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Title: Barnaby - A Novel
Author: Ramsay, R.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Barnaby - A Novel" ***

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BARNABY

A NOVEL


BY

R. RAMSAY



AUTHOR OF "THE KEY OF THE DOOR," "THE STRAW," ETC.



London: HUTCHINSON & CO.

Paternoster Row

1910



BY THE SAME AUTHOR


In Cloth Gilt, 6s.


THE KEY OF THE DOOR

"The story fascinates; it contains some of the best descriptions of
fox-hunting we have met with, and there is a crispness in the
delineation of all the characters which proves that the author is no
commonplace dabbler in fiction."--_Pall Mall Gazette_.

"One of the most humorous and lively books that have appeared this
year.  It contains some fine descriptions of hunting, and a vivid
picture of county society.  The whole book is written with vivacity and
dash."--_Country Life_.

"Told with a literary skill and a mature judgment which promise well
for future work from the author."--_Times_.


THE STRAW

"Miss R. Ramsay has written but two novels, but if her future work
fulfils the promise of these, or even maintains their standard, her
public should be large and enthusiastic.  She describes fox-hunting
from the true sportsman's point of view, but with a dashing vivacity
and humour.  There is rare matter in even the best of contemporary
sporting novels, but there is more in Miss Ramsay's.  There is no doubt
that Miss Ramsay possesses exceptional literary gifts."--_Gentlewoman_.

"It is a jovial story, vigorously and vivaciously written.  The book is
invigorating, fresh, and quite excellent in its descriptions of hunting
scenes, hunting country, and hunting weather."--_Manchester Guardian_.

"This story, briskly written, has plenty of exhilarating pictures of
the hunting field in its lively course.  It has plenty of fresh, breezy
humour in the delineation of people who hunt, is clever in
construction, and written with a literary skill that keeps the story
always going."--_Scotsman_.



TO THE MEMORY OF

MY FATHER



BARNABY



CHAPTER I

The lamp flickered and jumped at the stamping in the bar.

There was a frantic quality in that noise, laughter and exclamation
mixed with a wild shouting that made the crazy partition quiver.  It
was a mad reaction from the common weight of despair.

From the bed in the room behind you could watch the door....


Paradise Town was a broken link in the chain of civilization; it might
have been written in letters of rusted blood on the map.  Its pioneers
had forsaken it cursing, its trees had been burned for firewood, its
earth had been riddled in vain for gold.  All that was left of it was
huddled near the shanty where men could buy drink and blur the spell of
awful loneliness that shut them away from life.  It was worse at night.
With the darkness fell a heavier sense of the distance of human help,
and Paradise was an island in a black sea of haunted land.  East and
west, wide and silent, the unknown emptiness lapped it in.

Ill-luck and some bitter trick had stranded the M'Kune Tragedy Company
in this dreadful place.  Night after night they played in a shingle hut
with their useless scenery stacked outside; night after night M'Kune
broke it to his scared company that they hadn't yet got their fares.
Fear and a kind of superstition worked in their minds until they were
seized with panic.  In the daylight the men hung about the bar,
muttering; and the women herded by themselves, packed like hens in a
strange run, hysterically afraid.  Prisoners in a desert, when night
had fallen they wandered away to the railroad track and watched.
Towards midnight would rise a red gleam on the far horizon, and they
would hear a distant rumbling, gathering to a roar, till the darkness
was split by a whizzing bar of light.  By it went, the great, glaring
thing full of life, terrible in its rush, and leaving the night
immeasurably darker.  Among the watchers the men would affect to
whistle.  If they couldn't board her to-night they might manage it
to-morrow....  But the women caught each other's hands fast, and
shuddered.  Latterly they had felt as if the train were a devil that
counted and kept them there.

But their desperate plight inspired them.  Never in their lives had
these poor mummers so hurled themselves into their parts; never again
would they murder and cheat and punish with such passionate realism.
Their fate hung upon it.  Penniless and trapped, their solitary chance
of rescue lay in witching all Paradise to stare at them and furnish the
wherewithal.

"Keep it up," urged M'Kune when a tired actress flagged.  The hut was
full and airless, but a few men were sullenly hanging back in the
doorway, drawn thither, but arguing if it was worth it to step inside.
"Keep it up!" hissed M'Kune.

And the heroine flung herself between the hero and the villain's knife,
slipped as she ran, and was hurt, but struggled up and cried out her
tottering defiance, bringing the house down before she dropped on her
face.

That was the last night of crazed endeavour.  The curtain came rocking
down, and the villain--M'Kune--cheated the gallows to run feverishly
through his receipts.  All Paradise was vociferating behind that
flapping rag, but amidst the din the players had heard their manager's
yell of triumph.  They had made up their fares at last.

The Tragedy Company scattered and fled, each in search of his own
belongings; but they had little to gather, and the night wind blew them
together like drifting leaves.  They durst not squander their means of
escaping, durst not loiter.  The train, thundering by in its midnight
passage, must lift them out of this nightmare town.  Waiting they
filled the bar, singing and shouting like lunatics, beside themselves
with joy.

The door in the partition rattled, but stayed shut, and on the inner
side was silence.  Nobody lifted the latch, though the bursts of noise
shook it from time to time.  A selfish panic had left no room for any
other feeling.  Probably they had all forgotten that one of the Tragedy
Company who could not escape out of Paradise; and it was all in vain
that the crazy bedstead was turned in its corner to face the door.

She lay without moving.  It seemed as if there were nothing of her but
the long black hair covering the pillow.  In their hurry those who had
carried her in had not taken out all the pins, and a few glistened in
it still.  Looking closer, one saw that her hands were clenched tight
against her breast, as if to keep her heart quiet.

How fast the minutes went!  It must be nearly train time.  And surely
there was a vast thing, pulsing, pulsing, like an engine, far away in
the night?  She could bear the hubbub of voices, but not the dread of
silence.  Was it quite impossible to rise up and struggle to them, and
reach a human face? ... Suddenly she took a panting breath, short like
a sob, still gazing.

The door had opened at last, and a woman looked in hastily, and,
flinging a word over her shoulder to the rest, stepped forward,
shutting out the streak of light and the voices in the bar.  Then she
paused, irresolute.  It was so dim in here, the atmosphere was so
anxious....  And nothing stirring ... just a glimmer of wild black hair.

"You poor little thing!" she said.

Her voice was warm with the cheap kindness of a nature tuned to play
with emotion, but incapable of feeling it from within.  Her sympathy
smacked of the stage, but as far as it went was ready to proffer easy
help.

"Like the Flight out of Egypt, isn't it?" she said.  "It's a shame to
leave you behind.  If M'Kune would hear reason, and any of us had a
cent to spare, I'd make a bundle of you, and carry you on to the train
myself.  But it won't run to it.  I asked him.  We're nothing but
ranting beggars....  You'd better write to your friends."

The girl on the bed laughed.

So much of despair betrayed itself in that tragic note that the woman
was startled.  She came a little nearer.

"You don't mean it's as bad as that?" she said, lower.  "All dead?--I
might have known it.  They wouldn't have let a thing like you fling
about with us.  But you'll be all right; you'll rub along somehow.  We
all do....  And that man who was once a doctor--"

But at her words a quick terror came to drive out the girl's submission
to despair.  She threw out her hands, clutching at the other woman's
dress.

"What?" said she, comprehending.  "Then the brute's charity and
promising to M'Kune--Oh, Lord, what a horrible place it is----!"

"Don't go!"  The girl's voice was a choking cry.

The woman swung round and listened.  Were the rest starting already?
Her fine eyes darkened.  She was wrapped up for the night journey in a
faded crimson cloak, her usual wear in tragedy, alike as empress and
villainess.  Its dull glow warmed a beauty that was, like her soul, not
quite real.  Perhaps she was repenting the hasty impulse that had
brought her in.  But she could not pull herself loose from that piteous
hold.

The younger one looked up beseechingly in her face.  Her spirit failed
her; she hardly knew what an impracticable thing she was asking, how
uselessly she was clinging, in her horror of friendlessness.

"I'm so frightened ... I'm so frightened..." she whispered, panting
because the effort hurt her; her lips were pale, and her forehead was
damp with pain.

Suddenly the woman clapped her hands.

"I've got it!" she said.  Her face cleared, and she began to laugh like
one whose mind was rid of a burden.  Twisting a ring off her finger,
she caught the little desperate hand still clutching at her skirt, and
thrust the ring on.

"There!" she said.  "Change with me."

"I can't understand," said the girl faintly.  The other woman burst
into vehement explanation.

"It's Providence!" she said.  "Never tell me--!  I'm used to this life
with its ups and downs, and its glitter of luck ahead.  It's in my
bones; the restlessness, and all that.  I couldn't give it up.  I
wouldn't.  But you--!  You didn't guess there was a lawyer tracking me,
did you?--that I'm a widow?--that I'm wanted to go and live in England
with his mother.  Perhaps she'd have to pay somebody if I hadn't a
sense of duty....  _Me_ picking up stitches in her knitting, yawning in
a parlour with a parrot!--But you'd be safe there, you child--!"

She paused for breath, triumphant.

"I'll tell him to fetch you," she said.  "The lawyer.  Wait a minute--I
have his letter; warning me that there is no money in it--no
settlements, as he calls it.  I'd be depending on the old woman's
chanty, like any stray cat."

She went down immediately on her knees, and plunged into a kit-bag that
she had slung on her arm, turning out its miscellaneous load.  There
was a shiver of glass as she fumbled, spilling things right and left;
and the stale air was scented with heliotrope.

"That's all you want," she said, throwing a heap of papers on the bed.
"Here's his photograph.  You can have it.  I can't tell you much about
him, but you'll find the clues in there.  He was good-looking, too,
poor fellow; a great gawk of a good-for-nothing working with his hands.
John Barnabas Hill--the boys called him Lord John among themselves, and
persuaded me he was incognito.  But when I asked him after the wedding
if I was now my lady, he just laughed and laughed; and I went right off
in a passion and never saw him again.  It wasn't his fault.  I was just
too eager; that's all there was to it.  And I'll tell the lawyer I've
left you ill in this wilderness.  He'll rush to your side, and take it
for granted that you are me.  Don't look so scared.  What's the matter?"

"I can't do it," the girl panted, staring with a dizzy wonder at the
casual Samaritan on her knees.  Surely the lamp was sinking, the
darkness seemed dangerously near, the kneeling figure brilliant in a
blur.  She tried to keep a picture of that kind human face wherewith to
fill the darkness, while instinctively repudiating her mad suggestion.

"Rubbish!" said the woman.  "It's the simplest thing.  You do
nothing.--And you're an actress."

"But I cannot," the girl said over and over again, holding fast.

"You'll hurt nobody," urged the woman, attaining to some imperfect
apprehension of an attitude of mind that would not, even in extremity,
buy help with falsehood.  "If I'm willing to have you stand in my
shoes, who else has a right to grumble?  It's perfectly fair all round.
Look!  I'm stuffing these papers under your pillow.  I'll tell them all
outside that an English lawyer is coming for you, and that'll make
things easy.  Don't hinder me leaving you with a clear conscience.
I've been your friend, haven't I?  Hush, hush!  I tell you you must....
I'll not let you die in this den.  I'll not be haunted----!"

There was a tramping in the bar without.  They were going.  She tumbled
her belongings into the bag, and clapped it shut.  The rest of them
were calling her.

"Luck!" she said, "and good-bye."

Her eyes dimmed unexpectedly, and she bent in a shamefaced hurry,
printing a kiss on the girl's cheek ... and fled.

The door closed.  In imagination one might see the midnight train
thundering towards the watchers--hear the grinding of the brakes.  To
the bustle had succeeded a dreadful stillness.  They had all gone like
shadows, and the listener was deserted.

"I can't ... I can't ... I can't!" she reiterated in a sobbing whisper,
casting the strange chance from her with a last effort of
consciousness.  The lamp was dying, and the world seemed to be turning
round.  In that unfriended darkness the ring on her finger was
glittering like a charm.



CHAPTER II

The day's hunting was over.

Of the hundreds who had jostled each other in the first run, a
disreputable few survived, pulling up after that last gallop.  They
grinned contentedly, drawing out their watches.  Thirty-five minutes
from the wood; a straight fox and elbow-room.  It had been worth
stopping out for, though now the dusk was thickening fast, and the
huntsman was calling off his hounds.

"Where's Rackham?" asked one man, peering into the hollow.

"Gone home.  I saw his back as we came through Pickwell."

"That wasn't Rackham.  That was Bond, hurrying home to tea."

"He's probably come to grief.  His horse had had about enough when I
lost him."

Another man popped his head over the hedge that had worsted him.  His
hat was stove in, and his tired animal was blowing on the farther side.

"_He's_ all right," he said.  "The devil looks after his own.  I turned
the most horrible somersault back yonder, through my horse catching his
leg in a binder; and before I could pick myself up, over shoots
Rackham, practically on the top of us.  If he'd even given me time to
roll into the ditch!--Down he went to the water....  I wish I could
think he was swimming in it."

"He's not far, anyhow.  Hark to him.  I'd know that laugh of his a mile
off.  There he goes--'Haw, haw, haw!'--all by himself, in the valley."

They turned their heads to listen, with a broadening and sympathetic
grin, as the dim outline of a horseman took shape in the
semi-obscurity, travelling upwards.  It wasn't at all unlike Rackham to
turn up like that, though there hadn't been a sign of him till they
heard his laughter.  The wonder would have been if he had let himself
be beaten altogether.  What obstinacy had kept him going was explained
by the spur marks on his horse's sides as he brushed through a gap and
took stock of the diminished party, the handful that had, by a minute
or two, outstripped him.

"Only the tough 'uns in it," he said.  "It wasn't bad.  Has the fox
dipped into the sunset and left you staring?  Where are we?  We must
feel our way home, or let the horses smell it out."

"He's run into a drain.  The usual end.  What was the joke?" asked the
nearest man.  Rackham pulled out his yellow silk handkerchief, and
twisted it round his throat.  He was hot, and the air was clammy.  With
that, and his wild eyes, and his sandy moustache, he looked like a
handsome bandit.

"It's turning cold," he said.  "What?  Didn't you hear the plaintive
toot of a motor lying in wait for the man who sells pills?  I'm morally
certain the millionaire is feebly chasing his hunter round and round
that big field with the mole-hills in it, miles and miles behind.  I
suppose the chauffeur had his orders; but it would be a charity to hint
that following hounds is the worst way to pick up his master."

"Didn't somebody catch his horse?"

"Oh, I did, and chucked him the reins; but I didn't see him get on to
him.  I'll bet the idiot let him go."

"Do him good.  He'll probably sit on a gate and pass the time inventing
another pill."

"Awful if he's benighted, and all the ghosts of all who swallowed the
other pills pop up screeching----!"

"Poor devil; he will have a time of it, with the mole-hills and the
thistles, and all those ghosts."

The picture called up was upsetting to the general gravity, and they
dispersed, chuckling in the increasing twilight.  A division made for
the turnpike, with here and there an individual branching courageously
into a bridle road; and the larger half halted under a signpost that
stretched illegible arms east and west in the lane.  It was pleasant to
linger a minute or two, lighting up, guessing at their direction.  But
Rackham kept on.

"That's not your way, Rackham," one man called after him.

The match flickered at his cigar, and went out as he threw it in the
road.  His horse was walking on with his head down, guided by the
rider's knees.

"Right," he shouted back.  "It isn't.  Is that you, Parsley?  I nearly
jumped on you, didn't I?"

"You did," said one of the dawdling group.  "He has been complaining."

"Well, if a fellow will sit down unexpectedly before you, like a hen
under a motor, how can you dodge him?  Teach that lazy brute of yours
to lift up his hind legs, Parsley.  Do you never hit him?"

"I say," called the first man.  "Come back.  Where are you going?"  But
Rackham pursued his wrong road untroubled.

"He can make Melton that way, if he likes," said one of those who were
looking after him.  "I daresay he means to call in on Lady Henrietta.
He told me he had a message from her, asking him to come over, but he
wasn't going to miss a day's hunting to see what she was up to."

"I thought they were at daggers drawn."

"In a manner of speaking," said the first, dropping his voice a little;
"but outwardly they are civil.  Of course, she hates him coming in for
poor Barnaby's property, and I know he was at the bottom of that row
that made Barnaby rush abroad."

"Ah, I remember, Rackham flirted furiously with Julia----"

They edged instinctively nearer to each other, snatching at an
enlivening bit of gossip as they jogged on together with the bats
swooping overhead.

"No mistake about that.  And she let Barnaby see plainly that she was
ready to drop her bone for--his cousin.  Of course, Rackham is a bigger
match.  She's one of these women who can't perceive that titles are
getting vulgar."

"Rum chap, Rackham.  I can't quite make him out.  What did he do it
for?"

"He owed Barnaby one, perhaps.  I don't think he was fond of Julia.
Anyhow, he didn't rise to her expectations; and so she relapsed, and
repented, and trails about now like a mourning bride.  Poor old
Barnaby; he'll be missed....  And we'll never hear what wild things he
did out there."

"Desperate sort of cure, to disappear in the backwoods, and never call
on his bankers.  Just like him though.--But he shouldn't have got
himself killed in a scuffle in some outlandish quarter, and spoilt the
yarn."

The man next him grunted.

"Who started the rumour that it wasn't an accident," he inquired; "but
that life without Julia wasn't worth tuppence to him, and so--and
so----?"

"Shut up, Parsley.  Don't you circulate it," put in his neighbour
hastily.  "Heaven send Lady Henrietta hasn't got hold of that."

"By George, if the tale came to her ears----!"

The last man mended his pace.  He had hung back a little.

"Rackham's bearing to the right," he struck in.  "You can hear the
horse trotting on the hill.  He must be turning in to see Lady
Henrietta.  I wonder what on earth she wants him for.  It was a rather
portentous message."

They had reached a rougher bit of road and their voices grew
indistinct, drowned in a tired clatter of horses' hoofs, and died away
in the distance.


Rackham himself could not guess the reason for Lady Henrietta's
summons.  Latterly there had been war between him and his aunt.
Something must have happened to mitigate the rigour of her ban, but he
rather fancied the circumstances must be uncommon that could accomplish
that.  He was curious, and not the less so when, having left his horse
to a bucket of gruel, he walked stiffly across from the stables, and
letting himself in at the hall door, found himself face to face with
another visitor, who had just arrived and was slipping off her furs.

"Julia!" he said, taken aback at her presence in this house.  She
acknowledged his amazement with a trickling laugh.  Her voice had a
note of melancholy importance.

"Is it so unnatural," she said reproachfully, "that you should find me
here?"

The man bit his lip, looking at her.  To him there was humour in her
romantic pose.

They had once been so well acquainted--though lately she had affected
short-sightedness when she saw him--that he imagined he understood her.
He rather admired an invincible vanity that had ignored disappointment
and defied scoffing tongues by making this bid for public sympathy.  It
was a brilliant move, but he had never thought it would impose on Lady
Henrietta, that worldly woman with a hot corner in her heart for
anybody who could squeeze in, but an implacable spirit.  She had held
out stubbornly up to now.

"Well--I don't know," he said, hesitating, swallowing his amusement.

Julia lifted her tragic eyes to his.  Perhaps she was not sorry he
should witness her recognition in this house.  The trailing black
garments that she was wearing for Barnaby lent a majestic sweep to her
full outlines, and there was a kind of bloom on her cheeks.  She
reminded one of a big purple pansy.

The butler, an old family servant, one of those that know too much, had
closed the great door, shutting out the wind and the stormy sky,
already night-ridden; and was now waiting discreetly in the background.
Rackham nodding to him, remarked a curious twinkle on his face, but
when he looked again it was wooden.

"I knew she would send for me at last," crowed Julia.  "People called
her selfish and cruel, but I told everybody I understood.  I told them
to give her time.  It must be so difficult for her to realise that
someone else was closer to poor Barnaby than even she.  How could she
help feeling, at first, a little jealousy of my grief?"

"I was sent for, too," said Rackham bluntly.  "She said she had
something to show me."

"Poor dear!" said Julia.  "How touching that she should think of it.
You were his cousin, and she wants you to witness her do me justice."

The man smiled to himself at her manner of glancing backwards at their
fellowship in disgrace.  Was it possible that his aunt had really made
up her mind to forget and forgive, and fall upon Julia's neck?  He felt
a twinge of something like shame.

"We mustn't keep her waiting," said Julia.  "Is she in the library,
Macdonald?  That is where she used to sit...."

Already she was assuming her ancient intimacy with the ways of the
house, and the servant made way for her as she passed him, traversing
the hall with a mournful swagger.


Lady Henrietta was knitting hard.

She sat in a deep sofa by the fire, turned so that it faced the
hangings that screened off the outer hall.  The library was so big that
it seemed to reach at either end into darkness, and the lamps made
little islands of brilliance here and there in the prevailing gloom.
Behind, with the books, there was another fireplace, a red and
glimmering hearth where two or three dogs lay, warm and sleepy,
dreaming of winter tramps and a man calling them to heel.  One, a
terrier with a bitten ear, had started half-awake on a run down the
room, but she could not settle on the other rug, and came back
restlessly to her post on the shabbier tiger-skin.

Barnaby's mother had a thin, hard, eager face, with a flick of colour
high on her cheek-bones.  Not an unkind woman, but one possessed by
some passion that had tempered a frivolous, careless nature to a mood
of iron.  Her rings glittered as she knitted, and the wires clicked
faster and faster, as if it were impossible that her fingers could be
for a minute still.  She was knitting a man's grey-green shooting
stocking.

Occasionally her eyes, with a strange spark in them, lit on a girl
sitting opposite, gazing into the fire.  The girl was young and quiet;
her head shone dark in the ring of light; her cheek was pale, but her
short upper lip showed courage.  Lady Henrietta watched her with a
fierce joy that was not yet liking.

"You're not at all what I expected," she said abruptly.  "I was afraid
of what I would see, and I didn't dare to look at you when you arrived
last night;--but twenty times I turned the handle of your bedroom door.
At last, I poked my head in when you were asleep, just to know the
worst.--I nearly dropped the candle when I saw your little head on the
pillow."

"What did you expect?" the girl said faintly.

"A great, coarse, fine woman, snoring," said Lady Henrietta.

All at once she bent forward, putting her knitting into the girl's
hands.  There was significance in the gesture.

"Pick up that stitch for me," she said.  "He never liked ladders in his
stockings."

There was no shake in the hard jauntiness of her voice, but the girl,
searching with bent head for the dropped stitch, felt her fingers
tremble as they touched the rough worsted--felt something pluck at her
heart.  Barnaby was dead, and she had never known him; but he was the
one real person walking through a dream in which she had lost herself.

She was not strong yet.  She still had a trick of putting out her hand
to some steady object when she stood up alone.  And at first she had
not understood--too ill to question, not wondering.  It was as if she
had died one night and awakened to a consciousness of protection, a
mystery of care and kindness, of strangers who took charge of her,
treating her like a precious doll.  When she at last knew the reason,
she had felt like one who, falling from a precipice, found herself
clinging, the dizzy horror stopped by a branch;--she could not let it
go.

So they had found her, and brought her over the sea, and put her to bed
in a great, comfortable room, in a house that was haunted.  It was
Barnaby's house, and it was for Barnaby's sake that people were kind to
her.  Somehow they were all shadows to her beside the thought of him.
His name had been invoked to shelter her; it had been enough to lift
her out of despair.  She had begun to feel safe in a confused assurance
that she belonged to him.

She remembered last night.  She remembered the door sliding softly, and
a rustle in the room, and how she had lain quite still, shutting her
eyes, holding her breath, startled out of sleep.  Someone was smoothing
the bedclothes under her chin.  She longed to cover her face, but could
not.  It was not a ghost, for mortal fingers had touched her cheek.
Soon the rustle had withdrawn from her bedside, and she had heard a
little sound that might have been a sigh.  Afterwards the door had
closed, and the room was empty.

Seized by an unaccountable impulse, she had put her foot to the floor,
and crossed the wide carpet to the fireplace, where the visitor had
gone from her side.  The fire had fallen in, flaring high in a
quivering blaze, and by its light she had seen that over the
chimney-piece hung the picture of a man.  Instinct had told her who it
was, and she stared at him, fascinated.

The other woman had left her the wrong photograph in her hurry.  This
was no weak boy with a foolish mouth, bundled over-seas by his people.
This was a man with a steady face that betrayed nothing of himself, and
eyes that held her startled gaze.  Blue eyes, audacious and
understanding.  Her heart beat strangely.  For this must be Barnaby the
reckless, who had married a wife and got himself killed ... and she,
poor fool, was calling herself his widow.

She clung to the chimney-piece, shivering with excitement, a quaint,
slight figure in her white night-dress.

"I'll hurt nobody....  I'll hurt nobody!" she was explaining to him in
an imploring whisper; and it seemed to her that the man in the picture
smiled.

"--There, give it back to me," said Lady Henrietta jealously, and her
voice scattered mists of imagination.  "You don't think I'm crazy, do
you?  You know why it is I can't stop knitting his stockings.--We'll
not talk about him, Susan.  You and I have each our own memories, and
we can't share them.--I don't want yours.  But we'll fight for him
together; since he belongs to us."

Her manner took on a sudden fierceness.

"I've not told anybody about you yet," she said.  "I've been hugging
the secret for purposes of my own.  I am a wicked woman, Susan.  Upon
my honour, if you hadn't existed, I'd have been obliged to invent you.
If you hadn't come to me, I'd have searched the world for an imitation,
from end to end.  How he would laugh at me!--But we'll not talk about
him--we couldn't bear it.  Only we'll fight for him, as I said.  We'll
not let his enemies triumph and pretend that they broke his heart."

Her voice was quicker, charged with a passionate haste that hurried the
words out before she could close her lips.

"You little pale thing," she said.  "I am not a kissing woman ... but
... oh, you don't know what you are to me.  Wait.  I'll make you
understand.  There's a creature here who behaved shamefully to my boy
... to _him_.  And now he is dead she goes about boasting, claiming him
as her victim, hinting to all who will listen that he killed himself
for love of her.  It's not true....  You'll teach them it is not true!"

She stopped, controlling herself.  In the hall outside there was the
slight bustle of an arrival, and voices, muffled by distance, came
faintly through.  As suddenly as she had spoken, she checked her
outburst of confidence, and picked up her knitting with a terrible
little smile.

"I know who it is that's coming," she said grimly.  "A woman, Susan--a
woman who dresses in black, and prates of a misunderstanding."

They came in together, the man blinking a little after his ride in the
twilight, approaching with a stiff gait and clinking spurs; the woman
swimming triumphantly up the room.

"Dear Lady Henrietta!" she murmured, a ready quiver in her emotional
Irish voice.

"How do you do, Julia?" said Lady Henrietta.  She had recovered an
extraordinary calm.  "Did you and Rackham meet on the doorstep?  I am
pleased to see you both."

Her ominous quietness struck the man, more observant.  His instinct had
not disappointed him, that was clear; he marked her attitude with an
inward chuckle.  Something tremendous was toward.

"You are looking well, Aunt Henrietta," he said politely.  "Do you mind
my smoking?  We had a tiring day, and I missed my only sandwich."

"Macdonald will look after you," she said.  "Make him get you anything
you want."

"Thanks," said Rackham.  "I'll have something before I go.  I meant to
ask him for a whisky and soda, but he shot us in here.--I thought the
old chap seemed a bit excited."

"Yes," said Lady Henrietta.  "They were all so devoted to Barnaby.
Naturally they share my feelings--"  She paused significantly, and he
could see that she was watching Julia.  "My son has given me a
legacy....  He has left me his wife."

"How sweet of you to put it like that!" said Julia.

She had established herself on the sofa without an instant's delay,
taking figurative possession, too self-absorbed to appreciate any
by-play.  Her head was full of the tardy capitulation of her
fellow-mourner, and she, in her own eyes, was the principal figure
here.  But Rackham, looking on, all but shouted.

"What?" he said.  "Poor old Barnaby!  Married?  Good Lord! how did it
come about?"

Julia turned round and stared at him.

"Lord Rackham!" she said.  "Are you mad?"

Lady Henrietta made a motion with her hand towards the girl sitting in
the background.  She could not trust herself to speak to the woman
whose outrageous complacency had survived her blow.

"My dear," she said, "this is your husband's cousin.  He gets
everything when I die--things are so wickedly entailed in this
family--except a pittance I mean to scrape up for you.  You know I
don't chatter, Rackham.  You can understand I didn't care to set the
neighbourhood talking until I had Susan here."

There was no mistaking the triumphant note in her proclamation.

The girl coloured faintly.  They were all looking at her now; the
strange woman with a startled face, the man curiously.  Some likeness
in him to the picture that hung upstairs troubled her.  So Barnaby
might have looked, his dare-devil glance falling on her with a
quizzical compassion.

Rackham's wits were not slow.  He crossed over to her side, and took up
his station on the hearthrug, so close to her that his splashed scarlet
coat almost brushed her black sleeve.  Barnaby had been dressed like
him in the picture, gallant in hunting clothes.  Would Barnaby have
stood by her?  For she understood the significance of his action.  This
man wanted to be her friend.  She trembled a little, wondering why.

Lady Henrietta took no more notice of him than if he had been a vexing
shadow put in his place.  His strategic movement was lost on her.
Barnaby's mother, in her thirst to punish, her eagerness in striking
for the sake of her son, had not time to consider that the sword in her
hand was his wife.  Her eyes were shining with the fire that had burnt
up her tears, and they were fixed on the enchantress who had wrecked
Barnaby's life, and was trading on his old infatuation, making a bid
for public sympathy by flaunting her forfeited hold on him.

"I can't understand," said Julia, with a gasp.  "Barnaby was not
married...."

But she was shaken.  Her blank amazement was turning visibly to dismay.
This stroke was so sharp, so inconceivable, that she lost her head,
refusing to believe in the humbling revelation.

"It's a plot!" she cried all at once.  "A plot against me.  What have I
done to be treated like this?  Why should I be insulted?--Everybody
knows that Barnaby and I----"

"Don't be an idiot, Julia," said Rackham softly, but it was not his
interruption that stopped her passionate surrender to the Irish-woman's
instinct to have it out with the world.

Perhaps the actress was uppermost in Susan, or perhaps an odd impulse
of loyalty to the dead man whose ring she wore carried her out of
herself.  Her heart was hot against the woman who had played fast and
loose with him, and it taught her how one who belonged to Barnaby would
have faced this moment.  His wife would not be a coward, would not sit,
a piteous listener, in the background; she had his memory to uphold.
And so she found herself standing up, confronting the stranger in a
proud silence that was more eloquent than reproach.  Slowly, without a
word, she moved onwards to leave the room.

"Gad!" said Rackham, under his breath.  He liked that.

Something like awe had smitten Julia.  She remained a moment
transfixed, staring after her, all exclamation hushed on her reckless
lips.  Then, all at once, she followed.

"Tell me who you are," she panted hysterically.  "It's all nonsense,
isn't it?--It's a sham?"

Lady Henrietta was watching the scene from her sofa, and so was
Rackham, standing with his back to the fire.  They were both far off.
It was a swift and dramatic minute.

"His mother hates me," said Julia, half to herself; her hold tightened
on the girl's arm.  "She's capable of anything.  She--What colour were
his eyes?"

The question was flung at her without warning.  But a man's face stood
out distinct in the girl's imagination, haunting her with a clearness
none of these other faces had; smiling whimsically down from his
picture all this while she was letting people proclaim her his....
Somehow she was defending him, covering his hurt.

Without thinking, without a pause--

"Blue," she said.

The other woman's hand dropped.  She let her go.

Susan let the velvet hangings fall heavily behind her as she came
through.  A kind of wonder at herself possessed her, and her knees
trembled.  Mechanically she traversed the hall, and began to climb the
wide staircase, leaning a little as she went, on the solid oak
balustrade.

On the first landing a window faced the stair, and right and left ran
corridors, interminable, and equally mysterious to the stranger, who
was, in a manner, lost in this unknown house.  She sank down on the
window-seat, set deep in the thickness of the wall.

Outside, the sky was dark with a strange red, as of furnaces under the
horizon, glimmering in the west.  She could just distinguish the
jutting corner of the more antique part of the house, built as it was
in different centuries, bit by bit.  That side was strangely ornamented
with mediæval figures--the images of ancient warriors, all battered and
weather-stained.  And the land they had won was quiet, lying half
asleep; only the trees still restless as night came on.

She turned her face.  In front of her gleamed the shallow stair,
running straight into the hall below, and all the way down hung
pictures, men and women who had lived in this house, and trod the
stairs, hurrying, lagging, or perhaps clinging, as she had in her
weakness clung to the balustrade.  Some were ill-painted, some stared
wickedly; but all of them were watching.  There was history in their
eyes.

The girl felt a queer fellowship with the still procession; she, whose
only title among them was make-believe.  Perhaps, in forgotten times,
her own people had fought and loved and ridden side by side with these,
and their descendant had come back to a friend's house.  How good it
would be to let the world go on, to walk in a dream always, and not
struggle any more.

She thought, with a remote disdain, of the scene downstairs.  Her heart
was still beating quickly; but that gripping sense of the theatre had
left her.  And she knew she had conquered.  Barnaby's memory was safe
from the woman his mother hated.  One could imagine her claim
collapsing, one could hear her voluble excuse, pleading bewilderment,
accepting the situation--with perhaps a plaintive expression of her
relief in knowing she was, after all, not as guilty as gossip said--had
Lady Henrietta heard the dreadful rumours?  And Barnaby's mother would
smile at the thrust with victory in her soul, while the man, his
cousin, would look on, smothering his chuckle, with his head on one
side like a magpie, and a splash of mud that had dried on his cheek.

It was his step she heard first as they came out into the hall.  He and
Julia were leaving together, she talking fast.  Her voice, charged with
subdued excitement, rose and fell on a singing note.  What she was
saying did not reach up the stairs; only its contralto music.  The
sound of it awakened Susan in her mood of overwrought exaltation.
Reality came back to her with a shock.  She remembered another voice as
warm, as emotional, with the same theatrical tune of tears; and she
remembered the dangerous charity that had mocked her opposition.
Stripped of its fantastic mist of adventure, she looked at her own
story, and was ashamed.  Her very scorn of the woman against whom she
had been pitted turned on herself and scorched her, ranking her as low.
She and Julia--no, she could not bear to be judged with Julia.  The
romantic sophistry that had comforted her was gone, and nothing could
stay her desperate longing to be honest.

They passed underneath.  Rackham was helping Julia into her furs, was
hunting for her muff, with his face to the stair.  The girl above held
her breath.  His nearness affected her with a kind of panic.

She had an intuition that he was the kind of man who would--guess.  She
thought of his quick movement to her side, his presumptuous readiness
to stand by her, unspoken but unmistakable, with an unexplained alarm.
Would they never go?  Why did he loiter, looking upwards with that
inexplicable smile?

As the great door shut, at last, on a silence, she sprang up and went
downstairs.  It was a pity she was not stronger.  One should not go to
be judged with a tottering step.  And she would want all her courage.
Knowing the spirit in which Barnaby's mother had dealt with Julia, she
did not look for mercy.

But Lady Henrietta was not sitting upright and watchful, with that look
of ruthlessness stamped on her thin, hard, pretty face.  She had thrown
herself across the sofa, her fast-knitting fingers idle, the
half-finished stocking that would never be worn fallen from her hand to
the floor.  She lay like a broken reed; deprived of the motive that had
sustained her--and she was crying.

That sight stirred all the heart in Susan.  She ran to her blindly,
only conscious of a great compassion that shamed her selfish terror of
the weight of a lie.  She could not tell her ... now.

And Barnaby's mother looked up at her approach.  Something of the old
defiant jauntiness came back to her for a minute.  She tried to laugh.

"Come here and kiss me," she called.  There was a fierce tenderness in
her cry--"you darling--!"



CHAPTER III

Susan had flung from her with both hands the imprudent longing to cry
out her story.

