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Title: From One Generation to Another
Author: Merriman, Henry Seton, 1862-1903
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 "From One Generation to Another" ***

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FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER


By Henry Seton Merriman



CHAPTER

     I. THE SEED

    II. SUBURBAN

   III. MERCURY

    IV. FREIGHTED

     V. AFTER NINETEEN YEARS

    VI. FOR HIS COUNTRY

   VII. ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD

  VIII. RELIEVED

    IX. RE-CAST

     X. A LAST THROW

    XI. A CARPET KNIGHT

   XII. BAD NEWS

  XIII. ON THIN ICE

   XIV. THE CURSE OF A GOOD INTENTION

    XV. THE TOUCH OF NATURE

   XVI. THE SPIDER AND THE FLY

  XVII. TWO MOTIVES

 XVIII. LIKE SHIPS UPON THE SEA

   XIX. AT HURLINGHAM

    XX. IN A SIDE PATH

   XXI. ALONE

  XXII. ACROSS THE YEARS

 XXIII. AND THE TIME PASSES SOMEHOW

  XXIV. A STAB IN THE DARK

   XXV. FROM THE JAWS OF DEATH

  XXVI. BALANCING ACCOUNTS

 XXVII. AT BAY

XXVIII. THE LAST LINK

  XXIX. SETTLED



FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER



CHAPTER I

THE SEED

Il faut se garder des premiers mouvements, parce qu'ils sont presque
toujours honnétes.


"Dearest Anna,--I see from the newspaper before me of March 13, that I am
reported dead. Before attempting to investigate the origin of this
mistake, I hasten to write to you, knowing, dearest, what a shock this
must have been to you. It is true that I was in the Makar Akool affair,
and was slightly wounded--a mere scratch in the arm--but nothing more. I
have not written to you for some months past because I have been turning
something over in my mind. Anna, dearest, there is no chance of my being
in a position to marry for some years yet, and I feel it incumbent upon
me ..."

This letter, half written, lay on a camp table before a keen-faced young
officer. He ceased writing suddenly, and, leaping to his feet, walked to
the door of his bungalow, which was open to the four winds of heaven. In
doing this he passed from the range of the lazy punkah flapping
somnolently over table and bed. It may have been this sudden change to
hotter air that caused him to raise his hand to his forehead, which was
high and strangely rounded.

"By George!" he said, "suppose I do it that way!"

He walked rapidly backwards and forwards with the lithe actions of a man
of steel, a light weight, of medium height, keen and quick as a monkey.
His black eyes flitted from one object to another with such restlessness
that it was impossible to say whether he comprehended what he saw or
merely looked at things from force of habit.

He was dark of hair with a sallow complexion and a long drooping
nose--the nose of Semitic ancestors. A small mouth, and the chin
running almost to a point. A face full of interest, devoid of distinct
vice--heartless. Here was a man with a future before him--a man whose
vices were all negative, whose virtues depended entirely upon expediency.
Here was a man who could be almost anything he liked; as some men can. If
expediency prompted he could be a very depôt of virtues; for his body,
with all the warmer failings of that part of humanity, was in perfect
control. On the other hand, there was no love of good for goodness'
sake--no conscience behind the subtle eyes. All this, and more, was
written in the face of Seymour Michael, whose handwriting had dried some
moments before on the half-filled sheet of letter-paper.

He returned and stood at the table with slightly bowed legs--not the
result of much riding, although he wore top-boots and breeches as if of
daily habit--but a racial defect handed down like the nasal brand from
remote progenitors. He looked at letter and newspaper as they lay side by
side--not with the doubtfulness of warfare between conscience and
temptation, but with a calculating thoughtfulness. He was not wondering
what was best to do, but what the most expedient.

Those were troublesome times in India, for the Mutiny was not quelled,
and each mail took home a list of killed, slowly compiled from news that
dribbled in from outlying stations, forts, and towns. Those were days
when men's lives were made or lost in the Eastern Empire, for it seems to
be in Fortune's balance that great danger weighs against great gain. No
large wealth has ever been acquired without proportionate risk of life or
happiness. To the tame and timorous city clerk comes small remuneration
and a nameless grave, while to more adventurous spirits larger stakes
bring vaster rewards. The clerk, pure and simple, has, within these later
years, found his way to India, sitting side by side with the Baboo, and
consequently it is as easy to make a fortune in London as in Calcutta and
Madras. The clerk has carried his sordid civilisation and his love of
personal safety with him, sapping at the glorious uncertainty from which
the earlier pioneers of a hardier commerce wrested quick-founded
fortunes.

Seymour Michael had come into all this with the red coat of a soldier and
the keen, ambitious heart of a Jew, at the very nick of time. He saw at
once the enormous possibilities hidden in the near future for a man who
took this country at its proper value, handling what he secured with
coolness and foresight. He know that he only possessed one thing to risk,
namely, his life; and true to his racial instinct, he valued this very
highly, looking for an extortionate usury on his stake.

At this moment he was like Aladdin in the cave of jewels: he did not know
which way to turn, which treasure to seize first.

Anna--dearest Anna--to whom this half-completed letter was addressed, was
a person for whom he had not the slightest affection. At the outset of
his career he had paused, decided in haste, and had resolved to make use
of the passing opportunity. Anna Hethbridge had therefore been annexed
_en passant_. In person she was youthful and rather handsome--her fortune
was extremely handsome. So Seymour Michael went out to India engaged to
be married to this girl who was unfortunate enough to love him.

In India two things happened. Firstly, Seymour Michael met a second young
lady with a fortune twice as large as that of Miss Anna Hethbridge.
Secondly, the Mutiny broke out, and India lay before the ambitious young
officer a very land of Ophir. He promptly decided to cut the first string
of his bow. Anna Hethbridge was now useless--nay, more, she was a
burthen. Hence the letter which lay half-written on the table of his
bungalow.

He paused before this wrong to a blameless woman, and contemplated the
perpetration of a greater. He weighed pro and con--carefully withholding
from the balance the casting weight of Right against Wrong. Then he took
up the letter and slowly tore it to small pieces. He had decided to leave
the report of his death uncontradicted. It was morally certain that five
weeks before that day Anna Hethbridge had read the news in the printed
column lying before him. He resolved to leave her in ignorance of its
falseness. Seymour Michael was not, however, a selfish man. All that he
did at this time, and later in life--all the lives that he ruined--the
hearts he broke--the men he sacrificed were not offered upon the altar of
Self (though the distinction may appear subtle), but sold to his career.
Career was this man's god. He wanted to be great, and rich, and powerful;
and yet he was conscious of having no definite use for greatness, or
riches, or power when acquired.

Here again was the taint of the blood that ran in his veins. The curse
had reached him--in addition to the long, sad nose and the bandy legs.
The sense of enjoyment was never to be his. The greed of gain--gain of
any sort--filled his heart, and _ennui_ secretly nestling in his soul
said: "Thou shalt possess, but not enjoy."

He was conscious of this voice, but did not understand it then. He only
burned to possess; looking to possession to provide enjoyment. In this he
was not quite alone--with him in his error are all men and women. And so
we talk of Love coming after marriage--and so women marry without Love,
believing that it will follow. God help them! That which comes afterwards
is not even the ghost of Love, it is only Custom. This was the spirit of
Seymour Michael. He had already acquired one or two objects of a vague
ambition; and, possessing them, had only learnt to be accustomed to
them--not to value them.

There was no elation in the thought that he was freed from the
encumbrance of Anna Hethbridge by a chance misprint. Neither was there
hesitation in turning accident ruthlessly to his own advantage. There was
only a steady pressing forward--an unceasing, unwearying attention to his
own gain.

In those days news travelled slowly, and the personal had not yet taken
precedence in journalism. In the anxiety for the State, the Individual
was apt to be overlooked. Seymour Michael counted on six months of
oblivion at the least--he hoped for more, but with characteristic caution
acted always in anticipation of the worst.

He had scarcely thrown the newspaper aside when a comrade entered the
bungalow carrying another copy of the same journal.

"I say, Michael," exclaimed this man, "do you see that you're put in
among the killed?"

"Yes," replied Seymour Michael, without haste, without hesitation. "I
have already written to contradict it. Not that there is any one to care
whether I am dead or alive. But it might do me harm in Leadenhall Street.
I can't afford to be dead even for a week when so much promotion is going
forward."

This was artistic. Most of us forget to preserve our own characteristics
in diverging from the truth. The tangled web is only woven when _first_
we practise to deceive. Later on the facility is greater, the handling
superior, and the web runs smooth and straight. Seymour Michael was
apparently no novice at this sort of thing. He was even at that moment
making mental note of the fact that up-country mails were in a state of
disorganisation, and a letter which was never written may easily be made
to have miscarried later on.

But even he could not foresee everything--no one can. Not even the
righteous man, much less the liar.

"Do you mean to say," pursued the newcomer, "that you are not writing to
your family about it--only to the Company?"

"That is all."

"Rum chap you are, Michael," said the other, lighting a cheroot.
"Heartless beggar I take it."

"Not at all. The simple fact is that I have no one to write to. I only
possess one or two distant relatives, and they would probably be rather
sorry than otherwise to have the report contradicted."

The younger officer--a mere boy--with a beardless, happy face, walked to
the door of the bungalow.

"Of course there is always this in it," he said carelessly. "By the time
the contradiction reaches home the news may be true."

Seymour Michael laughed lamely. A joke of this description made him feel
rather sick, for a Jew never makes a soldier or a sailor, and they are
rarely found in those positions unless great gain is holden up.

With this pleasantry the youth departed, leaving Michael to write the
letter which he had advised as written. As he drew the writing materials
towards him he cursed his brother officer quietly and politely for a
meddling young fool. He wrote a formal letter to the Company--the
old East India Company which administered an empire with ledger and
daybook--calling their attention to the mistake in the newspaper, and
begging them not to trouble to give the matter publicity, as he had
already advised his friends.

This done, he proceeded with the ordinary routine of his daily life. Such
men as this are case-hardened. They carry with them a conscience like the
floor of an Augean stable, but they know how to walk thereon. Moreover,
he was one of those who assign to their dealings with men quite a
different code of morals to that reserved for women. His was the code of
"not being found out." Men are more suspicious--they find out sooner:
_ergo_ the morals to be observed _vis à vis_ to them are of a stricter
order. Railway companies and women are by many looked upon as fair game
for deception. Consciences tender in many other respects have a subtle
contempt for these two exceptions. Many a so-called honest man travels
gaily in a first-class carriage with a second-class ticket, and lies to a
woman at each end of his journey without so much as casting a shadow upon
his conscience.

Seymour Michael carried this code to the farthest limit of safety. All
through the months that followed he went about his business with a clear
conscience and a heart slightly relieved by the removal of Anna
Hethbridge from his path to prosperity. He served his country and the
Company with a keenness of foresight and a soldierly exposure of the
lives of others which did not fail, in the course of time, to bring him
in a harvest of honours and rewards. Neither did he put his candle under
a bushel, but set it in the very highest candlestick available.

But, as has been previously stated, he could not foresee everything. He
did not know, for instance, that his cheroot-smoking subaltern--a
youth as guileless as he was indiscreet, for the two usually go
together--possessed a memory like a dry-plate. He did not foresee that a
passing conversation in an Indian bungalow might perchance photograph
itself on the somewhat sparsely covered tablets of a man's mind, to be
reproduced at the wrong moment with a result lying twenty-six years ahead
in the womb of time.



CHAPTER II

SUBURBAN

_L'amour fait tout excuser, mais il faut être bien sûr qu'il y a de i
amour._


Miss Anna Hethbridge loved Seymour Michael with as great a love as her
nature could compass.

When the news of his death reached her, at the profusely laden
breakfast-table at Jaggery House, Clapham Common, her first feeling was
one of scornful anger towards a Providence which could be so careless.
Life had always been prosperous for her, in a bourgeois, solidly wealthy
way, entirely suited to her turn of mind. She had always had servants at
her beck and call, whom she could abuse illogically and treat with an
utter inconsequence inherent in her nature. She had been the spoilt child
of a ponderous, thick-skinned father and a very suburban mother, who, out
of her unexpected prosperity, could deny her daughter nothing.

Three months after the receipt of the news Anna Hethbridge went down into
Hertfordshire, where, in the course of a visit at Stagholme Rectory, she
met and became engaged to the Squire of Stagholme, James Edward Agar.

A month later she became the second wife of the simple-minded old country
gentleman. It would be hard to say what motives prompted her to this
apparently heartless action. Some women are heartless--we know that. But
Anna Hethbridge was too impulsive, too excitable, and too much given to
pleasure to be devoid of heart. Behind her action there must have been
some strange, illogical, feminine motive, for there was a deliberation in
every move--one of those motives which are quite beyond the masculine
comprehension. One notices that when a woman takes action in this
incomprehensible way her lady friends are never surprised; they seem to
have some subtle sympathy with her. It is only the men who look puzzled,
as if the ground beneath their feet were unstable. Therefore there must
be some influence at work, probably the same influence, under different
forms, which urges women to those strange, inconsequent actions by which
their lives are rendered miserable. Men have not found it out yet.

Anna Hethbridge was at this time twenty-four years of age, rather pretty,
with a vivacity of manner which only seemed frivolous to the more
thoughtful of her acquaintances. The idea of her marrying old Squire Agar
within six months of the untimely death of her clever lover, Seymour
Michael, seemed so preposterous that her hostess, good, sentimental Mrs.
Glynde, never dreamt of such a possibility until, in the form of a fact,
it was confided to her by Miss Hethbridge, one afternoon soon after her
arrival at the rectory.

"Confound it, Maria," exclaimed the Rector testily, when the information
was passed on to him later in the evening. "Why could you not have
foreseen such an absurd event?"

Poor Mrs. Glynde looked distressed. She was a thin little woman, with an
unsteady head, physically and morally speaking; full of kindness of
heart, sentimentality, high-flown principles, and other bygone ladylike
commodities. Her small, eager face, of a ruddy and weather-worn
complexion--as if she had, at some early period of her existence, been
left out all night in an east wind--was puckered up with a sense of her
own negligence.

She tried hard, poor little woman, to take a deep and Christian interest
in the welfare of her neighbours; but all the while she was conscious of
failure. She knew that even at that moment, when she was sitting in her
small arm-chair with clasped, guilty hands, her whole heart and soul were
absorbed beyond retrieval in a small bundle of white flannel and pink
humanity in a cradle upstairs.

The Rector had dropped his weekly review upon his knees and was staring
at her angrily.

"I really can't tell," he continued, "what you can have been thinking
about to let such a ridiculous thing come to pass. What are you thinking
about now?"

"Well, dear," confessed the little woman shamedly, "I was thinking of
Baby--of Dora."

"Thought so," he snapped, with a little laugh, returning to his paper
with a keen interest. But he did not seem to be following the printed
lines.

"I suppose she was all right when you were up just now!" he said
carelessly after a moment, and without lowering his paper.

"Yes, dear," the lady replied. "She was asleep."

And this young mother of forty smiled softly to herself as if at some
recollection.

This happiness had come late, as happiness must for us to value it fully,
and Mrs. Glynde's somewhat old-fashioned Christianity was of that school
which seeks to depreciate by hook or by crook the enjoyment of those
sparse goods that the gods send us. The stone in her path at this time
was an exaggerated sense of her own unworthiness--a matter which she
might safely have left to another and wiser judgment.

Presently the Rector laid aside the newspaper, and rose slowly from his
chair.

"Are you going upstairs, dear?" inquired his tactless spouse.

"Um--er. Yes! I am just going up to get--a pocket-handkerchief."

Mrs. Glynde said nothing; but as she knew the creak of every board
in the room overhead she became aware shortly afterwards that the
Rector had either diverged slightly from the path of which he was the
ordained finger-post, or that he had suddenly taken to keeping his
pocket-handkerchiefs in the far corner of the room where the cradle
stood.

It will be readily understood that in a household ruled, as this rectory
was, by a sleepy little morsel of humanity, Anna Hethbridge was in no way
hindered in the furtherance of her own personal purposes--one might
almost add periodical purposes, for she never held to one for long.

The Squire was very lonely. His boy Jem, aged four, would certainly be
the happier for a mother's care. Above all, Miss Hethbridge seemed to
want the marriage, and so it came about.

If Anna Hethbridge had been asked at that time why she wanted it, she
would probably have told an untruth. She was rather given, by the way, to
telling untruths. Had she, in fact, given a reason at all, she would
perforce have left the straight path, because she had no reason in her
mind.

The real motive was probably a love of excitement; and Miss Anna
Hethbridge is not the only woman, by many thousands, who has married for
that same reason.

The wedding was celebrated quietly at the Clapham parish church. A
humiliating day for the stiff-necked old Squire of Stagholme; for he was
introduced to many new relatives, who, if they could have bought up
Stagholme and its master, were but poorly equipped with the letter "h."
The bourgeois ostentation and would-be high-toned graciousness of the
ladies, jarred on his nerves as harshly as did the personal appearance of
their respective husbands.

Altogether it was just possible that Squire Agar began to realise the
extent of his own foolishness before the effervescence had left the
champagne that flowed freely to the health of bride and bride-groom.

The event was duly announced in the leading newspapers, and in the course
of a few days a copy of the _Times_ containing the insertion started
eastward to meet Seymour Michael on his way home from India.

Anna Agar came home to Stagholme to begin her new life; for which
peaceful groove of existence she was by the way totally unfitted; for she
had breathed the fatal air of Clapham since her birth. This atmosphere is
terribly impregnated with the microbe of bourgeoisie.

But the novelty of the great house had that all-absorbing fascination
exercised over shallow minds by anything that is new. At first she
maintained excitedly that there was no life like a country life--no
centre more suited for such an ideal existence than Stagholme. For a time
she forgot Seymour Michael; but love is eminently deceitful. It lies in a
comatose silence for many years and then suddenly springs to life.
Sometimes the long period of rest has strengthened it--sometimes the time
has been passed in a chrysalis stage from which Love awakens to find
itself changed into Hatred.

Little Jem, her stepson--sturdy, fair, silent--was her first failure.

"Come to your mother, dear," she said, with unguarded enthusiasm one
afternoon when there were callers in the room.

"I cannot go to my mother," replied the youthful James, with his mouth
full of cake, "because she is dead."

There was an uncompromising matter-of-factness about this simple
statement, made in all good faith and honesty, which warned the second
Mrs. Agar to press the matter no farther just then. But she was so intent
upon exhibiting to her neighbours the maternal affection which she
persuaded herself that she felt for the plain-spoken heir to Stagholme,
that she took him to task afterwards. With great care and an utter lack
of logic she devoted some hours to the instruction of Jem in the somewhat
crooked ways of her social creed.

"And when," she added, "I tell you to come to your mother, you must come
and kiss me."

This last item she further impressed upon him by the gift of an orange,
and then asked him if he understood.

After scratching his head meditatively for some moments, he looked into
her comely face with very steady blue eyes and said:

"I don't think so--not quite."

"Then," replied his stepmother angrily, "you are a very stupid little
boy--and you must go up to the nursery at once."

This puzzled Jem still more, and he walked upstairs reflecting deeply.
Years afterwards, when he was a man, the sunlight falling on the wall
through the skylight over the staircase had the power of bringing back
that moment to him--a moment when the world first began to open itself
before him and to puzzle him.

It happened that at that precise time when Mrs. Agar was endeavouring
To teach her little stepson the usages of polite society, a small,
keen-faced man was standing near the table in the smoking-room in the
Hotel Wagstaff at Suez. He was idly turning over the newspapers lying
there in the hopes of finding something comparatively recent in date.

Presently he came upon a copy of the _Times_, with which he repaired to
one of the long chairs on that verandah overlooking the desert which some
of us know only too well.

After idly conning the general news he glanced at the births, deaths, and
marriages, and there he read of the recent ceremony in the parish church
of Clapham.

"D----n it!" he muttered, with that racial love of an expletive which
makes a Jew a profane man.

In addition to a strong feeling of wounded vanity that Anna Hethbridge
should so soon have forgotten him, Seymour Michael was distinctly
disappointed that this heiress should no longer be within his reach. The
truth was, that the young lady in India had transferred her valuable
affections, with all solid appurtenances attaching thereto, to a young
officer in the Navy who had been invalided at Calcutta.

To men who intend, despite all and at any cost, to get on in the world
the first failures are usually very bitter. It is only those who press
stolidly forward without expecting much, who profit from a check. Seymour
Michael was just the man to fail by being too acute, too unscrupulous. He
was usually in such a hurry to help himself that he never allowed another
the very fruitful pleasure of giving.

In India his zeal had led him into one or two small mistakes to which he
himself attached no importance, but they were remembered against him. He
had cruelly thrown aside Anna Hethbridge when a richer marriage offered
itself. Now he had missed both bone and reflection, and he sat with a
smile on his dark face, looking out over the dreary desert.



CHAPTER III

MERCURY

_The evil is sown, but the destruction thereof is not yet come._


James Edward Makerstone Agar was not at the age of five the material
from which the heroes of children's stories are evolved. He was not a
good boy, nor a clean, nor particularly interesting. He was, however,
honest--and that is _déjà quelque chose_. He was as far removed from the
"misunderstood" type as could be wished; and he was quite happy.

Before his stepmother had laid aside the title and glory of a bride, he
had, by his deadly honesty, made her understand that even a child of five
requires what she could not give him--namely, logic. Had she been clever
enough to reason logically she might have undermined the little fellow's
innate honesty of character, despite the fact that he lacked a child's
chief incentive to learn from its mother, namely, the sympathy of
heredity.

Gradually and steadily Mrs. Agar "gave him up," to make use of her own
expression. She was one of those women who either fear or despise that
which they do not understand. She could scarcely fear Jem, so she
persuaded herself that he was stupid and unattractive. At this time there
came another influence to militate against any excess of love between Jem
and his stepmother. It came to her, for he was ignorant of it. And this
was the knowledge that before long the little heir's undisputed reign in
the nursery would come to an end.

With a suburban horror of being a long distance from the chemist, Mrs.
Agar protested that she could not possibly remain at Stagholme during the
ensuing winter, and that her child must be born at Clapham. It was vain
to argue or reason, and at last the Squire was forced to swallow this
second humiliation, which was quite beyond his wife's comprehension. He
only dared to hint that all the Agars had seen the light at Stagholme
since time immemorial; but feelings of this description found no
answering note in her practical and essentially commonplace mind. So Mr.
And Mrs. Agar emigrated to Clapham, leaving Jem behind them.

It happened that a few days after their arrival at the stately house
overlooking the Common, a young officer called to see Mr. Hethbridge,
who was at that time one of the Directors of the East India Company.
Now it furthermore happened that this young soldier was he whom we last
saw smoking a cheroot in the doorway of Seymour Michael's bungalow in
India. As chance would have it, he called in the evening, and the
estimable Mr. Hethbridge, warmed into an unusual hospitality by the
fumes of his own port wine, pressed him to pass into the drawing-room and
take a dish of tea with the ladies. The subaltern accepted, chiefly
because it was the Director's self that pressed, and presently followed
that short-winded gentleman into the drawing-room--thereby shaping lives
yet uncreated--thereby unconsciously helping to work out a chain of
events leading ultimately to an end which no man could foresee.

"Yes," he said, in reply to Mrs. Agar's question, "I am just back from
India."

It happened that these two were left almost beyond earshot at the far end
of the room. The old people, among whom was Mrs. Agar's husband, were
settling down to a game of whist. Mrs. Agar was leaning forward with
considerable interest. This was not a mere passing curiosity to hear
further of a country and of an event which have not lost their glamour
yet.

The very word "India" had stirred something up within her heart of the
presence of which she had been unsuspicious. She was as one who, having a
closed room in her life, and thinking the door thereof securely barred,
suddenly finds herself within that room.

"Whereabouts in India were you?" she asked, with a sudden dryness of the
lips.

"Oh--I was north of Delhi."

"North of Delhi--oh, yes."

She moistened her lips, with a strange, sidelong glance round the room,
as if she were preparing to jump from a height.

"And--and I suppose you saw a great deal of the Mutiny?"

Even then--after many months, in a drawing-room in peaceful Clapham--the
young man's eyes hardened.

"Yes, I saw a good deal," he answered.

Mrs. Agar leant back in her chair, drawing her handkerchief through her
fingers with jerky, unnatural movements.

"And did you lose many friends?" she asked.

"Yes," answered the young fellow, "in one way and another."

"How? What do you mean?" She had a way of leaning forward and listening
when spoken to, which passed very well for sympathy.

"Well, a time like the Mutiny brings out all that is in a man, you
know. And some men had less in them than one might have thought, while
others--quiet-going fellows--seemed to wake up."

"Yes," she said; "I see."

"One or two," he continued, "betrayed themselves. They showed that there
was that in them which no one had suspected. I lost one friend that way."

"How?"

It was marvellous how the merest details of India interested this woman,
who, like most of us, did not know herself. Moreover, she never learnt to
do so thoroughly, thereby being spared the horrid pain of knowing oneself
too late.

"I made a mistake," he explained. "I thought he was a gentleman and a
brave man. I found that he was a coward and a cad."

Something urged her to go on with her pointless questions--the same
inevitable Fate which, according to the Italians, "stands at the end of
everything," and which had prompted Mr. Hethbridge to bring this stranger
into the drawing-room.

"But how did you find it out?"

"Oh, I did not do it all at once. I first began by a mere trifle. It
happened that this man was reported dead in the Gazette--I showed it to
him myself."

The young officer, who was not accustomed to ladies' society, and felt
rather nervous at his own loquaciousness, kept his eyes fixed on his
boots, and did not notice the deathly pallor of Mrs. Agar's face, nor the
convulsive clutch of her fingers on the velvet arm of the chair.

She turned right round, with a peculiar movement of the throat as if
swallowing something, and made sure that the whist-players were
interested in their game. In that position she heard the next words.

"He did not even take the trouble to write home to his friends. I thought
it rather strange at the time, and told him so. Later on I heard the
truth of it. I heard him tell some one else that he was engaged to a girl
in England, and he thought it a very good way of getting out of the
engagement."

"You heard him tell that, with your own ears?"

"Yes; and he seemed to think it a good joke."

Mrs. Agar was shuffling about in the chair as if in pain.

Then she asked again in a strangely metallic voice, "Did he say that
he--did not love her?"

"Yes, the cad!"

"He cannot have been a nice man," she said, with that evenness of
enunciation which betrays that the tongue is speaking without the direct
aid of the mind.

The young officer rose with a glance towards the clock.

"No," he said, "he was not. He did other things afterwards which made it
quite impossible for a man with any self-respect whatever to look upon
him as a friend."

"Did he," asked Mrs. Agar, "say anything about her personal appearance?
Was it that?"

The subaltern looked puzzled. It was as well for Mrs. Agar that he was
not a man of deep experience. Instead of being puzzled he might suddenly
have seen clear.

"No--no," he replied. "It was not that. It was merely a matter of
expediency, I believe."

But, womanlike, Mrs. Agar did not believe him. She sat while he made his
farewell speech over the whist-table, but as he went to the door she rose
and followed him slowly.

In the hall she watched the servant help him on with his coat--her
features twisted into a stereotype smile of polite leave-taking.

"By the way," she said, with a sickening little laugh, "what was the
man's name--your friend, whom you lost?"

"Michael--Seymour Michael."

"Ah! Good-night--good-night."

Then she turned and walked slowly upstairs.

We are apt to read indifferently of human ills, whether of the flesh or
the soul. We are apt to overlook the fact that what we read may apply to
us. Some of us even bear upon us the mark of hereditary disease and
refuse to believe in it. Then suddenly comes a day when a pain makes
itself felt--a dumb, little creeping pain, which may mean nothing. We sit
down and, so to speak, feel ourselves. Before long all doubt goes. We
have it. The world darkens, and behold we are in the ranks of those upon
whom we looked a little while back with a semi-indifferent pity.

It was thus with Mrs. Agar. As some play with nature, so had she played
with her own heart. She had heard of a consuming love which is near akin
to hatred. She had read of passion which is stronger than the strongest
worldliness. She had smilingly doubted the existence of the broken heart
pure and simple. And now she sat in her own room, numbly, blindly feeling
herself, like one to whom the first warning of an internal deadly disease
has been manifested. She was conscious of something within herself which
she could not get at, over which she had no control.

With quivering lips she sat and wondered what she could do to hurt this
man. She did not only want to inflict bodily pain, but that other
gnawing pain of the heart which she herself was now feeling for the first
time. And through it all there ran the one thought that he must die. It
was strange that hate should first teach her that love is a living,
undeniable reality in the lives of all of us. She had never realised
this before. Her bringing-up, her surroundings, all her teaching had
been that money and a great house, and servants, and carriages were the
good things of this life, the things to be sought after.

She had been conscious of a vague admiration for Seymour Michael, and
that was the full extent of her knowledge of herself. This admiration
took the worldly form of a conviction that he was destined one day to be
a great man, and she had a strongly developed, common-minded desire to be
a great lady.

There are some things in this life which to a moderate intelligence are
quite unmistakable. Most of us, having left childhood behind, recognise
at once an earthquake, and death. Love is as unmistakable when it really
comes. And Anna Agar, having suddenly learnt to hate Seymour Michael,
knew that she had loved him with that one all-absorbing love which comes
but once to a woman.

She was not a deep-thinking or a subtle woman. Her actions were usually
based upon impulse, and her one all-absorbing desire now was to see him,
to speak to him face to face. In this indefinite longing there was
probably a vulgar love of vituperation--the taint of her low-born
ancestors.

She wanted to shout and shriek her hatred into the evil face of the man
who had tricked her. She wanted to frighten him, to threaten, to lash him
with her tongue. For she was conscious all the while of her own inability
to harm him. Without defining the thought, her common-sense taught her
one lamentable, unjust fact; namely, that unless a woman is loved by the
object of her wrath she can hardly make him suffer.

She rose at last, and, lighting the candles on the writing-table, she
proceeded to write to Seymour Michael. Even in this epistle the natural
cunning of her nature appeared.

"DEAR SEYMOUR "--she wrote on a sheet of paper bearing the address of the
house in which she was staying, the roof under which Seymour Michael had
first paid his careless tribute to her wealth--"I learnt by accident this
evening that your regiment has returned to England. If you are in London,
I hope you will make time to come and see me. Come to-morrow evening at
four, if that time is convenient to you. ANNA."

She purposely signed her Christian name only, purposely refrained from
vouchsafing any personal news. She did not know how much or how little he
might know.

Ringing for her maid, she sent the letter to the post, addressed to
Seymour Michael, at the Service Club, of which she knew him to be a
member. Then she went to bed to toss and turn all night. The doctors,
good, portly Clapham practitioners, had warned her in the usual way to
spare herself all bodily fatigue and mental worry for the sake of the
little one. It is so easy to urge each other to spare all mental worry,
and so eminently useful.



CHAPTER IV

FREIGHTED

I shall remember while the light lives yet,
And in the darkness I shall not forget.


Seymour Michael was no coward where hard words and no hard knocks were to
be exchanged. His faith in his own keenness of intellect and
unscrupulousness of tongue was unbounded.

He smiled when he read Anna Agar's letter over a dainty breakfast at his
club the next morning. The cunning of it was obvious to his cunning
comprehension, and the fact of her suppressing her newly-acquired surname
only convinced him that she knew but little about himself.

That same evening at four o'clock he presented himself at the lordly
hall-door of Mr. Hethbridge. Since first he had raised his hand to this
knocker, fingering his letter of introduction to the East India director,
Seymour Michael had learnt many things, but the knowledge was not yet his
that indiscriminate untruths are apt to fly home to roost.

Anna Agar had easily managed to send her mother out of the house; her
husband spent his days as far from Clapham as circumstances would allow.
She was seated on a sofa at the far end of the room when Seymour Michael
was shown in, and the first thing that struck her was his diminutiveness.
After the hearty country gentlemen who habitually carried mud into the
Stagholme drawing-room, this small-limbed dapper soldier of fortune
looked almost puny. But there is a depth in every woman's heart which is
only to be reached by one man. Whatever betide them both, that one is
different from the rest all through life.

Neither of these two persons spoke until the servant had closed the door.
Then, as is usual in such cases, the more indifferent spoke first.

"Why did you never write to me?" said Seymour Michael, fixing his
mournful glance on her face.

"Because I thought you were dead."

"You never got my letter contradicting the report?"

"No," she answered, with so cheap a cunning that it deceived him.

"And," he went on, with the heartlessness of a small man, for large men
respect woman with a deeper chivalry than every puny knight yet
compassed, "and you did not trouble to inquire. You did not even give me
six months' grace to cool in my grave."

"How did you send your letter?" she asked, with a suppressed excitement
which he misread entirely.

"By the usual route. I wrote off at once."

"Liar! liar! liar!" she shrieked.

She had risen, and stood pointing an accusatory finger at him. Then
suddenly the dramatic force of the situation seemed to fail, and she
burst out laughing. For some seconds it seemed as if her laughter was
getting beyond her control, but at last she checked it with a gurgle.

The complete success of the trap which she had laid for him almost
disappointed her. Few things are more disappointing than complete
success. She hated him, and yet for the sake of the one gleam of good
love that had flickered once in her essentially sordid heart, she had
nourished a vague hope that he would clear himself--that at all events he
would have the cleverness to see through her stratagem.

"Liar!" she repeated. "In this room last night--not twenty-four hours
ago--Mr. Wynderton told me all about it. He said that you told several
men in his presence that you did not love me, and that your death
reported in the papers was the best way of breaking off the engagement."

Seymour Michael's eyes never wavered. For once they were still, with
that solemn depth of gaze which tells of the curse laid on a smitten,
miserable race. It was strange that before honest men and women his
glance wavered ever--he could never meet honest eyes; but looking at Anna
Agar they were as steady as those of a true man.

"Wynderton," ho said, "the man whose promotion I stopped, by a report
against him for looting."

When Nature makes a fool in the guise of a woman she turns out a finished
work. Mrs. Agar's eyes actually lighted up. Seymour Michael saw; but he
knew that he had no case. Nevertheless, in view of the Squire's advanced
age (a fact of which he had made sure), he attempted to carry through a
forlorn hope.

"And you believe this man before you believe me?" said Michael. It is
strange how often one hears the word "believe" on the lips of those whose
veracity is doubtful.

Now it happened that Mr. Hethbridge had spoken of Wynderton at breakfast
that morning in terms which left no doubt as to the untruth of the
statement just made in regard to him. But even this would have been
passed over by the woman who had a natural tendency towards falsehood
herself, had not Seymour Michael made a hideous mistake. A wiser man than
any of us has said that there is a time for all things. Most distinctly
defined is the time for making love. More men come to grief by making too
much love than too little. Seymour Michael, being heartless, deemed
erroneously that this was a propitious moment to essay the power which
had once been his over this woman.

He accompanied his reproachful speech with a tender glance, which in
olden times had never failed to call forth an answering look of love in
her eyes. Now, it suddenly aroused her to realise the extent of her
hatred. In some subtle way it humiliated her; for she looked back into
the past, and saw herself therein a dupe to this man.

"No!" she cried, and her raised voice had a sudden twang in
it--suggestive of the streets; of the People. "No--you needn't trouble to
make soft eyes at me. I know you now--I know that what that man said was
true. He called you a coward and a cad. You are worse! You are a Jew--a
mean, lying Jew."

There are few greater trials to a man's dignity than vituperation from
the lips of a woman. She walked towards him, clumsily, menacingly and
raised her hand as if to strike him.

Seymour Michael's brown face turned yellow beneath her blazing anger.

"Sit down!" he commanded, "and don't make a fool of yourself."

He was mean enough to pay her back in her own coin--the paltry,
loud-ringing coin which is all that a woman has.

"I do not mean to wrangle," he said coolly; "but I may as well tell you
now that I never cared a jot for you. I was laughing at you in my sleeve
all the time. I did not want you but your money. I concluded that the
money would be too dear at the price, so I determined to throw you over.
The way I chose to do it was as good as any other, because it saved me
the trouble of writing to you."

Anna Agar had obeyed him. She was sitting down in a stiff-backed
arm-chair, looking stupidly at the pattern of the carpet as if it were
something new to her. Between physical pain and mental excitement she
was beginning to wander. She was the sort of woman to lose control over
her mind with a temperature of one hundred and one.

Michael looked keenly at her. He had a racial terror of physical ailment.
He saw that something was wrong, but his knowledge went no further. He
had never seen a woman faint, so limited had been his experience of the
sex.

"Come," he said consolingly, "it is all for the best. We made a mistake.
In a few years we shall look back to this, and thank Heaven for saving us
many years of unhappiness. We are not suited to each other, Anna. We
never should have been happy."

It was characteristic of the man to be more afraid of a fainting fit than
of a broken heart.

He went to her side and stood, not daring to touch her, for fear of
arousing another of those fits of passion in her which neither of them
seemed to understand. At length she spoke in a singular monotonous tone
which an experienced doctor would have recognised at once as the speech
of a tongue unguided for the time being. She did not look up, but kept
her eyes fixed on the carpet as if reading there.

