Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Well, After All
Author: Moore, Frank Frankfort
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 "Well, After All" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



WELL, AFTER ALL

By F. Frankfort Moore

New York: Dodd, Mead and Company

1899

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0007]



CHAPTER I.

|It was an interesting scene, beyond doubt,” said Mr. Westwood, the
senior partner in the Bracken-shire Bank of Westwood, Westwood, Barwell,
& Westwood. “Yes, I felt more than once greatly interested in the course
of the day.”

“Greatly interested? Greatly interested?” said Cyril Mowbray, his second
repetition of the words being a note or two higher than the first.
“Greatly int----Oh, well, perhaps you had your own reasons for feeling
interested in so trivial an incident as a run on your bank that might
have made you a beggar in an hour or two. Yes, I shouldn’t wonder if I
myself would have had my interest aroused--to a certain extent--had
I been in your place, Dick.” Mr. Westwood laughed with an excellent
assumption of indifference, a minute or two after his friend had spoken.
Cyril could not understand why he had not laughed at once; but that was
probably because he had not been brought up as the senior partner in a
banking business, or, for that matter, in any other business.

“The fact is,” said Mr. Westwood thoughtfully, when his laugh had
dwindled into a smile, as a breeze on the water dwindles into a
cat’s-paw, “the fact is, Cyril, my lad, I’ve always been more or less
interested in observing men--men”--

“And women--women,” said Cyril with a laugh. “You had a chance of
observing a woman or two to-day, hadn’t you? I noticed that Mrs.
Lithgow--the little widow--among the crowd who clamoured for their
money--yes, and that Miss Swanston--she was there too. She looked twenty
years older than she is, even assuming that the estimate of her age made
by the women in our neighbourhood is correct.”

“Yes, I was always interested in observing my fellow-men,” said Mr.
Westwood musingly. “I noticed those women to-day. They were worth it.
Women always give themselves away upon such an occasion. Men seldom do.”

“By George, Dick, there were some men in the crowd that filled the
bank to-day who gave themselves away quite as badly as the women!” said
Cyril.

“No doubt; but some of them met me with smiles and made a remark or two
regarding the extraordinary weather we have been having for May; they
wondered if the good old-fashioned summers were gone for ever--some of
them went so far as to express a sudden interest in my pheasants, before
they came to business. But the women--they made no pretence--they wasted
no time in preliminary chatter. ‘My money--my money--give me my money!’
was what each of them gasped. They showed their teeth like--like”--

“Wolves?”

“Vampires rather, man. Isn’t it wonderful that a woman--a lady--can
change her natural expression of calm--the repose that stamps the
caste of Vere de Vere--to that of a Harpy in a moment? It makes one
thoughtful, doesn’t it? Which is the real woman, Cyril--the one who
smiles pleasantly on you and insists on your taking another hot
buttered muffin as you loll in one of her easy-chairs in front of her
drawing-room fire, or the one who rushes trembling into your office and
stretches out a lean talon-like gloveless hand, glaring at you all the
time, with a cry--some shrill, others hoarse--of ‘My money!--give me my
money!’--which is the real woman?”

“They are not two but one,” said Cyril. “Thunder and lightning are as
natural as sunshine and zephyr. Revenge is as much a part of a woman’s
nature as love; constancy does not exclude jealousy. A woman is a rather
complex piece of machinery, Dick.”

“What! Has Lothario turned philosopher?” cried Mr. Westwood. “Has Mr.
Cyril Mowbray become a student of woman in the abstract and an exponent
of her nature?”

“Mr. Cyril Mowbray isn’t quite such a fool as to fancy that he knows
anything about the nature of woman beyond what any man who keeps his
eyes open may know; only, when he hears a cynic such as Dick Westwood
suggest that a woman can’t be sincere when she asks you to have another
piece of toast--or was it cake?--because he has seen her anxious to
get into her own hand her own money that is to keep her out of the
workhouse, Mr. Cyril Mowbray ventures to make a remark.”

“And a wise remark, too,” said Westwood. “I’ve noticed that women
believe in the men who believe in them. They believe in you”--

“Worse luck!” muttered Cyril.

“And they don’t believe in me--shall I say, better luck?”

“They believed in you sufficiently to place their money in your bank.”

“But not sufficiently to be confident that I would refrain from
swindling them out of it, should I have the chance. There’s the
difference between us--the difference in a nutshell. If the bank was
yours and the rumour came, unaccountably as all such rumours come, that
you were insolvent, the women whose money you held would say, ‘Let him
keep it and welcome, even if we have to go to the workhouse.’ But the
moment they hear that there is a chance of my not being able to pay my
way, down they swoop upon me as the Harpies swooped down upon Odysseus
and his partners. And yet I have been quite as nice to women as you have
ever been--in fact, I might almost say I’ve been rather nicer. After
all, they only entrusted their cash to my keeping, whereas to you they
entrust”--

“Worse luck--worse luck!” groaned Cyril. “That brings us back to the
matter we talked over when we were last together. Poor Lizzie Dangan!
You told me that I should confess all to my sister; but, hang it all, I
can’t do that! I tell you, Dick, I can’t bring myself to do it.”

“Psha! Let us talk of something else; I haven’t much inclination to
give myself up to the discussion of such trifles after what I have come
through to-day. Heavens! how can you expect a man who has passed through
such a crisis as only comes into few men’s lives, to discuss the love
affair of a boy and girl? Do you suppose that the men who had walked
over the red-hot ploughshares would have made a sympathetic audience to
the bard who had just composed a ballad about Edwin and Angelina? Do
you think it likely that the three young men who passed through the
seven-times heated furnace of King Nebuchadnezzar, or somebody, were
particularly anxious, on coming out, to discuss the aesthetic elements
in the Song of Solomon?”

“A few minutes ago you were referring to the run on the bank as if
it was the merest trifle; you were making out that you took only an
academic interest in the incident.”

“So I did, so I did; yes, while it lasted. I’m convinced, my friend
Cyril, that a man who is being married, or hanged, or tried for some
crime, regards the whole affair from quite an impersonal standpoint.
Don’t you remember how the Tichborne Claimant, on being asked on the
hundredth day of his trial something about what was going on, said, ‘My
dear sir, I’ve long ago ceased to have any interest in this particular
case’?”

“Yes, but the Tichborne Claimant was the most highly perjured man of the
century.”

“He drifted into accuracy upon the occasion to which I refer.
Psha! never mind. Here we are at the gates, safe and sound, thank
Heaven!--yes, thank Heaven and your sister. Cyril, you should be proud
of her. I’m proud of her. What she did went a long way toward saving the
bank.”

“If those fools who were clamouring at the desks had only paused for
a minute they would have known that the lodgment of a cheque could not
save the bank.”

“But Agnes was clever enough to know that panic-stricken men and women
do not pause to consider such things. When they knew that your sister
had lodged a cheque for £15,000 they became reassured in a moment. You
saw how the men who had drawn out their money at one desk relodged it at
another? That’s what’s meant by a panic: the sheep that rush wildly down
one side of a field will, if turned, rush quite as wildly back.”

“Anyhow, it’s all over now, and the credit of the bank is stronger than
ever. I wish mine was. What’s that man doing at the side of the gate?”

Cyril’s voice had lowered as he asked the question. He touched his
friend’s arm as he spoke.

“Why, can’t you see that that’s Ralph Dangan? What’s strange about a
gamekeeper being at the entrance to the park?” said Westwood. Then, as
the dog-cart passed, the man in corduroy, who was standing just inside
the entrance gates, touched his hat. Westwood raised his whip-arm
replying to his salutation, and cried, “Good evening to you, Ralph.”

Cyril also raised his finger, and nodded to the man. But having done so
he drew a long breath.

Westwood laughed.

“‘The thief doth think each bush an officer,’” he said, shaking his head
at his companion.

“I’ve been an awful scoundrel, Dick,” said Cyril.

“I’m a polite man. I’ll not contradict you,” said Westwood. “You have
every reason to be afraid of poor Lizzie’s father, especially as his
employment makes it necessary for him to have a gun with him at all
times. An angry father who is a first-class shot with a gun is a man to
be avoided by the impulsive sweethearts of his daughter.”

“I can trust Lizzie,” said Cyril.

“At any rate, she trusted you. More’s the pity!”

Cyril groaned. “What am I to do, Dick--what am I to do?” he asked almost
piteously.

“I think the best thing that you can do is to go out to Africa in
search of Claude,” he replied. “Such chaps as you should be sent to the
interior of Africa in their infancy. You’re savages by nature. I suppose
we are all more or less savages; but you see, some of us become amenable
to the influences of civilisation and Christianity, so that we manage
to keep moderately straight. But, really, after the example we have had
to-day of savagery, I, for one, do not feel inclined to boast of the
influences of civilisation, the foremost of which should certainly be
the power to reason. Heavens! the way those men and women glared at
the clerks--the way they struggled to get to the cashiers. By my soul,
Cyril, I believe that if they had not got their money they would have
climbed over the counter and torn the clerks limb from limb--the women
would have done that--they would, by heavens!”

“I believe they would, all except Patty Graves. She is engaged to young
Wilson, and she would have protected him with her life,” laughed Cyril.

“The savage instinct again,” cried Westwood. “Alas, Cyril, my lad, I’m
afraid that our civilisation is nothing more than a very thin veneer
after all.”

Then the dog-cart pulled up at the entrance to the hall, where a groom
went to the horse’s head while the two men, whose thoughts had clearly
been moving on lines that were far from parallel, got down and entered
the old house.

Cyril turned into the cloak-room of the hall whistling, for his troubles
did not weigh him quite down to the ground; and Richard Westwood, also
whistling, went up the shallow oak staircase, followed by a couple of
small spaniels, who had responded with lowered muzzles and frantic tails
to his greeting.

But when he had entered his dressing-room his affected nonchalance
ceased. He dropped into an easy-chair and wiped his forehead with
trembling hands. Then he leant forward and stared into the empty grate,
as if he saw something there that demanded his most earnest scrutiny.

He gazed at that emptiness for a long time, the dogs inquiring in turn
what he meant, and assuring him that it was impossible that a rabbit
could be in any of the dark corners. When he paid no attention to them
they retired to the window to discuss his mood between themselves.



CHAPTER II.

|For three hours Richard Westwood had been subjected to a severer strain
than most men have to submit to in the course of their lives. He was, as
has already been stated, the senior partner in the chief banking house
of Brackenshire--an old and highly-respected establishment. In fact,
there was a time when the stability of the house of Westwood, Westwood,
Barwell, & Westwood was regarded as at least equal to that of the county
itself. Only an earthquake could, it was thought, produce any impression
upon an English wheat-growing county, and a cataclysm of corresponding
violence in the financial world would be required to shake the stability
of Westwoods’ Bank.

But in the course of time the importation of wheat in thousands of tons
from America and elsewhere caused the most earnest believers in the
stability of an English agricultural county to stand aghast; and then
a day came when a bank or two of quite as great respectability as
Westwoods’ closed their doors and stopped payment all inside a single
week. In a country where people talk about things being “as safe as the
bank” such an occurrence produces an impression similar to that of
a thunderstorm in December or a frozen lake in June: people begin to
question the accuracy of their senses. If the bank where they and their
fathers and grandfathers have deposited their money for years back
beyond any remembrance, closes its doors, what is there on earth that
can be trusted?

It was toward the close of this phenomenal week that the rumour arose in
brackenhurst that Westwoods’ Bank would be the next to fall. No one knew
where the rumour originated--no one knew what foundation there was
for such a rumour--no one who had money lodged in the bank seemed to
inquire.

Even up to noon on the day when the run upon the Brackenhurst offices
took place, nothing occurred to suggest that a panic was imminent
among the customers of the bank. For two hours the business of the
establishment was normal; Mr. Westwood was in his own room, discussing
with his solicitor the validity of some documents offered as security
for an overdraft by a local firm; the cashier, having received a few
small lodgments, was writing a letter to the Secretary of the Styrton
Cricket Club regarding the visit of the Brackenhurst Eleven on the
Saturday; two of the other members of the staff were considering the
very important question as to whether they should have their cups of
coffee at once or wait for another halfhour, when, with the suddenness
of a quick change of scenery at a well-managed theatre, the swingdoors
were flung open and the bank was filled to overflowing with an eager
crowd, crushing one another against the mahogany counters in their
endeavours to reach the stand of the cashier.

Panic-stricken were the faces at which the cashier looked up from his
half-finished letter--faces that communicated their panic to all who saw
them. The cashier caught it in a moment: he glanced hastily round as if
seeking for a way of escape.

The men and women, perceiving that he had lost his head, became wilder
in their attempts to get opposite his desk. Outside, the crowd, striving
to reach the doors of the bank, had become clamorous. The High Street of
Brackenhurst was in an uproar. The two clerks had ceased to discuss the
great coffee question. They were thinking of their revolvers.

As the panic-stricken cashier stood looking vacantly into the pale faces
before him, but making no effort to attend to the three men who waved
their cheques across the counter, Mr. Westwood came out of his room by
the side of his solicitor. He was smiling as he shook hands and said
goodbye. There was an instantaneous silence in the place.

“We shall see you at the cricket match on Saturday,” were the words that
came through the silence from Mr. Westwood, as he shook hands with the
other man. “If the weather continues like this it will be a batsman’s
day.”

He waved his hand as the solicitor went out into the crowd. The crowd
that had been almost clamorous a minute before were now breathless with
astonishment. They stared at the man who, when ruin was in the air, was
talking of cricket. A batsman’s day! A batsman’s day! What did it mean?
What manner of man was this who could talk quietly of a batsman’s day
when over his head the sword of Damocles was hanging?

The silence was unnatural; it became terrifying. Every one watched Mr.
Westwood as he walked round to where the cashier was standing. He paid
no attention to the clerk, but glancing across the counter, nodded
pleasantly to one of the men who had been waving the cheques, like pink
flags, in the direction of the desk.

“Good day, Mr. Simons,” said he. “What a dry spell we are having. They
talk of the good old-fashioned summers--how is it you are not being
attended to?” He turned to the cashier. “Come, Mr. Calmour, if you
please; I fear I must ask you to stir yourself; it’s likely to be a busy
day. You want a cheque cashed, Mr. Simons? Certainly. You also have your
cheque, Mr. Thorburn, and you, Mrs. Langley?”

“We want our money, sir,” said Mrs. Langley. She was a tall, bony lady,
who had been the first to enter the bank. She was the principal of the
Ladies’ Collegiate School.

“So I understand, my dear lady,” said Mr. Westwood. “You shall have
every penny of your money.”

From every part of the crowd hands were thrust, each waving a pink
cheque. The people were no longer silent. One or two men of those
nearest to Mr. W’estwood nodded to him. One made a sort of apology
for asking for his balance at once--a sudden demand from a creditor
compelled him to do so, he said, with a very weak smile. Another hoped
Mr. Westwood’s pheasants promised well. But beyond these actors were men
with staring eyes, women with white faces become haggard within a few
minutes, small tradesmen bareheaded and still wearing their aprons,
artisans who had saved a few pounds and had placed all in the keeping
of the bank, clergymen as anxious to draw their balance as their
churchwardens, and painfully surprised that their parishioners should
decline to give away to them in the common struggle to reach the
counters.

The banker ceased to smile as he glanced across the crowd. He turned
to the cashier, who had already got into action, so to speak, and was
noting cheques preparatory to paying them.

“We shall have a busy hour or two, Mr. Calmour,” the head of the firm
was heard to say. “Pay away all your gold without the delay of a moment.
I shall bring you another ten thousand from the strong room.”

One could almost hear the sigh of relief that passed round the crowd
as Mr. Westwood hurried into his own room. Two clerks had come to the
cashier’s desk bringing their books with them, and now the three
members of the staff were hard at work, paying away gold in exchange for
cheques. Within the space of a few minutes the bank porter, followed
by Mr. Westwood, entered the cashier’s cubicle staggering beneath the
weight of turn large leathern bags, strapped and sealed. He threw them
on the counter with a dull crash--the sweetest music known to the sons
of men--and to the daughters of men as well--the crash of minted gold.

Mr. Westwood broke the seals of one, and in view of every one who had
managed to crush near enough to see, sent a glittering stream of yellow
gold flowing from the mouth of the bag into the cashier’s till. He
pressed the sovereigns and halfsovereigns flat with his hand and
continued pouring until the receptacle could hold no more. Then he laid
the bag, still half-full, in a deep drawer, and by its side he placed
the second bag with the seal still unbroken.

This second bag was apparently even heavier than the first, for Mr.
Westwood had to put forth all his strength to lift it from the counter
to the drawer. An hour afterwards one of the clerks was able to lift it
between his finger and thumb, and was astonished beyond measure at Mr.
Westwood’s cleverness in suggesting to the clamorous crowd that the
second bag was like the first, full of gold, when it was quite empty.

But when the business of replenishing the cashier’s till had been gone
through, Mr. Westwood retired to watch the operations incidental to the
cashing of the cheques. The technique of the transaction was much more
tedious than it usually was; for as every cheque presented was drawn for
the balance of an account, the cashier had to verify the figures, which
involved the working out of two sums in compound addition, whereas the
normal work of cashing a cheque required only a glance at the figures.
Rapidly though the cashier now made his calculations, several minutes
were still occupied in comparing the figures, and in more than one
instance it was found that the drawer of the cheque had made a mistake
in his addition through his haste in writing up his pass-book. It became
perfectly plain to every one, especially those applicants who were still
very far in the background, that only a small proportion of the cheques
could be paid up to the time of the bank closing its doors.

Dissatisfied murmurs filled the office; outside there was a clamour of
many voices.

At this point Mr. Westwood came forward.

“It is quite plain, ladies and gentlemen,” said he, addressing the
crowd, “that at the present rate of cashing your cheques, not a tenth
of you can be satisfied to-day. I will therefore instruct my cashier to
give you gold for your cheques without going too closely into the exact
balance. I will trust to the honour of the customers of the bank to make
good to-morrow any error they have made in their figures, and I have
also given instructions for the doors of the bank to remain open an hour
longer than usual.”

There was a distinct brightening of faces in the neighbourhood of the
cashier’s desk, and a cheer came from the people beyond. It was plain
that the production of the bag of gold and the dummy bag had done much
to allay the panic, but it was also plain that the confidence shown by
Mr. Westwood in the resources of the bank to meet the severest strain,
had done much more than his adroit handling of the gold to restore the
shaken trust of his customers. Fully a dozen men pushed their cheques
into their pockets and left the bank.

Their departure, however, only served to make room for the entrance of
an equal number of the crowd who had not been able to crush their way
into the bank previously.

Mr. Westwood leant across the counter and chatted with one of the
tradesmen who had been in the front rank of those who wished to draw
out their balance. He now said to the banker that he had come to make an
inquiry about a bill of his drawn upon a trader in a neighbouring town;
he was anxious to know if it had been honoured. The bill clerk had given
him the information, and now he was doing his best to respond to the
friendly chat of Mr. Westwood.

Some clever people who watched these intervals of comedy in the course
of the tragedy which they believed was being enacted, said that Mr.
Westwood had nerves of steel. Others of the visitors to the bank, not
being clever enough to perceive that Mr. Westwood was acting a part with
great ability, felt that they were fools in doubting the solvency of a
concern the head of which could treat such an incident as a run on
his bank as an everyday matter. They did not press forward with their
cheques. They pocketed their cheques and looked ashamed.

Mr. Westwood would have been greatly disappointed if they had continued
to press forward. He had been a good friend to many of them. He knew
that they would not have the courage to draw their balances under his
very eyes, as if they believed him to be a rogue.

And then his personal attendant came to tell him that his midday cup of
coffee awaited him, and he said a word about Saturday’s cricket match to
the tradesmen before nodding good-bye. Before returning to his private
room, however, he stood beside the cashier for a moment, and his smile
changed to a slight frown.

“Oh, Mr. Calmour, can you not contrive to be a little more expeditious?”
 he said. “We shall never get through all the business in the time if
you are not a trifle quicker. Could not Mr. Combes make up rouleaux
of ten and twenty sovereigns so as to have them ready for you to
distribute? Come, Mr. Combes, stir yourself. Every cheque must be paid
within the next hour.”

Mr. Combes stirred himself--so did Mr. Calmour--yes, for a short
time; then it seemed that he shovelled out the sovereigns with more
deliberation than ever; for he had felt Mr. Westwood’s toe pressing
upon one of his own as he had given him that admonition to be more
expeditious. The cashier had long ago recovered his wits. He was well
aware of the fact that, although Mr. Westwood’s style was calculated to
allay distrust, yet every minute’s delay might mean hundreds of pounds
saved to the bank. He understood his business, and that was why he
thought it prudent to count one of the piles of sovereigns passed to him
by his assistant, young Mr. Combes, and to declare with some heat that
it was a sovereign short, a proceeding that necessitated a second count,
and the passing of the rouleaux back to the clerk.

And this waste of time--this precious waste of time that went to save an
old-established house from ruin--was watched by Richard Westwood from a
clear corner half an inch in diameter in the stainedglass window of
his private room door. He was not drinking his coffee. The cup, with
a liqueur of cognac, stood on his desk untouched. He had fallen on his
knees below the glass of his door, not to pray--though a prayer was in
his heart--but in order to get his eye opposite that little clear space,
which enabled him to observe, without being observed, all that went on
outside.

He made up his mind that if his cashier only wasted enough time to save
the bank he would give him an increase in salary from that very day.

He returned to the public office munching a biscuit, in less than half
an hour; and he saw that once more his affectation of unconcern was
producing a good impression. While he was absent there had been a
good deal of noise in the public office. Men who had just entered were
shouldering women aside in their anxiety to reach the cashier, and the
women--some of them ladies--had not hesitated to call them blackguards
and rowdies--so shockingly demoralised had they become in the race for
their gold. Half a dozen police constables entered the public office,
but not in time to prevent a serious altercation.

The nonchalance of Richard Westwood when he once more appeared caused
the newcomers to stare. How could he continue munching a biscuit if
his business was at the point of falling to pieces? “Men do not munch
biscuits when they know themselves to be on the brink of a precipice,”
 the people were saying.

And then there came a sadden shriek from a lady who was fainting; and
when she was carried out, there came a shrill cry from another who, with
a wild face and staring eyes, declared that her pocket had been picked.
She stood shrieking as if she had lost her reason with her purse, and
then she clutched the man nearest to her by his collar, accusing him of
having robbed her. A couple of constables struggled through the crowd
until they got beside her, and Mr. Westwood leaped over the counter and
pushed his way toward her.

He hoped that a few more exciting incidents would occur within the hour;
every incident meant a certain amount of confusion and, consequently,
delay in the cashing of cheques. Delay meant the saving of the bank from
utter ruin.

He was disappointed in this one promising case: before he had reached
the woman a constable had found in her own hand the money which she
accused the man of stealing. She had never loosed her hold upon it,
though with the other hand she still clutched the unfortunate man’s
collar, and could with difficulty be persuaded to relax her grasp,
protesting that the constables were in a conspiracy to rob her. She was
forced into the street in a condition bordering upon insanity.

The atmosphere had become charged with excitement as a cloud becomes
charged with electricity, and in a few minutes some other women were
crying out that they had been robbed. Richard Westwood was becoming more
hopeful, though he saw with regret that, in front of the cashier, there
were a dozen stolid tradesmen, every one of whom had a balance of at
least a thousand pounds. They were waiting their turn at the desk with
complete indifference to the scenes that were being enacted behind them.
Within half an hour twelve thousand pounds would be paid away, Richard
Westwood perceived. His only hope was that the panic would be diverted
into another channel--that the fools who had lost their heads over
their money might go on accusing one another--accusing the
constables--accusing any one. In such circumstances the police might
insist on the doors of the bank being closed at the usual hour--nay,
even before the usual hour.

But while he was pretending to be exerting himself with a view to
reassure a frantic lady, who declared that she had been robbed of a
hundred pounds, though she had never been half-a-dozen yards from the
entrance, and had consequently not received a penny from the cashier,
the swing doors were flung wide, and a lady with a young man by her side
stepped out of the porch and looked about her. Richard Westwood saw her,
and his face, for the first time, became grave.

Then the lady--she was a handsome woman, tall and dignified--gave a
laugh, and in a moment there was silence in the place where all had been
noise and confusion. All eyes were turned toward the newcomers.

“Great Scott!” cried the young man--he was perhaps a few years over
twenty, and he bore a strong likeness to the lady, who was certainly
several years older. “Great Scott! Whats the matter here? Hallo,
Westwood, I hope we don’t intrude upon a Court of Sessions. My sister
has come on business, but if you’ve let the bank”--

“If you have a cheque to be cashed,” began Mr. Westwood gravely, “I
shall do my best to”--

“But I haven’t a cheque to be cashed,” said the lady. “On the contrary,
I have some money to lodge with you; fifteen thousand pounds--it’s
too much to have at home; it wouldn’t be safe there, but I know it’s
perfectly safe here.”



CHAPTER III.

|Your money will be perfectly safe here, Miss Mowbray,” said the banker
quietly. “But I’m afraid my clerks are too busily occupied to have a
moment to spare to receive it to-day, unless you wait until my customers
get their cheques cashed. You’re getting well through your business, Mr.
Calmour?” he added, turning to the cashier.

“Slowly, sir. I haven’t touched the second bag of twenty thousand,”
 replied the cashier.

“I’m sure Cyril will be able to reach the desk,” said the lady, “and
it will only occupy a clerk half a minute entering the lodgment. Good
heavens! Mr. Westwood, it takes a clerk no longer to receive and enter
up a cheque for fifteen thousand pounds than it does for a single note.”

Mr. Westwood gave a laugh and a shrug of his shoulders.

“Give me the cheque,” said Cyril. “I’ll lodge it or perish in the
attempt.”

The good humour with which he set about the task of forcing his way
through the crowd, spread around. The people who a few minutes before
had been struggling with eager faces and clenched hands to get near the
desks, actually laughed as the young man, holding the cheque for fifteen
thousand pounds high above their heads, made an amusingly exaggerated
attempt to shoulder his way forward. He had no need to use his
shoulders; the people divided before him quite good-naturedly. He
reached the cubicle next to that of the cashier’s in a few seconds, and
handed the cheque and the pass-book across the counter to a clerk who
had stepped up to a desk to receive the lodgment.

The silence was so extraordinary that the scratching of the clerk’s pen
making the entry was heard all over the place.

And then--then there came a curious reaction from the excitement of the
previous two hours: the tremendous tension upon the nerves of the people
who fancied they were on the verge of ruin, was suddenly relaxed. There
came a clapping of hands, then a cheer arose; every one was cheering
and laughing. The cashier found himself idle. He availed himself of the
opportunity to wipe his forehead with his handkerchief; until now he had
been compelled to shake the drops away to prevent them from falling on
the cheques or the leaves of his ledger.

He stood idle, looking across the maghogany counter in amazement at the
people who were laughing and cheering the tradesmen, poking their thumbs
at each other’s ribs, others pressing forward to shake hands with Mr.
Westwood. The cashier, being happily unaccustomed to panics, looked
round in amazement. How was it possible that the people could be so
ignorant as to imagine that the stability of a bank which has only a
small gold reserve to meet the demands of a run upon it, is increased by
the fact of a cheque being lodged?

This was what he felt inclined to ask, Mr. Westwood could see without
difficulty, when he glanced in the direction of Mr. Calmour, but he knew
something of men, and had studied the phenomena of panics. He would not
have minded if his cashier had protested against so erroneous a view of
the situation being taken by the people who a short time before had
been clamouring for gold--gold--gold in exchange for their cheques. Mr.
Westwood knew that his cashier’s demonstration, however well founded it
might be--however consistent with the science of finance, would count
for nothing in the estimation of these people. He knew that as they had
originally been moved to adopt the very foolish course which had so very
nearly brought ruin to him, by an impulse as senseless as that which
compels a flock of sheep to leap over a precipice simply because one
very silly animal has led the way, they had, on equally illogical
grounds, but in keeping with the habits of the sheep, allowed themselves
to be moved in exactly the opposite direction to that in which they
had rushed previously. A cheque! If the crowd had been sufficiently
self-possessed to perceive that the mere lodging of a cheque in the
bank did not increase the ability of the bank to pay them the balance of
their accounts in gold, they would certainly have been able to perceive
that, to join in a run upon the bank, simply because some other bank a
hundred miles away had closed its doors, was senseless.

Richard Westwood knew that the action of Agnes Mowbray had arrested the
run and the ruin. He saw that already some of the men who had cashed
their cheques, but who had not had time to reach the doors, were
relodging the cash which they had received. The panic that now
threatened to take hold upon the crowd was in regard to the security
of the money which they had in their pockets. They seemed to be
apprehensive of their pockets being picked, of their houses being
robbed. Had not several ladies been clamouring to the effect that their
pockets had been picked? Had not Miss Mowbray declared that she could
not consider her money secure so long as it remained unlodged in the
bank?

While he chatted to Miss Mowbray and her brother Cyril, Richard Westwood
could see that his cashier was closing and locking the drawers of his
desk; the busy clerk was the one who was receiving the lodgments.

He laughed, but in no more audible tone of exultation than had been his
an hour before, when he had emptied the bag of sovereigns into the till
and had lifted, with a great show of fatigue, the dummy bag from the
counter to the drawer. He felt that he could not afford to give himself
away in the presence of the mob. He knew that the clutch for gold makes
a mob of the most cultivated people.

“How good of you! how wise of you!” he said to Agnes in a low tone
when the crowd had drifted away from them and the office was rapidly
emptying. “But the cheque--how did you get the cheque?”

“You did not see whose signature was attached to it?” said Agnes.

“I only saw that it was a London & County cheque.”

“It was signed by Sir Percival Hope.”

“I do not quite understand how you could have a cheque signed by Sir
Percival Hope.”

“He gave it to me; he trusted me as I have trusted you. He would have
done so without security if I had accepted it on such terms. I declined
to do so, however. I placed in his hands security that would satisfy any
bank--even so scrupulous a bank as Westwoods’. I handed over to him all
my shares in the Water Company.”

“They are worth twenty-five thousand pounds at least. Great heavens!
Agnes, you never sold them for fifteen thousand pounds?”

“Oh no; I did not sell them. I only deposited them as security with Sir
Percival. You see I had not long to make up my mind what to do. Only an
hour and a half ago I heard of this idiotic run upon the bank. Oh no;
neither Sir Percival nor I had much margin for deliberation. He told me
that unless I lodged gold with you it would be no use. He laughed at the
idea of my fancying that a cheque would be as useful to you as gold. But
you see”--

“Yes, I see; I see. And I believed that it required a man to understand
men, and that only a clever man understood what was meant by a panic
among men and women. I was a fool. For the past two hours I have been
trying to stem the flood of that panic--the avalanche of that panic; I
have been smiling in the faces of those fools; they were fools, but
not great enough fools to fail to see through my acting. I have been
pretending that dummy money bags were almost too heavy for me to lift.
That trick only got rid of half-a-dozen men, and not one woman. I
came out from my room munching a biscuit, to make them believe that I
regarded the situation as an everyday one, not worth a second thought.
I bluffed--abusing the cashier for the time he took to count out the
money, promising to pay the full amount of all the cheques without
taking time to calculate if they were correct to the penny. It was all
a game of bluff to make the people believe that the bank had enough gold
to pay them all in full. But I failed to deceive more than a few, though
I played my part well. I know that I played it well; I like boasting of
it. But I failed. And then you enter. Ah, my dear, I am proud of you;
you are the truest woman that lives. You deserve a better fate than that
which has been yours.”

“I am content to wait, my dear Dick. I have come to think of waiting as
part of my life. Will it be all my life, I wonder?”

“No, no; that would be impossible. That would be too cruel even for
Fate.”

Agnes Mowbray looked at him for a few moments. He saw that the tears
came into her eyes. Then she gave an exclamation of impatience, saying:

“Psha! my friend. What does it matter in the general scheme of things
if one woman dies waiting to marry the one man on whom she has set her
heart? My dear Dick, what is life more than waiting--a constant waiting
that is never repaid? Is any man, any woman, ever satisfied? No matter
what it is that we get, do we not resume our waiting for something
else--something that we think worth waiting for? Psha! I am beginning
to preach; and whatever women do they should not preach. Good-bye, Dick.
Why, we are almost left alone.”

“My poor Agnes--my poor Agnes!” said he, looking at her with tenderness
in his eyes. “Never think for a moment that he will not return. Eight
years is a long time for him to be lost, but he will return. Oh, never
doubt that he will return.”

“I have never yet doubted the goodness of God,” said she. “I will wait.
I will accept without a murmur my life of waiting. He will not mind my
grey hairs.”

She gave a laugh--after a little pause. In her laugh there was a curious
note that sounded like a defiance of Fate. The man laughed also, but she
saw that he knew very well that as a matter of fact there were several
grey threads among the beautiful brown of her hair.

That was all the conversation they had at that time. She went away with
her brother Cyril, who had been trying to get Mr. Calmour to listen
to his views regarding the bowling policy to be pursued at Saturday’s
match. Cyril had his own views regarding the slow bowling of young
Sharp, the rector’s son. It was supposed to be very baffling, and so
it was on a bad wicket. But if the wicket was good--and there was every
likelihood that the fine weather would last over Saturday--the batsmen
would simply send every ball across the boundary, Cyril declared with
great emphasis.

He was in some measure put out when Mr. Calmour turned to him suddenly,
saying:

“I beg your pardon. What is it you’ve been talking about?”

“What should I be talking about if not the bowling for Saturday?” cried
Cyril.

“Oh, the bowling. What bowling? Saturday--what is to happen on
Saturday?” said the cashier.

“You idiot! Haven’t we been discussing”--

“Oh, go away--go away,” said Mr. Calmour wearily. “Heaven only knows
what may happen between to-day and Saturday. If you could have any idea
of what I’ve gone through to-day already--bless my soul! it all seems
like a queer dream. Where are all the people gone? Why have they gone,
can you tell me? I haven’t paid away all my gold yet. I’ve still over
two thousand pounds left. Have they closed the doors of the bank? They
were fools--oh, such fools! But I could have held out. I had three
or four tricks left. And now what’s to become of me? I support my
mother--she’s an old woman; and I have a sister in another town--she is
an epileptic. We are all ruined with the bank.”

The cashier put his hands up to his face and burst into tears. The
strain of the previous hour had been too much for him. It was in vain
that Cyril Mowbray slapped him on the back and assured him that the bank
was safe and that his mother and sister might reasonably look forward
to a brilliant future. It was in vain that Mr. Westwood shook him by the
hand, promising never to forget the way in which he had worked through
the crisis. Mr. Calmour refused to be comforted. He continued weeping,
and had to be conveyed to his home in a fly.

Richard Westwood had begged Cyril to drive to Westwood Court and dine
with him; and now the banker was sitting in his bedroom, staring into
the empty grate as he recalled the incidents of the terrible day through
which he had passed.

The boom of the gong which came half an hour later aroused him from
his reverie. He started up with a great sigh, and was surprised to
find himself as weary as if he had had a twenty-mile ride. He went to
a looking-glass and examined his face narrowly. It looked haggard. He
remembered having heard of men’s hair becoming grey in a single night.
He quite believed such stories. He thought it strange that his hair
should remain black. He was thirty-six years of age--four years older
than Agnes, and he had noticed that she had many grey hairs--she had
talked of them when they had stood face to face in the bank.

He wondered if waiting for an absent lover was more trying than being
the senior partner in a bank during a severe financial crisis.

He went downstairs to dinner without coming to any satisfactory
conclusion on this rather difficult question.



CHAPTER IV

|Westwood Court had been in the possession of the family of bankers
since the days of George II. It had been built by that Stephen Westwood
whose portrait was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. In the picture the
man’s right hand carries a scroll bearing a tracing of the plans of the
house. Before it had been completed, however, Sir Thomas Chambers
had something to say in regard to the design, the result being sundry
additions which were meant to impart to the plain English mansion the
appearance of the villa of a Roman patrician.

It was a spacious house situated in the midst of one of the loveliest
parks in Brackenshire--a park containing some glorious timber, some
brilliant spaces of greensward, and a trout stream that was never known
to disappoint an angler, however exacting he might be. It was scarcely
surprising that love for this home was the most prominent of the
characteristics of the Westwood family. Every member of the family,
with but one exception, seemed to have inherited this trait. The one
exception was Claude Westwood, the younger brother of Richard.

During his father’s lifetime he had been in a cavalry regiment, and
while serving in India, had taken part in a rather perilous frontier
campaign against a strange set of tribesmen in the northwest. He had
become greatly interested in the opening up of the conquered territory,
and as soon as his father died he had left the regiment and had done
some remarkable exploration work on his own account, both in the
northwest of India and in the borderland of Persia.

He returned to England to recover from the effects of a snake-bite,
and to stay for a month or two with his brother, to whom he was deeply
attached. But when in Brackenshire he had formed another attachment
which threatened to interfere with the Future he had mapped out for
himself as an explorer. He did not notice any change in his brother’s
demeanour the day he had gone to him confiding in him that he had fallen
in love with Agnes Mowbray, the beautiful daughter of Admiral Mowbray,
who had bought a small property known as The Knoll, a mile from the
gates of the Court. Richard Westwood had found it necessary for the
successful carrying on of the banking business, which he had inherited,
to keep himself always well in hand. If his feelings were not invariably
under control, his expression of those feelings certainly was so; and
this was how it came that, after a pause of only a few seconds, he
was able to offer his brother his hand and to say in a voice that was
neither husky nor tremulous:

“Dear old chap, you have all my good wishes.”

“I knew that you would be pleased,” Claude had said. “She is the sort
of girl one only meets once in a lifetime. I have lived for a good many
years in the world now, and yet I never met any girl worthy of a thought
alongside Agnes. How on earth you have remained in her neighbourhood for
a year without falling in love with her yourself is a mystery to me.”

A sudden flash came to Dick’s eyes, and he was at the point of crying
out, “Have I so remained?” But his usual habits of self-control
prevented his showing to his brother what was in his heart He had merely
given a laugh as he said:

“I suppose it must always seem mysterious to a man in love that every
one else in the world does not display symptoms of the same malady.”

“I daresay you are right,” Claude had answered, after a pause. “Yes, I
daresay--only--ah!--Agnes is very different from all the other girls in
the world.”

“You recollect Calverley’s lines:

               “‘I did not love as others do--

               None ever did that I’ve heard tell of?

Ah! you lovers are all cast in the same mould. But how about your
projected exploration--you can scarcely expect her to rough it with you
at the upper reaches of the Zambesi?”

Claude Westwood looked grave. For some weeks he had talked about
nothing else except the splendid possibilities of the Upper Zambesi
to explorers; and his brother had offered to share the expenses of
an expedition thoroughly well-equipped to do all that Livingstone and
Baines left undone in that fascinating quarter of Africa.

“Perhaps she will refuse me,” said Claude.

“Ah! perhaps; but if she does not refuse you?”

There was a long pause. Claude rose from his chair and walked to the
window. He looked out over the sloping lawns and the terraced Italian
garden; the blue swallows were skimming the surface of the huge marble
basin where the water-lilies floated. He seemed greatly interested in
the movements of the birds.

At last he turned suddenly round to his brother, and laid his hand on
his shoulder, saying:

“Dick, I should like to win her. I should like to offer her a name--the
name of a man who has done something in the world. Whatever happens I am
bound to make the expedition to the Zambesi.”

*****

Dick Westwood had, while sitting before the empty grate, recalled all
the incidents of eight years before--he recollected how a level ray of
the red sunlight had flickered through the leaves of the copper beech
and made rosy his brother’s face--he could still feel the strong clasp
of his hand as they had separated to dress for the dinner which Admiral
Mowbray was giving that evening. He remembered how Agnes had looked at
the head of the table--oh, he had felt even then that she was not for
him, but for his brother--how could he have fancied for a moment that he
would have a chance of her love when Claude was near?

The expression on Claude’s face when they met to go home together told
him all; but he did not need to be told anything. He knew that it was
inevitable. Agnes had accepted Claude: she had accepted him and told him
to go out to Africa; she would wait for him to return, even though he
might not return for ten years, she had said, laughingly.

Alas! alas! the lover had gone at the head of his expedition to the
Zambesi, and for seven months news had come from him at irregular
intervals--for seven months only; after that--silence. No line came from
him, no rumour of the fate of the expedition had reached England, though
at the end of the second year a large reward had been offered to any one
who could throw light on the mystery.

Eight years had now passed since the expedition had set out from
Zanzibar, and there was only one person alive who rejected every
suggestion that disaster had overtaken Claude Westwood and his
companions. It had become an article of faith with Agnes that her lover
would return. The lapse of years seemed to strengthen rather than to
attenuate her hope. Her father had died when Claude had been absent for
two years, and almost his last words to her had been of hope.

“Fear nothing for him; he will return to you. I know what manner of man
it is that succeeds in the world, and Claude Westwood is not the man
to fail. I shall not see him, but you will. Whatever happens, whatever
people round you may say, don’t relinquish hope for him.”

Those had been her father’s words, and she had obeyed their injunction.
She had not given up hope, although no one in the neighbourhood ever
thought of mentioning the name of Claude Westwood in her hearing. It
seemed that the very memory of the man had died out in Brackenhurst. She
had not given up hope although now and again she had been startled to
see a grey hair where a brown one had been.

And for eight years Richard Westwood had watched her, wondering what
would be the end of her devotion--what would be the end of his own
devotion. People in the neighbourhood could not understand him. They
took the trouble every now and then to invent a theory to account for
his singular rejection of the delicate hints that had been thrown out
to him by mothers of many daughters--hints that the head of the house
of Westwood had certain duties in life--social duties--to discharge.
The theories were more or less ingenious; but even when some of them had
come to his ears he remained as obdurate as ever. He merely laughed, and
the man who laughs is well known to be the most discouraging of men.

But Cyril Mowbray did not find him very discouraging as he sat with him
on this evening after dinner, for the dinner had been an excellent one
and his cigars were unexceptional. They were in their easy-chairs in
front of a French window, the leaves of which were open. The square
of the window enclosed as in a frame an exquisite picture of the dim
garden. The sound of cawing rooks in the distant elms was borne through
the tranquil air. The scents of the earliest roses stole within the room
at mysterious intervals. It was a perfect summer’s night, and Cyril felt
that though there were troubles in the world, yet on the whole it was a
very pleasant place to live in.

There had been a pause in the conversation, which had related mainly to
a very pretty young girl named Lizzie Dangan, the daughter of the head
gamekeeper at Westwood Court--the man who had touched his hat as the
dog-cart drove through the entrance gates. The silence was suddenly
broken by Cyril’s exclaiming:

“You are a first-rate chap, Dick. Why shouldn’t you marry Agnes?”

Dick’s eyes flashed upon him for a moment, and it seemed to Cyril that
he detected a certain curious drawing in of his breath that sounded like
the stifling of a sigh. The exclamation which came from him immediately
afterwards seemed incongruous--it was an exclamation that suggested the
putting aside of an absurdity.

“Oh, you may say ‘psha!’ as often as you please,” said Cyril; “it will
not alter the fact that Agnes and you would get on very well together. I
know that she thinks a lot of you--so do I.”