Somehow she felt that if she spoke now she would be a traitor.  It was
too late to look back; for good or ill she had changed places with the
other woman who would not come.  To fail now would not be to clear her
honour, it would be to desert her post.

When Lady Henrietta, having triumphed, had given way at last, and had
clung to Susan, the girl, gathered in that fierce clasp, had known that
Barnaby's mother took passionate comfort in her only because the
stranger was something that had belonged to him.  To deny her that
comfort would be to rob one who had nothing left.  Could she, by a
wistful life of devotion, justify herself, not in the sight of man, not
to hard judges--but perhaps to this Barnaby who was dead, and who would
surely understand?  Keeping silent, she promised him that she would.

Day after day passed over her head, building an unsteady wall between
her and that pitiless outside world in which she had been like a driven
leaf, without hope or foothold.  She became accustomed to the lazy
peace of the house, to the watchful offices of the old servants, who
seemed, like Lady Henrietta herself, curiously proud of her.

Slowly she grew stronger; her thin cheek rounded, still pale, but
touched with a faint promise of colour.

One afternoon she was taking her solitary walk in the park, and had
wandered farther than she had been.  The dogs had left her, scurrying
after rabbits, and she leaned on a stile that offered a resting-place,
a little tired and wistful, gazing at the sinking fire in the west.

Suddenly the air was quick with galloping, and all around her were
jumping horses.  Startled, but unafraid, she watched them coming over
the hedge, imagining that as they came they would vanish.

"You shouldn't stay there, you might get hurt," called someone, pulling
up at her side.  "How are you?"

She had been looking on, as one would look at a gallant picture, not
realizing that she was in its midst.  Instinctively she drew back.  All
had stopped, and hounds were clustering in the bottom, where the
huntsman had dismounted, and was peering into a drain.  Many heads were
turned, with a rough kindness that excused curiosity, in her direction.
Perhaps they were all Barnaby's comrades, who missed him, and saw in
the pathetic figure one who was missing him more than they...

But the man who had drawn up beside her was leaning down to her like an
old friend, barring out the rest with his shoulder.  His horse, still
excited, jerked at his bit, and flung a white flick of lather on her
black dress.  Without thinking, she stretched out her hand to his
muzzle.

"Take care.  He's an uncertain brute," said Rackham.  "You like horses?"

"I used to ride," she said.

Something awoke in her at that velvet touch, and she could not finish,
thinking of other horses.

"Good," he said quickly.  "Tell you what.  I have a mare that would
carry you.  I'll come and talk it over--if my aunt will let me in."

He laughed a little under his breath at that.  "How do you get on with
her?" he asked.  "_She's_ a warrior--!"

Susan lifted her eyes to his face.  His abrupt friendliness could not
entirely conquer the fluttering apprehension of danger in his
good-nature that made her unaccountably shy of him.  There was
commiseration in his look--and admiration.

"Look here," he said; "we're cousins--by marriage.  I've some warrant
to be officious--and you're alone in a strange land, aren't you?--and
all that."

Was it her imagination, or did he drop his voice significantly?
Perhaps he was glancing at their first meeting, pitying her as a reed
bruised in Lady Henrietta's warlike hands.  Perhaps--no, she could not
read his expression.

The huntsman straightened his back, and walked stiffly towards his
horse.  A man who was giving up passed by and gravely took off his hat;
she watched him hooking with his whip at the bridle gate.  She was
afraid that they would all ride off and leave her with Barnaby's
kinsman, and his penetrating smile.

"Anyhow," said Rackham, "I'm here if you want backing....  Just let me
know if you need any kind of help."

A scream on the hidden side of the spinney beneath them linked up the
field, believing in one of the glorious surprises that light up the
dragging end of the day.  The huntsman pushed right through the misty
tangle, calling on his hounds, and the riders disappeared like a
swirling river.  A minute and they were gone.

The girl listened breathlessly to the thudding of distant hoofs.  Her
heart beat a little too fast, disturbed by that brief interlude of
excitement.  She stood quite still until the last gleam of scarlet
faded, and the galloping died away, leaving a tremendous quiet.  There
was no sound at last but the wildfowl, far away on the lake, beginning
their sunset chaunt.

Half the household had rushed out to look for hounds, and were
returning singly, more or less out of breath, as the girl came home.
It was astonishing what a commotion the hunt, in its passing, had
awakened in that sad household.  Lady Henrietta herself, with a shawl
on her head, was in the garden, peering.  Her sporting instincts were
struggling in her with a kind of rage.

"Tell me who were out," she said.  "Oh, of course you can't.  But
_they_ would know who you are.  I am glad they saw you.  It would
remind some of them--a man is so soon forgotten!  To think of them all
hunting and fooling just as they used; with him left out--!  Did they
run from Tilton?  I don't suppose a man of them wasted a thought on him
till they saw you there.  Did they change foxes, Susan?"

She talked on eagerly, answering herself with conjecture as she hurried
the girl into the warm house, out of the gathering rain.  Macdonald,
the butler, was better informed than she, and his mistress seized on
him as he slipped in, wiping his brow, short-winded but triumphant.  He
it was who had holloaed the fox away.

"Come here and tell me all about it," said Lady Henrietta sharply.
"--At your age, Macdonald--!"

He approached with solemnity, remembering his dignity, and his
rheumatism, an inextinguishable light in his eye.

"They ran from Owston, my lady, and lost the fox on yon side of our
bottom spinney.  He must have been about done, by the way scent failed,
and they couldn't pick him up again for the gentlemen crowding forrard.
No, my lady, there was two sticks crossed in the earth--and the
drainpipe clogged.  But we found 'em one that'll take them a sight
farther than some of them care to go.  A real fine fox that was!"  He
wound up with real pride.

"And who was that on the bay?" asked Lady Henrietta.  "He took the
fence well, Macdonald."

"That was his Lordship," allowed Macdonald, but grudgingly.  "Ah, my
lady, I seen Mr. Barnaby take that very jump that day they killed their
fox in the park.  Clean and fine he went up, and lighted; he never
smashed no top rail!"

"I know--I know," said Lady Henrietta.  "The day he put out his
shoulder."

"That was a rabbit hole," said Macdonald jealously.  "Ah, my lady, his
Lordship will never go like him!"

Dismissing Rackham with the scorn of an old servant staunch to his
master, he shook his head mournfully and retreated.  Lady Henrietta had
turned abruptly from her cross-examination, and held out her hands to
the fire.

The incident, slight as it was, and brief, coloured all their evening.
Afterwards, Lady Henrietta returned to the subject, amusing herself
with surmises.  Had Susan noticed a man with a grizzled moustache and a
furtive eye?--and another who had a trick of jerking out his
elbow?--and one who rode like a jack-in-the-box, starting up
continually in his stirrups?  And had she seen a woman in brown, who
usually backed in under the hedge at a check, talking secrets with a
lank man, her shadow,--and all unwitting that there were two sides to
hedges, and that voices filtered through?  Insensibly, she branched
into reminiscence, telling caustic histories of these Leicestershire
unworthies, who were all unknown to Susan; and the girl hardly
listened, sitting with her cheek on her hand and a dreaming brow.

The short interlude had impressed her.  But in imagination she saw, not
the splendid figure that had crashed over the hedge down yonder,--but
another, one silently haunting the dim pastures where he had ridden
once, sweeping out of the dusk, and passing into the dusk again.  The
swift scene came back to her, with its wild rush of life, hounds, and
horsemen,--only, instead of his cousin, she pictured Barnaby, to whose
memory she had dedicated herself.

It was wearing late.  Soon Lady Henrietta would interrupt herself,
breaking off with a remorseful brusqueness, and order her off to bed.
How quiet it was in the library, that vast, comfortable room!  How safe
she felt, and how sleepy, only dreaming, not thinking of anything.

The white fox-terrier with the bitten ear had stolen down to her and
lay on her skirt.  There was a kind of fellowship between her and the
dog.  When it jumped up all at once with a shiver she stroked its back
softly, wondering why it alone was excited by the wind whistling
outside the house.  And it looked up in her face and scuttled like a
thing possessed down the room.

"What's the matter with Kit?" said Lady Henrietta, pausing.--"I daresay
she heard Macdonald shutting up in the hall."--And she went on talking.

Far down the room the heavy curtain swung hastily, and fell back.  It
was Susan who, without warning, lifted her eyes and saw somebody
standing there.

He had walked right in out of the wind and rain, had flung off his
dripping cap, but had not waited to unbutton his greatcoat; and he
looked as he had looked in his picture, but no ghost--real,--with
dreadful blue eyes, and a smiling mouth.

The girl started to her feet.  One wild moment she stared at him.  Her
own cry sounded strange in her ears, very far off ... and then the
world went round.

      *      *      *      *      *

Slowly she drifted back into consciousness, and she was lying on her
bed, surrounded by fluttered women, whose amazed whispering reached her
like the dim clamour in a dream.

"Poor thing; poor thing--it was too much for her."  "It was wicked of
Mr. Barnaby to startle her like that.  But how like him----!"

"Lord, Lord! his face as she lay on the floor!--and his mother rating
him as if he'd never been dead an hour----!"

"'You've killed her!' said she.  'You've killed her!'"

"Like as not she'll go out of her mind, poor lamb!"

The quavering excitement hushed suddenly as she stirred.

"Hold your noise, you!" the old housekeeper adjured the others, pushing
them on one side, and patting her anxiously, promising something in a
voice that shook, tremulous and coaxing,--as one might dangle the moon
to quiet a frantic child.

Up the long corridor came a man's step, and the pattering of a dog.
The housekeeper jumped, and ran from the bedside, and the maids clung
hysterically together, looking with a scared eagerness at the door.  A
superstitious terror was still painted on their faces.

Barnaby was not dead.  The whole dreadful comedy was scarcely clear to
the girl, so dizzy was she with this one miracle, the thing that was
impossible, and was true.  Shame had not yet burnt up wonder.  She lay
motionless, with her hands on her heart, listening to his step, and
waiting for the sound of a voice that she had never heard.

"How is she?"

Oh strange, kind voice, asking that!  Susan caught her breath,
remembering who she was not.

The housekeeper, running out, had closed the door nervously, and was
posted with her back against it, half in a rapture, and half
reproachful.

"Oh, Mr. Barnaby--!  Oh, my gracious!"

Collecting herself, she went on in a trembling hurry.

"She's come round at last; she's come to herself;--but the doctor says
we must keep her quiet.  You can't come in, sir!  It might do harm.  He
said so before he went to my lady....  I daren't let you in, Mr.
Barnaby....  Please! ... I've told her you'll come to her in the
morning ... and I was to give you her love."

The girl started up, horror-stricken, and fell back on the bed,
covering her face.  Would nothing silence that foolish tongue, inspired
by its ill-judged haste to pacify the presumed impatience of the man
who had done the mischief?  Through the guarded door, through her shut
eyes, Susan had a scorching vision of Barnaby, the stranger, listening
to that brazen message.  And between her convulsive fingers she heard
the old servant babbling on....  No, after that, she could not bear to
look him in the face!

Panic seized her.  It grew upon her as she lay quiescent, enduring the
ministrations of sympathizers who would have scorned to touch her if
they had known.  Barnaby had not spoken.  He had not said to them, "She
is an impostor."  He was letting them pity her, handle her gently ...
till to-morrow.

They had given her something to make her sleep, but the draught was
impotent; instead of soothing, it was exciting a strange confusion in
her head.  She got out of bed at last, hearing nothing but somewhere in
her room the heavy breathing of a dozing watcher.  Slowly at first, and
then quicker, as the impulse took hold of her, she began struggling
into her clothes.  She must go, she must go; she could not stay in this
house.

Driven by her panic, that could not think, could not reason, she set
her desperate foot on the stair.

The lights were not out in the hall below; they shimmered faintly as
she passed like a shadow towards the door.  If someone should come--!
Feverishly she tried to undo the bar; the latch was very heavy.  Her
heart beat so loud that she was deaf to all other noises.

She did not know that she was not alone till a hand was laid on her
shoulder.

She turned round, shaking from head to foot, leaning against the door.

"Oh, let me go!" she cried.

He looked at her gravely.

"I'm afraid we're neither of us real," he said.  "Let's try not to
scare each other....  They tell me that you're my widow."

She turned her face from him.

"Don't look at me.  Oh, don't look at me!  Let me go," she repeated
wildly.

His fingers closed over hers, still fumbling at the bar.

"I don't think I can do that," he said.  "The doctor blames me for
frightening you out of your life.  He'd hold me responsible if I let
you rush out of my house in the middle of the night like this.  If you
don't mind I'll ask you not to make me out a worse fool than I've been
already.  And--you aren't going to faint again, are you?  Sit down a
minute----"

His arm went round her quickly; he had unloosed her hands from the
door, and put her into a chair by the fire, before she was sure that
she had not fainted.  She leant her whirling head against the packed
red cushions.

"They gave me something to make me sleep...." she murmured.

He stood a little way off on the hearthrug, watching her.  Kit, the
terrier, lay down suddenly between them, as if it had him safe.

"How did you know me?" he said abruptly.

"There is a picture of you," she said; "and I--thought of you so often."

The man who had been dismissed so lightly from his world looked down
with a queer expression.  He could not doubt the utter unconsciousness
in the tired young voice.  She had nothing to hope for.  She was being
judged.

"In the name of Heaven, why----?" he burst out, checking himself too
late for, the girl stood up and faced him, calling up all her courage.

"Because I am a shameless wretch," she cried unsteadily.  "A liar and
an impostor....  You don't ask a thief why he has robbed you.  You send
him to prison....  You don't laugh at him...."

"You child!" said Barnaby.

The strange, kind note in his voice broke down her desperation.
Somehow, she found herself stammering out the story of her Southern
childhood; the brave old family ruined by the war; the last of them
dying, the last friend gone, and she left undefended, to fight for
herself in the world.  Not strong enough to nurse the sick, not hard
enough to win her way in business; driven to try if she could live by
her one poor gift of acting;--what could she do but catch at the
happy-go-lucky kindness that had flung salvation to her?

"I could have died..." she said, scorning herself; "but I ... came."

"Hush!" said the man softly, all at once, turning round to meet
interruption.  The doctor was coming downstairs, deliberately, as
became an all-wise and elderly dictator, peering short-sightedly into
the hall below.

"Bless my soul!" he said.  "Barnaby, you villain, she's not fit to be
talking to you.  I warned the servants it was as much as their lives
were worth to let you go near her;--and look at this!"

He shook his head at them both, but relented, with his fingers on
Susan's pulse.  His professional knowledge of woman mitigated his
surprise at her quick recovery.  Some women could bear anything, after
the first shock of pain or joy.

"Good," he said.  "Since you're awake, and in your right mind, which I
had hardly dared to hope for,--I'll send you up to Lady Henrietta.  She
has been calling for you.  Just sit beside her, and tell her very
quietly, over and over again, how Barnaby looks, and all that.  I can't
risk her seeing him yet;--her age isn't so elastic,--and nothing will
satisfy her but you."

Instinctively the girl moved to obey, and stopped.  Would Barnaby let
her go to his mother?  As far as she could understand--it was still
stranger than a dream--he had not yet proclaimed her an impostor.  But
surely the time was come.

"Oh," said the doctor, following her look; "your husband must do
without you."

And then Barnaby spoke.

"You're a bit hard on us, doctor," he said.  "We had a lot to say to
each other.  But my wife and I can finish our talk to-morrow."--His
voice, as he turned to her, lost its humorous note and became grave.
"Go up to my mother,--please."

She went.  The doctor watched her go, and, shaking off a certain
perplexity, addressed himself to the younger man.  Old friend of the
family that he was, his gruff manner poorly hid his emotion.

"Good heavens, man!" he said.  "I can't get accustomed to you.  Shake
hands again, will you?  I want to feel positive you are not a spook."

"What about my mother?" asked Barnaby.  He too had been watching the
girl go slowly up the stairs.

"She'll be all right, if we can keep her quiet," said the doctor
cheerfully.  "But she can't afford to have any more shocks.  Her heart
is bad.  You didn't know that, of course.  She is a courageous lady,
and has taken all your vagaries gallantly up to now, but this has been
a bit too sudden.  If it hadn't been for your wife's collapse
distracting her attention for the moment, taking her mind off the
greater shock----"

He broke off there.

"How the devil was I to know?" burst out the other man.  "I had no
notion that I was dead."

"Hadn't you heard----?"

"How should I?  Look here, doctor, I haven't been sulking in
civilization; racketing in cities.  I've been roughing it, going up and
down in the earth.--There wasn't much use in writing letters.  I told
my mother I would turn up again some day, and she wasn't to be
surprised.  I did send her a line, now and then, the last of them a
greasy scrawl in a mining camp, where there was one bit of paper among
the lot of us, and I won it.  She can't have got that....  When I had
worked the restlessness out of my blood--some fellows can't manage
that, it takes them all their lives--I had a fancy to come home and
walk into the old place as if I had never left it....  It's simple
enough----!"

He was bending forward, stammering a little in his excitement.
Suddenly he laughed.

"By George!" he said.  "So that was why the porters fled from me at
John o' Gaunt!"

The old man surveyed him anxiously, wiping his glasses.

Often one heard of men who, seized by a thirst for adventure in the
rough, or unbalanced by passion and disappointment, had thrown up
everything familiar and dropped out, to savour the hard realities of
life.  Sometimes they reappeared, sometimes only peculiar stories
drifted to their old set about them, and those who might know were
dumb.  He felt a most irrational alarm, an impulse to hold fast to this
prodigal.

"You'll not vanish again?" he said hastily.  "You won't want to roam in
search of adventures now you have a wife to take care of."

Barnaby stretched out for a cigarette and lit it.  There had always
been a box of them in one corner of the chimney-piece.  It did not
strike him as odd that he should find them there.

"Have a smoke, doctor," he said.  "It'll steady your nerves a bit....
Yes, I'm sobered."

He halted a minute, and the terrier at his feet, remembering an old
trick he had taught her, sprang up and blew out the match.  As he
stooped to caress her, she began licking him furiously.  There had been
some other trick, but she had forgotten that.  She made a clumsy effort
to keep his attention by crossing her paws and waving them, which was
how it had begun....

"Good dog," he said, and she dropped at his feet, proud of her
cleverness, though grudging his notice to the doctor.

"You're right there," he went on, as if the thought amused him.  "A man
is a fool to go tramping over the world, searching for adventures, when
they come to him on his own hearth."

      *      *      *      *      *

Lady Henrietta lay propped high with pillows, talking fast.

"I want Susan!" she complained.  "Bring me Susan.  The doctor shan't
put me off with his opiates.  I can't trust any of you but Susan."

And the girl came faltering into the room.

Lady Henrietta caught her hand, nipping it tight in hers.

"Susan, my child," she said.  "What a little cold hand you've got!
They're hushing me as if I was a lunatic, humouring me with tales.  And
my heart's so funny.  I can feel it misbehaving....  I'll die if they
make me angry.  Come here, closer.  I want to ask you--_you_ won't tell
me comfortable lies.--Has Barnaby come back?"

"He has come back," said Susan.

"Are you deceiving me?" whispered Lady Henrietta.  "Are you in league
with the doctor?--I sent old Dawson out there, you know, and he said
the report was true....  He saw the boy's grave.  He put up a stone....
And the lawyers came croaking together like ravens, and swore there
wasn't a scrap of doubt....  And Rackham stepped into his shoes, and I
made them search for you high and low!--Oh! no, it's not true!  I am
wandering in my mind.  Look at me.  You and I couldn't cheat each
other.  Let me see it in your face!"

But Susan could not.  She dropped her head over the hand clasping hers
so fiercely, and her unstrung nerves gave way; she could not keep from
sobbing.

Strangely enough, her crying seemed to soothe Lady Henrietta.

"Ah, you never used to cry like that!" she said.  "He has come."  She
stroked the girl's hair with her other hand.

"I suppose they'll let me see him in the morning," she said rationally.
"He will be asleep now, poor boy.  He shall come up to me when he has
had his breakfast, and pour out his ridiculous adventures.  They must
give him devilled bacon.  Margaret, Margaret, stop snivelling, and
remind them to give him devilled bacon.  Keep holding my hand, Susan,
and don't cry so.  We have got him back."



CHAPTER IV

The dim light was already struggling in through the curtains before
Lady Henrietta dropped off to sleep, quieted.  Susan dared not withdraw
her hand.  Her arm grew stiff, ached awhile, and was numb; her head
slid against the pillow, and her eyes shut at last.

She awakened with a start to hear Lady Henrietta's laugh, weak but
natural, and a man's exclamation, sharp and pitiful, above her.

"Take her away, Barnaby, and give her her breakfast," his mother was
ordering.  "Didn't you see her?  The poor child has been sitting up
holding my hand like that the livelong night.  I was clean off my
head....  I might have known you'd behave like this.  Oh, I can bear
the sight of you now; don't be nervous; I'm not one of those
sentimental mothers--!  But since I've taken to heart attacks I have to
be treated with circumspection"--she desisted a minute in her rapid
effort to disguise emotion:--"Barnaby, I am obliged to you for--for
_her_."

"You're fond of her, are you, mother?" said Barnaby.

Lady Henrietta laughed at him, amused at his queer intonation.

"Fond?" she cried.  "I adore her.  The first minute I saw her, a little
pale wisp in her widow's weeds, I adored her.  She isn't your style at
all, you puzzle.  You used to admire a more lavish figure....  I can't
understand it in the least; but I'm thankful.  And that reminds me you
must take her up to London immediately, and have her put into proper
clothes."

"Oh, I say----" Barnaby was beginning.  She took the words out of his
mouth.

"Yes, it's your business," she said.  "We can't have her going about in
black; it denies your existence--! and you look like a battered scamp
yourself.  You'll have to go to your tailor.  If you want any money
I'll write you a cheque....  They won't honour yours while you're
dead....  Wake her up now, and take her away to breakfast--and take
care of her if you can!"

He bent down and touched her arm, and she lifted her head, still dazed,
and stood up from her cramped position.

"Run away," said Lady Henrietta.  "Run away, you two.  I am going to
wash my face."

She kissed her hand to them as they went through the door, and, in
spite of herself, her lip quivered.  She lay quite still for a minute,
raging at herself.

"Quiet!" she muttered.  "Quiet!  It's nothing to die about, stupid
heart!"

Downstairs the servants were all hovering, lying in wait, and watching
for a glimpse of the master.  Macdonald himself had drawn two
arm-chairs beside a small table by the fire, and unwillingly, but
discreetly, took himself off and closed the door behind him.

"Sit down," said Barnaby gently.  "I'll pour out your tea.  You must
want it."

She let him do as he would, accepting her cup at his hands, drinking
obediently, trying to eat; patient, but not at all understanding him.
The winter sun streamed in red, shining in her hair, making lights in
its curling darkness; it even lent a fictitious pink to her cheek as
she sat, so soberly, facing the man in whose house she was, whose ring
was on her finger.  When she turned her head a little the glimmer died.
Irrelevantly--why should the thing strike him then?--he likened her
paleness to the creamy tint of the hawthorn blossom, warm, and smoother
than the wintry white of the sloe.  She had been ill, too; she was very
fragile.

All the while she dared hardly glance at him, though she knew that he
was regarding her, not with the righteous wrath of a swindled Briton
whose house was his castle, but with a strange expression that, less
comprehensible, was little less alarming.  The situation seemed to
amuse him....  And it was like a scene in a play; intimate, domestic,
and yet unreal.  They were obliged to sit so close at the confidential
little table, with its clinking china, and its neighbouring row of
silver dishes keeping warm in the fender....  She had a wild fancy that
if she thrust her hand in that fire that leapt and crackled so
naturally it would not burn.

"Well," he said suddenly.  "What's to be done?"

He had risen and come round to her side; the little delay was over.
They had finished breakfast....

"I don't know," she said.  "I am at your mercy."

"Do you mind if I smoke?"

His matter-of-fact politeness, as he waited with the cigarette unlit
between his fingers, provoked in her a fugitive smile.

"There!" he said.  "You are beginning to see the funny side of it too,
as I do.  A man who has knocked about the world as I have doesn't
bluster like a Pharisee and a brute, unless he is mad,--or angry.  What
on earth could I do to you?"

"Are you not--angry?" she asked faintly.

"Not exactly," said Barnaby.  "I am rather astonished at your pluck.
Of course, it was frightfully dangerous, and you have got us both into
a hole.--I'm not going to preach at you----"

He hesitated a little.

"You know," he said.  "I'm an awfully prudent chap, but once or twice
in my life I have lost my head.  When I went to America three years
ago, I was only fit to be clapped into a strait-waistcoat.  Of course,
I did the first mad thing that came into my head."

There was a touch of some old bitterness in his voice then, and a sort
of retrospective contempt.

"It's a grim fact, that," he said.  "It can't be got over.  I don't
know what possessed me;--but there _was_ a marriage."

"She is very beautiful," said Susan, uttering her own wandering
thought.  She did not know why.

"Who?" said Barnaby.  "Oh,--yes.  She was like somebody I knew."

There was silence between them.  Then the man laughed.

"It was one of those unaccountable acts of temporary madness," he said.
"We're all guilty of such at times.  Did she tell you why we fell out?
How she mistook me for a sort of prince in disguise, and turned on me
afterwards, as furious as I was--disillusioned?  Don't let's talk about
that.  We have our own problem to consider."

"Yes," said the girl, catching her breath.

"I am afraid," he said gravely, "we must keep it up for a bit."

"I--don't--understand," she said.

"It's the only thing to do," he said.  "Look at it fairly.  Since the
lady who married me sent you over as her substitute, she can't complain
if I should acknowledge you as my wife.  It injures nobody.--Don't
mistake me!"

For the girl had sprung to her feet, and was gazing at him with horror
in her eyes.

"Wait!" he said.  "I'm not one of these talking fellows.--Perhaps I'm
not putting it clearly.  As far as I can make out, the doctor believes
another shock on the top of this one might possibly kill my mother.
She's not to be worried or contradicted.  I can't go to her and tell
her, 'That girl you are so fond of is an impostor.  I've turned her out
of the house,' seriously, how could I?  And do you imagine she'd be
contented with any excuse I could make to her for your disappearance?
I can't risk it.  You wouldn't want me to risk it.  Come, you owe her a
little consideration----!"

"Oh--!" she cried.  "Yes"--but still she trembled.

Barnaby smiled down on her encouragingly.  Apparently,--after that one
quick word that had hushed her outcry,--he was unconscious of
misconstruction.

"Besides," he said, "there will be row enough in the papers over my
reappearance.  I couldn't stand them getting hold of this.  Good Lord!
It would make us a laughing-stock."

"I am--sorry," she said, in a broken voice.  Barnaby dropped his own.

"Don't be sorry," he said.  "Be a brave girl, and let's keep it to
ourselves."

Her heart jumped and stood still.  She looked at him like some wild
thing caught in a trap, without hope or help, crying its uttermost
defiance.

And the man understood.  His eyes looked straight into hers, blue and
earnest, no longer careless.

"If I trust you," he said, "you must trust my honour.  Please
understand that I am a gentleman.  We'll play our farce to stalls and
the gallery, and when the curtain is down we'll treat each other with
the most profound respect."

She tried to speak and could not.  His voice softened.

"There's nothing else to be done," he said.  "It won't be so hard on
you;--you're an actress.  And we'll find a way out, somehow.  Perhaps,
in a month or two, I can manage to have important business in
America----"

She caught at that.

"And take me with you and drop me somewhere--?" she suggested.

"Take you with me and drop you somewhere?" he repeated.  "Exactly.  We
must think it over."

"I could get killed in a railway accident--anything!" she said, in an
eager, breathless voice.

"How accommodating!"  said Barnaby.  "There, that's settled.  To my
mother, and all outsiders, we'll be the most ordinary couple; but in
private it shall be Sir and Madam.  Shake hands on it, and promise me
you'll play up."

He took her hands, the one with his ring on, the other bare.  And Susan
looked up at him, and was not afraid any more.  She felt safe, and yet
reckless;--almost as if she did not care at all how it ended, as if
nothing were too dangerous, too adventurous for her to promise him.

"Right," he said.  "And it's comedy, not tragedy, we're playing.  We
mustn't forget that."

"No," she said uncertainly; but she was not so sure.

"And now I'm going round to the stables," he said, changing his tone.
But he turned back again on his way to the door.

"What am I to call you?" he asked.  "The other lady had a string of
fine-sounding names.  Which of them do you go by?"

She coloured.  His question smote her with the strangeness of their
compact.

"Only one," she said, "and that was my own.  I asked your mother to
call me Susan."

"Susan," he said to himself.  "Susan ... I'll remember."

She took one impetuous step towards him as he was going out.

"How good you are to me," she cried unsteadily.  "Oh, how good you are!"

But Barnaby shook his head.

"Poor child," he said briefly.  "I hope you'll always think I was good
to you."

And he went out of the house whistling to himself.

      *      *      *      *      *

"What shocking writing!" said Lady Henrietta, "and how blotted!  Who's
your illiterate correspondent?"

Barnaby had stuffed his letter into his breast-pocket as he walked
across the room.

"Julia," he said shortly.

As if upon second thoughts, he felt for it again, pulled it out, and
tossed it into the fire.  Its agitated, irregular lines started out
black on the burning pages.  Susan, who was sitting on the velvet curb,
turned away her face that she might not read.

Lady Henrietta, frail but indomitable, throned upon her sofa, eyed her
son jealously.

"How did she know so quickly?" she asked.

"She heard it from somebody, I suppose," said Barnaby.  "Why, mother,
do you imagine a real live ghost can visit Leicestershire without the
whole county hearing? ... She wants me to go over and show myself."

"You're not going?"--her tone was sharp.

"No," he said.  "I'll tell her I am under contract to exhibit myself
exclusively at a music-hall.--And besides, I have to run up to London.
I want to give old Dawson the fright he deserves.  He must have been in
a frantic hurry to wipe me out of his books.  What on earth made you
choose him to hunt for me?"

"Take Susan with you," said Lady Henrietta.  "Go with him, my child,
and don't let him out of your sight."

"I don't think she would like it," said Barnaby, doubtfully, but his
mother was not to be gainsaid.  It was almost as if the mention of
Julia had revived a vague apprehension in her, as if she were afraid to
let him go by himself.  He submitted, laughing.

"Well," he said, "if you'll lend her your fur coat I'll wrap her in
that and take her.  We'll go up in the morning and come down at
five;--and she can amuse herself getting clothes."

He bent down to Susan.

"If you don't mind," he said, half in a whisper; his tone was
apologetic.  "I think you had better come."

And so they went up together.


In the train he supplied her with an armful of picture papers, and she
studied them gravely, hidden from him behind their outstretched pages,
till they reached London, when she had to put down her screen.  Once
only he interrupted her.

"Look at that," he said.

The train was swinging on, making up time between Kettering and Luton;
the letters danced as he held out his open newspaper, with a finger on
the place.  Its heading stared at her--"A LEICESTERSHIRE ROMANCE."

"That," said Barnaby, and his eyes twinkled--he had put away
seriousness--"is all about you and me."

She did not see any more pictures after that, only bits of what she had
read before he took back his paper and, turning over the crackling
sheet, settled into his corner.  Whatever she tried to look at, she saw
only the printed column proclaiming the dramatic return of a well-known
sportsman supposed to be dead; and at the bottom, where his thumb had
pressed the paper, a touching reference to the subject's beautiful
American wife....

At St. Pancras he put her carefully into a hansom and got in beside her.

"Now," he said, "this is our dress rehearsal.  First, we must see about
your theatrical wardrobe; that's the expression, isn't it?  I'm going
to take you to the woman my mother goes to, and while she is rigging
you out I'll cut away to my lawyers, and see my own tailor; and then I
shall fetch you and we'll have lunch.  We shall have to get accustomed
to each other."

Driving through the streets with him was curiously exhilarating.
Perhaps her spirit was responsive to a reaction.  After all, she was
young....  If Barnaby knew, and did not condemn her, might she not for
a short while dare to be light-hearted--leave the weight of it on his
shoulders?

London had become a city of enchantment.  She had passed through in the
care of Lady Henrietta's messenger, at the end of her journey over the
sea; and then she had felt tired and frightened, and she had looked
listlessly out of the cab windows, thinking that if Fate betrayed her,
she might find herself wandering friendless in these very streets.  Now
the dark ways were gilded....

"Here we are," said Barnaby, jumping out.  "_Mélisande_.  She's a great
friend of ours, but she ruined herself racing, and started the shop as
a different kind of gamble.  Let's go up."

In the show-room upstairs two or three haughty ladies were trailing up
and down, on view.  The customers were not allowed to touch them; these
sat round the room on the sun-faded yellow cushions, gazing at the
models as if they were made of wax.

"Mélisande is uncommonly sharp," said Barnaby.  He had walked in boldly
and given his name to the presiding genius, who had simply glanced and
vanished.  "Do you see these creatures sweeping to and fro?"

"Yes," said the girl.  "Poor things; they look very cross.  I suppose
they are dreadfully ill paid?"

Barnaby smothered an irreverent laugh.

"Paid?" he said.  "Not a farthing.  She introduces them in the season,
and, in return, they have to act as dummies.  They hate it; but she
knows how to drive a bargain.  It's a fine advertisement.  Half the
world comes to stare at the beauties--it's funnier than a picture
gallery.  And, of course, the pull of being taken up by Mélisande in
her society capacity is enormous."

"Who are they?" asked Susan, puzzled.

"Oh, heiresses, of sorts, They used to be whisked away in their own
motors at six o'clock.  I daresay they are still," said Barnaby.  "Here
she is."

An inner door flew open, and a stout woman with dark hair and clever,
tired eyes, artistically blacked, appeared.  She ran up to Barnaby and
shook him, then let him go, and inspected him at all angles, with her
head on one side as if he were a Paris model.

"Barnaby!" she screamed.  "It is really Barnaby.  You lunatic, I
thought you were dead and buried."

"They all thought that," said Barnaby.  "It's a bit rough on me."

"Let me pinch you again!" she said.  "I can't have you in here if
you're not alive.  It's against all my rules, and customers are so
timid.  Of course, as a ghost you might be very useful.  Make the
brutes pay up!"

"What an eye to business!" he said, enduring her inspection.

"My dear man, I am in the workhouse!  My friends insist on patronizing
me, and ordering all kinds of magnificence, and then they go away
imagining they have done me a kindness.  I never dine out without
meeting at least one frock that's a bad debt, and you can't be
brilliant when you are being eclipsed by a wretch opposite out of your
own pocket.  But what do you want?  I can't come out to lunch.  I am
rushed to death.  There's an awful old Russian princess in there I
can't get rid of.  She says she wants to learn the trade, and I daren't
leave her with my designs.  I can't make out whether she's only a
Nihilist or a kleptomaniac."

"I want to put my wife in your hands," said Barnaby.  "I'll come for
her at two.  Can you burn all that crape, and dress her in something
sensible?"

Mélisande screamed again, fixing her eyes for the first time on Susan.

"Is it a joke," she said, "or have you been playing fast and loose with
other people?"

"I don't know what you mean," said Barnaby, but his eyes hardened.  She
glanced at his face, subduing her voice a little.

"I have never been paid," she said, "for an outfit of the most
expensive mourning.  The day after we read of your--departure in the
papers, Julia Kelly came in here and asked what was the proper thing to
wear when you lost your--love.  I told her it varied.  If the man
hadn't proposed black would look like an affectation.  I suggested
mauve as harmlessly sentimental.  And she said, 'But if he were
practically your husband?' and I said, of course, practically widow's
mourning, but not a cap.  And she wore it...."

He moved restlessly under her detaining hand on his sleeve.  "I'm
betraying no confidences," she said.  "It's a matter of common
knowledge.--How long, in the name of goodness, have you been married?
Who is she?"

"Two or three years," he said.  She was still holding on to his coat.

"Wait," she said.  "Wait.  Oh, you are as mad as ever.  How do you want
her dressed?  She looks awfully young, poor child."

But Barnaby had made his escape.


An hour later Susan looked at herself in the long mirrors that were all
round her, and did not know herself any longer, she was so changed.