"Some day," she said, "I will pay you back. Some day--some day. I do not
know how, but I feel that you will be sorry you ever did this."

Twenty-five years afterwards these words came back to him in a flash.
They passed through his brain--conglomerate--in a flash, in a hundredth
part of the time required to speak them.

Even at the time of hearing them, spoken in that voice which did not seem
to belong to Anna Hethbridge at all, he turned pale. For all the hatred
that burnt within her like a fire smouldered in the deliberate tones of
her voice. Hatred and love can teach us more in a moment than the
experience of a lifetime; for through either of them we see ourselves
face to face. This hatred made Anna Agar in twenty-four hours, and the
woman thus created went through a lifetime unchanged.

Michael went towards the bell.

"I am going to ring," he said, "for your maid."

"Twice," she muttered in the same vague way.

He obeyed her, ringing twice.

Presently the woman came.

"Your mistress," said Michael in a low voice to her at the door, "has
been suddenly seized with faintness. I leave her to you."

Without looking round he passed through the doorway and out into his own
self-seeking life. But Anna Agar's revenge began from that moment. To a
man of his nature, in whose veins ran the taint of a semi-superstitious
Oriental blood, there was a nameless terror in the hatred of a human
being, however helpless. Surely the hell of the coward will be a twilight
land of vague shadowy dangers ever approaching and receding.

In such a land Seymour Michael moved for some months, until he returned
to India; and there, in the daily round of a new life, he gradually
learnt to shake off the past. The world is very large despite chance
meetings. It is easy enough to find room for two even in the same county,
with the exercise of a little care.

Twenty-five years elapsed before these two met again, and then they only
had time to exchange a glance. By that time the result of their own
actions had passed beyond their control.

Seymour Michael walked across the Common, which was in those days still
wild and almost beautiful; and on the whole he was pleased with the
result of this interview. He knew that it was destined to come sooner or
later--he had known that all along; and it might have been worse. It is
characteristic of an untruthful nature to be impervious to the shame of
mere detection. In Eastern countries the liar detected smiles in one's
face. Detection is to an Oriental no punishment; something more tangible
is required to pierce his mental epidermis.

Being quite incapable of a strong love this man was innocent of consuming
hatred. He therefore vaguely wondered whether the day might come wherein
he would once more lay siege to the affections of Anna Agar, a rich
widow.

Had he seen the face of the woman whom he had just left as it lay
at that moment, hardly less pale than the pillow between the fluted
mahogany pillars of a huge four-post bed, he would not have understood
its meaning. He would never have divined that the dull gleam shining
between her half-closed eyelids was simple hatred of himself, that the
restless, twitching lips were whispering curses upon his head, that the
half-stunned brain was struggling back to circulation and thought for
the sole purpose of devising hurt to him.

Seymour Michael, ignorant of all this, went peaceably back to his club,
where he dressed, dined, and proceeded to pass the evening at a theatre.

That night, while he was displaying his diamond studs in the stalls of
Drury Lane Theatre, was born into the world--long before his time--a
child, Arthur Agar, destined to walk the smoothest paths of life,
literally in silk attire; for he grew up to love such things.

But the ways of Nature are strange. She is very quiet; patient as death
itself. She holds her hand for years--sometimes for a generation--but she
strikes at last.

She is more cruel than man, or even than woman which is saying much, She
is the best friend we have, and the worst foe, for she never forgives an
outrage.

Nature raised her hand over this puny, whimpering child, Arthur Agar. She
never forgot a mother's selfish passion. She forgets nothing. When first
he opened his little pink lids upon the world he looked round with a
scared wonder in a pair of colourless blue-grey eyes; and that vague look
of expectation never left his eyes in later life. It almost seemed as if
the infant orbs could see ahead into the future--could discern the
lowering hand of outraged Nature.

This hand was suspended over the ill-fated, poorly-endowed head for
years, then Nature struck--hard.



CHAPTER V

AFTER NINETEEN YEARS

A sharp judgment shall be to them that be in high places.


"Yes, dear. I have great news for you to take back to your mother. Jem
has got his commission--in a Goorkha regiment!"

The lady who spoke leant back in her chair, half turning her head, but
not looking entirely round in the direction of the only other occupant of
the room--a girl of nineteen.

"In a Goorkha regiment, Aunt Anna?" repeated the girl; "what is that? It
sounds as if he would have to black his face and wear a turban. It
suggests curry and gymkhanas (whatever they may be) and pyjamas and
bananas and other pickles. A Goorkha regiment."

There was a faint drop in her tone--on the last three words, which to
very keen ears might have signified reproach, but the hearer was not
keen--merely cunning, which is quite a different matter.

"Yes, dear. They tell me that these Indian regiments are much the best
for a young man who is likely to get on. There are so many more chances
of promotions and--er--er--distinction."

The girl was standing by the open window, and she turned her head without
otherwise moving, looking at the speaker with a pair of exceedingly
discriminating eyes.

"Bosh, my dear aunt!" she whispered confidingly to the blind-cord.

"Yes," pursued the lady, with the eager credulity of her first mother,
ever ready to believe the last speaker when belief is convenient--"Yes.
Sister Cecilia tells me that all the great men began in the Indian
Service."

"Oh! I wonder where they finished. Royal Academy--finishing Academy.
Regimentals and a gold frame--leaning heroically on a mild-looking cannon
with battles in the background."

"Yes, dear," replied Mrs. Agar, who only half understood Dora Glynde at
all times; "it is such a good thing for Jem. Such a splendid opportunity,
you know!"

"Yes," echoed the girl, with a twist of her humorous lips. "Splendid!"

She had turned again, and was looking out of the window across a soft old
lawn where two Wellingtonians towered side by side like sentries. Without
glancing in the direction of her companion she knew the expression of
Mrs. Agar's face, the direction of her gaze; the very thought in her
shallow mind. She knew that Mrs. Agar was sitting with her arms on the
little davenport, gazing rapturously at the photograph of an insipid
young man with a silk-faced smoking jacket; with clean linen, clean
countenance, clean hands, immaculate hair, and a general air of being too
weak to be mean.

"Sister Cecilia," went on the elder lady, "seems to know all about it."

It is useless to attempt concealment of the fact that at this juncture
Dora Glynde made a face--an honest schoolgirl behind-your-back
Face--indicative of supreme scorn for some person or persons unspecified.

Hers was a countenance which lent itself admirably to the purpose, with
lips full of humour, and capable, as such lips are, of expressing a great
and wonderful tenderness. The face, _du reste_, was that of a healthy,
fair-skinned English girl, liable to honest change from pale to pink,
according to the dictates of an arbitrary climate. Her eyes were of a
dark grey-blue, straightforward and steady, with a shadow of thought in
them which made wise people respect her presence. She was not painfully
beautiful, like the heroine of a novel--nor abnormally plain, like the
antitype who has found her way into fiction, and there (alone) brings all
hearts to her feet.

"Is Jem glad?" she asked cheerfully. "Is he thirsting for gore and
glory?"

"Oh, delighted! Arthur will be so pleased too. Dear boy, _he_ is so
interested in soldiers, but of course he could not go into the army! He
is too delicate--besides, the life is rough, and the risks are very
great."

Mrs. Agar was speaking with her head slightly inclined to one side, and
she never raised her adoring eyes from the photograph of the insipid
young man. Had she done so she would have seen a look of patient, if
comic, resignation come over the face of her youthful companion at the
mention of her son's name.

"I will tell mother," said Dora Glynde, purposely ignoring Arthur Agar,
whose name was always dragged sooner or later into every conversation.
"Fancy Jem in a helmet, or a turban, with his face blacked! All the same,
if I were a man I should be a soldier. When does he go--to join his
regiment?"

"Oh, almost at once."

The girl winced, quietly, between herself and the blind-cord.

"And in the meantime," she said lightly, "I suppose he is fully engaged
in buying swords and guns and bomb-shells, or whatever the Goorkhas use
in warfare."

"He is coming home to-morrow for Sunday," replied Jem Agar's stepmother
absently. She was thinking of her own son, and therefore did not hear the
quick sigh which was almost a gasp; did not note the sudden light in the
girl's eyes.

Dora Glynde was rather a solitary-minded young person. The only child of
elderly parents, she had never learnt in the nursery to indulge in the
indiscretions of confiding girlhood. She had the good fortune to be
without a bosom-friend who related her most sacred secrets to other bosom
friends and so on, as is the way of maidens. From her father she had
inherited a discriminating mind and a most admirable habit of reserve.
She was quite happy when alone, which, according to La Bruyère, is a
great safeguard against all evil.

She wanted to be alone now, and therefore passed out of the open window
with a non-committing "Good-bye, Aunt Anna!"

"Good-bye, dear," replied the lady, awaking suddenly from a reverie. But
by the time she had turned round in her chair, the girl was gone.

Dora crossed the lawn, passing between the sentinel pines and crossing
the moat by the narrow footbridge. She climbed the railing with all the
ease of nineteen years and struck a bee-line across the park. She never
raised her eyes from the ground, never paused in her swinging gait, until
she reached the brown hush of the beechwood which divided the Rectory
garden from the southern extremity of the park.

Having climbed the railing again she sat on a mossy mound at the foot of
a huge beech tree. Her manner of doing so subtly indicated that she did
not only know the spot, but was in the habit of sitting there, possibly
to think. A youthful privilege of doubtful value, for, as we get busier
in life we have to do the thinking as we go along.

"Oh!" she muttered, "oh, how awful!"

A new expression had come over her face. She looked older, and all the
vivacity had suddenly left her lips.

While she was still sitting there the crisp sound of footsteps on the
fallen leaves approached through the wood. Looking up she saw her father,
following the winding path through the spinney towards his home.

A grave man was the Rector of Stagholme in his declining years;
hopelessly, wisely pessimistic, with sudden youthful returns of interest
in matters literary and theological. As he came he read a book.

Instantly the expression of Dora's face changed. She rose and went
towards him, smiling contemptuously towards his lowering gravity. He
looked up, gave a little grunt of recognition, and closed his book.

"Father," she said, "I've just heard a piece of news."

"Bad, I suppose."

She laughed.

"Well," she answered, "I suppose we shall survive it. Jem has got his
commission, in a Goorkha regiment."

"Goorkha regiment? Nonsense!"

"Aunt Anna has just told me so. She is very pleased, and seems prepared
for the--best."

"That is the custom of fools, to be prepared for the best--only."

The Rector gave a despairing shrug of the shoulders. He was a man who
allowed himself, after the manner of the ancients with whom he lived
mentally, a few gestures. He smoked a very expressive cigarette. He was
smoking one at this moment, and threw it away half consumed. This divine
was possessed of a rooted conviction that the Almighty made a great
mistake whenever He invested temporal power in a woman, whom he was
ungallantly inclined to classify under a celebrated dictum of Mr.
Carlyle's respecting the population of these happy Isles, who, truth to
tell, care not one jot what Mr. Carlyle may think of them.

The Reverend Thomas Glynde and his daughter walked all the way home
without exchanging another word. In the Rectory drawing-room they found
Mrs. Glynde, small, nervous, worried. She had evidently devoted
considerable thought and attention to the preservation of the hot
buttered toast. Poor humble little soul, she was quite content to
minister to the bodily requirements of her spouse, having long been
convinced of the inferiority of her own sex in every respect except a
certain limited knowledge of housekeeping matters.

She was vaguely conscious of inferiority to Dora from a literary point of
view, and talked with abject humility to her own daughter of all things
appertaining to books. But on all other points connected with the child
of her old age this quiet little woman was absolute mistress. Years
before the Rector had made a great mistake; he had, as the plain-spoken
East Burgen doctor put it, made an ass of himself on the matter of a
childish illness, thereby imperilling Dora's half-fledged little life.
Mrs. Glynde had then, like a diminutive tigress, stood up boldly before
her awesome lord and master, saying such things to him that the
remembrance of them made her catch her breath even now. From that time
forth the Rector was allowed to hold forth on symptoms to his heart's
content, to take down from his library shelf a stout misguided book of
medical short-cuts to the grave, but nothing more.

He never referred to the asinine business, and in the course of
years he forgave the doctor (having in view the fact that that
practitioner had been carried away by a right and proper sense of the
importance of the case), but he tacitly acknowledged that in the practice
of home-administered medical assistance, his knowledge was second to a
mother's instinct.

"It appears," he said sharply, while he was stirring his tea, "that Jem
Agar has got his commission in a Goorkha regiment."

Now Mrs. Glynde knew more about the organisation of the heavenly bands
than of the administration of the Indian army. She did not know whether
to rejoice or lament, and having been sharply pulled up--any time during
the last twenty years--for doing one or the other in the wrong place, she
meekly took soundings.

"What is that, dear?" she inquired.

"The Goorkhas are native Indian soldiers," explained the Rector. "Very
good fellows, no doubt. They get all the hard knocks in small frontier
wars and none of the half-pence. What the woman can have been thinking
of, I don't know."

Mrs. Glynde was anxiously glancing towards Dora, who was nicking the nose
of a sportive kitten with the tassel of the tea-cosy.

"And will he go to India?" she asked, with laudable mental grovellings in
the mire of her own ignorance.

"Course he will."

"And," added Dora cheerfully, "he will come home covered with glory and
medals, with a weakness for strong pickles and hot language--I mean hot
pickles and strong language."

"But," said Mrs. Glynde rather breathlessly, "are they never stationed in
England?"

"No--never," replied her husband snappishly.

Mrs. Glynde had a pink patch on each cheek--precisely on the spot whore
two such patches had appeared years ago when the doctor spoke so
strongly. Those patches were maternal, and only appeared when Dora's
affairs, spiritual or temporal, were concerned.

"I don't know," put in Dora again, "but I have a sort of lurking
conviction that Jem will have to wear a turban and red morocco boots."

"But," pursued Mrs. Glynde, with that courage which cometh with a red
patch on either cheek, "I always thought these Indian regiments were
meant for people who are badly off."

The Rector gave a short laugh.

"You are not so very far wrong, my dear," he admitted. "And no one can
say that Jem is badly off. He will be very rich some day."

The Rector assumed an air of superior discretion, to which he usually
treated his women-folk when he thought fit to consider that they were
touching on matters beyond their jurisdiction.

"Some more tea, please, mother," put in Dora appropriately. "Excuse my
appetite. I suppose it is the autumn air."

There was a short silence, during which Mrs. Glynde sought to propitiate
her angered spouse with sodden toast and a second brew of tea.

"I always said," observed the Rector at last, "that your cousin was a
fool."

And in some indefinite way Mrs. Glynde felt that she was once more
responsible.



CHAPTER VI

FOR HIS COUNTRY

Shall I forget on this side of the grave?
I promise nothing; you must wait and see.


From the train arriving at East Burgen station at eight o'clock that same
evening there alighted a youth who seemed suddenly to have taken manhood
upon his shoulders. He stood on the platform and pointed out to a porter,
who called him Master James, a large Gladstone bag and a new sword-case.

Although he could have carried the luggage under one arm and the porter
under the other, he carefully refrained from offering to convey anything
except his own walking-stick. Such is the force of education. This boy
had been brought up to expect service. He was to be served all his life,
and so the sword-case had to be left to the porter whom he envied.

During the journey down--between the farthest-removed stations--the sword
had flashed more than once in the dim light of the carriage lamp. Ah!
those first swords! Not Toledo nor Damascus can produce their equal in
after years.

The porter, honest father of two private soldiers of the line himself,
saw it all--at once. He carried the sword-case with an exaggerated
reverence and forbore from remark just then. Afterwards, beneath the
station-lamp, he looked at the shilling--the first of its kind from that
quarter--with a pathetic, meaning smile.

It was Saturday night. The streets of East Burgen were rather crowded,
and Jem Agar--with elbows well in and the whip at the regulation angle
across old Lasher's face, who could not help squinting at the pendant
thong--shouted to the country-folk in a new voice of mighty deep
register.

He carried his boyish head stiffly, and had for ever discarded a
turn-down collar. At first he kept old Lasher at a respectful distance,
asking in a somewhat curt and business-like manner after the stables.
Then gradually, as they bowled along the country road in the familiar
hush of an April evening, he thawed, and proceeded to vouchsafe to that
steady coachman a series of very interesting details of military matters
in general and the Indian army in particular.

"Well, I'm sure, Mas--sir," opined Mr. Lasher at length; "if there's any
one as has got into his right rut, so to speak, in this world, it's you.
I always said you was a born soldier."

"Ah--then you've heard that I've got my commission?" inquired Jem airily,
as if he had had many such in bygone years.

"Oh yes, sir! Miss Dora it was that told me."

Somehow this caused a little silence.

Truth to tell, Dora had lost her rank as the most beautiful and
accomplished maiden in Christendom. This situation was at that moment
occupied by a young person hight Evelina Louisa Barmond, sister to Billy
Barmond of the Hundred and second, a veteran fellow-soldier and comrade
who had jumped five feet six at the Sandhurst sports a year before. Miss
Evelina Louisa was twenty-four, five years Dora's senior, and only three
years and two months older than Jem Agar himself. He had spoken to her
twice, and thought about her in the intervals allowed by such weighty
matters as uniform and the new sword, which, however, required almost
constant consideration at that time.

"Well," said Jem, with exaggerated nonchalance, "I am afraid I should
never be fit for anything else."

Whereat Lasher laughed and touched his hat. He made it a rule to salute a
joke in that manner, either from a general respect for humour, or looking
at it in the light of a mental gratuity offered by his betters.

"There's one thing you can do, Master Jem, sir--leastwise, which you can
do as well as any man in the British army," he said, with pardonable
pride, "and that is sit a 'orse."

"Thanks to you, Lasher," Jem was kind enough to say with a flourish of
his whip.

The dignity was now ebbing fast, and by the time that the clever little
cob swung round the gate-post into the avenue of Stagholme, Jem and
Lasher were fully re-established on the old familiar footing.

There was a bright moon overhead, and at the end of the avenue beyond the
dip where the lake gleamed mysteriously, the gables and solid towers of
Stagholme stood peacefully confessed.

Jem Agar was firmly convinced that England only contained one Stagholme,
and perhaps he was right. Six miles from the nearest station, the great
house stands self-sufficient, self-contained. The moat, now dry and
cultivated, is still traceable, and requires bridging in two places.
Surrounded by vast park-like meadowland, where huge trees guard against
cutting wind or prying modern journalistic instinct, the house is only
approached by a private road.

Inside the gates of this road there is something ancient and feudal in
the very scent of the air. The tones of the big bell striking the hour
over the wide portico die away over the lands that still belong to
Stagholme, despite the vicissitudes through which all ancient families
run.

Jem, however, whose childhood and youth had been passed amidst companions
with names as good as his, had learnt long ago to keep his pride to
himself. He was Jem Agar, and the family name seemed somehow to belong
exclusively to his father still, although that thorough old sportsman had
lain for three years and more beneath the quiet turf of the little
churchyard within his own park gates.

As he pulled up at the door this was thrown open, and within its frame of
light he saw the gracious form of his stepmother waiting to welcome him.
Behind her, in the shadow, and amidst the decoration of staghorns,
ancient pike and hanger, loomed a tall dark figure startlingly in keeping
with the semi-monastic architecture of the house. This was Sister
Cecilia. She was always thus--behind Mrs. Agar, with clasped hands and a
vaguely approving smile, as if Mrs. Agar conferred a benefit upon
suffering humanity by the mere act of existing.

A slightly bored expression came into Jem's patient eyes. It was not that
he had very much in common with his stepmother, although he had an honest
affection for her; but he instinctively disliked Sister Cecilia and all
her works. These latter were of the class termed "good." That is to say,
this lady, the spinster daughter of a former rector in the neighbourhood,
considered that the earthly livery of a marvellous black bonnet which was
almost a cap, and quite hideous, justified a shameless interference in
the most intimate affairs of her neighbours, rich and poor.

Under the cover of charity she committed a thousand social sins. She
constituted herself mother-confessor to all who were weak enough to
confide in her or seek her advice, and in soul she was the most arrant
time-server who ever flattered a rich woman.

Jem distrusted her soft and "holy" ways, more especially her speech,
which had the lofty condescension of the saved towards the damned in
prospective. In his calmly commanding way he had, months before,
forbidden Dora Glynde to kiss Sister Cecilia, because that ostentatiously
virtuous person was in the habit of kissing the maids when she met them;
and he maintained that this Christian practice, if very estimable
theoretically, was socially an insult either to the mistress or the maid.

In view of the important changes in his own life which were about to
supervene, that is to say, firstly, his departure for India, and
secondly, his coming of age before he could hope to return from that land
of promise, he had counted on a quiet evening with his mother. Moreover,
he was vaguely conscious of the fact that a right-minded person would
have carefully abstained from accepting the most pressing invitation to
form a third that evening.

In view of this Jem Agar had recourse to the last refuge of the simple.
He retired within himself, and, so to speak, shut the door. He had dined
with these women before, and knew that the conversation would follow its
usual mazy course through a forest of cross-questions upon all subjects,
and notably upon those intimate matters which were essentially his own
business.

Sister Cecilia, good mistaken soul that she was, tried her best. She was
lively in a Sunday-school-tea style. She was by turns tender and warlike
as occasion seemed to demand; but no scrap or tittle of personal
information did she extract from Jem, stiffly on guard behind his high
collar. Mrs. Agar was excited and failed utterly to follow the wiser
footsteps of her bosom friends. She talked such arrant nonsense about
India, the Goorkhas, and matters military, that more than once Jem
glanced at the imperturbable servants with misgiving.

The next day was Sunday, and after morning service Jem eagerly accepted
an invitation to have supper at the Rectory after evening church. Sister
Cecilia was staying from Saturday till Monday, which alone was sufficient
reason for this young soldier to pass his last evening in Stagholme under
another than his own historic roof. With her in the house he knew that
the chances of serious conversation were small; for she encouraged such
topics as the possibility of sending fresh eggs packed in lime to the
Goorkhas of his prospective half-company. So Jem retired within himself,
and finally left England without having said many things which should
have been said between stepmother and son.

At the Rectory he found a very different atmosphere--that air of cheerful
intellectuality which comes from the presence of cultivated men and
women.

The Rector held strong views on the rare virtue of minding one's own
business, and in loyalty to such, deemed it right to refrain from
mentioning his opinion as to the wisdom of selecting a native branch of
the military service for the heir to Stagholme.

The supper passed pleasantly enough in the discussion of general topics
all bordering on the great question they had at heart. They were like
people seeking for each other in the dark around the edge of a pit--the
pit being India. Dora, and Dora alone, laughed and treated matters
lightly. Mrs. Glynde blundered several times, and stepping backwards over
an abyss of years, called the new soldier "darling" more than once. Twice
she required helping out by Dora, and on the second occasion something
was said which Jem remembered afterwards with a stolid British memory.

"Jem," said the girl, buttering a biscuit with a light hand, "you should
write a diary. All great men write diaries which their friends publish
afterwards."

"I do not think," replied Jem, with that contempt for the pen which the
possession of a new sword ever justifies, "that writing a diary is much
in my line."

"Ah, you can never tell till you try. Of course it would not be published
straight off. Some literary person would be hired to cross the t's and
dot the i's."

There was a little pause. Dora glanced at Jem Agar, and something made
him say:

"All right. I'll try."

"Who knows?" said the Rector, with a smile of indulgent affection. "There
may be great literary capacity lying dormant in Jem. The worst of a diary
is that one may come to look at it in after years, when one finds a very
different story has been written from what one intended to write."

"Oh," said Dora, lightly skipping over the chasm of gravity, "that is
Providence. We must blame Providence for these little _contretemps_. Some
one must be blamed, and Providence obviously does not mind."

Jem laughed--somewhat lamely; but still it was a laugh. Supper was
despatched somehow--as last meals are. Some of us never forget the
flavour of those cups of tea gulped down in the gorgeous steamer-saloon
while the stewards get the hand luggage on board. It was a late meal on
Sunday evening at the Rectory, and the servants soon followed their
betters into the drawing-room for prayers.

Then the Rector lighted his last cigarette, and Mrs. Glynde began to show
symptoms of a patch of pink in either cheek.

At last Jem rose--awkwardly--in the midst of a sally from Dora, who
seemed afraid to stop speaking.

"Must be going," he said; and he shook hands with the Rector.

Mrs. Glynde, with nervous deliberation, kissed him and squeezed his hand
jerkily.

"Dora--will open the door for you," she said, with an apprehensive glance
towards her husband, who, however, showed no inclination to move from his
chair.

Dora not only opened the door, but left it open, and walked with him
across the lawn towards the stile. When they reached it there was a
little pause. He vaulted over and she quietly followed--without his
proffered assistance.

Then at last Jem spoke.

"You don't seem to care!" he said gruffly--with his new voice.

"Oh, _don't!"_ she whispered imploringly.

And they walked on beneath the murmuring trees where the yellow moonlight
stole in and out between the trunks. It was not cheerful. For when Nature
joins her sadness to the sad libretto of life she usually breaks a heart
or two. Fortunately for us we mostly act our tragedies in the wrong
scenery--the scenery that was painted for a comedy.

"I don't understand it," said the girl at length.

"I suppose it is in order to save money for Arthur."

"If I don't, go," replied Jem, "it will be a question of letting
Stagholme."

Dora knew of the ancient horror of such a necessity, handed down from one
Agar to another, like a family tradition. Moreover, women seem to respect
men who have some simple creed and hold to it simply. Are they not one of
our creeds themselves, though by seeking for rights instead of contenting
themselves with privileges, some of them try to make atheists of us?

"So," she said nevertheless, "you are being sacrificed to Arthur!"

He answered nothing, but he had forgotten for ever Miss Evelina Louisa
Barmond.

"When do you go?" asked Dora suddenly, with something in her voice which
no one had ever heard before. She was startled at it herself.

He waited until the soft old church bell finished striking ten, then he
answered:

"To-morrow!"

They had reached the farthest limit of the wood and stood at the park
railing.

"Then--," she paused, and seemed to collect herself as if for a leap;
"then good-bye, Jem!"

He took the outstretched hand; his large grasp seemed to swallow it up.

"Good-bye!" he said.

He climbed the rail without agility, paused for a moment, and the
moonlight happened to gleam on his face through the gently waving
branches as he looked down at her in dumb distress.

Then he turned and walked away across the shimmering grass.

A few minutes later Dora re-entered the drawing room. Her father and
mother were seated close together, closer than she had seen them for
years. Mrs. Glynde was pale, with two scarlet patches.

Dora collected her belongings, preparatory to going to bed.

"Jem," she said quietly, "is absurdly proud of his new honours. It
affects his chin, which has gone up exactly one inch."

Then she went to bed.



CHAPTER VII

ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD

The more a man has in himself, the less he will want from other people.


"Here--hi!"

As no one replied to this summons either, by voice or approach, the young
man subsided into occupied silence.

He was a very large young man, with a fair moustache which looked almost
flaxen against the deep tan of his face. This last, like the rest of him,
was ludicrously typical of that race which has wandered farther than the
Jews, and has hitherto managed, like them, to retain a few of its
characteristics. The Anglo-Saxonism of this youth was almost aggressive.
It lurked in the neat droop of moustache, which was devoid of that untidy
suggestion of a beer-mug characterising the labial adornment of a
northern flaxen nation of which we wot. It shone calmly in the glance of
a pair of reflectively deep blue eyes--it threw itself at one from the
pockets of an old tweed jacket worn in conjunction with regulation
top-boots and khaki breeches.

Moreover, it gave birth to a quiet sense of being as good as any one
else, and possibly better, which sat without conceit on his brow.

It would seem that he really did not want to be answered just then, for
he did not raise a voice accustomed to dominate the clatter of horses'
feet, nor did he pass any comment on the carelessness or criminal absence
of some person or persons unknown.

He merely took up his pen again, and proceeded to handle that mighty
weapon with an awkwardness suggestive of a greater skill with another
instrument only less powerful. He was seated on two reversed buckets,
pyramidally balanced, at a small table which had the air of wide
capabilities in some other sphere of usefulness. There was a weird
cunning in the legs of this table indicative of subtle change into a
camp-bed or possibly a canoe.

The writing materials consisted of a vaseline bottle (fourpenny size)
full of ink, and two weary pieces of blotting-paper. The paper upon which
he was writing had a travelled and somewhat jaundiced air, the penholder
was of gold. In the furniture of the tent, as in the canvas thereof,
there was that mournful suggestion of better days which is held to be a
virtue in furnished apartments. But over all there hovered that sense of
well-scrubbed cleanliness which comes from the touch of a native military
servant. An indulgence in this habit of rubbing and scrubbing was indeed
accountable for much dilapidation; for that silent little Ghoorka man,
Ben Abdi, had rubbed and scrubbed many things not intended by an
ingenious camp-furnisher for such treatment. James Edward Makerstone Agar
was engaged in the compilation of a diary, which volume there is reason
to believe is still preserved in a woman's jewel drawer.

It has not run through any editions--indeed, no compositor's finger has
up to this time defiled its pages. This, in fact, was one of those
literary works, ground slowly out from the millstones of the brain, of
which the style fails to please the taste of the present day. To catch
the fancy of a slang-loving and thoughtless generation the writer must
throw off his works. This is an age of "throwing off," and it is to be
presumed that future ages will throw the result away. One must be
brilliant, shallow, slightly unpleasant and very unwholesome, to acquire
nowadays that best of all literary reputations which leaveth a balance at
one's bank.

J.E.M. Agar--or "Jem" as his friends call him to his face and his
servants behind his back--Jem Sahib to wit--was no Pepys. His literary
style was disjointed, heavy, and occasionally illiterate. This last
peculiarity, by the way, is of no consequence nowadays, but it is
mentioned here for ulterior motives. In the pages of this little
black-bound volume there were no scintillating thoughts scribbled there
with suspicious neatness of diction, such as one finds in the diaries of
great men who, it would seem, are not above post-mortem vanity. The diary
was a chronicle of solid facts--Jem being essentially solid and a man of
the very plainest facts.

Speaking as an impartial critic, one would incline to the opinion that
Agar devoted too much thought to his work--in strong contrast, perhaps,
to the literary tendency of his day. He nibbled the leisure end of his
penholder too much, and allowed the business extremity thereof to dry in
inky conglomeration. The result was a distinct sense of labour in the
style of the work. After having called in vain, perhaps for assistance,
the scribe returned to the contemplation of his latest effort. The book
was one of Letts's diaries, three days in a page, which are in themselves
fatal to a finished style of literature. There is always too much to say
or too little. One's thoughts never fit the rhomboid apportioned by Mr.
Letts for their accommodation. Great men who have thoughts when the diary
is handy do not, of course, patronise Letts, because he could not be
expected to know when there would be a sunset likely to stir up poetic
reflections, or a moonrise comparable with the cold light cast by some
unsympathetic young woman's eyes upon the poet's life.

For such men, however, as Agar, Mr. Letts is a guardian angel. The space
is there, and facts must be forthcoming to fill it. Agar was, and is
still--thank Heaven--a conscientious man. He had promised to keep this
diary and keep it he did. And surely he hath his reward--remembering the
jewel drawer.

At the moment under consideration he was filling in yesterday's rhomboid,
and paused at the conclusion of the following remarks:

"_Seven_ A.M. Turned out, and shot a Ghilzai. Saw him sneaking up the
valley. Long shot--should put it down at a hundred and seventy-five
yards. Hit him in the stom--abd--chest. Looked like rain until two
o'clock. Then cleared up. Walter caught a mongoose and brought him in
with much triumph. He got conceited afterwards and slept on my bed till
kicked off by Ben Abdi. I see it's Sunday. Church four hundred odd miles
away."

This, my masters, is not the stuff to quote _in extenso_, and yet in its
day this diary was cried over--before it was put away in the jewel
drawer. Truly women are strange--one can never tell how a thing will
present itself to them. Honest Jem Agar, nibbling his penholder and
jerking these lucid observations out of his military brain by mere force
of discipline, never suspected the heart that was in it all--that minute
particle of himself that lay in the blot in the corner carefully absorbed
by the exhausted blotting-paper.

"Sunday, egad!" he muttered, leaning his arms on the cunning table, and
gazing out across the pine-clad valley that lay below him in a deep blue
haze.

He stared into the haze, and there he saw those whom he called "his
people" walking across a neat English park toward a peaceful little
English church. To them came presently a young person; a young person
clad in pink cotton, who walked with a certain demure sureness of tread,
as if she knew her own mind and other things besides. Her path came into
the park from the left, and among the trees into which it disappeared
behind her there stood the red chimneys of a long low house.

Suddenly these visions vanished before something more tangible in the
haze of the valley. This was the flutter of a dirty white rag which
seemed to come and go among the fir trees.

Jem Agar rose from his temporary seat and walked to the door of the
tent--exactly two strides. A rifle lay against the canvas, and this he
took up, slowly cocking it without taking his eyes from the belt of fir
trees across the valley.

Presently he threw the rifle up and fired instantaneously. He had been
musketry instructor in his time and held views upon quick firing. The
smoke rose lazily in the ambient air, and he saw a figure all fluttering
rags and flying turban running down the slope away from him. At the same
moment there was a crashing volley, followed by two straggling reports.
The figure stopped, seemed to hesitate, and then slowly subsided into the
grass.

Agar put his head out of the tent and saw half a company of Goorkhas,
keen little sportsmen all standing in line at the edge of the plateau,
reloading.

This was the force at the disposal of Major J. E. M. Agar, at that time
occupying and holding for Her Majesty the Queen of England and Empress of
India a very advanced position on the northern frontier of India. And in
this manner he spent most of his days and some of his nights. In addition
to the plain Major he had several other titles attached to his name at
that time, indicative of duties real and imaginary. He was "deputy
assistant" several things and "acting" one or two; for in military
titles one begins in inverse ratio in a large way, and ends in something
short.

Jem Agar was thought very highly of by almost all concerned, except
himself, and it had not occurred to him to devote much thought to this
matter. He was one of the very few men to whom a senior officer or a
pretty girl could say, "You are a nice man and a clever fellow," without
doing the least harm. Men who thought such things of themselves laughed
at him behind his back, and wondered vaguely why he got promotion. It
never occurred to them to reflect that "old Jem" invariably acquitted
himself well in each new position thrust upon him by a persistently kind
fortune; they contented themselves with an indefinite conviction that
each severally could have done better, as is the way of clever young men.
One of the many mysteries, by the way, which will have to be cleared up
in a busy hereafter is that appertaining to brilliant boys, clever
undergraduates, and gifted young men. What becomes of them? There are
hundreds at school at this moment--we have it from their own parents;
hundreds more at Oxford and Cambridge--we have it from themselves. In a
few years they will be absorbed in a world of men very much inferior to
themselves (by their own showing), and will be no more seen.

Jem Agar had never been a clever boy. He was not a clever man. But--and
mark ye this--he knew it. The result of this knowledge was that he did
what he could in the present with the present, and did not indefinitely
postpone astonishing the universe, as most of us do, until some future
date.

At this time he was banished, as some would take it. Banished to the top
of a pass which was nought else than a footway between two empires. Forty
miles from men of his own race, this man was one of those who either have
no thoughts or no wish to impart them; for this racial solitude, which is
an emotion fully explored by many in India, in no way affected his
nerves. Some say that they get jumpy, others aver that they begin to lose
their national characteristics and develop barbarous proclivities, while
one Woods-and-Forests man known to some of us resigned because he had a
buzzing in the head during the long solitary, silent evenings.

Major Agar made no statements on this point, though he listened with
sympathy to the assertions of others. If the sympathy were subtly mingled
with non-comprehensive wonder, the seeker after a purer form of
commiseration attributed the alloy to natural density, and turned
elsewhere.

Accompanied by a handful of Goorkhas, Major J. E. M. Agar had occupied
the key to this narrow pass for more than a week, vaguely admiring the
scenery, illustrating upon living "running deer" in turbans his views
upon quick firing to his diminutive soldiers, who worshipped him as
second only to the gods, and possessing his soul with that trustful
patience which is rapidly becoming old-fashioned and effete.

During that same week the newspapers at home had been very busy with his
name. Some had gone so far as to lay before a greedy public a short and
succinct account of his life, compiled from the Army List and a
journalistic imagination, finishing the record on the Monday, six days
previously, with the usual three-line regret that England should in
future be compelled to limp along the path to glory without the
assistance of so brilliant a young officer.

Such a word as brilliant had never been coupled with the name of Jem even
by his best friend in earnest or his worst enemy in irony. Such sarcasm
were too shallow to be worth sounding even in disparagement. But we never
know what an obituary notice may bring. Not only had he been endowed with
many virtues, manly qualities, and the record of noble deeds, but more
substantial honours had been heaped upon his fallen crest or pinned upon
his breathless bosom. To some of his distant countrymen he was the proud
possessor of the Victoria Cross, awarded him post-mortem in the heat of
obituary enthusiasm by more than one local paper. To others he was held
up by what is called a Representative Press as a second Crichton. And all
this because he was dead. Such is glory.

All unconscious of these honours, honest Jem Agar sat in his little
tent, nibbling the end of his penholder--the gift, by the way, of his
father--and wishing that he had bought a Letts's diary with six days in a
page instead of three.