“That’s very kind of you,” said Dick. “But you’re talking
nonsense--worse than nonsense. Agnes has given her promise to marry my
brother Claude. Let us say no more about it.”

“It’s all very well for you to say, ‘We’ll say no more about it,”’ cried
Cyril, with an air of responsibility--the responsibility of a brother
who refuses to allow the affections of his sister to be trifled with.
“It’s all very well for you to say that; but when I think how long this
sort of shilly-shallying has been going on--well, it makes me wild.
Agnes is now over thirty--think of that--over thirty, and what’s more,
she’s not getting any younger. I’m anxious to see her settled. I think
I’ve a right to ask if she’s engaged to marry Claude. Where’s Claude
now? Does any sane person believe that he is still in the land of the
living?”

“Your sister believes it, and she is sane enough. However, I’m not going
to discuss the question with you, my friend; or, for that matter, with
anybody else.”

“That’s all very well; the fact remains the same. Here’s a fine house
thrown away upon a bachelor, and there’s Agnes, who would suit you down
to the ground, waiting”--

“Waiting--waiting--that is exactly her position.”

“Waiting--yes; but for what? For what, I ask you as a man of the world?
Your brother is dead, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and here you are alive
and hearty. Doesn’t it say something in the Bible that when a chap’s
brother dies”--

“Cyril,” said Dick Westwood, rising with an impatient jesture, “we’ll
have no more of this. I won’t allow you to talk any longer in this
strain. Shall we finish our cigars in the garden?”

“All right,” said Cyril, rising. But before they had taken a step toward
the open French window, there seemed to arise from the earth the figure
of a man, and he stood in the window space looking eagerly at each of
them in turn.



CHAPTER V.

|The stranger stood with his back to whatever light there was remaining
in the sky, but Dick Westwood and his guest could see what manner of man
he was. He wore a short beard and moustache. His clothes were shabby,
and so was his soft hat. He might have been a foreman of mechanics just
left off work.

Westwood stepped to the wall and switched on a lamp. Then he scrutinised
the stranger closely. The man had entered the room through the French
window.

“Who are you, and what do you want, my good fellow?” said Westwood. “It
is customary for visitors to pull the bell at the hall door.”

“I pulled the bell. They told me you were at dinner and could not be
disturbed, sir,” replied the man.

No one who heard him speak could think of him as an ordinary mechanics’
foreman. He spoke like a person of some culture.

“And they told you what was true,” said Westwood. “Allow me to say that
it is most unusual for a total stranger to force himself into a house
in this fashion. I must ask you to go away at once unless you have
something of importance to communicate to me; unless--good heavens! is
it possible that you come with some news of my brother?”

Dick had given a start as the idea seemed to strike him. Cyril also
started, and looked at the stranger narrowly.

“I know nothing of your brother, Mr. Westwood,” said the man. “But I
know you. I know that it was into your hands I put my money a year
ago, and I have come to you for it now. I tried to come before the bank
closed, but I missed the connection of the trains at the junction. I
live in the North now. I want my money, Mr. Westwood.”

Mr. Westwood turned upon the man.

“You should know well enough that this is not the time or the place to
come about any matter of banking business,” said he. “I don’t remember
ever seeing you before, but even if I did remember you, I could only
give you the answer I have already given. I shall be pleased to go
into any business question at the bank. I decline to hold any business
communication with you at this time or in this place. I have had
business enough and to spare for one day. I must ask you to come to the
bank in the morning.”

“I’ve no notion of being put off in that way, Mr. Westwood,” said the
man. “How am I to know that your bank will open to-morrow or any other
day? I got a telegram at noon telling me that Westwoods’ would be
the next of the county banks to go to the wall, and I hurried up from
Midleigh, where I am employed, hoping to be in time to pluck my savings
out of the ruin; but, as I told you, I missed the train connection. But
here I am and here”--

“I do not wish to hear anything further about you or your business at
this time, my good sir,” said Richard. “I have been courteous to you
up to the present. I must now insist on your retiring. It would be
insufferable if a man in my position had to be badgered on business
matters at any hour of the day and night. Come, sir.”

He had gone to the side of the window and made a motion with his hand in
the direction of the garden.

“Look here, Mr. Westwood,” said the man, “you know me well enough. My
name is Carton Standish, and I lodged with you just a year ago the six
hundred pounds which I had saved for my wife and child. You know that I
speak the truth. Psha! What’s the use of going over the matter again?”

“That’s what I ask too; so I insist”--

“It’s not for you but for me to insist,” broke in the man. “It’s for
me to insist, and I do insist. Come, sir, hand over that money of mine
without the delay of another minute. It’s my money, not yours, and
I decline to be swindled out of it by you or any other cheat of a
bankrupt.”

“You have mistaken your man,” said Richard Westwood quietly. “Stay where
you are, Cyril.” Cyril had taken an angry step toward the stranger.
“Stay where you are; I think I am equal to dealing with this gentleman
alone. Come now, Mr. Stand-ish, if that is your name, the last word has
passed between us; if you don’t clear out of my house inside a minute I
shall be forced to throw you out.”

“You infernal swindler!” shouted the man. “This is your last
chance--this is my last chance. Hand me over my money or I’ll kill you!”

He had drawn a revolver and covered Dick Westwood with it in a second.
At the same instant the door of the room opened and a footman appeared.

Cyril had sprung toward the man, but Dick Westwood restrained him by a
gesture, and then turning to the servant, said quietly:

“Bentley, show this gentleman out by the hall door.”

The man had lowered his revolver--it had only been pointed at
Westwood for a moment. He looked at the weapon strangely, then with an
exclamation he tossed it out of the open window. It fell with a soft
thud on the grass border of the terrace, but did not explode.

The footman drew a long breath. He did not seem to relish the duty of
showing out an excited man with a six-chambered revolver in his hand.
He felt that that was outside the usual range of a footman’s duties. He
went to the door and stood beside it in his usual attitude.

“If you have swindled me, you need not think that you will escape,” said
the visitor, striding across the room until he faced Dick. “I have
not been a good husband, or perhaps father, at times; but I was making
amends for the past. I had saved that money for my wife and child, and
now--now--if it’s lost, I swear to you that I’ll kill you.”

“You’ll not do it to-night, at any rate,” said Dick. “Are you so sure?
Are you so sure of that?” said the man in a low tone, going still closer
to him, his hands clenched in an attitude of menace.

Then he suddenly wheeled about, and walking to the door, left the
room without a word. His steps died away up the hall, followed by the
soft-treading servant. The sound of the closing of the hall door reached
the room before either Westwood or Cyril spoke. Then it was the former
who said:

“Is it possible that you have allowed your cigar to go out? Oh, you
young chaps; good cigars are thrown away upon you!”

He was smoking his own cigar quite collectedly. Cyril gave a laugh. He
did not feel quite so much a man of the world as he had felt when giving
his friend the benefit of his advice some minutes before.

“I fancied that something exciting was about to take place to rouse this
stagnant neighbourhood,” said he. “Like you, Dick, I’m interested in
men. That chap looked a desperate rascal. Do you remember anything of
him? Did he actually lodge money with you a year ago?”

“Yes; what he said was quite true,” replied Westwood. “I can’t for the
life of me recollect who recommended him to the bank, but I’m nearly
sure that he opened an account with us. I felt that his arriving
here to-night was a sort of last straw so far as I am concerned. Good
heavens! haven’t I gone through enough to-day to last me for some time,
without being badgered by a fellow like that--a fellow whose ideas of
diplomacy are shown by his calling one a swindler--a cheat! That was the
best way he could set about coaxing a man like me to do him a favour.”

“Is he a dangerous man, do you think? There was a look in his eye that I
did not like,” said Cyril.

“A man is not dangerous because of a look in his eye, but rather because
of a revolver in his hand; and you saw that that poor fool was more
afraid of it than I was,” said Westwood. “Oh, he’s a poor sort of fellow
after all. No man shows up worse than one who tries to be threatening
in a heroic way. He sinks into the mountebank in a moment. He’ll be all
right in the morning when he handles his money--assuming that he will
draw out his balance, which is doubtful. Most likely he will have
recovered from his panic, and will apologize. Take another cigar, and
don’t spoil this one by letting it go out.”

Cyril helped himself from the box, and immediately afterwards the
footman entered with a tray with decanters. Cyril took a whisky and
Apollinaris, and Dick helped himself to brandy.

“The first spirituous thing I have handled to-day,” he said with a
laugh. “And yet before I left the bank I could hear my clerks inquiring
anxiously for brandy.”

“What nerves you have!” said Cyril. “I suppose they run in your family.
Poor Claude must have had something good in that line.”

“Yes,” said Dick, “he has good nerves.”

Cyril noticed that he declined to accept the past tense in regard to
Claude.

“Do you mind testing mine by playing a game of billiards?” asked the
younger man.

“I should like a game above all things--but only one. I must be early
at the bank in the morning, if only to receive our friend Standish’s
apology. Come along.”

They went off together to the billiard-room, which was built out at the
back of the dining-room; and they had their game, Finishing with the
scores so close together that Westwood, who, when Cyril was ninety-seven
and he only eighty, ran out with a break of twenty, declared that he had
felt more excited by the game than he had at any time of the day--and he
confessed that he had found it a rather exciting day on the whole.

It was past eleven when Cyril set out for home, and the night being one
of starlight and sweet perfumes, Dick said he would stroll part of the
way with him and finish his cigar. They went along together through the
shrubbery and across one of the little subsidiary tracks that led from
the broad avenue to a small door made in the park wall, half a mile
nearer The Knoll than the ordinary entrance gates. Cyril unlocked the
door, for the year before Dick had given him a private key for himself
and Agnes in order that they might be saved the walk round to the
entrance gates when they were visiting the Court. For a few minutes
the two men stood chatting on the road, before they said goodnight, and
while the one went on in the direction of The Knoll, the other returned
to the park, pulling-to the door, which had a spring lock.

The night was wonderfully still. The barking of a dog at King’s Elms
Farm, nearly a mile away, was heard quite clearly by Richard Westwood,
and now and again came the sharp sound of a shot from the warren on Sir
Percival Hope’s estate, suggesting that a party were shooting rabbits in
the most sportsmanlike way, the chances being, on such a night, largely
in favour of the rabbits. After every shot one of the peacocks that
paraded the grassy terraces of the Court by day, and roosted in the
trees by night, sent out a protesting shriek.

All the nocturnal creatures of the woodland were awake, Dick knew. As
he paused for a few moments on the track he could hear the stealthy
movement of a rat or a weazel among the undergrowth, the flicker of the
wings of a bat across the starlight, the rustle of a blackbird among
the thick foliage. He had always liked to walk about the park at night,
observing and listening, and the result was that none of his gamekeepers
had anything like the knowledge which he possessed of the woodland and
its inhabitants.

When he reached the house and had let himself in with his latchkey, he
went to the drawing-room where he had sat with Cyril after dinner. He
threw himself back in his easy-chair, and he seemed to hear once again
the voice of Cyril asking him that question:

“Why shouldn’t you marry Agnes?”

He asked himself that question as he sat there now. He had put it to
himself often during the past two years. Was there any treason toward
his brother in the fact that that question had come to him, he wondered.
Could any one fancy that his brother was still alive? Could any one
believe that the insatiate maw of tropical Africa, which has swallowed
up so many brave Englishmen, would disgorge any one of its victims?

He might still pretend that he believed that Claude was still alive,
but in his heart he could not feel any hope that he should return. He
wondered if Agnes had really any hope--if she too were trying to deceive
herself on this matter--if she were not trying by constant references to
his return to make herself believe that he would return.

Had Fate ever dealt so cruelly with two people as it had with himself
and Agnes? He believed that if any direct evidence had been forthcoming
of Claude’s death, Agnes might, in course of time, have listened to him,
and have believed him when he told her that he loved her--that he had
loved her for years--long before Claude had come to tell her that he
loved her. Even now.... He wondered if he were to go to her and ask her
for his sake to leave the world of delusion in which she was content to
live--the atmosphere of self-deception which she was content to breathe
and to call it life when she knew it was nothing more than a living
death--would she listen to him?

He sat there thinking his thoughts until the sound of the church clock
striking the hour of midnight came to him through the still air.

He rose with a long sigh--the sigh of a lover who hopes that hope may
come to him before it is too late to dissipate despair, and he was about
to switch off the light, when he was startled by the sound of a footstep
on the gravel of the walk between the grass of the terrace and the
French window. The sound was not that of a person walking on the path,
but of one stepping stealthily from the grass.

In another moment there came a tapping on the window--light, but quite
distinct.

He switched off the light in an instant, and stepped quickly to
one side, for he had no wish to reveal his whereabouts to whatever
mysterious visitor might be watching outside. He slipped across the room
to the switch of a tall pillar lamp standing close to the window, and
when the tapping was repeated, he turned on the light, and looked from
behind a screen through the window.

He quite expected to see there the man who an hour and a half before had
threatened him, and he was, therefore, greatly surprised when he saw the
figure of a girl peering into the room. He hastened to the window and
opened it.

“Good heavens, child, what has brought you here at such an hour?” he
said. “Lizzie, I’m ashamed of you; it is past midnight.”

“Every one is ashamed of me, sir,” said the girl; she was a very pretty
girl of not more than twenty. She was a good deal paler and her features
had much more refinement than the face of an ordinary country girl.

She stepped through the window as she spoke. He knew that she did so
quite innocently--she would not keep him standing at the open window.

“You have made a little fool of yourself, Lizzie,” he said; “and I fear
that you have not learned wisdom yet, or you would not have come here at
such an hour. What have you got to say to me? Let us go outside. We can
talk better outside. But I hope you haven’t got much to say to me. I
have to get up early in the morning.”

She stepped outside, and he followed her. They walked half-way round the
house until they came to the rosery, which was at the side opposite to
that where the servants’ rooms were situated.

“I don’t want you to fall into worse trouble, my dear,” said he. “Now
tell me all that you think I should be told.”

“I knew that I had no chance of speaking to you in an ordinary way,
sir,” said the girl, “so I slipped out of Mrs. Morgan’s cottage and came
here.”

“That was very foolish of you. Well, what have you to say to me?”

“You know my secret, sir. Cyril--I mean Mr. Mowbray, told me that
you knew it; but no one else does--not even my father--not even Miss
Mowbray--and I’d die sooner than tell it to any one.”

“Yes, yes, I know. To say you were both foolish would be to say the very
least of the matter. But you at any rate have been punished.”

“God knows I have, Mr. Westwood.”

“Yes, it is always the woman who has to bear the punishment for this
sin. I wish I could lighten yours, my poor child.”

“You can, sir, you can!” The girl had begun to sob, and she could not
speak for some time. He waited patiently. “I have come to talk to you
about that, sir,” she continued, when she was able to speak once more.
“Sir Percival Hope’s sister has promised to give me a chance, Mr.
Westwood; but only if I agree never to see him again.”

“And, of course, you agreed. You are very fortunate, my girl.”

“Yes, sir, I agreed; but--oh, Mr. Westwood, he has promised to marry me
when he gets his money in two years, and I know that he will do it,
for I’m sure he loves me, only--oh, sir, I’m afraid that when I’m away,
where we may never see each other, he may be led to think different--he
may be led to forget me. But you, Mr. Westwood, you will be on my
side--you will not let him forget me. That is what I come to implore of
you, sir: you will always keep me before him so that he may not forget
that he is to marry me?”

“Look here, Lizzie,” said he, after a pause; “if I were you I wouldn’t
trust to his keeping his promise to you. But I’ll tell you what I’ll
do. I have been talking to Cyril, and he knows what my opinion of his
conduct is. He has told me that he would marry you to-morrow if he
only had enough money to live on. I advised him to confess all to Miss
Mowbray, and if he does so I have made up my mind to send him off to a
colony with you, making a provision for your future until he gets his
money.”

“Oh, sir--oh, Mr. Westwood!” cried the girl, catching up his hand and
kissing it. “Oh, sir, you have saved me from ruin.”

“I hope that I have saved both of you,” said he. “Now, get back to Mrs.
Morgan’s without delay. I hope that it may not be discovered that
you were wandering through the park at midnight. Why, even if Cyril
discovered it he might turn away from you.”

After a course of sobs mingled with thanks, the girl went away, and
Richard Westwood strolled back toward the house.



CHAPTER VI.

|It was rather early on the next morning when Agnes Mowbray was visited
by Sir Percival Hope. Cyril, who had returned home late on the previous
night, and had not gone to bed for nearly an hour after entering the
house, was not yet downstairs; but his sister was in her garden when her
visitor arrived.

Sir Percival Hope was one of the latest comers to the county. He was
the younger son of a good family--the baronetcy was one of the oldest in
England--and had gone out to Australia very early in life. In one of
the southern colonies he had not only made a fortune, but had won great
distinction and had been twice premier before he had reached the age
which in England is considered young enough for entering political
life. On the death of his father--his elder brother had been killed when
serving with his regiment in the Soudan campaign of 1883--he had come
to England, not to inherit any estate, for the last acre of the family
property had been sold before his birth, but to purchase the estate of
Branksome Abbey in Brackenshire, which had once been in his mother’s
family. He was now close upon forty years of age, and it was said that
he was engaged in the somewhat arduous work of nursing the constituency
of South Brackenshire. There were few people in the neighbourhood who
were disposed to think that when the chance came for him to declare
himself he would be rejected. It was generally allowed that he might
choose his constituency.

He was a tall and athletic man, with the bronzed face of a southern
colonist, and with light-brown hair that had no suggestion of grey about
it. As he stood on the lawn at The Knoll by the side of Agnes, and in
the shade of one of the great elms, no one would have believed that he
was over thirty.

“I got your letter,” said Agnes when she had greeted him with
cordiality, for though they had known each other only a year they had
become the warmest friends. “I got your letter an hour ago--just when
you must have got mine, which I wrote last night. I hope you are able to
give me as good news as I gave you.”

“You were able to tell me of the saving of the bank; I hope I can tell
you of the saving of a soul,” said Sir Percival.

“I hoped as much,” she cried, her face lighting up as she turned her
eyes upon his. “Your sister must be a good woman--as good a woman as you
are a man.”

“If you had waited for half an hour when you came to see me yesterday, I
could have told you what I come to tell you now,” said he. “But you were
in too great a hurry.”

“I had need to make haste,” laughed Agnes. “Every moment was worth
hundreds of pounds--perhaps thousands.”

“And the good people were perfectly satisfied with my cheque? Well,
they are a good deal more confiding than the colonists to whom I was
accustomed in my young days: they would have laughed at the notion of
offering them a cheque when they looked for gold, although in the bush
cheques are current. Oh no; when they make a run on a bank nothing but
gold can satisfy them.”

“I knew what I could do with those people yesterday. They only needed
some one to arrest their panic for a moment, and then like sheep they
were ready to go off in the opposite direction.”

“And you saved the bank?”

“No, not I. You saved it: the cheque was yours. And now it is through
you that that poor girl is to be saved. How good you are. What should we
do without you in this neighbourhood?”

“The neighbourhood did without me for a good many years. Never mind.
I have come to tell you that my sister will be glad to take your young
_protégée_ under her roof and to give her a chance of--well, may I say,
redeeming the past? You are not one of the women who think that for one
sin there is no redemption. Neither is my sister. She is, like you, a
good woman--not given to preaching or moralising in the stereotyped way,
but ever ready to lend a helping hand to a sister, not to push her back
into the mire.”

“After all, that is the most elementary Christianity. Was there any
precept so urged by the Founder as that? Christianity is assuredly the
religion for women.”

“It is the only religion for women--and men. My sister will treat the
girl as though she knew nothing of her lapse. There will be no lowering
of the corners of her mouth when she receives her. She will never, by
word or action, suggest that she has got that lapse forever in her mind.
The poor girl will never receive a reproach. In short, she will be given
a real chance; not a nominal one; not a fictitious one; not a parochial
one.”

“That will mean the saving of her soul. Her father has behaved cruelly
toward her. He turned her out of his house, as you know, because she
refused to say what was the name of her betrayer.”

“You mentioned that to me. All the people in the neighbourhood seem
to be most indignant with the poor girl because of her silence on this
point. They seem to feel that their curiosity is outraged. They do not
appear to be grateful to her for having stimulated their imagination.
And yet I think it was hearing of this attitude of the girl that caused
my sister to be attracted to her. That’s all I have to say on this
painful matter, my dear friend.”

Agnes Mowbray gave him her hand. Her eyes were misty as she turned them
upon his face. Several moments had passed before she was able to speak,
and then her voice was tremulous. A sob was in her throat.

“You are so good--so good--so good!” she said.

He held her hand for a minute. He seemed to be at the point of speaking
as he looked earnestly into her face, but when he dropped her hand he
turned away from her without saying a word.

There was a long silence before he said:

“We have been very good friends, you and I, since I came back to
England.”

His words were almost startling in their divergence from the subject
upon which they had been conversing. The expression on Agnes’s face
suggested that she was at least puzzled if not absolutely startled by
his digression.

“Yes,” she said mechanically, “we have indeed been good friends. I knew
in an instant yesterday that it was to you I should go when I was in
great need. I knew that you would help me.”

He looked at her gravely and in silence for some moments. Then he
suddenly put out his hand to her.

“Good-bye,” he said quickly--unnaturally; and before their hands had
more than met for the second time he turned and walked rapidly away to
the gate, leaving her standing under the shady elm in the centre of the
lawn.

For a moment or two she was too much surprised to be able to make any
move. He had never behaved so curiously before. She was trying to think
what she had said or what she had suggested that had hurt his feelings,
for it seemed to her that his sudden departure might be taken to
indicate that she had said something that jarred upon him.

She hastened across the lawn and through the tennis-ground, to intercept
him on the road. Only a low privet hedge stood between the road and
the gardens of The Kroll, and she reached this hedge and looked over it
before he had passed. She saw him approaching; his eyes were upon the
ground.

It was his turn to be startled as she spoke his name, looking over the
hedge. He looked up quickly.

“Did I say anything that I should not have said just now?” she asked.
“Why did you hurry away before our hands had more than met?”

“Shall I come back?” he said, after looking into her eyes with a curious
expression in his. “Will you ask me to return?”

“I will--I will--I will,” she cried. “Please return and tell me if I
said anything that hurt you. I would not do so for the world. Nothing
but gratitude and good feeling for you was in my heart. Oh yes, pray
return.”

“If I were wise I should not have returned when you made use of that
word ‘gratitude,’” said he when he had come beside her, through the
small rustic gate which she opened for him from the inside. “Gratitude
is the opposite to love, and I love you.”

With a startled cry she took a step or two back from him, and held up
her hands as if instinctively to avert a blow.

“I have startled you,” he said. “I was rude; but indeed I do not know of
any way of saying that I love you except in those words. I have had no
experience either in loving or in confessing my love. I came here this
morning to say those words to you, but when I looked at you standing
beside me under the elm--when I saw how beautiful you were--how full
of God’s grace, and goodness, and tenderness, and charity, I was so
overcome with the thought of my own unworthiness to love such a one as
you, that”--

“Oh no, no; for God’s sake, do not say that--do not say that,” she
cried, holding out her hands to him in an appealing attitude. “Alas!
alas! that word love must never pass between us.”

“Why should not the word pass, when my heart and soul”--

“Ah, let me implore of you. I fancied that you knew all--all my story.
I forgot that it happened so long ago that people in this neighbourhood
had ceased to speak of it years before you came here.”

“Your story? I will believe nothing but what is good of you.”

“My story--my life’s story is that I have promised to love another man.”

He gave a gasp. His head fell forward for a moment. Then he clasped
his hands behind him and looked at her in all tenderness and without a
suggestion of reproach.

“I had a suspicion of it yesterday,” he said. “The man who is more
fortunate than I is Richard Westwood.”

“No, not Richard Westwood, but Claude Westwood,” she replied, in a low
tone, and with her eyes fixed upon the ground.

A puzzled look was on his face.

“Claude Westwood--Claude Westwood?” he said. “But there is no Claude
Westwood. Was not Claude Westwood the African explorer killed years
ago--it must be nearly ten years ago--when trying to reach the Upper
Zambesi?”

“Claude Westwood is the man to whom I have given my promise,” said she
in an unshaken voice--the voice of one whose faith remains unshaken. “He
is not dead. He is alive and our love lives. Ah, my dear friend”--she
put out both her hands frankly to Sir Percival and he took them,
tenderly and reverently--“my dear friend, you may think me a fool; you
may think that I am wasting my life in waiting for an event that is as
impossible as the bringing of the dead back to life; but God has brought
the dead back to life, and I trust in God to bring the man whom I love
back to my love. At any rate, whatever you may think, I cannot help
myself; it is my life, this waiting, though it is weary--weary.”

She had turned away from him and was looking with wide, wistful eyes
across the long sweep of country that lay between the road and the Abbey
woods.

He had not let go her hands. He held them as he said:

“My poor Agnes! my poor Agnes. I had some hope--yes, a little--when I
first saw you. I had never thought of loving a woman before, but then...
ah, what is the good of recalling what my thoughts were--my hopes? I am
strong enough to face my fate. I am strong enough to hope with all
my heart that happiness may come to you--that--that--he may come to
you--the man who is blessed with such a love as has blessed few men. You
know that I am sincere, Agnes?”

“I am sure of it,” she said, and now it was her hand that tightened on
his. “Ah, my dear, dear friend, I know how good you are--how true! If I
were in trouble it is to you I would go for help, knowing that you would
never fail me.”

“I will never fail you,” he said. “There is a bond between us. You will
come to me should you ever be in trouble.”

“I give you my promise,” she said.

Her eyes were overflowing with tears as she put her face up to his. He
kissed her on the forehead very gently, and without speaking a good-bye
turned slowly away to the little gate.

While he was in the act of unlocking it, he started, hearing a cry from
the spot where they had been standing a dozen yards away.

He looked round quickly.

Agnes was being supported by a servant. He saw that her face was deathly
white, and in her hand that fell limply by her side there was an oblong
piece of paper. A telegraph envelope had fluttered to the ground.

He rushed back to her.

“What has happened?” he asked the servant.

“A telegram, sir; I brought it out to her--it had just come, and knew
that she was out here. She read it and cried out--I was just in time to
catch her. I don’t think she has quite fainted, Sir Percival.”

The maid was right. Agnes had not fainted, but she was plainly overcome
by whatever news the telegram had conveyed to her.

She opened her eyes as Sir Percival put his arm about her, supporting
her to a garden chair that stood at the side of the tennis lawn.

“I think I can walk,” she murmured; and she made an effort to step out,
but all her strength seemed to have departed. She would have fallen if
Sir Percival had not supported her.

“You are weak,” he said; “but after a rest you will be yourself again.
Let me help you.”

“You are so good!” she said, and with his help she was able to take a
few steps. But then she gave a sudden gasp and became rigid when she
caught sight of the telegram which was crumpled in her hand. She raised
it slowly and stared at it. Then she cried out:

“Ah, God is good--God is good! It is no dream. He is safe--safe! Claude
Westwood is alive.”



CHAPTER VII.

|What were his feelings as he read the telegram which she thrust into
his hand--the telegram sent to her by a relative, who lived in London,
acquainting her with the fact that an enterprising London paper had in
its issue of that morning announced the safe arrival at Uganda of the
distinguished explorer, Claude Westwood? “Authority unquestionable,”
 were the words with which the telegram ended.

Had he for one single moment an unworthy thought? Had he for a single
moment a consciousness that she was lost to him for ever? Had he a
feeling that he was being cruelly treated by Fate? Or was every feeling
overwhelmed by the thought that this woman whose happiness was dear to
him, was on her way to happiness?

She was leaning upon him as he read the telegram; and when he looked
into her face he saw that the expression which it wore was not that of
a woman who is thinking of her own happiness. He saw that her heart was
not so full of her own happiness as to have no place for a thought
for the man who in a moment had all hope swept away from him. Her eyes
showed him that she had the tenderest regard for him at that moment; and
that was how he was able to press her hand and say:

“With all my heart--with all my heart, I am glad. You will be happy. I
ask nothing more.”

She returned the pressure of his hand, and with her eyes looking into
his, said in a low voice:

“I know it--I know it.”

As he helped her to walk up to the house she kept putting question after
question to him. Was the news that this paper published usually of
a trustworthy character? She had heard that some newspapers with a
reputation for enterprise to maintain, were usually more anxious to
maintain such a reputation than one for scrupulous accuracy. Would
Claude Westwood’s brother be likely to receive a telegram to the same
effect as hers, and if so, how was it that Dick had not come to her at
once? Could it be that he questioned the accuracy of the news and was
waiting until he had it confirmed by direct communication with Zanzibar
before coming to her? And if Dick doubted the authentic nature of the
message, was there not more than a possibility that there was some
mistake in it? She knew all the systems of communication between Central
Africa and the coast, she did not require any further information on
that point; and she was aware of the ease with which an error could be
made in a name or an incident between Uganda and Zanzibar.

Before she reached the house, the confidence which she had had in the
accuracy of the message had vanished. With every step she took, a fresh
doubt arose in her mind; so that when she threw herself down in the seat
at the porch she was tremulous with excitement.

What could he say to soothe her? She knew far more than he did about the
romance of African exploration, and being aware of this fact, he felt
that it would be ridiculous for him to refer to the many cases there had
been of explorers reappearing suddenly after years of hopeless silence.
She was more fully acquainted than he was with the incidents connected
with these cases of the lost being found. All that he could do was to
assure her that no first-class newspaper, however anxious it might be
to maintain a reputation for enterprise, would wilfully concoct such an
item of news as that of which Agnes held the summary in her hand. It was
perfectly clear that the newspaper had good reason for publishing in
an authoritative manner the news of the safety of Claude Westwood,
otherwise the words “Authority unquestionable” would not have been used
in transmitting the substance of the intelligence.

This Sir Percival pointed out to her; and then, after a few moments of
thought, Agnes rose from her seat, not without an effort, and announced
her intention of going to Westwood Court.

“Dick cannot have received the news or he would surely be with me
now,” she said. “Ah, what will he think of it? He never gave up hope.
Everything he said to me helped to strengthen my hope. You have heard
how attached he and Claude were?”

Sir Percival, seeing how excited she had become--how she alternated
between the extremes of hope and fear, dissuaded her from her intention
of going to the Court at once.

“You must have some rest,” he said. “The strain of going to the Court
would be too much for you. You must not run the chance of breaking down
when you need most to be strong. You will let me do this for you. I
will see Westwood myself, whether he is at the Court or at the bank, and
bring him to you.”

“I am sure you are right, my dear friend,” she said. “Oh yes, it is far
better for you to bring him here. I cannot understand why Cyril has
not come down yet. He should be the one to go. But you do not mind the
trouble?”

“Trouble!” he said, and then laughed. “Trouble!”

He had gone some way down the drive when she called him back. She had
left the porch of the house, and was standing against the trellis-work
over which a rose was climbing. He returned to her at once.

“Listen to me, Sir Percival,” she said in a curious voice. “You are
not to join with Dick in any compromise in regard to the news. If he
believes that the report of Claude’s safety is not to be trusted, you
are to say so to me: it will not be showing your regard for me if you
come back saying something to lessen the blow that Dick’s doubt of the
accuracy of the news will be to me. You will be treating me best if you
tell me word for word what he says.”

“You may trust me,” he said quietly.

His heart was full of pity for her, for he could without difficulty see
that she was in a perilous condition of excitement.

“I will trust you--oh, have I not trusted you?” she cried. “I do net
want to live in a Fool’s Paradise--Heaven only knows if I have not been
living there during the past years. Paradise? No, it cannot be called a
Paradise, for in no Paradise can there be the agony of waiting that
was mine. And now--now--ah, do you think that I shall have an hour of
Paradise till you return with the truth?--the truth, mind--that is what
I want.”

He went away without speaking a word of reply to her. What would be the
good of saying anything to a woman in her condition? She had all the
sympathy of his heart. As he went along the road to the Court he began
to wonder how it was that he had not guessed long ago that the life
of this woman was not as the life of other women. It seemed to have
occurred to no one in the neighbourhood to tell him what was the life
that Miss Mowbray had chosen to live--that life of waiting and waiting
through the long years. He supposed that her story had lost its interest
for such persons as he had met during the year that he had been in
Brackenshire; or they had not fancied that it would ever become of such
intense interest to him as it was on this morning of June sunshine and
singing birds and fleecy clouds and sweet scents of meadow grass and
flower-beds.

He was conscious of a curious feeling of indignation in regard to the
man who had been cruel enough to take from that woman her promise to
love him, and him only, and then to leave her to waste her life away in
waiting for him. He fancied he could picture her life during the years
that Claude Westwood had been absent, and he felt that he had a right to
be indignant with a man who had been selfish enough to bind a woman
to himself with such a bond. Of course most women would, he knew, not
consider such a bond binding upon them after a year or two: they would
have been faithful to the man for a year--perhaps some of the most
devoted might have been faithful for as long as eighteen months after
his departure from England, and the extremely conscientious ones for
six months after he had been swallowed up in the blackness of that black
continent. They would not have been content to live the life that
had been Agnes Mowbray’s--the life of waiting and hoping with those
alternate intervals of despair.

The man had behaved cruelly toward her, for he should have known that
she was not as other women. It was the feeling that the man was not
worthy of her that caused Sir Percival Hope his only misgiving. He
wondered if he himself had chanced to meet Agnes before she had known
Claude Westwood, what would her life have been--what would his life have
been?

He stood in the road and tried to form a picture of their life--of their
lives joined together so as to make one life.

He hurried on. The picture was too bright to be looked upon. He found
it easier to think of the picture which had been before his eyes when
he had looked back hearing her voice calling him--the picture of a
beautiful pale woman, with one hand leaning on the trellis-work of the
porch, while the roses drooped down to her hair.

“The cruelty of it--the cruelty of it!” he groaned, as he hurried on to
perform his mission.

And these were the very words that Agnes Mowbray was moaning at the same
instant, as she fell on her knees beside the sofa in her dressing-room.
This was all the prayer that her lips could frame at that moment.

“The cruelty of it! The cruelty of it!” That was the result of all her
thoughts of the past years that she had spent in waiting.

She and God knew what those years had been--the years that had robbed
her of her youth, that had planted those grey hairs where the soft brown
had been. All the past seemed unfolded in front of her like a scroll.
She thought of her parting from her lover on that chill October day,
when every breeze sent the leaves flying in crisp flakes through the
air. Not a tear did she shed while she was saying that farewell to him.
She had carried herself bravely--yes, as she stood beside the privet
hedge and waved her hand to him on the road on which he was driving to
catch the train; but when she had returned to the house and her father
had put his arm round her, she was not quite so self-possessed. Her
tears came in a torrent all at once, and she cried out for him to come
back to her.

He had not come back to her. Through the long desolate years that had
been her cry; but he had not come back to her. Oh! the desolation of
those years that followed! At first she had received many letters from
him. So long as he was in touch with some form of civilisation, however
rudimentary it was, he had written to her; but then the letters became
few and irregular. He could only trust that one out of every six that
he wrote would reach her, he said, for he only wrote on the chance of
meeting an elephant-hunter or a slave-raider going to the coast who
would take a letter for him--for a consideration. She had not the least
objection to receive a letter, even though it had been posted by the red
hand of the half-caste slave-raider.

But afterwards the letters ceased altogether. She tried to find courage
in the reflection that the rascally men who had been entrusted with the
letters had flung them away, or perhaps they had been killed or had died
naturally before reaching the coast. Only for a time did she find some
comfort in thus accounting for the absence of all news regarding him. At
the end of a year she read in a newspaper an article in which the
writer assumed that all hope for the safety of Claude Westwood had been
abandoned. The writer of the article was clearly an expert in African
exploration. He was ready to quote instance after instance since the
days of Hanno, of explorers who had dared too much and had been cut
off--some by what he called the legitimate enemies of pioneers, namely,
disease and privation, others by that cruelty which has its habitation
in the dark places of the earth, and nowhere in greater abundance than
in the dark places of the Dark Continent.

She recollected what her feelings had been as she read that article
and scores of other articles, dealing with the disappearance of Claude
Westwood. She had not broken down. Her father had pointed out to her the
extraordinary mistakes so easily made by the experts who wrote on the
subject of Claude Westwood’s disappearance; and if they were able to
bring forward instances of the loss of intrepid men who had set out in
the hope of adding to the world’s knowledge of the world, the Admiral
was able to give quite as many instances of the safe return of explorers
who had been given up for lost. Thus she and her father kept up each
other’s hopes until the question of Claude’s safety ceased to be even
alluded to in the press as a topic of the day.

She had never lost hope; but this fact did not prevent her having
dreams of the night. She was accustomed to awake with a cry, seeing him
tortured by savages--seeing him lying alone in a country where no tree
was growing. And then she would remain awake through the long night,
praying for his safety.

That had been her life for years, and now she was still praying for his
safety--praying that the day of the realisation of her hopes had at last
come.

She started up, hearing the sound of footsteps on the gravel path. She
was at her window in time to see Sir Percival in the act of entering
the porch. He had not been long absent. He could not have had a long
conversation with Richard Westwood.

She met him while he was still in the porch. They stood face to face for
a few moments, but no word came from either of them for a long time. She
seemed to think that she was about to fall, for she put out a hand to
the velvet portière that hung in an arch leading to the hall--that was
her right hand--her left was pressed against her heart.

“You need not speak,” she whispered, when they had stood face to face
in that long silence. “You need not speak. I know all that your silence
implies.”

“No--no--you know nothing of what I have to tell you,” said he slowly.

“What have you to tell? Can you tell me anything worse than that Claude
Westwood is dead?”

“It is not Claude Westwood who is dead.”

“Not Claude?--who--who, then, is dead?”

“Richard Westwood is dead.”



CHAPTER VIII.

|She continued looking at him after he had spoken, as though she failed
to grasp the meaning of his words. It seemed as if they conveyed nothing
definite to her.

“I don’t think I heard you aright, Sir Percival,” she said at last.
“There was no question of Richard Westwood’s being alive or dead. You
went to find out about Claude.”

“I went to find out about Claude, but I did not get further than the
lodge,” said Sir Percival. “At the lodge I heard what had happened. It
is a terrible thing! The events of the day must have affected him more
deeply than we imagined they would.”

“You mean to tell me that Dick--that Richard Westwood is dead?” said
Agnes.

“He died this morning.”

“Dead! but I was with him yesterday. My brother Cyril dined with him
last night.”

“I tell you it is a terrible thing. Poor fellow! His mind must have
given way beneath the strain that the run upon the bank entailed upon
him. Dear Agnes, let me help you to reach your chair. Pray lean on me.”

She did not seem to hear what he had said. She was dazed but striving to
recover herself.

“I cannot understand,” she said. “It appears strange that I cannot
understand when you have spoken quite plainly. But we were talking about
Claude--not Dick. You were to find out what Dick thought regarding the
rumour of Claude’s being alive--so far I am quite clear. But here you
come to me saying: ‘It is Dick Westwood and not Claude who is dead.’
What on earth can you mean by saying that, when all i wanted to know was
about Claude?”

“My dear Agnes, I can say nothing more. This second shock is too much
for you. In a few minutes, however, you will be able to realise what has
happened. Where is your brother? I must speak to him.”

“No--no; do not leave me. If he is dead--and you say that he is dead--I
have no friend in the world but you. Ah, you must not leave me. I do not
think I have any one in the world but you.”

She spoke in a tone of pitiful entreaty, holding out both her hands to
him, as she had done once in the garden.

He took her hands and held them for a moment, but he did not press them,
as another man might have done, when she had spoken. He said gently: “I
will not leave you--whatever may happen I will be by your side. Now you
will sit down.”

He had just helped her to one of the chairs that stood in the porch,
when the portière was flung aside, and Cyril, in the art of lighting a
cigarette, appeared.

“Hallo, Agnes, I’m a bit late, I suppose,” he began, but seeing Sir
Percival helping her as though she were as feeble as an invalid, to the
chair, he stopped short. “What’s the matter, Sir Percival?” he said, in
another tone, but not one of great concern.

“Tell him--tell him; perhaps he will understand,” said Agnes, looking up
to Sir Percival’s face.

“You do not mind my speaking to him for a minute in the garden?” said
Sir Percival.

“Go; perhaps he will understand,” said she.

He held up a linger to Cyril, and they went outside together.

“What’s the mystery now?” asked Cyril, picking up his straw hat from
a chair. “I shouldn’t wonder if it had something to do with Claude
Westwood. My poor sister is overcome because she has received
confirmation of his death probably. But you and I know, Sir Percival,
that there has not been the smallest chance.”

“I do not want to talk to you about Claude Westwood just at this minute,
but about his brother,” said Sir Percival. “The fact is, that I have
just returned from the Court. The dead body of Richard Westwood was
found by a gardener this morning not twenty yards from his house. He had
shot himself with a revolver.”

Cyril turned very pale, but the cigarette that he was smoking did not
drop from his lips. He stared at Sir Percival for some moments, and then
slowly removed his cigarette. He drew a long breath before saying in a
whisper:

“Shot himself? Then he was bankrupt after all, and Agnes’s money’s gone.
Why the mischief did you give her that cheque yesterday, Sir Percival?”

“I thought it well that you should hear this terrible news at once,”
 said Sir Percival, ignoring his question. “I believe that you dined
with him last night, and so you were probably the last person to see
him alive. You will most certainly be questioned by the Chief Constable
before the inquest.”

“The Chief Constable or any other constable may question me; I don’t
mind. I don’t suppose it will be suggested that I shot poor Dick,” said
Cyril, somewhat jauntily.

Sir Percival made no reply, and Cyril went on.

“Good heavens! Poor old Dick! I’m sorry for him. I have good reason to
be sorry. He was the best friend I had. He understood me. He wasn’t too
hard on a chap like me. The people in this neighbourhood think that I’m
a bad egg--you probably think so too, Sir Percival; but poor Dick never
joined with the others in boycotting me, though he knew more about me
than any of them! And to think that all the time he was playing that
game of billiards--all the time he was crossing the park with me when I
was going home, he meant to put an end to himself.”

“You will probably be asked some questions on this point by the Chief
Constable,” said Sir Percival. “He will ask you if you can testify to
his state of mind last evening. You drove back with him from the bank, I
believe?”

“I drove back with him, and dined with him. We had a game of billiards,
the same as usual, and then he walked across the park with me, as I say.
That’s all I have to tell. I know nothing about his condition of mind;
but he admitted to me more than once that he had had rather a bad time
of it while those fools were in the bank clamouring for their money--it
appears that they weren’t such great fools after all. Poor old Dick! He
took me up quite seriously when I suggested that he should marry Agnes.
He pretended to believe that Claude was still alive, as if he didn’t
know as well as you or I, Sir Percival”--

“There is every likelihood that Claude Westwood is alive,” said Sir
Percival.

“What--Claude Westwood alive and Dick Westwood dead?” cried Cyril.
“Pardon me if I seem rude, Sir Percival, but what on earth are you
talking about?”

“I have told you all that I know,” said Sir Percival. “Your sister got
a telegram an hour ago telling her that a London newspaper contains a
piece of exclusive news regarding Claude Westwood, and the information
is described as accurate beyond question.”