She had grown used to the deep black garments that seemed a part of her
life.  Far off and dimly she remembered the old family lawyer in
shocked consultation with her nurses, his old-fashioned anxiety that
when she was strong enough to travel she should be fittingly attired,
and do honour to her sad estate....

A door opened at the other end of the room, and she saw Barnaby in the
mirror, saw him standing petrified on the threshold till Mélisande's
laugh called him to his senses.

"Do you like her?" said she.  Susan did not hear what he said.  But in
the mirror he came towards her, and she turned round to meet him shyly.

"Take her away, then," said Mélisande.  "Buy a shilling's-worth of
violets and stick them in her coat; it's all that's lacking.  I'll send
down a trunk full of oddments with you to-night.--And give my
compliments to Julia when you see her.  'To account rendered,' you can
murmur in her ear."

Her malicious laugh pursued them a little way down the stairs.  They
came out into the street and walked along side by side.

"I went to see Dawson," said Barnaby suddenly.  "Burst into his office,
meaning to scare the old jackass out of his wits.  He--he turned the
tables on me.  Made me feel a brute."

"How?" asked Susan.

He did not explain at once, engaged in making a way for her on the
pavement.  Then he answered briefly.

"He told me how he had found you."

His tone, angry as it was, warmed her soul.

"But,--it was not your business," she said, in a low voice.  "It had
nothing to do with you."

"I couldn't tell him that," said Barnaby.  "Lord, how he went for me,
poor old chap--!  Spared me nothing.  Said I could never make it up to
you....  It's ridiculous, isn't it?  But if you'd heard him attacking
me!--I had to promise him I would try."

He was walking on beside her, so close that his arm brushed hers, his
long strides falling in with her little steps.  And he was looking down
on her with a sort of raging kindness.

"You poor little girl!" he said.

They went on for awhile in silence, and then Barnaby stopped in his
absent-minded progress.  His good-humour was back, and the joke of this
expedition was again uppermost in his head.  He pointed with his stick
at a strange and wonderful work of art in a milliner's window.

"Let's go in here and buy some of these hats," he said.

All her life Susan remembered that day with him.  It was all so absurd,
so simple.  That strange town, London, was always to her the place
where he and she made acquaintance, playing to ignorant audiences their
game of Let's Pretend.  She began to know him;--the way he walked,
swinging his shoulders, stopping short when a sight amused him; his
whimsical earnestness over little things, and the lines that came round
his mouth when he smiled....

There were horses being put into the train when they arrived at St.
Pancras.  The grooms in charge of them were leading them gingerly
through the people, past the lighted bookstall, persuading them up the
gangways into their boxes.  There was a small commotion as one of them,
snorting, refused to step on the slanting boards.  Tugging and shouting
at him made him worse; he began to plunge, scattering the onlookers and
the porters smiting his flanks.

"Hi! you infernal idiots..." said Barnaby.  "Back him in."

He went over to the horse himself, and took hold of his bridle, turned
him round, and walked him in like a lamb.  Then, as the porters clapped
shut the side of the horse-box, he waited to ask whose hunters were
going down.  Susan, lingering a little way apart, saw a big man with a
cigar in his mouth spin round and seize him.  Two or three more shot
out of the throng and hurled themselves upon him, wringing his hand.

"It's Barnaby himself," they shouted.  "Barnaby himself!"

They crowded him up the platform, a noisy escort, hiding their feelings
under boisterous chaff; Meltonians, old acquaintances....  They passed
by Susan, gossiping hard.

All at once Barnaby broke loose from them, turning back.  "Great
Joseph!" he said.  "I've lost my wife!"

What if he had?  What if she had cut the tangle, had slipped when his
back was turned into one of these moving trains, and passed out of his
life, out of the bustle into the throbbing darkness, like a match that
had been lit and extinguished, leaving no trace?

She watched him hurrying back, looking for her; saw his quick glance
along a glimmering line of carriages passing him on his left, and
guessed his apprehension.  Soon he was bearing down on her, charging
through the press, and had pulled her hand through his arm.

"It was too bad, wasn't it?" he said.  "I'm awfully sorry,--Susan."

There was a real relief in his voice.  She felt it, wondering.  Was he
so glad to find her still his prisoner, his accomplice?

"Did you think," she said, and in her own voice laughter struggled with
a strange inclination to tears,--"that I had run away?"

"Come on," he said cheerfully, not replying.  "Hold on to me.  Those
chaps are looking at us."

He marched her to his friends, who had halted in a body when he dashed
back, and waited, grinning sympathetically, for his return.

"Here is my wife," he said.  "I brought her up to town to get rid of
her widow's weeds."

They shook hands with her solemnly, a kind gravity in their manner to
her subduing them for a minute; and then, as Barnaby settled her in the
Melton slip, they hung round the carriage door, and their tongues were
loosened.

"Where did you pick up these horses?  Are they part of your baggage
from another world?"

Barnaby laughed.

"They aren't mine," he said.  "I brought nothing back with me, not even
a collar-stud.  Why, I pawned my watch in the States!"

"Wouldn't the ferryman let you return on tick?  But you were mixed up
with them, Barnaby, when I saw you.  I'd know your voice anywhere,
shouting Woa!"

"He's bound to get mixed up with horses, alive or dead," said the big
man.  "I tried to find out myself whose cattle they are, but the name
is unintelligible.  They can't pronounce it down there; not all the
sneezing and snarling in the station can do it.  I'll bet its another
of these wild Austrians."

"D'you remember the three counts who set out on a slippery day to ride
to the meet at Scalford;--and were fetched back to the Harboro', the
three of them, half an hour afterwards, in a cart?"

"Broken ribs, wasn't it?" said Barnaby.

"Cracked heads, I fancy.  I'll never forget the sight it was; all you
could see of 'em was the three shiny top hats, stove in."

The lights were flickering in the station only the great yellow
clock-face shone unchangeable, with its minute hand creeping up.  Down
below on the platforms scurrying passengers went their ways, gathering
in thickening groups and eddying here and there round a pile of
luggage.  Everywhere there was restlessness.

Susan leant back in her corner.  Their end of the platform was a little
dim, and it was less frequented.  She noticed a woman's figure passing
along the train.

Barnaby was loitering, half in, half out of the door, absorbed in
chatter.  They were asking him if he were coming out with the Quorn,
offering to lend him a crock to-morrow; relating the current news about
men and horses.  Once the big man turned his head casually as the
figure that Susan had noticed passed.  His mouth shaped itself in a
whistle, but he made no remark.  Only his broad back seemed to block
out a little more of the view.

"It's about time we started," he said.

"What's the matter down there?" asked Barnaby.

"Oh, I fancied I saw a customer," he said promptly.  "Did you take your
wife to the grasping Mélisande?  You might have patronized another old
friend in me.  There's a hat in the window I trimmed myself."

"What?" said Barnaby.

The big man chuckled heavily.

"You didn't know I'd gone in for millinery?" he said.  "If you had had
your eyes about you you'd have seen my establishment.  _There's_ a
business that women never will understand!  They haven't got bold
ideas; they are too fond of twisting.  It was an accident, really.  I
was financing an aunt of mine, Clara Lady Kilgour,--and the thing was
going bankrupt.  I strolled into the shop one morning and found Clara
weeping, and the Frenchy who had lured her into it sniffing like a
noxious weed in a bed of artificial roses.  Just by way of cheering her
up a bit, I snatched up an affair the serpent was working at--a muddle
of feathers and scraps of lace.--'You'll ruin that!' they wailed.  But
hey, presto!  I had found my vocation.  I kicked out the bailiffs and
took it over.  And now I am running it as 'The Earl of Kilgour, late
Fleur-de-lis.'"

The guard came down the train, shutting doors.  Barnaby's friends
dropped off, tumbling into the smoker behind.  The whistle shrilled.

"Wouldn't you rather get in with them?" said Susan, in sudden shyness.

"What? that would never do," explained Barnaby, pulling up the window.
"The poor dear fellows have left us religiously to ourselves."

He threw a _Westminster_ on her knee and took off his hat.

"What was Kilgour staring at, do you know?" he asked.  "He seemed
rather disturbed; didn't want us to notice."

"I don't know," she said.

Barnaby laughed out loud.

"We got on famously," he declared.  "We'd pass muster anywhere.  But
you are tired out, aren't you?  Lean back in your corner and go to
sleep."

The slip carriage was rocking from side to side, and her head ached
from the strain and excitement of the day.  The same shyness that had
smitten her as his friends left them made her shut her eyes under his
regard.  She rested her head on the stiff padding, listening to the
thrum of the engine, wandering in dreams that could not match the
fantastic unlikeliness of what had befallen; and all the while feeling
his gaze on her.

She was roused by the jar as the train stopped at Bedford.  The
carriage door was opened and closed; they were no longer by themselves.

"Barnaby!"

Tears were imminent in the emotional Irish voice.

"How do you do, Julia."--The man's tone was firm and hard.

"I knew you were in the train....  But with these gossiping wretches
all round you!--I could not bear to meet you with them...."

"Don't waken my wife.  She's tired."

His warning struck abruptly on her impulsive murmur.  She sat down,
rustling, unfastening the furs at her throat.  The train had started
again, and was speeding on.

In her far corner Susan stirred.  This was the figure she had seen in
the distance, the figure that Barnaby's friend had tried to block out
from his attention.  All Barnaby's friends must guess how hard it would
be for him to meet her again, since he had once worshipped her....
Looking straight into the flying darkness, Susan tried not to see his
profile reflected in it, tried not to watch his expression, inscrutable
as it was.

"What fools we were!" sighed Julia.

"Regular fools," he said.

The girl drew a quick breath.  She had thought she was beginning to
know him, and still she could not guess if he spoke in irony or
despair.  She raised her head; fluttered the paper on her knee.--They
must not think that she was asleep.  And Barnaby looked at her.

"This is an old friend of mine, Susan," he said sedately.  Julia
presented a pale face and shining eyes.

"Mrs. Hill must be quite accustomed to the enthusiasm of your friends,"
she said.  "_I_ have been lingering at St. Pancras since three
o'clock,--somebody told me you had been seen in a restaurant--for the
sake of travelling back with you."

"How good of you," said Barnaby, in the same constrained way.  "We
didn't know, did we, Susan, that we had been spotted?"

Julia turned to him again; her speaking eyes hardly left him.--"Not
good," she said, "only human."

The train rocked on, filling the inevitable pause with its throbbing.
Then Barnaby's voice cut into the silence.

"We don't mind indulging your human curiosity, Julia," he said, "but
why stare at us so hard?  We, too, are only human, aren't we, Susan?"

"It is so strange," said Julia, "to think of you with a wife."

Barnaby bit his lip.  He reddened.  Perhaps the sight of her had shaken
him, had hit him deeper than he was willing to betray.  Her emotion at
meeting the man whom she had mourned as dead was visible; she made no
attempt to hide it.  Perhaps his own was the greater for being stifled
by his determined effort at self-control.  He got up, fiddling with the
window-sash.

"Would you like this a bit down?" he said.  "How is your headache?"

Did he know that her head ached, or had he addressed her at random?
The girl felt an unreasonable anger at his ostentatious solicitude.
Was he playing her off against his old love?  Did such bitterness wait
behind their compact?  For the first time, his kindness hurt her.  All
a farce, all a blind, and a make-believe....



CHAPTER V

In the morning Barnaby went out hunting.  He started gaily, in old
clothes, on a borrowed horse.

"Next time I die," he said, "and they put away my relics, I beg you all
not to scatter infernal white knobs of poison among them to keep away
the moths.  I call it irreverent.  And unless this horrible smell wears
off I'll have to keep to leeward.  A single whiff of it would kill the
scent."

He came in at dusk, stiff and splashed, but contented, calling for tea,
and waking up the house.  It was extraordinary what a difference his
presence made as he limped into the hall and hung up his whip.  Life
and vigour seemed to blow in with him; the terriers rushed at him
dancing, barking, pattering into the library at his heels.  Lady
Henrietta, propped on her sofa, gave a little sharp sigh.

"Give him his tea, Susan," she said briskly.  "How did he carry you,
Barnaby?  Who was out?"

"Oh, all the world and his wife," he said.  "Carry me?  He wouldn't
have carried a grasshopper.  But I changed on to a chestnut that
Rivington wants to sell.  I've bought him.  Not much to look at, but he
goes well enough, and I was so pleased to feel a real galloper under
me, I'd have given him any price....  It's good to be here again.
Though my boots are as hard as iron.  I believe I am lamed for life.
By the by, Susan, I've let you in for one thing.  I couldn't help it."

She looked up, startled, from her place by the fire.

"It's only to dine out with some people to-morrow night," he said,
noticing her alarm.  "I couldn't get out of it, really; they mobbed me
so."

"Who is it?" asked Lady Henrietta.

"Only the Drakes," said Barnaby.

His mother nodded.  "Yes; show her off to your friends!" she said.

She was in and out of Susan's room next evening all the while she was
dressing, and when the girl's toilet was finished she came with her
hands full of jewel-cases.

"You can't wear much to-night," she said.

"It would look dressed up.  But a few pins,--and a star or two to give
you confidence in yourself....  My dear, you don't know what a help it
is!  And all the women you'll meet have been at one time or another in
love with Barnaby.  Hold up your head, and don't let them make you
wretched.  Is that you, Barnaby?  I want you."

Barnaby passed by on his way from his own room, and her shrill call
stopped him.  His step outside sent the colour into Susan's cheek, and
his voice came doubtfully through the door.

"Yes, mother?"

"Come in; come in.  How shy you are!" said she, and the handle turned.

"You will tire yourself," he said, but she brushed aside his
remonstrance.

"Rubbish!" she said.  "I have the whole evening to lie up and swallow
physic.  Come here and stick these in for me, will you?  Margaret is so
clumsy."

"I beg your pardon," he said, under his breath, as he bent down,
fulfilling his office.--"The exigencies of the piece must excuse me."

"What a queer way of apologizing for running a pin into your wife!"
said his mother sharply.  She might have been trusted to overhear.  He
had straightened himself, and was withdrawing rather precipitately,
when his eyes fell on his own picture above the chimney-piece.  "What
is that thing doing here?" he asked, off his guard.

Lady Henrietta desisted from her pleased contemplation of Susan decked
out with jewels.

"Well!" she said.  "Of all things!  Do you mean to say?--It has been
there ever since she came.  I had it hung there myself to be company
for your heart-broken widow."

"Anyhow, we'll have it down now," he said hastily.  "You'd rather not
have the daub glaring at you, wouldn't you, Susan?"

Lady Henrietta turned her back on him.

"Don't mind him, my dear," she said.  "We'll keep it."

There was warmth in her tone.  She squeezed the girl's arm, bidding her
remember that none of Barnaby's old flames could hold a candle to her.
Somehow or other he had fallen under her displeasure.

"I'm afraid my acting doesn't come up to yours," he said, when they
were shut into the motor.  "My mother thinks I am too undemonstrative
... that I am unworthy of my good luck."

"Don't!" she said.

He laid his hand comfortingly on hers.

"Look here, little girl," he said.  "It's no use taking things hard.
We have to make the best of it.  It won't last for ever....  We must
look at the funny side of it.  That's the bargain."


The swift drive through the night was already over.  Three men, pushing
aside the servants, were slapping Barnaby on the back.  They bore a
family likeness to each other, big men, with creased red necks, and
short, rumpled sandy hair.

"Come along in," they cried heartily.  "The house is full of old
friends wanting to get at you,--and nothing but odds and ends for
dinner."

But one of them managed to lower his hearty voice a trifle.--"You won't
mind meeting Julia Kelly?  She has asked herself for the night."

"Who else?" said Barnaby, in his ordinary tones.

"Kilgour and the Slaters and Rackham and the Duchess;--and a few more,"
reeled off his host, thankfully dropping the awkward subject now he had
got out his warning.  He rushed them into the house, and Susan was
bewildered by the tumult that greeted them, the sea of unknown faces.
Men and women alike were seizing on Barnaby and exclaiming.  She hardly
realized that they were at the same time taking stock of her.  The
three Drakes stood near her like a bodyguard, kind and stolid, settling
into their usual phlegmatic form; and she felt glad of them.

"Getting on all right?" said Barnaby, as she passed him on her way in
to dinner, and she smiled back at him.

He and she were not near each other; but once or twice he looked her
way, bending his head and slewing half round to catch a glimpse of her;
that--or else Lady Henrietta's stars, kept up her courage.  She
listened politely, not understanding much, to the local gossip running
along the table.

"Have you picked up any horses yet, Barnaby?  Sims has one or two going
up on Saturday, at Leicester."

"I can let you have a bay, a capital fencer----"

"Oh, you don't palm off your roarers on me.  I heard him to-day," said
Barnaby.

"Well, I don't deny that he makes a noise----"

"I suppose you think I've been in the wilds so long I don't know a
horse from a hedgehog!" said Barnaby.  "Can anyone tell me what became
of a black mare I had four seasons ago?"

"Do you mean Black Rose?" said Kilgour.

"That's the one.  Do you know who has her?"

"I have," said Kilgour.  "I took her from Peters.  The fellow couldn't
ride her.  You can have her back if you want her, Barnaby; she isn't up
to my weight.  I remember you rode her at Croxton Park."

"And won," said Barnaby.  "Want her?  Rather."

Kilgour chuckled heavily.

"She isn't as young as she was, mind," he said.  "But she can go still.
I suppose you're not as keen as you used to be on breaking your neck?"

"As keen as ever," said Barnaby, with conviction.

"Does your wife ride?"

The question sounded maladroit; it was inconceivable that Barnaby
should have married a wife who did not.  His hesitation was singular in
their eyes; they all stopped to listen.

"I really don't know," he said.

In the general burst of laughter Susan caught his glance of amused
consternation.  In that hard-riding company his ignorance was
incredible.  Men, having a curious predilection towards the unsuitable
in wives, he might, after all, have committed that inconceivable piece
of folly.  Barnaby's wife might lamentably turn out incapable of
sitting on a horse.  But that Barnaby should not know--!

It was while they were all laughing at him that Susan became aware of
Julia Kelly.

She was on the same side of the table as herself, placed far from the
lion of the occasion; and was leaning her elbows on the table, looking
full at Susan.  The man between them was sitting back in his chair
roaring helplessly at the joke.

"What an ignorant husband, Mrs. Hill," said Julia, and her musical
voice vibrated through the laughter.  "Do you ride?"

"I have ridden," said Susan quietly.  It was difficult for her to blot
the memory of an encounter that the other woman ignored.

"But not with him?"

Mrs. Drake, springing up, made diversion.

"Why not have a steeplechase?" she cried.

She was one of these little women, all skin and bone, who cannot bear
inaction, and whose wishes are carried out.

"Cross country," she said, silencing a growl from her husband.  "You
can ride the point-to-point course.  We'll send round and tell
everybody, and get them all here by twelve.  And we'll put grooms with
lanterns to mark the jumps."

The men jumped up, enthusiastic.  The idea was just mad enough to
appeal to their sporting instincts.  In about three minutes the
dining-room was deserted, and five motors were humming into the
darkness to apprise and rally all who were reckless enough to join.  In
a neighbourhood always ready for a frolic there was no danger of the
inspiration falling flat.

Barnaby himself was in the thick of it, mapping out preliminaries with
the other men in the hall.  The women clustered together, almost
hysterical with excitement.  And Susan drifted apart from the
chattering circle, feeling outside it all.

She heard a gruff voice in her ear, and started.  The tall, gaunt,
hard-faced Duchess was standing over her.

"How are you getting on?" she said.

"It is a little strange to me," said Susan.

"But you are not moping," said the Duchess.  "I can see you are made of
better stuff.  They are all mad, of course, but nobody will get hurt,
if that is what you are afraid of."

Yes, that must be what she was afraid of, what inspired her with an
undefined wretchedness.  If she had been what they thought her, surely
she would be feeling nervous.  She was glad she had not made the
mistake of pretending to be gay.

"I am an old friend of your husband's," said the Duchess, "--and he has
asked me to be kind to you.  I shan't warn you to beware of Julia; all
the rest of them will, if they haven't already;--but I don't call that
kindness."

"Barnaby asked you to be kind to me?" repeated Susan; she could not
keep the wistfulness out of her voice; she had been thinking herself so
utterly forgotten.

"Yes.  It isn't the fashion here for husbands to worry about their
wives, but he is a bit old-fashioned.  I told him I'd come and talk to
the little fish out of water.  It is just a strange pond, my dear, and
you'll soon begin swimming."

The clash of voices grew more uproarious in the hall.  A man put his
head in and vanished, looking for somebody.  His brief appearance made
the contrast between the excitement out there and this empty room more
emphatic.

"I must get out of this," said the Duchess, switching her train as she
rose from the sofa.  "Kitty will have to lend me a habit and one of her
husband's coats.  I shall ride.  There's a brook jump where there'll be
trouble, and I want to see the fun.  You had better drive with Kitty.
I'll see to it.  Have you anything warm to put on?"

Her caution was hardly equal to her good nature, and the clamour in the
hall hardly drowned her indignant voice as she seized on a confidant in
the doorway.

"I like her pluck.  She's terrified to death, of course, but she
doesn't look woe-begone.  We must seem a pack of dangerous lunatics....
Where do these Americans get their spirit?"

"You don't read history, do you, Duchess?"

"Why?"

The man she had seized laughed shortly, amused at her bewildered face.

"Oh," he said, "we English are frightfully cock-a-hoop over our
pedigrees.  We don't remember it's they who are condescending to us.
There's bluer and better blood across the Atlantic than any of ours,
and it isn't smirched.  They don't boast.  They don't remind us of our
blotted scutcheons.--We to talk of race!"

"What on earth do you mean, Kilgour?" said the Duchess.  "Half of them
are Huns and Finns, and the scum of Europe."

The big man was leaning against the door-post; his bantering tongue
took on a sudden heat.

"A few," he said.  "But the rest--!  Scum, Duchess?--We're the dregs.
There's not one of our great families that isn't mixed with the blood
of traitors; that hasn't at one time or another sold its honour or
stained its sword.  Scots and English, all that was best of us once,
are there, handing their valour down.  After Culloden the country was
drained of its gentlemen.  Why, you can still hear the Highland tongue
in South Carolina....  _They_ went into exile while we hugged our
estates and truckled to an usurper.  And the soul of a country is the
soul of its heroes....  Oh, I believe in race!--Let the rest of us take
a pride in our tarnished titles and wonder at the fineness of strangers
who are descended from the men who lost all for the sake of honour and
loyalty to their King!"

The Duchess dropped her blunt voice into a lower key.

"Poor old Kilgour," she said.  "You're thinking of that little brute
Tillinghame and his dollar princess."

"Well!" he said, between his teeth.  "You've only to look at them!--And
his people sneer at her for aspiring to bear an illustrious title that
began in dishonour, and has been dragged a few hundred years in the
mud--!"

The Duchess moved away from the door; she had remembered Susan.

"I wish you'd capture Barnaby and send him in to his wife," she said.
"He has forgotten that she exists....  I've had to make up a
message....  I couldn't stand the dumb wistfulness in her face.  It's a
foolhardy business."

"I've just sent for Black Rose," said Kilgour, in his ordinary tone.
"He was keen to ride her."  He raised his voice.  "--Here, Barnaby,
you're wanted!"

But the messengers were returning already, and strange cars were
dashing up.  The hubbub was at its height.  It was impossible to win
Barnaby's attention.  He turned his head impatiently as Kilgour made a
grab at him.

"What is it now?" he said.  "Oh, don't bother me, there's a good
fellow.  They want to settle how--Jim, Jim, is that you?  Have you
brought the horses?"

He ran down the steps.

A clatter of hoofs was audible in the darkness, and a groom, riding one
horse and leading another pulled up below the steps, steadying his
charges as they flung up their bewildered heads, blinking, kicking up
the gravel.

"Ah, my beauty!" said Barnaby, in the voice of a lover.  "Did you think
I was dead?"

"Is that Black Rose?" called one of the men crowding to the door.
"Wasn't she sold?"

"She was.  But I'll have her back," he shouted up to them, rubbing the
mare's dark head.  "To the half of my kingdom I'll buy her back!"

The women, wrapped thickly, and disguised in furs, were streaming into
the hall.  Julia Kelly, who had lingered to the last, and was not yet
ready, rushed down impulsively to his side.

"Oh, Barnaby, is that Black Rose?  Dear thing, is she there?  Oh,
Barnaby--!"

Her voice thrilled and sank; she stretched out her hand, patting the
mare's neck, rejoicing with him.

"It's like old times, isn't it?" he said.

The night wind ruffled his bare head, kissed a wisp of Julia's lace and
blew it against him.  She might have been forgiven for thinking his
thick utterance was for her.  The little scene, to all present who knew
their tale, was romantic.

Kitty Drake looked over her shoulder in a funny, conscience-stricken
way; the Duchess was poking her in the back, and at the same time
interposing her rugged presence between romance and Susan.  In a minute
the girl was shielded by an oddly-sympathizing bevy of women, fussing
over her in a transparent hurry to see that she was wrapped up warm.

The stable clock behind the house was beginning to strike, and the men
who had been dining there had disappeared to change.  Nobody was
measuring the length of that interview....  At last Barnaby came in
three steps at a time, a portmanteau in his arms.

"I say, Kitty; where can I go and dress?"

She looked at him severely over Susan's head.

"Run in anywhere," she said, and he pursued his impetuous way upstairs.
Julia reappeared by herself, on her face what Kitty Drake stigmatized
as a maddening consciousness.

"They say they are going to ride in their shirt-sleeves," she said,
"but that will hardly make them visible.  It's nearly pitch dark
outside."

"They are idiots," said Kitty Drake.  "Fancy Gregory calling to us when
we were upstairs to know if we would lend them our night-dresses.  I
told him I was too thrifty."

"Why not?" said Julia.  "Barnaby can have mine."

A blank pause saluted her speech, and then, with one accord, the women
began to acclaim the notion as if it were the most ordinary thing in
the world.  Even Kitty, in her haste to dissipate the impression that
Julia's declaration might make on the girl beside her, caught up the
idea and made it hers.  She flew up and down arranging.

"A bit mediæval, isn't it?" said Kilgour, watching the riders as they
struggled with gossamer raiment that sometimes flopped over their heads
unassisted, and sometimes clung, entangling them in cobwebs.--"In the
days of knighthood we all wore bits of our ladies' clothing."

The Duchess grumbled.

"Pity we can't revive other habits," she said.  "There was a useful
practice of wringing obnoxious people's necks."

"Poor Julia," said Kilgour.  "Don't grudge her her little triumph.  She
only wants to publish it abroad that it was her own fault she was
forsaken."

But the Duchess's brow was grim.

The night was black and starless, and had been still.  The villages
they passed gave back startled echoes, awakened out of sleep by the
rattling of the cavalcade.  Susan was tucked in between Kitty Drake and
the Duchess, who intended to change to her horse when the race began,
and in the meantime was driving them at a smacking pace.  She kept her
buggy at the head of the procession, and was the first to whisk round a
perilously sudden turning that led off the turnpike, and sent them
bumping into a field.

In front of them stretched a dim line of country that had darkened into
strangeness, puzzling the most familiar eyes.  Here and there were
flickering lights, like will-o'-the-wisps, luring and warning,
indicating danger.  And the men were to ride there....

Susan stood up in the buggy, supported by Kitty's arm, straining her
eyes to watch the start.  She could make out a little; by dint of hard
gazing she learnt to distinguish the figures that moved yonder.  In the
middle of the field an indistinct line of riders were drawn up, waiting.

A man shouted back to the watchers, and their prattle hushed.  There
was an instant of absolute silence, suspended breath;--and then
somebody swung a lantern.

"Go!" he cried.

Leaping into the darkness the line of horses broke like a wave and
went, their limbs gleaming.  Already they were blundering into the
first hedge, and there was a crash, relieved by laughter as the first
spill resulted in one man picking himself up unhurt.  The rest were
swinging on; rising again, more warily, a little farther; and just
visible, for the last time, black objects against the sky.

The Duchess set her foot in the stirrup and galloped off.  Susan rocked
as she stood, and was nearly flung out as the buggy started forward,
and the whole cavalcade whirled blindly into a lane that was all ruts
and stones and turf.

Strange what an unimagined wildness darkness and ignorance lent to that
plain strip of country.  The fields that slanted were dreadful hills
sinking into unknown abysses, the brooks rushed like rivers, the hedges
lifted themselves gigantic.  Many who had ridden over the ground by
daylight times without number exclaimed, and wished the night at an end.

Kitty Drake, however, was screaming with delight.

"Here they come!" she shrilled.  "Oh, shut up, you people.  You'll
scare the horses.  I know it's awfully weird, but still--!  That's
Dicky, of course.  I'd know Nanny's frills anywhere; he looks like a
mad pierrot.  Oh, and Colonel Birch, with Mrs. Uffington's chiffon
scarf tied on to him.  Mrs. Uffington, it was base of you not to risk
it.  My best garment is floating there, being torn to ribbons by
Gregory's spurs."

"Sit down, Kitty!" cried somebody at her elbow.  "You can't see
anything yet; it's all imagination."

"I see it with my mind's eye," she declared; but subsided.

A few men on horseback scampered out of the nothingness and drew up
beside them.  This was the place to watch the riders jump the water.
They pressed close in a peering bunch, the cigars in their mouths
making red points in the gloom.  The Duchess halted by the buggy, a
curious figure in Gregory Drake's greatcoat, with the sleeves turned up.

"All right, so far," she said, in her gruff voice, cheerily.  "They
have been signalling with the lanterns.  Queer how the darkness seems
to swallow 'em up alive!"

As she spoke they all heard a distant thudding.  There was something
terrifying in this invisible approach; it seemed to promise
catastrophe.  Surely some sudden end would come to that beating of
horses' hoofs--!  Nearer and nearer the unseen racers came, until they
were almost on the top of the watching throng.  Then there was a
glimpse of great beasts rising in the air.

The first horse came down short of the landing-place, plunging into the
hidden water that ran beneath.  His splash was followed by another as
the next man faltered and went in deep.  Then a third went up.

Someone had an acetylene motor lamp, and held it suddenly on high.  It
made a vivid glare, illuminating that rider's face, his eyes staring
ahead, his mouth shut and smiling----

"Turn out that lamp.  You'll dazzle 'em, you damned idiot!" yelled
Kilgour.  "It isn't a pantomime!"

The next horse had taken fright.  There was stamping and swearing; and
then the blinding flare was extinguished, leaving the scene darker.
The faces that had shone pale and unearthly in that brief wave of
limelight could not longer be recognized.

Susan shivered with excitement.  That was Barnaby she had seen....

No woman was in his head just then; his spirit was intent on the
splendid peril of that night ride.  Something in herself understood
him.  She felt proud of him, reckless with him, afraid of nothing.  But
he had landed and was away on the farther side.

Now they were all in or over, and the water jump was deserted.  The
last who had failed to clear it had struggled up the bank and swung
dripping into his saddle, feeling for his reins.  They were laughing at
him because he had let go and tried to swim, not at first realizing
that it wasn't up to his knees....

But he had lost his head in the dark.

There was time, if they hurried, to reach the hillside at the back of
the intervening dip, full of pitfalls, and gain a place of vantage to
witness what they might of the finish.  Kilgour, who knew the country
blindfold, pushed on ahead, guiding them; and the rest trusted to his
instinct.  He unlatched a gate, flinging it wide for the others to
scramble through, cut along close under the branching side of a
spinney, forded a water-course, and spun up a cart track; emerging
suddenly on the side of the hill.  Behind him pressed a clattering,
jolting troop, that stopped dead as he threw up his arm and listened.

The riders had to make a circuit, but they should be near.  What was
the meaning of this long pause? of the utter silence?  For the first
time the women betrayed a nervous thrill that was not pure excitement.
The waiting dashed their spirits.  They tried to laugh, and their
laughter sounded strange.

"There's bound to be some misfortune," muttered someone, as a night
bird croaked in the trees.  And above the hush a woman's voice pealed,
hysterical, calling on heaven to witness that she had dissuaded
Billy----

"Hush!"

The men who were judging talked in whispers as they sat quietly on
their horses, motionless, save for an occasional jingling bit, under
the clump of firs that was the winning-post.  Their ears were on the
alert, but all the queer noises of the night were treacherously alike,
and that might be nothing but running water that seemed a distant
galloping.  One man looked at his watch.

"They're due," he said.  "Bar accidents.  Can't you hear 'em?"

Then at last, clear in the distance, the gallop came.

Far in that mysterious valley the lanterns twinkled, making the
darkness visible.  Where the lights glimmered there was danger.

"D'you see that?" said Kilgour in the ear of his neighbour.  A spark
dipped suddenly.--"One man down."

At the next jump another light went out.

"A bit weird, these signals," said Kilgour's neighbour.  "I don't like
'em; it's too infernally suggestive.  Where are they now?"

The watchers herded together, all standing up, all staring; trying to
pierce the gloom, as the unseen horses came thundering up the rise.
Singly they ran in.

Susan was sure that Barnaby would win.  She could not understand why
her heart beat so loud.

"One--two--three--!"

They were all frantically counting.  Five men still up;--but not yet
near enough to distinguish faces.

"If Barnaby isn't in the first three he's down."

Who said that?  She gave one shudder and was quite still.

"Oh, God, don't let him be killed.  Don't let him be killed!" she was
crying to herself.

The fir trees spread their dark plumes overhead; in the boughs there
was a strange sighing....  If he was not in the first three, if he was
missing--her one friend in a land of strangers, lying there crushed and
lifeless in the dark:--

"Oh God--!" she cried under her breath.

And then out of the blackness shot a headlong figure, cleaving it like
an arrow.  That blur beneath was the final jump, the last hedge that
barred the way with its ragged line.  And he charged it as if it were
not there, keeping on in his tremendous rush.

"Barnaby!" they shouted.  They knew his laugh before they could see his
face.

"A near thing," he said, and pulled up the black mare, who turned her
head towards him as he dismounted, her eye-balls glistening in the
darkness with something like human pride.

"You didn't steady her there," said Kilgour.

"Steady her?--We had to come for all we were worth!" he said.

The Duchess, striding afoot, made her way into the circle round him.
Barnaby was explaining how he had ridden into one of the
lantern-bearers, a silly fool who had turned his light and was standing
into the hedge; and how he had got off to make sure the poor devil
wasn't injured.  He had had to ride after that like fury; no leisure to
grope his way....

"Since you are not smashed up," said the Duchess, shaking him by the
arm, "go and show yourself to your wife.  You nearly frightened her to
death."

She piloted him to the buggy, and stood by, with her unsentimental
countenance considerately averted.

"I am so glad you won," said Susan.  She spoke steadily, controlling
the traitorous catch in her throat.  How was she to assure him that she
was not guilty of causing him to be dragged to her side?

The man smiled at her stiff politeness.  He was still hot, still
breathing a little hard, the spell of his ride still on him;--and
Julia's wisp of muslin was twisted round his neck.

"I'm sorry you were scared," he said.  "I'm rather in the habit of
doing ridiculous things like this.  There wasn't much danger really ...
and I didn't think you would mind."

His casual apology struck her like a blow.  What right had she--?  How
it must amuse him that she should affect to care.

"I did not mind," she said proudly.  "It was--funny."

One of his friends was coming up with a coat to throw over him.  The
men who had come to grief were straggling in, bruised and dirty, but
miraculously sound.  Kitty Drake leaned over the wheel on the other
side, hailing them, calling to each man to ask if he was alive....

"Was it?" said Barnaby, and smiled.  The glint in his eyes reminded her
of his face as the light flashed on him, dare-devil, reckless, down
there when he jumped the water.

Perhaps the joke was a little too much for him.

"You are not altogether a callous person," he said slowly.  "I don't
believe you, Susan.  You fainted when I came home...."



CHAPTER VI

"Dull?" said Lady Henrietta.

The girl became aware of her with a start.

