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Title: Viviette
Author: Locke, William John, 1863-1930
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 "Viviette" ***

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VIVIETTE

BY

WILLIAM J. LOCKE

1916



[Illustration: "No, don't, Viviette; forgive me"]



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

  I. THE BROTHERS

 II. THE CONSPIRATORS

III. KATHERINE

 IV. THE FAMOUS DUELLING PISTOLS

  V. A CRISIS

 VI. VIVIETTE TAKES THE RISK



ILLUSTRATIONS

  "No, don't, Viviette; forgive me"

  "Dick glared at him"

  "He held out imploring hands"

  "I want you to love me forever and ever"



VIVIETTE



CHAPTER I

THE BROTHERS


"Dick," said Viviette, "ought to go about in skins like a primitive
man."

Katherine Holroyd looked up from her needlework. She was a gentle,
fair-haired woman of thirty, with demure blue eyes, which regarded the
girl with a mingling of pity, protection, and amusement.

"My dear," she said, "whenever I see a pretty girl fooling about with a
primitive man I always think of a sweet little monkey I once knew, who
used to have great sport with a lyddite shell. Her master kept it on his
table as a paper-weight, and no one knew it was loaded. One day she hit
the shell in the wrong place--and they're still looking for the monkey.
Don't think Dick is the empty shell."

Whereupon she resumed her work, and for a few moments the click of
thimble and needle alone broke the summer stillness. Viviette lay idly
on a long garden chair admiring the fit of a pair of dainty tan shoes,
which she twiddled with graceful twists of the ankles some five feet
from her nose. At Mrs. Holroyd's remark she laughed after the manner of
one quite contented with herself--a low, musical laugh, in harmony with
the blue June sky and the flowering chestnuts and the song of
the thrushes.

"My intentions with regard to Dick are strictly honourable," she
remarked. "We've been engaged for the last eleven years, and I still
have his engagement ring. It cost three-and-sixpence."

"I only want to warn you, dear," said Mrs. Holroyd. "Anyone can see that
Dick is in love with you, and if you don't take care you'll have Austin
falling in love with you too."

Viviette laughed again. "But he has already fallen! I don't think he
knows it yet; but he has. It's great fun being a woman, isn't it, dear?"

"I don't know that I've ever found it so," Katherine replied with a
sigh. She was a widow, and had loved her husband, and her sky was still
tinged with grey.

Viviette, quick to catch the sadness in the voice, made no reply, but
renewed the contemplation of her shoe-tips.

"I'm afraid you're an arrant little coquette," said Katherine
indulgently.

"Lord Banstead says I'm a little devil," she laughed.

If she was in some measure a coquette she may be forgiven. What woman
can have suddenly revealed to her the thrilling sense of her sex's
mastery over men without snatching now and then the fearful joy of
using her power? She was one-and-twenty, her heart still unawakened, and
she had returned to her childhood's home to find men who had danced her
on their knees bending low before her, and proclaiming themselves her
humble vassals. It was intoxicating. She had always looked up to Austin
with awe, as one too remote and holy for girlish irreverence. And now!
No wonder her sex laughed within her.

Until she had gone abroad to finish her education, she had lived in that
old, grey manor-house, that dreamed in the sunshine of the terrace below
which she was sitting, ever since they had brought her thither, an
orphaned child of three. Mrs. Ware, her guardian, was her adopted
mother; the sons, Dick and Austin Ware, her brothers--the engagement,
when she was ten and Dick one-and-twenty, had hardly fluttered the
fraternal relationship. She had left them a merry, kittenish child. She
had returned a woman, slender, full-bosomed, graceful, alluring, with a
maturity of fascination beyond her years. Enemies said she had gipsy
blood in her veins. If so, the infusion must have taken place long, long
ago, for her folks were as proud of their name as the Wares of Ware
House. But, for all that, there was a suggestion of the exotic in the
olive and cream complexion, and the oval face, pointing at the dimpled
chin; something of the woodland in her lithe figure and free gestures;
in her swimming, dark eyes one could imagine something fierce and
untamable lying beneath her laughing idleness. Katherine Holroyd called
her a coquette, Austin whatever the whim of a cultured fancy suggested,
and Lord Banstead a little devil. As for Dick, he called her nothing.
His love was too great; his vocabulary too small.

Lord Banstead was a neighbour who, in the course of three months, had
proposed several times to Viviette.

"I'm not very much to look at," he remarked on the first of these
occasions--he was a weedy, pallid youth of six-and-twenty--"and the
title's not very old, I must admit. Governor only a scientific Johnnie,
Margetson, the celebrated chemist, you know, who discovered some beastly
gas or other and got made a peer--but I can sit with the other old
rotters in the House of Lords, you know, if I want. And I've got enough
to run the show, if you'll keep me from chucking it away as I'm doing.
It'd be a godsend if you'd marry me, I give you my word."

"Before I have anything to do with you," replied Viviette, who had heard
Dick express his opinion of Lord Banstead in forcible terms, "you'll
have to forswear sack, and--and a very big AND--"

Lord Banstead, not being learned in literary allusions, looked
bewildered. Viviette laughed.

"I'll translate if you like. You'll have to give up unlimited champagne
and whiskey and lead an ostensibly respectable life."

Whereupon Lord Banstead called her a little devil and went off in
dudgeon to London and took golden-haired ladies out to supper. When he
returned to the country he again offered her his title, and being
rejected a second time, again called her a little devil, and went back
to the fashionable supper-room. A third and a fourth time he executed
this complicated manoeuvre; and now news had reached Viviette that he
was in residence at Farfield, where he was boring himself exceedingly in
his father's scientific library.

"I suppose he'll be coming over to-day," said Viviette.

"Why do you encourage him?" asked Katherine.

"I don't," Viviette retorted. "I snub him unmercifully. If I am a
coquette it's with real men, not with the by-product of a chemical
experiment."

Katherine dropped her work and her underlip, and turned reproachful blue
eyes on the girl.

"Viviette!"

"Oh, she's shocked! Saint Nitouche is shocked!" Then, with a change of
manner, she rose and, bending over Katherine's chair, kissed her. "I'm
sorry, dear," she said, in pretty penitence. "I know it was an
abominable and unladylike thing to say, but my tongue sometimes runs
away with my thoughts. Forgive me."

At that moment a man dressed in rough tweeds and leggings, who had
emerged from the stable side of the manor-house, crossed the terrace,
and, descending the steps, walked over the lawn towards the two ladies.
He had massive shoulders and a thick, strong neck, coarse reddish hair,
and a moustache of a lighter shade. Blue eyes looked with a curious
childish pathos out of a face tanned by sun and weather. He slouched
slightly in his gait, like the heavy man accustomed to the saddle. This
was Dick Ware, the elder of the brothers and heir to fallen fortunes,
mortgaged house and lands, and he gave the impression of failure, of a
man who, in spite of thews and sinews, had been unable to grapple with
circumstance.

Viviette left Katherine to her needlework, and advanced to meet him. At
her spontaneous act of welcome a light came into his eyes. He removed
from his lips the short corn-cob pipe he was smoking.

"I've just been looking at the new mare. She's a beauty. I know I
oughtn't to have got her, but she was going dirt cheap--and what can a
man do when he's offered a horse at a quarter its value?"

"Nothing, my dear Dick, save pay four times as much as he can afford."

"But we had to get a new beast," he argued seriously. "We can't go about
the country in a donkey-cart. If I hadn't bought one, Austin would, for
the sake of the family dignity--and I do like to feel independent of
Austin now and then."

"I wish you were entirely independent of Austin," said Viviette, walking
with him up the lawn.

"I can't, so long as I stay here doing nothing. But if I went out to
Canada or New Zealand, as I want to do, who would look after my mother?
I'm tied by the leg."

"I'd look after mother," said Viviette. "And you'd write me nice long
letters, saying how you were getting on, and I would send you nice
little bulletins, and we should all be very happy."

"Do you want to get rid of me, Viviette?"

"I want you to have your heart's desire."

"You know what my heart's desire is," he said unsteadily.

"Why, to raise sheep or drive cattle, or chop down trees in the
backwoods," she replied, lifting demure eyebrows. "Oh, Dick, don't be
foolish. See--there's mother just come out."

With a light laugh she escaped and ran up the steps to meet an old lady,
rather infirm, who, with the aid of a stick, was beginning to take her
morning walk up and down the terrace. Dick followed her moodily.

"Good morning, mother," said he, bending down to kiss her.

Mrs. Ware put up her cheek, and received the salute with no great show
of pleasure.

"Oh, how you smell of tobacco smoke, Dick. Where's Austin? Please go and
find him. I want to hear what he has to say about the stables."

"What can he say, mother?"

"He can advise us and help us to put the muddle right," said Mrs. Ware.

These stables had been a subject of controversy for some time. The old
ones having fallen into disgraceful disrepair, Dick had turned architect
and erected new ones himself. As shelters for beasts, they were
comparatively sound; as appanages to an Elizabethan manor-house, they
were open to adverse criticism. Austin, who had come down from London a
day or two before to spend his Whitsuntide holiday at home, had promised
his mother to make inspection and report.

"But what does Austin know about stables?" Viviette asked, as soon as
Dick had slouched away in search of his brother.

"Austin knows about everything, my dear," replied the old lady
decisively. "Not only is Austin a brilliantly clever man, but he's a
successful barrister, and a barrister's business is to know all about
everything. Give me your arm, dear, and let us walk up and down a
little till they come."

Presently Dick returned with Austin, whom he had found smoking a cigar
in a very meditative manner in front of the stables. Dick's face was
gloomy, but Austin's was bright, as he came briskly up and, cigar in
hand, stooped to his mother. She put her arms round his neck, kissed him
affectionately, and inquired after his sleep and his comfort and the
quality of his breakfast.

"Doesn't Austin smell of tobacco smoke, mother?" asked Dick.

"Austin," replied Mrs. Ware, "has a way of smoking and not smelling of
it."

Austin laughed gaily. "I believe if I fell into a pond you'd say I had a
way of coming up dry."

Dick turned to Viviette, and muttered with some bitterness: "And if I
fell into a dry ditch she'd say I came up slimy."

Viviette, touched by pity, raised a bewitching face. "Dry or slimy, you
would be just the same dear old Dick," she whispered.

"And what about the stables?" asked Mrs. Ware.

"Oh, they're not bad. They're rather creditable; but," Austin added,
turning with a laugh to his brother, "the mother will fidget, you know,
and the somewhat--let us say rococo style of architecture has got on her
nerves. I think the whole thing had better come down, don't you?"

"If you like," said Dick gruffly. He had given way to Austin all his
life. What was the use of opposing him now?

"Good. I'll send young Rapson, the architect, along to make a design.
Don't you worry, old chap, I'll see it through."

Young, brisk, debonair, flushed with success and the sense of the
mastery of life, he did not notice the lowering of Dick's brows, which
deepened into almost a scowl when he turned frankly admiring eyes on
Viviette, and drew her into gay, laughing talk, nor did he catch the
hopelessness in the drag of Dick's feet as he went off to gaze
sorrowfully at the fallen pride of his heart, the condemned stables.

But Viviette who knew, as Austin did not, of Dick's disappointment, soon
broke away and joined him in front of the amorphous shed of timber. She
took him by the arm.

"Come for a stroll in the orchard."

He suffered himself to be led through the stable-yard gate. She talked
to him of apple blossoms. He listened for some time in silence. Then he
broke out.

"It's an infernal shame," said he.

"It is," said Viviette. "But you needn't put on such a glum face when
I'm here especially to comfort you. If you're not glad to see me I'll go
back to Austin. He's much more amusing than you."

"I suppose he is. Yes, go back to him. I'm a fool. I'm nobody. No,
don't, Viviette; forgive me," he cried, catching her as she turned away
somewhat haughtily. "I didn't mean it, but things are getting beyond my
endurance."

Viviette seated herself on a bench beneath the apple blossoms.

"What things?"

"Everything. My position. Austin's airy ways."

"But that's what makes him so charming."

"Yes, confound him. My ways are about as airy as a hippopotamus's. Look
here, Viviette. I'm fond of Austin, God knows--but all my life he has
been put in front of me. He has had all the chances; I've had none. With
my father when he was alive, with my mother, it has always been Austin
this and Austin that. He was the head of the school when I, the elder,
was a lout in the lower fourth. He had a brilliant University career and
went into the world and is making a fortune. I'm only able to ride and
shoot and do country things. I've stuck here with only this mortgaged
house belonging to me and the hundred or so a year I get out of the
tenants. I'm not even executor under my father's will. It's Austin.
Austin pays mother the money under her marriage settlement. If things go
wrong Austin is sent for to put them right. It never seems to occur to
him that it's my house. Oh, of course I know he pays the interest on the
mortgage and makes my mother an allowance--that's the humiliation
of it."

He sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, staring
at the grass.

"But surely you could find some work to do, Dick?"

He shrugged his great shoulders. "They stuck me once in an office in
London. I suffocated and added up things wrong and told the wrong lies
to the wrong people, and ended up by breaking the junior
partner's head!"

"You had some satisfaction out of it, at any rate," laughed Viviette.

A faint reminiscent smile crossed his face. "I suppose I had. But it
didn't qualify me for a successful business career. No. I might do
something in a new country. I must get away from this. I can't stand it.
But yet--as I've told you all along, I'm tied--hand and foot."

"And so you're very miserable, Dick."

"How can I help it?"

Viviette edged a little away from him, and said, rather resentfully:

"I don't call that polite, seeing that I have come back to live with
you."

He turned on her with some fierceness. "Don't you see that your being
here makes my life all the more impossible? How can I be with you day
after day without loving you, hungering for you, wanting you, body and
soul? I've never given a thought to another woman in my life. You're my
heart's blood, dear. I want to hold you so tight in my arms that not the
ghost of another man can ever come between us. You know it."

Viviette shredded an apple blossom that had fallen into her lap. The
fingers that held the petal tingled, and a flush rose in her cheek.

"I do know it," she said in a low voice. "You're always telling me. But,
Dick"--she flashed a mischievous glance at him--"while you're holding
me--although it would be very nice--we should starve."

"Then let us starve," he cried vehemently.

"Oh, no. Oh, most decidedly no. Starvation would be so unbecoming. I
should get to be a fright--a bundle of bones and a rundle of skin--and
you'd be horrified--I couldn't bear it."

"If you would only say you cared a scrap for me it would be easier," he
pleaded.

"I should have thought it would be harder."

"Anyhow, say it--say it this once--just this once."

She bent her head to hide a smile, and said in a voice adorably soft:

"Dick, shut your eyes."

"Viviette!" he cried, with sudden hope.

"No. Shut your eyes. Turn round. Now tell me," she continued, when he
had turned obediently, "just what I've got on. No!" she held him by the
shoulders, "you're not to move."

Now, she was wearing a white blouse and a blue skirt and tan shoes, and
a yellow rose was pinned at her bosom.

"What dress am I wearing?"

"A light-coloured thing," said Dick.

"And what's it trimmed with?"

"Lace," said the unfortunate man. Lace indeed!

"And what coloured boots?"

"Black," said Dick, at a venture.

"And what flower?"

"I don't know--a pink rose, I think."

She started up. "Look," she cried gaily. "Oh, Dick! I'll never marry you
till you have the common decency to look at me--never! never! never! I
dressed myself this beautiful morning just to please you. Oh, Dick!
Dick, you've lost such a chance."

She stood with her hands behind her back regarding him mockingly, as Eve
in the first orchard must have regarded Adam when he was more dull and
masculine than usual--when, for instance, she had attired herself in
hybiscus flowers which he took for the hum-drum, everyday fig-leaves.

"I'm a born duffer," said Dick pathetically. "But your face is all that
I see when I look at you."

"That's all very pretty," she retorted. "But you ought to see more. Now
let us talk sense. Mind, if I sit on that bench again you're to
talk sense."

Dick sighed. "Very well," said he.

That was the history of all his love-making. She drew him on to
passionate utterance, and then, with a twist of her wit and a twirl of
her skirts, she eluded him. When she had thus put herself out of his
reach, he felt ashamed. What right had he, dull, useless, lumbering,
squiredomless squire, to ask a woman like Viviette to marry him? How
could he support a wife? As it was, he lived a pensioner on Austin's
bounty. Could he ask Austin to feed his wife and family as well? This
thought, which always came to him as soon as his passion was checked,
filled him with deep humiliation. Viviette had reason on her side when
she said, "Let us talk sense."