“Great Scott!” said Cyril after a pause. “What’s the meaning of this,
anyway? One brother turns up alive and well after being lost in Africa
for eight years, and the other--Good heavens! What can any one say when
things like that are occurring under our very eyes? Why couldn’t Dick
have waited until the news came? He would not have shot himself if he
had known that Claude was alive, I’ll swear. And as for Claude--well,
when he gets the news from Brackenhurst, he’ll be inclined to wish that
he had remained in the interior.”

“They were so deeply attached to each other?”

“Well, of course, Sir Percival, I can’t say anything about that from my
own recollection, but every one about here says they were like David
and Jonathan--like Damon and the other chap. Nothing ever came between
them--not even a woman; and I need hardly tell you, Sir Percival, that
the appearance of the woman is usually the signal for”--

“Here is Major Borrowdaile,” said Sir Percival, interrupting the
outburst of cynical philosophy on the part of the youth, as a dog-cart
driven by Major Borrowdaile, the Chief Constable of the county, passed
through the entrance gates.

Cyril allowed himself to be interrupted without a protest. His
nonchalance vanished as the officer jumped from the dog-cart and went
across the lawn to him. Sir Percival took a few steps to meet Major
Borrowdaile, but Cyril did not move.

“You have heard of this nasty business, Sir Percival?” said the officer.

“I have just come from the lodge at the Court,” replied Sir Percival.
“There’s no possibility of a mistake being made, I suppose? It is
certain that Mr. Westwood shot himself.”

“It is certain that the poor fellow was found shot through the lungs,”
 said the Chief Constable cautiously. “I hear that you dined with him
last night, Mowbray,” he continued, turning to Cyril. “That is why I
have troubled you with a visit.”

“Why should you come to me?” said Cyril, almost plaintively. “I
dined with Dick Westwood, and parted from him at the road gate before
midnight. That’s all I know about the business.”

“That means you were the last person to see him alive. He must have been
shot on returning to the house after letting you through the road gate.”

“Must have been shot?” cried Cyril. “Why, you said he had shot himself,
Sir Percival.”

“He was found with a revolver close to his hand,” said Major
Borrowdaile, “and the undergardener, who discovered the body, took it
for granted that he had committed suicide. You see the fact that there
was a run upon the bank yesterday induces some people to jump to the
conclusion that he committed suicide, just as the assumption that he
committed suicide will lead many people to assume that the affairs of
the bank are in an unsatisfactory condition. They are bad logicians. Did
he seem at all depressed in the course of the evening, Mowbray?”

“Not he,” replied Cyril. “He was just the opposite. He ate a first-class
dinner, and we discussed the fools who made the run upon the bank. It
seems that they weren’t such fools after all--so I’ve been saying to Sir
Percival.”

“You are another of the imperfect logicians,” said Major Borrowdaile.
“I want facts--not deductions, if you please. If there are to be any
deductions made I prefer making them myself. I promise you that I shall
make them on a basis of fact. Dr. Mitford saw our poor friend, and
he has had, as you know, a large experience of bullet wounds--he went
through four campaigns--and he declares that it is quite impossible that
Mr. Westwood could have shot himself. The bullet entered the lungs from
behind. Now, men who wish to commit suicide do not shoot themselves in
that way. They have the best of reasons tor refraining. That is fact
number one. Fact number two is that the revolver which was found at his
hand was not Mr. Westwood’s--his own revolver was found safe in his own
bedroom.”

“Then the deduction is simple,” said Sir Per-cival. “Some one must have
shot him.”

“I am afraid that is the only conclusion one can come to, considering
the facts which I have placed before you, Sir Percival,” said Major
Borrowdaile. “This view is strengthened by Mowbray’s testimony as to the
condition of Mr. Westwood last night: he was not depressed nor had
he any reason to be depressed, the run upon the bank having been
successfully averted.”

“But who could have borne him a grudge? He was, I have always believed,
the most popular man in the neighbourhood,” said Sir Percival.

The Chief Constable glanced toward Cyril saying:

“Perhaps Mowbray here will be able to give us at least a clue.”

“I?--I know nothing of the matter,” said Cyril. “I have told you all
that I know. We parted at the gate in the wall of the park--it saves me
a round of more than half a mile--that’s all I know, I assure you.”

“Then I’m disappointed in my mission to you,” said the Chief Constable.
“The fact is that one of the servants came to us with a singular story
of a visitor--a man wearing a rather shabby coat and a soft hat. He says
he entered the room when this man was having an altercation with Mr.
Westwood, at which you were present, and the revolver”--

“Great Scott!” cried Cyril. “How could I be such an idiot as to forget
that! The man came into the drawing-room through the open window, and
called Dick a swindler. He pulled out a revolver and covered Dick with
it just as the servant entered the room. Dick took the matter very
coolly and the fellow threw the revolver out of the window, and walked
out by the door himself--but not before he had threatened Dick. Oh,
there can be no doubt about it; the shot was tired by that man.”

“Did he mention what was his name?” asked Major Borrowdaile.

“He did--yes, he said his name was--now What the mischief did he say
it was? Stanley?--no--Stanmore?--I think he said his name was Stanmore.
No! have it now--Standish; and he mentioned that he had just come from
Midleigh. Oh, there’s no doubt that he fired the shot. Why on earth
haven’t you tried to arrest him? He can’t have gone very far as yet.”

“He was arrested half an hour ago,” said the Chief Constable.

“Heavens above! He didn’t run away?” cried Cyril.

“On the contrary, he walked straight into the bank the first thing this
morning, and tried to make a row because the cashier hadn’t arrived,”
 said Major Borrowdaile. “He waited there, and when the news came that
Mr. Westwood was dead and the doors of the bank were about to be closed,
he refused to leave the premises. That was where he made a mistake; for
he was arrested by my sergeant on suspicion, though the sergeant had
heard that Mr. Westwood had shot himself. And yet we hear that there is
no intelligence apart from Scotland Yard!”



CHAPTER IX.

|The London evening papers were full of the name of Westwood, and the
pleasant little country town of Brackenhurst was during the afternoon
overrun with representatives of the Press, the majority of whom were, to
the amazement of the legitimate inhabitants, far more anxious to obtain
some items relating to the personal history--the more personal the
better--of Claude Westwood, than to become acquainted with the
local estimate of the character of his brother. The people of the
neighbourhood could not understand how it was possible that the world
should regard the reappearance of a distinguished explorer after an
absence of eight years with much greater interest than the murder of a
provincial banker--even supposing that Mr. Westwood was murdered,
which was to place the incident of his death in the most favourable
light--from the standpoint of those newspapers that live by sensational
headlines.

The next morning every newspaper worthy of the name had a leading
article upon the Westwoods, and pointed out how the tragic elements
associated with the death of one of the brothers were intensified by
the fact that if he had only lived for a few hours longer, he would have
heard of the safety of his distinguished brother, to whom he was deeply
attached. While almost every newspaper contained half a column telling
the story--so far as it was known--of the supposed murder of Richard
Westwood, a far greater space was devoted to the story of the escape of
Claude Westwood from the savages of the Upper Zambesi, who had killed
every member of his expedition and had kept him in captivity for eight
years.

The people of Brackenhurst could not understand such a lapse of judgment
on the part of the chief newspaper editors: they were, of course, very
proud of the fact that Claude Westwood was a Brackenshireman, but
they were far prouder of the distinction of being associated with the
locality of a murder about which every one in the country was talking.

Cyril Mowbray found himself suddenly advanced to a position of
unlooked-for prominence, owing to the amount of information he was able
to give to the newspaper men regarding the scene during the run on the
bank, and the scene in the drawingroom at the Court, when the man who
called himself Standish had entered, demanding the money which he had
lodged the previous year in Westwoods’ bank. Only once before had Cyril
found himself in a position of equal prominence, and that was when he
had been finally sent down at Oxford for participating in a prank of
such a character as caused the name of his college to appear in every
newspaper for close upon a week under the heading of “The University
Scandal.” Before the expiration of that week Cyril’s name was in the
mouth of every undergraduate, and he felt, for the remainder of the
week, all the gratification which is the result (sometimes) of a sudden
accession to a position of prominence after a long period of comparative
obscurity.

But his sister Agnes was completely prostrated by what had now
happened--by the gladness of hearing that her lover was safe--that
her long years of watching and waiting had not been in vain, and by the
grief of knowing that her gladness could not be shared by Dick Westwood.
It seemed to her that her hour of grief had swallowed up her hour of
joy. She could not look forward to the delight of meeting Claude
once again without feeling that her triumph--the triumph of her
constancy--was robbed of more than half its pleasure, since it could
not be shared by poor Dick. A week ago the news that her lover was safe
would have thrilled her with delight; but now it seemed to her a barren
joy even to anticipate his return: she knew that he would never recover
from the blow of his brother’s death--she knew that all the love she
might lavish upon him would not diminish the bitterness of the thoughts
that would be his when he returned to the Court and found it desolate.

She read with but the smallest amount of interest the newspaper articles
that eulogised Claude Westwood and his achievements. She seemed to
have but an impersonal connection with the discoveries that he had
made--suggestions of their magnitude appeared almost daily in the
newspapers; and the fact that an enterprising publishing firm in England
had sent out a special emissary to meet him at Zanzibar with an offer
of £25,000 for his book--it was taken as a matter of course that he
would write a book--interested her no more than did the information that
an American lecture bureau had cabled to their English agent to make
arrangements with him for a series of lectures--it was assumed that he
would give a course of lectures with limelight views--in the States, his
remuneration to be on a scale such as only a prima donna had ever dreamt
of, and that only in her most avaricious moments. She even remained
unmoved by the philosophical reflection indulged in by several leader
writers, to the effect that, after all, it would seem that the perils
surrounding an ordinary English gentleman were greater than those
encompassing the most intrepid of explorers in the most dangerous sphere
of exploration in the world.

The foundation for this philosophy was, of course, the coincidence
of the news being published confirmatory of the safety of one of the
Westwoods on the same page that contained the melancholy story of what
was soon termed the Brackenshire Tragedy.

And this melancholy story did not lose anything of its tragic aspect
when it came to be investigated before the usual tribunals. But however
interesting as well as profitable it might be to give at length an
account of the questions put to the witnesses at the inquest, and the
answers given by them to the solicitors engaged in the investigation,
such interest and profit must be foregone in this place. A reader
will have to be content with the information of the bare fact that the
coroner’s jury returned a verdict of “Wilful Murder” against the man who
had, under the name of Carton Standish, lodged some hundreds of pounds
the previous year in the Westwoods’ bank, and who, according to the
evidence of Cyril, corroborated by the footman, had threatened Mr.
Westwood with a revolver.

Cyril described the incidents of the entire interview that Standish had
with Mr. Westwood, up to the point of his throwing the revolver out of
the window. He was not, of course, prepared to say that the
revolver which was found at Mr. Westwood’s hand (deposed to by the
under-gardener) was the same weapon, but he said that it seemed to him
to be the same. He had not seen the man pick up the revolver from
the grass where it had fallen. The man had left the house, not by the
window, by which he had entered, but by the hall door. In reply to a
question put to him Cyril said that if the revolver had been left on the
grass it might have been picked up by any one aware of the fact that it
was there. Neither he nor Mr. Westwood had picked it up. They had not
walked together in the direction of the Italian garden, but through the
park, which was on the other side of the house. They had not discussed
the incident of the man’s entering the drawing-room, except for a few
minutes, nor did it seem to occur to Mr. Westwood that he might be in
jeopardy were he to walk through the grounds. He appeared to disregard
the man’s threats.

The surgeon who had examined the body gave a horribly technical
description of the wound made by the bullet, and said he had no
hesitation in swearing that the revolver was fired from a distance of at
least twenty feet from the deceased. He had a wide experience of bullet
wounds, but it did not need a wide experience to enable a surgeon to
pronounce an opinion as to whether or not a wound had been produced by a
point-blank discharge of a weapon, whether revolver or rifle.

Major Borrowdaile and the police sergeant gave some evidence regarding
the arrest of Standish, and the butler, who was the first to enter the
drawingroom in the morning, stated that he had found the French window
open. He fancied that his master had gone out for a stroll before
breakfast. He also said that he had heard in the early part of the night
the sound of several shots; but he had taken it for granted that a party
were shooting rabbits in the warren, In any case the sound of a shot
at night in the park or the shrubberies would not cause alarm among the
servants: they would take it for granted that a keeper had fired at one
of the wild-cats or perhaps at a night-hawk, or some creature of the
woods inimical to the young pheasants.

This was considered sufficient evidence by the coroner’s jury, and
the man was handed over, to be formally committed by the bench of
magistrates.

The Summer Assizes were held within a fortnight, and then, in addition
to the evidence previously given, a gunmaker from Midleigh swore that
the revolver was purchased from him by the prisoner on the forenoon of
the day when he had appeared at Westwood Court. Against such evidence
the statement of the landlord of the Three Swans Inn at Brackenhurst, to
the effect that he had admitted the prisoner to the inn at a few
minutes past midnight--the only direct evidence brought forward for
the defence--was of no avail. The landlord, on being cross-examined,
admitted that his clock was not invariably to be depended on: on the
night in question he took it for granted that it was a quarter of an
hour fast. He would not swear that it was not customary to set it
back on the very day of the week corresponding to that preceding the
discovery of the dead body of Mr. Westwood. He also declined to swear
that the next day the clock was not found to be accurate.

The judge upon this occasion was not the one whose anxiety to sentence
men and women to be hanged is so great that he has now and again
practically insisted on a jury returning a verdict of guilty against
prisoners who, on being reprieved by the Home Secretary, were eventually
found to be entirely innocent of the crime laid to their charge. Nor was
he the one whose unfortunate infirmity of deafness prevents his hearing
more than a word or two of the evidence. He was not even the one whose
inability to perceive the difference between immorality and criminality
is notorious. He was the one whose ingenuity is made apparent by his
suggestion of certain possibilities which have never occurred to the
counsel engaged in a case.

When it seemed to be quite certain that Standish would be found guilty,
the judge began to perplex the minds of the jurymen by suggestions of
his own. He pointed out that the prisoner had had but one object in
threatening Mr. Westwood--namely, to recover the money that he had
lodged in Westwoods’ bank; and this being so, what motive would he have
for murdering Mr. Westwood until he had applied to the bank and had had
his money refused to him?

So far from his having a motive in killing Mr.

Westwood, and then placing the weapon so close to his hand as to
suggest that he had committed suicide, he had the very best reason for
preventing the spread of the report that the proprietor of the bank had
committed suicide, for it would be perfectly plain to any one that the
spread of such a report would cause it to be taken for granted that the
affairs of the bank were in a shaky condition, and the bank might stop
payment in self-defence; in which case the prisoner must have known that
his money would be in serious jeopardy.

He then went on to point out how no evidence had been brought forward
to prove that the prisoner had ever regained possession of the revolver
after he had thrown it out of the window, so that it was open for
any one who might have found the weapon, to use it with deadly effect
against Mr. Westwood, or, for that matter, against some one else.
Finally, he ventured to point out how it was scarcely within the bounds
of possibility that the murder could have been committed by any one
except the prisoner. He trusted, however, that the jury would give the
amplest consideration to the points upon which he had dwelt.

The result of this summing up was that it took the jury two hours and a
half instead of five minutes to find the prisoner guilty. It only took
the judge five minutes to sentence him, however; but those persons who
had been looking forward to so exciting an incident as an execution,
with a black flag hoisted outside the gaol to stimulate the
imagination in regard to the horror that was being enacted within, were
disappointed, for the Home Secretary commuted the capital sentence to
one of penal servitude for life.

The man’s character had not been an unblemished one. Fifteen years
before he had suffered eighteen months’ imprisonment for fraud in
connection with the floating of a company--a transaction into which
it seems scarcely possible for fraud to enter--but since his return he
appeared to have supported himself honorably at Midleigh. He had worked
himself up to a position of trust at the great Midleigh brewery, and
it was said that in addition to the few hundreds which remained to his
credit in Westwoods’ bank, he had saved some thousands of pounds. It
appeared, however, that what he had said in Dick Westwood’s drawing-room
about having a wife and child, was untrue, for certainly no no one
claiming to be his wife had come forward during the trial.

Thus, within three weeks of the tragedy at the Court, the people of
Brackenhurst had begun to talk of other matters--during a fortnight no
other topic was possible in the town. After Mr. Westwood’s death there
was no run on the bank: but even if there had been, plenty of gold would
have been forthcoming to meet all demands. It was then that the people
began to discuss the probability of Mr. Westwood’s having died a wealthy
man, and the likelihood of his having made a will. They feared that
Claude Westwood would not find himself better provided for than he
had been at his father’s death; for they took it for granted that his
brother would have made his will on the assumption--the very reasonable
assumption--that he was no longer alive.

It did not take long to satisfy the curiosity of the neighbourhood on
all these points. Richard Westwood’s lawyer produced in due course a
will which the former had made the year before, and it became plain
from this document that the testator was a wealthy man--that is to say,
wealthy from the standpoint of Brackenshire; though, of course, in
the estimation of Lancashire or Chicago the sums which he bequeathed
represented a competency only one degree removed from absolute penury.
Something like two hundred thousand pounds were distributed in the will,
but the distribution was made on the simplest principle. After a few
legacies of an unimportant character to some cousins, his clerks and
servants. Richard Westwood left all his property in trust for his
brother Claude, should the said Claude be found to be alive within five
years from the date of the will. But should no proof be forthcoming that
he was alive within that period, everything was to go to Agnes Louise
Mowbray, of The Knoll, for her absolute use.

People opened their eyes when they became acquainted with the provisions
of the will. So many years had passed since the departure of Claude
Westwood, it was quite forgotten, except by a few persons, that there
was a woman awaiting his return.

There were some people, however, who said that the character of Richard
Westwood’s will proved that he had been in love with Miss Mowbray. They
never failed to add that they had suspected it all along.



CHAPTER X.

|Cyril Mowbray did not seem to feel quite as jubilant as he might have
done, when it was proved beyond the possibility of doubt, that Claude
was alive. The income that would be his when he reached the age of
twenty-five was a small one, and quite insufficient to allow of his
keeping three hunters and driving a coach, to say nothing of that
two-hundred-ton yacht upon which he had set his heart.

He considered that he was, on the whole, very hardly dealt with by
Fate, for he felt convinced that he was meant by Nature to be a country
gentleman in affluent circumstances and without need to take thought
for all the unlet farms that might be on his property. He considered it
especially hard that he should be cheated out of his money--that was how
he put it--by the reappearance of Claude. He had great confidence in
his own ability to persuade his sister to part with her money. To whom
should she give her money if not to her own brother, he inquired of such
persons as he took into his confidence on the subject of his grievances.

His confidence in his capacity to get his sister’s money into his
possession was but too well-founded. During the year of idleness that
followed his being sent down from the University, he had been a terrible
burden to Agnes, for it was in vain that she pleaded with him to seek to
qualify himself for some employment in which a University degree was
not necessary; he refused to listen to her, saying that he was fit for
nothing but the life of a country gentleman.

That was certainly the life which he had led for a year, at his sister’s
expense. He was a great burden to her, but she was extremely fond of
him, and she was a woman.

Lizzie Dangan had left the neighbourhood without revealing to any one
the fact that she had had a secret interview with Mr. Westwood within
twenty yards of where his body had been found in the morning, and also
without being reconciled to her father, the gamekeeper, though Agnes
made an attempt to get the man to forgive his daughter for her lapse.
The man had always been a strict father, giving his children an
excellent education, and insisting on their going to church with
praiseworthy regularity. It was therefore mortifying for him to find
that his two sons had enlisted in a cavalry regiment and that his one
daughter had neglected the excellent precepts of life which he had
taught her by the aid of a birch rod.

It was probably the sense of his own failure in regard to his children
that made him refuse to be reconciled to Lizzie. He had shown himself
all his life to be a hard and morose man, discharging his duties with
rigid exactness, and being quite intolerant of the lapses of the people
about him. After the death of Mr. Westwood and the departure of his
daughter, he became more morose than ever, scarcely speaking to any one
on the estate, and rarely leaving the precincts of the park. Some of the
servants said that, after all, he had been attached to Mr. Westwood, but
others said that he was grieving because Lizzie had not been allowed to
starve to death in expiation of her fault. He had more than once said
that he hoped he would see her in her coffin for bringing shame upon
his house, but until she was lying in her coffin he would not have her
brought before him.

It was after her departure that Cyril began to feel a trifle lonely. He
missed his stolen interviews with the girl, and above all he missed
the sense of being engaged in an intrigue that was attended with the
greatest risk, and which he flattered himself had been carried on
without awaking the suspicions of any one, except his too considerate
friend, Dick Westwood. Even the excitement of the trial and the
consciousness of being a person of the greatest importance in connection
with the case for the Crown, failed to compensate him for the absence of
Lizzie, especially as, within a week after the conviction of Standish,
the Crown no longer regarded him as a person of distinction. To be the
chief witness for the Crown had seemed in his eyes pretty much the
same thing as to be on speaking terms with Royalty; and when he found
himself, after he had served the purposes of the prosecution, cast aside
in favour of a farm labourer, who became the hero of the moment because
he had detected a man loitering in the neighbourhood of certain
hay ricks that had been burnt down, he was ready to indulge in many
philosophical reflections upon the fickleness of Royalty. He felt like
the discarded favourite of a Prince.

Thus it was that he became an intolerable burden to his sister, and
the subject of unfavourable predictions uttered by the most far-seeing
people of the neighbourhood, although his worst enemies could not say
that he was not improving at billiards. It was universally admitted that
he was making satisfactory progress in the study of this fascinating
game; a fact which shows that if one only practises for six hours a day
at anything, one will, eventually, become proficient at it.

To say, however, that he was satisfied with his life and its prospects
at this period would be impossible. As a matter of fact, he was as much
dissatisfied with himself as his friends were. He had been heard once or
twice to say something about enlisting.

It was just when he was actually considering if, in view of his failure
to realise the simplest aspirations of a country gentleman, it might not
be well for him to take the Queen’s shilling, that he met Sir Percival
Hope on the road to Brackenhurst.

It seemed to him that Sir Percival had a lecturereading expression on
his face, and he quickened his pace with a view of passing him with a
nod. But he was mistaken; first, in fancying that Sir Percival had so
narrow a knowledge of the world as to think that lecture-reading was
ever known to act as a brake upon any youth who had made up his mind
to go to the bad; and secondly, in fancying that if such a man as Sir
Percival Hope had made up his mind to speak to him, either with the
intention of reading him a lecture or with any other aim, he would be
able to pass him with only a nod of recognition.

Sir Percival stopped him.

“Look here, Mowbray,” he said, “you’re a man of the world, and you know
all the people about here far better than I do. You see they freeze up
when I want them to talk freely to me. I haven’t the way of drawing them
out that you have.”

Cyril fairly blushed at these compliments; they were delivered in so
casual a tone as to seem everyday truths that no one would dream of
contradicting.

Cyril did not dream of contradicting them, though he did blush. He
merely murmured that he supposed chaps would sooner give themselves away
to him than to Sir Percival.

“Of course they would,” acquiesced the elder man. “That is why I am
glad to have met you. The fact is, that my chief overseer at Tarragonda
Creek--that’s one of my sheep stations in New South Wales--has written
to me to send him out a young chap who would act as his assistant for
a while--a chap whom he could eventually place in charge of one of the
farms. Now why on earth he should bother me with this business I don’t
know, only that O’Gorman--that’s the overseer--has a mortal hatred of
the native-born Australian: he fancies that he knows too much. I was
about to write to him to say that he must manage without me, when it
occurred to me that you might be able to help me. What O’Gorman wants is
a young fellow who is first and foremost a gentleman--a fellow who knows
what a horse is and does not object to be in the saddle all day. If you
hear of any one who you think would suit such a billet, I wish you
would let me know--only remember, Mr. O’Gorman is a great believer in
gentlemen for such posts: he won’t have anything to do with stable hands
who think to better themselves in a colony.”

“Look here, Sir Percival,” cried Cyril, after only a short pause, “I’m
dead tired of life in this neighbourhood. I can hear people say, the
moment my back is turned, that I’m going straight to the devil, and I
can’t contradict them. I am going to the devil simply because I thought
I was good for nothing but loafing about billiard-rooms. You don’t know,
Sir Percival, how far I have gone in that direction. Only one person
knows what I am guilty of. But I haven’t had a chance; and if you only
give me one, you’ll see if I don’t take it.”

“Do you mean to say that you’d take the situation yourself?” asked Sir
Percival, as if the idea had been sprung upon him.

“I see by the way you ask me that you think I’m a conceited cub,” said
Cyril. “But I’m not conceited, and--look here, Sir Percival, give me
this chance and it will mean the saving of me. You’ll not regret it.
I was just thinking as I came along here this evening, that there’s
nothing left for me except to enlist, and by the Lord Harry, if you
won’t take me I will enlist if only to get away from this place.”

“My dear boy, you needn’t hold that pistol to my head,” said Sir
Percival.

“A pistol--what pistol?” said Cyril, in a low tone, taking a step or two
back and staring at Sir Percival.

“Why, that threat of enlisting. Why need you threaten me with that? I’ll
give you the chance you ask for without any intimidation. Heavens! If
you only knew the relief that it is to me to be able to tell O’Gorman
that I have got a man for him. Oh, you and he will get on all right. Of
course you’ll do just what he tells you, or you’ll get your passage paid
home by the next steamer.”

“Sir Percival,” faltered Cyril, “you’ve saved me.”

And then, man of the world though he was, he burst into tears, and
hurried away, leaving Sir Per-cival standing alone on the roadside
extremely gratified by the reflection that once more he had been right
in the estimate he had formed of a man’s character, though all the
people whom he had met had differed from him. It was this capacity
to judge of men’s characters without being guided by the opinions
formed--and expressed--by others, that had made him a rich man while
others had remained poor. He had come to the conclusion that Cyril was
not in reality a _mauvais sujet_, or what is known in England as a bad
egg. The philosophy of Sir Percival’s life was comprised within these
lines:

               “Satan finds some mischief still

                   For idle hands to do.”

He rather guessed that he could outwit Satan if he only set about trying
to do it.

Thus it was that Agnes had to express her gratitude once again to Sir
Percival Hope, and thus their friendship became consolidated.

Not once did Cyril put in an appearance at a billiard-room at
Brackenhurst during the week that followed his interval with Sir
Percival. He had no time for billiards, the fact being that he was made
to understand that he must be on his way to Australia by the steamer
leaving England in ten days. For the first time in his life he felt
it incumbent on him to rouse himself. He went up with Sir Per-cival to
London to procure himself an outfit; and though it was something of a
disappointment to him to learn that he was not to appear in top boots
and a “picture hat,” after a model made by a milliner in Bond Street,
and worn by a South African trooper--he should have dearly liked to
walk for the last time through the streets of Brackenhurst in this
picturesque attire--still he bore his disappointment with resignation,
and packed up his flannel shirts with a light heart. He wrote a letter
to Lizzie Dangan on the eve of his departure, and only posted it at
Liverpool half an hour before he embarked for his new home.

It was when he was beginning to feel, as the waves of the Channel were
causing the big steamer some uneasiness, that, after all, he would not
look on the acquisition of a yacht as an essential to his scheme of
enjoying life when he had become a millionaire, that his sister Agnes
was waited on by Dick Westwood’s solicitor.

She had scarcely dried the tears which she had shed on thinking that
her brother would be by this time at sea, for the reflection that even
a reprobate brother is at sea will make a kind-hearted sister weep; and
she did not feel much inclined to have an interview which she feared
would be a business one.

She soon found, however, that the solicitor had not come strictly on a
matter of business.

“I bring you a letter which is addressed to my late client, Mr.
Westwood,” said he. “In the ordinary way of business, I have, of course,
opened the few letters that have been addressed to him by persons whom
the news of his death had not time to reach, but in this particular case
I have brought the letter to you.”

He handed her an envelope which was in such a condition as to suggest
that it had been lying for a wet day or two in the roadway at Charing
Cross or some thoroughfare equally well frequented, and that afterwards
some one had dropped it by mistake into one of the iron dust-bins
instead of a pillar-box. It was soiled and dilapidated to such an extent
as made Agnes uncertain on which side the address was written. But she
was able to read on a corner that had been scraped, the one postmark
“Zanzibar.”

The letter dropped from her hand.

“The pity of it--ah, the pity of it!” she cried.

“I will leave it with you, Miss Mowbray,” said the lawyer, rising. “I
think that it is into your hands it should be put. You will read it
at your leisure, and if it contains any matter upon which you think I
should be informed, you will be good enough to communicate with me.”



CHAPTER XI.

|For some time after the lawyer had left the house, the letter lay
unheeded at Agnes’s feet. She could only say to herself, “The pity of
it! The pity of it!” as her eyes overflowed with tears. It seemed very
pitiful to her to see lying there the letter which the man to whom
it was addressed would never see. She thought of the gladness which
receiving that letter would have brought into the life that had passed
away. Not for a single moment did she feel jealous because it had
arrived in England unaccompanied by any letter to herself. She felt that
it was fitting that the first letter written by Claude since his return
to civilisation--such civilisation as was represented by the sending and
receiving of letters--should be to the brother whom he loved so well.

It was some time before she could take it up and open the cover. When at
last she did so, standing at the window leading into her garden to catch
all the light that remained in the sky, she failed to detect any but
the most distant resemblance in the handwriting to Claude’s, as she had
known it. But as she read the first words her tears began to flow once
more, and she could only press the letter to her lips and say, “Thank
God, thank God, for allowing me to see his handwriting once more!”

The letter was not a long one. The writer assumed that his brother would
think that he was reading a message from another world. “And by Heaven
you won’t be so far wrong, old boy,” he wrote, “for I don’t suppose
any human being ever went so near as I did to the border-line of that
undiscovered country without passing over into the land of shadows.”

He then went on to give a brief sketch of the massacre of all the
members of the expedition with the exception of himself, and to tell how
he had been not merely held in captivity by the strange tribes whom they
had met, but promoted to the position of a god by them, owing to the
accident of his having found his way into a sacred cave, after taking
the precaution to knock out the brains of the two witch doctors who had
previously killed every native who had attempted to enter. The position
of a god he found great difficulty in living up to, he said, for the
gods of that nation Were carefully guarded lest they should make a try
for the liberty of an ordinary layman.

In short, the letter gave a _résumé_ of the writer’s terrible hardships
when living as the captive of one of the most barbarous of African
savage tribes. For nearly eight years he had lived as a savage, and
when at last he contrived to escape, he had spent another six months
wandering from forest to forest of the interior, in almost a naked
condition, and with no weapon except a knife, which had once belonged
to Baines, the explorer, and had been given by him to a friendly native
when painting the falls of the Zambesi. When at the point of starving he
had been fortunate enough to come in contact with an ivory hunter on his
way to Uganda, where they had arrived together.

“If you only knew the difficulty I have in holding a pen you would give
me unlimited praise for writing so long a letter instead of confounding
me--as I fear you will--for being so brief. The chap who takes this to
the coast for me will not fail to make as much as he can out of my story
for transmission to the papers, so that the chances are that you will
have got plenty of news about me by cable a fortnight or so before you
get this.”

The writer did not indulge in any more sentimental passages than may be
found in the letter of any average Englishman who writes to a brother
after taking part in a campaign in a distant country, or fighting his
way through savages in the hope of opening up a new land for English
trade--and occasionally German.

Only as a postscript he had written:

“I often wonder what you are like now. Of course you have found a wife
who adores you, and your children have been told that they once had an
uncle who went out to Africa and was killed by men with black on their
faces, and if they aren’t good children the black men will eat them
up too. Well, now you will have to untell all that you have told those
innocent little ones, if they exist; and I’m afraid that you’ll have to
invent another path to virtue than that presided over by the black men.

“By the way, I take it for granted that Agnes Mowbray has followed
the example which I assume you have shown her, and that she also has
children round her knees. What strange memories the writing of names
awakens! I am nearly sure that I told Agnes Mowbray that I loved
her--nay, worse than that, I’m nearly sure that I did love her. Don’t
make mischief, old man, by hinting so much to her husband, i may see her
when I get back to England; but I shall not be able to stir from here
for at least six months. You can have go idea how thoroughly broken down
I am.”

Her tears did not flow when she had finished reading the letter, written
in that curiously cramped hand that scarcely bore any resemblance to
the bold scrawl which ran over the old pages of his letters that
she treasured. She did not weep. She felt a curious little sting of
disappointment as she read the latter part of the postscript--a curious
little stab, as with the point of a sharp needle.

He had said no word about her in any part of the letter: he had made no
allusion to her until he had that afterthought which he embodied in the
postscript, and then he had only alluded to her in order that he might
express a doubt in regard to her constancy.

Yes; he had actually taken for granted that she had cast to the winds
the promise which she had made to him--the promise to love him and him
only, and to wait patiently until his return should unite their lives
for evermore. Did it seem to him impossible that any woman should remain
faithful to one man when apart from him? Was it possible that he knew so
little of her nature as to fancy that the passing of years would weaken
her faith? What has time got to do with such matters as love and faith?

For a moment she felt that sharp stab, but then the pain that it caused
her passed away in the thought of the rapture which could not fail to be
his when he became aware of the truth--of her truth, of her love, of her
faith in the bounty of heaven. It was not pride in her own fidelity that
she felt at that moment: she could not see that she had any reason for
pride, for fidelity was so much a part of her nature she had ceased to
think of it, just as a man with a sound heart never gives a thought
to his heart. It had never occurred to her that there was anything
remarkable in the fact that she had passed eight years of her life
waiting for the return of the man whom all the world believed to be
dead. If she had been waiting for double the time she would not have
felt any cause for pride. The glow which came over her, making her
forget the pain that she had felt on reading the careless words of her
lover’s postscript, was due to the thought of the delight that would be
his when he came to know that she had never a thought of loving any one
save himself.

Would it seem such a wonder to him? Well, let it seem a miracle to
him so long as it gave him pleasure. If she had been overwhelmed with
happiness at the miracle of his restoration to her, why should he not be
overjoyed at the miracle of her restoration to him?

She sat for a long time at the open window, thinking her thoughts, while
before her eyes the soft velvety darkness of the exquisite July night
slipped over the garden. The delicate dew scents filled the air, and the
perfume of the roses mingled with that of the jessamine which dropped
from the trellis-work of the verandah. The drone of a winged beetle
rising and falling in musical monotone, like the sound of a distant
bell borne by a fitful breeze, came to her ears. A bat whirled past the
opening of the window, and the cat that was playing after the moths
on the lawn, struck out at it for a moment. And then a servant brought
lamps into the room.

She started from her reverie, and became aware in an instant of the
details of the scene before her.

It was such a scene as had been before her many times during her life.
How often had she not sat there in the early night, wondering if the man
whom she loved would ever sit by her side again in the long twilight of
a summer’s day in England--at home--at home.

And now she thought of him lying alone among the strange trees--the
mighty broad-leaved palms, the enormous ropes of the trailing plants
falling around him. Was he thinking of the English home which he had
forsaken, but which was waiting for him? How often had not he found
comfort in the midst of his desolation through picturing the garden at
The Knoll, as he had walked in it on those summer nights long ago?

Alas! alas! With his thoughts of the old garden and the old times there
must have come that terrible thought which he had hinted at in his
letter--the thought that she had been unfaithful to him. Ah, how could
he ever have had such a thought? She had heard of fickle women--loving a
man passionately one day, and the next carried away by the glamour of a
new face and a changed voice--but how could he fancy for a moment that
she was such a woman?

Thus she sat, with her thoughts and her memories and her anticipations,
until the full moon had arisen behind the trees of Westwood Court and
was flooding the sky with light and sending the great shadows of the elm
far over the lawn. When the sound of the striking of the church clock
roused her from her reverie, she was conscious of one thought: that the
pang that must have been his when he wrote that postscript would soon
pass away in the joy of knowing that she had been true to him.

But it was a long time before she went to sleep that night.



CHAPTER XII.

|It had fallen to her lot to write to Claude Westwood the letter which
told him of the death of the brother to whom he had all his life been
devoted. She knew that a telegraphic message had been sent to the Consul
at Zanzibar respecting the death of Richard Westwood, the day after the
news of the safety of Claude had reached England, so that he would not
receive the first shock of the terrible news from her. She had done her
best in her letter to comfort him--indeed, every word that it contained
was designed to be a consolation to him. Why, the very sight of her
writing would make him feel that his grief was shared by at least one
friend.

The letter had not, of course, been written in the strain of the letters
which she had sent to him during the first few months after his arrival
in Africa. (Some of them had been returned to her from Zanzibar with
the inscription “Not found” on the covers.) She thought that any of the
rapturous phrases, which could give but very inadequate expression to
what was in her heart, would be out of place in a letter that she meant
to be expressive only of the deep sympathy she felt for him.

But the following week she had written to him something of what was in
her heart, She had taken up once more the strain of that correspondence
which had been so rudely interrupted, and had wondered to find how
easily the unaccustomed words of endearment slipped from her pen. It
seemed to her that her love had been accumulating in her heart through
all the years of her enforced silence, for she had never before written
to him such phrases of affection. When she had written that letter she
had a sense of relief beyond expression. The pent-up flood had at last
found a vent. She gave a great sigh as she signed, not her own name, but
the pet name which he had given her--a great sigh, and then a laugh of
delight.

But then she caught sight of herself in the looking-glass that hung
above her escritoire. It seemed to her that all her hair had become
grey--that her face had become all scarred with lines. She closed her
eyes and had a vision of the slender girl to whom that love-name had
been given. She had a vision of the sparkling eyes, the brown hair flung
back when one long shining strand had escaped from the knot in which it
had beer, tied, and fell down from her shoulder. She could see his eyes
as he turned them upon her, when he had kissed and kissed that wonderful
rivulet of hair, calling her by that love-name.

And now....

Ah, she was no longer a girl! The pet name which she had written so
lightly no longer sat lightly upon her. Would not people think it
grotesque for a woman past thirty to call herself by the name that
had once seemed so charmingly appropriate when applied to a girl of
twenty-three with a rivulet of golden brown hair flowing over her
shoulders to meet a lover’s kisses?

But then she recollected the story she had heard of the true lover who
loved so well that the gods had given to him the greatest gift in their
power--the gift of blindness, so that at the end of forty years when he
and the woman he loved had grown old together, she still seemed to him
the girl she had been on the first day that he had seen and loved her.

There would be nothing grotesque in that lover calling his wife by
the love-name of her-youth. But would such love blindness be given to
Claude, so that he should still think of her as the slim girl with the
loose hair?

Alas! Alas! He might tolerate the letter signed as she had signed it,
but in a few months he would be face to face with her, and would he not
see that she was no longer a girl?

Only for a moment she paused as that melancholy question passed through
her mind. Then she flung down the letter, crying:

“I will trust him. I will trust him as I have trusted him hitherto. He
will love me better, better, better, seeing that it was the years of
waiting for him that gave me the grey hairs where only brown had been.”

It never occurred to her to ask herself if it was not possible that the
years which had given her half a dozen grey hairs, had brought about
quite as great a change in her lover. It never occurred to her to
think that there was a possibility that the years spent among
savages--wandering through the forests where malaria lurked--starving
at times and in peril of beasts and reptiles and lightning and sunstroke
every day of his life, had changed him in some measure--even in as great
a measure as the years of watching and waiting had altered her.

His portrait stood by her side day and night. Every day and every night
she had kissed that picture of the young cavalry officer that smiled out
at her from the frame. That was the portrait of her lover, and never for
a moment did she think of him as otherwise than that portrait revealed
him to her.

So she had posted the first of her new series of love-letters to him
with no great heaviness of heart; and then there began for her a fresh
period of waiting; for she knew that some months must elapse before her
letters could reach him, and after that an equal space before she could
receive his reply.

But the barley crop had only been reaped in the golden fields of
Brackenshire when Mr. Westwood’s lawyer brought her a telegram which
he had just received from Zanzibar. It was not from Claude, but from
a doctor whose name she frequently heard in connection with the
exploration of Africa.

“Westwood arrived here to-day from Uganda, overcome with fatigue, not
serious. Leaves for England, probably fortnight.”

So the telegram ran, and her heart leapt up, for she knew that her days
of waiting were being shortened. He had doubtless received no news of
his brother’s death when at Uganda, and although he had intended to
remain there until he should be fully restored to health, he had made up
his mind to return at once to England. But what had caused her heart to
leap up was the sudden thought that came to her:

“He has received my letter, and he knows that I am true to him.”

A moment afterwards she recollected that it would have been impossible
for him to receive a letter from her--even her first letter--while he
was still at Uganda. He had started for the coast immediately on
getting the news by telegraph of the death of his brother, and both her
letters, being addressed to him at Uganda, had, it was almost certain,
crossed him on the road to the coast.

Still, her days of waiting would be shortened, and that thought
gladdened her. Only for a week was she left in the torture of the
apprehension that the journey to the coast might have proved too much
for him, and that he might die at Zanzibar. All the accounts that
had been published in the newspapers regarding him had dwelt upon the
necessity there was for him to remain at Uganda until he had in some
measure recovered from the effects of his terrible experiences; so that
she felt she had grave reason to be apprehensive for him.

The newspapers shared her anxiety not only in telegraphic despatches
from Zanzibar, which involved the expenditure of large sums, but also in
leaders and leaderettes, which like George Herbert’s “good words” were
“worth much and cost little.”

At first the news came that the explorer whose name was in every one’s
mouth, was completely prostrated by his journey; but soon the gratifying
intelligence was received that he was making a good recovery, and had
gone for a week’s excursion in a gunboat that had been placed at his
disposal until the mail steamer should be leaving Zanzibar.

It was thought advisable by his physician to put some miles of green
sea between Claude Westwood and the scores of enterprising gentlemen who
were anxious to see him. The newspaper men were polite but urgent;
the English publisher’s agent was business-like and impressive; these
gentlemen were not so greatly dreaded by the doctor, though he
would have liked to be summoned to take a part, however humble, in
a post-mortem examination on each of them. But when it came to his
knowledge that the American lecture-bureau agent had bought the house
next to the Consulate, and was reported to be making a subterranean
passage between the two so as to give him an opportunity of an interview
with Mr. Westwood, the doctor thought it time to make representations to
the commander of the gunboat.

Mr. Westwood was smuggled aboard the vessel at midnight, the anchor was
weighed as unostentaciously as possible, and the gunboat steamed out of
the harbour at dawn; but it was said that the commander had to bring
his two big guns to bear upon a steam launch hastily chartered by the
lecture agent to follow the vessel in order that he might board her
and get the explorer to sign an agreement for a hundred lectures in the
States during the forthcoming fall.

Then came the news that Mr. Westwood had returned to Zanzibar so greatly
improved in health by his cruise that he would be permitted to make
the voyage to England by the next mail; and, of course, all the
correspondents, the publishers’ agents and lecture agents hastened to
engage cabins on the same steamer. The briefest of telegrams announced
the departure of the steamer in due course, and Agnes found herself able
to breathe again. In less than a month he would be by her side.

It was very generally felt among those hostesses in Mayfair who are the
most earnest of lion-hunters, that Mr. Westwood was guilty of a gross
breach of manners in not timing his arrival for the spring of the London
season. Some of the more enterprising of them had long ago sent out
cards of invitation to him at Uganda, for receptions to be held in the
spring. Others had given him a choice of dates, and left it optional
for him to have a dinner, an at-home, or a garden-party. In these
circumstances it was thought that in changing his plans, starting from
Uganda at once instead of remaining there, as he had at first intended,
for six months, he was behaving very badly.