Barnaby had just gone, and the house was quiet.  Late as usual, he had
come clinking down in his spurs, and run out to his waiting horse; and
she had seen him off, but had not yet turned away from the door.  Lady
Henrietta's uncommon earliness had surprised her.  She did not know how
wistful her aspect was.

"No," she said.  "Oh no.  I was only watching----"

"To see the last of him," retorted Lady Henrietta smartly.  "I know--I
know.  One glimpse of him as he crosses the wooden bridge, and again a
peep before he cuts across by the willows.  How dare you let him set
off day after day without you?"

She paused.  There was mischief in her eye, an unwonted touch of
excitement.  One would have said she was plotting.

"You are too lamb-like," she said.  "I'll give you a horse.  Tell him
you'll go hunting with him to-morrow."

She laughed outright at the girl's look of consternation.

"No," she said, "you wouldn't.  My dear, you have got him, and you must
keep him.  It's a woman's business to look after her husband, to throw
herself into his occupations, and rescue him from the ravening lions
that run up and down in the earth.  Why didn't you back me up when I
attacked him last night, and he put me off with his nonsense about a
quiet pony?  Why didn't you insist?"

Susan flushed scarlet, remembering Lady Henrietta's unexpected
onslaught and Barnaby's good-humoured amazement; his vague promise of
giving her a riding lesson.  He glanced at her mirthfully, and that
look of his had called up a hot disclaimer of any wish.  Was it not in
their bargain that as far as possible they were not to haunt each other?

"Since you are so meek," said Lady Henrietta, who did not miss her
confusion, "_I_ must put my finger in the pie."

Her eyes were not young, but they were far-seeing; she turned from the
prospect at which Susan had been gazing, and laid authoritative fingers
on her sleeve.

"Run upstairs," she said, "and get into your habit.  I've told Margaret
to have it ready.  It won't fit, probably, but you are not vain;--it's
borrowed.  Don't stare at me, you baby!  Rackham and I settled it the
night he dined here, while you and Barnaby were trying not to talk to
each other.  I don't know whether you can ride or not, but you must
begin."

She finished up with a chuckle.  The sight of Susan's face--well, that
was enough for her.  She had turned a more potent key than she knew.

Two horses were pawing the gravel beside the door, and one of them had
a side-saddle on his back.  She had seen them coming when she
despatched her daughter-in-law to dress.  Rackham himself was waiting
on the steps.  Lady Henrietta beckoned to him with the joy of a bad
child firing a train of powder.

"I've told her," she said.  "She'll be down in a minute.  Take her once
or twice round the park, and if she doesn't fall off----"

"She won't fall off," said Rackham.

"You brought her a quiet horse?"--the conspirator was feeling a slight
compunction.

Barnaby's cousin, his ancient rival, smiled under his moustache.  "I'll
take good care of her, my aunt," he said.

"You are an obliging demon, Rackham," she observed.  "It was good of
you to give up your hunting."

"They'll be at Ranksboro' about twelve," he said significantly.  "If
you really wanted us to give Barnaby a surprise----"

Lady Henrietta favoured him with an enlightening nod.  Whether or no he
was bent on furthering her purposes, assuredly she might trust him.

"Villain," she said.  "You understand me; it's an experiment,--it's a
squib!"

Twice Susan rode solemnly round the park.  To her, remembering how, as
a child, she had ridden, cross-legged, bare-backed, anyhow,
anything--their solicitude was absurd.  She swung her foot in the
stirrup, lifting a transfigured face.

"_You_ are all right," said Rackham, glancing backwards towards the
distant windows.  "I knew you could ride."

He bent over in his saddle to unlatch the hand-gate that Barnaby had
ridden through before them, taking his short cut over the wooden bridge
by the willows.  Keeping his horse back, he held it open.

"Come out this way," he said.  They went cantering up the lane.

Dim and dark was the landscape, threatening rain, and the clouds were
sinking lower and lower, rubbing out the hills.  A kind of expectation
hung in the air.  A storm gathering perhaps.  They rode up and up,
until the narrow green lane came to a sudden stop, and a break in the
high barriers of hawthorn let them on to a ridge that hung over a wide
sweep of valley.  Underneath lay a fallow strip, reddish brown amidst
the green waves of pasture, and a party of rooks rose cawing above the
idle plough.

Susan, her heart still dancing, laid a happy hand on her horse's
mane,--the willing horse that carried her so smoothly.

"You like it?" said Rackham.

There was a subtle difference between his guardianship and that of his
cousin.  She missed that queer sense of security that she had with
Barnaby.  Why, she knew not, but Rackham's neighbourhood troubled her.
She felt a nervous inclination to burst into hurried chatter.

"It was awfully kind of Lady Henrietta to arrange it,--and of you," she
said; "though you were both afraid that I should disgrace you.  Yes,
you were watching;--and she too: her mind misgave her when she saw me
in the saddle.--What is the matter with the horses?"

"Look!" he said, smiling broadly.

And immediately she guessed.  Far on the right she distinguished a
flick of scarlet.

"Oh!" she said, in an awed whisper, understanding.

"That's one of the whips riding on," he explained; "they are going to
draw the spinney down there, just underneath.  We're in for it, aren't
we?--Shall we stay where we are, and chance Barnaby's displeasure?
I'll open the gates for you, and give you a lead.  Can you jump?"

She laughed at him, carried out of herself, back in remote adventures
when there had been nothing she would not dare.  Her blood was up, and
she felt her horse quivering beneath her.  Hounds were in the spinney;
she had glimpses of dappled bodies ranging among the trees; at the
eastern side an interminable troop of riders were pouring into the
field.  There seemed no limit to their numbers as they massed thicker
and thicker on the skirts of the cover till there was but the south
side clear.

"Keep still!" said Rackham in a breath, and as he whispered a living
flash passed by.  It vanished across the fallow, as a whistle shrilled
from below.  One of the whips had seen him.

"Steady!" said Rackham.  "Hounds are coming out.  He broke at that
bottom corner.--Now!"

Her horse bounded away with his.  She was close behind him as they
raced down the headland.  The fence at the end was low; a thorn-crammed
ditch and a rotten rail.  She took it, hardly knowing, but for her
horse's excitement, that she had jumped.  He broke into a gallop then,
and she let him go.

"Who's the lady out with Rackham?" called one man, waiting his turn at
a gap.  The man ahead of him squeezed through before replying.

"Don't know.  She's chosen a damn reckless pilot!"

But no man's recklessness could have beaten hers.  She followed him
blindly; nothing daunted her, nothing dimmed the eagerness in her soul.
This was to live indeed.

They were hard on the pack.  She could hear them in front, could
sometimes catch a view of them flickering on.  A great noise of
galloping filled the air behind, drumming hard; but she was still
keeping her lucky place in the van.  She and Rackham....

There was something formidable ahead.  She felt her horse faltering in
his stride, not afraid, but doubtful;--those that were close behind
were parting right and left; some of them were falling back.  Without
turning her head she knew it.  Recklessly she kept on.  The others
might blench....  She would not.

Up went her horse, and in mid-air she had time to ask herself what
would happen, to guess that it was touch and go.  It seemed a great
while before they came down, with a jar and a stagger, galloping rather
wildly on.

She was too excited still to feel tired, too ignorant of danger to know
what a wild line she was taking now.  Just ahead of her Rackham had
disappeared with a crack of timber, and she must not be left behind.

An ominous crash pursued her as she went through a stiff barrier of
thorns; a loose horse was flying past.  She looked dizzily for Rackham,
wondering if it was his.  It tried to clear the next fence riderless,
but was too unsteady, and swerving crosswise, nearly brought her down.
In the field beyond it was stopped by an oxer.  Someone behind cracked
his whip....

"We've beaten the lot!" called Rackham; his voice came a little hoarse
in her ear.  "Half of 'em funked that bullfinch, and there's one fellow
in the ditch----"

She reeled in her saddle.

"I've--no--breath left," she panted.

"Pull up.  Pull up!" said Rackham, and leaned over as she managed to
stop her horse.  Her knees trembled and she held on a minute; she
thought she was going to fall off out of sheer fatigue.

Hounds were baying on the other side of the hedge.  They had got their
fox.  People were coming up on all sides, in haste to mingle with the
few who had ridden straight.  She was vaguely conscious of their
interested regard; she heard a general buzz of gossip.

"There's Barnaby," said Rackham.  He had dismounted, and stood by her
horse's shoulder, pretending to do something with a buckle, but in
reality waiting for her to recover.  His arm was ready to catch her if
she should slide off; his wild eyes were fixed on her.

"Don't forget it was with me, not with him, you rode your first run,"
he said.  The triumph in his whisper made her afraid.  She felt like a
truant.

What would Barnaby think of her?  Would he be very angry?  Had he
watched her riding, wondering who she was?  She lifted her face, a
little proud, but troubled.  All at once her glorious adventure wore
the look of an escapade.

He had ridden up, but he was not looking at her at all.  The set of his
mouth was hard.

"I'll take charge of my wife," he said.

How strange it sounded.  Would she never get used to it?  She had an
immediate sense of protection, of happiness out of all reason.  But
what else could he call her, before the world?

His cousin grinned at him brazenly.

"If you haven't too much on your hands," he said darkly.  "Oh, take
over your responsibilities if you like.  You needn't fight me.  It was
your mother's idea....  But she's tired.  She mustn't stop out too
long."

"It was a mad thing to do," said Barnaby curtly; "risking her life over
these fences--!"

"Come, come," said Rackham, "don't paint me too black.  I took the
greatest care of her.  Didn't I?"

"I was looking on," said Barnaby.

He had turned to Susan at last, and she saw that his face was pale.
Something in him responded to her look of rapture dashed.

"Poor little girl!" he said.  "I didn't know--you cared about it--"
Then he smiled ruefully.  "By Jove!" he said.  "You gave me a fright.
I thought you'd get yourself killed a dozen times.  And I had a bad
start.  I couldn't get up to you.  There, don't let's look as if we
were quarrelling, though under the circumstances,--do you think we
should?"

She plucked up spirit to answer him in kind.  "On the stage," she said,
"the audiences would expect it."

"Well," he said, "we'll disappoint the audience....  You won your bet,
Kilgour; it is my wife.  Wasn't it wicked of her?"

She found herself trotting on at his side.  Rackham had fallen back.
It was Barnaby who directed her, who rode at her right hand; and a
cheery crowd hemmed her in.

At the head of the procession hounds were moving on.  Occasionally the
authorities called a halt while they searched a patch of trees by the
wayside, or turned aside to examine a hollow tree.  But these were not
serious diversions.  Once, indeed, there was a whimper as the pack ran
scampering into a small plantation, and the huntsman went in to see
what it was, his scarlet glancing in the bare brown mist of larches.

"I know what'll happen to us," grumbled Kilgour, as the verdict was
issued that it was empty.  "We'll climb up on the top of Ranksboro' and
the heavens will open on us."

The ranks closed up again as the pack tumbled back sadly into the road.
Kilgour was a true prophet; they were bent at last towards that
unfailing harbour.  On they pushed, up hill and down, through a grey
village where the trees shut out the sky from the winding street, and
then slap in at a gate that let them on to the grass again.

"Where are we?" asked Susan, as she was squeezed in the press through
the gate, finding elbow-room as her neighbours scattered on the other
side, spreading downward.

"On the wild side of Ranksboro'," said Barnaby.  "Stick to me if you
are thinking of getting lost.  You'll see where you are when we reach
the top, and you can look down on the cover;--but that's at the other
side.  Don't you remember the black look of it on the hillside, off the
Melton and Oakham road?"

All were hurrying across the rough bottom, with its hillocks and furze
bushes, and patches of withered bracken; then, gathering in the narrow
bit that let them in under a fringe of trees, mounting upwards.  On the
farther side of the summit they came out above a thick plantation; and
there they drew rein and waited, unsheltered, bare to the sky overhead.

Down came the rain.

"I wish I was dead," said a lank man behind Kilgour.  "I wish I was
fighting a bye-election!"

Those who were near huddled into the bristling hedge that might break
an east wind, but was useless against this downpour.  A few slunk back
over the brow, and herded under the trees; the rest sat stubbornly on
their horses, humping their shoulders, their dripping faces set grimly
towards the cover below; hearkening to hounds.

"Would you rather be pelted with words?" said Kilgour, ramming his hat
over his nose.--"Surely they trickle off you....  Jerusalem! we'll be
drowned."

The lank man turned up his collar, feeling for a button.

"Well, they are dry!" he said.

"They don't give you rheumatism, I grant you," said a fat man beside
him; "but they aren't healthy.  I don't care what a man's trade is, if
he can discourse about it, it's improbable he can do his job.  And yet
we poor devils of politicians have to spin our brains into jaw----"

"True," said Kilgour.  "You don't trust a glib fellow to dig your
garden....  And yet you turn over your country to him."

The fat man grunted.

"_I_ never want to open my mouth again," he said.  "I'm addressing six
meetings a week in my constituency, and nothing will go down with 'em
but ranting.  Tell you what, Kilgour, we're going on wrong principles
altogether.  What we want is Government by Minority.  Just you get on a
platform and look down on their silly faces--!  The fools are in the
majority in any walk of life; they swamp the sensible chaps, even
Solomon noticed that.  And it's the fools we must please, because they
are many.  We take their opinion; we let them settle things.  The whole
system is upside down."

"There's something in that," said Kilgour.  "It always amuses me how
you vote-catchers despise a man who works with his head; and bow down
to your ignorant fetish the working man."

There was a slight disturbance in the cover, but nothing came of it.
People shifted backwards and forwards; there was a smell of wet leather
and steaming horses.

"Are you cold?" said Barnaby.

Susan smiled.  He was between her and the worst of it; the rain beat on
his upturned face as he sheltered her.  She liked watching him ... she
was not unhappy.

The lank man was trying to light a cigar.  He glanced up between his
hollowed fingers, his eyes twinkling in a creased red face.

"Our lives aren't worth living, Mrs. Barnaby," he said.  "We are all
made so painfully aware of our inferior status.  The tail wagging the
dog; that's what we have come to."

The fat man followed his glance, and his disgusted expression gave way
to a friendly gleam.  His puffy eyelids quivered.

"Let us grumble," he said.  "You see how the weather behaves to us when
we escape for a week-end from bondage.  There isn't a bright spot
anywhere but one tale I heard lately in my division."

The lank man tossed away his match; the cigar was drawing.

"And what was that?" he said.

"Well, it seems they got a Cabinet Minister down to rant against me,"
said the fat man, chuckling.  "He had made himself particularly
obnoxious to our militant sisters, and there were terrible hints as to
what the ladies were going to do about him.  So a London paper
commissioned their blandest reporter to call on 'em, and incidentally
get at their intentions;--and he stuck a flower in his buttonhole and
tackled an engaging young suffragette, who confided in him the
tremendous secret.  Swore him, of course, to silence----"

"And the wretch betrayed her?"

The politician grinned.

"They were going to disguise themselves as men," he explained, "and
pervade the meeting in the likeness of divers of my rival's most
prominent supporters.  _She_ was to make up as a well-known farmer who
happened to have lumbago;--leggin's, and corporation, and side-whiskers
gummed on tight."

"Pity she let it out," said Kilgour.

"Aha!" said the other man, "she was artless.  Well the news got down to
'em somehow, just in time for the meeting, and they set a bodyguard
over anybody who looked suspicious.  Couldn't keep out their principal
backers, or insult 'em by explaining, and hadn't time to
investigate.--And my rival got on his legs.--I'm told they were all
more or less in hysterics, each man glaring at his neighbour.  And
these whiskers looked jolly unnatural in the artificial light.  My
rival had got as far as to mention his 'right honourable friend who, at
great inconvenience'--when that old farmer started to blow his nose.
'Turn her out!' he screeched, and four men seized the astonished old
chap, and hoisted him, kicking and bellowing, to the door....  There
was a glorious row, I'm told.  It practically broke up the meeting."

"Ah," said Kilgour, "politics aren't always an arid waste."

"No, occasionally there is rain in the desert.  Are we ever going to
move.  I'm soaking."

In the dark heavens the clouds were frayed by glimmering streaks of
light.  Barnaby moved impatiently, and beyond him Julia Kelly passed
by, changing her station.  The girl who was sheltered by his shoulder
had forgotten that Julia must be there.  She felt suddenly that she was
a stranger.

How often must he and Julia have hunted together, how often they must
have ridden side by side, sharing the day's fortunes; whispering
contentedly to each other as he shielded her from the storm!--More
telling than speech had been Julia's half-sad, half-reproachful smile.

"They've got him out!" cried Kilgour, spinning round and heading a mad
stampede.  As the rest imitated him, Barnaby turned to Susan.  "I'm not
going to let you out of my sight!" he said.

Down the hill they raced.  Hounds were flinging themselves across,
bursting louder and louder into cry, proclaiming that they were on his
line.  And now nobody minded rain.

For a little while Susan felt the magic of it again; the swing of the
gallop, the exhilaration of the jumps as they came; but all too soon
she flagged.  They were hunting slower; hounds were not so sure of the
scent; they were slackening, losing faith.  The huntsman went forward,
and the Master stopped the field.  Then they went on again, running in
a string up the hedge.

Barnaby turned his horse's head and let the crowd go by.  He looked at
her significantly.  How did he know that she could not keep on much
longer?

"I'll take you home now," he said.

"Oh, don't!" she cried.  "I am so sorry....  Don't let me spoil your
day."

He laughed.

"I'll pick them up again later on," he said.  "We must do the correct
thing, mustn't we?  It would look bad if I let you go home alone.--Good
heavens, how tired you are!  You can hardly sit on your horse."

      *      *      *      *      *

Lady Henrietta, the mischief-maker, waited with equanimity for Barnaby
to come home.  He had brought Susan back and gone off again on a fresh
horse, giving her no opportunity of a passage-at-arms with him.

When he did return his coolness was disappointing.  She waited until
she could contain herself no longer.

"Why don't you ask after Susan?" she said at last.  He looked up then.
His clothes had dried on him, he had changed lazily into slippers, and
was warming his shins at the fire.  They had finished the day with a
clinking run.  "She's not ill?" he said.

"I put her to bed," said Lady Henrietta, "when she came in.  The poor
child could hardly move....  I suppose you bullied her frightfully when
she turned up?"

Barnaby went on stirring his tea and stretching himself to the blaze.

"I told her to have a hot bath and a good long rest," he said, in a
grandmotherly tone.  "What did you expect?  Were you hoping that I
should beat her?"

"I was hoping all kinds of things," said Lady Henrietta.

"Such as--?"

She lost all patience.  What was the use of plotting if nothing she
could devise would rouse him?  Anything would be more satisfactory than
that maddening smile of his.

"Do you want to break the child's heart?" she cried.

For a moment she fancied that he was startled; she could not see his
face so well, but the cup clattered in his hand.  Then she discovered
that he was laughing at her.

"Has Susan complained?" he said.

"She?" said Lady Henrietta.  "Oh, how little you understand her!
She'll never complain of you.  All I hear I have to screw out of other
people.  From what they tell me--!  Oh, _she'll_ never complain, though
you and your Julia make yourselves a by-word!"

She paused there, confident that there would be an outburst.  Her
triumphant expectation was dashed; she was nearly struck dumb with
astonishment when she heard his voice.

"It's a queer world, mother."

This was indeed serious.  He was not even angry;--and she had hoped to
make him furious.  She scanned him anxiously, stricken with alarm.

"You aren't well?" she said.

"I'm a little bothered," he said.  "Look here, mother; supposing--well,
supposing a man were horribly, irretrievably, fond of a woman,--and
would be a regular cur if he let her know;--would you condemn him for
building up a kind of rampart, playing with fire that he knew couldn't
burn him, to keep him from losing his head, and hurting the thing
he--the thing that was precious to him?  Oh, damn it all, you can't
possibly understand."

It was plain as a pikestaff.  Lady Henrietta was justified of her
mischief-making.  Something must be done.  There was law and order in
any tactics that might vex the siren who was still robbing her of her
boy.  Never in this world would there be peace between her and Julia.

"If," she said, "you want me to believe that you married Susan to stick
her up like a ninepin between you and a woman who threw you over, who
can't bear us to imagine you are consoled----!"

She broke off indignantly, but Barnaby would not quarrel.  He got up
and laid his hand caressingly on her shoulder.

"Don't excite yourself, mother," he said.  "I was talking nonsense.  So
are you....  If I were you I wouldn't meddle.  It's more dangerous than
you know."

Then he went away to change out of his hunting clothes, and she watched
his departure with a wistful exasperation, lying back on her sofa.

"What a nuisance a heart is!" she said to herself.  "He would have had
it out with me but for that."



CHAPTER VII

Susan was in the garden.

There had been a frost in the night, and the bushes crackled; the late
winter sun was thawing it in the branches.  Behind the cloudy glass in
the greenhouses were primulas and hyacinths, and all manner of scented
things, a bright blur against the panes; but she walked rather the
slippery paths in the lifeless garden.

She tried to picture the blackened tufts tall spikes of blossom, and
the long line of rose trees, all muffled in dried fern, a bewildering
lane of sweetness.  Imagination failed her.  The blackbird that shot
out of the yew tree, screaming his sharp, sweet call; the little
wagtail running at a wise distance in the path behind;--they might
guess and remember what they would find in spring.  She would be gone
then; she would have stepped off the stage.

Foolishly she counted up the memories she would carry with her, looked
back at the great old house, so warm inside.  Strange to think of the
time, so impossibly near, when Barnaby would release her, would tell
her that he had made his arrangements for her to slip out of this
fantastic life without scandal.

Well, she had played up to him; she had never lifted a miserable face,
imploring him not to make her suffer so.

Something was choking in her throat.  She had not realized how utterly
she must pass out of his life until it struck her that she would never
see one of these English flowers.  The garden became unbearable,
taunting her with its unknown mysteries, its hidden promise; and she
hurried down the weather-stained wooden steps into the park.

There were rabbit tracks in the grass, and live things rustled in the
spinney.  A mat of beech-leaves kept the primroses warm.  She leant
wistfully over the rail, gazing down from the slatted bridge at the
water.  It was rushing past, very deep.

And then she found a snowdrop....

She heard the dogs scampering and looked up.

"There you are," said Barnaby, putting his arm through hers in friendly
fashion.  "--The servants, you know!" he reminded her in parenthesis,
jerking his head towards the distant windows.  "Let's gratify 'em, poor
souls.  They'll like to see us arm in arm."

He threw a stick to the dogs, and they scurried down the bank to
retrieve it, but, missing it, found distraction in rummaging for a
water rat.  Then he turned again to Susan.  She had plucked the
snowdrop.  That at least was given to her....

"You looked like that flower," he said, unexpectedly, "when I saw you
first."

She answered him valiantly.

"Was I so pale with fright?"

"I wasn't thinking of that," he said; "but--the thing hasn't been so
difficult, has it, after all?  I didn't ask too much of you?  We have
been good comrades and all that, haven't we, Susan?  You have never
wished----?"

Wished it undone?  She could not speak.  It was over.  He was going to
tell her that it was over.  She thought of that far-off night of
amazement, of her panic-stricken impulse, of his hand on her shoulder
that had stopped her flight....  Ah, it had been worth it all.
Passionately she was glad of it.  She had had so much.

"No," she said, "I have never wished----" and, like him, she left the
words unfinished.

And then, with the past close upon her, she forgot everything but him.
How she used to think of him, dream of him, dead, who had come to her
rescue!

"Oh!" she cried softly, touching his rough tweed sleeve, "isn't it
wonderful that you are alive!"

They stood a minute or two in silence, neither speaking, and then
Barnaby broke the spell.

"Why did you wander down here in all that drenching grass?" he said.
"Your feet are wet."

She began to laugh, helplessly, and almost against her will.

"How like a man!" she said.  "You all think it the direst calamity that
can happen.  You remind me of Vernon Whitford, who, when the poor
heroine was despairing, was principally troubled because her boots were
damp."

"I know," said Barnaby.  "That's my mother's beloved book.  She got me
to read it too.  Some of it stumped me, but I remember that much.  How
did it go?" his voice dropped.  "'He clasped the visionary little feet,
to warm them on his breast.'"

It hurt her to feel her cheek burning scarlet.  There was no reason.
She hurried to defend herself from the wild fancies that might fill a
dangerous pause.

"If," she said, and it was anger at herself that made her voice
unsteady, "I had thrown myself over this bridge into the river, you
would have cried out indignantly--'She'll catch cold!'"

"I might," he said gravely.  "We are material wretches.  You must come
back with me and change your stockings."

He marched her towards the house.  One startled, serious look he gave
her, but his voice maintained the determined lightness with which it
was necessary to face the realities of their bargain.  The funny side
of it was the only side that would bear looking at.

"You're not impatient?" he said.  "You like the hunting? and the life
over here?  Can you stand it a little longer?  We'll clear as soon as
we decently can, and think out the tragedy that shall part us."

"Yes," she said; she was a little breathless.  The windows yonder were
winking flame; it looked as if the house was on fire, but it was only
the setting sun....

"There's that horse my mother presented to you," he went on.  "You will
have to keep him as a souvenir.  Hang him round your neck in a locket,
what?"

She could but laugh at his whimsical suggestion.

"I'll keep nothing," she said.  "An actress doesn't claim the stage
properties; her paper crown, her gilt goblet, her royal dresses.  Not a
poor strolling actress like me, at least.  Please, please--" her voice
shook a little.  He must be made to understand so much, jest and
earnest.  "Let me go out as you snuff a candle."

"Will you?" he said.

They had nearly reached the house; the glancing windows that had shone
afire in their eyes were dark.

"I didn't come out to plan tragedies," said Barnaby.  "I was sent to
fetch you.  The Duchess is in there with my mother.  There's the Hunt
Ball on in a day or two, and she wants us to dine and go with her
party.  I think she has some notion of keeping her eye on you.  She
thinks that I treat you badly."

Susan hung back.

"Must I go?" she said.

"Of course," he said cheerily.  "I'd never hear the last of it if I
went without you.  And my mother is awfully keen on you eclipsing the
rest.  She's sending in to the bank for all the family trinkets."

"I wonder you are not afraid of my running away with them," she flung
at him recklessly.

Barnaby laughed at her as one might at a foolish child.

"Oh," he said.  "I'll be there, mounting guard."

      *      *      *      *      *

The Duchess was lodged in a ramshackle way over a shop.  She was not
particular.  After hiring all the stabling that was to be had in
Melton, she had packed herself into a few odd rooms, approached by a
dark entry and a narrow stair.  It made her feel, she said, like an
eagle.

But sometimes her hospitality outdid her accommodation.  On the night
of the ball she had asked as many people as could be squeezed into her
dining-room; all intimate enough not to mind rubbing elbows; and dinner
was a scramble.

"The youngest," she proposed, "shall sit with his back to the door, and
duck when the plates are handed in over his head....  Do be careful.  I
put a little man there last year, but when the door opened he used to
chuck up his head like a horse, and smashed no end of china."

Having settled this, she threw up a window and rang a bell violently up
and down.

"That is for dinner," she said.  "It has to be cooked outside, and my
people dawdle so.  Would you believe it, I was ten minutes ringing for
my maid when I came in from hunting.  She lodges a few doors higher up,
and I had quite a crowd in the street."

"I remember," said Kilgour, "last time I dined with you, one or two
bets were laid as to what was happening to the soup in the street
below."

"Accidents do happen," she acknowledged.  "It isn't quite true,
however, that I stuck out my head once and caught them scooping up the
sauce."

Susan, wedged in a corner between Kilgour and another equally massive
person, was puzzled by the face of a woman opposite, who was smiling at
her.

"Don't you know me?" said she.  "I recognized you by the dress you have
on.  I am Mélisande."

She noticed the girl's bewildered look at her yellow hair.

"I keep a black transformation for the shop," she said.  "My own idea.
But didn't you know my nose?  How dear of you to forget it.  People
call it my trade mark, and say it's Jewish.  The worst is, I haven't
really shut up shop.  I have a young hedgehog to chaperon here
to-night.  Oh, I am perfectly unashamed!--She is all prickles, but
worth a great deal of money.  I really couldn't bring her down with me,
so she is coming by herself in a special train, or some such
extravagance.  I thought she might do for Rackham."

"What?" said Barnaby.  "Aren't you rather hard on my cousin?"

"It is because he is your cousin," said Mélisande, "I am offering him
the hedgehog.  Have you ever considered what your reappearance meant to
him?  Don't we all know how hard up he is, and what a boon your
inheritance would have been?  If I don't step in with my benefaction
he'll possibly murder you."

"Scarcely!" said Barnaby.

"Let me see," said Mélisande.  "Give me your hand."

But he would not.

"You will frighten my wife," he said.

"Give me the glass he was drinking out of," said Mélisande.  Barnaby's
neighbour pushed it over to her, and she peered into it with alarming
gravity.  Silence waited on her prediction.  She raised the glass,
swung it round thrice, and spilt a little water.

"I've thrown out a misfortune," she said.  "A terrible misfortune," and
looked round for applause.

"I am eternally obliged to you," said Barnaby.  "Thanks!"  But she
would not give up his glass.

"There are strange things here," she said, clasping her hands, and
gazing into it with half-shut eyes.  Barnaby reached over and captured
the glass.

"We don't want her to reveal all our secrets, do we, Susan?" he said,
and saved the situation by drinking the secrets down.

His presence of mind turned the laugh against Mélisande, whose
expression was a study.  Ignoring public ridicule, she affected to
meditate on his disturbing action.

"I wish I could remember what that portends," she said solemnly.  "I
rather think it was fatal."

But Barnaby refused to be overawed.  He was in a mood of tearing gaiety
that Susan did not quite understand.  She herself, although she knew
that it was absurd, had had a superstitious fear of that glass of
water....

"Let's go on to the ball," said the Duchess.

In the general confusion the girl found herself on the stairs with
Mélisande, still ruffled.  Somehow their glances met.

"Barnaby would turn anything into a joke.  He was always like that,"
said she.  "He hasn't any sense of decorum."

"--And you witches," remarked Kilgour, who was close behind, "haven't a
sense of humour."

The sorceress pursed her lips.

"Was there anything--bad?" asked Susan.

She was ashamed of the foolish impulse that made her ask.  Mélisande
looked at her indulgently.  But her disclaimer was too hasty to be
convincing.  In a way, it was more disquieting than if she had
overwhelmed the sinner's wife with evil prognostications.

"There was nothing in it.  Nothing!" she said, but her voice lacked
conviction.

"That's right.  Don't frighten us," said Kilgour.

Susan was not frightened.  But she could not shake off an unaccountable
nervousness;--could not forget Mélisande's wild sayings....  Why was
she afraid of Rackham?

It was odd that as soon as they came into the ballroom her eyes should
light on him.  Everybody was arriving at once, jammed in under the
gallery;--and Rackham was pushing through the crowd to her side, and
she could not fly.

"What is the matter?" said Barnaby.  "Why, you're trembling?"

The truth came out before she could stop herself, though she could not
explain it.

"I am shy," she said.  "--And I don't want to dance with your cousin."

He did not scoff at her.  He took her programme and scribbled his name
across it.

"See," he said.  "Whatever he asks you for, say you're dancing it with
me.  How will that do?  Fill it in with any of the others, of course,
just as you like; and let me know what I am booked for later."

He moved on in the swaying throng, distracted by somebody signalling to
him, hailed on all sides, nodding to his friends.  Other men were
surrounding Susan.  She could smile at them now, although Rackham was
at her side.

"They're just finishing number one," he said.  "Will you give me number
two?"

"I am dancing it with my husband."

"Number three, then?"

"I am dancing it with my husband."

Another claimed her attention; she gave him a dance quickly.  Kilgour,
who could not get near her, held up five fingers to her above the
bobbing heads in the crowd.  She counted them gaily, putting down the
number.

Rackham was still at her side, insisting, but her answer was the same.
He looked at her queerly.

"You seem to be dancing everything, more or less, with your husband."

Kitty Drake, floating in like a smoke wreath, put in her word.

"A husband," she said sapiently, "is the only possible partner for a
frock like hers.  _I_ always come to the Melton Ball in rags."

But when Rackham had departed, she looked curiously at Susan.

"You were rude to him," she whispered.  "Was it the frock, or what?  I
am safe."

"I don't know," said Susan.  "It is very unreasonable of me, but--I am
always a little frightened when he is near me."

Kitty seemed to think that she understood.

"Reason?" she said.  "My good girl, I've known more women wrecked
because they were ashamed to give in to their frightened instincts than
I dare remember.  Don't begin to reason!  It's simply a machine for
making mistakes; it never mends them.  Go and be happy.  Go and dance
with your husband!"

Barnaby had come to her, and there was pity as well as liking in
Kitty's little push.

"Shall we begin?" he said, and his arm went round her as she swung out
with him on to the shining floor.  Dimly she was aware of music, of
lights and people; an atmosphere of enchantment.

"Tired?" he said, pausing.

"Tired?  Oh, no," she panted, as if he had asked her the strangest
question.

"I didn't know you could ride," he said, "and I didn't know you danced.
I really know very little about you, Susan."

They had stopped a minute near a ring of idlers who had drifted on to
the floor, and somebody caught up his words.

"Have you never danced with her before, Barnaby?"

"No," he said, and bent to gather her train himself, that the weight of
it should not tire her arm.

"Do you hear that?" chuckled the man behind them.  "Never rode with
her, never danced with her.  What on earth did he find to do?"

"Made love to her, of course."

Susan felt his arm tighten round her as they whirled into the dizzy
spaces.

"I've never made love to you, have I, Susan?"

He was breathing quicker; her cheek almost touched his as he bent his
head; her pulses were beating in tune with his.  In a sudden faintness
she shut her eyes.

And then the music crashed into silence and she was leaning against a
pillar, stupidly watching the brilliant scene.  There was a great buzz
of talking under the gallery, and Barnaby was turning to his friends.
She heard his voice now and then amidst the babel, but it was Kilgour
and Gregory Drake who were trying to amuse her, picking out the
celebrities, good and wicked, in that assembly of glittering dresses
and scarlet coats.

"You'll notice," Kilgour was saying, "it's the older men who are
dancing, and the young 'uns are looking on.  They've no stamina, the
lads!  Do you see that woman like a tub, with hungry eyes?--She was a
beauty once, but when her admirers began to slink off she went in for
spirits--that awfully unpleasant kind that you can't absorb.  She's
always calling 'em up and setting 'em on to tell tales about her
dearest friends."

"Yes," said Gregory, "it's really more unhealthy to offend her now than
when she was an anarchist and used to spring little clicking machines
on you and offered to explain how they worked.  She got into hot water
once, while it lasted, making herself a side-show at a bazaar.  Some
foreign personage was attending, and a rumour started that she meant to
wind up her clock in earnest.  It emptied the hall like winking.  The
Board of Charitables were no end annoyed."

"They say her fellow anarchists begged her to take her name off their
books.  Said she brought 'em into contempt."

"That wasn't why," said Gregory.  "It was because she would bring Toby,
her mastiff, to all their meetings.  He and Biff, the thing she carried
in her muff, used to scare 'em out of their lives."

"Look at that shop window!" said Kilgour, as another woman, smothered
in diamonds, canted past.

"American, isn't she?--Cummerbatch married her for her money, and of
course they're wretched.  It never pays----"

Susan was conscious that the speaker had checked himself, in his face a
ludicrous awkwardness.  Had the world jumped to a similar conclusion
about her and Barnaby?  Instinctively she turned her head.  She wanted
to share the joke with him, to see his delighted appreciation;--but he
was not near.

And he did not dance with her any more.  The night dragged on, and one
man after another bent his sleek head and offered her his arm.  All
Barnaby's friends were rallying to her flag.  Still, in its turn, would
come a star in her card, a dance that found her waiting for a partner
who did not come.

After one of these blanks she came face to face with him in the
Lancers.  He was romping as violently as the rest, charging down the
room;--and as the chain of dancers burst it was his arm that kept her
from falling into a bank of pale tulips against the wall.

"Wasn't the last dance ours?" he said.  "I'm awfully sorry:--but you
are getting on all right, aren't you?  Plenty of substitutes?  I've
been watching them buzzing round you."