CHAPTER VIII

RELIEVED

Well waited is well done.


"Here--hi!"

This time some one heard him, and that small, silent man, Ben Abdi, stood
in the doorway of the tent at attention.

"Are you keeping a good look-out down the valley?" asked Major Agar.

"Ee yess, sar."

"No signs of any one?"

"No, sar."

Agar shut up the diary, which book Ben Abdi had been taught to regard as
strictly official, laid it aside, and passed out of the tent, the little
Goorkha following close upon his heels with a quick intelligent interest
in his every movement which somehow suggested a dusky and faithful little
dog.

For some moments they stood thus on the edge of the small plateau, the
big man in front, the little one behind--alert, with twinkling, beady
eyes. Behind them towered a bleak grey slope of bare rock, like a cliff
set back at a slight angle, so treeless, so smooth was the face of it. In
front the great blue-shadowed valley lay beneath them, stretching away to
the south, until in a distant haze the sharp hills seemed to close in and
cut it short.

Perched thus, as it were, upon the roof of the world, these two men
looked down upon it all with a calm sense of possession, and to him of
the dominant race standing there some thousands of miles from his native
land--alone--master of this great stretch of an alien shore, there must
have come some passing thought of the strangeness of it all.

There was something wrong--he knew that. His orders had been to press
forward and occupy this little ridge, which was vaguely marked on the
service maps as Mistley's Plateau, named after an adventurous soul, its
discoverer. He had been instructed to hold this against all comers, and
if possible to prevent communication between the two valleys, connected
only by this narrow pass. All this Agar had carried out to the letter;
but some one else had failed somewhere.

"It will be three days at the most," his chief had said, "and the main
body of the advance guard will join you!"

Jem Agar had been in occupation a week, and it seemed that he and his
little band of men were forgotten of the world. Still this soldier held
on, saying nothing to his men, writing his intensely practical diary, and
trusting as a soldier should to the _Deus ex machina_ who finally allows
discipline to triumph. He looked down into the valley, piercing the
shimmer of its hazes with his gentle blue eyes, looking to his chief, who
had said, "In three days I will join you."

It was not the first time that Agar and the little non-commissioned
native officer, Ben Abdi, had stood thus together. They had taken their
stand in this same spot in the keen air of the early morning, with the
white frost crystallising the stones around them; in the glow of midday;
and when the moon, hanging over the sharp-pointed hills, cast the valley
into an opaque shade dark and fathomless as the valley of death.

Scanning the distant hills, Agar presently raised his eyes, noting the
position of the sun in the heavens.

"Have you tried the heliograph a second time this morning?" he asked
without looking round, which informality of manner warmed the little
soldier's heart.

"Yes, sar. Three times since breakfast."

It was the first time that Ben Abdi had found himself in a position of
some responsibility, in immediate touch with one of the white-skinned
warriors from over seas whose methods of making war had for him all the
mystery and the infinite possibilities of a religion. This silent looking
out for relief partook in some small degree of the nature of a council of
war. Jem Sahib and himself were undoubtedly the chiefs of this
expeditionary force, and to whom else than himself, Ben Abdi, should the
Major turn for counsel and assistance? The little Goorkha preferred,
however, that it should be thus; that Agar Sahib should say nothing,
merely allowing him to stand silent three paces behind. He was a modest
little man, this Goorkha, and knew the limit of his own capabilities,
which knowledge, by the way, is not always to be found in the hearts of
some of us boasting a fairer skin. He knew that for hard fighting, snugly
concealed behind a rock at two hundred yards, or in the open, with
cunning bayonet or swinging kookery, he was as good as his fellows; but
for strategy, for the larger responsibilities of warfare, he was well
pleased that his superior officer should manage these affairs in his
quiet way unaided.

During a luncheon more remarkable for heartiness of despatch than
delicacy of viand, James Edward Makerstone Agar devoted much thought to
the affairs of Her Imperial Majesty the Empress of India. After luncheon
he lighted a cheroot, threw himself on his bed, and there reflected
further. Then he called to him Ben Abdi.

"No more promiscuous shooting," he said to him. "No more volley firing
at a single Ghilzai or a stray Bhutari. It seems that they do not
know we are here, as we are left undisturbed. I do not want them to
know--understand? If you see any one going along the valley, send two men
after him; no shooting, Ben Abdi."

And he pointed with his cheroot towards the evil-looking curved knife
which hung at the Goorkha's side.

Ben Abdi grinned. He understood that sort of business thoroughly.

Then followed many technical instructions--not only technical in good
honest English, but interlarded with words from a language which cannot
be written with our alphabet for the benefit of such as love details of a
realistic nature.

The result of this council was that sundry little dusky warriors were
busy clambering about the rocky slope all that day and well into the
short hill-country evening, working in twos and threes with the
_alacrity_ of ants.

Jem Agar, in his own good time, was proceeding to further fortify, as
well as circumstances allowed, the position he had been told to hold
until relief should come. In addition to the magic of the master's eye he
lent the assistance of his strong right arm, laying his lithe weight
against many a rock which his men could not move unaided. By the evening
the position was in a fairly fortified state, and, after a copious dinner
in the chill breeze that rushed from the mountain down to the valley
after sunset, he walked placidly up and down at the edge of the plateau,
watching, ever watching, but with calmness and no sign of anxiety.

Such it is to be an Englishman--the product of an English public
school and country life. Thick-limbed, very quiet; thick-headed if you
will!--that is as may be--but with a nerve of iron, ready to face the
last foe of all--Death, without so much as a wink.

To his ear came at times the low cautious cry of some night-bird sailing
with heavy wing down to the haunt of mouse or mole; otherwise the night
was still as only mountain night-seasons are. Far down below him, the
jungle and forest were rustling with game and beasts of prey seeking
their meat from God, but the larger beasts of India, unlike their African
brethren, move in silence, stealthy yet courageous; and the distance was
too great for the quickly stifled cry of the victim of panther or tiger
to reach him.

When the moon rose he made the round of his pickets--a matter of ten
minutes--and then to bed.

On the morning of the ninth day he thought he detected signs of
uneasiness in the faces of the men. He found their keen little visages
ever turned towards him, watching his every movement, noting the play of
every feature. So in his simplicity he practised a simple diplomacy. He
hummed to himself as he went his rounds and while he sat over his diary.
He only knew one song--"A Warrior Bold"--which every mess in India
associated with old Jem Agar, for no evening was considered complete
without the Major's one ditty if he were present. He had stood up and
roared it in many strange places, quite without sentiment, without
self-consciousness, without afterthought. He never thought it a matter of
apology that he should have failed to learn another song. The smile with
which many ladies of his acquaintance sat down to play the accompaniment
_by heart_ conveyed nothing to him. He did not pretend to be a singer--he
knew that one song, and if they liked it he would sing it. Moreover, they
did like it, and that was why they asked for it. It did some of them good
to see honest Jem get on his legs and shout out, in a very musical voice,
with perfect truth to air, what seemed to be a plain statement of his
creed of life.

So, far up on Mistley Plateau, nine thousand feet above the level of the
sea, Jem Agar advised his little dark-visaged fighters, _sotto voce_,
while he puzzled over his diary, that his love had golden hair, with eyes
so blue and heart so true, that none with her compared; moreover, that he
didn't care if death were nigh, because he had fought for love, and for
love would die.

It was not very deep or very subtle, but it served the purpose. It kept
up the hearts of his handful of warriors, who, in common with their
chief, had something child-like and simple in their honest, sporting
souls.

Shortly after tiffin Ben Abdi came to the Major's tent, speaking
hurriedly in his own tongue.

One of the men had seen the sunlight gleam on white steel far down in the
valley. He had seen it several times--a long spiral flash, such as the
sun would make on a fixed bayonet carried over the shoulder. Such a flash
as this will carry twenty miles through a clear atmosphere; the spot
pointed out by the sharp-eyed Goorkha was not more than ten miles
distant. They stood in a group, this isolated little band, and gazed down
into the depth below them. They gazed in vain for some time, then a
little murmur of excitement told that the sun had glinted again on
burnished steel. This time there were several flashes close together.
These were men marching with fixed bayonets through an enemy's country.

"Heliograph," said Agar quietly, without taking his eyes from the spot
far down in the valley; and soon the little mirror was flashing out its
question over the vale. After a few anxious moments the answering gleam
sprang to life among the trees far below. Agar gave a quick little sigh
of relief--that was all.

Then followed a short conversation flickered over ten miles of space.

"Are you beset?" asked the Valley,

"No," replied the Hill.

"Is the enemy in sight?"

"No," replied the Mountain, again, with a sharp click.

"Are you all well?" flashed from below.

"Yes," from above.

Then the "Good-bye," and the glimmer of the bayonets began again.

Two hours later Major Agar drew his absurd little force in line, and thus
they received the relieving column, grimly conscious of dangers past but
not forgotten.

At the head of the new-comers rode a little man with a prominent chin and
a long drooping nose; such a remarkable-looking little man that the
veriest tyro at physiognomy would have turned to look at him again. His
black eyes, beaming with intelligence, moved so quickly beneath the
steady lashes that it was next to an impossibility to state what he saw
and what he failed to see.

He returned Agar's salute hurriedly, with a preoccupied air. He wore a
quiet uniform tunic almost hidden by black braiding, a pith helmet which
had seen brighter days and likewise fouler, and the leg that he threw
over his horse's head was cased in riding trousers and a neat little
top-boot of brown leather.

He slipped from the saddle with a litheness which contrasted strangely
with his closely cropped grey hair and white moustache and Imperial. He
walked towards Agar's tent after the manner of one who had sat in the
saddle for many hours. His spurs clanked with a sharp, business-like
ring, and his every movement had that neat finish which indicates the
soldier born and bred.

Wheeling round he faced Agar, who had followed him with a more leisurely
gait based on longer legs, looking up keenly into the quiet fair face.
Turning he shot his sword home into its scabbard with a click.

"Thank God," he said, "you're safe!"

Agar awaited for further observations. This was not the man whom he
had expected, but another, far greater, far higher up in the military
scale--a man whom he had only met once before, and that at an official
reception.

Seeing that his guest was unbuckling his sword, he presumed that the task
of continuing this conversation lay with himself.

"M' yes!" he replied, rubbing his pannikin out clean with the corner of a
towel, and proceeding to mix some brandy and water; "why?"

"Why!" answered the little man scornfully, "WHY! damn it, sir, Stevenor's
command has been cut off by the enemy in force--massacred to a man. That
is why I say 'Thank God, you're safe!' It is more than I expected."



CHAPTER IX

RE-CAST

Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
And what, we have been makes us what we are.


There was a momentary pause; then Major Agar spoke.

"In that case," he observed, "the British force occupying this country
for the last week has consisted of myself and thirty Goorkhas."

"Precisely so! And it was by the merest chance that I found out that you
were here. It was only guesswork at the best. A bazaar report reached me
that poor old Stevenor had been cut to pieces. I hate blaming a dead man,
but I really don't know what he can have been about. He made some hideous
mistake somewhere. We buried him yesterday. On hearing the report, I
thought it better to come up myself, having a little knowledge of the
country. Brought two companies, and half a squadron to act as scouts. We
reached Barkoola yesterday, and found the poor chaps as they had fallen.
And some of those carpet-warriors at home say that a black man can't
fight! Can't he! Not so much brandy this time, please. Yes, fill it up."

Agar set the regulation water-bottle down on his gifted table.

"I have the Devil's own luck!" he murmured. "While they were burying I
missed you from among the officers; and then it struck me that you
might have got away before the disaster. We counted the men, and found
thirty-four short, so we came on here. By God! what a chap Mistley was!
We came here without a check. His maps are perfect!"

"Yes," admitted Agar, "that man knew his business!"

There was something in his tone that might have been envy or perhaps mere
admiration; for this man knew himself to be inferior in many ways to him
who had first crossed the mountain pass on which he stood.

"The worst of it is," went on the great officer, "that you are
telegraphed home as killed."

He paused on the last word, watching its effect. It would seem that,
behind the busy black eyes, there was the beginning of a thought hatched
within the grey close-cut head which, _en fait de têtes,_ was without its
rival in the Empire.

"That is soon remedied," opined the Major with a cheerful laugh.

"Ye--es!"

The great man was thoughtfully rubbing his chin with the tips of the
first and second fingers, drawing in his under lip at the same time, and
apparently taking pleasure in the rasping sound caused by the friction
over the shaven chin.

There is usually something written in the human countenance--some single
virtue, vice, or quality which dominates all petty characteristics. Most
faces express weakness--the faces that pass one in the streets. Some are
the incarnation of meanness, some pleasanter types verge on sensuality.
The face of the man who sat watching Agar expressed indomitable,
invincible determination, and _nothing else_. It was the face of one who
was ready to sacrifice any one, even himself, to a single all-pervading
purpose. In this respect he was a splendid commander, for he was as
nearly heartless as men are made.

The big fair Englishman who had occupied Mistley's Plateau for a week,
exactly one hundred and seventy miles from assistance of any description,
and in the heart of the enemy's country, smiled down at his companion
with a simple wonder.

"Got something up your sleeve, sir?" he inquired softly, for he knew
somewhat of his superior officer's ways.

"Yes!" replied the other curtly. "A trump card!"

He continued to look at Jem Agar with a cold and calculating scrutiny, as
a jockey may look at his horse or a butcher at living meat.

"It's like this," he said. "You're dead. I want you to stay dead for a
little while--say six months to a year!"

Agar seated himself on the corner of the table, which creaked under the
weight of his spare muscular person, and then, true to his cloth, he
awaited further orders; true to his nature, he waited in silence.

After a short pause the other proceeded to explain.

"You frontier men," he said, "are closely watched; we know that. There
will be great rejoicing over there, in Northern Europe, over this mishap
to Stevenor, although, God knows, he was not a very dangerous man. Not so
dangerous as you, Agar. They will be delighted to hear that you are out
of the way. Stay out of the way for a year, and during that twelve months
you will be able to do more than you could get done in twelve years when
you were being watched by them."

"I see," answered Agar quietly. "Not dead, but gone--up country."

"Precisely so; where they certainly will not be on the look-out for you."

The bright black eyes were shining with suppressed excitement. The great
man was afraid that his tool would refuse to work under this exacting
touch.

"But what about my people?" asked Agar.

"Oh, I will put that right. You see, they have got over the worst of it
by this time. It is wonderful how soon people do get over it. They have
known it for a week now, and have bought their mourning and all that."

There came a look into Agar's face which the little officer did not
understand. We never do understand what we could not feel ourselves, and
it is not a matter of wonder that the lesser intelligence should foil the
greater in this instance. There was a depth in Jem Agar which was beyond
the fathom of his keen-witted companion.

"I am going home," continued General Michael, "almost at once. The first
thing I do on landing is to go straight to your people and tell them. We
cannot afford to telegraph it. Telegraph clerks are only human, and it is
worth the while of the newspapers in these days of large circulation to
pay a heavy price for their news. We all know that some items, published
_can_ only have been bought from the telegraph clerks."

Agar was making a mental calculation.

"That means," he said, "two months before they hear."

The expression on the face of the little man was scarcely human in its
heartless cunning.

"Hardly," he answered carelessly. "And when they hear the reason they
will admit that the result is worth the sacrifice. It will be the making
of you!--and of me!" added the black eyes with a secretive gleam.

"It is," went on the General, "such a chance as only comes once to a man
in his lifetime. I wish I had had it at your age."

The voice was a pleasant one, with that ring of friendliness and
familiarity which is usually heard in the tones of an educated Jew; for
General Michael was that rare combination, a Jew and a soldier.

"I don't like leaving them so long under the mistake," answered Agar,
half yielding to authoritative persuasion, half tempted by ambition and a
love of adventure. "I don't like it, General. The straight thing would be
to telegraph home at once."

In the wavering smile that crossed the dark face there was suggested a
fine contempt for the straight thing unaccompanied by some tangible
advantage.

"Who are they?" inquired the General almost affectionately. "Who are your
people?"

Agar walked to the tent door and looked out. There was some clatter of
swords going on outside, and as commander of this post it was his duty to
know all that was passing. He turned, and standing in the doorway, quite
filling it with his bulk, he answered:

"My father died three years ago. I have a step-mother and a step-brother,
that is all--besides friends."

The General stooped to loosen the strap of his spur.

"Of course," he said in that attitude, "I know you are not a married
man."

"No."

Beneath the brim of the helmet, which he had not laid aside, the Jew's
keen black eyes were watching, watching. But they saw nothing; for there
is no one so impenetrable as a man with a clear conscience and a large
faith.

"My idea was," continued General Michael, "that two, or at the most
three, people besides you and I be let into the secret."

"Three," said Agar, with quiet decision.

"Three?"

"Yes."

The General tacitly allowed this point and passed on with characteristic
promptitude to another.

"Are you a man of property?"

"Yes, I inherit my father's place down in Hertfordshire."

"I'll tell you why I ask. There are those beastly lawyers to think of. At
your death it is to be presumed that the estate comes to your brother.
The legal operations must be delayed somehow. I will see to it," he added
in a concise, almost snappish way.

Agar smiled, although he was conscious of a vague feeling of discomfort.
He was not a highly sensitive or a nervous man, and this feeling was more
than might have been expected to arise from an attendance, as it were, at
one's own obituary arrangements. The General seemed to be remarkably well
informed on these smaller points, and something prompted Jem Agar to ask
him if the idea he had just propounded was a suddenly conceived one.

"No," replied the General with a singular pause.

"No, I once knew a man who did the same thing for a different purpose,
but the idea was identical. I do not claim to be the originator."

"And there was no hitch? It was successful?" inquired Agar.

"Yes," replied the older soldier in a far-away voice, as if he had
mentally gone back to the results of that man's deception. "Yes, it was
successful. By the way, you say your people live down in Hertfordshire?"

"Yes."

"I once knew a girl--long ago, in my younger days--who married a man
called Agar, and went to live in Hertfordshire. The name did not strike
me until you mentioned the county. I wonder if the lady is now your
step-mother."

"My step-mother's name was Hethbridge," replied Jem Agar.

"The same. How strange!" said the General indifferently. "Well, she has
probably forgotten my existence these thirty years. She has one son, you
say?"

"Yes, Arthur. He is twenty-three--five years younger than myself."

The shifty black eyes excelled themselves at this moment in rapidity of
observation. They seemed to be full of question, of many questions, but
none were forthcoming.

"Ah!" said General Michael indifferently. "He is," pursued Jem Agar, "a
delicate fellow; does nothing; though I believe he is going to be called
to the Bar."

The General, having passed most of his life in India, where men work or
else go home, did not take in the full meaning of this; but he was keen
as a ferret, and he saw easily that Jem Agar despised his step-brother
with that cruel contempt which strong men feel for weak.

"Mother's darling?" he suggested.

"Yes, that is about it," replied Agar. He was too simple, too innately
upright and honest to perceive the infinite possibilities opened up by
the fact upon which General Michael had pounced.

"In case you decide to accept my offer," the older man went on, "you
would wish your stepmother and step-brother to be told?"

"Yes, and one other person."

"Ah, and another person. You could not limit it to two?" urged the
General.

"No!" replied Agar with a decision which the other was wise enough to
consider final. Moreover, the General omitted to ask the name of this
third person, urged thereto by one of those strokes of instinct which
indicate the genius of the commander of men.

General Michael, moreover, deemed it prudent to carry the matter no
further at that moment. He rose from his seat on the bed, stretched his
lithe limbs, and said:

"Well, this won't do! We must get to work. I propose retreating
to-morrow morning at daylight."

They passed out of the tent together and proceeded to give their orders,
moving in and out among the busy men. There was a subtle difference in
their reception which was perhaps patent to both, though neither deemed
it necessary to make any comment. Wherever Agar went the eager little
black faces of his Goorkhas met him with a smile or a grin of delight;
when General Michael passed by, the dusky features hardened suddenly to a
marble stillness, and the beady eyes were all soldier-like attention.

They feared and loved the one because they felt that there was something
in him which they could not understand; they feared and hated the other
because his nature was nearer to their own, and they defined the evil in
it.

Moreover, each had his reputation--that of General Michael dating from
the Mutiny; the other, a younger and a cleaner record.

It is considered the proper thing to talk in England of the unvoiced
millions of India. No greater mistake could be made. These millions have
a voice, but it does not reach to us because they do not raise it. They
talk with it among themselves.

They had talked of General Michael for thirty years, and all that there
was in him had been discussed to its very dregs. Thus their impenetrable
faces hardened when he passed, their shadowy secretive eyes looked beyond
him with a vacancy which was not the vacancy of dulness.



CHAPTER X

A LAST THROW

Get place and wealth; if possible, with grace;
If not, by any means get wealth and place.


Daylight broke next morning in a snow-storm, and a thin sprinkling lay
over all the hills, clothing them in spotless white.

General Michael was among the first astir, seeing in person to all the
details of the retreat. The men looked in vain towards the tent where
their late youthful leader had been wont to sit, nibbling the end of his
golden pocket-penholder, wrestling manfully in the throes of literary
composition.

When at last the order was given to strike tents the faces of the rank
and file fell like the face of one man.

Major James Edward Makerstone Agar had simply disappeared. His limited
baggage was attached to the smaller belongings of General Michael, and no
explanation was offered by that dreaded officer. To him the cold seemed
to be a matter of indifference; for he stood about watching every
movement of the men with a supreme disregard for the driving snow or the
knife-like wind that whistled over the northern scarp.

Under his calculating eye they worked to such effect that by nine o'clock
the little column was on the downward march. Again General Michael rode
through that lone, lorn country lying between India and Russia. Again his
melancholy face with keen but hopeless eyes passed through the darksome
valleys where, if legend be true, a race as old as his has lived since
the children of Abraham set forth to wander over the earth.

For twenty years this man had haunted these vales and hills, seeking,
ever seeking, his own aggrandisement and nothing else. Accounted a
patriot, he was no patriot; for the homeless blood was mingled in his
veins. Held to be a hero by some, he was none; for he hated danger for
its own sake, just as some men love it.

But his lines had been cast in this unpleasant place, from whence flight
or retreat was rendered almost impossible, by the laws of discipline and
the freak of circumstance. Despite his titles, in face of his great
reputation, he knew himself to be a failure, and as he rode southward
through the mountain barrier that frowns down over India he was conscious
of the knowledge that in all human probability he would never look upon
this drear land again. His time was up, he was about to be set on the
shelf, life was over. And he had all his powers yet--all his marvellous
quickness at the mastery of tongues, all the restless energy which had
urged him on to overrun the race, to dodge and bore and break his stride
instead of holding steadily on the straight course.

He it was who had discovered Jem Agar's talent for this rough, peculiar
soldiering of the frontier. He it was to whom the simple-minded young
officer had owed promotion after promotion. General Michael had fixed
upon Agar as his last hope--his last chance of doing something brilliant
in this deathly country, which moved with a slowness that nearly drove
him mad.

This last attempt was thrown down like a defiance in the face of Fortune;
but still the risk was not his own. It never had been. Men had been sent
to their certain death by this sallow-faced commander, for no other
object than his own aggrandisement. It would almost seem that a just
Providence had ever turned away in loathing from the schemes of this man
who would have all and risk nothing.

Should Jem Agar succeed in the dangerous secret mission on which he had
been sent by a subtle underhand pressure of discipline, the glory would
never be his. This, under the grasping fingers of General Michael, would
never appear to the world as the wonderful individual feat of an intrepid
man, but as a masterly stroke of strategy dealt by a great general.

Seymour Michael had long ago found out that Jem Agar was the step-son of
the woman whom he had wronged in bygone years. But the name failed to
touch his conscience, partly because that conscience was not of much
account, and partly because time heals all things, even a sore sense of
wrong. Truth to tell, he had not thought much of Anna Agar during the
last twenty years, and the mere coincidence that this simple tool should
be her step-son was insufficient to deter him from making use of Agar.
But with that careful attention to detail which in such a man betrayed
innate weakness, he took care to make sure that Jem Agar had learnt
nothing of the past from the lips of his father's second wife.

General Michael did not disguise from himself the fact that the mission
on which he had despatched Jem Agar was what the life insurance companies
call hazardous. But he had lived by the sword, and that mode of gaining a
livelihood makes men wondrously indifferent to the lives of others.
Moreover, this was in a sense a speciality of his. He was getting
hardened to the game, and played it with coolness and precision.

All through that day the little band retreated through an enemy's
country, watchful, alert, almost nervous. There were absurdly few of
them--a characteristic of that frontier warfare which the sallow, silent
leader had waged nearly all his life. And in the evening there was not
peace.

Fortune is a playful soul. She keeps men waiting a lifetime, and then,
when it is too late, she suddenly opens both her hands. Seymour Michael
had waited twenty years for one of those chances of easy distinction
which seemed to fall to the lot of all his comrades in arms. This chance
was vouchsafed to him on the last evening he ever passed in an enemy's
country--when it was too late--when that which he did was no more than
was to be expected from a man of his experience and fame.

The little band was attacked at sunset by the victorious savages who had
annihilated the advance column three days earlier, and with half the
number of men, fatigued and hungry, Seymour Michael beat them back and
cut his way to the south. He knew that it was good, and the men knew it.
They looked upon this keen-faced little man as something approaching a
demi-god; but they had no love for him as they had for Major Agar. The
knowledge was theirs that to him their lives were of no account--they
were not men, but numbers. He brought them out of a dire strait by sheer
skill, by that heartless grip of discipline which a true general
exercises over his troops even at that critical moment when a common
death seems to reduce all lives to an equal value.

But in the thick of it the Goorkhas--keen little Highlanders of the
Indian army--looked in vain for the fighting light in their leader's
eyes. They listened in vain for the encouraging voice--now low and steady
in warning, now trumpet-like and maddening with the infection of
excitement.

In the midst of that wild, apparently disorderly _mêlée_ in the narrow
valley, while the hush of mountain sunset settled over the battle, the
leader sat imperturbable, cold, and infinitely wise. He was pale, and his
lips were quite colourless, but his eyes were vigilant, ready,
resourceful. An ideal general but no soldier. He played this game with a
skill that never faced the possibility of failure--and won.

Far overhead, many miles to the northward, a solitary wanderer heard the
sound of firing and paused to listen. He was a big man, worthy to be
accounted such even among the strapping mountaineers of that district,
and as he leant on the long barrel of his quaintly ornamental rifle his
sheepskin cloak fell back from a long sinewy arm of deep-brown hue.

As he listened to the far-off rumble of independent firing he muttered to
himself indications of anxiety. Strange to say, the eyes that looked out
over the hollow of the gorge-like valley were blue. They were, however,
hardly visible through the tangle of unkempt hair and raw wool that fell
over his forehead. The high sheepskin cap was dragged forward, and the
lower part of his face was almost hidden by the indiscriminate folds of
hood, cloak, and scarf affected by the shepherds hereabout.

James Agar was perfectly happy. There must have been somewhere in his
sporting soul that love of Nature which drives men into solitude--making
gamekeepers and fishermen and explorers of them. It was in this man's
character to wait passive until responsibility came to him, when he
accepted it readily enough; but he never went out to meet it. He was not
as the sons of Levi, who took too much upon themselves; but rather was he
happiest when he had only his own life and his own self to take care of.

Here he was now an outcast, an Ishmaelite, with every man's hand raised
against him. It was not the first time. For this quiet-going man had
unobtrusively learnt many tongues, and, while no one heeded him, he had
studied the ways of this Eastern land with no mean success.

He waited there during an hour while the firing still continued, and
then, when at last silence reigned again and the wind whispered
undisturbed through the dark pines, he turned his wandering footsteps
northward to a land where few white men have passed.

So night fell upon these two men thus hazardously brought together, and
every moment stretched longer the distance between them--James Agar going
north, Seymour Michael passing southward.

Agar wondered vaguely whether his toilsome diary would ever reach home,
but he was not anxious as to the result of the fight which had evidently
taken place in the valley. He too seemed to share the belief of all who
came in contact with him that General Michael could not do wrong in
warfare.

That night the Master of Stagholme laid him down to rest in the shadow of
a big rock, strong in himself, strong in his faith. And as he slumbered,
those who slumber not nor cease their toil by day or night sat with
crooked backs over a little ticking, spitting, restless machine that
spelt out his name across half the world. While the moon rose over the
mountains, and looked placidly down upon this strange man lying there
peacefully sleeping in a world of his own, two men who had never seen
each other talked together with nimble fingers over a thousand miles of
wire. And one told the other that James Edward Makerstone was dead.

The sleeper slept on. He smiled quietly beneath the moon. Perhaps he
dreamt of the home-coming, of that time when he could say at last, "I
have fought my fight, and now I come with a clear conscience to enjoy the
good things given to me." He never dreamt of treason. He never knew that
for their own gain men will sacrifice the happiness of their neighbours
without so much as a pang of self-reproach. There are some people, thank
Heaven, who never learn these things, who go on believing that men are
good and women better all their lives.



CHAPTER XI

A CARPET KNIGHT

As children gathering pebbles on the shore.


First door on the right after passing into New Court, Trinity College,
Cambridge, by the river door. It is a small door, leading directly on to
a narrow, winding stone staircase. For some reason, known possibly to the
architect responsible for New Court (may his bones know no rest!), the
ground-floor rooms have a door of their own within the archway.

On the first floor Arthur Agar, to use the affected phraseology of an
affected generation, "kept" in the days with which we have to deal. What
he kept transpireth not. There were many things which he did not keep,
the first among these being his money. In these rooms he dispensed an
open-handed, carefully considered hospitality which earned for him a
certain bubble popularity.

There are, one finds, always plenty of men (and women too) ready to lick
the blacking off one's boots provided always that that doubtful fare be
varied by champagne or truffles at appropriate intervals. Men came to
Arthur Agar's rooms, and brought their friends. Mark well the last item.
They brought their friends. There is more in that than meets the eye.
There is a subtle difference between the invitation for "Mr. Jones" and
the invitation for "Mr. Jones and friends"--a difference which he who
runs the social race may read. If Jones is worth his salt he will discern
the difference in a week.

"Oh, come to Agar's," one man (save the mark) would say to another.
"Ripping coffee, topping cigarettes."

So they went; they drank the ripping coffee, smoked the topping
cigarette, and if they happened to be men of stomach ventured on a
clinking cigar. Moreover, they were made welcome. Agar was like a vain
woman who loved to see a full saloon. And he paid for his pleasure in
more honourable coin than many a vain woman has laid down since daughters
of Eve commenced drawing fops around them--namely, the adjectived items
of hospitality above mentioned.

It did not matter much who the guests were, provided that they filled the
diminutive room in those spaces left vacant by _bric-a-brac_ and
furniture of the spindle-legged description. So the men came. There were
freshmen who fell over the footstools and bumped their heads against the
painted sabots on the wall containing ever-fresh flowers, as per
florist's bill; who were rather over-powered by the profusion of painted
photograph frames, fans, and fal-lals. There was the man who sang a comic
song and dined out on it at least twice a week. There was the calculating
son of a poor North-country parson, who liked coffee after dinner and
knew the value of sixpence. There was the man who came to play his own
valse, and he who came to hear his own voice, _und so weiter_. Do we not
know them all? Have we not run against them in after-life, despite many
attempts to pass by on the other side? The habitual acceptors of
hospitality have no objection to crossing the road through the thickest
mud.

"By their rooms ye shall know them," might well, if profanely, be written
large over any college gate. Arthur Agar's rooms were worthy of the man.
There was, even on the little stone staircase, a faint odour of pastille
or scent spray, or something of feminine suggestion. The unwary visitor
would as likely as not catch some part of his person against a silk
hanging or a lurking _portière_ on crossing the threshold; and the
impression which struck (as all rooms do strike) from the threshold was
one of oppressive drapery. A man, by the way, should never know anything
about drapery or draping. Such knowledge undermines his virility. This is
an age of undermining knowledge. We all, from the lowest to the highest,
learn many things of which we were better ignorant. The school-board
infant acquires French; Arthur Agar and his like bring away from
Cambridge a pretty knack of draping chair-backs.

There were little screens in the room, with shelves specially constructed
to hold little gimcracks, which in their turn were specially shaped to
stand upon the little shelves. There was a portentous standing-lamp, six
feet high in its bare feet, with a shade like a crinoline. There were
settees and _poufs_ and _des prie-Dieu_, and strange things hanging on
the wall without rhyme, reason, or beauty. And nowhere a pipe, or a
tennis racket, or even a pair of boots--not so much as a single manly
indiscretion in the way of a cricket-bat in the corner, or a sporting
novel on the table.

In the midst of this the temporary proprietor of the rooms sat
disconsolately at an inlaid writing-table with his face buried in his
arms--weeping.

The outer door was shut. Arthur Agar had sported his rare oak, not to
work but to weep. It sometimes does happen to men, this shedding of the
idle tear, even to Englishmen, even to Cambridge men. Moreover, it was
infinitely to the credit of Arthur Agar that he should bury his face in
the sleeve of his perfectly-fitting coat thus and sob, for he was weeping
(quietly and to himself) the advent of three thousand pounds per annum.

At his elbow lay a telegram--that flimsy pink paper which, with all our
progress, all our knowledge, the bravest of us fear still.

"Jem killed in India; come home at once.--AGAR."

Honour to whom honour. Arthur Agar's only thought had been one of sudden
horror. He had read the telegram over twice before going out to close his
outer door. Then he came back and sat weakly down at the table where he
had written more scented notes than noted themes, deliberately,
womanlike, to cry.

To his credit be it noted that he never thought of Stagholme, which was
now his. He only thought of Jem--his no longer--Jem the open-handed,
elder brother who tolerated much and said little. Having had everything
that he wanted since childhood, Arthur Agar had never been in the habit
of thinking about money matters. His florist's bills (and Cambridge
horticulturists seem to water their flowers with Château Lafitte), his
confectioner's account, and his tailor's little note had always been paid
without a murmur. Thus, want of money--the chief incentive to crime and
criminal thought--had never come within measurable distance of this
gentle undergraduate.

Truth to tell, he had never devoted much thought to the future. He had
always vaguely concluded that his mother and Jem would "do something";
and in the meantime there were important matters requiring his attention.
There was the _menu_ to prepare for an approaching little dinner. There
was always an approaching dinner, and always a _menu_ in execrable French
on a satin-faced card with the college arms in a coat of many colours.
There was the florist to be interviewed and the arrangement of the table
to be superintended; the finishing touch to be given to the floral
decoration thereof by the master-hand.

Jem's death seemed to knock away one of the supports of the future, and
Arthur Agar even in his grief was conscious of the impending necessity of
having to act for himself some day.

At length he lifted his head, and through the intricate pattern of the
very newest design in art muslins the daylight fell on his face. It was a
face which in France is called _chiffonné_; but the term is never applied
to the visage masculine. A diminutive and slightly _retrousse_ nose,
gentle grey eyes of the drowning-fly description, and a sensitive mouth
scarcely hidden by a fair moustache of downward tendency.

Here was a man made to be ruled all his life--probably by a woman. With a
little more strength it might have been a melancholy face; as it stood,
it was suggestive of nothing stronger than fretfulness. There was a vague
distress in the eyes and in the whole countenance which mistaken and
practical souls would probably put down to a defective digestion or a
feeble vitality. More than one enthusiastic disciple of Aesculapius
studying at Caius professed to have discovered the evidence of some
internal disease in Arthur Agar's distressed eyes; but his complaint was
not of the body at all.

Presently the necessity for action forced itself upon his understanding,
and he rose with a jerk. It is worth noting that his first thought was
connected with dress. He passed into the inner room and there exchanged
his elegant morning suit for a black one, replacing a delicate heliotrope
necktie by another of sombre hue. He mentally reviewed his mourning
wardrobe while doing so, and gathered much spiritual repose from the
diversion.

In the meantime the Rector of Stagholme, having breakfasted, proceeded to
light a cigarette and open the _Times_ with the leisurely sense of
enjoyment of one who takes an interest in all things without being keenly
concerned in any.

"God help us!" he exclaimed suddenly; and Mrs. Glynde, who alone happened
to be present, dropped a handful of housekeeping money on the floor.

"What is it, dear?" she gasped.

"There," was the answer; "read that. 'Disaster in Northern India.' Not
there--higher up!"

In her eagerness Mrs. Glynde had plunged headlong into the consumption of
Wesleyan missionaries in the Sandwich Islands. Then she had to find her
glasses, and considerable delay was incurred by putting them on upside
down. All this while the Rector sat glaring at her as if in some occult
way she were responsible for the disaster in Northern India.

At last she read the short article, and was about to give a sigh of
relief when her eyes travelled to a diminutive list of names appended.

"What!" she exclaimed. "What! Jem! Oh, Tom, dear, this can't be true!"

"I have no reason," answered the Rector grimly, "to suppose that it is
untrue."

Mrs. Glynde was one of those unfortunate persons who seem only to have
the power of aggravating at a crisis. In their way they are useful as
serving to divert the mind; but they usually come in for more than their
need of abuse.