How could any man expect to be treated as a hero in the month of
October? they asked, as they felt that the honour and glory which
attaches to the exhibition of lions were slipping from their fingers.

They had long ago forgotten that the same newspapers which had
announced the safety of Claude Westwood had contained that heading, “The
Brackenshire Tragedy”; and when it was announced that Mr. Westwood was
compelled to decline all engagements, as it was his intention to remain
in the seclusion of Westwood Court for several months, people shrugged
their shoulders, and went on with their pheasant shooting.

They said that Mr. Westwood would find out the mistake he was making
before the next season; adding that their memories were quite equal to
recalling instances of heroes, who were looked on as such in the autumn,
becoming stale and of no market value whatever before the next London
season.

They rather feared that Mr. Westwood had failed to remember that the
most evanescent form of heroism is that which is the result of African
exploration. Africa as a field for the development of heroes was getting
used up; the Arctic regions were already running it close, and Polar
bears were as good as lions any day. Oh yes, Mr. Westwood might find
himself compelled to take a back seat next May in the presence of the
man who had come from Formosa with a crimson monkey, or the man who had
come from Klondyke with a nugget the size of an ostrich’s egg.

The people who talked in this strain could with difficulty be made to
understand that the tragic circumstances of the death of Mr. Westwood’s
brother might possibly cause him, quite apart from all considerations
in regard to his own health, to wish to live in retirement for a few
months. They would rather have been disposed to appraise his value in a
drawing-room or as a “draw” at a reception, at a somewhat higher figure,
by reason of the fact that the death of his brother had for close upon a
fortnight been one of the Topics of the Season. A man who is in any way
associated with a Topic of the Season is a welcome guest in every house.

But Agnes, knowing how attached the brothers had been all their lives,
understood how distasteful--more than distasteful--to Claude would be
the idea of lending himself for exhibition in order to attract people to
some of those houses whose attractiveness is dependent upon the freak
of the fashion of the hour. She had also a feeling that, although he
had written that curiously flippant postscript, Claude had still in his
heart no doubt as to her faithfulness. She felt that he knew that his
retirement would mean the taking up with her of the book of life at that
glowing passage at which they had laid it down. After such a separation,
what a meeting would be theirs!

And yet as the hour for his coming approached, she felt more and more
as if she were waiting to meet a stranger. She felt all the shyness that
she had felt years before when, as a girl, she had found herself in the
same room with Claude Westwood. She had read of his heroic action on the
North-West Frontier of India--of that splendid cavalry charge, which he
had led, retrieving the honour of his country when it was trembling in
the balance, and so when she found herself presented to him as though he
were an ordinary man whom she was meeting casually, she had felt quite
overcome with shyness.

And this was the very feeling which she now had when she was counting
the days that must elapse before his arrival. At first it had been
her intention to meet him aboard the steamer that was bringing him to
England. If she had not read that postscript she might even have thought
of going out to meet him at Suez--nay, of going out to Zanzibar itself;
but somehow the reading of those words at the dose of the letter, which
were meant for his brother’s eyes alone, had left an impression on her
from which she could not easily free herself.

That was how she came to feel that she was about to meet a stranger, and
that the idea of waiting on the dock side for the arrival of the steamer
seemed repugnant to her.

Then the day which was notified to her as that on which the steamer
would be due, arrived, and found her awaiting with almost breathless
excitement whatever should happen. It was midday when the telegram was
brought to her: it was addressed, not to her, but to the family lawyer.

“_Arrived. Shall be at the Court in time for dinner_.”

These were the words which she read while her heart beat tumultuously
at the thought that she would see him in a few hours. She stood opposite
his picture, feeling that in future it would possess only an artistic
interest for her. She would be left wondering how it had ever been so
much to her. But what was on her mind now was the question, “Will he
drive here on his way to the Court?”

Well, she would be prepared to meet him: but how was she to welcome
him? She had heard of girls who had been parted from their lovers for
years, putting on the dress which they had worn on the day of parting,
so that it might seem that the time they had been apart was annihilated.
She actually hunted up the old dress that was associated with her
parting from Claude. It was still fit to be worn, for she had paid her
maid compensation for allowing her to retain it. But when she looked
at it she laughed. It was made in the fashion of nine years before, and
every one knows how ridiculous a fashion seems nine years out of date.

Annihilate time! Heavens! to wear a dress made in this style would be
the best way that could be imagined of emphasising the space of years
that had passed. She laughed and laid the funny old-fashioned thing,
with its ribbons fastened in ridiculous places over it where ribbons are
now never seen, back in its drawer.

Alas! the girls about whom she had read had not been separated from
their lovers for nine years; or the lovers must have been even blinder
than the majority of men are in regard to the details of dress,
otherwise they would have looked ridiculous instead of gracious.

She put on her newest dress--it was all white; and when her maid asked
her what jewels she would wear, she said suddenly:

“All my diamonds.”

But before her jewel case was unlocked she had changed her mind.

“On second thoughts I will wear only the Wedgwood medallion with the
pearls,” she said.

The medallion was his last gift to her. She had never worn it since he
had pinned it to her shoulder. He would remember that; and in spite of
the protest of her maid, who feared for her own reputation as an artist,
she fastened it on her shoulder, where never a medallion had been worn
within the memory of woman.

It was when she was alone, however, that she put her face close to a
looking-glass and plucked from her forehead another grey hair that had
put in an appearance. She had never plucked one out before; she had
never thought it worth her while; but now she felt that it was worth her
while.

Looking out from her dressing-room window she saw that the windows of
the Court were brilliant; for months they had been dark.

The hour for the arrival of the train at Bracken-hurst went by. She only
felt slightly disappointed when he did not call upon her on his way
to the Court. But she found this evening, the last of all her days of
waiting, the longest of all. He had come--she felt sure of that, and
yet though only a mile away, he was as much separated from her as he
had been when thousands of miles away, with the barrier of the terrible
forests imprisoning him.

She waited in vain for him until it was midnight; and when he did not
come, her disappointment changed to anxiety, and her anxiety to alarm.
She felt sure that he must be ill. The reports that had been telegraphed
to England regarding his health must have been misleading: he could not
have recovered so easily from the effects of those awful years spent in
savagery. It was she who should have gone to meet him; no matter what
people might have said. People--what were people and their chatter to
him or to her? He was perhaps lying at the point of death, and her going
to him might have saved him, but the next day might be too late.

She spent hours in the restlessness of self-reproach, and when she went
to bed it was not to sleep but to weep. Only toward morning did she
close her eyes and then for no longer than a couple of hours. The London
paper arrived while she was at breakfast, and she found on an inner
page a two-column account of the arrival of Mr. Claude Westwood, with
particulars of the voyage of the steamer from Zanzibar, and a snap-shot
portrait of the distinguished explorer. Of course there was nothing in
the portrait that any one could recognise. The picture might have been
anything--a map of Central Africa or a prize vegetable. It contained no
artistic elements.

She read in the first paragraph of the account of the arrival, that Mr.
Westwood had been in excellent health, the progress that he had
made toward recovery when on the cruise in the gun-boat having been
apparently completed by the voyage to England. He had started for his
home, Westwood Court, Brackenhurst, almost immediately, seeing only a
few personal friends in the meantime, the newspaper stated.

Although the reflection that her worst anticipation had not been
realised brought her pleasure, she could not avoid feeling disappointed
that he had not come to her before he had slept. It seemed so ridiculous
to think that although they were within a mile of each other they were
still apart. When they had parted it was with such words as suggested
that neither of them had a thought for any one except the other. Then
through the long years she at least had no thought except for him; and
yet they were still apart.

It seemed, too, as the morning advanced, that he had no intention of
coming to her this day either.

But if such a thought occurred to her it was soon proved to be an
unworthy one, for he came to her shortly after noon.

She was sitting in the room where he had said his good-bye to her long
ago. She heard a step on the gravel of the drive and knew it at once. In
a moment all the dreary years had slipped away from her like a useless
garment. Once more she felt like that shy girl who had listened
in dreadful secrecy and with a beating heart for the coming of her
hero--her lover. She felt now as she had felt then--trembling with
joyous anticipation, not without a tinge of maidenly fear.

She buried her face in her hands, saying in a whisper:

“Thank God--thank God--thank God!”

And then he entered the room.



CHAPTER XIII

|She had feared, ever since she had been thinking of his return,
that she would not be able to restrain her tears when they should be
together. The very thought of meeting him had made her weep; but now
when she turned her head and saw the tall man with the complexion of
mahogany and the hands of teak--with the lean face and the iron-grey
hair, she did not feel in the least inclined to weep--on the contrary,
she gave a laugh. The change in his face did not seem to her anything
to weep about; she had often during the previous three months tried
to fancy what he would be like; and it actually struck her as rather
amusing to find that he bore no resemblance whatsoever to the picture
she had formed in her mind of the man who had lived for several years
the life of a savage.

He stood looking at her for a few seconds.

Neither of them spoke.

Then he advanced with both hands outstretched.

“Agnes! Agnes!” he cried, “I have come to talk with you about
him--Dick--poor Dick! You saw him on the day that ruffian killed him.
You can tell me more than the others about him.”

He had both his hands held out to her--not outstretched in any attitude
of passionate eagerness, but with encouraging friendliness; that was
exactly what his attitude suggested to her--encouraging friendliness.

She put both her hands into his without a word--without even rising.
He held them for a moment while he looked into her face. There was an
expression of restlessness on his face. She saw that his forehead was
furrowed with many lines. His eyes were sunken, and there was a curious
fierceness in their depths.

Then he dropped her hands, and walked to the window, standing with his
back to it and his head slightly bowed.

“It was a terrible shock to me to hear what happened; and to think that
the same paper that contained an account of my safety told of his death!
To think that within a couple of months we might have been together! My
God! When I think that but for an idiotic man falling ill when we
were within a month’s journey of the lake--a man whose life was worth
nothing--I might have been here--at his side--to stand between him and
danger!”

He began pacing the room, his hands clenched fiercely and the fire of
his eyes becoming more intense.

She sat there without a word, watching him. Her eyes followed him up and
down the room.

He stopped suddenly opposite to her.

“It was the cruellest thing ever done on earth!” he cried. “Call it Fate
or Destiny or the will of Heaven--whatever you please--I say it was the
cruellest thing that ever happened! Why could not he have been spared
for a couple of months--until I had seen him--until he had known that I
was safe--that I had done more in the way of discovery than I set out to
do? But to think that he was killed just the day before--perhaps only
an hour before, the news of my safety arrived in England!--it maddens
me--it maddens me! I feel that it would be better for me to have
remained lost for ever than to return to this. I feel that all that
fierce struggle for years--the struggle with those savages, with the
climate, the malaria, the agues, the diseases which exist in that awful
place but nowhere else in the world--I feel that all that struggle was
in vain--that it would be better if I had given in at once--if I had
sent a bullet through my head and ended it all I Where is your brother?
He was with him on that fatal evening. Why did he go away before he had
seen me and told me all that there was to tell about my poor Dick?”

Still she was silent. What answer could she make to such wild questions?

“Cyril should not have gone off to the other end of the world, as I hear
he has done,” he continued. “He might have known that I would want to
ask him much; and yet, when I come here, I find that he has been
gone for more than a month, and there is positively no one in this
neighbourhood who can tell me anything more of the horrible affair than
has appeared in the newspapers. Fawcett, the solicitor, had kept for me
the newspaper account of the inquest and the trial. I saw Fawcett last
night, and then the surgeon--Crosby. We went to him after dinner. He it
was who showed up the suicide theory. How could it ever be supposed that
Dick would commit suicide? And yet, if it hadn’t been for Crosby--Oh,
it was clearly proved that he could not have shot himself; and yet if it
wasn’t for the possibility of his having shot himself, would they have
pardoned the wretch who did the murder? I read the whole account of the
trial, and Fawcett told me a good deal more. If ever a brutal murder was
done by a man it was that--and yet they allowed the fellow to escape--to
escape-to keep his life! That is what they call justice here! Justice! I
tell you that those savages--the most degraded in existence--among whom
I lived, have a better idea of justice than that.”

Still she was silent. What could she say to him while he was in this
mood? He had resumed his pacing of the floor. She no longer watched him.
She looked out of the window. She had a strange impression that she had
been present at such a scene before, and that she had taken the same
impersonal interest in it all. Yes, it had been at a theatre: she had
watched one of the actors pacing the stage and raving about British
justice--the playwright had made the character a victim of the
unjustness of the law. But the man had kept it up too long: he had
exhausted the interest of the audience. They had looked about the
theatre and nodded to their friends; but now she only looked out of the
window. The audience had yawned: she was not so impolite. She would not
interrupt the man before her by speaking a word.

“What excuse did they give for letting the assassin escape?” Claude
Westwood was standing once more at the window--the window through which
she had watched him coming up the drive to bid her good-bye upon
that October evening long ago. “Excuse? The man was found guilty of
murder--the most contemptible of murders. He had not the courage to face
his victim; he fired at him from behind--and yet they let him escape.
But if they had only done that it would not have mattered so much. If
they had given him his freedom I would have had a chance of amending the
lapse of justice. But they give him his life and protection as well.
Why did they not set him free and give me a chance of killing him as he
killed my poor brother?”

He stamped upon the floor, and struck his left palm with his right fist
as he spoke.

She gave a little cry as she shuddered. He had at last succeeded in
startling her. She had put up her hands before her face.

He looked at her quickly and came in front of her.

“Forgive me, Agnes,” he said in an agitated voice. “Forgive me; I have
frightened you--horrified you. I have been so long among savages; but I
feel that I could kill that wretch, and be doing no more than the will
of Heaven. I feel that I could kill all that bear his accursed name,
and yet be conscious of doing no evil. My brother--ah, if you knew how
I have been supported through these long dismal years by thinking of
him--by the thought of the pleasure it would give him to see me again!
It was chiefly during that eight months which I spent alone in the
forests that I thought about him. What a life I led! I had previously
lived the life of a savage, but in the forest I had to live as a wild
beast. The terrible vigilance I needed to exercise--it was a war to the
knife against all the wild things with fangs and tusks and claws. It was
the Bottomless Pit; but the hope of returning to him made me continue
the fight when I had made up my mind to fling away my knife and to
await the end, whether it came by a snake, a wild elephant, or a lion. I
thought of him daily and nightly; and now when I come home I find And I
cannot kill the man who made my hour of triumph my hour of bitterness!
There I go, raving again. Forgive me--forgive me, and tell me about him.
You saw him on that day, Agnes.”

For the first time she spoke.

“Yes, I saw him,” she said. “He was just the same as when, you saw him
last. He was not the man to change, nor was he the man to expect that
others would change.”

He looked at her with something of a puzzled expression on his face.

“Change? Change? You mean that he--I don’t quite know what you mean,
Agnes. Change?”

“He never changed in his belief in you. When people took it for granted
that you were dead--years ago--how many years ago?--he believed that you
were alive--that you would one day return. He believed that and never
changed in his faith. I believed it too.”

“And that is the man whose life was taken by a ruffian who remains alive
to-day!”

He had sprung to his feet once more, and was speaking in a voice
tremulous with passion. He had ignored her reference to herself and her
changeless faith.

“He was a man whose soul was full of mercy,” she said. “Every one here
has heard of his many acts of mercy. There was no one too black for him
to pardon. The merciful are those whom Christ pronounced blessed.”

“It is not possible that you have set yourself to exculpate the
murderer,” he cried.

“It is not for me to exculpate him,” she replied. “But I know that our
God is a God of mercy. Are you not a living witness to that? Were not
you spared when every one of your company was lost?”

“I am a poor example for a preacher,” said he. “I was spared, it is
true; but for what? For what? I am spared to come back to my home to
find that it is desolate. Is that your idea of mercy? I tell you that
in all that I have passed through, in my hour of deepest misery, in all
those terrible days spent in the loneliness of the forest, I never felt
so miserable, so lonely, as I did in that house last night. Mercy?
It would have been more merciful to me to have let the cobra and the
vulture have their way with me; I should have been spared the supreme
misery of my life.”

“How you loved him!” she said, after a little pause.

“Loved him! Loved him!” he repeated, as if the words made him impatient
with their inadequacy. “And the way we used to talk about what would
happen when I returned!”

“Ah! what would happen--yes. I do believe that we also talked about it
together.”

“And here I returned to find all changed.”

“All changed? All? You take it for granted that all has changed? that
nothing is as you left it? that no one--no feeling remains unchanged?”

She was looking up at him as he stood gazing out of the window.

“Everything has changed for me. I don’t know why I came back. I tell
you, Agnes, the very sight of the things that were familiar to me long
ago only increases my sense of loss--my feeling that nothing here can
ever be the same to me.”

“What! that nothing--nothing--can ever be the same to you?”

“That is what I feel.”

“You do not think it possible that it is you and you only who have
changed?”

“What? Is it possible that you do not see that it is because my
affection has not changed through all these years I am miserable
to-day!”

“Your affection?”

“Is it possible that you know me so imperfectly as to fancy that
my affection for my brother would decrease during the years of our
separation? Ah, I thought you would take it for granted that I was
differently constituted. I fancied that you would understand what my
affection meant.”

“And have you found that I did you wrong?”

“You wrong me if you suggest--I do not say that you did actually go so
far--that my affection for my brother could ever change.”

“I do not suggest that your affection--your affection for your
brother--has changed. Oh, believe me, you have all my sympathy. I have
felt times without number, after it was known that you were alive, that
your home-coming would be cruel. I knew what a blow it would be to you
to receive the news of poor Dick. I hoped that my sympathy--Ah, you must
be assured that I feel for your suffering, with all my heart.”

“I am sure of it,” said he, taking for a moment the hand that she
offered him. “If I had not been assured of it, should I be here to-day?
I do not underrate the value of sympathy. I have felt better for the
sympathy even of strangers. At Uganda--at Zanzibar--everywhere I got
kind words; and aboard the steamer--God knows whether I should have
landed or not if it had not been for the kind way some of my fellow
passengers treated me. Ah! the world holds some good people! They took
me out of myself--they made the world seem brighter--well, not brighter,
but at least they made it seem less dark to me. When we separated in
London yesterday the darkness seemed to fall upon me again. Ah, yes! I
have felt what was meant by real sympathy; and yours is real, Agnes. I
remember how good you were long ago. If you had been my sister you could
not have taken a greater interest in me. And your father--ah, he died
years ago, they told me last evening! You see, you were the first person
for whom I inquired.”

“That was so good of you,” she said quietly. There was no satirical note
in the low tone in which she spoke.

“Ah! Was it not natural?” he asked. “But I think that I was slightly
disappointed to hear that you were still unmarried. I had fancied you
now and again with your children about you; and I was ready with a score
of stories for the youngsters. I wrote something to poor Dick about
himself. I took it for granted that he too would have married and become
surrounded with prattlers. Yes, I’m nearly sure that I mentioned your
name in my letter to poor Dick.”

“Your memory does not deceive you,” she said, and now there was a
suggestion of satire in her voice, though he did not detect it. “Yes,
your letter was brought to me by Mr. Fawcett. Why he should have brought
it to me, I am sure you could hardly tell.”

“He may have thought that it contained something that should be seen
only by the most intimate friend of the family,” he suggested. “You
see, poor Dick’s will mentioned you prominently. That probably impressed
Fawcett. But you read what I wrote? You saw that I had not forgotten
you--I mentioned your name?”

“Yes, you mentioned my name in a way that showed me you had forgotten
me,” she replied.

“I don’t seem to understand you to-day,” he said. “I suppose when one
has been for eight or nine years without hearing a word of English
spoken, one degenerates.”

“Alas! alas!” she said.

Then he went away.



CHAPTER XIV

|She had, of course, left her seat to shake hands with him, and when he
had gone she did not sit down. She stood where he had left her, in the
centre of the room, with her eyes turned listlessly toward the window.
She watched him buttoning up his coat as he walked quickly down the
drive. A breath of wind whisked and whirled about him the leaves that
had fallen since morning.

Which was the dream--the man whom she seemed to see hurrying away from
the house, or the man whom she seemed to see coming toward her amid the
same whirling leaves, out from the same grey October landscape?

That was the form taken by her thoughts as she stood there. The
landscape was precisely the same as it had been when she had awaited his
coming to bid her good-bye before starting on his expedition. The same
soft greyness was in the sky, the same skeleton trees stretched their
gaunt arms out over the road; the sodden green of the grassy meadows,
the great, bloom of the chrysanthemums that hid the garden walls, all
were the same as they had been; but there was a man hurrying away on the
road by which she had stood to watch his approach nine years before.

It seemed to her that she was having but another of the many dreams that
had come to her of that man; yes, or was it the memory of a dream that
returned to her at that moment--a dream of a devoted lover coming to
hold her in his arms and to kiss her face before setting out on the
expedition that was to bring honour to him--that was to give him a name
of honour which she would share with him?

Which was the dream? Were both dreams? Had she passed her life in a
dream, and had she only awakened now?

She drew her hand across her eyes and turned away from the window with
an exclamation of impatience. But then she seated herself in front of
the fire and bent forward, gazing into the glowing log that had burnt
itself out in the grate.

Yes, she was awake now. She could look back and see clearly all that had
taken place since she had had that dream of kissing a man and bidding
him go forth and win a name for himself. She saw clearly that she had
built up for herself the baseless fabric of a vision--that her life had
been built upon a foundation no more substantial than air, and now she
was sitting among its ruins.

She had lived with but one thought, with but one hope, ever before her,
and that hope was to hear the footsteps of the man whom she loved,
on the gravel of the drive down which he had gone after bidding her
good-bye. Well, her hope had been realised. She had heard the sound of
his feet coming to her--yes, and going from her. Heaven had answered her
prayer--the one prayer which she had cried through all the years. She
only asked to see him again; all the happiness to follow she took for
granted.

And now she was seated gazing at the ashes of the log that had once been
a tree--at the ashes of the love that had once been her life.

She was full of amazement. How had this wonderful thing come about?
How was it that among all her thoughts of disaster, she had never taken
account of the possibility of such a thing as the death of his love? His
love had always seemed to her the one thing on earth which was certain.
To have doubt of it would be as ridiculous as to question the likelihood
of the light of the sun being quenched in darkness. Her faith had
sustained her when nothing else had come to her aid.

And yet now she sat there looking into the ashes.

She was benumbed with astonishment; and what caused her most
astonishment was her own selfpossession during the interview which she
had just had with Claude Westwood. She marvelled how it was that she
had sat in that chair quietly listening to him, while he boasted of his
constancy--of his having remembered her name.

He could not understand what she meant when she said that the fact of
his remembering her name was a proof that he had forgotten her. Surely
he should have understood that she meant that he could not make such
a reference to her as he had made in his postscript, unless he had
forgotten what her nature was.

And yet, that one phrase which had been forced from her, was the
solitary expression of the terrible thought that overwhelmed her--the
thought that her life was laid in ashes. The reflection upon this
marvellous calmness of hers amazed her.

She had heard of women finding themselves face to face with their
perfidious lovers, and denouncing them in tragic tones. Was it possible
that she was differently constituted from other women? Was ever woman so
faithful to a man as she had been? And was not the unfaithfulness of
the man in proportion to the fidelity of the woman? And yet she had been
content to utter only that one sentence of reproach, and its meaning had
been so obscure that he had failed to appreciate it!

The worst of it was that she felt in her heart no bitterness against
him. She had no burning wish to reproach him for having made a ruin of
her life. She had no fervid desire to be revenged upon him. She wondered
if she was different from other women to whom revenge was dear. Had all
the spirit--that womanly element which women call spirit--been crushed
out of her by that antagonistic element known as constancy? Had her
faith in that man made her faithless to her womanhood?

She failed to find an answer to any of these questions; and she went
about her daily duties as she had always done, only with that feeling of
numbness upon her heart.

But when night came, and her maid had left her with her freshly-brushed
hair falling over her shoulders, she bent her head forward between the
candles that were lighted on each side of her toilet glass. She turned
over the masses of her hair, and saw the grey lines here and there among
them. Then, and only then, her tears began to fall. They came silently,
but irresistibly--not in a torrent of passion, but slowly, blinding her
eyes, and causing all those pictures of the past which now came crowding
before her, to be blurred.

It was a tear-blurred picture that she now saw of Claude Westwood as
he had appeared before her eyes on the eve of his departure for
Africa--that picture which she had cherished in her heart of hearts
through the dreary years. She now failed to see in it any of the
features of the man who had been with her that day speaking those wild
words about the act of mercy which had been done in regard to the poor
wretch who had been found guilty of the murder of Richard Westwood.
She had noticed how his eyes had glared with the lust of blood in their
depths, as he asked why the wretch had not been either hanged or set
free--set free, so that he, Claude, might have a chance of killing him.

She shuddered, and covered her face with her hands, as if she were
trying to shut out this new picture that came to take the place of the
old. Was it her doom, she asked herself, to live for the rest of her
days with this new picture ever before her eyes--this picture of the
haggard, sun-scorched man, who had come back to civilisation with those
deep eyes of his full of the blood-lust of the savage?

She picked up his portrait, which he had given her long ago, and which
had been her sweetest consolation ever since. She had looked upon it
and had kissed it the previous night--every night since he and she had
parted. She looked at it now for a few moments.... With a cry she flung
it on the floor and trampled upon it; she set her heel upon it, and
ground the glass of the frame into the painted ivory.

“Wretch--wretch--wretch! Murderer of my youth!” she cried in a low
voice, tremulous with passion. “As you have treated me, so shall I treat
you. Thank God, I have recovered my womanhood! Thank God!”

She gave a laugh as she looked at the fragments at her feet But the
second laugh which she gave was not a laugh, but a sob. In a torrent of
tears she fell on her knees beside the shattered picture, moaning:

“My beloved! Oh, my beloved, forgive me! what have I said? What have I
done? Oh, come back to me--come back to me, and we shall be so happy!”

Her tears fell on the fragments of ivory and glass as she gathered them
off the floor. As she bent forward her hair fell upon them, hiding them
from view. She gathered up all carefully and put every scrap she could
find into a drawer, clasping her hands and crying once more:

“Forgive me--forgive me!”

She closed the drawer and fell on her knees, praying that he might be
given back to her; but she stopped abruptly after she had repeated her
imploration. “Give him back tome!” For the truth came upon her with a
shock: it was not her heart that was uttering that imploration.

                   “Dead love lives nevermore;

                   No, not in heaven!”

That was what her heart was murmuring, while the vain repetition came
from her lips:

“Give him back to me--give him back to me!” But before she had closed
her eyes in sleep she had come to the conclusion that she had been
somewhat unjust toward him. She felt that it was her wounded vanity
which had caused her to be angry with him. She should have known that
his first thought on returning to the house where he had lived with
his brother, would be of his brother. She should have known that the
reflection that he was for ever separated from the brother to whom he
had ever been deeply attached, would take possession of him, excluding
every other thought--even the thought that he had returned to be loved
by her.

She felt that it should now be her duty to lead him back to her. So soon
as the poignancy of his reflection that he was for ever separated from
his brother had become less, he would turn to her for comfort, and he
would be comforted. The memory of their old love would come back to him,
and all the happiness to which she had looked forward for both of them
would be theirs. Would it not be possible for them to gather up the
fragments of their shattered love as she had gathered up the fragments
of the picture she had broken?

Alas, the question which she asked herself failed to bring her
happiness; for she knew that no hand could piece together the broken
ivory which she had hidden away in her drawer; and still her heart kept
moaning:

                   “Dead love lives nevermore;

                   No, not in heaven!”

The next morning her maid brought her among her letters one in a strange
handwriting. It was signed “Clare Tristram.”

The name brought back to her long-distant memories of the girl bearing
this name, who was to have married Agnes’s uncle--her mother’s brother,
but who on the eve of the wedding, had fled with another man.

She recalled some of the incidents of the story, the most important
being that she had been deprived of the privilege of wearing her
bridesmaid’s dress. She recollected that this had been a great grief
to her; she had been about eleven years of age when that disappointment
overtook her, and now she could not help recalling how, when she had
been told by her mother that Clare Tristram had gone away to marry some
one else, she had obligingly offered to wear the dress upon the occasion
of Miss Tristram’s wedding to somebody else, for she thought it would be
a great pity that so lovely a dress should be locked up in a drawer.

The letter which she now found before her was not from this Clare
Tristram, but from her daughter. Still it was signed Clare Tristram, and
this fact set her thinking. She had never heard the name of the man whom
the girl had actually married, and she had certainly never heard that
the man was any relation to Clare Tristram.

“Dear Madam,--I write to you in great doubt and some fear,” the letter
ran. “My mother, who died only two months ago at Cairo, where we have
lived for several years, told me, a few days before the end came to her
long illness, that I had no relations in the world, and no friends to
whom she could entrust me after she was gone; but that she felt that you
would accept the charge, if only to save me from her fate. These were
the exact words of my dear mother, and I repeat them to you, because I
think they may constitute some claim upon your pity, and I feel that I
have only your pity to appeal to.

“My mother told me how she had done a cruel wrong to your mother’s
brother; but that act brought with it such a punishment as few women are
called on to bear. The one for whom she forsook the noblest man in the
world showed himself within a year of her marriage to be so bad that
when he deserted her, she would not let me bear his name. She would not
even let me know what that name was.

“Only a few days before her death I heard the pitiful story from her
lips, and she told me to go to you, and entreat you to save me from the
cruel fate that was hers. I ventured to ask her if she thought it likely
that you would receive me, on the ground that she had done a great wrong
to your relative; but she said, ‘Agnes Mowbray’s mother was my dearest
friend and schoolfellow, and I know that her daughter will be as her
mother was.’

“Dear Miss Mowbray, I venture to repeat to you the doubts which I
expressed to my mother; and if you say to me that you do not wish to see
me, I shall not trouble you further; nor indeed shall I pose as one who
has been unjustly treated. I have sufficient money for my support, and
besides, even if that were to come to an end, I can earn enough by my
singing to keep myself comfortably--more than comfortably. The kind
friends who took charge of me on the journey to England are quite
willing that I should remain with them for an indefinite period. But I
can do nothing except what my beloved mother desired me to do.

“That is why I write to you now, entreating you to reply to me. I hope
you will.

“Clare Tristram.”

Agnes read this unexpected letter with mixed feelings. It had not much
of a suppliant air about it. The writer seemed desirous only to place
her in possession of the facts which had compelled her to write.

“Is this child sent by God to draw my thoughts away from myself?”
 she said as she laid down the letter. “Is the child coming to give me
comfort in my sad hour?”

Before evening she had written to Clare Tristram asking her to come on a
visit to The Knoll.



CHAPTER XV

|She felt better for the girl’s coming before the girl had come. Her
household was not on so large a scale as to make it unnecessary for her
to busy herself with preparations to receive a guest; and this business
prevented her from dwelling upon her own position. She had no time left
even to consider what steps, if any, she should take to further her
design of winning back to herself the love which she had once cherished.

Before she went to sleep on the next night it seemed to her that the
time when Claude Westwood loved her was very far off; and before she
woke it seemed to her that the time when she loved Claude Westwood was
more remote still.

She wondered if her maid and the housemaid would notice the
disappearance of the miniature which had stood upon her table. With
the thought she glanced in the direction of the drawer in which the
fragments were laid--only for a moment, however; she had no time for
further reflections.

So far as the servants were concerned she might have made her mind easy.
The housemaid had, when brushing out the room, come upon some small
splinters of glass and ivory, and it did not require the possession on
her part of the genius of a Sherlock Holmes to enable her to associate
such a discovery with the disappearance of the only object of glass and
ivory that had been in the room.

There was a good deal of innuendo in the comments made in the kitchen
upon the housemaid’s discovery. The parlour-maid shook her head and
turned her eyes up to the ceiling. The housemaid said that if she wished
to say something she could say it. The cook, however, scorning all
innuendo, made the far-reaching statement that all men are brutes, and
challenged her auditors to deny it if they could.

They could not deny it on the spur of the moment, though subsequently,
when the cook was absent, they compared experiences, and came to the
conclusion that the statement should be modified in order to be wholly
accurate.

The next day Agnes was overtaken in the village by Sir Percival Hope.
She could not understand why it was that her face should flush on seeing
him; it made her feel uncomfortable for a few moments, and then the
strange thought crossed her mind that he was about to tax her with
having told him that she and Claude Westwood were to be married. Sir
Percival had certainly looked narrowly at her for some time. But then
he had begun to talk upon some general topic of engrossing local
interest--the curate’s health, or something of that sort. (The curate
lived on the reputation of having a weak chest, and every autumn his
chest became a topic in the neighbourhood.)

It was not until Sir Percival had walked back with her almost to the
entrance to The Knoll that he said very quietly:

“I wonder if you are happy now.”

Again she felt her face flushing.

“Happy--happy?” she said, interrogatively.

“Happy in the prospect of happiness,” said he. “I suppose that is the
simplest way of putting the matter.”

She was silent for a long time, until she came to perceive that the
silence meant far more than she intended. That was why she cried rather
quickly:

“You have seen him--Claude--you have conversed with him?”

“Yes. He came to see me yesterday,” replied Sir Percival. “Great
heavens! What that man has gone through. He deserves his happiness--the
greatest happiness that any man dare hope for.”

“Ah, I meant that he should be so happy,” she cried, and there was
something piteous in her tone.

“And you will make him happy,” said her companion. “When a woman makes
up her mind on this particular point, a man cannot help himself. His
most strenuous efforts in the other direction count for nothing. He will
be made happy in spite of himself.”

She turned her eyes upon him inquiringly.

“You heard him speak--you heard the way he talks on that terrible
matter?”

“Yes; that was how it came about that he visited me. He wanted me to
tell him all that I knew on the subject--he was anxious to have the
scene in the Assize Court described to him by some new voice. He wished
to know if I signed a petition for the reprieve of the murderer, and
when I told him no petition had been signed, but that the Home Secretary
had reprieved the man after, I supposed, consultation with the judge who
tried the case, and with the law officers for the Crown, he seemed to be
overcome with astonishment and indignation.”

“That’s The most terrible thing,” said Agnes, with an involuntary
shudder. “He regards the granting of his life to that man as a worse
crime than the one for which he was condemned. I cannot understand that
hunger for revenge--that thirst for the blood of a fellow-creature.”

“You cannot understand it because you are a Christian woman,” said
Percival. “But for my part I must say that I have the widest sympathy
for all people; and no passion, however strange it may seem to others,
is quite unintelligible to me. I have lived long enough in queer places
to have become impressed with the fact that the civilisation which
we profess to regard as a part of ourselves is but the thinnest of
veneers--nay, of varnishes. The best of us is but a savage with all the
passions--all the nature--of a savage glowing beneath a coat of varnish.
My dear Miss Mowbray, we should pray that we may not find ourselves
in the midst of such circumstances as put a strain on our
civilisation--upon our Christianity.”

She gave another little shudder, she knew not why, and turned her
wondering eyes upon him.

“My sympathy with savages is unlimited,” continued Sir Percival. “One
should not judge Claude Westwood from the standpoints to which we have
accustomed ourselves. It must be remembered that he has lived for years
among the worst savages known in the world; and that he has been obliged
to struggle for his life after the most savage, that is the most
natural, fashion. Nature regards a single life very lightly, and the
worst of Nature is that she regards the life of a man as no more sacred
than the life of a brute.”

“But we have our Christianity.”

“Thank God that we have that! Pray to God that we may be able to hold
the shield of Christianity between ourselves and our nature. I have
talked all this cheap philosophy to you--this elementary evolution--only
to help you in your hour of need. I take it upon me to advise you
unasked, and I would say to you, Do not judge too hastily a man who has
lived for so long among barbarians--a man who was compelled to fight for
his existence, not with the weapons of civilisation and Christianity,
but with the weapons of savagery. In a short time he will once again
have become reconciled to the principles of civilisation. He will learn
once more to forgive. For the present, pity him.”

He spoke in a low voice, putting out his hand to her. She took his hand,
and pressed it. When he turned and went away from her in the direction
of his own gates she remained motionless in the road, looking after him.
All her thought regarding him took the form of one thought--that he was
the noblest man that lived. He sought only her happiness--so much was
sure; he had done his best to reconcile her to the man who was his
rival, because he believed that she loved that man.

And he had not pleaded in vain. She felt that she had been selfish and
inconsiderate in regard to Claude. She had expected him to come to her
just as he had left her--to take her into his arms just as he had done
on the evening when they had parted. She had been intolerant of his
indifference to her on his return--of his thirst for the blood of the
man who had taken the life of his brother.

When she entered her house she went to the drawer where she had placed
the fragments of his picture. She looked at these evidences of her
impatience for a long time, and when she closed the drawer she was
consolidated in her resolve to win him back to her--to wait patiently
until he chose to return to her; she knew no better way of winning an
errant love than by waiting for it to return.

The newspapers, however, were by no means disposed to adopt the policy
of patience in respect of a distinguished African explorer who declined
to give them any information regarding his travels. They had never
found such a desire for retirement to be among the most prominent
characteristics of African explorers, and they could not believe
that Claude Westwood was sincere in objecting to give any of the
representatives of the great organs of public opinion a succinct account
of the past nine years of his life--as much copy as would make a couple
of columns.

The great obstacle in the way of their enterprise was, of course, the
handsome income enjoyed by Mr. Westwood. The splendid offers which they
made to him produced no impression on him; nor did the assurance that
they were not desirous of getting any information from him that might
prejudice the sale of his forthcoming volume or volumes--they assumed
that a volume or volumes would be forthcoming--no, their desire was
merely to give him an opportunity of telling the public just enough to
whet their curiosity for his book.

He replied that he had no intention of writing a book, and that he did
not seek for publicity in any way.

This was very irritating to the representatives of the newspapers, who
came down to Brackenhurst with such frequency during the first few days
after Mr. Westwood’s return. But they revenged themselves upon him in
another way; for, as he refused to tell them anything about Central
Africa, they told their readers everything about Brackenshire. They gave
occasional photographs of Westwood Court: “Westwood Court--North View,”
 “Westwood Court--The Queen’s Elms,” “Westwood Court--The Trout Stream.”
 One newspaper representative surpassed all his brethren by obtaining an
excellent photograph of the interior of the dairy at the Home Farm.

This was how matters stood in regard to Mr. Westwood and the outer world
when Agnes awaited the arrival of the girl whom she had invited to visit
her for an indefinite period. The period was necessarily an indefinite
one: Agnes could not tell how long she should have to wait for the
return of the love that had once been hers.

She got a letter from Clare Tristram, in reply to her invitation,
thanking her for her kindness, and suggesting a certain train by which
she hoped to travel to Brackenhurst, if its arrival was at an hour that
suited Miss Mowbray’s convenience.

She arrived by that train. Agnes sent her brougham and her maid to meet
her at the station, and she herself was waiting at the open door of the
house when the visitor arrived.

She was a tall girl--quite as tall as Agnes--and with very dark hazel
eyes; her hair was brilliantly golden, with a suggestion of coppery red
about it in some lights. Her face possessed sweetness rather than beauty
of shape or tint, and the curve of her mouth suggested the expression
of a smile when seen from one direction. Looked at from the front its
expression seemed one of sadness.

Agnes saw both the smile and the sadness as she gave her hand to the
girl, and led her into one of the drawing-rooms.

“You must have some tea before changing your dress,” she said. (She had
not failed to notice that the girl’s travelling dress was extremely well
made, and that her hat was in perfect taste. She knew that most women
are to be known by their hats.) Then she stood in front of the girl,
looking into her face tenderly. “I should know you in a moment from your
likeness to your mother,” she continued.

“Ah, you did not see her recently,” said Clare, with a little sob.

“I did not see her since you were born,” said Agnes. “But still I
recollect her face distinctly. I can see her before me when I look at
you now. Poor woman! She suffered; but she had you. No one could take
you from her.”

“That may have been a consolation to her long ago,” said Clare, “but I
am afraid that during her last illness the thought of my future was
a great burden to her. You see, we had no relations in the world; at
least, none to whom I could be sent.”

“I feel that it was kind of your mother to think of me,” said Agnes, as
they seated themselves and drank their tea.

“She used to speak daily of you, Miss Mowbray,” said the girl. “She told
me how attracted she had been to your mother until--Ah, I heard the sad
story. Believe me, she was bitterly punished.”

“Poor creature! I knew that she had been unhappy. Your father--I have
been trying to recollect his name during the past few days, but I have
not been successful.’

“I never heard what his name was. My mother kept it from me from the
first. She said she never wished to hear it again. It was not until I
was fifteen that I learned that she bore her maiden name, and not my
father’s. I fear he was--well, he cannot have been a good man.”

“We need not refer to him again. I have no curiosity on the subject, I
assure you.”

“I have long ago lost any that I once had. I hope I am not an unnatural
daughter, but I have no wish to hear anything about my father.”

“Instead of talking about him, my dear, we will talk together about your
mother. I feel that in entrusting you to me she paid me the greatest
compliment in her power. I am sure that we shall be friends--sisters,
Clare.”

“How good you are! Ah, we shall be sisters. My dear mother knew you;
though I feared--I told you so in my letter--that you would consider the
claim made upon you a singular one. I did not say so to her; I did not
wish her last days to be worried with doubts, so I promised her to go to
you, and she gave me a letter which was to introduce me. She desired me
to put it into your hand. I do so now, though there is no need for it,
is there?”

“None whatever,” said Agnes, smiling, as she took the sealed letter
which the girl handed to her. “I shall read it at my leisure. Oh no; you
do not need any letter of introduction to me.”

“I was afraid to come here directly on landing,” said Clare; “yes, even
though I bore that letter; so I thought it better to write to you from
London, stating my case.”

She had risen, laying her tea-cup on the table. Agnes rang the bell for
her maid to show Miss Tristram to her room.

So soon as she was alone Agnes clasped her hands and said:

“Thank God!--thank God! I feel that she has been sent here to comfort
me.”

She was led to wonder what the girl would have done if she had come to
Brackenhurst and found her, Agnes, on the eve of being married to Claude
Westwood. How desolate the poor thing would have felt--almost as
desolate as Agnes herself had felt a few days before!

She thought that Clare was the sweetest girl she had ever seen. She felt
better for her coming already; and with this thought on her mind she
picked up the letter which she had laid on the table. She broke the seal
and began to read the first page. Before she finished it her eyes were
tremulous. The words that the dying woman had written committing her
daughter to her care, seemed full of pathos. She laid down the letter,
she could not read it on account of her tears. Some time passed before
she picked it up once more; but before she had read half-way down the
second page she gave a start and a little cry. With her head eagerly
bent forward and her eyes staring she continued reading, half
articulating the words in a fearful whisper. The hand that was not
holding the letter was pressed against her heart. Then she gave another
cry, and almost staggered to a chair into which she dropped. The letter
fell from her hands; she stared straight in front of her, breathing
heavily.

“My God!” she cried at last. “My God! to think of it! To think of her in
this house! Oh, the horror of it!”

Her words came with a shudder, and she covered her face with her hands.
The next instant, however, she had started up and was gazing eagerly
toward the window; the sound of a foot that she knew came from the
gravel of the drive.