She smiled at him bravely.  How like life this dancing was ... meeting
and parting, and strange companions....  For the first and last time
she was linking arms with Julia.

Later on she saw Rackham on his way to her.  It was almost the first
time that evening that she was unsurrounded.  She had felt him watching
her; awaiting his time to swoop.  Barnaby had not been visible during
the last two dances, and this, alas! was one that was glorified with a
star.

"Yes," said Rackham, before she could speak, "I know;--you are dancing
it with your husband."

There was no anger in his voice; only a kind of sardonic amusement, as
if he could afford to forgive her for that rebuff.  She looked vainly
for Barnaby.

"As a matter of fact," said Rackham coolly, "he has delegated his
privilege to me."

"I am tired," she said.  It was true; very tired and forsaken.

"Then we'll sit it out," said Rackham, no whit abashed.  He carried his
point over her weariness; she wondered dully why she had been afraid of
him, and she was too sad to struggle.  She let him take her up the
stairs into the far corner of the gallery, now deserted, and sat with
her arms on the rail, gazing absently on the flitting brightness that
mocked her wistful mood below.

All at once she started.  Her wandering thoughts were fixed.

"What are you saying to me?" she cried.

Rackham was very near her, his head bent, his voice low and passionate
in her ears.

"What I have always wanted to say to you," he said.  "You guessed it,
didn't you?  You were a little afraid of me;--just a little.  You've
been trying to put it off....  But don't you remember the first time we
met--and that afternoon down by the spinney, when I told you I was your
friend?"

She began to shiver.  His hand, shutting the idle fan, was imprisoning
hers as it clenched itself on her knee.

"I was not listening to you!" she cried desperately.  "I was not
thinking of you.  How dare you?"

"What were you thinking of then?" said Rackham.  "Not of Barnaby, who
has gone back to his first love and forgotten that you exist."

"He sent you to me," she said piteously.

"Oh, that was a lie," said Rackham.  "He didn't even trouble as much as
that."

She had sprung to her feet and her face was as white as ashes.  For how
long had this man been telling her that he loved her?  She had been
deaf to him, had caught his words without understanding their import,
murmuring "Yes" to him, while her eyes and her heart were searching for
one figure to pass in the dizzy scene below.

"You are mad," she said.

"Mad if you like," said Rackham.  "After all, I am Barnaby's cousin,
and it's probably in our blood.  Look at him, still crazed over a woman
who jilted him years ago!"

She flung up her head, compelled by a piteous instinct to play her part.

"And I am Barnaby's wife," she said bravely.

He looked at her fixedly, making no motion to let her pass him.

"Are you?" he said.

The band seemed to burst into clamour and die away; but they were all
dancing; there must be music still, although she could not hear
anything but these two syllables.  She kept her eyes steady.  Perhaps
he did not grasp the significance of his words.

"You have insulted me enough," she said to him slowly.

A wild eagerness lighted his face.

"I'm not insulting you," he said.  "I leave that to him....  I'm asking
you to be my wife, Susan.  Let him go.  Let him release himself.  Leave
him to the woman from whom you can't keep him.--Come away with me,--and
marry me!"

"I--cannot," she said.

He had to fall back then and let her go.  But he followed her down the
stairs.  The light in his eyes flickered out, leaving a sullen
admiration.

"Well," he said, "I warn you.  I've a bit of a score to settle with
Barnaby."

She turned on him.  She had reached the bottom; her foot was on the
crimson carpet that lay under the gallery; a little way off a handful
of men were talking with their backs turned, hilarious at the climax of
a sporting tale.  She looked at the dark face above her; her lips were
white now, her eyes were blazing.  "Are you threatening--him?" she
cried, and the devil in Rackham smiled.

She took a few rash steps, hardly knowing in what direction.

"You needn't look for him here," said Rackham bitterly.  "Don't let his
friends think you jealous."

From where she stood she could see in at the open doorway of one of the
sitting-out rooms, a dim, mysterious haunt of palms, the chairs drawn
back in the shadow.  Was not that Barnaby and a woman in a glittering
green dress, listening with her face uplifted--?

Ah, what right had she to run to him?--One of the men standing about
under the gallery had looked round.  She heard him mutter it was a
shame.  What was a shame?  Not anything that could be spoken or done to
her....  She threw up her head, walking straight on as if she were
walking in her sleep.  The Duchess and Kitty Drake were together
half-way up the room; they moved down to meet her, exchanging looks.

"My dear," said the Duchess solemnly, "you look fatigued."

"I am tired," she said.

"I thought so.  Fagged out.  You have danced too much.  Major Willes--"

She called a man to her side and sent him on an immediate errand.  When
he was gone she returned to Susan.

"I've sent somebody to fetch your husband," she said.  "He ought to
take more care of you.  I shall scold him."

"Oh, don't!" she cried faintly, but her champions took no notice; and
soon Barnaby himself came swinging along the room.

"Barnaby," said the Duchess, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Take your wife up to supper."

The first rush was over upstairs in the supper-room, and Barnaby found
a corner.  She sat with him at a little round table behind a tall plant
that shut off the world with its wide green fronds, some sheltering
exotic.  And he was pouring out champagne, a drink she hated.  She put
her hand over the top of the glass, and he caught it and lifted it off,
holding it in his while he poured on unchecked.

"It's not good stuff,--but it's good for you.  Drink!" he said.

He seemed to be laughing at her from an immeasurable distance; his
prescription had made her dizzy.

"It will go off in a minute; you wanted it badly," he was saying, in a
voice that sounded far away and unlike his own.

"It has gone to my head," she said, appealing to him.  "I'm afraid I
shall say something silly.  Don't let me.  Don't let me talk....'"

"Why not?  There is nobody listening," he was saying, encouraging her;
amused.

And Susan heard her own voice.  Her head was spinning; she was talking
against her will.

"Why did you never come back and dance with me?" she was asking.  It
seemed to her that there was a long pause, and then his answer came,
low and close.

"I did not dare," he said.

"Oh," she said piteously;--no, not she, but the imprudent, tired girl
whose head was giddy, and who did not know what she said.  "Oh,--how
funny!"

Perhaps he was throwing dust in people's eyes,--trying to blind them to
his fluttering, like a burnt moth, round Julia.  If they saw him
sitting up here in a corner with her, and she was happy, they would
think there was nothing in it.  He must be trying to make her laugh.
Well, she must help him.  She could say something funny too.

"There's a man downstairs," she told him, "who asked me to marry him."

"What?" said Barnaby.  He started as if he had been shot.

"He said he loved me," she repeated.  "He wished me to go away and
release you and marry him."

"Who?"

"You were with the only woman you ever cared for.  That was what he
said.  I had nobody to keep him away from me...."

"Oh, I was with the woman I cared for, was I?" he said.  "And who the
devil is it wants horsewhipping when I get at him?"

The deadly calm in his voice arrested her.  What had she said to him,
babbling in her unhappiness?  Alarm steadied her; the dizziness was
passing.

"I will not tell you," she said, forgetting how vainly she had looked
for him to shield her.

His eyes were blue as steel.  She had never seen him angry until
to-night.

"I'll make you," he said.

They stared at each other a minute, her eyes as unflinching as his were
hard.  Across the silly little supper table with its glass and silver,
its green, gold-tipped bottles, and its tumbled flowers, he leaned and
gripped her hands.

"Did you tell him you are not my wife?" he said.

There was a whiff of scent in their neighbourhood; the great green
fronds spreading behind him were rudely stirred.  A passing couple must
have brushed against that screen on their way to the stairs.  A burst
of merriment came from the upper end of the room.  But these two were
as much alone as if it had been a desert.

So that was why he was angry.  He believed that she had broken faith....

"I told him nothing," she said.

Barnaby took a long breath.  She felt his grip relax.

"You are a good girl," he said.  "You wouldn't break your promise.  I
suppose I've no right to order you:--I'll find him out for myself.
Tell me one thing, and we'll let it go--"

She waited.  There had been something very bitter to her in his relief.
All he asked of her was to keep the secret until he was tired of the
joke....

"Susan," he said.  "Did you want to tell him?"

What did that matter to him?  Supposing she had--wanted?  Supposing she
would have given worlds to exchange her difficult post for one so
different, so secure?--Her cheek burned.

"I would sooner have died," she said.

      *      *      *      *      *

Rackham stood under the gallery in a black mood, watching the Duchess
send her messenger to hunt out the missing husband.  He saw Julia,
bereft of her cavalier, pausing uncertainly; and a satiric impulse
moved him to join her.

"Come and have supper with me," he said.

"I am engaged to Barnaby," she said, a little defiantly.

"They've sent him up with his wife," he retorted, and his mocking tone
seemed to please her.  She submitted and pressed his arm.

"Poor Barnaby!" she said.  "It's an awful muddle."

She was looking very lovely and pathetic.  The man who had once been
entangled a little way in her toils himself and, having failed to
succumb, was naturally inclined to despise her, admired her pose.  It
was hardly to be wondered at if Barnaby, who had been mad about her
once, should be incapable of resisting the allurement of these dark
eyes, so deep and so reproachful.  He could not help speculating how
far she was in earnest, and how far a hurt vanity inspired her.
Curiosity piqued him.

"I understand," he said gravely, as they passed out and began to climb
to the supper-room.  It amused him to feel that her confidential
attitude, her claim on his sympathy, was a subtle intimation that he
had been the unlucky cause of the fatal misunderstanding, and must
therefore be kind to her.  All at once he had a perverse inclination to
cast himself in the scale again.  Why not?  It would be a bitter joke
on Barnaby, and it suited his savage humour.

"I like your dress," he said.  His change of tone surprised her.  She
glanced at him swiftly, half-turning as she mounted, her green garments
rippling as she lifted her train on one smooth arm, displaying a whirl
of skirts and one little green sequin slipper.  "Ah," she said, "down
below they've been reviling me for a mermaid, and complaining bitterly
of my tail."

"And so," said Rackham, "the little slipper is betrayed, to dispel the
illusion?"

"Perhaps," said Julia.  She used, at one time, to smile up in his face
like that....  A vindictive sense of his power possessed him,
flattering him on this night of defeat.  In his heart he was still
fiercely worshipping the pale girl who had flouted him, clinging
obstinately--Oh, she was a fool, and so was Barnaby;--and the irony of
it was that he had only to lift his finger--!

"We'll find a place by ourselves," he said, confidentially, passing
into the room.  Inside it he took a step or two, glancing about him.
There were vacant seats on the right, but the tables had a battered
air.  Farther down, perhaps--; yes, farther down, near the wall.  He
turned back to look for his partner, and the sight of her face amazed
him.  With a promptitude that surprised himself he pulled her back, and
got her outside the room.  Was it possible that he had been mistaken in
her, or could a woman push affectation as far as that?

She broke into a kind of gasping exclamation that was not intelligible
at first, and he stared at her in limitless amazement.

"Oh, poor Barnaby, oh, poor Barnaby!" she repeated.  There was a ring
of triumph in her incoherent voice.  She had gone mad, he fancied.

"Hush!" he said.  "They'll hear you."

He was glad he had shut that door, and thankful there was not a soul on
the stairs.

"I was right!" she said, "I was right....  I knew it!  You were there
when she came here first as his widow, and I told his mother to her
face it was a wicked plot!"

"Julia," said Rackham, "you don't know what you are saying."

She controlled herself a little.  He held her wrist.

"Didn't you see them in there?" she asked.  "Didn't you hear him?"

"If you mean Barnaby," he said, "I was looking out for our places.  I
didn't notice whereabouts they were till you clutched at me.  They
didn't see us at all."

"I heard him," she said, in the same wild key of triumph.  "I heard his
own words.--He said she was not his wife."

"Hush!" said Rackham vehemently, and then, more slowly--"Julia, are you
sure of that?"

She tried to imitate him, to whisper, but she was too excited.

"Sure!" she said, laughing hysterically.  "I know his voice so well.
There was a green plant between us----"

"Wait," said Rackham.  "There's somebody coming.  We'll go down.  Damn!
there are people everywhere--!  Get a shawl, and we'll go out into the
street."

Julia resisted him.

"Why are you dragging me away?" she rebelled.  "You can't keep me
quiet.  Think how I've been treated!  I could scream it to all the
world!"

A woman could not have silenced her, but her emotional nature yielded
finally to the rough coaxing of a man.  He almost swung her downstairs
into the draughty passage and, raiding the ladies' cloakroom, snatched
up the first wrap that lay to his hand.

A chill wind blew up the steps, but there was still a persistent crew
of gazers loitering in the street below.  Rackham led her past, and
they strolled a little way into the darkness, lighted at intervals by a
twinkling lamp.  There was no danger there of her making scenes.

"Now," he said.  "Now, Julia--!"

"They shall all hear the truth!" she cried.  She hung on his arm,
gesticulating.

"You wouldn't betray him?" said Rackham, sounding her.

"Him?" she said.  "Poor Barnaby!  He and I are the victims.  Don't you
understand yet?  When she thought he was dead his mother--just to crush
me, just to humble me in the dust!--hired this creature.  Don't you
remember how she sprung her on us?  Who had heard of a marriage?  Oh,
it was a judgment on her when he came home!"

"She'd hardly look at the case in that light," he said.  But Julia was
impervious to irony.

"He should have considered me first," she said.  "Why do men always
sacrifice the one they love best?  It's a kind of cruel unselfishness.
I was his dearest, a part of himself, and so--and so I'm to bear this
trial--!  But he might have trusted _me_!"

She was either laughing or sobbing, he was not sure which; the cloak
that muffled her hid her face; but her voice raged on, half furious,
half triumphant.

"Of course, she's blackmailing him," she said.  "That wretch has got
him in the hollow of her hand!  If he disowned her it would all come
out, and it would disgrace his mother.  He was always quixotic.  And so
he is temporizing till he can bribe her to disappear.  But Lady
Henrietta has no claim on my forbearance!"

She had to pause for breath, and he managed to get in his word.

"I am going to advise you," he said, "to keep quiet over this."

They had come to the end of the street, and were walking back.  A
dazzle of lights in the distance marked the Corn Exchange.  A motor
whirred past, its lamps sending a brief glare that was like a
searchlight.  Already a few were leaving.

"Why?" she said, staring at him.

"You'll be a fool if you talk," he said.  "If Barnaby is holding his
tongue for his mother's sake, is it likely he'll give way?  And you
have no proofs.  Whatever you say, he'll deny it.  He mightn't forgive
you, either.  Be sensible....  Wait a bit, and I'll make inquiries."

It struck her then as odd that he had accepted her words himself,
without argument, with no incredulous opposition, such as she was
beginning to realize must fall to her lot if she published her tale
abroad.

"Did you know from the first?" she cried.

"No," said Rackham, "I didn't know.  But I guessed."

They had nearly reached the steps, and he slackened, regarding her
narrowly; but already she was subdued.  It was characteristic of her
that she had never seen his admiration for the impostor.  Vast as her
imagination was, it was blinded by centring on herself.

"And you'll help me?  You are on my side?" she said.

He knew then that he had prevailed.

"As long as you are wise," he said.  They went up the steps together.

"I had better find my party," she said hurriedly.  "I want to go home.
Poor Barnaby!--I can't bear to meet him.  I am too agitated."


Rackham took back the borrowed cloak and strolled along the passage, in
no hurry to return to the ballroom.  People were passing in and out;
some of them were saying good-night, and one pair were wrangling on
their way to the door.

"Who was the man you were flirting with in the street?" said the lover
in an angry stutter.  The lady scoffed.

"What a story!"

"My brother saw you go out.  He came up and chaffed me."

"Your brother is a donkey.  It must have been someone else."

"I tell you he recognized you by that chiffon fal-lal you wear!"

Rackham stood on one side.  Let them fight it out....  Then his mouth
hardened.  What was he going to do?  He had managed to prevent Julia
from spoiling it all, and as long as he could keep her quiet the cards
were in his hands.



CHAPTER VIII

"I won't let you go home," said the Duchess.  "Barnaby can do as he
likes, but you're too tired to mind sleeping in a cupboard."

She held Susan firmly by the arm as she spoke; she had motives.
Barnaby deserved to be punished; his conduct with Julia had really been
scandalous.  But a worn-out girl, a wisp of white satin, was no match
for a naughty husband.  She would burst into tears and forgive him.
Let Barnaby go home by himself, feeling guilty, and brood upon his
unkindness.  _She_ would tell Susan what to do to him in the morning.

With rough kindness she hustled the girl away with her, and having
collected her party, ordered them to bed.

"Because," she said, "until some of you are disposed of I can't tell
what to do with the others, and I want to know if there are beds enough
to go round."

Susan was the first to be bundled into her attic, and lay wearily
listening to a far-off commotion.  When at last the household had
settled down there was a fresh disturbance, and the elder of the two
foreign maids mounted, carrying an armful of pillows.

The Duchess herself followed, to excuse the indicated invasion.  She
was already in her dressing-gown.  The maid set up a chair bed that had
stood, doubled up, in the corner, and was sent out of the room for a
minute.

"I've come to apologize," said the Duchess, "for pitchforking a
stranger into your room like this; but I'm sorry for the woman.  You
are the only one of them I can depend on not to be horrid to her."

She looked round, measuring the space that was to be shared.  "I hope,"
she said, "you won't bump into each other.  The truth is, I have a
shocking custom of sticking my head out of the window when something is
going on outside; and just as I was getting into bed I heard a
tremendous buzzing.  Everybody must have started.  If this was
somebody's motor gone wrong, I supposed I ought to offer my
hospitality.  And it was.  The chauffeur was grovelling; a man I knew
was storming at him; and a woman wringing her hands on the pavement.  I
knew her too, perfectly, and she had no business in that man's car."

She stopped to listen.

"I am not," she said, "a universal mender.  If people I don't
particularly care about are jumping out of frying-pans, I don't preach
at them eternal fire.  But this fool of a woman had chosen to bolt
under my very nose.  Providence had cast her upon my doorstep.  So I
took the hint.  Not being a heathen I really had to."

The confidential maid was ascending with someone strange to the place,
who stumbled and chattered in halting French.

"I poked my head farther out," said the Duchess, "and shouted--'Is that
you, Lady Cummerbatch?  Have you had a breakdown?' and it was worth it
to see her jump.  I don't in the least know what she answered; it
sounded hysterical.  'Well,' I said, 'leave your husband to tinker up
the machine; it will probably take him hours.  I can put you up.'"

"Her husband?" said Susan, puzzled.

"Tact, my child, tact!  I sent Fifine down to fetch her, and kept my
eye on him.  She followed Fifine into the house like a lamb."

She wrapped her dressing-gown closer round her, and prepared to depart.

"I couldn't keep her in my room," she said; "I've two girls camping on
the floor.  Besides, she would begin confessing everything, and I am
certain that I should smack her.  Pretend that you are asleep.  If she
cries, don't notice.  Good night, my child."

She patted Susan on the head, looking as if she would have kissed her,
but not being accustomed to caresses, did not quite know how.

Then she wheeled round to receive the late visitor, holding up her
finger, and crying--"Hush!" very loud.

Susan lay with her face turned from the light and her eyes shut, as she
had been bidden.  She heard Fifine, after some careful whispering,
close the door and make her way down; she heard a smothered sobbing
from the improvised bed that almost blocked the chamber;--and then she
heard a stealthy noise in the room, and opened her eyes.  On the wall
she could see the shadow of a person struggling into her clothes, and
evidently about to fly.  Some instinct made the girl spring up and
fling herself against the door.

"Oh!  Oh!" said the strange woman, tottering.  "Let me out!"

Susan looked her in the face.

"If you want to go," she said, "I will call the Duchess."

The stranger began to cry.  She was thin and fair, with a faded skin
and unhappy eyes, outstared by a blaze of jewels.  Susan remembered
seeing her at the ball.  Kilgour had called her the Shop Window.

"He's waiting for me.  I must go with him," she cried, worked up to a
pitch of agitation that deprived her of self-control.

"You shall not," the girl said.

They both heard an engine vibrating far down below.  The woman flew to
the window.  And then the Duchess's strident voice struck into the
night from her own window underneath.

"So glad the motor is working.  Don't trouble about your wife, Sir
Richard.  She's safely tucked up in bed."

Then a furious backing and grinding, as the car started and rushed away
into the darkness, baulked of a passenger.

Susan retired sedately into bed, since it was no longer necessary to
guard the door.  The woman began to strip off her jewels, that she had
put on again, anyhow,--flinging them in a heap on the table.

"Absurd, isn't it?" she said, in a high, unnatural key, "wearing all
these.... but I wasn't going to leave them behind."

The girl said nothing; she was embarrassed.

"The Duchess took him for Dicky," the prisoner rambled on.  Perhaps she
was afraid of silence.  "_You_ guessed the truth.  I saw you at the
ball to-night.  They were all talking about you, and I liked your
diamonds.  Did _your_ husband marry you for your money?"

Susan drew a sharp breath.  Ah, this woman was more to be pitied than
she, who had brought sorrow upon herself.

"Oh, you poor thing!" she said softly, sitting up in bed and clasping
her hands round her knees.

Lady Cummerbatch was one of those lucky women who find solace in
lamentation.  They are the fortunate ones, whose bitterness of heart
can be dissipated in bitter speech.

"I've heard," she went on, too distracted about her own plight to be
conscious of the rank impertinence of which she was being guilty.
"I've heard all about your husband.  He's the wild Barnaby Hill who was
jilted by an Irishwoman and disappeared and married abroad to vex her,
and then turned up after his people thought him dead.  You're an
American too, though you are not my kind.  They seem fond of you here;
they all take your part;--but what difference does it make?  Aren't we
two miserable women?"

She began to weep noisily, and then to shiver.  Getting into bed, she
pulled her fur cloak over her shoulders, and sat hunched up, staring at
the light.

"Do you mind my not putting out the candle?" she said.  "I can't bear
to lie worrying in the dark.  If that auto hadn't stuck, and the
Duchess hadn't jumped me when I got out to see what was the matter, I'd
have been out of my misery....  I said to Sir Richard once--'You
married me for my money,' and he laughed in my face and said--'My good
young woman, you had an equivalent--you married me for my title.'  And
then I just screamed, 'I married you for your title!  Oh, yes, I
married you for your title!' till he banged himself out of the house."

"But if that was not true----" said Susan.

"True?  It was all true," she sobbed.  "The pity was it didn't keep
true.  When I married that man I couldn't have told you if his eyes
were grey or green.  But there--!  It wears off with them and it wears
on with us."

In her lamentation she continued to identify herself with her
compatriot; their common misfortune, as she conceived it, was mixed up
in her bewailing.

"Why don't you try it, like me?" she said.  "Why don't you run away
from him?  If you cry and stamp and bluster it makes them vain, but
when they've lost you outright they miss you....  Oh, it's awful to
live with a man and watch him getting impatient because you are in his
way and he's tied to you;--to see him looking hard at you, thinking how
could he have paid the price!  He tried to be civil at first, but his
face soon taught me....  I wonder how long were you deceived?"

"I was never deceived," said Susan, hardly knowing she had uttered that
sigh aloud.  Her arms were round the other woman now; a poor wretch who
had once been happy.  Ah, with what pain would she not have gladly
purchased some mirage of happiness, some illusion that she was his ...
and beloved ... for half an hour!

The haggard butterfly who had been cursed with riches dropped her voice
from its wailing tune to a whisper.

"I'm going to France to-morrow," she said.  "He won't like that.  It
will be the same as striking him in the face.  He to turn from me to
other women who had no money to give him--!  When a man sees that what
he has tossed in the gutter is precious to another man, when he sees
how the other man picks it up,--he feels cheated.  It hits him harder
than if you had killed yourself.  I thought of _that_ first.  But don't
you do it!  I knew just how he'd say--'Mad! quite mad!' and bury me and
forget me.  He'll never lose sight of it if I go away like this--" and
her voice rose high--"_that_ will let him know how I hate him!"

But when her confidences had tired her out, and she loosed her clasp of
Susan, pulling up the quilt and sinking into a wearied slumber,--when
the girl lay gazing alone at a light that was burning dim;--there was a
cry in the silence.

"I've come back, Dicky!  Dicky, let me in--!  I've come back."

It was the woman who hated her husband, calling to him in her sleep.

      *      *      *      *      *

Susan awakened in the morning with music in her ears.  Dreaming, she
danced with Barnaby, and his arm was round her, his breath quick on her
cheek, his face not ... kind.

And as the wild illumination of a dream sometimes teaches what a
stumbling consciousness dare not know, so the girl awoke trembling.

But that dream of all dreams was madness.

Into her waking mind came the thought of Rackham, the man who had said
he loved her.  Had she not always been ill at ease with him, and what
was that but a warning instinct, divining, shrinking from the peril in
a man's admiration?  But Barnaby and she had been such good comrades....

Quaint incidents crowded on her, scenes in the hunting field, Sunday
afternoons at the stables,--the day he had cut his finger and she had
run to him to bind it up;--the day he had told her the brim of her
riding hat was too narrow, and made her try on another that satisfied
his inspection....  Oh, they had honourably tried not to haunt each
other, but all the same....  Dear and safe memories; they blotted out
last night.

She raised herself on her elbow and looked across the room at the
runaway.

So a woman could sleep whom the casual kindness of an acquaintance had
saved from shipwreck; so a woman could sleep who had poured out her
soul to a stranger.

Someone was tapping at the door.  It was late.  Ten, eleven, ah, quite
that; and Monsieur had come for Madame and brought her clothes.  And
Miladi said Madame was to dress in her room, as one was so cramped up
here.

The maid waited discreetly at the door, her sharp, foreign eyes taking
in everything, the other woman huddled up in bed, her clothes flung all
over the floor, her gems scattered recklessly on the table.

Susan slipped on the dressing-gown that had been brought her, and was
following, Fifine going down in front as a picket, to see that the
coast was clear; when she heard her neighbour calling.  Lady
Cummerbatch was sitting up in bed.

"I made a fool of myself last night, didn't I?" she said.  "Why didn't
you smother me with my pillow?  Don't be afraid, I'm as wise as an old
hen this morning."  She pulled the girl close enough to kiss.  "You are
a dear; you are a dear!" she cried.

Stretching out her arm to the dressing-table, she caught up something
from its disordered glitter, squeezing it into Susan's hand.

"Keep it," she said.  "I know you've heaps of your own.  I saw them
last night.  But I want you to have something to remember me by.  I can
do nothing for anybody but give them things....  Do!  Please me!  I'd
have thrown myself out of that window if you hadn't been kind to me."

The girl looked doubtfully at the diamond star that had been thrust
upon her.

"If you don't care to wear anything I've worn," said the woman, "put it
by.  Who knows?  Some day you may be glad to have it.  If it does come
from a worthless creature, it's fit to sell.  I've heard of rich women
whose husbands ruined them, and who had to pawn their jewels....  How
do we know what will happen to you and me?"

Susan went down the irregular flight of stairs.  The Duchess was
waiting in her room for a word.

"Good morning, my child," she said.  "Your husband has very properly
come to fetch you.  I should advise you to let him off lightly about
last night."

The maid had gone out of the room.

"About----?" faltered Susan.

"Philandering with Julia.  I believe in severity, of course," said the
Duchess bluntly, "but as a matter of fact Kitty and I have been at him
like early birds.  Told him what we thought of him, and so forth.
Don't look so sorry.  It's done him good, and you can descend upon him
like a forgiving saint."

"I have nothing to forgive him," the girl protested.  "Oh, I wish you
would not say that."

The Duchess smiled benevolently at her stammering haste.  She fancied
she understood.

"I quite forgot," she said, "to ask after that idiot upstairs.
_There's_ a woman who tried to enrage her husband into paying her more
attention by making herself conspicuous with another man.  Bad policy,
my child.  It makes the man think less of her, though it may alarm his
possessive instinct;--and, of course, if anybody stole your old coat
you'd feel inclined to knock him down:--but that wouldn't make you
believe it was as good as new.  No, no, it's a fallacious notion.
However, we're talking of this person.  I'd be sorry for her feelings
if I didn't think the shock of being stopped on the brink would bring
her to her senses.  We are very good-natured among ourselves, but _she_
wouldn't find it easy to live it down.  She isn't one of us."

She smiled encouragingly at the girl, who was wrapped in her own
dressing-gown, a thick masculine garment that sat oddly on her slimness.

"People think," she said, "that we hunting people are a lawless band.
They think they can come and do as they like in Melton.  Just because
we have a sporting sense of loyalty to each other, and stick to our
friends when they need us.  If you or Barnaby, for example, did
anything outrageous, we'd scold you a little and let it drop.  But we
don't do it with an outsider....  He's brought your habit.  Get into
your things, my dear."


Barnaby nodded to her cheerfully as she came into the breakfast room.
He was sitting on the window seat, and the rest of them were at
breakfast.  Whether or no they had been attacking him, he did not look
cast down.

"Well, how are you?" he said.  "Good girl, you are coming hunting.  I
brought everything, didn't I?  They nearly left out your boots."

"Look out and see who that is passing," said the Duchess.  Someone was
cracking a whip below.  He flung up the window, and she came round
herself.

"What's the matter?" she said.  "Is it a serenade, or do you want some
coffee?"

A man with a long nose and a grizzling moustache had halted on his way
up the street.  Two or three others had left him and were trotting on.

"Have you heard the latest?" he said.  "Richard Cummerbatch is drawing
all the covers like a raging maniac, roaring for his wife.  Her party
went back in two cars from the ball last night, and each lot thought
she had gone in the other.  It appears she's bolted."

"Upon my word," said the Duchess, "if you are going to shout scandal at
the top of your voice I shall have to put up my shutters.  She is just
over your head, Major.  She had nowhere to go, since her party went off
without her; so I took her in."

"Hey?  What?" he said, looking up as quickly as if the lady were a
chimney-pot that might fall on him.  "--Keep still, horse!  You don't
say so?"

His face was blank for an instant, but he soon recovered from his
disappointment.  His well of gossip had not run dry.

Cocking his head on one side like a mischievous old bird, he began on
another tack.

"Well," he said, "if you're so rough on scandal, you'll have to keep
our friend Barnaby in order.  What does his poor little American wife
say to his goings-on?"

There was an awful pause in the room above.

"Susan," said Barnaby, "he's as deaf as a post.  Put your head out and
tell him as loud as you can what you think of me."

Somebody began to laugh; the rest followed; and there was no more
awkwardness; his presence of mind had saved the situation.  As he
leaned out of the window with his hand on Susan's shoulder the Major's
face was a study.  Incontinently he fled.

"There!" said Barnaby, "we have routed the enemy.  Let's get on our
horses and pursue him.  Hullo, who are these?  A whole tribe without
one sound horse among them."

The Duchess started back.

"Don't tell me it is my friend Wickes," she said.  "I promised him
weeks ago I'd beat up a little talent for his concert to-night, and I
have never done it.  For heaven's sake, somebody, volunteer!  Is there
a woman here who can sing in tune?"

"Do you sing, Susan?" said Barnaby.

"Oh, the man's affectation!  Does she or does she not?"

She did not know what impelled her.  Perhaps his carelessness; his
unshaken attitude of amusement at a position that was--to him--so
absurd.

"I could act something, perhaps," she said.  The Duchess jumped at her
offer.

"Booked!" she declared.  "Stop that man clattering past, and tell him I
want him to sing _John Peel_.  And, Cherry, you'll do for a comic song.
You're men, and it doesn't matter about your voices, so long as you
wear red coats."

The young man she was ordering pushed away his cup with an injured air.
A murmur of--"Delighted, I'm sure.  Delighted!" floated up from the
street.

"You know I have only one song," he said, "and that is--_The Broken
Heart_."

"Well," she said unfeelingly, "you can make it comic."

"Are you coming?" said Barnaby.  He was waiting; some of them had
already started.  The girl caught up her gloves and whip.

"Good-bye, all of you," said the Duchess.  "I beg you'll remember your
obligations.  Barnaby, the thing is at eight.  Call down to _John Peel_
and tell him....  Whatever you do, don't let my performer come to any
harm."

"I will not quit her side for a moment," he promised, and the Duchess
shook her head at him as they ran downstairs.

He was laughing as he put her up in the saddle.

"It appears you don't know how to manage a husband," he said.  "Don't
look so sorrowful.  _I_ don't mind them.--And the general public is
anxious to lend a hand."

They rode soberly side by side, over the noisy cobbles, down to the low
white bridge thronged with pedestrians, threading their way amidst the
stream that was turning in at the gates farther on to the right.

"We'll keep on, shall we?" said Barnaby.  "Hounds will be moving
directly, and there'll be a fearful crowd getting out of the Park."

So they held on between the lines of townsfolk and, turning upward,
fell in with a cluster of horsemen on the watch, loitering on the hill.

"Awful bore, meeting in the town like this," said one of these
peevishly.  His horse was eyeing a perambulator strangely, and there
was no space for antics.  "Why do the Quorn do it?"

"Oh, it pleases the multitude."

There was a roar down below, and a scuffling noise as of hundreds
running.  Above the bobbing heads passed a glimpse of scarlet, as a
whip issued from the green gates, clearing a way for hounds that were
hidden from view in the middle of the throng.  Barnaby turned his horse
round.

"Come on," he said.  "We'll wait for them out of the town.  I suppose
it's the customary pilgrimage?  Gartree Hill."

Behind them, louder and louder, drowning the tumult, came the
quickening tramp of horses.  Their own animals grew excited.

"Sit him tight!" said Barnaby.  Her horse had nearly bucked into the
last lamp-post at the top of the hill.  He would not wait peaceably at
the corner, so she took him a few yards farther on, straight over the
brow, where the way was not street, but road, looking down upon open
country.

"Hullo!" said Barnaby.

The fields that spread underneath were bare and wind-swept; there was
no sign of life in them.  But what was that brownish dab on the right?
Incredulously he watched it travelling up the furrow;--and, convinced,
let out a wild yell that made their own horses jump.

"It's a fox!" he said.  "It's a fox.  Keep your eye on him, Susan,
while I fetch them up."

He galloped back, waving his hat to hurry the startled host.  The
huntsman came swiftly over the hill, and a glance assured him; he
touched his horn.  In half a minute he and his hounds were scouring
over the fields, and the riders who had been at the front were jumping
out of the road.

"They've found.  They are running!"

The cry was flung from lip to lip along the bewildered ranks that had
closed up in expectation of the long jog to cover.  A minute more and
the crowd had burst like a scattered wave, far and wide.

Down the slope; up a rise; in and out of a lane defended by straggling
blackthorn; dipping over the skyline; the pack was gone.  Only the
quickest could live with them, only the first away had a chance of
keeping up in the run.  They were just a handful as they landed over a
stake-and-bound into a rolling pasture, a great rough waste where the
ridges rose up like billows, crosswise, submerging the horses that were
shortening in their stride.

"Good for the liver!" groaned Kilgour, as he rocked up and down.  "But
what a sell for the crafty ones waiting on Gartree Hill!"

"They'll cut in with us at Great Dalby," said Barnaby, flinging a
glance that side.  The pack hung to the left, still flying.

"Not much!" said Kilgour.  "D'you suppose the fox is stopping with
Lydia Measures for a bottle of ginger beer?--What did I tell you?
There they go, wide of the village, over the Kirby lane----"

He broke off his ejaculations, pointing triumphantly with his whip,
pushing on.  A man of his build could not afford to lag behind, unlike
those light-weights who could lie by and then come like a whirlwind and
make it up.  He must keep plodding on.  But he took no shame to diverge
suddenly to a gate.  Let the young 'uns surmount that rasper.

On the high ground above a breathless horde struck in.  Rumour, or the
wind, or some saving instinct had warned them; they had come at a
breakneck pace from their shivering watch elsewhere.

Susan, riding her hardest, with her chin up and rapture on her face,
laughed as she heard the frantic thudding of that pursuit.

"They've missed a bit," cried Barnaby at her shoulder.  Her horse was
faster than his, but was tiring.  She was glad to steady him as the
pack ran into a strip of trees.