He glowered at his fate, and tugged his tawny moustache for some time in
silence. Then Viviette began to talk to him prettily of things that
made up his country interests, his dogs, the garden, the personalities
of the country-side. Soon she had him laughing, which pleased and
flattered her, as it proved her power over the primitive man. Indeed, at
such moments, she felt very tenderly towards him, and would have liked
to pat his cheeks and crown him with flowers, thus manifesting her
favour by dainty caresses. But she refrained, knowing that primitive men
are too dense to interpret such demonstrations rightly, and limited
herself to less compromising words.

"I am going to tell you a secret," he said at last, in a shamefaced way.
"You mustn't laugh at me--promise me you won't."

"I promise," said Viviette solemnly.

"I am thinking of going in for local politics--Rural District Council,
you know."

Viviette nodded her head approvingly. "A village Hampden--in Tory
clothing?"

"They're running things on party lines down here. The influence of
Westhampton is Radical, and fills the Council with a lot of outsiders.
So they've got together a Conservative Committee, and are going to run a
good strong man for a vacancy. I've given them to understand that I'll
be a candidate if they'll have me. I'd like to be one. It's a rubbishy
thing, dear, but somehow it would give me a little interest in life."

"I don't think it a rubbishy thing at all," said Viviette. "A country
gentleman ought to have a hand in rural administration. I do hope you'll
get in. When will you know that the committee have selected you?"

"There's a meeting this evening. I ought to know to-night or to-morrow
morning."

"Are you very keen on it?"

"Very," said Dick. And he added proudly, "It was my own idea."

"But you're not as keen on that as on going abroad?"

"Ah, that!" said Dick. "That, bar one, is the dearest wish of my heart.
And who knows--it might enable me to carry out the other."

The sound of a gong within the house floated through the still June air.
Viviette rose. "I must tidy myself for lunch."

They walked to the house together. On parting she put out both her
hands.

"Do be reasonable, Dick, and don't look for slights in what you call
Austin's airy ways. He is awfully fond of you, and would not hurt you
for the world."

At the luncheon table, however, Austin did hurt him, in utter
unconsciousness, by his gay command of the situation, his eager talk
with Viviette of things Dick did not understand, places he had not
visited, books he had never read, pictures he had never seen. It was
heartache rather than envy. He did not grudge Austin his scholarship and
brilliance. But his soul sank at the sight of Austin and Viviette moving
as familiars in a joyous world as remote from him as Neptune. Mrs. Ware
kept Katherine Holroyd engaged in mild talk of cooks and curates, while
the other two maintained their baffling conversation, half banter, half
serious, on a bewildering number of topics, and poor Dick remained as
dumb as the fish and cutlets he was eating. He sat at the head of the
table, Mrs. Ware at the foot. On his right hand sat Katherine Holroyd,
on his left Viviette, and between her and his mother was Austin. With
Viviette talking to Austin and Mrs. Ware to Katherine, he felt lonely
and disregarded in a kind of polar waste of snowy tablecloth. Once
Katherine, escaping from Mrs. Ware's platitudinous ripple, took pity on
him, and asked him when he was going to redeem his promise and show her
his collection of armour and weapons. Dick brightened. This was the only
keen interest he had in life outside things of earth and air and stream.
He had inherited a good family collection, and had added to it
occasionally, as far as his slender means allowed. He had read deeply,
and understood his subject.

"Whenever you like, Katherine," he said.

"This afternoon?"

"I'm afraid they want polishing up and arranging. I've got some new
things which I've not placed. I've rather neglected them lately. Let us
say to-morrow afternoon. Then they'll all be spick and span for you."

Katherine assented. "I've been down here so often and never seen them,"
she said. "It seems odd, considering the years we've known each other."

"I only took it up after father's death," said Dick. "And since then,
you know, you haven't been here so very often."

"It was only the last time that I discovered you took an interest an the
collection. You hid your light under a bushel. Then I went to London and
heard that you were a great authority on the subject."

Dick's tanned face reddened with pleasure.

"I do know something about it. You see, guns and swords and pistols are
in my line. I'm good at killing things. I ought to have been a soldier,
only I couldn't pass examinations, so I sort of interest myself in the
old weapons and do my killing in imagination."

"You give a regular lecture, don't you?"

"Well, you know," said Dick modestly, "a lot of them are historical.
There's a mace used by a bishop, an ancestor of ours. He couldn't wield
a sword in battle, so he cottoned on to that, and in order to salve his
conscience before using it he would cry out 'Gare! gare!'--and they say
that's what our name comes from--see? 'Ware--Ware.' He was the founder
of our family--though, of course, he oughtn't to have been. And then we
have the duelling pistols my great-grandfather shot Lord Estcourt with.
They're beautiful things--in the case just as he left it after the duel,
with powder, balls, and caps, all complete. It's a romantic story--"

"My dear Dick," interposed Mrs. Ware, with fragile, uplifted hand,
"please don't offend us with these horrible family scandals. Katharine,
dear, are you going to the vicar's garden party this afternoon? If you
are, will you take a message to Mrs. Cook?"

So Katherine being monopolized, Dick was silenced, and as Austin and
Viviette were talking in a lively but unintelligible way about a thing,
or a play, or a horse called Nietzsche, he relapsed into the heavy,
full-blooded man's animal enjoyment of his food and the sensitive's
consciousness of heartache.

When the ladies had left the table and the coffee had been brought in,
and the men's cigars were lit, Austin said:

"What a magnificently beautiful creature she has grown into."

"Whom do you mean?" asked Dick.

"Why, Viviette, of course. She's the most fascinating thing I've come
across for years."

"Do you think so?" said Dick shortly.

"Don't you?"

Dick shrugged his shoulders. Austin laughed.

"What a stolid old beggar you are. To you, she's just the same little
girl that used to run about here in short frocks. If she were a horse
you'd have a catalogue yards long of her points."

"But as she's a lady," said Dick, tugging his moustache, "I don't care
to catalogue them."

Austin laughed again. "Fairly scored!" He raised his cup to his lips,
took a sip, and set it down again.

"Why on earth," said he with some petulance, "can't mother give us
decent coffee?"



CHAPTER II

THE CONSPIRATORS


Dick went heavy-hearted to bed that night, pronouncing himself to be the
most abjectly miserable of God's creatures, and calling on Providence to
remove him speedily from an unsympathetic world. He had said good night
to the ladies at eleven o'clock when the three went upstairs to bed, and
had forthwith gone to spend the rest of the evening in the friendly
solitude of his armoury. Emerging thence an hour later into the hall, he
had come upon a picturesque, but heart-rending, spectacle. There, on the
third step of the grand staircase, stood Viviette, holding in one hand a
candle, and extending the other regally downwards to Austin, who, with
sleek head bent, was pressing it to his lips. In the candle-light her
hair threw disconcerting shadows over her elfin face, and her great eyes
seemed to glow with a magical intensity that poor Dick had never seen in
them before. As soon as he had appeared she had broken into her low
laugh, drawn away her hand from Austin, and, descending the steps,
extended it in much the same regal manner to Dick.

"Good night again, Dick," she said sweetly. "Austin and I have been
having a little talk."

But he had disregarded the hand, and, with a gruff "Good night," had
returned to his armoury, slamming the door behind him. There he had
nourished his wrath on more whiskey and soda than was good for him, and
crawled upstairs in the small hours to miserable sleeplessness.

This was the beginning of Dick's undoing, the gods (abetted by Viviette)
employing their customary procedure of first driving him mad. But
Viviette was not altogether a guilty abettor. Indeed, all day long, she
had entertained high notions of acting fairy godmother, and helping Dick
along the road to fortune and content. He himself, she learned, had
taken no steps to free himself from his present mode of life. He had not
even confided in Austin. Viviette ran over the list of her influential
friends. There was Lady Winsmere, a dowager countess of seventy,
surrounded by notabilities, at whose house she stayed now and then in
London. On the last occasion an Agent-General for one of the great
Colonies had sat next her at dinner. Then there was her friend Mrs.
Penderby, whose husband gathered enormous wealth in some mysterious way
in Mark Lane. Why should she not go up to London and open a campaign on
Dick's behalf, secure him an appointment, and come back flourishing it
before his dazzled and delighted eyes? The prospect was enchanting. The
fairy godmother romance of it fascinated her girlish mind. But first
she must clear the ground at home. There must be no opposition from
Austin. He must be her ally.

When a woman gets an idea like this into her head she must execute it,
as the Americans say, right now. A man waits, counts up all the
barriers, and speculates on the strength and courage of the lions in the
path--but a woman goes straight forward, and does not worry about the
lions till they bite her. Viviette resolved to speak to Austin at once;
but, owing to a succession of the little ironies of circumstance, she
found no opportunity of doing so all the afternoon or evening. It was
only when, standing at the top of the stairs, she had seen Dick go off
to the armoury, and Austin return to the drawing-room--for the men had
bidden the ladies good night in the hall--that she saw her chance. She
went downstairs and opened the drawing-room door.

"I don't want to go to bed after all. Do you think you can do with me a
little longer?"

"A great deal longer," he said, drawing a chair for her, and arranging
the shade of a lamp so that the light should not shine full in her eyes.
"I was just thinking how dull the room looked without you--as if all the
flowers had suddenly been taken away."

"I suppose I am decorative," she said blandly.

"You're bewitching. What instinct made you choose that shade of pale
green for your frock? If I had seen it in the pattern I should have said
it was impossible for your colouring. But now it seems to be the only
perfect thing you could wear."

She laughed her little laugh of pleasure, and thanked him prettily for
the compliment. They bandied gay words for a while.

"Oh, I'm so glad you have come down--even for this short visit," said
Viviette at last. "I was pining for talk, for wit, for a breath of the
great world beyond these sleepy meadows. You bring all that with you."

Austin leaned forward. "How do you know I'm not bringing even more?"

The girl's eyes drooped before his gaze. Then she fluttered a glance at
him in which there was a gleam of mockery.

"You bring the most valuable gift of all--appreciation of my frocks. I
love people to notice them. Now Dick is frock-blind. Why is that?"

"He's a dear old duffer," said Austin.

"I don't think he's happy," said Viviette, who, in her feminine way, had
worked round to the subject of the interview.

"He did seem rather cut up about the stables," Austin admitted. "But the
things are an eyesore, and mother was worrying herself to death
about them."

"It isn't only the stables," said Viviette. "Dick is altogether
discontented."

Austin looked at her in amazement. "Discontented?"

"He wants something to do."

"Nonsense," he laughed, with the air of a man certain of his facts.
"He's as happy as a king here. He shoots and hunts--looks after the
place--runs the garden and potters about in his armoury--in fact, does
just what he likes all day long. He goes to bed without a care sharing
his pillow, and, when he wakes up, gets into comfortable country clothes
instead of a tight-fitting suit of responsibilities. For a man of his
tastes he leads an ideal existence."

He threw away the end of the cigarette he was smoking, as though to say
that the argument was finished. But Viviette regarded him with a
smile--the smile of woman's superior wisdom. How astonishingly little he
knew of Dick!

"Do you really think there is one contented being on earth?" she asked.
"Even I know better than that."

Austin maintained that Dick ought to be contented.

"Dependent for practically all he has on you?"

"I've never let him feel it," he said quickly.

"He does, though. He wants to get away--to earn his own living--make a
way for himself."

"That's the first I've heard of it," said Austin, genuinely surprised.
"I really thought he was perfectly contented here. Of course, now and
then he's grumpy--but he always has had fits of grumpiness. What kind of
work does he want?"

"Something to do with sheep or cattle--in Arizona or New Zealand--the
place doesn't matter--any open-air life."

Austin lit another cigarette and walked about the room. He was a man of
well-regulated habits, and did not like being taken unawares. Dick
ought to have told him. Then there was their mother. Who would look
after her? Dick was a dispensation of Providence.

"Perhaps I might be a deputy dispensation, mightn't I?" said Viviette.
"I don't think mother is so desperately attached to Dick as all that. It
could be arranged somehow or other. And Dick is growing more and more
wretched about it every day. Every day he pours out his woes to me till
I can almost howl with misery."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Not to stand in his way if he gets a chance of going abroad."

"Of course I won't," cried Austin eagerly. "It never entered my head
that he wanted to go away. I would do anything in the world for his
happiness, poor old chap. I love Dick very deeply. In spite of his huge
bulk and rough ways there's something of the woman in him that makes one
love him."

They catalogued Dick's virtues, and then Viviette unfolded her scheme.
One or other of the powerful personages whom, in her young confidence,
she proposed to attack, would surely know of some opening abroad.

"Even humble I sometimes hear of things," said Austin. "Only a day or
two ago old Lord Overton asked me if I knew of a man who could manage a
timber forest he's got in Vancouver--"

Viviette jumped up and clapped her hands.

"Why, that's the very thing for Dick!" she cried exultingly.

"God bless my soul!" said Austin. "So it is. I never thought of it."

"If you get it for him I'll thank you in the sweetest way possible." She
glanced at him swiftly, under her eyelids. "I promise you I will."

"Then I'll certainly get it," replied Austin.

Austin then went into details. Lord Overton wanted a man of
education--a gentleman--one who could ride and shoot and make others
work. He would have to superintend the planting and the cutting and the
transportation of timber, and act as agent for the various farms Lord
Overton possessed in the wide district. The salary would be £700 a year.
The late superintendent had suddenly died, and Lord Overton wanted a man
to go out at once and fill his place. If only he had thought of Dick!

"But you're thinking of him now. It can't be too late--men with such
qualifications aren't picked up at every street corner."

"That's quite true," said Austin. "And as for my recommendation," he
added in his confident way, "Lord Overton and I are on such terms that
he would not hesitate to give the appointment to a brother of mine. I'll
write at once."

"And we'll say nothing to Dick until we've got it all in black and
white."

"Not a word," said he.

Then they burst out laughing like happy conspirators, and enjoyed
beforehand the success of their plot.

"The old place will be very strange without him," said Austin.

A shadow passed over Viviette's bright face. The manor-house would
indeed be very lonely. Her occupation as Dick's liege lady, confidante,
and tormentor would be gone. Parting from him would be a wrench. There
would be a dreadful scene at the last moment, in which he would want to
hold her tight in his arms and make her promise to join him in
Vancouver. She shivered a little; then tossed her head as if to throw
off the disturbing thoughts.

"Don't let us look at the dismal side of things. It's selfish. All we
want is Dick's happiness." She glanced at the clock and started up.
"It's midnight. If Katherine knew I was here she would lecture me."

"It's nothing very dreadful," he laughed. "Nor is Katherine's lecture."

"I call her Saint Nitouche--but she's a great dear, isn't she? Good
night."

He accompanied her to the foot of the stairs and lit her candle. On the
third stair she paused.

"Remember--in all this it's I who am the fairy godmother."

"And I," said Austin, "am nothing but the fairy godmother's humble and
devoted factotum." He took the hand which she extended and, bending over
it, kissed it gallantly.

Then by unhappy chance out came Dick from the armoury, and beheld the
spectacle which robbed him of his peace of mind.

The next morning, when Dick came down gloomily to breakfast, she was
very gentle with him, and administered tactfully to his wants. She
insisted on going to the sideboard and carving his cold ham, of which he
ate prodigious quantities after a hot first course, and when she put the
plate before him laid a caressing touch on his shoulder. She neglected
Austin in a bare-faced manner, and drew Dick into reluctant and then
animated talk on his prize roses and a setter pup just recovering from
distemper. After the meal she went with him round the garden, inspected
both roses and puppy, and manifested great interest in a trellis he was
constructing for the accommodation later in the summer of some climbing
cucumbers, at present only visible as modest leaves in flower-pots.
Neither made any reference to the little scene of the night before.
Morning had brought to Dick the conviction that in refusing her hand and
slamming the door he had behaved in an unpardonably bearish manner; and
he could not apologise for his behaviour unless he confessed his
jealousy of Austin, which, in all probability, would have subjected him
to the mocking ridicule of Viviette--a thing which, above all others, he
dreaded, and against which he knew himself to be defenceless. Viviette,
too, found silence golden. She knew perfectly well why Dick had slammed
the door. An explanation would have been absurd. It would have
interfered with her relations with Austin, which were beginning to be
exciting. But she loved Dick in her heart for being a bear, and evinced
both her compunction and her appreciation in peculiar graciousness.

"You've never asked me to try the new mare," she said. "I don't think it
a bit kind of you."

"Would you care to?" he asked eagerly.

"Of course I should. I love to see you with horses. You and the trap and
the horse seem to be as much one mechanism as a motor-car."

"I can make a horse do what I want," he said, delighted at the
compliment. "We'll take the dog-cart. When will you come? This morning?"

"Yes--let us say eleven. It will be lovely."

"I'll have it round at eleven o'clock. You'll see. She's a flyer."

"So am I," she said with a laugh, and pointed to the front gate, which a
garden lad had just run to open to admit a young man on horseback.

