor thing! Perhaps her husband's death was the
best thing that could have befallen her. She will be able to start
afresh. She is a widow now."

Aloud, he only said: "I am glad--very glad to hear it."

"Did you know," said Alice, seeing that he was thinking more than he
said, "that she was a widow?"

"Yes," said Dick.

It was plain to him that Alice did not know whose widow the poor woman
was. She suspected no sort of bond between the woman who had nursed her
and the man who had made love to her. She did not know the baseness of
that love on his part. This was as it should be. She must never
suspect; she must never, never know.

"Yes," said Dick slowly, "I knew that."

"Oh!" cried out Alice. "How dreadful it all was! How terrible!"

"Ay," said Dick, gravely; "it was that indeed."

There was a pause between them. It was Alice who broke it.

"Dick," she said frankly--and honest shame trembled through her
utterance--"I want to ask your pardon for something--no, you shall not
stop me! I want to tell you that I am sorry for having said
something--something that I just dimly remember saying, but something
that I know was monstrous and inexcusable. It was just before--but I was
accountable enough to know better. Ah! I see you remember; indeed, you
could never forget--please--please--try to forgive!"

Dick felt immensely uneasy.

"Say no more, Alice. I deserved it all, and more besides. I was
fearfully at fault. I should never have approached you as I did, my
discovery once made. I shall never forgive myself for all that has
happened. But he took me in--he took me in, up there, playing the
penitent thief, the--poor fellow!"

His voice dropped, his tone changed: many things came back to him in a
rush.

"Papa has told me the whole history of the relations between you," Alice
said quietly, "and we think you behaved nobly."

"There was precious little nobility in it," Dick said grimly. Nor was
there any mock modesty in this. He knew too well that he had done
nothing to be proud of.

There was another pause. Dick broke this one.

"Forgive me," he said, "if I refer to anything very painful, but I am
going away to-morrow, and--there was something else you said, just after
you administered that just rebuke to me. You said you would tell us what
Miles had said to you. Now I do not mean it as presumption, but we are
old friends"--she winced--"and I have rather suspected that he made some
confession to you which he never made to anyone else. There was a lot of
gold----"

Alice interrupted him in a low voice.

"I would rather not tell you what he said; it was nothing to do with
anything of that kind."

Dick's question had not been unpremeditated. He had had his own
conviction as to the "confession" Alice had listened to; he only wanted
that conviction confirmed. Now, by her hesitation and her refusal to
answer, it was confirmed. Miles had proposed marriage on the way from
Melmerbridge Church, and been accepted! Well, it was a satisfaction to
have that put beyond doubt. He had put his question in rather an
underhand way, but how was he to do otherwise? He had got his answer;
the end justified the means.

"Pray don't say another word," said Dick impulsively. "Forgive me for
prying. Perhaps I can guess what he said."

Alice darted at him a swift glance, and saw his meaning in a flash.

"Do not get up," said she quietly, for Dick was rising to go. "Since it
is possible that you may guess wrong, I will tell you all. I insist in
telling you all! Here, then, are the facts: Mr. Miles scarcely spoke a
word on the way from church, until suddenly, when we were almost in
sight of home, he--he caught hold of my hand."

Dick knew that already. He was also quite sure that he knew what was
coming. It was no use Alice going on; he could see that she was nervous
and uncomfortable over it; he reproached himself furiously for making
her so; he made a genuine effort to prevail upon her to say no more. In
vain; for now Alice was determined. Seeing that it was so, he got up
from his chair and walked over to the windows, and watched the brown
leaves being whisked about the lawn and the sky overhead turning a
deeper grey.

Alice continued in a voice that was firm for all its faintness:

"I suppose I looked surprised, and taken aback, and indignant, but he
held my hand as if his was a vice, and still we walked on. Then I looked
at him, and he was pale. Then he stared down upon me, closely and long,
as if he meant to read my soul, and a great shudder seemed to pass
through him. He almost flung my hand away from him, and faced me in the
road. We were then on that little bridge between two hills, not far from
the shooting-box: you will remember it. 'Miss Alice,' he said, 'I am a
villain! a scoundrel! an impostor. I have never been fit to speak to
you, and I have dared to take your hand. But I find I am a shade less
black than I thought myself a minute ago; for what I meant to say to you
I would not say now to save my soul, if I had one! Good-bye; you will
see no more of me. Whatever you may one day hear of me--and you must
believe it all, for it is every word true--remember this: that, bad as I
still am, I am less bad than I was before I knew you, and I have found
it out this instant. Go, leave me, run home; you shall never see me
again. I shall go at once from this place, and I leave England in two
days. Do you hear? Go, leave me alone--go! And God go with you!' His
voice was breaking, his wild looks frightened me, but I answered him. I
had my suspicions, as I told him, but I did not tell him that you put
them into my head. What I did say to him was this: 'Whatever you have
done, whatever you may do, you did one thing once that can never, never
grow less in my eyes!' I meant his saving of my father's life; and with
that I ran away from him and never looked round. That is every word that
passed. I can never forget them. As to what happened afterwards, you
know more than I."

Alice's own voice shook; it was hollow, and hoarse, and scarcely audible
at the end. As for Dick, he stood looking out of the window at the
whirling leaves, with not a word to say, until an involuntary murmur
escaped him.