The poor little woman laid the newspaper gently down by her husband's
elbow, and looked at him with a certain air of grandeur and strength. The
instinct that arouses the mother wren to peck at the schoolboy's hand at
her nest was strong in this subdued little old lady.

"Something," she said, "must be done. How are we going to tell Dora?"

The Rector was a man who never went straight at the fence, before him. He
invariably pulled up and rode alongside the obstacle before leaping, and
when going for it he braced himself mentally with the reflection that he
was an English gentleman, and as such had obligations. But these
obligations, like those of many English gentlemen, ceased at his own
fireside. He, like many of us, was apt to forget that wife, sister, and
daughter are nevertheless ladies to whom deference is due.

"Oh--Dora," he answered; "she will have to bear it like the rest of us.
But here am I with fresh legal complications laid upon me. I foresee
endless trouble with the lawyers and that woman. Why the Squire made me
his executor I can't tell. Parsons know nothing of these matters."

With a patient sigh Mrs. Glynde turned away and went to the window, where
she stood with her back to him. Even to the duller masculine mind the
wonder sometimes presents itself that our women-folk take us so patiently
as we are. If Mrs. Glynde had turned upon her husband (who was not so
selfish as he would appear), presenting him forthwith in the plainest
language at her command with a piece of her mind, the treatment would
have been surprising at first, and infinitely beneficial afterwards.

The Reverend Thomas sat staring into the fire--a luxury which he allowed
himself all through the year--with troubled eyes. There was a fence in
front of him, but he could not bring himself up to it. In his mistaken
contempt for women he had never taken his wife fully into his confidence
in those things--great or small, according to the capacity of the
producing machine--which are essentially a personal property--namely his
thoughts.

All else he told her openly and at once, as behoved an English gentleman.

Should he tell all that he had hoped and thought and rethought respecting
Jem Agar and Dora? Should he; should he not? And the loving little woman
stood there almost daring to break the great silence herself; but not
quite. Strong as was her mother's heart, the habit of submission was
stronger. She longed, she yearned to hear the deeper, graver tone of
voice which had been used once or twice towards her--once or twice in
moments of unusual confidence. The Reverend Thomas Glynde was silent, and
the voice that they both heard was Dora's, singing as she came downstairs
towards them. It was only a matter of moments, and when we have no more
than that wherein to act we usually take the wrong turning.

Mrs. Glynde turned and gave one imploring look towards her husband.

At the same instant the door opened and Dora entered, singing as she
came.

"What is the matter?" she exclaimed. "You both look depressed. Stocks
down, or something else has gone up? I know! Papa has been made a
bishop!"

With a cheery laugh she went to the table and took up the newspaper.



CHAPTER XII

BAD NEWS

Sa manière de souffrir est le témoignage qu'une âme porte sur elle-même.


There was a horrid throbbing silence while Dora read, and her parents
calculated the seconds which would necessarily elapse before she reached
the bottom line. Such moments as these are scored up as years in the span
of life.

Mrs. Glynde did not know what she was doing. It happened that she
was trying to rub away a flaw in the window-glass with her pocket
hand-kerchief--a flaw which must have been an old friend, as such things
are in quiet lives. At this occupation she found herself when her heart
began to beat again.

"I suppose," said Dora in a terribly calm voice, "that the _Times_ never
makes a mistake--I mean they never publish anything unless they are quite
sure?"

Then the English gentleman of parts who ever and anon peeped out through
the veneer of the parson asserted himself--the English gentleman whose
sense of fair play and honour told him that it is better to strike at
once a blow that must be struck than to keep the victim waiting.

"Such is their reputation," answered Dora's father.

Mrs. Glynde turned with that pathetic yearning movement of a punished dog
which waits to be called. But Dora had some of her father's sternness,
her father's good British reserve, and she never called.

Turning, she walked quietly out of the room. And all the light had gone
out of her life. So we write, and so ye read; but do we realise it? It is
not many of us who have suddenly to look at life without so much as a
glimmer in its dark recesses to make it worth the living. It is not many
of us who come to be told by the doctor: "For the rest of your existence
you must give up eyesight," or, "For the remainder of life you must go
halt." But these are trifles. Everything is a trifle, if we would only
believe it. Riches and poverty, peace and war, fame and obscurity, town
and country, England and the backwoods--all these are trifles compared
with that other life which makes our own a living completeness.

Silently she went, and left silence behind her. The Rector was abashed.
For once a woman had acted in a manner unexpected by him; for he was
ignorant enough of the world to keep up the old fallacy of treating women
as a class. True, it was Dora, whom he held apart from the rest of her
sex; but still he was left wondering. He felt as if he had been found
walking in a holy place with shoes upon his feet--those gross shoes of
Self with which most of us tramp through the world, not heeding where we
tread or what we crush.

One of the hardest things we have to bear is the helpless standing by
while one dear to us must suffer. When Mrs. Glynde turned round and came
towards her husband she had become an old woman. Her face had suddenly
aged while her frame was yet in its full strength, and such a change is
not pleasant to look on.

"Tom," she said, in a dry, commanding voice, "you must go up to the Holme
at once and hear what news they have. There may be some chance--it may
please God to spare us yet."

"Yes," answered the Rector meekly; "I will go."

While he was lacing his boots with all speed Mrs. Glynde took up the
newspaper again, and reread the brief account of the disaster. They were
spared comment; that blow came later, when the warriors of Fleet Street
set about explaining why the defeat was sustained and why it should never
have happened. In due course these carpet tacticians proved to their own
satisfaction that Colonel Stevenor was incompetent for the service on
which he had been dispatched. But the reek of printing-ink never was good
for the better feelings.

In due course the Rector set off across the park; very grave, and
distinctly aware of the importance of his mission. He had somewhere in
his composition a strong sense of the dramatic, to which the situation
appealed. He felt that had he been a younger man he would have stored up
many details during the morning's work worthy of reproduction in the
narrative form during years to come.

Before he reached the great house he was aware that the grim pleasure of
imparting bad news was not to be his, for the blinds were all lowered--a
detail likely to receive early attention in a feminine household, for it
is only men who can hear of a death without thinking of mourning and the
blinds.

The butler opened the door and took the Rector's hat and stick with a
silent _savoir-faire_ indicative of experience in well-bred grief. His
chaste demeanour said as plainly as words that this was right and proper,
the Rector being no more than he expected.

"Where's your mistress?" asked Mr. Glynde, who had strong views upon
butlers in general and Tims in particular--said Tims being so sure of his
place that he did not always trouble to know it.

"Library, sir," replied Tims in an appropriately sepulchral voice.

The Rector went to the library without waiting to be announced. He was a
man well versed in human nature, as most parsons are, and it is possible
that he had caught a glimpse of Mrs. Agar watching his advent from the
dining-room window.

The lady of the house was standing by the writing-table when he entered,
and beneath her ill-concealed excitement there was something subtly
observant, like the glance of an untruthful child, which he never forgot
nor forgave, despite his cloth and the impossibilities popularly expected
therefrom.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "it is you. I have telegraphed for Arthur. I
have--telegraphed for Arthur."

"Why?"

She gave a nervous, almost a guilty little laugh, and looked at him with
puzzled discomfort.

"Why?" he repeated, looking at her with a cold scrutiny much dreaded of
the parish ne'er-do-wells.

"Oh, well," she replied, "it is only natural that I should want him at
home in such a time as this--such a terrible affliction. Besides--"

"Besides," suggested the Rector imperturbably, "he is now master of
Stagholme."

"Yes!" she said, with a simulated surprise which would scarcely have
deceived the most guileless Sunday-school teacher. "I had not thought of
that. I suppose something must be done at once--those horrid lawyers
again."

Her eyes were dancing with breathless excitement. To this woman
excitement even in the form of a death was better than nothing. The
bourgeois mind, with its love of a Crystal Palace, a subscription dance,
or even a parochial bazaar, was unquenchable even after years of practice
as the county lady of position.

The Rector did not answer. He stood squarely in front of her with a
persistence that forced her to turn shiftily away with a pretence of
looking at the clock.

"This is a bad business," he said. "That boy ought never to have gone out
there."

Mrs. Agar had her handkerchief ready and made use of it, with as much
effect upon Mr. Glynde as might have been produced upon a granite sphinx.
There is no man harder to deceive than the innately good and
conscientious man of the world who has tried to find good in human
nature.

"Poor boy!" sobbed the lady. "Dear Jem! I could not keep him at home."
Thus proving herself a fool, and worse, before those wise eyes.

When occasion demanded Mr. Glynde could wield a very strong
silence--stronger than he thought. He wielded it now, and Mrs. Agar
shuffled before it, her eyes glittering with suppressed
communicativeness. She was obviously bubbling over with talk relevant and
irrelevant, but the Rector had the chivalry to check it by his cold
silence.

After a pause it was he who spoke, in a quiet, unemotional voice which
aggravated while it cowed her.

"When did you hear this news?" he asked.

"Oh, last night. It was so late that I did not send down. I--it was so
sudden. I was terribly upset."

"M--yes."

"I telegraphed to Arthur first thing this morning," the mistress of
Stagholme went on eagerly, "and I was just going to write to you when you
came in."

With that nervous desire for corroborative evidence which arouses the
suspicion of the observant whenever it appears, Mrs. Agar indicated the
writing-table with open blotter and inkstand. Instantly, but too late,
she regretted having done so, for a volume playfully called "Every Man
his own Lawyer" lay confessed beside the writing-case, and its home on
the bookshelf stared vacantly at them.

"And from whom did you hear it?" pursued the Rector, heartlessly looking
at the book with an air of recognition.

"Oh, from a Mr. Johnson--at the War Office, or the India Office, or
somewhere. I suppose I ought to write and thank him. Let me see--where is
the telegram?"

She shuffled among the papers on the writing-table, and made the hideous
mistake of pushing "Every Man his own Lawyer" behind the stationery case.

"Here it is!" she exclaimed at length.

It was a long document. Mr. Johnson, not having to pay for telegraphic
expenses out of his own pocket, had done his task thoroughly. He stated
clearly that the advance column under Colonel Stevenor, Major Agar, and
another British officer had been surprised and annihilated. There were no
particulars yet, nor could reliable details be expected, as it was quite
certain that not one man of the ill-fated corps had survived. General
Seymour, added the official, missing out in his haste the commanding
officer's surname, had promptly repaired to the scene of the disaster, to
punish the victors, and, if possible, recover the effects of the slain.

Mrs. Agar was one of those persons who are incapable of reading a letter
or a telegram thoroughly. She was one of those for whose comprehension
the wrong end of the story must have been specially created. Had the
official put Seymour Michael's name in full, it is probable that in her
infantile excitement she would have failed to take it in or to connect it
with the man who had wronged her twenty years before.

She had not thought much about that little affair during late years, her
feeling for Seymour Michael having settled down into a passive hatred.
The longing to do him some personal injury had died away fifteen years
before. She was, as a matter of fact, quite incapable of a lasting
feeling of any description. Hers was a life lived for the present only. A
tea-party next week was of more importance to her than a change in
fortune next year. Some people are thus, and Heaven help those whose
lives come under their fickle influence!

The one permanent motive of her existence was her son Arthur--the puny
little infant who had been prematurely ushered into a world that seemed
full of hatred twenty years before--and even his image faded from mind
and thought before the short Cambridge terms were half expired.

At this moment she was thinking less of the death of Jem than of the
approaching arrival of Arthur. There must have been something wrong with
her mental focus, to which trifles presented themselves as of the first
importance, to the obliteration of larger matters.

"And this is all the news you have had?" inquired the Rector, rather
hurriedly. He saw Sister Cecilia coming up the avenue, and that lady was
for him the embodiment of the combination of those feminine failings
which aggravated him so intensely.

"Yes."

He moved towards the door, and standing there he turned, holding up a
warning finger.

"You must be very careful," he said. "You must not consult any lawyer or
take any steps in this matter. So far as you are concerned the state of
affairs is unchanged. I, as the Squire's executor, am the only person
called upon to act in any way if that poor boy has died without making a
will. You must remember that your son is under age."

With that he left her, rather precipitately, for Sister Cecilia, like all
busybodies, was a quick walker.

In a few moments Miss Cecilia Harbottle entered the library. She glided
forward as if afloat on a depth of the milk of human kindness, and folded
Mrs. Agar in an emotional embrace.

"Dear!" she exclaimed. "Dear Anna, how I feel for you!"

In illustration of this sympathy she patted Mrs. Agar's somewhat flabby
hands, and looked softly at her. She could hardly have failed to see a
glitter in the bereaved one's eyes, which was certainly not that of
grief. It was the gleam of pure, heartless excitement and love of change.
But Sister Cecilia probably misread it; for, like all excesses, that of
charity seems to dull the comprehension.

"Tell me, dear," she urged gently, "all about it."

How many of us imagine the satisfaction of our own curiosity to be
sympathy!

So Mrs. Agar told her all about it, and presently they sat down, with a
view to fuller discussion. There was, however, a point beyond which even
Mrs. Agar would not go. This point Sister Cecilia scented with the
instinct of the terrier, so keen was her nose in the sniffing of other
people's business. When that point was reached a third time she gently
led the way over it.

"Of course," she said, with a resigned glance at the curtain poles, "one
cannot help sometimes feeling that a wise Providence does all for the
best."

Gratifying as this must have been to the power in question, no miraculous
manifestation of joy was forthcoming, and Mrs. Agar cunningly confined
herself to a non-committing "Yes."

After a sigh, Sister Cecilia further expatiated.

"I cannot but think," she said, "that Stagholme will be in better hands
now. Of course dear Jem was very nice, and all that--a dear, good boy.
But do you not think that Arthur is more suited to the position in some
ways?"

"Perhaps he is," allowed Mrs. Agar, with ill-concealed pleasure.

"He is," continued Sister Cecilia, with a broader brush, "so refined, so
gentlemanly, so ideal a country squire."

And after that she had no difficulty in supplying herself with
information.



CHAPTER XIII

ON THIN ICE

Treason doth never prosper. What's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.


Two days later a gentleman, whose clean-shaven face had a habit of
beaming suddenly into a professional smile, was seated at a huge
writing-table in his office in Gray's Inn, when a clerk announced to him
the arrival of Mrs. Agar, who desired to see him at once.

Mr. Rigg beamed instantaneously, and the clerk, who knew his master,
waited until the paroxysm had passed. In the meantime Mrs. Agar was
fuming in the waiting-room, wherein lay a copy of the _Times_ and nothing
else. The window looked out upon the neatly kept but depressing garden,
where five antiquated rooks looked in vain for sustenance. Mrs. Agar
watched these intelligent birds, but all her soul was in her ears. She
had already set Mr. Rigg down in her own mind as a stupid because,
forsooth, he had dared to keep her waiting.

But the truth is that they are accustomed to ladies in Gray's Inn,
especially ladies in deep mourning, with a chastely important air which
seems to demand that advice and sympathy be carefully mingled. _Connues_,
these ladies whose deep crape and quite exceptional bereavement plead
(not always dumbly) for a special equity, home-made and superior to any
law, and infer that the ordinary foes are in their case more than any
gentleman would think of accepting.

The clerk presently passed into an inner room and fetched therefrom a tin
box, upon which were painted in dingy white the letters "J. E. M. A.,"
and underneath "Stagholme Estate." This the embryo lawyer carefully wiped
with a duster, and set it up on some of its fellows immediately behind
Mr. Rigg.

There was no hurry displayed in this scenic arrangement. Mr. Rigg made a
practice of keeping ladies, especially those wearing crape, for a few
minutes in the waiting-room. It calmed them down wonderfully, and
introduced into their mental chambers a little legal atmosphere.

"Marks," he said, when that youth was taking his last look round at the
_mise en scène_ before, as it were, raising the curtain, "eh--er--just go
round to Corbyn's and get them to make up these pills."

At the mention of the medicinal term he beamed, as if to intimate that
between themselves no secret need be observed that he, Mr. Rigg, was
subject to the usual anatomical laws of mankind.

"And--er--just call at the fishmonger's as you come back and get a parcel
for me, ordered this morning."

"Yes, sir," answered the faithful Marks, taking the prescription as if it
were a will or a transfer.

He knew his part so well that he moved towards the door and opened it as
if Mrs. Agar's existence and attendance in the waiting-room were matters
of the utmost indifference.

"Marks!"

The door was open, so that the lawyer's voice carried well down the
passage.

"Yes, sir."

"I will see Mrs. Agar now."

And Mrs. Agar was shown in, all bustling with excitement.

"Mr. Rigg," she said, with some dignity, "has Mr. Glynde been here?"

The lawyer beamed again--literally all over his parchment-coloured face,
except the eyes, which remained grave.

"When, my dear madam?" he asked, as he brought forward a chair.

"Well, lately--since my son's death."

The lawyer opened a large diary, and proceeded to trace back each day
with his finger. It promised to be a question of time, this ascertaining
whether Mr. Glynde had called within the last week. It was marvellous how
well this man of deeds knew his clients. Mrs. Agar had never persevered
in any inquiry or project that required time all through her life. Mr.
Rigg, behind his disarming smile, could see as far into a crape veil as
any man.

"It must have been quite lately," said Mrs. Agar, leaning forward and
trying visibly to read the diary.

Mr. Rigg turned back a few pages, as if to go over the ground a second
time.

"Let me see!" he said leisurely. "What was the precise date of
the--er--sad event?"

"Last Tuesday, the fourteenth."

"To be sure," reflected Mr. Rigg, fixing his eyes sadly on an engraving
of London Bridge in the seventeenth century--a spot specially reserved
for the sadder moments of probate and other testamentary work. "Very sad,
very sad."

Then he rose with the mental brushing-away of unshed tears of a man who
has never yet had time in life for idle lamentation. He turned towards
the tin box, jingling his keys in a most practical and business-like way.

"And I presume," he said, "that you have come to consult me about the
late Captain Agar's will?"

"Was there a will?" asked Mrs. Agar, with audible alarm. She had not
studied "Every Man his own Lawyer" quite in vain, although most of the
legal technicalities had conveyed nothing whatever to her mind. She did
not notice that her question regarding Mr. Glynde had never been
answered.

Mr. Rigg turned upon her beaming.

"I have no will," he answered. "I thought that perhaps you were aware of
the existence of one."

Mrs. Agar's face lighted up.

"No," she said, with ill-concealed delight; "I am certain there is no
will."

"Indeed! And why, my dear madam?"

"Well--oh, well, because Jem was just the sort of person to forget such
matters. Besides, when he left England he was under age."

The lawyer was looking at her with his usual sympathetic smile spread
over his face like an actor's make-up, but his eyes were very keen and
clever.

"Of course," he observed, "he may have made one out there."

"I do not think that it is likely," replied the lady, whose small
thoughts always came into the world in charge of a very obvious father in
the shape of a wish. "There are no facilities out there--no lawyers."

"There are quite a number of lawyers in India," said Mr. Rigg, with
sudden gravity. His face was only grave when he wished to fend off
laughter.

"Well," persisted Mrs. Agar, "I am _sure_ Jem did not make a will."

Mr. Rigg bowed and resumed his seat. He took up a penholder and smiled,
presumably at his own sunny thoughts.

Mrs. Agar was one of those fatuous ladies who think themselves capable of
tricking a professional man out of his fee. She had a vague notion that
if one asks a lawyer a question the price of his answer is at least six
shillings and eightpence. Up to this point in the interview she was
serenely conscious of having eluded the fee.

"I presume," she remarked carelessly, in pursuance of this economical
policy, "that in such a case the property would go unconditionally to the
second son."

"There are contingent possibilities," replied the man of subterfuge
blandly. He did not mean anything at all, but shrewdly guessed that Mrs.
Agar would not credit him with so simple a design.

The lady smiled in a subtly commiserating manner, indicative of the fact
that on some family matters the ignorance of all except herself was
somewhat pitiful.

"Of course," she said, "as regards the present case, I know perfectly
well that both Jem and his father would wish everything to go to Arthur."

She was picking a thread from the corner of her jacket with an air of
nonchalance.

Mr. Rigg was silent. He had some thirty years before this period given up
attaching importance to the wishes of the deceased as interpreted by
disinterested survivors.

"And _I_ should imagine that the necessary transfers--and--and things
would be much better put in hand at once. Delay seems to me quite
unnecessary."

She paused for Mr. Rigg's opinion--quite a friendly opinion, of course,
without price.

"Pardon me," said that lawyer, driven into a corner at last, "but are you
consulting me on behalf of the late Squire's executor, Mr. Glynde, or on
your own account?"

"Oh!" replied Mrs. Agar, drawing herself up with a deprecating little
laugh, "I did not intend it to be a consultation at all. I happened to be
passing, that was all. You see, Mr. Rigg, Mr. Glynde does not know
anything about these matters. Clergymen are so stupid."

"Seems to be afraid," Mr. Rigg was reflecting behind his pleasant mask,
"of the young man coming alive again."

Mrs. Agar was like a child in many ways, more especially in her unbounded
belief in her own cunning. She actually imagined herself to be a match
for this man, who had been trained in the ways of duplicity all his life.
She saw nothing of his mind, and fatuously ignored the fact that from the
moment she had entered the room he had begun the interview with a mental
hypothesis.

"This woman," he had reflected, "has always hated her step-son. She got
him a commission in an Indian regiment for the primary purpose of getting
him out of the way while she saved money on her life-interest in the
estate for her second son. The secondary purpose was little more than a
hope. She hoped for the best. The best has come off, and she is not
clever enough to let things take their course."

Every word Mrs. Agar had uttered, every silence, every glance had gone to
confirm the lawyer's opinion, and he sat pleasantly beaming on her. He
did not jump up and denounce her, for lawyers are scientists. As a doctor
in the pursuit of his science does not hesitate to handle foul things, to
probe horrid sores, so the lawyer must needs smirch his hands even to the
elbow in those moral tumours from whence emanate the thousand and one
domestic crimes which will ever remain just outside the pale of the law.
And in one as in the other the finer susceptibilities grow dull. The
doctor almost forgets the pain he inflicts. The lawyer gradually loses
his sense of right and wrong.

Mr. Rigg was an honest man--as honesty is understood in the law. He was
keenly alive to all the motives of this woman, who, in the law of
humanity, was a criminal. He had started from a lawyer's standpoint--_id
est_, personal advantage. "To whose advantage?" they ask, and there they
assign the action. But Mr. Rigg was also a good lawyer, and therefore he
kept his own counsel.

"Things must be allowed," he said, "to take their course. You know, Mrs.
Agar, we are proverbially slow in moving, but we are sure."

Now it happened that this was precisely the position assumed by Mr.
Glynde, whose respect for legal routine was enormous. He rarely moved in
any matters wherein the law could by hook or crook be introduced without
consulting Mr. Rigg, whom he vaguely called his "man." And it was
precisely this delay that Mrs. Agar disliked. She had no definite reason
for so doing; but this stroke of good fortune presented itself to her
mind more in the light of an opportunity to be seized than as a just
inheritance to be thankfully received in its due time.

She was awake to the fact that Arthur was not the man to seize any
opportunity, however obviously it might be thrust into his grasp, and her
knowledge of the world tended to exaggerate its dishonesty in her mind.

Sister Cecilia and she had talked this matter over with that small
modicum of learning which is a dangerous thing, and they had arrived at
the conclusion that Mr. Glynde was not competent to carry out the duties
thus suddenly thrust upon him. Wrapped up as was her heart in the welfare
of her weakling son, the one lasting motive of her life had been to
secure for him the largest possible portion of earthly goods. Now that
success seemed to be within measurable distance, she gave way to the
baneful panic of the weak conspirator, and fancied that the whole world
was allied against her.

She could not keep her fingers off "Every Man his own Lawyer," and
consulted that boon to the legal profession to such good effect that she
placed a handsome fee in the pocket of one of its brightest ornaments at
the earliest opportunity. Mr. Rigg continued to beam and to keep his own
counsel, merely notifying that things must be allowed to take their own
course, and presently he bowed Mrs. Agar out of his office, dissatisfied,
and with an uncomfortable feeling of having been somewhat indiscreet.

Arthur was waiting for her in a hansom cab in Holborn, and with a sigh of
relief they drove westward to a shop in Regent Street to order a supply
of the newest procurable mode of signifying grief on paper and envelopes.
Arthur Agar was an expert in such matters, and indeed both mother and son
were more at home in the graceful pastime of spending money than in the
technicalities of making or keeping the same.

Arthur was already beginning to taste the sweetness of his adversity, and
being intensely sensitive to the influence of those with whom he happened
to be at the moment, he was already beginning to look back with mild
surprise to the first burst of grief to which he had given way on hearing
that Jem was killed.



CHAPTER XIV

THE CURSE OF A GOOD INTENTION

_There is one that keepeth silence and is found wise._


Sister Cecilia received--nay, she almost welcomed--the news of Jem
Agar's death in an intensely Christian spirit. She looked upon it in
the light of a chastening-a sort of moral cold bath, unpleasant at the
time, but cleanly and refreshing in its effect. Intense goodness and
virtue of the jubby-jubby order seem frequently to produce this result.
Trouble--provided that it be not personal--is elevated to a position
which it was never intended to occupy by an all-seeing Providence. There
are some people who step into the troubles of others as into the
chastening bath above referred to, and splash about. They pretend to feel
deeply bereavements which cannot reasonably be expected to affect them,
and go about the world with a well-scrubbed air of conscious virtue,
saying in manner if not in words, "Look at me; my troubles compass me
about, but my innate goodness enables me to take them in the proper
spirit and to be cheerful despite all."

This was precisely Sister Cecilia's attitude towards her small world of
Stagholme, after the news of the young Squire's death had cast a gloom
over the whole neighbourhood.

"Ah!" she would say to some honest cottage mother who had more true
feeling in her rough little finger than Sister Cecilia possessed in her
whole heart. "These trials are sent to us for our good. The ways of
Providence are strange, Mrs. Martin--strange to us now."

"Yes, miss; that they be," Mrs. Martin replied, looking at her with the
hard and far-seeing gaze of a poor mother who has known trouble in its
least romantic form. And Sister Cecilia, with that blindness which comes
from systematically closing the eyes to the earthly side of earthly
things, never realised that the small change of sympathy is often
slightly aggravating.

At this period she took to calling Jem Agar her "poor boy." The grave
seems to have the power of completely altering the past, and with persons
of the stamp of Sister Cecilia death appears not only to wipe out all
sin, but to impair the memory of the living to such an extent that the
individuality of the deceased is no longer recognisable.

Jem never had in any sense of the word been her boy. His feelings for her
had passed from the distrust of childhood to the lofty contempt of a
schoolboy for all things preternaturally virtuous, finally settling down
into the more tolerant contempt of manhood. The dead, however, have
perforce to accept much affection which they scornfully refused in life.

"Poor Jem!" said Sister Cecilia to Mrs. Agar the day after that lady's
visit to Gray's Inn. "I always thought that perhaps he and dear Dora
would come to--to some understanding."

She stirred her tea with patient, suffering head inclined at a resigned
angle.

"Do you think there _was_ any understanding between them?" inquired Mrs.
Agar.

"Well--I should not like to say."

Which, being translated, meant that she would like to say, but did not
know.

It had always been a pet scheme of Mrs. Agar's that Dora should marry
Arthur; firstly, because she would have nearly two thousand pounds a year
on the death of her parents; and, secondly, because she was a capable
person with plenty of common-sense. These two adjuncts--namely, money and
common-sense--Mrs. Agar wisely looked for in candidates for the flaccid
hand of her son.

"I will try and find out," said Sister Cecilia after a pause.

Mrs. Agar said nothing. She was meditating over this last stroke of fate
in favour of her scheme, and her thoughts were disturbed by that distrust
in the continuance of good fortune which usually spoils the enjoyment of
the unscrupulous in those good things which they have obtained for
themselves.

So Sister Cecilia took it for granted that she was doing the will of the
mistress of Stagholme when she wrote a note that same evening inviting
Dora to have tea with her the following afternoon.

At the hour appointed Dora arrived, and was duly shown into the little
cottage drawing-room, of which the decoration hovered between the
avowedly devout and the economo-aesthetic.

Sister Cecilia swept down upon her with a speechless emotion which, in
the nature of things (and Sister Cecilia), could not well be of long
duration.

"My dear," she whispered, "God will give you strength to bear this awful
trial."

Dora recovered her breath and re-arranged her crushed habiliments before
inquiring, with just sufficient feeling to save her from downright
rudeness, "What is the matter; has something else happened?"

Sister Cecilia drew back. She was vaguely conscious of having run
mentally against a brick wall. There was something new and unusual about
Dora which she could not understand--something, if she could only have
seen it, suggestive of the quiet, strong man in whose honour the whole
parish wore mourning. But Sister Cecilia was not a subtle woman. She had
had so little experience of the world, of men and of women, that she fell
easily into the error of thinking that they were all to be treated alike
and with equal success by little maxims culled from fourpenny-halfpenny
devotional books.

"No, dear," she exclaimed; "I was referring to our terrible loss. My
heart has been bleeding for you--"

"It is very kind, I'm sure," said Dora quietly; "I forgot that I had not
seen you since the news reached us."

It is probable that her self-control cost her more than she suspected.
Her lips were drawn and dry. She wore a thick veil, which she carefully
abstained from lifting above the level of her eyes. "I am sure," moaned
Sister Cecilia, "it has been a most trying time for us all. I wonder that
Mrs. Agar has borne up so bravely. Her health is wonderful, considering."

Dora sat looking straight in front of her. She was withdrawing her gloves
slowly. Her face was that of a person whose mind was made up for the
endurance of an operation.

The twaddling voice, the characteristic reference to health, were
intensely aggravating. There are some women who talk of their own health
before the dead are buried. They do not seem to be able to separate grief
from bodily ill. Clad in crape, they rush to the seaside, and there,
presumably because grief affects their legs, they hire a man to wheel
themselves and Sorrow in a bath-chair. Why--oh, why! does bereavement
drive women into bath-chairs on the King's Road, or the Lees, or the Hoe?

"Wonderful!" said Dora.

Sister Cecilia, busying herself with the teapot, proceeded to blow her
own trumpet with the bare-facedness of true virtue.

"I have been with her constantly," she said. "I think it is better for us
all to tell of our grief; I think that we are given speech for that
purpose. For although one may only be able to offer sympathy and perhaps
a little advice, it is always a relief to speak of one's sorrow."

"I suppose it is," admitted Dora from her strong-hold of reserve, "for
some people."

"Oh, yes!" exclaimed Sister Cecilia, all heedless of the sarcasm. For
extreme charity is proof against such. It covers other things besides a
multitude of sins. Wielded foolishly it runs amuck like a too luxuriant
creeper, and often kills commonsense. "And that is why I asked you to
come, dear. I thought that you might want to confide in some one--that
you might want to unburden your heart to one who feels for you as if this
sorrow were her own--"

"Only one piece of sugar, thank you," interrupted Dora. "Thank you. No.
Bread and butter, please. It is very kind of you, Sister Cecilia. But,
you see, when I have any unburdening to do there is always mother, and if
I want any advice there is always father."

"Yes, dear. But sometimes even one's parents are not quite the persons to
whom one would turn in times of grief."

"Oh!" observed Dora, without much enthusiasm.

Unconsciously Sister Cecilia was doing the very best thing possible for
Dora, She was arousing in her the spirit of antagonism--hardening a
stricken heart, as it were, by a fresh challenge. She was teaching Dora
to fight for what we learn to deem most sacred--namely, the right to
monopolise our own thoughts and feelings. Sister Cecilia is not, one may
assume, the only good woman in the world who cannot draw a definite line
between sympathy and mere curiosity. With many the display of sympathy is
nothing but a half-conscious bait to attract a shoal of further details.

Self-reliance was lurking somewhere in this girl's character, but it had
never been developed by the pressure of circumstances. Reserve she had
seen practised by her father, but the actual advantages thereof were only
now beginning to be apparent to her. The body, we are told, adapts itself
to abnormal circumstances; so is it with the mind. Already Dora was
beginning, as they say at sea, to find her feet; to take that stand
amidst her environments which she was forced to hold, practically alone,
thereafter.

And Sister Cecilia, with that blind faith in a good motive which gives
almost as much trouble as actual vice, floundered on in the path she had
mapped out for herself.

"You know, dear," she said, looking out of the window with a sentimental
droop of her thin, inquisitive lips, "I cannot help feeling that
this--this terrible blow means more to you than it does to us."

"Why?" inquired Dora practically.

Sister Cecilia was silent, with one of those aggravating silences which
do not allow even the satisfaction of a flat contradiction. A meaning
silence is a coward's argument. She was beginning to feel slightly
nervous before this child, ignorant that childhood is not always a matter
of years and calendar months.

"Why?" asked Dora again.

Sister Cecilia looked rather bewildered.

"Well, dear, I thought perhaps--I always thought that my poor boy
entertained some feeling--you understand?"

"No," replied Dora, borrowing for the moment her father's most crushing
deliberation of manner, "I cannot say I do. When you say your 'poor boy,'
are you referring to Jem?"

Sister Cecilia assented with a resigned nod worthy of the very earliest
martyr.

"Then, as every one has discovered so many virtues in him--quite
suddenly--we had better emulate one of them, and have at the least the
good feeling to hold our tongues about any feelings he may have
entertained. Do you not think so, Sister Cecilia?"

"Well, dear, I only thought to act as might be best for you," said the
well-intentioned meddler, with the drawl of the professionally
misunderstood.

"I have no doubt of that," returned Dora, with an equanimity which was
again strangely suggestive of Jem Agar. "But in future you will be
consulting my welfare much more effectively by refraining from action on
my behalf at all."

"As you will, dear; as you will," in the hopeless tone of age,
experience, and wisdom forced to stand idle while youth and folly rush
headlong down the hill.

"Yes," returned Dora calmly; "I know that, thank you. And now, I think,
we had better change the subject."

The subject was therefore changed; but Sister Cecilia, having, as it
were, whetted her appetite for details, was not at her ease with other
food for the mind, and presently Dora left.

The girl went back into her small world with a new knowledge gained--the
knowledge that in all and through all we are really quite alone. There
can be only one companion, and if that one be absent, there are only so
many talking-machines left to us. And many of us pass the whole of our
lives in conversation with them. So it is; and we know not why.

In a subtle way she felt stronger for this little tussle--a fight is
always exhilarating. She felt that from henceforth the memory of Jem was
hers, and hers alone, to defend and to cherish. It was not much of a
consolation. No. But then this is a world of small mercies, where some of
us get an hour or some mean portion of a day when we want a lifetime.



CHAPTER XV

THE TOUCH OF NATURE

A sense, when first I fronted him,
Said, "Trust him not!"


After successfully carrying through the purchase of mourning stationery
and attending to other important items connected with sorrow in its
worldly shape, Arthur Agar went back to Cambridge. There was enough of
the woman in his nature to enable him to cherish grief and nurse it
lovingly, as some women (not the best of them) do. In this attitude
towards the world there was none of that dogged going about his business
which characterises the ordinary man from whose life something has
slipped out.

He wandered by the banks of the Cam with mourning in his mien, and his
cherished friends took sympathetic coffee with him after Hall. They spoke
of Jem with that fervid admiration which University men honestly feel for
one a few years their senior who has already "done something."

"A ripping soldier" they called him and some of them entertained serious
doubts as to whether they had done wisely in choosing the less glorious
paths of peace. And Arthur Agar settled down into the old profitless
life, with this difference--that he could not dine out, that he used
blackedged notepaper, and that his delicate heliotrope neckties were
folded away in a drawer until such time as his grief should be assuaged
into that state of resignation technically called half-mourning.

One afternoon well towards the end of the term Arthur Agar's "gyp" crept
in with that valet-like confidential air which seems to be bred of too
intimate a knowledge of the extent of one's wardrobe.

"There is a gentleman, sir," he said, "as wants to see you. But in no
wise will he give his name, which, he says, you don't know it."

"Is he selling engravings?" asked Arthur.

The "gyp" looked mildly offended. As if he didn't know that sort!

"No, sir. Military man, I should take it."

Arthur Agar had met the Scotch Balaclava veteran in his time too. He
hesitated, and the "gyp," who felt that his reputation was at stake,
spoke:

"He is eminently a gentleman, sir," he said.

"Well, then, show him up."

A moment later a man who might have been the wandering Jew _fin de
siècle_ stood in the doorway. His smart military moustache was small and
evidently trimmed, his face was sunburnt, and in his eyes there gleamed
the restlessness of India.

He bowed, and awaited the exit of the man. Then, coming forward, he was
able for the first time to see Arthur Agar's face distinctly, and his
glance wavered.

At that moment Arthur Agar was staring at him with something in his face
that was almost strong. When this man had entered the room, Arthur felt
his heart give one great bound which almost choked him. There was a
strange physical feeling of vacuity in his breast which seemed to
paralyse his breathing powers, and his temples throbbed painfully.

Arthur Agar's life had been passed in eminently pleasant places. The
seamy side of existence had always been carefully hidden from his eyes.
He therefore did not recognise this strange sense which had leapt into
his being--the sense of superhuman, physical, mortal revulsion.