"Oh, lord! it's Banstead," said Dick with a groan.

"Au revoir--eleven o'clock," said Viviette, and she fled.

Lord Banstead dismounted, gave his horse to the lad, and came up to
Dick. He was an unhealthy, dissipated-looking young man, with lustreless
eyes, a characterless chin, and an underfed moustache. He wore a light
blue hunting stock, fastened by a ruby fox in full gallop, and a round
felt hat with a very narrow flat brim, beneath which protruded strands
of Andrew aguecheek hair.

"Hallo, Banstead," said Dick, not very cordially.

"Hallo," said the other, halting before the rose-bed, where Dick was
tying up some blooms with bast. He watched him for a moment or two.
Conversation was not spontaneous.

"Where's Viviette?" he asked eventually.

"Who?" growled Dick.

"Rot. What's the good of frills? Miss Hastings."

"Busy. She'll be busy all the morning."

"I rather wanted to see her."

"I don't think you will. You might ring at the front door and send in
your card."

"I might," said Banstead, lighting a cigar. He had tried this method of
seeing Viviette before, but without success. There was another pause.
Dick snipped off an end of bast.

"You're up very early," said he.

"Went to bed so bally sober I couldn't sleep," replied the misguided
youth. "Not a soul in the house, I give you my word. So bored last night
I took a gun and tried to shoot cats. Shot a damn cock pheasant by
mistake, and had to bury the thing in my own covers. If I'm left to
myself to-night I'll get drunk and go out shooting tenants. Come over
and dine."

"Can't," said Dick.

"Do. I'll open a bottle of the governor's old port. Then we can play
billiards, or piquet, or cat's-cradle, or any rotten thing you like."

Dick excused himself curtly. Austin had come down for Whitsuntide, and a
lady was staying in the house. Lord Banstead pushed his hat to the back
of his head.

"Then what the devil am I to do in this hole of a place?"

"Don't know," said Dick.

"You fellows in the country are so unfriendly. In town I never need
dine alone. Anyone's glad to see me. Feeding all by myself in that
dining-room fairly gives me the pip."

"Then come and dine here," said Dick, unable to refuse a neighbour
hospitality.

"Right," said Banstead. "That is really like the Samaritan Johnnie. I'll
come with pleasure."

"Quarter to eight."

Banstead hesitated. "Couldn't you make it a quarter past?"

Dick stared. "Alter our dinner hour? You've rather a nerve, haven't you,
Banstead?"

"I wouldn't suggest it, if we weren't pals," replied the other, grinning
somewhat shamefacedly. "But the fact is I've got an appointment late
this afternoon." The fatuity of vicious and coroneted youth outstripped
his discretion. "There's a devilish pretty girl, you know, at 'The Green
Man' at Little Barton; I don't know whether I can get away in time."

Dick stuffed his bast in his pocket, and muttered things uncomplimentary
to Banstead.

"Dinner's at a quarter to eight. You can take it or leave it," said he.

"I suppose I've jolly well got to take it," said Banstead, unruffled.
"Anything's better than going through dinner from soup to dessert all
alone under the fishy eye of that butling image of a Jenkins. He was
thirty years in my governor's service, and doesn't understand my ways. I
guess I'll have to chuck him."

A perspiring, straw-hatted postman lurched along the gravel drive with
the morning's post. He touched his hat to Dick, delivered the Manor
House bag into his hands, and departed.

"I'll sort these in the morning-room," said Dick, moving in the
direction of the house, and Lord Banstead, hoping to see Viviette,
followed at his heels. The control of the family post was one of the few
privileges Dick retained as master of the house. His simple mind still
regarded the receipt and despatch of letters as a solemn affair of life,
and every morning he went through the process of distribution with
ceremonial observance. In the morning-room they found Austin and
Viviette, the former writing in a corner, the latter reading a novel by
the French window that opened on to the terrace. Dick went up to a
table, and, opening the mail-bag, began to sort the letters into various
heaps. Austin greeted Lord Banstead none too warmly, and, with scarcely
an apology, went back to his writing. He disapproved of Banstead, who
was of a type particularly antagonistic to the young, clean, and
successful barrister. When Viviette had informed him of the youth's
presence in the garden, he had exclaimed impatiently:

"It ought to be somebody's business to go round the world occasionally
with a broom and sweep away spiders like that."

Viviette, mindful of the invective, received Lord Banstead with a smile
of amusement. As she had two protectors against a fifth proposal of
marriage, she stood her ground.

"I expected you to come over yesterday," she said.

"No, did you really?" he exclaimed, a flush rising to his pale cheeks.
"If I had thought that I should have come."

"You've made up for it by arriving early to-day, at any rate," said
Viviette.

"And I'm making up for it further by coming to dinner to-night. Dick
asked me," he added, seeing the polite questioning in her eyes.

"That will be very nice," she said. "You can talk to mother. You see,
Dick talks to Mrs. Holroyd, who is staying with us, Austin talks to me,
so poor mother is left out in the cold. She'll enjoy a nice long talk
with you."

When Banstead took the chorus out to supper he had the ready repartee of
his kind. In such a case he would have told the lady not to pull his
leg. But the delicate mockery in Viviette's face seemed to forbid the
use of this figure of speech, and as his vocabulary did not readily
allow him to formulate the idea in other terms he said nothing, but
settled his stock, and looked at her adoringly. At last he bent forward,
after a glance at the protectors, and said in a low tone:

"Come out into the garden. I've something to say to you."

"Why not say it here?" she replied in her ordinary voice.

Banstead bit his lip. He would have liked to call her a little devil.
But he reflected that if he did she would be quite capable of repeating
the phrase aloud, somewhat to the astonishment of Dick and Austin, who
might ask for embarrassing explanations. Instead he bent still nearer,
and whispered:

"I can only say it to you alone. I've been awake all night thinking of
it--give you my word."

"Wait till to-morrow morning, and by then you may have slept upon it,"
she counselled.

"You'll drive me to drink!" he murmured.

She rose with a laugh. "In that case I must go. I ought to be labelled
'dangerous.' Don't you think so, Dick? Besides, I'm going for a drive,
and must put on my things. These my letters? Au revoir." And, with a
wave of her hand she left them.

Banstead lingered by the threshold and took up an illustrated paper. The
maid, in response to Dick's summons, bore away the letters for the rest
of the household. Austin and Dick concerned themselves with their
correspondence, Dick's chiefly consisting of gardeners' catalogues.

For a while there was silence. It was broken by a loud laugh from
Austin.

"Dick! I say, Dick! What do you think these village idiots have asked me
to do? To accept their nomination and stand as a Rural District
Councillor! Me!"

Dick quickly crossed to the table where his brother was sitting.

"That's my letter, old chap. I must here put it in your heap by mistake.
The invitation is meant for me."

"You?" laughed Austin. "Why, what do you want to fool about with village
politics for? No. The letter is meant for me right enough."

"I can't understand it," said Dick.

Lord Banstead looked up from his paper.

"That the Rural District Council? I'm on the committee. Had a meeting
yesterday. I'm chairman of the silly rotters."

"Then your silly rotter of an honorary secretary," cried Dick angrily,
"has sent Austin the letter of invitation that was meant for me."

"Oh, no, he didn't," said Banstead. "It's all right. They chucked you,
old son. Now I remember. I promised to explain."

Dick turned aside. "Oh, you needn't explain," he said bitterly.

"But I must. They had their reasons, you know. They thought they'd
rather have a brainy nobleman like your brother than a good old rotter
like you. You're--"

"Oh, hold your tongue, Banstead," cried Austin, rising and putting his
hand on Dick's shoulder. "Really, my dear old Dick, you're the right
person to stand. They only thought a lawyer could help them--but I'm far
too busy--of course I decline. I'm deeply pained, Dick, at having hurt
you. I'll write to the committee and point out how much fitter, as a
country gentleman, you are for the duties than I am. They're bound
to ask you."

Dick swung away passionately, his lips quivering with anger and
mortification beneath his great moustache.

"Do you think I would accept? I'm damned if I would. Do you expect me to
pick up everything you've thrown in the mud and feel grateful? I'm
damned if I will!"

He flung out of the room on to the terrace and strode away in a rage.

"Seems to take it badly," remarked Banstead, looking at his
disappearing figure. "I had better say good-bye."

"Good-bye," said Austin. And he added, as he accompanied him with grim
politeness to the front gate, "if you exercise the same tact in the
chair as you've done here, your meetings must be a huge success."

He returned with a shrug of the shoulders to his table in the
morning-room. He was deeply attached to Dick, but a lifelong habit of
regarding him as a good-natured, stupid, and contented giant blinded him
to the storm that was beginning to rage in the other's soul. The
occurrence was unfortunate. It wounded the poor old fellow's vanity.
Banstead's blatant folly had been enough to set any man in a rage. But,
after all, Dick was a common-sense creature, and, recognising that
Austin was in no way to blame, he would soon get over it. Meanwhile,
there was awaiting him the joyful surprise of Vancouver, which would
soon put such petty mortifications out of his head. Thus Austin consoled
himself, and settled down to the serious matters of his correspondence.

Viviette, coming in later in hat and jacket, found him busily writing.
He looked up at her admiringly as she stood against the background of
light framed by the great French window.

"Am I presentable?" she asked, with a smile, interpreting his glance.

"Each modification of your dress makes you seem more bewitching than the
last."

"I trimmed this hat myself," she said, coming into the room, and
looking at herself in a Queen Anne mirror on the wall.

"That's why it's so becoming," said Austin.

She wheeled round on him with a laugh. "You really ought to say
something cleverer than that!"

"How can I," he replied, "when you drive my wits away?"

"Poor me," she said. And then, suddenly, "Where's Dick?"

"What do you want Dick for?"

"He promised to take me for a drive." She consulted the watch on her
wrist. "It's past eleven now."

"I'm afraid poor Dick is rather upset. He seems to have been counting on
being nominated to stand for the Rural District Council, and the
imbeciles invited me instead."

"Oh, how could they?" she cried, smitten with a great pity. "How could
they be so stupid and cruel? I know all about it. He told me yesterday.
He must be bitterly disappointed."

Austin did not tell her of Lord Banstead's tactful explanation of the
committee's action. He was a fastidious man, and did not care to soil
his mind with the memory of Banstead's existence. If he had described
the scene, the young man's vulgarity, his own attempt at conciliation,
and Dick's passionate outburst--the course of the drama that was shaping
itself might have been altered. But the stars in their courses were
fighting against Dick. Austin only said:

"If we get him this appointment, it will be ample compensation, anyhow."

"Please don't say 'if,'" exclaimed Viviette, "we must get it."

"Unless Lord Overton has already found a man, which is unlikely, owing
to the general suspension of business at Whitsuntide, it's practically
a certainty."

"When shall we know?"

"My letter's written and is waiting for the post. If he replies by
return we shall hear the day after to-morrow."

"That is such a long time to wait. Do you know what to-morrow is?"

"Wednesday," said Austin.

"It's Dick's birthday." She clapped her hands at a happy inspiration,
and hung on his arm. "Oh, Austin! If we could only give him the
appointment as a birthday present!"

Her touch, her fresh charm, the eagerness in her eyes roused him to
unwonted enthusiasm. In his sane moments he did not care a fig for
anybody's birthday. What man ever does? He proclaimed the splendour of
her idea. But how was it to be realised?

"Send a long prepaid telegram to Lord Overton, of course," said Viviette
triumphantly. (How unresourceful are men!) "Then we can get an
answer to-day."

"You forget the nearest telegraph office is at Witherby, seven miles
off."

"But Dick and I are going for a drive. I'll make him go to Witherby and
I'll send the telegram. Write it."

She drew him in her caressing way to the table, seated him in the chair,
and laid the block of telegram forms before him. He scribbled
industriously, and when he had finished handed her the sheets.

"There!"

He fished in his pockets for money, but Viviette checked him. She was
the fairy godmother in this fairy tale, and fairy godmothers always held
the purse. She glanced again at her watch. It was ten minutes
past eleven.

"Perhaps he's waiting with the trap for me all the time. Au revoir."

"I'll see you off," said Austin.

They went together into the hall and opened the front door. The new
mare and the dog-cart in charge of the stable lad were there, but
no Dick.

"Where's Mr. Ware?"

"Don't know, miss."

Then the Devil entered into Viviette. There is no other explanation. The
Devil entered into her.

"We must get to Witherby and back before lunch. You drive me over
instead of Dick."

They exchanged glances. Austin was young. He was in love with her. Dick
had committed the unpardonable offence of being late. It would serve
him right.

"I'll come," said he, disappearing in search of cap and gloves.

Viviette went into the hall and scribbled a note.

"Dear Dick,--You're late. Austin and I have the most important business
to transact at Witherby, so he's driving me over. We're preparing a
great surprise for you.--Viviette."

"Give this to Mr. Ware," she said to the stable boy as she prepared to
get into the dog-cart.

The boy touched his cap and ran to open the gate. Viviette lightly
mounted by Austin's side. They had just turned into the road when Dick
came racing through the hall and saw them disappear. He walked up the
drive, and met the boy coming down, who handed him the note, with some
words, which he did not hear. He watched the boy out of sight. Then he
tore the note unread into tiny fragments, stamped them furiously into
the mould of the nearest bed, and, flying into his armoury, threw
himself into a chair and cursed the day that ever Austin was born.



CHAPTER III

KATHERINE


The drive was a memorable one for many reasons. First the new mare flew
along at an exhilarating trot, as if showing off her qualities to her
new masters. Then the morning sunshine flooded the soft, undulating
Warwickshire country, and slanted freshly through the bordering elms in
sweet-scented lanes. Summer flaunted its irresponsible youth in the
faces of matronly, red-brick Manor House, old grey church, and crumbling
cottage, danced about among the crisp green leaves, kissed the wayside
flowers, and tossing up human hearts in sheer gaiety, played the very
deuce with them. The drive also had its altruistic side. They were on an
errand of benevolence. Austin, his mind conscious of nothing but right,
felt the unusual glow of unselfish devotion to another's interests. When
he had awakened that morning he had had misgivings as to the
advisability of sending Dick to another hemisphere. After all, Dick was
exceedingly useful at Ware House, and saved him a great deal of trouble.
An agent would have to be appointed to replace him, whose salary--not a
very large one, in view of the duties to be performed, but still a
salary--would have to be provided out of his, Austin's, pocket. Who,
again, could undertake the permanent care of his mother? Viviette would
stay at home for some little time; but she would be marrying one of
these fine days--a day which Austin had reasons for hoping would not be
very remote. He would have to make Heaven knows what arrangements for
Mrs. Ware and the general upkeep of the Manor House, while he was in
London carrying on his profession. Decidedly, Dick had been a godsend,
and his absence would be a calamity. In sending him out to Vancouver
Austin had all the unalloyed, pure pleasure of self-sacrifice.

They talked of Dick and Dick's birthday and Dick's happiness most of the
way to Witherby. The telegram despatched, prepaid with the porterage by
Viviette, Austin felt that he had done his duty by his brother, and
deserved some consideration on his own account. And here it was that the
summer began its game with their hearts. On such sportive occasions it
is not so much what is said that matters. A conversation that might be
entirely conventional between comparative strangers in a fog may become
the most romantic interchange of sentiment imaginable between intimates
in the sunshine. There are tones, there are glances, there are
half-veiled allusions, there are--in a dog-cart, especially when it
jolts--thrilling contacts of arm and arm. There is man's undisguised
tribute to beauty; there is beauty's keen feminine appreciation of the
tribute. There is a manner of saying "we" which counts for more than the
casual conjunction of the personalities.

"This is _our_ day, Viviette," said Austin. "I shall always remember
it."

"So shall I. We must put a white mark against it in our diaries."

"With white ink?"

"Of course. Black would never do, nor red, nor violet."

"But where shall we get it?"

"I'll make us some when I get home out of white cloud and lilies and
sunshine and a bit of the blue sky."

Laughter fluttered through her veins. Yesterday she had teasingly
boasted to Katherine that Austin was in love with her. Now she knew it.
He proclaimed it in a thousand ways. A note of exultation in his laugh,
like that in a blackbird's call, alone proclaimed it. Instinct told her
of harmless words she might use which would bring the plain avowal. But
the hour was too delicate. As yet nothing was demanded. All was given.
Her woman's vanity blossomed deliciously in the atmosphere of a man's
love. Her heart had not yet received the inevitable summons to respond.
She left it, careless in the gay hands of summer.

When they drew up before the front door of Ware House he lifted her from
the dog-cart and set her laughing on her feet.

"How strong you are," she cried.

"I'm not a giant, like Dick," said he, "but I'm strong enough to do what
I like with a bit of a thing like you."

She entered the hall and glanced at him provokingly over her shoulder.