"What a scent!" said Barnaby.  "Hark at them!  They're sticking to
him;--they're driving him up the Pastures!"

He swung round in his saddle, still keeping on.  The rearguard, no
longer in desperation, were trooping contentedly down the road.

"They'll get left," he said.  "They reckon on losing him.  Silly asses,
they're lighting their cigarettes!"

Slower, but steadily, hounds were running up the wood.  Their cry
increased in volume, vociferous, echoing in the trees.  It sounded a
hundred times louder than in the open.  And this time there was no
changing foxes; they drove him too hard.  Out he went at the top, and
had no time to twist and turn in again; they were on his heels.  Beyond
was a steep drop into a village, and then a long struggle, and another
drop to a ford.  As the last of them were splashing through the water,
the first of them were swinging out of their saddles and turning their
horses' heads to the wind.  They had run to Baggrave, and killed their
fox in the Park.

"Three cheers for Barnaby and his outlier," said Kilgour.  "That was no
poultry-snatcher, but a real beetle-fed warrior.  What the dickens
shall we do next?"

"Oh, get up in a tree, somebody, like Sister Anne; and rake the horizon
for second horses!"

Susan knew that voice.  It was Rackham.

"Get up yourself," said Kilgour.  "Your history isn't sound.  _I_ don't
trust my weight on anything but a watch-tower."

Susan had turned away her face; she did not want to have to acknowledge
Rackham, although he had no shame in approaching her.  Nervously she
plunged into a rapid argument with Kilgour, whose broad and comfortable
presence was a kind of buckler.  But through it all she was conscious
of him, she heard his voice.  He and Barnaby were arranging something
about a horse.  She did not catch the drift of it, but Rackham turned
to her pointedly and asked her opinion.

"I wasn't listening," she said.  His glance was penetrating; she could
not escape it, and recollection burnt in her cheek.  She heard Barnaby
whistle suddenly to himself.

Hounds were moving at last, not hurrying, but drifting across the park,
searching as they went; and second horsemen were springing up out of
nowhere.  Those who were lucky were changing horses.  Already it was
far on in the afternoon.

"That's the worst of beginning so late," said Kilgour.  "The day's gone
before you know it.  And here we've been dawdling, munching....  Now
we'll just get away with the twilight after dodging backwards and
forwards for an hour or two between the Prince of Wales's and Barkby
Holt."

"Shut up, ill prophet!" said Barnaby, as they gathered close in to the
cover-side.  Already there was a whimper.

But it was late before the prophesied shilly-shallying came to its
appointed end, and those who had resisted the false alarms, sticking
patiently on guard at a windy corner, saw a fox break at last.  A
misleading holloa had drawn off the field; they were massing on the
other side, out of sight, out of hearing in the rising wind that
carried away with it the warning note of the horn.  And hounds were
slipping out like lightning.

"Come on!" said Barnaby.  This time there was no mistake.

It didn't matter that there was a rival shout behind the dense thicket.
Let those who liked it exclaim that the pack was divided, and miss a
run to hang skirmishing for ever and ever about the Holt....  They had
a fox away, and at least half the hounds were on him as he dipped the
rise and went spinning into the infinite.  Just a handful of riders
they were, but high-hearted, as they turned their faces towards the dim
red line of the sinking sun.

Miles and miles they seemed to go swinging on.  Behind a grey church,
round a silent village, and under a rustling wood.  The wind was fresh
with the breath of twilight; its withering blast died down with that
last stinging gust of rain.  And hounds were still running as swift as
shadows, flickering far and fast.

One by one the rest of them had fallen back; had steadied their
faltering horses and listened, beaten.  Susan could hardly see the
fences as they came up, darker and darker against the sky.  But her
horse rushed at them gallantly, and she had Barnaby to follow.  Hounds
were invisible now, but near; their cry was fierce behind that clump of
trees, impenetrable but for one glimmering gap of light.

"They're running him still!" called Barnaby, plunging in.

His voice was all she wanted.  She could not ask more of Heaven than
this one gallop; and all her life she would remember that she had
ridden it out with him....

They had to ride warily through the trees, feeling their way, trusting
in their horses.  Here the path was deep and boggy, there water
trickled, and the boughs hung low, swishing against them as they went
by.  Birds whirred restlessly in the creaking branches, and an owl flew
shrieking in front of them.  When they emerged from that eerie passage
everything had grown weird and strange in the cheating dusk.

"That's the horn," said Barnaby.  "He's calling them off.  Doesn't it
sound unearthly?--There they are.  Listen....  Listen....  They're
running him in the dark!"

Far away on the hillside a light twinkled suddenly, turning the
twilight land into darkness as the first star makes it night in the sky.

Barnaby laughed.  "That was a hunt!" he said.  "Hark! he's stopped
them.  We'll have to find our way out of this.  Why, we can't see each
other's faces....  Let's keep on a bit up this hedge-side, and perhaps
we'll get into a bridle-road."

He went first, striking into a kind of track.

"There should be a gate in the corner," he said.  "Better let your
horse get his head down and smell out the rabbit-holes.  We're like the
babes in the wood, aren't we?  Mind that grip!--Where are you?"

The gate was there.  They passed through it, and on the other side was
a sign-post.  Barnaby struck a match, standing up in his stirrups to
peer at the moss-stained board.

"I'm afraid," he said, "we'll be late for that concert.  Unless we can
strike Kilgour's habitation and get him to send us on.  Shall we try
for it?  We're--oh, never mind where we are; it's the end of the world,
anyhow.  Are you tired to death?"

He turned round with the match in his fingers, and looked at her, but
it had burnt down; he dropped it, and reaching out, caught her hand,
swinging it in his as their horses stumbled on side by side.

"What a cold little hand!" he said, but his grip was warming it through
the leather....

The end of the world....  He had used the word so lightly, but it
called her back to reason.  Another day was over.  And perhaps
to-morrow the world might end.



CHAPTER IX

The Duchess and her friend Wickes were a trifle anxious, but their
faces cleared as the late ones arrived.  Two or three rows behind them
the village schoolmaster dropped like a shot rabbit into his seat.

"A minute later and we'd have been lost," whispered the Duchess.  "It's
always a battle to keep him off the platform.  Once he is wound up no
power on earth can stop him.  Twice already he has offered his
recitation, proposing to fill the breach."

"Poor devil, what a shame!" said Barnaby.  "Why not let him?"

"We did let him--once," said Wickes, and a reminiscent shudder passed
down the row.  He addressed himself eagerly to Susan.

"It's awfully good of you, Mrs. Hill," he said, the worried creases in
his long face relaxing.  "Every time I get up a village concert I swear
it will be the last, but I go on doing it year by year.  You have no
idea what the tribulations are----"

"That is meant for me," said the Duchess, lowering her voice to a
guilty whisper.  "--I ask you, how could I help it?  You know what a
commotion there was this morning, getting off to the meet.--I told
somebody to call down from my window to Rufus Brown that he was to
attend this concert and sing _John Peel_.--I could tell him a mile off
by his old grey horse; you know how the creature bobs his head up and
down:----"

"_I_ did your bidding," said Barnaby.  "You only said 'Stop him!' and I
don't know who on earth it was, but it certainly wasn't Rufus."

"How was I to know," groaned the Duchess, "that he had sold the grey?"

"But the beggar was quite delighted," protested Barnaby, who saw
nothing worse than a joke in this substitution of a probably voiceless
stranger.  "He undertook to do it."

The Duchess pointed a solemn finger.

"Barnaby," she said, "you have been out of the world too long.  You
don't know the whole horror of the position.  There he sits!"

"Flushed with victory," murmured someone else, "hoarse with
bawling:----"

"It was an awful moment," said the Duchess, "when he came and thanked
me for the compliment I had paid him.  I've never spoken to the wretch
in my life."

"He feels you have adopted him now," said the Job's comforter at her
elbow.  "Barnaby, you don't know him.  He's the most impossible bounder
who was ever kicked out of society, and we have all been turning him
the cold shoulder for the last two seasons.  We were beginning to hope
we had finally choked him off."

"Poor Wickes is nearly beside himself," said the Duchess.  "He will
never get over it.  But imagine my feelings when I discovered what I
had done----"

"The populace at the back didn't know what to make of it; they are used
to us rollicking in _John Peel_,--shouting out the chorus.  But we were
all too utterly petrified to emit a whoop----"

"Is there anything you would like in the way of properties, Mrs. Hill?"
said Wickes, in a severe, sad voice.  Susan looked down, suddenly
nervous, her hands clenched, her face a little pale.

"What is your wife going to do?" Kilgour was asking, and Barnaby was
answering carelessly that he didn't know.

"She is rather a dab at acting," he said, and now he was looking
humorously at her.  But for once she failed to smile back her
recognition of the eternal joke between them....  Yes, she was good at
acting....

"Turn the lights down," she said, and Mr. Wickes flew obediently to the
nearest lamp.  Anything to obliterate past misfortunes!--"And there is
a woman at the back with a baby.  Ask her to lend it to me."

She had meant to amuse them differently, but some impulse had made her
change her mind.  She flung a dark shawl, borrowed, over her satin
frock.  Mr. Wickes came back to her, carrying the child gingerly; its
mother had relinquished it with pride, only protesting against his
taking it up by the back of its neck like a puppy, which Wickes,
distracted by his responsibilities, had seemed inclined to do.

They were all looking at her with interest, mildly stirred to expect
something unusual, as the anxious Wickes helped her on to the platform
and lowered another lamp.  But as she stood above them their curious
faces faded, and the touch of the little body, so light in her arm,
took her out of herself.  She was once more playing, playing for life,
in the Tragedy Company; making the people sob at the tragic end of the
drama.

"--Don't waken the child...."

The first note of her voice vibrated like the plaintive string of a
harp.  The listeners were startled.

She was the woman whose husband was faithless and, in the horrible
madness that gripped him, was coming to take her life.  She was shut
in, hidden in a poor shelter, miles away from human help; and she was
listening for his step in terror, loving him so bitterly still that she
would have been glad to die, but clinging desperately to life for the
sake of his child.  And she rocked the baby on her arm, half
distracted; singing to it, ceasing her chant to listen ... and
imagining his approach.  But all the while, in her despair, she stifled
the scream that was on her lips;--she must not waken the child.

Farther and farther she retreated, staring with frightened eyes at the
door, but still hushing the baby at her breast; and then, all at once,
she stopped, and bent her face to its cheek.  A pause hung,
significant; and then came her cry, dreadful, heart-breaking.  The baby
was still.  He might come; he might kill her ... he could not waken the
child....

"Good heavens, how real!" said Mr. Wickes.

Susan, breathing a little quicker, looked down on the dim-lit audience.
All these women could ride, all these women could dance....  She wanted
Barnaby to think of her sometimes, later.  Would he remember her by the
one thing they could not do? by that wild scrap of melodrama?

The room was shaking with an almost hysterical applause.  Behind there
was an enthusiastic stamping.  And the only woman who was not crying
was the baby's mother, who was too flattered, and one other who looked
on with disdainful eyes.

"Did you like it?" asked the actress wistfully.  It was Barnaby himself
who had come forward to help her down.  She could not hear what he
said; it was under his breath, and it was drowned in the clapping.

The lights had gone up again; she could recognize the people who were
surrounding her, as she stepped down amongst them.  Near the wall, not
very far from the Duchess, who was frankly borrowing a large, masculine
handkerchief, were sitting a thin, fair woman, and a big, stupid,
slow-witted man.  They both had an odd look of having just found each
other.  The Duchess wagged her head at them.

"Yes," she whispered, "there they are.  They have made it up....
Wickes, don't you think it would be a noble deed to invite the
schoolmaster to play God Save the King?  It will get his name into the
local paper."

"Certainly," said Wickes.  He took a long breath, conceiving his
troubles over, remaining, however, with his eyes fixed on Susan in a
kind of awed curiosity.  Finally he spoke out the problem in his mind.

"Do you mind telling me," he said, apologetically, "what spell you
used--how you contrived to keep the infant quiet?"

"Oh, she's a witch!" said Barnaby.

"Yes, she's a witch," said the Duchess kindly, "but I know the secret.
It had a comforter in its mouth."

They were all moving now, bustling out of their chairs, and blocking up
the gangway with their "good nights."  The proletariat was waiting for
them to depart before shuffling out of the shilling benches.  And there
was Julia, paler than usual, but as lovely, smiling at Barnaby, giving
him a long, strange look that was full of pity and understanding....

"You're done up," said Barnaby.  "Come along.  I shouldn't have let you
be dragged into this performance on the top of a hard day's hunting."

She kept her lip steady, wishing she had not seen that interchange of
glances; shrinking absurdly from the implication that was conveyed by
Kilgour's officious interposition of his broad person.  Did he think he
could arrest the march of events by planting himself like a kind ox
between Barnaby and Julia?  Did he think they would not find means--?
Still she kept her lip steady, letting Barnaby hurry her down the room;
reminding herself that she had no right to feel insulted, or even a
little sad.

      *      *      *      *      *

When they reached home she was going straight upstairs, as was her
custom, but Barnaby stopped her.

"Don't go up yet," he said.  "You ate no dinner.  I told them we'd have
something when we came in."

She let him draw a chair for her beside that red fire in the hall that
always tempted the weary to go no farther; and bring things that she
did not want out of the dining-room.

"I've sent away the servants," he said.  "I've got out of the way of
them flitting round me.  You'd rather sit here, wouldn't you, and get
warm and let me forage?"

For a little while they were gay, and then he cleared away plates and
glasses, and a silence fell between them.  He settled down in another
of the great chairs and lit a cigarette.  A smile curved in the corners
of his mouth and vanished; he was thinking hard.  Susan watched him,
shading her eyes with her hand that he might not raise his head
suddenly and read their wistfulness.  She was not often alone with him
in the house.

What was he thinking?  His face was no longer careless; the kind blue
eyes were fixed earnestly on the fire.  She remembered the strangeness
of Julia's look and her heart ached, guessing.  Something must have
happened between them; he must have let her see unmistakably that he
loved her still.  For there had been no restlessness in Julia's air, no
bravado,--it had been the smile of a woman who was sure.  And he had
himself set a barrier between them.

She felt a wild longing to comfort him, to take his head on her arm and
whisper that nothing was too hard for a man,--nothing worth that
steadfast, unhappy gaze.

He moved, and the start it gave her set her pulses beating fast.  If he
had not stirred, might not the impulse have been too much for her?
might she not have found herself kneeling by him, comforting him in the
madness of her heart?  She heard her own voice, imploring, sharp as if
in some stress of mortal fright--

"Oh, let me go!  Oh, will you not let me go?"

He had looked up quickly.  The sobbing wildness of her cry broke in on
his absent mood.

"You are tired of the farce?" he said.

She came back to herself.  What was the matter with her?
"I--cannot--bear it," she said slowly.

And for a minute there was silence again between them.  She heard the
fire crackling, a far-away clock ticking on the stairs; ... she thought
she could hear the silence itself.

"I didn't know it was hurting you," he said.

He was sorry for her; he must not be sorry.  She tried to laugh.

"Don't think of me," she said.  "It--it didn't matter.  After all, I'm
an actress.  I am one of these strange people that can pretend.  Let me
go back to the other kind of acting, where nobody will think me real;
where there will be crowds applauding, and not just one person to be
amused and say--'She carries it off well, but she'll make a slip,--she
will stumble!' ... Oh, it couldn't hurt me.  Don't you know we can only
hurt ourselves?"

"Do you think I'll let you go back to that life?" he said.

His voice recalled the raging warmth of pity with which he had once
referred to his lawyer's tale of her plight.  Apparently the situation
still roused in him a mistaken feeling that she was in his charge.  She
flushed, struggling with a betraying weakness.

"A hard life," she said, "but not unbearable....  My public will not be
cheated.  They will not shame me with too much kindness----"

Barnaby was not listening.

"Who was the man,--that fellow last night?" he said.

Why did he speak of that?  Did he dare to imagine that she was building
on another man's promises? that she was scheming, calculating--?

"No,--" she cried bitterly.  "No,--not that!"

A great while after, it seemed to her, he spoke again.  His voice was
quiet.

"I think you are right," he said.  "It's time to make an end of this.
It's too dangerous."

"Yes," she said faintly.  That at least was true....

He went on, rather quickly.  She was not looking at him.  She could not.

"Listen.  To-morrow you'll have a wire from London.  I'll see to it.
I'm afraid we can't make it a cable; there isn't time.  It will have to
be from my lawyers, saying you are wanted in America on important
business.  My mother doesn't understand business.  Anyhow, you'll be
excited, and you needn't know what it means; so you can't explain."

"Yes," she said, in the same low voice.  "To-morrow."

"We'll have to see about boats and things when we get up to town.  And,
of course, we'll have to make up a story.  But once you're out of this
country----"

Yes, once she was out of this country it would all be simple.  She had
only to disappear.

"What will you say of me?" she asked, with a sad quaintness.  "Will you
tell them that I am dead?"

He moved suddenly, checking himself.

"Oh, God knows!" he said.  "It will take a lot of planning.  You've
forgotten the--other lady."

Yes, that was his difficulty.  Although she would be gone there would
still be a bar between him and Julia.  That was the tragedy.

"I'll be out when the wire comes, probably," he said.  It seemed to
amuse him to settle the details; he seemed to be flinging his
seriousness aside.  "Rackham is coming over to try a horse.  For form's
sake you'll have to send for me immediately.  I'll be somewhere down in
the schooling pastures."

The nearness of exile took away her breath.  But the impossible
situation could only have ended so.  That had been their bargain.  At
least she had not failed him, she had done all that he asked of her,
drinking the bitter cup of her own dishonesty to the dregs.  A rush of
memory carried her back to that first night of his return, so distant,
and yet such a little while ago.  She held out her hand to him, humbly,
uncertainly--

"Good night," she said.  "You--you have been good to me."

Barnaby took her hands in his; clasped them hard.  It was surely not
his voice that was so unsteady.

"It's the last time, is it?" he said.  "Let's play it out gallantly.
Let's pretend.  Susan,--Susan--is that how you say good night to your
husband?"

Her heart beat fast; her head was dizzy.  He was looking down in her
eyes, drawing her hands to his breast.

No, not Barnaby:--not the one man she trusted!...

"Good night,--Sir," she whispered.

And he remembered; he let her go and stood back as she passed him on
her way to the stairs.

"Good night," he repeated, in that queer, unsteady voice.  "I beg your
pardon,--Madam."



CHAPTER X

To-morrow had come.

It was the same kind of morning as other mornings; there was no lurid
conflagration lighting up the sky.  Outside it was dull and quiet, and
even the wind was still.  Susan paused at the staircase window, gazing
a little while.

In the hall beneath she heard Barnaby talking to the dogs.  And his
voice shook her.  The stunned sense of finality that was with her gave
way to a sharp and sudden pain.

She could not bear to go down to him.  Turning, she fled back.

"Is that you, Susan?" called Lady Henrietta.  She was sitting up at her
breakfast, and the door of her room was ajar.  "Where is Barnaby riding
out so early?  I heard his boots creaking as he went by."

"I don't know," the girl said, truly.  "I haven't seen him."

"Then don't loiter like a draught in the door," said Lady Henrietta
impatiently.  "Come in and have your tea up here and help me to read my
letters."

She did as she was bidden.  The sharp kindliness of Barnaby's mother
was sweet to her; and it was the last time she would sit with her, the
last time she would listen with a smile that was not far from tears to
her caustic prattle.  Whatever happened to her, however they managed
her disappearance, she and Lady Henrietta would never meet again.
Would she think of her sometimes,--kindly?--She was not to know....

"What's the matter now?" said Lady Henrietta suddenly.  "You look pale."

Hurriedly the girl defended herself from the imputation.

"Of course, it's Barnaby," said Lady Henrietta, undismayed.  "I suppose
he has been behaving badly."

"Oh no!  Oh no!" cried Susan.

Lady Henrietta waved her hands impatiently.  How fragile she looked,
how pretty;--the pink in her cheekbones matching her painted silk
peignoir.  The hardness that sometimes marred her expression had
softened to a pitying amusement, and she had a look of Barnaby when she
smiled like that.

"You'd deny it with your last gasp," she said.

Susan was picking up and arranging the letters that were lying in
disorder.  It was difficult to sustain that quizzical regard.  But
Barnaby's mother had not finished with her.  She was not to be
distracted.

"You never tell me anything, either of you," she said.  "What is a
mother-in-law for but to rule the tempest and shoot about in the
battle?  It's too firmly fixed in your heads that I am a brittle thing,
and whatever is raging round me I am not to be excited.  And it's
absurd.  I don't mind having a heart,--in reason.  It's amusing; a kind
of trick up my sleeve.  But I won't have it robbing me of my rightful
flustrations.--I am as strong as a horse, if you two would realize it.
And you and Barnaby are such a funny couple."

She scanned the girl's face a minute.

"I'm attached to you, you little wretch," she said.  "But I don't
believe you care a straw for him."

But as she spoke her merciless eyes had pierced the girl's mask of
light-heartedness.  On this last morning Susan was not mistress of
herself.

"You _are_ fond of him!" she said.  "Dreadfully, ridiculously fond of
him like any old-fashioned girl...."

"Oh, hush!" cried Susan.  Anything to stop that unmerciful
proclamation.  She flung herself on her knees, and her terrified
protest was stifled in Lady Henrietta's arms.

"How silly we are!" said she, but she held the girl tightly.  "I'm to
bridle my tongue, am I?  You are afraid I shall tell him?  Oh, you poor
little girl, you baby, is it as bad as that?"

She pushed her away, as if ashamed of her own emotion, and a fierceness
came into her voice, that had been entirely kind.

"If you allow that woman to ruin your lives--!" she said.  "Oh, I'm not
blind, I'm not altogether stupid--!  If you let her take him from
us--I'll never forgive you, Susan."

Having launched her bolt, all unconscious of its stabbing irony, she
recovered her bantering equanimity, and looked whimsically at her
listener.

"Why are you gazing at me," she said, "as if I were about to vanish?
I'm not going to die of it.  I am going to take the field."

      *      *      *      *      *

Barnaby was not in the house when the girl went at last downstairs.
She wandered in and out of the library, trying to smother her
expectation, listening without ceasing for the telegram that was to
come and make an end.  He did not appear at luncheon, and she sat
alone, pretending to eat, but starting at every sound.  Afterwards, to
quiet her restlessness, she went round to the stables to say good-bye
to the horses.

The pigeons flew down to her as she walked into the wide flagged yard.
She went to the corn bin and scattered a handful as they circled round
her and settled at her feet.  The men must be still at dinner.  There
was no stud groom to look reproachful as she tipped a little oats in a
sieve to give secretly to the horse that had been her own in this
country of make-believe.  She felt like a thief as she lifted the
latch.  It seemed wrong to be there by herself, without Barnaby.  She
had always gone round with him.

The horse lifted his beautiful head, and they stared at each other.
She patted his quarter with her flat hand, and he went over and let her
empty her parting gift in his manger.

"Good-bye," she said.  "Good-bye, old boy!"

Tears choked her.  She stumbled out through the straw and shut the door
on him.

All down that side of the yard there was a row of boxes.  The bay came
first, and then the chestnut that Barnaby had ridden yesterday
afternoon.  He pulled a little with Barnaby; ... he had never pulled
with her.  And there was the hotter chestnut that she had called
Mustard, and the brown horse that had been mishandled and had a trick
of striking out when a stranger came up to him in the stall.  She had
gone with Barnaby to look at him when he first arrived from the
dealers',--and Barnaby had caught her back just in time.  The horse
looked at her gravely, sadly, with no evil flicker in his eye.  Life
had dealt hardly with him as with her, and he seemed, best of them all,
to understand.  But Barnaby had forbidden her to go near him....
Mechanically she went on to Black Rose's box, but her place was empty.

There was a grey next door, an old horse that had carried her many
times.  He was to be fired in the spring, sold perhaps.  She leant her
head, shuddering, against him; and he licked at her hand like a dog....
What was the end of them, all these brave, patient, willing creatures?
A few seasons' eager service, and then, step by step, as the tired
muscles failed the undying spirit--knocking from hand to hand, harder
fare, worse misusage,--the dreadful descent into hell.

Once, on their way back from hunting, they had come suddenly on a
strange procession, a gaunt herd of worn-out shadows making their last
journey, staggering humbly along the wayside.  It was a haunting
tragedy.  Staring ribs, hollow eyes dim with misery,--and the cursing
driver thrashing one that had fallen, and lay in a quivering heap on
the grass.  She had asked what this horror was....  Just a shipload of
useless horses travelling in the dusk their unspeakable pilgrimage to
the sea.

And she had turned on the men riding at her side.  Shame on them, that
were English, that called themselves a sporting nation....  What a lie
that was! she had cried....

And Barnaby had said--"She's right there!" and the other men had not
laughed....

There were voices in the saddle-room.  One of the grooms crossed the
yard whistling.  She was still leaning her head against the old horse,
and she waited.  She did not want the men to stare at her and wonder;
she did not want them to find her there.

"The master took out Black Rose, didn't he?"

"Yes.  He's gone down the fields with his Lordship."

"Will he be riding her in the Hunt steeplechases?"

That was a stranger's voice, not one of Barnaby's servants.

"Can't say."--The stud groom was cautious.

"That's an ugly brute of his Lordship's.  Why didn't he ride him here?"
said another voice, joining in.

"He had to go somewhere in the motor, and so I'd orders to bring the
horse over.  It wasn't a job I envied," said Rackham's groom.

"If ever a horse was a devil, that one is," said the stud groom,
laconically.

"Wants a devil to back him," muttered Rackham's man.  "I never ride out
of our yard without expecting he'll down me.  Got a history, hasn't he?"

"Who told you that?"

"Stevens told me you'd passed a remark about him."

The stud groom received the insinuating suggestion with a dignity that
was proof against pumping for the space of a minute.  He chewed on a
straw discreetly.  Then his own knowledge became too much for him.

"If I told you his history, Arthur Jones," he said slowly, "you'd never
lay your legs across him no more."

"Then for God's sake tell it," said Arthur Jones.

The stud groom laughed grimly.  He was a man of saturnine humour, and
liked impressing his underlings.

"His Lordship knows," he said.  "If any man could cow a horse, he can.
Weight tells.  Weight and devilry.  But any other gentleman buying
Prince John I'd call it suicide.  If I didn't,--according to
circumstances, mind you"--he lowered his voice, not much, but
enough--"call it murder."

Would the men never stop gossiping and disperse?  She would have to
face their curious looks at last.

"I was up Yorkshire way when his Lordship bought him," said the stud
groom deliberately.  "Four of us was leaning over the bars at that
auction.  Two of us had a mourning band on the sleeve of our coats, and
the third chap had unpicked the crape off his a month ago.  When they
put Prince John in the ring there came a frost on the bidding.  They
said he'd ought to 'a been shot out of the road, and never put up for
sale.  His name wasn't Prince John then.  He'd been run in two 'chases,
owners up;--and he'd killed them both."

The men stood with their mouths open, digesting the horrid tale.  And a
stable lad ran into the yard from his vantage point on a hillock.

"They're down at the jumps," he said, "--and they're changing horses."

It was then that the girl came out, passing swift as an apparition.
The men fell back, touching their caps.

"I'll lay she heard you," said Rackham's man.

The stud groom looked after her curiously and, crossing over to the
door of the grey's box, that she had left unfastened, closed it without
a word.

She did not know why she was hurrying to the house.  What
half-conscious panic had seized her as her inattentive mind took its
wandering impression of the grooms' idle gossip?  What words had
reached her, lodging in her brain to inspire that wild sense of
impending trouble?  It was no good searching for Barnaby in the house.
He was down at the jumps,--changing horses.

"There's a wire for you," said Lady Henrietta.

It had come.  At first she looked at it stupidly, as if it, the signal,
were some trivial interruption.  She heard herself explaining, like an
unthinking scholar repeating a half-forgotten lesson.  "I must go away.
I--I have to go away."

"Bad news?" asked Lady Henrietta quickly.  Susan crumpled the telegram
in her hand.

"Yes, it's bad news," she said.  "It is from the lawyers."

Vaguely she recollected what she was to say.  Something about going up
to London at once, and perhaps on to America.

"Let me see it," said Lady Henrietta.  "Yes, it sounds urgent.  We'd
better send somebody to fetch Barnaby.  He will have to take you.  You
must catch the afternoon train."

"Yes, I must catch the afternoon train," repeated Susan.  That was
decided.  Had not Barnaby mapped it out?  She wondered dully how he had
managed to convey private instructions for that impeccable message; but
all the while she was thinking, thinking,--and suddenly she was
conquered by her wild, unreasoning fear for him.

"I'll go and find him," she said.

Lady Henrietta demurred, curious, desiring to cross-examine; but the
girl's face smote her, and she forbore to hold her back.

It was not far down the fields, and she went like a driven leaf,
possessed by a fear that would not be stilled by reason.  She had gone
down there sometimes to watch them schooling hunters, and she had
ridden the jumps herself, that day when Barnaby showed her how they
trained steeplechasers, with real wide hedges and a movable leaping
bar.  He had tried to prevent her risking the double, bristling with
difficulty, and she had defied him, larking over it, and then galloping
back to him to say she was sorry.

She counted the fences mechanically as they came up one by one, visible
against the winter sky; lines of artificial ramparts, defended by a
guard rail, made up with furze;--and the lapping rim of that actual
water jump.  The strange thing was that as she came nearer and nearer,
instead of diminishing, her premonition grew.  She talked to herself to
keep down her panic.

Why were so few men killed steeplechasing?  Because it was dangerous,
Barnaby had said.  It was the rabbit holes and the mole-hills and the
grips that broke your neck unawares....  That was the gate he had shut
between them, he sitting on his horse on the far side laughing, while
she practised hooking the latch and pushing it back with the handle of
her whip.  He had shown her first the nail studded in the horn of the
handle to keep it from slipping;--and then he had clapped the gate
shut, declaring that till she opened it fairly, without his help, she
should never pass.  And she had ridden through triumphantly at last.
It was the only thing he had had to teach her.  How quaint they were,
these heavy wooden latches....  She let the gate swing and ran.

Rackham was on Black Rose, and Barnaby on a chestnut.  They were
walking their horses when she caught sight of them, and Barnaby was
letting his look over a fence, flicking his whip at the ridge of furze
with its withering yellow blossom.  They were not talking loud, but she
thought his voice sounded angry.  The chestnut was restive.

"Keep still, you brute!" he said.

Something was wrong between the two men.  Some old antagonism had
flared up, rousing them to a hot discussion.  The chestnut lifted his
forefeet off the ground, and Barnaby shook his bridle carelessly,
warning him again to be quiet.  Then all at once up he went, seizing
the unguarded moment....

Crash!

The girl saw him rise, saw him stagger, falling back on his rider; and
she ran on with sobbing breath.

The chestnut rolled over sideways and struggled on to his legs.  A
little way off the mare was plunging, upset by what was happening; she
could hardly be controlled.  Susan had reached Barnaby, she had thrown
herself down beside him to lift his head from the rough grass where he
lay so still.  Rackham had dismounted; he was coming to help;--but she
was out of her mind with terror.  She caught up Barnaby's whip,
springing to her feet, lashing at him as if he were a wild beast that
she must keep at bay.  Then she dropped on her knees again, and laid
her cheek on Barnaby's heart, and the turf was heaving up round them
both.

Far off, indistinct, she heard troubled whispers, and one quite close.

"He's breathing still, my lady."  (That was the stud groom, who had
formerly served a countess.  He always addressed her so.)  She looked
up at him.

"He's living yet, my lady," the man repeated in an awed undertone.
"Best not try to move him.  They've sent a car for the doctor.  Best
let him lie till they come...."

He knelt on the other side, and one of the men stood over him in his
shirt-sleeves, folding up his coat.  With significant carefulness they
raised Barnaby's head a little and slipped it under.  And then they all
waited and watched for a hundred years....

When the doctor came he was still unconscious.  Something was broken,
and there was bad concussion.  It was possible he might be injured
internally, strained, crushed,--a cursory examination could not make
sure.  They stripped a hurdle of its furze, and he was lifted and laid
upon it; the men hoisted it on their shoulders and tramped with a
dreadful slowness through the fields to the house.

"I'll ride on and break it to his mother," said Rackham, averting his
eyes from Susan as he spoke to her.

"Yes," she said dully.  She had forgotten him.

And as it often is, the one who was thought least fitted to support a
shock took it coolly.  A lengthy experience of hunting accidents helped
her to seize, comforted, on Rackham's report of concussion, and to
believe in his blunt assurance that the whole thing was nothing worse
than an ordinary spill.  A more diplomatic messenger might have
terrified her with his gentleness, but she suspected no concealment in
a man who, without beating about the bush, looked her right in the face
and lied.  She did not see the men carry their burden in, and when the
others came to her, relieving Rackham, she was comparatively calm.  Her
active fancy was diverted by measures that she ascribed to a misplaced
anxiety for herself.

"I am not going to collapse," she insisted.  "It's too ridiculous
making this fuss about me and not letting me go to him.  It's not the
first time the poor boy has been brought back to me knocked silly.  You
needn't be so fidgety over me;--you had better look after Susan....  My
dear, my dear, I know what it is!  And concussion is a thing the
doctors can't cut you to pieces for, thank Heaven.  Give her a little
brandy!"

Rackham's glance met the doctor's.  The case was too serious to provoke
a smile.

Lady Henrietta had turned to Susan.

"Oh," she said, with the air of one who wished to demonstrate to an
over-anxious circle that she had her wits about her--"that telegram--!
Of course you can't go now.  We must wire up to town.--"

The girl listened to her without at first comprehending.

"Oh,--the telegram," she repeated.  How pathetically absurd that futile
invention sounded now.

"I must go to him," she said.

The doctor nodded encouragement.

"I'll bring a nurse back with me when I come again," he promised.

Into the girl's pale cheek came a sudden colour.  She lifted her head
and her eyes shone.  She held out her hand, and all at once it was
steady.

"No one else;--no one but me!" she cried.

Oh, the farce was not played out; the curtain was not down.  She was
still his wife to that audience; it was to her he belonged, to no
other....  Desperately she stood on her rights;--the poor, fictitious
rights she had purchased with all that pain.

"_You_ can't nurse him," the doctor was saying gently.  "You'd break
down; you would make yourself ill.  You don't know what you would be
undertaking."

But Barnaby's mother was on her side.

"Fiddlesticks!" said she.  She had brightened unaccountably; in her
voice ran a queer little tremor of satisfaction.  "Let her make herself
ill if she likes.  Why shouldn't she?  I've no patience with modern
vices, calling in hirelings--!  A wife's place is with her husband, not
quaking outside his door."

Susan was looking bravely in the doctor's doubtful face.

"You can trust me," she said, on her pale lips a wistful flicker that
hardly was a smile.--"I too was a--hireling, once.  I know how."

She knew he must yield.  What man would dare to stop her?  What man
would dare to dispute her claim?  Only Barnaby himself, who might one
day laugh at the tragic humour of her assumption.  A kind of despairing
joy shook her soul, and was blotted in a passionate eagerness of
devotion.  Barnaby was hurt, perhaps dying, ... and nothing could
conjure her from his side.



CHAPTER XI

The house had become very quiet.

Under Barnaby's windows and right down the avenue the crunching granite
was spread with tan.  The servants moved silently about their work,
even in the far kitchens whence not a sound could be heard.

For a long time he was unconscious; for a long time he lay breathing
heavily, and they could not tell if he was in pain.  Other doctors came
down from London, and Lady Henrietta had to be told what it was that
the girl was fighting with that pale and steady face.

"It's love, sheer love, that keeps her going," said one witness to
another, watching her courage in the deeps of agony and uncertainty,
and, at last, in the breakers of hope.

She was safe in giving herself without stint, because for a long while
he did not know her, and it did not matter to him who it was that was
soothing him with a passionate gentleness of which his jarred brain
would have no knowledge when it recovered its normal tone.  She could
sit at his bedside hushing him, whispering that she loved him, she
loved him, and he must sleep.