He was divided between two instincts. One side of his nature urged him to
shriek like a woman. Had he followed the other, he would have rushed at
this man, whom he had never seen before, seeking to do him bodily harm.
He would not have paused to reason that in anything like a struggle he
would stand no chance against the sinewy, dark-eyed soldier who stood
watching him. For there are moments even in this age of self-suppression
when we do not pause to think, when he who cannot swim will leap into
deep water to save another.

This sudden unreasoning hatred, so foreign to his gentle nature, seemed
to stagger Arthur Agar as the sudden intimation of some mortal disease
lurking in his own being would have done. He gripped the back of the
spindle-legged chair, and could find no word to say. The stranger it was
who spoke.

"I presume," he said, with a pleasant smile, in a voice so musical that
his hearer breathed suddenly as if his head had been lifted from water,
"I presume that you are Mr. Arthur Agar?"

While he spoke he looked past Arthur, out of the silken-draped window. He
did not seem to like the glance of this young man, for even the most
practical of us have a conscience at times.

"Yes."

The new-comer laid his walking-stick on the table, and turned to make
sure that the door was closed.

"I knew your step-brother," he explained, "Jem Agar, in India."

Then the instinct of the gentleman and the host asserted itself over and
above the throbbing hatred.

"Ah! Will you sit down?"

The stranger took the proffered chair and laid aside his hat. But neither
of them was at ease. There was a subtle suggestion that they had met
before and quarrelled--vague, unreasoning, quite impossible if you will;
but it was there. They were as men meeting again with a past between them
(too full of strong passions ever to be forgotten) which each was trying
in vain to ignore.

"I have brought home a few belongings of his," the stranger went on to
explain. "Just a port-manteau with some clothes and things."

He paused, and drew a small packet from the pocket of a covert-coat which
he carried over his arm.

"Here," he went on, "are some papers of his--a diary and one or two
letters. The rest of the things are at my hotel in town."

Arthur took the packet, and, still in the same dreamy, unreal way, opened
it. He turned to the last entry--dated six weeks back.

"Got out of bed at five, but nothing to be seen in the valley. I feel a
bit chippy this morning. If nothing turns up to-day shall begin to feel
uneasy. The men seem all right. They are plucky little fellows."

There was a self-consciousness about Jem Agar's diary, a selection of the
right word, which conveyed nothing to Arthur. But it fell into other
hands later on, where it was understood better.

General Michael was watching the undergraduate with the same critical
attention which he had brought to bear on the writer of the diary not two
months before.

"Did you see much of your step-brother?" he asked abruptly, feeling his
way towards his purpose.

Arthur looked up. He was getting accustomed to the loathing that he felt
for this man, as one gets accustomed to an evil odour or a physical pain.

"I saw enough of him to be very fond of him," he replied.

"And your mother--was she attached to him? Excuse my asking; I have a
reason."

The little pause was enough. Seymour Michael had expected as much.

He had never forgiven Mrs. Agar the insults she heaped upon his head in
the drawing-room of Jaggery House. It is very difficult to bring shame
home to a Jew, and on that occasion this son of the modern Ishmaelites
had been thoroughly ashamed of himself. The sting of that past ignominy
was with him still, and would remain within his heart until such time as
he could revenge himself.

With that mean, underhand watchfulness for an opportunity which is almost
excusable in one of the unfortunates against whom every man's hand is
raised to-day, he had never parted with his thirst for revenge. The
moment seemed propitious. It was within his power to lay for Anna Agar
one of those spiteful feminine traps of which a woman can only fully
appreciate the sting.

He determined to leave Mrs. Agar in ignorance of the real facts
respecting her step-son. His vengeance was to allow her to
rejoice--almost openly, as she did--in the stroke of fortune by which her
own son, Arthur, had become possessed of Stagholme. He knew the woman
well enough to foresee that in a hundred ways she would heap up ignominy,
meanness, deception, which would crumble in one vast wreck about her head
when Jem Agar returned.

It was a vengeance worthy of the man, and spiteful enough to be fully
comprehended by its victim. But, like others handling petards, Seymour
Michael grew somewhat careless, and forgot that the wrong man is
sometimes hoist.

He knew his position well enough to make all safe as regarded Jem Agar on
his return. It was absolutely necessary to tell Arthur Agar--necessary
for his own safety in the future. The other two persons to whom the
secret was to be imparted were Mrs. Agar and Dora Glynde. From Mrs. Agar
Seymour Michael determined to withhold the news for his own reasons. Dora
was to be kept in the dark because she was a woman, and therefore unsafe.

This was the plan in its original shape with which Michael sought out
Arthur Agar at his rooms in college at Cambridge. It was further assisted
and elaborated by a circumstance which the originator could scarcely have
been expected to foresee--the fact of Arthur Agar's love for Dora, which
was at this time beginning to take to itself a definite existence. It
began, as all love does, with a want more or less elevated according to
the nature of the wanter. Arthur Agar required some one for whom to buy
those small and feminine luxuries which he could not for manly shame
purchase to himself. He delighted in spending money in those
establishments tersely called _magasins de luxe_ in the country from
whence their contents do emanate. He therefore got into the habit of
"picking up little things" for Dora, with the result that she in her turn
picked up that very small object, his heart.

Michael had seen enough of Arthur Agar during this short interview to
endow him with the same need of contempt which he had entertained towards
Anna Agar, the mother. The strong personal resemblance, the obvious
weakness of the boy's face, and, above all, that sense of having the
upper hand, which makes brave men out of cowards, gave him confidence. It
seemed that he had only to play the cards thrust into his hand.

"I knew," he pursued, "Jem Agar very well. He was a peculiar man: very
quiet, very reserved, and just the man to make a difficult position
rather more difficult."

Arthur's intelligence was not keen enough to follow the drift of this
remark.

"Yes," he said gently.

"He hinted to me once or twice," went on Seymour Michael, "that things
were not very harmonious at home."

"I was not aware of it," answered Arthur, whose innate gentlemanliness
told him that this should be held sacred ground.

The General shifted his position.

"He was a first-rate soldier," he said warmly.

It was obvious to both that they were not getting on. Something
seemed to hold them both back, paralysing the _savoir-faire_ which
both had acquired in their intercourse with the world. Seymour Michael
was puzzled. He was not afraid of this boy. He knew himself to be
stronger--capable of over-mastering him entirely. But for the first time
in his life he felt awkward and ill at ease.

Arthur Agar only wanted this man to go. He felt that he could forego the
news which he must undoubtedly be in a position to give if only he could
be rid of this hated presence. At moments the loathing came to him again,
like a cold hand laid upon his heart.

"Were you with him," inquired the undergraduate, "at the time of
his--death?"

"No. I was at head-quarters, forty miles to the rear."

There was a little pause, then suddenly Seymour Michael leant forward
with his two hands on the table that stood between them.

"Mr. Agar," he said, "are you able to keep a secret?"

"I suppose so," answered Agar apprehensively.

"Then I am going to tell you something which you must swear by all that
you hold most sacred to keep a strict secret until such time as I give
you leave to reveal it."

Arthur looked at him with a vague fear in his face. It seemed suddenly as
if this man had always been in his life--as if he would never go out of
it again.

"I am not sure that I care to hear it," he wavered.

"You must hear it. Almost the last words that Jem Agar spoke to me were
requesting me to tell you this."

"You promise that that is true?"

Arthur was surprised at his own suspicions. It was so unlike him, whose
nature, too weak to compass vice, had never allowed the suspicion of vice
or deceit in others to trouble him.

"I promise," replied Seymour Michael.

Arthur gathered himself together for an effort. His distrust of this man
was almost a panic.

"Then tell me," he said.

Michael leant back in his chair, fixing his pleasant eyes on Arthur's
pale face.

"The estate is not yours," he said. "Your step-brother, Jem Agar, is not
dead."

"Not dead!" repeated Arthur, without any joy in his voice. "Not dead!
Then who are you? Tell me who you are!"

"Ah! That I cannot tell you."

And Seymour Michael sat smiling quietly on Anna Agar's son.



CHAPTER XVI

THE SPIDER AND THE FLY

How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds
Makes ill deeds done!


He is a wise liar who makes use of the truth at times. Seymour Michael
was clever enough to stay his fantastic tongue in his further explanation
to Arthur Agar.

"It is a long story," he said, "and in order to fully state the case to
you I must go into some matters of which perhaps you have heard little.
Do you happen to be anything of a politician? Are you, I mean, interested
in foreign affairs?"

Arthur confessed that he knew nothing of foreign affairs, a fact of which
Michael had become fully aware on entering the narrow-minded,
characteristic room.

"You perhaps know," Seymour Michael went on, in a tone of which the
sarcasm was lost upon its victim, "that Russia is living in hopes of some
day possessing India?"

"Oh--ah--yes!"

Arthur Agar was obviously not at all interested. There were so many
things of a similar nature to be remembered--things which did not really
interest him--and those nearer home had precedence in his mind. He knew,
for instance, that Trinity Hall lived in hopes of heading the river that
year, and that the Narcissus Club were going to give a narcissus-coloured
dance in May week, at which entertainment even the jellies were to be
yellow.

The General now launched into an explanation, couched carefully in
language suitable to his hearer's limited knowledge of the facts.

"Russia," he said, "is now so large that, unless they make it larger
still and get tropical resources to draw upon, it will fall to pieces.
They want India. Some day there will be a fight, a very large fight. But
not yet. In the meantime it is a question of learning every inch of that
country where the battle-fields will be, and every thought in the minds
of those men who will look on at the fight. I--"

He paused, recollecting that the fame of his own name might have
penetrated even to this out-of-the-way spot. "Some of us have been at
this all our lives. Over there, on the Frontier, there are certain
numbers of us, on both sides, playing a very deep game. Your brother is
one of the players, a prominent man on the field; a half-back, one might
call him."

There was a strong temptation to continue the allegory--to say that he
himself was goal-keeper; but Seymour Michael was one of the few men who
can in need make even their own vanity subservient to convenience.

"We watch each other," he went on, "like cats. We always know where the
others are, and what they are doing. Your brother was one of the most
closely watched by the other side. For some time we have been aware of an
influence at work with a tribe of Hillmen who have hitherto been friendly
to us, and we have not been able to find what this influence is, or how
it is brought to bear upon them. We were so closely watched that we could
not penetrate to the affected country. But at last the chance came. Your
brother was gazetted as killed. We allowed the report to remain
uncontradicted. We let the other side think that Jem Agar was dead, and
therefore incapable of doing any more harm, and now he has gone up into
that country to find out what they are after."

Arthur nodded.

"I see," he said. He was rather vague about it all, and had not quite
realised yet that this was all true, that this man whom he still hated
and distrusted without any apparent reason was real and living, speaking
to him in real waking life and not in a dream. Moreover, he had not
nearly realised that Jem was alive. The evidence of his own black
clothes, of the sombre-edged stationery, of his mourning habit of life
this term, was too strong upon a mind like his to be suddenly thrown
aside. Perhaps he had discovered that the consolation of inheritance was
greater than was at first apparent. In six weeks he had slipped very
comfortably into Jem's shoes, and it seemed only right and proper that
his life should have a background of the noble proportions of Stagholme.
Also, now Stagholme meant Dora; for he was worldly-wise enough to know
that his own personal value in the world's estimation had undergone a
great change in six short weeks. He knew that the man with the money
usually wins.

It would almost seem that Seymour Michael divined his thoughts, at least
in part.

"There are two reasons," he went on to say, "why absolute secrecy is
necessary; first, for Agar's own sake. He is, of course, in disguise. No
one suspects that he is there, and that is his only safeguard in the
country where he is. Secondly--but I want your whole attention, please."

"Yes, I am listening."

Seymour Michael leant forward and emphasised his remark by tapping on the
table with his gloved finger.

"The mission is so extremely dangerous that it comes almost to the same
thing."

"What do you mean?" inquired Arthur Agar, whose gentle intellect only
compassed subtleties of the drawing-room type.

"I mean that Jem Agar is almost as good as a dead man, although he was
not killed at Pregalla."

The man who had wept in this same room six weeks before looked up with a
gleam of something very like hope in his troubled eyes. Such is the power
of love. For Arthur Agar had not been ignorant of the probability that in
his step-brother, once dead but now living, he had had a rival. Sister
Cecilia had seen to that.

"But when shall we know? When will he come back?" inquired he. And
Seymour Michael, the subtle, began to see his way more clearly.

"Certainly not for six months, probably not for nine."

One may take it that no man is sent into the world a ready-made
scoundrel. It all depends upon the circumstances of life. No one is safe
right up to the end, and events may combine to make the very best of us
into that thing which the world calls a villain.

Arthur Agar, all inexperienced, weak, hereditarily handicapped, suddenly
found himself on the balance. And the scales were held, not by the hand
of Justice, blind and clement, but by Seymour Michael, very open-eyed,
with a keen watchfulness for his own purpose; biassed; unscrupulous. It
must be admitted that circumstances were against Arthur Agar.

"There is nothing to be done," added Seymour Michael, with a smile which
his companion could not be expected to fathom, "but to keep very quiet,
and to make the best of your opportunities while you occupy the position
of heir."

Arthur smiled in a sickly way. He felt suddenly as if this man could see
right through him, and all the while he hated him. Seymour Michael meant
"debts"--it was only natural that one of his race should think of money
before all things--Arthur's thoughts were fixed on Dora. And guiltily he
imagined himself to be detected.

"You will be doing no harm to Jem," said the tempter, with his pleasant
laugh. "You are called upon to act the part well for his sake."

"Ye-es, I suppose I am," answered Arthur. "And I must tell no one?"

"Absolutely no one."

Despite his credulous nature, Arthur Agar was singularly suspicious on
this occasion.

"Are these Jem's own instructions?" he asked.

"His own instructions," replied Seymour Michael callously.

Arthur paused in deep reflection. It was evident, he argued to himself,
that Jem could not have cared for Dora, or he would never have left her
in ignorance of the truth. If, therefore, during Jem's absence, he could
win Dora for himself, he could not in any way be accused of wronging his
step-brother. And we all know that a conscience which argues with itself
is lost.

"To make things easier for us both," pursued Seymour Michael, "I propose
that this interview remain a strict secret between ourselves, and for
that purpose I have suppressed my own name. It is a fairly well-known
name. I may mention that in guarantee of good faith. As, however, you do
not know me, it will be easier for you to suppress the fact that we have
ever met."

Arthur almost laughed at these last words. It seemed as if he had known
this man all his life--as if his whole existence had merely been a period
of waiting until he should come.

"And my mother must not know?" he said. He kept harking back to this
question with a singular persistence. There are a few men and many
women for whom a secret is a responsibility to be transferred to the
first-comer without hesitation. One half of the world takes pleasure in
divulging a secret--for the other half it is positive pain to keep one.

Seymour Michael never dreamt that the secret might be in unsafe hands. To
a secretive man like himself the incapacity to keep a counsel never
suggested itself. There is no doubt that where we all err is in
persistently judging others by ourselves. Arthur Agar was keenly aware of
his own incompetence in many things--he was one of those promising
undergraduates who hire a man to water six small plants in a window-box.
Incompetence was by him reduced to a science. There were so many things
which he could not do, that he was forced to find occupations for a very
extensive leisure, and these were usually of the petty accomplishment
order, which are graceful in young girls and very disgraceful in young
men.

Now the doctrine of incompetence is a very dangerous one. Already in the
criminal courts we are beginning to hear of men and women who do not feel
competent to keep the law. There were many laws of social procedure and a
few of schoolboy honour which Arthur Agar felt to be beyond him, and he
considered that in making confession he was acquiring a right to
absolution.

He did not tell General Michael that he was not good at keeping secrets,
chiefly because that gentleman was not of the trivial confession type;
but he made a mental reservation.

Seymour Michael had risen and was walking backwards and forwards slowly
between the window and the door. He seemed quite at home in the small
room, and his manner of taking three strides and then wheeling round
suggested the habit of living in tents.

"What you must say is that you have received your brother's effects," he
said. "If they ask from whence--from the War Office. I am the War Office
to all intents and purposes. The affair is almost forgotten. All the
details have been published--the usual newspaper details, with Fleet
Street local colouring. You should have no difficulty."

"No," answered Arthur meekly, but with another mental reservation.

"There are, of course, certain legal formalities in progress," went on
the General, "relative to the estate. Those must be allowed to go on. We
may trust the lawyers to go slowly. And afterwards they can amuse
themselves by undoing what they have done. That is their trade. Half of
them make a living by undoing what the others have done. You are ..."

Seymour Michael so far forgot himself as to pause and make a mental
calculation. Arthur saw him do it and never thought of being surprised.
It seemed quite natural that this man should possess data upon which to
base mental calculations.

"... not twenty-one yet?" Michael finished the sentence.

"No."

"So that, you see, they cannot make over the estate to you before the
time your brother comes or--should--come--back."

Arthur understood the emphasis perfectly this time. He was getting on.

"There are," continued Michael, who was eminently methodical, "a few
military formalities, which have had my attention. In fact, I think that
everything has been attended to. In case you should require any
information, or perhaps advice, write to C 74, Smith's Library, Vigo
Street. That is the address on that envelope."

Arthur rose too. The thought that his visitor might be about to depart
thrilled through him with the warmth of relieved suspense.

"For your own information," said Michael, looking straight into the
wavering, colourless eyes, "I may tell you that in my opinion--the
opinion of an expert--this expedition is exceedingly hazardous. We--we
must be prepared for the worst."

Arthur Agar turned away. He had felt the deep eyes probing his very
soul--looking right through him. A sickening sense of weakness was at his
heart. He felt that in the presence of this man he did not belong to
himself.

"You mean," he muttered awkwardly, "that Jem will never come back?"

"I think it most probable. And then--when we have to abandon all hope, I
mean--we shall be glad that we kept this thing to ourselves."

Seymour Michael held out his hand, and pressed the boy's weak fingers in
a careless grip. Then he turned, and with a short "Good-bye" left him.

Arthur stood looking at the closed door with the frightened eyes of a
woman. He looked round at the familiar objects of his room--the futile
little gimcracks with which he had surrounded an existence worthy of such
environments--the invitation cards on the draped mantelpiece, the little
glass vases of fantastic shape with a single bloom of stephanotis, the
hundred and one fantasies of a finicking generation wherein Art sappeth
Manhood. And his eyes were suddenly opened to a new world of things
which he could not do. He gazed--not without a vague shame--into a
perspective of incompetencies.

In the _laissez-aller_ of the unreflective he had assumed that life would
be a continuance of small pleasures and refined enjoyments, little
dinners and pleasant converse, Dora and a comfortable home, mutual mild
delight in flowers and table decoration. Into this assumption Seymour
Michael had suddenly stepped--strong, restless, and mysterious--and
Arthur became uneasily conscious of possibilities. There might be
something in his own life, there might even be something within himself,
over which he could have no control. There was something within
himself--something connected with the man who had gone, leaving unrest
behind him, as he left it wherever he passed. What was this? whither
would it lead?

Arthur Agar rang the bell, and kept the "gyp" in the room on some trivial
pretext. He was afraid of solitude.



CHAPTER XVII

TWO MOTIVES

Making vain pretence
Of gladness, with an awful sense
Of one mute shadow watching all.


"Pooh! the girl is happy enough!"

Mr. Glynde jerked his newspaper up and read an advertisement of
steamships about to depart to the West Coast of Africa. His wife--engaged
in cutting out a scarlet flannel garment of diminutive proportions (an
operation which she made a point of performing on the study table)--gave
two gentle snips and ceased her occupation.

She looked at the back of her husband's head, where the hair was getting
a little thin, and said nothing. No one argued with the Reverend Thomas
Glynde.

"The girl is happy enough," he repeated, seeking contradiction. There are
times when an autocrat would very much like to be argued with.

"She is always lively and gay," he continued defiantly.

"Too gay," Mrs. Glynde whispered to the scissors, with a flash of the
only wisdom which Heaven gives away, and it is not given to all mothers.

The winter had closed over Stagholme, the isolating, distance-making
winter of English country life, wherein each house is thrown upon its own
resource, and the peaceful are at rest because their neighbours cannot
get at them.

Dora was out. She was out a good deal now; exceedingly busy in good works
of a different type from those affected by Sister Cecilia. The winter air
seemed to invigorate her, and she tramped miles with a can of soup or an
infant's flannel wrapper. And always when she came in she was gay, as her
father described it. She gave amusing descriptions of her visits among
the cottagers, retailed little quaint conceits such as drop from rustic
lips declared unto them by their fathers from the old time before them,
and in it all she displayed a keen insight into human nature. At times
she was brilliant; which her father noticed with grave approval, ignorant
or heedless of the fact that brilliancy means friction. Happy people are
not brilliant.

She suddenly developed a taste for politics, and read the newspaper with
a keen interest. Several half-forgotten duties were revived, and their
performance became a matter of principle.

Mr. Glynde did not notice these subtle changes. Old men are generally
selfish, more so, if possible, than young ones, and Mr. Glynde was
eminently so. He only saw other people in relationship to himself. He
looked at them through himself.

Mrs. Glynde had taken the opportunity of a "cutting out" to mention that
she thought a change would do Dora good. During the three months that had
elapsed since the announcement of Jem's death, Stagholme had necessarily
been a somewhat dull abode. The winter had not come on well, but in fits
and starts, with trying winds and much rain. She said these things while
she cut into her roll of red flannel--the scissors seemed to give her
courage.

The Rector of Stagholme had awful visions of a furnished house at
Brighton or a crammed hotel on the Riviera.

"Where do you want to go to?" he inquired, with a gruffness which meant
less than it conveyed.

"To town, dear."

Now Mr. Glynde loved London.

In the meantime Dora was standing at the gate of the gamekeeper's little
cottage-garden which adjoined the orchard at Stagholme. There were
certain women with whom Sister Cecilia did not "get on," and these were
by tacit understanding relegated to Dora. This same inability to "get on"
was one of the crosses which Sister Cecilia carried in a magnified
condition through life. The gamekeeper's wife was one of the failures--a
hardy mother of several hardy little embryo gamekeepers, who held that
she knew her own business of motherhood best, and intimated as much to
Sister Cecilia.

Dora went there very frequently, and the pathos of her way with little
children is one of the things which cannot be touched upon here. It is
possible that she went there because the cottage was near the Holme, and
the way took her past the great house. She had never laid aside her old
girlish habit of passing through the rooms, unannounced, to exchange a
few words with Mrs. Agar. It was not that she held that lady in great
veneration or respect; but in the country people learn to take their
neighbours as they are, remembering that they are neighbours.

She went through the orchard and in at the side-door, which stood always
open to the turn of the handle. She had fallen into a singular habit
of always using this entrance, and of glancing as she passed at the
stick-rack, where a rough mountain-ash was wont to stand--a stick which
Jem had cut, while she stood by, years before. There was, perhaps,
something characteristically suggestive of Jem in this stick--something
strong and simple. She was not the person to indulge in sentimental
thoughts; she could not afford to do that, Indeed, she often looked into
the stick-rack without thinking, but she never passed it without looking.

In the library she found Mrs. Agar, talking to her maid, who withdrew
with a pinched salutation. Mrs. Agar was one of those unfortunate women
who level all ranks in their sore need of a listener. The expression of
her face was decidedly lachrymose.

"Poor Arthur!" she exclaimed. "Dora, dear, something so dreadful has
happened!"

"Yes," returned Dora, with the indifference of one who has tasted of the
worst.

"Poor Arthur has received Jem's papers and diaries and things, and I can
see from his letter that it has quite upset him. He is so sympathetic,
you know."

Dora had turned quite away. She usually carried a stick in her country
rambles, and it seemed suddenly to have suggested itself to her to lay
this on a table near the door. The stick fell off again, and some moments
elapsed while she picked it up from the floor. When she turned, her veil
had slipped from the brim of her hat down over her face.

"But it could not have been a surprise to him," she said quietly. "He
must have known that there would probably be something of the sort sent
home."

"Yes, yes. But you know, dear, how keenly he feels everything. These
highly-strung, artistic temperaments--but I need not tell you; you know
Arthur almost as well as I do."

Dora answered nothing. It was not the first time that Mrs. Agar had
charged some remark with that weight of significance which, in her
vulgar-minded subtlety, she considered delicate and exceptionally clever.
And each time that Dora heard it she was conscious of a vague discomfort,
as at the approach of some danger, of some interference in her life which
would be too strong for her to resist. It was one of those mean feminine
thrusts to parry which is to acknowledge, to ignore is to admit fear.

"Has he sent them on to you?" she asked after a little pause, resisting
only by a great effort the temptation to look towards the writing-table.

"Yes," was the reply. "It appears that they have been in his possession
for some time. He kept them back for some reason--I cannot think why."

Providence is sometimes unexpectedly kind. Had Mrs. Agar been a different
woman, had she, perhaps, been a better woman, less aggravating, more
discreet, more honourable, she would not have done at this moment
precisely that which Dora was silently praying that she would do.

"Here," continued the mistress of Stagholme, going to the writing-table,
"is his diary; perhaps you would care to look through it? Poor Jem! I am
afraid it will not be very interesting."

Dora took the little dark-coloured book almost indifferently.

"Thanks," she said. "It was always an effort to him to write the very
shortest letter, was it not? Papa would like to see it, I know, if I may
show it to him."

Being rather taller than Mrs. Agar, she could see over that lady's
shoulder as she stood turning over with some curiosity a score or so of
bundles evidently containing letters.

"These," said Mrs. Agar, "seem to be letters; probably our letters to
him. Shall we burn them?"

Dora reflected for a moment. She knew that many of the bundles must
contain letters from herself to Jem--letters which could have been read
from the housetops without conveying anything to the populace. But some
of them--almost between the lines--had been intended to convey, and had
conveyed, something to Jem. She reflected--without anger, as women do on
such matters--that if curiosity moved her, Mrs. Agar would not scruple to
open all these letters and read them. The packets had evidently not been
opened, and a momentary feeling of grateful recognition of Arthur's
gentlemanly honour passed through her mind. There was about the faded
papers that dim, mysterious odour which ever clings to packages that have
been packed in India.

"Yes," she said, "let us burn them."

Mrs. Agar seemed to hesitate for a moment, but it was only for effect.
She dreaded the packages, for one of them might contain the will which
haunted her.

And so these two women, so very different, from such very different
motives, carried the letters to the fire, and there they burnt them. In
the curling flames Dora saw her own handwriting. She could not understand
the suppressed excitement of Mrs. Agar's manner; she only knew that the
mistress of Stagholme seemed to be afraid of looking at the burning
papers.

When all was consumed both women heaved a sigh of relief.

"There," said Mrs. Agar, "I am glad we have been able to save poor Arthur
that. These things are so very painful."

Dora looked rather as if she could not understand why the painful things
of life should be harder for Arthur to bear than for other people. But
she said nothing.

"He will be glad," continued Mrs. Agar, "to hear that it was you who
helped me. I know he would rather that it had been you than any one."

All this with the horrid meaning, the sly significance, of her kind; for
there are women for whom there is absolutely nothing sacred in the whole
gamut of human feelings. There are women who will talk of things upon
which the lips of even the most depraved men are silent.

And with it there was nothing that Dora could take exception to--nothing
that she could answer without running the risk of bringing upon herself
questions to which she had no reply.

"Well," she said cheerfully, "it is done now, so we can dismiss it from
our minds. Of course you know that mother is getting out of hand
altogether. I cannot hold her in. Her plans are simply kittenish. She
wants to take a flat in town for two months, to take Boulton and one
maid, to hire a cook, and to go generally to the bad."

Mrs. Agar's eyes glistened. She liked to hear of other people seeking
excitement because she felt more justified in doing so herself.

"Well, I think she is very sensible. I am sure you all want a change. I
feel I do. It is so depressing here all alone with one's thoughts. Sister
Cecilia was just saying the other day that I ought to go away to Brighton
or somewhere--that I owed it to Arthur."

"I don't see why you should not pay it to yourself, whoever you owe it
to," said Dora. "This is an age of going away for changes. Life is like
old Martin's trousers--so patched up with changes that the original
pattern has disappeared."

"Yes, dear," replied Mrs. Agar, with a vague laugh. In conversation with
Dora she invariably felt clumsy and unable to protect herself, like a
stout fencer conscious of many vulnerable outlying points. She did not
understand this girl, and never knew which was carte and which tierce.
"So you are going away?"

"I expect so. Mother usually carries through her little schemes, and in
his inward soul papa is rather a fast old gentleman. He loves the
pavement, and--I don't object to the shops myself."

"Then you will like it?"

"Oh yes!" replied Dora, rising to go. "Like Mr. Martin, I am not sure
that the old pattern is worth preserving."

"I wish I could go with you," said Mrs. Agar, holding up her cheek in an
absent way for the farewell kiss; "I have not been to town for ages."

"Last week," amended Dora mentally.

"Why not come too?" she said aloud, gathering together stick, basket, and
gloves.

"There is Arthur," replied the lady. "I am afraid he will not care to
leave home just now, after so great a blow."

"All the more reason why he should go to town for a little and
forget--himself."

Mrs. Agar smiled sadly and waited for further persuasion. She had fully
made up her mind to go to Brighton, but was anxious first that the whole
parish should press her to do so against her will.

"It will be very nice," continued Dora, "to have you to help me to keep
my flighty progenitors in order. Now I _must_ go."

With a nod and a light laugh she closed the library door behind her,
having apparently forgotten the sadder events of the visit. But in her
basket she had the diary.



CHAPTER XVIII

LIKE SHIPS UPON THE SEA

Be as one that knoweth, and yet holdeth his tongue.


"And, of course, you know every one in the room?" Dora was saying to her
cousin as the orchestra struck suddenly into "God bless the Prince of
Wales."

"Good gracious, no!" Miss Mazerod replied; and both young ladies stood up
to curtsey to the Royal party.

It was the great artistic _soirée_ of the year, and crowds of nobodies
jostled each other in their mad desire to deceive whosoever might be
credulous into the belief that they were somebodies.

"Of course," said Dora, when they were seated again, and the strains of
the Welsh air had been suppressed "by desire," "they may be very great
swells; I have no doubt they are in their particular way; but they do not
look it."

Miss Mazerod looked round critically.

"Some of them," she said, "are frame-makers, a good many of them, with
big bills in high places. Others are actresses--very great actresses off
the stage. Do you see that tall girl there, with a supercilious
expression which she does not know is apt to remind one of a housemaid
scorning a milkman's love on the area steps? She is a great actress, who
will not take small engagements, and is not offered large ones. She is an
actress 'pour se faire photographier.'"

"And this is the cream of London society?" said Dora, looking round her
with considerable amusement.

"Society," returned her cousin, "is not allowed to stand for cream now.
It is stirred up with a spoon, silver-gilt, and the skim milk gets
hopelessly mixed up with the cream. That young man who is now talking to
the actress person is not what he looks. He is, as a matter of fact, the
scion of a noble house, who models in clay atrociously."

"And the gorgeous person he is turning his back upon?"

"One of his models."

"Of clay?"

"Essentially so."

And Miss Mazerod broke off into a happy laugh. Hers was not the
bitterness of plainness or insignificance, but something infinitely more
suggestive. It was, indeed, not bitterness at all, but light-hearted
contempt, which is, perhaps, the deepest contempt there is.

"Who is the wretched woman with no backbone draped in rusty black?" asked
Dora.

"My dear! That is one of the great lady artists of the age. She lectures
to factory girls or something, and she paints limp females snuffling over
tiger-lilies. Her ideal woman has that sort of droop of the throat--I
imagine she-tries to teach it to the factory. She objects to backbone."

Miss Mazerod, who possessed a very firm little specimen of the adjunct
mentioned, drew herself up and smiled commiseratingly.

"Then," said Dora, "I feel quite consoled about my sketches."

For the first time Miss Mazerod looked serious.

"Dora," she said, "I often wonder whether it would be profane to mention
in one's prayers a little gratitude for not having an artistic soul.
There are lots of women like that in the world, especially in London.
They pretend that they think themselves superior to men, but they know in
their hearts that they are inferior to women. For they have not something
that women ought to have--No, Dolly, no brown studies here; you must not
dream here!"

Dora, with a light laugh, came back from her mental wanderings to find
herself looking at a face which caught her attention at once. It was the
face of a man--brown, self-contained, with unhappy eyes and a long
drooping nose.

"Who is _that_ man?" she inquired at once. "Now, he is quite different
from the rest. He is about the only person who is not furtively finding
out how much attention he has succeeded in attracting."

"Yes, that is a man with a purpose."

"What purpose?" inquired Dora.

"I don't know; I shouldn't think any one knows."

"_He_ knows," suggested Dora.

"Yes, _he_ knows."

Miss Mazerod was looking at the mechanism of her fan with a demure
expression on lips shaped for happiness. A dark young man was elbowing
his way through the mixed crowd towards them.

"What is his name?" asked Dora, who was still looking at the man with a
purpose.

"General Seymour Michael."

"The Indian man?"

"Yes."

There was a little pause, during which Miss Mazerod glanced in the
direction of the younger man, who had been detained by a stout lady with
a purple dress and a depressed daughter.

"I should like to know him," said Dora.

"Nothing easier," replied her cousin, still absorbed in the fan. "I know
him quite well."

"He is looking at you now."

Miss Mazerod looked up and bowed with a little jerk, as if she felt too
young to be stately; one of those bows that say "Come here."

At this moment the younger man came up and shook hands effusively with
Dora, slowly with Miss Mazerod.

"Jack," said that young lady, "I have just beamed on General Michael, who
is behind you. I want to introduce him to Dora."

Jack seemed to think this an excellent idea, and stepped aside with
alacrity.

Seymour Michael came forward with his pleasant smile. He certainly was
one of the most distinguished-looking men in the room, with a brilliant
ribbon across his breast, and that smart, well-brushed general effect
which stamps the successful soldier.

"When did you come back to England?" inquired Edith Mazerod, whose father
had worked with this man in India.

"I--oh! I have been home six months," he replied, shaking hands with a
subtle _empressemant_ which was more effective than words.

"On leave?"

"No. Laid on the shelf."

He stood upright, drawing himself up with ironical emphasis, as if to
show as plainly as possible that there were many years of life and work
in him yet.

Edith Mazerod laughed, the careless passing laugh of inattention.

"Dora," she said, "may I introduce General Michael? My cousin."

She rose, and Seymour Michael prepared to take the vacant seat. The youth
called Jack was making signs with his eyebrows, and in attempting to
decipher his meaning she forgot to mention Dora's name.

"You will be sorry for this," said Seymour Michael, sitting down. "You
will not thank your cousin."

"Why?" inquired Dora, prepared to like him, possibly because he had a
brown face and wore his hair cut short.

"Because," he replied, "I am hopelessly new to this work."

"So am I," replied Dora; "I don't even know what pictures to look at and
what to ignore. So I dare not look at the walls at all."

"That is precisely my position, only I am worse. You know how to behave
in polite circles; I don't. You have a slightly tired look, as if this
sort of thing wearied you by reason of its monotony."

"Have I? I am sorry for that."

"No, there is no reason to be sorry. They all have it."

"But," protested Dora, "I am not one of them. I am only aping the
Romans."

"You do it well; I shall study your method. You do it better than Edith
Mazerod."

"Edith is young--hopelessly, enviably young. Do you know them well?"

"Yes, I knew them in India."

"Of course; I forgot."

He turned and looked at her sharply. Sometimes his own reputation, far
from being a happiness, gave him cause for misgiving. A man with an
unclean record cannot well be sure that all the details he would wish
suppressed have been suppressed. There was a little pause, during which
they both watched the self-satisfied throng moving in and out, here and
there, full of a restless desire to be observed.

It was Seymour Michael who spoke first. True to his mixed blood, he
sought to make himself safe.

"Excuse me," he said, "but Edith Mazerod did not mention your name; may I
ask it?"

"Dora Glynde!"

She saw him start. She saw a sudden wavering gleam in his eyes which in
another man she would have set down to fear.

"Miss Dora Glynde," he repeated; and the expression of his face was so
serene again that the look which had passed away from it began already to
present itself to her memory as a conception of her own brain.

"When I was younger and shyer," he said, with a singular haste, "I was
afraid to ask a lady her name when I did not catch it, and--and I
frequently regretted not having had the courage to do so."

She recollected it all afterwards--every word, every pause. But then, as
so frequently happens, knowledge aided her memory, and added significance
to every detail.

"Are you staying with the Mazerods?" he asked.

"Yes, I am being shown life. I am doing a season. To-night is part of my
education. To-morrow, I believe, we go to Hurlingham; the next day to a
charity bazaar, and so on. I believe I am getting on very well. Aunt Mary
is pleased with me. But I still stare about me, and show visible
disappointment when I am presented to a literary celebrity or some other
person of newspaper renown."

"Celebrities in the flesh _are_ disappointing."

"Not only that, but I find that many of them are just a little common.
Not quite what we in the country call gentlemen."

"Ah! Miss Glynde, you forget that Art rises superior to class
distinctions."

"Yes, but artists don't; and artists' wives don't rise at all. I think
you are to be congratulated. In your profession there are fewer persons
'superior to class distinction.'"