"Don't be too sure of that."

"Whatever I like," he repeated, striding towards her.

But Viviette laughed, and fled lightly up the stairs, and on the
landing blew him an ironical kiss from her finger tips.

When Viviette came down for lunch, she found Dick awaiting her in the
hall. With a lowering face he watched her descend and, his hand on the
newel, confronted her.

"Well?" said he indignantly.

"Well?" she said, cheerfully smiling.

"What have you got to say for yourself?"

"Lots of things. I had a lovely drive. I got through all my business,
and I have a beautiful appetite. I also don't like standing on a stair."

At her look he drew aside and let her pass into the hall.

"You promised to drive with me," he said, following her to a chair in
which she sat. "Driving with me is no great catch, perhaps; but a
promise is a promise."

"You were late," said Viviette.

"My mother kept me--some silly nonsense about vegetables. You must have
known it was something I couldn't help."

"I really don't see why you're so angry, Dick," she said, lifting candid
eyes. "I explained why we had gone in my note."

"I didn't read the note," said Dick wrath-fully. "A thousand notes
couldn't have explained it. I tore the note into little pieces."

Viviette rose. "If that's the way you treat me," she said, piqued, "I
have nothing more to say to you."

"It's the way you're treating me," he cried, with a clumsy man's awkward
attempt at gesture. "I know I'm not clever. I know I can't talk to you
as sweetly as other people; but I'm not a dog, and I deserve some
consideration. Perhaps, after all, I might have the brains to jest and
toss about words and shoot off epigrams. I'll try, if you like. Let us
see. Here. A man who entrusts his heart to a woman has a jade for his
banker. That's devilish smart, isn't it. Now then--there must be some
repartee to it. What is it?"

Viviette looked at him proudly, and moving in the direction of the
morning-room door, said with much dignity:

"That depends on the way in which the woman you are talking to has been
brought up. My repartee is--good morning."

Dick, suddenly repentant, checked her.

"No, Viviette. Don't go. I'm a brute and a fool. I didn't mean it.
Forgive me. I would rather go on the rack than hurt your little finger.
But it maddens me--can't you believe it? It maddens me to see Austin--"

She broke into a little laugh and smiled dazzlingly on him.

"I do believe you're jealous!" she interrupted.

"Good heavens!" he cried passionately. "Haven't I cause? Austin has
everything his heart can desire. He has always had it. I have
nothing--nothing but one little girl I love. Austin, with all the world
at his feet, comes down here, and what chance has a rough yokel like me
against Austin? My God! It's the one ewe lamb."

He raised his clenched fists and brought them down against his sides and
turned away. The allusion and a consciousness of Vancouver brought a
smile into Viviette's eyes. She had a woman's sense of humour, which is
not always urbane. When he turned to meet her she shook her head
reprovingly.

"And David put Uriah into the forefront of the battle, and carried off
poor little Bathsheba. No one seemed to have concerned himself with what
Bathsheba thought of it all. Don't you consider she ought to have some
choice in the matter--whether she should follow the sprightly David or
cling to the melancholy Uriah?"

"Oh, don't jest like that, Viviette," he cried. "It hurts!"

"I'm sorry, Dick," she said innocently. "But, really, Bathsheba has her
feelings. What am I to do?"

"Choose, dear, between us. Choose now--in Heaven's name, choose."

"But, Dick, dear," said Viviette, all that was wickedly feminine in her
shouting her sex's triumph song, "I want a longer time to choose between
two hats!"

Dick stamped his foot. "Then Austin has been robbing me! I'm growing
desperate, Viviette, tell me now. Choose."

He seized her arms in his strong hands. She felt a delicious little
thrill of fear. But knowing her strength, she looked up at him with a
childish expression and said plaintively: "Oh, Dick, dear, I'm
so hungry."

He released her arms. She rubbed them ruefully. "I'm sure you've made
horrid red rings. Fancy choosing a hard, uncomfortable hat like that!"

He was about to make some rejoinder when the presence of Mrs. Ware and
Katherine Holroyd at the top of the stairs put an end to the encounter.
The victory, such as it was, remained with Viviette.

At lunch, Austin, his veins still tingling with the summer, laughed and
jested light-heartedly. What a joy it was to get away from stuffy courts
of justice into the pure Warwickshire air. What a joy to drink of the
wine of life. What was that? Only those that drank of the wine
could tell.

"What about the poor devils that only get the dregs?" muttered Dick.

Austin declared that the real wine had no dregs. He called his mother
and Katherine Holroyd to witness. Mrs. Ware was not sure. Old port had
to be very carefully decanted. Did he remember the fuss his dear father
used to make about it? She was very glad there was no more left--for
Dick would be sure to drink it and it would go to his head.

"Or his toes!" cried Viviette.

When Austin explained Viviette's meaning to his mother, who had not an
allusive habit of mind, she acquiesced placidly. Port was not good for
gouty people. Their poor father suffered severely. Austin listened to
her reminiscences and turned the talk to the drive. It had been more
like driving through Paradise with Pegasus harnessed to Venus's car than
anything else. He must take his mother out and show her what a good
judge of horseflesh was dear old Dick.

"As she's my mare, perhaps I might have the privilege," said Dick.

Austin cried out, in all good faith: "My dear old boy, is there anything
especially mine or yours in this house?"

Katherine, a keen observer, broke quickly into the talk.

"There's Dick's armoury. That's his own particular and private domain.
You're going to explain it all to me this afternoon, aren't you? You
promised yesterday."

She drew Dick into talk away from the others. The lecture on the armoury
was fixed for three o'clock, when she would be free from the duty from
which, during her stay at the Manor House, she had freed Viviette, of
postprandial reading of the newspaper to Mrs. Ware. But her interest in
his hobby for once failed to awaken his enthusiasm. The dull jealousy of
Austin, against which his honest soul had struggled successfully all his
life long, had passed beyond his control. These few days of Austin's
Whitsun visit had changed his cosmic view. Petty rebuffs, such as the
matters of the stables and the Rural District Council, which formerly he
would have regarded in the twilight of his mind as part of the
unchangeable order of things in which Austin was destined to shine
resplendently and he to glimmer--Austin the arc-lamp and he the
tallow-dip--became magnified into grievances and insults intolerable.
Esau could not have raged more against Jacob, the supplanter, than did
Dick, when Austin carried off Viviette from beneath his nose. Until this
visit of Austin he had no idea that he would find a rival in his
brother. The discovery was a shock, causing his world to reel and
setting free all the pent-up jealousies and grievances of a lifetime.
Everything he had given up to Austin, if not willingly, at least
graciously, hiding beneath the rough, tanned hide of his homely face all
pain, disappointment, and humiliation. But now Austin had come and
swooped off with his one ewe lamb. Not that Viviette had encouraged him
by more than the real but mocking affection with which she had treated
her bear foster-brother ever since her elfin childhood. In a dim way he
realised this, and absolved her from blame. Less dimly, also, he felt
his mental and social inferiority, his lack of warrant in offering her
marriage. But his great, rugged manhood wanted her, the woman, with an
imperious, savage need which took all the training of civilisation to
repress. Viviette alone in her maidenly splendour, he could have fought
it down. But the vision of another man entering, light-hearted and
debonair, into those precincts maddened him, let loose primitive
instincts of hatred and revenge, and robbed him of all interest in the
toys with which men used to slay each other centuries ago.

Austin, being nearest the door, opened it for the ladies to pass out.
Viviette, going out last, looked up at him with one of her
witch's glances.

"Don't be very long," she said,

Before Austin could resume his seat Dick leaped up.

"Austin, look here; I've something to say to you."

"Well?" said Austin.

Dick pulled out a cigar, bit the end off, and finding that he had
ripped the outer skin, threw it angrily into the fireplace.

"My dear old boy," said Austin, "what in the name of all that's neurotic
is the matter?"

"I've something to say to you," Dick repeated. "Something that concerns
myself, my life. I must throw myself on your generosity."

Austin, his head full of philanthropy, thrust his hands into his pockets
and smiled indulgently on Dick.

"Don't, old chap, I know all about it. Viviette has told me everything."

Dick, his head full of passion, staggered in amazement.

"Viviette has told you?"

"Of course; why shouldn't she?"

Dick groped his way to the door. It were better for both that he should
not stay. Austin, left alone, laughed, not unkindly. Dear old Dick! It
was a shame to tease him--but what a different expression his honest
face would wear to-morrow! When the maid brought in his coffee he sipped
it with enjoyment, forgetful for once of its lack of excellence.

There was one person, however, in the house who saw things clearly; and
the more clearly she saw them the less did they seem satisfactorily
ordered. This was Katherine Holroyd, a sympathetic observer and
everybody's intimate. She had known the family since her childhood,
spent in a great neighbouring house which had now long since passed from
her kin into alien hands. She had known Viviette when she first came,
with her changeling face, a toddling child of three, to the Manor House.
She had grown up with the brothers. Until her marriage the place had
been her second home. Her married life, mostly spent abroad, had
somewhat broken the intimacy. But her widowhood after the first few
hopeless months had renewed it, although her visits were comparatively
rare. On the other hand, her little daintily-furnished London house in
Victoria square was always open to such of the family as happened to be
in town. Now, as Austin was the most frequently in town, seeing that he
lived there all the year round, with the exception of the long vacation
and odd flying visits to Warwickshire, to Austin was her door most
frequently open. A deep affection existed between them, deeper perhaps
than either realised. To be purely brotherly in attitude towards a woman
whom you are fond of and who is not your sister, and to be purely
sisterly in your attitude towards a man whom you are fond of and who is
not your brother, are ideals of spiritual emotion very difficult to
attain in this respectably organised but sex-ridden world.

During the dark time of her early widowhood it was to Austin's delicate
tact and loyalty that she owed her first weak grasp on life. It was he
that had brought her to a sense of outer things, to a realisation that
in spite of her own grey sky there was still a glory on the earth. He
was her trusted friend, ally, and adviser, who never failed her, and she
contemplated him always with a heart full of somewhat exaggerated
gratitude--which is as far on the road to love as it is given to many
women to travel.

She had barely reached the top of the hall stairs--on her way to spend
her reading hour with Mrs. Ware, when she saw Dick come out of the
dining-room with convulsed and angry face, the veins standing out on his
thick bull's neck. She felt frightened. Something foolish and desperate
would happen before long. She resolved to give Austin a warning word.
With an excuse to Mrs. Ware she went down again to the dining-room, and
found Austin in the cosiest and sunniest frame of mind imaginable.
Obviously there had been no serious quarrel between the brothers.

"Can I have a few minutes with you, Austin?"

"A thousand," he said gaily. "What has gone wrong?"

"It is nothing to do with me," she said.

He looked amusedly into her eyes. "I know. It's about Viviette.
Confess."

"Yes," she replied soberly, "it's about Viviette."

"You've seen it. I make no bones about it. You can believe the very
worst. I have fallen utterly and hopelessly in love with her. I am at
your mercy."

This beginning was not quite what Katherine had expected. In his
confident way he had taken matters out of her hands. She had not
anticipated a down-right confession. She felt conscious of a little dull
and wholly reprehensible ache at her heart. She sighed.

"Aren't you pleased, Katherine?" he asked with a man's selfishness.

"I suppose I must be--for your sake. But I must also sigh a little. I
knew you would be falling in love sooner or later--only I hoped it would
be later. But _que veux-tu?_ It is the doom of all such friendships."

"I don't see anything like a doom about it, my dear," said he. "The
friendship will continue. Viviette loves you dearly."

She took up a peach from a dish to her hand, regarded it for a moment,
absent-mindedly, and delicately replaced it.

"Our friendship will continue, of course. But the particular essence of
it, the little sentimentality of ownership, will be gone, won't it?"

Austin rose and bent over Katherine's chair in some concern. "You're not
distressed, Katherine?"

"Oh, no. You have been such a kind, loyal friend to me during a very
dark and lonely time--brought sunshine into my life when I needed it
most--that I should be a wicked woman if I didn't rejoice at your
happiness. And we have been nothing more than friends."

"Nothing more," said Austin.

She was smiling now, and he caught a gleam of mischief in her eyes.

"And yet there was an afternoon last winter--"

His face coloured. "Don't throw my wickedness in my face. I remember
that afternoon. I came in fagged, with the prospect of dinner at the
club and a dismal evening over a brief in front of me, and found you
sitting before the fire, the picture of rest and comfortableness and
companionship. I think it was the homely smell of hot buttered toast
that did it. I nearly asked you to marry me."

"And I had been feeling particularly lonely," she laughed.

"Would you have accepted me?"

"Do you think that it is quite a fair question?"

"We have always been frank with one another since our childhood," said
he.

She smiled. "Has Viviette accepted you?"

He broke away from her with a gay laugh, and lit a cigarette.

"Your feminine subtlety does you credit, Katherine."

"But has she?"

"Well, no--not exactly."

"Will she?"

He brought his hand down on the table. "By heavens, I'll make her! I've
got most of the things I've wanted during my life, and it'll be odd if I
don't get the thing I want more than all the rest put together. Now
answer my question, my dear Katherine," he continued teasingly. "Would
you have married me?"

The smile faded from Katherine's face. She could not parry the question
as she had done before, and it probed depths. She said very seriously
and sweetly:

"I should have done, Austin, as I always shall do, whatever you ask me
to do. I'm glad you didn't ask me--very glad--for the love a woman gives
a man died within me, you know."

He took her hand and kissed it.

"My dear," said he, "you are the truest friend that ever man had."

There was a short pause. Austin looked out of the window and Katherine
wiped away some moisture in her eyes. This scene of sentimentality was
not at all what she had come for. Soon she rose with a determined air
and joined Austin by the window.

"It was as a true friend that I wanted to speak to you to-day. To warn
you."

"About what?"

"About Dick. Austin, he's madly in love with Viviette too."

Austin stared at her for a moment incredulously. "Dick in love--in love
with Viviette?" Then he broke into a peal of laughter. "My _dear_
Katherine! Why, it's absurd! It's preposterous! It's too funny."

"But seriously, Austin."

"But seriously," he said, with laughing eyes, "such an idea has never
penetrated into old Dick's wooden skull. You dear women are always
making up romance. He and Viviette are on the same old fairy and great
brown bear terms that they have been ever since they first met. She
makes him dance on his hind legs--he wants to hug her--she hits him over
the nose--and he growls."

"I warn you," said Katherine. "Great brown bears in love are dangerous."

"But he isn't in love," he argued light-heartedly. "If he were he would
want to stay with Viviette. But he's eating his heart out, apparently,
to leave us all and go and plough fields and herd cattle abroad. The
life he lives here, my good mother's somewhat arbitrary ways, and one
thing and another have at last got on his nerves. I wonder now how the
dear old chap has stood it so long. That's what is wrong with him, not
blighted affection."

"I can only tell you what I know," said Katherine. "If you won't believe
me, it's not my fault. Keep your eyes open and you will see."

"And you keep your eyes open to-morrow morning and _you_ will see," he
said, with his bright self-confidence.

So Katherine sighed at the obtuseness and inconvincibility of man and
went to read the leader in _The Daily Telegraph_ to Mrs. Ware. Austin,
with a smile on his lips, wandered out into the sunshine in search
of Viviette.

Before they parted, however, Katherine turned by the door.

"Are you coming to the armoury to hear Dick's lecture?"

"Of course," said Austin gaily. "The dear old chap loves an audience."



CHAPTER IV

THE FAMOUS DUELLING PISTOLS


Dick's great-grandfather (Wild Dick Ware, as he used to be called by the
country-side), besides other enormities of indiscretion, committed an
architectural crime. Having begun to form the collection of arms which
was Dick's pride and hobby, he felt the need of a fencing gallery where
they could be displayed to advantage. None of the rooms in the house
were suitable. Building a new wing would cost too much. So, like a good
old English gentleman, accustomed to get what he wanted, he ruthlessly
cut off a slice of the nobly proportioned morning-room, containing a
beautifully-mullioned casement at the side, knocked a French window
through one end, so that he could wander in and out from the terrace,
knocked a door through the other so that it opened on a corner of the
hall, forgot all about the fireplace, and left his descendants to make
the best of things.