She stood there with one hand clutching the back of a chair, the other
still pressed against her side. She was listening eagerly for the
ringing of the bell.

The ring came. She rushed across the room to where the letter was lying,
and hastily thrust it into her pocket. When Claude Westwood entered the
room she was seated with a book in front of the fire.



CHAPTER XVI

|My dear Agnes,” he cried, before he had more than entered the room. “My
dear Agnes. I only heard this afternoon of the heroic way you behaved on
that day--that terrible day when those fools made the run upon the bank.
I have come to thank you. Why on earth I was not told of that incident
the day I arrived, I am at a loss to know. I don’t think that the bank
can boast of much intelligence. At any rate, I know now that you saved
us--you saved us from--well, the cashier says the doors of the bank
would have been closed inside half an hour if you had not appeared so
opportunely. How can I ever thank you sufficiently?” She looked at him.
He failed to notice within her eyes a strange light. He could not know
that she had heard nothing of his speech.

“Yes, I repeat that we owe all to you,” he went on. “I’m sure that
poor Dick felt it deeply. And Sir Percival Hope--it was his cheque,
the cashier told me; and yet he didn’t say a word to me about it when
I called upon him a few days ago. But how on earth did you raise the
money? Perhaps--I don’t know--should I congratulate you--and him? Yes,
certainly, and him.”

“I beg your pardon,” she said. “I was wondering--ah, these things
sometimes do occur--I mean--Is it possible that you intend to remain at
the Court during the winter? Surely your doctors will not allow it. You
will go abroad.”

“I see that you evade my question,” said he, with a laugh. “There is no
reason why you should do so. I think Hope a very good chap, especially
since I have heard that it was his cheque. And I said in my letters to
Dick that I supposed you had got married long ago.”

“I’m afraid that I have not been paying sufficient attention to what you
are saying. Sir Percival Hope?--you mentioned Sir Percival,” said Agnes.

“Heavens! I have been wasting my compliments--you have been thinking of
something else.”

“I wonder if you have learned to forgive as well as to forget,” said
she.

“What on earth do you mean?” he cried. “You are a trifle distraite, are
you not? What has forgiving or forgetting to do with what I have been
saying?”

“The wretched man--I was thinking of him. You have forgotten a good
deal of the past that others have remembered, but forgiveness--that is
different.”

“Do you mean to ask me if my feelings are unchanged in respect of that
ruffian--that wretch who killed the best man that ever lived in the
world? If that is your question I can answer you. I stand here and tell
you that no night passes without my cursing him and all that belongs to
him. If he has a brother--if he has a wife--if he has a child--may they
all suffer what”--

“No, no, no, no; for God’s sake, don’t say those words, Claude. You do
not know what they mean. You cannot know.”

She had sprung from her chair and had caught the hand which he had
clenched fiercely as he spoke.

“You cannot tell who it is that you are cursing,” she said imploringly.
“No one can tell. He may have a wife--a child--would you have them
suffer for the crime of their father?”

“I would have them suffer. It is not I, but God, who said ‘unto the
third and fourth generation.’ I am on the side of God.”

“And this is the man whom I once loved!”

He started as she flung his hand from her--the fingers were still
bent--and walked across the room, striking her palms together
passionately.

He started. There was a pause before he said slowly and not without
tenderness--the tenderness of the sentimentalist, not the lover:

“How young we both were in those days! I’m sure we both believed most
fervently that we were in love. Alas! alas! But in affairs like these
the statute of limitations is automatic in its working. Nature has
decreed, so we are told, that in the course of seven years every
particle of that work which we call man becomes dissolved; so that
nothing whatever of the man whom we see to-day is a survival of the man
whom we knew seven years ago.”

“Ah, that is true--so much we know to be true,” she cried, and in her
voice there was a note of tenderness.

She looked across the room and saw that his eyes were not turned toward
her. They were turned toward the window. She saw that he was staring
into the garden, and on his face there was an expression of surprise,
mingled with doubt.

She took a few steps to one side, and her hand made a little spasmodic
grasp for the curtain, when she had seen all that he saw.

Out there a charming picture presented itself against a background of
bare trees, and a blue autumn sky from which the sun had just departed.
A tall girl, wearing a white dress and crowned with shining golden hair,
stood on the grass, while above and around her and at her feet scores
of pigeons flew and circled and strutted. She was encircled with moving
plumage--snow-white, delicate mauve, slate blue--some trembling poised
about her head, some with their wings drawn up as they were in the act
of alighting, others curving in front of her, and now and again letting
themselves drop daintily upon her shoulders, and perching upon the
finger which she held out to them. All the time she was laughing and
crooning to them in a musical tone.

That was the scene which he was watching eagerly, as he gazed through
the window, quite oblivious of the tact that Agnes was watching him
breathlessly.

“Merciful heaven!” she heard him whisper. “Merciful heaven!”

She gave a little gasp. There was a silence in the room. Outside there
was a laugh and the strange croon of the girl.

He turned to Agnes.

“Who is that girl?” he asked.

She affected not to understand his question. She raised her eyes,
saying:

“Girl? What girl?”

“There--outside--on the lawn.”

“Oh, Miss Tristram--have you seen her before?”

“Have I seen--how does she come to be here? Ah, I need not ask you. You
heard me speak of her and invited her here. You are so good. Did you
tell her that I was in this part of the country? I do not think that I
ever mentioned that my home was in Brackenshire.”

The expression of surprise which had been on his face became one of
pleasure.

She watched him dumbly, as he unfastened the latch of the window and
opened one of the leaves. She saw Clare turn round at the click of the
latch, and glance toward the window. She saw the look of surprise that
had been on Claude’s face come to Clare’s as she stood there in the
midst of the wheeling birds. The pause lasted only a few seconds; it was
broken by the laugh of the girl as she went to the window.

He stepped out to meet her with outstretched hand, and the girl laughed
again.

Agnes fell back against the tapestry curtain clutching it with each
hand, and staring across the empty room.

“My God! he knows her--he knows her.”

One of her hands went down instinctively to the pocket into which she
had thrust the letter brought by Clare. She kept her hand over it as
though she were trying to hold it back from some one who wanted to get
it. That was her attitude while she listened to the surprised greeting
of the girl by Claude. He was saying that they had not been parted
for long--certainly not so long as Clare--he called her Clare quite
trippingly--had predicted they should be; and Clare inquired of him if
he knew Miss Mowbray. Was he also a guest in Miss Mowbray’s house?

“Heavens!” he cried, “surely I mentioned in the course of one of my long
chats aboard the old _Andalusian_ that I lived near Brackenhurst.”

“Lived near Brackenhurst?” she said with a laugh. “Why, I was under the
impression that you lived near Bettinviga, in the land of the Gakennas,
beyond the great Smoke Falls of the Zambesi I hope I have improved in my
pronunciation of the names. Oh no; you never said anything about
Brackenshire. If you had done-so I should certainly have told you that I
was going into that country also--that is, if I succeeded in inducing
Miss Mowbray to receive me.”

The expression that Agnes’s face had worn gradually passed away as she
heard them chatting together making mutual explanations. She was able
to loose her hands from the curtain that had supported her. She was even
able to give a smile--a sort of smile--as she straightened herself and
took a step free of the curtain and facing the window.

“Is it possible that you were fellow-passengers on the _Andalusian_ she
asked.

“I fancied that I had told you of meeting Clare and her friends aboard
the steamer that took us on from Aden,” said he. “Yes, I feel certain
that I told you how much better I felt for the sympathy they offered
me.”

“You mentioned that, but you did not give me any names,” said Agnes.
“Pray come back to the sphere of influence of the fire, Clare; you must
learn not to trust our English climate too implicitly. How the pigeons
have taken to you! You must have some charm for them.”

“We lived in Venice for two years, and the pigeons of St. Mark’s became
my greatest friends,” said the girl. “I used to feed them daily, and it
was while feeding them that a dear old man, who loved them also, taught
me how to talk to them. I could not resist the temptation of trying if
the birds here understood the language, so I went out to them from the
next room when I saw them on the lawn.”

“And I think you may assume that your experiment was a success,” said
Agnes, closing the window when the girl had entered, followed by-Claude.
“Do you know of any other charms to prevail upon other creatures?”

“Oh yes,” she cried: “a fakir whom I knew at Cairo taught me how to
charm lizards. The first time we see any green lizards I will show you
how to mesmerise them.”

“I’m afraid you’ll not have quite so much practice here as you had in
Egypt,” said Agnes. “Our green lizards are not plentiful. I will get you
to impart to me your secret so far as the pigeons are concerned; I won’t
trouble you to teach me the incantation for the lizards. You joined the
_Andalusian_ at Suez, I suppose?”

“Yes; Colonel and Mrs. Adrian took charge of me on the voyage to
England, and it was from their house in London I wrote to you,” replied
Clare.

“Adrian and I had gone through a campaign together,” said Claude. “His
face was the first that I recognised on my return to civilisation. I
knew no one at Uganda, and at Zanzibar I avoided seeing any one, though
the newspaper correspondents were very friendly; but Adrian was the
first man I saw when I got aboard the steamer at the Red Sea. Seeing
him made me feel old. I had left him a captain with about half-a-dozen
between him and a majority. It appears that the frontier people had
taken advantage of my enforced absence to get up a quarrel or two with
their legitimate rulers who had annexed them a year or two before; and
it only required a few accidents to give Adrian his command.”

“Colonel Adrian told us that Mr. W’estwood had been giving it as his
opinion that it was very hard that he had not had an opportunity of
distinguishing himself while the Colonel had been so fortunate,” laughed
Clare, turning to Agnes.

“Did the newspaper men show any great desire to have an interview with
your friend, Colonel Adrian?” said Agnes.

“If they had they would have learned something about the Chitralis and
their ways,” said Claude. “I’m afraid that the people in England are
slightly indifferent to the great question of the North-West frontier.”

Clare laughed, and Agnes perceived that he had been giving a little
imitation of the Indian officer, who had become an authority on the
great frontier question and could not understand how people at home
refused to devote themselves to its study.

“Englishmen want to hear about nothing but Africa just now,” said Agnes.
“They have come to regard Africa as an English colony.”

“And yet the greatest living explorer of Africa refuses to communicate a
single paragraph to the newspapers in regard to his discoveries,” cried
Clare. “I consider that a great shame; I hope you feel as strongly on
the subject, my dear Miss Mowbray.”

“Mr. Westwood seems to have lost all his early ambition,” said Agnes.

“That is true,” said Claude, in a low voice. “I have lost my brother.”

Clare looked grave. Agnes glanced at the man. She wondered how it was
possible that he could forget the words which he had spoken in that same
room when she only had been there to hear them. “It is for you--it is
for you,” he had cried. “It is for you I mean to go to Africa. I have
set my heart upon winning a name that shall be in some degree worthy of
you, my beloved!”

Those were the words which he had said to her while his arms were about
her and her cheek rested on his shoulder. How was it possible that
he could forget them? How could he now talk about having lost all his
ambition? She was his ambition. He had gone forth to win a jewel of
honour that should be worthy of her wearing, and he had returned, having
snatched that jewel from the very hand of Death, but he had not laid it
at her feet.

Still she was silent. She remembered what Sir Percival had said to her:
it was left for her to win him back.

It was Clare who had the boldness to break the impressive silence that
followed his pathetic phrase, “I have lost my brother.”

“You told me that he had ambition,” said she. “You told me that his
ambition was your success, and yet you refuse to let the world know how
you have succeeded.”

He looked at her for a few moments. Her face was slightly flushed by the
force of the earnestness with which she had spoken.

“Perhaps,” he said, slowly, “perhaps my ambition may awake again one of
these days. I saw some queer things. Sometimes, when I think of them--of
the strange people--savages, but with a code and religious traditions
precisely the same as those of the Hebrews--I feel that it might perhaps
be well if I wrote something about them; but then, I feel--oh no, I
can’t bring myself to do anything now. I cannot do anything until”--

His face darkened. He walked away from her to the window. In an instant
he called out in quite a different tone from that in which he had
spoken:

“There are your pets still, Clare. They are waiting for you on the
lawn.”

“I must send them back to their cote without delay,” said the girl “May
I step outside for one moment, Miss Mowbray?”

“Only for a moment, my dear child. I am afraid that you place too much
confidence in our English climate.”

He opened the window, and Clare stepped out among the pigeons that rose
in a cloud to meet her. Claude followed her slowly.

Agnes watched them without leaving her seat. They stood side by side in
the fading light.

“God help her! God help her!” said Agnes, in a low voice.



CHAPTER XVII.

|I wonder if you will think our life here desperately dull,” said Agnes,
when she had dined _tête-à-tête_ with Clare that same night. “I wonder
will you beg of me to turn you out after you have experienced a week of
our country life.”

“I don’t think it very likely,” said Clare. “I feel too deeply your
kindness in taking me in. You see, I was not brought up to look upon
much society as indispensable. We lived in many places on the Continent,
my mother and I, but we never mingled with the English colony in any
place. My mother seemed to shun her own countrypeople. We made only a
few friends in Italy, and even fewer during the two years we were in
Spain. Of course, when we went to Egypt we had to be more or less with
the English there; but I suppose my mother had her own reasons for never
becoming amalgamated with the regular colony. As a rule, we saw very
little society; and, indeed, I don’t feel as if I wanted much more now.
I think I have become pretty independent of my fellow-creatures. If I
am allowed to paint all day and to sing all night, I’ll ask for nothing
more.”

“You will sing for me to-night,” said Agnes, “and to-morrow you can
begin your painting. I suppose you had many chances of studying both
arts in Italy.”

“No one could have had more,” replied Clare. “I know that my education
generally was neglected. I’m not sure of my spelling of English, and as
for my sums, I know they are deplorable. But my dear mother was afraid
that one day I might find myself compelled to earn money to live, and
she said that no girl ever made money by spelling and working out sums.”

“I think she was right in that idea. Being a governess is not the same
as making money. And so she gave you a chance of studying painting
and music? But painting and music do not invariably mean making money
either.”

Clare laughed.

“No one knows that better than I do, Miss Mowbray,” she cried.

“Please do not call me Miss Mowbray,” said Agnes. “Have I once called
you Miss Tristram? My name is not a horrid one. It does not set one’s
teeth on edge to pronounce it. Now don’t say that there’s such a
difference between our ages; there really is not, you know.”

“I shall never call you anything but Agnes again,” said the girl.

“That’s right; and perhaps in time I shall come to think myself as
young as you are. The story of your education interests me greatly. Pray
continue it. Did you learn painting or singing first? I suppose that
question is absurd; you must have found your voice when you were a
child.”

“I found myself with a kind of voice, but no one seemed to think that
it was worth considering. That was why I spent five years studying the
technique of painting. It was only one day when I thought myself alone
in a picture gallery and began singing a country song, that a little
grey-haired man appeared from behind one of the pillars. I thought that
he was one of the caretakers, and I did not pause until I found that he
was looking at me, as I thought angrily. I then asked him if singing was
prohibited in the gallery. I shall never forget the way he looked at me
and laughed. ‘Singing--singing?’ he cried. ‘Ah, my sweet signorina,
even if singing is prohibited you could not be charged with having
transgressed. Singing!’ Then he shook his head. ‘But it was I who sang
just now,’ I explained. ‘Great god Bacchus! you do not flatter yourself
that that sort of thing is singing,’ he cried. ‘Oh no; singing is
an art--and an art in which you will excel rather than in the art of
painting. Fling that execrable daub in which you caricature the blessed
St. Sebastian into the place where the dust is thrown, and come with me.
I shall make you a singer.’”

“How amusing! And you obeyed him?”

“I stared at the old man for a minute, thinking him the most impudent
person! had ever met; but like a flash it came upon me that he was not a
caretaker, but Signor Marini, the great maestro. I was so overcome with
surprise that in an instant I had done exactly what he told me. I threw
away the picture on which I was working--I really don’t think it was so
very bad--and I went away with him. He asked me where I lived, and he
accompanied me there. He amazed my poor mother with what he said about
mv voice, or rather about the possibilities he fancied he foresaw for my
voice, and he taught me for two years for nothing.”

“And were his predictions regarding your voice fulfilled?”

“I am afraid he fancied that I should become much better than I am. But
at any rate he made it possible for me to earn money by my singing. I
hope, however, I may not have to support myself in that way. I do not
like facing an audience. I had to do so twice in Italy, and I found it
distasteful.”

“But you do not mind facing an audience of one, I hope.”

“Oh, I will sing to you all night. I sang almost every night aboard the
_Andalusian_. I think Mr. Westwood liked me to do so. There was a bond
between us--a bond of suffering. My dear mother had only been a month
dead. I sang with my thoughts full of her.”

“And there is a bond between you and me also--a bond of suffering. You
will sing to me, my Clare.”

Agnes had her hand in her own as they went to the drawing-room, and
after a short time the girl sat down to the piano and sang song after
song for more than an hour.

Her singing was the sweetest that Agnes had ever heard. She did not sing
brilliantly at first, but tenderness and sympathy were in every note. No
one could hear her without being affected by her. It seemed as if no one
could be critical of her art: it is only when one ceases to feel that
one becomes critical; but Clare made it pretty plain to Agnes when they
talked together later on that Maestro Marini had never been quite so
carried away by the singing of any of his pupils as to be unable to
criticise it, and Agnes declared that he must be the most unfeeling man
living.

Before leaving the piano the girl sang an operatic scena of the most
brilliant character and amazed Agnes with the extent of her resources.
She showed that her imagination was on a level with that of the great
master who had built up the work to a point of sublimity that had
aroused the enthusiasm of Europe. Agnes saw that Clare had at least
the genius to know what the maestro meant when he had taught her how to
treat the scena.

She kissed the girl, saying:

“Yes, you can always earn money by your singing; but you can always
achieve much more by it: there is no one alive who could remain unmoved
when you sing.”

“I will sing to you every night,” cried Clare. “You will tell me when I
fail to do what I set out in the hope of doing in any of my songs. That,
the maestro says, is the sure test of singing; if you make yourself
intelligible you can sing, if you are unintelligible you are wrong. No
composer who is truly great will write merely for the sake of showing
what difficulties a vocalist can overcome by teaching and practice;
he will not be intricate, only when he cannot express himself with
simplicity. I think music is the most glorious of all the arts.”

She quoted from her master as they went upstairs to their bedrooms and
then kissed and parted. But though Clare was asleep within a few minutes
of lying down, Agnes was not so fortunate. She lay awake for an hour
thinking her thoughts, and then she rose, and wrapping a fur-lined cloak
about her, sat down in a chair in front of the fire, looking into its
depths.

“I cannot send her away again,” she said. “I cannot send her out into
the world. God has given me her life, and I have accepted the trust. I
cannot send her away. He need never learn the truth, the terrible truth.
Oh, if he had but some pity! If she could but impart some pity to him!”

Another hour had passed before she rose, saying once more, in a tone of
decision:

“Yes, she shall stay. Whether it be for good or evil she shall stay. If
I cannot win him back I shall still have her.”

Somehow, Agnes did not now feel so strongly as she had done a few days
before that it was laid on her to win back Claude. The fact was that,
after her last conversation with Sir Percival, she had been led to
consider by what means she should endeavor to win him back to her. What
were the arts which she should practise to compass this end? She had
often read of the successful attempts made by young women to regain
the affections of the men who had been cruel enough--in some cases wise
enough--to forsake them. She could not, however, remember exactly what
means they had adopted to effect their purpose. She had an idea that
most of the men had been brought by force of circumstances to perceive
how false-hearted the other girl was; she had a distinct recollection
that the other girl played a very important part in the return of the
lover to his first and only true love.

After giving some consideration to the matter she came to the conclusion
that she, too, could only trust to time to lead Claude back to her. She
thought of the lines:

               “Having waited all my life, I can well wait

               A little longer.”

She had spent her life in waiting for him to return to her, but he had
not yet done so; the man who had gone forth loving her, and with her
promise to love him, had not returned to her and her love. She would
have to wait a little longer.

But somehow she did not now feel impatient to see him once again at her
feet. The terrible sense of loneliness that had fallen on her when he
had left her presence on the day after his arrival at the Court--that
appalling consciousness of desertion--was no longer experienced by her.
She awoke from her few hours’ sleep on the morning after Clare had come
to her, without her previous feeling of being alone in the world. Her
first thought now was that in half an hour she would be seated at the
breakfast-table opposite to that sweet girl who had been sent to her by
a kind Fate, just at the moment when she needed her most.

Before the half hour had quite passed she was sitting opposite to Clare;
and before another hour had passed she was sitting by the side of Clare
in her phaeton, pointing out to her the various landmarks round that
part of Brackenshire, as the ponies trotted along the road. Agnes felt
as happy as though she had succeeded in solving the problem of how to
win back an errant lover.

“It’s not a bit like the England of my fancy,” cried Clare, when the
phaeton had been driven on for some miles beyond the little town of
Brackenhurst.

“Is it possible that this is the first glimpse you have had of England?”
 cried Agnes.

“It is practically my first glimpse of England. I could not have been
more than a year old when I was taken abroad.”

“And yet I am sure that you had all an exile’s longing to return to
England--you learned to allude to it as home, did you not?” said Agnes.

“Oh, of course, I always thought of England as home, though I managed to
live very happily wherever I found myself,” replied the girl. “Sometimes
when I was suddenly brought face to face with a party of English men
and women making a tour of Italy, my longing to be in England was easily
repressed. Indeed I may safely say that at no time did I feel very
patriotic. The greater number of the people whom I met painted such a
picture of England as reconciled me to live abroad.”

“You do not recognize the country from their description?”

“Why, they talked of nothing but fogs--they made me believe that from
August to May there was nothing but fog hanging over the whole of the
country--fog and damp and rain and snow. Well, we haven’t driven into a
fog up to the present, and I find these furs that Mrs. Adrian advised me
to buy in London, almost oppressive. The green of the meadows beside
the little stream is brighter than the green of olive trees in winter.
Yesterday the sky was blue, and to-day it is the same. Oh, I have become
more English than the English themselves; I feel myself ready to refer
to every one who is not English as a miserable foreigner.”

“That is the proper spirit to acquire: I hope you will be able to retain
it all through the winter. We do not invariably have blue skies and
dry roads during November and December in England. But we have at least
comfortable houses, with capacious fireplaces.”

“That is something. I never saw a really good fire until I came to
England. I have sat shivering in the house in which we lived at Siena.
The little brazier of charcoal which was brought into the room for a few
minutes only seemed to make us colder.”

Agnes laughed, and there was a considerable pause before she said:

“And your mother. I wonder if she was quite happy living abroad all her
life?”

“Only during her last illness did she express a wish to see England once
more,” said Clare. “Ah, I cannot speak of it--I could not tell you all
she said in those last piteous days. After she had written that letter
which I brought to you--she would not allow me to see a line of it, but
sealed it and put it away under her pillow--all her thoughts seemed to
return to her home. Every night as I sat up with her I could hear her
murmur: ‘If I could only see it again--if I could only see the meadows,
and smell the English may!’ Ah, I cannot speak of it.”

The girl turned her head away, and a little sob struggled in her throat.

“My poor child!” said Agnes. “You have all my sympathy. I can sympathise
with you.”



CHAPTER XVIII.

|They did not exchange a word for some time; and when the silence was
broken it was by Clare.

“Just before her illness I ventured to suggest to her that we might go
for a month or two to England,” she said.

“And then”--

“The look that came to her face was one of fear--of absolute terror.
I was frightened, and began to think that there were perhaps graver
reasons than I had ever fancied for our exile. It took her some moments
to recover from the shock that my suggestion had given her, and then she
said, ‘You must never think of such a thing as possible. I shall never
see England again!’”

“Poor woman! Ah, what it is laid on woman to bear!” said Agnes. “And she
would have been so happy if it had not been for her faithlessness. If
she had only trusted the true man who loved her, she would have been
happy. I fear that she cannot ever have been happy with your father.”

“She never spoke to me of him.”

Clare spoke in a low tone.

“He died when you were a child--so much, I think, was taken for
granted,” said Agnes.

“I have always taken it for granted,” said Clare. “Oh yes; I remember
asking about him when I was quite young, and my mother told me that I
had no father.”

“Then you must assume that he is dead,” said Agnes; “and pray that you
may never have sufficient curiosity to lead you to seek to know more
about him.”

Clare looked at her with some surprise on her face.

“What! You know”--she began.

“I know nothing,” said Agnes quickly, interrupting her. “I have heard
that he was not a good man, and I know that if he had had anything of
good in his nature, your mother would not have parted from him. But he
is dead, and we have no need to talk about him. Now let me tell you the
names of all the places we can see from here.”

They had driven to the summit of one of the low Brackenshire hills,
and from there Agnes pointed out the various landmarks. Far away to the
north the great manufacturing town of Linnborough lay beneath the
great shadow of its own smoke, and to the right the exquisite spire of
Scarchester Cathedral was seen, and by the side of the old minster ran
the river Leet. All through the valley lay the villages of Nessvale,
with its Norman church, from the tower of which the curfew is still
rung; Green-ledge, with its tall maypole, and Holmworth, with its grey
castle and moat. Then on every hand were to be seen the splendid
park lands surrounding the manor houses, the broad meadows, the brown
furrowed fields of Brackenshire, with here and there a farmhouse, and
down where the Lambeck flowed, a brown mill with its slow-moving water
wheel. The quacking of ducks that swam in the little stream was borne up
from the valley at intervals and mingled with the melancholy whistle of
a curlew, and the occasional notes of a robin sitting on a gate at the
side of the road.

“England--England--this is England!” cried Clare. “I never wish to see
any other land so long as I live. Ah, my poor mother! This is what she
was longing to see before she died.”

Agnes did not speak. She knew that the girl saw all the incidents of the
English landscape through a mist of tears.

It was not until the phaeton was making the homeward circuit and
had just come abreast of the wall of Westwood Court, that a word was
exchanged between Agnes and Clare. All the interest of the girl was once
more awakened when she learned that Claude Westwood had been born in
that great house which was just visible through the trees of the park,
and that he was now the owner of all.

“And the murder--it was done among those trees?” said Clare, in a
whisper.

Agnes nodded.

“The wretch--the wretch! What punishment would be too great for the
monster who did that deed?” cried Clare, with something akin to passion
in her voice.

“Mr. Westwood told you of it?” said Agnes.

“He did not need to tell me of it,” replied the girl. “I had read all
about it at Cairo.”

“Of course. You got the English newspapers there.”

“Very rarely; strange to say, a copy of a newspaper containing a
paragraph referring to the reprieve of the murderer was sent to my
mother by some one in England. I saw the paper by chance. It had not
been sent to her because of that paragraph, of course; but on account of
some other piece of news.”

“Then you knew who it was that sent the paper?”

“That was the mystery. It troubled mother for some time thinking who
could have sent it.”

“But she knew why it had been sent to her--she knew what was the
particular paragraph it contained of interest to her?”

“I don’t think that she was quite certain on that point; but she came
to the conclusion that it was on account of a paragraph referring to the
production of an opera in London in which a friend of mine--of ours, I
mean--had taken the tenor _rôle_.”

“Ah; a friend of yours? What is his name?”

“His name is Giro Rodani; he was one of the maestro’s pupils. We used
to sing duets under the guidance of the maestro; it was good for both
of us, he said, and so, I suppose, it was. At any rate Giro got his
engagement, and perhaps he sent mother that newspaper. He certainly sent
me the six papers that praised his singing. He didn’t send those that
were not quite so complimentary: it was the maestro who sent them to
me.”

“The paper may have been addressed to you; it is not a matter of
importance. You would probably never have recollected reading the
paragraph about the reprieve of the man if you had not met Mr. Westwood
a few months afterwards.”

“I certainly should have forgotten all about it; but now--well, now it
is different. And it was among those trees the terrible deed was done?”

“Yes, it was among those trees. I have not been near the place since it
happened.”

“It was horrible--horrible! And yet they did not hang the man--they gave
the wretch his life!” The girl spoke almost fiercely--almost in the same
tone as Claude Westwood’s had been when denouncing the man.

Agnes gave a little cry.

“Do not say that--for God’s sake do not say that,” she said. “Ah, if you
only knew what you are saying!”

“If I only knew!” cried Clare, in a tone of astonishment.

“If you only knew how your indignation that a wretched man’s life was
spared to him shocks me!” said Agnes. “Dear child, surely you are on
the side of mercy; you have not been, accustomed to the savage code of a
life for a life.”

Clare was silent.

“It shocks me to hear any one speak as Claude Westwood does of that poor
wretch,” continued Agnes. “It is not possible that you--Tell me, Clare,
do you think your mother would have had the same thought as you had just
now? Was she indignant when she read that the life of that man Standish
was spared?”

“She cried ‘Thank God!’ as fervently as if she had known the wretch all
her life,” replied Clare. “Ah, my dear mother was a better woman than I
am. Her heart was full of tenderness.”

“And so is yours, my child,” said Agnes gently. “You did not speak from
your heart just now. Your words were but an echo of those I have heard
Claude Westwood speak.”

There was a long silence before Clare put her hand on the arm of her
companion, saying in a low voice:

“I was wrong, dear Agnes. I spoke unfeelingly, without thinking of all
that my words meant. I only thought of the passion of grief in which Mr.
Westwood had expressed his indignation that the man who brought so much
unhappiness into his life had been spared.”

“Pray for him,” cried Agnes quickly. “Pray for that man as Christ prayed
for His murderers. Pray that his life may not have been given to him in
vain.”

“I will pray that God may pity him,” said the girl. “We all stand in
need of forgiveness, do we not?”

The remainder of the drive to The Knoll was silent; and so was Agnes,
when she went to her room, and seated herself in front of the fire. She
was breathing hard as she leant forward with her head resting on her
hands. She remained motionless, staring into the glowing coals until the
luncheon bell rang. Then she rose hastily, saying in a whisper:

“It was too terrible! God pity her! God pity her!”

Her maid entered the room, and she changed her dress.

While in the act of going downstairs she heard the sound of Claude
Westwood’s voice in the hall. He was talking to Clare in front of the
blazing logs of the hall fire, and Agnes saw that he now wore the dress
of a country gentleman. When he had called at the house the previous day
as well as on the day after his return to England, he had worn a black
morning coat. She paused beneath the stained-glass window of the little
lobby where the broad staircases turned off at right angles to the
half-dozen shallow steps at the bottom--she paused, and could not move
for some moments, for the scene which was before her eyes appeared to
her like a glimpse of a day she remembered well: the same man wearing
the same jacket and gaiters, had stood talking in the same voice to a
young girl who looked up to his face as she stooped somewhat over the
big grate, holding her fingers over the blaze, just as Clare was doing.

She stood motionless on the landing. The crimson roses of the
stained-glass of the window made her a splendid head-dress, and in
the panels on each side spread branches of rosemary--rosemary for
remembrance.

Alas! she remembered but too well the words which had been spoken
between the two people who had stood there long ago. “It is for you--it
is all for you,” he had said. “I mean to make a name that shall be in
some measure worthy of you.” Those were his words, and then she had
looked up to his face and had put her hand, warm from the fire, into his
hand. She had trusted him; and now--

“Is it a ghost?” cried Clare, laughing. “Are you a ghost, beautiful
lady, or do you see a ghost?”

She had gone along the hall to the foot of the half-dozen shallow oak
steps beneath the window.

“A ghost--a ghost,” said Agnes, descending. “Yes, I have seen a ghost.”

Claude advanced to the middle of the hall to meet her. She greeted him
silently.

“I saw your ponies in the distance and hurried after you, hoping that
you would ask me to lunch,” said he.

“A woman’s lunch!” she cried. “You cannot surely know what our menu is.”

“I will take it on trust,” said he. “You represent company here. When I
come to you I forget the loneliness of the Court.”

When speaking he had looked first at Agnes, then at Clare. He seemed
to take care to prevent the possibility of Agnes’s fancying that he was
addressing her individually when he said, “You represent company here.”

“And you represent company to us; for the capacity of two lone women to
feel lonely is quite as great as that of one man,” said she, smiling in
her old way.

“He brings us news, Agnes--good news,” said Clare. “He has got the medal
of the--the society--what was the name that you gave the society, Mr.
Westwood?”

“The Geographical,” said he. “They have treated me well, I must confess.
They have been compelled to take me on trust, so to speak--to accept my
discoveries, without any demonstration on my part. No one knows anything
of what I have seen or what I have done in Central Africa. The outline
that was cabled home represented only the recollections of a missionary
at Uganda. It is a little better than nonsense.”

“That is the greater reason, I say, why you should take the opportunity
that is offered to you now of letting the world know all that you have
passed through,” said Clare.

“All--all--all that I have passed through, did you say?” he cried. Then
he laughed curiously.

“Well, I don’t suppose that you could tell all in an hour--I suppose
they would give you an hour?” said Clare.

“They might even make it two hours without forcing me to repeat myself,”
 said he. “But all--all! Good heavens! If I were to tell all! Luckily I
cannot: the language has not got words adequate for the expression of
some of the things that I saw. Still--well, I saw some few things that
might be described.”

“Then you will go? You will give them the lecture which you say they
have invited you to deliver?” cried Clare.

He shook his head.

“Oh yes, you will,” she said, going close to him, and speaking in a
child’s voice of coaxing. “Agnes, you will join with me in trying to
show this man in what direction his duty lies.”

“Ah, in what direction his duty lies!” said Agnes gently. “What woman
can show a man where lies his duty if his inclination points in another
direction? But I am forgetting mine. Luncheon!”

She pointed to the door of the dining-room, at which the butler was
standing with an aggrieved expression upon his face: luncheon had been
waiting for some time.

“Duty!” said Agnes, when Clare and Mr. Westwood had passed through.
“Duty!” She gave a little laugh.



CHAPTER XIX

|Duty! That constituted the foundation of the plea of Clare for the
delivery of his lecture before the Royal Geographical Society. Her eyes
sparkled as she talked at lunch, urging Claude Westwood to abandon
his resolution to keep a secret the story of his adventures, of his
discoveries.

“My dear Agnes,” she cried at last, “will you not join with me in
telling him all that is his duty?” Agnes shook her head.

“All? Did you say ‘all’?” she said. “All his duty? Why, my dear, such
a task would be akin to Mr. Westwood’s description of his travels. The
language does not contain sufficient words to tell a man all that is
his duty. But so far as the lecture before the Geographical Society
is concerned I don’t think that he need say very much. Surely they are
entitled at least to a paper in exchange for their gold medal. Anything
less would be shabby.”

“That should settle the question,” said Clare, looking with a triumphant
smile at Claude.

“I suppose--yes, I am sure that it should,” said he. “Only--well, I
hardly know where to begin in giving an account of some of the things I
saw during my years of captivity. You have heard of the devil-worship
of some parts of Central Africa; but all that you have heard has been a
faint, a far-off rumour of what that worship means. I have seen--oh,
I tell you there are mysteries--magic--in the heart of that awful
Continent that cannot be spoken of.”

“But there is much that you can talk about--there’s the country, the
climate, the products,” said Clare. “Don’t you remember the hints that
Mr. Paddleford used to give you aboard the _Andalusian?_ Mr. Paddleford
was a--a--gentleman--I suppose he would be called a gentleman in
England.”

“Though he was not so called aboard the steamer?” said Agnes.

“Exactly. He was fond of opening up new countries.”

“Through the medium of the Limited Liability Companies Act--occasionally
going a little further than the Act was ever meant to go,” said Claude.

“At any rate he used to say that the man who found a new market for
Manchester or Birmingham was the true patriot. But still you did not
rise to the bait--you did not make any attempt to prove the extent of
your patriotism. But perhaps you might be able to show the geographical
people that Manchester or Birmingham might have what Mr. Paddleford
called a ‘look in’ so far as Central Africa is concerned.”

He glanced at Clare after she had spoken.

“Birmingham might certainly have a ‘look in’ at some of the tribes; it
might contract for the constant supply of brass gods for them,” said
Claude. “They worship brass out there with nearly as much devotion as
people here worship gold. As for Manchester--well, I’ve been in a valley
where Manchester could find a hint or two. The sides of the valley
are covered with a plant--a weed which, it it became known, would make
cotton valueless. It requires neither to be spun nor woven.”

“And you have discovered that miracle, for which the world has been
wanting since the days of Adam?” cried Clare, laying down her life and
fork, and staring at him. “You have discovered this, and yet you could
send that poor publisher empty away, although he had come out from
England to meet you and make arrangements for the publication of your
book!”

“Manchester should be ruined in order that Mr.--Mr.--was his
name--Paddleford?--yes, that Mr. Faddleford might float a company,” said
Agnes.

“Not merely Manchester, but all the cotton-growing states of America
would be brought to the verge of ruin,” said he. “The growth of that
weed upon the sides of the valley I speak of far exceeds the growth of
all the cotton in the world. We travelled for four months through that
valley without once losing sight of that weed. Things are done on a
large scale in Central Africa. The ground rents there are somewhat less
than they are in Middlesex. Can you fancy a valley running from John
o’Groat’s to Land’s End with its sides covered thickly with one
weed--say with thistles only?”

“And you can tell the world of that valley--of that plant for which the
world has been waiting for thousands of years, and yet there is still a
doubt in your mind as to whether you should spend an hour talking about
it or not!” cried Clare. “Look here, Mr. Westwood; you send a telegram
to the President of the Geographical Society appointing a day to reveal
to him and his friends--to all the world--the world that has been
waiting for certainly six thousand years--some people say six
million--for the discovery of that plant--telegraph that, or I shall
do it; and when you are at the bureau of telegraphs, just send another
message to the publisher who hunted for you, telling him that you accept
his offer of twenty-five thousand pounds. He confided in me aboard the
steamer with tears in his eyes, that this was the exact sum that he had
offered to you for the making of two thick volumes on your adventures,
to be ready in four months from to-day.”

“Heavens above! this is carrying things with a high hand!” cried Claude.
“Perhaps you would not think it too much trouble to suggest a title for
the book--that, I understand, is always a difficult business.”

“Ah, the representative of Messrs. Shekels & Shackles, the publishers,
confided to me his designs in regard to that point also,” said
Clare triumphantly. “The poor man had passed days and nights in the
Mediterranean thinking over the best title for your book; but only when
he got through the Red Sea did the inspiration come to him. I agreed
with him that it would be too bad if all his trouble were to no purpose.
I agree with him still.”

“He went a long way--so did you,” said Claude. “And the title--are you
at liberty to divulge it to the author of the book yet unborn?”

“The name of the book is to be ‘Homeless in Hades,’” laughed Clare. “So
much the agent confided in me. He thought that by that title the readers
would be prepared for the worst you had to tell them.”

“And so they would. I’m sure,” said he. “But I had no idea that the
names of books were settled by the publishers.”

“Oh, they’re not as a rule--he explained that to me; he said that only
in your case Messrs. Shekels & Shackles were under the impression that
you should know just what the public expected from you.”

“And their idea is that the writer of a book of travels should make
it his business to provide the public with precisely what they expect?
Well, I can’t say that the notion is an extravagant one. Most of the
volumes of travel which have been written, from the days of Sir John
Mandeville, down, have shown a desire on the part of the authors to
accommodate themselves to the views of the publishers and the public.
I’m not so sure, however, about ‘Homeless in Hades.’”

“Then you will write the book?” cried Clare, her eyes sparkling. “Oh yes;
when you begin by quarrelling with the title you are bound to write the
book.”

“I don’t consider myself in the least compromised in the matter,” said
he. “One may surely object to a title without being forced to write
the book. The fact is that, since I started for the Zambesi, the public
taste has been revolutionised by dry plates. An explorer without a
camera is, In the eyes of the public, like--now, what is he like?--a
mouse-trap without a bait--a bell without its hammer. Now I did not
travel with a camera. My long journey alone through the forests was made
with only the smallest amount of personal luggage. All I was able to
carry with me will not make an imposing list. Item--one knife; item--one
native bow and six poisoned arrows; item--six seeds of the linen plant.”

“What, you succeeded in bringing home the seeds of that wonderful
plant?”

“I made up my mind to accomplish that at all hazards. The seeds are a
good deal less interesting to look at than the native weapons. I have
got a glass case made for the arrows. They are not the things that
should be left lying about.”

“I have heard of poisoned arrows. Terrible, are they not? And the poison
is still in those you have?”

“It is the deadliest poison on earth; and its effect remains even in the
ashes of the iron-weed which forms the barb of the arrow. The slightest
scratch with the point of the weapon is fatal.”

Clare listened breathlessly. It was in a low voice that she asked:

“How many of these arrows had you when you contrived to escape?”

“I had sixteen,” he replied. “I can account satisfactorily for the ten
that are not forthcoming. I got to be a fairly good hand with the bow
and arrows before I had been in captivity for more than a year. I saw
that my only chance of successfully escaping lay in my acquiring a
thorough knowledge of the native weapons. I made a collection of arrows
which I secreted at intervals, but when I thought my chance had arrived.
I only recovered the sixteen I have told you about. I saved my life ten
times with arrows and nine times with my knife.”

“That will be your book,” said Clare; “how you used those ten arrows
will be your book. It must be called ‘The Arrows and the Knife.’”

“That title is certainly better than ‘Homeless in Hades,’ although I
admit that I was homeless and that the country was the worst Hades that
could be imagined.”

“But you will write the book--oh, you must promise us to write the book.
If we get him to promise we shall be all right, Agnes; he is not the
sort of man who would ever break his promise!”

“Oh, no, no; a promise with him would ever be held sacred,” said Agnes.

“Promise--promise,” cried Clare, going in front of him with clasped
hands, in the prettiest possible attitude of humorous imploration.

“A book of travel would be of no value without illustrations--so much I
clearly perceive,” said he. “I wonder if you can draw.’

“Oh yes; I can draw in a sort of way,” she replied. “I did nothing else
but draw for some years.”

“That is a solution of the problem,” he said, putting out his hand to
her. “I will write the book if you do the drawings for it.”

She shrank back for a moment and her face became rosy.

“Oh, I don’t think that I could draw well enough to illustrate your
book,” she cried.

“Ah, have you seen the illustrations to any book of travel recently
published?” he asked. “No, I thought you had not or you wouldn’t say
that your capacity fell short of so humble a standard as is required for
such a purpose. My dear Clare, cannot you see that the plan which I have
suggested is the only one possible for such a work as mine? I must
have an artist beside me who will be able to draw everything from my
instructions. Nothing must be left to the imagination. An error in any
point of detail would make the illustration worthless. Ah, now you
see it is not on me but on you that the production of the great work
depends, and yet you hold back. It is now my turn for bullying you as
you bullied me. It rests with you to say whether the book will appear or
not.”

“What am I to say, Agnes?” cried the girl. She had become quite
excited at the new complexion that had been assumed by the question
of publishing the book. “What am I to say? I am afraid of my own
shortcomings.”

“If Mr. Westwood is not afraid of them, you certainly need not be,” said
Agnes. “For my own part I quite see how much better it would be for him
to have an artist working by his side and in accordance with his
own instructions, than it would be to have the most accomplished of
draughtsmen working at a distance.”

“I’m fearfully afraid, but I would do anything for the sake of seeing
the book published,” said Clare.

“Then the compact is made,” cried Claude. “Give me your hand, Clare,
Now, Agnes, you are witness to the compact.”