This was a subject which Seymour Michael dreaded. He was ignorant of how
much Dora might know. He had suspected from the first that Jem Agar's
desire that she should know the truth had been a mere matter of
sentiment; but the fact of meeting her at this public festivity, gay and
in colours, shook this theory from its foundation. He disliked Edith
Mazerod, because he suspected that his own early career had probably been
discussed in her hearing, and her easy lightness of heart was to him as
incomprehensible as it was suspicious. Dora he rather feared without
knowing why.

"I suppose you know India well?" she said, looking straight in front of
her.

"Too well," was the reply, with a sharp sidelong glance.

He was right. At that moment Dora might have been one of these
_habituées_ of rout and ballroom. She was very pale and looked tired out.

"I went out there thirty years ago," he continued, "into the Mutiny. From
that time to this India has been killing my friends."

There was a little pause. She knew that in the natural course of events
it was almost certain that this man knew Jem personally. It would have
been easy to mention his name; but the wound was too fresh, her heart was
too sore to bear the sting of hearing him discussed.

For a second Seymour Michael hovered on the brink. His lips almost framed
the name. Good almost triumphed over evil.

And the girl sitting there--broken-hearted, quiet and strong, as only
women can be--never knew how near she was. Sometimes it seems as if the
cruelty of fate were unnecessary, as if the word too little or the word
too much, which has the power to alter a whole life, were withheld or
spoken merely to further a Providential experiment.

"Yes," said Michael, "I hate India."

And the spell was broken, the moment lost for ever. Seymour Michael had
kept silence, and elsewhere, perhaps, at that very moment his doom was
spoken. Who can tell? We are offered chances--we are, if you will, the
puppets of an experiment--and surely there must be a moment which
decides.

Dora was conscious of having miscalculated her own strength. She had led
him on to the dangerous ground, but it was with relief that she saw him
step back. She did not dare to lead him to it again.

It was not long before he left her, on the timely arrival of another
friend.

The introduction brought about by Miss Mazerod did not seem to have been
an entire success, for they parted gravely and without a word expressing
the hope of meeting again. And yet Dora liked him, for he was strong and
purposeful, such as she would have had all men. She wanted to know more
of him. She wanted to be admitted further into the knowledge which she
knew to be his.

Seymour Michael was conscious of a feeling of discomfort, no less
disquieting by reason of its vagueness. He had a nervous sensation of
being surrounded by something--something in the nature of a chain,
piecing itself together, link by link--something that was slowly closing
in upon him.



CHAPTER XIX

AT HURLINGHGAM

I must be cruel only to be kind.


It is not your deep person who succeeds in carrying out a set purpose,
but one who is just profound enough to be fathomed of the multitude. For,
after all, the multitude is ready enough to help, in a casual,
parenthetic way, in the furtherance of a design; and a little depth,
serving to flatter that vanity which taketh delight in a sense of
superior perspicacity, only adds to the zest. There are plenty of people
ready to pull on a rope or shove at a wheel, but there are more eager to
do so if they are offered the direction of affairs.

Mrs. Glynde was one of those easily-fathomed persons who often succeed in
their designs by the very transparency of their method. She had come to
London with the purpose of leaving Dora there under the care of her
sister Lady Mazerod, and before she had talked to that amiable widow for
half an hour the design was as apparent as if it had been spoken.

In due course Dora and Miss Mazerod renewed a childish love, and at the
end of April Mr. And Mrs. Glynde went back to Stagholme alone. It is
probable that neither Mrs. Glynde nor Providence could have chosen a
better companion for Dora at this time than Edith Mazerod. There was a
breezy simplicity about this young lady's view of life which seemed to
have the power of simplifying life itself. There are some people like
this to whom is vouchsafed a limited comprehension of evil and an
unlimited belief in good. A very shrewd author, who is, perhaps, not so
much read to-day as he ought to be, said that "to the pure all things are
pure." He often said less than he meant. For he knew as well as we do
that the pure-minded are just so many moral filters who clear the
atmosphere and take no harm themselves.

Dora Glynde required some one like this; for she had, as the French say,
"found herself." The little world of Stagholme--the world of this
Record--was intensely human. There was nobody very good in it and nobody
very bad. Jem, with that quicker perception of evil which is wisely
included in the mental outfit of men, had warned her against Sister
Cecilia. And she had begun to understand his meaning now. Mrs. Agar she
had found out for herself. Her father she respected and loved, but she
had reached that age wherein we discover that father and mother are but
as other men and women. Her mother she loved with that half-patronising
affection which is found where a daughter is mentally superior.

The only person whom she had ever really respected and looked up to
without reserve was Jem.

Altogether life was too complicated, subtle, difficult, hopeless, when
Edith Mazerod came into it, and by her presence seemed to clear the
atmosphere of daily existence.

At first the constant round of visiting and gaiety was a supreme effort;
then came tolerance, and finally that business-like acceptance which is
mistaken by many for enjoyment. The human machine is not constructed to
go always at high pressure, either in happiness or in misery. We cannot
exist all day and all night with a living care on our shoulders--the
greatest misery slips off-sometimes. With men it can be lubricated by
hard work, and likewise by alcohol, but the latter method is not always
to be advised. With women there is much consolation to be extracted from
a new dress or several new dresses and a hat. Even a new pair of gloves
may help a breaking heart, and a glass of bitter beer taken at the right
moment (with or without faith) has power to change a man's view of life.

So Dora, who had at no time been tragic, began to find that Academy
_soirées_ and similar entertainments assisted her in preserving towards
the world that attitude which she had elected to assume. And if there be
any who blame her, they are at liberty to do so. It is not worth while to
pause for the purpose of writing--on the ground or elsewhere--for their
edification.

Only one such alleviation did she repent of in after life. The day after
the Academy _soirée_ the Mazerods took her to Hurlingham. And Hurlingham
became one of the pages of her life which she would have wished to tear
completely out.

When they drove in through the simple gateway and round by the winding
drive, it was evident that a great afternoon was to be expected. The
blue-and-white club flag fluttered over a pavilion crammed from roof to
terrace. The teams were already out in their bright colours, curveting
about, each with a practice ball, on their stiff little ponies, moving
with that singular cramped action only seen on the polo ground.

It was one of those brilliant days in early May when only gardeners,
grumbling, talk or think of rain. A few fleecy white clouds seemed
painted. So motionless were they, on the sky, reproducing the Hurlingham
colours far above the ground. A gentle breeze coming up from the river
brought with it the odour of lilac and budding things.

The chairs were crowded with a well-dressed throng, the larger majority
of which seemed to be unaware that polo was the object of the afternoon.

The Mazerods and Dora had scarcely taken chairs when Arthur Agar
presented himself. His tailor had apparently told him that after a lapse
of six months it was permissible to assume habiliments of a slightly
resigned tenour. His grey suit was one of the most elegant on the ground,
his Suède gloves fitted perfectly, his tie was unique. And Arthur Agar
was as happy as the best-dressed girl there.

The reception accorded him was not exactly enthusiastic. Having in view
the fact that the young man called Jack was entirely satisfactory, Lady
Mazerod treated all other young men with indifference. Edith despised
Arthur Agar because Jack was athletic in his tendencies; and Dora was
sorry to see him, because she had not answered his three last letters.
There were also numerous small but expensive presents for which she had
failed to tender thanks.

Unfortunately the young man called Jack turned up at tea-time, carrying
one of the heavy chairs, which never fail to spoil the gloves of some of
us, with unconscious ease. Owing to the activity and enterprise of this
young gentleman, tea was soon procured, and consequently despatched
before the interval was over and before the band had wet its whistle with
something of a different nature from that in vogue on the lawn. A stroll
through the gardens was proposed, and Lady Mazerod sent the young people
off alone. There was no choice; but Dora had probably no thought of
making a choice, had such been offered to her. She, like many another
young lady, erred in placing too great a confidence in her own powers of
staving things off.

There was no doubt whatever about Edith and the energetic John. They led
the way round by the river path and the tennis-courts with a sublime
disregard for the eye of the multitude, leaving Dora and Arthur to follow
at such speed as their discretion might dictate.

Before they had left the tennis-lawn Arthur plunged. It may have been the
desperation of diffidence, or perhaps that the new grey suit and the
unique tie lent him confidence. One sees a young lady completely carried
off her mental status by the success of a dress or the absence of a
dreaded competitor, and Arthur Agar had enough of the woman in him to
give way to this dangerous vertigo.

"Dora," he said, "you have not answered my last three letters."

"No," she replied, "because they struck me as a little ridiculous."

"Ridiculous!" he repeated, with such sincere dismay that she was moved to
compassion. "Ridiculous, Dora, why?"

His horror-struck, almost tearful voice gave her a pang of self-reproach,
as if she had struck some defenceless dumb animal.

"Well, there were things in them that I did not understand."

"But I could make you understand them," he said, with a sudden
self-assertion which startled her. The weakest man is, after all, a
man--so far as women are concerned.

"I think you had better not," she said, hurrying her steps.

But he refused to alter his pace, and he disregarded her warning.

"They meant," he said, "that I wanted you to know that I love you."

There was a little pause. Dora was struck dumb by a chill sense of
foreboding. It was like a momentary glance into a future full of trouble.

"I am sorry," she said, "for that. I hope--that you may find that it is a
mistake."

"But it is not a mistake. I don't see why it should be one."

Dora paused. She was afraid to strike. She did not know yet that it is
less cruel to be cruel at once.

"It is best to look at these things practically," she said. "And if we
look at it practically we shall find that you and I are not at all likely
to be happy together."

"However I look at it, I only see that I should never be happy without
you."

"Then, Arthur, you are not looking at it practically."

"No, and I don't want to," he replied doggedly.

"That is a mistake. A little bit of life may not be practical, but all
the rest of it is; and for the gratification of that little bit, there is
all the rest to be lived through."

Arthur looked puzzled. He rearranged the orchid in his coat before
replying. He had found time to think of the orchid.

"I don't understand all that," he said. "I only know that I love you, and
that I should be miserable without you. Besides, if that little bit is
love--I suppose you admit there is such a thing as love?"

Dora winced. She was looking through the trees across the peaceful
evening river.

"Yes," she answered gently. "I suppose so."

Arthur Agar had been brought up in an atmosphere of futile discussion,
but he had never wanted anything in vain. There are women--fools--who
dare to bring up children thus in a world where wanting in vain is the
chief characteristic of daily life. Arthur was ready enough to go on
discussing his future thus, but never doubted that it would all come to
his desire in the end. He was like a woman in so much as he failed to
understand an argument which he could not meet.

They walked on amidst the flowering shrubs, and Dora was filled with a
disquieting sense of having failed to convince him.

"I do not want to hurry you," said Arthur presently, with a maddening
equanimity. "You can give me your answer some other time."

"But I have given it now."

Arthur was engaged in taking off his hat to a passing lady, and made no
acknowledgment of this.

"Everybody at home would be pleased," he observed, after a pause occupied
by the adjustment of his hat. "They all want it."

It was not that he refused to take No when it was given to him, but
rather that he did not recognise it, never having encountered it before.

They were now coming round by the pigeon-shooting enclosure, and the
strains of the band announced that the interval for tea had elapsed.

In the distance Lady Mazerod and Edith, attended by the indefatigable
Jack, were keeping a chair for Dora. She slackened her pace. To her the
knowledge had come that the difficulties of life have usually to be met
single-handed. She was not afraid of Arthur, but this was a distinct
difficulty because of the influence he had at his back.

"Arthur," she said, "I think we had better understand each other _now_.
It may save us both something in the future. I cannot help feeling rather
sorry that I must say No. Every girl must feel that. I do not know from
whence the feeling comes. It is a sort of regret, as if something good
and valuable were being wasted. But, Arthur, it _is_ No, and it must
always be No. I am not the sort of person to change."

"I suppose," he replied, _en vrai fils de sa mère_, "that there is some
one else?"

He turned as he spoke, but Dora's parasol was too quick for him.

"Please do not let us be like people in books," she said. "There is no
necessity to go into side issues at all. You have asked me to marry you.
I can never marry you. There is the whole question and the whole answer.
I say nothing to you about finding somebody worthier, or any nonsense of
that sort. Please spare me the usual--impertinences--about there being
somebody else."

The word found its mark. Arthur Agar caught his breath, but made no
answer.

They were among the well-dressed throng now crowding back to the chairs.

When Arthur had handed Dora over to the care of Lady Mazerod he lifted
his hat and took his departure with that perfect _savoir faire_ which was
his _forte_.



CHAPTER XX

IN A SIDE PATH

"To sum up all, he has the worst fault-a husband can have, he's not my
choice."


There is something doubtful in a love-making that is in more than two
pairs of hands. This is a day of syndicates. The strength that lies in
union is cultivated nowadays with much assiduity. But in matters of love
the case is not yet altered, and never will be. It is a matter for two
people to decide between themselves, and all interference is mistaken and
deplorable. It is usually, one notices, those persons who are incapable
of the feeling themselves who seek to interfere in the affairs of others.

That one of the principals should seek aid in such interference proves
without appeal that he does not know his business. Such aid as this Arthur
Agar had sought. He had, as Dora suspected, written to his mother, with
full particulars of the conversation beneath the Hurlingham trees. He had
laid before her many arguments, which, by reason of their effeminacy,
appealed to her illogical mind, proving that Dora could not do better than
marry him. The arrangement, he argued, was satisfactory from whatever
point of view it might be taken; and, finally, he begged his mother to try
and succeed where he had failed. He did not propose that Mrs. Agar should
appeal to Dora; not because such a course was repellent, but merely
because he knew a better. He suggested that Mrs. Agar should sound Mr.
Glynde upon the matter.

This suggestion was in itself a stroke of diplomacy. The astute have no
doubt found out by this time that the Reverend Thomas Glynde loved money;
and a man who loves money has not the makings of a good father within
him, whatever else he may have. Whether Arthur was aware of this it would
be hard to say. Whether he had the penetration to know that, in the
nature of things, Mr. Glynde would urge Dora to marry Arthur Agar and
Stagholme, without due regard to her own feelings in the matter, is a
question upon which no man can give a reliable opinion. Certain it is
that such a course was precisely what the Reverend Thomas had marked out
for himself.

He had an exaggerated respect for money and position--a title was a thing
to be revered. Clergymen, like artists, are dependent on patronage, and
must swallow their pride. It is therefore, perhaps, only natural that Mr.
Glynde should be quite prepared to make some sacrifice of feeling or
sentiment (especially the feeling and sentiment of another) in order to
secure a position.

Arthur Agar simply followed the spirit of the age. He could not succeed
alone, and therefore he proceeded to form a syndicate to compel Dora to
love him, or in the meantime to marry him.

"Of course," said Sister Cecilia to Mrs. Agar, when the matter was first
under discussion, "she would soon learn to care for him. Women _always_
do."

Which shows how much Sister Cecilia knew about it.

"And besides, I believe she cares for him already," added Mrs. Agar, who
never did things by halves.

Sister Cecilia dropped her head on one side and looked convinced--to
order.

"Of course," pursued Mrs. Agar vaguely, "I am very fond of Dora; no one
could be more so. But I must confess that I do not always understand
her."

Even to Sister Cecilia it would not do to confess that she was afraid of
her.

The interview was easily brought about. Mrs. Agar wrote a note to the
Rector and asked him to luncheon. The Rector, who had not had many legal
affairs to settle during his uneventful life, was always pleased to be
consulted upon a subject of which he knew absolutely nothing. Besides,
they gave one a good luncheon at Stagholme in those days.

"I have had a letter from dear Arthur," said Mrs. Agar, at a moment which
she deemed propitious, namely, after a third glass of the Stagholme brown
sherry.

"Ah! I hope he is well. The boy is not strong."

"Yes, he is quite well, thank you. But of course he has had a great
shock, and one cannot expect him to get over it all at once."

The Rector did not hold much by sentiment, so he contented himself with a
grave sip of sherry.

"And now I am afraid there is fresh trouble," added Mrs. Agar.

"Been running into debt?" suggested Mr. Glynde.

"No, it is not that. No, it is Dora."

"Dora! What has Dora been doing?"

Mrs. Agar was polishing the rim of a silver salt-cellar with her
forefinger.

"Of course," she said, "I have seen it going on for a long time. My poor
boy has always--well, he has always admired Dora."'

"Oh!"

"Yes, and of course I should like nothing better. I am sure they would be
most happy."

The Rector looked doubtful.

"We must not forget," he said, "that Arthur is constitutionally
delicate. That extreme repugnance to active exercise, the love of ease
and--er--indoor pursuits, show a tendency to enfeeble the organisation
which might--I don't say it will, but it might--turn to decline."

"But the doctors say that he is quite strong. Everybody cannot be robust
and--and massive."

She was thinking of Jem, against whom she had always borne a grudge,
because his inoffensive presence alone had the power of making Arthur
look puny.

"No; and of course with care one may hope that Arthur will live to a ripe
old age," said the Rector, who was only coquetting with the question.

Mrs. Agar played with a biscuit. She had a rooted aversion to the query
direct.

"I should have thought," she said, "that you or her mother would have
seen that such an attachment was likely to form itself."

The truth was that the Reverend Thomas did not devote very much thought
to any subject which did not directly influence his own well-being. He
had at one time thought that an attachment between Jem and Dora might
conveniently result from a childhood's friendship, but Arthur had not
entered into his prognostications at all. He rather despised the youth,
as much on his own account as that he was Anna Agar's son.

"Can't say," he replied, "that the thing ever entered my head. Of course,
if the young people have settled it all between themselves, I suppose we
must give them our blessing, and be thankful that we have been saved
further trouble."

He thought it rather strange that Dora should have fixed her affections
on such an unlikely object as Arthur Agar; but it was part of his earthly
creed that the feelings of women are as incomprehensible as they are
unimportant. Which, by the way, serves to show how very little the Rector
of Stagholme knew of the world.

"But," protested Mrs. Agar, "they have _not_ settled it between
themselves. That is just it."

"Just what?"

"Just the difficulty."

Immediately Mr. Glynde's face fell to its usual degree of set depression.

"What do they want me to do?" he inquired, with that air of resignation
which is in reality no resignation at all.

"Well," said Mrs. Agar volubly, "it appears that Arthur spoke to Dora at
Hurlingham, and for some reason she said No. I can't understand it at
all. I am sure she has always appeared to like him very much. It may have
been some passing fancy or something, you know. When she is told that it
would please us all, perhaps she will change her mind. Poor Arthur is
terribly cut up about it. Of course a man in his position does not quite
expect to be treated cavalierly like that."

Mr. Glynde smiled. Behind the parson there was somewhat even better;
there was a just and honest English gentleman, which, in the way of human
species, is very hard to beat.

"I am afraid Arthur will have to manage such affairs for himself. When a
girl is settling a question involving her whole life she does not usually
pause to consider the position of the man who asks her to be his wife. He
would have no business to ask her had he no position, and the rest is
merely a matter of degrees."

"Then you don't care about the match?" said Mrs. Agar, to whose mind the
earliest rudiments of logic were incomprehensible.

"I do not say that," replied the Rector, with the patience of a man who
has had dealings with women all his life; "but I should like it to be
understood that Dora is quite free to choose for herself. I am willing to
tell her that the match would be satisfactory to me. Arthur is a
gentleman, which is saying a good deal in these days. He is affectionate,
and, so far as I know, a dutiful son. I have little doubt he would make a
good husband."

Mrs. Agar wiped away an obvious tear, which ran off Mr. Glynde's mental
epidermis like water off the back of the proverbial fowl. This also he
had learnt in the course of his dealings with the world.

"He has been a good son to me," sniffed the fond and foolish mother.

Neither of these persons was capable of understanding that "goodness" is
not all we want in husband or wife. These good husbands--heaven help
their wives!--break as many hearts as those who are labelled by the world
with the black ticket.

"Then I may tell Arthur that you will help him?" said Mrs. Agar, with a
sudden access of practical energy.

"You may tell him that he has my good wishes, and that I will point out
to Dora the advantages of--acceding to his desire. There are, of course,
advantages on both sides, we know that."

As usual, Mrs. Agar overdid things. The airiness of her indifference
might have deceived a child of eight, provided that its intellect was not
_de première force._

"Ye-es," she murmured, "I suppose Dora would bring her
little--eh--subscription towards the household expenses. Sister Cecilia
gave me to understand that there was a little something coming to her
under her mother's marriage settlement."

Mrs. Agar was not clever enough to see that she had made a mistake. The
mention of Sister Cecilia's name acted on the Rector like a mental
douche. He was just beginning to give way to expansiveness--probably
under the suave influence of the brown sherry--and the name of Sister
Cecilia pulled him together with a jerk. The jerk extended to his
features; but Mrs. Agar was one of those cunning women whom no man need
fear. She was so cunning that she deceived herself into seeing that which
she wished to see, and nothing else.

"All that," said the Rector gravely, "can be discussed when Arthur has
persuaded Dora to say Yes."

He was in the position of an unfortunate person who, having come into
controversy with the police, is warned that every word he says may be
used in evidence against him. He had been reminded that every detail of
the present conversation would be repeated to Sister Cecilia, with
embellishments or subtractions as might please the narrator's fancy or
suit her purpose.

"A dangerous woman" he called Sister Cecilia in his most gloomy voice,
and a parson must perforce fear dangerous women. That is one of the
trials of the ministry.

Mrs. Agar laughed in a forced manner.

"Of course," she said--she had a habit of beginning her remarks with
these two words--"of course, we need not think of such questions yet. I
am sure all _I_ want is the happiness of the dear children."

"Umph!" ejaculated Mr. Glynde, who was not always a model of politeness.

"That, I am sure," continued Mrs. Agar, with a dabbing
pocket-handkerchief, "is the dearest wish of us all."

"When does the boy come home?" inquired the Rector.

"Oh, in a week. I am so longing for him to come. He has to go to town to
get some clothes, which will delay his return by one night."

"Is he doing any good this term?"

Mrs. Agar looked slightly hurt.

"Well, he always works very hard, I am only afraid that he should overdo
it. You know, I suppose, that he did not get through his examination this
term. Of course it is no good _my_ saying anything, but I am quite
convinced that they are not dealing fairly by him. I have seen some of
those examination papers, and some of the questions are simply spiteful.
They do it on purpose, I know. And Sister Cecilia tells me that that
_does_ happen sometimes. For some reason or other--because they have been
snubbed, or something like that--the masters, the examiners, or whatever
they are called, make a dead set at some men, and simply keep them back.
They don't give them the marks that they ought to have. Why should Arthur
always fail? Of course the thing is unfair."

This theory was not quite new to the Rector. He had given up arguing
about it, and usually took refuge in flight. He did so on this occasion.
But as he walked home across the park, smoking a cigarette, he reflected
that to the owner of Stagholme such a small matter as a college career
was, after all, of no importance. These broad acres, the stately forests,
the grand old house, raised Arthur Agar above such considerations, indeed
above most considerations. And Mr. Glynde made up his mind to put it very
strongly to Dora.



CHAPTER XXI

ALONE

The name of the slough was Despond.


When Dora returned to Stagholme a fortnight later she was relieved to
find that Arthur had not yet come down from Cambridge.

It is a strange thing that in the spring-time those who are happy--_pro
tempore_, of course, we know all that--are happier, while those who carry
something with them find the burden heavier. Stagholme in the spring came
as a sort of shock to Dora. There were certain adjuncts to the growth of
things which gave her actual pain. After dinner, the first night, she
walked across the garden to the beechwood, but before long she came back
again. There is a scent in beech forests in the spring which is like no
other scent on earth, and Dora found that she could not stand it.

Her father and mother were sitting in the drawing-room with open windows,
for it was a warm May that year. She came in through the falling
curtains, and something warned her to keep her face averted from the
furtive glance of her mother's eyes. She had learnt something of the
world during her brief season in town, and one of the lessons had been
that the world sees more than is often credited to it.

"The worst," she said cheerfully, "of a season in town is that it makes
one feel aged and experienced. Middle age came upon me suddenly, just
now, in the garden."

Mr. Glynde was looking at her almost critically over his newspaper.

"How old are you?" he asked curtly.

"Twenty-five."

In some indefinite way the question jarred horribly. Dora was conscious
of a faint doubt in the infallibility of her father's judgment. She knew
that in a worldly sense he was more experienced, more thoughtful,
cleverer than her mother, but in some ways she inclined towards the
maternal opinion on questions connected with herself.

At this moment Mrs. Glynde was called from the room, and went
reluctantly, feeling that the time was unpropitious.

Mr. Glynde's life had been eminently uneventful. Prosperous, happy in a
half-hearted, almost negative, way, somewhat selfish, he had never known
hardship, had never faced adversity. It is such men as this who love what
they call a serious talk, summoning the subject thereof with exaggerated
gravity to a study, making a point of the _mise en scène_, and finally
saying nothing that could not have been spoken in course of ordinary
conversation.

Dora detected the odour of a serious talk in the atmosphere, and she
found that something had taken away the awe which such conversations had
hitherto inspired. It may have been the season in town, but it was more
probably that confidence which comes from the knowledge of the world.
There were things in life of which she consciously knew more than her
father, and one of these was sorrow. There is nothing that gives so much
confidence as the knowledge that the worst possible has happened. It
raises one above the petty worries of daily existence.

Dora knew that her acquaintance with sorrow was more intimate, more
thorough, than that of her father, who sat looking as if the hangman were
at the door. She awaited the serious talk with some apprehension, but
none of that almost paralysing awe which she had known in childhood.

"I am getting an old man," he said, with supreme egotism, "and you cannot
expect to have me with you much longer."

"But I do expect it," replied Dora cheerfully. "I am sorry to disappoint
you, papa, but I do expect it most decidedly."

This rather spoilt the lugubrious gravity of the situation.

"Well, thank Heaven! I am a hearty man yet," admitted the Rector rather
more hopefully; "but still you cannot expect to have your parents with
you all your life, you know."

"I think it is wiser not to look too far into the future," replied Dora,
warding off.

"I should look much more happily into the future," replied the Rector,
with the deliberation of the domestic autocrat, "if I knew that you had a
good husband to take care of you."

In a flash of thought Dora traced it all back to Arthur, through Mrs.
Agar; and her would-be lover fell still further in her estimation. He
seemed to be fated to show himself at every turn the very antitype to her
ideal.

"Ah," she laughed, "but suppose I got a bad one? You are always saying
that marriage is a lottery, and I don't believe the remark is original.
Suppose I drew a blank; fancy being married to a blank! Or I might do
worse. I might draw minus something--minus brains, for instance. They
are in the lottery, for I have seen them, nicely done up in faultless
linen--both blanks and worse."

She turned away towards the window, and the moment her face was averted
it changed suddenly. The face that looked out towards the beech-wood,
where the shadows were creeping from the darkening east, was piteous,
terror-stricken, driven.

It is an ever-living question why people--honest, well-meaning parents
and others--should be set to ride rough-shod over all that is best and
purest in the human mind.

The Rector went on, in his calmly self-satisfied voice, with a fatuous
ignorance of what he was doing which must have made the very angels
wince.

"A great many girls," he said, "have thrown away a chance of happiness
merely to serve a passing fancy. Mind you don't do that."

She gave a little laugh, quite natural and easy, but her face was grave,
and more.

"I do not think there is any fear of that," she replied lightly. "You
must confess, papa, that I have always displayed a remarkable capacity
for the management of my own affairs--with the assistance of Sister
Cecilia, _bien entendu_."

This was rather a forlorn hope, but Dora was driven into a corner. The
Rector was in the habit of preaching a good methodical sermon, and
usually finished up somewhere in the neighbourhood of the text from
whence he started. He allowed himself to deviate, but he never turned his
back upon his text and went for a vague ramble through scriptural
meadows, as some have been heard to do. He deviated on this occasion for
a moment, but never lost sight of the main question.

"Sister Cecilia," he said, "is a busybody, and, like all busybodies, a
fool. It is always people who cannot manage their own affairs who are so
anxious to help their neighbours. I have no doubt that you are as capable
of looking after yourself as any girl; but, child, you must remember that
experience goes a long way in the world, and in the nature of things I
must know better than you."

"Of course you do, papa dear. I know that."

But she did not know it, and he knew that she did not. This knowledge is
certain to come, sooner or later, to men and women who have lived for
themselves and in themselves alone. They are mental hermits, whose
opinion of things connected with the lives of others cannot well be of
value because they have only studied their own existences.

The Rector of Stagholme suddenly became aware of this. He suddenly found
that his advice was no longer law. There are plenty of us ready to
confess that we cannot play billiards or whist or polo, but no man likes
it to be known that he cannot play the game of life. Mr. Glynde did not
like this subtle feeling of incompetency. He prided himself on being a
man of the world, and frequently applied the vague term to himself. We
are all men of a world, but it depends upon the size of that world as to
what value our citizenship may be. Mr. Glynde's world had always been the
Reverend Thomas Glynde. He knew nothing of Dora's world, and lost his way
as soon as he set his foot therein. But rather than make inquiries he
thought to support paternal dignity by going further.

"It is," he said, with inevitable egotism, "unnecessary for me to tell
you that I have only your interests at heart."

"Quite, papa dear. But do not let us talk about these horrid things. I am
quite happy at home, and I do not want to go away from it. There is
nowhere in the world where I should sooner be than here, even taking into
consideration the fact that you are sometimes the most dismal old
gentleman on the face of the earth."

"Well," he answered, with a grim smile, "I am sure I have enough to make
me dismal. I am thankful to say that there will be no difficulty about
money. You will be well enough off to have all that you might desire. But
wealth is not all that a woman wants. She cannot turn it to the same
account as a man. She wants position, a household, a husband. Otherwise
the world only makes use of her; she is a prey to charity humbugs and bad
people who do good works badly. I am not speaking as a parson, but as a
man of the world."

"Then," she said, "as a parson, tell me if it would not be wrong to marry
a man for whom one did not care, just for the sake of these things--a
household and a husband."

"Of course it would," answered Mr. Glynde. "And that is a wrong which is
usually punished in this life. But there are cases where it is difficult
to say whether there be love or not. Unless you actually despise or hate
a man, you may come to care for him."

"And in the meantime the position and the advantages mentioned are worth
seizing?"

"So says the world," admitted Mr. Glynde.

"And what says the parson?"

She went to him and laid her two arms upon his broad chest, standing
behind him as he sat in his arm-chair and looking down affectionately
upon his averted face.

"And what says the parson?" she repeated, with a loving tap of her
fingers on his breast.

"Nothing," was the reply. "A better parson than I says that what is
natural is right."

"Yes, and that means follow the dictates of your own heart?"

"I suppose so," admitted the Hector, taking her two hands in his.

"And the dictates of my heart are all for staying at home and looking
after my ancient parents and worrying them. Am I to be sent away? Not
yet, old gentleman, not yet."

The Reverend Thomas Glynde laughed, somewhat as if a weight had been
lifted from his heart. In his way he was a conscientious man. It was his
honest conviction that Dora would do well to marry Arthur, who was a
gentleman and essentially harmless. In persuading her to do so covertly,
as he had thought well to do, he was honestly performing that which he
thought to be his duty towards her. Presently Mrs. Glynde came back, and
shortly afterwards Dora left the room. The Rector was not reading the
book he held open on his knee, but gazed instead absently at the pattern
of the hearthrug.

A change had come in this quiet household. Dora had gone away a child.
She had come back a woman, with that consciousness of life which comes
somewhere between twenty and thirty years of age--a consciousness which
is partly made up of the knowledge that life is, after all, given to each
one of us individually to make the best of as well as we may; and no one
knows what that best is except ourselves. What is happiness for one is
misery for another, and while human beings vary as the clouds of heaven,
no life can be lived by set rule.

Over these things the Rector pondered. He felt the difference in Dora.
She was still his daughter, but no longer a child. Her existence was
still his chief care, but he could only stand by and help a little here
and there; for the dependency of childhood was left behind, and her
evident intention was to work out her own life in her own way. So do
those who are dependent by nature upon the advice and sympathy of others
learn to lean only upon their own strength.

In the room overhead, standing by the window with weary eyes, Dora was
murmuring: "I wonder--I wonder if I shall be able to hold out against
them all."



CHAPTER XXII

ACROSS THE YEARS

Across the years you seem to come.


"That is just what I can't do. I cannot afford to wait."

Arthur Agar drew in his neatly-shod little feet, and leant back in the
deep chair which was always set aside as his in the Stagholme
drawing-room.

Mother and son were alone in the vast, somewhat gloomy apartment. Arthur
had been home six hours, and the subject of their conversation was, of
course, Dora.

Sister Cecilia was absent, only in obedience to a very unmistakable hint
in one of Arthur's recent letters to his mother.

"Only a little while," pleaded Mrs. Agar. "Of course, dear, it will all
come right. I feel convinced of that. Only you see, dear, girls do not
like to be hurried in such an important step. I am quite sure she cares
for you; only you _must_ give her a little time."

"But I can't, I can't," he repeated anxiously. And his face wore that
strangely accentuated look of trouble which almost amounted to
dread--dread of something in life which had not come yet.

"Why not?" inquired Mrs. Agar. "You are both young enough, I am sure."

"Oh, yes, we are young enough."

He stirred his tea with an effeminate appreciation of fine Coalport and a
dainty Norwegian spoon.

"Then why should you not wait?"

Arthur was silent; he looked very small and frail, almost childlike, in
his silk-faced evening coat. Spoilt boy was writ large all over his
person. "Arthur," said Mrs. Agar, "you are keeping something from me."

He shook his feeble head feebly.

"You are, I know you are. What is it?"

This was the only person in all the world who had stirred the heart of
Anna Agar to something like a lasting affection. Once--years before--she
had loved Seymour Michael with a sudden volcanic passion which had as
suddenly turned to hatred. But under no circumstances could such a love
have endured. Consistency, constancy, singleness of purpose were quite
lacking in this woman's composition. It is rare, but when a woman does
fail in this respect, her failure is more complete, more miserable than
the failure of men, inconstant as they are.

Her affection for Arthur, coupled with that suspicion which always goes
with a cheap cunning, had put her on the right scent.

"Tell me," she said, "I insist on knowing."

Still he held his peace, with the obstinate silence of the weak.

"Well, then," she cried, "don't ask me to help you to win Dora, that is
all!"

There was a pause; in the silence of the great house the wind moaned
softly. It always moaned in the drawing-room, whether in calm or storm,
from some undiscovered draught in the high ventilated ceiling.

"I sometimes think," said Arthur at length, in an awestruck voice, "that
Jem may not be dead."

"Not dead! Arthur, how can you be so stupid?"

She was not at all awestruck. Her denser, more sordid nature was proof
against the silence or the humming wind. The greed of gain has power to
kill superstition.

His face puzzled her. Suddenly he cast himself back and hid his face in
his hands.

"Oh!" he muttered, "I can't do it, I can't do it!"

In an instant his mother was standing over him.

"Arthur," she hissed, "you _know_ something?"

"Yes," he confessed in a whisper at length.

"Jem is not dead?" she hissed again. Her voice was hoarse.

"He was not killed in the disaster," admitted Arthur. In his heart he was
still clinging to the other hope subtly held out by Seymour Michael--the
hope that in his simple intrepidity Jem had gone to his death.

"Then where is he--where is he, Arthur? Tell me quickly!"

Mrs. Agar was white and breathless. It was as if she had bartered her
soul, and after payment, had been tricked out of her share of the
bargain. She trembled with a fear which seemed to fill her world and
extend to the other world to come.

"He escaped from that action," said Arthur, who, now that the truth was
out, grew voluble like a child making a confession, "by being sent on in
front with a few men. They escaped notice, while the larger body was
attacked and massacred."

"Who told you this?"

"I do not know. I cannot tell you his name."

"Arthur!" exclaimed Mrs. Agar nervously, "are you going mad? Do you know
what you are saying?"

In reply he gave a little laugh like a sob.

"Oh yes," he replied, "it is all right. I know what I am saying, though
sometimes I scarcely believe it myself. If it was a hundred years ago one
might believe it easily enough, but now it seems unreal."

"Then where is Jem? Was he taken prisoner? Those men are savages, aren't
they? They kill--people when they take them prisoners."

"No, he was not taken prisoner," said Arthur. Sometimes he lost patience
in a snappy, feminine way with his mother.

"Oh! tell me, tell me, Arthur dear! You are killing me!"

"I will, if you will let me. It appears that Jem had made himself a name
out there for knowing the country and the people, which is useful to the
Government, because Russia and England both want the country, or
something like that; I don't quite understand it."

"Oh, never mind! Go on!" interrupted Mrs. Agar, with characteristic
impatience.

"And at any rate the men on the other side--the Russians or some one, I
don't know who--were in the habit of watching Jem so as to prevent his
going up into this unexplored country. Well, when the report of his death
was put in the newspapers it was left uncontradicted, so that these men
should think he was dead, and not be on the look-out for him. Do you
understand?"

Mrs. Agar had raised her head, with listening, attentive eyes. It seemed
as if a voice had come to her across the years from the distant past. A
voice telling an old story, which had never been forgotten, but merely
laid aside in the memory among those things that never are forgotten.