"Poor Miles!"

The girl's answer was a low sob.

Then here was the truth at last. The innocence and purity of the young
English girl had awed and appalled that bold, desperate, unscrupulous
man at the last moment. On the brink of the worst of all his crimes his
nerve had failed him, or, to do him better justice, his heart had
smitten him. Yes, it must have been this, for the poor fellow loved her
well. His last thought was of her, his last, dying effort was for her,
his life's blood ran out of him in her service!

But Alice! Had she not loved him when he spoke? Had she not given her
heart to him in the beginning? Had she not tacitly admitted as much in
this very room? Then her heart must be his still; her heart must be his
for ever--dead or living, false or true, villain or hero. Poor Alice!
What a terrible thing for a girl to have so misplaced her love. Dick
felt his heart bleeding for her, but what could he do? He could do
nothing but go back to Australia, and pray that some day she might get
over it and be consoled. Now that he thought of it, he had not told her
about Australia. He had tried twice, and each time been interrupted. It
must be done now.

"By-the-bye," he began (it was after a long silence, and the room was
filled with dusk, and the fire burning low), "I didn't tell you, after
all, how it is that I shall be aboard the Rome this time to-morrow. It
is not to see off Compton and his sister, because until you told me I
didn't know they were going. Can't you guess the reason?"

"No!"

What could be the meaning of that quick gasp from the other side of the
room that preceded the faint monosyllable?

"I will tell you: it is because I sail for Australia myself to-morrow! I
am going back to the bush."

There was a slight shiver of the basketwork chair. Then all was still;
and Dick watched evening gather over the flat Ham fields across the
river. The next tones from near the fireplace had a steely ring about
them.

"Why are you going back?"

"Because I have found England intolerable."

"I thought you were going to get on so well in England?"

"So did I."

Another silence. Dick drummed idly upon the pane with his fingers. There
was certainly a degree of regret in Alice's tone--enough to afford him a
vague sense of gratitude to her.

"Is it not a terrible disappointment to your family?"

"I suppose it is," said Dick uneasily.

"And can you lightly grieve those who love you?"

She spoke as earnestly as though she belonged to that number herself;
but, thought Dick, that must be from the force of her woman's sympathy
for women. There was a slight catch in her voice, doubtless from the
same cause. Could it be from any other cause? Dick trembled in the dusk
by the window at the thought. No; it could not be. No; he did not wish
it. He would not have her relent now. It was too late. He had set his
mind on going; his passage was booked, his luggage was on board; nothing
could unsettle him now. Was it not admitted in the beginning that he was
an obstinate fellow? Besides, hope had been out of the range of his
vision these many weeks. When a faint spark of hope burned on the
horizon, was it natural that he should detect it at once? Yet her tones
made him tremble.

As for Alice, her heart was beating with wild, sickening thuds. She
felt that she was receiving her just deserts. Dick was as cold to her
now as she had been cold to Dick before; only far colder, for she had
but been trying him. Ah! but Nemesis was cruel in her justice! And she,
Alice, so faint, so weary, so heartsick, so loveless, so full of
remorse, so ready to love! And this the last chance of all!

"Is there nothing that could stop you from going now?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing at all?"

"No consideration upon earth!"

"Ah, you have taken your passage!"

"That's not it!"

He was indignant. A paltry seventy guineas!

"Then what is? It must be that you've made up your mind, and would not
unmake it--no matter who asked you."

The slightest stress imaginable was laid upon the relative.

Dick was leaning against the window-ledge for support. His brain was
whirling. He could scarcely believe his ears. There was a tearful
tenderness in her voice which he could not, which he dared not
understand.

"What do you mean?" he asked hoarsely.

"I mean that--that you--that I----"

The words ended in inarticulate sobs.

"Do you mean that you ask me to stay in England?"

Dick put this question in a voice that was absolutely stern, though it
quivered with suppressed agitation. There was no answer: sobs were no
answer. He crossed the room unsteadily, fell on his knees at her side,
and took both her hands in his. Then he repeated the same question--in
the same words, in the same tones.

The answer came in a trembling whisper, with a fresh torrent of tears:

"What if I did?"

"The Rome might sail without me."

A tearful incredulous smile from Alice.

"Do you tell me to stay? I stay or go at your bidding. Darling! you know
what that means to us two?"

No answer.

"Speak! Speak, Alice, for I cannot bear this! The Rome would sail
without me!"

                   *       *       *       *       *

Alice did speak. The Rome did sail without him.



                      Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics were indicated by _underscores_.

Small caps were replaced with ALL CAPS.

Throughout the document, the oe ligature was replaced with "oe".

Throughout the dialogues, there were words used to mimic accents of
the speakers. Those words were retained as-is.

On page 8, the quotation mark was deleted after "on this side of the
road."

On page 68, the word "looee" was replaced with "cooee".

On page 92, a quotation mark was placed after "deducted from your
allowance this evening."

On page 158, "not this young follow" was replaced with "not this young
fellow".

On page 168, "bunshrangers" was replaced with "bushrangers".

On page 184, a quotation mark was added after "and the older suitor."

On page 201, "Cousin Philip has been a long voyage" was replaced with
"Cousin Philip has been on a long voyage".





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