Sometimes he talked to her in unintelligible mutterings, sometimes his
rambling speeches, without beginning or end, were bitter to understand.

"You mustn't mind what he says," the doctor warned her kindly.  "It's
certain to be rubbish.  Generally they go over and over some silly
thing they remember.--I had a patient once who got into fearful trouble
through winding off something about a murder he had read in a book."

--That was after he had stood awhile listening gravely to Barnaby's
restless talk.

--"I'll find a way out.  Wait a bit, my darling....  We'll not have our
lives ruined by that mad marriage.  I'll find a way out for us."

It was not always the same.  Sometimes in the night it would be--"I
tell you she's my wife.  No, no, not the other.  Awfully good joke,
what?  Mustn't lose my head, though; mustn't lose my head."

And Susan would lay her cheek against his in an agony lest he should
hurt himself with his excitement.

"Sleep!" she would whisper, "oh, my dearest, lie still and sleep...."

"But I love her.  Don't you know that?  I can't marry my girl.  Because
I love her;--just because I love her--mustn't lose my head!"

Once after she had quieted him, and he had lain a little while
motionless he called her.

"Are you there?" he said.  His voice was so sensible that she trembled.

"Yes," she said softly, and he gave a sigh of content.  But soon he was
muttering again, and restless.

"She wants me to sleep," he was repeating, "she wants me to sleep."

No, he had not known who she was.  She bent over him, smoothing his
forehead with a tender and anxious hand.  Sometimes her touch was
magnetic.

"Yes," she said.  "Hush, my dearest."

"Kiss me," he murmured suddenly, "and I'll go to sleep."

And since at all costs he must be coaxed to slumber, she kissed him for
the woman who was not there.

      *      *      *      *      *

Slowly he turned the corner, slowly.

And at last she found him watching her one morning as she came towards
him with a cup in her hand, across the great, wide room.  She liked
this room; it was so vast and simple.  Its battered furniture must have
been his when he was a boy.  And there was no clutter of pictures and
photographs; only a few ancient oil-paintings of hounds and horses.
Above his bed a square patch in the wall-paper that was unfaded,
betrayed where a woman's portrait had hung once and had been taken down.

"Hullo!" he said.

He lay looking at her, thin and haggard, but his whimsical smile
unchanged.

"It's she," he said, "or is it the stuff that dreams are made of?"

"It is she," said Susan.

"I've been ill, haven't I?" he said.  "And I say, Susan, have you been
nursing me?"

"Yes," she said, steadily.

"I thought so.  I've had a kind of feeling that you were there.  What's
it all about?  Wasn't I down at the jumps with Rackham,--and the horse
went up--?  Did I get damaged?"

"Rather," she said.

"And you didn't fly to America?"

"No," she said.

His weak, amused voice, talking in pauses, smote on her heart.

"Ah," said Barnaby.  "It would have looked bad if you'd bolted,
wouldn't it?  No end heartless.  Susan,--oh, I've noticed things, off
and on,--you've been killing yourself looking after me.--"

His smile was troubled.  She shook her head at him.

"You didn't do it," he said, "because, oh,--because of some queer
notion that you owed us something--?  You didn't do it to make it up to
us,--to pay us out?"

She put her arm under his pillow and, raising him slightly, lifted the
cup to him and let him drink.  If Barnaby could have known:--if he
could have seen her claiming him in her hour of desperation--!  If he
could have dimly guessed what a dreadful happiness had walked hand in
hand with pain!  She had won something of her mad adventure.  She was
the woman who had nursed him, who had waked night after night at his
pillow.  Nobody could rob her of that.  And when she was gone he would
perhaps think of her with kindness....

"It wasn't remorse," she said.

"It's awfully good of you," said Barnaby.  "But why--but why----"
There was a faint eagerness in his puzzled voice.

"Perhaps," she said bravely, "it was the dramatic instinct.  How could
a poor actress forget all her traditions?  How could she help rising to
her part?  Don't talk....  Lie quiet and laugh at me all you want."

      *      *      *      *      *

One day Lady Henrietta came into the room with a budget of letters and
all she could rake of gossip.

"You two have been shut up so long," she said, "I believe you have both
forgotten there is such a thing as an outside world.  Why don't you ask
who has been inquiring for you?"

"Who has been inquiring for me?" said Barnaby.

He was propped high in his pillows, and was looking like himself.  In
the afternoon he was to dress and sit in a chair and read the paper.

"Everybody," she said.  "Poor Rackham has been two or three times a day
when you were bad.  Of course it was his horse that did the mischief.
He would not be satisfied without seeing Susan----"

"Did you see him?" asked Barnaby.  There was something a little odd in
his intonation.

"Susan see anybody?" exclaimed his mother.  "She had eyes for nobody
but her patient.  All the wild horses in Rackham's stables would not
drag her away from you.--He's thinking of going abroad for a bit, he
says.  To America, or Canada;--he confused me with his talk of cities
and mines and mountains.  I don't know if he has any idea of making a
fortune there or if he is looking out for a lady.  I said you might
have to go out there too, but the unfortunate accident had postponed
it,--and he said it was a bigger place than I fancied, but to let him
know if he could be of any use to you.  His manner was rather queer."

"Poor chap," said Barnaby.  "I daresay he is hard up.  It would have
been lucky for him if I--Why, what is the matter, Susan?"

"Don't tease her," said Lady Henrietta.  "You can't possibly realize
what a fright she had!"  She turned briskly to the girl, however.  "We
never heard any more of that mysterious telegram that was to carry you
off so quickly the day Barnaby was hurt," she said.  "Have you quite
forgotten it?  Does absolutely nothing matter to you but him?"

Barnaby had begun to laugh, weakly, uncontrollably.

"Oh, that will keep," he said.

"What do you know about it?" said Lady Henrietta, catching him up
sharply.  "It came when you were out.  I understood she was looking for
you when she witnessed your smash.  And I'm convinced it has never
entered her head from that day to this."

Then she remembered her heap of letters.

"Look at all these!" she cried.  "All begging for news of him!  And the
offerings!  There never was anything so romantic....  There's one old
woman down in the village that's killed her pig and, Barnaby--she sent
up a delicate bit in a dish for you."

"Romantic--?" said Barnaby.

"Oh, romance has singular manifestations," said Lady Henrietta.  "You
never know....  There was that girl of Bessy's, for example, who used
to write poetry.--She was too romantic, poor thing, and that's why she
never married.--She went in for hero-worship.  Used to go into kind of
trances of adoration over a famous soldier that she had never seen.
And once I tumbled over her sitting on the hearth-rug with her hands
clasped behind her head, gazing with a rapt expression into the fire.
I thought she was fighting his battles with him in her imagination, or
poetising; but she whispered--'Don't interrupt me!  I'm darning his
socks.--'"

She was turning over her letters.

"Here's one for you, Susan," she said.  "It's a London postmark.  A big
hotel, but rather a common hand."

Susan took it indifferently.  Lady Henrietta was already plunged in the
midst of a family letter; wherein an aunt of Barnaby's was presuming to
offer her advice.  She read out bits of it with little shrieks of scorn.

"'When Toby broke his leg I made a point of----'  Who cares what folly
she committed when Toby broke his leg?  'I do hope, Henrietta, you see
that the doctors do not permit the poor boy's wife to be in and out of
the sick-room.  It irritates the nurses.' ... Ah, but ours is a
romantic sick-room!  If _we_ had married a fool like Charlotte's
daughter-in-law--!"

She glanced up smiling at the other two.  Providence, not she, had
taken the field; and she had faith in its workings as efficacious.  But
Susan was not attending.  She was reading her letter still.  "My dear,"
said Lady Henrietta, "who is the common person?"

But she got no answer.

"Come!  Tell us," said Barnaby; and at his voice Susan started.

"Somebody I--used to know," she said.

Lady Henrietta had returned to her own correspondence.  Her mild
curiosity could wait until the girl had finished deciphering the almost
illegible scrawl.

"You might straighten the pillows for me," said Barnaby.

She tore the letter across and threw it into the fire.  Then she came
over to him and did what he wanted with a jealous eagerness that was
new.

"Was it a worrying letter?" he said, in a low voice.  He had nothing to
do but look at her.

"No," she said, "it didn't worry me."  But her tone was subdued, too
quiet, as if she had had a shock.

"I'm eternally grateful to you for burning it, though," he said; "that
abominable scent it reeked with was like a whiff of nightmare.  I seem
to remember it.  I wonder where I can have run across a woman who
advertised herself like that....  I'm glad you burnt it.  Considerate
nurse.  It was the only thing to do."

She was grateful to him for not insisting.  Not yet, not yet; not just
this morning! ... Afterwards she would tell him....  She moved away
from his side and picked up a newspaper from the pile that lay with the
letters.

"Do you know what you look like?" said Lady Henrietta, tapping her
cheek.  "Like a child that has been startled, like a child when an
unkind shake has scattered its house of cards."

It was true.  But such a tottering house, such a dream-built,
precarious house of cards!--

Lady Henrietta dropped her voice, ostensibly to communicate a paragraph
in the aunt's letter that was unsuited to the profane masculine
understanding.

"I don't want to pry," she said; "but was that by any chance an
anonymous letter?"

"Oh, no, no, it was not," said Susan.

"Not Julia's hand disguised?  That woman is capable of anything.  She's
been here several times inquiring.  Sending in brazen messages!--"

"Is there anything in the paper?" said Barnaby.

Susan glanced hastily up and down the sheet.  No, there was nothing.
Among the theatrical announcements an American play that had come to
London.

"She is looking in the advertisements!" said Lady Henrietta,
affectionately scornful.  "My dear, the poor boy is thirsting for
murders and politics."

The advertisements....  And among them----


"_To-night at 8._

"_The Great American Comedy--'Shut Your Windows' ... Mr. Rostiman's
Company.  Mr. Hayes, Mr. Vine..._" (a long list of names that were
unknown to her, and unmeaning);--"_And Miss Adelaide Fish_."

      *      *      *      *      *

Barnaby was up and dressed.

He was much amused at his own weakness, at his dependence on that slim,
supporting arm.  He let Susan settle him carefully in a chair, and then
frightened her by getting on to his feet and pretending to walk out of
the room.  She flew to him, scared, reproachful, making him lean his
weight on her shoulder as she brought him back.

"Tyrannical girl!" he said.

She looked down on him as he sat there, dressed and shaved, his clothes
fitting rather loosely, his blue eyes hollow.  How unspeakably dear he
was.  How hard to face emptiness....

"I'll put your mother in charge of you while I am gone," she said.

"Don't be too long," said Barnaby.  "I'll miss you."

Unwillingly her heart sank.  He would miss her.  In that little while;
in that scant half-hour--!

"Patient," she said, "you flatter."

And smiled at him bravely, and went away.


"I'll go to him immediately," said Lady Henrietta.  She was writing
furiously, despatching a counterblast to the aunt's interfering letter,
which had contained more warnings than she had read aloud.  It deserved
six pages.

"How do you spell inseparable?" she asked, hardly interrupting the
delightful business of administering a slap to one whose
daughters-in-law were not wax and whose sons were wild.  Distractedly
she glanced at Susan.

"You look wan," she said.  "I told them you were to have the motor with
the hood off.  Get all the air you can.  Do you mind taking this old
brooch into the town to be mended?"  Her eyes twinkled as she unpinned
it and put it in Susan's hand.

"There!" she said, "that will make sure you don't hurry back too soon,
pretending you have had your breath of air."

The girl went into her own room and slipped on a hat and coat.  While
she tied a veil round her head she remembered that in the diamond star,
which was the only thing in the house that was her own, a stone was
loose.  Since she must go in to the jeweller's on Lady Henrietta's
trumped-up errand she might as well take it with her.

The motor was not round when she descended, and she sank into one of
the deep chairs in the hall.  When she was away from Barnaby the
strength in her seemed to fail.  It had been heavily tried, and the
strain was telling on her, now that it was relaxed.

The tan that had been scattered on the avenue still deadened the sound
of wheels.  But she saw Macdonald, who was waiting to pack her into the
car, moving to the door; and rising, she went towards it.  She had not
time to draw back as she saw her mistake, for Julia was on the steps.

Swift in seizing her opportunity the visitor walked in at the open
door.  There was something belligerent in her entrance.

"How is he?" she asked, without preamble, addressing Susan.  Macdonald
had fallen back discreetly.

"He is better," said Susan coldly.  "I have to go out, Miss Kelly."

"I must see him," said Julia, in a low, intense voice that would not be
denied.  "I've tried and tried, but they never would let me in.  You
will take me to him."

"_I?_" said Susan.

Julia did not blench under these accents of proud surprise.

"Yes," she said.  "You daren't refuse me.  I know too much."

The assurance in her voice warned the girl that this was no hysterical
vapouring, but a challenge.  She answered her bravely, maintaining an
outward calm.

"I am sorry I cannot do as you wish," she said.

How lovely the woman was, with her angry flush, and her long-lashed
eyes.  How recklessly she spoke.  Some theatrical impulse in her had
overridden prudence; whoever liked might have heard her....  With that
odd irrelevance that keeps the mind steady under fire Susan was
wondering who it was that had said--"Yes, she's a beauty, but the back
of her neck is common----"

"You have no right to keep us apart," said Julia.  "I've been patient
... but this is too much!  After all I'm not stone; I'm a woman--With
all the world gabbling about you and your devotion--!  I daresay you
think you are getting an influence over him.  Poor Barnaby--!  All this
while you have had him at your mercy!"

She fixed her eyes on Susan with an indescribable stare of scorn.

"Will you take me to him?" she said.

"I will not," said Susan.

Julia came nearer.  They were practically alone.  Macdonald was putting
rugs in the motor.

"I believe you are fond of him," she said ruthlessly.  "Fond of him!
You the cheat, you the impostor--!"

Ah,--she had known what was coming.  She had read it in Julia's eyes.
Desperately she stood her ground.

"You insulted me once before," she said slowly.

"Yes," said Julia.  "Even then I was not blinded....  But now I know.
I've known ever since the Hunt Ball, when Barnaby----"

"Barnaby--?"  Susan repeated the word under her breath as if it was
strange to her.

"--When Barnaby said that you were not his wife."

The girl stretched out her hands unconsciously for a support that she
did not find.  There was a mist between them, and she swayed on her
feet.  Weak in spirit and body from her long nursing, she felt as if
someone had struck her a whirling blow.  In a kind of vision she saw
Barnaby and Julia dancing;--always Barnaby and Julia dancing;--people
had talked that night; they had sympathized with her....  Well might
Julia laugh at her disapproving world if he had whispered--that!  And
it was true.  She had only to look in Julia's triumphant face to know
that this thing was true.

She could not speak.  She turned and walked slowly towards the stairs,
and began to go up.  On the landing above she waited until Julia had
reached her side.  Then she went along the corridor without turning her
head until they had come to the end.

At Barnaby's door she stopped and, turning the handle, spoke at last to
the other woman, the woman to whom he had betrayed her.

"Go to him," she said.

And without another word she left her, and left the house.


Barnaby looked up, surprised.

Susan must have started, and Lady Henrietta would not open his door so
slowly.  Who was this rustling on his threshold?

She took a little run into the room, and stopped.

"Oh, Barnaby!" she cried emotionally.  "At last--!"

His unresponsiveness was thrown away on her excited mood.  Flushed with
victory she misread his expression, less like rapture than
consternation.

"This is a bit unexpected," he said.  "I'm not in very good form,
Julia.  I'm afraid I must ask you to excuse me--"

"Was I too sudden?" she said.  "Ah, poor Barnaby; how you are
altered;--how ill you look!  Let me do something for you--"

She rushed at him with enthusiasm, casting a glance around her for
illumination, and he could but smile at her hasty gesture, not yet
grasping its full significance, not realizing the jealous
self-assertion that lay behind her bewildering readiness to push him
back in his chair, to shake up his pillows, to administer some potion.

"I don't want anything, thanks," he said.  He was still grappling with
the problem of her appearance.

"Oh--" she cried, desisting, "to think of you, helpless all this time,
and in the hands of that woman--!"

"Are you speaking of my wife?" he said.

Julia laughed softly, reproachfully, and let her eyes rest on his.

"Foolish man!" she said.  "You might have trusted me.  Think what I've
had to endure!  Wasn't I punished enough for that ancient
misunderstanding?  Did you think I was so vindictive that you dared not
confide in me?  But I would have shared your burdens.  For your sake I
could even forgive your mother."

What was she driving at?  His mouth set in a stiff line that might have
warned her if she had not been so sure.

"I meant to wait," she said, "to pretend I was ignorant like the rest;
to hug the secret till you struggled out of that wicked tangle and came
to me.  I understand you so well.  I knew for whose sake you were
trying to avoid a scandal.  Oh, Barnaby, how mad it was--and how like
you--!"

"Julia," he said, "what do you mean?"

She missed the dangerous note in his voice, too quiet.

"I'm not angry with you--now," she said caressingly.  "But, Barnaby,
was it fair to me?  People are so uncharitable ... they talked cruelly
about us.  And if I hadn't known that she was not your wife,--if I
hadn't known you were free----"

"That's a mistake," he said grimly.  "I am not free."

She stared at him.  So great was her gift of illusion, so invincible
the vanity that in her was the breath of life, that she had put down
his stiffness, his strangeness, to the effort to keep his feelings in
control.  The glad shock of her visit must have been almost too much
for him.  But what was that he was saying?

"Oh," she burst out.  "Don't tell me she has entrapped you!  That's
what I was afraid of; that's why I felt I must see you at all risks, in
spite of all opposition.  I knew she would try to take advantage of
your weakness while you were her prisoner, while you lay here at her
mercy, no match for her--!"

No, he was not strong yet.  His forehead was wet and his mouth was dry.
He had a curious longing to find himself back in that cool bed yonder.

"Oh, for God's sake," he cried.  "Stop talking nonsense!"

His adjuration checked her passionate speech.  She remained gazing.

"I don't know," he said slowly, "how you got hold of
your--hallucination.  I don't know on what grounds you are making
that--accusation.  Did I hear you say that Susan was not my wife?
Don't repeat it."

Julia drew a quick breath of amazement.

"Barnaby!" she gasped, in an incredulous, startled voice.

"Don't repeat it," he said stubbornly.  Yes, the old fire was
extinguished, the old spell shattered.  And still she gazed at him,
unable to comprehend.  All at once she began to laugh.

"She did not deny it!" she said.  "At first she tried to keep me from
you, but when I told her I knew all,--that you had confessed it
yourself,--she was beaten.  Oh, anybody who saw her face would have
known the truth!"

She was frightened then.  His eyes were so blue and blazing.

"You told Susan," he repeated, "that I--that _I_ had said she was not
my wife?"

"Yes," she said, still defiant, but quailing a little before his look.

He stood up.  He was regarding her with an expression that held no
memories of the past.  It was all blotted out; no trampled passion, no
hidden tenderness stirred in him to excuse her.

"If you were not a woman--!" he said, in an implacable tone that was
unknown to her.--"You had better go."

      *      *      *      *      *

"What a monster I am!" said Lady Henrietta.  "How neglectful!--Was I
more than five minutes?  You'd have rung if you'd wanted me, wouldn't
you?  Poor boy, were you very dull?"

"It's nearly time for her to come back," he said.

He was looking tired.  Getting up had not done him good.  Feeling
somewhat guilty his mother sat down to amuse him and make up for her
lapse by half an hour's brisk attention.

Somehow his curious depression affected her.  She, too, began to listen
for the motor.

"I told her not to hurry back," she said apologetically, as time went
by.  "She's been doing far too much.  If she doesn't take care of
herself now you're better, she will break down."

"Wasn't that the car?" said Barnaby.

But no light step came hurrying up the stairs.

"I'll ask," said Lady Henrietta, and rang.  The servant who came knew
nothing, and was sent down to make inquiries.  She was puzzled by the
report.

"I can't understand this!" she said.  "Barnaby--they say the car has
come back without her."

His look alarmed her.  She jumped up quickly.

"I'll see the man myself," she said; "it must be some ridiculous
blunder."

She was a long time downstairs.  When she came back she was bewildered
and indignant.

"They tell me," she said, "that Julia Kelly has been; that she saw
Susan before she went out----"

"She came up here," said Barnaby.

"So the servants tell me," she said.  "I can hardly believe it--!  And
the man says that Susan made him drive her straight to the station.  He
heard her ask when there was a train to London.  There is no message--"

Anger was struggling in her voice with apprehension.  She looked
suspiciously at her son.

"Barnaby--" she said emphatically, "if this is Julia's doing--I'll
never forgive either of you!"

He had got on his feet, and stood uncertainly, as if measuring his
strength.  The look on his face struck her into silence.

"Don't couple me with Julia," he said, setting his teeth.  The sweat
was glistening like dew on his forehead.  "Poor little girl ... poor
little girl....  So she's gone.  Why, what's the matter with me?  What
an incapable fool I am!--How am I to go and find her if I
can't--walk--straight across a room--?"



CHAPTER XII

All London was placarded with that American play.

It ran through the streets in big letters on the omnibuses; it walked
in tilting lines in the gutter; it stared out from all the hoardings
with the wide smile of its principal actress ... Adelaide Fish.

And it was the gaudy poster that startled Susan out of the unhappy
listlessness that had fallen on her.  Facing her suddenly it arrested
her wandering step.

Adelaide Fish....  Had the world stood still after all, and was it this
morning that she had had a letter...?

"Hideously inartistic," said one passer-by to another.

"Still she's handsome.  I've seen her.  One of these big women----"

Yes, it was inartistic.  Reds and blues and greens in vivid splashes,
and the name writ large.  A marvellous jump from the bankrupt shifts of
the Tragedy Company to this smiling elevation.  And Barnaby was still
ignorant.  He had not been warned.

She thought of him now.  The passionate shame that had caught her up
like a flame sweeping all before it had died out.  She felt only a kind
of wonder at herself, looking back.  It was inevitable.  The impossible
situation could only have ended so....  But in the background all the
while was the woman.

She tried to shake off the lassitude of despair.  Why had she burned
the letter?  She had been going to tell Barnaby, although the writer
had forbidden her to share its contents with him.  It would have been
simpler to let him--but no, she could never have put that letter into
his hands.  Hard enough to look him in the face and tell him what she
could repeat;--that the woman who was his wife, the one in whose
likeness she had been masquerading, had written, and was in England.
But before she had spoken Julia had intervened and the waters of
bitterness had closed over her head.

Barnaby must not be left in the dark.  She had a wild and sudden
longing to do something for him still; one last service.  She could
find out from this woman what were her intentions towards him and if it
were a threat or a promise that had lurked in that ambiguous letter.

She must ask somebody where she was.  For the first time she realized
her surroundings, the roar of the traffic, the restless street.

      *      *      *      *      *

Outside the theatre an interminable train of people, wedged tightly,
endured with their faces turned towards the gallery stair; another
line, reaching far down the pavement and less good-humoured, guarded
the entrance to the pit.  The lights falling on their faces threw up a
singular likeness in expression, a kind of touch-me-not attitude that
defied their physical juxtaposition.  Squeezed like herrings, their
pained endurance was heightened by the universal lack of a smile.  And
the lines were haunted by a street musician strumming his lamentable
tune.

As Susan went up the dark entry she was pursued by unfriendly glances,
the quick suspicion that she was a late comer who must be turned back
ignominiously in her base attempt to push in at the head of the line.
As she vanished inside the stage door there was an interested murmur;
here and there a man unbent and asked his neighbour which of them she
was.  Then there was a click and the crowd went surging forward.  The
doors were open.

Miss Fish was in her dressing-room.

Like one in a dream the girl was breathing that familiar atmosphere of
the theatre.  It seemed to shut off for ever all that was yesterday.
She stumbled into a little room violently scented, full of blinding
light.  And a woman swung round and seized her hands.

"There you are!" she said.  "I can't kiss you--my face is sticky.  I've
sent away my dresser.  Wait till I shut that door!"

She made a dash and secured it, then pushed Susan into a chair.

"I'll have to make up while I talk," she said.  "Go on; go on.  I'm mad
with curiosity!  I am dying to hear it all."

"I had your letter," said Susan.

Adelaide laughed.  Her warm voice had a note of banter.

"I didn't know but you had waxed fat like Jeshurun," she said.  "Wasn't
it he that kicked?--So I wrote that letter.  I had to see you.  You
burnt it?  You didn't tell him?"

"He does not know you are here," said Susan.  "He has been ill."  Her
heart was beating painfully hard; the air in this close little room was
suffocating her.  It was not air....

"Yes?" said Adelaide.  "That's how I know about you.  My dear, don't
tell me!  I picked up a picture paper and saw a piece about him and his
accident, and his devoted American wife!--I'd so often wondered what
became of you.  It's tremendous!"

There was admiration in her gaze as she turned unwillingly from her
visitor to the glass, smearing her chin as she talked.  "I did hear of
him being alive," she said.  "I saw that in one of our papers, 'English
Gentleman Comes Back from the Grave' and so on.  I _was_ scared when I
thought of you.  They said what a joy it was to his wife and his
mother, and I thought they had been too hasty.  But there was never a
word more, though I watched the paper.  I decided he must have walked
into the offices here and said--'I do not desire you to mention
this'--I'd heard it was done sometimes by the upper classes.  But--!"

Again her face expressed unqualified admiration.  "You must have had a
nerve," she said, "you poor kitten!"

The girl sprang up, her mouth proud, her eyes imploring.

"Adelaide," she said, "you were good to me once, you--you tried to help
me.  Won't you believe me when I tell you I am nothing to him?  It was
all acting, all acting from beginning to end.  Never real, never what
you said in your letter.  I was only staying in his house
playing--that--part till I could disappear without scandal."

"What?" said the woman bluntly.  "Has he never said to you--'If I can
free myself of the other I'll marry you?'"

"Oh, never; never!"

"Then," said Adelaide, "it's not for your sake his lawyers are getting
busy, trying to find what they call flaws, trying to break his
marriage?  They can try....  You didn't know?"

She turned on the girl with a suddenness that took her unawares; read
her face.

"He's not playing you fair!" she cried.

It was remarkable, just then, how she resembled Julia.  Half dressed as
she was, half made-up, her eyes darkened, and scorn on her carmined lip.

"I'll give you a hold over him," she said.  "I'll stand by you.  Wasn't
it all my doing?  Who's that knocking?--You can't come in."

Good-nature was back as she turned from the interruption.  She smiled
indulgently, as one who was hoarding a gift.

"I wouldn't lift a finger for him," she said.  "But I'm silly over you.
I'll tell you.  And you can go back to him and make your bargain."

The girl shut her lips hard.  She must listen;--for Barnaby's sake she
must listen.  The shamed colour ebbed in her cheek.

"I'm not mad, or bad,--at least not to speak of," said Adelaide, "but
I'm careless....  Oh, I'll give you your Englishman, child; you needn't
look so stricken!  I once had a kind of a romance myself.  When I was a
young thing like you I married myself to a shabby little poet.  But I
grew tired of him muttering verses and dreaming things upside down; and
we had a divorce, and I ran and left him and went on the stage.  And
all the while that little man kept on writing; and when he'd used up
all his poetry, and all the dead kings and queens, he woke up and wrote
a play."

A queer pride, not unmixed with tenderness, came into her voice at that.

"What do you think?" she said.  "Nothing would move him but that they
should find me out and give me the star part.  'I have had her in my
mind all these years,' he said, 'and it is she.  No one but she shall
play it.'--All these years that I had forgotten him, he was building me
a ladder--."

She laughed abruptly, banishing sentiment.

"I've done all the talking," she said, "and I must, while you sit there
dumb with your big eyes asking me if it's to be the dagger or the bowl.
D'you remember when I was Queen Eleanor, and you were the Rosamond, and
the boys nearly shouted the roof down, begging you not to drink?  Ah,
those times, they were funny.  I've shot up since, like a rocket into
the sky."

Time was running out.  Somewhere in the distance there was a blare of
music.  She had finished making up, and she must let in her dresser.

"Listen to me," she said.  "His people haven't the clues to connect a
Phemie Watson they never heard of with Adelaide Fish.  You'll have the
start of them.  Make your terms; make your terms before James and I go
to housekeeping again....  I daresay he'd never find it out for
himself.  About that divorce--it was never fixed.  The lawyer wanted to
go duck-shooting, and I was gone, and James,--why, they're
unbusiness-like, these poets!--he says he had always hugged an
inextinguishable spark----"

She paused, looking impatiently at her listener, who was so silent.

"Don't you understand?" she said.  "I'm no more Mrs. John Barnabas Hill
than you are.  If you're wise you'll make him marry you to-morrow."

      *      *      *      *      *

Susan did not know which way to turn when she was in the street.  It
seemed much darker; it seemed as if she were lost.

She walked blindly on and on.  The people were ghosts that were
streaming by; their faces that gleamed and passed did not lighten her
terrible loneliness.  A straw in that human river, she was afraid.

There was a post-office on the other side of the street.  She almost
ran to it, unconscious of the swift perils of the crossing.

For she must write to Barnaby, and the thought of communicating with
him, poignant as it was, had a strange touch of comfort.  The bare
office became a harbour.

They gave her a letter card, and she wrote at the counter, with the
scratching office pen.  That was why it was so ill written.  It was
ridiculous how such a trifle hurt her.  Was it not the first and last
time she would ever write to him, and did it matter how badly, since it
was to tell him that there was no bar between him and Julia?  ...

He would be glad to have it....

She held it fast an instant before letting it fall into the yawning
slit.  She liked holding it in her hand, because it was a link between
her and all that lay behind that curtain of loneliness; because it was
going to him.  In a little while he would touch it, would wonder,
perhaps, at the unknown hand, hat poor scribble--!  She dropped it in
and it went like her own life into the dark.

For awhile she hurried, fighting her choking terror of the emptiness
that was left.  Why was it worse now than it used to be?  She had been
in strange cities, she had been friendless....  And somewhere behind in
the glitter that mocked the darkness there was still one person who
would help her, if she asked help; who would be kind to her lavishly,
without understanding.  She did not ask herself why it was impossible
to turn in her rudderless flight and appeal to the woman from whom she
had tried to guard her heart.  There was a gulf between her and
Adelaide.  Little by little the fear driving her seemed to fail, and
all other emotions grew indistinct, crushed by an infinite weight of
fatigue.  At last she could not think, could not suffer.  She only
wanted to go to sleep.

      *      *      *      *      *

It was a frost in Leicestershire.  There would be no hunting.

That first irrelevant thought struck Susan as she felt the sharpness of
the air breathing in on her face.  The narrow window above her head had
been propped a little way open with a hair-brush, and the curtain that
divided her bed from the next was agitated; she had a neighbour who was
astir.

With her eyes shut the girl imagined the grass frozen white, and the
branches silver; heard the rapping trot of a string of hunters
exercising in the long road beneath the park.

But this was not Leicestershire; it was London, and she was lying in a
narrow bed in a small square attic.  At the foot stood a washing stand,
with a jug and basin, at the head a chest of drawers.  There was not
room for a chair.

Was it last night she had followed a stranger bearing a candle up
flights and flights of uncarpeted wooden stairs?  The weariness of that
pilgrimage obliterated her stupefied sense of relief when the kind,
worn woman had consented to take her in, her absurd inclination to sink
down on the chair in the passage and fall asleep.  She had thought she
would never, never cease climbing stairs.

She remembered now.

Lady Henrietta had asked her once, when she and Barnaby had run up for
the day to London, to call on an old governess who was ill.  "In a sort
of lodging-house," she had said.  "One of these places where women live
in hutches and eat in the basement."  And the dreariness of it had
haunted her.  Somehow she had found her way there again.  The old
governess was gone, but the manageress recalled her face.  They would
not have taken her in without luggage at an hotel.

With that came the recollection that she was penniless.  The few chance
shillings that she had with her she had spent on her railway ticket.
She remembered thinking of that in the train;--she remembered finding
Lady Henrietta's battered brooch that she had pinned in her dress to
take to the jeweller,--and the diamond star that was the one thing she
had to sell.  Ah, that was between her and destitution.  She started
up.  What had she done with it?  She had been too utterly weary to
think or care.

The draught was beating the dingy dividing curtain that swung on its
iron rod; it bulged like a sail over the top of the chest of drawers,
sweeping it clear; and it parted, giving a glimpse of a girl beyond
with the star in her hands.  She started.

"I was just putting it back," she said.  "The curtain knocked it off on
my side.  How it sparkles!"

Susan stretched out her fingers, a little too eagerly.

"You needn't be so sharp," said the girl, disconcerted.  "I could buy
heaps like it for a shilling apiece at a shop in the Edgware Road," and
she threw it back carelessly, and began to whistle to show she was not
abashed.

She had a plain, good-humoured, impudent face and dusty hair.  On her
arms she wore a pair of black stockings with the feet cut off, fastened
by safety pins to her under bodice.  She was tying her petticoat.

"I want to sell this," said Susan.  In her loneliness she was loth to
offend a stranger.--"But I hope I shall get more than a shilling for
it."

"I'll give you three," said the girl, and then was all at once smitten
with awe.  "I say--you don't mean to say it's real?"

Her off-hand manner became subdued; she looked curiously but
respectfully at Susan.

"You came here unexpectedly, didn't you?" she said.  "Did you know you
had slept all Sunday?  Mrs. White said you were dead tired, and that
you were a lady.  I'll lend you my brush, if you like;--and a bit of
soap."

Susan smiled at this proof of confidence.

"I'll shut the window, shall I?" the girl went on, letting it slam as
she withdrew the hair-brush.  "I was airing my bed.  I always make it
before I go down because I'm anæmic, and I've no breath to run up all
these flights of stairs after breakfast.--If you want to be private you
can pull the curtain."

That was the one thing she would not willingly do for her; with her own
hands shut out the view of one so mysterious.

The other sleepers were stirring behind their enshrouding folds, like
hidden moths preparing to burst from the chrysalis.  In one quarter
after another the heavy breathing was cut short by an awaking sigh.
One or two emerged with their jugs and padded barefoot to the hot-water
tap on the landing.

"I'll get you a jugful, shall I?" said Susan's friend, and having
installed herself as mistress of the ceremonies, returned to the
subject of the star.

"Mind you don't try a pawnbroker," she said.  "If you take my advice
you'll walk into the swaggerest shop in Bond Street, where they are
used to ladies."

"Why?" asked Susan.

The girl assumed a great air of worldly wisdom, cocking her head on one
side like a London sparrow.

"Oh," she said, "_they_ won't be so likely to lose their heads over
you, and perhaps ask you how you got it."

She had not considered that.  Her dismayed look gratified the girl, who
at once adopted the manner of a protector.

"You'll be all right," she said.  "They'll know the difference in the
Bond Street shops.  It wouldn't do in the City."

      *      *      *      *      *

She had been in a jeweller's shop with Barnaby once, and it was in Bond
Street.  If she could find it ... the girl's suggestion had made her
nervous; she would have more courage in going where she had been with
him.  Would they eye her askance even there?  Would they make
difficulties, ask questions?  The thought harassed her.

She lingered a minute outside the shop, when she had found it; gazing
into the glittering window, so preoccupied with her errand that it
never entered her head that there might be anyone who would recognize
her among the idle people that were abroad.  Defending herself by a
haughty carriage she took a long breath and went inside.


"How are you?"

She started as violently as if she had been a thief.  She had never
expected to meet this man again; and there he was, holding her limp
hand in his.

"I saw you over the way," he said, "and plunged in here to catch you
and ask about Barnaby.  How is he getting on?"

At first she thought it must be in merciless irony he was speaking, and
plucked up a spirit to defy him.  He had glanced from her face to the
counter; he was a witness of her singular transaction.  She felt his
glance burn her.  What was he thinking of it?

"Oh, he is getting on very well," she said recklessly.

"Is he up here with you?" said Rackham.  Was it possible that he did
not know?--She gasped.

"No," she stammered.  And now he looked at her more strangely.  She was
gathering up the price of her star and turning to leave the shop.  They
had made no demur; they had given her more than she dared to expect....

"Which way are you going?" said Rackham.