This long, narrow, comfortless strip of a room was Dick's armoury, den,
and refuge. It was furnished with extreme simplicity. At the further end
two rusty leather arm-chairs flanked a cast-iron stove in the corner, and
were balanced in the other and darker corner by a knee-hole writing-desk
littered with seeds and bulbs and spurs and bits of fishing tackle, and
equipped for its real purpose with a forbidding-looking pen and inkpot,
and a torn piece of weather-beaten blotting-paper. At about a third of
the way down from the terrace door a great screen, covered with American
cloth, cut the room almost in two. Against this screen stood two suits
of beautifully-finished fifteenth-century Italian armour. Between them
and the further end of the room ran a long deal table, with a green
baize cover. An odd, dilapidated chair or two stood lonely and
disconsolate against the opposite wall. The floor was covered with old
matting and a few faded rugs. The walls, however, and the cases ranged
along them gave an air of distinction to the room. There hung trophies
of arms of all sorts--a bewildering array of spiky stars like the
monstrous decorations on the breast of a Brobdingnagian diplomatist, of
guns and pistols of all ages and nationalities, of halberds, pikes, and
partisans, of curved scimitars, great two-handed swords, and long,
glittering rapiers, with precious hilts. There, too, were coats of chain
mail and great iron gauntlets, and rows of dinted helmets formed a
cornice round the gallery.

It was Dick's sanctuary, where, according to family tradition, he was
supposed to be immune from domestic attacks. Anyone, it is true, could
open the door and worry him from the threshold, but no one entered
without his invitation. Here he was master. Here he spent solitary hours
dreaming dreams, wrestling with devils, tying trout-flies, making up
medicines for his dogs, and polishing and arranging and rearranging his
armour and weapons. Until the furies got hold of him he was a simple
soul, content with simple things. The happiest times of his life had
been passed here among the inanimate objects which he loved, and here he
was now spending the hours of his greatest agony.

The words he had just heard from Austin rang like a crazy, deafening
chime through his ears. He sat in one of the old leather chairs,
gripping his coarse hair. It was unthinkable, and yet it was true.
Viviette had told Austin the thing that glowed sacred at the bottom of
his soul. The scene danced vividly before his eyes: the two bright
creatures making a mock of him and his love, laughing merrily at the
trick they had played him, pitying him contemptuously. There was a flame
at his heart, a burning lump in his throat. Mechanically he drew from a
little cupboard near by a bottle of whiskey, a syphon, and a glass. The
drink he mixed and swallowed contained little soda. It increased the
fire in his heart and throat. He paced the long room in crazy
indignation. Every nerve in his body quivered with a sense of
unforgivable insult and deadly outrage. Austin's face loomed before him
like that of a mocking devil. He had hell in his throat, and again he
tossed down a dose of whiskey, and threw himself into the arm-chair. The
daily paper lay on a stool at his hand. He took it up and tried to read,
but the print swam into thin, black smudges. He dashed the paper to the
ground, and gave himself up to his madness.

After a while he remembered his appointment with Katherine at three
o'clock. He glanced at his watch. It was a quarter to the hour, and,
beyond a cleaning yesterday afternoon, no preparations were made. In an
automatic way he unlocked some cases and drew out his treasures, wiped
the sword-blades tenderly with chamois leather, and laid them on the
long, baize-covered table. Here and there from the cornice he selected a
helmet. The great mace used by his ecclesiastical ancestor he unhooked
from the wall. Soon the table was covered with weapons, selected in a
dazed way, he knew not why. A helmet fell from his hands on the floor
with a ring of steel. Its visor grinned at him--the fool, the tricked,
the supplanted. He kicked it, with a silly laugh. Then he pulled himself
together, picked it up, and examined it in great fear lest harm should
have happened to it. He put it on the table, and in order to steady his
nerves drank another large whiskey and small soda.

He scanned the table, perplexed. Some accustomed and important exhibit
was not in its place. What was it? He clasped his head in his hands and
strove to clear his mind for a moment from obsession. It was something
historical, something unique, something he had but lately mentioned to
Katherine. Something intimately connected with this very room. At last
memory responded. He placed a chair between the two suits of armour that
stood against the screen and the end of the long table, and, mounting,
took a mahogany case from a shelf. Then he sat on the chair, put the
case on the table, and opened it by means of a small, ornamental key. It
contained a brace of old-fashioned duelling pistols, such as were used
at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They were long-barrelled,
ivory-handled, business-like weapons, provided with miniature ramrods.
The velvet-lined interior of the case was divided into various
compartments, two for the pistols, one for powder-flask, one for
bullets, one for percussion-caps, and one for wads. In his dull,
automatic way, his mind whirling madly in other spheres, he cleaned the
pistols, shook the powder-flask to make certain that powder was still
there--he loved to pour out a few grains into his hand and show the
powder that had remained in the flask for generations, ever since the
pistols were last used--counted the caps, which he had counted many
times before, looked stupidly into the only empty compartment, only to
remember that there never had been any wads, and, finally, grasping one
of the pistols, took aim at a bulb on his writing-desk at the end of
the room.

He had been tricked, and robbed, and mocked. He could see the scene when
she had told Austin. He could hear Austin's pitiless laughter. He could
picture her mimicking his rough speech. He could picture them,
faithless, heartless, looking into each other's eyes.... Suddenly he
passed his hand over his forehead. Was he going mad? Hitherto he had
heard their voices in the dimness of imagination. Now he heard them loud
in vibrating sound. Was it real or imaginary? He drew deep,
panting breaths.

"Dick's not here," said Viviette's voice from the terrace. "He has
forgotten."

"Really, my dear, I don't very much care," Austin replied. "Where you
are, I am happy."

"I wish that telegram would come. It's quite time. Don't you think we
had better tell Dick to-day?"

"No, no. To-morrow."

"After all, what is the good of hiding it from him?"

A laugh from Austin. "You think we ought to put him out of his misery
at once?"

It was real! Those two were talking in flesh and blood on the terrace.
They were talking of him. His misery! That had but one meaning. And the
devil laughed! Unconsciously his grip tightened on the butt of the
pistol. He listened.

"Yes," said Viviette. "It would be kinder."

"I stick to the birthday idea. It would be more dramatic."

"The damned villain!" Dick muttered.

"I want to-day," said Viviette.

"And I want to-morrow."

"You speak as if you were my lord and master," said Viviette, in the
mocking tones Dick knew so well.

"No other man shall be if I can help it."

The clear, young masterful voice rang down the gallery. Dick slid his
chair noiselessly to the side of the screen which hid him from the
terrace-window, and, bending down low, peered round the edge. He saw
them laughing, flushed, silhouetted against the green, distant trees.
Austin was looking at her with the light of passion in his eyes. She
looked up at him, radiant, elusive, triumphant, with parted lips.

"Please to remember we were talking of Dick."

"Confound Dick! In this he doesn't count. I matter. And I'll show you."

He showed her in the one and only way. She struggled for a second in his
arms, and received his kiss with a little laugh. They had moved to the
far lintel of the door. Dick's world reeled red before his eyes. He
stood up and held the pistol pointed. Damn him! Damn him! He would kill
him. Kill him like a dog.

Some reflex motion of the brain prompted action. Feverishly he rammed a
charge of powder down the pistol. Wads? A bit of the newspaper lying on
the floor. Then a bullet. Then a wad rammed home. Then the cap. It was
done at lightning speed. Murder, red, horrible murder blazed in his
soul. Damn him! He would kill him. He started into the middle of the
room, just as they walked away, and he sprang to the door and levelled
the pistol.

Then reaction came. No. Not like a dog. He couldn't shoot his brother
like a dog. His arm fell helplessly at his side. He turned back again
into the room, staggering and knocking himself against the cases by the
walls, like a drunken man. The sweat rolled down his face. He put the
pistol beside the other on the table. For some moments he stood a
hulking statue, shaken as though stricken with earthquake, white-faced,
white-lipped, staring, with crossed, blue eyes, at nothing. At last he
recovered power of motion, drank another whiskey, and replaced bottle,
syphon, and glass in the cupboard.

He found himself suddenly clear-headed, able to think. He was not in
the least degree drunk. To test himself he took up a sword from the
table, and, getting the right spot, balanced it on his finger. He could
speak, too, as well as anybody. He turned to a long Moorish musket
inlaid with gems and mother-of-pearl, and began to describe it. He was
quite fluent and sensible, although his voice sounded remote in his own
ears. He was satisfied. He had his nerves under control. He would go
through the next hour without anyone suspecting the madness that was in
his mind. He was absolutely sober and self-collected. He walked along a
seam of the matting that ran the whole length of the gallery, and did
not deviate from it one hair's breadth. Now he was ready. Perfectly
prepared to deliver his lecture. He sat down and picked up the
newspaper, and the print was clear. "The weather still continues to be
fine over the British Islands. The anti-cyclone has not yet passed away
from the Bay of Biscay...." He read the jargon through to the end. But
it seemed as if it were not he who was reading, but someone else--a
quiet, placid gentleman, deeply versed in the harmless science of
meteorology. Where his real self was he did not know, so he toyed with
the illusion.

A voice broke on his ear, coming, it seemed, from another world.

"Dick, may we come in?"

He rose, saw Katherine, Austin, and Viviette on the threshold. He
invited them to enter, and shook Katherine by the hand, as if he had not
met her for a long time.

Viviette danced down to the table. "Now, Dick, we're all here. Put on
your most learned, and antiquarian mariner. Ladies and gentlemen, I call
on Mr. Richard Ware to deliver his interesting lecture on the ingenious
instruments men have devised for butchering each other."

Dick put his hand to his head in a confused way. His real self was
beginning to merge itself into that of the quiet gentleman, and there
was a curious red mist before his eyes.

"Come on," cried Viviette. "Look at Katherine. Her mouth is watering for
tales of bloodshed."

Dick could not remember his usual starting-point. He stared stupidly at
the table for a moment; then picked up a weapon at random, and made a
great effort.

"This is a Toledo sixteenth-century sword--reported to have belonged to
Cosmo de Medici. You see here the '_palle_,' the Medici emblem. The one
next to it is a sword of the same period, only used by a meaner person.
I should prefer it, if there were any killing to be done."

He described one or two other weapons. Then, glancing over his shoulder
at Austin and Viviette, who were talking in low, confidential tones a
little way off, he stood stock still, and the beads of sweat gathered on
his forehead. Katherine's voice recalled his wandering wits.

"This is a cross-bow, isn't it? The thing the Ancient Mariner shot the
Albatross with."

"A cross-bow," said Dick. "The iron loop at the end was to put one's
foot into when one wanted to load it."

"And this," said Katherine, pointing to a long steel thing with a great
knob adorned with cruel spikes, "is the family mace, I suppose. I've
seen it before, I remember."

"Yes, that's the mace."

"What a blood-thirsty set of people you must have been!"

Austin came up with a laugh. "There's a legend among us that once mother
was left alone in the house and insisted on having this mace near her
bed so as to defend herself against burglars. But why do you leave me to
tell the story, Dick?"

Dick clenched his fists, and, muttering something, turned and ascended
the gallery above the screen. Viviette followed him.

"You're not doing it at all nicely. I don't think you want to."

"Can you wonder at that?" he said hoarsely.

Viviette played deliciously with the fire.

"Why, aren't we intelligent enough for you?" she asked with childish
innocence.

"You know what I mean."

"I haven't the faintest idea. All I know is that you may as well be
polite, at any rate."

He laughed. Ordinarily he had little sense of humour; but now he had the
flames in his heart and the hell in his throat, and red mist before
his eyes.

"Oh, I'll be polite," he growled. "By God, I'll be polite! One may be
suffering the tortures of the damned, but one must smirk and be polite!"

He snatched up the first thing to hand, a helmet that stood on a case,
and brought it down below the screen.

"Katherine, Viviette says I'm not delivering my lecture properly. I beg
your pardon. I'm rather shy at first, but I get warmed up to my subject.
What would you like to hear about?"

Katherine exchanged a glance with Austin.

"Don't you think we might put off the rest till another day?"

"Yes, old chap. Put it off till to-morrow. It's your birthday, you
know."

"Birthday? What's that got to do with it? Who knows what may happen
between then and now? No--no. I'm all right," he cried wildly. "You're
here, and you've got to listen. I'll get into fine form presently.
Look!" he said, pointing to the helmet he was holding. "Here is a
Cromwellian morion. It was picked up by an ancestor at Naseby. It has a
clean cut in it. That's where an honest gentleman's sword found its way
into the knave's skull--the puritanical, priggish, canting knave."

He threw the helmet with a clatter on to the table as if it had been the
knave's canting head. He caught up a weapon.

"This is a partisan. All you had to do when you got it inside a man was
to turn it round a bit, and the wound gaped and tore. This tassel is for
catching the blood and preventing it from greasing the handle. Here's a
beauty," he went on, taking a sword from the row he had laid out for
display, and holding it out for Katherine's inspection. "One of the pets
of the collection. A French duelling sword of the middle of the
eighteenth century." He gave a fencer's flourish. "Responsive to the
hilts, eh? Ah! It must have been good to live in those days, when you
could whip this from your side at a wrong done and have the life of the
man that wronged you. The sweet morning air, the patch of green turf,
shoes off--in shirt and breeches--with the eyes of the man you hate in
front of you, and this glittering, beautiful, snaky thing thirsting for
his heart's blood. And then--"--he stood in tierce, left hand curved,
holding in tense fierceness the eyes of an imaginary opponent--"and then
a little clitter-clatter of steel, and, suddenly--ha!--the blade
disappears up to the hilt, and a great red stain comes on the shirt, and
the man throws up his arms, and falls, and you've killed him. He's dead!
dead! dead! Ha! what a time to live in!"

Katherine uttered a little cry of fear, and grew pale. Viviette clapped
her hands.

"Bravo, Dick!"

"Bravo, Dick!" cried Austin. "Most dramatically done."

"I never knew you were such an actor," said Viviette.

Dick stood panting, his hand on the hilt of the sword, the point on the
floor.

"I really do think I've had enough," said Katherine.

"No, not yet," he said in a thick voice. "I've not shown you half yet.
I've something much more interesting."

"But, Dick--"

Viviette interrupted her. "You must stay. It's only beginning to be
exciting. If you only do the rest as beautifully as you did that, Dick,
I'll stay here all day."

Dick, with a curious outward calm, contrasting with the fury of his mock
encounter, put down the sword and went to the end of the table, where
the case of pistols lay.

"At any rate, I must show you," said he, "the famous duelling pistols."

"They were the very pistols in the duel between his great-grandfather
and Lord Estcombe," said Viviette.

"They've not been used from that day--he killed Lord Estcombe, by the
by--till this. The case is just as it was left. I was going to tell you
the story yesterday."

"I remember," said Katherine, by way of civility. "But Mrs. Ware stopped
you."

She was a mild-natured woman, and the realistic conjuring up of
gore-dripping tassels and bloody shirts upset her, and she desired to
get away. She also saw that Dick was abnormally excited, and suspected
that he had been drinking. Her delicate senses shrank from drunkenness.

"You must tell the story," cried Viviette. "It's so romantic. You like
romantic things, Katherine. The great-grandfather was a Dick Ware
too--Wild Dick Ware they used to call him. Go on, Dick."

Dick paused for a moment. He had a curious, dull, befogged sensation of
being compelled to do things independently of volition. Presently
he spoke.

"It happened in this very room, a hundred years ago. Lord Estcombe and
my great-grandfather were friends--intimate friends from boyhood. Wild
Dick Ware was madly in love with a girl who had more or less become
engaged to him. Now, it came to his knowledge that Lord Estcombe had
been using blackguard means to win away the girl's affections. And one
day they were here"--he moved a pace or two to one side--"just as Austin
and I are now. And the girl over there--"

Viviette, with a gay laugh, took up her position on the spot to which he
pointed.

"Just in this identical place. I know the story--it's lovely!"

"An old Peninsula comrade of Wild Dick Ware's was here too--a man called
Hawkins--"

"Katherine shall be Hawkins," cried Viviette.

"And in his presence," Dick continued, "Wild Dick Ware told the girl
that he was mad for love of her, but that he would not force her choice;
yet one of those two, himself or Lord Estcombe, she must choose, for
good and all. She could not speak for shame or confusion. He said,
'Throw your handkerchief to whichever of us you love.' And they stood
side by side--like this"--he ranged himself by Austin's side--"opposite
the girl."

"And she threw the handkerchief!" cried Viviette.

"Throw yours!" said Dick. He looked at her with fierce intensity beneath
rugged brows; Austin with laughing challenge. She knew that she was the
object of each man's desire, and her sex's triumph thrilled through her
from head to foot. She knew that this jesting choice would have serious
import. For some seconds the three remained stock still. She glanced
flatteringly from one man to the other. Which should she choose? Her
heart beat wildly. Choose one or the other she must. Outside that room
no man lived whom she would marry. Each second strained the situation
further. At last her spirit rose in feminine revolt against the trap
which Dick had set for her, and, with a malicious look, she threw the
handkerchief at Austin's feet. He picked it up and gallantly put it
to his lips.

"In the story," exclaimed Viviette, "she threw it to Lord Estcombe.
Austin is Lord Estcombe."