“Yes, I am a witness to this compact--the second one made in this room,”
 said Agnes quietly. They had by this time left the dining-room and were
standing round the fire in the drawing-room.

“The second compact--the second?” said he, as though he were trying to
recall the previous compact.

“Agnes alludes to the compact she and I made in this room yesterday,”
 said Clare. “We agreed that if we did not become friends we should part
without ceremony before we got to hate each other--it was something like
that, was it not, Agnes?”

“Yes, I think that is an excellent definition of the compact made
between you and me--not in the presence of witnesses,” said Agnes.

“A very sensible compact, too, if I know anything about women,” said
Claude.

“And you do know something about women, do you not?” said Agnes.

“I am learning something daily--I may say hourly,” he replied. “I have
learned lately how generous, how noble, how sympathetic a woman may be.”

He looked at Agnes as he spoke, and sincerity was in every note of his
voice.

Agnes smiled faintly. She wondered if he was thinking of the day when
he had said good-bye to her in that room. Was his allusion made to
her generosity in permitting him to assume that there was a statute of
limitation in love--an unwritten law by which the validity of a lover’s
vows ceased?

At this point a fresh visitor was admitted--Sir Percival Hope. He said
he was very glad to meet Mr. Westwood that afternoon, the fact being
that he had just been at the Court to see Mr. Westwood in order to
inquire about his gamekeeper, Ralph Dangan, who had applied to him, Sir
Percival, for a situation. He wondered why the man was leaving the Court
preserves.

“The man seems to me to be a very foolish fellow,” said Claude. “He came
to me a couple of days ago to discharge himself, his plea being that he
did not suppose that I meant to preserve as my poor brother had done.
I asked him if he didn’t think it possible that he might be mistaken in
his supposition, and suggested that he would have done well to come to
me in the first instance to learn what my intentions were in regard to
the preserves. He seemed to decline to enter into any discussion WIth
me on the subject, but quite respectfully gave me his notice to leave.
I tried to bring him to a sense of his foolishness in throwing up a good
place on so ridiculous a pretext, but all the reply he gave was, ‘I have
made up my mind to go, sir, and must go. I can’t stay where I am any
longer.’”

“The poor man has had trouble--great trouble, during the past few
months,” said Agnes. “He should be pardoned if he finds it intolerable
to continue living in the place where he was once so happy.”

“He did not say anything about that to me,” said Claude. “Only to-day my
steward mentioned about the man’s daughter. Poor girl! I recollect
her years ago--a pretty little girl of nine or ten. And then his son
enlisted. I daresay the view you take of the matter is the right one,
Agnes. I suppose such men as Dangan have their own private feelings like
the rest of us.”

“He did not seem inclined to explain to me anything of that,” said Sir
Percival. “When I asked if he did not think he was behaving foolishly
in leaving a situation in which he had been for over thirty years, he
merely said he had made up his mind to leave it.”

“I would advise you to give him a trial,” said Claude. “He is a
scrupulously honest man.”

“I feel greatly inclined to take your advice,” said Sir Percival.

He remained to drink tea with Agnes, and at the end of an hour both men
left together.



CHAPTER XX.

|Clare was greatly excited. She regarded it as a great triumph that she
had prevailed upon Mr. Westwood to write the book which was to give an
account of his captivity in Central Africa, his explorations--some of
them involuntary--for the people among whom he dwelt as a prisoner and
an object of worship, carried him about with them on their raids--and
his discoveries. She was, however, in great dread lest her part in the
compact should be indifferently performed.

She daily expressed her doubts to Agnes, bewailing the fact that she had
been too easily persuaded by the maestro to abandon her study of the
art of painting for the art of vocalism. If she had only devoted to the
former the time she had spent upon the latter, she would have been a
good artist, she declared. Of what value had her singing been to her,
she inquired in doleful tones. It had been of no use to her, but if she
had continued her study of drawing, she should not now be on the fair
way to humiliation.

Agnes did her best to reassure her, when she had seen her portfolio of
water colour sketches--some of them charming open-air studies and others
of the picturesque peasantry of the Biscayan provinces. She felt sure,
she said, that if her drawings done by the direction of Mr. Westwood,
were of the same quality as those in the portfolio, the publishers would
be quite satisfied with them. Clare kissed her friend a dozen times in
acknowledgment of her kind encouragement, but afterwards she shook her
head despondently.

“It is one thing to draw for my own amusement--to make these simple
records of the places which I have visited and the people I hove seen,
but quite another thing to illustrate a serious book--a book that is
worth twenty-five thousand pounds. Just think of it! My drawings in a
book that is worth such a sum--a book that will be in everybody’s hands
in the course of a month or two!” she cried, as she paced the room
excitedly. “Oh yes; I know what every one will say: It would be far
better if so valuable a book had not had its pages disfigured by such
amateurish efforts! Oh yes; I have seen the criticisms in the English
papers. I know what they will say. Oh, what a fool I was to agree to do
the drawings!”

“I don’t think that you need be at all afraid to face such a task,” said
Agnes. “But if you are, why not write to Mr. Westwood, telling him that
you repent?”

“Oh, I would be far more afraid to face him after that than to face the
drawings,” cried the girl.

“What would Mr. Westwood think of any one who would break a compact?”

Agnes looked at her in silence for a few moments. She was tempted to
tell Clare the full story of the compact which she had once made with
that man, and the way in which he had broken it, ignoring the fact that
it had ever been entered into by either of them. She felt tempted to
ask her if the susceptibilities of such a man on the subject of
compacts--especially those made with women--were to be greatly
respected; but she controlled herself, and when Clare sat down with
tearful eyes, she did her best to comfort her.

Then Claude went to London and had an interview of a very satisfactory
character with Messrs. Shekels & Shackles. All that they stipulated was
that he should not give himself away--the phrase was Mr.
Shekels’--at the Royal Geographical Society. The papers read
by distinguished--travellers--and some who were not quite so
distinguished--at the big meetings of the Society, were only designed
to stimulate the imagination of the public and prepare the way for the
forthcoming book. A paper that discounted any portion of the forthcoming
book--Mr. Shekels took it for granted that the book was always
forthcoming--was worse than futile for advertising purposes He
urged upon Mr. Westwood the advisability of putting nothing into his
Geographical Society lecture that the newspapers could not lay hold
of for the purposes of leading articles. The newspapers did not want
pathological erudition. They wanted something that all their readers
could understand--something about cannibalism, for example; cannibalism
as a topic never failed to attract general readers. He hoped that Mr.
Westwood would see his way to talk about the cannibals of Central Africa
in his paper. That would tickle the palates of the general public,
causing them to look forward to the book, which need not necessarily
contain a single allusion to cannibalism. In one word, Mr. Shekels
explained that the lecture should be a kind of _hors d’ouvre_ to the
literary banquet which was to follow.

All this he explained to Mr. Westwood, very tenderly, of course, for
Mr. Westwood was (unfortunately, Messrs. Shekels & Shackles thought) not
like the majority of distinguished explorers, anxious that the sale of
his book should be enormous, being (unfortunately, again,) independent
of book-writing for his living. If they were to say anything to hurt
his feelings, he might take his book, when he had it written, to another
publishing house, who then would have the privilege, so earnestly sought
after by Messrs. Shekles & Shackles, of losing a considerable sum by its
publication.

On the subject of the illustrating of the book Mr. Shackles--he was the
artistic, not the business partner--had a good deal to say. He did
not smile when Mr. Westwood mentioned that there was a lady of his
acquaintance who would execute the drawings under his own supervision.
No, Mr. Westwood was well out of the front door before he had a laugh
with his partner, who did not laugh but only winked at the notion of
Mr. Westwood’s lady friend. But while Mr. Westwood was in his room Mr.
Shackles explained quite courteously that he should like to see some
of the lady’s work, so that he should be in a position to judge as to
whether or not it lent itself well to the processes of reproduction.
That was how Mr. Shackles gave expression, when face to face with
Mr. Westwood, of the doubts which he afterwards formulated in a few
well-chosen phrases to his partner as to the artistic--the saleably
artistic--possibilities of the unnamed lady’s work.

Then Mr. Westwood had an interview with the executive of the Royal
Geographical Society on the subject of his lecture; and the next day
every newspaper in the kingdom contained a paragraph announcing this
fact, and most of them had half-column leading articles commenting upon
the decision come to by the explorer, and pointing out that, owing to
the extraordinary circumstances connected with his involuntary stay
in the interior of the Dark Continent, the paper which he had so
courteously placed at the disposal of the Society could scarcely fail
to be the most interesting, as well as the most important, given to the
world through the same body for many years.

It was with great trepidation that Clare submitted her sketches to Mr.
Westwood. He had, of course, to pay another visit to The Knoll in order
to make a choice of the works to be sent to Mr. Shackles as specimens;
and even when Claude had expressed himself confident that Mr. Shackles
would be surprised at the high quality of the technique in those he
selected, the girl was not reassured. It was not till Claude had shown
her the publishers’ letter regarding the drawings--another visit had to
be paid to The Knoll in order to show her this letter--that she began
to regain confidence in herself. Her face was rosy with pleasure before
Claude had finished reading the letter.

The fact was that Messrs. Shekels & Shackles had come to the decision
that they would be acting wisely in humouring Mr. Westwood in this
matter of illustrations; and seeing that the specimens of Miss
Tristram’s work were susceptible of being improved by a judicious artist
accustomed to manipulate such work as was to be reproduced by certain
processes, the letter on the subject had been as nearly enthusiastic
as Messrs. Shekels & Shackles ever allowed themselves to become in the
presence of their typewriter. They had meant to gratify Mr. Westwood,
and the reply which they got from him convinced them that their object
was achieved.

For the next week Clare spent her days in the greenhouse, making
sketches of all the tropical plants in Agnes’s collection. From studying
the general character ol the illustrations in several volumes of African
travel--Agnes had on her shelves every volume of exploration in the
Continent--the girl became aware of the fact that the public will not
believe that any drawing is offered to them in good faith unless it
contains at least one tropical plant with which they are familiar.
She made up her mind that the vegetation in her pictures should be
plentiful, however far short it might fall in artistic qualities. This
was the week during which Claude was occupied in the preparation of his
paper for the Geographical Society; but in spite of his being so busy,
he found time to pay more than one visit to The Kroll. His were business
visits, he was careful to explain. Yes, it was necessary for him to see
that the backgrounds sketched by Clare at least suggested the tropics.

Agnes stood by while he made his suggestions at these times, and when,
now and again, she was applied to for an opinion on some point on which
the others could not make up their mind, she gave her opinion--that was
all the part she took in the transaction. She was beginning to be weary
of the vegetation of the tropics and its adaptability to pictorial
treatment, though for some years of her life she had passed no day
without reading a page or two that had some bearing upon Central Africa.
She was startled as she reflected upon the change that had taken place
in her views during a fortnight. She never wished to see another book
on Central Africa. She could not even do more than pretend to take
an interest in the book which Claude was about to write and Clare to
illustrate.

Once as she heard him describe to the girl a scene which he thought she
should be prepared to deal with in a picture, her mind went back to the
nights when she had awaked shrieking from a dream in which she had seen
him lying dead in the midst of the savages who had massacred him and his
companions. She had had such dreams frequently during the months when
the newspapers were writing their comments upon the disappearance of
Westwood and his expedition. How feeble and colourless would be the most
spirited of Clare’s illustrations compared to those dreams! She smiled
as she recalled some of them. She wondered how it was possible for
her ever to have taken so much interest in African exploration It was
certainly not a subject that many girls would pass several years of
their life trying to master.

Often when she glanced across the room and saw Claude there she asked
herself if it was possible that she still loved him.

She could not answer the question. Her love for him had become so much
a part of her life she could not imagine living without it. She wondered
if women could continue loving men who had treated them as he had
treated her. When she thought over his treatment of her she wondered
how it was that she did not hate him. She had heard of love turning to
hatred--hatred as immortal as love--and yet it did not appear to her
that she had such a feeling in regard to him. She seemed to have
settled down into her life under its altered conditions as easily and as
uncomplainingly as it she had always looked forward to life under such
conditions.

It was on the eve of Claude Westwood’s departure for London to appear
before the Geographical Society, that Clare sat down to the piano. She
had latterly neglected her singing in favour of her drawing, and now
only opened the piano at the request of Agnes.

“What shall I sing?” she cried. “I feel just now as if I could make
a great success at La Scala--I feel that my nerves are strung to the
highest pitch possible, though why I should be so is a mystery to me. It
is not I who have to appear in that big hall to-morrow evening, and yet
I feel as if I were about to make my _début_.”

She ran her fingers up and down the keys, improvising a succession of
chords that sounded like a march of triumph.

“I want to sing something like that--something with trumpets in it,” she
said, with a laugh. “I feel in a mood for trumpets and drums. You
heard what Mr. Westwood said about the musical instruments of the
Gakennas--that awful drum made of rhinoceros hide pared down and
stretched between two branches? What an awful instrument of torture!”

“Shocking, indeed--nearly as bad as a pianoforte under incompetent
hands--probably worse than a brass orchestra made in Germany,” said
Agnes. “Don’t let your song be dominated by any influence less cultured
than Chopin.”

Clare went on improvising, but gradually the notes of triumph became
less pronounced, and the modulation was in a minor key. In a short time
the random fancies assumed a definite form; but it was probably the
chance playing of a few notes that suggested to her the exquisite
“Nightingale” theme, so splendidly worked out by her master--the
greatest of all Italians.

               “You and I, you and I,

                   Sisters are we, O nightingale.

               On the wings of song we fly--

                   On the wings of song we sail;

                   When our feathered pinions fail,

               Floats a feather of song on high

                   Light as thistledown in a gale.

                   You and I the heaven will scale;

               For only song can reach the sky.

                   Only the song of the nightingale;

               And we are sisters, you and I.”

She fled away on the wings of the exquisite song, startling Agnes with
the passion which she imparted to every note--a passion that waxed
greater with every phrase until at the close of the stanza it became
overwhelming. The music of the moon is embodied in every note, though
the master was too artistic to make any attempt to reproduce the
nightingale’s song. He knew that no such attempt could ever approach
success; but he knew that it was within the scope of his art to
produce upon the mind the same effect as is produced by the song of the
nightingale, and this effect he achieved.

Agnes listened with surprise at first, for the girl had never sung with
such _abandon_ before; but at the plaintive second stanza--the music
illustrated another effect of the bird’s singing--she half-closed her
eyes, and gave herself up to the delight of listening. At the third
stanza--Love Triumphant, the composer had called it--she became more
amazed than before. The theme takes the form of a duet, as the scena
was originally arranged by the composer, and now it actually appeared to
Agnes as if the tenor part was being sung as well as the soprano, in the
room--no, not in the room, but in the distance--outside the house.

She raised her head and listened eagerly. There could be no doubt about
it--some one was singing at the window the tenor part of the duet.



CHAPTER XXI

|CLARE was absorbed in her singing--she seemed to be quite unaware of the
fact that there was anything unusual in the introduction of the second
voice--indeed she appeared to be unconscious of everything but the
realisation of the aims of the composer.

Agnes did not make any attempt to interrupt her, and the duet went on to
its passionate close. But so soon as the last notes had died away, the
phrase was repeated, after a little pause, by the singer outside.

               “Beating against dawn’s silver door,

                   The song has fled over sea, over sea;

               Morn’s music to thee is for evermore--

                   But what is for me, love, what is for me?”

The passionate cry was repeated with startling effect. But not until the
last note had sounded did Clare spring from her seat at the piano. She
stood in the centre of the room in the attitude of an eager listener.
Her face was flushed, and her eyes were still tremulous with the tears
that evermore rushed to them when singing that song. She listened, but
no further note came from that mysterious voice. The night was silent.

The girl turned to Agnes; a little frown was on her face, but still it
was roseate, and she gave a laugh.

“I did not think that he could possibly be so great a fool,” she said,
as if communing with herself.

“A fool!” cried Agnes. “Is it possible that you know who it is that
sang? I thought that I was dreaming when I first heard that voice; and
then--but you know who it is?”

“He said he would follow me to England--to the world’s end,” laughed
Clare. “Oh, these Italians have got no idea of things--the serenade
needs an Italian sky--warmth and moonlight and the scent of orange
blossoms, and the nightingale among the pomegranates. The serenade
is natural with such surroundings; but in England, toward the end
of November--oh, the notion is only ridiculous! He will have a cold
to-morrow that may ruin his career. His tenor is of an exceptional
quality, the maestro said: it cannot stand any strain, to say nothing of
the open-air on a November night. What a fool he is!”

“You have not yet told me what his name is,” said Agnes.

“What? Surely I told you all about Ciro Rodani?”

“Some weeks ago you mentioned the fact that you had a friend of that
name, and that he had taken a part in an opera produced some time ago,
and sent you a newspaper with an account of--of his success. You did not
say that he was still in England.”

“He didn’t remain in England. He was in Paris when I last heard of him.
He must have learned from Signor Marini that I was here. The maestro is
the only one who knows my address. Oh, how silly he has been!”

Agnes threw herself back in her chair and laughed. But Clare did not
laugh--at first. On the contrary, she flushed and frowned, standing in
the middle of the room. At last she laughed in unison with Agnes, as the
latter said:

“What a pretty little romance I have come upon all at once! Ah, my
dear, I wondered how it was possible for you to remain in Italy so long
without making victims of some of that susceptible nation. Poor Signor
Rodani! But it was only natural. You studied together the most alluring
of the arts--he a tenor, you a soprano. That is how the operas are cast,
is it not? The tenor is invariably paired off with the soprano. But
alas, he is not always such a marvel of fidelity as your friend outside.
By the way, I hope he is not still in the garden. He will not form
any exaggerated idea of English hospitality if we allow him to remain
outside on so cold a night; but still, it is very late--too late for
a couple of lone women to entertain a visitor, especially when that
visitor is an operatic tenor.”

“Oh, he has gone away, you may be sure,” said Clare. “Besides, he should
know that houses in this country have knockers and bells. Why shouldn’t
he behave like a civilised person though he is a tenor?”

“I’m afraid that you’ve become sadly prosaic since you arrived in
England,” said Agnes. “Where is the romance in behaving like ordinary
people? Knockers and bells are for prosaic people; the serenade and the
guitar are for operatic tenors. I shouldn’t wonder if your friend did a
little in the guitar line also.”

“He does a great deal in it,” laughed the girl. “Thank goodness he
spared us the guitar.”

“The thought of a young man going out in cold blood to serenade a young
woman on a November night is too terrible. I only hope he does not
travel with one of those wonderful silk rope ladders which play so
important a part in the lyric stage.”

“Goodness only knows,” said Clare, shaking her head despondently. “When
there’s a romantic man at large nobody can tell what may happen.”

“Is it possible that you do not respond with the least feeling of
tenderness to such devotion?” said Agnes. “Is it possible that you have
the courage to run counter to the best established traditions in this
affair? Think of your duty as a soprano.”

“I thought that I had given him a sufficient answer long ago,” said
Clare, frowning. “He has fancied himself in love with a score of the
girls who sang duets with him. Girls, did I say? Why, I heard that he
was continually at the feet of Madame Scherzo before he saw me, and
the Scherzo has sons older than he is, and besides--well, she isn’t any
longer what you’d call slim.”

“No, she wasn’t even slim when I was a girl,” said Agnes. “But, my dear,
you must remember that a tenor is a tenor.”

“Somebody once said that a tenor was a malady,” said Clare. “I do wish
that this particular complaint had remained in Milan. Heavens! Why
should I be troubled with him just when I need to give all my thoughts
to my work? He is sure to come back to-morrow, and this time he will
ring the bell.”

“You can scarcely refuse to see him,” said Agnes. “But are you really
certain of yourself? Are you sure that you have no tender regard for
him?”

“I think I am pretty sure,” replied the girl. “I never was in the least
moved by his sighs and his prayers--I was only moved to laughter--when
he wasn’t near, of course. If I had laughed when he was present he would
have killed either me or himself.”

“The only way by which a girl can be certain that she does not love one
man is to be certain that she loves another,” said Agnes. “I wonder if
Signor Rodani has a rival?”

She glanced at Clare’s face: it was blazing. The laugh she gave was a
very uneasy one. Agnes became interested. Seeing these signs she rose
from her chair, and went across the room to the girl, laying her hands
on her shoulders, and looking searchingly down into her face. Clare,
however, declined to meet her gaze. She only glanced up for a second.
Then she turned to one side and laid a hand on the keys of the piano,
pressing them down so gently as to produce no sound.

Agnes laughed as she raised her hands from the girl’s shoulders.

“I am answered,” she said. “You have told me all that your heart has to
tell. I will ask you nothing more. Oh, I wondered how it was possible
for so sweet a girl as you to escape.”

Clare sprang to her feet and threw her arms about the neck of her
friend, hiding her roseate face on her shoulder.

“I’m afraid that you have guessed too much,” she whispered. “I did not
mean to confess anything--I have not even confessed to myself; but
you took me so by surprise. Please do not say anything about my
foolishness--it really is foolishness. You will let my secret remain a
secret--oh, you must, my dear Agnes; I tell you truly when I say that it
was a secret even to myself, until your question surprised me, so that I
could not help--But I have told you nothing--you will assume that I have
told you nothing?”

“I will assume anything you please, my dearest child,” said Agnes. “You
may trust to me to keep your secret; I will not refer to it, even to
yourself. But what about the unhappy Signor Rodani? Is he to return to
Italy without seeing you?”

“Oh, I will see him at any time,” cried Clare, making a gesture of
indifference which she had acquired in Italy. “I do not mind in the
least seeing him face to face. What have I to fear from him? There never
was any one so foolish as he is.”

“I hope he will find his way to the bell-pull,” said Agnes; “although I
frankly admit that there is much more romance in approaching the object
of one’s adoration by a serenade than by a bell-pull, still--I suppose
he would be shocked if I were to ask him to dine with us.”

“Why should you ask him to dine with us?” said Clare.

“Well, when a distinguished stranger comes to our neighbourhood”--

“He would only fancy if he were asked to dinner that I had not made up
my mind. He would think that I was merely coquetting with him--that I
was anxious to have him still hanging about; and that might spoil his
career in addition to its being very unpleasant to myself. No, let him
come: I will put him out of pain at once. I am sure that is the most
merciful course to pursue in regard to sentimental lovers who are gifted
with supersensitive tenor organs. If poor Ciro does not suffer from
his escapade to-night he may be tempted to come again upon a rainy
night--and where would he be then?”

“I am sure that you take the most merciful view of the case,” said
Agnes. “Alas! that one should be compelled to talk of the dismissal of a
lover as one talks about the lethal chamber!”

“Oh, my dear Agnes,” cried Clare, “if you had ever been one of a class
of vocalists in Italy you would not talk about a little incident such as
this is, as an equivalent to the lethal chamber. I wonder if there are
any other employments that have such an effect upon the--the--well,
let us say the nerves, as the art of singing. My experience is that a
singing class is a forcing house of the affections. I only found out
after I had been with the maestro for two years, that it was his fun to
throw all of us together so that our wits might be sharpened--that was
how he put it. What he meant was that we all sang best when we were
in love with one another. Heaven! the scenes that I have witnessed! A
_tenore robusto_ used to sharpen his knife on the stone steps so as
to be ready to cut the heart out of the _basso profundo_, who was
unfortunate enough to fancy himself in love with the _mezzo-soprano_.”

“What an interesting experience! But what a shocking old man your master
must have been!” laughed Agnes.

“Oh, he cared about nothing but to advance us in our knowledge of the
art of expressing the emotions by singing. How could we know how to
interpret a passion which we had never felt, he used to ask.”

“So he encouraged the tenor to put a fine edge on his knife, hoping that
he would have a better idea of interpreting his revenge when he had cut
the heart out of the bosom of his brother artist? Yes, I’m afraid that
though an estimable exponent of the art of vocalism, your maestro was
lacking in some of the finer principles of the moralist.”

“He took nothing into consideration except his art,” said Clare. “He
admitted to me that he liked to see his pupils miserable, for only then
could they be depended on to do justice to themselves. He made mischief
between young people only that he might study them when blazing with
revenge. He has reproduced for me an entire scena founded on a lover’s
quarrel that he himself brought about.”

“So cold-blooded an old wretch could not be imagined!” cried Agnes. “And
yet he could compose so transcendent a theme as the ‘Nightingale’! Oh,
my dear Clare, one feels that this art is a terrible thing after all.”

“I feel that I have wasted my time with Signor Marini,” said Clare.
“What would I not give now to have studied drawing as I studied
singing!”

“You are still afraid of attacking those illustrations? I wonder how the
maestro would treat your mood in his music?”

“My mood has been dealt with long ago,” cried Clare. “It is in the
opera of ‘Orféo’--the despair of Orpheus when he was longing for
the unattainable. Oh, I would make a splendid Orpheus at the present
moment.” She almost flung herself down on the piano seat and struck a
chord; but she only sang a phrase or two of the marvellous lament “Che
farô senz’ Eurydice?” Her voice was choked. She sprang from her seat
and threw herself into the sympathetic arms of her friend. Only for an
instant did she remain there. With a long kiss and a rapid “Good-night”
 she harried from the room.

Agnes was left alone to try to put a coherent interpretation upon her
mood. She commenced her task with smiles, thinking of the sentimental
young Italian who had not shrunk from the attempt to adapt a serenade
to an English November; but before long her smiles had vanished. She sat
thinking for a long time; and yet the whole sum of her thoughts found no
wider expression than the sigh which came from her as she said:

“Poor child! poor child! May she never know the truth! That is my prayer
for her to-night.”



CHAPTER XXII.

|He may come at any time,” cried Clare, after breakfast the next
morning. “But I shall be prepared for him. Why will men be so foolish?
Why should he follow me to England in the month of November? Has he no
regard for his voice? Where would he be if he failed to do the C natural
some day? And yet he is foolish enough to run the risk of ruining his
career simply for the sake of impressing me with his devotion!”

There seemed to Agnes to be a note ot hardness in the girl’s way of
speaking about her unhappy lover. Her intolerance of his devotion seemed
a trifle unkind.

“Don’t you think that he should have your sympathy, my dear?” she asked.
“Do you fancy that he is to be blamed on account of the shortcomings in
Signor Marini’s system? Surely he is more to be pitied than blamed for
falling in love with some one who refuses to respond to him?”

Clare made a little impatient movement, but in another second she became
penitent, and hung her head.

“I suppose I should be sorry for Ciro,” she said, mournfully. “Yes,
I think I do feel a little pity for him, in spite of his sentimental
foolishness. Undoubtedly the maestro was to blame. I know that it was
he who encouraged the susceptible Ciro in spite of all that I could say.
But why should the foolish boy single me out for his adoration when he
knew very well that there were four soprani and three contralti in the
class who were ready to catch the handkerchief whenever it might please
him to throw it? They all worshipped him. I could see it plainly when
he got upon his upper register, with now and again a hideous falsetto
D; and yet nothing would content him--he must lay his heart at my feet.
Those were his words; don’t fancy that they are mine.”

“Even so, you should not be too hard on him,” said Agnes. “Ah, my dear
Clare, constancy and devotion in a man are not to be lightly considered.
They may be part of a woman’s nature--it seems to be taken for granted
that they are part of a woman’s nature; but they certainly are no part
of a man’s. That is why I am disposed to say a good word for our friend
with that sweet tenor voice.”

“What am I to do?” cried Clare. “I must either tell him the truth--that
I am quite indifferent to him; or make him believe what is untrue--that
I am not without a secret _tendresse_ for him. Now, surely I should be
doing a great injustice to him--yes, and to the score of young women who
worship him--if I were to encourage him to fancy that some day I might
listen to his prayer.”

“There is no question, my Clare, as to what course you should pursue,”
 said Agnes. “All that I would urge upon you is not to hurt him more than
is absolutely necessary.”

“You are thinking of the lethal chamber again,” said Clare. “Never mind;
what you say is quite true, and I shall endeavor to treat him so gently
that he will leave me feeling that he has been complimented rather than
humiliated. After all, he means to pay to me the greatest compliment in
his power, poor fellow.”

“And you will show him that you appreciate it?”

“I will do my best.”

Before they had had their little chat the bell sounded.

“I knew that he would become prosaic enough to pull the bell like an
ordinary mortal,” said Clare. “Of course you will remain by my side,
Agnes. Even a sentimental Italian cannot expect to enter a lady’s house
surreptitiously.”

It was not, however, Signor Rodani who was shown into the room, but Mr.
Westwood. He was wearing a great fur coat, and was actually on his
way to the railway station. He was to read his paper to the Society
at night, and had merely looked in at The Knoll to say good-bye to his
friends.

This was the explanation he offered to account for his visit at so
irregular an hour. He had under his arm a small case containing all
the trophies which he had succeeded in bringing from the land of his
captivity--the small bow, the poisoned arrows, and the seeds of the
linen plant. The bow and arrows were in a glazed case, which was locked.
The more precious seeds were carefully wrapped in wadding. Neither Agnes
nor Clare had seen these trophies before, though Claude Westwood had
frequently alluded to them after that first day on which he had spoken
about his travels through the wonderful forest.

“I shall make a very poor display on the platform, I fear,” said he. “I
remember the first African lecture at which I was present. The explorer
appeared on the platform surrounded by his elephant rifles, his lions’
skins, his elephants’ tusks, his rhinoceros’ skulls, his countless
antlers. He made an imposing show--very different from what I shall make
with my half-dozen arrows and my few seeds. I’m afraid that the people
will take me for a fraud. The idea of a man going to Central Africa, and
returning after a nine years’ residence, with nothing better than these,
will seem a little foolish in many people’s eyes.”

Clare was indignant at the suggestion that any one would venture to
underrate the achievements of an explorer who had come through the most
terrible parts of Africa with no arms that would give him an advantage
over the natives. And as for the trophies, what were all the discoveries
of all the explorers in comparison with the seeds of the linen plant,
she asked.

“I knew that I could trust to you to say something encouraging to me,”
 cried Claude. “That is why I could not go up to London without first
coming to bid you good-bye, and to get you to wish me good luck.”

“Good luck--good luck--good luck!” said Clare, as he wrapped up his case
of arrows. “Of course, we wish you all the good luck in the world; the
fact being that our fortunes are bound up with yours. Was it not Agnes
and I who insisted on your promising to write that book?”

“I am quite content that you should look on our fortunes as bound up
together,” said he, slowly and with curious emphasis. “Our fortunes
are bound up together”--he had taken her hand, and continued holding it
while he was speaking. “Our fortunes--what is my fortune must be yours.”

“That is quite true, for am not I your illustrator?” cried Clare. “The
book will be a success, and no matter how bad the pictures may be, they
will be part of a successful book.”

He looked at her for a few moments and then said good-bye to her and
Agnes. Agnes had not opened her lips throughout the interview. She
could not help thinking, as she watched him go down the drive, of the
marvellous change that had come over him since the day of his return to
Brackenshire--the day when he had paid her that visit during which he
had been able to talk of nothing except the man who had murdered his
brother. A few weeks had been sufficient to awaken the ambition which
she had thought was dead. It seemed to her that he had just left the
room, saying the very words that he had spoken years before:

“I will make a name worthy of your acceptance.”

She stood at the window of the room so lost in her own reflections that
she did not hear the ringing of the bell or the announcement of the new
visitor. She only became aware of the fact that Clare was talking to
some one in the room. She supposed that Claude had returned for some
purpose, and was quite surprised to see the half-bent figure of an
under-sized man, who wore an exceedingly neat moustache, and a tie with
long flying ends.

He remained for a long time in the attitude of some one giving an
exaggerated parody of an overpolite foreigner.

“This is Signor Rodani,” said Clare: and the young man straightened
himself for a second, and bowed once again, even lower than before. And
now he had both his hands pressed together over the region of his heart.
Agnes felt as if she were once again in the act of taking a lesson from
her dancing master, it seemed a poor thing after such a flourish to
inquire if Signor Rodani found the day cold.

She spoke in French, that being the language in which Clare had
presented him. The young man bowed once again--this was the third time
to Agnes’s certain knowledge, though she fancied he must have indulged
in more than a nod before she had become aware of his presence--and
begged leave to assure Madame--he called her Madame--that the weather
was very charming. She then ventured to remark that now and again in
England the latter days of November were fine, and then inquired if he
meant to winter in England; at which he gave a slight start, and Agnes
felt sure his lips shaped themselves to pronounce the word “Diable!” He
did not utter the word, however; he only gave a smile and a shrug,
and said that a winter in England was not in his mind at that moment;
still--it depended.

She interpreted his smile and his shrug into a sort of acknowledgment
that if it were made worth his while he might even be induced to
consider the possibility of his wintering in England.

She then saw him looking imploringly but politely at Clare, and it
occurred to her that the sooner he was left alone for the girl to
explain to him whatever matters might stand in need of an explanation,
the more satisfactory it would be to every one. So without telling
him how greatly she had enjoyed his singing of the tenor part in the
“Nightingale” duet the previous evening, she made a very feeble excuse
for leaving the room. She had an idea that Signor Rodani would not be
severely exacting in regard to the validity of her excuses: he would
be generous enough to accept as ample any pretext she might offer for
leaving him alone with Clare.

When he straightened himself after bowing her to the door, he allowed
Agnes to perceive that Clare was certainly a full head taller than he
was.

For the next quarter of an hour any one passing the drawing-room door
might have heard the sound of a duet (_parlando_) being delivered in
the musical Italian tongue within that room. As a matter of fact some
impassioned phrases made themselves heard all over the house. Then there
was heard a quick opening of the door; a few words of bitter but highly
musical upbraiding, sounded in a man’s, though not a very manly, voice,
and before the butler had time to get to the hall-door the hall-door was
opened, and Agnes saw the figure of Signor Rodani on the drive. He was
hurrying away with a considerable degree of impetuosity, and he held a
brilliant coloured handkerchief to his eyes.

“He is gone,” said Clare, when Agnes returned to the room in the course
of the next half-hour.

“I saw him on the drive,” said Agnes. She noticed that Clare kept her
head carefully averted for some time; but when she happened to glance
round, Agnes saw that she had been weeping. The handkerchief of Signor
Rodani was not the only one that had been requisitioned for the purpose
of removing the traces of tears. She was pleased to observe that little
tint of red beneath the girl’s lashes: it told her that she was not so
hard-hearted as she had tried to make Agnes believe.

“He is gone, so that nothing further need be said about him, except
that, if he gets within observing distance of the Maestro Marini within
the next week or so--I suppose it will take a few weeks to bring him
to himself again--he may make the good maestro aware of some of the
shortcomings in the working of his system,” said Agnes.

“I wonder it never occurred to us to go up to London to hear the paper
read at the Geographical Society to-night,” said Clare; and Agnes was
startled at the suddenness with which she flung aside Signor Rodani as a
topic and began to talk of Mr. Westwood.

“We could scarcely go without an invitation, and Mr. Westwood certainly
never offered to procure tickets for us,” said Agnes.

When they had nearly finished their dinner that night, the French clock
on the bracket chimed the half hour. Clare dropped the spoon with which
she was eating her jelly.

“Half-past eight; he will be beginning to read his paper now,” she said.
“How I wish I were at the Albert Hall! I can hear the people cheering
him--I suppose they will cheer him, Agnes?”

“If you can hear them cheering, my dear, you may take it for granted
they are cheering him,” said Agnes, smiling across the table at her.

Clare laughed.

“Oh yes, they will cheer,” she said.

“I daresay they are about it now,” said Agnes. “I don’t quite know how
long the people as a rule keep up their enthusiasm to the cheering point
in regard to a man who has achieved something. I believe they have been
known to cheer a great soldier for an entire month after his return from
adding a country about the size of France to the Empire. They may cheer
Mr. Westwood, although he has been at home for more than a month. I
don’t think, however, that he would have been wise to keep in seclusion
for many more days. An Arctic traveller who is likely to turn up shortly
will soon shoulder him aside.”

“Oh, Arctic exploration is a very poor thing compared with African,”
 said Clare. “What good was ever got by going to the North Pole, I should
like to know?”

“The person who went very close to it made as much money during the year
after his return as should keep him very comfortably for the rest of
his days, I hear,” said Agnes. “The North Pole did him some good, if his
excursion was a complete failure from a scientific standpoint. However,
the people cheered him for coming back safe and sound, and I think that
for the same reason you may assume that they are cheering Mr. Westwood
at the present moment.”

And so they were. The London newspaper which was received the next
morning made at least that fact plain. Clare was waiting at the hall
door to receive it from the hand of the messenger from the book-stall,
and she was tearing off the cover as Agnes came down the stairs to
breakfast, and before the coffee had been poured out Clare had found
the series of headings that marked the report of Mr. Westwood’s lecture,
delivered in the Royal Albert Hall, at the invitation of the Royal
Geographical Society.

“Here it is,” she cried. “Mr. Westwood at the Albert Hall--Thrilling
Narrative--the Hebrew Ritual in Central Africa--The Linen Plant. But
they only give three columns to the lecture while they have devoted
seven to--to--you will not believe it--but there is the heading:
‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer on Bimetallism’--just think of
it--Bimetallism! As if any one in the world cares a scrap about
Bimetallism! Seven columns! What a foolish paper! But the cheers were
all right. ‘The intrepid explorer on coming forward was greeted by
enthusiastic cheers from the large and distinguished audience who had
assembled to do him honour. Several minutes elapsed before Mr. Westwood
was permitted to proceed with his paper.’ Oh, we were not mistaken; the
cheers were all right.”

“Your coffee will be cold,” remarked Agnes.



CHAPTER XXIII.

|Some days had passed before Claude Westwood was able to return to the
Court. He seemed now to be as anxious for publicity as on his landing
in England he had been to avoid it. He was daily with Messrs. Shekels &
Shackles completing his arrangements with them for the production of his
book, so as to preclude the need for another visit until he had written
the last page of the manuscript. He did not want to be disturbed,
he said, while engaged at the work; and Messrs. Shekels & Shackles
cordially agreed with him in thinking that he should be allowed to give
all his attention to the actual writing of his narrative, without being
worried by any of the technical incidents of presenting it in book form
to the public.

They urged upon him the advisability of losing no moment of time in
settling down to his work. Already a valuable month had been thrown
away, they reminded him; and although, happily, the reports from the
North were to the effect that the winter had set in with such severity
as to make it practically impossible for Mr. Glasnevin, the Arctic
explorer, to free himself from his ice-prison before the spring, so that
his formidable rivalry would not interfere with the popularity of Mr.
Westwood, still they had heard that another gentleman might be expected
any day from the Amazon. This gentleman, in addition to a narrative
of two years’ residence among the Indians of the Pampas, would, it was
reported, be able to give the public photographs of the injuries which
had been inflicted on him by his captors, who were known to be the most
ingenious torturers in the world. They feared that if this gentleman got
home during the winter his arrival would seriously interfere with the
sale of Mr. Westwood’s book. They could only hope, however, that the
Foreign Office would take up the case of the traveller at the Amazon,
for that would mean the indefinite postponement of his liberation, so
that Mr. Westwood would have the field to himself.

Without waiting to say whether or not he took the same bright and cheery
view of the freezing in of the Arctic explorer or of the operation of
the British consular system in regard to the tortured gentleman in South
America, Mr. Westwood promised to do his best for his optimistic if
anxious publishers, and so departed.

He regretted, however, that he could not see his way to dictate to a
shorthand writer a dozen or so interviews with himself which could be
judiciously distributed among the newspapers at intervals, so as to keep
his name prominently before a public who are ever ready to throw over
one idol for another.

It was probably his strong sense of what was due to his publishers,
that caused him to hasten to The Knoll on the very day of his return to
Brackenshire. It was perfectly plain from the comments on his lecture,
which had already appeared and were appearing daily in the newspapers,
that the discoveries made by him in Central Africa had become the topic
of the hour. Why, even Brackenhurst had awakened to find that a famous
man was residing in its neighbourhood, and when one’s native place is
brought to acknowledge one’s fame, which all the rest of the world is
talking about, one may rightly feel that one is famous. Therefore, as
Mr. Westwood explained to Agnes and Clare, it was necessary for him to
start upon his book at once.

He wasted as much time explaining this as would have been sufficient
to write a chapter; and in the end he did nothing except invite them to
dine at the Court on the following night, in order that they might talk
more fully on the question of the need for haste.

“Do you think that it is necessary to waste time discussing the
advisability of not wasting time?” asked Agnes; and immediately Clare
turned her large eyes reproachfully upon her; there was more of sorrow
than reproach in Claude’s eyes as he looked at her. She met their eyes
without changing colour.

“Oh, of course, I know that I am quite outside the plans of you
workers,” she continued. “It is somewhat presumptuous for me to assume
the position of your adviser on a purely literary question, so I shall
be very happy to dine at the Court.”

“Thank you,” said Claude. “I have been out of touch for so long with
English society I have almost forgotten their traditions; but I don’t
think that I am wrong in assuming that no work of any importance,
either charitable or social, can be begun without a dinner. Now, without
venturing to suggest that our work--Clare’s and mine--is one of supreme
importance, I do not think that it would be wise for us to ignore the
custom which tradition has almost made sacred--especially when it is
in sympathy with our own inclinations. We’ll take care not to bore you,
Agnes,” he added. “I met Sir Percival Hope just now, and he promised to
be of our party.”

“Now!” cried Clare, in a tone that seemed to suggest that Agnes could
not possibly have further ground for objection.

Agnes raised her hands.

“I am overwhelmed with remorse for having made any suggestion that was
not quite in keeping with your inclinations,” she said.

She and Clare accordingly drove to the Court on the next evening, and
found Sir Percival in one of the drawing-rooms talking to his host on
the subject of the recent poaching in the coverts of the Court and also
on Sir Percival’s property. The poachers were getting more daring every
day, it appeared, and Ralph Dangan’s vigilance seemed overmatched by
their cunning so far as Sir Percival’s preserves were concerned. Sir
Percival said that his new gamekeeper accounted for the recent outbreak
on the ground that neither of the proprietors had displayed the sporting
tastes of the previous holders of the property, and the poachers thought
it a pity that the pheasants should become too numerous.

Claude smiled as Sir Percival made him acquainted with his late
gamekeeper’s theory.

“It is very obliging on their part to undertake the thinning down of my
birds,” said he, “and if I could rely on their discretion in the matter
all would be well. I am afraid, however, that one cannot take their
judgment for granted; so that whenever Dangan thinks that our forces
should be joined to make a capture of the gang, I’ll give instructions
for my keepers to coôperate with him.”

At dinner, too, the conversation, instead of flowing in literary
channels, was never turned aside from the question of poaching and
poachers. Sir Percival’s experiences in Australia had no more changed
his views than Claude Westwood’s experiences of Central Africa had
altered his, on the subject of the English crime of poaching.

Agnes had not been within the house since the week preceding the tragedy
that had taken place in the grounds surrounding it. She had had no idea
that she would be so deeply affected on entering the drawing-room.
But the instant she found herself in the midst of the beautiful old
furniture that had been familiar to her for so many years, she was
nearly overcome by the crowd of recollections that were brought back to
her. She put out her hand nervously to a sofa and grasped the back of it
for an instant before moving round it to seat herself.