Finding Arthur's troubled gaze upon her, she seemed to recollect herself
with a little gesture of her hand to her breast as if breathing were
difficult.

"That does not sound like a thing Jem would do," she said, with one of
those flashes of shrewd observation which sometimes come to inconsequent
people, and make it difficult for those around them to be sure how much
they see and how much passes unobserved.

"It was not Jem, it was this other man."

"Which other man?" Mrs. Agar gave a little gasp, as if she had found
something she feared to find.

"The man who told me--he was Jem's superior officer."

"When did he tell you--where?"

"He came to see me at Cambridge, and brought those things of Jem's,"
replied Arthur. So far from feeling guilty at thus revealing all that he
had promised to keep secret, he was now beginning to experience some
pangs of conscience at the recollection of a concealment which, by a
supreme effort, had been made to extend to four months.

There was a sly gleam in Mrs. Agar's eyes. A close observer knowing her
well could have seen the cunning written on her face, for it was cheap
and obvious.

"Oh!" she said indifferently, "and what sort of man was he?"

Arthur pondered with a deliberation that almost maddened her.

"Oh!" he replied at length, "a small man, dark, with a sunburnt face; a
Jew, I should think. He was rather well dressed--in the military style,
of course."

"Yes," muttered Mrs. Agar. "Yes."

There was a long silence, during which Mrs. Agar reflected, as deeply,
perhaps, as she had ever reflected in her life.

Then she discovered something for herself which had of necessity been
pointed out to her son--a subtle divergence of character.

"But," she said, "of course Jem may never come back from this expedition.
It _must_ be very dangerous."

"It is very dangerous."

Mrs. Agar's sigh of relief was quite audible. It is thus that nature
sometimes betrays human nature.

"Did _he_ say that? Did _he_ think that of it?"

Seymour Michael's opinion still had value in her eyes.

"Yes," the reply came slowly; "he said that we might almost look upon Jem
as a dead man."

Mother and son looked at each other and said nothing. Heredity is a
strange thing, and one alternately aggrandised and slighted. Blood is a
very powerful force, but the little lessons taught in childhood's years
bear a wondrous crop of good or evil fruit in later days.

Left alone, Arthur Agar's natural tendency was towards good. Probably
because he was timid, and goodness seems the safer course. There are many
who have not the courage to forsake goodness, even for a moment. But
under the influence of a stronger will--that is to say, under the
influence of four out of every five persons crossing his path--Arthur was
liable to be led in any direction. He would rather have sinned in company
than have cultivated virtue in the solitude usually accorded to that
state.

Somehow, in his mother's presence it did not seem so very wrong to keep
back the truth respecting Jem and to turn it to his own ends. It did not
seem either mean or cowardly to take advantage of a rival's absence and
gain his object, by deception. So, perhaps, it was in the beginning, when
the world was young. In those days also a mother and son helped each
other in deception, and so since then have many thousands of mothers
(incompetent or vicious) led their children to ruin.

"Of course," said Mrs. Agar, "if Jem goes and does things of that
description he must take the consequences."

Arthur said nothing in reply to this. The thought had been his for some
months, but he had never put it into shape.

"We are perfectly justified," she went on, "in acting as if Jem were dead
until he deigns to advise us to the contrary."

This also was putting a long-cherished thought into form.

Arthur knew that he ought to have told his mother then and there that Jem
had taken every step in his power to advise him as soon as possible of
the falseness of the news transmitted to the newspapers. But something
held him silent, some taint of hereditary untruthfulness.

"I do not see," she said, "that this news can, therefore, make much
difference. There is no reason to alter any of our plans. To begin with,
I am certain that he is dead. We must have heard by this time if he had
been living."

Arthur gave a little nod of acquiescence.

"And also," pursued Mrs. Agar, with characteristic inconsistency, "he
evidently does not care about us or our feelings."

Arthur knew what she meant, and he descended as low in the moral scale as
ever he went during his life.

"But," he said, "there is, all the same, no time to lose."

He passed his hand over his sleek, lifeless hair with a weary look.

"Well, dear," said his mother soothingly, "I will see Ellen Glynde
to-morrow, and try to make her say something to Dora. A girl's mother has
always more influence than her father."

This idiotic axiom seemed to satisfy Arthur, probably because he knew no
better, and he rose to take his bedroom candlestick.

Mrs. Agar was a person utterly incapable of harbouring two thoughts at
the same moment. She never even got so far as to place two sides of a
question upon an equal footing in her mind. All her questions had but one
side. She was not thinking of Arthur when she went to her room. She was
not thinking of him when she lay staring at the daylight, which had crept
up into the sky before she closed her eyes.

She tossed and turned and moaned aloud with a childish impatience. Her
mind could find no rest; it could not throw off the deadly knowledge that
Seymour Michael had come back into her life. And somehow she was no
longer Anna Agar, but Anna Hethbridge. She was no longer the fond mother
whose whole world was filled by thoughts of her son--a miserable,
thoughtless, haphazard world it was--but again she was the wronged woman,
moved by the one great passion that had stirred her sordid soul, a
fearsome hatred for Seymour Michael.

She was not an analytical woman; she had never thought about her own
thoughts; she was as superficial as human nature can well be. That is to
say, she was little more than an animal with the gift of speech, added to
one or two small items of knowledge which divide men from beasts. But she
_knew_ that this was not the end. She never doubted for a moment that it
was merely a beginning, that Seymour Michael was coming back into her
life.

Like a child she tossed and tumbled in her bed, muttering
half-consciously, "Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?"



CHAPTER XXIII

AND THE TIME PASSES SOMEHOW

His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him.


For two days Mrs. Glynde had been going about the world with a bright red
patch on either cheek; and it would seem that on the third day, namely,
the Sunday, things came to a crisis in her disturbed mind. At morning
service her fervour was something astonishing--the quaver in her voice
was more noticeable in the hymns than ever, and the space devoted to
silent prayer after the blessing was so abnormally long that Stark, the
sexton, had to rattle the keys twice, with all due respect and for the
sake of his Sunday dinner, before she rose from her knees; whereas once
usually sufficed.

It was the devout practice that all the Rectory servants should go to
evening service, while Mrs. Glynde, or Dora, or both, remained at home to
take care of the house. On this particular evening Mrs. Glynde proposed
that Dora should stay with her, and what her mother proposed Dora usually
acceded to.

"Dear," said the elder lady, with a nervous little jerk of the head which
was habitual or physical, "I have heard about Arthur."

They were sitting in the drawing-room, with windows open to the ground,
and the fading light was insufficient to read by, although both had
books.

"Yes, mother," answered the girl in rather a tired voice, quite
forgetting to be cheerful. "I should like to know exactly what you
heard."

"Well, Anna told me," and there was a whole world of distrust in the
little phrase, "that Arthur had asked you to be his wife, and that you
had refused without giving a reason."

"I gave him a reason," replied Dora; "the best one. I said that I did not
love him."

There was a little pause. The two women looked out on to the quiet lawn.
They seemed singularly anxious to avoid looking at each other.

"But that might come, dear; I think it would come."

"I know it would not," replied Dora quietly. There was a dreaminess in
her voice, as if she were repeating something she had heard or said
before.

Suddenly Mrs. Glynde rose from her chair, and going towards her daughter,
she knelt on the soft carpet, still afraid to look at her face. There was
something suggestive and strange in the attitude, for the elder woman was
crouching at the feet of the younger.

"My darling," she whispered, "I know, I _know!_ I have known all along.
But mind, no one else knows, no one suspects! _It_ can never come to you
again in this life. Women are like that, it never comes to them twice. To
some it never comes at all; think of that, dear, it never comes to them
at all! Surely that is worse?"

Dora took the nervous, eager hands in her own quiet grasp and held them
still. But she said nothing.

"I have prayed night and morning," the elder woman went on in the same
pleading whisper, "that strength might be given you, and I think my
prayers were heard. For you have been strong, and no one has known except
me, and I do not matter. The strength must have come from somewhere. I
like to think that I had something to do with it, however little."

Again there was a silence. Across the quiet garden, from the church that
was hidden among the trees, the sound of the evening hymn came rising and
falling, the harshness of the rustic voices toned down by the whispering
of the leaves.

"I know," Mrs. Glynde went on, speaking perhaps out of her own
experience, "that now it must seem that there is nothing left. I know
that It can never come to you, but something else may--a sort of
alleviation; something that is a little stronger than resignation, and
many people think that it is love. It is not love; never believe that!
But it is surely sent because so many women have--to go through
life--without that--which makes life worth living."

"Hush, dear!" said Dora; and Mrs. Glynde paused as if to collect herself.
Perhaps her daughter stopped her just in time.

"There is," she went on in a calmer voice, "a sort of satisfaction in the
duties that come and have to be performed. The duties towards one's
husband and the others--the others, darling--are the best. They are not
the same, not the same as if--as they might have been, but sometimes it
is a great alleviation. And the time passes somehow."

It is not the clever people who make all the epigrams; but sometimes
those who merely live and feel, and are perhaps objects of ridicule. Mrs.
Glynde was one of these. She had unwittingly made an epigram. She had
summed up life in five words--the time passes somehow."

"And, dear," she went on, "it is not wise, perhaps it is not quite right,
to turn one's back upon an alleviation which is offered. Arthur would be
very kind to you. He is really fond of you, and perhaps the very fact of
his not being clever or brilliant or anything like that might be a
blessing in the future, for he would not expect so much."

"He would have to expect nothing," said Dora, speaking for the first
time, "because I could give him nothing."

She spoke in rather an indifferent voice, and in the gloom her mother
could not see her face. It was a singular thing that neither of them
seemed to take Arthur Agar's feelings into account in the very smallest
degree; and this must be accounted to them for wisdom.

Dora was, as her mother had said, very strong. She never gave way. Her
delicate lips never quivered, but she took care to keep them close
pressed. Only in her eyes was the pain to be seen, and perhaps that was
why her mother did not dare to look.

"There is no hurry," she pleaded. "You need not decide now."

"But," answered Dora, "I have decided now, and he knows my decision."

"Perhaps after some time--some years?" suggested Mrs. Glynde.

"A great many years," put in Dora.

"If he asks you again--oh! I know it would be better, dear; better for
you in every way. I do not say that you would be quite happy. But it
would be a sort of happiness; there would be less unhappiness, because
you would have less time to think. I do not say anything about the
position and the wealth and such considerations, for they are not of much
importance to a good woman."

"After a great many years," said Dora, in that calm and judicial voice
which fell like ice on her mother's heart, "I will see--if he chooses to
wait."

"Yes, but--" began Mrs. Glynde, but she did not go on. That which she was
about to say would scarcely have been appropriate. But so far as the
facts were concerned she might just as well have said it. For Dora knew
as well as she did that Arthur Agar would not wait. Women are not blind
to manifest facts. They know us, my brothers, better than we think. And
they are not quite so romantic as we take them to be. Their love is a
better thing than ours, because it is more practical and more defined.
They do not seek an ideal of their own imagination; but when something
approaching to it crosses their path in the flesh they know what they
want, and they do not change.

Before the silence was again broken the murmur of voices told them that
the church doors had been opened, and presently they discerned a female
form crossing the lawn towards the open window. It was Sister Cecilia,
walking with that mincing lightness of tread which seems to be the
outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual superiority over the
remainder of womanhood. Good women--those mistaken females who move in an
atmosphere of ostentatious good works--usually walk like this. Like this
they enter the humble cot with a little soup and a lot of advice. Like
this they smilingly step, where angels would fear to tread, upon feelings
which they are incapable of understanding.

Mrs. Glynde got quietly up and left the room. As the door closed behind
her Sister Cecilia's gently persuasive voice was heard.

"Dora! Dora dear!"

"Yes," replied the girl without any enthusiasm, rising and going to the
window.

"Will you walk with me a little way across the fields? It is such a
lovely evening."

"Yes, if you like."

And Dora passed out of the open window.

"I am sorry," said Sister Cecilia after a few paces, "that you were not
in church. We had such a bright service."

Dora, like some more of us, wondered vaguely where the adjective applied,
especially on a gloomy evening without candles, but she said nothing.

"I stayed at home with mother," she explained practically. "The servants
were all out." Sister Cecilia was not listening. She was gazing up at the
sky, where a few stars were beginning to show themselves.

"One feels," she murmured with a sigh, "on such an evening as this, that,
after all, nothing matters much."

"About the servants do you mean? They are going on better now."

"No, dear, about life. I mean that at times one feels that this cannot be
the end of it all."

"Well, we ought to feel that, I suppose, being Christians."

"And some day we shall see the meaning of all our troubles," pursued
Sister Cecilia. "It is so hard for us older ones, who have passed through
it, to stand by helpless, only guessing at the pain and anguish of it
all, whereas, perhaps, we could help if we only knew. A little more
candour, a little more confidence might so easily lead to mutual help and
consolation."

"Possibly," admitted Dora, without any encouragement.

"I am so sorry for poor Arthur!" whispered Sister Cecilia, apparently to
the evening shades.

Dora was silent. She knew how to treat Sister Cecilia. Jem had taught her
that.

"It has been such a terrible blow. His letters to his mother are quite
heartbroken."

Dora reserved her opinion of grown-up men who write heartbroken letters
to their mothers.

"I know all about it," Sister Cecilia went on, quite regardless of the
truth, as some good people are. "Dora, dear, I know all about it."

Silence, a silence which reminded Sister Cecilia of a sense of
discomfiture which had more than once been hers in conversation with Jem.

"Have you nothing to tell me, dear?" she inquired. "Nothing to say to
me?"

"Nothing," replied Dora pleasantly. "Especially as you know all about
it."

"Will you never change your mind?" persuasively.

"No, I am not the sort of person to change my mind."

There was a little pause, and again Sister Cecilia whispered to the
evening shades.

"I cannot help hoping that some day it may be different. It is not as if
there were any one else--?"

Silence again.

"I dare say," added Sister Cecilia, after waiting in vain for an answer
to her implied question, "that I am wrong, but I cannot help being in
favour of a little more candour, a little mutual confidence."

"I cannot help feeling," replied Dora quietly, "that we are all best
employed when we mind our own business."

"Yes, dear, I know. But it is very hard to stand idly by and see young
people make mistakes which can only bring them sorrow. I want to tell you
to think very deeply before you elect to lead the life of a single woman.
It is a life full of temptation to idleness and self-indulgence. There
are many single women who, I am really afraid, are quite useless in the
world. They only gossip and pry into their neighbours' affairs and make
mischief. It is because they have nothing to do. I have known several
women like that, and I cannot help thinking that they would have been
happier if they had married. Perhaps they did not have the chance. One
does not understand these things."

Sister Cecilia cast her eyes upwards toward the tree-tops to see if
perchance the explanation was written there.

"Of course," she went on complacently, drawing down her bonnet-strings,
"there are many useful lives of single women. Lives which the world would
sadly miss should it please God to take them. Women who live, not for
themselves, but for others; who go about the world helping their
neighbours with advice and the fruits of their own experience; ever the
first to go to the afflicted and to those who are in trouble. They do not
receive their reward here, they are not always thanked. The ignorant are
sometimes even rude. They have only the knowledge that they are doing
good."

"That _must_ be a satisfaction," murmured Dora fervently.

"It is, dear; it is. But--you will excuse me, Dora dear, if I say
this?--I do not think you are that sort of woman."

"No," answered Dora, "I don't think I am."

"And that is why I have said this to you. Now, don't answer me, dear.
Just think about it quietly. I think I have done my duty in telling you
what, was on my mind. It is always best, although it is sometimes
difficult, or even painful; but then, it is one's duty. Kiss me, dear!
Good-night!--_good_-night!"

And so Sister Cecilia left Dora--mincing away into the gloom of the
overhanging trees. And so she leaves these pages. Verily the good have
their reward here below in a coat of self-complacency which is as
impervious to the buffets of life as to the sarcasm of the worldly.



CHAPTER XXIV

A STAB IN THE DARK

Slander, meanest spawn of Hell;
And women's slander is the worst.


Mrs. Agar was a person incapable of awaiting that vague result called the
development of things.

Arthur had never been forced to wait for anything in his life. No longer
at least than tradespeople required, and in many cases not so long, for
Mrs. Agar had an annoying way of refusing to listen to reason. She never
allowed that laws applying to ordinary people, served more or less
faithfully by tailor or dressmaker, applied to herself or to Arthur. And
tradespeople, one finds are not always of the same mind as the Medes and
Persians--they square matters quietly in the bill. They had to do it very
quietly indeed with Mrs. Agar, who endeavoured strenuously to get the
best value for her money all through life; a remnant of Jaggery House,
Clapham Common, which the placid wealth of Stagholme never obliterated.

After the luncheon, specially prepared and laid before the Rector, this
second Rebecca awaited the result impatiently. But nothing came of it.
Although Mrs. Agar now looked upon Dora as the latest whim of the
not-to-be-denied Arthur, she could hardly consider Mr. Glynde in the
light of a tradesman retailing the said commodity, and, therefore, to be
bullied and harassed into making haste. She reflected with misgiving that
Mr. Glynde was an exponent of the tiresome art of talking over and
thinking out matters which required neither words nor thought, and saw no
prospect of an immediate furtherance of her design.

With a mistaken and much practised desire of striking when the iron was
hot, Mrs. Agar, like many a wiser person, began, therefore, to bang about
in all directions, hitting not only the iron but the anvil, her own
knuckles and the susceptibilities of any one standing in the
neighbourhood. She could not leave things to Mr. Glynde, but must needs
see Dora herself. She had in her mind the nucleus of a simple if
scurrilous scheme which will show itself hereafter. Her opportunity
presented itself a few days later.

A neighbouring family counting itself county, presumably on the strength
of never being able to absent themselves from the favoured neighbourhood
on account of monetary incapacity, gave its annual garden-party at this
time. To this entertainment the whole countryside was in the habit of
repairing--not with an idea of enjoying itself, but because everybody did
it. To be bidden to this garden-party was in itself a _cachet_ of
respectability. This indeed was the only satisfaction to be gathered from
the festivity. If the honour was great, the hospitality was small. If the
condescension was vast, the fare provided was verging on the stingy. Here
were served by half-starved domestic servants, in the smallest of
tumblers, "cups" wherein were mixed liquors, such as cider, usually
consumed by self-respecting persons in the undiluted condition and in
mugs. Upon cucumber-cup, taken in county society, as on a dinner of
herbs, one hardly expects the guest to grow convivial. Therefore at this
garden-party those bidden to the feast were in the habit of wandering
sadly through the shrubbery seeking whom they might avoid, and in the
course of such a perambulation, with a young man conversant of himself,
Dora met Mrs. Agar. Even the mistress of Stagholme was preferable to the
young man from London, and besides--there were associations. So Dora drew
Mrs. Agar into her promenade, and presently the young man got his
_congé_.

At first they talked of local topics, and Mrs. Agar, who had a fine sense
of hospitality, said her say about the cider-cup. Then she gave an
awkward little laugh, and with an assumption of lightness which did not
succeed she said:

"I hope, dear, you do not intend to keep my poor boy in suspense much
longer?"

"Do you mean Arthur?" asked Dora.

"Yes, dear. I really don't see why there should be this absurd reserve
between us."

"I am quite willing," replied the girl, "to hear what you have to say
about it."

"Yes, but not to talk of it."

"Well, I suppose Arthur has told you all there is to tell. If there is
anything more that you want to know I shall be very glad to tell you."

"Well, of course, I don't understand it at all," burst out Mrs. Agar
eagerly. This was quite true; neither she nor Arthur could understand how
any one could refuse such a glorious offer as he had made.

"Perhaps I can explain. Arthur asked me to marry him. I quite appreciated
the honour, but I declined it."

"Yes, but why? Surely you didn't mean it?"

"I did mean it."

"Well," explained Mrs. Agar, with a little toss of the head, "I am sure I
cannot see what more you want. There are many girls who would be glad to
be mistress of Stagholme."

And it must be remembered that she said this knowing quite well that Jem
was probably alive. There are some crimes which women commit daily in the
family circle which deserve a greater punishment than that meted out to a
legal criminal.

"That is precisely what I ventured to point out to Arthur," said Dora,
unconsciously borrowing her father's ironical neatness of enunciation.

"But why shouldn't you take the opportunity? There are not many estates
like it in England. Your position would be as good as that of a titled
lady, and I am sure you could not want a better husband."

"I like Arthur as a friend, but I could never marry him, so it is useless
to discuss the question."

"But why?" persisted Mrs. Agar.

"Because I do not care for him in the right way."

"But that would come," said Mrs. Agar. It was only natural that she
should use an argument which is accountable for more misery on earth than
mothers dream of.

"No, it would never come."

Mrs. Agar gave a cunning little laugh, and paused so as to lend
additional weight to her next remark.

"That is a dangerous thing for a girl to say."

"Is it?" inquired Dora indifferently.

"Yes, because they can never be sure, unless--"

"Unless what? I am quite sure."

"Unless there is some one else," said Mrs. Agar, with an exaggerated
significance suggestive of the servants' hall.

Dora did not answer at once. They walked on for a few moments in silence,
passing other guests walking in couples. Then Dora replied with a
succinctness acquired from her father:

"Generalities about women," she said, "are always a mistake. Indeed, all
generalities are dangerous. But if you and Arthur care to apply this to
me, you are at liberty to do so. Whatever generalities you apply and
whatever you say will make no difference to the main question. Moreover,
you will, perhaps, be acting a kinder part if you give Arthur to
understand once for all that my decision is final."

"As you like, dear, as you like," muttered Mrs. Agar, apparently
abandoning the argument, whereas in reality she had not yet begun it.

"How do you do, dear Mrs. Martin?" she went on in the same breath, bowing
and smiling to a lady who passed them at that moment.

"Of course," she said, returning in a final way to the question after a
few moments' silence, "of course I do not believe all I hear; in fact, I
contradict a good deal. But I have been told that gossips talked about
you a good deal last year, at the time of Jem's death. I think it only
fair that you should know."

"Thank you," said Dora curtly.

"Of course, dear, _I_ didn't believe anything about it."

"Thank you," said Dora again.

"I should have been sorry to do so."

Then Dora turned upon her suddenly.

"What do you mean, Aunt Anna?" she asked with determination.

"Oh, nothing, dear, nothing. Don't get flurried about it."

"I am not at all flurried," replied Dora quietly. "You said that you
would be sorry to have to believe what gossips said of me last year at
the time of Jem's death--"

"Dora," interrupted Mrs. Agar, "I never said anything against you in any
way; how can you say such a thing?"

"And," continued Dora, with an unpleasant calmness of manner, "I must ask
you to explain. What did the gossips say, and why should you be sorry to
have to believe it?"

Mrs. Agar's reluctance was not quite genuine nor was it well enough
simulated to deceive Dora.

"Well, dear," she said, "if you insist, they said that there had been
something between you and Jem--long, long ago, of course, before he went
out to India."

Dora shrugged her shoulders.

"They are welcome to say what they like."

Mrs. Agar was silent, awaiting a second question.

"And why should you be sorry to believe that?" inquired the girl.

"I--I hardly like to tell you," said Mrs. Agar, in a low voice.

Dora waited in silence, without appearing to heed Mrs. Agar's reluctance.

"I am afraid, dear," went on the elder lady, when she saw that there was
no chance of assistance, "that we have been all sadly mistaken in Jem. He
was not--all that we thought him."

"In what way?" asked Dora. She had turned quite white, and her lips were
suddenly dry and parched. She held her parasol a little lower, so that
Mrs. Agar could not see her face. She was sure enough of her voice. She
had had practice in that.

"In what way was Jem not all that we thought him?" she repeated evenly,
like a lesson learnt by heart.

Mrs. Agar stammered. She tried to blush, but she could not manage that.

"I cannot very well give you details. Perhaps, when you are older. You
know, dear, in India people are not very particular. They have peculiar
ideas, I mean, of morals--different from ours. And perhaps he saw no harm
in it."

"In what?" inquired Dora gravely.

"Well, in the life they lead out there. It appears that there was some
unfortunate attachment. I think she was married or something like that."

"Who told you this?" asked Dora, in a voice like a threat.

"A man told Arthur at Cambridge--one of poor Jem's fellow-officers. The
man who brought home the diary and things."

Having once begun Mrs. Agar found herself obliged to go on. She had not
time to pause and reflect that she was now staking everything upon the
possibility of Jem's death subsequent to the disaster in which he was
supposed to have perished.

Dora did not believe one word of this story, although she was quite
without proof to the contrary. Jem's letters had not been frequent, nor
had they been remarkable for minuteness of detail respecting his own
life. Mrs. Agar had done her best to put a stop to this correspondence
altogether, and had succeeded in bringing about a subtle reserve on both
sides. She had persistently told Jem that Dora was evidently attached to
Arthur, and that their marriage was only the question of a few years. Of
this Jem had never found any confirmatory hint in Dora's letters, and
from some mistaken sense of chivalry refrained from writing to ask her
point-blank if it were true.

"And why," said Dora, "do you tell me this? In case what the gossips said
might be true?"

"Ye-es, dear, perhaps it was that."

"So as to save me from cherishing any mistaken memory?"

"Yes, it may have been that."

And Mrs. Agar was surprised to see Dora turn her back upon her as if she
had been something loathsome to look upon, and walk away.



CHAPTER XXV

FROM THE JAWS OF DEATH

When the heart speaks, Glory itself is an illusion.


The _Mahanaddy_ had just turned her blunt prow out westward from the
harbour of Port Said, sniffing her native north wind, with a gentle
rising movement to that old Mediterranean eastward-tending swell. The
lights of the most iniquitous town on earth were fading away in the mist
of the desert on the left hand, and on the right the gloom of the sea
merged into a grey sky.

The dinner-hour had passed, and the passengers were lolling about on the
long quarter-deck, talking lazily after the manner of men and women who
have little to say and much time wherein to say it.

It was quite easy to perceive that they had left a voyage of many days
behind them, for the funny man had exhausted himself and the politicians
were asleep. The lifeless, homeward-bound flirtations had waned long ago,
and no one looked twice at any one else. They all knew each other's
dresses and vices and little aggravating habits, and only three or four
of them were aware that human nature runs deeper than such superficial
details.

Away forward, behind the sheep-pens, an Italian gentleman in the ice
industry was scraping on a yellow fiddle which looked sticky. But like
many things of plain exterior this unprepossessing instrument had
something in it, something that the Italian gentleman knew how to
extract, and all the ship was hushed into listening. Such as had
conversation left spoke in low tones, and even the stewards in the pantry
ceased for a time to test the strength of the dinner-plates.

On a small clear space of deck between the door of the doctor's cabin and
the saloon gangway two men were walking slowly backwards and forwards.
They were both tall men, both large, and consequently both inclined to
taciturnity. They had said, perhaps, as little as any two persons on
board, which may have accounted for the fact that they were talking now,
and still seemed to have plenty to say.

One was dark and clean-shaven, with something of the sea in his mien and
gait. His nose and chin were singularly clean cut, and suggestive of an
ancestral type. This was the ship's doctor, a man who probed men's hearts
as well as their bodies, and wrote of what he found there. His companion
was an antitype--a representative of the fair race found in England by
the ancestors of the other when they came and conquered. He wore a beard,
and his face was burnt to the colour of mahogany, which had a strange
effect in contrast to the bluest of Saxon eyes.

The Doctor was talking.

"Then," he was saying, "who the devil are you?"

The other smiled, a gentle, triumphant smile. The smile of a man who,
humbly recognising himself at a just estimation, is conscious of having
outwitted another, cleverer than himself.

"You finish your pipe," he said, and he walked away with long firm
strides towards the saloon stairs. The Doctor went to the rail, where,
resting his arms on the solid teak, he leant, gazing thoughtfully out
over the sea, which was part of his life. For he knew the great waters,
and loved them with all the quiet strength of a slow-tongued man.

Before very long some one came behind and touched him on the shoulder. He
turned, and in the fading light looked into the smiling face of his late
companion--the same and yet quite different, for the beard was gone, and
there only remained the long fair moustache.

"Yes," said Dr. Mark Ruthine, "Jem Agar. I was a fool not to know you at
first."

A sort of shyness flickered for a moment in the blue eyes.

"I have been practising so hard during the last ten months to look like
some one else that I hardly feel like myself," he said.

"Um-m! There was something uncanny about you when you first came on
board. I used to watch you at meals, and wonder what it was. By God,
Agar, I _am_ glad!"

"Thanks," replied Jem Agar. He was looking round him rather nervously.
"You don't think there is anybody on board who will know me, do you?"

"No one, barring the Captain."

"Oh," said Agar calmly, "he is all right. He can keep his mouth shut."

"There is no doubt about that," replied the Doctor.

A little pause followed, during which they both listened involuntarily to
the ice-cream merchant's musical voice, which was now floating over the
silent decks, raised in song.

"I should like to hear all about it some day," said the ship's surgeon at
last. He knew his man, and no detail of the strange lives that passed the
horizon of his daily existence was ever forgotten. Only he usually found
that those who had the most to tell required a little assistance in their
narration.

"It is rather a rum business," answered Jem Agar, not displeased.

At this moment the ship's bell rang four clear notes into the night.

"Ten o'clock," said the Doctor. "Come into my cabin and have a smoke; the
Captain will be in soon. He would like to hear the story too."

So they passed into the cabin, and before they had been there many
minutes the Captain joined them. For a moment he stood in the doorway,
then he came forward with outstretched hand.

"Well," he said, "all that I can say is that you ought to be dead. But
it's not my business."

He had seen too many freaks of fortune to be surprised at this.

"I thought," he continued, "that there was something familiar about the
back of your head. Back of a man's head never changes. It's a funny
thing."

He sat down in his usual chair, and looked with a cheery smile upon him
who had risen from the death column of the _Times_. Then he turned to his
pipe.

"You know, Agar," he said, "I was beastly sorry about that--death of
yours. Cut me up wonderfully for a few minutes. That is saying a lot in
these days."

Agar laughed.

"It is very kind of you to say so," he said rather awkwardly.

"And I," added Dr. Ruthine from behind the whisky and soda tray, in the
deliberate voice of a man who is saying something with an effort, "felt
that it was a pity. That is how it struck me--a pity."

Then, very disjointedly, and in a manner which could scarcely be set down
here, Major James Agar told his singular story. There are--thank
heaven!--many such stories still untold; there are, one would be inclined
to hope, many such still uncommenced. As a nation we may be on the
decline, but there is something to go on with in us yet.

Once when the narrator paused, Dr. Ruthine went to the side table and
opened some bottles.

"Whisky?" he inquired, with curt hospitality, "or anything else your
fancy may paint, down to tea."

Agar rose to pour out his own allowance, and for a moment the two men
stood together. With the critical eye of a soldier, which seems to weigh
flesh and blood, he looked his host for the time being up and down.

"They don't make men like you and me on tea," he said, reaching out his
hand towards a tumbler.

Then the story went on. At first the ship's doctor listened to it with
interest but without absorption, then suddenly something seemed to catch
his attention and hold it riveted. When a pause came he leant forward,
pointing an emphasising finger.

"When you spoke just now of the chief," he said, "did you mean Michael?"

"Yes."

"What! Seymour Michael?"

"Yes."

The Captain tapped his pipe against his boot and leant back with the
shrug of the shoulders awaiting further developments.

"And you mean to tell me that you put yourself entirely in the hands of
Seymour Michael?" pursued the Doctor.

"Yes, why not?"

Mark Ruthine shook his head with a little laugh. "I always thought, Agar,
that you were a bit of a fool!"

"I have sometimes suspected it myself," admitted the soldier meekly.

"Why, man," said Ruthine, "Seymour Michael is one of the biggest rascals
on God's earth. I would not trust him with fourpence round the corner."

"Nor would I," put in the Captain, "and the sum is not excessive."

Jem Agar was sipping his whisky and soda with the placidity of a giant
who fears no open fight and never thinks of foul play.

"I don't see," he muttered, "what harm he can do me."

"No more do I, at the moment," replied the Doctor; "but the man is a liar
and an unscrupulous cad. I have kept an eye on him for years because he
interests me. He has never run a straight course since he came into the
field; he has consistently sacrificed truth, honour, and his best friend
to his own ambition ever since the beginning."

Jem Agar smiled at the Doctor's vehemence, although he was aware that
such a display was far from being characteristic of the man.

"Of course," he admitted, "in the matter of honour and glory I expect to
be swindled. But I don't care. I know the chap's reputation, and all
that, but he can hardly get rid of the fact that I have done the thing
and he has not."

"I was not thinking so much of that," replied the other. "Men sell their
souls for honour and glory and never get paid."

He paused; then with the sure touch of one who has dabbled with pen and
ink in the humanities, he laid his finger on the vulnerable spot.

"I was thinking more," he said, "of what you had trusted him to
do--telling certain persons, I mean, that you were not dead. He is just
as likely as not to have suppressed the information."

Jem Agar was looking very grave, with a sudden pinched appearance about
the lips which was only half concealed by his moustache.

"Why should he do that?" he asked sharply.

"He would do it if it suited his purpose. He is not the man to take into
consideration such things as feelings--especially the feelings of
others."

"You're a bit hard on him, Ruthine," said Jem doubtfully. "Why should it
suit his convenience?"

"Secrecy was essential for your purpose and his; in telling a secret one
doubles the risk of its disclosure each time a new confidant is admitted.
Besides, the man's nature is quite extraordinarily secretive. He has
Jewish and Scotch blood in his veins, and the result is that he would
rather disseminate false news than true on the off chance of benefiting
thereby later on. For men of that breed each piece of accurate
information, however trivial, has a marketable value, and they don't part
with it unless they get their price."

There followed a silence, during which Jem Agar went back in mental
retrospection to the only interview he had ever had with Seymour Michael,
and the old lurking sense of distrust awoke within his heart.

"But," said the Captain, who was an optimist--he even applied that theory
to human nature--"I suppose it is all right now. Everybody knows now that
you are among the quick--eh?"

"No," replied Jem, "only Michael; it was arranged that I should telegraph
to him."

"Of course," the Doctor hastened to say, for he had perceived a change in
Agar's demeanour, "all this is the purest supposition. It is only a
theory built upon a man's character. It is wonderful how consistent
people are. Judge how a man would act and you will find that he has acted
like it afterwards."

As if in illustration of the theory Jem Agar looked gravely determined,
but uttered no threat directed towards Seymour Michael. His quiet face
was a threat in itself.

"Well," he said, rising, "I am keeping you fellows from your slumbers. I
am still sleeping on deck; can't get accustomed to the atmosphere below
decks after six months' sleeping in the open."

He nodded and left them.

"Rum chap!" muttered the Captain, looking at his watch when the footsteps
had died away over the silent decks.

"One of the queerest specimens I know," retorted Dr. Mark Ruthine, who
was fingering a pen and looking longingly towards the inkstand. The
Captain--a man of renowned discretion--quietly departed.

There is no more distrustful man than the simple gentleman of honour who
finds himself deceived and tricked. It is as if the bottom suddenly fell
out of his trust in all mankind, and there is nothing left but a mocking
void. Jem Agar lay on his mattress beneath the awning, and stared hard at
a bright star near the horizon. He was realising that life is, after all,
a sorry thing of chance, and that all his world might be hanging at that
moment on the word of an untrustworthy man.

Before morning he had determined to telegraph from Malta to Seymour
Michael to meet him at Plymouth on the arrival of the _Mahanaddy_ at that
port.



CHAPTER XXVI

BALANCING ACCOUNTS

And yet God has not said a word.


One fine morning in June the _Mahanaddy_ steamed with stately
deliberation into the calm water inside Plymouth breakwater. Many writers
love to dwell with pathetic insistence on incidents of a departure; but
there is also pathos--perhaps deeper and truer because more subtle--in
the arrival of the homeward-board ship.

Who can tell? There may have been others as anxious to look on the green
slopes of Mount Edgecumbe as the man with the mahogany-coloured face who
stood ever smoking--smoking--always at the forward starboard corner of
the hurricane deck. His story had not leaked out, because only two men on
board knew it--men with no conversational leaks whatever. He had made no
other friends. But many watched him half interestedly, and perhaps a few
divined the great calm impatience beneath the suppressed quiet of his
manner.

"That man--Jem Agar--is dangerous," the Doctor had said to the Captain
more than once, and Mark Ruthine was not often egregiously mistaken in
such matters.

"Um!" replied the Captain of the _Mahanaddy_. "There is an uncanny calm."

They were talking about him now as the Captain--his own pilot for
Plymouth and the Channel--walked slowly backwards and forwards on the
bridge. It seemed quite natural for the Doctor to be sitting on the rail
by the engine-room telegraph. The passengers and the men were quite
accustomed to it. This friendship was a matter of history to the homeless
world of men and women who travelled east and west through the Suez
Canal.

"He has asked me," the Doctor was saying, "to go ashore with him at
Plymouth; I don't know why. I imagine he is a little bit afraid of
wringing Seymour Michael's neck."

"Just as likely as not," observed the Captain. "It would be a good thing
done, but don't let Agar do it."

"May I leave the ship at Plymouth?" asked Mark Ruthine, with a quiet air
of obedience which seemed to be accepted with the gravity with which it
was offered.