"And I'm Dick Ware," cried Dick, in a strangled voice. "Wild Dick Ware.
And this is what he did. He dragged the girl out of the room first."

He took Viviette by the arm and roughly thrust her past the screen.

"Then--that case was on the table. And without a word Wild Dick Ware
comes up to Lord Estcombe so--and says, 'Choose.'"

He gripped the pistols by the barrels, crossed them, and presented the
butts to Austin. Austin waved them away with a deprecatory gesture and
a smile.

"Really, old man, I can't enter into the spirit of it, like that. You're
splendid. But if I took a hand, it would be tomfoolery."

"Oh, do, do," cried Viviette. "Let us go through with it and see just
how the duel was fought. It will be thrilling. You'll have to fall dead
like Lord Estcombe, and I'll burst into the room and tear my hair over
your poor corpse. Do, Austin, for my sake."

He yielded. Any foolishness for her sake. He took a pistol.

"You'll have to be Major Hawkins, Katherine," he said lightly, as if
inviting her to condescend to some child's game.

But Katherine put her hands before her face and shrank back. "No, no,
no. I couldn't. I don't like it."

"Then I'll be Major Hawkins," said Viviette.

"You will?" Dick laughed harshly. "Then be it so."

"I know just what they did."

She placed the men back to back, so that Austin faced the further end of
the room and Dick the open French window. They were to take three paces,
count one, two, three, and, at the end of the third pace, they were to
turn and fire.

Dick felt the touch of Austin's shoulder against his, and the flame at
his heart grew fiercer and the hell in his throat more burning, and the
universe whirled round in a red mist. Viviette moved to the
weapon-laden table.

"Now. One--two--three!"

[Illustration: Dick glared at him]

They paced and turned. Dick levelled his pistol instantly at Austin,
with murderous hate in his eyes, and drew the trigger. The pistol
clicked harmlessly. Austin, self-conscious, did not raise his pistol.
But Dick, broadening his chest, glared at him and shouted,
wildly, madly:

"Fire, damn you! Fire! Why the devil don't you fire?"

The cry was real, vibrant with fury and despair. Austin looked at him
for an amazed moment; then, throwing his pistol on to one of the
arm-chairs, he came up to him.

"What fool's game are you playing, Dick? Are you drunk?"

Katherine, with a low cry, flung herself between them, and, clinging to
Dick's arm, took the pistol from his hand.

"No more of this--no more. The duel has been too much like reality
already."

Dick staggered to a straight-backed chair by the wall, and, sitting
down, wiped his forehead. He had grown deathly white. The flames had
been suddenly quenched within him, and he felt cold and sick. Viviette,
in alarm, ran to his side. What was the matter? Was he faint? Let her
take him into the fresh air. Austin came up. But at his approach Dick
rose and shrank away, glancing at him furtively out of bloodshot eyes.

"Yes. The heat has oppressed me. I'm not well. I'll go out."

He stumbled blindly towards the French window. Viviette followed him,
but he turned on her rudely and thrust her back.

"I'm not well, I tell you. I don't want your help. Let me alone."

He passed through the French window on to the terrace. The sky had
clouded over, and a drizzle had begun to fall.

Viviette felt curiously frightened, but she put on an air of bravado as
she came down the gallery.

"Have you all been rehearsing this little comedy?"

No mirthful response lit either face. She read condemnation in both
pairs of eyes. For the first time in her life she felt daunted,
humiliated. She knew nothing more beyond the fact that in deliberate
coquetry she had pitted brother against brother, and that something
cruel and tragical had happened for which she was being judged. Neither
spoke. She summoned her outer dignity, tossed her pretty head, and went
out by the end door which Austin in cold politeness held open for her.
Then she mounted to her bedroom, and, throwing herself on her bed, burst
into a passion of meaningless weeping.

Katherine handed Austin the pistol which she had taken from Dick's hand.

"Now you'll believe what I told you."

"I believe it," said Austin gravely.

"That duel was not all play-acting."

"That," said he, "was absurd. Dick Has been drinking. It was a silly
farce. Viviette egged him on until he seemed to take it seriously."

"He did take it seriously, Austin. He's in a dangerous mood. If I were
you I should be careful. Take a woman's warning."

He stood for a moment in deep thought, his gaze absently fixed on the
weapon he held in his hand. Suddenly a glint of something strange caught
his eye. He started, but recovered himself quickly.

"I'll take your warning, Katherine. Here's my hand upon it."

A moment later, when he was alone, he uncocked the pistol--Dick's
pistol. The glint had not been imaginary. It was a percussion cap. With
trembling fingers he picked it off the nipple. He passed his hand across
his damp forehead, for he felt faint with dread. But the task had to be
accomplished. He unscrewed the ramrod and picked out the wad, a piece
of white paper which dropped on the floor. From the barrel held downward
a bullet dropped with a dead, fateful thud on the floor. More paper
wad--a slithering shower of gunpowder. He put the pistol down, and took
up the one he himself had used from the chair where he had thrown it. It
was unloaded. His eye fell on the bits of white paper. He picked them up
and unfolded them. The daily newspaper lay by the stove, with the corner
torn accusingly.

Then he understood. He sank into a chair, paralysed with horror. It was
Dick's pistol that was loaded. Dick had meant to murder him. By the
grace of God the pistol had missed fire. But Dick, his own brother, had
meant to murder him. An hour later he walked out of the room, the case
of pistols under his arm, with the drawn face of an old man.

It was not until Dick had stumbled five or six miles through the
drenching downpour that the thought reached his dulled brain that he had
left the pistols loose for anyone to examine. The thought was like a
great stone hitting him on the side of the head. He turned and began to
run homewards, like a hunted man in desperate flight.



CHAPTER V

A CRISIS


Viviette having repaired the disorder caused by her tears went down to
tea. Mrs. Ware, Katherine, and a curate deliberately calling or taking
shelter from the rain were in the drawing-room. Austin, to his mother's
mild astonishment, had sent down a message to the effect that he was
busy. On ordinary occasions Viviette would have flirted monstrously with
the clerical youth, and sent him away undecided whether to offer to
share his lodgings and hundred pounds a year with her, or to turn
Catholic and become a monk. But now she had no mind to flirtation. She
left him to the undisturbing wiles of Mrs. Ware, and petted and
surreptitiously fed Dick's Irish terrier, whose brown eyes looked
pathetic inquiry as to his master's whereabouts. She was sobered by the
uncomprehended scene in the armoury--sobered by Dick's violence and by
Austin's final coldness. A choice had been put before her in deadly
earnest; she had refused to make one. But the choice would have to be
made very soon, unless she sent both her lovers packing, a step which
she did not for a moment contemplate.

"You must promise to marry one or the other and end this tension," said
Katherine, a little later, after the curate had gone with Mrs. Ware to
look at her greenhouses.

"I wish to goodness I could marry them both," said Viviette. "Have a
month with each, turn and turn about. It would be ideal."

"It would be altogether horrid!" exclaimed Katherine. "How could such a
thought enter your head?"

"I suppose it must have entered every woman's head who has two men
she's fond of in love with her at once. I said yesterday that it was
great fun being a woman. I find it's a d.d.d.d. imposition!"

"For heaven's sake, child, make up your mind quickly," said Katherine.

Viviette sighed. Which should it be? Dick, with his great love and rough
tenderness and big, protecting arms, or Austin with his conquering ways,
his wit, his charm, his perception? Austin could give her the luxury
that her sensuous nature delighted in, social position, the brilliant
life of London. What could Dick give her? It would always be a joy to
dress herself for Austin. Dick would be content if she went about in
raiment made of dusters and bath towels. In return, what could she give
each of these men? She put the question to herself. She was not
mercenary or heartless. She gave of herself freely and loved the giving.
What could she give to Austin? What could she give to Dick? These
questions, in her sober mood, weighed the others down.

When the rain ceased and a pale sun had dried the gravel, she went out
into the grounds by herself and faced the problem. She sighed
again--many times. If only they would let her have her fun out and give
her answer six months hence!

Her meditations were cut short by the arrival of a telegraph boy on his
bicycle at the front gate. He gave her the telegram. It was for Austin.
Her heart beat. She went into the house with the yellow envelope
containing Dick's destiny and mounted to the little room off the first
landing which had been Austin's private study since his boyhood. She
knocked. Austin's voice bade her enter. He rose from the desk where, pen
in hand, he had been sitting before a blank sheet of paper, and without
a word took the telegram. She noticed with a shock that he had curiously
changed. The quick, brisk manner had gone. His face was grey.

"It is _the_ telegram, isn't it?" she asked eagerly.

"Yes," said he, handing it to her. "It's from Lord Overton."

She read: "The very man. Send him along to me early to-morrow. Hope he
can start immediately."

"Oh, how splendid!" she exclaimed with a little gasp of happiness. "How
utterly splendid! Thank heaven!"

"Yes. Thank heaven," Austin acquiesced gravely. "I forgot to mention to
you that Lord Overton knows Dick personally," he added, after a pause.
"They met at my house the last time Dick was in London."

"This _is_ good news," said Viviette. "At last I can give him a birthday
present worth having."

"He will not be here for his birthday," said Austin, in cold, even
tones. "He must catch the mail to-night."

Viviette echoed: "To-night?"

"And in all probability he will sail for Vancouver in a day or two. It
won't be worth his while to come back here."

She laid a hand on her heart, which fluttered painfully.

"Then--then--we'll never see him again?"

"Probably not."

"I didn't think it would be so sudden," she said, a little wildly.

"Neither did I. But it's for the best."

"But supposing he wants some time to look about him?"

"I'll see to everything," said Austin.

"Anyhow, I must be the first to tell him," said Viviette.

"You will do me a very great favour if you will let me have that
privilege," said Austin. "I make a particular point of it. I have some
serious business to discuss with him before dinner, and that will be the
time for me to break the news."

He was no longer the fairy godmother's devoted and humble factotum. He
spoke with a cold air of authority that chilled the fairy godmotherdom
in Viviette's bosom. Her prettly little scheme dwindled into
childishness before the dark, incomprehended thing that had happened.
She assented with unusual meekness.

"But I'm desperately disappointed," she said.

"My dear Viviette," he answered more kindly, and looking at her with
some wistfulness, "the pleasures and even the joy of life have to give
way to the sober, business side of existence. It isn't very gay, I know,
but we can't alter it."

He held out his hand. Instinctively she gave him hers. He raised it to
his lips and held the door open for her. She went out scarcely knowing
that she had been dismissed. Austin closed the door, stood unsteadily
for a moment like a man stricken with great pain, and then, sitting
down at his desk again, put his elbows on the table, rested his head in
his hands, and stared at the white piece of paper. When would Dick come
home? He had given orders that Dick should be asked to go to him as soon
as he arrived. Would Dick ever come home again? It was quite possible
that some misfortune might have happened. Tragedy is apt to engender
tragedy. He shuddered, hearing in his fancy the tramp of men, and seeing
a shrouded thing they carried across the hall. He bitterly accused
himself for not having sought Dick far and wide as soon as he had made
his ghastly discovery. But he had required time to recover his balance.
The horrible suddenness had stunned him. Attempted fratricide is not a
common happening in gentle families. He had to accustom himself to the
atmosphere of the abnormal, so as to state the psychological case in its
numberless ramifications. This he had done. His head was clear. His
unalterable decision made. Now the minutes dragged with leaden feet
until Dick should come.

Viviette was the first to see him. She had dressed early for dinner,
and, as the late June afternoon had turned out fine, was taking her
problem out to air on the terrace when she came upon him standing at the
door of his armoury. His hair was wet and matted, his eyes bloodshot,
his clothes dripping, and he himself splashed with mud from head to
foot. He trembled all over, shaken by a great terror. The case of
pistols had gone. Who had taken them? Had the loaded pistol been
discovered?

As Viviette appeared, robed in deep blue chiffon that seemed torn from
the deep blue evening sky, and looking, in the man's maddened eyes,
magically beautiful, he held out imploring hands.

"Come in for a moment. For the love of God come in for a moment."

He stepped back invitingly. She hesitated for a second on the threshold,
and then followed him down the dim gallery, past the screen where all
the swords and helmets lay scattered on the table. He looked at her
haggardly, and she met his gaze with kind eyes in which there was no
mockery. No. Nothing had happened, he told himself; otherwise she would
shrink from him as from something accursed.

"My God, if you knew how I love you!" he said hoarsely. "My God, if you
only knew!"

His suffering racked her heart. All her pity melted over him. She laid
her caressing fingers on his arm.

"Oh, my poor Dick!" she said.

[Illustration: He held out imploring hands.]

The touch, the choke in her voice, brought about Viviette's downfall.
Perhaps she meant it to do so. Who can tell? What woman ever knows? In a
flash his arms were around her and his kisses, a wild, primitive man's
kisses, were on her lips, her eyes, her cheeks. Her face was crushed
against the rough wet tweed of his coat, and its odour, raw and coarse,
was in her nostrils. She drooped, intoxicated, gasping for breath in his
unheeding giant's grip, but she made no effort to escape. As he held her
a thrill, agonising and delicious, swept through her, and she raised her
lips involuntarily to his and closed her eyes. At last he released her,
mangled, tousled, her very self a draggled piece of chiffon like the
night-blue frock, soiled with wet and mud.

"Forgive me," he said, "I had no right. Least of all now. God knows what
is to become of me. But whatever happens, you know that I love you."

She had her hands clasped before her face. She could not look at him.

"Yes, I know," she murmured.

In another moment he had gone, leaving Viviette, who had entered the
room a girl, transformed into a woman with the first shiver of passion
in her veins.

Dick, vaguely conscious of damp and dirt, went up to his bedroom. The
sight of his evening things spread out on the bed reminded him that it
was nearly dinner-time. Mechanically he washed and dressed. As he was
buckling on his ready-made white tie--his clumsy fingers, in spite of
many lessons from Viviette, had never learned the trick of tying a
bow--a maid brought him a message. Mr. Austin's compliments and would he
see Mr. Austin for a few moments in Mr. Austin's room. The words were
like the dreaded tap on the shoulder of the hunted criminal.

"I'll come at once," he said.

He found Austin sitting on the chair by his desk, resting his chin on
his elbow. He did not stir as Dick entered.

"You want to speak to me?"

"Yes," said Austin. "Will you sit down?"

"I'll stand," said Dick impatiently. "What have you to say to me?"

"I believe you have expressed your desire to leave England and earn your
living in a new country. Is that so?"

The brothers' eyes met. Dick saw that the loaded pistol had been
discovered, and read no love, no pity, only condemnation in the hard
gaze. Austin was pronouncing sentence.

"Yes," he replied sullenly.

"I happen," said Austin, "to know of an excellent opportunity. Lord
Overton, whom you have met, wants a man to take charge of his timber
forests in Vancouver. The salary is £700 a year. I wired to Lord Overton
asking for the appointment on your behalf. This is his answer."

Dick took the telegram and read it with muddled head. Austin had lost no
time.

"You see, it fits in admirably. You can start by the night mail. Your
sudden departure needs no other explanation to the household than this
telegram. I hope you understand."

"I understand," said Dick bitterly. A sudden memory of words that
Viviette had used the day before occurred to him. "I understand. This is
to get me out of the way. 'David put Uriah in the forefront of the
battle.' Vancouver is the forefront."

"Don't you think we had better avoid all unprofitable discussion?"
Austin rose and confronted him. "I expect you to accept this offer and
my conditions."

"And if I refuse?" asked Dick, with rising anger. "What dare you
threaten me with?"

Austin raised a deprecatory hand.

"Do you suppose I'm going to threaten you? I simply expect you not to
refuse. Your conscience must tell you that I have the right to do so.
Doesn't it?"

Dick glowered sullenly at the wall and tugged his great moustache.

"You force me to touch on things I should have liked to keep hidden,"
said Austin. "Very well." He took a scrap of crumpled paper from the
desk. "Do you recognise this? It formed the wad of the pistol that was
in _your_ hand."

Dick started back a pace. "You're wrong," he gasped. "It was _your_
pistol that was loaded."

"No. Yours. The cap missed fire, or I should have been a dead
man--murdered by my brother."

"Stop," cried Dick. "Not murdered. No, no, not murdered. It was in fair
fight. I gave you the choice. When I thought I had the unloaded one I
called on you to fire. Why the devil didn't you? I wanted you to fire. I
was mad for you to fire. I wanted to be killed there and then. No one
can say I shirked it. I gave you your chance."

"That's nothing to do with it," said Austin sternly. "When you fired you
meant murder. Your face meant killing. And supposing I had fired--and
killed you! Good God! I would sooner you had killed me than burdened my
soul with your death. It would have been less cowardly. Yes, cowardly.
The conditions were not even. To me it was trivial fooling. To you,
deadly earnest. Are you not man enough to see that I have the right to
exact some penalty?"