She felt herself staggering, but hoped that no one had noticed her
apprehension, and when she had seated herself she closed her eyes. It
seemed to her that she was in a dream. She heard the sound of voices,
but not the voices of any one present, only the voices of those who were
far away; and it seemed to her that among them was the Claude Westwood
whom she had known and loved so many years ago. She had suddenly become
possessed of the strange dream fancy that the man who had taken her hand
on her entering the room was the man who had killed both Dick Westwood
and his brother Claude.

Happily the conversation was only about the poachers, so that she could
not be expected to take part in it; and during the five minutes that
elapsed before dinner was announced, she partly recovered herself. But
the shiver which came over her when she opened her eyes was noticed by
Clare.

“What, you are cold?” she whispered. “Come to the fire; you can pretend
to be pointing out the carving of the mantel to me.”

Agnes shook her head and smiled. She knew that just at that moment
she had not strength to walk to the fireplace, and she did not
under-estimate her own powers; when, however, the butler appeared at
the door, and Claude came in front of her, she was able to rise and walk
into the diningroom by his side.

After dinner Clare showed the greatest possible interest in the
drawing-rooms and their contents, and Agnes, who was, of course,
familiar with everything, told her much about the furniture and the
pictures. For a century and a half the Westwoods had been a wealthy
family, and many treasures had been accumulated by the successive owners
of the Court. But there was one picture on an easel which Agnes had not
seen before. It was a portrait of Dick Westwood, and it had been painted
by a great painter.

Agnes and Clare were standing opposite to it when Claude and Sir
Percival entered the room; they had only remained for a few minutes over
their wine. Claude came behind Agnes, saying:

“You did not see that until now? I am sure that it is an excellent
likeness, and the face is not, after all, so different from poor Dick’s
as I remember him.”

“It is a perfect likeness,” said Agnes. “But I cannot understand how you
got it. It is not the sort of portrait that could be painted only from a
photograph.”

“He did not tell you that he was giving sittings to the painter when he
was last in London?” said Claude.

“He never mentioned it,” said Agnes.

“I brought it with me from the painter’s studio the day before
yesterday,” said Claude. “He wrote to me the day before I left for
London, explaining that Dick had given him a few sittings in May, and
had promised to return to the studio in July. He said he should like me
to see the portrait in its unfinished condition. Judge of my feelings
when I found myself facing that fine work. I carried it away with me at
once.” Then he turned to Clare, saying, “Look at it; it is the portrait
of the best fellow that ever lived--that ever died by the hand of a
wretch whom he had never injured--a wretch who is alive to-day.”

Agnes moved away from the picture with Sir Percival; but Clare remained
by the side of Claude looking at the face on the easel.

“How you loved him!” Agnes heard her say in a low voice.

“Loved him--loved him!” said Claude Westwood. He gave a little laugh as
he took a step or two away from the picture. “Loved him! I love him so
dearly that”--

Agnes looked with eager eyes across the room. She waited for Clare to
say a word of pity for the man whose life had been spared, who had
been given time to repent of his dreadful deed, but that word remained
unspoken.

For the second time that evening a shiver went through Agnes. Sir
Percival watched her as she watched the others across the room. There
was a long interval of silence before Claude began to talk to the
girl In a low voice, and shortly afterwards went with her through the
_portière_ that divided the two drawing-rooms.

“I want Clare to see the picture of Dick and myself taken when he was
ten and I was eight--you know it, Agnes,” he said, as he followed Clare.
The next minute the sound of his voice and Clare’s came from the other
room.

Sir Percival had been examining the case containing the poisoned arrows
which lay on a table; but now he stood before Agnes.

“You have seen it,” he said. “I know that you have seen it as well as I.
Is it too late to send her away?”

Agnes started.

“It cannot be possible that you, too, know it,” she said. “Oh no; you
cannot have become acquainted with that horrible thing.”

“I must confess that I never suspected it before this evening,” said he.
“But what I have seen here has been enough to tell me all that there is
to be told.”

She stared at him in silence for a few moments. “What have you been
told?” she asked at last. “You cannot have failed to learn the truth,”
 said he. “You cannot have failed to see that Claude Westwood is in love
with that girl.”

With a little cry she had sprung to her feet and grasped his arm.

“No, no; not that--not that!” she whispered. “Oh no; that would be too
horrible!”

“It is horrible to think that a man can forget all that he has
forgotten. Good heavens! After eight years! Was ever woman so true? Was
ever man so false?”

“I have been blind--blind! Whatever I may have thought, I never imagined
this. He met her aboard the steamer--he must have become attached to her
before he saw her with me.”

She was speaking in a low voice and without looking at him. He remained
silent. She walked across the room with nervous steps. Several times she
passed and repassed the picture on the easel, her fingers twitching at
the lace of her dress.

Gradually then her steps became firmer and more deliberate. The sound of
a rippling laugh came from the other room. She stopped suddenly in her
restless pacing of the floor. She looked at the portrait on the easel,
and after a short space, she too laughed.

“It is a just punishment!” she said. “He loves her and she loves
another--she confessed it to me. He will be punished, and no one will
pity him.”

Then Clare reappeared in the arch from which the curtain had been drawn,
and Claude followed her.

Agnes glanced first at the girl, then at the man. She looked toward Sir
Percival and smiled.



CHAPTER XXIV.

|It seemed to her that there was something marvellously appropriate in
the punishment which was to be his, and she would not stretch out a hand
to avert it. He who had made her to suffer for her constancy to him was
about to suffer for his cruelty to her. Her love had brought suffering
to her, and it was surely the justice of Heaven which had decreed that
his new love was to mean suffering to himself.

She could not feel the least pity for him; on the contrary, she felt
ready to exult over him--to laugh in his face when the blow had fallen
upon him. She felt that she should like to see him crushed to the
earth--overwhelmed when he fancied that his hour of triumph had come.
Only this night did the desire to see him punished take possession of
her. She wondered how it was that she had been so patient in the face of
the wrong which he had done to her. When she had flung down and trampled
on the ivory miniature of him which had stood on her table, she had wept
over the fragments, and the next day she had been filled with remorse.
She had seen him many times since that day, but no reproach had passed
her lips, for no reproach had been in her heart. She had merely thought
of him as having ceased to love her whom he had promised to love. But
now when she stood alone in her room, knowing that he had not merely
forsaken her but had come to love another woman, her hands clenched and
her heart burned with the desire of revenge.

A few hours before, she had been shocked by his desire to be revenged
upon the wretch who had killed his brother; but she did not think of
this as she paced her room in the sway of that sudden passion which had
come to her. She felt exultant in the thought of his coming humiliation.
It was the justice of Heaven overtaking him. She would laugh in his face
when the blow fell upon him.

An hour had transformed her. She had flung her patience and her
forbearance to the winds. She hated herself for the folly of her
fidelity all those years; but she did not think of Clare with any
feeling of jealousy. On the contrary, she felt that the girl was an
ally. Without Clare the man would escape all punishment; but with her as
an ally he would be crushed.

She was too excited to sleep when at last she got into bed. The rush of
this new, strange passion carried her along, and she experienced that
positive pleasure of yielding to it, which a release from all trammels
of civilisation brings for a time to most people of a healthy nature.
She had in a moment been released from the strain which she had put
upon herself for so tong. She felt that she was a woman at last--a woman
carried along by the most natural of woman’s impulses: a passion for
revenge. After all, such constancy as had been hers was an agony and not
a pleasure. Claude Westwood had spoken the truth: it should be taken for
granted that after the lapse of a certain time the validity of a promise
made in love ceased.

She told him so much the next day, when he called at The Knoll to see
Clare. The girl had gone to Brackenhurst to try to obtain some materials
in which she had found her store deficient--a special sort of tracing
paper, the need for which Claude had told her of or the previous
evening.

Agnes noticed how his face clouded when he learned that Clare was not in
the house. She wondered how it was that she had never before seen signs
of his new attachment. A few minutes had been sufficient to make Sir
Percival acquainted with the truth. And yet it was generally assumed
that in such matters women were much more sensitive than men. Could it
be that the womanliness in her nature had been blunted by her unnatural
constancy?

This was her sudden thought on noticing the disappointment on his face.

“You will wait for her?” she said. “She has been gone some time; she
is sure to return very shortly. Brackenhurst has not so many shops as
should occupy her for long.”

“Perhaps I had better wait,” said he. “I want to make a start upon the
book. My shorthand writers are coming to me to-morrow.”

“They will save you a great deal of trouble, I am sure,” said Agnes.
Their conversation could not be too commonplace, she thought. “You will
take a seat near the fire? I am so sorry that Clare is out.”

There was a considerable pause before he said: “After all, perhaps it
is as well for her to be out. The fact is, my dear Agnes, I have been
wishing to--to--well, to have a chat with you alone about Clare--yes,
and other matters. The present is as good an opportunity as I am likely
to have.”

“What can you possibly want to say to me?” said Agnes, raising her
eyebrows.

“What? Well, apart from the fact that you and I were once--nay, we
are still the best of friends, I think it but right to tell you that
I--I--oh, what a strange thing is Fate!”

“Is it not?” said Agnes, with a little smile. “Yes, I have often
wondered that that remark was not made by some one long ago. Perhaps it
was.” The note of sarcasm was scarcely perceptible in her words; and yet
it seemed as if he detected it. He gave a quick glance toward her; but
she looked quite serious.

“Was it not Fate that brought her here after I fancied I had seen her
for the last time?” said he.

“Would it not save you a great deal of trouble--a good deal of stoic
philosophy, if you were to come to the point at once and tell me that
you fell in love with Clare Tristram when you were sailing down the
Mediterranean with her by your side, that you were overjoyed to see
her here, and that, although quite six weeks have passed, your constant
heart has not changed in its affection for her? Is not that what you
mean to say to me?”

“What, have I worn my heart upon my sleeve?” he said, giving a little
laugh. “Have you read my secret?”

“Your secret? Do you really fancy that there is any one in this
neighbourhood to whom your secret is still a secret? I’m convinced
that the servants have been talking about nothing else for the past
fortnight. Jevons, the butler, is too well trained to give any sign, but
you may depend upon it that the housemaids nudge each other every time
you call. You see, they know that you cannot possibly be calling to see
me, and therefore they assume--Psha! what’s the need to talk more
about it? I can understand everything there is to be understood in this
matter, except why you should come to tell me about it. What concern is
it of mine?”

He looked at her rather reproachfully. He was not accustomed to hear her
talk in such a way. She had accustomed him to gentleness and words in
which there was no tone of reproach. He felt disappointed in her now.

“I felt sure that you would be at least interested in--in”--

“In--shall we call it the wondrous workings of Fate? If you think that I
am not interested in Fate you are greatly mistaken.”

“I don’t like to hear you talk in that strain, Agnes. It jars upon me.
You were always so gracious--so sweet.”

“How do you know what I was?”

“Cannot I remember you long ago?”

“I do believe we did meet now and again before you left England. What a
memory you have, to be sure!”

He rose from his chair and stood beside her.

“My dear Agnes,” he said, “I remember all the past. Were ever any two
people so unfortunate as we were? I have often wondered if we were
really in love with each other. I know that I, for one, fancied that we
were. If all had gone well and I had returned at the end of the year I
meant to spend at the Zambesi, we--well, we might have got married. But,
of course, it would be absurd to fancy that, after so many years.... as
I told you when I returned, we are physically different people to-day
from what we were some years ago, and in affairs of the heart nature
decrees that there is a Statute of Limitations. It would be cruel, as
well as unjust, for a man to hold a woman to a compact made nearly nine
years before--made, be it remembered, by practically a different woman
with a different man. That is why I regarded you as free from every
obligation to me. If you had got married after I had been absent for
two years, do you fancy that I would have blamed you? Oh no; I have too
strong a sense of what is just and reasonable.”

“Will you sell your book at thirty-two shillings for the two volumes?”
 she asked after a long pause. “I read in some paper the other day that
people will pay thirty shillings for a book, if they want it, quite as
readily as they will pay ten.”

He was too startled to be able to reply to her. The inconsequence of her
question was certainly startling. After the lapse of a minute, however,
he had sufficiently recovered himself to be able to say:

“Yes, I believe that thirty-two shillings will be the published price.
Personally I cannot understand how people should want to buy the book in
such numbers as will make it pay; but I suppose Shekels & Shackles are
the best judges of their own business.”

He thought that, on the whole, he had reason to be satisfied at the
result of their interview. He had for some days an uneasy feeling that
before he could confess to Clare that he loved her, he should make a
further attempt to explain to Agnes--well, whatever there was left for
him to explain. He had now and again felt that it might actually be
possible that she expected him to regard the compact made between
them nearly nine years before, as still binding on him. This would,
of course, be rather absurd on her part; but, however absurd women and
their whims might be, they were capable at times of causing men a good
deal of annoyance; and thus he had come to the conclusion that it would
be wise for him to have a few words of reasonable explanation with her.
He had great hopes that she would be amenable to reason; she had always
been a sensible woman, her only lapse being in regard to this matter
of fancying--if she did fancy--that in love there is no Statute of
Limitations.

Now and again, however, he thought that perhaps he was doing her an
injustice in attributing to her such a theory. She might, after all,
look on the matter from the same standpoint as he did; still, he thought
it might be as well to define as fully as he could his views in regard
to their relative positions.

Well, a very few minutes had been sufficient for his purpose, and here
he was, talking with a light heart about the peculiarities of the public
in the matter of book-buying.

He had not exhausted this interesting topic when Clare appeared, ready
to take her instructions regarding the first of the illustrations which
she was to draw. He had long ago described to her so thoroughly the
characteristics of several of the wild tribes among whom he had
lived, she could have no difficulty in dealing with some of the scenes
pictorially. He jotted down for her the particulars of the various
incidents which he thought should be illustrated, and within half an
hour she was hard at work.

When he called the next day he was delighted with the progress which
she had made. She worked in a bold, free style which was certainly very
effective, and he was unable to suggest any alteration in her pictures
of the natives. So well had she remembered his instructions that she had
never once confused the head-dresses of the Subaki warriors with those
of the Aponakis. He told her that in the morning she would receive from
one of his secretaries the type-written copy of the chapters which he
had already dictated to the shorthand writers. For the remainder of the
day he would be in the hands of his cartographer, for, as a matter
of course, the volumes were to contain maps of those portions of the
interior which he had discovered.

Agnes watched him leaning over her lovingly as she worked at one of her
drawings. She watched him and smiled. She knew that the more deeply he
fell in love with the girl, the greater would be the blow that he should
receive when she told him that she loved another man. Only once the
thought occurred to her that perhaps Clare might be carried away by
constant association with him, and by the glamour of the countless
newspaper articles that appeared on the subject of his work as an
explorer; so when they were going upstairs that night she said:

“You made a very pretty confession to me a few days ago, my Clare.”

“A confession?”

“On the day you were visited by your friend, Signor Rodani.

“Oh!”

The girl’s face had become rosy in a moment. “Does your heart remain
faithful? You do not think you are likely to change?”

“Oh, never, never!” cried Clare. “I may be foolish, but if so, I must
remain foolish. Ah, my dear Agnes, my confession was forced from me--I
spoke on the impulse of the moment; but I was not the less certain of
myself.”

“I think you are a girl to be depended on,” said Agnes. “You are not
one of those whose fancies change with every new face that comes before
them. Good-night, my dear child.”

She was now assured of his punishment. As she thought of the way he
had come to her, smiling as he repeated that phrase which he had
invented--it had become quite a favorite phrase with him--that about the
Statute of Limitations in affairs of love, she felt that no punishment
could be too great for him. He had talked of Fate in extenuation of his
faithlessness. She had heard of people throwing all the blame that was
due to themselves upon Fate. When a pretty face comes between a man and
his duty he calls it Fate and yields without a struggle.

Well, he would soon find out that Fate had not yet done with him.

Two days later Clare got a letter from him asking her if she would see
him immediately after lunch. He had got some technical instructions to
give to her from the publishers; but he had been so closely occupied
with his secretaries, he had not been able to call at The Knoll the
previous day.

Immediately after lunch Agnes found it necessary to go in haste to the
village; so that Clare was left alone in the room which had been turned
into a studio.

When Agnes returned in a couple of hours, she found the girl, not in the
studio, but in the drawingroom. The wintry twilight had almost dwindled
away. The room was nearly dark. The gleam of a white handkerchief drew
her eyes to the sofa, upon which Clare was lying, her face upon one of
the cushions.

“Why, what on earth is the matter?” she cried. “Why are you lying there?
What--tears?”

Clare sprang to her feet, touched her eyes once more with her
handkerchief, and then flung it away. In another instant she was in
Agnes’s arms.

“Oh, my dearest,” she cried, “I am only crying because I am so happy.
Never was any one so happy before since the beginning of the world. He
has been here.”

“Who has been here--Mr. Westwood?”

“Of course. Who else was there to come? Who else is worth talking about
in the world? He has been here, and he loves me--he loves me--he loves
me! Only think of it.”

“And you sent him away?”

“Not until I had told him all that was in my heart.”

“You told him that you loved another man?”

“How could I do that? How could I tell him a falsehood? I told him
that I loved him; that I had always loved him, and that it would be
impossible for me to love any one else.”



CHAPTER XXV

|NOW you know why it is I was crying,” said Clare, and as she spoke she
laughed. “Oh, I am crying because I am the happiest girl in the world,”
 she continued. “Was there ever any one so fortunate in the world? I
don’t believe it. I thought that the idea of my hoping that he would
ever come to love me was too ridiculous--and it is ridiculous, you know,
when you think of it--when you think of me--me--a mere nobody--and of
him--him--the man whose name is in every one’s mouth. Ah! I think it
must be some curious dream--no, I feel that I have read something like
it somewhere--there is a memory of King Cophetua in the story. Was he
here--was he really here? Why do you stare at me in that way? Ah, I
suppose you think that I have suddenly gone mad? Well, I don’t blame
you. The whole story sounds absurd, doesn’t it?”

Agnes had taken a step or two back from the girl and was gazing at
her. The expression that was on her face as she gazed had something of
amazement in it and something of fear. Her lips moved as if she were
trying to speak; but at first her words failed to come. When, at last,
they became audible, there was a gasp between each word.

“You said--you told me--twice--yes, twice--that you loved some one
else--some one--Oh, my God! I never guessed that it was he--he”--“Why,
who else should it be? When he came beside me aboard the steamer--yes,
on the very first day we met--I knew that my fate was bound up with
his.”

“Fate--Fate--that was his word, too. Fate!”

“I felt it. I felt that even if he had never thought of me I should
still be forced to follow him till I died. And how strange it was--but
then, everything about love is a mystery--he told me just now, in this
very room, that he had just the same feeling. He said he felt that
Fate”--

“Ah, Fate again--Fate!”

“And why not? My dearest Agnes, there is a good Fate as well as an evil
one. How unjust men are! When anything unhappy takes place, they cry out
against Fate: but when anything good happens, they never think of giving
Fate the credit of it! We are going to change all that. I have already
begun. I feel that I could compose the Fate theme--something joyous--ah,
what did I say the other evening?--something with trumpets in it--that
is what my Fate theme would be: pæans of joy rushing through it.”

“That is what the lover thinks, the lover who has not got the eyes
of Fate--the eyes that see the end of the love and not merely the
beginning.”

“But love--love--our love--can have no end. Love is immortal; if it were
anything less it would cease to be love.”

“Poor child! Poor child! You have fathomed the mystery of Fate, and now
you would fathom the mystery of Love. You will tell me in a few minutes
all there is to be known of Love and Fate.”

“My dearest Agnes, your words have a chili about them, or is it that I
am sensitive at this moment? A whisper of an east wind over a garden of
June roses--those were your words--I am the June roses. Oh no; I am not
in the least conceited--only June roses.”

She laughed as she made a gesture of dancing down the room.

Agnes’s gesture was not one of merriment. She put her hands up to her
face with a little cry that turned the girl’s rapture of life to stone.

“What--what can you mean?” she said, after a long silence.

Agnes looked at her for a moment, then turned away from her, and walked
slowly and with bowed head to the fire.

“Punishment--his punishment--I meant it to be his punishment,” she
whispered. “I did not think of her--I did not mean her to share it--she
is guiltless.”

She bent her head down upon the coloured marbles of the high
mantelpiece, and looked into the fire.

Clare came behind her, laying a hand carelessly upon her shoulder.

Agnes started and shrank from the touch of her hand.

“Do not caress me,” she sad. “I was to blame. It was I who should have
seen all that every one else must have seen; I should have seen and
warned you. I should have sent you away--taken you away before it
was too late. I should have stood between you and him. But I was
selfish--blinded by my own selfishness.”

“Why should you have stood between us?” asked the girl, with a puzzled
expression. “Oh, you cannot possibly be talking about him and me: no one
in one’s senses would talk about standing between us. Heavens above! Ah,
tell me that you do not mean him and me--to stand between Claude and me?
I warn you before you speak that nothing that lives--no power of life
or death--shall stand between us. If he were to die I should die too. I
know what love is.”

“And I know what Fate is. My poor child, my poor child! You have done
no wrong. You are wholly innocent. If you go away you may still save
yourself--yourself and him.”

The girl laughed again.

“For God’s sake don’t laugh; let me entreat of you,” cried Agnes, almost
piteously.

“My poor Agnes,” said Clare, “I pity you if you have any thought that
you can separate us now. I will not ask you what is on your mind--what
foolish notion you have about _a mésalliance_. Of course I know as well
as you can tell me that yesterday I was a nobody; but I am different
to-day. I am the woman that Claude Westwood loves, and if you fancy that
that woman is a nobody you are sadly mistaken.”

“Child--child--if you knew all!”

“I don’t want to know all--I don’t want to know anything,” said Clare.
“I assure you, my dear Agnes, that I have no curiosity in my nature on
this particular point. He loves me--that is enough for me. I don’t want
to become acquainted with any other fact in the universe. Any one who
fancies that--that--Oh, my dear Agnes, do you really suppose that
Claude Westwood--the man who fought his way from the clutches of those
savages--the most terrible in the world--the man who fought his way
through the long forest of wild animals, deadly serpents, horrible
poisonous unshapely creatures never before seen by the eye of man--and
the swamps--a world of miasma, every breath meaning death--do you really
suppose that such a man would allow any power to stand between him and
the woman whom he loves? Think of it--think of the man and what he has
done, and then talk to me if you can of any obstruction lying in our way
to happiness.”

“I pity you--I pity you! That’s all I can say.”

“You have no reason to pity me. I am the happiest girl in this world--in
this world?--in any world. Heaven holds no happiness that is greater
than mine. Ah, my dearest, you have been so kind to me--you and Fate--I
have no thought for you that is not full of love. What woman would do
as you have done for me? Who would be so kind to a stranger--perhaps an
impostor?”

“I wish to show my kindness now; that is why I entreat of you, with all
my soul, to leave this place--never to see Claude Westwood again.”

Clare was at the further end of the room, but when Agnes had spoken she
returned slowly to her side.

“Agnes,” she said, in a low and serious voice, “Agnes, if you wish me to
leave your house I shall do so at once--this very evening. You have the
right to turn me out--no, I do not wish to make use of such a phrase. I
should say that you have a right to tell me that your plans do not admit
of my being your visiter longer than to-night; and, believe me, I will
not accuse you of any lack of courtesy or kindness toward me. I shall
simply go away. But if you tell me that I am to forsake the man who
loves me and whom I love, I shall simply tell you that you know me as
imperfectly as you know him.”

“As imperfectly as I know him!” said Agnes, slowly. Her eyes were upon
Clare as she spoke; then she went to the window and looked out. There
was a pause of long duration before the girl once again moved to her
side, saying:

“Dear Agnes, cannot you see that in this matter nothing that you
might do or say could move me? If you were to tell me that he is a
criminal--that he is the wickedest man living, I should not change in my
love for him.”

“I pity you, with all my soul,” said Agnes. “And if the time comes when
you will, with bitterness and tears, admit that I warned you--that I
advised you to place between you the broadest and deepest ocean that
flows--you will hold me blameless.”

“I will admit that you have done your best to separate us,” said Clare,
smiling, as she put an arm round Agnes. Her smile was that of an elder
sister humouring a younger. “And now we will say no more about this
horrid affair, if you please. We shall be to each other what we were
before Claude Westwood came here to disturb us.”

“God help you!” said Agnes, suffering her cheek to be kissed by the
girl.

She went into another room, and as she went she fancied that she could
hear Clare laughing--actually laughing at the idea of anything coming
between her and love for Claude Westwood. She sank down upon a sofa and
stared at a picture that hung on the opposite wall.

“She will not hear me--she will not hear me; and now it is too late to
make any move,” she said. “I meant that he should be punished, but God
knows that I never meant that his punishment should be like this! And
she--poor child! poor child! Why should she be punished?”

She remained seated there for a long time thinking her thoughts, racked
with self-upbraiding at first, whispering, “If I had but known--if I
could but have known!” But at the end of an hour she had become more
calm. The darkness of the evening obscured everything in the room in
which she sat, but she did not ring for a light. It was in the darkness
that she stood up, saying, as if to reassure herself:

“It is not my punishment, but the punishment of Heaven that has fallen
on him. It is not I, but Heaven, whose hand is ready to strike. It is
the justice of God. I will not come between him and God.”

She dined, as usual, face to face with Clare, and there was nothing in
the girl’s manner to suggest that she had taken in the smallest measure
to heart anything that Agnes had said. She did not even seem to have
thought it worth her while to consider the possibility of her warnings
having some foundation. She had simply smiled at them--the smile of the
indulgent, elder sister. Her warning had produced no impression upon
her.

She was full of the details of her work. She had not been idle during
the afternoon, she said. Oh no; every hour was precious. And then
she went on to tell of the fear that had been haunting good Mr.
Shackles--the fear lest the Arctic winter might be less rigorous than
the best friends of Mr. Westwood (and Mr. Shackles) could wish, thereby
making possible the return to England of the distinguished explorer,
who, it was understood had been devoting all his spare time and tallow
in the region of ninety degrees north latitude--or as near to it as he
could get--to the writing of a book. Mr. Shackles’s dread was lest the
Arctic regions should shoulder Central Africa out of the market--a truly
appalling cataclysm, Clare said, and one which should be averted at any
sacrifice.

Agnes listened to her, as the doctor listens to the prattle of the
patient who, he knows, will not be alive at the end of the week. She
listened to her, making her own remarks from time to time as usual, but,
even when she and Clare were left alone together, alluding in no way
to the fact that they had had a conversation in the afternoon on the
subject of Mr. Westwood.

The next day Claude appeared at The Knoll. He did not go through
the hall into the studio. He thought it only polite to turn into the
drawingroom, where the butler said Miss Mowbray was to be found.

She had scarcely shaken hands with him before he said:

“Clare has told you all, I suppose?”

“She told me that you had confessed to her what you confessed to me,”
 said Agnes.

“What I confessed to you?” he repeated in a somewhat startled tone.
“What I confessed--long ago?”

“Well, that is not just what I meant to say,” replied Agnes. “You
confessed to me a few days ago that you had fallen in love with her.
But curiously enough, the way you took me up serves to lead in the same
direction. Only you were, of course, a different person altogether in
those days: we change every seven years, don’t we?”

“I am the luckiest man alive!” said he, ignoring her disagreeable
reminiscence. “I am no longer young and my adventures have told on me,
and yet--I am sure you told her that you considered me the luckiest man
living!”

“I told her that if she wished to be happy she should put an ocean
between you and herself.”

His voice was full of reproach--a kind of grieved reproach, as he said:

“You told her that? Why should you tell her that? Is it because of the
past--that foolish past of a boy and girl”--

“No: I was not thinking of the past; it was of the future I was
thinking,” she said.

“The future?”

“Yes; and that is what I am thinking of now when I implore of you to
leave her--to leave your book--everything--and fly to the uttermost ends
of the earth to escape the blow which is about to fall upon you.”

“I am sorry that I cannot see my way to take your advice,” said he. “I
do not share your fears for the future. But whatever Fate may have in
store for me, of one thing I am assured: the hardest blow will seem as
the falling of a feather when she is beside me. I am sorry that you, my
oldest friend--But I am sure that later on you will change your views.
No one knows better than I do that such a girl as she might reasonably
expect to have a younger man at her feet; but I think I know myself, and
I am sure that I shall be to her a sympathetic husband.”

He had gone to the door while he was speaking.

“You will wish that you had never seen her,” said Agnes.

“Will you force me to wish that I had never seen you?” he said, in a low
voice. He had not yet lost the tone of reproach which he conceived to be
appropriate to the conversation that had originated with her.

This last sentence stung her. For a moment she felt as she had done on
that night when she had flung down his miniature and trampled on it. Her
face became deathly pale. But she controlled herself.

“I will answer that question of yours another time,” she said quietly.

He returned to her.

“Forgive me for having said what I did,” he cried. “I spoke
thoughtlessly--brutally.”

“But I promise you that I will answer you, all the same,” said she.
“Clare is in her studio.”



CHAPTER XXVI.

|It seemed as if Clare had resolved to treat the singular words which
Agnes had said to her as soon as she had told her of Claude Westwood’s
confession and her reply, as though they had never been uttered.
Whatever impression they produced upon the girl she certainly gave no
sign that she attached even the smallest amount of importance to them.
Her mood was that of the rapturous lover for some days. She had never
been out of temper since she had come to The Knoll, except for a few
moments after her friend Signor Rodani had visited her; but she had
never been in the rapturous mood which now possessed her. Her life was a
song--a lover’s song.

The labour of love at which she was engaged daily kept her indoors.
Drawing after drawing she executed for the book, and even those
task-masters, Messrs. Skekels & Shackles, expressed themselves
thoroughly satisfied with the progress of the book and the “blocks.”
 The latter were found to be admirable; in fact, the reproductions were,
Clare affirmed, better than the originals. She was not mistaken. Mr.
Shackles was acquainted with a young artist of striking skill in the art
of preparing effective “blocks,” and he treated Miss Tristram’s drawings
with the utmost freedom. He regarded them as an excellent and suggestive
basis for really striking pictures, and he took care that, by the
time the picture reached the “block” stage, it possessed some striking
elements.

Claude Westwood also seemed to think that he could scarcely do better
than ignore the words that Agnes had spoken to him when he had come to
her for congratulations. He made an effort to resume his former friendly
relations with her, but he never quite succeeded in his efforts in this
direction. Agnes, he felt, did not respond to him as he had expected
she would, and she gave him now and again the impression that she still
regarded their relations as somewhat strained. He was obliged to see
Clare frequently, and he was too polite to ignore the presence of Agnes,
though she would have much preferred him to do so, and he knew it. The
fact of his knowing it made him feel a little uncomfortable.

A week had passed in this unsatisfactory way, when one afternoon, Agnes,
having come in from her drive, sat down with Clare to their tea and hot
cakes. The girl was not quite so lively as she had been during the week,
and Agnes noticed the change, inquiring the cause of it.

Clare coloured slightly, and laughed uneasily.

“Somehow I feel a little startled,” said she. “Claude has been here.”

“What, you consider that a sufficient explanation?” said Agnes.

Clare laughed more uneasily still.

“He has been saying something that startled me. The fact is that
he--well, he thinks that I--that he--I should rather say that we, he
and I, would complete the book more satisfactorily if we were--You see,
Agnes dear, he does not like coming here so frequently; he feels that he
is trespassing upon your patience.”

“He is wrong, then,” said Agnes. “But what is the alternative that he
proposes?”

“He thinks that we should get married at once and go to the Court
together,” replied Clare, in a low voice.

“And what do you say to that proposal?”

“Well, you know, dearest Agnes, it is not six months since my dear
mother’s death: still--ah, dear, would she not wish to see me happy?”

“Yes; but is that saying that she would wish to see you married?”

“He is coming to talk to you about it after dinner to-night.”

Clare spoke quietly as she rose from her seat and left the room.

He came very late. Agnes only was in the drawing-room, for Clare had
gone to her studio after dinner, saying she wished to finish one of the
pictures.

He was as uneasy in addressing her as Clare had been. He began to speak
the moment he entered the room. Agnes interrupted him.

“You have not yet seen Clare,” she said.

“I have not come to see her. It is you whom I have come to see,” said
he. “The fact is, my dear Agnes”--

“Go to her,” said Agnes. “Go to her and kiss her; it will be for the
last time.”

She spoke almost sorrowfully. He was impressed by the tone.

“For the last time--to-night, you mean to say,” he suggested.

“For the last time on earth!” said she.

“You are mad,” he cried, after a pause, during which he stared at her.
“You are mad; you do not know me--you do not know her.”

“You will not go to her?”

“I will not go to her--I will not leave this room until you have told me
what you mean by saying these words. You shall tell me what these words
mean--if they have any meaning.”

“Very well, I will tell you. A week ago you said some words to me. You
put a question to me which I promised to answer at my own time. You
said, ‘Will you force me to wish that I had never seen you?’ You said
that to me--you--Claude Westwood--to me.”

“I admit that I was cruel--I know that I was cruel.”

“Oh no; you were not cruel. You have shown me since your return that you
regard women as too humble an organisation to be susceptible of great
suffering. You are a scientific man, and one of your theories is that
the lower in the scheme of creation is any form of life, the less
capable it is of suffering. You cleave your worm in twain--there is a
little wriggle--no more--each half goes off quite briskly in its own
way. You chop off a lizard’s tail without causing it any particular
inconvenience; I wonder if you think of me as a little better than the
worm, a little higher than the lizard. How could any man say words of
such cruelty to a woman whom he had once promised to love, if he had not
believed her to be dead to all sense of suffering?”

She stood before him with her hands clenched and her eyes flashing; but
only for a few moments. Then she made a gesture of contempt--she gave a
little shudder as she turned away from him.

He remained motionless for a brief space, then went without a word to
the door. The sound of his fingers on the handle caused her to look
round.

“Don’t go away for a moment,” she said. “You will pardon that tirade of
mine, I am sure. I don’t know how it was forced from me. I shall not be
so foolish again.”

“I think I had better go: you are scarcely yourself to-night,” said he.

“Scarcely myself? Well, perhaps I am not. I must confess that that
outburst of mine surprised me. It will not occur again, I promise you.”

“I think I had better leave you.”

He still stood at the door. In his voice there was again a tone of
reproach. There was some sadness in the little shake of his head, as
though he meant to suggest that he was greatly pained at not being able
to trust her.

His attitude stung her. She became white once more. She put up her hand
to her throat. She was making a great effort to calm herself. Still it
was some moments before she was able to say:

“Very well, very well. Do not come any nearer to me. You came to talk
business. Continue. You were about to tell me that you mean to go to
London to-morrow in order to get the document that will enable you to
marry some one without delay. The name of Claude Westwood will appear at
one part of that document. What name is to appear beside yours?”

“Why do you ask that?” he said, removing his hand from the handle of the
door.

“In order to prevent any mistake,” said she. “You have probably sent
forward to the proper authorities the name of Clare Tristram.”

He was grave. He shook his head sadly, and put his hand upon the lock of
the door once again. He somehow suggested that he expected her to tell
him that it was not the name of Clare Tristram but of Agnes Mowbray
which should by right be or the special licence, beside his name.

She took a step toward him, as if she were about to speak angrily; but
she checked herself.

“There is no such person as Clare Tristram,” she said.

He gave a single glance toward her. Then he sighed and shook his head
gently as before. He turned the handle of the door.

“Don’t open that door, for God’s sake! She is the daughter of Carton
Standish, who killed your brother.”

He did not give a start nor did he utter a cry as she whispered those
words. He only turned and looked at her. He looked at her for a long
time--several seconds. The silence was awful. The clock on the bracket
chimed the second quarter.

“My God! mad--this woman is mad!” he said, in a whisper that sounded
like a gasp.

She made no attempt to reply. He went to her.

“What have you said?” he asked. “I don’t seem to recollect. Did you say
anything?”

“I stated a fact,” she replied. “I am sincere when I say that I would to
God it were not true.”

“She--she--my beloved--the daughter--it is a lie--you have told me a
lie--confess that it is a lie!”

“I cannot, even though you should make your fingers meet upon my arm!”

He almost flung her away from him. He had grasped her by the wrist. He
covered his face with his hands. She looked at her wrist--the red marks
over the white flesh.

“I’ll not believe it!” he cried suddenly. “Agnes, Agnes; you will
confess that it is a falsehood?”

“Alas! Alas!” she cried,

“I’ll not believe it. Proofs--where are your proofs?”

“This is the letter which she brought to me from her mother--the letter
written by her mother on her deathbed.”

She unlocked an escritoire, and took out a letter. He glanced at it, and
gave a cry of agony.

“O God--my God! And I cursed him--I cursed him and every one belonging
to him!”

He threw himself into a chair and bowed his head down to his hands.

“I prayed that evil might fall upon all that pertained to him,” he
cried. “My prayer has been heard. The curse has fallen!”

“Is there any tragedy in life like the answering of a prayer? I prayed
for your safe return, and--you returned.”

She spoke without bitterness. There was no bitterness in her heart at
that moment.

There was a long pause before he looked up.

“And you--you--knowing all--avowed us to be together--you did not keep
us apart. You brought this misery upon us!”

“I thought you were safe from such a fate; it was only when we were at
the Court that I learned that you loved her; even then I believed that
she loved another man. When I said those words of warning to you a week
ago, what was your reply tome? ‘Do not make me wish that I had never
seen you.’ Those were your words.”

“And what shall my words be now?”

A little thrill went through her. She turned upon him.

“You wish you had never seen me?” she said, her voice tremulous with
emotion. “But if that is your wish, what do you think is mine? Nine
years--my God!--nine years out of a woman’s life! Ruin--you have made
my life a ruin! Was there ever such truth as mine? Was there ever such
falsehood as yours? Do you remember nothing of the past? Do you remember
nothing of the words which you spoke in my hearing in this very room
nearly nine years ago? ‘I will be true to you for ever--I shall make a
name that will in some degree be worthy of you.’ Those were your words
as we parted. Not a tear would I shed until you had gone away, though my
tears were choking me. But then--then--oh, my God! what then? What voice
is there that can tell a man of the agony of a constant woman? The days,
the months, the years of that terrible constancy! nights of terror when
I saw you lying dead among the wild places of that unknown world--nights
when a passion of tears followed a passion ot prayer for your safety!
Oh, the agony of those long years that robbed me of my youth--that
scarred my face with lines of care! Well, they came to an end, my prayer
was answered, you returned in safety; but instead of having some pity
for the woman who had wasted her life in waiting for you, you flung me
aside with scarcely a word, and now you reproach me--you reproach me!
Give me back those years of my life that you robbed me of--give me back
my youth that I wasted upon you--give me back the tears that I shed for
you--and then I will listen to your reproaches.”

“I deserve your worst reproaches,” said he, his head still bowed down.
“I deserve the worst, and you have not spared me.”

“Ah, I have spared you,” she said. “I might have allowed you to
marry the daughter of that man, and to find out the terrible truth
afterwards.”

“It is just that I should suffer; but she--she--my beloved--is it just
that she should suffer?”

He had risen and was walking to and fro with clasped hands.

“Alas! alas! Her judgment comes from you. It was you yourself who
repeated those dreadful words--‘unto the third and fourth generation.’”

“She is guiltless--she shall never know of her father’s crime.”

He had stopped in the centre of the room and was looking toward the
door.

“She shall not hear of it from me,” said Agnes. “She shall at least be
spared that pain, in addition to the pain of parting from you.”

“She shall be spared ever, that,” said he in a low voice.

“What?”

“I cannot part from her It is too late now.”

“You do not mean that”--

“I mean that I shall marry her.”

A cry came from Agnes before he had quite spoken.

“Ah, you will not be so pitiless,” she said. “You will not do her that
injustice. You will not wreck her life, too.”

“I will marry her,” said he doggedly.

“You will marry her to make her happy for a month--happy in a fool’s
paradise--happy till you begin to think that the face beside you may be
the same as the face that watched your brother lying in his blood--that
the hand which you caress--Oh, Claude, cannot you see that every day,
every hour, she could not but feel that you are nursing a secret that
separates you more completely from her than if an ocean were between
you? Can you hope to keep that secret from her? Do you know nothing of
woman? Claude, she will read your secret in a month.”

“God help me, I will marry her and let the worst come upon us!”

“You shall not do her this injustice if I can help it.”

“You cannot help it.”

“I will tell her that she is the daughter of Carton Standish; and then,
if she chooses to marry you, she will do so with her eyes open.”

She went to the door.

“No--no; not that--not that,” he cried.

She opened the door and called the girl’s name. He threw himself once
more down on a chair and bowed his head.

The answering voice of Clare was heard, and then the sound of her feet
on the oak floor of the passage.

“You will come here for a few moments, Clare,” said Agnes, and the girl
entered the room.

He kept his face bowed down almost to his knees, as he cried:

“No, no; don’t tell her that. Take her away; I cannot look at her. Take
her away; tell her anything but that.”

Clare gasped. She caught the arm which Agnes held out to her.

“Clare,” said Agnes, “you must nerve yourself for the worst. Mr.
Westwood wishes to be released from his engagement to you. He has heard
something; that is to say, he has come to the conclusion that--that he
must leave this country without delay--in short, to-morrow he sets out
for Africa once more.”

“That is not true!” cried Clare. “I can hear the false ring in your
words. Claude--Claude, you do not mean”--

“Take her away--take her away! I cannot look at her. I see him--him in
the room.”

The girl gave a start, and looked from the one to the other. She
straightened herself and the expression on her face was one of defiance.

“Very well,” she said. “Yes, it is very well.”

She gave a long sigh, then a gasp. Her face became deathly white. She
did not fall. Agnes had caught her in her arms.



CHAPTER XXVII.

|The blow had fallen. His punishment had come, and Agnes, lying on
her bed that night, felt that she would have given everything that she
possessed to avert it. If there had been any thought of revenge in her
heart originally--and she felt that perhaps there had been some such
thought the moment that Sir Percival Hope had told her what she should
have seen for herself long before, namely, that Claude Westwood was in
love with Clare--there was now nothing in her heart but pity for the
girl whom she had left sleeping in the next room.

She felt that she had been amply revenged upon the man who had treated
her so cruelly. She had crushed him with a completeness that would have
satisfied even the most revengeful of women. She had seen him flying
from the house without waiting for the girl to recover consciousness.
What finer scheme of vengeance could any woman hope for--and she had
always heard that women were revengeful--than that which had been placed
within her reach?

And yet she lay awake in her tears, feeling that she would give up all
she had in the world if by so doing, she could compass the happiness
of the man who had treated her so basely, and of the girl who had
supplanted her in his love. She felt that revenge was not sweet but
bitter.

When she had been standing before him in the room downstairs and had
felt stung to the soul by that horrible question of his, “Will you make
me wish that I had never seen you?” she had had a moment of womanly
pleasure, thinking of the power she had to crush him utterly; but
all her passion had amounted to no more than was susceptible of being
exhausted in half-a-dozen phrases. Her passion of reproach, which found
expression in those words that had been forced from her, had not lasted
beyond the speaking of those words. So soon as they were spoken she
found herself face to face not with the delight of revenge, but with the
grief of self-reproach.

She was actually ready to heap reproaches upon herself for having failed
to see within the first hour of the arrival of Clare that the man loved
her. How was it that she had failed to see that their meeting aboard the
steamer had resulted in love? She felt that she must have been blinder
than all manner of women to fail to perceive that this was so. Was she
not to blame for having allowed them to be together day after day, while
she had in her desk that letter which told her that no two people in
the world should be kept wider apart than Claude Westwood and Clare
Tristram?