"Your way isn't mine," she said.

He was keeping at her side; she could not outstrip his strides with her
flying little steps.

"But I want to talk to you," he said boldly.  "You were a little beside
yourself, weren't you, at our last meeting?  I've not seen you since
Barnaby's accident....  You blamed me for it, didn't you?  My dear
girl, if I had wanted to murder him I wouldn't have been so
clumsy.--What are you doing in London all by yourself?"

That last question came suddenly, just when his bantering speech had
roused her, and put her off her guard.  He was watching her face; and
it blanched.

"What's the trouble?" he said.  "Confound--!"

He had cannoned into another man, whose approaching figure he had not
marked.  It was Kilgour, in London clothes, who blocked the way, with a
growl for Rackham and a friendly hand-grip for Susan.

"Who's the man charging?" he grumbled.  "Though you can't see daylight
through me, still I'm not a bullfinch.  Come along, Mrs. Barnaby; you
are just the person I want.  I've been praying my gods for a
sympathetic eye.  Come and look at my masterpiece in the window."

His large presence was a safeguard.  She could have clung to him.

"Half Leicestershire is in Bond Street in a frost," he said.  "I knew
I'd run across somebody.  I've been up myself since Friday.  But what
is Barnaby doing in town?  What do the doctors say?"

What a fool she had been not to have dreaded this.  Half Leicestershire
in Bond Street!  And she had fled to London, the great, engulfing
city--!  She could have laughed wildly at herself, at her childish want
of precaution, her romantic imprudence in haunting places where she had
been with him, where it was so likely that she would meet his
acquaintances.  But what would he think of her when he heard that she
had been seen....?

Mechanically she walked on a few paces.  Rackham was still at her right
hand; he would not be shaken off.  And Kilgour was talking in his loud,
kind, friendly voice; taking it for granted that Barnaby and she were
in town together.  He did not guess that she was a runaway.

"It came to me in a vision on the top of Burrough Hill," he said.
"Rain and mist and the setting sun....  A kind of greyish-black
gauziness with a stripe of crimson.  There!  What do you think of that?"

With a grandiloquent gesture he pointed out a diminutive grey and black
turban throned in solitary majesty in the middle of a shop-window.  His
shop; his personal achievement.  A quaint pride sat on his good red
face, roughened by wind and weather.  It was somewhat akin to the pride
great men feel in doing little things.  The big successes in life are
too overweighting; they oppress a man with the memory of his struggle,
the long strain, the effort,--the troubling secret of how he has fallen
short.  Kilgour might have swelled with pride over greater matters, but
when he thought of them he was humble....  He wagged a delighted
forefinger at his creation, boasting.

"There isn't much of it," said Rackham.

Susan was between the two men; she felt like a caught bird that dared
not flutter, and she had still a frantic desire to laugh.

"That's it," said Kilgour.  "No feminine exaggeration.  It's all idea
and no trimming, instead of all trimmings and no idea.  And as light as
a feather.  I tried it on myself."

She _was_ laughing; not at the absurd image his speech called up, not
at the picture of this bluff sportsman gravely regarding himself in a
mirror, balancing his insecure idea on his close-cropped head;--but at
the tragic absurdity of her own position.  How little they knew, these
men!

"Good-bye," she said.  "I--I am in a hurry."

"Just wait a minute," said Kilgour.  "There's another point in its
favour.  If you are in a hurry you can clap it on hind-before.  Wait a
bit and let me illustrate what I mean.  Two or three doors up.  You
know this place?  It's my rival _Jane_.  Now, impartially, let's pick
these hats to pieces."

But she interrupted his scientific disparagement rather wildly.  She
had not known how much she liked him, Barnaby's friend who might have
talked to her of him if she had dared to loiter just for the sake of
hearing his name spoken now and then....  She held out her hand to him
wistfully.

"Good-bye, Lord Kilgour," she said hurriedly.  "Good-bye!"

He squeezed the little hand kindly, not uttering his surprise till she
had vanished from his ken.

"Bolted into the very shop!" he said.  "How like a woman.  Next time I
meet her she'll have one of these monstrosities on her head."

He nodded carelessly at Rackham, to whom Susan had bidden no farewell,
and strolled on, hailing his acquaintances, looking in the shops.
Turning into Piccadilly he saw a face he knew coming towards him in a
hansom, and raised his stick.

"Thought it was you," he said.  "You don't look very fit to be out.
What do you mean by it?  I told your wife you had no business racketing
in London."

The hansom had stopped.  Barnaby was leaning out, staring at him.

"What did you say?" he asked.  There was an incredulous eagerness in
his voice.

"Eh?" said Kilgour, struck by his looks, and sorry.  "Barnaby, old
chap, you ought to be in bed.  What's up?  You haven't come to town to
consult any fancy doctors?  No complications, are there?  It's
generally when a fellow is mending that they crop up."

"No, it's not doctors," said Barnaby.  "Look here, Kilgour----"

"Seems to me," said Kilgour, "as if you had been roped in by Christian
Science.  Don't you know what a battered-looking ghost you are?"

"I'm all right," said Barnaby impatiently.  "Just answer me, Kilgour.
What did you mean by saying you told my wife----?"

"I wasn't meddling," said Kilgour sagely, "I was offering a rational
opinion----"

"Oh, stop fooling!" said Barnaby.  "Do you mean you saw her?"

The other man was puzzled by the urgent note in his voice.  Then he
laughed.

"Missed her have you?" he said.  "Oh, yes, you fractious invalid,--I
saw her."

"When?"

There was no mistaking it.  Barnaby was in earnest.  For the second
time Kilgour had a twinge, an uncomfortable recollection of a brown
leather arm-chair in Wimpole Street and long white fingers handling one
or two queer little scientific dodges that pried into hidden things.
Once he had had to go with a friend.  It had turned him sick, that
minute or two of waiting in dead silence to hear the verdict....  Had
Barnaby been there? ... He shook off the unwelcome fancy.  If he knew
anything of that girl she would not let Barnaby go into a lions' den
without her.

"Half an hour ago," he said.  "With your cousin in attendance.  I met
them coming out of What's-his-name's,--that jeweller's shop in Bond
Street."

"What?" said Barnaby.  He looked like a man whose wits were staggering
under a mortal blow.  Then his mouth set hard, in a fighting line.

"Bond Street," he called up the trap to the driver, and the hansom
dashed jingling on.  Kilgour was left marvelling on the kerb.

"By Jove!" he said to himself, proceeding to cool his perturbation in
the peaceable atmosphere of his club, and stoutly refusing, though
troubled in mind, to draw the inevitable conclusion.



CHAPTER XIII

Susan hardly knew how she reached the dreary place that was her refuge.
Meeting Rackham had shaken her.  An unaccountable restlessness took
possession of her as she thought of him; she felt him pursuing her; she
had an impulse to run and run until she was hidden from the penetrating
intentness of his regard.  In the shop whither she had fled she had
tried to argue with herself, but it had been useless.  The relief with
which she had found herself for the moment free from him taught her too
much.

She had glanced desperately backwards.  He was not walking on with
Kilgour....  What did she want; what excuse had she for staying till he
was gone?  She must buy something.  Clothes for travelling;--was she
not going to America?--and she had nothing, not even a handkerchief.

The suggestion steadied her.  How soon could she sail?  She must find
out at once; must engage her passage.--They had nothing but hats in
here, but an assistant directed her to another shop upstairs.

Recklessly,--since the prices here were extravagant prices for one who
had only a handful of sovereigns between her and want,--she made
purchases.  It seemed to quiet her silly agitation, to restore to her
something of her despairing calm.

But when she issued into the street again panic ruled her.  She could
not breathe freely until she was far from this dangerous neighbourhood,
until at last she was shut inside the gloomy house in a side street,
that barred out imaginary pursuers with the massive security of its
blistered door.

But she must go out again; she must discover how quickly she could
sail:--perhaps she was missing an opportunity.

The girl who had talked to her in the morning came in and brushed
against her as she passed in the dim hall.

"Oh, it's you!" she said, stopping.  "How dark it is in the passage!  I
wish they'd light the gas.  How did you get on?  I found something else
of yours up there.  It didn't look worth much, but it's no good leaving
things about, and there isn't a key in your chest of drawers."

As she spoke she held out something.

"They've been talking about you," she went on, "saying things about you
turning up at night without a bag or anything.  They can't understand
you calling yourself Miss and wearing a wedding ring.  I told them it
would be worse if you called yourself Mrs. and didn't.--You'll have to
get some things, won't you?"

She looked inquisitively at Susan, who had sunk on to the hard wooden
chair in the hall, unable to face the stairs.  But the mysterious
stranger was hardly attending to what she said, amounting as it did to
a declaration that she had found a supporter.  Lady Henrietta's unlucky
brooch, that she had inadvertently taken with her, was just then a
precious thing.  She remembered how Barnaby had laughed at his mother,
while she persisted in telling its history, and how she had vainly
tried once or twice to throw it away, but had given up.

"I know it's bewitched," she had said.

"It is always bringing me small misfortunes, but I have an uncanny
feeling that I mustn't part with it.  Besides, I can't.  It has fallen
in the fire, and been left in a railway carriage, and had all kinds of
mischances, but it has always come back to me.  It's attached to me for
ever and ever.  I don't know what would break the spell."

Susan smiled a little as she gazed at that bit of dinted silver.  Fate
had made an end of the superstition.  Surely she might keep it,
valueless in itself, for the sake of the woman she would never see
again.  Its unluckiness did not matter....

"Yes," she said vaguely.  "I must go and get some things."

What had the girl been saying?  There was a kind of sympathy in her
face.

"Would you come with me?" she asked, yielding to her instinctive need
of companionship.  She could not go out alone....

"Rather!" said the girl.

They set out, an ill-matched couple, flotsam that had drifted together,
and would as casually drift apart.  The Londoner led the way
confidently, but surprised at Susan's first errand, the shipping
office.  It heightened her interest, and she listened closely to the
stranger's eager inquiries.  No, there was no room on the next boat
sailing.  She could have a berth in the following steamer if she liked,
only three days later.  But was there no boat to-morrow?--Oh, yes, but
no cabin accommodation.  The traveller did not care.  She would go
steerage.

"You're in a dreadful hurry to sail, aren't you?" said the Londoner, to
whom the trip represented a tremendous voyage.

Yes, she was in a hurry.

"And you keep so close to me; you turn your head sometimes as if you
thought we were followed.  What are you afraid of?"

Susan tried to smile, but the truth was too near her lips.

"A man," she said nervously, with her thoughts on Rackham.

The other seemed to understand.  She did not ask any more questions,
but was kind and useful, advising her, helping her, reminding her that
she must buy a trunk.  Till they turned the last corner, and were
within a few yards of the Rabbit Warren, as this old inhabitant called
the house; then she hung back a little, glancing right and left.

"You're not quite yourself, are you?" she said, consideringly.  Her
eyes had the brightened gleam of one plunging alive into a serial tale,
one of these in which lords and ladies behave strangely and the
typewriting girl rules the tempest.  As she put her key in the latch
she looked round again.  But there were no untoward appearances dogging
them in the distance.  There was a disappointing emptiness in the
street.

The gas was lit in the hall at last, accentuating its gloom.  The
rather dismal illumination fell on a mahogany table under the stair
where stood a row of candlesticks, each bearing a different length of
candle and a slip of paper.

Susan's ally paused to examine them, reading out the names scribbled on
the slips.  It was the custom for those who were to be out late to
leave their candles in the hall, and the last one in, finding a
solitary candlestick left downstairs, knew that it was her business to
chain the door.

"Miss Shanklin, Miss Friend, Miss Mitchell--" read out the inquisitor.
"Mitchell is burnt down into the socket; she reads in bed.  She'll set
us on fire one night.--Miss Robinson--that's me, but I've changed my
mind:--Miss Grahame--"

Susan made no sign.  Then she remembered.--That was her name again.

"Oh, yes," she said, "is that mine?"

The other girl nodded to herself.

"Well," she said.  "It's been brought down by mistake.  Better take it
up with you; they don't turn the gas off till ten."

She watched Susan go wearily up the long flights, and then ran swiftly
along the passage and called down to the basement.  The boy who opened
the door to strangers and carried coals answered her call out of the
black gulf of the kitchen stair;--his eyes glittering, like a demon
invisible in the dark.

"What are you ladies wanting now?" he asked in an injured voice--"You
can't have 'em!"

"Gerald," said the girl mysteriously, "come up.  Higher;--higher!  If
anybody calls here asking for a lady, darkish, with grey eyes, and
middling tall,--never mind what name he says--!  Don't breathe a word
of it, but fetch me."

"Doesn't sound like you," said Gerald, but grinned, diving backwards
into his native gloom.

Miss Robinson turned from the basement stairs and began her long
journey to the top of the house.  No, wild horses would not drag her
out that night.  Did they always write down a traveller's address at
the shipping office?  Supposing it were her lot to draw two sundered
hearts together?


The Rabbit Warren was a depressing house.  As the day waned its
dreariness increased; it grew fuller of tired women whose search for
work had been useless, and who came trudging in with the twilight to
join the rest who had been listening all day with straining ears for
the postman, while they studied ceaselessly the advertisement sheets in
the daily paper.

It was chiefly the incapable, the discouraged, those who had fallen out
of the ranks through ill health, or were losing their hold because they
were not any longer young, who drifted into this harbour.  They were
all in a manner waifs, and they had nothing to hope for but that they
might die in harness.

Susan sat with her cheek on her hand, withdrawn a little, in the dingy
sitting room.  She was unconscious of the whispering interest she
excited; she did not hear the subdued discussion that raged around her.
But the atmosphere of the house weighed on her, charged as it was with
failure.  It was robbing her of courage.

How strange it was to look back; almost unbearable.  How hard it was to
look forward.  She was to sail to-morrow ... she must be brave....

The girl who had struck up a casual alliance with her sat amidst the
others, ripping the ragged binding off a skirt.  Her sallow face was
less heavy than usual, her eyes alight.

She had glanced up quickly as Susan came in, and had begun to hum a
tune, snipping fast.  It had been impossible to resist the temptation
to crystallise wandering speculation and focus the general attention
for awhile on herself by a few dark hints and thereupon thrilling
silence.  The rest fell with a pathetic eagerness on the brief
distraction that lightened their dreary lives.  They had outlived their
own little histories; no excitement touched any of them but the
recurrent terror of wanting bread.

All at once Miss Robinson laid down her scissors and listened intently
to something she heard without.

"Is that coals?" said one, huddling near the fire, in a hushed voice,
as who should say--Might the Gods relent?--But no full scuttle bumped
the panels as Gerald put in his head.

"Wanted," he said, and grinned.

Miss Robinson gave one gasp, half in fright, half triumphant, and fled
out of the room, shutting the door with care.

Then, for a moment, cowardice nearly quenched her long-unslaked thirst
for drama.  Visions of herself as mediatrix, restoring a runaway wife
to her frantic husband, were upset by fearful misgivings in which she
saw herself figuring, not in the gilded realm of the serial page, but
in lurid paragraphs on the other side of the paper.  Paragraphs in
which someone heard pistol-shots....

In the dim passage she clutched at Gerald.

"What is he like?" she whispered.

"A regular toff," said Gerald in an awed voice.  "Asked for a Miss
Grant.  None of that name here.--Slight, dark lady.--And then I twigged
that he was your party.  I've seen his picture once in the _News of the
World_; they snapped him, held up by the police in his motor.  How did
you get to know 'im, Miss Robinson?  He's a lord."

"Oh!" she said.  This was indeed a sensation.  This would last her all
her life!--

      *      *      *      *      *

Barnaby had had no luck in Bond Street.

He sat forward in his hansom, leaning out, gripping the front, ready to
dash it open.  It did not matter to him how many fools were about, how
many frivolous idiots, men and women, stopped short in their idle
progress and stared at him.  Down Old Bond Street, along New Bond
Street, right to the end he went, raking the narrow thoroughfare with a
searching gaze.  The shop signs mocked him.  Milliners, jewellers,
palmists, druggists, picture-sellers: a fantastic jumble.  She might be
anywhere, within two or three yards of him, and he not know it.  She
might have just gone in at that door yonder that was closing.  She
might be just coming out.

Half an hour ago.  One chance in a hundred....  More likely she was
miles off, whizzing in one of these cursed taxis--!

Well, he could hunt down Rackham.  He would drive to that old barrack
of his in Marylebone.  No,--that was let or shut up or something.
Where the devil did he go when he was in town?

It was late in the afternoon before he ran him down.  He had been heard
of, or seen, in most of his ordinary haunts.  One man had come across
him in a saddler's shop, another had passed him ten minutes ago in the
Haymarket.  And at last Barnaby found him coming out of his tailors'.
He stopped the hansom.

"Get in," he said.

"Hullo!" said Rackham, staring at him.  "What's wrong with you?"  But
he obeyed mechanically, and the hansom started off.  "What d'you mean
by kidnapping a fellow like this?  Where on earth are we going?"

"I've told him to drive to my hotel," said Barnaby curtly.  There was a
controlled fury in his voice.

"But why the deuce----"

"I'm not going to have a row in a cab."

"Whew!" said Rackham, twisting round and regarding the grim outline of
his cousin's profile, his stubbornly closed mouth.  Unless Barnaby were
stark mad there was something serious in the wind, something he could
not trust himself to utter without losing his hold on himself.

It was not far to the hotel.  Barnaby got out stiffly and Rackham
followed.

"I hope you've got a nurse on the premises," he said,--"or a keeper."

"We'll go to my room," said Barnaby, in the same deadly quiet voice.
Up there he closed the door and turned round on Rackham like one who
had got to the end of his tether.

"Now!" he said.  "Damn you, what have you done with my wife?"

"What?" said Rackham.  He had not expected that charge.

"You know where she is," said Barnaby.  "Don't lie to me.  You were
with her in Bond Street----"

So that was it.

"How should I know if you don't?" said Rackham.  "Do you mean she's
gone?"

His eagerness was unmistakable.  It was worth a torrent of empty
protestation.  The two men looked each other straight in the eyes.

The likeness between them came out then, when they were roused.
Something in the angry set of the jaw, something in their expression; a
recklessness, a hard blue stare.

Barnaby had dropped his stick.  He could stand up without its support.
For the time he had borrowed strength of passion.

"You don't know?" he said, and took a long breath.

"I don't," said Rackham.  "There's no occasion to fight me, if that's
what you brought me here for.  I saw her; I spoke to her;--but I was
fool enough not to understand.  I supposed she was up in town for the
day, buying rubbish.  I never doubted she was going back.--I thought
you were still on your sick-bed and she was looking after you--"

He checked himself abruptly in the burst of angry candour that his
surprise evoked.

"You needn't look so damnably glad--" he broke out, "because I've shown
myself a simpleton, not a villain.  Look here, Barnaby, I've answered
your question.  I'll ask you to tell me one thing.  She's gone, and you
have lost her.  What do you mean to do?"

"Search London from end to end," said Barnaby, "till I find her."

"That's how we stand, is it?" said Rackham.  "You're not wise enough to
let her go?"

He spoke more slowly, recovering from his astonishment.  There was a
light in his eye, and into his voice had come a ring of exultation.  He
had got over his first vexation, his rage at his own stupid failure to
guess the great good news.

"What right have you to say that?" cried Barnaby.

"For the matter of that," said Rackham, "what rights have you?"

The shot told.  For a minute they looked again fixedly at each other.

"You had my answer," said Barnaby, "when I spoke of her as my wife."

"You stick to that then?" said Rackham.  "Though she has found it
unsupportable, though she's gone--you still hold to that pretence?
What's the good?  You don't care a straw for the girl.  Oh, I've seen
you together; I know the terms you were on.--It's sheer obstinacy makes
you play the dog-in-the-manger----"

"Take care," said Barnaby, breathing hard.

"Let's drop that humbug," said Rackham.  "_I'm_ no gossip.--But I've
had an inkling from the first.  I've guessed all along that it was a
plant of your mother's.--Infernally inconvenient of you to turn up and
spoil it--!  But I held my tongue.  Nobody else had any idea of how the
land lay but Julia.--There's a devilish instinct sometimes in a jealous
woman--"

He laughed shortly.  Something in Barnaby's look amused him.

"What?  She's been reproaching you, has she, after all?" he said.
"Well, I did you one service there.  If I hadn't kept her quiet, she'd
have shrieked it all out on the house-tops on the night of the Melton
Ball.  You owe me something for that, Barnaby.  There 'ud always have
been a few who wouldn't have put her down as a raving lunatic.  Mind, I
didn't muzzle her for your sake--I did that for Susan.  I wasn't going
to stand by and see that woman hounding 'em on--!"

"Have you done?" said Barnaby.  He had got back some measure of
self-control.

"I'm done if you are reasonable," said Rackham.  "Why not own up and
tell me what you can, and let me look for her.  I swear I'll find
her--but not for you."

Barnaby took one step towards him, and he stood back quickly, smiling
at his own involuntary precaution.  He could afford to smile, to stave
off a scuffle that would summon all the rabble in the hotel.

"Steady!" he said.  "Don't try to kill me.  It would be a waste of time
for both of us.  I'm not afraid of you, Barnaby, but I have something
else to do,--now,--than to stop rowing up here with you.  I'd better
warn you--"

Barnaby was struggling to hold himself in.  Susan had still to be
found, and she would want his protection.  Rackham was right there,
damn him; he must not lose his head.

"And I warn _you_," he said.  "I'll find my wife without your help.  Do
you hear what I say?--my wife, Rackham.  I don't care what story you
have got hold of.  Understand that.  She belongs to me."

"And yet she's gone," said Rackham.

Somebody was knocking at the door, but so discreetly that neither of
the two men heard.  Rackham, turning to go, had halted to fling back
his taunting word.  And the other man had no answer.  His own storming
haste had undone him.

"You can't get over that, can you?" said Rackham.  "It knocks the
bottom out of your doggedness.  If she doesn't choose to carry it on
you can do nothing."

"I can take care of her," said Barnaby.  His voice sounded hoarse.

"No, you can't," said Rackham, with a sudden fierceness that matched
his own.  "That will be my business."

"Yours?" said Barnaby, and his look was dangerous.  He advanced on the
other man with a clenching hand.

"Because," said Rackham, "if she's not your wife:--and she's not; she's
nothing to you--I shall make her mine."

In the short silence that fell between them the knocking became
insistent.

"Better let them in," said Rackham, "I'm going."

Barnaby pulled himself together and turned the key.  His locking the
door had been an instinctive action.  And Rackham passed out, ignoring
the insignificant person waiting on the threshold, who met Barnaby's
look of blank interrogation with an apologetic reminder of his own
orders.  He had said if a message came it was to be brought up at once.
And a message it was;--from the shipping office.

      *      *      *      *      *

Rackham swung out of the place like a conqueror.  The knowledge that
Susan had run away was to him the knowledge that he had won.

He never doubted that he would find her, and inspiration helped him, as
it will the man whose blood runs quicker under the stimulus of his
belief in his luck.  What was the shop she had flown into to escape him
and Kilgour, and the embarrassment of their ignorant questions?  He had
stayed long enough outside to know it again, waiting till he had no
excuse for loitering any longer.  She must have made purchases.  He
went straight there.

How simple it was, with luck on his side, to call in and say that a
lady who had been that morning was afraid she had forgotten to leave
her name and address....  This was no big emporium, but a little
exclusive shop where it was possible to describe a customer's
appearance with a chance of finding it remembered by saleswomen who
recognized his standing and were sympathetically amused.  In the
hat-shop they directed him upstairs, and there he found an equal
appreciation of his attitude of comical despair, as he tried helplessly
to run through a list of feminine furbelows that the careless lady was
supposed to have ordered to be sent home.  How should a man
succeed?--Smiling they reassured him.  They recollected the lady
perfectly from his description, and she had made no mistake in that
establishment; the parcel was already packed and waiting to be
despatched.  To satisfy him an assistant was bidden to read out the
address on the label, and as she glanced up at him, expecting him to
verify it, Rackham checked himself just in time.  For the name she
slurred over was strange to him.

Why, he had thought of that,--since naturally the runaway was no longer
masquerading as his cousin's wife;--and yet he had been about to deny
that it was she.  What had it sounded like?  Grant, or Grand?--And was
it indeed Susan, or a stranger?  He had no means of knowing; the only
thing possible was to go blindly forward, trusting in his luck and
fixing that address in his head.

"Yes, yes, that's all right," he acknowledged, and laughed
good-naturedly at the apparent futility of his mission as he sauntered
out of the shop.

      *      *      *      *      *

It was Miss Robinson's mysterious signal that cleared the room.  One by
one, like startled shadows, its denizens flitted thence, and left
Rackham alone with Susan.

They hung over the stairs, buzzing like bees in the semi-darkness,
thrilled by an interest that was vaguely heightened by alarm.  At
intervals they hushed each other into silence, listening with bated
breath lest anything might transpire, and watching with a kind of
fascination the crack of light that issued from the door of the sitting
room.  Only Miss Robinson herself went whispering, whispering on.

"Poor little girl!" said Rackham.

There was triumph and pity and a threatening kindness in his voice.
His reckless personality seemed to fill the room that had been so
suddenly deserted.

She had risen to her feet with a gasp at his entrance.  A wave of panic
swept over her head and left her slightly trembling;--because she had
had no warning.

"How did you come here?" she said.

"Oh," he said, smiling down upon her.  "I prevailed on a drab young
woman who seems to have constituted herself your guardian to bring me
in.  I wasn't going to risk your giving me the slip as you did this
morning.  You wouldn't have seen me if I'd sent in a ceremonious
message."

"No," she said, "I would not."

"I knew that," said Rackham.  "The same pride that kept you from
telling me the truth would have hidden you from me.  You'd have had me
turned from the door.--But the drab romancer was a great ally, though
I've had to agree with most of her wild surmises.--I'll make you
forgive me later."

He laughed under his breath.

"She asked me," he said, "if I was your husband."

"You--you--!  Did you let her think----" cried Susan in a choking
voice, fighting against a strange sense of the inevitable that his look
inspired.

"Oh, she had been thinking hard," he said.  "A runaway stranger,
calling herself Miss--Grahame, was it?--I got it wrong--and wearing a
wedding ring.  What more likely--?  I had the part thrust on me
directly I showed my face."

He dropped the half-jesting air that had masked his excitement, and
came nearer.  She shivered a little at his approach.

"Daren't you trust me, Susan?" he said.  "I'm not a Pharisee.--Why, I
guessed it from the beginning.  Don't you remember how I asked you to
let me help you if you wanted a friend?--And all the while I was
watching.  Do you think I can't guess how Barnaby drove his bargain,
careless of you, trading on your helplessness in the shock of his
return?  What did he care that it was hard on you, so long as it suited
his selfish purpose?"

"He was good to me," she said.  It was no use denying anything any more.

"Are you grateful to him--still?" said Rackham.

She turned away her face.

Something in her attitude kindled in him that instinct of protection
that had from the first struggled in his soul with admiration.  Had he
not felt a consuming rage that it had not been his to battle for her,
to turn round on Barnaby and his world, all pointing the finger of
scorn at her for a cheat?--He would have liked them to do their worst,
would have liked to defy them....  Well, that occasion was his at last.

Barnaby had nearly fooled him.  The extraordinary course he had taken
had at first made Rackham curse himself for an imaginative ass.  But he
had been right.  His time had come....  And Barnaby was defeated.

"Well," he said, "that's ended.  I'll take care of you now, I'll take
you out of this.  Look at me!  There's nothing between us now, no
fictitious barrier, no mistaken idea of loyalty to a man who took
advantage of your false step to make you play his own foolish game.
You made a gallant show.  It almost deceived me, once or twice, almost
made me believe you liked him....  Never mind that.  Like a brave girl
you've freed yourself from that intolerable position.  And I'm here,
Susan, where I always was, at your feet."

She lifted her head; a little, sad, desperate face upturned.

"Why must you insult me?" she said.  "Is it because I am all alone?"

"I'm asking you to marry me," said Rackham.

She stared at him for a minute.  His pursuit of her was not all
selfish: there was an impatient fondness in his reckless face.

"I--?" she said faintly.  "A woman of whom you know nothing but that
she came among you as an impostor?  You cannot mean what you say, Lord
Rackham."

He broke in on her protestation roughly.

"Do you think I mind tattle?" he said.  "Let their tongues wag.  We'll
hold up our heads and flout 'em.  I'll leave it to Barnaby to find a
way out of his muddle.--Lord, how it will puzzle them,--how they'll
jabber when they see our marriage advertised in the _Morning Post_--!"

He was taking her assent for granted, arrogant in the heat of his
headlong moment.  Perhaps it did not strike him as possible that she
would refuse.  What woman in her plight would not lean gladly on the
rescuer who came to offer her his kingdom?  Perhaps he was blinded by
his confidence in his luck.

"I--can't marry you!" she said.

Rackham did not fall back.  He laughed indulgently.  Was she troubled
because of the world's opinion?

"Dear, silly child," he said.  "Don't be frightened.  I'll make them
treat you properly.  I'll make them swallow their amazement; and they
shall be kind to you."

Yes, this man loved her.  That was why she was afraid of him.  She was
not used to being loved like that.  She had never learned to see in it
help, instead of danger....

"I can't marry you," she repeated, but her breath came fast.

"Oh, but you must!" he said.  "Fate is on my side.  What kind of a
struggle can you make against me all by yourself?  I've found you,
Susan, and I'll never let you go....  There's nothing too outrageous
for me to undertake, and nothing on earth to stop me.--Your hands are
trembling."

He bent to seize them in his, brushing aside her mute defiance with his
violent tenderness, as determined as Fate itself.  Just for a minute
she felt very tired in spirit, very weak to resist him.  It was so
strange, although it was terrible, to be loved.  Why should any man
care so deeply as to stand between her and the emptiness of the world?
Might she not, if she submitted, find the strange worship sweet?

She did not know she was wavering until she understood his smile, and
with that her heart was smitten by a fugitive likeness, a trick of
manner, reminding her of another man.  Uselessly, poignantly, memory
stabbed her.  She flung out these trembling hands.

"No!" she panted.  The thought of it was unbearable.  "I can't--I
can't!"

He was taken aback by the vehemence of her cry.  For a moment he did
not speak, looking at her queerly.  His laugh was angry.

"I've a great mind to bundle you into a cab and carry you off," he
said.  "Oh, they'd let me!--I've only to tell these people that you are
my wife and a little mad.  My tale would sound more probable than
yours."

She was not sure that he was not in earnest.  Panic-stricken she shook
off his hold on her arm, meaning to pass him and reach the door.
Why?--To make a futile bid for sympathy in this house of strangers?--

Who was it that had turned the handle and was coming in?  Her gaze was
unbelieving; she could neither breathe nor stir till the suffocating
leap of her heart assured her that it was true.  For it was Barnaby
himself who was standing in the doorway, just as he had stood on that
night when she had seen him first.  Only the look in his eyes was
changed.

The same faintness overcame her that had stricken her down that night.
She did not know whose arms had caught her as she was falling ...
falling....  But she was afraid of nothing, though all was darkness.

"Your race, Barnaby," said Rackham.



CHAPTER XIV

"I knew we should get you back," said Lady Henrietta.

That had been her first word last night, and she repeated it with the
emphasis of a prophetess justified.  Still her clasp of the truant had
been almost fierce.

The journey to London had done her no harm.  Rather had all this
excitement given her a fillip.  There was a triumphant pink in her
cheek, and amusement twinkled in the fine lines surrounding the corners
of her eyes.  Whilst Barnaby had been searching she had been busy,
dealing with an imposing but worldly personage in gaiters, who had been
an old admirer of hers and was her sworn ally.  The situation charmed
her; it was like a thrilling but perfectly righteous bit of intrigue.
Quizzically, delightedly, she was regarding Susan.

"Yes," she maintained.  "I pinned my faith to that battered old brooch
of mine.  It's unlucky to wear, but still--when I remembered that it
was doomed to come back to me I was tranquil.  I knew it would."

She turned from one to the other, challenging them to mock at her
superstition; and then she laughed.

"My dear!" she said.  "I'll never forget his face when I was raging at
him.--I blamed him, you may be sure.  Or his voice when he called to
me--'She has written!'  I could get no more out of him till I lost my
patience and cried--'Then for Heaven's sake read the letter and tell me
what she says!'  And when he said--'She says she has found out that my
marriage was illegal'  I could only exclaim--'Thank goodness!'"

She laughed again at her picture of his amazement.

"I shocked him awfully," she said.  "But I was transported.  It had
solved a riddle....  'So _that_ was the mysterious American business,'
I said, '_that_ is what was the matter!  And she has rushed off and set
you free and all the rest of it, you undeserving laggard!  If that's
all it can soon be mended.'--And then he woke up from his stupefaction.
But it was I who thought of the Bishop.  It was I who suggested a
special licence.  I am the head conspirator, Susan,--and I'll go and
put on my things."

She went, glancing back to them as she reached the door.

"Don't let her out of your sight, Barnaby," she said warningly, and
left them together.

The girl stayed where she was, quite still; gazing down from the dizzy
height of the window on the restless world in the streets below.
Barnaby was limping across to her side.  She felt his touch on her
shoulder.

"There's the church down there," he said.  "Like an island in a
whirlpool, isn't it?  But all the roar and the rush dies down like the
noise in a dream when you get inside.  It's wonderfully dim and dark in
there, and they're dusting the pews for us,--and there are a few lilies
on the altar.  And we'll just walk into it hand in hand."

Her breath came hurriedly, like a sob.

"Are you--sure?" she said.

"Ah," he reminded her, "I've never made love to you, have I, Susan?"

She could not answer him, knowing him so close; and she dared not look
up at him.  There was so much to remember, and she had begun to guess
how dangerous it had been....  He laughed, and his hand leaned heavier
on her shoulder.

"I've been hopping all over London like a mad cripple," he said, "and
at last I've got you.  I must hold on to you, or you'll manage to
disappear.  Why did you run away when you thought I couldn't follow?
It wasn't fair.  Oh, my darling, couldn't you understand?"

His voice was not steady now; there was reproach in its passionate
undertone.

"I'm sorry," she said, and laid her cheek against his sleeve.  This
thing that was still too wonderful was true.

"Why," said Barnaby.  "It was only you from the first,--that first
night when the sight of you staggered me.  I didn't know why, but I did
know that at any cost, at any risk, I couldn't let you go.  I thought I
was strong enough, man enough, to keep you safe in my house:--and when
I began to find out what a hard thing I had undertaken, when I had to
fight back the mad desire to make the farce we played at real,--you
believed that I had betrayed you to another woman....  I've got your
letter, your dear scrap of a piteous letter, letting me know that she
and I had no barrier between us....  And that was to be the last I
heard of you, was it, Susan?"

The reproach in his question was lost in its bantering tenderness.

"Wait," he said, "till I have you safe, and I'll teach you...  And
then, perhaps, we'll dare to look back on it all and laugh,--a long
time afterwards; just you and I, by ourselves."

Lady Henrietta was back already.  She had been discreet, had asked for
no fuller explanation than the one she had so promptly furnished
herself.  It was all she was to know; but she was too wise to pry.  At
the back of her mind there was nothing but an absolute satisfaction, as
of a warrior who had won her battle.  If her eyes, shrewd and
understanding, were dimmed a little as she considered them, she flung
off her emotion quickly and smiled again.

"How funny it is," she said.  "You have no idea how I am enjoying
myself, you children.  Put her furs on, Barnaby, button her up to the
chin.  I promised the Bishop we wouldn't be late.  Secret marriages
never are."

Then, hurrying him, she was moved to plague him with an irrepressible
spark of mischief.

"Incomprehensible pair," she said.  "I wish I had been at your first
wedding.  It must have been frightfully romantic."

Barnaby put away his watch.  An unconquerable flicker lit up his eyes.

"It was," he said.  "I just took her hand like this, and I said--" he
was holding it tight in his--"Let's go and get married, Susan."



WILLIAM BRENDON AND SON, LTD.

PRINTERS, PLYMOUTH





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