Dick remained silent for a few moments, while the powers of light and
darkness struggled together in his soul. At last he said in a low voice,
hanging his head:

"I'll accept your terms."

"You leave by the night mail for Witherby."

"Very well."

"There's another point," said Austin. "The most important point of all.
You will not speak alone to Viviette before you start."

Dick turned with an angry flash,

"What?"

"You will not speak to Viviette alone. When you are gone--for there is
no need for you to come back here before you sail--you will not write to
her. You will go absolutely and utterly out of her life."

Dick broke into harsh, furious laughter.

"And leave her to you? I might have known that the lawyer would have had
me in the trap. But this time you've over-reached yourself. I'll never
give her up. Do you hear me? Never--never--never! I would go through the
horror of to-day a thousand times--day by day until I die, rather than
give her up to you. You shall not take this last thing from me--this
hope of winning her--as you have taken everything else. You have
supplanted me since first you learned to speak. It has been Esau
and Jacob--"

"Or Cain and Abel," said Austin.

"You can taunt me if you like," cried Dick, goaded to fury, and the
whole bitterness of a lifetime surging up in passionate speech. "I have
got past feeling it. Your life has been one continual taunt of me. You
have thought me a dull, good-natured boor, delighted to have a word
thrown at him now and again by the elegant gentleman, and rather
honoured than otherwise to be ridden over roughshod, or kicked into the
mud when it pleased the elegant gentleman to ride by. No, listen to me,"
he thundered, as Austin was about to protest. "By God, you shall listen
this time. You've made me your butt, your fool, your doer of trivial
offices. I've wondered sometimes why you haven't addressed me as 'my
good fellow,' and asked me to touch my cap to you. I've borne it all
these years without complaining--but do you know what it is to eat your
heart out and remain silent? I have borne it for my mother's sake--in
spite of her dislike of me--and for your sake, because I loved you. Yes.
If ever one man has loved another I've loved you. But you took no heed.
What was my affection worth? I was only the stupid, dull boor ... but I
suffered it all till you came between me and her. I had spent the whole
passion of my life upon her. She was the only thing left in the world
for which I felt fiercely. I hungered for her, thirsted for her, my
brain throbbed at the thought of her, the blood rushed through my veins
at the sight of her. And you came between us. And if I have damned my
soul, by God! the damnation is your doing. Do you think, while I live,
that I'll give her up to you? I'll get my soul's worth, anyhow."

He smote his palm with his clenched fist and strode about the little
room. Austin sat for a while dumb with astonishment and dismay. His
cherished, lifelong conception of "dear old Dick" lay shattered. A new
Dick appeared to him, a personality stronger, deeper than he could have
imagined. A new respect for him, also a new pity that was generous and
not contemptuous, crept into his heart.

"Listen, Dick," said he, using the familiar name for the first time. "Do
I understand that you accuse me of sending you out to Vancouver and
hastening your departure so as to gain my own ends with Viviette?"

"Yes," returned Dick. "I do. You have laid this trap for me."

"Have you ever heard me lie to you?"

"No," said Dick.

"Then I tell you, as man to man, that until this afternoon I had no
suspicion that your feelings towards Viviette were deeper than those of
an elder brother."

Dick laughed bitterly. "You couldn't conceive a clod like me falling in
love. Well?"

"That's beside the question," said Austin. "I did not behave
dishonourably towards you. I came down. I fell in love with Viviette.
How could I help it? How could I help loving her? How could I help
telling her so? But she is young and innocent, and her heart is her own
yet. Tell me--man to man--dare you say that you have won it or that I
have won it?"

"What's the good of talking?" said Dick, relapsing into his sullen mood.
"If I go she is yours. But I won't go."

Austin rose again and laid his hand on his brother's arm.

"Dick. If I give her up, will you obey my conditions?"

"You give her up voluntarily? Why should you?"

"A damnable thing was done this afternoon," said Austin. "I see I had my
share in it, and I as well as you have to make reparation. Man alive!
You are my brother," he cried with an outburst of feeling. "The nearest
thing in the world to me. Do you think I could rest happy with the
knowledge that a murderous devil is always in your heart, and that it's
in my power to--to exorcise it? Do you think the cost matters? Come.
Shall we make this bargain? Yes or no?"

"It's easy for you to promise," said Dick. "But when I am gone, how can
you resist?"

Austin hesitated for a moment, biting his lips. Then, with the air of a
man who makes an irrevocable step in life, he crossed the room and
rang the bell.

"Ask Mrs. Holroyd if she will have the kindness to come here for a
minute," he said to the servant.

Dick regarded him wonderingly. "What has Mrs. Holroyd to do with our
affairs?"

"You'll see," said Austin, and there was silence between them till
Katherine came.

She looked from one joyless face to the other, and sat without a word
on the chair that Austin placed for her. Her woman's intuition divined a
sequel to the afternoon's drama. Some of it she had already learned.
For, going earlier into Viviette's room, she had found her white and
shaken, still disordered in hair and dress as Dick had left her; and
Viviette had sobbed on her bosom and told her with some incoherence that
the monkey had at last hit the lyddite shell in the wrong place, and
that it was all over with the monkey. So, before Austin spoke, she half
divined why he had summoned her.

Her heart throbbed painfully.

"Dick and I," said Austin, "have been talking of serious matters, and we
need your help."

She smiled wanly. "I'll do whatever I can, Austin."

"You said this afternoon you would do anything I asked you. Do you
remember?"

"Yes, I said so--and I meant it."

"You said it in reply to my question whether you would accept me if I
asked you to marry me."

Dick started from the sullen stupor into which he had fallen and
listened with perplexed interest.

"You are not quite right in your tenses, Austin," she remarked. "You
said: Would I have accepted you if you had asked me?"

"I want to change the tense into the present," he replied.

She met his glance calmly. "You ask me to marry you in spite of what you
told me this afternoon?"

"In spite of it and because of it," he said, drawing up a chair near to
her. "A great crisis has arisen in our lives that must make you forget
other words I spoke this afternoon. Those other words and everything
connected with them I blot out of my memory forever. I want you to do me
an infinite service. If there had been no deep affection between us I
should not dare to ask you. I want you to be my wife, to take me into
your keeping, to trust me as an upright man to devote my life to your
happiness. I swear I'll never give you a moment's cause for regret."

She plucked for a while at her gown. It was a strange wooing. But in her
sweet way she had given him her woman's aftermath of love. It was a
gentle, mellow gift, far removed from the summer blaze of passion, and
it had suffered little harm from the sadness of the day. She saw that he
was in great stress. She knew him to be a loyal gentleman.

"Is this the result of that scene in the armoury?" she asked quietly.

"Yes," said Austin.

"I was right then. It was a matter of life and death."

"It was," said he. "So is this."

She looked again from one face to the other, rose, hesitated for a
moment--and then held out her hand. "I am willing to trust you,
Austin," she said.

He touched her hand with his lips and said gravely: "I will not fail
your trust."

As soon as she had gone he went to the chair where Dick sat in gloomy
remorse and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Well?" said he.

"I agree," Dick groaned, without looking up. "I have no alternative. I
appreciate your generosity."

Then Austin spoke of the appointment in Vancouver. He explained how the
idea had occurred to him; how Viviette had come late the night before to
tell him of what he had never before suspected--Dick's desire to go
abroad; how they had conspired to give him a birthday surprise; how they
had driven over to Witherby to send the telegram to Lord Overton. And as
he spoke, Dick looked at him with a new ghastliness on his face.

"This afternoon--in the dining-room--when you said that Viviette had
told you everything--?"

"About your wish to go to the Colonies. What else?"

"And what I overheard in the armoury--about a telegram--telling
me--putting me out of my misery?"

"Only whether we should tell you to-night or to-morrow about the
appointment. Dick--Dick," said Austin, deeply moved by the great
fellow's collapse, "if I have wronged you all these years, it was
through want of insight, not want of affection. If I have taunted you,
as you say, it was merely a lifelong habit of jesting which you never
seemed to resent. I was unconscious of hurting you. For my blindness and
carelessness I beg your forgiveness. With regard to Viviette--I ought to
have seen, but I didn't. I don't say you had no cause for jealousy--but
as God hears me--all the little conspiracy to-day was lovingly
meant--all to give you pleasure. I swear it."

Dick rose and stumbled about among the furniture. The setting sun fell
just below the top of the casement window, and its direct rays flooded
the little room and showed Dick in a strange, unearthly light.

"I wronged you," he said bitterly. "Even in my passions I'm a dull fool.
I thought you a damned cad, and I got more and more furious, and I
drank--I was drunk all this afternoon--and madness came, and when I saw
you kiss her--yes, I saw you, I was peeping from behind the
screen--things went red before my eyes, and it was then that I loaded
the pistol to shoot you on the spot. God forgive me! May God have
mercy upon me."

He leant his arms on the sill and buried his face.

"I can't ask your forgiveness," he went on, after a moment. "It would
be a mockery." He laughed mirthlessly. "How can I say. 'I'm sorry I
meant to murder you--please don't think anything about it?'" He turned
with a fierce gesture. "Oh, you must take it all as said, man! Now, have
you finished with me? I can't stand it much longer, I agree to all your
terms. I'll drive over to Witherby now and wait for the train--and
you'll be free of me."

He turned again and moodily looked out of the window in the full flood
of the sunset.

"We must play the game, Dick," said Austin gently, "and go through the
horrible farce of dinner--for mother's sake."

Dick heard him vaguely. Below, on the terrace, Viviette was walking, and
she filled his universe. She had changed the bedraggled frock for the
green one she had worn the night before. Presently she raised her eyes
and saw him leaning out of the window.

"Have they told you that dinner is not till a quarter past eight?" she
cried, looking deliciously upwards, with a dainty hand to her cheek.
"Lord Banstead sent a message to mother that he was unexpectedly
detained, and mother has put back dinner. Isn't it impudence?"

But Dick was far too crushed with misery to respond. He nodded
dejectedly. She remained staring up at him for a while and then ran into
the house.

Dick listlessly mentioned the postponement of dinner.

"I'm sorry I asked the little brute, but I couldn't avoid it."

"What does it matter?" said Austin. He was silent for a moment. Then he
came close to Dick.

"Dick," said he. "Let us end this awful scene as friends and brothers.
As Heaven hears me, there is no bitterness in my heart. Only deep
sorrow--and love, Dick. Shake hands."

Dick took his hand and broke down utterly, and said such things of
himself as other men do not like to hear. Presently there was a light
rap of knuckles at the door. Austin opened it and beheld Viviette.

"I won't disturb you," she said; "I only want to give this note to
Dick."

"I will hand it to him," said Austin.

She thanked him and departed. He closed the door and gave Dick the note.
Dick opened it, read, and with a great cry of "Viviette!" rushed to the
door. Austin interposed, grasped him by the wrist:

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going to her," shouted Dick wildly, wrenching himself free. "Read
this." He held up the note before Austin's eyes, with shaking fingers.
Austin read:

"I can't bear to see the misery on your face, when I can make you happy.
I love you, dear, better than anything on earth. I know it now, and
I'll go out with you to Vancouver."

"She loves me. She'll marry me. She'll go out to Vancouver!" cried Dick.
"It changes everything. I must go to her."

"You shall not go," said Austin.

"Shall not? Who dares prevent me?'

"I do. I hold you to your word."

"But, man alive! she loves me--don't you see? The bargain is dissolved.
This is none of my seeking. She comes of her own free will. I am
going to her."

Austin put both his hands affectionately on the big man's shoulders and
forced him into a chair.

"Listen to me just for one minute, Dick. Dick, you dare not marry. Don't
drive me to tell you the reason. Can't you see for yourself why I've
imposed this condition on you all along?"

"I know no reason," said Dick. "She loves me, and that is enough."

The greyness deepened over Austin's face and the pain in his eyes.

"I must speak, then, in plain terms. That horrible murder impulse is the
reason. Today, in a fit of frenzied jealousy, you would have killed me,
your brother. Is there any guarantee that, in another fit of frenzied
jealousy, you might not--?"

A shudder ran through Dick's great frame. He stretched out his hand.
"For God's sake--don't."

"I must--until you see this ghastly business in its true aspect. Look at
the lighter side of Viviette's character. She is gay, fond of
admiration, childishly fond of teasing, a bright creature of bewildering
moods. Would she be safe in your hands? Might you not one day again see
things red before your eyes and again go mad?"

"Don't say any more," Dick said in a choking voice. "I can't stand it."

"Heaven knows, I didn't want to say as much."

Dick shuddered again. "Yes, you are right. I am a man with a curse. I
can't marry her. I daren't."



CHAPTER VI

VIVIETTE TAKES THE RISK


Presently Dick raised the face of Cain when he told the Lord that his
punishment was greater than he could bear. Tears leaped to Austin's
eyes, but he turned his head away lest Dick should see them. He would
have given years of his life to spare Dick--everything he had in the
world--save his deep convictions of right and wrong. He was responsible
for Viviette. That risk of horror he could not let her run. He had
hoped, with a great agony of hope, that Dick would have seen it for
himself. To formulate it had been torture. But he could not weaken. The
barrier between Dick and Viviette was not of his making. It was composed
of the grim psychological laws that govern the abnormal. To have
disregarded it would have been a crime from which his soul shrank. All
the despair in Dick's face, though it wrung his heart, could not move
him. It was terrible to be chosen in this way to be the arbiter of
Destiny. But there was the decree, written in letters of blood and
flame. And Dick had bowed to it.

"What's to become of her?" he groaned.

"This will be her home, as it always has been," said Austin.

"I don't mean that--but between us we shall break her heart. She has
given it to me just in time for me to do it. My luck!"

Austin tried to comfort him. A girl's heart was not easily broken. Her
pride would suffer most. Pain was inevitable. But Time healed many
wounds. In this uncertain world nothing was ever so good as we hoped,
and nothing ever so bad as we feared. Dick paid little heed to the
platitudes.

"She must be told!"

"Not what happened this afternoon," cried Austin quickly. "That we bury
forever from all human knowledge."

"Yes," said Dick, staring in front of him and speaking in a dull, even
voice. "We must hide that. It's not a pretty thing to spread before a
girl's eyes. It will be always before my own--until I die. But she must
be told that I can't marry her. I can't ride away and leave her in doubt
and wonder forever and ever."

"Let us face this horrible night as best we can," said Austin. "Avoid
seeing her alone. You'll be with mother or packing most of the evening.
Slip away to Witherby an hour or so before your time. When you're gone
I'll arrange matters. Leave it to me."

He made one of his old, self-confident gestures. But now Dick felt no
resentment. His spirit in its deep abasement saw in Austin the better,
wiser, stronger man.

At a quarter-past eight they went slowly downstairs to what promised to
be a nightmare kind of meal. There would be four persons, Viviette,
Katherine, and themselves, in a state of suppressed eruption, and two,
Mrs. Ware and the unspeakable Banstead, complacently unaware of volcanic
forces around them, who might by any chance word bring about disaster.
There was danger, too--and the greatest--from Viviette, ignorant of
Destiny. Austin dreaded the ordeal; but despair and remorse had benumbed
Dick's faculties; he had passed the stage at which men fear. With his
hand on the knob of the drawing-room door Austin paused and looked
at him.

"Pull yourself together, man. Play your part. For God's sake, try to
look cheerful."

Dick tried. Austin shivered.

"For God's sake, don't," he said.

They entered the drawing-room, expecting to find the three ladies, and
possibly Lord Banstead, assembled for dinner. To Austin's discomfiture,
Viviette was alone in the room. She rose, made a step or two to meet
them, then stopped.

"What a pair of faces! One would think it were the eve of Dick's
execution, and you were the hangman measuring him for the noose."

"Dick," said Austin, "is leaving us to-night--possibly for many years."

"I don't see that he is so very greatly to be pitied," said Viviette,
trying in vain to meet Dick's eyes. She drew him a pace or two aside.

"Did you read my note--or did you tear it up like the other one?"

"I read it," he said, looking askance at the floor.

"Then why are you so woe-begone?"

He replied in a helpless way that he was not woe-begone. Viviette was
puzzled, hurt, somewhat humiliated. She had made woman's great surrender
which is usually followed by a flourish of trumpets very gratifying to
hear. In fact, to most women the surrender is worth the flourish. But
the recognition of this surrender appeared to find its celebration in a
funeral march with muffled drums. A condemned man being fitted for the
noose, as she had suggested, a mute conscientiously mourning at his own
funeral, a man who had lost a stately demesne in Paradise and had been
ironically compensated by the gift of a bit of foreshore of the Styx
could not have worn a less joyous expression than he on whom she had
conferred the boon of his heart's desire.