"I don't see why you should not," was the reply. "Everybody goes ashore
there except about half a dozen men, who certainly will not want your
services."

"I should rather like to do it. We come from the same part of the
country, and Agar seems anxious to have me. He is not a chap to say much,
but I imagine there will be some sort of a _denouement_."

The Captain was looking through a pair of glasses ahead, towards the
anchorage.

"All right," he said. "Go."

And he continued to attend to his business with that watchful care which
made the _Mahanaddy_ one of the safest boats afloat.

Presently Mark Ruthine left the bridge and went to his cabin to pack. As
he descended he paused, and retracing his steps forward he went and
touched Jem Agar on the arm.

"It's all right," he said. "I'll go with you."

Agar nodded. He was gazing at the green English hills and far faint
valley of the Tamar with a curious gleam of excitement in his eyes.

Half an hour later they landed.

"You stick by me," said Jem Agar, when they discerned the small wiry form
of Seymour Michael awaiting them on the quay. "I want you to hear
everything."

This man was, as Ruthine had said, dangerous. He was too calm. There was
something grand and terrifying in that white heat which burned in his
eyes and drove the blood from his lips.

Seymour Michael came forward with his pleasant smile, waving his hand in
greeting to Jem and to Ruthine, whom he knew.

Jem shook hands with him.

"I'm all right, thanks," he said curtly, in answer to Seymour Michael's
inquiry.

"Good business--good business," exclaimed the General, who seemed
somewhat unnecessarily excited.

"Old Mark Ruthine too!" he went on. "You look as fit as ever. Still
turning your thousands out of the British public--eh!"

"Yes," said Ruthine, "thank you."

"Just run ashore for half an hour, I suppose?" continued Seymour Michael,
looking hurriedly out towards the _Mahanaddy_.

"No," replied Ruthine, "I leave the ship here."

The small man glanced from the face of one to the other with something
sly and uneasy in his eyes.

Jem Agar had altered since he saw him last in the little tent far up on
the slopes of the Pamir. He was older and graver. There was also a wisdom
in his eyes--that steadfast wise look that comes to eyes which have
looked too often on death. Mark Ruthine he knew, and him he distrusted,
with that quiet keenness of observation which was his.

"Now," he said eagerly to Jem, "what I thought we might do was to have a
little breakfast and catch the eleven o'clock train up to town. If
Ruthine will join us, I for one shall be very pleased. He won't mind our
talking shop."

Mark Ruthine was attending to the luggage, which was being piled upon a
cab.

"Have you not had breakfast?" asked Agar.

"Well, I have had a little, but I don't mind a second edition. That
waiter chap at the hotel got me out of bed much too soon. However, it is
worth getting up the night before to see you back, old chap."

"Is there not an earlier train than the eleven o'clock?" asked Agar,
looking at his watch. There was a singular constraint in his manner which
Seymour Michael could not understand.

"Yes, there is one at nine forty-five."

"Then let us go by that. We can get something at the station, if we want
it."

"Make it a bottle of champagne to celebrate the return of the explorer,
and I am your man," said Michael heartily.

"Make it anything you like," answered Agar, in a gentler voice. He was
beginning to come under the influence of Seymour Michael's sweet voice,
and of that fascination which nearly all educated Jews unconsciously
exercise.

He turned and beckoned to Mark Ruthine, who presently joined them, after
paying the boatmen.

"The nine forty-five is the train," he said to him. "We may as well walk
up. The streets of Plymouth are not pleasant to drive through."

So the cab was sent on with the luggage, and the three men turned to the
slope that leads up to the Hoe.

There was some sort of constraint over them, and they reached the summit
of the ascent without having exchanged a word.

When they stood on the Hoe, where the old Eddystone lighthouse is now
erected, Seymour Michael turned and looked out over the bay where the
ships lay at anchor.

"The good old _Mahanaddy_," he said, "the finest ship I have ever sailed
in."

Neither man answered him, but they turned also and looked, standing one
on each side of him.

Then at last Jem Agar spoke, breaking a silence which had been brooding
since the _Mahanaddy_ came out of the Canal.

"I want to know," he said, "exactly how things stand with my people at
home."

He continued to look out over the bay towards the _Mahanaddy_, but Mark
Ruthine was looking at Seymour Michael.

"Yes," replied the General, "I wanted to talk to you about that. That was
really my reason for proposing that we should wait till the second
train."

"There cannot be much to say," said Jem Agar rather coldly.

"Well, I wanted to tell you all about it."

"About what?"

There was what the Captain had called an uncanny calm in the voice.
General Michael did not answer, and Jem turned slowly towards him.

"I presume," he said, "that I am right in taking it for granted that you
have carried out your share of the contract?"

"My dear fellow, it has been perfectly wonderful. The secret has been
kept perfectly."

"By all concerned?"

"Eh!--yes."

Michael was glancing furtively at Mark Ruthine, as the fox glances back
over his shoulder, not at the huntsman, but at the hounds.

"Did you tell them personally, or did you write?" pursued Jem Agar
relentlessly.

"My dear fellow," replied Michael, pulling out his watch, "it is a long
story, and we must get to the train."

"No," replied Agar, in the calm voice which raised a sort of "fearful
joy" in Ruthine's soul, "we need not be getting to the train yet, and
there is no reason for it to be a long story."

Seymour Michael gave an uneasy little laugh, which met with no response
whatever. The two taller men exchanged a glance over his head. Up to that
moment Jem Agar had hoped for the best. He had a greater faith in human
nature than Mark Ruthine had managed to retain.

"Have you or have you not told those people whom you swore to me that you
would tell, out there, that night?" asked Jem.

"I told your brother," answered the General with dogged indifference.

"Only?"

There was an ugly gleam in the blue eyes.

"I didn't tell him not to tell the others."

"But you suggested it to him," put in Mark Ruthine, with the knowledge of
mankind that was his.

"What has it got to do with you, at any rate?" snapped Seymour Michael.

"Nothing," replied Ruthine, looking across at Agar.

"You did not tell Dora Glynde?"

General Michael shrugged his shoulders.

"Why?" asked Jem hoarsely. It was singular, that sudden hoarseness, and
the Doctor, whose business such things were, made a note of it.

"I didn't dare to do it. Why, man, it was too dangerous to tell a single
soul. If it had leaked out you would have been murdered up there as
sure as hell. There would have been plenty of men ready to do it for
half-a-crown."

"That was _my_ business," answered Jem coolly. "You promised, you
_swore_, that you would tell Dora Glynde, my step-mother, and my brother
Arthur. And you didn't do it. Why?"

"I have given you my reasons--it was too dangerous. Besides, what does it
matter? It is all over now."

"No," said Jem, "not yet."

The clock struck nine at that moment; and from the harbour came the sound
of the ship's bells, high and clear, sounding the hour. The Hoe was quite
deserted; these three men were alone. A silence followed the ringing of
the bells, like the silence that precedes a verdict.

Then Jem Agar spoke.

"I asked Mark Buthine," he said, "to come ashore with me, because I had
reason to suspect your good faith. I can't see now why you should have
done this, but I suppose that people who are born liars, as Ruthine says
you are, prefer lying to telling the truth. You are coming down now with
Ruthine and myself to Stagholme. I shall tell the whole story as it
happened, and then you will have to explain matters to the two ladies as
best you can."

A sudden unreasoning terror took possession of Seymour Michael. He knew
that one of the ladies was Anna Agar, the woman who hated him almost as
much as he deserved. He was afraid of her; for it is one consolation to
the wronged to know that the wronger goes all through his life with a
dull, unquenchable fear upon his heart. But this was not sufficient,
this could not account for the mighty terror which clutched his soul at
that moment, and he knew it. He felt that this was something beyond
that--something which could not be reasoned away. It was a physical
terror, one of those emotions which seem to attack the body independently
of the soul, a terror striking the Man before it reaches the Mind. His
limbs trembled; it was only by an effort that he kept his teeth clenched
to prevent them from chattering.

"And," said Jem Agar, "if I find that any harm has been done--if any one
has suffered for this, I will give you the soundest thrashing you have
ever had in your life."

Both his hearers knew now who Dora Glynde was, what she was to him. He
neither added to their knowledge nor sought to mislead. He was not, as we
have said, _de ceux qui s'expliquent_.

"Come," he added, and turning he led the way across the Hoe.

Seymour Michael followed quietly. He was cowed by the inward fear which
would not be allayed, and the judicial calmness of these two men
paralysed him. Once, in the train, he began explaining matters over
again.

"We will hear all that at Stagholme," said Jem sternly, and Mark Ruthine
merely looked at him over the top of a newspaper which he was not
reading.



CHAPTER XXVII

AT BAY

To thine own self be true;
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.


Human nature is, after all, a hopeless failure. Not even the very best
instinct is safe. It will probably be turned sooner or later to evil
account.

The best instinct in Anna Agar was her maternal love, and upon this
strong rock she finally wrecked her barque. She was one of those women
who hold that, so long as the object is unselfish, the means used to
obtain it cannot well be evil. She did not say this in so many words,
because she was quite without principle, good or bad, and she invariably
acted on impulse.

Her impulse at this time was to turn as much of heaven and earth as came
under her influence to compel Dora to marry Arthur. That Arthur should be
unhappy, and should be allowed to continue in that common condition, was
a thought that she could not tolerate or allow. Something must be done,
and it was characteristic of the woman that that something should present
itself to her in the form of the handy and useful lie. In a strait we all
naturally turn to that accomplishment in which we consider ourselves most
proficient. The blusterer blusters; the profane man swears; the tearful
woman weeps--and weeping, by the way, is no mean accomplishment if it be
used at the right moment. Mrs. Agar naturally meditated on that form of
diplomacy which is sometimes called lying. The truth would not serve her
purpose (not that she had given it a fair trial), and therefore she would
forsake the straight path for that other one which hath many turnings.

Dora absolutely refused to come to Stagholme while Arthur was there--a
delicacy of feeling, which, by the way, was quite incomprehensible to
Mrs. Agar. It was necessary for Arthur's happiness that he should see
Dora again and try the effect of another necktie and further eloquence.
Therefore, Dora must be made by subterfuge to see Arthur.

"Dear Dora," she wrote, "it will be a great grief to me if this
unfortunate attachment of my poor boy's is allowed to interfere with the
affection which has existed between us since your infancy. Come, dear,
and see me to-morrow afternoon. I shall be quite alone, and the subject
which, of course, occupies the first place in my thoughts will, if you
wish it, be tabooed.

"Your affectionate old Friend,

"ANNA AGAR."

"It will be quite easy," reflected this diplomatic lady as she folded the
letter--almost illegible on account of its impetuosity--"for Arthur to
come back from East Burgen earlier than I expected him."

The rest she left to chance, which was very kind but not quite necessary,
for chance had already taken possession of the rest, and was even at that
moment making her arrangements.

Dora read the letter in the garden beneath the laburnum-tree, where she
spent a large part of her life. Before reaching the end of the epistle
she had determined to go. She was a young person of spirit as well as of
discrimination, and in obedience to the urging of the former was quite
ready to show Mrs. Agar, and Arthur too, if need be, that she was not
afraid of them.

She was distinctly conscious of the increasing power of her own strength
of purpose as she made this resolution, and as she walked across the park
the next afternoon her feeling was one very near akin to elation. It is
only the strong who mistrust their own power. Dora Glynde had always
looked upon herself as a somewhat weak and easily led person; she was
beginning to feel her own strength now and to rejoice in it. From the
first she half-suspected a trap of some sort. Such a subterfuge was
eminently characteristic of Mrs. Agar, and that lady's manner of
welcoming her only increased the suspicion.

The mistress of Stagholme was positively crackling with an excitement
which even her best friend could not have called suppressed. There was no
suppression whatever about it.

"So good of you," she panted, "to come, Dora dear!"

And she searched madly for her pocket handkerchief.

"Not at all," replied Dora, very calmly.

"And now, dear," went on the lady of the house, "are we going to talk
about it?"

The question was somewhat futile, for it was easy to see that she was not
in a condition to talk of anything else.

"I think not," replied Dora. She had a way of using the word "think" when
she was positive. "The question was raised the last time I saw you, and I
do not think that any good resulted from it."

Mrs. Agar's face dropped. In some ways she was a child still, and a
childish woman of fifty is as aggravating a creature as walks upon this
earth. Dora remembered every word of the interview referred to, while
Mrs. Agar had almost forgotten it. It is to the common-minded that common
proverbs and sayings of the people apply. Hard words had not the power of
breaking anything in Mrs. Agar's being.

"Of course," she said, "_I_ don't wish to talk about it, if you don't. It
is most painful to me."

She had dragged forward a second chair, only separated from that occupied
by Dora by the tea-table.

"Arthur," she said, with a lamentable assumption of cheerfulness, "has
driven over to East Burgen to get some things I wanted. He will not be
back for ever so long."

She reflected that he was overdue at that moment, and that the butler had
orders to send him to the library as soon as he returned.

"I was sorry to hear," said Dora, quite naturally, "that he had not
passed his examination."

Mrs. Agar glanced at her cunningly; she was always looking for second
meanings in the most innocent remarks, hardly guilty of an original
meaning.

At this moment the door leading through a smaller library into the
dining-room opened and Arthur came quietly in. He changed colour and
hesitated, but only for a moment. Then he remembered that before all
things a gentleman must be a gentleman. He came forward and held out his
hand.

"How do you do?" he said, and for a moment he was quite dignified. "I am
glad to see you here with mother. I did not know that I was going to
interrupt a _téte-à-téte_, tea. No tea, thanks, mother; no."

"Have you brought the things I wanted? You are earlier than I expected,"
blurted out the lady of the house unskillfully.

"Yes, I have brought them."

"I must go and see if they are right," said Mrs. Agar, rising, and before
he could stop her she passed out of the door by which he had entered.

For a moment there was an awkward silence, then Dora spoke--after the
door had been reluctantly closed from without.

"I suppose," she said, "that this was done on purpose?"

"Not by me, Dora."

She merely bowed her head.

"Do you believe me?" he asked.

"Yes."

She continued to sip her tea, and he actually handed her a plate of
biscuits.

"Is it still No?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes."

Perhaps her fresh youthful beauty moved him, perhaps it was merely
opposition that raised his love suddenly to the dignity of a passion that
made him for once forget himself, his clothes, his personal appearance,
and the gentlemanly modulation of his voice.

For a moment he was almost a man. He almost touched the height of a man's
ascendency over woman.

"You may say No now," he cried, "but I shall have you yet. Some day you
will say Yes."

It was then for the first time that Dora realised that this man did
actually love her according to his lights. But never for an instant did
she admit in her own mind the possibility of succumbing to Arthur's will.
It is not by words that men command women. They must first command their
respect, and that is never gained by words.

Dora was conscious of a feeling of sudden, unspeakable pain. Arthur had
only succeeded in convincing her that she could have submitted to a man's
will, wholly and without reserve; but not to the will of Arthur Agar. He
had only showed her that such a submission would in itself have been a
greater happiness than she had ever tasted. But she knew at once that
only one man ever had, ever could have had, the power of exacting such
submission; and he commanded it, not by word of mouth (for he never
seemed to ask it), but by something strong and just and good within
himself, before which her whole being bowed down.

We never know how we appear in the eyes of our neighbours, friends or
lovers. Arthur was at that moment in Dora's eyes a mere sham, aping
something he could never attain.

He had seized her two hands in his nervous and delicate fingers, from
which she easily withdrew them. The action was natural enough, strong
enough. But he completely spoiled the effect by the words he spoke in his
thin tenor voice.

"No, Arthur," she said. "No, Arthur; since you mention the future, I may
as well tell you _now_ that my answer will never be anything but No. At
one time I thought that it might be different. I told my mother that
possibly, after a great many years, I might think otherwise; but I
retract that. I shall never think otherwise. And if you imagine that you
can force me to do so, please lay aside that hope at once."

"Then there is some one else!" cried Arthur, with an apparent
irrelevance. "I know there is some one else."

Dora seemed to be reflecting. She looked over his head, out of the
window, where the fleecy summer clouds floated idly over the sky.

She turned and looked deliberately at the door by which Mrs. Agar had
disappeared. It was standing ajar. Then again she reflected, weighing
something in her mind.

"Yes," she replied half-dreamily at length. "I think you have a right to
know--there is some one else."

"Was," corrected Arthur, with the womanly intuition which was given to
him with other womanly traits.

"Was and is," replied Dora quietly. "His being dead makes no difference
so far as you are concerned."

"Then it _was_ Jem! I was sure it was Jem," said a third voice.

In the excitement of the moment Mrs. Agar forgot that when ladies and
gentlemen stoop to eavesdropping they generally retire discreetly and
return after a few moments, humming a tune, hymns preferred.

"I knew that you were there," said Dora, with a calmness which was not
pleasant to the ear. "I saw your black dress through the crack of the
door. You did not stand quite still, which was a pity, because the
sunlight was on the floor behind you. I was not surprised; it was worthy
of you."

"I take God to witness," cried Mrs. Agar, "that I only heard the last
words as I came back into the room."

"Don't," said Dora, "that is blasphemy."

"Arthur," cried Mrs. Agar, "will you hear your mother called names?"

"We will not wrangle," said Dora, rising with something very like a smile
on her face. "Yes, if you want to know, it _was_ Jem. I have only his
memory, but still I can be faithful to that. I don't care if all the
world knows; that is why I told _you_ behind the door. I am not ashamed
of it. I always did care for Jem."

There was a little pause, for mother and son had nothing to answer. Dora
turned to take her gloves, which she had laid on a side table, and as she
did so the other door opened, the principal door leading to the hall.
Moreover, it was opened without the menial pause, and they all turned in
surprise, knowing that there were only servants in the house.

In the doorway stood Jem, brown-faced, lean, and anxious-looking. There
was something wolf-like in his face, with the fierce blue eyes shining
from beneath dark lashes, the fair moustache pushed forward by set lips.

Behind him the keen face of Seymour Michael peered nervously, restlessly
from side to side. He was distinctly suggestive of a rat in a trap. And
beyond him, in the gloom of the old arras-hung hall, a third man,
seemingly standing guard over Seymour Michael, for he was not looking
into the room but watching every movement made by the General--tall man,
dark, upright, with a silent, clean-shaven face, a total stranger to them
all. But his manner was not that of a stranger, he seemed to have
something to do there.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE LAST LINK

A thing hereditary in the race comes unawares.


Jem came straight into the room, and there seemed to be no one in it for
him but Dora. She went to meet him with outstretched hand, and her eyes
were answering the questions that she read in his.

He took her hand and he said no word, but suddenly all the misery of the
last year slipped back, as it were, into a dream. She could not define
her thoughts then, and they left no memory to recall afterwards. She
seemed to forget that this man had been dead and was living, she only
knew that her hand was within his. Jem looked round to the others
present, his attitude a judgment in itself, his face, in its fierce
repose, a verdict.

Mark Ruthine had gently pushed Seymour Michael into the room and was
closing the door behind them. Mrs. Agar did not see the General, who was
half-concealed by his junior officer. She could not take her eyes from
Jem's face.

"This is fortunate," he said; and the sound of his voice was music in
Dora's ears. "This is fortunate, every one seems to be here."

He paused for a moment, as if at a loss, and drew his brown hand down
over his moustache. Perhaps he felt remotely that his position was strong
and almost dramatic; but that, being a simple, honest Englishman, he was
unable to turn it to account.

He turned towards Seymour Michael, who stood behind, uncomfortably
conscious of Mark Ruthine at his heels. It was not in Jem to make an
effective scene. Englishmen are so. We do not make our lives
superficially picturesque by apostrophising the shade of a dead mother.
Jem gave way to the natural instinct of a soldier by nature and training.
A clear statement of the facts, and a short, sharp judgment.

"This man," he said, laying his hand on the General's shoulder, and
bringing him forward, "has been brought here by us to explain something."

White-lipped, breathless, in a ghastly silence Anna Agar and Seymour
Michael stared at each other over the dainty tea-table, across a gulf of
misused years, through the tangle of two unfaithful lives.

Then Jem Agar began his story, addressing himself to Dora, then, and
until the end.

"I was not with Stevenor," he said, "when his force was surprised and
annihilated. I had been sent on through an enemy's country into a
position which no man had the right to ask another to hold with the force
allowed me. This man sent me. All his life has he been seeking glory at
the risk of other men's lives. After the disaster he came to me and
relieved my little force; but he proposed to me a scheme of exploration,
which I have carried through. But even now I shall not get the credit;
_he_ will have that. It was a low, scurrilous thing to do; for he was my
commanding officer, and I could not say No."

"I gave you the option," blurted out Michael sullenly.

Jem took no notice of the interruption, which only had the effect of
making Mark Ruthine move up a few paces nearer.

"He made a great point of secrecy," continued Agar, "which at the time I
thought to be for my safety. But now I see otherwise; Ruthine has pointed
it out to me. If I had never come back he would have said nothing, and
would thus have escaped the odium of having sent a man to certain death.
I only made one condition--namely, that three persons should be informed
at once of my survival, after the disaster to Stevenor's force. Those
three persons were my brother Arthur, my step-mother, and Miss Glynde."

He paused for a moment, and Dora's clear, low voice took up the
narrative.

"I met General Michael," she said, "in London, some months ago. I met him
more than once. He knew quite well who I was, and he never told me."

Thus was the first link of the chain riveted. Seymour Michael winced. He
never raised his eyes.

Mark Ruthine moved forward again. He did so with a singular rapidity, for
he had seen murder flash from beneath Jem Agar's eyebrows. He was
standing between them, his left hand gripping Jem's right arm with an
undeniable strength. Dora, looking at them, suddenly felt the tears well
to her eyes. There was something that melted her heart strangely in the
sight of those two men--friends--standing side by side; and at that
moment her affection went out towards Mark Ruthine, the friend of Jem,
who understood Jem, who knew Jem and loved him, perhaps, a thousandth
part as well as she did; an affection which was never withdrawn all
through their lives.

It was Ruthine's voice that broke the silence, giving Jem time to master
himself.

"It is to his credit," he said, also addressing Dora, "that for very
shame he did not dare to tell you that he had sent Agar on a mission
which was as unnecessary as it was dangerous. When he sent him he must
have known that it was almost a sentence of death."

Then Jem spoke again.

"As soon as I got back to civilisation," he said, "I wrote to him as
arranged, and I enclosed letters to--the three persons who were admitted
into the secret. Those letters have, of course, never reached their
destination. General Michael will be required to explain that also."

At this moment Arthur Agar gave a strange little cackling laugh,
which drew the general attention towards him. He was looking at his
half-brother, with a glitter in his usually soft and peaceful eyes.

"There are a good many things which he will have to explain."

"Yes," answered Jem. "That is why we have brought him here."

It fell to Arthur Agar's lot to forge the second link.

"When," he asked Jem, "did he know that you had got back to safety and
civilisation?"

"Two months ago, by telegram."

The half-brothers turned with one accord towards Seymour Michael, who
stood trying to conceal the quiver of his lips.

"He promised," said Arthur Agar, "to tell me at once when he received
news of your safety."

It was singular that Seymour Michael should give way at that moment to a
little shrinking movement of fear--back and away, not from Jem, who
towered huge and powerful above him, but from the frail and delicate
younger brother. Mark Ruthine, who was standing behind, saw the movement
and wondered at it. For it would appear that, of all his judges, Seymour
Michael feared the weakest most.

And so the second link was welded on to the first, while only Anna Agar
knew the motive that had prompted Michael to suppress the news. She
divined that it was spite towards herself, and for once in her life, with
that intuition which only comes at supreme moments, she had the wisdom to
bide her time.

Then at last Seymour Michael spoke. He did not raise his eyes, but his
words were evidently addressed to Arthur.

"I acted," he said, "as I thought best. Secrecy was necessary for Agar's
safety. I knew that if I told you too much you would tell your mother,
and--I know your mother better than either you or Jem Agar know her. She
is not fit to be trusted with the most trifling secret."

"Well, you see, you were quite wrong," burst out Mrs. Agar, with a
derisive laugh. "For I knew it all along. Arthur told me at the first."

Her voice came as a shock to them all. It was harsh and common, the voice
of the street-wrangler.

"Then," cried Seymour Michael, as sharp as fate, "why did you not tell
Miss Glynde?"

He raised his arm, pointing one lean dark finger into her face.

"I knew," he hissed, "that the boy would tell you. I counted on it. Why
did you not tell Miss Glynde? Come! Tell us why."

Mark Ruthine's face was a study. It was the face of a very keen sportsman
at the corner of a "drive." In every word he saw twice as much as simple
Jem Agar ever suspected.

"Well," answered Mrs. Agar, wavering, "because I thought it better not."

"No," Dora said, "you kept it from me because you wanted me to marry
Arthur. And you thought that I should do so because he was master of
Stagholme. You wanted to trick me into marrying Arthur before"--she
hesitated--"before--"

"Before I came back," added Jem imperturbably. "That was it, that was
it!" cried Seymour Michael, grasping at the straw which might serve to
turn the current aside from himself.

But the attempt failed. No one took any notice of it. Jem was looking at
Dora, and she was looking anywhere except at him.

It was Jem who spoke, with the decisiveness of the president of a
court-martial.

"That will come afterwards," he said. "And now, perhaps," he went on,
turning towards Seymour, "you will kindly explain why you broke your word
to me. Explain it to these l---- [sic.] to Miss Glynde."

Seymour Michael shrugged his shoulders.

"Why, what is the good of making all this fuss about it now?" he
explained. "It has all come right. I acted as I thought best. That is all
the explanation I have to offer."

"Can you not do better than that?" inquired Jem, with a dangerous
suavity. "You had better try."

Dora was looking at Jem now, appealingly. She knew that tone of voice,
and feared it. She alone suspected the anger that was hidden behind so
calm an exterior.

Seymour Michael preserved a dogged silence, glancing from side to side
beneath his lowered lashes. He had not forgotten Jem's threat, but he
felt the safeguard of a lady's presence.

"I can offer an explanation," put in Mark Ruthine. "This man is mentally
incapable of telling the truth and of doing the straight thing. There are
some people who are born liars. This man is one. It is not quite fair to
judge him as one would judge others. I have known him for years, have
watched him, have studied him."

All eyes turned towards Seymour Michael, who stood half-cringing,
trembling with fear and hatred towards his relentless judges.

"Years ago," pursued Ruthine, "at the outset of life, he committed a
wanton crime. He did a wrong to a poor innocent woman, whose only fault
was to love him beyond his deserts. He was engaged to be married to her,
and meeting a richer woman he had not the courage to ask to be released
from his engagement. It happened that by a mistake he was gazetted 'dead'
at the time of the Mutiny. He never contradicted the mistake--that was
how he got out of his engagement. He played the same trick with Jem
Agar's name. I recognised it."

Then the last link of the chain was forged.

"So did I," said Anna Agar. "I was the woman."

Before the words were well out of her mouth Mark Ruthine's voice was
raised in an alarmed shout.

"Look out!" he cried. "Hold that man; he is mad!"

No one had been noticing Arthur Agar--no one except Seymour Michael, who
had never taken his eyes from his face during Ruthine's narration.

With a groan, unlike a human sound at all, Arthur Agar had rushed forward
when his mother spoke, and for a few seconds there was a wild confusion
in the room, while Seymour Michael, white with dread, fled before his
doom. In and out among the people and the furniture, shouting for help,
he leapt and struggled. Then there came a crash. Seymour Michael had
broken through the window, smashing the glass, with his arms doubled over
his face.

A second later Arthur wrenched open the sash and gave chase across the
lawn. In the confusion some moments elapsed before the two heavier men
followed him over the smooth turf, and the ladies from the window saw
Arthur Agar kneeling over Seymour Michael on the stone terrace at the end
of the lawn. They heard with cruel distinctness the sharp crackling crash
of the Jew's head upon the stone flags, as Arthur shook him as a terrier
shakes a rat.

Instinctively they followed, and as they came up to the group where
Ruthine was kneeling over Seymour Michael, while Jem dragged Arthur away,
they heard the Doctor say--

"Agar, get the ladies away. This man is dead. Look sharp, man! They
mustn't see this."

And Jem barred their way with one hand, while he held his half-brother
with the other.



CHAPTER XXIX

SETTLED

For love in sequel works with fate.


The four walked back to the library together. Mrs. Agar looked back over
her shoulder at every other footstep. She took no notice of her son. Her
affection for him seemed suddenly to have been absorbed and lost in some
other emotion.

Jem was half supporting, half carrying Arthur, whose eyes were like those
of a dead man, while his lips were parted in a vacant, senseless way.

Already Ruthine could be heard giving his orders to the gardeners and
other servants who had gathered round him in a wonderfully short space of
time.

Dora passed into the library first, treading carefully over the broken
glass, and Mrs. Agar followed her without appearing to notice the sound
of breakage beneath her feet. No one had spoken a word since Mark Ruthine
had told them that Seymour Michael was dead. There are some situations in
life wherein we suddenly realise what an inadequate thing human speech
is. There are some things that others know which we have never told them,
and would ever be unable to tell them. There are some feelings within us
for which no language can find expression.

Mrs. Agar was simply stupefied. When God does mete out punishment here on
earth, He does so with an overflowing measure. This devoted mother did
not even evince anxiety as to the welfare of her son, for whose sake she
had made so many blunders, so many futile plots.

Jem brought Arthur into the room, and led him to an arm-chair. There was
that steady masterfulness in his manner which comes to those who have
looked on death in many forms and whom nothing can dismay.

He offered no unnecessary assistance or advice, did not fussily loosen
Arthur's necktie, or perform any of those small inappropriate offices
which some would have deemed necessary under the circumstances. He knew
quite well that this was no matter of a necktie or a collar.

Mrs. Agar seated herself on a sofa opposite, and slowly swayed her body
backwards and forwards. She was one of those persons who can never
separate mental anguish from physical pain. They have but one way of
expressing both, and possibly of feeling both. Her hands were clasped on
her lap, her head on one side, her lips drawn back as if in agony. She
even went so far as to breathe laboriously.

Thus they remained; Jem watching Arthur, Dora watching Jem, who seemed to
ignore her presence.

It was Mrs. Agar who spoke first, angrily and bitterly.

"What is the good of standing there?" she said to Jem. "Can't you find
something more useful to do than that?"

Jem looked at her, first with surprise and then with something very
nearly approaching contempt.

"I am waiting," he replied, "for Ruthine. He is a doctor."

"Who wants a doctor now? What is the good of a doctor now--now that
Seymour is dead? I don't know what he is doing here, at any rate,
meddling."

"Arthur wants a doctor," replied Jem. "Can you not see that he is in a
sort of trance? He hears and sees nothing. He is quite unconscious."

Mrs. Agar seemed only half to understand. She stared at her son, swaying
backwards and forwards in imbecile misery.

"Oh dear! oh dear!" she whispered, "what have we done to deserve this?"

After a few seconds she repeated the words.

"What have we done to deserve this? What have we done ..."

Her voice died away into a whisper, and when that became inaudible her
lips went on moving, still framing the same words over and over again.

In this manner they waited, with that dull senselessness to the flight of
time which follows on a great shock.

They all heard the clatter of horses' feet on the gravel of the avenue,
and probably they all divined that Mark Ruthine had sent for medical
help.

To Dora the sound brought a sudden boundless sense of relief. Amidst this
mental confusion it came as a practical common-sense proof that the
tension of the last year was over. The burden of her own life was by it
lifted from her shoulders; for Jem was here, and nothing could matter
very much now.

Presently Ruthine came into the room. As he went towards Arthur he
glanced at Dora and then at Mrs. Agar, but the young fellow was evidently
his first care.

While he was kneeling by the low chair examining Arthur's eyes and face,
Mrs. Agar suddenly rose and crossed the room.

"Is he dead?" she said abruptly.

"Who?" inquired Mark Ruthine, without looking round.

"Seymour Michael."

"Yes."

"Quite?"

"Yes."

"Then Arthur killed him?"

"Yes."

All this while Arthur was lying back in the chair, white and lifeless.
His eyes were open, he breathed regularly, but he heard nothing that was
said, nor saw anything before his eyes.

"Then," said Mrs. Agar, "that was a murder?"

She was looking out of the window, towards the stone terrace, already
conscious that the scene that she had witnessed there would never be
effaced from her memory while she had life.

After a little pause Mark Ruthine spoke.

"No," he answered, "it was not that. Your son was not responsible for his
actions when he did it. I think I can prove that. I do not yet know what
it was. It was very singular. I think it was some sort of mental
aberration--temporary, I hope, and think. We will see when he recovers
himself--when the circulation is restored."

While he spoke he continued to examine his patient. He spoke in his
natural tone, without attempting to lower his voice, for he knew that
Arthur Agar had no comprehension of things terrestrial at that time.

"It was not," he went on, "the action of a sane man. Besides, he could
not have done it. In his right mind he could not have killed Seymour
Michael, who was a strong man. As it is, I think that there was some sort
of paralysis in Seymour Michael--a paralysis of fear. He seemed too
frightened to attempt to defend himself. Besides, why should your son do
it?"

"He was born hating him."

Mark Ruthine slowly turned, still upon his knees. He rose, and in his
dark face there was that strange eagerness again, like the eagerness of a
sportsman approaching some unknown quarry in the jungle.

"What do you mean, Mrs. Agar?" he asked.

"I mean that he was born with a hatred for that man stronger than
anything that was in him. His soul was given to him full of hate for
Seymour Michael. Such things are when a woman bears a child in the midst
of great passion."

"Yes," said Mark Ruthine, "I know."

"The night he was born," Mrs. Agar went on, "I first saw and spoke to
that man after he had come back from India--after I had learnt what he
had done."

Ruthine turned round towards Jem and Dora.

"You hear that," he said to them. "This is not the story of a mother
trumped up in court to save her son. It is the truth. There are some
things which we do not understand even yet. Don't forget what you have
heard. It will come in usefully."

He turned to Mrs. Agar again.

"Did he know the story?" he asked.

"He never heard it until you told it just now."

"Can you swear to that, Mrs. Agar?"

"Yes."

"Then," said Ruthine, "he does not know now that you are the woman whom
Seymour Michael wronged. He need never know it. The paroxysm had come on
before you spoke--that was why I shouted. He was mad with hate, before
you opened your lips."

Mrs. Agar was now beginning to realise what was at stake. The mother's
love was re-awakening. The old cunning look came into her eyes, and her
quick, truthless mind was evidently on the alert. There was something
animal-like in Mrs. Agar; but she was of the lower order of animal, that
seeks to defend its young by cunning and not by sheer bravery.

Ruthine must have guessed at something, for he said at once:

"Remember what you have told me. You will have to repeat that exactly.
Add nothing to it, take nothing from it, or you will spoil it. Tell me,
has your son seen this man more than once?"

"No, only once; at Cambridge."

"All right; I think I shall be able to prove it."

As he spoke he went towards the writing-table and, sitting down, he wrote
out a prescription. Dora followed him and held out her hand for the
paper.

"Send for that at once, please," he said.

Then he beckoned to Jem.

"I have sent for the local doctor," he said to him. "But I should advise
having some one else--Llandoller from Harley Street. This is far above
our heads."

"Telegraph for him," answered Jem Agar.

While Ruthine wrote he went on speaking.

"We must get him upstairs at once," he said. "I should like to have him
in bed before the doctor comes."

In answer to the bell, rung a second time, the servant came, looking
white and scared.

"Show Dr. Ruthine Mr. Arthur's room," said Jem; and Ruthine took Arthur
up in his arms like a child.

When they had gone there was a silence. Mrs. Agar made no attempt to
follow. She sat down again on the sofa, swaying backwards and forwards.
Perhaps she was dimly aware that there remained something still to be
said.

Jem Agar crossed the room and stood in front of her. Dora, from the
background, was pleading with her eyes for this woman. There were the
makings of a very hard man in James Edward Makerstone Agar, and seven
years of the grimmest soldiering of modern days had done nothing to
soften him. He was strictly just; but it is not justice that women want.
To all men there comes a time when they recognise the fact that all their
time and all their energies are required for the taking care of _one_
woman, and that all the rest must take care of themselves.

"You may stay," he said to his step-mother, "until Arthur is removed from
this house--but no longer. I shall never pretend to forgive you, and I
never want to see you again."

Mrs. Agar made no answer, nor did she look up.

"Go," said Jem, with a little jerk of his head towards the door.

Slowly she rose, and without looking at either of them she passed out of
the room.

When, at last, they were left alone in the quiet library where they had
played together as children, where the happiest moments of his life and
the most miserable of hers had been lived through.

Dora did not seem to know quite what to do. She was standing by the
writing-table, with one hand resting on it, facing him, but not looking
at him. She suddenly felt unable to do that--felt at a loss, abashed,
unequal to the moment.

But Jem seemed to have no hesitation. He was quite natural and very
deliberate. He seemed to know quite well what to do. He closed the door
behind Mrs. Agar, and then he came across the room and took Dora in his
arms, as if there were no question about it. He said nothing. After all,
there was nothing to be said.

THE END





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