She recollected that at first her impulse had been to send the girl
away; but when she found that she and Claude were already acquainted,
and that the terrible secret was known to neither of them, the panic
which had seized her subsided.

That was, she felt, where she had been to blame. She should not have
wilfully closed her eyes to the possibility of their falling in love.
Even though the advice which Sir Percival had given to her--the advice
to wait patiently until Claude’s old love for her returned--was still in
her mind, she now felt that if she had been like other women she would
have foreseen the possibility, nay, the likelihood, that Claude would
come to love the girl by whom he had clearly been impressed.

She even went the length of blaming herself for feeling, as she had felt
on Sir Percival’s suggesting to her that Claude had come to love Clare,
that it was the decree of Heaven that she should punish the man for his
cruelty to her. She knew that it had been a grim satisfaction for her
to reflect that his punishment was coming. She had, in her blindness,
fancied that it was to assume the form of his rejection by Clare, and
she had hoped to see him crushed as he had crushed her.

“Ah, if I had not been so willing to see him humiliated I might still
have had a chance of averting the blow which has fallen on both of
them--that is the worst of it, on both of them!”

This was actually the direction which was taken by her self-reproaches
as she lay in her tears with no hope of sleep for her that night.

She felt, however, that though she had been to blame in some measure
for the catastrophe which had come about, she could not in the supreme
moment have acted otherwise than she had done.

Claude had said truly that the girl at least was innocent. He who a few
weeks before had attempted to justify his thirst for revenge by quoting
the awful curse “unto the third and fourth generation” had, when it
suited him, talked about the innocence of the girl--about the injustice
of visiting upon her head the sins of her father. But Agnes knew that
she had done what was right in refusing to allow him to see Clare again
unless to tell her the truth about her father.

The way he had shrunk from her at the moment of her entering the room,
not daring even to glance at her--the way he had cried those words,
“Take her away, take her away,” convinced Agnes that she had acted
rightly and that she had saved Clare from a lifetime of sorrow. Before
the end of a month he would have come to look at her with horror. He
would seem to see in her features those of her father--the man who had
crept behind Dick Westwood in the dark and shot him dead.

But then she began to ask herself if she had been equally right in
telling Claude Westwood what was the true name of Clare. She reflected
upon the fact that only she knew that Clare was the daughter of the man
Standish, who was undergoing his life-sentence of penal servitude for
the murder of Dick Westwood. If she had kept that dreadful secret to
herself, Claude would have married the girl, and they might have lived
happily in ignorance of all that she, Agnes, knew.

Yes, but how was she to be certain that no one else in the world shared
her secret? How was she to know that the unhappy woman who had been
married to Carton Standish, and had in consequence become estranged from
all her friends in England--for the man, though of a good family, had
been from the first an unscrupulous scamp--was right when she had told
her in the letter, which Clare had delivered with her own hand, that no
one knew the secret?

Perhaps a dozen people had recognised in Carton Standish the man
with whom the Clare Tristram of twenty-two years before had run away,
although no one had come forward to state that the man who had been
found guilty of the murder of Mr. Westwood was the same person. Agnes
knew enough of the world to be well aware of the fact that not only in
Brackenshire but in every county in England the question “Who is she?”
 would be asked, so soon as it became known that Claude Westwood had got
married.

Claude Westwood, the African explorer, was the man on whom all eyes had
been turned for some months, and he could not hope to keep his marriage
a secret even if he desired to do so. It would be outside the bounds of
possibility that no one should recognise in the name Clare Tristram the
name of the girl who, twenty-two years before, had married a man named
Carton Standish; so that even if Agnes had kept her secret it would
eventually have been revealed to Claude, when it would be too late to
prevent a catastrophe.

“If I had wished to be revenged I would have let him marry and find out
afterwards that she was the daughter of Carton Standish,” cried Agnes,
as she lay awake through the hours of that long night. She felt that she
had some reason for self-reproach, but not because she had sought to be
revenged upon the man who had so cruelly treated her. Only for an hour
had the thought of revenge been in her heart, and it had not been sweet
to her, but bitter.

Once she rose from her bed and stole softly into Clare’s room. The girl
was lying asleep; and the light in the room was not too dim to allow of
Agnes’s seeing that her pillow was wet with tears. Still, she was now
asleep and unconscious of any trouble. It was Agnes who had been unable
to find comfort in the oblivion of sleep, and she returned to her bed to
lie waiting for the dawn.

It stole between the spaces of the blinds, the grey dawn of the winter’s
day---the cheerless dawn that drew nigh without the herald of a bird’s
song--a dawn that was more cheerless than night.

She rose and went to the window, looking out over the valley that
she knew so well. She saw in the far distance the splendid woods
of Branksome Abbey, Sir Percival Hope’s home, and somehow she felt
comforted by letting her eyes rest upon the grey side of the Abbey wall
which was visible above the trees. She had a feeling that Sir Percival
might be trusted to bring happiness into her life. From the first day on
which he had come to Brackenshire she had trusted him. She had gone to
him in her emergencies--first when she had wished to have Lizzie Dangan
taken care of, and afterwards when she had wanted that large sum of
money which had saved the Westwoods’ bank. He had shown himself upon
both those occasions to be worthy of her trust, and then--then--

She wondered if he had known how great was her temptation to throw
herself into his arms upon that morning when he had stood before her
to tell her in his own fashion that he loved her. Such a temptation had
indeed been hers, and though during the weeks that passed between the
arrival of the telegram that told her of Claude’s safety and his return,
she had often reproached herself for having had that temptation even for
a moment, yet now the thought that she had had it brought her comfort.
She thought of Claude Westwood by the side of Sir Percival, and she knew
which of them was the true man.

Noble, honourable, self-sacrificing, Sir Percival had never once spoken
to her of his love since that morning, though he had seen how she had
been treated by the man to whom she had been faithful with a constancy
passing all the constancy of women. So far from speaking to her of his
love for her, he had done his best to comfort her when he had seen that
Claude on his return treated her with indifference, giving himself up to
the savage thoughts that possessed him--the savage thirst for blood that
he had acquired among the savages.

She remembered how Sir Percival had told her that Claude was not
himself--that he had not recovered from the shock which he had received
on learning of the death of the brother whom he loved so well, and that
so soon as he recovered she would find that he had been as constant to
her as she had been to him.

It was to this effect Sir Percival had spoken, and she, alas! had felt
comforted in the hope that she would be able to win him back to her.
That had been her thought for weeks; but now.... Well, now her thought
was:

“Why did I not yield to that temptation to throw myself into his arms
and trust my future with him on that day when he confessed his love to
me?”

It was a passionate regret that took possession of her for a moment as
she let fall the curtain through which she had been looking over the
still grey landscape, with a touch of mist clinging here and there to
the sides of the valley, and giving a semblance of foliage to the low
alders that bordered the meadows.

“Why--why--why?” was the question that was ringing round her while her
maid was brushing her hair. She had ceased to think of her constancy as
a virtue. She was beginning to yield to the impression that only grief
could follow those who elected to be constant, when every impulse of
Nature was in the direction of inconstancy. One does not mourn for ever
over the dead; when a woman has been inconstant in her love for a man,
the man is chagrined for a while, but he soon consoles himself by loving
another woman.

Yes, she felt that Claude Westwood had spoken quite truthfully and
reasonably when he said that in affairs of the heart Nature had decreed
that there shall be an automatic Statute of Limitations. He had spoken
from experience, and to that theory--it sounded cynical to her at first,
but now her experience had found that it was true--she was ready to
give her cordial assent. To such a point had she been brought by
the bitterness of her experience of the previous month, she actually
believed that she wished she had failed in her constancy to the man whom
she had promised to love.

She was surprised to find Clare awaiting her in the breakfast-room. The
girl was pale and nervous, for Agnes noticed how she gave a start when
she entered. In the room there was a servant, who had brought in a
breakfast-dish, but the moment she disappeared, Clare almost rushed
across the room to Agnes.

“Tell me what has happened,” she said imploringly. “Something has
happened--something terrible; but somehow I cannot recollect what it
was. I have the sensation of awaking from a horrible dream. Can it be
that I fainted? Can it be that I entered the drawing-room, and that he
told you to take me away? Oh, my God! If it is not a dream I shall die.
‘Take her away--take her away’--those were the words which I recollect,
but my recollection is like that of a dream. Why don’t you speak. Agnes?
Why do you stand there looking at me with such painful sadness? Why
don’t you speak? Say something--something--anything. A word from you
will save me from death, and you will not speak it!”

She flung away Agnes’s hand which she had been holding, and threw
herself on a chair that was at the table, burying her face in her hands.

Agnes came behind her and laid her hand gently on her head. She drew her
head away with a motion of impatience.

“I don’t want you to touch me!” she cried, almost pettishly. “I want you
to tell me what has happened. Oh, Agnes, he did not cry out for you to
take me away--that Would be impossible--he could never say those words!”

She had sprung up from the table once more and had gone to the
fireplace, against which she leant.

“My poor child! My poor child!” said Agnes.

“Do not say that,” cried Clare impatiently. “Your calling me that seems
to me part of my dream. Good heavens! are we living in a dream?”

“You have been living in one, Clare; but the awaking has come,” said
Agnes.

Clare looked at her with wide eyes for more than a whole minute. Her
look was so vacant that Agnes shuddered. The girl gave a laugh that made
Agnes shudder again, before she moved away from the mantelpiece, saying:

“How is it that we haven’t sat down to breakfast? I’m quite hungry.”



CHAPTER XXVIII.

|Agnes sat down to the breakfast-table as if nothing had occurred, and
Clare helped her to some fish, and put a portion on her own plate, and
actually ate it with some appearance of appetite. Agnes tried to follow
her example, but utterly failed. She could eat nothing. She thought she
would be able, however, to drink her coffee, so she filled the cups,
and, as usual, placed one before Clare. But Clare shook her head,
saying:

“I don’t like coffee to-day. I somehow feel that I cannot have anything
to-day that I have had on other days. I cannot touch coffee.”

“Then I will take it away, and get you”--

There was a little crash. Clare had let her knife and fork fall upon her
plate.

“Those were the words,” she cried. “‘Take her away--take her away!’ And
I fancied that he spoke them--he--Claude--shuddering all the time and
shrinking away from me.” Then she turned suddenly to Agnes, saying:

“Tell me the truth--surely I may as well know it sooner as later. Did he
say those words when I entered the room?”

“Yes,” replied Agnes, judging rightly that Clare would be less affected
by hearing the worst than if she were left in suspense. “Yes. Claude
Westwood said those words--then you”--

“Yes, but why--why--why?” cried the girl. “Why should he say such words,
when only a couple of hours before--I don’t think it could have been
more than a couple of hours before, though if you were to tell me that
it was days before I would believe you--at any rate, hours or days, he
told me that he loved me--yes, and that we must get married at once. And
yet he said those words?”

“Dearest child,” said Agnes, “you must think no more about him. He
should never have entered into your life. Have you never heard of the
inconstancy of man?”

“I have heard more about the inconstancy of woman,” said the girl. “But
even if I had heard that all men are inconstant in love I would not
believe that Claude Westwood was inconstant. You must tell me some
better story than that if you wish me to believe you.”

“Inconstant? Inconstant? Ah, if you but knew, Clare.”

“I do know. I know that it is a lie. He is a true man. I love him and
he loves me. It is you who are not constant in your friendships. You
profess to care for me”--

“It is because I do care for you that”-----

“That you tell me what is false?”

Agnes burst into tears.

Clare for a moment was rebellious. The effect of the anger, under the
impulse of which she had made use of those bitter words, supported her;
but in another moment she was on her knees beside her friend, with an
arm round her waist, while she covered her hand with kisses.

“Forgive me, forgive me for my cruelty, my dearest Agnes,” she
whispered. “Ah, my dearest, you are the only friend I have in the world,
and what have I said to you? You will forgive me--you know that I am not
myself to-day--that I do not know what I say!”

Agnes put down her face to the girl’s and kissed her. It was some time,
however, before she could speak, and in the meantime Clare was sobbing
in her arms.

What was Agnes to say to comfort her? What words could she speak in her
ears that would soothe her? She could only express the thought which was
nestling in her own heart and seemed to give her some consolation in the
midst of all the bitterness of life:

“My Clare--my Clare--we shall always be together. Whatever may happen,
nothing can sunder us.”

And the girl was comforted. She was comforted, for she wept on Agnes’s
shoulder for a long time, and Agnes knew the consolation that comes
through tears.

When she lifted up her head from its resting-place she was able to say:

“I will ask for nothing more, my dear Agnes. I will ask for nothing
better to come to me than this--to be with you always--to feel that you
will be ever near. You will not turn from me, dear--you will not cry out
for some one to take me away?”

She could actually say the words now with a smile. She had, indeed, been
comforted.

“I will take care of you,” said Agnes. “I will take care that no one
shall come between us. We shall go away from here to-morrow, if you
wish--anywhere you please. I know of some beautiful places along the
shores of the Mediterranean. You and I shall go to one of them and stay
there just as long as we please. Then we can cross to Africa. You have
never been in Algiers. I was there once with my father. Everything you
see there is strange. That is the place which we must seek. Sunshine
in January--sunshine and warmth when the east wind is making every one
miserable in England.”

“I was hoping to see an English spring,” said Clare, wistfully. “But I
will go with you,” she cried, with suddenly brightening eyes. “Oh yes;
I feel that I must go somewhere--somewhere--anywhere, so long as it is
away from here.”

Agnes pressed her hand tenderly, saying:

“You may trust in me.”

Clare left the room shortly afterwards, and Agnes came upon her later on
in the room that she had made her studio. She was standing in front of
the easel on which her last half-finished drawing rested. On the small
table beside her were a number of memoranda and suggestions for the
pictures that were to illustrate the book.

“Who will finish them now?” she said, as Agnes came near and looked at
the sketch on the easel. “Will they ever be finished?”

After a long pause she turned away with a sigh.

“I wonder if it is possible that he heard something bad about me,”
 she said. “I have heard of stories being told by unscrupulous
persons--girls--about other girls. Is it possible, do you think, that
some one has poisoned his mind by falsehoods about me?”

“No, no; do not fancy for a moment that anything like that happened,”
 said Agnes. “I am afraid--no--I should say that I hope--I hope with all
my soul that you may never know the reason for his estrangement. It is
a valid reason--I can give you that assurance; but I dare tell you no
more. Now come away, my dear child. Whatever has occurred be sure that
no blame attaches to you. Claude Westwood himself would never think
for a moment that you are to blame. Oh, my Clare, you are only to be
pitied.”

The girl stood irresolute for a few minutes, then she said:

“It is all a mystery--a terrible mystery! But God is above us--I will
trust in God.”

In the afternoon Clare went to her room to lie down, and before she had
been gone many minutes Sir Percival Hope called at The Knoll.

When he took Agnes’s hand he looked inquiringly at her. His expression
seemed to say:

“Is the time come yet?”

He did not let her hand go. She did not withdraw it. He could not fail
to see the little flush that had come to her face.

“What you have suffered!” he said. “What you are suffering still! You
did not sleep last night. My poor Agnes! I know now that I did not give
you the right advice. You should not have been patient with him. You
should not have hoped that he would be brought to you again. If I had
given you the advice which my heart prompted me to give I would have
said otherwise to you; but I wanted to see you made happy, and I thought
that your happiness lay in patience.”

“You were wrong,” she said, with a wan smile. “I was patient, but no
happiness came to me.”

“And you still love him?” said he in a low voice.

She snatched her hand away.

“I--love him--him?” she cried. “Oh no, no; he is not the man I loved.
The moment he came before me with the look of a savage on his face and
the words of a savage thirsting for blood on his lips, I knew that he
was not the man I loved. The man whom I had promised to love--the man
for whom I was waiting, was quite another one. The Claude Westwood who
entered this room had, I perceived, nothing in common with the Claude
Westwood who had parted from me in this same room, saying, ‘I shall make
a name that will be in some measure worthy of your acceptance.’ Listen
to me while I tell you that that very night, when I went to my room, I
took the miniature of the man whom I had loved and trampled upon it. And
yet--ah, I tried to force myself to believe that I was sorry. I tried to
force myself to believe that I loved the man who had come to me telling
me that his name was Claude Westwood. I knew in my heart that I did not
love him. Ah, what he said to me was true. He said--a smile was on
his face all the time--’ Every seven years a man changes utterly: no
particle of him remains to-day as it was seven years ago.’ And then he
went on to demonstrate, quite plausibly, quite convincingly, for indeed
he convinced me at once, that it was ridiculous for a woman to hope
that, after seven years, the same man whom she had once loved should
return to her; it was physically impossible, he explained, and this
system he termed, very aptly, ‘Nature’s Statute of Limitations.’”

“My poor Agnes!”

“Then it was I knew that, so far from being sorry that that man did not
love me, I felt glad. I knew that there remained no particle of love
for him in my heart when you told me that he loved Clare Tristram, for I
felt no pang of jealousy. Poor girl--poor girl!”

“Let us talk no more about him. Agnes, has my time come yet? I have been
wondering for some days past if I should tell you--if I should tell
you what I told you on that morning long ago. You know that it was true
then; you know that it is true now.”

“Not to-day--I implore of you not to ask me to say the words that you
think will make you happy--the words which I know will make me happy.”

“I will not ask you to say one word beyond that, my beloved.”

He had caught her hand and was holding it in both his own, smiling.

She shook her head.

“Do not assume too much,” she cried. “I cannot be happy to-day--oh, it
would be heartless for me to be happy while that girl is wretched!”

“Wretched? It cannot be possible that he has turned away from her within
a month?” said Sir Percival. “Seven years, not weeks, was the space of
time named by him.”

“It was impossible that anything but misery could come of his love for
her,” said Agnes. “The misery has come. Poor child! I should be inhuman
if I thought of my own happiness to-day while the waters have closed
over her head.”

“I do not want another word from you, believe me,” said he. “I am
content--more than content--with what you have said to me. There is in
my heart nothing but hope. Good-bye.”

He remembered that on the morning when he had told her that he loved
her, she had given him her face to kiss. But he made no attempt to kiss
her forehead now. He did not even kiss her hand. The curious pathos of
her words, “I cannot be happy to-day,” had appealed strongly to him. He
was a man who had become accustomed to selfsacrifice. He left the house,
having only touched her hand.

She heard his footsteps passing away on the hard gravel of the drive.
She recollected how, on that morning when they had been together on the
lawn, and he had left her with an abruptness that startled her, she had
hurried to intercept him on the road. The impulse was now upon her to do
as she had done that morning--to open the window and run across the lawn
into his arms. She checked herself, however; she felt that it would be
heartless for her to have so much happiness while Clare was overwhelmed
with the misery that had fallen on her.

She turned away from the temptation of the window and seated herself in
the dim light before the fire, giving herself up to her thoughts.

She had not quite recovered from the surprise that her own confession
to Sir Percival had caused her. She had been amazed at the impulse under
the force of which she had told him so much. Until that moment she had
had no idea what was in her heart--what had been in her heart since
the day of Claude Westwood’s return. She knew, however, that she had
confessed the truth to her friend: she had been deceiving herself when
she thought she still loved Claude Westwood--when she thought she was
sorry that she had flung his portrait on the floor of her room.

She had found it amazingly easy to be patient in regard to his returning
to his old love for her; but it was only when she stood in front of Sir
Percival that she knew how it was that she had neither been impatient
for Claude’s return to the old love which he had borne for her, nor
jealous when she had come to learn that he loved Clare Tristram. She now
knew that the Claude Westwood who had come back from Africa was not, in
her eyes, the Claude Westwood whom she had promised to love.

Her awaking had come in a moment--the moment that Sir Percival had taken
her hand. The scales fell from her eyes in a second, and her own heart
was revealed to her, and what she saw in its depths amazed her. She felt
amazed as the confession was forced from her in the presence of the man
whom she trusted, and she had not recovered from that amazement when it
was time for her to go to bed. She lay awake, thinking over all that had
been revealed to her, and wondering how it was that she had been blind
so long. It never occurred to her now to ask herself if what she had
said to Sir Percival was true or false. When people see plainly the
things before their eyes they do not need to puzzle over the question of
the reality of those things.

The next day Clare was much more tranquil than she had been before.
There was a certain brightness in her eyes that gave Agnes great hope
that her future would not be so clouded, but that a glimpse ot sunshine
would touch it. She made no allusion to Claude Westwood or his book;
and after breakfast Agnes saw with pleasure that she had gone outside to
feed the pigeons. She stood among them, calling them about her with that
musical croon which acted like magic upon them; and they alighted upon
her shoulders and whirled about her head, just as they had done on the
afternoon she had arrived, when Claude had looked out at her.

Agnes was once again overcome with self-reproach as she thought how it
might have been possible for her to prevent the misery that had entered
the girl’s life.

“If I had only known--if I had only considered the possibility
which every one else but myself would have regarded as not merely
possible--not merely probable--but absolutely inevitable, I would have
taken her away the next day,” she moaned.

She turned away from the window with tears in her eyes, and when she
looked out again, hearing footsteps on the drive, Clare was not to be
seen. It was the postman who was coming up to the house.

Three letters were brought to Agnes. Two of them were ordinary business
communications: the third was in the handwriting of Cyril. She had
received two letters from her brother since he had arrived in Australia,
and both were written in the most hopeful spirit. He had, he said, found
the life that suited him.

She cut open the envelope, and began to read the letter. But before she
had finished the first page, a puzzled look came to her face. She
laid the letter down for a moment and put her hand to her forehead. In
another second she had sprung to her feet with a short cry--not loud,
but agonising--

“Oh, my God! my God! the thought of it--he--he--my brother!”



CHAPTER XXIX

|The letter dropped from her hand to the floor. She felt her knees give
way. She staggered to a sofa and fell upon it. Her eyes closed. She had
not fainted, however: the blessing of unconsciousness was denied to her.
She could hear through the stillness every word of the conversation
that took place between the postman and one of the maids who had been
exchanging pots of heath for the porch with the gardener. The postman
had clearly brought some piece of news of an enthralling character,
for its discussion involved many interjectional comments in the local
dialect.

She could hear every word now, though she had not paid any attention
to the beginning of the conversation, having been in the act of reading
Cyril’s letter.

What was it that they were talking about?

A murder?--it must have been a murder. The postman became graphic as
he described the nature of the wound. Agnes fancied she could hear the
servant breathing hard in compliment to the skill of the narrator. The
wound had been caused by a shot--so much was certain--it had struck the
victim in the back and he had fallen forward clutching at the grass,
“like this,” the narrator said--the pause of a few seconds was filled up
by low exclamations of horror.

He was describing the murder of Dick Westwood, Agnes believed; for the
details, so far as she heard, applied to that crime. She glanced with an
affrighted eye toward Cyril’s letter that still lay on the floor--yes,
but why should they be talking about the murder of Mr. Westwood upon
this day in particular? Why should the postman pause in his round to
describe with a skill which only comes of long practice and a thorough
acquaintance with the susceptibilities of a rustic audience, a deed
which had been described times without number during a period of several
months?

“There he lay in his own plantation, and there they found him,”
 continued the man, when he had illustrated the attitude of the man who
was shot. “They found him and thought he was dead. He wasn’t, just at
that moment, but I heard said that the doctor was ready to take his oath
that he couldn’t be alive for six hours, so mayhap he’s gone to his last
long ‘count by now, good friends. For Surgeon Ogden is none of the men
that pulls a long jaw down at every little matter, whether natural--like
females, or more terrifying, of the likes of us--nay, he’s ever
cheery, as you may know if you’ve been that fort’nate to come under his
hands--ever cheery in hisself, though of course, being polite, he feels
hisself bound to be as grave as the gravest when some of their ladyships
fancies that there’s summat wrong wi’ ‘em. Ah no; the surgeon is too much
the gentleman hisself to make light o’ th’ ailments o’ the nobility, as
though they was as humble as us. And to be sure, if you give it a
doo consideration, good people, you’ll find it quite reasonable and
natural-like for him that comes to cure to make out a case to be as evil
as possible--‘tis on the self-same principle that Tombs, the tailor,
makes out that our old coats are terrible far gone when we take ‘em to
be repaired, so that when he sends ‘em home as fresh as new we think a
deal of his skill. Ay, and for that matter his reverence the vicar,
or even a simple-minded curate, will tell us by the hour how terrible
steeped in evil all of us is, so that when he gets one to take the
pledge we looks on ‘un as a dreadful sharp gentleman to be able to make
us presentable. Well, well, him that lies dead this day was mayhap a bit
hard, but ‘tis a sad fate to fall upon any man; and so God help us all.”

Agnes heard every word that came from the long-winded postman, and the
succeeding comments of his auditors. But her attention had not been
taken away from the letter which was lying on the floor. It was only
because it seemed to her that the subject of the man’s story was
the same as that of the letter, she had been startled into
listening--curiously, eagerly.

But the instant the drone of the man and the long-drawn and wondering
sighs of the maid had ceased, she got to her feet--not without an
effort--and crossed the room to where the letter was lying. She looked
at it for some time before she stooped and picked it up. She went over
every line of it again, saying in a whisper the words that it contained.
It was a short letter.

Could she by any possibility have misread it the first time? It was a
short letter:--

“With what feelings, dear Agnes, will you read this letter! But I feel
that I must write it--I should have confessed all to you when I could
have done, so face to face, but I was a coward. Often at night aboard
the steamer coming out here, I thought upon my guilt, and night by night
when in the midst of the great pasturages I have thought over it, and
felt how great a ruffian I was, especially as another is suffering for
my sin. I cannot endure the stinging of my conscience any longer. Agnes,
I must make a clean breast of it to you. Hear me and do not abhor me
utterly when I confess to you now that that sin--that crime which came
to light in the summer--you will know to what I allude--i cannot name
it to you--was mine. I kept my guilt a secret and allowed one who was
innocent to suffer for me. Was there ever so base, so cowardly a wretch?
I am unworthy to be your brother. Only one way remains to me of making
reparation, and you know what that way is. I am coming home by next
steamer. Dearest Agnes, can you ever forgive me for the disgrace I have
brought upon you? Indeed, I feel that this is the bitterest part of my
punishment--the knowledge that I have disgraced our name.

“Cyril.”

She read the letter a second time. It left no loophole of escape for
her. Its meaning was but too plain. It appeared in every line. The
crime--there was only one crime to which it could refer--there was only
one crime for which an innocent man was suffering punishment.

Once again the letter dropped from her hand. She looked at her lingers
that had held it as though it had been written with blood that left a
stain behind it. For some moments she gazed at the thing lying on the
floor at her feet, trying to comprehend all that it meant to her. She
felt stunned, as though she had been struck on the head with a heavy
weapon. The sense of what that letter meant benumbed her. She was
overwhelmed by the force of the blow which she had received.

She stood there in the middle of the room, both her hands pressed
against her heart. She could hear its wild beating through the silence.
The force of its beating caused her to sway to and fro on her feet.

“It is folly--folly!” she said, as if trying by giving articulation
to her thoughts to convince herself against the evidence of her own
judgment. “It is folly! He was his friend--Dick Westwood was his
friend. Why should he have killed him? He dined at the Court that very
night--he--Good God! he was the last to see him alive. Let me think--let
me think! What did he say? Yes, he said that Dick had walked across the
park with him. He admitted that he was the last person with whom Dick
had spoken. Oh, my God--my God! he has written the truth--why should he
write anything but the truth? Why should he be mad enough to confess to
a crime that he never committed? He killed him, and he is my brother!
Oh, fool--fool--that I was! I could not see that that girl was sent
through the mercy of God. She was sent here that the man who loved her
might be saved from marrying me. But, thank God! I have learned the
truth before it is too late.”

And then, as she stood there, she recalled the most trivial incidents of
the morning after the murder of Dick Westwood. She remembered how late
it was when Cyril had appeared--how he had made excuse after excuse
for remaining in bed. In every trivial act of his she perceived such
evidence of his guilt that she was amazed that no one had attached
suspicion to him. Why, even the fact of his having so eagerly accepted
the offer of an appointment on a sheep station in Australia should have
made her suspect that he had the gravest of reasons for wishing to get
away from the country. She now saw that his anxiety was to leave the
scene of his crime behind him.

Then she thought of the days that preceded his escape--that was how she
had come to regard his sailing for Australia--how terrible her trouble
had been with him. She had felt that he was going to destruction, idling
about the tap-rooms of Bracken-hurst, walking with the most disreputable
men to be found in the neighbourhood--utterly regardless of appearances
and impatient at her remonstrances. Thinking of all this in the light
of the confession which she had just read, she was left to wonder how
it was possible that she had failed--that every one in Brackenhurst had
failed--to attach suspicion to him.

“He did it--he did it!” she whispered.

Once again with a flicker of hope that was more dispiriting than
despair, she read the letter, and with a cry of agony fell back upon
the sofa and laid her head, face downward, upon one of its arms. Claude
Westwood had uttered his curse against the murderer of his brother and
against all that pertained to him! She had been horrified at the thought
of Clare; but the curse had fallen, and she, Agnes, was crushed beneath
it. Her brother was on his way home to pay the penalty of his crime, and
Clare--

She got upon her feet, and stood with one hand grasping the back of the
sofa, as the thought flashed through her mind: Clare would be happy.
There was now no reason why she and Claude might not marry. Even at that
moment, when the horror that had rested on Clare’s head had been shifted
to her own, Agnes felt a thrill of satisfaction when she reflected that
it was in her power to give Clare happiness.

She took a step to the bell-rope, but while it was still in her hand, a
thought suddenly flashed through her mind: the story which the postman
had been telling to the gardener and the maidservant--to what did it
refer?--to whom did it refer?

Some one had been shot during the night--so much she had gathered from
the rambling discourse of the man; she had not given much attention
to all that he had said, but she recollected that it had struck her as
singular that the incidents of the matter to which his story referred
closely resembled those of the murder of Dick Westwood: the man might
have been describing the latter. The victim had, she gathered, been shot
in the back, and--what had the man said?--he had been shot in his own
grounds. Some one had been shot in his own grounds? Who--who--who?

Why, who could it be but Sir Percival Hope? It could be no one but Sir
Percival Hope--the man whom she loved.

That was the terrible thought that swooped down upon her, so to
speak--that hawklike thought that struck its talons through her; and at
that moment such doubts as might have lingered in her heart were swept
away. She now knew that she loved Sir Percival Hope, who was lying at
the point of death, if the man who had come with the story had spoken
the truth.

“Thank Heaven--thank Heaven that he knew the truth before he died; thank
Heaven that he knew I loved him; and thank Heaven that he died before
he could know that other truth--that we could never be anything more to
each other than we were. I should have had to tell him that--all that
that letter has told to me. But I have still to tell some one of it. Who
is it--who is it?”

Her brain was whirling. She had forgotten for the moment that Clare had
to be made happy; and some moments had passed before the sight of
the bell-rope brought back her thoughts to the object which she had
originally before her in going to it. She rang the bell, and when the
butler appeared she had her voice sufficiently under control to ask him
to tell her maid to find Miss Tristram and send her to the drawing-room.

As the butler was leaving the room she said--and now her voice was not
quite so firm as it had been:

“I heard the postman telling some story to the gardener just now. Has
some one been hurt?”

The man did not answer for a second or two, but that space was
sufficient to send her thoughts wandering once more on a different
track.

“Merciful Heaven!” she cried. “It cannot be possible that it is Mr.
Westwood who was shot, as his brother was--within his own grounds?”

“Oh no, ma’am, it’s not so bad as that,” replied the butler. “So far
as I hear, it was the poachers that have been about Westwood Court one
night and the Abbey Woods another night for the past month. It seems
that Ralph Dangan, Sir Percival Hope’s new keeper---him that was at the
Court for so long--he came upon them suddenly last night and they shot
him. The story is that the poor man was not likely to live longer than
a few hours.” Agnes gave a sigh--she wondered if the butler would know
that it was a sigh of relief rather than one of sympathy for the unhappy
man who had been shot.

“Poor fellow!” she said. “I hope his daughter has been sent for.”

“I didn’t hear anything in that way, ma’am,” said the butler. “If she
went to Sir Percival’s sister, he will know her address, but they
say that poor Dangan always refused to see her, though she was a good
daughter except for her one slip.”

He left the room, and Agnes sat wondering how it was that she had been
led to feel with such certainty that the story of the man who was shot
referred to Sir Percival. And in its turn this question of hers became
a terror to her, for in her condition of excitement she had lost all
capacity to judge of incidents in an unprejudiced way. The condition of
her brain caused her to distort every matter which she tried to consider
on its merits.

She waited so long without any one appearing that she had actually
forgotten what was the object of her waiting, and she was surprised when
her maid came into the room saying:

“I cannot find Miss Tristram in the house, Miss Mowbray. I think she must
have gone out for a walk by the lower gate; she could not have left by
the drive without my seeing her, for I was sitting at the window of the
workroom sewing.”



CHAPTER XXX

|It is strange that she should have gone out without letting me know,”
 said Agnes. “I don’t think that it is likely she would leave the grounds
by the lower gate. She must still be somewhere in the garden. Having fed
the pigeons she might have strayed up to the Knoll.”

The Knoll was the small hillock overgrown with pines from which the
house took its name.

“She was in her dressing-room since she fed the pigeons,” said the maid.
“I fancied that I heard her leave the room, but no one appears to have
noticed whether she left the house or not.”

“You will please send a couple of the servants round the grounds and up
to the Knoll,” said Agnes. “It is rather important that she should be
found with as little delay as possible.”

“I beg your pardon,” cried the maid quickly. “I did not know that you
wanted Miss Tristram particularly. I understood that you were making a
casual inquiry for her. Not a moment shall be lost in seeking for her.”

When the door closed behind the maid, poor Agnes once again began to
take exaggerated views of the simplest occurrences. The disappearance
of Clare she thought of as something mysterious. Why should she go away
without acquainting any one of the fact that she was leaving the house?
Why should she steal out by the lower gate, which involved a walk
through the damp grass of the shrubberies? The lower gate was scarcely
ever used in the winter months, and but rarely in the summer except by
the gardener, whose cottage was at that part of the grounds.

The incident assumed in her excited brain a magnitude which in ordinary
circumstances she would never think of attributing to it. And her
reflection in regard to this incident was followed by a suspicion that
caused her to cover her eyes with her hands.

She was endeavouring to shut out the horrible sight which might be
before the eyes of the servants who were searching the grounds. She had
heard of sensitive girls, such as Clare undoubtedly was, making away
with themselves when overcome with grief; and she began to wonder how it
was that she had failed to see something more than usually pathetic in
that picture of the girl surrounded by her pigeons on the lawn. That was
the picture which had come before the eyes of Claude Westwood, and that
was the picture which would always remain in her own memory, Agnes was
assured--the last look she had had of the sweet girl who was now--

She shuddered at the thought that came to her; for with it came a cry of
self-reproach:

“It is I--I--who have killed her! She may have been alive when I got the
letter that should have given her happiness; but I waited--I tried to
deceive myself into the belief that I had misread the letter when its
meaning was clear to me from the first. I have killed her!”

She rushed from the room and hurried up the stairs to the apartment that
Clare had occupied. She turned the handle of the door with trembling
fingers, and looked fearfully into the room, not knowing what horrible
sight might await her there. Rut the room was the same as ever; only
when she entered did she notice that the bed was slightly pressed down
in the centre, and that the pillow was no longer smooth; it was tossed,
and there was a mark that was still damp upon it.

She knew that Clare had suddenly flung herself down on the bed, and had
left the traces of her tears upon the pillow.

She gave a start, hearing the sound of feet on the oak of the hall. The
servants had returned from their search, and the shuffling of their feet
told her that they were carrying something with them--something with
a cloak over it--a pall over it. She put up her hands to her eyes once
more to shut out that sight; and then she heard the quiet steps of some
one ascending.

She knew what this meant, some one was coming to break the awful news to
her as gently as possible.

She was standing at the half-open door when the maid reached the lobby.

“You need tell me nothing; I see upon your face all that you come to
tell me,” whispered Agnes.

The woman looked at her in surprise.

“I fear you are not quite well, ma’am,” she said quietly. “We did not
need to search far: the gardener came up and told us that he had met
Miss Tristram walking on the road not more than half-an-hour ago. He had
been down to the larches and Miss Tristram was going in the direction of
Unwin Church. It was as I suggested: she was taking a walk, having left
the grounds by the lower gate. I am sure that she will be back again
before lunch. Are you not well, Miss Mowbray?”

“I am quite well,” said Agnes. “I was only a little surprised that Miss
Tristram could have left the grounds without my noticing her do so. I
was in the drawing-room all the time.”

She went to her own room and stood at the window, wondering how it was
that she had been so certain that Clare had resolved to die. Was it
because she herself was ready to welcome death at that moment? She fell
on her knees and prayed that she might have strength to live--she prayed
that she might have strength to resist the temptation to end in a moment
the terrible consciousness that in another week or two all the world
would be ringing with the name which she bore--the consciousness that
every finger would be pointed at her, while those who pointed at her
would whisper the name of her brother. She prayed for strength to bear
the appalling burden which had been laid upon her.

In that nervous condition which was hers she felt that she must do
something: she could not rest patiently until the return of Clare. She
felt that as she had told Claude the secret which had placed a gulf
between him and Clare, it was right that she should tell him without
delay that, although it was true that the girl was the daughter of
Carton Stand-ish, yet Carton Standish was innocent of the crime for
which he was suffering imprisonment.

She rang her bell, and gave orders for the brougham; and then, with
nervous hands, she put on her fur coat and hat, and went down to the
hall fire to wait for the sound of wheels. The butler, who was bringing
some silver into the dining-room for the luncheon table, paused for a
moment and asked her if she would wish the hour for lunch to be delayed.
She told him that lunch was to be served when Miss Tristram should come
in.

A sudden thought occurred to her. She would not keep Clare waiting for
her good news should she come in before her own return from the Court.

She had thought of driving Claude back with her in the brougham after
she had communicated her good news to him--it would be good news to him.
What did he care how heavy was the blow that had fallen upon her so long
as he was free to marry Clare?

She went into the study and wrote a few lines on a sheet of paper:

“Dearest,--God has been good to you. Something like a miracle has
happened, and the barrier which Claude saw between you and him is
removed. I am bringing him to you. Wait for our coming.

“Agnes.”

She addressed the cover and desired the butler to give it to Clare the
moment she returned.

At last the sound of the broughem was heard on the drive. She entered
the carriage after satisfying herself that Cyril’s confession was in her
pocket.

The butler at the Court said that Mr. Westwood was not at home at
that moment; he thought that most likely he was gone to the cottage of
Dangan, Sir Percival Hope’s keeper, who, as perhaps Miss Mowbray had
heard, had been shot during the night. Mr. Westwood had said, before
leaving the Court, that he would be back for lunch, so perhaps Miss
Mowbray would wait in the drawing-room for his coming. It was unlikely
that he would be late.

Miss Mowbray said she would wait, and was shown into the drawing-room.

For a few minutes after seating herself she was calm; but then her brain
began to whirl once more. The thought came to her that she was in the
very room where Cyril and Dick had sat on that night before the horrible
deed was done. She started up, thinking that perhaps she was sitting in
the very chair in which her brother had sat looking in the face of the
man whom he meant to kill.

She glanced at the portrait on the easel and seemed to see once again
the form of Dick Westwood beside the window through which he had gone to
his death.

“Why did he do it--why--oh, why?” she whispered. “You were always
so good to him, Dick--you were always his friend when every one else
shunned him. How could he do it?”

She had begun to pace the room wildly, but after some moments a curious
doubt seemed to cross her mind. She took the letter out of her pocket
and read it for the third time with beating heart, for the echo of
that question of hers, “Why--why--why?” seemed to ring round the room.
Surely she must have misread it.

She crushed it into her pocket once more.

“It is there--there,” she whispered. “He confesses it. There is no hope
for me. No hope--no hope”--

She had begun pacing the room once more, and as she spoke she found
herself standing in front of the glazed case of poisoned arrows which
Claude had brought back with him from Africa.

She looked at the arrows and repeated the words, “No hope--no hope.”

The beating of her heart sounded through the stillness.

“I was wrong--I was wrong,” she whispered, with her eyes still gazing at
those strange things as if they had power to fascinate her. She looked
at them, then with a shudder she turned and fled across the room. “No,
no, not that--not that!” she cried.

She stood beside the screen at the other side of the room; and then
she seemed to hear again the voice which had said those words in her
ear--“The sister of a murderer--the sister of the man who killed his
best friend. He will be here in a day or two and all the world will ring
with his name--with your name. There is no hope for you--no hope!”

She put her hands over her ears, trying to shut out that dread voice;
but it would not be shut out. It came to her with maddening monotony.
She walked to and fro saying beneath her breath:

“Mercy--mercy--for God’s sake, mercy!”

She made a pause as if listening for something. Then with a cry, in the
agony of her despair, she rushed back to the case of arrows and crashed
in the glass with both her gloved hands.

In a second her hands were grasped from behind.

“Agnes! Agnes, my beloved!” said Sir Percival.

She turned to him, looking wonderingly up to his face.

“My dearest, what has happened? What does that mean?”

He pointed to the broken glass while he was leading her away.

“You will soon know all,” she said. “I have the letter--it will tell you
what I have no words to tell.”

He took the letter from her hand, and with one of his hands still
holding hers, he read it.

“This tells me no more than I have known from the first,” said he.

“What, you knew that he was guilty?” she said.

“I knew it: I hoped that he would confess to you.”

“Good God! You knew of his guilt and let the innocent man suffer?”

“I heard nothing of that. I liked the girl for keeping the secret; he
will marry her now.”

She stared at him.

“Who is the girl that knew it was he who killed Richard Westwood?” she
asked.

“My poor Agnes! You are the victim of some dreadful misapprehension,”
 said Sir Percival. “This confession refers to Lizzie Dangan’s fault.”

“What! But the murder--surely it can have but one meaning?” she cried.

“Oh, my beloved, I see it all now. Thank Heaven that I came in time to
save you. You assumed that your brother’s confession referred to the
murder of Richard Westwood. You were wrong. I have just come from
hearing the confession of the man who shot poor Westwood, and who died
a quarter of an hour ago. It was Ralph Dangan who shot Richard Westwood
with the revolver that by ill-luck he had found on the grass where the
man Standish had thrown it. Dangan had seen Mr. Westwood with Lizzie
that night--she had gone to him secretly for advice--and he shot him,
believing that he was the girl’s lover.” Agnes looked at him for a long
time. She walked to the window and stood there for some moments; then
with a cry she turned and stretched out her arms to him.

“My beloved--my beloved, you have suffered; but your days of suffering
are over!” he whispered, as he held her close to him.

* * * * *

There were voices at the door.

Claude Westwood entered, followed by Clare; he hurried to Agnes.

“For God’s sake, tell her nothing! It is too late now--she is my wife,”
 he said, in a low voice.

“Agnes--dearest, you will forgive me--but he sent for me, and I love
him,” said Clare.

“Tell him,” said Agnes to Sir Percival, “tell him that it was Ralph
Dangan who killed poor Dick.”

THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Well, After All" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home