"You're not only woe-begone," she said, with spirit, "but you're utterly
miserable. I think I have a right to know the reason. Tell me, what
is it?"

She tapped a small, impatient foot.

"We haven't told my mother yet," Austin explained, "and Dick is rather
nervous as to the way in which she will take the news."

"Yes," said Dick, with lame huskiness. "It's on mother's account."

Viviette laughed somewhat scornfully.

"I am not a child, my dear Austin. No man wears a face like that on
account of his mother--least of all when he meets the woman who has
promised to be his wife."

She flashed a challenging glance at Austin, but not a muscle of his grey
face responded. Her natural expectations were baffled. There was no
start of amazement, no fierce movement of anger, no indignant look of
reproach. She was thrown back on herself. She said:

"I don't think you quite understand. Dick had two aims in life--one to
obtain a colonial appointment, the other--so he led me to suppose--to
marry me. He has the appointment, and I have promised to marry him."

"I know," said Austin, "but you must make allowances."

"If that's all you can say on behalf of your client," retorted Viviette,
"I rather wonder at your success as a barrister."

"Don't you think, my dear," said Austin gently, "that we are treading on
delicate ground?"

"Delicate ground!" she scoffed. "We seem to have been treading on a
volcano all the afternoon. I'm tired of it." She faced the two men with
uplifted head. "I want an explanation."

"Of what?" Austin asked.

"Of Dick's attitude. What has he got to be miserable about? Tell me."

"But I'm not miserable, my dear Viviette," said poor Dick, vainly
forcing a smile. "I'm really quite happy."

Her woman's intuition rejected the protest with contumely. All the
afternoon he had been mad with jealousy of Austin. An hour ago he had
whirled her out of her senses in savage passion. But a few minutes
before she had given him all a woman has to give. Now he met her with
hang-dog visage, apologies from Austin, and milk-and-water asseveration
of a lover's rapture. The most closely-folded rosebud miss of Early
Victorian times could not have faced the situation without showing
something of the Eve that lurked in the heart of the petals. So much the
less could Viviette, child of a freer, franker day, hide her just
indignation under the rose-leaves of maidenly modesty.

"Happy!" she echoed. "I've known you since I was a child of three. I
know the meaning of every light and every shadow that passes over your
face--except this shadow now. What does it mean?"

She asked the question imperiously, no longer the elfin changeling, the
fairy of bewildering moods of Austin's imagination, no longer the
laughing coquette of Katherine's less picturesque fancy, but a modern
young woman of character, considerably angered and very much in earnest.
Austin bit his lip in perplexity. Dick looked around like a hunted
animal seeking a bolting-hole.

"Dick is anxious," said Austin, at length, seeing that some explanation
must be given, "that there should be no engagement between you before he
goes out to Vancouver."

"Indeed?" said Viviette. "May I ask why? As this concerns Dick and
myself, perhaps you will leave us alone for a moment so that Dick
may tell me."

"No, no," Dick muttered hurriedly. "Don't leave us, Austin. We can't
talk of such a thing now."

Again she tapped her foot impatiently.

"Yes, now. I'm going to hear the reason now, whatever it is."

The brothers exchanged glances. Dick turned to the window, and stared
at the mellow evening sky.

Austin again was spokesman.

"Dick finds he has made a terrible and cruel mistake. One that concerns
you intimately."

"Whatever Dick may have done with regard to me," replied Viviette, "I
forgave him for it beforehand. When once I give a thing I don't take it
back. I have given him my love and my promise."

"My dear," said Austin, gravely and kindly. "Here are two men who have
loved you all your life. Don't think hardly of us. You must be brave and
bear a great shock. Dick can't marry you."

She looked at him incredulously.

"Can't marry me? Why not?"

"It would be better not to ask."

She moved swiftly to Dick, and with her light touch swung him round to
face the room.

"I don't understand. Is it because you're going out into the wilds?
That doesn't matter. I told you I would go to Vancouver with you. I want
to go. My happiness is with you."

Dick groaned. "Don't make it harder for me."

"What are you keeping from me?" she asked. "Is it anything you don't
think fit for my ears? If so, speak. I'm no longer a child. Is there
another woman in the case?"

She met Austin's eyes full. He said: "No, thank God! Nothing of that
sort." And as her eyes did not waver, he made the bold stroke. "He finds
that he doesn't love you as much as he thought. There's the whole
tragedy in a few words."

She reeled back as if struck. "Dick doesn't love me?" Then the
announcement seemed so grotesque in its improbability that she began to
laugh, a trifle hysterically.

"Is this true?"

"It's quite true," said poor Dick.

"You see, my dear," said Austin, "what it costs him--what it costs us
both--to tell you this."

"But I don't understand. I don't understand!" she cried, with sudden
piteousness. "What did you mean, then--a little while ago--in
the armoury?"

Austin, who did not see the allusion, had to allow Dick to speak for
himself.

"I was drunk," said Dick desperately. "I've been drinking heavily of
late--and not accountable for my actions. I oughtn't to have done what
I did."

"And so, you see," continued Austin, with some eagerness, "when he
became confronted with the great change in his life--Vancouver--he
looked at things soberly. He found that his feelings towards you were
not of the order that would warrant his making you his wife."

Before Viviette could reply the door opened, and Mrs. Ware and
Katherine entered the room. Mrs. Ware, ignorant of tension, went
smilingly to Austin, and, drawing down his shapely head with both hands,
kissed him.

"My dear, dear boy, I'm so glad, so truly glad. Katherine has just told
me."

"Told you what, mother?" asked Viviette quickly, with a new sharpness in
her voice.

Mrs. Ware turned a beaming face. "Can't you guess, darling? Oh, Austin,
there's no living woman whom I would sooner call my daughter. You've
made me so happy."

The facile tears came, and she sat down and dried them on her little
wisp of handkerchief.

"I thought it for the best to tell your mother, Austin," said Katherine,
somewhat apologetically. "We were speaking of you--and--I couldn't
keep it back."

Viviette, white-lipped and dazed, looked at Austin, Katherine, and Dick
in turns. She said, in the high-pitched voice, to Austin:

"Have you asked Katherine to marry you?"

"Yes," he replied, not quite so confidently, and avoiding her
glance--"and she has done me the honour of accepting me."

Katherine held out a conciliatory hand to Viviette. "Won't you
congratulate me, dear?"

"And Austin, too," said Mrs. Ware.

But Viviette lost control of herself. "I'll congratulate nobody," she
cried shrilly. She burned with a sense of intolerable outrage. Only a
few hours before she had been befooled into believing herself to be the
mistress of the destinies of two men. Both had offered her their love.
Both had kissed her. The memory lashed her into fury. Now one of them
avowed that she had been merely the object of a drunken passion, and
the other came before her as the affianced husband of the woman who
called herself her dearest friend.

Katherine, in deep distress, laid her hand on the girl's arm. "Why not,
dear? I thought that you and Dick--in fact--I understood--"

Viviette freed herself from Katherine's touch.

"Oh, no, you didn't. You didn't understand anything. You didn't try to.
You are all lying. The three of you. You have all lied, and lied, and
lied to me. I tell you to your faces you have lied to me." She swung
passionately to each in turn. "'Austin can never be anything to me but a
friend'--how often have you said that to me? Ah--Saint Nitouche! And
you"--to Austin--"How dared you insult me this morning? And you--how
have you dared to insult me all the time? You've lied--the whole lot of
you--and I hate you all!"

Mrs. Ware had risen, scared and trembling.

"What does the girl mean? I've never heard such unladylike words in a
drawing-room in my life."

Dick blundered in: "It's all my fault, mother--"

"I've not the slightest doubt of that," returned the old lady with
asperity. "But what Austin and Katherine have to do with it I
can't imagine."

The servant opened the door.

"Lord Banstead."

He entered a cold, strange silence. Everyone had forgotten him. He must
have attributed the ungenial atmosphere to his own lateness--it was
half-past eight--for he made penitent apology to Mrs. Ware. Austin
greeted him coldly. Dick nodded absently from the other side of the
room. Viviette, with a sweeping glance of defiance at the assembled
family, held herself very erect, and with hard eyes and quivering lips
came straight to the young fellow.

"Lord Banstead," she said. "You have asked me four times to marry you.
Did you mean it, or were you lying, too?"

Banstead's pallid cheeks flushed. He was overcome with confusion.

"Of course I mean it--meant to ask you again to-day--ask you now."

"Then I will marry you."

Dick strode forward, and, catching her by the wrist, swung her away from
Banstead, his face aflame with sudden passion.

"No, by God, you shan't!"

Banstead retreated a few paces, scared out of his life. Mrs. Ware sought
Austin's protecting arm.

"What does all this mean? I don't understand it."

Austin led her to the door. "I'll see nothing unpleasant happens, dear.
You had better go and tell them to keep back dinner yet a few minutes."

His voice and authority soothed her, and she left the room, casting a
terrified glance at Dick, standing threateningly over Lord Banstead, who
had muttered something about Viviette being free to do as she liked.

"She can do what she likes, but, by God! she shan't marry you."

"I'm of age," declared Viviette fiercely. "I marry whom I choose."

"Of course she can," said Banstead. "Are you taking leave of your
senses?"

"How dare you ask a pure girl to marry you?" cried Dick furiously. "You,
who have come straight here from--"

Banstead found some spirit. "Shut up, Ware," he interrupted. "Play the
game. You've no right to say that."

"I have the right," cried Dick.

"Hush!" said Austin, interposing.

"There's no need to prolong this painful discussion. To-morrow--as
Viviette's guardian--"

"To-morrow?" Dick shouted. "Where shall I be to-morrow? Away from
here--unable to defend her--unable to say a word."

"If you said a thousand words," said Viviette, "they wouldn't make an
atom of difference. Lord Banstead has asked me to marry him. I have
accepted him openly. What dare you say to it?"

"Yes," said Banstead. "She has made no bones about it. I've asked her
five times. Now she accepts me. What have you to say to it?"

"I say she shan't marry you," said Dick, glaring at the other.

"Steady, steady, Dick," said Austin warningly. But Dick shook his
warning angrily aside, and Austin saw that, once again that day, Dick
was desperate.

"Not while I live shall she marry you. Don't I know your infernal
beastly life?"

"Now, look here," said Banstead, at bay. "What the deuce have you got to
do with my affairs?"

"Everything. Do you think she loves you, cares for you, honours you,
respects you?"

Viviette faced him with blazing eyes.

"I do," she said defiantly.

"It's a lie," cried Dick. "It's you that are lying now. Heaven and
earth! I've suffered enough to-day--I thought I had been through
hell--but it's nothing to this. She loves me--do you hear
me?--me--me--me--and I can't marry her--and I don't care a damn who
knows the reason."

"Stop, man," said Austin.

"Let me be. She shall know the truth. Everyone shall know the truth. At
any rate, it will save her from this."

"I will do it quietly, later, Dick."

"Let me be, I tell you," said Dick, with great, clumsy, passionate
gesture. "Let's have no more lies." He turned to Viviette. "You wrote me
a letter. You said you loved me--would marry me--come out to
Vancouver--the words made me drunk with happiness--at first. You saw me.
I refused your love and your offer. I said I didn't love you. I lied. I
said I couldn't marry you. It was the truth. I can't. I can't. But love
you! Oh, my God! My God! There were flames of hell in my heart--but
couldn't you see the love shining through?"

"Don't, Dick, don't," cried Katherine.

"I will," he exclaimed wildly. "I'll tell her why I can't marry any
woman. I tried to murder Austin this afternoon!"

Katherine closed her eyes. She had guessed it. But Viviette, with parted
lips and white cheeks, groped her way backwards to a chair, without
shifting her terror-stricken gaze from Dick; and sitting, she gripped
the arms of the chair.

There was a moment of tense silence. Banstead at last relieved his
feelings with a gasping, "Well, I'm damned!"

Dick continued:

"It was jealousy--mad jealousy--this afternoon--in the armoury--the mock
duel--one of the pistols was loaded. I loaded it--first, in order to
kill him out of hand--then I thought of the duel--he would have his
chance--either he would kill me or I would kill him. Mine happened to be
loaded. It missed fire. It was only the infinite mercy of God that I
didn't kill him. He found it out. He has forgiven me. He's worth fifty
millions of me. But my hands are red with his blood, and I can't touch
your pure garments. They would stain them red--and I should see red
again before my eyes some day. A man like me is not fit to marry any
woman. A murderer is beyond the pale. So I said I didn't love her to
save her from the knowledge of this horror. And now I'm going to the
other side of the world to work out my salvation--but she shall know
that a man loves her with all his soul, and would go through any torment
and renunciation for her sake--and, knowing that, she can't go and throw
herself away on a man unworthy of her. After what I've told you, will
you marry this man?"

Still looking at him, motionless, she whispered, "No."

"I say!" exclaimed Banstead. "I think--"

Austin checked further speech. Dick looked haggardly round the room.

"There. Now you all know. I'm not fit to be under the same roof with
you. Good-bye."

He slouched in his heavy way to the door, but Viviette sprang from her
chair and planted herself in his path.

"No. You shan't go. Do you think I have nothing to say?"

"Say what you like," said Dick sadly. "Nothing is too black for me.
Curse me, if you will."

She laughed, and shook her head. "Do you think a woman curses the man
who would commit murder for the love of her?" she cried, with a strange
exultation in her voice. "If I loved you before--don't you think I love
you now a million times more?"

Dick fell back, thrilled with amazement.

"You love me still?" he gasped. "You don't shrink--"

"Excuse me," interrupted Banstead, crossing the room. "Does this mean
that you chuck me, Miss Hastings?"

"You must release me from my promise, Lord Banstead," she said gently.
"I scarcely knew what I was doing. I'm very sorry. I've not behaved
well to you."

"You've treated me damned badly," said Banstead, turning on his heel.
"Good-bye, everybody."

Austin, moved by compunction, tried to conciliate the angry youth, but
he refused comfort. He had been made a fool of, and would stand that
from nobody. He would not stay for dinner, and would not put his foot
inside the house again.

"At any rate," said Austin, bidding him good-bye, "I can rely on you not
to breathe a word to anyone of what you've heard this evening?"

Banstead fingered his underfed moustache.

"I may be pretty rotten, but I'm not that kind of cad," said he. And he
went, not without a certain dignity.

Dick took Viviette's hand and kissed it tenderly.

"God bless you, dear. I'll remember what you've said all my life. I can
go away almost happy."

"You can go away quite happy, if you like," said Viviette. "Take me with
you."

"To Vancouver?"

Austin joined them. "It is impossible, dear," said he.

"I go with him to Vancouver," she said.

Dick wrung his hands. "But I daren't marry you, Viviette, I daren't, I
daren't."

"Don't you see that it's impossible, Viviette?" said Austin.

"Why?"

"I've explained it to Dick. He has hinted it to you. You're scarcely old
enough to understand, my dear. It is the risk you run."

"Such men as I can't marry," said Dick loyally. "You don't understand.
Austin is right. The risk is too great."

She laughed in superb contempt.

"The risk? Do you think I'm such a fool as not to understand? Do you
think, after what I've said, that I'm a child? Risk? What is life or
love worth without risk? When a woman loves a fierce man she takes the
risk of his fierceness. It's her joy. I'll take the risk, and it will be
a bond between us."

Austin implored her to listen to reason. She swept his arguments aside.

"God forbid. I'll listen to love," she cried. "And if ever a man wanted
love, it's Dick. Reason! Come, Dick, let us leave this god and goddess
of reason alone. I've got something to say which only you can hear."

She dragged him in a bewildered state of mind to the door, which she
held open. She was absolute mistress of the situation. She motioned to
Dick to precede her, and he obeyed, like a man in a dream. On the
threshold she paused, and flashed defiance at Austin, who appeared to
her splendid scorn but a small, narrow-natured man.

[Illustration: "I want you to love me forever and ever."]

"You can say and think what you like, you two. You are civilised
people--and I suppose you love in a civilised way according to reason.
I'm a primitive woman, and Dick's a primitive man--and, thank God! we
understand each other, and love each other as primitive people do."

She slammed the door, and in another moment was caught in Dick's great
arms.

"What do you want to say that only I can hear?" he asked after a while.

"This," she said. "I want you to love me strongly and fiercely for ever
and ever--and I'll be a great wife to you--and, if I fail--if I am ever
wanton, as I have been to-day--for I have been wanton--and all that has
happened has been my fault--if ever I play fast and loose with your love
again--I want you to kill me. Promise!"

She looked at him with glowing eyes. All the big man's heart melted
into adoring pity. He took her face in both his hands as tenderly as he
would have touched a prize rose bloom.

"Thank God, you're still a child, dear," he said.





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